Monday, September 17, 2018

Use Speaker Tags and Beats Correctly

By Andrea Merrell

Dialogue can make or break a story—too much, too little, too stilted, or too corny.
When we read, we want to see the characters interacting with each other. We want to know what’s going on in the scene and/or what the POV character is thinking or feeling. The communication should be real and flow in such a way that we get pulled into the story.

Using speaker tags and beats correctly will enhance your dialogue. Let’s look at the difference.

Speaker Tags
A speaker tag shows the speaker’s name and a speech-related verb (said, asked, shouted). This is generally the best way to show which of your characters is speaking, but sometimes we tend to overuse tags. They’re not necessary each time someone speaks, especially in a long section of dialogue. Notice that tags require a comma, not a period.

“That’s a lovely dress you’re wearing,” Wendy said.

“Thank you so much,” Beverly replied.

“Where did you get it?” Wendy asked.

“It came from Dillard’s,” Beverly answered.

“Oh, that’s my favorite department store,” Wendy said.

Do you see how annoying—and boring—that is? Let’s try it again adding beats.

Speaker Beats
A speaker beat is the action that accompanies what the speaker is saying. It also indicates to the reader who is doing the speaking.

“That’s a lovely dress you’re wearing,” Wendy said, wishing she had worn something besides jeans to the party.

Beverly’s face lit up. “Thank you so much.”

“Where did you get it?” Wendy hoped she wasn’t being too forward.

“It came from Dillard’s.”
“Oh, that’s my favorite department store.”

“Mine too.” Beverly lowered her voice to a whisper. “Especially when they’re having a big sale. I got this for only twenty dollars."

Both girls laughed and went to the party arm in arm.

Just like speaker tags, don’t overuse beats. Too many will interrupt the flow of dialogue. They’re not necessary every time, but they work well to help set the scene when used correctly. You can use them at the beginning of the sentence or the end. Mix it up.

Side Note: This is a common error when using speaker tags: “That’s a pretty scrawny dog,” Jim laughed. Since Jim can’t laugh that comment, the proper way would be: “That’s a pretty scrawny dog.” Jim laughed. This now becomes a speaker beat instead of a tag.

What can you add about using speaker tags and beats? We would love to hear from you.

(Photo courtesy of and Master Isolated Images.)


Monday, September 10, 2018

Four Tips to Distract Your Internal Editor

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

I’ve spoken with a lot of writers who have trouble disconnecting their INTERNAL EDITOR when they're working on an early draft of a manuscript. 

This overly helpful person lives inside most of us and comes in handy when we’re putting the finishing touches on our manuscript. But when we’re in the midst of a creative surge, that same
person can short circuit our progress.

Today's post will give you the tips you need to turn off your internal editor.

First you should know there’s a scientific reason for that roadblock. The creative act of writing your first draft stems from the right side—or creative side—of the brain. Later in the process, when polishing begins, the left side takes over. Here are some of the characteristics of each side.

Right Brain
  • Visual in process, focusing more on patterns and images.
  • Generally intuitive, led by feelings.
  • Is the epitome of multi-tasking, able to process ideas simultaneously.
  • Progresses from the big picture to the details.
  • Lacks organization, utilizes free association.
Left Brain
  • More verbal, needs to find specific words to express ideas.
  • Analytical, led by logic.
  • Takes things step by step, one idea at a time.
  • Organizes details first before moving to the big picture.
  • Very organized, utilizing lists and detailed plans.
Mixing up the process—trying to use both sides of the brain at the same time—can lead to a tangled mess and a major roadblock. All of this information is good to know, but what if our left-brained, Internal Editor won’t go away? How do we make her be quiet?

Unfortunately, there isn’t one way that works for everyone, but here are some tips that should help.


1. Don’t give in to temptation. Our Internal Editor gets stronger the more frequently we give in to her demands. If she thinks you need a certain word before you can finish that sentence, stay strong. Type XXX and go on. Later, during the rewriting process, you’ll have plenty of time to find the right word. This goes for anything that demands you slow the creative process. At this point in your manuscript speed is your best friend.

2. Set a daily and weekly word count goal. This can often sidetrack the Internal Editor because of her need to meet a goal. Sometimes, in her drive to succeed, she can even become an ally.

3. Make lists in a separate notebook. Use your computer for the story, but if the need for details overshadows the creative urge, make a quick note in a notebook. Don’t let yourself get bogged down, but let the free association part of your right brain give you ideas to explore later with your more logical left side.

4. Don’t give in to fear. Many times our Internal Editor is driven by fear. Fear that this draft isn’t good, won’t work, or just doesn’t make sense. Remind yourself that this version isn’t written in stone. Sometimes just giving ourselves permission to write what Anne Lamott calls the sh*%&# first draft is all we need to derail our Internal Editor.

All of these can help, but I’d like to know what tricks you use to keep that INNER EDITOR quiet.

(Photos courtesy of, Ambro, and Stuart Miles.)


Find your voice, live your story…is the foundation of Edie Melson’s message, no matter if she’s writing for fiction readers, parents, or writers. As an author, blogger, and speaker she’s encouraged and challenged audiences across the country and around the world. Her numerous books reflect her passion to help others develop the strength of their God-given gifts and apply them to their lives.

She’s a leading professional within the publishing industry and travels to numerous conferences as a popular keynote, writing instructor and mentor. Her blog for writers, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month and is a Writer’s Digest Top 101 Websites for Writers. She’s the Director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, the Mountainside Marketing Conference and Soul Care, as well as Vice President of the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association and the Social Media Director for Southern Writers Magazine. In addition, she's a regular columnist for and Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Writer, Don't Forget the Basics (Part 2)

By Andrea Merrell

In my last post, we talked about a few basics that all writers need to know. This week, let’s look at a subject all writers struggle with: punctuation (especially commas).

Comma Usage

  • When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series of three or more, a comma—known as the serial (series) comma or the Oxford comma—should appear before the conjunction. Example: Be sure to bring your laptop, manuscript, and proposal to the conference.

  • Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction when it joins independent clauses. Example: Mary wanted to be a writer, but she lacked the discipline to write daily.                

  • Use a comma before then when and or but is omitted but implied. Example: Susie grabbed her purse, then ran out of the room without a word.

  • No comma after But or And at the beginning of a sentence. Example: But I don’t want to go back and rewrite my novel.

  • Use a comma with the word too at the end of a sentence only when you want to emphasize an abrupt change of thought. The comma is generally not needed. Example: Attending a critique group is a way to get feedback on your writing too.

  • Limit comma splices (except in rare instances, as in the case of this famous example: "I came, I saw, I conquered"). Change to two sentences, add a conjunction, or use a semicolon. Incorrect: Adam submitted his manuscript, the publisher    did not accept poetry. Correct: Adam submitted his manuscript. The publisher did not accept poetry. Correct: Adam submitted his manuscript; the publisher did not accept poetry. Correct: Adam submitted his manuscript, but the publisher did not accept poetry.

  • Periods and commas always precede closing quotation marks, whether double or single. Example: Nate has always said, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.” Incorrect: Nate has always said, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t”.

Em and En Dash
Most publishers prefer the em dash (—) as opposed to the en dash (–). No spaces should be added on either side of the em dash.

Example: Joe submitted a devotion without proofreading it—a mistake he regretted.

An ellipsis is always a series of three dots. Do not end a sentence with …… or …? The end of the ellipsis will be the end of the sentence. Most publishers are going with the AP style:  space … space. This works best with e-books and online venues.

Example: “How did you do that so … so quickly?”

In future posts, we’ll look at the difference between speaker tags and speaker beats, point of view (POV), crafting dialogue, creating memorable characters, writing tight, and showing, not telling.

If you have something specific you would like us to address in one of our posts, please share in the comment section. We would love to hear from you.


Monday, August 13, 2018

When Words Heal

By Sarah Van Diest

I wish I didn’t have this story to tell you today, but I do. It sits in my hands and waits to be opened and shared. I feel a strange sense of honor holding it, while its tragic nature makes me wish it never existed. But it is also something precious and something worthy of words.

Four months ago, baby Kaenon was born. He came early. As soon as the news broke that he was on the way, his grandparents rushed to meet him. Mark and Laurie Francis arrived at daughter Ashlee’s side and welcomed their first grandchild into the world.

His early arrival meant complications though. Kaenon’s body wasn’t quite ready for the wideness of the world. He would undergo multiple surgeries and suffer great discomfort. But again, his grandparents stayed lovingly by to help this new life struggle to survive, and provide their daughter with help and support.

The story unfolds this way for a couple of months. Kaenon refuses to quit fighting, and his family refuses to let him. And then the story changes.

Without warning, this new grandfather, Mark Francis, died. A freak accident at home brought his life to a sudden close. No more visits to the hospital to caress sweet Kaenon’s head or to encourage Ashlee, his weary daughter. No more comfort to offer his wife, Laurie, as she worries about the future of their little family – a tragedy upon already difficult circumstances.

What you do not know yet is who Mark was. You don’t know that he was a dentist who gave generously of his skills and resources. When I was a missionary in Central America and came home for visits, he would always see me for free and take care of any dental needs I had. He did that for so many people.

You don’t know that he was a nature photographer for National Geographic. His work was outstanding. Beautiful. Stunning. 

You don’t know that he was Fred Flintstone in the Ice Capades. 

You don’t know that he was a gentle man of God and a devoted man of prayer. There is no doubt he heard the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The new reality is this: As his grandson fights to stay alive, Mark can’t be there to hold his wife’s hand or speak words of comfort to his daughter. He isn’t there to leave small kisses on Kaenon’s forehead.

Yet, he is.

The decades of devotion he gave Laurie stay with her and will never be forgotten. The lifetime of love he showered on Ashlee helped make her the loving mother she is to sweet Kaenon. And I would not be a bit surprised if Mark still breathes sweet kisses on Kaenon’s forehead now and forevermore.

But why am I telling this story? This is a writer’s blog page.

Here, allow me. It was this past April when my small book, God in the Dark, was released. It is a book meant to bring comfort when trials strike and hope in the midst of despair. A copy of the book made its way to Laurie, who shared it with Ashlee, who read from it over sweet baby Kaenon as he lay in a hospital bed clinging to life. Simple, but amazing. How could my words be given a place of such honor? 

I tell this part of the story to remind you, my dear writing friends, that what you do matters. What you do makes a difference and impacts the world in ways you may never know. When our Father places words on your heart, write them, dear ones. Do not be discouraged by the voices in your head or in your circle of influence telling you it’s all a waste of time or that you have nothing to say that anyone needs to hear. Listen to your Father’s voice. Walk in the good works He prepared in advance for you. Go. Write. Love.

There are needs all around you. Take a moment and think on what they are and how you might be able to use the gifts your Father has given to help meet those needs.

The Francis family is in need of financial help as well as prayer support. If you are interested in helping, please take a look at the page they have set up:  Ashlee is a fitness trainer, so she set up a fitness fund raiser, but you don’t have to do the workout to help out. If you just want to give your support, go here:
And remember this: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23,24).

Now, go! Write! Love!

(Photos courtesy of Sarah VanDiest and the Francis family.)


Sarah Van Diest is a writer and editor. She’s the mother of two boys, stepmother to three more, and wife to David. Sarah wrote God in the Dark as letters to a dear friend whose life was turning upside down. She’s done this for years for numerous friends and will continue to, Lord willing. It’s her gift to them. It’s hope written down.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Writer, Don't Forget the Basics (Part 1)

By Andrea Merrell

We all know writing is a process, a life-long learning experience. The industry is always changing with new guidelines, new opportunities, new reference material, new conferences, new experts, new social media outlets … and the list goes on.

But even as we grow, learn, and evolve, there are basics, the ABCs of writing that remain the same. These are the elements we can easily forget or overlook if we’re not careful.

Let’s look at a few of these basics. For most of you, these will seem simple (and not worthy of a blog post LOL), but it’s always good to be reminded of what might make or break a manuscript when submitting to an agent, editor, or publisher.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised how many manuscripts I receive that still have two spaces after a sentence. The industry standard is now only one space. This makes a big difference, not only with print books, but especially with online posts and e-books.

Formatting is generally the same across the board, but always check the guidelines before you submit your manuscript, even to a contest. Standard formatting is:
  • 12 pt. Times New Roman
  • Double-spacing
  • 1” margins all around
  • No bold or underlined words
  • No words in all caps
  • No graphics, fancy fonts, sidebars, or pull quotes

Scripture passages are to be italicized or enclosed in quotation marks, not both. Do not italicize the reference.
  • Example: If used as a stand-alone verse or header: Jesus wept. John 11:35 NIV
  • Example: If used within a sentence/paragraph: Jesus wept (John 11:35 NIV).
When a Scripture passage (i.e. Romans 8:1–15) is cited in any given paragraph, succeeding references should be documented with only the verse (v. 12). If the chapter is changed but not the book, document with the chapter and verse (9:6).

When using a long passage of Scripture, it's best to use it as a block quote. No quotation marks or italics are needed, but some venues will prefer the passage to be italicized.

When quoting Scripture, be sure to use an online source such as Copy and paste the verse or verses. Don't try to go by memory.

Always proof and double-check your work. Use a good online dictionary. The industry standard is If you're not sure of a word, look it up (especially those tricky, hyphenated words). Don't depend on spellcheck.

In future posts, we'll look at some other basics such as tricky and confusing words, punctuation, sentence structure, the difference between speaker tags and speaker beats, point of view (POV), crafting dialogue, creating memorable characters, writing tight, and showing, not telling.

If you have a question about a certain topic or something specific you would like us to address in one of our posts, please share in the comment section. We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of, Stuart Miles, and drpnncpptak.)