Monday, October 17, 2016

The More You Know, The More You'll Save: Part X ~ Dialogue Do's and Don'ts

by Alycia W. Morales

As authors, we're always looking for ways to save money and time. This is the eighth post in a series that is meant to help you save both. On the front end, putting forth the effort to learn these points will cost you some time, but in the long run, it will save you money on professional edits.

Last week, we went over showing vs. telling and active vs. passive writing. This week, we'll take a look at dialogue.

Speaker Tags: said, asked, yelled. These are speaker tags. They designate who is speaking, especially when there are more than two characters in a conversation.

When using speaker tags, don't use words like "laughed," "cried," or "growled." Keep it simple. Said is the best. "Asked" goes well with question marks, but you could also use "said" with question marks. Use "yelled" before you use an exclamation point (use a period instead). But people can't cry words. Nor can they laugh words. If your character needs to laugh or cry, use a speaker beat.

Speaker Beats: When our characters do something between dialogue sentences, we use speaker beats. It's better for the reader, especially if you have a bunch of back-and-forth dialogue, if we use speaker beats to designate who's speaking because it gives the reader an idea of what is happening in the story.

For example:
Mariah laughed. "You've got to be kidding me." She tossed the book onto the table and shook her head. "There's no way I can finish that in one night. What was she thinking assigning us Great Expectations on such short notice?"
Elizabeth picked up the book and flipped through it with a frown. "Yeah. There's no way I can read that overnight, and I'm a speed reader."

What you don't want to do is use a dialogue tag with a beat. There's no point in using the tag.
For example:
James stood and said, "I don't think we need to read the whole thing. Let's go to Barnes and Noble and get the Cliffnotes."
We know he said the sentence if he stood just before he said it.
James stood. "I don't think we need to read the whole thing. Let's go to Barnes and Noble and get the Cliffnotes."

Talking Heads: Using speaker tags and speaker beats helps us avoid having talking heads in our novels. Talking heads are characters that go back and forth with dialogue, leaving the reader wondering who is saying what. If you have more than a few lines of dialogue between two characters without a tag or beat, you have talking heads. If you have multiple lines of dialogue between more than two people, and your readers have no idea who's saying what, you have talking heads.

Dialect: When using dialect to notify your reader of a particular way of speaking, use it just enough in the first chapter that the reader catches on. Then revert to using normal dialogue for the rest of the novel. Otherwise, the dialect will slow down the reader.

Casualties: Don't use the casualties. When your character answers the phone, we don't have to hear them say hello. They don't need to ask how the other person is doing. They don't need to say goodbye. Get right into the conversation. In other words, get to the point.

Dialogue Do's and Don'ts {Click to Tweet}

What's the difference between a speaker beat and a tag? Dialogue tips via @AlyciaMorales {Click to Tweet}

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Day I Wanted To Quit

Today's special guest is author and speaker, Lori Hatcher. She will talk to us about tackling the mind games that discourage and defeat us.

By Lori Hatcher @LoriHatcher2

Your proposal is rejected—again, and your head swirls with doubt, disappointment, and confusion. You pour your heart out in a blog post, take hours to format it just right, click post, and wait. The only buzz you hear is from the ceiling fan above your head, and the only comments you receive are from your mother and Aunt Fran.
 Every writing conference you attend seems populated by successful, profound writers and brings new battles with jealousy and insecurity. You compare your blog, book, or platform to your superstar colleague and wonder if you’re deluded in thinking that God could ever use you or your story to impact someone else.

It’s been my experience that struggling writers (and we’re all struggling writers) deal with three main areas that make us want to quit: comparison, insecurity, and competitiveness. In each area, we find lies that can defeat us and truth that can deliver us. If you’ve attended one of my writing workshops, you know there’s more to winning this battle than I can share in a brief blog post, but here are a few thoughts to aid you in the fight.

Lies: She’s a better writer than you are. She’s got thousands of blog subscribers and you have fifty. She writes like a New York Times bestseller and you write like a kindergartener. Your personal life is a wreck, and she’s got it all together. Who’s going to take you seriously?
Truth: God has given each of us a unique set of life experiences, communication styles, and spheres of influence. He’s allowed our circumstances to prepare us for the specific audience he wants to impact through us.

If God has called you to write, then he has called you to write, not despite where you are, who you are, or what you’ve been through, but because of where you are, who you are, or what you’ve been through.

Lies: I’m not articulate enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not witty enough. I’m not well connected enough.
Truth: “He who called you is faithful” (1 Cor. 1:9).

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

“I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand” (Isa. 51:16).

Whenever we struggle with insecurity, we need to have our I’s checked. Instead of focusing on ourselves and the real or imagined inadequacies we have, we need to exchange our “I’s” for “He’s.” We must examine the valid and unwavering sources for our confidence—God’s calling, God’s empowering, and God’s Truth.

Lies: If I help her, she’ll get ahead, and I’ll be left behind. She received a book contract, and I received a rejection letter. I could help her promote her book, but why should I? I’m always the book bridesmaid and never the bride.
Truth: Fellow author Cindy Sproles once said, “The world is big enough and broken enough and lost enough to need every one of us sounding the message of Christ. We’re all on the same team. We’re working toward the same goal. Someone else’s success doesn’t diminish my own, because we’re comrades in arms.”

I hope you’ve figured out by now that the secret of tackling the mind games that foul our minds and distort our perspectives is to exchange lies for the truth. To do this, we must have a firm grasp on Scripture and bathe everything we do in prayer. As Bible teacher Beth Moore says, “We're going to have to let truth scream louder to our souls than the lies that have infected us.”

My prayer for you is that you fight the battle, win the war, and write on for the glory of God.

This post is an excerpt from Lori’s writing workshop by the same name. If you’d like information on the full presentation, please contact Lori at

Lori Hatcher is the editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine and the author of two devotional books, Hungry for God … Starving for Time, Five-Minute Devotions for Busy Women and  Joy in the Journey – Encouragement for Homeschooling Moms. A blogger, writing instructor, and inspirational speaker, her goal is to help women connect with God in the craziness of life. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God. . . Starving for Time . Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter (@LoriHatcher2), or Pinterest (Hungry for God).

(Photos courtesy of datta/Digitalart.)


Friday, September 30, 2016

The More You Know, The More You'll Save: Part IX ~ Show, Don't Tell

by Alycia W. Morales

As authors, we're always looking for ways to save money and time. This is the ninth post in a series that is meant to help you save both. On the front end, putting forth the effort to learn these points will cost you some time, but in the long run, it will save you money on professional edits.

Last week, we went over avoiding repetition. This week, we'll take a look at Showing vs. Telling and Active vs. Passive Writing.

Show, don't tell! It's an editor's mantra some days. Throughout my years as an editor, I've come to realize that a lot of telling is also just passive writing, plain and simple. So how do we know we're doing it? And how do we fix it?

The simplest form of passive writing comes when we use passive verbs. Search your manuscript for "was" and "were." If your characters was running, he ran. If they were going to the store, they went. Use the active verb, usually with a past tense, -ed ending. The exception would be if you're writing in present tense, of course, or modifying.

Next, search your manuscript for "began" or "started." If a character began to sweat, she was already sweating, so "she sweat." Remember, if we start or begin to do something, we're doing it. Use the active verb. Leave out "started" and "began."

Another common sign of inactive or passive writing is using the words "caused" or "made." This signifies an emotion or an action or something someone said acting upon the character instead of the character simply responding to it. For example, "The noise caused Ella to jump." Instead, try, "A clap of thunder echoed across the valley. Ella jumped."

If your character "watched," "observed," "noticed," or "saw" something another character was doing or something another character portrayed, you're in passive writing mode. Let the thing happen, rather than having your character observe it happening. When they watch something, you've removed them from their third person POV and made them an omniscient narrator.

Naming emotions is a clear tell that you're telling instead of showing, and it's one of the most common things authors do. Find a way to show the reader that your character is angry instead of saying that something another character said angered him. Facial expressions, body language, something he says. These are all great ways to show the reader your character is angry.

Shortcuts are never good in writing. It leaves the reader wanting more and likely to drop your book and pick up another. Make sure your character is experiencing the world around her, rather than the world around her affecting everything she does and says. The reader wants to experience life with her, not have her tell them what is happening. These are the keys to showing vs. telling.

How do you know if you're showing or telling? A few hints via @AlyciaMorales {Click to Tweet}

Show and Tell and the Writer {Click to Tweet}

Monday, September 19, 2016

You Know You're a Writer When ...

By Andrea Merrell

“Hello, my name is Andrea Merrell, and I am a writer.”

Sounds like a simple statement, but it took me a long time before I had the courage to say it out loud, especially with confidence.

When you’re called to write, you know it. Or, as my grandmother used to say, “You know that you know that you know. You know it in your knower.” But even when we have that assurance, we sometimes feel we have to earn the title. We set high standards and unreachable goals for ourselves, and we constantly compare ourselves with others. It’s easy to feel like we just haven’t done enough to make it so.

One author writes, “When I was sixteen, I knew I wanted to be a writer. It took thirty years before I introduced myself as a writer for the first time because I wasn’t sure I had done enough to earn that title. Between sixteen and forty-six, occasionally, I was a writer, but I felt like a failure because I didn’t write often enough, didn’t read enough, didn’t sacrifice sleep enough, and didn’t juggle my life with enough finesse to produce bylines and fans.” **

Can you relate? Do you see yourself in this writer’s words? Are you struggling to hit the mark and discover your calling as a writer?

I’m certainly not Jeff Foxworthy—and I promise we won’t talk about rednecks—but let’s look at a few things that will help you define your calling so that you can say with absolute assurance, “I am a writer.”

You just might be a writer if:

  • You wake up in the morning thinking about writing.
  • You go to bed at night thinking about writing.
  • You think about writing all during the day.
  • You wake up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea for a blog post.
  • You can’t read a book or watch a movie without getting inspired.
  • You get excited when something bad happens, and you can use it as a scene.
  • You think about your characters and have conversations with them in your head.
  • You take tragic events and turn them into devotions.
  • You go to the mall—or Walmart—and look for weird people to put in your story.
  • You get angry at someone and plan to kill them off in your next novel.
  • And last—but certainly not least—you write because you can’t not write. (Not the best way to say it, but you get the point.)

Do you fit into any or all of these categories? Then you, my friend, are a writer.
Whatever God has called you to write (devotions, articles, blog posts, novels, or Bible studies), step out in faith, be confident in your calling, and do what you were born to do. Don’t compare yourself with anyone or let discouragement and rejection letters derail you. And don’t worry about being qualified. God does not call the equipped … He equips the called.

Having your name on the cover of a book does not make you a writer. Having a heart to share the words God places within you that will bless someone else … that’s what makes you a writer.

** Excerpt taken from The Mighty Pen: Christian Encouragement from Writers to Writers/Guilt Trips/Nicey Eller.)

(Photos courtesy of Miles/surasakiStock/Master Isolated Images.)


Monday, September 12, 2016

Don’t Dumb Down Your Readers: Write Smart

Today, we are very excited to have Vonda Skelton as our special guest. Be sure to leave a comment for her in the section below.

By Vonda Skelton

Readers are smart. They’re smart because they read. And if there’s one thing smart readers hate, it’s when writers treat them like they’re dumb.

One way writers dumb down their readers is by info-dumping. Check out these examples:

“When are things going to get back to the way they were before? Can you believe it’s been ten years since daddy left us?” Marsha turned from her sister and wiped a tear. “We had to move into public housing and go on food stamps. Then our brother died and Daddy never knew. And then you had to ago into rehab. It’s all his fault.”

Let’s be honest here, would we ever have a conversation like that with our siblings? I doubt it. After all, it’s simply a retelling of facts we would both already know. It’s dumping info onto the page for the perceived benefit of the reader. But our readers won’t appreciate the so-called benefit. They can see through our ruse. They know we’re taking the easy way out.

A good writer will bring those backstory details into the plot layer by layer, revealing facts and motivations through dialogue and POV (point of view) in a more subtle, natural delivery. One detail may come out on page five when Marsha stands in line behind someone with food stamps. Another might be revealed on page twenty-three when Marsha picks up her sister at rehab and they realize it’s been exactly ten years since their father left. Using this technique, your reader will be challenged and satisfied by putting together the pieces of the puzzle.

Another way to distance our readers is through unnecessary explanation. Ever read passages similar to these?

“I don’t care what you think!” Melanie yelled again. She wanted to be sure Jason had heard her.
Carly placed the rock on the gravestone and cried because she missed her mother so much.

In these two instances, the writer assumes the reader isn’t smart enough to figure out the characters’ motivations, so he or she writes out an additional explanation. But smart readers don’t appreciate the extra work the writer has done. Instead of being a help, it’s an insult to their reading intelligence. Well-written passages with well-developed characters don’t need explanation.

Treat your readers with respect and they’ll love you for it.

Write smart!

Vonda Skelton is an entertaining speaker who loves teaching about writing and speaking and the magic that happens when you marry the two. She is the author of four books, including Seeing Through the Lies: Unmasking the Myths Women Believe and the Bitsy Burroughs Mysteries for kids. Her third novel, Bitsy and the Mystery at Hilton Head Island, was nominated for a SIBA Book Award. Her articles have appeared in Christian and general market magazines. She is the Founder of Christian Communicators, a conference and organization dedicated to educating, validating, and launching women in their speaking ministries. Vonda is also owner of The Christian Writer’s Den writing blog and is a frequent instructor at writers’ conferences around the country. She’s currently working on a novel and screenplay. Vonda and Gary have been married all their lives—and they’re still happy about it! Visit Vonda at

(Photos courtesy of Miles/Marin/Photostock.)


Writer, don't dumb down your readers by info-dumping. via @VondaSkelton (Click to Tweet.)

Treat your readers with respect and they’ll love you for it. via @VondaSkelton (Click to Tweet.)