Month: March 2021

  • When dialogue ruins your scenes

    When dialogue ruins your scenes

    When dialogue is great, it can be terrific, keeping readers or audiences on the edge of their seats.

    Whether it’s the verbal sparring of Bogart and Bacall, the wisecracking characters of 1930s films, or dramatic courtroom exchanges in A Few Good Men, dialogue can spark and enthrall.

    It’s not just true of films or plays either – there are plenty of novels with powerful dialogue.

    But there are also times when dialogue ruins scenes. Because here’s the problem – dialogue can be a little too seductive. Or to be more exact, writers who are rather too fond of their characters can sometimes find it difficult to know how much is too much.

    The problems with dialogue are numerous and linked to different issues.

    For example, writers who find their characters springing spontaneously to life, like Athena from her father’s head, might feel they spend a good part of their time just reporting what their characters are saying.

    It’s like taking dictation. Sometimes it’s like being possessed as you struggle to keep up with what your characters are saying and doing.

    Your fingers fly over the keyboard and you’re hoping they’ll slow down.


    When characters won’t stop talking

    Characters like this can have a real spark because they haven’t been consciously constructed or built from the ground up. They’ve not been sketched out on paper but appear to emerge from the writer’s subconscious.

    They can be unpredictable, obstructive, overly chatty (or the opposite).

    Such characters can pull the plot way off track. They have their own opinions that can supersede the author’s.

    If they are chatty, their dialogue can go on longer than necessary. And if they’re the amusing type, the author may find them entertaining.

    However, this can have a detrimental effect on the pacing and plot.

    Amusing dialogue scenes can only go on so long. Dialogue scenes should usually serve a purpose.

    If the author has two characters like this in the same scene, the situation can become unmanageable. Cutting back these scenes is pretty much an example of murdering your darlings. The scenes might seem to be full of life, but a novel is not episodic. There should be a plot, and it should keep on moving.

    It shouldn’t be paused frequently for a chat break.


    When dialogue destroys your atmosphere

    Where this can become an even bigger issue is when there’s a conflict between the tone of the dialogue and the genre of the novel or its overall atmosphere.

    For example, if you want a dark, foreboding atmosphere to hang over the narrative, too much witty repartee is going to blow it out of the water. Think horror novels or dark thrillers. The dialogue becomes tone-deaf.

    It would work in a witty chic-lit novel, but there are other narratives where you really need to reign it in.

    You particularly don’t want it at the wrong moments in the plot, where it interrupts the story or delays important events.

    Too much of this and your reader may bail out completely.


    When dialogue makes scenes too ‘loud’

    Another issue I’ve seen in manuscripts is that dialogue can actually amplify the volume in scenes where you want a quieter and possibly more introspective atmosphere.

    Sometimes, instead of dialogue, indirect speech is really better.

    There are other reasons why you might choose to use indirect speech, but volume is one.

    Another is that too much speech which has a low-information-to-wordcount ratio buries important details. You don’t want the most important details of the speech to be hidden among the less important chat.

    While people can drone on in real life, you have to be a bit more ruthless with characters.

    Novels, like films and plays, are artificial constructs. They are not a realistic representation of life. The scenes are edited, with toilet breaks and other mundanities usually left out.

    The same should be true of speech.

    You don’t have to be puritanical about it and only include the absolutely most relevant dialogue.

    But you do have to weigh the length and tone of your dialogue against the surrounding narrative.


    When dialogue slows the pace

    Dialogue often produces shorter lines and paragraphs down a page. This leads to the reader turning the page faster. While that is good for pace, it can also be draining to read if it goes on too long.

    This is particularly true if the dialogue doesn’t have an important purpose.

    The reader isn’t reading to eavesdrop on people, they want to see what happens to the characters and follow the plot to the end.

    When dialogue works really well it can boost the pace, but when it doesn’t it can slow the pace to a crawl.

    A novel heavy on dialogue is going to have a different tone from one that has much less.

    This doesn’t mean that the first is wrong – it could be a feature of the novel.

    But it does have an impact on tone and volume, though there are other factors like the personalities of the character and the genre that also have to be factored in.


    Other examples of when dialogue ruins scenes

    Fictional dialogue is a huge topic. Certainly, it’s too complex to cover in one blog post. But these are some of the other occasions when dialogue can ruin your scenes:

    • Using clunky dialogue to convey information to the reader. There are more subtle ways to convey the information you want your reader to know
    • Related to the previous point – some writers are using blocks of dialogue as massive info dumps, with no interruptions or pauses that you might expect in real-life speech
    • Long speeches that are never interrupted by other characters
    • Incorrect dialogue formatting – one author client even had an editor incorrectly format all the dialogue in her novel which I then had to undo
    • Dialogue where everyone in the same scene sounds exactly the same. Readers struggle to tell one character from another
    • Overly formal dialogue that doesn’t match real-life speech patterns. For example, some writers make upper-class speech oddly stilted

    Dialogue is a skill you can master

    There’s much more that could be listed here. But one important thing to remember is that most human communication is non-verbal. And this is often getting missed. Those little pauses, gestures, facial expressions, and body language can reveal a lot. Check out The Emotion Thesaurus for how to convey non-verbal cues.

    If you really want to learn from the best, screenwriters and dramatists are a great place to start. Some of them are more realistic than others, but there’s plenty of great material to learn from.

    Most of all, don’t worry if your dialogue isn’t quite there yet. It’s something you can refine over multiple drafts.

    And if you think it’s not your strong point right now, remember not to get bogged down in negative thinking. Because when you tell yourself you’re not good at something, it can block you from doing better.

    Those other people who are great at dialogue – who knows how long it took them to get there!


    Want to try a free sample edit?

    I’m offering a free sample edit of 2,000 words at the moment. It’s only available for fiction or memoir. It has to be a longer work like a novella or novel. The sample edit does not cover short stories or non-fiction articles and writing. You can contact me at: karen@indiecateditorial.com


    Other IndieCat posts you might find useful

    Social media blockers

    Don’t make this mistake on your author website

    Boost your writing with the Pomodoro Technique

    How to order the stories in a collection

    Why your book cover design matters

  • Wasting your money on a copyedit or proofread?

    Wasting money on a copyedit or proofread?

    There’s a problem I’ve encountered with a number of my developmental editing clients.

    They paid for a copyedit or proofread of their novel or memoir and only then sent their manuscript to me.

    Why?

    I think there are a number of reasons:

    • Writers don’t always know the correct order of editing (which I deal with below)
    • They got a copyedit/proofread but it was later suggested they needed a critique too. Ouch! Money wasted
    • They published the book (without a critique) and then needed to pull it to improve it
    • The copyeditor/proofreader wasn’t honest about the type of editing that was needed
    • The copyeditor/proofreader was honest but the client ignored it for any number of reasons

    I’ve also noticed that some clients are sending me formatted books that are still early on in their development.

    This can sometimes make the editing a little more difficult.

    It’s best to send manuscripts with double-spaced text, but some people are sending single-spaced documents that already look like ebooks. Not so much space to leave margin comments.


    Are you wasting your money on a copyedit or proofread?

    Developmental editing requires rewriting parts of the book.

    You might have to restructure the book, change parts of the plot, delete scenes or chapters.

    If you have the book copyedited first, you’ve totally wasted your money because you’re going to have to have the book edited again, once the developmental editing is complete.

    Here is the editorial timeline:

    • Critique partners/writing groups/alpha readers
    • Developmental editor – either a critique or a full developmental edit
    • Line editor/copyeditor
    • Proofreading is the final stage to check everything is correct and spelling and formatting are consistent, etc
    • Beta readers can be used in the later stages, after developmental editing

    You don’t have to go through every layer of editing here. You could choose the following:

    • Writing group/critique partners
    • Manuscript critique
    • Proof-edit

    This would be cheaper though it wouldn’t be as detailed. Still, if you’re on a budget, it’s worth bearing in mind.

    There is absolutely no point in paying for copyediting and proofreading when you’re still working on the plot and bigger picture issues.

    Seriously folks, don’t do this.

    Some of my writers have completely wasted time and money on copyeditors and/or proofreaders. Indie publishing already has costs. Don’t make it more expensive than is necessary.

    You want the best book you can deliver to readers, but you also don’t want to get ripped off in the process.


    Want to try a free sample developmental edit?

    I’m currently offering a free sample developmental edit of 2000 words. This will include an editorial report and track commenting in the margins of your manuscript. If you’re interested, you can contact me at: karen@indiecateditorial.com

    The manuscript should be in Word or a compatible Word format.


    Other IndieCat posts you might find useful

    Social media blockers

    Don’t make this mistake on your author website

    Boost your writing with the Pomodoro Technique

    How to order the stories in a collection

    Why your book cover design matters

  • My gripe with some developmental editors

    My gripe with some developmental editors

    Here’s my gripe with some of my fellow developmental editors. Before I went anywhere near my first client, I made sure I had plenty of training.

    And that training was on the back of decades of giving feedback to fiction writers in writing groups. Plus reviewing for a popular Scottish website.

    So, when I encounter editors who offer this service without training, I get pretty pissed. Because this is not some glorified beta read.

    Just because you have opinions about fiction doesn’t mean you’re qualified to charge money for a critique. Copyediting fiction doesn’t make you automatically qualified to developmentally edit a novel.

    If you expect clients to pay you for these services, the least you can do is make sure you’ve actually studied and your work is vetted by an expert.

    Your client is not just paying for the editing you’re doing, they’re also paying for your expertise, which in part comes from your training.

    Training you should have invested in.

    But I get the distinct impression some people are downloading manuscript critique templates and reading a book or two. Then, off they go.

    You don’t know what you don’t know

    I cannot imagine having this level of entitlement. The problem with learning a new subject is you don’t know how much you don’t know. Initially you might feel you’re learning a lot.

    Then there comes the point where the horizons of your new subject shoot out into the distance and you suddenly realise how much more you have to learn.

    It’s a little lesson in humility. But if you’re too dumb to study in the first place, you might not get that lesson. At least, not until a more experienced client slaps you in the face with your own failings.

    Fledgling proofreaders are warned to make sure they’re properly trained (at least in the UK). Yet the same concern for standards is completely absent for developmental editing.

    Which is considerably more expensive than proofreading.

    Recommended training courses

    Here are some recommended developmental editing courses:

    The three beginner, intermediate and advanced courses in full developmental editing formerly available from the Editorial Freelancers Association and now available from the Club Ed site. The tutor is Jennifer Lawler. The great thing about Jennifer’s advanced course is you get to do a full edit of a novel with track commenting which she reviews. She also offers more courses through her site, Club Ed.

    The Editorial Freelancers Association still offers developmental editing courses with different tutors.

    The Introduction to Developmental Editing at the Author-Editor Clinic focuses more on manuscript critiques. Tutor Barbara Sjoholm takes you through the different elements of a critique letter. I really enjoyed this course. I think I was one of only about two students in that particular round of the course who opted to do the harder final assessment – a full manuscript critique of the novel I’d used for the course. There was an easier assignment, but I didn’t pay $399 or whatever not to have my work fully checked.

    Liminal Pages offers two courses in developmental editing – Theory and Practical. The tutor is Sophie Playle and this course, unlike the others, is in the UK.

    There’s also a course on book mapping from the Editorial Freelancers Association. This involves using Excel spreadsheets to analyse books scene by scene. It allows for detailed digging into a manuscript.

    There are other courses too, but these are the ones I’m most familiar with. They’re also the best for anyone thinking of getting into this field and authors should look for editors who’ve invested in courses like these.

    Interested in checking out my services? You can find them on the drop down list under services or the general services page here:

    Developmental editing and manuscript critique services

  • Don’t make this mistake on your author website

    Don’t make this mistake on your author website

    A while back, I watched a great webinar on website design by Gill Andrews. I ended up buying her book. It has bite-sized chapters that get straight to the point.

    One thing she encouraged me to do was remove the social media icons at the top of my website. And I’m here to tell you: don’t make this same mistake with your author website.

    I was reminded of this yesterday in the middle of a business mentorship from Ash Ambirge. I was one of the lucky beta folks who signed up, so I’m currently wallowing in all sorts of useful information.

    Anyway, she also recommended removing these icons from the top of your business website page.

    But, ha, thanks to Gill, I’d already ticked that one off my list. The icons were gone.

    Gone, gone, gone.

    Which is just as well because two of the three accounts were neglected and the other one is my nemesis. (My nemesis, if you’re interested, is Twitter.)

    So, what’s the problem with your site visitors seeing your Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram icons?

    Well, apart from the fact you might be neglecting some of the accounts so do you really want potential readers going over there? Guess what? That’s not actually the worst of it, though it’s not great.

    No, here’s the bigger reason.

     

    Social media icons are outbound links

    If your social media icons are the first things they encounter when they land, they might just be tempted to click one of those icons.

    And, folks, that would be terrible.

    Terrible.

    Those icons are outbound links. They are teleporters. Your visitor has now been teleported to another site.

    Slap yourself with a wet kipper.

    Cause you and I both know those social media sites are designed to be addictive.

    How many website visitors are already longing to go back and check their Twitter or Facebook account anyway, to see what’s happening?

    Far. Too. Many.

    Don’t give them any more excuses than they have already.

     

    Teleporting new visitors to Twitter is bad!

    If you’re an author with a website, you don’t want your new website visitor to be offered a range of teleportation destinations that takes them AWAY.

    It’s like installing a revolving door with the word ‘exit’ in Twitter and Facebook icons.

    Because that’s what you’ve installed – a revolving door. Or, an exit right next to the entrance.

    Or, just a plain old teleporter (and believe me, they’re old to those of us who watched the original Star Trek, or who’ve spent time in Second Life).

    Don’t do it!

     

    Think you can compete with Twitter? Ha!

    I know having people follow you on social media would seem to make sense, but that’s not what’s likely to happen.

    Seriously, it won’t.

    Because… you can’t compete with cat videos and the latest news.

    Your website visitor will forget about you right after they go ‘check out’ your social media account. Those top trends will catch their attention, or maybe you’re tweeting a hashtag that interests them.

    Then, click, they’re gone!

    Yes, your website may still be open in one of their browser tabs, but so are a million other things.

    A million other things they will never return to.

     

    Here’s the solution – remove the teleporters!

    So, what do you do on your website?

    First up, you remove those teleporters at the top of your home page.

    The ones that present an invisible doorman who says, “Hey, nice to see you, now here’s the way out!”

    Remove them.

    Now.

    Don’t wait until whenever.

    Get rid of them.

    And here’s the bigger reason why. It’s not just that most website visitors will spend mere seconds on a site before they leave (and you don’t want to push them out the door any faster). No, there’s another very good reason.

     

    New visitors need time to get to know you

    If they’re new to your site, they don’t know you yet. So, why would they follow you on social media? There are so many people to follow. So many shiny accounts.

    You need to ensure that you hook their interest in you first.

    That means your website has to hold them for longer than a few seconds. You want to entice them to pull up a chair and browse your site.

    You want them to get to know you and your work.

    And you want to remove anything that will push them out the exit fast.

    This also means you need to watch where you place outbound links.

    You want your website visitor to have time to look around before they get tempted with anything clickable.

    So, where do you put social media icons?

    I have personally removed them completely for the time being, but you can put them at the very bottom of your page, in your footer. That way, your visitors have the chance to read your content first.

    And if you’re finding social media addiction is interfering with your writing time, here’s an old post I wrote on social media blockers. I use Cold Turkey – the free version. There’s a paid version too which I haven’t used.