Got a tip for you, Skip


(Yeah, I know, it's actually from The Graduate. But I'm quoting from Valley Girl., just because.)

So when people ask me for writing tips and tricks, I usually just laugh at them. Because, seriously, you're asking me?

But then I relent, and I give them some. Especially if they offer to pay me. You guys aren't paying me, but that's okay. I like you, so I'll share some tricks I've picked up.

**Active verbs. This is something it seems to take a long time to pick up. When you use an active verb, you can avoid the adverb. For example, instead of saying "He walked quickly" you can say "He strode" or "He sped" or "He trotted". All of those verbs imply something more than walking. They give us an idea of how he walks, what he's thinking, what kind of character he is, even. Always use the most concise wording you can. Nobody likes to slog through five sentences just so a character can reach the door.

**Avoid "that" whenever you can. The first thing I edit for is "that". The table that stood by the door, the things that he thought, the gun that he carried, the panties that she wore...(hey, this is what I write, okay?) Nine times out of ten, "that" is a junk word. Remove it and the sentence flows more smoothly, reads better. (The exception is dialogue, where people tend to use "that" more, and it can help to establish character.)

**Something should always be happening. Always. Information should be passed along. Lives should be in jeopardy. People should be having sex (again, we're talking about my work here, but I like sex in books, so I'm urging you to, um, put it in.) Someone should be throwing up or shooting up or giving up (except waking up. Limit waking-up scenes if you can.) If you can pass information along while any of the above things are happening, that's even better (technically, every scene should pass along some sort of information anyway.) Even if you're giving your characters (and your readers) a bit of a break so they can do necessary things like get drunk (well, it's necessary in my books) some sort of tension should still be there, some hint of action should simmer beneath the surface. The reader should feel all hell could break loose at any minute.

Like Anton, I'm particularly proud of my dialogue and feel it's the one thing I can say I write well. What he said was absolutely correct (in all things, but I'm writing specifically about his dialogue tips.) I just want to add to it. Pay as much attention to what your characters don't say as what they do say. I have a character who has never once uttered the word "sorry", not in any form. He does not apologize. Never. I don't expect readers to notice as they read that he's never said sorry, but at some point he just might say it, and when he does they'll notice. Not to mention what that shows about his character. He also hides behind words, using only the most bland terms of endearment in English but saying romantic things in other languages--one of which is even a code for something else. It wasn't a conscious choice until later when I realized he was doing it. Now it is a conscious choice and it showed me a lot about him and his need to protect himself emotionally. Again, it's not something I expect the readers to consciously pick up on--but if they think about it, they will.

Now I could have explained it. I could have had the heroine think about it, but I haven't. She realizes it because she's not stupid, but because she hides too she doesn't examine it. But discussing it (um, like I'm doing here) brings it to light, and shows off my little tricks. It makes it something people will look for, and I don't want that. So forget I mentioned it, but keep it in mind, because what people hide when they speak is just as important as what they reveal. They may have a way of pausing before they talk, because they stuttered as a child or because they're afraid people will ignore them. Or it could be that they're very, very careful about what they say and so stop to think about every word that leaves their mouth. What would that tell you about someone, who had to be so careful? Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a character so careful suddenly throw caution to the wind and just talk? How emotionally wrought would they have to be? How emotional would that make the scene?

What about smeone especially verbose who suddenly clammed up? What about someone faking a language or dialect to fit in? There's all kinds of things dialogue can show us, far more than just telling us "So-and-so liked to keep his feelings to himself". You have an entire book to show us; hint and we have a lot more fun.

And shouldn't reading be fun?

(BTW, a quick aside: Thanks to the intermittent Royal Mail strikes we've been having for the last few months and will continue to have, my magnets are delayed. FYI, winners.)


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