You did it! First you wrote a novel, then you put in the hard work to edit it. That is one hell of an achievement! You should be proud of yourself and you should celebrate. If you didn't celebrate with some personal reward when you finished your first draft, you should definitely do that now. Your reward can be anything that signifies to you, "I did it and I earned this reward." It might be a long soak in a bubble bath with a glass of your favorite beverage, the purchase of a new journal (to start plotting your next book), a night on the town, or a week-end get-away. It should be something that is within your means and which will be your incentive for the next part of the process (Querying? Beta readers? Self-Publication?) or get you moving on the next story. Whatever it is, go do it!
G O C E L E B R A T E!!
When You're Done Celebrating...
After you have had a moment to celebrate, you will want to get back on track with completing your journey. If your plan was "just to see if I could write a book," then you may be able to consider your job done. But if you want to take the next steps, you have a little more work to do. Whether you choose to publish independently, or try to find an agent to publish traditionally, you will want to do at least two things: 1) Write a blurb. 2) Find some beta readers.
Remember Your Original Blurb from Day 2?
The blurb we wrote on Day 2 was done in order to get focus on the essence of our story. It was not meant to be used at a later date as the book jacket or back cover blurb, nor as the query you would use to submit your book to an agent. It was a good exercise to start with because it helped us focus on the big picture rather than all those words and details which can feel overwhelming when we suddenly realize we've written a novel (YOU REALLY DID IT!). It got us in motion and put us in a mind-set of "I'm now editing." It took the edge off, so to speak.
If you plan to self-publish, you will want to write a blurb for you back cover. If you are not quite sure how to write it, do an internet search for "back cover blurb." It might also be worthwhile to include your genre when you do the search. What you'll soon discover is that there is no perfect formula. You may find some guidelines, but no specific formula. I like the post by Author Unlimited (https://authorunlimited.com/blog/back-cover-blurb) which breaks down the elements you should consider including, elements like:
Reedsy has a good post as well (https://blog.reedsy.com/write-blurb-novel/). In the Reedsy post, you will find information about using keywords and examples from some pretty famous authors like Diana Gabaldon, Lee Childs, and Paula Hawkins.
Find Beta Readers and/or Critique Partners
Beta readers are people who will read your book and, hopefully, give you some critical feedback about your story. They are usually not your first readers. Your first readers are what I like to call cheerleaders. Your cheerleaders are going to be those people you trust with your words, who aren't ultra-critical, and who cheer you on. They are your family or friends who want to read your book because they want to cheer you on. They want to see you succeed. If you don't have those people in your life, for whatever reason, then you might skip on to beta readers.
Beta readers don't have to be professionals, but you should look for someone who has a critical eye for reading. There are beta exchange resources where you can give a critique to receive a critique, and there are also sites where you can put out a request by providing your genre, the title of your book, and a blurb.
The Write Life has a post listing 40 places to find a critique partner and I strongly recommend reviewing it (https://thewritelife.com/find-a-critique-partner/). Most of the sites listed are free. It's important to keep in mind that many of them are expecting critiques in return. Since you may find yourself on the other side and needing to provide a critique, you might want to review Victory Crain's post, How to Critique Fiction, which has some general guidelines (like, "Critique as you would want to be critiqued.") and a series of questions you can work through to provide good feedback to an author. C.S. Lakin has a nice checklist as well (https://www.critiquemymanuscript.com/checklist-for-critiquing-a-novel/).
Professional Editing Services
After you get feedback on your story, you may discover that you need to use a professional editing service. Before you settle on an editor, make sure you understand the different types of editing services. See the post on PenUltimate Editorial Services for a breakdown on the many types of editing (http://penultimateword.com/editing/types-of-editing-defined/). One type of editing that I'm noticing is not on a lot of the sites is a sensitivity read, but maybe this is because it's not truly a form of editing. A sensitivity reader is someone with extensive personal experience or a member of a niche community that is represented in your story. The reader will provide feedback regarding any potential bias, stereotypes, misrepresentation, or racism.
Once you've figured out what type of editing you need to have done, review The Write Life's post about how to pick an editor (https://thewritelife.com/how-to-find-an-editor-crucial-questions/). That post could save you time, money, and frustration that could arise from taking a misstep.
Self-Publishing? Format Your Book
If you have weighed the options between publishing independently or traditionally, and have come to the conclusion that self-publishing is the best fit for you, you will want to spend a little time researching on which platform you'd like to publish. The Smashword's founder, Mark Coker has published a guide on the Smashword's publishing platform (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52) that will guide you through the process of manually formatting your manuscript and I've found that the guide works across all the platforms, including Amazon.
If you have written in Word, Amazon has a tool for formatting your book with styles with a few clicks of the mouse. I wrote a review of the tool on my blog when the tool first came out. Check it out! (https://authorrichellerenae.weebly.com/random-musings/kindle-create-made-an-add-in-for-word-documents)
The other option is to pay for a formatter. See what Creative Penn has to say about formatting on her site. (https://www.thecreativepenn.com/formatting/)
Publishing Traditionally? Find an Agent
If you want to publish traditionally, you will want to write a query to send to agents. If you have already spoken to an agent who is eager to read your work, you will still want to provide a well-written query. If you have no idea how to find an agent, your first steps might be talking to other writers or researching lists that are available online.
QueryTracker (https://querytracker.net/) and Publisher's Marketplace (https://querytracker.net/) are two popular websites that maintain lists of agents, agencies, and publishers. Both sites offer easy search features that allow you to filter for agents within specific genres and maintain stats on agent success. For a small annual fee, you can track all the queries you send and the responses you receive on QueryTracker.
It's important that you visit the agent's website or find their manuscript wish list so you are submitting to an agent who is hoping to discover a book like yours. Agents also close their Inboxes to submissions for a variety of reasons, so you want to be sure you are querying to agents who are open to queries when you are ready to send yours. You will also want to pay close attention to what each agent wants in a query. Sometimes they want pages and other times they only want a query. Sending them items they do not specifically request is a great way to have your request immediately tossed in the trash.
Write a Query
Once you find some prospective agents, you will want to spend some time writing a query. In some respects, writing a query is even harder than writing a blurb because you are trying to write something that appeals to someone whom you know about next to nothing. The good thing is, agents are typically looking for some fairly tried and true information that is rather formulaic. While you are certainly not required to write to the formula, if you've never written a query before, research and understand the formula and then write what you think works best for your novel.
Read NY Book Editors' post for a good formula for writing an effective query with examples (https://nybookeditors.com/2015/12/how-to-write-a-darn-good-query-letter/). Another great site to check out is QueryShark (https://queryshark.blogspot.com/). QueryShark is run by literary agent Janet Reid. She receives submissions for query reviews and then posts her remarks. It's incredibly informative to read through all (yes ALL!) of the posts and see how she's criticized or complimented the authors' submissions. Once you've read the posts and taken a shot at writing your own, you can even submit it to see how you did OR how you can make it better.
Exercise: Next Steps Lists
Your exercise for Day 30 is research, research, research. Research the next steps you want to take and make your plan of attack. I've put several lists together into one page in Microsoft OneNote, but you might want to create individual pages for each item.
Back Cover Blurb - text
Query - text
Cheerleaders - checklist
Critique Sites - checklist
Beta Readers/Critique Partners - table columns: Name | Email | Notes
Agents - table columns: Name | Website | Email | Requirements
DOWNLOAD: Character Attributes Worksheet
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Time for the Final Touches!
Here we are at Day 29! If you followed me here all the way from Day 1 when we set up our Editing Notebook in Microsoft OneNote, major kudos to you! If you have completed all (or most!) of the exercises the last 28 days, your novel must be just about squeaky clean! You've looked for plot holes, made your reader care about your characters, firmed up your settings, took the sag out of the middle, removed info dumps, and perfected your first sentence, first paragraph, and first act. You worked down from the biggest issues, to the finer and finer details. All you have left are to take a couple more swipes at final spelling, grammar, and phraseology.
Most writers are familiar with the spellchecking tools that are available within whichever application they are using to write their story. Therefore, I won't go into any further detail except to remind you to do one more spellcheck before you send your baby into the world.
While you are at it, you should also run a grammar check. A grammar checker will find grammatical errors and often make suggestions about how you can fix them. On Day 27 we completed an exercise for rooting out inconsistencies in active or passive voice and past or present tense. While a grammar checker will catch these as well, I think it is worthwhile as a learning experience to do these manually in order to correct any bad habits we may have. After making the same change fifty or a hundred times, we start to be better writers because we catch ourselves in the act and self-correct.
A grammar checker will not only find grammatical errors, but it will make recommendations about how to fix those errors AND it will implement those recommendations based on current trends. It will be worth your while to run your manuscript through a grammar checker.
The application you use to write your story may or may not have a grammar checker, and it may or may not automatically check grammar as you type. It could be the feature is available but turned off by default. Consult with someone in the know about whatever tool you are using if you don't see it checking grammar as you type or when you do a spellcheck. Someone in the know can mean Twitter! Post the question in a tweet and use the hashtags #writingcommunity and the software you are using, like #Word or #Scrivener.
Yesterday, when discussion crutch and filter words, I mentioned that word choice is important. Phraseology is all about word choice since it is a reflection of the characteristics of your writing. It is, in essence, your writing style. It includes word choice, but also diction, vocabulary, and speech patterns. It's how you organize your words and phrases. That means phraseology will be unique to you.
Keeping the definition of phraseology in mind, it makes sense that when you read back aloud what you have written, the narration should sound good to you. Of course, that is subjective, but they are your words and those words carry your intent so they should sound good to you. So, read your story aloud. In fact, do this in two different ways. Have the words read to you while you proofread, and then you read them aloud to yourself. In both cases, you will likely find you want to tweak the language here or there to make it "sound good."
Another element of phraseology is making sure you have written to the age level you intended. Depending on the age of your intended audience, word choice can be very important. Just as you wouldn't want the topics to be too "adult-like" for middle grade or young adult, you also shouldn't want the word selection to be too sophisticated for a young reader.
Grammarly - Consider Grammarly if you are looking for a secondary grammar checking tool. You will not be able to use the software on Internet Explorer, but if you have Chrome, Safari, or Firefox, you can add the plug-in simply by visiting the Grammarly website and following the instructions. The free software offers spellcheck, grammar check, commonly confused words, and improper punctuation. It's easy to use and understand and it allows you to decide if the suggestions are correct or not. If you like the software and envision yourself using it on a regular basis, you might consider purchasing the Premium edition which also offers checking for wordy sentences, punctuation in complex sentences, and plagiarism.
NaturalReader or Microsoft Speak. If you have written your manuscript in Microsoft Word or OneNote, you can use Microsoft's "Speak" tool to have your text read back to you. If you don't have those applications available (although you should have downloaded OneNote on Day 1 of this blog series and could copy and paste your text into it), you could use an online tool to do the reading. I like NaturalReader's free tool which comes with several different male and female voices which can read the text you paste or upload. In either case, the readers aren't perfect. They still have some odd inflections and that machine-read quality to them, but they are getting better and better every day.
If you decide to use a proofreading tool that reads your text aloud, sit back and close your eyes, but keep your hand on your mouse to be ready to stop the reader when it reads something that sounds wrong or which needs to be corrected due to a missing or incorrect word.
Read it out loud. Read your story out loud - while the proofreading applications that read text back to you are becoming less machine-sounding, there is nothing like reading aloud in your own voice. You will be surprised how many things you catch that don't sound the same as they look on page when you read silently.
WordCounter and Hemingway App. Yesterday when we talked about crutch and filter words, we used the application at http://www.wordcounter.net to check word density in order to help us figure out whether we had any words or phrases that we overuse when writing. We can use that same site to check the reading level of our text. When you visit the site and copy your text in to have it analyzed, you will find on the right-hand side, a list of details that are being analyzed. If you don't see the "Reading Level" option, click on the More link and turn the option on. If you have written at a reading level that is not consistent with how you wish to publish, you can use a website such as Hemingway App (http://www.hemingwayapp.com/) which can help you simplify your language to make it more age appropriate for a younger reader.
Exercise: Final Touches Checklist
Final Touches Checklist
Spellcheck (built in)
Grammar Check (built in)
Grammar Check (secondary application - Grammarly)
Reading App (NaturalReader Online - http://www.naturalreader.com/online/)
Double-check reading level (http://www.wordcounter.net)
If needed, revise for reading level (http://www.hemingwayapp.com/)
DOWNLOAD: Final Touches Checklist Worksheet
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The Importance of Word Choice
On Day 12, we talked about Chapter Pacing and made sure each chapter flowed into the next, but pacing is also affected by the length of words, sentences, and paragraphs. Longer or more difficult or unusual words and sentences force a reader to slow down. The brain shifts from reading to deciphering. Deciphering might be fine at the beginning of a story when we are world building and introducing characters, but we don't want to slow down readers who are cruising along imagining the big fight scene at the climactic ending of the story. Crutch words, due to their repetitive nature, and filter words, which are often extraneous, can also pull a reader out of the scene. Therefore, whenever possible, you may want to actively try to eliminate them.
What are Crutch Words?
Crutch words are those certain words, phrases, emotions, characteristics, etc. that we unwittingly overuse when we write. We all have our own personal Crutch words that we lean on (Get it? Lean on? Crutch words?) or tend toward using while we are writing. I find that when I'm doing sprints to get as many words on the page as I can in a short amount of time, my crutch words come out in droves. A good editor will spot those for you, but as you re-read your work, you may begin to spot them on your own. Two of mine are “giggle” and "sigh." I've also found that my characters roll their eyes a lot.
In my current work in progress, my main character Elizabeth Aguera giggles a lot, but what is interesting about that is, if I had to describe my character, she would not be a character who giggles. She's a detective who lost a young daughter in an accident and who investigates murdered or missing girls during her annual vacation. She's a serious, thoughtful person. She doesn't giggle. Yet, when I search for the word "giggle" in my novel, Detective Aguera seems to always be on the inside of a joke.
In works that I've edited for other authors, I've found, "for the first time ever” or “best ever” used multiple times throughout the stories. In fact, adverbs are often culprits when it comes to overused crutch words. Knowing this, you should keep an eye out for these words: basically, practically, almost, especially.
What are Filter Words
Filter words are similar to crutch words in that they are extraneous and often not needed to support the narrative of a story. They are often a sign of telling rather than showing (see Day 20 for more information about Showing vs Telling), and they prevent the reader from really experiencing the story from their personal point of view. Instead, they are viewing the story through the character's point of view.
Adverbs may be filter words or crutch words, as are weak verbs and nouns that lack specificity or allow confusion when a sentence is read. Adverbs can be found by searching your manuscript for "ly." While not all adverbs end in -ly, it's a good way to eliminate a big share of them. Weak verbs include words like get or got and almost always have a stronger counterpart verb that can replace them. Nouns that lack specificity include stuff, thing, and that. These also usually have stronger words that can be used.
In Day 27, we looked at Voice and Tense and discussed "-ing" words, but if you didn't get a chance to complete the exercise for that day, you should also search for "ing" to check and see if there are stronger options than the word being used. I've included it in the instructions below, just in case.
Exercise 1: Find and Eliminate Your Personal Crutch Words and Phrases
Steps for using WordCounter.net
Exercise 2: Eliminate your Filter Words and Phrases
Crutch Words Checklist
See Anne Allen and Kathy Steinemann's post about filter words and phrases for even more detail about this topic, along with 80 alternative words and phrases that can help you unravel how to make the corrections.
Take a look at Diana Urban's post where you can find 43 words similar to the ones I have provided to catch even more filter words.
TIP for Microsoft Word users:
Use Search and Replace with highlighting for all the filter words, then read back through your story again. You can use different colors of highlighting to mark different types of crutch words. See my Highlighter post for details.
DOWNLOAD: Filter and Crutch Words Worksheet
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This post goes hand in hand with my post from my 30 Days of Editing Strategies, specifically Day 28 where I demonstrate an activity where writers can eliminate Crutch and Filter words.
Microsoft Word includes several different colors for highlighting text. This can be useful when looking for patterns of Crutch and Filter words that are detrimental to our writing by allowing us to use less powerful words or repetitious language that either bore our readers or pull them away from the action in a sequence.
Imagine searching for all the possible words that are "trouble" words or phrases and having them highlighted in different colors at the beginning of the editing process so that as you start working through your manuscript they jump out at you as items that possibly need some correction. That is the power behind using the highlighter in word. (Alternately, if you have a lot of different types of words or phrases you want to stand out, you can use font coloring as well.)
For example, if your goal is to eliminate the words "thing" and "stuff" and provide more powerful descriptions, you could have all those words highlighted in the color green. If you also wanted to catch as many adverbs as you could in order to exchange them for more powerful verbs, you could highlight them in an alternate color like light blue.
Rather than finding all of the words and manually highlighting them, you can use Word's very powerful Find and Replace feature.
Find and Replace with Highlighting
In these instructions, I will use the examples provided above for "thing" and "stuff" (green) and "ly " words (light blue).
To Remove all the Highlighting from your Manuscript:
Voice (whether active or passive) is sometime confused with tense. I think it might be because of the overlap in the usage of helping verbs, such as the eight forms of "to be" (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been). I'm going to cover both here so you can look through your novel and make sure you are being consistent in both tense and voice.
Past vs Present vs Future Verb Tense
Verb tense places the verb someplace in time. The verb reflects an action that happened in the past, is happening right now, or will happen in the future. As important as it is to use the correct active or passive tense, It's also important to be consistent with verb tense. While dialog may be written to project into the future, the narrative of a story tends to be written in active or past verb tense. Therefore, I will not focus on future verb tense as part of this discussion.
Present verb tense means the actions of the characters are happening in real time as if a news reporter or sports caster were giving a play-by-play.
Officer Bob looks around. He steps to the counter. "I will have a jelly," he says.
Past verb tense, on the other hand, is when the action has already happened. In this case, it is the historian reporting what happened just a moment ago or even many years ago.
Officer Bob glanced around again. He leaned in to the counter. "I will have a cream filled, too," he said.
Note that present tense verbs often end is "s" while past tense verbs end in "ed." Therefore, this can be a good visual cue when confirming tense is staying consistent throughout a story.
In terms of writing a story, neither form of verb tense is necessarily right or wrong. It is a matter of choice whether a story is written in past or present tense. However, it is important that consistency be maintained. Combining the two examples above into one paragraph would be grammatically incorrect because the tense would not be consistent. The reader can be confused about when things are happening.
It's important to note that tense does not determine absolute time in a narrative unless both tenses are used within the same narrative. So, while you should maintain tense in a consistent manner, there is a very good reason to use both past and present tense throughout a story. A good time to change verb tense would be when you are describing events that happen in two different times. For instance, you may be writing in first person present tense with a narrator telling the story, but need him to talk about something that happened in the past.
I look around and think about when I ate the donuts from the corner shop.
"Look" and "think" are present tense while "ate" is past tense. In this case, mixing tense may be appropriate because the actions are happening at different times. I say "may" because there is not enough text surrounding this one sentence to provide exact context. Presumably, the first person narrator is speaking in current tense throughout the rest of the story, but ate donuts at some earlier point in time.
What's that got to do with Helping Verbs?
Helping verbs can also be affected by tense, but current writing trends are in favor of eliminating them. The trend is to use a stronger or more direct verb rather the helping verb. For example, consider the following sentence:
The bird was flying.
In this case, the sentence can be simplified with a more direct verb showing the action as a fact. In other words:
The bird flew.
You may have noticed that these are relatively easy to spot because they are often paired with "-ing" words. In some cases, you may not want to eliminate the helping verb. My rule of thumb is to read it aloud and see how it sounds. For instance, I prefer "It is raining outside" as opposed to "It rains outside" simply because the first sounds better to my ear.
Active vs Passive Voice
To complicate things a little more, let's take a look at active and passive voice which have to do with when a verb shows up in a sentence.
A sentence is in active voice when the subject of the sentence is performing the action. In this case, the verb follows the subject.
The chef decorated the wedding cake.
A sentence is in passive voice when the subject is being acted upon. In this case, the verb shows up in the sentence before the subject. The other key word often found in passive voice is "by" as demonstrated below.
The wedding cake was decorated by the chef.
The key to understanding whether a sentence is in active or passive voice is figuring out the action (verb), then looking at what is performing that action. In both sentences, it was the chef doing the decorating, but in the second sentence, even though he is the doing the decorating, he is not the subject.
The reason I think active and passive tense is further complicated is because of the "to be" verbs. In the section above, "was" was a helping verb attached to an "-ing" word, but here it appears to be tied to an "-ed" word. However, when you put the sentence in active voice and leave the "to be" verb, it gets fixed in the following manner:
The chef was decorating the wedding cake.
Note that all of the sentences are grammatically correct. So why worry about active or passive voice at all? One reason is because active voice is easier to understand. The sentences above are very simple examples. In a more complex sentence, passive voice can be tricky to unravel. Sometimes the "actor" is omitted completely from the sentence and that can be even more confusing. Consider the following:
Rules are made to be broken.
Who is the actor in this sentence? That's a trick question. The actor has been omitted and without more context around the sentence, the reader would have no way of determining if the actor was me, you, or them. If the actor was put on the end of that sentence, though, it would need to be proceeded with "by."
Current trends in writing push to write in active voice, but that doesn't mean there aren't some instances where passive can be an effective form of writing. You might use passive voice when the subject is irrelevant or unknown or when you intentionally want to be vague or talk generalizations. In other words, the rules are made to be broken by anyone who understands the rules.
Exercise: Review and Correct Tense and Voice
DOWNLOAD: Tense and Voice Worksheet
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What are Dialog Tags?
Dialog tags are the "he said/she said" (and all the myriad variations) portion of dialog. The tags provide the attribution of dialog to whomever is speaking. They may occur before, after, or in the middle of speech.
What Are the Rules for "Proper" Tagging?
I'm going to take a page out of "The Chicago Manual of Style" (CMOS) to talk about the proper construction of dialog tags. However, be aware that what is considered acceptable in writing styles can shift over time. What's proper today doesn't always equate to what is acceptable or what is preferred. Therefore, what I state about dialog tags may not be the most popular stance you find depending on who is presenting the information, what industry they work in, and what year it is. Also worth noting is that I'm writing in the US and there may be stylistic differences for other countries.
The key is consistency. If you use a style that is acceptable as opposed to proper, be sure to be consistent in your usage. Even CMOS will say "always" and "never" have no place in this discussion because there are rare exceptions to all kinds of rules. In general, follow the basic rules outlined below, and if there is some compelling reason to break the rule, just be consistent and break it in every instance.
So without further ado, here are the CMOS rules for tagging dialog.
Okay, there's no real thing called "emotion tagging." It's just a phrase I came up with for when I'm editing. Emotion tagging is when you use an emotion instead of "said" in your dialog tag or when you use an adverb to modify the verb "said" (or its many synonyms). In my humble opinion, you cannot "emote" a sentence out of your mouth. Just try laughing and talking at the same time. Try humming and talking at the same time. Try smiling and talking at the same time. Okay, maybe you can do that one. Maybe you can sob and talk at the same time too. But I vote to eliminate these type of tags. I say, let the emotion be it's own action.
Consider this sentence:
"I don't want to leave you," she cried.
The question is whether or not she is "crying out" the sentence (which is perfectly acceptable), or whether she is actually crying. If she is crying with tears flowing down her face, why not let that be the action (or "showing" part) of the paragraph or scene. See Day 20 if you want a review of Show or Tell. [link]
The sentence, if the character isn't actually "crying out" might be rewritten as:
Tears slid down her cheeks. "I don't want you to leave."
Technically, yes, both are acceptable. But the second one, depending on the context may have more impact because the emotion stands on it's own as an action. Consider using stronger writing by eliminating emotion tagging.
Overuse/Under-use of Tagging
How many ways can you say "said?" Stated, mimicked, railed. There are literally hundreds of words that can replace the word said in a dialog tag. We've already talked about eliminating the emotion words, but that will still leave a lot of synonyms for said.
I see two opinions about using "said" in dialog tags right now. On one side, a group of people are saying don't use said over and over. Mix it up. Use those synonyms. On the other side, and perhaps a bit more popular, people are saying, just use "said." Said disappears from the page when the reader reads, and all those synonyms slow the reader down.
I'm in the second camp. My feeling is that dialog tags should be invisible as much as possible. Therefore, you really only need them to clarify who is the speaker or when you want to express an emotion in the most concise was because you don't want to draw the reader out of an action sequence.
In the first case, you can help make those saids disappear by not tagging every line of dialog. By only tagging when you absolutely need to, like in lengthy back and forth discussions, the rest of the saids disappear into the background. Just to keep everyone on the same page and understanding who is speaking, throw in the occasional "he said" or "she said." It also means you don't use the synonym for said unless you want to express a certain emotion in the quickest, most concise way because you don't want to interrupt the flow of dialog.
If you use dialog tags with most of your dialog, you are probably over-tagging.
If you can't jump right to a section of dialog and tell immediately who is speaking (either because there are no other clues in the dialog, or because too much back and forth has occurred and you've lost track), you are under-tagging.
Order of Operation
You thought that was a math term, didn't you? Ok, you're right, it is, but I also like to use the phrase when talking about dialog tags because there is a proper place for them when you find you need to use them. The order of operations in writing dialog tags only matters when you aren't using the basic "he said" or "she said." If you want the "he said" tag to be invisible to the reader, put it at the end of the tag.
The order is more important when the dialog tag is an action. Does the person laugh, then say something? Or does the person say something, then laugh? Maybe it doesn't matter in some instances, but it will be important in many because it may say something about the person or the emotion they are experiencing based on the action they are performing. In some context, laughing after saying something can be used to disarm an offensive comment or to give a sense of, "I'm just kidding." Laughing before something can mean they are responding to something they saw as funny or outrageous. Laughter can also be used to demean or brush off a comment. The order of operation can be used to provide context in very concise writing.
Exercise: Evaluate Your Method of Dialog Tagging
Dialog Tagging Checklist
Proper dialog tagging format is used throughout the story
DOWNLOAD: Dialog Tagging Checklist Worksheet
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What are the elements of a great climactic ending?
A great climactic ending won't just be good winning over evil in a final heroic battle. A battle without an emotional element is just a battle. And a battle that doesn't stand out among many battles in a great war replete with battles is just another battle. The final battle should be the most important, most revealing scene in a novel.
A climactic ending will have a whole series of events that lead the reader right up to the battle. It will be the highest point of tension in the story, the moment the main character has to do or die, and if the writer wants the reader to really love the book, the final solution cannot be a cliché or be out of the main character's wheelhouse. The writer will need to provide all the clues necessary throughout the rising action that the reader is not surprised by anything the main character does to win. For instance, if the main character has never been a cheater, cheating to win would not only be unexpected by the reader, but also out of character for the main character.
It is often during these last chapters when the reader discovers what the main character has needed all along. They may have started out on the journey wanting to take down an evil empire, but discover that they had a deeply buried need to discover the father who was never around when they were a child. Sound familiar?
Exercise: Climactic Ending Checklist
Many of the items in the Climactic Ending checklist will have already been tackled by previous exercises, so this is an opportunity to review and make sure you haven't missed anything.
Climactic Ending Checklist
The main character ...
DOWNLOAD: Climactic Ending Worksheet
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Go to Day 26 - Dialog Tags
What is a lagging middle?
A lagging middle is what sometime occurs after a main character has set out on their journey to find love, solve a mystery, or overcome the villain, but they haven't yet reached the final confrontation. If the story meanders along without an apparent goal in sight, or the trials become too repetitious without having an emotional effect on the main character, the writer risks the reader becoming disengaged from the story.
Needless to say, stories need to move forward, gather momentum, and launch readers into the climax with fear in their hearts for the heroes.
How do you tell if you have a lagging middle?
Unfortunately there is no perfect method for discovering whether or our own stories have low points other than making sure you have a strong story structure. On Day 9 you mapped our story to the classic story arc and that should have revealed places where the story needed work to bring it in line with reader expectations.
The best way to tell if you have a lagging middle is for someone to tell you that you do. This means you might not find out you have a lagging middle until you have someone read your story and provide in-depth feedback. At some point, you may be ready to have beta readers take your story for a spin. Listen closely to what they tell you. If they tell you they were bored at any point in the story, that is an opportunity to fix the lag.
How do you fix a lagging middle?
You've already looked at several ways to fix a lagging middle. On Day 11 you looked at making every scene in your story purposeful. This means you've already examined your scenes to confirm your story is moving forward. If you completed the Character Arc exercise from Day 15, you've also confirmed that your readers will care about your characters. You've even tested your momentum in the exercises covering Pacing from Day 12 and Tension from Day 13. The only other thing you can do at this point is focus on the breathers.
What are breathers?
Breathers are the space between tension in a novel. They are the physical or mental break we give our character as they transition from one challenge to the next as they make their way to achieving that thing they wanted in the beginning of a story. Breathers can be fast or slow, high or low. Depending on where you are within the story, your breather should be used as a method of setting the pace of the story but also of giving the reader "down" time after an emotionally charged scene. If you think of a highly dramatic movie, we are kept on the edge of our seats by the low build-up of oncoming drama as we are by the highly charged moments of an internal or external battle.
This exercise is one more opportunity to focus in a bit tighter on pace to make sure you don't have a lagging middle, so focus on the middle 50% of you story. Yes, this is very subjective and yes you may have done this perfectly while writing without even thinking about it. Keep in mind this is just one more tool that you can use to perfect something that may already be very good or fix something that you initially thought was "just fine as it is."
Exercise: Review Breathers
Analysis of Breathers
Does the breather have an obvious purpose?
DOWNLOAD: Breathers Worksheet
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Go to Day 25 - Climactic Ending