Monday, 20 February 2012

The Overuse of Speech Tags Other than "Said"

One of my pet peeves is when writers go out of their way to find a speech tag other than *said*. Apart from being distracting at times, it can slow the pace of your story and it can be likened to *telling rather than showing* (so *telling* with your speech tags rather than *showing* with your dialogue or action tags. Yes, it’s true that there are some very well-known and well-loved authors use varying speech tags a lot and sell many books, but those authors have been published a long time. For the beginning author, it’s better to try to play by the rules to some extent.

There are correct speech tags and incorrect speech tags. The following are common and can be used because they make sense in the correct context: said, asked, murmured, retorted, replied, continued

Strictly speaking, the following verbs are incorrect when used as speech tags: smiled, laughed, pouted, grinned, grimaced

Wrong: “I love you, too,” he smiled.
How can someone *smile* dialogue? Smiling doesn’t involve the voice, just the muscles that crinkle the eyes, pull up the corners of the lips and nose, change the mouth angle, and pull the mouth corners sideways. A person cannot smile and speak at the same time (unless he’s a ventriloquist).

Right: “I love you, too.” He smiled.

Wrong: “I knew I could fool you,” she laughed.
People cannot *laugh* dialogue. Try it. People can laugh while speaking dialogue, but cannot laugh a whole sentence.

Right:  “I knew I could fool you.” She laughed.

Wrong: “You promised,” she pouted.
Pouting involves closing or pursing your mouth. Again, unless she’s a ventriloquist, it’s highly unlikely that your character can pout dialogue.

Right: "You promised.”  She pouted.

Wrong: Grinned is similar to smiled.

Wrong: “That’s disgusting,” he grimaced.
Grimacing is another facial expression, not a way to speak.

Right: “That’s disgusting.” He grimaced.

Most of the time you are better to use *said* because the eye just glides over it without taking it in. Even better, use *said* without too many adverbs because your dialogue should speak for itself. But that’s a whole other blog.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Five Things to Look for When Editing Your Manuscript

 1.      When editing your manuscript, Spelling and Grammar Checker1 and Find and Replace2 are your best friends. The first and most important (and surprisingly easy) step is to run Spell Check. Granted, it’s not a perfect piece of software and may want to make changes that you know are incorrect, but be forgiving because it can find typos and flag up problems with grammar as well. You can choose to change to what is suggested or keep your words as they were.

2.      A homonym is a word that sounds the same as another but has a different meaning. Check your manuscript for the correct homonym. e.g. to, too, two; your, you’re; where, we’re, wear; there, their, they’re; it’s and its (a very common mistake: Often an apostrophe is used to show possession, but in the case of the pronoun *it* an apostrophe is not used. *Its* is a pronoun used to show possession or ownership and therefore referred to as a *possessive pronoun*.*It's* is a contraction of *it is* (or *it has* when *has* is not the primary verb3) The apostrophe takes the place of the letter *i* in is.) Use the Find2 function to make sure you’ve used the correct word.

3.      Have you made your characters three-dimensional? Have you given your characters a personality, good qualities and flaws (to make them seem human), a unique voice? Try to give each protagonist some exclusive character or speech pattern. I’ve judged entries that were wonderfully constructed, but the heroine and hero sounded very much alike not only in their speech but in their internal thoughts. Make each character distinctive and let them use different expressions.  

4.      Have you varied the pace of the story? Long sentences tend to slow the pace. Short, sharp sentences pick up the pace. Make sure you vary the sentence structure, and limit the overuse of too many long sentences as this can slow down your story.

5.      Do we see what the point of view character sees and feel what the point of view character feels? Do we laugh and cry right along with them? Do your central characters have motivations and emotions that develop through the story? And finally, have all the loose ends been tied up neatly with a bow so that when the reader reaches that final page, she smiles in contentment with the ending (in a romance), or at least doesn’t feel cheated by lack of information that leads to the murderer (e.g. a character who is brought into the story in the last few pages of a suspense thriller). Make sure the information is all there, though preferably trickled through the story as it develops rather than an information dump in the beginning.  

1 In Word, “Spelling and Grammar Checker” is the ABCΓΌ button in the toolbar at the top or press *F7*.

2 In Word, to “Find” press *Control F* and for *Find and Replace* and *F5* or *Control H*. Or you can use the Edit tab in the top toolbar and scroll down.

3 Visit my blog on this topic: