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Oct 20, 2020

How to Write and Punctuate Dialogue

By: Pro-Critiquer Kimberly H.

How to write and punctuate dialogue sounds boring, right? You’re wondering, “Why should I care?” The short answer is that by perfecting dialogue, you write a better book. The bonus by-product is that you may save money on editing if you can submit a polished manuscript. Most importantly, use dialogue to control pace and show characterization when writing fiction. Be intentional—characters should have a purpose for saying something and the way they say it should be consistent with their characterization. Dialogue must help to advance the story, fit the scene, and add to tension or create conflict or it’s just tedious filler for the reader to skim.

Here's a snippet of my collection of frequently shared tips for writing dialogue. It should not be new information but hopefully it's explained simply and can be a quick reference guide. What do I mean by dialogue? I'm referring to what was spoken in your book. 

For authentic-sounding dialogue and a more engaging read, skip greetings, introductions, small talk, and cliches. It’s also best practice to avoid excessive dialect or too closely mimic actual speech with “uhs” and “ums.” Fiction is less formal so feel free to use contractions and fragments and comma splices. Keep it close to the way actual people talk by leaving names out of dialogue when there are only two people conversing. If the characters know each other well, show it by using interruptions and answering unasked questions. Please do not abuse dialogue to inform readers of something both characters already know. 

Below are the most basic of dialogue punctuation tips followed by examples. Use quotation marks to indicate spoken words. Capitalize the first word inside quotation marks for dialogue without tags.

        "Are these examples helpful?"

When a dialogue tag precedes what is said, use a comma. End dialogue with period, exclamation point or question mark.

        She said, "I hope this is clear."

When a dialogue tag comes after what is said, use a comma, exclamation point or question mark with a lowercase pronoun, then period.

        "I tried to keep it simple," he said.

When a dialogue tag interrupts in the middle, use lowercase for the second part of a quotation that divides a sentence, and two commas.

        "My posts are meant to be helpful," she said, "and save you money!"

Use commas in the dialogue tag if it modifies the dialogue.

        "I'm not sure," he said, perplexed.

Use an em dash (—) inside of the quotes to indicate interrupted speech.

        "Did you—"

        "Shh, don't say it!" she interrupted.

Use an em dash (—) outside of the quotes without commas to indicate action interrupting the dialogue.

        "Are you tired"—she yawned—"of reading about punctuation yet?"

Use an ellipsis (…) to indicate speech that trails off.

        "I forgot what I was saying…" she said.

If your character goes on at length for more than one paragraph, an open quotation mark is used with each paragraph but only the final paragraph needs the closing quotation mark.

        "I'm taking a shortcut with this example. Imagine a whole paragraph of riveting talk about commas.

        "And still I have more to say about commas. Blah, blah, blah…for another paragraph.

        "Until finally you offer wine or chocolate, or both, and I stop going on about commas." 

Kimberly H. is a developmental editor with certifications in project management and copyediting. Her superpower is delivering ahead of schedule. She loves editing Romance for indie authors but also edits a variety of genres for publishers. Rather than simply pointing out issues or giving feedback that leaves you stuck and uncertain how to improve, Kimberly H. provides solutions to pace, plot, character development and point of view problems via edits in manuscript as well as a revision letter of the most important areas to address. She delivers value. Her developmental edits help authors improve their writing now and in future books so the investment in one pays off for many.

Oct 15, 2020

How to Identify Passive Voice and Crush the “Myths”

By Pro-Critiquer: Pamela J.

One of my pet-peeves in writer’s groups and in critiques online are blanket statements such as “You use a lot of passive voice.” But when asked for specific examples, they either could not provide any, or they fell back on certain “myths” about passive voice. I’ve seen critiquers rewrite active voice sentences into passive voice, later admitting they didn’t understand what makes a sentence passive. I’ve also heard it called passive tense, which is incorrect.

What is passive voice? Or, for that matter, what is active voice? Both deal with placement of the subject and the verb in the sentence.

Active voice:  The subject comes before the verb (or action). The subject is performing the action

  - John (subject) painted (verb/action) the house (object).
  - John (subject) was painting (past continuous tense/verb) the house (object).

Passive voice:  The Verb (or action) comes before the subject. To identify passive sentences, look for any action and who performs it.

 -  The house (subject) was painted (verb/action) by John (no longer the subject, now a prepositional phrase).

Now what were those “myths” I mentioned earlier? 

Myth: Never use passive voice.  

Passive voice isn’t wrong. It’s not a grammatical error, it’s a style choice. Sometimes, it can be very useful, such as the way a particular character may talk, or as a method to create distance between the reader and the story. 

Myth: Never use “to be” verbs (such as was, were, being, am) 

Although using “to be” verbs (or any form) can weaken your writing, they are sometimes necessary, such as when the subject is not as important as the action.

Keep passive voice to a minimum, less than 25% is a good rule of thumb. Overuse of passive voice can make your writing look weak. If you are seeking representation from agents, or submitting to publishers, you would want your writing to read strong. 

As you can see, identifying passive voice takes time and before you mark the text as passive, be sure you understand why it is passive. Rewriting the sentence for the author is only helpful if done correctly. If you are unsure, add a comment that the sentence appears to be in passive voice and let the author make the change, if they agree.

Good luck! And happy writing and critiquing.  

About Pamela J.

I love helping writers improve the quality of their writing to create an immersive 'can't put it down' experience for their readers. I have been critiquing and editing fiction for authors since 2018 after transitioning from a thirty-year career as a marketing professional, and technical writer/editor in the healthcare and construction industries. I earned my bachelor's degree from Cal-State University in Long Beach. This year I completed two novels, one a historical family saga and the other a psychological suspense. Both are in the querying phase for traditional publishing. I have a third historical fantasy/time travel novel in the works. Since most publishers use The Chicago Manual of Style, that is the only style guide I follow for U.S. manuscripts. My critiques are honest, direct, but with sensitivity, and I try to show examples where possible. Communication is key. If you don't understand a comment, please let me know. Your satisfaction is important.

My favorite genre is historical fiction (Tudor period, 18th-early 20th century Europe and America, particularly) but I enjoy many others. See my list. I am open to adult, young adult, and upper middle grade fiction. 

Favorite authors: Diana Gabaldon, Deborah Harkness, Philippa Gregory, Michael Crichton, Dan Brown, James A. Michener, J.K. Rowling. 

Favorite Books: The All Souls Trilogy, The White Queen, The Good Earth, The Thorn Birds, Harry Potter Series, The DaVinci Code, Rebecca, Jurassic Park Trilogy 

Please no erotica, graphic violence or war stories. I look forward to working with you.

Oct 13, 2020

Build a Platform, They Say

By: Linda Lee

What is a platform? It's the various outlets an author must use to market themselves like emaciated lions in need of a good zebra carcass. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Websites, Pinterest... all of them must be pummeled to death with your wit, wisdom and exemplary writing prowess.

So you post content in all those platforms every single day. Is it working yet?

Yeah, okay, maybe I'm a little bitter. Sorry.

I get that we do need to become expert marketers to build our reading audience. This equals $$ for would-be publishers. Doing my own legwork is a commonsense work ethic that I can easily wrap my head around (Who can't when it comes to money that can go into their pocket?).

But here's the unappealing rub: until you are a mega seller who can afford to pay someone to do all the platform marketing for you—you have to keep doing it on your own. And it doesn't end. It doesn't even slow down!

Even if you are lucky enough to get picked up by a big publishing house, you'll still have to spend 20+ hours a week working to keep your platform lively and viable—even if you aren't making any money. 

Okay, before you get your knickers in a twist over my sarcasm; I'm not opposed to hard work—God knows how many hours I spend toiling over a single paragraph in one of my novels. But a judicious bit of simple math tells me this can easily become a money-losing proposition for a working stiff like me.

Let’s do some calculations. 

Most authors start out by writing early in the morning or at night while holding down a day job.
  • 40 work hours/ week.
Most humans have other humans whom they must attend to, associate with, or care for, before and after work. Let's be conservative and give them only 4 hours a day to spend with their loved ones on weekdays. 
  • 4 hours per day X 5 days = 20 hours/ week.
But then on weekends, the need to spend time on your family increases. Kids need attention, the spouse needs even more. 
  • Let's call it 8 hours x 2 weekend days = 16 hours/ week.
That’s a whopping 76 hours per week for mandatory time a person must spend being away from the business of writing!

Now, bear with my calculations here. This is where the rubber begins to meet the road.

IF you are intent on being a good writer, you must invest the time to educate yourself. Let's say you can only afford a night class once a week. That's 4 hours. Add another 8 hours, spread out over the week in order to complete the writing assignments. 
  • That brings the total of mandatory investment to 88 hours/ week.

Also, all writers are strongly advised to join groups and associations. For me, the investment varies because sometimes my involvement is comprised of working in critique groups, while other hours are invested in webinars, conventions, or meetings. For simplification, I’ve averaged the investment out to be about an hour a day.  On weekends, I tend to spend a little extra time catching up. So, let's say, 5 hours for my M-F investment, and 4 hours on the weekends.
  • 88 + 9 = 97 hours/ week.

Finally, writers must have the time to write. Writing time varies wildly, but a conservative number for me would be 10 hours a week. (When I'm on a roll in the middle of a novel, I will spend up to 10 hours in a single day when time allows!)
  • 97+ 7 = 104 hours/week. 
Now we need to add the platform marketing activities. I’m being conservative when I suggested this endeavor takes 20+ hours a week. I use six platforms to promote my writing regularly. Some of them are social-media focused and some aren’t, but at only 30 minutes per day/per platform to compose, sell, respond, or otherwise engage, on average, I’m investing roughly 1260 minutes a week on marketing! 

Adding the 20+ hours of platform marketing activities to the total number of weekly hours brings us to a grand total of 124 hours!

Uh, I don't know about you all, but that only leaves about 6 hours a day to sleep! Who can function like that?

Granted, anything great is worth a lot of hard work. But unless you want me behaving like the walking dead, or you're willing to help pay for my divorce, how the hell is a working stiff like me supposed to look, act, and be the kind of professional a publisher desires?

Platform-building tips and tricks are welcome.

About Linda Lee
Linda Lee is a published songwriter and author, and has penned radio jingles, scripts and ad copy as co-owner and creative director of Zebra Motion Arts; a video production company formerly based in Phoenix Arizona. She also spent many years as a manager and working writer in the music world penning original songs for acts such as, Hot Dogma, James’ Gate and The Brazen Heads—the latter of which won her a prestigious place in the finals for her song, Dirty Dublin at the Clonmel Song Contest in Clonmel Ireland. 
As an author, Linda Lee has self-published the first of a three-part romantic suspense series; Who’s Your Paddy? Whose Paddy is He Anyway? and Knick Knack Paddy Whack (Toss a Girl a Bone), and is in the final stages of editing You Can Never Be Too Famous, an egomaniacal fueled peek into the underbelly of the music world through the eyes of rock star, Colin Cure. 

Linda Lee took an extended break from writing early in 2017 to deal with some significant health issues, and only recently returned to dust off her first foray into crime fiction with, Sister Margaret’s One Big Lie, a work in progress that placed in the 2016 finals of The Strongest Start writing competition at The Next Big Writer, and available for review in completed draft form here at CritiqueMatch.

Oct 9, 2020

Agent Spotlight Series: Matt Belford

A warm welcome to literary agent Matt Belford! Matt joined The Tobias Agency in 2020 after previously working at the David Black Agency and the Aaron M. Priest Agency. Once he received his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Emerson College, he decided to apply his talents in representing authors, as opposed to writing himself. A lover of all things science fiction and fantasy, Matt accepts his nerd status readily.