Dialogue: Getting to the Point

couple talking
Dialogue captures the essence of conversation.

With NaNoWriMo coming to a close, it’s time to start thinking about editing your first draft. Here are some tips to help make your dialogue sing.

Use boring dialogue tags

Many beginning writers look for alternatives to said, such as stated, exclaimed, averred, or expounded. The problem is, these alternatives draw attention to themselves and away from the dialogue. Generally, it’s best to stick with asked and said. They’re invisible, so they don’t sound repetitive to the reader. That doesn’t mean that you can’t occasionally use words like whispered or interjected where relevant. But be judicious. Continue reading “Dialogue: Getting to the Point”

Writing Effective Sex Scenes (Without Embarassing Yourself or Others)

In honor of NaNoWriMo, I’m tackling a subject that many beginning novelists find challenging: sex scenes.  Sex scenes require finesse and attention to craft, but they don’t have to be difficult to write.  Just keep in mind the purpose that they serve.

Like any other scene, sex scenes must do the following:

  • advance the plot
  • develop the characters
  • create a mood
  • leave the reader wondering what will happen next

Love in a cave
Sex scenes work best when much is left to the reader's imagination.

Sex scenes do not require detailed description of the action.  One of the cardinal rules of writing fiction is that you should never tell readers something they already know.  Readers already know that characters have certain body parts, and that during sex, those body parts will interact in certain ways. Unless you want to stress something that’s unusual about the body parts or the interaction, you can avoid mentioning them altogether. Implication is sufficient.  The readers’ imagination will fill in the rest.

What does interest readers is how the characters feel about the action. Are they blissful, bored, insecure, or confident? Is the protagonist hoping that this is the man she’ll spend the rest of her life with, or is she mentally composing a grocery list?

As in any other scene, sensory detail is important. Again, you don’t have to tell readers what sex feels like; assuming that you’re writing for adults, most of them already know. Instead, choose details that are specific to the character. Does the protagonist notice that her lover’s sheets are cheap and rough, whereas she’s used to 300-thread-count cotton? Does that make him less attractive to her? Or does she think he just needs a good woman to teach him about the finer things in life? If the latter, do you, as the author, want this to be a warning sign to readers that the protagonist is blind to how incompatible the couple is? Or do you want to show that they complement each other—that they’re both open to growth? Focus on how the action of the scene ties into the larger action of the novel.

Sex scenes can be emotionally intense.  They often show characters at their most vulnerable. They can be turning points in a relationship or a novel. Remember that sex scenes are about character, not about sex, and approach them without fear.

Unearthing the Clay: Pros and Cons of First Draft Critiques

The only hard-and-fast rule of creative writing is that there are no hard-and-fast rules. For every writer who swears that you must have an outline to organize your ideas before you begin a story, another one says that outlines are useless. Organizing your ideas is what a first draft is for.

A first draft is the clay from which the finished work is molded. It’s not supposed to be any good; it’s for the author’s eyes only. The author must have the freedom to write a first draft without a critical eye challenging the flow of ideas. For most writers, the notion of showing a first draft to a critiquing group is counter-intuitive. But some beginning writers working on the first draft of a novel may benefit from the feedback of a critiquing group. Whether the benefits outweigh the risks depends on the author—and the critic. Here are some things to consider before sharing your raw manuscript.

What are your goals?

A critiquing group is not a support group. Yes, providing support is one of the critics’ roles; but their primary job is to give constructive feedback, identifying what’s working and what’s not in your manuscript. In the beginning, hearing this feedback can be traumatic. The first time I read through critiques of my work, all I saw were the negative comments. On the second read-through, I noticed that there were positive ones as well. Yet my brain hadn’t even processed them: it was as if I were reading them for the first time.

Your primary goal when seeking critiques should be to learn how you can improve your work. If it’s praise you want, show your manuscript to your mom or your best friend. Members of a critiquing group aren’t doing their job if they’re not honest. Continue reading “Unearthing the Clay: Pros and Cons of First Draft Critiques”

Manuscript Formatting: Just Do It

“How do I format my manuscript?”

This question plagues new writers who worry that their manuscript will automatically be tossed into the Rejection pile if the layout is wrong. Other new writers view formatting as self-expression; if their manuscript looks outstanding to their eyes in 9-point Monotype Corsiva, then that’s what they use. Besides, they reason, the writing is what matters.

The truth lies somewhere in between. Agents and editors aren’t monsters. They’re people who make their living by representing or buying the manuscripts of writers like us. They care more about the quality of the writing than the way it looks on the page. But they’re also busy professionals with far more submissions than they have time to read. So go out of your way to avoid giving them a reason not to read yours. Continue reading “Manuscript Formatting: Just Do It”