Just Use Said: A Writerly Discussion on Dialogue Tags

There are a lot of articles and blog posts on this subject, but I wanted to open a discussion here.

Before I joined a writer’s critique group, my writing was far from publishable. I had adverbs everywhere, along with a lot of ‘said’ synonyms. The more my work was reviewed, the more I realized I had a lot to learn in the writing department.

Like the use of adverbs, I realized that when I began avoiding said-synonyms, I was forced to strengthen the narrative and clarify the action.

I’m not sure about you and your writing, but when I was using said-synonyms, it was as a means to avoid excessive use of ‘said.’ BUT the glorious thing about changing all those tags back to ‘said’ is that you begin to see all the holes in the narrative, giving you the opportunity to strengthen the prose and clarify tone.

Here’s an example:

“And what about you?” I whimpered.

Or.

A shudder rippled through my chest, spilling tears onto my cheeks. I pulled my sleeve over my knuckles and wiped them away. “And what about you?”

The first one is fine, sure. But the second gives a sense of what’s going on outside of the dialogue. As a reader, I start a book for the concept, but stay for the characters. When you take the time to reveal those subtle character traits, like how they interpret what they’re feeling or how they respond to what they’re feeling, the reader is able to get a clearer picture of the character, leading to a better connection between your writing and the reader.

Substituting action for dialogue tags also provides a more cinematic reading experience. Going back to the example, whimpered describes how it is said, but when you add in the details of the character wiping away the tears with her sleeve, you get to see what the character is doing. Again, this gives the reader more insight into the character, making the reader more sympathetic to the character’s cause/goals.

Of course, these are just my thoughts and preferences as a reader and writer. I believe that writing, like most arts, is incredibly subjective, so if you have additional thoughts, please share them in the comments section below.

 

 

Beautiful People Link-up: Resolutions & Goals

During Oct-Nov-Dec last year, I participated in the link-up Beautiful Books, created by by Sky of Further Up, Further In and Cait of Paper Fury. The rest of the year, they host the meme Beautiful People, which consists of ten questions about writing and works-in-progress.

This month, the meme is focusing on resolutions and goals.

1. What were your writing achievements last year?
I had the first book, GUARDED, in my series beta-read, then rewrote the manuscript based on the feedback. I also won NaNoWriMo2015 with 65k toward book 3.

2. Tell us about your top priority writing project for this year?
My top priority this year is querying GUARDED. Right now that means adding new chapters from a second POV, revising said chapters, revising the whole MS for continuity, then doing a couple rounds of polishing. I’m not intimidated at all…

3. List 5 areas you’d like to work the hardest to improve this year.
No. 1 – Improve my copyediting skills. I’m currently taking a course through Writers Digest, so I’m on my way with that one.

No. 2 – Expand on skills developed in 2015. I spent a lot of last year learning how to write a fuller narrative. It still feels a little foreign at times, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to set those skills more firmly this year.

No. 3 – Improve world-building capabilities. I feel like I’m always battling the info dump or not providing enough details in my settings. Here’s to hoping I find the right balance.

No. 4 – Keep my mind open to new, creative possibilities. This might seem weird, but sometimes I get so focused on where I think the story should go that my mind closes off to all the awesome things my characters/world are capable of. [And now it’s time to sound like a nutter.] They’ve spoken to me a lot this past year, revealing things I didn’t even know existed inside my own fictional universe. I know there are plenty more secrets to discover, so I hope I’m open enough to listen.

No. 5 – Stop letting my PTSD get in the way. Though I’ve made some progress, I still have a ways to go. I have this stupid thing that happens whenever a trigger gets hit: I give up. Well, to me it feels like I give up. In reality, it’s more that I’ve fallen into a deep, dark well, and I have to claw my way up the slimy, slippery stone walls to get back to working order. Depending on which trigger is hit or the condition of my support system, it can take hours or days or even weeks.

4. Are you participating in any writing challenges?
I try to participate in the monthly twitter writing challenge where you’re to write at least 500 words a day. To learn more about the challenge or to participate yourself, visit writingchallenge.org.

And of course I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo2016! I’m a big advocate for the vomit draft, so NaNo is right up my alley. I’ll be drafting book 4 of my YA Fantasy series this year.

5. What’s your critique partner/beta reader situation like and do you have plans to expand this year?
Right now, I have a couple brilliant writers who read my stuff when it becomes available. I’m not sure what the future brings in terms of my living/work situation. If I had my way, I would spend my days working on my books, reading/critiquing other manuscripts, or studying the industry. Hopefully one day I’ll get to that point. Then again… adulting…

6. Do you have plans to read any writer-related books this year? Or are there specific books you want to read for research.
I have a few books that I return to on a regular basis: The Kickass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience by Chuck Wendig, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglist, and Save The Cat!: The Last Book On Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder.

7. Pick one character you want to get to know better, and how are you going to achieve this?
Piper Saunders. She’s the protagonist for book 2 in my YA Fantasy series. Her story is the first I ever wrote from beginning to end, but due to the nature of it being written when I was fifteen and still learning how to write a novel, it lacks in a lot of areas. I’ve completed the outline for the new version, which is completely different than the original, so I’m excited to see how the story and Piper evolve.

As for how I’m going to achieve this: I’m just going to take off the reigns and see what happens.

8. Do you plan to edit or query, and what’s your plan of attack?
Yes. All the above. The query for GUARDED is already set and vetted, so now I just need to finish the revisions on the MS and kick it out into the world. I suspect there will be a lot of crossed fingers and refreshing of the emails.

9. Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”  What are the books that you want to see more of, and what “holes” do you think need filling in the literary world?
Umm, this is a difficult question because there’s a lot of cross-pollination of genres out there through small press publishers or self-publishing. If you want an awesome steampunk historical thriller, pick up Odd Men Out by Matt Betts. Paranormal alternate history? Steel Victory by JL Gribble. I’m sure there are small slivers open in the literary world, but what it really come down to for me as a writer is simply writing the book I want to read. The characters and worlds I create I need to love enough to spend years with. It has more to do with me as the creator than what I feel is “missing” in the industry.

10. What do you hope to have achieved by the end of 2016?
I’m really hoping to have signed with a literary agent by year’s end… *prays it doesn’t take years to find one who loves my work like I do*

 

BOOK REVIEW: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes is Tahir’s debut novel in YA Fantasy. Since its publication in April 2015, it’s received so much praise that it became a NYT Bestseller and was optioned for film. And because of its success, Tahir fans have demanded a second installment. Lucky for us, her publisher agreed.

Seriously though, this was a fantastic debut that truly lived up to the hype. Throughout the read, I felt the story nod toward other bestselling YA novels like The Hunger Games and Shadow and Bone, but the heart of Tahir’s story and characters was completely unique to her.

But onto the review…

NON-SPOILERY REVIEW:

An Ember in the Ashes follows the winding stories of two characters: Laia, a slave bent on saving her brother, and Elias, a solider who desperately wants freedom from the empire. There’s friendship, love, betrayal, action, intrigue, and of course we can’t forget brutality. I’m pretty sure this book has something for everyone to enjoy. Probably why it was optioned for film.

Tahir manages to sculpt this expansive, complex world with a rich history that is routed in both blood and mythology. Because she wrote in a dual first-person POV, we get every angle of the story: the slaves, the scholars (conquered people), the Empire, and the Empire’s underlings. We even get a taste of a much bigger conflict, which due to spoilers, I’m not going to put here.

The one thing that I absolutely loved about this book was the fact that every character had a backstory, motivation, and character arc. You see the painstaking, attention-to-detail, efforts of the author from page to page that has you invested in every character from top to bottom. And even though it is a fairly large cast, every single character is important. Tahir does a fantastic job at tying in each character thread that truly makes for a phenomenal read.

My only complaint was that sometimes the writing wasn’t consistent. There were moments that were absolutely breathtaking in gorgeous imagery. Then there were moments where the emotional impact was softened because the writing wasn’t pushed hard enough. Whether it was a ‘tell’ or a ‘cliché’, there were times where I wished Tahir had just pushed a little further to really make my heart break.

Granted, this is a VERY SMALL complaint in the grand scheme of my enjoyment of this novel. If it weren’t for the fact that everything else was so beautiful and impressive, I may not have worried too much about it. But you know how it goes, once you prove you’re capable of something, people expect that same level of excellence ALL THE TIME.

Overall, I loved this book and am anxiously awaiting the sequel. I’m excited to see where this series, and its author, go from here.

NOW STOP HERE TO AVOID SPOILERS!

STAHP!

DON’T DO IT!

SPOILERY FANGIRLING:

Can we just take a second to admire the incredible world Tahir built in An Ember in the Ashes? Seriously, from the rich history of the Martials and the Scholars to the culture(s) and mythology, the world building was top notch and probably some of the best I’ve seen in a debut fantasy. The cultural struggles and strains go far beneath surface-level, and I think that’s what makes this book so special and so incredibly impressive.

I’m not sure which bit of world building was my favorite, so I’m going to cheat and say that it was the way Tahir unpackaged the world. Each page brought something knew and complicated to world. We start out with just a simple conflict: Scholars vs. Martials. Then we get Resistance and its different tensions. And Tahir pushes the world further still with the Augurs, their long game, and the Nightbringer and his history.

With the world building alone, there was no way this could be a stand alone, and I’m so glad I didn’t read this book prior to the news that the publisher had picked up the sequel. I would have cried. A lot. That ending, the mystery of what the Nightbringer has planned, the romance(s), the still-unknown long game of the Augurs. I NEED MORE! MORE!!!!

Moving on, THE CHARACTERS! I know I said this in the above section, but I really am impressed by the fact that Tahir gave every character a backstory and motivation, not just with Elias and Laia but all the secondary characters as well. We even see a little humanity in Marcus after he killed his twin. And despite the absolute CRAZY the Commandant’s got going on, we even get a glimpse into her motivations. But in the words of Sherlock Holmes, I suspect there’s a larger game afoot, specifically with her tattoo and her connection to the Nightbringer.

I did sympathize more with Elias than I did with Laia, especially in the beginning. The first third of the book was a lot of character development and story set-up, which I had a little trouble trudging through. But the moment the trials started and Laia started working at the Commandant’s house, the pace TOOK OFF! The moment the Augurs got involved, I couldn’t put the book down.

Moving onto the writing because I mentioned it above. Overall, I found the prose beautiful and lyrical. Tahir manages to capture the very essence of humanity and lay the souls of her characters bare for the reader. But there were a couple moments where I wanted more from the writing. Specifically, the scene where Helene (who I LOVE because she reminds me of Liraz from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy) vows her loyalty to Marcus. This is a huge, heartbreaking moment for Elias, and I just needed more. I wanted to cry, to feel the heartbreak and the abandonment, but I didn’t. The moment came and went so quickly.

The only reason I’m even able to say the above is because Tahir brought us torturous scenes that were beautiful in their brutality. The scene where the Commandant carves that ‘K’ into Laia, for example, was incredibly intense and painful.

I’m so excited for the sequel, A Torch Against The Night, to come out (slated for August 2016). This debut was sure to be the start of a phenomenal and impressive career for Sabaa Tahir.

What about you? What were your thoughts? Leave a comment below so we can discuss!

Feeling incredibly thankful…

Ever since I got my beta notes back in May, I’ve been spending every day (that I can) rewriting and revising my current WIP, GUARDED. And then this past Saturday, I finished a draft that I’m actually rather proud of.

I’ve been blessed with phenomenal CP’s and beta-readers this past year. CP’s who were patient and willing to help me learn and grow as a writer. Because seriously, I had a lot of work to do to get GUARDED to where it is now. The narrative was too thin, which contributed to flattening some important characters in the novel, AND the way I had initially plotted the novel left one of my most compelling characters on the sidelines for most of the story.

Since I started to take my dreams of being a published author seriously, I’ve tried to maintain the mindset that the story comes before everything else. Meaning that regardless of how difficult expanding my writing skills was going to be or how painful the criticism was, I would do what I needed to in order to do the characters and their stories justice.

And so I learned how to write a fuller narrative (Thanks, Chelsea!). And I learned to let go of my dialogue tags and adverbs (Thanks, Columbia Writers!). I also learned that even though it’s the protagonist’s story, it’s also the story of every character in the novel (Thanks, Todd, Brigitte, Deidre, and Dustin!).

But most importantly, I learned how incredibly important it is to never give up. Granted, I have a long road ahead of me yet with the querying (and hopefully, submission process), but the manuscript I have now would never have become what it is without the long, painful hours of revision paired with the many, many, MANY cups of coffee.

I am SO thankful for not only the lovely people listed above, but also for all of you incredible people who follow my blog. Your support is so encouraging and I can’t begin to thank you enough.

But before I get off this gratitude train, I do have four other peoples to thank, and lucky for y’all, they’re also bloggers…

Nicolette Elzie @ A Little Bookish, A Little Writerly
Nicolette was one of the first people to comment on my blog. I remember opening the comment on my phone in the Starbucks drive-thru and legitimately started tearing up. It was on a relatively personal post, Why You’re Not Writing: Critical Introspection, where I had opened up about my PTSD and how it affected my writing. Her words were so encouraging. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself. Since then, she’s become a dear friend, instrumental in my blog growth (all the tags! Lol), as well as recently volunteered to read through the latest draft of GUARDED, which is half the reason I’m even able to say that I’m proud of this draft. Her excitement for the book makes me flail a lot, and also gives me hope for the future of this project!

Melanie @ Melanie Noell Bernard, Aspiring Novelist
Another writer I met through the blog-o-sphere. She’s hilarious and tenacious and I’m so excited I can call her a friend. She’s a huge inspiration to me as a blogger, because she hauls ass with the posts, nearly one every day! I don’t know how she does it! Not to mention she entertains my psychobabble. She’s another poor victim I’ve conned into reading GUARDED. She’s usually more of a SciFi reader, so I appreciate her stepping into fantasy for a couple hundred pages. XD

Hanna @ J.L. Gribble
Incredibly talented author and overall lovely human being, Hanna has played a pivotal role in keeping me sane (well, kinda haha). I met her during NaNoWriMo last year during the write-in’s. The moment she said she had a crotchety old vampire modeled after a red-headed Michael Fassbender, I knew we had to be friends. (If I didn’t tell you this already, Hanna, SORRY!) Her first book, Steel Victory, came out this past summer, and trust me, guys, you want to know these characters! Plus the world is phenomenally brilliant. I’ve read a short story and a novella from this series, both were FANTASTIC! I’m about halfway through Steel Victory now and can’t wait to share my thoughts on Hanna’s debut.

And now for why I’m thankful for her friendship (because I’m leaving in the tangent about her beautiful book!), Hanna was incredibly kind and patient in working with me while I tried to figure out how to write the proper narrative for GUARDED. I can’t tell you how many versions she and Chelsea read of Chapter One, but it was a LOT. Hanna also invited me to her publisher’s writing retreat where I got to connect with some fantastic people as well as do my first reading.

And last, but certainly not least…

Lynanne @ Daybreak in Autumn
Lynanne reached out to me on LadiesWhoCritique.com because of our mutual interests and writing genre/audience. And though we did start out simply as critique partners, she swiftly became my soundboard for EVERYTHING! Any crazy twists/turns in my books, she heard them first. Anytime I needed to rant about a book I read or criticism I received (there’s a difference between constructive criticism and just being an asshole – I’ve received both), she was an incredible friend and took all the rants in stride. Thank you, Lady! For being such a wonderful friend!

I feel so lucky and blessed to have all these people in my life. And seeming as how this gush fest is nearing a thousand words, I’m going to stop. Thank you everyone I mentioned above and a special thank you to all of you reading this! I’m beyond grateful for your support.

Wishing you a very happy holiday season!

Bree

BOOK REVIEW: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Holy Hera. Where has this book been all my life?!

A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book in a new fantasy series written by V.E. Schwab. It follows the misadventures of Kell, the last of a unique breed of magician that can travel between different dimensions. The London’s of each dimension differ based on their relationship with magic, and when magic from a darker realm hitches a ride to another, Kell’s life plummets into chaos.

But seriously, THIS BOOK! From cover to gorgeous cover, I enjoyed every word of it. The concept, the characters, THE WRITING. All of it was fantastic. And unique. And gorgeous. And brilliant. And ALL THE AWESOME ADJECTIVES!

Onto specifics though…

NON-SPOILERY REVIEW

Let’s start with the writing. The best way I can explain the “feel” of this book is to call it a classic fairytale with modern pacing. The elegant narrative is in a close third from multiple POV’s that gives you the most intimate view of both the plot and all the major players.

Schwab also doesn’t hold any punches. Once Kell makes that first misstep, he keeps on tripping, all the way to the end. Anything that can go wrong, does, and it keeps the plot brilliantly paced, always sprinting forward.

I have to confess that this is my first time reading Schwab, and a quarter of the way through ADSOM, I realized that I would follow this author anywhere, to whatever genre she chose to take on. The writing, the STORYTELLING, is THAT GOOD! So many things go into what makes a good book for me. Concept, Characters, Plot, World, and Writing are the main five. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen in love with books that hit three of the five. But this book had EVERYTHING. The multiple Londons, the way magic worked, the elegant prose, the fast-paced plotting, the complex set of characters, ADSOM was everything I could have ever wanted in a fantasy novel.

I feel like I should clarify here that I think most books are lovable, but writing is a subjective art. And when I judge a book based on the five criteria’s I mentioned above, it’s more on a dial and less of a straight yes or no. So when I say that I’ve loved books that hit 3/5, it’s more so it maxed out those criteria.

But anyhoo, back to the review. Stop here if you don’t want spoilers!

SPOILERY FANGIRLING

So I guess this isn’t really a spoiler as it’s the first thing you see of Kell, but THAT COAT! I love the coat. I want that coat. And the fact that Schwab opens the story on the coat immediately throws us into the deep end of her world.

“What? You didn’t know this was a fantasy? Well, now you do! Hope you can swim!”

Okay, it wasn’t THAT abrupt, but you get a quick sense of the world and Kell, all within the span of the first couple pages. BRILLIANT!

Side note: There are bound to be numerous Brilliant’s in this section. SORRY!

Moving on, I love how complex Kell is. Much like his coat, Kell has multiple sides. Prince. Ambassador. Antari. Smuggler. And Schwab captures each every one of them beautifully. She also illustrates how important subtle urges like “belonging” are. From Kell’s relationship to his brother, Prince Rhy, to his complex camaraderie with fellow Antari, Holland, and even his affinity for smuggling tokens across London lines, we understand quickly that Kell is searching for that thing/place/person that makes him feel “home.”

Then he meets Delilah Bard, who is one of the most clever characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading. She’s a thief, but she’s far from stereotypical. She has an aspiration to see the world, any world, and have an adventure. She doesn’t want charity and doesn’t really want to be a thief forever (though she does want to be a pirate). Thievery is a means to an end for her, a means to get out of the slums of Gray London. Then she picks Kell’s pocket and finds an adventure that she’s not 100% sure she’ll survive.

The dynamic between Kell and Lila is a brilliant one (told you). Lila gives Kell that sense of “belonging” that he’s been searching for, and Kell is a promise of adventure for Lila. But my favorite thing about their relationship: IT’S NOT ROMANTIC! Their mutual respect and camaraderie has NOTHING to do with sexual attraction or romance and IT IS MY FAVORITE!

Also, Lila outsmarts Kell at nearly every turn. She sees things so complexly, and we see how with the stone. Where Kell simply calls it “bad magic,” she recognizes it as “clever.” And I think this is an important distinction between the two characters, not only setting them up for future plotlines, but also to show how they balance each other. Kell is intelligent, yes. But Lila is cunning. And the two of them together is, yes I’m going to say it again, BRILLIANT.

Another side note: I can’t tell you how excited I am for A Gathering Of Shadows (ADSOM #2 coming in February 2016)! If only because I’m fairly certain Lila is also Antari. She’s missing an eye but doesn’t remember how. We know there’s magic in her, but the telltale sign of the Antari is the singular black eye… Miss Schwab, what do you have planned?

Moving along to antagonists, the Dane twins. I LOVE how Schwab sets these two up. Okay, I love how she sets up all her characters. She shows their motivations immediately upon meeting them, which allows the reader to spend the story guessing what that character will do or how far their power reaches. And I LOVE the fact that we see the undoing of Danes in their first scene as well. The fact that they lead by force, that little detail, is what costs them Holland and the black stone in the end.

GAAAAH!!! IT’S ALL JUST SO BRILLIANT (5)!!!

So there it is, my review for the INCREDIBLE A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab. If you haven’t picked up this book, DO IT! DO IT NOW! If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts below!