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.


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.



Using Music for Inspiration & Motivation

“To me, movies and music go hand in hand. When I’m writing a script, one of the first things I do is find the music I’m going to play for the opening sequence.” — Quentin Tarantino

Anyone who’s seen a Tarantino movie knows that for the weeks following, at least one song from that soundtrack is playing on repeat in your head. For me, it was “Twisted Nerve” by Bernard Hermann (aka. The whistle song from the hospital scene in Kill Bill: Vol. 1). I may have re-watched Kill Bill over the weekend . . .

I have a couple theories why this happens (some more scientific than others), but that’s not quite the reason for this post.

When it comes to music, people listen to different things for different reasons. The runner listens to music that keeps them motivated. The late-night driver uses music to stay awake. The insomniac uses it to attempt to fall asleep.

But as creative’s, we use music in a different way. For me, music works as inspiration, motivation and reprieve.

When I’m working on a particular scene or chapter, like Mr. Tarantino, one of the first things I do is find a song that suits what I’m writing. (Granted, not exactly like Tarantino — I’m devoted to the print art form of writing novels.)

I create a play list for a couple of different reasons:

  1. When you get stuck at 400 words, music can help inspire the next sentence to get you onto your next writing spurt.
  2. When I’m transitioning from one thought to the next, music helps me take a step back to formulate a proper transition.
  3. Depending on the scene you’re writing, music can help you pull more emotion from your characters than you initially anticipated.

So if you’re getting stuck or feeling uninspired, take a minute to look at your iTunes (or whatever you use to store your music) and create a play list to help motivate you.

Happy Writing!

5 Steps to Becoming More Productive

We’ve all had those moments where we shout at our deadlines, “if only I had more time!” Lord knows I’ve prayed for 28-hour days more than once. Unfortunately we mere mortals only get a measly 24 hours to accomplish everything on our [if you’re like me, then an extremely long] to-do list.

IMPORTANT NOTE: After my eighth formal submission for the 4-hour daily extension, I got an email reply from the universe saying that due to the rotation of the earth and the delicate cosmic balance that makes our planet inhabitable, my request was indefinitely denied. Sorry, folks.

So how do we juggle all our responsibilities and still find time for our creative endeavors?

1. Get a planner.

Seriously, whether it’s on your phone, tablet, computer or you wanna rock a tradition print copy, a planner is an invaluable resource to keeping your responsibilities and projects organized.

If you’re in the market for a great print planner, take a look at “Passion Planner.” Along with monthly calendars and weekly breakdowns, Passion Planner was designed to keep you motivated [and organized], so you can achieve your goals. You can find more information about Passion Planner at www.passionplanner.com.

2. Make a list of what’s important.

I know this seems ridiculous, but sometimes it helps to see what’s important to you in an itemized list. When you’re allocating time for everything in your week, it’s a lot easier to look at that list and start carving out appropriate time for each item. For me personally, my dog and my writing come before social engagements. It’s not the most popular choice I make, but if I haven’t met a writing deadline, I’m not getting to drink that brewsky on Saturday night. Thems be the rules.

3. Make REALISTIC goals for yourself.

Here’s where it starts to get tricky. All of us want to complete that novel in 30 days, but let’s face it, if you work 40 hours a week, have kids [including the furry kind], and have [some other required miscellaneous engagement], odds are you’re not going to have the hours to punch out 80k+ words.

So set little goals. Instead of having the mantra “I’m going to finish this month,” change it to “I’m going to write 1000 words a day.” Believe me, simply changing the verbiage in your goals can turn something overwhelmingly dreadful into continuously motivating.

4. Cut out what doesn’t need to be there.

Trust me, I’m just as addicted to TV as the next person, BUT finding out who GoT killed off can wait until after the current chapter is written.

5. Remember that LIFE HAPPENS!

Though deadlines are important, please remember that life happens. There are going to be days where your 9-5 demands some overtime or your friends need a favor. Your goals are important, but so is your sanity. So strive for success, but don’t stress if it takes a little longer to get there.

Happy writing, everybody!

My First NaNoWriMo: Pitfalls & How to Overcome Them

Holy crap, Batman! November’s almost over!

So for the last 26 days, I’ve been punch away at the 50k word challenge that is National Novel Writing Month. Being that this was my first time taking on the crazy challenge, I figured I’d share some tricks that I did to help me succeed as well as pitfalls I definitely ran into.

Before the month, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I mean I had some idea (after all, I am a research junkie), but I had a million and one insecurities and doubts running through my head. “Should I take this on?” “What if I get writer’s block?” “What if I come down with an epic case of laziness?” “What if I procrastinate until the last week, then have to sacrifice all sleep for the sake of meeting the goal?”

And my favorite insecurity leading up to NaNo: “What if I forget how to write?”

Well after I successfully validated my 50k words this morning (at 2 a.m. **cough cough**), I’m here to tell you that NaNoWriMo is totally doable.

What’s the trick? Just keep writing.

I know, I know. That’s what EVERYONE says, but there’s a reason for that: it works. Not going to lie to you, there were days I didn’t put one word to paper. I started off really well, knocking out 26k in the first week, but then I hit a dry spell where for nearly five days, I couldn’t (didn’t) open my laptop and get typing.

What got me out of that slump? A local Write-in with other NaNo participants in my area. Honestly, if it weren’t for those meet-ups with other writers, I probably would have lost a lot of motivation. I never put more words to paper than those nights I sat at a café and word-warred with other WriMo’s.

So for those of you who struggled with NaNoWriMo2014 or are contemplating participating in the future, next November, make time to participate in those Write-In’s.

Moving onto one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from other WriMo’s: Losing interest in your NaNo project.

Granted, it kind of depends on how far in you are with your word count, but if you’re halfway though or more, please please PLEASE don’t just throw in the towel.

Odds are you’ve just hit a wall in the story. So instead of giving up, I suggest you take some time to get to know your characters. Write a scene where your character shares their back-story or a scene where they’re pushed beyond their limits. It doesn’t matter if this scene doesn’t make it into the final draft, but count in toward your 50k regardless. Revision is for December. November is for writing.

This trick got me over many a [what I thought was] writer’s block. So instead of giving up, take a step back from the plot and get to know your characters.

Hope this helps you move forward with your writing project, whether or not it’s NaNoWriMo.

Happy Writing, Everyone!


Why you should outline. Even if you’re a discovery writer.

So NaNoWriMo begins in less than a week and millions of writers are gearing up for the 50k word challenge.

Everyone has his or her unique way of prepping for National Novel Writing Month. For the intense planners like myself, we’ve already developed outlines, character profiles and have a stack of sticky notes allocated to our NaNo projects. Meanwhile, pantsers are clutching their pens [or keyboards], anxious for the green light on November 1st.

But this post isn’t about NaNo Prep. This post is about outlines.

As a planner, my outline is my road map through my book. I know where I’m going and what stops I need to make, allowing me to be a non-linear writer (which has helped me overcome many a road block).

But I haven’t always been that way. For my first novel and a half, I was definitely a discovery writer. But now that I’m revising and rewriting all my discovery work, I’m wishing I had outlined from the start.

Because an outline is more than just a road map.

An outline can help you detect plot holes, recognize pacing issues and help you further develop your story arch(s). I’ve had numerous conversations with other writers on how doing an outline (even after completing a draft) has improved their novel and helped work out some issues they had been dealing with during revision.

One writer [THANKS, JAMIE!] was awesome enough to share an outline format with me that has truly transformed the way I look at the structure of my novels: The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet.

Seriously though, Snyder’s outline format from his book, Save the Cat, changed my life. It separates your novel [or screenplay] into four parts: Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b and Act 3. Below is what his model looks like:

Opening Image (What we first see in the story, setting the mood and tone.)
Theme States
Set-Up (Introduction of world and characters)
Catalyst (Also considered “The Inciting Event”)
Debate (Does the protagonist want to take on this new problem?)

Break Into Two (Protagonist decides to move forward.)
B Story (Sub Plot)
Fun and Games (Solving problems before problems get REALLY serious.)
Midpoint (That moment where you say to yourself, “Well crap just got real.)

Bad Guy Closes In (The stakes are raised.)
All is Lost (The Protagonist’s low point.)
Dark Night of the Soul (Protagonist does some soul searching to find the solution.)

Break Into Three (Protagonist figures out the solution.)
Finale (The Climax)
Final Image (Resolution or “Wrap Up”)

The above is a very simplified version of this beautiful outline, but it really has done wonders for me.

You don’t have to use this particular model to outline your WIP, but I do recommend taking an afternoon to deconstruct your story. Taking that time to find plot holes prior to submission is kind of invaluable.

Happy Writing, Everyone!

Snyder, B. (2005). Save the cat!: The last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need. Studio City, CA: M. Wiese Productions.