The first draft of my novel clocked in at over 187 thousand words. That seemed like a good length to me. I did my self-edits then queried it to a handful of agents. Unsurprisingly, I wasn't signed by an agent at that time.
I went on a learning spree after that, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. I hired several editors, and learned more from each one. I finally met my current editor at the San Francisco Writers Conference in February of 2019.
I have learned a lot from Mary Rakow, Ph.D. and I am going to share some of those tidbits with you in this series of blog posts.
While I'm waiting to hear back from the agents I will start querying soon (hopefully this weekend), I figured it would be a good time to give back to the writing community.
Today's tips will be about...
I am going to post the actual text from my draft, along with the edits I received. I thought about writing examples from scratch, but that would require much more effort, and I'm not too embarrassed to let you all see how bad I used to be. I took edits from several places in my original draft and punched up the example below with even more problems than what my editor fixed, so I could squeeze more examples into a smaller excerpt of text. (Yes, I'm making myself look deliberately bad on purpose. I do it all for you, Writing Community ^_-)
The rules for dialog tags (that I have learned so far) boil down to a couple of things:
- Only tag dialog when the speaker isn't obvious.
- Shift your tags around so sometimes they are actions, sometimes they are simple "he/she said", and sometimes they are verbs.
- The tags don't need location descriptors unless, again, the location isn't obvious.
- Do not repeat the same verb over and over again!
"Vanguard again, Comms?"
"Actually, Captain3 — we're in the rear guard this time."
"I guess some of the cruiser captains were getting jealous of our little frigate's after-action scores," Hollins gloated at the weapons station4.
"Let me guess, Comms . . . vanguard again?"
"Actually — we're in the rear guard this time."
"I guess some of the cruiser captains were getting jealous of our little frigate's after-action scores," Hollins gloated.
- Repeated verb
- Garcia's title below tells us what her station is, cut
- Not needed, cut
- We learned his station in an earlier paragraph
- give her an action here, break up the flow
- Repeated verb
- move this tag to after her first sentence
- change this to a more command appropriate word
- most dialog tag adverbs aren't needed, cut this