Tips My Editor Taught Me (1st of many)

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2019-05-23
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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...

Dialog Tags

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:

Example:

(Hover your mouse over the red text to see the notes, the notes will also be at the bottom of the page as footnotes for those of you on mobile)

"Orders coming in now, ma'am," Garcia announced1 from the comms station2.

"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.

"Vanguard has jumped to shift-space," Garcia5 announced6.

"Helm, prepare to jump. Comms sound battle stations. Weapons and Science, get ready," Billings7 said8 firmly.9

Revised Example:

Garcia took off her headset and whistled. "Orders just came in, ma'am."

"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.


  1. Repeated verb
  2. Garcia's title below tells us what her station is, cut
  3. Not needed, cut
  4. We learned his station in an earlier paragraph
  5. give her an action here, break up the flow
  6. Repeated verb
  7. move this tag to after her first sentence
  8. change this to a more command appropriate word
  9. most dialog tag adverbs aren't needed, cut this

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