Is it Writing or Speaking to Your Reader? #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Author Toolbox Blog Hop

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Thank you Raimey!


On February 15, I finished a first draft of a manuscript. Since then I have been combing through some of my earlier scenes and making initial edits before I hand it over to my editor. I remember something important she told me several years ago.

Make the scene and the dialogue reflect who your character is, and what they are honestly feeling.

I remember back then thinking sometimes what we say and do doesn’t translate to proper English, or make complete sentences. And then I thought about English class. Who likes getting red pen marks all across their sentences in an essay that took hours to write? Weeks?

Not me.

But after I saw her changes to my scene, the light bulb brightened and I think it might have busted from the brightness. She was right. Her edits were exactly what my gritty abused teen character would really say and do.

Today, I’m thinking about the craft in our stories. Most importantly, the ability to write like we speak, like we really react when facing conflict.

So how do you do that? After reviewing a handful of writing articles, I’ve listed my 5 top tips in no order of preference.

  1. Know your character’s reactions in different emotional settings and to different emotions.

In Sara Domet’s 90 days to Your Novel, she created several exercises to explore a character in different internal and external scenes. These scenes weren’t necessarily scenes in the book outline, but scenes to help a writer explore what you know about your main character. What does he/she look like enraged? Sad? Terrified? Is it different when they’re safe inside closed doors? What does it look like in public, or with his or her most trusted peers?

  1. Let yourself write first, then go back and ask the questions you need to perfect the action and emotion for your character.

In my first draft, I enjoy writing freely while the images and the emotions are fresh in my head. I don’t stop unless I’m forced to. I try not to overthink until the scene is done. If I did? I’m afraid I wouldn’t enjoy the art of writing so much. But now that the draft is over, and time has set between certain scenes, I am able to go back and ask the questions I need to ask: Would my character really think and do this? How is she showing it? How is she growing or not growing in the moment?

  1. Choose dialogue words carefully. Evaluate whether or not certain words are true to your character and fit. I tend to steer away from cuss words. But if I have a character who’s young and gritty and grew up with no boundaries, then of course they would push certain cuss words that make me uncomfortable. Or vice versa.
  2. Read your work out loud. Maybe read it to someone else you trust. Does it sound real to you? Does the motive or action feel real?
  3. Write to your reader as if you’re talking about the story and not writing it. This is an interesting point I stumbled across in my research. But it’s true. I want to feel my character like I’m watching them and talking to them. Why not write that way?

I hope my thoughts on writing to write or writing to speak helped.

Have a lovely rest of your day.

When writing a novel, a writer hould create living people ..."

About Erika Beebe

Author, dreamer, and a momma to a couple of wonderful kids, I try to live life everyday in hope and inspire others along my way.

Posted on February 21, 2018, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. Great post. Thanks for sharing 🙂 Dialogue can be tricky at times.

  2. U r totally right in everything and especially loved the last one…btw, wanted to ask: did u write the outline first, or just a stream?

  3. Putting your character in a situation just to see how they would react gives you a good idea of what they are really like. A trick I learned was to have each character say what he thought about the other characters. That revealed things twofold.

  4. Another thing is, I think once you write the first draft in its entirety, you KNOW your character better. You’ve spent an entire book with them. So when you’re going back and revising, you can bring them to life even more–or take out the things you know now this character wouldn’t do.

    Great post!

  5. Some excellent tips! I’m, especially, a proponent of step number two on your list. The first drafts of my stories, I write to entertain myself. I revel in the pleasure of creating my characters and seeing their stories develop and lives unfold. Of course, I edit a lot as I go along, but it is only after the first drafts are complete that I properly check for character consistencies and distinctions. That is when the checklist comes out and I focus more on crafting their realities rather than my fantasies. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

  6. Great tips! I always write as well as I can frbthe first draft and then for my first round of revisions I look for places where I can add more details and emotion and make my characters real.

    Beta readers are also good with pointing out when a character says or does something that doesn’t quite work.

  7. I love the idea of exploring how the characters react in different external scenes, with different witnesses. Don’t we all act different depending on where we are and who we’re with? Excellent advice.

  8. I’ll definitely be checking out 90 days to Your Novel. Thank you for the recommendation.

    I often like to consider the different emotional extremes of my characters: relaxed/content, passionate (in a positive way), devotion, fear, anger, sadness.
    I like to consider both “what it would take to bring out those emotions”, and “how would they express or conceal them”.
    What does the character look like in a “professiona environment”, in public, alone, and with their trusted few?

    I’ve also heard two other exercises that strike me as interesting:

    1. Put two characters together who will never meet in the story, under the pretext of a cocktail party/social hour, and have them strike up a conversation.
    2. Put a character into someone else’s office, study, or personalized room. What does the character do while they’re waiting for whatever comes next?

    I definitely agree that part of writing a rough draft is “giving yourself permission to write it wrong”, and then go back and perfect it during editing.
    Reading out loud is another favorite exercise of mine, particularly if I can ask someone to sit with me and listen. Just the knowledge that someone else is hearing my words changes how I regard them.

    • I really like your suggestions. Especially dropping a character in someone else’s room. I will definitely try that. And yes, the 90 days to your novel has been the best resource I have found. I have had so much success with it 🙂

  9. Great advice as always, Erika. I try to follow all of these steps when I write as well. Also, I love the quote from your editor. It is crucial that the prose, as well as the dialogue, reflect the plot in the story. Thanks for the insightful tips.

  10. Great post. I always read my dialogue out loud – to my dog. I can hear the words and I don’t feel silly reading to no one. He’s happy because he thinks I’m talking to him. So it’s good for both of us 🙂

  11. I love these tips, especially #2! It’s so much easier to fix something than to make it perfect from the start. And reading aloud makes such a difference. Great post!

  12. conqueringourdemons

    Speak to me! (Pun intended) 😂

  13. I love the point about writing as though talking – it’s definitely something I try to do. And I’ll try to keep 1 and 2 in mind as I go, great post!

  14. Congratulations on finishing another manuscript! I hope you took a little time to celebrate your accomplishment. About talking to your reader rather than writing the story, I need to take this one in, fully absorb it. Great post!

  15. Great post! The last piece of advice to write to the reader as if talking about the story is one I hadn’t heard before. I’ll definitely be keeping this in mind as I think about how to make my stories more realistic. Thank you for sharing!

  16. Reading out loud makes a big difference. I love my Dragon Naturally Speaking since I hear what I am saying-typing as I do it.

  17. Excellent advice! After I started reading my dialogue out loud, it started flowing better.

    Also, congrats on finishing a draft — these things are a struggle!

  18. Terrific post — am going to apply directly to the scene that flew onto the page yesterday — and consider it through some of the lenses you recommended! What a terrific perspective on taking criticism, too.

  19. Victoria Marie Lees

    Thanks for sharing this, Erika. I always need to know where I’m going in the story as well. You only include dialogue and actions needed to move the story forward. It’s what those words or actions mean to each character that makes the story come alive. In other words, the internal interpretation for the characters, what it all means to them, is vital to story. Great post!

  20. Great post! I agree we need to have the right emotions and actions.

    I have a bad habit of writing “inappropriately unconcerned” characters, and it’s not something that I can overcome and fix myself, because I lack the ability to recognize it. I, personally, don’t know the appropriate response to situations, and I have to rely on critique partners to tell me what that really should be. Putting it like that, it sounds like I’m not doing my own work. But the most recent example was a character who encountered a storm, which brought up the deaths of the people she loved the most. I’d written it in my usual action-oriented manner–run through the storm, get to safety, reflect on what to do next. It took my critique group to point out she should be feeling anxiety, freezing up because of trauma, and probably at least crying, if it was going to come across as big of a deal as I wanted it to be.

    That’s the great thing about critique partners and editors, right? They can point out what you’re missing.

    • I really appreciate your reflection Loni. I think what you are doing sounds absolutely perfect. I think first drafts are tricky to really make the character be exactly how we want them to be and I am a huge believer in the help of others to get us there. Have a great rest of your week 🙂

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