Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The Insecure Writer's Support Group Day and Goodreads Book Club

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts for the February 1 posting of the IWSG are Jacqui Murray, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Pat Garcia, and Gwen Gardner!

February 1 question - If you are an Indie author, do you make your own covers or purchase them? If you publish trad, how much input do you have about what goes on your cover?

Here are the selections for February’s IWSG Goodreads Book Club:

Do you design your covers or have input on the ones your publisher creates?

Monday, January 23, 2023

Don’t Let Empty Dialogue Scuttle Your Scene

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Dialogue is usually fast-paced, but when it’s all fluff, it slows down the story.

Dialogue is one of my favorite things to write. It lets me discover who my characters are and how they interact with the world around them, and how they work though solving their problems. My first draft of a scene is always heavy on the talking.

Usually, the conversations are good and keep the story moving, but sometimes, it takes me a while to find the rhythm and figure out how the scene is going to unfold. When that happens, a big chunk of the dialogue is pointless and empty.

And empty dialogue will kill your scene, every time.

Empty dialogue feels like decent writing because characters are chatting away and often interacting, but nothing is actually being said.

At best, empty dialogue bogs down the scene and slows the pacing. At worst, it annoys readers. They skim through it and lose interest, because nothing is going on.

These empty lines typically show up at the start and end of a conversation, though they can happen anywhere. For example (exaggerated to make a point, but conversations like this actually do make it into scenes):

“Hey Hector, man,” a guy from work called out. Chuck Something.

Hector scowled. Like he had time for this. Chuck stopped and they shook hands. “Morning.”

“Good to see you.”

Hector nodded. “You, too.”

“Some day, huh?”

“Sure is.”

Chuck looked around, apparently in no hurry to leave. “I love days like this,” he said.

“Sunny and hot?”

“Yep. Great boat weather.”

“Ah. Listen, I gotta—”

“How about you? Having a good weekend?”

“To die for.” Hector twitched, picturing the body in his freezer he still didn’t know how to get rid of. Wait a sec “Um, did you say you had a boat?”

That’s a lot of words that do nothing to advance the story, plot, or characterization, and they also fail to set the scene or do any world building. It’s empty dialogue and most of it isn’t needed at all.

Let’s look at how much tighter this would be (and more interesting) if we got rid of the empties.

“Hey Hector, man,” a guy from work called out. Chuck Something. He stopped and they shook hands. “Some day, huh?”

Hector scowled. Like he had time for this. “Sure is. Listen, I gotta—”

“I love days like this,” Chuck continued, apparently in no hurry to leave. “Great boat weather. You having a good weekend?”

Hector twitched, picturing the body in his freezer he still didn’t know how to get rid of. Wait a sec“Um, did you say you had a boat?”

The narrative focus is tighter now, leading the conversation toward the boat and the fact that Chuck is a little clueless and might make a good pasty to help get rid of a body. There’s still enough of a dialogue “delay” to give the impression that Chuck likes to talk and Hector wants out of there, but not so much that the reader feels the same way.

Dealing With Empty Dialogue in Your Own Work

If you’re unsure if the dialogue in a scene is a few quarts low or not, ask yourself:

1. If you took it out, would the meaning of the conversation change?

Empty dialogue is empty precisely because it adds nothing to the scene. In most cases, you can accomplish the same goal with one line, as in my example. If you take it out of the scene, the story loses nothing, let it stay out.

2. Could you combine several lines into a single line that accomplishes the same task?

If there are four lines that basically say “hello, how are you, we need to talk,” or the like, skip the delays and get to the meat of the story.

If there are some important bits mixed in (again, like my example), consider how you might trim out the words that do nothing, and tighten up the words that need to be there.

3. Are you trying to delay the scene?

Sometimes we add empty dialogue because we want the scene to feel as though someone is dragging their feet. Instead of throwing in “useless” words, look for ways to deepen the scene or add additional information while giving the impression of awkward time passing.

Internalization can help here, with the point of view character wondering when the speaker will get to the point, or suggesting someone is prattling on without showing the dialogue.

The tighter your dialogue, the stronger your pacing will be, which helps hook readers and keeps them engaged in the novel.

We tend to look for boggy description or unnecessary backstory when editing, but empty dialogue can be just as detrimental to strong prose. And it’s not uncommon for writers to miss it—we skim right over dialogue we’ve read multiple times, because there’s technically nothing wrong with what’s being said. It’s a realistic portrayal of a conversation. It just isn’t doing anything to help the novel.

So don’t be afraid to fill those empty spaces with conversations that matter, and use them to keep your story flowing smoothly.

Are you prone to empty dialogue? Where do you most use it? If not, where do you most often see it?


Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy. When she's not writing fiction, she runs the popular writing site Fiction University, and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series. Sign up for her newsletter and receive 25 ways to Strengthen Your Writing Right Now free.

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And don't forget - #IWSGPit is this Wednesday, January 25 from 9:00 am - 8:00 pm Eastern Standard Time!

Create a Twitter-length pitch for your completed and polished manuscript and leave room for genre, age, and the hashtag. On January 25, 2023, Tweet your pitch. If your pitch receives a favorite/heart from a publisher/agent check their submission guidelines and send your requested query.
Many writers have seen their books published from a Twitter pitch - it’s a quick and easy way to put your manuscript in front of publishers and agents.
Click the tab above for guidelines and hashtags.
See you Wednesday!

Monday, January 16, 2023

Ten Rules For Pitching Your Book During #IWSGPit

It's quite a challenge to compose an amazing, agent-attention-catching micro pitch.
The IWSGPit is next week, so here are a few quick tips to get you moving. 

1. DO schedule your tweets. 

2. Follow the rules! 

3. Do NOT use up all 240 characters for your pitches if you can avoid it. Tight, concise pitches are easier to read.

4. But DO be specific. Vague pitches, or pitches that overuse cliches, won’t draw that much interest. 

5. Do NOT use inaccurate comps just to draw attention. You don’t want to promise something you can’t deliver.

6. Do NOT "like" other people's pitches.

7. DO keep a spreadsheet or list of every agent and editor who likes your tweets, and include their specific guidelines (if they tweeted any). Sometimes these will vary from their typical sub guidelines!

8. Do NOT feel like you must query everyone who likes your pitch. This is all fun, and it’s wonderful to have requests, but it’s also a business.  

9. DO research everyone before you query them. Scammers and sketchy publishers love contests. If you’re not sure about someone, check QueryTracker or ask a friend.

10. DO ask your friends to retweet! It boosts you in the feed, and they’re your best cheerleaders!

Are you participating in the upcoming Twitter Pitch? You have approximately one week to practise and polish your pitch before the big day!