Things Your Characters Should Never Say

Standard

It’s easy to be told that character dialogue in fiction should be short and sharp and punchy and witty but actually executing it without a little more guidance can be hard. I could tell you to watch everything Aaron Sorkin and Joss Whedon have ever written and you’d have some great examples.

But sometimes the easier path is to start with what not to do. So here are a few pieces of dialogue your characters should never say.

“Tell Me About It”
It’s almost twenty years since my first class as part of my Advanced Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing and I can still remember my Novel teacher telling us how “Tell me about it” was the most overused piece of dialogue in Hollywood and that it applied equally to books. And it was funny. I never noticed it on my own, even though I went to the movies every week and spent the rest of my non-writing and non-studying time watching more movies at home and reading as many books as I could. But as soon as he said it, I began to notice it everywhere.

So if you don’t want to end up being a cautionary tale in a first-year writing course, leave it out. Continue reading

All Things in Moderation and Some Things Hardly Ever

Standard

When it comes to character development, there are certain things that have so much more impact when a character does them sparingly instead of frequently. Here are a few things that I think pack more punch when they aren’t happening all the time.

Smoking
Smoking has to be the number one activity that has more impact when it’s used infrequently. A cigarette to settle the nerves. A cigarette to show how the smoker’s hands are shaking uncontrollably. One last cigarette before the execution. Apart from anything else, if a character has enough time to be a pack a day smoker, then I doubt there is enough going on in the story. And it’s such a clichéd affectation for the bad guy, we might as well just put him in a black hat. Continue reading

“Right,” Said Fred – But How Did He Say It?

Standard

I was reading the writing tips of a published author recently and amongst rather a lot of them was the advice that almost all dialogue attribution should use “said”. If the dialogue is a question, then “asked” is acceptable and if someone is responding, then “answered” is also okay. But nothing else. And even better, don’t use dialogue attribution at all.

Leaving aside questions of verb tense, I can’t tell you how much I disagree with this advice. Because while it tells me that a character was speaking, it gives no indication of how the character said the words. And often the words themselves just aren’t enough for me to know. Continue reading

The Review From The Top: Should Published Writers Post Book Reviews?

Standard

“Don’t write reviews. Ever. That’s the work of specialist critics. Do what you do well – i.e. fiction writing – and stick to it. I mean, really, you want to review your friends and enemies in broadsheet newspapers???”
Novelist James Phelan (from jamesphelan.com.au/faq/)

“Reviewing is an important investment in my professional profile. I appreciate that people are time poor and even the most avid readers have a limited amount of time. Before a reader commits to purchasing my book, reviews ranging from 250-500 words are examples of my writing.”
Novelist Lynette McClenaghan (from “Staying Connected” in Issue 9, 2015 of The Victorian Writer)

For writers still learning the craft and the trade, it’s easy sometimes to become confused. Two diametrically opposed and conflicting pieces of advice from published authors like the ones above can be part of the reason why. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with this blog will know I post book reviews every Monday, so it’s clear which side of the divide I fall on. But does that make me (and Lynette) right? Continue reading

There’s No Such Thing As An Aspiring Writer

Standard

Every time I see someone describing themselves as an aspiring writer, I want to shout at them, “There’s no such thing! Being a writer is like being pregnant – you either are or you aren’t. So are you writing or not?” Because if you write, you’re a writer. And if you don’t, then you’re not. Continue reading

Plot Cliches You Should Avoid Like the Plague

Standard

This has happened to everyone so often it’s a plot cliché in itself. You’re watching a TV show or a movie or reading a book and instead of being surprised by what happens next, it has you rolling your eyes either because you saw it coming a long way off or because you’ve seen the exact same plot point in about a thousand other TV shows, movies and books.

Now the list could potentially be as long as the proverbial never-ending piece of string but here’s a few humdinger plot clichés to be avoided if at all possible (and it’s almost always possible). Continue reading