Can We Talk? It’s Time for Dialogue

Dialogue is the fabric of our stories. . .

I recently began a collaboration with a wonderful pro editor to look over my manuscript in hopes of improving it for submissions.  Her feedback was incredibly helpful and, if you are in querying hell right now and not seeing results, I definitely encourage you to seek out the insight of a pro editor.  There are so many talented editors who freelance through their own blogs or websites.  If you are looking for a big pool of editors to pick from (who are all talented and already vetted), check out the list of editors who participated in PitchtoPub.  So . . . much . . . talent!

So, what did my editor have to say about my manuscript?  Lots of tweaks and fresh ideas for making it even better, but one that really hit me once I started editing was the dialogue.  Oh my gosh, the dialogue.  I’d written most of the conversation scenes like my characters were competing for some High School Speech & Debate trophy–nothing about them was natural.  And then I hit my head to my desk wondering how I couldn’t have seen something so obvious, despite all of my wave of edits on my own?  That’s why you need an editor.

There I was, totally recognizing that my dialogue needed work.  Next step was figuring out how to fix it and, boy, that was an entirely different journey.  I like to think I am a fairly competent conversationalist–at least my friends and family seem to enjoy talking with me and once or twice I’ve even been called witty (not Jane Austen-level wit–think more garden variety pun-making).  But trying to translate that into my characters’ dialogue was evading me.  How do you take something most of us do so naturally and write it out such that it advances the story, evolves and fleshes out our characters, and is also just entertaining on its own?

Luckily, there is a treasure trove of help in our boundless online writing community.  A few suggestions to get started include:

1) Nanowrimo’s helpful worksheet

2) Have you seen this?!?  Writing tips from the masters in easy-to-digest lists (many of them mentioning dialogue tips).  I read P.D. James’ list and it made me love her even more.

3) Two books proved their weight in gold for me:  Your First Novel and Fiction Writer’s Workshop.

“Now get to it,” she said.

#amediting

Important Themes from PitchtoPub #10queries

So, if you are like many of us in the aspiring-writer universe, you’ve probably been following the #PitchtoPublication twitter feed with such alacrity that you’re now tempted to self-diagnose yourself with carpal tunnel and obsessive personality disorder.  Totally understandable, especially given all of the precious tidbits of feedback the participating editors have been offering in their #10queries based on their #PitchtoPublication submissions.  If you haven’t been able to keep up with all of them, or are just looking for a slightly distilled version, here are the thematic tips I’ve taken away from this buffet of invaluable advice.

1) Comps, comps, comps!  It is incredibly important to have up-to-date (i.e., published in the last 5 years) titles listed in your query as comparisons for the manuscript you are trying to publish.  This helps agents note the marketability of your manuscript along with knowing more about your manuscript’s tone, style, and plot than you have time to address in your query.  Feel free to use combos of manuscripts, since you don’t want to reproduce a previously published work.  Ex: Maze-Runner meets Percy Jackson.

2) Don’t start you query with “Imagine a world. . .”  Apparently, this is a cliche of a cliche of a cliche.  Auto-reject for some agents, even.

3) Make sure your pronoun use is clear.  Use names when you can instead of pronouns.

4) Make it clear how your book is unique.  I know, I just mentioned comparable titles in #1.  This is why queries are hard to write.  Lots to do in very few words.  If you don’t make the case for how your story is unique and contributes something special, it’ll be a pass for most/all agents.

5) Be aware of preferred word-count ranges for your genre.  Don’t be too under or too over.  For guidelines, check out Literary Rejections.

Want to review the #10queries from PitchtoPublication for yourself?  Check out these prolific editors for a start. . .

@RFaithEditorial

@LindsaySchlegel

@LaraEdits

@kateangelella

@katiemccoach