Tag Archives: Editing

Abby Hauck Cannabis Content: How to Write Engaging Content

Writers Unite!’s Featured Blog Series!

Writers Unite! is fortunate to have among its members, many bloggers, and essayists who write content about the writing process or their author’s journey or both. We will be posting their articles for your information and enjoyment. Please read and comment, visit the author’s website, blog, or Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram and share!

Admin Note: This is an excellent article on writing engaging content and is applicable to anyone writing a book or promoting a book or writing services.

How to Write Engaging Content

Copy is the term used to describe content written to sell a product or service. Copy can be anything from a banner ad offering 30 percent off to an informative article published on a company’s website. Though the former is certainly an important part of an effective marketing strategy, it is the latter that we will be focusing on today, specifically, how to write engaging content without sounding too “salesy”.

But before we dive into the “how” part of this article, let’s discuss the mentality of the average online reader. The fact is, most people surfing the web don’t want to be sold something at every turn – instead, they want to learn something, or at least be entertained by it. It is therefore up to you to add value to the content you create – the sales pitch can come later.

Determine Your Focus

The most important part of copywriting is understanding the goal of the content. Is it to inform? To entertain? Perhaps to enlighten readers about a problem and to inform them of a solution? Whatever the goal, the document topic should closely align with the reader’s needs and expectations. Don’t create a vague title or produce overly complicated content, just describe the subject in the title and expand on it in the document. (We’ll go over a few methods for choosing a topic in a later article so stay tuned!)

Research Your Topic

The research phase is often the most time-consuming part of the content development process and is, by far, the most valuable, as well. Research helps you gain a better understanding of the subject and will give you an idea of the best information to include in the document. If you want to write engaging content, you must research the topics your readers are interested in.

The best way to start the research process is to copy and paste the document title into a search bar. You’ll likely find a wealth of information on the subject; be sure to read many articles to gather well-rounded information and to avoid simply “spinning” someone else’s content into your own. Don’t forget to read the comment section, as well, as this can provide insight regarding common questions your readers have.

Also, pay attention to common words and phrases as this can help you decide which keyword(s) to optimize your content with. Other ways to find strong keywords include searching sites like Google Trends, Keyword Tool, or simply noting auto-populated terms from search bars.

Develop an Outline

I am a huge fan of outlines. Outlines help organize thoughts and information and give structure to the writing process. A strong outline not only ensures that all information is covered, but saves time – and headaches – once the real writing begins.

To begin, list at least three main points the document should cover. Structure the points as subheaders (including a keyword focus plus variations of the keyword or phrase) then use bullets below the subheads with the details you wish to include.

Next, go through and add details and source links, and rearrange information as needed for better flow. Remember, the more detail you add here, the easier the writing process will be later, especially if you use your own words rather than copy/pasting someone else’s (which would have to be rewritten later anyway).

When adding source links to your outline, try grabbing links from credible sources which you will use in link building to improve the credibility of your content and thereby the credibility of the site on which the content is published. When possible, reference the original source of information instead of an article that simply links to it.

After outlining the points you wish to cover, create a brief introduction and conclusion that summarize those main points. Feel free to reference other articles on the subject to help get the creative juices flowing (and to familiarize yourself with the lingo your readers are most familiar with).

Flesh Out the Content

To write engaging content you have to, well, write the content. This step is largely a matter of filling in the blanks with complete sentences and descriptive terms. As mentioned, the process is much easier if the outline is detailed and includes your own complete, unique sentences. In this case, you may only need to add a few transitional words and sentences, removing the outline format along the way.

When writing your document, pay attention to your use of language and sentence structure. Don’t waste your reader’s time (and client’s money) with redundant phrases like “added bonus”, “close proximity”, or “future plans”, and use bullets when possible to improve scanability.

Use terminology your reader is familiar with and add hyperlinks when necessary to provide additional information. Ensure links are from credible sources or, better yet, from other pages on the company’s website. Link building is an important part of SEO; the importance of valuable hyperlinks cannot be understated. Remember, to write engaging content, you must provide readers with links they find valuable, as well.

Finally, develop an introduction and a conclusion to summarize the topic of the document. Introductions and conclusions needn’t be long but they should give the reader a clear understanding of what they will read or what they just read respectively.

Wrap up with a call-to-action, or CTA, to guide readers on their journey. Don’t leave them hanging; give your readers a clear path to follow. Whether to encourage them to contact the company, leave a message, or follow them on social media, a CTA is a great way to boost content engagement.

Edit, Edit, Edit

Writing a conclusion does not mean you’re done. On the contrary; the editing phase ensures a document is informative, easy to understand, and as concise as possible. Though many writers dread this phase, it is vital to ensuring the client – and the readers – are happy with the content you produce. Don’t be afraid to delete and re-write as necessary, using grammar checkers like Grammarly as needed.

After writing and editing your content, submit it to the client. You’ll do this directly through your dashboard and, upon approval, will receive payment at the end of the month to your PayPal account. Should the client need revisions, kindly oblige within a day or two maximum lest they deny your work and choose another writer. Always be prompt and courteous and remember: happy clients are returning clients; if you appease them, they will likely ask you to write engaging content for them again in the future.

Continue to Write Engaging Content

It takes practice but developing strong content gets easier in time, especially after gaining knowledge about your niche. Strong copywriters are in demand and if you produce excellent content, clients will not only return for more orders, they will recommend you to their network, as well. Remember, your success as a cannabis copywriter depends on the effort you put into both writing engaging content and honing your craft so take your time, do your research, and become the cannabis copywriting rock star you were always meant to be.

— Abby Hauck

Resources:

How to Write Engaging Content

Cannabis Content

Please note: Cannabis Content logo and image are used with the permission of the website.

WU! Workshop: Drabble Me This!

WU! Workshop

NEW PROJECT!

DRABBLE ME THIS!

In addition to our Write the Story project, we thought it would be fun to do something that is one of the best exercises you can do to hone your writing skills. The Drabble.

A drabble is a piece of fiction that is exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is to tell a complete story within limited words which encourages word choice, conciseness, and editing skills.

Drabble Me This is a monthly contest. Each Saturday of the month, we will post a single word prompt on our FACEBOOK group, Writers Unite! Members will write a 100-word story. During the week, all members will have the opportunity to “LIKE” an entry. The weekly contests will end on Friday nights, a tally taken, and the post removed. The next week’s post will go up the following Saturday morning. At the end of the month, we will post the winning  Drabbles from each week plus an Admin choice on the WU! Blog and share the post across our platforms. 

A quick history of the Drabble:  

The term itself comes from Monty Python’s 1971 Big Red Book, which declared the drabble a word game in which two to four players compete to be the first to write a novel.

Drabbles emerged within British science fiction fandom in the 1980s; the Birmingham University SF society is credited as being the organization that set the length at 100 words.

(From folklore.com)

The Drabble Me This Rules:

  • Every Saturday morning, the admins will post a single word prompt.
  • Members may submit only one 100-word drabble based on the word prompt per week. Word count must be one hundred words or entry will be deleted.
  • All members may vote by using the LIKE button only. (The other reaction emojis are invalid.)
  • On Friday night, an admin will tally the votes, the submissions saved on Google drive, and the post removed.
  • This procedure will continue each Saturday during the month.
  •  At the first of the following month, we will post the highest vote-getter from each week and an Admin choice on the Writers Unite! blog and share across our platforms. 

Please Note: 

Me? Market My Book? Part One:  The First Steps

Part One:  The First Steps

You know the moment. That second when the realization hits you—the book you have sweated over, lost sleep over, and spent hours on—is published. Euphoria is likely your first reaction. Then another thought creeps into your mind. Oh no, now I must market this book.

Yes, you must.

Unless you are a bestselling author, the burden of marketing your book will fall on you. Traditional publishers, who once supported an author in their stable, rarely do more than obligatory publicity for any author other than those with a proven revenue stream. Vanity presses charge for any marketing they do, which is usually very little.

A word of caution—any publisher that charges you for their services to publish your book is not a writer’s friend. As writers become aware of the pitfalls of using them, some vanity presses are spinning their services as “partnerships.” They are not. A traditional publisher will take a calculated and measured risk to do the work and share in the profits. Do not pay a “publisher” for the honor of publishing your book.

This brings us to the subject of self-publishing your book. There are pros and cons to this publishing option, but those issues are not the focus of this discussion—marketing your book is. Self-publishing will tax the limits of your marketing knowledge and probably your patience.

Let’s first explore the two services a self-published author should invest in before publishing. I say “should” because these two items are imperative to the success of your novel. Alone they might not make you a bestselling author, but without them, your chances significantly reduce.

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Editing

An essential but considerable expense you can incur is hiring an editor. Yes, you can publish without one, but you are doing yourself a disservice. If you are lucky enough to have a close friend who is an excellent editor and they take pity on you, they might edit for free. Not everyone is that lucky.

I know what you are saying to yourself. But—but—I’m great at grammar, I don’t need an editor.  Yes, you do. Everyone misses a comma or in my case, adds too many, but grammar is not the only reason you need an unbiased editor. You have written words. As you read what you have written, your mind knows what you meant. The question is whether your mind filled in the blanks and you did not convey the intended message to your readers. While we can edit and edit and edit our work, we will miss incomplete thoughts, leave out words, have inconsistencies in the continuity, and perhaps, plot holes. You need an editor who knows to look beyond the words.

That said, if you have someone you trust to be unbiased, then use them. Trust is our most valuable attribute, and you need to trust the editor you choose. If you don’t have a close resource, then you need to search for the best editor that you can afford. Editing is a skill set, and not everyone who claims to be an editor is one. An experienced editor can be costly, and you should expect to pay for their level of expertise. Before you commit, do your research, ask for recommendations, and make sure the editor you choose has a website with testimonials. Contact the editors you are interested in and ask detailed questions about their process. It’s your money—choose as wisely as you can. Your book is at stake.

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Book Cover Design

The other vital component to consider before the publication of your book is the cover design. It must catch your reader’s eye and draw them into your story. It can be stark or elegant, bold or subtle, but the cover must attract your reader to the content within.

Unless you are a graphic artist or even a Photoshop amateur enthusiast, designing your cover is risky. If you consider creating a DIY cover, Photoshop and YouTube offer tutorials. Do your due diligence and learn as much as you can about the process before you begin. Also, review the cover dimensions and guidelines on the publishing platform you decide to use. If you choose not to start from scratch, numerous websites offer stock book cover formats for you to use to create your own.

Just a few issues to consider if you design the cover:

  • Your cover needs to reflect the content of your book. Use images that correspond to a scene or theme of the story.
  • Stand out—make your cover unique and easily visible.
  • Study covers from novels within your genre, especially those by successful authors. Determine what drew your eye to their covers.
  • Use only free-use images and fonts on your covers. Yes, fonts. Some common book fonts are under copyright, and you need permission to use them. There are many sites to find free-use images—among them are pixabay.com and morguefile.com.
  • Reference your publishing platform for exact dimensions for the cover. Many components go into a cover—book size, number of pages, the font, paper weight, soft or hardcover, etc., and affect the design.
  • It is essential that the thumbnail of your cover is easily read. That thumbnail is the first thing that your reader will see on the internet—make it clear and highly visible. Only a front cover is usually required when e-publishing.

If you choose a cover artist to create your book cover, all the above are important considerations, in addition to these:

  • Selection of a designer should mimic the choice of an editor. Find covers you like and, if possible, contact the author and ask who the designer was. Ask for recommendations, check out the artist’s work, and then contact them. Question how they work, if they accept suggestions and if not, can you step back and allow the artist to create their image of your work.
  • Have an idea in mind. It might or might not work, but it gives the designer a starting point.

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When using an editor or book cover artist, don’t be afraid to ask questions or to challenge decisions politely. Be smart. However, you should always be considerate. They are professionals and so are you—behave like one. This is your book, and the quality of the job your editor and cover designer do will reflect on you, long after they have spent your money.

Remember that the title of your book and the blurb that you write to entice readers need as much care and attention as your narrative. We will discuss the blurb and how to write one in another article.

In this first article in our series, we have discussed two aspects of marketing that create a foundation for promoting your book. A well-written, coherent story and an eye-catching cover are the beginning of giving yourself a marketable commodity to sell. Yes, you have an item to sell, just like a piece of clothing or phone. In subsequent articles, we will be discussing marketing in more depth. We will look at the myriad ways available to reach the consumer, hopefully resulting in higher sales.

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Writers Unite! Tips on Writing

WT - Editing

Guest Blog: Dusty Grein – Why A Bad Review Can Be A Blessing

They All Love Me!

When I first published my book, The Sleeping Giant, I anticipated the glowing reviews that I was sure would happen. After all, I loved my story, how could anyone not feel the same?

Ah, the naiveté of the beginning novelist.

The Reality

Let me preface this by saying that in all fairness, my book has been very well received. It has been purchased and/or read by thousands of customers, and most of them have been extremely satisfied with the story, the characters and the style with which I wrote it. After more than forty reviews, it has a solid and respectable 4.4 star average, and over two thirds have been of the five star variety.

Those aren’t the ones I want to talk about here though. I learned far more about myself, and my writing, from the bad reviews, and I’d like to express my gratitude for the negative ones — even the lone 1-star thrashing of my endeavor.

When I got my first 3-star review, I felt like I had actually made it.

I had arrived!

The reviewer said “This is a good read, However the focus of the story, a soon to erupt volcano, ends up with only a few pages at the end. Needs a part 2.” It made me smile – my first critical review was that I needed to write another book!

My next 3-star said simply “needed more character development,” and was countered soon after by a pair of 5-stars that said “It’s interesting, the characters are well created” and “The characters were developed and the plot moved at a rapid pace.”

Different strokes and all that. The truth is you just can’t please everyone, so you have to just grin and shake your head.

Then it happened.

The Bad News

Someone gave me a 1-star BAD review! They not only gave it a single star, but in the review subject line, they said “SAVE YOUR MONEY…PASS ON THIS BOOK!” I was shocked!

I felt like I had been sucker-punched and immediately became defensive. I had to walk away from the computer. It hurt that someone felt compelled to not only attack my little story, but to tell others not to bother reading it! After I calmed down, I sat down and read the review in earnest – and I’m glad I did. Here is what this reviewer wrote:

“Poorly written attempt at a first novel. First couple of chapters are an absolute non-stop info dump, which totally stalls the story. The author hasn’t yet learned how to work this info into the story in a way that it doesn’t bring everything to an absolute standstill. It turned me off as a reader. Author started his novel too far before from the beginning of the actual action and takes way too long to get there to hold the reader’s interest when encountering the huge info dump they must stumble through. Author hasn’t yet learned how to eliminate the words “that” and “just” from his writer’s vocabulary, as they should be. A non-educated casual reader might read over the many occurrences of those two empty words—which add nothing to the meaning of the sentences—without noticing them, but they pulled me back to reality every time I encountered them and made the book unreadable for me. My guess is this book has never seen a paid professional edit, as it would have caught all these errors before publication and probably made the story much more readable.”

Wow. The first thing I noticed was that I had obviously made this reader feel something–and feel it strongly enough to write a very lengthy and scathing review. Then I started working on figuring out why it had happened, by removing the opinions and just dealing with the substantive issues. In doing so, I made a few discoveries.

Lessons 

I found that part of this was just about my writing style. The infamous “info-dump” accusation was to be expected. In truth, I had written this book quickly, and I did spend a bit too much time in chapter one, setting the stage for my characters. The fact that the story started “too far before from the beginning of the actual action and takes way too long to get there” was one that I had expected to find from some people. I wrote a story that was mainly about the people, not just about the actions they went through.

I also discovered that I DID have a tendency to overuse the words THAT and JUST. I used this insight to go back into my manuscript, and I did a complete revision, removing over forty instances of these “filler” words. I then released edition 2.0, and in my opinion the story is better for the rewrite.

Finally, I learned a very valuable lesson about the editing process.  See, I am a professional editor, and have edited the works of well over 200 authors, including everything from flash-fiction and poetry to short stories and full novels; in my professional capacity, I have never received a critical evaluation of my editorial talents – but I learned you should NEVER edit your own work, no matter how skilled you may be at polishing the work of others. Being able to edit someone else’s work, is not the same as being able to edit your own.

My book is now at edition 4.0 (this last edition change was made necessary due to a print size change) and thanks in large part to its single one-star review, it is a much finer book than it was when I first released it.

The reviews continue to be good – and bad.

Since that bad review I have received many more four and five star reviews, and a lone two star panning. This bad review stated “virtually the entire work is character development.”

In this case, I gladly accept and endorse the statement. Even in my blurb, I invite folks to accompany my characters during the week leading up to the eruption. Based on the ratio of wonderful reviews to bad ones, this approach is one which thousands of my readers have enjoyed.

Keep This In Mind

In the end, no matter how popular you are with your readers, there will be those who dislike your story, your characters, or the way you write; you can’t let these obstacles stand in your way.

Instead, learn what you can from them, and then move on, and become better at this crazy craft.

My one hope, is that if you have read a book that you enjoyed, be sure to leave a review for the author. If it has issues, you shouldn’t hesitate to let them know it as well — although you don’t have to scream for others not to waste their money, just tell them what you didn’t enjoy. Maybe your opinion will help them become better writers as well.

 

— Dusty Grein

 

About the author:

An author, graphics designer and full-time grandpa, Dusty is originally from Federal Way, Washington. He currently resides in Oregon, where his youngest daughter Jazzmyn Grein (an author in her own right) and a white bulldog-mix named Naked, keep him busy.

His first novel, THE SLEEPING GIANT, hit #1 on the free lists during a recent giveaway promotion. It is a thrilling story of love, fear and survival centered around the impending eruption of Mount Rainier in Washington state.

Dusty is also a publisher with RhetAskew Publishing, a new and fast-growing traditional publishing company with a unique way of looking at publishing.

RhetAskew Publishing: https://rhetoricaskew.wordpress.com/

Dusty Grein’s Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/Dusty-Grein/e/B00W36LH6U

The Garlic Plight: Less is More (The Self-Editing Guide Part 9)

Imagine you are making your favorite dish for someone really special. There’s this certain ingredient called for in the recipe (let’s say garlic) that just sets off the meal. You’ve received lots of praise when adding this particular ingredient, and you just know it’s what will win your friend over when he takes that first bite. So you add a dash or two as usual, but that’s not enough. This person is really special, and you want to make sure he can taste the special ingredient. So you keep dashing in the flavor until you’re certain it will stand out above everything else. He will have no choice but to notice it and be impressed now.

However, when he takes that first bite, his eyes bulge and his face twists as he chews. He nods with fervor and gives the thumbs up, but something is off. Is he simply excited over how delicious it is? Surprised, even? He grabs his water and gulps it down before looking at you and asking what you put in it. It’s clear by his expression and timid voice he’s nervous about something. Finally, he admits there’s just this one flavor overriding everything else, and it would be delicious if it wasn’t so strong.

You’re deflated. You tried so hard to impress your friend, but instead of letting the garlic accent the meal, you let it take over and failed tremendously. So, what do you do? You probably vow to avoid adding garlic to any recipe in the future and clean your fridge of the horrid stuff, but is that really the right choice? Had you neglected to add garlic at all, your friend would have eaten a bland meal devoid of the one thing your previous subjects all praised. Would he have finished it? Probably. Would he have remembered it? Probably not.

The Garlic Plight

The key in this scenario is to always remember one three-letter phrase that keeps beautiful or delicious add-ons in check: less is more.

As a writer, I’m sure you’ve noticed how often people bash adverbs. I never even considered writing an article about them because of this bit of advice I usually come across daily:

“Cut all adverbs.”

“Adverbs weaken your narrative.”

“Adverbs are for the amateur writer trying to impress and wow the reader.”

These are all true to some extent. Too many adverbs do weaken your narrative. New writers do go overboard with adverbs because they think it’s a good way to impress the reader. Adverbs do wow the reader.

Yes, I said that. Adverbs wow the reader. Why else do you think they’re so overused now? Much like the analogy of too much garlic, we discovered what works and we went overboard with it. We want to be the best, right? So we do whatever it takes to stand out from other writers. We think, for a moment, that we can add more beautiful adverbs than anyone else and be remembered for our moving prose. But that’s not how it works.

Adverb inclusion is not the key to moving prose—or maybe it is, it’s a matter of opinion just like the garlic—but that doesn’t mean the reader wants to see nothing but adverbs. An adverb is more like a trump card you use when the narrative calls for it. A trump card is not to be used often, and you should exhaust all other outlets before you resort to wasting it. An adverb is your ace in the hole when you want to write something worth remembering . . . something worth quoting.

Here are two examples of times when adverbs were used effectively:

  1. “When we force something to fit where it doesn’t belong, it breaks. When surrounded by people who can’t appreciate our beauty, humans essentially do the same.” —Kayla Krantz
  2. “The heavy ache in my chest suggested that I was simply trying, and failing, to trade one heartbreak for another. While I still waited for my mind to accept the good news and relinquish all the pain it no longer had reason to feel, my stubborn heart tightened its grip on the past, refusing to forget. It happily lapped up this new betrayal, these freshly severed ties to another I’d loved with such devotion. I never would have imagined that in gaining what I thought I’d wanted most, I would lose something of equal importance, finding myself right back where I had begun.” —Jessica V. Fisette

This is my opinion, and as you can see, one of the quotes are written by yours truly. However, Kayla Krantz’s quote has stuck with me for two reasons.

Number one: It’s true. There’s no doubt the reality of these words resonate within me and will continue to do so for days to come.

Number two: That adverb cannot be removed.

Every time I think back to this quote, I think of the adverb. The editor in me tries so hard to remove it, but it doesn’t read the same. And the writer/poet in me smiles because I can’t take it out. Without that adverb, the entire quote loses something—it loses a huge part of what makes it memorable.

I had planned to write an article on why adverbs are bad, but I have to admit this quote changed my mind. Then, I remembered an ad I created a while back for my upcoming release featuring the second quote, and again, tried to reread the quote without simply and happily. The intended meaning/effect is lost.

But one thing I have to point out is how much Kayla and I both try to avoid overusing adverbs. The reason the quotes aren’t filled with five adverbs to every verb is because we KNOW less is more. The adverbs that made the cut were carefully selected and strategically placed. There was a time I would have added multiple adverbs to that quote, and considering how old it is and how many times I’ve edited it, there were probably a few more that met an untimely demise as I honed my skills as a writer.

So remember, less is more. Don’t purposely choose a weak verb so you can spice it up with an adverb. Don’t run to the thesaurus so you can find all the different ways to exchange sprinted for speedily, hastily, carelessly ran or any other combination of a weak verb with multiple adverbs chasing after it. Sprinted is always more exciting than ran, no matter how many pretty helpers you tack on. But don’t neglect them altogether. Adding a strategic amount of adverbs to your narrative can help it feel well-rounded and read smoother.

How do you handle adverbs? Are you a fan of using them to achieve poetic prose, or does the very sight make your editor’s eye twitch? We’re interested in hearing your take on the topic in the comments!


FIRST QUOTE FROM KAYLA KRANTZ’S RITUALS OF THE NIGHT SERIES:

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SECOND QUOTE FROM THE ALDURIAN CHRONICLES:

Trilogy


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

Facebook

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Website

 

 

Laughing Our Words & Other Dialogue Don’ts (The Self-Editing Guide Part 8)

Dialogue is an important thing in story-telling. How your character interacts with their friends, family, and even complete strangers tells a lot about his or her personality and conveys information that might not be revealed otherwise. How you describe that dialogue has a huge impact on your audience’s experience while reading your novel. So should you replace your dialogue tags with descriptive words and throw in a few adverbs? Not exactly. If you want to truly immerse your readers in your story, you’re better off doing the exact opposite.

Laughing Our Words & Other Dialogue Don'ts

I like to write in deep point-of-view, which means my goal is to make the words fall away. I don’t just want the readers to see the story unfold before their eyes, I want them to become part of the story. I want them to be in the middle of the action, not just watching from the sidelines. I want them to become the main character—to fight the battle and feel the pain as the sword goes in. So when I’m writing dialogue, any reminders that my audience is reading a story has to go.

Dialogue tags might be one of the most redundant aspects of writing. You add quotations around the spoken passage, and then you end it with he said or something similar to state who is speaking. But there are better ways to clarify this. Here are a couple examples of using a dialogue tag and how to get away with removing it.

“How are you feeling today?” Sarah asked. 

How are you feeling today?” Sarah stepped closer and pressed her hand to my forehead. 

The first one is a classic example of a dialogue tag. The second one removes the uneccessary phrase, clarifies who is speaking by the action that takes place, and shows the characters interacting in other ways as well. The second part of sentence two eliminates the need for tagging and that’s a good thing. Since it is a classic example, anything remotely close to she said or he asked tends to get skimmed over by readers. They’ve seen it more than enough in other novels. In this way, you’re still offering valuable content to your audience while keeping them from being confused on who is speaking.

Some people like to include both in their writing:

“How are you feeling today?” Sarah asked, stepping closer and pressing her hand to my forehead.

But this is even more redundant, since it can be reworded like the second example where the action alone states who is speaking. And, as we covered in the last article, -ING verbs slow down the narrative. If this is supposed to be a fast-paced scene, you’re going to want to drop those -ING verbs and keep the sentences direct and to the point.

So, again, it’s best to just use an action tag to clarify who is speaking. However, if the characters are speaking for a long period of time, you won’t be able to come up with an action for every line—and you shouldn’t try. You need to let the characters’ words take the spotlight in this scenario. That means most times the dialogue needs to stand alone. If there are only two people speaking, then character one will speak first, then character two, and then it starts over. In this case, you can go a few lines without reiterating who is speaking. The reader will have no problem keeping up, as long as it isn’t too drastic of a gap. A brief action tag after a few exchanges can keep the reader on track and immersed in your story. However, if they have to go back to the beginning of the conversation and start over just to figure out who is speaking toward the end, you’ve lost the intended effect. So don’t go overboard. As I often say, a healthy balance is key.

Another issue I see often is when writers choose to use dialogue tags and they use them incorrectly.

“That was funny,” Sarah laughed.

This is actually an action tag formatted wrong. NOT a dialogue tag. However, it is set up as if laugh is replacing said. That means Sarah is laughing out the phrase, “That was funny.” This happens often with various words such as laughed, sighed, yawned, coughed, cried, etc. This is the correct way to write it:

“That was funny.” Sarah laughed. 

In this example, Sarah speaks, and then she laughs. Makes sense, right? Often times it’s written in an even less plausible way:

“That was funny,” Sarah rolled her eyes. 

There is no doubt about it—this is an action tag. NOT a dialogue tag. You can’t roll your eyes into a series of words—that I’m aware of—so this sentence needs to be reworded as this:

“That was funny.” Sarah rolled her eyes. 

The difference is in whether you separate the text with a comma or a period. Keep this in mind when reading over your work and train yourself to take notice how you write your dialogue. The change in meaning can be tremendous, and it’s best to know exactly what effect your writing has on readers when you’re trying to write convincing dialogue. Incorporate these tips into your story and you will have a better chance at immersing your readers and creating realistic character interactions.


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

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Leaning on -ING Verbs (The Self-Editing Guide Part 7)

Humans are wonderful multi-taskers. We can walk while we talk, eat while we read, and even plan out our upcoming work-in-progress while we perform our daily chores. In some cases, we can even do more than two things at once. Aren’t we breathing while we do these things? Our faces are likely holding an expression that reflects our mood. Our hearts are beating. These are things that are almost always done (unless you’re writing about vampires and there is no heartbeat or breath to take) in conjunction with other things. However, there are some things that simply cannot be done at the same time as other things. You can’t walk while you skip, you can’t yell while you gulp down water, and you certainly can’t stand up while you cross a room. That is why it is harmful to depend on -ING verbs too much when writing.

Leaning on -ING Verbs

An -ING verb used after a comma usually indicates that something is happening at the same time as another thing.

I stood up, walking across the room and opening the door.

Wait, what? The sentence is saying that the -ING verbs walking and opening are happening at the same time the first part of the sentence is happening. So the author is saying the character stood up while walking across the room and opening the door. Is that plausible? No. But you wouldn’t believe how often I come across it both in books I’m editing and books I’m reviewing.

Using -ING is widely believed to soften the narrative a bit, to add a touch of poetic prose to the story. Many authors strive to have a healthy dose of poetic prose in their story, so this mistake is often made with good intentions. However, to engage your readers, your story must have a touch of reality as well. If they’re rolling their eyes, their next step is throwing your book across the room. And in this case, they may even roll their eyes while chucking your book—because that’s somewhat logical if they don’t give a hoot what it knocks over in the process.

Instead, only utilize -ING verbs to indicate an action is happening at the same time as another if it’s something the character can actually accomplish. Otherwise, you can use the phrase and then to connect the two fragments if you don’t want to leave them as two choppy sentences.

I stood up, and then I walked across the room and opened the door. 

In this situation, the character has now accomplished three tasks and no one scrunched their eyebrows or imagined the character doing all three things at once. If you really want to keep the -ING verbs, you can even try this:

I stood up before walking across the room and opening the door.

No commas, and everything works. This is completely okay. However, if you are writing an action scene where your character is in a dire situation, you can set the pace by removing -ING and keeping the text simple, direct, and to the point. This may lose you a few prose points, but if it’s a serious situation, your readers probably aren’t worried about imagery and they likely won’t demand a soft pattern of words. They want to know what happens to the character. They want to be engrossed in the story. Any accidental slowing-down of the narrative during a fast-paced action scene can throw off the pace and lose the effect—as I’ve mentioned in previous articles. Save the soft, flowy narrative for the moments after the action. That gives your readers a breather to recoop after what you put them through.

Most times, I get caught up in writing and I end up finding that I slipped a few illogical ones in there without realizing. It’s a nasty habit I try and fail to break. I, too, want soft, flowy prose in my stories. However, when self-editing, I scan the text for those -ING verbs and I reread the sentence without them. If it sounds bolder and more direct without them, then that’s the way I want to go and I rework the sentence until walking becomes walked, opening becomes opened, and so on.

You won’t want to change every single -ING verb you find, and that’s okay. You also need a healthy dose of balance in your story. But you need to be mindful of this when editing so you can spot the phrases that don’t make sense and fix them. And don’t get discouraged if you find more than you expected. As Earnest Hemingway reminds us:

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Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

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Spoon-Feeding Your Readers (The Self-Editing Guide Part 6)

When reading a story, we use our imagination to “see” the scene unfold. It is almost as if we are blind and the writer is offering up their eyes for us to look through. But imagine losing your sight at say fifteen. You’ve had so many experiences with this lost sense, so many memories, that you recognize a closing door at just the click of the latch. You know someone is crying or fighting allergies at a mere sniffle. The softer the sound, the more likely they’re trying to conceal it from you. That is why if someone was sitting beside you describing a scene as it unfolded around you, you wouldn’t need them to list every detail. Only the things that can’t be understood without sight would need to be explained. It is almost the same when writing a scene for your readers.

To Prologue or Not to Prologue-2

When you sit down to write out a scene, keep in mind that your readers are not coming into this unprepared. This isn’t the first book they’ve ever read; it’s not the first bit of life they have ever experienced. Your readers are starting your book with a vast amount of past encounters to use as prompts for the information you will put in front of them. Quite rarely have I ever had a reader say I confused them by not listing that the character grabbed the door handle, turned it, pushed the door open, slipped inside, turned around, pushed the door to until it clicked, and then let go of the handle. Haven’t we all opened and closed doors at some point during our lives? You probably do it a few times on a daily basis.  Offering a bit of description to make a scene richer is okay, but overcompensating in fear of losing your readers will only leave them rolling their eyes and wondering if you think they need you to hold their hands through it all.

Instead, focus on what matters. Describe what the reader might not be used to seeing or what they can’t infer on their own. More than likely they’ll be skimming over the stuff I just listed anyway, and you really don’t want your readers to skim even once in your story. You want to make every word count in one way or another. I used to be afraid I would lose my readers if I didn’t list every step in my character’s task, but I had to learn to trust them. A rule of thumb is if it’s boring to you, it’s boring to your readers. So always refer to that when deciding whether to push through writing a scene that feels more endearing than entertaining.

Another aspect of this is emotion. When you show another character’s emotion through the main character’s senses—as in a stray tear, a cleared throat, an almost unnoticed sniffle—you don’t have to follow up with a detailed paragraph. You don’t even have to explain why the character is feeling the way he or she is. If it isn’t an opinion from the main character, you shouldn’t be adding that kind of info anyway (Remember, whether in first or third person POV, you’re looking through the main character’s eyes. Including an outside perspective the main character doesn’t share would be illogical).

Instead, show the emotion, show the reason behind it—if it’s to be revealed at that point in the story—and then move on. Don’t bog your readers down by coming up with new and creative ways to tell them the character is upset. They are readers, and they are human. That means they are used to imagining and experiencing similar scenes and will know what is happening by the first sentence or so.

This is also one of those mistakes that can tremendously slow down a fight scene and leave readers feeling like things are happening in slow motion. You don’t want your reader skimming over a major battle just to get to the outcome. The final battle should be more than satisfying. It should be full of action and relevant detail that pull the reader in, making them eager to turn the page—but only after reading each word.

Now that isn’t to say you should skip over the movements during a fight. This might be the one time you should show every step. The reader needs to visualize how the character gets from point A to point B, and considering they’ve probably never fought against an undead alien or superhuman, they can’t imagine the moves or magic your character will use against him without you walking them through it. List these things or it will feel rushed and unrealistic. However, stopping the scene to add paragraphs of narrative while the character seems to slip into some unshakable reverie will only pause the scene, pull your readers out of the action, and leave them wondering when things will ever move forward. Try showing the character’s emotions instead of having her speculate the internal battle she’s experiencing.

If you want to write a book your readers can’t put down, learn to trust them. This will help keep your action scenes engaging and your emotional ones moving. It will propel your story forward at a healthy pace and keep your readers from feeling like you’ve repeated yourself because you felt they needed things broken down. In this case, less is more.

Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

The Perils of Passive Voice (The Self-Editing Guide Part 5)

“I think unsure writers also feel the passive voice somehow lends their work authority, perhaps even a quality of majesty. If you find instruction manuals and lawyers’ torts majestic, I guess it does.” —Stephen King’s On Writing

To Prologue or Not to Prologue

Stephen King states it perfectly. How many times have you, as a reader, felt intrigued by an instruction manual or legal document? Do you begin, with enthusiasm, the terms of service before selecting “I agree”? Or do you skim over them and only refer to the visuals when assembling the item? If you said yes to the latter, keep reading. If you said yes to the former, well, I’m not sure what to do with you. You probably have a bright future in the legal field, so there’s that. For all the normal people, however, in this article, I’ll be addressing the topic of passive voice and how to avoid it in your own writing.

With passive voice, something is being done to the subject. With active voice, the subject is doing something.

The dog was picked up by Timmy.

We’ll start with an example for those who are hearing about this for the first time. This sentence is a prime example of passive voice. Notice how timid and bland it reads. Let’s reword it.

Timmy picked up the dog.

This sentence is an example of active voice. It’s direct and confident. The writer sounds sure of himself and nothing is left unsaid.

In the first sentence, notice how you could write it as The dog was picked up. and leave off the last two words. With passive voice, the sentence will either end with by [noun] or it will make perfect sense to add that phrase to the end of it. So as you’re editing your manuscript, try adding by [whatever noun you choose] to the end of each sentence. If it makes sense, you’re using passive voice and need to reword it. Also, look for the word was when proofreading your manuscript. It’s another indicator that you’re using passive voice.

The lake was dried up by too much sun and lack of rain. —Passive

Too much sun and lack of rain dried up the lake. —Active

Starting to see a pattern here? Good. Again, was is present in the first sentence and it ends with by too much sun and lack of rain. The second sentence is simple and reads much more smoothly without those tell-tale signs.

Always choose active when you can. Readers want excitement and boldness from you, especially during an action scene. I can’t count how many times I have read or edited a novel where it felt more like things were happening in slow motion—like the bullets were literally flying at a snail’s pace—all because the author made this and a couple other mistakes (we’ll discuss those in another article). You want those action scenes to be a rush for your readers. You want those bullets to whizz by, and you want your main character to jump into action. Unless you’re actually going for the slow-motion effect you see in movies, you definitely don’t want your readers to visualize it that way. And even then, there are other techniques you should utilize to express to your audience the intensity of the situation. No one should be falling asleep while reading your novel. And if you stick to active voice, no one will.

There are other things I believe weaken your narrative and slow down the action, but I’ll get to them in future articles. And sure, there are times for passive voice—like when you don’t know who is doing something to the subject. You can’t necessarily name the person, place, or thing if you haven’t yet identified it. You’ll find this more often in mystery novels or a scene where the reader doesn’t yet have all the facts. As always, use your own judgment. Quoting one of my recently posted memes on writing: “The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 


King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2000. pp. 122- 4.