Ten Ways to Upgrade Your Manuscript (Part Two)

And now, ladies and gentleman, it is time for our final five tips and tricks on how to upgrade your manuscript! Please be sure to get Maralys Willis’ first five tips here: Ten Ways to Upgrade Your Manuscript (Part One).


6. Upgrade All Dialog

The beauty of being a writer is we have time to make our characters wittier than we are. Or more cutting. Or more concise. Or more brilliant. Or better informed. All characters in books must say interesting things. Nobody can afford to be boring. Good dialog get that way by constant upgrading…sometimes over and over.

Characters never say dull, boring things we hear at the grocery store everyday. Dialog is not real life. Real life dialog is boring. Book dialog is the best of us. It is the best of what people say. Use exposition to get through introductions and good-byes. You want to catch attention with your dialog, and you have the power to make your character’s dialog interesting.

7. Get Rid of Most “As” Sentences.

Don’t string your sentences together with “as.” This construction quickly becomes noticeable. An “as” sentence is when you are using two sentences or actions and gluing them together with the word “as.”  In most “as” sentences, both halves of the sentence are weakened.

Example: “I walked the dog as Joe got the mail.”

8. Use Action Tags for Dialog … Carefully.

Instead of the constant use of “said” (luckily, and invisible word), tie your dialog to some bit of action on the part of the protagonists. Action tags eliminate the need for most other identifying tags. But be cautious, you don’t want a tag to become an obvious thing. Too many can become intrusive.

Start with the premise that every character has his own paragraph. He owns it. Anything he says or does in that paragraph belongs to him. If he DOES something, there’s no need to identify him again when he SAYS something.

Example: “John sat in his room looking miserable. ‘Seems like every one of my friends is gone.'”

Example: “The Spanish Consul stopped abruptly. Turning, he wheeled toward Dinah Shore with his face radiant and his arms outstretched, the quintessential adoring Spaniard. ‘Ah…Dinah! Dinah!’ He swept her hand up to his lips.”

9. For Dramatic Effect, Include Pause for Reaction Time

All dramatic scenes need statements of lesser importance throughout the scene – to slow down the action, to give the reader (and the scene’s characters) time to react. These pauses are always statements of lesser importance. The reader hardly notices them. Yet they are vital for keeping the reader’s attention locked in the scene.

Such “reaction” time beats might include an observation about the passage of time; a sentence about the strangeness of the setting; a sentence about background sounds; a sentence about the expression on a character’s face; a sentence about someone tapping his fingers, or drumming his shoes; a sentence about somebody moving in the background, a sentence about the weather; a sentence about someone tugging on his clothing.

10. Make Your Dramatic Scenes Long … And Longer.

All truly dramatic scenes are long.

It’s impossible to get meaningful drama out of a paragraph, or even a page. Most dramatic scenes in most good books go on for pages. Ten printed pages, at least, seems to be the minimum. Scenes are enlarged by the inclusion of a thousand small details (per the suggestion in #9). Many of the details won’t be important, yet they contribute to the overall drama.

Your dramatic scenes must also have heart-stopping events.

Think about the books you’ve loved, you always know those dramatic scenes when you see them. They’re about danger, passion, murder, betrayal, sabotage, death, etc. Remember, most readers read novels for the sheer emotional pleasure of their dramatic scenes. Readers also relish these moments more in books than in movies because we can slow them down and read them at our pace.

Check Out Other Great Advice From Maralys Willis:

Maralys Willis is the author of twelve books and memoirs including Higher Than Eagles, a  poignant memoir about her son’s tragic hang gliding accident. She is also a college-level teacher of creative writing and novel writing, and her most recent book is the acclaimed “How To” book on writing novels entitled: Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead

This seminar was presented on March 20th, 2010 by the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC). Learn more about IWOSC events and membership at: www.iwosc.org

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