Saturday, 7 January 2012

How to improve your writing - part one.

One of the hardest things for any writer to do is to view their work objectively and see where it can be improved. The best option, of course, is to have your manuscript professionally edited before publication, but I'm fully aware that the cost of doing can be prohibitive for many self-pubbed authors.

As an editor, I see many basic issues that crop up again and again in manuscripts from different authors across all the genres.

Now, I'm a fervent believer in indie publishing and taking the power back from the Big Six. In order for the indie and self-publishers to do so, we owe it to each other and the readers to ensure that the work we put out there is of the highest possible quality. Though I can't offer up my services for free to all and sundry, especially now that Sirens Call Publications is keeping me so busy, I can share with you now and again a few little tips and ways to improve what you've written.

Today, I'll be going over speech tags.

Not only are they one of the most overused literary devices, but they're often dressed up to the nines to the extent that they become so ornate that they detract from the story being told.

Speech tags are the words used to label which character has spoken. It can be as basic as "he said" or it can also be used to carry the emotions and thoughts of your character at that point in the tale.

However, in my opinion, a good 90% of speech tags that crop up in first drafts are unnecessary.

My two top tips for how to reduce the necessity for speech tags in your work;

  • Ensure that each character has a well-developed and unique voice. The way that they speak and the tone of their words should identify them as the speaker. If all your characters sound alike to the reader, then they don't have a strong enough identity and the reader won't connect with them.
  • Show what your character is doing as they speak instead if you need to break up a long block of dialogue. Their actions will convey the tone of their speech far more vividly than a speech tag. For example, your character runs a hand through their hair and leaps to their feet to pace back and forth. The reader knows, then, that they're becoming agitated without you having to write "he said in agitation" after your dialogue. Far neater and doesn't distract from the flow of the writing.
Where you absolutely must use them, try and stick to 'he said/she said'. Phrases like uttered, retorted, breathed etc. sound artificial and detract from the dialogue being spoken. Keep it clean and keep it to a minimum and you'll allow the strength of your dialogue to shine through.

Your dialogue should be what carries the plot. Excess and elaborate speech tags will drag it down and interrupt the flow - instead, keep it crisp and fast-paced. Your readers will thank you for it.



  1. I'm totally guilty of overusing speech tags. Its one of the things I try to remain concious of as I write and I'm getting better at it. Which is nice. And I certainly agree that most of them aren't even needed.

    Thanks for the tips! x

  2. You're very welcome, Ileandra - I have to consciously rein myself in too. I cringe when I look at some old drafts from a couple of years back, as they're quite literally littered with them.


  3. Oh I agree! SOme folks lurrrve to get the flowers out int this area. (I may have been one of them in the past, but only because I copied the 'greats' and thought it was terribly cool :P).

    If you ever do one of these on italics however, you will find a true offender. My main character spends a lot of time talking to her two best friends (short who reside in her mind) in italics, because I've no idea how else to do it. Of course this gets mixed up with thoughts and telepathy. Bleh! That'l be my next S.O.S post me thinks :)

    Thanks for your help with that, Kate :D