Today’s Featured Author – Melissa-Sue John

Today, I welcome author/publisher Dr. Melissa-Sue John to my blog. Her children’s book, A Guide to Things We Wear, came out in September of this year.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Dr. Melissa-Sue John. I am a professor of Psychology with expertise in Social Psychology. I conduct research on academic achievement and intergroup behavior. One of my projects is about the development and testing of an engineering curriculum for diverse, often economically disadvantaged, pre-k school students. The curriculum uses literature to teach problem solving. My research team noticed that children’s books are not very diverse in that there are few representations of girls, persons of color, and disabled or gifted children. Rather than complain, my daughters and I decided to become a part of the solution. My daughters, Alyssa Simone and Olivia Lauren, and I established a publishing company called Lauren Simone Publishing House to recruit diverse writers and illustrators to tell their stories and help close the diversity disparity, especially in STEAM (Science, technology, engineering, art and math).

Where were you born and where do you call home?

I was born in a beautiful island called Jamaica. I moved to the U.S. when I was 18 years old. I lived in NY and then moved to Connecticut, where I have made a home with my husband, Matthew and our two beautiful children. Alyssa Simone was born in NY and Olivia was born in CT.

What or who inspired you to start writing?

In addition to the lack of diversity in children’s literature, my daughters inspire me to write. My first book Occupations A to Z was inspired by my daughter, Olivia Lauren, who is a working child actor and model. During her auditions she met people of many different occupations. The occupations were uncommon to us since I led a very academic life and my daughter attends a STEM academy. It was lovely to learn about all the different professions in the entertainment industry. Olivia Lauren inspired me to write a reference guide for children to explore both traditional and contemporary professions and jobs.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Although I write empirical articles, I did not consider myself a writer until I saw my first published book on Amazon and held a printed copy in my hands. This was February of 2017.

How much of yourself, your personality, or your experiences, is in your books?

A lot of our personality is in the books. The main character is based on my younger daughter, Olivia Lauren. But the style of writing is that of a teacher. Although they are stories, they are educational and cultural.

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

This year we published 5 books in the Olivia Lauren series. I have other books written, but I am not ready to illustrate or publish them as yet. Right now, we are focused on publishing the works of other kid authors: Imani Ariana Grant, Brazil Dowe and Princeton Dowe (twins) and Madison Bishop and Elijah Bishop (siblings). I enjoy helping others realize their potential and making dreams come true.

What is the best and worst advice you ever received?

Many people have stories to tell. Many people may have drafted several novels but perfectionism, fear, lack of confidence, laziness, or busyness may prevent them from finishing their manuscript. The best advice I ever received came from John Maxwell (I think!) and I am paraphrasing, “Your last book will be better than your first.” You will never have a last book until you write the first. Writing is a talent that gets better with practice. So, we shouldn’t wait on the perfect book to publish, but do our best and put it out there.

What is the best thing about being a writer? The worst?

I enjoy writing the story, researching the characters and the accuracy of the content. I even like formatting the books. Basically, I love putting the book together from start to finish. What I dislike is marketing and promotion. I do not have a business degree and am not much of a sales person. I believe our work is high quality, but I struggle knowing how to get others to see that too. This is why some people seek an agent or publicist to do the harder or “worst” part.

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

Yes, I read all my book reviews and share them on our website. Not everyone will like your product or services. That is part of life. Most of my reviews are positive, mostly 5 stars and a few 4 stars. Once I got a 3 star and it actually motivated me to reflect on what I could do different to make my books better. Constructive criticism helps us to grow and make progress. It may hurt your feelings for a bit. It hurts more if the review is from a family or friend. But eventually the hurt dissipates.

Please tell us about your current release.

The last book is entitled Things We Wear. It was published September 13, 2017. It was written because I love culture and different cultures don’t always wear the same things. One day Olivia Lauren, Alyssa Simone, and I were coming from a park in Brooklyn, NY. We had passed Muslim women wearing hi-jabs and Orthodox Jews. I overheard a child ask their parent, “What is that the women have covering their hair?” The mom was either embarrassed or ignorant to answer. I thought since we live in a multicultural and diverse world these are things kids ought to learn in school or early learning at home. So Olivia and I wrote it, and kid illustrators Simonne-Anais Clarke and Zachary-Michael Clarke illustrated it.

Did you base any of your characters on real people?

The main characters of Olivia Travels is based on our family of 4- Mom, dad, Olivia Lauren and sister, Alyssa Simone. As the book teachers different modes of transportation using rhyme and rhythm most of the illustrations are based on our actual holiday vacations.

Do you have an all time favorite book?

My favorite book is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I read it in the third grade. This past summer, Olivia Lauren who was entering 5th grade and I read it together. It took us 3 days. After watching it, we watched the part 2 edition on Hallmark.

Book Blurb

Olivia Lauren’s Things We Wear is a story about a child model and her friends exploring the different things people wear. Olivia Lauren and her friends tell us about the when, where, and why regarding the things we wear. Children will increase their vocabulary and curiosity about fashion, tradition, and the significance of clothing.

About the Authors

Melissa-Sue John, Ph.D. is a wife, the mother of Alyssa Simone and Olivia Lauren, and psychologist. She is a Jamaican born and proud Alma Mata of Harrison’s Preparatory School and Holy Childhood High School. After high school, she moved to the U.S. where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Hunter College, CUNY. She then later pursued her Master’s and Ph.D.  from the University of Connecticut. Currently, she teaches at Eastern Connecticut State University and works as a Research Associate at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. These professional roles led her to write children’s literature with her two daughters and she now serves as the Chief Executive Operator of Lauren Simone Publishing House.

Olivia Lauren, born November 5, 2007 in Farmington, CT, is the co-owner of Lauren Simone Publishing House. She enjoys acting, modeling, reading, and writing. She is an intelligent and hardworking student who loves science, technology, engineering, and math. Her most recent achievement is the establishing of Lauren Simone Publishing House with her sister, Alyssa Simone.

Alyssa Simone, born October 31, 2001 in New York, NY, is the co-owner of Lauren Simone Publishing House. She is a teen actor, model, violinist, athlete, author, and kid publisher. She was also a Girl Scout, a member of her school’s Drill Team and Stage Crew, working behind the scenes for camera, lights, and background. She has been playing violin since the third grade, and participated in over dozen orchestra recitals. She enjoys running indoor and outdoor track and field. Most recently, she co-authored a book with her mother called Olivia Connects. Olivia Connects is the 3rd book of the Olivia Lauren series. She also works as editor and literary critic, helping Olivia and her mom review manuscripts submitted to their publishing company.

You can find out more about Melissa-Sue, Olivia and Alyssa on their website. You can also purchase their books there as well as on Amazon.

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Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

This post is the sixteenth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Before you began writing, I suggested you develop your characters. This not only saves you in rewriting but the characters will be more realistic and their behavior consistent if you know them well. One of the ways to do this is to develop your characters’ back story. The back story is your character’s history – the event and circumstances that made them into the person they are today.

Reasons you should know your character’s backstory

  • You will know which major events in their past may affect their motivation during the main story arc
  • You are able to inject subtle clues about your character’s past into your narrative which can create mystery and interest for your reader
  • Your character’s past may be a major driving force of the main plot
  • By understanding your character’s history, you may discover the perfect opening scene for your story

Now you don’t have to know all this for every character. But you should know it for your main characters. Everything in their past as well as their innate personality traits will dictate their action, which in turn drives the plot of your story.

Creating character back story can be a time-consuming task. But doing so will build strong, solid characters that come to life for your readers.

Now you may be wondering why I am discussing building their back story when this is something that should have been done before you began writing. I am bringing this up now because as you write your story, you may want to incorporate some of this back story into your novel.

But how do you do this? And does your reader really need to know this?

The basic rule of thumb is to tell the reader only what he or she needs to know to understand what is happening in the story at that moment.

Basically, you want to add the back story in little bits – a couple of sentences here and there. You don’t want large blocks of text. This stops the momentum of the story. Writing about back story stagnates your story. It is telling the reader information rather than showing them. It doesn’t engage any of the reader’s senses. They are no longer actively participating in the story. They are busy reading background that might or might not be relevant to the action that is about to start.

I read on another website a good way to think about this. Consider adding back story in terms of taking bites. You can’t eat a whole cake in one bite. However, you can eat it by taking lots of little bites. Trying to eat a cake in one bite could cause you to choke. It is the same with back story; include it in small bits so the reader doesn’t choke.

Because back story slows down the reader, one place you want to make sure you DO NOT include a lot of back story is in the beginning of your story. You only have a few pages to hook the reader so use those pages to give them action. Yes, your character might be motivated by their past, but the opening pages isn’t the place to go into depth about that past.

Back story is important in character development but just because you spent the time developing that information doesn’t mean you need to incorporate all of it into your story. Remember that the best fiction is all about action. Your job is to portray the action and let the reader draw his or her own conclusion. And it is easier to do this with well-developed characters whose actions are consistent with the back stories.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

Tutoring: Not only for those kids struggling

All children face challenges in school at various times. But even if they are doing well, students may benefit from some additional instruction.

Lexie

Lexie’s latest report card showed all As. Her lowest grade was math where she got a 90. Lexie’s teacher recommended she join a small group of students after school on Mondays. This way she could get a little extra instruction or ask any questions about math or any other topic for that matter.

Participating in this type of tutoring can help students master difficult concepts that are the building blocks to more complex ideas. Lexie and Jase both participated in small group tutoring last year and it helped them both.

Jase

Now all of the tutoring my kids have received has been done through the school and best of all, free. Last year when Jase began learning violin, his instructor suggested that all students have a tutor. But I wasn’t sure Jase, then a fifth-grader, would stick with it. About half of those fifth graders did drop out of orchestra when they entered sixth grade. Jase wasn’t one of them.

Again, this year, his instructor recommends getting a tutor for some one-on-one learning. It isn’t like Jase doesn’t get instruction five days a week. It is just the teacher cannot provide individualized instruction when he has a class full of other sixth graders. The suggestion for tutoring has nothing to do with how well Jase does or doesn’t play. It is just meant to give him addition help in mastering his instrument.

His instructor gave us several names for tutors and I contact one of them to find out how much tutoring cost. The man I contacted use to be with the Boston Symphony and charges $40 for a half hour lesson. Sounds great to me but Jase seems hesitant about the idea of a tutor.

I’ve explained to him that it doesn’t mean he isn’t doing well. It is meant to give him someone who can answer his questions and make sure he fully understands how to play each note. It gives him extra time to practice with someone who knows what he is supposed to be doing.

I think it will help his confidence. During his last chair test, Jase came in last. At the end of the school year, he will have to test to see which orchestra he will be in next year. I think tutoring will help him get into his goal – the symphony orchestra (one step down from the top orchestra – honors orchestra).

But I also don’t want to force him to do something he doesn’t want to do. I don’t want him to agree to this just because he thinks I want it. He will get more out of it if he is fully on board with tutoring. So, we will have him meet the tutor and see what he thinks after that. If he doesn’t want tutoring after that, I am fine with that.

As for the rest of his middle school classes, many of them offer my favorite type of tutoring – free. And Jase has already decided to occasionally show up his math teacher’s tutoring hour for extra help. It must be working as he has an A in that class.

Today’s Featured Author Natalya LaBauve

Today author Natalya LaBauve stops by my blog as part of her spotlight book tour. She is promoting her book, What It Do!, and her upcoming book, Bow Down! 

Excerpt – What It Do!

When we finally arrived at the concert, I walked in with Ronald and his friends, Pete and Vic.  Rhonda was behind us with Wayne and since I heard music coming from inside the coliseum’s arena, I figured we must have been missing one of the acts.  People were walking around the outer part of the coliseum’s corridor, talking about the act that was on before.  I punched Ronald in the shoulder and said, “see, we missed one of the acts because of you.”

Ronald jumped back.  “Be cool girl.  Don’t be hitting on me!  It ain’t my fault.”

Then from the back of us, Rhonda and Wayne yelled, “yes it is!”

“Just keep walking.”  Ronald directed.  “Let’s find our seats.”

As we continued walking, suddenly, a crowd started stampeding straight toward us.  Quickly!  I didn’t know what to do.  My heart began pounding.  My neck went stiff.  My body tightened up.  I guess I just panicked.  I didn’t know what was going on.  For some reason I couldn’t move.  I just froze in place.  I heard someone yell, “they fighting!”

My mind quickly saw Faye’s face.  I thought about what Faye said, then I thought, oh no, I’m supposed to be running!

Still unable to move an inch, I looked all around for Ronald or Rhonda.  I must have gone into shock.  Oh my God, where are they?  I didn’t even see Vic or Pete.  Not even Wayne.  But one thing I did see and it was coming right for me, the guys that were fighting.

I closed my eyes, clinched my fist tightly together and held them as close to my cheeks as I could.  Right when I knew I was about to be run over by the fight, I was grabbed by the arm and firmly placed up against the wall.  Because of the strong snatch, I assumed it was Ronald.  Oh thank God, Ronald.

I grabbed hold of his arm as tight as I could and with my eyes still closed I started saying my prayers.  “Our father, which art in heaven…”

The heavy voiced asked, “you alright?”

I quickly cut off my prayer.  That didn’t sound like Ronald’s voice.  I slowly opened my eyes to see who it was that I had grabbed on to so tightly.  When I did, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  It was that guy.  That, that, that guy!  For a moment I forgot what was going on around me.  I quickly thought back to the first time I had seen him before.  It was the afternoon after I had first arrived in Oakville.

I never brought the subject up to Rhonda or Ronald, but every time he would pass by the house, I wished I could have gotten up enough courage to speak to him.  He would stare, even speak, and I’d just freak out.  I’d go run into the house or something, play like I didn’t see him. Rhonda would come chasing behind me, “why you running girl?  He likes you.  You better get with that!”

Just then I heard the smooth midnight voice again, “Hellooooo.  You alright?”

His name was Terrance, I did know that much.  His voice snapped me back into the reality that I was still at the concert.  I hadn’t realized that I had lost all consciousness, I turned and looked at him.  We were standing way too close together.

He searched my eyes.  “Are you okay?”

“I…I…I lost my sister and brother.”  My stomach was nervous.

Still holding my arm, but a lot gentler now, Terrance began looking around the crowd as if he were trying to find them with me.

He asked, “Ronnie’s your brother right?”

I took a deep breath, exhaled, and then smiled, “yes.”

Then he appeared to give me a mischievous smile, “I don’t see him.”  He let my arm go.  “But if you want me to, I’ll walk you to your seat.”

An instant hot flash rushed through my body.  What should I say?  But before I could really think it out, my mouth opened.  “That’ll be nice, thanks.”  My sandy brown cheeks turned beet red.

I just wanted to die.  I could not believe I was walking with, as well as talking to, that guy Terrance.  As we continued walking, security passed by with about five young guys that they were escorting out of the concert.

Terrance pulled me close, “be careful.”

The guys were putting up a fight with the security guards now.

“What happened,” I asked, thinking Terrance might know.

“Just some knuckle heads.”

“You know them?” I asked, looking into his strong black eyes.

He laughed.  “Yeah…I know em.”

As we proceeded inside the concert arena toward the seats the tickets had designated on them, I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to Ronald and the others.  I was getting a little nervous.  Terrance kept touching me and, don’t get me wrong, they weren’t bad touches, they were good touches, very good touches, it was just, the touches were freaking me out!  Every time we needed to turn, Terrance would grab my hand and pull me or guide me.  Grab my waist or place his hands on my shoulder.  Then the final thing that got me was when he whispered gently in my ear, “you alright?”  I felt the heat of his breath on the back of my neck.  I know that he knew that he was just too darn close!  I was feeling things that I had never felt before.  I didn’t know any way not to let it show.  I tried my best to stay calm…

Book Blurb – What It Do! 

For most seventeen year olds, graduating from high school is something to look forward to. But not for Victoria Johnson, who has just learned, two days before graduation, that she has been living a privileged and sheltered life in the gated community of Laketon, with ‘adopted’ parents. “What It Do”, is the story about what life does to a young girl of class and prestige, when her biological mother arrives and wants to spend time with her. The weekend after graduation, Victoria finds herself being driven from the happy world of two story homes with Mercedes Benzes parked out front; to the mean streets of Oakland, where being naive and simple-minded, are just not allowed. With the help of a street wise younger brother; a strong willed little sister, and the admiration of a handsome young street thug, Victoria learns very quickly – What it do!

Book Blurb – Bow Down!   

Victoria thought her wedding day would be the happiest moment in her life, but strange coincidences and enigmatic guests hint at a mystery that will reveal distressing secrets about her new marriage and the man she’s given her heart to.

It took some smooth talking, but Victoria’s parents have finally accepted Terrance Seals as their son-in-law. Their summer wedding is beautiful, but Victoria begins to believe that something isn’t quite right. It would be one thing if the only problem were Edward Bordeaux, Victoria’s old beau. Edward’s mere presence might cause Victoria’s whole body to heat up, but she knows she can handle him—even after he coughs loudly when the minister asks if anyone objects to the marriage. The real problem is a strange woman with some connection to Terrance.

When Victoria can’t get answers from her new husband, she turns to her girlfriends—her best friend, Jana; new girl Meagan; and self-professed psychic Jennifer. With their support and encouragement, Victoria starts trying to get to the bottom of Terrance’s strange behavior. With the help of prayers, miraculous coincidences, and even psychic visions, Victoria discovers something unexpected about her husband and their shared future that will change everything.

About the Author

Natalya LaBauve was born in Los Angeles, California, and raised in Oakland. She studied at Ohio State University, UC Berkeley Extension, and Laney Community College’s theater program.

LaBauve spent twenty-eight years working for the US Attorney’s office. She has resigned from her work in the federal government to pursue her dream of becoming an author. LaBauve has written five novels about good girls, bad boys, and the love they share.

LaBauve lives in the Bay Area with her two children. She’s hard at work on her next book!

You can find more about Natalya on her website or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

You can purchase What It Do! on Amazon. Her book Bow Down! will also soon be found on Amazon.

More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

This post is the fifteenth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Today is the third installment on the topic of dialogue in your novel. The first week, I wrote about the importance of dialogue and gave some tips on writing dialogue. Last week, I talked about the special type of dialogue that goes on in your character’s head – internal dialogue.

Today, I wanted to give you some examples of dialogue and talk a little bit more about dialogue tags (the he said/she said that allows the reader to know who is speaking).

Dialogue with a Purpose

Dialogue can be great at bringing the reader into the story and sharing information about a character. We can learn a lot about a character in how they speak and what they say. It can help set the mood for the story. But most of all you need to make sure that the dialogue advances the story.

You do not want to fill your pages with meaningless drivel. Such as two characters greeting each other.

“Hi, Bob. How are you doing?”

“OK. I guess.”

“Nice weather, huh?”

This exchange could easily be deleted from the scene and replaced with Sally greeted Bob. Now if you want this scene to share something about the characters, you would need to make some changes.

“Hi, Bobby. How are you doing?”

Bob continued to stare at his shoes. When he spoke it was more to them than her. “Ok. I guess.”

“Nice weather, huh?”

All she got in response was a nod. Sally shot a glance at the doctor. She didn’t know what to do. All she knew is she wanted her brother back and the boy who stood before her wasn’t him.

In this case, the dialogue is being used to show the strained relationship between Bob and Sally, which is better than just telling the reader. (Sally worried about her strained relationship with Bob. He rarely said more than a word or two to her when they saw each other.) Actually both ways (a summary or a short dialogue) would work in the story depending on how you want to portray it.

Natural Dialogue

Though people talk with a lot of fillers (ums and pauses), most often you will want your dialogue to be crisp and filled with tension. You want to compress your dialogue, cutting fluffy words or whole lines from the exchange.

Here is an example from another website.

Original:

“Mary, are you angry with me?” John asked.

“You’re damn straight I’m mad at you,” Mary said.

“But why? You’ve got absolutely no reason to be!”

“Oh but I do, I do. And you can see it in my face, can’t you?”

Alternative:

“You angry with me?” John asked.

“Damn straight,” Mary said.

“You got no reason to be!”

Mary felt her hands curling into fists.

As you can see the second rendition is much tighter and increases the conflict. So go through your dialogue and compress it as much as you can. Take out the adverbs. Use sentence fragments. Cut words out ruthlessly. The dialogue will improve as will your story.

Dialogue Tags

For readers to know who is speaking, you need dialogue tags such as he said and she replied. And while they are necessary, you don’t need them every time someone speaks.

I am sure we all have encountered books full of too many or too few dialogue tags. Even from professionally published authors I sometimes have had to stop and count lines backwards to figure out who is saying what.

Dialogue tags should be like punctuation marks – they should be invisible, guiding the reader, but not getting in the way of the story.

Here are four tips to help you use dialogue tags like a pro.

1.)  While your high school English teacher may have encouraged you to stray from the boring “said” or “asked,” there is nothing wrong with sticking with these words. But many new authors don’t want to stick with “said” and “asked.” They search out posts like this one that show you 100 different ways to say “said.” And while there is nothing wrong with interjecting a few of these into your text, you should do so sparingly. The concern with these more frivolous choices is that the words draw the reader’s attention away from the dialogue.

Bad Example: “You can’t go out into the dark,” Mary cried.

“What now?” Edward groaned.

“No, no, no,” she muttered. “Too dangerous.”

“What is your problem?” Edward wondered.

Here is a writer trying to use too many fancy tags. It should be rewritten to something more like this.

“You can’t go out into the dark,” Mary said, blocking the door.

Edward groaned. “What?”

“No, no, no.” Mary shook her head with each word. “Too dangerous.”

“What is your problem, Mary?”

The second scenario allows you to focus more on the dialogue.

Now there may be times when your dialogue may not communicate the tone or emotion clearly. And there is nothing wrong with using a descriptive tag such as whispered, shrieked, muttered, grunted or boasted to help your reader understand the scene.

Example: “Leave me alone,” he muttered.

But don’t worry about using other words than “said” or “asked.” If you only use them when necessary, and the dialogue is interesting, no one will even notice them. And that is what you want.

2.)  The placement of dialogue tags and how often you use them are important – even more so if you have a lot of characters in a scene. Well-positioned tags insure your scene make sense and eliminate any reader confusion. If a reader has to backtrack a few paragraphs or pages to get the conversation straight, a writer risks the book being abandoned.

Example:  “You always do this to me, Mary,” Edward said. “You get all worked up, forbid me to do something and it turns out to be nothing.”

Bob held up his hand. “Stop it right there, Ed. You don’t need to pick on poor Mary.”

“Thanks, Bob,” Mary said flashing him a smile. “I knew I could count on you.”

“Anything for you.”

Edward rolled his eyes. “If you two are done…”

3.)  You don’t have to always use said or any other dialogue tag to indicate who is speaking. You can use action to indicate this as well as to provide information essential to understanding the character and/or some element of the scene. In the above example, Bob holding up his hand and Edward rolling his eyes are examples of this way to identify the speaker without a dialogue tag.

Or you can have the characters use each other’s names as they speak – but again, this is done sparingly.

Bad Example: “What are you doing, Bob?” Mary asked.

“I am helping you out, Mary.”

“You know she doesn’t need your help, Bob,” Edward said.

So in the above example, characters are calling each other by name but a little too often. In real life people use other people’s names sparingly (typically at the beginning or end of a conversation) and so should your characters. Here is the above example revised.

Mary glared at Bob. “What are you doing?”

“I am helping you out, Mary.”

Edward stepped in front of Mary, shielding her. “She doesn’t need your help, Bob.”

4.)  Use adverbs (such as loudly, softly and angrily) with your dialogue tags sparingly – as in almost never. Nothing points out a novice quicker than a writer who uses adverbs to tell your reader how someone spoke or even worse uses an adverb with one of the fancy alternatives to said.

Examples: she said excitedly

He exclaimed loudly (redundant)

Using an adverb is telling your reader how the dialogue was spoken instead of showing them.

Example: “I never want to see you again,” she said angrily.

But instead of telling us she is angry, show us.

“I never want to see you again,” she said, storming out the door and slamming it behind her.

Of course, as with any “rule” there are exceptions. Sometimes adding an adverb can be a quick way to indicate a mannerism or emotion (she said quickly; he said coldly) without writing longer, descriptive sentences. But keep this to a minimum.

To summarize….

  • Unless you have a good reason, stick to the standard “he said, she said.”
  • Other simple verbs – she asked, she whispered, – are fine.
  • Fancy verbs – he bellowed, she interjected – should be avoided.
  • Use only as many dialogue tags as needed for clarity. If two people are speaking, one every three or four lines is about right. You will need more dialogue tags if you have more characters speaking in the same scene.
  • You can also use character action or calling a character by name to indicate who is speaking.
  • Never use adverbs (or at least very rarely). Instead of telling, show the reader the action.

Even though “said” is the preferred verb, if you use it every time, your dialogue will become tedious. So aim for variety. With some practice, you will learn when a dialogue tag sounds correct and appropriate. In fact, if you don’t even think about or notice the dialogue tag…you got it right!

Writing dialogue well is hard even for seasoned authors. Hopefully, these three posts help you master this difficult, but important, task and allow you to write well-written, realistic dialogue in your novel.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel