Become a Better Editor of Your Own Work
© MM Pollard, July 2012

Lesson 2


After Wednesday’s lengthy lesson, today’s will be short and sweet. If you like, you may use the chapter you printed yesterday for Lesson 1 as long as dialogue is present.

Strategy #2: Read your story aloud. If you can bribe, beg, or trick someone else into reading a part of your story, you’ll be more able to hear the rhythm of your prose.

Even if you don’t have anyone to read with you, reading your text aloud will help you catch errors you would have missed otherwise. You might find that it helps to record your reading and then go back and listen to it.

Problem #2: dialogue issues
First, if you’re working with the hard copy, circle a section of dialogue. Of course, you might have several sections of dialogue in the pages you printed. You will use the same editing strategy and method of correction for all.

Second, read the dialogue section aloud. If you don’t have another person helping, try using a different voice for each character and record your reading.

Look for
tags – too many or not enough?
beats – make sense – your characters can do what you have written them to do.

Third, read just the dialogue, not tags or beats. Does the dialogue sound natural? If not, reword. People today use contractions in their speech. Contractions can give your dialogue a natural sound.

Would your characters use the words you have put in their mouths? If your chimney sweep uses four-syllable words, your reader is going to wonder how he knows them. You’ll have to make his vocabulary plausible, or you’ll lose your reader.

Does the dialogue rehash information you have already shared with your reader? If so, either delete or shorten dialogue. Or you may go back and delete the information earlier in the story. Be careful with information dumps in dialogue.

Fourth, don’t go crazy with dialects and accents. Word choice and contractions can help your character sound like a Scottish highlander or a Danish Viking. Whatever you do, don’t mutilate the English language in an effort to show us a character. Your reader will thank you for your restraint.

Homework: Post only one section of dialogue and answer the questions below – you don’t need to post your answers to the questions. You will post the corrected dialogue after you have answered these questions and made your corrections.
  1. Do you use too many or too few tags? Delete tags, especially those that slow down the dialogue. Add tags that are needed for clarity of the speakers.
  2. Do you use beats? (You should!) Are your characters physically able to perform the action in the beat?
  3. Does the dialogue sound natural, use words that your characters would know and use? If not, correct.
  4. Is your dialogue an information dump? If so, correct.
  5. Do you use dialects or accents? Will the reader understand what she reads (that’s good), or will she stumble over the writing (that’s bad)?
Remember, you are posting (1) a section of dialogue and then (2) a correction of that dialogue.

Any questions?

MM