Kat Cho

Adventures in Revising

Adventures in Revising(5): Dialogue


07, 2016 |

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Dialogue is a funny thing. It is the voice of your characters, but it is not necessarily always the voice of your narrative (especially when you’re writing in third person). This means that not only do you have to figure out how to give your story a voice, but also each individual character (wow, writing is hard y’all).

Anyway, here are a few tips that I’ve picked up as I’ve been writing and revising.

Common Problems When Writing Dialogue:


Overly formal dialogue.

For example, “I do not understand what you are referring to. I was simply minding my own business with my friends.”


Rough it up! Add some slang (but not too much) and just say the sentence out loud and see if it sounds natural. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was just hanging out with my friends.”


Alternatively, too much slang is bad.

This kind of language can date your story (i.e. if you’re making your character say a popular slang word that was big in 2010 but no one uses it anymore, totes awkward amiright?

Also, if you use too much slang it makes it hard to follow the dialogue anyway. Even though everyone speaks with different dialect it can distract from your story. And, sometimes authors who are writing children’s fiction use random words that kids/teens would never actually say themselves. So why trap yourself with trying to use “young speech” patterns.


Just stick with dialogue that you use. Chances are that if you’re not an overly-proper English marm then you speak like any teen, adult, monster, alien character that will be in your book.


Wall of dialogue aka monologues.

It’s what supervillians do in the movies that always get them beat at the end. So we know that it is the tool of evil and destruction. This is how you should view monologues in your writing.


Don’t turn your MC into a guy who won’t shut up. If your MC is telling a long story and it fits into the flow of the story, you should still break up that big block of text with action.


What I call “Telling Dialogue.”

Just because we put background information in dialogue does not magically make it showing instead of telling (which I will talk more about in a later post). Dialogue can definitely feel like telling (I mean, it is literally a character telling another character something)

This is easy to identify if you realize you’re having characters say information that every character in the scene already knows simply because it explains the world or background story to the reader. In real life, if everyone in a room knows something already, I’m not going to tell that story again, it would make me a boring friend and no one would ever talk to me.

Also, if your character is talking out loud to themselves in order to impart information, this is a big no-no (you know, those scenes in Days of Our Lives where the character is like “why did I kiss Steve when I know he’s my sister’s husband? We just got close again after she regained her memory.” Everyone ridicules these tactics in Soap Operas, so don’t use them in your book either!)


If there is a new character who doesn’t know this information then you can impart information in an appropriate conversation. Storytelling is not bad, it just needs to be imparted in a way that creates movement in the story, pushing plot forward. Also, the ability to trust your readers to hang in there to figure out what makes your world tick is a big lesson I learned in writing.


Fancy dialogue tags (i.e. yelled, snapped, growled, hissed)


Just use s/he said and s/he asked. Use action and the actual dialogue to show how it should sound. The context of the words should be enough to get emphasis across.

(This was a hard lesson to learn, although I am still guilty of using the occasional “whispered” and “shouted”)


(Over) Repetition of a character name.

Sometimes you want to distinguish who is speaking in a dynamic way. You don’t want to muck up your dialogue with random “he said” and “she said” tags. So you just plop the names of characters into the dialogue itself. The problem is that this can get very repetative.

Say character names once in a conversation (max).

Just think about it, in regular conversation someone would not say, “As you know, Fred, I am new to this town. So, Fred, when I am out doing errands I often get lost. That is why I need your help, Fred.”


Differentiate who is speaking with a well-placed dialogue tag rather than saying names in the dialogue.

Other Lessons Learned:

Subtext and Context are your friends.

If you have an upset character saying “I’m fine,” then the reader is probably smart enough to know that this is said in an angry tone and that the character is (in fact) not fine.

Also, if someone says “Well, aren’t you just a genius?” then most readers will automatically read that line as sarcastic, because seriously, we live in a world where someone is more likely to be sarcastically calling you a genius than truly thinking you’re a genius (sad, but true).

Try to stay away from the kitchy written out speech ticks
stuttering “s-s-s-o c-c-c-old.”

lisping “Thisth isth ridicluousth.”

and anything else that you’re using to give your characters quirky voices. You can just said “It’s so cold,” he said, stuttering. Or “This is ridiculous,” she said, her lisp making her words hard to understand.

Make Every Line Count.
I would give this advice for any kind of writing. Don’t have throw-away scenes just to get to the juicy part. So don’t have throw-away dialogue either. Don’t have characters talk about the weather for two pages unless it is because there are gods controlling the weather and it is a sign that the apocalypse is coming and your characters must stop the dark lord from shrouding the world in hurricane evil!

Read your dialogue out loud.
Dialogue is your characters’ spoken words, so you should speak them out loud yourself to see if the cadence and word choice fits what you’re trying to accomplish. If it sounds stilted and awkward then rewrite.

Make sure your dialogue is distinctively from your story and part of your characters. 

Something I say to my CPs all the time–if I can take your dialogue and plop it in the middle of any other YA Fantasy or Sci-Fi or whatever-your-genre-is book, then you need to make it more distinctively yours. Give it more voice, make it a part of your characters. Don’t just use dialogue as a vehicle to move plot forward, use it to show us who your characters really are.

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Adventures in Revising(4): Revising Scenes/Getting rid of unnecessary Scenes


23, 2016 |

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Next up in Adventures in Revising…Deleting WHOLE scenes.These are my lessons in mapping out my story (this can happen either before or after you start writing, I happen to do it after because I am a pantser, so I use it as a revision tool).

When I map I use visual aids, either a pin-board with little index cards, or a visual file with all of my plot points:

Mapping out your story

(A fun editing software could help with this. *cough* someone may have recently written a blog post about this software *cough*):

Make a Plot Map – Obviously this is the most important, if something contributes to driving the plot forward, then its usually safe from deletion (but not from revision!). Make sure that every piece of the plot is laid out in a way that the reader can follow (even if the book is a twisty, psychological thriller, if the reader can’t piece it all together by the end then it’s not really working).

You can split these into subplots if you’d like (I used subplots such as World Building, War, Illness for my old MS since it has a lot of interlocking plot points).

Make a Characterization Map – Characterization is so key in a story! Any scene that adds to characterization can get preferential treatment (i.e. are the last to be deleted when doing overhaul revisions). However, make sure that the characterization scenes fit into the flow of the book. Are you constantly going off on tangents to explain that your character is “strong” “quiet” “rebellious” “sweet”? If so, then try to find other places to sneak those tidbits in. Any time a character is reacting to others, you can try to push in some key characteristics since a “strong, rebellious” character would react differently than a “sweet, quiet” character.

Make a Love Story Map (if necessary) – anything that adds to the development of the love story can probably be kept in, since us YA readers love us some romance. But be careful, if the story is not all about the love story, and these scenes happen to take up 60% of your book, then consider deleting a few, or just parring them down significantly. We don’t need a dozen kiss scenes to understand that two characters are attracted to each other.

Make a Backstory Map – this is information that adds to the story, but didn’t happen during the story (I know, you’re probably saying “duh, Kat, that’s why it’s called backstory”). Make sure none of these scenes are pure info-dumps and that they are fitting dynamically into the story. Some authors try to use flashbacks for these, but too many could clutter your story.

It could be that some of the backstory is just for you, it’ll help you write your characters and world better, but it’s not necessary for the reader to know it. If so, then scrap those scenes.

AFTER YOU’RE DONE –  Are there any scenes that don’t fall into any of these categories? Look at those scenes very critically. Could it be that it’s a scene you wrote before you finished plotting out the story and now it doesn’t fit in? Are you only keeping it because you’re attached to the scene/writing? Is there no way for it to be re-written in order to fit into one of the above categories? 

If the answer to all of these is “YES” then I’m sad to tell you that you can probably trash it (but keep it in a file for later stories! <– Advice from Axie)

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Adventures in Revising(3): Writing Software | Ulysses III versus Scrivener


19, 2016 |

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So, I don’t know about you guys, but when I decided to write in earnest I just opened a Word Document and let myself go. When I felt like being “fancy”, I used Google Drive so I could have my documents “on the go”.

After I got more than 50 pages written, I would have issues finding sections if I wanted to add new scenes. So, I started trying to create things: like writing notes to myself in the document. But when I wanted to send documents to CPs or beta readers, I had to create brand new documents, free of my little notes-to-self. So, when I was told that there exists software out there that solves these writer problems, I was like hellz yea! (caveat: although there are trial versions, the version with all the cool options costs some mool-ah).

So, here are the main two that I’ve heard about:

Ulysses III
Platform: Mac & Windows
Price: $39.99
Free Trial Version?: Yes

Ulysses III is called a text editor. The idea is that when you’re writing (especially if it’s creative writing and not just to create a report document) then you shouldn’t be fiddling with format issues. Of course, that’s not to say that Microsoft Word doesn’t provide you with a good platform to just write on. But when your document is so long (i.e. has chapters and hundreds of pages) it can get kind of hard to navigate your work.
So Ulysses does all the work for you so that all you have to do is write. Of course you can change the fonts and displays and formats to your liking as you work on it. It’s not like Ulysses takes away any of the controls that are available with Word. It’s just supposed to make your life as a writer slightly easier.

So here’s the basic rundown of Ulysses according to it’s creators:

Ulysses is a unique Mac OS X text editing environment aimed directly at creative writers. With its innovative “tabbed” single-window interface, featuring integrated notepads, a documents browser, advanced search/filter capabilities and multi-document previews, Ulysses aims to give creative writers, novelists and storytellers the best writing experience available on any platform today.
Ulysses lets the writer focus entirely on content while aiding him in organizing the multiple parts of his work without forcing him into any pre-defined structure whatsoever. Developed exclusively for creative writers, Ulysses lacks both the functional overload of traditional word processors and the developers-oriented approach of classic text editors.
Additionally, Ulysses sports a fully extensible, plug-ins based export feature which enables the user to export their project into various different file formats, including the likes of “Plaintext”, “RTF” and “LaTeX”.

Here are some great tools for writers of long manuscripts:

Ulysses is a tool originally created for technical writers, however it is a convenient tool for the tech-savvy writer.


Platform: Mac & Windows
Price: $45
Free Trial Version?: Yes

Scrivener is also a great writing software.

It has a lot of the same features as Daedalus, like letting you order your chapters in the left column for easy navigation of your book, creating titles for your sections, creating descriptions of each section, inputting research/links/pics. I personally think that the format and design of Scrivener is more appealing to the eye than Ulysses. Especially because it has fun options like the cork board.

Here’s what the creators have to say about it:

Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft. Scrivener puts everything you need for structuring, writing and editing long documents at your fingertips. On the left of the window, the “binder” allows you to navigate between the different parts of your manuscript, your notes, and research materials, with ease. Break your text into pieces as small or large as you want – so you can forget wrestling with one long document. Restructuring your draft is as simple as drag and drop. Select a single document to edit a section of your manuscript in isolation, or use “Scrivenings” mode to work on multiple sections as though they were one: Scrivener makes it easy to switch between focussing on the details and stepping back to get a wider view of your composition.
With access to the full power of the OS X text system, you can add tables, bullet points, images and mark up your text with comments and footnotes. Format as you go using the format bar at the top of the page, or use any font you want for the writing and let Scrivener reformat your manuscript after you’re done – allowing you to concentrate on the words rather than their presentation.

There’s also a pretty nice tutorial about Scrivener on Youtube created by one of the programmers.

Here are some great features for writers of long manuscripts:

(This is an update of a post that was originally written for Books Are Bread).

(Thanks @downtonallie for your great tip on Ulysses and Scrivener!)

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Adventures in Revising(2): CPs, Beta Readers, or hired editors?


15, 2016 |

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I was reading Miss Snark’s First Victim and Authoress had a really great point about hiring an editor for revisions.

To paraphrase she pretty much says that you shouldn’t hire her for her professional critiquing services if your work has never had eyes on it (i.e. a CP or Beta Reader). For one thing, those people read your work for free, for another, they catch some of the small stuff (i.e. grammar, incorrect tenses, plot holes, etc). When you hire someone to edit, you want to get the most bang for your buck, so why would you waste a professional editor’s time having them correct commas and dialogue tags?

So it got me thinking, what is the right order for revising? Also how many CPs should you have? Where can you find a responsible beta reader? Also how do you know when you’re done?

I hope to give some advice/links in this article to help anyone who is a newbie to this whole revision game.

Critique Partners:
Axie and I already did an article about CPs specifically.

Critique Partners are fellow writers (often people who write in the same genre as you) who trade MS so both parties can critique the other’s work. They can run the gamut of one-time critiquers or CPs you continue to trade with for all of your WIPs (my personal preference). They’ll look at grammar and spelling mistakes. They should also look at characterization, setting, etc. They’ll address issues of plot holes, continuity, characterization, believability, whether the MC is a sympathetic character, whether secondary characters are too two-dimensional, and sometimes even assist in fact checking, etc.

When to get a CP: At ANY POINT in writing. Some CPs exchange chapter by chapter of rough draft WIPs. Some CPs exchange the just-finished WIP of their completed MS. Some of them just trade random scenes that they are having issues with. When you’re looking for a CP be sure to say what stage you’re at and you’ll most definitely find someone in the same boat.

What you get: Free critique. Customizeable (i.e. you can search for someone who meets your criteria). CPs often stay with you throughout your whole writing career. We’re making friendships here people! These people will be able to lift you up when you’re sad, celebrate with you when you succeed, and push you to be a better writer.
They are also great for encouraging you through writer’s-block or points where you’re unsure where the story is going.
CPs can exist online or in person (in critique groups), meaning you can decide if you want to have a new in-person friend to chat with about your books, other books, how every YA conversation inevitably leads back to Harry Potter (proven fact).

Some Advice: You have to give as much as you get (or risk burning bridges). If you are super duper busy in your day job or with the fam, you might not be able to commit that much time to reading someone else’s MS. That’s fine if you have already established relationships with CPs, but if you go out and get a few shiny new CPs and then drop the ball from the get-go then you’re not really keeping up your side of the bargain.
Of course, there should always be a “trial period” where you and your potential new CP can get a feel for the other person’s work. This is a time where you could realize that you don’t have the time, and if you’re upfront then you can always ask to keep that person’s contact info for when you’re more available.
Ultimately a CP is crucial if you want to send out official queries/submissions.

Writer’s Digest has a good article about the Top 10 Worst CPs


YA Writers Reddit – This reddit is for those of us who are authors of YA novels. Discussing your original works in progress is our purpose. Feel free to discuss titles, characters, plots, themes, settings, critiques, etc. Also, any information pertinent to the genre and authors should be discussed here. Hopefully we can all learn from each other and write great books!




Publishing Crawl

Absolute Write

Cupid’s Literary Connection


Beta Readers:
Beta Readers are people who read an MS with the intent of looking through the material and giving an opinion on whether they like the story (think of it as a small focus group to see if your story will do well once it’s published). They also find grammar and spelling mistakes. They can look at characterization, setting, etc. They can address issues of plot holes, continuity, characterization, believability, whether the MC is a sympathetic character, whether secondary characters are too two-dimensional, and sometimes even assist in fact checking.
While it’s tempting to just use family and friends as Beta Readers, if you’re an unpublished author then try to find people who don’t owe you their loyalty, their opinion will be less biased.

When to get a Beta Reader: When you’re completely done! And ideally when you’ve had at least one CP read it for the small things (i.e. grammar, tense, POV, spelling). Beta Readers are more often a big-picture kind of critiquer than a small details person (that’s because they’re more your audience than your peers).

What you get: Free critique. Customizeable (i.e. you can search for someone who meets your criteria)

It’s like a focus group (except one person). It’s going straight to the source (maybe a slightly more opinionated source) about whether your book will appeal to the audience you’re trying to reach. There are Beta Readers of all kinds, so you can really get some diverse opinions on your MS as a whole.

Some Advice: Beta Readers run the gamut and are obviously very subjective. Like CPs one Beta Reader might not have the same opinion as another so it could be confusing once you’ve had a few people read your work.



Absolute Write



Editors for hire:
Editors for hire are people who work in the field (agents, editors, published authors) who will offer a professional critique for a fee. They are a great resource for POLISHED MS’s. When you are happy with your story and you don’t really have anything you can think of to make it better, then you can consider hiring an editor to give it that final shine before querying.

When to hire an editor: After multiple eyes have seen your MS and given their honest critique. If you’ve only done one round of revisions then go back and do another, and then another, and then another just to be safe. THEN think to yourself, “am I confident with this work?” If the answer is “yes” then go ahead and query. If the answer is “mostly, but I still feel like something is missing and I can’t figure out what.” Then you can look into hiring a professional editor. (There is always the option of sending to more Betas or CPs as well).

What you get: Professional editing by someone who has experience and works in the industry! They know what agents and publishers are looking for. They can give you some great professional advice, and they are able to understand why something works or doesn’t based on industry experience. Also, many writers/agents/editors are also some of the biggest fans of books, that’s why they work in the field (this is especially true of YA professionals!)

Some Advice: Always remember, professional editors costs moo-lah. Beware of submitting unpolished MS’s for these services. You will often get an MS back with a lot of red pen that concentrates on the small stuff (i.e. grammar). I know it’s hard to wait, but it will be worth it. Run your MS through a few CPs and Betas before you turn to the professionals.

Pricing – I’ve heard a lot of prices quoted. There are those that do per word, per page, or just give a blanket price (but clarify that there is a cap for word count).


Miss Snark’s First Victim

Evil Editor

Absolute Write

Chuck Sambuchino Editor


Some recommendations: Tehlor Kay Mejia,  Katherine Locke, & Tracey Baptiste

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Adventures in Revising(1): Throwaway and Redundant words


13, 2016 |

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I have a slightly obsessive personality. So when I get into something I do a lot of research and (over) analyze the heck out of it. So when I first began writing and revising, I went a little editing cuh-razy. However, something good came from it, I had a lot of thoughts about editing habits/revising. So, I decided to chronicle my adventures in revising.


(NOTE: a lot of this advice caters specifically to the YA genre. Adult and MG genres might allow more liberties in some of these areas, but I will try to point out where that could occur)


First up, Throwaway Words.


I read a lot of these posts and they’re always helpful, but as I read, it seemed like these “throwaway words” fell under two categories: Words you can search for in a document (Ctrl + F) and words that you need to find by reading with a fine-toothed comb.




These are words that probably don’t add to the story. So my practice is to Ctrl + F for them when I revise, read each sentence and see if I can delete. 99% of the time, the answer is “yes.”


Unnecessary modifiers – words that don’t add to the sentence, except to stress an action. However, sometimes simpler is better. For example:


He wasn’t really hungry.


Getting rid of the “really” doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence and, in this case, the word “really” made the sentence less declarative.

– very

– really

– kind of

– a little (bit)

– almost

– could/would
– had to/have to

– just

– more

– seem

– such

Words that frame everything from the MCs POV – These words make you see actions and events as the MC sees them. That’s fine if it’s a paragraph that describes the MCs emotions, but if it’s just them observing an action, it can be cut to explaining that the action occurred. For example:


He could see the drops of rain falling  fell on the pavement in fat splatters before the heavens opened in a torrential downpour.


Here it was unnecessary to describe the rain from the MCs POV, he is not having an emotional reaction to it as he sees it, therefore, it is just a description of the setting around him. This can be told to the reader directly instead of filtering it through the MC.
(You can think of it as giving the reader first-hand information as opposed to second-hand. First-hand is always more reliable so let the readers experience it for themselves.)

– decide(d)

– felt/feel

– hear(d)

– look(ed)

– realize(d)

– saw/see

– seem(ed)

– sound(ed)

– think/thought

– wonder(ed)


Words that say the same thing twice/unnecessary clarifications: If a character nods, then it means they nodded their head. Unless they’re nodding something else, you don’t need to clarify what it is. And if a character does an action, usually they just started doing it, so no need to say “started to” before a verb. For example:

He started to stand stood.

– nodded (her/his/my head)
– started to


Also, modifiers of an action are often unnecessary, but the ones that are particularly unnecessary are things that say the same thing the verb does. What I mean here, is that if someone is running, then I will assume they are moving fast/quickly. Unless someone is moving as super sonic speeds, then there is no reason to tell me how fast they’re running.

– ran fast/quickly
– walked slowly
– whispered quietly
– yelled/shouted loudly

There’s a more dynamic way to explain the hyperbole actions. For example, if someone is walking exceedingly slow then don’t just say “walked slowly” try to say something like “shuffled forward” or “dragging his feet through the gravel until he had fallen well behind everyone else.”




Now for the harder stuff. Things that are more subjective in your story and that you can’t just find with searching the document.


adverbs (-ly)  – words that are there to modify the verb. If the verb needs modifying then maybe you can find a better verb to explain what you mean. Often times adverbs clutter up the prose and are unnecessary. For example:


He was definitely angry at her.


Here it is fine to just say he was angry at her. The sentence is enough without the adverb to know that he is upset.
(Caveat is if it is told from a very distinct voice, actually any rule can be broken if the point is to have a very quirky narrative voice. Just make sure you’re writing it very distinctly so that there is no confusing a quirky character voice with bad grammar.)
Adjectives – If you’re starting to think you see a trend here about modifiers, then you’re right. Often times they just clutter up our stories. Not to say they aren’t useful sometimes, but if they are what you are depending on to stress an emotion or mood, then try to think of more dynamic ways to explain things. For example:

He ran across the hard, black surface of the asphalt, his feet slapping against the ground as he sprinted.


(The only place where adjectives could be helpful is in description of a new character. Calling someone tall, fat, hairy, thin is fine if it is to give the reader a clearer picture of the person. But I encourage you to find a more creative way to describe characters. Instead of saying “the fat man” you can try “he was so plump and soft that she imagined he was made of Pillsbury dough instead of flesh and bone.”)


First words of sentences: Do all of your sentences start with “He” “She” “NAME OF CHARACTER” or “I”? Don’t worry, we all do it sometimes. We get caught up in describing the action of a character, and we end up just starting each sentence with the subject. If you find yourself doing this in some sections, just think of more dynamic ways to order some of your sentences. For example:


Eli carefully unhooked the guard’s key ring from his belt, he didn’t want to jar the sleeping belua. Eli stepped over the sleeping guard and moved to the heavy doors. He studied the entrance, it led to a dark staircase, illuminated only by a torch at the top landing. Eli took it from the sconce and held it high to light the way. Eli hesitated as a shiver raced down his spine, this place gave him the creeps. He’d heard one too many stories about the terror of the Under. But he pushed his anxiety away as he resolutely made his way down the steps.


Whew, I liked using “he” and “Eli” a little too much to start every sentence in this paragraph, but with a little tweaking:

Eli carefully unhooked the guard’s key ring from his belt,Carefully unhooking the guard’s key ring Eli clenched his teeth in concentration, he didn’t want to jar the sleeping belua. Eli stepped over the sleeping guard and With the keys secured, he moved to the heavy doors.  He studied the entrance, The entrance led to a dark staircase, illuminated only by a torch at the top landing. Eli took it from the sconce and held it high to light the way. Eli hesitated as A shiver raced down his spine, this place gave him the creeps. He’d heard one too many stories about the terror of the Under. But he pushed his anxiety away as he resolutely made his way down the steps. (The Astrum Wars)


Now the paragraph sounds much more dynamic, changing a few words around to make it seem less repetitive makes the narration flow much better. (If you’re having problems identifying these types of problem passages, try reading the story aloud to yourself, it really highlights the words that show up too often or that sound awkward)


NOTE: When doing line edits, make sure you’re also looking at word choice and if your narration flows the way you intended. The advice in this post is useless if your story does not emit the mood and atmosphere that you intend as a writer. If deleting any of these words could take away from that mood, then utilize your artistic license and keep them in. It’s your novel after all, it should be written how you intended it. Happy Revising!

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