One of the most important parts of writing is making sure you have true-to-life dialogue that actually fits your characters. Unless your main character is a smartypants who loves using big words all the time, don’t have him/her speak like this:

“The means by which I concluded that something was out of the ordinary was the fact that my mother was wearing a red silk sequined blouse instead of her usual loose t-shirt.”

Awkward, huh? Even if your character does like using big words or has a know-it-all way of expressing himself/herself, it’s probably best not to overdo it. Your readers may get sick of reading pages of that gibberish. Or they may get sick of your character altogether.

But writing good dialogue doesn’t always mean writing simple sentences. It just means writing the way your characters would speak. In Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl is a twelve-year-old criminal mastermind. The way he speaks is much different from the way an ordinary twelve-year-old speaks.

When I’m writing dialogue, I like to picture myself as the character I’m writing about. I put myself in his/her mind. It also helps a lot to read aloud what I’ve already written. I speak with the same tone and inflection as I imagine my character would. If anything sounds unnatural, I know I have to change it.

If the dialogue in your story isn’t believable, it creates a distance between the characters and the readers. It’s harder for the readers to care about your main character because they can’t really identify with him/her.

Another great way of knowing whether your dialogue fits your characters is to get feedback. Don’t defend your work – just let the people reading it tell you whether it is believable or not.

Good dialogue shapes who your characters are just as much as descriptions of your characters do. Whether a character speaks in short, choppy sentences or long, wordy ones makes a difference. In Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery, Anne loves to talk. She loves using big words and imagining things, so her sentences tend to be long ones.

Basically, it all comes down to this: True-to-life dialogue is not just important, it’s necessary if you want to tell a good story. It makes your writing stronger, and it shows us who your characters really are.

Said is Dead?

My drawing here is just to help visualize the whole "said is dead" thing. But remember, you ARE supposed to use "said"!

Yikes. It’s been  a while since my last post. And now that it’s summer, I don’t have much of an excuse. So from now on, I will try to update this blog at least every other day, if not every day.

Anyway, I figured I should do a post on this topic because I know that a lot of people think they should avoid the word “said.” Well, they shouldn’t. And neither should you.

I’m sure you’ve been told not to use “said” at least once in your life, somewhere along the way. You were probably told that because you weren’t using enough strong words, like “scream” or “cry” or “whisper.” In fourth grade, I was told NEVER to use “said.” And it was probably the biggest lie I have ever been told.

The reason you use “said” is because it’s natural. It doesn’t jump out at the reader and make him/her go “whoa.” Gail Carson Levine had a really good way of saying it in her book, Writing Magic. The way she put it is that “said” is invisible. It disappears. In other words, it doesn’t interfere with the actual story. Same with words like “ask.”

Example: “Where is the peanut butter?” he asked.

Versus: “Where is the peanut butter?” he questioned.

Eek. “Questioned” sounds so awkward. If you can’t really tell, it’s probably because it’s a single sentence. It’s not in context. But imagine if you were reading a paragraph, and all of a sudden a word like “questioned” popped out at you. Part of writing- actually a big part of writing- is about finding your voice and letting the words flow. To do this, you need to write naturally. And that means avoiding words that make your writing sound awkward.

Obviously it’s different if you’re writing a formal essay. The rules of writing are completely different. But this blog is dedicated to writing fiction, so that’s what I’m talking about right now.

Most of the time, when you’re writing dialogue, it might even be better to let the writing speak for itself. You don’t even need to use words like “said.”

Here’s an example:

“Hey, what’s up?” She had that assertive look on her face, like she was trying hard to be confident.

He looked up at her words, stopped playing around with his phone. “Hi.” He tried not to sound too surprised, but this girl never spoke to anyone; she was so shy. Why did she speak to him?

In this exchange of dialogue, the characters’ thoughts and actions drive the  story more than the actual words they say. And that’s fine. Notice how I didn’t use anything like, “she said” or “she mumbled” after the speaker’s words. I just jumped right in with the actions or thoughts or whatever.

Obviously, you can’t do that all the time. And you can’t use “said” all the time. But don’t ever think that you can never use it. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that you need to use words where they go. When a character is actually shouting, say “he shouted.” But don’t say that just because you’re avoiding the word “said.” Because when you do that, your writing sounds awkward. Write what feels natural. Write what’s right.

Writer’s Block

Sorry I didn’t update my blog last week. I meant to, but finals are coming up and school has been  keeping me pretty busy.

Anyways, I have fallen victim to writer’s block countless times, so I figured I might as well do a post on it. When writer’s block strikes, there’s only one thing to do-


Seriously. There’s no other solution. It doesn’t matter if you’re spewing crap all over the page; it doesn’t matter if you’re writing “I have writer’s block and I don’t know what to do.” The simple act of writing and not staring into space will actually get your creative juices flowing again.

I think that the reason people are afraid to write when they get stuck is that they want it to be perfect right away. This is true especially for really strong writers, or anyone who has written something that (s)he’s remotely proud of. Think about it- if you’ve written something amazing once, it’s easy to feel that your writing after that one time isn’t living up to its usual standard. I’ve felt that way so many times- the way I describe it is that “I’m regressing.”


That’s why your first draft is called your rough draft. You just have to WRITE and push through that first draft, no matter how painful it might be. Force yourself. Once you’ve written it, you should feel great- because the story’s down. Even if it’s written in crappy language and you hate it, still, rejoice! Because it’s been written down. And all you have to do is revise to make it reach the level of perfection that you want it to.

The quote in the picture is one of my favorites because it’s encouraging, but it’s not too cheesy. Whenever I feel like giving up on my manuscript, I look at this quote (it’s taped to my wall, along with a bunch of other quotes I love).

The Difference Between the Right Word and the Almost Right Word

One thing I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post (More About Adverbs) is that when you use a thesaurus to replace a word in your writing, you have to be careful not to change its original meaning. No two words in the world mean the exact same thing – that’s why they are different words. Even “he shouted” and “he yelled” have slightly different connotations. But more often than not, that slight difference in meaning doesn’t matter, and you can interchange those words throughout your writing.

But there are times when the thesaurus gives you a word that doesn’t make sense in your context, or, even if it does make sense, it chops up your writing instead of letting it flow.

Example: Her heart was pounding. “Are you sure?” she asked.

A thesaurus option: Her heart was pounding. “Are you sure?” she inquired.

Okay, so they mean the same thing. “To ask” is the same as “to inquire.” But “inquired” sounds so unnatural and awkward. Especially in this context. Her heart is pounding, right? That implies suspense. So, picture your reader, rushing through the pages of your book, wanting so badly to know what happens next- and then you throw in a word like “inquire.” What’s your reader going to think? What the heck? Yeah, that’s about right.

“Inquire” sounds so formal and awkward. It’s not right when you’ve got hearts pounding and action going on. The word jolts your readers and almost pulls them out of the world of your book. It reminds them that it’s not real. You do not want to do that to your readers.

Usually, it’s really easy to tell what sounds weird and what sounds right. When you let other people read your work, they will tell you as well. But here’s a general rule of thumb that I follow when using a thesaurus: If I’ve never heard the word in my life, I don’t use it. To me, when I use a thesaurus, I look at the words and think, Oh! That’s right! I completely forgot about those words! Or I think, Yes! That’s the word I was looking for! The thesaurus is really more to jog my memory than to learn new words. But I’m not saying that you should never use new words- it’s just that if you do, make sure you look them up in the dictionary and are completely sure about the meaning. Don’t pull them straight from the thesaurus. It also helps if you look at examples that use the word in a sentence.

Even the way a word sounds can determine whether you should use it or not, even if it has the meaning you’re looking for. Did you know that the word “pulchritudinous” means “beautiful”? If a guy had called me that and I hadn’t known what it meant, I think I’d have hit him!

Edit: The title of this post is part of a quote by Mark Twain. Check out the Quotes About Writing page to read the full quote!

More About Adverbs

Upon request, I’m writing another post about adverbs and verbs. I hope you find it helpful!

Most adverbs end with -ly. Quickly, sadly, awfully, angrily, happily, softly, loudly. These are all adverbs. Well, imagine reading something like this:

Example: Slowly, he walked towards her. Although he was walking slowly, his thoughts were moving quickly through his mind. Was he making the right choice? He began walking more quickly, began walking briskly towards the girl. She was waiting for him, and as he drew nearer she called his name.

Yikes. Did you count the adverbs in that paragraph? There are five. Doesn’t it sound cluttered? Too much -ly. Now read this version:

Revised version: He walked towards her, lingering every so often along the way. Although he hesitated, thoughts whirled through his mind like a furious cyclone. Was he making the right choice? He quickened his pace, now striding towards the girl. She was waiting for him, and as he drew nearer she called his name.

You may have noticed that I didn’t just cut out the adverbs. I made the paragraph a little more descriptive and threw in a simile that wasn’t there before. Do you know why? Because once you cut out unnecessary adverbs, you have room for better writing!

But sometimes you will not find a verb that can get rid of your adverb. And that’s okay. Sometimes an adverb is simply what fits best and makes the most sense.

If you’re having trouble deciding when to use adverbs and when not to, try using thesaurus.com. I generally keep it open on my computer whenever I’m writing anything. It’s quite useful. I just typed in “walk slowly” and it gave me synonyms!

I hope this post was helpful and clarified anything that wasn’t explained in my previous adverb post. If you have any questions, leave them in a comment!