You’ve heard of writing prompts, now we have revision prompts! Each prompt will give you a specific writing issue to check for in your WIP, along with tips on how to fix each. Going through this process one issue at a time will not only help polish your current novel but will also teach you specific ways to improve your writing for your next story.
DIALOGUE TAGS: The few words before or after someone speaks in a book that tell who spoke.
1) Search your manuscript for the word “said” and have the computer count how many are used. (Hold the control and “f” key at the same time. Enter “said” into the box. Click on the “replace” tab above the box. Enter “said” into the second box. At the bottom of the window, click on “replace all.” The computer will tell you how many times it replaced “said” with “said.”).
2) Scroll through the first chapter. Did you use “said” (or a similar word like “asked” or “responded” every time someone said something? If so, evaluate each use of a dialogue tag. If it is obvious which character is speaking, then take the dialogue tag out? When finished, move on to 3) below.
3) If you found a surprisingly high number of dialogue tags, examine each time you use one. Replace at least half of them with action beats. No one remains completely inactive when speaking. We do little things like wave a hand towards someone, point to an object, roll our eyes, laugh, stare off into space, and any number of little things.You can also create action beats based on the setting. At a a party, someone might snag a drink from a circulating waiter, wave hello to another acquaintance, or take another bite of the cake. Or you can use an action beat to convey how the character feels (e.g. buttoning and unbuttoning a suit jacket to show nervousness, tapping a toe to show impatience, rubbing a hand over a chin to show deep thought)
4) If you have very few dialogue tags, congratulations! Like everything else, action beats can be overused. So glance over your chapter and examine how often you use them. If you find them with every quote (or almost every quote), you might want to change a few back to a plain old “he said,” to give the flow a little more balance.
5) Continue through your manuscript chapter by chapter, analyzing your use of dialogue tags and action beats.
For more detail about the use of “said” and action beats in writing fiction, check out this wonderful article by Kaye Dacus: Debunking Writing Myths – Always/Never Use Said
One of the keys to publication is a willingness to learn. We hope our Revising Prompts will help you learn more about the craft of writing and speed you on your way to publication.