effective editing: One Disguise

Moving on in the series, we’ve reached One – dialogue, or for Halloween, disguise.




One– dialogue

Two – rhythm and reason

Three– challenge, compare, and contain

Under the heading dialogue, I’ve grouped: dialogue, point-of-view, and voice. The ABCs and 123s pyramid was created to be a memory assistant. Since dialogue is, in essence, character’s voices, I figure they belong together. All three can illuminate or obstruct your characters and plot. In the case of nonfiction, dialogue, point-of-view, and voice may impede your writing if not used properly.

You’ve heard it said, “Show, don’t tell!” One way is to let dialogue do the work for you. Dialogue pushes Action, in a natural way, not forcing things or creating false scenarios. Conversations are a great way to begin a piece, chapter or even end the work. Movement equals Action.

To accomplish movement in conversation, keep several things in mind. One: See if your dialogue streams like a natural conversation. If you’ve trained your ear to hear exchanges around you, then you know how to catch dialects and trending words or phrases. As you edit scenes, are you incorporating one particular phrase or habit, something specific, to a character?

Two: Be on guard for inconsequential chatter. Summarize trivial dialogue and move on, don’t use ubiquitous pleasantries to tie up your word count. Avoid the trap that you have to write the whole conversation. Shorten a phone call to a word intro, then get on to the meat of the dialogue. An example: Give a brief “Good morning,” setting the time of day, and then go on, there’s no need for both characters in a scene to exchange a heartfelt “Good morning!”.

Three: Approach dialogue in a different manner. Try using indirect dialogue in summary. Example:  After an inspiring jam session, Roland announced to his band mates his desire to propose to Cynthia after the close of the last set. No direct exchange, yet the scene is set and expectation levels are rising.

Four: Allow your main character to ‘talk’ to himself/herself. Internal dialogue is a great way to move the story and give insight to a character. If your work is in third person, construct the discourse aloud, internal chat is not just for first-person narrative.

Last week I mentioned dimension comes in different forms, saving dialogue and point of view for this week. Before I tackle point-of-view, I want to pass along some tag lines that may be helpful instead of “says” or “talks”:

acknowledges admits affirms believes
claims comments concludes concurs
discloses explains finds illustrates
implies indicates insists notes
observes predicts proposes reports
speculates suggests summarizes warns

Strong verbs go a long way, whether you’re penning fiction or nonfiction. Choose them well, to accomplish a multitude of goals: pointing to characters’ emotional, physical, and even psychological states of mind.

Speaking of states of mind, may I add a personal note? I promise it has to do with tag lines. Recently, I made it through the first book in the 50 Shades series, however, the trio rests on a side table, collecting dust. No offense to Ms. E.L. James, really. Interestingly, I’ll take this opportunity to name overused tag lines from her books, in case you want to add them to that above list: growls, hitches, groans, moans, grunts, squeezes, smirks, murmurs, frowns, distracts, reciprocates, and I’m certain there are others 😉 .

On to point-of-view. One camp of scholars says there are three ways you can select your narrator to tell a story: first person, second person and third person. The subcategories of these three are: first person narrative, seconder person narrative and third person narrative plus third person omniscient. Since this campground is familiar to me, I would like to examine first person narrative, third person narrative and third person omniscient. Second person narrative is rarely used, the ‘you’ type story or piece doesn’t connect well with readers, unless you are teaching. 😛

If I want to tell a story in my own voice, I can do that using first person narrative. I can be a part of the story. However, when I edit my work, I need to watch for emotions and thoughts of characters, other than me, slipping in. A character can only see what’s going on inside his/her own mind.

With third person narrative, the narrator is not part of the story, but an observer. There are a lot of ‘he/she’ actions and none of the ‘I’ stuff. So when you edit, check for a slip in point-of-view and fix any inconsistencies where the action shifts to ‘I’. We won’t differentiate what’s going on inside the mind of the characters because the narrator, outside the story, has a limited knowledge: the narrator only discerns what is seen.

Third person omniscient is the trouble maker! If you pick this point-of-view as the narrative voice, editing for uniformity may be tricky. The narrator is outside the story, observes everything, including what the characters may not recognize, hence the term omniscient. Think of a TV show or movie. You watch the action, the characters’ dialogue, plus identify their thoughts. This is the omniscient POV. When all the thoughts and emotions are known to readers, the narrator is using third person omniscient. So when editing a piece for discrepancies, watch for slips into third person ‘limiting’ the characters, or an occasional ‘I’ creeping in.

Confused? Read more about point-of-view here; excellent examples by James Scott Bell are found at Right-Writing.com.

Which point-of-view you use is different from voice, but they go hand in hand. For instance, first person narrative has traditionally been past tense: looking back. Occasionally writers use present tense. What to watch for in first person? Switching tenses. Be familiar with parts of a sentence, matching tenses in nouns and verbs. Diagnose active versus passive voice. Use a careful eye as you edit third person narrative and omniscient, matching tenses and voice.

How to tell the difference between the active and passive voice? Rebecca Johnson, @johnsonr, gave this example recently, “If you can insert ‘by zombies’ after the verb, you have the passive voice.” (Source: Twitter #zombiegrammar.) Additional assistance on distinguishing voice may be found at Grammar Girl.

Editing for dialogue, point-of-view and voice, is Developmental/Project Editing and Rewriting, which is parallel to Substantive/Structural Editing. Any editing with major changes, falls into these categories. Ideally, this series will help you develop an eye for writing as an editor and you will only become sharper as your writing skills morph into editing expertise. You’ll find you won’t need to scrap so many drafts, and you’ll be so proficient, you’ll transition to Proofreading and Copy Editing in no time!

Until next time, namaste 

Have you entered the editing package giveaway? It’s fast and painless, peek at the rules…

Next week: Two – Rhythm and Reason

Catch the series:

 effective editing intro

effective editing: it’s not terminal, or is it?

effective editing: ABCs and 123s

effective editing: A is for Action

effective editing: The Bs have it…

effective editing: What do you C?

effective editing: Two – Rhythm and Reason

effective editing: Three – challenge, compare, and contain

image by office.com


  1. This one was especially helpful to me. I can always use reminders about narrative voice.

    Also, I’ve come across some interesting discussion about dialogue in the past few months, so it was good to see your thoughts on that, too. I’ve mostly settled on the “just make them saids” point of view. It stretches me as a writer to figure out ways to make a piece interesting with the words and observations that surround the dialogue and not just rely on replacement words for said which may actually be more distracting than descriptive.

    1. I’m so glad Sparks, you’re absolutely right, stretching is a great thing! Oh, good point, distracting rather than descriptive…Keep up the awesome creativity and I really appreciate your thoughts!

  2. Thanks for the passive-voice advice by inserting “by zombies”! I was actually just thinking back the other day about how my professor got after me for using passive voice sometimes, and I never knew what on earth he was referring to! (I figured 7 years was too long a span to go back and ask him! lol!) Anyway, I like this blog post a lot, because I’m trying to figure out how to edit my book and make it work, so these last few posts are really helping me! 🙂

    1. glad it helps, Kim. It’s a great device for discovering passive vs active, and it’s not a pain to remember, LOL
      good luck with the contest! and thanks for reading!

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