Tag Archives: writing technique

#SaystheEditor Transitions


Maybe it’s the time of year. End of the old, getting ready to bring in the new… It’s a time of transitions, of resolutions, of looking ahead and shedding the old.

Lots of that happening in my world, that’s for sure. It seems to have turned into one of those periods where major upheaval is, if not imminent, then already in progress.

I can tie a lot of that into writing, but let’s be more mechanical today. Transitions within paragraphs.

Here’s an example:
Mack searched the empty bleachers of the Hydra stadium in vain. The place wasn’t fancy. If anything, it was run down, the gleam gone from the silver bleachers until they faded into the boring, dull grey of the concrete steps and supports. Really, the whole place was blah. It was hard to believe that in a few days, there’d be three hundred people trying to fill that middle section, people cheering and yelling and talking and having fun. Just Tess wasn’t there, like she’d promised she would be. He’d counted on her, her smile, her hands clenched together under her chin, even for something as stupid as a practice. She’d said she’d be there, even if she was the only one in the whole place watching, cheering him on, rooting for him. He wanted to scream. All his wheedling, all his love, all his need for her — and hers for him — had been for nothing.

So. Mack’s looking at the stadium. He’s projecting into the future and then, wham! We get to what’s really bugging the poor guy. His girlfriend (and yes, he calls her Just Tess and you’ll have to read the book to find out why) isn’t there to watch him practice.

Without that transition, it’s hard to realize at first if Tess is supposed to be in the bleachers at that exact moment, or if Mack is projecting her absence along with the fans. You have to keep reading, and it’s jarring.

Sure, you could make a paragraph break, and the trend these days certainly is for shorter paragraphs, perhaps due to the prevalence of e-books and how they appear on a small screen. But what if you don’t want to? Because, after all, the focus of the paragraph is whether or not Mack’s search — which we’re told up front is going to be in vain — will pay off. You want it all in one paragraph.

That means you have to tie everything together.

Mack had come out before the rest of the team so he could look for her. She had promised to be up there, in the bleachers, making a run-down old stadium look bright and cheery simply with her presence. He’d been waiting all day to see her there, colorful against the silver bleachers that had dulled so much over the years that they now blended into the boring, dull grey concrete of the steps and supports. But all he saw was an uninterrupted field of dull greys and silvers. No Tess, despite her promises. He’d counted on her, her smile, her hands clenched together under her chin, even for something as stupid as a practice. Just Tess had said she’d be there, and Just Tess never made promises she didn’t keep. But she wasn’t there, the only one in the whole place who was watching, cheering him on, rooting for him, and that made him want to scream. All his wheedling, all his love, all his need for her — and hers for him — had been for nothing.

Keep an eye out for these things. You want the reader to flow from one thought to another, to move with you. Don’t wrench them out of the story and drop them back in somewhere else. Make it smooth. Remember: the best writing is the writing you don’t notice.


#SaystheEditor Said, or Asked?


It’s not just new writers I’ve caught doing this, so it’s worth a mention for all of you to keep an eye out for as you revise your work.

If your characters ask a question, use asked in your dialogue tags.

“How are you today?” Shawn asked.

Believe it or not, I often see: “How are you today?” Shawn said.

Awkward, isn’t it?

If you mean for something that’s phrased as a question to be more of a statement, then show it.

“You not feeling well,” Shawn said with a knowing nod.


I spend a lot of time changing said to asked as I edit. Keep an eye out for this. And while you’re at it, consider your tag entirely. Dialogue tags serve a variety of functions. Sometimes, they are merely there for the reader to skim over, so that awareness of who is speaking seeps into their consciousness. Sometimes, tags do more. They set a scene, convey emotion, increase tension, and more.

But sometimes, they intrude. As they do when said is used instead of asked. Sometimes, they interrupt the flow of dialogue. They detract from what’s being said and switch the reader’s focus in an ooh, shiny sort of way. And more.

I know. You never thought this much about tags, other than why it’s not good to use Shawn emoted. Keep them simple, you learned once you escaped the clutches of Evil High School English Teachers.

And no matter what you do, don’t go for “Shit!” he swore.

Ya think?