Saturday, August 21, 2010


I was going through some of my papers and came across this article written by Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literacy Agency. Her agency has RWA approval.

In writing, some things change along the way. Some are true and stand fast. The following are Kelly’s top five, she sees all the time. I love the way she explained everything with examples. So much clearer to understand. I wish she mentioned something about POV. That’s my down fall.
Jaclyn Di Bona

1. Using sound or facial expressions instead of the word said. Dialogue should carry the emotion, not an adverb shoring up said. A character can’t: bark, growl, snap, chuckle, howl, grimace, roar, smile, or snarl, etc.,a word. Use said and eliminate said adverbs. Also, don’t’ reverse to read, said she. Save that for the kiddy books.

2. Not using a word for its intended purpose. The worse offenders: pretty and little. Pretty in its intended form means cute, beautiful, etc. Example: “She has pretty hair.” Incorrect.: “She arrived pretty late.” Little in its intended form means tiny or small. Example: “She has a little dog.” Incorrect: “Her dog ate very little.”

3. Passive sentence structure. So many writers have a problem with this. It takes dedication and practice to avoid passive writing. Active structure is A does to B. Passive structure is B is done by A, or, the subject of the sentence is acted upon. Example: Passive: “The soup was stirred by Jane.” Active: “Jane stirred the soup.” Watch for was before words ending in ed. Check: that, had, and forms of to be as well.

Also, phrases pairing was with words ending in ing, which are Progressive Past. Example: “Jane was running.” Simple past [usually preferred]: “Jane ran.” Sentences require progressive past if something interrupts an action. Example: “Jane was stirring the soup when the doorbell rang.”

4. Using backstory or too much internal thought. Don’t write long paragraphs of internal thought or backstory to “info dump” every detail of a character’s past. Break it up. Change to dialogue or action whenever possible. No backstory allowed in the first chapter [at least]!

5. Overusing exclamation points and / or italics. I must stress how unnerving it is to see so many words in italics! It drives me crazy! I can’t stand it! It yanks me out of the story! And if a writer uses too many exclamation points, which denote shouting or mental equivalent, then I’d have a headache if I were reading it aloud!

So, do yourself and the person you’re submitting to, a favor. Read your chapter aloud, slowly, before you submit your partial. Your ear can often hear what your eyes can’t see.


Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Excellent points. It's so easy to go passive for me and my CP is always knocking me in the head for it. I am getting better though.

Thanks for sharing the do's and don't's.

Mona Risk said...

Jaclyn, it has been wonderful meeting you and spending a lovely time with you in Boston. What a good post.

Sheila Tenold said...

This is excellent info, Jaclyn. Thanks for sharing Kelly Mortimer's insights.

Joanne said...

These were very helpful ideas. Thanks to you and Kelly!