Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #5:Where’s the Beef? Is your dialog too beefy?

Get past the gatekeeper

Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.

PKO_0008514 SICK GUY Dialog is enough to give most writers a headache, but it’s so stinking important!

How can we make sure our dialog is right on target, Donna?

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Donna’s notes for the agent after reading a submitted manuscript:

“The dialogue feels flat and not necessary to move the story forward or reveal something about the characters. Instead, it’s used as backstory and false world building facilitators, telling readers what the author wants them to know through long passages.”

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How to beef up your dialogue? 

  • Check for long blocks of dialogue and cut up.
  • Read the dialogue aloud to see if stilted or awkward.
  • Use subtext, the lines between dialogue, to reveal characters and their desires or secrets. Often people say the opposite of what they mean and can reveal their true intentions through action and reaction.
  • The dialogue should match the pace of a scene to keep the tension, fast or slow. For example, if characters are on the run they won’t be standing around having lengthy conversations but may be running and speaking in fast, spurts.
  • Incorporate dialogue in creative ways such as through journal entries, character quizzing, or action scenes.

swish skid markAre you writing in the first person? It’s hard to avoid using “I this” or “I that” in first-person narrative but you must find alternate sentence structures to reduce those “I” sentences. It will bring your readers closer to your character.

AN EXAMPLE: Before: “I searched for Charlie in the dark but I couldn’t make out the heads on other bunks.”

After: “In the dark it was hard to make out the heads on the other bunks. Where was Charlie?”

Try this throughout the novel. Your readers will thank you for it.

Too many exclamations in your dialogue? A character that is always hollering is not a fully dimensional character. How else can you write that sentence/scene to convey urgency? You don’t want your main character to be remembered as one who simply yells a lot.

Now go. Work on what your characters say and how they say it! It may help you get past the gatekeeper.

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

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About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.

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3 responses to “Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #5:Where’s the Beef? Is your dialog too beefy?

  1. I love that first person advice, thank you Donna!

    • Thanks Dana! I also learned this lesson the hard way when I had to go through an ENTIRE manuscript for my publisher’s editor and eliminate the overuse of “I”. It took a long time and much work with rewriting and combining sentences, but made the story so much stronger and you can bet I am very aware of that in writing the first draft! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #5:Where’s the Beef? Is your dialog too beefy? | Donna Galanti, Author