Tighten It Up Volume III: Perk up Those Double D’s

I mean Description and Dialogue, of course.  So if you’re looking for a way to tame the girls, this probably won’t be helpful.

Descriptions and dialogue can eat up word count in any manuscript, and if you’re not careful you’ll end up with a third, not so nice D – Drag!  For the next volume of my blog series, I thought I’d give some tips on how to make sure those double D’s are putting their best foot forward!


Descriptions come in all shapes and sizes.  Character descriptions, setting descriptions, wardrobe descriptions, weather descriptions etc…  Some readers believe descriptions put them in the story, while others believe it kills their imagination – but she was supposed to be rescued by Johnny Depp, not Brad Pitt!  Personally, I like to have enough description to get a general idea and then move on.

But no matter what level of detail you write descriptions at, you don’t want them to drag.  Dragging descriptions can throw off the pace of a story and distract the reader from what’s truly important.  Here are a few ways to avoid this.

1.  Know the requirements of your genre.  Readers who pick up fantasies and paranormals are looking to be immersed into another world, which requires a good deal world-building.  Readers who pick up a contemporary romance typically don’t read it for massive descriptions of the seascape or the forty-two types of flowers that grow on the hillside.

2.  Make sure your descriptions are necessary.  Do you really need a three page description of what your characters ate for dinner or what was around every turn as they traveled to work?  If you don’t, why waste the space?

3.  Combine your descriptions with action to avoid stalling.  In Example A below, I am stopping the pace of the story to state a bunch of facts.  Whereas in Example B, I am maintaining the action and embellishing with my descriptions.  See the difference?


A.  Harriet had red hair and wore hoop earrings.  When she talked she sounded like a man, and when she laughed resembled a hyena.


B.  Harriet laughed, her masculine voice transforming to a hyena’s cackle as the large hoop earrings tangled into her red mane.


As a woman, I love to talk.  As a writer, I love to write dialogue.  I believe that witty banter can make a scene, as well as encourage your readers to fall in love with your characters.  In fact, there are many times when a scene comes to life through some strand of dialogue bouncing around in my head.

Like descriptions, if dialogue isn’t added properly it can end up sounded stilted and breaking up the flow of your scene.  Here are some tips:

1.   Understand the difference between dialogue and conversation.


“Hello.  How are you?”

“I’m fine.  How are you?”

“Good, but it’s hot out today.”

“It’s supposed to cool down tomorrow.”

This is conversation, not dialogue.  It tells me nothing about the story and nothing about the characters.  Dialogue is more important than that.  It’s used for a purpose, not to fill space with politeness.

2.  Ensure your dialogue sounds the way someone would speak.  Think about the age and gender of the character – is it the way a fourteen year old boy would express himself?  If not, your characters won’t be believable.

3.  Add action or introspection to denote pauses and eliminate boring tags.


A.  “Only one person knows what happened that night.  And it’s time for her to talk,” Greg said.


B.  “Only one person knows what happened that night.”  Greg removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.  “And it’s time for her to talk.”

See how the middle sentence in Example B adds a bit of drama while denoting a pause in Greg’s speech?

Remember – you only have so many words to tell your story.  Make sure they’re the right words!  Do you have any other tips to share?


Jenna P.

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