Monday, January 14, 2013

Writing Tips with Darlene Jones

Today I have Darlene Jones visiting with some great writing tips many writers should find helpful. 

You can find Darlene here: Website / Blog / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads

Take it away, Darlene.


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One of the best writing tips goes back to my novice days. An author I admire suggested that we read our work aloud when we got to the rewrite stage. I decided to try it.

“What’s that?” my husband asked.

“Nothing.”

“You said something.”

“Just reading to myself.”

“Well keep it down. I’m trying to watch TV.” Luckily for him, I knew he was joking.

Reading aloud showed me where my words weren’t natural or where sentences were too long and convoluted. Sometimes I’d cut out words as I read and realize that I didn’t need them. Other times I’d add a word or two when I read and realized I needed that word on paper to make for smoother, more natural expression.

I do much less reading aloud now that I’m more experienced, but it was a great tip for me as a beginner.

The second thing I think is crucial for writing success is to join a critiquing group. This must be comprised of fellow writers. They know what you are trying to accomplish and what to watch for in your writing.

I’ve used two approaches. With one group, we emailed our work to each other before the meeting. We printed and commented on paper and then discussed the piece at the meeting. We gave the copies with our notations to the writer at the end of the discussion.

The second approach was to come to the meeting, pass out copies to the members and then read the piece aloud. Members jotted notes and explained what they felt was missing or needed.

The critical key in both groups was the one rule that the writer not comment at all during the discussion as the goal wasn’t to defend his or her work, but to take the information and use what worked for them. This worked well as the members of both groups held the mindset of helping their fellow authors so the critiquing was never mean spirited.

There are two added benefits to the critiquing groups. One is that the discussion sparks ideas for all and the critiquing of one piece can help you with your own work as you learn what things to watch out for.

Here’s a simple example.

“I don’t think so,” he said. He shook his head.

One member commented that the natural reaction would be for the action to come before the spoken words.

Bill shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

I realized that was a mistake I made often and I liked the result when I went back and made those changes.

Good luck with your writing.


What would be one of your top tips for writing?


42 comments:

  1. Reading aloud is something I've forgotten to do recently; I'll have to give it a whirl again.

    You're right too - having the action before the words makes for a better sounding phrase :)

    Jamie

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  2. Reading aloud is the best piece of advice I got. That and reading it backwards.

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  3. Reading aloud is a good idea and not just for dialogue.

    Another tip for when you're getting close to the end of the editing stage is to switch font style or size or print the work if you normally do everything on the screen. It helps you spot typos and other mistakes you might otherwise miss.

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  4. Reading dialogue out loud is really important. if it's unnatural, it will show!

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  5. Although I'd personally never read mine aloud to anyone (too self-conscious of how boring my voice sounds) I do like asking complete strangers in critique groups to take sections of my story and critique. Totally get amazing and helpful perspectives! Take care
    x

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    1. You could always read to Charlie and Gumtree... I'm sure they love your voice.

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  6. I read out loud to myself too. REALLY helps getting the flow right - especially in dialogue.

    Thanks for sharing the tips today!

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  7. Reading aloud is an excellent tip! I usually read my manuscripts aloud to my daughter, and she gets annoyed with me when I stop to fix awkward bits.

    My tip is to do a check for words I overuse. I have to check for that, was, and had.

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    1. Yeah, I have a list of over-used words that seems to just keep growing.. (that, just, but, so, etc,)

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  8. I love the tip about reading aloud. I have done it in the past but I need to remember to do it more regularly.

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  9. To read any suggestion by Dwight V. Swain, his Techniques of the Selling Writer should be on every beginning writer's bookshelf. It's still in print.

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  10. Good luck with 'Embraced,' Darlene.

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  11. Reading aloud is an oldie but a goodie - it's amazing how quickly we forget it!

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  12. Critique groups are a great way to be forced to read aloud. It can be scary, but beneficial. Thanks, Lynda and Darlene!

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  13. I like to close my eyes, say the words out loud and pay attention to what kind of body movements seem natural for that dialog. I'm so glad I have a place nobody can watch me while I write!

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    1. yes!! Role-playing, including reading aloud, is a great way to find the natural flow.

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  14. that is an interesting tip for sure. Words sometimes flow differently when said aloud.

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    1. Absolutely. It has to be tried to truly know how useful it is.

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  15. GREAT tip! I used to practice dialogue by reading aloud, and when I was editing, I advised clients to do this all the time. It really makes ALL the difference in the world. Thanks, Darlene! *waves* to Lynda! <3

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  16. Reading aloud is WAY helpful. When I think I've gotten the story finished, I read it aloud...and find I'm not really finished. :)

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  17. Fantastic post! I agree that a critique group is key to becoming a better writer. I have two fabulous critique partners, and I have a local critique group. I've learned so much from them. We have similar rules. No talking during the critiques. It's really hard sometimes!

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  18. I always read aloud. Much more effective. But as an editor, I only did this on passages where the author's words confused me. Interestingly enough, I just started proofing a book I edited months ago. I wasn't sure how to go about it as it was the first proof I'd done. I considered reading it line by line backwards so the story didn't get in the way, but I wanted to see how the author had worked with my revisions. So instead, I activated the text-to-speech on my PC and follow along as my computer reads it aloud. Yeah, it's pretty funny listening to that silly voice, but it's easy to spot all the errors. Very enlightening!

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    1. I've not tried text-to-speech. I should give it a go.

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  19. Reading aloud is definitely a good tip. Another thing that works well for me is sending the manuscript to my kindle, and reading it there. It seems to provide a fresh perspective.

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    1. Yep, I can definitely vouch for that tip. I like to send my ms to my kindle as well. It's amazing all the errors I find this way.

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  20. Yes, I read aloud a lot still. A tip I was told a year ago was to enlarge the font to 200+ that way you see extra spaces and things stand out more

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    1. Ha! I'd not thought of doing that. Another good way of finding those extra formatting issues in Microsoft Word is turning on 'show formatting' (the button that looks like a pi symbol)

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  21. Thank you, Lynda for letting me visit your blog. And thank you to everyone for the comments.

    Another thing I do is send the file of my book to my Kindle and do a proof read on the Kindle. Things show up there that I don't see on the screen. Here's the link for the "send files to Kindle" feature.
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/?docId=1000719931

    Darlene

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    1. No worries, Darlene. I hope your book is a great success.

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  22. I always feel self-conscious when reading aloud, but I suppose it wouldn't matter on my own! I've never tried this. I'll need to. Actually I'm planning to read my YA novel to my stepson to get his opinion, so I'll need to get over the cringe factor!

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  23. Reading aloud continues surprise me. When I think I've got a piece of writing where I want it, I read it aloud and often I'm embarrassed to realize that I've missed some (now) very obvious clunky parts. It's a great tool to use.

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    1. It's amazing how when we read normally we fill in missing words, smooth out clunkiness and miss typos.

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  24. Reading your writing out loud is always a good start to finding mistakes, especially when it comes to making smooth sentences. Getting somebody else to read your work - I guess that's what the critique groups are for, in part - will also help a writer find mistakes in their own work. Often, we overlook our own mistakes because we know how it's supposed to read. Even if you just get one or two other people to read it, not necessarily a whole critique group, it will be beneficial.

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  25. I;ve read my books backwards, chapter by chapter. Its a great way to get acquanted with your book from a different perspective.

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  26. When I worked as a writing tutor, sometimes I had students read some of their work aloud. Like you said, reading aloud helps people to figure out where the mistakes are and what they need to work on. I found that the students didn't even realize that they had made those mistakes until they read their work out loud; when they were typing it on the computer and reading it silently to themselves, they read it as if it was written correctly, probably because they'd gone over it several times.

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  27. The local critique group I'm thinking of joining works the way the one Darlene has described. I think having other writers' perspectives gives you greater insight into what works and what doesn't.

    I do like the idea of reading your work aloud to yourself. I do that with my poetry but not necessarily with my fiction. I will have to try it.

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  28. I've also heard that suggestion about reading one's work out loud. I feel a bit random doing it though!

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  29. I read my into a tape recorder. If you have to hit the pause button, it doesn't flow naturally. Thanks for the tip, Darlene! :) xx

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  30. Great tips.

    I've sent my ms to my Kindle before and let it read out loud to me. You'd be surprised how many more errors you'll find that way. Unlike the author's brain, the device doesn't know what the lines are *supposed* to say. It reads exactly what's written. :D

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    1. PS - I'm a 'beats first' advocate, too. ;)

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