Sandra Gerth author of the Writer's Guides Series

How to punctuate dialogue tags and action beats correctly

One little thing that drives many editors crazy is incorrect punctuation of dialogue and action beats. Let’s start with a definition: A dialogue tag is a speaker verb such as “Tina said.” It tells your readers which character is speaking. An action beat is something a character does. Example: “I should be going.” Tina edged toward the door. While dialogue tags and action beats can have the same function—identifying the speaker—they aren’t punctuated the same. PUNCTUATING DIALOGUE If a line of dialogue is followed by a dialogue tag, use a comma (or a question mark or exclamation mark) before the …

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How to use participial phrases in your writing

Before I explain what the problem with participial phrases is, let me start with some definitions so we’re all on the same page. What is a participle? Participles are verbs that function as adjectives, which means that they modify a noun or a pronoun. There are two kinds of participles: Present participle: verbs ending in –ing. Example: The smiling woman. Past participle: verbs ending in –ed (except for some irregular verbs). Example: The washed dishes. What is a participial phrase? A participial phrase is a phrase containing a past or a present participle. Examples: Exhausted after twenty hours of work, …

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Writing in chronological order

If a readers tells me she was up all night, reading, because she couldn’t put down my book, it puts a big grin on my face. Because that’s exactly what I want: for readers to become totally immersed in my fictional worlds. So, how can we achieve that? One things that helps is to make sure you write in chronological order by putting the cause before the effect. Let me give you an example to explain what I mean. Startled, she jumped when the doorbell rang. While the sentence isn’t grammatically incorrect, it puts the character’s response (she jumped) before …

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Participle problems in fiction

You’ve probably heard of dangling participles, but participles can create other problems in fiction too. Before I dive more deeply into that, let me explain what a participle is. Present participles are forms of verbs that are formed by adding -ing. Example: Hoping for a happy ending, she read the last scene. Using participle phrases isn’t bad per se, but you should use them only for actions that happen at the same time as the action in the main clause. That’s called a simultaneous action. Example: Correct: Holding the tray steadily, she walked toward Drew. Since she can hold the …

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10 tips for winning NaNoWriMo

It’s November 1, and that means NaNoWriMo—NationalNovel Writing Month—is starting today. If you are participating, here are 10 tips on how to win NaNoWriMo and write 50,000 words in November. Set a daily writing goal. To complete 50,000 words on November 30, you’ll have to write an average of 1,667 words each day of November. If that daily goal looks too big and overwhelming, break it up into smaller goals. For example, you could do four 500-word writing sprints throughout the day. Celebrate the milestones along the way to your 50,000-word goal. Reward yourself for reaching each milestone. For example, …

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Fast-drafting or writing slowly?

Writers are often advised to write a first fast draft and get down the bones of the story as quickly as possible without stopping to revise, edit, or look up things, and then take their time revising. Other writers prefer to write slowly and edit as they go, polishing each paragraph before moving on. So I interviewed ten of my fellow Ylva Publishing writers to find out where they fall on the spectrum of “writing at warp speed” vs. “writing slowly and polishing as they go.” Read on for a variety of interesting answers. Caren Werlinger, author of Turning for …

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How to keep track of your writing progress and why you should

Most authors I know keep track of their word count in some way. If you don’t already, here are some reasons why you might want to start. Seeing your word count grow is a wonderful motivator that will keep you going. Often, you don’t realize how far you have already come while you’re in the middle of the process, so you need to look back every once in a while and see how much you have accomplished. Keeping score makes you more competitive—not just in sports, but when it comes to writing too. Tracking your progress provides you with knowledge …

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How and why to avoid autonomous body parts in your writing

You have probably all experienced it: you’re reading a book—maybe a romance or a mystery novel—and suddenly, you grind to a halt and wonder where all these zombies are coming from. I’m talking about sentences like these: Her eyes followed Kathryn around the room. Her fist knocked on the door. He dropped his eyes to the floor. His arms wrapped around her hips. The wording of these sentences makes it appear as if the body parts take on a life of their own and act independently of the character. It can cause comical images to flash through readers’ minds and …

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