Earlier I wrote a post on “fleshing out” our stories, citing Marg McAlister’s extremely helpful article on doing so without padding. (http://wp.me/p1Nylx-r8) As I continued to work on improving my writing, I received advice from a couple of wonderful writer friends concerning the length of my manuscripts, which always seemed to be too short. For years I felt frustrated by the designated lengths for novels, since I felt I had a com- plete story, but I still had to abide by those standards. Thanks to the wise words from these friends, I’m finally catching on. My new strategy is related to and involves fleshing out (adding more detail), as well as avoiding the overuse of dialog tags, and it has given me surprising results.
Below are examples of avoiding overused dialog tags, i.e. “He said,” “She asked,” etc. “What time are you going?” he asked.
Add some action:
He grabbed his hat and started toward the door, then he stopped and turned. “What time are you going?”
Not only have we avoided a dialog tag, but we’ve made the sentence longer with more detail. That’s three accomplishments by adding only one element!
Another example is:
“I don’t know,” he declared. Again, give some details concerning what is happening:
He bent down, scooped up a stone, and skipped it across the lake. “I don’t know.”
It’s easy to see what a difference this makes. In knowing the person’s actions, we get a hint of his emotions, and we’ve made our story a little longer. We’ve also avoided another dialog tag. (Not that we don’t need them occasionally–they have their place–but we don’t want our writing peppered with them.)
And, of course, we don’t want to stick in useless words just to make our work longer. (You can find this addressed in McAlister’s article: http://www.writing4success.com/How-to-Flesh-Out-a-Story-Without-Padding.html.)
One of my writer friends also suggested that I extend my characters’ conversations, adding richness as well as length to my stories, since they’re expressing themselves more, revealing more about what they’re thinking.
As I add more detail to my writing, make conversations longer, and spend more time describing the action that’s going on, I’m amazed at how quickly my wordage increases. Even a few words per page can make a difference, not only in length, but in the overall story, eliminating excess dialog tags and improving writing quality at the same time.