Last week we looked at editing the shape of your novel http://wp.me/ppiTq-G1 and today we’re looking at a language and dialogue. Is every word doing the work it should? Have you chosen the strongest language and dialogue for your story?

Language is what draws your reader into the novel. It’s what tells them the kind of person your character is and where they come from. For example, if your character is a decisive person they would ‘stride’, if they are casual, they might ‘amble’ and if they are timid, they might ‘creep’.

Just by changing one simple word you can convey a lot about your character.

Try and minimise the use of words like ‘was’ and also those ending in ‘ing’ as these will slow the pacing of your novel down.

I discussed in last week’s post about how it’s possible to have a favourite letter that you unconsciously start a lot of your character’s names with. The same goes for words. I find myself using some of the same words far too much – particularly words like look and nod and grin.

So when I’m editing my novel, I do a ‘search’ for these words and every time I come across one, I ask myself,

“Is this the best word I could be using here? Is this the best way to write this piece or have I fallen into the trap of lazy writing?”

Writing can be plain hard work – fun but plain hard work. Sometimes you have to push yourself harder to make your writing sing. Close enough isn’t good enough. If you instinctively feel that a passage could be stronger, then ignore the slack voice that says, “It’s just one paragraph”. Rewrite it. You never know, it could be this beautiful new piece of writing that convinces an agent or publisher to take on your work.

When you’re in the language and dialogue phase of editing, your thesaurus is your best friend. Keep it close to you and make it work hard.


Your writing will be much more powerful if you are specific in your description. Instead of ‘Jessica walked her dog’, think about what sort of dog it was. This can tell us a lot about Jessica and her circumstances.

If she is walking a poodle, the reader would have a completely different impression of the sort of person she is than if she was walking a greyhound or a bull mastiff. Perhaps she is walking a dark brown, Cashmere x goat. What does that tell us about her?


  1. Another one of my bad habits is to use qualifiers. For example, ‘so’ disappointed orΒ  ‘really’ angry. You don’t need the ‘so’ or the ‘really’. In fact your writing will be much stronger without them.
  2. Also try to remove unnecessary words. For example, Instead of “She started to walk down the path”, just say, “She walked down the path.” Try not to use tautologys – where you are saying the same thing twice using two different words. For example, “She glanced quickly”. You don’t need the word, “quickly” because a glance by definition is quick.
  3. Use the strongest most appropriate words you can think of. “Shattered’ gives the reader a much stronger impression of what happened than ‘broke’.
  4. Create word pictures by using interesting language, similes and metaphors – all your images don’t have to be beautiful, they just have to create a strong visual impression for the reader. For example, “She was hotter than a pig on a spit roast”. A phrase like this not only shows you the extent of her discomfort but it shows you how the character thinks – that she has a sense of humour.
  5. Show don’t tell. Instead of telling the reader about something that just happened, show it occurring. For example, instead of “Jogging gave Simon asthma,” you could say something like, “As Simon jogged, his chest tightened until his breathing came in thin, shallow bursts.
  6. Read your manuscript aloud and this will help you pick up where you have used repetitive words or phrases.


Try and avoid ‘talking heads’ where you have large sections of text but nothing is happening. Watch people talking and you will see that they rarely sit or stand still while they speak. They gesture with their hands, they move, they have facial expressions, they do things while they talk. Including actions and action in your dialogue scenes will make them more realistic.

Listening to people talking is a great way of learning to write authentic, interesting dialogue. Remember that your dialogue has to divulge essential information, move the story forward or reveal character. If it’s not doing at least one of these things, then it probably shouldn’t be there.

Take care in choosing the words that your characters speak – make sure they are consistent with ‘voice’ and personality.

Do you find dialogue hard to write or do tend to use repetitive words in your writing. Feel free to tell us about it in the comments section of this post. I’d love to hear what your ‘favourites’ are, as well as any tips you have about using strong language and dialogue.

Happy Writing:)



  1. Hi Sheryl,

    ‘Actually’ I think you make some very good points:) (I can tell you’re on holidays – you sound far too relaxed LOL. It is true that we write how we speak – which is why I show my YA to my teen because he picks up words that I use that he ‘actually’ wouldn’t:)

    Thought you might recognise the mosaic. I just have to keep revisiting my wonderful May Gibbs experience:)

    Dee x

  2. Thanks, Alison,

    Umm, what woman? LOL. You weren’t referring to me were you? The goat walks without a rope, she just follows the dog off down the road and on the way back she bolts like a riding school pony to be the first one home:)

    Happy editing:)


  3. Good tips as usual, Dee. I enjoy writing dialogue. Each of us uses words differently. Our characters need to too. You should be able to tell who is speaking without it being said by the words and phrases used.

  4. Thanks, Dale,

    I agree that you should be able to tell who is speaking by what they say and do – not easy to accomplish though:)

    Good luck with the launch of your new book, Streets on a Map.


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