From the Editor’s Desk: Dialogue

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Here at Carina, we’re always looking for new authors to sign, publish and build. But we recognize that putting your manuscript out on submission can be an intimidating process. How do you make your manuscript stand out, from the query letter to the last page? We’re here to demystify the submissions process by giving you some insight into what a Carina Press editor looks for when she opens up a submission for review.

Today’s post comes from Rhonda Helms. Rhonda is a freelance acquisitions and developmental editor with Carina Press, where she’s worked for over 5 years. She’s actively seeking submissions in a wide variety of genres and encourages you to send your compelling reads to her. Rhonda’s here today to talk about how to make your dialogue amazing.

We’re all aware that dialogue is a vital part of a story. We get to know characters, learn key information about the plot, snicker at jokes, cringe from awkward confessions, and even swoon with romantic lines. Nailing dialogue in your manuscript can help you hook an editor, fast.

Here are my do’s and don’t’s for making sure dialogue rings true and fits the story:

  • Snip that info dump! As an editor, I see this a lot, authors using dialogue exchanges to relay information to the reader. I’ve heard people call it the “as you know, Bob” syndrome. If your characters are telling each other stuff they both already know (“As you know, Bob, our father ran away with his secretary last year”), then it’s not reading realistically. In fact, it’s kind of annoying and even weird in real life when people do this to us, right? So find a better way to layer in key story information—preferably in the narrative, and only when it’s relevant to helping us understand your current scene.
  • Watch for proper name/job title/nickname abuse. People rarely say each other’s proper names or job titles (sir, Doctor, Officer, Detective, etc.) when we’re speaking, so keep use of those sparing. And when your character is using a pet name/nickname far too often, it comes across as inauthentic and even cheesy.
  • Contractions matter. I typically see this in sci-fi, fantasy, or historical submissions, the utter lack of contractions. While it may be tempting to avoid contractions to make a character sound fancy, intelligent or foreign, more often than not it makes them sound stilted and can create awkward dialogue. Please, use contractions—love an editor. ;-)
  • Make sure your characters sound different. If we strip out your narrative, your dialogue tags, can we essentially tell who’s speaking based on your dialogue alone? There are lots of ways to help your characters feel unique—keep in mind their gender, age, location, education level, etc., and layer those distinguishing touches into their speeches. That said, think of it as seasoning. It’s easy to veer too far and make your character hard to understand or, worse, clichéd or stereotypical.
  • Careful of…overuse of…ellipses… Characters tend to drawl off, to stop and start sentences. I get it; that’s realistic. We all do it. But too many ellipses make your character sound goofy at best, and asthmatic at worst. “But…I just…love…your eyes…” It sounds like that person is drawing a deep breath every word or two. Someone give him or her an inhaler! Lol. Yes, an exaggerated example, but I do see ellipsis abuse in dialogue quite a bit.
  • Dialogue should be realistic, yes, but not boringly so. Think about how real people talk and borrow those elements, but make sure to keep your dialogue interesting and compelling and purposeful. We don’t want boring back-and-forth about how someone’s day is going, or people rambling about other things that don’t matter to your plot. And be careful about having one character go on and on without a break in the prose. People interrupt each other—how often does someone in real life actually speak for paragraphs on end without anyone else doing or saying something in response? Also, we know that people repeat themselves, or go off on tangents all the time. So use those elements in your dialogue, of course, but sparingly. Purposefully. Pepper them in, and keep that pacing tight, your narrative focused.
  • Make dialogue tags your friend—a casual friend you don’t overuse, that is. ;-) Dialogue is more than just the words being spoken. It’s the manner in which those words are spoken. It’s the facial expressions and body language of the speaker, the emotions manifesting in the body while talking. You can use dialogue tags, and the narrative around the dialogue, to convey what’s not being said in the words themselves. But be careful about repeating yourself. If a character is saying something that sounds angry, no need to also say that the person said it angrily. Trust your dialogue, and/or the way you show the anger in the character’s body language, to convey that emotion. Also, don’t be afraid to stick to a simple “said” for your tag, but if you do go beyond that into something more descriptive, don’t go overboard with it.
  • Watch for parroting/echoing dialogue. I see this so, soooo much, characters repeating each other. It slows your pacing and can even make your characters sound like they’re not that intelligent. “I washed your car,” he said. “You washed my car?” she asked. Characters don’t need to echo each other unless it’s for intentional purpose, because it can get annoying, fast. So if you use it, that’s totally fine, but I suggest you keep it very, very sparing.

Thank you for reading—we hope these tips have you excited to submit your manuscript to Carina Press! Here are some quick references to help you through the submissions process:

  • We’re always open to submissions!
  • We respond to all submissions within 12 weeks.
  • Have a question and can’t find the answer on our guidelines page? Email us at Submissions@CarinaPress.com and we’re happy to help.
  • Looking to target your submission to a specific editor? Find out more about editor submission calls here.
We are currently acquiring We do not publish/no longer accept submissions in
All subgenres and heat levels of romance (excluding inspirational romance) Non-fiction of any form, including memoirs, biographies, poetry
New Adult Women’s Fiction
Historical romance Horror
Mystery and Crime (all sub genres) Thrillers
Action Adventure Literary Fiction
Science Fiction (and sub genres) Faith-based/inspirational fiction or romance
Fantasy (and sub genres) General historical fiction (any historical fiction that does not contain mystery, fantasy, alternate history or romance as primary focus)
Interactive Adventures Young Adult

 

Looking for more information on our submissions process? We’ll have more posts coming in this series, and in the meantime, you can read about our acquisitions process here, and find out more about what an editor does here.

Ready to submit? Click here to start your publishing journey with Carina Press!

2 thoughts on “From the Editor’s Desk: Dialogue”

  1. Chris Buono says:

    Such a lively, full dialogue post, Rhonda! Your wit-filled and tongue-in-cheek style shines here, too.

    I cannot–oops…can’t,;) thank you enough for the tips. They all make a lot of sense, and it’s great to hear how to hook an editor’s eye from someone who knows.

    Here’s hoping that you receive the mss you seek.

    1. Rhonda Helms says:

      Glad to help out!! I love talking craft, and I hope my thoughts on this topic are useful. :D

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