Characters Should Say and Do Only Things That Have Purpose.

image by jhas

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is now available. See details below.

Writers may think characters should talk and act like real people. If a movie showed actors doing that, the theater would soon be empty. That’s why films cut to the important dialogue and actions. It’s the same with novels. 

Purposeful dialogue, inner thoughts, and actions deepen motivation, conflict, and tension.

Let’s take a look at an example.

No Purpose (reality)

“You’re back,” Alex said, looking over his newspaper. “Where’ve you been?”

“To the store.” Gretta set her grocery bag on the floor.

“Did you get milk? I’m low on milk for my morning cereal.”

“Yes.” Gretta crossed to the African violet on the window sill and plucked away brown leaves. The plant looked better. 

“Good.” Alex turned his attention to his newspaper.

Gretta moved across the room and collected a stack of folded laundry on the coffee table. “Well, I guess I should put the groceries away and get dinner started.”

Analysis: The example shows no conflict or tension to intrigue readers. Nothing is said, thought, or done that tells us something about the characters. Boring.

image by ASSA

Purpose: Show a Shaky Marriage 

“You’re back,” Alex tossed his book onto the end table. “Where’ve you been?”

Gretta set her grocery bag on the floor and planted her hands on her hips. “Where do you think I’ve been?” 

Alex checked his watch. “You’ve been gone a long time to get milk.” 

“So you think I’m having an affair?” Gretta crossed her arms over her midriff.

“I don’t know what to think anymore.” Alex stood and walked toward the back of the house, shaking his head.

Had she pushed him too far? “I stopped to look at houseplants,” she called. “Dinner will be ready in thirty minutes.”

His car keys jangled as he returned to the den.

Her heart raced. Was he leaving her for good? 

Analysis: The actions show Alex is irritated, disappointed, and has had it. Gretta’s actions tell us she’s defensive. The dialogue and Gretta’s internal thoughts show she goads then is afraid she’s gone too far. We have conflict, tension, motives, and feelings. Deeper. 

Purpose: Show a Possible Murder

“You’re back,” Alex said, looking over his newspaper. “Where’ve you been?”

“To the store.” Gretta set her bag of unnecessary groceries on the floor and concealed in her fist the bloody necklace she’d found in his car. Did he believe the store had been her one destination? If only Kirsten had come to the door when Gretta had made the detour.

“Come here.”

Her heart shot up against her throat. Would he recognize her fear if she came too close? What if he asked what was in her hand? Kirsten had always worn that necklace.

Gretta nodded toward the bag. “I should put the groceries away.” 

“Come here.” Alex laid the newspaper aside and extended his hand.

Had his voice held a slight edge? 

“Just one second.” Gretta crossed to the African violet on the window sill and plucked away brown leaves as she let the gold chain slip to the soil. She wiped her hand on her black slacks. 

“You pay more attention to that plant than to me. Maybe I’ll dump it down the garbage disposal.”

Analysis: Conflict, tension, feelings, and a good reason to pull leaves off the violet. We know Gretta suspects Alex of hurting Kirsten and is afraid of him. We see Alex is a jerk.

How do you check your paragraphs for purpose?

Buy Link

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TYFMI30D-Print-5.75x8.89.jpeg

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

Toggle panel: Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO

5 Tips to Diagnose Your Website for Problems That Confuse Visitors

“In an endless jungle of websites with text-based content, a beautiful image with a lot of space and colour can be like walking into a clearing. It’s a relief.” —David McCandless (data-journalist, and information designer)

image by bykst
image by bykst

I think watching what your website visitors do is important.

Tip 1: Make sure your visitors take the action they think they’re performing.

I learned that a visitor had come to my blog and thought she’d subscribed to Follow my Blog Via Email. She had subscribed to my newsletter.

image by geralt

About that time, I found out I wouldn’t be able to announce my blog on an email loop. I invited those on the loop to subscribe to my email notifications. Immediately, someone signed up for my newsletter. An aha moment. My Newsletter sign-up was at the top of my blog sidebar. I immediately moved the Follow my Blog Via Email to the top of the sidebar.

Why was this important? After all, I’d acquired subscribers to my newsletter. But suppose they didn’t want another newsletter coming into their inboxes. Not realizing they had signed up for my newsletter, they may mark my Newsletter emails as spam.

Tip 2: Remove events promptly when events you’ve announced on your website have passed.

I have a countdown calendar I use for events. Letting it sit with zeros from the last event, suggests I’ve neglected it. On my calendar on the day after the event, I need to schedule time to change it to my next event. If I don’t have an event coming up, I can set it for the next conference or workshop I plan to attend.

image by Body-in-Care
image by Body-in-Care

The same goes for my Speaking/Events page. Leaving these events on the page for a week past the event date to show what I’ve been doing is probably fine, but after that, my events are old news and my page looks neglected.

Tip 3: Refresh information.

My Home page had a prominent announcement that advertised the availability of my novel, Calculated Risk. It said, “Available November 2014.” The same announcement resided on the page’s sidebar, my Book page, and my Blog sidebar. My husband suggested I change it. As November 2015 approaches, some visitors may see only “November” and think Calculated Risk isn’t available yet.

Tip 4: Try updating, moving, or adding content on your sales page.

On my Books page, I think my endorsements by other authors may speak to readers better than other content. Yet, I wondered how often visitors read to the end of the page where the endorsements for Calculated Risk lie. So, I moved one to the top.

Also, on my For Readers page, the fun book trailer resided after the content, which is a repeat of my Books page content. I moved the trailer to the top for visitors to enjoy.

Tip 5: Cut clutter from your pages.

image by Biedermann
image by Biedermann

Busyness tends to overwhelm visitors. I keep my pages simple and to the point, with plenty of white space. However, after reading today’s quote above, I added a picture to my Book Club and Speaking/Events pages.

5 Tips to stop confusing your website visitors. Click to tweet.

What adjustments have you made to your website that made your content clearer?