9 Paragraph Problems Begging to Be Reworded

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“I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.” Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

 See the end of this post for more information.

If a paragraph doesn’t seem to read quite right, look for the following problems.

1.  Confusing Sentences in a Confusing Order

Changing jobs would solve my problem. I hated my job and its long hours. Especially my slave-driver boss, who always found another task for me to complete before heading home. 

Better:

I hated my job and its long hours. My slave-driver boss always found another task for me to complete before I headed home. I needed to find a new job.

2. There was/It was

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There was much to do on the farm. I never had time to go out with friends or take a girl to the movies. It was frustrating and made me angry.

Better:

Farm chores ate up most of my time. I couldn’t go out with friends or take a girl to the movies. I became frustrated and angry.

3.  Phrases out of Order

I shut down my laptop, filled a box with all my belongings, and left my resignation letter on the boss’s desk at the end of the day.

Better:

At the end of the day, I shut down my laptop, filled a box with all my belongings, and left my resignation letter on the boss’s desk.

4.  Weak Pronoun Ending a Paragraph

My husband burned my favorite pot, our dog ran away with a poodle, and my son brought home a report card with straight Ds. I didn’t know how to deal with it.

Better:

My husband burned my favorite pot, our dog ran away with a poodle, and my son brought home a report card with straight Ds. I didn’t know how to deal with the catastrophes.

5.  Wrong Word Used

The bell rang, and the students scattered into their classrooms.

Better:

The bell rang, and the students funneled into their classrooms.

6.  Repeated Words

Because there was an APB issued, there must be enough policemen there to handle the pursuit.

Better:

Because an APB was issued, enough policemen must have arrived in the area to handle the pursuit.

7.  Speaker Attribute Too Distanced from the Beginning

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“If I’d started the day earlier, I could have completed all my housework, done the shopping, helped the kids with their homework, and then killed my husband,” Jean said.

Better:

“If I’d started the day earlier,” Jean said, “I could have completed all my housework, done the shopping, helped the kids with their homework, and then killed my husband.”

8. Unnecessary Explaining

After paying the bribe, I was low on cash. For Mom’s birthday, I gave her a ring I bought at a pawn shop. She loves jewelry. Ever since she was a young girl, she spent her allowance on jewelry. She even bought me earrings for my sixth birthday. If she learned the source of my purchase, she’d throw the ring back in my face.

Better:

After paying the bribe, I was low on cash. For Mom’s birthday, I gave her a ring I bought at a pawn shop. She loves jewelry, but if she learned the source of my purchase, she’d throw the ring back in my face.

 9. Informal People Never Using Contractions

Sherry would not forget Dan’s blunder. “You are not my kind of person anymore, Jack. I will tell the gang to snub you.” If only she had not met the creep.

Better:

Sherry wouldn’t forget Dan’s blunder. “You aren’t my kind of person anymore, Jack. I’ll tell the gang to snub you.” If only she hadn’t met the creep.

What paragraph problem do you usually catch when you edit?

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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 Paragraph

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Speaker Attributes and Beats: They’re to Subtly Help the Reader

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A speaker attribute is a way a person says something, such as he said, asked, whispered, or yelled. A beat is an action connected to dialogue. It reminds readers people are talking, not solely their heads.

The main job of speaker attributes and beats is to let the reader know who’s speaking. Usually, they should not call attention to themselves. And a speaker attribute should be a valid way someone could speak.

After the examples below, see if you can revise the conversations to focus more on the content of the conversation than how something is said. Use words in the dialogue or character’s actions to show how the speaker feels.

Dialogue Between Talking Heads

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“Why’d you say that?”

“I was telling the truth.”

“What you said about me was far from the truth.”

“What did I say that was untrue?”

“You know very well that I didn’t steal Mandi’s boyfriend.”

“I saw you flirting with him.”

“You’re mean.”

“What about you?”

“I’m not mean.”

“Says you.”

Notice the conversation is like two heads are talking. Did you get lost as to who said which line by the end?

Overbearing or Impossible Speaker Attributes

 

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“Why’d you do that?” Meredith fumed.

“I was telling the truth.” Cal grated.

“What you said about me was far from the truth,” Meredith threw back.

“What did I say that was untrue?” Cal defended.

“You know very well that I didn’t steal Mandi’s boyfriend,” Meredith seethed.

“I saw you flirting with him.” Cal accused.

Fumed, grated, threw, defended, and seethed are not valid ways a person speaks. How does one fume or defend words out of their mouths?

In Cal’s last statement, his words show he accused Meredith of flirting. The author had no need to explain or tell that’s what Cal did.

Too Much He said, She said

 

“Why’d you do that?” she said.

“I was telling the truth,” he said.

“What you said about me was far from the truth,” she said.

“What did I say that was untrue?” he said.

“You know very well that I didn’t steal Mandi’s boyfriend,” she said.

“I saw you flirting with him,” he said.

An Improved Rewrite

 

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“Why’d you do that?” Meredith asked.

Cal stared at her. “I was telling the truth.”

“What you said about me was far from the truth, Cal.”

“What did I say that was untrue?”

She clamped her hands on her hips. “You know very well that I didn’t steal Mandi’s boyfriend.”

“I saw you flirting with him.” His gaze drilled hers. “Do you deny that?”

Use only speaker attributes and beats that improve dialogue for the reader. Click to tweet.

I invite you to share your rewrite in the comments.

 

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Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.

8 Tips in Writing Deep Point of View

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image by geralt

Whether you write in first, second, or third person, you can increase intimacy between reader and character by writing in deep point of view* (DPOV).

Tip 1: In DPOV, we see, smell, hear, feel, and taste only what the POV character (POVC) senses. We’re privy to only her thoughts.

Tip 2: DPOV is used in a POVC’s thoughts, not dialogue. The POVC’s actions and the way he experiences his surroundings are written with his POV involved. His actions and thoughts are linear; stimuli precede his reactions.

Compare:

image by geralt
image by geralt

Sam took great pleasure in his meal. He planted a heaping spoonful of corn on his plate after Ann passed him the creamed corn. He glanced up from shoveling in corn. Ann stared at him, smiling.

Ann passed Sam the creamed corn. He planted a heaping spoonful on his plate. What a feast. He sampled the mashed potatoes. Nothing could be creamier. He sank his teeth into a fried chicken breast, and closed his eyes. To die for. If only mom could cook like this. He glanced up from shoveling in corn. Ann stared at him, smiling.

Tip 3: DPOV isn’t a flow of internal monologue or using italicized direct thoughts.

Tip 4: You rarely say to yourself, I:

  • thought
  • felt
  • wondered
  • realized
  • decided
  • wished
  • hoped

So, DPOV doesn’t state these. POVCs merely do them.

Compare:

He thought Mary was mean. He wished she’d leave town, but he realized she wouldn’t. He’d avoid the battle-ax, he decided.

Mary was mean. If only she’d leave town. No way would that happen. From now on, he’d avoid the battle-ax.

Tip 5: Don’t name a feeling. Instead, give thoughts, actions, and behaviors that accompany the feeling.

Compare:

portrait-53899_1280Bob felt sad his granddaughter didn’t want to visit anymore

Bob ran his fingers over Nell’s sweet face in her school photo. Why’d she have to grow up and prefer her friends to riding the tractor with Grandpa? He pulled off his glasses and wiped away the mist that had formed on the lenses.

Tip 6: Don’t use in or with to name feelings or attitudes.

Compare:

Maud spoke harshly to the child. Jack looked at Maud with disdain.

Maud spoke harshly to the child. Jack drew himself to his full height. He arched his eyebrow, curled his upper lip, and glared at Maud. Was she getting his message? His dog had more tact than the shrew.

Tip 7: Don’t state that POVCs are using their senses.

Compare:

I heard the stairs creak. I turned toward the staircase.

The stairs creaked. I turned toward the staircase.

Tip 8: Avoid made, caused, and gave as a way of telling.

Compare:

image by Alexas_Fotos
image by Alexas_Fotos

I tiptoed into Carl’s empty bedroom. Suddenly his alarm clock sounded and made me jump. I thought I’d set off the security system.

I tiptoed into Carl’s empty bedroom. Brrring! Brrring! I jumped and spun in every direction. Had I set off the security system? No. Too close. I clamped my hand on Carl’s alarm clock.

For more examples of DPOV click the link.

Write in deep point of view & create intimacy between reader & character. Click to tweet.

What keeps you from writing in DPOV?

* I recommend Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Elizabeth Nelson.