Self-Editing Tip: Dialogues in Fiction

Editing dialogues in fiction

Dialogues in fiction writing is a vast topic. So much so, that whole books have been written on this topic. It would’ve been a folly to cover everything about dialogues in a single blog post, so I thought of giving you a handy checklist instead–something you can use every time you sit down with your red pen to edit dialogues in your fiction manuscript. Here it is:

Dialogue in Fiction: A Checklist

  • Dialogue in fiction has three purposes: increase tension, advance plot, and reveal character. If your dialogue doesn’t do either of these, cut it off.
  • Use dialogue to miscommunicate. Have characters lie. What is left unsaid or hinted at increases conflict.
  • Give your characters different voices. Have them chose different words, and speak with varying rhythms and styles. Make sure not all the characters in your book sound alike. Use appropriate words for your character, for example kids speak differently than adults.
  • Don’t explain everything. Dialogue isn’t like real world conversation.
  • Dialogue isn’t fluff; it’s important communication between characters.
  • Avoid repetition of character names after each uttered sentence. What’s being said should be distinct enough to leave no doubt as to who’s speaking. That said, if the dialogues go on for some length, use character names here and there so as not to leave your reader confused.
  • Keep your dialogues tight. In real life, people hesitate, use words like ums and ers. In fiction, skip these pointless words.
  • Allow characters to speak over one another, cutting off each other’s words. Just like it happens in real life.
  • Limit dialogue tags to the basics of said and asked.
  • Don’t have pages and pages of dialogue. Alternate it with action, description, and narration. Don’t permit characters to speak at length without interruption, whether it’s by another character or an action or some description. Give the characters some actions while they speak.
  • Don’t use dialogue to preach your pet message.
  • And, Punctuate dialogue correctly.

Here’s an infographic that you can download to help you remember correct punctuation for dialogues.

Punctuating Dialogue.

Further Reading:

  1. Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee.
  2. How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript by James Scott Bell.
  3. Writing Vivid Dialogue: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors (Writer’s Craft Book 16) by Rayne Hall.
  4. Internal Dialogue (Busy Writer’s Guides Book 7) by Marcy Kennedy.
  5. Self-Edit Your Fiction Like a Pro. Get your free copy by subscribing to my newsletter.

Some writers excel at writing dialogues. Others have to work really hard to get it just right. Which category are you in? Let me know in the comments.

Coming up: E for Endings. Stay tuned.
– Dola.

Self-Editing Tip: Comma Splice

What’s a Comma Splice?

A comma splice is an error. It is a sentence in which a comma is incorrectly used to separate independent clauses in a compound sentence. A comma can be used to create a compound sentence, but such a sentence would need more than just a comma to be correct.

For example:
Your report is late, we were depending on you.
Fish travel in schools, whales travel in pods.

To confirm there is a coma splice, check if you can replace the comma with a period. Since the above comma splices can be divided into two sentences, it confirms that the original sentences are indeed compound sentences.

Your report is late. We were depending on you.
Fish travel in schools. Whales travel in pods.

The above examples are simple. A comma splice can get confusing in a long sentence when there are other commas present.

For example:
When I was sixteen, my mother gave me a pretty, milky-white pearl necklace, it belonged to Lady Ashley Lamb, an ancestor who married beneath her social status.

The third comma in the above sentence is creating a comma splice and is incorrect, but the other commas are correctly used. The sentence can be easily fixed thus:

When I was sixteen, my mother gave me a pretty, milky-white pearl necklace. It belonged to Lady Ashley Lamb, an ancestor who married beneath her social status.

Correcting a Comma Splice

Here are some common ways to fix a comma splice:

1. Separate the comma splice into two sentences using a period. But be careful of overdoing this because this results in short, choppy sentences–not something that is always desirable. Long comma splices are good candidates for this correction method.

When I was sixteen, my mother gave me a pretty, milky-white pearl necklace. It belonged to Lady Ashley Lamb, an ancestor who married beneath her social status.

2. Follow the comma with and, but, or, or another coordinating conjunction. This is the most common method of fixing a comma splice.

Fish travel in schools, but whales travel in pods.

3. Replace the comma with a semicolon. This method works best when you think the sentence doesn’t sound right with a coordinating conjunction.

Your report is late; we were depending on you.


  • A comma splice occurs when only a comma is used to separate two independent clauses.
  • To confirm there is a comma splice, see if you can replace the comma with a period. If so, the sentence is indeed a comma splice and should be fixed.
  • To correct a comma spice you can (1) use a period to break the two sentences, (2) separate the two parts using a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction, or (3) use a semicolon to separate the parts.

Further Reading

Between You & Me – Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Morris
Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

Have you written a comma splice before without knowing what it was? Do you think you will be able to recognize one and fix it after reading this? Do you have a question regarding comma splices? Let me know in the comments.

The next self-editing tip will be D for Dialogues. Stay tuned!
Want my editing tips in your inbox? Subscribe to my newsletter and download Self-Edit Your Fiction Like a Pro FREE. 
– Dola.

Self-Editing Tip: Blurb

Blurb or Book Description

Blurbs sell books. That’s their primary function—to get your books in the hands of readers. Its goal is not to give away your story but to compel the reader to pick up the book. You might know of it as a book description that is printed on the back cover of the book or appears on the description field of retailers like Amazon.

In this blog post, I’ll show you what to include in a blurb and help you deconstruct a blurb of a self-published bestselling novel to put things in perspective.

Parts of a Blurb


This is your hook, your chance to grab the reader by their throat. Make it short and make it punchy.

Most authors do not use a tagline, which is a mistake in this mobile age where almost everyone is browsing on their cell phones and only a few lines of the description text is displayed. This is your chance to make the reader click on the Read More button to read the rest of the blurb. Put it in bold—make it stand out.

Main Character & their Primary Conflict:

You might have a great story, but the primary reason a reader will pick up a book is if they care enough for your main character. This is the paragraph where you need to introduce your main character. Tell us in a sentence who they are and what they want.

Make the next sentence about their conflict—the challenge they are facing to get their goal. In the third sentence, raise the stakes. Tell the reader what your character stands to lose. Their job? Their sanity? The love of their life? How about their world and everyone in it? The higher the stakes the better. Without consequences, a conflict lacks drama. Some authors also like to add a dramatic question in this paragraph to establish what’s at stake.

Add some paragraphs, some white space here so the reader doesn’t have to look at a big blob of text.

Selling Paragraph:

In this paragraph, show the reader why this book is for them. It’s also an opportunity to let them know what genre the book is, if it is part of a series etc. Identify a bestselling book or an author or a famous main character that shares the market of your book and mention it in this paragraph, so that you have an opportunity to let their fans know that your book is what they have been looking for.

Call to Action:

Most authors end their blurb with a synopsis and hope the reader will scroll up and buy. The CTA asks the reader to do it, which much improves the chances of it happening.

Deconstructing a blurb:

Let’s see a blurb in action. This blurb is from Mark Dawson’s The Cleaner. Mark Dawson is a million-selling author and ranks among the Top 100 authors on amazon dot com.

MI6 created him. Now they want him dead. //Punchy tagline.

John Milton is an assassin for the British government, but he’s old and tired and wants to quit. Unfortunately, that’s impossible. Milton knows too much. The only way out of his job is in a box – there are no exceptions. //Main Character.

Milton goes on the run and meets a young mother who needs his help. Her son has been tempted by a life with a glamorous gang and the charismatic criminal who leads it. Milton must get the boy out of trouble – before it’s too late. //The Conflict.

And when his old agency sends another agent after him, the odds against him are stacked even higher. //Rising Stakes.

If you like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp, and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne, you won’t be able to put down the compulsively addictive John Milton series. //Selling Paragraph.

Scroll up and click Look Inside or Buy NOW. //CTA.

Notice how long the blurb is? Only 150 words. You may take a few more, but short is your best friend here. Normally, 150-250 words is the sweet spot you want to hit.

Further Reading

Writing Book Blurbs and Synopses: How to sell your manuscript to publishers and your indie book to readers (Writer’s Craft 19) by Rayne Hall

Do you have a question about blurbs? Did you find this post informative? Let me know in the comments.

Coming up tomorrow: C for Comma Splice. See you with a new tip.
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– Dola.