Friday Fundamentals: Style Sheet

Keeping a style sheet.

To ensure consistency, for each manuscript the editor must keep an alphabetical list of words or terms to be capitalized, italicized, hyphenated, spelled, or otherwise treated in any way unique to the manuscript. Changes that are made simply for consistency with house style need not be noted on the style sheet.

Special punctuation, unusual diacritics, and other items should also be noted on the style sheet. Not only the author but also the publisher may need to refer to the style sheet at various stages of editing and production.

CMoS, 16th ed., p. 72

One of my personal pet peeves as an editor is inconsistency. The tiniest details are the things I will go back over a manuscript (often using CTRL + F) and look for specifically, even after I think I’m done with it.

So, I create a style sheet for the different stories I work on, if the author doesn’t have one already.

I do style sheets a little differently because there’s often more information than what the CMoS* suggests that I want to have at quick reference. This is particularly important if I work with the author regularly on stories set in the same world. I’m fairly good at remembering the details, but having a style sheet handy makes it much easier to confirm if my memory was correct or not.

For example, a couple of weeks ago, I started copyediting the second set of stories for Jay Requard’s Manwe the Panther series. I hadn’t worked on stories set in this world since February, so I needed to refresh some details. Manwe’s world is politically detailed (they’re in the middle of a rebellion) with complex characters, so I need to be able to keep track of which characters align with what side…and if they ever change alliances.

The image below is the information I started gathering on one of the characters in the short stories set that coming soon from Falstaff Books.

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As you can see, I have it laid out in a pretty simple table — about, description, and other. This is different from what a lot of editors do, from what I’ve seen, in that I prefer table format to list format.

In the “About” section, I collect essential profile-type information, the main ideas. The “Description” section is pretty self-explanatory. The “Other” section is for things I might want to refer back to, or things that stand out to me as unique about the character.

I also include information about how things work in the particular world, how things are spelled, common terms (often with a brief definition), and other information that I may find useful at some point.

In the image below, I have a selection pulled up from the Cybil Lewis world, created by Nicole Givens Kurtz. I was just recently editing Cozened, the second book in the Cybil series, which comes out next month. (The first book, Silenced, is available now.) This series is a futuristic sci-fi where the main character is a P.I. solving cases and kicking butt. The image below shows some of the terms unique to the world (p-drive) as well as spelling and capitalization preferences for the series (tee-shirt, JPEG).

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 5.39.29 PM

In this example, I have the items in the table organized by category.

My process for completing these is that I generally scribble notes on paper as I edit — otherwise I would have to use three different screens and that’s just awkward — and then transfer it over to Evernote. If you’ve ever seen me on a panel or talked to me about gadgets and technology, you’ll know that I am a HUGE fan of Evernote (and, no, they don’t pay me to say that…I just love it!) and I use Evernote for pretty much everything.

I can create a notebook for the series and then within that notebook create notes for the individual pieces I want to include. I can then tag them in different ways. One way I like to tag them in this case is by story. For example, I have worked on five stories in the Manwe the Panther world, so if a character appears in multiple stories, I will add a specific tag for each story. Then I can see if that character appeared in, for example, story number four. In the example of the Latian Lion above, I haven’t added any tags because the set of stories where he appears isn’t complete yet. I add those tags last.

I can also create a table of contents for the notebook if I want as well. It automatically creates links each note in the notebook. This is especially useful if I have lots of notes in the notebook and don’t want to scroll.

One of my favorite features is to tell Evernote to sort alphabetically or by recent use. This is helpful if I am working in the same couple of notes but not using others.

I can also use their “work chat” function, share the notes and notebooks, attach files, and link to Google Drive files. This way I can share what I’ve created easily with the author or other editors.

So, in the comments, tell me how you’ve used style sheets and how you’ve structured them — especially those of you who’ve worked with a variety of publishers. I’ve only gotten to see a few style sheets from New York publishers, and this kind of thing is mighty interesting to me!

Until next time,


Hump-Day Help: Advice From the Doers! (Part II)


As promised, part two of the advice I gathered from the doers in the business, be it writing, acting, producing, editing, and so on, is here for you today.

If you would like to read Part I first, you can find it HERE.

Part II now, comin’ at ya…starting with one of my favorite people; someone I’ve known since he was a teen (in an adult’s body), the Super-Tall, Super-Talented, Mark Rose (Stunt Coordinator for Skye of the Damned, my web series)…


This can be a hard business. The most important thing, I think, is: BE PROFESSIONAL. Your reputation is just as important as being good. Be nice to everyone because you never know who will be in a place to give you a job in the future. Don’t get in the way of someone else doing their job, and make your superior look good by following direction and always doing the best job you can. Be reliable and be consistent, and don’t lie about your skills or experience. Early is on time, on time is late, and late is fired. Finally, if you want to make this your career, you must be persistent. NEVER STOP. You will get 1 gig for every 100 auditions at first, if you’re lucky. If you cultivate a good reputation, and are half way decent at what you do, your success rate will get better. You can’t take rejection personally. There are a million reasons you might not get a job, and most of them have nothing to do with anything you can control.

Mark A. Rose / Stuntman with SAG-AFTRA & AEA / Employed by The Walt Disney Co. /


Rejections happen. They’re part of the process. No one/project/artwork is ever universally loved. Use the constructive criticism to get yourself closer to the goal on the next go-around. Shake off the criticism that’s not constructive or simply a matter of taste. Persevere. No one ever got ahead by call it quits.

Lucienne Diver / Literary Agent and Author / The Knight Agency /


Be genuine. People will know if you’re false or putting on a show. Not to mention it’s exhausting and no way to live. You be you & love who you are. Also, don’t talk crap about your peers, EVER (even if you think it’s deserved for whatever reason). Not only is it rude and petty, but every community is too small — people will find out & you will have caused drama and hurt feelings. So basically, take an extra half a second and be kind.”

Janine K. Spendlove / Author of the “War of the Seasons” series (Silence in the Library Publishing), and various works of short fiction (most recently “Star Wars: Inbrief”) /


I work best in a community setting. If I give myself deadlines and goals, I’m much less likely to accomplish them. When others are dependent on me, I thrive. That’s why I created a writing group to help everyone I know get started on those plays/films/auditions they talk about doing. Use the people you know. Help each other get shit done. You can all succeed if you work together.

Sam Ogilvie / Actor, Singer, Dancer, Fighter, Director, Zombie / Company Collaborator w/Everyday Inferno Theatre Co.


Don’t be afraid to change. Revision is life; it is the re-seeing of all the things you do. If it’s not right the first time — or even if you think it is — be open to revising. Seeing things differently serves you well not only as a writer but in life itself.

Melissa Gilbert / Editor & Owner, Clicking Keys /


It won’t happen all at once. Focus on you and not everyone around you. Audition and then forget about it because you most likely won’t find out why you didn’t get the role. Fall in love with yourself and the rest will follow.

Lauren Steinmeyer / Actress /


Never give up on your passion. It helps to anchor you during rough times, it keeps you honest, it keeps you whole. But realize that over the course of your life, you may express your passion–art, writing, music, etc.–in different ways depending on what you need and what you are able to give at the time. Making it a full-time job is one way to honor your passion, but there are many others and you shouldn’t feel guilty if you live out your passion in a variety of ways over the course of your life.

So full-time isn’t the only way, and part-time doesn’t mean you’ve sold out. Life is full of things you don’t expect to happen, so it’s good to have a back-up plan on how to earn money. That can be a degree, work experience, or marketable skills, but you should always have something to tide you over because while there is no safe job anymore and no guaranteed career path, art is rockier than many ways to make a living, and the cash flow isn’t even. If you decide to strike out full-time from the beginning, count the cost. Don’t put off other things that make you whole–like relationships, a safe place to live, enough to eat, health care, etc.–until you ‘make it big’ because you never get the years back, even when you get where you’re going.

So love your art, but love yourself too, and don’t buy into the ‘starving artist’ crap. Most of all, listen to the you deep inside. If you want something badly enough, you’ll figure out how to make it happen. The path to getting what you want is usually full of twists and turns and it takes longer than you expect and sometimes you’ll hit a dead end and have you regroup and start fresh, but if you want it badly enough, if it’s what your soul requires to keep you sane, don’t let anything stand in your way.

Gail Z. Martin / Author of The Shadowed Path, Vendetta, and other books /


Hobbies are wonderful things. They bring fun and passion to life, and they do so partly because they are not professional activities and therefore aren’t tied to rent/mortgage payments, grocery bills, health insurance and the rest. You do them because you love them. And that’s good.

When you turn a hobby into a profession you start having to worry about things you didn’t worry about before (see above re. bills). And it’s a hard way to make a living for all but the most gifted, hardest working and/or lucky. A friend of mine who is a successful Broadway designer (just got a Tony for Hamilton) who says that almost everyone he knows in the industry–at the highest end of the industry, mind you–is a trust fund kid. They are able to pursue their craft–their love–because they don’t need it to pay the bills. The tables of many of New York and LA’s finest restaurants are served by professional actors, some of whom will one day get a big break, but most of whom won’t and will work paycheck to paycheck doing occasional acting gigs. For some that’s ok and for others it’s not, and they will eventually quit.

This is a hard truth. I’m a pretty successful writer and right now could live on my writing, if not especially well. But writing is an erratic business and you are only as good as the sales of your last book, something over which you have surprisingly little control. I say ‘right now’ because I just emerged from a two year dry spell when I couldn’t realistically live on what I made without a lot of cutbacks. So I keep a day job which is solid and gives me a lot of flexibility (at a place which values my writing).

Some people will say that you can make sure your income is steady. I’m skeptical, but even if it were true I’m not sure I would ever want to be entirely dependent on selling my books because I’m afraid that a.) that would shape the kind of writing I did and b.) that I’d have to spend a lot of time promoting my work and being a businessman rather than a writer. Maybe that’s elitist, but it’s closer to where I started: that for me writing is a passion, a love, and as such might be better if it’s a hobby even if, some years, it’s a hobby that generates more money than my day job.

I’m not saying don’t quit said day job. I’m saying that you should take a long, ruthless look at 3 things: Your talent, Your work ethic/productivity as an artist, and your financial reality. Then consider not just whether being a pro artist is feasible but whether it might in some way push you to enjoy your art less, either because you have to commercialize it to survive (making art you don’t truly love) or because you have to professionalize in ways that are at least partly separate from the art itself.

Lastly, I would say I think the decision should be made without considering the old bug bear that you haven’t really made it till you are a strictly and solely professional artist. That’s nonsense. Seek your validation from your work, not on how you introduce yourself at cocktail parties.

This is just my two cents. Your mileage may vary, which is sort of the point.

A.J. Hartley / Professor of Shakespeare Studies (UNC, Charlotte) / Author of the Steeplejack Series, Will Hawthorne Series, Darwen Series, and other books /


Breaking into freelance editing

I got into editing by doing free beta work for authors. I did that for about a year. Based on author feedback I realized what my strengths and weaknesses were. The authors encouraged me to start charging for my services and were willing to pay for what they were getting for free and they recommended me to their friends. By the time I opened Devil in the Details Editing Services I already had a client base.

How to get reviews for your book

I know you are excited when your book is done, but you have to plan far ahead when marketing your book. Reviewers usually have their schedules for the next two months already planned. The best way to ask for a review, if you are personally contacting blogs, is specify that there is no due date. That way if a reviewer is interested they can add it to their cue and not worry about deadlines. If you use a book tour (and really, this is a great way to get reviews because blogs tend to review books for tours companies they have a relationship with) you want to set that up at least 2 months in advance.

Marketing yourself as an author

There are tons of things involved but one of the most basic tools is an author website. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone to get information on an author only to find out there isn’t one or the website is a train wreck. Have your author website up and running before your book is published. You never know who will be looking for you once your book is out in the wild.

Keep it simple, identifiable and mobile friendly. If you write horror, don’t have a banner with a kitten on it…seriously, I’ve seen it happen. You want links to your social media (you should have a Facebook page and a twitter if you write for an adult audience) easy to find. Don’t make me search for that shit. Have a professional short bio and picture. I want to be able to cut and paste that puppy into my review. You can have a more casual bio too, with personal info, which is really nice when I am thinking up questions for an interview—help a blogger out! Have covers, blurbs and buy links for your books in one spot. And for the love of Cthulhu, white or light color background and black text. Please! There is a reason books are printed with black text on white pages. Also make sure text is large enough to read on a mobile device.

Sharon Stogner / Freelance Editor (Devil in the Details Editing Services) / Blog Owner (I Smell Sheep)

I hope some or all of these are what someone out there needs to “hear” today. By the time we speak again I’ll be on the other side of ConGregate, a convention I’m excited to be a Guest at this year for the first time down in High Point, NC.  So, if you’ll be attending, please come by and say hello at the Magical Words table (I’ll be there on Saturday and Sunday b/c Friday I’m on panels all day). Speaking of, you can find my Panel Schedule HERE (for desktop/laptop) OR HERE (for Mobile device).

That’s it for me this time around, so write hard, bathe in imagination, and I hope to see you at ConGregate! If not…I’ll catch you here on July 20th, 6 days before my birthday! :)

Tamsin :)

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Originally from Michigan, Tamsin L. Silver is the creator/writer of two YA Urban Fantasy Series, Windfire and The Sabrina Grayson Novels, as well as the Web Series, Skye of the Damned. She graduated from Winthrop University with a BA in Theatre/Secondary Education and a minor in Creative Writing/Shakespeare. She has taught both middle school and high school theatre and run two successful theater companies, one of which in the place she currently lives: New York City. You can learn more about her and find links to all her things at

The Other Half of the Job

Quick Tip Tuesday

The title is actually a lie because there are sooooo many “other halves” of the job of writing for a living, it gets pretty fractional if you do the math. I discover a new one almost every day. The one I wanted to briefly touch on is actually pretty boilerplate, but after a recent social media post I read from a fellow writer, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to revisit what a lot of us know, and maybe take a little for granted. One of the most important “other halves of writing” is reading. If you want to write, you need, NEED, to read.
I read a post from a social media buddy who was on a panel at a convention and listened to one of her panel-mates say, somewhat proudly that she didn’t read, that she was too busy writing to do that. Okay…what?
Most of us started writing because of reading. A story, a style, inspired us,stirred the dreams and images and ideas inside the cauldron of our skulls and infected us with the mad, burning desire to tell our story, because of their story. I can only speak for myself, but not only did reading inspire and drive me to start writing, but reading other writers taught me.  It forces you to grow, to think how they do something, and how you might do it differently, or even very much the same. Their characters, their plots, their style. Writing without reading is like painting with only a very limited number of colors and never looking outside your studio.
Reading teaches the craft of writing as well as the art. Okay, lets say you want to make a cabinet, and you think you know how to do that, so you start, and you build a cabinet, and it might even be half-way decent, more likely than not, it isn’t. It’s probably a mess, but it might have some nice touches that only you would think of. Maybe, if you watched and studied other cabinet makers, learned from them, your next cabinet would be better. It’s a clumsy analogy, but you get the idea. If you want to master a craft, then study the masters of that craft, hell, study the hacks too. You can glean more from mistakes sometimes than from success.
Another side effect for a professional writer to reading is you can take crash courses in all kind of cool, bizarre and obscure things as research for your next book. In the last year, I’ve read up on motorcycle clubs of the 1950s, One percent biker philosophy, bike mechanics, truck driver ghost stories, the suffragette movement, the history of the Pirate Republic, the biography of the first female lawyer in the US, the history of the city of Charleston, and 1800’s civil law. If you are looking for tax breaks and deductions, books that are research are a great way to support your book habit.
Currently, I’m reading five books and enjoying and learning from all of them. Reading is one of my favorite things, after writing. I honestly can’t imagine doing one without the other, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is sincere about wanting to write for a living.

R. S. (Rod) Belcher is an award-winning newspaper and magazine editor and reporter.
Rod has been a private investigator, a DJ, a comic book store owner and has degrees in criminal law, psychology and justice, and risk administration, from Virginia Commonwealth University. He’s done Masters work in Forensic Science at The George Washington University and worked with the Occult Crime Taskforce for the Virginia General Assembly.
The Grand Prize winner of the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Anthology contest, Rod’s short story “Orphans” was published in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 9 published by Simon and Schuster in 2006. It was his first professional fiction sale.
Rod’s first novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, was published by Tor Books in 2013. The sequel, The Shotgun Arcana, was published in 2014 and the third book in the Golgotha series—The Queen of Swords—is scheduled for publication in June of 2017. His novel, Nightwise, was released in August 2015, and his latest book, The Brotherhood of the Wheel was published by Tor in March 2016. Sequels to both books are forthcoming.
He lives in Roanoke Virginia with his children, Jonathan and Emily.

Contact Rod at:


Facebook: Author RS Belcher

Twitter: @AuthorRsBelcher



It’s the Fourth of July. It’s also Making Money Monday. I’m supposed to be giving you tips for making money as a writer, but it’s been a tough week. So I’m just going to offer some less-than-pithy comments and suggestions in totally random order:

  1. Try not to eat too much holiday food at one time.
  2. Remember how divisive politics are and how fragile peace is.
  3. Put on sunscreen several times a day if you are partying outside.
  4. Our nation was built on the concept of freedom, but also on the blood of war and death and revolution. (See number 2.)
  5. Read directions: One end of the fireworks should be pointed away from you. Also, keep them out of your pants.
  6. Don’t drive buzzed. And that includes boats, SkiDoos, and ATVs.
  7. Too many deviled eggs can give you a really bad … uh … digestive upset.
  8. Hug those you love. They may not always be around.
  9. Homemade ice cream is the best. I happen to like vanilla.
  10. Stop today and find something about the USA to be grateful for. Our country is pretty whacked. But it’s still a really great place to live.

Happy Fourth,

Striking off in a New Direction

For awhile now, I’ve been reading a lot of non-magical romantic suspense and watching a whole lot of true crime on the ID channel. I used to watch HGTV a lot, but lately, it’s all true crime for me. I’ve been reading Laura Griffin‘s books, as well as Linda Howard, Pamela Claire‘s I-team books, and Linda Castillo, among others. I’ve never thought myself capable of writing a mystery or a suspense51UsMAGYuyL._SX304_BO1,204,203,200_ novel. I figured my plots would be way too obvious. But lately I’ve found myself thinking in terms of characters and plots and I’m taking notes on a romantic suspense novel and have even written a bit of the opening. If you’re curious, check out this post, and keep in mind, the writing is very rough.

You might ask why I’m switching genres. Well, I’m not. I love fantasy and I have no plans to leave it. But I do enjoy romantic suspense, and writing this book is more like play, and to see if I can actually plot out a good mystery and then write it without becoming to obvious. I thought it also might shake up my habits of writing, and make me look at the building blocks in a fresh way.

I think that writing outside your comfort zone–a different literary genre, a different genre form, unusual (for you) point of view, or maybe something you have to do a lot of research for–I think this is incredibly useful to thinking about your process. A lot of my process happens down in my subconscious, my primordial ooze, as Virginia Woolf called it. But when you’re doing new things, those processes don’t feel as natural and so you start to notice them. They start coming up to the surface and you start reconsidering how you approach writing in all its facets.

41cTkyzhPaL._SY346_Doing so can teach you a lot. I’m learning new things about plotting, for instance. I’m separating the various threads and writing out basic plotlines and then I’m looking at where they cross each other and interweave. I’m looking at how to bring all the plots to a crescendo at once. I don’t usually work this way. I never really plot the subplots. I don’t know why. I don’t do a very good job of plotting the novel, really. I tend to pants. In this case, I can’t. If I did, the mystery would suck for sure. I wouldn’t be able to think about foreshadowing or red herrings as I went and I wouldn’t take good advantage of the setting, the side characters, or anything else.

This is also a romance. I frequently write romance in my books, but I have never felt confident writing a straight romance. This one is about 50/50 romance and suspense, so in building the book, I have to look at how the two reflect, undermine, and showcase the other. I have to make the relationships believable and I have to make them compelling. All of this falls into the no, duh! territory, and yet because this is so new to me, I’m far more aware of the elements and how I might manipulate them for best effect.

And I’m researching. I always research, but in this case, it’s a lot like the time I wrote The Black Ship. I spent months researching tall ships, all the language involved in that sort of sailing, the construction of them, what went on board, and everything else. I didn’t start writing until I could use the language without looking up more than a few words. In this case, I’m research police 51nJJOs9b-L._SY346_procedures, court procedures, FBI procedures, various kinds of crimes and how they happen, call codes for cops, and so much more. I want to get things right. I haven’t yet sussed out some of the people I want to talk to about their jobs, and I haven’t managed to do any tours of facilities. I’m hoping to.

What’s funny to me is that I’m not writing about Victorian England or Regency England. I know far more about that time period than just about anything else, plus I like to read books from and set in the period. Yet I haven’t felt the urge to write anything in the period.

I think it’s positive for writers to stretch themselves and not to worry about failure. I think it’s important to try new things and scary things. Maybe you succeed, maybe you don’t, but certainly you will learn.

Diana Pharaoh Francis writes books of a fantastical, adventurous, and often romantic nature. Her award-nominated books author pic francisinclude The Path series, the Horngate Witches series, the Crosspointe Chronicles, and Diamond City Magic books, and the Mission:Magic series. She’s owned by two corgis, spends much of her time herding children, and likes rocks, geocaching, knotting up yarn, and has a thing for 1800s England, especially the Victorians. For more about her writing, visit She can also be found on twitter as @dianapfrancis.




Stronger Together

Publishing is a rough business, even when writing is what you love. That’s why it’s so important for authors to reach out to other authors, and to support, encourage, nurture, mentor, boost and make friends with each other. It’s a weird way to make a living, and we’re the only ones who really understand what it’s like to deal with all those voices in our heads that become characters, so we need to stick together.

Making writer friends is good for sanity. We all have rough days, and this is a solitary way to make a living. It helps to be able to talk about the business and the life with other people who get it.

FC JONMARC COLLECTIONWriter friends are good for business. When we recommend each other, signal boost on social media, refer each other to resources, cover tables at cons for one another and hang out talking shop at the bar, we lift each other up, and a rising tide lifts all boats. Getting to know other authors is also a great way to get invited to be part of anthologies, promotions, special projects, panels, and other events. People like to work with people they know and trust. Other authors are also a fantastic way to get the scoop about publishers, agents, editors and other aspects of the business, news you need to know that you won’t find in the same unvarnished way anywhere else.

Writer friends are fun because we’re all kinda weird in the best possible way. I mean, why try to pretend otherwise? I enjoy hanging out with other writers because we tend to have a lot in common, and everyone has their own special area of geekdom. Modern Magic Front Cover 2

Today I’m hosting 25 writer friends at a Facebook Book Launch Party, with an all-day panel of awesome guests (and me) talking about our new books, answering questions, and throwing in some surprises, too!  Come join us live here .  And even if you come late to the party, enjoy the conversation threads, which will be up forever.

It’s part of my Hawthorn Moon Blog Tour, which you can find out more about here!





Quick-Tip Tuesday: Joshua Palmatier on “The Mighty Red Pen”

For today’s Quick-Tip Tuesday post, I welcome Joshua Palmatier, writer and editor par excellence, and a frequent contributor to  Magical Words.


Threading the Needle, by Joshua PalmatierWe’re coming up on the release of my second “Ley” novel, THREADING THE NEEDLE, and David B. Coe asked me to stop by and give you all a Quick Tip for Quick Tip Tuesday.  So my quick tip for this Tuesday is:  How to Cut a Significant Number of Words from Your Manuscript that You Thought Was Done.

Here’s the situation:  THREADING THE NEEDLE had already undergone three revisions—my own personal revision, a revision prompted by my agent, and a revision prompted by my editor.  That’s generally the last revision before the book hits copy edits and page proofs, where nothing really significant is changing (for the most part), just typos, smoothing out sentences, continuity error corrections, etc.  So imagine my surprise when I get an email from my agent saying that, yeah, the book is good, but there are a few things that could be cut that would make it even better.  He’d like to see me try to cut a few thousand words from the book.  What did he want me to focus on cutting?  Dialogue tags, facial expressions, and body gesture.  You know, all of those little “he scoffed” or “she snorted” tags that you attach to the dialogue so that everyone knows exactly who’s speaking and that can give the dialogue an extra bit of flavor or nuance.  And also all of those “he grimaced” or “her mouth twitched up in a smile” or “he shrugged” phrases that you insert into the paragraph to again give it some added flavor or nuance.  My agent pointed out that the dialogue tags shouldn’t be necessary—the reader should be getting the flavor and nuance from the words in the dialogue and their familiarity with the character built up over the course of the book.  They should mentally hear the scoff or the snort just in what the character says.  Similarly for the shrugs and grins and grimaces.  The context of the situation and what the reader knows of the character should make those actions “visible” to the reader without the use of the words.

And you know what?  He’s right.  I balked at cutting these words at first.  In my mind, they made the sentences flow together better.  But I buckled down and decided to do what my agent suggested and guess what?  The sentences flowed just fine without those phrases inserted in there.  Granted, you can’t cut ALL of those types of phrases out completely—sometimes you do need the inflection to be clear, or the nuance up front.  But in general, I found I could cut out nearly all of them, keeping in just enough so that it was easier to follow conversations.  And even for those dialogue tags that I kept, I tried to make them “invisible” to the reader by using standards such as “he said” or “she asked,” because those types of phrases barely register on the reader as they read.  Using something like “she snorted” adds an extra layer of interpretation in the reader’s mind that they have to process, which can slow them down.  And in dialogue, it’s the dialogue that should be most important.  That’s what the reader should be focusing on, not the tag.

I went through the entire novel one more time, focusing on those types of phrases and cutting as many as I could.  I ended up cutting . . . wait for it . . . 26,000 words from the manuscript.  Granted there were a few other scenes and such that got cut or trimmed back in the process, but the majority of those 26,000 words came from simply removing unnecessary dialogue tags and facial and body expressions.  26,000 words.

So, my quick writing tip for the day:  If you need to cut wordage from your novel or short story, take a good hard look at your dialogue tags and facial and body expressions and ask yourself exactly how many of them you REALLY need in your story.


Joshua Palmatier is an epic fantasy writer with a PhD in mathematics.  He has had eight novels published by DAW Books, including “The Throne of Amenkor” trilogy, Shattering the Ley, and Threading the Needle.  He is currently hard at work on the third novel in the “Ley” series, Reaping the Aurora.  In addition, he’s published numerous short stories in various anthologies and has edited four SF&F themed anthologies with co-editor Patricia Bray.  He is also the founder of the small press Zombies Need Brains LLC.  Find out more about him at or on Facebook or Twitter (@bentateauthor).