Kris Bock on Voice

VWelcome back to the blog! Today for the A to Z Blogging Challenge I’ve got Kris Bock talking about voice. A strong voice is something writers are told they need but a lot of them have no idea what it is.

Here’s Kris.

There’s nothing like having your own “slush pile” to give insight into what editors see. I’ve judged or critiqued several writing contests and critiqued conference manuscripts. Some of the entries were fairly advanced, but only a couple were publishable. I saw many of the same problems over and over.

The better novels had an interesting character and plot (at least so far as I could judge based on the 10-20 pages I had). The weakness was typically in the voice. Voice can be one of those hard-to-define, “I’ll know it when I see it” things. It’s also often viewed as something instinctive, almost magical. Perhaps for those reasons, many people don’t try to learn voice.

But “voice” really just means style, and of course there are many techniques you can learn to improve your style. Some are simple, some more complex and harder to master. That’s a good thing, as we can keep learning, step-by-step.

Steps in Dialogue

For example, dialogue attributions must, at a minimum, be clear, so the reader is never confused about who is speaking. But even clear attributions can make the dialogue either flow smoothly or sound clunky. For strong dialogue, first you might learn to use “said” rather than fancy alternatives that call attention to themselves and look amateurish, such as demanded, inquired, responded, suggested, etc.

Next you might learn that you don’t have to identify the speaker with every line, if the speaker is clear from the conversational pattern. You can start cutting a few of those repetitive saids.

Then you might learn that you can often identify the speaker with an action or gesture, and cut the dialogue attribution altogether. (Ironically, now you’re removing nearly all of those saids that you included in the first step.) Not only does this make the dialogue smoother, but it helps keep readers grounded in the scene because they can picture the characters as they move, gesture, and change expression.

Other areas where voice comes into play are pacing, close point of view, and showing rather than telling. I don’t have time to explore all that here, but once again those are areas where you can make small steps toward ultimately strong writing.

Is a strong voice the key to writing success? Not necessarily. Some published works get by with weak voice because of a marketable hook, a dramatic plot, or the author’s fame. And voice alone won’t interest editors or readers unless you have the concept, character, and plot to support the voice. But improving your writing style bit by bit can make the difference between almost-there and success.

So how do you learn these lessons? Fortunately, you have lots of options!

Keep Learning

  • Courses through correspondence schools, or local classes, workshops and conferences with a craft focus.


  • Books on the craft of writing. My book Advanced Plotting covers pacing, with articles on how to build a scene and writing cliffhanger chapter endings. I like Scene and Sequence, by Jack Bickham, Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon, and my favorite for style, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. I’ve been hearing good things about The Emotion Thesaurus


  • Blogs are a great not only because they are free, but because you can learn a little bit every week or every day. Besides this one, check out Fiction Universityby Janice Hardy, and Jodie Renner Editing. And you’ll find my blog, with lots of information on showing versus telling, pacing, and more, at Write like a Pro! Scroll down to the labels on the right to see past topics.


  • Critique groups and other beta readers are also a big help. If you don’t have experienced critique partners, cultivate some. Some regional writing groups help match up critique partners. Listserves or discussion boards are another way to connect with people.


  • Finally, unless your critique partners are all professional writers and editors, chances are eventually you will go as far as you can with their help. Then it may be time to hire a professional editor, or at least get a critique at a conference. Many well-published writers and writing teachers can be hired for private critiques (myself included; see rates and recommendations on my blog). You can even hire some well-known former editors from traditional publishing houses. In addition, some agents and editors occasionally give free critique feedback on their blogs, typically of query letters or first pages.


It’s easy to feel impatient and want publication now. It’s tempting to believe that since you took one course or read a couple of books on writing, you’re ready to submit your work. But learning to write well is a long, ongoing process. I’ve been writing for over 20 years and teaching for 10. I have about 30 traditionally published children’s books as well as self published novels for children (written as Chris Eboch) and adults (written as Kris Bock). And I keep learning. The market is harder than ever, so give yourself every advantage. Who doesn’t want a few new tools in their bag of tricks?

Besides, the journey is half the fun! We can’t control the end result, so we might as well enjoy and grow from the process.

Happy writing,


Kris Bock writes romantic adventures involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. The Mad Monk’s Treasure and The Dead Man’s Treasure follow treasure hunts in the New Mexico desert; Whispers in the Dark involves archaeology and intrigue among ancient ruins; and in Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. Visit or sign up for Kris Bock newsletter.

Kris writes for children under the name Chris Eboch. Her novels for ages nine and up include Bandits Peak, a survival thriller; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Cindy here again.

Great tips about voice. I will have to check out some of those books.

Keep writing.

“Dialogue revisions,” she said.

DHow could you have a writing blog and not talk about dialogue on day four of the A to Z Blogging Challenge? Today I’ve got Harlow Fallon talking about the importance of dialogue. Here’s Harlow!

The most successful storytellers know the keys to a good story: an engaging plot, characters that come alive, action that jumps off the page, and a setting that spreads out before the reader, as real as any film or photo. The writing must be polished, with carefully chosen words and tight prose.

But there’s one vital aspect that threads through each of these elements: dialogue. It can either make or break a story. When dialogue is done well, readers feel as if they’re part of the conversation. When done poorly, it can throw readers out of the story or make them stop reading altogether.

A good dialogue between characters is a careful blend of three parts: the dialogue tags, the actual speech, and the actions that bring the conversation and the movement of the story together.

What does good dialogue look like? How does it work?

Let’s look at an example from an aspiring writer, Hummus Papadopoulos, who struggles with dialogue. He’s written a story about cookies. Here’s a snippet:

“I baked a batch of cookies yesterday,” Mary said.

“What kind of cookies did you bake?” Lisa asked.

“I baked chocolate chip cookies,” Mary said.

“Do you have any cookies left?” Lisa asked.

“No, I don’t have any left,” Mary said.

Hummus doesn’t understand how to use dialogue tags, and he’s used too many. The main purpose of tags is to identify who’s speaking. But tags can be useful in other ways. They can reveal the emotion of the speaker, and can contribute to the tension and pace of the story.

There’s a lot of writerly opinion going around these days that insists you limit your tags to the word said. It’s a simple, bland word that does the job and doesn’t get in the way of telling the story. I’m all for that. But I’m going to swim against the current a little and say that words like replied, inquired, yelled, whispered, retorted, and others, also have a place in dialogue. Just be sparing in their use. Do they lend depth to the dialogue? Do they fit the need? If they do, then why not use them? But remember, the key word is sparing.

Often there are natural pauses in a line of dialogue, and adding a tag at the pause instead of at the end will add emphasis to it, allowing the pause to become more significant because of the inserted tag.

Sometimes a tag isn’t needed at all. When the dialogue is between two people, too many tags can slow things down. Fewer tags can increase the pace and tension of the dialogue, but too few can confuse readers, pulling them out of the story while they try to figure out who said what. It’s important to find the right balance.

After a few revisions, Hummus’ dialogue tags are looking better:

“I baked a batch of cookies yesterday,” Mary said.

“You baked cookies?” Lisa said. “What kind of cookies did you bake?”

“I baked chocolate chip cookies.”

“Do you have any left?”

“No, I don’t,” Mary said. “I don’t have any cookies left.”

Something is still missing. The dialogue doesn’t sound natural. Why? Because it doesn’t reflect the way we normally converse. Natural speech incorporates a lot of what we would consider flaws in regular prose. There are sentence fragments, dropped consonants, even single word sentences.

So Hummus gives his dialogue another revision, and ends up with this:

“I baked a batch of cookies yesterday,” Mary said.

“Yeah?” Lisa said. “What kind?”

“Chocolate chip.”

“Any left?”

“Nope,” Mary said. “Ate them all.”

Hummus is finally getting somewhere. His dialogue is taking shape with proper tags and natural speech. But another element needs to be added. Gestures, action and exposition give depth and create balance and flow within the dialogue, so readers feel as if they are in the story, involved in the conversation. Without these things dialogue can feel dry and flat. Readers want to know what the characters are doing, thinking, and feeling while they’re talking.

So Hummus takes another stab at it:

“I baked a batch of cookies yesterday,” Mary said, grinning.

Lisa raised an eyebrow. “Yeah? What kind?”

“Chocolate chip.”

A twinge of concern edged into Lisa’s thoughts. Mary had sworn off sweets three days ago, determined to lose a few pounds. Had she given up already?

Lisa gave her a narrow look. “Any left?”

“Nope,” Mary said. “Ate them all.”

Lisa’s jaw dropped. “Are you kidding? What about your diet?”

“Whatever,” Mary said with a shrug. “I’ll start tomorrow.”

Hummus has made progress. He’s used proper tags, incorporated natural speech, and included gestures, action, and exposition. Hummus is on his way to writing a winner.

Don’t make dialogue work too hard. It should support the story. It shouldn’t be a vehicle for transporting huge chunks of information, nor should it make up the bulk of the narrative. There should be a balance of dialogue and exposition, of what is spoken aloud and what is revealed internally. Dialogue should lead readers in the direction the writer want them to go, contribute to the pace of the story, and reveal the personalities of the characters. Let the dialogue do its job, but handle it judiciously. The result will be a good, strong story that will make readers ask for more.


Harlow Fallon’s love of art and literature began when she was very young. She cut her teeth on The Wizard of Oz, and as a teen discovered the worlds of Ray Bradbury and Frank Herbert. Today, she channels her imagination into her own writing, fueled by the curiosities of the world and the mysteries of the universe. Science fiction and fantasy are her genres of choice. She and her husband have five grown children and have made Michigan their home for the past fifteen years. She released her first novel in February. All the Wild Places, Book 1 of the Elmwyn Journey is available on Amazon for Kindle. Book 2, The Reach of the Hand, will publish on April 7. Visit her at

Cindy here again.

Thanks for stopping by the blog. Great tips on dialogue. I’ll have to go back and check my dialogue.

Keep writing!

D is for…Dialogue

There are so many parts to a novel that make it memorable. The use of words. The description. The characters. And the dialogue.


Dialogue is so important to both novels and movies but it’s one of the hardest things to get right. It has a big job. Not only must dialogue give the reader or viewer information they wouldn’t get in any other way, it also has to reveal character, foreshadow events, provide conflict. Help with resolution. Contrary to what some might believe it should not be responsible for telling your story. The action of your movie or book should do that. Dialogue should enhance what’s already there.


So what can you do to improve your dialogue?


There are a lot of books out there on writing dialogue. There are even some workshops. And I’m sure you’ve all heard the advice about listening to how people talk. All of those are good ways to improve your dialogue but please don’t write dialogue the way people actually talk. People tend to add a lot of unnecessary pauses, ums, no, yes etc., when they talk. We also don’t constantly repeat the name of the person we’re talking to. Example:


“What do you mean by that, Cindy?”


“Well, um, Fred, I mean you shouldn’t do, you know, what I’m doing now.”


“Cindy, I still don’t get it.”


“Fred, seriously? You don’t get it?”


“No, Cindy I really don’t.”


The best advice I ever heard about improving my dialogue was to keep the character in the dialogue. So know your character and make each piece of dialogue that character says reflect one of their characteristics. Another awesome piece of advice that I don’t use just for dialogue was to read it aloud. I read my dialogue aloud to make sure it sounds right, doesn’t feel forced or stiff.


Remembering killer lines of dialogue from movies is easy. But can you think of a great piece of dialogue from a book? What’s the line and name the book.


Happy writing!



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