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Never-Dos: Keep Your Readers from Pulling Out Their Hair

2015 August 24

Young angry teenager pulling her hairI’ve read a couple of novels in my lifetime that had me mad enough to reach up and pull out my hair. Let me be very specific. These are published novels, self-published and traditionally published. At least one book I’d picked up to discover the author’s secret for winning awards got thrown against a wall on the far side of my room.

Yes, writers can do this to readers, so today, I thought I’d share a few “never-dos” so that other authors can work hard at helping readers to maintain their hair or from throwing temper tantrums that would keep the reader from every returning to read another book by that author.

  • Never do episodic writing: Episodic writing lacks conflict. These types of stories are either written entirely as the normal, everyday life of a character or they are driven by conflict that starts and ends within a sentence, a paragraph, a page, or a chapter. Characters can be normal every day people, but what happens to them in their story world must shake their normal every day life to the core. Also, a story where conflict ebbs and wanes or disappears entirely puts a reader on an emotional roller coaster. Most will eject from the ride at the most exciting point because they get tired of conflict after conflict after conflict. Rather, readers desire to have one or two different conflicts  arc throughout the story until the conflict is resolved at or near the end.
  • Never do italics to the extreme. I’m not saying italics should be eliminated. Instead, they should be utilized for ultimate impact. Silent prayer should always be italicized, but be careful. Too much prayer weighs the story, and it begins to lack the necessary impact. With regard to internal monologue, I like it less than I like my next ‘never do.” Internal monologue is a lazy writer’s way of telling. The author is allowing the character to tell his or her emotions rather than showing them in action or words or in a deep point of view (DPOV). In a DPOV, internal monologue should all but be eliminated.  Used sparingly, internal thought in italics will give that all-important thought emphasis. Oh, and authors should understand that it is a very rare occasion when the reader won’t get the emphasis of a word without italics, especially if the writer has worked to show the emphasis in the dialogue rather than tell it with italics.
  • Never do more than one or two exclamation points per manuscript. I do not like exclamation points. I do not like them says Fay Lamb. Well, okay. Sometimes characters do have to yell. Otherwise, using exclamation points to impact every conversation gives a reader a headache. Our brain is programmed to read exclamation points for what they truly are–an indication that the speaker is yelling, screaming, shouting, hooraying, or cheering. Excessive exclamation points (more than two in most novels) indicate that a character is always shouting. Readers will tune out or walk away if characters are always talking loudly with one another.
  • Never do consistent name calling in dialogue. By this I mean using a character’s name in the speech of another character. This especially gets tiresome in one-on-one conversation. Authors who study dialogue will note that a husband and wife do not sit across the table from each other and use each other’s  name every time they speak. Friends don’t do this either.  Only occasionally in a group conversation are names used in dialogue necessary. I have solved the mystery on this one because I have noted when I am most prone to exercise this “never do.” Intense scenes draw out the name-dropping. Authors automatically think that this heightens the intensity of the dialogue. Believe me. It does not. What this practice does is weary the reader.
  • Never do strange words. The dictionary is full of perfectly fine words. Why do we need to invent new ones? If a word an author wants to use doesn’t work, seek a Thesaurus. My reasons for this are quiet selfish. You see, I’m OCD, and in this world, people don’t think about something when they see it. I don’t want an entire generation of people thinking that a made-up word is a valid one. Now, this does not include dialect. Words like gonna, thunk, and whatcha are all fine as long as a character is speaking them or if the book is written in first person viewpoint. Then the dialect needs to reflect the character, and if done well, the dialect adds to the story.

Heeding the never-dos will give readers one more reason to keep turning the page, so long as the story that is missing the never-dos always does us the elements of storytelling with practiced ease.

Books Collage

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.

Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelorand Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at



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