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“You know, Bob . . .”

For some reason, writers like to use a character’s name often in dialogue: “You know, Alice, I really like those shoes.” “Really, Jane? I got them on sale last week.” “Alice, that’s great. Where’d you get them?” “I got them at Macy’s, Jane.”

The thing is, we almost never use a person’s name in dialogue with them. If you are calling someone’s attention to you, yes, you will say their name, but listen to conversations and see if you can ever catch one person using the other’s name. It almost never occurs. So, go through your sections of dialogue in your novel and take out names everywhere you can. There may be places where they feel appropriate, but more often than not they are creating unnatural clunky dialogue.

The same rule applies when using your character’s name over and over in your narrative. Once the reader knows who you are talking about, you don’t need to name John or Jane in every sentence. It can help to read your chapters aloud to catch those repeating names.

I’m onto You

I sometimes have trouble with the preposition onto. Some of the time it’s pretty easy to know when I mean on to (two words), but other times I’m not so sure. The way most will explain it is if you can precede onto with the word up, then it’s one word: The dog jumped onto the table. That’s pretty clear. It implies a positioning on something. Here are some instances where you want two words:

• Hold on to my arm.
• Get on to the next part, please.
• Let’s move on to better things.
• Please hold on to this bag for me

But you do say:

• Hook the wire onto the nail
• They’re onto us (colloquial).

Into is a lot easier, but writers still mess it up. We say take into account, go into teaching, get into trouble, late into the night, run into a wall, look up into the sky. But you don’t want to “turn yourself into the police” because that would require a cool magic trick to transform yourself like that. And you don’t give into my demands because to “give in” is a verb-preposition combo structure. Just like you don’t fall into line. You “fall in” to line.

Don’t Get Frowned Upon

If you haven’t heard it by now, adverbs are often frowned upon. It’s true—a lot of beginning writers use adverbs excessively. And it does make your writing look cluttered and amateurish. Why? Because it is better writing to have the choice of words and the structure of a sentence imply the mood, emotion, or intent of what you are trying to get across. Rather than tell that someone is angry (“Go away,” he said angrily), show it (“Go away,” he said, slamming the door in her face).

If you really feel you need to tell an emotion and you just want that adverb, try rewriting so you change the adverb into a noun. Instead of “He slammed the door angrily,” write “He slammed the door in anger.” I would still leave out “anger” since slamming implies it. But if you are worried the reader might not get your emotional intent by the description alone, play around with the word you want to use.

Instead of: “I have to leave,” she said fearfully:

• “I have to leave,” she said, fearful of his response.

• “I have to leave.” Fear gripped her as she awaited his response.

• “I have to leave,” she said, knowing the fear was evident on her face.

Still better would be to leave fear out of it completely and just show your character afraid—hands shaking, voice tremulous, throat constricted. You don’t need to get neurotic and take every adverb out of your book, but try to find other, more creative ways to get the emotion across without the dreaded ly.

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