Novels of Suspense
  By Sean Dexter

So, you've written a what?

Writing a novel was probably one of the hardest things you've ever done, maybe the hardest thing you'll ever do. Lots of people write, but few complete a novel. Congratulations, you're a writer! But I'm afraid I have a bit of bad news for you...the rough draft was the easy part. If you're anything like me (and let's hope you're not), editing and revising your manuscript will easily take as much time as writing the damn thing. In fact, no matter how many times you look over your book, you will ALWAYS find something that can be made better. Over the years, I've learned a lot about the editing/revision process. Here are some pointers I hope will help.

-ly Adverbs

The use (or overuse) of -ly  adverbs should be avoided. A single verb should be used whenever possible instead. If you want to know if you're overusing -ly adverbs, search your document for the words slowly and quickly. Most writers are astonished at how many times they find these words in their manuscripts.

Example: She walked slowly down the sidewalk.

It might be better to say something like this:

She strolled down the sidewalk.
She meandered down the sidewalk.
She wandered down the sidewalk.

Why use two weak words when one strong word is SO much more effective?

Complex Sentences Beginning with -ing or as

Complex sentences beginning with -ing or as more often than not indicate simultaneous action. Simultaneous action is often physically impossible.


Opening the door, he pulled the young woman to safey. (or) As he opened the door, he pulled the young woman to safety.

These sentences indicate that he is pulling her to safety while opening the door. It is very difficult for these two things to be happening at the same time, but it is easy to fix the problem.

He opened the door and pulled the young woman to safety. Now the action is sequential.

On the other hand, you could probably get away with something like this:

Whistling an old Beatles tune, he walked to his car.

These two things CAN be done at the same time.

Point of View (POV)

Point of view is the perspective from which a story is told. Point of view allows us to see the story unfold through a particular character's eyes. We are allowed to see inside that character's mind, to experience his thoughts and feelings. In fiction, POV is usually first person or third person. In first person POV, we NEVER see inside any other character's mind. With third person, the POV can shift from character to character. This gives a lot more flexibility when telling the story. However, POV should never shift within the same chapter or chapter section. Once when I was working with an agent to polish a manuscript, she pointed out that I had done just that. I explained (truthfully) that I had switched POV within the chapter for a specific reason and that Stephen King often did the same. With practiced patience, she said "You're not Stephen King." Ouch... Over the years, the rules for POV have become a bit more fluid and flexible, but if you're not Stephen King (and so many of us aren't), I would suggest sticking with a single POV within a chapter or chapter section.

Example from Jackson Burke's POV:

     "It isn't always going to turn out right," Burke said. "Sometimes things just go bad so fast you  can't fix it." He hated himself for saying it.
     The woman looked at him and smiled. She said nothing, but she believed every word he said.

If this is from Burke's POV, there is NO way we could know how she felt. How do we know that she believed him? Readers might not catch it, but I promise you a good editor will. I know it sounds petty, but agents and editors look for stuff like that. There are lots of good books out there about POV. If you're still confused, buy one...or drop me an email with your POV question.

Dialogue Tags (Tom Swifties)

Tom Swifties are generally considered pun related. For example: " I have only diamonds, clubs, and spades," said Tom heartlessly. In fiction writing, the definition is not quite so restrictive and includes non-pun related dialogue tags. The term derives from the style of writing used in the Tom Swift book series written by the group of authors collectively known as Victor Appleton. Examples (created by me because I'm too lazy to actually look at one of the books) are shown below:

"I've told you once before, and I won't say it again," Tom said redundantly.

"Do you think I can fly to the top of that tree?" Tom queried sardonically.

The point I'm trying to make here is that the use of 'said' as a dialogue tag is almost ALWAYS the right choice.

Examples of things to avoid:

"Give it to me," she demanded.

"Here it is," he offered.

Or even worse:

"I hate to admit that," he giggled. (It is impossible to giggle while speaking.)

"I've had it," she retorted angrily.

"Enough is enough," she groaned. 
(Try that one some time.)

These tags are only used to explain the character's emotions and feelings. The dialogue should speak for itself. In reality, of course, it doesn't always work that way. Instead of Tom Swiftie tags, writers should use 'beats' (a bit of physical action, description, or stage business). This is the show, don't tell rule of fiction writing.


"I hate to admit that," he said.  His face flushed and he giggled like a school girl.

"I've had it," she said. Her hand slapped the table so hard that the empty whiskey glasses danced.

"Enough is enough," she said.  Her words were punctuated by a guttural exhalation of breath.

And finally, the name or pronoun in a tag should ALWAYS come first.


"I'm leaving," said Bill should be "I'm leaving," Bill said. Putting the name second in the tag is the same as saying "I'm leaving," said he. Unless you're Gilbert and/or Sullivan, it just doesn't sound right.

Happy writing!

To Be Continued....