Sunday, September 12, 2021

How to Snag the Best Freelance Editor for Your Novel


How to Snag the Best Freelance Editor for Your Writing Project

by Jodie Renner

With so many authors self-publishing these days, the best freelance editors are in high demand. So if you’re looking for a knowledgeable, experienced professional editor to help you make your manuscript the best it can be – and improve your overall writing skills in the process – be sure to take some care with how you seek out and approach them.

Due to the high volume of requests, sought-after freelance editors turn down many more writer clients than they can accept. So it’s important to make a good first impression.

Don’t Send a Rough Draft to a Freelance Editor

First, make sure your manuscript isn’t still in rough draft. Try to find time to hone your craft by reading writing advice by experts such as James Scott Bell, Donald Maass, and Elizabeth Lyon. (Also check out my three award-winning fiction-writing guides on Amazon.)

Then go over the manuscript several times, looking for issues you read about and those listed below.

Use Beta Readers First

Enlist 3-5 voluntary beta readers who read in your genre to give you feedback on what excited, confused, or bored them. Also ask where plot points, dialogue, or character reactions didn’t ring true or make sense for them. Here are 15 questions for your beta readers.

If grammar and sentence structure aren’t your strong suit, make the first volunteer you send your manuscript to someone who excels at English. It helps if they are willing to proofread it for typos and grammatical and spelling errors.

That way your other beta readers won’t be distracted by those kinds of errors and can get right into the story. ...

For the rest of this post, go to Anne R Allen's blog at:

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized and edited two anthologies. Website:, Facebook, Amazon Author Page.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

What to Include When Contacting an Editor

Looking for a Freelance Editor for Your Novel? 

Here's what to include when you first contact them.

In-demand freelance editors, like agents, are very busy people. A well-respected editor will receive a lot of submissions for editing, more than they can take on, so it's important to send them everything they need when you first contact them, rather than just introducing yourself.

Be sure to check out their website first and see what they specialize in editing and what they need from you before they can consider taking on your work. If they don’t include that info, just use the guidelines below and send them all the information listed, so they can see the subject matter and quality of the writing right away.

Here’s an email I received today that gives me no information whatsoever about the type of project it is or the quality of writing, i.e., how much work it will need to bring it up to industry standards and sell well.

Dear Jodi

I want to ask you if you have time to help me with a project that I need to submit next month. If you can help, that will be great. I need proofreading, copy-editing  too. 

Let me know if you can help and how much you charge. 


How can I respond to this query, with no further information included or attached? I really need to know what kind of project it is and see a sample of the writing as well. (Never mind that they misspelled my first name!) When I’m busy (which I am now), I just don’t have time to email them back and list the items they need to send me. And I certainly can't give a fee, even if they had included the word count, without seeing at least some of the project and doing a sample edit.

If you want to get a timely response from an editor, include everything they need in your initial inquiry. A brief email asking if I have time to take on a project, with no additional information, is a bit frustrating. What if I say yes and it turns out it’s not the kind of thing I want to edit at all. How do I turn them down diplomatically when I’ve just said I have time to take on their project? I want to see at least some of the project first, before I say whether I’m available or not. 

Here’s what to include when you first contact a potential freelance editor for your novel or short story:

~ Your full name. If your author name is different, best to include both.

~ The genre of your novel or story. 

This is the main category it would fit into, where it would be shelved in a library or bookstore. Mystery, romance, fantasy, literary, sci-fi, historical, suspense, thriller, YA mystery, middle-grade fantasy, romantic suspense, action-adventure, horror, etc.

~ Total word count. 

(Or projected word count.) For a novel, should be between 75K and 100K words, usually 80-90K. Don’t need the exact number of words – round it out to the nearest 100. 

By the way, if your novel is over 95 thousand words, it very likely needs tightening up. See "How to Slash your Word Count by 20-40%, without losing any of the good stuff."

~ Character sketches

Give a brief description of each of the most important 4-6 characters, in order of importance, in list form. Begin with the main viewpoint character of the story. Give the full name of each character, bolded, and their age (or approximate age). Include the love interest if there is one and the antagonist or villain, as well as anyone else who plays a significant role, such as a spouse, boss, partner, close buddy, or confidante. A line or two for each is fine. What is their strongest desire or motivation or their biggest problem? What is their role in the story?

~ A SYNOPSIS (Plot Outline, Story Outline)

A brief description (usually a paragraph to half a page is fine) of the beginning, middle, and end of your story. Unlike with a blurb or back cover copy, which just gives enough tantalizing detail to pique the reader’s interest, a synopsis for an editor or agent needs to reveal the ending as well. 

Include the title (or working title) of your book and your name at the top, and the word "Synopsis" or "Short Synopsis."

Start with your protagonist and his/her main goal, desire, worry, fear, or secret, and tell what or who is standing in the way of him reaching his goal. Who or what is the antagonist? Also mention any other significant characters, like maybe a love interest. No need to mention subplots or minor characters. Mention the setting or story world if it's significant.

For the first mention of each character, give their full name in all caps or bolded, followed by their age in brackets. After that, just use normal font for their name. Tell the main points of your story in third-person (he/she/they), present tense, even if your novel is written in first person (I, me, we, our), past tense. Try to convey the tone and voice of your novel in the synopsis.

Individual editors and of course literary agents may ask for a longer synopsis, in which case you might include the main subplot or subplots.

~ A short bio. 

A little about yourself. Rough age would be good, maybe family situation and where you live, plus any relevant experience, etc. A sentence or two is fine.

~ Your preferred timeline, if you’re in a rush. (I highly recommend not being in a rush if you want the best job possible. I usually turn down people with a tight deadline as I'm already very self-motivated and I don't need the added pressure.)


~ The first 20 pages (roughly) or the first 3 chapters of your novel. 

*Be sure to include the title (or working title) of the book and your name at the top.*

Don’t include the front matter or Table of Contents. No photos, maps, diagrams, or any of that fancy stuff you may want to include in the book.


  • Times New Roman font, 12-point  
  • double-spaced 
  • paragraphs indented 
  • no extra space between paragraphs 
  • left-justified 
  • one-inch margins on all sides

You can change it to your preferred font after the editing process. Sending it in Times New Roman, double-spaced is a courtesy to editors as that's what we're used to looking at and it means we can get into the story right away without reformatting it first.

If you have time, change any incorrect paragraph indents that you’ve made using Tab or the space bar to proper indents using Word’s Paragraph function.

For more on formatting a manuscript to send to editors or agents, see Formatting 101.

Good luck!

For more on this topic, see my guest post on Anne R. Allen's award-winning blog, "How to Snag the Best Freelance Editor for Your Writing Project."

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction:
FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized and edited two anthologies. Website:, Facebook, Amazon Author Page.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Q&A with Jodie Renner on Kay DiBianca's blog, The Craft of Writing

Today I was interviewed by Kay DiBianca over at her excellent blog, The Craft of Writing. We talk about some of the advice in my Editor's Guide to Writing Compelling Stories, FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, including revising and editing your own work, viewpoint, showing instead of telling, writing with "attitude", working with an editor, and submitting your story to writing contests.

Here's the beginning of the Q&A session, with a link at the end to the whole interview.



One of the great things about hosting the Craft of Writing blog is getting to meet so many accomplished professionals, and I’m thrilled to welcome craft expert Jodie Renner to the blog for the first time.

I titled this blog interview VISION AND REVISION since we’ll be talking about Jodie’s award-winning book Fire Up Your Fiction. Much of that book has to do with revising your first draft. However, it’s also a wonderful guide to read *before* you start that new novel.

So grab your literary blowtorch and let’s add some spark to our stories.

Welcome to the Craft of Writing blog, Jodie Renner. Thank you for joining us!

JR: Thanks so much for inviting me, Kay. I’m honored to be in the same company as some of my favorite writing craft gurus – James Scott Bell, Randy Ingermanson, Steven James, K.M. Weiland, Renni Browne, and Dave King, among others. 

How important is the revision process when writing a novel?

JR: The revision process is an indispensable step in the creation of an engrossing novel or short story. Of course, first, it’s important to just write with wild abandon. Get your ideas down without thinking about word choice or making the sentences perfect. But then, once you’ve written your first draft (or are at a point where your muse is taking a break), it’s time to go back and reread, revise, and polish.

Did you use the best word there? Would a different word choice bring the scene to life more vividly? Have you varied your sentence structure and included short, medium, and long sentences? Look at pacing. Are you keeping readers interested and intrigued? Is your writing bland or rambling and repetitive in places? It may be time to do some weeding and tighten it up by deleting excessive words, combining and shortening sentences, etc. Are some of your paragraphs too long? Condense them or break them up for more white space. Have you included a balance of narration and dialogue, not too much of one or the other?

Read your dialogue out loud. Does it sound natural, like that character would actually speak? Or stilted, too correct, overly wordy, or more like the author would speak? In dialogue, cut many of those complete sentences down to a few words or even one word or a silence.

And of course, there are macro issues that may need to be considered, such as premise, plot, characterization, point of view, pacing, inconsistencies, discrepancies, and more. As writers, we’re too close to our work, so we don’t see what might confuse others. Often a fresh set of eyes will help with those. 

How important is it for an author to work with a professional editor?

JR: If you’re serious about getting your book published, selling well, and garnering great reviews, it’s essential. But never send an editor your first draft. You run the risk of having it rejected, or the editor could get bogged down on correcting basic errors and won’t have time to address bigger issues and really take it up several notches. Go through your manuscript several times, fine-tuning and polishing. Also, read writing craft books, as there may be several important fiction-writing techniques you’re not even aware of or have not yet mastered; for example, head-hopping, showing instead of telling, and info dumps.

Then try to find some volunteer beta readers ...

For the rest of this interview with numerous tips on writing compelling fiction, CLICK ON THIS LINK.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized and edited two anthologies. Website:, Facebook, Amazon Author Page.

Tips for Writing Compelling Back-Cover Copy, Storyline, & Tagline for Your Novel

by Jodie Renner, editor & author 

You run into a friend and mention you’re writing a novel. “What’s it about?” they ask.

You stammer, “Well, it’s about this guy… Actually, and his sidekick too. She’s a woman. They don’t really get along all that well… at least, not at the beginning. He’s former FBI agent and she used to be a cop. Did I tell you they’re private detectives? Anyway, they get this weird case… Hey, where are you going? I was just getting to the good part!”

This is the kind of situation where you wish you had created a succinct, compelling storyline or “elevator pitch,” well-prepared and memorized.

Here are some tips on writing an engaging storyline, tagline, elevator pitch, and back cover copy for your novel. These are all essentials for hooking potential readers and enticing them to read your novel. If you’re still writing your novel, doing these exercises will help you focus on the core of your story and how best to engage readers.


Your storyline (or logline) gives the gist of your book in a few sentences. It tells something about the main character, the conflict or dilemma, and the stakes.

When someone casually asks you what your book is about, you’ll probably give them your storyline/logline. It’s a condensed version of the elevator pitch.

Even if you haven’t yet finished your novel, writing a storyline for it will help you zero in on what your story is really about, at its essence, and what emotion(s) you want to evoke in your readers.

Start with a 5-6-sentence version (up to a paragraph or two) and work down to one or two sentences. Keep your longer version as your “elevator pitch” for when the situation allows enough time to use it.

To create your storyline, first answer these questions:


For the rest of these tips, go to:

over at The Kill Zone Blog today. 

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized and edited two anthologies. Website:, Facebook, Amazon Author Page.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Some Dialogue Don’ts

by Jodie Renner, editor & author

The dialogue in your fiction is critical. It can make or break a story.

When evaluating a novel or short story, dialogue is one of the first things agents and contest judges look at. And clunky dialogue is also an instant turnoff for readers. 

It's critical to make your fictional conversations sound natural and authentic, like those people would actually speak, instead of in complete, grammatically correct sentences, but beware of too closely imitating actual conversation.

Real-life conversation is no excuse for confusing, irritating, distracting, offensive, or boring dialogue coming out of your fiction characters’ mouths.

For example, beware of frustrating or annoying your readers by trying to reproduce regional dialects exactly as they sound.

Also, be cautious about using the very latest slang expressions, which could backfire on you and end up dating your story within a year or two. That would not be cool! (Pun intended.)

And overloading dialogue with in-your-face profanities can lose you readers.

And finally, please leave out all that boring yadda-yadda, blah-blah, filler stuff!

Don’t mangle characters’ speech.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to reproduce regional speech patterns phonetically. As Jack Bickham says, “There was a time, not so long ago, when fiction writers strove for authenticity in some of their stories by attempting to imitate regional and ethnic dialects and pronunciations by purposely misspelling words in their dialogue. Today such practices have fallen into disfavor.”

Why? Because it’s distracting and irritating. Not only that, it runs the risk of obscuring your intended meaning. All of which will result in taking your reader out of your story – the exact opposite effect you’re going for. Also, you could easily end up offending people from that region if you depict their everyday casual language as a kind of inferior, laughable sublanguage.

Here’s an example of what I mean, from an older story about slaves and the Civil War. The passage was narrated by a slave:

“So dey jump on dey horses and gallop ’way. An’ we ain’t see’d dem since. Dey friends say dey be kilt in one o’ de firs’ battles o’ de war. Dat be good lesson fo’ we, shure ‘nuf! Black folk ain’t gonna go off ta fight in a war. Life be tuff enuf here wid’ Massa an’ his whip, widout uder buckra be shootin’ at de menfolk an’ killin’ ‘em dead.”

And it went on like that for pages! Ouch!

So these days, phonetic spelling, misspelling words to show different pronunciations, the overuse of apostrophes to indicate missing letters (unpronounced sounds), and other deviations from standard North American speech are frowned upon by most editors, agents, and discerning readers, and may earn a rejection for your otherwise compelling story.

An occasional elision (dropped sound, indicated by an apostrophe) and plenty of regular contractions, with the odd regional word or expression thrown in, is usually enough to get your regional flavor across to your readers.

Don’t try to keep up with the very latest slang expressions.

Many new authors try to appeal to their audience by using the latest slang expressions, especially in YA fiction. This is usually a mistake. The language is changing so fast, especially fad expressions, that what’s trendy or “in” today may be already dated by the time your short story or novel sees the light of day. The moral? Be careful with using cutting-edge street talk or just-coined slang expressions. It’s usually best to stick to slang expressions that have been around for at least a few years.

Don’t overdo the profanities.

Another area where beginning writers mess up is in replicating every F-word in real life on their page, leaving many readers wincing. Profanities and obscenities can often slide by in real life, depending on the situation, but they usually jump out at us on the printed page, so use them judiciously, to get the general flavor, rather than on every line.

As Jack Bickham says, “Dirty talk often looks dirtier on the page than it actually is.” So save the worst of your swear words for those story situations where a strong curse word is really needed to convey the emotion.Also, consider your genre. Readers of cozy mysteries, for example, are mostly women aged 60 and up, so best to use less graphic language in those stories. The odd “Damn!” or “Crap!” or "sheesh" or "jeez" or 
friggin/frickin' will usually suffice. Or He told them to eff off or something like He let loose a string of profanities.

Don’t reproduce actual conversations verbatim.

By this I mean all the uhs and ums and ers and you knows and How are you? I’m fine, and you? Not to mention introducing people, chitchat about the weather, and other empty social niceties that lead up to (or follow) the real meat of the conversation. That’s a sure-fire recipe for putting your readers to sleep! And they won’t be eager to pick up your book again when they wake up.

As Ingermanson and Economy say, “Dialogue is war!” You need tension on every page, including in your dialogue. So if it doesn’t drive the story forward, add conflict or tension, or contribute to character development, take it out.

So, oddball spelling, attempts at reproducing regional dialects phonetically, and heavy use of profanities all risk offending someone, whether it’s a member of a minority or someone who doesn’t like swearing. And the latest slang expressions may soon appear outdated and ridiculous. And really, empty blah blah is boring, isn’t it? So be wary of reproducing characters’ dialogue exactly as it sounds in real life—it could backfire on you.

What do you think? As a reader, how do you feel about the attempted reproduction of regional dialects in fiction? As a writer, how do you show the accent and expressions of a specific region? And how do you research expressions for a region you’ve never lived in or visited? Also how do you feel about stories peppered with obscenities? Are you okay with it, or do you find yourself wincing inwardly?

For more info on writing dialogue, see my other blog posts, "Amp up That Dialogue!" and "How to Write Dialogue Accurately."

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized and edited two anthologies. Website, Facebook, Amazon Author Page.

How to Write Dialogue Accurately

Dialogue Nuts & Bolts     

by Jodie Renner, editor & author 

In another article, Amp up That Dialogue!, I discuss various techniques for writing dialogue that will come alive on the page. Drop over there for some advice on making your dialogue less stilted and more natural-sounding. Also, check out another post of mine, Some Dialogue Don’ts.

This article just provides a reference for the correct punctuation and capitalization for writing dialogue, as well as some style tips for dialogue tags. Using correct punctuation and form for dialogue will keep your readers from becoming distracted, confused or annoyed, and maintain their focus on your story. So if you want your manuscript to look professional and your story to read smoothly, it’s best to follow these technical guidelines.


First of all, start a new paragraph every time the speaker changes. On the other hand, don’t start a new paragraph if it’s still the same speaker, unless you’re doing it for a good reason, like a pause or emphasis.

Punctuation for Dialogue:

1Put quotation marks around all spoken words.

Although in Britain and Australia, it’s more common to use single quotes around dialogue, in the United States and Canada, the standard is double quotes around dialogue, with single quotes around any quoted words or phrases within the quoted dialogue.

(But don't put quotation marks around thoughts.)

2. In North America, the punctuation always goes inside the end quote, not outside it:

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she replied.

* If the person is asking a question, the question mark goes inside the quotation mark, and a period goes at the end of the whole sentence. The same goes for exclamations.

“Where were you?” she asked.
“Help!” she screamed.

*Note that in the above examples, even though your word processor wants you to put a capital letter for “she” or “he”, these need to be lowercase, as they don’t start a new sentence.

* If the person speaking is making a statement (or a suggestion or a command), replace the period (which would follow if it weren’t in quotation marks) with a comma. Then put your period at the end of the sentence.

“Let’s go home,” he said.

* If there’s no attribute (he said, she said), put a period inside the closing quotation mark.

“Turn off the TV.

3. If you start with the dialogue tag, put a comma after it, before your opening quotation mark and the dialogue:

He said“But my game is on.”

4. If you want to put your dialogue tag in the middle of a sentence, put a comma inside the first set of closing quotation marks, and also after the dialogue tag:

“I can never understand,” she said, “what you see in him.” (Note no capital for the second part.)

5. If one person is speaking and the dialogue goes on for more than one paragraph (definitely not a great idea to have one person speaking at great length), you leave out the closing quotation marks at the end of the first paragraph, but put opening quotation marks at the beginning of the next one. Use closing quotation marks only when that person is finished speaking.

“…no matter what you do.    
“And another thing, don’t ….”

6. To show a person trailing off while they're speaking, just use ellipses (...) with no punctuation after it: I'm not sure...

7. To show the speaker being interrupted, use a dash at the end, with no other punctuation after it, before the end quote:

“I saw them yesterd—”

“You saw them? Where?”

8. To show action or a change in demeanor or tone while a person is speaking, you can use dashes, like this: 

“Someday your cockiness is going to get you into trouble, and”—his voice turned huffy—“I won’t be there to rescue you.


1. Avoid overusing dialogue tags. 

Instead of constantly using he said or she said (or the name and said), replace them often with action beats, which will also help bring the scene alive:

He closed the door very quietly. Too late.
She stood there, hands on hips. “Where’ve you been?”
“Don’t start.” He took off his coat and hung it up.
The action immediately before or after the words tells us who’s talking.
Or, if it can be done without confusing the readers, just leave out the dialogue tag or action beat. Context often makes it obvious who’s speaking. 

Note that when you use an action tag instead of he/she said, you use a period at the end of the dialogue, not a comma like you would before he said".

2. The best dialogue tags are the simple he said and she said 

(or asked), or with the name: John said, Carol said. These simple dialogue tags don’t draw attention to themselves or interrupt the story line, as they’re almost invisible. Avoid fancy or redundant tags like queried, chortled, alleged, proclaimed, conjectured, affirmed, explained, apologized, etc., which can be distracting. 

Don't say I'm sorry, she apologized. or This way, he explained. Those explanations are redundant telling and mildly insulting to the reader, who can tell by what they're saying. Just use said”. Or often, no speech tag is needed. 

But I do suggest using verbs that accurately and quickly describe how the words are delivered, like whisperedshouted, yelled, screamed, or stammered.

You can’t use words like laughed or grinned or smiled or grimaced or scowled as dialogue tags.
These are both incorrect when using a comma after what they said:
X  “Nice outfit,” he smiled.
X  “Thanks, but I can't do a thing with my hair,” she frowned.
Why don’t they work? Because smiling is not talking; you can’t “smile” or “grin” or "frown" words, so they're not valid replacements for "said".

Change to:

Nice outfit, he said, smiling.
or Nice outfit. He smiled. (Note period and capital “He”)

“Thanks, but I can't do a thing with my hair. She frowned.  (Period and capital for action tag.)
Or “Thanks, but I can't do a thing with my hair,” she said, frowning.

But you can use muttered, whispered, yelled, etc. as direct replacements for said, with the same punctuation and capitalization as said, since you can mutter or whisper or yell words.

4. Use adverbs very sparingly.
Definitely avoid:

“I’m sorry,” she said apologetically.
“Come here,” he said imperiously.
“I’m in charge,” she said haughtily.

Instead, make sure the words they’re saying and any actions convey the feelings you wish to express.
5. Make sure the dialogue sounds natural, like those people would actually speak in that situation. In general, use casual language and avoid complete, grammatically correct sentences. Also, use contractions, like "I'm" instead of "I am," "you're" instead of "you are," and "we've" instead of "we have".

Slightly off-topic: Do not put quotation marks around thoughts. That’s a topic for another post.

Also, see "Basic Formatting of Your Manuscript -- Formatting 101."


1. Contemporary North American fiction seems to avoid the reversed form, “said Carol,” in favor of “Carol said.” The reversed form seems to be more British and also considered kind of archaic, which makes it fine for historical fiction.

2. Most contemporary North American fiction writers, with the notable exception of Lee Child, seem to put most dialogue tags after the words spoken:

“Let’s go,” Tony said.  

Rather than before:  
Tony said, “Let’s go.”

However, if what they're saying is lengthy, readers want to know immediately who's talking, so I would put the “Tony said, before a long sentence or a paragraph of dialogue.

These last two points are of course just my observations of common usage, not rules. But aspiring or debut authors would do well to stick with what seems to be in favor, to give a contemporary feel to your novel. Of course, if you’re writing historical fiction, go for the older “said Elizabeth” form.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling FictionCaptivate Your ReadersFire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Need to Add Info to Your Story? Use lots of attitude!

by Jodie Renner, editor & author   

Strategies for Turning Impersonal Info Dumps into Compelling Copy

As a freelance fiction editor, I find that military personnel, professionals, academics, police officers, journalists, and others who are used to imparting factual information in objective, detached, bias-free ways often need a lot of coaching in loosening up their language and adding opinions, attitude, and emotions to create a captivating story world.

~ Really need those facts in there? Rewrite with attitude!

Say you want to write a fast-paced novel and your background is in a specialized field, so you decide to set your story in that milieu you know so well. Maybe you want to write a legal thriller or a medical suspense, or a mystery involving scientific research or stolen artifacts. Or maybe you’d like to use your military, police, or forensics experience, but your writing experience to date has mainly been confined to producing terse, objective, factual reports.

As you’re writing your story, you decide at various points that you need to interrupt the story to explain something the readers may not understand. And you want to get it right, both to lend credibility to your story and because you’re concerned about criticism from other professionals in your field. Your first impulse might be to copy and paste sections on that topic from a journal or online search, then tweak them a bit. Or just stop to explain the technical points in your own words, factually, as you would in a report or research paper, then go back to your storyline. 

Big mistake. 

You’ve just interrupted an exciting (we hope!) story to give a mini-lecture. Remember that the main purpose of fiction is to entertain your readers with an engaging tale. To do that, it’s critical to stay in the story and in the viewpoint and voice of your compelling, charismatic (we hope!) characters.

~ How to keep your credibility but write with passion and tension

Want to keep your readers turning the pages? Try to turn off possible reactions of colleagues in your field and remind yourself that your goal here is to entertain a broad spectrum of the population with a riveting story. So limit your factual, informative details to only what is necessary for the plot and present them through the character’s point of view, with lots of tension and attitude. 

Go through the section several times and keep loosening up the words and sentence structure to take out the specialized jargon and nonfiction style and achieve a more casual tone, in the voice of the viewpoint character for that scene – it needs to be the character's thoughts, not the author stepping in. And introduce emotions and reactions – make the character frustrated, angry, confused, or anxious.

And if it still sounds like a university lecture or a journal entry, make your character less reserved, less nerdy, less buried in his work. Give him more charisma and universal appeal, maybe even a bad-boy rebellious side, and add quirks and more attitude.

Better yet, insert another, contrasting character (or two) to the mix to add in some tension, conflict and contrast.

So to impart some specific information while keeping your engaged, try these steps:

1. First, in a separate file, copy or write the bare facts in a paragraph or two – up to a page.

2. Go in and loosen up the language a bit – rewrite it in layman’s language.

3. Choose two interesting characters who each have some kind of stake in this info and are passionate about the topic, but in different ways.

4. Give them both charisma and quirks – and opposite personalities. Maybe make them competitive or distrustful.

5. Give them each their unique voice, based on their personality differences.

6. Give them opposing views on the topic or conflicting goals.

7. Using those facts, create a question-and-answer or argumentative dialogue between the two characters.

8. Add in some character actions, reactions and sensory details.

Now it’s starting to read like fiction!

Remember, most of your readers will be outside your field of specialty, and won’t find those dry factual details as fascinating as you do!

~ A before-and-after example, disguised from my editing:

Here’s how to replace a factual report with a lively dialogue:

Setup: A rebellious, trigger-happy cop has been ordered to be examined by a psychiatrist.

The “info dump” part starts with “Dr. Brown flipped…”


Dr. Brown opened up Jake’s file. “What happened after you were discharged from the Army?”

“I decided to become a cop. After police academy, I was assigned a beat in the Washington Park area in the South Side of Chicago.”

“The Washington Park area?” Dr. Brown asked. “That’s a pretty rough part of town.”

“Yeah, it reminded me of downtown Baghdad,” Jake quipped.

Dr. Brown flipped a few pages in the file where there was some background on Washington Park. The summary stated the area was only 1.48 square miles but was usually considered either the most dangerous or second most dangerous neighborhood in the United States. In fact, in some years it had seen more than three hundred violent crimes committed on its turf. Crimes such as murder, robbery, drug-dealing, assaults, prostitution, and rape were committed regularly in Washington Park.


Here, the author has replaced the above factual paragraph with a dialogue.

Dr. Brown opened up Jake’s file. “What happened after you were discharged from the Army?”

“I decided to become a cop. After police academy, I was assigned a beat in Washington Park in South Chicago.”

“Washington Park?” Dr. Brown asked. “That’s a pretty rough area, I hear.”

“Yeah, it reminded me of downtown Baghdad,” Jake quipped.

“How so?”

“The area is tiny, barely one and a half square miles, but it’s infested with crime. Some years you get more than three hundred violent crimes there.”


“Yeah, murder, drug-dealing, robbery, assaults, prostitution, rape—you name it, they’re all run-of-the-mill activities in that area. Stress city, man—I made my bones there.”

~ How the experts do it – with attitude!

Here are some excerpts from a scene in a crime lab, as an excellent example of how a bestselling thriller author, Robert Crais, reveals the details of the fingerprinting process in The Last Detective, without interrupting the story to fill in the reader as an author aside:

[…] The white smear was aluminum powder. The brown stains were a chemical called ninhydrin, which reacts with the amino acids left whenever you touch something.

Starkey bent for a closer inspection, then frowned at Chen as if he was stupid.

“This thing’s been in the sun for days. It’s too old to pick up latents with powder.”

“It’s also the fastest way to get an image into the system. I figured it was worth the shot.”

Starkey grunted. She was okay with whatever might be faster.

“The nin doesn’t look much better.”

“Too much dust, and the sunlight probably broke down the aminos. I was hoping we’d get lucky with that, but I’m gonna have to glue it.”

“Shit. How long?”

I said, “What does that mean, you have to glue it?”

Now Chen looked at me as if I was the one who was stupid. We had a food chain for stupidity going, and I was at the bottom.

“Don’t you know what a fingerprint is?”

Starkey said, “He doesn’t need a lecture. Just glue the damned thing.”

And it goes on like this. Entertaining reading, and we’re learning some interesting stuff at the same time.

And for another good example of how to impart info without boring your readers, here’s how Lynn Sholes and Joe Moore provide some information on a well-known structure in Las Vegas, without sounding like a travelogue or encyclopedia. This is from The Blade, an excellent thriller I edited in late 2012:

Setting: The Strip, Las Vegas

“So the Reverend Hershel Applewhite is a liar,” I said when Kenny returned from accompanying Carl down to the hotel lobby.

I stood at the window staring at the imposing pyramid-shaped Alexandria Hotel in the distance. I’d read somewhere that the forty-two-billion candlepower spotlight at the top of the hotel could be seen from space. The same guy who designed it—I couldn’t remember his name—built similar pyramid hotels with beacons in South Africa and China. Claimed he wanted his lights to be seen from every corner of the world.

Note how the authors give a little background info on the landmark structure without sounding like Wikipedia.

The above fiction-writing advice is from a chapter in Jodie Renner's second writing guide, FIRE UP YOUR FICTION.

Tom Combs, best-selling novelist and former ER physician (and one of my author clients), is a master at making the world of his fictional ER both accessible and fascinating in his Drake Cody thrillers, which take place both in and out of the hospital. His fourth suspense-thriller, Insurrection, was just released on June 10, 2012.  All of the novels in the series are excellent examples of how to tell a riveting story by having fascinating characters and resisting the urge to explain too much and imparting necessary info through the characters, with attitude.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized and edited two anthologies. Website:, Facebook, Amazon Author Page.