Friday, February 21, 2014

The Duke

I have had the great privilege to belong to many writers' critique groups over my working life. Some have worked better than others.   
All have been helpful.
Even before anyone uttered a word of critique, the process of hearing my work being read aloud was beneficial.  Remember Duke Ellington’s rule on jazz?  

“If it sounds good, it is good.”

How to make sure dialogue has intensity?  
A few carefully honed words of dialogue can work better than paragraphs of explanation. Dialogue is character- specific. It moves your plot. It proclaims voice. Good dialogue has timing - it rings right in the ear. 

So go ahead and speak your written exchanges aloud, too. 
Remember the Duke!

You can find these and many other bon mots in my guide ELEMENTS OF THE NOVEL, published by New Street Communications.  Elements of the Novel

To celebrate the release of New Street Communication’s audiobook of my novel 
leave a comment here between now and April 11 and I will be happy to enter you in a drawing for a free download of the book from


  1. I love this, Eileen. That's what screenplays do. I saw a PBS mystery "The Ice House" (book by Minette Walters) more than a few years ago. It was the first time I saw Daniel Craig, just an aside. Plot, story, character came out through dialogue and it was so, so powerful. Reading a scene out loud is a wonderful test of the quality. "If it sounds good, it is good." Thank you, Eileen. Great blog!

    1. Yes..SO important to have staged or unstated readings of screenplays, Deborah, which rely even more heavily on dialogue. Thanks for stopping by, Deborah!

  2. Great advice, Eileen! I tell all my students to read their work aloud - even if they feel silly doing it! It's ultra-important with picture books which are designed to be read aloud. Welcome to the blogosphere! :)

    1. I bet you are a wonderful teacher, Susanna, for students of all ages! I agree it's ultra-important for that exacting art of the picture book!

  3. Sage advice, and a critical part of my editing process is to read aloud. It bypasses the minds desire to "skip" words in favor of speed. Amazing how many missing words, or awkward phrasing I pick up when I read aloud. I just hope my DW doesn't think I've gone bonkers when she eavesdrops at my closed office door. Welcome, Eileen.

  4. The Duke was right, Eileen, and so are you. This is a great tip. Listening to your own work read aloud can give invaluable information. Lately I have been using a program called text aloud to listen to my own work read back to me.