Story of a Novel pt. 3:Delving, Dialogue and Description

The three D’s that are an important part of your writing process.


(Research didn’t fit the three D’s quite so well)!

Whatever genre you are writing, non-fiction, fiction or even memoir, you will need a certain amount of research. None of us know everything – even about our own lives.  When I wrote our autobiography (about me and my husband), we both had to do research. i.e. Think back into our memories of where we were when, and who we wanted to include in our story.

Also, because it was covering both of our lives, we each wrote a timeline, and then we could compare where we were in relation to each other. We also made a note of events that had taken place in the world throughout the different decades we were writing about. Looking at these events helped us remember where we were too.

One of my mentees who is writing a fiction story has thrown in quite a few situations where she should have done some research to get facts straight. If she was writing a fantasy novel, she could make as much up as she wants, and things could be as outlandish or fantastical as she wants, but with a contemporary novel, certain events need to be based in fact.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I asked some friends for advice when it came to police procedure, and also picked a friend’s brain who is studying psychology. Personally, I much prefer to talk to another human than spend hours researching on the web for information.  However, I did use the web, specifically Google maps to look up some names from a town in Italy where  two of my characters were holidaying. I spoke to a young friend too, who has recently studied A level art, because the process has dramatically changed from when I took mine in the 1970’s!

Tip: Don’t forget to plan time for any research that will be needed to make your writing authentic.


This is an important part of any book, including memoir and non-fiction.

The main thing to remember is – does the use of language, tone of voice, use of colloquialisms, fit the age, gender, social background and context of the character speaking?

Another thing with dialogue is how it is written.  The biggest mistake people make is to write:

“Stop that now!” he shouted menacingly.

“Don’t be such an idiot, Jack,” Fran said contemptuously.

Rather than:

“Stop that now!” he shouted.

“Don’t be such an idiot, Jack,” Fran said.

The addition of adverbs shouldn’t be needed when perfectly good verbs are used. Plus, if the words in the dialogue tell the story well enough, all you need is he said, she said. The latter are purely added so you know who is saying what.

Again, Stephen King gives some great examples of what he calls pulp fiction:

“Put down the gun, Utterson!” Jekyll grated.

“Never stop kissing me!” Shayna gasped.

“You damn tease!” Bill jerked out.

I’m sure we’ve all read sentences like these.

So, I agree with King, and have tried to make sure I use mostly, said as my dialogue attribution, though, I’m sure someone will find a place where I have got carried away!

Tip: I always read my dialogue out loud, to ensure it makes sense, and sounds plausible.


Description can be tricky. I love Stephen King’s comments on this; ‘Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and near-sighted.  Over-description buries him or her in details and images.’

I’ve often found when reading another people’s writing that they fall foul of both of these. (I’m hoping I haven’t done the same in my novel).  I’ve tried to follow King’s idea that if you give the reader just enough description for them to fill in the rest, it works well. 

In one manuscript I read, every character had a crystal-clear complexion, with blue eyes, blonde hair and firm lips, it got incredibly boring. If the description isn’t an important fact and doesn’t move the story forwards, you don’t need it. What can happen is that you have so much description, your reader loses track of the story.

I think it’s far better to enable your readers to use their own imagination. To quote Stephen King again, ‘Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s’.

Tip: Don’t go for overkill with description. Always ask yourself if it’s needed – does it moves the story forward.

Over these last few years, mentoring other writers has encourage me to take more care with my own writing, although I know I still get certain aspects of grammar incorrect and still get carried away with commas. But, overall, I know that between now and when I wrote my first book, my writing has improved – though there is always room for improvement!

Stephen King quotes from his book: ‘On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft’

**  My debut novel, ‘He is Not Worthy’ will be published on May 27th