Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Write This Not That! - Suz deMello

Today, I am handing my blog over to the first editor I ever worked with - Sue Swift (aka Suz deMello). I learned so much from her and now she's been persuaded to share some of her wisdom and expertise in a new book:

Here's the blurb: 

Write This Not That! is a snappy, entertaining treatise on writing. If you’re a serious author, it will change your life...your writing life, anyway. Its sections on dialog, info dumps, setting and more are brief  but pithy—like good writing. By award-winning, best-selling novelist Suz deMello, with the help of many of her equally gifted friends,  this skinny little book packs a powerful punch. 

And now, an extract:

            A while back I initiated an online discussion with some other writers about books. My question was: what earns a book a home in our hearts as opposed to a trip to the shredder? I gathered comments from various yahoogroups before adding them to the “knowledge” garnered from a lifetime of reading, sixteen years of fiction writing, and a mini-career editing for individuals as well as for a variety of publishing companies. I have authored and edited most kinds of writing from academic treatises to the sexiest erotica.  Although much of my experience is in romance, the principles in this essay are applicable to most fiction writing.
            Some information surprised me while other statements struck me as mundane. And I found startling omissions: for example, many didn’t decry the lack of a happy ending in a few books, preferring an interesting ending to a predictable one. But many comments focused on a few well-defined topics: dialog and tags; the despised info dump; a category I call “respecting the language;” avoiding clichés, both verbal and situational; characterization errors; plotting missteps and a failure to edit. The “talking head in the empty room syndrome” is a particular irritant to me, and, as a former acquiring editor, I have strong opinions regarding synopses.
            Many mistakes can and should be avoided or fixed before anyone, even a critique partner, sees your work in progress.


Romances are all about the interactions between two people. In fact, most novels, unless they’re Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea or similar books, involve the interactions between people, and most of these interactions are verbal. But dialog can be especially tricky to write.
Here’s what you can do: Listen and cut.
To avoid stilted dialog, listen. Go to different venues and eavesdrop. Coffee houses, like Starbucks and Peet’s. Bars. Truck stops and grocery stores. If you write for the young adult market, go to where teens are. When you take your kid and her friends to a concert or to the opening of the next hot teen flick, don’t drop them off and leave. Go in. Listen. Not to the concert but to the kids, not just yours but others.
If you’re fortunate enough to travel, do the same research wherever you go. Don’t stay in your hotel. Walk a few blocks away to a local café or dive and listen to the locals chat. Take notes.
Focus on the words people use and the way they put sentences together. Note slang terms.
Have you ever noticed that in some parts of the USA people say soda rather than pop? In other American locales, any fizzy drink is a Coke, whether or not it’s cola. In Georgia, a woman’s handbag is a pocketbook, even if the satchel can’t fit into her pocket. In California it’s her purse. Regional differences in speech are numerous and fascinating. Note them. Use them.
Listen, but cut.
Many of my conversations run something like this:
“Hey, hi, Sue. How’re ya doin’?”
“I’m okay. You?”
“Fine. Whassap?”
“Not much. Tryin’ to stay dry.”
The only variations are seasonal. In January, I’m trying to stay dry. In July, I’m trying to stay cool.
The conversation doesn’t say much and I’d never put it in a book, unless I wanted to lull the reader into an unsuspecting stupor before a vampire sank fangs into a victim or a meteor slammed into our planet.
So the vast majority of realistic interactions don’t belong in a book. Interactions should have a purpose; in fact, every word in your book should have a purpose.
What purposes can we define?

If you like what you read, go to 


About the author of Write This Not That:


Best-selling, award-winning author Suz deMello, a.k.a Sue Swift, has written over sixteen romance novels in several subgenres, including erotica, comedy, historical, paranormal, mystery and suspense, plus a number of short stories and non-fiction articles on writing. A freelance editor, she’s worked for Total-E-Bound, Ai Press, and Liquid Silver Books. She also takes private clients.

Her books have been favourably reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist, won a contest or two, attained the finals of the RITA and hit several bestseller lists.


A former trial attorney, her passion is world travel. She’s left the US over a dozen times, including lengthy stints working overseas. She’s now writing a vampire tale and planning her next trip.

 Find her books at

 For editing services, email her at
 Befriend her on Facebook:
 She tweets her reading picks @ReadThis4fun





  1. I like the "cut" part of writing what we listen to. My conversations are pretty much like that too. Nice advice.