Tag Archives: turn indirect speech into quotes

More about how to add details to improve writing

Let’s talk more about how students can add details.

Proper nouns are usually easy to add. If the student mentions his school, ask her to write the full name of the school. If the student mentions her home, ask her to mention the city and state. If the student mentions her teacher, ask her to name her teacher.

However, some students don’t want to reveal this information, especially if it will be published. (More on how to publish in a later blog.) When I tell them to make up the information, they think this is lying and are reluctant to do it, especially younger children. I explain that they are doing a writing exercise, and that renaming is perfectly ethical in a situation like ours. But expect resistance.

Numbers can be easy to add. How many friends threw snowballs? How many snowballs did you throw? How many minutes did you throw snowballs? Children tend to write “a few” or “lots” expecting the reader to know what they mean. They assume the information inside their own heads is available to the reader.

Dates, time of day, seasons—these are usually easy to add, but someone has to remind the student to add them.

Sensory feelings, smells, sounds, and tastes–Students describe what they see but often forget to describe reactions by their other senses—how cold the snow feels, how fragrant the hot chocolate smells, or how coming in from a cold day fogs their glasses.

Size and color are usually given by the student, but in a bland way. “Blue” can mean many shades of color. I help the student by looking up synonyms in a thesaurus or by writing a simile—blue as the ocean on a cloudless day.

Getting inside someone’s head helps the reader understand motivation, but students seldom explain, assuming everyone understands. “My brother hit me with a snowball. So I threw one back at him.” Why did you throw it back? What part of his body were you trying to hit? Were you mad at him or were both of you having fun? Ask the student to let the reader hear what she is thinking.

Adding dialog is like adding great action verbs. It brings writing alive. Dialog is not hard to add if the student thinks about it. Instead of “My brother and I decided to have a snowball fight,” how about this: “Hey, let’s see who can hit that tree the most,” my brother said. I said “Sure,” and began packing snowballs. The information is the same, but with dialog, the reader is better informed and more emotionally connected to the writing.

Feelings are important to add if there are characters. Even though a character might be flying a space ship over Mars, the reader can identify with the character when his fear or exhilaration are explained.

Adding examples can quickly make the reader understand a difficult concept. “The heavy rain soaked the ground. For example, the iris roots were covered with an inch of water where the roof drained near them.” Or “My little cousin says words funny. For example, she says “dog-EEE” when she sees a dog” and “No, no yuck” when she sees the dog’s dish of food.”

We’ll talk about more about adding figurative language in the next blog. It is another way to add detail to writing and to improve the style of writing..

Use dialog to begin sentences and paragraphs in order to add variety and life to writing

Author's Quote on adding dialogueHave you ever turned the page of a novel and come to long paragraphs of description or exposition?  And then the corner of your eye sees far down the next page a section of dialog?  What do you do?  Do you read the long paragraphs or do you jump to the dialog with its short sentences and friendly white space?

If you are like most people, you beeline to the dialog.

Dialog makes writing sparkle.  Once I read a novel in which there was no dialog, none whatsoever.  Over and over I wanted to quit.  This novel taught me the power of dialog in writing.

Children read chapter books like Junie B. Jones that are full of dialog, but children rarely think of adding dialog themselves.  However, once they add dialog they keep adding it, and their writing improves tremendously.

Why?  One of the easiest ways to get personality into writing is to introduce a character—even if it is the writer herself—whose unique way of thinking and saying attracts readers.  Charles Dickens was a master of this.  But so are some of my students.

dialog example

Notice how a third grade student uses dialog to show his personality and to hook the reader.

Adding dialog is like adding powerful verbs.  It has the same effect.

Sometimes when I read a student’s writing, I suggest, “This would be a good place for dialog.”  Often the student has people talking anyway, but using indirect speech.  I show the student how to turn the speech into direct quotes, and how to start a new paragraph when a different person speaks.

Dialog can also be a great hook in the introduction of an essay, providing that the person speaking says something worth hearing.

One caveat:  Sometimes, once students learn the power of dialog, they want to write only dialog, leaving out any sense of setting or nonverbal action.  In these cases the writing is confusing.  Help the student to see that some description of place, time and the emotional reactions of the people talking and listening are important for a well-rounded essay.

Next we’ll look at sentence types and how they impact writing.