Relationship Development

At its core, relationship development is based on the same principles no matter the relationship, whether the characters in question are sworn enemies, best friends, or lovers.

Relationship development is important, not just between your main character and those they love, but also those they hate. Make sure your antagonists (the ones that are people) have developed relationships with your main character as well. It will add dimension to both your conflict and your antagonist.

1. Develop your side characters

It’s hard to have really well developed relationships if the only character that is developed in your main character. While you might not put a lot of the development of your side characters in the book itself, you should know everything about them.

Without well-developed characters, it is hard to portray good relationships, and this is something to keep in mind particularly in the case of friends. Often the main characters and the love interest are fully developed, but the friend characters are used more for plot devices.

2. Start out slow

As much as you want your characters to fall in love, be friends, or loathe each other immediately, it’s just not realistic in most scenarios.

For an example I know everyone is probably familiar with, in Harry Potter, Draco and Harry didn’t immediately hate each other. Draco made overtures of friendship when they met, and then again later. Their antagonism built with every confrontation they had.

Take your characters’ personalities and the situation of where they meet into account when deciding how they will start off their relationship. It’s fine to have your characters “click” but make sure your readers can connect why your characters got along so well. For example, using Harry Potter again, Ron and Harry fall into a friendship, but it feels natural because of how they met and their respective situations.

3. Build their relationships consciously 

Be mindful of the pacing of your relationship development, and make sure it feels natural. Some ways your characters can get closer (or further apart):

  • Shared experiences
  • Communication
  • Shared interests
  • Time spent together

Each interaction should strengthen or weaken their relationship. No matter what device you use to build their relationship, make sure it is natural to your characters’ personalities. Someone who has issues with trust is not going to spill all of their secrets in a bonding moment unless significant trust has been built up.

Relationships should be multifaceted, so vary their interactions. For long-term relationships, romantic love should not be only based in attraction, but have a great deal of trust and communication built up as well.

4. Show the development

Highlight the development over the course of your story by showing characters getting closer. What form this takes really depends on your characters, but they could share secrets more easily or be more likely to show physical affection with hugs, or simply spend more time together. Each scene that they interact should show their progress.

However you choose to show it, it will be more prominent if there is a direct contrast between early in their relationship and after there has been significant development.



How do you develop your characters’ relationships? Share your tips below!

What’s wrong with adverbs?

On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with adverbs. An adverb is a word that modifies or describes another word in your sentence—usually verbs, other adverbs, or adjectives. They are important tools and can provide necessary information, but it’s important to be aware of how you’re using them in your writing.

Adverbs get a bad rep when writers use adverbs to prop up lazy writing. Like many writing “rules”, it all comes back to the age old show, don’t tell principle and conciseness.

Look at the following two paragraphs:

“You’re going to pay,” Alex said icily. He walked angrily out of the room, leaving Bob to stare stupidly after him. The door slammed loudly as he left.

“You’re going to pay.” Alex said. He stalked out of the room, leaving Bob to stand there, frozen, one hand still raised to reach for his coffee mug. He’d had never heard Alex sound so cold. The door slammed as he left.

These two paragraphs say almost the same thing, but the difference in strength of the writing is apparent. The adverbs tell us how Alex and Bob feel and act, but we don’t need to be told in the second paragraph; we know.

In some cases, the adverbs were telling us something the verb already told us, like with slammed and loudly. Loudness is already conveyed in slammed. There is no other way to slam a door than to do it loudly, so this adverb a wasted word and should be cut.

Should adverbs be completely banished?

No. Like all writing rules, avoiding adverbs is by no means ironclad. If there is a sentence that this one adverb brighten up, and nothing else will do, by all means use it. If you need it to convey information, use it. But whenever you come across an adverb while editing your writing, you should consider:

a) What does it add that is unique?

b) Is there any better way I can convey the information?

c) Is it part of a dialogue tag?

If the adverb gives unique information, then it serves a purpose. Often though, you’ll find the information given by the adverb is already shown elsewhere in your text. Readers don’t like it when you repeat things they already know.

If it’s a part of a dialogue tag, it’s best to remove the adverb. As discussed on my previous post on said, there are better ways to convey information in dialogue, through interspersing action between the characters talking. However, adverbs are natural in everyday speech, so they definitely belong inside quotation marks. You can use them to make your characters speak realistically.

Tips for avoiding unnecessary adverbs
  • Choose more powerful verbs. The English language is rife with verbs, many of which mean something similar but have different connotations. You can write, but you can also scribble, pen, address, jot, compose, draft, or scrawl. Select a strong verb, and you will have no need for an adverb.
  • Focus on small details. Instead of tapping on something nervously, describe their tapping so that it shows their nerves.
  • Don’t be afraid of short sentences. They are useful and don’t need to be filled with fluff to make them longer.
  • Leave out very and really.

It’s hard to let go of purposeless adverbs. I, like most writers, find them all the time in my writing and have to prune them out when editing. Make sure the adverbs you’re using serve a purpose, and your writing will be stronger and more engaging.

However, adverbs should not be stressing you out during the first draft. Concentrate on getting your story down, and worry about adverbs or other style issues when editing.

The Difference between Editing and Proofreading

Often when I see authors talking about editors, they use the words editing and proofreading interchangeably. However, they are very distinct services, and before you go shopping for an editor, it’s important you know what to expect.

There are three main stages of editing to consider when you hire a professional editor for your novel:

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing is the first round of editing your book would undergo in a traditional publisher, and it is a good idea to replicate that when self-publishing, especially if it’s your first novel. Developmental editing focus on story craft: plot, structure, characters and their development, setting, world building, etc.

Developmental editors might fix the occasional grammar issue or tell you when you’re getting too wordy, but generally, they will ignore all of that to focus only on your story elements. This kind of editing often comes with a critique in addition to suggested changes and comments.


After you’ve made your final changes to the story itself, it’s time for your manuscript to go through copyediting. This stage is when your editor will check for not only grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but also awkward sentences, wordiness, phrasing, and inconsistencies.

Copyediting is crucial. A professional editor can take your story to the next level. Have you ever come across a typo in a book or a place where the sentences just dragged on and on? It can drag you out of even the most amazing plot lines and distract from the best characters. Invest in your story.


Proofreading is the very final step before a book goes into layout and gets published. By this point, the manuscript should be almost perfect, and the proofreaders job is just to check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

If you’re ready hire a professional to proofread a manuscript, there should be no more major changes to your novel. What you send to them should be almost what will get published, so you have to commit to no more fiddling with it. You’re done.

One thing to note:

You don’t just turn over your manuscript and expect a clean copy back. Editing is a collaborative process that involves you as well as your editor(s), and the manuscript will pass back and forth at least once, even if you just get it copyedited. So you’re going to have to make more revisions.

Does your novel need all three kinds of editing?

Not necessarily. Professional copyediting is the only stage I would say for sure is required for a good novel.

If you have really good beta readers and are secure in your story craft, you could skip developmental editing. And while I’d always recommend proofreading, a good copyeditor should take care of most (if not all) of the major concerns.

However, it is always best to have a professional give you an opinion. Multiple trained pairs of eyes on a manuscript and multiple revisions is what makes manuscripts into seamless novels.

Should I hire one editor to do all three steps?

It depends. I personally don’t think it’s a good idea to have the same person proofread as edit, unless you want to wait a few weeks between the copyediting and proofreading stage. It really helps when proofreading to see the manuscript for the first time, or to take a break in between. But if you trust your editor, and they say they can do it, they probably can.

Every editor is different with what works best for them, just as every writer has their own methods.


No matter how good you are, you can never experience your book for the first time. If you want your book to be well-received, professional editing is not an optional step, so make sure when it comes time to choose your editor, you know exactly what services you’re getting and how many revisions are expected.

Is said dead?

You’ll see posts with hundreds of synonyms to use instead of the dread said. The same day you see posts advocating for its exclusive use. What’s a writer to do?

Said (or says, depending on your tense) is the single most precise word to use in your dialogue tag. In fact, it functions almost as a punctuation mark, because the reader simply won’t see it. Any other word you chose to replace it will not be able to achieve the same effect.

In addition, switching to primarily using said in your writing will help enormously with showing rather than telling. Restricting yourself from using synonyms for said forces you to show the tones of the conversation without using the crutch of telling the reader how they are speaking.

The argument against said is that it is boring to use the same word over and over again. Which is absolutely true. Using the word said in the same way over and over again is tedious at best.

However, the problem is not with the word said itself. Look at this conversation:

“Good morning,” said Bob.

“How are you?” said Alex.

“I’m fine. How are you?” Bob said.

Ugh. No one wants to read that. Beyond the dull topic I chose (conflict in dialogue is a post for another time), the repetition of the words and the rhythm of the words is enough to put any reader to sleep. Now switch out said for synonyms:

“Good morning,” mumbled Bob.

“How are you?” inquired Alex.

“I’m fine. How are you?” drawled Bob.

This does give more information, but not the whole picture. And it tells us the information, rather then letting us read between the lines.

“Good morning,” Bob mumbled sleepily.

“How are you?” Alex inquired cheerfully.

“I’m fine. How are you?” Bob drawled sarcastically.

Adding adverbs here not only is a crutch used to tell the audience some more information, but it doesn’t add to the dialogue. It still has the repetitive rhythm that puts us to sleep.

The trick is not to replace said or use adverbs to bedazzle your attributions but to intersperse your dialogue tags with actions or description, or even leave them out altogether if it is clear who is talking at that moment.

“Good morning,” Bob said and shuffled over to the break room table, collapsing into a chair and slumping until his head rested on table.

Alex didn’t bother to hide his smile. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Bob said, muffled by his arms. He raised his head, and if looks could kill, Alex wouldn’t have to worry about the meeting later that morning. “How are you?”

Now we have the same dialogue, but we know the setting, something about each of our characters, the relationship between them, and their moods, in addition to being able to picture how the characters are speaking. All without telling the reading anything. It’s also much more natural and as some conflict is present more interesting to read.

This is not to say that those synonym posts aren’t extremely useful. Sometimes throwing in one grumbled or gargled is exactly what you need to spark some life in your dialogue—but please not laughed or cackled, smirked or smiled. When is the last time you heard someone smirk a word? Have you ever tried to laugh words?


The next time you’re editing or writing your dialogue, don’t shy away from the word said. It exists for a reason; if you’re replacing it, make sure it’s in a way to create powerful impact, not because you don’t know how else to convey your characters moods and tones. Focusing on your characters’ actions and occasionally skipping a dialogue tag for a line when it is clear who is talking can make your dialogue scenes more effective and engaging.

How do you attribute dialogue in your writing?


Now that we’ve talked about hyphens, let’s take a look at similar-looking but totally unique dashes—and there are two of them.

The em dash (—)  is the length of three hyphens and is not to be confused with the en dash (–), which is the length of two hyphens. Though they are similar they both have distinct purposes, and I see people confuse them all the time.

En dash (–)

The en dash is the less common dash, but it is still important to know how to use one properly, especially if you type numbers with any regularity. An en dash is the width of the letter N which is how they get their name.

The main use for an en dash is to indicate number ranges.

The 2017–2018 school year was an important one for Meg.

 The cost of redoing the bathroom will be $5,000–$6,000.

The store is open from 10:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.

En dashes are also used in compound words when the base words are already hyphenated or when two word phrases are used as base words.

The Golden Globe–winning actor gave a speech.

The pro-pineapple–anti-pineapple argument lasted long after the pizza arrived.

Em dash (—)

The em dash is probably what comes to mind when you think of dashes. It is arguably the most versatile type of punctuation in the writer’s tool chest, standing in for commas, parentheses, or even semicolons, as well as serving its own unique purposes. Its name comes from the fact that an em dash is the same width as a letter M. En dashes are primarily used to separate ideas in a sentence, but there are many ways to achieve that.

Appositives that contain commas

An appositive is a piece of extra information included in a sentence. Normally, these are delineated from the main sentence with commas like this:

I ran into Mrs. McKinney, my fourth grade math teacher, at the store.

The words inside the commas give us more information on Mrs. McKinney.  When the extra information you want to convey contains commas, you can use em dashes to set apart the extra information and avoid any confusion that comes with too many commas.

Joe made his usual breakfast—eggs, bacon, toast, and plenty of coffee—before he went to get the paper.

Sara stared at the hole in the window—the new, just-replaced-last-week window—in horror.

It should also be noted that if you have a sentence with too many commas, you can always separate out one of the phrase with em dashes.

Mark an abrupt change in thought

Another common use for em dashes is to show a sharp shift in thought. This is especially common in dialogue.

“Are you even listening to—oh, never mind.”

“Are you going to the—shoot, is that the time? I have to run.”

How is the—No, get down from there!—project coming along?”

You can also use an em dash to show someone being interrupted.

“I was going to the—”

A bloodcurdling shriek shook the house.

Parenthetical Asides

Em dashes can also be used in place of parentheses to give further information or make comments in a way that is more connected to the text outside the dashes than it would be if you’d used parentheses.  For example, if we compare:

I was working—or pretending I was—when my boss dropped by my desk.

I was working (or pretending I was) when my boss dropped by my desk.

These two sentences, while they have the same words and order, have a different feeling. Using em dashes makes the included information more connected with the rest of your sentence, while separating them off with parentheses is more closed off. It seems like offhand information.

When should you use em dashes and when should you use parentheses? You should chose em dashes if you want to emphasize the information contained in the aside. If you would say it out loud with stress on the aside, then dashes are the way to go. Otherwise, use parentheses.  In the end, this is a stylistic choice, so it isn’t about right or wrong, but your style as a writer and what you want to convey in this case.

Instead of semicolons

A semicolon is used to connect two independent clauses; the em dash can also serve this purpose. If you choose to use an em dash instead of a semicolon, it will add more emphasis to your sentence, just as we have seen in previous examples.

Use an em dash when you want to stress the second part of your sentence—they really make your words stand out.

There are other uses for an em dash, but if you keep in mind that they can clear up comma clutter, add emphasis to an aside, and generally give separation to your writing, they will fit in seamlessly.

Using dashes in your writing

An important thing to note in all of these examples is that there aren’t any spaces before or after a dash. Ever. This is always true. Very often I’ll see authors type two hyphens and then a space or some similar combination in place of an em dash, and it just doesn’t work as well.

Since you don’t want to use hyphens—which are the only similar thing on the keyboard—how do you get an em dash? Honestly, figuring out how to type one in each different software can be a pain, but when in doubt, there is always copy and paste.

In Google Docs, you can insert an em or en dash by inserting a special character and then searching for an em dash, but this can be cumbersome. For ease of writing, I often put in three hyphens in place of the em dash and then do a find and replace all once I’m done with the draft.

With Word, you can insert em and en dashes through auto-formatting. If you type a word then two hyphens and then another word with no spaces, Word will automatically replace that with a em dash. You can do the same for an en dash with only one hyphen.

For other software or when writing on the web, it really depends. Sites like Tumblr and WordPress will often format three hyphens into an em dash and two into an en dash, so I recommend trying hyphens to see if it will auto-format for you, just for ease of use.

Keeping dashes in mind while writing allows you to have a greater deal of control over your writing—and of how your readers interpret it. Keep a few simple rules in mind, and your audience—and your editor—will be thanking you.