Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dialogue – The Workhorse of the Story By Gayle Bartos-Pool

Dialogue – The Workhorse of the Story
By Gayle Bartos-Pool

Dialogue is the workhorse of the novel, short story, and screenplay. Even Silent Movies had dialogue. Dialogue performs several functions. It provides: Character Development; Plot Advancement, and Action or Movement.

In other words: It brings the story to life.


Dialogue Enhances (Describes) the Character – How a character speaks and acts says a lot more about him or her than just the words. Dialogue tells the place of birth, type of education, her temperament, his soul. Speech patterns denote character just as costumes do for an actor whether it’s a stammer or a dialect.

“Honey, somethin’s happened to yer livin’ room. Did ya’ll get another dawg?”


Dialogue Advances the Plot – and Provides Pacing – Good dialogue always adds something to the plot, whether it builds tension, relieves tension, imparts needed information to the other characters (and the reader), animates the story, thus moving it along; or even slows down the pace when you need a breather.

“Why’d you get out of the fund?”
“Frankly, I was scared. They played too rough.”
“They?” That got my attention. “Who’s they? Does Racine have a partner?”


Dialogue provides real time action. You are in the room with the characters as they speak. You are eavesdropping or right in the middle of the conversation. Or the character might be speaking directly to you. And dueling dialogue between opposing characters brings the reader right into the action. But note: as the argument gets more heated, the length of the sentences gets shorter.

“I never loved my wife!”
“Did you kill her?”
“No!”

Dialogue gets you Up-Close and Personal – Provides Tone and Mood while it brings the reader into the story. – How the words are delivered sets the verbal stage on which the scene is set; a whisper denotes mood just like a rant.

I lowered my voice before asking her my next question. “Do you outrank him?”
“No, I sleep with him,” Trin whispered.

 Remember: A character blurting out information that advances the plot is far more interesting than a long narrative description. But note: Dialogue is the illusion of conversation.

In order to know how a character speaks or acts, or even the words he uses, you must get to know your characters…intimately.
First, make the characters seem real to you as well as to your readers. Let them speak to you and trust them. Most writers will tell you they actually “hear” their characters, and it is that particular “voice” that makes a character unique.

Archie Wright’s the name. Dishing dirt’s the game. My sandbox: Hollywood. The most glamorous and glitzy, vicious, and venomous playground in the world. If you come for a visit, bring your sunscreen and your shark repellant.

Make a character sound different from the other characters with him by adding: a dialect or a foreign accent or words to denote an education or lack thereof. Add rhythm to their speech to show how the person is thinking at the time: hesitation vs. rapid-fire.  Word choice might show a character’s education level, but keep it consistent; a drugged out biker probably won’t quote Shakespeare, but a  professor in prison might quote Hamlet.

Speech should:  Move the plot along by telling us something about the character; convey information about the plot; add to the mood; change the POV to get another character’s side; and add to the reality of the piece. Just make sure somebody (a character or the reader) learns something new during any conversation. But if something is conspicuously held back, make sure it is found in the next chapter or at least by the end of the story.
If there is no purpose to the dialogue, rewrite it or dump it.

“Larry and I didn’t have children. We had two ‘vipers’ instead, just to be different. And to tell you the truth, if they didn’t kill their father, they hired someone to do it. But their funds are limited now. They’ll have to do the deed themselves.”

Language & Body Language
Simple gestures describe the characters more fully than words alone. Instead of: “Go ahead. Date my ex-wife!” he shouted. Try: “Go ahead. Date my ex-wife,” he said while slamming his fist into the wall.

Body language or Stage Business Helps Dialogue.

            “I love you,” he said.
She blew smoke in his face. “How nice.”

Instead of a constant stream of he said/she said, use stage directions to show how someone is reacting while talking.

“I’m crazy about you, too,” she said, looking at her watch.

Internal monologue can shake things up.

I couldn’t believe they found Brad’s body. I thought I buried him deeper.

Things to Avoid:
Expository dialogue: “As you know, Fred…”
Pleasantries: “Hello. Nice weather we’re having.”
Long speeches - Unless you’re Shakespeare; less is always more in dialogue.
Adverbial action tags like: “I loathe you,” she said fiercely. – can be replaced with action: “I loathe you,” she said, grinding her cigarette into the back of his hand. “Have a nice day.   Instead of: he said gravely. Try: with his head bowed he said...  
Sometimes what the character doesn’t say is important: “I knew you wouldn’t care if I left you,” he said. She bit her lip.
Keep you, the writer, out of the piece. Don’t let your thoughts get tangled with those of your characters.

Write a biography of your main characters, whether it’s a paragraph or a page, describe who they are, where they came from, their background. Where a character was “born,” went to school, and his neighborhood will dictate his speech pattern, whether it’s a Southern drawl, a French accent, or a gangsta rapper from the ‘hood.’
If you are having difficulty, start with a “stock character” straight from central casting. If you want a villain, pick a character from some old movie, like Edward G. Robinson, and than mold him into your own creation. You can always find a picture in a magazine that fits the type of person you want in a particular role. Cut the picture out and devise a background for him or her.
If you know your characters, you can find their individual voice, even if the character isn’t human. Dogs, cats and birds have found their way into great stories.

After you have written your scene, read it aloud or have someone else read it to you, or use one of the many software programs that reads your work back to you. It will make a huge difference. You will hear things you didn’t know you wrote (both good and bad) and you will pick up the redundancies and misused words. And you just might find out how good you are at writing dialogue.



Let your dialogue work for you. It has a lot to say.   

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Tips from the 2015 California Crime Writers Conference, by Jackie Houchin

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            AS A MEMBER of Sisters-in-Crime and Mystery Writers of America, I've attended all their combined conferences so far, and agree with everyone (even Anne Perry), this was the best one yet.  I love the camaraderie of fellow writers. I eagerly chat with them and sit in on their panel discussions. I commiserate with their anxieties and failures, celebrate their successes, and take note of the hard-earned tips they offer.
            The key note speakers – Southern belle, Charlaine Harris and British maven, Anne Perry – were the icing on the cake.
            I usually follow the "Craft" track because I'm a journalist with only an occasional dip into short stories. But the Industry, Forensics, and Marketing tracks were all well-attended, and for the first time this year CD recordings of each were made available for purchase.
            To order any of them, follow the links at http://vwtapes.com/sistersincrimewritersconference.aspx or contact Patrick Von Wiegnandt  at pvw@hawaii.rr.com.
NOTE: In order to be sure I did not misquote any of the authors from my scribbled notes, I listed their names on the panels, then used unattributed quotes. To hear just who said what (and more) check the CDs. 

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"Addressing Fear and Other Plagues of the Writing Life" --- Tyler Dilts, DJ Adamson, Terry Shames, Terri Nolan, moderator: Dennis Palumbo
            About anxieties for beginning new projects: "I let my alter self rant for about 3 minutes (maybe journal) then say 'Shut up and get up.'" "Just get the words on the page. I do about 2,000 daily. When you have a draft the fear is gone."
            About procrastination: "I do writing activities (email, etc.) other than writing on my book." " My kids say I'm circling the computer." "I don't call it procrastination, but preparation."

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"Thrills & Chills" ---- Laurie Stevens, D.P. Lyle, Craig Faustus Buck, Paul D. Marks, moderator: Diana Gould
            About creating the elements of suspense: "I make characters sympathetic, then put them in jeopardy." "Write thrillers only in 3rd person POV." "Tell readers things the protagonist doesn't know." "Cliff hangers on most chapters." " Pace is critical." "Short chapters." "However, NEVER end the book with a cliff hanger." "Don't end chapters with 'She had no idea what was coming'. It's author intrusion." " I punch up violence in 2nd drafts."
            About writing processes: "I do the 1st draft as a screenplay, an outline of sorts, I guess." "I write the crime first, then write the psychological parts." "When finished with the 1st draft, I do passes on what concerns me, like characters or pace." "Anyone who doesn't use Scrivener" is crazy!" http://bit.ly/1G5W0Q4

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"Miss Marple's Rules, Traditional Mysteries Today" ---- Jill Amadio, Susan Shea, Gay Degani, Carole Sojka, moderator Susan Goldstein
            About labels and rules: "There's more bloodshed in a Divorce Practice than in traditional mysteries."  "Solving a puzzle. A whodunit." "No graphic sex or violence, an amateur or private detective, justice rules in the end." "Multiple suspects and a small town setting." "Victims are usually odious people." " No killing animals, no harm to children." Traditionals are more cerebral, more analytical of human behavior."
            About changes in traditional mysteries:  "Technology, cell phones, the internet." "The basics don't change (structure, clues, a puzzle, suspects)." "Authors today like to break some rules along the way." "Today's world – travel, social settings – can work its way into mysteries." "Less likely to stereotype (maids all the same, etc.)." "More humor." "Some authors today like to have a niche, a "craft" of some kind in their mysteries (quilting, cooking, bookstores, tea shops)." "You can usually tell a niche-type cozy by its cover."
            (A hot topic: Most in the audience said these types of popular mysteries were "cozies." However publishers and book stores do not distinguish them from the more traditional (Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot) "whodunit" mysteries.  They refer to ALL traditional mysteries (niche or soft-boiled) as COZIES. Women in the audience, as well as the authors, thought this was a bad rap, because men are less likely to try soft-boiled traditional puzzle/sleuth mysteries if they think they are reading "cozies.") 
            A question from a gentleman:  What is it about a woman liking to write mysteries?  "Women are more willing to listen to others." "They are more apt to ask a lot of questions." "Maybe they are more intuitive."

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"Short and Deadly" ---- Bonnie Cardone, Andrew Jetarski, Gay Kinman, Donna May, moderator: Kate Thornton
            Why write short stories: "Immediate gratification." "I was trying to make a living and had no time to write a novel." "My first short story was the first chapter of my novel, slightly changed; the second one, the second chapter condensed. I wrote the third story on my own." "Writing short stories was a way to put off writing my novel."
            About the importance of Short Story anthologies:  "It's how I began." "I saw the announcement for submissions and thought 'I know I can do that.'" "I wouldn't be writing today without that opportunity. I like that when the theme is announced, everyone starts at the same time, no one has an advantage."
            About short story markets:  "Anthologies, they get you started." " Kings River Life always needs themed stories."  http://kingsriverlife.com/  "Duatrope.com has searchable databases for fiction and other genres." https://duotrope.com/  "Woman's World is another good place; very strict guidelines, but pay $500 for 500 words + a clue/question." "Alfred Hitchcock & Ellery Queen magazines." "Try joining the online group, Short Mystery Fiction Society, they even give Derringer Awards."  
            About free or paid submissions"  "If you submit to non-paying markets, try to do it in places that give awards." "I want them published before I put them into my own anthologies." "You can put short stories on Amazon Kindle for 99c." "Free to anthologies is good, it's for a good cause." "I introduce the characters in my novel in free short stories to see if people want to read about them" "Published (free) short stories can act as calling cards to other venues."
            About regrets:  "I sold all the rights to an online market, then later when a film company wanted it, I couldn't sell." "I didn't quite make the deadline on a story, then just let it go." "I have a great story, but I can't figure out the end!"

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"Traveling Through Time, Historical Novels" ---- Jessica Ferriday, Anne Cleeland, Ona Russell, Bonnie MacBird, moderator: Rosemary Lord
            About what started you writing historicals:  "Scrapbooks. Clippings of my husband's grandfather who was a judge in the 1920s. When I researched him, I found a wonderful Jewish woman who worked in the courts, perfect as my protagonist." "I have Sherlock Holmes and the Victorian Era in my blood." "I love linguistics and languages. My stories are in 1890s London." "I love Regency novels. You're supposed to write what you read, so I write 1814 Jane Austin."
            About the language and style of historical speech: "I was trained as an actor, I learned to mimic. I listen to a CD every morning before writing." "I get British people to vet my writing for Americanisms."
            About research facts: "I  realized everything moved a lot slower (communications, travel, etc.)" "Hats! No one wears hats today." "They had more ways to entertain themselves with each other – singing, instruments, dancing, storytelling.)"

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"Putting Your Blog to Work" ---- Sybil Johnson, Patty Smiley, S.W. Lauden, moderator Mar Preston
            About expectations of a blog:  "I'm a member of a multiple author blog (MAB), so there's no pressure to write a post every day or week." "When I hung up my shingle as a writer, I created a place for other to find what I'm doing – opinion , author interviews, short stories to music videos."
            About blogging to sell your books: "If I don't, people won't buy my books." "I create a voice and style, but a blog won't make you famous." "I've gained readers." "I announce my books on FaceBook and Twitter, but never talk about my books on the blog. I have conversations with people there."
            About writing that blog post:  "We write from 1,500 – 6,000  words." (WOW!) "I write 400-1,000 words." "Begin your blog as if beginning a thriller." "Offer content about YOU, your life, funny and entertaining stuff, not just about writing." "Ask, 'Would people care to read this?'" "Respond to comments." "Make blogs visually attractive. Use photos and graphics. I imbed videos and book covers, use pull quotes. Use fewer words: people see a wall of text and don't stay." "Pay attention to 'Keywords' for your posts. Choose them carefully."
            About all those blog hits from other countries:  "Creepy." "How? Why?"  (An answer from an audience member cleared this up. The International Institute of English encourages their students to find blogs by using keywords. They print them out and use them to study English and English/American idioms; reading and rewriting them.)
            About getting started and keeping going:  "Join a MAB, or guest post on one." "Write a dynamic essay." "Keep a list of things that are happening to you, choose the interesting ones."
Keynote speakers
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            From Charlaine Harris: How long does it take to churn out a book?  As long as your editor says. Being a writer means completing the book. It's a business. If you don't sell, you'll be cut. No, I don't outline. Outlining makes me feel like painting by numbers. I write maybe 250 words about the book, then get to it.  My biggest challenge? Personal malice towards me!  Sweet me!
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            From Anne Perry:  Do you ever wonder why crime writers are such nice people? If we really don't like you, there are other things we can do with you. The great thing about being a writer is that you are allowed (expected) to be eccentric. You can write your mysteries about anything you like, as long as there are the elements of crime and somebody to solve it. (Photo: with Rosemary Lord)


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Keynotes discuss Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, Moderator Craig Faustus Buck
Harris and Perry agreed with most of Leonard Elmore's famous "Ten Rules of Writing," with exceptions.  "It depends..." prefaced many of their answers, and then they often explained how they broke that rule! Or avoided breaking it by using other means. A perfect wind-down to the conference. 



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Sisters In Crime Anthology "LAdies Night" authors & editors ---- Naomi Hirahara, Kate Thornton, Jeri Westerson (editors), Julie G. Beers, Julie Brayton, Sarah M. Chen, Arthur Coburn, L.H. Dillman, Bengte Evenson, Cyndra Gernet, Andrew jetarski, Micheal Kelly, Susan Kosar-Beery, Jude McGee, Gigi Pandian, Wendall Thomas

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Reading and Writing - The Basics by Kate Thornton

This week on Writers in Residence, author Kate Thornton shares her thought son the connection between reading and writing. You can find out more about Kate at her Amazon page.


Reading and Writing.


I have been doing both.

It has always been a firm belief of mine that you can't write – or write well, anyway – if you don't read. And I'm not talking about magazines – c'mon, people, we all read magazines, if only while waiting at the checkout counter (although 2 of my regular supermarkets now have TV for the attention-impaired, 5 second snippets of shows and commercials.) I do not discount this type of reading; I publish in magazines and do not bite the hand that at least pats me on the head. But magazines are very thin picture books, meant to give your mind a jumpstart or a tweak, not to give you hours of transportation to a completely other world.

The difference between books and magazines (or newspapers or blogs or the Huffington Post) is not exactly the same as the difference between People Magazine and actual people, but it is nonetheless great.

So when I say I have been reading, I mean books. It sort of goes without saying that I read magazines, online posts, news, cereal boxes, tee shirts, bumper stickers, the mail, and just about anything with printed words.

I have my favorite genre fiction – it runs from James Lee Burke, Dean Koontz, and Louise Penney on one side to Earl Derr Biggers, Arthur Upfield and Ngaio Marsh on another and Sue Ann Jaffarian, Jeff Sharrat and Taffy Cannon on yet another - it's a multi-sided construct. But I love classic fiction as well. I learn from it, the easy way, while being entertained, enthralled, whisked away, and fed on rich things.

I have a dear friend who just discovered the joys of a Kindle and is reading Willa Cather. Now that's reading. This same friend just finished Faulkner (the hard, difficult, rip your eyes out Faulkner of Light in August) in hardcover, so she's no stranger to the type of reading that sometimes takes you to places you would never allow yourself to be taken otherwise. But she enjoys going to the good, kind places, too.

Which brings me to writing. If you don't take the trips to places through reading, I don't see where you can buy your ticket to take others to places through your writing. It is one of only two ways I know to learn how to write, and they are both connected. The other half of it is actually writing, the BIC (Butt In Chair) method.

This week I have been reading both fiction and non-fiction – and writing.

I have completed that same novel I started writing in late 2007. I confess I let it sit for several years due to plot holes, but I have since learned how to knit up the raveled sleeve of a couple of good ideas strung together with engaging characters, an endearing puppy dog and a couple of gruesome murders. What's not to love? And working on it this time around was a pleasure, not a chore.

I also discovered – by reading through it and looking ahead to the satisfying conclusion that it is not the mystery I thought it would be, but is an animal I have not before tamed, namely Romantic Suspense.

So I have begun to read in that genre. And it's fun. I am enjoying and learning and reading it all with a delight I before had reserved only for mystery, science fiction and certain favorite classics.

So my question is:

Which romantic suspense authors do you like? Recommend a few books to me as I reach the end of my own. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

R.I.P., Alameda Writers Group

R. I. P., AWG


The Alameda Writers Group, aka AWG, went dark this year after a long and productive run as one of the premier writers’ support groups in the Los Angeles area.

I was a member for many years, and only now that it’s gone do I fully appreciate the benefits I derived from AWG.

At the General Membership Meetings I heard speakers like acclaimed novelist Diana Wagman, as well as writers from TV series like “Rome” and “True Blood” and had a chance to tell them in person how much I enjoyed their work. Some speakers discussed their craft and others told encouraging stories about their long and winding roads to publication/production.

It was a priceless networking tool, and I owe many of my friendships—including those of ALL the Writers in Residence—to the AWG, either directly or indirectly.

The relationships I formed through AWG were instrumental in my producing a published novel, thanks to the critique groups I joined. In them, I experienced the “tough love” that only fellow writers can provide: honest but compassionate feedback on what worked in my writing, and what didn’t. I heeded their comments, went back to my novel-in-progress and reshaped it until it did (mostly) work.

One of my peak AWG experiences, in fact, came when I joined fellow novelist Heather Ames (whom I met in those critique groups, one of which she moderated) to address the membership and describe our paths to publication.

Why am I going on and on about a now-defunct organization? Partly it’s guilt. AWG began to founder, and I did nothing to prevent it, so this post is a big mea culpa. When new leadership made some missteps, and many of the members felt the organization began to drift off-course, all I did was gripe about how AWG had lost touch with fiction writers. Some of my colleagues did try to intervene, but they were rebuffed, and I used that as an excuse for inaction.

Membership dwindled. New leaders came on board and tried to redirect and re-energize the group, but the damage had been done. Finally, the meeting venue closed down for renovation, and it became obvious that it was time to turn off the lights. All good things must come to an end and all that.

But I think it’s important to recognize the value of AWG, and I know that if I ever find another group like it, I will try to do more to keep it going. Good old hindsight.

When I joined AWG, I’d left a career in the business world and had a vague notion that I would devote myself full-time to writing. However, I wasn’t sure I had what it takes to be a “real” writer. Over time, I began to believe that I did have the makings of novelist, if I was willing to work at my craft and be open to feedback, and the result of all that was, among other things, Mending Dreams. I wrote my novel, and I found a publisher, and I honestly don’t know if that would have happened if I hadn’t joined AWG all those years ago.

And so, with apologies to Lerner & Loewe, “don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot. . .” where writers of all kinds were welcomed, acknowledged, encouraged, and given a chance to improve their craft.

For that, AWG, I thank you.