Readers love suspense. However, too many authors these days are going for shock instead. And the reviews they receive give proof to that. takeherbreathawaycover

A bad review can kill a sale. I see this with suspense books all the time. Reviewers might give a bad review because the author used an excessive amount of description with the murder. Basically, the author went for shock over suspense. In turn, a potential reader will thank the reviewer for the warning and not purchase the book.

In order for your book to be considered suspense, someone has to be in peril. By the end of the book, that person should be your protagonist or someone close to him or her. Unfortunately, a lot of authors don’t seem to know how to keep the suspense going throughout their book, so they resort to shock instead. I see this quite a bit, especially with new authors.

Many authors will go into great detail to describe the killer’s harm to the individual. There’s the clichéd rape scene in these types of books, filleted skin, and sliced off body parts, all in intricate, grotesque detail. These authors seem to think the description ramps up the suspense. It doesn’t. Some of these descriptions only make the reader’s skin crawl. However, it does little to get a reader’s heart pumping with anxiety. In some cases, the more the description, the less likely a reader might continue with the book, if they purchase it at all.

By choosing shock, you lose the suspense. The torture and killing overpower your story.

One way to tell if you’re using shock over suspense is to see how long the “kill/torture” scene is. The murder should always be shorter than the lead up to the capture.

One way to heighten your suspense is to have your killer’s point of view. Just make sure when he’s watching his next victim, he’s not thinking about how great the knife will be against her skin. Instead, have him wonder about the softness of her hair. Maybe she smells of jasmine, his mother’s favorite perfume. These things are creepier than some guy focused on a kill.

Making your killer creepy is another way to ramp up your suspense. He’ll give your reader a shudder, not an upset stomach. And remember, if your scene makes your heart race, it will get your reader’s heart pounding also.

And don’t rush. Too often the suspense portion is flown through to get to the kill. But the lead-in to the capture is what creates your suspense. By the time the killer gets his victim, the suspense is pretty much over. But if you’ve done it right, the reader’s palms are sweating.

The only time you should use a long “torture” scene is if the killer has captured your protagonist. At that point, the reader should care so much about your character; they don’t want them hurt. However, make sure most of what you describe is from your protagonists point of view. This way we not only feel the pain but the fear as well.

Writers like Steve Barry and David Baldacci are excellent at the buildup. So was Alfred Hitchcock. Watch some of his movies to see how it’s done well. The act of killing was always minimal compared to the lead-in to the suspense. I still recall how my heart raced watching Cary Grant carry that glass of milk upstairs in Hitchcock’s movie Suspicion. Was the milk poisonous? Would his wife drink it? While it only took a minute, it felt like five. Remember the scene with the investigator looking for Norman Bates in Psycho? The entire scene where he starts to walk up to the house takes a good three to four minutes. You’re on the edge of your seat as he climbs each step of the staircase. Once Mother ran out of the room with the knife and stabbed him, your heart was racing.

The more you keep focused on heightening your suspense instead of the details of your murder, the more fans you will acquire. Just keep in mind that the murder is the end to your suspense, so stretch out your capture of the victim.

If you get too involved with writing your murder, and you lack the build up, you can get low reviews no author wants to receive for their book.

kathrynbainKathryn J. Bain is an award-winning author of Christian, mystery, and suspense, including the Lincolnville Mystery series and KT Morgan short suspense series.

Ms. Bain has garnered several awards, including two Heart of Excellence Readers’ Choice Awards and a First Place Royal Palm Literary Award for Inspirational Fiction.

A past President of Florida Sisters in Crime and Public Relations Director for Ancient City Romance Authors, Kathryn enjoys doing talks and teaching about writing.

She lives in Jacksonville, Florida near her daughters and granddaughter. Kathryn has also been a paralegal for over twenty years and works for an attorney who specializes in elder law.

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Writing 101: The Reboot

By Anne Stephenson

Other than a naively romantic notion that being a foreign correspondent would be cool, I had no plans to be a writer.  But when it came time to choose a university, typical teenager that I was, I went for the one furthest from home.

Journalism has served me well – or at least, kept me semi-employed for years while I dabbled in fiction, raised a family, and worked freelance.


And then, silly me, I retired.  Chucked it all in, moved to the country, and daydreamed about writing the great Canadian novel while my husband and I refurbished our 1860’s farmhouse.

But the muse does nag.  With impeccable timing.  In the interim, self-publishing had become legitimate, and there I was with a couple of manuscripts in the drawer and a backlist of traditionally-published short stories, feature articles and mysteries for kids.  I had “skin in the game.”

And one hell of a lot to learn.


Unfortunately, everything from social media and website design, to author branding and securing my publishing rights, kept me from what I really wanted to do!  So I put it all to one side, delved into the “archives,” and came up with the first draft of a short mystery I’d written a few years back.

I’d called it Bitter End.  A 3,000-word tale of revenge (my favourite motive) involving best friends and an errant husband with questionable…assets.  My guy loved it.  Buoyed by his support, I sent it to Mystery Weekly Magazine and they bought it.

It felt good.


But here’s the really interesting bit.  In early August, I received an email from an E. Michael Helms.  A bit of a detective is Michael.  He’d found a copy of Bitter End in his inbox (I swear it wasn’t me!), enjoyed it, noted the spelling as being either Canadian or British, and tracked me down via my website.

Sounds like “Dinger, PI” is in good hands!


A freelance writer and journalist, Anne Stephenson’s first crime fiction appeared in Cold Blood IV, a long-running anthology edited by Peter Sellers.  Her other credits include reviewing crime and mystery novels for The Ottawa Citizen, writing books for nine-to-12 year olds, and the odd bit of scriptwriting.

website-final-paper-treasure-cover                          somethings-fishy

Anne’s most recent releases are:  Paper Treasure, originally published by General Paperbacks; and Something’s Fishy at Ash Lake, written with long-time friend and co-author Susan Brown.  Both titles are available at:

In the meantime, the reboot continues at:

Writing That Protects the Innocent… and the Guilty By Alina Adams

“The characters depicted in this book bear no relation to anyone living or dead.”

Yup, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Except, OK…. maybe not exactly.

announcersHere’s the deal: From 1995 to 2000, I worked as a writer/researcher/producer for a variety of televised figure skating events, from professional shows to National, European and World Championships to the 1998 Nagano Olympics. I got to know a lot of people. Skaters, parents, coaches and TV personalities. We worked together, we had meals together, I visited people at their homes, met their families, and stood next to them during some of the most stressful moments in their lives.

fsmysteryomnibuscoverThen, from 2003 to 2007, I wrote a series of Figure Skating Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime, including “Murder on Ice,” “On Thin Ice,” “Axel of Evil,” “Death Drop” and “Skate Crime.”

Naturally, I used what I’d learned about the competitive figure skating world as fodder.

Naturally, I based some characters on people I knew.

Naturally, I hid that fact.

I stopped working in televised figure skating after a two week business trip to film four different shows in four different cities resulted in my then-18 month old acting like he didn’t know who I was when I came back (said then-18 month old is now applying to college, and he certainly remembers who I am every time he needs someone to write a check…. But I digress).

The point is, I gave up travel for a job I could do from home. But I brought my job along in spirit. Of course, I based characters on people I’d met. Of course, I dramatized events I’d witnessed – and some I’d only heard about. It didn’t matter if they were true or not. This was fiction!

But then it got even more confusing. In 2014, all five Figure Skating Mysteries were released as enhanced ebooks. What are enhanced ebooks? Enhanced ebooks are books where videos are included alongside with the text as part of the story.

I formed a partnership with The Ice Theatre of NY, and they gave me access to their entire video library. Why merely read about figure-skating, when you can actually watch it!

So now, I had real people, acting the roles of fictional people, who were, in turn, based on real people. Got that? (See an example here to make it a little clearer.)

Many of my readers are figure skating fans. And they’re not idiots.

“Is So-and-So based on So-and-So?” They want to know.

I smile demurely.

alinadickBecause I might want to return to figure-skating one day. (In fact, in 2014, I produced 2-time Men’s Champion Dick Button’s Olympic Twitter commentary, and used it to promote my books. Find out how, here.)

And because I might want to return to figure-skating one day, I’m not about to spill long-held secrets about some of the biggest names in the sport. By using their real names.

I suspect this is an issue that comes up whenever anyone writes about a field in which they’re an insider. They say you should write what you know. But how much knowledge is too much? When is it just fun, and when is it hurtful – to both the people you’re writing about, and to your own career?

Where should writers draw the line?

What do you think?


Alina Adams is the NYT best-selling author of soap-opera tie-ins, figure-skating mysteries and romance novels for Pocket, Dell, Avon and Berkley. Visit her website at

It’s the Five Senses, Cowboy

Writers are often reminded to bring depth to their stories by using the five senses. Characters see, taste, touch, hear, and the oft forgot sense, smell.kid-holding-nose

I know, you’re thinking eww. That’s because you are thinking the word smell, not smelling the smell. Let’s have a quiz. Pine leaves—quick what do you see—a Christmas tree. Roses—Yep, Valentine’s day. Who said funeral? I heard that! Turkey roasting in the oven—got it—Thanksgiving. Roast beef permeating the air in your living room? Sunday roast, holiday, or family event. Fried chicken (I’m a Southron, it might mean more to me than you)—fourth of July picnic. The harsh bite of gun powder? Target practice or the fourth of July—depends on whether you had a misspent youth. Hand raised.

Okay, you get the idea, but there’s more. If the above smells had meaning for you they brought to mind more than a smell. They called up an emotion, and maybe a memory or two. Back in the stone age when I got a degree in psychology, we were taught that scent was more strongly connected to memory than any other of the five senses. Just as the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone, so scent is connected to the limbic system. The old brain.beach

Not only is smell connected to memory, it’s connected to emotion. Do you believe in love at first sight? That potent attractor you’re not aware of is the scent of the other person. Okay, another eww, but it’s true.

How does this relate to writing? Easy. Scent is the perfect writer’s shortcut. With a single smell, you can depict emotion, setting, and memory for your character and your reader. While it’s true not every reader brings the same emotional intensity to the scent, most readers will have some reaction.

fireplaceThe elusive scent of wood smoke wafting on a breeze on a cold winter’s day brings feelings of comfort and camaraderie. The acrid smell of smoke on any day brings feelings of fear and self-preservation. The briny scent of the sea, the earthy scent of the air before a thunderstorm, the loamy smell of fresh turned soil, all of these place your character, and depending on her associations, set the scene for comfort, pain, anticipation, anxiety. No narrative to slow the story, no telling, the scent says it all.

What’s your favorite scent? Mine’s apple wood burning in the woodstove while snow drifts past my windows, and fresh basil mingling with the tangy scent of a fresh tomato in the heat of summer.

Author photos 009Kait Carson lives in an airpark in south central Florida with a pilot husband, eight tropical birds, and six rescue cats. By day, she’s a practicing probate and litigation paralegal, in the evening, legal pads give way to a keyboard, and she spins tales of murder and mayhem set in the tropical heat. Kait writes two series, the Catherine Swope series, set in Miami, and the Hayden Kent series set in the Fabulous Florida Keys.

Kait loves to hear from readers, check out her website at www.; follow her on Facebook at, on Twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at




“Let’s Talk Dialogue.”


A Brief Study on Using Dialogue in Fiction, by E. Michael Helms

(Author’s note: I was feeling “preachy” today, so I decided to present a sermon on one of my pet peeves in writing. Please forgive my verbosity.)

What is dialogue?

Dialogue is a new, invented language (not a reproduction of how people actually speak; it’s the writer’s job to create effective, believable dialogue)

Dialogue is action (characters interacting with each other)

Dialogue is drama (the story, or plot, is unfolding or moving forward by what the characters say)

 Dialogue is immediate scene (characters are on-stage, playing out the scene before the reader’s eyes)

Two of the most common faults I find with many fiction manuscripts are:

1) Too much narrative summary (i.e., too much “telling”, not enough “showing”)

2) Stilted or poor, ineffective dialogue

Let’s look at Narrative summary (i.e., what’s happening off-stage) versus Immediate Scene (i.e., what’s happening now, on-stage, before the reader’s eyes).

Many novels of the 19th and early 20th centuries contained a lot of narrative summary (i.e., what happens “off stage”). Today’s readers have been spoiled by movies and television.  They’re used to “immediate scenes,” i.e., seeing a story unfolding before their eyes as it happens.

(Example of Narrative Summary, or “telling” through extended narration):

Margaret Dauncey shared a flat . . . with Susie Boyd; and it was to meet her that Arthur had arranged to come to tea that afternoon.  The young women waited for him in the studio. . . . Susie looked forward to the meeting with interest.  She had heard a good deal of the young man, and knew that the connection between him and Margaret was not lacking in romance.  For years Susie had led the monotonous life of a mistress in a school for young ladies, and had resigned herself to its dreariness for the rest of her life, when a legacy from a distant relation gave her sufficient income to live modestly upon her means.  When Margaret, who had been her pupil, came, soon after this, to announce her intention of spending a couple of years in Paris to study art, Susie willingly agreed to accompany her.  Since then she had worked industriously at the Colarossi’s Academy, by no means under the delusion that she had talent, but merely to amuse herself.

The Magician, by Somerset Maugham

(Example of “showing” through an immediate scene):

Joe sculled the boat into the shade of the tree-lined bank. He looped a half-hitch around a gnome-like cypress knee and pulled the rope tight.

“Hand me a beer,” he said, reaching under his seat for the box of wigglers.

Candy lifted the top of the cooler and dug into the ice. “Brr, that’s freezing,” she said, brushing off the shards of ice clinging to the can.

Joe laughed and looked up from baiting his hook.“I put rock salt on the ice before we left.  Gets it extra cold.”

“Ick, it’s slimy, too,” Candy said, frowning and swishing the can in the cool creek.  “Wish you’d’ve rinsed out the cooler. Smells like dead fish in there.” She pushed the can into a foam coolie cup and handed it to Joe.

Joe grabbed the can, popped the tab and took a swig. “You the one wanted to come fishing,” he said, then let out a low belch. “I reckon now you’ll be wanting me to bait your hook.”

Candy began unwinding the line from her cane pole. “You know I can’t stand touching that wormy gunk.”

Now let’s compare stilted (bad) dialogue with effective (good) dialogue

(Compare this):

“Where are you going at this late hour, Bob?” Agnes inquired.

“I am going to the store, Agnes,” Bob replied pleasantly. “Is there anything I can get for you?”

“Why yes, a carton of milk if it is not too much trouble,” Agnes intoned. “The children used the last of it this morning with their breakfast cereal.”

“Certainly, dear,” Bob answered, “I will be glad to.”

(Why is the above bad?  It’s not only stilted, but there’s no conflict or tension, and it doesn’t really move the plot.)

(With this):

“It’s late,” Agnes said, glancing up from her paperback. “Where you think you’re going?”

Bob stopped in the doorway and turned. “To the 7-Eleven. I’m out of smokes, not that it’s any of your business.”

“I’ll bet,” she said, turning a page. “Pick up a gallon of milk. We’re out.”

Bob frowned. “Again? Christ, between you and them kids I’d be better off buying a cow.”

(The above has tension, conflict, and tells us something about their relationship. Agnes doesn’t believe/trust Bob; Bob is disgruntled, may be up to something, etc.)


The function or purpose of dialogue.

1) Reveal character

George stood at the podium and scanned the restless crowd.  “I agree that desecrating our nation’s flag is a despicable act,” he said, lifting a copy of the Constitution above his head, “but the fact remains, it’s protected under our right of free speech.”

Roy jumped up, his chair clattering as it slid back. “And I say, anybody wants to burn Old Glory is a damn commie bastard,” he shouted.  “Love it or leave it! Anybody don’t like it here, I’ll buy the sumbitch a one-way ticket to China.”

Tom took a seat beside Bill and passed him a slip of paper. “Thought you might need this.”

“What’s this?” Bill said, glancing at it.

“The answers to today’s English exam.”

“No thanks,” Bill said, handing back the cheat sheet.

2) Advance the plot

Mack ducked under the open wall of the command tent just as another barrage of outgoing artillery thundered through the surrounding hills. He hardly noticed anymore. The sound had become part of the landscape, no more distracting than the buzzing of insects. He walked over to the colonel who was leaning over a folding table, studying a map of the area.

“You wanted to see me, sir?”

“We have to take this hill at all costs,” Colonel Brown said, pointing to a red circle on the creased map. He looked up and locked eyes with the young lieutenant. “And your company’s got to take it, Mack.”

Mack studied the colonel’s grim face for a moment, then looked away in the direction of the objective. “You know we’re way under strength, sir. The men are exhausted. They haven’t eaten in two days, and we’re low on ammo. It’ll be suicide.”

Colonel Brown massaged his tired eyes between thumb and forefinger and let out a deep breath. “It’s got to be done, son. Battalion’s promised us artillery support. Jump-off is at 0600.”

3) Evoke reader emotion (get the reader to identify with the characters)

John opened the door and set his briefcase on the coffee table. “I’m home, honey.”

There was no answer. For a moment he thought Linda must still be out shopping, then he heard muffled sobs coming from the kitchen. He hurried through the hall and found his wife sitting at the table, face buried in her hands, a stained slip of yellow paper laying in a puddle of spilled coffee.

“What is it?” he said. Then he noticed the telegram. He reached for it, his bowels churning cold.

Linda lifted her head and wiped at her puffy red eyes. “It’s Jimmy.  Oh, God — he’s been killed!”

John’s stomach pitched and he felt he might pass out. He managed to catch himself and slumped in a chair beside Linda. “No . . . that can’t be. His tour is almost over. He’s coming home next week.  He just said so in his letter!”

III. Common mistakes of dialogue

Too many direct references (overusing characters’ names in dialogue)

“What did you think of the movie, Kristie?”

“I loved it, Frank. Tom Cruise is such a dreamboat.”

“Watch it, Kristie, you know I’m the jealous type,” Frank said, smiling.

“Oh, Frank, I love your sense of humor.  And you’ll always be my favorite star.”

“Tagverbs” and adverbs (i.e., describing dialogue with verbs and adverbs)

Overusing colorful verbs (or tagverbs) as dialogue “tags” tends to draw attention to that particular word and can be distracting to the reader. It’s an easy trap to fall into. Here’s what The New York Times Book Review had to say about best-selling author Robert Ludlum’s, The Bourne Ultimatum:

“Mr. Ludlum has other peculiarities. For example, he hates . . . “he said” . . . and avoids it as much as possible. Characters in The Bourne Ultimatum seldom “say” anything. Instead, they cry, interject, interrupt, muse, state, counter, conclude, mumble, whisper . . . intone, roar, exclaim, fume, explode, mutter. There is one especially unforgettable (one): ‘I repeat,’ repeated Alex.”

Another common fault is using adverbs to describe how a character speaks. It’s so much easier to “tell” the reader how the character said something than it is to “show” how it was said.  Here are a few examples from McNally’s Secret, by Lawrence Sanders:

I said resignedly; father asked idly; I said heartily; I said hastily; he inquired anxiously; she said darkly; she said lightly; she said cheerily; I said cheerfully; he cried with unexpected fury; she said fondly; I said politely; he said proudly; he said with unnecessary vehemence; he said coldly; he said hotly; she said faintly; she said bitterly; she said crisply; I asked eagerly; she said doubtfully; he said grudgingly; he said mournfully; I added earnestly; she said hesitantly; I said gratefully; she said in a doleful voice; and my two personal favorites: someone remarked sententiously; I caroled as melodiously as I could.

“You’re fired!” Fred blurted hotly. (Tagverb and adverb)

“You’re fired!” Fred said, slamming the folder on the desk. (“said” is hardly noticed)

Fred slammed the folder on his desk. “You’re fired!” (action denotes speaker)

“You always manage to spoil the evening,” Mary sobbed pitifully.

“You always manage to spoil the evening,” Mary said, bursting into tears.

Mary turned away to hide her tears. “You always manage to spoil the evening.”

A good rule: When a tag is needed, “he said/she said” works just fine in most situations.  Use more colorful tags occasionally if you must. Always try to “show” how something was said rather than “telling” how it was said.


Loaded dialogue (packing dialogue with information for the reader that wouldn’t come out in normal conversation).

(In real life, nobody talks like this):

“I suppose we could ask our son, Joe, to handle the lawsuit,” Mr. Jones said. “After all, he’s one of the best attorneys in town, and we did put him through law school.”

“I know, dear,” Mrs. Jones said, “but he’s already representing his sister, the Harvard professor, with her slander case against the university newspaper.”

(But, they might reasonably say something like this):

“Let’s ask Joe to handle the lawsuit,” Mr. Jones said. “There’s no conflict of interest for an attorney to represent his parents. Besides, it’s about time he did something for us. If he can afford to drive a Ferrari, he can afford to pay us back something for five years of law school.”

“I know, dear,” Mrs. Jones said, “but I’m afraid it will conflict with his handling of Susan’s case. If she doesn’t get tenure because of those lies the Harvard Herald printed, she’ll be devastated. Joe won’t let that happen. You know what a protective big brother he’s always been.”

The lesson here? If needed, you can impart information to the reader if you word the dialogue carefully.


Dispensable dialogue (using pointless or unnecessary dialogue to fill up space)

“Good morning, Joe,” Sharon said, seeing her friend in the hall. “How are you today?”

“Fine, Sharon, and you?”

Sharon smiled warmly. “I couldn’t be better. Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?”

“Sure is. Couldn’t ask for better. Makes you want to skip work and go on a picnic.”

“It sure does,” she said, glancing at her watch. “Oh well, back to the grindstone. Nice seeing you, Joe.”

“Nice seeing you, too, Sharon. Tell Steve ‘hello’ for me, would you?”

“I sure will, and please give Tammy my best.”

“I will. Well, have a nice day.”

“You, too. Bye-bye.”

(While the above exchange is technically okay, it’s boring and does nothing to reveal character or move the plot.)

Redundant dialogue (using excessive repeated phrases or information in dialogue; sometimes called “echoing”):

Dr. Brainwick finished scanning the folder and laid it on his desk. “Now,” he said, leaning forward and staring into Henry’s eyes, “exactly when did these recurring nightmares begin?”

Henry took a deep breath to calm himself. “Exactly when did the recurring nightmares begin? That would’ve been, let me see . . . around the first of the year, if I remember correctly.”

(Avoid repeating narrative information in dialogue):

That morning Ed decided it was now or never, so he quit his job of fifteen years as a reporter for the Miami Herald, determined to make it on his own as a freelance writer.

Later that day, while enjoying happy hour at his favorite bar, he ran into his old flame, Martha. “Well, I finally did it,” he said. “I quit my job at the Herald.”

Martha nearly choked on her olive. “Why on earth would you do that?”

“I decided if I didn’t do it now I never would,” he said, idly stirring the ice in his scotch.  “I gave them fifteen years good years. Now I’m determined to make it on my own as a freelancer.”

(While this often happens in real conversation, it has no place in effective dialogue. One or the other above should be cut because of its redundancy.)

(A repeated word or phrase can be dramatically effective. In this scene, Vic is trying to explain to his wife, Karen, why he just quit his job):

“Why can’t you learn to take orders like everybody else?” Karen said. “This isn’t Vietnam. You’re not a hot-shot pilot anymore.”

“I tried, honey, I really did.” Vic reached to hold her, but she shrugged him off. “But Joe Larrimore kept getting on my case, filling Peterson’s ears full of crap. I can only take so much.”

You can only take so much?” Karen said, slapping the tabletop. “What about me, what about the kids? How much of this crap are we supposed to take?  I’m working and scrimping, trying to put food on the table and take care of two kids and a house, and you can’t handle it when somebody tries to tell you what to do. No, you just quit!”


Dull dialogue (no conflict or tension in dialogue)

(Compare this):

“I’m glad you’re home,” Bob said when Sarah pulled into the driveway and parked the car. “I was starting to worry.”

Sarah got out, then grabbed a couple of Wal-Mart shopping bags from the back seat.  “Traffic was terrible,” she said. “There was a fender-bender on the bridge. It took forever to get across.”

“At least you’re home safe,” Bob said. “Did you remember to pick up the gallon of paint?”

Sarah stopped and rolled her eyes. “I’m sorry, honey. I knew there was something I forgot.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Bob said, “I’ll pick it up tomorrow after work.”

(With this):

“It’s about time,” Bob said when Sarah pulled into the driveway and parked the car. He pointed to his watch. “You’re an hour late.”

Sarah got out and grabbed a couple of Wal-Mart shopping bags from the back seat.  “Traffic was terrible,” she said. “There was a fender-bender on the bridge. It took forever to get across.”

“You could’ve called and let me know you’d be late,” Bob said. “You keep that damn cell phone stuck in your ear enough.”

“I forgot, okay?” Sarah said, brushing past him. “Christ, you’d think I robbed a bank.”

“Did you remember the gallon of paint?”

Sarah stopped and turned. “I can’t remember every damn thing. If you wanted paint, you should’ve gone yourself.”

Know your characters!

You should know everything about your characters — background, social status, their past, their present situation, goals, dreams, desires. Give each character his/her own distinctive voice (their speech should match their education, occupation, social status, etc.).

Is your character a high school dropout, or a college graduate; from Boston, Brooklyn, Alabama; a ditch digger, or an industrial engineer?

A construction worker with a 9th grade education is unlikely to speak the same as a college professor with a doctorate in English.

An illiterate migrant worker won’t speak like a NASA flight engineer.

Does your character use any particular word or pet phrase that sets his speech apart from others?  Speech markers can be another valuable aid for making a character’s voice unique from others:

In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald had Jay Gatsby use “old sport” as part of his normal speech pattern.

In Comanche Moon, one of Larry McMurtry’s characters used the phrase, “Bible and Sword!” whenever he became excited.

Always make dialogue serve a purpose (character; plot; emotion).

Make dialogue realistic, (use contractions, incomplete sentences, etc.; avoid “uh,” “er,” “um,” etc.)

Use character gestures to accentuate your dialogue (also known as “stage business”).

Gestures can portray character: (“At your service, madam,” he said, bowing smartly.)

Gestures can show mood: (“I treasure you,” she said, tracing a finger across his lips.)

Gestures can emphasize a crucial moment in the story: (He shook his head, refusing the hood, and shouted, “I regret I have but one life to give for my country!”)

Gestures should always match, or complement, the dialogue: (He shook his fist in Wilson’s face. “Get out!”)

Gestures should be believable: (Mother Theresa patted the orphan’s cheek. “Time for supper, little one.”)


Make dialogue confrontational or adversarial (Even well-written dialogue can be mundane or boring unless it contains conflict, tension, argument, etc.)

(This example isn’t bad dialogue, but there’s no conflict or tension):

“Did you watch the Super Bowl last night?” Jerry asked, pouring himself a cup of coffee.

“Yeah, good game, wasn’t it?” Mark said.

“Sure was, except for the twenty bucks I lost.”

Mark laughed. “You and a million other Rams fans.”

“Yeah,” Jerry said, shaking his head. “Who would’ve thought the Patriots had a chance?”

Remember: there is okay dialogue, good dialogue, and better dialogue:

“Where are you going?” (Is not confrontational)

Where do you think you’re going? (Is confrontational)

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” (Even more confrontational)

“Clean up this mess.” . . . “Okay.” (Is not adversarial)

“Clean up this mess.” . . .  “No.” (Is adversarial)

“I said, ‘clean up this damn mess!’” . . . “Clean it up yourself!” (Even more adversarial)

Make dialogue indirect or oblique (Twists and turns, “parrying” between speakers involves the reader and sparks his interest)

“May I buy you a drink?”

“Sure, thanks. A margarita, please.” (Obvious answer, dull and boring)

“May I buy you a drink?”

“I don’t do one-night stands.” (Unexpected and interesting response)

“You have the prettiest eyes.”

“Thanks, blue eyes run in my family.” (Normal, mundane)

“You have the prettiest eyes.”

“Thanks. Can you tell which one is glass?” (Anything but boring, even if it’s said as a joke)

In dialogue, silence can be golden (sometimes what a character doesn’t say can be more powerful than words)

Thursday evening John was well into his third bourbon and Coke by the time his wife arrived home.

“Working late again?” he asked when Eileen walked in and closed the front door.

“I’m sorry,” she said, leaning down to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. “The inventory shouldn’t take but a couple more days.”

John nodded as she turned to set her purse on the counter. “I got off early today,” he said.  “I dropped by your office to take you out to dinner. Carol said you left at three-thirty.”

Eileen froze with her back to him.

“She said you’ve been leaving early all week to spend time with your parents before they have to go back home.”

Eileen turned and leaned against the counter, her face pale and drawn, her eyes beginning to cloud.

John glared at her for a moment, then looked away. “Don’t worry, I didn’t say anything.”

He stared into his drink, took a sip and looked back at his wife. “Who is he?”

Be careful using dialect (Phonetic spelling draws attention to itself rather than the speech—the reader spends effort trying to decipher individual words rather than experiencing what is being said. Instead, try using word choice, grammar, missing words, colloquialisms, rhythm of speech, etc., to show your characters’ geographical, educational, or social background.)

In Mark Twain’s classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck is reading to Jim, the runaway slave, about kings, dukes and earls from a book he’d found. Fascinated, Jim comments:

“I didn’ know dey was so many un um. I hain’t hearn ‘bout none un um, skasely, but ole King Sollermun, onless you counts dem kings dat’s in a pack er k’yards. How much do a king git?”


“I didn’t know they was so many of them. I ain’t heard about none of them, scarcely, but old King Solomon, unless you counts them kings that’s in a pack of cards. How much do a king get?”

By choosing and using words carefully, the writer can give the impression of a character’s dialect. It’s much easier for the reader to understand, and allows him to concentrate on what’s being said. In dialect, a little goes a long way.

Read your dialogue out loud.

What looks right on the page, what “sounds” okay to the eye when read silently, may not stand up when read out loud. Good dialogue should pass the “ear” test.  The tongue might trip over what the eye misses. By reading out loud, you can often pick up awkward or excessive words, phrasing, rhythm, etc.

 “I talk the lines out as I write …” — Tennessee Williams

“I always read my dialogue out loud, give it what actors call a ‘cold reading’ without dramatics or … inflection. Typewritten words have a lot of power—they look very official and convincing even though you know you just made them up. Your ear may catch what your eye is fooled by.” — Film maker/novelist John Sayles

Okay, my sermon on dialogue is finished.


Th … th … th .. that’s all, folks! (Porky Pig)

Cyber Monday Here We Come

If I can’t buy it online, I don’t want it. That’s my motto. I’m sticking to it.  Today is Cyber Monday. What, we needed a special day to surf the web? The reason for that would be…  Does Cyber Monday exist for all those folks who didn’t make it to the store in time to buy the Black Friday specials?welcome-to-cyber-monday

News flash! I was in a store the Monday before Thanksgiving. Boxes containing well-priced computer equipment (yes, it was that kind of store) were stacked in nearly every open space. The stacks were priced, but not displayed. So, me being me; I asked. Here’s the answer, “That’s our Black Friday merchandise, but you can buy it now.” That led to a second question, “Will the prices be the same on Friday?” Response, “Yeah, but we’ll have one on display.”  So, the Monday before Thanksgiving is the training day for the Friday after Thanksgiving. I get it. That solves the eternal Black Friday mystery of why stores run out of Black Friday advertised merchandise. Makes you wonder why folks are in a track stance outside retail shops at four in the morning, doesn’t it? Four in the morning, who am I kidding? Black Friday starts right after the Thanksgiving Day football games.

cyber-treeAs a writer, I’m fascinated by the Cyber Monday philosophy. A lot of stores I’ve recently been to don’t stock a large selection of merchandise anymore. Instead, they offer a few select items, and an order online, pick up in-store feature. Many will even ship to your house for free. Retail no longer requires real estate. Just a computer and a credit card. This gives me a visual of a giant funnel fed by relays of workers pouring boxes and bags into the maw to the consumer. But things are finite. What happens when the Internet runs out of stuff? Will Cyber Monday shoppers be forced to log on ever earlier? Will sites crash under the onslaught? Will the world end? Oh, sorry, wrong blog.

There is one other thing I’ve noticed about Cyber Monday. Retailers play it close to the cyber-mondaychest when it comes to Cyber Monday deals while the Black Friday ads have been running for a week. Shoppers are left to wonder, should I buy now? Wait? Buy for 2016 on Black Friday and 2017 on Cyber Monday? How much stuff do I need?

People have died on Black Friday. Some trampled in the crush. Others murdered for the merchandise. Getting the last one of a hot item can be deadly. Heck, a parking space caused a shootout in a Tallahassee parking lot in 2012. There’s even a death counter keeping track of the Black Friday casualty rate.  I think I feel a holiday short story coming on. No wonder grandma got run over by that reindeer.

Taken from the death and injured toll, Cyber Monday makes perfect sense. Shop online, the life you save may be your own!

How about you? Are you an online shopping fan or do you prefer the up close and personal encounter of brick and mortar shopping?

There’s a party going on at my Facebook author page. Henery Authors are running a giveaway train to celebrate Cyber Monday. Stop by, comment, and move on to the next stop. There are TONS of prizes available. Don’t miss it.

Author photos 009Kait Carson lives in an airpark in south central Florida with a pilot husband, eight tropical birds, and six rescue cats. By day, she’s a practicing probate and litigation paralegal, in the evening, legal pads give way to a keyboard, and she spins tales of murder and mayhem set in the tropical heat. Kait writes two series, the Catherine Swope series, set in Miami, and the Hayden Kent series set in the Fabulous Florida Keys.

Kait loves to hear from readers, check out her website at; follow her on Facebook at, on Twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at


Small Glimpses


By Ellen Behrens

A novelist I knew once said, “I can always tell whether I’m talking to a fiction writer or a poet just by the way they act. The poet stares at me intently, focused on my words, ready to challenge or clarify. The novelist, on the other hand, glances all over the room, reading titles of books on the shelves, admiring (or not) pictures on the walls, trying to figure out what’s on my desk….”

curiousWe fiction writers can’t help it. We’re absorbed by the details, the minutiae of someone’s life that reveal those individuals to us in ways their words usually don’t. We’re curious beyond the norm.

Driving a long, gray stretch of interstate highway, my husband and I passed a car with a little girl in the back. From our higher one-ton pickup truck I saw her bouncing around the seat, happy it seemed, singing or talking to herself. I thought how nice to see a happy child – though it didn’t appear she was in a car seat, which bothered me. An unexpected hand from the front smacked the little girl, and she crumpled into tears.


Traveling is our way of life. About eight years ago we sold our “sticks and bricks” home to travel the country full-time in our RV, and in that time we’ve glimpsed into the lives of thousands of strangers in moments like that one.

whereyouparkitIt’s an ideal and frustrating life for a writer. Ideal because ideas come at me a billion miles an hour from all directions in a nearly endless stream. If I wrote nonstop for the rest of my life without a single pause to eat or sleep, I’d never run out of characters, settings, plot ideas, clues.

The little girl in the back of the car stayed with me, and I daydreamed about what might have happened if we’d followed that car. What would we have found out? The image of us, driving that big truck and towing our huge 38-foot fifth wheel RV behind it, snaking around some city’s streets, “tailing” a car, struck me as absurd – yet inviting.

Of course, we didn’t follow that car. We’re nothing on the road if not safe, and pursuing a car out of pure curiosity isn’t our style. Fortunately, I’m a novelist. I can do on the page what I dare not do in real life.

I started thinking: what if a retired couple like my husband and I did follow that car? I played with different names, landing eventually on Walt and Betty – Walt and Betty Rollin, like rollin’ along. The idea of a mystery series was born.


But I couldn’t figure out the story of the little girl in the back of the car. The worst ideas are those that get pushed and pulled and stretched until whatever shred of truth they held is obliterated, so I let it go. New ideas demanded attention. Before long I had the makings of Pea Body, which became the first in the Rollin RV Mystery series.


Even so, the little girl in the car haunted me. I needed to write that story. Without much of an idea, I started with the little girl and – like my characters – followed the car to see where things led. I used details from the time we’ve spent in Yuma, Arizona, and the surrounding Sonoran Desert: abandoned stuffed animals, RVers and their pets, the great breakfast we always order at Brownie’s Café in Yuma….

One of my favorite compliments on Pea Body was from an Rver who said the whole thing felt entirely true and wanted to know whether a key plot point had really happened to us. It hadn’t. The story was so filled with the details of true-to-life RVing she’d readily accepted the lies I’d created along the way. That’s what I consider a success.

And it’s all thanks to those small glimpses of others’ lives I’ve been given. What about you? What small glimpses turned into big insights (or plot twists or character traits) for you?

yb_bio-1Yuma Baby, the second in Ellen Behrens’ Rollin RV Mystery series featuring Walt and Betty Rollin, full-time RVers who solve mysteries, is now available in print and ePub format through and via iTunes (Kindle, Kobo, and Nook versions coming soon to those formats). Her first Rollin RV Mystery, Pea Body, is a hit with RVers and non-RVers alike, and her first novel, None But the Dead and Dying, received excellent reviews around the country, including the New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, and others. A former fiction editor and the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship, Ellen and her husband have been full-time RVers since 2009 – living and writing back and forth across North America. Learn more about her books at or drop her an e-mail at ellenbehr[at]aol[dot]com if you’d like. She loves mail!

 For print, e-Pub and iTunes versions of my books:

My Amazon author spotlight page:

Yuma Baby is available for Kindle and on iTunes. Soon to come at the Kobo and B&N sites.

Pea Body can also be found via the B&N and Kobo sites.