“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.)

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.”)

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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?”

(Translation):

“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.

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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 www.kaitcarson.com; follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kaitcarsonauthor, on Twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at kait.carson@gmail.com.

 

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.

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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.

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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 Lulu.com 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 www.ellenbooks.com 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: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/ellenbooks

My Amazon author spotlight page: https://www.amazon.com/EllenBehrens/e/B001K7ZBEM/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

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.

The Right Ritual by Joanne Guidoccio

 

When I decided to pursue my writing dream, I imagined one of the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne visiting each morning, taking my hand, and guiding me to the computer. There, she would remain, offering words of encouragement until I produced my daily quota of words.

That was the fantasy.

The reality was very different.

I was unprepared for the tyranny of the blank page. While everything was in place—business cards, new computer, dreams of a runaway best-seller—my writing muscles refused to budge.

Hoping for inspiration, I researched the writing rituals of famous authors:

  • Alexander Dumas color coordinated his paper. He used blue paper for novels, yellow paper for poetry and rose-colored pages for nonfiction.
  • Mark Twain and Truman Capote write lying down.
  • Ernest Hemingway sharpened dozens of pencils before starting to write.
  • Willa Cather read the Bible before writing each day.
  • Before picking up his pen, John Donne liked to lie in an open coffin. (I wonder about this one!)
  • Honoré de Balzac drank vast quantities of black coffee, ensuring that he could write all day and night.
  • Maya Angelou rose at 5 a.m., gathered her legal pads, a bottle of sherry, playing cards, a Bible, and Roget’s Thesaurus and checked into a hotel room (stripped of all stimuli from the walls). She would write 12 pages before leaving in the afternoon and edit the pages in the evening.

Eventually, I came up with my own ritual. Nothing too dramatic, but it works for me.

While having a leisurely breakfast (one of my retirement perks), I don’t linger over that second cup of coffee. If I choose to have more than one cup, I do so while checking email and social media. At nine-thirty, I start writing. My goal is 1000 words a day. At first, I used the oven timer to keep me on task, but that annoying sound reminded me of incessant school bells, so I invested in a bird clock. Each hour, one of my feathered friends, among them the Downy Woodpecker, Belted Kingfisher, and Great Horned Owl, chirp and remind me to pace myself.aseasonforkillingblondes_w9101_med-2

Blurb

Hours before the opening of her career counseling practice, Gilda Greco discovers the dead body of golden girl Carrie Ann Godfrey, neatly arranged in the dumpster outside her office. Gilda’s life and budding career are stalled as Detective Carlo Fantin, her former high school crush, conducts the investigation.

When three more dead blondes turn up all brutally strangled and deposited near Gilda’s favorite haunts, she is pegged as a prime suspect for the murders. Frustrated by Carlo’s chilly detective persona and the mean girl antics of Carrie Ann’s meddling relatives, Gilda decides to launch her own investigation. She discovers a gaggle of suspects, among them a yoga instructor in need of anger management training, a lecherous photographer, and fourteen ex-boyfriends.

As the puzzle pieces fall into place, shocking revelations emerge, forcing Gilda to confront the envy and deceit she has long overlooked.

Trailer

https://youtu.be/QURgFbybQVw

Buy Links

Amazon (Canada) – http://is.gd/t0g1KZ

Amazon (United States) – http://is.gd/jADjPp

Amazon (United Kingdom) – http://is.gd/8mknFJ

Amazon (Australia) – http://is.gd/r843iX

Kobo – http://is.gd/BpO9gY

Bio

guidoccio-001In 2008, Joanne took advantage of early retirement and decided to launch a second career that would tap into her creative side and utilize her well-honed organizational skills. Slowly, a writing practice emerged. Her articles and book reviews were published in newspapers, magazines, and online. When she tried her hand at fiction, she made reinvention a recurring theme in her novels and short stories. A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne writes paranormal romance, cozy mysteries, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.

Where to find Joanne…

Website:   http://joanneguidoccio.com/
Twitter:   https://twitter.com/joanneguidoccio
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/authorjoanneguidoccio
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanneguidoccio
Pinterest:   http://pinterest.com/jguidoccio/
Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7277706.Joanne_Guidoccio

 

I’m Thankful

My first thought for a blog today was to post an “I’m On Vacation” picture. You know, the classic chair on the beach, tropical drink on the table. I am on vacation, and it’s Thanksgiving week. Two perfect excuses for taking a day off. That’s when inspiration hit.

happy-thanksgiving

This is Thanksgiving, and I’m thankful for a lot of things.

I’m thankful for E. Michael Helms and Max Everhart the founders of this blog who shanghaied me into writing a weekly blog. (“Oh,” wrote Max, “only 250 words on so, or writing.”) FLW (famous last words – I love acronyms. Makes me think I could actually IM someone). We miss you Max, but wish you the best. And really, I can’t say hello in 250 words. But I guess you’ve noticed.

I’m thankful for the blog. It makes me focus at least once a week on the writing life, and expressing it. I’m thankful for the commenters when I do post. You make me think, and often give me new ideas.

I’m thankful for the vast number of writers who have been willing to guest on MotiveMeansOpportunity. We were a new blog when we first reached out and the response has been impressive. I confess to having more than one personal fan moment. Our guests have introduced us to new books, writing tips, new concepts, and expanded our reach to new readers on a variety of topics. We love them for that—and are inviting each back when it suits them.

Most of all, I’m thankful for our readers. It takes an internet to make a blog successful. Without a regular readership, a blog withers on the vine and dies. Thank you, each of you, who read us and/or comment on a regular basis. Know that this blog belongs to you as well.

What am I grateful for this Thanksgiving? Each and every person reading this blog, and those willing to guest with us, and my blog partners. Write On!

thankyou_bottom

Author photos 009Kait Carson lives in an airpark in south central Florida with a pilot husband, seven 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.kaitcarson.com; follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kaitcarsonauthor, on Twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at kait.carson@gmail.com.

 

Writing What You Know

By Greg Herren

My first creative writing class in college was a disaster.

It was also the first time in my life I was given the seminal writing advice “write what you know.” (I got a C in the course, and I often tell this story in interviews; my instructor called me into his office after I turned in my first short story and told me I would never be a writer, but as an English major he would have me a C rather than the F I deserved. Over thirty novels and fifty short stories later, I find that amusing now. Back then, it was horrific.)

This is one of the standard tropes from every single creative writing class, every book on writing, and I seriously wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard it, seen it, read it, or have actually said it.

It took many years to understand what that truly meant. At the time, I thought it meant garden-districtthat writers couldn’t write about anything outside of their experience. This confused me, obviously: if that was the top rule of writing, how on earth were genres like science fiction and fantasy and horror and crime possible? How could anyone know what it was like to be a vampire? How could men write women, and vice versa? I just assumed that it was just another one of those reasons I was destined to fail as a writer. I see this pop up occasionally on social media—usually in some brou-ha-ha when someone who is a part of a minority group marginalized within our society complains about their life and experience being appropriated and reinterpreted by someone not a part of that community.  Twitter wars erupt, blog and opinion pieces are written, people throw insults at each other on Facebook. As the controversy rages for the umpteenth time, someone will usually smugly compare the marginalized community to vampires and werewolves and space aliens and serial killers, and that “write what you know” is bullshit advice for that very reason.

I usually make note of the author who posts that to make sure I never waste my time reading their work.

Because they are completely missing the point—as I did for so long.

Write what you know doesn’t mean you can’t write about shape-shifters or space travel or vampires; it doesn’t you can’t write characters who are outside of your experience.

What I came to understand over the years, of writing my own work, working as an editor, and reading thousands of books for pleasure, is what my writing teachers never explained was that “write what you know” wasn’t about subject matter or story, but about writing using your own experiences to write honestly.

Use your own emotional history to make your characters realistic.

The best advice I got about character creation came from a rejection letter I received from a magazine editor—who also encouraged me to keep writing and submitting to him. The main character in my story was a monstrous woman who gets her just come-uppance, and he said simply, “Just remember, even Hitler loved his dogs.”

And that’s the truth. Even the most monstrous people have pets they care about, friends, and family. How many times have you seen someone being interviewed on the news about the murderer next door say something along the lines of, “He was always so friendly and nice”?

I’ve always been a firm believer that story comes from character, and that character should always be the starting place for any writer. It doesn’t always start with the character, of course; sometimes I get an idea for a story—“you know, it would be really cool to write a story from the point of view of a landlord who begins to suspect his tenant might be the serial killer terrorizing the city”—but before I can actually write that story, I need to know who those two characters are. What kind of person is the landlord? Why is he/she renting out a space in their home? How do they feel about the tenant before the suspicion starts? How does the suspicion start, and does the landlord feel confident in the suspicion, or not trust his instincts? Why would he be so confident, or why would he not trust his instincts? The character will slowly start to come together from these questions, and the questions I have about the character need answering, because knowing who the landlord is will shape the story and how it unfolds—and most importantly, how it ends.

And when I write the story finally, I need to write the story as though I myself am the character of the landlord since I am telling the story from his point of view, and thus, I have to become that character, pulling from my own experience to make his experiences, his emotions, his reactions, seem real.

I once jokingly referred to it as ‘method writing’, as a play on the Stanislavski school of acting (which holds that a performance is culled from the actor’s own experiences; forcing the actor to go deep inside his/her own history and life and experience to summon forth the necessary reactions and emotions. As a writer, I am doing it on the page rather than the stage). This works for me, although it does have it does drawbacks.

When I’m writing something dark where my main character has to deal with something incredibly difficult and painful—such as death of a loved one—it can take me to a dark place that sometimes is hard to snap back from.

On the other hand, using my own personal experiences to write my post-Katrina novel Murder in the Rue Chartres was incredibly cathartic, since it gave me the opportunity for channeling my anger and depression and shock, the unexpected mood swings, the horror of the reality of what happened, allowing the reader to experience these complex and conflicting things through the eyes of my character. Writing that book helped me to work through a lot of my emotional issues in the wake of the levee failure and what happened to my home city.

I was very proud that a local book reviewer called it ‘the most honest depiction of life in post-Katrina New Orleans published.’

So ‘write what you know’ is the best writing advice I can share with someone. Sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes it takes you places you don’t want to revisit, but it will also help you create your best work.

greg-herrenGREG HERREN is the award-winning author of over thirty novels and fifty short stories. He has edited twenty anthologies, including Blood on the Bayou, the 2016 Bouchercon anthology fundraiser for the New Orleans Public Library System. His most recent novel, Garden District Gothic, was published in September. He lives in New Orleans.

 

 

Libraries would Love Sisters in Crime, if they only knew…

by Lynn Marie Steinmayer

I am a library director in a rural town in northwestern Connecticut and I have been here for nine years.

I first heard about Sisters in Crime in May of 2009.  We had an author come to the library and she shared about writing her book which she wrote as part of a team and said that Sisters in Crime was a great organization and it had helped her immensely in her writing career.   She encouraged anyone remotely interested in writing to join and go to conferences and workshops.

So, I did.

Luckily I am in New England and there is a wonderful conference in November called Crime Bake.  An absolutely amazing small conference experience with great panels, workshops, speakers and fun.  I met authors of all kinds some who were young in their writing careers and bought books for my patrons that hadn’t made it into ‘Library Journal’ or on any best seller list, but my patrons loved them.  I made relationships at those conferences, for I went many years, that I have kept on Facebook and in email and thankfully I have had the opportunity to host a few authors here.

Early in the “We Love Libraries” grant process, I coaxed some staff members to pose with
books from authors in Sisters in Crime sinc-goshenpubliblibraryctand caution tape and a bright orange extension cord.  The picture was staged in January 2010 and promptly forgotten.

Libraries are in a constant state of reinvention, we offer online eBooks and downloadable audio books; online technology training and information resources; small business services like fax and copy machines for public use; computers for patron use; a place to either work if you need a place with fewer distractions than home or a place to sit and rest and read a magazine.

Library staff members want to serve the public.  It is our mission to help our communities thrive and find ways to educate, entertain and inform themselves about the issues of the day.  Some days this is easy to do and some days we need help.

How can you help your local library?

If you are a published author, make sure your books are available in eBook format.  I try to have books both in print and in eBook format to ensure that all of my patrons can read a book no matter the time or geographic location.

If you have a certain skill set or work experience see if you can volunteer to give a program.  Have you traveled abroad?  Are you a marketer?  Are you a knitter?  You can offer to do a one-time program and help the library reach patrons that they might not normally get to reach.

Do you have more time?  Maybe you could help by joining the Friends group if your local library has one.  They usually meet once a month and have periodic fundraisers.

Are you more inclined to want to help with the overall governance of the library?  You can look into how to become a member of the Board of Trustees, some towns are elected and some are appointed so you would have to see what your community does.

And if none of these ideas seem good to you – maybe you could continue being an advocate.  Write an editorial around budget time saying how libraries have helped you.  Turn to the databases offered by your library to help learn about consumer issues, medical research, or language learning.  Find a book group.  Read a magazine and drink a cup of tea.  Pick up an audio book for the next conference you are driving to.   Leave some Sisters in Crime bookmarks and tell them about the “We Love Libraries” grant.

Oh, and that picture taken the winter of 2010?  I received an email in September saying that we were the August winners of the “We Love Libraries” grant.

From Kait Carson:  YEA Lynn – Thank you for contacting us and asking about a blog. And congratulations on winning a We Love Libraries grant. SinC is an amazing organization, but we wouldn’t exist without libraries and librarians. Thank you for your caring, and for your labor in the service of readers everywhere.