Monday, January 11, 2021

 What the heck can we say about dialogue?

 Exert from "Tools Not Rules" what to write and how to write it. Information and workbook for beginning writers. Coming November 2020

Dialogue is a conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or movie. It is the conversation between your characters, the discourse by officials, and arguments when characters disagree. This is sometimes referred to as “external dialogue.”

         Dialogue can accomplish almost anything for your story and often with greater immediacy and freshness than narration.

         It can crate mood, describe setting, fill in background, reveal motivation and plot, heighten emotion, and add characterization.

         Dialogue is comprised of words, and the tags and actions that identify the speaker and is harder to write than narration.

         Dialogue must have a purpose in the plot or story. If it doesn’t add something new, it isn’t needed.

Dialogue in Your Book


These are used to correctly identify speakers. Simple is always better. Use only sufficient dialogue tags to clearly indicate who is speaking. Remember these tips when using dialogue tags.

  1. Keep them unobtrusive. The dialogue itself is what's important. The only function of a tag is to let the reader know who is speaking.
  2. Therefore, use a tag whenever it's unclear who's speaking.
  3. Vary the position of your dialogue tags.
  4. Simple is always better. Said, Asked, answered are often all you need for a tag. They tend to be almost invisible to the reader.
  5. When using said, asked, answered, put the character’s name before the tag, not after


NOT – “I invited four people to Saturday dinner,” said Susan.

BUT - “I invited four people to Saturday dinner,” Susan said.

OR – Susan said, “I invited four people to Saturday dinner.


“A beat is usually a minor action that breaks up dialogue when a pause is needed to keep the scene visual.”  Sol Stein, How to Grow a Novel, p131


Beats can also be used to identify speakers.

Here you put the dialogue beside a sentence or phrase in which the speaker is mentioned. The phrase or sentence is the ‘beat.’

“Oh no.” Jade glanced over her shoulder. “Are you sure they are following us?”

Gestures, body language and character action can all be used as beats. But don’t get carried away. Limited use is recommended. And watch out for redundancies. In the two examples below, the action and the words do the same job. Use one or the other.

She shook her head. “No.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Beats me.”

Beats and tags are used to break up exchanges that might otherwise cause confusion. Having a character ask two questions and then the other person answer them both muddles the information. Break them up.

NOT John rushed into the room “What is he doing with the medal? Where did he put it?”

BUT John rushed into the room. “What is he doing with the medal?” He glared at her and she shrugged. “And where did he put it?”

A new paragraph is used when there is a new speaker. This is especially important when you are omitting dialogue tags and writing several lines of conversation. Make a new paragraph even if the speaker has had only one line.

In this example it’s easy to know it was Sam who asked the question and Edie who answered it.

Edie turned to greet Sam. “Thought you might want food.”

“That smells delicious. What is it?”

“Beef stew, fresh rolls, and rice crispy squares for dessert.”

Know when to summarize dialogue:

When the exact words don’t matter to the story.

Jane waved her hand at the kitchen. “That darn expresso maker is terrible to use.” (no need to explain what it does to make it terrible.)

When dialogue is mundane.

“Boy, it rained all day and I got wet.”

When a character says something routine – like ordering in a restaurant. Just say “they ordered salads.” Don’t have them actually say all the needed words.

Summarize when one character tells another one what the reader already heard elsewhere.

“As gently as he could Jake told Sarah what the doctor had said.”


Friday, October 30, 2020



What if murder could increase your writing production?

 How killing Miss Purdy helped me, and what it might do for you.





After writing from age eight, finally at thirty something, I figured out one huge problem with my writing process and progress. Miss Purdy was living in my head! My Grade Eight English teacher perched on top of my frontal lobe with her glasses on the end of her nose and her right, forefinger raised.

And she was bossy. “You must get it right,” she’d say, shoving up her glasses. “Miss Reid, how many times do I have to tell you to think before you write.” The finger would snap down, indicating one of my sentences. “No, no, that isn’t good enough. Do it again.”

Of course, she might have had unreasonable expectations. (Do you think?) And not just in writing. Apparently, I should spell perfectly because my father was a minister and had two degrees. (I still haven’t figured that one out. My dad couldn’t spell.)

Have you a critic in your life that sticks to you the way greens stick to grandmas dentures? messy, obvious and of no use? Does the voice echo in your head. Did you find red-pencil marks and snippy comments in your diary entry about your boyfriend? Did they throw a paper back on a desk with a big C- on it?

We all know the result of the Miss Purdys of the world. Far too many would-be writers, good writers, stall out because the voice in their heads tell them their writing isn’t perfect. It crippled my writing for years or at least seriously delayed my writing growth. Other writers confirmed this phenomena of an annoying Miss Purdy.

Eventually, thanks to workshops, how-to-books, and fellow writers, I realized what I must do. Murder Miss Purdy. If it’s a family member you actually like, lock them in solitary confinement during your creating phase. Once they’re locked up, you’re free to collect and write story ideas, to tweak them into a cohesive whole, and then edit them.

Oh darn, that edit thing. Maybe we shouldn’t murder our Miss Purdy. She has her place. But you can swear at her, tell her get lost, or point your finger and sent her to detention. Do anything to keep her behind the sound proof glass in your head.

Your creativity will thank you. You progress will be faster.

And without the hurdle of a nosy critic, you can reach the end of your 50,000-word Draft Zer0 in those 30 days of November.


Sunday, April 12, 2020

What tag line represents who you are?

Identity - we all have one - who are you?

We present faces to the world that match our roles: mother, friend, sister, boss. But in truth, who are we? Behind all your faces, who are you? What do you care about? What do you want? What cheers you, what causes you harm, or drives you?

What tag line sums up who you are?

I've thought about those questions. I've searched for answers, direction, and inner peace. In the distant past, I thought I was the only one searching for these answers. Turns out I do not have a monopoly on the questions. Everyone I've met has asked these or similar questions more than once in their lives.

We start as babies with a clean slate. People we meet, the circumstances of our lives, and all the actions we take, inscribe indelibly on the slate that represents who we are. But do we let the writing of others define us? Or do we search out our own identity? Can we learn from our histories?

 Each of us is unique and our answers will be ours alone.

 I don't pretend to have answers for you. I have found a few for me. However, those answers shift with my mood, my circumstances, and my heart. I continue to redefine. At seventy years old, I know certain truths about myself and have tag lines to match.

In stories, I like a puzzle, struggling characters, and hopeful endings. In my writing, I strive to offer those ingredients to my readers.

For stories, my tag line is:

 Stories that set things right.... characters that find their way.

Here’s a life tag line my mother taught by example.

 Leave everyone and everything better than you find them.

  • When we ate at a campground on a road trip, she picked up trash left by others.
  • When we used a public washroom, she wiped down the sink she used and the others as well.
  • She picked up children who had fallen, held doors for seniors, and smiled at people she passed.

Small actions, that left things better than she found them. They may seem trivial, but like sands make a beach, small actions make a good life. Her life might have also had this tagline.

When you fall, get up and try again, and never turn down a good laugh.

For me, this line helps me stay focused and to make daily decisions.

Do you have a tag line for your books?
Do you have one for your personal life story?
  • Is your purpose to help? Teach? Create? Fix? Build?
  • Which of your actions leave you smiling and joy-filled?
  • What is your daily intent? Can you sum it up in one line?

 Using a tag line focuses your intent and purpose for your life (and your books).