Showing posts from December, 2006

Heartbeat Intern Contest for beginning writers

HEARTBEAT INTERN CONTEST for Pre-Pubbed, Pre-PRO Romance Writers Accepting entries starting January 1, 2007! This is a brand new contest aimed at beginners. In other words, if you’ve been published in any format at any time, or have achieved RWA-PRO ( Romance Writers of America ) status, you’re not eligible. CATEGORIES & JUDGES Romantic Suspense: Patience Smith - Silhouette Suspense. Erotic Romance: Alicia Rasley - Red Sage Anything Romance w/ Medical Elements: Sheila Hodgson - Harlequin Mills & Boom Medicals Inspirational Romance: Melissa Endlich - Steeple Hill Series Romance (long & short): Scott Eagan - Greyhaus Literary Agency Single Title Romance: Hilary Sares - Kensington First place winners in each category will receive a critique from Lois Winston, Agent with Grayson Literary Agency. TIMELINE 1. Entries accepted from January 1 - February 1 (Entries with a postmark of February 1 or before will be accepted until February 6). 2. If a deadline falls on a Saturday/Sunda

Dialogue—exclamation points

Oh, goodness! Sara’s heart pounded in her chest. “Josephine! I didn’t even see you there!” While just 10 years ago, books had tons of exclamation points all over the place, these days, most editors prefer limited use of exclamation points, especially in dialogue. They typically suggest using them only if someone is screaming or shouting, rather than just a raised voice. Some are nazis about it, some aren't. I would suggest getting rid of as many exclamation points as you can just in case you come across someone who's picky about it.

Dialogue—distinct voice

Separate from your own unique writer’s voice is each individual character’s voice. Sometimes writers will not make each character’s own dialogue distinct enough to be able to tell characters apart. Many times, if you remove the dialogue tags and action beats from a scene of dialogue, the two characters will sound exactly alike, whether it’s two men, two women, or a man and a woman. Each character should be so individual that even their speech patterns are distinct. I’m not talking about dialect or slang. Lots of things can contribute to character voices--pacing and rhythm, word choice, grammar, sentence length, casual versus formal. Don’t cop out and give one person a lisp or a dialect—try to make them unique just by their words alone. You, as the writer, know who is who as you hear each character talking in your head. The challenge is to convey the distinction on the page to the reader. One exercise I like to do is to take an incident and have different characters tell it. Often, I ca


When reading contest entries or manuscript for critiquing, sometimes dialogue goes on for too long. This can affect pacing, and it can also disengage the reader if the dialogue isn’t necessary to character development or the plot. Look through your own manuscript to see if a few interchanges in a scene of dialogue might be unnecessary. Sometimes things like that are needed to set tone, or reveal character, but look through your dialogue to see if anything can be cut. You as the writer have a good feel for what's vital to your voice and the tone, and what might be just fluff. Most writers say that anything that can reduce word count will usually only make the story better. Anything that can speed up the pace a bit during action scenes (dialogue) will help glue the reader to the page.

Dialogue—online articles

Rather than listening to me talk, why not read a few good articles on dialogue: (good examples of proper punctuation for dialogue) These last two are websites with several articles on various topics, including dialogue. These links were current as of the publishing of this blog post. If any are broken, please e-mail me or leave a comment to let me know.

Dialogue—read plays

Mark Goodyear made a great point that one way to learn to write good dialogue is to read good dialogue, and one of the best resources are good plays. Specifically, the Tony winners, since aren’t those the best plays written in America? If you go to his blog post about it , he gives the website of the Tonys and how to search for plays to read. Plays can be found in your local library. They might also be in the drama department of your local high school and available for loan, so send your child on a recon mission. Another good resource is online stores where you can buy cheap used copies (which you can then flag and mark up with notes). Look for dialogue that moves you, then look through it again to discover why. Look at pacing, sentence rhythm, word choice—especially word choice specific to certain characters. Judicious use of sentence structure and sentence length also make up good dialogue. Once you analyze good dialogue, you’ll find you’ll be more critical of your own writing as y

Dialogue—no tension

All dialogue should have some type of conflict. Exchange of information or small-talk is boring and slows the reading flow. The characters don’t need to be fighting with each other, but there should be something one of the characters is fighting FOR. Fighting to hide information, fighting to obtain information, fighting to right a wrong, fighting to convince the other. In the words of Randy Ingermanson ( Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine ), “Dialogue is war.” A dialogue with two strong forces has the energy to propel the story forward. It tends to be highly emotional, but at the same time very simple and direct (unlike actual conversation in real life). The best way to have both emotion and simplicity is to lay the dialogue down first and then go back later to refine, cut, clarify. Because dialogue is emotional, it also tends to be more give-and-take, more back-and-forth. In our modern publishing industry, it’s rare to have a character go on and on without the other character responding.

Dialogue—too many action beats

“I know you did it.” He slammed his fist on the table. She fingered her long necklace with manicured fingers. “I never said I did.” “We have you on tape.” He reached out to touch the micro-recorder. “I told you, I was only joking when I said that.” She wouldn’t look at him. He crossed his arms and glared at her. “People don’t joke to kill someone.” “That’s not true. People joke about killing their friends all the time.” She crossed her arms and stared him down. Even though we vary the sentence structure and the position of the dialogue, the action beats in this conversation are a bit much. You don't need to identify the speaker every time he speaks. You can have back and forth a bit and still know who's speaking. Action beats should have a purpose --to show inner emotion or characterization, not just as filler in between lines of dialogue. “I know you did it!” “I never said I did.” “We have you on tape.” “I told you, I was only joking when I said that.” She wouldn’t look at him