The Dos and Don’ts of Dialogue

dialogueDialogue is the heartbeat of any fiction novel. An author can use the verbal interaction between characters (or a character with itself) to flesh out those characters, build suspense, explain elements of the story, bring in back-story, and entertain the reader … if it’s done right.

Dialogue Dos

Do base your characters on people you know (or know of: like movie stars). If you want to be the inspiration for the hero or heroine, that’s fine; as long as you have (or can create) the needed heroic qualities.

Do use dialog to bring clarity to your story: reveal facets of your character, explain plot history or setting, and build emotion in a scene. Using dialogue for these is much better than blocks of expository text; which tend to get boring quickly.

You can also accomplish multiple purposes through the use of dialogue. For instance; an argument between your protagonist and another major character can reveal character facets like temperament, education, and the motivations of both characters. Brief insertions of actions (she flipped her long, blond hair out of her eyes, then continued…) can also accomplish describing your character more efficiently than some long gaze in a mirror.

Do allow your characters to express themselves naturally. Their speech is part of their personality.

Do keep a log of each characters pet phrases and speech idiosyncrasies.

Do practice dialogue with each character. As a writing exercise, set up a scene with the character of the moment and let them speak. Your characters will develop as you become familiar with them. Letting them build in your mind through practice dialogue will save you having to re-write previous scenes because your character changed

Dialogue Don’ts

Don’t insist on formal grammar and sentence structure. Few people actually speak like a formally written document. Maybe when giving a speech, but not in conversation. Use natural language.

Don’t include boring details of a long conversation. People do sit around and chat about the weather and politics, but unless these are directly relevant to the story or used in some meaningful way, cut away from the scene with a statement like, “They discussed the weather for a while”. Leave out the fluff and avoid miring the pace of your story.

Don’t change POV during a discussion. If you want to reveal the thoughts of the non POV character, these need to be revealed by subtle action and being recognized by the POV character. “Susan saw anger in Michael’s eyes though his voice remained calm and measured.”

Don’t let your dialogue get trite of stiff. You destroy the believability of your character when their interaction degrades in this way. If you feel it getting trite, go back and study your characters real-life model a bit more and see how the would handle the dialogue in question.

Don’t copy anyone so precisely that you get sued for basing your villain on some well known politician. Base your character, don’t make them a copy of.

Don’t over-use dialogue tags: said, replied, asked, etc. Use these for the first couple of rounds in a conversation to distinguish who is speaking, but unless you’ve got a crowd of people interacting all at once, let the conversation flow naturally.

Don’t use adverbs in language tags at all. Instead of ““What do you mean by that?” Angela asked angrily” use ““What do you mean by that?” Angela’s eyes flashed with anger.”

Show, Don’t Tell

An old writing axiom tells us to show the reader what is going on, don’t describe it to them. Dialogue is a great way to do this. It can be entertaining, informative, and revealing all at once.





I received the following e-mail from my editor concerning a writer’s contest I’d entered at a magazine I write for.  Reminder: my pen name is Allan Douglas.   I’m feeling pretty happy right now.

Good afternoon!

Happy to report, our blogger contest for July was a huge success and something we hope to repeat in the near future — we’re currently looking for more awesome prizes for the next one. Thanks to ECHO for donating two quality saws that we know suit our audience well, a couple of CS-590 TimberWolf chainsaws (valued at $399).

The winner of most unique pageviews on a post: Allan Douglas, author of “How to Grow and Use Elderberry Plants,” which garnered 3,098 unique pageviews in the month of July — actually the post performed that well in 1/3 of the month, since it was published on 7/20/16!

The winner of most posts in the month of July: April Freeman, with a whopping 21 posts!

Way to go, Allan and April, and thanks to all of our bloggers who continually offer their country-living insights to like-minded neighbors. We will do our best to bring you opportunities for more cash and prizes in the future.

Allan and April, we’ll be in touch shortly to set up shipping information for your cash prize as well as your new Echo CS-590 TimberWolf chainsaw, just in time for fall!

All the best,

Caleb Regan

Caleb Regan
Editor-in-Chief, Grit and  Capper’s Farmer magazines
Ogden Publications, Inc.
1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265
(785) 274-4452 |
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Avoiding ‘ Very ‘ In Your Your Writing

In a society that increasingly regards anything smacking of ‘rules’ or ‘procedure’ as unfairly restrictive, things like punctuation, grammar, and spelling are rapidly falling out of favor. If you are one who lauds this movement, feel free to scroll on now: you won’t enjoy this article. If, however, you are one who still feels that language is beautiful and powerful, continue as I denounce the word “ very ” and offer alternatives to it’s use.

Why Avoid ‘Very’


Very is laziness. It cheapens your work. We tend to add ‘very’ as a modifier to another word to heighten it’s meaning, but in doing so we lose the opportunity to make a much better statement. We might say, “The building is very large.” but saying, “The building is enormous.” conveys your thought so much better.

I offer validation on the topic from famous authors:

‘Very’ is the most useless word in the English language and can always come out. More than useless, it is treacherous because it invariably weakens what it is intended to strengthen. ~Florence King

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Continue reading “Avoiding ‘ Very ‘ In Your Your Writing”

Things To Avoid When You Query For An Article

queryYou’ve written a fantastic article – or at least the outline of a fantastic article.  It is often best to hold off writing the actual article until you’ve found a publisher so you can slant the article the way the publisher desires. But you’ve done your research, have a solid premise and a killer topic. Now you’re ready to query some publications and find your article a home. Here are some things you do NOT want to do: Continue reading “Things To Avoid When You Query For An Article”

Top 5 Excuses When Writers Don’t Write

Bricklayers lay brick. Nurses nurse. Accountants do accowriter, writing, hard workunting. Actors act. Writers write … except for when writers don’t write, then things get a little confusing. Commercial writers don’t have the option of giving in to writer’s block or being distracted, they have contracts to fulfill. Freelancers can and do wander away from “the grindstone” occasionally. These are the top excuses: Continue reading “Top 5 Excuses When Writers Don’t Write”

Avoiding the N.S.A.

N.S.A. might not understandWe live in troubled times. Because there are a lot of bad people who want to hurt us, the people who say they’re protecting us sometimes seem more like bad people than good people. Whether they are or not is a discussion for another venue. The point here is that as writers, we sometimes do research into troubling topics. Fiction authors need factual info to weave into their stories. Non-Fic writers research topics of discussion. Both can stray into subjects that can get you flagged by the N.S.A. or other authorities as someone to watch.

Is this a real concern? That depends on what you’re researching and how deeply you’re diving. If you’re digging to learn everything you can about locating and joining an ISIS terror cell, you may well get put on a watch list. If you then dig into the building of bombs from domestic items like a pressure cooker, you may wind up having to explain yourself. What can you do to reduce the risk of having men in black knocking on your door? Continue reading “Avoiding the N.S.A.”

Hush the Voices

Hush the VoicesWriters hear voices in their heads. That may sound psychotic, but it’s not: everyone does but most people ignore them. We listen. We listen intently.

When we listen to the wrong voices, it can be damaging to our work … and our psyche. When those voices whisper to us, “you’re not good enough to do this”, “you have nothing new to say”, “this has been said before” we need to hush those voices … or at least turn them around.

Perspective_Lobster MiracleEven if it is true that what we’re pursuing has been said before – King Solomon, the wisest man in the Old Testament said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV) – there are always new ways of saying it. Your perspective of a common issue may be something fresh and new. You can also make a point by coming at an issue with satire, as I did in 6 Reasons to Stick with Legacy Publishing.

The “you’re not good enough” accusation may have truth in it. No one (except possibly Harper Lee) nails a best seller with their first novel, but you have to start somewhere. Write. If, when it’s done, it’s no good: lay it aside and write another. Go back to that first one when you’ve gained experience and dissect it; can it be made into something good? If you feel you’re wasting your time, ask yourself, “Can one become an Olympic runner if they demand medals every time they step onto a track?” Training is as important to a writer as it is to an athlete. Those lame stories are not wasted time and effort: they’re training.

So when those voices of dissension whisper their poison in your mind’s ear, if they cannot be ignored, write about them. Use it as a writing exercise by writing your bio: the one that will go on the back of your best-seller, and talk about your humble beginnings and overcoming doubt. Write how you did it, then do it.

Conversation with Non-existent People

conversationThis quote is not entirely true: psychotic people talk to … voices in their heads, or their invisible friends, or the demons who pursue them, so having conversation with an empty room is not the exclusive domain of writers.  But we do it too. However, we do it with purpose not out of madness.  Well, not generally out of madness.  A little madness spurs creativity.

The only way to tell if dialogue between characters sounds natural is to read it aloud – preferably using the voice you hear in your mind for that character.  By acting out the conversation you can tell if it flows naturally — or if it comes off as stiff or cornball.  This is one reason many fiction writers do their editing when the family has gone on an outing – or in a soundproof room, in a sub-basement.

Cochise is my Helper
Cochise says, “Let’s get to work Doug.”

On a related note, my dogs have become accustomed to me talking aloud when no one (no other person) is there. Cochise “humphs” at me (as in a forceful sigh) if I’m disturbing his slumber, but he knows I will go on regardless of his commentary. It’s different if I’m having conversation with the dogs (I do that too) because they’re involved in that.  Being disturbed is okay then.  Of course, if he’s helping me, then he’s awake anyway and enjoys offering his opinions.

Most of the time I’m proofreading. It is not possible to properly proofread an article by reading it silently, especially if you just wrote it. Maybe if someone else wrote it, but not your own work because you know too intimately what it is SUPPOSED to say and your eyes will tell you that what is on the page is what was in your brain.  Small things will slip past you. Read it out loud and you catch those little goofs that will otherwise stand up and wave at you only after you click “Send” and fire it, irretrievably,  off to the publisher.

Breaking Into a Publishing House: Ground-work

publishing house contractGetting a book published by a traditional or mainstream publishing house is the gold medal of the writer Olympics. In an age where anyone can self-publish their work, regardless of the quality of that work, having your book accepted and printed by a “brand name” book publisher is the most authoritative stamp of approval that says “I am a talented author”. How do you get there?

Approaching a Publishing House

On a very rare occasion a major publishing house will invite new authors to submit manuscripts in a particular genre for their consideration but, generally speaking, the usual way to gain admittance to the hallowed halls of the big time publishing houses is through a literary agent.

A literary agent is to the writer what a talent agent is to the singer, dancer, or actor. Many times an agent will also act as your editor, helping to improve your work before it goes to a publisher. An agent is the “Inside Man” (or woman) who has the connections within the publishing industry to get a manuscript read, knows what each publishing house is looking for and which publisher would be best for your current book.

Developing a writer-agent relationship will be the most important step in building your business as an author. Select your agent carefully.

But First…

Before you go shopping for an agent there are some things you ought to do that will ease the task and help good agents take you seriously. Continue reading “Breaking Into a Publishing House: Ground-work”

Difficult Does Not Mean Impossible

Difficult does not mean impossibleAll too many times we look at a situation or task and say, “That’s impossible”, but what we really mean to say is “that’s too difficult for me” because there have been many times that the impossible only remained impossible until someone did it.

At one time, the “experts” insisted that man could not fly.  Then others invented the hot air balloon and the airplane.  Then the experts insisted that the airplane would never fly faster than the speed of sound.  Then others developed sleeker plane bodies and stronger materials, and now jet fighters routinely fly faster than sound.  There are so many examples where greater understanding made the impossible possible.  But someone had to believe it was possible and work hard to find the way.

I know a couple of fellas: Dan Netherland and his son Chad who hold numerous Guinness World Records for feats of strength and doing what others could not.  Both will tell you that they accomplished this through training and perseverance.  Hard work.

J.K. Rowling (an author you may be aware of) gave a commencement speech at Harvard University in 2008 in which she lauded the benefits of failure and hard work.  In case you missed it:

You and I may not be revolutionary aircraft designers, or superhuman, or billionaire authors (yet), in fact we may often look at the road ahead and lament, “Oh, this is impossible!”  But, we can look around and see that the impossible is done on a regular basis.  Doing the impossible — even when it’s a matter of being so for me, given my circumstances and skills — doesn’t mean it can’t be done: just that it takes more work than would something easier.

If it is really important, don’t give up.  Don’t get sidetracked.  Don’t allow set-backs to dissuade you.  Thomas Edison is quoted, in regards to the light bulb, as saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  Eventually, he found a way that did work and accomplished the impossible.  So can we.