Thursday, May 29, 2014

Delia Latham: Dancing Dialogue, Part IV - The Final Dance

When push comes to shove, dialogue in fiction is just an author with the gift of gab. Right?


Dialogue can be the heart and soul of your novel; the make-it-or-break-it element in your fiction; the very life or death of your writing.

Or, in the lingo of this series on dialogue, the dance that makes the party unforgettable.

The past three weeks, we discussed the mechanics of dialogue: do’s and don’ts, how-to, and even a few examples. This week we’ll dance to a different melody. How about “It Had to be You”?

Why that particular song? Because whether your fictional dialogue is ultimately a success or a colossal failure depends entirely on YOU.
  • YOU put the words in your characters’ mouths.
  • YOU decide on the speech patterns, colloquialisms, etc., that those characters  portray.
  • YOU insert the action beats or dialogue tags.
  • YOU create each voice in every conversation. Those verbal exchanges between your characters can be riveting or hopelessly dull. It’s up to YOU.
  • YOU are the band. YOUR words, and in particular,   YOUR dialogue is the music. 

Here’s how you’ll make sure YOUR readers dance ‘til the song is over.

Create irresistible dialogue.
Don’t stop re-working a conversation until it captivates. If a reader is an eavesdropper listening in on a chat between your characters, she should be powerless to walk away mid-conversation.
Polish the gems. Ever thought about how a gem is brought to perfection? Someone takes a rough stone and taps at it until it’s perfect. I love the following from Brian Klems (Writer’s Digest):
We’ve all had those moments when we wake up and have the perfect response for a conversation that took place the night before. Wouldn’t we all like to have those bon mots at a moment’s notice?
Your characters can. That’s part of the fun of being a fiction writer.
Klems uses an example from “The Godfather.” A simple dialogue comparison, but the impact from the change is ginormous. This is the kind of tapping at a diamond-in-the-rough that produces a perfect gem! 

Moe Greene is angry that a young Michael Corleone is telling him what to do. He might have said, “I made my bones when you were in high school!” Instead, screenwriter Mario Puzo penned, “I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders!” (In his novel, Puzo wrote something a little racier). The point is you can take almost any line and find a more sparkling alternative.

As a writer, you have the liberty of letting your dialogue stew…then returning later to add the spice (that perfect come-back). Why on earth wouldn’t you do that?

      Keep it pertinent.
Omit chit-chat that has no reason to be there and has nothing to do with the storyline.
                    Leave out the fillers and fluff.
Keep greetings and good-byes brief, if you must use them at all.
Niceties, like “so nice to see you, "thank you” and “how are you” become stale long before the expiration date. Doesn’t mean you should never use them, but think long and hard before you do.

Make it sparkle.

The best movies usually have at least one line of dialogue that becomes synonymous with that title. Why? 

Because they're brilliant. They shine. They sparkle. They’re the perfect words at the perfect time.

  Let’s look at a few of them:

     "Easy, Miss, I've got you."
             "You've got me? Who's got you?"
     (Superman, the Movie, 1978)

“Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?” (Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981)

Somehow, “Oh, man, I hate snakes” doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it?

"Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!" (The Princess Bride, 1987)

My oldest son shouted this phrase - awake and in his sleep - at least a hundred times as a child. Children only to that when they hear something that packs a considerable wallop.

"Face it, girls, I'm older and I have more insurance." (Fried Green Tomatoes, 1991)

Oh, come on…you know you lo ved this scene. And if Kathy Bates had simply said, “Take that, teeny- boppers,” who’d have remembered it?

"Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today." (Groundhog Day, 1993)
Not one of my favorite favorite movies but I love this line. Love it!

“I see dead people.” (The Sixth Sense, 1999)
Priceless. Simple. Impactful. Blood-chillingly priceless!

"My precious."(Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, 2002)

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”(Land of the Dead, 2005)

Easy to see why these lines stand out in our memories. They’re short on words and long on punch. Every novel should be sprinkled with that same kind of fizz and pop.

By now, your mind should be full of possibilities. Your toes should be tapping to the melody of the conversations taking place in your mind.

That’s good, my writer friends. Now…write. Devise dialogue that dances right into the heart and mind of your reader. How many gems can you polish to perfection?

Take the challenge: Put a little Macarena in your mystery; write a reggae romance; salsa-tize your suspense; have fun with a fandango fantasy…. 

You get the picture. Get out there and rock your writing with dancing dialogue!

DELIA LATHAM is a born-and-bred California gal, raised in a place called Weedpatch and currently living in the lovely mountain town of Tehachapi with her husband and a spoiled Pomeranian. She enjoys multiple roles as Christian wife, mother, grandmother, sister and friend, but especially loves being a princess daughter to the King of Kings. She has a "thing" for Dr. Pepper, and loves to hear from her readers. Contact her through her website or send an e-mail to Find her also at the following online locations:

Amazon Author Page


Rock your writing with dancing dialogue. @DeliaLatham #WriteRight!

"And what is the use of a book, without...conversations?" Dialogue in Fiction with @DeliaLatham

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rebecca DeMarino: When Inspiration Fails: Five Tips to Get Back to Writing

Rebecca DeMarino

There is ebb and flow in every writer’s life and finding your rhythm will save you from pulling out your hair as you stare at the screen. But there are times when a deadline must be met, and it doesn’t matter if it’s self-imposed or otherwise.

Here are my five favorite ideas to kindle the fire of imagination:

1.  Go to the Word. Read scripture. Talk to God and let Him speak to your heart. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.  Jeremiah 33:3. What a promise!

2.  Experience the beauty of nature and let it translate to the page. Listen to a stream. Study people. Watch some waves. Hike a mountain. Sit in a garden and drink in the fragrance. Sip a glass of lemonade and taste the tart and sweet of it.

3.  Keep your notepad with you and be like Leonardo: write or doodle, but get your in-the-moment ideas down.

4.  Take a nap or daydream. I think there is nothing more decadent than to sleep with sunshine on my face.  A power nap of twenty minutes can refresh your mind and spirit. A word of caution here: don’t overdo it. Too much sleeping during the day will ave the opposite effect and will affect your sleep at night when all of that good REM sleep occurs. And fun, inspiring dreams!

5.  Go to the pros. Reading a book on the writing craft often pulls me out of a bog and excited to see how their advice will look in my story. A few of my favorites: James Scott Bell: The Art of War for Writers; Rebecca McClanahan: Word Painting; Brandilyn Collins: Getting Into Character and Donald Maas: Fire in Fiction. I could go on.

This is just a starter list. You must have your favorite fire-starter.  What is your number one tip?

About Rebecca:
Rebecca DeMarino lives in the Pacific N.W. and enjoys hiking, baking, genealogy and gardening. Her debut novel, A Place in His Heart, is a historical romance inspired by her ninth great-grandparents, Barnabas and Mary Horton, and is book one of The Southold Chronicles. It is available now from Revell. For more information please visit her website or Facebook page. She can also be found on Pinterest.

A Place in His Heart
The Southold Chronicles, Book 1

Anglican Mary Langton longs to marry for love. Left at the altar and disgraced in her small hamlet, she is being pressured to marry the eligible son of the London milliner. Puritan Barnabas Horton still grieves the loss of his beloved wife, but he knows his two young sons need a mother. With tender hearts, Mary and Barnabas take a leap of faith and wed. But when Barnabas’s secret plans to move his family to the New World to escape persecution come to light, Mary’s world is upended. How could she possibly leave her Papa and her dear sister?

And will she ever reach the secret places of her husband’s broken heart?


Find your missing inspiration. #Write Right! with @RebeccaDeMarino @DeliaLatham

5 steps to inspiration. #Write Right! with @RebeccaDeMarino @DeliaLatham

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Delia Latham: Dancing Dialogue, Part III

Part 3 - Dance Like No One's Watching


Silence is a powerful tool in dialogue. It can whisper comfort and peace, shout anger and discord, or state a fact more clearly than any words ever could. In the words of an old Keith Whitley song: “You say it best when you say nothing at all.”

Of course, not everything can be said with silence. But some things are communicated with incredible impact by having a character say nothing.


Noah reached across the table and took her hand.

“Karen, I—” He cleared his throat and squeezed the hand he held. “I’ve fallen in love with you.”

Her eyes widened. For the barest flash of a second, Keith remembered the deer he’d missed by about six inches on the road last night.

Then her hand slid from his, and she stared out the window, apparently enthralled by the darkness that covered the bay.

Uh-oh. Something’s not right, right? Either Karen doesn’t return Keith’s affection, or something is preventing her from saying so.

Employ this tool with care. It can be a valuable part of your writer’s arsenal. But, as with any writing technique, overuse lessens the effect, and can become downright annoying.

Information dumping:

If you’ve been writing for more than two days, you know dumping information on your reader is a no-no. 

Unfortunately, many writers seem to think if information is provided within a conversation, that makes it fine and dandy. Think again.

Yes, dialogue is a great way to let readers know things they need to know about a character’s history, psychological condition, etc., without pages of back story. But even packaged in dialogue and tied in neat little quotation marks, no one wants an entire life’s history shoved down their throat in a single conversation. Spread it out. Drop nuggets of information, and do it in such a way that the reader hardly realizes she’s been fed a slice of back story pie.


Still holding hands, they approached the antique store. With a chuckle, Tina used her free hand to point at the window, where an old Silver Streak bicycle held prominent place in the eclectic display.

“Look at that old bike, Ross.” She shook her head. “At one time, some kid probably thought he’d been handed the keys to the kingdom when he got that thing on Christmas morning. Can you even imagine?”

Ross stared at the red bike. He didn’t have to imagine. But it hadn’t been Christmas. His old man had put in a lot of work to make it look sharp—it was far from new, even on Ross’s twelfth birthday. But he hadn’t cared. That Silver Streak bicycle was his pride and joy—and ultimately, the thing that destroyed his life forever.

“Ross!” Karen tugged at her hand, finally freeing it from his unwitting clutch-hold. Her shocked gaze captured his. “What’s wrong with you? You were hurting me!”

The reader is given a glimpse into Ross’s past, but not a whole shovelful of it—just a bare glimpse. The reader doesn’t feel as if she’s been taken on a long, boring stroll through history, but her interest is now definitely piqued. Ross’s past holds the promise of some interesting reading further in the book, and you can bet she’s going to keep reading until she unearths that mystery.

Keep it casual:

Most of us do not use a lot formality in our everyday conversation—unless the situation calls for formality: a speech, a job interview, etc. Outside those situations, we don’t speak in a stiff, stilted manner. Neither should our characters, unless that happens to be a (rather unusual) characteristic of that person’s speech.

For instance, when inviting a guest to make herself at home, which of the following more closely represents realistic conversation?

"I desire to ensure you are absolutely comfortable during the time you are staying in my home."

"Please make yourself at home. I want you to be comfortable here."

Clearly, the second choice is closer to what most of us would actually say…and that’s how our character’s should speak, as well.

Use contractions. Most conversations are riddled with them, and we don’t even notice. But we do notice when someone doesn’t use them, because their speech sounds stilted. (For instance, a foreigner might speak English very precisely, and omit contractions. If you have a character to whom English is a second language, then by all means, kill the contractions. That speech pattern will become an easy identifier for that character any time he/she speaks.)

Try reading your dialogue out loud. Actually hearing dialogue can shine a light on anything corny or unrealistic that managed to find its way in there. Better yet, enlist the aid of an honest friend to read the dialogue with you—like a script. You take a role, your friend takes another. You’ll be
surprised how many speech snafus the two of you will uncover, and the result will be a better, more believable conversation for your readers’ enjoyment.

Read. And read some more.

As writers, we are often told to read. We learn by reading. If we don’t read, we can’t write. In the words of Stephen King, “You cannot hope to sweep someone away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.”

Read with a deliberate mind toward dialogue. What works in the books you most enjoy? What made conversations sparkle and dance? What didn’t work…annoyed you, made you close the book and not open it again? Learn from those things—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Everything you learn is another step you can apply to your own dancing dialogue…another step away from Wallflower-dom and into the action on the floor.

Dance like no one’s watching…but, as a writer, dance so that everyone will!

Next week: The final dance.


Dialogue: Make it dance like no one’s watching, and everyone will. @DeliaLatham

Dancing Dialogue, Part III, on Write Right! @DeliaLatham

DELIA LATHAM is a born-and-bred California gal, raised in a place called Weedpatch and currently living in the lovely mountain town of Tehachapi with her husband and a spoiled Pomeranian. She enjoys multiple roles as Christian wife, mother, grandmother, sister and friend, but especially loves being a princess daughter to the King of Kings. She has a "thing" for Dr. Pepper, and loves to hear from her readers. Contact her through her website or send an e-mail to Find her also at the following online locations:

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

James Callan: The Sidekick

James R. Callan

In most novels, it is a good idea for the protagonist to have a sidekick. Generally, this will be a friend of the protagonist. It is certainly possible that it is a stranger who enters the plot, and either attaches himself to the protagonist, or is somehow brought into close contact with the hero and ends up helping him or her.

If you are not convinced of the importance of the sidekick, imagine the Lone Ranger without Tonto, or Batman without Robin, or The Green Hornet without Kato.

The sidekick is a very helpful friend for you, the author.

The key to a good sidekick is to have him be a contrast to the protagonist. Why? If they are friends, wouldn’t they be a lot alike? If you make the sidekick a carbon copy of the leading person, all you really gain is another pair of hands. Make the sidekick a contrast, a different personality, and you have added a new dimension to the story.
By being different, the sidekick can highlight those characteristics of the protagonist that you want to emphasize. This secondary player can offer a separate perspective on the problems and perhaps additional paths to a solution.

I said the sidekick was a friend of the author. Suppose your protagonist is very serious. The sidekick can offer some comic relief. What if you get your principal character in a spot and don’t know how to get her out? The sidekick can provide the answer. Many problems you face as the author can be solved by use of the sidekick. Here’s an example. Abe is so honest and law abiding, he won’t even drive over the speed limit. He and Ethan stand in front of a house they need to search. The door is locked and Abe won’t break in. “Would you go in if the door was open?” asks Ethan. “Yeah. But it isn’t.” Ethan disappears and two minutes later the front door opens. “Come right in,” says a smiling Ethan. He has broken into a back door. You can’t let Abe move out of the character you’ve developed, but Ethan can help.

In A Ton of Gold, my leading person is a near-Ph.D. research scientist. Her friend, Brandi, barely made it out of high school. But Brandi is street smart, and when they find themselves in the seedier side of society, it is Brandi who knows how to deal with it.

The protagonist and the sidekick can have the same goal, but the sidekick can have a different motive, thus adding another layer to your story. And the sidekick could be the driving force for a subplot.

So think of the sidekick as your friend. Craft your sidekick carefully and whatever problem arises, there’s a good chance the sidekick can solve it, allowing the protagonist to keep her focus on the main goal of the book. When you create the sidekick, think “Contrast.” Your book will benefit.

About James Callan:

After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing.  He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published several non-fiction books.  He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mysteries, with his sixth book releasing in Spring, 2014.

A Ton of Gold, (Oak Tree Press, 2013)
On Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions:

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Delia Latham: Dancing Dialogue, Part II

Delia Latham

Last week we talked about the purpose dialogue fills in fiction writing, and why it needs to be lively and interesting to keep readers reading.

Following are a few do’s and don’ts that’ll keep the dance in perfect rhythm:

Do give your characters their own voices. Sit and listen to folks talk. Writers are, by necessity of their calling, eavesdroppers. So listen in. Notice the different types of voices and speech patterns. Some people speak in a slow drawl. Others chatter loud and fast. Ask three people the same question, and you’re likely to receive three different answers—or the same answer, given in a manner appropriate to each speaker.

      Question: “How do I get to Main Street from here?”
      Possible answers:

a.      “Keep goin’ south, then a right on Turner Way’ll get’cha there.”
b.      “Whoa, dude, do I look like a city map?”
c.       “Walk…or take a taxi, I guess.”

Notice how each of these answers calls to mind some idea of the type of person who provided it. Do you hear the good ol’ boy in answer “a”? See the long hair and tie-dyed shirt, or possibly a modern punk look, in answer “b”? What about “c”? A grumpy old guy who dislikes people? A smart-alecky teen? A particular character’s consistent use the same speech patterns, rhythms, or styles will give the reader insight into that character’s personality, and help identify her any time she speaks.

Do skip the small talk. Fluff. Filler conversation. Unnecessary dialogue. It’s like an extra beat in the melody that doesn’t fit and throws the dancers off. Bands that throw that kind of unnecessary riff into their music don’t last long in a dance venue. Writers don’t either. Every word of dialogue should have a reason for being there in fiction—otherwise, leave it unsaid. In the words of Elmore Leonard, "Leave out the part that readers tend to skip." 

Do change partners now and then. Alternate dialogue with action and description. Unbroken dialogue, like unbroken action or description, becomes annoying might fast. Break it up.

Do place your characters in a specific time and place while they talk. No one has an entire conversation without doing something. Twiddling his thumbs or tapping his toes. Tucking her hair behind her ear, chewing on the tip of a fingernail. Because I have some discomfort in my feet, I find myself curling my toes or stretching my foot muscles. I’m sure you have habitual gestures and “tics,” as well. Your characters should too.

Ever wondered what the term “talking heads” is all about? You got it, baby – this is it. Talking heads are characters who do nothing but spout dialogue, and apparently exist in some unidentifiable vacuum, since the author can’t be bothered to mention their location, or toss in a few surrounding details.
Are your characters in someone’s living room? Sitting on a couch? What kind of art is on the walls? Maybe your hero’s gaze keeps wandering to a subject in an old portrait, or he wonders about the meaning behind a piece of modern sculpture. Are they talking over the noise of a child’s cartoon? Can they hear the clang or tinkle of wind chimes from the front porch? What smells filter through the air…a lasagna in the oven? Does the pungent aroma of bacon still linger from breakfast?

Maybe they’re standing on the beach. What sounds are in the background? Loud, crashing waves or just the gentle susurration of the ocean’s movement? The persistent squawk of a seagull? The slap of hands on a volleyball, victory yells from one team or the other?

Dialogue - like a good two-step - should never happen alone. Surrounding elements add life to the scene, and give your characters a whole being—not just a talking head.

Do use action tags. Are you unclear on the difference between a dialogue tag and an action tag? Let’s clear up the confusion.

Dialogue tags state who said what, and how they said it: He said, she stated, Jane questioned, Tom mused…

Action tags also identify who’s speaking, but they do it through the use of action. This helps eliminate talking heads, because someone is doing something.

“Who all’s going to be here tonight?” Cathy added a spoon to the last place setting as she caught and held her mother’s gaze. “Please tell me you didn’t invite Marcus.”

Cathy is identified as the speaker, but the reader can also surmise that Cathy and her mother are preparing the table for guests, and that Marcus isn’t welcome—at least, Cathy doesn’t welcome him. Is Cathy’s mother trying to make a match between the two?

Don’t explain every last detail. You’re dealing with written dialogue, not real-life conversation. The reader shouldn’t have to suffer through all the pleasantries most people exchange before getting to the meat of a conversation. No one cares about generalities: “Hello, how are you? Hope you’re doing well. It’s been a long time.” Please. Be merciful to your readers. Get to the nitty-gritty and leave the rest to their imaginations.

Don’t pretend your characters are the only people in the world. If they’re in a restaurant, they’re likely to be interrupted by someone taking or delivering their orders. Their table might be jostled by a child running wild. “Background” music might be drowning out their conversation. Is the bartender caught up in an argument with an inebriated customer? Does the woman at the next table have a persistent and annoying cough, or maybe her loud laughter sounds like the braying of a donkey? Include surrounding details to validate your dialogue.

Don’t overuse names. In real-life conversation, we don’t call each other by name a lot. We shouldn’t do it in fiction either. Use names often enough that your reader can be certain who’s speaking—especially during lengthy conversations. Use them for emphasis…trying to catch another character’s attention, to drive home a point, to express intense reaction. Sometimes using a name can indicate sarcasm or a deliberate annoyance tactic. Use names for effect. Don’t use them in every other line.

Don’t be too proper. Most of us, even if we know the proper rules of grammar, don’t always use them. And even though we know it’s rude to interrupt, we do it. We cut each other off and speak over one another. Allow your characters to do the same—your dialogue will sound far more natural.

Be back next week for more on making your dialogue dance.

Question for discussion:  What do’s and don’ts do you adhere to when writing dialogue?


Dancing Dialogue, step by step with @DeliaLatham. #fiction #writing #writingtips

Make your dialogue dance a lively two-step. @DeliaLatham #writingtips #fiction

Delia Latham
(c) May 2014

DELIA LATHAM is a born-and-bred California gal, raised in a place called Weedpatch and currently living in the lovely mountain town of Tehachapi with her husband and a spoiled Pomeranian. She enjoys multiple roles as Christian wife, mother, grandmother, sister and friend, but especially loves being a princess daughter to the King of Kings. She has a "thing" for Dr. Pepper, and loves to hear from her readers. Contact her through her website or send an e-mail to Find her also at the following online locations:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Teresa Pollard: You Know More Than You Think You Do

I suppose my best advice to other writers would be the writer’s truism: Write what you know, but with a few caveats.

The first is to realize that you know much more than you think you do. Find those things that separate you from every other writer out there, and write about them. People who know me will tell you that I have two passions. I love teaching God’s Word, and I love children. I’ve been a Sunday School teacher for most of the last forty years. So, naturally I was drawn to writing Biblical fiction.

My love of children led me to pro-life advocacy stories. What are your passions? If you’re a great cook, include recipes for your specialties; if an arts and crafts person, maybe make some kind of little crafty project with a child character. Even if you’re a stay-at-home mom with a couple of kids, and you think “all I know is dirty diapers,” 
you surely know which are the best diapers and the best ways to get stains out of baby clothes. Details make or break good writing. There are so many moms out there who are going to identify with every word you write.

Second, don’t settle for what you know now. Constantly continue to expand your knowledge. The best writers are readers. If you say, “I don’t have time to read,” make time. Christian writers should especially spend time in the Word. Our God is the best Author of all, and He has a lot to teach us. Also read other Christian writers. It’s how we hone our craft. I have a Master’s degree in Creative Writing, but to be honest, until a few months ago I’d never even heard of “deep point-of-view.” I am so excited to learn this new tool.

And finally, it’s not just what you know, but who you know. Within your circle of friends, you’ll be amazed at the diversity of expertise you’ll find. Don’t be afraid to mine it. Your friends will be delighted at your interest. My son is a World Champion drag racer. While I don’t know diddly about the sport, he knows practically everything there is to know about it. My daughter is an insurance agent. Since I write mysteries, it occurred to me yesterday that insurance fraud makes an excellent motive for murder. Somehow, I see that happening in a future novel, and I may just set it at a drag strip.

So, pray about what God would have you to write about, then get writing all the things you know, add in all the things you’ve found out about the things you’ve always wanted to know, and get some insights from friends about their experiences too. The result will be a richly detailed piece that resonates with your personality and glorifies your Father in heaven.

God bless you,

About Teresa Pollard:

Teresa Pollard is from Richmond, Virginia, and was saved at a young age. She has a Masters degree in English and Creative Writing from Hollins College, and has served as a Sunday School teacher and children’s worker for most of the last forty years. Married for forty years, she was devastated by divorce and the death of her youngest daughter, but God has blessed her with a new home and another grandson, and she now resides in Dacula, Georgia. Her website is

About Tokens of Promise:

Inspired by The Bible, Genesis 38, "Tokens of Promise" is an imagination of the love story of Judah and Tamar.

“Beware, Prince of Hebron, her witching ways are strong.” Ben Qara’s evil words still rang in his ears. Judah is sure he was bewitched by the beautiful Tamar. She is all he can think about. But no, it must not be. He will not break his vow to Yah. He already has a wife, and he will have only one. Tamar must marry Er.

Rescued from disgrace by the handsome Judah, Tamar is already in love with the kind stranger. She eagerly followed Emi’s advice on how to win him. It almost worked. He’d promised. If only his servant hadn’t come at that moment, she’d be his wife now instead of going home with him to be his daughter-in-law. Why had her father agreed to this? Surely he could see her destiny was with Judah?

We recommend that this fictional story be reserved for readers aged 18+, due to the non-graphic inclusion of sexual themes.

Special Note: Teresa just signed contracts for TWO more books. Not Ashamed is a sequel to Not Guilty, written with Candi Pullen. Woman of Light is a story of Deborah from Judges 4 & 5. While Teresa doesn't yet have release dates for these books, she anticipates their release some time early next year.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Delia Latham: Dancing Dialogue

(Following is the first installment of a series on dialogue. Follow-ups comin'atcha each Thursday for the next (?) weeks. Playing this one by ear.)

Writing dialogue is an acquired skill for most of us. Few writers get it right the first time, but the ones who succeed at becoming published and actually selling books keep at it until they do.

The simple truth is, dialogue in fiction cannot be dull, dry and deadly boring. Think of a wallflower—present, but unessential to the activity, and mostly overlooked.

No, no, no. No. Dialogue has to sparkle and shine and dance. It must be the pizzazz that makes the party perfect!

Conversation between a book’s characters (yes, dialogue) drives the emotion, action and conflict. If it isn’t crisp…if it isn’t sharp…if it doesn’t capture a reader’s entire attention—make her laugh or cry, shock her or set her on edge, arouse his sympathy or make him want to punch a hole in the wall—then it isn’t done right.

It isn’t dancing.

Come along. Let’s learn the melody that will make our dialogue dance a lively two-step.

Dance Step #1:

Know what it is. Simply stated, dialogue is a verbal exchange between two or more characters. (Only one person talking equals monologue, and isn’t usually well-received—in real life or in fiction.)

Dance Step #2:

Know what it does for a storyline.

Dialogue serves more than on purpose in fiction, each of them equally important. Let’s step them off, one at a time.

1.      Advances plot and scene. Essential information can be provided in an interesting manner through dialogue. It's how readers learn things they need to know about the story without being fed a dump of information that leaves them yawning.

On a more piecemeal level, dialogue reveals the purpose of a scene—and every scene must have one.  If it doesn’t, toss it and save your characters a few words. But when there is a need for a scene, there is almost always a need for dialogue too.

2.      Reveals character. What kind of people are your characters? Dialogue done well reveals who they are at heart. Is she spoiled by a lifetime of silver spoons? Maybe he’s street smart—because he had to be to survive. Dialogue can bring to light a character’s hopes and dreams, doubts and fears, foibles and follies, and do so without blasting the reader with boring backstory. Everything can be communicated to your very smart readers simply by what and how a character speaks.

3.      Shows geographical and environmental detail. Each person is a culmination of his or her life events, home environment and geographical location. That’s what gives each of us a unique personality that is essentially who we are. Cowpokes from Texas are likely to have a slow, southern drawl, and say “ma’am” a lot. Socialites from Manhattan may be fashion conscious and/or a bit snooty. Someone raised in a strict religious home, even if they no longer consciously adhere to that religion’s tenets, will reveal that background in certain things they say, or the way they say them. Does she unconsciously quote scripture, or refer to Bible characters? Bingo. That tells your reader something they need to know.

4.      Creates, increases, or reveals conflict. Words are powerful. They can kill, or they can bring life. The casual revelation of a secret can start a feud, break up a marriage, dash a plan, destroy a dream. Kind words have been known to talk a prospective suicide off a ledge. The right word at the right time can make miracles happen—sometimes even in real life. :) In fiction, they’re the oil that keeps the story moving and makes things happen—good things and bad. Dialogue—the words the characters speak—is the melody that makes the music that inspires the dance.
5.      Balances story elements. Action and description are both necessary to a good tale, but long passages of either can be boring and send a reader out shopping for a new book. Dialogue breaks up those necessary chunks of doldrum-ite,  turning them into fascinating little verbal fireworks.
Could we come up with more purposes for dialogue? Sure, but these are enough to prove the necessity of learning how to use it well. 

(Next week we'll cover some do's and don'ts to improve your dance steps.)

Delia Latham
(c) May 2014


Does your dialogue dance a lively two-step? A blog series from #DeliaLatham shows how. #PelicanBookGrp

Does your dialogue dance? Discover some tips on how to party! @DeliaLatham

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Lynn Chandler Willis: Character Description

Lynn Chandler Willis

Above plot, dialogue, setting, style and anything else you want to add, the heart of a good story is the characters. There are many ways to make your characters leap off the page and into your readers’ hearts. One of my favorite ways is to add description. Not just “he had red hair” description but in-depth, down to the soul description. You're the creator of this character—their DNA is in your hands and it's up to you to show it to the reader.

How to add physical description without it looking like a grocery list:
He has red hair. How red was his hair? Candy-cane red or blaze orange? There’s a difference. Did he also have freckles? Many red-heads do, you know. Pale or tanned or sunburned? Many redheads easily sunburn. Perhaps he smells
like sunscreen. Does he like his red hair? Maybe he has a perpetual frown because he longs to be dark-headed?

How to add to the characterization without the reader knowing it:
What kind of clothing is he wearing? A business suit? Jeans and a t-shirt? Even the t-shirt can tell a reader something about your character. Does it have a logo?  Nike—he may be athletic. Duck Commander—he may be an outdoorsman and hunter. Grateful Dead—may be an aging hippie, music lover, art student, yard sale shopper. Does his shirt have a funny saying on it? Is it political? Sexy? Redneck humor? Any one of these shows the reader who the character is without telling them he is a business man.

How to bring a character to life:
So now the reader knows our character has orange hair, freckles and is wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt. What else can we add to bring him to life? A limp? A stutter? A scar? Was he born with that limp or did his foot fall asleep from sitting cross legged while meditating? Is the limp a war injury? A football, basketball, or car-racing injury? A personal injury lawsuit in the works? Or maybe he’s not really injured…. All of the above helps bring a character to life. And, it can be done in a few short sentences.

Example: His hair looked like tiny orange spikes pushing through the top of his head. A Grateful Dead t-shirt stretched across his sagging belly. He shuffled over to the counter, a painful limp contorting his grizzled face. “‘Nam,” he said as if that explained it all.

This character has now become real, a three dimensional being rather than a stick figure. The reader now has a vivid image of what he looks like, how old he is, and a glimpse into his past without even realizing it. The description didn't need to drag on for paragraphs—everything the reader needed to know at the moment was shown to them in a few sentences.

So the next time you come to writing a character description, don't tell the reader the man was wearing a hat. Show us he was wearing a NY Yankees ball cap, backwards.

The Rising:

A little boy, beaten and left to die in an alley.  A cop with a personal life out of control. When their worlds collide, God intervenes. Detective Ellie Saunders's homicide investigation takes a dramatic turn when a young victim "wakes up" in the morgue. The child has no memory prior to his "rising" except walking with his father along a shiny road. Ellie likes dealing with facts. She'd rather leave all the God-talk to her father, a retired minister, and to her partner, Jesse, a former vice cop with an annoying habit of inserting himself into her life. But will the facts she follows puts Ellie's life in mortal danger? And will she finally allow God into her heart forever?

About the Author:

Lynn Chandler Willis is the author of the bestselling True Crime book Unholy Covenant (Addicus Books, 2000), Grace Award finalist The Rising (Pelican Book Group, 2013), and the forthcoming Wink of an Eye, winner of the 2013 St. Martin's Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best 1st PI Novel competition. It will be released by Minotaur Books Nov. 2014.