Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Just Saying

Writing Dialogue


When I do character sketches, I include voice:

How do they speak? Soft, deep high-pitched, raspy, fast/slow talker/child’s voice mumble etc.     [just a hint is all that is needed]

Do they speak with an accent? foreign/Southern/educated/teen/child etc. [a little accent goes a long way or the reader might get lost]

Do they speak differently under different circumstances? Happy/sad/scared/bored/angry   [emotion affects speech]

Do they speak differently in different places? School/home/public/work [the vocabulary will also  vary]

What kind of vocabulary do they use? Large/simple/slang/work places terms. [age affects this, too]


Use these as you write/edit. Read aloud, try to imitate each character. If a character speaks more than once, Include their voice in a character sketch. When using slang, dialect etc., find a native speaker (E.g. A teen for high school slang), read it aloud to them.

Dialogue is not just voice or sound:

What are your characters doing while speaking? Washing dishes. Hiking, etc. [but use   moderation]

Silence is a form of communication. (AKA the silent treatment) [wife called it passive-aggressive]

If the POV character chooses to think rather than speak, it is a form of dialogue because it  informs the reader the way speech would.

Facial expressions, body language, movements can communicate as much as words.

What is dialogue for?

It either propels the story forward or tells the reader something about the characters. If it doesn’t do either one of these, what is the dialogue for?

Things to forget:

Grammar. Complete sentences.

Answering questions: characters often ignore questions and change the subject, which often tells more than answering the question.


Don’t try to write dialogue that is too real-to-life. The reader doesn’t need every huh, um, etc, speakers say. Writing dialogue is a trick to convince the reader the speech is real. When using dialect, a few hints work better than dialogue that is difficult for anyone to read.

Using exclamation points (let your word choice indicate excitement). Using caps for emphasis (use italics).

Read it aloud:

Dialogue needs a rhythm. Angry or scared words need a faster, frantic pace. Conversation or  romance might take a slower, relaxed pace.

People interrupt each other, breaking the rhythm. People are rude to each other.

Beats, tags, or neither?

Beats are actions or gestures that either interrupt or add to the dialogue. Use them occasionally.

Tags should be used ONLY when leaving them out it will confuse the reader. Try to use either  said or asked.

Neither. If it is clear who is speaking, and no action or beat is required, then just dialogue is fine (hard to accomplish with more than 2 speakers).


Three Ways of Dealing with Non-dialogue for Intense POV’s

E.g. The character breaks a piece of chocolate candy.

Narrative description: The brown candy broke in his hand, releasing a vanilla scent.

Thought: Brown candy. Vanilla scent. Breaks right in my hand.

Active: He broke the brown candy in his hands, the vanilla scent making him smile.

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  1. Clichés are old hat

Perhaps in dialogue, otherwise avoid them. Instead find metaphors, similes, etc.
2. Writing dialogue that sounds like it’s written

Listen to people speaking, write what you hear. Read it aloud & change it until it sounds like speech.

  1. Hurrying that plot (are we there yet?)

Find that sweet spot between writing too much & boring your readers, or ending the plot too soon, frustrating & mystifying readers. Pantsers plot as they write, outliners know in advance where their plot is headed.

  1. Not making the ending (and beginning) authentic & exciting

Waking up from a dream at the end is one example of a way to cheat or trick the reader. IThe ending must be unexpected yet necessary to your plot & story arc. I.e. the ending should be a surprise yet feel as if it was the only ending possible.

  1. Keeping your characters consistent

A character must make choices appropriate to the traits you gave them, or your readers will be confused. Point of view is an important consideration—first-person can help you get deeper into a character’s motivations, but a close third person can also work.

  1. Not varying sentence structure

Don’t make every sentence subject/verb/direct-object. Imperatives. Incomplete sentences. Interrogative sentences. Sentences with inverted word order. Complex. Compound. Complex/compound. Cumulative sentences. This is especially important when revising.

  1. Failing to trust the reader’s intelligence

Learn how much to tell the reader. Too much info can be as bad as not enough. And don’t talk down to the reader no matter what age the reader is. Allow the reader to develop connections to you and your writing.

  1. Changing the time & place without good reason

Only change the setting, time & place, if it furthers your story. Frequent changes can impair story flow & lose the reader.

  1. Being lazy

Do your research, double-check even if writing about what you “know.” Use reliable sources!

  1. Forgetting who your audience is

Know who you’re writing for, both genre & age group. For example, if writing romance, don’t write for the mystery buff. Write a& win-over the romance readers. When writing for children, they don’t like to read about main characters younger or much older than them.

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These are not originally my notes, but I believe they can help novelists, so I decided to post them. I.e. this is one way to write your novel.

1) OPENING IMAGE: (1 minute) the scene that sets the tone and type of the story. A “before” snapshot and opposite of the Final Image.  (Opening scene) Mike is sitting surrounded by other kids yet alone at his grade school cafeteria. Not sad, just alone. Flash forward to the bar, Mike is still alone although surrounded with others [intro]

2) THEME STATED: (5 pages & minutes) Usually stated to them in character, often without know what is said will be vital to his surviving the tale. It’s what the story is about. [Foreshadowing]

3) THE SET-UP: (1-10) The first 10 pages of a script or first 10 panels of a comic must not only grab our interest but introduce every character in the “A” story. Something needs to change. [stasis equals death]

4) CATALYST: (12) The telegram, the knock on the door, the thing that happens to the hero to shake him. It’s the story’s first “whammy.” [boom]

5) DEBATE: (12-25) The section of the story where the hero doubts the journey he must make. [a mild version of the Dark Moment]

6) BREAK INTO TWO: (25) Where we leave the “thesis” world behind and enter the upside-down “anti-thesis” world of Act Two. The hero makes a choice …and his journey begins. [the plot develops]

7) B STORY: (30) The love story, traditionally, but actually where the discussion of the theme of the movie is found. [can be love or philosophy]

8) FUN AND GAMES: (30-55) Here we forget the plot and enjoy the “set pieces” and “trailer moments” and revel in the promise of the premise. [sex, action sequences or main characters interacting]

9) MIDPOINT: (55) The dividing line between the two halves of the story. It’s back to the story as stakes are raised and “time clocks” appear. We are beginning to put the squeeze on our heroes. [the main characters get stressed]

10) THE BAD GUYS CLOSE IN: (55-75) Both internally (problems inside the heroes team) and externally (as the bad guys tighten their grip) real pressure is applied. [focus on antagonist]

11) ALL IS LOST: (75) The false defeat and the place we find “the whiff of death” – because something must die here. [things sour]

12) DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: (75-85) “Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord?” The part of the story where our hero has lost all hope & gives up. [known as Dark Moment]

13) BREAK INTO THREE: (85) Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration or last-minute action or advice from the love interest in the B story, the hero decides to fight. [this is where Popeye always opened his can of spinach]

14) FINALE: (85-110) The “synthesis” of the two worlds; from what was, and that which was learned, the hero forges a third way. [climax]

15) FINAL IMAGE: (110) The opposite of the Opening Image, proving a change has occurred. And since all great stories are about transformation, that change had better be dramatic! [denouement]

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Seven W’s for a novel’s beginning:

WHO is the main character: Bring the main character out ASAP. Starting with a secondary character confuses readers.

What does the character WANT: Problem, goal, or conflict (with oneself, outside world, nature).

WHEN does your story take place: If in the present time, is often unnecessary. If not the present, hints are usually enough.

WHERE does your story take place: The reader needs to know where, but hints are sometimes enough. “Farmer Jones” tells the reader it’s on a farm.

WHAT is the story’s tone & what obstacles does the character face: Funny, serious, sad, etc. Word selection & rhythm are important. Make the main character suffer until the climax.

WHY the character does what they do: The main character reacts for certain reasons, possibly back story the reader never sees.

WOW! Hook the reader!

Finishing a novel: Seven plot points for the story arc

GOALS: What the main character wants to achieve.

OBSTACLES: Hurdles to overcome or to make the main character suffer.

MOTIVATION: Why does the main character want/need it? Or not want/need it?

FEARS: What fears must the main character overcome? Or live with?

STAKES: What if the main character doesn’t get their wishes? Do the stakes get higher?

REWARDS: If the main character gets what they want, how does it affect them?

BLACK MOMENT: Toward the end of the story arc, the main character should have a crisis of faith that causes them to give up all hope. (just before the solution appears)

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About 20 people from 3 states met July 13-16 for the 2017 Retreat for the Green River Writers. Kavanaugh Center, Crestwood, Kentucky.



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Narrative Non-Fiction Picture Books

These are non-fiction picture books written like a story, where the reader doesn’t what to expect next or how the story will end. The reader learns something new while enjoying the picture book.

Linear Stories for Picture Books

Unlike plot-driven stories, linear stories (AKA incident stories) are made up of a series of incidents flowing from one to the next, each incident having about the same weight/importance. The protagonist moves through the incidents without really changing or learning anything. So, linear stories tend to be about typical days in the protagonist’s life, rather than extraordinary days required for a plot. Linear stories are often bookended by a beginning (waking up, arriving at Grandma’s house, leaving for the beach) & an end (going to sleep, leaving Grandma’s, watching the sun set at the beach before going home) to create a satisfying structure. However, linear stories only work if they do something special. The language may be rhythmic & beautiful, the series of events surprising or absurd, or the incidents themselves infused with humor.


This is plot-driven and/or character-driven fiction with beginning/middle/end. Stories where the reader doesn’t know the stories will end. This is what I write!


My picture book, Spearfinger, is about to be released. It is definitely fiction.

Spearfinger, a witch, terrorizes the Cherokees of the Smoky Mountains. No one can stop her. A little boy named Chucha battles her. Can he discover her secrets? Can he put an end to her rampages? http://www.4rvpublishingcatalog.com/charles-suddeth.php

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8 habits of great authors

(just gear your habits toward your genre/main character)

  1. Think Like your Main Character: If you’re a man writing about a woman, think like a woman. I.e. always be your POV character.
  2. Find the “Emotional Truth” of your character’s experiences: You must know your character’s past and motives & tie them in with others like them, because they will have similar problems, goals etc.
  3. A Good Pop-Culture Reference Goes a Long Way: Music, Stars, TV shows etc. (might use made-up names)
  4. Get Input From Real People: Co-writers, beta readers, critiquers, comments from people similar to your character
  5. Use Slang Words at Your Own Risk: slang mutates too quickly to use in print
  6. Keep It Moving: keep it simple & stay on the plot. I.e. KISS & RUN. (keep it simple stupid & run with the plot)
  7. It’s Okay to get Dark: No genre is off limits anymore.
  8. Find the Kernel of Hope: Even with a sad ending, leave a way out.
    Happy writing to you 

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Ten Louisville Places To Write About (And Visit)

  1. Why they call Louisville Derby City: Visit the Kentucky Derby! Celebrities, wild & friendly crowds, women in fancy Derby Hats, music, wagering, burgoo (fiery, three-meat stew), & mint juleps. All sorts of horse & betting stories. Did I mention horses?
  2. Boats are places: The Belle of Louisville is over 100 years old, the oldest paddlewheel steamboat in the country. Wharf, steamboat explosions, lots of stories. Did I mention romantic?
  3. Really big water: The Ohio River is a mile wide and my stories sometimes venture across to Hoosierville (aka Indiana). Stand on the banks & watch anything from sailboats to towboats seemingly a mile long. Did I mention bridges? Bunches of them.
  4. How about a sample? A few miles southwest is Fort Knox, where the U.S. stores gold. You can tour the Army base, but not the Gold Depository. They don’t give out samples, but you can always ask. Good story: rumor has it the gold vanished years ago.
  5. Just a horse race? The Kentucky Derby Festival runs 2 full weeks of celebrating. And balloons, steamboats, rodents (you read correctly), human runners, & other things race for 2 weeks before the race. Did I forget non-stop partying & tales of partying?
  6. Some old rocks: The Falls of the Ohio River have been dammed off at the Falls of the Ohio State Park to expose one of the largest Devonian fossil beds in the world. Lots of blue herons and other waterfowl can also be viewed. Did I forget to mention it’s perfect for dam puns? Also good for dinosaur stories.
  7. Take me out to the ball game: Strange but true—Louisville Slugger is made in Louisville. At the Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum, you can get your Major League bat made & engraved with your name. My stories have violence, but no bats as weapons, or do they? I won’t tell.
  8. Do you dare? Reputed to be the most haunted placesin the country, Waverly Hills Sanatorium was a TB hospital that closed in 1962, after thousands of people died. It’s been featured on several TV programs. Do you have the courage to tour? I don’t. Did I forget to tell you I’m chicken? Ghost stories, here we come.
  9. Under twenty-one? Skip to number Ten: The Kentucky Bourbon Trail covers much of Kentucky, but distilleries near Louisville or a few miles south in Bardstown hold tours & have gift shops. I included an abandoned distillery in Dream Flyer and in Lies & Deceptions. Do I dare mention samples?
  10. The Pitter-patter of really heavy feet: You can’t ride racehorses, but you can ride carriages downtown. Or drive a few miles east to Oldham County and Shelby County and visit their American Saddlebred, Thoroughbred, and Arabian horse farms. Not only can you tour, you can take riding lessons. Then maybe I’ll see you riding in the Kentucky Derby. Did I forget to mention Churchill Downs? That’s where the Derby is.
    Until we meet again, happy writing to you.



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Comma comas


The major types of commas that writers need:

  1. Clause independence: After a coordinating conjunction that links 2 independent clauses. E.g. I ate the whole pizza, and my wife never let me forget it.
  2. Separation anxiety: Used for setting off a parenthetical element from the rest of the sentence. E.g. George Washington, the first president, was also a general.
  3. Serious about series: Separating the elements of a series. E.g. I like pizza, my wife, and George Washington. (I included an Oxford comma, the comma before “and”)
  4. Speaking of: Commas are need for dialogue and quotes. E.g. “I like pizza,” I said.
  5. Omissions: Using commas to indicate omitted words. E.g. I ate the first pizza quickly, the second pizza less quickly. (omitted “I ate”)
  6. Please repeat: using commas between repeated words. E.g. Whatever you do, do well.

    Commas have many other uses, so know when to use them and when not to. Until we meet again, happy writing to you.

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Write that paragraph!

Paragraph basics

A paragraph is a series of linked sentences of no more than 200 words. One idea per paragraph.

Especially in non-fiction, the start of a paragraph should link with the preceding paragraph and introduce the paragraph’s idea.


Change paragraphs:

With a new character

When the setting shifts

For a new event

For a new idea

When a different character speaks

Frequent time shifts

The camera shifts (the POV goes deeper or shallower)


Especially in non-fiction, the end of a paragraph should refer to the paragraph’s opening sentence and contain a transition to the next paragraph so that your writing flows.


3 types of paragraphs:

Narrative: Tells about a specific scene of event

Descriptive: Provides a detailed description of one subject

Expository: Provides information

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