Friday, May 29, 2015

The Power of Dialogue

Dialogue is an integral part of any novel. The verbal exchanges between characters add zip and spice to the story.

Good dialogue sounds natural. Characters don’t repeat each other’s words. They don’t speak in full grammatically correct sentences. When writing dialogue, the author must always ask him or herself what the person would really say.

The author must also consider dialogue tags. The general rule is to only use “said” or “asked.” And, if possible, avoid a dialogue tag by using an action of the character to let the reader know who is speaking. For example:  “No, please, don’t go,” Yves said.  Or Yves reached out to stop her. “No, please, don’t go.”The second version clearly identifies the speaker and creates a better picture because of his action.

Generally action precedes speech. He smiled, but the mirth did not reach his eyes. “It’s my job.” rather than, “It’s my job.” He smiled, but the mirth did not reach his eyes.

There are also times when dialogue can go back and forth without tags as long as the author ensures that the reader doesn’t lose track of who’s talking.

Used skilfully, dialogue is a tool that can and should heighten tension and engage the readers’ emotions, something every good novel needs. Here is a sample from my novel EMBROILED.

Background to dialogue excerpt:

“I’m driving home from the conference when the slough catches my eye. I’m mesmerized by the damn thing. I feel an insane urge to walk on the thin fall ice, to explore the fishing holes, to lie spread-eagled to distribute my weight. I know full well I’ll break through and drown, but I’ll be warm and taken care of. What I find down there will make it worthwhile.” Emily felt her chest tighten. Each time she came to David’s office, each time she spoke of her greatest fears, she felt the strings to sanity loosening. Am I crazy, Doc?

Dialogue Excerpt:

Emily sighed. “I was such a fool back then, Doc.” High school life was filled with great gobs of loneliness. No amount of wishing took that away.

“Yeah, Doc, I’ve dated some since then. If going out even though I don’t really like the guy counts as dating.”

“Why do you go then?” David asked.

Emily shrugged. “Why not? At least it gets me out.”

“Do you enjoy those evenings?”


“Do any of the dates lead to sex?”


“Why not?” David paused. “Emily, you’re a normal healthy human. You must have a sex drive. Why not fulfill it?”

“Just because everyone else does?” Emily shook her head. “Not my style.” She expected David to ask her if she was a virgin.

David tapped his empty pipe in the empty ashtray. Pins and needles prickled at Emily as she waited for his response. She was scared of what he might say and yet she desperately wanted to hear his words.

“Waiting for Mr. Right?”

“Something like that.”

“I don’t think that’s it.” David hesitated. “What are you afraid of, Emily? What is holding you back from loving and being loved?”

Emily sucked in air. “Whatever is under that ice.” Her voice was barely a whisper. “That’s what.” An ache deep inside almost made her cry.

Friday, May 22, 2015


Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Edison may very well have been right, but what good is the ninety-nine percent perspiration without the inspiration?

Where do our stories come from? Daydreams, life experiences, the people we meet, nightmares, what we hear, see, read, and imagine? Every author will have a response unique to their life experience and their interests. The answer, for me, is all of the above.

We listen to the news, read the paper, and build in current events. We laugh with friends and build in camaraderie for our characters. We yearn for love and romance and give it to our hero and heroine. The adventures we long for belong now to our players. The lives we’ve led, or wish we’d led are, in part, imbued in our characters and plot lines.  

But there is another aspect to inspiration that is often unforeseen. As we write, our stories take on a life of their own. Characters develop and lead us in directions we hadn’t anticipated or planned. A minor character creeps in and takes over. We try to contain him, but he has a mind of his own and insists on playing his part.

The hero’s friend becomes our friend. The heroine’s fight becomes our fight. And as we edit and polish and rework our novel, we worry about our characters, love them, perhaps hate them, and can’t leave them behind. They become as much a part of our lives as are the people around us. They,too, are our inspiration.  

Friday, May 15, 2015

Purple Hibiscus

Some readers see my books as anti-religion. Others ask me if the heroine is God. When I began writing my first novel, religion was the farthest thing from my mind. I was focused on romance, adventure and sci-fi elements that could bring some magic to my story.

I’ve abhorred organized religion for many years and many reasons. I’ve particularly been enraged by missionaries. Their self-righteous imposition of their beliefs on others seems to me the greatest of sacrilege.

Then I read Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The legacy of missionary zeal, the brutality of missionary zeal is laid bare. The power and the danger of missionaries is brought home through the story of Kambili and her family.

Fifteen-year-old Kambili is the dutiful and self-effacing daughter of a rich man, a religious fanatic and domestic tyrant whose public image is of a politically courageous newspaper publisher and philanthropist. No one in Papa's ancestral village, where he is titled "Omelora" (One Who Does For the Community), knows why Kambili¹s brother cannot move one of his fingers, nor why her mother keeps losing her pregnancies.

Papa, of course, passes on the lessons he has learned in his own childhood, taught by brutal Catholic missionaries; the abused is the abuser. Rigid religious instruction, intolerant and unforgiving, is the tool with which this man terrorizes his wife and children. 

Most frightening of all is the family’s acceptance of this man’s behavior, and long after the abuse ends, the lasting desire for his love.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Author Tidbits

Author Tidbits
·       My favorite parts to write are dialogue because they’re interesting and real and can take you in directions you didn’t expect.
·       Aspiring writers should always have a critiquing group or writing partner—other writers who are honest and care about the quality of your writing.
·       Robert J. Sawyer is the kindest and most generous author one could imagine.
·       The titles of the four books in the Em and Yves series are a word play on Em’s name.
·       When I’m not writing, I work out, play with my granddaughter, eat chocolate, drink wine, cook—only when I have to, watch The Big Bang Theory, and READ.
·       The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen is my granddaughter.
·       My long term goal is to gain a broader readership and make a bit of money from my writing.
·       I have my doubts about how hopeful the future is. Maybe I should stop reading the news.
·       I’m not a fan of book trailers. Trailers are for visual media.
·       The Sound of Music is the only movie that was better than the book.
·       If I was Superman, chocolate would be my kryptonite.
·       I’d rather regret the things I did, than the things I didn’t do when I had the chance.
·       If I could choose a time and place to live it would be now with modern medicine, thanks.
·       I will never read Don Quixote. I tried—more than once. A friend gave me kids’ version. I didn’t like it either.

RT @darlenejones47 You had me at the camel. If u write with the same zest u have for living, I know your books have to be great.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Mom Knows Best

My mother had a saying for everything. They were always prefaced with the words, “As my mother used to say….” She claimed they sounded much better in Flemish as they rhymed, but as a kid, I didn’t see how any of them could sound good at any time. Now, a little older and wiser, I realize how apt they are in many situations.

For years I had a burning desire to write a novel, but didn’t know if I had what it takes to be an author. If Mom were still here she’d have said, “You won’t know until you try.”

“Sure, fine, no problem, Mom. But remember, I work full time, have a couple of kids at home, workout several times a week.”

“Ah well,” she’d have said, “No rest for the wicked.” Seems to me if I’d been that wicked, I'd remember much more fun times.

So, prompted by those sayings, I start writing and when I’m tired and can’t face the computer, I hear her words as clearly as if she were in the room. “Never leave till tomorrow what you can do today.” And I write, even if it’s just a little bit.

Eventually I have a completed manuscript and I hear, "If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing right." Edit, edit, edit is the answer to that one.  And, if you’re lucky and have a writing partner who is a professional copyeditor, you send your manuscript off to her.

Time to find a literary agent and off go the query letters. Then you wait knowing Mom would say, “No news is good news.” To your moans when the reject letters arrive, more of your mother’s words pop into your head.  "All good things come to those who wait." Good things do come in the form of advice at the Willamette writing conference. Self-publish everyone says. You go home and proceed.

Novel formatted for self-publishing, cover designed, website up and running, blogs posted weekly, Facebook and Twitter accounts active, and you’re ready to launch your first novel. Doubts creep in.

“Maybe I’m too old to be doing this?”

“Better late than never,” your mother’s voice answers. Of course she’s right. After all you’re not as old as Whistler’s mother.

“What if no one likes it or reads it?”

“Time will tell,” her voice reasons. Again she’s right. People are reading my books and writing reviews and I’m confident that my readership will grow, perhaps not always as fast as I would like, but it will grow and I have the satisfaction of accomplishing my goal. Mom would be proud.