Tag Archives: dialogue

Patterns Of Power

In Janet Burroway’s book Writing Fiction, she talks about Patterns Of Power in writing and how both the protagonist and antagonist should be matched in order to keep the reader guessing as to the outcome of the struggle between the two.

She cites the different ways in which power can be shown: brute, physical strength, charm, knowledge, moral power, wealth, rank, etc. Usually the characters hold many forms of power in their own personal arsenals and that makes for a very suspenseful and complex play between the competing forces.

This got me thinking about Eric Byrne and Transactional Analysis which first hit the best seller lists in the late sixties and early seventies. I found his concept of Parent, Adult, Child to be fascinating and very true to life and the ways in which people wield power over others.

What I found most amusing and have seen in fiction stories is how when one person begins acting like a parent the other will most likely slip into their ‘child’ mode and either rebel like a kid, or become emotional like a small child. I’ve seen an example of this when a main character visits a teacher she had when she was in second grade, and even though the main character is an adult she suddenly feels as though she is that little kid again, feeling shy or tongue tied.

I believe in Transactional Analysis and the three states of Parent, Adult and Child. The more I think about this, the more ideas I get about dialogue between characters and characterization.

Have you noticed this power play in your daily life, or in fiction? How would you script a play between someone who is acting like a parent confronting someone who chooses to act the child, or the adult role? Or two adults playing the child, or …? You get the point.


Nancy A. Niles is the author of Vendetta: A Deadly Win, a contributor to the book on writing entitled Novel Writing Tips and Techniques From Authors of Second Wind Publishing and a co-author on the book Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story all three published by Second Wind Publishing Company.


Filed under books, fiction, fun, life, musings, writing

What Writers Can Learn From Playwrights by Noah Baird

I was recently invited to sit in a local playwright group. They were working on an original comedic play, and asked me to help polish some of the humor. While sitting in was great fun; something occurred to me- all writers should sit with playwrights. Why? I’ll tell you why:

  • They make every scene count. Playwrights don’t have time to waste describing how the grass feels under a character’s toes. They get to the point.
  • It’s dialogue driven. While most of the dialogue comes in the form of monologues; the story moves along through characters speaking to each other. Because of this, they tend to have a great ear for how people speak.
  • The group includes actors. If you want to see how your dialogue flows, have the actors read it. Most are happy to help, and you get a sense of how a reader may interpret your words by hearing it spoken. I thought differently about the dialogue I had written after hearing how the actors said my words. I began to think of dialogue in lyrical terms- focusing not on just was said, but how it flowed.
  • They use visuals to describe the characters. Pat Bertram wrote a great blog on using color to symbolize and describe a character. Playwrights use costumes, gestures, tics, etc. to define their characters. They don’t have time to say how a character grew up in a conservative, middle-class background. They need to show those character attributes through dress and mannerisms.
  • They are aware of how the characters occupy space. I read an article once on how we should allow children to build forts because it helped them see how they fit in the world. They learned – sometimes the hard way – that they couldn’t use cardboard for the floor of their tree house, or that they couldn’t fit through a six inch hole. Playwrights also have to be aware of how each character fits into the scene. Characters aren’t just talking in the kitchen- they write where each character is in the room.
  • They aren’t afraid to let the audience tell the story. Mark Twain said “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but of what is left out of it”. In a one act play, the background and motivations cannot be developed enough to tell the story. It’s up to the audience to fill in the gaps.

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity, and has no intention of writing a play.



Filed under Art, books, fiction, fun, life, musings, writing

The Real Color of a Beautiful Epiphany by J J Dare

There is a little boutique in the middle of town one of my daughters loves. Every time she comes to visit, we end up going to this quirky little dress shop.

Hanging in the window display was a beautiful blue blouse. Well, I’ll correct myself: a beautiful blouse. My daughter argued it was not blue. She said it was a beautiful green blouse.

She wears contacts and I wear glasses, we’re both corrected to 20/20, so it was a toss-up as to who was right. We consulted the dress shop owner, who, though she’s been helpful before, was no help now.

“It says ‘blue-green’ on the invoice,” she said with a shrug and a smile.

My daughter and I looked at it again.

“Blue,” I said.

“Green,” she said.

Impasse, we both agreed.

She saw green and I saw blue. As it turns out, we were both right.

We all view the world around us through different eyes. What I see may never be exactly what you see. It makes it very interesting to know you are viewing life in your own unique way and in a way no one else can.

Within the structure of my novels is the language of normal, every day people. What I didn’t take into account was what is normal to me (y’all back yet, don’t that beat all, how’s it going, you gonna eat that, etc.) may not be normal to others.

My language is common and somewhat regional. However, what is common and regional to me may be foreign to others. The same holds true with writing: what I consider stuffy and stiff may be normal language to some people.

I’m loose and free in my conversational skills and it reflects heavily in my writing. I talk like the everyman. I write the same way.

But, there in front of my face was the type of stilted writing I typically steer clear of. The dialogue between the characters was as if they were putting on airs. Their affected conversation sounded silly and pretentious.

I read a few comments on this little piece of writing and was very surprised to see some people (including two English professors and a linguistics major) were raving about how they loved the writing.

Eh, well, I could see that. These were people who preached “the word is the word” and lived in the world of proper language. Even though I’m an English major, I’ve often thought I was better suited for a Real World English degree.

A few more comments came in and these were from ordinary students. One was in biology, two were business students, and one was aiming for a major in whatever he had enough credits for by the time his funding ran out.

They echoed the education professionals: they loved the style of writing.

What the heck was going on? I looked at the excerpt again and still found the words lacking in warmth, sincerity and realism. I was a harsh critic, blunt where I’m usually kind and sharp where I’m typically gentle. After all, who is the best critic of one’s own writing but oneself?

I had written a short dialogue as an exercise in writing outside of my normal style. I was mimicking the stilted style I found unreal and unnatural. I was mocking what I, apparently, didn’t understand.

Like the real world, the world of writing is subject to the eye of the beholder. While I found this type of writing abnormal and uncomfortable, others did not see it that way.

I learned a lesson. What is not liked by one person is loved by another. Pickled herring is yucky to me, but I know plenty of people who swear by it.

On that day, I learned that green is blue and blue is green and I shouldn’t judge a book, even one of my own, by its cover.

J J Dare is the author of two published books, several short stories and about thirty works-in-progress.

Current enthusiasm is co-authoring at Rubicon Ranch


Filed under life, writing

Creating Incredible (but Credible) Characters

What makes you the unique individual you are? Is it your looks? Your personality? Your upbringing? Your heritage? Your hopes and fears? Your strengths and weaknesses? Your likes and dislikes? It is all of that, and more. Those are the very same characteristics make fictional characters unique and so vital that when you’re  reading a book, you feel as if the story people are a part of your life.

Family and friends help make you who you are, or at least help show you who you are by the way you interact with them. In the same way, an author shows a character for who or what she is. If a character has that never-satisfied mother, that funny uncle, that supportive best friend, the author doesn’t even have to create the character, for the family and friends already have. It’s the character’s interactions that show who she is.

Enemies also make you who you are, and they make characters who they are. The stronger the enemy, the stronger the character. For example, a character who combats dragons is perceived as stronger than one who combats teddy bears. It is also a character’s enemies who help create the story because they give the story conflict, and without conflict there is no story.

And finally, how you talk makes you who you are, or at least makes people think that’s who you are. Do you talk with a lisp? Do you talk with an accent? Do you talk slowly as if savoring every word? Do you use four letter words? Do you speak softly, either because you are timid or because of passive aggressive tendencies? In that same way, dialogue shows who a character is.

The more an author knows about a character, the better she can show you who that character is. In older books, especially the classics, authors wrote page after page of character description, telling us who their characters are. Today’s readers, myself included, have no patience for such long drawn-out passages that go nowhere. We want to get right into the meat of the story. We want to learn who the character is by what she does, who she knows, and how she acts.

But first, the author needs to know who her character is.

(To help you learn more about your characters, click here: Character Questionnaire.)

Note: This is part of a presentation I’m going to be giving at the local library on Monday. so let me know if you have any suggestions or comments.


Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fire,  and Daughter Am I.


Filed under books, life, Pat Bertram, writing

Keeping conversations real

Learning “tricks of the trade” about writing is part of what my journey with Second Wind Publishing is all about. Will I ever know all of the tricks and bring an end to my learning curve? I lean toward the belief that I won’t, and maybe that’s what I love most about writing. Its complexity and slipperiness guarantee that it will never be a stagnate entity. “Getting it right” is subjective because, after all, one man’s “perfect” book is fifty cents at a garage sale to another man. Even the Bible has its detractors.

I recently learned a writing “trick” that moved me a bit farther along my learning curve. Pat Bertram, another Second Wind author with newly released “Daughter Am I,” put me on to it, and it’s such a nice bit of information that I wanted to share it in this blog. It has to do with structuring characters’ conversations so that they feel in-the-moment and real and fluid. It was fun to break out of my mold of sameness and change my characters conversations for the better. An interesting side note: the changes shortened my book by almost five pages.

So what is this trick, you say? It’s something that I’ve started calling “Beat/Attribute,” for want of a better name. It has nothing to do with WHAT the characters are saying and has everything to do with describing HOW the characters are saying what they are saying. Is the dialogue snappy, with no intruding visuals? Or, if there are visuals, do they occur before or after the dialogue? Is there a WAY of speaking that needs to be emphasized? It also means eliminating unnecessary “said”s—ones that only serve to draw a reader out of the scene. Another interesting side note: WHAT the character says often changes too, as a by-product of playing around with the sentence structures.

To give an example from Love Trumps Logic, due for release soon, here is what one of LTL‘s sentences looked like originally:

“No, it happened because I foolishly allowed your prattle about your cousin to lure me in here,” Beau said, taking the last two glasses of champagne from a passing footman’s tray and downing one of them in a single gulp.”

There is nothing grammatically wrong with the structure, but if a book has the same structure over and over, dialogues begin to feel stilted. It is better to alter the types of dialogue structures used, to make for a more interesting read throughout the book. Here are some alternative structures on the same sentence:

1) Beau took the last two glasses of champagne from a passing footman’s tray and downed one of them in a single gulp. “No, it happened because I foolishly allowed your prattle about your cousin to lure me in here.”

2) [Skip the description] “No, it happened because I foolishly allowed your prattle about your cousin to lure me in here.”

3) Beau took the last two glasses of champagne from a passing footman’s tray, downing one of them in a single gulp. “No, it happened because I foolishly allowed your prattle about your cousin to lure me in here,” he said crossly. [Stephen King wouldn’t agree with this one; he hates –ly descriptors in conversations].

4) Beau took the last two glasses of champagne from a passing footman’s tray. “No, it happened because I foolishly allowed your prattle about your cousin to lure me in here.” He downed one of the glasses in a single gulp. “Let’s go.”

5) “No, it happened because I foolishly allowed your prattle about your cousin to lure me in here.” Beau took the last two glasses of champagne from a passing footman’s tray, downing one of them in a single gulp.

I could come up with more varieties, but I’ll stop. The point is that altering the dialogue structures throughout a book keeps the action fresh and prevents readers’ eyes from glazing over.

Does anyone have any other interesting “tricks” they want to share? I’d love to hear them!

Lucy Balch

Love Trumps Logic

Coming soon from Second Wind Publishing.


Filed under writing

Day in the Life Method of Writing Historical Novels

One of the things that bothers me about many historical novels I begin to read is that they aren’t.

Plain and simple, if you check a couple of histories and a costume book or two, and you have some talent in story-spinning, you can, perhaps, write convincingly about a love affair in fancy dress. The fact is, however, you won’t come anywhere close to writing a genuine historical novel, and you’ve probably made a hundred mistakes in detail that tick off people who picked up your book because they “love that period.”

Writing “Mozart’s Wife” took years, as I’d set out to reconstruct the life and experiences of a real person, one married to a famous man. As soon as you say the word “Mozart,” you raise expectations. People know a lot about the life of this cultural hero, although, in the way of things “Her Story” has pretty much vanished. I had my work cut out if I wanted to give the story credibility for both history and classical music loving readers.

Most writers in the historical field aren’t going to be working on a semi-biographical novel. Many are working on the ever-popular historical romance, where the relationship of the hero and heroine is the whole ball of wax. Even in romance, however, a writer ought to be able to paint broad brush strokes of period. If you learn to do that, you can give your reader what IMHO is supreme thrill—a time travel experience.

Note that I use this phrase. I believe it sums up the reason people read historicals in the first place—not only for simple escape, but to summon the experience of a long lost world, to breathe another kind of air, to imagine yourself with another set of opportunities—or strictures. The ability to do this can take a reader out of the daily grind, and off to an astonishing Somewhere Else. Life in a medieval city would be as strange to us as any S/F journey to another planet or dimension.

First, the writer of historicals has to do some old fashioned research:

This includes library, Internet, and utilizing the popular Search Engines. A lot can be learned by lurking on historical specialty lists that you can find and join at Yahoo, etc. The best way to go is to read–a lot of history!

Primary source is best. This means letters, diaries, newspapers, novels, sales material, and so on from your chosen period. However, you aren’t in the business of reproducing the language of the period. Fact is, you won’t have many readers if you do, because most people don’t have the time/patience these days to follow the elliptical writing styles of our ancestors. Still, the sound and phrasing of those long-dead voices will begin to reverberate in your mind. Simply by osmosis, you’ll slowly begin to get a feel for the sort of dialogue that is accessible to the modern reader but doesn’t sound inappropriate (or just plain silly) coming out the mouth of your historical characters.

Other sources of inspiration and information for writers:

Try finding music in your period. Find out what they danced. Read the words of songs. As we know, popular music can tell you a great deal about wishes and aspirations. If your characters are upper class Victorians, living in NYC, there would have been opera, plays, charitable organizations to fill their time. Socializing took place on a grand but highly regimented scale. Working on my Mozart story, I had a wonderful time immersing myself in his music. These operas are not only beautiful, but also a treasure trove of information on the manners and morals of the late 18th Century. In dramatic form, you can observe the rules governing interaction between social classes, as well as the many rules governing the relations between the sexes.

Attention to detail is the new mantra—even in Hollywood. This can be achieved by devoting a day (and some paper) to a simple exercise. This will swiftly show you what you know, what you don’t know—and what needs to further study. It will also tell you something about your necessary cast of bit players.

Get up in the morning—there you are, bed, bathroom, kitchen. Maybe you also have pets, kids, a husband. Get your imagination going. Imagine a helmet or a suit of mail on hubby. It’ll help. Engage your senses. Sight, hearing, touch, and please don’t forget your sense of smell.

Take these one by one—keeping in mind your chosen time period.

Bed—What’s on it–and what’s in it? Getting dressed in the morning—“pants first, then shoes…” clothing, shoes.

Bathroom—is there such a thing? And if so, where does the water come from? Is it hot? How is the room heated? Plumbed? Do you get a bath every day or is this simply impossible given the standard of living?

Kitchen—who works there? You? Servants?

Servants are a problem to imagine for most modern folks, unless they are sufficiently well off to employ some and have first-hand experience. Do these servants live in the house w/your heroine? Who are they? If they were real, you’d be rubbing up against them all the time, and so would know a lot about their personal lives and idiosyncrasies.

Breakfast—this meal hasn’t always been the same. What would your characters be breakfasting upon? An Irish cottager eats quite differently from an English Regency Lord—or a Viking. Where did this food come from? Do hawkers bring it to the door? Do you buy it in a shop? Do you raise it yourself? How is it cooked—and with what fuel? Wood burning in the kitchen produces odor and soot, as well as that nice cheery flame. Have we got forks yet? China dishes or gourds or wooden trenchers?
And so on, through the day—at work, or at home.

Transportation, vehicles, draft animals, and who takes care of them?

Streets—what do they look like/smell? Smell looms large in our world today, but even larger 500 years ago, when you might have spent the winter sheltering your precious cattle in the house.

Work–and who goes to it. What you fill your day with if you are among the “leisured” class. What does your hero/heroine do to put clothes on their back and food on the table?  

Occupations suitable for men and for women—manners and morals varied widely between social classes—

Pastimes and pleasures.  One thing which jerks me right out of ANY story–and I often run into it–is “tea drinking” during periods when there was NO tea yet in Europe. Or potatoes. Or chocolate.  (Bummer!)    

Religious practices—this did and does still take up time during the day for many people. Are your characters devout/religious/spiritual?

And on and on: Housing, Clothing, skills, apprenticeships, spinning, weaving, raising animals, “Crafts,”Children, Pets…

 I am not saying all this is absolutely necessary in preparation, but you should hold these in mind as you begin to write. A word of warning if you take this path, you’re going to have work ahead of you, and you will definitely be taking time out from “hitting those keys” to research details you want to include or events you stumble over in the process of plotting. Things change; things remain the same, but just remember, it’s the “Reality Show” which convinces and engages that gets the big ratings.

 Juliet Waldron



Filed under writing

The Beat Goes On

I’ve mentioned before that I’m reading the entire oeuvre of a bestselling author, trying to figure out the reason for her popularity, and it just dawned on me why I am having such a hard time slogging through her words. It’s not simply that I’m not a fan of romance novels, it’s that she does not use beats. Beats, as you know, are interesting bits of action used as dialog tags:

“No!” Mary rushed to grab the paring knife from her two-year-old son.

Beats make the book; in many cases, they are the book. I first noticed this when I read an Iris Johansen thriller. I got bored with her series character and, for a change of pace, started reading only her beats. To my surprise, the entire story was there. The character’s fear, lessening of fear, relief, escalating fear, despair, desire, lust, all reaching to a crescendo of utter terror, and then finally peace and acceptance.

From that, I’ve learned to cultivate beats. When I’m looking at a movie that doesn’t capture my full attention, I watch the actors and try to put what I see into words. The other day I saw a character shoot a finger at a friend and smile as if he were agreeing with him, then the smile faded and he shook his head no. Not only did it have an element of humor (doing the opposite of what’s expected) it was a brilliant beat, perfectly timed.

Obviously, not using beats has not hurt the bestselling romance writer any, but for the rest of us, the beat goes on.

Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One,  and A Spark of Heavenly Fire now available from Second Wind Publishing, LLC.


Filed under books, life, musings, Pat Bertram, writing