Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

We here at the Blood-Red Pencil want to take a moment to remember all who died to give us   the freedom to even write this blog. There are so many countries that restrict, or limit, any kind of exchange of ideas, and sometimes we forget. This freedom did not come without a high price-tag.

I come from a long line of military men on my father's side. In a little cemetery in Fairmont, West Virginia there are headstones for a number of Van Gilder men who served in the U.S. military, going back to the Revolutionary War. I had the opportunity to go that cemetery a few years ago for a family reunion and it was awe-inspiring to walk the lines of gravestones and think about what it must have been like for them.

Before taking that trip, I had not known that there was a member of our family serving in every war and conflict throughout the history of our country.

It was also interesting to note that not one of those men died in combat. They all served their time in the military and were able to come home. It was the same for my brother in the Vietnam era and my son in Desert Storm. But other families have not been so lucky.

So it is those families that I think about today with special care. They have sacrificed much to protect our country and the freedoms we espouse.

Thank you!

What about you? What does the holiday mean to you?

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. She has written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Season Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. 

Elspeth's Writing Sheep

The Writing Sheep posts, by British playwright Elspeth Futcher 

  1. The first instalment of Elspeth's Writing Sheep, in which the sheep point out to the writer that time spent on Facebook might not be time well spent.
  2. October's Visit to the Writing Sheep, featuring the first appearance of Nigel, the British sheep.
  3. The Lighter Side of Editing, in which the sheep express their desire to drive a red car. 
  4. Shear Your Darlings, because how can wool get made into stylish garments or accessories if it stays attached?
  5. Pay Attention! Give your writing the respect it deserves.
  6. Shakespearean Writing Encouragement, because it's time to get to work.
  7. Your Writing Style: Are You a Lion or a Lamb? Do you 'roar' through your first drafts, or are you a little fearful of the blank page?
  8. Writers Write, in which the sheep explain that going around in circles will make you dizzy.
  9. Dialogue Tips from the Writing Sheep: Good dialogue is indistinguishable from normal conversation. Except all the boring bits are cut out.
Elspeth Futcher is a bestselling author of murder mystery games and playwright. She has been the top selling author at since 2011. Her British games are published by Red Herring Games in the UK. Her latest game is "Which Guide Lied?" Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Friday, May 26, 2017

#FridayReads Story Building Blocks

After several years away from writing anything but blog posts, I am thrilled to announce my fifteen new book babies and the completion of my Story Building Blocks series as envisioned ten years (yes a decade!) ago. Where has the time gone? They are proof that neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor a mortal battle for one's life can keep a determined writer down forever.

In 2007 I wrote Story Building Blocks I: The Four Layers of Conflict, introducing a method I developed for crafting sound story architecture. A revised and updated version is now available in print and e-book. It can take you from story seed to a bare bones draft.

Then I added SBB II: Crafting Believable Conflict which twists, warps, and tortures sixteen character mannequins based on personality types. The SBB Build A Cast Workbook helps you cast your novel with all sixteen characters.

I also wrote SBB III: The Revision Layers to help writers present a revised draft for submission or to help with self-editing for self-publishing.

This year, I finalized my dream with fourteen genre-specific Build A World Workbooks for Comedy, Con Heist & Prison Break, Fantasy, Gothic, Historical, Horror, Literary, Mystery, Road Trip, Romance, Science Fiction, Team Victory, Thriller, and the Western in print and e-bok.

And finally the SBB: Build A World Workbook helps you develop a three-dimensional story world whether you choose a point in history, a fantasy kingdom, or a science fiction galaxy.

The books are available in both print and E-book versions through my Amazon page and other online venues.

I hope these tools help in some small way to make your story dreams come true. I learned so much along the way and enjoyed sharing my musings with others.

For more information about the series and for free forms visit my website. 

I would love to hear from you if you found my tips useful. If not, connect with me on social media anyway. I adore cute kittens and am always in need of book recommendations to feed my addiction.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Importance of Mystery in Dialogue

During finals week, I came across the following note on a white board:

The white board was outside of a professor's office. I was intrigued and stopped to reread the note.

Lord knows that as a professor, I have wanted to write these very words on my office door. But I knew I never would, and I was pretty sure this professor was not the writer either.

I tilted my head, side to side, rereading the note.

Why this did short note from a student make me pause?

Because of the mystery hidden within these four words.

Several thoughts ran through my mind.

Perhaps the student was just being overly dramatic. It wouldn't be the first time a student espoused these words during finals.

Perhaps the student knew the professor would know who wrote it and would find humor in it. I have students who purposely revel in student-driven angst for cheap laughs from me.

Perhaps the student was truly feeling low, and these words were an act of reaching out. My office always had tissues, a seat, and me ready to give a hug to those students who had reached points of mass despair.

These four words made me stop and think about the person who wrote them. Who was s/he? Why did s/he write this? What did s/he hope the response would be? What effect did writing this have on the writer?

What does this note have to do with dialogue?

This need of understanding the person behind these words is the exact need I have when reading dialogue in a story.

Image courtesy of digitalart at

As Elspeth Futcher wittily illustrated in her post Monday via the writing sheep, dialogue should not be the place where readers are fed life dialogue, the small chat that goes on before the "meat" of a conversation (or is the WHOLE conversation).

Dialogue, for me, is about revealing character and moving a story along. Sometimes, those revelations come directly from the conversation being had, and sometimes, like in the white board note, the revelations come wrapped in a mystery within the dialogue.

This type of dialogue activates the reader's mind, makes her think about the character and his thoughts and actions, and makes the reader guess what the character might do next in the story. As the reader continues on in the story, her thoughts are confirmed, denied, or assuaged by the character's actions.

What if you read a story in which the character said, "So annoyed. Bye forever"?

As a reader, you might think, Oh no. I hope she doesn't harm herself.

You're invested, and part of your reading experience is about seeing what happens to the character after that mysterious piece of dialogue.

Several pages later, you learn that the character was contemplating self-harm, but a friend reached her in time and thwarted her attempts.

Writers, if you want to keep readers racing to the end of the story, make sure one of the components you develop is your dialogue. Reveal your characters through it. Move your story through it. And provide mystery within it so that your readers can engage themselves into your story.

Writers, how much attention do you give to developing your dialogue?

Readers, what do you love (or hate) about some of the dialogue you read?

Creative Passionista Shon Bacon is an author, a crafter, an editor, and an educator whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. You can learn more about Shon at her website, ChickLitGurrl.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Dialogue Tips from the Writing Sheep

EXT. A fenced meadow. Three sheep are grazing. More are in deep background. The WRITER approaches. The sheep raise their heads.

SHEEP #1: Stay there.

WRITER: Here? Outside the fence?

SHEEP #3: Yes.


SHEEP #2: Respect our boundaries.


SHEEP #1: We need to talk.

SHEEP #2: To be clear, she means we need to talk to you; not that we need to talk.

SHEEP #3: We can talk anytime we wish.

SHEEP #1: Which we do.

SHEEP #2: Often.

SHEEP #3: Sometimes about you.

SHEEP #1: Concerned?

WRITER: Not particularly. Why do you need to talk to me?

SHEEP #2: Why?

SHEEP #3: Because it’s in our nature, I suppose.

SHEEP #1: We are very helpful.

SHEEP #2: We are, aren’t we?

SHEEP #3: Very.

SHEEP #1: There should be statues of us across the country.

SHEEP #2: The world. 

WRITER: I suppose I meant ‘what’. What do you want to talk to me about?

SHEEP #3: Do we want to talk to her?

SHEEP #1: Not really. It’s more an obligation than a need, if I’m honest. 

SHEEP #2: Which you are.

SHEEP #1: Thank you. I do try.

WRITER: (exasperated) Honestly!

SHEEP #1: Yes. Honestly. Are you doubting my word?

WRITER: It was an expression of exasperation.

SHEEP #2: Oh. That wasn’t clear.

SHEEP #3: Perhaps because of your delivery.

WRITER: My delivery?

SHEEP #3: Of the line.

WRITER: I wasn’t saying a line. I was talking.

SHEEP #2: But that’s what conversation is.

SHEEP #1: Good dialogue is indistinguishable from normal conversation.

SHEEP #2: Except all the boring bits are cut out.

SHEEP #1: Yes. I cut that bit out.

SHEEP #3: Because it was boring?

SHEEP #1: No, because I assumed she knew that. Written dialogue doesn’t need all the bits and pieces life dialogue does.

WRITER: Life dialogue?

SHEEP #1: Yes. For example, when you’re meeting someone you both say hello and inquire after each other’s health. There could be a small chat about the weather - either praising it or complaining about it.

SHEEP #2: In Britain, that dialogue could go on for some time.

WRITER: In Canada, too.

SHEEP #3: Yes. It’s your way.

SHEEP #1: But no reader needs to read all those “Hi”, “Hello”, “It’s been a bit cold lately”. Boring. Get to the meat. In a vegetarian way, of course.

SHEEP #2: Always keep in mind why each character says what they do.

SHEEP #3: And what they’re wanting the other character…

SHEEP #2: Or characters…

SHEEP #3: Yes, of course…to say in return.

SHEEP #1: Remember what’s at stake.

SHEEP #2: Something always has to be at stake.

WRITER: What if there isn’t?

SHEEP #1: Then the dialogue serves no purpose.

WRITER: That’s brutal.

SHEEP #2: And honest.

SHEEP #3: So remember: Stakes, purpose, clarity.

WRITER: Thanks.

SHEEP #1: Now go away so we can talk about you.
Elspeth Futcher is a bestselling author of murder mystery games and playwright. She has been the top selling author at since 2011. Her British games are published by Red Herring Games in the UK. Her latest game is "Which Guide Lied?" Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Friday, May 19, 2017

#Fridayreads: The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies by Connie Spittler

I was not sure what to expect when I opened this book. The title, The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies, was intriguing, and from reading the back and blurbs I knew it contained two of my favorite things: herbs and mystery! Whether or not it would live up to its promise was a big unknown. Thankfully, it did.

One of the things I enjoyed most was Spittler's main characters - the three founding members of The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies. They were vibrant, fresh, and engaging, and I liked seeing how each one's personal story interconnected with the others and how they developed individually as well as as friends.

The mystery surrounding the book was entertaining and well-developed. Spittler's method of bringing in small glimpses of what was going on with other characters at the end of each chapter, and her tying it all in with Chaos Theory was well done and interesting. An additional boon is that I have added some new to me books that were mentioned in this one to my wishlist, and have decided to go back to some old favorites and read them with a new outlook!

I highly recommend you pick up this book and dive in. For added fun, read it at bus stops, coffee shops, and other public places. If nothing else, you will raise a few eyebrows!

About the Author: Connie Spittler is an internationally published, award-winning author. Her books include Cowboys & Wild Wild Things, The Desert Eternal, The Legend of Brook Hollow, Lincoln & the Gettysburg Address, and Powerball 33, and her work has appeared in the collections The Art of Living: A Practical Guide to Being Alive and What Wildness Is This. She is the co-owner of the Spittler Production Company and she wrote and produced the Wise Women Video series, archived in Harvard’s Schlesinger Library, on the history of women in America. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska.
About the Reviewer: Khadijah Lacina lives on a small homestead in rural Missouri with her children, horses, goats, chickens, cats, dogs, and an elusive bobcat. She is passionate about speaking up and working for change, and is writing a book about the ten years she spent in Yemen. She is a writer, teacher, translator, herbalist, and fiber artist.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Your Mother’s Dreams

Image by Taymaz Valley, via Flickr
When ghostwriting a memoir, I ask my clients a lot of questions. One of my favorite questions is about their mothers. I ask them: Do you know what your mom as a little girl wanted to be when she grew up? Do you know if she achieved her dreams? Mothers are so basic, so necessary to life, that we often take them for granted and see them only in relation to ourselves. But they too have individual lives with their own dreams and aspirations. The replies I get sometimes sadden me, sometimes gladden me. And them.

To get them talking, I share details about my own mother’s aspirations to illustrate. My mom wanted to be a fashion designer. She grew up during the Depression, in a small mountain town, population around 300. All the ladies in town made their own clothes, and those clothes were made for utility and hard wear, not style. Little girls literally wore flour sacks to school, and one of those little girls was my mom. When she got to be a teenager, one of her favorite jaunts was to take the bus to the “big city” and flip through the fashion magazines in a drugstore. Then when she got home, she’d fill page after page with her own designs, trying as best she could to capture the style and glamour of the magazine models.

Mom didn’t get to follow her dream of fashion design. Instead she opted for housewife and motherhood. But let me tell you, she was a magician when it came to making paper dolls for me and my little girlfriends. What fabulous clothes those dolls had! I was famous all over the neighborhood because of my mother. I hope our heartfelt appreciation helped to ease the ache of not becoming a fashion designer. I think it must have, because when I think of her drawing those paper doll clothes, I remember her as always laughing.

Writing about your mother is such a fruitful exercise.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 12 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 45 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Monday, May 15, 2017

Creating Real Characters through Dialogue, Mannerisms, and Actions

One of the difficulties in writing fiction is how to individualize your characters to make them real. This can be achieved through dialogue or specific character tics or mannerisms. Doing this in a series is more difficult because you have to keep the characters consistent in book after book.

One of my favorite series—and I qualify this because I’m not a big series reader—is Michael Robotham’s Joe O’Loughlin series. Joe is a clinical psychologist with Parkinson’s Disease.
Robotham doesn’t hit the reader over the head with the disintegrating effects of the illness on Joe’s body. Instead, throughout the series, the symptoms become more subtly noticeable: a disobedient leg that freezes in mid-gait or a hand tremor, but never does he make the character about the disease or the disease about the character. To coin one of my least favorite phrases, it is what it is. Joe goes about his business solving crimes without ever becoming a victim.

I can think of two series where the characters never change. That’s fine for those readers who aren’t bothered by that, but I am. One is the time period never changes, so neither does the character. The other is the stupidity factor, where the character keeps making the same mistakes over and over. I stopped reading both series when I realized neither character would grow.

I’ve published three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series with another on the way.
Diana has been a famous psychic since she was six years old. She’s now an adult and a psychic performer who’s played Vegas and other venues around the world, so she’s had her share of hecklers and skeptics. She’s also learned how to respond with a quick wit and sharp tongue. I can’t forget that, or I lose my character.

So how do I keep her honest? In Mind Games, book one, she meets Ernie Lucier, the New Orleans police lieutenant who’s one of the skeptics. There’s no surprise that they’ll become a couple, but on one of their first “dates,” he takes her for hot wings, promising they’ll be the hottest wings she’s ever eaten or will eat. He's clearly testing her, and Diana knows it. She bites into the wing, and though it’s fire hot, she picks the bone clean and takes another one while he looks on in disbelief. She doesn’t get through the burning sensation of the second wing, but it’s indicative of her personality to try to beat someone at his own game. In book four, a work in progress, she does it again. Spicy hot cucumber sandwiches that the host prepares and watches as she eats not only one but two. This time, she carries off the deception without choking. Diana is a smart aleck whenever the opportunity arises, but caution―too much of a good thing wears thin and becomes tiresome. Lke Joe O’Loughlin, a little goes a long way.

Diana’s father is good old country boy with the dialect to prove it. He drops the g in ing words and uses double negatives. “I don’t remember nothin’ ’bout no animal.” I have to be consistent, or the dialect doesn’t work, but again, it's important not to overdo the slang.

One author I like a lot writes a series about two partner detectives that alternate books and sometimes share a story. One character is a constant wiseacre. I skip his books because the sass is excessive. The other character is dark and enigmatic. The mystery of him keeps me reading his stories, because I want to know more about him.

In Murder Déjà Vu, my male character, a quiet man who spent fifteen years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, rubs the back of his neck when he’s unsure of what to say. He does it enough for the reader to know it’s a tell, much like the tell of a card player, but not so often that it’s annoying. I hope.

When I wrote Threads, I was so fascinated by a secondary character that he became the lead male. Garrett stutters. Badly. Like foreign accents or regional dialect, stuttering in dialogue is risky. When it becomes tedious, the reader will shut the book. The trick is for other characters to mention the stutter interspersed with the character’s dialogue so there’s not stutter overload.

Elmore Leonard, whose books I adore, is a master of dialogue.
I wrote a Blood Red Pencil post in November of 2104, but here are a few of his ten rules of writing.

• Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop.

• Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
…Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. … I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule, says Leonard, is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Polly Iyer is the author of eight novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, May 12, 2017

#Friday Reads : Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Published by Spiegel & Grau
July 14, 2015

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Readers of his work in The Atlantic and elsewhere know Ta-Nehisi Coates for his thoughtful and influential writing on race in America. Written as a series of letters to his teenaged son, his new memoir, Between the World and Me, walks us through the course of his life, from the tough neighborhoods of Baltimore in his youth, to Howard University—which Coates dubs “The Mecca” for its revelatory community of black students and teachers—to the broader Meccas of New York and Paris. Coates describes his observations and the evolution of his thinking on race, from Malcolm X to his conclusion that race itself is a fabrication, elemental to the concept of American (white) exceptionalism. Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, and South Carolina are not bumps on the road of progress and harmony, but the results of a systemized, ubiquitous threat to “black bodies” in the form of slavery, police brutality, and mass incarceration. Coates is direct and, as usual, uncommonly insightful and original. There are no wasted words. This is a powerful and exceptional book. -- Jon Foro

I hadn't read too far into the book before I started to see a similarity to James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, in content and in style. Both utilize letters to tell their story and both take a hard look at racism and bigotry. And both are well worth reading, especially now as the United States is seeing more outbreaks of racism and bigotry in action.

On my blog, It's Not All Gravy, I wrote about how Baldwin's books opened my eyes about what it is like to grow up Black in a society controlled by Whites. That was in the early '60s, when the Civil Rights Movement was getting off the ground, and I did my part as best I could.

Ever since then, I have had a deep interest in the issue of racism, which is how it became a theme in the Seasons Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. I think understanding is something that comes with learning all we can about people we consider "other," and  Between The World And Me, is a great textbook. I highly recommend it.
Reviewed by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. She has written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Season Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Say It with Gusto

Writing dialogue seems easy enough. It's just characters talking, right? Not exactly.

Conversation between characters offers great opportunity to discreetly convey information to the reader as well as imparts bits of insight into the people who populate your story. A mediocre story can be elevated by great dialogue, and a great story can sent into the abyss of mediocrity by poor dialogue.

Much more than an exchange of words, dialogue can include body language, locale, emotion, the weather, and a host of other relevant factors that invite the reader into the scene and paint a vivid picture of the interaction. However, all such information must be delivered as an integral part of the scene and in a succinct manner. In other words, it can't be an information dump.

In real life, we often digress when we talk. When writing dialogue, we need to stick to the subject at hand. We also need to be concise, remembering that dialogue is not the same as monologue. We also need to make the talk reflect the character. A hoodlum, for example will not express himself the same way as a Wall Street banker.

One more thing—we don't need to be grammatical unless proper sentence structure reflects the character who's speaking. Why? Grammar isn't usually a priority when we're conversing.

The following examples have been adapted from the writing manual I penned several years ago. Both are in Hank's point of view. The first exchange between father and son sets the scene but misses some opportunities to provide greater insight into the POV character. The second goes a step further, using brief recollection and body language to enhance dialogue in showing internal conflict. Which one reaches out to you as a reader? How do you use dialogue to define your characters and move your story forward?

         Hank heard his daughter crying again. He ignored her.
        “Can’t you hear this baby screaming?” Luke stood in the doorway of the den, holding his baby sister.
       I’m…I’m sorry. I guess I was daydreaming. Why don’t you come in and sit down, son.”
       “I can’t sit down, Dad. I’ve got homework to do. I don’t have time to daydream, so why should you?”
       “I know you’re having a rough time. We all are. We men’ll get through this together.”
       “I miss Mom, too, but seventh grade isn’t as easy as sixth. I’ve got lots of work to make up because I was absent all last week. You should see the pile of homework on Lance’s desk.”
       “Surely, your teachers will make allowance for your mother’s funeral. I could call the school and—”
       “I can mourn on my own time—that’s what my math teacher said. But I can’t get catch up while I’m babysitting a little kid who misses her mommy and wants her daddy.”
       “She’s quiet now. Why don’t you put her back in her bed? She’ll go to sleep soon. She’s got to be worn out after all that crying.”
       “You’ve been pushing her off on Lance and me ever since Mom got sick the last time. It isn’t fair to us. I love my sister, but Lexi belongs to you, not me.”
       “Luke…” He looked up just in time to see his son’s back disappear through the doorway.
        Lexi leaned against him, her head next to his heart. He took a shaky breath, sat her on the floor, and fled the room.

        Hank pressed his hands over his ears. If only Lexi would stop screaming and go to sleep.
        Visions of her premature birth by cesarean section flashed through his mind. The doctor had urged the surgery much earlier so Laura could undergo chemo. She’d said no. He'd begged her to reconsider. She refused.
        As soon as the baby emerged, she had turned toward him, her eyes fixed on the source of the soft, deep voice that spoke to her mother. She didn’t cry, didn’t even whimper; she just watched him. Wherever they took her, she turned toward the voice that had promised to care for her no matter what.
       “Can’t you hear this baby crying?” Luke stood in the doorway, glaring at his father. Lexi’s small body convulsed with sobs against his shoulder.
        “I’m…I’m sorry. I guess I was daydreaming.”
        “About Mom?”
        “Yeah.” Hank ran his fingers through his hair.
        “I miss her, too.” Luke crossed the room and plopped the one-year-old on his father’s lap. “But I’ve got lots of homework to do because I was absent last week.”
        Hank looked away from the tears in his son’s eyes. “Surely, your teachers made allowance for your mother’s funeral.”
        “Right! I can mourn on my own time—that’s what my math teacher said. But I can’t do homework and babysit for a kid who misses her mommy and wants her daddy.”
        Hank glanced into the huge, dark eyes that gazed up at him. He turned back to his son. “Put her in her bed. She must be worn out by now.”
        “You’ve been pushing her off on me and Lance ever since Mom got sick the last time.”
        Hank turned back to the baby, who still watched him with adoring eyes. “Luke—” He looked up to see his son’s back disappear through the doorway.
        Lexi leaned against him, her head next to his heart, and began to hum. At first he didn’t believe his ears. It couldn’t be…
         In a haunting baby voice too reminiscent of her mother’s, she hit every note of the lullaby Laura had sung to her from the moment she’d learned of her conception until the week before she died.
         Tears stung his eyes. His chest tightened. I can’t do it, Laura.”
         Setting the baby on the floor, he bolted from the room.

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. She also helps new and not-so-new writers improve their skills through posts on Blood Red Pencil and offers private tutoring as well as seminars online. You can contact her through her writing website, Also, you can visit her editing team at to find experienced editors in a variety of genres to help you polish your book into a marketable work.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Lessons Learned From Writing Scripts and Acting

Over the years of writing stage plays and film scripts, as well as playing on stage, I have learned quite a bit about writing dialogue, and "these are a few of my favorite things":

  • Don't include all the "polite speak" - Thank you, You're welcome  
  • Don't tell an actor how to speak - politely, angrily, sarcastically 
  • Pay attention to the rhythm of the words  - make sure the line can be easily delivered
  • Use dialogue to propel the story - each line needs to have a purpose
When I start editing for a client, I can usually tell if this is a first book by the sometimes clunky dialogue, including all the "polite speak" as well as repeating names:

"Hi, Tom, this is Scott."
"Hello, Scott. How are you?"
"I'm fine, Tom, how about you."

Those are extreme examples, but I have actually seen dialogue close to that, and that does nothing to move the story along or reveal character, or do more than simply take up space.

As for the use of adverbs, the first script writing class taught me never to include them when writing dialogue, so I have been super sensitive to the over-use of them. In my upcoming Editing Workshop, available in June at Short & Helpful, I gave examples of how too many adverbs actually weaken dialogue: 

"Hi Jesse," Evie waved back excitedly. ---   Wouldn't it have been better for the author to have shown the excitement?

"My dad has to go," Jesse said sharply. --- This was in response to another character inviting Evie to visit later and meet Jesse's father. The terseness of Jesse's comment has the sharp edge and doesn't need the adverb.

"We know where we're going," Theresa said adamantly. --- Here again the dialogue is already adamant. She is responding to Jesse's father who said the young people couldn't leave without him.

 The emotion behind the words can also be shown in action or facial expression, as another way to eliminate the adverb but get the essence of the line across.

However, there are times that an adverb is necessary in a dialogue tag. The following example came from Kristen Lamb's blog. She commented that generally one should avoid using adverbs to show how someone is speaking. For example:  "She whispered quietly."

Lamb wrote, "Okay, as opposed to whispering loudly? Quietly is implied in the verb choice. Ah, but what if you want her to whisper conspiratorially? Or whisper sensually? The adverbs conspiratorially or sensually tells us of a very specific types of whispers, and are not qualities automatically denoted in the verb. Therefore, the adverb use works in those instances."

From my acting I have learned the importance of timing, especially in comedy, and how to get the drama into the dialogue.

Here is a line from the play "Squabbles." I played Mildred, opposite Abe, whom I did not like. He also did not like me. At a time when he has been particularly obnoxious, Mildred says, "I had a dream last night. And now it all becomes clear to me. I dreamt I was walking through a forest when I came to a field. In the middle of the field was a horse. But as I got closer, I could see that only the horse's head and his front legs were there. The rest was missing. I wondered...whatever became of the back of that horse. (turns to Abe) And now I know."

That last line works the best when there is a long pause between it and the previous one, which the action provides.

As an example of timing to create more drama in a line, this example is from "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" in which I played the character of Big Mama. In this scene Big Daddy has gone on a long rant to Big Mama, telling her all the ways he has been unhappy with her for years. Her response, "Oh, Big Daddy, in all these years you never believed that I loved you----And I did, I did so much. I did love you. I even loved your hate and your hardness."

In both examples, the playwright gave me cues as how to deliver the lines for the best impact, and I have learned to use some of those cues in writing novels:
  • Broken sentences
  • Adding an action that provides a pause
  • And using punctuation that indicates pauses
Do you have any tips on how to effectively use dialogue? What are some of the mistakes you made when first starting to write? I cringe when I read some of my earliest work. It's not always pretty. Extra credit for those who can say where "these are a few of my favorite things" comes from. 

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent role was Beth in "String of Pearls," which was maybe her favorite after Big Mama. She has written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Season Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Yacking, Conversation, or Dialogue

Our theme for May at the Blood-Red Pencil blog is dialogue and all the ways we use it - correctly and incorrectly - in fiction. We'll talk about how to properly punctuate, when to use dialog tags, how to develop character voice, and even how to move your plot with effective dialogue.

Here's an example of how to create real action and a sense of urgency through dialogue:

Lt. Eve Dallas is the heroine in J.D. Robb's longstanding In Death series.  At the end of Thankless In Death, she directs her police team for the big sting. The reader knows her methods, her people, and how this scenario will go down, and the dialogue is all about setting the stage and building tension.
"That's how it's going to work," she finished. "McNab, eyes and ears, Roarke security, and between you you'll shut down all electronics and power to that unit on my go. Team A - me, Peabody, Officers Carmichael and Prince, main-level door. Team B - Detectives Carmichael and Sanchez, Officers Rhodes and Murray, second-level door - enter on my go. Officers Kenson and Ferris will hold position here, block and disperse any and all civilians from entering the hot zone. Are we clear?"
"Yes, sir."
"No lights, no sirens, and no black-and-whites within a block of the target building. Protective gear is worn. This is not optional. Again, if the subject is seen exiting the building before this op is in place, take him down. If he's seen inside the building, track but do not engage. We're moving" she added. "Go in soft, wait for my orders. All weapons, medium stun."
There is no question who is in charge here, and what is happening. In a few short paragraphs the tone, tension, and action are set. It doesn't get any better than this!

Please join us over the course of the month for more tips, ideas, and conversations about using dialogue well.

Leave us a comment about how you use dialogue in your writing. Is writing it easy or hard for you? What tricks do you have for giving your characters distinctive voices?

Dani Greer is founding member of this blog. She is a writer, editor, artist, and queen of Utopian Press. You can connect with her at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.