Effective Dialogue

Darlene Jones has agreed to be my guest today to talk about the value of good dialogue in a novel. Here she comes on her famous camel. Welcome, author Darlene Jones.


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 “No, please, don’t go.” Yves reached out to stop her. 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.” is more natural 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 for a bit without tags.

Used skilfully, dialogue is a tool that can provide tension and emotion, something every good novel needs. Here is a sample from my novel EMBROILED.

“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?


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 waited for 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.


Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00038]


Hop on Board: Writing Process

I’ve been tagged by Renee Rivers to carry on the blog hop on the topic of writing. On Renee’s blog, you never know what you’ll find next. One thing is for sure though, it will be entertaining and informative.

I’m going to follow Renee’s lead and answer the same questions she did on her blog. Then I’m going to tag someone else who will share more writing secrets.

What am I working on as a writer?

As one of several members of a group  called  “Loveahappyending,” I write magazine-style pieces for the group’s online magazine. My category for the quarterly contributions is Outdoor Life. That pretty much includes most of what I like to do when I’m not writing. Anything to do with nature and the outdoors is of interest to me. I love to take photographs to accompany my writing to help spark interest in the magazine which contains articles of a great variety of topics by other authors.

I also contribute articles about editing and writing tips. I hope to follow my own advice whether I’m writing for this magazine or working on my next novel, a sequel to The Wind Weeps.

My blogs, http://wordsfromanneli.wordpress.com and https://annelisplace.wordpress.com keep me from stagnating. There is always another short story or photo essay to write.

Why do I write what I do?

I believe in the saying, “Write what you know,” so the settings for my novels are places I have been, places I’m very familiar with. My goal is to make the reader feel as if he or she is on location with my characters and so the settings  for the scenes must be believable and imaginable. The secret is in the details. You don’t need a lengthy description of a place to get a sense of it. I’d like to give you some short examples of how the setting is woven into the story here and there.

From The Wind Weeps:

I put my jeans and sneakers back on and sat on a log with my elbows propped on my legs, head slumped forward staring down at the wet gravel. Tiny beach crabs scurried along and dug under small rocks for safety. I imagined them terrified by the giant who hovered over them staring down hungrily. Seagulls squealed warnings. A tiny shorebird alternately hopped and ran in and out playing tag with the waves, picking at things in the sandier part of the beach. I wondered if I would still be sitting here a week from now, watching—and waiting to be rescued.

From Julia’s Violinist:

The walk from Sternberg to Koenigshofen was long, but the air was fresh and clean. Karl was not a person who loved nature, but after being stuck in the gloomy castle, it felt good to get out. He savoured the earthy smell of the steam coming off the land as the sun warmed it. On either side of the road the fields stretched out like a checkerboard of yellow and green, lovely colours after the dark browns and greys of the castle rooms. Even the birds showed their appreciation for another beautiful day as they hopped from shrub to shrub along the ditch, singing and scolding.

From Orion’s Gift:

I had always known that Mexico was poor, and yet I was shocked at the desperate poverty evident in the shabby suburbs of Tecate. Shacks built of rusty sheets of corrugated metal; bits of weathered plywood of all shapes and sizes; anything their owners could scrounge. A car door made an instant wall and window. Sometimes rows of tires stacked up and filled with dirt served as outside walls. And everywhere, plastic garbage bags littered the landscape. The unfortunate cardón cacti must have cursed their spines. Garbage bags speared on them were fated to remain there until the sun rendered the plastic brittle enough to be shredded by the wind.

This is why I write what I do. I’ve been there and it’s familiar territory and therefore should sound authentic.

How does my writing process look?

This is a difficult question at the moment. I’ve had many months of writer’s block with my sequel of The Wind Weeps. The storyline is down and I’m many chapters into it, but it’s hard to find enough time to write. I have short snippets of time when I can write a blog post or a magazine article, but for a long-term project such as a novel, longer blocks of time are needed to think and plan. Lately I’ve been lacking that much available uninterrupted thinking time.

I plan to get “jump-started” again in the next days. My usual process for novel writing looks like this: I come up with my characters and their dilemma (there always has to be a dilemma). I make notes about what each character wants or needs (these may not be the same thing), and I jot down their strengths and weaknesses. Then I draw a timeline and mark on it the major events that will bring the story to its climax and finally its ending.

Once this is done, I jot down the smaller events that will happen, mainly in the form of the results I want to achieve. For example: if X is to marry Y, I mark this down as a mini goal under the bigger umbrella. Lastly, I decide on scenes I need to make this happen, and list those under the marriage entry.

The dialogue used in each scene can go a long way towards showing the reader what  kind of character each one is. It can also be used to drive the action. Strange things can happen though. Once I was writing a scene with a lot of dialogue. I had a plan as to where the dialogue should lead me to make the scene work, but as I wrote, I put down the responses that would naturally come from the characters and they led me in a different direction than I expected. At the end of the scene, I did some silent handclapping and chortled, “Ooh! I didn’t know that was going to happen!” So my methods don’t always work out the way I planned, but sometimes it ends up even better to let the keyboard take over.

This is one of the reasons I find writing so rewarding. Every writing session is like a new adventure. You don’t always know what will come out of the keyboard’s mouth.



To follow me on the blog hop, I am tagging Lynne Nielsen who writes under the pen name of Grace. You can find her writing on her blog, called Alice and Molly : beautiful words. When you read her work, you’ll be taken into a world of sensitive descriptions, images, and emotions. It’s a treat to read Lynne’s posts. Be sure to visit her blog and find out how she does it.

Why Publish?

To publish means to issue for sale or distribution to the public. I’ve invited author Luanne Castle to share her thoughts about publishing and what it means to her.


Luanne Castle

Anneli asked me to think about why writers want to get their work published. She said it can’t be about the money, so what is it about?

I do know writers who write for the money. Since I’m not acquainted with Stephen King or his ilk, the writers I know who have aspirations of big advances and even larger royalty checks, are in the not-yet-published category–and pretty clueless, to boot. That’s because–Anneli is correct–there is little money to be made in writing.

That makes writing perfect for me. I have a history of gravitating to low-pay-lotsa-work jobs. When I was starting out as a grad student in the English department, I went to find one of my professors in his office. He was tenured and had been with the department for many years. The door was closed and locked, but taped to the outside of the door was his paycheck stub.  And the pay was about the same that I was making working fulltime in retail.

I was still so new at grad school it would have been easy to back out and apply to law school. But do you think I paid any attention? One day, when I had years of grad school completed and was teaching college as a non-tenured and harried “freeway flyer,” I looked at my paycheck and remembered that warning I’d ignored.

Money is definitely not an incentive to me, although by now I’ve worked in both business and creative pursuits long enough to realize that the world is clearly divided into those who are motivated by money and those who are not.

So why do I want to publish? Having an audience of readers is a powerful incentive for writing. After all, writing is communication as is all art. If we don’t share our stories and poems and blog posts, we aren’t communicating, and communication is how we negotiate our way in the world and build a stronger world community.

I also like to bolster my weak self-esteem and build up my troubled ego by publishing stories and poems in journals and magazines. They rarely pay writers, but it’s nice to know that an editor or editorial panel liked my work enough to publish it. They put their seal of approval on my work by showcasing it in their magazines.

For example, although I plan to complete a book-length memoir, the literary journal Lunch Ticket, run by Antioch University’s MFA program, just published a chapter from my memoir, called “Nuclear Fallout.” You can read it online here, if you like.

Finally, I also think that when I do publish my book, it will make it easier to respond to the usual conversation with strangers.

Stranger:         “What do you do?”

Writer:                        “I’m a writer.”

Stranger:         “What have you published?”

Writer:                        “A memoir called Scrap: Salvaging a Family.”

Stranger:         “Where can I buy that?”

Writer:                        “Amazon, any book store, Target, Wal-Mart, everywhere.”

At least, that’s my fantasy. Now when I say I don’t have a book out yet, they tell me I’m not really a writer.

In the meantime, I’m over at Writer Site.  Thanks so much to Anneli for inviting me to explore the subject of publication over here!


*Note from Anneli:

If you write, you are a writer. Being published does not change that. Luanne is too modest. She’s an excellent writer. Be sure to check out her blog, Writer Site.

Also, please leave a comment and tell us what you think about publishing.