My Release Day!

It’s here. My release day. No, I’m not getting out of prison. It’s my book release day! STUBBORN HEARTS is up for sale as an eBook even as I write this.

I’ve got a lovely glass of iced tea with a little umbrella in it to help me celebrate. I’m going to just lie back and let the royalties pour in. Okay, that’s being overly optomistic. Somehow I don’t see a beach house in my future, but I can always dream.

But dreams of money and fame aren’t why I write. I do it because I must. Once writing got into my system, I found I was addicted for life. Yes, it is an addiction of sorts. Why else would I write something, throw it in a closet in disgust, then haul it out again and try to make it better? Why not drop writing and renew my other interests, those which don’t involve subject-verb agreement or whether I should use an ellipses or a dash?

Maybe I write because I like subject-verb agreement and all the other weird stuff that comes with being a scribe. And I love creating characters and places for them to live. It’s so much fun throwing trouble in their way and watching them decide how to get out of the mess I write for them. And I love romance.

Who doesn’t remember that first look; the way your heart thrummed a wee bit faster when he first spoke to you; the way your toes curled during that first kiss. Ah yes, budding romance is a wonderful thing.

But I’ve been married to the same wonderful man for thirty-nine years. After all that time, I really can’t categorize our romance as budding. So I write. I create fictional firsts for my characters while I live quite happily in the real world of mature love which has its own special charm. And I believe that many women read romances for the same reason, to reconnect with those beautiful feelings of firsts.

Oh, my! I can’t believe where the time goes! Please excuse me. I must check again to see if anyone has “liked” my book or commented or even, dare I say it, bought my book. I know, I’m pathetic, but today is my book release day, and I’m soooo excited!

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Make Your Dialogue Work For You

Proper dialogue will bring your characters to life, but poorly executed dialogue can kill your characters, and no amount of clever exposition or narrative can revive them.

Because dialogue in a manuscript is easy to spot, a potential reader can quickly skim your story and judge your writing skills. Don’t disappoint him. Make your dialogue work for you. Here are some pointers.

1. Use incomplete sentences. When we speak, we often use clipped sentences. Listen to other conversations and you will see what I mean.

2. Eliminate chit chat. Check out this piece of dialogue.

“Hi, Jane. It’s good to see you. How are you?”

“Good thanks. You?”

“Oh, can’t complain.”

“Anything new in your Life?”

“No, just the usual.”

Blah, blah, blah. Yes, we often speak like that, but it will make a potential reader slam your book shut and put it back on the shelf. Chit chat words are empty words and they take up valuable space and time.  Good dialogue is purposeful. It reveals character and helps move the story forward

3. Long dialogue speeches usually don’t work. Unless the speaker is giving a lecture, it is nearly impossible for the second party of the conversation not to cut in and add his own opinion.

4. Even when there is not conflict in the dialogue, you can add tension and interest by how each person responds. Compare the two following passages:

“Did you hand in your assignment?” Mr. Ericson asked.

“Yes, I put it on your desk this morning,” Mark answered.

“Oh right, I remember now. I hope you edited it,” he said.

“Yup, I always do” Mark said.

“Good then,” Ericson continued marking papers, while Mark waited. “Was there something else?” Ericson asked.

“Yes, I was wondering why you gave me such a poor mark on my last essay.”

*

“Did you hand in your assignment?” Mr. Ericson asked.

“I put it on your desk this morning,” Mark answered.

“Edited well?”

“Like always.”

Erickson continued marking papers, while Mark waited. “Was there something else?”

“Why did you give me such a poor mark on my last essay?”

The second piece is more interesting because:

a. some of the cooperative words (“Yes”, “Oh, right” and “Good then”) were eliminated.

b. a question was answered by asking another question.

c. some dialogue tags were removed.

Did you also feel a wee bit more tension or conflict in the second passage? Conflict keeps the reader reading. It doesn’t have to be an out-and-out fight. It can be very subtle.

5. Dialogue tags (he demanded, she murmured, he pleaded, etc.) can often be eliminated. Tags should only be used when it is unclear who is speaking. There are ways to get around using tags.

a. Use an action to show which character is speaking, but be sure the action suits the dialogue. If a character throws a pot across the room, he isn’t likely to say, “I love you.”

b. If there are only two people talking, just by starting a new paragraph, the reader will know there is a new speaker.

c.  A character’s style of speech will reveal who is talking. “Aye, he was a mighty fine lad.”

6.The best dialogue tag to use is “said.” It disappears on the page, unless the page is peppered with it. That would be a no-no.

7. A character cannot laugh dialogue.

“And then he fell off his chair,” he laughed. “I knew he was drunk.”

This needs to be changed. How’s this? “And then he fell off his chair,” he said, laughing. “I knew he was drunk”

Or: “And then he fell off his chair.” He laughed. “I knew he was drunk.”

8. If you want a character to hiss something, you’d better have some “ss” sounds in the sentence. It’s pretty hard to hiss this comment, “That man killed my uncle.”

9. Don’t overuse proper names in dialogue.  Here’s an example of name overuse.

“Tell me, Jim, what were you thinking?”

“To tell the truth, Bill, I wasn’t. I just reacted.”

“Then may I suggest the next time you get yourself into such a predicament, Jim, think first.”

“Bill, you’ve got my word on it.”

This might be a good time to do a little name dropping. Really, as in drop the names from this dialogue!

If you read this far, thank you. Employ a few of these techniques and you will soon be a dialogue dynamo!

Another Lady in Red: Carol Ritten Smith

Introduce yourself:  My name is Carol Ritten Smith–well, that’s my pen name. I added my maiden name, Ritten, to the mix because there are a kazillion Carol Smiths inhabiting this earth. You may already know one.

Details: I was one of those girls who got married right after graduation and everyone wondered if we’d make it. My husband Denis and I are happy to be celebrating our thirty-ninth anniversary this August. We have two grown children, a son and a daughter. Both are married. One of the benefits of parenthood is grandparenthood. It’s wonderful and so much fun! Denis and I live on a bison farm near Red Deer which is in Central Alberta, Canada. I own a picture framing/scrapbooking shop and art gallery. I’m fortunate to have the gallery because from it I sell the pottery I make and my polymer clay art.

My one physical characteristic and things I love to do: I’m short, but that’s okay. I get that trait from my mother who is “shrinking” more every year. To make up for the height gene she also presented me with a creative gene which was passed down to her from her grandfather who painted for the King way back when. Thank you, Mom and Great Grandpa. Besides writing, I’ve done many hobbies, but the one I stuck with throughout my entire life is pottery. About fifteen years ago I picked up a ball of polymer clay and loved it ever since. But right now, clays are set aside. (Can’t type on the laptop with muddy hands!)

Why write romances: A friend said read The Flame and the Flower, by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Wow. Forget “Hooked on Phonics”, I am “Hooked on Romances”, especially hers! I love reading how two people who abhor each other at first sight can find eternal love. So I decided to write one of my own. I also write short stories, romances of course. While my book was busy getting turned down at publishing houses, I decided to write and illustrate a children’s book which would combine my two loves, writing and clay. “Adam and Even and the Special Tree” was born. (Think Barbara Reid’s, “Two by Two.”) I hope to self publish it as a POD someday.

My personal experience that helped spark my novel Stubborn Hearts was attending Christmas parties and church at the Big Bend School. At the time we went there, it was no longer used as a one room school but as a community center. An old picture of the Queen still hung at the front and the blackboards were still in use. Even black and white pictures of the students and teachers were on the walls. I felt compelled to write about that place and a young school teacher. Big Bend School was resplendent with memories and sounds and smells . . . even a dingy basement much like the one my character had to descend into to get the Santa suit. The building is now part of a museum, thank goodness! It would have broken my heart to see it torn down!

Did I cut anything from my novel that hurt? Yup, the first three chapters, about eight thousand words, at the suggestion of my writing friend. She was bang on. I easily wove the pertinent information in later as it was necessary.

The best part of writing is when your characters speak to you and you can hardly write fast enough to keep up. The worst part is when your characters snub you for putting them into a situation they don’t know how to get out of.

My next book? I’ve been trying to decide whether to write about a woman disguised as a young boy who becomes a cook at a lumberjack camp and falls in love with the foreman OR about a widowed woman who falls in love with the shy preacher in a small town and finds out her first and abusive husband is very much alive. I’m leaning toward the first one. The other one can wait. Once again the setting would be around the late 1800s for both. I have an appreciation for the women of those days. They were very stong, yet called the weaker sex. Guess who said that! Anyway, I admire those women, but I’m thankful I’m not one of them…praise God and Amen!