Rebel Reading the Hobbit & Talking Head Syndrome

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Rebel Reading the Hobbit & Talking Head Syndrome

A lot of time I’ll be reading scenes in books and it will be two characters talking and I’ll only have a vaguely general idea about where they are. Maybe I won’t have an idea at all. We call this evil beast the talking heads syndrome. 

Cue scary music here. 


No, it’s not about the iconic 1980s group. Sorry!

It’s where there’s a lot of dialogue going on but there’s no actual anchor for the characters. It’s like they are floating in space blabbing at each other. There’s no physical world placement. 

This happens a lot and it’s because some of us are writers who really hear our scenes rather than see our scenes or live in our scenes. It’s also because we sometimes forget to get those anchors in there. 

How to Imagine Yourself in a Scene

To do this exercise you have to step away from the keyboard for a second and stand up. We know! We know! Writers are all about sitting down and putting their butts in the chair and getting the work done, right? Well, give yourself five minutes and stand up in a quiet place preferably not in Starbucks or anything. 

Now close your eyes and think about your scene where there are talking heads.


There you are with your characters. Maybe you can even imagine yourself as one of the characters. Possess them like they’re Zac Bagans and you’re filming Ghost Adventures. Inhale. What kind of smells are you smelling? Remember that. 


You’re still there with the characters standing in the setting. What do you hear? Remember that. 


Your characters don’t stay completely still for the whole scene, do they? Have them move even if it’s to fidget. Let them touch things. What do those things feel like? Are they hot? Textured? Hands aren’t the only things that touch. Does their hair sweep over something? Does their foot kick against a table? Do their shoulders lean against the rough wood of the wall? 


What does it feel like inside their mouth? Dry? Coppery? Do they need to brush their teeth? Please make them floss. Everyone should floss. 


This is the fallback for most writers and it can have some issues. We want to be able to visualize the setting and where things are happening, but we don’t need the buffer of the character seeing what’s happening. 

There are a lot of stories where it says, 

“Shaun looked over and saw the cat dangling from the curtain.”  

Don’t pad the details with distancing words. Don’t tell us that Shaun’s looking. Just have us see. 

Instead write, 

“The cat dangled from the curtain.”  

It’s so much more powerful. 


Have the characters move. Give them actions and objective correlatives to their emotional states. 

What are the next steps to Banishing the talking heads?

No, it’s not casting David Byrne to an isolated bunker in Nebraska. It’s also not putting him on SNL. It has nothing to do with him! I promise.

The next step is incorporating what you imagined for tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing, movement into the actual scene. You have to have your characters’ perceptions of the outside world and setting incorporated into that dialogue and action. Don’t be afraid to dig deeper. 


Don’t be full of talking heads. Write scenes that come alive. 


Be in the moment, man, and actually notice things. 

Note: In the random thoughts in bed section of our podcast we talk about Liberal cheers, famous for being losers, getting thick thanks to the Coronavirus and Shaun binging Swedish Fish, and golf balls. How’s that for random? 


The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song?  It’s “Night Owl” by Broke For Free.

Last week’s episode’s link.


The podcast link if you don’t see it above. Plus, it’s everywhere like Apple Music, iTunesStitcherSpotify, and more. Just google, “DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE” then like and subscribe.

This week’s episode link. 


Over 180,000 people have downloaded episodes of our podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, you should join them.

Continue reading “Rebel Reading the Hobbit & Talking Head Syndrome”

Writing Tip Wednesday: Am I Too Quiet?

In this unquiet world, we need quiet books. We need moments of contemplation, of deep empathy, or being sucked into others’ stories. In this unquiet world and country where there is so much pressure to financially succeed, we need the heroes who write these quiet books from their heart, books from their spirit that defy commercial expectations and pressures and still soar.

When you’re a little kid, people praise you for being quiet. They don’t want you to be interrupting and shouting and all that crud because they are adults and there are rules and so on.

But when you’re a writer, you start to get worried that you’re too quiet, that your books are quiet books.

What does that EVEN mean?

A quiet book tends not to be a book that has a ridiculously outrageous hook or a thriller plot with a lot of car races.

They might not have an apocalypse or a murder, but quiet novels are full of things too. Things like character and details and thought, often deep thoughts that would make philosophers like Derrida go, “Hmm…”

A lot of times writers tell me that they worry that their novels are too quiet, but what I really think they’re worried about is that their novel is too boring.

Awesome hooks and elevator pitches like, “My novel is a cross between Harry Potter and the Iliad, but with vampires,” are awesome hooks and elevator pitches that scream quite loudly, but that means nothing if the story isn’t deep, doesn’t resonate, isn’t well written.

And there is a place for the thoughtful novel, the bare novel, the poignant novel especially in this world of chaos.

Others say it better

 But the sort of quiet books I am talking about are those stories that gently meander along, taking time to savour the small, quiet moments of simply living, the often small cast of characters in the story taking their time to get to know the others in their lives and to learn more about themselves. This is how the reader becomes involved in their most intimate moments and discovers, quietly, not only about the characters in the book but about themselves.

Jenni Odgen, PHD for Psychology Today

If you are worried that your book is too quiet, don’t worry. Write the best story that you can, fill it with thought and craft and love. Release it out into the world gently and passionately. I promise you that we need it.

As Emily St. John writes,

In the places where everyone drives, the roads fill with single-occupancy vehicles in the mornings and the late afternoons, thousands or millions of drivers in their solitudes. On a subway commute, packed in with strangers in an underground train, solitude is more elusive. We resort to small tricks to find some space for ourselves: the noise-blocking headphones, the iPad, the book. I wear earbuds on my commute, but unless I’m too tired to read or the person next to me is loud, the iPod in my pocket is dark. I just want things to be a little quieter, so that I can disappear into my book more fully. In those moments I just want to be a little more alone

Emily St. John Mandel for The Millions

In this unquiet world, we need quiet books. We need moments of contemplation, of deep empathy, or being sucked into others’ stories. In this unquiet world and country where there is so much pressure to financially succeed, we need the heroes who write these quiet books from their heart, books from their spirit that defy commercial expectations and pressures and still soar.

Here’s a link to a quick list of some quiet books.


Bar Harbor Maine
Bar Harbor Maine – Next to our house, actually


We’ve started cooking on video. Shaun does this one and it’s our first, so be kind even as he does the Chicken Liver Thrust Dance. My video channel is also starting to host the podcast as well as writing tips and more. Check it out here. Please subscribe! It’s free!



My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed!

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

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On February first, I’m going to launch my Patreon site where I’ll be reading chapters (in order) of a never-published teen fantasy novel, releasing deleted scenes and art from some of my more popular books. And so much more.

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A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 

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Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!


Hey! If you download the Anchor application, you can call into the podcast, record a question, or just say ‘hi,’ and we’ll answer. You can be heard on our podcast! Sa-sweet!

No question is too wild. But just like Shaun does, try not to swear, okay?

Here is the link to the mobile app. Our latest episode is below. It’s also on YouTube here.


I do art stuff to help me get deeper into my stories.  You can find it and buy a print here. 


You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.

People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.

Time Stoppers Carrie Jones Middle grade fantasy


Men in Black meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You know it. You can buy them here or anywhere. It’s fun, accessible science fiction.

31702754 copy
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