Hi, welcome to Write Better Now, a podcast of quick, weekly writing tips meant to help you become a better writer. We’re your hosts with NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones and copyeditor extraordinaire Shaun Farrar. Thank you for joining us.
It’s a super quick writing tip again today. Ready?
When you’re writing dialogue, make every new speaker a new paragraph. If you’re writing kids books? You might as well just keep each dialogue a paragraph of their own?
Why? Our brains are wired to read each paragraph as a new speaker. If we jumble a bunch of different speakers into one paragraph, it slows down the reader’s pace of reading and also can get their brain all hitched up as they try to figure out who is talking and when.
Why else? It makes more white space on the page. The more white space on the page, the less intimidating the text is for the reader—especially the reluctant reader.
So don’t write a paragraph like this:
Carrie said, “Please support our channel.” Shaun nodded and said, “We are insecure.” “That’s true.” They laughed. Shaun added, “Wow. This is boring dialogue to prove a point.”
Instead write the paragraphs like this:
Carrie said, “Please support our channel.”
Shaun nodded and said, “We are insecure.”
Shaun added, “Wow. This is boring dialogue to prove a point.”
Pretty easy, right? Now we know who said “that’s true” even though there wasn’t a dialogue tag there. No readers’ brains hitched during the reading of that dialogue and all is good with the world.
For other posts about writing dialogue, check out below:
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These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.
This is from when Em was super young and I wrote it all out and saved it because that’s what I do.
There is a Halloween Sleep Over at my house. There are six 14-year-olds. They are making cheesy ghosts with olive faces. This is the dialogue. It is verbatim.
This is the reason why we don’t have perfectly accurate dialogue in our stories.
DIRECT CONVERSATION BEGINS NOW
Didn’t H — make show choir?
She didn’t make it. She tried it again in the spring and she emailed Mrs. Wright and asked her what to work on but she used all these big words so then X — didn’t try out because she was mad.
Oh no … Big words
She told her she needed to work on her voice and stuff.
No offense, but she does
Abby keeps singing.
Guys do not be mean.
I don’t want to be mean.
Did you hear her solo?
It was good, but she got mad after awhile.
She got sick of it after awhile because Ben told her to do something on her solo.
Is Ben the guy who runs the band thing with the saxophones.
No, he does the drama.
I’m so mad.
Can we do it?
Guys we would be amazing.
I would do the choreography. I’m so tough.
The three of us. No, the four of us.
What about me. You guys hate me!
No… You don’t do musical stuff.
No! All of us can do it.
Oh! I’m so foolish…
I don’t know how to shape the ghost.
You have a hard butt.
Look! It has a belly button.
I got bored, so I put more olives on it.
All of my cheese fell-off.
Abby keeps singing.
Abby will you shut up!
Mallory joins Abby in singing.
Oh my God, you guys. Emily’s ghost looks like a Pac-Man.
It is a Pac-Man.
I decided to announce my geekiness to the world via a Pac-Man cheesy ghost.
Why This DIALOGUE WOULDn’t Work In A Story
It’s pretty simple.
It’s all talking heads. We don’t know who is talking or responding until the end.
It’s a lot of filler. Would the real point be Emily announcing her geekiness to the world of her friends or would it be someone being excluded and then included or would it be about X not making show choir?
Dialogue needs to keep up the pace, move the story forward and reveal something about the characters.
Don’t get me wrong. We can tweak this dialogue and make it work. We can add in some tags, physical reactions and actions, setting, backstory and it could be pretty snazzy. But right now? Right now, it’s a bit of a talking-heads mess.
Steve Wedel and I wrote a super creepy book a few years back called After Obsession and it’s making a big freaking splash in the amazing Netherlands thanks to Dutch Venture Publishing and its leader Jen Minkman.
Check out this spread in a Dutch magazine. I met a whole bunch of Dutch readers last Friday and let me tell you? They are the best.
It’s 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 order 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?
You can get exclusive content, early podcasts, videos, art and listen (or read) never-to-be-officially published writings of Carrie on her Patreon. Levels go from $1 to $100 (That one includes writing coaching and editing for you wealthy peeps).
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.
Share this if you want and also because it would be super nice of you!
It’s Writing Tip Wednesday and this week, I’m actually going to give a little writing tip. I know!
We all pause for a moment of stunned silence.
Have you ever read a story and every line of dialogue for every character sounds exactly the same no matter what the characters’ backgrounds are?
“I love you a lot,” Character #1 said. “A wicked amount.”
“You’re an awesome lady,” Character #2 said.
“You are the wicked awesomest lady ever,” Character #1 said.
“Will you two awesome ladies please move along? I’m in a wicked hurry?” called out Police Officer #1. “No offense.”
Random pretend dialogue from a bad book that I just made up in my head
See what I mean?
So there’s a reason that flat feeling is happening. There’s a reason that all the characters sound the same when those characters aren’t the same in the writer’s head. The reason is because the author isn’t thinking about words.
Someone once said (maybe Rita Mae Brown?) that “Language is the road map of culture. It tells you where a people are from and where they are going.”
For every word we write (or speak) there are connections we have in our brains. We make associations with each word and those associations are formed by our own lives, our cultures, our media consumption. Everything. They are keys to who we are, what we do, what we’ve done, where we’re from, what we’ve been exposed to and how we think.
Don’t be afraid to play around with individual words and think about how substituting one similar word for another really makes a difference.
Let me tell you a tale vs. Let me tell you a story.
I find her account truthful vs. I find her account veracious.
The woman is honest vs. The lady is honest.
I have no citation for this because I’m making it up again.
Don’t be afraid to play around with words, to tweak them – especially in your dialogue. Our differences in background and thought is often truly evident in our speech patterns and word choices. People aren’t the same in real life. They don’t talk the same in real life. We should try to make sure that we don’t seem the same in our stories.
Here’s an example Of PEople’s differences in speech patterns and word choice:
Think about past and current presidents and this difference in language is even more obvious. Presidents are all similar in that they are politicians who have attained a great amount of power, English is their first language, all are male, but even so… their speech patterns are profoundly different.
I’ve used the most current tweets (as of this writing) to show the difference in word choice and sentence structure and communication style of four of the last five presidents.
Congratulations to a truly great football team, the Clemson Tigers, on an incredible win last night against a powerful Alabama team. A big win also for the Great State of South Carolina. Look forward to seeing the team, and their brilliant coach, for the second time at the W.H.
In 2018 people stepped up and showed up like never before. Keep it up in 2019. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’ll be right there with you. Happy New Year, everybody!
.@SenatorCollins — political courage and class. I salute my wonderful friend and her principled leadership.
Yet another president
Senator John Culver was a smart, principled, progressive, and tough public servant who represented his constituents with honor for 16 years. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and the people of Iowa.
Our final president example
I think it’s pretty easy to pick out President Clinton and Trump and Obama, not just because of what they’re talking about, but because of their word choices and sentence structure.
So, think about your stories, your life and the people you communicate with. That’s my writing tip – word choice is telling. Make sure that everyone doesn’t sound the same. And if you aren’t a writer, this applies in your own life to – sound the way you want to sound.
A Really Cool Blog Post (not by me) that you should check out.
One of my friends/acquaintances, Carla Tanguay, has a really great blog post about how to use music for self care. It’s right here. You should check it out.
Carla is a “nationally board-certified music therapist with over 15 years of experience in clinical music therapy and healthcare management. She holds a Master’s degree in music therapy from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College and has trained over 30 music therapy interns.”
But she’s also a great, clear writer and one of the kindest smart people that I know.
OUR PODCAST – DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.
Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness 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!
BE A PART OF THE PODCAST!
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?
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.
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.
The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?
It’s awesome and quirky and fun.
FLYING AND ENHANCED
Men in Black meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You know it. You can buy them hereor anywhere.
I offer solo writing coach services. For more about my individual coaching, click here.
I am super psyched to be teaching the six-month long Write. Submit. Support. class at the Writing Barn!
Are you looking for a group to support you in your writing process and help set achievable goals? Are you looking for the feedback and connections that could potentially lead you to that book deal you’ve been working towards?
Our Write. Submit. Support. (WSS) six-month ONLINE course offers structure and support not only to your writing lives and the manuscripts at hand, but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors.
Past Write. Submit. Support. students have gone on to receive representation from literary agents across the country. View one of our most recent success stories here.