Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Four fixes for faulty dialogue


In real life, conversation is usually the quickest and most effective tool we have for getting to know another human being. This is true in our stories as well. Nothing draws a reader into a scene more quickly than a lively exchange of spoken words between two motivated characters. 

In a novel or short story, this is called dialogue.

Writing effective dialogue for your story characters, however, isn’t as simple as replicating real-life conversations word for word. Fiction writers must be skilled in choosing which parts of a conversation best move the story forward while also providing subtle insights into the personalities, backgrounds, goals, and/or motivations of the speakers. 

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you craft dialogue in your stories:

1. First and foremost, remember that story dialogue should be only an approximation of real-life speech, a condensed version that maintains the flavor of real speech but hits just the high points, the elements of character interaction that best serve the plot. You can quickly spruce up and tighten your characters’ speech by nixing most of the small talk, greetings, ums, ers, and wells we typically hear in everyday conversations. 

Exception: Sometimes small talk contains subtext, which can clue the reader in on the speaker’s frame of mind or personal take on the situation. Here’s a short example from my brand new Love Inspired romance, Rancher for the Holidays. In this scene, the hero, Ben Fisher is helping unload painting supplies for a church outreach committee and secretly hoping to impress Marley Sanders, the heroine. However, he’s already running afoul of Ernie, Marley’s friend and self-appointed protector. Note the implied sarcasm in Ernie’s tone, and also in Ben’s terse reply. Clearly, neither of these guys means quite what he’s saying!
Before he [Ben] could lower himself to the ground to move the bucket into the wagon, Ernie returned and grabbed the handle. “Careful, there. Wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself.”

“Thanks.” Ben stifled a twinge of envy as Ernie effortlessly shifted the paint can into the wagon. Note to self: find new gym.

2. Know how to correctly use dialogue tags and beats. A dialogue tag identifies the speaker with “said” or some other speech-related verb that indicates how the dialogue is delivered. Important: Make sure your dialogue tag is something a human being can actually do with the voice. Verbs like these are fine:
  • said
  • stated
  • whispered
  • cried
  • shouted
  • murmured
  • croaked
  • rasped
  • mumbled
Verbs like these are physical actions and are not “said” words, so don’t use them as such: 
  • shrugged
  • nodded
  • winked
  • blinked
  • cringed
  • huffed
  • harrumphed
  • hissed (unless the dialogue has a lot of S’s)

3. Characters should converse, not speechify. Short, snappy paragraphs of dialogue help keep up the pace of your story, plus the white space is more inviting to readers. If one of your characters has a lot that must be said, break up the speech with bits of action, judicious (and relevant) use of description, or interjections from another character. 

4. Punctuate dialogue correctly. When there is no attached dialogue tag, all punctuation goes inside the quotation marks, as in the following examples:
  • “Aren’t the autumn leaves beautiful this year?”
  • “You’re driving me crazy!”
  • “Meet me at the mall at four.”
When a tag follows the line of dialogue, exclamation points and question marks remain; however a period will be replaced by a comma.
  • “Aren’t the autumn leaves beautiful this year?” Ruthy asked.
  • “You’re driving me crazy!” Mary exploded.
  • “Meet me at the mall at four,” Debby said. 
When the tag precedes the dialogue, a comma follows the tag, like this:
  • Pam said, “Let’s stop for ice cream on our way home.”
  • Looking toward the mountains, Glynna murmured, “Aren’t they beautiful?”
When the tag interrupts the speech, it looks like this (notice comma placement):
  • “If you ask me,” Sandra stated, “we have a good chance of winning the pickleball match.”
  • “I’d like to watch,” Julie said with a sigh, “but I won’t be in town that weekend.”
A beat is a bit of physical action that can be used in addition to or (preferably) in place of the dialogue tag. Keep in mind that a beat is not a “said” word (see note above concerning shrugged, nodded, etc.). The beat not only identifies the speaker but can show the character in action much more vividly than one more boring “she said.” Here are some examples of dialogue with beats.
  • Audra snapped her fingers. “Rats! I forgot my billfold.”
  • “Do you like my new haircut?” Smiling, Cara patted her curls.
Notice that the beat is a separate sentence from the line of dialogue. DO NOT combine the dialogue and an action beat with a comma! 

INCORRECT: “It’s late. I’m going home,” Janet put on her coat.
FIX: “It’s late. I’m going home.” Janet put on her coat. [replace comma with period]

INCORRECT: “Would you mind,” Pam raised a brow, “if we postponed until tomorrow?”
FIX: “Would you mind,” Pam asked, raising a brow, “if we postponed until tomorrow?” [added a “said” word and comma; changed raised to raising]
ALTERNATE FIX: “Would you mind”—Pam raised a brow—“if we postponed until tomorrow?” [the dashes set off the action beat; exact placement of quotation marks and dashes may vary among publishers’ style sheets, but this format seems the most common]


Myra Johnson
Let’s talk! Share a snippet of dialogue from your work-in-progress or a novel you’re reading. What does the conversation reveal about plot and/or character? Are the characters saying what they mean, or do their words contradict what they’re really thinking or feeling?

Today I’m giving away TWO copies of my newest release, Rancher for the Holidays. If you’d like to be entered in the drawing, just mention your interest in your comment! Also, if you're a winner and haven't yet read Autumn Rains, the "prequel" to Marley's story, I'll add it to your prize!

Downsized from his corporate job, Ben Fisher's donning boots and a cowboy hat to try ranching through the holidays on his uncle's spread. The handsome city slicker turns heads wherever he goes—but he soon begins to fall for one special redhead. 

Marley Sanders has the work-obsessed bachelor doing the unthinkable—volunteering in the community and dreaming of wedding bells and babies. But his sweet country girl insists she's never leaving Alpine, Texas, and he's set to ride out with the first job offer. Unless Marley can convince him to take the job of her forever cowboy.


And in other news . . . 

In celebration of 10 years of digital publishing,
Harlequin is excited to announce their biggest sale ever!

10,000 series e-books will be priced at $1.99 !

Discount runs November 10-17

at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Nook, Google, & Kobo (US only)


Marianne Barkman said...

Awesome post, Myra. I may never be able to read a novel the same way again! I'll be back later with my sentence, but I would love to win your books...no, I haven't read the prequel yet.

Terri said...

Great post, Myra. I'm Not a punctuation guru. I've learn a great deal, but if you see errors please forgive me. When it comes to commas I either use too many or too few.

Terri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terri said...

Boy did I get off topic. This was about dialogue!

Mary Preston said...

All very good points. I love reading dialogue that just flows along beautifully with the story.

Please count me in for a copy of "Rancher for the Holidays".

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Myra, this is such a good tutorial... I'm doing some dialogue fun stuff on Thursday, and you're 100% on top of this. Getting dialogue right adds the real human element to the story, and I can often tell an author by the way they write dialogue. It is a distinctive measure, like DNA of writing because we all do it differently!


Cindy W. said...

I too enjoy reading good dialogue. There have been times when the author didn't use any verbs to allow the read to really grasp who was speaking and I had to go back and try to figure it out. That takes away from the flow of the story.

I would love to be entered into the drawing for your book Myra. Thank you for the chance.

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Good stuff, Myra! And don't you just love that sale.

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, MYRA! And thank you for the meaty dialogue tips. Writing dialogue is so fun and it's great to have a reminder of how to punctuate correctly! I have your 'Rancher for the Holidays' and am looking forward to diving into it!

YES! Do take advantage of the Harlequin $1.99 sale for ebooks that's going on right now! I was already out on Amazon this morning, but will need to go back later when I have a little more time. This big e-sale is a first, so stock up on your Seeker and Seeker Villager backlist reads!

Ruth Logan Herne said...


STOCK UP SALE! $1.99/book, all of mine, Myra's, Tina's, Deb's, Missy's, Glynna's, Janet's, ALL FOR $1.99!!!!

I CAN'T EVEN!!!!!!! Head to Amazon/Nook/whatever and grab yourself a virtual sack o' books!!!!

Dora Hiers said...

How could I not love a story with an "Ernie" in it? lol. Sign me up!! :)
I still ponder exact placement of punctuation with tags, so this post really helps, Myra. Thank you!!

Rose said...

Good Morning, Myra.

I'll be printing your post out for future reference.

I've been purchasing those $1.99 ebooks for a couple of days!

Kav said...

Argh --- I'm cafuzzled now. I thought I got the whole tag and beat thing, but maybe I don't. I read this on an empty stomach though -- maybe my brain will engage once I've had some fortifying oatmeal. :-) Thanks for this, Myra. No need to enter me in the draw, I have both books!

Connie Queen said...

Good morning Myra.

I always have to stop and think about the dialogue that's broke up in the middle of the sentence. Do I start the second half w/a capital? Sometimes it looks wrong.

Thanks for the reminders. I'm reading a LIS now that has a LOT of dialogue.

Janet Dean said...

Myra, your post is important. I've critiqued writers--no one in Seekerville--who didn't know how to punctuate dialogue, which is sure to turnoff an editor.

I'm super excited that LI authors' backlist is on sale for $1.99! A super price to get those books readers might've missed.


Cindy Regnier said...

Great post Myra. I like writing dialogue. So much easier than actually talking. (Any other introverts here that get that?) I would love a copy of Rancher for the Holidays!

Jill Weatherholt said...

Terrific post, Myra! I've printed this for the Seekerville notebook.
I love to read and write short and snappy dialogue.
Don't include me in the drawing, I've got "Rancher for the Holidays" next in queue. Can't wait to read it!

Jeanne T said...

Myra, great tips here. I am glad you shared punctuation with an action beat. I often use action beats instead of dialog tags, and I'm not sure I realized you should always have a period instead of a comma before the end quotes.

I'll be coming back to read this again later. :)

Sandra Leesmith said...

Oh I so need these comma hints. My editors are always fixing my commas or lack thereof. I dont know why that is so difficult.

Myra Johnson said...

Good morning, Seekerville! And thanks, MARIANNE, for being the first one here this morning! I am SOOOOO not an early bird, so I'm thankful for those of you who are for kicking off the conversation.

It is so true--the more you learn about the writing craft, the harder it can be to read a novel for simple enjoyment. I'm always picking away at any problems I come across. Can't seem to shut off that part of my brain in reading, TV watching, or any other situation. (I blame Grammar Queen, but don't tell her I said so.)

Myra Johnson said...

LOL, TERI! Correctly placed commas and dialogue go hand in hand!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, MARY PRESTON! Dialogue adds so much to a story, and when it works well, it really draws the reader in.

Myra Johnson said...

Yay, RUTHY! Thanks for bringing the coffee! I just finished my pot of Earl Grey, but I may need a pick-me-up later.

Funny how great minds think alike, right? (I'll just keep thinking that, okay?) While I was pondering my topic for this month, I checked the Seekerville archives and noticed there weren't all that many posts on dialogue. That's why I jumped on it. Looking forward to yours!

Myra Johnson said...

CINDY W, it drives me crazy when authors go too long without identifying the speakers in a conversation. Even worse when there are more than two characters involved. I hate having to backtrack to figure out who's talking.

My other pet peeve is when the author puts the dialogue in a separate paragraph from that speaker's action beat. It confuses me even more.

Myra Johnson said...

Yes, TINA, what a great deal on our favorite Love Inspired authors' backlist books! If you've missed any, now's the time to stock up!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, GLYNNA! Yes, writing dialogue can be lots of fun. I love getting my characters into little disagreements that reveal more of what they care about while advancing the story.

One point I should make, though, is that writers should never use a quarrel only for the sake of spicing up dialogue. Every word spoken needs to serve a purpose in moving the story forward.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, DORA! Yes, I think you'll like my "Ernie" in this story! He's got a real protective streak. :)

Myra Johnson said...

Good morning, ROSE! So glad you found some helpful tips here!

Great LI sale, isn't it!

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, KAV, sorry to put your brain in a spin! Actually, I think Grammar Queen was nudging me to write this post. You know how she can get about punctuation, and sometimes it's even worse with faulty dialogue she comes across.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, CONNIE! Yes, I know it can look strange when you use a beat and dashes to interrupt dialogue, but if it isn't beginning a new statement, you don't capitalize the second half.

Myra Johnson said...

Good morning, JANET! Great that you can help new writers get the hang of writing and punctuating dialogue. It's so important to make a good first impression when you're sending something to an editor or agent!

Julie Lessman said...

OH, BUMMER, MYRA ... could have used this puppy the last few days up till after midnight last night, when I sent my final edits to the formatter for Isle of Hope paperback. Sigh.

Especially appreciate this point: ALTERNATE FIX: “Would you mind”—Pam raised a brow—“if we postponed until tomorrow?” [the dashes set off the action beat; exact placement of quotation marks and dashes may vary among publishers’ style sheets, but this format seems the most common]

I had IOH professionally edited/proofed, and the editor did this several times, but since I have never done it this way, I was not comfortable with it, so I changed it. But I have to admit, I changed it reluctantly because it accomplished what I wanted to do more than my version did. Sigh. Next book, I guess ...

This is a printer-offer, my friend, THANK YOU!!


Myra Johnson said...

Oh, yes, CINDY R! Raising my hand as a confirmed introvert! At least on social media I can pretend to be chatty and extroverted--LOL!

And I can let my story characters verbalize all the stuff that I usually keep locked inside my head!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, JILL! You have a Seekerville notebook? How fun!

Yes, I do enjoy short, snappy dialogue, too, both reading and writing it. It sure livens up a scene, doesn't it?

Just Commonly said...

O Myra! Thank you! I have to admit, I am a culprit of bad punctuation. I'm learning so much here at Seekerville! I think I need to start printing them out to reference. Thanks Myra!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, JEANNE T! If you're at all into sentence diagramming, one way to think of a line of dialogue is as the direct object of the "said" verb.

He (subject) said (transitive verb), "Hello." (direct object)

No matter how you rearrange the sentence, or how many phrases or clauses you add, it basically comes down to the same thing.

So if you're using an action beat instead, it doesn't make sense.

He (subject) opened the door (transitive verb w/ direct object). (period!) "Hello."

Make sense?

Myra Johnson said...

LOL, SANDRA! Grammar Queen doesn't understand the difficulty either! But then, I guess some of us were given "grammar" brains, some are better at math, and others excel in science or music or some other innate skill. What would the world be like if we all thought the same way? :)

Myra Johnson said...

You're welcome, JULIE! And I know how weird that dashes-with-beat thing looks. Love Inspired has their own style they use for it, and theirs always seems weird to me. I personally use the technique only rarely, and only when any other wording just doesn't create the image I'm striving for.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, JUST COMMONLY! Glad you found the post helpful! And so glad to have you as part of our Seekerville family!

Janet Dean said...

Myra, it's interesting that we can read books with proper punctuation and still not "see" how to do it. The reason your post is so valuable!

Bought Rancher for the Holidays. The cover really puts me in the mood for Christmas! I'm looking forward to reading it!!

The stores and TV ads are sporting Christmas decorations. Nothing unusual about that, but even a few houses in my neighborhood are decorated. We start putting up ours the Saturday after Thanksgiving.


Vince said...

Hi Myra:

Thanks for this post!!!

Love the examples of dialogue punctuation. This is my weakest area. I’d like to see more. Like how to do quotes. How to do quotes that have thoughts in them. Quotes within quotes. Do you know if the Grammar Queen has done a post on this topic? Very helpful.

Also love the heads-up on Harlequin ebook sale of 10,000 books at $1.99. That’s a lot of titles which may well have books missing from some series one would like to complete.

Betty Neels fans: about one third to the very prized Betty Neels books are at $1.99. This is a bargain for Betty Neel’s books.


Myra Johnson said...

Really, JANET--the neighbors are already decorating for Christmas??? We always wait until after Thanksgiving, too.

Myra Johnson said...

LOL, VINCE! I'll check with GQ.

Jill Weatherholt said...

Yes, I actually have two Seekerville notebooks. I've been compiling helpful posts for a number of years. Volume one was bulging, so now I have two. :)

Kathryn Barker said...

Just stopped by for a quick read while sipping my Ginger Peach tea...taking my Momma to the eye doc this morning.

Myra, this is the BEST, MOST concise series of dialogue tips I've ever come across!!! Thank you, thank you!! I'll be printing it off and keeping it handy.

Would love to be entered in the drawing for your new book. And when I get home from the appointment, I'll check out the Harlequin Sale!!

Thanks again...and hope everyone has a tea-riffic Tuesday!

Vince said...


Of special interest to Seekerville fans, who want to read their first Betty Neels' romance, here’s the book at just $1.99!

A Kiss for Julie (Best of Betty Neels)
by Betty Neels
$5.50 Print Price
$1.99 Kindle Edition

It’s like a kiss for the Kissing Queen!
From ‘the best of Betty Neels’ (of couse it's from the best!) – all at a special low sale price.
Gotta love it!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, KATHRYN! I purposely tried to keep my post concise. There's so much more I thought about including, but I wanted to just hit the high points. Glad you found some help here!

Yum--ginger peach tea! Enjoy!

Myra Johnson said...

Maybe I've been living under a rock (which is highly likely), but Betty Neels is a new name to me, VINCE. I'll have to check out her books.

Laura Conner Kestner said...

Good morning, Myra! Thank you for this helpful post! I love writing dialogue but commas have always been a problem for me. As you suggested, I've included a bit of dialogue from my book - my first work of fiction. Any thoughts or suggestions would be welcome! I need all the help I can get.

Realizing right away that it was a rat snake, Joshua hurried to reassure her. “It’s not poisonous,” he said, picking the snake up, holding the sides of its head between his thumb and forefinger while its body twitched and wriggled around his arm. “It’s just a…”
He got no further in his herpetology lesson because Lainey’s eyes widened, she swayed and suddenly pitched forward. Joshua dropped the snake just in time to catch her as she tumbled from the hood of the Jeep. Carrying her into the school house, he placed her on the teacher’s desk and rushed back out for water. He was rubbing her face with a wet paper towel when she came to.
“It’s gone!” he said, as soon as he saw the fear flare up in her eyes. “I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he added softly. “I just wanted to show you that it was a non-poisonous snake. I figured you’d be happy to know it wasn’t dangerous. It was just a plain old rat snake. They’re actually good for the environment. You may run across a poisonous snake some day. It would be good if you knew the difference.” He realized he was rambling. She was staring at him, her eyes a more intense green than usual.
Still hoping to make her feel better, Joshua said, “That snake was probably more afraid of you than you were of it.”
He had to bite his lip to keep from smiling when she whispered in all seriousness, “That is simply not possible.”

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, LAURA! What a fun scene--thanks for sharing! I didn't notice any problems with dialogue format or punctuation. One thing I'd suggest, though, is to break up longer sentences.

Here's one way you could rework your first paragraph:

Realizing right away that it was a rat snake, Joshua hurried to reassure her. “It’s not poisonous,” he said, picking up the snake. He held the sides of its head between his thumb and forefinger while its body twitched and wriggled around his arm. “It’s just a…”

Rambling is good for showing nervousness or concern, so you did a good job with Joshua's speech. But I'd also suggest keeping the action/speech in chronological order. In other words, first show the fear flaring in Lainey's eyes, then let Joshua respond to it, something like this:

He was rubbing her face with a wet paper towel when she came to. Fear flared up in her eyes.

“It’s gone!” he blurted, then softened his tone. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. I just wanted to show you that it was a non-poisonous snake. ...

Does this help?

And I loved her statement, "That is simply not possible.” :)

Missy Tippens said...

Great post, Myra!! I love your examples. And I'm now dying to read your book after reading the snippet about poor Ben. :) :) Sounds like such a fun story! It'll be moving to the top of my TBR Kindle pile. :)

Laura Conner Kestner said...

Thank you so much, Myra!! You've been very helpful! I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to respond. I'm off to work on my book now with brand new insight and enthusiasm!

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks, MISSY! Yep, Ben will have to go through Ernie before he can finally get his happily-ever-after with Marley!

Myra Johnson said...

You're very welcome, LAURA! That's what we're here for!

Sherida Stewart said...

Myra, great information! Reading section two, I'm guilty of using beats where I should be using dialogue tags. I never thought about the difference, but your explanation makes it clear. Also, the refresher on punctuation was appreciated. We never know when the Grammar Queen will be checking our dialogue.

Don't enter me for the books. I found at my local Safeway, and I just bought Autumn Rains at the sale price. Yay! Would you suggest reading Autumn Rains first? Or can I jump right in to the Christmas story? That festive cover is calling to me!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, SHERIDA! Happy to know you found some helpful tips here today! Yep, gotta keep an eye out for GQ--LOL!

Rancher for the Holidays easily stands on its own. But if you go back later to read Autumn Rains, you'll learn even more about Marley's difficult past. So feel free to enjoy the Christmas story first!

Pam Hillman said...

Great examples! For some reason, I kept picturing us all in a car while I'm searching for the ice cream parlor, Ruthy is admiring the fall colors, Mary is slowly going insane, and Audra has forgotten her billfold.

Well, I know who's paying for the ice cream now... lol

Myra Johnson said...

Funny, PAM!!! I can picture it now! :)

Pam Hillman said...

ALTERNATE FIX: “Would you mind”—Pam raised a brow—“if we postponed until tomorrow?” [the dashes set off the action beat; exact placement of quotation marks and dashes may vary among publishers’ style sheets, but this format seems the most common]

Maybe my eyes have just glazed over it, but I don't think I've noticed dashes used this way in fiction. Is this a fairly new trend that hasn't quite caught on yet? Something that allows tags in the middle of dialogue while getting rid of the dreaded SAID?

Myra Johnson said...

PAM, I've seen this used forever in books and magazine stories. It isn't something you'd typically use often, though. Save it for an interruptive action where some extra drama is needed.

Myra Johnson said...

PAM, here's an example I just found where I used this device in my novel The Sweetest Rain.

“Don’t you lose hope. Grandpa sent word to the postmaster over in England”—the Arkansas town about sixty miles away where Daniel had farmed—“and if any letters come from your papa, we’ll find out soon enough.”

In this case, the insertion explains something to the reader about the town that doesn't need to be said in dialogue.

Mary Connealy said...

Great post, Myra.
I have to fight the urge to dump all my backstory through dialogue.
A conversation, where one character tells their whole history.

It's such a sweet way to reveal that but it can be overdone.

Myra Johnson said...

I agree, MARY. But if the characters reveal bits of themselves through dialogue over several conversations, this is a great way to get to know them. I mean, we wouldn't walk up to someone and immediately pour out our life story, would we? :) Can't you just see the eyes glazing over?

ohiohomeschool said...

I would love to win your new book Rancher for the Holidays.
Have a good day.
Becky B.

Myra Johnson said...

Sure, BECKY B! I've added your name to the prize basket!

Vince said...

Hi Myra:

You’re in for a treat! Betty Neels is a much loved romance writer with an almost cult follwing of devoted fans. She even has a “Best of” series of re-releases on Harlequin. I’ve read more of her books, over 120 books, than any other romance author and she runs very close to the number of books I’ve read by Louis L’Amour. I’ve also re-read more of her books than any other romance author. Again tied with Louis L’Amour.

Betty Neels makes the best use of ‘injustice’ to get the reader immediately involved in the story. Her heroines are the most sympathetic in all romance – IMHO – especially when taken as an average of all her heroines. If you like her style and voice, and those who love Regency romances should really love Neels, then you’ll find reading Betty Neels about the most rewarding author to read in the genre. Betty started writing romances late in life after retiring from a full career in nursing, and kept writing much loved books into her 90’s!

BTW: Her first ten books, which are hard to get, are by far her best work. If you can, try to read any of them. I believe I have all of Betty’s books except for the very rare early works.

Read any and enjoy!

Also, the cover art for her eBooks would fill an art gallery of beautiful paintings. It’s worth just looking at the covers and taking in the many interesting titles for her work.


Myra Johnson said...

Wow, thanks, VINCE! High praise indeed! I will definitely look her up!

Jackie Smith said...

Great post, Myra. I have not read any of your giveaway books so please enter me for them!
I am now off to see the 1.99 books 'cause am an avid reader!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, JACKIE S! You're in the drawing. Yes, do check out the Harlequin sale. There are tons of Love Inspired novels marked down, a great time to stock up!

Elaine Manders said...

Hi Myra

Love that title, Rancher for the Holidays. If I wasn't already married to my soul mate I'd want one. I'll take the book instead. Anyway, I'm going to be writing a western romance in Jan, so I've been reading a bunch of westerns to get in the mood. Ralph Compton, who's a great writer, BTW, uses "saids" all the way through and putting them up front, "said Tom," "said Slim," "said the polecat." I find it slightly annoying, but maybe it's just in romance that we hate "said."

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, ELAINE! I've heard and read that putting the "said" before the speaker's name is more and more considered old-fashioned. I have seen modern writers do it that way occasionally, and if it's smooth enough, sometimes it slips right past me unnoticed. Other times, as you said, it gets annoying.

Sally Shupe said...

Elaine, my husband reads Ralph Compton. I'll have to look at his books. I read Louis L'Amour and Charles G West, but it's been awhile. My husband says he reads westerns for the mental picture. Maybe word choice doesn't matter as much as long as the reader can "see" the story?

Myra Johnson said...

Good point, SALLY. Writers are much more likely to notice the technical aspects than readers who are immersed in the story.

Jeanne T said...

I loved that explanation. "Thanks, Myra!" Jeanne clapped. ;)

Myra Johnson said...

YAY! Glad to be of service, JEANNE T!

Lyndee H said...

Very helpful, as always, Myra! I have trouble reading sentences where the 'said' is before what the character says. To me, that form seems awkward. I tend to stop and rewrite those sentences in my head, which interrupts my reading. They catch me every time.

Your book is STILL on my TRB pile. Will get to it by Christmas, I expect, since my grandkiddies will be visiting the other side of their family on the other side of the world - Australia. Congrats on the book!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, LYNDEE! Yes, the said word first seems awkward to me, too. And as writers, we've had it drilled into our heads to avoid anything that pulls the reader out of the story.

Oh my, the grandkids will be WAAAAAY on the other side of the world! I know you'll miss them. Holidays are always more fun with little ones around. I'm just so thankful our missionary kids are back in the States after nearly three years in Ethiopia. They're just a 3-hour drive away from us now, so we'll see them at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. YAY!

Wilani Wahl said...

Thank you for this post. I can see problems with the dialogue in my current wip so this will help. I have had a busy day and on the go. It is a good thing I am participating in a virtual write in tonight because I haven't written a word today.

If a get a chance in a minute I will check my wip and see if I can find a good enough dialogue to share.

As I have been writing I have been trying to be aware of not overly using said.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, WILANI! We all have days when we just can't seem to get any writing done. On those days I have had to learn to forgive myself, go with the flow, and plan on doing better the next day. Hope your virtual write-in goes well!

Jackie said...

Great post, Myra. I hope it's not too late to share and get your feedback. This is from the first chapter of my WIP. Natalie is taking her nephew to buy/adopt a puppy.

The man stuck his hand out. “I’m Luke Hamilton, and I’ve been taking care of these pups for a few weeks. They are very special to me, but you look like a special boy.”

Hunter’s chin lifted a fraction.

Natalie drew her nephew to her side. “Hunter is special, and I think he’ll be a great dog owner.”

Luke’s Caribbean blue eyes met hers. “Are you his mom?”

“Aunt. I’m Natalie Moore.”

“Are his parents okay with you getting him a dog? It’s a big commitment.”

Myra, if you don't have time, I understand.

I'd love to have my name in the drawing. Thanks!

Wilani Wahl said...

Okay, here is one excerpt. since I am writing this as part of Nano. I am just writing and not correcting or editing so there are most likely errors.

They could hear Grandma giving Elizabeth a challenging moment.

"I am not going to church unless Kitty goes with me."

"But, Grandma, kitties don't go to church. Church is for people, not animals."

"Jesus loves kitties."

"Yes, He does, but Kitty still can not go to church."

"If she doesn't go, then I won't go, and that is final."

Grandma stomped her foot and stormed off to her room. At just that moment there was a knock on the kitchen door. It was Dr. Gooch. "Just checking on my patients."

Missy Tippens said...

Lyndee, that's a long way. I know you'll miss them.

Missy Tippens said...

Kathryn, I'm now craving ginger peach tea thanks to you! :)

Myra Johnson said...

JACKIE, thanks for sharing this snippet from your wip! I like this exchange. Ths conversation gives us a chance to meet the hero and heroine and get a glimpse of their situation. Natalie's words and actions suggest she's protective of her nephew. Luke's reply shows both his kindness and concern. You have enough speaker attributions here so we know who's talking, but in the next line of dialogue, you'll probably want to include another tag or beat to continue showing how the scene unfolds through character actions.

Nice writing!

Myra Johnson said...

Nice snappy dialogue, WILANI! I might include maybe one or two speaker attributions/beats in this exchange, though. You don't want to go too long without reminding the reader who's talking.

I would also begin a new paragraph with "At just that moment..." since the doctor's arrival is a separate event from Grandma storming off.

One question--who is the viewpoint character in this scene? "They could hear..." actually implies more than one point of view, and you really want to keep it to a single point of view for each scene, typically the character with the most at stake in that scene.

Trixi said...

I'm having some serious nightmares about my High School English class, all those commas, proper grammar, quotation mark etiquette and etc...haha!! This is why I leave it up to the professional writers among us :-)

On another note, I do like a great dialog among characters in a book. Especially those white spaces after someone says something....that's where this readers imagination can take flight. All those implied comments, facial expressions & the like play out in my head! It draws me deeper into the characters head & personality. I have read my share of bad dialog (nobody's book here, thankfully) and I've found myself putting that book down or deleting it from my Kindle without finishing it. Never a good thing! Turns me off from that author's future writing.

Thanks for sharing this post today Myra, it was very insightful! I know how hard you authors work to get your books just right & I for one appreciate it. It's what keeps me coming back for more! Please add my name for a chance to win a copy of "Rancher for the Holiday's" and "Autumn Rains". Thanks for the opportunity! I've heard some good stuff about this book on another review blog :-)

Tina Radcliffe said...

And Myra, I forgot to mention that I love your cover!!! Great holiday looking western! My favorite!

Wilani Wahl said...

Thanks Myra. This helps.

Jackie said...

Thanks so much, Myra! I hope you have a great evening!

Myra Johnson said...

Great to see you here again, TRIXI! I know what you mean about those books with poorly written dialogue. If there's anything a writer needs to really get right in a stormy it's the interaction between characters. If it isn't believable, everything else will fall apart.

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks, TINA! I did wonder how the cover would go over without the usual romantic couple on the front.

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, good grief, typing on my iPad is a PAIN!! "Stormy" should be STORY!!!!!

Rhonda Starnes said...

I love this post! Thanks, Myra.

Myra Johnson said...

You're welcome, RHONDA,

Donna said...

Myra, punctuation in dialogue gives me fits! I'll be printing this one for the keeper file!

I loved Autumn Raines so I know I will love Rancher for the Holidays!

Tanya Agler said...

Myra, Thanks for the post on dialogue. I always struggle with how often to let the dialogue speak for itself, when to add an action dialogue tag, and so forth. I read and absorb all the advice I can get. Thanks so much.

Oh, and I might have to break my new Kindle purchase rule. I wanted to only buy new books after I read some of my back inventory (so to speak), but when you're trying to get the feel for a different line than the one you've been targeting so you can start targeting the new line and the new line has a massive one-week only sale, it might be time to suspend the new rule, figure out how many I can read next year, and invest now.

Thank you so much for the dialogue cues.

bonton said...

Thanks for an interesting post, Myra! Good punctuation tips!

Please enter my name in the drawing for both of your books! Thank you!

CatMom said...

Sorry I'm so late stopping by today, but wanted to say THANKS, MYRA!! :) Your post is very timely for me, as I've been trying to improve segments of dialogue in my current WIP. This is very, very helpful - - so thank you again.
I've just ordered RANCHER FOR THE HOLIDAYS and cannot wait to read it! :) Sadly my local grocery store AND my local Walmart have stopped carrying any Love Inspired books (grrrr...). So I order from Christian Book and then look forward to that box arriving!
Hugs, Patti Jo

Sandy Smith said...

Very late stopping in today. Don't have time to look for dialogue from my WIP but do want to be entered for Rancher for the Holidays. I also have not read Autumn Rains. Very interesting post.

Edwina said...

Myra, thanks for such a helpful post! This one is a "print-out-and-keep" it!

Please enter me in the drawing for both books.


Myra Johnson said...

Hi, DONNA! Glad to be of help!

Myra Johnson said...

TANYA, I hope you have fun shopping all those Love Inspired titles during the sale! So many choices!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, BONTON! Happy to add your name to the drawing!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, PATTI JO! You're so sweet to order my book! Sorry your local stores don't carry Love Inspired anymore. What's up with those people???

Glad you found some useful tips in my post!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, SANDY! Early, late--we're always happy to see you in Seekerville! Got you in the drawing!

Myra Johnson said...

EDWINA, I'm always honored anytime my posts are considered "keepers"--thank you!

Sharee Stover said...

I'm late in posting but this post was soooo helpful!!! Thank you Myra!!

Myra Johnson said...

You're welcome, SHAREE! Thanks for visiting!

Deanne Patterson said...

What a wonderful post. It was very helpful. Thank you, Myra. Please enter me for Rancher for the Holidays. I absoutely love your books. Thank you : )
Deanne P.