Monday, September 18, 2017

Speaking of Dialogue

I’ve posted about this subject in the past, and the time has come to mention it again.

I was watching a movie the other night. The suspense was high, a bad guy was trying to catch a young woman, and she needed to run and hide. She happened to be with a friend while all of this was going on. She said something like, “I have to run and hide. He is going to catch me if I don’t hurry.”

Okay, in a time of high stress I’d probably be more likely to say, “I’ve got to get outta here. He’s going to catch me if I stand here and talk about it.”

My issue? The formality of her statement. If someone was chasing me, I probably wouldn’t say, “I have to do something and I need to do it in a hurry.” In a moment of stress I probably wouldn’t be thinking about using proper English. I’d be thinking in terms of getting out of there. I wouldn’t be saying, “I have…,” but more likely I’d be combining words and saying, “I’ve…” just to hurry things along.

“There is a killer after me, oh dear, oh dear, and I must hurry to a safe place where he cannot find me.” That kind of makes me cringe. I’d rather hear the character say (breathlessly, of course), “There’s a killer after me and I can’t let him find me. Is there a back door here?”

Does that make sense? In fact, I might just run and not say much of anything. But we’re talking about a movie (or a book). You often need dialogue to further the story.

You could say, “I have to go to the store and after that I am going to run a few errands.” More likely, if it were me, I’d say, “I’ve got to hurry to the store and then I’m going to run a few errands. Be back later.”

My point is, keep it real. Think about how you might say something, or how your neighbor or a relative might say something. Does combining words make us lazy? I don’t think so. I think it makes us real.

“Frederick, will you not come to the party with me? You will liven things up,” or “Freddie, won’t you go with me? You’ll make the party fun. Love your sense of humor.”

I wish I could recall more of the lines from the movie, but it was so annoying that I began tuning it out. No, not all of the examples above came from the movie. I made them up, but that’s what I do.

However, there are times when using both words is the right thing to do, as long as you’re emphasizing something. “I will not sit here like a ninny and wait for the bad guy to catch up to me. Now get out of my way!” (I’m assuming someone told our heroine to sit down and take a deep breath before overreacting.)

Do you pay as much attention to dialogue as I do? Does it kind of bug you when it sounds too contrived instead of natural? Is it just me???

Changing the subject, but I’ve been writing a weekly blog since 2010. Maybe I need to take a vacation from it. I’m running out of ideas. Hopefully something of note will come to me soon.

Until next time, listen to the way people around you speak this week. Decide what sounds natural and what doesn’t. Maybe I should actually be suggesting you watch a current movie and pay close attention to the dialogue. Well, your choice.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

The Art of the Cliffhanger

The definition of a cliffhanger is a story or event with a strong element of suspense just at the right moment. It leaves you figuratively hanging on by your fingertips. I love a chapter that ends with a good cliffhanger.

I’m critiquing a new work in progress by Dorothy Bodoin, and the last chapter I read made me suck in my breath and look for more. I had to know what was going to happen next, but unfortunately for me, the next chapter hadn’t been written yet.

Good cliffhangers will keep the reader reading, wanting more. The only problem is that you may have to put down the book to take care of business, and you don’t want to.

I once had a wonderful phone call, at 6:00 in the morning, from a book store manager. She said she was so mad at me that she could scream. Of course, I couldn’t figure out what I might have done. It turns out she picked up Old Murders Never Die just to read the first chapter and see what it was about. She said she couldn’t put it down and that she read the entire book that night, never getting any sleep. Unfortunately, she had to be at work by 5:00 that morning. I laughed and filed that away as one of the nicest compliments I’d ever received. She forgave me and I thanked her.

If your book has suspenseful moments, hang-by-your-fingernails moments, work them into the end of a chapter. Let the readers’ internal music work its way to a crescendo and then satisfy them with the next chapter. Even if the cliffhanger questions aren’t answered (it may not be the right time), let there be some type of closure for the reader. Don’t frustrate your fans, but keep them reading. Not every person has internal music, but think of some of the movies you’ve seen. Alfred Hitchcock had some great suspenseful music in Psycho. I think some people relate that to books they’re reading.

There’s one author whose stories I find haunting, and I don’t mean ghosts. I mean the kind of story that grabs you and draws you in. I can almost hear the haunting music while I read her work. M.M. Gornell’s books have that effect on me.

Patricia Gligor draws me in, too. It seems like there’s always something just around the corner and waiting to grab me in the next chapter.

The authors are too many to name them all, but they keep me reading with their cliffhangers and just enough detail to make it seem real. Even the humorous mysteries have plenty of room for cliffhangers.

“The squeak of the door told me someone was sneaking up behind me. The creak of the floorboard made me cringe and quickly turn, but…” Uh oh. End of chapter. What happened next?

Well, it’s just my opinion, but I love great cliffhangers – just not at the end of the book. I don’t like being left hanging and having to look for a Part II book. As a reader, I want a good conclusion that makes sense and ties up all hanging threads.

How do you feel about cliffhangers? Do they keep you reading or do they frustrate you?

Until next time, have a good week and I hope nothing happens to leave you hanging on for dear life.

P.S. My prayers go out to both Texas and Florida and all the states with fire issues, and the heroes who live and work there. And thanks to the firefighters in California, Oregon, Washington and Montana. The rest of us are all doing what we can to help.

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Monday, September 4, 2017


One of our own lives in Texas and has been devastated by the flooding. Jean Henry Mead lost everything, leaving her home with only her dog and one change of clothes.

Jean had been emailing me every day to give me updates, and all of a sudden the emails stopped coming. I waited for a couple of days because I didn’t want to interrupt her if she was in the process of evacuating, and then I called her cell phone.

As it turns out she couldn’t evacuate because the roads that weren’t flooded were closed. The water kept rising and it was up to her waist. A neighbor helped her and Mariah (her dog) to the neighbor’s house where they slept in the attic until they were rescued the next day; of course, by boat.

If this had happened to me, I’d probably be whining and carrying on. Not Jean. She said that everything happens for a reason, and hopefully she’d eventually know what that reason is. She also said, and this is where the author in her shines, that she has a lot of material for a new book. Of course she has; she just lived through it and I doubt she’ll ever forget even a minute.

Her brother is going to drive her to the house today, since the water has receded, to see if anything is salvageable. Smart woman that she is, she mailed her family photos to her daughter when she heard what was headed their way, and she emailed her latest manuscript to me, just in case. Just in Case happened, and she lost her computer, along with everything else.

I can’t even imagine going through what she and the other people have been through. It breaks my heart. They’re all heroes, each in their own way, and that includes both the rescuers and the victims. Honestly? I don’t think they’re thinking of themselves as victims, but more as survivors.

Jean sounds very tired, and yet she’s managed to make the best out of the worst. She called Sunday morning as she stood in a very long line at a pharmacy. Life goes on and when faced with tragedy, we still have to do what needs to be done.

When you’re writing your books, keep people like Jean in mind. She’s had the courage to keep going, to try to pick herself up and move on, and she’s not out of the woods yet.

I appreciate the people who’ve done what they can to raise money for the flood survivors, no matter what the amount.

Like I said, I just can’t imagine…

Until next week, take heart, keep praying, and thank you for the example you and the others have set, Jean. Things will begin to look up. It takes time.

If you want to donate to the Hurricane Harvey survivors, I've added a link to the Red Cross: