Monday, April 29, 2019

Dialogue Style

When you write dialogue, are you mimicking anyone? Like yourself? The curious want to know. Someone asked me about this today.

 I honestly don’t think my characters’ dialogue is the way I talk. I generally try to think of the character’s personality and fit the dialogue to that. Do I know anyone with that type of personality that I can borrow from? Sometimes, but not always. There are times I have to think about the average reaction.

There are times that the protagonist in my books might use a word that I use, and that’s to be expected. We generally create dialogue that’s familiar to us; that we use or someone we spend time around uses. Do you spend time around teenagers? Their dialogue might be quite entertaining.

Hmm. That’s not always the case. For instance, a bad guy probably isn’t going to say, “shucky darn” when he’s caught. Well, I wouldn’t either. It’s up to the individual author to decide whether he might cuss, yell, moan or whatever. On the other hand, I suppose someone might say “shucky darn,” but I don’t know that person.

I have some senior characters in my books and I’ve spent a lot of my life around seniors. Well, I am one now (I like to say barely), but I’m talking about people in their eighties and nineties. They can be quite colorful sometimes. My grandmother used to say, “I can pretty much say whatever I want now and get away with it. People just attribute it to my age.” She was ninety at the time. I have that same attitude about what I eat, not what I say. Think chocolate. Give me time and I’ll probably come around to her way of thinking.

Keep the dialogue real.

“I am going to the store to buy several items. Would you care to accompany me?”
“I’m going to the store to pick up some stuff. Wanna come along?”

Which one sounds right? Either one. It simply depends on your character’s personality.

What about a character who stutters? Let them stutter, but don’t overdo it. The grandmother I just mentioned stuttered. We were very comfortable together and sometimes I’d finish her sentence for her. If it turned out she was going in a different direction than I anticipated, she’d just laugh and start over.

What about a mean or demented character? Can you create dialogue for that type of personality? Sometimes it takes research. I know someone who lives in an apartment building with some very mean-spirited women. She wouldn’t need to research meanness. It’s right there in front of her.

Maybe that’s what it all comes down to. Study the people around you, no matter where you are. Some of the things you might hear in the grocery store are mind boggling. Yesterday I was at the store and I heard a mother and her adult son in the next aisle. I couldn’t see them, but the son just about broke my heart. He was mentally challenged and he was sobbing, crying his little heart out, asking her not to leave him. She was reassuring him that she wasn’t leaving him behind and he should walk with her. She was patient, kind and gentle with him. That was the gist of it, and it was eye-opening. You don’t hear an adult male react to something like a small child every day. How did I know he was mentally challenged? You could hear it in the dialogue and tone of voice. I never saw them, and the male could have been a teenager, but he definitely had an adult voice.

Remember the things you hear. Write notes to yourself if you need to. Sometimes you don’t have to take notes because some dialogue will stick in your mind forever.

Anyway, keep your dialogue in line with your character’s personality, age and gender. And, again, keep it real.

Until next time, don’t purposely be nosy, but sometimes you can’t help overhearing conversations, especially when someone is on their cell phone. They tend to talk louder for some reason. Children often speak loudly, too, and I’ve heard a few give away secrets just because of the volume.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Are you looking for something new to read? Try People Lookin’ Half Dead – A Bogey Man Mystery. Think major heat wave and people disappearing, and you’ve got an interesting and entertaining story.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Change of Pace

I’ve written several posts about finding the inspiration for a story and I think it’s time to move on. I believe it’s time to discuss reading, one of my favorite pastimes. There’s no one quite like an avid reader. We live in our own little worlds. Notice, I said we. I love sitting down with a good book, a glass of iced tea and something chocolate. So read on from a reader’s point of view.
I talk about writing a lot on this blog, but realistically there’s another side to books. Surprise, surprise, they’re meant to be read. I can talk about writing until I’m blue in the face, but it doesn’t matter how much I talk if no one reads the books. Readers are the most important part of the book world.

Long, long ago, I was in a rut. I had a set of authors whose writing I enjoyed, and I’d read their books and then wait for the next one to come out. If no one was feeling particularly prolific, or if they were working on something that was time-consuming, I’d become frustrated. Believe it or not, I feel that way sometimes; patience is not one of my virtues. And then it struck me that I didn’t have to stick to my list. Who knew? There are a large number of new and fairly new authors out there, and there are authors who’ve been at it for a long time but haven’t received the break they need yet.

So I started branching out. Anyone who’s been reading my posts knows that my favorite types of books are 1) mysteries, and 2) mysteries with some humor. Consider that we’re talking about murder mysteries. In most cases the entire book can’t amuse you because of the subject matter, although some writers do a pretty good job, but I like one with at least a little humor in it. Why? There’s enough drama in real life without adding more. Easy for me to say. I read plenty of books with no humor, it’s just that I prefer something that can make me chuckle.

I’ve read several authors who are new, or new to me. My whole reading world opened up. I could list several authors here, but I won’t. I did that once and had someone write to me saying they were insulted that I hadn’t included their book and they thought I was playing favorites. I say “they” because I don’t want to name names. Of course, that was a long time ago. I glanced at the list I’d made of new authors and most of them aren’t new anymore.

What the heck? In the future I might share the names of some new authors and their work. Why not? Not all of them write with humor, but they still keep me interested and entertained.

My point is, broaden your horizons. Take a chance. Try some new (to you) authors. I always say that word-of-mouth is the best advertising, so if someone mentions reading a book they just loved, ask who the author is. If you read a book you just love, be sure to spread the word. And don’t always judge a book by its cover, because sometimes they don’t represent what’s inside. Is the title intriguing? Check out the description on the back of the book before you decide to buy or not to buy. Open the book and read the first few pages.

To add a little confusion into the mix, don’t forget your tried and true favorite authors. Just don’t sit impatiently and wait for their next book.

Now, here’s my dirty little secret. My reading time has been cut way back. I won’t go into why, but I miss my favorite pastime. One day soon I’m going to sit down with the iced tea and chocolate, and read all day long.

Until next time, I wish you a week of new (to you) authors and enjoyable reading. Do a search on the Internet for “new mystery writers.”

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Don’t forget that A Well-Kept Family Secret and Bubba’s Ghost (both Sandi Webster mysteries) are available in audio format.

And the newest addition to the family? People Lookin’ Half Dead – A Sandi Webster Mystery.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Is a Sign Just a Sign? Or is it an Idea?

A friend once sent me an email that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. It was a sign, sort of, and it said, “Awkward Moment: When you’re digging a hole to bury a body – and you find another body already buried there.” As a mystery writer, how could I let that pass? A germ of an idea took hold and Awkward Moments – A Bogey Man Mystery came to be.

The same friend send me another email that said, “Next time a stranger talks to me when I’m alone I will look at them shocked, and just whisper, ‘You can see me?’” Good grief! I have to admit there are times I feel like following that example, but I don’t.  When I’m sitting alone and I’m quiet, I’m usually thinking about a storyline.

I can’t use every email for a story idea, but after my smile disappears, my brain kicks into gear and ideas start forming. Sometimes ideas for stories come from the most unusual places. If you’re a mystery writer, even a greeting card can start the ideas flowing. A comment made in passing by a friend, or overheard at a coffee house can inspire an entire book. It doesn’t take much more than a fertile imagination. Well, that and a lot of research and grinding hours at the computer.

One of the things I used to enjoy about the television show, Castle, was that something would happen and he’d start spinning stories to fit the event, guessing about what might have happened. Once in a while he was right, but often he was way off base. This is something many writers do. Given a set of circumstances and without having the entire story, they’ll find a scenario to fit the the information they do have.

I have a character in one of my two series who’s addicted to chocolate. At some point she’ll want to be involved in a chocolate mystery. When she was trapped in a ghost town she ran out of chocolate and almost had a meltdown. I can relate to that. Hmm. This might involve a trip to a chocolate factory. I wouldn’t want to get my facts wrong, would I? I mean, research is research. This, happily, could be very interesting research involving some taste-testing.

At the moment I’m mulling over Sandi Webster receiving a text message she didn’t want. A text message that I didn’t want set off alarms – story-wise that is. I’ve begun to write notes to myself so I won’t forget where I’m heading with the idea.

Someone worried that by writing this post another writer might steal my idea. Let them. There are so many possible scenarios that there’s room for all of us. Someone might write a dramatic and suspenseful story, and someone like me might write something with both drama and a little humor. Another author could even turn it into a horror story.

The life of a writer is so much more than I ever thought it would be. It can be a very solitary existence, but there are moments when we come together and share ideas, and… Well, maybe we don’t share ideas, but we do share experiences and stories. Mystery writers are, in general, very generous with their time and support of each other, and I do believe we frequently march to a different drummer. Yes, we even occasionally use clich├ęs like marching to a different drummer. If you prefer, you might say that occasionally we sing a little off key? I do, anyway.

Authors have a lot of fun, aside from the hard work. Aren’t you glad they share their fun through their books? We do our very best to entertain readers and each other.

Until next time, think before you start digging a hole in the ground. You never know what you might dig up. Although, I have heard of people digging up unexpected treasures. Hmmm.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
    Just a reminder: On The Books Page, toward the bottom, are some entertaining book      trailers.
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Think extreme heat and homeless people disappearing, and you’ll have the basis for the story.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Another One?

I’m happy to say I recently completed my twentieth book, titled People Lookin’ Half Dead – A Bogey Man Mystery. I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I’d have twenty books to pick from, although I know a number of authors who offer more than that. The book is now available in both ebook and paperback format, but enough about the number of books.

I moved from Arizona to Washington State in 2015. Not long before I moved, during packing, I hightailed it to a fast food restaurant for a takeout dinner. I sure didn’t feel like cooking, and I’d already packed all my pots and pans anyway.

I was waiting for my food when a homeless man walked in. He was tall and extremely thin with long hair. His skin was ashen, and so was his hair. He looked grey from head to toe. Obviously he hadn’t bathed in a very long time. He slowly walked to the counter and asked for a glass of water. He was soft-spoken and polite. The young lady at the counter handed him a paper cup and pointed toward the water. He thanked her and filled the cup. Remember, Arizona is hot and dry and water is as important as food. I’m not going to tell you the rest of the story because it’s not pertinent to this post, but let me say there was a good ending. Oh, and I appreciate the fact that the young lady behind the counter treated him with respect. That said a lot for her character.

Anyway, I’ve never been able to forget this man. He was on my mind so much that I knew he needed to be in a book. The title I’ve chosen, People Lookin’ Half Dead, doesn’t refer to the man’s appearance, but to a heatwave in Los Angeles.

“It’s one of the hottest summers in memory and Chris and Pamela Cross are gearing up to open their new supper club, Gin Mill Grill.

Tillie Babcock, Chris’s grandmother, has moved to town and she’s ready to take over – everything. She loves a good cause and wants nothing more than to help a few homeless people come in out of the heat and gain a second chance in life. Unfortunately, a few of these people are disappearing right out from under her nose.

At Tillie’s insistence, Chris and Pamela now have a cause, or case, of their own -- to find the missing people before it’s too late.”

I could write about the plight of the homeless here, but unless you never watch the news or read a newspaper, you know it’s a worldwide issue, and I’m not here to preach about it.

I generally try to include at least a little humor in my books, and this one is no exception. How did I insert humor in a book about disappearing homeless people? You’ll have to read the book to find out. I’m one of those people who believes you can find something humorous in almost any situation. Sometimes it’s the main characters and the situations they find themselves involved in, and once in a great while a homeless person might make you smile, if only for a second. No, there’s nothing funny about being homeless, but even they sometimes have a sense of humor. (My daughter told me the funniest sign she ever saw a homeless man holding up said, “Bet you can’t hit me with a quarter.”)

So thank you to the homeless man who wouldn’t let me forget him. I hope that at some point he had a second chance at life.

On the other side of the coin, there was once a homeless man who started attending a writers group I belonged to in Nevada. One morning I was the first one in the parking lot. An old van pulled in next to me and it was the homeless man who started telling me about a story he was working on. The story involved killing other homeless people and he went into great detail about the killings. I found myself slowly taking steps so I wasn’t hidden by the van.

Another car pulled into the lot and I took a deep breath and thanked him for sharing his story with me. He laughed, got into his van and drove away. He never attended the group again, but as a writer I couldn’t help wondering if there were homeless people buried nearby.

There are two sides to every story, but the man from the writers group didn’t make it into my book. Or did he?

Until next time, I hope you have a good week and that your life is filled with blessings.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website (Recently updated)
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