Create Dialogue That Fits Your Character

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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is designed to shape a not-yet submitted, rejected, or self-published manuscript with low ratings into a book that shines. The method can also be a guiding resource for writers starting a manuscript. See details below.

You may be so into the plot that you have a character say something that doesn’t fit his education, the time period, the area he lives in, his age, his job or hobby lingo, his nature, or his beliefs. 

I had a younger character use the word chum. My editor thought a teen wouldn’t say chum. That word came from trying to write a more unique word than friend, but I pulled in a word from my mother’s era. I knew better, but I was so into what was happening that chum slipped in.

Let’s have fun. Match speakers in the first list with the the most likely dialogue bits in the second list. I’ll put my number/letter combinations at the end.

Dialogue Exercise

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Characters

  1. Two WWII GIs
  2. Two 1980s teens
  3. Two Yuppies
  4. Two men in rural Blue Ridge Mountains
  5. Gang members
  6. Hostess and customer
  7. Marketing Rep and his boss
  8. Writer and friend
  9. A woman and her great-granddaughter
  10. Coal miner and class member

Dialogues

a. “Cuz, you strapped?”
“You know I got no gat.”

b. “Man, the sale was a bluebird.”
“That’s what scares me. It was too easy.” 
“It was an emotional sale, but I worked with the guy calling the shots, so it’s solid.”
“Was the guy a gatekeeper or was he the decision maker? We gotta close the deal with the guy that counts.”

image by Pavlofox

c. “I been digging for black diamonds since I was eighteen. Operated an auger.”
“That sounds cool, Mr. Hatfield. I’d like digging for diamonds.”
“Son, the diamonds I’m talking about are chunks of coal. Nothing cool about ’em. Mining for coal give me the black lung.”

d. “What’s buzzin’, cousin?”
“See that dame over there waving at me. She said she’d marry me.”
“That’s swell.”

e. Gary nodded. “Let’s do lunch sometime. Thursday?”
“I’d like that.” Sharon smiled. “I’ll pencil you in.”

f. Was Camden raised in an orphanage?”
“Grams, they don’t call them orphanages anymore.”
“Sounds like you don’t know his background. I don’t want you marrying
a goldbrick on the make.”

g. “I can’t join you for lunch and shopping, Kitty.”
“I thought you worked from home. And it’s Saturday.”
“I need to work on the galley for one book and the edits for another. I have to prep for a book signing, update my website, and answer interview questions for a blog. Working as a writer isn’t as easy as you think.”
“Yes, but you don’t have to travel forty minutes to and from work like I do.”

image by Robert-Owen-Wahl

h. “Take a break. I booked that party of five. I’ll seat them.”
Shelby gathered menus and turned to the group. “Follow me, please.”
The redhead sat and opened her menu. “Do you have any items besides salads that are without meat?”
“Yes. We have vegetarian options on page two.”

i. “Hey, mall chic. You in the orange blouse.”
Heather cocked her head.”You talking to me?”
“Yeah. You want to go, like, get a burger in the food court?”
“Gag me with spoon.”
“Nah. It’d be totally tubular.”

j. “She don’t like me.”
“If you’d stop hog-tying your tongue and talk to her, maybe she’d find out whether she likes you or not.”
“Would you put in a good word for me with her?”
“Might could.”

In what movie did you especially enjoy the dialogue?

Answers: 1d; 2i; 3e; 4j; 5a; 6h; 7b; 8g; 9f; and 10c


How to Format Words from the Communication Revolution

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Please welcome Denise Loock, my guest today. As an editor, she must keep abreast of the currently accepted ways of formatting what I call cyber words. Learn more about Denise after her post. Here’s Denise:

A revolution began in 1972. The word internetwork entered the English language that year, referring to “the linked computer networks of the US Defense Department.”[1] Few recognized the potential power of such a network, which now affects every aspect of our lives.

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Shortened to Internet in 1984, the word was capitalized for almost forty years because it referred to something particular and novel. But by 2016, the term had become so commonplace that the Associated Press Stylebook de-capitalized it. The 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) and the 4th edition of The Christian Writers Manual of Style (CWMS) also lowercase it.

Born in 1990, the World Wide Web has expanded and changed our communication in astounding ways. Even though CMS still recommends uppercase letters for World Wide Web, other related words are lowercased: the webwebsite, and web page. Cyberspace and social media have coined hundreds of words. The 2019 additions to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (M-W) include page viewscreen time, and unplug. Words added in 2018 include airplane mode and Instagramming. None of these web-related terms existed in 2000: selfie, photobomb, hashtag, and unfriend

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Nouns have morphed into verbs (inbox), adjectives into verbs (unlike). Maybe the most famous noun-verb transformation is Googol. As a noun—“a number represented by 1 followed by 100 zeroes”—the word dates from 1940, first used in Mathematics and the Imagination, written by Edward Kasner and James Newman.[2] The domain google.com was registered in 2000. Although M-W lists the word as both an uppercase and lowercase verb (Google or google), most dictionaries lowercase it.

E-mail was born in 1982, its cousin snail mail in 1983. Most dictionaries now list email as a non-hyphenated word, but e-commerce and e-book remain hyphenated. Expect those hyphens to disappear soon.

image by 200degrees

Many writers wonder how to format emails and text messages. Format an email’s content the same as a letter’s content (roman font, block quotation). Some publishing houses format text messages as dialogue, but very few use an alternate font. As for emojis and emoticons, both CMS and CWMS advise authors to omit them in both print and e-books. Some social media abbreviations are now included in the dictionary (LOL, BRB, and OMG). But CMS cautions “the mere presence of a word in the dictionary’s pages does not mean that the word is in all respects fit for print as Standard Written English” (CMS 5.250). 

Cyberspace and social media have changed not only the way we communicate but also the way we write about communication. Keyboard functions are such an integral part of our lives that CMS has created capitalization protocol for these terms. Here are two examples:

  • On a Mac, the Option key is similar to the Alt key on a typical PC. 
  • Save the file as a PNG or JPEG, then press Send.

Keeping up with communication trends and practices is a lifelong learning experience for writers. My best advice? Consult the dictionary often and read writing blogs—like this one.


[1]“Internet,” Online Etymology Dictionary, Accessed 8 March 2019, https://www.etymonline.com/word/internet#etymonline_v_9422.

[2]“Google,” Online Etymology Dictionary, Accessed 5 April, 2019, https://www.etymonline.com/word/google#etymonline_v_25832; https://www.etymonline.com/word/googol?ref=etymonline_crossreference.

Former high-school English teacher and college professor Denise Loock is an editor, author, and inspirational speaker. She is a general editor for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, based in Raleigh, NC. She also accepts freelance editing projects from writers who want to submit clean, concise, and compelling manuscripts to publishers (lightningeditingservices.com).

She is the founder of Dig Deeper Devotions, a website that encourages Christians of all ages to dig deeper into the Word of God. Two collections of devotions from the website are available on Amazon: Restore the Joy: Daily Devotions for December and Restore the Hope: Devotions for Lent and Easter.

She is the author of two devotional books that highlight the scriptural truths of classic hymns and gospel songs, Open Your Hymnal and Open Your Hymnal Again. Her articles, stories, and devotions have appeared in various publications, including Chicken Soup for the Soul compilations, The Upper Room, and Vista.

Denise teaches two online PEN Institute courses: Sentence Diagraming 101 and Editing Devotionals 101. She also writes “Mind Your MUGS,” a grammar and usage column for Christian Communicator.

Showing = Reader’s Experience – Part 2 – Two Gems

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Welcome again editor Vie Herlocker in her two-part series on showing versus telling. Learn more about Vie at the end of her post. Here’s Vie:

New writers often ask me what showing instead of telling means. In my search for resources to help them better understand the concept, I found two gems: 

I’ll share one feature from each book.

***

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Gerth uses a series of comparisons to define “showing and telling.”  I found her description to be quite helpful in dispelling the mystery of the elusive beast:

  1. Telling provides the author’s conclusions and interpretations. Showing lets readers think for themselves.
  2. Telling gives the reader a secondhand report like a newspaper account. Showing allows readers to experience through the character’s five senses. 
  3. Telling summarizes past events or gives general statements. Showing places readers in real time scenes with action, dialogue, dramatization.
  4. Telling is abstract. Showing uses concrete, specific details.
  5. Telling gives facts. Showing evokes emotions.
  6. Telling distances readers from the story events. Showing makes readers active participants.

***

Hardy’s chapter on identifying telling intrigued me. She presents seven tell categories and notes multiple red flag words associated with them. Her detailed examples illustrate how to move from telling to showing. I’ll share just one of Hardy’s red flag words under each category—and will include examples of my own. 

1. Motivational Tells: these tell a motivation that the reader could figure out from the action. 

  • infinitives (to + verb)

Telling: Shirl leaned over to get her cup off the counter. 

Showing: Shirl leaned over and got her cup off the counter.

2. Emotional Tells: these combine an emotion with a red flag word, like “in fear,” “in anger,” etc.

  • in
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Telling: The softball landed at Mr. Green’s feet. He shook his fist in anger at the kids next door. 

Showing: The softball landed at Mr. Green’s feet. He shook his fist at the kids next door, then pocketed the ball.

3. Mental Tells: these tell us what’s going on in the character’s mind.

  • realized

Telling: Fred turned the key in the ignition. Not even a sputter. He realized the battery was dead.

Showing: Fred turned the key in the ignition. Not even a sputter. The battery was dead.

4. Stage Direction Tells: these tells explain the action as a director or script might do and can introduce sequence errors or give information before it happens. (This category can be quite subtle, and each red flag word has specific issues.) 

  • when 
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Telling: James closed the gate when the stray dog came into the yard. 

Showing: The stray dog moseyed into the yard. James closed the gate to keep him contained. 

5. Descriptive Tells: these tell what the character sensed. (This is often called “filtering.”)

  • felt

Telling: She felt the cold wind through her thin jacket. 

Showing: The frigid wind pierced her thin jacket.

6. Passive Tells: yep, the plain old passive constructions.

  • was

Telling: The table was set by Fran. 

Showing: Fran adjusted the tablecloth, then placed the good china and the silverware on the table.

7. Adverbs and Telling: while not all adverbs are telling, they can signal possible telling passages.

***

My copies of these books are highlighted and filled with sticky notes. Consider adding Sandra Gerth’s and Janice Hardy’s books to your reference collection as well. Both are quick reads, budget-priced, and packed with useful information.  


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Vie Herlocker is the associate editor for Surry Living Magazine in Mt. Airy, NC. Her experience includes ten years as executive editor of Sonfire Media/Taberah Press and six years reviewing books for Blue Ink Reviews. 

Vie is a member of the Christian Editor Connection, PEN, ACFW, ACW, and WordWeavers. She received the 2017 Christian Editors Network Excellence in Editing Award for a nonfiction book.  In 2018, a book she edited won the Selah Award for YA fiction at Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. 

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Vie was also the editor for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.