Using Dialogue in Your Writing

One of the biggest problem areas I encounter when I’m doing peer reviews or acting as a Judge on Reedsy.com is the way writers handle dialogue.

Dialogue is tricky to write – partly because the writer needs to find a voice for their character that is different from their own, AND partly because the punctuation for dialogue is special and needs to be learned.

When writing dialogue, it is important that your reader can identify WHO is speaking and be able to SEE the conversation taking place in the scene.

One way is to use speech tags (identifying who is speaking,) AND action tags (what the speaker is doing while speaking.)

I find when I’m writing a scene with dialogue that I need to use at least one or two speech tags to help the reader understand who is speaking, and I try to use a lot of action tags to ‘show’ what is going on in the scene as the characters are having their conversation.

Punctuation of dialogue includes using commas, quotation marks, periods, question marks and some exclamation marks (go easy on these.) (I will cover the punctuation more in-depth when in my Blogs on Grammar.)



“What do you want to do today,” said Sue.

“I don’t know. I can’t think of anything,” said Fred as he continued to thumb through his magazine.

“Put that thing down and talk to me.”

“What? Why should I put my magazine down just to discuss what we will or won’t do today. This conversation is the same every weekend.”

“Maybe that’s why we never do anything. You take absolutely no interest in the conversation or me.”

Fred put the magazine down. “Oh, honey. I’m sorry. But, money is tight. I don’t know what we can do with zero cash. Do you?

“We never have money, Fred. Other people still do things. I just can’t stand sitting here every single weekend.”

How about we take a walk? That doesn’t cost anything.”

“Really?”

“Sure. Let’s go get our sneakers and venture out into the sunshine.”

Sue ran over to Fred and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Thank you. Thank you for letting me know you hear me.”

Anything and anytime. I love you. Don’t you ever forget that, ok?”

“Okay,” she said as she walked towards the closet to get her walking gear.


In your own writing, remember that great dialogue in fiction can do the following four things for your scene:

  1. Dialogue allows us to show conflict.
  2. Dialogue creates tension.
  3. Dialogue advances the story.
  4. Dialogue reveals character.

Try to make every piece of dialogue achieve one or more of these requirements.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

What’s in a Title?

Coming up with a Great Title

I’ve heard that some people come up with the title of their story or novel before they even write the first page. Other folks tell me that they agonize for days about what to name a story. No matter where you fall on this timeline, the important thing is this: Your story or book’s title needs to be unique.

Notice that I didn’t say it had to sum up your book in one word or that it had to have some deeper existential meaning – it just needs to be unique. Special to you.

Over the past twenty-three years, I’ve written over eight-hundred stories, four novels, and about one-hundred poems. I can honestly say that I’m proud of the titles of all these writings.

Now, I won’t say that I spent hours on any one of these titles. My process of coming up with the story idea also includes the title. I don’t think I’ve ever changed the title of something. Even when the story takes me in a different direction than I initially thought.

I’d like to think that my titles make sense, but then, I’m probably not the best judge – being a bit prejudiced.

But what about titles that don’t make sense?

Have you ever picked up a book in the bookstore because the title caught your eye?

And then, as you read the introduction or forward, you were confused. Where did the title come from? Would you have to read the book to find that one tiny reference?

Conversely, isn’t it lovely to read a novel and suddenly come across the passage that must have inspired the writer to give a name that referenced this one scene? Obviously, this scene is central to the story’s theme, and once you find it, the entire storyline falls into place.

So, today’s writing tip: THINK about the title you give to a story. As the first thing a reader will see can either make them grab it up or leave it on the shelf.

IF your title is tied to an obscure scene in the book – make sure it is essential and not just a passing line. Don’t insult your readers – they won’t easily forgive you.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Killing off Characters in your Story or Novel

Death is often used in stories. It could be a murder, a suicide, or only the power of Mother Nature. However, there are critical pitfalls to avoid when using death to enhance the plot of your work.

Reasons You Shouldn’t use to eliminate a character:

Don’t do it if:

           This isn’t a tool to use to get rid of characters that aren’t needed. If you find you don’t need a character, remove them from your manuscript. If a particular person isn’t a vital part of the plot – they are extraneous and don’t even belong in the story.

           A second reason to NOT use killing a character out of the story is when you try to find something to move the story along (because your plot is weak). You are eliminating the character simply to upset your readers. You want your reader to ENJOY reading your book – giving your readers something to dislike isn’t a good move.

           Along with the second reason, you may find yourself killing off a character simply because you’ve written yourself into a corner. You find yourself with no way out, and you feel like you have no other choice. IF this character shouldn’t die, you need to STOP and go back and rewrite the story. NEVER sacrifice a character for the sake of your writing. It is a far better move to make your plot and storyline stronger – which will keep your reader happy. Always structure your writing to make sense – eliminating the words on the page is never a pleasant experience – but you can’t be so in love with what you’ve written that you sacrifice the enjoyability of the story.

           So, while you shouldn’t kill any of your characters for the wrong reasons, there are ways to kill your character that should be used. 

Meaningful Deaths to enhance your story:

Once you’ve decided you are killing off a character, here are some suggestions about how to create death. These five criteria will ensure your readers’ acceptance and continued reading.

The death should be sudden.

While death is never expected, even when a character has a fatal disease or has decided to take their own life, you need to make sure that the end happens when it would most benefit your antagonist AND the attainment of their goal. Your storyline and plot revolve around the destination of your Protagonist. Everything that happens must be working towards the climax of the story.

Remember: The greater the shock to your characters and readers, the better. If you can make an editor/beta reader shout ‘No! Not X!’, you have done well.

Death is a part of life, but in your story, it shouldn’t be expected. Everything that happens in the book needs to hold some excitement or emotion for the antagonist and your reader. Don’t use a death that is somewhat ‘normal.’

For instance, when a gladiator dies during the fight, it is a part of life. It is the expected outcome. However, a writer of fiction can use this moment to enhance the story. The warrior takes several minutes or even hours to die, and they reveal something meaningful on their deathbed. This enables for some fantastic dialogue and makes the character a hero. The goodbyes can be tearful and emote feelings that run deep.

Death needs to be meaningful and glorious. The reader must notice this death. It can’t be accepted as another piece of prose.

Perhaps the character dies while saving another character – someone close to the Protagonist or even your main character. Or the death could have the surviving characters reveal secrets that couldn’t be exposed while the dead character was alive.

Regardless of how you kill the character off, it should be pivotal in the story and not just something that quietly happens in the background.

It is essential that the death feels right. For instance, in the Harry Potter series, as the books move further and further into darkness, it was inevitable that characters would die. First, Harry’s beloved pet owl, Hedwig, dies. Next, he must deal with his Headmaster’s death, and then in the final book, there is a great deal of death. When some of the main characters die, the reader feels it to their core.

The killing of characters should be used sparingly but do kill. At least occasionally. It will keep your readers on their toes.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Staying on Track with your Writing Goals

Okay, we are beginning the month of February. I blogged last week about attaining your goals for the year and given readers some ideas of how to get started.

It is very important that you set S.M.A.R.T goals – they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. (More about S.M.A.R.T goals coming next week.)

But how do you keep going?

How do you stay motivated? How do you continue to write – even when you don’t feel like it?

One of the things I’ve noticed over the past two years is that my writing has several purposes.

First of all, it gives me something to do during the day while my hubby is at work and the housework is done. (Well, to be truthful, these days the writing comes first and THEN I do the housework.)

Secondly, I committed myself to LEARNING more about writing and improving my skills. I’ve read all kinds of books on grammar, proper use of dialogue, plot development and a bunch of other stuff. When I look back and re-read stories, I wrote over two years ago, I’m amazed at the difference in my writing now.

I recently read an article about finding purpose and using it as the GPS for your writing AND your life. Why do you do the things you do? What purpose are you fulfilling?

We need to know the purpose of our actions and attach some sort of importance to them to feel fulfilled at the end of the day – don’t you think?

So, the challenge for today is to think long and hard about WHY you write. Is it just for yourself? Is it in hopes of being published? Is it to make a living?

Drop me a line on the ‘Contact Me’ page – I would love to know your purpose.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Processing and Accepting Peer Reviews (even if they’re negative)

One of the great things about participating in writing groups is the opportunity to have your work critiqued by your peers. This can also be one of the hardest things – your peers can often cut you in two with their critiques.

Let’s face it, if you have thin skin and overreact to any comments about your work, you need to have an attitude adjustment. Not everyone is going to jump up and down when they read your mother’s favorite story.

But on a practical note:

Peer reviews are simply one person’s opinion UNLESS they give you precise feedback. (They’ve included detailed information about how the grammar doesn’t work, typos, syntax errors, and other technical comments.)

Peer reviews should be used as the benchmark for your first or second draft. Do most of the readers express harsh criticism? Maybe it’s the story OR your writing. Evaluate your process. Take your own critical look at the concept. Did you do it justice, or did you hurry to produce ‘something’ to meet a prompt or a deadline?

Watch out for the Revenge reviews. Quite often, in a peer review situation, a writer who is hurt by your critique of their work will read and review your work and leave a snide, negative remark. Take these critiques for what they are – sour grapes.

The Other Side of Things:

Take your time when you review the work of others. Start out with a positive comment about the piece, and then ‘gently’ approach the things you saw that didn’t work or were poorly written. End on a positive note.

Your reviews will be accepted and appreciated if you are honest and fair. When reviewing others’ work, keep in mind that they feel the same way about their work as you think of yours.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Getting started on Your Writing Goals

With the New Year, most writers begin by setting their goals for the year.

Have you set yours?

If NOT – go ahead and set something; IT WILL INSPIRE YOU – Writers are driven by DEADLINES.

Now that we’ve identified and refined your goal for writing. We have moved on to scheduling some time, and I’ve given you ways to find something to write about if you’re stuck.

But what about those of you who know what you want to write. You have a notebook of story ideas, or maybe you have an idea for a book, but just don’t how to get started.

Well, first of all, you need to write.

But, let’s talk about your writing area. How about setting up your desk/writing area for the NEW YEAR – CLEAR the Clutter!!

(I just did this – It was amazing. I wanted to sit down and write something almost immediately.

When you are in your writing place at the allotted time to write – you DO NOT WANT to see anything that may distract you.

Are there piles of filing you need to do? Or even bills to pay?

Deal with them and make sure you have a reasonably CLEAN place to work – free from distractions. An environment that gives you a sense of peace and purpose.

Now, I’ve read a ton of articles about the writing process. I find that I work well with my music playing in the background. It is the same formula I used in college – I always had music playing in my room while studying. The ‘white noise’ was cut out, and I was able to concentrate better.

Most (or some) people need a quiet environment, so you do not hear anything but the story and your characters moving around in your head.

Choose the environment that is best for you.

Use your tool of choice – sharpen that pencil, make sure your pen has enough ink – or fire up your computer and open a blank document. The time has come.

Use a daily prompt if you need a topic.

Write out what you want your short story to be about and identify your main character.

Do the same with your novel idea – if you have one.

All journeys start with the same thing. One step . . . You are on your way!

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

The Cliche and Leaving it out of YOUR writing

If you’ve ever had a peer review, or an editor read your work, you might have been told – Avoid cliches. In fact, it is frowned upon in all kinds of writing – from academic to fictional prose.

Why?

Cliches are old and tired phrases. According to Oxford, they are phrases or opinions that are overused and show a lack of original thought. Sometimes, clichés are useful to get a simple message across. Mostly, they are tired and worn out. In fact, synonyms for clichés include ‘platitudes‘ and ‘banalities‘.

Clichés also describe ideas, actions, characters, and events that are predictable or expected because they are based on something that has been done before.

Most of us may use them in our everyday conversations all the time. They are like old wives’ tales. They convey a meaning that everyone should understand – for example:

  1. at the end of the day
  2. few and far between
  3. a level playing field
  4. in this day and age
  5. to all intents and purposes
  6. when all’s said and done
  7. in the final analysis
  8. come full circle
  9. par for the course
  10. think outside the box
  11. avoid [someone or something] like the plague
  12. in the current climate
  13. mass exodus
  14. the path of least resistance
  15. stick out like a sore thumb
  16. a baptism of fire
  17. fit for purpose
  18. in any way, shape, or form

(this list comes from Lexico – who compiled common cliches we should avoid.)

The biggest problem with cliches is that they lack original thought. Writers should be trying to express their ideas with new words – unique words, and words that bring to the readers’ mind an image.

When read, cliches are often skipped over. Our mind automatically assumes what you mean. The problem exists because the words are so worn out and tired, that they have very little impact on readers. And, it is often believed that the author is simply stringing their sentences from tired ideas – someone who shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Anthony Ehlers, author of How Clichés And Jargon Ruin Your Writing says: ‘When we use jargon or clichés, we create fuzziness around the image or emotion we’re trying to get across. Be as specific as you can be and authentic as you can be. Every word must have your blood in it – anger, irony, admiration, etc. Don’t make it look like everyone else’s.’

How to avoid using cliches in YOUR writing:

When you come across a cliché in your writing, do your best to substitute it with an original thought. Here is a process that should help:

Write creatively:

  1. Think about what it means.
  2. List the images it evokes.
  3. List the words you associate with it.
  4. Rewrite the sentence using one of the other images or one of the other words.

Always do your best to make your writing as original as possible. Treat your readers to new and exciting ways to express an idea – ‘show,’ and avoid ‘telling’ with worn out words.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Mustang Patty Presents:

The Writer’s Process by Anne Janzer

The entire book title: The Writer’s Process: Getting Your Brain in Gear

I will be giving away a copy of this book sometime in the next week.

Would YOU like to add it to your library?

Simply send me an email: patty@mustangpatty1029.com and tell me how

you think this book would help You and Your Process.

Everyone who sends me an email will be eligible for the prize:

A paperback of the book sent to you at your home address.


This is one of my favorite books. I refer to it every few months, and it is always a comfort when I think I’m blocked. This well-written non-fiction book assures me that my brain is doing exactly what its supposed to do.

Within the pages of this book, Ms. Janzer goes into great detail to explain how ideas and writing need to go through a process in the writer’s mind to become stories and books.

With meticulous research into the psychology of writing, the author takes us deep into our minds. She describes the Inner Process – through engaging prose.

One of the ideas expressed that I’ve really latched onto is that IF the writer is willing to work with the brain, rather than against it, the idea can grow into a well-written piece organically.

The practicality of the book is a welcome addition to your library. I found that by understanding the process, I’ve practically eliminated Writer’s Block and I understand that a story cannot be forced.

What the reviews for this book look like:

“If you’ve ever struggled with getting your ideas out of your brain and onto something others can access (and who hasn’t?), Anne’s book is for you.” Ann Hadley, Author of WSJ Best-seller, Everybody Writes

“Research-based, hands-on, step-by-step wisdom that can help you wrestle with the lizard brain. Certain to help thousands of would-be writers write.” Seth Godin, Author of The Icarus Deception

About the Author:

          Anne Janzer is an award-winning author on a mission to help people communicate more effectively through writing. She is also author of books The Workplace Writer’s Process, Subscription Marketing, and Writing to be Understood.

www.AnneJanzer.com  to join her Blog mailing list and learn more about the process

Until next time,

(Don’t forget to enter your name in the drawing!!)

~Mustang Patty~

Beginning a New Story or Book

This is my first official Blog Post for the year 2021. I apologize to those of you who follow my Blog for writing tips and information. I’m getting off to a slow start – political events sidelined a lot of my work.

BUT here I am – ready and willing to present you with a brand-new post.

Today, we are going to return to the subject of ‘Elements of a Great Book.’ Previously, we addressed characters, and plot. Today, I’d like to address another important aspect of writing your book – PLANNING.

While there is a distinction of those of us who are PLANNERS, and those who are PANTSERS – meaning, they fly by the seat of their pants while writing, I think to a certain degree, we all plan to some extent.

I know that if I have an idea that isn’t quite fully formed, I may write a ‘scene’ from my book that I can envision. I may not know exactly where it will fit in, but it defines some of the important points about my characters and the plot of the story. After all, plot can be boiled down to the salient point of WHAT happens to the characters as they progress through the prose of your book.

PLEASE leave in the comments of this post:

HOW do you plan when starting a book or short story?

WHAT do you already know will take place?

WHO are your characters when you begin to write? Are they fully formed in your head? OR do they come together with the development of your storyline?


I’ve decided that during 2021, I will only be posting on Tuesdays and Fridays. Those of you who have signed up, will continue to receive emails notifying you of all posts, and I will continue to post on FB, Twitter, and LinkedIn whenever I Blog.

Thank you for your support during 2020, and I hope the numbers will only increase as we enter and work through 2021.

Until next week,

~Mustang Patty~

Happy New Year!!!

I have been spending the past week planning my ‘writing life’ for the year. I will be working on a novel I’ve been playing around with for years, and just sorting through the research will be a job all in itself.

But, my Blogs will be here for you, and I hope we can all have a healthy, happy New Year!!

Howie and Bernie – WISHING YOU ALL a Happy New Year!!!
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