I Wrote Like Snoopy

I cut my authorial teeth on
dialogue as a playwright. I was the creative arts director for 11 years at my
church. We did everything from the 30-second sermon starter to full-length
musicals. When I first wrote my first few scripts, my actors often used
different words that I’d written, or they changed the sentences around, and
even…gasp…dropped words.
But I liked what I heard, so I
dissected the changes and found the common ground. I wrote like Snoopy, trying
to be literary. Gag. The lines were too perfect and not realistic.
Have you read a book where the
dialogue actually pulls you out of the story because it’s so stiff and
unbelievable? Or worse, it sounds like an info dump, as if the writer’s saying,
“You won’t understand this unless I explain it to you.”
Well, thank you Billy Sunday.
That’ll make me throw a book across the room faster than a politician can empty
your wallet. Unless it’s on my e-reader; then I’d delete it before it
contaminated the other e-books.
So what does make good dialogue
in a book?
It has to be realistic for
starters. And it has to be organic to your character. If you’re an Oregonian
and writing about a Southern Belle, you’d better have a Cousin Sue Ellen read
your manuscript, or it may well be stereotyped. The same goes for Sue Ellen
writing about a Yankee.
What if you’re writing a young
adult book and don’t have any teens or twenty-somethings living at home, and
you aren’t sure how the characters would really talk? Go to a local mall and
hang out in the food court and eavesdrop. Listen to the half sentences,
colloquialisms, and especially to the way people answer questions.
One mistake new writers often
make is found in the way characters answer questions.
“Good morning, Bob. Where
are you headed this fine morning?”
“Good morning, John. I’m
going to the hardware store to get a new float for the toilet.”
First of all, we don’t really
care about Bob’s toilet, unless his four-year-old flushed the latest Wiki-leaks
state secrets. A bit more realistic might sound like this:
“Morning, Bob. Where you
off to?”
“Hardware store.”
“Anything I can help
“I got it.”
“Okay, holler if you need
That’s how two neighboring men
would have this conversation. If it were women, it still wouldn’t be complete
sentences, but it might go something like this:
“Morning, Sally. Going
“Macy’s is having a huge
sale, and you know those new slip covers I got for the den sofa? John ruined it
with cranberry juice.”
“I hear you. Bob got
mustard on my bedspread. Why can’t they be more careful?”
“I think it’s in their
“Yeah, he got mustard on
those, too.”
Anyway, you can see how their
conversation veered off the main track. We women do that. Men, not so much.
In romance, Jenny B, Jones is a
master at building conflict into dialogue. A few lines from Save the Date illustrate this point
“Do you know anything about
“You toss around a ball and
throw people to the ground. What else is there to know?”
“Okay then, what’s a
“The name of the bar where
you met your last girlfriend?”
“A cut?”
“A fantasy I have involving
your throat.”
She never answered his questions
seriously and he kept asking instead of commenting on what she said. It was
brilliant dialogue for building character and a great example of verbal
For realistic dialogue, remember
Study they way dialogue is
written in books you love
Listen to people engage in
conversation and study their responses

Do you have any great examples
of dialogue to share with us?

The Tail, er, Tale of the Three-Legged Dog.

by Alton Gansky

Lessons come in the
strangest places and at the oddest times. I slipped from the office early to
get a haircut and buy one of those gooey-frosty-juice-things with names like “Melon
that are supposed to be good for me. The haircut went fine with no ears injured
and the juice was everything I hoped for. As I drove through the parking lot,
my mind on the day’s work and a straw of tasty juice permanently glued
to my lips, I had to slow for a dog trotting over the asphalt—a
dog with three legs.
Now, I’ve seen three-legged dogs before. I even tell a joke about
a three-legged pig (I’ll spare you), but the image of the dog stuck with me
through the day. First, the dog appeared as happy as any I’ve seen. He didn’t
mope across the macadam, he moved with brisk motion as if he were late for an
appointment (maybe he was out for a haircut too).
Second, he trotted as if he had all four legs, apparently
unperturbed by the missing limb. Whatever cost him his leg hadn’t taken away
his doggy-zeal for life.
Last, he used what he had and used it well.
“If only . . .” Have you ever heard the phrase? “If only I had
more time. If only I were younger. If only I hadn’t wasted my youth. If only I
had chosen a better college (or any college). Many people utter this phrase,
allowing it to become their mantra of failure. Budding writers say, “If only I had
more time.” Hesitant entrepreneurs mumble, “If only I had started sooner.”
“If only . . . if only . . . if only . . .”
What does the three-legged dog do? He keeps moving forward as if
nothing was missing.
That is a wise dog. Such a good boy.

Alton Gansky is an author, podcaster, teacher, and a man
willing to learn about life from a three-legged dog. www.altongansky.com

#Writers Conferences

I love writer’s conferences. I’m addicted to them. Where else can I get my annual fix? No where, that’s where. Why? Because “normals” don’t get us. When you’re at a writer’s conference and say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. I was listening to my character explain why she won’t go to Cucamonga.” 

Say that around a “normal” and you’ll get looks like this and they quickly turn and walk away.

But not other writers. They can sit for hours talking about writing, plotting, how to get emotions just right.

We were out to dinner with friends. One of them mentioned that I was an author, and immediately Hubs leans over and says, “Don’t start talking about books.”

Normals just don’t get it. So I live for the annual ACFW conference and the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. I’m excited to be teaching a workshop this year. I also got to teach at last year’s BRMCWC. I really love to share what I’ve learned. 

My highlight this year is rooming with my two critique partners, Genghis Griep and Ludwig von Frankenpen. We don’t get face time very often since we all live in different states.

So, what’s your favorite part about writers’ conferences? The learning? The hugs from friends? Late night brainstorming?

Out of Order

by Marcia Lee Laycock

I’m what they call a “seat of the pants” writer.
That means I don’t sit down and concoct a lengthy outline and figure out my
story from beginning to end. I just dive in and write, figuring it out as I go.
I find this style invigorating. I never know what might happen in the next
The story usually comes to me in scenes – I’ll be
happily spinning my tale when, pop, here comes another scene that might not
necessarily be next in the plot. I stop and put these “out of the blue” scenes
into a separate file and add them in later. That works. Most of the time. But
there is a down side to writing this way. Sometimes things get mixed up.
Sometimes things are out of order. And sometimes I end up in an editing
Like the other day, when I was working on the second
book of my fantasy series and had the nagging feeling that something was out of
order. So I painstakingly did a chapter by chapter outline and found a couple
of things that had to be moved. A character can’t suddenly be talking to
someone she meets two chapters later. The villain can’t put his schemes into
action until he’s given the information he needs in order to carry them out. Those
kinds of mistakes are a little annoying to our readers! That’s why a structural
edit is crucial for writers like me. And that pertains not just to my work, but
to my life.
Sometimes our lives can be out of order. We start
the day in a rush and forget to even breathe a “good morning, Lord,” before
diving into our schedule. We’re half way through the day before we realize
something isn’t right. Maybe we’re a bit snappy with colleagues or our family
members. Maybe we just feel a little ‘off.’ And then there are those days when
things just go all wrong, things happen that don’t make any sense at all and often
they are difficult or even painful.
That’s when it’s time to do a structural edit of our
lives and put things in the right order; that’s when we need to “be still and
know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). And that’s when we can take great comfort in
knowing that there is a Sovereign over it all, an Author, who knows the
beginning and the end, and every single detail of the plot of our lives. He has
made sure that all is in order, even when it seems in chaos.
Hebrews 12:2,
says – “I desire to fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of my faith,
who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat
down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
That’s the right
order – scene number one – focus on Jesus.
Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta
Canada where she is a pastor’s wife, mother of three adult daughters and
care-giver to two golden retreivers. She was the winner of The Best New
Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. Her second
novel, A Tumbled Stone was recently short listed in the contemporary fiction
category of The Word Awards. Marcia also has two devotional books in print as
well as two ebooks. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke,
Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. 
Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for writers is available on Amazon.