How to write REAL dialogue? Listen up!

listenI have a secret weapon when it comes to developing authentic, convincingly real dialogue in my novels: my ear.

That’s not to say that I am an eavesdropper. I do not lurk around others at cocktail parties (Cocktail parties? Do those even exist anymore in our online-saturated world?), nor do I silently sidle up to people talking on their cell phones. The fact is, when I am involved in a conversation, I try to listen very consciously and pay attention to how ideas are expressed, how a dialogue moves from beginning to end, and what it actually sounds like.

And when I hear a particularly memorable line, I steal it.

The result?

My characters say the same things that living, breathing, people actually say.

I know this is one of the keys to my success in creating characters because I always have readers enthuse to me about how “real” my characters are.

“I swear I know your characters,” a reader tells me. “They talk just like my friends do. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that you’d been secretly recording our conversations!”

Confession: I actually considered carrying around a small recorder early in my writing career to capture great lines of conversation, but decided that was too creepy. Instead, I developed the habit of repeating a line in my head until I had it memorized to copy down later. Almost miraculously, the rest of the conversation comes back to me for use in scene development, and that’s when I apply artistic license and my own imagination to craft it into my plot.

Until recently, I thought that was the way every writer developed dialogue: relying on your own ear. But then my daughter shared with me an experience she’d just had with readers of her fan fiction.

“I had so many readers comment on how much they loved this one line from a character,” she happily told me, “and it was verbatim what a friend said to me when he tasted some brownies I made. Seriously, all the best lines come straight from someone’s mouth! Forget struggling to come up with zingers – all you have to do is listen to the people around you.”

That simply confirms what I tell my audiences when I speak about my writing. I can’t take credit for some of the best dialogue in my books, because I didn’t make it up. I just recorded what I heard someone else say. In so many cases, the real world provides much better, more authentic material than I could ever dream up. Not only that, but listening carefully to conversation helps you develop pacing and timing that mimics real people, which is a huge benefit when you’re working with fictional characters.

The next time you’re stumped for dialogue, give your keyboard a rest, and instead, go talk to someone and put your ear to work. It really is surprising what people might say, and what you can do with it.

 

 

 

Pantser or Planner?

All writers are created differently.

We can sit in the same classes, but each of us holds different stories in our hearts and minds. Each of us has our own voice. Each of us has our own process or lack there of when we work on our books.

Thank the Lord we are all so different or we wouldn’t have a variety of stories and books filling the shelves and internet. But no matter how different our process or our stories, there is a rhyme and reason to structuring our novels.

I just got back from the Deep Thinkers Retreat through My Book Therapy where we focused on story and structure. Both Susie and Rachel write fantastic books. Both have different processes. As I sat listening to how they process and plan, I realized that I fall in the middle of their styles. I’m a planning pantser. Like how I just created my own title there?

Planners need an outline, a very specific structure. The story is mostly written before they begin. They just have to weave it. Pantsers don’t like the structure. They have it all in their head and heart and want to sit down and write however the story leads. There is a beauty to both. There is also a danger to both when we overcompensate. It is important to focus on story structure. It makes the story cohesive, focused, and strong. There is also a beauty to allowing yourself the flexibility for letting the scene change.

Historically, I write a very brief outline, focus on some character development and personality, and then hit the page. Often the structure would overwhelm me and make me feel boxed in, so I would toss my hands in the air and just start writing because there I find the freedom to breath.

After this retreat, I have realized I need the structure, I need to plan. I know how and have the tools to accomplish this in a manner that makes my character and plot sing. Then I need to use that to allow the words to just flow.

So where do you fall on the wide spectrum of writers? If you are a planner, plot that thing out. Know the ins and outs of your character. My boss always says to “plan to be flexible,” and I would echo that with your writing. No person, place, or thing is without the ability to change, even if only a little. No matter what you plan, the story will probably change as you write. Enjoy the process!

And for all my pantser friends out there, own it and enjoy! I would encourage taking a little time to make sure it all connects and then rock that flexibility.

I am discovering that I don’t need to follow the process of other writers. They are succeeding with their writing not because they all write the same, but because they have owned their voice, story, and process. Perfection isn’t the end goal. I would argue that connection with reader and excellence in the story is more important. However it works best for you, get that story on the page, write from the voice that God gave you, and do it to the best of your ability as unto the Lord and not unto man.

Are you a pantser or a planner? What works best for you?

Debut Novels, Reprint Rights, and Movie Deal Dreams

I didn’t know how blessed I was to get my first book deal. Love Finds You in Sun Valley, Idaho came out in 2010. It was part of the Love Finds You series. And because the books were written by a bunch of different well-known authors and set across the United States, my book got swept along with the marketing current.

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I got to do a television interview.

I had a Costco book-signing.

The novel was featured in the magazines for a Christian bookstore chain.

It was sold in airports.

The hardback edition came out for book clubs.

And now It’s being considered for a MOVIE. When I found this out, I was so excited my husband thought someone had died. Not that I get excited when people die, but I was crying and could barely speak, and he assumed the worst.

Three movies have already been made for the UPtv network. I had a premier party with my writer friends for Love Finds You in Charm, including homemade Amish pastries. Love Finds You in Valentine comes out this month.

I can’t keep from mentally casting actors to play my characters Tracen Lake and Emily Van Arsdale. Especially since Emily Van Arsdale is supposed to be the actress who plays Wonder Woman, and Wonder Woman is releasing in the theaters soon.

The idea of having my debut novel considered for a movie made me want to revisit the story. Then it made me want to write sequels like many of my readers requested. So I got my rights back, and I’m rereleasing the book as the first in my new series titled Resort to Love.

Finding Love in Sun Valley Cover

 

Finding Love in Sun Valley, Idaho comes out this month. I updated a few things—like how the characters now all have smart phones. And I gave it an epilogue that leads into the following books.

Finding Love in Big Sky, Montana comes out in November. I’m currently writing this one and wish I could throw my responsibilities to the wind so I could go write in a cave until it’s done because the ending is going to be so good!

Finding Love in Park City, Utah comes out in the spring of 2017. This one I’ve plotted, but I’m still researching the location. I’m spending the end of January in the mountain town and attending the Sundance Film Festival. Remember how I said my main character in Sun Valley is an actress? It fits.

I didn’t know anything about getting my rights back, but I ran into Miralee Ferrell at the Oregon Christian Writer’s Conference last summer, and she’d already done it for a couple of her own Love Finds You books. With her help. I was able to find out that my book had been out of print for a couple years. From there I simply had to make my request. Once I got my PDF files, I not-so-simply converted them to a Word document and edited out about a million exclamation points—among other newbie mistakes.

Miralee had been able to get her cover files, but mine weren’t available, so we hired a designer. When I say we, I mean Miralee. She’s releasing my series through her new publishing company, Mountain Brook Ink. But she let me have creative reign over my cover. I especially like the scrollwork around the Finding Love label. That symbol will go on all her Finding Love titles. Another cool thing is that I’ve remarried since my first book came out, so I get to add the name Strong to this cover.

I’m currently getting ready for my Books and Beverages Blog Tour. Check my website for details and the chance to win a Kindle Fire.

Books and Beverages

Even if my book never makes it to the big screen TV, I’m still glad I get to enjoy my debut novel a little longer. And I’m honored to get to share my dreams with you.

What’s a book you’ve read that you think would make a good movie?

All is Calm

Hear that sound? No? That’s because it is the sound of silence. The kind of inexplicable, almost supernatural, silence that expands to fill the void left in the wake of a tornado or an eardrum-shattering fireworks display or, in this case, the Christmas season.

Much is made of the fact that Christmas is a time for peace, for reflection on Christ and the greatest gift ever given, his life, death and resurrection. In reality, though, if they happen at all, those moments of reflection are generally stolen ones, snatches here and there in the midst of rushing through crowded shopping malls, cooking and cleaning madly before friends and family arrive, and squeals of delight as children tear paper off of gifts spilling out from under the Christmas tree.

All good things. Martha things. Things that should be and need to be done. But things that can so easily distract us from the Mary thing. Sitting and listening. Meditating on the words of Scripture. Contemplating the wonder of some of the most profound and stirring words of all, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1).

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Emmanuel. God with us. What an incredible, almost incomprehensible thought.

And not one we can only contemplate at Christmas, thankfully. It is in this time, in the deep silence that follows the noise and (mostly) joyful rushing around and checking off of lists and the general chaos and confusion, this almost supernatural time of stillness, hibernation and rest, that we are finally able to find minutes, sometimes hours, for uninterrupted, undistracted contemplation.

On the words of Scripture. And on the words given to us as a treasured gift, not to hoard but to give, to share, to continue to pass along the powerful message that the Word dwelt among us. That the Word dwells among us. Not just in Bethlehem, not just at Christmas, but here, now, in the silence and stillness that follows the often frenzied celebration of his birth.

So as we enter into this, a new year, a clean slate, an endless stretch of possibility and potential, may the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to him. And may the words he gives us to share with others bless them and draw them back to his presence every day of the year ahead.

Let us continue to share the message of Christmas. That hope came when there was no hope. That light came into deep, impenetrable darkness. That joy came into sadness, grief and loss. It came two thousand years ago. And it comes today when we are finally still enough to know that he is God. When we stop long enough to listen, to meditate, to contemplate and, in the silence, unwrap, discover and experience for ourselves the greatest gift of all.

The Word with us.

For the Love of Writing

Have you ever been around someone who loves Christmas? I can’t quite rival Santa, but I love this season. I love the scent of cider as we decorate the tree and the chaos of Christmas decorations. I love the music, lights, winter clothes, the Christmas parties, and my dad sharing a devotional on Christmas morning. I love time with extended family, laughing and making memories. I love reading the Christmas story and imagining it from the perspective of the people who experienced it. And I love being around people who love Christmas, because their joy is contagious.

It’s the same way with our writing. When we love the story, our readers love it, too. My third book, Surrendered, comes out December 26. It’s the end of a series, the end of an era, the end of a contract, and a beautiful beginning (I hope) to many more stories to come. Under the pressure of deadlines, pursuing a contract, and learning to market, I can forget the joy of this calling. So this month, I’m falling in love with writing again.

Write what you love

Write what you love.

This year, Christmas also comes with a book release. I can’t wait to share Surrendered with readers. I loved crafting the romance that made me swoon, conflict that made me cringe, and action that had me scratching my head to figure out how to rescue them.

Now it’s time to begin again.

I have a couple of different manuscripts going, but I’m also working on one just for me.  A fairy tale. Even if it never sees the light of day, it makes me remember what I loved about my favorite stories as a kid and what I still love about romance, magic, and characters as an adult. The new manuscripts, the ones editors have requested to see are experiencing new life, as well, as I read and remember all that I love about Francine Rivers’s Mark of the Lion series, Karen Kingsbury’s Baxter Family series, and Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series. I look at what other people love about those stories, too. Then I add my own creativity, a new story idea, and something I love is born.

Write because you love it.

It’s taken finishing the Heart of a Warrior series to finally own the fact that I am a hopeless romantic who happens to write romance. But once I fully accepted that, I was able to embrace my new manuscripts in a greater way. I write because I love it, because I have a story to share, because I love bringing a character to life. I love tossing them into trouble and watching them come out shining like gold because they wrestled and emerged victorious. I love writing scenes with courage, heart, and emotion. I write because that’s how God made me. This month, I am writing for the love of the craft and not for the deadline.

Others will love it, too.

It’s important to hole up and remember to write because I love it, to write a heart story, but the beautiful benefit is that even when I close the door to my writing closet and let everything I love and am passionate about spill out on the page, I’m writing something that others will love, too. People connect with emotion, with stories that make them think and dream and imagine. They connect with vulnerability. When I write for me, I  am ultimately writing for them. Out of the overflow of what I have learned as a writer, as a person, as a woman made in the image of Creator God, my experiences, quirks, and imagination pour onto the page and the creativity of the reader is captured.

In this Christmas season, a time of joy and celebration and thanking the God who sent His Son to earth, I’m celebrating in a different way – with the gifts he’s given me. I truly believe when we write what we love because we love it, then others will love it, too.

Should I Write Fiction or Non-Fiction?

When I was an aspiring writer, I had no idea whether I should pursue novels, (fictional stories using made-up characters, scenarios, and plots), or nonfiction, (themed projects using real-life examples). So before I signed with WordServe, I wrote a proposal for both.

Juggling a Writing Career and a Day JobWhen my literary agent steered me in the direction of nonfiction, I felt two distinctly different emotions. One part relief, because it’s easier for me encourage, inspire, teach, and motivate through true stories and practical application. But I also felt a twinge of disappointment. After all, it’s a little more fun to make stuff up. Besides, you can get away with things under the guise of imagination, where non-fiction holds you to a strict standard of authenticity.

Mark Twain once said, “It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” He also said, “Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.”

Today, I’m much more comfortable in my true writer’s skin. Occasionally, I still feel the old pull to write novels, and who knows, maybe someday I’ll do it for fun, but for now, I recognize that I am on the right path. I was made to inspire through nonfiction. But it doesn’t mean I have to give up story-telling…as a matter of fact, for me, stories enhance the topics I am drawn to write about.

Maybe you understand my dilemma. If so, perhaps these bullet points will provide clarity. After all, facts help us make informed decisions.

Fiction

  • Defined by Merriam-Webster as written stories about people and events that are not real. Literature that tells stories which are imagined by the writer; something that is not true.
  • Many readers are drawn to the escape of make-believe story, becoming passionate followers of characters.
  • You can hide truth in a fictional account.
  • There is an increased opportunity to sell two to three book deals as a fictional series.
  • There are fewer speaking platforms to engage with readers, and introduce them to your work.
  • There are fewer fiction publishers available to buy your books.
  • You must write the entire book before submitting it to publishers.

Nonfiction

  • Merriam-Webster describes nonfiction as writing that is about facts or real events. All writing that is not fiction.
  • Statistics show the greater majority of dedicated book buyers gravitate to nonfiction.
  • You can use fictional techniques to tell true stories.
  • On average, studies show nonfiction authors are paid more for their books.
  • With effort, you can find a place where groups gather for practically any true subject–and where they meet, a speaker is needed. Most publishers will require speaking platforms from nonfiction authors.
  • Tapping into felt needs sounds easy on the surface, but unearthing fresh subjects a publisher will buy, and a title that draws readers, is almost as tough as writing the book.
  • Though you need only write two to three chapters of your book, a thorough proposal including a solid marketing plan, comparative analysis of similar books, and complete outline with chapter blurbs is required.

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverFor me, nonfiction is my natural fit, and reviewing these bullet points confirms my choice. I have a speaking platform. I prefer truth-telling over make-believe. I love to research facts, statistics, and the latest studies. I actually enjoy the challenge of coming up with a fresh approach to an existing issue, while pounding out a unique title.

There are readers for every genre, or those genres would fade away. Thankfully, there are writers to supply the demands. As an author, I must look at where I can do the greatest good, after all, the books I write ultimately belong to readers. I can’t pen it all, so wisdom says, write what I can pen best. In my case, this means nonfiction.

Are you writing fiction or nonfiction? Why is that your choice?

 

 

 

 

Why I’m Not Posting to this Blog Today

Okay. Here I go. Computer is booted up and ready to go and I am finally going to write that blog post I have committed to sending off at some point today. Nothing like leaving things to the last minute. But I’ve got it together now. I am ready to put words to paper and come up with something brilliant.

social mediaRight after I check my Facebook page to see if anyone has tried to contact me. Hey, new marketing advice from someone I’ve never heard of. Might be the missing piece I’ve been looking for to send my book sales soaring. Yes, I will subscribe to your newsletter. Sign me up.

Okay, back to work. Feeling a little sleepy though. Maybe I should go outside for a few minutes; a little fresh air might clear my head. I should probably take a quick look at the weather site to see what I should expect if and when I get out there. Looks pretty good. Okay, I’ll log out right…  Wait, that headline is interesting. Just going to click on that to see what the article is about. A bear roaming the streets in a town a thousand miles from here? Fascinating. How did they…? Stop. Focus. I’m supposed to be writing that post.

And I will. Right after I check the sports page to read the write-up on the game last night. Yes, I watched the game (what else did I have to do?) and know exactly what happened. Still…

Oh yeah. I need to register for NaNoWriMo and see who else has signed up that I can be buddies with. Preparing to write that novel is consuming far more of my time and thoughts these days than actually sitting down to write the thing would. Which reminds me, I need to do that too. I have a book contract, a looming deadline, another commitment. I have to write the third and final book in a trilogy. I’m going to get started on that soon. Maybe I’ll go back and read the last few chapters of book two in the series to get me in the zone again.

As soon as I send out a quick tweet so my readers know I’m still around and haven’t fallen off the face of the planet. There. Done. My 140-character contribution to the global conversation. Now back to that post.

Wow, that coffee smells good. I’ll just grab a cup to fortify myself so I can really be productive today. Oops. We’re out of cream. Better text a shopping list to my husband. If I take the time to go to the store, this post will never get written.

Okay, I’m back, fortifying cup of coffee in hand. Wait. What’s that notice in the bottom corner of my screen? My anti-virus coverage is about to expire? That can’t be good. I better renew that. Should I stay with the same company? As far as I know, I haven’t had a virus, so they must be all right. I’ll just e-mail my writer’s group and ask who everyone uses for protection. Really don’t want to lose all this great stuff I’ve written—or thought about writing, anyway—just because I didn’t go with the right company. There, I’ve put the question out there. I’ll go back on in a few minutes to see if anyone has responded.

My phone’s buzzing. My husband, responding to my text. Oh yeah. I forgot he has to work late tonight. I guess I better go to the store then.

No problem. I got quite a bit done this morning. Pretty sure there wasn’t anything else too pressing. If there was, it will still be here waiting for me tomorrow, I’m sure.

For some reason, it always is.