WriteTip: Dialogue and Pacing—Tips to Keep it Moving

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 7:

Dialogue and Pacing (In media res)

Previously, I wrote about In Medias Res—the rule that you should get into a scene as late as possible and get out as soon after as you can to up the tension and help pacing. This is particularly true in dialogue scenes. Dialogue, as a rule, tends to move faster than action and description, upping your novel’s pace. In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey writes: “Plunging into the middle of scenes speeds your novel along and keeps the reader involved in the rising conflict…When critics say a work is fast-paced, it is often because the writer keeps his characters engaged in intense conflicts and cuts directly into scenes with rising conflict.” A lot of time can be saved by starting scenes with the conflict already happening or ending them right as it ends. The results will also make your story feel faster. For example:

Johnny opened the door and stepped into his kitchen.

“Hi, honey,” his wife said, sing-song as usual, and   bounced across the floor to greet him. They embraced 
and kissed as usual before she asked, “How was your 
day?”

“Boring. Usual sales calls. Nagging boss. How was 
yours?”

“It sucked. I got fired,” she said, frowning. Johnny 
hadn’t expected it, given her great mood.

Now what if it were written like this?

“Today sucked,” Johnny’s wife said the minute he 
opened the door.

“What happened?” he asked as she moped across the
floor to greet him.

“My boss is an asshole,” she said, then kissed him.

“Well, we kinda knew that.”

She smiled. “Well, now we have proof.”

Which feels more dramatic and fast paced? In every scene you write, look for the best way to enter dramatically and shape the dialogue for the greatest dramatic effect. In real life, niceties like greetings and chatter might be socially expected but in dramatic narrative, they kill pacing. Just cut to the drama. Charles Johnson in The Way of The Writer: “We should remember that dialogue occurs in a context, in other words, within a specific scene. And every dramatic scene has a structure. If we have two characters, say, each enters a scene motivated by a desire or need (or conflict) that has brought him or her there.” Sometimes establishing a rhythm requires getting the characters into a scene with a greeting or set up, and sometimes they jump right into the conflict or have “a hit” as Johnson calls it, “the heightened moment in the scene where what has brought them there is finally revealed.” It depends on the needs of the story and scene and characters at that moment. It must be natural while at the same time dramatic. Still, finding ways to cut to the chase will make your dramatic narrative more effective every time.

Here’s an example of dealing with a phone call from John Sandford’s Rules of Prey:

Lucas looked up at the clock. Eleven-forty. Damn. If 
the cop who took the gun was planning to call, he 
should have done it. Lucas looked at the phone, 
willing it to ring.

It rang. He nearly fell off his drawing stool in 
surprise.

“Yes?”

“Lucas? This is Jennifer.”

“Hey. I’m expecting a call. I need the line open.”

“I got a tip from a friend,” Jennifer said. “He says 
there was a survivor. Somebody who fought off the 
killer. I want to know who it was.”

“Who told you this bullshit?”

Two techniques are used to increase the tension of the scene. First, Lucas, a detective, is awaiting an important call. By telling us this, Sandford allows readers to feel the character’s tension as he looks at the phone. Second, because the caller is a tv reporter and not the fellow cop he was waiting to hear from, we get more tension, despite the routine nature of the chit chat that opens the call. If you need a bit of social nicety, this is a great way to handle it while still keeping the scene as dramatic as possible. Also, note the varied length in sentences, none of which are especially long. Johnson writes: “Characters usually speak naturally or colloquially in short, crisp sentences.” Study the speech patterns of others around you and you’ll see this is true. Varied length of sentences also affects pacing and can add dramatic effect to a scene, in addition to being more natural particularly in dialogue.

Dialogue is not normal conversation. It is conversation with drama. It is a medium of performance. William Noble writes in Conflict, Action, & Suspense: “The throwaway words of conversation such as “Hello,” “How are you,” “I’m fine,” “Good” should never be thought of as dialogue…because they don’t contain drama. Don’t reproduce conversation and call it dialogue; reproduce only that portion of the conversation that has drama…Dialogue must contribute to telling the story. If it doesn’t, it’s of no use.” Dialogue needs to move in a few short sentences. Take this example from Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman:

“Where was it?”

“On the floor under the bunk. Maybe it fell out when I changed the bedding.”

“What do you think?” Leaphorn asked.

“I think I never had anything that had beads like that
on it or knew anybody who did. And I wonder how it 
got here.”

“Or why?” Leaphorn asked.

In this scene, Navajo detectives Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are at Chee’s trailer, which was shot up the night before, looking for evidence. The bead they discover raises ominous questions, upping the tension, and it becomes a major key to the unfolding mystery of the overall story. This is how you write effective, dramatic dialogue. Cut to the chase, the drama, what matters, and skip everything else. Noble writes: “When dialogue disintegrates into dull conversation, it destroys the forward movement of the tale, and once this happens, the conflict falls apart and the action and suspense hold no one’s interest.” Dialogue must always fulfill two purposes: Keeping the story moving and developing characterization. This is why most dialogue inevitably becomes confrontation. “Readers are interested in confrontation because the drama inherent in a face-off carries excitement and uncertainty,” Noble writes. The “Yes/No” countering in dialogue carries inherent disagreement that ups the drama every time.

Also, humans are rarely directly responsive to each other when conversing. Oblique or partial responses, especially those that ask or raise questions are common. And this keeps the pace of the conversation flowing. 

“It’s cold out tonight.”

“I’ll get locked out if we don’t hurry.”

Not, “my fingers are cold,” which would be a commentary on the coldness. Instead, the reply is about the agenda of the second character. Since this is a natural human trait due to poor listening skills most of us possess, it is a great tool to utilize for keeping dialogue dramatic and moving. It avoids bogging down the story in chit chat, while also providing information about the characters: their motives, priorities, what is on their minds.

Varying character emotions is also an effective tool. If one character underplays and response calmly, while the other is tense and emotional, this has the effect of varying pace while also building the story. When we are stressed and talking to someone who isn’t, we naturally want them to share our sense of urgent emotion. Tension increases each time they respond calmly to our urgency. The same is true in dramatic scenes. Subtext—implying more than the words say directly—is a great technique for upping the drama via underplay. It makes the impact more devastating, too. 

“You’re not sleeping,” Roger said.

“I’m trying,” Julie replied.

“You answered.”

“Well, you talked to me,” she replied but left her arm
laying over her eyes just where it had been.

He rolled over and touched her shoulder. “I can’t stop
thinking about it.”

She groaned. “Damn it.”

Subtext is when something going on beneath the surface unspoken changes the meaning of a scene. Here, the subtext is that Roger has something urgent on his mind but Julie doesn’t want to talk about it. She is annoyed at being bothered. But this is never stated outright. The mystery of it allows the story to build because we are waiting to see what happens, wondering how it will play out. Will they talk or will she go to sleep? Will this lead to more conflict later? Etc. It is subtle, but very effective, and not unrealistic to life.

Stream of consciousness in interior dialogue can also be used to up tension, especially in scenes where dialogue with others is impossible because a character is alone.

She was coming toward me. I couldn’t get into it 
again. I glanced around for somewhere to hide.

This kind of inner monologue adds tension, even if the “she” is someone we have not seen before by asking questions we want to know the answer to, thus upping tension and building expectation that it will pay off in a dramatic fashion at some point later.

Another technique to aid pacing with underplayed dialogue is gesturing.

“Someone’s coming,” Al said.

“Is it him?” Rick never even looked up from his 
newspaper.

“Blonde, tall, thin, about twenty or so?”

“That’s what the boss said, yeah.” 

Al watched as Rick reached down and fingered the blade
in his pocket. “I think it’s him,” Al motioned. This 
time they both looked.

Two mobsters waiting for their victim. Plenty of tension from the implied expectation, but the dialogue itself isn’t all that dramatic. It is the subtext which adds the drama. The gesturing adds dimension by having the characters innocuous dialogue be underscored by what they are doing: waiting for a victim, knife ready. And when the body movement happens, it is almost like the start of violence. It is restrained, but we anticipate it, and the physical movement punctuates the anticipation by foreshadowing a physical response to go with the subtext.

These techniques are always effective time and again when keeping dialogue dramatic and well-paced so they keep the story moving and reveal character at the same time.

Next week, we’ll talk about writing action.

WriteTip: What is Dialogue and What is its Purpose?

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 7:

Chances are fifty percent or more of your novel will consist of dialogue. Dialogue is the characters’ chief method of communicating information to one another (and readers). But remember: Conversation isn’t dialogue. Dialogue is drama. It is a certain type of dramatic representation of conversation that has conflict and drama and urgency. It may imitate conversation but there is no chit chat. Dialogue involves imparting key information about plot, emotion, character, setting and more that drives the story forward. It involves building tension, pace, and foreshadowing conflict as well as expressing present conflict. Dialogue is one of the essential craft tools of good fiction writing.
  Johnny Payne writes in Voice & Style:  “Dialogue is the essence of teaching…The role of dialogue within fiction can be defined as not so different from the one it plays in learning. Ideally, it should deepen with progressive readings, leaving the reader with an increased understanding of the story’s consequences.” In some ways, dialogue exists in tension with, and separate from the authorial voice. Characters care nothing about the author’s life or concerns, just their own. When two or more characters dialogue, they are in a sense “talking back” to the author or narrative voice. They contest it at times, challenge it, add complexity to its views. This tension gives us perspective on the narrative voice while also clarifying the independence of characters in the story from the narrator. By necessity, fiction must be truer than life in order to give us different perspectives on it. Because characters always speak in opposition—conflict lies at the heart of drama, remember—the tension between character voices and author voice is a key element of the storytelling experience, adding tension and drama and upping the stakes. And while dialogue is part of overall voice, because characters and narrator can also speak in opposition, they create the kind of multiple meanings and complexity associated with dramatic irony. As narration directs and lays out the story, dialogue detonates and creates explosions that create twists, surprises, turns, and consequences that affect the rest of the story and keep it interesting. This is the essence of narrative drama.
  So how do you develop a skill for good dialogue? Let’s look at The Purpose of Dialogue.

The Purpose of Dialogue

Jack Hart writes in Storycraft: “Dialogue isn’t an end in itself; it has to do some real work. It can advance action as characters encounter and struggle with obstacles, such as an antagonist who resists a character’s progress in resolving a complication. It can help shape a scene as characters comment on objects in their environment, such as the clothes one of them wears.” Advancing action, imparting information, revealing character, increasing conflict—all of these are the purpose of dialogue and its every word should serve one or more of these at all times.
  According to screenwriter John Howard Lawson, speaking “comes from energy and not inertia.” It serves “as it does in life, to broaden the scope of action; it organizes and extends what people do. It also intensifies the action. The emotion which people feel in a situation grows out of their sense of scope and meaning.” James Scott Bell writes in How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: “Characters talk in fiction because they want to further their own ends…Every word, every phrase that comes out of a character’s mouth is uttered because the character hopes it will further a purpose.” Because dialogue can foreshadow action, explain it, or set it up, advancing action is a core role of dialogue. Also, dialogue exchanges are laden with conflict and can thus up the tension and stakes of action and confrontations, thus advancing action and leading from one action to another. The very act of dialoguing is, in effect, taking an action: to confront, to question, to ask, to discuss, etc. and in all cases, this dialogical action furthers plot, story, and character in some way (or should).
  Because, in many ways, we reveal who we are by how we speak, what dialogue does best is reveal or advance character. In the next section we will cover dialect and diction, but it’s not just the word choice that is at work here but the interaction with other characters and the world reveals much, too. Word choice can reveal education level, social stratus, historical background, genetics, nationality, etc. but dialogue with others reveals attitudes about society, setting, the world, and relationships which are also important. We talk to different people differently for various reasons, and that very act reveals much about who we are and who they are to us.
  Because much dialogue involves opposition between characters, inherent in its nature is conflict. Stephen King writes in On Writing: “It’s dialogue that gives your cast their voices and is crucial in defining their characters—only what people do tells us more about what they’re like, and talk is sneaky: what people say often conveys their character to others in ways of which they—the speakers—are completely unaware.” Dialogue is intimately connected to character motivation. It reveals motive constantly, setting and revising their agenda. These agenda checks come in opposition with those of other characters, creating conflict and tension and leading to action, imparting information, upping the stakes. This is a key difference between conversation and dialogue. Dialogue is always about tension and conflict, whereas conversation is not. Conversation can be casual and consumed with minute details, facts, and experiences which interest the involved parties but are irrelevant to those around them. Dialogue must always function to advance the story by revealing motives, information, character, action and more, so dialogue and conversation are very different in both purpose and style. In dialogue, characters sometimes say things to inform readers of information they already know in order to advance the story. This exposition is a manufactured trait of narrative dialogue that is not common in real life except with strangers. There are things many times we don’t have to say because we are the party we are speaking to just know them, but with readers watching, in narrative, these things cannot go unsaid and must be imparted.
  Dialogue can also be external and internal. At the same time as characters engage in dialogue with other characters, they maintain an internal dialogue with themselves that can be in conflict with the external dialogue but performs the same functions. It can impart backstory, history, and details readers need to know and also things characters may not share, for various reasons, with other characters but which they know and hold in reserve but which readers need to further the story, action, and character. These two streams of dialogue go on simultaneously and intertwine with the narrator’s voice as the story unfolds.
 Here’s an example from romance author Catherine Bybee’s Wife by Wednesday:
“Kissing me is wrong?”

“Yes,” she blurted out. “I mean, no.”

He chuckled, “Which is it?”

“Ugh. What if I choke? What if I don’t look convincing?” What if she screwed up and gave the camera exactly what they wanted and Blake lost his inheritance?

Blake removed one hand from the steering wheel and placed it over her cold ones. “Samantha?”

“Yes?”

“Relax. Let me take charge here.”

She wanted to trust him. But her hands shook as they  pulled into her driveway. He removed the key from the ignition and shifted in his seat. “Let’s just go      inside and start packing.”

“Are you going to kiss me the minute we’re inside?”   God, she had to know…so she could prepare herself.
Okay, clearly Blake and Samantha are lovers. And they are going somewhere important with potential consequences for Blake that Samantha is worried she’ll screw up. Notice also how Samantha’s internal and external monologue are both at play here to impart understanding of motives and thought behind her reactions and words? Also note how while she is tense, anxious, Blake’s body language and words combine to demonstrate he is not. He is relaxed, at ease. This is a very solid demonstration of effective dialogue.
   The next is example from The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson:
“What are you smiling at?”

“Leave me alone. I’m having a moment of grace.”

He stared at me. “Well, we would not want to interrupt that.”

I tossed a piece of shale at him, missing by a good   two feet. “If you can have multiple lives, I can have moments of grace.”

He grunted. “How was your moment of grace last night?”

“Not bad, as moments of grace go.” I thought for a    while. “More like a moment of truth.”

He nodded. “That is good. They are harder to come by.” He winced as he stretched the tendons in his right 
knee; maybe he wasn’t indestructible. “So, she left 
the Jeep?”

“Yep.”

“You drive her home?”

“Yep.”

He stretched for a minute more, leaned against the 
mile-marker post I was leaning against, and sighed. 
“Okay…”

“Okay, what?”

“We do not have to talk about it.”

“We are talking about it.”

“No, I am talking about it, and all you are doing is 
saying, ‘Yep.’”
Even without a lot of context, hopefully you can tell these are characters who know each other well. In this case, Sheriff Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear are childhood friends, now adults. Henry is an American Indian, Walt white. The sarcasm inherent here shows familiarity, as does the inside reference to “multiple lives.” Characters with a history spar as they talk frequently. There is a playfulness and tension to it as they test each other, sometimes in fun, sometimes in anger, but always in shared knowledge. Just four lines of dialogue and two of description, but you see what that can reveal, even out of context. Walt, it appears, had a date or something the night before. Also, notice that Henry uses no contractions in his syntax. He has a unique way of talking that distinguishes him from Walt.
  Dialogue’s purpose is to reveal character, plot, and story. It drips with conflict and drama, moving the story forward, upping the tension, and pushing the story along. Just by tone, phrasing, and wording, it can raise questions and evoke emotions in the reader. That is the importance of getting it right.
  Next week, we’ll talk about some other aspects of dialogue.

WriteTip: How To Use Speech Tags Well

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 7:

Another area of concern related to dialogue are speech tags. The most common of these, of course, is “said.” But sometimes people try to get creative and do so badly. Creative speech tags are generally a bad idea. All too often they stand out as forced or awkward and draw attention to the writer and craft, away from the story, rather than just flying by like they are supposed to, allowing readers to stay in the story. All of us can probably think of examples we’ve encountered in our reading. Here are ten common tips to avoid frequent pitfalls in writing dialogue and speech tags:
1) Use Simple Tags Sparingly. Fancy tags like “he expostulated” or “she espoused” are less clear and more distracting than anything. So keep the tags simple when you absolutely must use them. Instead, convey the manner in which a character speaks instead. Make it obvious from what is said.
2) Instead Of Tags, Use Actions. People talk while actively engaging in activities. So should your characters. Giving them business to do during dialogue allows you to identify who’s speaking without resorting to overused tags. Some can come in the form of characterizing the speaker: “His eyebrows lifted with menace,” for example. “Bob’s fist clenched as he spoke.” “Tears rolled down her cheek with every word.”
3) Avoid Expositional Dialogue When Possible. We’ve all violated this rule, but especially when two characters should already know the information being imparted, it seems unnatural and distracting. In such cases, internal monologue is a better tool and more natural. Characters may think about stuff they already know but they wouldn’t tell each other stuff each of them knows.
4) Keep It Short. People talk in choppy sentences. Long soliloquies are rare. So in dialogue, use a combination of short sentences to make it flow and feel like real people talking. Let them interrupt each other, too. People do that in real life. It adds to the pace, tension and drama of it.
5) Avoid Phonetic Spellings For Accents. They are difficult to read. Indications of dialect can be used instead to get the reader to do the rest. Overuse of a dialect becomes distracting to readers and can actually take them out of the story. Keep the words your characters say as unobtrusive as possible so your story flows seamlessly.
6) Dialogue Is Conflict. Conflict keeps the story moving. People talk like they’re playing table tennis-back and forth. This moves the story forward. Lace your dialogue with conflict. It adds dramatic urgency to every line the characters say and keeps the story’s pace.
7) Use Other Characters. Let a character imply who’s speaking to them by saying something specific to only that person. If you use business well (see number 2 above), having a character refer to something the other character is doing is a great way to do this.
8) Give Each Character A Distinctive Voice. Overdo it and its caricature but we all have our own speech tics. Create some for your characters and sprinkle them throughout. Readers will learn them and know who’s speaking. For example, Captain Jack Sparrow loves the term of affection: “love” and uses that a lot. He also says “Savvy?” a great deal as well. He has others you can probably remember, too. Study characterization and see what other writers have done.
9) Speak It Aloud. Talk it out. Get inside the heads of your characters and say the lines. Play out the conversation you’ve written. Does it sound natural? Does it flow? Your ear is often a better judge than your eyes and hearing it will give you an idea how readers will hear it.
10) Remember What Medium You’re Writing For. TV and Film dialogue and novel dialogue are not necessarily the same. There is no third party to use intonation, facial expressions and/or body language to bring it to life. Your words alone are the conduit between yourself and the reader and your prose skills and the readers’ imaginations make it work.
Altogether, remember, the goal of speech tags is solely to help readers keep track of who is speaking, when. That is their sole purpose. It is not a chance to insert adjectives for emotional effect or to show off fancy word slinging vocabularies. They are another tool best used as subtly as possible.
In On Writing, Stephen King writes: “As with all other aspects of fiction, the key to writing good dialogue is honesty…It is important to tell the truth; so much depends on it…The Legion of Decency may not like the word shit, and you might not like it much either, but sometimes you are stuck with it… You must tell the truth if your dialogue is to have resonance and realism…If you substitute ‘Oh sugar!’ for ‘Oh shit!’ because you’re thinking about The Legion of Decency, you are breaking the unspoken contract that exists between writer and reader—your promise to express the truth of how people act and talk through the medium of made-up story.” That some readers may not want to hear the truth is not your problem. Your quest is to tell the truth at all times, to keep their trust, and sometimes the truth is uncomfortable for all of us. Dialogue being how characters talk is one of the most important crafts to writing your novel. It must feel authentic and real for readers to believe your characters could be real people.

Write Tip: Dialogue: Diction vs. Syntax as Tools

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 7:

Diction and Dialect

Diction has to do with tone and style, whereas syntax, which is closely related, has to do with the form of the sentence. The level of diction of a truck driver has a different level than a bishop, but both might use all three forms of syntax. Syntax and diction depend on one another. The truck driver may speak more base, slangy language than the elevated syntax of the bishop, for example. This is dependent upon levels of diction with which they choose to speak. It is also dependent upon the word order (syntax) they choose to use.


A truck driver might say, “I was having sad thoughts when I was alone.”

A bishop, “To me came thoughts of grief when alone.”

Just as Henry Standing Bear stands out in Craig Johnson’s Longmire because of never using contractions, another character might stand out for going to pains to use “whom” instead of “who” whenever it is grammatically correct or the opposite. Subtle grammatical quirks can be quite effective characterization tools. What if a character says “the killer musta wore gloves” instead of “the killer musta worn gloves”—“must have worn” being grammatically correct? Some of these quirks are quite common in usage and can be observed daily in those around us. Often they subtly reveal things about people’s backgrounds—education, social class, where they come from—that will make your dialogue more realistic.

Stephen King writes: “Well-crafted dialogue will indicate if a character is smart or dumb, honest or dishonest, amusing or an old sobersides.” When done well, dialogue can impart several bits of information about your characters just through word choice. Bishops, kings, politicians, professors and others all speak differently and with more sophistication and less common vernacular than truck drivers, plumbers, mechanics, and farmers. Add in gang members, foreigners, and others and you have a third style of diction as well. Use diction to differentiate between characters and help us know who is speaking without even requiring a speech tag. You can know the area of the world they come from, their education level, their level of class and refinement, their self-esteem level, their social circles, their religion or lack of religion, and so much more just via how a character speaks. The unique voice of each character will add depth and realness to your world and story like nothing else.

In my novel Simon Says, a tough KCPD detective is forced to team with a humanoid android to solve his partner’s murder. At one point, Simon points out the humanoid’s speech patterns:

["I function ninety percent like a human being in most respects," Lucas said as they continued up the stairs.
    "Yeah, and at least ten percent is how you talk," Simon teased.
    Lucas turned a puzzled look at him. "You think I do not speak like a human?"
    "No normal human uses the cadence you use, no," Simon said.    
     Lucas looked disappointed. "Well, I hope you will assist me to do better. I am designed to blend in with humans and wish to learn."
    "You want to blend stop saying things like 'in most respects' or 'I am designed,'" Simon said, shaking his head. "You sound like a machine."
    Lucas hrmphed. "I will remember."    

Just listening to them you can tell the difference. This is a prime example of syntax and diction at work. Now the same thing can happen with socioeconomic class.

“You, stop!” The detective stepped in front of the vagrant and raised his hand.  
     “What ya want?” the disheveled woman demanded, her dirty, unkempt hair hanging down off her forehead to obscure most of one eye, her nose brown with dirt and grime from life on the street.  
     “I have a couple of questions. Did you see what happened down there last night?”  
     “Huh? I was ‘sleep.”  
     “No way you slept through that,” the detective countered. “Were you here?”
     Her face shriveled as she shook her head and looked away. “I don’ know nothin’.”  
     “You’re not in trouble. We just need your help. People died.”  
     “Not my pro’lem,” she said.  

Dialogue can also tell readers about your world. Do they speak familiarly to present day people around us or like people from another place or time? Do they speak with familiar vernacular and nuance and pop culture references or are the references odd and unusual, even requiring us to work to understand them a bit? All of this is key to world building characters and creating a sense of place and dialogue is a key tool for accomplishing it. Here’s an example from Wager of My Heart by Claire Ashgrove:

 “What seems to be the problem, Thomas?”
      “A wreck, sir,” the man replied as he bounced the long reins to quiet the agitated horse.  “Easy, girl.  Stand now.”      
     “A wreck?” 
     “Aye.  The crowd’s thick—I cannot make it all out.  But a coach is twisted at such an  angle I can clearly see the top of it.”
      Perfect.  Lord only knew how long it would take to right a coach.  “Is there a way  around?” he asked, his patience rapidly deteriorating. “I would prefer not to linger in this  stench.”         
     “No, my lord.  Not unless you wish me to drive over the onlookers, sir.”  

Both the vocabulary and the descriptions clearly indicate a different time, in this case Victorian Era London.

Point of View characters engage in two main types of dialogue throughout a fictional work: external dialogue with other characters and internal dialogue with themselves. External dialogue we have described above. Internal dialogue is similar but is their inner voice and thoughts taking expression.

The Worker Prince by Bryan Thomas Schmidt - front cover from WordFire PressHere’s an example from my novel The Worker Prince:

 “I can’t tell you what to do, Davi, but it’s a big risk.”
      “Now you sound just like Farien,” Davi growled and drowned the words with another gulp from his beer.
      Yao’s purple eyes softened to violet with sympathy. “Hey, I’m on your side here, okay? One man can’t change an entire culture.”
      Davi wiped his lips on his sleeve and met his friend’s eyes again. “This man has to try.”
      Yao sighed, sinking back into the couch again. “Why?”
      Davi stared at him a moment, anger mixed with disgust. But Yao wasn’t the bad guy. You’ve got to tell him. Ignoring his internal voice, he shrugged.
      “Have you spoken to Farien since?” Yao asked.
      “No. There hasn’t been an occasion.”
      “Maybe we could pay him a visit,” Yao said. “Be good to have the three musketeers back together again.” Yao loved references to the classics. Along with history, he’d read many novels.
      “Sure. Of course …” Davi’s voice trailed off as he looked away, lost in thought. Should I tell him? He needed to confide in someone before he burst.

Internal monologues are often written in italics to differentiate them. When needed, “he thought, etc.” are used to indicate. In this case, we can see Davi has two conversations going on at once—one external with Yao and the other internal with himself.

J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord Of The Rings uses elevated diction combined with a formal syntax to suggest an ancient language:

Gimli shivered. They had brought only one blanket apiece. “Let us light a fire,” he said. “I care no longer for the danger. Let the orcs come as thick as summer moths around the candle!”
     “If those unhappy hobbits are astray in the woods, it might draw them hither,” said Legolas.
     “And it might draw other things, neither Orc nor Hobbit,” said Aragorn. “We are near the mountain-marshes of the traitor Sarumon. Also, we are on the very edge of Fangorn, and it is perilous to touch the trees of that wood, it is said.” (The Two Towers)

So using different dictions is a great technique and device for characterization. If a character is a con artist, they may use different diction externally than they do internally. This tells us about your character. Or they may fake an accent they don’t really have, etc. Also, the character’s internal dialogue will reveal what they choose to reveal and not reveal to various characters which tells us much about their motives, emotions, etc. Internal dialogue is where characters debate decisions, mourn mistakes, and so much more, and it is necessary for storytelling because we cannot see what we are not shown, so it provides a method of showing what is going on in the inner life of characters that is essential to building good conflict and drama in your story.

Remember that characters may speak differently to one character than another depending upon their relationship, their motives, etc. If hanging with old friends from the old ghetto, one may slip into a dialect left behind in childhood for those interactions even if the character usually speaks in a more refined way with characters outside that world and life. Ever have a friend from a foreign country or the U.S. Deep South who talks with one accent with you but goes home and slips back into a native accent? People speak to a lover different than a mother or a sister or a boss or a priest. One also speaks differently to a king or ruler than a fellow citizen and often to a teacher than fellow students, and so on. So remember to establish changes in dialogue appropriate to the circumstances in which the dialogue is occurring and who and to whom the characters are speaking. This will make your world come alive and feel realistic.

Lewis Turco writes in Dialogue: Characterization “is largely what dialect is about—identifying the persona and his or her traits, including the main personality trait on which much of the story will depend for its plot and the motivations of its characters.” Remember that characters who speak with the same diction only recognize the difference when speaking with outsiders. The same is true of dialect or accents. Characters with accents only know they have one when someone points it out or when talking with another character. Even then, to them they sound normal and the other person has the accent.

Dialect is a particular way of speaking that is different from other characters being represented in a modified written form to reflect its accent or peculiarities. It is particularly common in older novels, but frowned upon these days because it is often challenging for readers to read. Use dialect sparingly and only for strategic purposes. Often just a line or two is all you need to remind readers of the character’s accent. The rest can be rendered more naturally. Another technique is to render a few key words in dialect.

Here’s an example from my novel The Worker Prince, a science fiction space opera:

 As he neared a tent, someone poked his arm—a smiling vendor who looked half-human and half-Lhamor, gesturing with his bottom two arms when he spoke, his forked tongue giving him a strong lisp.
     “’ello, Capt’in, my frien’, wha’ever you nee’, I can ge’ for you,” he said with the accent of Italis and patted Davi’s back like they had been lifelong pals.
    There’s a reason others of your race use translators. “No thank you, just passing through,” Davi said with forced politeness, moving on through quickly.

The Lhamori here is speaking in dialect, and a particularly hard to understand one, which is why I used it sparingly (though not sparingly enough according to some readers. It was my first novel.)

In How to Write Dazzling Dialogue, James Scott Bell suggests 3 guidelines for using dialect:
Decide if dialect is absolutely needed in a scene.
If so, go ahead and use it in the first spoken line.
Use it sparingly after that, only as a reminder to readers of the voice.

Here’s another example from James Michener’s Soyonara:

 I started to get up but Makino, the cook, grabbed my arm and translated, “She not angry. Only she say very dangerous Fumiko-san walk with Americans.”
    “She wasn’t walking,” I cried. “She was sitting here.”
    “Please!” Makino protested. “I not speak good. Trouble too much.”

Here, Michener is representing the broken English of a non-native speaker fairly well using dialect to give a realness to the dialogue, another appropriate technique. In this case, rather than odd or modified spellings, it involves missing words or rearranged syntax.

Generally speaking, it is advisable to avoid dialect and use standard diction. Remember, writing is communication and communication is about clarity first and foremost. Anything that might be a stumbling block for readers is to be handled with care.

Similar to dialect are idioms which means: “an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements, as in kick the bucket or hang one’s head, or from the general grammatical rules of a language, as the table round for the round table, and that is not a constituent of a larger expression of like characteristics; a language, dialect, or style of speaking peculiar to a people. (Dictionary.com)” Mark Twain is the U.S. master and Charles Dickens the U.K. master of idioms. Lewis Turco writes: “An expression may begin as the slang—or ‘popular jargon’—of a particular generation, but once it enters the language permanently, it becomes an idiomatic expression.” So, for example, where Brits might say “throwing crockery,” Americans would say “throwing dishes.”

Both Dickens and Twain exploit idiomatic expressions freely in their novels and sometimes develop or perpetuate them into greater popularity by repeating the same phrases over and over again in their works, giving them a stability in the language. Examples from Dickens are “heart and soul,” “jog-trot,” and “turn and turn about,” the last two of which are particularly British. Examples from Twain include “without you” (unless you), “by some stretchers” (lies), “back to the drawing board,” and “I lit out.”

The following passage from Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn contains some more:

 The Widow Douglas, she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out.

Twain and Dickens both use colloquialisms to give characters distinctive voices. Huck misspells civilize as “sivilize,” which reveals his lack of formal education and uses “allowed” instead of “said.” He also uses adjectives in unusual and informal ways in phrases like “it was rough living” and “dismal regular” (instead of dismally regular). And he uses a lot of double negatives like “I couldn’t stand it no longer.” These details add authenticity that capture the time and place and bring the characters to life. Idioms can be a great tool for this but must be used skillfully and handled well to avoid confusing or drowning readers.

To write dialogue well, it helps to go out and observe people as well as to read a lot. If you are writing a historical period, find movies, newsreels, and others books and observe carefully, taking notes, on how people talk, turns of phrase, idioms, etc. To write teenagers, go to Sam’s Club or Costco or Walmart and sit in the food court and listen or to a mall or theatre. Note how the teens speak to each other verses adults, how they address strangers verses friends, etc. Do the same with anyone else you need to study in whatever profession: from cops to priests, jewelers to plumbers and more. Writing down key observations in a notebook will create an invaluable resource to jog your memory later when the time comes to write various characters, especially if you want to find turns of phrase, idioms, or other idiosyncrasies you can employ to added authenticity and bring characters to life. You want dialogue to sound believable and real, after all, and that means you have to write it so it sounds natural while still performing all the dramatic functions beyond conversation that it must to move forward your story.

Sprunk-Schmidt Star Wars Rewatch: Our Wishes For Future Star Wars

Star Wars happy holidaysBTS: Jon, this has been a fun discussion. It’s reminded me of so many reasons why I like Star Wars, and has me mire excited than ever at the prospect of more.  When Disney made their announcement a few weeks back, I was surprised and reticent, but done well, this could be an amazing opportunity for fans. What are some things you’d like to see in future films?

JS: I want any new films to both honor the older films (esp. the original trilogy) — WITHOUT copying them (i.e., stop reusing the same exact dialogue quips) — and reach for something new. One good thing that the prequel movies did was they introduced new depth to the Jedi-Sith conflict. I’d like to see Jedi (and Sith) presented in some new, interesting ways. I want the new directors/writers to reach for new types of characters. Stop using the “scoundrel, bounty hunter, princess, droid sidekick” archtypes. Those only worked in the originals because they were fresh takes on old standbys. Develop new characters and character types. I’d really love a series of films based on Tim Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, but I don’t think we will.

BTS: It’s interesting to hear you mention good things the prequels did. It seems people are split on them. Old school trilogy fans tend to hate them for lacking the true spirit. Fans who had their first experience with them often call them superior for their special effects, etc. I thought the acting and character development and over reliance on CGI were their prime weaknesses. I liked the action and some of the new characters. I enjoyed the new settings and ships a lot as well. Were there other things you thought they did well? (We’ll get to the bad more after).

JS: I thought the fight scenes, especially the duel between Darth Maul and Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon, and then Yoda versus Palpatine and Obi-Wan versus Anakin in the third movie. Most of the space battles were also good. Ian McDiarmid’s performance as Palpatine was excellent, and I also enjoyed Liam Nielson and Ewan McGregor. Some of the CGI was beautiful. Other than those things, I wasn’t much of a fan.
BTS: McDiarmid, Neeson, McGregor, Portman and Jackson all didn’t need the hand holding that other actors did and did their best to rise above the weaknesses and, thus, stood out. I enjoyed the underwater sequence and the water planet concept. I really like the Council scenes on Coruscant and having the chance to see so many diverse creatures. The Jedi HQ and clone stuff interested me as well. Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christiansen were two big weaknesses. Sadly, I’ve seen Christiansen give decent performances elsewhere with director’s guidance. The films would have been much better with a director who guided the actors more. AND then there’s Jar Jar…
JS: I didn’t particularly like either incarnation of Anakin. Young Ani (ugh, that nickname… “Ani! Ani!”) was nice enough, but Lucas wasted the entire first movie by portraying Anakin as a young kid. I didn’t care one bit about his miraculous conception, his slave status, his pod race, or his crush on Amidala (and her eventual attraction to him is a little weird). And don’t get me started on his piloting of a starfighter at the climax–that was the height of absurdity. Then in the second movie we get Petulant Teenage Anikan. That was slightly better because at least his theatrics tied in somewhat with the plot, but it was still annoying as hell. I refuse to believe that Darth Vader came out of a whiny kid with a ponytail. Now, a brooding, quiet, loner kid? Yeah, that would make some sense. It kills me to say this, but the Harry Potter movies did it better, portraying young Voldemort as a dark, scary kid. That’s what the movies needed. Alas, Lucas has become addicted to candyland storytelling. I could almost stand Anakin in the third movie. The hair was a little 80s’ glam for me, but he finally came to posses a little of the Vader swagger, and his relationship with Obi-Wan started to take on a more realistic quality. As for Jar-Jar, I feel bad for the actor who played him, but it was one of the worst character choices in film history. At least Lucas started to realize his mistake and cut back on Jar-Jar’s screen time. What really makes me ill is that the prequel movies could have been good. The basic premise–the evolution of Vader–was powerful. Lucas just failed in the execution of major parts of those movies.
BTS: Agreed. They could have and should have been better. And I think we see him start to crack a bit with Return Of The Jedi, with Ewoks and other things that seem to have been part of the failure of those latter films. Empire, being directed by someone else, was still quite strong. And the first film, he’d done so many drafts and had so much input from studio, his now ex-wife, etc., that it was strong. It’s when we see those influences fade, when Lucas is so big he can do what he wants unchecked that his failures overcome his gifts sadly. I also afree that the Thrawn series would be amazing movies but given the role the original trilogy cast plays in those, and the age of those actors, I don’t see how it would be feasible without major changes. On top of that, they’d have to completely change the Star Wars timeline, unless they want to do the Tron3D aging trick they pulled with Jeff Bridges, and, even then, Hamill and Fisher would have to lose some serious weight to pass. But there are tons of storylines they can do, including something with their kids and other characters introduced later in the Expanded Universe, and I think they’d be wise to consider it. There’s a lot of mythology to build on that’s well established and well thought out and already existing and liked by fans. Why not use that stuff? I just hope they don’t pull a JJ Abrams-Star Trek scenario.
JS: Wow, you are reading my mind. I agree SOOOOOOOOOOOOO much with what you just said. Part of me wants the future movies to break away from the Skywalker and Solo families, but I understand that they could be a useful tether to the past films if handled properly. For instance, if Han and Leia’s kids kept muttering Han’s dialogue lines from the original movies (“I can arrange that! He could use a good kiss!”), I will leave the theater. Generational films/series require a deft touch that, frankly, Lucas did not possess. The new films need to be more than just enhanced-CGI versions of the previous movies. Entirely new themes and story arcs. New approaches to the Force–no midichlorians, ffs.
BTS: GEORGE, “some people are stronger in the Force” was an acceptable explanation for decades. We didn’t need you to dig deeper. *shakes head* Mid-chlorioans, my ass…. Sorry, I digress. But hey, the actors are older. I have no desire to see Leia in a bikini at middle age, and watching Han and Luke cough and grab their jiggling bellies mid-fight as two middle aged men running around would do, also has little appeal. On the other hand, give me Luke as Master of a Jedi Academy, and I’d be all over that. Han as negotiator and Leia and stateswoman also are perfect. They can still play key leadership roles without having to be the center of the action now. There’s an opportunity to recapture their personalities and the fun of their characters and use that bolster the introduction of new characters. If Star Wars as a franchise is going to have a future, they have to do that well, I think.JS: I think (hope) that’s what Disney has in mind, to allow those actors to come back in cameo roles, although they could definitely be more substantial roles if couched properly, as you said. They could also make movies about other events. The galaxy is a huge place with millions (if not billions) of inhabited worlds. What was everyone else doing while Luke and his friends battled the second Death Star? A series of films could carve out another sector of space where the war was being fought by different people, and how they react when the emperor is defeated. A galaxy of warlords–some imperial, others Alliance, and a bunch out for themselves–battling for control of the old empire is rich with possibilities.

BTS: Absolutely. I’d love to see other planets and races. This is a chance, for example, to make Lando no longer the only non-white in that era. Obviously, they had one in Amadala’s service as well as Mace in the prequels, but surely there are whole planets of humans with varied racial profiles, not to mention aliens, etc. And they could also explore some of the aliens we’ve already met more in depth such as Chewbacca, etc. I can imagine humorous scenarios with Han training pilots and getting annoyed with a cocky student and a little competition developing, etc. I also think they need to come up with a solid villain again. Vader is gone. And so is Palpatine. Maybe competing factions, maybe they can find new stories involving Thrawn somehow.
JS: I love those suggestions. I hope that someone at Disney is thinking the same way. This franchise has limitless potential. And the choice of villain, as in most action-adventure films, is key. They need a solid idea, and talented actors to pull it off. We could use a Heath Ledger’s Joker to up the ante.
BTS: A high caliber performance, yes. The darkness of the Batman films would spoil Star Wars, in my opinion. They have always had a hopeful lightness even at their darkness moments, unlike the Nolan films, and I think that’s part of the charm and should be preserved. I also think there’s an opportunity to introduce conflicting elements. With the Emperor and his lead henchman dead, why wouldn’t competing forces arise to threaten the Empire’s power? The Hutts, perhaps, or the Corporate Sector Authority as set forward in the Daley Han books. Surely there are plenty of options which could be explored to keep it more interesting. I’d also like to see them use the same level of humor. They can exploit the aging heroes and how age affects their ability to join the action as Lethal Weapon did so well, but they can also exploit the generational differences with new characters and even the cross cultural clashes inevitable with aliens.
JS: Yes, keep the charm of the franchise (lightsaber duels, starship battles, seat-of-the-pants heroics, etc…) and also strive to tell new stories. I think that’s the recipe for success. They could even do multiple film series at the same time, like the EU book series. I’m fine with a series of films that is tilted more Young Adult as long as there is also one or more series aimed at me, the aging SW nut who fell in love with the franchise back in ’77, too.
BTS: One of my writing goals, silly as it may sound, is to write a Star Wars tie-in. Just once, I want to play in that sandbox. I have several ideas but I know they’re assigned. My dream would be to do something with Han Solo in his later years, post-Chewie’s death (a storyline I don’t like but which has been done and offers great dramatic possibilities for the character nonetheless) where he takes in a young kid as apprentice. Have you ever thought of writing a tie-in novel?
JS: There aren’t many franchises for which I’d be willing to write a tie-in, but Star Wars is one of them. I don’t have any specific stories in mind, but I’m sure I could come up with a few ideas if given the chance. But my dream job (in addition to my writing) would be quality control for all future Star Wars movies. Just let me sit in during the storyboarding, the casting, the filming, and the editing and I could prevent so many problems from getting made in the first place. If we’re talking dreams-that-will-never-come-true, I’d love to tear apart the prequel movies and remake them from scratch.
BTS: I’d like to erase memory of them from my head for good and wait for your versions, sir. Heh, I’d give anything to script one of them but since my film school and screenwriting days are behind me, I consider that a “never going to happen” thing. But yeah, consulting would be a blast. We’d have a long line to wait in, though, I’d guess.  I’m glad we took time to revisit this though, Jon. And I think it’s a good reminder why we love them so much and how much they’ve affected us and inspired our work and our storytelling. Any fina thoughts as we close this out?

JS: I hope the Star Wars franchise enjoys a long life of more films, books, comics, and memorabilia. It’s a part of our national identity and it has served as a major influence in my life.

BTS: Well, I don’t know how I could say it any better than that, so, thanks for sharing this journey with us and Happy Holidays. We wish you a wonderful 2013 to come!

Intro & Invitation: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2012/11/11/announcing-the-sprunk-schmidt-star-wars-original-trilogy-rewatch-youre-invited/

A New Hope: http://jonsprunk.blogspot.com/2012/11/hello-friends-today-i-have-special-treat.html

Empire Strikes Back: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2012/11/26/sprunk-schmidt-original-trilogy-rewatch-empire-strikes-back/

Return Of The Jedi: http://jonsprunk.blogspot.com/2012/12/star-wars-discussion-iii.html

 

About Us:

Jon Sprunk grew up in central Pennsylvania, the eldest of four and attended Lock Haven University. He graduated with a B.A. in English in 1992. After his disastrous first novel failed to find a publisher, he sought gainful employment. Finally, after many more rejections and twists and turns of life, he joined Pennwriters and attended their annual conference in 2004. His short fiction has appeared in Cloaked in Shadow: Dark Tales of ElvesDreams & Visions #34 andCemetery Moon #4. In June 2009, he signed a multi-book contract with Pyr Books by whom his Shadow Trilogy dark fantasy series have been published. He can be found on twitter as @jsprunk70, on Facebook and via his website athttp://jonsprunk.com/.

 

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, a Ray Gun Revival Best Of Collection for Every Day Publishing and World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tips: Editorial Pet Peeves – All Of A Sudden/Suddenly

Although I am an editor myself,  my publisher rightly and smartly assigns me editors for my books.  The Founding Fathers built checks and balances into our government for a reason and, for similar reasons, they are invaluable in the editorial process. Bet you had no idea editing is so patriotic? Recently the editor who edits my Davi Rhii novels, Randy Streu, and I were discussing some editorial pet peeves. And I decided to do a series of these dialogues here which some of you may find helpful. This is the first. Others will follow as they come up. In this case, we’re discussing the annoyance of two overused cheats. One a phrase, the other a single word, used interchangeably for similar affect: “Suddenly” and “all of a sudden” in fiction. Let’s explain by example:

BTS: All of a sudden, Randy’s here.

Randy: Don’t start.

BTS: Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Welcome to the blog.

Randy: Thanks.

BTS: So, we were talking about editorial pet peeves and one of them is the use of “all of a sudden” and “suddenly” for dramatic impact, when they usually and ironically have the exact opposite effect.

Randy: Exactly. If you want drama, make it so.

BTS: All of a sudden, I feel like Commander Riker.

Randy: See? That usage feels natural, in dialogue, at least, because people say that: “All of a sudden, there you were. Suddenly, she appeared.”

BTS: Okay, so when doesn’t it work?

Randy: Pretty much anywhere else, but especially in narration.

An explosion knocked us from our feet mid-conversation as a 747 hit the houses behind us and set Randy’s hair on fire. We hadn’t even known the plane was there. I was unscathed, not a hair out of place, which annoyed him. “Nice hairspray,” he commented. “Thanks. Got it at the dollar store,” I replied.

Randy: Okay, that’s silly and ridiculous, but it works.

BTS: Because it’s unexpected.

Randy: Exactly.

BTS: And thus, it really comes on suddenly in effect and captures the intended dramatic impact rather than being slowed down by the words “all of a sudden” or “suddenly.” Because by the time you get to “sudden” or “ly,” whatever you’re describing is expected. You’ve foreshadowed it with a bullhorn, in effect.

So how should you do it? If you want to surprise your readers in a way that feels sudden, then don’t announce it, just make it happen.

Here’s an example from my second published novel, The Returning, which comes out June 19th. It’s the scene depicted on the book’s cover, in fact:

     “All right, what’s the plan?” Farien turned and joined Yao, looking at Davi as they rang the bell at the tower where Lord Niger kept a ground floor apartment. Amidst an elite grouping of residential high rises near the city center, the twin suns glinted off its shiny exterior, lending it a glow. “Home to the rich and mighty,” it seemed to say. Today one of their number would fall.

      “He’s not gonna like this,” Yao said.

      “He should have considered that before he betrayed our people,” Davi said as the door slid open to reveal a dark-skinned woman with her hair up. Her eyebrows rose in a question mark as she stared at them with concern.

      “We’re here to see Lord Niger,” Yao said.

      “My Niger’s in his study and can’t be disturbed right now,” the woman replied, Davi searched his mind for her name—Abena, if he remembered right.

      “I’m afraid he’ll have to be,” Davi said, extending his datapad.

      Abena’s expression changed to confusion. “What’s this? A warrant?”

      “It’s from the Palace, ma’am,” Yao said. “I’m afraid we really need to speak with your husband right away.”

      She scowled, shaking her head and stepping back inside, ripping the datapad from Davi’s hand as she did. The door slid shut.

      “Great! That was perfect!” Farien rolled his eyes.

      “You would’ve done better?” Davi shot him a look.

      Farien guffawed. “I always do better, Rhii. I think you’ve forgotten some of your diplomatic skills since you got demoted from Princehood.”

            Yao chuckled as Davi made a face. Then the wall beside them exploded in a shower of crumpled steel, broken glass and smoky dust. All three ducked and reached for their blasters, spinning around as their eyes panned for the cause of the blast. 

Okay let’s break this down. Davi, Farien and Yao arrive at a wealthy neighborhood to bring a member of the ruling Council in for questioning and are confronted by his unfriendly wife, who slams the door. In context, probably not so surprising. But the wall exploding is. Why? Because, although there’s inherent drama in what came before, the drama there comes from the tension between the people, not from the threat of violence or physical danger. With one fell swoop, or really, one sentence: “Then the wall beside them exploded in a shower of crumpled steel, broken glass and smoky dust” they go from laughing together and mildly frustrated to fighting for their lives.

Notice how I don’t use “suddenly” or “all of a sudden.” It still works. In fact, it’s better. I don’t need them. Because the suddenness of the jolting change in tone to the scene conveys it for me with much more power. And that’s what we’re talking about here. If you craft your story well, you don’t need to show your cards and your craft with such cheating words and phrases. Instead, the drama inherent in the story itself and how the elements or ordered by the writer, does the work for you. It’s why you’ll find readers, critics and editors often complaining whenever these overused cheats appear.

And don’t get us started on “in an instant,” “instantly,” “in a flash,” “without warning,” “unexpectedly,” “all at once,” “moments later” or “out of nowhere…” You can dress a sheep in clothes and it’s still a sheep.

What are other such pet peeves you’ve noticed in fiction or that you try and avoid? I’d love to hear yours in comments.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Randy Streu is a radio announcer, producer, father and husband who lives in Upper New York State. He’s also the co-founder and owner of Diminished Media Group, as well as its primary developmental editor. In addition, he’s a writer and edits Digital Dragon Magazine with Tim Ambrose, his cofounder/c0-owner of DMG. It’s rumored his picture inspired Bryan’s internal image of his antagonist in the Davi Rhii saga, Xalivar. But you know how rumors are.

Dialogue: How Golden Age SF Influenced The Worker Prince

This post originally ran on Jamie Todd Rubin’s blog as part of my blog tour for The Worker Prince. Jamie gave me permission to rerun it here so more of you can find it.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt: Well, Jamie, thanks for inviting me to your blog. I am a big fan of Golden Age Science Fiction, as are you, and I enjoy your updates as you take your nostalgic trip back through the pulp zines of old. In particular, I am a huge Leigh Brackett fan, but, of course, I’ve also been influenced by Robert Silverberg, who started out in the pulps, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Henry Kuttner, Edward Hamilton…so many. So much so, in fact, that when I wrote my space opera novel, I wanted to capture some of the magic feel I found in the pulp stories. Good v. evil, with clear cut bad guys, larger than life heroes, sidekicks, interesting aliens, space guns, space fighters, and also that good clean family fun. So many of those stories were meant to be read by fans of any age, and I wanted the same for The Worker Prince. If people can get lost in my world and escape into some fun for a bit, I’d feel very successful with it.

Jamie Todd Rubin: Let’s see, I’ve encountered Brackett, Asimov and Kuttner so far in my Vacation, but of course, I’ve read Silverberg, Blish and Bradbury elsewhere. One of the things that I find interesting is that these writers were, for the most part, at the beginnings of their careers. I’ve read 2 Brackett stories so far, and they haven’t been great, but over time you can actually see the improvement. You talk about stories that are meant to be read by fans of any age, and “good clean family fun.” I’ve often thought that at its heart, science fiction needs to entertain first and foremost, because how else can you expect to do anything else if you aren’t entertaining your reader? I’ve been criticized for this, but I still think it’s true and it sounds like that is what you are going for in The Worker Prince; something that anyone can pick up, start reading, and enjoy. That is not as common today as it was 70 years ago. There are some writers still doing this, but a lot of science fiction and fantasy writers are writing darker pieces, perhaps reflecting the time. I’ve listened to you interviewed and I know that The Worker Prince is more than just entertainment value. I wonder if you see part of it as a reaction to some of the darker fiction being published today?

 

BTSIt is interesting to see the development of writers like Brackett, Silverberg and others which you most certainly can over the course of their writing. I would say that I am reacting to the darkness of modern fiction, yes. I don’t personally enjoy over the top sex, foul language and violence. For me, it really has to serve the story and so often I think it’s there for shock value or a writer wanting to prove they reject “moral police” or something. It’s not even surprising anymore, that’s how over used it is. But more than that, in a time when we have faced so much darkness in the real world, where’s the inspiration stories of hope? Anti-heroes have, in a sense, become the new heroes. But the old fashioned heroes of old have disappeared. I remember when Captain America was ended because he had no flaws. He was too good for them to continue it. What is that? When did that become an issue? With moral problems in our politicians, celebrities and others being more and more front page news, perhaps our expectations have been forced to lower. But I still believe admirable heroes exist and that kids and adults both need them. Because they are so inspiring. Thirdly, I fell in love with science fiction as a kid and so much of that market today is questionably appropriate for kids below teenage and maybe even young adult. At least, parents should be aware of the content and involved in decision making. Call me old fashioned, I still believe parents screening exposure to some things for their kids is their responsibility and also healthy. I did some studies in college on the effects of content and they do influence people. I doubt that’s changed much twenty years later. So I wanted to write stuff like the pulps that kids and adults could both enjoy, something they could discuss as a family. Nothing preachy, per se, as I’ve mentioned on the podcasts, but something that inspires hope and a belief in heroism like so many Golden Age stories did. You have kids. How much do you monitor the content their exposed to and when would you stop wanting to?

JTR: It seems to me that this “shock value” was mostly (but not entirely) absent from Golden Age fiction in part because writers didn’t have television to compete with. I don’t watch much TV any longer (no time) but it seems to me that with rare exceptions, shows are aiming for shock value over storytelling. That said, there was a reaction to John Campbell’s notions of good fiction–what today we call “new wave” science fiction. But even the new wave stories didn’t seem gratuitous for the sake of being gratuitous. If anything, they were attempting to follow literary trends outside of science fiction to better legitimize the genre. Your question about suitability for kids is one that I am particularly interested in. I do have kids, but both of them are at this point too young to understand most of what appears in science fiction. I have, however, thought about how I would monitor what my kids were exposed to. I was fortunate. In my own case, my parents got me a library card and let me read whatever I wanted, telling me that if I had questions, I could come and ask them and we could discuss them. I think I’d want to do the same with my own kids. I don’t want to hem them in, but I want them to understand what it is they are reading, and be there for them to address any questions they might have about what they’ve chosen to read. Of course, as a science fiction writer and a big fan, I could certain urge them in the direction of works that I admire. But even this, I’d hesitate to do for the same reason that I try not to overtly make my boy into a New York Yankees fan: I don’t want him to rebel from it just because it is something I like. ;-)

It does raise a question in connection with your novel, however. As you’ve said, much Golden Age fiction was read by kids and adults alike. Do you find it difficult to write for such a wide audience? Or perhaps is the story clear enough for anyone? I recall Isaac Asimov writing that he never “talked down” when writing to children. The only change he ever made in his writing style was to take care with his vocabulary when writing for particularly young audiences. How is it that you write something that is accessible to both adults and youngsters?

BTS: My approach was similar to what Asimov described. I didn’t write down but I did watch my vocabulary. And I tried to be clear. I also tried to have a variety of strong characters, besides the leads, to connect with. And I found ways to incorporate elements in my world building which tie well to modern issues so people could recognize commonalities and connect, even kids. I avoided four letter words, sex and graphic violence and focused on descriptions which might stimulate the reader to fill in the gap. If you say “Xalivar cursed,” for example, every reader will fill in their own favorite curse word for you. I don’t have to explicitly state it. And the sophistication of the words will vary by age and other factors, of course. But I think that’s a great way to help readers become a part of the story, to draw them in. And I loved books that did that when I was younger. I can understand where you’re coming from about your kids, and certainly as one with no kids, I have limited experience. But I’ve read a lot of studies on how various content affects people and I certainly don’t want to be the one to negatively impact anyone so I tend to feel great responsibility for anything I put out there. And I also would likely want to oversee what my kids read at least to a certain age. I’d also follow your example and try not to push anything but also leave the dialogue open. That’s important. And my effort to write for a broader audience came from a desire to stimulate dialogue. I remember discussing The Hobbit with my dad and other stories as a family and how fun it was, how much I learned. I wanted to create an experience similar to that for readers through my book.

And I agree one hundred percent about the impact of television and movies. I think shock value is a selling point these days. And I think people are so used to more dark or gratuitous content and thus it’s become commonly accepted, even considered normal for good storytelling. But I do find that it often distracts because it can be done poorly in many cases. Not all, by any means. But I find that I work harder when trying to create tension and character and drama without using those shock tactics. I have to be more creative and that makes me a better writer.

JTR: There were some big works that emerged from the Golden Age. There were two Lensman novels by E. E. “Doc” Smith, for instance, published by the end of 1941. Between 1942 and 1950, Isaac Asimov published all of the stories that make up his original Foundation trilogy. Robert Heinlein published most of his Future History. For whatever reason, this established a pattern that lingers even today: science fiction lends itself to continuing story-lines and sequels. Indeed, in today’s market, it seems difficult to sell a standalone novel to a publisher, although often times, I find stand-alone novels enjoyable because there is less of a commitment–or perhaps because there is a deeper commitment to a single work. From the Golden Age, I think of L. Ron Hubbard’s Final Blackout as a fine example of a stand-alone. Today, a book like Robert J. Sawyer’s Rollback comes to mind. What are your plans with regard to The Worker Prince? Do you see this as a stand-alone novel, or is this a world that you want to revisit? Either way, where do you go next?

BTS: Well, I wrote The Worker Prince to feel like a standalone, although certainly strands remain which can obviously be explored further. The antagonist is still alive. And as I finished it I realized that there was more I could do, so it became a trilogy and I began to mentally map that out. I am almost finished with Book 2. Another polish pass and work on the ending. It’s called The Returning. Then Book 3, The Exodus will wrap things up. But if there’s demand, I’d love to do a prequel YA series of the adventures of Davi Rhii and his friends in their younger years. And then, after that, as is the trend, I’ll go back and change stuff I don’t like in the original trilogy to make them better, of course. (Just kidding).

I’m with you on standalones. Especially with the Chihuahua killing size of so many books these days. It’s just a real investment to ask a reader to make. Being not only a new writer but one who’s had that experience, I worked hard to keep my novel a smaller size and the sequels will follow that pattern. I also have an epic fantasy series which should be shorter than average and an urban fantasy series as well. I have a standalone steampunk book and a future steampunk book in the works as well. So much to write, so little time.


Jamie Todd Rubin is a science fiction writer and blogger. His fiction has appeared in Analog, Apex Magazine, and Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, and most recently through 40K Books. He writes the Wayward Time Traveler column on science fiction for SF Signal, as well as the Vacation in the Golden Age column on his website. Jamie attended James Gunn’s online fiction writing workshop in 2008. He is a member of the Young Gunn’s writers group, the Codex writers group, and the Arlington Writers Group. He is an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎

The Worker Prince is the story of a prince who discovers he was born a slave. When he raises objections about the abusive treatment of slaves, he finds himself in conflict with both friends and families. After a tragic accident, involving the death of a fellow soldier, Davi Rhii winds up on the run. He then joins the worker’s fight for freedom and finds a new identity and new love. Capturing the feel of the original Star Wars, packed with action, intrigue and interweaving storylines, The Worker Prince is a space opera with a Golden Aged Feel. 

4 5-star & 11 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

Write Tip: 10 Tips For Writing Dialogue Better

Writing dialogue can be a challenge for some writers more than others, but it’s an extremely important part of good fiction. There are many tools and techniques one can use, the most important being to use your powers of observation. By listening to dialogue of the real people around you, you can learn how people talk, especially people of different socioeconomic, educational and age groups. But there are craft elements involved as well. Here’s 10 Tips For Writing Better Dialogue:

1) Use Simple Tags Sparingly. Fancy tags like “he expostulated” or “she espoused” are less clear and more distracting than anything. So keep the tags simple when you absolutely must use them. Instead, convey the manner in which a character speaks instead. Make it obvious from what is said.

2) Instead Of Tags, Use Actions. People talk while actively engaging in activities. So should your characters. Giving them business to do during dialogue allows you to identify who’s speaking without resorting to overused tags. Some can come in the form of characterizing the speaker: “His eyebrows lifted with menace,” for example. “Bob’s fist clenched as he spoke.” “Tears rolled down her cheek with every word.”

3)  Avoid Expositional Dialogue When Possible. We’ve all violated this rule, but especially when two characters should already know the information being imparted, it seems unnatural and distracting. In such cases, internal monologue is a better tool and more natural. Characters may think about stuff they already know but they wouldn’t tell each other stuff each of them knows.

4) Keep It Short. People talk in choppy sentences. Long soliloquies are rare. So in dialogue, use a combination of short sentences to make it flow and feel like real people talking. Let them interrupt each other, too. People do that in real life. It adds to the pace, tension and drama of it.

5) Avoid Phonetic Spellings For Accents. They are difficult to read. Indications of dialect can be used instead to get the reader to do the rest.  Overuse of a dialect becomes distracting to readers and can actually take them out of the story. Keep the words your characters say as unobtrusive as possible so your story flows seamlessly.

6) Dialogue Is Conflict. Conflict keeps the story moving. People talk like they’re playing table tennis–back and forth. This moves the story forward. Lace your dialogue with conflict. It adds dramatic urgency to every line the characters say and keeps the story’s pace.

 7) Use Other Characters. Let a character imply who’s speaking to them by saying something specific to only that person. If you use business well (see number 2 above), having a character refer to something the other character is doing is a great way to do this.

8 ) Give Each Character A Distinctive Voice. Overdo it and its caricature but we all have our own speech tics. Create some for your characters and sprinkle them throughout. Readers will learn them and know who’s speaking. For example, Captain Jack Sparrow loves the term of affection: “love” and uses that a lot. He also says “Savvy?” a great deal as well. He has others you can probably remember, too. Study characterization and see what other writers have done.

9) Speak It Aloud. Talk it out. Get inside the heads of your characters and say the lines. Play out the conversation you’ve written. Does it sound natural? Does it flow? Your ear is often a better judge than your eyes and hearing it will give you an idea how readers will hear it.

10) Remember What Medium You’re Writing For. TV and Film dialogue and novel dialogue are not necessarily the same.  There is no third party to use intonation, facial expressions and/or body language to bring it to life. Your words alone are the conduit between yourself and the reader and your prose skills and the readers’ imaginations make it work.

Well, those are my 10 Tips of the moment for writing better dialogue. Do you have any others? We’d love for you to share them in the comments.

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Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

3 5-star & 6 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh$14.99 tpbhttp://bit.ly/qIJCkS

Preorder THE RETURNING here for June 19th release!

Two Writers In Dialogue: A Conservative Evangelical And A Gay Liberal Can Be Friends? Part 2

This is Part 2 of a post which began on Anthony’s blog at http://anthonycardno.com/?p=309.  Comments are only allowed here to ensure people read both halves before commenting. After all, this is a dialogue about avoiding miscommunication and assumptions. And we’re not looking for you to agree with our opinions nor to convince you of them. Comments will be moderated.

BTS: Listening is a dying skill these days One of my profound frustrations today is how people get labeled bigot just for having religious beliefs that marriage is sacred and between a man and a woman. As you know, I have no issue with civil unions. But we disagree on gay marriage. Yet we agree that gays shouldn’t be discriminated against and should have rights for their partners. Some label me a bigot just for that. But I don’t feel like a bigot.

ARC: Do I think your view, that marriage is only between a man and a woman while civil unions are for all, makes you a bigot? No, I don’t. Your actions speak louder than a one-sentence summary of your belief. I can see how people reading that one sentence might think you a bigot, because they’re reacting to one idea out of context — they’d need to know the full Bryan Thomas Schmidt to understand just where that statement is coming from. Another problem with our society is this penchant for the “sound bite:” let’s not look at a man’s words in the context of who he is and what situation he’s in, let’s take the sentence that is most likely to incite high emotion, and therefore high ratings.  Look, if I thought for a second you were a bigot, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and you know that because you know me. Again, you have the right to think “marriage is only one man and one woman,” and I have the right to think “marriage is any two individuals.” Those thoughts alone don’t make either of us a bigot. And we can disagree on the definition of marriage and still be friends.

BTS: Because we are more than the sum of any one issue, yes, we can. Why don’t more people know that? Anyway, we also have a lot more in common than we do different. While you’re being gay profoundly shapes you and your worldview and even, perhaps, politics to some degree, and my Christianity does the same for me, when we look beyond that, we have a lot in common and once you realize that, it’s hard to just dismiss somebody as unrelatable. In fact, it’s hard to not want to relate to someone because in reality the number of people you find with this much in common can be rare. So accepting you for who you are dealing with things respectfully means I get a great, valuable friendship and a needed perspective. I certainly hope it does the same for you with me.

ARC: Oh, it absolutely does the same for me. It probably comes down to this: I don’t enjoy being told I’m wrong, but I do enjoy being challenged. It’s okay to make me think and as you said earlier, it is beneficial to have to defend your worldview. There’s a difference between defending and being defensive, of course. And what works about our friendship is that when we move beyond our commonalities, we’re able to question and defend without being defensive. I mean, how much fun was it the night we met up for dinner, rambling through a dozen hot-button topics (Obama! Evangelism! Whether Self-Publishing is Good or Evil!) and then having the family at the next table ask us if we were brothers? I realize part of their reaction was the “two guys in their 40s with glasses” deal, but I think part of it was how we were bantering and disagreeing without arguing.

BTS: You’re saying I’m not as handsome as you? Is that what you’re really saying? I mean, come on, I have enough girls mocking me without you doing it.

ARC: To quote David Letterman, “once again, Bryan, you have crystallized my thoughts eloquently.”

BTS:  Wow. That’s just cold.  LOL Anyway, yes, we do cover a lot of subjects. We have fun, even teasing each other, and in the end, who gives a crap what our sexuality is? It must be someone other than me, because I could care less.

ARC: And the same can be said for our religious beliefs. I have yet to have a conversation with you where I felt religion was being thrown in my face. The same can’t be said for every Evangelical I’ve met.

BTS: Well, what good would it do to throw my beliefs in your face? What good would it do for you to throw yours in my face? It would just destroy our relationship. And since I know it’s a valuable relationship because I took the time to listen and get to know you, then that would be stupid. I have had people I always considered smart and friends unfollow me on Twitter for disagreeing with me. It’s been very hurtful. I listen to their opinions even when they offend me. I fight the urge to respond as necessary, attempt to be thoughtful when I do respond, and yet they don’t follow, which to me is like saying “I don’t care what you have to say.” And that is all too common these days amongst people with differences. I think it’s destroying our unity as a country and our morale as a society.

ARC: Unfortunately, I think of the downsides to social media (as opposed to in-person socialization) is how much easier it gets to be rude, dismissive or outright threatening. Things people would never have the guts to say in person spew easily from their Twitter accounts and Facebook profiles. I’ve become so much more aware of it in myself in the past year or so thanks to posting book reviews on Livejournal and now the interviews and blog posts on my own website that I now take a step back when I’m about to lay into a service professional of any kind. I try to think how I’d feel.

BTS: Oh I get testy with those people if they provide bad service or don’t know what they’re doing but they have several chances first. But I do think you’re right about the downsides. And I think it’s also a shift in culture. I never liked Political Correctness, which to me feels like a form of forced censorship or morality. It’s so arbitrary, too—whatever offends the most people is on the list and what doesn’t isn’t. But at the same time, maybe we’ve gone too far the other way. I don’t know a lot of people who could talk about things we talk about as calmly as we do and stay friends. And as far as my religious beliefs, they are complicated. And they are mitigated by two beliefs I hold dear. One is my belief in the depravity of man. I believe all of us are sinners and depraved and since God doesn’t rank sin in the bible, except blaspheming the Holy Spirit, we are all equally sinful. Second is my belief that Jesus taught and modeled loving others above ones self first. That means that you love the sinners, regardless of your feelings about the sin. Christians throw that around like a cliché but was does it mean to live it? It means, even if I believe homosexuality is a sin, I cannot treat you as if I am the judge or any better because I am a sinner too. The Scriptures also make it clear that God is the judge. And frankly, I don’t want the job. Would you?

ARC: God please no! I spend enough time sitting in judgement on myself, I don’t need to add sitting in final judgment of others to the mix. We are, it seems, the odd birds out in the fact that our conversations stay friendly despite the hot-button topics. I obviously do not think homosexuality is a choice at all. And I’ll defend to the death your right to think I’m wrong. Of course, you express that opinion much less violently than many people do. And again, that’s why we get along — we disagree, we know we disagree, but we also don’t resort to anger and violence to try to persuade the other person he is wrong.

BTS: Well, I actually am surprised you know that. I don’t remember specifically discussing it. But in any case, the reality of it is, even if it is a choice, I make sinful choices, and so I am in no place to judge anyone else for theirs. And it’s far more complicated than simple judgment calls can address anyway, isn’t it? But for me, the more important thing is another of my core beliefs: we are all made in the image of God, as human beings. If you are in God’s image, then to disrespect you is to disrespect God Himself, isn’t it? And that’s a choice I refuse to make.

ARC: What I really meant to say, but mangled it, was that IF you thought I was wrong, I’d defend your right to think it.  But you’ve hit on something we agree on: we are all in God’s image. I believe that, no matter what version of the Creator someone may choose to worship. And again, this sort of brings us back to the question that started it all: why are we friends? Because we have more in common than we don’t have. Setting belief aside for a moment, we also agree on, for instance, the concept that writing every day, even if what you write is total crap, is far more beneficial than not writing on any given day.

BTS: Oh absolutely. As long as you can stomach your own crap. Just kidding. But we also both love reading, love books, love Scrabble, love Science Fiction and Fantasy, love people, and we love to laugh. That’s a lot right there.

ARC: Yes, we do love Scrabble, enough to both gracefully lose to each other and rub it in each other’s faces when we win. And yet we also seem united in our disdain for Words With Friends, so there are even some things we dislike together! I think you’re a far more committed SF/F fan than I am, though. Matters of degree, really, but I need to bounce between genres, which is why right now I’m reading a memoir (Jane Lynch’s HAPPY ACCIDENTS), a noir-ish crime thriller (Lawrence Block’s GETTING OFF) and a fantasy (Jay Lake’s ENDURANCE). But it was our mutual love of SF/F that connected us in the first place. So it all comes back to that common ground: we can be friends despite the fact that the stereotypes of “gay” and “Evangelical” say we should be at odds, because what we have in common far outnumbers our differences.

BTS: Don’t forget our mutual passion for Sherlock Holmes. I mean, come on, and pulp books and stories? Speaking of which, we need to wrap this up because you have a column to write. So thanks for dialoguing with me. I hope it helps others to realize there’s value in friendship despite differences. Who knows what golden experiences they could miss out on by not giving people who differ from them a chance? I wouldn’t pass up our friendship for anything.

ARC: Nor would I, my friend. And I proudly call you that, and will continue to! Thanks for instigating this conversation. I hope it makes some folks think about mutual respect and perhaps second chances.

BTS: Indeed. May it encourage them to dialogue and reach out like we have to be enriched. If you live inside a box, you get stale. Only by stepping outside the box does your world expand to colors you never knew existed and I sure love a rainbow in my life. Anyway, let’s open this to comments and jointly ask people: a little snarkiness is hard to avoid sometimes, as we realize these are challenging topics these days but we will approve all posts so any foul language, insults, disrespect, etc. will not even be posted nor will it be responded to. These posts are for productive dialogue and that’s what we want to see here. Please respect that.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Flash Fiction: At The End Of The Road

The prompt was this picture. I imagined what would happen if my friends Tim, Randy, and I took a road trip to seek some profound conclusion and found this at the end of the road. And here’s what I came up with in 5 minutes. It should be noted that our regular banter is not that different from this. Although I did a bit of role reversal for fun.

“What the hell?”

“That’s it?”

Tim blanched, his eyes radiating confusion as we stared at him. “There’s got to be something more.”

“You dragged us 500 miles for this?” Randy was clearly ready to explode. “It’s a freaking question mark, Tim!”

“Actually, it’s a sign with a question mark on it.” As usual, Tim knew the right moment for a snarky reply.

“In the middle of nowhere!”

I put my hand gently on Randy’s arm. “Look. We’re here now, so let’s look around and take a deep breath.” The sweltering heat oppressed my lungs as I breathed, and I felt a trickle of sweat rolling down from my forehead across the arch of my nose.

“The air is fetid, dry, hot. It’s totally desert. Oh look! Another cactus. It’s totally unlike the other six I saw in turning to discover it!” Randy expelled breath loudly and pushed away my hand. “Waste of time, gas. Half a day gone!”

“Where there’s a question, there’s an answer,” Tim said. “Remember what pastor always says?”

“Hmph. I’d like to see him out here in this heat after a long drive preaching that crap.” Randy shook his head.

Tim and I looked at each other and started to laugh.

“What is so funny?” Randy frowned, arms crossing over his chest as he shot darts at us with his eyes.

“You are, man. Chill out. We all wanted to come. Made the decision together.”

“Don’t you start, too,” Randy snarled at me.

I shrugged. “Just speaking the truth.”

“With love,” Tim added, grinning. We both laughed again.

“You two are idiots.”

“Maybe, but what does that make you?”

“Shut up, Bryan,” Randy rolled his eyes at me, but a grin forced itself onto his face.

“Well, since we’re here, we might as well take a picture.” Tim fumbled with the camera case as it dangled around his neck.

The piercing West Texas sun cut into the skin on the back of my neck like a blade.  “Hurry then before we all fry.”

“Just follow the signs, you’ll find the answer,” Randy grumbled.

“Hey! We know never to waste our time on those signs again, don’t we?” Tim said as he attached the camera to the tripod and set the timer.

“I was hoping for a more profound answer than that.”

“Stop whining and smile.” Tim slipped in on the opposite side of Randy, our arms around his shoulders as we smiled and waited for the familiar click.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the forthcoming space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.