Monday, October 20, 2014

Say What? Simple Ways to Make Dialogue Tags Disappear

"There is nothing so annoying as to have two people talking when you're busy interrupting." Mark Twain

"John," Mary said, "I love you."
"Mary, I love you, too!" John declared.
"But what about Evan?" Mary cried. "We're to be married tomorrow!"
"My brother!" John exclaimed. "He's ruined every good thing in my life, and now--"
"Stop!" Mary interjected. "All of this--it's not fair to Evan, but..."

Shall I go on? I think not. First of all, there's nothing wrong with using "said" as a dialogue tag. It's like the ugly chain link fence that when painted black, becomes invisible. Readers are less likely to notice "said," because it easily blends in.

Too many different verbs are distracting, as in the example above. But that doesn't mean you can't use different verbs at all. You might want to say something stronger like hissed or spat for certain situations, but not too often. And make sure the words you choose in those instances have lots of s's that create an actual hissing sound or flying spittle!

You probably know, however, that dialogue tags aren't necessary for each line of dialog. Plain old dialogue can be used for several lines, or gestures can be used in place of tags. Just don't overdo the gestures.

Mary ran a hand through her hair. "John, even though it's not fair to Evan, I can't live without you."
John sighed. "Mary, we'll have to tell him."
Mary eyes widened. "But there's no telling what he'll do! He might--"
"Don't worry." John embraced her. "Even though he's a convicted felon, he's been through anger management." John kissed her neck. "Everything will be fine. Trust me."

You get the message. Now, one last word on dialogue tags. Make sure they really are dialogue tags. People don't smile, laugh or gasp their words. Here's one last example that correctly incorporates everything discussed today:

"Oh, John, you're impossible!" Mary laughed.
He smiled. "I know."
A door opened. Evan stepped from the closet. "Just what are the two of you trying to pull?"
Mary gasped, pulling from John's embrace. "How much have you heard?"
"I've heard enough! My own brother, and the woman I love!" When Evan reached in his pocket, John stepped in front of Mary.
"What?" Evan said. "You think I have a gun?" He pulled out a granola bar and unwrapped it. "As far as I'm concerned the two of you deserve each other with all that rotten dialogue!"

I suppose you've probably read enough, so I'll stop now! But I hope this tip on dialogue tags has been helpful!

Any advice you'd like to share on dialogue tags? Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

Reprinted from 12/27/10

Monday, October 13, 2014

What's the Story Behind Your Name?

Sultry Kristen Stewart as Isabella in Twilight
"Words have meaning and names have power."  Unknown

Unless we choose a stage name or pseudonym, or legally change our names, we're stuck with the monikers given to us by our parents for life.  Some parents put a lot of time and consideration into this by scouring baby name books.

While some future moms and dads want a name that's pleasing to the ear, others may choose one for its strong symbolic meaning, as well, for example, Gerald: mighty with the spear.  A name chosen for a baby could be one passed from generation to generation, or perhaps taken from the Bible.  Historical heroes and heroines can be popular name choices, too.

But not everyone puts that much thought into the naming process.  A friend of mine from college said that when she was born, her father asked two nurses what their names were.  One was Karen, the other Sue.  So my friend was named Karen Sue!  That was easy.

Beautiful Natalie Wood as Maria in West Side Story
Lots of name choices are influenced by popular culture.  During the Depression, many little girls were named Shirley, after child movie star Shirley Temple.  I know someone who was spared that fate when her father insisted she be named Carmen!  She's ever thankful for his intervention and loves the more exotic and mysterious name chosen for her instead.

The girl name Madison was inspired by the 1984 movie Splash.  Nowadays, Isabella is one of the most popular girl names because of the books and films in the Twilight series.   I read an article not long ago about popular baby names inspired by films and found myself sneering.  "It's amazing how many parents name their kids after characters in movies," I thought condescendingly.  But then I had to scold myself.

Ever heard of West Side Story?  My mom was pregnant with me when she saw it.  My name would've been Carol, but after hearing the song "Maria," you can figure out the rest of the story.  I, along with probably hundreds of thousands of other little girls in the U.S. (of non-Hispanic origin), was named Maria, back in...well, it was a long time ago.

Although a name is a serious thing, once in a while, you hear some that sound as though they were chosen on a whim.  Several years ago, my husband overheard a conversation in the grocery store between two women.  One was quite excited because she'd found the perfect name for her soon to be born daughter.  "Formica Dinette!" She exclaimed happily to her friend.  "I saw it in the Sears Catalog!"  For the child's sake, I hope someone talked her out of that!

What's the story behind your name? Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

Reprinted from 9/29/10.

Monday, October 6, 2014

He Says, She Says

Men and women are different--especially where communication is concerned! Ever struggle with gender specific dialogue in your fiction writing? Hope these tips will help!

Men are more direct and brusque in tone. They use simpler vocabulary with fewer modifiers, and are likely to use one word responses and shorter sentences.  Instead of talking about people and feelings, they’d rather talk about things.  

Women, however, love talking about people and relationships.  Their language is softer, and they’re more likely to talk around a subject.  “I’m not too happy about this,” she might say, while he says, “I’m mad as hell!”  Women express themselves in complete sentences, and want to share their feelings.

Today, I thought I'd pass this article along from the website Your Tango, written by Richard Drobnick of The Mars and Venus Counseling Center. It provides some information to keep in mind when writing dialogue from the perspective of the opposite sex.

He believes communication should have a clear purpose. Behind every conversation is a problem that needs solving or a point that needs to be made.

She uses communication to discover how she is feeling and what it is she wants to say. She sees conversation as an act of sharing and an opportunity to increase intimacy with her partner.

He prioritizes productivity and efficiency in his daily life, and conversation is no exception. When he tells a story he has already sorted through the muck in his own head, and shares only those details that he deems essential to the point of the story. He might wonder, "Why do women need to talk as much as they do?" Often he will interrupt a woman once he has heard enough to offer a solution.

She uses communication to explore and organize her thoughts — to discover the point of the story. She may not know what information is necessary or excessive until the words come spilling out. But a woman isn't necessarily searching for a solution when she initiates a conversation. She's looking for someone to listen and understand what she's feeling.

Do you have any tips to make dialogue sound more feminine or masculine?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!  

Reprinted from 2/15/13.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Librarian of Mystery

No one ever thinks of a librarian as having an exciting life or harboring a scandalous secret.  However, not long ago I stumbled upon a very fascinating librarian that I'd never heard of.

Belle da Costa Green's life (1883-1950) is chronicled in Heidi Ardizzone's book An Illuminated Life: Journey from Prejudice to Privilege.  What did da Costa Greene have to give up in order to achieve the dream of a lifetime?  

This sensational woman lit up New York society while working as J.P. Morgan's personal librarian, all the while, hiding a past that would have prevented her success. In 1905, J. P. Morgan hired Belle da Costa Greene to organize his rare book and manuscript collection.  At this time, she only had a few years of experience to recommend her, along with a dynamic personality.

Ten years later, she had shaped the famous Pierpont Morgan Library collection.  She'd also become a proto-celebrity in New York and the art world, renowned for her self-made expertise, acerbic wit, and flirtatious relationships.

She has been described as a sensual and beautiful woman, known for her exotic look  and designer wardrobe.  She once said, "Just because I am a librarian, doesn't mean I have to dress like one."

Here's her secret:  Greene was born into a family African Americans.  To cover this up, she changed her name and created a Portuguese grandmother to gain entry into white society. By entering a new world, she dined at the tables of high society, as well as those of bohemian artists and activists.

J.P. Morgan left her $50,000 in his will.  Nowadays that would be around $800,000!  When asked if she was Morgan's mistress, she is said to have replied, "We tried!"

Da Costa Green never married, but had a long lasting romantic relationship with the Renaissance Italian art expert Bernard Berenson.

Fascinating story, fascinating librarian! For more insight on her, click here.

Had you ever heard of Belle da Costa Green? And by the way, do you know of any fascinating, mysterious librarians?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Reprinted from 7/16/12.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Suzie's Sloppy Joes


I love Sloppy Joes, and this particular recipe is for the crock pot.  Slow cooked and luscious, this dish, also known as a loose-meat sandwich, is sure to please the pickiest eaters!

After visiting the famous Sloppy Joes bar in Key West Florida, I assumed that that's where the name for the sandwich was born. Turns out, it's hard to pinpoint the exact origin.  According to Kerry's Island Kitchen, its history is full of contradictions.

The owners of a restaurant in Sioux City, Iowa, where the lose meat sandwich is popular, claim that they had a cook once named Joe, and  the sloppy sandwich was named after him.  And of course, Sloppy Joe’s in Florida says they coined the name.

What's in a name? Taste is what's important, and I can't wait until you taste these! Throw some together this weekend and enjoy!

By the way, I don't know who Suzie is, but this recipe comes from a great book purchase I made at the dollar store called Easy Home Cooking All New Slow Cooker.

Suzie's Sloppy Joes 

3 lbs lean ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 cups ketchup
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
5 T Worcestershire sauce
4 T brown sugar
3 T perpared mustard
3 T vinegar
2 t chili powder
Hamburger buns

Brown ground beef, onion, and garlic in small saucepan. Drain fat.

Combine ketchup, bell pepper, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, mustard, vinegar and chili powder in slow cooker. Stir in beef mixture. Cover and cook on LOW 6 to 8 hours. Spoon onto burger buns. Makes 8-10 servings.

I didn't know there were so many names for "the loose-meat sandwich" until I did a little research today.  For instance, in southern Illinois, it's called a Yip Yip, in Nebraska, a Yum Yum and in Northern Pennsylvania, a Wimpie.What are Sloppy Joes called where you live?

Thanks for stopping by, and have a great weekend!

Reprinted from February 4, 2011.