10 Dialogue Tips To Make Your Novel Shine

Yvonne Montgomery:

I’ve been working on making my characters’ dialogue more distinctive and honing their actions to make them more in the scene.
Here’s some wonderful advice for spiffing up dialogue from Shannon Donnelly on the Writers in the Storm blog. Great stuff.

Originally posted on Writers In The Storm Blog:

Dialogue_Photopin By Shannon Donnelly

Great dialogue can make or break a novel.

This view may stem from growing up watching a lot of 1930’s screwball comedies. Zingers fly with rapid fire and everyone talks. A lot. But the importance of dialogue really sank in when I wrote A Proper Mistress. I went for a lot of dialogue in that book and it went on to be one of my best selling romances.

We all know great dialogue when we read it—and the best dialogue seems effortless. But good dialogue takes work, sometimes needing multiple edits and thinking it over and totally revising a scene. It also takes a few key ingredients.

1) Give Your Characters Unique Voices.

Can you tell who is talking without any tags to make this obvious?

You have to get your characters talking in order to find their voices. And each character needs a distinct voice.


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The Year of the Duck: writing with a Mona Lisa Smile


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This is my year of the ducks.

This is my year of the duck.

Every January I’m imbued with a feeling of possibility. It’s a new year. A period has been added to the last sentence of 2013, and a shiny 2014 is available to fill with ideas, words, and work. I’ve decided to dedicate this year to one of my favorite creatures.

This is my year of the duck.

Ducks are masters of land, sea, and air. They view life with a Mona Lisa smile, and are willing to plumb the depths for sustenance, leaving their heads beneath the surface and their tail feathers vulnerable to the breeze. Awkward at times, graceful at others, they go about their business with enthusiasm.

In the coming twelve months of writing I’ll try to let go of fear standing in the way of expression. I’ll develop a smile to face down the moments when words hide from me like minnows under rocks. When I want to turn away from the computer to find distraction, I’ll focus on my characters until they talk to me and show me the paths they want to follow. I’ll float on the pond of ideas lightly, lightly, and swim my way to the ends of the stories I need to tell.

I’ll stop once in a while to preen my feathers, to feel good about what I’ve written rather than letting the perfectionist-voice whisper criticism to take away my pleasure in what I’ve captured on the page. And I’ll fly high enough to see entire landscapes populated by characters I want to explore.

It’s the year of the duck.

Not done yet, but I’m thankful…


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I said out loud I was aiming to complete A Signal Shown by the end of November. It’s not going to happen, but I’ve written a lot so all is not lost. Here goes another challenge: I’m aiming to finish it by the end of December, holidays or no holidaImageys.

As for the random viruses, crises, and have-tos of the season: can we coexist peacefully?

Congratulations to all the NaNoWriMo participants. I hope  you met your goals.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. I’m grateful to family and friends who not only support my endeavors, but also accept my disappearing for weeks (months!) at a time to tell myself stories.


I’ve been workin’ on the novel, all the livelong day…



j0309662In a moment of insanity buoyed by brainless hope, I announced to the Universe that I was working to finish A Signal Shown, Book Two of the Wisdom Court series, in November. Hence the absence.

Just checking in to report that the words are flowing, the page stack’s growing, and I don’t know if I’ll be done by December 1, but I am getting there.

So, to all the writers out, there, some of you involved with NaNoWriMo, good luck, keep churning out those words and I’ll do the same.


Book Beginnings: Plot Threads, the Halloween Edition


I’ve lived long enough to believe in ghosts, not to say I’ve ever met a vaporous shade on the stairs. I’m haunted by memories of people I’ve loved and hated who are dead now; by regrets of actions done and left undone; by unwritten story ideas that don’t go away; by a deepening knowledge that someday I will go away. This time of year, as light dwindles and leaves fall, I appreciate the leering jack-o-lanterns and tilting headstones appearing in neighborhood yards. It’s the perfect time to exhume more thoughts about plot threads.552050_340069802746868_1757767987_n

We’re advised to write about what we know. We’re told to read everything we can of the fiction genres we like. When I suffered the fatal writer’s epiphany, throwing a novel I’d been reading across the room, declaring “I can do better than that!”, I’d read lots of mysteries and figured I could write one.

But what did I know? What could I write about?

I knew how it feels to be so angry at a person I wanted to kill her. I understood how someone could feel outside his own life, as though he were acting a part instead of interacting with the people he saw everyday. I’d worked with cops and social agency staffers, and I knew several distinct personality types who end up in those jobs. I knew a lot about feeling uncertain and yearning to accomplish something I wasn’t sure I could do. Those personality traits gave birth to my first protagonist, Finny Aletter, the burned-out Denver stockbroker who discovers by accident that she really loves rehabbing her old house and might want to make the activity her new career.  My husband and I were making our century-old house livable, and I used my own work stripping and refinishing wood, sanding and painting, caulking and polishing to supply Finny with a desire to use her hands instead of her killer instincts as a broker.

Finny had to be more than conflicted about her job, so I gave her an ex-lover, who was also her boss, a lingering affection for him standing in the way of her giving notice. The police detective investigating the requisite murder let me use my own lustful thoughts (but not actions–sigh) toward several men who, in composite, became Chris Barelli. His occasionally asshole behavior was based on several men I’d known. The killer, and motives thereof, gave me the most fun, since I was able to channel vitriol I’d built up over a lifetime of swallowing anger to convince the world I was a “good girl.” I added some ragpickers wandering through Denver alleys and a lost literary manuscript (a nod to my English lit degree) and wrote and revised for years. A wonderful editor at Arbor House, Liza Dawson, took me under her wing. Finally, Scavengers, now titled Scavenger Hunt in ebook form, came to be.

Plot threads are woven from dandelion fluff in the mind, bits and pieces observed, felt, wished. When such ephemera is combined with years of reading, and with what is learned from teachers, a novel can come to be. The most influential for me was Lawrence Block, whose fiction column in Writer’s Digest taught me the basics. He is the most insightful writer on writing I’ve ever encountered, and one of the best writers, period.

So, what do you know? What do you feel? What have you observed? What can you weave from those threads?

Happy writing.

Wisdom Court and Halloween

from the El Paso County website

One of my inspirations in writing the Wisdom Court books is an ongoing fascination with hauntings. I’ve long loved spooky stories about strange sounds and cold mists, about encounters with spirits who do not rest. I’ve scared myself silly with ghost movies, and I’ve been forced to look under the bed before I can go to sleep.

I live in Denver, a city with many haunted sites, one of the most notorious being Cheesman Park, not far from my home. It’s a beautiful expanse of grass and trees, and at the  top of a rise there’s a pavilion overlooking Capitol Hill and the Rocky Mountains. By the appearance of the park, and the wide array of people who enjoy it, you’d never know it was once the site of Mount Prospect Cemetery. Moreover, you’d never dream there are bodies under the grass, and, according to some, their spirits walk.  On a cloudy evening it’s not hard to discern lower spots in the grass where bones may still lie. Several were discovered during repairs made to the sprinkler system a few years ago. Some of the homes near the park are reportedly haunted by the spirits whose graves were disturbed. Below is a link to the history of Cheesman Park and its sad history.

Happy Halloween.


Picture credit: cheesmanpark.net

A Challenge to Writers

Yvonne Montgomery:

This post is so inspiring, I have to share it with you. We all need to climb onto the motorcycle.

Originally posted on Writers In The Storm Blog:

Live to Ride – Write to Live

By Laura Drake

Most of you know me on some level – I am not an ‘old soul.’ Seriously. My method is to make every mistake possible until I finally bumble across the way that works for me. I was the one who hung back for decades, stuck in fear and my own opinions of myself.

What helped change that for me, was a motorcycle.

My first bike Crop

My first bike.

I rode 100,000 miles behind my husband on his motorcycle. Every vacation and three weekends out of four, we spent on two wheels. In the boring stretches, I’d prop a paperback on his back and read. Got some weird looks, but I loved it. I was content.

Then the Universe intervened. On our way home from a ten day vacation, at dusk outside Kingman Arizona, a dog ran in front of our bike. A big…

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Book Beginnings: Plot threads, part one


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997995-097For me a book begins with a kernel of an idea I need to explore.  My soon-to-be published e-book, Edge of the Shadow, sparked into life when I read an article about the MacArthur Awards, the genius grants.  Six accomplished individuals had been chosen to receive a healthy chunk of money, though I don’t remember exactly how much.  A hundred thousand? Two hundred thousand?  Whatever.  Point was, these people had been writing, creating, researching things the MacArthur Foundation considered interesting and worthy of encouragement.  No strings attached, no required reports of how the money was used, the foundation just gave them money.  I loved that idea.

Because I tend to write books with female protagonists, I thought how cool it would be to award similar grants to six not yet well-known women.  And because I’ve always liked what I call Grand Hotel books, (get a bunch of people in a place and observe their interactions, named after the movie of the same name), I decided to create a women’s institute where these characters could interact to their hearts’ content.  It eventually came to be called Wisdom Court, a play on the founder’s name–Wyntham–and its architecture–three structures with a fountain in the middle of a courtyard.

Then the characters started arriving, and they brought with them their luggage and back stories, and the details of the endeavors that had captured the attention of the Wisdom Court selection committee.  Noreen had recently retired from her job as the headmistress of a private girls school and was compiling a book of quotations strictly by women.  Dolores was a sculptor putting together an exhibition.  And the main protagonist, Andrea, was a forensic artist who wanted to paint.  (The others will get their due in another post.)

I liked the women, and the institute, which I placed in my home town, Boulder, Colorado.  But in my life the past and present dance together, and the story I wanted to tell myself had to include that element.  I wanted to know what would happen when a likeable, deserving woman had her chance to get what she really wanted but was stymied by a strange confluence of events.  What would happen if this wonderful institute was affected by the lingering traces of those who’d lived there before?  What if Wisdom Court was haunted?

I’m having a hell of a time…


17997208-brain-intelligence-discovery-with-a-human-brain-shape-made-of-stars-and-planets-in-a-space-beckgroun…getting back into my WIP. I’ve been in merchandizing mode all summer with my two Finny Aletter mysteries, Scavenger Hunt and Obstacle Course, and my brain is skipping across a meadow of clever ploys to interest an indifferent Web. How many times can I artfully mention the titles before I’m shunned by all and sundry? Sigh.

However, my A Signal Shown manuscript is sitting beside me and it needs to be finished. How lovely it would be to see how the story ends so I can stop wondering about it.  And afterward I’d have a shiny new opportunity to write the third Wisdom Court novel, a prospect filling me with both excitement and raw terror. I’ve not had enough energy for such visceral emotions during this summer of the slug.

How, oh, how can I gracefully–or even awkwardly–transition from sales whore to dedicated creator of immortal fiction? Well…here’s my plan. Ostensibly, I’m merely nattering to my hardy band of followers, but if I keep moving my fingers over the keys, magic will happen. That tiny ember of creativity lodged somewhere in my brain stem will burst forth–or even fifth–to release the words hovering near the ember.  It’s getting crowded in there, so the phrases will come tumbling through the synapses, down my spine, stampeding into both arms, thundering out through my always-moving fingers.

Any minute now.


I’m going to have to actually work on this thing, aren’t I? I’ll need to stop fiddle-farting around and reread the manuscript. I’ll find the inevitable typos and will enter corrections, and that will lead to thinking of better ways to say what’s on the page.  Then, God help me, I’ll get that nasty urge to cut a paragraph or two, just to prove I can kill my darlings. I hate that part. But I’ll do it, and that pathetic pile of what used to be my writer’s ego will show signs of revival. There’s nothing like the blood of dead descriptions and defunct characters to get that bastard pulsing again.

So now I’m off to find an illustration of the brain so all of you can see where the process begins, because I wouldn’t want there to be any confusion about it. That won’t take long, just a bit of trolling on the Web, and then I’ll start reading…wait, I’ll have to find my red pen. It’s around here somewhere; I saw it this morning.  Okay, got it.

I’ll be back at it before you can blink an eye.



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