Sunday, April 13, 2014

Everything I Know about Dialogue I Learned in Drama School

Well, not everything. I learned quite a bit about dialogue from, you know, reading, writing and eavesdropping, but there are several dialogue pointers that I did pick up from time spent memorizing scripts, running lines and rehearsing scenes. And a few of those tips have translated nicely into writing fiction. So here they are.


Subtext is the dialogue beneath the dialogue. In other words, subtext is what the character really means, regardless of what he or she says.

Here’s an example.

Say Samantha, your protagonist, has just gone on a hot date with Alex. Samantha’s best friend, Simon, is all ears to hear about how things went and Samantha obliges, gushing about the greatness that is Alex. “That’s awesome,” Simon says. But then later the reader finds out that Simon has actually been in love with Samantha the entire time. So even though Simon says, “that’s awesome,” the reader comes to the understanding that he didn’t really mean it.  Inside, Simon was probably feeling pretty rotten about the whole thing but putting on a brave “I’m a good friend” face. What he might have been thinking instead was probably more along the lines of, “I wish you thought I was awesome” or “I’ve missed my chance with you, haven’t I?”

A good exercise with subtext is to look at the dialogue you’ve written for a scene and, above the dialogue, write what your character would say if he or she had just been lassoed by Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth. In acting classes, we used to do this as an exercise with our scripts and this is great way to get to know your character’s true feelings and innermost thoughts.

Another good exercise is to re-watch a movie you’ve seen before and try to decipher the subtext.  Any scene between Han Solo and Princess Leia would lend itself well to this exercise. Like in The Empire Strikes Back when Han is getting lowered into the freezing chamber. “I love you,” Leia says. “I know,” Han replies. Which is hilarious and heartrending all at once and so true to Han’s character. But yeah. Come on. We all know what he’s really saying there. Probably something along the lines of, “I love you too, Princess, but even though my ass is about to go into carbonite and none of us are really sure if I’ll survive, I’m still a scoundrel and I have an image to protect and I hate goodbyes anyway so see you on the flipside, toots.”   


Of course, subtext can be hard for your reader to grasp initially, unless the narrative has reached a point where your readers know the character or the situation well enough to see through the dialogue to the underlying subtext. But there may be some instances where you want to be less subtle than others. In those instances, actions can sometimes help highlight subtext.

For example, say your protagonist, Jennifer, is planning to go to a concert. Her older brother, Jason, is super protective, which is something your audience may or may not know at this point in the story. Jenifer babbles on and on about how much fun she’s going to have at this concert, and how their mother and father won’t ever know she’s gone because she’s sneaking out. She tells Jason what a great older brother he is for keeping her secret.

Jason’s response could read something like this:  

“Yeah,” Jason said, folding his arms. “Sounds like fun.”

There are a few clues here to show us how Jason really feels about his sister attending this concert, the biggest being the folding of his arms. This line suggests without my having to mention voice tone or facial expression that Jason is not, in fact, too jazzed with his sister’s plan.

This tactic can be great way to ratchet up sexual tension between two characters as well, especially when body language contradicts what the characters are saying.

Again, going back to Han and Leia and The Empire Strikes Back—remember the infamous scene where Leia is wrestling with equipment on the Millennium Falcon and Han comes up behind her? He wraps his arms around her, grabs her wrists and she flings him off, angry.  She berates Han for calling her “Your Worship” but can’t handle it when he calls her “Leia” either.  But we know she kind of digs the guy because, about four seconds later, Han is wrapping her hand with his hands, massaging her fingers, and talking about being a scoundrel. She tells him to “stop that” but her voice is soft and she doesn’t pull away and she doesn’t try to fight him off again. From there the dialogue gets quite fun and the steaminess of the scene rises.  Leia is telling Han how much she is so not into him then bam they’re totally snogging and it’s a magic magic moment.   

 Inflection and Emphasis

In drama school, I once did an exercise where the instructor asked us to take the same three word sentence and read it three times. Each time, we were to place emphasis on a different word. And each time, the line meant something completely different.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

Though italics should be used with care and certainly not overused, it’s worthwhile to mention that inflection and emphasis can be a useful tool in dialogue scenes.  

I hope these few pointers help you to dive deeper into your dialogue construction.

 Have fun and break a leg!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

YA FUSION's First Exquisite Corpse

April is one of my favorite months and not just because my first child was born on April 1 or because we all finally crack out of whatever ice coma we’ve been in for so long. April is NATIONAL POETRY MONTH! Which rocks in so many ways.

This month, my latest piece of short fiction in verse comes out on the online journal Young Adult Review Network,, and my writer's critique group and I are playing along on YARN’s site with their “Random Word Contest” judged by Morris and Printz Award-winning author John Corey Whaley.

To kick off poetry month on the YA FUSION site, we’re starting an Exquisite Corpse game, a game that originates from the Parisian Surrealist movement where artists or writers passed time in cafes by piecing together their own bits of inspiration. Authors played by writing a single line on a piece of paper, folding it, and passing it to the next writer. The only rules were that the lines must include the same grammatical structure and writers were not allowed to read the lines written before theirs. The results were often surprising, interesting, and beautiful. YA FUSIONites are all of those things! So let’s create our own Exquisite Corpse. Here are the rules:

Exquisite Corpse drawing done by
Surrealist artists

1. Write one line about an outstanding positive or negative moment/feeling/event/person during yours or someone else’s teen years.
2. Follow this grammatical structure: Adjective, Noun, Verb, Adjective, Noun
3. Adding “function words” like articles or prepositions is okay as long as the basic structure is intact. 
4. While people post, don’t read the others until after you add your own. Let it stand alone and be completely original. That will make the poem more interesting!
5. At the end the month, I’ll string all the lines together to create a single poem by our bloggers and readers.
Here is an Exquisite Corpse example written by’s staff:
Slung trousers melt in a roseate box.
A broken calendar oscillates like sunny tin.
The craven linden growls swimmingly. Blowfish.
A glittering roof slaps at crazy ephemera.
Of course, we can do so much more in our YA way! I can't wait to see what it turns into! Leave a contact email in your post. If it turns out well, I'll send you a YA FUSION bookmark with the poem on it.
So to begin, here is my YA-related Exquisite Corpse line: 
Our cigarette smoke rings lasso shimmering stars.

Now no more reading until you post yours below! Have fun!!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Searching for the Elusive 'The End'

Have you ever reached the point where it feels like you've been working on a book forever and The End is no where in sight?

That's where I found myself yesterday morning. I'd hoped to have this manuscript finished--at least the first draft--two weeks ago. I planned to let it sit a week, then review/revise before sending it to my editor, April 7th. I have been writing like a madwoman, literally, until yesterday.

When I first started writing, I was a total pantser. I imagine most beginners are. As a newbie, I didn't know anything about plot points, or story arcs, or character growth. I just had a story I wanted to tell. But since that time, oh so  many years ago, I've attended classes, read tons of craft books and learned the art of writing.

Thus I became a plotter. Sort of. I map out my characters, their GMC, the plot points and any tidbits or quirks that feel relevant to the story. This change improved my efficiency, a big help since I work full time at The Job That Pays My Bills.

But this book refused to be plotted. For two, hair-pulling weeks I tried to fit what I knew of this story and these characters into my standard outline with no success. Looking back, I can see I was trying to hammer my round story into a square hole.

I finally gave up and started writing, and writing, and writing, until I wanted to lift my face to the heavens and cry "Will I ever reach The End?"

Which brings me to yesterday morning. I sat, hair still mussed from sleep, eyes gritty, computer in my lap. Page wise and word count told me I had to be close to The End. All my books tend to come in around 350 pages, 65,000 words. I was sitting at 265 pages, 57,000 words. I couldn't write another word without a clear sense of where I'd find The End.

So I reviewed what I'd written and found it wasn't Total Cr*#. I'm not the World's Worst Writer. I could finally see the full scope of the story and realized I only had five more chapters (two and a half now) to the glorious The End.

And I've learned yet another lesson. Nothing is set in stone. Pantser or plotter you think you may be, but some stories demand their own path.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

For The Love (and Hate) of Words...

Like all authors, words are kind of my life. Big ones, little ones, tongue twisters and giggle inducers. But, like everything else in life, there are good and there are bad. Not all words are created equal. At least, not in my world. There are the ones I love and there are ones I hate. I thought I'd share a few of each.


1.      Cheesecake. I can’t eat cheesecake. Eggs are toxic to me, and since cheesecake is stuffed full of em, that pretty much lands it on a list of epic ways to kill myself. But I love the word. It might be the fact that the first part starts with cheese (because, who here does NOT like cheese!?!), or it might just be the random weirdness that is me. Even money that its a little of both.

2.      Turtle. Nope. Not my favorite animal—they don’t even make it into the top twenty (Sorry, turtles. Much love, just not THAT much love...). But it’s such a fun word. I know you agree. Just say it with me a few times. Turtle-turtle-turtle-turtle. Admit it. You said it, too. (I won't tell)

3.      Awesome. This word is so amazing, that even when you hate it, you find yourself saying it. Over and over and over and over... *cringes*

4.      Psychosomatic. I love the sound of it, the meaning—everything. This is a word that needs more love. Find an excuse. I challenge you to work it into a sentence today.

5.      Cadaver. I’ll admit that this one’s on the creepy side. But definition aside, it kinda rolls off the tongue. Am I right? Say it. Ca-da-ver.


1.      Auntie. I don’t know why, but every time I hear it, I want to rip my ears off.

2.      Panties. Why? Again, I don’t know. It irritates me to the point that I want to punch a sheep. Okay, not really. I love sheep. They're adorable. They waddle around, all fluffy and stuff. Seriously though, there’s a good possibility I have a deep seeded prejudice against words that end in IE…

3.      Awesome. Yes. It was also on the love list. But there’s something about it… I die a little each time it comes out of my mouth - which is sadly often.

4.      Yawn. Everyone hates this word. It’s okay to come clean. I mean, come on…what other word in the English language makes you *yawn* do something by simply speaking or writing it? Evil. Pure evil.

5.      Pimpin. I have a friend that used to say this. It was like styrofoam getting rubbed in my ear. You exactly know what I’m talking about. That grating, spine chilling sound that makes your hair stand on end and your muscles twitch.

You’re up. Tell me your favorite (and not so favorite) word!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Having a Bit of a Moan

It happened again.  I picked up a new book by one of my favorite authors, and found mistakes.  This one was especially bad, with everything from plot holes to typos to massive continuity problems—even a repeated scene.  Admittedly this wasn’t YA, but I’ve run across more than my share of mistakes in recent YA books, too.  Used to be, finding a mistake in a book was a big deal, and at most it was a typo.  Not anymore.  And that reminds me of a story.  Ready?  On the count of three, everybody do that wavy, moany thing they used to do on TV to signal a flashback.  One, two, three.  Woooooo-wooo-wooo.

My author friends are tired of hearing me say this, but loooooooooooong ago, I was tight with some good-sized book publishers.  I helped develop, write, and edit a wide range of third-party computer manuals, journals, and online articles.  At the start of my involvement, these were major productions, both large in size and heavy with content.  I’m proud to say that I was a small part of some of the best books in the industry.  Unfortunately, that quality didn’t last.  Print publishing was just starting the musical chairs of consolidation in those days, and that was especially true where a computer-literate customer base was more than ready for change.  Parent publishers, who were busy being bought and sold to one another, flailed.  Product lines ballooned and then popped before they could generate anything but expenses.  Inevitably, books got shorter, content got lighter, and editing fell by the wayside.  In-house management felt enormous pressure to move releases forward while pushing expenses backward.  Books went out before they were ready.  I read the reviews; trust me when I say people noticed.

Okay, the flashback is over.  I’m not sure what sound effect I should use for an analogy, but looking at this book also reminds me of parallel story.  It goes like this: I’m a bit of a construction junkie and like to read Builder Magazine, which is a trade magazine for the residential construction industry.  After the housing bubble burst, I noticed a common thread in many of the articles.  The industry, which had been focused on speed during the boom years, discovered that quality was far more important to their bottom line.  To survive in a brutal market, builders couldn’t keep cranking out badly-build houses—there were plenty of those already.  What builders needed were happy customers.  Enter quality.  And it turns out that when builders focused on quality, they lowered their long-term expenses, while increasing their referrals and repeat customers.  Ching!

So maybe I’m reaching here, but I think there’s a lesson.  Maybe publishers, even my beloved YA publishers who are feeling so much pressure from above, should put more focus on quality.  I know our teen audience grows up fast, but give them credit for wanting books without mistakes.  After all, their word of mouth is our biggest asset.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Huntley Fitzpatrick's new book, WHAT I THOUGH WAS TRUE, will hit your local bookstore in April. Meanwhile, we have an interview with Huntley and an ARC GIVEAWAY of WHAT I THOUGHT WAS TRUE!! HOW COOL IS THAT? Read on for all the details!

HERE'S THE SCOOP ON THE BOOK: Gwen Castle's Biggest Mistake Ever, Cassidy Somers, is slumming it as a yard boy on her Nantucket-esque island this summer. He's a rich kid from across the bridge in Stony Bay, and she hails from a family of fishermen and housecleaners who keep the island's summer people happy. Gwen worries a life of cleaning houses will be her fate too, but just when it looks like she'll never escape her past—or the island—Gwen's dad gives her some shocking advice. Sparks fly and secret histories unspool as Gwen spends a gorgeous, restless summer struggling to resolve what she thought was true—about the place she lives, the people she loves, and even herself—with what really is.
Please tell us a little about your everyday life.

Like most writers I know, I lead a double life. I have this wild and crazy family, with a lot of characters and personalities in it—and then I write about other families with lots of characters and personalities. My children tend to get up at the crack of dawn, despite years of bribery to talk them out of this habit. So by the time the youngest ones climb onto the school bus, I feel as though I’ve already lived half the day. I race home with the dog (literally run) and to my computer, with a brief pause for coffee. Then I do my best to stay right there until the first school bus pulls back up in front of the house. Except for when I need to block out a scene, or talk one out aloud. When I get stuck, I drive to the beach and walk, pausing to scribble down ideas. Switching gears from whatever is happening in the story to the real world is always hard. I need to come up with some ritual for this—ruby slippers or the like. When everyone is home it’s wall to wall dinner and homework and listening and talking until about nine p.m. when the house gets still once again. I try to get in another hour or so of work then, unless I’d rather just take a bubble bath, hang out with my husband or read.

What I Thought Was True is the follow up to the very popular My Life Next Door. Please tell us a bit about how the two books are connected.
They aren’t actually very connected. WITWT does take place in the same area, and there are a few very small sightings of characters from MLND, but the cast of characters is different but, I hope, compelling in their own way. My third book to be published, The Boy Most Likely To IS going to be a companion book to My Life Next Door, although with a different hero and heroine.

Besides your main character, who is your favorite character in this book and why?
The hero, definitely. Much of the book is about who you are as opposed to who people think you are. Cass looks like the classic cool calm and collected, blond beautiful rich boy. Like someone who had everything fall into his lap. But he’s nothing like that at all. And from the start, he sees the heroine for who she is and cares about THAT girl, not her ‘reputation’ or even what she believes about her self. He knows her. I found that really romantic.

Do you have a favorite scene in this book?
Oh yes. There’s a scene where Gwen and Cass, the heroine and hero, find themselves caught in a sudden thunderstorm and take refuge in a boathouse on the beach. It’s pouring, there are no lights, they are both soaking wet…and there’s an awful lot of unspoken words and unfinished business between them, a lot of conflicting emotion. Hardest scene in the book to write…and now my favorite.

Did you always know how this book would end, or did it change as you wrote it?
I knew the big brushstrokes of the ending, but the central drama of the story changed, so I rewrote the final scenes about fifteen times.

Can you tell us a little about your path to publication?
It really does feel as though I followed the yellow brick road. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was five, but wound up becoming (and loving being) an editor for years. When we started having kids, I left my job and we moved from NYC to coastal Massachusetts. Then, a few years ago, I suddenly woke up and HAD to write a book. So I did—carrying the manuscript everywhere, writing on the beach and at playgrounds and school parking lots. I found an agent willing to look at what I turned out, and wrote two manuscripts that didn’t work. Then My Life Next Door, which was totally different than those two but somehow clicked with the agent, then with my publisher, Penguin-Dial for Young Readers. I am honestly still pinching myself that that happened…let alone that I’ve been able to keep writing since then. I don’t think I’ll get over the shock of having a lifelong dream come true, ever.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on the third book, THE BOY MOST LIKELY TO, right now (currently pre-dawn at a hotel in Boston where the kids and I went for vacation). This book means a lot to me—a departure in a lot of ways (dual point of view, returning to a previous world) and I worry a lot about “getting it right”…but luckily, that’s what the main characters struggle with, too. So we’re all in this together. I have a fourth book to do after that, which currently exists mostly in my imagination and in notes in four of those black and white composition notebooks you use in school. Every once in a while, I take a break from Tim and scribble down notes about Wilder (the hero of book four).

Do you have any marketing advice for other writers?
Marketing is like math for me…I know it’s incredibly important, but my brain struggles to process how to DO it. The only advice I have is to be grateful to anyone who offers to talk about your book, to blog about it or review it. Readers and bloggers and fellow writers are what it’s all about in the end.
YOU KNOW YOU'RE DYING TO GET YOUR HANDS ON A COPY OF THIS ARC! TO ENTER OUR GIVEAWAY, PLEASE USE THE RAFFLECOPTER BELOW! (if you have problems with the Rafflecopter please tell us in the comments or send me a message through my contact page ).AND GOOD LUCK!

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