Tag Archives: Tips

Making Dialogue Sound Real

by Rob Quehl

photo by Stuart Miles | freedigitalphotos.net

photo by Stuart Miles | freedigitalphotos.net

Writing dialogue is tough. Like many, when I began writing, I thought that dialogue was simply prose with quotation marks around it. At a workshop last year, I had the pleasure of meeting award-winning Canadian playwright Gary Kirkham. Talented, funny, and an expert in dialogue; here are four insights he spoke to us about:

  1. Dialogue is completely different from prose. Completely different. Traditional grammar and punctuation rules go out the window. The principles of writing great prose simply do not apply. Creating dialogue is like “converting” the sounds of the human voice into words on paper.
  2. Similarly, it needs to sound real. Only a “professor” type character speaking to his class would speak in a crisp and clean style, with perfect grammar and succinctness. Gary emphasized that real speech can be many things, including: odd, clipped, slangy, repetitive, interrupted, fragmented, stuttering, cryptic, bland, quirky, four-lettered, etc.
  3. Pay close attention to the emotions of the character. Like real people, their speech patterns, vocabulary, and word choices will change depending on whether they are happy, sad, angry, excited, gossipy, giddy, depressed, or drunk. Gary advised us to speak the dialogue out loud and to act it out like an actor would.
  4. Sound. We did a fun exercise to practice this: the raw sound patterns that can be discerned regardless of the words used. The exercise was to produce an emotional dialogue between two people using only nonsense words. Example:“Blah blah blah.”
    “Blah? Blah blah blat!”
    “Twee…twee? Skrak twee. Shish fu frak twee!”

    The point of the above example is that if someone is in a gentle, peaceful mood, you hear soft and gentle sounds, flowing, and pleasant to the ear. But when a character gets angry, their speech changes because angry words tend to have harsh sounds, hissing and spitting sounds like: s, sh, t, k, d, f, ck, etc.

    So give it a try on your dialogue. Say it out loud and act it out to see how it sounds.

Rob Quehl lives in Kitchener and is currently working on two novels

A “Building Block of Verse”

by April Bulmer

I’m not one for traditional rhyme (though no one would suspect given my choice of birthday cards), but do appreciate assonance in poems.

Image: Ventrilock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What is assonance?

Technically speaking it is the repetition of a vowel sound with different consonants, or the same consonant with different vowels in lines of literature or poetry. For example stony and holy or mystery and mastery.

But put simply, it is a resemblance of sounds in syllables or words, especially of vowels. Lake and fake demonstrate the concept of rhyme, whereas lake and fate assonance. Thus, it is also referred to as “vowel rhyme.”

Wikipedia tells us that this internal rhyme within phrases or sentences “serves as one of the building blocks of verse…It is used in (mainly modern) English-language poetry, and is particularly important in Old French, Spanish and the Celtic languages.”

It is characteristic of Emily Dickinson’s verse, as well as the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Dylan Thomas.

Assonance is used to emphasize the meanings of words or to create a mood. Examples of assonance are sometimes a challenge to locate in a poem because they can operate subconsciously and are often subtle. The long vowel sounds (“o”) can drag the pace and create a sombre tone, while high sounds (“i”) often accelerate the energy of the piece.

I wrote a poem recently in which I utilized assonance more than any other literary vehicle. The repetition of the long “o” sound is intended to underscore the main character’s mourning over her lost child. She is dramatic and vocal and expresses the visceral ache of her grief as a kind of moan. This sound is juxtaposed against the assonance of the final stanza where a long “e” sound is created beginning with the word “heal.” Here, I wished to summon a kind of female energy. A return to life, a zeal.

Lucille Sky: Temple

I rose like dough.
My breasts like loaves.

But Blessed Virgin
took her in swaddling clothes.

Her voice rose
with the lament of crows,
though she visits in dreams
and in the dim.

I packed a soft valise:
flannel blankets, a tortoise comb,
the scent of my shadow–
an offering of sage and tobacco.

My heart the slow root
of sumac.
The seasons of woman-blood:
reap and sow.

I am a half-breed
from the lake’s
wide hip.
I plait my hair,
anoint with the breath
of bonfire
my lobes.

Though the Amen Corner
is the place I heal.
My womb a temple
of ripening fruit,
healthy as an apple.
Red and white root.
Core of flesh and seed
and peel.

April Bulmer

poem written with support from

April Bulmer has published six books of poetry. The most recent is entitled The Goddess Psalms (Serengeti Press, 2008). She has graduate degrees in creative writing, religious studies and theological studies and often writes about issues pertaining to women and spirituality. April received Ontario Arts Council funding through Black Moss Press in Windsor for her new manuscript “Temples.” She is grateful for this support. Contact her at aprilb (at) golden.net

Hints on Writing for Anthologies

Guest Post by Donna Clark Goodrich

Image: taesmileland / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

DO use correct format—for prose double space, no extra line space between paragraphs, no justifying right margin, 1 space after period, 12 pt. New Times Roman or Courier. For poetry single space with line space between verses.

DON’T use borders or put submission in box.

DO include name and complete mailing address and e-mail address on submission— not just your blog or web site address. Make it easy for the editor to contact you.

DON’T clean out your files and send everything you have.

DO stick to the theme.

DON’T ask for an extension on the deadline, saying how busy you are.

DO include a suggested title, and capitalize only first letter of major words in title.

DON’T send in a manuscript longer than stated requirements, telling the editor they can cut it down if they want to use it.

DO keep bio sketch within the requested length. Write it in third person, and leave out adjectives such as “loving husband” or “beautiful grandchildren.”

DON’T tell the editor “feel free to edit.” If it needs it, they’ll do it. That’s their job.

DO omit underlines and bold; italicize sparingly any words you want to emphasize.

DON’T write a few days after the deadline, asking if they’ve made a decision.

DO let the editor know if you change e-mail address or other contact information.

DON’T send your submission on Facebook.

Now, start writing and good luck!!

For more information about Donna, author or “A Step in the Write Direction–the Complete How-to Book for Christian Writers”, please check out her website –> thewritersfriend.net

This post was submitted by CWC member Stella Mazur Preda.

Stella Mazur Preda’s poetry has appeared in many Canadian, and some US literary journals and anthologies over the last several years. Her poem My Mother’s Kitchen was purchased by Penguin Books, New York and published in an anthology entitled In My Mother’s Kitchen, which was released in May 2006. Stella’s first book of poetry, Butterfly Dreams, was
published in 2003. Stella is a member of the Cambridge Writers Collective, the Canada Cuba Literary Alliance, The Ontario Poetry Society as well as member and past-president of the Tower Poetry Society, Canada’s oldest ongoing poetry group. Stella is owner and publisher at Serengeti Press. Her 2nd poetry book, The Fourth Dimension, will be released in the spring of 2012.

Plain and Simple Writing Tips

by Becky Alexander

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  1. Write every day, even if that just means revamping old work, organizing files, or sifting through notes and old journals for inspiration. Daily writing will become natural, and the rest of life will flow around your writing time.
  2. Read. Reading keeps the mind sharp, as it is an ‘active’ process, as opposed to a passive one. The more one reads, the more the words flow in.
  3. Rely on a few good writer friends to critique your work. The smaller the group, the more you will be able to help each other. With the email access that we have today, this process is apt and effective.
  4. We’ve all read that it is a good idea to let a piece ‘cool’ before presenting it for a critique. Sometimes this is a good idea. Sometimes it is not. If you suddenly have something spill out onto a page as perfect as you can imagine it to be, there may be no need for a ‘cooling off’ period. I send such pieces out to my critiquing circle in short order, so no spontaneity is lost. When I have some doubts about parts in a piece, that is the one I set aside, let cool, and possibly rework before presenting for critique. The point is that you can tinker a piece to death, and it could end up being less than it was at the first draft.
  5. Look for inspiration everywhere you go: keep the blinds open, literally and figuratively. Sit at the back of church, funerals, literary readings, etc. so there is a full and open view of the ‘field’ Keep pens and paper in every room. Some day (when I remember!) I plan to buy a small recorder to keep in the car. Ideas come when least expected, and a writer needs every chance to catch those ideas before they fade away. As Dickinson so aptly put it: true poems flee.
  6. When I have a good idea, I stick with it.
  7. I write poems out the minute they ‘hit’. With stories, I like to carry them around in my head for a few days or weeks, thinking of various options, characters, problems, resolutions. I usually don’t start to write a story until it is blocked out in my head. (A creative writing teacher taught me this years ago. It took me further years to actually be able to do it.)
  8. When the story is ready in my head, I write it out to the end. If I’m not sure about some of the middle parts, I scratch down a few idea lines (e.g. the main characters have a fight; about what? Figure it out later.) Once I have the beginning, and the ending, I go back and flesh it all out. Some writers need to write out a story plan. This has never worked for me. Each scribe must find the best way.
  9. Attend writing retreats, and not just with the same group, same place, every year. Some of the best retreats I attended were with one or another of my Kentucky writing groups, each held in a different location. And once a year, if possible, go somewhere completely alone, and do nothing but eat, sleep, read, walk and focus on writing. This is how books can be born.
  10. Get your work ‘out there’. If nothing else, this is how we know that we’re writers. There are hundreds of good markets and contests for people who are neither virgins nor masters of the art. As serious writers, it is our job to seek these out. When something gets rejected, send it right back out elsewhere. Never let a rude or nasty rejection letter stop you in your tracks. As another old wise teaching instructor once taught me: one of your shots will hit them! And as far as rejection goes, remember the ‘Rule Of Twelve: some other wise old writer once scientifically determined that on average, a submitted piece gets rejected 12 times before being published. I aim to wait for that twelfth rejection before revamping a piece.

Becky Alexander is a Cambridge writer. Her work has been published in five countries, and has won hundreds of awards. She runs Craigleigh Press with her husband Dave Allen.