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Build characters and advance your plot with these dialogue best practices

Dialogue is a powerful way to reveal your characters and move your story forward. In The Craft of Character online class through, authors Amy Bloom and Brando Skyhorse discuss the role of dialogue in character development.

The class is part of Wesleyan College’s Craft Your Story Like the Great Writers specialization that takes students through plot, character development, setting and description, and style. The creative writing specialization covers elements of three major creative writing genres: short story, narrative essay, and memoir. The classes start at $79 each, but you can access videos and certain assignments free of charge.

In a video interview, Skyhorse, author of The Madonnas of Echo Park, and Bloom discussed the role of dialogue. Great dialogue should:

Reveal your characters. One of the ways readers get to know characters is from what they say as well as what they do, and more specifically, what they do to one another, Skyhorse said.  Dialogue should deepen the reader’s understanding of character or advance the plot. Read more

Four tips for writing a synopsis that sells

Before I wrote my first synopsis, I thought it would be a breeze—after all, I’d done the hard part, right? I had finished and edited an entire book! What could be harder than that? Plenty, I was to learn.

Recently, I helped chair a major literary contest where I read over 100 book synopses. I was impressed with a handful of the synopses, but, for the most part, they were vague or poorly written or trying to be “mysterious” when they needed to be clear and to the point. I realized that I was probably not alone in my dread of the synopsis. Writing a GOOD synopsis is one of the hardest tasks undertaken by a writer.

The main purpose of a synopsis is to provide a summary of an entire novel. It must provide an overview of the plot (including the ending), characters, and theme.

Put yourself in the shoes of a literary agent who is deciding from your synopsis whether or not to read the first pages of your book. Your synopsis has to be even more perfect than your stellar novel. No pressure, right?

No worries. Below are a few tips to help you make your synopsis sing: Read more

Discover the power of word choice

Whether you’re writing prose or poetry, word choice is paramount. The words you choose determine where the emphasis is placed in your line or sentence and, thus, where you draw your reader’s attention.

In honor of National Poetry Month I’ll use a few of my poems as examples of the difference a word can make.

From my poem “Suppose someday I say hot springs:”



will I remember our hike up Sol Duc,
how we riffed fingers over silk moss,
how we stepped stone to stone
over the creek that crossed our path,
how we posed for a photo on the rickety
footbridge dwarfed by fir and red cedar?


will I remember our hike up Sol Duc,
how we riffed fingers over silk moss,
how we stepped stone to stone
over the creek that crossed our path,
how we posed for a photo on the rickety
footbridge under fir and red cedar?

As you can see, I changed the bolded word “dwarfed” to a simpler word “under” in the revision. Why? Dwarfed is a more unusual and striking word but, because of this, it draws more attention to itself—attention that I don’t want in that particular place.

My first choice draws my reader’s attention to the footbridge while the revision places the emphasis more on the “we” of the stanza and the trees—which is where I want it. Read more

Showing vs. telling: Take down the wall between your character and your reader

I’ve heard the phrase “show don’t tell” at least a million times in my writing career. And, mostly, that’s good advice—though there are times when “telling” is more economical and gets the job done.

But in most scenes, and especially when I want to draw my reader into deep point of view, I try to show as much as possible. I draw on the senses instead of my character’s intellect.

In other words, I want my readers to experience the event with my character instead of my character filtering the experience for them.

Below are a few “before” and “after” sentences from my current manuscript: Read more

Write active, sensory description to make your story believable

In a post I read a few years ago by Marg McAlister, “Verisimilitude: Description that Puts the Reader in the Scene,” I copied and saved one of the excerpts she used because I thought it was a good example of how sensory description can work well in a scene.

I was reminded of this last night as I lay in bed reading an urban fantasy novel (to remain nameless except to say it is a popular series by a well-known author in the genre) and my pet-peeve radar was activated.

But let me ask first–why do we read? I read for many reasons: to learn about the world, to learn about the craft of writing, to activate my imagination, to take a break from work. But the main reason I read fiction is to enter other worlds, to lose myself in another place and time, to feel what the characters feel, to experience something different.

So, my biggest pet peeve when reading is when an author pulls me from that world.

And pulling me from that world with an info dump of inactive setting or character description is the worst offender. Pure, unadulterated, torturous Hell. Or, what I imagine Hell might be like for a writer or avid reader. Read more

Start a New Year’s writing tradition: Keep a mini journal

I’ve always been intimidated by New Year’s resolutions. As an indecisive person, it was April before I’d decided on an aspect of my life to improve. And by that point, well, it was already April. But five years ago, I was gifted a mini journal before the New Year that led me to start a new tradition: Keeping a yearly mini journal.

Journals are fantastic ways to document memories and ideas. But a full, blank, white page can be daunting. What happens when I only have four words of dialogue that I want to write down — that memory when I introduced myself to my coworker Jeremy, as Jeremy?

“Hi Jeremy, I’m Jeremy.”

I don’t need to expand on this embarrassing moment, but I would like to look back and laugh at my former self.

In this case, I need a mini journal. Read more

Create a journal to increase sensory awareness

Sensory images are glue that grabs readers and draws them into your story world.

If you want to improve your ability to write sensuously, become more conscious of senses by creating a sensory journal. Supercharge your attention on what’s going on around you as you go through your days, and you’ll likely become more aware. To boost that experience, commit to focus on a specific sense. Start today by creating a scent diary.

As you leave your house for work, take children to school, or do errands, notice how the air smells when you walk out the door. Does it smell like rain? The paper mill across the river? Pine trees? I still remember the smell of chocolate when I walked out of my hotel on a trip to Chicago. I found out that it emanated from the Blommer chocolate factory. Read more