Avoiding a Mary Sue Character

Do you know the term “Mary Sue?” I am sure most of you have at least heard this term in passing, but just in case, the Mary Sue character is an idealized, almost entirely perfect main character.

Mary Sue is a character that is just about perfect in every way.

The Mary Sue character originated in a Star Trek parody by Paula Smith in 1973. It was shortly thereafter defined as “the adventures of the youngest and smartest ever person to graduate from the academy and ever get a commission at such a tender age. Usually characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm-wrestling. This character can also be found burrowing her way into the good graces/heart/mind of one of the Big Three,” meaning, Spock, Kirk, or McCoy.

The idea is associated with the author surrogate technique; a literary technique in which a character expresses the ideas, questions, personality, and morality of the author; but it goes beyond the author surrogate idea, wandering into the realm of no personality and a complete lack of complexity. And it is not just female characters, as male characters can also fall into this realm of unbelievability, though they are not quite as criticized as their female counterpart; James Bond and Indiana Jones anyone?

Whether male or female, the Mary Sue/Marty Stu idea (from now on the MS phenomenon) takes away from the fundamentals of good writing.

Lazy Writing

As a student of literature, I spent years psychoanalyzing the reason behind character actions, writing papers as if the novel/poem/short story character was a real person with real psychological issues. There is plenty of tongue-in-cheek references to this idea that English students analyze stories much more than what the author originally thought, which is likely true most of the time, but the study of literature is the study of humanity. We might analyze a piece of writing to death, looking for the hidden meaning because there really are truths hidden in the depths, even if the author did not intend that to be the case.

You see, characters are reflections of the author’s world, even if the author does not intend for them to fulfill that role. Without meaning to, we write what we know even if we are writing in an entirely imaginative space. We cannot help translating our lives into the world of our stories, and as such, students of literature are able to delve into times and places they might not otherwise be able.

It is the brilliance of literature.

That being said, this way of studying humanity is valid unless one comes across a MS character, which happens on occasion. A MS character, in its truest form, will detract and can severely lessen a piece of writing. Some of my peers argue that even MS characters have something to tell us about society (very interesting example of MS characters in 1500 century monastic literature and how that reflects idealistic God traits), but overwhelmingly MS characters are a mark of lazy writing.

Too harsh? Perhaps, but that is my take on the technique.

How to Avoid the Mary Sue

As writers, then, how do we avoid writing an MS character?  Many of you might know the answer already: create flawed characters. But one must be cautious here. I have experience in this as I have been known to create female characters that are a little too complex, a little too flawed in an attempt to avoid the MS phenomenon.

To avoid either extremes this is what I have developed through the years:

  1. Base your characters on real people. I know! This is not supposed to happen, we have all read the statements at the beginning of books that states that all characters are fictional, but there is no better way to create reality then base your characters on real people. Mix it up, as to not identify a character too much with a real person, the idea being to study humanity around you. Study the traits of your significant other, your child, your mother and father, or your cousin. What does your best friend do when he/she meets someone they do not like? What is the reaction of your co-worker when they are given a promotion or are fired? Study the complexity of life so you can, in turn, write about it.
  2. Study historical figures. One of the hardest things for me to do is create realistic villains. We have countless examples of superhero bad guys, with all of their lack of complexity; however, real life villains are a gold mine of interesting traits. Pick someone like Hitler, a bad guy if there ever was one, and then study his mindset. Why did he do what he did? What were his reasons? The wonderful thing about living in a postmodern age is that there are scholars writing about these type things. Find out the complexity of historical characters and use them in your own writing.
  3. Write the character’s stories out. Take your character out of the story and write him/her as they were when they were a child. Make it a complete story, as if you were writing for publication with all the nuances and attention to detail that you would give to a regular piece. I tend to sketch out my character’s lives, but I rarely want to take the time to write a complex back story; though when I do, the character is so much richer and believable. And, who knows, maybe those back stories will one day sell.

Still a Place for Mary Sue

Of course, as with all things, there can be a time and place for MS characters. I have read beautifully done parodies in which the MS characters are used to great effect, and if you are talented enough to do this kind of writing, do it! I am, sadly, not that talented in the area of parody so I must be aware of the MS characters in my writing, as is likely the case for most writers. Awareness is key. Be aware of your characters and how they fit into your story. Don’t do lazy; color in the characters, breathe life into them, and your writing will immediately elevate to another level.

What about you? Do you like using MS characters for fun? How do you avoid falling into the MS traps? Do you find your characters are reflections of you, or those around you?

About Heidi Hood

Heidi Hood, former journalist, is now a full time mom and part time novelist. She lives in the Pacific Northwest. Learn more from her contributor page.

How to Prepare for a Writing Conference

It is conference season again and hopefully you were persuaded by my previous article, 7 Reasons to Attend Writing Conferences, that attending a writing conference is a great experience for any writer. But how do you make the most of a writing conference when there are so many choices about how to spend your time?

How to Prepare for a Conference

Set goals

At a good conference, the sheer volume of people, talks and opportunities can be overwhelming. One way to help make the most of a writing conference is to be very clear what you are aiming to achieve from your participation. That may seem obvious, but it will be different for each person at each stage in their career. When you are starting out, the best way to make the most of a writing conference is probably to learn all you can about improving your craft. Later you may be aiming to network, perhaps to meet agents or editors, or to find peers who will help with beta reading your work or sharing industry knowledge.

Choose carefully

Once you know what you want to achieve, highlight the sessions and events which are key to reaching your goal. Choose craft sessions if your aim is to improve your technique; industry talks or networking events if your goal is to make connections and learn more about the wider writing world. These are the events you cannot afford to miss if you are to make the most of the conference.

With these in place, you can now pick from the remaining events according to personal preference. Which are you keen to attend, and which could you afford to miss if you need to catch up on some sleep, writing time, or informal networking?

Be Flexible

This will give you a general plan for making the most of your time, but do not forget that to truly make the most of a writing conference, you will need a bit of flexibility too. You never know when someone will drop out of a one-to-one appointment with an editor and you will have an opportunity to pitch your new book, or when you will find yourself sitting next to a much-admired author and able to ask them some of the questions you have always wondered about.

Be Prepared

Even if you are not planning to pitch, it is worth preparing a quick summary of your story, and a few interesting questions to ask other writers and industry professionals. Read the speakers’ biographies in advance so you have an idea of their areas of expertise for discussion, and if the organization arranging the conference has a website, check its news page so that you are aware of what topics are current.

Get inspired

With these tips in mind, you should find it easier to relax and enjoy the experience. Above all, the best way to make the most of a writing conference is to allow it to inspire and re-energize your writing. If you get this right, the time and money you spend on attending one conference will continue to serve you throughout the remainder of your writing year.

About Stephanie Cage

Stephanie Cage is a British romance writer with books published by The Wild Rose Press and Crimson Romance. She loves dance and musical theatre, and her first full-length novel, Perfect Partners, has a dancing theme. Learn more from her contributor page.

The Improv Lesson of “Yes, And”

A couple of years ago, I signed up for an improvisational theatre class. At the time, I spoke very quickly, fumbled over words, and often experienced deer-in-the-headlight moments. I figured improv would help me think more quickly on my feet and also help bring the spontaneity back into my life that had been long drowned out by the 9 to 5 work schedule. What I learned from that class had more of an impact on my writing than my speaking.

The Improv lesson of You, And as it applies to writing.My first class, which had about nine students in it, involved fun introductions, trust exercises, and the lesson of “Yes, And.” What exactly was “Yes, And?” It was the teacher turning to me and saying, “You are a post office worker trying to buy salt on the moon. Go.” The logical part of my brain was tempted to point out that we were in a studio not the moon and to question why a post officer worker needed salt. The “Yes, And” was to accept those conflicting ideas and create a fantastic scene built off that acceptance. We worked with partners and built scenes based off taking an idea our partner had and building off that idea. “Yes, And” basically means “I accept this and I will add to it with this, this, and this.”

I wound up studying improv for a while before auditioning (and receiving acceptance) into the improv troupe. Along the way, I learned lessons on characters, building scenes, and yes, speaking. However, it was the “Yes, And” lesson that helped me the most with my creativity.

It taught me that the illogical and irrational can sometimes come together to create funny, unique pieces. It also made me wonder: What if the writer that thought of the dead returning to life or the director that imagined someone being stuck in the dream or even Dr. Seuss listened to the rational side of them all of the time and negated their wild ideas?

Sometimes we get writing ideas out of the blue and, sadly, we sometimes dismiss them. Next time you get an idea that’s wild, that seems improbable, that makes you shake your head at your own audaciousness for the idea… do not deny it. Instead, simply say, “Yes, and” continue to create your story.

About Sakinah Hofler

Sakinah Hofler is a writer of fiction, screenplays, and poetry. She is an MFA candidate at Florida State University where she serves as the Assistant Online Editor for the Southeast Review. Her work has appeared in Euonia Review and Counterexample Poetics. Learn more from her contributor page.

So You Think You Can Write

When I was offered a contract last year by Harlequin, I was not only excited but relieved as well. I believed that my writing had finally reached the point where it was publishable. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening!

So you think you can write? Just wait until your editor gets a hold of your manuscript!I was assigned to an editor and I quickly learned that my book still was not publishable, but it was salvageable. First there was the developmental edit which is pretty much what it sounds like: developing further certain points of the story, fixing plot points and tying up loose ends.

Then came the line edit, which has been a humbling experience. When I received my manuscript back from my editor, it was all marked up in red. The manuscript I had worked so hard on for years still needed more work and by the amount of red on the pages, it needed a lot more work.

Initially, I was disheartened. Was my writing really that bad? I struggled with this. Halfway through the line edit I realized a few things: nine times out of ten, my editor’s suggestions and corrections were spot on, which is why she is the editor and I am the writer. Her ideas made the work cleaner and tighter. Sometimes she pointed out the obvious. Sometimes she made great suggestions and sometimes, I disagreed with her.

Although the whole process has been humbling, I know that it will not only make my book better but it will make me a better writer. Writing is a continual process and there is always something new to be learned.

About Michele Brouder

After living for seven years in Ireland, former Buffalonian, Michele Brouder now calls Florida home. Her first book, a YA paranormal, is due to be published sometime in 2014 for Harlequin E, Harlequin’s new digital format. Learn more from her contributor page.

Your Daily Word Count

The daily word count is a personal matter, with some authors adhering to actual counts and others taking a time measuring method. I have always used a daily word count (isn’t that what all the books say to do?) but for some authors daily word counts are more of a guideline than a strict goal; whereas other authors see words counts as the motivator that allows them to push the edge.

My Daily Word Count? I can totally do 2000 words a day!For instance, all of you, no doubt, have heard of Stephen King’s daily requirement of 2,000 words. It is one of those infamous pieces of information out there in the writing community:

“I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words… On some days those ten pages come easily; I’m up and out and doing errands by eleven-thirty in the morning, perky as a rate in liverwurst. More frequently, as I grow older, I find myself eating lunch at my desk and finishing the day’s work around one-thirty in the afternoon. Sometimes, when the words come hard, I’m still fiddling around at teatime. Either way is fine with me, but only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.”

Those 2,000 words are a lofty goal, and one that I have pushed myself to adhere to through the years (with myriad rates of success); for others it is more about getting the words just right.

According to legend, James Joyce was happy if he completed two perfect sentences a day on his book Ulysses. For those of you brave enough to tackle the tomb, you know the book is a mammoth undertaking of references in multiple languages with so much depth as to be almost unswimmable. It is a challenging, but ultimately a brilliant book… that Joyce wrote two sentences at a time.

Other authors vary day-to-day, following time schedules rather than word counts. Haruki Murakami gets up super early and works for a good chunk of the day:

“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. but to hold to such a repetition for so long — six months to a year — requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. physical strength is a necessary as artistic sensitivity.”

In collecting other authors word counts, Margaret Atwood said she writes something like 1,000 to 2,000 words a day by long hand; and rumor has it that Anne Rice writes 5,000 words before calling it quits. Without knowing for sure but by studying their input; Jack London wrote 1,500 words a day and Arthur Conan Doyle did 3,000 words.

And, if you are very interested, you can see Brandon Sanderson actually work in a series of videos, though his daily word count is otherwise unknown.

But what about you? Do you adhere to a strict schedule? A strict number of daily words? Or do you have more of a laid back approach? Also, how do you determine your Book-in-a-Week challenge goals? Are they informed by your daily goals, or are they a little bit extra each month?

Let us know!

About Heidi Hood

Heidi Hood, former journalist, is now a full time mom and part time novelist. She lives in the Pacific Northwest. Learn more from her contributor page.

The Chain Method to Writing Every Day

Writers are often told that writing every day is the best way to stay productive and keep developing as a writer, but it is a discipline I have always struggled with. When a Book-in-a-Week is happening, I find it easier to stay motivated as I see other writers’ daily updates flowing in, but at other times I can easily forget about writing for days at a time. Recently I have been introduced to a method for staying on track which I have found to be the most effective way I have discovered of writing every day: the “chain” method.

Use a print out calendar to track your chain method writing. It can slip into your regular day planner.Often attributed to Jerry Seinfeld, the method is simply to buy, find or make a calendar with a square for each day, and tick off when you have reached your target for the day. Each day, the “chain” of completed days increases, with the aim being to keep an unbroken chain going for as long as possible so that you reap the benefits of writing every day.

At the end of May, I attended a writing retreat and wrote several thousand words in one day, which ended a long slow spell for my writing. Not wanting to lose the momentum, I decided to try out the new method I had read about. I started a chain, placing a tick on my calendar for each day that I completed more than 50 words. With such a low target, it was not too difficult to get started, and most days I went on to write at least one or two hundred words on my no-longer-stalled novel.

My first chain lasted thirteen days. In thirteen days of writing every day I added some five thousand words to my story. When the chain came to an end, I was annoyed at myself for breaking the chain, particularly as there was no good reason for the interruption, I simply got distracted. However, the advantage of this system is that instead of allowing the annoyance at not writing every day to sap my motivation, I instead found that my anger immediately fueled my desire to go further next time.

I nearly suffered a setback yesterday when I was unable to find the cable to charge my laptop. Previously I might well have waited until it turned up before getting back to my writing, but with the chain in mind, I instead decided to pick up a pen and start writing longhand, and was delighted with the results.

I am now three days into my second chain and determined that it will last at least as long as the first. If, like me, you struggle with forming a consistent habit of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) why not give the chain method a go? You might be surprised by your success!

About Stephanie Cage

Stephanie Cage is a British romance writer with books published by The Wild Rose Press and Crimson Romance. She loves dance and musical theatre, and her first full-length novel, Perfect Partners, has a dancing theme. Learn more from her contributor page.

Get Busy Writing

For many of us, writing is a passion. We observe, daydream, jot notes, and become lost in our worlds. Then we come to the paper or the computer and bring those worlds to fruition. We are storytellers. We are artists. Yet, even if we are in the middle of writing and a friend or family member calls to ask if we are busy, we tend to say no (which is always followed by the inevitable “I was wondering if you…”).

Stop hanging out on phone and get busy writing.How could you tell the friend that wants you to come to a birthday dinner or the family member that needs help moving that you are writing and, therefore, busy? You go out, you might have fun, but even in that fun, you have denied yourself your passion. Once you continue to say yes, it gets harder and harder to say no. I used to be one of those people that had a packed social calendar, yet I was miserable. After years of saying “yes”, I learned it was okay to say, “No”. I also learned a few others things that I would like to share with you in case you are denying yourself time to write:

Cut Off Your Phone

Unless you have an invalid parent/child/spouse that relies on you or someone is in critical condition, you need to cut off your phone. Otherwise, incoming text messages and phone calls will distract you. What is the point of saying “I’ll write for an hour today” if you spend half of the time responding to other people?

Create a Schedule or a Promise

If you have a set work schedule where you know what time you will work and what days you have off, plot out time slots to write. Unless an emergency arises, stick to those time slots. If your schedule is erratic, create a weekly schedule based on the number of hours you would like to write per week. Is it 5? 10? Start off with a workable amount then build your way up. If an event arises during your time slot, it is okay to say no. If you really want to go, try to get those hours done before you attend. That way, you will still get writing done for the week and you can enjoy yourself without feeling guilty.

Know Thyself

I am a morning writer. After 4 p.m., I get distracted and after midnight my brain turns to mush. I have a friend that wakes up at 3 a.m. and writes to 5 a.m. everyday. If you are a morning writer and you work from 9 to 5, consider getting up a little earlier everyday. If your body can adjust to daylight savings time, it can also adjust to waking up earlier to write.

Treat Writing Like a Job

No one else around you will take writing seriously unless you do. My friends used to look at me as if I were speaking to them in tongues when I told them I could not hang out with them because I had to write. At first I felt guilty, but the less I wrote, the angrier I became. It was not until I took myself seriously and bowed out of events that they learned to take me seriously. They learned to respect my time.

Find a Support System

Whether it is this wonderful site, a writing group, a writing class, or a writing program, surround yourself with people that take their craft as seriously as you. They will respect your time. They will understand.

I will end with a short story. A couple of years ago I had a friend that had just graduated from college and was unsure if she should get a job. She had fenced throughout high school and college and although she was not sure what she could do with it, she still practiced about eight hours per day. Today, she is a part of the US Team, she has tons of medals, and is one of the top fencers in both the US and the world. What has always struck me is that even before she had achieved any level of fame, she took herself and her passion seriously. She committed. The only way to be a successful writer is to take it seriously. Most of us hope to be successful writers. First, we must simply write.

About Sakinah Hofler

Sakinah Hofler is a writer of fiction, screenplays, and poetry. She is an MFA candidate at Florida State University where she serves as the Assistant Online Editor for the Southeast Review. Her work has appeared in Euonia Review and Counterexample Poetics. Learn more from her contributor page.

One Fictitious Moment — Writing Tidbits

Angela Misri is the up-and-coming Canadian author of the new mystery series, A Portia Adams Adventure. The first book in the series is called Jewel of the Thames and is actually featured on Kindle at the moment for $4.60. But what I really wanted to share with you is the adorable Fiction Writing series that Angela has started on YouTube. The one minute videos feature in-motion illustrations along with her writing tidbits commentary. These are an excellent way to introduce new skills on writing and the writing craft in your already busy lifestyle. The channel is called One Fictitious Moment and it looks like she uploads a new video every few weeks. Here are the first four to get you started. If you subscribe to her channel then you will get an email update when she uploads a new one:

Episode 1: Writing Detective Fiction

Episode 2: Writing a Great Villain

Episode 3: Writing Dialogue

Episode 4: Creating Tension

There you have it! Four minutes of writing tidbits in 1 minute intervals and don’t you feel a little smarter already?

***
Topic Links
* Subscribe to Angela Misri’s One Fictitious Moment
* Purchase Jewel of the Thames on Amazon

About Maureen Wood

M. E. Wood lives in Eastern Ontario with her husband of fifteen years. She has been moderating BIW for over nine years and works on the Internet. You can learn more about her projects on her official website.

Dealing With Rejection

Dealing with rejection is something that every writer has to go through at some point in their lives. Even if publishing is never an end goal and the only reason you write is to entertain yourself, eventually someone is going to reject your writing because they think it is terrible, even if it is prize material.

Blanket rejection letter to writers. For those of us who are looking for publication, in any format, rejection is something we know is coming; however, knowing something is coming does not actually make it easier to deal with it when it arrives.

In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Fredric Neuman writes that we deal with rejection all the time. “Rejection is so common, we do not usually stop to consider it as such,” but when it comes to submitting artistic work for consideration, rejection is something that even the most confident person feels like a blow to the belly.

Unfortunately, studies have concluded that rejection is part of our evolutionary past.

A Brief History

Dr. Guy Winch explains that in “our hunter gatherer past, being ostracized from our tribes was akin to a death sentence, as we were unlikely to survive for long alone. Evolutionary psychologists assume the brain developed an early warning system to alert us when we were at risk for ostracism. Because it was so important to get our attention—those who experienced rejection as more painful (i.e., because rejection mimicked physical pain in their brain) gained an evolutionary advantage—they were more likely to correct their behavior and consequently, more likely to remain in the tribe.”

Rejection, then, was part of the process that ensured that we stuck with the majority. There is strength and safety in the majority, and if you went against the majority, you lost that protection. Back in the day with saber-tooth tigers and no medevacs, it was essential for survival to be part of the larger group.

Of course now, that is not so much the case but like other evolutionary habits that we have been unable to shred (for example, gaining eight pounds from a piece of cake just in case we enter a famine in the next foreseeable future), we hold onto this one as well.

Winch says that there is no way for us to get away from the feeling of rejection as it is hardwired into our brains.

Well, that is just no fun.

Coping

Back to being a writer. I have dealt with rejection throughout my fifteen years of writing. From the poem that was not good enough to be in my high school literary magazine to my inability to find an agent for my novel, rejection has come in waves of negativity.

Unfortunately, I am one of those terribly sensitive people who feels rejection as a personal slap across the face. Every time I get the “we’re sorry, we’re just not interested” e-mail in my inbox I spend way too much time wondering what is wrong with my writing, inevitably leading to wonder about what is wrong with me.

I know that is silly. Neuman says that rejection is not about you: “keep in mind that a rejection is not necessarily–probably not even usually–a reflection on who you are, what you have written, or the way you present yourself.”

Well, that is all well in good, but sometimes knowing that intellectually is not enough to help the feelings of worthlessness.

What do then?

  1. Have a lot of projects, or at least have a lot of submissions out for review. This is another Nueman idea. “Have a lot of irons in the fire.” Having submissions out there keeps the feeling of optimism and hope going, however small.
  2. I personally dislike this one a great deal, but there is some merit in taking rejection as an opportunity to re-look at your piece of writing. Absolutely nothing might be wrong with the piece, but after sending it out and getting rejections back, taking a new look at it with different eyes sometimes brings to light things you would like to fix.
  3. This goes hand-in-hand with number two: be gentle with yourself. If you allow yourself to make mistakes, to get things wrong, and are okay with redoing things, the emotions you feel when someone rejects your writing will not seem quite so harsh. Dr. Alice Boyes talks about this in her article on avoiding personal rejection.
  4. The final piece of advice I have is from my husband who is in sales. He deals with rejections on a daily basis, and not just one or two but in the tens and twenties. On a regular basis he tells me that it is all a numbers game… an adage I am sure more than one of you have heard before. I recall this thought whiles reading through a Writer’s Digest blog: don’t expect an agent to say yes until you have sent out at least 100 queries. “It is a numbers game,” my husband repeatedly reminds me. I hate this, but he is right. At some point someone will be in the right frame of mind, the right time in their life, and what you have written will be exactly right for them.

Remember

As a last piece of hoorah! remember these examples:

  • Louis L’Amour was rejected 200 times.
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul series was rejected 140 times.
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times.
  • The Help was rejected 60 times.
  • A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 26 times.
  • Dune was rejected 23 times.

With that in mind, keep on keeping on, marching forward.

Happy Writing!

About Heidi Hood

Heidi Hood, former journalist, is now a full time mom and part time novelist. She lives in the Pacific Northwest. Learn more from her contributor page.

Crafting Dialogue

Dialogue is one of the tale-tell signs of believability for characters in writing.
Three Ways to Craft Your Dialogue.

“Hello,” Michael said. “Anna, it’s been nearly seventeen years since I’ve last seen you. My, you look the same. Brown hair, brown eyes, about five feet, six inches.”

“Hi Michael,” Anna said. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you. I’ve recently gotten divorced. My husband had one of his buddies handle our divorce and they are trying to make sure I don’t get anything. But other than that, I still work at Overlook Hospital. Also Lisa, you remember, my youngest daughter, she is in pre-school, but…”

Yawn.

In one of my previous articles, “Before You Submit“, I mentioned that one of the questions you should ask yourself is “Is the dialogue real?” This question doesn’t just apply to short stories, it also applies to any form (novel, non-fiction, etc.). Nothing kills dramatic tension in a scene like dialogue that’s too weighty, too overloaded with information, or too didactic.

The good thing about dialogue is that it is a craft that can be learned and perfected. Here are a few things that can help you improve the dialogue in your story:

1. Eavesdrop. You can learn so much about speech patterns, about how people talk, and how they reveal information about themselves.

Overheard at a café as I type this:

Guy #1: “It’s going to suck.”

Guy #2: “But she’s… trust me. It’s just better if you tell her, man.”

Guy #1: “You don’t know her. Like you met her, but you don’t know her.”

I am not sure what they are talking about, but from the snippets, I can guess: relationship issues, problems with mother, problems with a close female friend. Guy #1 has a secret. Guy #2 is sympathetic to his secret, perhaps even empathetic. Also, their use of terms of endearment such as “man” and fillers such as “like” hint their age range.

Eavesdropping allows you to understand how dialogue reveals relationships between people. There is a certain way people address one another based on their relationship and how much they know (or do not know).

2. Refine. Although eavesdropping is great for understanding people’s interactions, we talk a lot. In real life, it’s okay to meander. In a story, the dialogue should do one of two things: move the story forward and/or reveal character.

3. Listen. Once you think you have dialogue that fits in the conversation, you must do two things. First, read it silently to make sure it fits. Ask yourself the following questions: Is it necessary within the framework of the story? Is it true to the character? Is it true to the character’s diction? Second, read it aloud. Does it sound natural to your ears? If it sounds unnatural to your ears, chances are it will sound unnatural to a reader.

“Yes, I do feel fine” sounds different than “Yeah, I feel okay” or “I’m feeling” or even “Feelin’ good” or “I’m just chilling.”

Make sure one of your revisions solely focuses on dialogue.

About Sakinah Hofler

Sakinah Hofler is a writer of fiction, screenplays, and poetry. She is an MFA candidate at Florida State University where she serves as the Assistant Online Editor for the Southeast Review. Her work has appeared in Euonia Review and Counterexample Poetics. Learn more from her contributor page.