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The Rudest Awakening

October 1, 2016 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified October 5, 2016

John Gardner wrote about the fictive dream, the writer’s imaginings about his fictional world and the characters walking through it as though they were real people engaged in real activities.

But while a story world can be as lifelike to writers as a dream world or even our real world, writers aren’t the only ones who can imagine a fictional world.

Readers can immerse themselves within stories and imagine themselves strolling city streets and smelling Grandma’s baking bread. Readers can be hurt by what a character says, so hurt that they cry genuine tears. Or a book’s events can have readers laughing out loud or scrambling to find a location touted by a character.

Readers experience the fictional world as explorers or visitors or even as one of a story’s characters.

They see colors. They experience motion. They hear sounds.

And they have very real physical and emotional reactions to events that take place in that world.

Readers invest in characters. They invest in an ongoing adventure. They invest in you.

And if you’ve given them a realistic setting with engaging characters, they enjoy the fictional world just as much as they enjoy a fantastic dream, just as much—sometimes—as they enjoy real-world events.

We’ve all had dreams that we wished would go on and on. But lucid dreaming aside, they never do. They have to end sometime.

Books also have to end. But they don’t have to end too soon. And we don’t have to waken our readers rudely. Instead of shocking them awake, we can bring them gently out of the dream once it’s complete.

We don’t have to throw water on readers or sound an alarm to shake them out of the story. We especially don’t want to do that during a good part.

Readers don’t want to wake up, not before discovering what happens. But some writers sabotage their readers’ reading experience by shaking them awake, rudely pulling them out of the fictional world that they’d been enjoying so wholeheartedly.

In more than a handful of articles, I’ve mentioned story components or author practices that can yank a reader straight out of the fictional world. Yet in those articles the focus wasn’t on the events or issues that interrupted the reader’s journey through that world; the interruptions were just one component of some other topic.

So I figured that it was time to put together a list of interruptions that you won’t want to burden your readers with.


When we’re reading a great book, we don’t want to be interrupted. Not by a ringing phone, a screaming child, a demanding spouse, or the need to go to bed or to work or to school.

We want to enjoy our adventures with the characters.

That said, I suggest that it’s easier for a reader to handle interruptions from the outside world than it is to adjust to interruptions that originate within the story itself.

We can ignore a ringing phone or doorbell, pick up a good book after dinner and get caught back up in the adventure, even ignore the ticking clock that constantly reminds us that we have to get up in a few hours. But an interruption that comes from the story or is created by the writer? Those interruptions can sour a great story and send readers running.

Interruptions from our world can be ignored. Interruptions from inside the story world become a part of that world and influence our reactions to it.

We expect interruptions from the real world, and we adapt to them. We don’t expect problems that develop within the fictional world, that reach out to us from within the dream.

A reader who notices problems is no longer merely a participant in a story’s events. Characters don’t know when there are technical problems with a story—they just keep living their lives. Readers deeply immersed in a story shouldn’t notice either, but they do. Meaning that they are no longer like a character, safely oblivious of anomalies and errors.

A reader who notices a story problem becomes an evaluator, a critic, an outside observer capable of seeing not only the fiction but fiction’s support structures. He’s now aware of not only the imagined elements but the underpinnings of the fictional world.

His attention is split between the imaginary and the real. He no longer has a single focus. He’s no longer lost to the dream.

He’s become an outsider looking in on the story environment rather than someone walking through it, someone who had once been unaware—deliberately unaware—that there was another world outside the fictional one. At least unaware for the time it took to read the book.

The reader who notices problems with a story world is like the dreamer who suddenly knows he’s dreaming. As the dreamer often wakes at the moment he realizes he’s dreaming, so does the reader awake from the fictional dream when an intrusion reminds him that he’s only reading, that the people he’s following and the world he’s experiencing don’t really exist.

A rude awakening is a downer for readers.


Interruptions in Fiction

Any detail or oddity that doesn’t fit the other story pieces can disturb a reader. Anything that messes with your carefully crafted world can be intrusive. A strong enough interruption can turn off the reader, not only waking him but making him not want to return to the fictional events.

Maybe one small interruption wouldn’t bother most readers. But it might. And more intrusive problems or multiple problems are likely to bother many readers.

It’s up to you to head off story disruptions before readers step into your story world.

A character who shows up in a scene where he couldn’t be or the character who behaves contrary to his personality and to the scene’s situation can be the shock that wakes the reader from the fictional dream. These are two blatant mistakes that can awaken readers to the fact that what they’re reading is unreal, but there are others. And some are not quite as easily noticed by the writer or editor looking for them.

How about a list of fiction disruptors to give you anomalies to look for?


Fictional Dream Disruptors

•  A character who declares or behaves with an outlook or worldview that doesn’t match his era or his personal body of knowledge

•  Author mistakes and miscues: bad grammar, incorrect facts, inconsistent spelling, wacky or incorrect punctuation, preaching or teaching, incorrect word choices

•  Characters who think or speak like fictional characters aware of an audience rather than as real people unaware of others watching them

•  Implausible plot threads

•  Implausible endings and resolutions, including deus ex machina endings

•  Endings that don’t match the story setup

•  Characters who have no motivation for unusual actions

•  Summarizing key events rather than showing them

•  Showing unimportant events rather than summarizing them

•  Leaving major or unusual story issues unresolved

•  Confusing wording

•  Having someone other than the protagonist play the major role in the climax

•  Characters who know what they couldn’t know or who act on information they couldn’t have

•  Characters using words they wouldn’t use or wouldn’t know

•  Characters who make senseless mistakes—when they’d normally never make such mistakes—simply so that the plot works out a certain way

•  You know, Bobs—character dialogue that has characters sharing information that the characters already know—and would not be talking about in such a blatant way—as a means of filling in the reader

•  Patches of lyrical or poetic writing that don’t match the rest of the story’s style

•  Boring dialogue that sounds like conversation—um, uh—and not like dialogue

•  Dialogue that sounds like bad movie dialogue—cop talk or mafia speak or too much dialect or slang

•  Repetition of the same information

•  The failure to include setting markers of time and place

•  A change in narrative style

These are obviously not the only problems a story can have. Look at these as the kinds of problems an otherwise strong story might occasionally produce. We’re not trying to cover every possible story weakness in this article; we’re trying to highlight those that may occur only once in a story, those you might overlook.

Good writing—and the knowledge of what makes good writing good—will help you reduce interruptions to the fictional dream. But let this list be a reminder of possible problem areas.

A great story that otherwise ticks all the boxes can fall apart with the inclusion of one of these fiction interruptions, at least as far as reader satisfaction is concerned. And a negative reaction isn’t necessarily one the reader can control. So it’s up to writers and editors to root out possible problems, to correct weaknesses in the fabric of the fiction. To keep readers inhabiting the story world without being shaken by a rude awakening.

Some weaknesses are harder to detect than others—make sure a few beta readers, a critique partner, or an editor reads your stories. Find problems on the page before they become problems in a reader’s mind. Fix problems before they shake the foundations of your fictional world.


Feel free to name other disruptors—especially those that bother you as you read—in the comments.

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Tags: , ,     Posted in: Beyond the Basics, Editing Tips

48 Responses to “The Rudest Awakening”

  1. MKB Graham says:

    I would add anything that is physically impossible or illogical—as Eudora Welty said: Make sure the sun doesn’t rise in the West. Also omitting a character reaction that would seem perfectly appropriate and expected, such as reacting to a death, bad news or physical pain.

    • Ann says:

      Don’t we all react in different ways to death/bad news?

      • Ann, I agree that we all react differently to many stimuli, but we do react. As I mentioned in my comment to MKB, I see plenty of manuscripts where no one reacts to events major or minor. So those events do nothing to propel the story forward. The stories would be no different without those events—so why include them? We definitely want story events to influence plot, characters, conflict, and reader emotions.

    • Physical impossibilities is a great addition to the list.

      Characters who don’t react is a problem I find in many manuscripts. You’re exactly right that characters must respond. That’s part of the action/reaction or stimulus/response pattern that keeps a story moving forward.

      Great additions, MKB.

  2. Cyrus Epler says:

    I find disruptions in the time line knock me out of the flow. It’s trendy to jump around in time and space, but if I have to stop and page back to the chapter heading to figure when the action is happening or whose point of view we are in, it breaks me out of the story. Linear story telling from a single POV is best for flow and shouldn’t be abandoned without serious reason. Being trendy is not a serious reason.

    • Cyrus, being trendy is probably not a good reason to do anything in our writing. On the other hand, wanting to try something new, wanting to see if we can master a certain technique, that’s always good.

      Many nonlinear stories do work, but there should be a purpose for the somewhat unusual technique. It should create a particular effect or create a specific mood or tone. And it’s likely that there will be a need to adjust other elements to help readers navigate the story. That is, when we take away something common to many stories, readers might need a different story marker to help them get through the read. Yet the whole point might be to make the reader a bit uncomfortable. And that’s a legitimate intention.

      The bottom line, however, is making the story work both for the characters and for the readers. If either objective fails, the story isn’t successful. Not the way it could be.

      A great observation, Cyrus.

  3. Just a line to let you know I appreciated this list…thank you! I write tween/middlegrade fiction and feedback regarding from my readers regarding “dream disruptors” is invaluable. No other disruptors to add right now…but I printed the list out to review and ponder on as I work.

  4. Maria DMarco says:

    Under the headings of language…I have a pet peeve when reading dialogue for characters in a created world or in a historical setting, and contemporary slang or ‘extra’ words pop up from every character. Especially disrupting are ‘extra’ words used by people today: ‘like’, ‘really’, ‘even’, ‘just’ — etcetc. “I didn’t even really have a chance to just talk to her, like really really just talk!” :o)

    Being extreme there, but it skates the same line as when a YA author attempts to ‘talk teen’ and winds up with every character of every age and type ‘talking teen’.

    I love your posts, Beth, as they always approach a topic that seems to have been covered everywhere — yet, you bring a new angle or fresh perspective to it.

    oyes — I’ve had your book for awhile now and regularly reference it in my work as an editor, especially when attempting to explain certain story elements to new authors. Thank you for always sharing your insights.

    • Maria, those words that don’t fit stand out bright and bold, don’t they? It’s as if our eyes—and ears—go straight to them. Definitely interruptors.

      And thanks, Maria. I hope I bring something new with every article. I don’t want to repeat only what writers and editors can get elsewhere. And I always want to include more than the basics. (I want that because I’m always looking for more than the basics myself. And I typically want examples and exceptions too.)

      I’m so glad TMoF is useful. It does have a lot of info and suggestions for both new authors and self-publishing authors (as well as for editors, of course). Thanks for letting me know.

  5. Nick Nichols says:

    Another great post. What about a checklist of these items that is used in a review/edit, where that particular review is SOLELY for the purpose of making sure these disruptors are not present? Thanks for the great post!

    • Great idea, Nick! I would consider this to be part of a developmental edit, but I like the idea of setting up an assessment targeting ‘disrupters’, specifically.

      • Nick says:

        Thanks! I agree. A top to bottom self-edit for these. I too thought about a developmental edit catching these, and I think that should still occur as part of a developmental edit (most definitely). If these are reviewed ourselves, too, as part of a self-edit, I can also see such a review providing additional ideas for improvement of the story. You know? Thank you for your reply.

    • Nick and Maria, I think it’s a great idea too. If there are a lot of examples of all of these interruptors or examples of a variety of them, identifying them in an assessment or addressing them in a developmental edit is a great idea. But I’d also consider looking for them in the polishing stage, after several rounds of rewrites. Some can be sneaky and slip in without announcing themselves too loudly. Thus the writer might miss one or two in a rewrite; working through the list again may be necessary. This would be especially true for writers who repeatedly included the same kinds of interruptors.

  6. Phil Huston says:

    Great self edit information! Some we see, some we don’t. Several questions.
    Preaching and teaching is constituted by what? Subject matter, length, intensity? Characters have t get angry or be motivated and let it go or they’re Joe Friday on a slow day.

    Slang and hip speak, old or new. Some people just talk that way. You can’t have a band roadie saying, “I beg your pardon ladies, but see-through pants and free hallucinogens will not necessarily guarantee early delivery of backstage passes. But like spice, a little is a lot and I get that.

    Uh, um, like totally? Like Nobody, ever, in like the whole world gets interrupted or like, um, embarrassed, you know, major duh, um, right? Like spice again.

    Ultra clean dialogue falls in that same can as the “said” rule. Yes it needs to go someplace, and yes it can be disruptive. However if the character or the scene is disruptive for a reason, like setting the tone of scene or a character’s reaction to anything from a convenience store robbery to a…? As with the roadie. “Pardon me, sir. I would like to ask that you provide me with all of your cash, negotiable checks and easily resalable merchandise at your earliest convenience.”
    “Oh my, Sharon, did you see that? How rude!”
    Unless it’s Nancy Drew…

    An entire book of Mafia or stoner or Valley Girl or Scottish will kill you, and some of the biggest selling Brits are the worst about writing out their linguistic vagaries, but “Tom Sayer” with a grammar book? Nah.

    The late Barbara Park (60 million in print) once said of her critics, who were vocal and numerous, that dialogue in fiction and grammar were two entirely different things and convincing people of that wasn’t worth the argument.

    I agree with lousy grammar in narrative and long winded diatribes. I disagree with lousy grammar or the use of occasional subcultural vernacular by characters getting on their high horse about something (briefly). I mean half of freaking “Moby Dick” is a textbook on whaling and like, um, uh GAG me borrrrring, you know? Reet?

    • MariaD'Marco says:

      Yep, dialogue should fit the story and the character speaking it. And if readers don’t like a certain type of dialogue, they don’t have to read books that contain them. What can be disrupting if when all characters sound the same, and that same is a speaking style that doesn’t fit the environment of the story. When an adult character’s dialogue is barely altered teen-speak (the parent, the teacher, the doctor, the cop, the bad guy, the stranger).

      I’ve encountered preach/teach in novels where the author’s ‘agenda’ becomes very clear. The story stops and the ‘lecture’ begins, whether via a character’s discourse or pages of dense narrative. The story fades into the background and all I ‘hear’ is the author railing about a pet cause.

      What? You didn’t want to learn all about whaling? :o))

      • Maria, I’ve encountered that same preach/teach as well. If the character isn’t a preacher or a teacher, or if the character is talking to the reader and not characters, changes need to be made. If writers want to present a message, present it. But do it in a way that fits the story and the characters. Don’t bring the real world into the fictional one.

    • Phil, the teaching and preaching I’m talking about is when the writer inserts his opinions in ways that don’t fit the story. We’re not talking about a character doing his thing—we’re talking about a writer inserting him- or herself into fiction in a way that doesn’t work.

      As for slang and dialect and so forth, a little goes a long, long way. Nobody’s suggesting neutral dialogue. I am suggesting that writers don’t try to imitate a real person’s accent or dialect in every syllable. And a writer definitely shouldn’t be trying to highlight only one character’s speech style.

      Everyone speaks differently. Use a word here or a sentence pattern or word order there to convey the differences between characters, but don’t try to convey an accent for only one character and with every word. Your readers will appreciate that you give them a break, that you try to make the read a fairly easy one for them. They don’t want to have to slog through a writer’s attempts at portraying dialect and accent. And they definitely don’t want to fight through a writer’s bad attempts at portraying accents and dialect.

      Just as we don’t include all the ums and uhs and repetition and backtracking of real conversations in our dialogue, we don’t need to convey the pronunciation of every word. There are more efficient ways of conveying that a character speaks with an accent.

      Yes, some hints of the way a character sounds is good. Too many hints is overkill.

      You mentioned grammar—grammar and word order and word choice can all be used to convey a character’s background and personality and voice, so a writer doesn’t have to rely on just one method to reveal a character. Combinations of the three of these are often more effective than trying to convey the sound of an accent.

      Another reason to not overdo references to accents and dialect is because readers catch on fast. If a writer keeps overdoing the dialect, readers have a legitimate reason to get ticked off with that writer. Readers don’t need to be told something again and again. Layering on heavy dialect constantly is the same as the writer telling readers something over and over. Hint at dialect and accent, but don’t keep banging the reader over the head with it. Dialect and accent are a minor part of a story, part of a character’s personality and part of the setting. They aren’t the major focus and shouldn’t become that for readers.

      As always, a great discussion, Phil.

      • Phil Huston says:

        Early on I caught the “let them talk, but” advice. I had two Scottish characters once. I said they were Scottish and it took the man character a few extra when she first met them to process their accents, next. As you say, there are speech patterns that can employed to great effect to differentiate characters. They are numerous and just varied enough. I watched a lot of Brit broadcasting, movies etc. looking for help one time. “Mostly” it’s the same language. I can’t understand that North Coastal thing, but they aren’t saying anything all that different. New Zealand and Australia? I never knew so many murder victims had a “deed.” No one should try to write that stuff. My facetiousness earlier was that I wrote a chapter of lunch with a ballet dancer Valley Girl one time that took like totally for-ever because if the rhythm is wrong, the scene is wrong. That was my point.

        I was glad to read the bit about preaching. I have a feminist who gets in someone’s face for a couple of lines once in while to show who she is. Not paragraphs or pages. So, um, like mega whew there for me, huh?

        Thanks for always being succinct and on target and for keeping everyone who writes on their toes and their best behavior!

  7. Maria Mauck says:

    When there are a lot of people conversing and chatting together
    i do not like to use the ” long form” of the dialogue. I mean, I want to keep all those people talking, often criticizing, and blabbering away in one same paragraph. I don’t seem very successful

    • Maria, putting all the dialogue into one paragraph can be done, but it can also be confusing for the reader. If readers don’t have to know who says what, then you can sometimes through all the dialogue together. But if the characters who are speaking are major characters, it’s likely that readers will want to know who is saying what. And splitting their dialogue into different paragraphs is often the best way to do that.

      You can always try throwing dialogue together in a single paragraph for an effect, but do keep the reader in mind.

  8. Phil Huston says:

    was from Writers Stack.
    Stage business. B takes a drink. C eats something. B lounges back in his chair, looking thoughtful as he listens. C winks at the serving guy. B rolls his eyes at something.

    The general “rule” is to have two people talk, background the rest. But real meetings, parties etc are often disruptive, interjections flying in. The trouble is going to be tags and descriptives because without them it’s just lines flying in and unfortunately in fiction words are the visuals so with six people riffing in a room or around a table you have to set that up or have two people get after it and the rest pop in after X number of lines to throw fuel or water on the fire. Good luck.

  9. Phil Huston says:

    Sorry, but this has been an intriguing post for me. Another one of those how to use a word weedeater because I am all about self editing until I’m blind.

    Truth. I bought Beth’s “Punctuation in Dialogue” PDF. And like all rules, yeah…from the original blog post:

    “He loved you?” she asked, the loathing clear in her voice and posture.

    Okay. Tagging “she asked” after a question mark is redundant in the extreme. A lot of dialogue tags are redundant to me. Quotation marks are the equivalent of “said” to me. John (some sort of action descriptive). “Rain. Dammit. I just washed my car.”
    Said has no business anywhere near that. We and the reader know who, and that they “said” or commented. Had there been a ? after rain would we have needed “asked” or “questioned” or even lamented? Maybe lamented if you needed a timing pause filled with something but to me, ALL of that excess junk except who acted some way and spoke is one of the most distracting bits of fiction construction kit. Forget said, and asked. Dump that stuff right there and your story moves, your scary word count drops. Give characters a life without interruptions and your story will gain the same thing.

    Personal opinion only. Not in the rule book anywhere.

    • Charlie Lear says:

      Charlie looked up from the screen. “Right on, Phil!”

    • Because we don’t always want an action beat, dialogue tags are useful. If you’ve got three characters talking quickly, no actions to identify them, short tags are helpful to identify the speaker. Yes, they are examples of telling, but for the most part they serve their purposes without creating problems for readers. They often function just like bits of punctuation, as signs and markers for the sentence.

      I don’t know that you’ll see them disappear in our lifetime. But that doesn’t mean that you have to overuse them. Just don’t run from them either. They are functional. Not including them may cause problems for readers.

      But writers are always free to try anything. If you want to write a novel without dialogue tags, go for it. You may produce an awesome story with a style that readers love. On the other hand, if they’re bothered by your style choices, you might lose them. Still, there’s nothing wrong with experimenting.

  10. Thank you so much, Beth and everyone, for all this wonderful information about what NOT to do in story writing. I’ve shared your post generously online, Beth. Always learn something new here.

  11. Mark Schultz says:

    Another great post on keeping the magic alive for the reader! You nailed that down so well! I am going to encourage the three teen writers I mentor to subscribe!

  12. This may be slightly off your topic, but for me it’s another interruption to my reading. What do you think about the quotes in front of a chapter? (epigraph?) I know it’s accepted. I can sometimes see that it is a clue to what is in the chapter, but why is that necessary? I don’t start over at the beginning of the new chapter… I’m involved with the story, I read straight through, and that gets in my way. Annoying. I often don’t read it, but my concentration has still been interrupted.

    • Hi Shirley — I don’t mind if quotes are attached to a chapter title, IF they give me a clue or some kind and are deeply obvious as to who is speaking. Some books use this to hint at which character is most involved in the next chapter, etc.

      Related to this, somewhat, is the distraction of chapter titles that make you say, what the heck? I expect a title to mean something, set my expectations even — and when it’s just plain unrelated to what happens in the chapter, I tend to get irritated.

      Like you and quotes, I’d almost rather not have chapter titles – just give me a number so I can blow past it.

    • Shirley, when I’m reading for pleasure, I skip epigraphs except maybe for the one that opens a story. If I do read them, I never remember them as I read and then if I go back after I finish the story to read them again, I almost always wonder why they were included. Every once in a while I find a truly apt epigraph, but they often serve to interrupt the read and not do much else.

      As for chapter titles, I tend to read them in a humorous book but otherwise, like you, I skip those as I read. If I’m involved in the story, that’s all I want to be reading. No matter how creative or clever, text that is outside the story is an intrusion.

      Those are great additions to the list.

  13. Yes, Maria, I know what you mean. I think I don’t even see chapter titles. I fly right on past.

  14. Len Diamond says:

    You say “we don’t need to convey the pronunciation of every word [of accented speech]. There are more efficient ways of conveying that a character speaks with an accent.
    What would those ways be if the dialog is direct quotes of those characters?

    • Len, characters can refer to another character’s accent. They can do it through a direct response—“Hey, I love your accent. Where are you from?” or maybe—“Don’t you just love how Ivan speaks? I could listen to him all day.”

      Or they can have a thought—At first I thought the new guy was speaking a foreign language, but when I tuned out Marco and John, I realized he was speaking English with a delightfully attractive French accent.

      You could even have a character react through physical movements—Jane tilted her ear toward Lana, needing to concentrate to make out her words. Lana’s English was heavily accented by her native Russian and apparently some heavy street slang. (The next time you could simply show Jane tilting her head or moving closer.)

      One character could ask another character to repeat a word or a sentence.

      You can give a character an expression or word/phrase choice that they’d always use under the same conditions. Say a word is similar in Spanish and English—have the character use the Spanish version.

      You could have one character run interference for another character. So when two guys go to a bar, one (rightly or wrongly) may correct or “translate” the other guy’s speech for the woman he’s speaking to.

      You definitely don’t want to go overboard with these techniques, but they are options. When you use one or more of these, you don’t have to try to recreate what the spoken words sound like. Dialogue is a report of what is said, not how it’s said. Word choice—biscuit or cookie, truck or lorry, buddy or mate—is often all that’s necessary to differentiate the language of speakers.

  15. Len Diamond says:

    Add close quotes after “accent.”

  16. Darien says:

    What takes me out is a $10 word. I have a decent vocabulary, so when it’s some ridiculous word no one would know . . . “should I look it up? Can I figure it out by the context?”

    Also, long adverbs: unexpectedly, inquisitively and others with the -edly construction.

    Listening to my writing helps me find things. It gives me a chance to just react and not concentrate on the black and white.

    Great topic, and Phil, I got some giggles reading your posts!

    As always, thanks Beth!

    • Darien, big words that don’t fit the character can definitely yank a reader from the story. Words need to fit.

      And listening to your own words is a great way to find those story interruptors. Anything that cause a double take needs to be reexamined.

  17. Phil Huston says:

    Okay, I feel like I’m hijacking here. Misery loves company and all that. I have looked for the answers to the questions posed in this thread for over a year. I never found any. I found rules, “best practices,” no examples. I am no expert nor do I purport to be one, but I write a load of dialogue. I’ll save al of that discussion. Below are some examples I came up with to solve the accent issue and bailing on “said.” Knock my writing into next week if you want, but the techniques might be useful to someone.

    Okie girl meets Scottish flat mates in Cambridge – FYI wearing bright red raincoat

    “You’ll be Deanna. Bloody landing beacon, you are. Come on, don’t stand about in the rain. Cat? Our lass from the colonies is arrived.”
    Another girl appeared in the dark back corner of the room, dishtowel in hand.
    “Bloody…She’ll not be run down on Merton in that.” She gave Deanna the once over, frowned at her low heel dress shoes. “No Wellies? You weren’t told it rains here?” It took Deanna a few seconds to process that from “Nwellies? Ya wernatole eh rines ere?”
    “Yes. No wellies. Those are rain boots? Rubbers, my dad says, and mom says galoshes. Do I need them? I sort of threw all this together in a big hurry.”
    “Will you have a listen to her? Sounds a bit off, but she’s a fine eyeful of lass, I’d say.” Merriam had taken her coat and hung it on a coat rack that stood in the middle of a drip pan. “Scotch, love? We’ve a beer as well.” – that’s it, no more accent writing, only rhythm.

    Okie guy meets Kansa girl – Set up

    “I missed the ‘walk’ light on purpose and waited up so we could bale this and stack it in the barn. I don’t need a boyfriend or a new savior or a better job or a better way or better sex or Avon or Amway or the New York City Sunday paper or anything you’re selling. Leave me alone.”
    Guy gets car, catches up again – “I’m from bale it and put in the barn country myself, you don’t talk through your nose, and Missy is still bullxxxx.” Regionalisms, not dialect

    “You can ride in the back with the tire iron like the last girl that got in my car, but get off your feet and outta the heat, tell me where you need to go. Hey, I liked that one. Feet, heat.”
    “What, now you’re some kind of prairie poet or something? I heard twang. Texas? Not tin can enough to be Okie.”
    “Okie born and raised. But I’ve spent a lot of time getting it out of my nose and down into a drawl.”
    “You’re not there yet. Maybe North Texas?” She gave up a very small grin, crawled into the back seat.

    Texas meets Hollywood press agent –

    “Five eleven. And a half. Sometimes three eighths, sometimes five eighths —”
    “Five-eleven. Couldn’t we just say six? No? No. Do me the biggest and don’t talk so much. I like it, honestly, the little accent, but slower would help. You’re not a hick, the drawl is good. Think about your golden radio voice. You can practice on the phone. Call people, have normal conversation, only lower, and a little slower. Too slow with that you’re a Gomer. Tomorrow, three o’clock, with Olin. Here’s the addy. Sit in the chair, practice your voice. He knows what I want. You’re going to be gorgeous, I can tell. Where’s the girl?”

    Arguing sexism in a hotel lobby – Accent, and no said

    “‘Y’all’ pay us to be prettier than we are and spray tanned where the sun doesn’t shine and made up like your ‘butt floss’ circus clowns.” She paused, glared. “‘Y’all?’ God. What is that, Texas? No, you’re no redneck. It’s not gooey enough for ‘Jaw-juh.’ This is L.A. You’ve worked on it, I know you have.” She checked the ceiling again, sighed. “I give, for a minute. Would you like a margarita? I would. Large and frozen.”
    “Yeah, I would. But…” Jackson nodded at the lobby bar, ten or twelve bodies deep and forty wide, almost all male custom auto parts and accessory buyers and sellers. “No way.”

    I’d open a blog page up for anyone who wants to throw dialogue around, but I’m not selling anything or looking for hits, and Beth would have to say “yay” or “nay” first.

    There is no help out there for what I would call “modern” dialogue other than what I have found which is minimized use of colloquialisms and rhythm. I’d love to hear what anyone else is doing.

    Back to your regularly scheduled thread.

    • All your examples work well, Phil. They convey information about the speakers.

      The only problem I’d have with any of them would be the speed if all the dialogue was always written that way. You’re using examples to give us a hint of the speaker, so I doubt that you’d actually write dialogue this way paragraph after paragraph, but that’s another issue to think about. Sometimes you want to slow the pace a bit, and dialogue tags can serve to do that.

      And sometimes you simply want to change or break the rhythm. A dialogue tag or action beat can help there.

      Great dialogue examples.

      • Phil Huston says:

        Not even me, in my dialogue driven stupor, would write “guy gets car, comes back” between dialogue bits. Those were simply tension, argument, persuasion. Not in that order.

        I put them in semi-context here

        The sexism argument didn’t make it because they get pretty potty mouth and I’m not out to offend anyone, so I kept it pretty G-rated. There is nothing for sale, no gimmicks. If anyone would like to post examples, ideas, suggestions about nothing but beating dialogue, please do. It’s WordPress, not someplace that will send you a million emails and you needn’t follow anyone if you don’t want to. But come beat up dialogue, because there’s hardly anywhere on the internet I’ve found to do that. No personal attacks, just dialogue about dialogue.

        Thanks, Beth, for being patient with me on this one. Some day I need to send you some money and some words, huh?

  18. Mark Schultz says:

    I love the way you capture the accents and colloquialisms Phil! As a proofreader, it can be challenging also, not wanting to quash the writer’s voice but aiming for readability. I enjoy this part of the craft a lot, and I do more reading aloud at this time than others; listening for cadence and rhythm. Any alliteration or rhyming is a bonus! Thanks for a great reply!

  19. Karen Saari says:

    Using the same word – over and over and over again. I read a book that used the word ‘bounded’ ad nauseum. Anytime someone entered or left a room they bounded. It was a historical novel based on a real event, and I wanted to know what happened. That was the only reason I kept reading and I found myself tightening up every time it looked like someone might enter a room. Are they going to bound? Of course they are! I can’t even bring myself to use that word in my own writing. Elderly women were bounding from room to room like kangaroo’s. It was awful and did much to ruin my reader experience.

    When editing, I make note of the same word more than once in a paragraph.

    • Karen, I can feel myself tensing up just reading your comments. Yes, when we start to look for words—and I admit I start doing that with creative dialogue tags and with word repetition, especially when the word is an unusual one—we have moved outside of the fiction.

      I remember actually counting the uses of some word that Ayn Rand kept repeating in Atlas Shrugged, although I’ve now forgotten what the word was.

      While the image of bounding kangaroos can be delightful, I’m sure it wouldn’t fit most stories.

      Thanks for the additional interruptor.

    • Karen! Thanks for the huge laugh! I was giggling up to the point of you being afraid every time some might enter a room — and then — the bit about elderly women and kangaroos sent me over the edge!

      Absolutely great — I needed that — so thanks!! :o))

  20. Mark Schultz says:

    Thanks Beth, I do too. These kids are so full of talent; the 2 girls are in the musical “Grease”, one is playing Frenchy! All three are involved in dance, art and singing. I am taking the long range view in terms of their writing; it will be there when the dust has settled.

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