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Choreograph Your Dialogue


Giordano Dance Chicago in the only way around is through, choreographed by Joshua Blake Carter with concept and structure by Nan Giordano.

First as a writer, and now as an editor, I spend a lot of time contemplating the flow of a particular piece. I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing kills a story faster than repetition, and that it goes deeper than just repeated words. Repetitive choreography can be a disaster in a story.

Take for example, the following:

“I was hungry.” Michael brushed chocolate and crumbs from his face with his sleeve.

“I told you to wait.” Mother snatched the rest of the cookie from his fist and tossed it into the trash.

“But Mother…” His lip quivered.

“No cookies before supper. Period.” She lifted the cookie jar to the top of the fridge.

Not a bad start for a newer writer, but notice how every paragraph starts with dialogue? Now, read the same example, with one simple alteration–the sentence starts vary between dialogue and action beats:

“I was hungry.” Michael brushed chocolate and crumbs from his face with his sleeve.

Mother snatched the rest of the cookie from his fist and tossed it into the trash. “Sweetheart, I told you to wait.”

“But Mother…” His lip quivered.

She lifted the cookie jar to the top of the fridge. “No cookies before supper. Period.”

Notice some of the things implied here. Mother has a bit of a temper. Her flash, reactionary action of snatching the cookie (involuntary, almost) comes before her more measured dialogue.

His trailing answer and quivering lip hint that Mother may be giving him a stern look. He thinks for a second that he might be able to sweet-talk his mom into another cookie, even though she’s just cut him off at the pass with the one he was eating. But then, he sees her face and realizes another cookie is not happening. After that reflection, the physical reaction comes into play.

If she had said  no cookies before supper before lifting the jar to the top of the fridge, Michael might believe he still has a small glimmer of hope. But the action emphasizes the finality of her words. Not only is she saying he can’t have the cookie, she’s lifted it out of his reach.

A well-written scene is carefully choreographed. It’s of utmost importance to consider when a dialogue will be given from a reactionary standpoint.

Consider this scenario:

Mary rounded the corner, stopping two feet from Luke, who sat lip-locked with a brunette.

“You jerk! How dare you?” She tapped him on the shoulder.

The shoulder tap feels off here. Wouldn’t she want his attention before calling him out? A light tap on the shoulder does nothing to show the fury she must be feeling.

And this one:

Annie burst into the boutique, Chad at her heels. “We’re having a baby!”

“That’s great.” Meredith smiled.

Now, I’m an advocate for using a better action beat than Meredith smiled in this situation. It’s weak, and does nothing to help us SEE what Meredith is really thinking. However, think about the implications of her smiling AFTER she speaks.

Involuntary and natural reactions are spontaneous. They come first. Dialogue takes thought. So, if she gives the dialogue first, it implies there must be a pause before she speaks. Which begs the question–why? Is Meredith not happy about this baby?  But if she smiles first, it feels natural. She is happy. No question.

And another:

Karen rolled her shopping cart into the milk aisle, stopping two feet behind Lisa.

“Hey, Karen. I was meaning to talk to you about our team party next Saturday. Mark said you were bringing the cupcakes.” Lisa turned to face her.

See the problem with that? One, how would Lisa even know Karen had approached? Two, isn’t it odd for Lisa to speak with her back to Karen? What would that imply about their relationship?

Last one:

Neely plucked a pink highlighter from her pencil case. “I’m taking good notes today, Brooklyn. That last quiz was a disaster. I made a seventy-two, and that’s even after three hours of studying.”

How often do people really stop what they are doing to talk? Sit back and watch people in a conversation sometime. Dialogue is interspersed in action. It seldom happens that someone delivers their full monologue apart from whatever they are doing. It’s more realistic to say:

“I’m taking good notes today, Brooklyn. That last quiz was a disaster.” Neely plucked a pink highlighter from her pencil case. “I made a seventy-two, and that’s even after three hours of studying.”

It’s amazing what good choreography and dialogue altered between sentence starts, middles, and ends can do for your story.

Happy editing! Best of luck with your revisions.


Christian Fiction Friday Cavernous #5

Time again for Christian Fiction Friday, hosted by Hallee Bridgeman and Alana Terry. This is a chance for Christian authors to post short snippets from their works in progress! Easy and fun!

More from the first chapter of Cavernous, my inspirational YA dystopian.

When the church ladies are gone, I put plastic containers in the refrigerator and tuck baked goods in our breadbox. Knowing Mrs. Whitman, they’ll taste terrible. Still, my stomach rumbles, so I help myself to four slices of banana bread. The dry crumbs catch in my throat and I chase them with two full glasses of milk.

After breaking down the box and taking it to the recycle bin, I return to the armchair and concentrate on wiggling my feet. My cell rings, a number I don’t recognize. “Hello?”

“Oh, good, Callie. Michael Harding, from church. I’ve been trying to reach your dad.”

I draw in a deep breath and release it. “He’s at work. Do you have news?”

“Sorry, no. I wanted to be sure everything is okay. I heard them dispatch an emergency crew to your house on my scanner. An unresponsive woman. Do you know anything about that?”

“What?” Sagging into the cushion, I lean my head over the arm of the chair. “Everything is fine. At least I think it is. Except Mom.” My breath catches. “Could she be outside?”

“When will your dad be home?”

Shaking my head, I pace the kitchen. “A couple of hours. What do I do?”

“We’ll check the yard. I’m on the way.”

I peek out the windows and stick my head out the back door. “I don’t see anything.”

He blows a burst of air into the phone speaker. “Is Amber home?”

“She’s still asleep.”

“Well, you might want to wake her. Be there soon.” He disconnects before I can reply.

I stare at the blank cell screen. My teeth chatter so hard, my whole body shakes. Is Mom lying in the yard? I can’t imagine answering the door. What else could go wrong?

“Why?” I speak through clenched teeth. A sob jumps out, and I lift my gaze to the ceiling. “God, why did you let this happen?”

No answer. A grease spot I’ve never noticed stares back at me, and I feel icky, dirty.

I run to my room, grab clothes, and head into the bathroom to undress. Then I hesitate. What if I’m naked when the police get here?

After a few seconds of debate, I take the quickest shower in my entire life. I’m standing in the hallway with dripping hair when an ambulance screeches up the drive. The drugs. I try to wake Amber, but she rolls over and groans before closing her eyes again. Did she hide them? And if not, will they take her to jail? Will they take Dad to jail?

Footsteps pound the porch, shadows cross the window. I take a deep breath, and after staring a minute, go to the door.

When I open it, Mrs. Whitman drags a young, bald-headed paramedic up the porch stairs.

He narrows glassy eyes. “We have a report of an unresponsive woman at this residence.”

Mrs. Whitman beams at me. “I called them and told them you couldn’t rouse your sister.”

About the book:

In a divided America, several secessions lead to the formation of a new nation, the Alliance of American States. Fueled by extremists who solicit members via social media, the Alliance has one weak point: Callie Noland, daughter of extremist leader Adrian Lamb. Can she maintain her faith in God and stand up to the man who calls himself Lord and Master?

The mission of the Cavernous trilogy is to incite a revolution for teen girls to delve into Scripture. Many of today’s society grasp at a meme-driven belief system and draw doctrine from Facebook and Twitter statuses. They need strong characters that write the words of God on their heart and take stands against slight untruths and injustices, especially the youth.

Christian Fiction Friday is a weekly blog hop where authors post snippets from their current Works in Progress. It is hosted by Alana Terry and Hallee Bridgeman.

Christian Fiction Friday–July 17 Cavernous #1


Time for Christian Fiction Friday, hosted by Hallee Bridgeman and Alana Terry. This is a chance for Christian authors to post short snippets from their works in progress! Easy and fun!

I’ve been working on polishing three different manuscripts this summer–Humbled Goddesses, a series of short stories to introduce my romantic suspense series, Pandora’s Deed, the first book in my series, and Cavernous, my YA dystopian.

Someone suggested that I start from the beginning of Cavernous, so here you go. Installment #1. Meet Callie Noland, teen protagonist whose world is about to be rocked.


The old grandfather clock chimes nine thirty, its echo searing the last of my frayed nerves. I follow a trail of wax to a chipped piece of Mom’s Fiestaware, two feet from the porch swing. Though it’s July, flickers in windows across the street make it feel like Halloween, and set my teeth chattering. The whistling wind overtakes my guiding flame, bringing an unseasonable chill, and causing the shutters to knock as though they, too, can sense my dread.

Where is my mom? Dad’s earlier words still haunt me. She’d never be late without calling.

A passing car illuminates silhouettes of trees, whose limbs tangle and snap in their frenzied dance. The car doesn’t slow, but it spotlights my older sister Amber sitting on the swing with the boy I’ve loved for two years. She’s wrapped in his muscular arms and caressing his silky brown hair, with her tongue somewhere down the middle of his throat. Ick. And apparently not worried at all about Mom.

Wish she’d hurry up and go to Eastern for the semester. At least I didn’t have to watch them when she was at college.

Ethan yawns and stretches, working himself free from her grasp. One side of his shirt is untucked and wrinkled, and he stuffs it back into his jeans. He runs a hand through his tousled hair. “I should leave. Gotta work an eight-to-four tomorrow.” He plants a lingering kiss on her then pats my shoulder. “Bye, Callie. Hope you guys find your mom soon.”

“Bye.” My skin tingles where he touched me.

I bite my quivering lip as lightning brightens the whole block, revealing the rural Kentucky skyline. Debris from our last storm swirls over sidewalks and skitters across the blacktop. Ethan hurries down the concrete steps to his black Mustang amidst pelting rain, and disappears into the shadows.

Amber’s perfect lips contort in a wistful pout. “He’s so good to me.”

“He’s too good for you.” The now-roaring wind masks my words, and I shiver with the bitter cold it brings, an odd end to such a warm summer day.

I’m too young for Ethan, of course. That’s what Mom said. Quit moping. He’s nineteen, I’m seventeen, and I can’t date anyone who’s not in high school. And, I can’t go out with anyone who can drive, which means no dating at all. Never mind Amber’s twenty and she didn’t have to follow these crazy rules.

I slam the screen door. Must be nice to do whatever you want. Although, I’d really love to hear Mom’s nagging about now. Where is she?

In the living room, I fluff already-plump pillows and dust the polished coffee table. Amber let wax spill all over the kitchen counter, so I scrape it with a butter knife. She also knocked over a rack of Mom’s crocheting magazines. Squinting in the candlelight, I alphabetize them the way Mom likes.

The power blinks on at the same time enormous crack of thunder sends me jumping. Amber rushes inside as the electricity fades again. “The storm’s getting bad, Callie. And I’m hungry.”

About the book:

In a divided America, several secessions lead to the formation of a new nation, the Alliance of American States. Fueled by extremists who solicit members via social media, the Alliance has one weak point: Callie Noland, daughter of extremist leader Adrian Lamb. Can she maintain her faith in God and stand up to the man who calls himself Lord and Master?

The mission of the Cavernous trilogy is to incite a revolution for teen girls to delve into Scripture. Many of today’s society grasp at a meme-driven belief system and draw doctrine from Facebook and Twitter statuses. They need strong characters that write the words of God on their heart and take stands against slight untruths and injustices, especially the youth.

Christian Fiction Friday is a weekly blog hop where authors post snippets from their current Works in Progress. It is hosted by Alana Terry and Hallee Bridgeman.

Don’t Let Your Characters Eat the Marshmallow

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE TED talks. I learn so much about life and people from them, and as a writer, I am continually drawing information about how to shape characters and the ways people truly interact.

One of my favorite TED talks is by Joachim de Posada, explaining a study where four-year-olds were given marshmallows and told not to eat them for fifteen minutes. If they succeeded, they’d be given another.

His point was that the students who delayed gratification were more likely to be successful.

This morning, I was working on a scene that has stumped me for months. I suddenly realized the problem–I was letting the characters eat the marshmallow too soon. Delaying gratification for characters is as important as delaying it for ourselves. Readers will continue to sympathize with a character who does not get what they want.

Off to reread my story to find other places I can keep the character from eating the marshmallow.

Hope you have a blessed day!

To Purge or Not to Purge–Are You a File Hoarder?

Too Many Files

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been in a panic a number of times over lost files. I’ve had a little extra time on my hands because my student teacher has all my classes right now, so I’ve tried to organize my computer and sort them out.

First, there are my teaching files. 19,572 to be exact. This includes full curricula in chemistry, physics, algebra II, algebra I, biology, integrated science, geometry, precalculus, and anatomy. Not to mention syllabi, parent logs, grade records, PD power points, etc.

Next, comes my writing folder. Almost 2,000 files there. I have saved every single draft, every single critique, every single revision–for whatever paranoid reason, I hold onto all these files in case there’s one little phrase I want to bring back. It’s insanity!

So, I’m considering a purge, now that Cavernous is fully edited. I have numerous digital copies of the whole manuscript in various safe locations. The Cavernous folder itself has over 200 files, and that’s not counting the Cavernous files in my contest folder. Twice, I’ve selected all these files, considered it, and chickened out before choosing to delete.

I must confess. I’m a file hoarder. And a terrible one. I’m not sure what to do about it. On the one hand, those critique files have a lot of value. The early draft files have some of the phrases that inspired the story that I’ve since cut. If I delete this old teaching file, I might need to retype it later. On the other hand, I can never find anything within 2-3 minutes anymore.

I’m considering a five file per day purge. The thought is already making me tremble. Does anyone else struggle with letting go? What do you do to keep your writing organized?

Are “If Only” Excuses Killing Your Novel?

If Only

When she was a toddler, my daughter used to hang at the front door, begging to go outside. You could see the longing in her eyes–if only I can get to that tree, if only I can play in that dirt, if only I can break out of this “cage” and explore…

Even today, as a kindergartener, she always needs convincing that the grass isn’t greener in other pastures.

And of course, she’s no different than any of the rest of us. How many adults miss important details in our lives because we’re too busy worrying about “if only?”

If only I made more money…

If only we lived in a bigger house…

If only we drove a better car…

If only I worked with different people…

The problem with the “if only” mindset is that we don’t spend enough of our focus on how to do our current tasks well. Instead, we complain about what we haven’t been able to accomplish because circumstances don’t suit our standards. And we forget that we have a heavenly Father who has given us everything we NEED.

Hebrews 13:5 says:

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.

So, how does this translate into writing? Through participation in various forums and critique groups, I’ve heard a lot of “if only” excuses.

I could be a better writer if only I had more time.

I could finish this novel if only I didn’t have writer’s block.

I could edit this myself if only I knew the grammar rules.

I could sell this novel or get representation if only that publisher or agent would take a look at it.

It’s almost like “if only” becomes a crutch, like we don’t have to worry about writing better or completing our work because we have an excuse for failure. It’s like we’re saying the only reason we aren’t successful is circumstance out of our control. We can’t possibly learn how to do it better. We can’t possibly improve our craft. But that’s just not true!

The sad thing is there’s a point in time when if only becomes regret. If only I’d spent more time learning grammar rules. If only I’d listened when that critiquer told me how to fix my manuscript. If only I’d been more prepared when I sent that query or made that pitch.

Thomas Edison has a history of failures, but we remember him for his great successes. He once said of his failed attempts at the light bulb that rather than failing, he’d found 10,000 ways that would not work. He further said,

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

That’s the if only that will leave us with the most regret. If only I’d tried one more time. If only I’d put forth a little more effort. If only I hadn’t given up.

I’ll leave you with this advice from bestselling author Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors):

As a writer, you can’t allow yourself the luxury of being discouraged and giving up when you are rejected, either by agents or publishers. You absolutely must plow forward.

A “Delight”ful City for a Story

Am I the only writing nerd who sits around reading lists of city names only to have my imagination run off? I struggle with naming cities in my stories, but considering some of the ones that exist in real life, maybe I don’t need to worry so much 🙂

Here are a few interesting ones I came across while researching for my WIP.

  • Delight, Arkansas
  • Brilliant, Alabama
  • Paradox, Colorado
  • Needmore, Florida
  • Coffee, Georgia
  • Magic, Idaho
  • Oblong, Illinois
  • Dinwiddle, Indiana
  • Moosehead, Maine
  • Boring, Maryland
  • Whynot, Mississippi
  • Opportunity, Montana
  • Toast, North Carolina
  • Loco, Oklahoma
  • Defeated, Tennessee

And of course, some of my favorite Kentucky towns:

  • Normal
  • Fisty
  • Lovely
  • Ordinary
  • Possom Trot
  • Rabbit Hash
  • Monkey’s Eyebrow
  • Typo
  • And many others 🙂

What are some interesting town names near you?

Words of Hope for the Rejected Christian Writer


“George Moriarty, Detroit Tigers, 1911” Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

George Moriarty was a major league baseball player with a reputation for stealing bases. I’ve always been impressed with his story, particularly this quote from an artlcle by Eric Enders: 

“He was a weak hitter,” sportswriter Joe Williams once wrote, “but he had that rare something in his makeup which produces leadership, that divine spark that invests mediocrity with might.”

We all approach our dreams with either lackluster or fervor, and those who chose the latter most often succeed. I mentioned the fervor in my last post–Angela Duckworth’s “True Grit.”

Moriarty was also a writer. According to Enders, he used to recite his poetry for “schools, American League banquets, and the like.” One of his poems, “The Road Ahead or the Road Behind” references grit.

He opens with this:

Sometimes I think the Fates must
Grin as we denounce and insist
The only reason we can’t win
Is the Fates themselves that miss

Of course, being a Christian Fiction writer, I think of this more in terms of what God must think of my self doubt. I was reading the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 this past Sunday, just thinking about all the skills God has blessed me with and how I sometimes hold back in using them because of my lack of self confidence. “I’m not good enough” could be translated as “He didn’t create me to be good enough.” And that’s simply not true.

Moriarty continues with this line:

Yet there lives on an ancient claim
We win or lose within ourselves
The shining trophies on our shelves

Can never win tomorrow’s game
You and I know deeper down
There’s always a chance to win the crown

He’s talking about grit here. He even uses the word itself in a later part. Believing we can achieve our goals and fighting for them instead of rolling over and giving up. I love that line about the trophies not winning tomorrow’s game–we have to keep fighting and not just settle for the tiny hints of success we have passed.

But when we fail to give our best
We simply haven’t met the test
Of giving all, and saving none
Until the game is really won

Of showing what is meant by grit
Of fighting on when others quit
Of playing through, not letting up
It’s bearing down that wins the cup
Of taking it and taking more
Until we gain the winning score

Of dreaming there’s a goal ahead
Of hoping when our dreams are dead
Of praying when our hopes have fled
Yet losing, not afraid to fall
If bravely, we have given all

I wish I could find the source for this article I read a few weeks ago about how most people who start out to write a novel never finish. Part of the success of being published is having the tenacity to follow through with writing, editing, and revision until we reach “The End.” Another favorite line from this poem is “hoping when our dreams our dead.” To seek a publishing contract means to seek rejection and hope for that opportunity to push through. We can’t give up when someone tells us they don’t like our story. We just have to work harder to make it better.

Moriarty ends with this:

For who can ask more of a man
Than giving all within his span
Giving all, it seems to me
Is not so far from victory

And so the Fates are seldom wrong
No matter how they twist and wind
It is you and I who make our fates
We open up or close the gates
On the road ahead or the road behind.

Yes, God gives us the tools we need to make our fates, but we have to choose how we are going to use these tools. How can we give up on ourselves or settle for mediocrity and follow these simple words from 1 Corinthians 10:31?

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Cool Animated Video on the Blog Writing Process

I’ve thought a lot lately about strategies to better manage my time. When I first decided to take steps to become a serious writer, I didn’t consider the extra time needed to interact on social media and engage in self-promotion and marketing.

Add that time to the allotment for reading for enjoyment, meeting writing goals for my novel, and setting aside quiet time, and my little side hobby has turned into what’s practically a second full time job.

So, I started researching better ways to generate topics for blog posts and keep myself organized in those writing tasks that aren’t specifically putting words on paper.  This video made a lot of great points about organization, outlining, researching, etc., so thought I’d share.

Happy blogging! Now, off to reconsider my strategies…

All These Things–Does Materialism Creep Into Our Fiction?



It’s a challenge to live in a “gimme” society and shield our children from the wiles of materialism. Let’s be honest–it’s a challenge to shield ourselves. We’re continually surrounded by advertisements, samples, new technology, and a lot of times we worry more about how we’re going to obtain these treasures than we do about sharing our faith and living to please Him.

We read passages like Matthew 6:33 and Luke 12:27, acknowledge their truth, and then become distracted by earning an income and arranging to get more things.

Matt 6:33 Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you

Luke 12:27 Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say to you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

It’s a temptation to let this carry over into our writing. After all, we often fantasize about things that fall under the pride of life–fame, fortune, luxury. Sometimes we give characters objects and experiences that we could never have and live vicariously through them. How many books, for example, base their premise on the celebrity falling for a Cinderella, or the underdog rising to the top?

Just as it’s important to consider modesty when describing how our characters dress, or prudence when deciding their actions, we should consider the avoidance of materialism and covetousness when placing objects into our settings.

Of course, we sometimes need our main characters to have such traits to show their growth. I’m not talking about that, but rather those background things that cement our characters in the settinig.

Do we, for example, set them at tables with an abundance of food, eating gluttonous meals and disposing of the leftovers? Do we dress them in the latest fashions and accessorize them with designer handbags and expensive shoes? Do they drive brand new cars and live in outlandish homes, or strive to fit into a luxury-seeking crowd?

Are their kitchens stocked with the finest china, or their walls covered in exquisite art?

What do our characters spend money on? When they go on dates, do they dine at the finest restaurants? Do they buy expensive coffee on the way into work every morning? Do they spend an hour covering their face in expensive makeup and styling their hair?

This is especially important when writing for teens. I watch them in my classroom every day, emulating everything they take in. They braid their hair like Katniss and get tattoos like Tris. One student can walk in holding the latest model cell phone, and four or five of them will have one in the next week.

IMHO, it’s important to show them that it’s okay to live in a modest home and watch a television instead of a theater/projection system. It’s fine to drive an older-model used car. Our characters can order from the 99-cent menu at McDonald’s as opposed to ordering the six-dollar bagel.

We should make an effort to have them occasionally giving as well as receiving. Maybe they take the leftovers from their family dinner to the elderly lady next door or sift through their closets to find clothes to donate to the needy.

Do you have any suggestions? What are some other ways we can clip materialism from our writing?