Thursday, April 11, 2013


Hi folks,

Below are the last two parts of the guest blogpost I did at the invitation of Kristen Lamb on her Warrior Writer blog.

Hope they prove of some help in your own writing!

From Kristen's blog...

Posted by Author Kristen Lamb in Writing Tips on April 8, 2013

Hey, Guys. You wanted to learn how to write AMAZING, PAGE-TURNING DIALOGUE, so I kidnapped  recruited the best. Les Edgerton has been so generous with his time and talent, and we are SUPER grateful. I promise to release Les back into the wild…eventually.

Take it away, Les!

Thanks for having me back on, Kristen! There were several things I neglected to talk about on dialogue in the first two posts, so I wanted to include them here. There are many other elements of good dialogue than posted here, but these are kind of important.

Now, here are the couple of things I neglected to cover in the first two posts.

Format with Tags

One is the format of dialogue with tags. I suspect that this one will draw as many responses from folks who don’t buy it as there were who resisted using “said” as dialogue tag verbs. It’s your choice—I’m just relaying the mindset of many editors.

It’s very simple. The accepted format for dialogue tags these days is “He/she/name said.” Almost always. What is considered archaic and musty is this construction: “Said he/she/name.”

About the only folks still using this latter format are some older journalists, some writers from other cultures (Canada comes to mind), brand names, and writers who haven’t kept up with current usages. Which leads me to make a big point—brand names—those authors with significant followings—can make every mistake in the book and get away with it. They’re beyond such limitations, simply because their readerships are such that publishers will accept just about anything they publish.
Stephen King could probably publish his grocery list and it would hit the bestseller lists… Although, King is such a terrific writer, he wouldn’t (and doesn’t) break very many of these rules and conventions. This is just to make you aware that many times brand name authors aren’t always the folks to go to for writing models. Simply because they can get away with things that unknown writers can’t.

The reality is, King can do things we can’t. Same goes for any brand name author. That doesn’t mean their work is valueless for instruction—it has immense value. There’s a reason they’re popular and it’s almost always the writing. But, always look at it with a grain of salt and become thoroughly familiar with the direction fiction is taking because there are popular authors who haven’t kept up and whose books, if modeled for your own efforts, may work against you.

Whenever I have a student point out an example in a published book that goes contrary to the advice I’ve given them, my first question is: “Is this from a brand-name author?” If it is, then I ask them to consider the source. And to gently let them know that while it may not be fair, it’s the reality that we (unknowns) have to be better in many ways that established writers with significant followings don’t have to be.

If anyone’s parents told them the world was fair, they did them a disservice…


The second thing I neglected to touch on is conflict. We all know that there has to be conflict on every single page of a novel for it to work, and this is especially true in dialogue. That’s why Q&A dialogue doesn’t work. There’s virtually no conflict in it.

I advise my novel writing students and clients constantly that the protagonist should never, ever gain anything easily, no matter how seemingly trivial the exchange is. 

An example I give often is to tell them that if they have their protagonist stop a bum on the street to ask directions to a bar she’s pretty sure is a block or two away but isn’t sure in what direction, she should have the bum say something to the effect of: “Whadda I look like, Sweetpea? The frickin’ Chamber of Commerce?” And, then, either give up the info grudgingly or walk off and let her find her own way. The point being, never let the protagonist gain things easily. Never.

In dialogue, when the protagonist is trying to gain information, it should be like pulling teeth. Now, that doesn’t mean there should be a war created to gain a simple piece of information. The writer needs to tailor the conflict proportionally to the value of what she’s after.

In the example above, this is plenty. What she’s after is just a simple direction. It doesn’t rise to the level of WWIII. But… there should be at least a bit of conflict and resistance to gain her answer. 

When the information is valuable, the conflict needs to be ratcheted up in proportion.

This is one of the primary keys to creating tension and tension is the lifeblood of a successful novel. Nothing should be gained easily and the opposition to her gaining it should be proportional to the value it holds. The other primary key to a quality read is to keep posing story questions, one after another after another after another… ad nauseum.

I’ve barely touched on the subject, but hope there’s some food for thought here for most readers.

The main thing is—keep up on what passes for contemporary usages these days and keep those red flags to a minimum. And, remember, no one has ever written a perfect novel. Every single novel ever published has flaws. Perfection is an impossible goal. Can’t be done. Just get it as good as you possibly can and send it out. And begin on a new work and try to make it even “gooder.”

Remember: When you’re green, you’re growing. And, when you’re ripe, you’re rotten. Writing has changed greatly in the past ten-twenty years and it’s going to keep on changing. What I said here—at least some of it—will eventually be outdated. It’s one reason to keep reading voraciously and to keep reading craft books.

Hope this helps!
Blue skies,

Les, THANK YOU SO MUCH. For my readers, Les will be back tomorrow with some final advice about your writing and your careers as authors, so I hope you’ll join us.

Posted by Author Kristen Lamb in Writing Tips on April 9, 2013

Today, is Les Edgerton’s last post in this series. We’ve been extraordinarily blessed to learn from him, so I hope y’all will give him a digital hug or round of applause. Les will soon be teaching on-line classes for WANA, so I’ll let you know when those are available.

Take it away, Les!

All of the points we’ve covered in this dialogue series are intended for one purpose only—to help writers avoid the red flags that improper dialogue can create for agents and editors… and readers.
And that’s what they are—red flags. That doesn’t mean that breaking any of these “rules” or conventions will doom your mss from being taken, but it does mean the presence of them can cast a negative light on your work. And, I imagine we all want to avoid that!

Also, there will be a great many examples of novels that break these precepts. There are many reasons for that. Contrary to popular opinion, novels don’t make it into print simply because they’re quality writing. There are many other factors at work. Factors that the writer may or may not have control over.

For instance, novels are published because the author has made a personal connection with a publisher. When an editor knows someone and likes that person, it’s not uncommon for that person’s book to be taken over another more worthy one. Happens all the time.

Or, an author may have had one or more successful novels already published and the current one may not be as good as the mss lying on the same desk as an unknown author, but the lesser quality novel will be taken. Again, happens all the time.

Sometimes, even though the novel breaks all kinds of rules, something in a novel like this may simply appeal to an individual editor. Maybe it’s the voice. Maybe it’s the setting—my first novel was taken by accident because of its setting. The Death of Tarpons had been rejected 86 times before I sent it to the University of North Texas Press.

That’s EIGHTY-SIX times!

That was in the days of snail mail submissions, where you had to pay the postage for the mss to the editor and also provide return postage. That was during a time when my family ate a lot of beans and really couldn’t afford to buy the tons of stamps I needed. I had made my mind up that once I reached 100 rejections, I would “retire” the manuscript.

What happened was that it landed on the desk of UNT’s publisher, Fran Vick. Unbeknownst to me at the time, UNT had never before published fiction. If I’d known that, I never would have sent it. 

Anyway, Fran’s secretary had unwrapped the day’s mail and as it by chance happened, mine was the first mss on Fran’s desk. Her normal routine when presented with a fiction mss, was for her to not even read it, but just stick a standard rejection notice in it and have her secretary send it back.

Luck was on my side!

As Fran related to me later (I’ve just revealed a happy ending and taken all the tension out of this, haven’t I!), her secretary was bringing her her morning cup of coffee and something happened where she had to remake the pot. That gave Fran an extra five minutes or so before she began her “official” day, so, for want of anything else to do, she picked up the first page of my novel and began idly to read it. If it wasn’t for her secretary’s failing to deliver her that cup of coffee, none of what happened next would have ever happened.

It’s what she read on that first page that induced her to keep reading. The novel was set in Freeport, Texas, the town I grew up in. Like most first novels, it was an autobiographical, “coming-of-age” novel (there’s a cliché for ya!). The thing is… Freeport was Fran’s hometown!

What editor can resist reading about their own hometown, especially when that town is a tiny burg like Freeport? A New York City editor, glancing at the first page of a mss and seeing it’s set in NYC isn’t going to be nearly as intrigued as an editor from Freeport, Texas reading a novel set in… Freeport, Texas!

As it turned out, Fran also knew my grandmother who was prominently on the page immediately and was instantly drawn into the story and read it all the way through, got on the phone, and offered to buy it.

So, there’s luck involved sometimes. Although, the book was well-written, so it also pays to be ready for luck when it appears. Fortune favors the prepared! The book went on to be well-reviewed and sold very well and earned a Special Mention from the Violet Crown Book Awards.

The point is, there are so many factors out of your control that can lead to or prevent publication. But, there are factors that you can control and among them are adhering to contemporary writing styles and conventions. And that is the impetus behind these precepts. To help you avoid many of the red flags that may prevent your mss from getting a fair and thorough reading.

Okay? Best of luck to all of you and your writing endeavors!

Blue skies,

Les, THANK YOU SOOOOO MUCH. We really appreciate you taking so much time from your packed schedule.
Kristen Lamb

And there you have it, folks. Hope you enjoyed the posts.

BTW, so far, THE RAPIST has garnered 22 reviews on Amazon and every single one has been five stars! I'm stoked!
Blue skies,

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