Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Your memoir’s stories about Christmas

If your memoir includes stories about Christmas or events that happened in the winter, during December and January pay close attention to sensory details and plan to use them in your stories.

What sounds are typical of this season?

What flavors do you associate with this time of year?

What sights? Smells? Textures or temperatures (sense of touch)?

Jot them down for use later. After this busy holiday season, get out your rough drafts and insert those details—they’ll make your stories more vivid for readers.

Your goal is to invite readers into your story with you. Sensory details help them experience what you experienced.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The values of well-crafted dialogue in your memoir

Dialogue, written well, can accomplish your most important goals:

  • It can bring readers into your stories,
  • acquaint them with your memoir’s key characters,
  • ramp up readers’ emotions,
  • add pizzazz—or grief or terror,
  • keep up your story’s momentum,
  • share information readers need to know,
  • and entice them to keep reading.

Read more at SM 101’s blog post from 2014, Tips for using dialogue in your memoir. 

Dialogue can convey key characters’ emotions and distinct (perhaps conflicting) goals. It can reveal the dynamics between those in a discussion and convey what each values.

Add significant body language to dialogue and you will enhance your story’s message, bring main characters to life, and increase readers’ comprehension and enjoyment of your story.

Read more at SM 101’s post about dialogue from 2014don’t miss this good stuff!

Also review SM 101’s more recent posts on using dialogue because good dialogue is essential in your memoir:

After you've polished your dialogue, 
set it aside for a week or so. 
Then read it aloud
Does it sound natural? 
If not, continue polishing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Create dialogue that sounds natural

Create dialogue that sounds like the person speaking:
Each person has his own unique speaking style,
so make an effort to capture the distinct speaking style
of your memoir's key characters.
Make it sound natural.

Study these many examples at

Thursday, December 8, 2016

More tips on using dialogue in your memoir

Today we’ll look at more tips for using dialogue in your memoir—because crafting it correctly is so important. (If you missed Thursday’s post, click on Are you using dialogue the right way in your memoir?

Place quotation marks around the words people speak. (Put your silent thoughts—inner dialogue—in italics, not quotation marks.)

Use simple dialogue tags (he said, she asked) rather than bigger words like he bellowed or she whined or he scolded or she demanded. Using fancy tags instead of simple ones will distract readers—they’ll draw attention to the tags rather than the spoken words. Keep the focus on dialogue rather than tags. (For more on this topic, including examples, read this fun post, A Critical DON’T for Writing Dialogue, by Joe Bunting.) 

Delete adverbs and adjectives with your dialogue tags, such as he said arrogantly or she said bitterly.

In general, if the dialogue is only one sentence long, place the tag at the end of it.

Victoria Costello offers this advice: “If you insert a tag between two or more sentences, the tag always goes after the first sentence” (The Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Memoir). For example, compare these two:

“There are many ways of breaking a heart. Stories were full of hearts broken by love,” said Pearl S. Buck, “but what really broke a heart was taking away its dream—whatever that dream might be.”

This is the better way: “There are many ways of breaking a heart,” said Pearl S. Buck. “Stories were full of hearts broken by love, but what really broke a heart was taking away its dream—whatever that dream might be.”

Each time a different person speaks, start a new paragraph.

If two people are in a long conversation, not every line of dialogue needs a tagas long as readers know which character is speaking. To help readers keep track, occasionally include the speaker’s action. For example, the following has no tag but the reader knows who spoke:

“I must go.” Anne stood, threw her scarf around her neck, and turned toward the door.

Here’s another look at crafting dialogue without a tag, based on an example from Joe Bunting’s post. He encourages writers to: “…show…emotion with an action. Like this: ‘I hate you,’ she exclaimed she said, hurling her French book at him. The corner struck him just under his eye. A bright red mark began to rise on his skin.”

Notice two things: (a) Joe changed “she exclaimed” to “she said,” which is good, but (b) Joe could have deleted “she said” altogether. Then the dialogue would look like this:

“‘I hate you.’ She hurled her French book at him….”

I like that better. Do you?

Look over your manuscripts, 
study the way you’ve crafted dialogue, 
and make revisions. 

Your readers will thank you.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Are you using dialogue the right way in your memoir?

Dialogue is a powerful tool in writing your memoir:
  • It invites readers into your story,
  • it lets them participate in your experience,
  • it acquaints readers with a character’s personality, values, perspective, and attitude,
  • it can offer readers noteworthy information,
  • and it can provide readers with backstory—significant events from the past.

But writing dialogue can be tricky. How do you reconstruct a conversation from 50 years ago, or even five years ago?

You can’t—at least not 100 per cent accurately—because, unless you wrote it down at the time, or have a recording, you must rely on memory, and we all know memory has a way of making everything foggy.

And yet, if you call your book “a memoir,” you claim you’ve written a factual story (not fiction), and you’re promising readers they can trust you to tell the truth. So how can you use dialogue if you don’t remember the conversation precisely?

Here’s how it works: Both memoirists and readers know it’s impossible to be exact about a conversation that happened long ago. A memoirist’s job, then, is to recreate that conversation as honestly as possible—to write in such a way that readers understand the dialogue represents the conversation's true message. Determine to avoid misleading readers in every detail.

So then, use accurate dialogue, and craft it well.

Write dialogue that sounds natural and unforcedlike something you’d really hear.

If a character speaks in incomplete sentences, or if those involved in a conversation interrupt each other, or if they finish each other's sentences, write your dialogue that way: Keep it real.

If a character is hoity-toity, write dialogue showing she’s self-important and puffed up.

If a character was raised in a genteel household, write proper, courteous dialogue for her.

If he is an intellectual, choose words an academic uses, but if he grew up on a Missouri farm and didn’t graduate from high school, choose words he’d typically say.

If she grew up in Texas, her vocabulary differs from that of someone who grew up in Quebec. 

If someone habitually starts a sentence five times in five different ways, work that into your dialogue a couple of times to reveal that aspect of her personality, but otherwise eliminate those false starts.

Remember the wise old rule: Write tight. Leave out unnecessary talk—greetings, chitchat, and small talk—anything that doesn’t serve a purpose.

“In writing dialogue don’t write every word,” says Nancy Ellen Dodd. “For one, that would be boring, and two, it slows down the pacing. Write what is necessary to get the point across. That being said, you may have a character who is verbose and a character who barely completes a thought…. Keep dialogue brief and cut unnecessary words, unless the character is verbose.”

Cecil Murphey says it this way: “In real life, people speak in general, long-winded diatribes, or mention twenty things before they focus on what they want to say. In print, we need to delete the clutter and get to the point.” 

Here’s more wisdom from Cec: “Make your characters speak less than people actually do, …and speak more the way real people wish they spoke.”

After you’ve crafted a passage of dialogue, set it aside for a week or two and then read it aloud. Your ears and tongue will help you find spots that still need work. Keep polishing until you’re happy with it. In the end, it will be worth all the effort.

Spend a few minutes reading Jennie Nash’s excellent post, A Little Lesson in Dialogue.

Next Tuesday we’ll look at other aspects of dialogue so c’mon back!