Extract from podcast episode 3 (Sept 2010) – hints & tips

The third episode of my Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 6th September 2010 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website www.morgenbailey.com) so I hope you find this information useful. The episode started with a focus on dialogue…

  • Catchphrases – some people have words they repeat, often without realising. I used to say “actually” a lot. Watch out for this and see if you, or someone you know, does this.;
  • Accents – be careful when writing a character with an accent. You have to know that accent inside and out and be consistent. I came across a short story in an anthology a while ago which was a monologue by a Yorkshire man recalling time spent with his grandparents. It starts “It were good sleeping at Grandma’s. Me mum used to meet me Gran…” and ends “I miss my Gran and Granddad, it was good, sleeping at Grandma’s”. In less than two pages he’d lost the accent. There is no explanation as to why and it actually changed in the middle of a sentence which rules out him growing up or moving away and losing the accent naturally. There are some published books which help with accents and languages, e.g. American/British, slang/rhyming slang and Cockney dictionaries!
  • Don’t be afraid to use ‘he’ and ‘she’ rather than the character names. If the dialogue is between a man and a woman then we will know who’s who by the ‘he’ and ‘she’ and you don’t have to attribute each string of dialogue with a person; if the conversation is between two people we’ll know who’s speaking although it’s advisable not to have more than six or so exchanges without an attribution so as to avoid the reader getting lost. Rather than repeat he or she said, another way of indicating who’s speaking is that you could get one of the characters to say the other person’s name. Variety is the key to keeping the pace lively.
  • You can’t go wrong with writing guide books. There are hundreds available, many general and others on specific topics. I have a few on short story writing, one being the ‘Pocket Encyclopaedia of Short-Story writing’ (dated 1965!) which, amongst other things, lists 350 substitutes for the word ‘said’! Although, there’s nothing wrong with ‘said’. It’s far better to have a few “he said”s and “she said”s than “he expostulated” or “she prognosticated”. You don’t want to treat the reader like a child but equally you don’t want to use unnecessary wording that stops the flow of an otherwise wonderful story.
  • Monologues rely on dialogue – although it’s just one person speaking, you get their inner thoughts. Some stories can get by without dialogue but including some does keep it more realistic and also quickens the pace. I often glaze over with a long passage of description and whilst some people revel in it (including one of the poets in my critique group) it definitely slows the pace. I will touch on pace and narrative drive in a later podcast but it’s always recommended to have a mixture of sentence lengths (with short sentences quickening the piece) and of description and dialogue.

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