Dialogue versus Talking Heads – Part 2

by Karen McCullough

For Part 1, click HERE:

Karen_McCullough_2015_200Here are five questions to ask yourself when you’re editing your own dialogue:

1. Is it boring?

What’s boring? How about this:

“Hi, Helen,” Joe said. “How are you doing today?”
“I’m just fine,” Helen replied. “How are you?”
“Great. How’s your daughter?” Joe continued.
“She’s fine, too. How’s your sister?”

Are you snoozing yet? Most authors know better than to write dialogue this hopelessly bad, but we can still slip into doing similar things when we need to reach a word count and there isn’t enough story, or during first draft phase when we need placeholder words. This is dialogue that does almost nothing. It tells us nothing about the characters (other than the fact that Helen has a daughter-big deal)–nothing about the setting, the situation, the story problem. The words are empty. Cut them in revision or change it to something that does something interesting.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Novel Writers Workshop Member a Finalist in the Clive Cussler Contest!

by Ken Barnett

Ken's SkeletonsBack in March, on a pure whim, I entered my self-published novel, Skeletons of Weavers Needle in the Clive Cussler Collectors Society Adventure Writers Competition for 2016.

With the contest not closing until the end of June and semi-finalists not being announced until late July, I actually pretty much forgot about it.

On July 20th I received notification that my novel was among the ten semi-finalists, selected by a judging panel of thirteen authors. Well, needless to say, that got my attention. Then, last Sunday, I received an e-mail advising me that Skeletons was among the three finalists for the $1,000.00 first prize and possible publishing considerations!

If you know of Clive Cussler, you are aware that he is the adventure writing superhero of our age. His son, Dirk, now writes also, and will be the sole judge of the three remaining finalists. The contest chairman contacted me this morning, and I will be on my way to Denver in October for the ceremonies. Stunning!

Ken BI’m letting you know all this in praise of Brenda, because without her workshops and critiques this never would have happened. After each of her classes, I went back and re-read and re-wrote on my book based on her input and suggestions, as well as that of others in the class. If you are just starting out on your writing career, I can’t recommend her classes highly enough, and even if you’re already published, like my granddaddy used to say, “That can’t hurt none neither.”

Thanks, Brenda!


Click HERE:


Congratulations, Ken! I’m so happy for you! And proud. We’re all hoping you’ll be the big winner. Be sure to let us know the contest results.


Novel Writers Workshop:

Leave a comment

Filed under Craft of Writing, Events, The Publishing Process

Dialogue versus Talking Heads – Part 1

by Karen McCullough

Karen_McCullough_2015_200How your characters communicate can make or break a story. Even if the plot is strong enough to carry it, good dialogue can increase your reader’s enjoyment of a story, while bad dialogue can bounce her out of it.

Thought experiment: Consider the interactions between Han Solo and Princess Leia in the original Star Wars movie trilogy, then compare those with the interactions between Anakin and Padme in the prequel series. Which pair is more memorable?

Does anyone not remember the scene where Han’s about to be frozen in Carbonite and Leia tells him she loves him? And his response is, “I know.” It’s not just the words, although they are so exactly right for the character, but the tone as well…confident, nervy, smug, but with just a hint of gratitude. It’s so perfectly Han Solo.

Do you remember the words when Padme first tells Anakin she loves him? Neither do I. In fact, the only thing I remember about that entire scene in the movie is how uncomfortable I felt listening to the awful dialogue.

So how do you get dialogue that sparkles? It takes work and practice and knowing your characters, and listening to how people speak. And then you have to apply all those to your own work. Writing dialogue is a huge topic that would take much more space than I have here, but I want to give you a few hints for refining it in the editing process.

Here are five questions to ask yourself when you’re editing your own dialogue:

  1. Is it boring?
  1. Is it wordy?
  1. Is it right for your character?
  1. Is it right for the situation?
  1. Is it just words?

Karen McCullough is the author of a dozen published novels and novellas in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres as well. She has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy, and has also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Daphne, Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the mystery, fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She has three children, six grandchildren (plus one on the way) and lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.

Website: http://www.kmccullough.com

Blog: http://www.kmccullough/kblog

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarenMcCulloughAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kgmccullough

Watch for Part 2



Filed under Craft of Writing, Guest Blogger, My Blog

Memoir Seminar

debby-johnson-new-header2Want to write your story?

Attend Debby Johnson’s  2 hour seminar for tips on discovering your own unique story.


September 17th  6pm – 8pm

March Field


Debby Johnson:



Filed under Events, My Blog

Poor Lady . . .

In my Spam folder this morning, I found a desperate plea from a Mrs. Julian in the UK, who’s dying and wants to share her vast wealth with me. You see, as she explained, she has no children, and she has cancer of the lug.

Of course I immediately wrote back and expressed how sorry I felt for her and anyone who has that tragic disease.

I haven’t heard back from her yet. But since I was so sympathetic, I’m sure she’ll get right back to me with instructions on how to make a deposit in her bank for shipping expenses, transfer fees, or whatever it is to get my money.

And I’ll be sure to do that. Cancer of the lug is a horrible disease and she deserves all the sympathy she can get.

Leave a comment

Filed under My Blog, Observations

Practice, Practice, Practice

MarisSoule 600by Maris Soule

I’ve been watching the Olympics, and I realized there are a lot of similarities between a successful athlete and a successful writer. Athletes who want to compete at the highest level practice. Most do this daily or almost daily. They don’t let illness stop them or family events. Because they want to improve, they find and hire coaches they know will take them to the next level. They watch videos of past performances to learn from their mistakes and find ways to improve. When they compete, they present themselves in the best way possible, either through their grooming or their uniforms or their attitudes. They do everything they can to look like and be winners.

Writers who want to succeed must do the same things. Simply wanting to write a book and have it published is not enough. Writers—good writers—write and rewrite. This is their practice, their training. They read how-to books, join critique groups, and learn from their mistakes. They find or hire professional editors—not simply friends but editors who can “coach” them to become better writers. When submitting for a contest or to an agent or editor, they make sure their submission is in the best form they can achieve. (It’s formatted as required and error free.) If self-publishing, they get professionally designed covers. And if along the way they are rejected (don’t receive a medal), they continue competing and improving their submissions. If their self-published story starts getting a slew of poor reviews, they’ll pull it and work on it until they correct the problem.

My fear is that nowadays many writers aren’t taking those steps. With self-publishing, both in paper and e-book form, so easy and inexpensive, way too many writers don’t want to do the work that’s needed, don’t want to spend the money for a professional editor or cover design. They consider themselves published if there’s a book listed on Amazon or with Barnes and Noble with their name on the cover. How long, I wonder, will readers be willing to pay money, even small amounts of money, for stories filled with errors?

If I’m told Michael Phelps is going to swim, I leave my computer and go watch because I know I’m going to see a good performance, win or lose. That’s my goal: to make sure when someone mentions a book written by me that readers know, if they take the time to read it, it will be worth their time.


Maris Soule has been published for over 30 years, starting first as a romance writer and slowly moving to romantic suspense and finally suspense and mystery. She had 25 romances published by Harlequin, Silhouette, and Bantam with 2 being RITA finalists and others placing in and winning a variety of writing contests. In 2007 FiveStar published her first mystery, The Crows, followed in 2011 with As the Crow Flies, and 2015 with Eat Crow and Die, all P.J. Benson Mysteries. She also had a suspense, A Killer Past, featuring a 74-year-old widow who was an assassin in her 20s, published in 2015. Her last FiveStar Mystery, Echoes of Terror, is scheduled for March 2017.

Maris Soule’s Amazon page:










Filed under Craft of Writing, Events, Guest Blogger, My Blog, The Publishing Process

Want To Interest an Agent?

Meetup new banner600


Have you wondered if you should attend a writers conference? How do you pitch to an agent or publisher’s rep? If you’ve ever considered signing up for a conference and pitching session, you’ll want to attend our next meeting.

One of our members, Ken Barnett, has just returned from the Las Vegas Writers Conference where he pitched to several agents. He’ll share his experiences, and, he has some exciting secrets and news to share. I’ve attended several, and my last experience of pitching to an agent several years ago brought heartbreak, but it changed the course of my writing.

So RSVP and join us Monday evening, May 16, at IHop, I-10 and Alabama, 6:30pm. It’s Free!



Novel Writers Workshop

IHop, Redlands

1630 Industrial Park Ave, Redlands, CA






Leave a comment

Filed under Craft of Writing, Events, My Blog, Observations, The Publishing Process

Nervous Mom

Near the end of last year, my son’s neighbor heard her dogs barking, and when she tried to bring them in, she caught them chasing an orange kitten about three to four months old. She managed to get the traumatized kitten onto her screened porch and kept it there about six weeks with little human contact. At least she fed the kitten and kept the dogs away.

My son and his wife heard the story, so they adopted the kitten. When they brought her home, she scrambled for a hiding place under the spare room bed and stayed there another two weeks. They named her Nessie, after the Loch Ness monster that stays hidden.

When Nessie finally started venturing out, my son’s other cat pounced on her, traumatizing her further. It wasn’t a good situation for the kitten, so they talked about the best solution. I thought about taking her, but I had doubts.

I’ve had pets most of my life, but after my divorce a few years ago and my move to CA, I hadn’t thought seriously about getting another one. I didn’t even have a plant – I was too busy trying to adjust to a new life in a new state, and it was all I could do to take care of me.

But I kept thinking about this little kitten. My previous dog and cat had been rescue animals, and both had enriched my life.

Would I have the energy to devote to a traumatized kitten? Did I even want to? After all, I now had freedoms I hadn’t had in years. I could come and go as I pleased, no matter the time, and I didn’t have to answer to anyone. Did I really want to curb this freedom by taking care of a pet?

I gave it serious thought and realized yes, I came and went as I pleased, but seldom stayed long. Instead, I’ve devoted most of my energies into building my writing career. And, I finally admitted I was lonely.

So, I took the kitten. My son brought her over with enough supplies to last for months. As soon as he let Nessie out of the carrier, she dashed for the back of my sofa – and stayed three days. She didn’t eat, visit the litter box, nothing. My son visited and finally coaxed her out for short times with treats. It took several days for Nessie to emerge long enough to realize she was the only pet in the house, and she stayed out for longer periods of time. Soon she freely roamed the house, but would hide if anyone entered my home. Even my son, who had tried to nurture her.

I poured all my energies and love into this kitten. I think I identified with her – we were both lost souls. Soon, she and I became inseparable, and now she follows me from room to room. But she’d still hide if anyone else entered my home.

I tried to get her into the carrier for a vet’s visit, and she freaked out, digging in her claws to escape my arms. And worse, again she hid from me. I had to cancel the appointment.

Then, the inevitable occurred: she went into heat. Several times. I wanted to get her to the vet, but I knew the only way was to manhandle her into the carrier, and if that wasn’t traumatic enough – for her and for me – the stay at the vet would be torture for her. Would she ever trust me again?

Going into heat was difficult for her and for me, so I made another appointment. And worried.

A friend gave me a couple of cat-calming wipes to use on the carrier, so on the day of reckoning, I took the carrier into the bathroom, wiped it down, and shut her in until my son arrived. He had volunteered – as they do in the Army – because he had better luck handling her when she’s stressed. He got her into the carrier with ease. He’s naturally very good at handling cats, just seems to understand them. I thought I was too, had done so in the past. But with Nessie? I was a nervous mom. Perhaps because she was already traumatized, perhaps because I was older.

We got Nessie to the vet’s, and I hated leaving her. I could imagine her feeling abandoned again, betrayed by the one person she’d begun to feel she could trust. I nearly lost my breakfast. But surgery went well, and we picked her up. She was groggy and slept most of that day, which was fine with me. My son, having gone through this surgery twice in the past year with his own cats, went to his own home, assuring me Nessie would be fine, and I could call if needed. The rest of that day and the next, I kept watching Nessie and checking her incision. I barely slept.

This morning marks the 48 hour recovery time, and Nessie’s nearly back to her old self. She even jumped up onto her high perch on her cat condo.

And yes, she lets me pet her, and she’s not hiding. Hooray! The patient is doing well, better than I expected, so for the first time in over a week, I can relax. I’m so glad I didn’t back out and cancel the appointment.

Now, thanks to my son and a good vet, the nervous mom is now a happy mom. And Nessie? Take a look:

Nessie 800


Filed under Events, My Blog

What a Headache . . .

Theatrical masks

Oscar Wilde said he took out a comma in the morning and put it back in the afternoon.

Long before I devoted endless hours going back over and over what I’d written, I laughed at that quote.

No longer.

I’d recently completed another chapter in my wip and begun another, but something nagged at me. I went back and read until I found what was bothering me – a paragraph I’d revised for the third or fourth time. I’d thought I finally had it right, and with a sigh of relief, continued on.

But well into the next chapter, I still felt that annoying little nag. Something about that paragraph was off. Was it distracting? Did it shatter the mood?

I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, and I certainly don’t check what I’ve written  against a rule book; instead, I must be satisfied that the sentence or paragraph flows with the rhythm in my head.

And that paragraph didn’t.

So here I am again, going over ONE paragraph that I can’t seem to get right. aaarrrgggg!

Do you ever have that problem? If so, what did you do about it?

Brenda Hill


Filed under Craft of Writing, My Blog, The Publishing Process

FREE Download

House wlover Yellow font BOOST 3 right headL. Cooper Press is pleased to announce a FREE download of my paranormal, The House on Serpent Lake, the weekend following Christmas. Relax with a haunting tale of endless love after the hustle and bustle of the holiday.

The House on Serpent Lake:





Leave a comment

December 20, 2015 · 2:40 pm