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The Wicked Writing Blog

Welcome to the home of writing award ideas and practical advice for story contest success. Fun and sheer tomfoolery are never far away. Feel free to add your comments. (To comment on a post, or see the comments there, simply click on its title.)


Do You Make These Three Big Mistakes With Dialogue?

July 25, 2014

Real-life conversation? It’s no excuse for confusing, irritating, distracting or boring our reader! In this guest post, ace copy editor Jodie Renner gives us three great tips for writing realistic dialogue that works - and keeps our reader happily in our story.

First off, you don’t want to frustrate or annoy us by trying to reproduce regional dialects exactly as they sound. Also, I’d be cautious about using the very latest slang expressions. They could end up dating your story within a year or two. That would not be groovy! (Pun intended.)

In-your-face profanities can lose you readers. And finally, please, leave out all the boring yadda-yadda blah-blah filler stuff!

Don’t mangle characters’ speech

So you’ve done your research? You know precisely how a character – regional, foreign or from an historical period - should sound? Don’t make the mistake of trying to reproduce those speech patterns phonetically.

As Jack Bickham says, “There was a time, not so long ago, when fiction writers strove for authenticity in some of their stories by attempting to imitate regional and ethnic dialects and pronunciations by purposely misspelling words in their dialogue. Today such practices have fallen into disfavor.”

Why? Because it’s distracting and irritating.

Not only that, it runs the risk of obscuring your intended meaning. It will throw your reader out of your story – the exact opposite of what you’re going for. Also, you could easily end up offending people from that region if you depict their everyday speech as a laughable sub-language.

Here’s an example, from an older story about slaves and the Civil War. The passage was narrated by a slave:
  “So dey jump on dey horses and gallop ‘way. An’ we ain’t see’d dem since. Dey friends say dey be kilt in one o’ de firs’ battles o’ de war. Dat be good lesson fo’ we, shure ‘nuf! Black folk ain’t gonna go off ta fight in a war. Life be tuff enuf here wid’ Massa an’ his whip, widout uder buckra be shootin’ at de menfolk an’ killin’ ‘em dead.”
And it went on like that for pages! Ouch!

So these days, editors, agents - and discerning readers – frown on phonetic spelling, misspellings or the overuse of apostrophes to indicate missing letters, or any other deviations from standard English speech. They may get your story, otherwise compelling, rejected.

How do you get your regional flavor across to your readers? Use an occasional elision (a dropped sound, indicated by an apostrophe) and plenty of regular contractions, with the odd regional word or expression thrown in. And that’s it.

Don’t try to keep up with the latest slang expressions

Many new authors try to appeal to their audience by using the latest slang expressions, especially in YA fiction. This is usually a mistake.

The language is changing so fast, especially fad expressions, that what’s trendy or “in” today may be already dated by the time your short story or novel comes out. The moral? Be careful with using cutting-edge street talk or just-coined slang expressions. Stick to slang expressions that have been around for at least a few years.

Don’t overdo the profanities

Another mistake made by newbie writers is to replicate every F-word. It leaves readers wincing. Profanities and obscenities can often slide by in real life, depending on the situation, but they jump out at us on the printed page. So use them judiciously, to convey the general flavor. Don’t put them in every line.

Save the worst of them for those story situations where a strong curse word is really needed to convey the emotion.

Also, consider your genre. Readers of cozy mysteries, for example, are mostly women aged 60 and up, so best to use less graphic language in those stories. The odd “Damn!” or “Crap!” or "friggin/frickin'" will usually suffice.

Don’t reproduce actual conversations verbatim

‘Actual conversations’? I mean all the uhs and ums and ers and you knows and How are you? I’m fine, and you?

In this basket I’ll put chitchat about the weather and other empty social niceties that lead up to (or follow) the real meat of the conversation. It puts your readers to sleep. And they won’t pick up your book again when they wake up.

Writing gurus tell us, “Dialogue is war!” You need tension on every page. So if your dialogue doesn
’t drive the story forward, add conflict or tension, or contribute to character development, take it out.

In summary: oddball spelling, attempts at reproducing regional dialects phonetically, and heavy use of profanities all risk offending someone, whether it’s a member of a minority or just someone who doesn’t like swearing. The latest slang expressions may soon appear outdated and ridiculous. And empty blah blah is so boring, isn’t it?

So be wary of reproducing characters’ dialogue exactly as it sounds in real life—it could backfire on you!

What do you think? As a reader, how do you feel about the attempted reproduction of regional dialects in fiction - or about stories peppered with obscenities? As a writer, how do you make your characters sound ‘authentic’ without courting offence? Please leave a comment and share your views!

Reference: Jack M. Bickham, The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes

Besides publishing her popular craft-of-writing books under the series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, the award-winning Fire up Your Fiction and Writing a Killer Thriller (and the upcoming Captivate Your Readers), Jodie Renner is a sought-after freelance fiction editor and author of numerous blog posts on writing captivating fiction.

Find Jodie at her author site, on Facebook and Twitter.

Ten Top Tips For Promoting Your Book - From A Dog

July 18, 2014

So you’ve finished an excellent book. It’s on sale. How do you overcome the ultimate barrier and get folk to buy it? Wise advice is everywhere on the web but here's some that beats it all: a tested ten-tip strategy from - a dog. It's recounted by the puppy’s friend, author Fiona Ingram.

She writes: Champ is the author (or rather, Pawthor) of an amazing tale, Champ: My Story of Survival, an account of how an abused dog came back from the brink of death. Champ has learned a lot along th...

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Three Ways (Not) To Kill Your Story In Its Cradle

July 11, 2014

Here's the opening scene of my latest novel. Do you think it will sell?
"Has the bishop had her baby yet?"

"No, she's hit the campaign trail, on a ticket to ban corruption in the World Series, so she has decided to adopt an orphan Panda instead, to help her ratings."

"Will you tell the Mafia?" The Pope smiled gently. "Or shall I?"
Religion, sex, motherhood, politics, sport, animals, crime… what’s not to love?

Forgive me if I have offended you. To mock the World Series is to live dangerous...

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Six Provocative Ways To Become A 'Real' Writer

July 3, 2014

Every author wants to be famous. To be a household name and become a fixture on the best-seller lists. Don't we?

In this provocative guest post, author Renee Vaughn questions that received wisdom. She argues that
fame or fortune can be liabilities for an author. Great writing has nothing to do with the desire - or ability - to become a celebrity. It starts with a great person.

And our first step to becoming a great person is... to be a
real person!

Fame is not always fun. As Princess Diana dis...

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How to acquire mana - and sell a million books

June 25, 2014

Prepare to shed a thousand tears! Well, one will suffice. Elmear McBride has just won £30,000 ($48,000) and the Bailey’s Women’s Prize For Fiction with a novel – mostly stream-of-consciousness - that even the judges confess is impossible to read. 

Her small publisher Galley Beggar Press now expects to stay afloat for two years from the profits of her book, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing. It seems that novels that win the Bailey’s award, once called the Orange Prize, typically en...

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15 Ways To Tell You’re Onto Something Good

June 19, 2014

How do I know what to write?
How do I know what readers want?
How do I know if I’m good enough to tell it?

In this exclusive guest post, best-selling author C. Hope Clark – founder of the legendary writing site Funds For Writers – reveals the passions that spur her to write fiction. Do they drive you too? Answer her 15 questions and you’ll know whether you
really have what it takes to be a star writer!

The world abounds with wanna-be writers. Most start and never finish. The majority...

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Six Ways To Win More Readers With Your Words

June 13, 2014

Do exotic words work? Really? How often have we tossed readers out of our stories without realizing it? By using words or phrases that we understand well enough but they don’t? In this guest post, veteran writer Nigel da Silva gives us six ways to get our meanings across more effectively – while still having a lot of creative fun.

When JRR Tolkein invented Elvish for his Hobbit novels, he opened a literary can of worms. He was a philologist by profession, so he had at least some exc...

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John Yeoman

Dr John Yeoman, MA Oxon, MPhil, PhD Creative Writing, FSRS*  is a UK university tutor in the short story. He has 42 years experience as a successful commercial writer, newspaper editor and one-time chairman of a major PR consultancy.

He has published innumerable works of humour, some intended to be humorous.

* Founder, the Society for the Rehabilitation of the Semi-colon