Monday, October 29, 2018

Creating Witty Dialogue

Witty dialogue is found in most Regency romances, and the comedies of Shakespeare are rife with word plays and banter between clever characters, but it also has a place in other writing.

Put two clever characters with a sense of fun together and let them at each other so they duel with words, and the reader is in for a treat that requires as much attention to the word play as the characters must pay.

This is from an unpublished contemporary novel.

"You have the tail of an ass," Ariel said. 

David raised one eyebrow haughtily. "Women have told me I have a nice ass, but not one has mentioned a tail." 

"They told tales." 

"I am happy you are named for the sprite Ariel and not Puck. I could wake up with the head of an ass." 

“Don't toss Shakespeare at me, amateur, or speak of Bottom. Why change your head into an ass? It would be redundant since you act like one already." 

Witty dialogue, particularly in a romance, is emotional and personal foreplay.  It reinforces a sense that these people “get” each other and are equals emotionally and intellectually.  
Outside of romance, the most surprising and common use of witty dialogue is between the hero and the villain who also “get” each other.

Dueling with words can be just as much fun for the characters and the reader as dueling with swords, and just as dangerous.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Playing Against Type for Humor

Another type of humor that works well in fiction is having a character forced to pretend to be the exact opposite of what he is.  

The prissy heroine may don dirty jeans and boots and do an earthy cowgirl impression to impress a potential client.  This scene pushes the character out of her comfort zone as well as allowing her to see her own ridiculousness in both roles.  

If you can play against type as well as situation, you can give the reader a double treat.

In this scene from an unpublished novel, two heterosexual alpha males are escaping from a hospital although one of them is so badly hurt he should be admitted, not leave, and he had come into the hospital to kill someone so the situation is twisted, as well, into irony, another humor element.

Cole and Daniel staggered into the sanctuary of the empty elevator, and Cole hit the lobby button with his elbow.  

When the door closed, he let Daniel slump against his chest, and he held him up with both arms.  Daniel's legs buckled completely, but Cole was afraid to tighten his hold for fear of the fractured ribs.

 The elevator clicked, and a light came on above the door.
"Oh, lord.  We have company," Cole said.

Daniel tried to straighten his legs, but they bowed like a drunken cowboy's. 

"Stay where you are."  Cole pulled him back up. "And for Pete's sake, hide that famous face of yours, darling." 

Tittering drunkenly, Daniel buried his face in Cole's blond hair, then nuzzled his ear, his arms snaking around Cole's waist and neck. 

"Don't be fresh," Cole muttered as the door opened at three.  

A well-dressed, middle-aged couple walked in. 

"Hello," Cole gushed cloyingly and grinned, careful to keep his own famous face in shadow. 

When the graying matron saw the two men in intimate embrace, she backed into the already closed door. 

Cole purred proudly, "We're being married tomorrow." 

The gentleman shoved the next floor's button instead of the main floor. 

Cole fought to keep a straight face and Daniel on his feet. 

The elevator door opened, and the couple rushed out. 

"Damn, they've left," Cole complained. "I wanted to invite them to the wedding." 

"What will Penn and Lylah say?  They don't even know we're dating.”

Cole's laughter got them through the lobby and outside the hospital.  

Monday, October 15, 2018

Using Misunderstandings as Humor

I have never written strictly comic stories, my writing tends toward darker or more serious stories, but I like to add comic elements.  These elements are situational, not in the sense of a situation comedy filled with punch lines, but the humor lies in the situation.  

Humor changes the pace of the story, can reflect on what is happening, or gives the reader another side of a character.
One type of humorous scene has one character totally misunderstanding or not having the right information in a situation.  

This example is from an unpublished category romance of mine called COURTING DISASTER.  The hero and heroine work at the same sporting goods store during the Christmas rush, and they’ve finished a full day of work.  They chat in the parking lot at their cars.  Cody is very interested in Maggie, but she’s not interested in any man because she wants to remain true to her late husband.  For the first time, she’s beginning to see that maybe this isn’t quite as easy a life decision as she thought.  

The punchline for this misunderstanding is that Molly is Cody’s golden retriever puppy, but Maggie doesn’t know this.  The reader is in on this joke because Molly was in an earlier scene with Cody. 

Cody sighed loudly.  "On a night like tonight, I'm glad I don't have to go home to an empty house.  Nothing’s worse than an empty house and a dinner for one.”

Maggie’s heart twitched more painfully than her feet.  That was exactly what was waiting for her.  An empty house.  “You have a housemate?”

"No.  I was talking about Molly."  They stopped by Maggie's car, and Cody grinned inanely.  "I must admit Molly turns me into a pile of mush when I'm around her.  I never expected to be as crazy over her as I am.”

Cold settled in Maggie's heart.  "That's nice." 

"I really miss her when I'm working.  I promised her I'd spend tomorrow morning with her.  I can already guess what will happen.  She'll curl up against me in bed early tomorrow morning, rest her head on my chest, and stare at me with those big brown eyes until I wake up.”

Vivid images flashed through Maggie's head.  A beautiful woman naked against Cody, her head resting on his magnificent bare chest--he probably had curly auburn hair on it--and he'd..., and she'd...  Maggie fumbled for her keys in her purse, her head down to hide embarrassment and envy.

"Later, we'll go for a run in the woods and find some fallen leaves to play in.  She loves fallen leaves.  We'll play in the leaves, then I'll scratch her tummy, and her tail will really wiggle.  Then we'll snuggle."

Considerably more than her tail would wiggle if he scratched her tummy.  But she didn't want her tummy scratched!  Not by him, not by anybody.  She was an adult, she was Jeff's widow, she was....  She was jealous of Molly.  

Flustered by that knowledge, Maggie unlocked her car door.  "Well, have a nice day off."

"I intend to." 

I didn’t want the reader to think Cody was deliberately fooling Maggie about Molly’s identity so I had him tell her about his puppy earlier although he failed to mention her name which was an honest omission on his part, not a mean joke.

I also didn’t want Maggie to be an idiot about this mistake so I let her realize her error a few paragraphs later when Cody shows her the new collar he got for Molly.  This also allows her to question her own feelings about Cody and her determined decision to remain a widow.  

To make this light moment more than a throw-away joke, I made Molly an integral part of the plot through the novel.  

For a light moment to work in a novel, it should never be a throw-away joke.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Naming Your Character

Finding the right name for a character involves a number of variables.

*The period the story is set in.  Names must be authentic for the period.  A number of websites are available for different historical periods as well as recent years.  Do your research, and don't have a Medieval heroine named Tiffany. 

Here are a few sites to look at

Popular first names in recent years:

*The location of the story and ethnic background of your characters.

Popular first name by state:  

*The current impression the name gives.  Years ago, for example, men were named Leslie, but it has become a woman's name.  Naming your hero Leslie might be authentic for the period, but it will give your reader the wrong impression.

*How hard the name is to type.  I avoid some names because I can't type them.   If you must use a name that's hard to type, pick a simple nonsense string of letters then do a universal search and replace.  Be absolutely sure the letters are nonsense so you don't insert the name in the middle of words that have that string within them.


The right name for your hero or heroine is one of your most important decisions.  

For major characters, I don't just pick a name I like.  Instead, I wait until I see a name, and a frission goes through me to tell me I've hit the name for my character.  Most of my character names have been gifts of that sort.  Sometimes, the character will tell me his name at a certain point in the creation process.  

The name, in other words, is as much a part of making the character real for the writer as it is for the reader.  


Try to avoid  a secondary character's name that is similar to your major characters' names.   That includes names that begin with the same letter or look similar (Al, Sal, and Sally).
Before I start writing and after I have my main characters' names, I make a list of other names I can use in the book which fit the period, etc., as well as being different from the major characters' names.  This allows me to pick a name for that waitress who has a few scenes without having to stop my writing while I think up a name.  


I have used similar names deliberately in my writing.  In TIME AFTER TIME, my hero remembers all his past lives, and he's trying to convince the heroine they have been reincarnated lovers in each of those lives.  He restages and retells their past lives and their loves so I needed different names for them in each time period.  

I decided that I'd use the same first letter or letters of their current names for each past name so that the reader would recognize instantly when I mentioned a name even if they couldn't recall the period that name was from.  Each name would have to fit the historical period as well as the personality of the character.

Justin was earthy Jed in the Old West, and Alexa was Annie.   In the 1940s, Justin was sophisticated Jared and Alexa was Alicia.  Their other names also reflected character and period.


For main characters, particularly villains, it's a good idea to put the name into a search engine to see if someone out there shares the name.  Put the first and last name into quotation marks so you will only receive results with both those words close together.  If you find someone with that name, you may want to consider a different name.  If the name belongs to a serial killer, you definitely want a different name. 

Looking for the same name is also a good idea for book titles.


As you develop characters and names,  you'll discover a new fascination with names and their power, and you'll probably find yourself scanning obituaries and newspapers for that unusual name to add to your name list.  Enjoy this.  It's part of the fun of creating characters.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Demon Returns

"Psst. Psst. Over here!”
I ignored the tiny voice, leaned closer to the computer screen, and continued typing. 
"It's crap, you know. Total crap. No editor in the world will touch it."
I flinched but kept typing. "Go away."
"Boring, badly written crap. But I've got this great idea. A sure winner."
"That's what you said about this novel. Go away. I only have two chapters left. The final confrontation, the villain's glorious demise, the final love reconciliation, then fade to happily ever after."
"But I have a wonderful idea. You see the villain hires the hero to murder the heroine, and it's a South American country, and..."
I pushed my glasses back up my nose and straightened. The little demon, complete with horns, hooves, and curly black hair, sprawled on the WEBSTER’S UNABRIDGED DICTIONARY by my computer. He twirled his forked tail in his hand and grinned with more seductive skill than a host of romance novel hunks.
I smiled back in spite of myself. "I dreamed that last night."
"Yeah, it was me. Great idea, huh?"
"I wrote copious notes when I woke up. Thanks."
He preened his horns. "Thought it was your style. Action. Adventure. Cliffs to shove the heroine off of. Why you wasting your time with that--"
"It isn't crap. I have to finish. I always finish my novels. I'm a professional."
'And don't it steam me." A puff of smoke drifted out of his ears.
"I appreciate the ideas. Keep them coming. Now go away!"
"But.... How about a planet where--"
"Aren't we desperate." I smiled wickedly. "It won't work. I know what you are and what you're trying to do."
"I'm your friend. I'm trying to give you a salable idea."
"You're a withdrawal symptom."
Sitting up indignantly, he straightened an imaginary tie. "I beg your pardon. I am your adventure muse. And you don't do drugs. Not even booze. I am not...."
"Adrenaline withdrawal. Nothing more," I insisted.
"Adrenaline's what your body pumps when you're afraid," he protested.
"Or when you're facing a challenge. And adrenaline is addictive. Ask any stage actor. Or rock climber. That mountain gets climbed, not because it's there, but because the climber is addicted to the rush of danger."
The demon rested his hand on his forehead and wailed, "Oh, the terror of paper cuts, the exciting rush of eye strain."
I chuckled. "You don't know fear until you stare at a blank screen and try to bring people to life, create a world that is as real to the reader as it is to you. Creating order and reality out of nothing."
"And you're throwing away all that to finish that garbage."
"It's finished already. In here." I tapped my head. "All I have to do is type it out. All the creating is done. That's why you've shown up as you usually do. The adrenaline's stopped pumping so my subconscious starts giving me new ideas. New sources of that wonderful addictive adrenaline."
"When your brethren show up, amateurs toss aside good projects and start something new. A pro knows what you are, takes copious notes of your ideas for the future projects' file, and finishes."
"You kink my tail sometimes."
"Go away, please, and let me finish. The sooner finished, the sooner started on one of your glorious ideas."
The demon grinned jauntily. "In that case...."
As he disappeared, I said, "And keep bringing me those great ideas."
With a thumps up gesture, he vanished in a wink of smoke.