Tag Archives: beat

May 27

Mystery Author J. D. (Dave) Webb Visits with Mike Angley

MA: My guest today is author J. D. (Dave) Webb. Dave resides in Illinois with his wife (43 years counting) and their toy poodle, Ginger, losing all family votes 2 to 1. Dave served in the Security Service of the Air Force as a Chinese linguist and weather analyst in Viet Nam and the Philippines prior to spending 25 years in corporate management. After a company purge he promoted himself to cobbler and he owned a shoe repair and sales shop for 11 years. But being a full time author, always a dream, became a reality in 2002. Dave has garnered several awards. His first novel Shepherd’s Pie won a publisher’s Golden Wings Award for excellence in writing. His second novel Moon Over Chicago was a top ten finisher in the 2008 Preditors and Editors Poll in the mystery category and was a finalist in the prestigious 2008 Eppie awards by the Electronic Publishing Internet Connection. His latest book, Smudge, recently placed fifth in the mystery category of the 2011 Preditors and Editors poll. He is also the Owner and Moderator of the Publishing and Promoting Yahoo group with over 900 international members.
That’s an impressive and diverse resume, Dave! Tell us why you chose to write novels.
DW: Actually the novels chose me. I’d always written short stories, but wanted – no needed – to write novels. They are what I love to read and they are what I love to write.
MA: What kind of stories do you write?
DW: I write family friendly mysteries, no excessive violence, gore or profanity. I realize that goes against the current trend. Rex Stout once said (not sure of the exact quote), “Mysteries can contain sex or violence if it is essential to the story. That is perfectly all right. There is none of that in mine. So it must not be essential.”
I have a series featuring laid-back Chicago PI Mike Shepherd. Shepherd’s Pie reflects that Mike loves pie and swears it helps him solve a case. In this one he is hounded by Ferlin Husky Lewis, the serial killer he is trying to capture. In Her Name Is Mommy Mike finds a tot in a busy mall whose mom has been kidnapped from that mall. His promise to her is that he’ll find her mommy. Moon Over Chicago – Amateur sleuth and cobbler Fulton Moon merely tries to help a customer out of an abusive relationship. But his attempts to help never go as planned. Smudge chronicles the adventures of Trish Morgan a paralegal in a small Chicago suburb. She wipes a smudge off her ATM screen one night and it’s blood. Then she hears a moan coming from the alley next to the bank. She shouldn’t go into that alley, but she does.
MA: How do you go about developing your characters?
DW: My characters seem to develop themselves. Often one pops up and I have no idea where he/she comes from. I wrestle with them to stay on plot. They are sometimes headstrong. I develop back story as I go with them and I have to keep notes to make sure I know who they are.
MA: Tell us about how you shape your heroes.
DW: All my protagonists are competent and smart but with weaknesses. I also make my antagonists equally smart and competent. I abhor the uncouth, whiskey-swilling images of PIs. I don’t subscribe to the recurring bad guy. Each book can be a standalone and good always triumphs.
MA: Does your art imitate your life in any way?
DW: Well, let’s see. I’ve never been chased by a serial killer, never had a bald headed giant florist beat me up, never had an abusive husband, so I guess the answer is mostly no. For Her Name Is Mommy I did see a tot alone on a mall bench one busy Christmas shopping trip. I wondered where her parents were and after about four minutes the girl’s mother popped out of a shop and retrieved her child. I was incensed that she’d leave a small child alone in a busy mall for even a few seconds. I decided she needed to be punished – so I put her in my book and had her kidnapped. It was great therapy. I now do it often. Someone ticks me off, they wind up in my book and suffer consequences. My attempt to right the world.
MA: (chuckling) I might want to tick you off in time for a new release of my own. Can’t get too much PR, you know! Any irons in any current fires?
DW: My work in progress is called Gulf Terror. The premise is – what if the gulf oil spill was a suicide bombing by two terrorists? And one of them survives and is loose in Louisiana, planning more destruction?
I have begun the third in the Mike Shepherd series and the second in the Fulton Moon series. I have no plans right now to do a sequel to Smudge, but who knows? My characters have minds of their own it seems. I have another novel almost one third done about a young Pakistani boy orphaned by a tribal chief, taken to Afghanistan and forced to become part of the man’s militia. The young boy’s only goal is to survive to avenge his father’s murder.
MA: What methods do you use to avoid writer’s block or push through it? Do you even get writer’s block?
DW: I can remember a famous author saying there is no such thing as writers block. That is just someone’s excuse for laziness. I don’t remember who it was so I won’t get him/her in trouble. There are times when I get stuck and can’t think where to go next. I don’t consider it writer’s block because I know where I want to go, just not how I want to get there. Sometimes my characters are telling me to go one way and I want to go another. They often win.
MA: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
DW: A writer’s mantra should be – Butt in the chair. The best thing to do is like anything else, practice your craft. Read what you are writing. If it’s mysteries, read mysteries. Read the how to books. Go to writer’s conferences, join a writer’s group, and subscribe to writer’s magazines. I do all these things.
MA: Great advice! I would like my readers to visit Dave Webb’s website for more information about this intriguing author and his works: www.jdwebb.com
Read More

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Apr 14

“Let the Dialogue Speak” by Mary Deal

Proper use of “said” and the use of “beats” will keep a story flowing smoothly.

Books and articles turn up touting the value of replacing the use of the word said. She said. He said. Many claim said is overused and tiresome. They supply an endless plethora of verbs, nouns and adjectives to use instead. But my opinion is that, in most cases, there are no substitutes, given what said does when used properly.

Said is acceptable enough to hide in the background and not call the reader’s attention to dynamics of speech that would best be shown with proper punctuation. Said is simply a speaker attribution and tells us who said what in the course of conversation.

However, said can become grossly overworked. This is why many people have tired of it. This is an example of overuse:

“Hola, Papi,” Pablo said. “When do we eat?”

“About ten minutes,” his father said.

“I’m going back to the street then,” Pablo said. “I’m winning all the races.”

“Hey-hey,” Rico said. “Be on time for dinner.”

“Si, Papa,” Pablo said.

Taken from my novel, The Tropics, this conversation flows much better when written this way:

“Hola, Papi,” he said, eyes eager and smiling. “When do we eat?”

“About ten minutes.”

“I’m going back to the street then,” Pablo said, starting to run away. “I’m winning all the races.”

“Hey-hey,” Rico said. “Be on time for dinner.”

“Si, Papi.”

Each sentence, both dialogue and narration contains slight variations. The description of actions included with dialogue is referred to as beats. The characters are not only talking. They are involved in doing something at the same time they speak.

When the actions of characters are included, the writer must be careful not to overuse beats. They serve the purpose of avoiding dialogue with a running string of “saids” or speaker attributions.

I wholeheartedly agree with Renne Browne and Dave King. In their book, “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” they say:

“If you substitute the occasional speaker attribution with a beat, you can break the monotony of the ‘saids’ before it begins to call attention to itself.”

A beat is not necessary in writing, but it makes for smoother reading and understanding of the characters.

For example, if you are speaking in live conversation with someone, you hear their words and watch their body language, or watch what they direct your attention to. The beats are their gestures.

In reading, beats allow for a silent pause; a moment to digest what is being said and the action emphasizes the dialogue.

On the page, a speaker attribution identifies who is speaking. The word said is accepted because it remains in the background. It does not make us pause to visualize or try to understand the way that the character speaks. Here’s another example when said has been replaced:

“What more?” Ciara questioned. “I know what I have to do. Rico also had a sister he never talked about. Help me find her—”

“Senorita,” Lazaro interrupted. “There’s a reason why he never spoke of her.”

“You know about her?” Ciara quizzed.

“Si, si. She had breast cancer,” Lazaro sympathized.

Now the same conversation from The Tropics, written another way:

“What more?” Ciara asked. “I know what I have to do. Rico also had a sister he never talked about. Help me find her—”

“Senorita,” Lazaro said. “There’s a reason why he never spoke of her.”

“You know about her?”

“Si, si. She had breast cancer.”

Another aspect of smooth writing is that when only two characters speak, you need not identify each by name each time they say something. You also need not include any speaker attribution at all, unless the dialogue string is too long. Simply establish who spoke first, who responded, and the reader will follow along. Also, a good place to insert a few beats is in any string of dialogue where speaker attributions are not used.

This gets more complicated when you have three or more people sharing conversation. A few more speaker attributions are acceptable, and a beat both aids in showing us the characters actions and prevents a string of attributions each time a new voice is written in dialogue. Here’s another example of over-use:

“I haven’t seen Larry for months,” Ruby said.

“I thought you two were tight as thieves,” Brad said.

“Not that tight,” Ruby said.

“Guess we all had it wrong,” Denny said.

“You guys and your assumptions,” Ruby said.

Here’s a better example:

“I haven’t seen Larry for months,” Ruby said.

“I thought you two were tight as thieves,” Brad said, as he pressed a hand against the gun inside his jacket.

“Not that tight!” Ruby looked around the room, all the while feigning nonchalance and looking like any other customer in the bar.

“Guess we had it all wrong,” Denny said as he took another sip of his drink.

“You guys and your assumptions….”

In the revised example, when a speaker attribution is not included, we still know who is speaking. Using a beat makes it easy to know to whom the dialogue belongs, so leave off the attribution.

Notice, too, that “chimed in” or “quipped” or “volunteered” or “whispered” and such other attributions did not substitute for the word said. What really happened among the “saids” in the second example is that the word said receded into the background and allowed us to fully comprehend the urgency of the conversation. Because of the punctuation, we didn’t have to be told about voice inflection or any other way that the speaker spoke, which would have made us stop and visualize the action or the tenseness of the conversation.

The choice of words and punctuation in the dialogue did that for us, with the help of said, which quietly did its part, as it should. Our eyes read the important words, while said registers only subconsciously. All we need to further the action is to read on.

Attributing dialogue to certain characters need not be overdone. Proper punctuation does that for us. For example:

“You klutz!” he exclaimed.

The exclamation point tells us the remark was an exclamation and not a quiet statement or a question. It is not necessary to repeat to the reader that it he exclaimed. Readers do not like redundancy. It’s very off-putting; as if the writer is sure the reader won’t get it. In that incorrect assumption lays the erroneous motivation for writers to use attributions other than said. An experienced reader comprehends the first time through with proper punctuation.

Many writers make the mistake of thinking they can add impetus to dialogue by including many and varied attributions. This is as bad a practice as using your hands and arms in front of your face when you speak. When talking, words and intonation speak for themselves and most hand gestures, at best, are rude. So, like hand gestures, a writer may irritate a reader through redundancy.

Yet another incorrect usage of attributions has become quite common:

“I hope you like it,” she smiled.

“It’s way over there,” he pointed.

“I’d like to take you home with me,” she lilted.These are unemotional sentences that do not need further modification. “Smiled,” “pointed” and “lilted” did not speak those words. Such verbs have no place as speaker attributions. Only in a few instances can said be replaced correctly. One way those sentences can be written properly, and sparingly, is given below. Notice the punctuation:

“I hope you like it,” she said as she smiled.

“It’s way over there,” he said, pointing.

“I’d like to take you home with me.” Her voice was low and lilting.

Here are two last examples of incorrect punctuation and attributes that just don’t convey what they were meant to:

“Fire…,” she exclaimed.

“Fire,” she screeched.

And correctly written if we already know who is speaking:

“Fire!” he said.

Or simply…

“Fire!”

With many other places writers can get creative, speaker attributes are best left to the time-tested said, accompanied by proper punctuation in the dialogue.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Oct 22

Fellow Writer John Wills is Mike Angley’s First Guest-Blogger!

Today I am pleased to kick off my fellow-author series where I interview writers about their lives, their writing, their passions…and I’m honored to have as my first guest-blogger, John Wills. John and I met via PoliceLink, a website for people in the law enforcement community. He introduced me to my current publisher – our shared publisher – TotalRecall Publications (TRP). Read More

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