Can We Talk?

by | May 13, 2019 | Articles | 0 comments

I don’t know how many of my blog readers are familiar with Joan Rivers—possibly not that many—but there was a time when the catchphrase Can we talk? was known to just about every adult in America. Joan may be gone, but it seems like people are talking more than ever. All talk, all the time, everywhere you go.

I’ve always been a bit of a talker myself. I get that from my mother. Growing up in our house, Mom sat at the kitchen table with us three guys, my father, my older brother and me. Dad was extremely quiet, and my brother took after him somewhat in that respect.

As the youngest in the family, I sat there at the table listening to my mother’s endless monologues about the cute kids she taught at school. I can’t help thinking there was a moment when I looked from my father to my brother and thought, “Aren’t either of you going to do anything about this?”

And when the answer turned out to be No, I started talking. If I didn’t, she would. So I became the second most talkative member of my immediate family.

 

An Ear For Dialogue

I first learned I had something of an ear for dialogue while still in high school. When my friends responded well to a little short fiction I’d written, I was hooked. Looking back, those first stories were actually pretty terrible, but they were still decent first efforts. What stands out most: the dialogue.

In college and grad school, I learned that I had to take my professors’ praise with a healthy grain of salt. They were impressed with my writing skills, and gave me good grades, but they didn’t have to write for a living. A professional writer-in-residence came along, and this guy was one cool dude. He hung out with us students, we got him high, and all was well with the world, as far as I was concerned. The one thing I remember him saying was that I had an “ear for dialogue.” That stuck with me.

 

Examples From Novels

Looking back now at some of the work I’ve done in my life, I can find examples of dialogue that still pleases me in its economy and how the characters can be easily differentiated from each other. For example:

 

“Now you just shut up and listen to me —”

“What?” His eyes blazed. “What?”

“I said shut up and —”

He seized her arm and she dropped the pan, paralyzed, his grip like some steely claw digging into her soft flesh.

“Nobody, Louise—nobody—tells me to shut up. Okay?” His teeth clenched, sweat trickled down his forehead.

“Let go of my arm, you bastard.”

“Did you hear what I said?”

“Let go, you —” She tried to hit him.

“Nobody!” he screamed, flinging her back. [From Brothers’ Hand.]

 

Another example:

“Of course, in Americar, one meets so many women… but I’ve found almost all of them—the good-looking ones, anyway—are frightfully ordinary. And they’re almost always paired off with some bloody swaggering Cro-Magnon man who’s got all the tact and delicacy of a Mongolian idiot.” [From Miles of Files.]

 

And finally: 

Someone had recently asked how old his kids were and, without thinking, he’d replied, “About three and a half marriages.” [From Miles of Files.]

 

The example from Brothers’ Hand shows unbearable tension and even violence between a parent and child, but above all, the dialogue shows a clear difference between who’s speaking, without a lot of he said/she said attributions. I’m proud of how that came out.

The samples from Miles of Files are much different: they demonstrate a grim humor, and both make their characters (the British Graham and the American Mac, respectively) look pretty bad. A lot of this stuff happens organically for me, and requires little rewrite. It just flows.

So there you have it—a bit about dialogue from an author who’s always found creating it to be one of the least difficult aspects of writing a novel. Can we talk?

music

“Music Hath Charms to Soothe a Savage Breast”

So wrote William Congreve in 1697, and it’s still true today. Of course, not everyone today understands that “hath” meant “has,” or that a “savage breast” was another way of saying “wild heart.” And these days, more music is made to stimulate than to calm.My own...
holidays

Books: Great Holiday Gifts, or The Greatest Holiday Gifts?

I saw a cartoon the other day that features a character who's starting to sing, "It's beginning to look a lot like..." A second character quickly and quietly puts the first character down, saying, "Shh. Sleep now." Dark stuff, right? But hey, these are dark times—in...
healthcare

Our Broken Healthcare System Vs. The Decent, Affordable Healthcare of a Developing Nation

​Is your country’s health care system an egregious scam that bilks patients out of their money? Mine is. I didn’t have a blog post topic planned for today, but a bill that showed up in my mailbox changed that in a hurry. I’ve been talking about this anecdotally to...
writer

Are You The Kind Of Writer Who Reads A Lot?

When I was in high school, I had a real dilemma: I loved the books the teachers assigned us, and as a result, the teachers loved me. Naturally, that meant some of the other students hated me. Now, I should clarify this by saying that I didn't always love what I was...
Whizzers

Authors’ Pandemic Sales and The Dubious Metric of “Necessities” Vs. “Luxuries”

​Considering everything going in the world, the past week was a pretty good one for me. Almost a year after its initial publication, my novel Whizzers—which had flatlined in the Kindle store—suddenly spiked to #179,500. When one of your babies jumps that much, it gets...

Short Story Contest Part II

Last week, I launched a short story contest here on my blog as part of a major national promotion. To recap: this is not a call for submissions; I'm serializing a short story in anticipation of my upcoming release of a short collection. Here's how it works: read it...
7 Things to Check Before You Publish That Book

7 Things to Check Before You Publish That Book

This year, I'm pleased to announce I'm going to be publishing my fifth work of fiction, Whizzers. Hard to believe, because it seems like just yesterday when I launched my first novel, Brothers' Hand, into an unsuspecting world. I still remember some of the reactions...
guilt

The Problem With Guilt-Inducing Advice

I frequently see tweets asking, “What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever heard?” I don’t know if I want to comment on that, exactly, but I do have something else in mind. Probably the biggest cliché writers will ever hear is some variation on the old saw, Write...
holidays

Happy Holidays from Mike Sahno – Author, Speaker, Publisher

I suppose I’m courting controversy right out of the gate just by using the phrase Happy Holidays. I get that. But I’m also pretty sure it won’t upset most of my readers! My wife Sunny and I would like to wish a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Solstice, Kwanzaa,...

Twitter Tips for Authors in 2023

If you follow my blog, you probably connected with me via Twitter, whether you’re a fellow author or not. In 2020, I wrote a post about Twitter for fellow writers that got a good response. Three years later, the landscape has changed, but some Twitter best practices...
self-promotion

What’s The Problem With Shameless Self-Promotion?

While I still find it somewhat hard to believe, I've been on Twitter for almost eight years. I know this not only because Twitter shows Joined March 2015 on my profile but also because, even if they eliminate that feature, I use a tracker called Who Unfollowed Me? If...
MLK

MLK Day 2023

Here’s wishing everyone a safe, sane Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For many of us, today is always something of a day of mourning: not only mourning the loss of a great civil rights leader, but also mourning the turn our great nation seemed to take in recent years....

Twitter Tips for Authors in 2023

If you follow my blog, you probably connected with me via Twitter, whether you’re a fellow author or not. In 2020, I wrote a post about Twitter for fellow writers that got a good response. Three years later, the landscape has changed, but some Twitter best practices...
rails

Going Off The Rails (But Not On A Crazy Train)

Last April, I wrote a blog post called Back on Track With a Work-In-Progress. Part of that post was to talk about the difference between a “plotter” and a “pantser” (and to describe myself as a hybrid of the two, a “plantser”). Another, less obvious motive, was to...
French

Those Tricky French Authors and Their Obsessions

Today’s blog post was originally going to be Write Whatever the @#$% You Want, Pt. III. However, after seeing parts I and II lined up, I decided to call an audible and make it something less repetitive. Somehow the SEO gods have gotten into my head. As I’ve mentioned...
scared

Write Whatever the @#$% You Want, Pt. II

In last week’s post, I mentioned a pretty well-known author who has publicly reported his publisher “wouldn’t touch” a new release, in part because a character in his novel referred to herself as “fat.” I heard this story on a podcast, and I remember thinking, “Wait...
censorship

Write Whatever the @#$% You Want

I’ve been stewing on this for a while. It’s been brewing for quite a while. I could probably write a song about it (how about a rap?), but I don’t think I will. This is more of a blog post topic, and it might even deserve a series. And that’s the title and topic of...
gratitude

Should Every Month Be Gratitude Month?

When I was a kid, I loved Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. I read it daily and collected nearly every paperback volume of the cartoon, so I could see what I’d missed since the comic strip’s inception in 1950.  Certain things stuck: quotes like “happiness is a warm puppy”...
robot

More Thoughts On Robot Writers and The Tech Dystopia

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post here called When Will the Robot Overlords Replace Us? Apparently, I’m fairly obsessed with this stuff, because every time I come here and empty my brain, it seems to come up again. Today is no different. Part of the reason,...