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?

giving

Why I Think Giving Your Work Away Is (Mostly) A Bad Idea

​Free books—who doesn’t love that idea, right? Me. I don’t love that idea. In fact, I think it sucks. Now, you might wonder: why, Mike, are you so against free books? I mean, don’t you want more people to read? You’re not against libraries, are you? No, I’m not...
fumes

Running On Fumes: Pandemic Fatigue

Let’s face: the past four years have been exhausting. But 2020 is a whole other level of exhausting. If you’re running on fumes right now—and I’ll be the first to admit that’s the case for me—who can blame you? Ordinarily, I have a schedule for these blog posts, and...
Twitter

6 Twitter Tips for Authors

Those of you who follow my blog probably connected with me via Twitter, whether you’re a fellow author or not. Now that I’m closing in on 25K followers, I feel like I’ve got a little experience I can share that will be helpful. And with that, here comes today’s blog...
Community

Is It Important to Be Part of a Community of Writers?

I just returned from a meeting of the Bay Area Professional Writers Guild, a terrific organization that brings together writers of all types to network, share resources, and provide education. It made me realize what a small world this is, as the guest speaker was...
author

Are Authors Typically Obsessive-Compulsive?

Recently I’ve noticed a trend in author blogs toward the confessional. After all, no one wants to read about your characters all the time, and God knows that readers don’t want to read about marketing. They want to know something about you. Happy to oblige. Although...
twitter

Best Accounts to Follow on Twitter

Recently I wrote a blog post about how many writers struggle to find interesting topics. It occurred to me that, for those of us who are writers and/or entrepreneurs, one good topic for this blog might be Best Accounts to Follow on Twitter. Of course, this is totally...

Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

When I was thinking of the title for this week's post, I realized I really needed to look it up and confirm that the word is "peace" and not "piece." Just in case. I'd forgotten that that expression is commonly used in weddings...ironic, since my lovely wife and I...
ebook

A Free Ebook From Sahno Publishing—And An Open Invitation For More

Regular readers of this blog might be surprised to see me write about giving an ebook away. In fact, I wrote a post a few months ago called Why I Think Giving Your Work Away Is (Mostly) A Bad Idea. So why the change of heart, you may ask? Actually, there's no change...
announcing

Announcing The Whizzers Launch Team!

This weekend, I got my edited copy of Whizzers back from editing and sent out my monthly newsletter announcing the formation of the Whizzers Launch Team. Stuff is a-happening! As Mike Ehrmantraut once said to Jessie Pinkman, "Big doings today." Of course, that...
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...