Craig and Scott talk about dialogue, dialogue tags, tag adverbs, Hemingway, Stephen King, and all sorts of other fun things, including some special, narrated examples for your instruction and entertainment!
Craig and Scott talk about dialogue, dialogue tags, tag adverbs, Hemingway, Stephen King, and all sorts of other fun things, including some special, narrated examples for your instruction and entertainment!
in lieu of everybody. And welcome back to another episode of good sentences. You're soon to be favorite podcast if it isn't already should be. Although, to be honest, Scott, I have a little surprise. We've made it this far. What is this episode?
998 I think it's nine. Yeah,
one more. And that's as far as I can count. So we're almost to the run of the podcast, I think.
Yeah, I think this is gonna be unless we'd like, let me do the accounting for the next 10.
Haven't counted all the fingers, have accounted all the toes yet, so we could go to 40 0 yeah, we're good. Except for that unfortunate lawnmower accident. 39. Well, I don't think the FCC is gonna let us go much beyond that. Anyway, you're listening to good sentences. Podcast that's guaranteed to tickle your literary earhole and make you wish you'd listen to dear old mom when she said toe put down those lawn darts on and learn how to read. And now here your hosts, neither of whom listened. Dear old mom, this is Craig A heart and S. J. Baringo had a really good time last month talking about character, character development, solving Sze character related. And we actually even had guessed J. A. Jance, the New York Times bestselling author. Come on and talk about her experiences with creating some of her major, well known characters. And that was that was a great time to talk to her as well. So thank you to hurt us for coming on the show. Could, you know, I'm sure she's listening, right?
Oh, yeah, I think she subscribed. The minute she got
the Craig and Scott signed me up, she said, I'm pretty sure those were exactly,
I think that was even the tone she used when she said it slightly lilting a little bit, I don't know, starry eyed, maybe.
Yes. So I had a really good time talking about that. And character is one of those things where the I feel like the deeper we delved down into it, the more there was to talk about. Yeah, let's like a cell phone a self renewing Well, but you know, at some point you've got to move on talk, but other things. His writing is one also one of those things where the more you talk about it. Just the craft of the broader the subject becomes writing is one of those pursuits that his lifelong like you never get to a point. Much like music. For example, I'm running back in the day. I it was a pianist. And that's the word you
want to make sure to enunciate. By the way, pianist. Yes, you're you were what now?
Well, it was my duty as a pianist. I'm
gonna, you know, when you go on without me, because this is to be laughter on the side for the next 10.
Well, I got to tell you, it seems and this is some sort of conspiracy, but and Scott knows that one of my day job is as an audiobook narrator. And I gotta tell you, I have never seen the word duty pop up as much an audio books as I have the last couple weeks since we did that. That show. I see it everywhere now. And I know how many times I've had to stop the recording. All the goods of
you should leave that in just one time. You know his duty and then go quiet for
something I look forward to the day when I've made so much money at it that I can afford to do that. You could just take a year, I because I destroyed your project. So here's 10 grand. I know I ruined it for you, but it was worth it. It was worth it.
I started drinking on page one time. I got the page three.
Um, I have no idea what the hell we're
talking about. What are you doing? A show today? Maybe. Oh, I remember we were. We could talk about character, and now we're going to move on to a new topic
ride, because you have mining a writing is one of those things that kind of like in music. There we go in music. The piano is one of those things where the saying is It's easy to learn but impossible to master one of those things, and writing is kind of the same way. Easy get into it. But it's a lifelong pursuit in terms of mastering. I don't know that there are some people have gotten as close as anybody, but I don't know if it's one of those things where you never quite reach the the pinnacle moving one of our goals here on the shows to get all of us as close to that. It's possible because if you're a writer than a few, really. Writer and I hate when people say riel writer, Right. But I think this is I think this carries through. If you are one, then you want to be the best one you could be, right. It's one of those things that kind of drives you onward. You have those inward, dian inner demons, you know, driving you to do This is something that you need to dio.
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. If you're a writer, you have to write When
I go to various events, almost invariably, it seems like somebody asks, you know, um, but thinking about writing should I be a writer? And kind of the cynical part of me is like, If you have to ask the question you have already answered, then the answer may be no. If you're asking whether or not you should pursue this as a living, that's a legitimate question on the answers. Of course. Of course not. You crazy. You
look on Broadway. Do you gonna do better? Tap dancing would
be a better person. Ah, yes. So moving on from character last month, in January to the great month of February, where we'd be talking. At least today, topic is dialogue. It's difficult for me when I think about the different aspects of writing to decide which one is the most important. But dialogues right up there, right? It could be the life blood of your piece. Or it can be just blood everywhere. It was horrible. That's usually what's all over my keyboard at the end of the first draft. Right? Um, but this is gonna be a great show cause I can't keep on topic to save my life. I'm also bursting at the seams of profanity, so just get a stable one there. It'll be fine. Salt. It's the booze
I was actually waiting to start recording to, like, uncork my beer and do it right at the next to the mike and say, Now it's a podcast. But I mean, that would have made me wait another 30 seconds before
you started drinking. So you know, it's funny. I did think the other day that we ought to have a drink of the week or whatever and we drink that during the show we talked about? I think that's kind of what do you drinking tonight, Scott? Kind of mean. We don't really need another excuse to drink, but it be nice to have one
now. I see us recording a lot more episodes if we
decided. Suddenly our productivity goes through the roof.
You guys record an episode every day last week. Now we did three every day last week,
five everywhere at all times,
and I remember the 1st 1 vividly that
it's a little blurry, but I'm sure they were great. But no dialogue is one of those things where the more you put into it, the more you're going to get out of it. It's an ongoing, like writing itself. It's an ongoing effort, and the harder you work at it, the better your results are going to be. And I did have a couple of examples of great dialogue, and I think Scott has a couple is, well, coincidentally, I do incident right now. It's almost like we're on the same podcast and talked about it beforehand. One of mine is from Hemingway, of course. You know, one of us had to pull him in a way, all right, I am unapologetically a Hemingway fan boy. So deal with deal. That's what you're gonna get from me. And it s so this is in the story hills like white elephants. Two people, a man and woman. They're talking at a bar. Ah, and it gradually becomes obvious that they're talking about the woman being pregnant and possibly having an abortion. When I recorded this bit earlier, and here we go, the beer's nice and cool, the man said. It's lovely, the girl said. It's really an awfully simple operation. Jig, the man said. It's not really an operation at all. The girl looked at the ground, the table legs rested on. I know you wouldn't mind it jig. It's really not anything. It's just to let the air in. The girl did not say anything. I'll go with you and I'll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in, and then it's all perfectly natural. Then what will we do afterward? We'll be fine afterward, just like we were before. What makes you think so? That's the only thing that bothers us, is the only thing that's made us unhappy. So that's what that little bit and you kind of see through the, you know, as I was reading through how Hemingway sets it up, sets up the rhythm, Merrin said. The girl said, the man said, And then from then on, it's nothing right? No, no, no tags on and it doesn't need it. And that's, I think ki toe wear unless you're using the tag for in effect, which you've got to be careful with. Um, unless you're doing that, If you can find a way to create dialogue that does it need the ongoing said said said, then the better because it shows. I mean, first of all, it's a lot more work, which I think is why a lot of people don't do it to find creative ways. And I don't I don't not saying that. Tie yourself in knots to avoid it, talking about that cause they could just get weird, obvious and awkward. But if you can find creative ways to show what you're talking about and who's talking than a lot of times, that's a lot better than using those tax. I was reading a book by a really well known off. I'm not sure if I should even say his name and it's not the one you're thinking. But it was, well, whatever I'll just say, It's Robert B. Parker. Oh, my God, you said the name And I regret everything. Um, no, but he and it was There were so much and I was listening to in an audio which made it even worse because my mind, my subconscious and I couldn't turn it off. And it was like I said, he said he said She said She said, He said, He said it was like, Oh, my God, like it was bringing it wasn't your Hemingway sometimes does that. Here we go with Hemingway again, right? But he sometimes does that to great effect, to make a point and as a part of this craft, This was not that This was just, in my view, lazy writing, right? And I was like, Are you kidding me? This this guy has sold millions of books there and see what is what is happening here. So that's the kind of you know he could get away with it because he has sold that many books, so we can he could do whatever the hell he wants. But the point is, do that. We're not Robert B. Parker, right? And so it would behoove us to put a lot more effort. Attn. Least till the 1st 1,000,000 books gets old. Then right after the academy, Whatever. After that, you can hire other people to write for you. Just put your name on the book, right? Not that we know anyone who does for us. I'm just saying, hypothetically speaking, that reminds me of a
tweet that I did a couple of months ago. It said, uh, once I found out, literary agents only read the 1st 5 pages. Writing became a lot easier from page six on.
Um, so I have I have one other actually want. You go ahead and share one of your examples of little tag team.
Okay, This one, actually, oddly enough, is the Hemingway also what? It really reinforces that thing we were just talking about with the tags. And, uh, I'm just going to read it, and then I'll point out what I mean, if you don't pick it up on your own, which you're all very brilliant people. So you will. This is from The sun also rises dialogue being used to establish divergent characters. Very divergent, in this case, Robert Cohen, former middleweight champion. It was at Yale. I don't remember someplace. And, of course, Jake Burns my all time favorite character in all of literature. I think it starts out with Cohen saying This is a good place. He said, There's a lot of liquor. I agreed. Listen, Jake, he leaned forward on the bar. Don't you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you're not taking advantage of it? You realize you've lived nearly half the time. You have to live already? Yes, every once in a while. Do you know that in about 35 years more will be dead? What the hell? Robert? I said, What the hell are you serious? That's one thing I don't worry about. I said ya, too. I've had plenty to worry about. One time or another, I'm through worrying. Well, I want to go to South America. Listen, Robert, going to another country doesn't make any difference. I've tried all that. You can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There's nothing too. Then But you've never been to South America. South America. Hell, if you went there the way you feel now, it would be exactly the same. This is a good town. Why don't you start living your life in Paris? I'm sick of Paris and I'm sick of the quarter. Stay away from the quarter cruise around by yourself. See what happens to you. Nothing happens to me. I walked alone all one night and nothing happened except a bicycle. Cops stopped me and asked to see my papers. Wasn't the town nice at night? I don't care for Paris.
So, so good.
With almost zero tags and with absolutely no adverbs, which is another thing will jump on. You can hear the adverb. You can hear the tag. And, I mean, if it had been me and I've I've mentioned before with Craig that probably my favorite line in all of literature is what the hell? Robert I said what the hell? And from the moment I read that when I was 16 or 17 I just glommed onto it. It was It was transcendent trend. Sending trans something or another transcendental. I just I knew immediately that I had read one of the best lines ever written. And the reason was that from the line that Jake has right before that, Yes, every once in a while, to that line, without him telling us anything, we hear the change in our minds. Here. We can hear Jake just befuddled. What the hell, Robert, You know, and I love that I love how he does that, and I strive to do the same. But man on miles away from that level of just pared down to nothing and giving you everything,
let's just encapsulate ce him anyways writing, you know, And that's what that was the genius of it where so simple and yet not at all right. He could say everything he needed to say, and the simplest and the simplest sentences. And, you know, it's amazing now, but especially back in the day when coming off off, what was the popular you know, flowery, right, Dorian time writing. And then, you know, there was a little bit of evolution there prior, but then suddenly hit me awake on those long and boom. It's like, Whoa, what is this? It was something totally new. Amazing then, but still incredible now, and I know there are a lot of writers popular ones out there who could who could use a little
parenting, but And I guess the other thing for me about Hemingway is, you know, the pure masculinity of his style. I feel apologetic. I feel like every Hemingway book cover should have stubble, little B Oh, maybe a black eye,
and unapologetically so. But at the same time, especially the more you read about Hemingway, the man right, you begin to really get insight into his writing as well, and it is masculine, and it's convey in your face at times. But at the same time, there is an odd tenderness was going to use the word sensitivity since yes, sensitivity underneath that was just that masked. And that is him anyway as well. He presented this brash image, and he was a lot of the things that people call him when they're trying to insult him. But he was so much more than that on. That's what people often miss about Hemingway, the man like his generosity, for example, the extent to which he suffered from prior marriages. The Indian of his first marriage was something he not. Neither did he never get He didn't get over it, and he never forgave himself for it. So when you get into the psychology of Hemy way, you not only begin to understand him better, of course, but you also begin to understand Is writing a little bit, right, Maureen? Well, and I think I wish a lot of people prior to criticizing Hemingway blindly would do a little research. I think it would do everybody a lot of good. I guess my next example is from John Steinbeck from of Mice and Men Roll tape Roll Tape with this knife. We forgot, Lenny said softly. I try not to forget, honest to God idea, George. Okay. Okay. I'll tell you again. I ain't got nothing to do. My just well spent all my time telling you things. And then you forget him, and I tell you again, tried and tried said Lenny. But it didn't do no good. I remember about the rabbits, George. The hell with the rabbits. That's all you ever can remembers. And rabbits. Okay, Now you listen. And this time you got to remember, so we don't get in no trouble. You remember setting in that gutter on Howard Street and watching that blackboard, Lenny's face broke into a delighted smile. Sure, George, I remember that. What we do then I remember some girls come by and you says, You say hell with what I says. You remember about us going into Murray and Ready's and they give us work cards and bus tickets. Oh, sure, George, I remember that now. His hands went quickly into a side coat. Pockets, he said gently. George, I ain't got mine. I must have lost it. He looked down at the ground and despair. You never had known you crazy bastard got both of them here. Think I let you carry your own work card? Lenny grinned with relief. So there's another example of really limited tags. There's there are couple of nearly, Lenny said softly. And there's an adverb there which will talk him out in a minute, Scott mentioned earlier. But other than that, it's it's pretty again. Let's make it clear it's always obvious who's doing the speaking right? That I mean, that is key and dialogue. You want to do that above all.
And that's even without Craig's dynamic voice over skill, especially without your mind's ear should be hearing something similar, although probably not as testosterone least is
Craig's rendering anyway. I'm going for where I got it, Thio, but it's like you know, after Lenny said softly, then we've got no tag because it's there. Here's the thing. If you've only got two people a scene and one of them just spoke, the next dialogue line is obviously they're the person. Unless you got a mouse in a pot and a spot, right, right, so you don't need anything there. Then Lenny back to Lenny. He could probably left that one out, to be honest with you on and then back to George and so on and so forth. And then here's one where we don't have ah tag. But we have Lenny's face broken toe, a delighted smile. That is the tag that serves as the tag. But it's presented in a different creative way that lends something to the scene, so it's a stylistic choice, but it also and also certain serves a purpose. And so, and that is also a sign of an accomplished writer. When they could do that as well,
I would just like to add a little footnote here that when Craig and I were first discussing the examples that we were going to bring forth, and he told me that he had picked this particular Steinbeck, I thanked him profusely because I was going to pick the very same one. But there were a bunch of boxes in front of it. I decided it was too much work to pull that out, and then you had picked that, and I'm like, problems off.
Unless I close this book to me,
E. I wonder how much dialogue there is in this here, Miriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.
I can reach Lyssa without turning my torso. Well, I think one of the things that I see a lot of writers, particularly new writers, and I'm not trying to dump on new writers. But it's just it's one of the things that happens. They often employ exotic tags to spice up their writing. That does kind of makes sense on a certain level, because a lot of those same writers were probably in a creative writing class at one point high school, college, whatever and just we were told to avoid word repetition, use vocabulary, and so they use stuff like interjected, exclaimed Jaffad! Or my favorite ejaculated through this sort of. This is the point that when it comes to dialogue tags, because those tags are not supposed to be the center of attention right now they're Their function is to provide clarity in regards to the speaker. I don't know of anybody who has read a story and then marveled at how creative the dialogue tags were. Yeah, right, Amy, if they're paying that close of attention to the dialogue tags and something's going wrong, in my view, anything that distracts from the story you're trying to tell, I should probably be cut out. This isn't to say that you could never use any tag, but a simple said, I'm just saying that Be judicious, you know, make good choices and handle those tags with care and make sure that they're taking a back seat to other devices like If you can use another method like we saw in the Steinbeck bit, then you're probably gonna be better off.
I mean, I guess my feeling is, if the third time you goto the thesaurus for another way of saying, he said, Maybe maybe just leave the tag off that
I think it was King who will even a step further Ah, and said You have to look up a word in the thesaurus. It's probably not the right one right, which I don't know if I totally agree with that, but he making the point he's making is a good one
in my experience. And I'm thinking about the fantasy Siri's right now. I hit this the beer hard way should have been drinking more hit the thesaurus often because not so much for things like tags book for ah, a theme in this section that I referred back to repeatedly. I need a different word for it. You know, the scene I'm thinking about is in the first book, when slur fights the champion of Burundi, you know, for a big bat to get them the money they need to go where they're going on. And, you know, you can only say fight so many times, So, yeah, I went to a couple of of, you know, variations on that, But again, when we're talking about tags, if you got to find all those words for it, you probably would be just as well so just leave them out altogether. You know, after a while and I mean again, like you said in moderation, No problem. In fact, perhaps in moderation, it could be used very effectively, as you've also said, but so easy to overdose.
Yeah, and another we touched on this earlier. I think I believe you did was that another quote by Stephen King is that the road to hell is paved with adverbs. Yes, a pitfall in writing. Dialogue sometimes is to the tendency to use those adverbs to modify the tag like he said angrily. Or she said loudly, or something like that. And one reason I think people do this is that it's a lot easier to write that way. It's a lot easier. Just use the adverb than to go through all the trouble of creating another whole part of the scene, to say what you meant to say. But it could not. It can be so much more effective that way must then you have to do it every time, but it's just it's something to look out for. You know, it's the same reason I think writers often tell instead of show it's just easier and as humans and rice. Most writers are human.
So far, we still have
that. I want a name, any name exist were programmed Thio to seek that shortest route to April German goal. Ah, lot of times when I've seen it, it's obvious that it was just lazy writing now and learning how to handle those elements well can go a long way toward setting your work apart from the pack. And that's kind of one of the things that we want to do here on this show is absolutely help people and Scott and I'm including myself in this as well, to help us not just be as good as everybody else because there are a lot of people out there trying to do this. The point is to be better and due to investigate the craft in such a way and to learn to do such an extent that it sets our work apart from the crowd. And that's the only way that you're going to get noticed as a writer because there's just so many voices going on with people put their stuff up on social media and people. Everybody's yelling for attention, but the way you're going to get that attention. This is by being a bit better.
And speaking of someone who's a bit better, one of my favorite writers of the last 2025 years is a guy named Wally Lamb. My example here is from his book. I know this much is true, which I think is my favorite of all of his works in this example. Again, we are learning about the nature of the character as much as we did with the Hemingway example. But he takes it in a different obviously, a little bit more modern direction, because we're looking at, you know, the 19 twenties when we're talking about Hemingway. This book was written in the eighties, and the scene that I'm gonna be reading from takes place during the Vietnam War. We're gonna learn that the nature of this character, Leo from his interactions with others. Ah, he's eavesdropping on a pair of men described as a tall, skinny doofus and the other a squat fire hydrant with eyes. And he says to his friend, who is the narrator. Just what we needed, Leo mumbled as we sat down Popeye and blue dough, blocking our view. Call her. The skinny one kept goading is no neck friend. Which one? The one I was talking to at the buyer. Should I How? Yeah. Go for it, man. There, named Cindy. No neck picked up the phone and dial. Hello, Cindy. You don't know me, but I got a message for you from deck hurts. He cut his hand over the receiver and Winston his effort not to laugh. Whose dick hurts? Well, now that you mention it, Cindy, mine's killing me can to give it some relief. You slam down the receiver, they're allowed defying and table whacking made half the people in the place look over in our direction. Jesus Christ, bird. See these guys make you looks wise, Leo. Son. No wonder we're losing the fuckin war. No. Next buddy stared over at us for a couple of seconds, then leaned forward and tapped Leo on the shoulder. Excuse me, pal, but, uh, what'd you just say? Huh? Leo said I asked you what you just said to your friend here. Something about my buddy and me and the fucking war. Leo looked bewildered. Then he laughed. Fucking horrors is what I said. I said this place is full of fucking whores. Oh, wow. He looked over at his buddy and back again. You got that right. I thought you said something else. No problem. My man Leo said, flashing him the peace sign shook my head and smiled. Now, if you don't love that dialogue, you know you don't love dialogue.
I mean, yeah, there's just there's so much that is that passage is basically a master class in how to do dialogue. Yeah, I mean, it's got pretty much everything in it. It's got character development within dialogue, which is something we didn't even really know touch on. It's got, you know, the judicious use of tags has got alternatives to tag. That he uses masterfully is just It's a perfect piece. So, yes, let me Dialogue is, I think is one of those things that is often overlooked in you know, people tend to go the sexier things like perhaps character or plot development. That's always a popular one, and I'm sure we'll talk about that on future podcast. It is important, but dialogue, in my view, is just as important. And it what it is, one of those things that can make your work, stand out from the crowd and give it that kind of that shine. You know that sparkle, that little touch of class
or conversely, it could make it stand out from the crowd because it just sucks so bad. That's what we're hoping to avoid here. Actually, I've told track this story before privately, but until not too long ago, I was a member of a local writer's group and we would get together on on Tuesday. Nights and read are works in progress to one another, and I got to the point where I realized that I was basically doing it for a Negro stroke every Tuesday because I didn't take anyone's advice or anything. You know, I just went there and waited to finish my chapter. So they all said, You're a really good writer. You know, when we when we're talking about dialogue, was just so horrible that you can't even, you know, believe it. We had a guy who stopped coming several years ago whose dialogue was so bad that when he would read it to us during the meetings, he wouldn't mess up the inflection of his own dial, you know? So so the guy, Would you know that I would be supposed to say, You know, here comes those bastards on their horses, you know? And he'd read it. And he's like, here come those bastards on their horses.
Everything is not like a question on the
horses do do. Do you even hear you know what you're saying? And I You know, I tell that story to get to this point hearing what you're saying as a kn author, as you're writing dialogue, it is absolutely essential that you hear in your head exactly how you want it to sound and then transfer that to your typed words. Because if you can hear it, chances are your readers gonna be able to hear it. And that's going to make it so much more enriching to them. If you know you've written it in that way that that it sounds like people talking, right, You know,
that's such a good point, because when you were talking about writing in general and writing dialogue specifically, it's one of those things where you develop over time and with practice and effort, you develop an inner ear that I believe Scott coined the phrase like an ear clunk. I could hear your nose as your as we're reading on giving. If you're reading silently, you read through your manuscript minutes or even as you're writing and clunk. You know, it's like somebody hitting a flat note on the piano during a performance. Like all, even if you don't know anything about music, you know that was the wrong note, right? And the thing about and readers are a lot savvy er than a lot of writers give him credit for. They may not know why they don't like that book, but they will just that I don't like that book, right? And it could be This is the ear clunk. It's just hard to read. You don't want the reader to feel like they're working while they're reading your book. If it becomes a chore, then you've got some work to do. You remember who said it, but there was a quote and I should I should have. I should have looked this up. It is some hard writing makes for easy reading now, and I'm paraphrasing this and again I apologize. Remember who said it, but that is so true. Think it was me I think as s gave Arango. What? What a coincidence. He's on the show. But, I mean, that is so true. That is so true. And it really does show Well, this I guess suppose concludes, I don't know. It will have to tune in next time to see if we actually dredge up enough stuff to talk about dialogue again.
I'll tell you one thing I can think of, Ah, handful more examples that would be eliminated. So maybe maybe we can do it again. We'll see. It
might squeeze that term a little more. Thanks. Everybody tune And then we really appreciate you supporting the show. We have ah, growing backlog now of episodes of you haven't listen to those in particular our interview with J. A. Jance, which is our previous episode Pop on over there She has some really interesting, great things to say and and giving a shout If you If there's somebody you would like to hear from, please give us Ah, give us a shout Let us know it Well, do what we can to get him on
I'm hoping one day we get Stephen King and I'm gonna ask him if he said that the road to hell was paved with adverbs. And if he has the wherewithal to say no, I actually said asphalt e. I will write him a check for a $1,000,000. It'll bounce.
I thought you were going to say something else. Thought it. No, thank you, everybody. Thanks for tuning in. Have a great day