Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dialogue Nuts and Bolts

by Jodie Renner, editor & author

In another article, Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue, I discuss various techniques for writing dialogue that will come alive on the page. Drop over there for some advice on making your dialogue less stilted and more natural-sounding. Also, check out another post of mine, Some Dialogue Don’ts.

This article just provides a reference for the grammatically correct way to write dialogue, as well as some style tips for dialogue tags. Using correct punctuation and form for dialogue will keep your readers from becoming distracted, confused or annoyed, and maintain their focus on your story. So if you want your manuscript to look professional and your story to read smoothly, it’s best to follow these technical guidelines.


First of all, start a new paragraph every time the speaker changes. On the other hand, don’t start a new paragraph if it’s still the same speaker, unless you’re doing it for a good reason, like a pause or emphasis.

Punctuation for Dialogue:

1. Put quotation marks around all spoken words.

Although in Britain and Australia, it’s more common to use single quotes around dialogue, in the United States and Canada, the standard is double quotes around dialogue, with single quotes around any quoted words or phrases within the quoted dialogue.
2. In North America, the punctuation always goes inside the end quote, not outside it:

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she replied.

3. If the person is asking a question, the question mark goes inside the quotation mark, and a period goes at the end of the whole sentence. The same goes for exclamations.

“Where were you?” she asked.
“Help!” he shouted.

Note that in the above examples, even though your word processor wants you to put a capital letter for “she” or “he”, these need to be lowercase, as they don’t start a new sentence.

4. If the person speaking is making a statement (or a suggestion or a command), replace the period (which would follow if it weren’t in quotation marks) with a comma. Then put your period at the end of the sentence.

“Let’s go home,” he said.

5. If there’s no attribute (he said, she said), put a period inside the closing quotation mark.

“Turn off the TV.”

6. If you start with the dialogue tag, put a comma after it, before your opening quotation mark and the dialogue:

He said, “But my game is on.”

7. If you want to put your dialogue tag in the middle of a sentence, put a comma inside the first set of closing quotation marks, and also after the dialogue tag:
“I can never understand,” she said, “what you see in him.” (Note no capital for the second part.)

8. If one person is speaking and the dialogue goes on for more than one paragraph (definitely not a great idea to have one person speaking at great length), you leave out the closing quotation marks at the end of the first paragraph, but put opening quotation marks at the beginning of the next one. Use closing quotation marks only when that person is finished speaking.

“…no matter what you do.    
“And another thing, don’t ….”


1. Avoid overusing dialogue tags. Instead of constantly using he said or she said (or the name and said), replace them often with action beats, which will also help bring the scene alive:
He closed the door very quietly. Too late.
She stood there, hands on hips. “Where’ve you been?”
“Don’t start.” He took off his coat and hung it up.
The action immediately before or after the words tells us who’s talking.
Or, if it can be done without confusing the readers, just leave out the dialogue tag or action beat. Context often makes it obvious who’s speaking.

2. The best dialogue tags are the simple he said and she said (or asked), or with the name: John said, Carol said. These simple dialogue tags don’t draw attention to themselves or interrupt the story line, as they’re almost invisible. Avoid fancy tags like queried, chortled, alleged, proclaimed, conjectured, affirmed, etc., which can be distracting. But I do suggest using verbs that accurately and quickly describe how the words are delivered, like whispered, shouted, yelled, screamed, or stammered.

3. You can’t use words like laughed or grinned or smiled or grimaced or scowled as dialogue tags.
These are both incorrect:
“You look great,” he grinned.
“Why, thank you,” she smiled.
Why don’t they work? Because smiling is not talking; you can’t “smile” or “grin” words.
Change to:
“You look great,” he said, grinning.

“Why, thank you.” She smiled at the compliment. (Note period and capital “She”)
Or “Why, thank you,” she said, then smiled at him.

4. Use adverbs very sparingly.

“I’m sorry,” she said apologetically.
“Come here,” he said imperiously.
“I’m in charge,” she said haughtily.

Instead, make sure the words they’re saying and any actions convey the feelings you wish to express.
5. Slightly off-topic: Do not put quotation marks around thoughts. That’s a topic for another post.
 TWO CURRENT STYLE TRENDS (Jodie’s observations):

1. Contemporary North American fiction seems to avoid the reversed form, “said Carol”, in favor of “Carol said.” The reversed form seems to be more British and also considered kind of archaic, which makes it great for historical fiction.

2. Most contemporary North American fiction writers, with the notable exception of Lee Child, seem to put most dialogue tags after the words spoken:

“Let’s go,” Tony said.

Rather than before:  
Tony said, “Let’s go.”

These last two points are of course just my observations of common usage, not rules. But aspiring or debut authors would do well to stick with what seems to be in favor, to give a contemporary feel to your novel. Of course, if you’re writing historical fiction, go for the older “said Elizabeth” form.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at,, at The Kill Zone blog alternate Mondays, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

30 Excellent Points to Consider as You Revise / Rewrite Your Novel

I just discovered an excellent checklist for revising / rewriting your fiction. I highly recommend you go through these points to see if any of them resonate with you in regards to your current WIP.

I tried to copy just the beginning of the list to give you a taste of it, but it would only let me copy the whole thing. It's on an excellent blog called "Writers Write." Here's the link: Follow them by clicking on the links at the end.

Rewriting – A Checklist for Authors

30 questions to ask when you're revising / rewriting your novel

Taken from Writers Write -How to write a book. Join our Writers Write course from 13-16 January 2014 (more dates available on request). Email for details.
Join us on Facebook and Twitter for daily writing tips

Follow @Writers_Write


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Writers' Conferences & Book Festivals in North America in 2014

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker

As I do several times a year, I've compiled a list of writers' conferences and book festivals in North America, this one for all of 2014. I'll continue to update it with new conferences and dates as I find out about them, so check back regularly. Please let me know if I’ve missed any and I’ll add them to the list. Be sure to give me the name of the conference, the date(s), location, and website URL. Thanks!



Jan. 10-11, 2014 – FWA's Mid-Winter Conference West and Reading Festival, Bradenton, Florida.

Jan. 18, 2014 - The New England Book Festival, Boston, Mass.,

Jan. 18-24, 2014: Writers in Paradise conference, St. Petersburg, Florida.

Jan. 24-26, 2014 – San Diego State University Writers’ Conference, Doubletree Hotel, San Diego’s Mission Valley. (Jodie is presenting 2 workshops at this one.)


Feb. 1, 2014 - Cape Fear Crime Festival, Wilmington, NC.

Feb. 7-9, 2014 - Love Is Murder Mystery Conference, Chicago, IL.

Feb. 8-9, 2014 – Genre-la writers’ conference, Los Angeles Valley College, Van Nuys, CA.  

Feb. 13-16, 2014 – San Francisco Writers’ Conference, San Francisco.

Feb. 12-17, 2014 – San Miguel Writers Conference, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Feb. 13-16, 2014 – Savannah Book Festival, Savannah, GA. Free and open to the public.

Feb. 13-16, 2014 – Writing For the Soul, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Feb. 14-17, 2014 – The Southern California Writers Conference (SCWC) – San Diego

Feb. 21-22, 2014 – WANACon International – virtual (online) worldwide writing conference

Feb. 26- March 1, 2014 – AWP Writers’ Conference in Seattle, Wash., Assoc. of Writers and Writing Programs:

Feb. 27-Mar. 2, 2014 – SleuthFest annual mystery writers' conference, by the Florida chapter of MWA, Orlando, FL.

MARCH 2014:

March 7-9, 2014 –The Dahlonega Book Festival, Dahlonega Georgia

March 7-9, 2014 – Wordcrafters in Eugene inaugural Writers’ Conference, Eugene, Oregon. “The focus is on fiction.”

March 8, 2014 – Florida Authors & Publishers Association’s 2014 Spring Fling: "Effectively Navigating the Self-Publishing Process," Orlando, FL

March 15-16, 2014 – The Tucson Festival of Books, University of Arizona campus, Tucson, AZ. Free and excellent!

March 20-22, 2014 – The Write Stuff, Allentown, PA. Keynote: Hank Phillipi Ryan.

March 22, 2014- Unicorn Writers’ Conference, Portland, CT.

March 19-23, 2014 – Virginia Festival of the Book, Charlottesville, Virginia,

March 20-23, 2014 - Left Coast Crime annual mystery convention. This year it’s at Monterey, California.

March 20-23, 2014 - Romfest. Knoxville Airport Hilton, Alcoa, Tn. Keynote speaker is Brenda Novak.

March 27-29, 2014 - The Gulf Coast Association of Creative Writing Teachers Annual Conference, Faulkner State College, Fairhope AL. 

March 28-29, 2014 - Northern Colorado Writers Conference, Fort Collins, CO.

APRIL 2014:

April 4-6, 2014 - UW-Madison Writers' Institute’s 25th Annual Conference, Madison, Wisconsin.

April 4-6, 2014 – Mad Anthony Writers Conference, Hamilton, Ohio.

April 11-13, 2014 - Houston Writers Guild Conference, Houston, Texas.

April 11-13, 2014 - Missouri Writers Guild conference, Ramada, downtown St Louis.

April 10-15, 2014 - The Mount Hermon Christian Writer's Conference,

April 19, 2014 – Alabama Book Festival, Montgomery. Free.

April 24-26, 2014 – Las Vegas Writers’ Conference, Sam's Town Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada.

April 24-26, 2014 - Arkansas Literary Festival. Little Rock, AR

April 25, 2014 – Southern Kentucky Bookfest. – Free.

April 25-26, 2014 - Chicago Spring Fling Writers Conference,

April 25-26, 2014 - North East Texas Writers' 28th Annual Writers' Round-up in Mt. Pleasant, Texas.

April 25-27, 2014 - Pikes Peak Writers Conference, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

MAY 2014:

May 1-3, 2014 - The Oklahoma Writers Federation Story Weavers Conference, Oklahoma City.

May 2-4, 2014 - Malice Domestic, annual traditional mystery fan convention, in Bethesda, MD.

May 3-4, 2014 - Dallas - Fort WorthWriters Conference, Hurst Conference Center, DFW Metroplex, Texas. Twitter: @dfwcon.
May 3-4, 2014 - Ontario Writers Conference, Ajax, Ontario, Canada.

May 7-9, 2014 – Nonfiction Writers Conference, virtual.

May 14-18, 2014– Romantic Times Book Lovers’ Convention, New Orleans, LA

May 15-18, 2014 – Pennwriters, Lancaster, PA. Keynote: Kami Garcia.

May 15-18, 2014 - CCWWP 2014 – Canada’s Writing Conference, UBC campus, Vancouver, BC.

May 16-17, 2014 - Tallahassee Book Festival and Writers Conference, Tallahassee, Florida. (Jodie is presenting 2 workshops at this one.)

May 16-18, 2014 - SC Book Festival, Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center in Columbia, South Carolina.

May 17, 2014 - Detroit Working Writers - DWW 2014 Writers Conference Clinton-Macomb Public Library, Clinton Twp, MI

JUNE 2014:

June 5-8, 2014 - Crested Butte Writers Conference, West Elk Mountains, Colorado.

June 6-8, 2014: Philadelphia Writers' Conference, Holiday Inn Historic District, Philadelphia, PA. 

June 6-8, 2014 - Bloody Words mystery writers’ conference, Toronto, Ont., Canada,

June 7-14, 2014 - Santa Barbara Writers Conference, Santa Barbara, CA.

June 13-14, 2014 - Mystery Writers Key West Fest, Key West, Florida.

June 13-17, 2014 – Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, Lands End Resort, Homer, Alaska.

June 13-17, 2014 - Southeastern Writers Workshop, St. Simons Island, Georgia.
June 14-16, 2014 – Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference, Los Angeles Valley College, L.A., CA.

June 18-22, 2014 - CanWrite! Canadian Authors' Association Writers' Conference, Orillia, Ontario.

June 20-22, 2014 – RomCon Romance Convention, Denver, Colorado (Jodie is presenting 2 workshops at this one.)

(June 22-23, 2013 – California Crime Writers Conference, Pasadena, Cal. Seems to be every 2 years.)

June 24-28, 2014 - Western Writers of America convention, Sacramento, Calif.

June 26-28, 2014 - Jackson Hole Writers Conference, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

June 27-29, 2014 - Annual Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference, Van Nuys, California.     

JULY 2014:

July 8-12, 2014 – Thrillerfest and Craftfest – International Thriller Writers annual conference, New York, NY.

July 12-18, 2014 – Antioch Writers’ Workshop, Yellow Springs, Ohio.

July 10-13, 2014 – Public Safety Writers Conference, Las Vegas NV. Conference speakers include a coroner, fire fighters, police officers, and others in the writing field.

July 13-19, 2014 - The Frost Place Conference on Poetry, Frost Place, Franconia, NH.

July 17-20, 2014 – Pacific Northwest Writers Conference, Seattle, Washington.

July 17-20, 2014 – West Virginia Writers' Workshop, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia.

July 17-20, 2014 – Cascade Writers Workshop, Kent, Washington.

July 23-26, 2014 – Romance Writers of America Annual Conference, San Antonio, Texas.;

July 24-26, 2014 – 41st Midwest Writers Workshop, Muncie, Indiana.

July 24-27, 2014 – Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, Corte Madera, CA.

July 27-Aug. 1, 2014 – Napa Valley Writers’ Conference -

July 31 - Aug. 2, 2014 - Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, Fort Bragg, California.

AUGUST 2014:

Aug. 1-3, 2014 – Willamette Writers Conference, Portland, Oregon.

Aug. 1-3, 2014 - Writer's Digest Conference, New York City.

Aug 4-7, 2014  – Oregon Christian Writers (OCW) summer conference, Portland, Oregon. 

Aug. 7-10, 2014 – Cape Cod Writers Center Conference, Hyannis, Mass. Cost varies depending on number of courses you register for.

Aug. 8-9, 2014 - Florida Authors & Publishers Conference, Pompano Beach, Florida -

Aug. 8-10, 2014 - When Words Collide, A Festival for Readers and Writers, Calgary, Alberta.

Aug. 8-10, 2014 - Nora Roberts Writing Institute, Hagerstown, Maryland.

Aug. 9-13, 2014 – RNC’s First annual Romance Novel Convention, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Aug. 14-17 - IOTA: The Conference of Short Prose, Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada.

Aug. 14-17, 2014 - Writer's Digest Novel Writing Intensive, Los Angeles, Cal.

Aug. 14-17, 2014 - Writing Yoga Retreat, Long Island.

Aug. 14-17, 2014 - Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, Sechelt, B.C., Canada.

Aug. 14-23, 2014 - Breadloaf Writer’s Conference. Middlebury, VT.

Aug. 21-24, 2014 – Killer Nashville mystery and thriller writers’ conference, Nashville, Tennessee.

Aug. 30 - Sept. 1, 2014 – Decatur Book Festival, Decatur (Atlanta), Georgia.



Sept. 5-7, 2014  Colorado Gold Writers Conference, hosted by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Sept. 4-7, 2014 – Writers’ Police Academy, Jamestown, North Carolina.

Sept 13-14, 2014 – Alaska Writer’s Guild Conference, Anchorage Alaska.

September 19-21, 2014, Imaginarinum Writing & Film Festival, Louisville, KY

Sept. 20, 2014 - ORAcon2014 - Fiction Writers Conference in Springfield, Missouri.

Sept. 19-21, 2014: Southern California Writers' Conference Newport Beach, Calif.

Sept. 24-28, 2014 - WORD Vancouver:  Inspiring Words, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Sept. 25-27, 2014 – Florida Heritage Book Festival and Writers’ Conference, St. Augustine, Florida. 

Sept. 25-27, 2014 - The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) annual conference, St. Louis.

Sept. 26-28, 2014 – The Midwestern Book Lovers Unite Convention for Readers and Authors, Minneapolis, MN.


Oct. 3-5, 2014 – Write on the Sound Writers’ Conference, Edmonds, Washington.

Oct. 9-12, 2014 - Moonlight and Magnolias romance writers' conference in Norcross, Georgia;

October 10-12, 2014 - The Southern Festival of Books, Nashville TN.

Oct. 16-19, 2014 – Women Writing the West Conference, Golden, Colorado.
Oct. 17-19, 2014 – Digital Authors 2.0 and Self-Publishing Conference, sponsored by West Coast Writers Conferences. Los Angeles Valley College, Van Nuys, California.

Oct. 17-18, 2014 – Put Your Heart in a Book, New Jersey Romance Writers Conference, Iselin, N.J.

Oct. 17-19, 2014 – Emerald City Writers’ Conference (Romance Writers of America), Bellevue, Washington.

Oct. 17-19, 2014 – Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Whistler, BC.

Oct. 19-24, 2014 – Salt Cay Writers’ Retreat, Salt Cay, Bahamas.

Oct. 25, 2014 – Boston Book Festival – free and excellent!

Oct. 21-26, 2014 - The Vancouver Writers Fest, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

October 22-26, 2014 – The Author’s World, the Novelist, Inc. (NINC) writers conference, St. Petersburg, Florida.
October 24 - 26, 2014 - 13th Annual Florida Writers Conference, Lake Mary, FL.
October 24-26, 2014, Magna cum Murder in association with Crimefest, Indianapolis IN

Oct. 24-26, 2014 – Surrey International Writers Conference, Surrey, BC, Canada. 

Oct. 24-26, 2014 - Chicago Writers Conference, University Center, Chicago, Ill.

Oct. 24-26, 2014 - Stars of Florida Writers, 13th Annual Florida Writers Conference, Orlando Marriott Lake Mary.

Oct. 24-26, 2014 – The La Jolla Writers Conference, Paradise Point Resort and Spa, San Diego, CA


November 1, 2014 - Louisiana Book Festival, Baton Rouge, LA
Nov. 6-8, 2014 - Tony Hillerman Writers Conference, Santa Fe, NM.

Nov. 6-9, 2014 – Sanibel Island Writers Conference, Sanibel Island, Florida.

Nov. 7-9, 2014 – The New England Crime Bake Conference, Dedham, Mass.

Nov. 8, 2014 - Murder and Mayhem in Muskego,
Nov. 13-16, 2014 – Bouchercon Crime Fiction Convention, Long Beach, California.

Nov. 13-16, 2014 - Writing Across Boundaries, Windsor International Writers Conference, Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Nov. 15, 2014 - Baltimore Writers' Conference, Towson, Md.

Nov. 16-23, 2013 - Miami Book Fair International, Miami, Florida.


(Not usually any conferences in December)




Jan. 16-19, 2015 - 22nd Annual Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway, Seaview Resort, New Jersey Shore.

Jan. 23-25, 2015 – San Diego State University Writers’ Conference, San Diego Marriott, Mission Valley.

January 26-31, 2015 - 2015 Todos Santos Writers Workshop, Todos Santos, Baja Mexico.


Feb. 5-9, 2015 – Florida Romance Writers cruise conference.

Feb. 11-15, 2015 - San Miguel Writers' Conference & Literary Festival.

Feb. 12-15, 2015 - San Francisco Writers Conference, San Francisco.

Feb. 26 - Mar. 1, 2015 - Sleuthfest - an annual conference for mystery, suspense, and thriller writers, Deerfield Beach, Florida.


March 14, 2015 - Unicorn Writer's Conference, Purchase, NY.

Mar. 27-28, 2015 - Northern Colorado Writers Conference, Fort Collins, CO.

April 23-25, 2015 - Las Vegas Writers Conference, Las Vegas, Nevada.


April 24 - 26, 2015, Tallahassee Writers Conference, Tallahassee, Florida.

July 22 - 25, 2015, Romance Writers Conference, New York Marriott Marquis.

Jodie Renner is a sought-after freelance fiction editor and award-winning author of the multi-award-winning Fire up Your Fiction and Writing a Killer Thriller (and the upcoming Captivate Your Readers), as well as her handy, clickable e-resources, Quick Clicks: Spelling List – Commonly Misspelled Words at Your Fingertips and Quick Clicks: Word Usage – Style and Usage Tips for Busy Writers and Editors. Her blog posts appear alternate Mondays on the award-winning blog, The Kill Zone. Find Jodie on Facebook and Twitter.
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