Friday Fun: Dialog Interview

I’ve mentioned Writing Excuses — a podcast hosted by successful professional fiction authors about the craft and profession of writing. If you’re not listening regularly, you should be. A few weeks back, they interviewed the epically talented John Scalzi  to talk about one of his best things: dialog.

Listen here: Writing_Excuses_5_38_Dialog.mp3

I especially like the notion that dialog isn’t written the way people talk. If it was it would be filled with “ums” and all the stuff we actually say, instead of what we wish we had said when we get home.  I’d love your thoughts as well.

Enjoy, and thanks for listening.





On Work Habits

Howard Tayler is the author of the Schlock Mercenary webcomic and co-host of the Writing Excuses podcast. In his blog, he talks about everything from his family to the business or writing to movie reviews to his con schedule. He’s also got a good handle on using Twitter to stay in touch with fans.

A recent post on his blog celebrates a milestone in his life as an author, and also serves as a great example of how professional work habits and a disciplined approach are ingredients in success as a professional writer. Check it out, then stick around for more than 10 years worth of his body of work.

Thanks for listening.

Writing Professionally: Time to Write

Professional writers are lucky – we don’t have to worry about squeezing time to write in the corners left over by our job. Writing is our job. For those who want to become professional writers, developing a portfolio has to take place between your other demands.

The hosts of “Writing Excuses,” a podcast I recommend in an earlier post, have this to say about finding the time to write…

If you say you lack time to write, what you mean is you value other activities more than writing.

In some cases, this valuation is dead on. A contest between my writing and my sons is by no means a fair fight. On the other hand, I’ve sometimes made the wrong choice between re-watching Firefly and working on an impending deadline. To find time to write that breakout novel, or develop your portfolio, it’s likely that you’ll need to set aside another activity – like television, video games or sleep.

I’m currently in the middle of an aggressive productivity cycle, one that requires so much work that I feel like I’m squeezing writing time into the corners left over by my writing job. It reminds me of when I was running a full-time business, and writing in my spare time. Here are a few of the steps I’ve taken to find the time I need to write as much as I want:

  • I get up two hours early. I used to sleep until my toddler son woke me up, but those two baby-free hours in the morning are seriously productive time.
  • When baby Gabe goes down for a nap, I’m writing again rather than relaxing with a video game or Ted Talk on the youtube.
  • Before I pickup my “bedtime book” to read myself to sleep, I take some notes on the assignments I’ll work the next day. This may be pure superstition, but I feel like my conscious mind works on them overnight.
  • I split my daily workload into three segments, then only allow myself to check email, facebook and my favorite forms after I’ve finished a segment.
  • I work out daily, except when I’m sick. A daily 20-minute bit of exercise improves how fast you work, and how you feel about the work you’ve done. Also, I get cranky when I skip a day – and the wife notices.

These steps have found the space I need to literally double my productivity for the past few days – and it feels like they’ll be sustainable until I’ve reached my goals. I also employ some hacks to how I use that time to best advantage…but that’s a subject for another post.

Thanks for listening.

Writing Professionally: Pacing

One problem with taking on any profession is that it begins to taint how you look at the world. Cops and social workers probably get the worst end of that stick. On the other hand, spending a decade as a professional martial arts instructor gave me a new level of appreciation for film choreography and fight sports. I find the same thing is now affecting how I read.

I just finished the newest Virgil Flowers thriller by John Sandford: Bad Blood. Sandford’s books – and he’s certainly written his share – can be a mite formulaic, but I love the heck out of them. He’s not saying anything important, nor is he bucking for a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize for literature. He just turns out good stories year after year. Sandford (and, yes I am aware that’s a pen name) uses some very specific techniques to make his pacing tight and engaging even though he’s really telling us the same story over and over again.


Sandford presents the story in chunks: short sections of just a few paragraphs that hop from viewpoint to viewpoint. Readers never get a chance to be bored because we’re moving around as much as the characters are. He does this more often in is Lucas Davenport novels than with Flowers, Kidd and his other protagonists.

Point of View

He examines key points from multiple views. He’ll describe eight seconds of a gunfight from one point of view, then review four of those seconds from an additional point of view. This builds suspense by delaying our gratification while simultaneously giving us further compelling exposition on what’s already happened.


Sandford often shows you the bad guy from early in the first chapter. You know what he’s about, and  – if you know the protagonists – you have a guess as to what’s going to happen when they clash. Anticipating the train wreck is half the fun.


By far the most common plot twist Sandford uses is something going wrong. It might be bottoming out a pursuit car in a ditch, or the weather ruining visibility. A great example was a dead headlight in a surveillance car that tipped off the bad guy to the fact he was being watched, throwing a kink in the progress of the cops and the story. It’s a bit of deus ex machina, but Sandford uses realistic problems and loads them with so much emotion that they feel natural, right and tense.

Characterization, dialog and word choice are other well-used weapons in Sandford’s arsenal, and I’m certain he uses others I’m not good enough to notice yet. But these are the insights I drew tonight.

Thanks for listening.

Writing Professionally: The New Pulp Era

Four score years ago, give or take a few, our country enjoyed one of the greatest gluts of fun fiction the world has ever seen. A combination of cheap printing, low entertainment budgets due to the depression and an escapist zeitgeist for the country as a whole created an enormous market for – and supply of – stories about adventure, crime, spaceships and simple human optimism. Even the dark detective stories were optimistic in that the protagonists remained themselves while immersed in the darkness surrounding them.

I believe we’re in the middle of a second pulp era. Economic downturn? Check. World problems creating a need to escape? Check. Ultra cheap means of distribution? Check and mate. There is enormous opportunity to make it as a writer these days, with low costs of entry and a potential audience in the hundreds of millions. Opportunities to write professionally abound: SEO writing, content mills, professional blogging, web content, podcasting and ad copy are just a few of the ways you can keep body and soul together while honing your ability to write quickly and clearly.

Not everything that gets put out is good, but neither was everything during the fist Pulp Era. There are also fewer ways to pull ahead of the pack – owing to the same factors that have opened up the market in the first place. Writers simply need to hope that our ability, imagination and branding efforts will carve out enough of a niche to support our needs. I am just beginning to explore this aspect, but I will share what I learn as I learn it. You all are welcome to do the same.

Thanks for listening.

Podcasts Worth Listening To (Part One)

I’m a stay-at-home dad. I write full time from home, care for two children and see to the house, budget and cooking. I help my wife as much as possible to help her career grow in the direction she wants. This leaves me little time to sit on my butt and read.

This is a shame, since I really enjoy reading. Enter podcasts. It’s rare to find me working out, walking the dog, cleaning or cooking without a podcast – or audiobook – running in my ear or on the nearest computer. Here then, in no particular order, are a few of the podcasts I listen to most.

  • Fear the Boot – A podcast about “tabletop role playing games and a little bit more.” This is a round-table discussion featuring a core of hosts plus a rotating stable of regular guests. Besides its high production value, what I love most about this cast is the wealth of different opinions. Most gaming podcasts out there are either one guy spouting off, or a shameless shill for some gaming company. These guys offer amusing opinion and actionable advice. Generally runs about an hour.
  • Writing Excuses – Three successful science fiction writers talk about the craft and business of writing. Years ago, Lawrence Block published several collections of his columns for Writers Digest Magazine. This is the 21st century version of that invaluable set of tools – complete with Monty Python jokes and Firefly references, because these guys are the best kind of geeks. Run time is fifteen minutes “because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart.”
  • Stuff You Missed in History Class – A product of, this two-host history show gives a 20 minute rundown of fun facts and bizarre events from this history of our world. Topics run from Vlad Tepes to presidential debates to the Tower of London’s menagerie. Great for history buffs, and for stirring up creative juices for your fiction projects. As a bonus, co-host Sarah Dowdey has the sexiest voice in podcasting today. Run time is about 20 minutes, with earlier episodes coming in around seven.
  • Taking Control – Two professional organizers share bits of actionable advice on organizing your time, space and money. Two things set this cast apart from the other organizing podcasts out there. Their production quality is significantly better, and their discussions stay focused on the central topic for the episode. The advice ranges from broad concepts to naming specific products they’ve found useful. The only down side is they don’t cast as often as I’d like to listen. Run time is typically ten minutes.
  • The Dave Ramsey Show – I admit it. I’m a Dave Ramsey fan. His “Total Money Makeover” got my family out of our financial doghouse when my first business bit the dust in the middle of the recession. This hour-long program is the only radio show turned podcast I listen to. The advice sometimes feels recycled if you’ve followed him for a while, but it serves as a strong reminder to keep me on track.

There are thousands of podcasts out there, and hundreds worth giving a try. The five above fill up most of my iPod space that’s not taken up with audiobooks or music.

Thanks for listening