Listen to people carrying on conversations. You’ll find they speak using fragments and one-word answers. We don’t always speak in complete sentences. As I mentioned last time, avoid chunks of dialogue from one character. Let the other characters engage in the conversation as well, even if their replies are brief.

Remember men speak differently than women. They are less verbal. You wouldn’t have a man going to great lengths to describe something. Whereas a women might babble in long drawn out sentences.

Example one: A man’s reply.
“What’d your dog look like?” the attendant asked.

“Black. Hairy. Part collie,” replied the man.

Example two: A woman’s reply.
“What’d your dog look like?” the attendant asked.

“Tuffi has long black hair and a nose like a border collie, though I suspect he’s only part because of the brown speckles on his legs,” rattled the lady.

Avoid being “Mr. Professor.” You’ve done your research, and you want to show it off. Don’t try to explain everything. Instead, be sure you’re using the correct jargon for the specialized field you’ve researched. Such as a lawyer would say his client was acquitted rather than say he got off the hook. I sometimes use a reference book called The Book of Jargon by Don Ethan Miller. If you do have to explain something, break it up and feed it into the story slowly.

Never have your characters talk about general things during a love scene such as what happened at work. Keep any dialogue limited to sounds and words your characters use to arouse one another.

Be sure your reader knows who is speaking. You can use a tag or beat.

Example — tag: “I love chocolate,” she said.

Example — beat: Beth took off her shoes. “My feet hurt.” If it’s clear who’s speaking, you don’t have to use one every time.

Don’t put someone’s dialogue with another character’s actions. Instead, start a new paragraph.

Scenes That Count

Only have scenes that move your plot. The purpose of a scene should be building a relationship between your hero and heroine or it can be steps toward the suspense if this is a part of your book.

You wouldn’t want to have a scene where your heroine spends the day with her nieces if there isn’t anything in that scene that moves the plot. This isn’t to say you can’t say she spent the day with them, but you wouldn’t want to play the scene out with dialogue and action.

Be sure you don’t put too much introspection or back-story in your scene. You need a balance between the two and dialogue. The trend now is to use as little back-story as possible. Having too much introspection or back-story slows your pace down.

I have read scenes that forgot about their characters’ conversation and instead gave long descriptions of the setting or the history of an area. By the time, the writer made it back to the characters, I’d totally forgotten what was being said earlier. The importance of that scene was lost.

Also don’t let one character have large never-ending chunks of dialogue without someone responding. If someone tells you something devastating or important, you’ll probably be interchanging comments with that person. Be sure you break up large sections of dialogue, make it quick and spontaneous between your characters.

If you find yourself adding scenes that aren’t relevant, you may want to rethink your plot and make sure your internal and external conflicts are strong enough. It’s better to start over than to trudge forward with a book that is loaded with unneeded scenes to fill pages.

Emotional Hook

I’ve covered beginning the first chapter with a hook and ending each chapter with one as well. Another type of hook is an emotional hook meant to make your reader empathize with your character through some type of hardship, a problem, or an injustice done to them. This should take place in the prologue or first chapter. It will cause the reader to become emotionally involved with your character and care about what lies ahead. They want to see the character overcome the obstacles.

In the prologue, Captain Rafferty Tyler is strip of his rank and a T is branded on the back of his hand for being a thief. In these first few pages, we see an honorable man, who has been framed, lose everything including his fiancée before a crowd of the people who used to respect him.
Pot Potter — Relentless

In chapter one, Bryony, a woman falsely convicted for the murder of her husband and sentenced to an Australia prison, is sold to Captain Hayden St. John. Our first glimpse of Bryony shows her being dragged through the mud by a prison guard. She tries to escape, but St. John comes after her. She is made to walk behind his horse in the rain down muddy roads. When she sees the cemetery, he lets her say good-bye to her baby that had been buried earlier that day. Also we learn in the first chapter, that the Captain has lost his wife and needs a woman to nurse his baby.
Candice Proctor — Night in Eden

Rachel returns home to a town that hates her. Her car
breaks down in front of a closed drive-in theater. She has no money and a hungry little boy to feed. Her late husband had been an evangelist who’d ripped the town off and had blamed his overspending on her demanding lifestyle. Her outlook is so bleak that she offers herself to the drive-in owner in return for money and food.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips — Dream a Little Dream

Find ways to touch your reader’s heart or make them identify with your characters’ situations. These are usually the books I can’t put down.

Chapter End Hooks

Last month I discussed beginning hooks. Equally as important are the hooks at the end of your chapter. I've discovered five categories of end of the chapter hooks. Every chapter should end with a hook that is strong enough to make the reader turn the page. Never wrap up your chapter as though it's the end of your book. You want the reader to wonder what will happen next.

Promise of Sex

Joe kissed her sweetly. Then he made his second fantasy come true.
Sue Brockman — Prince Joe

Oliver closed his eyes and gritted his teeth when he felt the touch of her silky panties against his throbbing erection. It was going to be a long night.
Jane Krantz — Wildest Hearts

A Threat of Death (Danger)

There was no way he'd reach her in time. She was going to die.
Sue Brockman — Prince Joe

Luke knew he was a dead man.
Debbie Macomber — Sooner or Later

There was a soft laugh; then the line went dead.
Christine Skye — Bride in the Mist

Shock Factor

(The heroine who had been convicted of murdering her husband Oliver and was sentenced to Australia has just married the hero. A stranger introduces himself to her new husband.)

“My name is Wentworth,” said the stranger. “Oliver Wentworth. I understand my wife is here.”
Candice Proctor — Night in Eden

(The hero is telling the heroine what happened to his wife.)

“What happened to Emily?” His voice was brutal. “I killed her.”
Susan Wiggs — The Lighthouse Keeper

Ending Question

How could he trust her? Did he have a choice?
Janice Kay Johnson — Whose Baby?

But how was he going to hide all his contempt and fury from her?
Diana Palmer — Soldiers of Fortune

Ending with a Prediction

She might lose but not without a fight.
Linda Howard — Lady of the West

Things were about to get worse.
Lynn Erickson — The Eleventh Hour

Hook Your Reader in the First Paragraph

A hook simply refers to a written line that raises your reader’s curiosity. The hook should stimulate the brain by raising an internal question. Your reader will want to know the answer; therefore he or she will keep reading. It is good to begin your first chapter with a hook. I discovered four types of beginning hooks: the statement, the question, promise of death or danger, and the shocker.

Statement Hook

Roena Wilde hated this house.
Martha Shields — The Blacksheep Prince’s Bride

On Sunday morning, something washed up on shore.
Susan Wiggs — The Lighthouse

Question Hook

Where do you think you’re going?
Karen Robard — The Midnight Hour

Do you think it’s somewhat harsh?
Claire Delacroix — The Beauty

Threat of Death or Danger Hook

A women’s frantic scream threatened Luke Madden’s slumber.
Debbie Macomber — Sooner or Later

They found the body today.
Tami Hoag — Night Sins

The Shocker Hook

I don’t think the elephant will work.
Jane Krantz – Wildest Hearts

Daisy Devreaux had forgotten her bridegroom’s name.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips – Kiss an Angel

You don’t want your first line to be weighted down with too much information in a long never-ending sentence. If you use a hook, your reader will become involved quicker. Next month I’ll talk about ending your chapter with a hook.