Dialogue and Set Designs

It’s been a long week and I’ve accomplished little in regards to writing.

I was looking forward to cracking open Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott all week. Her writing is so relatable. As I am working my way through her book I feel like she gets me. As a writer sometimes I see the world a little differently and Lamott does a fantastic job defining the role of a writer and making me feel like I’m not the only person who memorizes conversations I overhear or constantly writes prose in my mind as I observe the world around me.

Today as I read about dialogue and set designs I got excited about revisiting my novel Encounters on Park Bench and refining both of those aspects. Things are moving forward with my book and I’m currently in the process of getting manuscripts out to agents. I covet advice and well-wishes to help me get through this daunting process. It’s so easy to get caught up in the idea of publishing, though, that I lose sight of the value of writing every day. I’m so thankful I have decided to read Bird by Bird, because it is igniting my passion for writing that has been snuffed out a bit by sending out query letters, receiving news of rejection, and waiting.



Nothing is more telling about the characters in your story than their dialogue. You can describe them and their feelings until your hands fall off from overuse, but dialogue will be just as effective and use much less energy to produce. A character’s voice can reveal so much: how they feel, what they think, where they come from, what they enjoy, what they hate, how they dress, the people they spend time with, etc. The list of things that dialogue can tell us about a character can go on and on.

Something within a reader exhales when after pages of description they find themselves privy to actual conversations between characters. One paragraph of dialogue can reveal more than five pages of description. The beauty behind dialogue is that it can be so succinct, yet so informative.

The hardest part of dialogue is getting it right. Finding a character’s voice is no easy task. A reader will pick up on the inaccuracy of dialogue if it is there so you want to be sure that the voice you give your character is authentic. Nothing is more distracting than poorly written dialogue. Dialogue in a story should be a tool to propel the reader into the body of the character it should not be a distraction to the plot or sequence of events.

In my book Encounters on a Park Bench, finding the voice of my main character, Kurt, was the hardest part of the whole book. In my first few drafts I struggled to nail his voice. What background do I have with homeless men in Chicago? None. But it is through research and combing through my subconscious that I was able to finally hear the voice of my uneducated, broken, recovering alcoholic protagonist. His son on the other hand-an educated journalist-came much quicker to me.

Set Designs

As a writer it is unfair to think that you have to possess extensive knowledge on every type of scene you craft in your books. To expect that you could dream up a perfect paradise in Bermuda without ever having stepped foot on a beach is absurd. To detail the ancient ruins of China without the experience of wandering one Asian street is naive. The good news is that just because you haven’t been to these exotic or notorious places doesn’t mean that you are confined to only write from your personal experience. The Good Lord gave us friends, phones, and the internet as resources. Writers should write as much as possible on their own experiences, but then they may turn to resources when it comes to things beyond their knowledge. That’s what friends are for.

In this chapter, Lamott discusses a novel that she wrote about a woman who loved to garden. Like me, Lamott characterizes herself as a plant killer. Her knowledge of gardening is small and her experience minimal. In her strife to write about gardening she turned to a local nursery and partnered with a gardener to write and describe a lovely garden in her novel. Together they designed a set that was so accurate that Lamott’s readers were astonished to discover that she does not possess a green thumb of any kind.

Designing sets for our characters can be a daunting task especially if we limit ourselves to our own travels. I could never write a story on my own about a wealthy person living in California or a tale of a homeless man in Chicago.

As a writer, lean into your resources. Develop relationships and work with others to refine your work.  Dream up settings that you could never craft and work cooperatively with another to design that set. Writing is not a solo project.

The Ameri Brit Mom



Speech Attributions: The Irresistible Novel

Today’s topic from the tenth chapter of The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke is one that goes undetected by many readers. In this chapter Gerke takes a look at the arguments for and against the use of speech attributions.

“Speech attributions are the ‘he said’ parts of a dialogue scene.” (Gerke 72)

Keep in mind that the purpose of this book is not to lay down a list of writing rules. Instead, Gerke is challenging his readers to take a closer look at their own writing in order to create a solid writing voice. Each chapter provides an in-depth description about a particular idea from fiction and explains why some favor or oppose that particular thing. This week the argument is, “You should avoid using said and asked too much and should instead find alternatives as often as possible.” (Gerke 72)


Speech Attributions

When it comes to the use of common speech attributions there are two camps. There are those who believe that you should absolutely avoid repeating the same words over and over again in your story. Others believe that the average reader does not detect the continual use of the common attributions and they should be kept simple to avoid impeding on the story. The middle ground between these two camps would say that it is okay to occasionally use words like said or asked, but whenever possible a writer should try to shake things up by either using other attributions or beats. The danger of using other attributions is that if you try too hard to avoid the common terms you run the risk of distracting your reader. A better alternative would be the use of beats.

A beat is an easy replacement for a speech attribution for a few reasons:

  1. A beat replaces a speech attribution while more or less performing the same function.
  2. A beat ties the reader to the setting.
  3. A beat is a primary tool for managing rhythm and pace of a dialogue scene.

Here is an example of a beat from the book:

“That’s terrific!” Julia sat on the ottoman. “When do you start?”

Not only does the beat highlighted above convey a natural pause in the speech, but it also ties the speaker to the setting. Beats make it clear who is speaking and how they do so. It becomes easier to hear Julia’s tone as we see where she is as opposed to being left to guess with the use of an unoriginal or overly painted speech attribution.

My Current Project…

I will be honest with you: I don’t see a problem with using the words said and asked. I do think that these words can easily be overdone, but there is an appropriate time and place to use them in writing.

Below is a short dialogue scene that happens about 3/4 of the way through my book. Michael has just experienced a tragedy and his intern (and crush) shows up at his front door. I blurred out some things that give away major plot points. Let me know what you think about the pacing of this scene based on the speech attributions and beats.

The next morning the doorbell to the Berry home brought life back into the house. Each member of the family stirred from their spot in the living room. Raymond threw back a blanket that had kept him warm overnight and swung his legs toward the floor. His bare toes shuddered at the coolness of the hardwood beneath them. Michael and the kids all began to untangle on the recliner. Raymond ran a hand through his hair as he placed his opposite hand on the door handle.

“Hello, can I help you?” He asked the apparent stranger on the front porch.

“Yes, I was wondering if Mr. Walker was in?” Immediately Michael stood up. His heart raced at the recognition of the voice on the other side of the door. He straightened his shirt and brushed his hair with his fingertips. Evelyn looked up at him and smiled. She had seen enough movies to know that the woman at the door was someone her older brother fancied.

“Come in.” Raymond spoke to the young woman. And as her black heels touched the wood floor inside the entryway her small voice could be heard.

“Thank you.”

Michael made his way over to the entryway. Rebekah quickly made her way across the entry and threw her arms around him.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Walker.” Rebekah said with tears on the brim of each eye.

“Thank you, Rebekah.” Michael said with gratitude and a blushing face.

Raymond ushered the younger siblings out of the entry and toward the kitchen to fix breakfast. Michael was appreciative of the privacy.

“What are you doing here?” Michael questioned his intern.

“I knew it wasn’t like you to take a week off. So I went to Galik and asked him where you had gone. Don’t be mad, because I know he probably broke a HIPPA law or something, but he told me about—-. I figured out how to find you. Why didn’t you tell me ——?” Rebekah spoke quickly as though she had rehearsed this dialogue on her journey.

“I didn’t know for very long.” Michael admitted.

“You should have told me.” Rebekah sounded hurt.

“I didn’t want to trouble you.” Michael sounded jaded in his response.

“Well, I’m troubled now. I don’t like that you didn’t tell me.”

“I’m sorry.” He apologized.

“Well, that’s it. I traveled all this way on a weekend to hear you say that.” She flirted.

“Guess I’ll see you next week then.” Michael was unsure of himself. Conversation and flirtation were a foreign language to him.

“Invite me on a walk? This end of town is so charming.” She smiled again showing off her beautifully straight teeth.

“Sure, do you mind if I change my clothes really quick?” He asked.

“Not at all.” Michael bounded up the staircase toward his old bedroom. He felt like he was in high school again. Jitters filled his stomach as he raced to change and brush his teeth. The last thing he wanted to do was keep the beautiful girl downstairs waiting.

A Short Story About Mermaids

Lately, I’ve been trying to work on honing some of my writing skills by sitting down to craft a short story for a fifteen minutes or so each day. With each story I am focusing on something. Sometimes I choose to focus on characterization and really take time to develop a vivid character. Other ideas I’ve focused on in my prompted ramblings are setting, conflict, dialogue, and grammar. A website that has helped me not only build my skills through short lessons on writing, but also provided me prompts for writing ideas is called The Write Practice.

Today, I’ve decided to share with you this part of my creative writing process. This particular story was written with a focus of revealing plot information through dialogue. It may be an off-the-wall topic, but it was a good way to practice a skill I desperately need as I edit my novel.

The prompt is fantasy in nature: Mermaids attempt to install a democratic form of government, but the cephalopods are causing trouble.

Here is a glimpse at a short writing I did and posted on The Write Practice website.

The Oppression of Squid

Lauren Sisley

“Mira, where are you going?” Alexandra called after her best friend. She struggled to keep up with Mira’s pace as they swam through the Coral Village.

“I’m going to set this all straight. I’ve had enough.” Mira called back. Her voice trailed off in the distance between the two mermaids. Alexandra looked ahead and saw the golden locks of her best friend as she swam toward the Village Square. Soon her friend would be lost in crowd of sea creatures so Alexandra kicked her fins as quickly as she could. She began to gain on her friend.

“What makes you think the Dictator will listen to you? Plus, how do you plan to persuade an entire panel of cephalopods? They hate the mermaids. That’s why we’ve been living in oppression for so long.” Alexandra did her best to talk her boisterous friend out of whatever plan she had secretly devised.

“I’m so sick of this. I’m sixteen. I’m old enough to make my own choices and decisions. Why must I serve these nasty creatures?” Mira slowed down to look at her friend. Her blue eyes glistened in the light of the sea. They were large and round.

“Mira, it’s all part of our history. You know why we serve the dictator and his team of tentacles.” Alexandra reminded Mira of the fact that Hostile Mermaid History was the only true subject that the girls were taught in school.

“It just isn’t fair. You and I were not behind the nasty stories that were passed down orally for centuries about the cephalopods. Why do we have to pay the price?” Mira crossed her arms across her chest bumping the teal bra that she had made herself from shells she had found at the discount shell shop.

“No one ever said it was fair or justified. Nothing ever is here. But, it’s their reasoning. Don’t think for one second that a head strong sixteen year old will change the way things have been for so long.” The two girls moved closer to the town square. Their tones became hushed as they feared being overheard by the average passerby.

“Then let’s run away.” Mira’s eyes drifted to the distance as she entertained the idea in her mind. A devious smile creeped itself across her face.

“What are you two girls doing in the square unaccompanied?” A large squid dressed in his official uniform came within a tentacle’s reach from Alexandra. She moved back subtly.

“We are sixteen, Sir. That’s of age. And we’ve only come to speak with the Dictator.” Mira spoke matter-of-factly.

“Sixteen or not the Dictator will never hear from two young mermaids unsummoned. Run along to the village and get to work.” The officer spoke haughtily toward the girls.

Before she could respond the squid made a lunge toward the girls. Mira acted quickly pushing her friend out of the squid’s grasp. Taking Alexandra by the arm she pushed her way past the squid toward the large public square in the distance. The squid was caught off guard and soon lost the two mermaids in the sea of creatures going to and from the shops and reefs…