Welcome back to the Springtime in Surrey blog tour! Today, Katja H. Labonté, author of The Tussie-Mussie, shares the top five writing mistakes she's made, according to Strunk and White. I had the privilege of helping edit her beautiful novella and am eager to learn what has helped her develop her unique and striking writing voice.
If you know me at all, you know I am a huge follower of Basic Principles of Speech by Lew Sarrett & William Trufant Foster. It’s my top favourite book, I quote it in season and out of season, and I’m always rereading it and discovering again—or for the first time!—the amazing principles it has for life and writing. My second favourite writing resource book is The Elements of Style by E.B. White & William Strunk Jr. They are my writing guardians and I swear by them. (And I hope you’ll go look them up and read them when you’re done this blog post.)
I usually reread these books every year so they stay fresh in my mind. However . . . last year I failed to read Basic Principles of Speech. *hides* And I have read neither of these books (nor my third favourite writing resource book, Joseph M. Williams’ Style) yet this year. So when writing my newest story, a novella called “The Tussie-Mussie” for the Springtime in Surrey anthology . . . I may have ignored the sage advice of my writing guardians. With disastrous results.
And so here I am, sharing my mistakes so you don’t have to make them. I present to you My Top 5 Writing Mistakes According to Strunk & White.
1. NEVER flaunt your vocabulary.
I don’t like admitting it, because I one hundred percent know better. (How many times does BPOS talk about this?) But in my prologue for “The Tussie-Mussie”, I chose to flaunt my vocabulary and use as many grandiose words as possible… merged with a very complex writing style. It read like a miserable attempt to copy about five different Victorian authors at once, with a salty spoonful of modern voice. I was thoroughly ashamed of it, and the prologue is not part of the published story, so don’t go looking for it. But anyways . . . I am cured. If a big word happens to describe exactly what I want, and it came naturally to me, I’ll use it. But I will not go “crowding in all the fine big words I could think of,” à la Anne Shirley.
“Avoid fancy words. Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able…. If you admire fancy words, if every sky is beauteous, every blonde curvaceous, every intelligent child prodigious, if you are tickled by discombobulate, you will have a bad time with Reminder 14. What is wrong, you ask, with beauteous? No one knows, for sure. There is nothing wrong, really, with any word—all are good, but some are better than others.” (The Elements of Style, Chapter 5, reminder 14)
2. Rewriting is okay.
I’ve said that over and over to others, but it’s still hard for me to admit to myself. In this novella, I had to rewrite the beginning and large sections throughout because they just weren’t any good. It was hard to remind myself it was okay. It’s good. It’s necessary. It’s the smart/right thing to do. All the best authors did it. There is NO shame in it. It’s natural.
“Revising is part of writing. Few writers are so expert that they can produce what they are after on the first try…. [I]t is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery.” (The Elements of Style, Chapter 5, reminder 5)
3. Don’t overwrite.
I am deeply guilty of that, and it’s the hardest thing for me to fix, because it is so natural. I have to rely on others to point out things that are unnecessary, because I just don’t register it. But it’s something I must work on. Stop cramming in all the adjectives and adverbs. All the dialogue tags. All the poorly written and useless description. Will I still use adverbs, adjectives, and dialogue tags? Yes. My favourite writing styles use them. I am allowed to copy what I love. But moderation is the key, and unless you’re a genius, it’s better to err on the side of less than more.
“Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.” (The Elements of Style, Chapter 2, Rule 17)
4. Be clear.
I thought I was good at that. After all, I’m the girl whose top writing tip is “write exactly what you mean, as briefly as you can” and who produced a whole blog post about writing clearly. But I easily fall into the trap of using words or metaphors that are muddy or too subtle. Again, it’s hard for me to catch this myself. But by dint of careful attention, I can definitely improve. I definitely need to go back to talking my time in writing and making sure I am saying exactly what I want to say, and in the best, clearest way possible.
“Clarity is not the prize in writing, nor is it always the principal mark of a good style. There are occasions when obscurity serves a literary yearning, if not a literary purpose, and there are writers whose mien is more overcast than clear. But since writing is communication, clarity can only be a virtue. And although there is no substitute for merit in writing, clarity comes closest to being one.” (The Elements of Style, Chapter 5, reminder 17)
5. My writing can always get better.
I didn’t realize how proud and complacent I was about my writing until I wrote this story. It’s so embarrassing to admit, but I was convinced I was experienced enough to be a pro and didn’t need to change anything. I thought I knew it all. LIES. I can always get better. I’m not perfect. I need to get better. But I will never get better if I don’t remember that.
At the same time, my writing is legit. I can always get better, yes. I have flaws and familiar trap holes, yes. But I am also allowed to be myself. I need to be myself. I can write the way that feels natural to me. My writing style won’t match others’ and they might not like it—and that’s okay, for both of us. We don’t have to match, we don’t have to have the same taste. There are guidelines and rules to follow, but there is also freedom be uniquely ME. And I’m good enough as me.
But there are rules for a reason.
In short, I’ve learned I know only about half as much as I thought I did, and I need to study more. I need to work more. And I discovered that humility is what makes a great author. The willingness to refine and work over and over on his story. The willingness to study and hone his craft. The willingness to realize he can always be better, and he will never get perfect or plateau. You can’t become a master if you’re a puffy head who thinks you've got it all. A real master knows how much greater he could be, because he has seen so much more perfection.
There’s no room for pride in good writing, because good writing isn’t about “I”, and prIde is just that—all about i.
“It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules.” (The Elements of Style, Introduction)
So, friends, happy writing trails to you. May your pens never be inkless, nor your hands cramped; may Strunk and White watch over you; and may you never discover the pitfalls I stumbled into.
Come back next Wednesday to hear from another Springtime in Surrey author about how an anonymous poem inspired her historical fiction novella, on the last stop of our blog swap.
Welcome back to the Springtime in Surrey blog swap! Today, Andrea Renee Cox, author of The Cottage on the Hill, helps us think about compassion versus apathy. Let's get to it.
Apathy is unfeeling disinterest in others’ problems, worries, and situations. Everywhere I look these days, I see evidence of this lack of tender care for my fellow human beings. In the movie The Book of Henry*, a young character declares that apathy is the worst thing in the world. That line has stuck with me for years, because it’s the truth and I’ve seen evidence virtually every day since I first watched that film.
I have to wonder, can anything overcome such a dark and uncaring choice as apathy?
Every time I read the Bible and spend time with Jesus, I know the answer is yes. Yes, something is more powerful than apathy. God is bigger and stronger than everything on this planet, but there’s something we humans can choose that is stronger than apathy as well, if we follow His lead.
Compassion is greater than apathy.
Compassion is seeing other people’s plight and feeling their pain with them. It’s choosing to care about people and whatever trial or tribulation they might currently be going through. Compassion is not easy, because it means being vulnerable to wounds the world might wield against us. But I’m here to tell you that choosing to be compassionate is always worth it. In fact, Jesus commanded us to “love one another” (John 13:34 NKJV). He went further to say that His followers would be recognized by their “love for one another” (John 13:25 NKJV).
Loving one another is choosing compassion over apathy.
Often, I wonder if I’m doing enough to infuse an abundant amount of hope, cheerfulness, and especially compassion—all traits of love—into my community to counteract the apathy that is so prevalent in the world around me. What I’ve learned over these years of intentionally choosing to care (and show it!) about the people in my life is that every delicate moment matters. The incredible thing is, God can use even one person’s kindness to make a humongous impact in the world. The ripple effects can spread out in waves for a longer time than we can imagine, because of God’s work behind the scenes. This, to me, makes every attempt at showing love to those around me completely worth it.
This theme of showing compassion to the people around us is spotlighted in The Cottage on the Hill, my novella in Wild Blue Wonder Press’s debut anthology, Springtime in Surrey. When Adrian sees Moira crying into her afternoon tea, he wonders why. The neat thing is, he doesn’t stop at mere curiosity. Instead, he takes up the challenge of making her smile. His creative efforts throughout the book give her chance after chance to rediscover hope and joy. Even when he doesn’t know if she’ll ever feel comfortable enough with him to divulge her troubles, Adrian goes to great lengths to let Moira know that someone cares about her, that someone sees she’s hurting and chooses to do something about it.
How many times do we see people going through hard times and rough days but keep on walking by, not giving them more than a pitying glance?
What do you think would happen if you paused to give that person a helping hand or encouraging word?
Let me tell you from experience: Both the person you help and you will be blessed in the moment you reach out to connect with another member of humanity. Whether it’s encouraging a harried mother of three rambunctious children in the grocery store or helping a tearful, lost toddler find their parents or assisting someone in picking up items that spilled from a purse or split sack—or a thousand other scenarios—I challenge you to take a few minutes out of your busy day and infuse some compassion back into your community. Beyond that, I encourage you to take Jesus’s advice and “love one another,” so that people will recognize you as one of His compassionate followers.
It takes action from each one of us to make sure that compassion remains greater than apathy.
*Some content (language, thematic elements) in The Book of Henry is not suitable to all viewers. Discretion is advised. I suggest parents preview the film before sharing with any child under 18.
Come back next Wednesday to hear another Springtime in Surrey author discuss the top five writing mistakes she's made according to Strunk and White.
Good morning! Welcome back to the Springtime in Surrey blog swap. It's me again, this time with a post from Kellyn Roth, author of Courage to Stay, sharing lessons that she has learned by writing through creative difficulties.
Hi folks! My name is Kellyn Roth, though you can call me Kell, and I’m more than honored to be sharing a blog post on Rachel Leitch’s blog today!
As you may know, Rachel recently published a story with my anthology/collection, Springtime in Surrey. It’s our first Wild Blue Wonder Press collection, and we’re so excited to hear what you think about it!
I also have a story in the collection, and that is a Regency romance novella called Courage to Stay.
The idea was to pick something easy, in a genre I’d written before, get it off, and focus on mentoring the other authors in the collection.
The idea was not, however, that I would be stuck on this one story for months, struggling to finish a first draft and then to get through the edits! For whatever reason, that just didn’t appeal to me.
However, that’s what happened.
It’s been a while since I’ve struggled much with a story, and my last three projects (a short story, a novella, and a full-length novel) have been ridiculously tough. More tough than any book I’ve worked on has been for years.
I’ll admit it: it boggled my mind.
Whatever the reason these last three projects have been so tough (probably just exhaustion), they’re all done now, and while I’m glad of it, it’s always a good idea to give some thought to how I responded and how I would respond next time.
The first that caused my trouble was the novel. Like a Ship on the Sea is releasing in September, and it took me FOREVER to get a passable draft together. So much so that I had to push back my editors to get it finished.
The problem? The plot as I had it written in the outline was not working. Yet instead of adjusting it as I went or just finishing a draft that was bad, that froze me. I had enough intuitive knowledge to know something was off, but figuring out what and figuring out how to fix it was proving impossible.
Even when I went through the rewrites, I found myself hesitating, getting stuck on getting my rewrites set up in a way that made it easy to finish them all in one fell swoop rather than just pushing through and figuring it out as I went.
Eventually, with the help of a developmental editor, I managed to get it into some kind of shape—but I can’t say I was in the best of moods after this.
And, because my deadlines had been pushed back so much, I had to drive right into Courage to Stay, my Springtime in Surrey novella.
At first, I did exactly the same thing I did with my novel—I dove in and discovered that elements of the outline needed tweaked.
And then I procrastinated, because I did not want to go through what I did with the novel again. Frozen in place, I waited …
Until I decided to give up and just write something, anything.
This left me with an unreadable draft—but at least something was written. And after giving it some thought, I dove into revisions by taking one chunk at a time and making it match the rest of the book (because by that point, it had taken on several different tones!).
After several rounds of edits, I sent it to beta-readers for feedback and hoped for the best. They gave me some tips to make a few things I knew weren’t working fit it, and that was it. It was done (at least, until the editor got to it).
With these lessons in mind, I tackled the last thing—a short story for a collection that’s coming out in 2024 or so. I knew I wanted to just get a fast, ugly draft done—revise a ton—and then have betas give me tips on how to make the silly thing work.
So I dove in—and in a week, I had a draft completed—revisions and all.
The thing is, I like to write nice first drafts. For many years, I have been able to … but though my energy and inspiration levels change, at the moment, I am tired and creatively bankrupt.
Yet I’m a writer—and sometimes working on deadline is a thing, whether you like it or not. Next time I’ll probably be a little quicker to adjust my methods to whatever suits me at the time, rather than clinging to the way I “usually do things.”
The truth is, it doesn’t matter how you do it as long as it gets done when it comes to writing novels. Get the words out—and worry about editing them later. Keep testing different processes until you find one that works for you, and then don’t get too worried about needing to adjust if you need to adjust.
And whatever you do, just keep writing!
About Kellyn Roth
Kellyn Roth is a historical romance & women’s fiction author who writes about the empty places where hope has the most room to grow. Her novels include the inspirational Victorian family saga, The Chronicles of Alice and Ivy. When not building her author career or her indie-author-helping business, Wild Blue Wonder Press, Kell is likely getting lost somewhere in the Pacific Northwest with her friends, watching period dramas and facetious comedies, or spending time with her husband.
You can find her online at https://kellynrothauthor.com/
Return next Wednesday to hear from another Springtime in Surrey author about compassion versus apathy.
In February of this year, I was accepted by Wild Blue Wonder Press to participate in their first ever anthology, making this my first ever traditional publication. It was something I’ve been working towards for years, and it’s still hard to believe it’s finally here. Now, here we are, launching the book and sending my story out into the world.
You’ve already gotten to hear from a lot of my fellow authors over the past weeks, and you’ll continue to hear from them for a couple weeks more. So today, I thought I’d briefly go over some lessons and observations I’ve had while achieving the milestone of publishing my first story.
God does so much more than we expect.
I didn’t expect to get into the anthology. I saw the submission call and gave it a try with a story I had thought up on a whim to have something to send in. Of course, I hoped that it would make the cut, but realistically I knew there were a lot of other authors who had sent in. God surprised me by choosing me for it.
Then came the process of drafting and editing, all on deadlines, and there wasn’t a single one of those that I didn’t think I was going to miss. While I had practiced writing on deadlines and knew I had the head knowledge to do it, these were some of the tightest turn around times I’d ever experienced, with a legible draft needed at the end of them.
And yet, I made every single one.
God is able to do so much more than we expect or even dream to ask for. And not only is He able, but He chooses to share it with us.
That’s a hard truth for me to accept, because I can think of other impossible things that I really wanted, that I still want even today, expectations that He has not shattered. And honestly, I don’t know what to do with that gap. Maybe this is the process of Him reshaping the expectations I have into something far greater. But many days it doesn’t feel like it.
Many days, I have to grip on tight to the things He’s done before, things like this, to know that He will see me through.
Not everything has to be perfect, and you can make mistakes.
When I’m writing a draft just to pitch sometime, I have all the time that I want to tweak it and make it whatever vision I have of perfection.
When writing this story on a deadline, I didn’t have that. I simply had to turn in a strong draft by the date specified. That meant, especially in the early stages, that I had to turn in a story that I knew needed work. That’s the whole point of a draft, but I forget that a lot. Do you?
Sometimes in writing those drafts or turning in those edits, I would make a mistake. It’s easy for me to be too hard on myself when I’m in the safety of my own world making those edits, but as I worked with the rest of the WBWP team, I realized that this was a safe space to make mistakes and to fix them together.
Sometimes in that process, I had to go with a suggestion that didn’t feel right at the time, but that I knew would make it a better story. Sometimes the cool shiny things I added to the story didn’t make sense and I had to delete them.
It doesn’t just apply to book editing. Sometimes we do the very best we can, and it’s not quite perfect. Sometimes we make mistakes. That's okay. (That’s different than a deliberate choice to sin, which God can still work with if we repent, but it looks a little different and for the purposes of this lesson is not what I’m addressing.) The idea of life is being able to work to fix them together and to discover better ways to do it next time.
Everyone’s different and has their own amazing story to tell.
Finally, this anthology has served as a lovely reminder of everyone’s uniqueness. I look across the eight stories in this collection, and they couldn’t be more different. They represent eight different people, eight different lives, eight different backgrounds.
Each of us has something to bring to this world that is uniquely us. It may not be doing anything big or flashy. It may just be living our lives the best that we can. But that’s still something only you can do, because there is only one you.
That story, that life is important. It may not seem like it, but the whole world is actually listening for it, and if it doesn’t go on, we will all miss out on something beautiful.
This anthology is part of my story right now. And God can do so much more than I expect with the rest of my story, and with the rest of yours, too.
If you love stories featuring diverse casts of characters, strong female friendships, and of course, tea and literature, then this is the story for you.
Jessamy Aubertine is too much for her university classmates, too little for her overstressed mum, and nothing in between. In an attempt to make herself useful, she takes on a spring holiday at her childhood home in Box Hill to sell the family's fading tea shop and somehow tell her mum that she intends to switch study plans.
When mysterious letters signed by famous authors show up, can Jessamy and a pair of unlikely comrades find the writer behind them--and perhaps discover themselves as well? Or will their friendship fade with The Muses at the end of spring holiday?
Good morning! I'm kicking off the first stop on my blog for the Springtime in Surrey blog swap today. (For more details on where to find other articles by all the authors in the anthology, check out this schedule: https://andreareneecox.com/2023/07/01/blog-swap-information-and-schedule/) Today we start out with Grace A. Johnson, author of Her Heart's Home, who will get us thinking about what Hallmark can teach us about character interactions. Let's get to it!
When someone says Hallmark, the first thing that comes to mind is what not to do. Don’t be cheesy. Don’t be cliché. Don’t be unrealistically happy all the time. Hallmark is rarely—if ever--the gold standard (heck, it ain’t even the bronze standard) for good storytelling. Not even for romance. (Some of their older, circa the 20th century, films, yes. Their newer stuff? Nope.)
But if there’s one thing Hallmark has actually managed to do decently in a lot of their productions is create engaging, meaningful character interactions.
I know that sounds crazy, but I’m serious! I’ll be using their two most popular series--Signed, Sealed, Delivered and When Calls the Heart--for examples, just to prove it to you! (Speaking of, beware of spoilers for these two shows! If you’ve already seen them or don’t care to ever watch them, you may proceed. Otherwise, caution is advised.)
Even though Hallmark is visual, you can still learn a lot from their methods and apply it to your writing, from utilizing nonverbal communication to enhance dialogue and creating unique character voices to tailoring your dialogue to the story and being intentional with every moment!
There’s not much about Hallmark actors that set them apart from the crowd...but you gotta admit, they have the most expressive faces! With just the bat of their eyes, they can convey a million emotions, and it’s mesmerizing!
Even though books don’t have the capability of showing you the characters’ faces, you can still use changes in facial expressions and small gestures to enrich or even replace dialogue!
To enrich dialogue: Include action tags or breaks in the character’s dialogue to show their actions or expressions. Sometimes, just a gesture or a blink can reveal more about your character’s thoughts and emotions than their words can! Let’s take a look at a few examples...
Her eyes widened. “Are you sure?” The line of dialogue is so simple that it could be anything from sarcastic to angry; adding the change in her facial expression indicates that she’s surprised.
“Did Joey mention when he was coming?” he asked, his foot tapping on the floor. Again, the dialogue is vague, and we could easily add an adverb after “he asked” to clarify that he’s impatient, but adverbs don’t give the readers an image or add any motion to the scene. So having his foot tap adds movement and clarification without telling!
To replace dialogue: Substitute a line of dialogue or any small talk with an action. Actions speak louder than words, after all, so in tense or active moments or with quiet characters, consider trading most of your dialogue for actions. In fact, in any dialogue-rich moment, try cutting out a few lines and turning them into nods or sighs and see how her scene comes to life! For example…
She held up the missing necklace, and he lifted his eyebrows at the sight of them. A simple gesture or two can convey what clunky dialogue like this would: “Oh, look, I found the necklace,” she said as she held it up. “Where did you find it?” he asked.
He glared at her. Even an entire argument or rant could be summed up in an expression, which makes characters seem more alive and genuine, as well as making your scenes flow smoother and faster instead of dragging them down!
How Hallmark did it: They used every facial feature and body movement to convey a thought or emotion. They kept the character’s personality in mind too, making both their dialogue and action authentic and their interactions natural.
One of my favorite moments is in When Calls the Heart, where the typically-bubbly Rosemary Coulter just looks for a minute, her expression solemn and her dialogue limited to just an “oh,” after Dr. Carter tells her she’s probably pregnant. Seeing this happy, peppy character reduced to such a sober state is so poignant, and it’s all done through nonverbal communication.
My other favorite moment is Shane and Oliver’s (Shane’s the heroine and Oliver is the very dashing hero *winks*) first on-screen kiss in Signed, Sealed, Delivered...or, actually, the interactions between them leading up to it! Shane’s motions and expressions are so powerful and emotional, enhancing her dialogue, which would’ve been dull and mundane without her amazing performance! And even though Oliver isn’t very expressive, the smallest movement on his face can say a lot, sometimes even more than his words!
How you can do it: Practice by imagining your characters as actors. You can use clips from your favorite movies, task your friends with acting out their interactions, or just studying your expressions in the mirror to find the right ways to communicate different words, thoughts, and emotions non-verbally! I also recommend paying attention to how other people react in real life, and how you see or understand others based on their nonverbal communication. After all, 93% of communication is nonverbal, and 55% of first impressions are based on what we see—whether that’s their expression, their clothing, or the way they walk or shake hands!
Unique Character Voices
One of my favorite parts of reading and writing are the unique character voices. (This is apparent due to the fact that I will spend three months developing their voices and no time plotting or actually writing.) Some authors simply excel at making their characters come to life through their distinct narratives and dialogue, and so does Hallmark.
Even though their voices are real, verbal voices, they all begin as dialogue in a script, and I’ve noticed Hallmark has actually done as pretty good job making them unique and distinguishable—especially in Signed, Sealed, Delivered.
All four of the main characters—Shane, Oliver, Rita, and Norman—as well as the secondary characters like Ramon and Ardis, have voices, tones, speech patterns, and preferred phrases so original and them, that I could easily tell them apart just by reading their lines!
The fun fact is that the stark contrast in how everyone talks is even addressed in the show, when Shane starts making comments that sound eerily like what Oliver would say! Even without making mention of it, the audience could easily pick up on the change in Shane’s lines when she began talking like Oliver, as well as just how different the entire cast is according to what they say.
How Hallmark did it: They stayed attuned to the characters’ personalities and background while writing their lines, making their dialogue sound natural and authentic to the characters, as well as unique. They also stayed consistent with specific speech patterns and preferences, like Oliver’s tendency to quote Shakespeare and the Bible, or Shane’s blunt, no-nonsense attitude.
How you can do it: Think of your narrative (especially if it’s first-person) and dialogue as lines in a script. How would your characters say the words? Would they sound natural or forced? Would they repeat themselves because they’re shy or ramble because they’re hyperactive?
Ask yourself if your characters have any specific speech or thought patterns, impediments, or preferences. Keep a list of any phrases or quotes they might use continually, or any accents or hindrances they have. Remember that their culture, how they were raised, what time period they live in, and their current lifestyle have an impact on how and what they say.
For example, I’ve been raised in the South by godly parents, and I live in a rural area with lots of farmland, poor whites, and African-Americans. Because of my specific culture, I have a Southern accent, I use a lot of slang, I talk fast (no, Southerns do not drawl around here, believe it or not), and I’m often quoting Scripture, making idle threats, or using sayings that make absolutely no sense. (Y’all ever seen a chicken run around without a head? No? Yeah, me neither.)
So, some of my nonsensical sayings would be interspersed throughout my narrative; my dialogue might be phonetically spelled with a lot of missing consonants; and my internal monologue might just be a bunch of run-on sentences. And just like that, you can incorporate different aspects of your characters’ personalities, lifestyles, and cultures into every aspect of your writing to make them stand out!
I’m not quite certain how to describe this, because I don’t believe I’ve ever heard someone talk about it in specific terms. But one of my favorite things in books/movies is dialogue that is meaningful and actually tailored to the story. And I don’t just mean dialogue that goes beyond the realms of small talk—I also mean things like inside jokes, catchphrases, pertinent questions, etc.!
Like what I mentioned above about the continuity in the characters’ voices and how they were tailored to their personalities, Hallmark has done a fabulous job at tailoring the actual words to the story! Characters from past episodes/movies are brought up, specific quotes are repeated, nicknames are reused. Sure, it takes a bit to keep track of everything, but it’s worth it in the end when your dialogue flows as smoothly and naturally as a real-life conversation!
How Hallmark did it: They stayed continuous. From the episodes of When Calls the Heart, which are literally back-to-back and always include a recap, to the movies of Signed, Sealed, Delivered, which sometimes have two-to-three years between installments, Hallmark is always continuous. They kept track of characters—even the minor ones from only an episode or two—and made sure to bring them up in conversations. They were aware of the themes and stuck with them. They allowed the storyline to impact the characters’ discussions, emotions, and actions.
For an unrelated example, Hallmark’s A Perfect Bride film duology stuck with the theme of perfection. In the first film, the hero Nick’s fiancee wanted her everything about wedding to be, well, perfect—including the groom. Naturally, those expectations were entirely too far-fetched, and the wedding fell through. But when the second movie came around, Hallmark stayed true to the characters and their situation and let the Nick’s ex-fiancee’s decisions influence how he and his new fiancee, Molly, moved forward. They were constantly quipping about how their wedding could be good, but not perfect, and they avoided even saying the word! This theme played out even more, and it was so fun from a writer’s perspective to see how the screenwriters made that unfold so effortlessly, especially just through their dialogue!
Another moment I love is when Oliver and Shane have a bit of a spat . . . but they use the context of their current case at the Dead Letter Office in reference to themselves!
How you can do it: Keep track of your characters, scenes, and previous conversations—even if that means making a list or two! (Can never have too many lists, in my opinion. *winks*) Be aware of what your themes are and how they will continue to unfold throughout the story. Focus on how the plot/premise affects the characters and influences what they say, do, think, and feel.
I highly recommend reading over the last scene or two you wrote before you move on to the next one. Consider it your “Previously On…” moment, and let the story linger on your mind as you write it. Remember important aspects of previous books, too, and how characters could still be joking—or arguing—about them months later!
For some quick examples, whenever my characters do something impulsive or stupid, they say they “did an Elliot” or “Ellioted” the situation, in reference to my notoriously impulsive character—you guessed it—Elliot. And my heroine Rina always brings up her quartermaster Keaton’s role in an attempted mutiny whenever she’s miffed with him or feels like teasing him. (Even though he was only pretending to go along with it, there’s still a few hard feelings, of course.)
There’s something about being specific and intentional in your dialogue that makes the story so much more authentic!
Speaking of intentionality (which my writing software says is not a word) . . . Hallmark has learned the hard way to make every moment count. Their movies and TV series are often short, compacting an entire romance into 90 minutes, let alone countless conversations and character interactions.
But there’s never a dull moment in a Hallmark movie; there’s always something going on or being said that moves the characters’ relationship forward! Just as their growth is never stagnant, their conversations are purposeful and intentional. No time for small talk here!
And as important as small talk and fluff can be in fiction (they really aid character development), intentionality is key. Every interaction should do something, whether that’s twist the plot, spur the character on, or provide key insight to your characters, world, etc.
How Hallmark did it: They kept their focus on the task at hand. With time constraints, there simply isn’t time to get caught up in random conversations or monotonous scenes, so they—and their characters—stayed on track and kept the story progressing in some way at all times!
Try watching any episode of When Calls the Heart, and you’ll find characters constantly asking questions or bringing up subjects that are pertinent to the plot. Same goes for Signed, Sealed, Delivered, in which every scene is either focused on their dead letter case, developing the characters’ relationships, or one of the few side plots! Even a standalone movie is a great example of how every moment has a purpose and contributes to the story (most of the time, the romance) in some way!
How you can do it: The first and last step to being intentional with every scene or interaction is actually the same—edit. If you write a line of dialogue that has nothing to do with what’s going on, delete it and try again. If you read back over a scene that’s just fluff and no substance, cut it. If you have a few paragraphs of unnecessary rambling, shorten it and make your point in a sentence or two instead.
Of course, staying focused while you write makes editing a lot easier. Keep an outline of your scenes or, if you’re a pantser like me, brainstorm what should happen and how important it is to your story before you get started on the next scene!
And don’t forget to stay balanced. You’ll need a few more moments of fluff than a Hallmark movie, and those moments can be very beneficial for character/plot development and overall reader experience. Just keep in mind that it has to contribute to your story, so balance anything extra with moments that really move the plot along!
So, the next time your mom forces you to sit through a Hallmark movie with her, pay attention to how the character interactions play out! Watch how the actors’ expressions and movements bring their dialogue to life; focus on how each character’s voice stands out; listen to their inside jokes and references to past movies/episodes; and take note of the purpose behind each scene!
You’ll find that your character interactions are stronger, more meaningful, and easier to write when you utilize nonverbal communication, craft unique character voices, tailor the dialogue to your story, and are intentional about every moment!
Come back next Wednesday to hear another Springtime in Surrey author share lessons learned from writing through creative difficulties.
Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm the author of the posts here at ProseWorthy. Thanks for stopping by!