Themes in Lily and Stuart’s Story

So there are several big themes that I tried to develop with Lily and Stuart’s story, many of them drawn from my experience in life and what I’ve learned, and I wanted to discuss them a bit. May contain some spoilers if you haven’t read all the books.

1. We take a lot of things from our past forward.

As the story progresses, we find out more about Lily’s history. Her parents had a troubled marriage and after her dad died, her mom basically abandoned her and her brother to ‘find herself’. Naturally this resulted in insecurity and self doubt, and later we find that was further fueled by her mom’s criticism of Lily. I’m sure many of us have had – or know someone who has had – a relation or person of authority offer biting criticism that wounded. In Lily’s case it manifested as the inner voice that would chide and remonstrate her, repeating old tapes that diminished her worth.

Of course this affected her; she lacked a good parental connection for years (her aunt and uncle were wonderful and she loved them, but it didn’t eliminate the pain of her mother’s rejection), and she longed for some acceptance, something to heal her. It coloured all her interactions with boyfriends and the pain of those relationships ending was magnified by that nagging voice, reminding her of her imperfections. For introspective and thoughtful Lily, painfully thorough and honest, she could only revisit the mistakes she had made and conclude that indeed, fault lay with her.

As adults we need to be able to fulfill our needs on our own, but what happens when those childhood cups – where you learn you are loved despite your flaws, when you are nurtured and encouraged and develop self esteem – haven’t been satisfied and leave you lacking tools as an adult? It is difficult to recover when an innocent is betrayed by someone who should protect them above all – a parent.

2. Even if you’ve been hurt in the past, sometimes it is okay to put your trust in someone again.

So Lily has been painfully hurt, but wants to believe in love and trust – don’t we all? It’s part of picking yourself up and not surrendering to the bad things that life will invariably throw your way. We all want to love and be loved, accepted for who we are… but when you’ve been hurt so badly, is it worth the risk of being wounded again?

Deep inside Lily is an inveterate optimist, and when she meets Stuart she can sense the potential; here is someone mature enough and adult enough to deliver, and that’s what freaks her out initially. After wanting it, hoping love is in the cards for her, she’s presented with a tantalizing package in Stuart but she doubts herself; the tapes play and she worries she’s not good enough or worthy, or she will mess it up. It is hard to resist something that the heart wants so badly, however, and so she makes little steps forward although being who she is, it is difficult to not just open herself up entirely at the onset. Which brings me to…

3. There are good and bad times to run away.

Fed by her fear of failure, of pain, of more hurt, when Lily gets uncomfortable early on she runs away. This happens in Scotland when she goes off on her own because she is frustrated by Stuart and again at the beginning of “Step Across the Rubicon”, when it could have ended badly… VERY badly.  Rather then wait for an explanation or try to work things through and face them, it is easier for her sometimes to run away so as not to be forced to face the disappointment she fears. It’s a natural, innocent impulse we have as a child – to hide and try to find a place that’s safer so we can feel less vulnerable, and really refers back to point one.

But that’s not always healthy, because things don’t get resolved, the other party doesn’t have an opportunity to make amends, and neither person can grow. All relationships have their ups and downs and running from discussion – however attractive it might be sometimes – doesn’t fix that. She had more of a reason when she accidentally found out about Stuart’s trips to Lina; you could argue that Lily deserved that honesty, although Stuart did make a promise to Lina he didn’t want to break. It all came about though because Lily wanted to know what was going on and followed him; the trust wasn’t complete and Lily’s fear once more of being hurt meant in some ways SHE betrayed a trust. (I’ll cover what happened in book five in another point.)

It is okay to take a bit of air – to think about something, come back to it, put it aside for a spell – but on the whole, it is better to eventually face it than run.

4. BDSM is about trust.

Even though the books aren’t meant to be an instruction in BDSM and there are some heavier bits later in the series, this holds true 100%. Not only is someone who is a Submissive trusting their Dom to understand boundaries, but the Dom is  trusting that the Sub has been honest in her desires, limits, and will express them accurately. You don’t want a Dom pushing through a Sub’s limits, or a Sub lying to do something to please a Dom when she really hates it.

It can be an amazing dynamic, and definitely is part of the path to healing for Julianna. She can push aside the fears and voices of her ‘vanilla’ life, and be a private person with Stuart and explore things she is curious about, free from judgment. As the books progress Julianna learns to trust Stuart more and more and feels as if she can test her boundaries – scary for someone as wounded as her. It becomes cathartic, something she and Stuart own and develop together and that bonding, that sense of a journey together they experience is great. Which means it’s time for…

5. Even the best people can make mistakes and take someone for granted.

I spent the better part of several books showing Lily and you who Stuart REALLY is -patient, loving, thoughtful, supportive – all those things Liliana deserves but didn’t always get. I knew the fall from that pedestal was inevitable (and I detailed in another blog entry here how in retrospect I would have pulled that back a bit), because I knew what Megan did.

The point of it was – no one is perfect, everyone has a limit. Stuart did his best, fought to control the frustration, the disappointment, the anger over what Megan did to him but in the end he is only human and was pushed REALLY far.

What he was to Lily, Lily also became to him – someone he could trust, who was loyal, honourable, dependable and accepting, and at some point his desire to finally resolve things with Megan became a beast that nearly consumed everything in its path.

To be fair, part of that was because of Lily – because he realised what a mistake he had make with Megan and wanted to finish it once and for all so that he was free to marry Lily. But Megan’s deception and her games took such a toll on even our wonderful Stuart that he became consumed with resolving it once at for all, at almost any cost.

So he was thoughtless, and took for granted that Lily would be there, would understand, would accept he had to do what he had to do and the quicker he got it all taken care of the sooner they could really be together. Stuart knew Megan would be a problem otherwise, so he decided to deal with it decisively and since Megan was his ‘problem’ and he was embarrassed by his  mistake in marrying Megan, he shut her out. (It was also a misguided effort to shield Lily from some ugliness.)

This was a huge mistake. He just wanted to end Megan’s schemes quick and dirty, but things got out of control. He underestimated how important feeling part of this resolution was to Lily – no matter how embarrassing or unseemly it was to him. In thinking it would be faster/quicker/easier to not rope Liliana in on everything, he alienated her with his singular resolve. It’s not that she thought what he was doing was wrong, but feeling like she couldn’t help and be part of it, a TRUE partner, damaged that trust in where they were at that moment.

Stuart sensed this on some level and their sessions became more intense, especially as he increasingly used them as a way to vent his pent up energy and emotion about what was happening, (and to try to keep some intimacy with Liliana). It wasn’t fair, but Stuart was pushed very far in my estimation. Here’s a man who tries to be straightforward and live by a code of ethics, and his ex-wife, in a bid to get sympathy and more money in a divorce, basically accuses him of killing his unborn child. Wow.

This is nothing he can ever resolve – Megan being who she is, he will never know 100% for certain if she was lying or not and God, that has to eat at someone like Stuart. It would wound me horribly were I in his shoes.

So he takes Lily for granted because in all of this she is the one thing in a way he CAN take for granted; she is steadfast and true, no matter what, while he battles demons he tried to keep at bay too long. So then Lily feels like she has no choice…

6. It is okay to let someone work their shit out alone./You can’t fix everything that is broken.

Some journeys need to be taken alone. Although Stuart helped Liliana with her mom, in the end it was her courage in seeing her mom and being who she wanted to be that was empowering to her. It was Liliana who put the kibosh on Brett’s renewed interest and she did that of her own volition, even when she walked away from Stuart, because she didn’t NEED that relationship, even though in the past she thought she did.

You can’t control what anyone else does, and this is especially difficult when a person engages in destructive behaviour. Julianna thought more than once that Stuart was more like a man possessed after the stabbing and after more of Megan’s lies; she tries to take on some of the pain, offer support, but when that was brushed aside she realised one of the things she learned in her journey is you have to handle your own shit sometimes.  No one can fix something for you, you have to do the work so you can enjoy the benefit.

That’s a hard lesson. We all want things we don’t have, and if someone just gave them to you would you appreciate it? Would it change you for the better, or worse? Would you continue to make the same mistakes if you didn’t have to work through your resolution of the first time you fucked up? So this demon around Stuart needed to be exorcised and resolution needed to be entirely owned by him.

7. It’s okay to stand up for yourself.

Despite number six, that didn’t mean Lily had to take it lying down. She still deserved a certain amount of respect, being taken into confidence, etc., especially as it could affect her safety (as her proximity to Stuart had been a risk before). Stuart may have had to do his thing and come to resolution his own way, but that didn’t mean Liliana should allow herself to be treated like a door mat.

She pushed, she questioned, she asked – and this was in contrast to her behaviour earlier in the series, where she would just run away. Lily gave Stuart a chance to include her, explain things, open the door just a crack and acknowledge her perspective, and he didn’t. Remember, she snooped and knew about what Megan had claimed, and so there was definitely a lot of room for sharing on Stuart’s part.

But he didn’t. So finally, exhausted at what she perceived as a one sided effort, she walked away. Liliana didn’t want to pretend that she was okay being treated this way, that the relationship was just fine as it was. She knew what they had was special and it deserved to be treated as such, it deserved that respect. When Lily felt Stuart couldn’t meet her on that, she decided that taking a break was better than destroying what they had built.  It was a signal to herself (and Stuart) that she had grown and didn’t think that dregs were good enough any more; that if he was serious about wanting to be with her forever, than she was owed more than he wanted to give. Despite being submissive in the bedroom, Lilianna is strong and definite in this.

Stuart didn’t have to give her everything, just move a bit more in her direction instead of relying on her blind acceptance. It’s called compromise, and rather than decline into self doubt and old tapes again, she worked, she tried, and THEN stepped back.

8. Independence/self-sufficiency is good.

So after a whirlwind period where Liliana was wooed by her soul mate, she finds herself alone. Whereas she had wallowed and mourned after she had received the pictures of Stuart and Megan, this time she became more productive, less destructive.

The universe moves towards entropy, disorder, chaos. We can only control what we can control, but that is something right? And it’s not an inconsequential something. We control how we act and react, how we internalise things, what we learn, what we pass on. People will act on our ‘system’ and disrupt it – like Megan did – causing disarray, but when we understand and relish in the control we DO have, powerful things can happen.

It might be easy and nice sometimes to want others to do things for you, fix things (see above), and it certainly is wonderful to have a good support system; to understand that in your moments of weakness someone has your back, that you can rely on friends or family for honest feedback. But the only person who owns every moment of your life is you – so being independent, knowing your weaknesses and strengths and consciously  choosing your direction is THE most powerful role you can assume.

Lily was confronted by many circumstances where her choices, the person she cultivated inside, played a positive role in the world around her. She saved Stuart’s life – and that, despite her early protestations, was a direct result of the person SHE chose to be up to that point. She chose to be an active participant in life, and on the whole I think that is a positive thing.

I like to say life is a full contact sport, and I would add that it is, whether you want it to be or not. We may not have all made the same choices as Lily, but being deliberate and knowing who you are and what values drive you is incredibly powerful and self-affirming.

When she began to look at the possibility of moving to Portland, it was a productive thing, and channeled what normally would have been negative energy into something potentially positive. It didn’t matter if she decided to go or not, in those moments she was owning her life, irrespective of what eventually would happen with Stuart.

9. Forgiveness.

Once the craziness surrounding Megan wound down and the endorphin rush from the intrigue subsided,  Stuart began to understand how he had alienated Liliana in his rush to be rid of Megan. Despite knowing that there would be a media circus around him and it would be obvious he was trying to win Lily back, he spent time waiting for her at her home, not concerned how it would be spun.

He realised he needed to come clean about everything, no matter how difficult it was to discuss Megan’s accusations and Stuart confessed, unaware that Julianna already knew. Life doesn’t always give us the chance to be able to corroborate someone’s story, but luckily for Lily in this case she was able to, and she saw how much the whole thing pained him.

Sometimes it is easy to forgive someone, other times it is more difficult. Liliana knew that what Stuart did wasn’t because he was TRYING to hurt her, but because he himself was hurt, and it clouded his judgment. She also knew from her months and months of intimate experience with him that what he did around the whole Megan thing wasn’t who he normally was – he was a cornered animal and fighting as a wounded creature for what he perceived was survival.

He also came to her and apologized; he didn’t try to blame her or minimize what she went through as a result of his actions, and so Lily felt the apology was genuine, and it allowed her to forgive Stuart.

I look forward to your feedback and comments, and thanks for reading this rather lengthy tome. 😉

Best always,

Holly

 

Cockygate Update

Cockygate is over!

Recently a notice was posted at Cocky Authors, the website for those who were affected by Faleena Hopkins attempting to trademark the word cocky in a romance title, along with a specific font.

The good news is that the trademarks have been surrendered and the lawsuit has been withdrawn.

This is a HUGE win not just for the Indie romance author but also for every author. One of my fears was that this suit, if given any credibility, would lead the way for people attempting to trademark titles, phrases, words, fonts, designs – something that small time publishers and independent authors couldn’t easily do, but what large publishing houses could do.

It also could have led to ‘squatting’, much as domain squatting happened; that practice was eventually prohibited, but if it started happening to romance authors, especially authors who didn’t have the funds to fight a big house squatting on a book title, who would really have cared?

Kudos to all those involved who decided to fight this and bore the stress of it; the rest of us also got a win out of it!

Computers

I love computers. I enjoy playing games and I used to be a software tester, learning new software and then trying to break it, and although technology can be frustrating (and I feel it has made us as a society a bit less polite), the power at our fingertips now is immense. I recall the old days of writing papers for school – sometimes struggling to find the books I needed for a report because someone else had them or they had been mis-shelved, (for example), or struggling to find the information I was looking for to satisfy some random curiosity.

Now the full breadth of the web is at our fingertips. If I can’t find what I want with my first search result, I have pages to browse through – journals, newspapers, videos. I love that; it is incredibly useful to me as a writer, and allows me to look at places I’ve never been to, examine a period in history far in the past, all with incredible ease. I love learning, and far too often I get lost doing research; I spent hours searching for information about the Picts for “Blood and Frost” for example.

So when my computer – my job, my entertainment – started to act up, I limped along as well as I could, not wanting to deal with the expense and stress of changing over to a new machine. The issue finally reached critical mass, and with a bit of a heavy heart I acceded to my SO’s desire to buy me some new gear, and together we brought out an old case and built a new machine, although I feel bad at the cost of it all.

But I love building computers. It’s exciting (and a little scary) to seat a processor, but so satisfying!  When it boots for the first time I get a real thrill; clearly I am a geeky girl.

But all this means I am reinstalling all my old programmes and transferring about five year’s worth of data to another machine. Sorting it (needed or not?), and then copying it over is a bit tedious and I’m doing it in safe mode, because of some disk errors I can’t seem to fix. So regrettably, my work on the Void Chronicles has slowed significantly since mid-last week, and I haven’t hit the 60,000 word mark, as I had hoped to last Friday.

My new machine is nice, however, and the RAM (memory) has LEDs on it! I’m a sucker for cool lights and colours.

I’ve copied a fair bit of my data over, (books, research, personal stuff) and am slowly plodding through the installation of programs and setup. My biggest complaint is Firefox; I have literally thousands of bookmarks, and it’s a pain to get that data over (and a bit complicated to explain why).

But I’m making progress, and will be working on “The Void Wept” tomorrow. I am so excited to get it out to everyone, to see what you think! I think you’ll like the lore in it, as well as understanding how Julianna got to Galea. 😉

All the best,

Holly

 

The Void Chronicles – Lucas or Tristan?

If you’ve read the ‘The Void Chronicles’, I’m curious who you prefer – Lucas or Tristan – and why. Please leave a comment and explain. =)

Do you think Julianna is a better match for Tristan or  maybe Lucas? Was she too hard on Tristan when it came to what happened with Reena? Can you relate at all to Julianna having feelings for both men?

Would love to hear your thoughts!

Remember, comments are moderated, so they won’t show up until after I approve them (I do this to cut down on spam).

Writer Craziness

When I decided to start writing fiction with an erotic bent, I didn’t tell anyone initially, not even my SO. I was out of town taking care of some business at the time, and after Skype-ing with him in the evening I sat down and wrote (in about two weeks), “An Accidental Affair”. When I returned home I told ‘Mr. Man’ – as I refer to him, he’s a shy guy – and he was enthusiastic and supportive.

To this day a lot of people don’t know that I have this side; I’m friendly with some of my mom’s friends and I know many of them wouldn’t approve, but also a lot of people look askance at erotic fiction and I have nothing to prove to anyone, so I just write when I can, which unfortunately isn’t as often as I would like.

Because of this and other factors, I’m not totally ‘in the game’. My website isn’t splashy (although I am hoping to make it nicer – I just don’t really have the time to learn HTML and customize it as I would like), I don’t belong to a reading circle or buddy groups, I don’t have friends who are authors, I don’t run a newsletter (yet… I feel bad that people already get so much email and don’t want them to feel spammed by me, to be honest), I don’t have a dedicated fan group who rush to put up good reviews when I release a book, or any of the things I’ve learned other writers do to try to inflate the presence of books. When I signed with Vasko, at their suggestion I used a promotional service and I have done some marketing with Books Go Social and a few other sites. Four years ago, during Emerald City Comic Con, Mr. Man kindly delivered some promo fliers for me to them, to be stuffed into swag bags, as I was driving back from Texas with my mom’s stuff and wouldn’t make it in time to deliver them. Unfortunately they stuffed the fliers – full colour, I’d spent several hundred dollars on having them printed – in the bag folded in half, printed side in, despite the bags being full sized. Such are the woes of an Indie author trying to do creative self-promo.

But on the whole I’ve been fortunate – VERY fortunate. Every month I have over a hundred free downloads and sales each – which I have read is terrific for an Indie author – and I am grateful for the patience and support of the readers who have found me and those who have reached out. But I don’t know how to go about pushing things to the next level, if you catch my meaning. I’ve actually had some great months a few times, where I think things are on the cusp of breaking well for me but inevitably it recedes to the status quo, which is still great compared to a lot of other Indie authors but prevents me from making this my primary occupation.

I don’t want a Street Team so that when I publish I have a bunch of five-star reviews that aren’t genuine. I don’t want to game the system, as some people do in order to try to get top billing, movie deals, or a bunch of people downloading books based on hype that isn’t real. This writing thing has been a learning process, and I know I have only scratched the surface of what goes on. I would love some steady success so I don’t have to worry about other types of work, but I think integrity is important; that was drilled into me at a young age and hasn’t left me.

But crazy things happen, and sometimes I am late to learn about them (see the aforementioned ‘not totally in the game’ comment). Last year there was controversy about “Handbook for Mortals“, and more recently, the craziness just a month ago over Faleena Hopkins trying to extend her word-mark to cover the word ‘cocky’ in the entire erotica/romance verse, and force other authors to change works.

Mr. Man has some patents for software development, some of which he shares with other developers; I understand that when you are developing something that is ground breaking or unique and clever, you (or in his case the company he worked for), wants to ensure they benefit from the effort and time spent to bring the idea to fruition. I certainly don’t want anyone building on the worlds I’ve created, unless they have my express permission (and as of now, no one does). I have spent hundreds of hours building the mythology and world in The Void Chronicles series and have a huge emotional investment in it, besides the obvious time one. I GET protecting your intellectual property (IP).

But a word? If it’s a logo like Coca-Cola (used as an example in the linked article above), which is a word-mark (like a trademark but has a unique style and font), okay. It’s associated with a product, you don’t want people piggybacking on that. But what Hopkins has done goes beyond the pale, and I think the Trademark Office erred gravely in granting that to her; due diligence should be performed to ensure there isn’t something that invalidates that trademark and apparently it is a font she PURCHASED that was widely available, other books were published before hers with the word cocky. If that’s not crazy and shocking, I don’t know what is!  When I read about it, I thought: Is this what romance/erotica has become? That we are cordoning off territory, pissing on a fire hydrant as it were? Jostling other writers out of the way in our blood-lust to get to the top?

Books are consumables! Sure there are a finite number of books that a person is going to read in their life and in that sense yes, there is some competition, but romance readers are voracious! They don’t just read one book, they read HUNDREDS. There is no need for this dirty mud-flinging, vagina blocking bullshit that Hopkins has indulged in. It makes me shake my head and wonder about the rabbit hole, and how much deeper I might want to dive in. It simply beggars belief that we’re seeing this kind of stuff.

What did Hopkins think was going to happen here? That since she would have ‘the force of the law’ with her, she could flip the bird to everyone else, do whatever she wanted and know that since she has success (which means resources), people couldn’t/wouldn’t challenge her and her readers would remain loyal to her, even if they were also fans of an author who Hopkins had targeted? This kind of naked arrogance galls me, and the desire to use some perceived power as a cudgel to swing about and lord over people is just repulsive, especially people who have personally done her no wrong except have the temerity to use a word she has in the title of her books.

Additional Links:

Courtney Milan Twitter summary on #cockygate

Legal Inspiration has more info. (Apparently Hopkins filed multiple Trademark requests)

Jamila Jasper an author affected by this nonsense

Regrets

It’s probably easy for some writers to separate what is going on in their personal life from what they write, but I’m not one of them; I don’t find it easy at all, and even when I try to set them in separate spheres, there is often bleed over. (May contain some spoilers.)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about The Liliana Batchelor Series and some of my regrets with it. I definitely meant to have Stuart turn a tad dark, weighed down by all that was happening, but when I was writing books four and five, my mother was battling cancer and then succumbed to it and the loss and pain I was feeling was pushed into the books. I delayed book five, wanting some time to try and get over things, but both books – which I meant to be a little heavy – became darker than I intended, in retrospect.

When I compiled the five books into an anthology, their length really hit me and I worry to this day that, taken together, they make the series too long. I really wanted to show Lily’s journey, give a background of what she fought against, show how she developed and then finally how Stuart’s love really helped her to completely believe in herself and be free from her past, but that meant the story ended up quite long. Some readers have written to me and clamoured for more Lily content, which I am still mulling over, but I worry others were overwhelmed by the length.

Last year I had a bit of a health scare (it turned out fine), at the same time someone I almost completely trusted betrayed me by lying and rewriting history. Both of those things at the same time were quite a blow, and I found it difficult to write a bit because I was worried that they would unduly influence my writing in some way. Then I started to get back to it and read my already published books and really thought about some of the things I am including in book four of “The Void Chronicles” and work out the minutiae. Writing is therapeutic for me, and thankfully I have found it easier this time to channel what is going on productively.

I feel including a bit of who you are in what you write is important; it makes the story more relate-able and have a more authentic atmosphere. The difficulty lies in not allowing too much to creep into what you create; it is a story, it is a separate world, and even though I mentioned there is a therapeutic element, readers don’t purchase a book for you to be able to have a protracted therapy session on the pages. Everyone has something they are dealing with at any given time, and you want to present them with a world that is interesting and exciting; this is even more true in erotica, fantasy, and a few other genres. People go there to escape, to experience someplace new and different, not to be confronted with an author’s daily toils.

I am excited about, “The Void Wept”; there is a lot in it. Julianna really blossoms, and you learn a lot about her history, how she got to Galea and how it is interleaved with what has already happened; it definitely puts things into perspective, and gives readers some clarity whilst fleshing out the world. I hope you’ll pick up book one if you haven’t already; I think once you settle in, you’ll get swept away.

Warm regards,

Holly

August Miscellany

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and for that I apologise! I’d hoped to make better progress on Julianna’s story and be close to announcing a release date, but regrettably I’m not. The summer has just been too busy!

Part of that has been the garden. =) This is both a good and bad thing. I’m really looking forward to harvesting more, (already have some zucchini and peas), and weeding is a battle that is never won, just regularly fought. It’s been quite hot here off and on and I lack air conditioning, so I sometimes am writing in my skivvies. 😉 I’m excited about the eclipse coming up and finishing some obligations, and expect to be able to devote a lot more time to writing at the beginning of September. The Sisters are about to make another appearance, and what they divulge will put things in a whole new light. I hope you’ll stick around for that!

Warm regards,

Holly

Julianna!

I’ve been getting a fair amount of email about The Void Chronicles. To be honest, I don’t want to end the series but am excited for the last book; you get to find out how Julianna got to Galea and learn a bit more about the lore.

Well, I am bowing to pressure – my own, (I am REALLY excited about the story!), and my readers, and am working on “The Void Wept”, which is book four.

Let me know in the comments what you enjoyed about the series so far, or what you would like to know more about! =)

Holly

 

Writing Dialogue

I  met someone new at a friend’s house and when she found out I was an author, we chatted a great deal about writing.

It seems a lot of people have a book in them or something they need to get out and onto paper and I want to encourage that. We all have a unique experience to share and if nothing else, I think a lot of our loved ones would like to know more about us, how we see things.

I’m digressing a bit; she made the comment that although she has most of a story draft, she finds dialogue difficult to write. I thought that was funny, because I think it’s some of the easiest bits to get down. 😉

I think one of the first things to remember is that people seldom speak off the cuff in grammatically perfect sentences. I do my best to keep non-dialogue as grammatically correct as a non-English professor can, but think more ‘authentic’ sounding dialogue shouldn’t have that precision. People use ‘um’ or ‘you know’ or any number of imperfect things in their speech and depending on whether they are rushed, thoughtful, surprised or whatever, the cadence and construction of their sentences will be different.

So think of an imaginary scene where your heroine is surprised. “Oh! Well, I mean…” sounds like the beginning of a sentence that shows that emotion.

What if she was annoyed? “Hmm. I’m not sure…” implies thoughtfulness, frustration.

So if you’re writing a particularly difficult scene, try to think of what the first thing out of your mouth would be, and then tailor it the character.

People speaking extemporaneously about a subject they are passionate about will have emotional and cohesive thoughts because they’ve mulled over the subject a bit, so I tend to notice their speeches are less fragmented. Someone lying or caught out and trying to conjure up a story might be evasive or try to deflect attention, so how can you express that in words and a few short descriptive clauses? After a while it becomes fun, especially if you know there is a meta there – that not only is the character surprised but she’s trying to not show it, or perhaps she is charmed by the gesture that surprised her.

Another key thing is developing an idea of how your main characters speak. Everyone – even people in the same family – have speech patterns, preferred words and unique ways they express themselves. If you have any Brit friends you might have heard colourful phrases like “Bob’s your uncle” or “Taking the piss”, so do your characters have a background you can draw from? I don’t mean just a bunch of apostrophes and butchered words that are supposed to pass for some sort of accent and end up being a distraction if there’s a wall of dialogue; based on their background, hobbies, profession and where they grew up, can you pull in little words or turns of phrase that make that character feel a bit different? Pick a few  that you think fit your H/h and sprinkle them in. You can even do this with an ordinary word, like ‘Terrific!’ or ‘Right!’; it doesn’t need to be much deeper than that, although it is nice.

Also, think about the way men and women use words, how their speech is tailored. Women often intersperse supportive or emotion-laden words and phrases, whereas men tend in similar circumstances to see something as a problem solving opportunity, or feel the desire to express strength and confidence. I’ve listened to many girlfriends moan that their boyfriends aren’t great listeners and offer advice to solve problems, when sometimes they just want support or understanding. I think that sums up the differences simply. =)

Probably the last thing I would suggest is to write the dialogue and go back and reread it, but only after you’ve moved well past that scene. See how the lead up, exchange, and subsequent story feel with the dialogue you’ve written. Sometimes in context of the larger scene or narrative it feels appropriate, other times you realise that it’s not as emphatic, (or it’s too strong!), for what you had in mind.

If you have any questions, please feel free to post a comment. =) I’m not always quick in responding, but I do reply eventually. Happy writing! =)

All the best,

Holly