Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my blog! This is my journey, my first steps into the world of fictional writing. This blog is an online journal of sorts, where I share the progress of my work as well as what I have learned along the way. I hope you enjoy your time with me and that my experience may be of some use to you.

Friday, November 27, 2015

BOOTCAMP LESSON 8: Dialogue tags

Welcome back!

Time for another installment of BOOTCAMP! This month we will focus on dialogue tags, a subject I covered earlier this month. The goal of today’s game will be to see how different tags can affect dialogue.

Lesson 8: Dialogue tags

Dialogue tags serve to indicate who’s speaking in a written text, which is important when a large group of characters are involved in a scene; the more people taking part in a conversation, the greater the need for dialogue tags to identify the speakers.

The tags are usually composed of at least one speaker and a verb in order to accomplish their purpose. However, we can also use them to help accentuate dialogue, control tension, clarify information or describe actions.

The goal of this writing exercise will be to take the two offered scenarios and their corresponding conversations and add dialogue tags to them. If you want to make things interesting, come up with at least two different sets of tags for each scenario, which will change the conversations tone while staying true to their original theme.

So here are today's guidelines!

  1. Below are two scenarios to work with.
  2. Following each scenario is a short conversation.
  3. Write tags and punctuation for each line of dialogue.
  4. The tags must help reflect the tone and subject of the scenario.

Scenario 1:

Hospital room

Ana is sitting in a hospital bed, typing away on her laptop. She has spent the last few days in intensive care, recuperating for a serious injury. Ana notices John entering the room to visit her. Even though John saved Ana’s life, he was also responsible for the accident that injured her in the first place.  

  • John: Hey Ana
  • Ana: Come in John
  • John: How are you feeling
  • Ana: Well, right now I don’t know if I should kiss you or kill you
  • John: I’m sorry
  • Ana: Don’t be, not like it was entirely your fault. Besides, I’d be dead right now if it weren’t for you

Scenario 2:

coffee, shop, business, interior, inside, summit
Coffee shop

John is sitting at a table in a coffee shop, working on a school assignment on his laptop. His friend Evan arrives, looking like he was out partying all night, and takes a seat next to him. John is trying to concentrate on his work while Evan tries to start a conversation.

  • Evan: What have you been up to. You said you’d come by my place.
  • John: Sorry Evan, I have to finish this assignment. It’s due by Friday.
  • Evan: So. You still have 4 days to work on it.
  • John: Today is wednesday, that party was two days ago.
  • Evan: Oh yeah.
  • John: Besides, I’m almost done, I just need to read through it again and check for mistakes.
  • Evan: So what you’re saying is that you’re done, just to anal to let it go.

For those who aren’t afraid to share their entries, feel free to submit your backstories as a reply to this post, or send them to me privately. I may create a new page on my blog for submissions.

Remember, this is a game, so no posting bad comments about other people's entries. Hope you have fun giving this exercise a try. Until next time!


Patrick Osborne

Monday, November 23, 2015

Inspiration Part 7 - Forests

Welcome back!

As I mention in this month’s Current Projects post, I lost all of the photos that were being saved up for future Inspiration articles when my laptop had an unforeseen BSOD issue. Until I can go out and get more pictures (or at least revisit the sites I had gone to), I will be forced to use older pictures I had saved elsewhere, or content from other sources.

As for a subject, it came to me after having written a few posts for November. Earlier this month, I was at a loss when it came to a theme, but one finally surfaced as I was revising my Current Projects and By the Book entries: Forests.

© Linda Little 2015

    One of my favorite spots in the world is the Opeongo Mountain resort, where our family goes camping every year. The pictures which will be displayed here are from the various woodlands on or surrounding the campground, taken during different times of the year (between May and October), so they will vary in appearance. Hope you enjoy them.

    First, we will take a look at the most prominent aspect of a forest: trees. I won’t go into extreme details on the components, types and such, or else this post would be taking up several hundred pages. Besides, how many of us actually know all that much about trees? These are details that not every character in the story you are telling should know. So instead, I will stick to what “Joe Everyman” would notice at a glance.

© Linda Little 2015

© Linda Little 2015

© Linda Little 2015

© Linda Little 2015

Paying close attention to trunks, branch formations, bark texture, shape and color of leaves, are all details than can help scenery descriptions in a story. Unfortunately, since most of these photos were taken in the same general area, I do not have a large variety of flora to show you.
What is most obvious from the following pictures is the difference between trees in a forest, and trees in a field. When surrounded by something that is obstructing their source of light (like other trees), a trees will shoot straight up in order to try and get as much light as possible. Whereas trees in the middle of a field or lot will spread its branches in every direction.

Before using descriptions of vegetation in your story, I recommend doing research online or, even better, go out and get a closer look yourself.

Next we have water. The following pictures will show different bodies of water found near Opeongo Resort, such as Clear Lake and Bonnechere Valley River. Water will look and feel different depending on the source, so it is important to pay attention to it when trying to describe it in writing.

© Linda Little 2015

© Linda Little 2015

© Linda Little 2015

© Linda Little 2015

© Linda Little 2015

© Linda Little 2015

Again, I did not have much variety in these pictures from camping (just one river and one lake), so in order to add a little more contrast, I included a few pictures of a swamp called Mer Blue Bog (photos courtesy of Linda). The pictures help give us a better idea of the difference between standing and cascading water.

For the last section of this post, I included a few random close up shots. These pictures really help us appreciate the details we can find in nature.

© Linda Little 2015

© Linda Little 2015

© Linda Little 2015

© Linda Little 2015

© Linda Little 2015

© Linda Little 2015

Getting a good feel for describing a forest setting can be important to a large variety of stories, such a Sword & Sorcery type fantasies, Horror stories taking place in isolated settings or Historical tales which happened before the arrival of technology.

That is all for this month's Inspiration post. In closing I would like to thank my wife Linda, for helping me by supplying some of the photos that were used in this post.

Until next time.


Patrick Osborne.

Friday, November 20, 2015

By the Book - Deeper than the dead

Welcome back!

Though this month's installment of “By the Book” may not fit any theme for November (other than having an autumn like look to the cover), but I find myself excited to review it. The book is a mystery/thriller entitled Deeper than the dead and I was thoroughly surprised with it, since I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I have.

As I mentioned before, when I was younger my tastes in books gravitated around sci-fi and fantasy. My interests have expanded over the recent years since moving in with my wife, as she made me discover police dramas and thrillers. It started with TV shows that featured murder mysteries, series like Criminal Minds, Castle, the Mentalist and CSI became part of my routine TV watching ritual. Then Linda’s family gave us a large box full of books, which included various thrillers and I started going through those. Needless to say became captivated in stories where there is a mystery to solve.

This story takes place in 1985, in a Californian town by the name of Oaknoll. This quiet little suburb is portrayed as the perfect place to live, until one day a woman's corpse is found in a playground. Four school kids fall upon the half buried female body, who has had her eyes and mouth glued shut. An FBI profiler comes to town to help the local law enforcement with the investigation, but when other women are reported missing, what is originally thought to be a brutal murder soon becomes a possible serial killer. The story keeps us guessing as to the identity of the killer until the very end, as it follows three possible suspects, each as suspicious as the next.


Back of the Book:
“California, 1985. Four children, running in the woods behind their school, stumble upon a partially buried female body, eyes and mouth glued shut. Close behind the children is their teacher, Anne Navarre, shocked by this discovery and heartbroken as she witnesses the end of their innocence. What she doesn’t yet realize is that this will mark the end of innocence for an entire community, as the ties that bind families and friends are tested by secrets uncovered in the wake of a serial killer’s escalating activity.

Detective Tony Mendez, fresh from a law enforcement course at FBI headquarters, is charged with interpreting those now revealed secrets. He’s using a new technique—profiling—to develop a theory of the case, a strategy that pushes him ever deeper into the lives of the three children, and closer to the young teacher whose interest in recent events becomes as intense as his own.

As new victims are found and the media scrutiny of the investigation bears down on them, both Mendez and Navarre are unsure if those who suffer most are the victims themselves—or the family and friends of the killer, blissfully unaware that someone very close to them is a brutal, calculating psychopath.“

What I learned:
  • Forensic Procedures: The author has shown such extensive knowledge in the field of forensics, that I could believe she actually worked in law enforcement. I have taken notes in the hopes use some of this information in my own stories. This information will be useful when having my main characters trying to decipher clues to a mystery.
  • Staying in tune with the times: Law enforcement in the eighties was very different from what it is today. Tami Hoag did an amazing job of reflecting society as it was in the eighties, and managed to show the limitations of forensics research at the times and use those limitations to show the character's strength.
  • Different perspectives: There are many different characters in this story. The perspective used to tell the tale vary from five viewpoints; those of the suspects, those of the victims, those of the law enforcement, those of the bystanders/witnesses and those of the children. These viewpoints vary wildly, and each bring something different to the story.
  • Playing the suspects: Tami Hoag blew my mind and had me doubting my answer until the very last few chapters. She succeeded in drip feeding information to the reader in a way that makes them doubt all the suspects, without ever really being able to declare one innocent. Not to mention the tension builds up with every clue she gives, making you point the finger at people faster then you can keep reading.

This story proved to be one wild ride and had me second guessing every step of the way. For those interested in learning more about the author, Tami Hoag, please check out her websites here:

In closing, I would like to thank my wife Linda and her family for lending us these incredible books, and for all the encouragement and support they keep giving me during my journey.

Until next time!


Patrick Osborne

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dialogue tags

Welcome back,

           While reviewing another writer’s content, I came across a subject that caused me to question my methods. In this case, that particular aspect of writing was dialogue tags.

For years now I have been writing stories using tags in a way that were constant, but did my best to avoid repetition. Recently I read a book who used a similar tactic (constant, but not so divers) and realised just how tiring reading it was. This made me realise how badly I needed to learn more on this subject, so let’s take a closer look at dialogue tags.

Now we’re talking.

In movies, television, graphic novels, comic books or other visual media, the audience can see who is talking. This fact is not so obvious when reading a book, which is why writers use what is called “dialogue tags” to constantly indicate who’s speaking. Dialogue tags are usually composed of at least one speaker (identified either by a noun or pronoun) and a verb indicating a way of speaking (most popular are said and asked). The tags importance becomes significant with every characters involved in a scene; the more people involved in a conversation, the greater the need for dialogue tags to identify the speakers.  

These tags appear so often in written fiction that they become invisible to us as readers, which is precisely the point. In order to keep the reader focused on the story, the tag must draw as little attention to itself as possible. However, these tags serve other purposes as well. Here is a list of what dialogue tags can do in a story:

  • Identify the speaker: As I mentioned before, the basic goal of a dialogue tag is to identify who is talking during dialogue.
  • Mimic speech: Dialogue tags help break up long winded speeches into meaningful and palatable chunks by creating pauses in the narrative, just like people do in actual conversation. This helps simulate speech patterns, add a sense of rhythm to the conversation, and helps avoid “walls of text” style dialogue.
  • Clarity: A good balance between dialogue tags and action allow the characters to interact and add a feeling of depth to the conversation. By facilitating action and interaction between characters and/or the environment, readers get a better feel for what is going on.
  • Manageability:  Though some characters can be preachy or wordy, most people do not use long winded dialogue during a normal conversation. Instead they tend to speak in short phrases or single words.  In these cases, dialogue tags can cut lengthy dialogue into more manageable pieces for the reader.
  • Control tension: When a dialogue tag is paired with a description or an action, it can contribute to the mood and tension of the narrative. Describing speech delivery can totally change the meaning of a scene. Quick example: “Hello” he said joyfully or “Hello” he grunted have the same dialogue but wildly different tone.
  • Adding description: People rarely stand still while talking. By inserting the occasional tag or action in the middle of dialogue, the writer can contribute to the depth of the story. This tool can help flesh out details in the setting, or give information of the characters.

Now that we have established what is a dialogue tag and what is their purpose, let’s take a look at the different ways to use them within within a story. By my understanding, there are four types of tags: the basic tags, the descriptive tags, the action beat and no tags. To create a compelling dialogue, a writer must learn to balance all of these methods so that none of them pull the reader out of the narrative.

Basic tags:
These are short and simple, meant to draw as little attention to them as possible, while serving their purpose of identifying the speaker. Primary examples are said and asked, but basic speech tags can also include less-common verbs, such as suggested, noted, exclaimed, hollered, begged, whispered, etc.

No tags:
On occasion, it is possible to carry on a conversation by using no tags at all, simply because it is obvious who is talking. The absence of dialogue tags is most commonly seen in situations where there are only a small amount of people talking.

Descriptive tags:
Adding adjectives and adverbs to dialogue tags can provide insightful information about the speaker or the speech. Quick examples are he said angrily or she asked innocently. It is suggested that descriptive tags be used sparingly, that way they have more of an impact when they appear. Having too many of descriptive tags will cause them to lose their power, The reason to be mindful of descriptive tags is because they might tell the story to the reader rather than show it to them.

Action beats:
By separating dialogue passages with small inserts of action, the writer can successfully announce who’s talking and provide additional information. Used effectively, action beats can help the reader better understand the character and/or story elements, and add some movement to a scene. While using action beats, writers must be mindful of the story’s pacing. During a quick paced action scene, adding too many actions beats may clutter the text, slowing the story pace down, thus having the opposite effect which the writer is trying to obtain.

Punctuation rules around dialogue can be a daunting task to some writers as they differ from normal writing. Working in action beats, character traits, keeping track of who is talking all while trying to make the text flow in a conversation can be a challenge unto itself. Here are some examples of proper and improper use of punctuation based on different situations.

Sentence that starts with the dialogue tag:
  • Correct: Evan said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.
  • Incorrect: Evan said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
  • Correct: Lindsay asked, “But why?
  • Incorrect: Lindsay asked, “but why?
  • Correct: Grabbing her by the arm, John said, “Quickly, this way.”
  • Incorrect: Grabbing her by the arm, John said “Quickly, this way”.

Sentence that ends with the dialogue tag:
  • Correct: “I’ll catch you later,” he said.
  • Incorrect: “I’ll catch you later.” He said.
  • Correct: “Why does it matter?” she asked.
  • Incorrect: “Why does it matter?” She asked.
  • Correct: “Please don’t touch that,” he said, taking the book away from John.
  • Incorrect: “Please don’t touch that.” He said, taking the book away from John.

Sentence with the dialogue tag in the middle:
  • Correct: “I’ll be waiting for you,” he said, “with bells on.”
  • Incorrect: “I’ll be waiting for you,” he said “with bells on.”
  • Correct: “That’s it,” she said, “now you’re going to get it!
  • Incorrect: “That’s it” she said, “now you’re going to get it!
  • Correct: “I don’t know,” he said in a weak voice, “I’m not up to it.
  • Incorrect: “I don’t know”, he said in a weak voice, “I’m not up to it.

Dialogue tag that separates two sentences:
  • Correct: “Wait,” Evan said. “How will I find you in this mess?
  • Incorrect: “Wait,” Evan said, “How will I find you in this mess?
  • Correct: “How come?” she asked. “I thought you were ok with this.
  • Incorrect: “How come?” She asked, “I thought you were ok with this.
  • Correct: “No,” John said, raising the gun. “Not this time.”
  • Incorrect: “No,” John said raising the gun. “Not this time.”

More than one sentence assigned to a dialogue tag:
  • Correct: “Close the door behind me. I’ll see you at the loading dock,” he said.
  • Incorrect: “Close the door behind me. I’ll see you at the loading dock.” He said.
  • Correct: “I love you. It’s all that matters,” Lindsay said.
  • Incorrect: “I love you.” “ It’s all that matters,” Lindsay said.
  • Correct: “When did this happen? Where was I?” he asked in a panic.
  • Incorrect: “When did this happen? Where was I?” He asked in a panic.

Action beats, before and after dialogue:  
  • Correct: Evan raised a hand. “Umm, I have a question.”
  • Incorrect: Evan raised a hand, “Umm, I have a question.”
  • Correct: “I don’t care what she said.” She crossed her arms.
  • Incorrect: “I don’t care what she said,” she crossed her arms.
  • Correct: Ana motioned for the ratchet. “Pass me that please.”
  • Incorrect: Ana motioned for the ratchet, “pass me that please.”

           I have learned about the importance of dialogue tags, but in the end, they should help accentuate dialogue or be invisible to the reader. Dialogue should be strong enough to stand on its own, and not rely on synonymous attributions or overused adverbs to get the message across.

Until next time.


Patrick Osborne