Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker: Whatcha Say?

Whatcha Say? 

“Dialogue can be tricky—”

“Whatcha mean ‘dialogue can be tricky’? It’s just people talking, right? How hard can it be?”

“You’d be surprised. For instance, a lot of people think that dialogue should be … um … er … ah … accurate. But if you wrote down how people actually talk it’s kind of … muddled … youknowwhatImean?”

“Okay, I getcha: you mean people should have distinctive voices, sound like human beings, but not cram those voices with the stuff real people actually say when they’re talking.”

“Bingo! It’s also important to know some basic dialogue grammar and punctuat—”

“—like dashes for when someone gets interrupted—”

“—right! Or when you…”

“Trail off, right? What about ‘OK’?”

“Well, the jury is out on that one. Personally I don’t like two huge caps in my dialogue. I prefer the more natural ‘okay.’ The same with tags, some people think that you have to have at least one tag at the end of a line of dialogue, but others say you don’t need any as long as it’s clear who’s doing the speaking—especially if it’s just between two characters, like us. Just be sure not to go too long without a tag as readers can sometime lose track of the characters.”

“I’m hip. I heard someone say that you should know who’s doing the talking by their vocabulary or style, but not to be so obvious that it’s clumsy.”

“It’s tricky, to be sure, but it really helps bring a character to life. Also, don’t hesitate to use typographic emphasis in dialogue, especially when it makes what a person is saying clear. Just stay away from ALL CAPS—”

“Jeez, no need to shout.”

“Or too many exclamation points!!!!”

“Which just sounds weird.”

“It’s much better to use simple italics … just be sure and put them where they’re most needed and not just willy-nilly as, again, it comes off as … bizarre.”

“Right. What also gets me is when characters talk all stilted-like. I mean, come on: you can be loose and be hard to follow but too stiff and it’s like listening to two damned robots.”

“To be sure! Try listening to your characters. Pay attention to writers who do dialogue well, or to good movies or TV shows. That’s how a writer learns, after all. You can also use … what is it called? Oh, yeah: grammar as a way of giving a character life like … pauses, like that. Or (watch where you’re stepping, buddy) asides, like that, or [can you tell me the way to the train station], he said in French. Stuff like that. But, again, don’t try to be too clever ’cause it’ll just pull readers out of the story.”

“What about if you have someone who’s … what did Bob say? ‘Quoting from another character’?”

“Yeah, that can be tricky. Technically you just have to put a single quotation mark in there like you did, but I don’t like to have people directly quote another character. It’s confusing, and unrealistic since we rarely remember what someone exactly said: kind of pulls the reader out of the dialogue.”

‘Then there’s the Brits—’

“Oh, yeah; that can be confusing: British copy editors often have single quotes for dialogue.”

“You know what ruffles my feathers?”

“Do tell.”

“When people think you have to have a whole new tag at the end of each line of dialogue, like repeating ‘said’ is some horrible rule to stay away from. I mean, come on, it can get real silly real quick: people ‘said’ then ‘uttered’ then ‘proclaimed’ then ‘spouted’ … sheesh!”

“I hear ya. The same goes fer people talkin’ way too much with whatcha might say is an accent. Get with it, folks: if ya can’t understan’ it it ain’t gonna work—”

“Or when youse puts in whatcha think is ah poinsonal style a’ talkin’ and all da happens is it’s either confusin’ or insultin’—youse catcha my drift?”

“Oh, yeah! Nothing worse that a character you can’t understand, or one who sounds like a poorly constructed stereotype. I understand wanting to show off someone’s character through their dialogue, but ya gotta do yer research and keep it down to a dull roar.”

“Like with historical characters. Oh, man, that gets my goat: when you got this Roman legionnaire saying, like, ‘okay’ or something like that. Or a Victorian British character using 21st century terms. Sure, too much accuracy is just as bad … ’cause I doubt anyone would ever understand a word they were saying … but that doesn’t mean throwing a bunch of anachronisms into a story, either. So, what about sex?”

“Here? Now? With all these people watching?”

“Ha-ha, Mr. Comedian. No, I mean what about dialogue with sex scenes?”

“Oh, that. Well, stay the hell away from onomatopoeias—”


“Now who’s the comedian? Onomatopoeia: ‘the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named’, according to Webster’s. In erotica it’s oooooh, aaaaah … stuff like that. Sound effects, you could say. Always horrible in erotica. You can just write that someone laughed or moaned.”

“Oh, yeah, I know what you mean. Like you said, too, I guess: make sure your characters use the right words for what they’re doing.”

“God, yes. And research is important but, again, don’t let it get in the way of being clear about what’s happening. Back to the Victorians: they used a lot of slang for sex and body parts—so you can have fun there … just not too much or it can either get confusing or make you look like a show-off.”

“Okay, Mr. Expert: what advice can you give a writer about dialogue?”

“Well, for starters, feel your characters. Listen to them. Don’t worry about avoiding grammatical mistakes—you can always fix that later—just get their voices down on the page. Use your own life: the way you and your friends talk … just don’t be too literal. Try to push yourself: if you feel your dialogue could do with some work, read plays or listen to movies or shows with the picture off to get a feeling for how people talk.”

“Sounds good to me … but you forgot an important one.”

“Oh? Enlighten me.”

“Write nothing but two people talking to each other.”


Calling M.Christian versatile is a tremendous understatement. Extensively published in science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers, and even non-fiction, it is in erotica that M.Christian has become an acknowledged master, with more than 400 stories, 10 novels (including The Very Bloody MarysBrushes and The Painted Doll). Nearly a dozen collections of his own work (TechnoroticaIn Control, Lambda nominee Dirty WordsThe Bachelor Machine), more than two dozen anthologies (Best S/M Erotica series, My Love for All That is Bizarre: Sherlock Holmes EroticaThe Burning Pen, and with Maxim Jakubowksi The Mammoth Book of Tales from the Road). His work is regularly selected for Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and others. His extensive knowledge of erotica as writer, editor, anthologist and publisher resulted in the bestselling guide How To Write And Sell Erotica.

In addition, he is a prolific and respected anthologist, having edited twenty five anthologies to date. He is also responsible for several non-fiction books, notably How to Write and Sell Erotica.

M.Christian is also the Associate Publisher for Renaissance eBooks, where he strives to be the publisher he’d want to have as a writer, and to help bring quality books (erotica, noir, science fiction, and more) and authors out into the world.

He can be found in a number of places online, not least of which is

1 comment:

  1. Fun post, Chris, but effective, too.

    I'll add a couple of points:

    - People tend to use fragments rather than full sentences in speaking.
    - People don't necessarily stay on topic. Non-sequiturs are common in dialogue because it's spontaneous, not logical or planned.
    - You can convey ethnic identity with word choices or grammar without ever having to use dialect.