July 27, 2015 Last Updated 1:27 pm

Book review: John Hough, Jr.’s book on dialogue of interest to more than only fiction writers

A look at three books from Allworth Press, written for authors and self-publishers, but possibly very relevant to journalist and commercial publishers, as well

This website doesn’t get many chances to review books relevant to digital publishers, journalists, designers and advertising professionals, so I jumped at the chance to read several books on offer from the publisher Allworth Press (an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing).

Two books that are older will end up staples of my own library: Talk Up Your Book by Patricia Fry, and The Writer’s Legal Guide by Kay Murray and Tad Crawford. Both books are very much geared towards self-publishing authors, though I felt they held important lessons for commercial publishers, as well – especially small publishing houses.

dialog-300The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Dialogue is the newest title available from Allworth Press. Its author, John Hough, Jr., is also the author of the 2009 novel Seen the Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Gettysburg and Little Bighorn: A Novel.

I came at this book both as someone interested in fiction, but also as a journalist, and found much in the book that would apply to both types of writing. Hough’s short book is one of those easy to read guides that will also prove useful to return to when stuck dealing with dialogue issues.

Hough starts off by setting down some simple rules, then wisely tells the reader that there are always exceptions to every rule. One rule, that many writers struggle with is the “said” rule. That is, what to end a quote with. Early in the book he mentions the author Elmore Leonrad’s ten simple rules of writing (such as never open a book with the weather), the most important of which Hough repeats: always use “said”. He wisely advises that if the author needs to add a word such as “angry” to a quote, he would be better off making sure the line reads angry.

“I wouldn’t tell you never use “loudly” or “quietly” with “said”, but before you do, consider whether it might be possible to write a line that conveys the raised or lowered voice,” Hough writes.

This is a good rule for journalists, as well, in that adding anything other than “said” means the journalist is interpreting what was said, rather than merely reporting it. But like all rules, even this one probably has exceptions.

Hough’s chapter on telling the story through dialogue hit home with me. I often see journalists conduct interviews then only include a quote or two, as if they never recorded the interview, only took notes (or else did record the interview, but thought transcribing it all would be a waste). Others decide, often wisely, simply to write a Q&A and let the subject do the talking.

The middle ground is the hard one: writing the story mostly through quotes, but injecting more information to provide background for the reader. In fiction, this involves describing the setting or action. In non-fiction, this involves either background information, or additions details. Hough’s chapter gives plenty of direction and food for thought – for both fiction and non-fiction writers alike.

Books mentioned:

Publisher: Allworth Press (all three)

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