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'10 Authors Insider Tips

Cooking Up A Storey
by Donna George Storey
Have More Good Sex
I Can Do Better ...
Trying to Get the Feeling
Plotting and Planning
Character Profiles
Discovery Draft
Be Bad to Be Good
E-Book Revolution
Naked for Halloween
Sex With Pilgrims

by Louisa Burton
The Music of Words
The Balancing Act
Your Fictional World
Backstory & Foreshadowing

The Fine Art of Submission
by Shanna Germain
Nailing the Query Letter
Banish the Boring Bio
Becoming a Market Master
Become a Market Master, 2
Backstory & Foreshadowing
Enticing An Editor, Part 1
Enticing An Editor, Part 2
Contracts, Money & More

Serious about Smut
by Vincent Diamond
No More Horsing Around
Short Stuff
Selling Short Stories
Editors' Pet Peeves
Settings: Beyond Time & Place
Beating Up Your Scenes
Selling Your Books in Person
Staying in the Saddle

The Write Stuff
by Ashley Lister
Broken Rainbows
Talk the Talk
10 Commandments for Writing
Plotting to Avoid
Cover Story

'10 Smutters Lounge

Ashley Lister Submits
by Ashley Lister
St Valentine's Day
Renaming Body Parts
Sex, Cigarettes & Erotic Fiction

Between the Lines
with Ashley Lister
C. Sanchez-Garcia
Kathleen Bradean
Lucy Felthouse
Neve Black
PS Haven
Tracey Shellito
Tresart L. Sioux

Cracking Foxy
with Robert Buckley
Plenty of Miles Left
Don't Worry, Be Happy
Fly the Unfriendly Skies
Coffee Time
Castrated Words
Virtual vs. Actual Romance
The View from Gallows Hill

Get All Worked Up
with J.T. Benjamin
The Fashion Industry
The Same Old Same Old
Writing Porn
About the Closet
... About Spirituality
Making Sense of Religion
Worked Up About Monogamy
What's Next
All Worked Up About Nature
Still All Worked Up...

Sex Is All Metaphors
by Jean Roberta
Holiday Ghosts
Love and Romance
An "Interracial" Epic
Trying to Make It Go Away
Sexual Etiquette
Sex and Children
People Against Bad Things
Virtual Acceptance
His Cold Eyes, His Granite Jaw
A Flash of Northern Light

The Write Stuff

by Ashley Lister

Talk the Talk


As a teacher I get asked many questions.  “What was Shakespeare’s last name?” remains one of my favourites.  Only last night, during one of the creative writing lessons I was teaching, a student asked me if I’m a full time writer or if I have another job.

“I do some teaching,” I said carefully, wondering if this was a trick question.

He seemed impressed.  “What do you teach?”

“Creative writing,” I admitted warily. 

“Oh! Yes!” He exclaimed.  “That’s what you’re doing now, isn’t it?”

One of the questions people seldom ask is: How do I format dialogue?  Admittedly, I know that teaching isn’t about waiting for learners to ask a question and then answering it.  That’s not a good way of organising a lesson’s content.  However, having studied pages and pages of student work, I’m aware that the issue of formatting dialogue is something that is seldom addressed in writing instruction.  Learning the rules of formatting is supposed to occur through a process of osmosis.

Part of the problem here is caused because the rules change from country to country, publication to publication and editor to editor.  Obviously, in these circumstances, it’s wise to consider a particular publisher’s house style and then modify the details of the manuscript accordingly.

There are no universal rules about formatting dialogue on the page.  This is to be expected.  In writing dialogue we’re trying to provide a written transcription of verbalised speech, which is as difficult as trying to describe the taste of a colour.  But there are some conventions that can make dialogue easier to follow.  The exchanges below should illustrate:

“How do I format dialogue?” he asked.


He nodded.

She sighed and put down her pen.  “Double speech marks for UK publications.  Single speech marks for US publications.  Sometimes it differs.  Check house styles for definitive rules. “

The basic rules are all covered above.  Reported speech is preceded by speech marks (either single or double).  Initial letter capitalisation within speech marks is subject to the usual case rules of grammar.   The speech tag after the reported speech (he asked) is not capitalised, even though it follows a question mark.  This is because the whole of the first line is a single sentence.

The second line shows that speech tags are not always necessary.  Conversation between two people is a dyadic medium.  If a named character asks a question, the reader doesn’t need to be told that the person answering the question is the other person in the conversation: most readers are bright enough to work that out for themselves.

“Is that all the rules for formatting speech?” he asked.

“Always use a capital letter for new speech,” she added, “except when the speech is interrupted in the middle of a sentence.”


“Make sure there’s always a new paragraph for every new speaker.”

He nodded.

“And pay attention to what happens at the end of the reported speech.”

“At the end of reported speech?”

“If your speaker is asking a question, make sure the speech ends with a question mark.  Understand?”

He nodded.

“If your speaker is making a statement, or if you’re going to follow the speech with the words ‘she said,’ make sure you put a comma at the end of the dialogue,” she said.  “Otherwise make sure you place a period after the last word spoken but before the closing speech mark.”

Reported speech is one of those necessities that can bring fiction to life.  Getting it right, so that it works to the satisfaction of an editor and the reader, is an essential part of constructing well-written fiction.  Spending a little time making sure the details of punctuation and grammar are correct is a wise investment of every writer’s time and effort.

Ashley Lister
April 2010

If you have comments or questions about this column, please send them to Ashley Lister

Find more of Ashley's Write Stuff in ERWA 2010 Archive.

"The Write Stuff" © 2010 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

About the Author:  Ashley Lister is a UK author responsible for more than two-dozen erotic novels written under a variety of pseudonyms. His most recent work, Swingers: True Confessions from Today's Modern Swinging Scene (Virgin Books), a non-fiction book recounting the exploits of UK swingers, is his first title published under his own name.
Ashley’s non-fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Forum, Chapter & Verse and The International Journal of Erotica.  Nexus, Chimera and Silver Moon have published his full-length fiction, with shorter stories appearing in anthologies edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Mitzi Szereto.  He is very proud to be a regular contributor to ERWA.
Email:  Ashley Lister

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'10 Book Reviews


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Erotic Brits
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Like a Sacred Desire
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Like a Veil
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Peep Show
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Three In One Blow
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Special Forces
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A Sticky End
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Wired Hard 4
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Lesbian Erotica

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Fast Girls
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Girl Crush
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Sometimes She Lets Me
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Condom Nation
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Florida’s Purge of Gay & Lesbian...
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How Sex Works
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Whip Smart
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