Saturday, June 3, 2023

How to Write Dialogue: The Very Basics and More

 I am excited to announce my latest book...


Available here (Amazon):


This concise book, fewer than 60 pages, offers dialogue-writing lessons and examples for aspiring writers of all levels.

Whether you are a new writer eager to complete your first book or a more experienced author who needs a little help crafting varied, publication-worthy dialogue, this straight-to-the-point eBook has been written with you in mind.

How to Write Dialogue: The Very Basics and More begins with a careful examination of a dialogue sentence, including the precise placement of punctuation. From there, brief chapters address additional fundamentals, while gradually progressing to more advanced techniques.

Throughout, clear examples demonstrate how to craft solid dialogue, while concise explanations provide the insights writers need to improve their dialogue delivery and to keep readers riveted to their characters’ conversations.

In addition to teaching conventional dialogue, this book also demonstrates how to:

  • show characters talking to themselves, aloud and silently
  • show characters communicating using only gestures or facial expressions
  • pair characters’ thoughts and emotional reactions with their dialogue sentences
  • add silence and topic avoidance to conversations
  • subtly “talk” to your readers while your characters talk among themselves

Finally, a list of tips is included to further sharpen every writer’s dialogue awareness and skills.


Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Example Chapter from My Latest Book...


Below is an example chapter from my latest book How to Write Dialogue: The Very Basics and More. Throughout, this book identifies practical techniques and provides clear examples to show readers each technique in action. My goal from the beginning was to create a concise teaching tool that would help aspiring writers craft solid, well-written dialogue as quickly as possible.


Characters Talking to Themselves Using Italics

Real people talk to themselves and so do characters. Sometimes a character will answer himself, sometimes he won’t. Sometimes a character will use her voice while discussing things with herself, sometimes only her mind.

When you depict a character talking aloud to himself/herself, you are, essentially, writing conventional dialogue, whether your character is alone in a room shouting (“I hate this apartment! I hate everything about it!”) or on a noisy subway muttering too quietly for others to hear (“I wish that creepy dude would stop staring at me…”).

In situations like these, if you place quotation marks around the spoken words and use an appropriate dialogue tag, your readers will understand what is happening.

Let’s look at some examples.



     “I hate this apartment! I hate everything about it!” Jack shouted at the clogged sink.



     “I wish that creepy dude would stop staring at me…,” Susan muttered to herself as the subway train clunked, hummed, and squealed its way through a turn.



If, on the other hand, your character begins a silent, one-sided conversation, you may want to use italics to prevent confusion.



     “No, no, this club will do. I like the music they’re playing. Great choice.” And if we’re lucky, we won’t get stabbed on the dance floor.


In EXAMPLE (3), italics show where a character begins talking to herself, but only in her head, silently. Notice how three dialogue sentences of spoken words (conventional dialogue, using standard text and quotation marks) precede her silent words with herself, yet you can easily tell the two different types of communication apart.

In the next example, you will see the tag “she thought” following a silent, italicized apology. I’ll explain why afterward.



     Sorry, my friend, she thought as she beckoned the glowing clouds nearer and prepared to float away.


Here, the character was directing her unspoken words at another person. But, because she never says those words aloud, they remain a thought she only shares with herself. Therefore, “she thought” is an appropriate dialogue tag, especially since “she said” would suggest words said aloud.

Because italics stand out, like an Elvis costume at a wake, it’s generally a good idea to limit how often you use them. This is true whether we’re talking about narration, conventional dialogue, or a character’s thoughts. Therefore, I recommend using italics a couple of times early in your story to teach your readers that you will occasionally use italics to highlight when characters are talking to themselves. After that, only use italics when you need to prevent confusion or need to draw attention to something special your characters are saying silently in their heads.

Take a look at these next examples where some thoughts are in italics and others are in standard text.



     “You betcha,” I answered nervously.

     Marcie and her entourage of popular girls huddled closer and giggled in response.

     You betcha? Did I really just say that? Ugh.



     “Oh, it's you. I never imagined we'd—” My shoe snagged coming down the stairs and I nearly fell on top of him.

     What had gotten into me? Now I couldn’t even walk around him? Really? How embarrassing!


In both examples above, italics were applied selectively to emphasize each character’s utter embarrassment. You could use a similar strategy to spotlight a character’s surprise, confusion, anger, even a sudden realization (Oh no! The baby is home alone!). The key is to reserve the italics for the thoughts that are standing out from all the others inside a character’s mind.


Thursday, June 23, 2022

Today is *National Typewriter Day*


This is my 1929 Underwood No. 5. Millions were manufactured but it takes some luck to find a nice one. I spent a week polishing away nearly a hundred years of oil, dust, and cigarette smoke. What I like most about this machine is how the chrome-ringed, glass-topped keys feel. Those raised, silver rings cradle your fingertips and help keep them in place atop the smooth, glass circles--a good thing, since typing on this machine requires a sharp, staccato effort much different from a modern, electronic keyboard.

Thursday, June 2, 2022



Another poem from In Inks of All Colors.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how extremists are getting all the airtime these days, even though we in the middle, the quiet ones, are more accurate representations of America.

Another influence on this poem is my continued belief that even the most divisive issues are never as black and white as politicians portray them. There's a lot of gray in most issues--many points of view, many primary and secondary stakeholders, and lots of complexities. Details. Details that politicians regularly gloss over, like modern artists painting with broad swaths of black and white.

Thanks for listening while I continue searching my way through all the division in our great country.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022



From my Instagram account, a poem from In Inks of All Colors, a look back at the old me, the unhappy me, the version of John who was far too worried about what others thought and too preoccupied to listen to his own instincts.


Found this when sorting and recycling OLD things--my very first flash fiction and fantasy story (sort of). It's not brilliant, but the last line makes me laugh.



From my Instagram account, a poem from I'm Not a Kung Fu Badass.

This was one of my first attempts to cope with my worries for our country and my sadness for how divided we sometimes appear. I furled and unfurled versions of this poem for over two years, all while capturing more thoughts, anxieties, and feelings. Several of the poems in In Inks of All Colors have this poem at their roots; they began with me questioning why the stitches in our flag have been especially stressed in recent years.

My grandfather's 1935 Royal "O."


When my father first gave me this beautiful machine, it wasn't shiny, it smelled horrible, and it needed mechanical work. Adam, a collector in Columbus, Ohio, cleaned and repaired it for me and did a fantastic job.

During one of my visits with Adam, another machine captured my imagination--an old Western Union (Underwood) typewriter that had written countless telegrams a century earlier. I expressed an interest in buying it, right then or any time in the future. Sadly, Adam refused to sell it.

Recently, however, someone did convince him to give it up--Tom Hanks, an avid collector of typewriters.

Tom Hanks, huh. Well... I guess that's okay, Adam.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

my latest...

In Inks of All Colors, the ebook, can now be purchased.
CLICK HERE to go to Amazon.


Book Description:

Fans of I’m Not a Kung Fu Badass, John Arthur Lee’s first poetry book, will celebrate the return of his unique storytelling style, creative metaphors, and honest self-reflection. In Inks of All Colors offers 35 new poems exploring American society, corporate culture, untimely illness, relationships, and more. Examples below.

A Good Friend

Sees you more clearly
than the mirror house inside you.

Defends your weak side
when you throw punches at yourself.

And celebrates your every success
louder than a preschool teacher.


I was twenty-three
when my first stroke arrived.
One eye studied the ceiling,
the other pondered the floor.
A bizarre double vision,
nauseating funhouse prank.
Then my ear started ringing
and my legs let me fall.

I survived,
and with resynchronized eyes,
I saw life as more finite
and swore I’d capture more.

But routine roared back,
like a DC-10 behind schedule,
so I hurried aboard,
my clear vision forgotten.



Wednesday, March 16, 2022



As a writer, I'm constantly thinking about the power and potential destructiveness of words--I can't help it. These are some thoughts that have been eddying together for a while (first draft).

Sunday, February 20, 2022


This version began as an exploration with line breaks and reading direction (and thoughts about what makes us who we are and what we must do to grow further). Now it has a home in my latest poetry book, In Inks of All Colors.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

A daisy wheel. Still fascinating.




Younger readers may not be familiar with this wonderful piece of old technology. Many electronic typewriters produced at the end of the typewriter era used daisy wheels to type letters on paper. Some home-office printers used daisy wheels too.

How did it work? Depending on which key you pressed on the keyboard, the typewriter would swiftly spin the wheel and a print head (driven by an electromagnet, I think) would strike the backside of a single "petal," press an "inked" ribbon against paper, and print a very sharp character.

Daisy wheels were easily removed and replaced, allowing one typewriter to produce different fonts and typefaces (a really cool feature during the days of Sony Walkmans, Polaroid cameras, and MTV).

I was very excited when a stranger sold me my first daisy wheel typewriter, complete with three additional wheels and typefaces, all for just $15!

Who really wins when we're divided?


The Other Half

half this country isn’t
                                    or selfish.
That other half has views
they believe you are blind to.
Politicians, Personalities, and Parties
don’t help anyone see the other side.
They only preach their brand of extremism
and vilify those who think differently.
They make us believe everything is
wrong or right,
                      stupid or smart,
                                              unfair or just.
But who benefits when we lose empathy?
Who celebrates distrust and anger?
Who gains when we’re divided? 
Politicians, Personalities, and Parties. 
They want us to see a world
where one must win or lose.
And thanks to our compliance
we’ve given them just that.
But they’re the only winners.
The rest of us . . . are losing.
One of several poems I wrote while trying to figure out how the America I grew up in became so divided, and how its citizens seemingly lost empathy for each other.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021



When I turn down the noise makers, it's easier to remember we are all Americans, all members of the greatest country on Earth, and, easy or hard, we are all in this together. Well, most of us are. A few are strictly in it for themselves.

This shows a final edit before publication.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Even the most common have so much character


(click image to see greater detail)

I was visiting one of the most scenic places in the world--the Grand Canyon, West Rim--when this little feather puff distracted me. A female house sparrow, I think. Very common, but the lighting was just right to capture her details nicely.

I've been fascinated with birds since I was young. And even now, during a time in our history where planes, drones, spacecraft, and satellites routinely fly over the Earth, there's still something magical about a feathered creature taking flight and soaring through the air effortlessly. And this one gave me an additional gift--she sat still long enough for me to enjoy her company.