Monday’s Friend: Barton Paul Levenson

Today I’m pleased to welcome Barton Paul Levenson to the blog, who wants to pass on a few tips about writing dialogue.

Writing Dialog–The Concept of “Voice”
By Barton Paul Levenson

To minimize the use of speech tags, it helps in writing good dialog if each character can be told apart just by the way they speak.  Do you get any impression of what each person is like in this scene?

“Coming up on Alpha Centauri B III,” Parker said.
“Any readings?” Captain Cohn asked.  “Anybody?”
Lee said, “Captain, I see lines of free oxygen in the spectrograph.”

Do you get any sense of Cohn, Lee, or Parker?  I don’t.  Let’s try this again:

“Coming up on Alpha Centauri B III, Big Mama,” Parker said.
Captain Cohn said, “If you call me that again, Ted, this coffee is going down the back of your shirt.  Anybody, any readings?”
Lee said, “Captain, I see lines of free oxygen in the spectrograph.  The captain has lost weight, Edward, have you not noticed?  There is no call for personal comments.”

See the difference?  Parker is either a flirt or a troublemaker.  The captain puts up with no nonsense.  Lee is formal and polite, and cares about proper conduct.

Here’s a simple exercise to develop a unique “voice” for each of your characters:

1.  Write down something they might say.

2.  Now write down something they would never say.

As an example of #2, consider an old Bloom Country comic strip from the ’80s.  The guys (Opus, Hodge-Podge, a squirrel) are with Cutter John on his wheelchair, playing Star Trek.  Opus is Spock, and on encountering an enemy, blurts out, “A POX ON YOUR FIRST BORN, YOU UGLY WART ON A SALAMANDER’S TONGUE!”  The guys look at him.  “Or was that out of character?”

“No!  No!  That was just *@#?! Spiffy!” the squirrel says.

You see the point.  We all know Spock doesn’t talk like that.  Voice helps characterization, it smoothes out dialog, and it can even be a crucial plot point–you might clue in the reader that something is wrong with a character if he suddenly “doesn’t sound like himself.”  Is Princess Sylvie depressed?  Is Thornpicker having second thoughts?  Is Alicia possessed by a demon?  Voice is one way to show it.
Author Bio:

Barton Paul Levenson has a degree in physics.  Happily married to poet Elizabeth Penrose, he confuses everybody by being both a born-again Christian and a liberal Democrat.  His work has appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, ChiZine, Cricket, Cicada, the New York Review of Science Fiction and many small press markets.  His novel “Max and Me” can be downloaded now from Lyrical Press or  “Year of the Human” is available from Solstice Publishing or amazon.  Barton was banned from entering the Confluence Short Story Contest again after winning first prize two years in a row. His latest novel, THE CELIBATE SUCCUBUS, a YA urban fantasy, is due out later this month from Barking Rain Press.


“Team Packer” is a covert Catholic strike team against supernatural evil with a secret weapon in its arsenal: 16-year-old Delilah Vincentio—the world’s only Christian succubus. Trained by demons to despise humanity and lead them into sin, her unprecedented capacity for mercy caused her to renounce her place in Hell—and gain an angelic referral to Team Packer.

Delilah is assigned to infiltrate the Order of the Lightbringer, a Satanic cult that plans to make Pittsburgh a test site for the Apocalypse. After Delilah’s identity is almost discovered, Team Packer sends her to high school to hide out until things cool down.

But while Delilah may be reformed from her beguiling ways, she’s still very much a demon—and she hasn’t learned how to play well with others. In fact, trying to fit in and keep a low profile at high school may prove to be a tougher battle than bringing down the Order of the Lightbringer.

More information about THE CELIBATE SUCCUBUS here.


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