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Writing Books/Speech in Scottish Crime Fiction


Hi, I really hope you can help, I am developing a Scottish crime novel and when I review my work, the places where I have direct speech are to my mind slow and very scripted.  I write in the first person and avoid using speech because I have this difficulty making it sound real and valuable to the text.  Any suggestions, thanks Michelle

Hello Michelle:

A Scottish crime novel - sounds wonderful, like my favorite mystery writer, Josephine Tey!

You have raised an intriguing question. Dialogue. It's one of the bugaboos in fiction for me, too, and for a lot of writers, even professionals. Here's a trick you might try: read your work out loud. When you come to a place where there's dialogue, put yourself in the speaking character's mind, close your eyes and say - not what's on the page, but what you think the character would say. Do this fast, and do it several times. Characters who are speaking in their own voices can be quite distinctive. When formulating your characters, give them some distinctive ways of speaking - without using dialect! Dialect is deadly, as Richard Adams found out when he wrote that ridiculous horse book of his.

I have a character who argues with everyone. She prefaces her rebuttal with a snort and a strong "Nonsense!" Her speech features exclamation points. Her sister says, "Now, Terse," a lot. Her other sister refers to herself as "Me."

If there's a secret to writing dialogue, I've never learned what it is. Elmore Leonard writes the best dialogue today; what makes it successful IMO is that it fits the character so well.

Don't forget idiom. My next door neighbor says things like, "Even a blind sow gets an acorn once in a while." Her speech is very distinctive. She's also given to saying, "Oh! Oh!" very softly.

What makes speech valuable to the text is the information it imparts, about character, the plot and other elements of the story. I'm not real sure what you meant by that.

Read as many books as you can, and pay attention to the dialogue. How did the author avoid making the dialogue sound stiff and stilted? Was it the words they used, or the way they said things - what?

Be patient with yourself - this is a hard lesson to learn.
In time you will get it. The more you know about writing, the more often you see it done well, the closer you will come to making it work for you.

I hope this has helped. If it has, a nice rating would be greatly appreciated. I am proud of my high score over 340+ questions.

And good luck with your writing!

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Susan Rand


I can answer questions about the elements of fiction and non-fiction writing: how to get started, writing techniques, re-writing, etc. I will NOT write for you, do critiques except from my website at, or give you ideas. I will not answer home-or-schoolwork questions in any category. If English is your second language, please say so, and I will make an exception. Please submit no more than one or two questions at once, as I tend to go into detail in my answers.


I wrote my first book in 1957 and have been writing and studying writing since. I have a BA in Written Communications, and have taught writing both privately and through adult education for 15 years. Have also edited (fiction books) for an online publisher and edited/wrote more than 100 articles for a teen sex education site. Currently writing web content and mentoring beginning writers.

BA degree in Written Communication

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