Indirect Dialogue


I’ve been playing around with indirect dialogue lately, and I think I’m in love. To be honest, I hardly ever used this in the past, but now that I am using it, I notice a few things:

  • My stories are smoother
  • I can spend time showing where it counts
  • I don’t feel like I’m writing a play

Using indirect dialogue is like coming up from being under water and taking a breath. But before I get into discussing how it helped me achieve these three differences, there’s one thing you absolutely have to know:

What is indirect dialogue?

If you already know the answer, great! You’ll want to read this anyway because I’m going to refer to the examples later. If you don’t, no worries–I’ll get you up to speed.

I’m sure you’re used to seeing direct dialogue in a book or story. Direct dialogue might read like this:

“Mom, I want to go see a movie with my friends,” she said.

“What time does it get out?” Mom asked.


“That’s past your curfew.”

“Please? All my friends are going and I just aced that math test.”

“Oh, alright.”

Direct dialogue happens on the page like your reader is in the room (or whatever setting you’ve selected).

Indirect dialogue is reported after the fact, with just enough information to inform the reader of what they need to know, like this:

Mom agreed I could stay out later than curfew to see the movie with my friends because I aced my math test.

Do you see the difference? Great! Let’s move on to how incorporating indirect dialogue helped me improve my fiction.

Smoother Stories

In the example above, the direct dialogue takes up six lines. The indirect dialogue only takes up two lines. This helps my fiction move at the pace I want instead of being forced to plod along in dialogue that only serves one purpose.

That’s the key to writing dialogue–writing it directly requires that it perform multiple functions. Not only does it need to inform (and hopefully engage) the reader, but it should reveal something about the characters: personalities, motivations, fears, etc.

Indirect dialogue doesn’t have to do all of that. It just has to inform the reader. If you have a bit of dialogue that exists only to offer the reader info they need, consider making it indirect.

Also, the story flows better visually. Large swaths of dialogue were just weighing my work down. Now I try to combine indirect and direct dialogue so that I can get in and out of quotes quickly, and back to the story.

Space to Show–Where I Need It

I’ve written about showing vs. telling before. Showing takes up more space than telling, and it slows the pace of a story.

Sometimes, that’s what you want–to slow things down. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you want to slow the story, but not with dialogue.

Using indirect dialogue instead of always relying on direct dialogue means you have the space to show where it counts. Remember: Showing doesn’t need to happen throughout the story. It needs to happen where it’s important.

My Novel Is Not a Play

Plays are wonderful. I love watching them performed on stage, I love reading them, I love acting them out on the loft in my house when no one’s around. But my novel is not a play.

I don’t want it to feel like a play when I’m writing it. If I’m including play written scenes like Kathryn Davis does in her eloquent and wonderful book, Versailles, then that’s one thing–but if I’m not, it shouldn’t write like a play and it shouldn’t read like a play.

There’s more to a play than dialogue of course, and I completely admire playwrights. I think it must be difficult to convey everything that’s going on in dialogue and stage direction and no freedom to break into exposition.


What’s your favorite passage that includes indirect dialogue? If you write, do you like to use it? Why? If you don’t like to use it, how come? Discuss in comments!

patreon, poetry, polls, Writing Life

Supporting Writers

Last summer, a friend and fellow-writer told me about Patreon. It’s a crowd-funding site designed to support artists. I signed up, thinking it’d be the perfect place to share my creative journey in writing and crafts. However, the combination of those two passions soon proved too confusing for patron rewards and posting, and I shut it down to regroup.

This spring, I relaunched my Patreon, with a focus on writing only. Patron rewards are for everyone, and at higher tiers, split into readers and writers to ensure that all can receive something meaningful in gratitude for supporting my work.

You can click the link above, click “Donate” in the navigation menu, or watch the video below to learn more about the rewards and how to become a patron.

If you’re a creator who would like to try out Patreon for yourself, please feel free to use my invite code and then we can both get additional support.

Why Patreon?

A long time ago, artists were able to feed themselves because of patrons. Now, they have to be sales people in order to make money off of a finished product that can take years to produce. But, with Patreon, that can change—and it’s not all about the money. Becoming a patron means taking part in someone’s creative process. I’m a patron myself, because I believe in supporting those who want to contribute to the arts.

Are You Already on Patreon?

If you’re a creator, I’d love to connect! Comment below to share your Patreon, or contact me directly.

Fiction, MFA

Earning Emotion

So far this week, I’ve drafted 20 pages for my thesis. Granted, I am writing some of the same scenes over and over in different ways, but I threw in something new too. There’s something emotional that happens early in the book, but I’ve been told that two attempts didn’t come close enough to earning that emotion.

What does it mean to earn it?

I used to think that it would take a lot of space–a lot of words on a lot of pages–to really earn emotional scenes. The scene in question–I knew it was emotional, but I thought that I could earn that with backstory. This week, I learned a couple of important things:

  • I can earn emotion in less space than I thought by finding new ways to focus on scenes and handle the passage of time.
  • At least some backstory necessary to earn emotion has to happen before the emotional moment–the climactic moment of a scene or chapter.

I knew this time I did a better job earning that emotion because while writing, I felt it. I got a little choked up. Given that I’ve written this emotional climax so many times by now and I’ve not had that reaction, I feel like this is an important difference. Might there still be tweaks to make? Yes. But I’m a lot closer than I was.

All it took was a few pages explaining how my protagonist got to that emotional climax. I thought doing so would not interest me or my reader, but by changing up my structure, I think I’ve found a way to make it interesting.

We’ll see what my mentor has to say about it later this month/early April.

Fiction, MFA

MFA Update: Thesis Structure & Language, and Peer Pages

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with my mentor again for an hour. We talked about my first submission and the peer pages I sent her last week for June’s residency. Starting yesterday, I’m exploring some new avenues after our discussion.


Thesis Structure

The books I’ve read for this semester thus far have all used structures other than straight-forward, plot-driven prose. I find it so refreshing that I want to do something like that with mine, but I haven’t landed on the sweet spot yet–or maybe I have.

We talked about the pastiche I wrote after reading Jenny Offil’s Dept. of Speculation. A pastiche, in case you’re not familiar with the word, is when you try to write in the style and voice of another author–using your own story, of course. After I’ve made some small revisions to mine, I’ll share it on my Patreon page. The great thing about this pastiche was how free I felt writing in this style.

My mentor and I discussed why this might be: Offil’s style isn’t stream-of-consciousness really, but somewhere in between that and the prose most of us are used to reading. It moves like stream-of-consciousness, but stays tethered to the plot. This, I think, creates energy that propels the story forward; I read Offil’s book in just two days because I couldn’t put it down.

I want to read more by writers who take this approach, but there are also other elements I want to see at work in fiction, so I might not get the chance this semester. Having been exposed to it though, I can say I rather enjoy reading and writing in this in-between way that acts like stream-of-consciousness but isn’t.

This semester, my mentor and I both want to focus on exploration with my thesis. To that end, I’m writing the start again (this is the fifth time I’m starting this story, but I’m having fun exploring different ways to do so) in a different way. I’m using this bridged style and also writing from both my protagonist’s POV and his daughter’s.

I still plan to include letters and another element that I want to keep as a surprise.


Thesis Language

My story takes place in the 17th century. Last semester, I grappled with whether or not to write it in the diction of the day. I have enough primary source material that I could adopt that type of diction, but after polling friends and family, I decided last term not to do so. It would be too distancing, too hard to get into. I tend to agree with them. It’s not like in a play or film where you’re immersed in the sound and visual of it as well (not to say a novelist can’t help the reader imagine those things, but it’s different), or like you’re only asking readers to do the work of reading that diction for two hours.

A novel is a much larger commitment for a reader, so the language needs to be accessible. However, mine was still antiquated, even with this consideration. I think I tend to gravitate toward that type of voice anyway–perhaps because I myself feel I’m an anachronism, or perhaps because when left to my own devices, I tend to choose to read classics. I’m used to that voice.

All the same, there’s something freeing in writing with a more modern diction, especially  in historical fiction. With each subsequent draft and revision, I loosen up more and more  on the antiquated voice and I think the result is something stronger.

These are just two of the shifts I’m making in my thesis. I don’t mind taking this semester to explore; there will be plenty of time to draft, especially since I used to do NaNoWriMo. Yes, I originally hoped to get my novel to a sensitivity reader prior to graduation in June 2019, and that may still be possible–but if it has to happen after I’m finished with this program, that’s fine. It’s more important that I produce the best and most engaging fiction I can at this juncture.


Peer Pages

For my peer pages, I submitted the first 20 pages of Rings of Saturn to my mentor. Peer pages aren’t due to my program until midway through April, so there’s plenty of time to make changes. And I will be making one significant change.

Originally, the character in these pages was going to travel back in time to save Pompeii. I’m still going to write that story but after talking with my mentor, thinking about what she said and sleeping on it, I’m going to do with a different character.

The peer pages will be something else–a short story. She remarked that after a first read-through, she was surprised at where I took the story at the end–but not the kind of surprise that I was going for. So I’m going to explore making these twenty pages into a complete story.

I told my mentor that whenever I try to do such a thing, everyone tells me that the short story should be a novel. She said that’s a nice problem to have, and I agree, but I’m going to take the next month and change and really make sure this story is a complete short story.


Freedom to Experiment and Explore

Last semester, the mentor I worked with drilled into my head the value of giving myself this opportunity–and I couldn’t be more grateful. I’m discovering new and different ways of telling stories and strengthening my fiction. I’m learning so much and really enjoying the process as I go.

So…if you are a writer, my advice to you is this: Remember that a first draft is just that. Revisions don’t have to follow the same path; don’t be afraid to mix things up, to feel around in the dark for awhile. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you discover about yourself and your writing when you allow yourself to take a new approach to your story.

Writing Life

On-The-Go Epiphanies

Last week, I was on the road for about a 2.5-hour trip. Naturally, during such an expanse of time, I thought of the story I’m writing for my MFA thesis. That’s when it hit me–at 70 mph–a connection between my character’s past and present that would offer an opportunity to show his growth!

But at that speed, alone in the car, and with no safe space to pull over, I was worried I would forget about my idea.

Sure, I could have left a voice memo on my phone for myself, but those often end up getting garbled, and I didn’t want to distract myself whilst on the road. It’d have been even more dangerous to take out a pen and physically jot it down.

With the next exit miles away, and with my eagerness to reach my destination, I did the next best thing: I made up a tune. It was a simple tune, just four lines long, but I sang it occasionally throughout the rest of my trip until I could safely stop driving and write it down for later use.

Off the Road

What came next was figuring out how to integrate my idea into my already drafted outline. I ended up deleting most of my outline, but that’s okay. It’s important to stay flexible, to stay fluid, and to accept that the brain is always writing.

I think that’s the thing so many non-writers don’t understand: Writing happens constantly, and the most powerful ideas often occur to a writer at the most inopportune times.

How About You?

Where are you when inspiration strikes? I’ve gotten ideas while out walking, driving, and hiking. Epiphanies have struck while I’ve been in the shower, while I’ve been teaching, and while I’ve been mixing bread dough so I was too messy to write. Only once did a big idea hit while I was actually in a place where I could easily record it.

Guest Posts, Literature

Guest Post: Sarah Foil on Why She Writes

One of the biggest things from my childhood that contributed to me becoming a writer was the fact that parents read to me every night before bed. It started as a tradition when we were too young to read for ourselves, to help me and my brothers fall asleep as many parents do. But we continued on every night long after we were able to read on our own. My dad was usually the reader and he loved doing it.

He grew up in theater so he didn’t just read books. He put on a performance. When he read us Harry Potter, each character had their own voice, accent and mannerisms. It was a one man show and when the movies came out, his version of Hagrid was a mirror image of Robert Coltrane’s performance. Our family life wasn’t perfect, but we had this 30-minute ritual every evening where we came together and enjoyed a new world together. While this alone inspired an interest in books and a love of reading, it wasn’t until one evening that my dad read Where The Red Fern Grows to me that I realized the power of good writing. I’d been assigned Where The Red Fern Grows by my third-grade teacher for a book project. Every evening my dad would read a section to me. Together we met Billy Collman, and we experienced the trials of his attempt to raise money. We celebrated when he finally bought his hunting dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann. We held our breath as they competed in their first hunting competition and won. Finally, we came to the climax of the novel. A mountain lion kills Old Dan, leaving both Billy and Lil Ann heart broken. While Billy tries to carry on with his life, Lil Ann refuses to eat and withers away.

Here, my dad pauses. His face turns red and his lips pull thin. He tries to continue on, reading about the burial of Lil Ann, but his voice breaks and his Adam’s apple bobs. His eyes well over and he begins to sob, sitting on the corner of my bed, holding my third-grade project in his hands. Meanwhile, I sit under my pink duvet, holding a teddy bear to my chest and watching with confusion and fascination. Sure, I was upset about the dogs, but I was nine years old. I was expected to cry over dogs and children’s books. My dad was 40, smoked and drank beer. He watched football and mowed the lawn. He didn’t cry, ever. Now he was breaking down because a fictional dog died. I couldn’t believe it. With the right words, somehow Wilson Rawles made my dad have a physical reaction. Is that what books were really about? It isn’t just about wizards and magic and dragons. Those things are fun and I still read about wizards and magic and dragons every day, but books could be so much more. This was the power of an author, to push people past their comfort zones, to make them feel. To make people cry over characters who at one time only existed in their mind. That’s the day I decided I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write books that made people feel. That exposed people to new things. That made grown men cry. Everytime I doubt myself or wonder why I’m torturing myself to finish a novel that may never amount to anything, I remember Billy, Old Dan, Lil Ann and my dad crying at my bedside.

About Sarah

Sarah Foil is a writer, editor, and media manager based out of North Carolina. She has an MFA in Fiction from the Mountainview MFA program and focuses on YA Fantasy. While her current passion project is her YA Fantasy trilogy, which is currently seeking representation, she spends much of time running and managing, a resource for writers and readers of all kinds. She loves encouraging writers to continue to improve through her editing services and sharing her personal writing journey through blog posts and on Facebook and Twitter. If you have any questions about her services, please reach out via

MFA, Writing Life

Writing Goals: 2018


Happy New Year! Lots of people make resolutions at this time of year; not me. Resolutions are too easy to break. Usually, I go with them for about two weeks and then I skip a day or two–and then it’s over. Instead, I prefer to come up with goals for the year.

I have my own personal goals, but I’m going to share my writing goals, as this is (mostly) a writing blog.

MFA Thesis

As my primary writing endeavor, this will take prime focus. If I write a chapter a week, I can finish a rough draft of my thesis novel by May 27, 2018. That’s my goal.

After residency (which is in less than a week, woohoo!), I’ll be living in New Hampshire for the semester so that I don’t have to drive three hours to campus in potentially inclement weather. I found a sublet situation with a friend from my MFA program, so I’m looking forward to some productive writing sessions.

The good news is this: While I will still be working as a freelancer, I will be able to get by with meeting my required quotas because of student loan disbursements, my tax refund, and the TA stipend.

So I’ve decided I will treat this time like a working writing retreat. It’s a great opportunity to get my rough draft hammered out. I’ll be in New Hampshire through April, which leaves a month to go of drafting when I get home, but I’m confident I’ll be able to keep up with my goal.

Short Stories

I’m still working on my goal of writing one short story each month. I missed last month by a couple of days, but as I was away for a week with family–and it was rather difficult to write over the holiday with much going on–I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I should have December’s short story drafted by the end of today, and out for submission by the end of this week.

This month’s short story is one that’s already written and critiqued; it’s just a matter of addressing its weak points and playing up its strengths before finding it a home by the end of the month.

Writing Contests

I will participate in writing contests this year. Last year, I gave myself a $50 budget for the year; I might bump that up to $100 this year but I haven’t decided.

Either way, I will enter some contests–paid and free–in hopes of getting my writing out there. It’d be cool to place in one of them; I came close a few years ago when I got an honorable mention in the WOW-Women on Writing Flash Fiction contest in winter 2015.

Writing About Writing

I also want to pitch articles about the craft of writing this year. I pitched two last year. The one in November was accepted and I haven’t heard yet about my pitch I sent in December.

These articles can be to magazines, anthologies, or blogs–I’m not picky. Last year I pitched two; this year I want to pitch four articles.

This Blog

Finally, but not least important, is this blog. With school and my TA work, blogging daily just isn’t possible. But I’m aiming for three blog posts per week, with one of those three being a writing prompt.

What are your goals?

I’d love to know what your goals are–writing, reading, or otherwise. Share in the comments for some accountability (not that I’ll hassle you about meeting your goals).