Shannon Stacey

LB&LI Workshop: When Only the Right Word Will Do—Part 2

Click to read Introduction

Click to read Part 1

I find, for me, there are two writing zones: that fabulous zone where you’re in the story, channeling the characters and it’s all good, and then there’s a zone where you can put words on the page, but you’re more of an observer. Maybe the kids are fighting, your day job’s stressful, a loved one’s sick or your husband’s being an ass, but you’re just not able to get in your characters’ heads. If you’ve been writing a while, you may not analyze it, but you know when you’re in that zone.

That zone shows up the worst, for me, in the dialogue. Fortunately, it’ll be there waiting to be punched up when you can get into that deeper zone. Because I hand-write a lot, I have some examples from my own work I’ll share.

From Becoming Miss Becky: (there’s going to be a gunfight and the sheriff returns to the Chicken Coop only to find most of the town there)

“What the hell are you people doing in here?” he yelled.

Eliza Jane stepped forward and handed him a cup filled with coffee. “Fiona told us Lucas Kilraine is coming.”

“So you came here?”

That last line has all the impact of a string of waterlogged spaghetti, and wasn’t Adam at all. At a later time, when in the right zone, I went through and tinkered with Adam’s dialogue:

“What the hell are all you people doing in here?” he yelled.

Eliza Jane stepped forward and handed him a cup filled with coffee. “Fiona told us Lucas Kilraine is coming.”

“So you decided to throw a goddamn tea party in a whorehouse?”

Another example, from Twice Upon A Roadtrip: (Jill and Ethan are alone in a dark parking lot and she heard a noise)

Jill jumped a foot. “What the hell was that?”

“Probably a bird.” Ethan rested his hand on the small of her back (…)

Oh gee, that’s some exciting dialogue, huh? When it came time to edit, I drew on my own experience of being a New Hampshire girl heading south to Florida. What don’t we have in NH I was afraid of as I went further down the map?

Jill jumped a foot. “What the hell was that? Was that an alligator?”

“I don’t think alligators chirp.”

“Have you ever talked to an alligator, Mister Know-It-All?”

Ethan rested his hand on the small of her back. (…)

The moral of the story: If you’re honest with yourself during your process, you know when it’s flat—when you’re not deep in the zone. Don’t settle for the words you put on the page the first time through. Work for the right ones.

Go to Part 3

6 comments to “LB&LI Workshop: When Only the Right Word Will Do—Part 2”

  1. Jaci Burton
      · July 31st, 2008 at 11:13 am · Link

    This is such a great workshop Shan. I can’t tell you how lazy I get sometimes with word choice. This is a needed kick in the pants to force me to punch it up a notch. Thanks! :cheer:

  2. Melani Blazer
      · July 31st, 2008 at 1:49 pm · Link

    Shan is a goddess.

    Actually, this makes me EAGER to edit.
    I must have a fever.

    Kick ASS workshop, Shan. I love the examples. So much more punch than trying to describe it.

    Hey, you’re showing, not teling. Bravo. :cheesy:

  3. Kaige
      · July 31st, 2008 at 2:32 pm · Link

    Thanks again, Shannon. Great examples.

  4. Ann
      · July 31st, 2008 at 6:29 pm · Link

    Awesome workshop, Shannon. Love the examples. Thanks! :cowboy:

  5. Shannon
      · July 31st, 2008 at 8:48 pm · Link

    Thank you. :kiss: And I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I’m not very good at articulating what’s in my head. If I wasn’t camera shy I would have done it via vblog.

  6. Rhonda
      · July 31st, 2008 at 8:49 pm · Link

    :clap: perfect examples! I love them… still don’t want to edit the mess on my desk :crazy: I think I’m out of the zone right now


  1. Thursday Thirteen: LB&LI - Kristen Koster

  • Get my latest news straight to your inbox!

    I'll only be sending newsletters when I have news to share, and I'll never share your information. You'll receive an email asking you confirm your subscription (so please check your spam box if you don't receive that). You can unsubscribe at anytime.


  • Affiliation

    Shannon Stacey is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of

    If you purchase a book listed on the site from, she’ll earn a small commission. Thank you!