The Basics of Writing Good Dialogue

balloon-898682_1280In my time critiquing, I’ve found that a common issue is dialogue. There are three main elements to consider when writing dialogue:

  1. How to punctuate dialogue correctly.
  2. Effective choice of dialogue tags.
  3. Avoidance of ‘talking heads’.

To start, I just want to be clear on what I mean when I use the term ‘dialogue tag’.

Dialogue tag = said, asked, cried, stuttered, exclaimed, etc.

How to Punctuate Dialogue Correctly

The Problem: A lot of writers, especially beginning writers, can be unsure exactly how to punctuate dialogue. Do I use a comma or period? Does it go inside or outside the talking marks? What about dialogue after the tag; do I capitalise or not? What about the dialogue tag; does that need a capital letter? A period or comma?

What to do: Here are the rules you need to remember…

  • Always end dialogue with a comma inside the speech marks if it is followed by a dialogue tag. eg:

“I love pasta,” said Sarah.

  • Even if there is a long piece of dialogue with several sentences. eg:

“Hi, Kate. How are you? I just got back from Hawaii,” said Ben.

  • The only exception is if the sentence is a question or exclamation, in which case you would use a question mark or exclamation mark. eg:

“Can I borrow your pen?” asked Nathan.

  • Notice you always start the dialogue tag with a lower case letter, even when using a question/exclamation mark. Unless of course you use the person’s name first. eg: Nathan asked.
  • If you want to switch it around and have the dialogue tag first, you put a comma after the tag, start the dialogue with a capital letter and end the dialogue with a period. eg:

Olivia said, “Don’t forget the milk.”

  • Always end dialogue with a period if it is NOT followed by a dialogue tag (if it is a stand alone piece of dialogue without a dialogue tag or it is followed by the character completing an action) eg:

“This class is boring.” Penny leaned back on her chair and rolled her eyes.

  • For dialogue broken up by a dialogue tag, the above rules apply for the dialogue preceding the tag; for the dialogue following the tag you should use a period after the tag and begin the next bit of dialogue with a capital letter on the same line (only make a new line if a new character is speaking). eg:

“I saw him over there,” Tom said, pointing. “He was standing by that tree.”

  • There is an exception to this, but if you’re feeling confused, don’t worry about this one for now. If you are breaking up dialogue in the middle of a sentence (and this is not something you want to do often as it is better used for effect), you will use a comma following the dialogue tag and begin the dialogue following the tag with a lowercase letter. eg:

“I think,” said Kylie, “we should go to the disco.”

Does all that make sense?

Effective Choice of Dialogue Tags

The Problem: Remember back in school when your teachers taught you all the different ways you could say said? Remember how they encouraged you to use a variety of different dialogue tags and avoid the boring word ‘said’ to make your writing more descriptive? The problem is effective writers use said more than any other dialogue tag and avoid those other flowery dialogue tags as much as possible; the complete opposite of what we were taught in school.

What to do: Forget what you learned in school. From now on ‘said’ is your best friend when it comes to dialogue tags. The reason for this is ‘said’ is unobtrusive, which helps make your dialogue flow more naturally. Your second most used dialogue tag will be ‘asked’. That’s not to say you can’t use other tags here and there for effect, but make sure they are realistic (eg: a person can stutter dialogue, but how exactly does one smirk dialogue? It can be said with a smirk, but it can’t be smirked.) If you are unsure, say the dialogue out loud the way you’ve written it.

The same goes for using lots of adverbs, eg: she said, happily. or he said, lamely. Try to find ways to describe the way your characters are talking through use of actions, facial expressions, body language and even the dialogue itself. It’s a good way to include character quirks/traits. eg: Jessica might react in different way to John.

So instead of:

“I can’t believe we’re going to Disneyland!” Jessica said, excitedly.

You could have:

“I can’t believe we’re going to Disneyland!” Jessica jumped up and down, a grin like a Cheshire cat stretched across her face.

John’s character would interpret excitement in a different way:

“I can’t believe we’re going to Disneyland!” John said, fist bumping Pete.

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Avoidance of Talking Heads

The Problem: There is a lot of back and forth dialogue happening between characters, with no visual description in the scene to ground readers.

What to do: This is a good opportunity to show your characters’ personalities or disperse descriptions of the scene naturally. By interspersing little descriptions of what your characters are doing as the dialogue takes place, you avoid big blocks of back and forth dialogue which can cause readers to get lost or envision talking heads with no scenery to ground them.

So rather than:

“I feel like we never see each other any more,” said Fiona.

“What do you mean?” asked Gary. “We see each other every day. We live together.”

“I mean really see each other.”

You could write:

“I feel like we never see each other any more,” said Fiona. A tear ran down her cheek and dropped onto the shirt she had been ironing. 

“What do you mean?” asked Gary, his eyes never leaving the TV. “We see each other every day. We live together.”

Fiona ran the iron over the shirt, not realising she had been ironing the same sleeve for the last five minutes. “I mean really see each other.”

In the second version we can see more of the characters’ personalities and mood. It also grounds the readers to where they are: at home.

 And never forget the golden rule for dialogue:

Always start a new line when a new character starts speaking. (If the same character is still speaking, even if there are a few sentences of action in between, you don’t need a new line.)

Any questions? Leave them in the comments!

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Writing Mentorship Program Opportunity for Emerging Writers

Yesterday I learned of an exciting new mentorship program that’s starting next month for emerging writers. It’s being run by the fantastic editor, publisher and author Jodi Cleghorn. I had the opportunity to work closely with Jodi on two of my published short stories (A Troll for Christmas and Eighteen for Life) and both experiences really helped me improve and hone my craft. Jodi is passionate about helping out new and emerging writers and she’s an expert at helping to show you how to bring out the best in your writing.

Jodi describes her new program, For The Asking, as:

…a hybrid program combining direct mentorship, a writing course and elements of creative exploration. It has the flexibility to accommodate different goals while at the same time providing a shared space to connect with (or hone) the craft of writing through experimentation in style, form, voice, genre and different creative modalities, combined with thoughtful critique, self-reflection and peer interaction. Each mentee will also have the opportunity to pursue one or two writing related goals.

This is a fantastic opportunity for:

  • people who have always wanted to write, but have never had the courage to take the next step.
  • new writers who would like to take their craft to the next level.
  • those who need extra confidence in their writing abilities.
  • experienced writers in need of a creative reboot.

The first 12-week program begins on Sunday 13th September. You must be over 18 years of age to be eligible. You can apply for one of the four available places by going HERE and scrolling down to the end of the post for the application link and further details of the program. Applications need to be submitted by midnight 3rd September (Australian Eastern Standard Time).

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How to Fight Writer’s Funk When Depressed

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Writers and Depression

Depression often seems to go hand in hand with being a writer. I’m sure there is some psychological reason for this–something to do with how our creative brains work. Not to mention constantly dealing with rejection in this hard to break into industry.

Regular followers of my blog may have noticed I have been rather quiet the past year. The reason for this is because I have been battling depression. I lost motivation for updating my blog, for interacting on Twitter and for submitting my work. I also lost my motivation to write. I felt blocked. Normally my brain is entertaining a million story ideas at any given time, but in the midst of my depression there was nothing.

A Therapist’s Suggestion

While attending therapy, my therapist would give me tasks she wanted me to complete as part of my battle against the depression. These tasks included exercising daily, eating well and self-affirmations. She also wanted me to write–it was supposed to be something to do for me, because she knew I was a writer. Every session she would ask, “Have you written anything since I last saw you?” I would always say no and mumble some excuse as to why not. She would write on a piece of blank white paper my tasks to complete before our next session and in capital letters she would always include

WRITE!

But the words wouldn’t come.

How to Get Out of that Writing Funk

I am finally getting back into the swing of writing again. Properly writing. My therapist’s push for me to write helped, but I also found some other ways to help me get back my motivation to write. If you’re going through your own writing funk, maybe these can help you, too.

1. Read. A lot. I realised not only had I not been writing, I hadn’t been doing much reading either, preferring to watch mind-numbing television or get sucked into the black hole of the internet. At the start of the year I challenged myself to read fifty books in a year, knowing that reading is a great way to inspire writing. It worked. The more I’ve read (especially in the same genre as my WIP) the more my creative juices have returned. I’ve been keeping track of my reading on Goodreads’ reading challenge. (See my progress here.)

2. Write. Anything. This came from my therapist. She told me it didn’t matter what I wrote, just write. It doesn’t have to be a story. Just grab a piece of paper or open up Word and write whatever comes to mind. In the beginning I wrote a lot of my negative thoughts and feelings. It reminded me of when I was an angsty teen and whenever I felt depressed I would write dark poetry. So write angsty poetry. Write a stream of thoughts. Write fanfiction. Just write!

3. Reread old writing. Go to wherever you keep old, forgotten stories. Open those old files or pull out those old notebooks. Reread your old work. Remind yourself how far you’ve come as a writer. You might even get inspired to start rewriting some of those old ideas using the writing skills you’ve gained since you last wrote it.

How do you get motivated to write again when you’re in a writing funk or suffering from depression? Please share in the comments.

Photo credit: Sander van der Wel from Netherlands via Wikimedia Commons

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The Starving Author

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The Dream…

When I was younger I dreamt that one day I would be able to spend my whole day focusing on my writing. I would have enough money to hire a housekeeper to do all my housework and enough money to pay all my bills and buy food. When I was about sixteen and considering my future seriously for the first time, I realised that it was very hard to make a living as a writer unless you happened to sell a bestseller. So I very sensibly took a leaf out of my favourite author’s book (John Marsden) and studied to become a teacher so I might have a means to support myself until I could write that bestseller.

Reality

Fast forward nearly two decades later. Not only do I not have a housekeeper, I also have three.children who need to be fed and schooled and clothed. I have a husband who is currently pursuing his dream of owning a dairy farm, which unfortunately means a lot of debt and a hard slog (but I love him and I love our lifestyle so I wouldn’t have it any other way). After teaching for several years, I currently stay at home with my kids. I love it because I love being with them as they grow and I get to focus on my writing more than I would be able to if I was working. So here I am, a poor starving author (well, not really starving, but it would be nice to have a little extra instead of always fretting if we’ll have enough to pay all our bills).

What’s A Poor Starving Author To Do?

One day a couple of months ago my husband had left the television on when a talk show called ‘The Living Room’ came on. One of the segments talked about ways to make a little extra money. I went online and checked out a website called fiverr they had talked about. It’s a site where you can offer any kind of service for just $5. There are people on there offering everything from proofreading to writing website content, from offering advice to designing logos. There are even people offering silly/crazy things like singing happy birthday and having pie thrown in their face.

I thought about what I might be able to offer, then took the plunge. I currently have two ‘gigs’ posted.

1) I will write a personalised children’s story up to 500 words for $5 (and for an extra $5 I will write it in rhyme).

2) I will offer personalised parenting advice for $5.

If you are a poor starving writer like me, it’s worth having a look. There’s so much scope for offering your skills, whether it’s proofreading, editing, writing stories, writing web content or any other skills you have to offer. It’s just a little bit extra you could put towards writing conferences, editing services, or even just your everyday bills.

The key:

a) make sure your profile and gigs come across as professional.

b) play up your related skills and experience (eg: in my writing gig I mention I am a published author and have a major in Writing).

c) make sure you do your best to provide a quality service. (Sometimes buyers give you tips if they really like your work, so it’s worth putting in the effort. It also means more 5 star reviews, which will entice more buyers into seeking your services.)

If you would like to help out this starving author, please feel free to share this link to my fiverr profile or either of my individual gigs. :)

I’d love to hear what other starving authors are doing to make some extra money. Please share in the comments!

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Arrr! Talk Like a Pirate Day (with prizes!)

In celebration o’ Talk Like a Pirate Day, I’ve a special announcement I’ve been burstin’ to tell ya.

Ok, so I’m not great at talking like a pirate, but I do have some exciting pirate-related news to share. I recently had not one, but TWO stories published in the anthology ‘Teapot Tales: Pirates, Mermaids and Monsters of the Sea‘.

teapot Tales ebook cover

The first story, ‘Island of No Return’, is about a cursed pirate captain who makes a deal with a sea goddess. It was partly inspired by the lyrics of Katy Perry’s ‘Dark Horse’. Here’s a snippet:

“Be warned: do not make your decision to proceed lightly. All magic comes with a price. Are you prepared to pay the price?”

Lucas held out his arms and tore off his sleeves to reveal the blackened skin where the curse had already taken effect. “I am willing to pay any price to rid myself of this curse. I will not be taken by the darkness.”…

She moved towards him as though floating across the surface of the water until she stood so close their faces were mere centimetres from each other. Her lips pressed against his. At first, a warmth stirred inside him—she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever encountered, after all. But soon the warmth drained from his body and he felt his blood turn ice cold in his veins.

The second story, ‘The Seashell’, is about a tide pool explorer who’s magically whisked into an underwater world. This one is based on my memories of the adventures I imagined as a child playing on the beach.

Jagged pillars of rocks lined the shore. Waves crashed against them in a rhythmic percussion, accompanied by the screech of seagulls. Ashleigh skipped and balanced over the slippery rocks, avoiding the tide pools and skittering crabs.  Out of the corner of her eye something sparkled in the sunlight. Like a colourful beacon it glinted from a cragged rock jutting out of the ocean.

The anthology features sea-inspired short stories suitable for a variety of ages. And, as the title suggests, the stories are short enough to be enjoyed over a cup of tea. Check out the book trailer!

A CHANCE TO WIN SOME PIRATE BOOTY!

The authors of ‘Teapot Tales: Pirates, Mermaids and Monsters of the Sea‘ got together (in conjunction with Melusine Muse Press) and decided in celebration of our newly released pirate-themed anthology and Talk Like a Pirate Day we would do a giveaway! Head on over to the Melusine Muse Press blog to go into the draw to win one of several prizes, including a copy of ‘Teapot Tales: Pirates, Mermaids and Monsters of the Sea’. There’s lots of ways to get bonus entries into the draw, including liking my FB page. The winners will be drawn and announced on the 25th September.

 

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3 Tips for Pacing in Picture Books

DSCF6518adjusted Yesterday there was a Twitter chat on pacing in picture books (#PBPacing) with kidlit agent Jodell Sadler. She imparted some great tips on how to make your picture book text shine through what she calls the five Ps: ‘Pacing, prosody, poetry, play and performance’. She describes pacing as, “…the interplay of art and words, the slowing and speeding of the text to enhance story emotionally.”

3 tips for Pacing in Picture Books

  1. Be aware of page turns. Whether you make up a mock PB or a table in Word, think about where your page turns will be and how those page turns affect pacing. If you’re not sure how many pages a PB should have or how the page layout works, Tara Lazar (picture book author and founder of PiBoIdMo) has a great post on picture book layouts (seriously, bookmark this post!) Jodell says of page turns, “Page turns are integral. They offer surprise, new scene, and interactivity to your book…”
  2. Consider the sound of your words and the rhythm of the text. This is called ‘prosody’. It can make a huge difference to the read-aloud-ability of your PB. Practice reading your PB aloud and listen to the rhythm. This is just as important for prose PBs as it is for rhyming PBs. Jodell says, “We can write long and drawn out, especially if we add description or we can select key objects and place + add in rhythmic description and really juju up our efforts faster.”
  3. Great repetitive lines can enhance your PB. One point Jodell made that stood out to me was using the rule of 3s with repetitive lines. She said to repeat the same line 3 times, then have a break. The repetitive line can serve as a pacing marker in your story. If the 3 repetitions denote setbacks in the story arc, then having a break for the climax demands attention from the reader. Jodell says of of repetitive lines, “Kids love to join in.” 

Jodell has lots more great tips on her website Pacing Picture Books.

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Interview on Emily Moreton’s Blog

Annabeth and the Wolf

Annabeth and the Wolf

Last week I interviewed author Emily Moreton on my blog; this week she is interviewing me on hers. I talk a little about my writing and how I came to write ‘Annabeth and the Wolf’, as well as answering questions on time travel, the one thing I’d want with me on a desert island and my dream travel destination. Pop on over and check it out.

Interview on Emily Moreton’s blog.

Don’t forget you can find ‘Annabeth and the Wolf’ here or at most online bookstores. You can also read it, along with Emily’s story, as part of the anthology Torqued Tales.

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Aphrodite (short story)

I’m posting this short story for J.A.Mes Press’s Rebirth anthology. The idea is to post a short story around the theme of ‘rebirth’, whether that means traditional forms of rebirth or more supernatural ideas, such as vampires or werewolves. All proceeds from the anthology will be going to a charity to benefit stroke patients.

Aphrodite

Title: Aphrodite

Author: Jo Hart

Word count: 565

Book: Yes

Cyprus buzzed with early morning trading. Usually Danaos would have been right in the midst of it, bartering with the goods ships from Rome, but this morning he strode towards the temple. If this didn’t work he feared his wife would be dead by morning. What would he do then, with three young ones at foot and no mother to tend to them?

A handmaiden of Aphrodite led him to the stone dais that housed the six foot statue of the beautiful goddess. Danaos knelt before it with clasped hands.

“Oh beautiful Aphrodite, help us in our hour of need.”

To his surprise a woman, more beautiful than any woman he’d ever laid eyes upon, stepped out from behind the statue. Her pale skin glowed under the flickering flames of the lanterns. Golden ringlets tumbled over her shoulders and reached nearly to her knees.  Her pink lips resembled a cupid’s bow and the rest of her face was smooth and unblemished. The curves of her body dipped and swelled in perfect proportion. With a jolt, Danaos realised this woman was the exact likeness of the statue before him.

A soft smile appeared on her lips, “Yes, I am she.”

Danaos bowed low. “My lady, Aphrodite. It is an honour to be graced with your presence. Please, I beg of you to save my wife.”

“Do you love her? Love is my specialty and I can only help if your love is true.”

“I love her with all my heart. And my children love her as dearly as any child loves a mother.”

She walked full circle around Danaos, studying his form.

“You are a beautiful man,” she noted. “I appreciate beauty. Such a strong masculine form and thick golden locks.” She ran a hand through his hair and over his broad shoulders. “Tell me, do you love your wife so much that you would you do anything to save her life?”

“Yes! Anything.”

“Would you trade your human life for one of immortality and become the companion of Aphrodite?”

Danaos hesitated. This would mean leaving his wife and his children. But the children needed their mother. His wife’s family would ensure his wife and children were cared for when he was gone, of this he was sure.

“I accept your terms. I will become your companion.”

Aphrodite smiled. She came around behind Danaos and laid gentle kisses in the crook of his neck. “This might hurt a little. Don’t panic. It will be over soon.”

Two fangs penetrated his neck. The piercing pain subsided as soon as the fangs withdrew. A dribble of red blood ran down Aphrodite’s white chin. Danaos felt the world around him turn black.

When he woke he felt different. Stronger. Healthier. Hungry.

“You’re not a god,” he mumbled, still a little drowsy.

“I am vampyr,” she said. “Pretending to be gods is less frightening to humans and comes with added benefits. We appreciate the sacrifices.” A sadistic grin twisted her beautiful features. “And now you are vampyr, too.”

“What about my wife? We had a deal.”

“She is alive and well. Vampyr saliva has healing properties. I never break my word.”

Danaos sat up. His previously tanned skin now appeared paler. He wondered what other changes had occurred during his transformation. “What exactly does being a vampyr entail?”

Aphrodite licked her lips and laughed. “You have eternity to find out.”

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Author Interview with Emily Moreton

I’m pleased to have author Emily Moreton on my blog today. Emily is one of my fellow authors from the Torqued Tales anthology and has over 30 published short stories to her name. I found we have lots in common (we both spent our uni days studying Primary Teaching and writing fanfic and we both had our first stories published in charity anthologies for victims of natural disasters).

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Welcome to my blog, Emily, it’s great to have you here. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing?

I’m mostly a short story writer, because I get bored once I know how what I’m writing is going to end. I’ve tried to write a novel a couple of times, but usually by 40,000 words, I know what’s going to happen next, and then it stops being fun!

Most of the characters I write are military or ex-military, which is odd since neither I nor anyone I know has been in the military (well, my grandmother was an OWL during WW2). I’ve always been interested in fighter jets though; my parents took me to several air shows when I was a kid, and many time to see the Red Arrows, so I suppose that’s where that one came from. I even wrote about a Red Arrows engineer once, though I’ve never submitted it anywhere for publication.

 How long have you been writing for?

I’ve pretty much been writing all my life, and making up stories for just as long. My sister and I loved let’s pretend when we were kids, and writing was always my favourite subject in school. When I was in university, I got into fanfic, and also started writing a novel, and I’ve been writing regularly ever since… so, wow, that’s well over a decade now!

Can you tell us (without spoilers) what your story is about in Torqued Tales?

A Stranger Brought is a modern lesbian take on Rumplestiltskin, which I still cannot spell without at least three attempts! It’s about Tia, a young street artist who paints Kelly, and gets a date along with payment. The date goes really well, and Kelly promises to call… But if I tell you more, then there’s nothing for you to read about!

 I loved your take on the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale. What inspired you to write ‘A Stranger Bought’?

I started off at university training to be a primary school teacher, specialising in English, and as part of this, I bought a lot of children’s books, one of them a really lovely book of fairy tales. When I saw the call for fairy tale related stories, I dug out the book again and looked for one that’s not so well known – like Rumpelstiltskin. I started by taking out the parts of the fairy tale that I don’t like, including the love interest testing the heroine by making her spin straw from gold, and her offering to trade her first born for the trick, then got to thinking about what a modern version of spinning might be… from there, it was a short step to Tia the street artist. Throw in some magic, and there you have it.

 Do you have any writing advice for aspiring authors?

Get into a fandom and write fanfic! Sounds like odd advice, but fandom got me writing regularly, taught me how to write within confines like a prompt in an exchange, or the canon of a particular episode. Writing for challenges and exchanges taught me to write to deadlines, and also got me used to sharing my stuff in public. It also helped me build up a community of other writers to be part of, and even got me over my embarrassment about writing sex scenes (true confession: I used to write them while looking away from the screen, and avoided proof-reading them for months).

 (Note from Jo: I completely agree with Emily! Fanfic is a great way to hone your writing skills and get used to sharing your work and dealing with critiques of your writing.)

What are you currently working on?

I’ve just submitted a story about a young trans girl coming out in school, and now I’m working on something for an anthology of stories about writers, publishers etc – that one’s a sort of urban fantasy, about a printer who finds a hot, naked print devil in his shop one morning.

Thanks so much for stopping by and telling us about yourself, Emily.

If you would like to read Emily’s Rumpelstiltskin story ‘A Stranger Bought’ you can find it on Torquere Press’s website (you can read a free sample), Amazon and other online bookstores. You can also find ‘A Stranger Bought’, along with my Red Riding Hood story ‘Annabeth and the Wolf’, in the anthology Torqued Tales

Emily Moreton published her first short story in 2007, for a charity anthology in aid of victims of Hurricane Katrina. Since then, she has published over 30 erotic short stories, mostly m/m and f/f. In 2011, she had a story accepted into the anthology of best speculative lesbian fiction, and in 2013 was part of an anthology nominated in Goodreads’ M/M Romance Members’ Choice Awards.

Emily lives in Bristol, UK, with her cat, where she works as a data analyst, studies towards her PhD, and tries not to sleep through Sunday morning archery class.

Follow her on facebook: http://facebook.com/emilyj.moreton; or at her blog: http://emilyjmoreton.wordpress.com

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No ‘E’ Challenge Share Day

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Ready to share your paragraphs from the challenge? It was a tough one this round.

Here’s a reminder of the challenge: No ‘E’ Challenge

If you’re just joining us, it’s not too late to jump in and have a go!

Be sure to check closely for those pesky Es. I had a few sneak into mine and I had to revise!

I chose the frog picture for my prompt:

A tiny frog sits on my hand. “Croaaaak!” it says. It hops off my hand and into a patch of grass, looking for a tasty snack of fruit fly fairy floss or mosquito muffins. It spots its lunch: a tasty bug with black and brown spots. Hop. Hop. Stop. Hop. Hop. Caught! My child’s hand wraps around its slimy body. A lucky black and brown bug is not a tasty snack this morning. A tiny frog is still hungry. “Don’t worry, froggy,” says my child. “I’ll find you a yummy biscuit from Mum’s pantry.”

Please feel free to share your paragraphs in the comments below. If you don’t want to share, tell us about how you found the challenge. Was it challenging writing a paragraph with no Es?

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