Posted On July 30, 2012 by Print This Post

Engines and Cabooses with Mary Jo and Dave Thome

We’re new guys here at Romance University. We met met in journalism school and have been talking about writing ever since, so it’s possible we’ve had an actual conversation like this one:

MJ: Remember when we were first married, and I’d ask, “Do you need the car tomorrow?” And you’d get annoyed.

Dave: That was thirty years ago.

MJ: There I was, trying to be polite, to figure out what you wanted.

Dave: Thirty years.

MJ: Eventually you explained the problem: you felt like I was trying to make you guess what I wanted. And you told me to say what I wanted up front, like, “‘I’m thinking about going to a church rummage sale tomorrow. Do you need the car?’”

Dave: Which would make me think, “Not if it means I don’t have to go to a church rummage sale.”

MJ: It’s all about starting with the right words.

Dave: Is this marital advice, or writing advice?

MJ: Both. Writers, like married people, need to start sentences and paragraphs with a powerful opening that drives home the meaning. In other words, you need a good engine.

Dave: Like a Mercedes AMG 6.2L DOHC V8 with variable valve timing and four valves per cylinder?

MJ: Yeah…

Dave: 563 hp at 6,800 rpm.

MJ: Impressive, Mr. Guy Who Writes a Column About Cars, but I’m talking about driving your writing.

Dave: Like, make sure you’re not starting too many sentences with the heroine’s name. Vary the way you open paragraphs. Sometimes start with dialogue, sometimes with action.

MJ: Exactly! The way you did it here, in Fast Lane, where Tiffany, the personal assistant, helps Lara settle into her new digs, which include a luxurious bathroom.

Lara looked up to see her barefoot assistant marveling over a glass-encased stall big enough to hold three, or maybe four, people.

“You can make it do all kinds of wild things by turning this knob,” Tiffany said. As she rotated the control, jets of water shot out of the wall from various angles.

Lara stuck her arm into the stream. Tiffany turned the knob to make the water pulse. “As good as a waterfall, for sure,” Tiffany said. She turned off the water and scooped up her boots and hose.

“I hope you don’t mind me taking them off,” she said without guilt. “I just love the way natural stone feels on bare feet.”

They moved back into the bedroom. Lara stared at the comically high pile of pillows burying the bed. “Are there enough pillows?”

“Why? Do you want more?” Tiffany tucked her boots and hose under one arm and typed a note on her phone.

“I was being facetious.”

“Oh.” Tiffany stopped typing. “Because I can get you more pillows.”

“No. These will be fine.”

Tiffany shrugged and put her phone away. “So, the room is cool?”

“I like it very much.”

Dave: Score one for the man!

MJ: Tell our readers why I chose this passage.

Dave: Because sometimes the dialogue starts with the quote, sometimes with the action.

MJ: And, in one case, the order is quote-action-quote. The scene is more interesting because variety is more interesting than predictability.

Dave: Score two for the man!

MJ: Score three, because you taught me about engines. But I taught you about cabooses.

Dave: Did you say “butt?”

MJ: Eyes up here! I’m talking about ending your sentences with the right words. Let me rephrase that: I’m talking about putting a sentence’s most important words at the end.

Dave: Ah, yes. Your rewritten sentence emphasizes END. No extra words trailing after.

MJ: The important words stand out, like a caboose.

Dave: So, we’re talking about writing rhythm, too?

MJ: Delete that “too” and you’ve got it. Read a sentence out loud. Notice where your voice rises and falls.

Dave: If there’s a string of words after the word you want to emphasize, you might need to change the word order.

MJ:  Check your engines and cabooses. Make sure you have good beginnings and good ends.

Dave: I do love a good end.

MJ Thome Faculty Romance University Dave Thome Faculty Romance University


Have a question? Or want to share a secret about how to check the rhythm of your writing? Let us know.

Join us on Wednesday for Handsome Hansel!


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15 Responses to “Engines and Cabooses with Mary Jo and Dave Thome”

  1. Morning Dave and MJ!

    =) Great post, made me giggle…..

    Beginnings and endings are vitally important and you definitely came up with a fun way to prove the point.

    And welcome to your first official post on RU! =)


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | July 30, 2012, 5:52 am
  2. Typical man! LOL. Welcome Dave and MJ.

    Margie Lawson teaches a great class where she talks about ending with power words. Now when I write, I go through the sentences that have high emotion and see if I can change the order of the words so I end with a power word. It’s like a puzzle!

    Great post, guys!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | July 30, 2012, 7:21 am
    • Oh, excellent way to describe it, Adrienne. I tell my advertising clients to think of it this way: a powerful ending leaves the right word ringing in people’s ears.

      Posted by MJ | July 30, 2012, 7:59 am
  3. Hi Dave and MJ! (Sorry, I know it’s really Mary Jo but I’ve known you as MJ for a long time…) I love this post! And, coincidentally, I read FAST LANE last week – it was every bit as fun as I thought it would be!

    A little background for the RU gang – MJ and I met online several years ago when we were in a writing group together. I met MJ and Dave in person three years ago (where does the time go?) when our kids graduated from college. And what a surprise when it turned out our kids knew each other!!

    After meeting them both, I learned about Dave’s blog, MAN WRITING A ROMANCE: Since then I’ve been a fan of both MJ and Dave – and I’m soooo glad they are part of the RU team now! After reading their debut post, I’m sure you’ll agree!

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | July 30, 2012, 7:40 am
  4. Hi Dave and MJ,

    Congratulations on your success of mixing marriage and writing. Do you schedule time to discuss writing? My husband and I are barely on the same page (no pun intended) about what color to paint the living room. All in favor of blue, please raise your hands.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | July 30, 2012, 8:28 am
    • We do not have to schedule time to talk about writing. The topic just comes up. Just last night, while I was watching the Olympics, Mary Jo was working and entertaining me with prize-winning sentences she encountered while doing research for a project. That’s what the pause button on the DVR is for.

      Our living room, coincidentally, is blue. What happens in this household is that I go away for a few hours, and when I return, a room has been painted. That’s fine. Mary Jo picks great colors and I hate painting.

      Posted by Dave Thome | July 30, 2012, 9:28 am
      • Hi, Mary Jo!

        We’re both home-based freelance writers, so yes, writing comes up all the time. However, it was many years before we could critique each other’s work. The tricky part is giving and taking criticism the way we would from someone outside the household. We’re much better at it, but I think collaborating on anything longer than this blog post would still result in one of us being dead.

        Posted by MJ | July 30, 2012, 3:36 pm
  5. Welcome guys!!

    I loved the post and I keep track of my ends and beginnings by readig the book out loud or having a program read it to me. works every time.


    Posted by Robin Covington | July 30, 2012, 1:48 pm
  6. Congrats on your first official RU post!

    My CPs will tell you I prefer action tags over dialogue tags. Sometimes I’m so intent on getting the words on the page that I’m not aware that I forget about varying the sentence structure. Most of my revising process consists of sentence restructuring.

    …I LOVE rummage sales. 🙂

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | July 30, 2012, 3:55 pm
  7. I’m late, but great post. Love the repartee, and thanks for a wonderful lesson about driving cabooses.

    Posted by PatriciaW | August 2, 2012, 9:45 am

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