Archive for the ‘Balance’ Category

Writing Realistic Dialogue

Friday, October 5th, 2012

“So, like you know Nick’s mom?” the teen’s pony tail swished behind her as she walked.

“Yeah, like she’s blonde  right?” said the girl in the middle of the three, her short-shorts hiking up oh, so far.

I huffed and puffed behind them on the walking trail and made sure I kept up so I wouldn’t miss a word. 

The girl on the right chimed in with awe in her voice.  “She’s really good-looking.”

“No kidding,” said Ms. Pony Tail.  “She looks exactly like Carrie on Sex in the City. Her body, anyways.” 

All three murmured their agreements. 

Just a tidbit of conversation, but a goldmine for a writer.  Why?  Because if you’re not around teenagers, you don’t know how they sound any more.  Whether they’re in your  young adult novel or in another work of fiction, their dialogue needs to sound real.  Nothing worse than phony characters!

Ever read a book for adults with a child who doesn’t  sound kid-like?  The talking doesn’t match the character, where they live, or time period?   Fake.     Or lines of useless talk without a purpose?   

So what makes dialogue good?

Dialogue should show character and move the story forward.  Talk should be action.  Can you get your characters’ words to heighten conflict?  Sometimes great dialogue has subtext, or a secondary meaning when  words that mean one thing on the surface, but underneath they have a deeper emotional meaning.    And occasionally dialogue is important because of what isn’t being said.   The elephant in the room that no one is talking about.

It reminds me of an incident once years ago when my husband, young son and I traveled to see his parents, brother and sister-in-law.  We talked in the living room for a couple of hours and then took separate cars to meet at a restaurant.  In our car I mentioned to Bob that his mother was upset with his father and my sister-in-law knew, but I hadn’t figured out the reason yet.  And my sister-in-law was irritated about my mother-in-law over an issue too, but we’d learn why at the restaurant.

Bob’s mouth dropped open.  “You are nuts.  We talked about the weather, everyone’s health and what the kids were doing in school.  How did you get all of that out of mindless conversation?”

“You weren’t paying attention!” I said.  “Watch the body language, the eyes, listen to the voices.” 

My husband shook his head in disgust.  “You are wrong, Liz.  Totally wrong.”

Of course, we discovered the source of my mother-in-law’s irritation with her husband, and my sister-in-law’s problem with my mother-in-law.  Later, he grew to appreciate my “women’s intuition.”  But I don’t think it’s limited to women.  All writers have this when they are working. 

And when aren’t we? 

Writing Tips: 

1. Don’t use substitute words for “said.”  I just unearthed a beginning writing piece of mine from a trillion years ago and I’m embarrassed to say each time someone talked I used gasped, murmured, whispered, indicated, questioned, etc. so often it was embarrassing.  Occasionally it’s appropriate but generally, use SAID.  it will make your writing flow more smoothly.  

Or, skip the tags and employ an action.   (See above.  Bob’s mouth dropped open.  The teen’s pony tail swished behind her as she walked.)

2.  Don’t use dialogue to tell information a character would already know.   Example: 
“Mary, you are my very best friend.  I’ve known you all my life and your mother is our horse’s vet.  She saved his life two times.”  

Writing Prompts

1.  Listen to real dialogue wherever you go.  Keep a journal.  Jot it down after you hear it so you won’t forget.  (But try not to write it down as you walk, or you’ll be caught like Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh.)  Choose a piece of real dialogue and create a story with it.

2.  Write a story with special buzzwords.  These are words that each and every hobby or occupation has.  Does your character love horses?  Research horses.  Interview a horse lover.  Read horse books.  How does a horse lover talk about them?  What are the “horse words” that would go with this character?  

My husband was an engineer and he wrote a recommendation for one of his secretaries and said she had good “phone presence.” This time I thought HE was nuts.  But sure enough, in that industry, it was exactly what they called good phone etiquette.

3.  Write a story about you with real dialogue.   Read your dialogue out loud.  (In fact, read ALL dialogue you EVER write out loud!) 

4. Check a recent project of yours.  Do you have long narration that needs to be broken up with dialogue?  Make sure your piece is balanced.  Dialogue helps provide a balance and is good for pacing.  Need faster pacing?  Write short dialogue and skip tags.   But don’t have huge blocks of dialogue, either.  Make sure you have a balanced story that flows well.  Read it aloud to make sure it feels just right.

Writing Beginnings and Character

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

On Beginnings

A question from a writer:  I know the basic premise of my story, but am uncertain exactly how to begin the story.  (She writes the specifics to me.)  What do I do now?

Writers often think there is a magic formula to writing.  There isn’t.  No one can prescribe an elixir for your story.  It’s TERRIFIC when you already know your premise!  This writer is ahead of the game.  Now the fun begins!  She knows her conflict, so all she has to do is throw her two characters together into a scene and let them talk, act, and REACT to each other.   Keep on writing and sooner or later,  the writer will instinctively know where to begin.

What if you don’t know?   Read what you have written aloud.  By hearing your own voice, you will feel the rhythm of your pacing and feel what should come next.  Do you have too much dialogue chunked together?  Or too much narration and not enough action? 

Revision is your best friend.  Play with your words.  Have fun with it! 

Sleep on it.  Time is another savior.  Go back to your story and you will discover hidden insights later. 

Talk with other writers.  Sometimes our community can help one another in our progress.

———

On Character

Do you want to know your character better?  Besides throwing her into scenes, daydreaming about her, and basically spending lots of time with your protagonist, make sure you know her inside and out.  Discover the quirky tidbits about what makes her tick.    You can answer these questions about yourself and later write an anecdote or personal narrative about a memory that may be inspired by them, and also use them for your characters. 

Favorite quote: 

(Mine:  “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend.  Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”  Groucho Marx       and

  “All who wander are not lost.”  J. R. R. Tolkien . . . oh, and one more . . . “In every struggle, there is a hidden

blessing.”  Joan Chittister )

Current photo on desk or dresser:  

(Mine: a 1940s picture of my mother)

A movie to watch over and over again:

(Me:  Ruthless People, Born Yesterday)

Quirky collection:

(Mine: water bottle labels – - I don’t drink, so when I travel, I collect “interesting” labels to tease the wine snobs in my life . . .)

Favorite book:

(Mine: Charlotte’s Web, Diary of Anne Frank, To Kill a Mockingbird, and 1000 more)

What to save out of a burning house:

(Mine: my dog, Zoie, and old photos)

How earned money as a child:

(Mine:  babysitting)

First jobs:

(Mine: worked in a library, a factory, a liquor corporation, in a school)

Quirky jobs?

(Mine: Easter Bunny!)

Writing Prompts:

1.  Write an anecdote, story, personal narrative or poem inspired by any of the questions above pertaining to YOUR life. 

2.  Write a scene inspired by any of the questions above pertaining to your character’s life. 

3.  Come up with other questions and answers for your character – - and you – - to answer.

Amazon Buys Marshall Cavendish: Children’s Publisher Morphs into Selling Industry

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Gulp.  I can’t (puff, puff) keep (puff, puff) up.  I’m running as fast as I can.  The changes in the publishing industry are zooming ahead of me.  I learn Amazon has just bought Marshall Cavendish, a children’s publisher. 

What does this mean for creativity?   In my last post I talked about balance of time.  This time we need to search for balance for creativity. 

Already, the big box stores and Amazon have been successful in making big money-making deals larger and the small independent projects smaller or non-existent. 

Now they’ve gulped a creative source. 

As a person who tries to see the positive in every move, yes, I know this means a new life for books as in e-books for children. 

But. 

Another big guy strikes against art. 

Follow the money.

Full Disclosure

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Since mid November, when I took a trek to a coastal women’s retreat, I haven’t spent a solid day home writing.  This is unusual for me, because my goal is to write all week days  in my home office.  I turn down invitations for coffee, lunch, and “going shopping with girlfriends.”   Weekends are my play time.  

But stuff happens. 

My birthday, appointments, a friend passes away, another friend comes to visit, someone needs help . . . you get the idea.  And Christmas looms so invitations appear that just come once a year.    “Only this time,” I say to myself.

But.  

The January deadline appears for two big projects.  

Ah ha.  I did it to myself.   This lack of time.  By saying yes to other obligations and to a fun social life.

We all do it. 

Where is the balance in our lives? 

Between giving to others and to ourselves? Between our household chores and our creative projects?  Between our day jobs and our writing? Between our social selves and our inner lives?  Between the noisy world outside and the life of silence we crave? 

What to do?  Make a list of priorities. 

Mine?  Two, outside of my family and friendsMy writing and helping young writers by way of the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch’s Young Writers Contest.  If any requests come to me outside of those concerns I will probably say no because I just don’t have the time or energy. 

Next, schedule in your calendar and your daysWhat are you doing, hour by hour?  If you actually don’t know how your day is spent, write down what you are doing, hour by hour.  Took you fifteen minutes to unload the dishwasher?  Write it down.  Took you 30 minutes to sort, load and unload the laundry?  Write it down.  

If you are actually in your office trying to write but NOT writing, what is happening there?  Emailing?  Researching on the Internet?  Shopping?  Cleaning your files?   Keep track and see what you are doing.  Don’t feel too guilty you don’t write the minute you sit down at your computer.  I know someone who has to play computer games for 20 minutes in order to write productively.   Figure out what helps you work best.  Discover what helps you work with the fewest distractions.

I know that at this moment, half of my office is filled with wrapping paper, gifts, and CWC Young Writers Contest stuff.  The other half is my book project.  If I don’t organize my book project half-of-the-room first, I’ll never be able to settle down and write.   It’s how I work best. 

How do you work best?