Archive for the ‘Dialogue’ Category

Workshops to Learn Writing

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

One wanna-be writer asked me why I was attending a poetry workshop if I had no intention of ever becoming a poet.    Writers of all genres have many skills they can impart.

Apply their techniques to your own paragraph/scene/chapter/project.  Ask them probing craft questions.  When you have a thoughtful problem within your own work,  make it into a universal question in which the others in the workshop can benefit from the answer. 

In the case of the author above, I did my own research by typing David Corbett onto Amazon. He received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, not easy to accomplish. 

Are there any spare minutes in the workshop for extra questions? It looks like his books are a master of suspense, so although his workshop focuses on character and plot, I’d ask him a question on his suspense technique, because EVERY book, nonfiction or fiction, requires this important element. 

What do you need to know about plot and character?  How can you be enriched by another author’s take on it?  His advice?  If you are fortunate to be in an area where an author is speaking or teaching, take the opportunity to listen, learn, and write. 

Do you feel like your writing isn’t fresh and unique 100% of the time?   We all feel this way.  Do something about it.  Learn from other authors.

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.

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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.

Writing About Unlikable Characters

Monday, July 30th, 2012

My husband and I returned to our car after shopping when we discovered, adjacent to our car’s passenger door, a disheveled guy in shorts standing next to his rear view window, checking himself out. 

My husband pointed his keys at our car, and we heard the clicks.  We stood at the end of our car and waited a few moments.  I cleared my throat. 

The man picked his nose as he watched his reflection.

(Really.  Not kidding.  Or in Dave Barry’s style, I’m not making this up.) 

We waited some more.

I took in his physical looks; his belly extended beyond his tee-shirt and his plaid shorts.   As he adjusted his mirror and gazed at himself, his greasy hair flopped over his eyes.   Meanwhile, on the other side of his vehicle, his wife loaded their toddler into a stroller. 

Clearly, he wasn’t going to move an inch to let me in the car. 

Bob said,  “I’ll back out the car for you.” 

As I got in the car, I said, “He doesn’t have a clue.”

#@%!, ” said my husband. 

Writing Prompts:

1.  Go to a public place with a notebook.  Jot down physical descriptions of people you see.  Be as specific as possible.  Start with general notes and then glance at small details – - the mole on a face, the brown spots on one’s hands.  How does the person walk?  Stand?  Sit?  Does the person have a way of talking that is unique?   Show emotion?

2.  Use some of those notes to create an unlikable fictional character.  Why is this person the way she or he is?  What kind of annoying habits or morals does she/he possess?  Write a backstory for the character which may show motivation for the character quirks.

3.  Write other characters who must deal with the unlikable character.  What will be the problem/conflict/plot of your story?  Is  your unlikable character the main character or a minor character?

4.  Write a personal experience piece about a person you have dealt with who would fit the description of an unlikable character.

Line of Overheard Dialogue

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Stepping outside my front door, I heard my neighbor say to her Poodle,  “Oh, Xena, I wish you weren’t a dog.” 

Although I laughed when I heard her say this, immediately characters in a story began performing in my mind based on this piece of dialogue. 

Talking with my neighbor, I discovered she, her husband and Xena were embarking on a trip.  Where could they eat that allowed Xena, too?   Many wouldn’t have outdoor seating so Xena would have to stay in the car. 

We writers have a rather impolite way of poking our noses into others’  lives.  I’ve been known to follow a couple around the block – - completely out of my way – - just so I could hear the rest of a conversation.  Snoopy?  You bet.  But for the right reason.  Sometimes you discover a line of dialogue or a character quirk that is just too good to pass up. 

Ever borrow traits from what you’ve heard and saw to plop into a character?   Of course you have.     Real people have appeared in my children’s books and sometimes unknown actors from old movies pop into my stories too.  At least they have physically.  It’s helpful to have a model of someone and then you can create the personality you need.  Like Franzen borrowing his brother’s family album hobby to add to one of his characters.  Learning about your characters are part of the fun of building a story.    Why not use a line of dialogue to help you start?

Writing Prompts:

1.  Write a story or poem that goes along with the line of dialogue I heard above.

2.  Hang out in a place where lots of people mill around.  A town square, mall, airport, or a park all are examples.  Lounge around with a notebook and overhear conversations.  Jot down dialogue for future inspiration. 

3.  Use one of the lines of dialogue you’ve heard recently to inspire a piece of writing or artwork. 

4.  Build a character from one flash of a real person.  It can be from a picture in a magazine, someone you barely know, or one trait from someone you know well.  (Just don’t use that whole person.)  Plop your character into scenes of conflict to see how your character will respond.