Archive for July, 2016

Recently, my friend on Twitter, @SoroiyaS, asked me to help her with some dialogue for writing an argument. After talking with her for a bit, I realized this would be a great topic for a blog post! It’s even better that I have other posts on dialogue already, so maybe I’ll continue to do a whole series over time.

Arguments. Everyone has them. They are discussions that are charged with emotions on both sides. Often times no one is really listening to anyone but themselves, or the insults and injuries they hear from the other side. Everyone involved thinks they’re right, and the others are wrong. People say things they don’t mean, are spiteful, or really let “the hurtful truth” out in full force.

Conflict is important to the story and arguments are one way to add or intensify conflict. Characters who get along all the time aren’t realistic. Best friends, spouses, siblings; we all get annoyed and fed up. Putting your characters in these situations will make them more human.

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Pacing

One of the key elements of an argument is the pace. This isn’t going to be a normal conversation. It’s going to move quickly as one person tries to talk over the other. It is very important to speed the pace along with dropping your dialogue tags.

This is easy to do with two people. It becomes more challenging the more people you involve in the argument. The key is to be wise with your tags. Use them only when necessary. Arguments should not feel sluggish.

Let’s look at some examples.

“I told you it started at six.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did!”

“Whatever.”

She clenched her jaw. “Are you calling me a liar?”

This example starts in the middle, but you can see how a quick back and forth sets the pacing. Let’s look at the same example with a third party.

“I told you it started at six.”

He shook his head. “No, you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did!”

“I don’t think you did,” his friend muttered.

She glanced in his direction. “Shut up!”

Tags are important indicators of who is speaking. Keep it clear and hold firm to the emotional tone, and keep moving.

Action Tags

Along a similar line of keeping tags out of the way, action tags are useful in setting the tone of the argument. Using tags like said, asked, or yelled are unnecessary. Let your punctuation work for you. Actions peppered throughout an angry scene can help the reader feel exactly how angry, (or frustrated or annoyed,) the characters are feeling.

As you can see in my above examples, my tags are all action tags. Using these sparingly at the right moments will keep the pacing moving and can heat up or cool off a conversation. This is how you steer dialogue where you want it to be.

Eye rolling, jaw clenching, heat rising in the face, crossing your arms; these are all examples of actions angry people take. Body language is just as important in a story as it is in the real world. You can also skip someone speaking altogether by showing how they are standing or their reaction to what the other person just said.

Word Choice

Another way to get a reader into an argument is through word choice. This will be a direct result of your characterization and setting. Despite that, choosing certain words will cause an automatic response in readers.

Some common modern words that are considered triggers in arguments are quantifying words. “You always” and “you never” really get arguments moving. This is true in real life and adding it to the story makes it more realistic.

Dismissive words like “whatever” are also key words to trigger annoyance and anger in characters. Readers will recognize them. Even words such as “okay” can be turned around into something dismissive if paired with a tag for sarcasm.

This is also another way to steer the conversation. Heat up the argument or cool it down. The outcome of an argument can change the direction of the story.

Heat it up:

“I told you it started at six.”

“No you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did!”

“Whatever.”

She clenched her fists. “Are you calling me a liar?”

“You’re always so dramatic.”

“I’m not dramatic!”

He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, right. You’re not dramatic at all.”

“Shut up!”

Cool it down:

“I told you it started at six.”

“No you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did!”

“Whatever.”

She clenched her fists. “Are you calling me a liar?”

“No, I’m saying that you’ve been busy and maybe you just forgot to tell me.”

“I remember telling you. Maybe you forgot that I told you.”

He thought for a moment. “Maybe. I didn’t miss it intentionally.”

These arguments are going in two very different directions. As the author it’s up to you to decide where they are in their relationship when it’s over, whatever that relationship might be.

Research!

This is one of our favorite words, isn’t it? Of course everyone argues, but learning about arguments can help you understand their dynamics. In the age of the internet many marriage counselors and other psychologists have advice on arguments and managing anger. There are also some sights that post problems between couples, how they argued, and how they found resolution (or ended things.)

Learning from others will also broaden your characterization skills and even help you find new conflicts to incorporate into your stories.

Remember:

  • Limit the number of dialogue tags to keep up the pacing
  • Use action tags sparingly to help express the emotions of your characters
  • Word choice is key to helping your readers feel the intensity of an argument
  • Steer the argument to heat up or cool down depending on where you want it to end
  • Research real arguments and real arguing techniques

Thank you for reading today. I hope you find something useful here, and if you have more tips, feel free to share them in the comments!

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July 25th is the one year anniversary of my blog.

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I remember the very first day. I tried to find a theme that would fit the idea that Darkness Falling is a dystopian novel. I wasn’t sure what to call it, so I just called it Weekly Writing News and Updates. I figured that I could at least write one blog a week. I didn’t want to overwhelm myself.

It all began by writing my posts each week into the endless void of the internet. I was talking but was anyone listening? There are many voices and singaling yourself out among them is not an easy task. Despite knowing that I was talking to myself, I continued to write my posts and link them to Twitter and Facebook.

The journey of writing is often a solitary one. This is something I know very well, and I do well in solitude. The point of writing, however; is to reach others. Little by little, I started to take note of readers coming back. Posts were being liked. Comments were being left. Those are small things, but they are powerful. All writers and artists understand the positive effect of a little feedback and how motivating it can be.

This year was not only monumental for my little blog. When this all began, having a book published was only a dream. The excitement of eBooks and being an indie author was new to me and I was unsure of what to expect.

Over the course of twelve months I have published two books. The story is one that I’ve been telling to myself for almost twenty years. To finally have those words available, read, and responded to by readers is a dream come true.

I’ve written short stories and excerpts. I’m making plans for more projects, new words to share with the world. Book Three of my trilogy is in the first stages of rewriting. Friends are being made in a writing community I never knew existed. I’m discovering wonderful books by writers just like me, all of them dreaming to have their words read.

In the year to come I hope to finish book three, continue my blog, and begin new projects. This first year has been better than I imagined and I hope to continue to have the opportunity to share my stories, tips, and crazy ranting about storytelling in popular media.

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me on this journey. Whether through a simple comment or hitting the like button, or to purchasing and reading Darkness Falling, and to leave feedback, all of it has been important to my publishing journey.  It’s an honor to have you read my words and be part of your busy schedules.

 

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Every once in a while my brain needs a break.

Writer’s block is one thing but then there is the stress of editing, rewriting, and publishing. The process is both exciting and anticlimactic. It’s also overwhelming.

For the past month after releasing Book Two I’ve been pushing through. Over the past few days it’s all caught up with me and I’m taking a writing break.

There’s a lot of advice out there to write every day. While this is good advice to get you into the habit of writing, it isn’t always the best advice for creating. Being a creative person means we need to recharge our batteries. There is a delicate balance to art and the rest of life, and when one or the other is overwhelming, it’s time to step back.

Recharging can be different for everyone. Taking a break to absorb inspiration and energy for writing is a personal thing. Visiting family or friends, spending time in meditation, watching movies, reading books, going into nature – there are many ways to recharge. The main thing is not feeling guilty for needing a break. Self-care means you will be working at your best.

That’s why I’ve been taking a break for the past few days. My brain is tired. If I don’t recharge I won’t be functioning at my best. If I’m not functioning at my best it will only cause frustration and further distress. It’s a cycle.

Next week is the one year anniversary of my publishing journey and this blog. Thank you all for following along. If you have anything to add about taking a break, please feel free in the comments.

 

Last week I talked about the rules of dialogue based on some issues I’ve seen in self-published works recently. Following the rules makes it easier for readers to follow along with conversations between characters. Today I want to talk about an equally important topic of creating conversations that sound realistic.

Writing dialogue is different than writing narration, and it also changes depending on if you’re writing in first or third person. It comes down to remembering that in your writing you will have different voices, just like people have different voices. The narrator has one voice and each of the characters have their own voices. This may sound complicated but it comes down to our good friend characterization.

Creating the Narrative Voice

The narrative voice is often the first voice created while writing, (not always but often.) Through the narrative voice you can set the tone, atmosphere, and pacing of the story.  When in the third person the narrator is detached, reporting on what happens even when viewing it from within the head of the point of view character, whether that character is the protagonist or another character.

In first person it’s a little bit different because your narrator is also a character in the story, and that should be reflected through similarities between the narration and the character’s dialogue.

Another question to consider is that if your characters have an accent or dialect, will your narration have the same accent or dialect? Will the narrative include slang or be more literary? The answers to these questions will help to build the narrative voice.

One of the main aspects of the narrative voice is to remember it is the voice of the storyteller. When we tell stories verbally, we have a different cadence to our pattern of speaking than when we are in conversation. In most cases, the narration will follow the technical rules of writing. There may be some variance when writing in a
perceived accent or dialect as to whether or not the narration uses slang. For the most part, however; the narration will have a different rhythm to dialogue.

Creating Character Voicesspeech-bubble-1426773_640

When your character speaks, it should be a direct result of their characterization. Each character will have their own unique perspective on a conversation and that will tie directly into their background, motivation, personality, and role in the story. How characters respond to the world will directly influence there contribution in conversation.

Consider whether a character is talkative and bubbly, or if they are reserved, shy, or sever. The amount a character speaks and their word choices will reflect their personality beyond their mood.

For example, a talkative character might say something like; “Oh my gosh, you won’t believe what happened at the store! I was in the freezer section looking for pizzas and there was a lady with a rainbow wig looking at the peas. It was the strangest thing.”

If we take the same story for a quiet character it might go more like this; “I saw a lady with a rainbow wig at the store today.”

From these examples you can see how the same information can be delivered in different voices. Word choice and punctuation make major changes to the delivery and tone.

You also want to consider what your character knows about the plot, and what is hidden when they speak. Are they keeping secrets or are they straightforward? Dialogue is a great tool for misdirection if used properly, to keep your reader (and characters) guessing.

The age of your character will also be important to how they speak. A child will have a different cadence than an adult. The word choices of a teenager will be different than those of an elder.

Consider the time period of your novel and words that may or my not have been used. Only a few small changes to the word choice can change the tone of dialogue completely.

Consider the following example:

“I cannot go to school today, mother. I am feeling under the weather.”

Now look at it again:

“I can’t go to school, mom. I think I’m sick.”

It’s the same line, but by changing the word choice it has a completely different tone, attitude, and indication of character and place in history. Word choice will sometimes come down to research if you’re writing a historical novel or even writing characters outside of your age group. In the last fifty years a lot of different slang has come and gone.

Similar to creating a narrative voice, you want to ask yourself about accents, dialects and slang the character would use. It is important to note that over use of accents can make it difficult to read. Using accents to “flavor” the writing is a good thing, but you don’t want it to overpower the story.

Eliminate Stiffness in Conversations

Poorly written dialogue can feel stiff and unrealistic. It is reminiscent of actors on a stage who do not fully know their lines. Knowing your characters is only the first step to relieving stiffness in their dialogue. There are a few other things to try to find your problem areas.

Research the way people talk to each other. That means you need to really listen to other people. Family, friends, and co-workers are just the beginning. Movies and television are helpful, too. You can also watch YouTube videos or live streaming to hear people talking in real time without being scripted.

Read. Read. Read. That’s right, pick up other books and read them. Pay attention to the dialogue. Learning from other writers is something we should all be doing. You may also start to notice when you’re reading poorly written dialogue, and that’s a good thing. Being able to spot problems will help you with your own writing.

Say the lines out loud. Yes, this can be embarrassing, but if you hear the words, you will be able to hear the problems. This doesn’t need to be done in public.

Plan your dialogue in advance. We all do this in real life. You have imaginary conversations with that co-worker who chews really loudly at their desk. Maybe you have something to reveal but are nervous, so you practice in front of the mirror. Planning out your dialogue while you do other things will make it easier to write once you sit down with your pen or at your keyboard.

Remember that dialogue should be written as people speak, not as writers write. Very few people speak with perfect grammar. If everyone in your story sounds like a text book, the dialogue will be unrealistic.

To recap

  • Creating different voices in your story is part of characterization
  • Your narrator is also a character, even they aren’t a physical character, with its own voice
  • Your character’s age and personality will dictate how they speak
  • Research, Read, Rehears your dialogue
  • People do not speak with perfect grammar, and neither should your characters

That’s all for today. I hope this is helpful and if you have any more tips please feel free to leave them in the comments.

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I read a lot of indie books. A lot. I read more than I review here on the blog. That’s because I read books that I don’t finish and I don’t finish them because of major problems in the writing, storytelling, and technicalities. I also am often reading multiple books at a time these days, because reading is addicting and I love overwhelming myself.

One of the issues I often come across in my reading is that a lot of writers struggle with dialogue. You may think this is a basic topic, and it is for many writers.  For others it is a major problem. That’s why I decided to do a two part series about writing dialogue.

This first part will be about the rules of dialogue and the second part will be about making your dialogue feel realistic instead of forced.

Dialogue Rule #1:

Every Time Someone Speaks, Begin a New Paragraph

This is the most most common issue I see with dialogue on a regular basis. Paragraphs run on and on, containing the dialogue of not only one but also two or three people. This is incorrect. It shows that not only does the author not understand a basic rule for writing, but they also don’t have anyone around them who knows.

Why do we break to a new paragraph for dialogue?

Paragraphs are self-contained ideas. Even when multiple paragraphs are about the same general idea, we break it into paragraphs to punctuate specific pieces of that idea. Take this blog post for example, it’s all about dialogue but it isn’t one long paragraph. Breaking ideas into digestable chunks helps readers process and understand the information.

Dialogue is just like a paragraph. Each speaker has their own ideas. They punctuate a conversation with their own points of view. This also helps the reader keep track of who is speaking to prevent confusion.

Now, the paragraph does not need to start with quotation marks. You can put a dialogue tag at the beginning or end of the paragraph, or even leave them off altogether.

Examples:

Loretta smiled wickedly and said, “I don’t always smile before I speak, but when I do, I use a comma.”

“It makes me nervous when you talk shop with me,” George said.

“That’s because you’re not a writer.”

“Or maybe it’s because you act like a weirdo.” George grinned sheepishly.

In this example you can see that each person gets their own paragraph to speak, even though their lines are only one sentence long. Whether or not you end your paragraph after a person speaks will depend on the dialogue tag.

Dialogue Rule #2

Punctuation is Important and Determined by Speaking vs. Action

Punctuation for dialogue has some pretty specific rules. First and foremost is that dialogue should be indicated with the use of quotation marks. These go around the actual words the character is speaking. Most people understand this from my observation.

 

Now for the tricky part. When it comes to your dialogue tags, you can signify action tags vs. speaking tags with either a period or a comma. What does that mean?

“You can’t laugh and speak at the same time.”

“You can’t sigh and speak at the same time.”

“You can’t speak by waving.”

“You can’t speak by smiling.”

Etc.

Okay, well, people laugh and wave and smile while speaking all the time. There is a way through punctuation to indicate whether the person is speaking or acting while speaking. If the person is speaking, you end the line in quotation marks with a comma. If the person is going to act while speaking you use a period.

Let’s look at our example again.

Loretta smiled wickedly and said, “I don’t always smile before I speak, but when I do, I use a comma.”

“It makes me nervous when you talk shop with me,” George said.

“That’s because you’re not a writer.”

“Or maybe it’s because you act like a weirdo.” George grinned sheepishly.

Note how when I ended with George said, the dialogue ended in a comma. When George grinned, however;  I skipped mentioning the word said and went straight for his action directly after speaking.

Alternately, when Loretta smiled at the beginning, I also used the word said, which means there needs to be a comma. If I had skipped saying the word said, it would look like this:

Loretta smiled wickedly. “I don’t always smile….”

Note that in this instance her action ends with a period before she speaks. This indicates that she acted, and then spoke. She did not speak with her smile.

When it comes to asking a question in dialogue, the proper punctuation is always a question mark within the dialogue tag. What you do after the dialogue tag is the same rule of speaking vs. action.

“Do you want to learn about dialogue or not?” she asked.

“Are you going to punch me if I say no?” He ducked just in case.

Asking is considered speaking, just like said. Therefore, any improper nouns following a question mark within quotation marks is lower case. If the tag following a question mark within quotation marks is an action, the improper noun is then upper case. This does not apply to character names, because they should all be capitalized every single time. (And you knew that, right?)

Dialogue Rule #3

The Hotly Debated Tagging Issue

Dialogue tags are the indicators of who is speaking. Tags can either be of the speaking or action variety as discussed above. There is a hotly debated issue whether or not dialogue tags should extend farther beyond said and asked.

On the one side is the opinion (or rule) that professional writers do not bog their readers down with descriptive dialogue tags. Sighed, groaned, moaned, sobbed, growled, hissed, snarled, laughed, yelled, cursed, demanded, commanded, and on and on are not necessary to the tone of the dialogue. This should be done by the tone of the scene and punctuation. Also, those things are not “speaking,” but actions. You cannot laugh and speak at the same time, as they say.

This side of the argument insists that using these other tags is a sure sign of an amature writer. Said is all you really need. (Asked is even redundant if you have a question mark. Yelled is redundant if you have an exclamation point.)

This is not considered boring because the idea is that said is not a word so much as a form of punctuation. Loretta said indicates the speaker but the reader glazes over the word said, and it’s more like making your dialogue the way it would be in a play.

Loretta: I don’t always smile before I speak.

On the other side of the argument is that people do make noises while they speak. The inflection and tone in your voice can be hissing, growling, and nervous laughter as you’re speaking. Action tags can set the tone of dialogue.

Sarcasm, nervousness, excitement, anger and many other emotions play out. Tagging dialogue with indications of these can help the reader understand the character’s emotions and intentions.

How do I feel about this? Well, I’m kind of in the middle. I get where the “only said” people are coming from. I also get the “emotions should be included” set. I lean more toward including emotions, but also try to use them when I feel it is necessary.

I do not think it’s a sign of being unprofessional to use a tag other than said. I think it’s a style choice, especially for indie authors. I’ve read books from both camps and have never had issue with either type of tagging.

To wrap it up remember:

  1. Dialogue begins a new paragraph and each speaker gets their own paragraph.
  2. Remember to use a period instead of a comma for an action tag.
  3. Some people take offence at tags other than said in dialogue.

That’s all for this week! Next week I’ll talk about making your dialogue sound like people are talking instead of making them sound like robots repeating programmed words.

Until then, have a great week! If you have any other tips feel free to leave them int he comments.