Archive for the ‘Writing Tips’ Category

Everyone knows there is no replacement for a good human proofreader or an army of them. The human brain plays tricks on the eyes, translating typos into real words or skimming over errors to fit the context. A single set of eyes on a project means errors will be missed.

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You can’t rely on technology fully, either. While Word, Grammarly, and other products are becoming more proficient at finding errors and typos, they still might miss properly spelled words used incorrectly. It’s true that these programs are beginning to notice if you’ve used there instead of their, but they might not notice if you’ve used Brain instead of Brian.

The reality is, nothing beats hiring a living proofreader. That isn’t always possible for everyone, though. Because I know firsthand that reality, I also know that relying on friends and family may not be an option, either. I did have Book One proofread by a friend who missed many, many errors. I missed many as well.

What else can you do?

A few months back, it was mentioned to me that hearing your book read to you is very helpful in finding errors. It was suggested that if I couldn’t afford to have someone read, Windows Narrator worked pretty well. I thought it was a good idea but didn’t use the advice at the time.

Recently, one of my co-workers accidently turned Narrator on my work computer. Maybe it was a kick in the pants from the Muses because I suddenly realized I should try using Narrator to help edit.

I recently used it on a small project, and it really does make a difference. The current version of Windows 10 is a male voice. It reminds me of Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not only does Narrator read your work back, but it reads one line at a time. This not only lets you hear what’s being read but also to follow along. It gives you the opportunity to move slowly and watch for words like there and their, which still sound the same.

Is it the same as hiring a proofreader? No. Does it help those without a budget? Yes. I tested it on book one and it can read some of the made-up names (some of them it pronounces incorrectly, but that’s okay.) If it can’t read a word, it spells it out. Anything that helps is worth using, and I hope this tip helps others.

Thank you for reading! If you have anything to add, please leave a comment.

This post will contain spoilers for The Walking Dead which aired November 6th, 2016. If you haven’t seen the episode, turn back now!

Last night The Walking Dead took us along for the ride with Daryl and his adventures with Negan. These adventures include being locked in a dark closet and tortured with super happy music all day. Sometimes Dwight, (also known as Burned Face Guy,) would take Daryl for a stroll in the yard, which consists of a big cage full of zombies and prisoners. The Savior’s main compound is big and prison-like, but if Daryl is a good boy and decides to join Negan, he’ll get a studio apartment including a bed, chair, kitchen, and even a TV so that he can watch himself on The Walking Dead. (I know they probably have a DVD player or something, but it was funny to see the TV in that room.)

We did get to learn a little bit more about Negan. He’s just as crazy as he first appeared, a real tyrant ruling over his army of loyal ants. How loyal are those ants, exactly? We also learned what happened with Dwight and his wife Sherri after her sister Tina died in the woods and they betrayed Daryl. This came via tell instead of show, where the villain gets to share a customary evil bad-guy speech.

Tina was supposed to be Negan’s fiancé, but she didn’t want to marry him. He was just being a nice guy allowing her to marry him so that she wouldn’t have to work so hard for her insulin anymore. Of course, Tina didn’t like that idea and the three of them ran off. Tina was eaten by zombies; Dwight and Sherri stole Daryl’s crossbow and motorcycle and returned to Negan. In order to save her husband, Sherri married Negan and Dwight worked himself up to being a big dog in the Savior’s army. Of course, he still had to have his face ironed. That’s unfortunate.

If we base the timeline of The Walking Dead on the age of Judith, who is still a baby under a year old, all of this has happened in the span of maybe one or two months. Negan is way more forgiving than expected! It’s fine that they didn’t spend a whole episode hanging with Sherri and Dwight, because last season had a lot of other important things going on. This type of storytelling is lesser than if we’d seen it happen, do we really care about Dwight and Sherri when they are torturing Daryl, who we all know and care about already? I’m guessing we’ll get to spend more time with Sherri and Dwight before it’s all done, but at this point, it’s their fault for returning to Negan instead of going with Daryl to Alexandria.

Also, I’m not the only one thinking “There is only one Negan vs. many unhappy people.” No matter how many people claim to be Negan, there is only one. As the escaped guy told Dwight, if there was an uprising he would be screwed. Too bad Dwight doesn’t seem to be the leader they need, not yet, anyway.

The leader they do need is Daryl.

Last night’s episode was another great look at the characterization from a fan favorite. Daryl is a prime example of how strong characterization can not only shape a story, but uphold it through dark times.We watch him take his torture silently, with that same stoicism we’ve all come to know. Even in the midst of fear, he still takes the opportunity to try to escape, reminding us of his resilience and confidence in his skills. Sherri begs him to go back, but he won’t, because he believes he can get away. After being recaptured, and forced to listen to Elvis crooning about loss, he finally lets it all out. I think, however; that just helped him grow stronger. Sometimes you just need a good cry.

We watch him take his torture silently, with that same stoicism we’ve all come to know. Even in the midst of fear, he still takes the opportunity to try to escape, reminding us of his resilience and confidence in his skills. Sherri begs him to go back, but he won’t, because he believes he can get away. After being recaptured, and forced to listen to Elvis crooning about loss, he finally lets it all out. I think, however; that just helped him grow stronger. Sometimes you just need a good cry.

Daryl knows what is at stake, but he won’t give up, and this is something we’ve seen from him since the first season. He could have turned against the group after Meryl was lost, but he stuck by them and continued to survive. When Negan asks him “Who are you?” he answers “I’m Daryl,” because he knows who he is at the core; he doesn’t need a false identity to know what he’s capable of.

Daryl is a true survivor, which probably isn’t true for a lot of Negan’s followers.

 

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“Jokes on you, shit sandwich was always my favorite.”

 

Negan lets him live. Why? Negan is building his character for us as well. Yes, he’s a crazy man with a baseball bat, but he’s also smart. He was smart enough to see the weaknesses in people and build the Saviors around fear. He also knows that there is only one Negan, which is why he’s trained his soldiers to say “I’m Negan.” By giving them a new and shared identity, he’s making them feel part of something bigger, pushing back against possible rebellion.

Those who do not wish to live under the tyranny of the Saviors need someone like Daryl, but Negan also needs Daryl. Killing him would be easy, but breaking him would prove a point to those witnessing the process.

If Negan’s soldiers can see a man like Daryl break down and change, then any misgivings they have about Negan will be quelled. It’s a dangerous game, and one I don’t think Negan will win, at least not in the way he wants. Daryl is walking a very fine line. Either he needs to start gaining support from Dwight and Sherri and others, or he’s probably going to die. A crazy man only has so much patience.

At the very end, Daryl makes his first move with Dwight. He understands. Dwight had to think about someone else, so he gave up. Daryl says that’s why he can’t, and at first it may seem like he’s saying “I don’t have anyone else to think of,” but I actually think this means the opposite. He has a lot of people to think about, everyone at Alexandria, and he can’t become a Savior because he can’t turn on them, even if it costs him his life. Again, this is the same characterization we’ve seen from Daryl before. He had an opportunity before to join a villainous group, but he can’t and he won’t.

Other thoughts:

Poor zombie nerd guy might have been a good ally if he knew about Daryl.

Sherri is in a prime position to do bad things to Negan, like poison or a knife to the throat if she has the guts and opportunity. Andrea never did with the Governor, but we don’t know Sherry very well.

Speaking of Sherri, I bet she’s going to be one of the first to rebel and possibly die.

Thanks for reading! If you have anything to add, please leave a comment.

This week I started up my National Novel Writing Month project on November first. That means spending time in a whole new world with a whole new cast of characters. These characters have been in my head since January, building up some basic background information for me to work with as I get started. Despite that, I’m just getting to know them and learning how they interact with each other.

One of the easiest ways to write a story is to know your characters. Stories consist of two key elements: an event and a character’s reaction to that event. A character’s motivation will dictate their reaction. By allowing your character’s motivations to drive the plot, the story moves forward organically. When stories move organically, they are more believable to the reader.

Motivations are discovered by character development. The character’s role in the story is only the first step of characterization. The antagonist’s role is to create a problem, and the sign-697220_960_720protagonist’s role is to solve that problem. But why? The answer comes from character background, personality, and current events; a complex combination that produces motivation. Side characters also have motivations, and they are created in the same way. They can either help or hinder the protagonist, but either way, those reactions need to make sense based on the narrative of their characterization.

I already knew who was playing which role before I began writing. I knew the backgrounds for my protagonist and antagonist. I knew the background of the primary side characters. I knew the activating events. Now that I’m putting the characters on paper, they begin to develop their personalities.

What I’ve learned in my first week is that my protagonist is not only intelligent and willing to ask questions, but is also playful and caring. It will be interesting to see her grow and change over the course of 50,000 words knowing what is happening around her. I’ve also learned that the antagonist is much colder than I expected, even when he’s attempting to hide his true nature.

Another type of motivation comes from character relationships. When two characters connect, it builds emotional investment for the reader. The more a character resembles a real person, the more a reader will connect with them. Real people have friends, family, or lovers that they connect with, and so should your characters.

It also gives the characters deeper levels of motivation; it may cause them to act when they would otherwise be still. Producing driving forces through the people they care about is another organic way to drive a story forward.

What I’ve discovered this week is that my protagonist is quite close to her younger sister. Not only does it give her motivation to act, it also adds to her personality. By allowing the reader to witness this relationship, they are given another reason to care about what happens in the first few chapters.

So remember:

  1. Organic motivations make it easier to move a story forward
  2. Motivations are created through personality, character background, and relationships with other characters

As of today, I have 4,950 words on my NaNoWriMo project, which puts me a little behind but I’m worried about it. I’ll catch up.

Thank you for reading. If you have anything to add please feel free to leave a comment.

This post will contain spoilers of not only the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead, but also the season six finale. If you haven’t watched these episodes, you’ve been warned.

First off, this isn’t a review. I like to analyze mass media as a means to understand the successes and failures of storytelling. What follows is my intellectual opinion.

Way back in April I discussed why the season six finale of The Walking Dead was such a disappointment. I had a lot to say at the time. Six months later, I do not feel any differently.

I’m going to come right out of the gate and say that the season seven premiere should have been the season six finale. It holds all of the key elements of storytelling that were missing and still ends with a cliffhanger, although a slightly different type. Instead of “The Lady or the Tiger” ending we are left more with “What are we going to do now? Everything is in ruins.”

I have nothing against cliffhangers. I actually use them in my own writing, but they need to be finely crafted and utilized correctly. There are three reasons to end a story on a cliffhanger.

1)      To compel the audience to return to a story after an unspecified break in the narrative.

2)      To open a dialogue about the story, either internally or with other audience members, that further drives emotional investment in the story.

3)      To assure the audience that there will be a continuation even when the current story has come to a close.

It can be argued that the season six finale accomplished these things, and it did. People were compelled to return to see who would take a bat to the head. There was a very vocal, and often angry, dialogue happening in the audience. There would definitely be more story, because how could it end like that without a resolution? (Although in the world of television there is no real guarantee that the show will return, although we all safely knew this one would.)

So what’s the problem?

The problem comes down to the underlying storytelling, which had been shaky for the duration of the season. The audience was annoyed already about the “close calls” that Glenn endured. Add to that the finale dragging out in a log repetitive sequence of events, and then coming to a close mid-action. If they had moved the story down the line to where the premiere ended, with a fitting sendoff for two major characters, and tie the season up in an emotional package brimming with questions about the future.

Consider the premiere of season six. It begins with a strange flashback episode. Everyone in Alexandria is working together to build a zombie funnel to lead the walkers in the quarry away from the town. We learn this in a patchwork of pieces.

Now consider the premiere of season seven. It utilizes a very similar device to drag out the truth of who took the bat, and had it been the finale, it would have been a balance to the premiere. Instead, it’s just a “filler” tactic, and that whole story with Negan and the axe could have been told after the death instead of before.

Rick’s character arc is another package that could have utilized in the finale. All season he was riding high on his ego, believing that he and his crew were the biggest of the bad and nothing could tear them down. To watch him break beneath Negan’s smiling face was incredibly important to the story, a piece of the puzzle that could have simmered in our minds for six months. Negan is a special kind of monster, and to have had a proper introduction last season would have given us time to build him up even bigger while we waited.

Next, we have Glenn’s “fake deaths” throughout season six, teasing the truth. Had the season seven opener been the finale, it would have tied those strings together. Of course, it’s emotional. Glenn is a beloved major character with a pregnant wife. No matter when he died it would have been a blow to the audience. However, from a storytelling point of view, it could have been handled better.

We also have the story arc with Abraham, Sasha, and Rosita in a very awkward love triangle. Abraham is more of a comic relief type character, and by putting six months between any emotional attachments the audience may have had about their situation, which makes it far less powerful than if it had happened when it was fresh.This is especially true because his relationship with Rosita was never really a focus of the show until that point. It also makes his relationship with Sasha feel contrived. What was the point of it? So that Sasha could lose another person she cared about?

This is especially true because his relationship with Rosita was never really a focus of the show until that point. It also makes his relationship with Sasha feel contrived. What was the point of it? So that Sasha could lose another person she cared about? It was merely added to give some sort of emotional attachment to Abraham. More development between him and Eugene would have served this purpose in a more organic way.

Lastly, we have the scene of the whole cast at the table enjoying a meal, with Glenn and Abraham at the head. A beautiful world destroyed by one crazy man with a bat. Having that as the last image of season six would have left the community in a much darker, much more immersive sendoff for the two major characters.

 

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“Hey, man, nice axe.”

 

Now that we’ve looked at why this should have been the finale, let’s look at the foreshadowing that was given to us multiple times to make sure we didn’t miss it.

“This is my axe.”

Rick may be broken now, but he is still the protagonist; the anti-hero. Negan is the antagonist. That means that the conflict will continue until it is resolved. Will we lose more of our favorite characters along the way? There’s a high probability that we will. However; I have a feeling we already know how Negan is going to die.

Rick has used the axe for a long time now. It has been nothing more than a prop, more noticeable than a kitchen knife but not as iconic as Michonne’s sword or Daryl’s crossbow. It’s not overly flashy or recognizable, just an axe that could be sold at your local hardware store.

This season the axe has taken  a prominent place in the story and becoming a focal point for the conflict. If Negan doesn’t meet his end by the axe being driven into his cocky smirk and I’m totally wrong here, it will be a missed opportunity. What a perfect way to tie up the story arc in a neat little package. Of course, we already know The Walking Dead doesn’t like neat packages, even the kind that strengthens their storytelling.

Other Thoughts

  • Are Negan’s people truly loyal or do they function solely on fear? Fear is a great manipulator but there are more minions than there are Negans, the right leader merely needs to appear to start the rebellion.
  • Negan took Daryl instead of killing him, and although having a hostage is a great ploy, it would have been stronger to take Carl or Michonne. There is likely more to Negan’s reasoning in taking him than he let on.
  • Will Maggie lose the baby? Perhaps she will lose her mind? Or maybe she will be the next angel of death seeking revenge in a world that is far too cruel.
  • Will Carol and Morgan find the reinforcements that are desperately needed in the fight against the Saviors? Or were those weird guys last season more bad guys?

Hopefully, we have answers to these questions throughout the season.

This post will contain spoilers for parts one, two, and three of my serialized story The Hunted.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it at the following links.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

And now, on with the post!

To begin my world building process, I always start with an idea. Don’t we all? I’ve stated before that I’m not a plotter. I don’t write an outline. I’m also not actually a pantser. I’m a weird combination of the two. When I first come across an idea, I have more of a pantser type of writing style.My plottery ways come later. (Yes, plottery.) I write the scene in my head. I may skip over giving characters or places names. The idea is to recreate the vision into words before it is sucked into oblivion.

Sometimes, this is as far as a story will go. That’s fine. To get the idea out is the main point of this exercise. It’s not about perfection but about testing the waters. I can always tell if I can breathe more life into a story by this initial scene. Sometimes, this beginning won’t make it to the end and be cut. Other times, this part of the story may be moved. Most often; however, it is the beginning and will remain at the beginning.

For The Hunted, part one represents the opening of the world. When I wrote it, it was bare bones. The town and the maid didn’t have names. Lexanna had a slightly different name. The attack from the demons was an isolated event. It’s like a play where the stage is dark and the spotlight shines on one bright place, leaving the rest shrouded in mystery.

When I began part two, I moved Lexanna from her hometown to a new place. This meant that I had to differentiate the first town from the second. I knew the world was being born.

Place Names

The town names were the first thing to be added. Shirgrand – the name of Lexanna’s hometown, Orvigrand- the town where the refugees are taken, and Harbigrand – the King’s town.

I had a very specific thought process in creating these names. First of all, it is a fantasy world which means I wanted something a little bit unusual. I didn’t want it to be too fantastical. I also wanted to denote that both towns were larger in size. I had mentioned that Lexanna’s parents were the strongest magicians in the region. Putting them in a small town didn’t feel right. I also decided that Orvigrand is where the regional lord lives. This may seem counterintuitive to my placement of the most powerful magicians, but there are reasons for it that will be revealed later.

To denote the larger size of the towns, and by adding something familiar to readers new to the world, I used the word grand as a suffix. This then becomes a naming convention. Towns of larger size will all have the word grand at the end. To further denote this, one of the testimonies mentions another location – a village. Shishnils. This may seem like a nonsense word, but if you break it down you can see another naming convention. The first three letters are Shi – Shishnils and Shirgrand have this in common. This denotes a smaller village near Shirgrand. Nils is based on the world nil – or none- which puts it opposite to grand and gives it a smaller feeling overall.

Another reason for using the word nil as the suffix comes down to what is revealed about magicians. They are assigned to locations to live and work and they are fond of luxury. A smaller town would be less appealing, and that means there are no magicians there (none, zero, nil.) If you need magical help, never run to a town that ends in nils.

The next place names to be added was a very important place name – The Ossuary of Minds. In this story, I chose to use the word magician instead of mage, wizard, or sorceress. When you write a lot of fantasy it’s nice to change things up. Similarly, I wanted to use a slightly different name for where these magical people congregate. Ossuary is actually a very ominous name, (but The Hunted is meant to be a dark story.) It deals with the dead. It’s a tomb of dead minds. This is deliberate, and the truth of it will be part of the story. (Some of you may be able to guess.)

Finally, I added some regional names. Klimok – the region in which Lexanna lives, and Nexem – a forest through which they must travel. I also named two mountain ranges and a river. This is when I begin to draw the map.

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Normally I draw my maps by hand, but I made this one with my awesome paint skills.That makes it easier to share.

From this blank map, I can start to add new locations.

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By creating a map, I give myself an idea of distance. It also gives the world a more tangible feel. I can keep my locations straight in my mind.

Characters

Lexanna’s name was originally Lexa. It’s a small change, but in lengthening the name it had a better flow with the character. From her name, and the idea of a fantasy setting that isn’t too fantastical, I derived my naming convention for characters.

Names which are similar to common names in Western civilization in the modern era, but changed slightly, is not an uncommon way to name fantasy characters. It’s a simple convention and especially good for people who are bad at making up names. Just look up a name, change a few letters, and ta-da, you have a fantasy name.

The name of Lexanna’s maid, Mircy, is again deliberate. It stems from the word Mercy, and if you thought that, then congratulations! You guess correctly.

For last names, I went with one or two syllable combinations picked randomly for sound. I’m going for a harder sound in the story. A lot of K, G, and X sounds give the language a certain flavor, even if the only words we ever learn are places and last names.

The one name that should stand out among the others is that of the mysterious stranger: Yogindar. His name is longer than two syllables and is not a recreated Western sounding name. It’s a harsh name, and heavy. The difference in his name is a clue to his character – one that will be revealed.

Putting it Together

As you start to put these pieces together, it’s like finding the pieces of a puzzle and snapping them into place. More of the world is revealed merely through the names and places you create. With solid naming conventions, it’s easier to tell the story overall. It also gives your readers a subtle guide to understanding a world that is otherwise alien. In all, good naming conventions just make the whole process better for everyone.

The main thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter if you are doing your world building in advance of writing or while you write. The only important thing is it happens. The more you write, the easier this process becomes until it feels automatic. That automatic feeling is actually just your confidence kicking in, and that’s a great place to be for writing.

Thank you for reading! If you have anything to add please feel free in the comments. Next week The Hunted will return with Part Four. Who or what was hiding in the shadows outside of Pilser Tower? Tune in next week to find out!

 

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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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.

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Editing.

That’s always a fun word. A lot of times, editing is seen as fixing errors. This is true, but that is only one part of editing. It is through proper editing that storytelling should be strengthened.

Too many errors in spelling and grammar and can ruin a story, but they are only one piece of the puzzle. Good editing also focuses on the content of a story. Writing can be perfectly clear of typos and formatting errors, yet still be diminished by poor storytelling. If a story is drowning in contrivances, caricatures, plot holes, repetition, info dumps, clichés, and pacing the story will suffer just as much from problems in these areas than if it were full of mistakes

Understanding that proofreading and content editing are two different things will help you grow as a writer. Both are important and both require practice. I consider myself a good content editor, but I hate proofreading. I miss things. Being good at both content editing and proofreading is a goal.

Proofreading

A lot of times we see people (including myself) say things like “with more editing the errors can be cleaned up.” I think because of this, many people come to believe that editing is proofreading and nothing more. This way of thinking and talking about editing does a disservice to a lot of people who are publishing their books.

Proofreading is a skill. It’s a difficult job to read thousands of words and clean up all of the typos. Similar to math, not everyone is good at proofreading and some people have a natural aptitude. Practice is always key but some people will always be better at finding mistakes.

How do you practice proofreading? Watching what others write for errors is one way. Picking up errors, whether you point them out or not, will help you. Another way to proofread is to change your format. If you always work on the computer, print out a chapter and read it on paper. Change the margins and look at small chunks at a time. It takes time and effort.

Studying language also helps your proofreading. Learning the rules for commas, dialogue, paragraphs, sentences, and other punctuation will strengthen your writing. If you feel shaky in any of these areas there are many resources online to help you.

Content Editing

Editing content is where you look at the story itself and try to make it better. It requires you to look at your work from different angles. One type of content editing is the commonly talked about word count. Using as few words as possible to tell your story helps with the pacing.

Pacing is a key element to storytelling and is what helps your reader follow along with the narrative and stay interested. With the wrong pacing your story moves either too fast or too slow. The reader either feels they are being dragged along without having a chance to catch their breath, or they are drowning in muck as they try to push through to the end.

Cutting is another type of content editing. Content editors are the ones who rip your heart out of your chest with phrases like “this scene needs to be cut” and “this character servers no purpose to the plot.” Cutting also helps with pacing. Bogging your reader down with too much, repetitive, or irrelevant information leaves the reader feeling bored and confused with the direction of a story.

A content editor should also be able to point out a contrivance or a caricature; both of which make stories unbelievable and result in a loss of emotional investment. Stories require emotional investment to be enjoyable. If a reader can’t feel emotionally and intellectually attached to the characters and their situations, they give up and stop reading

Suggesting changes to these types of situations are not meant to be hurtful, but are to help the author create the best story they can.

Hiring an Editor

For financial reasons, I do not hire an editor. This is my choice and, good or bad, I understand the consequences.

If (or when) I ever hire an editor, it will be important to interview editors the same way I would interview a potential employee for a company. Asking what type of editing they offer is key. Will there be content editing or just proofreading? This is important knowledge before giving someone your money.

You may think you’ve hired an excellent editor, but they only proofread. Alternately, your editor may help you with content but (like me) not be the best at proofreading. If they only do one type of editing, it’s good to know that in advance. If you only need one type, this might not be an issue. If you need both, then that might mean more cost to you, and you might want an editor that does both. Finding out if they recommend someone else to do the proofreading or content editing is also important, or you may need to find another editor on your own.

I would also want to see other works by an editor before I hired them. If I pick up a book and read it only to find it’s a mess, that’s a bad sign. If an editor won’t tell you what they’ve worked on, then that’s also a bad sign.

Beta Readers

Beta readers are an excellent tool for helping you gauge where your story is at, but they can also be a pitfall. They are not editors and should not be treated as such. Sometimes a beta reader might offer to proofread. Perhaps they enjoy doing this, but it should never be an expected service.

The point of the beta reader is to give you a general idea of audience response. If the only person you give your work to is your Aunt Mildred and she loves everything you do, this is not really a beta reader. It can be hard to find people who will read and give you the feedback you need. I have very nice beta readers and they give me good audience style feedback, but ultimately they do not give me in depth feedback that I would get from another writer or editor, even when I ask them direct questions.

This is why you can’t rely on beta readers to know, for a fact, that your story is well edited. The only way is to find readers who are also writers or editors, too, or people who take beta reading seriously rather than just doing it as a favor.

Creative Partner

A creative partner is another writer that reads your work and you read their work. You give each other feedback. Having a solid creative partner is a good way to gauge your writing through constructive criticism, which can include pointing out errors or problems with the content. You still need to be aware that not every writer is good at both. Knowing your creative partner’s strengths and weaknesses is just as important as when you hire an editor.

I didn’t have a creative partner for Darkness Falling, but having a creative partner is something I wouldn’t shy away from. It is important to find the right person or people to ensure collaboration is beneficial for everyone in the group.

You Can Always Fix Things 

One of the bonuses to being self-published is that you can always go back and fix things when you do receive feedback. For example, I’ve received some feedback that Book One has typos and I’m doing another round of proofreading to find them.

Even professionally published works have errors at times, but traditional publishing means rounds of books are printed with errors and they cannot be changed. This is one perk to being self-published over going the more traditional route.

As self-published authors we all need to strive to make our product the best it can be, because we already face stigma. Being aware of your own pitfalls is a good first step to improving your work. With that in mind keep writing, keep practicing, and don’t give up!

Thank you for reading and if you have anything to add please do so in the comments!