Tag Archives: inspiration

On Dialogue

Today’s study was on dialogue.

It seems fairly straight forward, right? Multiple characters exchanging words – it’s all about the he said, she said. Except that anyone who has read a book that involves much dialogue knows that it can sometimes get difficult to follow. It can also add to a story or become a distraction. The worst is when it gets too repetitive – he said, he said, he said, he asked, he said…

Most of the research I did resulted in the same few suggestions over and over, but a few unique tidbits came up as well. The following is all the information I pulled from my reading today. I’ll include links throughout and at the end, in case you want to do more research yourself.

Punctuate.

Learn how to properly punctuate dialogue. There are rules for doing this properly and following them ensures that your reader will be able to follow your dialogue. If they can’t, they’ll probably stop reading.

Realistic, Not Verbatim

If writers only wrote the way people actually speak, half of the things that needed to be said in novels would not be said. Readers would also quickly lose interest or become bogged down in needless chatter or ‘um’s and ‘ah’s.

This ties into the next point…

Make It Useful

Dialogue should add to your story, not detract or distract. Use it to reveal something important, use it to set a scene, use it to develop a character. Don’t let it just be idle chatter – it’ll get boring.

People Speak Differently

I use the word the phrase “hold the phone” fairly often, which I’ve been made fun of for quite a bit because no one else seems to say it. If you were going to write me into your story, you’d know it was me speaking by the cadence of speech, the words I use, and especially if I use that phrase. “Alex said” would not be needed. This should be true of your characters. Learn how they speak and how they speak differently from one another.

Reveal, Don’t Inform

If a character knows something that the reader does not, do not inform the reader by making the character talk about it. We don’t do this in day-to-day conversation, so this really falls under the Realistic category – but it’s worth making special note of.

Dialogue can also be used as a tool to reveal things about a character that can only be done through interaction with others – like their sense of humor. We tend to act differently around others and different groups of people. This can be shown through dialogue.

Easy With The He Said, She Said

Ever read a story in which every line of dialogue was tagged with ,” he said? Annoying. If you got the ‘People Speak Differently’ part down, you shouldn’t have to label each line with who’s talking – that should be apparently. Every few lines it is good to put in a reminder tag to help the reader keep up, but throwing out some different verbs can also help to break monotony. Asked, yelled, hissed, whined, etc – these can really add to the dialogue, as well.

Pruhseed Wit Cawshun

Dialect can be a very useful tool in writing. It can also put some drag on your story if your reader struggles with it and it can have the undesired consequence of attaching a stereotype to a character that doesn’t actually fit that character. As always, make sure it adds to the story – don’t let it be a distraction. Proceed with caution.

Characters Fidget

Again with the realism – we don’t stop and stand still when we talk. Many people are animated speakers, others fidget with their hands when they’re talking about something that worries them, and some people twirl their hair. Break up the dialogue runs with a little action.

Silence Is Golden

Also known as, what’s not said can be just as important as what is. Think of the stoic old Clint Eastwood characters – they don’t say much, but they often don’t have to, right?

Script Frenzy offered a lot of keen examples for some of the points above, particularly Reveal, Don’t Inform. The article also has a fantastic title. Robert J Sawyer gave some great examples as well, more on the points of Realistic, Not Verbatim and People Talk Differently. He also offers some good tips for practicing writing dialogue. Chris Harris also had some excellent recommendations for practicing dialogue. Other sources I used include David Ellis, Write to Done, and Daily Writing Tips.

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Update: Clay Mind

Have you ever experienced one of those days where the entire world seems overwhelming?

That was my yesterday.

We had an unexpected lunch outing at the last minute, which was quite enjoyable but threw my schedule a bit. Upon returning home, I wasn’t quite yet ready to write. I opted instead to miss my deadline of getting started by 2pm, informing my partner he’d have to choose a penalty for me later, and bumbled about the internet for a bit.

I did this in attempts to settle my mind – the opposite happened.

The more I attempted to zone out and calm my thoughts, the more stress I began to feel. People wanted to chat with me, children’s shrieks on the playground seemed louder and more frequent than usual, and I had a plethora of tabs open of things I wanted to read but hadn’t found time for… it all felt like some tidal wave of information I was meant to take in. It was too much.

I promptly shut off the computer, collected a soft scented candle and something to cover my eyes, then drew myself a nice hot bath. The bathroom is the only place you can escape the playground noise. It was quiet, the cloth I put over my eyes blocked the light, and the scent of the candle allowed my mind to drift away from my current environment…

but my mind would not shut up!

I tried some meditation, I tried thinking on the character I wanted to write, creative exercises – nothing worked. I could feel my brain hardening into that unmalleable lump of cold clay coated in slimy mucous it becomes when I’ve reached a point of overload. I refused this and tried to let go of all thought.

My partner came home. We talked. We played some games. Still, I was fried. He encouraged me to power through and I thanked him for it. It’s nice to have someone rooting for you when you don’t want to give up.

Then I thought of transforming this feeling into words, as I had once done when I’d felt too angry to write, then applying that to a character. Nothing came, though. The computer felt intimidating.

So I had an internal conversation.

I reminded myself that the reason I challenged myself was to improve my writing. I’m doing this for fun – to do something I enjoy. If it begins to feel like a job, full of deadlines and stress, I’d be missing the point.

This lead me to one question: If I force myself to bang out my minimum words on an incomplete character and complete the challenge requirement for the day, would I begin to harbour some weird resentment?

Ultimately, I decided not to risk it. I foresee much housework and dish-washing in my near future, but I believe this was the right choice.

When I awoke this morning, I didn’t feel guilty or let down or angry with myself. Interestingly, I did feel like I’d let down my readers a bit… but as most of you are writers yourselves, I also found myself wondering if any of you have gone through anything similar.

How did you handle it? What do you find most beneficial?

This blogging community has truly been much more than I expected. I’ve had the great fortune of connecting with so many wonderful independent writers, it’s as if I’ve tapped into a wealth of knowledge and creativity I never realized existed! So if you’re here and reading this – whether you read regularly or this is the first and only time you’ll ever be by – thank you.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for writing.

Also, I should note that I have kept up with the reading portion of my challenge. I failed to mention it, but on Wednesday I caught up with Yawatta Hosby’s blog, an independent published author, and Carrie over at Magic and Marvels, which is currently the favorite read out of all my subscriptions. Carrie has a very unique way with words and, just as her tagline suggests, it adds a bit of magic to life (or reminds one of its existence) when you read it. Then I found I’ve Infused Myself with Puppy DNA, with his jarring title image but fun and creative writing. I’m still reading through his recent seven-part series on recent life.

Yesterday was Legends of Windemere, another of my favorites (especially when I’m looking for some creative inspiration), and 5 Degrees of Inspiration, which I always overlook and then regret having done so when I return. I did fail to seek out a new blogger yesterday.

Today’s reads will appear at the bottom of the character write up I intend to post later this afternoon.

Looks like today will be quite full! Perhaps this is positive reinforcement that taking yesterday off was the proper decision.

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I Wrote This…

Good Morning, World!

(and yes, that deserves all caps.)

Today I woke up groggy, got on Facebook and responded to all the ‘happy birthday’ messages, unintentionally ignored my partner, which almost caused a meaningless argument, then made myself a coffee and moseyed over here to WordPress to check on things and write my 500 words for the day. I was excited to see that I’d hit a couple of new milestones! Ten likes, ten total followers – achievements. My excitement lost its founding, however, when I looked at the stats page and realized that only couple of people had actually viewed the blog. Well, really, one person. Who viewed it twice.

I was frustrated, at first, and thought, Why like something, why follow it, if you don’t even read past the first few lines? 

Then I turned to self-reflection. Why does it matter? You’re doing this for yourself – to make yourself happy and make steps toward your ultimate goals – not to please others.

It became a self-debate about the purpose of writing, quantity vs. quality, and roads paved with yellow bricks of good intention. Eventually, I came to my own hypocrisy: I have read and genuinely enjoyed posts of the blogs I’ve followed. I followed them because I thought I would be interested in reading more of their content. …but this is all written in past tense, not present.

So I settled in with my morning coffee to do some reading before the writing; and as has happened many times before, this reading took me on a journey.

First I wound up at the Street of Dreams post. The post fit within the preview of the reader, so I almost clicked like without actually opening it. You should open it – let her know you actually read the thing, Alex! And so I did. It’s an image superimposed with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut. I was immediately touched by the words, but as I looked at them I thought, “This doesn’t sound like Vonnegut at all!” And sure enough, Rachael had written “Probably my favorite quotes (that is wrongly attributed to Kurt Vonnegut).”

Immediately, I Googled the first two lines of the quote.

Second hit looked useful. Another blog! Fortunately, this writer had done her homework. She’d found the humble writer who had authored the touching, misattributed quote.  He wished to remain anonymous, she said.

I scrolled down to find the equivalent of a ‘like’ button, which was absent, but was a bit overzealous with the scroll wheel and overshot into the comments. My screen landed perfectly on Iain Thomas’s comment. (Iain. Made me think of Iain Banks, an incredible author who recently passed away.) The comment read, “This was incredibly kind of you, thank you.” Touching. The blogger’s response to this comment indicated that this Iain was, in fact, the quote’s author. I clicked his name, which led me to I Wrote This For You.

(Before reading his blog, though, I Googled his name and watched his incredible TED Talk to better understand the project I was about to delve into.)

The first post you see at I Wrote This For You is not characteristic of the project itself. If I’d arrived at this blog on any other day, it would not have been the same. I might have seen another image (well, beautiful photograph, courtesy of Jon Ellis) with another superimposed bit of prose, which would have been touching and affected me in some way… but would not have been what I needed. I would not have stayed. Maybe I would have seen the same initial post. Still, I would not have been the same.

So I read.

And I connected.

And I contemplated.

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Window in the Annex

Well, I’ve made it seven days into my commitment to write 500 words a day. One week down, countless to go!

So far, it’s forced me into the habit of thinking about my writing each day. It is, of course, difficult to write when my mind feels blank or when I don’t feel no motivation to write. During such times, finding words to type is like pulling a heavy weight out of a sea of honey (or molasses – something sticky and viscous) using a rope. The closer I think I get to the right thing, the stickier it all feels. Self doubt, the inner critic, whatever you want to call it… that’s when it really comes out to play. Nothing feels right. But I suppose the point is to learn that even when it doesn’t feel right – you can fix it later. As long as you’re putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll get from point A to point B.

One thing I keep on my desk to help motivate me is a postcard. On the post card is a window. It looks like an attic window, more specifically, because of the old, unfinished wood that forms its pane. Through the window you can see the top of a very tall tree and just a bit of bright sky that shines through the beautiful spring leaves and flowers that adorn the tree.

That is it. A tree seen through an attic window.

This image inspires me, though, perhaps not because of what it is… but more where it is. This window is the only window not blacked out or covered in the make-shift living space above the old Opekta building in Amsterdam. That is to say, it is the only view of the outside world that Anne Frank and her family had for two years.

If you were to climb up the ladder that leads to this window in the Secret Annex, you might see a glimpse of the nearby church or some other attic windows belonging to nearby buildings; but for the most part, it is this tree. In the warm months, green; in the winter months, bare limbs reaching for the sky. That is it.

When you visit the museum, you learn a lot about the war and how it came to The Netherlands, to Amsterdam. You learn about Otto Frank and the company that he started, the people who worked there. You are slowly submerged in the setting, the time, the mood. Then you ascend the infamous stairs behind the bookcase to the Secret Annex. The rooms are all bare – the way the Nazis left them after their raid – as per the request of Otto Frank himself. It is a solemn, single-file line of people who shuffle from room to room. I’m not sure what I had expected when I first went in, but I was struck by how small all the rooms were. The lights were all quite dim, as well. It felt like night, despite it being about lunch time.

Just before you leave the Annex, you pass through a store-room with a tall ladder that leads to a small attic above. At the top of the ladder, the window.

The afternoon when we passed through was overcast – gray and rainy, with a chill in the air – and the tree was bare. The scene was just dark brown, almost black, wet tree limbs against a cloudy sky… but at the time, it seemed as though it must be the most beautiful scene in the world. You’re not allowed to take pictures in the museum but I did not want to forget the feeling I had when I saw that window. Fortunately, I must not be the only one to find significance in the window and I was able to purchase the postcard.

Now it sits upon my desk and serves as my reminder. It is so easy to take the world around us for granted. We easily forget just how beautiful the simplest things can be. And even with all of this here around us, we still suffer times when we claim to be ‘uninspired’. It is also a reminder that some people are not given the chance to live their dreams and that I should not squander the time I do have buckling under the weight of my fears instead of pursuing my own dreams. I write.

And sometimes I write because Anne Frank, and many other people for many different reasons, cannot.

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