I’m not sure if you’ve already answered a similar question or not, so I apologize if you have. I’ve noticed that I’m pretty good at writing about situations, and describing characters and settings, but I’m not very good at all when it comes to writing and properly integrating dialogue. Any suggestions? out-of-the-desert
Dialogue isn’t supposed to be too complex. It’s through dialogue that your readers are going to have a glimpse into most of your characters’ souls (considering you’re not writing from their point of view, of course!). The way you speak says a lot about who you are, and therefore it is a great way for your readers to get to know your characters.
There are some things you should keep in mind while writing dialogue. Even though there are no strict rules when it comes to anything in writing, these are a few tips that might help you constructing a killer piece of dialogue:
- When to integrate dialogue? Dialogue should be incorporated into your story whenever it is pertinent and doesn’t affect whatever pace you want your story to have at the moment. While two characters are being cornered by dozens of zombies waiting to catch up to them, they’re unlikely to be engaging in a long conversation. However, when two people are on a road trip with nothing else to do - they might very well start the small talking to kill time. Ultimately, you should incorporate dialogue into your story whenever you think it fits, whenever it’s pertinent, and whenever you need it - for instance, to slow down the pace of your story.
- Give each character an unique voice. Make it as though your reader will almost immediately identify who is speaking by the way they do so. Some of us have speaking habits that distinguish us from other people (going “hmm…” between every other word, pronouncing certain words in a different manner than those around us, overusing certain words or phrases, and so on). If your character has a particular accent, you might want to try and replicate that accent in your writing - as long as it doesn’t become too hard to understand or even slows down the act of reading. If your character usually says “Yae” instead of “You”, that’s something pretty easy for your readers to catch on and it won’t necessarily bug most of them. However, if your character can’t pronounce their “R”s and turns every “R” into an “L”, that might take your readers longer to decipher the words and make them tired of it. If that’s the case, you can just hint at an accent when you feel like it’s necessary.
- Use simple dialogue tags. There are endless lists around the internet of words to replace “Said”, and while I’m all for not slapping said word (no pun intended!) in your story every time a character speaks, I don’t think you should always be looking for complex replacements. These often take the focus away from what your character is saying. Sometimes, what you need isn’t a strong dialogue tag, but a strong speech. I’d say only replace ‘Said’ when you need a strong verb to make your reader fully understand the tone or emotion behind what your character is saying. When their speech is enough to convey the message and the dialogue tag serves only the purpose of of letting your reader know who’s speaking, a simpler dialogue tag is acceptable and recommended (whispered, screamed, said, etc).
- Make the dialogue believable. Dialogues are meant to replicate real life conversations. Your characters will make grammar mistakes and they will not always say full sentences and they will say stuff that apparently makes no sense. However, make sure that your dialogue, while sounding natural, doesn’t become tedious to read - if we have too many ums or suppresions or pauses, it might become not only boring, but also hard to follow. The way people speak also reflects who they are as a person, the education they had and their cultural background. For instance, someone who lived their entire life in a forest with little human contact and never went to school is unlikely to be using very complex words in a conversation. Make sure the way your character speaks is consistent with their personality and background and all that jazz. If necessary, act out your dialogues. If they sound awkward or forced, you might want to see if there’s something that needs to be changed.
These are some of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re writing dialogue. You’ll learn more about it as you go, as writing dialogue is something almost instinctive. Your characters should say what you think they should say and they should say it the way how you think it’s best for them and your story. There are a few more aspects to dialogue that you’ll soon enough catch up on, but you can still find more information on the links below. Hope this helped!
So you’ve completed your first draft, thrown yourself a big party with all of your friends, got black-out drunk and now that you’ve woken up half-naked and covered in whipped cream, you’re wondering what you’re supposed to do next. Well, since you now officially call yourself a writer, you’re already in for the long haul. So, wake up sunshine, it’s time to revise that first draft!
Your first draft is going to be a monster.
(Granted this has edits, but you get the idea.)
It’s going to have a lot of things that need to be changed and cut out entirely. It’s going to have way too many words, sometimes 30-50k more than you’re ever going to need. In order to whip it into shape, you’re going to have to relentlessly hack it up with an axe and then put the pieces back together into a nice, tight story. So how do you manage that?
It’s always best to tackle revision in sections. There are several things that you need to do when revising a novel and it’s easier to handle them when you do what I call a revision pass. In each pass you’re looking for specific things, and I suggest you do three major passes with your draft, one for story, one for characters, and one for grammar. Be sure to do grammar last, as it’s the largest edit and depends on everything else.
On this pass you’ll be looking for inconsistencies and glaring errors in your narrative.
Continuity – Sometimes when we’re writing a draft, we’re too busy spewing ideas onto the page that we forget some basic consistencies of our plot. If your protagonist has been driving a motorcycle in one scene and a page later is now suddenly in a car, that’s not going to make much sense to the reader. I notice in my own writing I’ll sometimes be so invested in a scene that I’ll forget a minor detail, like a character’s eye color, and swap it from green to blue within the span of a few pages. Don’t let these mistakes make it into a final draft as they tend to make your writing look sloppy.
World Building – While you should have figured out everything about your world and how it works before you constructed your draft, sometimes errors involving plausibility still slip in or sometimes you neglected to think of a ramification. World building is is the ultimate game of “what if?” for you as an author and you do need to keep asking yourself that question as you craft your narrative. If you introduce a cool thing and then you don’t explain how that cool thing can not only exist within the context of your world, but what effect it has, then your reader is probably going to become confused or fail to suspend their disbelief. Either way, this is going to cause them to lose interest in your narrative. For a solid example of world building that wasn’t entirely thought out, we can take a look at the recent film Elysium. It had the interesting concept of the super rich leaving Earth and living on a space station with all of the advanced medical technology, but it failed to fully explain how that actually occurred. I wrote a previous article about it that explains the issues in depth.
Information Dumps – This happens in a lot of novels, even published ones, and it’s tiresome to read. Authors tend to do this when trying to explain their story’s world, some complex element of the plot, or a character’s backstory to the reader. The thing is, we don’t need all of this information thrown at us at once, if at all. Only give the reader what they need to know in the immediate moment. Sprinkle the information over a wide range of scenes, give it to the reader in dialogue, show us through actions. If you need to do a backstory, be creative about it. I’ve always been a fan of how J.K. Rowling handled backstory with the pensieve scenes where Harry would dive into people’s memories. If you have an element like magic, or some supernatural power like mind-reading, then feel free to use that to your advantage. The thing to keep in mind with delivering backstory is if you do it in a flashback scene, then the forward momentum of your narrative is going to come to a grinding halt. If you want to keep your plot moving instead of doing a flashback, then try delivering the information in a conversation between characters.
Being Too Vague or Too Obvious – Go over your plot points, your conflicts and make sure that they would make sense to not only you, but to a random person. In real life, the things that people do don’t always make sense or have an acceptable reason. In fiction, they need to. Make sure you have given enough necessary information for your reader to understand what’s going on, and why, without being totally obvious. As a reader, I hate when I can see how the plot will progress from a mile away. This happens a lot of the time because writers tend to utilize overused tropes, like the Chosen One, in their stories. Don’t get me wrong, I love tropes, but even I get tired of seeing the same concepts used constantly. Don’t be afraid to do something different. Surprise your reader. Personally, I’m fond of taking tired concepts and putting a new spin on them. It’s not about what ideas you use, it’s how you use them that’s important.
Description – Description can affect the pacing of your story. How fast or how slow a scene is depends on several things. One of which is where you choose to put your description. A large chunk of description in the middle of a scene will slow it down. Interrupting an action scene with descriptions of a character’s thoughts or surroundings will have the same effect. If you want to maintain a quick pace within a scene, maybe a fight scene, focus on the action and add in little bits of description as the characters move through wherever they’re fighting. Is the scene in a warehouse? Maybe have your character slam into a forklift or some crates? Is it in a restaurant? Maybe have him drop kick his opponent from a table, disturbing the place settings? Even in fast paced scenes you need some description in order for the reader to orient themselves within the narrative. It’s important that they know where the scene is taking place. As for slow scenes, using specific descriptions can set the tone and build tension. Taking a moment to describe how dark and desolate the old mansion is, noting the musty odor, eerie creaks and the resonating whistle of passing wind can be the difference between setting up an effective scene and having one that falls flat.
Scene Chopping – Sometimes a scene isn’t needed. Sometimes it doesn’t add anything to the story and meanders. If you have a scene that doesn’t advance the plot, character development or world building, then it should be removed. If there’s some detail in that scene you still want to incorporate into your story, then find another way to do it.
Show Don’t Tell – Anyone who has ever taken a writing class has had this concept drilled into their heads. It’s the most important part of writing effective stories and probably one of the most difficult. If your character likes to drive fast cars, don’t tell the reader that, show the character driving a fast car at some point in the story. If your character sucks at lying, have him try to lie to another character and then get called out for it. If your antagonist is willing to do whatever it takes to win, show him killing someone at a crucial moment. It takes more space to show something, rather than to just tell it so know that’s it’s okay to tell sometimes. I think it’s acceptable to tell the reader about what they would be able to blatantly notice with their senses if they were actually thrown into a scene. You can tell them sounds, smells, things they might see but don’t blatantly tell them things that they should be meant to infer from action. When it comes to dialogue, it’s sometimes okay to tell when you’re trying to get a specific tone across, especially when introducing a character for the first time. If he speaks in a calm, measured tone all of the time, tell me. If he speaks with an accent, let me know. Readers won’t mind those little details.
On this pass you get to pick apart your characters.
Over or Under Developed – Sometimes, even if you’ve figured out all of your character’s strengths and flaws, new ones will surface over the course of the story. Sometimes, your side characters may outshine your main characters, or sometimes your main characters may not be strong enough. You need to find these scenes and fix them. If a side character is more interesting than your main character, if her struggle is more compelling, then maybe she should have her own story. In that same vein if your main character is too bland, if she has too many flaws or too many strengths, then your reader may have a hard time believing she’s a real person. The same is true if she’s also too well-suited to deal with the conflict or if she has a solution for every problem. Let your characters struggle. Give them situations that are difficult to overcome. Let them think. Your readers will appreciate that.
Believable Actions and Reactions – What your characters do should make sense within the context of both the narrative and their characterization. If they’ve been a kind, loving person for most of your story and suddenly they end up killing someone, then that needs to make sense. Perhaps they did it in self-defense? Or to rescue someone? Were they tricked into it? Are their emotions appropriate? If they’re not, then why? Always think of the why.
Too Much Sitting Around – I ran into this problem drafting once, noticing that when I wanted to exposit it would be in a scene where my characters were sitting around and talking. I ended up changing all of these scenes to ones where the characters did something. It doesn’t have to be something major, they could be walking around a museum, rummaging through the fridge, moving about various rooms inspecting objects; just have them doing something that’s appropriate. You can reveal bits about their character in these kinds of scenes. If your character has OCD, you can have them go around a room and clean or rearrange objects to their liking while having a conversation. Feel free to interrupt the conversation with observations your character makes if it fits. If you want to see how utterly boring it is to have characters sit around and talk or walk around and talk, watch the first three Star Wars movies. There are tons of examples in those. In my experience, the only scenes where sitting around and talking are appropriate are interrogation room scenes, and even those can be done creatively.
Act Your Age – Don’t you just love child characters who act like adults in stories? No? I didn’t think so. It’s important that your character, whatever their age, is believable as being that age. A child simply isn’t going to have as much knowledge as an adult. They also probably won’t care to much about adult issues. Kids have kid problems. They don’t worry about if they’ll have enough money for rent next month, they worry about getting too many green Skittles in their bag because they like the purple Skittles instead. They tend to look at the world from a more innocent point of view, seeing the magic and wonder of new things because they haven’t been jaded by the harsh realities of life. They also seem to believe the unbelievable without trouble. Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is written from the point of view of a child and when I’m reading it, I never feel like I’m seeing that world through the eyes of an adult.
Passive Characters – It’s okay to have side characters who don’t have a major role in your plot. It’s bad when you have a major character, especially your protagonist, written as a passive character. A passive character is one who doesn’t try to move the plot forward on her own. She allows the plot to dictate her actions, not her actions to dictate the plot. She is reactive. She may not have very strong goals or motivations. If you write a passive protagonist, your reader is going to get bored. Make sure she has a point. Give her goals. Give her wants. Give her needs. You want your reader to care about her struggle, to connect with her, so don’t write her as a passive character. Passive doesn’t mean that you can’t have a shy or introverted protagonist. Introverts have goals too!
Point of View – Check for consistency in point of view. This applies to first person and third person, especially if you’re using multiple characters. You want to make sure that each character has a different voice. You don’t want your readers to get confused as to who is telling the story. When using multiple points of view, you want to make sure that every one of them is necessary. If a character doesn’t add some new insight, doesn’t show the reader a new aspect of the tale, then their point of view should probably be cut out.
This pass is to weed out all of the mechanical errors. Structure, word usage and style have all been lumped into this pass.
Sentence Structure –You want to look through scenes and take note of what kinds of sentences you used. Short, brisk sentences can be used to speed up pacing, while longer, more complex sentences tend to slow it down. Varying the structure of sentences in your writing often makes it more interesting for your readers.
Repetition – We’ve all done it. There are some words or phrases that we default to when describing certain things and sometimes we use them more than we should. That awesome, unique description you came up with becomes less amazing when you use it every few pages. I noticed this a lot when I read Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. She always used the phrase “his mouth pressed into a hard line”. It was pretty good the first few times but man, after reading it so much I started to get annoyed by it. Your readers will notice when you repeat words and phrases a lot. And they will not like it.
Dialogue Tags – People are going to argue up and down about dialogue tags and if they’re necessary, so I’m going to chime in on it here. I think that in most cases, the dialogue can and should speak for itself. Let the reader infer how a phrase is being said based on the situation and the physical responses of the character. However, in normal speech there is something called inflection. Inflection is a change in someone’s voice when speaking to convey a certain emotion. Inflection also exists in writing, but sometimes it’s hard to convey from dialogue alone. Sometimes you need a tag to let the reader know how it’s being said. As such, using tags other than ‘said’ should be done only when necessary. Dialogue tags are also important to let the reader know who’s speaking. Should they be used after every piece of dialogue? No. But you should use them the first time when you’re switching to a new speaker and occasionally after that so you don’t confuse your reader. I hate when I’m reading a book and the author has used a lot of naked pieces of dialogue. I tend to lose track of who’s speaking. You never want your reader to have to hunt to find what characters said what in a conversation.
Passive vs. Active Voice – When you write fiction, you want to do it in an active voice. This is completely different than passive and active characters. Active voice is when the subject of the sentence performs the action. For example: The boy ate the fish. Passive voice is when the subject receives the action. For example: The fish was eaten by the boy. The best way to determine the difference between a sentence written in passive or active voice is to look for the “by” phrase. More examples.
The Right Words – You can often trim your sentences, and shave tens of thousands of words off your manuscript by modifying the words you use. Sometimes a single word can do the same job that a few can. For instance “taking note of” can be shortened to “noting.” In the same vein, you don’t want to use words that are overcomplicated or have archaic meanings. The thesaurus is good when you’re stuck on a word, but don’t pick something that the average person isn’t going to recognize. Using big words does not make you sound smart, it makes you sound arrogant and illuminates the flaws in your own vocabulary. However, if you’re writing a character who has a high level of intelligence or is very formal, than they may use those kinds of words in their active vocabulary. Also, be sure to check the usage of commonly confused words like affect and effect.
Simple Mechanics – This covers just about everything else: punctuation, spelling, capitalization, etc. Just because other authors have gotten away with breaking certain rules of grammar, doesn’t mean you can. If you intend to submit your work to an agent or publisher, you shouldn’t even think about it. Buy a copy of The Elements of Style by Strunk &White, crack open that Chicago Manual of Style (a lot of publishers use this) and buckle down. You have a lot of work to do.
You need this. No matter what you’re doing in writing, you need this like you need to breathe. Getting another opinion, or five, on your work is the most important part of the revision process. You can find beta readers or hire a developmental editor. Whatever method you choose, you can never skip this part of the revision process. Feedback from people who know what they’re doing will open your eyes when it comes to your story.
In my case, I ended up changing my protagonist, some character names and points of view for scenes as well as addressing a metric fuck-ton of other issues I never noticed. When you’re so focused on writing a story, when you know everything that’s already happened and what’s going to happen, it’s sometimes hard to realize that you’ve made a mistake. I wrote a few articles about giving and receiving feedback before:
So there are two main ways to handle revision.
- On the computer
- On paper and then transferring it to the computer
I generally draft on the computer and revise on paper. I like to revise on paper because I can draw all over my work. I can underline things, cross things out, draw arrows going every which way and write notes in the margins. There are some programs that let you do this, but I prefer the organic pen to paper feel when I’m giving my draft the axe.
If you want some programs for writing, formatting and editing:
If you guys have any more programs you’d like to add to the list, let me know.
Anonymous asked: my writing has become very stiff and….fake, it doesnt flow like it used to, and I find everything I write is just awful. Any advice on how to get rid of this rigid writing?There could be two possible things going on: 1) you’re not inspired by what you’re working on, or 2) you’re in a creativity rut. Unfortunately, when this happens you can’t always force your way through it. Sometimes you need to set aside whatever you’re working on for a little while and take a little “vacation” to recharge your creativity. Luckily this is easier than it sounds! Take a few days or ideally a week or two and do any of the following:
1) Start an inspiration journal
Go out and buy a pretty journal if you don’t already have one, and maybe buy a special pen (or set of pens—I love Sakura Gelly Roll pens) and use it to record all the things that inspire you. These can be quotes, bits of poetry, favorite movie or television scenes, observations, descriptions, words, snippets of overheard conversation, pictures from magazines—literally anything you want!
2) Get out and see the world
You don’t have to go on vacation or even go out of town to see the world around you. Take a long walk, go to a new store or restaurant, go sit by a lake at a pretty park, sit at the mall and people watch, go rummage through the shelves of a local book store, or visit a local attraction like a museum or amusement park. Really observe your surroundings. Try to describe what you see in your head as if you were putting it into a novel. Pay attention to what people look like—what do they wear, how do they move, and how do they act? Listen to what people say and store it away for later use. Record your favorite observations in your inspiration journal.
Poetry, short stories, classic literature, fun books—read it all. Reading is one of the best ways to recharge your creativity, and it’s one of the best ways to learn about writing.4) Listen to Music
Put your iPod on shuffle and sit in a dark room or take a walk. Start a free account on Pandora and find new music to listen to. Really pay attention to song lyrics and look them up if you need to. If something inspires you, write it in your inspiration journal.
5) Watch TV and Movies
Consuming other writers’ stories is a great way to recharge and find inspiration. It’s so easy and relaxing to put on a pair of comfy pajamas, pop some popcorn and pour yourself a favorite drink, then curl up in front of the TV for a couple of hours and let yourself get swept away.
6) Do Something Crafty or Artistic
Even if you don’t have an artistic bone in your body, give yourself permission to play with color and lines and shapes for a little while, even if the end result isn’t museum-worthy. Buy some inexpensive canvas and a starter set of acrylics and brushes and try your hand at painting. You can even pull up tutorials on YouTube if you’d prefer a little guidance. Purchase a kids’ art kit at your local craft store or look for free project sheets for ideas. Look online to see if you have a paint-your-own ceramics or pottery store. Or look for a bead shop where you can go and make your own jewelry. Sign-up for a craft class at your local craft shop or ask your mom or a friend to teach you how to knit or sew.
7) Start a Tumblr Inspiration Gallery
Create a tumblr gallery and use it to re-blog inspiring pictures, quotes, and articles.
8) Do Writing Prompts
Writing prompts are a great way to exercise your creativity without the pressure of a regular writing project. I have a bunch of prompt sites listed in this post.
9) Listen to This American Life online or on NPR
This American Life is a weekly radio program that features stories that revolve around a theme. They explore a wide range of subjects, and you never know where a story will take you. It can be a great form of inspiration.
10) Do Some Armchair Travel
The internet makes it super easy to see the world right from the comfort of your own home. You can take a spin on Google Earth and look at user photos of different places, or use Google Street View to “walk” around any location you can imagine. There are lots of web sites that give you 3D and panoramic tours of various places, like Globe Genie which will drop you in random places. GeoGuesser does the same thing but you have to guess where you are. ;) Official web sites of various locations often have great galleries, video tours, and other ways to explore from a distance. Many museums offer on-line exhibits as well. An alternative to internet travel is to go rummage through travel books at the library or a bookstore.
After a few days or a week or so, give your writing another go and see if it’s better. If not, take a look at some of the posts on my master post list to see if any can help you get out of your rut. Good luck! :)
1. Don’t think that being published will make you happy. It will for four weeks, if you are lucky. Then it’s the same old fucking shit.
2. Hemingway was fucking wrong. You shouldn’t write drunk. (See my third novel for details.)
3. Hemingway was also right. ‘The first draft of everything is shit.’
4. Never ask a publisher or agent what they are looking for. The best ones, if they are honest, don’t have a fucking clue, because the best books are the ones that seemingly come from nowhere.
5. In five years time the semi-colon is going to be nothing more than a fucking wink.
6. In five years time every fucking person on Twitter will be a writer.
7. Ignore the fucking snobs. Write that space zombie sex opera. Just give it some fucking soul.
8. If it’s not worth fucking reading, it’s not worth fucking writing. If it doesn’t make people laugh or cry or blow their fucking minds then why bother?
9. Don’t be the next Stephen King or the next Zadie Smith or the next Neil Gaiman or the next Jonathan Safran fucking Foer. Be the next fucking you.
10. Stories are fucking easy. PLOT OF EVERY BOOK EVER: Someone is looking for something. COMMERCIAL VERSION: They find it. LITERARY VERSION: They don’t find it. (That’s fucking it.)
11. No-one knows anything. Especially fucking me. Except:
12. Don’t kill off the fucking dog.
13. Oh, yeah, and lastly: write whatever you fucking want.
It’s time to get back into the groove with my weekly writer tips! They may not come directly from me every week, but they are tips worth sharing – so hopefully you will appreciate them and find them useful! *wink, wink*
This week I’d like to talk about sensory description. For your book. Because it’s important. Why? Readers use their imagination to direct your story in their head…and in order to…
Anonymous asked: I’m writing a post apocalyptic story in which the main character has grown up entirely in isolation with only his parents for company. He then leaves his home and goes out into the world. I know he’ll obviously be without many social skills any other person would have but I’m not sure just how socially impaired he would be given that he’d have had his parents influence? The only resources I can find about children growing up in isolation involve abuse which is not the case for him.Here again we have one of those high variable, highly subjective situation that can’t have a “one size fits all” definition. It depends on so many things:
- Did he leave home at 16 or 21? It makes a difference.
- Were his parents good, affectionate people?
- Did his parents prepare him for the eventuality that he might one day leave home?
- Did the parents share stories about life in the pre-apocalyptic world? Did he have access to books, old magazines and newspapers, or anything else that might give him some idea of the outside world?
- Do his parents instill a fear of other people in him? Or does he grow up wanting to meet other people someday?
All of these things (and probably others) will have an effect on how impaired he is when he gets out. Best case scenario: he leaves home sooner rather than later; his parents were good and affectionate people who prepared him to leave home one day, and gave him a sense of the outside world; books and magazines further prepared him; he grows up excited to meet other people. Worst case scenario: he leaves home as an adult; his parents are harsh, bleak people, who never saw a time when their son would leave them; they never spoke of life outside their home and he had no access to books or magazines; his parents fill him with fear of the outside world and mistrust of other people.
In the best case scenario, he would probably be a little clueless about things, but eager to learn. He might be a bit naive and shy at times, and maybe overly trusting, but ultimately interacts well with others. In the worst case scenario, he might be a bit of a mess, depending on how highly he regards his parents. It’s possible he might be nervous, fearful, and untrusting. Maybe a bit paranoid, and really bad at interacting with others.
I hope that helps!