Friday, November 27, 2009

What I'm Thankful For?

My family and friends who are near and dear to my heart.

Wonderful children and amazing grandchildren and their beautiful smiles and giggles.

For the new adventure of Your Writing Coach and the new friends I've discovered along the way.

All of you who stayed close by and added your support as I was in the hospital and have continued to add your support while I'm in partial hospitalization outpatient program. I promise that just as soon as I'm able, I'll add new content to the blog.

I'm thankful for God's love and the beauty He shows us everyday.

I am thankful.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Thought for the Day

If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.

Thomas Edison

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Say What?


It sounds easy right. You get two or more characters together and you start them talking. Ah, but did you know there are rules to writing dialogue?

Of course there are!

But, don't worry, I'll try to make them easy to understand and follow. So, let's get started. We all know that dialogue is plain and simple just easier and faster to read than narrative. It keeps the reader interested and moves the story along.

That's your first rule. Dialogue has to move the story along. As Dwight V. Swain says in The Things They Say article, "...ever and always dialogue must advance the plot. How do you make dialogue do this advancing? By having it give the reader information needed to understand what's happening."

I highly recommend a book titled Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue by Gloria Kempton. I believe this book is the ultimate "go to" for your dialogue needs. Ms Kempton writes, "Dialogue not only creates space on the page, which is visually appealing, but it's also what brings characters to life in a story, which is emotionally appealing. We're much more interested in a story's setting when it comes through a scene of dialogue."

Yes! I totally agree. I don't know how many times I've said to my writers, use dialogue to set your scene. For example:

"The water is so warm!" Maureen said as she stepped slowly into the gentle waves.
"What did you expect when we came to Florida, you silly old girl?" Kay laughed at her friend.
"I wasn't sure, I mean, living next to Lake Michigan all my life, didn't even prepare me for this. But, " she paused as she bent down to pick up a pink seashell. "After Harold died and left me all that money, I knew I wanted something different."
"This is different." said Kay with a wry smile.
Maureen lifted her face to the bright sun. "It's so wonderful here." She shaded her eyes. "I just wish those darn seagulls would go find someone else to bug!" She laughed as a bold seagull dived hoping to snap up a tasty treat.

Do you see how we learn from this simplistic example that the scene is set in Florida at the seashore, and we learn even more, the characters are from somewhere in Michigan and they're probably older. All done without using narrative.

Just as important, while you're moving your story along with your dialogue, don't wander. And, no chit-chat for the sake of adding dialogue.

According to Ms Kempton, there are seven functions of dialogue.

Characterizes/Reveals Motives
According to Ms Kempton, "The most effective way to reveal your characters' motives is through their own mouths." In that same vein, the best way for you, the writer, to introduce a character to a reader is to use dialogue. You can use the same things you use in real life when you're interacting with other people: facial expressions and body language.

Remember, as Dwight V. Swain reminds us, "There are things a writer must think about, be aware of. If the words he puts in his story people's mouths are out of character, he'll be hard put to rise above them. Those words should reflect such factors as sex, age, occupation, status and background."

Sets the Mood in the Story
As the writer, you're in charge of setting and controlling the mood in your story. When characters interact, they exchange feelings and emotions. You should also be educing an emotion from the reader as well in order to hold their attention; to keep the reader turning that page.

Intensifies the Story Conflict
According to Ms Kempton, "Every scene of dialogue, in some way, needs to move the story conflict forward." That's a tall order, right? Just keep reminding the reader by using dialogue to show how critical it is for your character to achieve his/her goal.

Dwight V. Swain tells us this, "By the words your people say and the manner in which they say them, dialogue should characterize and individualize them, give information to advance the plot, reveal and build the emotion that galvanizes the story."

Creates Tension and Suspense
Ms Kempton says it better than anyone else, "Effective dialogue always, always delivers tension."

Tension and suspense must the at the core of nearly every scene. You might characterize these scenes with shorter words or shorter sentences to create more tension.

Speeds up your Scenes
That all elusive plot point - pacing. Yes, you can control pacing with dialogue. Used correctly, dialogue can move the story along quickly. Narrative, on the other hand, will slow the story down.

Adds Bits of Setting/Background
Go back and re-read my example above and see how I added bits of setting and background through dialogue. Most writers want to use narrative to set the scene before starting into the dialogue. That's not necessary.

Ms Kempton states, "Setting and background can actually be made interesting when incorporated into a dialogue scene. The reader experiences the setting through the viewpoint character's observations, and depending on the character, this could prove very interesting indeed. As long as there's tension, of course."

Communicates the Theme
In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King writes, "When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you're done, you have to step back and look at the seems to me that every book--at least every one worth reading --is about something."

Stephen King is right. That something is theme. You have to know what your story is about and what you want it to convey to your reader.

Conflict + Resolution = Theme

This is what Gloria Kempton says about dialogue and theme, "Dialogue is not only a faster and more effective way to communicate the theme than to use long paragraphs of dry exposition, but it's also more emotional, up-front, and personal with the reader."

Dialogue is one of the most important tools the writer has you should learn to use it properly. Loren D. Estleman in her article Five Ways to Strengthen Fiction With Dialogue, suggests five steps for developing an ear for dialogue.

Write Plays
She says that even if you never sell them, the practice of writing dialogue forces you to exercise speech usage.

Listen to People
Janet Evanovich in How I Write can answer this, "Pay attention to the spoken word. Play it back in your mind. ... Dialogue is everwhere if you just listen."

Read a lot of Dialogue
Read. Read. Read. You've heard it all before. Read lot's of dialogue, see how other authors are doing it.

Read your Dialogue Aloud
Read your dialogue into a tape recorder than play it back. Have someone else read it to you. Listen to it carefully. You'll be surprised at what you hear and how quickly the fixes come to your mind.

Don't try so hard to make it work. Dialogue must come naturally. You'll know it when you hear it.

Some other DO's and DON'Ts in Dialogue courtesy of Robert Newton Peck and Janet Evanovich
Do keep your sentences and phrases short. People rarely talk in monologues
Don't worry about overusing the word "said".
Do break up your dialogue with an interjection from another character or a thought or action if any dialogue runs longer than three sentences.
Don't add useless "ly" adverbs following each said.
Do use a telling detail to remind us who's speaking when the conversation goes on a long time.
Don't use so many exclamation marks!
Do make sure each character uses different grammar and figures of speech appropriate to who he is and where he comes from.
Don't underline every other word because you think it's important.
Do be sure to use a reasonable balance of dialogue and narrative

That's it. Dialogue in a "nutshell". Now get out there and show the writing world what you've learned!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Thought for the Day

Those who believe that they are exclusively in the right are generally those who achieve something.

Aldous Huxley

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Where Am I?


Helen Haukeness in her article Setting Your Novel Straight, defines setting simply as "a backdrop against which your characters perform."

But, in reality, setting is a little more complicated than that. Mostly it's because of the problems that you may encounter with setting. We'll discuss those and with the help of some experts, the solutions.

According to Noah Lukeman in the First Five Pages, "setting itself becomes a character, interacting with the other characters."

As writers, we must understand that setting is a living entity of its own within our story. It changes, plies us with senses, and evokes mood. But, for an agent or editor looking at your manuscript, there are mistakes you can make with setting that will cause them to reject your story.

You must have setting in your story. If you don't that's your first problem. Some writers start their story with no hint of place or time leaving the reader in the dark as to where or when the story is set.

Then the opposite is also true. Some writers spend so much time opening their first scene with a description of setting that they've bored the reader and slowed the pace so much that the reader has given up on ever getting through your story. According to Noah Lukeman, "If you have a tendency to describe the setting all at once, try stretching it out over the course of several pages -- readers can't take in all that information at once anyway, and a setting will become more real if it unfolds slowly..."

According to Janet Evanovich, in How I Write, her opinion is to "Provide the setting and atmosphere information as close to the beginning of the book. This gives your reader a sense of where the characters live and work."

Judiciously, writers. Judiciously.

Helen Haukeness describes some frequently encountered problems with setting and identifies the solutions. I'll highlight the most obvious ones.

First of all, she indicates that writers fail to understand the depth of a setting. Ms Haukeness states that "A story's setting comprises more than buildings and roads and flora and mountains in the background. Setting involves an entire environment: furniture, weather, people, tools, toys, clutter, lighting, odors. In a word, details."

This is the biggest misconception I encounter with writers; involving all the senses and surroundings in setting their story. It's the easiest one to overlook because all the focus is on the characters. That is why in most beginner writers' stories, we see the "talking heads". This is where dialogue is composed of just two characters talking with no action, setting, emotion, or senses.

Second, Ms Haukeness discusses how writers fail to change settings. Changing settings is just like changing emotions within a character and adding and subtracting conflict within your story. Noah Lukeman tells us it's a great mistake to limit settings "because limiting settings often ends up adversely affecting stories and characters, hindering them from branching out, doing what they would if they had the space."

What all three of our experts can agree on, is this. Our characters must interact with the story's setting. It can be something as simple as the teacher writing on the chalkboard. The executive sitting at his/her desk fiddling with the computer mouse. Or the stableboy rubbing saddlesoap into his mistress' favorite saddle. Whatever. Get your characters involved.

Don't wait for your readers to ask, "Where am I?"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thought for the Day

People become really quite remarkable when they start thinking that they can do things. When they believe in themselves they have the first secret of success.

Norman Vincent Peale

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Who is going to tell your story?

Point of View: The combination of collective opinions, prejudices, tastes and attitudes of your story's character(s). (According to James N. Frey in How to Write a Damn Good Novel.)

How important is Point of View (POV)? It's so important that it will affect almost everything in your story. According to Joel Rosenberg, Choosing Your Storyteller, "Your point of view choice is also important in that point of view affects how much the readers can believe in the story being told. A proper choice can lead to the willing suspension of disbelief."

We all know how important POV is. The questions I get from my writers are What POV should I use? and What's the difference between the POVs?

Let's see if we can answer those questions.

What's the difference between the POVs?

Joel Rosenberg tells us that we have three basic choices: first (me), second (you) or third (him/her). He quickly dispenses with second POV as a poor choice because it puts the writer/reader in the story as a character, which the reader would probably never believe and would probababy leave your abilities as a writer in jeopardy.

First Person POV is where one of the characters tells his/her story. A beginning writer usually finds this the easiest way to write. However, it takes quite a bit of skill to manipulate first person POV. According to Mr. Frey, "You cannot go places the narrator couldn't have been and show things to the reader the narrator couldn't have seen. Not without a lot of burdensome explaining."

One of the best examples of first person narrative done right is J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

Third Person POV can come in various forms: omniscient, camera eye, single point of view, and sigma character.

Omniscient is the God-like POV. It's where the narrator of the story knows everything about every character and reveals all of their thoughts to the reader.

Camera Eye is the exact opposite of Omniscient. Instead of the reading knowing all, the reader only knows what is going on in front of them, not getting the thoughts of feelings of the characters. Just like watching movie.
Single POV is exactly what it says. The POV for the reader comes from one character only throughout the entire story.

Sigma Character is also known as multiple POV. According to Janet Evonovich in How I Write, she points out that "With multiple points of view, the action moves from person to person." It's important to understand; however, that with the changing of character POV, you should do so in a practical manner. Do not change POV in the middle of scenes in the middle of paragraphs. Make sure you use proper scene breaks or chapter breaks to indicate the changes of POV.

Ms. Evonovich says it best, "When you change a narrator's point of view, always use a transition such as a scene break or a new chapter. This tells the reader that he is now inside the head of a new character. It's best to limit the POV to a few characters because the more you use, the more confusing it is to the reader."
So, what point of view should you use?

According to Mr. Frey, the question isn't "what point of view?" but "Who can tell this story best?" Remember, to make your story the best it can be, you want to tell it from the character's POV that can best reflect your image of your story.

Again, according to Mr. Frey, "the selection of the narrative voice is based upon a consideration of genre." In his opinion, "for most genres, you are probably well-advised to use author-invisible, third-person, limited omniscient viewpoint. That's the standard; it's what readers expect and what editors want. You should deviate from the norm only for powerful and persuasive reasons."

In my opinion? I think all the experts have differing opinions. What's most popular? Depends on what book you're reading at the moment, actually.

Point of view is something that needs to be worked on individually with each writer with each story. What I hope I've done here, is helped you understand POV a little better.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thought for the Day

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.

Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

To Muse or Not to Muse - That is the Question

Does your muse guide you along your writing process? From the moment you put pen to paper; fingers to keyboard?

Do you write effortlessly with your muse whispering in your ear the characters' dialogue and emotions?

Does your muse lead you through an extensive outline so near perfect that you can write your entire story with nary an edit that you can draft and submit?

Or are you like the rest of us, who must nurture our muse and plead with our muse not to leave us high and dry while we struggle to write our first draft and then as we rewrite through the second and subsequent drafts?

Writing is a lonely profession and the only companion we have is our muse. So, we must treat it with kindness and love. Stroking its ego.

Robert Fulton Jr. in his book, But You Know What I Mean! asks, "Does a muse live in your soul, ready to inspire you at a moment's notice?" He goes on to say, "Some are vocal and others are tacit. Sometimes they are overpowered by our fear and insecurity."

Muses are sensitive creatures. And, no doubt they will abandon us at time, resulting in writer's block. However, we must persevere and continue to write.

Because, as Robert Fulton Jr. says, "When inspiration happens, treasure the moment. But know that you can write even if your muse takes a vacation." While your muse is on vacation you can get through your writer's block by following your outline or plan. Use the "what if" strategy.

Finally, I'll leave you with one last quote from Mr. Fulton: "If being a writer is important to you, make time every day and write. The productivity can be as powerful as any muse."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dream Your Way to Inspiration

We all dream. Well, I probably shouldn't be so literal.

Most of us dream.

If you work hard at it, you can remember your dreams, as well. And, if you do, they can become a great source of inspiration for your stories. The best way to start remembering your dreams is to put a pad of paper or a journal next to your bed and a pen so that you can write as soon as you awaken from your sleep, before the day begins and you start worrying about what you're going to wear or who's going to take the kids to soccer or what you're going to eat for breakfast.

Write when the sleepies are still in your eyes and the Sandman is still streaking across the sky. Search your mind and remember whatever you can. Scenes. Images. Voices. People. Whatever you can put on paper that will spark an idea later.

It will take practice, but you'll get better and better at remembering your dreams.

Trust me.

I've written two books based on dreams I've had. One dream I had was so vivid that when I woke I immediately grabbed pen and paper and wrote for nearly and hour and when I was finished I had the entire synopsis for my book. When I finished my book, it literally was straight from my dream with a little embellishment of my own imagination.

My second book was also from a dream, although it was a much darker dream with less than complete images. I was still able to come up with the synopsis and complete the book.

My first dream book was titled Trust in the Wind and has been published, and my second dream book is titled Out for Justice and will be released Summer of 2010.

Did you know that Stephen King dreamed the book Misery?

Imagine what success is lurking beneath your subconscious right now?