Thursday, July 30, 2020

Three Tips to Writing Dialogue




Look at this cat and tell me what you think she is saying. (It's one of my four cats, Patch, sitting at the bar in my house, by the way.) I imagine her saying, "What'll you have?" or something similar."What'll" because it is colloquial, improper English, for "What will." People rarely speak in proper English, unless they are giving a speech or something similar. The quote also gives the cat a motive. She has a job to do, tending bar, and to accomplish that motive she first has to find out what drink you desire so she can properly make it. Additionally, it implies that there is someone on the other side of the bar, listening, or not listening, or most accurately, half listening, because that is what people do most of the time, even in conversation. That person may answer right away, or they may hesitate, think, or finish a conversation with someone else before answering. We each have our own motivation and half listen to each other to achieve our own motivations while we deal with the other person's problems are to see how much we have to help them to achieve our own goals.

Is that a pessimistic view of the world? Perhaps, but one that I think is still pretty accurate. As human beings we must negotiate with each other to gain what we want and need. Ideally, there should be give and take. So now the question is, how do we capture that plurality of motives in conversation on the page in a work of fiction?

One aspect of fiction where I seem to excel is writing dialogue. Some of the short stories I've managed to get published were virtually all dialogue. Furthermore, when I receive a personalized rejection, more often than not, they mention that the dialogue was good and seemed natural. While there may be other areas I still need to work on, I do seem to write good dialogue. Therefore, I thought this may be a good time to share what I know about creating good dialogue.

There are three things to remember with writing good dialogue.

1. People rarely, if ever, speak proper English. I assume this is probably true of speakers of other languages as well. We use figures of speech, idioms, slang and often try to appear witty to others. When someone does speak proper English in a normal conversation, we would think of that person as stuffy, uppity, pedantic, arrogant, or other unflattering adjectives. In fact, most people don't even speak in complete sentences. We get distracted, have other thoughts to convey, or just don't have the time.


2. Each character should have their own motivations, and their dialogue should reflect that. Yes, all the time. This is a work of fiction after all. This moves the plot and creates the type of conflict and tension people like to read about. Dialogue can move the plot in this way just as well as the actions, perhaps even better than the actions in many cases.

3. People don't really listen to each other. Have you ever just listened to two people having a conversation. Try it some time. People half listen, but again, are distracted by what was said earlier, or what we want to say, or by, wait, was that a squirrel? We don't have time to listen, so we end up half listening. Watch a Neil Simon play, or a film adaptation, or read one of his plays. He's really good at this aspect, in my opinion.

For another example (okay, one that's not as good Neil Simon, but still . . .), consider the opening conversation to one of my published short stories, "Paranormal Experiment," which was published in parAbnormal Digest some time ago. Rights have reverted back to me at this point.

“What’s wrong, Linda?” Eric asked his translucent girlfriend as she sat on a large wooden box in the college physics laboratory. He placed an opaque hand on her see-through shoulder in a comforting gesture.

     “I’m just not sure I want to go through with this. I mean what if something happens to me?”

     “Awe, come on babe, don’t you trust me? I mean what can happen? You’re already dead, right?”

     “Don’t call me babe! You know I hate that.” She stood up, threw her arms down, and turned away, her faded white dress flowing in the motion, the long belled sleeves trailing behind her. “And how can I forget I’m a ghost and you’re not when you keep reminding me.”

The very opening line asks what is wrong, implying conflict from the very first line. We learn Linda is a ghost by her description. Her motivation is that she is in love with Eric, who wants to experiment on her, and is unsure how far she wants to go to show her love for Eric. Eric's motivation is that he wants to be a famous scientist by conducting the first experiments on a ghost, one which he just happens to be dating. It also seems that Eric is rather a jerk, calling her "babe," a slang term, which she doesn't like. It even seems he may be using her to accomplish success in his career. The final lines add the underlying wedge to their relationship, that she's a ghost and he isn't. (Don't worry, Linda gets her revenge in the end by killing Eric, so he has to give up science, and they live happily ever after . . .  as ghosts.)

So I hope I have helped you come up with great believable dialogue. Please feel free to use these tips to your advantage. Just remember, people don't speak proper English, everyone has motives, and nobody really listens to one another. Now get out there and write great dialogue!

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Editing a Novel

Everyone edits differently just as everyone writes differently. Something that might work for one writer, that same tactic might not work for another writer. But I thought today might be a good time to blog about how I edit my works. I am currently in the process of editing my old completed manuscript, and I recently completed another rough draft of a full novel, and this too will need plenty of editing. So since I'm spending much of my summer writing time editing rather than writing, I thought this would be a good time to blog about just exactly how I go about editing my work.

It should be noted that while I am writing specifically about how I edit a whole novel, the process for me is very similar to how I would edit a much shorter work such as a short story.

In order to edit, you first, obviously, have to write a rough draft. My rough drafts are often pretty rough. I just try to get the story down. It often lacks detail, and even some character introspection. In other words the rough draft is usually pretty skeletal. It contains mainly each scene's action and dialogue.

When I edit, I go back through and add all the other details. This often includes scene descriptions, some character thoughts and reactions, and some historical context, such as character backstories, and prior plot events. This does make the editing process quite involved and time consuming, but I just need to get that basic story down first.

Whether this method will work for you, the reader, is up to you. The most important thing is to have some sort of a routine that meets your writing needs. Building habits of good writing techniques as well as editing will lead to better finished works.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Why Write During Times Like This?

I have seen on several social media pages that some people are questioning why anyone would or could write, draw, or otherwise create any type of art during times like this? The world seems to be in turmoil. The Covid-19 pandemic is still going strong, although many people seem to have moved on. Numbers of infections continue to increase in many states and regions in the United States. There are still many protests going on for equal rights for African-Americans, although thankfully there appears to be few violent clashes.

Some might even argue that we should be helping defeat the pandemic, or providing support for those who are marginalized. And they may be correct.

However, I would also argue that writing, and more broadly creating any type of art, is a way of providing support for a cause or helping stamp out a pandemic. Writing and other arts help move opinions and has done so for thousands of years. It reflects the time, encapsulates it for generations to come.

Besides, at some point the world will calm back down and things will come to some sort of new normal. It would be nice to have a world to return to and a world without any sort of art is not much of a world at all. And that makes this the best time of all to create your respective art.


Saturday, June 6, 2020

Writing in the Apocalypse

With everything going on now, the coronavirus pandemic continuing and now all of the civil unrest due to the murder of George Floyd, it can be hard to concentrate. It might even seem to be the end of the world. While I even named this blog post after an apocalypse, I am a bit more optimistic about the future of the country and the world as a whole. In the long term, I think we'll likely be okay. In the short term, things seem to be a bit rocky.

I, like many of you I assume, find myself on Facebook for longer periods of time than I used to. And I keep watching and reading the news to find out the latest. I've been watching some of the protests and riots on Facebook Live and other sources. We are living in a historic time, one in which, hopefully brings about some sort of needed change. It is hard not to get caught up in it. If you feel moved enough to get involved, by all means do so. Don't let me or anyone else talk you out of it.

But the bigger purpose of this post to remind myself, and if you see fit, to remind you, the reader, to keep taking care of yourself. It is best mentally to carry on as normally as possible. For the purposes of this blog that means to keep writing. Remember to tune out of the Facebook live feeds once in a while. Put time limits on how much time you spend watching and reading the news. It is good to be informed, but it is best to not let it take over your life. And again, I'm talking to myself as much as I am anyone else, as I do with most of my posts.

For myself, I've still been reading items I need for my non-fiction book on Frankenstein in film. I am also very close to finishing a rough draft of a novel about a werewolf. I've also seen a little success lately. If anyone is interested, my most recent publishing credit is a horror short story titled "The Lecturer" and was posted on Page and Spine's new Outta This World page here. And my latest poem, "A Perfect Rainbow" can be found in the latest issue of Teach. Write. here.

So what is everyone else doing to cope with the pandemic and all the other turmoil in the world today? Here is a picture from a cruise ship I was on a few years ago. I like it for its bright horizon.


Saturday, May 16, 2020

A Horrifying Discussion! Check out a virtual horror panel with two of my...


I was recently part of this podcast with other members of the Horror Writers Association Virginia Chapter, Pam Kinney, and the panels's host, Bryan Nowak. Check it out.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

How is Everyone Faring out There?


As chaos continues over this virus pandemic and quarantines continue, I thought I'd take a minute to address that we all have and will deal with the coronavirus in different ways, and that is okay. Some mean-spirited memes out there are shaming writers in writing groups if they are not being productive during this pandemic. The argument from these memes is that now that we are all shut in, if we are not being productive writers, we were and are never going to be productive writers.

I'm here to say that those memes are hogwash. Bunk. Malarkey. These can be very trying times, and when stress levels are high, writing can be difficult to impossible. It is true that some people claim to be better writers when they are stressed, but not for others. Everyone is different and everyone has to deal with this in their own way. Certainly it can be difficult to write if you are in danger of losing your job, or your house, or are having trouble putting food on the table.

For myself, I've been okay so far. I was even offered to take over another class from an instructor who could not finish the semester. However, this could be short-lived success for me. My summer classes were canceled and no one seems to know what they will do with fall classes. The stimulus money will help me get through for a little while, and hopefully there will be an end to this pandemic or some return to a new normal soon.

Writing wise, I've been a little too busy with teaching to do a lot, but I've managed to get a few words on a page. I'm not too stressed to write yet, and am hoping I don't reach that point. I try to limit news coverage because it can get to you after a while. The good news is I sold a poem to Teach. Write. and it was just released earlier today. It is available here.

So I hope everyone out there is doing well. To leave this depressing post on a happier note, here's a much funnier meme about the coronavirus from Ozzy.


Saturday, March 14, 2020

COVID-19 writing and publishing.

It seems like you can't turn on a television, radio, or internet website without hearing something about COVID-19, aka the coronavirus. So in my usual philosophy of being just another monkey slinging poo around, here's my entry into the fray.

Because people are being quarantined with nothing to do, I'm seeing a lot of people in the publishing world offering free or reduced priced books from their lists, which is pretty cool, in my opinion. There are also a lot of books out there about pandemics, including the ones provided in this list.

Because I work in higher education, I have been assigned to work from home until at least early April, at which time they will reassess, and decide if we need to stay home longer. My guess is we may see all online courses until the end of this semester, but we shall see. It does give us writers and artists a chance to sit at home and work on our crafts, but at the same time, I prefer in person classes, and enjoy a little human interaction from time to time. But I understand the concerns. Students live in dorms and spend a lot of time with each other in classrooms, so colleges can be petri dishes for sicknesses and viruses. I therefore adhere to their decision, and understand its necessity.

Anyway, be safe out there and wash your hands. Good luck and stay healthy. Here is a music video to help you get though these times.