Monday, July 30, 2018

Chat and Twitter as Dialogue

QUESTION: I need to include multiple lines of on-line chat dialogue in my story. My question is about rendering the punctuation of it.

For example, in a rapid fire online chat exchange with short snappy one word answers, in real life, the writers would be unlikely to use much punctuation including periods. Can I eliminate them in my rendition of it to the page?

As long as what you write is clear to the reader, I see no problem with doing the punctuation or lack of it as you wish. Just be consistent.

One thing to consider is who your reader is. If your book is aimed at younger readers, they will be much more comfortable with nonstandard punctuation than the older reader.

To differentiate the chat dialogue from the regular text, I suggest you narrow the margin on both sides of the page by another inch and use names in the same way as in movie and play scripts.

JANET: OMG OMG Dirk asked me to the prom.

MARY: WTF He asked me, too!

Emoji images are something you should avoid.  Some are copyrighted to be used for pleasure and individual sharing, and a for-profit use in a book would be illegal.  Also, the inserted code may very well not be translated so your reader will be left with code gibberish instead of images.  

NOTE:  This advice should work for any of the many new ways to communicate with smart phones, etc.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Starting the First Novel

QUESTION:  I have an idea for my story, the characters, and most of the plot, but I’m afraid to start, and I really want to.  What’s my problem?

Thirty odd years ago, I finally decided it was time to begin writing that novel I'd always wanted to write.  I started out with lots more advantages than the average writer.  I'd taken writing courses in college, I'd written poetry and short stories for years, and I'd been an English major.

Those first pages were nearly impossible for me.  I felt like I was writing it in my own blood.  Everything I'd ever learned about writing seemed to have vanished from my brain, and I struggled just to get words down on the page to tell the story I wanted to tell. I had absolutely no confidence in myself as a writer.  

Then about six months into writing and a fourth of a way through the novel, something clicked inside me, and I realized I could do this.  My confidence came back, and the story began to pour out of me onto the page.  I finished the novel in under six weeks.  

Yes, the novel had major problems, my craft stunk, and the novel wasn't remotely publishable, but I'd finished it.  I began to rewrite it using what I'd learned as I wrote.  The novel has never been published, but few first novels are or should be published.  They are practice rounds.  

Without the Internet and all those online classes and experts as well as critique partners we have now, I had to struggle to figure out my craft on my own, and my first sold book was my seventh.  

The point is that most writers struggle with the writing.  It takes work and courage to put words on the page.  It takes even more work to make your craft competent.  But you have to start somewhere.  

Write the story and don't worry if it's not good enough.  Rewriting can take care of the flaws.  Teaching courses and good critique partners can hone your craft.

If you have to write and have to tell the characters' stories, then the work is more than worth it.

Here's a favorite quote from Nora Roberts who has written a zillion books, all of whom hit the bestseller lists.

"I'm just starting [a new book] and the battle has already begun.  I don't think they ever go smoothly. It's work. It should be work.  It should be hard work. I think if you sort of sit around and wait to be inspired, you're probably going to be sitting there a long time. My process is more about crafting, working an idea through my head to see if it's a good concept." Nora Roberts in an interview with the "Hagerstown Herald-Mail."

Monday, July 16, 2018

Life Experience and Writing

QUESTION:  Do I really need real world experiences to write fiction?  In other words, can I write a fight scene if I’ve never hit anyone or been hit?

Real life experiences can certainly inform your fiction and give it realism, but I don’t think it is absolutely necessary.

I have written space battles without being an astronaut, diving scenes and I can't swim, and fight scenes using swords, fists, and futuristic weapons, and I have never used any of them.  (I am a pretty good shot, though.)

I've never had the first reader tell me that I got any of my fight or action scenes wrong.

I have never been punched, but I used to ride.  I have had a horse smash her head into me. I've been kicked and knocked into a tree.  I’ve also had a six-hundred-pound horse fall on me then step on me when she was getting up.  

All that has given me more than enough visceral information about taking physical abuse to use in my writing.

I got my diving scene right through research, then I ran the scene past friends who do dive to check for accuracy.  

However, the more you write about something in particular, say your main character is a diver who spends much of the novel underwater looking for a treasure, the more important having personal experience is.  This is particularly true for a real-life task that readers may have experienced themselves.

As a non-swimmer who has never dived, I would never choose a main character who spends important parts of the book underwater because no amount of research will keep those scenes as authentic as they need to be.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Making Your Characters Sound DIfferent

QUESTION:  My critique partners say most of my characters sound alike in dialogue.  Help!

Cast all your characters with actors you are very familiar with so you can hear their voices when you write dialogue.  Unless you have a tin ear for speech, you will rarely have two characters sound alike.

When you pick your actor, consider what part of the country or country of origin your character is from.  Make sure their voices reflect that. You don’t want an actor from DOWNTON ABBEY to play a cop from Philly.

Writing dialogue as what it sounds like rather than the proper spelling is frowned upon these day unless used very sparingly so don’t go overboard with phonetic spelling ("Yo' ole father doan' know yit what he's a-gwyne to do. Sometimes he spec he'll go 'way, en den agin he spec he'll stay.”--from HUCKLEBERRY FINN) or apostrophes to show words that are slurred together. (“If’n you think, I’s stupid.  You be wrong!”)

If you aren’t that familiar with a region’s speech, be very careful how you write it because it’s easy to stereotype or get it wrong.  For example, most of us in the Southern US don’t use “y’all” that often, and when we do in very informal speech, it’s plural meaning more than one “you.”   (Jennifer turned to her cousins and smiled sweetly, “Y’all come home with me and have some supper.”  Her voice turned frosty as she glared at her brother.  “You don’t come, period.”)

You should also consider social class and education.  Someone with a college education and an upper middle class background won’t sound the same as someone who never finished high school whose parents never finished high school.

Read your dialogue aloud or in your head to see if you’ve got different voices, or ask a few friends or family to read your dialogue like a play to see how it sounds.

Another good test is one line of dialogue that isn’t attributed to who is saying it.  If a reader can tell who is saying it by how and what is said, then you’ve succeeded at your task.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Adding a Romantic Partner

QUESTION:  I’m writing an action adventure novel and someone told me I needed to add a girlfriend for my hero so he could save her and win her love.  What do you think?

One of the problems with the hero getting the girl/love object in the end is that it harkens back to the idea that the girl is only a sex partner/thing to be won, not an active participant who deserves the happy ending.  The passive love/sex partner really annoys most readers who find it either sexist or boring.  

If you put the girl/sex partner in, you have to make this character a participant in the story in a very important way, and she must be more than a sex object/prize.

My own advice is that it isn't romance but love that makes a novel stand above others.  The main character must love— be it a romantic partner, his family, or some ideal like his country.  That love must drive what the character does and what the character is, or the novel lacks the something that makes it more than a quick read that is quickly forgotten.