Guest Blog Post on Dialogue

Writing the past few days has been quite painful.  Not emotionally or physically, but creatively.  Nothing good is formulating in my head to my fingers to the pencil onto the paper.  The text is wooden, mechanical.  Heck, reading a car manual is probably more exciting than what I’ve put together lately.  I think the culprit is my inner critic butting into my creativity and writing abilities.  Oy!  So, while I’m feeling like what Hemingway says,

hemingway quote 1

I’m sharing a blog post from WOW! Women On Writing Blog. A piece by Sue Bradford called, “Dialogue: 5 Tips for Dazzling Dialogue,” because we can all use a little help, I think, in writing dialogue and all things pertaining to writing fiction.

As I work through the pre-writing on my mystery and get closer to actually writing, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to fiction. Truth be told, mostly, I’m obsessing because I’m getting really worried about writing dialogue for my characters. Because of that, I’ve taken a brief class on dialogue and been doing a…

via Dialogue: 5 Tips for Dazzling Dialogue — WOW! Women On Writing Blog

 

**I wrote the above post in the middle of last week but am posting it today.  My writing has improved a bit since then, as I continue to work on shedding my loud inner critic who doesn’t belong anywhere near me while I’m scrawling down my WIP’s first draft.

 

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What You Learn When Writing About Yourself

finding peace

When I began to write again in September 2014, the first story I attempted to write and did not finish was a fictional piece where the main character was loosely based on me and my life experiences.  In doing this, I found that some of the events from my dating and romantic relationships in my early twenties weren’t what I’d always thought they were.

As I wrote scenes in which my main character reacted to the boyfriends and men in which she had crushes, this became apparent to me, especially for one intense relationship I had.  I’d spent twenty-five years seeing it all through my perspective and believing I’d been wronged and the guy was a jerk.  As if everything I did was wonderfully good and considerate and his was absolutely bad and apathetic.  Not so.

This narrow view expanded to a more balanced and clearer picture.  It was a bit of an epiphany . . . a painful and stunning discovery, mixed with regret and shame, in which I’d been so self-absorbed only caring about my own feelings and never considering or understanding his.  Now, it’s true this one boyfriend didn’t volunteer any of his deep, personal feelings with me, so I wouldn’t, couldn’t have known.  But twenty-five years later, it’s quite evident that there were problems that neither of us knew how to deal with and didn’t have the knowledge and relationship tools in which to figure it all out.

This first writing endeavor truly turned the mirror on me and my behavior in my early twenties, for which I’d been selfish, naive, and clueless.  But writing what I did brought about a catharsis for which my past hurts and whatever disgruntled feelings or misunderstandings and frustrations I’d felt so strongly then dissipated and resolved four years ago, leaving me with a sense of understanding and peace within me.

Having experienced this, I wonder if this happens to other writers, especially those who write memoirs.  Writing truly is an outlet to self-discovery and catharsis.

 

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Writing Away From Home

waiting room

I’m a creature of habit and tend to do the same things every day.  Spontaneity visits me on rare occasions.  With regard to writing, I prefer to write in the morning hours.  But sometimes I write in the evenings.

At home, I usually listen to some music quietly in the background.  The music often is instrumental relaxing piano or jazz.  Sometimes it’s just old pop rock favorites from my youth.  Whatever the music, it’s set at a low decibel so that I can concentrate on my story and what scenes and words are formulating in my mind to be transcribed by my hand scribbling with a pencil onto paper.

Last Wednesday, I did something I’d never done before.  I took my notebook to the waiting room of the dentist while my son had his teeth cleaned and a couple tiny baby teeth removed for the start of upcoming orthodontic work.  My iPhone was dragging at a low battery level, so I’d left it in the car to charge (I don’t think it really charged much, though…unfortunately, it’s just about time to upgrade my phone).  I brought my notebook and a positive attitude of putting down words in sentences for my next chapter, but when I got into the office and checked in, I wasn’t sure I could do it.  There were three people sitting kitty corner to where my son and I sat, and were chattering up a storm, at a loud volume, and the country music (not a fan, by the way) practically blaring through the speakers in the room challenged my ability to concentrate.

Nevertheless, I immediately opened up my spiral book where I’d left off with my last notes and started writing two or three words, and it took off from there.  The talking, the music all faded away as I delved into my characters’ lives and the conversations they were having and the thoughts they were mulling over.  Three times–twice by the hygienist and once by the dentist himself–said my name, which brought me out of my fictional world to answer them and discuss my son’s cleaning and then the extractions.  In that hour and twenty or so minutes, I managed to write up a chapter and a half.  I had to close up my notebook when my son’s dental work was done and head home.

writing on the grass

I am amazed by the amount of writing I got done in such din and in a spot I hadn’t thought I’d be able to focus to write anything.  On the contrary!  I accomplished more, it seems, at a waiting office than I have on average in the comfort of my own home! I need to do that more often!  Maybe next time I’ll go to Barnes and Noble, find a cozy spot, and write to my heart’s content.  I can’t imagine what glorious dialogue, scenes, etc. I’d write at a beautiful vacation spot!

I’m guessing you’ve already written outside, or in other places than your home.  I’m just late to the party.  Questions:

1) Where do you usually write?

2) Do you write outside of your home?

3) Where do you write outside of your home?

4) Do you feel the outside atmosphere a good creative writing space?

5) What have been your experiences?

If by some odd chance you’ve not ventured outside your home to write in some other building or out in nature, do give it a try!

What a fabulous discovery! You learn something every day. 🙂

 

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Centering on Character

woman writing in notebook

On Tuesday, March 13, I submitted the synopsis and first three chapters of my novel, Passage of Promise, to a publisher for which I felt my genre and style of writing would be a good fit.  According to their website’s submission guidelines, I should hear something within one to two weeks.  So I am in the nervous and excited waiting mode.  I also realize rejection is a normal and somewhat expected outcome in the process of submitting your manuscript to publishers/editors/agents, but I will deal with that at that time.

Meanwhile, I’ve delved back into my work in progress the past three days, and it feels good to be back in the lives of my characters, watching what they do, how they handle situations, and learning how to make them more developed.

Speaking of characters, what makes them interesting?  Are there several components that connect you to the characters?  Perhaps you relate to one of them, and the challenges they have mirror your own.  Is it that they are well-crafted, three-dimensional, and real to you?  Maybe you like one of the characters because they’re broken, clumsy, and endearing that way?

Well, for me, those elements are part of what I like about characters in the books I read.  I especially like characters with quirky personalities and unusual habits.  This particular trait is what I’d like to incorporate into my characters in my stories.

Do you need a lot of physical details describing how the characters look, or are a few basic features with maybe one unusual one sufficient?  It’s the latter for me.  I suppose the detailed descriptions depend upon the genre in which you read.

Characters drive the plot/storyline, and because of this, they are very important.  Through the fiction and creative writing workshops of my university courses, I’ve learned this vital fact, and carving out a well-defined and well-developed character takes practice.  For some authors, it’s not too difficult, but for others, it is quite a challenge.  I’m somewhere between not too difficult and a little bit of a challenge.  When I first started writing in my teen years, my characters were pretty much one or two-dimensional and lacked depth.  I’d like to think I’ve gotten a bit better since picking up writing again in 2014.

Therefore, in creating characters, you might want to:

  1. Have them possess quirky personalities with perhaps some type of pesky habit.
  2. Give ’em flaws.  Nobody can relate to someone who’s perfect inside and out.
  3. Produce words that come from their mouths that are natural, realistic, and perhaps echo a dialect in the area in which they live.
  4. Make sure each character is distinct to a certain degree.  If you can get to the epic point of writing dialogue with no tags and the reader knows the people speaking because of the way they talk, their language, and voice, you’re a star!
  5. Describe their looks with enough detail to give the reader at least a general idea of the appearance of the character, unless you’re writing in a genre like Romance where it seems that the more detail there is, the better.

These recommendations came from my memory through studying material and books I’ve read for my classes.  I hope they are helpful to my fellow writers as they have been for me.  It takes some practice, some work to create believable and relatable characters, but we can do it! Happy writing!

 

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Reading Your Manuscript Out Loud

sparkly book

Eureka!  What a difference reading your manuscript out loud is compared to reading it to yourself!  I bet you already do this, but for me, I’d read a few paragraphs here and there, but never the whole novel.  Well, that’s what I’m doing as of yesterday and today and tomorrow, and it is amazing!

Reading my sentences and dialogue aloud has helped me to hear how natural the dialogue is and how the words flow in my text.  I was pleasantly surprised how 98% of it already sounded great before I inserted my final revisions.  After I’m done, I’ll be sending it back to my editor for a final scan.  Then, it’ll be all polished up and set for submission, and if it’s not accepted, it will be self-published.

Share with me if you practice reading your stories out loud.  If this is a regular practice, what have you learned from it?

 

Finish What You’ve Started

spiral notebook and pen

For the past three days, I’ve inched away from my notebook and pencil after writing up my latest chapter a few days ago.  It seems I’ve fallen into that familiar rut where you sit there thinking about your story for which you’re a quarter or half way through it, wondering if it’s really any good.  You look over the chapters and the storyline and wonder if it really is interesting enough to readers.  Would they even read up to chapter eight or nine or ten?  Where has this story gone?  And you find your fingers and ideas bound up in an invisible chain of nothingness filled with your inner critic telling you it’s going nowhere and what’s the point?  You can’t get your fingers to write what you’ve thought about writing the past week, the last month, as you’d been creating this story that started off so easily and with such grandeur and pizazz in hopes of something fabulous taking root and blossoming into an incredible, earth-shattering novel.

In my case, I’ve jotted down plenty of notes on where I want my work in progress (WIP) to go, but I’m feeling a bit like an old game system on its last flicker of electrical usefulness, or a pinball machine that’s tilted into a quiet repose.

writing's hard gif

In author, John Dufresne’s book, Lies That Tell a Truth, for which I’ve mentioned has been one of our reading materials for my current course in fiction writing, he talks about this sputtering along midway through your story, just before you end up running on vapors and quit.  He describes what we writers, I’m sure, have all done once or twice in our histories of writing novels/novellas, etc.  He says, “Perhaps you discover that you’re afraid to fail.  After all, you’ve failed at this before.  Your desk drawer is crammed with half-written stories, isn’t it?”  We writers can probably relate well to his comment.  I’ve had a few upstarts that crashed and burned and were forgotten in old, dusty notebooks sitting in stacks somewhere in the little bookcase in my bedroom.

stack of old notebooks

Dufresne says our real problem is wanting to write our first draft very well, or even, dare we admit, perfectly.  He says, “Every work of art is a failure.  No story is ever what it could or should have been.  You aren’t perfect, never will be.  Neither is your writing.  Get over it.” OUCH.  Ah, but you can read the truth in his words, can’t you?  And then the key to this mess comes out in his next words.  “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.  It’s Mom or Dad or your professor or your critical self telling you you’re not good enough.  And the only way to silence this discouraging voice is to write.”  And that doesn’t mean writing it very well the first time.  Just writing it!  Dufresne says, “A good first draft is a poor first draft.”  Allow me to quote that again:  “A good first draft is a poor first draft.”  Oh, I think it may some time soon sink all the way into my gray matter.  Yes, let’s hope before my next feeble attempt at writing another chapter.

John Dufresne says another encouraging line:  “You’ve simply transcribed thoughts on paper.  This is taking dictation, not creation.  Expecting too much from an early draft is the most common mistake beginning writers make, and it leads to frustration and disappointment.”  But I thought I wasn’t a beginning writer, didn’t you?  I mean, I’ve been back at this since the fall of 2014.

tom hanks trying to write

And here’s the sharp sting of truth to the heart for me (maybe for you, too?):  “Or maybe you’ve lost faith in your material or confidence in yourself” (Dufresne).  Well, yeah.  I can relate to that….I mean, that’s me sporadically in creating my stories.

But Dufresne tells us, “You will experience that same uncertainty and uneasiness in the writing of every story.  This is how writing happens.  You bring that anxiety to the blank page.”  So, we are to relax and let whatever sprouts from ours head reach our fingers and move pen on the paper, or fingers on the keyboard.

writing

So, this blog post is about encouraging us writers to realize the first draft is crap and it doesn’t matter how it’s organized or written.  JUST WRITE.  And with this, I will sit down with pencil and notebook and scribble across the pages mediocre words that may give birth to a few stellar ones, creating a scene in which the characters are doing something that may or may not be more exciting than counting the brown blades of winter grass in my backyard.

 

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Works cited
Dufresne, John.  Lies That Tell a Truth:  A Guide to Writing Fiction.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2003.

 

Pen/Pencil Vs. Keyboard

notebook and computer

It has been my practice from the time I first started writing stories in my early teens to coming back to writing in 2014 to write with a pencil in a spiral notebook.  Hold on… there was one novel I wrote in my early twenties that was directly typed into the computer, but that was the only one.  Otherwise it’s been pencil to notebook paper, and it always seems to work well and better for me.

But I’ve been asked why do I write out my stories twice–once on paper and then on the computer?  Why not just skip the first step and type straight on the glowing Word page?

So, I tried that with my last novella and my work in progress.  It took me this long to realize why I hadn’t done it in this manner for the most part.  I had many questions  that weren’t what my friends were asking.  These questions were, “Why am I having such a hard time formulating what I want to write in these sentences?  Why do I sit there pausing, searching for words to come to my head to create a simple sentence?”

At first, I thought it was the changing from writing in first person to third person.  But my novella was written in first person, so that, obviously, isn’t it.  Is my inner editor/critic interfering with my flow, expecting me to put down sentences perfectly correct the first time around?  No, I don’t think so.  It’s the problem of just typing them via the keyboard and watching them pop up on the white page on the computer screen.  It’s very sterile and uncreative to me.

empty white page on computer

I decided to look up information on the differences between writing out your story with a pen or pencil and typing it on the keyboard of your computer.  There were several articles on this.  One was from The Guardian.  There were a few explanations from authors that really cinched writing longhand for me (which I went back to a couple nights ago, and didn’t have any problems with what to say or with the point of view I was using).

Lee Rourke, the author of the article, is a writer with the pen first.  He explains, “Not only is longhand a much more portable way to write, it’s also much more individual.”  His writing process is like mine, in that he composes all his thoughts onto physical paper first and then transfers it to the computer.  In addition, he says, “There are far too many distractions when writing directly onto the screen. The internet being the main culprit.”

Rourke’s description of what it feels like to write longhand is what I experience.  He says, “In longhand, the hand moves freely across the page in a way no amount of computer jiggery-pokery can muster.”

Writing longhand mutes distractions and puts me in the creative realm where flow of language, imagery, and sentence structure comes much more naturally.

There is the subject of pace when writing, and from my own experience, my writing flows on paper and has little road blocks, but when I type, it’s as if I’m turning the key in my car’s ignition, and it coughs several times before rumbling to life, and the process continues with speed bumps interrupting and jostling my thought process and ability to write.  Writing is slower but more constant for me.

Author, Alex Preston mentioned in the article, discovered this pacing issue between writing longhand and typing on the computer, saying, “It’s important to find a tool that matches the pace of the writing. I composed my first book in a computerised blur; for the second, I wanted to be more scrupulous, more thoughtful. This is the pace of longhand. Writing with the fetish objects – the Uni-ball pen, the Rhodia notebooks –and watching the imprint of pen on page reminds us that writing is a craft. If everything is done on keyboards and fibre-optic wires, we may as well be writing shopping lists or investment reports.”

It’s true that composing my stories longhand feels more artistic, a real craft, as Preston said.  Perhaps, because the ideas flow on the page better and more beautifully has something to do with having a pencil in your hand rather than your fingers on a keyboard.

woman writing in notebook

It’s a known fact that students produce more ideas and retain better what they are learning through writing notes rather than typing them.  I believe this can apply to writing stories as well.

In a 2017 Huffington Post article, learning specialist, Patricia Ann Wade, says, “Writing entails using the hand and fingers to form letters … the sequential finger movements activate multiple regions of the brain associated with processing and remembering information.”

This article also brings up taking more time to write something via longhand is actually a good thing overall.  Wade adds the reason why slowing the pace matters is because, writing longhand, “requires more mental energy and engages more areas of the brain than pressing keys on a computer keyboard.”

Yes, and here is where my writing longhand is an affirmation for my ability to write more creatively.  The article goes on to say that writing with pen and paper “sparks creativity” (Pearson).

Finally, The Guardian author, Lee Rourke, finishes this subject of creativity by saying, “For me, writing longhand is an utterly personal task where the outer world is closed off, just my thoughts and the movement of my hand across the page to keep me company. The whole process keeps me in touch with the craft of writing. It’s a deep-felt, uninterrupted connection between thought and language which technology seems to short circuit once I begin to use it.”

All of this information hits home for me and confirms the benefits of writing with my pencil on paper.  I will continue this process from now on (shouldn’t have ever left it!), and will be happier for it.

Share below your thoughts on what works best for you in your writing.

 

Works Cited
Rourke, Lee.  “Why creative writing is better with a pen.”  The Guardian, 3 November 2011.  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/nov/03/creative-writing-better-pen-longhand
Pearson, Catherine.  “The Benefits Of Writing With Gold Old Fashioned Pen and Paper.”  Huffington Post, 6 December 2017.  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/12/writing-on-paper_n_5797506.html