Monday, July 23, 2012

How To Write Dialogue

Dialogue has to be natural. Dialogue has to be cliche free. There needs to be slang, pauses, just like if you were watching it in a film.

I like to improvise my exchanges of dialogue out loud, as if the characters are in my room. This allows me to transcribe those little words and "ways of saying it," that arise from spontaneous interchanges of human beings.

If I don't do it this way, I find my dialogue is robotic and lame.

Also get rid of all your "said's," as well. Look at this interchange, this is how my dialogue usually rolls.

          Alex pulled up a chair and sat facing Lilly, "what do you think your doing?" she asked.

         "I think you know,"

         "Um, no I don't..."

         "Yes you do!"

Now, I just made this up then, so it's not going to win any awards for engagement. But it's how dialogue should flow. Make it sound natural, and only use a "asked" or "said" when it's not obvious whose speaking.

This is dialogue writing 101.


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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Writer's Block

When your story starts huffing and puffing to stay a float, then your reader is going to feel it too, and they too will huff and puff to stay engaged.

A scary thought, but It can be overcome with a little closer inspection.

I read a great quote yesterday, I'm paraphrasing here, but it went along the lines of "If your characters are just moving forward to further the plot then you got a problem. The plot needs to be moving forward because the character is making tough choices."

I think we are all guilty of this. We think, "OK, I just need to get my character to point B because when he gets there, this thing will happen, and then I can really get going from there," but if your thinking like this, then your reader won't let you take them to point B because they've already put your book down.

Your character must reach point B because they've made a tough choice between two alternatives to take action toward point B.

This is when writer's block is at its worst. If we are just chugging a long, then we are often trying to "fill up" the story with text in order to get to the next thing. This is wrong, wrong, wrong!

If your character is making tough choices, then the story writes its self.

Let me give you an example in the new novel I'm writing, "Ressentiment,"

Essentially the main protagonist and a group of followers are escaping an invasion, so they have fled into the forest and are moving further and further away from the danger. Eventually they reach a new area, where there is a farm and shelter, they can stay, perhaps fight the owner for it, or they can continue moving. I started to struggle at this point, and then I realized, there is no tough choice to make. Who cares if they find shelter or keep on moving, what's the pay off?

So I changed it a little. I made it so the soldiers that were invading end up following them into the forest, but they are a day behind, so they have to keep on moving. I also made it that the forest didn't contain any source of food. So to keep on moving may mean certain death, but if they stay and eat at this farm, then the soldiers may gain on them and the farm may be full of people who don't like their presence there. Is it worth the risk?

Now the story can move forward. A tough choice needs to be made. There are high stakes. Suddenly the writer is engaged in figuring out what happens, and consequently, so is the reader.

Economists call this "opportunity cost," when one choice is made, what is the downside of making that choice?

So next time your stuck, ask yourself, "are my characters making tough choices? Or are they just going through the motions to get to point B?" You will discover a wealth of inspiration there.


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Friday, July 13, 2012

Story vs Craft

I'm beginning to realize that the single biggest difference between published authors and unpublished authors isn't the talent in how they write. In fact, there are many instances of published writers who aren't good writers at all. Rather, its the story its self. Which is a huge part that a lot of writers don't pay attention to.

In writing classes around the world we are taught the basics of good writing i.e active vs passive, the dreaded adverbs, show vs tell, concrete & simple language, natural dialogue, the use of fullstops and commas, the descriptive process and POV. These are all great, and if you master them, then yes, you will become a good writer. But there are many good writers out there. The difference between published and unpublished writers isn't how good they are at writing, instead, it's how they tell a story.

Have you ever browsed a book store and opened a few of the best sellers, to only think to yourself "what is this shit? I can do a better job. Look at all the dam adverbs, hell, here shes even telling instead of showing," These moments aren't necessarily bad in themselves, they usually inspire us to get down to work. But you must remember, the average person on the street, who doesn't care about writing technique AT ALL, just wants to lose themselves in a book. They are not going to see the adverbs, or the fact that its being told at points. They are just going to see the images of the plot flash by through their mind, and if they feel engaged they will read on, if they don't, they will put it down.

Story matters more. Instead of fretting over that adverb, look at your story. Does it help the story? If the answer is yes, then include it. Story trumps the correctness of the writing everyday of the week. Take "50 Shades of Grey" for example, or "Twilight." I'm not bagging out these books, but they aren't generally known for their mastery of the written word. They are just good stories who appeal to a mass target audience. fourteen year old girls getting wet over Edward don't suddenly put it down because they see an adverb used poorly. They will usually be so engrossed in the tail that they don't even see the words. They just see the images.

Your job as a writer is really to be invisible. A mastery of writing technique is designed to give your words the power of not being seen. A reader engaged in the story well be reading at such a pace that the words fade into the background, and the images that the words express will be the only thing that matters. If your writing is really bad, then the reader will continually be brought back to the sentences, and fail to lose themselves. But if the writing is average, and the story is strong, then a lot of the time the story will overpower this process. But the opposite doesn't ring true. If your writing is amazing, and yet the story sucks. Then the words will be the only thing the reader sees. If they were interested in pretty words then they could just open a Hallmark card.

All good writing does is gives the reader the opportunity to be swept away, nothing more. But a good story will over come writing flaws everyday of the week.

Of course the ideal scenario is to master both. Then you stand the best chance (duh), but so many writers fail to master the art of story telling. So how does one "master" this art? Well many will say its an art, and can't be taught. I'm a rational guy. I like to think everything can be chunked down to a philosophical system that follows logic. Here's a few tips:

1.) There must be a core conflict. There has to be something that the character has to overcome. This sounds obvious, but I have fallen into the trap of writing something where the character is just walking around looking at stuff, believing that the vivid language was more then enough to sustain the reader. Wrong

2.) Shit has to be going wrong constantly. Over and over again the character has to be getting pissed on by the world around him, and the reasons for him overcoming these obstacles has to keep getting more important, until a final release comes when he overcomes them for good. Or does he?

3.)Don't jump the gun. Keep everything in line with what the main character knows. This is really a POV technique, so it's not so much story related. But I think it crosses over into both domains. Then when the events happen the reader will feel along with the character.

4.) There has to be something the character learns at the end. The reader must feel like they have achieved something by sticking with you for the whole piece.

5.) Read number 2 again. I can't repeat this enough. Put your character through hell, and then give them some relief, but only for a short while...

There are many books out there on story and plot. Just Google some and get stuck into it. You will be greatly rewarded for your study. And remember, when your fretting over every sentence, wondering if it's good writing, just ask yourself, "is this serving the story?"


P.S This book gets a good wrap on the "art of plot structure:

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hugh C. Howey - Wool Review

Dystopian novels going independent? I like the idea of it. Dystopian fiction needs to be unbounded, it needs to be untouched from the commercial sector. The books are reflections of societies inner most fears and desires, they are a dialogue on modern social themes and issues. Hugh C. Howey's Wool has blown out of the gates and is proving to independent writers everywhere that it can be done.

Wool was originally released as a series of novella's. Every few months a new one was released and kept the  viewing audience on the edge of their seats in anticipation of the next one.

I will review Wool 1, and let the rest be read by you.

Wool 1 blew me away. The ending was tragic, beautiful and intense. I didn't see it coming, and it brought so many of the loose ends of the story together in a magical way. The characters were real and gritty and the dialogue bounded by with a natural pace. Just when you thought you knew what was going on, the story's thread moved in another direction. Awesome story, awesome writer.

What is most exciting though is that this book was completely self published. It was released onto the Kindle marketplace and developed a following simply from word of mouth. This makes me giddy. I love the idea of being an "indie writer," it sounds so damn cool. It also allows the writer to express whatever they want and to comment on any social issue they please.

With traditional publishing houses taking less and less submissions every year, this idea suddenly becomes a glimpse into the future. With the ever increasing power of the internet, most commerce is slowly moving online, and eventually, maybe all commerce will be dealt with online as connection to the internet becomes an essential part of our lives.

Perhaps electronic books are the only future for us as authors, and if we can tap into that now, perhaps we can create a career where we keep all the earnings and have complete creative control. That idea excites me beyond words.

Sure, we may have to become marketers as well as writers. But society is moving towards an ever increasing transfer of power to the individual. Learning to market ones self properly may become an essential skill in the modern world? This is all sounding very Dionysian in its self.

Check out Wool. It may inspire you to take control of your destiny.

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Dystopian Future

Whenever I read a dystopian novel, it always seems to express a future where humanity has turned against each other. Does this mean, that deep down, we all believe that when the world crumbles around us, that we as a species will completely break down and kill each other?

Is this a reflection of our true natures? Or our fears? Or is it simply because a dystopian novel where everyone treats each other with respect is just boring to read?

I've just started reading "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline:

I'm not a big fan of first person POV, because I prefer the perspective that one would get when they watch a movie. This is how I write my novels, I see a little movie going on in my head as if I'm a viewer in a cinema, so to write in first person, just doesn't feel natural to me.

But anyway, I dig the vibe of the book. But just like I mentioned earlier, this dystopian novel is like every other. The main character Wade is essentially in a world of rapists, pedophiles, murderers, and a drug addicted aunty because his parents are both dead. And his only solace from this disgusting world is the OASIS, which is a virtual reality world that most of the world plugs into in a daily basis. Its essentially a virtual reality internet where he goes to school, and spends his days searching for a special treasure, that if he finds, will give him $270 billion. Not bad.

I like it so far. But If I had one nit pick it would be the beginning. The book takes so long to get going that I almost gave up. The author constantly keeps elaborating on the back story every chance he can get, that I remember saying out loud, "just start the dam story already!"

But I'm glad I kept reading. I haven't finished yet. But it definitely has that hunger games feel, although it does have a bit of course language, and the content is a little more adult. But if your above 15 or so it shouldn't be a problem.

That detour was just to confirm my original point. Every dystopian novel contains within it an assumption of a negative view of humanity. When the going gets tough, human beings become selfish beings who treat everyone else like shit. It's a very Richard Dawkins view of existence, that our genes are "selfish" and only live to pursue their own interests. Or you could say its a Machiavelli view where everyone must try and outwit and outplay each other to survive.

But in reality, I think the opposite is in fact true. In most circumstances in the world, when chaos erupts, most people do come together and help each other. Well, at least that's what the news portrays, I'm sure there are many instances in Africa etc where this isn't the case. But I like to think if the Western world plunged into an energy crisis then our lifetime of socially conditioned Western luxuriousness would lead us towards treating each other with the most respect we could.

But on second thought, perhaps centuries of that would eventually lead everyone to treat each other like shit as commodities become rarer and rarer. I don't know, its hard to make a real conclusion.

But I guess one thing is true. A world full of conflict is a hell of a lot more entertaining to read about then a world of lollipops and rainbows. So I guess that's the answer to my original question.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Where To Get Inspiration

As artists, the word "inspiration" conjures up images of some mystical force that transcends the logical mind, and through some spiritual process we are endowed with a connection to the infinite that delivers us sublime works of fiction. Or does it?

Inspiration to me has been used so many times that it's almost lost all meaning. It's really on par with the terms "god" or "love", where each has been used so many times that no one really knows what they even mean anymore. Is god some mystical bearded man that lives in the sky? or does it simply mean a form of infinite energy? or is it the Higgs Boson? And what about love? Is love two teenagers  fooling around in the back of a car? Is it an insecure male who thinks the girl he saw on the bus is the love of his life? Or is it a couple whose been married for 60 years?

Inspiration follows the same tune. Inspiration can just be a happy feeling, it can just be a motivation to start writing (perhaps driven from eating healthy that day or digesting a dose of caffeine), it can really be any type of emotion that leads naturally to putting finger to keyboard.

I say (excuse my french), fuck inspiration. Are you inspired 4 times a week to get up and jog or lift weights? No, but you do it because you know it will prolong your life, and possibly make you look attractive. Are you inspired to get up for work in the morning? Hell no, if your anything like me, the moment the alarm goes off you begin to question your entire existence. So why should writing be any different? If you wait for inspiration to strike, you're going to get nothing done, and you won't become a writer.

You need to approach your writing like you do any endeavor in your life. You got to "put the balls to the wall", and dig in if you want to see any kind of success. And really, its not that hard. Even if you only wrote 3 times a week, at 600 words a pop, which would take you what? 45 minutes to do if you type slowly? That would be 8,000 words a month, which would produce a novel sized piece of work in 6-8 months. If you did that without fail for 3 years, you could have 4-5 novels written, and I'm being conservative here. If your serious about being successful then you have to write more then 2,000 words a week, but if you can't, well, at least you can have 6 novels written.

My point here is that some days your not going to want to write, and some days your writing is just going to suck. But you got to do it. Because it's the crunching of the keys, in a regular routine, that produces results, and you also got to know that the first draft is the easiest bit to do. Just pump it out already! It's the editing process and the subsequent query letters that are the real hard part. So get it done.

So go get it done!

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