Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How Do You Write Dialog?

We receive a lot of questions about writing at LegendFire. How do I ...? What do you think about this idea? Am I doing this right? What's the proper grammar rule for ...? Recently, however, I've noticed that the most-repeated question over the years has been, "How do I write dialog?"

This question has always struck me as humorous and, honestly, astonishing. It's like the "What does your watch face look like?" kind of question, where someone says to you, "Cover your wristwatch with your hand and describe your watch face."

How many times a day do people look at their watches? Yet every time I've seen this experiment done, most people are invariably stumped.

So it must be with writing dialog. How many conversations do we take part in everyday, much less hear to our left and our right throughout the waking hours? Most of us are continually surrounded with the sounds of conversation and the visible signs of body language. We even have conversations on candy:

So how does a beginning writer capture conversation on their pages?

1. Actively listen. As in: "What does your watch face look like?" Go sit in a busy place (where you won't be caught eavesdropping) and really listen. Don't think, don't analyze, turn off the phone (ironic tip, that), and just listen. How does a conversation evolve from small matters to hitting the heart of someone's problem? How do the speakers stop and start, hesitate, stutter, hammer their points home? How can you tell if they are nervous, angry, in love?

2. Note the body language that accompanies a conversation. Actively observe.

3. Read. How do the pros capture dialog? Actively read. Note how the author of your favorite book filters through the chaos of real-life conversation to make dialog useful for their storyline. If you're writing a Romance era romance, you'd better be reading a lot of Jane Austen. Her characters never respond with, "Okay."

4. Practice. If you're nervous about writing dialog, write a script. Forget the exposition and the action descriptions for a while. You're obviously comfortable with those. So write your story in script format. Minimal scene direction. Meaningful dialog that moves the plot-line forward.

5. Read what you've written. Aloud. Really. Can a human tongue easily and naturally pronounce what you just wrote? Given the era and subject you're writing about, do average people really use those words on a daily basis? Remember, you actively listened already. You should be able to answer that question.

These are the same tips I find myself repeating over and over again when LegendFire members ask, "How do I ...?" Have I missed anything? Does anyone have any tips to add? Because what works for me may not work for others. How did you learn to write dialog?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chilling Halloween Reading!

Looking for scary, grotesque, or disturbing tales to read during the Halloween season?

Ever since its release in October 2011, Past the Patch has been available for FREE at Smashwords and other sites. This collection by Dark Red Press features stories by thirteen authors (an appropriate number, eh?).

I'm not bringing the book up again because I hope to make a penny or two; we contributors don't make a penny off free books. I'm simply passing it along to you again out of the kindness of my heart. Have fun reading, and have a safe, candy-filled Halloween season!


Monday, October 22, 2012

Like Pulling Teeth - Progress Report

I don't know about you, but I hate having dental work done. Seems like my childhood was punctuated with trips to get teeth pulled or braces tightened, so I do not title this post lightly. *sob* It's been three weeks since I put up a progress report, because I couldn't exactly tell if I was making progress. Some passages are just difficult. This week's rewrite involved a certain character's death and another character's nasty reaction to it, and my poor brain just didn't want to go there. But it finally made the jump, and today that difficulty has been overcome, and I'm relatively pleased with the result. As always, much more character depth has gone into the draft, which often means diving into painful places. But it's worth it.

Chapter(s) of the Week: 7 and 8 
Pages Revised: 25
Scenes Cut: 1
Deaths: 1
Good things that happen: ... (*thinking, thinking* Nope. It ain't there.)
Bad things that happen: Oh, dear. It's all going to hell in a handbasket. The behind-the-scenes action is getting darker by the minute.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Comments on Gardens of the Moon

It's not really proper to do a review on a book I didn't finish, but I worked too hard for too long to leave it alone. So I won't file this under my reviews, but merely voice my reaction in informal fashion.

Some people are sure to throw rotten eggs my way when I say that I could not finish Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon. More than once I heard, "If you can finish the first book, the rest are great." Red flag. But I had already bought the thing before I heard this general reaction, so I gave it a try. This book looked like my kind of book: a huge, well-developed world, dense with characters and details and subplots revolving around a big overarching quest. Indeed, this is exactly the kind of book Gardens of the Moon is. Unfortunately, though I have read to the halfway point, I cannot explain what any of those subplots are. I do not know. Seriously.

The problem with this novel is "withholding." There is so much going on, and some of the characters even know what is going on, but the reader is not told what that "thing" is. Some of this "thing" I was able to puzzle out. I think. And I'm not a stupid person. I like puzzles and mysteries in the books I read. I like to have to work for some of the content. That's part of what makes the reading experience so fun, involving, and rewarding. Gardens of the Moon, however, goes a step too far and doesn't let me know enough of what's happening among all the different factions vying for power and survival. Really, it's okay if the reader is told what someone hopes to accomplish; it gives the reader something to hope for, too. Then let the reader see how the characters' hopes are dashed. That creates reader sympathy and evokes big reactions in the human heart.

This also brings up the fact that halfway through the novel I felt little emotional attachment to any of these characters. The characters I liked best are in the book the least, up to this point. I thought, finally, I can get attached to someone, then they vanished again for umpteen pages. At the halfway point, I still haven't found them again. Where did they go? What are they doing? I don't know. I knew this novel and I were not going to work out, when at the middle climatic point where one of the main characters apparently dies, I felt no emotional reaction whatsoever. Eh? Shouldn't I be astonished and boohooing and pleasantly angry or something?

There's only so many times I can say to a book, "Okay, I'll give you another chance. It will surely all click into place today." But nobody's telling nobody nothing and I can't get involved when I don't know what I'm supposed to be hoping for. So when I picked up the book today to try to press on to the finish line, I literally groaned when I saw that after struggling along this hard, an equal amount of the book still awaited (?!?). Grimacing, I asked myself, "What is the point?" Shelve it. Swallow the disappointment. Move on.

If this were an official review, I would give Gardens of the Moon three magic wands. Dock one for massive, frustrating withholding. Dock a second for lack of character-reader involvement.


So now I'm torn. In the queue is some self-pubbed material I need to read and review, along with what I'm sure is a great short by Milo James Fowler. Also, is a beat up copy of Kate Mosse's Labyrinth that a friend gave me, and The Help, which movie I loved.

What to choose first?