Tag Archives: dialog

A different kind of week

I spent the first two days of it sick. This means sick enough to stay home from work. It’s one of those typical sinus things I seem to get about every other winter. This one came with fever and deep coughing. It’s worse when I sleep, so I haven’t been getting much of that.

Wednesday, I got up and assessed how I felt. I decided I could return to the office. I tried to hit it hard in the morning, and got a lot accomplished. I probably should have stopped at noon. The shivering returned, but I had aspirin with me. After a couple of those it settled down. I think the fever broke for good near quitting time.

I probably wasn’t firing on all cylinders either day, but I managed to get more accomplished than I could have from home.

Today was my flex day and I looked forward to some writing. When I left Lanternfish, they’d landed in Giapon and stumbled into a dangerous situation. Today was the day to flesh out that situation.

It wound up being a section of dialog, and I felt pretty good about it. This exchange is supposed to take place over several days, and my goal is to have it come across like a verbal chess match with a very powerful man.

I’d like to break this up with some other goings on that involve the crew. This shouldn’t be too hard, but I’m going to try minimizing the root monsters. They had a pretty active role in the last part, and readers can get too much of a good thing.

All told, I was happy with today’s progress until I checked my word count. 676 words! That’s all I managed. I know low output days are part of the gig, but that’s pretty minuscule by my standards.

There are several reasons for this, one of which could be my cold. It may be that I’ve truly reached the middle slog, like happens on every book. It could also simply be one of those off days that happens to all of us.

Old What’s Her Face has to go in at midnight, then pull a double shift tomorrow. In theory, I should be able to accomplish a bit more then. However, I agreed to stay up until she goes to work. My coughing all night isn’t going to help her get a little sleep. I also need to get a haircut, but could do that any time tomorrow.

My goals are to nudge Lanternfish ahead in the morning, get the haircut in the afternoon, then my wife is alluding to date night in the evening. I don’t have faith that she’ll want to go out after that shift, but will stay open to the idea.

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The role of a robotic personal assistant

This is Lisa Burton. Personal assistant to author C. S. Boyack, and spokesmodel for his writing career at Entertaining Stories. This is the text he sent me while I was getting ready to put up my feet and watch Game of Thrones.

Craig always writes his own blog, so he must be pretty tired to ask me. He also never gave me a topic, so I'll just pick one myself.

The writing cabin is a strange place. You would think nothing would phase a science fiction character like me, but the forest around here is filled with creatures of legend. There are even extinct species wandering the meadows.

We've had ghosts and witches visit the cabin, and it happens more often that you might think.

Craig spent the last three days working on his new novel, tentatively called The Yak Guy Project. I kind of think he'll publish it under that title one day, but he surprises me every once in a while.

My day starts pretty early. First I head for the kitchen and put on a commercial sized pot of coffee. Then I have to go downstairs and open the garage door so the yak can graze. I always take my big assed gun with me, because you never know when something might want to eat him. The yak is pretty smart, and he talks to me. At least I get some conversation while he grazes.

Craig wrote a bunch on Thursday morning, and I had to print it all off for Ted, the yak guy to read. We've never worked outside before, but yaks aren't really indoor creatures. I had to set up a Teleprompt for the yak. The yak is an excellent reader, but without fingers, he doesn't get along with paper. Thank God for my internal Bluetooth capability, otherwise I'd have to string wires for the Teleprompt.

Craig gave everyone a break at mid-day, except me. He decided to work on a short story involving his super not-quite-hero, Jason Fogg. This left yak guy to fend for himself in the kitchen. He's a nice kid, but he has no idea about cleaning up after himself.

After Craig finished the section with Jason Fogg, he went back to the yak guy story. This involved printing a bunch more paper, and introducing more characters. I used my internal processors to order more paper, and it's a good thing I did. I also ordered pizza, because a cast of characters goes through a lot of food, as well as coffee.

I spent Thursday night cleaning up after everyone, so we could do it all again the next day. I also ordered a samurai sword, because now the story has one.

Friday was more focused. We worked on the yak guy story exclusively. It was kind of a forced march, and I'm pretty sure there will be even more work in editing. I made voice-prints of all the characters, because I usually wind up filling in for them during edits. I have my eye on some pretty cute outfits to help me during the editing phase. The Lady Kokachin wears silk, and I can't wait.

Saturday was more of the same, but Craig started to slow down. He dismissed everyone about lunchtime, and we wound up with cold pizza in the refrigerator. It was decent timing, because I was down to my last sheet of paper again. Craig decided to read, and I ordered more paper.

The coffee didn't go to waste. Craig drank it while he read. I'm kind of glad he decided to take today off. That doesn't mean I get to though.

Today, after walking the yak, I shampooed the carpets, cleaned the kitchen again, and shoveled out the yak's stall. I thought I was finished when I got the text to write this blog.

That's just a small slice of what goes on during writing binges around here. Now it's time to cuddle with Bunny, paint my nails, and see what Jon Snow gets up to.

XOXO

Lisa

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Verbal Tics. Do you use them?

I use verbal tics in my fiction. These are little tells that can reveal background, character, or even eliminate the need for a dialog tag.

These tics are never part of my main character, at least they never have been. I reserve them for supporting characters. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

In Wild Concept, Lisa makes friends with a tattoo artist/biker dude. He tends to replace the words ‘has’ or ‘have’ with ‘gots.’ He might say, “We gots to go to the Sheriff’s auction tomorrow.”

This reveals a bit about his upbringing, and possibly about his education. When he drops a line like that, I really don’t need a dialog tag after I’ve set the stage.

I used a cast of thousands in The Cock of the South. (Okay hundreds, but it sounds so Cecil B. Demille I had to use it.) As a way of making a supporting character stand out, I gave him a verbal tic. Roald the dwarf comes from a different part of Europe than the rest of the cast. I chose to introduce his Swedish accent in dialect, but drop it for ease of reading. Therefore, he winds up ending a lot of sentences with “by golly.” He might say, “We can’t leave until we get them cows milked, by golly.”

I think it’s a fair way of reminding readers that Roald isn’t from around these parts.

I’ve done it again, by golly. (Sorry) In my new project there is a character named Wally who is a computer whiz. He tends to end most of his comments with ‘yeah’ in a questioning fashion. It might look something like this, “We’re going to the Sheriff’s auction, yeah?”

It gives me the impression that he’s looking for approval, and adds a bit of character to his section at the same time.

So how about it? Does anyone else use verbal tics when they write dialog? I’ve never done it with more than one character at a time, because it could get annoying. If you don’t use them, would you ever? Why or why not?

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Not missing this chance

I went to the writing cabin this morning. The storm broke, but there was mud on the tires of the gyrocopter. When I went through the basement, I made sure to leave my boots in the box Bento left for that purpose.

Lisa* met me at the top of the stairs. She was dressed in a canvas duster, and a white wife-beater tee shirt. “Ready to get some work done today?”

“Absolutely. Looks like you're ready for some Clovis dialog.”

We worked on smart assed remarks, threats, and compromises. Whenever something sounded right, I added it to my Playground manuscript.

Lisa ran to the paranormal office and pulled on a lab coat.

“Gina isn't wearing a lab coat in this scene.”

“I know, but it makes me feel more doctorly. Send me your dialog and let's give it a try.”

I sent her what I had, and we tested it out. I adjusted back and forth. “That looks about right. Try it with that voice thing you do.”

Lisa spoke the words using a female voice, and a male voice. When she finished she looked up. “Well? Is it what you hoped for?”

I leaned back at my desk. “Yeah. It sounds like them, and it fits well. Now all I need is some closure, and they're finished.”

“I'll bring some coffee. Do you want me to change into my Chloe outfit now?”

“No. I can't write Chloe today. It takes a different mindset. I'll finish with Clovis and Gina, and give them some closure.

I typed away, delivered some rewards, (such as they are) and closed out two of my main characters. Their part of this story is finished. Chloe will represent the end of the threat to the victims everywhere, but her story will finish another day. At that point The Playground will be a complete first draft.

It looks like I'm going to come in at about 70K words. I would have preferred 80K, but in today's market that isn't bad at all.

This is a different kind of book. There are three seperate stories that alternate to tell the reader a complete story. Only two of the characters ever meet, but it provides some cool moments.

I'm feeling like I need a treat. It's too early for beer. Maybe a trip to the Boise Co-Op for some shortbread, devon cream, apricot jam, and tea. My characters got some rewards, maybe I deserve one too.

I may tackle Chloe's swan song tomorrow, but it depends on what the family has going on.

Tell me about your endeavors. Do you treat yourself for accomplishments? Do you create false accomplishments so you can have a treat? Is anyone else finishing a manuscript?

* Lisa Burton is the main charater in Wild Concept. She is a robot, and since her story ended she helps me around the writing cabin these days.

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Guest post, Ali Isaac on dialog

Maybe for Ali’s sake I should spell it dialogue. I kind of like it that way myself. When I was looking for someone to do a guest post about writing dialog, Ali answered the call.

Ali has two of three books available in her Tir Na Nog series. She had a huge hurdle to get over with her main character. I’ll let Ali tell you in her words.

***

I’ve never been one for giving writerly advice. The way I see it, there are a million and one authors out there who can do it far better than me, who have huge book sales and successful marketing platforms to back them up.

Google it, if you want… I’m sure most of you already have. There’s reams of advice on the subject; dialogue makes a story easy to read, it helps create flow and pace, it’s all about interaction, we can all relate to it because it’s something we use on a daily basis, it breaks up long chunks of text, it gets us inside characters heads, keeps the momentum going etc…

Not to mention the basics, such as proper use of speech marks, new speaker on a new line, don’t use distracting fancy speech tags, avoid the use of ‘ly’ adverbs, and so on. You’ve heard it all before, so I won’t elaborate on it any further. It’s all good stuff that we need to know as writers.

But when Craig asked for something on the topic of ‘Dialogue’, he touched a nerve; you see, the main character in my books can’t talk, at least not at first. And by all accounts, speech is pretty crucial when it comes to writing books these days. So how did I get round it?

I’m just a newbie Indie author with two and a bit books to my name, I’m not an expert by any means, but I’ve worked hard on the dialogue in my books; writing for teens, and with a mute main protagonist, I’ve had to. So here is what I’ve learned.

1. Know your characters. Know them inside out, how they move, how they think, how they speak. Make them sound like themselves, not carbon copies of each other, or even worse, of you. Give them their own voices.

For example, a teenager speaks differently than their parents, a boy speaks differently to a girl, a shop assistant speaks differently to a doctor. Are they well educated? Do they come from the poor side of town? Are they local, or blow-ins? Their upbringing and life experiences will define how they react and speak.

In the first book of my trilogy, Conor Kelly and The Four Treasures of Eirean, Conor is fourteen, stuck in a wheelchair, unable to control his limbs or his voice, but his mind is as active as any other teenage boy.

He’s full of anger, despair, self-pity, self-doubt, frustration, yet his condition has forced him to think deeply and reflect on his life. His greatest longing is to be able to run like his rugby hero. His greatest fear is to be left on his own. He’s a typical teenager in some respects, unusual in others. I let it all show in his thoughts, and his interactions with others.

2. Avoid accents. Nothing turns me off a book quicker than an author’s attempt to replicate an accent by spelling the whole conversation phonetically. No need. Unless you’re Mark Twain, don’t do it. It slows the pace, creates confusion, looks and sounds ugly. Most likely, the reader will not ‘get’ the accent you are trying to portray.

Amazon sells books all around the world; don’t alienate potential readers for whom English might not be a first language by thoughtless portrayal of accents.

My Tir na Nog Trilogy is about an Irish boy, and is set in Ireland. Contrary to what most people believe, we don’t greet each other with a “Top o’ the mornin’ to ya!” We do have “great craic!” instead of fun, however, and we might thank someone by saying “Thanks a-million!” Irish people will often pronounce a ‘th’ as ‘t’, and say ‘filum’ instead of ‘film’.

In Conor Kelly and The Four Treasures of Eirean, a farmer greets Conor with a “Hoo-a-ye?” I’ll translate… it means ‘How are you?’

Be authentic, drop in the odd hint of an accent, but don’t overdo it, and make sure you know the accent inside out, don’t rely on stereotypes, or your readers will soon get tired of it.

3. Listen in on real conversations. Real people swear, use slang, drop word endings, leave sentences unfinished, speak over each other, interrupt each other, say ‘um’ and ‘err’ a lot, belch, talk with their mouths full… you get the picture.

They don’t adopt a sterile pose facing each other, and stand still whilst they take part in a conversation; they chop the veg, feed the baby, dig the garden, watch tv, all while they are actually talking.

You can tell a lot about a person by how fast they chop that carrot, or how viciously they stab their trowel into the flower bed, or how fluently they drop expletives into their chat. Keep it real, but don’t go overboard, or it just becomes a parody.

Often, real conversations are incredibly boring to listen to, and take forever to get to the point. You don’t have that luxury; every word has to fight for its place.

4. Use internal dialogue, and make it as clear as external speech. Listening to your characters converse really gets the reader inside their heads. Eavesdropping on their thoughts takes it to the next level, but will only work if you are writing from one POV at a time.

Head jumping is a big no-no. Most authors get around this by giving each character with a POV their own chapter. This can have a dramatic and dynamic effect, as their stories converge. Unless you are George RR Martin, just stick to a handful of characters at most, otherwise it gets hopelessly confusing, and I’ll stop caring about all your multitude of characters.

Most authors differentiate thought from speech by the use of italics. This works really well in short bursts; pages of italics can be very wearing to wade through, and will probably result in most readers flinging their Kindle across the room in exasperation.

Ok, maybe not, but they might close your book and never open it again. You have been warned.

I use italics often in my Tir na Nog Trilogy. For a boy who can’t speak, Conor Kelly sure has a lot to say, and it’s all in his head. I make sure the reader is part of this. Not only that, but the Sidhe and Denann people communicate by telepathy, so italics has become a useful technique for demonstrating this to the reader.

5. Dialogue is the ultimate ‘show, don’t tell’. Have some backstory you need to divulge? Don’t dump it from on high, give it to your characters to handle in their conversation.

This will immediately lighten the load, maintain the flow rather than slow it, and help us get to know the characters that bit better as they give it their own personal treatment; they might be angry about it, or perhaps disbelieving, for example.

In my first book, part of the legend of the invasion of the Tuatha de Denann is told by two minor characters, Airmid and her brother Miach, who observe an argument between their father and Goibniu, the smith, as they vie for power over the new settlement. In a couple of pages of light banter, which becomes relevant later on in the book too, the story is told with never an info dump in sight.

However, don’t fall into the trap of relating everything second hand; as readers, we want to be a part of the action, not always hear everyone else talking about it.

Finally, I’d just like to add that while ‘show don’t tell’ and ‘use lots of dialogue’ have become buzz words for today’s style of writing, they are not rules to be slavishly followed.

The old classics are still as loved and well-read today as they ever were, and contain long stretches of description and scene-setting, with less emphasis on conversation. If you are writing a literary novel, they might not be so relevant, but if you are writing genre fiction, particularly for the younger audience, I would say ‘show don’t tell’ and dialogue are far more important.

Thanks for reading this post! Hope you found something useful/ interesting in it!

***

Thanks for visiting, Ali. I’ve personally read both of the Conor Kelly stories and am looking forward to the third one. I also have a copy of Gra Mo Chroí up next on my list. Please check out Ali’s work on her author page.

She also has a tremendously interesting blog, and is one of the best researchers I know. Please visit her blog and consider giving her a follow. I’m over there talking about writing in multiple genres today.

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Help me Writers

I’m working on my Arson manuscript. I’m running into a problem with punctuation. It isn’t a big one, and there are several suitable styles.

The issue is with internal dialog. I don’t like italics for this purpose. I prefer italics as news broadcasts, signs, letters, email; that kind of thing. I also use them with one word of spoken dialog on rare occasions. Like this: “It’s doctor Pennington, actually,” she said.

All my research says it’s appropriate to punctuate like any other dialog and use a tag of “he thought.” This has worked well, until internal and spoken dialog wind up in the same paragraph.

I like it when characters think one thing and say another. My main character, Perry does this on occasion. When using my preferred punctuation method, I don’t like the way it looks.

I’ll make something up as an example. “Well, you’re a 300 pound blimp with a receding hairline,” he thought. He said, “Yeah, I think you have a real shot with her.”

I don’t like it. It’s a bit better with some action in the middle to separate the two, but still not great. “Well, you’re a 300 pound blimp with a receding hairline,” he thought. He placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder and said, “Yeah, I think you have a real shot with her.”

I like internal dialog with no punctuation myself. I know this is wrong, so I’m avoiding it. It does stand out against the spoken dialog though.

I toyed with the idea of a single quote for internal dialog, but I don’t love it either. ‘Well, you’re a 300 pound blimp with a receding hairline,’ he thought. He said, “Yeah, I think you have a real shot with her.”

So what should I do? I want to be consistent, whatever I decide. I don’t like italics in his situation, but I’m not loving the other options either.

Help me out here you writers and readers. My goal is to whip Arson into shape within ten days or so.

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Writing Dialog is an Illusion

We don’t really talk like the people in our stories. There has to be some editing by the writer, and we have to focus on moving the story forward. If you doubt me, go online and pull up any transcribed conversation you can find. This is where a stenographer writes down every word exactly as it’s spoken. These are usually court documents, but are occasionally used in police reports, human resources, and other places.

Here’s just one tiny example I found:

Bob: I said ‘You know, I was meeting with trying to get her to get me receipts, so I could see where she was at, so she could at least…so she could pay up if she didn’t have the receipts. And if she didn’t have enough receipts of showing what she’d done, then she would have owed $3,300, and I would have collected that from her.

Tom: Um, I understand what you’re saying.

Bob: OK. Alright, So that’s…that’s as long as you understand what I’m saying. And so…but that never…that never materialized. It never, ever, ever got to that point, because she never reconciled; she never provided the receipts. She never got back to me, um, and she… she, she told me when she was leaving…

I won’t make you suffer through any more of this. I’m sure this conversation was conducted with a certain amount of hand gestures, and probably some physical items being exchanged. The parties involved knew what was going on, but they were the only ones who needed to understand. (I substituted the names I found with Bob and Tom.)

This is the way many people speak. They carry on perfectly normal conversations like this every day. They may understand what’s happening, but as a reader I sure don’t. When we write fiction, we need to make sure the reader gets included.

I’ll take a stab at writing what “Bob” had to say if this were a novel. It may be lame, but I want to get all the important information in the dialog. I’ll even include a bit of flavor to develop the “Bob” character:

Bob said, “I told the bitch she needs to show me receipts, or show me the money. She moved out in the middle of the night. Know what I’m saying?”

That’s one line, and I believe it covers everything Bob had to say. My goal is to get it on the page and move forward. Maybe Tom is going to react somehow, and that’s more important than Bob’s rambling. Maybe whatever “she” is going to do is the basis of the story.

Writers don’t have to shy away from stuttering, and all mannerisms, but they should be kept to a minimum. Bob stammered: she, she, she. He also threw in a few pauses: Um, OK, Alright. If you feel the need to do this, save it for the exact time Bob is the most nervous.

If anyone is interested, you can find transcriptions online and take a crack at it yourself. There are probably any number of statements from steroid users in athletics, or apologetic politicians. How would you write a real  conversation as dialog in your story? How are you going to pull off the illusion for your readers?

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Dialect

I owe you guys a short post. The last two were pretty long.

What is your opinion of writing in dialect? Pirate lingo was created in Hollywood, but today it’s accepted by everyone. It’s so well known, that most readers expect pirates to talk a certain way. But would you write it that way?

I wrote recently about a character of mine named Roald. He has a distinct accent. Would you prefer this:

“By golly, I tink I talk yust fine,” Roald said.

Or this:

“By golly, I think I talk just fine,” Roald said.

As a reader, I think dialect is kind of fun. (That’s a personal opinion.) I can see where chapters of this might get tiresome. All the writing coaches say it should be written the second way, but only after making it clear to the reader.

Right now, I’m all for method one – if the character is limited to a minor appearance. Roald plays a substantial, if supporting, role in my novel. (The Cock of the South) I wrote him the second way. I need to get busy with more edits, and I could change him.

“Vy you gotta be changing everyting around? Yumpin yiminy vy don’t you yust push publish?”

“Whoa, buddy. I’m just trying to learn something here.”

What do the masses say? As readers, do you love or hate dialect?

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