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Archive for the ‘elements of fiction’ Category

When I began writing, I came across the statement: “Write what you know.” Wise, but severely limiting if you’ve led a sheltered life. I reversed the adage to read, “Know what you write.” Even if I don’t know something from firsthand knowledge or experience, I can find out about it.

Research is not just for historical works. Even the simplest contemporary story begs those fascinating details and correct terminology. For example, my husband and I used to ride a 1977 Honda Goldwing, but I had to check whether the headlight was automatic or manual before I sent my character through a covered bridge. A mechanic friend told me that our Goldwing was called a “shovel head.” I used that for effect.Honda 77 Scott Francis writes, “Just because you’re writing fiction, it doesn’t give you license to make everything up.”

 

 

photo-1What’s our best source for research? Depends on what we’re looking for. The basic understanding for my stories is derived from books, but when it comes to filling in details or answering specific questions, I use the internet. How far can an average man walk in a day? How far could a horse go, and how fast? Where did the railways run? What points of interest existed in St. Petersburg in 1914? What do they call streets and avenues in China? I had endless questions and found many answers on Google.

Photo Credit Gerald Hildebrand. Appeared in Witness Magazine July 2004.

Photo Credit Gerald Hildebrand. Appeared in Witness Magazine July 2004.

But the best source of research is people. Who lives in the place you’re writing about? Who has memories about historic events? These are the people who will help us make our stories credible, and usually they are more than willing to share their knowledge/experience.

How do we go about researching? Research is an ongoing, step-by-step process. We can’t know all the questions before we get into the story. They’ll keep coming up as we write.

 

 

 

Cautions:

  1. Abraham Lincoln said, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” Nuff said.
  2. Sources won’t always agree. At times I’ve had four books open on my desk, each one touting a different “truth.” Then it’s up to me to decide on the most probable scenario.
  3. Research is for credibility, not to show off what we know. Only include what’s necessary.

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What part does theme play in fiction writing and how does it come about? Do we manipulate our characters and their actions around a chosen theme or do we allow it to develop organically?

Firstly, let’s settle a question that may make this easier to understand: Are theme and premise the same thing?

For an answer, let’s look at a couple of examples from Rob Parnell’s article “Theme and Premise — What’s the Difference?

romeo and juliet* Take Romeo and Juliet. The premise is two young people from warring families fall in love. The theme is star-crossed love leads to tragedy.

           

 

 

pride and prejudice* Pride and Prejudice: the premise is that a feisty young woman needs to find a husband. The theme? Love conquers all.

 

 

 

LOTR* And my own example from Lord of the Rings: the premise is that a young hobbit finds himself in possession of a ring that can destroy the world. The theme, in my opinion, is courage and self-sacrifice for the greater good.

So our answer is that theme and premise are not the same. Premise is the situation that starts the story, what it’s all about; theme is the subject of the work, the heart of the story.

It’s a chicken and egg question. file271314537113What comes first, the story or the theme? My definitive answer is, it depends. There are relatively few original story themes, but as writers, we may not recognize at the outset that we have a particular theme in mind.

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Let me ask you a question: what’s the theme of your life? Unless you’ve recently done this exercise, you might not be able to pick it out. You’ll need to go back and consider who you are and what you’ve accomplished, how you’ve lived. In other words, you’ll need to review your story.

I think writing is similar. We need story before we can pick out a theme. The theme may be in the back of our minds, mulling around as we develop characters and motivation and conflict. It may be may be an age-old concept but it only comes through once we’ve brought it to life through the story itself.

For more on this “theme,” check out

Theme to Story http://learnedaboutwriting.blogspot.ca/2008/06/revising-novel-theme-to-story.html (by whoever used to write My Writing Life).

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Point of View can be a tricky subject. Basically, it refers to how we decide to relate our story, the perspective from which we see it. Which character(s) will communicate the story most effectively? Do we want to tell the story from one person’s perspective?

many people

 

 

 

A short story is often told from one perspective because of the limited length of time to develop characters. A novel, on the other hand, may use several perspectives to relate the story.  many people

 

 

 

Will we choose first person or third for this narrator?

This is first person: “I can still feel the heat of the fire.”

Consider the story To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, told in first person through the eyes of a young girl called Scout. Her every observation, every judgment, is sifted through her limited experience and perception, but it’s enough for the reader to grasp the greater significance.

And this is third person: “She could still feel the heat of the fire.”

Lord of the Rings uses this perspective.

The first person approach is the most intimate, but is also limiting as to how much the first person character can know and observe. The third person is less intimate, but allows for more than one character to share the point of view focus.

Besides that choice, we must decide whether the point of view character(s) will be limited to what they alone can perceive or will be privy to other characters’ thoughts and feelings? This latter POV is known as omniscient, for obvious reasons.

An example of omniscient POV:

“Alice saw the woman duck behind the counter when she entered the store, so she decided to investigate. Meanwhile, the woman crouched in fear, wondering where to hide.” Here we see from Alice’s point of view as well as the crouching woman’s. It’s like a bird’s eye view narrative.

Currently, the omniscient viewpoint is not commonly used in fiction, as it distances the reader from the characters and fragments the focus.

If we’re unsure of what point of view will best suit our story, we are free to try several options to see which works best. The experiment take time and effort, but is worthwhile.

A good tip: once we decide which perspective to use, we must be consistent. If, for example, we choose third person for a longer story, we have the option of seeing the story through the eyes of several characters, thus giving us a broader vision, but we must be clear in each instance which character is “seeing.”

The rule of thumb, at least for novice and intermediate writers, is that only one point of view should be employed in any given scene. The late Ron Benrey, agent/editor/author, suggested envisioning a camera on the head of the point of view character to help us remember that he or she can only see what the camera sees.camera

If we are writing about what Alice saw, then for that entire scene (one place or time in the story—think of a scene in a movie) we should only record what Alice senses or knows. If we wish to portray the story from another character’s point of view, we must create a new scene and maintain that character’s perspective throughout that scene.

Jumping from one character to another within a scene is known as head-hopping, and is generally frowned upon because it makes the story difficult to follow.

Another tip gained from Ron Benrey’s workshop is to make sure the reader is well aware of who the point of view character is. Mention the name at or very near the beginning of each scene so the reader isn’t left wondering.

Lack of understanding regarding point of view is one of the most telling signs of amateur writing. There are many books available that clarify this crucial element. Check out Writer’s Digest Books, specifically Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card.

For a more in-depth look at the various point of view options and how they work, check out this site.

 

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The End

Satisfaction Guaranteed!

That’s our motto. We want to make sure that once we’ve shared with our readers the journey our characters have taken, we also grant them a satisfying ending. It doesn’t matter how great the story is, it must leave us content on some level by the time we turn the final page.

I’m not saying our stories must have happy endings or that our protagonist’s hopes and dreams must all come true. Far from it. But, whatever questions we have thrown out there must be addressed, and all the loose ends tied up.

question mark

 

 

Story Questions

The question we need to keep uppermost in our minds, the one that drives the story, is: what does the protagonist want and does he/she get it?

There are several optional endings for a story, which we will discuss in a few paragraphs.

Whatever happens in terms of the protagonist’s goal and story question, the reader must be left with the feeling that it was addressed and dealt with, no matter what the outcome.

It’s a good idea to keep notes of all the questions / scenarios we’ve have raised and make sure we speak to each one.

We should attempt to tie the end back to the beginning in some way. If we can bring our opening scenario back to the reader’s mind at the end, it makes our story more connected, more holistic.

Character Arcs

One of our top responsibilities as authors is to create character arcs for the individuals who inhabit our stories. These characters must change over the course of the tale, whether positively or negatively, vastly or slightly. Again, it’s best to keep careful track of the character arcs, at least those of the main characters. This will help direct us to a satisfying ending.

If we are writing a stand-alone novel, all the questions need to be answered in some manner. If this particular story is part of a series, the same is true, although we will be creating some scenarios that will lead to the next book. But even here, we need to satisfy our readers if we want them to read our next book.

Types of Endings

For interest sake, I googled suggested types of endings by noteworthy authors, and have included several lists. The first is condensed from an article titled Types of Endings in Novels by Cynthia Tucker. Read more HERE

1.  Happy endings – the protagonist achieves his/her goal, the antagonist is served justice, and everything turns out well. My example is Emma by Jane Austen. The heroine learns her lesson and becomes a better person.

Emma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.  Tragic endings – the main character may be successful in achieving his/her goal, but sacrificeshis/her life to accomplish it. My example is Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

Romeo & Juliet

 

 

 

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    3.  Twist endings – surprise the reader (mystery stories). My example is The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. It’s not a mystery or a novel, but a short story which, in my opinion, uses plot twists to create an unforeseen and memorable ending.

    Gift of the Magi

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    4.  Ambiguous endings – leave the reader to decide what happens. My example is Life of Pi by Yann Martel. That ending is one I still noodle over.

    Life of Pi

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    A second source for typical book endings is James Scott Bell’s amazing how-to book, Revision & Self-Editing (Writer’s Digest Books). I have condensed his five points below.

    The Five Types of Novel Endings

    Beginnings are easy. Endings are hard. But it will help if you know the five types of endings:

    1. The Lead gains his objective (happy ending)
    2. The Lead loses his objective (unhappy ending)
    3. The Lead gains his objective but loses something more valuable (classic tragedy)
    4. The Lead sacrifices his objective for a greater good
    5. The ending is ambiguous or bittersweet (mostly for literary fiction)

    I discovered another list (I love lists) at Creative Writing Now that suggests several checks to insure satisfying endings.

    A satisfying ending:

    — will show or suggest the result of the story conflict [the story question we talked of earlier]

    — will come from the main character’s actions [remember the character arcs?]

    — will use elements from the beginning and middle of the story [tying end to beginning]

    — will make the reader feel something

    More Examples of Great Endings

    Here are a few of my favorite novels. Consider what types of endings they exhibit.

     LOTR

    Lord of the Rings – I was haunted by the ending of this masterpiece, but it ended as it must. Frodo has courageously completed the task he was given, not one he chose or wanted, and we are proud of his courage and perseverance. However, it has cost him. He goes to his reward, yet this means separation from his friends.

     

     

    GonGone with the Winde with the Wind – Another difficult ending. We want to take Scarlett O’Hara and shake some sense into her. Yet even in view of her bad choices, we are not left without hope. She’s made it before and we hope she will do so again.

     

     

     

    Count of Monte Cristo

     

    The Count of Monte Cristo – The Count is bent on revenge and justice. He spends his life seeking it and is successful in that. There have been costs and the reader must judge whether or not the his success was worth the cost.

     

     

    I hope these suggestions an examples will encourage each of us to study what’s out there and translate this into our craft.

    Happy writing!

     

     

     

     

     

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    At my age, a title like this makes me take notice. I sit up straighter, pull my shoulders back and suck in my middle.

    That’s what we want to do with the middles of our stories: be aware of their presentation and do what’s required to improve them.

    We’ve talked about Beguiling Beginnings with more than enough zip to catch the readers’ attention and pull them into the story. We may have a good idea where the story is going and how it ends, and often the ending is intense enough that we can hardly wait to get there. Perhaps we write it early on, to be adapted later. But now we must focus on what comes between an exciting beginning and an intense ending.

    If you look back at Fiction 101 — Part 8, the one about outlining or structuring a novel, you’ll see that we talked about various methods of structuring. One idea was the Plot Skeleton (from Angela Hunt). When we use the Plot Skeleton method, we start with the head (the protagonist), then the neck (the incident that starts things rolling) and then the ribs (the complications).

    Let’s talk about the ribs. They run up and down both sides of the chest. Convert that image to a two-column page and put + on one column and – on the other. Something good happens, then something bad, back and forth, balanced but with ever increasing importance and tension as we go along, until we reach the crisis.

    If we use the rib scenario / two-column page, we can fill in any number of events that will sustain interest and increase tension as we move forward with our stories.

    Another way to hold up the middle is with subplots. Wikipedia defines a subplot as: a secondary strand of the plot that is a supporting side story for any story or the main plot. These subplots connect with the main plot in some way through one of the characters, either a major or, more often, a supporting character. Subplots are less important than the main plot, so they get less time in the scheme of the story, but they add interest and tension, as well as helping to fill out characters.

    So, instead of getting bogged down with our main plot, trying to keep up the interest, we can employ subplots to switch up the focus to include other events, journeys and characters.

    It’s also absolutely necessary to remember that character development must happen throughout the novel. Every scene should either move the plot along or show character development. Every scene should be based on a goal and include conflict and tension. It only all works out in the end!

    The plot thickens, as they say, getting more involved. The characters meet more obstacles, face more discouragements. The goal of the main character as set out at the beginning of our story seems consistently more unattainable . . . right until the end.

    All these elements make the reader sit up and take notice. What’s happening here? How are the characters ever going to come out of this in one piece? We must make the reader guess, frantically turn the pages, forget about dinner and bedtime. Let’s exercise our writing expertise, work out with subplots and character development, and make that middle firm.

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    writerPlato said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.”

    Kimberly Yuhl suggests you have eight words to capture your reader’s attention.

    Rob Weatherhead states in the article, Say it Quick, Say it Well (please excuse the grammar), that the attention span of a modern internet consumer is short. “Studies have shown that 32% of consumers will start abandoning slow sites between one and five seconds.”

    Marcia Hoeck, in her article How to Capture Your Reader’s Attention, writes: “You only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention, so don’t take chances with clever, cute, or insider language or visuals, which are often lost on people.”

    Whether or not these statistics apply specifically to fiction writing is immaterial. They apply to today’s readers. Knowing these facts should motivate us to put extra effort into creating captivating openings for our stories.

    I find that examples aid my understanding, so let’s take a look at some classic examples of beguiling beginnings:

    * (my favorite) “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” This from C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

    * “On November the 21st, the day of her forty-seventh birthday, and three weeks and two days before she was murdered, Rhoda Gradwyn went…” The Private Patient, by P.D. James.

    * “When the coppers talk about Marsha Morgan, they start with her death—how she fell off the Chesapeake Belle and drowned in the Miles River.” From Ron and Janet Benrey’s Little White Lies.

    * Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner begins this way: “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.”

    * Caroline Way’s Confessions from a Farmer’s Wife: “I am the last one. Of those whose lives I will speak of here, I alone remain.”

    * Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: “It was as black in the closet as old blood. They had shoved me in and locked the door.”

    What do these examples have in common?questions

    – they are concise

    – they raise questions for which we want answers

    – they create a mood

    – they suggest the kind of story that’s coming (plot driven / character driven)

    – they draw us into the story

    How can we create a similar effect?

    – we must decide what we want to convey; what is the most important aspect of the story?

    – we must ask the right questions

    – we must decide what the mood of our story will be

    – we must know the style of story we are writing

    – we must revise and polish until the beginning is irresistible

    fascinated reader

    Having said all this, remember that you can tweak your beginning many times, especially after the ending has been written. After all, “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from” T.S. Eliot.

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    In my Fiction Writing 101 series, I often refer to James Scott Bell and his writing books and tools, especially Plot & Structure. My copy is well-marked and highlighted. That’s where I first heard the differentiation between an OP and a NOP.Plot & Structure

    OPs are Outline People, NOPs are Non-Outline People. The abbreviations are easy to remember but the meanings tend to merge into one another.

    Are you an OP or a NOP? Or is this purely a matter of semantics? Do the NOPs just have an uncanny ability to keep their outlines in their heads while the rest of us have to record ours in black and white? I heard a fellow author on a radio interview recently say she writes the entire book in her head, then does a complete draft before committing it to paper. Whether we do so in our heads or on paper, outlining is essential to continuity, consistency, and the evolution of characters and action.

    There are many helpful outlining methods available for use, or we can adapt them and create our own. Bell’s basic formula involves a step-by-step analysis of what you want in your story:

    — main character

    — what he or she wants

    — main story conflict

    — strong ending

    Bell calls this his LOCK system, and I’ll let you follow up with his book.

    I have also used a story analysis system called How to Find Your Story by Jeff Gerke, which has subsequently been revised into a book titled Plot versus Character. If the new volume is anything like the download I picked up some years ago, it will be full of charts and questions to help the writer establish the basic elements of the story and how they fit together.

    file000474391001Another approach is the Snowflake Method, created by Randy Ingermanson. This is also available online (free) and is a valuable tool for plot creation and development. It involves recording the basic elements, then gradually filling them out.

    di7eGA5i9A plot method I particularly like is The Plot Skeleton by Angela Hunt. My favorite part of this plan is how the “good” and “bad” plot incidents balance each other like the ribs of the skeleton. In a workshop with Angela, we used The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz as templates for the plot skeleton of a story. Both work very well.

    I recently asked Marsha Hubler, author of tween horse books and Amish stories (as well as writing in other genres), how she goes about writing her series. She said, “Detailed planning of character development, plot structures, and story arcs for each book in the series is a must.”

    So however you choose to create your stories, whether as an OP or a NOP, find a method that works and follow it to make this the best story ever.

     

     

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    What is plot—besides a piece of ground used to bury dead people (that’s from James Scott Bell in Plot & Structure)? In my mind, plot is the story itself, with a beginning, middle and end. Of course there are literary works that don’t follow any of the rules, not even as guidelines, but I’m thinking of genre writing. Plot is the skeleton of the story, the bones on which the rest is built and fleshed out.

                THE HOOK

    fish & hook

    Stories must begin with an appealing element of some kind, an aspect of the piece that draws us in and makes us want more. In fiction writing, this is called the hook. Switch over to a fishing analogy: the fish sees the worm or lure and can’t resist a taste, but alas, once he grabs it, he’s hooked and committed. That’s the kind of draw we need in our stories, one that grabs the readers by the senses and holds them while we reel them in through the depths of the rest of the story. And the read should be worthwhile.

    Here is an example of a hook that drew me in:

    – P.D. James’ The Private Patient: “On November the 21st, the day of her forty-seventh birthday, and three weeks and two days before she was murdered, Rhoda Gradwyn went…” Well, that immediately raises a plethora of questions for which I want answers.

    * A tip: you don’t have to have your hook intact right away, just have an idea of it. You can tweak it many times in the process of writing and editing.

    CONFLICT

    hands in conflict

    Another element of plot is conflict. All the examples given above hint at clashes and tension, and that’s what makes a story. Each scene, each section of dialogue, must involve tension and lead us deeper into the tale.

    OUTLINE

    WORKING TITLE                                                             

    I          Prologue

    II        Part One

                A. Opening Disaster

                            1.  Introduce main character

                            2…

    If you are an outline person, you will work through your main plot elements in point form first, filling them out as you develop the storyline. If you are not an outline person, you will organize in your head as you write. It’s a matter of what works best for you. There are many formulas and templates to help us create a workable plot, and we’ll discuss those next time.

    SCENES & SEQUELSScene & Structure

    plotWhen plotting a story, it helps to write in scenes instead of chapters, in my opinion. The book Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham is a great way to learn about the differences between action scenes and internal episodes and how they compliment each other. Another excellent resource for plotting is Plot by Ansen Dibell. These are both Writer’s Digest Books and are available online in print and digital formats.

    In Plot, Dibell writes: “Plot is the things characters do, feel, think, or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward” p. 6. So it follows that as we plot our novels, we need to consider who the characters are, what they do, how they live and think and feel, how they communicate, and how this all works together to lead us to the desired ending.

    * Note: sometimes the story takes a direction the author did not foresee, and the resulting ending differs from the original thought. Plotting must be a flexible endeavor.

    You can follow your instincts in plotting a novel—it’s best to study up on it first, though—or you can use some of the resources and ideas suggested above, but get plotting. We’re waiting for your novel.

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    Giving Characters a Leg to Stand On

     A smile formed on Callie face at the sight of Tom. It had been so long.

    “Welcome by to the land of the living,” she said.

    “It’s good to be back. What have you been doing in my absence? I hope you managed to keep out of trouble.”

    “Of course, what do you think?”

    She willed him to take her hand, to look deeply into her eyes. There had to be something between them after all they’d been through together.view to east

    Touching scene, except that it’s hard to follow in our mind’s eye because it’s not grounded. Callie and Tom are two characters floating in no particular time or space. We have trouble visualizing the interaction without supporting place.

    Setting is as important as character, in fact, there are times when the setting is a character. Consider Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden. What would the story be without the image of the cottage on the cliff, or the unique house in Australia, or the attic room? And how about Jan Karon’s beloved Mitford Series? Setting is the canvas on which the characters move; it affects who they are and how they interact with one another, and sometimes it’s a life force in itself (think Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher).

    Besides being a visual background for the story, setting can also provide direction and momentum for the plot. My Storm Series is set in South Russia at the time of World War I and the Russian Revolution. In this case, the setting is the essence of the plot. The characters act in accordance to what’s happening around them.

    So setting is a grounding factor, a motivator, a character, an influence. It is also color.

    When our son was in Peru some years ago, he sent us an email to describe Lima. One of his sentences still forms pictures in my mind:  “The houses looked like a kid had gone crazy with a box of crayons.”

    When our son was in Peru some years ago, he sent us an email to describe Lima. One of his sentences still forms pictures in my mind:
    “The houses looked like a kid had gone crazy with a box of crayons.”

    Description can add depth to a story, as long as the depiction is woven in without distracting from the other elements. A novel must end up as a seamless whole.

    I read a story recently—Assassin’s Trap—that left me in awe of the author’s skill at describing her settings. I could have sworn D.C. Shaftoe had visited every place she used in her remarkable story.

    Here’s an article on setting from “Writer’s Digest” that may be of help to you with regard to setting:  “THE HOW OF WHERE” — THE IMPORTANCE OF SETTING IN YOUR FICTION.

    The next article in this series will deal with plot, so until then, let’s work on our settings. 

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    speech balloon image

    “He said,” and then “she said,” and then “they said…” The preceding is a good way to lose our readers. How can we, as writers, make our dialogue exciting, compelling and unique to the characters?

    Let’s begin by defining the role of dialogue in fiction. There are two main purposes for dialogue:

    — to show character development

    — to move the plot forward

    Dialogue is not an opportunity for the writer to manipulate characters in order to fill in extraneous information. Example: Sherry stared at Bill and said, “You know, of course, that there used to be a well right where we’re standing.

    Do not manipulate dialogue to tell the reader about background information, or to repeat things the reader already knows.

    This example does not show anything about the character or the plot, only about the author’s inability to properly incorporate necessary (or not) backstory.

    Now to the content of dialogue. What do we include and what do we omit? When people speak, they use a lot of filler words that are almost always unnecessary in writing. Alfred Hitchcock said, “Drama is life with the dull parts left out.” So it is with writing dialogue. We must capture the essence and leave out the dull parts. We must be exact and careful. We must give the reader the benefit of the doubt as far as being able to understand our intent. 

    “Writing dialogue isn’t about replicating speech. It’s about giving an impression of it and also of improving upon it.”                                                                                                       http://www.novel-writing-help.com/writing-dialogue.html

    Each of our characters needs a unique voice. Not necessarily quirky, although sometimes that works, but distinctive. We need to ask ourselves who the character is. What does he do for a living? How much education does she have? What level of society did he grow up in? Does she use certain unique speech patterns?

    If the characters are from different language backgrounds, research the juxtaposition of their words. For example, in English we would say, “I can’t speak German very well,” while in German, the order of the words in direct translation would be, “I can’t very well German speak.” We may have to play with the order a bit to make it readable, and not overdo dialect and accent, but if we take all these character details into consideration, each one will speak differently.

    Here are a couple of tips: 1. Find a picture of your characters from a magazine or online from a stock photo site and let the person in the photo speak to you. Sounds weird but it works. 2. Read your dialogue aloud to make sure it reads smoothly and easily. 

     Next, let’s look at the technique of writing dialogue.

    Just as every scene in a story needs conflict, so every section of dialogue requires conflict to keep the reader’s attention. If it doesn’t have conflict, it should be cut.

    It’s important to vary speech patterns in dialogue, but the speeches should always be as brief as possible. If there’s more to say, the character can tell it in bytes, not all at once. Connected to this, there’s the issue of white space. The way the speech is set out on the page will determine how easy it is to read and how appealing it is to the reader. If a speech goes for pages unbroken by paragraphs, many readers won’t bother to read it.

    “And then,” she said, “there are speech tags.” We only need enough of them to maintain clarity, and it’s best to stick with said, even though our grade six teachers may have taught us otherwise. The word said becomes invisible and thus easy to read. It doesn’t take us out of the action as would retorted or maligned.

    On that same topic, avoid the adverbs. Instead of writing, “…she said sweetly,” let the character show the emotion behind her words: “she said, and winked at him.”

    We can often use beats of action to maintain clarity in speech. “Don’t touch that!” Ruby grabbed the doll and held it to her chest.

    If we study good dialogue, we can imitate it and will soon be able to write it well ourselves.

    Finally, we must learn how to properly use punctuation in dialogue. It’s not difficult, although it feels cumbersome at first. With practice it can become second nature. There are online sites if we’re unsure, as well as lots of good resource books. I’ve recently read a couple e-books that were poorly punctuated, and it’s distracting and frustrating. We want our work to be as polished as possible.

    Online dialogue punctuation sites:                           http://theeditorsblog.net/2010/12/08/punctuation-in-dialogue
    http://litreactor.com/columns/talk-it-out-how-to-punctuate-dialogue-in-your-prose
    http://www.be-a-better-writer.com/punctuate-dialogue.html
    Handy resources:
    Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss (includes differences between Canadian, British and American usage)
    Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Connor (a wonderfully light-hearted grammar book)
    The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (the famous old standby)

    All the best as you practice and perfect your dialogue. See you next time to talk about Setting.

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