Can You Vague That Up For Me?

Welcome to the corner of Quirky and Kinky where you'll fall in love every time you open a book.

Archive for the category “writing”

My Writing Process Revisited: Has it Changed/Evolved?

Okay, so this is a topic we’ve touched on before, and unless you’re really new here, you already know that I am the Pantsiest Panster Who Ever Pantsed™.

Since my process hasn’t really changed, and in an attempt not to rehash previous posts, I thought I’d lay out my process with my latest release, Rewritten, Book 7 in the Bound series that I share with Jess Jarman.

Despite the fact that my non-writing workload has been nuts this year, not to mention the whole cover identity problem where we learned that I am, in fact, the literal worst, the book itself came together fairly easily, and in my usual Pantsiest Panster Who Ever Pantsed™ way.

As always, the first step was getting a line of dialogue in my head. Well, in this case, it was three lines of dialogue.

“I don’t need a minder. Didn’t ask for you. Don’t want you.”

And I had my usual thought: Who the hell says something like that? The immediate answer was, obviously, an asshole. Probably someone like this, but with a Scottish accent instead of an Irish one. So, you know, an asshole named Angus. A hot asshole named Angus.
a43934a4523174b79c929f6f2abcbf84--aidan-turner-kili.jpg

The next question is why is this guy such a dick? I realized pretty quickly that it was someone who was experiencing a lot of frustration and and guilt over the poor life choices that led him to whatever emotional hole he’s in.

Then I had to decide who he was saying it to? And why. Normally, it takes me a little longer to figure out a character’s backstory is. But I knew right away what Eliza’s past entailed and exactly what her secrets were and what she had to hide. But I was stuck on the why. Why she was stuck babysitting Angus?  What was his damage that he needed a keeper anyway?

karen_gillan_a_p.jpg

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t comb through a ridiculous amount of Aidan Turner photos on Pinterest while trying to answer that question. But, when I saw this picture, I was like, “He’s the super hot George R. R. Martin of Sci-Fi–that’s why!”

71548.jpg

(Side note: If you’re my husband or children, and you hear me announce random stuff like this on the regular, you just roll your eyes and say things like: “I hope he writes faster than the actual one.” or “He’d better not sell a TV series before he’s done writing his damn books.” Or, if you’re my daughter, “So…how hot?” Which, I suppose, is proof that most writers don’t live in a vacuum. And inspiration is everywhere. Or something.) 

Once I knew that much about Angus, (thanks, Pinterest and fam) I knew why Eliza was there and what she was supposed to be doing and exactly how much he was going to hate it.

This is the part where I wish I could tell you that I plotted like a reasonable person. But I don’t. It’s not for lack of want or trying. It’s just that thinking all the way through a plot doesn’t work for me. It’s just not how my brain is wired.

But this was the point where I sat down and thought seriously about what specifically Angus and Eliza each wanted at this point in their lives, why they wanted it, and why they couldn’t have it. Good old GMC: goals, motivation, and conflict.

Usually, the dialogue that starts a story idea growing in the first place doesn’t end up working into the story until later in the book. For instance, the line that ended up being the impetus for In Bounds :

“Butterscotch chips can’t dance with all that skirt.”

didn’t end up showing up in the story until page 37. So I had to do a lot of working backward to figure out how the hell that conversation would even happen.

Angus’ dialogue was clearly the opening of this story which made it a little weird for me. I like working backward because it feels like I have a better sense of who the characters are when I start the actual story. But, I knew what their GMCs were, I knew their story would require shoving them both together whether they wanted it or not, so sci-fi cons and author events seemed perfect.

At this point, I think I had ideas for two or three scenes that occurred  later in the book: a scene where she’s pissed at him for invading her privacy, one where he finds out what her previous name was, and one where she has a pretty brutal panic attack. The trick, as usual, was getting there.

I knew the privacy invasion scene would come first, so again it was a case of working backward from there to the line, “I don’t need a minder.” and start writing. Then I sent chapters to my CPs for feedback as I wrote toward the next plot point that I was aware of. I was surprised by how the revelation of Eliza’s former name came out and more surprised by everything that happened afterward. The way I’d originally thought it would go was…not at all how it went. But, I’m pleased with how it turned out.

Writing really went fairly well until I got to the reason for Eliza’s panic attack. Without giving away too much, I was having trouble maneuvering the cause of her panic attack to the venue where it began. And that required multiple (probably whiny) phone calls to my series partner, Jess (who is all things patient, wise, and brilliant).

By this point, I had a few more vague scene-shaped ideas that I knew were coming up, so I continued writing toward those. But there were still tons of surprises for me along the way–like Angus’ friend Tansy, more about his brother (which forced me to go back and change some things earlier in the book), and more about how truly isolated Eliza had been.

There were more (also whiny) phone calls to Jess when the big black moment arrived because I was, again, having trouble getting the cause to the venue. And there was also the borrowing of Jess’ character, Kit (OMGYOUGUYSICAN’TWAITFORHISSTORY!) who was instrumental in the secondary plot resolution.

But that’s basically my process. Get a line of dialogue and some vague distant-y sort of plot points and write until I reach them while occasionally whining at Jess. I think this works for me for a couple of reasons. I’m not really a linear thinker–not with my own writing, anyway–editing is a completely different story. Also, I have Attention Deficit Disorder. No, it’s not a superpower or anything, it’s actually a pain in the ass in a lot of ways, but it’s a gift when it comes to making connections that I never would have seen if I was trying to plot a book prior to writing.

I’ve realized that whether I’m consciously thinking about it or not, I understand and can utilize the tenets of story structure. Even better, now that I worry far less about knowing how everything is supposed to go before I start writing, I allow the story to unfold in ways that surprise me every time. And even if I don’t consciously know what’s going to happen, my subconscious apparently does because as I get to the last third or so of any story, I realize that I’ve laid the groundwork for various events earlier in the book without even realizing it. I love it when I see those connections pop up and I figure out how to use them. Pretty sure that’s an ADD thing. But trusting the story to unfold in the way it’s meant to, and trusting myself to get it there, has been huge for me as a writer.

I know that probably sounds super crunchy granola, but that’s the process that works for me. Anyone else write like this? Be sure to check out Torrance and Kris‘ processes, too!

If you’d like to read Rewritten, that would be awesome! You can find it at these fine places.

rewrittennew2.jpg-2

(excerpt)       Amazon  *  B&N  *  iBooks  *  Kobo

And if you’d like to read the previous posts on this topic, check out:

My Writing Process in 30ish Steps

How I Create My Characters AKA The Children’s Book Proposal that Tanked: If You Give a Bron a Line of Dialogue

Writing Hopes and Aspirations

Old black vintage typewriter

So, my writing hopes and aspirations are pretty simple. I’m not looking to hit lists or become a millionaire, I’d just like to:

  • To make enough to support myself by writing full-time–not that I don’t genuinely love my other jobs, but…this is the dream, people.
  • To write stories that provide people with an enjoyable escape from reality for a bit.
  • To write stories that I love and am proud of.

I’m actually feeling confident about number three. Really need to work on number one.

Be sure to check out the other bloggers’ writing hopes and aspirations.

Jess * Deelylah * Torrance * Kris

Favorite Writing Advice

#writelifeapril

Advice is a lot like music. Or styles of underwear. Use what works for you, and leave the rest behind.

Obviously, I can’t tell you what’ll work for you, I can only share what’s worked for me, but look around. You might find something you like. Try it on. See how it fits. If you like it, it’s yours.

So, these are my favorite bits of writing advice.

Emotional Meat Grinder – The first book I ever finished had zero conflict, and my very wise forever-friend, Alex Kourvo told me that it doesn’t matter how much I love my characters, I still have to grab them by the back of the head and shove them face-first into an emotional meat grinder and make their lives hell. Then, when it’s really bad, I need to make it worse.

Write What You Love – There are some people who advocate writing whatever’s popular in hopes of riding genre coattails to fame and fortune. Here’s the thing about that. If it’s not a genre or subgenre you truly enjoy, it’ll show. I saw it often in when I edited for small presses, and I still see it now with my editing business.  If you’re writing something in hopes of a paycheck instead of writing it because you love whatever it is, it’ll never be as good or satisfying for you or the reader than if you’d written something you were passionate about.

Who Has the Most to Lose? – Someone in a long ago and far away critique group had some brilliant advice about POV (point of view) that’s stuck with me to this day. When you’re writing a story with multiple narrative POVs, you’ll have to decide whose POV each scene should be in. Ask yourself who has the most to lose. Who has the most to lose physically? Who has the most to lose emotionally? (Especially emotionally.) Nine times out of ten, the character with the most at stake (in the moment) is the POV you’re going to want to write that scene from.

If You Want to be a Writer, You Need to Make Writing a Priority. – (Full disclosure: I can’t remember who said this to me–in reality, lots of people–but I have to remind myself of it on the regular. Sometimes daily. Sometimes all day long.) This isn’t to say that life–the busyness that comes from living and interacting with other people, a day job, and the world at large–can just be ignored. But if you’re finding it hard making time to write, you may have to take a long hard look at how you’re spending your time and decide where you can cut back to make room for more writing time. Also, make use of whatever tiny pockets of time you have.

Please note, I’m not including depression or other illnesses in the list of busyness. Those are a whole n’other ballgame. But as someone with multiple mental and physical health bullshit going on, I’m reminding you to be gentle with yourself. Constantly beating yourself up isn’t going to suddenly make you more productive. Trust me…I know intimately of which I speak. Be gentle with yourself. Accept help when it’s offered. Ask for help when you need it.

Trust the Story. – Background to this. It’s a paraphrased Neil Gaiman quote. More backstory. Jess Jarman, Kris Norris and I have had a three way text chat going on for almost four years, now. It’s incredibly rare that a day passes that we don’t text each other. I came across this Gaiman quote: “Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story.” and shared it with them because I loved it so much.

While we were all working on newer to us genres and sort of stepping into the literary unknown (for us anyway) of self-publishing, we were having a lot of of doubt. Certainly, self-doubt, but also story doubt. We’re all mostly pantsers as opposed to plotters, and we’d often find ourselves second-guessing where the characters and the plots were heading because it wasn’t where we’d thought they’d be going. When that happened (and still, today, when it happens) we always tell each other, “Trust the story.”

Thus far, trusting the story and going with my gut has worked beautifully, and it’s brought me to places I hadn’t had any intention of going, but the books are better for it. I’m sure that one day, it might backfire and I’ll end up with a mass of revisions, but so far, this works for me, and I’m going to keep doing it.

Do you have any writing advice you swear by? What is it? Be sure to go check out the other bloggers’ favorite writing advice. Jess, Gwen, Jessica, and Deelylah.

Writing Fears and Anxieties

Apparently, it’s time for another episode of Therapy with Bron.

It’s totally cool to back out of the room now. Honestly, I probably won’t even notice. I’ll just assume you were looking for the bathroom or something. Maybe you were trying to find the kitchen? I did just make cookies.

Oh? You’re still here?

*passes the cookies*

Okay, so…writing fears and anxieties. I have quite a few, but I’m willing to bet that they’re not all that different from other writers’ issues. We all seem to have a fuckton of them.

I feel like this is one of those topics I could go on and on about ad nauseum, so I’m just going to stick to the biggest, doomiest ones, otherwise we’ll all be here for ages.

So, in the fear and anxiety round-up, there’s the ever popular:

I’ll never have another good idea again.

This one usually hits as I’m about 3/4 of the way through a book. There a little voice that whispers, “This is it. The last book you’ll ever write. You sure you wanna finish it?”

I hate that voice. That voice is a total asshole. Also, that voice is dumb, because the voice and I both know that I have pages and pages of ideas. But somehow, that voice gets me to listen to it, and I suddenly think all the ideas I’d previously loved are shit. Stupid voice.

The people who buy and positively review or otherwise say nice things about my books are just doing it because they’re being kind.

This is a popular one in my head. Like I’m the author version of that kid with the lemonade stand on the corner. You know the one…he was always kinda grubby and sticky-looking and you hoped that he’d just spilled some of the lemonade on himself and got sticky that way. Because you really didn’t want to think about him actually making the lemonade. And the lemonade itself was always weak tasting and uncomfortably warm–but you bought it anyway, ’cause you felt bad for that grubby, sticky kid.

That’s a really long way of saying that sometimes, I’m afraid I’m that grubby, sticky kid on the corner who people feel sorry for, but instead of questionable lemonade, they’re buying books.

I’m a fraud, and someday, my secret will be out, and everyone will know.

This is the garden variety imposter syndrome that I think most authors probably face. It’s that clawing feeling that no matter how well I do, it’s not because I’ve worked hard to learn my craft or have dedicated tons of time and effort writing these books. Nope. It’s all because of some cosmic misalignment of the stars, and when everything goes back to how it’s supposed to be, I’ll be here like this:unnamedAnd everyone will know that I’ve just been faking this whole time.

Okay, so that’s probably more of my neuroses than anyone can comfortably handle in one day, so I say we should all go troop over to Jess and Kris‘ blogs and see what kind of cookies and anxieties they have going on.

Tips, Tricks, and Tools I Use to Organize My Writing

Putting me and the idea of organization together in the same sentence is optimistic at best. However, I’ve been trying to do better.

If you’ve been here for any length of time, you know I’m not a plotter. At all. That’s just not the way my brain works. And I’m also a very visual person. Pinterest is great for people like me. One of the things I like to do while I’m working on a story is create a image board. I look for images that either remind me of my characters or of the general situation they’ve found themselves in. I don’t necessarily plot according to the pictures I’ve pinned, but often, they do spur ideas. And if they do spur ideas, the boards are a great place to help keep track of them.

Here’s an example of a finished board for my book, In Bounds (aka Sportsball that released late last year.) screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-9-06-25-pm

And here’s an example of a board in progress for my upcoming book, Mist and Stone. 

screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-9-06-43-pm

I also use bullet journals to keep myself on track with both writing and life in general. The daily #bujo keeps me on track with daily writing, editing, and life-in-general tasks. This is my daily journal with a sample daily task list.

img_4222

I’ll be opening an Etsy shop, soon (Granola Girl Creations) where I’ll be featuring custom made #bujo covers and other organizational supplies. 

I use the Piccadilly Essential Large Ruled Notebook. For me, it’s the perfect size, and the paper quality is great – even markers don’t ghost through the pages.

51r7xllyssl-_sx371_bo1204203200_

Purple signifies writing related tasks, light blue is editing, green is family and personal stuff, and pink is health. As you can see, February has been a bit of a bitch in terms of getting stuff done. But, I’m pushing through. img_4223

This is my #writingbujo.

fullsizerender

I use this journal to keep track of story notes, character details, and progress. Since I currently have multiple series plus a number of stand alone books going, the #writingbujo helps me keep everything in a centralized location.

There’s not currently a lot of info on this story, but you get the idea.  Also, sorry about the shadowy pictures, but it was late when I remembered I needed pictures, and the lighting in my house suuuuuuucks.

img_4225

img_4226

This is about it for me today, if you have any questions about my “process” such as it is, or if you’d like to order a journal cover of your own, lemme know. 🙂 And be sure to check out the other bloggers’ posts to see what kinds of tips and tricks they have–I know I will be. Deelylah, Gwen, Jessica, and Jess.

Finding the Balance – with Writing and Everything Else

Yeah…this week’s topic?

This is pretty much how I’m feeling about it.

adele

And also this.

tennent

And some of this.

tumblr_nln8xgcerv1tfbtrwo1_400

With a whole lotta this.

tim-minchin-fuck-you

Okay, so it may not be apparent, but I’m having a little trouble with the whole concept of balance. I don’t feel like any area of my life is anywhere near balance.

Probably because it’s not.

I race from one thing to the next. It’s either all writing, or all client edits, or all coaching (writing–not sportsball), or all family stuff, or all sewing, or all knitting, or all cross stitching, or all cleaning. But  no matter what it is I’m throwing myself into, I’m super far behind on everything else.

I started using a planner and a bullet journal. They help keep me on track, but right now, there’s just more that needs doing than I seem to be able to manage right now.

Part of the problem is that there’s a lot of external stress going on in my life at the moment, and none of the things are  not anything I can do something about. I have to wait them out like everyone else.

Unfortunately.

I’m great in an emergency. Gaping head wound? I’m your girl. Tire blowout on the expressway? I can steer that car though traffic and get it safely to the median. Broken limb? Mental health crisis? I got you. Now, granted, I’ll fall apart once the crisis is past, but mid-crisis? No prob.

But this long term stress stuff?  Nope. I suck at it. And it seems like the longer it goes on, the more out of balance I feel.

Right now, I know I can only get done what I can get done. So, I write everything down in the journal and the planner and check off as many as I can each day. And I try to remember to make time for self-care. It doesn’t always happen, but I’m trying. Tonight, it was watching Drunk History.

Maybe we should revisit this topic again next year. Perhaps, I’ll have figured out the secret by then. BTW, I’m totally open to suggestions if you’ve got any.

I’m gonna go check out Kellie and Jess‘ posts. Maybe I can pick up some pointers.

Tropes I Hate in Fiction and Why: A.K.A. Bron Unloads (Again)

13876619_s

There are sooooooooooo many tropes I loathe (quite a few I love, too) but it’s all about the ranty loathing today. I’m gonna break it down by genre. Well, that’s a lie. I’m gonna break it down by the genres that I write because otherwise, I’ll literally be here all night.

Romance

  • All Women Are Competition – I’m putting this in romance, but honestly, it appears in about every kind of fiction, but it’s huge in romance, erotic romance, and YA, and I am sick to fuck of it.  I really hate when other women exist in stories as tools to show the reader how much better the heroine is than the hero’s ex, or his secretary, or a romantic rival. These other women are usually portrayed as conniving, grasping, hateful bitches who are in competition for the hero’s affection.
  • You’re Not Like Other Girls – This trope also belongs in erotic romance and YA, too. This is meant to show the reader the same thing as All Women Are Competition – just what a special fucking snowflake the heroine is. We get it. She’s your heroine and she’s awesome. We want to like her, too. But there’s something that’s a little disconcerting about a hero evangelizing about the heroine (silently, because he’s an alphahole who doesn’t share his feels) in a way that disses all other women (basically rates them as substandard) in order to reinforce how super-shiny-special the heroine is.
  • Instalove – To be fair, this is another one that could have gone into YA or ER. It’s also pretty self-explanatory. I just don’t buy a Happily Ever After after characters have only known one another for three days.

Erotic Romance

  • It’s Fine for the Heroine to Have All the Sex Ever Because Soon it Will Be Love but Any Other Woman Who Does That is a Slut – Okay, so this one is a bit of a mouthful as far as tropes go, but I fucking hate hypocrisy like this so much! How does that even work? Especially in the erotic romance genre? It’s the sister trope of All Women Are Competition and You’re Not Like Other Girls. But it reinforces that not only is the heroine super special, but the laws of nature (or the laws of the novels where this trope appears) don’t apply to her. And also, she’s winning ALL the competitions that theses other women didn’t even know they were part of.
  • Alphaholes – I’m really not a fan of the darkity-dark-dark-dark hero who’s basically a giant bag of dicks. They’re emotionally unavailable, arrogant, ruthless, cruel, jealous as fuck, creepily controlling, and often stalk the heroine, yet, the heroine can’t help but be attracted to these gems. They can be billionaires or bikers – sometimes even both at the same time.
  • Magic Peen/Magic Vag – Either the hero or heroine is super emotionally fucked up by some past trauma, but by the end of the book, they’ve been made emotionally whole again by the power of the peen (or vag). The sex cured them.  (OMG – random side note: Remember the old He-Man cartoon? He-Man would whip out his little dagger and holler “By the power of Greyskull!” and his dagger would grow into a sword. Now, every time I come across the magic peen trope, I’m gonna be thinking of He-Man. This is not going to end well for me, friends.)
  • Billionaires – So often, the billionaire trope ends up reading more like money porn to me. So far, there’s been one exception to this rule for me, and that’s been Neil Elwood. I’m sure there are probably others, but I’m so turned off by the trope that I’d be unlikely to pick them up without a strong recommendation from someone I trust.
  • Instantaneous Orgasms Over Virtually Nothing – Sexual arousal is a powerful, powerful thing. Also? It’s a pretty good time. It has a lot to recommend it, really. However, when the heroine orgasms over the barest sexual touch, it doesn’t read realistically. Perhaps, there’s a person out there who can come because someone stroked their arm. Perhaps, you’re that person. However, most of the populace isn’t that person. Most of the populace is going to look at the Instaorgasm, roll their eyes and mutter, “For fucking real?!”

Young Adult

  • Magical Girl – In paranormal YAs, the heroine is rarely an average girl who gets caught up in extraordinary events. She’s usually secretly (unbeknownst to her) a witch, a fairy/faery, a vampire, an angel, a demon, a weresomething, a vampire slayer, etc. and the story is all about how she was really special all along.
  • Love Triangles  – Nope. I feel like the main reason this exists is to show the reader that even though the heroine thinks she’s nothing specials/not pretty or popular or whatever enough, she really is because OMGTWOBOYSWANTHER. How about we just, I dunno, explore this character’s worth in ways that don’t rely on whether or not she’s found desirable by boys?

Okay, so, I know there are a ton more, but these are the ones I’m unloading on today, because it’s nearly 9pm and I have a ton of things left to do in my bullet journal for the day. I’m sure we’ll revisit this topic another time, and I’ll have more tropes to bitch about, but in the meanwhile, how about you share some of your most loathed tropes with me. What really gets your undies in a twist?

In the meanwhile, be sure to check out Torrance and Deelylah’s posts, too!

What I Hate About Writing

writer-cat

I’ve been trying to write this post for a while, now. But every time I look at the title of the prompt, I get that song, What I Like About You by The Romantics, stuck in my head, and then it’s there for days.

I really hate that.

Anyway, here are some things I also hate about writing, in no particular order.

  • When the words won’t come. That feeling of staring at the cursor and watching it mockingly blink on my empty page.
  • Imposter Syndrome. Feeling like any past success I’ve had was nothing more than luck, and that I’m not a “real” writer, and someday, everyone will know. 
  • When I’m writing to meet a deadline and I get all kinds of plot ideas or bits of dialogue for a different story.
  • When other obligations get in the way of writing.
  • When I get all up in my head and second guess myself about the anything to do with the my current project.
  • When I get on a roll riiiiiiiiiiight before it’s time to go to bed. (Yeah, I know, I could stay up later, but that pretty much makes me useless the next day.)

I’m sure there are more things I hate about writing. But I don’t hate writing. It’s truly one of my favorite things. In fact, I’m gonna go do some right now!

Be sure to check out Jess, Jessica, and Torrance’s posts to see what they hate about writing.

How I Create My Characters AKA The Children’s Book Proposal that Tanked: If You Give a Bron a Line of Dialogue

I feel like if you’ve been here any length of time, you probably know where this post is about to go. But if not, buckle up. We’re doing this thing.

I usually get a line of dialogue or a snippet of a scene rolling around inside my head. The first thing I do after that happens is figure out what kind of person would say or do the things pop into my brain.

For example, in In Bounds, the book that will be releasing soon, I had a line of dialogue in my head: “Butterscotch chips can’t dance with all that skirt.”

So, I had to rewind a little bit and ask myself: Who the hell would say that? And more importantly, why?

Remembering my former sister-in-law’s butterscotch colored bridesmaid dresses, I thought to myself: Someone who was forced to wear a hideous bridesmaid’s dress. That’s who.

That thought inevitably led to: If someone forced to wear a hideous bridesmaid’s dress felt like she couldn’t dance with all that skirt, what would she do? She’d lock herself in the bathroom stall at the reception and cut off the the bottom of the skirt to an appropriate danceable length, of course. With the nail scissor tool on the Swiss Army knife she keeps in her purse. For emergencies. Like dancing. 

Which led to: Who the hell would do that? 

Followed by the rapid realization of: A drunk person!

That answer only produced another question. What bridesmaid would get that drunk at her BFF’s wedding reception? But happily, it also produced an answer. Oh…one whose long term college boyfriend/fianceé dumped her the night before.  

Followed by another realization: You know what else that drunk, depressed, butterscotch chip of a bridesmaid might do? Hook up in a utility closet with the bride’s younger brother. Who’s hot. And has an English accent. And also really hot. And English. And plays sportsball.

And that, dear readers, is how I came up with the character of Ivy Wright, heroine of In Bounds AKA The Sportsball Book. 

After that initial fit of character creation, I realized that Ivy is an elementary school teacher and reading specialist. She’s also done her best to pretend the drunken hook-up  (12 years’ prior) with her best friend’s little brother never happened. She’s carrying around a lot of baggage from that time of her life, but she’s doing her best to push past it and move the hell on.

Once I’ve gotten that much down about a character, I start thinking about what she looks like. For me, the easiest way to do this is to cast a movie in my head. I know some writers refuse to use actors or other public figures as character inspiration, but I find it helpful to use existing sets of features and sometimes mannerisms. So, I pick someone she resembles. In Ivy’s case, it’s a slightly heavier Rose McIver with darker hair and gray eyes.

After that, I just let the rest of the story and her character unfold as I write it. I don’t use an outline, because clearly, that’s not how my brain works. I also don’t use those character sheets where you answer 75.7 trillion questions about your characters past, likes, dislikes, favorite childhood stuffie, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with those. I think they work great for some people. I’m just not those people. But, I am a big fan of sorting out the character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts in the first chapter or so. Sometimes, I know what they are as soon as I start the story – other times I figure them out along the way.

As I’m sure must be fairly apparent by now, I have ADD. Some days, it’s a fucking curse. Other days, it’s an absolute gift. It allows me to make connections that probably never would have happened for me if I were trying to do it in a more linear fashion. Storytelling is one of those occupations where weird leaps of logic or thought might mean you run face first into a wall. Or it might mean that you end up with a drunk, recent college grad who’s holed up in a too-small bathroom stall with a giant taffeta dress, the scissors tool on her Swiss Army knife, and the beginning to a story you’ve fallen in love with.

Thanks, brain. Let’s keep doing this.

Be sure to check out how Jessica and Torrance create their characters.

Ten Dialogue Commandments – Part Five

 

10 dialogue commandments

I recently did a presentation on writing realistic dialogue for my local writers group. I decided to go ahead and post it here in case people who had to miss the meeting wanted a chance to read it. Then I thought you guys might like it, too. And if you end up singing Ten Duel Commandments to yourself for the rest of the day, you’re welcome. 

And here are links if you missed parts onetwothree, and four. My apologies for the terrible art. I borrowed my kid’s markers while he was gone. Shoulda waited for him!

Well-written dialogue is an amazing multipurpose tool – it’s a heavy-lifter. It’s the Swiss Army knife in a writer’s toolbox. It can convey character, emotion, and motivation all in a few carefully chosen words. It can also drive the plot. Poorly written dialogue is also a tool – usually a sledgehammer beating against the reader’s head.

It’s no secret that acquiring editors frequently scan for dialogue in submissions. And when it doesn’t work, they often pass on a manuscript without reading further.

I’ll admit that when I was working as an acquisitions editor, I always made a point to see how the author handled dialogue. If it was rife with the dialogue sins we’re about to discuss, the author received a rejection letter. If the dialogue had potential, I’d read more of the story and possibly send a revise and resubmit letter. If the dialogue was solid and engaging, I’d often read the entire submission. The moral of this story is that good dialogue will get you a lot farther.

#9 Thou shalt not spell phonetically to indicate ethnicity, accent, or dialect.

Phonetic speech attempts to visually mimic an audible accent or dialect. And just so we’re all on the same page here, I’m using accent to refer to way characters pronounce words based on the country they’re from or their ethnic background. And I’m using dialect to refer to phrasing of language based on a character’s region or social group.

Writers have long struggled with how to show a character’s ethnicity, accent, or place of origin by writing in dialect. In the past, one of the common ways of indicating dialect was by writing dialogue phonetically.

Think about how people with southern accents and dialects are portrayed in media. There are two basic modes: genteel, southern ladies and gentlemen and backwoods, good ol’ boy hillbilly types. Now obviously, there are just as many types of people and levels of intelligence in the south as there are in any other location. But because of the slower speech patterns and drawl and various colloquialisms, the predominant stereotype is that people from the south are less intelligent than their northern counterparts. Phonetic spelling of dialogue in books only reinforces this misconception.

I know a woman who has a very heavy Texas accent. When she goes to conferences in other areas of the United States, she works hard to mask her accent and speech patterns because she noticed that fewer people treated her like an idiot if her accent was softer.

Now, back to the use of phonetic spelling. Using non-standard spelling is problematic for a number of reasons, the most mundane of which is that it makes it difficult to read. If the reader constantly needs to stop and sound out every other word of a character’s dialogue, it’s unlikely that person will finish your book or buy your next one.

But the most important issue when writing in a phonetically spelled dialect is that whether the author intends it or not, it comes across as racist and/or classist. Often judgement values are implied by the author and inferred by the reader about the character’s social standing and level of education. Using language in this way tends to reinforce existing negative racial and cultural stereotypes and whether you’re writing historical or contemporary stories, I would strongly, strongly urge you not to do it.

When you choose to write in standard English for one character and for another in a phonetically spelled dialect, the subtext is that the standard English speaker is normal and even superior and the non-standard English speaker is not. It doesn’t matter what your intent is, that’s the perception that’s lurking there.

There are ways to indicate accent and dialect without resorting to language mangling or stereotypes.

If your character has a recognizable accent, there’s nothing wrong with having another character in the story note it. Phrasing is another useful tool.

For example, we might say, “What are you talking about?” if we were confused by something someone said. Someone from Wales or England would be more likely to say, “What are you on about?”

The important thing about phrasing and colloquialisms is that they must be able to be understood within the context of the story. That doesn’t always happen. If you’re unsure, ask someone who’s unfamiliar with the location that your character is from. Ask that person (or people) if they understand the gist of what’s being said.

Another method, if your person isn’t a native English speaker, is to put the words in the order in which they’d be in their native tongue.

So, if I wanted my native German speaking character to say something that meant:

“I think we should go to the store and get a gift for the baby before we go to the hospital.”

but in the order the words would be in German, it would look something like:

“I think that we can go to the store, a gift for the baby to get to before we go to the hospital.”

The meaning is clear enough, and it definitely gives the flavor of a non-native English speaker.

However, you need to make sure that your meaning can be understood. I can give you a real life example of this not working out so well.

My great-grandparents on my mom’s side only spoke German in the home. They (very) grudgingly spoke some English to my grandma when she emigrated to the United States.

Fast forward to my husband and I moving in together. I was looking for a hammer to hang some pictures. I couldn’t find one, so I asked him where it was. But those weren’t exactly the words that came out of my mouth. In fact, my husband literally had no idea what I was asking. The phrasing I’d used was a very rural German to English Michigan colloquialism that made no sense to him whatsoever. So, you know, I repeated myself. This didn’t help.

He continued to stare at me like I’d grown three more heads and said, “You’re saying words and none of them make any sense. I mean I get that you want a hammer, but what the fuck, I thought you were an English major.”

Ouch.

I couldn’t figure out what his childhood trauma was until he wrote it down for me.

Do you know for a hammer?

Because I grew up hearing this “do you know for” in place of “do you know where” from my mom and extended family, it never occurred to me that those particular words in that specific order didn’t mean anything my husband could understand. It didn’t occur to me that in that order, it made no sense to most people.

If you’re wondering whether or not a reordered-in-English sentence makes sense within the context, give that passage to someone who’s unfamiliar with questionable ways of asking for a hammer, and ask them to tell you what they think it means.

Another technique to give the feel of a person’s dialect without trying to visually mimic their accent, is by replacing some standard American English words with words common in the character’s country of origin. If your character is a Brit, he lives in a flat not an apartment, and she takes a lift not an elevator. You can find tons of lists of words and common phrases online to help you out with this.

You can also use the occasional foreign language word phrase interspersed in a person’s dialogue. Do be careful when you’re choosing to include. More often than not, the phrase consistently given to Latinx characters is Dios Mio! That is a stereotype. In fact, I’ve never once heard any of the Latinx people I’ve known use that phase, though, I’m sure some do. Probably not nearly as often as we see it commonly used in fiction. *gives E.L. James the side-eye*

 

#10 Thou shalt not write dialogue for children and teens if you don’t have or interact with children and teens. (Not without assistance, anyway.)

Often in books, it’s clear from the dialogue that the authors don’t have children or even know any. Those characters end up reading more like caricatures. Caricatures that make you want to roll your eyes or maybe punch them. The caricatures. Not your eyes. That sentence was a bit ambiguous.

If you have a child or a teenage character in your story, please not only familiarize yourself with the speech patterns and language of this age group, but also their thought processes. Now, I’m not saying that you need to take a child development course in order to write a younger character, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a look at Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Wiki actually has a nicely condensed article that will give you the basics of each stage of development. Of course, your characters may vary from the ages and skills mentioned in the article, but it’s good to be aware of typical behavior and levels of development.

The same goes if you’re writing a child (or adult) who’s non-neurotypical. Let’s say your character is somewhere on the autism spectrum. If you don’t have personal experience with kids on the spectrum, please do some very thorough research. Don’t rely on popular culture or clickbait stories online for your information. The dialogue and communication pattern of a highly functioning autistic child will often be quite different from a child with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Much like the dialogue of a three year old will greatly differ from that of an eight year old. Not only are there several substages of development between the pre-operational and concrete operational developmental levels, there are also five years of experience with and exposure to language. Oh, and watching hours of the Disney channel to learn the speech patterns, habits, and interests of today’s kids is not particularly helpful. Not recommended.

Let’s say you don’t have kids or don’t have access to them—what do you do to make sure your characters’ dialogue reads naturally and authentically? I’m not about to suggest that you start staking out the local bus stop or playground to question small children or teenagers about their speech patterns and slang, but I am suggesting that you might want to consider asking a friend with children of a similar age to your character to take a look at your dialogue. After all, a lot of things have changed since we were kids.

Welp, that’s it for the Ten Dialogue Commandments. I hope you enjoy the blog series. If nothing else, you now know how not to ask for a hammer. And if you can think of any I’ve missed, please feel free to put them in the comments!

Post Navigation