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Archive for the category “writing”

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And also this.

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And some of this.

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With a whole lotta this.

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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)

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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

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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!

If I Could Rewrite a Book – What and Why?

I’ve been pondering this post ever since I saw it on this year’s topic list. There are plenty of books with elements I hated or tropes that pissed me off. But even as I purused my mental list of books I thought could use some improvement, I couldn’t come up with a single one I wanted to rewrite. Ultimately, those stories belong to other people. I wouldn’t want to rewrite them. Just because I may not appreciate the authors’ vision doesn’t mean that those stories need rewriting by me – it just means that I’m not the intended audience.

I guess if I could rewrite anything, it would be my earlier books. I know there were elements that I included that I wish I hadn’t. There are some I’d love to expand because I was hindered by publishers’ length requirements or series elements. I’d love to get my hands on those and give them another go. It’s unlikely I’ll get the chance to do that with most of the books, but I  have gotten the rights back on some of them, and I’ll be eventually reworking them to better reflect my improved skills and outlook.

That’s it from me, today, but be sure to see what books the other bloggers would like to rewrite.

Gwen

Paige

Jessica

 

Ten Dialogue Commandments – Part Four

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 onetwo, and three. And 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.

#7 Thou shalt avoid repetition in your internal and external dialogue.

Often in fiction, a you’ll see a character thinking or saying that they need to do or say something. Then immediately doing and saying them.

Don’t. Just…don’t.

I think that this might happen because authors have been given the advice to include more thoughts and feelings in their stories to create depth and foster a connection with the reader. This is often great advice. However, a thought with repeated dialogue or action just a moment later doesn’t add any depth. Only annoyance.

Speaking of annoyance, let’s go back to the most irksome couple of the year, Abbi and Charles and look at some examples with both internal and external dialogue.

 

“C’mon.” Charles smiled and tugged at her.

She yanked her hand from his grip. She really needed to tell him to leave.  “Just go away,” Abbi said.

“I don’t see why you have to be this way.” He frowned and backed from the room.

Abbi sighed. She wasn’t being any kind of a way. She just didn’t want to go. If she were smart, she’d get up and lock the door to keep him from coming back to bug her. Abbi got up and locked the door.

 

Pretty annoying, right? I know a reviewer for whom this is a book throwing pet peeve. Again, this is one of those things that makes the reader feel that the author doesn’t trust them to be intelligent enough to follow the narrative. Often, the writer may not even be aware they’re doing it. That’s usually the case when I point it out to clients. But when this repetition happens in a story, it comes across to the reader like, “Oh my sweet, summer child. You are dim-witted and in need of guidance. Come take my hand, and let me lead you though this narrative.”

No one likes that.

 

#8 Thou shalt not allow talking heads in your manuscript.

Editors often refer to a back and forth exchange of dialogue with no action or thought as “talking heads”. It’s as if the characters freeze whenever they begin speaking and do nothing else but recite their lines.

The problem with this is even if the dialogue is good, it will still read woodenly. Your characters need be fully realized people and that means that they do things like check their phones or the time, fiddle with the labels on beer bottles, shift from foot to foot, wonder if they can leave early, wonder if now is the right time to break up, notice that they’re hungry, etc. Anything that both fits the character and helps move the story forward will work, but they need to be doing and thinking something.

Also, it’s important that your characters aren’t interacting with each other in a vacuum. This is where the setting comes in and should be utilized as part of the actions and thoughts that ground the dialogue in reality. Let’s say your characters are talking over a round of drinks. Are they having a beer on the front porch swing? Are they in an intimate booth in a quiet pub? Or are they at a loud, crowded club? How does the location impact their actions, thoughts and conversation?

This was a pretty short set of commandments this week, but check back next week for the last part of the series!

What Motivates Me to Write?

When this posts, I’ll be in the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for our annual family vacation, and I’ll likely be without internet. Because that’s pretty much business as usual in the UP.

But back to the original topic. What motivates me to write? That’s a damn good question. Some days, the answer is nothing. It’s depressing, but it’s also true.

Other days…

Deadlines motivate me.

Inspiration (usually while in the shower or driving) motivates me.

Notes from readers motivate me.

Working with my friends motivates me.

Sometimes just putting one word after another, even when it feels like crap, motivates me.

Coming back to a story and finding something there worth following to see how it plays out motivates me.

Wanting to give these characters that pop into my head growth and lives that will be fulfilling motivates me.

Remembering that I have the same 24 hours in a day as Lin-Manuel Miranda, and if he can do all the shit he does while still remaining an apparently lovely human being, I can finish some fucking books, motivates me.

So…what about you? What motivates you to write?

Click on the other bloggers’ names to find out what motivates them.

Gwen

Paige

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