Dialogue

One of the most important parts of writing is making sure you have true-to-life dialogue that actually fits your characters. Unless your main character is a smartypants who loves using big words all the time, don’t have him/her speak like this:

“The means by which I concluded that something was out of the ordinary was the fact that my mother was wearing a red silk sequined blouse instead of her usual loose t-shirt.”

Awkward, huh? Even if your character does like using big words or has a know-it-all way of expressing himself/herself, it’s probably best not to overdo it. Your readers may get sick of reading pages of that gibberish. Or they may get sick of your character altogether.

But writing good dialogue doesn’t always mean writing simple sentences. It just means writing the way your characters would speak. In Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl is a twelve-year-old criminal mastermind. The way he speaks is much different from the way an ordinary twelve-year-old speaks.

When I’m writing dialogue, I like to picture myself as the character I’m writing about. I put myself in his/her mind. It also helps a lot to read aloud what I’ve already written. I speak with the same tone and inflection as I imagine my character would. If anything sounds unnatural, I know I have to change it.

If the dialogue in your story isn’t believable, it creates a distance between the characters and the readers. It’s harder for the readers to care about your main character because they can’t really identify with him/her.

Another great way of knowing whether your dialogue fits your characters is to get feedback. Don’t defend your work – just let the people reading it tell you whether it is believable or not.

Good dialogue shapes who your characters are just as much as descriptions of your characters do. Whether a character speaks in short, choppy sentences or long, wordy ones makes a difference. In Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery, Anne loves to talk. She loves using big words and imagining things, so her sentences tend to be long ones.

Basically, it all comes down to this: True-to-life dialogue is not just important, it’s necessary if you want to tell a good story. It makes your writing stronger, and it shows us who your characters really are.

Descriptions and Details

Yikes. Haven’t been updating as often as I should be. 🙁 But don’t worry; I will try harder!

At any rate, this is a topic that I’ve mentioned once or twice but haven’t really explained thoroughly. Basically, you need to weave your descriptions throughout the story instead of dumping them here and there in huge chunks. It relates to the whole “show, don’t tell” thing. You need to know when to show and when to tell, but you also need to know how to weave your descriptions. Here are a few ways to do this:

1) Instead of simply describing the setting, let your character(s) interact with it.

2) Use more indirect characterization than direct characterization. Instead of telling us that your character is “fat” show us through his actions- “he could barely fit through the doorway.”

3) Make the descriptions relevant to the plot. If a character has dark skin and dark hair, maybe that camouflages him and  lets him hide from the enemy.

Each of these tips is trying to help you avoid the same thing- huge paragraphs of description that intimidate- or worse, bore- the reader. I am an avid reader and like to appreciate the descriptions in a novel, especially if they’re written with an amazing voice and style. But even I get tired of reading enormous chunks of description that are only there to show off the author’s language and don’t advance the plot at all. Descriptions are nice, but the story is more important. Move it along!

What truly impresses me is when an author can write a book in which the reader can picture everything happening but doesn’t have to suffer long pages of description to do it. Oftentimes an author will repeat descriptions of the same setting to impress his/her point. But the reader doesn’t need the point impressed. The reader is thinking, “I know the dungeon is dark and scary. You said it already, and you made it clear by the characters’ reactions. You don’t need to keep describing it!”

What you should get from this post: Huge paragraphs of description are bad, especially if they make you sound like a showoff. Weave descriptions throughout the story so the reader doesn’t have to suffer. Oh, and give your readers some credit. They’re not dumb. You don’t have to keep describing the same thing over and over again. 😉

One more thing- Happy Independence Day! 😀

Said is Dead?

My drawing here is just to help visualize the whole "said is dead" thing. But remember, you ARE supposed to use "said"!

Yikes. It’s been  a while since my last post. And now that it’s summer, I don’t have much of an excuse. So from now on, I will try to update this blog at least every other day, if not every day.

Anyway, I figured I should do a post on this topic because I know that a lot of people think they should avoid the word “said.” Well, they shouldn’t. And neither should you.

I’m sure you’ve been told not to use “said” at least once in your life, somewhere along the way. You were probably told that because you weren’t using enough strong words, like “scream” or “cry” or “whisper.” In fourth grade, I was told NEVER to use “said.” And it was probably the biggest lie I have ever been told.

The reason you use “said” is because it’s natural. It doesn’t jump out at the reader and make him/her go “whoa.” Gail Carson Levine had a really good way of saying it in her book, Writing Magic. The way she put it is that “said” is invisible. It disappears. In other words, it doesn’t interfere with the actual story. Same with words like “ask.”

Example: “Where is the peanut butter?” he asked.

Versus: “Where is the peanut butter?” he questioned.

Eek. “Questioned” sounds so awkward. If you can’t really tell, it’s probably because it’s a single sentence. It’s not in context. But imagine if you were reading a paragraph, and all of a sudden a word like “questioned” popped out at you. Part of writing- actually a big part of writing- is about finding your voice and letting the words flow. To do this, you need to write naturally. And that means avoiding words that make your writing sound awkward.

Obviously it’s different if you’re writing a formal essay. The rules of writing are completely different. But this blog is dedicated to writing fiction, so that’s what I’m talking about right now.

Most of the time, when you’re writing dialogue, it might even be better to let the writing speak for itself. You don’t even need to use words like “said.”

Here’s an example:

“Hey, what’s up?” She had that assertive look on her face, like she was trying hard to be confident.

He looked up at her words, stopped playing around with his phone. “Hi.” He tried not to sound too surprised, but this girl never spoke to anyone; she was so shy. Why did she speak to him?

In this exchange of dialogue, the characters’ thoughts and actions drive the  story more than the actual words they say. And that’s fine. Notice how I didn’t use anything like, “she said” or “she mumbled” after the speaker’s words. I just jumped right in with the actions or thoughts or whatever.

Obviously, you can’t do that all the time. And you can’t use “said” all the time. But don’t ever think that you can never use it. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that you need to use words where they go. When a character is actually shouting, say “he shouted.” But don’t say that just because you’re avoiding the word “said.” Because when you do that, your writing sounds awkward. Write what feels natural. Write what’s right.

Writer’s Block

Sorry I didn’t update my blog last week. I meant to, but finals are coming up and school has been  keeping me pretty busy.

Anyways, I have fallen victim to writer’s block countless times, so I figured I might as well do a post on it. When writer’s block strikes, there’s only one thing to do-

WRITE.

Seriously. There’s no other solution. It doesn’t matter if you’re spewing crap all over the page; it doesn’t matter if you’re writing “I have writer’s block and I don’t know what to do.” The simple act of writing and not staring into space will actually get your creative juices flowing again.

I think that the reason people are afraid to write when they get stuck is that they want it to be perfect right away. This is true especially for really strong writers, or anyone who has written something that (s)he’s remotely proud of. Think about it- if you’ve written something amazing once, it’s easy to feel that your writing after that one time isn’t living up to its usual standard. I’ve felt that way so many times- the way I describe it is that “I’m regressing.”

But I’m not. Because NO FAMOUS AUTHOR IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD HAS EVER GOTTEN IT PERFECT ON HIS/HER FIRST TRY.

That’s why your first draft is called your rough draft. You just have to WRITE and push through that first draft, no matter how painful it might be. Force yourself. Once you’ve written it, you should feel great- because the story’s down. Even if it’s written in crappy language and you hate it, still, rejoice! Because it’s been written down. And all you have to do is revise to make it reach the level of perfection that you want it to.

The quote in the picture is one of my favorites because it’s encouraging, but it’s not too cheesy. Whenever I feel like giving up on my manuscript, I look at this quote (it’s taped to my wall, along with a bunch of other quotes I love).


The Difference Between the Right Word and the Almost Right Word

One thing I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post (More About Adverbs) is that when you use a thesaurus, you have to be really careful about changing meanings. No two words in the world mean the exact same thing- that’s why there are two different words. Even “he shouted” and “he yelled” have slightly different connotations. But more often than not, that slight difference in meaning doesn’t matter, and you can interchange those words throughout your writing.

But there are times when the thesaurus gives you a word that doesn’t make sense in your context, or, even if it does make sense, it chops up your writing instead of letting it flow.

Example: Her heart was pounding. “Are you sure?” she asked.

A thesaurus option: Her heart was pounding. “Are you sure?” she inquired.

Okay, so they mean the same thing. “To ask” is the same as “to inquire.” But “inquired” sounds so unnatural and awkward. Especially in this context. Her heart is pounding, right? That implies suspense. So, picture your reader, rushing through the pages of your book, wanting so badly to know what happens next- and then you throw in a word like “inquire.” What’s your reader going to think? What the heck? Yeah, that’s about right.

“Inquire” sounds so formal and awkward. It’s not right when you’ve got hearts pounding and action going on. The word jolts your readers and almost pulls them out of the world of your book. It reminds them that it’s not real. You do not want to do that to your readers.

Usually, it’s really easy to tell what sounds weird and what sounds right. When you let other people read your work, they will tell you as well. But here’s a general rule of thumb that I follow when using a thesaurus: If I’ve never heard the word in my life, I don’t use it. To me, when I use a thesaurus, I look at the words and think, Oh! That’s right! I completely forgot about those words! Or I think, Yes! That’s the word I was looking for! The thesaurus is really more to jog my memory than to learn new words. But I’m not saying that you should never use new words- it’s just that if you do, make sure you look them up in the dictionary and are completely sure about the meaning. Don’t pull them straight from the thesaurus. It also helps if you look at examples that use the word in a sentence.

Even the way a word sounds can determine whether you should use it or not, even if it has the meaning you’re looking for. Did you know that the word “pulchritudinous” means “beautiful”? If a guy had called me that and I hadn’t known what it meant, I think I’d have hit him!

Edit: The title of this post is part of a quote by Mark Twain. Check out the Quotes About Writing page to read the full quote!