Writing Advice

Writing Dialogue

14 December 2014

From author Rowena Macdonald via Glimmertrain:

Many writers say they find writing dialogue difficult, which I always find surprising, as, without wishing to sound self-aggrandizing, dialogue is the one aspect of writing I find easy. To me, it isn’t that impressive to find dialogue easy. After all, we are primarily verbal creatures, we are surrounded by conversation every day, and most of us spend more time watching films and TV than we do reading books. I am always far more impressed by writers who are able to craft complicated plots, for example, since this is an aspect of writing I find difficult. To my mind, plotting is a superior skill because it isn’t something that occurs in reality: events don’t pan out in a neat, compelling sequence, loose ends are not neatly tied up and much of life is mundane, unsymbolic and random.

. . . .

1. Read it aloud. If it doesn’t sound natural, it isn’t. Make sure it sounds different from prose. Remember, few people talk in complete sentences.

. . . .

4. Don’t write out “ums” and “ers.” They are realistic, but they look cartoonish in a piece of literature. Instead, use ellipses to give the impression of pauses or uncertainty. Ellipses can also be used at the start and end of dialogue, when someone has been talking for a while and is likely to go on awhile, to give the impression of the other characters tuning out.

. . . .

6. If writing dialogue for a character with a specific accent, don’t write it out phonetically, as this can look patronizing and old-fashioned. Use odd syntax and a few choice bits of slang to convey their accent.


Link to the rest at Glimmertrain

Here’s a link to Rowena Macdonald’s books

How To Write A Thriller

12 December 2014

Ian Fleming via MI6:

In the May 1963 edition of the long-running ‘Books and Bookmen’ periodical published by Hansom Books, Ian Fleming penned an essay describing his creative process for the James Bond novels.

People often ask me, “How do you manage to think of that? What an extraordinary (or sometimes extraordinarily dirty) mind you must have.” I certainly have got vivid powers of imagination, but I don’t think there is anything very odd about that.

We are all fed fairy stories and adventure stories and ghost stories for the first 20 years of our lives, and the only difference between me and perhaps you is that my imagination earns me money. But, to revert to my first book, Casino Royale, there are strong incidents in the book which are all based on fact. I extracted them from my wartime memories of the Naval Intelligence Division of the Admiralty, dolled them up, attached a hero, a villain and a heroine, and there was the book.

. . . .

The first was the attempt on Bond’s life outside the Hotel Splendide. SMERSH had given two Bulgarian assassins box camera cases to hang over their shoulders. One was of red leather and the other one blue. SMERSH told the Bulgarians that the red one contained a bomb and the blue one a powerful smoke screen, under cover of which they could escape.

One was to throw the red bomb and the other was then to press the button on the blue case. But the Bulgars mistrusted the plan and decided to press the button on the blue case and envelop themselves in the smoke screen before throwing the bomb. In fact, the blue case also contained a bomb powerful enough to blow both the Bulgars to fragments and remove all evidence which might point to SMERSH.

Far-fetched, you might say. In fact, this was the method used in the Russian attempt on Von Papen’s life in Ankara in the middle of the war. On that occasion the assassins were also Bulgarians and they were blown to nothing while Von Papen and his wife, walking from their house to the embassy; were only bruised by the blast.

So you see the line between fact and fantasy is a very narrow one. I think I could trace most of the central incidents in my books to some real happenings.

We thus come to the final and supreme hurdle in the writing of a thriller. You must know thrilling things before you can write about them. Imagination alone isn’t enough, but stories you hear from friends or read in the papers can be built up by a fertile imagination and a certain amount of research and documentation into incidents that will also ring true in fiction.

Link to the rest at MI6 and thanks to Chris for the tip.

The New World of Writing: Pulp Speed

6 December 2014

From Dean Wesley Smith:

I’ve mentioned this concept a number of times on my nightly blog and in the Topic of the Night little sections. But since Pulp Speed was almost impossible in the new traditional world, it belongs as a post in this series.

Not at all sure why this idea sort of hits me right. I think because it flies in the face of all the myths. A writer has to have all myths under control to even attempt this. So this post might just make you angry because it hits at belief systems I’m afraid.

The second reason I can’t shake this idea is because for all of my life I have idolized pulp writers.

. . . .

Many, many of the great writers of the past that we still read and enjoy were pulp writers. And there are many pulp writers working today. More than you might imagine, even through the rough times of the last twenty years in traditional publishing.

. . . .

Dickens was one of the early great Pulp Writers. And there were many along the way before the turn of 1900. It was then that the “literary” group split from the “writing for the masses” group of writers.

To the literary group, their writing had to be important, something to struggle to read, and only be published in leather hardbound books.

The masses group of writers just wanted to tell stories that would entertain readers.

Around this split period of 1900, the pulp magazines were coming in, and with the pulp magazine expansion, stories were needed to fill the pages of the exploding pulp magazine field. And the writers who could write sellable stories quickly discovered they could become very rich writing for one cent per word.

. . . .

Doc Savage was a pulp character created mostly by Lester Dent and his publisher under a magazine house name. He wrote 159 of the Doc Savage novels for the Doc Savage pulp magazine, among many other books under other names, including his own name. There was a novel from Dent in most issues of Doc Savage Magazine for a decade or more. You can still buy Doc Savage novels by Dent today.

Some pulp writers got so famous, they were some of the richest people in the country. One year in the 1940s, the pen name Max Brand had thirteen movies in production from his books. Some of you may even remember Max Brand’s Dr. Kildare from television. Either the first television series or the second.

. . . .

By the way, the author behind Max Brand was Frederick Faust. Faust had a bunch of other prolific pen names besides Brand. For just one magazine group in the 1920s he wrote over a million words per year for the entire decade. Plus other stories and novels for other magazines.

. . . .

When the pulps finally died in the late 1950s, Pulp Speed writers turned to paperbacks through the 1960s and 1970s and wrote everything a publisher wanted. There were lots and lots of Pulp Speed writers producing upwards of 30 novels a year if not more. And most books were under many pen names and across many genres. Novels in this time period were still in the 40,000 word range.

In the 1980s publishers started to artificially inflate the size of novels because of the publisher’s need to charge more for a paperback. Pulp Speed writers kept on.  Numbers worked the category romance field, many worked westerns which had kept their smaller size.

And as normal, Pulp Speed writers worked across all genres. Fewer titles produced, but more words per book, so same production. Many Pulp Speed writers worked series novels for publishers during this period. And a lot of media novels.

But by the 1990s and early this century, most of the Pulp Speed writers had retired and very few new writers understood that Pulp Speed world was out there. It was almost impossible to understand when publishers limited a writer to one book per year. But some Pulp Speed writers still existed and worked through the period.

But now, with the advent of the indie world, Pulp Speed writers are coming back. It is possible again. And fun.

The golden age of fiction for readers has returned.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith and thanks to Melissa and several others for the tip.

Here’s a link to Dean Wesley Smith’s books

Anne R. Allen’s Blog

24 November 2014

From author Anne R. Allen:

We get lots of questions from new writers who have spent time in forums and online writers’ groups where they’ve been given advice by other newbies. Some of that advice is fine, but a whole lot is dead wrong.

Unfortunately, the wrong stuff is usually delivered with the most certainty.

That’s because the most ignorant people are generally the most sure of themselves. This phenomenon has been scientifically proved. It’s called The Dunning-Kruger Effect. Nobel Prize winners David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University did a study in 2000 that proves the least competent people really are the most likely to overestimate their own competence.

. . . .

Here are eight bogus “rules” I’ve heard recently.

1) When writing something inspired by your own life, every incident must be told exactly as it happened, or somebody will sue you.

If you know somebody is likely to sue you if you include them in a memoir, it’s safest to disguise them with a name-change. Better yet, fictionalize your story. For advice on how to fictionalize a “true story,” read Ruth Harris’s great post on the subject from earlier this month.

But even if you’re writing a memoir or a piece of creative nonfiction, you still have to craft it into a story with an arc. That’s a story with an inciting incident, conflict, and resolution. That’s never going to be exactly “the way it really happened,” because real life is a meandering journey, not a tidy story. Plus real life has lots of boring bits. Do NOT include them if you want anybody to read your book.

A memoir has to tell a story. That means it has dialogue and scenes. You can’t help putting less than accurate words in people’s mouths unless you recorded every word ever said to you.

For advice on how much “truth” to put into a memoir, here’s an enlightening post from Jane Friedman: How True and Factual Does Your Memoir Have to Be?

She points out how subjective all memory is, so no one person’s memory is going to provide 100% absolute provable facts.

. . . .

5) Head-hopping is necessary if you have more than one character in a scene.

You don’t need to tell us what everybody is thinking in every scene. That only confuses the reader. Good writers can show the reactions of other characters through the eyes of the scene’s point-of-view character.

After all, you’re seeing your entire life through the eyes of one point-of-view character: you. And you probably know what’s going on. Or think you do.

Learn to use body language, facial expressions, and dialogue to let us know how key characters are relating to the action.

The exception is a story told from an omniscient point of view, which is not the same as head-hopping. Omniscient POV uses a god-like voice that knows everything. You’ll often see it in high fantasy, which is told in a “bard’s” storytelling voice.

An omniscient voice also works well in a humor novel, because it makes the story sound like a stand-up comedy routine. Carl Hiaasen does this brilliantly. So does Dave Barry.

But be aware omniscient POV in most genres seems old-fashioned, is hard to pull off, and is often taboo with agents.

. . . .

6) All internal monologue must be put in italics.

I’ve even seen this in guidelines from small publishers. It’s not wrong, but it’s not the norm.

Putting internal monologue in italics is a convention that comes from mid-20th-century pulp fiction. You especially see it in thrillers. Some literary authors, like William Faulkner, also experimented with it. Some contemporary authors like to use italics to show alternate points of view. I’ve seen both Terry McMillan and Marian Keyes do this. They’re both brilliant authors, and they used the device well.

But italics are on their way out. I’ve seen agents say in their guidelines they won’t read anything that’s italicized. That’s probably because italics are harder to read and cause havoc with electronic formatting, especially for ebooks.

These days, writers generally use the “deep third person” point of view that allows for inner monologue without dialogue tags.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

Here’s a link to Anne R. Allen’s books

The Secrets Behind Buried Dialogue

20 November 2014

From editor Lynnette Labelle:

Buried or hidden dialogue, both terms mean the same thing, but what is that exactly? Buried dialogue happens when you bury the dialogue between the narratives. The paragraph will look like this: narrative, dialogue, narrative. Still don’t know what I mean? Don’t worry. Some examples are coming up.

. . . .

While buried dialogue isn’t a technical term nor is there a rule that says you can’t use it, editors often suggest you eliminate as much of it as possible. There are two basic reasons behind this.

1) Buried dialogue slows the pace.
2) Dialogue can lose its oomph when squished between two narratives.

. . . .

With Buried Dialogue:

Toni opened the door. “What are you doing here?” She crossed her arms, determined to show him she meant business. “I told you to stay away.” Why was he there anyway? Didn’t he know what was good for him?

Without Buried Dialogue:

Toni opened the door.

“What are you doing here?” She crossed her arms, determined to show him she meant business. “I told you to stay away.”

Why was he there anyway? Didn’t he know what was good for him?

Link to the rest at Lynnette Labelle


Autopsy: From Crime Scene To Toe Tag

17 November 2014

From The Graveyard Shift, information for budding crime and police procedural authors:

Death investigations are conducted by both the police and medical examiners or coroners. The law in each jurisdiction determines whether or not the area utilizes a coroner or medical examiner.

A coroner is an elected official and may or may not be a medical doctor. (Many California sheriffs also serve as coroner).

A medical examiner is a medical doctor who has been hired/appointed by the city/county/state/federal government to conduct autopsies and investigate the cause of suspicious deaths. Elected coroners who are not doctors must hire a pathologist to conduct autopsies.

The police are in charge of all murder scenes, but medical examiners and coroners are in charge of the body. Medical examiners and coroners do not interrogate and/or arrest suspects. Detectives do not poke and prod the insides of human bodies.

Bodies are placed inside body bags and are generally delivered to the morgue in specially equipped vehicles (pictured above). However, in some areas bodies are transported by EMS, funeral homes, or body transport services.

Upon arrival at the morgue, the body (on a gurney) is rolled onto scales where it’s weighed.

. . . .

The paper bag resting on the body of the murder victim at the top of the above photo contains the victim’s personal belongings. Notice there are no individual drawers for bodies.

Cold rooms also store amputated body parts. The gray trays on the right contain severed limbs. White, paper-like body bags, like the one lying on the gurney in the rear of the cold room above, are used post-autopsy for bodies waiting to be transported to funeral homes.

. . . .

The photograph above is of an autopsy station. Think of it as a pathologist’s workshop. To begin the autopsy, a body is placed on a gurney and is then positioned against the center, sink area of the station (feet-first in this morgue).

. . . .

Some M.E.’s prefer to use a bone saw used for cutting through the rib cage beneath the “Y” incision. It’s also used for cutting through the skull.

Link to the rest at The Graveyard Shift

Is Talent Overrated? 8 Things that are More Important than Talent for Writing Success

10 November 2014

From author Anne R. Allen:

I often run into new writers who want to be reassured they have talent. They sometimes ask me to read some fledgling work in hopes I’ll pronounce them “talented.”

I always decline. (A wise author never goes there.) It’s not simply that I can’t fit one more thing into my already jam-packed schedule—it’s also that I have no way of telling if people have talent.

I can only tell if they have skills. And if they don’t have skills—which they probably don’t if they’re newbies—their job is to acquire some, not rely on some stranger’s opinion of what abilities they were born with.

. . . .

Lots of people are born with creative gifts—but very few have the ambition and determination to use those gifts to create anything meaningful. Many talented people sit around in cafés and talk about the great art they’re going to create someday.

But skilled people are more likely to be at home actually creating it.

. . . .

But even if you do have loads of talent, that and five bucks will get you a Venti Caffe Mocha. What you need is talent plus skills.

And acquiring skills takes time.

I have known lots of wannabe writers who sabotaged themselves with magical thinking about their own talent. Usually some teacher or mentor told them early on that they were gifted in some way, and this made them feel special.

Feeling special is great, if it motivates you to work hard and acquire skills.

But unfortunately, for a lot of people, this “special” feeling either makes them feel entitled to a fast-track to success, or it paralyzes them with fear they can’t live up to the promise.

. . . .

3) Listening Skills

This may be the most important ability of all. If you can’t listen to other people—and work to truly understand them—your stories will be flat and repetitive.

If you only write about yourself and your own thoughts and experiences, you’ll bore your readers silly. You also won’t have much to say. As Nikki Giovanni said, “If you wrote [only] from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.”

You need to tell stories about other people. How do you find out about other people? By zipping your own lips and listening to them. And caring about what you hear.

This is true of listening to your fellow writers, too. Sometimes they can give you insanely stupid advice—more on that in a future post—but usually you can get some pretty solid tips.

. . . .

5) The Ability to be Alone

I suspect a lot of those café sitters are simply extroverts who have a tough time being alone.

I’m not saying you have to be an introvert to be a good writer. Many great novels have been written by extroverts. Many have even been written in cafés.

But these are people who are actually writing, not talking about it. And when they write, they’re creating their own “alone” space. You can’t write without it.

And no matter where your “room” is, you have to be able to tolerate your own company.

Columnist Michael Ventura wrote an iconic essay on the subject for The Sun literary magazine over two decades ago, called The Talent of the Room, and it is all still true:

“Writing is something you do alone in a room. Copy that sentence and put it on your wall because there’s no way to exaggerate or overemphasize this fact. It’s the most important thing to remember if you want to be a writer. Writing is something you do alone in a room.”…Michael Ventura

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

Here’s a link to Anne R. Allen’s books

What Are Your Writing Habits?

4 November 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

Nicholas Best:

I live in a Cambridge village and work in a 17th century barn across the drive from the house. There’s a 400-year-old skeleton under the floorboards, a cat buried in a corner to ward off evil spirits. It doesn’t work for the Inland Revenue.I start writing after breakfast and continue until lunchtime. If I’m lucky, I’ll have written 400 words by then, although I do occasionally stretch to a thousand. If I’m unlucky, I’ll have clocked up minus 200 or so after deciding that whatever I wrote yesterday was rubbish. Apart from the odd Spitfire overhead in summer, there’s no noise to disturb me. I write the first draft with pen and paper, then produce a second draft on computer. I write the third draft with pen and paper again and so on for anything up to five or six drafts. After lunch, I have a nap before going back to work for another hour and a half. I sometimes write again in the afternoon. Usually I just sit at my desk thinking and planning, or else staring into space and having unsuitable fantasies. When all is done, I lock up the barn, stroll down to the river and talk to the horses in the field, unwinding after a hard day at the coal face. All too often, I then unlock the barn again and go back to work for another hour, having had second thoughts about whatever I was writing that day. It’s usually then that I decide to tear the whole lot up and begin again from scratch next morning.

. . . .

Cathy Glass:

I rely on a writing routine; it’s the catalyst that triggers my writing, like the dinner bell rung for Pavlov’s dogs it sets my creative juices flowing. I’ve had the same writing routine for the last fifteen years: I rise early (approximately the same time every morning), put on my joggers and a comfortable top and creep downstairs so that I don’t disturb my family. I make a large mug of coffee and go through to the front room where I collect my paper, pen, and the printed text I’ve written the day before. I go into the living room and quietly close the door. I need absolute quiet for writing and I need to be alone. I sit in the same chair each morning and with my coffee within reach I begin by reading what I’ve written the day before, editing with a pen as necessary. By the time I come to the end of the previous day’s work, my new words are ready to flow. I still use pen and paper for the first draft, as I do for editing. I write very quickly, often unaware of my surroundings as my pen dashes across the page until the words stop. I don’t force any more. As the author Ray Bradbury said: ‘My stories run up and bite me on the leg – I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.’ I know exactly what he means. When ‘the idea has run away’ and I’ve run out of words I go through to my study and switch on my computer. First, I input the edits from the previous day’s work, and then I type up the new work. I print out the new pages ready for revising the following morning, and place the edited pages in the growing pile that will be my new book. It takes me six months to write and revise a full length book of approximately 85,000, and I never let anyone see it unto it is finished and I know have achieved my personal best.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Sandra for the tip.

NaNoWriMo Is Upon Us: How to Get Inspired Even If You’re Not Participating

2 November 2014

From Flavorwire:

A day before it begins, NaNoWriMo, the November novel write-a-thon that boasts half a million participants rushing in tandem towards 50,000-word rough drafts, is already giving me a major dose of writerly anxiety. Writers love it, agents supposedly dread it, but one way or another, a lot of writing gets done.

I’m anxious because, as enticing as it is to seize my share of the momentum I see gathering online, it’s not a good move for me. With a manuscript or two waiting patiently for my attention, multiple short stories and essays begun or drafted but not yet polished, and my outgoing submittable queue having dwindled down to zero, embarking on a new novel would actually be a form of procrastination.

What I require at this moment as a writer is a National Editing Your Stuff Month (or, you know, a National Editing Your Stuff Year!), complete with the array of rubrics and goals and pep talks and all-night group write-a-thons that the NaNoWriMo folks will soon be utilizing.

. . . .

Even if first drafts are easier to do in sprints than final projects are, I’m still rather envious of the tremendous discipline the people who will complete the month’s project are about to exert. And I’m also curious about a process that removes all the annoying psychological blocks and cobwebs that plague us scribbling types by simply forcing butts into seats, hands onto keyboards.

Link to the rest at Flavorwire

What do you feel most guilty about?

31 October 2014

From Humans of New York:

“What do you feel most guilty about?”

“Not finishing my novel. I’ve already built the room where I’m going to write it at my house in Sag Harbor. The walls of the room are painted Venetian red. It has shelves filled with every book I’ve ever read. There’s a scallop striped Victorian chair. A little pine desk— two feet by three feet, with all my pens lined up, and an 18th Century sang de bouef vase lamp. And there’s a French door with a step that goes out onto the roof so I can look at the clouds. I have everything I need. Except the time.”

Link to the rest at Humans of New York and thanks to Bill for the tip.

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