Happy Monday! It is time for the top-ten writing articles from No Wasted Ink. I admit, I needed to surf twice as long for articles this week. Writers were taking a vacation or doing holiday related articles for the most part and I wanted to find things with more useful content. I found a good batch and I hope you’ll enjoy them.
When folks in the writers group I belong to comment on the work I submit each month, the most frequent comments I hear are how spot-on my dialogue is, how I seem to have captured the essence of each character through his or her words, and how the dialogue really rings true.
I’m often asked how I manage to write such realistic and compelling dialogue. It boils down to a few key elements, which I’ll share with you here.
First, it’s important to realize how real people speak. You probably wouldn’t ever hear anyone have this conversation:
“Where are you going this weekend?”
“I am not sure where I am going this weekend. I think I might go up to the mountains. They are really pretty at this time of year.”
“Yes. I understand the mountains are pretty this time of year.”
“I would also like to stop in to see my cousin. She is going to be having surgery next week and she is pretty nervous. So I thought I would pay her a visit.”
“That is nice of you. You are always so considerate.”
This exchange is stilted and awkward. Folks just don’t talk that way. If you listen to conversations around you, you’ll realize people tend to use contractions – and speak in sentence fragments. A lot. Here’s how this bit of conversation would sound if two real people were having it:
“Where you going this weekend?”
“Dunno. Maybe the mountains – they’re really pretty this time of year.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that.”
“I’ll probably stop in to visit my cousin, too. She’s pretty nervous about her surgery next week.”
“That’s nice of you. You’re always so considerate.”
It’s 50 percent shorter, it’s more direct and it sounds more natural. People rarely reply to questions with full sentences – or by including the wording of the original question; they respond in fragments. I also used contractions. Not including contractions in speech sounds wooden and unnatural.
Second, be aware of what your characters are doing while they’re speaking. Include beats that give readers a visual on what’s happening. Here’s part of an exchange between two characters in my work in progress, Brothers by Betrayal. Gary is talking with Erin, his teenage daughter, who’s been grounded for two weeks (but who wants to go out with her friends for her birthday tomorrow):
Gary leaned against the doorjamb, his arms folded. “Look, Erin, you keep saying you want me to treat you like an adult. Then act like one. Children whine. Grownups accept the consequences of their actions without complaining.”
“But it’s not fair.”
He shook his head. “I’m done discussing this, Erin. I told you no and that’s final.”
“But Daddy…” she whined.
“Punkin, I gotta be up early in the morning. I’m going to bed. Talk to me again on Monday.”
“But the party’s tomorrow night.”
“I’m aware of that. And we’ve already established you’re not going.”
Erin thrust her lower lip out in a pout. She kicked at the leg of her desk. “Then what’s the point of talking on Monday?”
Gary gave a weary sigh and shoved away from the doorjamb. “I’m not having this discussion with you now, Erin. Goodnight.”
Note the absence of “he said” and “she said.” The only attribution is “she whined,” which tells the reader how the line gets delivered. The rest of the excerpt uses beats – snippets of narrative that precede, follow or are interwoven amid dialogue – to clue readers in to action taking place with the dialogue. Sometimes, when action is concurrent with dialogue, the author will interrupt the dialogue with a beat. Like this:
Inside, Gary approached Paula G., the woman who was serving as leader for the meeting. “Hi Paula, I’m Gary” – he laid his hands on the teen’s shoulders – “and this is my daughter Erin. This is her first meeting.”
I tend to get pushback from the writers group denizens about my use of en dashes with spaces to offset beats within dialogue. As it turns out, it’s a U.K. style. U.S. style favors em dashes (—) with no spaces. For a fine discourse on use of the various dashes (en, em and 2em) in your writing, read this blog post.
Third, run your dialogue aloud to hear the cadence of the words instead of simply seeing them in print. Often, we write what we think we want our characters to say, only to find, when reading it aloud, it’s clunky or awkward. And if it sounds off to you, think how it’ll sound in your readers’ heads. And no matter how fond you may be of a bit of dialogue, sometimes it has to go. The difference between a good writer and a great writer is often the willingness to excise those bits of dialogue that don’t sound right or advance the story.
For more tips on ways to improve your dialogue, check out this helpful article from the folks at Writer’s Digest.
When you’re tackling a tough bit of dialogue, what advice do you find works best for you?
Rita M. Reali is an international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published four novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero and Second Chances – the first four in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. Her fifth novel, Tender Mercies, is due out this June. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.
Welcome to No Wasted Ink’s top-ten writing articles as selected from my general surfing of the world wide web. I love to read writing articles to help me keep up with what is going on in the writing community and to learn new tips to improve my writing. I select the best ten from those and share them here with you. Enjoy.
Happy Monday! Welcome to the No Wasted Ink top-ten writing article round-up. As I surf the web, I look for articles that interest me as a writer and then share them here on the blog with all of you. This week I found many with writing tips, marketing help for authors and other topics of interest. I hope you get as much from them as I did. Enjoy.
No matter what genre of novel a writer creates, a protagonist lies at its heart. Whether an alien, a mythical beast, or a human the reader will want to connect with them. Why else would they continue to read on to discover what path and challenges are ahead? In a romance it is the two main characters that take centre stage as their relationship forms, is thwarted but ultimately endures. In other genres the reader may follow a single protagonist to a satisfactory, if not, a happy ending.
The writer’s aim is to convince the reader to believe in these characters. The protagonist is at the centre of everything; they need to be credible and believable, even if they are not plausible in the realm of our own world.
Every action and decision they make must be convincing. As author’s we want the readers to experience events through this main character(s) eyes: joy, fear, exhilaration, disappointment and hopefully success. They have faced challenges and overcome the barriers that were placed in their way by well thought out plots.
Empathy for them, once developed, should lead to pages turned and future books read – especially, in the case of a series.
To achieve this, a writer must know their characters intimately so that everything they do, think, and say will support the developed plot, enhanced by the skilfully written detail of setting – the world that the protagonist and the cast of characters inhabit.
If you think of these characters as real people and develop profiles for each, the protagonist’s profile will be more detailed than minor characters, although they still need to respond and react true to type, therefore, the author must be well versed in the ‘type’ of character they are.
Your profile should cover the basics: physical aspects, appearance, age, height etc.
But then dig deeper: –
What is their emotional state?
What is their unique back-story that led to them being the person (or alien) they are now?
What family/friends/ associates/colleagues do they interact with?
Are any of these toxic?
What goals do they have and what stands in their way?
Nobody is perfect so what flaws do they have?
Are they haunted by the past or motivated by their potential future?
Do they crave love, are they driven by a quest, or seek to save the world?
What are they uniquely good at?
What would make them act out of character?
What are their loves/hates?
Do they have vulnerabilities or insecurities?
Do they have secrets and, if so, what would happen if they were discovered?
How do they change and grow as a result of the events they face throughout the plot?
All these questions will help define the characters so that their reactions, actions, and interactions will flow smoothly and make them live on the page.
Whether they are asked of the protagonist or antagonist, or supporting characters, this is valuable background information that will add depth to your writing when the knowledge is applied to their interactions.
At all costs avoid stereotypes, they will not work and may offend the reader.
When the protagonist first appears make their entrance count. They must appeal, interest, or intrigue your reader so that they continue to follow the story.
What is it about them that captures attention? Is it their appearance, attitude, intelligence, or a unique feature that makes them stand out?
Once the characters have been created then they can be let loose on the pages of your manuscript as the novel takes shape. Structure, plot, and pace are essential, but without believable characters that convince, hook, and delight the reader there will be no life and depth to the story.
Everything they say and do should show the kind of character they are. Props can be used to embellish this process, if they add something to their development and the use of which aids the core plot move forward.
Whatever details the author knows about a character, it will be more than need ever be shared on the page. Exposition – description and ‘info-dumps’ – should be avoided as they slow down the pace of the plot, so only feed information to the reader on a need-to-know basis; instead, use this valuable background knowledge to breathe life into your characters’ thoughts, words, and deeds.
If the characters created feel real to the author, then they will to the readers of the novel, which is the essence of successful and memorable fiction.
Valerie’s love of writing and creating stories began in her childhood. Now, as an established author she loves sharing that love by tutoring students in the art of creative writing. Her career to date spans 5 novels, 46 novellas and working as a tutor for the London School of Journalism, Writing Magazine and independently via:
Her romantic adventures are mainly set in her beloved home county of North Yorkshire in northeast England. It is an area of majestic moors, rugged coastline, and beautiful market towns of Whitby, Northallerton and Harrogate and historic York. The early nineteenth century (Regency) was a period of huge social inequality and change, smuggling, espionage, and industrial innovations that all served to add drama to many of her romantic adventures.
Valerie’s work has been compared to romantic classics: ‘Wuthering Heights meets Poldark.’ Romance with a darker touch of mystery added.
Recent publications: Betrayal and The Baronet’s Prize now available on Amazon and KindleUnlimited.
When not working Valerie loves to walk in the countryside with her two loyal spaniels, bake, research historic locations, and travel broadly with family and friends.
www.ValerieHolmesAuthor.com (10% discount off fees if you quote this article)