Tag Archives: narration

Dec 28

Mary Deal Writes About “Scene Changes” On The Child Finder Trilogy

A scene ends when the action ends or the conversation can add no more to that part of the story. Maybe one scene is in the grocery store; the next scene is outside on the docks. Usually when a huge shift in location happens, you begin a new chapter.

(Don’t try to write a sequel to “My Dinner with Andre” which happened totally in one scene at the dinner table. It’s been done and was successful because the actors were good.)

When you end a scene, leave the reader wondering what could happen next and wanting to read further. It’s called a cliff hanger. Leave something unfinished, like a threat of action yet to happen and we can see one character gearing up to do some dirty work. The reader wonders what could possible happen next? And so they keep turning pages. Read More

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May 25

Mary Deal Talks about Creating Your Story Title

Creating Your Story Title

Something writers of multiple stories will experience: Titles may come to you in a flash. Some will take some thinking through.

If you’ve written your first and only story thus far, you may feel you have a great title for that one piece of prose. However, caution should be taken due to lack of experience in titles. You can only know how easy or how difficult choosing a title will be when you’ve written a few stories.

For the person who writes many stories or many books, again, choosing a title may come easy, or it may be one of the most difficult aspects of writing.

Your book will first be judged by its title and cover art. Those are the first two criteria that will attract a potential buyer if they know nothing about you or your book or books. The title and cover must entice the viewer to look further and flip to the back cover and read the synopsis.

Here are some tips to help both the beginning writer and the experienced.

~ Your title should covey the overall message of the story.

An example would be if your story is about a crime taking place in an apple orchard. If you title your book “The Apple Orchard,” then you might have the front cover showing something happening in an orchard, or something related to the crime. Otherwise, a bland title like “The Apple Orchard” could represent anything from a romance to a UFO abduction under the apple trees. The title and cover of this book must work together.

An example of this type of title is Joseph Wambaugh’s “The Onion Field.” His cover is a very dark field with telephone poles and gorgeous sky in the distance. If you did not know the crime behind “The Onion Field” you would have no idea what the story might be about. Wambaugh is just lucky enough to be a bestselling author so people know him and what type of stories he writes, but most of us are not yet bestselling authors. We need more to attract readers.

~ Use an important phrase from within your story. It can be from the narrative or the dialogue.

In my latest thriller, Down to the Needle, the character Joe Arno is goading Det. Britto to hurry. Time is running out. An innocent person will go to lethal injection. Arno says, “Do something, Britto. We don’t want this case to go down to the needle.” This story is about how the case slides mercilessly all the way down to the needle. In my mind, I asked myself: What better title could there be?

Be selective. Choose some of your very best lines of narration or dialogue. Use the very best, or change the wording a bit to fit.

~ An overall theme.

In my award winning thriller, River Bones, I selected from the overall theme. The Sacramento River runs through rural farm and crop lands. Tourists vacation in boats and some stay through the summer. Though illegal, they dump their dinner leftover meat bones and other foodstuffs into the river. It’s easy to find bones here and there or washed up near the river banks. It’s also easy to find bones when a crime is committed by a person who buries his victims in the soft damp river banks that promotes decay.

I named that novel River Bones for that reason, also because just the mention of bones can send shivers down a person’s spine.

In order to decide just the right title for your story, think about what you’ve written. Think about the best lines you’ve written. Your title is right there in your prose.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Feb 16

Prologue, Denouement and Epilogue as Only Mary Deal Can Describe Them

Prologue, Denouement and Epilogue
by
Mary Deal

First let me quote from the Oxford Dictionary before we discuss usages.

Prologue: 1) A separate introductory part of a play, book or piece of music. 2) An event that leads to another.

Denouement: The final part of a film, play or narration, in which matters are explained or resolved.

Epilogue: A section at the end of a book or play which comments on what has happened.

A Prologue can set up the rest of a story. That is, it can relate a brief occurrence that led to the present action of the story that we then jump into the middle of in Chapter One. Used this way, a prologue becomes a bit of back story, should not take up any more than a few paragraphs, and definitely should not be as long as a full chapter. Too, anything that isn’t foreshadowing for the rest of the story should be cut.

The longer the Prologue, the more it seems the writer is, again, quoting back story when, in reality, back story should be incorporated into the present of the telling. This is done through conversations between characters or brief remembrances of the main character. Providing too much life story in the prologue, keeps the reader bogged down in the past when you really want them immersed in the action of the now that starts with the first word, sentence and paragraph of Chapter One.

Completely opposite of that, the Prologue can also be used to show the outcome of the entire story up front before Chapter One begins. In other words, your story has a problem the main character needs to resolve. The story goes on to show the character resolved those issues and then shows the climax and denouement, which led to the information first presented in the Prologue.

My preference is not to read a book where I know up front that all ends well. I want to feel all the indecision, fright and other emotions that the characters may endure. Then I want the relief of learning how their situation is resolved. If I read up front that their lives went back to normal after something drastic had happened to them, I won’t feel their emotions as I read.

Part of reading is to experience what the characters endure. First reading that everything came out okay seems, in my opinion, to diminish the thrill of suffering with these story people. So what? I ask. I already knew these people would prevail.

The Denouement tells how the characters are affected once the climax of the action is made apparent. If a mystery, the climax happens when the perpetrator is caught or gets his or her comeuppance. You cannot end the story at that point. You must tell how this climactic revelation affected all the other characters. That portion after the climax is the denouement.

The denouement need not be lengthy. It can be a few sentences or a couple of paragraphs. It can also be one or more brief chapters.

In my thriller, River Bones, after the perpetrator is caught and people realize just who the serial killer is, many more additional clues are found to cement his guilt. Too, a few subplots needed to be wrapped up that did not really affect catching the perpetrator, but which followed through and fed into the action of the entire story. That wrap-up, my denouement, took two additional brief exciting chapters. But that wasn’t all….

An Epilogue is best used to show how the story resolution affected the characters after a period of time has passed. Yes, it’s enough to catch a perpetrator and everyone return to their normal lives in the denouement. However, in River Bones, I used an Epilogue to not only wrap up the strongest subplot, but to create a situation where it leaves the story open for a sequel.

Another example might be a romance. After the lovers settle their differences and end up together in the denouement, the Epilogue might be used to show that a year later they parted. What caused them to part must be something already written into the story beforehand. The Epilogue is not a place to introduce new information – ever. Whatever happens in the Epilogue is a result of some action already dealt with in the story.

Between prologue, denouement and epilogue, the denouement is the only part necessary to any story. Think hard about using Prologues and Epilogues and have good reason for doing so.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Nov 03

Mary Deal Dishes on Dead Words

Dead Words
by
Mary Deal

Write lean!

When I began to scrutinize my writing for words I could cut and still keep the story together, I was surprised! In the interest of keeping my stories lean and to the point, I found I could drop modifiers and make my sentences more professional.

Sometimes we want to add a word or two, seemingly to deepen the meaning of an act or some bit of dialogue. This is where many writers ruin their stories. For example:

She was so very ecstatic!

“So” and “very” are modifiers that needn’t be used in this sentence. The word ecstatic is the height of elation, the nth degree. The word needs no modifiers.

She was ecstatic!

Three little words that say exactly what I meant it to say without being verbose and taking up word space in the story that could be put to better use.

Another word is “just.”

– It was just that he wanted to go and she didn’t.

– The problem was that he wanted to go and she didn’t.

Drop the modifiers even if you must rewrite the sentence. Notice, too, that the corrected sentence doesn’t begin with “it,” which has no meaning when used this way. “It” has no meaning at the beginning of a sentence until we know what the sentence is about.

“It” can begin a sentence, usually inside a paragraph, when what is being referred to has already been mentioned.

Another example of dead words or overuse is the word “had.”

When writing in 3rd Person or past tense, it’s appropriate to use the word early in a paragraph. The rest of the paragraph should not contain the word “had.” Had sets up the paragraph in past tense. Only occasionally will there be no way around it and you must use it twice. Used early in the paragraph it sets up the tone of the action, even through subsequent paragraphs.

More dead words appear at the beginnings and ending of sentences.

-Where are you at?

-Where are you going to?

-That they could not have known, they took a chance anyway.

-They came running around the corner.

In some cases, your characters may speak like this, but sentences such as these should not be part of the narration. Unless we know to what or to whom these particular words refer before using them, they are out of place and make the subject of conversation obscure.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Sep 01

“Drop the Words” (Put Your Hands Up! Back Away from the Keyboard!) by Mary Deal

Drop the Words

Colloquialism and slang have their place in diction. That applies to both fiction and nonfiction. However, it doesn’t fit in proper grammar usage when attempting to make your story or book, fiction or nonfiction, the best that it can be.

Consider these:

Eat it up
Where are you at?

Read these sentences again, only this time, substitute the word “down” in place of “up.”

In the first example, how can you “eat it up” if you can’t “eat it down?” Simply put, you “eat it.”

In the second sentence the words “where” and “at” are synonymous as to location. You may as well ask, “Where are you where?” Properly asked, it’s “Where are you?”

When writing, in proper grammar usage, some words need to be dropped from sentences all together. However, if you develop a story character who speaks using these colloquialisms, then his or her diction must be established the first time that character speaks. And further, the character’s language must follow through with similar jargon anytime his or her dialogue is included.

Written dialogue allows for misusages of grammar. It enhances drawls, brogues, and general linguistics found in varying regions and among groups of people. However, in writing narrative, drop the words that make your writing look amateurish and you, the author, unprofessional. Dropping the poor grammar in the narrative portions of stories sets the dialogue apart, which is a must. and draws attention to the uniqueness of each character.

An exception is when the narrator intends to make the narration sounds like the storyteller speaks that way. An example would be when a person from the deep south is telling his life story. We know it’s about him in his own words. We allow for his dialect in both the narration and dialogue. Or a person with a foreign accent tells his or her story; then the narration and dialogue will have great similarities.

With the exception of the above example, and particularly in the editing stage, drop the words that do nothing but distract from the value of the sentence.
Read More

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Jul 14

“Know Your Genre” (no, not an article by Sun Tzu) by Mary Deal

Knowing your story’s exact genre is important when submitting your manuscript for acceptance.

Suppose your think you’ve written Literary fiction when, in reality you’ve written Commercial fiction. Your plot makes for a heart-rending true-to-life story. When you send out your manuscript—full of action and a plot that just doesn’t stop—to a Literary fiction agent and get the rejection, you wonder why. And they won’t tell you why. They just don’t have the time to respond to every submission.

For fiction writers, “genre” usually refers to Commercial fiction or Literary fiction. Within these two categories are found many sub-genres.

Commercial fiction is full of action, surprises, and at times, characters that defy reality. This class of fiction is full of excitement as each story propels forward. Story lines are all-important.

Some sub-genres in Commercial fiction are mystery, suspense, thriller, family stories, women’s stories, and adventure.

Another category similar to Commercial fiction is Mainstream fiction, which includes science fiction, fantasy, romance, and some mysteries.

Literary fiction concentrates on the quality of the writing more than the story line. Literary fiction examines the human condition. Unlike Commercial fiction, Literary fiction is not concerned with plot and commercial appeal. How the story is written and elevated prose is all-important.

Many themes can be found in one literary story. They are usually multi-layered, the narration descriptive, with true-to-life characters The narrator is descriptive and characters are as true-to-life as possible.

In that sense, literary techniques may merge with other fiction types to become literary mysteries, thrillers, family sagas and historical.

Be careful to determine into which genre your story fits. It will greatly reduce the number of rejections received when trying to get a manuscript published. Read More

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Apr 14

“Let the Dialogue Speak” by Mary Deal

Proper use of “said” and the use of “beats” will keep a story flowing smoothly.

Books and articles turn up touting the value of replacing the use of the word said. She said. He said. Many claim said is overused and tiresome. They supply an endless plethora of verbs, nouns and adjectives to use instead. But my opinion is that, in most cases, there are no substitutes, given what said does when used properly.

Said is acceptable enough to hide in the background and not call the reader’s attention to dynamics of speech that would best be shown with proper punctuation. Said is simply a speaker attribution and tells us who said what in the course of conversation.

However, said can become grossly overworked. This is why many people have tired of it. This is an example of overuse:

“Hola, Papi,” Pablo said. “When do we eat?”

“About ten minutes,” his father said.

“I’m going back to the street then,” Pablo said. “I’m winning all the races.”

“Hey-hey,” Rico said. “Be on time for dinner.”

“Si, Papa,” Pablo said.

Taken from my novel, The Tropics, this conversation flows much better when written this way:

“Hola, Papi,” he said, eyes eager and smiling. “When do we eat?”

“About ten minutes.”

“I’m going back to the street then,” Pablo said, starting to run away. “I’m winning all the races.”

“Hey-hey,” Rico said. “Be on time for dinner.”

“Si, Papi.”

Each sentence, both dialogue and narration contains slight variations. The description of actions included with dialogue is referred to as beats. The characters are not only talking. They are involved in doing something at the same time they speak.

When the actions of characters are included, the writer must be careful not to overuse beats. They serve the purpose of avoiding dialogue with a running string of “saids” or speaker attributions.

I wholeheartedly agree with Renne Browne and Dave King. In their book, “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” they say:

“If you substitute the occasional speaker attribution with a beat, you can break the monotony of the ‘saids’ before it begins to call attention to itself.”

A beat is not necessary in writing, but it makes for smoother reading and understanding of the characters.

For example, if you are speaking in live conversation with someone, you hear their words and watch their body language, or watch what they direct your attention to. The beats are their gestures.

In reading, beats allow for a silent pause; a moment to digest what is being said and the action emphasizes the dialogue.

On the page, a speaker attribution identifies who is speaking. The word said is accepted because it remains in the background. It does not make us pause to visualize or try to understand the way that the character speaks. Here’s another example when said has been replaced:

“What more?” Ciara questioned. “I know what I have to do. Rico also had a sister he never talked about. Help me find her—”

“Senorita,” Lazaro interrupted. “There’s a reason why he never spoke of her.”

“You know about her?” Ciara quizzed.

“Si, si. She had breast cancer,” Lazaro sympathized.

Now the same conversation from The Tropics, written another way:

“What more?” Ciara asked. “I know what I have to do. Rico also had a sister he never talked about. Help me find her—”

“Senorita,” Lazaro said. “There’s a reason why he never spoke of her.”

“You know about her?”

“Si, si. She had breast cancer.”

Another aspect of smooth writing is that when only two characters speak, you need not identify each by name each time they say something. You also need not include any speaker attribution at all, unless the dialogue string is too long. Simply establish who spoke first, who responded, and the reader will follow along. Also, a good place to insert a few beats is in any string of dialogue where speaker attributions are not used.

This gets more complicated when you have three or more people sharing conversation. A few more speaker attributions are acceptable, and a beat both aids in showing us the characters actions and prevents a string of attributions each time a new voice is written in dialogue. Here’s another example of over-use:

“I haven’t seen Larry for months,” Ruby said.

“I thought you two were tight as thieves,” Brad said.

“Not that tight,” Ruby said.

“Guess we all had it wrong,” Denny said.

“You guys and your assumptions,” Ruby said.

Here’s a better example:

“I haven’t seen Larry for months,” Ruby said.

“I thought you two were tight as thieves,” Brad said, as he pressed a hand against the gun inside his jacket.

“Not that tight!” Ruby looked around the room, all the while feigning nonchalance and looking like any other customer in the bar.

“Guess we had it all wrong,” Denny said as he took another sip of his drink.

“You guys and your assumptions….”

In the revised example, when a speaker attribution is not included, we still know who is speaking. Using a beat makes it easy to know to whom the dialogue belongs, so leave off the attribution.

Notice, too, that “chimed in” or “quipped” or “volunteered” or “whispered” and such other attributions did not substitute for the word said. What really happened among the “saids” in the second example is that the word said receded into the background and allowed us to fully comprehend the urgency of the conversation. Because of the punctuation, we didn’t have to be told about voice inflection or any other way that the speaker spoke, which would have made us stop and visualize the action or the tenseness of the conversation.

The choice of words and punctuation in the dialogue did that for us, with the help of said, which quietly did its part, as it should. Our eyes read the important words, while said registers only subconsciously. All we need to further the action is to read on.

Attributing dialogue to certain characters need not be overdone. Proper punctuation does that for us. For example:

“You klutz!” he exclaimed.

The exclamation point tells us the remark was an exclamation and not a quiet statement or a question. It is not necessary to repeat to the reader that it he exclaimed. Readers do not like redundancy. It’s very off-putting; as if the writer is sure the reader won’t get it. In that incorrect assumption lays the erroneous motivation for writers to use attributions other than said. An experienced reader comprehends the first time through with proper punctuation.

Many writers make the mistake of thinking they can add impetus to dialogue by including many and varied attributions. This is as bad a practice as using your hands and arms in front of your face when you speak. When talking, words and intonation speak for themselves and most hand gestures, at best, are rude. So, like hand gestures, a writer may irritate a reader through redundancy.

Yet another incorrect usage of attributions has become quite common:

“I hope you like it,” she smiled.

“It’s way over there,” he pointed.

“I’d like to take you home with me,” she lilted.These are unemotional sentences that do not need further modification. “Smiled,” “pointed” and “lilted” did not speak those words. Such verbs have no place as speaker attributions. Only in a few instances can said be replaced correctly. One way those sentences can be written properly, and sparingly, is given below. Notice the punctuation:

“I hope you like it,” she said as she smiled.

“It’s way over there,” he said, pointing.

“I’d like to take you home with me.” Her voice was low and lilting.

Here are two last examples of incorrect punctuation and attributes that just don’t convey what they were meant to:

“Fire…,” she exclaimed.

“Fire,” she screeched.

And correctly written if we already know who is speaking:

“Fire!” he said.

Or simply…

“Fire!”

With many other places writers can get creative, speaker attributes are best left to the time-tested said, accompanied by proper punctuation in the dialogue.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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