Tag Archives: purpose

Apr 27

Saturate Yourself by Mary Deal

Saturate Yourself

by

Mary Deal

Many writers see a piece of prose and feel they can write like that. When they make the attempt to write their own story or piece of poetry, they fail. Why?

We’re all told to read what we wish to write. That is, read the authors we like best. That’s one reason we choose to write in the genre we’ve chosen. But also read instruction books on how to write for a certain genre. With the advent of eReaders, more books can be available at our fingertips for a fraction of the cost. Your local library also has reference books.

Every genre has its requirements.

* A mystery solves a problem
* A romance brings two people together or apart
* Science fiction usually creates other worlds
* Fantasy has elements of imagination beyond the norm
* Literary fiction deals with a moment in time, the human element

And on and on…

One of the best ways to help you gain success with your writing endeavors is to immerse yourself in the form of writing you wish to accomplish. You’ll identify certain rules or formats followed in each type of story you read.

For example in poetry, if you’ve read a heartfelt sonnet that touched you deeply, and wish to write about your feelings but every time you try the words just don’t fall into place. The best thing you can do is to study how to write a sonnet. Read sonnets. Read other poetry so you can learn the different between forms of verse. The latter is a great way to understand the type of poetry you wish to write. Oftentimes, we must learn what it is not, versus what it is.

Read about the format of a sonnet, the grammatical make-up, and the purpose of a sonnet. When you come to understand exactly what makes a perfect sonnet, chances are, your words will tumble out in sonnet format.

Likewise, every writer should have a good grasp of what makes a great story in the genre of their choice. I want to say that you should read only the best books, but that doesn’t give you a well-rounded experience. Saturate yourself. Read some books that do not appeal to you in any way. Ask yourself why they don’t. You may realize that they were not written in proper format for the genre.

When you read books, be aware of what is good writing and plotting as opposed to poor or incomplete work. All of this helps you to know the rights and wrong, the ins and outs, of making your story great.

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

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Mar 30

Becoming an Actor…an Article by Mary Deal

Become an Actor
by
Mary Deal

Quite often, I hear people say that they have a lot of difficulty when writing dialogue. Here are some tips for improving dialogue and making it a snap to write:

1) Know the character you have established.

* Is your character male or female?
* In what time period is your setting?
* Is your character laid back or a Type A personality who’s always jittery?
* What is your character’s purpose in the story?

2) Assuming you know the above facts about your character, they can only speak one way.

* Write a line of dialogue.
* Then stand in front of a mirror and become an actor.
* Put yourself in that character’s mind.
* Be the character.
* Speak the line.
* Gesture when you speak.
* Use facial gestures.
* Try speaking the dialogue in difference accents or drawls.
* You already know the basics of your character and the particular scenes, so you won’t find too many ways he or she can speak.

3) As you speak, try changing the words of the sentence of dialogue.

* Try saying the same thing in a different way.

4) Act out the characters parts.

* Be one or more characters interchangeably.
* Interact and speak the lines of each.
* Your mind will automatically “round out” what is needed.
* You may decide instead of a character with stilted language, he or she becomes relaxed and easy going.
* Each state of mind produces different ways of speaking.

You may find that your character also changes in personality. Be careful here. If you’ve completed your story and then change a character’s mannerisms, which may affect personality, you may need to make a sweep through the entire story to bring that character in line with the new image you’ve created. But if that’s what it takes to make your story hum, you do it.

Chances are, you won’t make sweeping changes with this technique unless they are needed. You will simply find new ways to put some zing into the dialogue.

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

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Feb 09

So How Do You Lose Words? Just Ask Mary Deal

More Words to Lose
by
Mary Deal

Have you ever really listened to people talking? We writers should do that all the time. It’s one of the reasons we love to people watch, not to eavesdrop but to learn about fascinating accents, jargon and colloquialisms that could add zing to the characters in our fiction.

In becoming aware of how people talk, on a daily basis I hear words and phrases that make me cringe. Call me a purest. Call me obsessive compulsive. I shake my head when I hear anyone say, “I told him, I said…” What is the purpose of being redundant? “I told him” and “I said” mean exactly the same thing.

“I told him, I said, be careful.”

“She told me, she said she didn’t like my cooking.”

I sigh when I hear a person saying “basically” before starting each new sentence they speak.

“Basically, what you need to know is where to start.”

“Basically, the mystery started with a nondescript clue.”

As you can see in the above two examples, the sentences do not need the word basically at all.

Dislikes such as these are at the top of my list to get hit with the delete button in my compositions.

Language takes on a different aura in dialogue if you have established that one of your characters actually speaks this way: “Basically, ma’am, I’m here to learn the truth and that’s all.” Still, it would be very off-putting to the reader if your character started all or lots of his dialogue with that dreaded word. Correctly portrayed, you would have set up the character’s speaking personality as, perhaps, slow and as being a methodical thinker and that one word used once or twice would then enhance his speech mannerisms.

However, my writing is not yet perfect either. I must continually be vigilant for sentence starters like: “She thought….” or “He said….”

She thought she wanted to go along.

He said he didn’t want to go.

When writing from the main character’s point of view, the reader will be in that character’s mind, seeing the story action from his or her point of view. The reader will be thinking the character’s thoughts. At least that’s what happens if our writing is good enough to draw the reader in. Starting sentences with phrases like “She thought” is, again, redundant. All a writer need do is state the character’s thought: She wanted to go along. Immediately, we feel or sense the character’s desire without being told it’s a thought.

Deleting unnecessary words and phrases helps greatly when word count matters and it really does, not to mention cleaning up a manuscript.

If in a case like “He said…,” instead of saying “He said he didn’t want to go along,” put what the character said in actual dialogue: “I want to go too,” he said. That’s unless you’re relating a past experience. Even then, you would simply say: He wanted to go along.

Any time you catch yourself telling what this or that character said, most of the time what the character said should be put in dialogue, instead of the writer “second-hand” telling the reader what was spoken.

I continue to be amazed at how people in my own circle of friends and family use these incorrect phrases. But then, they are not writers who need be astute at the verbiage they commit into stories. They are just being themselves, and that’s just fine with me. They give me a lot to think about and I am grateful that they can just be themselves with me and not worry that I am going to correct their every spoken word.

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

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Nov 26

Cynthia Vespia, a Veteran to Mike Angley’s Blog, Returns for a Second Visit

MA: It’s always fun to have authors make return visits to my blog, and today I am joined by one such previous guest, Cynthia Vespia. Cynthia first posted with me on January 8, 2010, and you can read her original post here: Cynthia Vespia, Demon Hunter Author, Guests with Mike Angley.

Cynthia’s first novel, a medieval fiction entitled The Crescent (iUniverse) was published in August 2005. The novel was unanimously praised as “an engaging, descriptive read” which prompted a sell-out at Borders Bookstore in less than one hour during the first official autograph signing.

In 2009 she released Demon Hunter: The Chosen One (AspenMountainPress.com) which quickly reached number 3 on the Fictionwise.com bestseller list. The success of Demon Hunter was followed up by the sequel, Demon Hunter 2: Seek & Destroy which takes the characters and the reader on a journey that begins on the high seas and ends in Hell. Both novels (published in e-book format) were nominated for Best Series in 2009 by LRC Cafe.

Cynthia’s latest release returns to the contemporary side of thrillers but still contains that special “twist” that her novels are fast becoming known for. Life, Death, and Back (WeavingDreamsPublishing) delves into the paranormal when a man’s life is tragically cut short and he remains on Earth in the spiritual form to tie up loose ends.

Welcome back, Cynthia, and congratulations on your new release. Tell us a little more about you and what drives you to write.

CV: I believe we are all born with an innate talent and desire, something that drives us above anything else. Whether we develop and pursue that talent is up to us in the end. I’ve been interested in writing since I was a little girl and I’m fortunate enough to have realized my dream of publication. Most people never ever see their dreams realized. Sometimes life becomes what happens to you while you’re busy making plans. That is why my new release Life, Death, and Back is so special to me.

MA: And you mean it just released, as in two days ago, I believe! What do you enjoy most about the writing experience?

CV: Story telling. I like the escape novels bring. Creating worlds, characters, it’s always juiced me. I used to read alot as a kid and I loved the way writers like Piers Anthony, Robert E Howard, and C.S. Lewis used to draw me in to their stories. It’s been a passion of mine for years.

MA: You have to tell us all about Life, Death and Back.

CV: In the wake of his death Bryan Caleb begins to realize how precious living is and how much he’d taken for granted. Now he has unfinished business. In exchange for more time on Earth, Bryan has been granted guardianship. Even as he struggles with his own mortality Bryan must find the compassion within himself to help guide Lisa Zane, an emotionally and spiritually drained young girl, through her troubled life to find her true purpose. For it is only with Lisa’s help that Bryan can rescue his very own son from the life of crime he has fallen into before Kriticos Caleb’s fate mirrors his father’s…in death.

Life, Death, and Back was written in the spirit of all classic thrillers and suspense novels, but it carries with it crossover appeal. The phenomena of ghosts and angels is a widely discussed topic spreading to many channels. There are many who have seen and experienced things not completely explainable. This novel is intended for them as well.

MA: How risky was it for you to develop your protagonists’ character?

CV: Usually when writing a contemporary thriller you can push the boundaries but it needs to stay based in reality otherwise you lose your audience. But I had alot of freedom in the development of Bryan Caleb because you tell me how someone who comes back from the dead is going to act! It did present a challenge though. I wanted Bryan to be ethereal but remain emotional at the same time. Without emotion you can’t drive the story and Bryan needed to draw from his heart and soul to take on some of the obstacles that I put in his path.

MA: I like obstacles. They make thrillers…well…thrilling! What makes Bryan “tick?”

CV: Bryan’s a guy who’s had a blessed life but it has been cut short so he’s pretty bitter about it. He’s caught between worlds unable to contact his loved ones and presented with a task of helping this troubled girl Lisa Zane get out of the trouble and danger she’s found herself in. So his current predicament represents both strengths and weaknesses at the same time.

MA: So who is the main character that torments Bryan? Who’s the bad guy?

CV: I have my antagonists such as Cyrus Houston the criminal mastermind holding Lisa against her will. And also Kriticos Caleb, Bryan’s own son, who poses a very real threat and detriment to Bryan’s causes. But I’d say the nemesis in Life, Death, and Back is really Bryan’s ability to cope with everything that is being presented to him. From being tragically killed and walking the second plane as a ghost to being resurrected and having to relearn life skills, it’s all alot for one man to deal with…how does he do it? Well you’ll have to pick up your copy to find out!

MA: How did you come up with the idea for the story?

CV: The idea to write Life, Death, and Back came from a need to delve into the mysteries of death and the afterlife. At an early age I had to overcome some tough losses to my immediate family. Dealing with such tragedy sticks with you, it becomes part of your soul, and is probably reflective in this story. The novel is a fast-paced thrill ride that asks and answers alot of questions. How will we be remembered? Who will we leave behind? What is our legacy? And most importantly how can we make a difference while we still live? Not often in life do we get second chances. We make our mistakes and must continue on, hopefully a little wiser having learned from the experience.

MA: Some lofty questions, indeed! What are your future writing plans? Any new ideas?
CV: I have many. At the moment I’m seeking a home for my suspense novel Lucky Sevens which captures the spirit of my hometown Las Vegas and focuses on the raw human emotions unique to the people who live, work, and play there. In correlation with that I’m going to be focusing on more contemporary thrillers and suspense novels…and as always they will be real life situations you could find yourself in but hope to God you never do.

MA: Will you continue to feature the same protagonist in future stories? Will any other characters migrate over to future books?

CV: That’s an interesting question and I’m filing it into my subconscious right this minute. I can’t really say what the future will hold except that I will continue to bring you more exciting reads so stay connected via my website. By the way, Life, Death, and Back is available through WeavingDreamsPublishing.com and your local retailer. Look for me on Facebook and Twitter.

MA: Thanks, Cynthia. Folks – visit Cynthia’s website for more information about her and her stories: http://www.cynthiavespia.com/

Read More

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Oct 20

“Character Arc” by Mary Deal

Writing a great character arc happens when using descriptive writing. Your writing objectives should include interesting story people who are never stagnant but change as the story progresses. These changes are known as the character arc.
Knowing the story you wish to write, some pre-planning is advisable. You’ve written character sketches. You’ve plotted the story line. You should be able to detect how your characters evolve as the plot proceeds. You will begin to understand the evolution story people experience as you begin to flesh out the details.
A character arc is the overall view of how a character changed from the beginning of the tale till the ending. When you read other books, try to perceive, even pin point, the evolution the main character goes through and how they end up changed at the ending. This applies to all characters, but at least your main character requires a character arc. Approach the overall view of the arc with the intention to put your story people through some experiences that will change them.
An example might be the cop who has tried for years to solve a cold case and whose efforts are pooh-poohed for trying to wring something more out of dead-end clues. The story begins with him worn out from years of stale clues and no new leads. About ready to give up like others investigators have, still he persists and then discovers something overlooked by all others. He can’t reveal his clue for fear of exposing people who could thwart his efforts. He tries desperately to solve the crime on his own.
In this scenario, the character arc begins with the cop, worn down, and ready to face the fact the case may never be solved. The arc evolves when he finds an overlooked clue. This is where the writer should employ descriptive writing to enhance what happens to change this cop. He’s found new motivation. The next step in the character arc is the determination he shows to get the crime solved. He’s got a new reason to come to work every day.
After he solves the crime, he is vindicated. He’s definitely a new man. The writer can make this new man an egocentric braggart or can make him humble yet full of self-confidence with a new respect from his fellow officers. You can write a character arc that may have the character end poorly or magnanimously, but changed. It’s all in the descriptive writing and what the writer wishes to accomplish with the story.
Another example is, perhaps, the main character is a stodgy matriarch whose control of her extended family never waivers. In the story, she believes something to be true. The story action then proceeds to show her changing her viewpoints. She becomes a better person for understanding in spite of her mistaken beliefs. Her status in the family doesn’t change. Her character arc is depicted when she changes her viewpoint and determines to be more open-minded and better informed. Her emotional or psychological growth arc becomes the character arc of the story; all the while her position in the family is maintained.
The character arc does not apply only to actions taken but to thoughts and beliefs as well, even if the character does nothing physically but stand her ground in the hierarchy.
Focusing on the character arc upholds the conflict or tension of the story overall. What the character experiences on an inner level affects them on the outer level and is what contributes to the story overall.
Know your writing objectives, or story purpose, and best define them with descriptive writing. Most character arcs are shown through emotional or psychological process, but the character changes can come about through physical actions that further show the inner workings of the character’s mind set. Read More

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Oct 13

“Forensic Evidence in Plots” (A Subject Near and Dear to my Heart!) by Mary Deal

Forensic Evidence in Plots

Forensic science could kill your story.

With forensic evidence being able to convict a perpetrator on as little as a millimeter of hair fiber, for example, plots of stories and films could be brought to an end too abruptly. Too, explaining the forensic evidence and showing how it affects the outcome could take over any plot.

When a subplot takes over and becomes the action, this is to lose control of your story. It is important that the main plot hold the most interesting, the most critical action. Then, no matter how contorted a subplot, it will only serve to enhance the main plot. True, too, any twist or turn in a subplot must enhance the main plot action. It cannot be included only to enhance the subplot. There is a risk here of having your subplot become a story unto itself and distract from the purpose it should serve. Any action in a subplot must feed into but not be greater than the main action.

A perfect example of a subplot nearly taking over can be found in the movie, Witness, (1985). The good cop, John Book, discovers fellow officer, McFee, has committed a murder. When John Book discloses this to his boss, Schaeffer, he soon learns Schaeffer is just as corrupt. The bad cops are selling off confiscated drugs. Once found out, both Schaeffer and McFee want to kill John Book.

This is a simple subplot that adds to and is intrinsic to complicating the action of the main plot. This subplot of clandestine activities within the police department blocks the hero from accomplishing his goal of bringing the perpetrator to justice and heightens tension in the story. So, too, does the fact that John Book needs to hide out and heal while yet another person turns him in.

Considering Pamela Wallace won an Oscar for co-writing the script for Witness, how many times can such good cop/bad cop plots be done? If some cops are to be the bad guys in scripts, after the impact that Witness made in films, bad cop plots began taking more drastic turns.

In a thriller I started writing a few years ago, soon after I completed the rough draft of the manuscript, an explosion in forensic science occurred and my story immediately became outdated. A year of work had to be shelved. But my plot is so unique! I kept saying. I had to find a way to save it. I did. To this day, it is still a unique story.

The murders and arson I conjured in my original story could today be easily solved. How could I learn enough about forensic science in order to thwart its proving effects in my plot and still keep the action running?

Then I read, You Can Write a Movie, also written by Pamela Wallace. Finally, I hit upon a way to get around forensic science without myself having to become a forensic scientist.

In Witness, Wallace had crooked cops tampering with evidence. I have crooked cops in my mystery too. However, I could not be satisfied with simply adding crooked cops into the mix. It seemed all too convenient and way overdone in films. But not if you throw into the melee a radical group who just happens to get their kicks from wrongdoing.

In my story, I wanted to convolute the subplot way past the point of simplicity and yet not have it threaten to take over the main plot, as it almost does in Witness. My story has a subplot of not just crooked cops but a group of social renegades as well. But as I said, this was not enough for me. I have further complicated my plot with a hierarchy within the group of bad guys—and girls—all trying to out-do or eliminate one another in order to rise in stature. Then, so as not to distort from the main plot action, anything this group does enhances or thwarts the heroine from accomplishing her goal to help bring the proper person to justice.

While a certain amount of evidence is a must in order to redirect the finger of guilt toward the real perpetrator, my plot becomes complicated when evidence disappears. People within the wicked hierarchy fall or rise to power dependent upon who loses and finds and uses said evidence to climb another rung on the proverbial ladder. While all this is going on, an innocent inmate moves perilously closer to a date with lethal injection.

Ultimately, you cannot get away from using forensic evidence, but if there is no evidence to test, or if it is found and lost again, this heightens the excitement of your plot. If your story lacks excitement or is too easily solved, interrupt the pathway that connects the dots. Maybe kill off the only person who knows about the smoking gun. Let corroboration be found later on. There is no way to get around the fact that forensic science can solve most crimes these days, but only if there is evidentiary proof to test.

While no forensic evidence was needed to solve the murder in Witness, the complications that arose and blocked John Book from accomplishing his goal made for an exciting story. However, you must complicate your story to delay the final scene that forensic science can prematurely bring about. Make your plot as contorted as possible. Because of the splash Witness made by using the simple subplot of good cop/bad cop, chances are, another serious story of this type won’t fly because that kind of plot is simple and would have to be better than Witness. You must complicate your plot and learn something about the forensic information your story needs. The writer need not learn about all forensic science, only as much as must be used to enhance that one plot; enough to hide the true facts from being found too soon.

NOTE: The novel that Mary mentioned writing in this article is her new thriller, Down to the Needle, which was recently released. Read More

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Aug 11

“Your Public Persona” is Very Important…and Mary Deal Tells Us Why

The hard facts about your public image as author publicity.

Author publicity has its own set of rules. Author promotion is another name that applies.

Something I noticed when I first began submitting stories for publication was that I got a lot of rejections. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with my writing when others had already read the pieces and said they were spectacular.

I’m compulsive and needed to know what was wrong. I dissected some of my rejected pieces, with the help of a friend, word for word, letter by letter, and you’ll never guess what we found.

Typos !!!

I wasn’t as compulsive as I had first thought.

Letters missing or one little letter where it shouldn’t be, or misspelled words, or commas misplaced or just plain missing: Typos. Now I look at everything I send out or post on the Net.
Imperfect writing and typing gets rejected. That’s unless you happen upon a benevolent editor who likes your submission and who will correct your errors. My advice: Never count on that. It seldom happens. Too much good and perfect writing exists and they won’t bother with a piece of writing unless it’s near perfect.

Never let your guard down when rooting out those imperfections. Place it high on your list of writing rules.

If you think the quality of your work has nothing to do with author publicity, please think again. Anything that you put out into the public arena can be categorized as author promotion.

Would you promote yourself to be a second rate writer?

I can’t say that I don’t make typos anymore; I do, and I still miss a few. But what occurred to me was what anyone sends out in public, what they offer as a picture of themselves as a writer, is a picture of how well they have perfected their craft. What and how they write and present is their public persona, author publicity, whether positive or negative.

Exceptions may be when an electronic transmission of a body of writing gets garbled and drops a word or two. Or the publication’s production people make typos or other errors in your work.

Every writer needs to create a good image, and you’ll create one whether or not you believe that your submissions are considered author publicity.

No one wants to be known as a writer whose work is fraught with errors. No editor wants to read such gobble-de-gook. They regularly read the best of the best – and that is what a writer should aspire to be, or at least among the best. Many will not reach those heights—and not make an income from writing—if they submit prose that is impossible to get through in one easy read.

An editor doesn’t have the time to sit over a piece and decipher what the writer is trying to say because they can’t read it in the first place. Make them happy and they will ask for more of your work.

Then, if you think Web sites and blogs don’t matter? Suppose you send off a nearly perfect story and the editor loves it. You can bet they will check out your Web site and your blog (you’d better have one in today’s market) to see if you’re capable of rendering positive attention to yourself, and to the publicity of their publication.

Your website blog is your reputation.

So the editor goes to your blog and sees it is nothing but a rendering of yesterday’s headaches and a lot of bellyaching about everyone and everything and it generally serves no purpose but to make you look like a disgruntled complainer. Is that how you would handle your author promotion?

Your own words can undermine you. What could an editor expect you to do for them?
We’re writers. Stories, poetry, and information about craft are all we should be putting out into the public as we build author publicity.

Our private lives should be publicized at a minimum. Reserve something of yourself for that great publicity interview, if you get that far.

At this moment, do you know how an editor might perceive you if they happened upon your stories and postings? If you’re serious about a writing career, think about it.

In building your public persona, make every word count.

Follow the writing rules. Author publicity and author promotion are one and the same, and you will create it with every word you place in a public forum.
Read More

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Jul 21

Mary Deal Writes about “Starting Your Story”

When starting to write your story, don’t begin at the beginning, please! One of the main reasons writers fail to get their stories written is that they don’t know where to begin.

Once we have a story in mind, we’ve most likely created our fictional characters, to a degree. We know what makes them the people they are. We may even know how they will play out their parts in the plot, and therein lays the pitfall.

Many writers want to include a character’s life history. They feel if they do not include all of that information, the reader will not build empathy. This thought is a fallacy. How many times have you met a person you’d never met before? When he’s introduced, he wise-cracks, but in a manner that leads to like him right away. You don’t know his history, but you know that you and he will get along.

Thinking along the lines of presenting a character’s history, a writer may try to include much personal history, known as back story. If this has happened to you, have you asked yourself why you’re writing all this information and you haven’t yet begun the story? My advice here is that if you try to include at the beginning – don’t.

Here’s an example:

You’re writing a romance and your protagonist, a lady, is much sought after and can have her pick of suitors. But she hesitates to allow anyone to know her because she’s been jilted more than once.

So you, the writer, feel you must clue your reader about what makes her timid and hesitant before you can continue with the story you wish to tell. You think a Prologue would do the trick. Don’t even try it. Unless you’re an experienced writer with an established following who don’t care what or how you write, a prologue comes across as a new writer’s inability to incorporate back story into the plot.

Any back story included should pertain to the action of the real story you wish to write. The rule is that if whatever you include in the telling of the tale does not move the plot along, it should be cut. Since all that history stalls the plot and keeps it in the past, it has no purpose for being included.

Getting back to the example above, in this case the reader should be told what makes this much sought after beauty so fickle. The way to include relevant information is….

Let’s say she is interested in a man but fights an inner battle with fear of rejection again. The way to show your reader her fear is to have her come in contact with one of the men who jilted her in the past. This keeps the story flowing in the now.

Can you imagine the duress of her wishing to fall in love, and then at the moment of truth she must interact with the person who was the cause of her previous hurt? Are you able to see the back story coming into play when readers begin to understand her anxiety? And it didn’t take a prologue to set it up. It happens naturally in the course of the story.

Back story is easily incorporated through other characters, thoughts and brief memories, or occurrences that remind of past events. You want your story to move continually forward, not stall while you explain the past of it all. When you embed your character’s thoughts in the scenes and dialog, it keeps the reader inside that character’s head and within the resent story.

When I say don’t start at the beginning–you know your story–choose an action scene that you plan early in the first chapter. Jump into the now, the present time of that scene. Introduce your characters through their activities within the scene and let the story move on from there. You will have many chances to include memories, motivation and purpose as each new scene unfolds.
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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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