Tag Archives: tropics

Sep 29

“Taking Liberties” by Mary Deal

Taking Liberties

Encouragement for novella writers.

Take liberties with your writing process. I did. You can too. No matter what people said I couldn’t do, I knew what I wanted to accomplish and did it.
The seed for the novella, Caught in a Rip, which is the second story in my novel The Tropics, germinated ages ago when I first read Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. At that time, I asked myself why I couldn’t write a story like that. Yeah, sure, I wasn’t seriously writing then. Yeah, sure, I finally said. Me, write like Ernest Hemingway?
My flaw was in thinking that I had to emulate Hemingway’s style. That concept didn’t come to me till after I had written my first novel and found my own style.
All those years, I toyed with the idea of writing a sea story, one where the protagonist faces her devils alone. Yes, a female protagonist, after all. I knew it would have to be a serious story, because I didn’t excel at humor. I wasn’t sure what kind of story to write about a woman in a dire situation, but in the interim, I read Hemingway’s book again because that’s from where my first inspiration came.
After finishing my first novel manuscript, I decided to take some time off to better learn the art of manuscript submission. I could take a sabbatical from writing, study the “how to” submission manuals I’d accumulated and do my conjuring on the beaches of Kauai. Why live here if you never get into the ocean, right? I really had been immersed in my writing instead.
During one of my all-day outings to Ke`e Beach on the North Shore, I discovered those huge docile green sea turtles. I just happened to have my camera along. I spent more than two hours bobbing and diving around the deep side of the reef photographing when I realized I was exhausted. When I tried to haul myself back to the reef, I could barely fight the outbound tide. I nearly panicked.
Yet, at that very moment, the story of a woman in danger jelled in my mind. I would write about a woman photographing turtles and who gets caught in a rip current and swept out to sea.
At that very moment nothing could keep me from getting back to the beach and to my pen and notepad.
I thought I had a short story. I wrote for days. By the time I had polished the manuscript (or so I thought) I had a novella. At that time, I had no idea what to do with stories this length. Never mind that books like Hemingway’s and John Steinbeck’s The Pearl are only a couple hundred pages as completed publications. People said, “No one takes novellas anymore.” I just didn’t know what to do with a novella. So I posted it in an online workshop hoping to get a clue.
In the meantime, I was so jazzed at having written Caught in a Rip that I decided to lengthen another of my short stories languishing with no direction. At best, I might be able to publish a book of three to four novellas.
Then reviews began coming in from other novella writers in the workshop. So if the novella was a dying writing form, why were all these people writing them? I received reviews from mild comments to graciously picking my story apart. But everyone’s final comment was that Caught in a Rip was a great story, full of emotion, pain and epiphany and worthy of the 10-star ratings. Then I knew I needed to see it published. Why, it even had humor—in the last paragraph!
I formulated a plan. If incidences in both novellas written so far were similar, why not make my separate protagonists know one another? All that was left would be to decide which story came first. That led me to the fact that the two stories still did not make a “good” length for a whole book. I decided to rewrite both stories, leaving some clues dangling in each. Both my protagonists would then be brought together and all foreshadowing wrapped up in a third story—an ongoing time line with characters progressing through each story. A trilogy of sorts. That sounded right even though further comments told me no one publishes trilogies anymore.
By the time I finished the third story, I had a solid body of work with positive comments from everyone who read the manuscript.
In the end, I had taken liberties with progressive protagonists and time line. One of the most difficult aspects was wrapping up each story so that each could stand on its own and still leave some mystery to wrap up in the third and final story. Each of the three stories, if published separately, would be the size of Hemingway’s or Steinbeck’s books mentioned above. And so, three novellas comprise my novel entitled, The Tropics: Child of a Storm – Caught in a Rip – Hurricane Secret.
Liberties. Take them. Your Muse will respond and you will free your writing. Read More

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May 05

“What’s Your Book About?” Mary Deal Asks this Important Question on the Child Finder Trilogy

In our day-to-day lives, our simplest personal actions say something about our motivations, temperament, and mind-set. Stories and their plots reveal much more that can be stated by quoting the story synopsis when a potential buyer asks, “What’s your book about?”

In my adventure/suspense novel, The Tropics, the plot is about the dangers of island living, cloaked from tourists by balmy breezes and swaying palm trees. It’s about people fighting for survival and finding inner strength to go on in spite of life-threatening situations in which they find themselves. It’s about inner strength. 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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