Tag Archives: understanding

Dec 27

Young Adult Fantasy Novelist, Rainforest-Dwelling Writer, Tahlia Newland Guests with Mike Angley

MA: I have an intriguing guest today, so please extend a warm American welcome and Merry Christmas to Tahlia Newland. Tahlia is the author of the Young Adult fantasy novel Lethal Inheritance, the first in the Diamond Peak series.

She lives in an Australian rainforest south of Sydney and is a refugee from the Performing and Visual Arts. For 20 years, she created and performed in Visual Theatre shows and she makes Venetian style masks, which you can discover here: http://tahliasmasks.wordpress.com.

Now that she growing grey, she’s given all that up to become a writer. That is, when she’s not being an extremely casual high school teacher.

She has written scripts for theatre in education, a book of short stories for children and a few other short stories (one a semi finalist in the Aussiecon 4 Make Ready fantasy/scfi competition 2010), but her love in writing is novels.

Welcome, Tahlia! So you live in an Australian rainforest? I’m fascinated (and jealous). Tell us what you did before writing.

TN: I trained as a teacher after leaving high school, taught briefly then gave that up to become a professional dancer actor, mime and mask performer. During the 20 years that I lived off these talents, I also made masks and studied how our mind works. Specifically how what we think and how we deal with what rises in our mind affects what we feel, what we perceive, how we behave and what we experience.

MA: You’ve always been around the arts, so I suppose it was a natural decision to write novels?

TN: It wasn’t so much a decision, more something that just happened. I had wanted to write novels when I was younger, but I got into other creative areas and never had an idea that screamed to be written like Lethal Inheritance did. When the idea first came, it percolated for a while, then scenes began appearing in my mind and I just had to write them down.

MA: Tell us all about the story.

TN: Lethal Inheritance is a Young Adult Fantasy novel, the first in a four part series called Diamond Peak.

It’s a combination quest, love story and surrealistic journey into the mind, with sexy characters, flashes of humour, terrifying battles and a mix of fantasy and reality. It’s set in our world in the present day.

If last night was real then Ariel should be dead, but her mother has disappeared, there are bruise marks on her neck and that hideous beast in the photo looks frighteningly familiar.

When demons kidnap her mother, Ariel is catapulted into a mysterious realm in a hidden layer of reality. Stuck on a rescue mission she doesn’t want, she must negotiate an intriguing and unpredictable world where demons who feed on fear are hunting her, and they’re aiming to kill.

She needs help fast, but can she trust the quirky old guide who says he can teach her how to fine tune her mind into a powerful weapon? And what should she do about Nick, whose power is more than he or she can handle?

Ariel’s journey challenges her perception, tests her awareness and takes her deep into her heart and mind to confront, and ultimately transcend, her fear and anger.

MA: Nice tease! I take it Ariel, your heroine, was a carefully-crafted character?

TN: She just developed as I wrote the first two drafts. It wasn’t a conscious thing, rather she emerged from my creative mind as if she already existed.

MA: Well, that’s interesting. What makes Ariel strong as a protagonist?

TN: Strengths –she’s intelligent, willing to learn, cautious, has a sense of responsibility for her family, self reliant, determined. Weaknesses – At the start of the book, she is emotional, untrained, doesn’t believe in her own abilities, doesn’t know anything about the hidden realm, is sometimes over cautiour and naive.

MA: You mentioned a beast in a photo, I assume that’s the antagonist?

TN: Yes. Bitah the demon. He feeds on human’s fear and anger and tries to kill Ariel to prevent her from finding his master and rescuing her mother. There are various other demons and entities working for him as well, but he’s the main one she has to defeat in this book.

MA: So, I take it you haven’t been a real-world demon hunter…but do you have any real-life experiences that somehow influenced the plot?

TN: Not specifically, but my understanding of the workings of the mind form the basis for the methods the Warriors use to kill demons.

MA: What’s next in the Diamond Peak series?

TN: There are three sequels to this novel. I’ve written them to second draft stage and will work on them again once I get a publishing contract. I’m also working on another novel, that has a greater degree of romance and leans a bit more towards adults , but still deals with the mind and a combination of modern and older style realities. It’s called Captive. The main characters will remain the same and some characters who are relatively minor in this book will feature more predominantly.

MA: I have to ask, can you describe the demon for my readers?

TN: A black, flowing form, human in size and shape, dropped onto the path without a sound. Its slimy skin, hanging in folds like the fabric of a long hooded cloak, rippled from the impact. White flames, flicking like snake tongues, blazed from two slits in its hideous face, casting an eerie glow as the head swung from side to side, as if searching for its prey. Another slash of flaming white formed a thin-lipped mouth curled into a sneer. Long loose arms dangled at the creature’s sides and its clawed hands repeatedly flexed and unflexed. A putrid smell, reminiscent of rotting potatoes, emanated from the beast. Ariel’s nose wrinkled and her stomach felt queasy.

MA: Well, there you have it! Thanks, Tahlia. Folks, please visit Tahlia Newland’s website for more beastly information: http://tahlianewland.com. Read More

Posted in Author Blogs, Author Colleagues, Guest Blogging, Interviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Dec 01

Mary Deal Discusses Plot Driven versus Character Driven Stories

Plot Driven or Character Drive

by

Mary Deal

A book writing format includes numerous topics and fine points, many of which I have already written about. However, two writing objectives include knowing if your story is plot driven or character driven. Writing topics can sometimes dictate this but the story itself will identify into which category your story fits.

Plot Driven – We mystery writers or genre writers create plot driven prose. Early in the story, the mystery is introduced. Readers know that ultimately the mystery will be solved; it’s how the writer brings this about that drives the plot.

A recent example of a plot driven story is The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Another example from a little while back is Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton.

Putting the characters through their functions is what adds suspense and tension to the story. Whatever the characters stir up or endure all feeds into the plot. In order to keep these stories from feeling one or two dimensional, the writer must make the characters exciting in such a way that the information about each character enhances the plot. You can enhance your characters all you want, but if the information doesn’t enliven and enhance the plot, cut it. Find other ways to make your character three dimensional and that also make the reader feel they needed to know this or that about a particular character in order to further understand the plot.

Character Driven – Most nonfiction writers produce character driven fiction. Whatever the character says or does directs the story and the action. The character leads. You’ve heard the saying that the characters wrote the story, right? That is character driven. We are more concerned here in what the characters do and say that propels the story forward and creates new action. A plot may or may not exist, except to be created by the main characters actions and responses to story developments.

A good example of a character driven plot was Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden.

The fine line between the two – plot driven or character driven – is that plot driven contains a predetermined plot with the characters interacting in the story line and the story comes to a conclusion. In this sense, since no one knows how the characters will react, the characters lend a blend of character driven action to a plot driven story.

In nonfiction, even literary fiction, the story evolves from the character’s thoughts, emotions and decisions and where he or she will take the action. If the desired ending is strong beforehand, this lends itself to a bit of plot driven scenario, though character driven stories usually find their own endings as the story evolves.

A problem with character driven plots is that a writer may proceed to a certain point and realize they want the story go proceed toward a certain ending. From this point all the characters follow or feed into that end. This has a tendency to distort the part of the character because it’s easy to have your character do something that isn’t cohesive with the personality you’ve established for them. If at some point in the story, you see the ending and you make all the characters move in that direction, your story then becomes plot driven.

One of the main problems I’ve seen in some of the stories I’ve edited is the inclusion of a prologue. First, this represents the writer unskilled enough to work back story into the present plot. But more than that, plot drive stories don’t always allow for the characters to contemplate or think through their actions. Plot driven usually moves at a fast pace and characters react spontaneously or compulsively.

In character driven stories, characters are contemplative. We get to know their inner thought processes. It might be easier to work prologue into these types of stories because showing a person’s inner workings allows us to realize their back story and resultant motivations.

So the problem I recognized while editing is that writers do not know if their stories are plot driven or character driven. Understanding the difference between these two categories will make writing a lot simpler.

Distinct differences exist between plot driven and character driven. In actuality, a polished writer will create a unique balance of the two.

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

Posted in Author Blogs, Author Colleagues, Guest Blogging | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Nov 12

Just a Little Jet-Lagged, Help Me Welcome Back Australian Author Sylvia Massara

MA: I’m delighted to welcome back to Mike Angley’s Blog, Sylvia Massara. Sylvia first guested with me on September 3, 2010, and you can go back and read her original post here: All the Way from Australia Comes Romantic Comedy Author, Sylvia Massara to Guest with Mike Angley

I won’t repeat her biography here, but you can find it at the link above, or visit her website for even more information about her: www.sylviamassara.com

MA: Tell me again what you did before becoming a writer.

SM: Prior to embarking on my writing career, I spent many years in the corporate world being a HR Manager, a Trainer/Lecturer, and most recently I started a business, Tudor Writing Services, where I provide proofreading/editing/website and social media services. Having said this, my true love has always been acting. I can remember wanting to be an actress since the age of 5. I was in lots of school productions, and later in amateur theatre. I also did a stint (when I was in between jobs) as an extra in some Aussie soapies, where I rubbed shoulders with actresses such as Melissa George and Isla Fisher, whom I believe made a bit of a name for themselves in the US. I was also in TV commercials and a couple of documentaries.

MA: You are a self-proclaimed day dreamer…is that one of your fiction influences?

SM: Well, I always lived my life in what you might call a ‘world of make believe’. Even now I do this. Ever since I can remember I always caught myself day dreaming; and I usually run several plots through my head at any given time. So I guess it was natural for me to progress to a career as a writer. I’ve been writing since I was a teenager and always loved it. Besides, you can write till you’re 90, whereas an acting career may not last that long.

MA: The last time you visited with me, you talked about your novel, The Other Boyfriend (which my daughter thoroughly enjoyed, by the way!). What are you here to tell us about today?

SM: The Soul Bearers is a rather spiritual story which deals with courage, friendship and unconditional love. It was partly inspired by true life events. In terms of genre, I guess you could put it under ‘literary fiction’ ‘mainstream drama’, not sure where, but it does make a good read and you better have those tissues handy.

A bit more about the story: The story involves three people whose lives cross for a short period of time, and the profound effect which results from their interaction. Alex Dorian, freelance travel writer, and a survivor of severe child abuse, arrives in Sydney in an attempt to exorcise the ghosts of her past. She shares a house with Steve and the disturbing Matthew, a homosexual couple. Alex finds herself inexplicably attracted to Matthew and must battle with her repressed sexuality and her fear of intimacy.

I believe readers of The Soul Bearers will come away with a deeper understanding of human relationships and of what it means to truly love without condition.

MA: You did something interesting with your characters in this new book. Tell us about that.

SM: There are three main characters, and the story is told through their respective points of view. Even smaller characters have their point of view. This makes the story more intricate as we see the events develop through all the characters, but mainly the main three, being Alex, Steve and Matthew.

You ask how I developed the characters and all I can say is that in terms of the gay couple it wasn’t so difficult. Having come from a hospitality background, I made lots of friends who were gay and I socialized with many of them. So I knew what their way of life was like. For, Alex, it was a little more difficult as she is the victim of sexual abuse. I also have a good friend who was unfortunate enough to have been a victim of sexual abuse as a child and from what I learned through her, and my own research, I came up with Alex.

MA: Are your characters larger than life or are they flawed like us all?

SM: All my characters are flawed; even the very spiritual and wise, Steve. They all have something to learn and something to give to each other. But I guess Steve comes out as the strongest. He’s facing imminent death from AIDS and his only concern is that he leave his partner well provided for, both emotionally and financially. And he manages to do this through Alex (that is, the emotional part of it). I can’t say that Steve has any real weaknesses, except that he likes to ‘arrange’ the lives of others in some way.

Alex is strong in that she managed to survive her childhood ordeal and carved out a life for herself. But she must still face the ghosts of her past and fear holds her back from many an opportunity for growth. The same thing applies to Matthew, but in a different way; he’s living with the rejection of his parents, his partner’s illness and his fear of what the future will bring. Matthew is not so much strong as he is chivalrous and protective of those he loves.

MA: I suspect you don’t have a traditional antagonist in The Soul Bearers, and that perhaps life itself is the “bad guy.”

SM: There is no bad guy per se, but there are bad people in the past of all three characters. There is Alex’s stepfather, who sexually abused her; her mother, who lived in denial of it; then you have Matthew’s parents and their rejection of the only son they have. So you could say these people are the bad guys.

MA: What comes after this latest release? Are you working on anything new?

SM: I will turn back to more lighthearted novels; and I plan another ‘chick lit’ story, but this one will probably be a series featuring the same heroine.

MA: I believe you have a book trailer for your newest release. Where can people find it?

SM: For more on The Soul Bearers check out my website and blog (www.sylviamassara.com). There is a video I posted there that tells you a little bit about the story. The book released in September 2010 and is available in ebook format through Amazon and Smashwords, and sometime in the next couple of months it will be made available in paperback. Read More

Posted in Author Blogs, Author Colleagues, Guest Blogging, Interviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
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

Posted in Author Blogs, Author Colleagues, Guest Blogging | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Sep 15

Mary Deal Outlines “Outlining a Story”

Outlining a Story

Writing a novel, even a short story, and keeping details and action in some semblance of order can be a daunting task. A loose outline, even a simple list of occurrences, can be the best aid to keep you writing on track.

I began using a structured outline but have since been able to keep facts in order by making a running list of plot points and anything else I need to remember.

We all remember learning about outlines in school. To me, they were rigid with a lot of requirements and I spent more time trying to remember how to title the information than getting the data on paper.

As a writer, you will have had more experience with keeping an accumulation of facts in your mind as you pound the keys. Or maybe you’ve gotten lost in all the twists and turns of your story. Here’s some easy help. For example, let’s say your story is about a woman searching for her abducted daughter.

Keep in mind that all stories need the following:

Setup (want)
Rising Action
Reversals
Recognition
Climax
Denouement

Here’s a simple outline to keep the plot on track. My notes in parenthesis are for your understanding and need not appear in your outline unless they further help you.

Title at the Top

1-Abi’s daughter was abducted (told in present time, with some back story (SETUP)

2-Abi learns of a young woman her daughter’s age on Death Row (Rising Action)

a-The inmate faces lethal injection for a crime she didn’t commit

3-Twenty-three years have passed but similarities exist between the inmate and Abi’s daughter

a-Abi begins an intense investigation, including DNA, to learn if the inmate is her daughter
b-Abi pays to restore the sight of the only eye witness.

4-While Abi investigates; her home is torched, as is the sole witness’s home (Reversals)

a-With restored sight, the sole witness skips town.
b-Abi discovers an undercurrent, one to get the inmate to pay for crimes of others

5-DNA proves the inmate is Abi’s daughter (Recognition)

a-Abi fights to prove the innocence of the inmate

6-The case goes all the way down to the needle (Climax)

a-The lethal injection chamber

7-How the story ends after all the action plays out; how the characters’ lives are affected by the climax. (Denouement)

For the sake of this newspaper column, everything begins on the left margin. When you make your list, you can indent the a and b lines to set them off to detect them easily.

It’s as simple as that. The Setup should be brief, intense so the reader is drawn into the plot and can’t leave. The bulk of your story will be contained in Rising Action, Reversals and Recognition. The Climax should be unexpected, brief and stunning, or stinging. The Denouement is a wrap up and should never be more than one or two very short chapters. It can also be handled with anything from a few lines to a paragraph or two.

As you work with your outline, you can lengthen any area. I make more notes for the middle portions because that comprises the bulk of the story.

Another form of outlining: Many people prefer to put each new scene on a 3×5 card and write each scene before going on to the next. I prefer to have a running outline which I sometimes print out so I can see the whole story at a glance.

By the way, the story I’ve just outlined is from my latest thriller, “Down to the Needle.” If you read it, you will see most of the book is NOT included in the outline. Outlines are merely the main plot points but can be as detailed or as simple as you can work with. My outline here is simple. The story itself has so many twists and turns that could only happen by not tightly structuring the creativity of my muse. Read More

Posted in Author Blogs, Author Colleagues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Jul 30

Retired DC Detective Turned Author, Joseph B. Haggerty, Arrives on the Scene of the Child Finder Trilogy

With Shame, I wanted to tell the whole story. I wanted to show his life from the beginning. His mother was a prostitute. As for his father, he really didn’t know. His mother would always say it was her pimp, but she couldn’t say for sure. As I say in the book, she would never admit Shame was a trick’s baby. I wanted to show how he learned the pimping game and how he developed his distain for society. How he became a pimp and how he learned from other pimps the best practices in maintaining your stable. A story like this cannot be written as a short story. It is far too complex, not just in understanding how a pimp works, but also in understanding how his victims fall under his spell. I also wanted to show the whole street, not just the women involved with Shame, but the other women on the street, where they came from and how they interact in the whole picture of prostitution.

I’ve written several short stories, poems and a novella about victims of prostitution. I’ve also written another novel, Pimpel, which is about two private investigators who specialize in finding runaways. If a sexual predator victimized them, the child’s family was offered an additional service that guaranteed the child would not be bothered by the predator again. Read More

Posted in Author Blogs, Author Colleagues, Guest Blogging, Interviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
May 28

Multi-Faceted, Multi-Published Author, Peggy Bechko, Visits the Child Finder Trilogy

Writing, in any form, is my first love. Unfortunately very few fiction writers can earn a living writing full time; it’s a small percentage who do. Fortunately, there are other ways for writers to fill the gaps. Think of everyday life. What doesn’t include writing? Who writes the newspaper articles serious or fluff? Who writes screen or TV scripts? Who writes magazine articles or the reports or instruction books or catalog copy or sales letters or the web content or the blogs? If everyone suddenly stopped writing for a day what would be the result? So all my writing life I’ve moved through different areas of writing and have loved every minute of it. I recommend other writers who love to write, love to sculpt the sentence and paragraph, do the same. You don’t have to do the shotgun effect, but find several areas of writing you delight in and pursue them. Read More

Posted in Author Blogs, Author Colleagues, Guest Blogging, Interviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
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

Posted in Author Blogs, Author Colleagues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Apr 23

“The Mango Tree Café, Loi Kroh Road” Co-Author Taryn Simpson Guest-Blogs on the Child Finder Trilogy

Imagine owning a restaurant near the jungles of Thailand that sits upon the most legendary mystical road in the world. Legend states that whoever walks upon Loi Kroh Road will be forever changed or shall never be seen or heard from again. In fact, the English translation of “Loi Kroh Road” is “Wash Your Bad Luck Away”. Larry, the main character, is seductively lured to this world-famous street to purchase this business. The restaurant serves as a place where he observes world travelers such as himself as well as locals who discover their fate upon this historic road. He is on a journey to discover his mission in life as he is guided by a ghostly figure that appeared to him as a child. On his adventures, he comes face to face with his greatest fear, his lingering questions of mortality and his soul’s lonely reflection. Read More

Posted in Author Blogs, Author Colleagues, Guest Blogging, Interviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
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

Posted in Author Blogs, Author Colleagues, Guest Blogging | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment