Thursday, February 25, 2010

What About WritingThe Dialog?

I'm supposed to be working on my novel and, well, actually I am as I write this.  I got to thinking about dialog and what it adds to your story and how to use it.   Usually these thoughts and musing come to me when I'm writing something - I think it's a way of procrastinating - but still there's validity to the thought process.

So here are some thoughts from that process. I'm going to presume that at this stage - meaning you're actually writing things, stories, etc., that you have the basics on punctuation so I'm going to skip over that.  If you don't get punctuation then do some research and get that under you belt.  I often recommend the slim little volume by Karen Elizabeth Gordon called The New Well-Tempered Sentence.  And no, I won't make any money off it if you buy it.    You can also probably find it in a library, or one similar.

But, enough of that, on to the creative part.

To make your dialog sound real you have to write like people talk.  As an example, in real life people don't usually say, "I will not..."  Mostly they say, "I won't..."  They aren't usually so formal as to say, "It is not," but are more likely to say, "It isn't."  Maybe even, "It ain't."

Think, too, about how people relate to one another in conversation.  Most of the time it's all we can to do to get a whole sentence out before a friend, relative or total stranger interrupts.  So try to keep dialog short.  If you need to do a longer stretch, a speech so to speak, experiment with breaking it up with action or the character's own inner thoughts, or a sudden change in the weather -- something!

Examine some of the books you read that you enjoy. Focus on the dialog.  Frequently a new writer will make the mistake of frequently embellishing dialog with John murmured, Mary snapped, Sam reiterated, or some other tag.  Many times a simple "he said or she said" is the perfect tag.  Or none at all.  Sometimes the author will emphasize what a character says with some simple action.  For example:  "Are you crazy?"  Nick turned and slammed the door.   From that you know who's speaking and you know he's ticked off. 

Notice, too,  how many books now have dialog exchange between characters with no identifying tags at all.  It works well for the short haul, just don't make it so long your reader can'r remember who started and who's saying what. 

Oh, and don't use dialog just for the heck of it to fill space.  It should perform a function.  Move your story forward, give us some insight into the characters and their lives, perhaps forwarn us about something coming down the road. Dialog isn't just a pulp packer, something to add to the word count.  It's true that in real life we even have conversations that are little more than that, but don't do it in a novel or you'll bore your readers to sleep.

Those are just a few hints.  Think about how you speak.  Think about accents and speech patterns.  Some peole have speech impediments, a stutter, an unusual accent.  Some speak crisply and swift, others mumble.  A drunk may slur speech, a Harvard graduate speak from a very educated place.  A little goes a long way on those counts but some gives color to your writing and your story and can help define characters.

If you want to get more in depth try exercisese to improve your dialog.  A nice, helpful site with some great ideas to help you improve that dialog.   Watch out for those writers' pitfalls an dgo for it. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why Not a Conglomeration of Writers' Resources?

Why not indeed?  In my travels on the web for research for my writing and just for fun, I come across quite a lot of resources writers can use.  Some are fantastic, great, and serious, others are at time humorous, yet helpful as well. 

So I decided this blog should consist of a merry mix of interesting, helpful and sometimes strange resources I've come across that writers can use.

For starters there's  It's a large writing prompts website offering hundreds of writing ideas.  Run your cursor over the  numbers there and see what you get.  It should stir up your muse.

If you're looking for a grant or a residency or a fellowship or the like for your writing, visit Mira's List.  Lots of resources there.  Nice and up to date as well.

Then there is the Awesome Foundation who gives out grants for well, awesomenesss. $1,000.00 in fact.  If you're planning on something Awesome visit this site and see if you can click with one of their monthly awards.  Maybe you can get a grant to help your awesome writing.

If you're interested in where the "Ebook reader" plus computer is heading check out the enTourage.  It ain't cheap, but we can hope it gets more economical.  In the meantime its fun to see what 's coming up. Whether folks like it or not there's going to be a large market for Ebooks when these readers settle in.

This is certainly a random sampling of helpful sites I've discovered on my travels, so let's keep it more random - as in how about a random tile generator?  Can't think of a title for your book or article, try this site: 

Cover art by Linda Hunsaker 

Don't have enough problems of your own for your characters in the book or short story you're writing?  Then visit the Everyday Problem Generator and get creative.  You might visit the main Archetype Writing website where there's in-depth info on psychology for use on your characters and more.

Another helpful site for writers is the Creative Writing Widgets site.  It offers creative writing games and more resources similar to the above.

Here's a great site, Write or Die.   Used to be free, but now is $10.00.  It eggs you on to write, gives you a time limit and has 'consequences' if you fail in you goal.  A fun and strange way to give yourself a kick in the pants and ge moving writing. If you have an extra $10.00 it can be fun.

Here's a free open source desktop publishing resource by Scribus.


Need some calendar pages - need them to be the way you want, and blank so you can do all the filling in?  Try Printable Calendars - they're free.

And here's a large site that provides 50 Free Resources to Improve Your Writing Skills.

Now, if all t his doesn't keep you busy I don't know what will.  But, never fear, down the road I'll do another post with more stuff to help.  Post a comment below and let me know if any of this was of help to you!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Are Writers Morning People or Night Owls?

It's a tough question. Writers I talk to are divided, but lean toward morning. I, myself have always been a morning writer when circumstances have allowed – and have never been a late-night writer. Most really productive writers I've known are morning writers. Notice I said 'most' not 'all'. There are always exceptions.

Why, you may ask, what's wrong with staying up all night, burning the midnight oil, tapping the keys into the wee hours – writing your opus while half asleep and feeling like one of the literary giants who you imagine pounded the typewriter keys through the darkness?

Well, a number of things actually. If we're talking the small hours of the night, you're probably running on caffeine or some other hype-you-up, keep-you-awake substance. Not really a good idea for a clear brain, no matter what you may think.

Also, you've got the trials of the day on your mind. Everything that did go wrong, stuff you hadn't expected, problems have arisen. Complications have ensued as they say. All of this means your mind is rehashing old things instead of focusing on the project at hand.

And, whatever you're using to keep going, you're tired.

So, if you've been the night owl author type you might consider trying out the morning. Instead of staying up all night and being bleary-eyed, try going to bed early – and, radical thought though this is – getting up early. Getting up at 5 AM isn't so very different than going to bed at 5 AM. Except at that point the sun is rising in the sky and you're being regenerated and filled with energy. In the early morning the time is truly yours. Things are quiet and new. It's the time of pause and peace before the day takes whatever nasty turn it may. Because the reality is every day, even good days, are filled with minor and major interruptions, crisis of every description,

Think about restructuring your life, give up some of that late night TV or use a recording device to record it for watching later. Set your alarm for the early hour you are comfortable with arising to write. Perhaps start the process of converting to early morning by increments. Resist the urge to slap the alarm's snooze button. Maybe you're aiming for a 5 AM wake-up. Maybe it will work better for you if you begin with a 6 AM wake up. Do your writing organization, get in some writing, even if only for a very short time. Do it for a few days that way, then push the alarm back a bit more. Break it into bits you can deal with, perhaps a half hour at a time, perhaps 15 minutes. Stay at each level for a few days, then back it up until you reach your target time.

There, you've gotten to your target wake up time. Time to write.

Remember at this point to be good to yourself. You still need that 7 – 8 hours sleep at night if you want to really reap the benefits of this new schedule and be fresh and ready to face that blank screen instead of desperately tired. Do things to quiet yourself before seeking sleep. Perhaps a glass of warm milk. Maybe a bit of light reading. Try not to get into a big fight with your spouse at this time as it will definitely keep you from restful sleep. Get your mind and body used to hitting the hay a bit earlier than you may have done in the past.

Your reward for all this will be a time for writing that is truly yours. Quiet, slow paced and not yet buried by the trials and troubles of the new day. Your writing is important to you. Don't let late night TV, the computer, or other distractions keep you from doing what you set out to do. Write!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Writers' Day Jobs

Many times, dare I say most times, writers don't start out as just writers.  Sometimes writers, even though they know they want to be professional writers, can't quite get enough traction to give up a day job.  Sometimes it for a few years, sometimes its throughout a career. 

Income from writing can be slippery.  Feast or famine.  A nice big paycheck or nothing for months or even a couple of years.  Or a writer can turn out to be Stephen King or Dan Brown or a world famous (within his or her circle) copywriter, or a screenwriter who hits it big/lucky. 

The later is preferable, but statistics lean toward the former so it's best for writers reach for the top - while protecting their backs. 

My mother was very supportive of my writing, but her advice was, have some skill that can carry you through if you need it. I did and I have.  And, even though I've published with Doubleday, Harlequin, Pinnacle and others in addition to international reprints and optioning of several screenplays, there still appear those appalling gaps in income that must be covered. 

It's a sad reality that most writers cannot make all their income from writing alone.  Only a very small percentage at the top do that, and some do it spectacularly.  But this is not about them.

Some writers have been known to get a loan from family or very good friends when an advance is in sight, but not yet in hand.  This is a tactic to be used only as a very last resort.  If the writer does this, then, in effect, a good portion of that approaching advance is already gone to pay back that loan, creating a spiral that's hard to get out of.

So, what to do.  Well, I've worked in numerous positions in the workforce along the way.  The best was Assistant Bookstore Manager, where I could be close tp the written word that I love. Generally though, the best advice is to cultivate something you enjoy doing, something that can be done part-time or as a temp, fill-in kind of thing.  Try to think in terms of low stress, decent pay.

The other thing writers can do to further their cause is to write in some other area than the one they usually do.  If you're a novelist and publish periodically, but those advances and royalties don't stretch quite far enough, think about some commercial writing to fill in the gaps.  Could you learn the latest approach to resumes and hire yourself out as professional resume writer?  How about writing blogs for someone else as a ghost?  Or maybe just ghostwriting in general.  I've ghosted several good projects that brought in good paychecks though my name will never be associated with them.  Perhaps articles for magazines.  Maybe locally you can discover folks who need writers to create reports or white papers or write some simple ad copy or an Ebook project they'd like to distribute free to get publicity.  Think creatively,there are other venues.

If you can write you can write.  You do need to learn  about each area you might want to undertake, so don't go shotgun and try to do them all.  Focus in on a couple that interest you, learn what is required and remember, you're doing this for pay, not for free.  Remember too that everything you write improves your writing abilities in different ways.

So write what you love, but don't be too hasty to give up that 'day job'.      

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Writers' Query Letter Thoughts

I'm just about ready to jump back into a novel I've started and had to put aside several times.  It's one of my favorite ideas, but things have gotten in way of my completing it even though I'm now about 2/3 of the way through.  As I reread, think about where I intended the story to go and where I could well make changes, my thoughts wandered off a bit to query letters.  What makes a ad query letter is foremost in my mind.  Things to avoid when sending your work out to be considered.

Here are a few I've learned over the years.

First, keep your letter short and tight.  By that I mean not over one page.  Editors and agents are busy people, much like yourself and don't have time to read lengthy queries.  Would you want to read something that went on and on while you have a stack of other things on your desk needing your attention?

Pay attention to your type, the kind it is, the size and the readability.  Don't make it fancy, don't let it be dim or in some strange color and make sure the print is at least 12 point.  If you were an agent or editor would you want to be squinching your eyes all day long trying to make out what someone has sent to you?  Don't make it easy for them to toss your query in the waste basket because it's tough to read.   This applies to a snail mailed query or one sent via Email.  Keep it simple, crisp, and very easily readable.

Another thing wise writers realize early on - don't send out a massive wave of queries that have no personalization to the person you're writing to.  Years ago that might have entailed photocopying a letter with no greeting at the beginning and mass mailing.  These days it can be a mass Email with the only acknowledgment of the recipient being the email address.  No, no, no.  Always research the place you're sending your latest written creation.  Find out to whom you should address it, and address that person in pleasantly formal fashion - using his or her name. It will pay off in the end.

Writers who are smart don't go into long rambling detail about ho hard they've worked on the novel being submitted. No doubt you have.  Wirters, in general, are a  hard working bunch.  But the agent or editor doesn't really care how hard you've worked.  He or she works hard too.  Besides, just working hard doesn't mean what you've written is good.  Sure hope it is since you've reached query point, but it's not guaranteed.

These days you want to give the person you're querrying an idea of who your audience may be, but don't go rambling on about how your novel appeals to "so-in-so" and there are millions of those so your book will sell millions of copies.  That's not going to impress anyone. Or such over-the-top claims may well impress them the WRONG way.

Consider every word you write in your query letter.  Does it move your cause forward?  It is informative and hopefully entertaining enough to grab their attention?  Are you avoiding going over old ground and being redundant?  Are your instructions for contacting you simple and straight-forward?  A physical address, a phone where you can be reached, a dependable Email address?   

Let them know the length of your work. Novel length varies with genre, etc.  Screen scripts should be uner 120 pages in script format.

These general ideas apply to any query - whether you're querrying a novel, a non-fiction work or a movie script. 

Be professional.

Be easy to reach.

Show 'em your stuff in that tightly written single page of your letter.  Remember, you're showing off your writing abilities in that letter just as you are in your work.

One particularly helpful site for writers about to undertake their first query letter is Charlotte Dillon's Resources. 

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