Writing Good Dialogue Part 2

Writing good dialogue is more than getting the mechanics right. It is one of the most important parts of characterization. Here’s some things to remember when writing good dialogue.

Character:Your characters will determine how you write dialogue. Every person’s speech pattern is different and dialogue should reflect that. If your dialogue shows enough characterization, readers will often recognize the person speaking without the tags and identifiers. Here’s a few things to ask yourself when determining a speech pattern for a character.

Is it a male or female? Women tend to use more words and to talk emotionally where men are concise and logical.

What area of the country is your character from? If your character is from Ohio, he’ll call a soda drink pop. If he’s from Tennessee, he’ll call it coke.

Is the character educated? College graduates usually don’t say ain’t, but illiterate people or those who live in the country do. Also someone who has dropped out of school and joined a gang at age 15, probably wouldn’t know what some 3 syllable words mean no matter how smart he is.

What is your character’s background? Someone living in New York City probably wouldn’t use colorful country phrases unless he originally came from Alabama. Background makes a difference.

What is your character’s personality? Some people are shy and backward. They would use fewer words than somebody who is a vivacious leader. The leader is more likely to take charge of a situation and bark orders.

Dialect: A character’s background and education is likely to affect his dialect. It’s important to show that through dialogue. However one thing you want to avoid is to phonetically spell dialect. Hint at a person’s dialect, and the reader will automatically sound out the phonetic spelling. But if you spell the words phonetically, you’ll draw the reader away from the story and slow down his reading.

Speech Patterns: Use natural sounding speech patterns in your dialogue. Use contractions unless the characters are formal, educated, and historical. Everybody in today’s world speaks in contractions. Most of the time, you’ll want to use words like yeah and nope depending on the character. If your character is a dear old aunt who would say “oh, my” after hitting her thumb with a hammer, by all means, use it. If your character is a grizzly Vietnam Vet, you may not want him saying “oh my”. Use speech patterns that fit your characters.

No Info Dumps: Don’t use dialogue to give info dumps in the story. Here’s an example of a dialogue info dump.

“As you know,” Tom said “your father left you mother when you were only two years old.”

As you know is a dead giveaway. Why would Tom tell somebody about her father leaving her mother. She would know that better than Tom. Another example of this is if one police officer tells another police officer the procedure they follow when they’ve both been on the force for twenty years, or in a historical novel, one person tells another a fact that is common knowledge for that time period to inform the reader of the historical knowledge. This should always be avoided. Find another way to relay information.

Mimicking Speech: Even though you want dialogue to sound natural, you don’t want it to sound exactly the way people talk. If you did, you would add a lot of ahs, and you knows. Dialogue should sound good when read out loud. It should make the character articulate about what she wants to say in a way people rarely are.

Important to the Story: Everything we write should be important to the story and carry it along. That is true especially true of dialogue. Don’t have a conversation between your characters on what’s for dinner unless it’s important to the story.

Good dialogue is intentional like every other part of fiction writing.

Writing Good Dialogue Part 1

Writing good dialogue is one of the most important techniques of fiction writing. But often, many writers consider it one of the hardest things to do. Hopefully these pointers will help.

Grammar and punctuation: When writing dialogue, place the spoken part in quotation marks. Start a new paragraph every time somebody else speaks.

Example:

“Jill,” Tom said, “you’re driving me crazy. I can’t deal with your lies anymore.”

“I’m not lying,” Jill said.

When a character is interrupted, use a dash at the end of the sentence. When a character’s speech trails off so he doesn’t finish, use eclipses or ….

Resist the Urge to Explain (RUE): One mistake common in dialogue is to explain what the person is saying and how he says it. Don’t do this. It insults the reader and weakens the dialogue. If the dialogue is not strong enough to stand on it’s own, consider rewriting. I’ll give a bad example to show how you can explain too much.

Example:

“Jill,” Tom said exasperated, “you’re driving me crazy. I can’t deal with your lies anymore.” He was angry.

“I’m not lying,” Jill said as she tried to defend herself.

Tags: Tags are sometimes needed to show who is talking. Sometimes writers try to get creative with their tags and use as many synonyms for said as they can. This is a mistake. When you need a tag, use said unless there’s a good reason not to. Readers tend to skim over the word said, but other tags bring notice to the word choice instead of the dialogue and story. Many times these other tags violate the RUE guideline. Here’s an example of the wrong way to do it.

Example:

“Jill,” Tom replied, “you’re driving me crazy. I can’t deal with your lies anymore.”

“I’m not lying,” Jill explained.

“I hired a private investigator,” Tom exhorted. “He told we where you were all day.”

“No,” Jill shouted. “How could you do that to me? You don’t trust me.”

“I want the truth,” Tom demanded.

It can get worse if you use tags that don’t make sense.

Another Example:

“Jill,” Tom frowned, “you’re driving me crazy. I can’t deal with your lies anymore.” (Most people don’t frown their words.)

“I’m not lying,” Jill sighed. (It’s hard to talk when you’re sighing.)

“I hired a private investigator,” Tom grimaced. “He told we where you were all day.” (Ever try to speak through a grimace?)

“No,” Jill cried. “How could you do that to me? You don’t trust me.” (Most people say their words, they don’t cry them.)

Other examples of this are smiled, chuckled, and laughed. Always have your characters speak their words. The easiest way to do this is he or she said.

Said is the best tag to use, but only use it when needed. If there are only two people in a room talking to each other, you won’t have to identify who is talking by Jill said/Tom said as often as when there’s a roomful of people.

Names: Sometimes writers try to avoid using said by having the characters call each other by name. The problem with this technique is it sounds contrived. People don’t constantly call each other by name.

Bad Example:

“Jill,” Tom said, “you’re driving me crazy. I can’t deal with your lies anymore.”

“I’m not lying, Tom.”

“I hired a private investigator, Jill. He told we where you were all day.”

“No, Tom How could you do that to me? You don’t trust me.”

“I want the truth, Jill.”

Beats: Beats are actions the characters do while their talking. They can be used effectively.

Example:

“Jill,” Tom said, “you’re driving me crazy. I can’t deal with your lies anymore.”

“I’m not lying.” Jill’s chest tightened.

“I hired a private investigator.” Tom’s hands balled into fists and dangled at his side. “He told we where you were all day.”

“No.” Jill backed up to the counter where she’d stashed the gun. “How could you do that to me? You don’t trust me.”

“I want the truth.” Tom raised his fist and strode toward her.

You can see from this example that the story evolves when using beats. But use beats cautiously. They can be overused when used as only as a tool only to get rid of said. The beats need to be an important part of the story.

Next Monday, Writing Good Dialogue Part 2 will be about dialect and natural sounding speech patterns.

Naming Characters

Shakespeare said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” That may be true. But it wouldn’t bring up the same image if it was called a skunk.

When you write your novel, the names you call your characters are important to the overall story and should be considered carefully. Here are a few things you should think about when naming characters.

What image does the name bring to mind? Think about the name Gus, or Ralph, or Fred. Conjure an image in your mind. I’ll bet you didn’t come up with a college graduate with an expensive wardrobe. That’s because these names are associated with a certain type of person. Now think about a man named Perceval. Would you imagine him to be a rough cowboy on the range in the Wild West? Whatever name you decide upon, make sure that name fits the image of your character – unless there’s a reason you want a cowboy named Perceval or a socialite named Gertrude.

Consider Historical Reference. This is important if your story takes place in the past, but even contemporary stories should consider this. For instance, think about women you know named Tammy or Debby. Chances are they’re around fifty years old. That’s because a very popular movie called Tammy and The Bachelor starring Debbie Reynolds came out in 1957. Between 1958 and 1963, these were the most popular girls’ names. In the early 1980’s, most children were named Jonathan and Jennifer because Hart to Hart, a popular TV show of the time, named their main characters, Jonathan and Jennifer Hart. Think about names for your characters would have been used in the time period they were born. If you’re writing about the eighteenth century, here’s a link with a list of common names for that period. If you’re story takes place anytime after 1800, this is a link to the US Census Bureau. It tells what names were popular each year.

Use Ethnic Names. If you have ethnic characters or characters from different nationalities, choose names that go with those nationalities. Make sure the names are easy to pronounce even if they are uncommon to our culture, or your readers will trip over them. Here’s a link to a site ethnic names for different cultures and nationalities.

Choose names with meaning. The meaning of names is important. In the Bible, when someone changed, God would give him a new name. Saul (Jewish name) became Paul (Gentile name). Jacob (trickster) became Israel (prince of God). To give your characters more depth, try finding a name whose meaning goes with their character development. Here’s a link to a site that gives names’ meanings.

Names give identity to people. If you choose carefully, the right names will also give identity to your characters.

10 Ways To Find More Time To Write

Writers have a difficult time finding time to write sometimes. With the burdens of family obligations, daytime jobs, marriage, and church or other activities, it sometimes seems impossible. Here’s a few tips to help you find time to write.

1. Get up an hour early. When you get up early, nobody is awake. This is prime writing time.

2. Stay up an hour late. This is the same principle. After everyone else has gone to bed, you’ll have the time you need. But be careful. Don’t get so lost in the story that you stay up all night. Set a timer if you have to.

3. Spend your lunch hour writing. If your work won’t let you use their computers for personal use, bring a small laptop or word processor to work and write while you’re eating.

4. Assign a certain time every day that you write. Let your family know that this is your “Do Not Disturb” time.

5. Get a maid. No, I’m not kidding. Don’t feel like you have to do it all. Hire a maid or someone to do your laundry. This will give you added time to write. Isn’t it worth the money?

6. Hire a babysitter. You could hire someone to take the kids to the park or to McDonalds Playland a couple of times a week. The kids will love it, and you’ll enjoy the writing time.

7. Stop time wasters. Organize your schedule and see where you are wasting time you could be writing.

8. Turn off the TV. Enough said.

9. Buy a small laptop or word processor to take with you when you go to doctor’s appointments or kids’ soccer practices. You can write during waiting time.

10. Quit playing Facebook Games. Facebook and Twitter are great tools for writers, but don’t let them monopolize your time.

So quit putting it off. Find the time you need to write, and get busy.

10 Tips to Editing Your Own Novel

Tip #1: You’ve finished the first draft of your novel. Congratulations. Take some time off and celebrate. No, really, I mean it. Set your novel in a drawer for at least six weeks. Do something else in the meantime. If you want, start another novel, go on vacation, read a book, visit friends, or spring clean the house. But resist the temptation to pick up that draft. This is the first and most important step to self-editing. You need to look at your work with a fresh eye.

The six weeks are over. It’s time to pull out that manuscript and get busy. Now what? Here’s some things that will help.

Tip #2: Read or review a self-editing book to remind yourself what problems you are looking for. My favorite is “Self-Editing For Fiction Writers” by Browne and King. Even if you’ve read this book before, you’ll need the reminders fresh in your mind.

Tip #3: Use find and replace to search out ly words and other problem words, and replace them when you can. See this link  for the problem words and this link  for how to get rid of ly words.

Tip #4: Print out a hard copy of your manuscript. Read it over using a red ink pen to make notes in the margins. It’s amazing what you’ll find when you read a hard copy.

Tip #5: After reading the hard copy, go back and make your changes.

Tip #6: Print the manuscript out again, find the red ink pen. This time, read your manuscript out loud using your red ink pen to mark changes that need to be made.

Tip #7: Now go back and make the changes again.

Tip #8: You guessed it. Print the manuscript out a third time. No, I’m not trying to kill trees. This is a very important part of the process. You need that hard copy in front of you when you’re editing.

Tip #9: Make the changes, and read through it two more times. You don’t have to print it out this time. But you might want to try reading it backwards so you can find common grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes.

Tip #10: Have a small group of people to read over your finished product. You will need at least one grammar expert in this group. The other members can be a couple of people who love to read and a writer or two who will give you a hard critique. See this link for how to have a critique help your writing. Make any needed changes you agree with.

Now you’re done. Give yourself a pat on the back. Then get busy and write a query and proposal, and research those literary agents and publishers.

A writer’s work is never done.

Episodic Writing

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Many times, new writers fall into the trap of episodic writing. Episodic writing is when you write a number of scenes loosely tied together that don’t lead from one scene to the other. There’s no growth in the characters and no scenes building on each other leading the characters to the final conclusion.

Episodic writing is like episodes of a television show. They all involve the same characters and theme, but one episode doesn’t lead to another. Each show stands on its own.

Here are some ways to fix episodic writing:

Give your main character a goal. Your character should be working toward achieving a goal by the end of the novel.

Give your character obstacles. Obstacles should keep the main character from his goal.

Give your character weaknesses to overcome. Each character should have weaknesses that also cause obstacles.

At each obstacle, the character has to decide what to do to get rid of the obstacle. These decisions will be influenced by the character’s strengths and weaknesses. Each decision will lead to a result which will lead to another obstacle.

The action should determine the next step. Every victory should propel the character toward his goal and determine the next step. Every defeat should lead to another plan of attack.

Each scene should lead to the next scene. Delete any scene that doesn’t logically flow to the next one.

The character should go through a change throughout the story.

Microsoft One Note

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Microsoft One Note is a wonderful program for writers that comes free with MS Office 2007. Basically it’s a file folder for all your notes, outlines, research, character sketches, and submissions. There are many ways you can use this program. I’m going to show you how I use it.

For each project (novel, short story, article, etc.), I open a tab. I also have a tab for personal information, blogs, and general research.

Here’s how I set it up for a novel.

Notebook – Novel’s name

Section – Summaries and Outlines

          One Sentence Summary

          One Paragraph Summary

          One Page Synopsis

          Four Page Synopsis

Outline (I don’t use an outline, but if you do, you might place it here make another section depending on how extensive it is.

Section – Misc. (This is for any notes that don’t fit elsewhere)

          Section – Submissions

          Query

                    Synopsis

                    Marketing Plan

                    Biography

                    Proposal

Tracking Submissions (On this page I use an Excel Chart, but you don’t have to. Whatever method works for you.’

Section – Research (I keep all my research notes here. When you research on the internet, you can print any internet pages directly to One Note

Section – Characters (I use a multi-section here and have a subsection for each one.

Basic Info

                   Character Synopsis

                   Character Chart

MS One Note can also be used for ideas and future projects. Just open up an ideas notebook. There are countless ways a writer can use MS One Note. Experiment with it and set it up to meet your needs.

Organizing For Writers: Resources Needed

One key to organization is having the right resources. Here’s some I think are essential to a writer.

Laptop computer: If you have a laptop, you can take it wherever you go. You don’t have to worry about if a computer will be available or about transferring files. It’s all right there.

Microsoft Word: Microsoft Word is the standard word processing program for professionals. When you send e-files to publishers and agents, they will most likely want you to send those files in Microsoft Word. This link  and this link  give some hints on how writers can use MS Word.

Notebook: You need a notebook and a pen that you can take everywhere with you. You never know when inspiration will strike.

Printer: A good laser printer is worth it’s weight in gold.

Three Ring Binder: After finishing your novel, print it out to edit it and place it in a 3 ring binder. You’ll also need a hole punch for this.

Red Pen: Essential tool for editing.

Good Chair: If your backside or back is hurting, it will be difficult to get your daily word count done.

Computer Desk: If you have a laptop, get a portable laptop desk.

These items, while not essential, are great to have.

Writing Software: There’s some great writing software out there that is absolutely free. If you’re an outliner, I recommend Y-Writer. If you don’t outline, you’ll still need a program to keep track of your notes, characters, and research. I recommend MS One Note. If you have MS Office, you probably already have One Note on your computer. I also recommend Writer Tools. This is an add-on feature for MS Word and has lots of nifty tools such as a search for clichés and an ly finder.

Writing Books: There are some great books on the craft of writing out there. Here and here are a few of my favorites.

Internet: The Internet is a great tool for research and marketing. It also has many blogs like this one that will teach you the craft of writing. When you’re ready to get published, the Internet will help you research publishers and agents.

Planning Board: This is basically a bulletin board where you can tack maps, story boards, and anything else you might need at your fingertips.

Related Posts:

Computer Tips For Organizing Your Writing

10 Things Needed To Set Up A Writing Area

Organizing For Writers: Writing Schedule

Some writers balk at writing schedules. They believe since writing is a creative activity, they should write when the muse strikes them. If writing is a hobby and nothing more, this half-hazard way of approaching is fine. But if you have plans do be a professional writer than you should do what professionals have done to succeed. Most professional writers schedule their writing time. Peter DeVries once said, “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” Stephen King writes every day until he’s achieved a certain word count. Dean Koontz has a regular time where he goes into his office to write.

There are many ways to plan and organize your writing schedule to be more effective. Here’s some ideas to help you.

Set a Writing Time: It’s easier to be productive when you set the same time to write every day. Make sure the time you set is a time when you are fresh and ready to work. For some, that means getting up early. Others will want to stay up late. Do what works for you.

Set Writing Goals: Some writers set a daily word count. They will not stop writing until that word count is accomplished. Other writers do better when they decide how much time they’re going to write. They might write longer, but they’ll at least write that certain amount of time.

Compartmentalize Your Writing: If you’re writing on more than one project, decide what time you’ll devote to each project. For instance, you might want to write all of your blog posts for the week and journal on Mondays. Tuesdays and Wednesdays you could devote to your novel. Thursdays would be short stories and magazine articles. Fridays you could devote to editing or outlining and researching your next novel. Or you might be the type of person who writes every day on one project until it’s finished. Then you’ll start the next project. Again do what works best for you.

Editing: Decide how you’re going to edit. Some writers edit while they are writing. Others wait until the first draft is finished to do all of their editing. There’s no right or wrong way, but decide which works best for you and stick to it. 

Every worth while thing in life takes persistance and discipline. This is true with the discipline of writing as well.

The Basics Of Point Of View

You can’t write for very long without coming across this phrase. Point of view or POV is an important tool in every writer’s toolbox but can easily be misunderstood by beginning writers. This post will help the novice sort it out. First let’s look at the different types of point of view.

Omniscient Point of View: Basically this is a story told by the point of view of the writer. The story will tell what each character is thinking feeling and doing. It’s not a good idea to use omniscient POV. The reader will never get to the place where he or she latches on to a character emotionally. Using this POV is a mistake many novices make.

Narrative Point of View: This POV is useful in limited doses. It is the writer telling the reader what happened. It is tell, don’t show. There are a few times in the story where narrative POV is needed. For instance, several years pass with nothing happening. If you show the passage of time, the story will bog down to a halt. It’s easier at this point to use narrative. For instance, if you wrote “Five Years Later”, that would be narrative POV. Then you could continue with the story. That’s a small example of narrative POV, but there are times when it is the best tool in your POV box.

Limited Point of View: Limited POV limits itself to one character’s point of view. It only shows what the character sees, feels, hears, sense, and does. It can be written in first or third person, but either way, it limits itself to one character per scene. You can decide to use a number of characters limited POV or only one throughout the novel as long as you limit it to one character per scene.

Here’s some things to consider when using limited POV.

Head hopping: Head hopping happens when you’re in the limited POV of one character and show something the other character sees or feels. Avoid switching characters midstream. Stay focused on one character per scene.

Combining Characters: Some novice writers with more than one main character may be tempted to combine their characters’ POVs. This also needs to be avoided. Choose one character, and keep the scene focused only on that character’s POV. If you have lines like “they saw” or “they shivered with fear”, you’re falling into this trap.

Too Many POVs: Try to limit the story to no more than five POVs per novel. Sometimes you’ll decide to limit your story to one or two POVs, sometimes more are needed. But if every minor character who walks on the stage of your novel has a scene with his own POV, it will get cumbersome. Occasionally you’ll need more than five POVs, but consider carefully who needs to be a POV and who doesn’t.

One POV per scene: Don’t ever change POVs mid-scene unless you make it clear you’re doing so. By clear, I mean use the ### symbol between lines or skip a line as if you’re changing scenes. I can’t emphasis this enough. If you skip POVs mid-scene without doing this, you will look like a novice writer.

Deciding POV: You’ve decided which characters you’re going to use for limited POV. Now you need to decide who will be the POV character for each scene. One consideration is who has the most to gain or lose, but that’s not always the best decision. Sometimes somebody outside the main story is a better choice. An example of this is To Kill A Mockingbird. If you have trouble deciding whose POV to use, try the scene in different POVs. One will jump out at you.

Deep Point of View: Deep POV is a technique used by most writers. It’s the tactic of telling the story so completely in one person’s POV that you no longer need filters such as he saw or she knew because it is so obvious whose POV we’re in.