Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thursday's Children - Ikebana

Thursday's Children - Ikebana 

Or: Things Left Unsaid

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Much of the beauty of an Ikebana arrangement comes from the space between the branches.  

The space in between feels like silence. 
When writing dialogue, it's such a temptation to fill moments with words, to let the characters explain everything, reveal their motives. It would be so easy for MC to profess "eternal love" to Love Interest. Or for Parent to reveal Big Secret to Child.

But real life doesn't work that way. Unless we're with someone 24/7 from the moment of their birth, we can never fully know everything that happened to them, nor everything they think or feel.

It's the same thing with finding a branch or twig or particular flower. We can infer what happened to it by how the branch bends, how a twig curls, the scars or perfection of a bloom. 

Stuff a bunch of them into a vase and you can get a decent bouquet.

Displayed in an Ikebana arrangement, though, individual components blend into a story. 

Stems, branches, flowers. 

But the spaces in between, the silence, holds the things that can't be said or emotions that defy words. 

And the things we can't or don't say can define us as much as the things we choose to talk about. 

Silence is a form of dialogue.

What are topics that are taboo for you? What are topics your characters can't or won't talk about? Do your characters have words they would never use like Faith, Son, God, Penis, Dong, Caulk, Love?

(I had some Ikebana photos but couldn't find them on my PC. I'll take some new ones. In the meantime, please enjoy this photo of a puppy.)

Here are some links to some of my favorite Ikebana photos on the interwebz:
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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dialogue Part 5


Or:  Some Moron More on Dialogue

Guest Post on Dialects in Dialogue 
by Indie Author, Robert Bevan

Why, yoo gitton outtahere, yung feller. Goon, now! Yir no better then a five-legged horny toad inna butt-lickin contest!

Whats wrong with the quote above? If you said its insanely stupid, congratulations! Youre right!

Also, its a good example of some really bad dialogue.

If you were the sort of person who might be inclined to write something like that, you might have been thinking something along the lines of Im being true to this characters voice. Thats how hed talk.

But a person reading that would probably think something more along the lines of What the fuck?

Here are some things to consider when writing dialects:

1. Consider not doing it. Is it really necessary? Will it add what you want it to add to your story? Can you maybe add that element some other way? Perhaps with word choice?

The problem is that your job as a writer is to make the reader forget that theyre at home on the sofa, or in the dentists waiting room, or are still on their first year of a life sentence for first degree murder or whatever. They are supposed to be in the world of your story, right there beside your protagonist, caught up in whatever danger or struggles he or she is going through.

Guess what happens when the reader has to stop and try to figure out what that jumbled mess of misspelled words and haphazardly placed apostrophes is supposed to be saying. Snap! Damn. Im back in my cell. I really hope Ice Pick will take the night off from raping me. My butt hurts. Youve failed.

2. Okay, fine. Youre convinced that one of your characters absolutely needs to speak with a different dialect. Consider a sprinkle rather than a dump. Its like applying a touch of cologne, rather than smashing the bottle over your head and rubbing yourself down with the shit.

Why, you get on outta here, young feller. Go on, now! Youre no better than a five-legged horny toad in a butt-lickin contest!

Yeah, its still stupid, but at least its comprehensible, and the voice still comes through loud and clear.

Its hard to write a heavy dialect well while keeping the reader from having to stop and figure it out. One author Ive read who manages to make it work is Christopher Brookmyre, in his novel A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil. All the characters are Scots. And just like real Scots, you have no idea what theyre on about until you take a little time to sort it out in your head. But once it clicks, it becomes smooth sailing. So yeah, thats a book Id recommend for anyone who wants to take a close look at dialects written well, or for anyone who just wants to read a well-told story. I really enjoyed it.

3. Whatever you do, be consistent. If youre going to have a character say yer at one point, make sure he doesnt say your at any other point. If he drops the g when hes talkin, make sure he also drops it when hes walkin.

4. One exception to the above suggestions is if you want your main character to also not understand what the dialect character is saying. Hell, if its meant to be misunderstood, lay it on thick. Does that work? Lets see

Why, yoo gitton outtahere, yung feller. Goon, now! Yer no better then a five-legged horny toad inna butt-lickin contest!

Im sorry. Could you please take the cock out of your mouth and say that again?

5. Word choice. Different sorts of people will use different words to describe the same thing. A carbonated beverage, for instance, might be called pop in the northern United States. A person from the southwest would say soda. If they just call it a Coke," the odds are good that the speaker is from the deep south. If the person speaking fondly remembers the Coolidge administration, they might even call it a tonic.

But its not just regional. Word choice can also tell you something about what kind of person a character is, no matter where they are from. If a character refers to a child as a pupil," you can bet that person is a teacher with a yardstick shoved up his or her ass. A cartoonishly generic old person might call the kid a whipper-snapper (probably best not to use whipper-snapper). If the character refers to the child as a precious angel or spoiled little shit," the speaker is probably one of the kids parents. The word minor would most likely be spoken by a police detective or a pedophile.

If your choice of words can show me the difference between a burnt-out cop in Chicago still five long years away from retirement and a southern housewife who is desperately refusing to believe that her best years havent yet passed her by, then youre doing your job as a writer.

Robert Bevan is an American author and university English teacher living in South Korea. He is a husband and father of two. When he isn't busy writing, teaching, fathering, or husbanding (a small window of time on Friday nights), he still plays third edition Dungeons and Dragons.

His newest release is "Shipfaced," a short story available on Amazon. An attempt at an honest day's work turns into a disaster, as Tim, Dave, Julian, and Cooper try to avoid getting raped by pirates and spending the rest of their lives staring at each other's dongs.  


His debut novel, "Critical Failures", attempts to bring a little something different to the comic fantasy genre. It is available on all e-book platforms, as is his growing list of short stories.

This wraps up our Dialogue Module. I'll be on WIPBlog vacation for the next three weeks!
Happy Writing and Revising,
J (Twitter: @JoanWIP)

Coming up,
Nat Russo
If you'd like my take on a writerly subject, tweet me! 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dialogue Part 4


Or: Answering Without Answering

The comments: "Dialogue bits were eye-gougingly boring." Or "TMI, dude. TMI." Or "I couldn't put my finger on why the story felt too formal."

What they might mean: You could prune and amend your dialogue scenes more. 

This week, we're going to apply everything in the dialogue module to a sample to see how the components work together.

Here's a refresher of the past three weeks:

Also, a refresher of what a Character 5x5 is and how to use it might be handy.

Let's put on our serious pants and deconstruct a horribly generic sample:

While I put1 the rest of my clothes into the bag2, my dad appeared at my bedroom door.

"I was going to take your car to get detailed, Bernie3," he said ominously4, "when I noticed you didn't have your proof of insurance in the secret flap over the windshield."

"Oh that can't be right, Dad,5" I said. "You gave it to me a month ago and I put it in there."

"Well, Bernie6, it wasn't there," he answered7. "You and I both know8 that document protects you monetarily in case you get into an accident."

"Ok, Dad, I might have forgotten where exactly I put in inside the car," I admitted9.

"Your Uncle Marty forgot his proof of insurance during his family vacation last December, Bernie," dad replied10. "He got pulled over and the cop said he had to return to Nevada within 24 hours to show proof of insurance or he'd get a fine, Bernie."

"Oh yes, Dad, I remember that story,11" I said.

"And as you know12, Bernie, your mom got pulled over on Latham and the cop asked for her proof of insurance and she couldn't remember where it was either. I had to stand in line for over an hour at the DMV."

"That must have been incredibly irritating, Dad," I said sarcastically13.

"And if you're ever in an accident and the cops come, Bernie, the person without proof of insurance is automatically at fault," my dad said peevishly. "So having it in the car is important at all times14, Bernie."

"I agree,15" I agreed.

1.    We can do better than this weak verb.
3.    Using a character's name in dialogue. This one's iffy. If it's the first time we get the POV character's name, I'd actually keep to dribble in the information.
4.    I'd cut this "ominously" unless I've already established that any time the protag's dad interferes with the car, something bad happens.
5.    The audience can infer that the POV character, Bernie, is talking to his dad. Also, who the fuck talks like this?
6.    Ok, now the names in dialogue are just going to be annoying. Start culling.
7.    What the dad says is already an answer. No need to be redundant and actually say in narrative that he "answered."
8.    Classic indication that an infodump is about to happen. If all the characters speaking already know what's about to be said, no need to bludgeon the reader over the head with it.
9.    What Bernie says is already admitting something, thus "admitted" is redundant. Also, he should stop saying "Dad" because it's obvious who he's talking to.
10. The dad saying something back is already a reply. "replied" is redundant.
11. Lordy, just shoot me now. This POV character sounds like a puppet saying whatever needs to be said to get the dialogue moving towards the point.
12. Another classic phrase indicating an impending infodump.
13. Ok, I could make a case for keeping "sarcastically" to show that the character means more than what he's saying. But, I could instead tweak what he says so it sounds more true to life without having to filterwhat he says with the word "sarcastically."
14. The whole scene basically says this. Why spell it out?
15. Three things wrong with this last line: A. who says "I agree?" this easily, especially to parents? B. POV character says something agreeable, which means "I agreed" is completely redundant. C. Any tension in that scene just escaped through these words.

Let's tweak the scene to make it palatable. This time, let's try to answer without explicitly answering by staying true to what the characters would say, how they would say it, what they would talk about, and just as importantly, what they can't personally talk about.

We'll also cull the infodumps, repetitive adverbs, and names which are taking up precious story real estate and bring in some lines more worthy of word count.

I was shoving my favorite jeans into the trash bag I was using as a suitcase when my dad knocked on the doorframe.

"Bernie," he said. "I wanted to get your car detailed but I couldn't find your proof of insurance. I thought I told you to always keep it in that flap over the windshield."

"It's there," I said.

"No it's not," he said.

"It's in there somewhere."

"Your Uncle Marty forgot his proof of insurance last December. He got pulled over and the cop said he had to return to Nevada within 24 hours to show proof of insurance or he'd get a fine."

"And he had to drive five hundred miles in the snow, overnight," I said. "Uphill both ways."

"Your mom got pulled over on Latham and the cop asked for her proof of insurance and she couldn't remember where it was. I had to stand in line for over an hour at the DMV to show them the form."

"And the Bruins lost that afternoon because you weren't yelling at the TV to make sure they ran in the right direction," I said.

"Listen to me!" he said. "If, God forbid, you're ever in an accident, you'll need to show proof of insurance or you'll have to pay no matter who hit who. Last I checked, you had five dollars in your account. Who do you think gets to pay for it, on top of paying for your tuition at that goddamn hippie college?"

I clenched my jaw, shamed into silence.

Dad cleared his throat. "Anyway, I'll call Renato and have him fax over another copy. Make sure you put it in, okay? I'm going to take your car to get a tune-up and check the tires. After that I'll get'er detailed. So if you need to go out for any last minute things, take your mom's car."

He looked at me like he was waiting for me to thank him or something, then got all red-faced and left.

"Love you too, Dad," I muttered.

That "shamed into silence" part might be overkill for some readers. I'd let a few betas look at it and see what they say.

Hopefully the tweaked version gives a better idea of the internal conflicts motivating the dad to talk about proof of insurance in this particular scene, and how the POV character takes what's being said versus how a reader might see the interactions between them as a whole.

Next week, we'll wrap up the Dialogue Module with a guest post by Indie Author, Robert Bevan. 

Happy Writing and Revising!
J (follow me on twitter! @joanwip
Coming Up:
More Dialogue
Robert Bevan 
Nat Russo
If you'd like my take on a writerly subject, tweet me!