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Posts from the ‘Craft’ Category

Dialogue tips: the fastest way to improve any manuscript

In this 30-minute video below, author Joanna Penn interviews author and writing teacher James Scott Bell about his book on dialogue, “How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript.”

Bell gives some great tips to make your dialogue sing and catch the eye of an agent, publisher and reader:

  1. Characters shouldn’t be feeding each other information they already know. Example: Brother to sister: “Look sis, our mom, Linda who is a school teacher is home.”
  2. Don’t hide exposition or backstory in dialogue. Readers are savvy, will pick up on it, and won’t be happy. Bell says if you must convey the information, try turning the exchange into a confrontation. More information tends to be exchanged when people are confrontational.
  3. How do you differentiate dialogue between characters? Bell suggests keeping a voice journal for each main character. For more on this, see my earlier post, “Use a voice journal to capture your character’s original voice.”
  4. When using an action beat instead of the dialogue tag “she said or he said,” make sure the action is integral to the story — otherwise you’ll wear out the reader over the course of a novel.
  5. Read your dialogue out loud. Make it snappy and vital. Make it sing. Also read dialogue out loud from other novels and screenplays.
  6. Think subtext—what are the characters really saying underneath the words they speak?

For many more great tips on using dialogue to quickly improve your manuscript, watch the video here:

For you Nanowrimo peeps, try this exercise to increase your word count: Dive deep and write some dialogue runs between characters down the page without any tags or actions. Just straight dialogue. See if you can get into a rhythm and keep going. You can clean it up and add actions and attributions later.

Start a project notebook for NaNoWriMo and beyond

Part of my love (vice) of books includes an addiction to notebooks and journals. I imagine it goes along with my deep need to write, which showed itself on the walls of my childhood home. (Sorry mom.)

For each new writing project, I like to select a notebook to track my wild digressions, character ideas, and anything else that could be important for building in themes, plot, or subplots. When I was writing my memoir, I kept a list of research and ideas I wanted to pursue and questions that I needed to answer. I used my project notebook as a place to park them so I could free up my brain for the task at hand.

A NaNoWriMo notebook is especially helpful because in the heat of writing 50,000 words, the ideas will be springing out of your brain and you likely can’t address each one in the month of November. So having a place to track them will free up your brain. And if you freeze up somewhere along the 50,000 mad word dash of NaNoWriMo, you can look in your notebook for a jolt of inspiration.

If you’ve been writing your ideas on scraps of paper, just tape them onto a page of your notebook. Once you finish your draft and are ready to go into revision mode, your notebook entries create a sense of direction. If you come to a place where you aren’t sure what to do next, you may find a clue in your notebook.

I like to pick a notebook that has a distinctive color or style, so I can spot it in the avalanche of paper that can accumulate on my desk. It helps if you can carry the notebook around when you go out, so pick a size that suits you, whether it needs to go in a pocket, purse, or computer bag. Many of my best ideas and insights happen after I’ve stepped away from the keyboard.

Do you have notebook love? What is your current favorite notebook? Describe it in the comments below.

For more NaNoWriMo tips, check out Three posts to keep the words flowing.

Three posts to keep the words flowing

If you’re one of thousands of writers joining in National Novel Writing Month, you’re likely knee-or-neck deep with ideas and currently in that wonderful zone of writing hot. You’re 8,000 or so words into your story and everything’s flowing until…well…until it’s not.

But not to worry. When you reach that point where your brain has turned to mush, when you’re asking yourself what the heck you’ve gotten yourself into and where did your normal, real life go….that’s when it’s time to take a deep breath and read these posts below for inspiration in getting back on track—or on an entirely new track–but hey, words are words, right?

Three posts to help you find your flow:

Four quick tips to increase your NaNoWriMo word count

A little inspiration for NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo or not, boost your word count

Try this mental trick to combat blank page freeze

Fight the blank page!

In previous posts, I’ve suggested ways to pre-plan for National Novel Writing Month, where writers strive to produce a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. While some writers create an outline, nail down character sketches, devise a story question, and outline their novel’s setting, others like to dive in on day 1  and just start typing.

Regardless of where you’re at, the blank page can be a terrible thing.

You may be saying, “How can I not have a blank page? It starts out that way — blank.” True. But just don’t let it stop you.

Don’t let the blank page stay blank for more than a second. Type something. Anything.

  • The date
  • A random sentence
  • A description or a few words of the setting where your novel begins or your first scene takes place.
  • A list of your characters’ names
  • A working title for your novel
  • A logline if you’ve created one.

By the way, this mental trick can be a great way to start any writing project. A letter, an essay, a marketing piece, a work assignment, or a blog post. Write something that you already know will be in the piece, even if it’s just a paragraph or a random idea about the project. If you don’t know the beginning, start in the middle or the end. You’ll come back later and fill in the gaps, because every piece of writing begins as a draft.

Don’t let the blank page deter you from your NaNoWriMo or any other writing goal.

Now type.

Use NaNoWriMo month to hone your character’s deep point of view

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) begins tomorrow, November 1st, and is the perfect opportunity to hone your character’s deep point of view.

What is deep point of view? Author and writing teacher Rhay Christou says, “In deep point of view the character owns the page and the author becomes nonexistent.”

Deep point of view will hook your reader and keep them entranced with your character and story.

Why is NaNoWriMo perfect for diving into deep point of view? Because we’re focused more on word count and less on structure, it’s a great time to just let go and be in the voice of your character. Forget about “he said/she said” or filter words like “she thought/he felt/she saw.”

Get a feel for your characters by asking them questions and getting to know them. For a list of great questions and other tips for diving into deep point of view, read Rhay’s post here. If her ideas resonate with you, or deep point of view is something you want to work on, consider taking Rhay’s online course in November with me.

In my next post, I’ll share more tips for getting to know your characters and diving into deep point of view.

 

Planning for NaNoWriMo: Sketch out your novel’s setting

NaNoWriMo is two days away and counting down. If you’re going to use the month of November to write a draft of a novel, now is a good time to sketch out ideas so you’ll be prepared to dive in when the clock strikes midnight.

In the past, I’ve been tripped up when I started to write because I wasn’t grounded in the key elements of my story. A basic framework will propel you towards your NaNoWriMo goal.

In my last post, I wrote about choosing your novel’s story question. Today, consider how you can sketch out the setting of your story — the environment where your story takes place.

Besides geographic location, setting details include information about the time period your story occurs. What time frame does your story take place in — the present? Future? Past? Some novels take place over years and some the space of several weeks.

In your notes about setting, consider the time of year and the weather. Sometimes these details can drive your story in new directions and create complications that add conflict. The weather can also contribute to the mood and tone of a story. Your setting can even become another character in a story and create momentum that drives the action. Read more

Get ready for NaNoWriMo by choosing your novel’s story question

It’s that time of year when everywhere you look you can find pumpkins and things made with pumpkin. Pumpkins for carving, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pancakes, and pumpkin ice cream. It’s also the time of year when writers everywhere are gearing up for Nanowrimo. That mad rush to write a novel during the month of November.

If you plan to get into the NaNoWrimo groove, you may find that a plan will set you up for success in making your daily word goal.

Some writers have an idea of what they’ll write about when Nov. 1 rolls around. Others dive in and just go for it. Sometimes not knowing where you’re going can make you freeze. While the writing starts Nov. 1, it’s fine to think through your basic plot, subplot, and cast of characters now.

If you’re starting from scratch and feeling stuck, begin with this step: Figure out your novel’s story question.

In his eight basics of creative writing, Kurt Vonnegut said that, “every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

A satisfying and successful story has at its core a question that must be answered by the end of the book. In its most simple terms, it could be a question such as, will Rose find her true love? Will Conrad the detective capture the scurrilous killer lurking in his town? Will Jamie find her birth mother, and will she find peace?

Your character was living life until something happened that changed everything. A state of equilibrium was disrupted. What will happen next?

Start with your protagonist and decide what he or she wants. Then inject conflict by making it very hard for that character to get it. Other characters will join your novel to help or hurt your character’s chances of getting what he or she wants. At the end, your characters will have changed and you will have created that change with all your many NaNoWriMo words.

Grab a pumpkin spice latte and stay tuned for more NaNoWriMo tips in future blog posts.

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