March 15, 2013 by Lillie
One of the hardest obstacles a writer comes up against is dialogue writing. Like animators trying to imitate human movement, getting the intonation and words exactly right is hard. We are so familiar with speech that any mistake can be jarring and take a reader right out of the story.
Here are five ways that you can improve your dialogue writing:
- Listen – The first step to realistic dialogue is listening to real people speak. You may not have noticed exactly how you and your friends talk, but by listening in at the supermarket, on the bus, or in the office you can pick up some common threads. Using your listening skills to pay attention to how real people speak will make your dialogue that much better. Just eliminate the ah’s, uh’s, you know’s and other filler words that are realistic but unnecessary and annoying in dialogue.
- Use slang and contractions – Many times a character’s language sounds stilted or fake due to a lack of slang. We use slang all the time. Idioms like an axe to grind, words like cool or neat or on the rocks, and even simple phrases like sure or okay are considered slang but are common in conversation, as are contractions. Don’t sounds more natural than do not. Real people don’t speak like a dictionary, so unless your character has some issue or difference, make sure you include slang and contractions.
- Easy on the accents – This does not mean you have to go overboard with slang though. Many times a writer will include a character that is from a particular area or has an accent. The continual inclusion of slang and accent like ain’t, cuz, or bro can get annoying after a while and detract from the story. You can sprinkle slang and accents in to remind readers of the character’s origin, but don’t make it so often that readers get annoyed and stop reading.
- Trail off – Real people do not speak in complete sentences. If you aren’t writing a cop giving a report or a medical doctor giving a diagnosis, then don’t expect everyone to speak in full, complete sentences that are clear and precise. Real people trail off, they leave out ideas, and they make you work for your info. Make the readers work to understand as long as you don’t take it too far.
- Be clear – One of my pet peeves when it comes to dialogue writing is the fact that many writers don’t make it clear who is speaking. He said and she said are all well and good when there is only one he or she, but when there is a group, the dialogue becomes harder to follow. Don’t be afraid to use characters’ names and be repetitive when it comes to clarifying who is speaking. I would rather read a dozen John saids than try to figure out who is speaking on my own. A good way to identify the speaker without an attribution like he said is to include an action tag. John took a sip of coffee. “Dialogue.” eliminates the need for John said while still making it clear who is speaking.
These are just a few of the suggestions I have for writers looking to improve their dialogue. The point is to make it sound as real as possible. Avoid the information dump and characters that come off sounding rehearsed and boring. Try to add life to your characters with your dialogue and bring readers into your story.
Note from Lillie: For a longer and more detailed post on dialogue, see Creating Fictional Characters, Part 6: Putting the Right Words in Their Mouths.
About the Author:
This guest post is contributed by Debra Johnson, blogger and editor of www.liveinnanny.com. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: – jdebra84 @ gmail.com.
October 9, 2012 by Lillie
The book trade has been changing so quickly, it’s hard for authors to know how best to go about establishing themselves and disseminating their works. Laser printing and print-on-demand technology helped ignite the self-publishing revolution, just in time for e-readers to come along and change the game all over. Meanwhile, with Amazon and other online outlets taking over, many have proclaimed the death of the bookstore itself.
I have a friend who’s fighting valiantly to keep the traditional bookstore alive. My friend has asked me to keep her name and employer private due to the nature of this article, but we’ll call her Nicole. Nicole is the buyer at a small but prestigious independent bookstore in the Southeast. She believes that even as big-box bookstores like Borders are bankrupted by Amazon, this actually creates more of a niche for local brick-and-mortar establishments. I asked her, “How can a self-published or beginning author get on your shelves?” Here were the main points she shared with me:
1. Email the bookstore for a copy of their consignment form.
Bookstores get most of their stock through the major publishing houses and distributing conglomerates. Unless you’re represented by one of these larger entities, you’ll have to sign a consignment agreement. Nicole says you should generally email rather than call, as a retail environment can be hectic and customers are always the first priority.
2. Make sure your book fits their inventory.
For example, Nicole’s store specializes in fiction and poetry, and does not carry textbooks, so if your book is a textbook, you’re not going to be able to convince her, no matter how good your pitch is. She also advises me that appearances matter. Retail buyers do “judge a book by its cover” and so do customers, so make sure you’ve invested some time and money into making your product look just as professional as its potential shelfmates. “Have a spine,” she says, “and I don’t mean courage.”
3. Think local.
“We’re far more likely to give a chance to a local author, especially if the book itself has local appeal or subject matter,” says Nicole. This is in keeping with her store’s goal to be a community hub, a mission which is not merely a matter of altruism or civic duty, but a very hard-headed business decision: this is the competitive advantage they can provide that Amazon cannot.
4. Be gracious.
“I have to turn down a lot of requests. We can’t afford to operate as the retail equivalent of a vanity press, so generally I only take books I’m pretty sure we’ll sell. Again, the rare exception being an occasional community author. They don’t always take it well. I’ve been cursed out over the phone.” Remember to be courteous, even though, of course, your book is your baby — after all, your next one might have more appeal, but not if you’ve burned that bridge with the buyer.
So there you have it, the inside dirt on getting sold in stores without a publisher. I hope this guidance helps your writing achieve wider exposure!
August 31, 2012 by Lillie
Yesterday, we experienced a dramatic example of how serious the simple transposition of two numbers can be.
I was in the kitchen making a sandwich for Jack, and our helper Betsy was nearby preparing Jack’s medications. Suddenly we heard Jack yelling, sounding frightened. He has fallen several times, twice in the last week, so we hurried into the den, fully expecting him to be helpless on the floor, even hurt.
Instead he pointed toward the sliding glass door. There were two young men on our patio. We thought our backyard was completely secure, so we were shocked to see strangers looking into our den,
I opened the door and asked what they wanted. They were obviously as shocked as we were and both started talking at once.
“We’re here to look at the place to rent advertised on Craig’s List.” They went on to say they were told to come through the side gate into the backyard, then come through the open back door into the empty house. They realized they were in the wrong place as soon as they saw people inside.
They hurried away and through the side gate. Betsy went out the front door to make sure the men left. Their pickup truck was parked in the driveway, and they stood by the truck to use a cell phone to call the person who had placed the ad. It turned out that the address was incorrect in the ad. The house for rent was at 630; we live at 603. Betsy watched the men drive down the street and go through the side gate of the house with a “For Rent” sign on the front lawn.
Then Betsy and I put a chain and new padlock on the side gate, glad that at least this experience showed us that gate wasn’t secure.
More careful editing could have prevented a frightening and potentially dangerous situation. We thought someone meant to do us harm, and the intruders feared we would overreact to their shocking appearance at our backdoor. Fortunately, the incident ended with no significant repercussions. But it demonstrates that a seemingly insignificant mistake can have serious consequences.
August 21, 2012 by Lillie
The first draft of my humor novel Royal Flush took me 18 days to write.
I wrote it for a contest. 18 days before the deadline, I decided to turn a series of short stories I’d been working on into a novel. I started writing, at a rate of 10-15 pages a day. I had no social life for the duration.
When I finally submitted it—after pulling an all-nighter and writing the final word at 6 AM the day of the deadline—I was incredibly satisfied. Well, actually, I was incredibly sleepy. I slept most of the day.
After I woke up, though, I was incredibly satisfied. “Awesome!” I said to myself. “One novel down! Done! Completed! On to the next one!”
But I didn’t move on to the next one—not that summer. I took a writing break. (I don’t recommend those, incidentally.) And when the contest was announced, Royal Flush got an honorable mention but did not place in the top three.
My great expectations were summarily deflated. When I received my manuscript back from the judges, I opened to the beginning, incredulous that my work hadn’t been lavished with praise and money (the top prize was $5,000). And then I spotted it: a grievous typo, right on the first page.
I experienced a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. How utterly unprofessional. I continued reading. There were at least three or four mistakes per page, of both the grammatical and the orthographical kind. Some of these completely changed the meaning of what I was trying to say—or to have the characters say.
There were also a lot of plot holes and contradictions. Characters that completely changed their views throughout the manuscript, without cause. Timelines that overlapped. Weeks with two Thursdays. That kind of thing
Gradually, it dawned on me that this book was far from “completed.” And, as I started editing and revising in earnest, I realized that most of my work was still ahead of me. In fact, having written three novels by now, I think it’s fair to say that at least 90% of the work awaits a writer after the first draft is complete.
As Ernest Hemingway so eloquently put it: “The first draft of anything is s**t.” (Note from Lillie: I like Lary Crews’s term, “pure green dreck.”)
The last thing you want is for your reader to get jerked out of the story’s flow because of a glaring mistake. But that’s what you risk by failing to edit properly.
I ended up going through ten drafts of Royal Flush. But don’t just read a manuscript over yourself—have multiple others read it as well. As a self-published author, I haven’t had the benefit of a professional editor to review my manuscript. However, over 100 people have read my early drafts—this includes friends, family, coworkers, and users of Authonomy.com. Whenever I give my writing to someone else to read, I always ask them to give me honest feedback, assuring them I can take it. Honest feedback is the only kind that’s of any use to me.
I generally don’t request that others read my work—I’ve been lucky enough that a lot of people have taken an interest in my writing over the years and have asked to see it themselves. But I do have three or four ‘first readers,’ who I feel comfortable asking to provide feedback on new work. The reason I feel comfortable is that I reciprocate—these are fellow writers, for the most part, and they know I’m always willing to review their work, as well. I’d recommend putting in the time to cultivate these sorts of relationships.
Even after all this effort to ensure your manuscript is thoroughly edited, chances are it will still contain a few mistakes. Every book is a work-in-progress—‘finished’ is just a word for when you’re able to let it go. But proper editing is about drastically reducing the probability that your reader will get yanked unceremoniously from the world of your story.
Royal Flush is available in print and Kindle editions.
July 17, 2012 by Lillie
Tax Day, Wednesdays, long lines, bumper-to-bumper traffic are just a few things most people prefer not to deal with. Everyone has their own pet peeve and a less-than-thrilling activity that gets under their skin. For writers, go ahead and add writer’s block to that list. It’s that moment where you have hit a wall and your words seems to be sitting on your tongue and like a cranky child, those words refuse to listen. You know what you want to say but you can’t. It is the most frustrating and irritating feeling, so many thoughts and so few words. Before you face plant your keyboard, here are a few tricks to get around that pesky little block:
- Stop what you are doing. Immediately. Step away from the computer. Take a break; you may need just a five-minute break or a whole day’s worth. If you feel yourself getting frustrated and hitting that block, remember to just walk away.
- Work on a different task. Whether you have some house chores, work emails, or online shopping to attend to, do so. Getting your mind off of your current project will relieve that stress.
- Read something. Doesn’t matter what kind of writer you are, whether you write short stories or funny blogs, find something else to read. Read your favorite blogger or your favorite author. This can help trigger some ideas and thoughts.
- Get creative. Writing is an art form, whether or not your mom agrees with you. Use that block to channel your other creative juices. Paint, color, design—you never know what will inspire you!
- Take a shower. Literally. How many times have you had that perfect idea pop in your head during your bath time? Get squeaky clean and relax your body, which in return will relax your brain.
- Work out. Release those endorphins and shed a few pounds. Something as simple as a 30-minute walk can get your blood going and those positive feelings flowing.
The key to handling writer’s block is to take a deep breath, walk away, and relax. Forcing yourself to write will never bring good words together. Accept it. Writer’s block is a hazard of your occupation; it comes with the job title. Don’t beat yourself up over that little block; just give it a little time and voilà! You will be back to wordsmithing in no time. Good luck and happy writing!
This guest post is by Christine Kane from Internet Service Providers. She is a graduate of Communication and Journalism. She enjoys writing about a wide variety of subjects for different blogs. She can be reached via email at: Christi.Kane00 @ gmail.com.
June 29, 2012 by Lillie
Last week I posted Copyblogger’s advice on how to become a better writer. That advice all involved actually writing—no matter what else you do, you will never become a good writer if you don’t write.
There is something else that will improve your writing, and that is reading. Often aspiring writers think that means they should read books and articles about writing. Reading about writing can, indeed, be extremely valuable, but that’s not the only kind of reading I recommend. Read the newspaper and magazines. Read books, both fiction and nonfiction. Read in the genre you write and read in totally unrelated genres.
What keeps you reading after you’ve promised yourself you’ll go to the bed at the end of the chapter? What pulls you out of the story and brings you back to the real world? As you think about what you like and don’t like in what you read, you will start to improve your own writing. You will do more of the things that work and less of the things that don’t.
By reading in your own genre, you’ll stay current on the conventions and expectations. By reading in other genres, you’ll get ideas for adding new twists to your own writing.
I have heard aspiring writers say they don’t have time to read because they’re too busy writing. Of course, you have to maintain a balance, but if you don’t love to read, how can you expect other people to love to read your work.
So far this year, I have read and rated more than 100 books (including short stories) on Goodreads. If you look at the list, you will see subjects ranging from light romance to Bible study to biography to culture and politics.What do you like to read? Do you post reviews or ratings of what you read? I’d love to see what a variety of reading interests there is among readers.
June 22, 2012 by Lillie
Excellent advice from Brian Clark. Thank you, Copyblogger!
I have heard that an individual needs to write a million words before they are a really good writer. I’m sure that number varies for different people—some may have more natural talent and can achieve greatness with less practice and others may need to write more. But regardless of whether it’s a million, half a million, two million, or some other number of words, it takes a lot of writing to become a good writer!
Just for fun, I estimated how many words I’ve written.
Published works (total of 314,000 words) include the following:
- Look Beyond Tomorrow, nonfiction, 25,000 words.
- How to Get Started in Network Marketing, nonfiction, 9,000 words.
- Six short how-to ebooks for Your Information Center, average length 7,000 = 42,000.(Three of these ebooks are available from Smashwords.)
- Stroke of Luck, contemporary romance, 73,000 words.
- Trapped by Love, romance novelette, 7,000 words.
- Dream or Destiny, romantic mystery, 86,000 words.
- Self-Publishing Primer, 10,000 words.
- Editing Primer, 5,000 words
- Creating Fictional Characters, 9,000 words
- Fern’s Fancies, contemporary romance, 48,000 words.
Other writing I have done includes the following (total of 165,000 words):
- Research and other papers in high school and college, estimated 40,000 words.
- Employee manual, policy and procedures manuals, and training program for my interior landscape business, estimated 50,000 words.
- Articles for interior landscape industry journals, estimated 5,000 words.
- Articles for newsletters, estimated 20,000 words.
- Manuals, brochures, and other materials for clients, estimated 25,000 words.
- Unfinished manuscripts/works-in-progress, 25,000 words.
So outside of blogging, I’ve written nearly half a million words—only halfway to becoming a great writer. Since my blog posts vary in length and some are videos, guest posts, or thanks to commenters, it’s hard to estimate the total number of words I’ve blogged. However, I think it’s reasonable to guess that I’ve written close to 1000 of the 1223 posts on this blog and that the average length is 500 words. That’s 500,000 words, which added to the other things I’ve written puts me close to a million words. So I should be a great writer by now!
Okay, I did say above that the number of words required to achieve greatness varies. So I may need to write two million words or three million … I’m continuing to write!
How many words have you written?
May 24, 2012 by Lillie
Many famous authors have used pen names. Some even used more than one: Samuel Clemens wrote under his own name, as well as Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Louis de Conte, and his most famous pseudonym of all, Mark Twain.
Authors may choose to write under an alias for personal reasons or business reasons, and those decisions are often influenced by cultural and marketing dynamics. If you are thinking of using a pen name, consider some of the most common reasons that other authors have chosen to write under a different moniker:
Your Real Name is Too Weird or Common
Is your real name John Smith or something else that is equally common? If you publish under your real name, it may be difficult to stand out and develop your brand. Choosing a pen name will help readers distinguish you from all the other John Smiths, whether they are working as writers or accountants.
Or, on the other hand, is your real name Aparicio Poppocropoulous? If your name is too strange, hard to pronounce, or hard to understand, it will be difficult for readers to remember your name or to find it when they search for your work online.
Your Real Name is Famous
Through some twist of fate or happy coincidence, do you share a name with Angelina Jolie? Or Leonardo DiCaprio? Maybe your parents were big fans of Brad Pitt or George Clooney and decided to name you after them.
If you share a name with a famous person, a pen name can help you to distinguish yourself. That way, when someone sees a book written by “Brad Pitt,” they will make the proper assumption that it is written by THE Brad Pitt instead of becoming disappointed when they find out it is you instead. Don’t let your name get in the way of enjoying your book.
You Want to Protect Your Identity
Even if you start publishing novels or other books, you may not be able to quit your day job. Using a pen name to publish your work can help you to keep your professional endeavors separate – either because you don’t want your boss to think you’ll leave your job once a book sells well, or because you are writing about topics that could be controversial or present a conflict of interest for your job.
On the other hand, you may become wildly successful once you start publishing, quickly earning fame and fortune. If you worry that you won’t be able to handle the scrutiny of fame well, a pen name can help you protect your real identity so that you can fly under the radar when you are out buying groceries or having a meal with your family.
You Write in Multiple Genres
If you write young adult fiction under your real name, it might be advisable to adopt a pen name when you decide to start writing erotica. Or if you write romance stories under your real name, you might decide to choose a pen name when you try your hand at war thrillers.
Your name becomes your brand, and if you want to change your brand significantly by writing in a new genre that differs dramatically from the one in which you are known, using a pen name can help you to distinguish those brands and to ensure that you don’t alienate or confuse readers.
The decision to use a pen name is often a personal one, but it can have ramifications for your brand and your success. Have you used a pen name for your writing? Tell us your reasons in the comments!
About the Author:
Sarah Rexman is the main researcher and writer for BedBugs.org. Her most recent accomplishment includes graduating from Florida State, with a master’s degree in environmental science. Her main focus for the bedbugs site involves answering many questions such as, “what do bed bugs look like?”.
May 15, 2012 by Lillie
Lori Widmer at Words on the Page started Writers Worth Day five years ago to encourage writers to recognize their own worth. Since then the day has expanded into a week, and this year will be two weeks or more. Lori is posting Writers Worth guest posts for writers to encourage and motivate others to value their own worth as professionals. I highly recommend you stop by every day and read all the posts and that you seriously evaluate your own worth as a writer. If you don’t value your own work, how can you expect clients to appreciate the value of your expertise?
May 8, 2012 by Lillie
Attending writing conferences can be an excellent way for writers, both new and experienced, to learn new skills and improve their craft.
Recently a writer friend asked on Facebook if anyone had ever been to a bad or unprofessional conference, and, if so, what made it bad or unprofessional. I responded with an experience I had at a national conference I attended not long after I started to write.
The content of the conference was fabulous and very professionally presented. However, it was held in a luxury hotel in New York City, and the meeting rooms were on three floors connected by escalators. Unfortunately, at the time I was on a motorized scooter and at least four other attendees were in wheelchairs or scooters. Obviously we couldn’t use the escalators, but the two upper floors of the conference levels had no other means of access.
Workshops were held on all three floors with only a few minutes between each session. I wasn’t able to attend the specific workshops I wanted because I had no way to get to the right floor, so I had to pick workshops that were held on the one floor I could reach. I still learned an incredible amount, even if it wasn’t exactly what I had planned to learn.
At the end of the final conference day, I was so exhausted I could barely sit upright on the scooter. The elevators were so crowded I couldn’t get the scooter in. Although others had to wait a while, eventually everyone else got on the elevators, leaving me alone on the second floor.
I sat there for almost an hour before I finally got the attention of a hotel employee setting up for an event and told him I had to have help or I would collapse. He said he would send help but no one came. Finally I went back where he was working and asked for help again. He called security, and after what seemed like an eternity, a security guard finally arrived and led me through the kitchens to the service elevator and got me back to my room.
The registration form for the conference even asked about special needs, and I had plainly indicated that I required handicap access. So it wasn’t like someone shouldn’t have been prepared for those of us who couldn’t handle the escalator/elevator situation.
No matter how wonderful the workshops are, a conference isn’t very useful to attendees who have no access to the meeting rooms.
photo credit: dasu_