Writing Resource: Improving Dialogue

Happy Sunday! I was browsing r/writing as always, and stumbled upon a great article regarding writing believable dialogue. It’s appropriately called 10 Tips to Help You Write Realistic Dialogue.

I found all of these tips relevant and useful. I especially liked the tip about not using corny lines during fight scenes, and how the author uses real life experience to describe what actually goes through someone’s mind during a scrap. You don’t have time to think of witty lines or insults, nor would you ever say them. You tend to be too focused on not getting hit, keeping up, and not letting exhaustion stop you from defending/attacking. I’m also speaking from real life experience here – believe it or not, martial arts happens to be one of my favourite pass times next to writing.

Another point I liked was that feelings can be conveyed through actions or descriptions. Iglesias correctly states that “…if the character is constantly telling us how s/he feels, we stop caring.” Something I’ve been working on a lot in my writing is using body language to show (not tell) how my character is feeling. In re-reading my drafts, it adds much more depth and lets the reader infer what the person is thinking, rather than cramming it down their throats through the character’s dialogue.

I think another great point to keep in mind is avoiding heavy-handed dialogue. Something that irks me (even in television) is when a character explains why someone is making a decision. I see it all the time in the Hundred. One of the characters will do something, and before I can ponder why, a different character will shout “I know you regret your previous actions, but doing this won’t change the past!” It makes me roll my eyes and irritates me. Let your readers come to their own conclusions about the character’s behaviour. It will make your story more gripping.

Another tactic I employ is acting out some of my scenes between characters. I’m no actress, but hearing things out loud  helps make things sound more realistic. If you’re stuttering or stammering, or having to pause to try and understand what you’re conveying, chances are it needs a rework. This is also kind of fun and provides some entertainment while working on a draft (for me, anyways).

Hope this helps! Share your tips/thoughts below. I would love to hear them!

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Writing Podcasts: Mythcreants Podcast

I’m a Luddite at heart. While I enjoy technology, I despise social media and I’ve been resistant to the societal changes it’s brought about. I refused to get a new phone for five years, but recently I had no choice and succumbed. I’m basically an 83-year-old in a 27-year-old’s body.

Doubtless, it would be difficult to make my way as an Indie Author without social media. So I’ve decided to create some pages on Instagram and Twitter, and will be making a Facebook account soon enough. I also frequently post on Reddit, but I don’t really consider that social media. It might be the only platform besides WordPress I don’t use begrudgingly.

That all aside, another aspect of technology I’ve avoided has been Podcasts. Why, might you ask?

  1. I didn’t understand what they were, and I didn’t care to find out;
  2. I didn’t like the name “podcast” (yes, I’m ridiculous);
  3. I thought you had to have an Iphone to get them (continuing on the ridiculous train);
  4. I didn’t know any good ones, and I couldn’t be bothered to look into it (do I need to say it again?);
  5. I hate Apple, and I associated Podcasts with this company for the longest time.

However, my thirst for knowledge overpowered my stubbornness, and I invested some time in researching good podcasts (is the word a proper noun?) for writing. One that came up was the Mythcreants Podcast.

I started listening to it while I was stuck in the filing room. It was a long, boring week at work, and I got relegated there to do someone a favour. During that time, I listened to at least 10 of their shows. The verdict? These guys are fantastic.

Oren and Chris really know their stuff. Both of them are  intelligent and knowledgeable when it comes to writing and creating. The topics covered on their podcast include a wide range of subjects, such as “Describing the Environment;” “The Important of Character Likability;” and many other areas of writing I didn’t even think of.

Even if you aren’t writing SciFi or fantasy, check them out, they have a wealth of knowledge to share: https://mythcreants.com/ Seriously, check it out!

The Red Queen Series

Spoilers ahead for the Red Queen series.

So I’m reading Victoria Aveyard’s War Storm right now. I’m four chapters in and my eyes are bleeding. If anyone has picked up the Red Queen series, you’re probably thinking I brought this on myself. You’re right, I did. But I have weakness for Young Adult (YA) novels, and sometimes it is nice to read something mindless, especially when your brain is fried from work. And let’s be real, some YA is really good!

But this series sucks. The first book was alright, but as the story drags onto it’s fourth novel, it’s verging on unreadable. My initial impression was that it was a rip off of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, which is totally is. Truth be told, I could deal with that in the beginning.

However, the series has warped into a convoluted mess of POV (Point of View) chapters in a strange attempt to make it a GOT-level epic (GOT = Game of Thrones), for which the author lacks the skill to pull off. It also doesn’t help that the foundation of this novel is built on the well-worn trope of a female protagonist in a post-apocalyptic society, fighting to save the enslaved while plagued by tugging love interests (a set of Princes and a childhood best friend). Gag.

I think that if you have skills and talent, you can pull of a trope or two. But Aveyard doesn’t. Why?

For one, her writing is riddled with adverbs and one-sentence paragraphs. I know I said the occasional adverb is not the devil, and I stand by that. But it feels like every goddamn sentence has one. I chuckled darkly. He said sadly. I moved slightly…She wrote poorly.  They make the writing cheap and lazy. And the one-sentence paragraphs are melodramatic and annoying. They do not make her writing impactful, because there are so many. SO MANY. They are irritating and relentless.

Her POVs also lack distinction. I feel like I’m reading the same boring person’s voice over and over, just with different opinions and settings. I agree now with the advice that it’s hard to pull of multiple POVs, and you have to really know what you are doing if you want to be successful. Aveyard is a good example of how not to do multiple POVs, if you want one.

The characters themselves are cliche and the volume of people being introduced is overwhelming. The A Song of Ice and Fire series has a lot of characters, as well, and its a testament to GRRM’s skill that he can pull this off without making his readers bored or confused (debatable by book five, but in the beginning it wasn’t the case). Aveyard cannot do this. The side characters she introduces are one dimensional, and quite frankly, lame. They lack anything robust and only serve as fodder to her plot. There are too many dicks on the dance floor, as I (plus Brett and Jermaine) like to say.

Aveyard also isn’t that great at describing people, places, battles or settings. One example that stands out is when she highlights one of her characters as “smiling like a cat.” I don’t understand why she used this comparison, especially given that her plot takes place in a society that is 1000 years into the future and probably has no inkling of Alice in Wonderland. Because without Chester, when would you think of a smiling cat? Cat’s never fucking smile. They yawn, hiss, growl, bear their teeth, but when do they smile? Ugh. And what’s worse is this character smiling like a cat is supposed to make the readers question him. Is he devious because of this cat-like smile? What are his real motivations? What is he really thinking? CAN WE TRUST HIM?!!! It’s fucking terrible. I’m sorry, but it is.

The plot really isn’t that great, either. In fact, the basis of the story (newbloods) is one giant dues-ex machina waiting to happen. It’s just a matter of time before “the most powerful newblood of all” swoops in and saves Mare and her friends from total annihilation (and side note – what kind of fucking name is Mare?). It sucks. Period.

The sad thing is some of the concepts aren’t that bad, and if the writing wasn’t awful, Aveyard could probably pull it off. I’m gonna reference my number one homeboy Steven King here, in that I can see how reading terrible books can be motivating. After reading the Red Queen series (which apparently is a fucking hit??), I know I can do better and I want to do better. So thanks, Aveyard, for giving me that, and showing me what not to do.

 

Writing and Drinking

I don’t know where it came from, and I’ve never really looked into it. But what is up with this idea that in order to be a successful writer, you must also be a raging alcoholic? Well, maybe “in order to be a successful writer…” is the wrong way to put it. What I’m getting at is, why are writing and alcoholism irrevocably linked?

A personal fact about me: I used to drink. A lot. Ok yeah I’m not helping the cliché, but hear me out. I’m relatively young (27), but I started drinking early (16). And I obviously don’t mean “oh I’d have a glass of wine with my parents at dinner.” I mean, what 16-year-old does that, anyways? Maybe in Europe? Europeans, feel free to enlighten me if I’ve totally missed the mark. Yeah, anyways, I’m sidetracked. I drank a lot, even at the tender and impulsive age of 16.

Every recovering alcoholic will tell you, I drank a lot. Sometimes it seems exaggerated. I met a woman once who talked about her addiction. Every single night I’d go out for dinner, have a bottle of wine and drive home. My mouth fell open. She was drinking and driving! GASP!!!!!! Even though I drank a lot, drinking and driving was just completely out of the question. I guess all those high school campaigns really drove the message home. Anyways, she went on to tell me that having a bottle at dinner was just the warm up, she’d go home and have another… and another… and maybe even some more, if she wasn’t puking. It didn’t seem real to me. I mean, I drank a lot, too, but that was just exaggeration territory. Point blank.

I told this recovering alcoholic lady how, I too, like to drink wine (present continuous at the time, because I was still drinking). I told her how I was impressed that she could quit, because I could never give up my wine. But really, I didn’t have a problem, I told her. I only drank on the weekends.

“How much?” She asked me. I glanced over at her from my desk. This was all going down at work, you see.

“I mean, well, I can drink a lot.” I said, not really wanting to tell my coworker my drinking habits.

“Yeah, how much though?”

“Well… a couple bottles of wine, you know. Depends.” I grumbled, beginning to type in order to make myself seem busy.

“That’s a lot.” She said. “For someone your size, it’s a lot.”

“I’m 5’10.”

“Yeah, but you’re skinny.”

“It’s not that much. Who cares? It’s once a week.” I said, defensive without realizing it. “Well, sometimes twice. But it’s weekends only. So it doesn’t count. Besides, I love the taste of wine.”

Negotiation. I wasn’t negotiating with Miss Exaggeration 2018. I was negotiating with myself. It dawned on me that I had a problem. So I tried to quit shortly after the conversation, to prove to myself and others (ahem) that I didn’t a problem, thankyouverymuch.

I couldn’t stop. I should probably add that when I drink, I get crippling anxiety about two days after the fact. Bad enough to affect my work, my relationships, everyone around me. I had every reason to stop, I mean if it was only once or twice a week, it should have been easy. If I didn’t have a problem, I could QUIT ANYTIME I WANTED, RIGHT?

No. I couldn’t.

Fine, if I can’t quit, two bottles will just be one glass. That’s perfectly reasonable! Negotiation.

This was not possible, either. I would drink one glass. Then I’d want another. And another. And then I’d be walking to the liquor store to buy more. Then I’d finish it. Then I’d be negotiating with Lewis for another bottle.

My problem got worse the more I tried to stop. It wasn’t always the cravings. It was the thought-process. “Well, if I just have a glass of wine with my dinner, it isn’t that bad. Everyone does it.” A favourite one of mine: “If I make this fancy meal, I will have a glass because how else can I enjoy it?” A sneaky one: “Oh, Lewis, wanna try that new French/Italian/[insert wine-related cuisine] restaurant?” asking while compulsively thinking of the wine. I could literally write a book on all the negotiation tactics I used.

When I traveled in Southeast Asia, it got worse. Alcohol is cheaaapp. Less than a dollar a beer in some countries. And if you order wine, it will most likely suck and be expensive (same price as Canada), but you get huge glasses. They fill that sucker right to the brim.

I didn’t drink every day, usually just once or twice a week. I just couldn’t stop when I did. And unlike Miss Negotiation 2018, I don’t puke. Ever. The last time I puked I had food poisoning. Before that…. I can’t remember. It had been years – I think maybe 3 or 4 since I’d puked from drinking? So yeah, badddd combination.

One night I had 18 cans of beer. Yes, I’m tall, but I’m like a rake when I travel. All my muscle disappears and I get skinny. Even when I have more meat on me, I have a poor tolerance to alcohol and get drunk twice as fast as normal people. So 18 cans is your equivalent of probably 25-30. I was a mess.

Lewis was with me. He had to get me back to the hotel. I had to be dragged, because I couldn’t walk. I remember most of this, oddly. He got me into bed, and I started to complain. I don’t remember about what, but I was mean. I’m loud, and the walls were thin, so people heard. I kept shouting at Lewis over nothing, and I said, “why don’t you just fight back?!”

He was quiet for a while. He usually pauses and thinks before he speaks (total opposite of me). He said, finally, “You have a problem.”

I have tried to quit numerous times over the 11 years I’ve been drinking. I’ve negotiated with myself, told myself I have no problem because I don’t drink constantly, etc. But when he said that, I knew he was right.

So I quit. Been seven months sober now, and I feel great. Quitting anything involves a mourning process, something which I can write a post on sometime. But weirdly, one of the things I mourned was drinking and writing. I still do. Right now, part of me wishes I could get loaded and smash out some chapters. Ugh.

But why though? Why do I care so much about this stupid idea that getting loaded = writer? It’s stupid. I’ve done wayyy better writing since I’ve quit. I’ve been productive. I’m healthier and my relationships are better. I’ve got more money and time (lots more) to put into my publishing project. So yeah, I’m a better writer and a better person since I’ve quit, but the idea of having a bottle while I write some chapters is so tempting.

I think it will probably never go away, the temptation. I just have to live with it. Like losing a loved one, it will always be there. It just gets easier to manage. But what is it about these two things that is so … linked?

I’m not suggesting that anyone go out and get shittered, write a few chapters and tell me. Quite the opposite. You’ll be a better writer if you take care of yourself and your mind. Alcohol makes you stupid and eats up your cash (which writers have little to begin with) and your damages your brain (our number 1 tool). In fact, quitting drinking should be your top priority, above “write.” I think Stephen King (my idol, whom I will frequently quote) talks about this, too. Quit. You’ll thank yourself when your book is published, well-written and successful.

 

 

The First Rewrite

Oh Gosh. Long time no post. To all three of my readers, I apologize.

Sarcasm aside, I’ve been tits-deep in my rewrite and it’s been sucking the life out of me. I spent a good part of the year procrastinating, but I finally started a few months ago. And now I’m almost done!! This post won’t be my best writing because I’m totally gassed, but I want to share regardless.

The thought of having to do a second rewrite is jarring, but I think it’s necessary. I’ve learned an immense amount throughout this process  Moreover, I’ve fallen in love with my work again. I was dreading tackling my draft because I knew it was flawed, and part of me was worried I’d say screw it and scrap the whole thing. But the opposite happened. As Dolores would say, I chose to see the beauty in that draft. And, I used what I have learned over the last little while about writing to make it better than before.

Do I have any wisdom to pass on? Hmm. Let’s see

1. Just do it.

If you’re anxious about rewriting your novel because of the inevitable self-criticism that will follow, dwelling instead of writing will only make it worse. Sit down and get started, no matter how painful it is. You might struggle in the beginning. I know I did. I kicked and screamed and metaphorically bit myself as I sat in front of my computer preparing to start. But as time goes on and you spend more time on your rewrite, it will get easier, less painful, and you’ll find splendour in your work

2. But wait a little bit first…

I had to throw in some juxtaposition . Steven King suggests that you leave your draft alone for a little while, so when you pick it up again you can look at with fresh eyes. I have to agree with this advice. When you’re in the depths of your novel, it’s hard to spot mistakes. Just like with a toxic relationship (I’m on a roll with the dark humour), taking a step back and giving yourself some time to process what you’ve written will allow you look at your draft from a new perspective, giving you the ability to spot flaws, and edit accordingly

3. Be critical, but not mean.

I use the comment tool in Microsoft Word when I’m rewriting like self-administering morphine after surgery, ripping apart my own work with criticism. I poke holes without mercy because I know others will, but I do so with the goal of making my draft stronger, not with the aim of putting myself down. Sometimes I cringe as I do, thinking, wow, Ava, can’t believe you missed this, as I cringe and wonder why I even bother.  But I push forward despite these thoughts, remembering that acknowledging flaws will only serve to make my story better

4. Re-read, re-read, re-read.

I’m lucky in that I like reading my own writing (anyone else feel the same, or am I totally self-indulgent?). So I can reread the same part over and over, until I hate it, then I put it down and re-read it again. By doing so, I continually make my writing better. Throughout this rewrite, I’ve probably read some of my problematic chapters 10-15 times each, editing each time. It’s only served to make my work better, so I recommend trying it.

5. Be brutal with removing unnecessary words and sentences.

I noticed that I when I am pounding out my draft, I tend to write the same thing but in two different ways. During my rewrite, I was often forced to make a choice and cut out one of the sentences. However, by doing so, I cleaned up my work and made it much less wordy.

The general rule is draft – 10%. My second draft is longer than my first draft (about 20% longer), but only because I wrote in description and added items that are necessary to the plot. I actually cut out a tonne of my old work because it was redundant, poorly written, or just unnecessary. It’s hard sometimes, but essential for improvement.

6. Read out loud.

Especially the dialogue. If it sounds weird, or you think “would someone actually say that?” then switch it up, then read it out loud again, over and over, until it sounds smooth. This is a critical step. I used to do this for all my university papers, as well (and not to brag, but I aced almost all of them).

7. Adverbs should be avoided but are not the devil.

Sorry y’all, but I don’t hate them. The truth is, most readers don’t care about the occasional adverb because they don’t realize they are considered poor form. I didn’t care about them until I read On Writing. Adverbs don’t ruin your writing if they are used sparingly (see what I did there). I think they give my writing character, actually. Just sayin’.

8. Don’t get sucked into the oppressive world of rules.

I found that the more I tried to learn about writing by reading blogs, listening to podcasts, posting on Reddit, etc., the more I found myself feeling constrained and bound to a set of norms. This hurt my ability to be creative and it sucked the life from my writing, especially in the rewrite phase. Truth be told, the more I rewrote my work to adhere to these rules, the less I liked it.

Don’t get me wrong – these rules helped me improve my writing, too. I’m just saying moderation is key here. If breaking the occasional rule gives your writing a unique and endearing voice, embrace it I say. Otherwise we’ll all just sound the same.

9. Avoid the copy and paste method.

I’ll admit that there were times (quite a few times) I was lazy and I would copy and paste from my old draft into my new one instead of actually, you know, rewriting it. Occasionally it worked, because the work I’d done previously was good. However, my writing was much stronger when I sat down and made the effort to retype my story line by line. New ideas would form, things would come out better, and over all, the rewritten work was stronger than the what I had copy and pasted, then edited.

10. Embrace change.

It’s hard to let go of our creations. But if something isn’t sitting right in your gut, or if you know part of your plot doesn’t make sense, take the plunge, change it and make it better. I was afraid of change, another reason why I delayed my rewrite. But once I got started, I saw how much it improved my work and was inspired to keep going. It’s funny how many times I’ve been terrified of the idea of doing something, only to find out that I actually love it. Change was one of these things.

 

Maybe some of you will read these bits of wisdom and say, “None of that applies to me, I can’t WAIT to rewrite my work and change is a beautiful, unthreatening thing!” How I envy you. For me, it was a grueling process, but like any challenge I am glad I overcame it. Next steps for me are to repeat the above process, then look at getting an editor. I’m sure that will be an adventure in itself.

In the meantime, I’ll keep updating this blog, because I miss posting here!

Anyone else rewriting their draft? Care to share some thoughts? Rants are just as welcome.

DRAMA

Something has really been grinding my gears lately.

I’m an emotional person. I feel a lot of things, much more than I care to at times. I was always taught by my parents that it is OK to express myself, and I do just that.

There are people who accept my expressive nature. There are people who are indifferent. And there are people who get really, really get uncomfortable.

For the purpose of this blog entry, I’ll focus on the people who get really, really uncomfortable. I’m not dissing all of these people. Some people can’t handle emotions or negativity, and that’s fair. We were all raised in a different fashion. But within this realm of individuals, two types of people stand out to me: the ones who are polite about not being able to handle it (fair enough); and the ones who take the time to call it DRAMA.

DRAMA, by their definition, seems to mean anything that is emotional/conflict-oriented no matter what the circumstance. Calling someone’s problems DRAMA delegitimizes their struggles and reduces it to petty squabbles. Calling it DRAMA implies it is inconvenient, self-imposed and exaggerated.  Calling it DRAMA also implies they should suck it up and keep quiet, because it isn’t that bad and they are totally overreacting. The word DRAMA has feminine connotations, eluding that I’m a screaming, hysterical (gasp) woman who is irrationally reacting to “something that, quite frankly, is nothing but girl problems.” I think this article says it quite eloquently.

I’m struggling with situations I have no control over and do my best to avoid. Sometimes it gets so overwhelming that I need to talk to someone about it. Therapy helps but it’s not always enough to quell my DRAMA from overflowing into my social circle (*sharp inhale* THE SHAME).

And as soon as the words “I feel sad because…” escape my lips, that’s it. Everything that comes out after is ignored. Eyes glaze over. A single word materializes in the listener’s mind in glowing neon lights, flashing over and over like some cheap motel sign. ABORT, it screams to them. ABORT. I-I-It’s here to ruin your day. Run. RUN. It’s…DRAMA.

If someone comes to me with a problem, I rarely call it DRAMA and make them feel bad for burdening me. I don’t belittle the person needing to express their feelings. And really, this is the decent thing to do, especially if the person is clearly struggling and has 0 control over what is obviously a tough situation.

Not everyone is emotional/can handle emotions. That’s fine. But we need to stop degrading our feelings and putting others down for showing them. I mean, does it make you feel good to see someone cry? I hope not. But really, what’s so awful about listening to someone who needs an ear? If listening to your friend talk about their “DRAMA” is the worst part of your day, then your life is pretty good. If you don’t know what to say, just be there and listen. Quit being a brat and use your privilege to help those around you.

I made a connection to this situation when I was thinking about stereotypical female characters. Generally, female (and male) characters who express their emotions are viewed as “DRAMAtic” or undesirable. Anything that is perceived as “feminine” (emotional, sad, expressive, vulnerable) is weak. Characters who display “masculine” characteristics (analytical, intelligent, rational, emotive only when it’s convenient or involves being in love with the protagonist) are strong.

The latter type of character pisses me off. Emotions are only to be displayed for short periods. After that they’re gone, done, zilch, zip. PTSD? Anxiety? FEELINGS? Never heard of it! Hah! I’m rational and that’s all it takes! I’m STRONG.

This is, at it’s heart, ridiculous. Some people have better constitutions than others, and if that’s part of your character’s personality, then fine. But how many times has this trope been used? The strong girl who doesn’t get sad, the man who carries on in the face of danger while people die all around him. It’s getting old, and it’s promoting unrealistic expectations.

 

What about those DRAMAtic characters then, you know, the ones who feel things and express it? Write more of them. It doesn’t have to be every character – there are those out there who are strong. That’s fine, too. But I don’t think we should shy away from characters who embrace their emotions and use them as a strength rather than viewing them as a weakness.

Being weak DOES NOT equal being emotional. Being emotional and expressing yourself DOES NOT always equal DRAMA. It’s human. And there is nothing for you or your character to feel ashamed of. I’ll try to write a post on techniques that work well in this situation in the next few weeks.