Posts Tagged ‘dialog’


smallmonster

Nine months ago, something happened that I’d been working very long and hard for: Beautiful Monster got published. It was picked up by Damnation Books, a wonderful publisher in California that I absolutely adore. There was much to be excited about as Monster went through the process of publication, and I didn’t want to waste any time. I immediately started planning my future as a writer. I began revising The White Room, a manuscript I wrote before Beautiful Monster which needed some work before being an acceptable candidate for publication. On top of this, I began an equally exciting top-secret side project—that I can’t really get into at this point—that I’m totally stoked about. Things were going swimmingly—my days and nights absorbed in the fictional worlds of my own creation—until, about three months ago, something else happened: I hit a brick wall. And it wasn’t writer’s block.

This brick wall was far scarier than writer’s block because at least there are things you can do to lubricate a stubborn story. What I faced was something I never expected to: doubt… and not the doubt that I could be a writer—that’s a given—but the doubt that I wanted to be a writer.

 strip

So, I stopped writing—which given my life circumstances at the time—wasn’t all that hard. I was in the middle of moving—again—and I’d met some fascinating writers from the old-school who made me feel like one of them. It was easy to coast for a while, but in truth, I wasn’t coasting at all. I was thinking. I was wondering how, after so many years of dreaming of this, of working toward this, I could possibly feel this way once those dreams were finally coming true. But that’s where I was at, and it wasn’t very fun.

After a while, the people around me started asking questions. They wanted to know why I wasn’t writing. I never told them the truth. I didn’t want to be influenced in any way because I knew this was something I needed to figure out for myself. I was working, just not in any way that was visible. In those months, I produced nothing that would help my career in any way, but I did strip down the layers of who I am, and I did figure a few things out.

 strip1

I figured out that the glitter is gone, the shine has dulled, and reality has cast its shadow over the dream. I have a different understanding of what it means to be a writer now—it’s not a better understanding—just a different understanding. I figured out that writing is—in truth—a lot of time spent sitting in front of a computer. It’s picking up the thousands of little pieces of a scattered story and spending hours, days, weeks, and months trying to fit them together in the most cohesive, relatable—and salable—way. It’s sacrificing a lot of time with friends and family. It’s being asked outright in public settings how much money you make. It’s work. It’s a daily decision to sit down and create something that may or may not ever even see the light of day. It’s the choice to devote a lot of time and effort to an entirely unknown outcome. It’s a risk.

I realized that the glamour of being a writer—if there ever was any—doesn’t shine quite as brightly as the world would like to believe. I’ve met my heroes, and they’ve now become my friends—people I talk to on the phone, exchange emails with, and discuss the most tedious details of my life with. This doesn’t make them unglamorous, this simply makes them real. It makes all of this real—and that’s not a bad thing—it’s just a different thing.

 strip2

In the beginning, when this was still a dream, I made some conscious choices. I would steer clear of any unattainable expectations. I would not put anyone on a pedestal or hold my heroes to superhuman standards… and in truth, I’m neither disenchanted by the path nor in any way disappointed in anyone I’ve met. But the dream, as it manifests into reality, is grating and unsettling… it feels a little like walking off a ledge. It made me decide I needed to take stock. I needed to step back and look at writing from a realistic perspective. I needed to then ask myself if this was ultimately going to make me very happy. So, that’s what I did… and the past couple weeks have finally brought things into enough focus that I can proceed in what I’m confident is the right direction.

Ultimately, nothing has changed for me except my approach to it. The dream is still intact. Somehow, I still want this, but now I know that only the love of this—and nothing else—is strong enough to withstand the demands and lack of certainty that writing requires. There isn’t enough ego to uphold this—there isn’t enough money to justify it—and there isn’t enough comfort to sustain it. But at the core of who I am, this is what I do—what I’ve always done—and it gets me closer to happiness than anything ever has before. And perhaps the greatest persuasion has been the incredible and unbearable gnawing, gnashing need to write even when I’ve given myself permission to break from it for a while. If nothing else, this has slowly convinced me that my writing days are far from being over. I’ve made some great self-discoveries these past months, but that hasn’t stopped the stories from tumbling in, the characters from blathering on, or the fingers from seeking the keys.

 strip3

I now have what I believe is a deeper, more accurate understanding of being a writer. It’s not pretty anymore, but it’s mine, and it’s real. I’ve learned that even when I’m “not” writing, I’m still writing, and so—at the risk of sounding melodramatic—how can I possibly not write? I can’t, but I do have a choice in how I proceed. I can either gather up the scattered pieces of story, glue them all together, and try to make something out of this that matters… or I can return to the days when jotted-down descriptions, disjointed dialogue, and fragmented portions of plot and poetry haunted me from hundreds of loose scraps of paper that invaded and overran any space within ten feet of me.

 strip4

For me, that choice is clear. After giving my soul a thorough strip-search, I’m realizing there isn’t really anything else I can do and be happy. The dream may be over now… the real world may have settled in… but there are still stories to be told.

And I’ll do my best to tell them.

Advertisements

As I’m sure I’ve already mentioned, character writing is my favorite part of the fiction process. Nothing else–except maybe the finished product–is as satisfying to me personally as the moment a character begins to tell his or her story. Sometimes, they reveal themselves in slow sections, teasing you with their secrets and the private details of their personas. Sometimes, they come fully-formed in an in-your-face moment of undeniable clarity.

My intrigue with the process of character development is what keeps me writing, and it is what has prompted me to elaborate on it here, and dig a little deeper into some of the characters I’ve created, with the purpose of learning more about the mystery of it in general, and maybe even learning a little more about my own process. And, one of the most frequently asked questions any writer receives is about the development of characters, so I thought it might also be fun for the folks who have read my work to see the inner workings of my imaginary friends 🙂

cd

The first character that comes to mind, for some reason, is Brytt Tanner, Sterling Bronson’s dim-witted side-kick in Beautiful Monster, so I’ll start with him.

Brytt came into existence pretty early on in the plotting of Monster,  and if I remember correctly, it all started–as it often does–with his name. My co-author, Mimi A. Williams, met a man named Brytt in the workplace. The moment she mentioned the guy’s name, I knew I had to use it.

The first thing I knew about Brytt was that he was a stripper. I’m not sure why that was–again, probably the name. It just sounds kind of strippery, I guess.

cd5

Next came his physical appearance. I figured a bulky, muscle-bound blond guy would be an interesting antithesis to Sterling’s dark, brooding good looks. I don’t like to create characters who look too much alike, and second, I’m a sucker for contrast. After ascertaining the basics of Brytt’s appearance, the next thing I did was start browsing the internet for his doppelgänger. This isn’t something I always do, but at times, I’ve found it helpful. So, I found a photograph of a guy that fit the mold, and referred to said picture when I needed to expound on details. I considered posting that picture here, but have ultimately decided against it. I think it’s best to let readers fill in their own blanks and use their own imaginations.

Not all of Brytt was pre-planned. He–like all good characters–came with a little of his own agenda, and one of the first things that surprised me was his dim-wittedness. I don’t know that I would have deliberately created him to be such a lunkhead, but as is so often the case, this is how he kind of “revealed” himself as I wrote him.

And it worked… which is also very often the case when you trust your characters to do their own things.

cd3

It was also a surprise to me that Brytt was almost–but not quite–as morally corrupt, sexually deviant, and as dangerous as Sterling. In the beginning, Brytt was created, I think, simply as a means to give Sterling–who lives by himself–more opportunity for dialogue. But as the story progressed and began to demand artistic unity, Brytt began to play a significant role in the novel.

Brytt’s last name was tricky. A strange thing happened as we got further into the story. We started noticing a pattern… an absolute overuse–and abuse, really–of the letter C. We had Claire, Connie, Carlson, Cassidy, Carson, Carlisle, and probably several other names that began with the letter. I wish I could tell you why C became such a prominent player, but I can’t–I don’t know. Wierd things happen sometimes. So, after we made the discovery of the letter Cs undeniable overuse, Brytt’s last name–Carson–was changed to Tanner. Tanner, because at the time, I worked for a company with the word “Tanner” in the title. I’d been at the company for thirteen years, and figured it deserved some kind of recognition for paying my bills all that time. Unfortunately, Brytt probably isn’t really the most complimentary thing to be associated with, but for what’s it’s worth, I like him. He amused the hell out of me… and hey, it’s the thought that counts…

cd2

I can’t remember if Brytt’s addiction to cocaine was a surprise or part of the plan, but this was the most fun, and most challenging thing about him. His constant “pit stops” kind of became his calling card, his personal catch-phrase in a sense, and it was interesting to describe the physical symptoms, like his glassy eyes and powder-congealed nostrils–and it was a total blast describing the actual snorting of the cocaine. I know… I’m kinda twisted that way, but it was fun. The snorting of coke is not glamorous. I wanted that to be very clear when Brytt did his thing, and it turned out being more hilarious than anything.

cd4

Brytt is, believe it or not, one of my favorites. He was fun because he didn’t allow Sterling to take himself so seriously. Well, maybe Sterling took himself seriously, but Brytt made it impossible for me to take him–and the rest of the story–as seriously. Brytt is one of the reasons Beautiful Monster was so much fun for me. He moved the story along like a good character, he played by the rules by not demanding more stage time than his part required, and he forced me to learn more about the darker, sleazier side of life. I absolutely love him, and I have no doubt he will reincarnate, in some form or another, in my future writes.

smallmonster

Beautiful Monster is available in paperback and ebook format at www.damnationbooks.com, and everywhere books are sold.

If you like my blog, also stop by and give me a like at my Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/thejerodscott?ref=tn_tnmn


Dialogue in story is like the dressing on a salad – it may not be the crux of the thing, but for better or worse, it dominates the overall flavor.  So while good dialogue can move an otherwise mediocre story along relatively well, bad dialogue is capable of dragging a brilliant one down into the pits of utter Suckdom in just a few bad lines.

Arguably being one of the most important elements of a story, dialogue is also one of the most difficult things to deal with. It’s hard to know when a character should speak and what he or she should say. It gets even harder when a second character with an entirely different personality is required to respond to the first character. For some, dialogue is by far the most harrowing of all storytelling necessities and so the temptation is to avoid it altogether, giving the reader nothing to hold onto but ongoing exposition.

Exposition, in terms of fiction writing, is the method an author uses to convey information such as back story, setting, theme, plot and description, and while being obviously very handy, the general rule of exposition in fiction is this: a little goes a long way. The trouble with too much exposition is that it alienates and disengages the reader. We’ve all read it: page after page of information and details that supposedly need remembering (raise your hand if you gave one or more exhausted sigh of impatience while Oscar Wilde expounded upon the brilliant details of Dorian’s fine things for an entire chapter in The Picture of Dorian Gray). Often times, we skim over exposition to get to the “action” and find at the end of the story that we didn’t really miss anything by skipping over the exposition anyway.

Speaking of Oscar Wilde, It could be (and often is) argued that many of the literary geniuses of the past relied heavily on exposition and it didn’t seem to hinder their effectiveness. That is true, but our attention spans aren’t what they were 150 years ago so while many of the old-time writer’s of classics may have been able to get away with page after page of describing and expounding, we, generally speaking, can not.

Personally, I prefer writing exposition to dialogue and initially I had a hard time writing verbal exchanges between two or more characters. If I had my way, I’d spend the entire duration of a chapter just setting the scene… but I was taught to never go longer than a page, maybe a page and a half, without some kind of dialogue, and this was an intimidating concept.

The first thing I did once I decided to try to learn to write dialogue was to listen.  I keyed in to the dialogue between strangers in elevators, lovers in restaurants and parents chastising their children. I eavesdropped shamelessly and still do, and as a result, I’ve learned that nine-year old boys do not speak the same way as women in their fifties, people from small towns don’t speak the same way as people from cities and even in a group of several people of roughly the same age, class and creed, every person has his or her own distinct way of speaking. So listening to the people around me was a good place to start.

Another great way to learn to write effective dialogue is to read actively. I use the word actively to distinguish the difference between reading to be entertained and reading to learn. When reading actively, you are analyzing the author’s words; it’s not as much fun as reading for joy, but it’s the first step toward an endless reservoir of a virtually free education. For learning how to write effective dialogue, I pay close attention to how the author not only chooses his words, but when he chooses to insert them. I pay attention to how one character responds to another and take note of my own emotional response to it. Was it riveting? Saddening? Relieving? Terrifying? Then I ask myself why. I go back and re-read the lines that hooked me and try to determine what the author did to inspire such a strong response.

I chose dialogue as this blogs topic because it’s something I am currently struggling with. I’m writing a novel about a young man in a tiny little trailer-park town in BFE where the residents speak Hick, twanging their words with a psuedo-southern drawl and dropping their ING’s like a fire-hot Oxford English dictionary. Considering I grew up in such a town, I didn’t anticipate having any trouble with this. However, as I plug along in this story I am continually faced with issues. For example, although a person may actually say, “Sut’ton” instead of, “Something,” it looks really bad on paper. I can not expect readers to decipher the code. So now I am faced with the dilemma of “how much.” How much improper grammar is enough to maintain the characters’ integrity without eluding the reader? Again, this is another area where what was okay 100 years ago is now a big no-no (raise your hand if Emily Bronte totally lost you in Wuthering Heights whenever Joseph spoke up.) So, for the sake of striking what I hope is a good balance, I am limiting myself to some minor (but still readable) grammatical glitches such as the words, “gonna,” “ain’t,” and “ya’ll”. Also, for most of the characters, I am dropping the G on the majority of words ending in ING.

Another, and probably the most troublesome element of writing dialogue for me is keeping “voice.” Each character has his or her own voice… and one of the main pitfalls of writing fiction is losing that voice. Somehow my cool, stoic Casanova, upon waking to find his one-night stand getting dressed to leave, sits up and says something like, “I really had a good time last night. I hope you did too. When will we see each other again?” Upon re-reading, I realize how out-of-place this is. My stoic womanizer would not say anything of the sort. No, he would light a cigarette, squint through the smoke and say, “You goin’?”

In my opinion, dialogue is the lubricant of the story. It can be used to more effectively define relationships between characters, it is a more powerful way to introduce necessary information than exposition is, and if it’s witty and fresh, it keeps the story from going stale. I am learning to just let my characters talk. I’m realizing that letting go and allowing my characters to speak will not result in them stealing the show and taking the story anywhere I don’t want it to go. Characters are extensions of ourselves and therefore, they share our vision. Worst case scenario, a character gets too talkative. In revisions, it will be easier to delete some of his or her lines than it will be to try to add them in later. Also by not censoring my characters, I’ve learned some important elements of the story that turned out to be useful – so I try to let them talk. I use dialogue as often as it’s acceptable to do so because I’ve learned that when it comes to fictional dialogue, silence is far from golden.


    

     People are damned interesting.  And they’re everywhere. I have yet to get to know someone who doesn’t lend some kind of inspiration or insight into human nature, and the deeper you dig, the more you find.  The good news is that if approached the right way, most people will tell you just about anything you want to know.  In fact, a lot of the time, there’s nothing else most folks would rather discuss than themselves.  If you’re a writer, this is the best asset you have when it comes to character conception and development.

     But there is still something to be said about people in their natural state, when they think no one is watching. Before I even began writing fiction, I did a very creepy thing: I would watch people, listen to them, and jot down what interested me on loose pieces of paper that would ultimately do nothing but clutter my personal space (hey… don’t judge me). Anything that snagged my attention  for more than a millisecond was a worthwhile installation into the volumes of (at the time) utterly useless information.  Sometimes it was interesting dialogue or mannerisms; other times it was a person’s style or charisma, and sometimes, I just liked the way a person looked and made it a personal challenge to see how I could most interestingly and effectively put them on paper. (Some will say that spying is wrong and unethical.  I say that we live in an age where privacy is all but dead and if you don’t want any witnesses, then do it behind closed doors).

     These days, I still do much the same thing and I’m glad that, as pointless as it seemed to be in the past, I always did it. It gave me a lot of practice in people watching ~ something that is essential to writing… but now, I do it with more purpose.

     Last summer, when I was writing The White Room, I once followed a kid in grocery store because I thought that, if I were a vampire, this guy would be the perfect victim. I hung back far enough so as not to draw any attention to myself, of course, but still it was a little weird of me, I know. It turned out to be a valuable experience because it got me into the correct mind frame to write a necessary scene where my main character experienced blood lust for the first time. As I followed the guy around, I noticed things about him that I otherwise would have thought nothing of.  He was in his early twenties and seemed very shifty. Passing him, I could smell the lingering of marijuana which he’d tried to cover up with something minty. He was stoned, which explained his shiftiness. That and the fact that I suspect he may have been considering shoplifting a squirt gun from the toy aisle… but that is neither here nor there.  I ended up using this experience in the book and it is one of my favorite scenes.

     A few houses down from me lives another guy in his twenties. This guy has some of the most unusual habits. For example, he seems to always be looking for a good excuse to take his shirt off. If someone comes to his door, he takes his shirt off and stands in the doorway, literally posing so that all passersby can get a good look at him. When he is out walking his dog, he does it shirtless and is always on the lookout, as if trying to make certain that everyone can see him. He throws a lot of parties and I am often able to overhear some of his conversation with friends. I have determined that this guy is a total narcissist, much like the character I am currently writing, and I have used him more than once as a kind of yardstick for my story.

     I have another neighbor who is a great source of interesting things.  She has about a hundred boyfriends I think, and according to the snippets of conversation I’ve caught between her and her friends, this woman doesn’t know anyone who isn’t struggling with meth addiction. From her, I have learned the ins and outs of the world of meth. Not sure I’ll ever use the information, but I’m certain that at this point, I could probably even make my own meth lab!

    As fun as it is to spy on people though, it’s still a lucrative thing to ask questions.  A writer can spend hours, weeks, and even months agonizing over what a character would or wouldn’t do in a certain situation before realizing that the solution to the problem is really very simple: start asking people. They will tell you.  And if they don’t… well, polish up the binoculars, high-tune your hearing and start paying attention to people. In my experience, everything you need to know about writing believable characters can be found in the people around you. Just be sure to change the names…