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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What You See is What You Get

(Listen or watch this writing tip on Youtube)

A couple of weeks ago I talked about characters that don't say what they mean. You can read that post here. Basically, most people talk indirectly about their feelings, and often the stronger the emotions are, the more indirect their language.

But not all characters are like that.

Once in a while, you may come across one that has no barrier, no face—what you see is what you get. The dialogue for these characters may be a lot simpler to write, but can still be effective, especially when you need someone to say something others wouldn’t dare.

In Harry Potter, Luna Lovegood always says what she means, which sometimes makes Harry feel uncomfortable. In Half-Blood Prince, she has no problem acknowledging she doesn't have friends. While other people who say this might look for sympathy or attention, Luna doesn't have an ulterior motive. Other times in the novels, she provides straightforward wisdom in ways other characters can't.

In the clip below, notice how she talks openly to Harry. (For my email subscribers, you might need to go to my blog to watch it)

Without embarrassment, Luna explains that nargles have taken her shoes. Without guard, she tells about her mother being dead, how she died, and how it still makes her sad. Without shame, she says that she believes Harry, when few others dare voice it. And when she offers wisdom, she simply speaks her mind.

So, don’t feel like you have to make what all your characters say encrypted and indirect. Maybe your character is the type who says what he means.

Unless you have a good reason that relates to the theme or story line of your narrative, avoid making all characters like Luna. It’s not realistic. How many people do you know like that? Likely less than those who speak indirectly.

On a final note, keep in mind that the majority of characters switch between direct and indirect dialogue, just as people do. A high school student might speak indirectly to her crush but openly to her best friend. Another character may speak openly most of the time, but start talking indirectly when emotionally charged (or vice versa).

You can play around with variations to make the interactions between your characters more interesting.

Luna jumped immediately into my mind when I was trying to think of characters that speak directly, but I had a hard time coming up with more. Do you guys know of any more examples? Also, do you have any thoughts or wisdom to share on direct/indirect dialogue? I'd love to hear them in the comments.
Announcement: I recently did a guest post for Konstanz Silverbow's blog. You can check it out here. It's on rekindling your writing drive, for anyone who gets stuck in those "blah" moments.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Snippets from LTUE, a Writing Conference

Over the weekend I attended LTUE, a writing conference focused (mostly) on fantasy and science fiction. I love LTUE because it’s a great price: $30, (free if you’re a student). For those of you who don’t know, a writing conference is an event where attendees get instruction from the pros, pitch novels, network, get books signed, and basically learn about writing until their brains are saturated. This year at LTUE, award-winning author Megan Whalen Turner was the Guest of Honor. Tracy and Laura Hickman, Brad R. Torgersen, David Farland, Tristi Pinkston, and Howard Taylor, along with plenty of other authors, shared their experience and knowledge with participants like me.

Here are just a few tidbits I learned—

It’s okay to write a damsel in distress as long as she is a round character who is trying to rescue herself while waiting to be rescued. A great idea is to have her not only be rescued, but also have her rescue someone at another point in the story.

When creating antiheroes in fiction, you can give them some of these traits and use these tips to make them likeable despite their flaws: make him funny, in love (or show he has a heart), give her a conscience, give him an exceptional talent or “super power,” make her cause more important than her crimes, make him intelligent, make the people the antihero is opposed to worse than he is, make him competent, charming, or cultured, justify the antihero’s actions.

For a revenge story, make the crime that fosters revenge ongoing rather than a past crime. This ensures that your antagonists don’t become sympathetic victims in the reader’s eyes.

Be a good writer before you get published. One professional writer shared how she somehow got her books published when she was still a bad writer. She was so embarrassed when she realized how awful her novels were, that she bought them all back and burned them.

When writing for young adults, avoid the trap of talking down to teenagers by having the mindset that you are talking to an adult that doesn’t have the experience you have.

Instead of having a character choose between good and evil, try making them choose between two goods or two evils.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

(Don't) Tell Me How You Really Feel

(Watch this post on Youtube here, or listen to it on SoundCloud here.)

I’ve been thinking about dialogue lately. Particularly, I’ve been interested in dialogue where characters don’t say what they mean. In Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern, Stern notes,

“Advice about dialogue generally starts with discussing what your characters say. It might be better to start off with what your characters don’t say and the way they don’t....the more intense the feelings, the more likely people are to say the opposite of what they really mean. If you want to keep a high level of tension, keep the dialogue evasive, filled with suppressed information and unstated emotion.”

He also says that how a character sits, stands, fidgets, pauses, or adverts eyes can be as important as his or her words.

Three examples of narratives that follow Stern's advice are The Office, The Hunger Games, and The Lord of the Rings.

Here are some clips to illustrate. The first video takes place when Michael Scott, one of the main characters of The Office, leaves Dunder Mifflin. Watch how Jim avoids (and gets Michael to avoid) saying what they actually think and feel. The second video is very short, but you can clearly tell through Ryan's tone and facial expression that his words are an understatement of what he actually thinks.

Often The Office plays with the gap between what characters say and actually think for humor.

For The Hunger Games I couldn't find the clip I wanted, but it's the scene at the starting where Katniss and Gale are talking in the forest. In the book, Gale says "We could do it, you know...Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods. You and I, we could make it." In the same conversation, when Katniss says she never wants to have kids, Gales says, "I might. If I didn't live here." And later, Gale gets frustrated and snaps at Katniss.

What Gale really wants is to be in a relationship with Katniss, but he can't say it straight out. And Katniss, who never intends to live a lifestyle that includes a significant other, doesn't catch on. Gale's real frustration lies in the fact that Katniss doesn't pick up on what he's getting at. That's why he snaps back at her.

And for my last example, I have the very last scene of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Here is the dialogue between Frodo and Sam.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Little Publishing Stories: Westward Quarterly

Hey everyone,

Good news. My poem "In the Corner of the Library" was published in the Winter 2013 edition of Westward Quarterly.

My friend suggested the literary journal to me, so I sent some of my poems over. The editor was great to work with, and it was fun getting an acceptance letter back from them (who doesn't like that?).

I wrote "In the Corner of the Library" during the last week of classes one semester in college. I was really conscious of everyone scurrying to get their mounds of schoolwork done, and I thought it was interesting that although I didn't personally know most of the students, we were somehow connected through our goals. "In the Corner of the Library" was originally published the following semester in The Southern Quill.

If you write poetry, you might want to check out Westward Quarterly here. (By the way, the Winter 2013 edition is only available in print.)

I have a few other poems out, so hopefully I will have more success stories to share.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Stave Off Self Sabotage

Here's a truth: sometimes we as human beings sabotage ourselves. We keep ourselves from reaching our goals. We hold ourselves back. We talk ourselves down. Sure, not everyone's dreams come true in life, but too often we're the ones that stop ourselves short.

There are some people who literally lack the opportunities to reach their potential. Factors outside their control hinder their abilities. Many victims of worldwide atrocities, such as those in Death Camps, didn’t even have the chance to even try themselves. People who live in poverty might not have those opportunities either.

If you’re like me, you’re blessed enough not to have those road blocks. The difficulties that threaten to stop me from moving forward are usually internal. While they can be hard to handle, we shouldn’t let them stop us from accomplishing our goals. Let’s not be the force that causes us to fail. We have more opportunities and more freedoms than many of our ancestors (and even people alive today) had. And we shouldn’t waste them just because of our own personal blocks.

Sometimes we give up on goals too easily. We give up on our painting because it’s not as good as Michelangelo’s. Or we give up on making it as a writer because it’s difficult. We fail to pursue our desires because we’re insecure, scared, frustrated, lacking faith, hate public speaking, are horrible with oils, or don’t know what the heck a coma splice is.

Don’t let these things stop you.