Sunday 21 December 2014


Happy Winter Solstice - the light is coming
In a previous post I spoke about the importance of showing not telling so a reader can experience the story. I also mentioned that one way of doing that is through dialogue. There is an art to dialogue though and these are some of my thoughts on it. Baggy dialogue that doesn't move the story forward and bogs it down could mean the reader may well just switch off. What you want to achieve is dialogue that shines and draws the reader into the story. It is worth considering speech as another form of action.

When writing dialogue don't write it the way we speak it in real life. That would be so boring!  It shouldn't waffle. What dialogue can do is reveal information that is important. *WARNING* Not in great chunks - the old adage less is more applies here* It can be done through narrative as well of course. Be careful how you do it of course. It mustn't be obvious to the reader that that is what you are doing though. There are times when you need to trust your reader to work things out. Remember also that information can be gleaned by what is not being said as much as by what is. Now there is a contradiction for you to think about. Don't underestimate the importance or impact of silence either.

You can use dialogue to set the tone and to allow readers to experience a scene. Also dialogue can be used to reveal information about characters and their relationship. Think about distinct voices for your characters, consider vocab, peer groups etc. Use conflict and tension (including fear and barriers) in their dialogue while remembering that all characters will have an agenda regardless of how small their part may be in your novel.

I am often asked about 'said'. It is recommended that it is your default attribution. It becomes invisible the reader doesn't see it but it gives them enough information without them having to work hard and allowing them to focus on the other words.  'Said' disappears yet gives direction. Use other words such as 'whispered' and 'asked' sparingly and with reason ensuring it does what you need it to. The same with adverbs attached to speech tags. Ask the question could I show this better? If not keep it in. Again less is more at times.

On a personal note I don't tend to put internal dialogue or thoughts in quotation marks or italics. Again I find it distracting. I have been writing a lot of dialogue from the end of the Second World War and I have had to make sure that contemporary phrases don't slip in. If they did it would mean the whole narrative would lose credibility for the reader I believe. It just wouldn't feel real. Something to bear in mind when writing historical fiction or even fiction that is set a few years ago. Think about what might or might not be said. Make sure you do your research.

Try and practice writing dialogue. Take a couple of your characters out of your novel and put them in situations and write dialogue for them just to see how they would react, what would they say. One thing to avoid when writing dialogue is the 'talking heads' scenario. Watch people having conversations. They never just talk. People are always doing things at the same time. You need to convey this too to make it feel real and to break up blocks of dialogue.  When you have written it read it out loud so you can hear it. Does it sound real? Dialogue should be short and sharp unless there is a good reason for a character to be verbose.

There we go some thoughts on dialogue. I hope they are useful. Today is the winter solstice. The shortest day. What a relief we are heading towards spring again and the light and sunshine. It has been a tough time for many reasons and I need to thank a lot of people who have supported people. They know who they are.

This song is for no other reasons than it has some very happy memories connected to it and because I am looking to the future now.

Sunday 14 December 2014

Make every word count

Writing is a long and sometimes lonely journey
When giving feedback this is something I often talk about.  Making every word count and ensuring that each word moves the story forward. It sounds easy doesn't it but it can be a little difficult and easy to forget when you get wrapped up in your story telling and the sound of your own voice. We all do it particularly in that first draft when we get excited about our subject. I personally killed three chapters out of my latest WIP. They were great but they did nothing for the story. They were fabulous if you wanted to know about horses though!

It is all about keeping the writing tight. Lots of unnecessary words end up slowing your story down and taking your reader away from the main point and main thrust, Impacting on the pace and therefore potentially losing the interest of the reader. How do you spot it? That can be the hard part. It is looking at sentences and paragraphs and asking yourself. What am I trying to say? Does it say what I want it to? Am I showing it the best way I can? And yes I am sorry often it comes back to that show not tell too (see previous post).

But and there is a big BUT it is not all about making the writing so tight there is no colour to it. When a reader reads your writing they need to feel your story. They need to experience it and become part of the narrative so they forget everything else that is going on around them and live it. You remember those stories that stay with you for days after you have finished reading them? That is what you are trying to create with your words when you are making every word count.

No one ever said writing was easy. Writing is a long and sometimes lonely journey.

I would suggest you can't do anything about making every word count until you have finished your whole story. I wouldn't try and do it while first writing the story because you might stop your creative process. Get the story down first. It is part of the editing process because until the story is finished you won't know which words are important! You won't know what is at the heart of the story you are trying to tell. Be patient and listen to your gut it is inevitably right. Go on have fun writing over the Christmas period.

I finished lecturing on Friday on what turned out to be a strange and difficult semester for me. Not one I ever want to repeat. I have never felt so disconnected and yes that favourite word discombobulated. My colleagues and friends have been brilliant and kind and generous with their support. They have touched my heart. My body has gone into melt down now as I have pushed it too hard. I really should know better. I have been disabled long enough to know what I can and can't do but apparently not. However it is the build up to Christmas which I love so much that has to make everything better.