Dialogue: All the Time, No Exceptions

Lately I’ve been talking about editing and how I treat my work differently if I know it’s going to be read aloud. Writing instructors and agents have often talked about the importance of reading your work aloud, but they seldom talk about why.

So let’s get into it.

It’s a matter of dialogue. Everyone loves writing it (especially me). Dialogue is action. Dialogue is interesting. Dialogue fills in the holes when we think we can’t convey through narration and description. It’s a safety net. It’s a catch-all.

On the other hand, there’s narration. It’s, like, description and stuff. We’ll go out with narration because we have to, but while we’re taking narration to dinner and a movie, we’re dreaming of dialogue.

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Updates, Edits, and Pantsing

Witty snippets and funny photos are at bare minimum today, gang. My brain’s been focusing on too many other things and the blog was put on hold for a few days. I know the rule of thumb is to make sure a blog has regular content 2 – 3 times a week, but let’s face it: when I don’t feel like it, I’m not going to force it. Still, I do want to give everyone an update on what I’m up to.

Every day, I get closer to finishing my first urban fantasy, THE FOURTH CHANNEL. The editing process has been agonizing and more challenging than I ever thought it would be, but it’s fantastic and I’m excited about the results. Tom is an unrelenting copy editor. We share the chapters in Google Documents, which easily allows editor(s) to highlight sections of the text and attach comments that appear in the sidebar. I can make my own changes and reply to the comments, or just mark it resolved. So far it’s been very handy.

I made it small on purpose so you couldn’t read too much. (No spoilers!) Basically, our intrepid necromancer is talking about how she bought a bunch of ugly lingerie to be used as new punishment fodder for her knives. (A drawer of silk and lace and potpourri isn’t the preferred habitat for aspiring weapons of mass destruction.)

At any rate, I’m about waist-deep in the novel now, working through the Second Act. I’m glad to revisit text that I haven’t looked at in a few months, and the story is getting more and more refreshed in my head. I can’t wait to share it with you.

Human sacrifice. Talking knives. Rock and roll. Just another day in the life of an American necromancer.

While I’m working on finishing up THE FOURTH CHANNEL, I’m coming to terms with being a pantser.

Every time I see the word “pantser” I envision jerking someone’s pants down to their ankles and stuffing them in a locker. Maybe it’s just me? But that’s not even the right word, is it? De-pantsing? Un-pantsing? Screw it. I’ll just switch to wedgies.

Like a leopard who tries to change their spots or a left-handed person who tries to change to right-handedness, I tried to turn myself into a plotter.

Not so great, actually.

After giving myself a few days to recuperate from that traumatic experience, I’m embracing my own process and delving into work on a new novel idea. Thanks to the use of paper & pen, it’s going faster than ever. This eclectic medium has given me the freedom to write quickly and just take my characters wherever seems good at the time. When I try this on the computer, I get way too bogged down with word structure and flow… and the process takes about five times as long. I keep nice journals on hand (discount bookstore bins FTW!), but even those give me a fear of permanence. I’m using crappy old steno pads instead and it’s going swimmingly.

I just feel sorry for my crit partners who will be forced to read some of it.

Commitment Issues

I have commitment issues. Big time.

As someone who has made plenty of bad relationship decisions before finding their “gem,” I find it hard to make a commitment to anyone, especially if it’s long-term.

I’m talking about antagonists, though the rules of relationships still apply. You’ve seen this with couples before, possibly friends of yours. She likes him. She wants more. She wants to make it permanent. And why not? She’s great! Smart! Savvy! She has a job! Together, they could have a very happy life — or, at least, a great long-term relationship.

Unfortunately, he’s not so sure. He thinks he’s in his prime and should keep his options open just in case a lingerie-model-sports-fanatic-sex-addict-gymnast who never wants to talk about her feelings comes along.

Sorry, pal. She doesn’t exist.

Okay, if she does exist, she’s not going for him. She’s going for an old, wrinkly, rich dude who can do great things for her career.

In an alternate universe, he spends his evenings hiding in the bushes outside your bedroom window with a pair of binoculars.

To be honest, I hold out for antagonists just like the delusional friend. With a bit of decent, honest work, I can come up with someone who could make me decently happy. We’d have a nice, long-term relationship. But would they be the antagonist of my dreams? Probably not.

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Work It, Own It

I started my local writers’ group a few months ago through my church. Though it’s a church-sponsored event, it is open to anyone and no one is required to write religious material. It is a writers’ group, not an evangelist group. People can bring whatever they want. We have a good time, most of the time. Even my pastor attends.

At our last meeting, we had a great turnout. Plus, everyone had made remarkable improvement since the last gathering. The stories were fantastic. The critique discussions were even better. The new tea selection I brought was awesome. But when it became our romance writer’s turn to read, things took a strange turn.

I could tell she was excited by the way she started reading it so I was excited to hear it. And it really was wonderful! Her scenes were “bumped out” with description and dialogue and the pacing was great and filled with intrigue. As the novel is written in the first person, we reached a section in the middle where the protagonist (female) is thinking about this guy she sleeps with on occasion. The arrangement is not a romance thing. The protagonist is happy with her career-centric life and is fine with being the occasional one-night fling. In fact, the protag is the one who leaves the hot, hunky beefcake in the morning! (I liked that little twist.)

Sense. This picture makes none.

As the protagonist is thinking about her hunky piece of man-meat, she recounts their last few steamy encounters in vivid detail. And as the author is reading this, I can’t help but notice she’s tripping over her own words, sounding less enthusiastic about the story and her protagonist’s explicit thoughts. Her voice is also a little quieter. In the back of my mind I take note that since there is no romance in this story (the protagonist is not interested in love) it’s not the romance genre. It’s technically erotica.

So we’re listening to a portion about this guy’s amazing body and the size of his member and the “motion of the ocean” and suddenly, wouldn’t you know, the author comes to a complete halt in the middle of a sentence.

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First Person Tense. It’s Tense.

Every time I kill someone, their soul lands on the far side of the Styx. The ferryman that navigates the river knows the faces of my victims well since I kill them regularly.

This is the opening of my debut novel, THE FOURTH CHANNEL.

Debut. n. Fancy word for “I rewrote this enough times to qualify for a half dozen new novels”.

Right away, you can see that I went with first person perspective. I did this for a very technical and artistic reason that will blow your mind: This guy said all new writers should avoid first person and I took it as a challenge.

In my defense, his reasoning is that first person perspective demands a strong, unique voice and I was convinced I could do it. I wanted to grow as a writer and thought it would be smart to go the hardest route, upstream without a paddle, dragging the remnants of sad first drafts behind me.

So I did. It took me a few rewrites, but I accomplished it! Ha! Showed you, James N. Frey! Proudly, I handed my brilliantly crafted novel off to someone for editing — an anal-retentive, OCD programmer with a strict, by-the-book grip on grammar who upholds the Oxford comma with an unholy passion: My spouse. And then I waited for his gushing over my story to begin.

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