Tag Archives: dialogue

Choosing a voice

If you’d asked me five years ago, I would have adamantly said I didn’t like first person stories.

If you asked me now, I’d tell you first person stories require special care. While still not my favorite, I recognize that sometimes that is the best way to tell a story. And sometimes it’s the worst way.

My latest short story is in first person. In the last paragraph, I started to write that first person stories needed a strong reason for being first person. But, I erased that sentence because my reason is that that’s simply how the first lines of the story went, and I ran with it.

It’s a story about a woman who signs up for a one-way trip to a new planet, wanting to escape her life and anxiety, only to find that running away doesn’t solve the problem. In this case, I think it’s easier to express the feelings and emotions, easier to paint a picture of anxiety, by using first person. She can tell the reader exactly what she’s feeling.

One thing I’ve noticed, writing in first person, I’m not quite as obsessive about dialogue. In my first two short stories, I was extremely conscious of how long I was going without dialogue. Dialogue is what keeps most stories moving. But when you’re writing first person, in a way everything is dialogue. The character is speaking to the reader. It makes it easier to move the story along without dialogue. Which is good, because when you use first person dialogue must either be with your character, or take place where they can overhear it. If they aren’t there, you can’t use it.

While I’m still not entirely sold on first person (I’ve read too many books that should have used a different voice), I see that it does make a more intimate story for the writing, too. This story has flowed much faster than the others, even though I haven’t quite finished it yet. Maybe it’s because the whole story is an expression of the things I’ve been dealing with, and an easier description of it. Either way, it’s a little more personal, or maybe differently personal. My characters always contain at least a little piece of myself. But this one is me in a lot more ways. So maybe it flows easier because it is my own story.

One down, two to go

I didn’t get quite as far as I intended this week in my new projects, but I definitely made a dent.

My first piece is done, just needs a read through before submission. And I’ve started the second piece, building up the story to get to where I’m going.

I’ve found that it’s been tricky with these first two ideas, because the main character is fairly isolated in the beginning. This leads to a lot of description, scene setting, and explanation, but little to no dialogue. Which makes me nervous that people will lose interest. But, this also pushes me to write through it and think about new ways to include dialogue, whether through memories, or uncovering new characters to interact with.

I’ve got until the middle of April to get all my submissions ready, so this next week is going to be about focusing on writing this second piece. Then I’ll work on fleshing out the idea for the third.

Exploring dialogue again

Over the last few weeks, one of the writing exercises that has been the most fun for me was one related to dialogue, specifically expanding it.

It was a simple exercise; take a line of dialogue and rewrite it five times, each time changing the amount of details in it, the wording, ect., while keeping the meaning or theme. The dialogue provided for the prompt was, “I’ve never let you down.” Then, after the fifth rewrite, add a line of dialogue from another character.

It was really interesting to see how changing one line of dialogue exposed so much more to the story (or has the capability to, since I didn’t have a story to go with the dialogue for the exercise). But this simple technique can very easily be applied, even mentally, to sentences that feel awkward in the story, or even just parts I don’t like. By rewriting, it can open the door for additional developments, new pieces in the storyline, and just plain better dialogue. And it’s an easier route to start with than going line by line through a story asking, “how does this move the story along? Did they say this on purpose?” I’ll be honest, when I try to do that, I burn out quick. And by burn out I mean, I forget to keep doing it after a page or two. Whereas, this way, I can just read. I’ll obviously notice anything I don’t really like or that doesn’t feel right, and then I can work from there.

I’m still trying to rewrite the second half of my story. It’s messy. Part of me wants to just erase it and start completely from scratch. Part of me is horribly paranoid that I’ll erase it and then want it back immediately. So, I’m struggling through, trying to fill in what I need, and then go through to see what I don’t need and what specifically I need to adapt to new developments. It’s a little tedious, for me, and it’s been challenging to push myself to do it. This week has not been my best for self-motivation. But I’m trying, and that has to count for something.

The Creative Writer’s Notebook: authentic voices

Because I don't always keep up on my editing, and don't always have something here and exciting worth sharing, I decided to come back to my book of writing prompts that I bought almost a year ago.
This week I did the lessons inspired by William Faulkner (ok, I did two out of three, the last one was hard and I couldn't think of what to write). They were mostly focused on allowing your characters to speak in a real voice, allowing punctuation, grammar and vocabulary to show what your character is like. I've always thought that would be quite easy, but as I sat down to do it, I realized just how proper my dialogue must be. When I'm writing, probably my most authentic language is the use of contractions.
The first prompt I did was inspired by one of my nieces, who wanted to make sure her papa didn't "lost" her hat instead of returning it to her. I tried to write a little scene about a small child who had a bad dream about an upcoming zoo field trip. I tried to think of the kinds of things that trip kids up, often tenses. My little girl would sometimes use the present tense if a word because she didn't know any better, and sometimes she would add an extra "ed" on the end of a word.
As challenging as that was, it was harder to try to write a scene about two people trying to cross a river using only dialogue to portray what kind of people they were. That I as what really made me notice how proper I am while writing.
So this next week, I have two goals in mind for editing: I want to work on the first chapter, making it something that grabs your attention and makes you want to know more. But I'm also going to read through my story and pay close attention to my dialogue, and ask myself if my characters sound real, or if they sound stilted and stiff. I'll have the answers for you next week!

NaNoWriMo: Week 1

I have successfully completed the first week of NaNoWriMo, and my word count is on track. I’ve only been behind one day.

My writing process is going smoothly, in large part because I have general plans and content for the chapters I’ve written so far (who knows what will happen after chapter 13. That’s where my planning had ended). And I’m making time to write. That is my downfall, during the other 11 months of the year, I don’t always make time to write.

There is just something about November that makes it easier. I think it is, in large part, because I know I am part of a group that is embarking on the journey to creativity. No one is really paying attention to my word count, no one will really know if I finish or not, but somehow being part of the group motivates me in a way that I’m lacking on my own. So, maybe I need to find myself a writing group. Also, being able to update my word count, and turn little bars from blue to green as I meet daily goals is satisfying. I wonder if stickers on the calendar would be as gratifying…

I’ve also been trying to be more conscientious about my writing. In my planning and outlining, I’ve been challenging myself to break up the action with slow life-picture scenes. Scenes that give more insight into the character, instead of just moving the storyline along. I’ve also been working on tie-ins. If I mention this early on, how can I make it relevant later? Or, conversely, if something happens, and I want to address it later on, what can I do now that will open the door then? This last part is something I really want to develop, because they are my favorite bits of stories, the subplots revolving around things that seem inconsequential, or that you almost forget about, until it comes back up in a completely natural and relevant way. I want to be able to write that seamlessly.

And I’m thinking about my characters, trying to develop individual tones and personalities that reflect in their words and actions. I don’t want cookie cutter characters. I want to write people.

So, that’s where I am, one week in. I’m following my outline, but veering off when it seems like the right thing to do. And I’m still outlining as I go, which allows me to recognize how things happening now can come back up later. And then I write it down so I don’t forget. And some of the things I thought were going to happen may not happen after all.

Onward, now, to week two.