Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Writing dialogue is a piece of cake," she said.
But what kind?

“I don’t know the first thing about this subject,” the editor muttered as she typed the first sentence. “I really wish someone reading this blog would have contacted me.”

Here is something I copied and pasted from a site that will give us a taste of writing dialogue.

Some Dialogue Conventions to Consider*:

1. Each new speaker requires a new paragraph, properly indented and set off by quotation marks.

2. “Use double quotations,” the novelist ordered, “and remember to place commas and periods inside those quotation marks.”

3. “If a speaker goes on for more than one paragraph,” the count responded in his heavy Transylvanian accent, “do not close off the quotation marks at the end of the first paragraph.
“Simply place quotation marks at the beginning of the next paragraph, and carry on to the end of the quotation.”

4. Use “he said” expressions only when you must, to avoid confusion about who's speaking. You can signal increasing tension by moving from “he said” to “he snapped,” to “he snarled,” to “he bellowed furiously.” But the dialogue itself should convey that changing mood, and make such comments needless.

5. Action as well as speech is a part of dialogue. We expect to know when the speakers pause, where they're looking, what they're doing with their hands, how they respond to one another. The characters' speech becomes just one aspect of their interactions; sometimes their words are all we need, but sometimes we definitely need more. This is especially true when you're trying to convey a conflict between what your characters say and what they feel: their nonverbal messages are going to be far more reliable than their spoken words.

6. Speak your dialogue out loud; if it doesn't sound natural, or contains unexpected rhymes and rhythms, revise it.

7. Rely on rhythm and vocabulary, not phonetic spelling, to convey accent or dialect.

8. If you are giving us your characters' exact unspoken thoughts, use italics. If you are paraphrasing those thoughts, use regular Roman type:

Now what does she want? he asked himself. Isn't she ever satisfied? Marshall wondered what she wanted now. She was never satisfied.

9. If you plan to give us a long passage of inner monologue, however, consider the discomfort of having to read line after line of italic print. If you wish to emphasize a word in a line of italics, use Roman: Isn't she ever satisfied?

[* #1-9 excerpted from http://www.darkwaves.com/sfch/writing/ckilian/#13]

10. Once you've read this, write me something of the fictional nature and submit it by December 1--that's just a day away!

Again she wondered, Would anyone respond to this delicious chocolate cake kind of offer?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Check Her Resume

Who is that woman?

What is she waiting for?

What was her last job?

Did she quit or was she fired?

Why does she want to be in my story?

And more importantly, where did she get those boots?

Before you sign on any character for your story, it is always advisable to check out their resume. And if you have a cast of characters that you are trying to create, filling out a "character resume" may be the tool you need to keep your unruly bunch in line on the pages of your fictional tale.

Writing Prompt: take time to answer the questions about our mystery woman in the comment section. I'd love to get to know her...from your imaginative, character-building point of view.

The Character Resume*

One useful way to learn more about your characters is to fill out a “resume” for them--at least for the more important ones. Such a resume might include the following information:


Address & Phone Number:

Date & Place of Birth:

Height/Weight/Physical Description:

Citizenship/Ethnic Origin:

Parents' Names & Occupations:

Other Family Members:

Spouse or Lover:

Friends' Names & Occupations:

Social Class: Education:


Social Class:


Community Status:

Job-Related Skills:

Political Beliefs/Affiliations:


Personal Qualities (imagination, taste, etc.):

Ambitions: Fears/Anxieties/Hangups:


Sense of Humor:

Most Painful Setback/Disappointment:

Most Instructive/Meaningful Experience:

Health/Physical Condition/Distinguishing Marks/Disabilities:

Sexual Orientation/Experience/Values:

Tastes in food, drink, art, music, literature, decor, clothing:

Attitude toward Life:

Attitude toward Death:

Philosophy of Life (in a phrase):

You may not use all this information, and you may want to add categories of your own, but a resume certainly helps make your character come alive in your own mind. The resume can also give you helpful ideas on everything from explaining the character's motivation to conceiving dramatic incidents that demonstrates the character's personal traits. The resume serves a useful purpose in your project bible, reminding you of the countless details you need to keep straight.
(*source: http://www.darkwaves.com/sfch/writing/ckilian/#13)

I'm looking forward to meeting your newly created characters that you will be submitting for the "A Good Story is Hard to Put Down" Contest. Remember to submit it by December 1--please see sidebar for details.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Building Character(s)

I'm in love with Augustus McCrae. Tough. Soft. Humorous. Brave. Philosophical. Friend. Courageous. Moral. Immoral. Uncommitted. Totally driven. Full of regret. Full of hope. I cried when he died in chapter 96 of Lonesome Dove.

I have known the deep yearning Heidi had as she sought her beautiful mountains down in the crowded city. Until I reached Colorado, she was my little beacon and muse as I sat in a college dorm deep in the heart of Texas. I am indebted to her as I look at my mountains that are outside my window today.

And that my dear readers is the power of a character in a fictional piece.

As you are working on your piece, you are also in the process of creating characters that are telling your story. So who are they? What did you name them? What are they like? Will they be memorable?

Again, I am just one step ahead of you all in this fiction-writing process. But it is an exciting journey to be on. Here are some fun ideas about character-building that I came across in a Writer's Little Book of Wisdom, by John Long:

1. A character without a purpose is a story without a cause.

2. Give a character a valid grievance.

3. The fact that one character wants to explore Saturn and another character wants to elope with the janitor’s stepdaughter is of little importance. It’s the intensity of the wanting that fuels the story.

4. Work to make a character achieve a credible degree of salvation in an unresolved world.

5. Feelings should vibrate from what a character does, how he moves and what he says.

6. Sensual and emotional vividness give us a sense of who a character is.

7. A character without inner turmoil or contradictions belongs in vestments or in a coffin, not in a story.

8. A character faces a crisis. He must change, or die. Desperate, he takes action. Fill in the blanks.

9. Most people cannot and will not change unless financial, physical, emotional and spiritual ruin forces them to.

10. If your character isn’t a mélange of your father, boss, childhood bully, neighbor, and the corner tamale vendor, chances are you’ve created a cartoon.

11. Allow characters to reveal themselves through words, thoughts and deeds.

12. Never announce character traits to the reader.

13. Memorable characters do normal things in unforgettable ways.

14. Characters who do unbelievable things are often unbelievable.

15. Words and behavior match only in the most exceptional people.

16. It is uncanny that the degree to which we feel for a character is relative to how much that character changes in the course of the tale.

17. A character might lie, but his body rarely does.

18. Tone and body language are the internal externalized.

19. There is only one thing more important than a character’s actions: what he thinks about before he goes to sleep.

It is 10:00 p.m. I've had 3 cups of coffee, so I'm not sure when sleep will come. I am thinking about tomorrow and all the deadlines I must meet at work. No, what I'm really thinking about is the hard telephone call I had with my mother today...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

One Last Crazy Contest in 2010

"A Good Story is Hard to Put Down" Contest

I had this crazy idea that maybe with all this talk about fiction, we should have a contest to get you motivated to write a story. And what's crazier is the winner will be the first-ever published fiction writer in the onlineMagazine. And I have one last $15 iTunes gift card in my stash to give away before 2010 ends. So jump on the crazy bus with me and don't get off until you've submitted your best fictional effort.

So as a refresher, here's the definition of fiction:

Fiction (Latin: fictum, "created") is any form of narrative which deals, in part or in whole, with events that are not factual, but rather, imaginary and invented by its author(s). Although fiction often describes a major branch of literary work, it is also applied to theatrical, cinematic, documental, and musical work. In contrast to this is non-fiction, which deals exclusively in factual events (e.g.: biographies, histories). [thanks, Wikipedia]

Contest Rules/Guidelines

1. Write an original short story, no longer than 2,000 words in length.

2. Topic of Writing: Convey a spiritual concept (i.e. redemption, endurance, etc.) through story; if possible, set your story in the culture you are currently in or have served.

3. Submit as a WORD attachment, double-spaced, edited for grammar and spelling.

5. Submit by Wednesday, December 1.

6. Winner will be determined by a blind reading by a selected group from the WOTH office.

7. Winner will be announced on Tuesday, December 7 and receive a $15 iTunes gift card and be published in the March/April 2011 issue of the WOTH onlineMagazine.

So there's your bus pass...will you take the ride????

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Good Story is Hard to Put Down

Have you ever written fiction? I haven't, but I want too. Jamie Jo, writer and blog host at IRL*, told me recently that writing fiction is what is hot in the publishing realm. A good story will take you places where nonfiction can't. It has staying power. To Kill a Mockingbird I remember from high school...I can vaguely remember some of the words from the titles of the nonfiction tomes currently stacked up beside my bed.

Fiction can keep you transfixed. It can travel deep into your soul, leave its mark, and perhaps rearrange a portion of your heart. And isn't that the intended outcome of your cross-cultural service? Could a good story, concocted by you, get you over the threshold and into your intended audience's heart?

My biggest hang-up in writing fiction is coming up with an actual story. I don't feel real imaginative in crafting a complete story from beginning to end. However, I get hopeful about this when I hear authors talk about how the story often writes itself. Hmmmm...sounds like I need a magic pen or something. Maybe all I need is a little courage to go beyond what I think is possible and challenge myself with something new.

What if we all (yes, even you Ms. Bible-Study-Writer) thought seriously about writing a fictional piece?

Would you have it in you to write a short story?

Could you put on your imagination hat and start dreaming of a new world, with a few colorful characters, and a great storyline that would convey an idea you have been wanting to share with your friends in the country you are serving?

Through my research I came across this about developing a storyline. Robert McKee, in his book, Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, gave this helpful tip for testing out a new plot:

Next time you're out with a friend, ask him or her if you can tell them your new story idea. Halfway through, make an excuse to leave the table. When you come back, start talking about something else, as though you've forgotten all about the story. If your friend interrupts to ask you to finish, you know you have a winner. If your friend instead seems relieved, definitely think twice about your story idea.

Let's start there.

P.S. If you are a published fiction writer and would like to help us out with a few informative posts (like writing dialogue), I'd love for you to contact me, Cindy Blomquist, WOTH Editor: editor@womenoftheharvest.com . Thanks.


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