Friday, April 08, 2005

WRESTLING with WRITING

Getting the Frikkin Story on PAPER!

Okay, you have your characters set up and, you have your plot outlined. It's time to put the words on paper.

ACTION!
All Actions MUST happen in Chronological order.
The only way to write down any event in your story is in Chronological order. Seriously.
- Like this:

1. Something happened.
2. The POV Character's immediate physical reaction. (jump, scream, flinch, duck, gasp)
3. What the POV Character sensed. (saw, heard, smelled, tasted, felt)
4. The POV Character's Emotional reaction / introspection. (happy, sad, pissed, horny)
5. How the POV Character responded. (dialogue, action)
6. What happened next.

In that specific order. Every single time. Every single sentence. You can skip steps - but you cannot change the order without muddying the visuals for the reader.

More on Action?
Go To: Writing SEX Action - Technique & Structure


POV = ATTITUDE + ACTION
When you are in tight POV, everything the character sees and experienced should be flavored with that character’s Attitude.

If Oscar the Grouch is looking at a bed of roses, what is going through his head is not going to resemble what would be going through Big Bird’s head. If you are in Oscar’s POV, the way you would write the description of those roses would reflect how he saw them.

Attitude Alone (AKA - Internal Narration):

Oscar could not believe that someone had the gall to drop his comfy garbage can in the middle of a disgustingly bright mound of flowers. At least they were roses. He could almost stand something that closely resembled a heaped snarl of barbed wire, if it weren’t for those eye-searing explosions of hideous pink. To make matters worse their stench was overwhelmingly sweet. He just knew that it was going to take a whole week to get the smell out of his can. He seriously considered heaving, just to have something more comforting to smell.

(Boring. NOTHING is happening.)

BUT – Oscar would not sit there and Contemplate the roses, he would curl his lip and say something snotty.

Attitude + ACTION:
Oscar the Grouch popped out of his trash can. Serrated green leaves waved among slender and barbed branches around the mouth of his home. He gasped in horror. “What is this disgusting mess?”

He leaned out and looked around in disbelief.
"Oh ugh, I'm surrounded. Somebody put my trash can in a revolting pile of... What are these? Roses?” He could almost stand something that closely resembled a heaped snarl of barbed wire, if it weren’t for those eye-searing explosions of hideous color. He curled his lip. “Pink, I hate pink.”

To make matters worse their stench was overwhelmingly sweet. “Oh, eww…the smell!" He slapped a fuzzy green hand over his fuzzy green nose. "It’s gonna take me a week to get that out’ta my can!” He felt his gorge rising. “I think I’m going to be sick. At least it’ll smell better.”

(Not quite so boring this time.)


Add some DESCRIPTION please?!
Go To: I want to SEE the Story-Damn it! ~ a RANT!
~ DESCRIPTION in your Fiction


Go To: What's the Difference between SHOWING & TELLING?"


GRAMMAR Details
Separate each character’s actions.
The actions and dialogue of one character DO NOT belong in the Same Paragraph as another character's actions and dialogue - EVER!
The actions and dialogue of one character Do Not Overlap the actions and dialogue of another character in the Same Paragraph or visuals become muddied. It may look choppy on the page, but the reader has absolutely no doubt as to who is doing what.

The Reader's perceptions are more important than whether or not your type looks tidy.

A character's Dialogue stays WITH their Actions
- in the Same Paragraph!

It’s a cold and lonely world. Your dialogue should always be in the same paragraph as its corresponding actions; it shouldn’t be abandoned. You make a new paragraph for the NEXT character’s actions and dialogue.

(Where did that "abandoned dialogue" idea come from anyway? Does anyone know?)

Dialogue Tags - SUCK.
When you have an action with a line of dialogue – you DO NOT NEED DIALOGUE TAGS - AT ALL!
You already know, through the action, who is speaking. Dialogue tags are only ever needed when you don’t have any other way of identifying the speaker. If you have no other way of knowing who is speaking than dialogue tags, then you have committed the heinous crime of:

DIALOGUE IN A VACUUM
- also known as “talking heads syndrome”.

A book with nothing but reams of dialogue marked only by dialogue tags means that there is no action going on, there is no Picture. NOTHING IS HAPPENING. The mental movie has stopped and only the sound-track is playing in a vacuum, like a Radio Show with no sound effects. I don’t know about you, but when I go to read a book, I want to SEE what I'm reading like a movie, not listen to a radio show.

Action and body-language tags on dialogue are not just there for decoration.
Action tags keep the mental Movie rolling and the MEANING of what is being said crystal clear. A small simple action can tell you right away what's going through the speaker's head.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
She rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically. “I love you too.”
She dropped her chin and pouted. “I love you too.”
She glared straight at him. “I love you too.”
“I love you too.” She turned away and wiped the tear from her cheek.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dead give-away that dialogue is happening in a vacuum?
Look for dialogue tags, the word: SAID or any of its cousins: Spoke, Asked, Stated...etc.

Dialogue tags are a pet peeve of mine. I don’t use them. Ever.
Go To: Don't Need No Stinking "SAID" - a RANT!

Making Story HAPPEN

The fastest way to Start a story is...
– NOT at the Beginning.

Start your story within one page of Boy meets Girl (or Hero meets Trouble), with the story already in progress.

Don't bother with Back-story, also known as Info-Dumping. Use Dialogue to slip in clues to the characters' back-story and hints of what's going on in the world around them -- in the middle of all the action. This forces the reader to become an eavesdropper who MUST read on to find out: "What the heck is Really going on?"

The less you tell the readers, the more they'll want to read further to find out what's really happening. Make the reader WORK to discover why this vampire hunted this particular girl down, and why she isn’t running in screaming terror. Don’t give away the goodies until the reader is committed to your characters.

The saggy Middle...
- Is where the story’s REVERSAL goes.

Once you get to the middle, it's time for the Worst Case Scenario! The Middle is where Everything goes Terribly Wrong and the characters scramble to fix it, making everything WORSE.

Then comes the lowest point of the book, where they can’t possibly go any further. “We’re dead, we’re dead, we’re dead!” And then the Hero tries one last desperate thing…

Keep your Plot a SECRET until the bitter End!
- NEVER reveal ANYTHING until the Last Possible Moment!

The Easiest way to hide your plot -- and all your other shocking secrets, is by staying in ONE Point Of View (POV), rather than hopping from head to head.

When the main character - the POV character - is the ONLY character telling their thoughts to the reader, it's really easy to make the reader think one thing when in fact it's another!

(I don't care what other authors do, if you want to keep your plot a secret, you Don't put your readers in the heads of the characters plotting against your main POV character.)

The Final Battle!
- Shouldn’t be a total Win or a total Lose.

Winning should come with a cost, and Losing should come with an unexpected bonus. For some odd and unexplainable reason, a total triumph seems to be just as unsatisfying to the modern day reader as a total: “He dies, she dies, everybody dies…” Bittersweet seems to be the preferred flavor for an ending.

(I have no idea WHY the majority of my readers seem to prefer a balance of good and bad, but I do have the hate-mail to prove it.)

Where to End it?
- Where you began – back at square one.

Make the story a nice tidy loop. This tells the reader: “The next story is about to begin!”
  • Sam Spade always ends up back in his office, ready to begin his next job.
  • Alice comes back out of her rabbit hole – of course she’s being chased, but hey…!
  • King Arthur sailed off in a tiny ship on the lake where he gained Excalibur, and his career as King began -- but he wasn’t dead. He could have come back. (Okay, so he didn’t come back -- but He COULD Have!)
  • Even the classic Romances that end with a wedding party imply a new beginning.

What Don't I need in a Story?
- Only put in as much work as you Need To.

Think: SLACKER. The trick to knowing what to include in a story is whether or not you intend to actively USE it. If the character trait or object does not matter to the plot – skip it. If it doesn’t actively MOVE the Plot, (even a teeny bit,) you don’t need to use it -- or describe it.

The shorter the story the LESS room you have to work with, so the only details you need are what actually Changes the Plot. The same goes for character details. If the fact that your Hero's brother likes soccer a whole lot has no bearing on the plot, you don’t need to mention it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
That's the Quick and Dirty version of how to Write a Story. If you want more details, I want begging and pleading. And make it GOOD.

Morgan Hawke
www.dakerotica.net
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

7 comments:

  1. (Where did that "abandoned dialogue" idea come from anyway? Does anyone
    know?)

    From the times where action is not exactly corresponding, or happening at
    the same time. It happens. Sometimes ;)

    Great article--very tight and vivid.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Morgan,

    First, let me thank you for everything you have on this blog. I have many of your articles bookmarked and look at them often as I try to workout this fiction thing.

    Second, I'd like to tell you I bought House of Shadows as an e-book and enjoyed it thoroughly. However, it did give me my ammo for point three.

    Three, absolutes bug me...just a little. In the above post you say

    >>Dialogue tags are a pet peeve of mine. I don’t use them. Ever.<<

    Below are two consecutive sentences from House of Shadows in which you use the dreaded said, not once but twice(pg 104), and with the exact same tag. So maybe we could say, only use them sparingly, when necessary to maintain continuity about who is speaking in the story?

    "It's done," she said softly.
    "Good," said the vampire softly. "Put that cigarette out and come to bed."

    Again, thank you for all the guidance and the lovely story.

    Jas

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello Jas,

    "First, let me thank you for everything you have on this blog. I have many of your articles bookmarked and look at them often as I try to workout this fiction thing."

    - You're very welcome.

    "Second, I'd like to tell you I bought House of Shadows as an e-book and enjoyed it thoroughly.

    - Thank you!

    "However, it did give me my ammo for point three."

    - I'm sure it did, as HoS was the FIRST Novel I ever wrote ~(C) 2002.

    "Three, absolutes bug me...just a little."

    - LOL! Gee, they don't bother me at all! Sorry Jas, I'm a Native New Yorker. Speaking and writing in 'Absolutes' is as natural to me as screaming out my window at traffic.

    "In the above post you say:"

    >>Dialogue tags are a pet peeve of mine. I don’t use them. Ever.<<

    "Below are two consecutive sentences from House of Shadows in which you use the dreaded said, not once but twice(pg 104), and with the exact same tag:

    "It's done," she said softly.
    "Good," said the vampire softly. "Put that cigarette out and come to bed."

    - Correct. I did use 'said' twice. However, I was still a beginner at the time I wrote this book and made mistakes I don't make Any More.

    So... I Don't use "said" Any More - EVER.

    Better? (Grin.)

    "So maybe we could say, only use them sparingly, when necessary to maintain continuity about who is speaking in the story?"

    - Um, no we can't. If you need 'said' to differentiate speakers, then that means all Action has Stopped. You've gone from a Movie to a Radio Show. That's BAD.

    You never want the action to stop. It gives the reader a place to put the book down.

    See: The Non-Verbal Thesaurus in the menu on the right, for a list of what to use instead of 'said'.

    "Again, thank you for all the guidance and the lovely story."

    - You're very welcome.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dialogue in Space

    Morgan, thanks for sharing the tips. Anywho, a question if I may. I'm writing something that is almost two pages long that is almost all dialogue from one character.

    Now I know you are cringing as bad as my old music teacher when I hit a sour note, but hear me out.

    I have no dialogue tags, my character is telling a main pivot point for the plot to move on, and he's not just talking, he's crying over his lost love and friends.

    Is this okay or do I need to find a diffrent way to comunicate this to build up to a love scene?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Morgan, thanks for sharing the tips. Anywho, a question if I may. I'm writing something that is almost two pages long that is almost all dialogue from one character. ... Is this okay or do I need to find a different way to communicate this to build up to a love scene?

    I think your monologue will work fine as long as you add some Description to break it into paragraphs.

    Example:
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    "Blah, blah, blah-blah." He sniffed and rubbed at his eyes then looked over at his companion. "Blah, blah, blah-blah?"

    People don't talk in vacuums using ONLY words. They move their hands, shift in their seats, and change expressions to express their feelings on what they are saying.

    If done right, you can even indicate when someone is lying or sincere just from body-language alone.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Morgan,

    Thanks, I wasn't sure if that would work. I appreciate the help and the quick response.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hey, did you miss me? I've missed you...

    Cirrat here. Your permission to translate this into Czech and slap it on my blog? Including: link to the original post (here), credited with your name (naturally) and any other statement that you'd like to include.

    Sorry for not uploading any new photos on the FB lately - life is a bitch and tried to bite me, so I had to wrestle with it for a while...

    I will look forward to your answer.

    Much much love,

    Olga

    ReplyDelete