Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Robin Patchen: Ten Tips for Writing Great Dialog

I’ve heard publishing professionals say that when they want to know if a prospective fiction client can write, they flip through the manuscript for the first section of dialog to see if the author has mastered the art.

Dialog is that important.

So today I’m going to give you my top ten tips for turning your mediocre dialog into sparkling literary genius.
1.       Eliminate all names, nicknames, and pet names.
2.       Eliminate all nonsense words: um, uh, hmm, etc.
3.       Eliminate all other filler words: like, well, you know, anyway, etc.
4.       Eliminate all greetings: hi, hello, how are you, what’s up, how’s it going.
5.       Eliminate all direct answers: yes, no, maybe. (Also, most pleases and thank-yous.)
6.       Eliminate repeated sentiments: “Is she mad?” “She’s mad.” “How mad.” “Very mad.”
7.       Eliminate as many dialog tags (he said, she said) as possible. Eliminate every dialog tag that accompanies an action beat. (“Almost there,” he said as he turned left becomes “Almost there.” He turned left.)
8.       Eliminate all adverbs in dialog tags. (“I love you,” he said softly becomes “I love you,” he whispered.)
9.       Eliminate telling in dialog. If you could start the sentence with “As you know,” delete it.
10.   Eliminate every predictable answer. 

You might have noticed that every tip begins with the word “eliminate.” I know it sounds drastic—it is drastic. But when you take out the unnecessary words, what matters will shine through.

Take this sparkling example:

       “Hey John. How have you been?” Sue asked while carrying her tray to the table.
       “Well, as you know, my father died last week, so I’ve been sad,” John replied sadly while he set his tray on the table.
       “Gee, I’m sorry you’ve been sad. And I’m sorry about your father dying last week, John,” Sue said, picking up her chocolate milk.
       “Thank you for saying that. Hmm, how have you been after you and Billy broke up when you caught him kissing Karen at the bonfire a couple of weeks ago and you were devastated,” John said quietly, unwrapping his sandwich.
       “Thank you for asking about Billy. He’s a jerk, and I hate him. So I decided to plant a bomb in his locker and blow up the entire school,” Sue whispered conspiratorially.

Okay, I had to add the bomb just to make that dialog more exciting. Let’s see what happens when we follow those ten tricks.

       Sue paid for her lunch, grabbed her tray, and fell in step beside John. “Glad you’re back. How’s your family?”
       He shrugged. “It’s been hard.”
       She slid her tray onto their usual table. “I really liked your father. He was always nice to me.”
       “You were his favorite.” He swallowed a lump of emotion. “Lets talk about something else. Any updates on the Billy situation?”
       “I thought about putting a bomb in his locker.”
       “A bit harsh to kill the entire student body just because your boyfriend kissed another girl.”
       “I think it’s a fitting statement about the danger of infidelity.” She winked and bit into her turkey sandwich.

It’s not going to win any awards, but is it better? I think so.

Try those tricks in your own stories. Eliminate the things I suggested, rewrite where necessary to make it flow, and then read the segment aloud. If you absolutely must add back in a little of what you deleted, go ahead, but do so sparingly.

Punchy dialog moves fast and keeps readers on their toes. And that’s one thing those publishing professionals are looking for.

Robin Patchen lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her husband and three teenagers. Her third book, Finding Amanda, released in April. When Robin isn’t writing or caring for her family, she works as a freelance editor at Robin’s Red Pen, where she specializes in Christian fiction. Read excerpts and find out more at her website.

About Finding Amanda:
Chef and popular blogger Amanda Johnson hopes publishing her memoir will provide healing and justice. Her estranged husband, contractor and veteran soldier Mark Johnson, tries to talk her out of it, fearing the psychiatrist who seduced her when she was a teen might return to silence her.

But Amanda doesn’t need advice, certainly not from her judgmental soon-to-be ex-husband. Her overconfidence makes her vulnerable when she travels out of town and runs into the abuser from her past. A kind stranger comes to her rescue and offers her protection.

Now Mark must safeguard his wife both from the fiend who threatens her life and from the stranger who threatens their marriage.

Robin’s Links:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sandra Orchard: How to Make Your Characters Mind Without Losing Yours

Soon after my first grandchild started walking, my daughter discovered the book How to Make your Children Mind without Losing Yours. Oh, how well I remember that book from the days that very same daughter challenged every request we made.

These days, uncooperative characters are proving to be my nemesis!

They have minds of their own, utterly oblivious to the fact that I created them!!

But seeing my daughter perusing that book again a couple of years later, now with two adorable children to rein in, reminded me of the key lesson that I never forgot from reading it:

Let your children experience the consequences of their choices.

“So, Kate,” I said to the heroine of my Port Aster Secrets series about this time last year, “if that’s really the road you want to go down, guess what? You can live with the consequences.”

And they will be bad. Very bad.   ~hee, hee, hee~ (she said, in a sinister voice)

Yes, as oftentimes happens with children, characters need to learn their lessons the hard way.

The harder the better for the reader. Wouldn’t you say?

So I threw out my neat little story outline, and put my characters on the therapist’s couch and had a serious heart-to-heart with each and every one of them. Wow, was I surprised.

In some cases, the emotional baggage that I thought was driving their inner conflict wasn’t it at all! I had one character who wasn’t even who I thought he was!

Needless to say, finishing the series turned out to be quite an adventure. My hero and I very nearly had a rough-and-tumble fistfight over the “consequences” I allowed to befall Kate.

Now I understand why writers who write by the seat-of-their-pants enjoy it so much.

Every day is an adventure as you wait to see what happens next.

Of course… I remember having an eerie feeling that I’d start losing my mind again during the editing phase, but why worry about tomorrow when today has enough trouble of its own?

As it turned out, the editing phase wasn’t so bad, but just as my daughter returned to the book with child number two, I’m having to do the same with my newest baby, ur, character.

Your Turn: What lessons have you, or your characters, learned from having to face the consequences of your actions?

P.S. Deadly Devotion, the first book in the Port Aster Secrets mystery series, is available as a FREE download at all major online book retailers.

SANDRA ORCHARD is an award-winning author of mysteries and romantic suspense with Revell Publishing and Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense imprint. A mother of three grown children, she lives in Niagara, Canada with her real-life-hero husband and writes full time…when not doting on her young grandchildren. Subscribe to Sandra’s newsletter to receive a subscriber-exclusive mini-novella. Learn more about Sandra’s books and bonus features, as well as writer helps, at www.SandraOrchard.com or connect at www.Facebook.com/SandraOrchard

Book Blurb:

Desperate Measures

The Final installment in the Port Aster Secrets mystery series officially releases June 2, 2015. However, some stores already have it on their shelves, and have begun shipping it. 

Kate won’t be safe until all of Port Aster’s secrets are revealed

Researcher Kate Adams has finally pinpointed the supposed “miracle plant” that tore her family apart years ago. She’s certain that discovering its secrets is her only hope of solving the mystery surrounding her father’s disappearance. She’s willing to risk anything to find the truth, including her relationship with Detective Tom Parker. But with so many people in pursuit of the plant, going it alone might be a fatal mistake.

Award-winning author Sandra Orchard pulls out all the stops in this breakneck and breathtaking conclusion to the Port Aster Secrets series.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Tanya Stowe: Plotting, Plain and Simple

Talking about plotting seems to cause a great deal of confusion. In my case, it created absolute panic. So I resolved to learn as much as I could about it and created a class I called Story Cake. My goal was to make plotting concepts as plain and simple as possible.

In my view, story is what happens in a book. Telling people about a book, the characters, who they are and what happens to them, is telling them the story. Plotting is how the story is put together—the recipe used to make a story cake. Everyone has the same basic ingredients to bake a cake. What they choose to use and how much they put in is what makes the story cake different and unique.

Good plotting structure is the essential building block of plotting. There are probably as many ways to structure a story as there are writers. There are no right or wrong ways. What’s important to remember is that certain structures create certain reactions. A spy novel might require short chapters but those super short action scenes might not work for a love story where developing the relationship is essential. Short or long scenes, story arcs, turning points, beginning and ending hooks are all effective plotting tools that help paint a word picture for the reader by using shapes on the page.

Another crucial plotting tool is the concept of scene and sequel. For every emotion or action scene, there must be a reaction…the sequel. Scene and sequel. Action and reaction. They go hand in hand. One of the biggest plotting structure mistakes I see happens when a writer creates an eventful scene but fails to follow it up with a reactive sequel. Or the opposite. A sequel is created with no originating scene so the character’s actions seems unmotivated and confusing.

Point of view sets the tone for the entire story. First person point of view gives the reader insight to the intimate thoughts of the protagonist. Deep point of view is told from third person but reveals the character’s thoughts through a stream of consciousness, creating tension and insights not usually available in straight third person point of view. Point of view is often overlooked but it’s a tool that can bring a story to a new and surprising level.

Characterization is the heart and soul of a story. I can’t say enough about characterization. If readers do not connect with a character, they’ll put the book down. Writers need to know their characters on a deep, intimate level. In my experience, when a writer hits a brick wall in their story it usually happens because the writer has pushed the character in the wrong direction. Using charts, interviews and writing detailed back stories—that never go into the book—are all useful tools to help a character get back on track.

One last, important point about characterization. If a protagonist and antagonist are set up properly, the internal conflict of the story will be born naturally from their opposing needs, motivation and actions. Natural conflict keeps a reader turning the pages all the way to the end.

Setting adds flavor to a story. It’s more than just a place where your story happens. It can become a character in the story. Setting can establish emotions, create atmosphere and conflict. Sights, sounds, smells all involve a reader in time and place and make a story felt. A story that is felt is memorable and tempts a reader to come back for more.

Pacing sounds like the simplest of the plotting points but opening up the pacing box reveals some magical tools. Foreshadowing is like whispering secrets in a reader’s ear. Subtlety and misdirection are especially helpful in mysteries. Pacing is the tool that helps writers discover those places where they’ve slipped into “telling not showing.” Slow pacing often indicates too much descriptive telling, especially in transitional scenes.

Voice is easy to identify but not describe. Voice is essentially the author’s style. It reflects their personality and their attitudes. It incorporates their use of words, sentence structure, and punctuation. Voice involves the character’s they create and the dialogue they give their characters. The best way to learn and develop a unique voice is to simply write…a lot.

Good plotting will make characters come alive, revealing their motivation by showing, not telling. It makes the conflict real. Good plotting can teach readers something new. Show them a world they’ve never seen. Give them a flavor of something exotic and potent. Plot points at the right times will compel readers to keep turning the pages just to see what happens next. Plotting can also give the readers a piece of the writer, a look at the world through someone else’s eyes, an opportunity to subtly share our humanity. Good plotting can be the recipe to a great Story Cake that makes a reader say, “More please!”

About Tanya Stowe:

Tanya Stowe is an author of Christian Fiction with an unexpected edge. She fills her stories with the unusual…gifts of the spirit and miracles, mysteries and exotic travel, even an angel or two. No matter where Tanya takes you…on a journey through time from the Old West to contemporary adventures in foreign lands…be prepared for the extraordinary.

Visit Tanya on her website or her Facebook Reader Page.

After an auto accident leaves her crippled and takes her mother’s life, Lara Fallon completes her mother’s dream of opening a school and offering scholarships to promising young artists. Although Lara is struggling with survivor’s guilt, she is thrilled to fulfill one more of her mother’s dreams when she hires Alexander Summers, world-renown Flamenco player and professor of art, to perform at the grand opening of The Fallon School of Art.

But Alex has a secret. He investigates art theft for UNESCO, and when pieces of Chaco pottery suddenly appear on the black market, Alex is certain The Fallon School of Art is a cover for this illegal operation. He’s determined to uncover the link...even if it means romantically pursuing the lovely Lara Fallon.

Alex’s investigation leads him on collision course with Lara’s inner struggle to cope with her mother’s death and her own wavering faith in God. Now, Lara’s school and her heart are in danger. But is her life as well?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

James R. Callan: The Importance of Eccentric

I was looking at maps of Ireland this morning, planning on a trip to the Emerald Island this summer. It reminded me of the old Irish story about the leprechaun who is captured. To obtain his release, he has to tell his captor where the leprechaun’s pot of gold is hidden. He tells the man that it is buried at the base of a tree and promises to tie a yellow ribbon around the tree if the man will free him. The man releases the leprechaun. The next morning the man races to the forest. To his dismay, every tree has a yellow ribbon tied around it. The leprechaun has kept his promise. But the man has no idea which tree is the right one. 

The man was expecting an exceptional tree, one which stood out. One with a yellow ribbon tied around it.

Your readers are expecting a protagonist who stands out. An exceptional person, a character she will remember. Your goal is to create memorable characters. So, I would ask you to write “Eccentric” on a card and pin it above your computer. Then, aim to craft eccentric characters for your protagonist, sidekick, and antagonist. The dictionary defines eccentric as “deviating from the norm.” You need characters that deviate from the norm, who stand out, who are…memorable. If your character looks like everybody else’s character, why will the reader remember your character?

William Doonan’s Grave Passage has an octogenarian detective who falls asleep. He forgets things. But you remember him. Eccentric.

Lisa Brackman, in Rock, Paper, Tiger, has a Viet Nam veteran with PTSD. But her character is a female. That’s different. Most of the stories dealing with PTSD center on male vets. You’ll remember her.

 Take a look at your protagonist. Is she like a lot of other characters you’ve met in other books? What is different about her? Yes, she has a different task to accomplish, but is she different? Is she memorable? Or is she just another tree with a yellow ribbon tied around her, like all the other trees? 

Then, ask yourself, how can I make her different?  How can I make her stand out?  No, having a father who wanted a boy does not make her different. No, many kids have a mother who abuses alcohol or drugs. Yes, you can use those, but you must interject something to make this protagonist different, unique, eccentric, memorable.

The sidekick offers great opportunities. She doesn’t have to save the world, or the project, or anything. She will help the protagonist. But it’s not her fight. She can be truly distinctive.
Look at your antagonist. Is he or she memorable? Or is he just like another rotten peach in the orchard? It’s not enough to create another mean person. Craft a unique villain.

The plot of a novel can be considered the engine. Without it, the book goes nowhere. But the characters are the heart of the novel. Without memorable characters, who cares where the story goes? What causes a person to seek the next book in a series? The characters. Make your characters eccentric, unique, memorable.

Take a lesson from the leprechaun. If your character looks, sounds, acts like everyone else, not only will she not stand out, she’ll be lost in the woods.

These ideas come from Callan’s book on character development -- Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel.  The second edition is available in paperback and Kindle editions.  Check it out at:  http://amzn.to/19l69jd

Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel

This eighty page book lays out what you need to do to develop memorable characters, and tells you how to do it. With clear explanations and examples, Callan presents a clear road map to creating characters your readers will connect with, love (or hate) and tell their friends about. In addition, most chapters end with exercises to help you put into practice what was covered in the text.

Chapters cover such things as—

· considerations if this character will be part of a series
· the importance of selecting the right name
· setting the goals for you character
· the importance of first impressions
· the power of internalization, and the dangers
· how similies & metaphors can enhance your character
· the fourth dimension
· conflict, the necessary element
· why you want a sidekick for your protagonist, and what you don’t want
· why you must have a strong antagonist
· how to make character bios
· and much more.

“I am impressed, because it’s absolutely the best book I’ve read so far on character development.” Ginnie Siena Bivona, former Acquisition Editor for The Republic of Texas Press, and Publisher at Atriad Press.

About James R. Callan:

After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing.  He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published several non-fiction books.  He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense, with his sixth book release in Spring, 2015.

Website:                 www.jamesrcallan.com
Blog:                      www.jamesrcallan.com/blog
Amazon Author page:         http://amzn.to/1eeykvG
Twitter:                           @jamesrcallan