Thursday, December 20, 2007

Someone will eat your words.

Test your vocabulary in support of the United Nations World Food Program. For every word you get right, 20 grains of rice are paid for by the site's advertisers and donated to feed the hungry.

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Perhaps this will help.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Playtime for the inner child.

Call it research for your graphic novel.

He Exuded, She Proffered – And Other Dialogue Stranglers

Your main character pulls himself up to the counter at his favorite diner. He sips his coffee, looks around. At the far end of the counter, under an autographed photo of Elvis Presley, sits that woman again – the one who started coming in last week, who places pictures of her son on the counter and stares at them while she eats her toast. She’s pretty.

This could be the start of something. Your main character checks his tie for coffee drips, picks up his mug and moves to the stool next to her.
“Excuse me, what a handsome little boy. I have a son, myself, but he’s in daycare down the street right now, and his mother, well, that’s a long story,” he exuded.

She proffered, “My son isn’t with us anymore.”

“What do you mean?” John questioned, sipping his coffee as he looked into her eyes with concern.

YIKES! Any interesting information in this scene gets mangled with the dialogue. If your writing droops whenever your characters open their mouths, read further. Here are some quick clean-ups that will tighten conversations and help your dialogue scenes hold readers’ attention.

1. Keep it simple.

Stick to he said, she said – or if it’s a question, she asked. Just because Roget’s Thesaurus can give you thirty adjectives for “said” doesn’t mean you should use them all. Anything but “said” and “asked” can distract your reader from your characters’ words.

2. Use names sparingly.

In most scenes – and especially in scenes between a man and a woman – it is enough to use the characters’ names once at the beginning, and then use “he” and “she” the rest of the way through, and only when “he” and “she” are absolutely necessary to clarify who is speaking. Your readers are interested in the dialogue, NOT the dialogue tags.

3. Let the words speak for themselves...

...And beware of stage directions. For example, “…sipping his coffee as he looked into her eyes with concern.” Action is important in some dialogue scenes, but as a rule of thumb, focus on the spoken word. When you must convey action, do it cleanly. For instance:

"What do you mean?” he asked. He took a sip of his coffee and looked into her eyes.

You’ll see that his concern is still apparent in the fact that he’s even asking for clarification, and also that he meets her eyes. The dialogue tag is short and unobtrusive, giving the reader closure on the dialogue before moving on to describe his action.

4. Indirect communication: bad for relationships, good for dialogue scenes.

Use indirect dialogue to add tension and cover ground. One thing that this exchange does correctly is that it allows the woman to respond indirectly to the man’s opening statement. The jump moves us to the important information (that her son is gone, for reasons unknown), and saves us from the boredom of watching a Q&A-type dialogue unfold.

5. "Put," she said earnestly, "your dialogue tags where they don't distract."

Indicate the speaker at the beginning of the dialogue, or after the first, short phrase of dialogue. Otherwise, the dialogue tag becomes a distraction.

YES: He glanced over his shoulder. “Darn right.”
YES: She told him, “I want you to finish your dinner, first.”
YES: “Darn right,” he said. “If that’s what you really believe, I mean.”
NO: “Darn right. If that’s what you really believe, I mean,” he said.
NO: "If that's," he said, "what you really believe."

In general, dialogue scenes should move along at a good clip and present challenges to your characters. When you can trust that your readers are interested in what the characters are saying, you can concentrate on telling the story, rather than the tilt of John Q.'s eyebrows as he asks the woman of his dreams for a date.