Dialog (Part 2)

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Rules-headerA notebook for fiction writers and aspiring novelists. One editor’s perspective.

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Writing Great Dialog (Part 2)
Balancing ‘reality’ and ‘fiction’.

As previously suggested, great dialog should accomplish one of three specific goals. Whenever characters speak, we use dialog specifically to: 1) Set a scene; 2) Develop or define a character or characters, or; 3) Forward the plot.

And yet there exists another important, although nebulous, element that infuses itself within the dialog you write. This isn’t a goal per se, but rather an overarching stylistic approach that balances “real-life dialog” with “on-the-page” dialog—two wholly different beasts.* Meaning that realistic-sounding dialog might require some effort. A bit of forethought. Of practiced nuance and self-editing. (And then a few more rounds of re-editing.)

Every writer must walk a fine line between the typically inarticulate, incomplete and often rambling real-world verbal diarrhea—sorry! But true!—that our brains somehow manage to interpret, and the vapid, usually boring, just-the-facts-ma’am sort of written dialog that some of us employ, intent on steadfastly moving the plot forward, and largely at the expense of a fully developed character. Somewhere in the middle is the sweetspot—that perfect blend of casually informal, yet subtly informative, dialog that readers will consume like buttered popcorn at a Hollywood Premiere.

Blending snippets of useful information (e.g.; plot-building) with tidbits of witty banter (e.g.; character-building) isn’t every-page essential, but more often than not, it’s a really, really good idea. Dialog can seamlessly marry a character’s personality and purpose (reason for being) in each particular scene. Great dialog can also intentionally heighten or deflate tension, change attitudes or redirect—Squirrel! Squirrel!**—the reader’s attention. Even if your dialog’s intent is to simply flesh out a character’s persona, you’re also subliminally, unobtrusively, perhaps manipulatively, pushing the plot forward. Conversely, if you’re actively advancing the plot, you’re also subliminally, unobtrusively (etc.) defining your character(s). (See Writing Realistic Dialog in Great Dialog Part 3… coming soon!)

Let’s say, for instance, that our just-started sci-fi thriller (“The Giant Meteor”) is about—wait for it!—about a giant meteor. This humongous space rock will likely strike Earth a year or two hence. (Original idea, right?) So our principle characters are intrepid yet unsuspecting scientists, with maybe an astronaut or two thrown in for razzle-dazzle. The dialog example below takes place early in Act 1. In the dozen (or 20 or 50) preceding pages, readers have learned a bit about a charming astronomer named Charlie, his best friend Doug—and we’ve just been introduced the mysterious Andrea, who’s arriving at The Kennedy Space Center aboard a private corporate helicopter. Our dialog begins innocuously enough (not depicted below) with some friendly banter, and then continues:

…..“Say, I heard you and Andrea attended MIT together,” Doug said. “Quite a coincidence, huh? Crazy, working together again after all these years.”
…..“Yes, and quite a pleasant surprise.” Charlie’s smile radiated a surprising warmth. “I had no idea she’d pursued a career in observational astronomy. Andrea was always more of a people person, not a star-gazer. I thought she’d end up in Washington, maybe lobbying for NASA, hobnobbing at exclusive cocktail parties. I always saw Andrea as being the quintessential social spider intent on trapping some unsuspecting freshmen senator, then draining his wallet in a single gulp. For a good cause, of course.”
…..Doug laughed. “She told me that you two summered together in Hawai’i?”
…..“Yes, at the observatory. Both of us going for our Ph.D’s at the time. We were—for a while we were close,” Charlie said, staring past Doug’s shoulder for a long moment, reliving some silent memory.
…..“She said you spent more than a few evenings at Dr. Smith’s cottage in Waikui, pouring over Hertzsprung–Russell diagrams and sipping Mai Tais.”
…..“Dr. Smith?” Charlie’s eyebrow dipped. “No, no, Diana Smith died the previous year, several months before we arrived on the Big Island. Dr. Jones was our C.O.A. liaison at the time.”
…..“Really? I must have got my wires crossed. No matter. Dr. Jones, huh? Yeah, I heard he was a real ball-buster before he retired. Frugal with his accolades. As I recall, the good doctor believes there’s an alien spaceship buried somewhere in eastern Siberia. Crazy, huh? Well, I gotta run, get this photo array off to the digital enhancement guys. Hey, you remember that NQ3 hot-spot you found last week, the one we thought might be a dust speck? Apparently not. McKenzie’s taking another look. She swears it’s in motion. Oh, by the way, how about tennis this Saturday? Don’t say no, Chuck—I’ve already reserved a court…”
…..
All of which means….what to a reader? A half-page of unnecessary banter that goes nowhere? Or something else? Might Andrea’s arrival hint of a potential love interest for Charlie—or something else? And what about the Dr. Smith/Dr. Jones confusion? A simple lapse in memory—or something else? Is there really an alien spaceship buried in Siberia—or something else? And that casually mentioned hot-spot? Most readers will interpret that particular significance easily enough. But what other subtle goodies lurk within these few paragraphs of chitchat? Yes, we’re subtly teasing the reader, but a competent writer is continually looking for areas or elements from which to evolve or twist a story, to constantly keep readers on their toes.

And, wait…Charlie plays tennis? That, friends, is character development. The revelation will most likely have no direct bearing with the aforementioned meteor, but at least we know Charlie gets out of the office. He’s well-rounded. Maybe athletic. Most readers will subliminally remember that factoid…so when Charlie’s running after some little green alien 200 pages hence, we know he’s got the stamina. (The tennis club can also provide an viable alternative environment for our characters, should we want to break up the monotony of the more staid observatory setting.)

What else might these few paragraphs reveal? Maybe Charlie’s good friend, Doug, soon falls in love with Andrea. Or perhaps Charlie comes to believe that she’s secretly working for the Russians (for some as-of-yet unknown, nefarious purpose). Maybe readers won’t be conscious of these potential sub-plots—but the seeds have been subliminally sewn. A reader will patiently wait to see which ones sprout.

Why is scene-setting and/or character development important before revealing too much plot—in this case the discovery of the meteor? Despite how easy (plot-wise) it would be to depict Charlie sitting down at a computer console on page 1, tapping in a few cosmic coordinates and discovering an unexpected celestial body speeding toward Earth, where’s the sufficient undulating tension leading up to that moment? Who is Charlie, anyway—and why should we care about him? Maybe he’s a good person—goes to church, saves the whales, helps old grannies across the street—but until Charlie’s sufficiently developed as a character (one I’ll either love or hate, find empathic or suspicious) any substantial plot-building can wait.***

As the writer, you already know what the reader does not—that the approaching meteor is actually a billion-ton, Denver-sized space diamond in the rough. Andrea’s insanely wealthy corporate bosses have also discovered that fact and have decided to capture the meteor, ease it in a stable orbit around Earth and mine it—and what could possibly go wrong with that scenario? So despite Charlie’s best attempts to destroy or divert the rock, his efforts are continually thwarted by unknown agents. Why? Because we’re stacking additional dramatic obstacles at every turn. And dialog is going to be instrumental in creating or continuing that drama—a direct (yet typically subtle) information-highway between Charlie and Andrea, between Charlie and Doug and (possibly) between Andrea and the mysterious Dr. Jones. When poor Doug ends up suddenly dead late in Act II, who’s to blame? And why? Questions anew that a competent writer will answer at the appropriate time. And when Andrea’s brother Sergei shows up on page 178… hmm, possibly more complications.

Ah yes, timing! Great dialog isn’t only about concocting dramatic, informative, and oh-so-witty conversation—but also conversation that appears at just the right moment and in a logical sequence with past and future chatter. When you ask a question in dialog (“Who would have killed Doug! He didn’t have an enemy in the world!”) allow your reader sufficing time to ponder the answer. You’re not obliged to immediately solve the mystery. Sure, you know—but it’s okay to string along the reader, waiting for the appropriate (and perhaps exquisitely unexpected) moment for the necessary reveal.

My advice is to never (or rarely) reveal too much too fast. In fact, that should probably be a rule. Rule #39: Never reveal too much relevant information too quickly. Whether you’re writing drama, comedy, a thriller or love story, sci-fi, horror or fantasy, continued suspense of one sort or another is imperative. Within each conversation, it’s okay to create a little more confusion or distraction or confrontation. With each provided answer, feel free to ask another question, or two or three. And then, late in Act III (typically your final act) begin to collect whatever loose threads that remain and resolve any unanswered questions.

Oh, and now Rule #39A: ….But relevant or not, always keep dialog witty and interesting. Seriously. If possible, sneak in snippets of potential drama even into seemingly inane conversation. “I love you, Penelope. I’ll always love you forever!” Sweet. Nice. But what about, “I love you, Penelope. I’ll always love you forever. By the way, I become a bit schizophrenic when the moon is full.” (No, of course you don’t write it that way…but keep potential tension taut whenever possible.)

– – – – – – –

I once had a savvy journalism prof who gave an unusual class assignment: Secretly record a 1 minute snippet of conversation, then write it down verbatim. So I recorded 4 friends chatting in a pub. (And these were sober people, mind you.) When I transcribed the conversation, it made absolutely no sense on the page. Complete, utter gibberish! Sentence fragments. Lost or shuffled thoughts. Topics that changed mid-stream. Everybody simultaneously talking…and who’s listening anyway? So, no, real life chatter seldom works on the page.

* Squirrel! Squirrel! Dog owners will understand.

***  As always, no writing rule or suggestion of mine should be considered iron clad. (Hell, I don’t even listen to myself all that often.) So if your story demands an immediate burst of plot-essential material, by all means follow your instincts. Crayon outside the lines if it feels right. All I ask is that you understand the fundamentals before attempting to break them.

Why, you ask?

…ever put a raw egg (shell intact) in the microwave and turn it on HIGH for 2 minutes, unaware of the fundamentals regarding eggs and microwaves? Try it and get back to me. Writing a novel without knowing the rules—well, the outcome is kinda like that.

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Huge In East Texas

The East Texas Writers Guild awarded April, Maybe June Third Place in the Young Adult: Book Cover Award category! Congratulations to our own Dave Workman, and to Shalanna Collins.

“The East Texas Writers Guild is proud to announce the top three winners in the Blue Ribbon Book Cover Contest for Young Adult novels.

Linda Pirtle, president of ETWG, pointed out that entries were submitted from across the United States from California to New Jersey, as well as from Great Britain, Australia, British Columbia and Ontario, Canada. It was indeed an international contest.”

Entries were judged by a team of artists and designers in the Dallas area.”

You can buy a copy of April, Maybe June right here.
 

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Hello, Portland!

Raindrops Of Love For A Thirsty WorldWe’ll be in Portland April 7-9 for the Independent Book Publisher Association’s Publisher’s University conference, because there’s always more to learn about this wacky business. We’ll be the ones with the MHP tattoos! (Not really. We’ll probably have some sort of identifying lanyards around our necks, though, so watch for that.)

Sorry for that deceptive Read More… link – that’s all there is. Except for this: Eileen Workman’s Raindrops of Love for A Thirsty World is arriving on April 20th – pre-order your paperback or Kindle copy today!

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Into Our World of Anxiety and Fear Come the Raindrops of Human Transformation

Raindrops Of Love For A Thirsty WorldSan Francisco, CA (April 20, 2017) –– A timely spiritual guide to surviving and thriving in today’s pervasive, gloomy atmosphere of alienation and fear, the new book, Raindrops of Love For a Thirsty World, lays out a path to life‐long self‐actualization, and reconnection through a shared consciousness. The author, Eileen Workman, has summoned the profound wisdom of The Life Force in a series of loving messages. These communications come at an opportune time, as we drift in a sea of anxiety and worry, deeply shaken by recent political, economic and social crises, and starved for connection due to divisiveness.

A decade ago Workman experienced a startling spiritual awakening. Abandoning her high‐powered, highly‐paid role in the financial world, she opened up to a channeled gift of eloquent, soul‐stirring passages from what she calls LIFE –– “The Life Force” –– a field of energy and love that transformed her life and her relationship to humanity.

In four parts, Raindrops of Love For a Thirsty World encourages readers to undertake selfexamination in a way that encourages them to fall back in love with themselves and learn to practice healthy self‐discipline, self‐awareness and self‐love.

Part I ‐ Soft Love: The Wonder of Self‐Realization
Part II ‐ Tough Love: The Challenge of Self‐Discipline
Part III ‐ Self‐Love: The Responsibility of Self‐Actualization
Part IV – Life Love: The Freedom of Self‐Governance

As receivers of these compelling, wise messages from LIFE, readers are exhorted to manifest their greatest gifts in the world, which is exactly what the author decided to do when she changed the direction of her own life. This personal transformation and connection to the limitless love of LIFE is the key to a rewarding, meaningful life.

Encourage others to realize that your amazing ingenuity and imagination, when filtered through the perspective of life awareness, holds the power to generate awesome new creative potential . . . This is why I encourage you to trust the living process . . . For you live within a self‐organizing, self‐scaffolding field of living love that manifests as light.

Speaking directly into the heart and soul of each reader, Raindrops of Love For a Thirsty World enables them to wed their minds and hearts in a holy communion. That marriage enables us to move beyond the influence of collapsing social systems and political and economic hostilities. Through the clarity of our newly realized life purpose and enlightenment as received from the Raindrops of Love, we can transform ourselves and the world.

I know how confused you have felt . . . and how you’ve struggled to find your proper place in the world. I’ve watched you grow lost in the dramas of human society. In this precious now moment, you can reclaim your native tongue and commune with me in our mutual language, for the language of Life has been ever your birthright, Beloved.

About the Author

Eileen Workman spent sixteen years in the financial industry as First Vice President of Investments at a major Wall Street firm. After a profound spiritual awakening, she departed the high‐powered world of money and wrote Sacred Economics: The Currency of Life, which questions assumptions about the nature of capitalism. The book is about directing our attention toward the purposeful design of a more compassionate, cooperative, and abundantly flowing economic system from a spiritually‐driven perspective. “ . . . one of those rare individuals who not only talks the talk of the financial world because she worked in it, she also walks the walk of one who has made meaningful changes in her own life to reflect the ideals she believes in.” In her new title, Raindrops of Love For a Thirsty World, Workman calls down the wisdom and the words of the Life Force, inviting us to embrace our fullest capacity as a species.

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Book Information
Title: Raindrops of Love For a Thirsty World
Pub Date: April 20, 2017
Author: LIFE, as shared with Eileen Workman
Publisher: Muse Harbor Publishing
List Price: $18.95
ISBN: 978-1-61264-207-9
Format: Quality Trade Paperback and Kindle
Distributor: Ingram
Information: www.warwickassociates.com
Subjects: Spirituality, Personal Growth
Rights: World

 

 

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Author and Visual Artist, Stephen T. Vessels, Releases New Collection of Stories published by Muse Harbor Publishing


 

“A unique collection of 11 short stories and a novella ranging in genre from science fiction and dark fantasy to amalgams hard to label.”

 

The-Mountain-The-Vortex-and-Other-Tales-Front-Image-620x264

Los Angeles, CA, 2016-Aug-04 — /EPR Network/ — Muse Harbor Publishing has released The Mountain & the Vortex and Other Tales, a collection of stories by author and artist, Stephen T. Vessels. The collection of 11 short stories and one novella is a blend of science fiction, dark fantasy, and cross-genre stories with illustrations. The book is now available for purchase through Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com.

“Originally the book was not going to be a collection,” says Vessels. “We were only going to publish the novella. But the publishers said, ‘The more the merrier,’ and let me do whatever I wanted, and paid for illustrations, and were wonderful, and it became this marvelous reality. I’m amazed by how my stories talk back and forth to each other across the pages. It’s like getting to step back from my own mind and watch it work.”

Included in Vessels’ collection are the short story “Doloroso,” a Thriller Award finalist, and “Lighter Than Air,” which received the Best Fiction Award from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. All of the stories in The Mountain & The Vortex and Other Tales are accompanied with illustrations by Jean “Mœbius” Giraurd, Alan M. Clark, Steven C. Gilberts, Cheryl Owen-Wilson and the author himself. Vessels is also a visual artist whose latest solo art exhibition, which features a collection of his ballpoint pen drawings, will run from August 4, 2016 through August 27, 2016 at the Andre Zarre Gallery in New York City (www.andrezarre.com).

Stephen T. Vessels is a Thriller Award nominated author of science fiction, dark fantasy and cross-genre fiction. His stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and collections from Grey Matter Press and ShadowSpinners. He has written art and music reviews for the Santa Barbara Independent and is also a poet, whose poems have been published in journals and a chapbook from Slack Buddha Press. He writes all of his drafts longhand.

To learn more about Stephen T. Vessels, The Mountain & The Vortex and Other Tales (Muse Harbor Publishing, 2016, ISBN: 978-1-61264-240-6, $17.99, www.stephentvessels.com), or Vessels’ ballpoint pen drawings, please visit www.stephentvessels.com.

To learn more about Muse Harbor Publishing, please visit www.museharbor.com.

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