WriterWoes #9 – The Do’s of Dialogue

This is less of a woe, and more of an advice to whoever cares enough to listen to a self-taught writer who may or may not know what the heck she’s doing. Anyhow, I had saved this post for a different page, but, alas, I decided to post it here – so, here we go, my two cents on the matter of dialogue:

  1. Identify and toss the extras

    How often do you hear yourself talk in lengthy complex sentences?
    How often do you toss in five adjectives in one sentence, maybe more?
    Not often, right?
    While poetical writing is beautiful and poignant in its own right, it can be difficult to make work in dialogue, particularly in modern times (a.k.a. the age of text messaging).
    Of course, every style and voice is different, but where it pertains to dialogue only, I very much believe that less is more – to quote Stephen King: “the road to hell is paved with adjectives.”
    But, but, but, there are always exceptions: if you’re writing a historical piece, for example, you should always engage in dialogue that fits the period.

  2. Mind the punctuation

    When you identify and toss the extras, the punctuation becomes important. Why? Because while we don’t naturally talk in complex sentences, we do tend to talk in ellipses, dashes and italics. Do not, however, rely on ellipses, dashes and italics in your dialogue. If used too often, they lose the punch-thwack effect you want them to have. Bottom line: trust the reader to understand what your characters are saying and instead use the punctuation to tell the reader how your characters feel. If you will, have a look at the example below and consider the effect of punctuation on the mood of the sentence rather than the clarification:

    “… Can meet? What do— can? I’m set to leave for Wallace’s property— land— the man’s whatever in a matter of days. You said that you would help me; now you ask me to finish the document all on my own with guards lurking outside my door both day and night, breathing through the damned keyhole, until the two of us can meet again— can meet—what do you mean by can?”

  3. Delay the underpainting

    One way to secure an easy, readable flow in your dialogue is to delay the underpainting and focus solely on the tennis-match dialogue itself. When applied to writing, the so-called underpainting equals the meaty bits of text in between your dialogue – that is, your character’s actions, the tinkering of plot, scenic descriptions, and whatever else. It can be advantageous to save this for later so that it won’t interfere with the natural flow of dialogue as it transfers from your mind to your fingers and, lastly, to the paper before you.

  4. Read it aloud

    In a way, dialogue is much like poetry in that it ought to be read aloud. After all, dialogue happens out loud in real life and not inside your head (of course, that’s debatable, but let’s not debate that just now). Reading dialogue aloud gives us the absolute best idea whether something sounds natural or unnatural. It shows us the hitches, or the lack thereof, in the flow. Remember that in the matter of dialogue, our ears work far better than our eyes.

Easy is as easy does!

Basically, if you do not speak it, you should steer clear of writing it, so always keep that rule of thumb in mind. Otherwise, write your dialogue however you want to. The best writing ultimately comes from the gut – in it’s original, first-draft form, of course.

WriterWoes #8 – On writing fanfiction…

I recently read an article by Cara Diaconoff, in The Writer’s Chronicle, in which Diaconoff speaks for the inclusion of fanfiction into professional creative writing workshops.

As you’ve probably guessed… that’s what this post will be about…

So, now, let your eyes feast upon Diaconoff’s words as cited below!

“Taking fanfiction seriously leads to a productive interrogation of the concepts of originality, influence and intertextuality (…) Fanfiction writers are, in a sense, super-readers. To write successful fanfiction requires not only the traditional creative writing skills of crafting compelling characters and effectively deploying point of view and voice, but also a high degree of critical and rhetorical sophistication.”

“[Fanfiction writers must have] a complex sense of how texts operate in the world – a deep understanding of how literary and cinematic works construct, teach and manipulate their audiences.”  

(p. 66-67, 2016, The Writer’s Chronicle 49 (1))

So, yes, Diaconoff’s support of fanfiction prompted me to address this matter myself.

Or, that is to say, the matter has been on my mind for years, but Diaconoff’s article prompted me to add my own two cents, here, on my blog.

Now, be justly warned, my two cents are strongly biased!

I grew up in the online fanfiction/fandom community as both an avid consumer and contributor.

You can say, I suppose, that while I always had an interest in writing, fanfiction was where my interest in English writing truly began to flourish. It became my outlet where I could develop my English writing skills and understanding beyond that of my formal schooling. Indeed, as a self-taught writer of my foreign language, the fanfiction community was my primary English teacher aside from what kinda-sparse schooling that I had.

I’ve been a part of that world for about ten years now.

I know everything that there is to know – quiz me, if you want – and I am overjoyed to see that fanfiction is, at last, gaining the recognition that it deserves by professionals and academics.

Now – yes – I am fully aware that the Fifty Shades trilogy is based on Twilight fanfiction.

And – yes – I have read both.

It is my personal opinion that while the Fifty Shades series has done extremely well commercially – possibly thanks to the fanfiction community back when the series was self-published and not yet backed by major publishing houses and media outlets – it is not necessarily the best indicator of what you may find, out there, in the vast world of fanfiction. Not in regards to the erotica element – don’t get me wrong; nothing is “wrong” with that – but in regards to quality, style and voice.

With no professional editors at hand (beta-readers notwithstanding), there is admittedly a lot of Subpar Fanfiction on the internet…

… but there is also a lot of Good Fanfiction ready for reading.

Good Fanfiction has quality, style and a voice of its own. Most importantly, it requires literary intelligence and a deep understanding of intertextuality. As Diaconoff says in her article, it is not an easy task to take something made by someone else and make it your own, but that is exactly what Good Fanfiction does.

I myself started out writing Subpar Fanfiction.

Then I progressed to Good Fanfiction with the help of a supportive community (some of which have now become dear longtime friends to me). This, of course, also included a lot of “learning-by-doing” and “trial-and-error” cases, but, embarrassing as those were, they also made me the writer that I am today, ten years down the line.

So, tell me, please, is that not enough reason to start accrediting fanfiction for what it does – for the fledgling writers that it nurtures – rather than for what it, as some people argue, doesn’t do?

Besides, imitation is the best form of flattery – and, really, when is anything ever fully original in this day and age?

 

WriterWoes #7 – The creative process!

This post is actually inspired from a comment that I made on another post that got me thinking about my structural process when I write stories – and when I unleash my creativity in general, I suppose.

Despite my love for speculative fiction and the world building that this entails, be it large or small, my writing process is not geared towards years of planning and outlining prior to putting my pen to paper.

My creative process, be it painting or writing, is more… visceral, I suppose.

When I paint, I stray away from motifs and settle on abstract, impressionistic scenes.

Likewise, when I write, I get most of my inspiration while I write.

I build my world while I write it.

I do my research while I write.

I rarely ever do much before I start writing.

This means that there’ll be lots of pauses in my writing, where I head off to do extensive research or to expand on my world and characters, but the point still stands that I will have written at least five to ten chapters before I stop to do this.

I also prefer to plan my outline while I write, meaning that, well, my outlines get all sorts of messy, but then I color-code the different branches of the outline, making some of the text bold, some of the text larger, and— you get me?

Suddenly, somehow, there’s now an outline based on aesthetics – on visuals alone!

It makes sense, I guess, having been a painter for as long as I’ve been a writer.

The creative process is different for everyone, but I do think that it’s important to sit down and consider what your creative process is. If anything, simply because it will become far easier to nurture and cultivate your inspiration and motivation that way…

… and who doesn’t want that, amirite?