Moody? Me?

While more components re editing fiction could certainly be covered, I’m going to tuck away the teacher’s cap for a wee while.  Here’s one last [short and hopefully sweet] post: mood.

mood = attitude = disposition = state/frame of mind

Mood doesn’t relate solely to people, but also to literature (as well as other arts).  It establishes the general emotion of a story: every scene has its own specific feel and each one can certainly be different.

Depending on the storyline, to create friction and suspense, have various junctures where mood swings in one direction and then the other.  But don’t make those swings willy-nilly or you may have readers going “huh?” as they briskly scratch their heads.  Bear in mind: mood changes have to be logical and occur for a reason.

Mood, either positive or negative, can be used to describe someone’s emotions, how he/she feels.  It can also depict ambiance—of many people (group, team, organization), places and locations, and historical times and settings.

Many people:  Utilize mood to reveal how a group or crowd of people “feel”.  If a tense and angry political protest is occurring, the atmosphere might be depicted as anxious, fearful, or contentious (among other things).  Remember that phrase “mass hysteria”?  It could truly be “mass [anything]”, depending on what’s transpiring.

Places and locations:  Depending on the place and location, mood could be anything from serene and calming to frightening and upsetting.  A July 4th picnic in the park might prove pleasurable and relaxing while a coastline being hit with a Category 3 hurricane could be terrifying and traumatic.  Provide strong and clear imagery to paint an intense, graphic picture for readers so they receive a strong (powerful) sense and feel for all that’s taking placing.

Historical times and settings:  When you’re writing in a particular period, detail the temperament and attitude of people given the incidents, norms and philosophies of the times.  Anyone living in Europe during WWII, for example, would likely be apprehensive, worried, fretful, and fearful.  Potential world domination by a crazed zealot, never mind resulting atrocities, would certainly horrify and panic people.  The mood: somber and grim.

Because descriptions and words will create moods/ambiances, use both consciously.  Smells and sounds and visuals enhance all components (such as characters, dialog, and scenes), so utilize them appropriately.  Paint.  Create.  Show.

Mood is also a feeling in readers; it’s what a reader experiences or perceives.  It’s how you, as the writer, present the plot/storyline.  You establish a tone, which is the attitude of the narrator or POV character toward actions and events, and other characters—a-ha (!), another [future] post—and that tone, in turn, evokes mood.

Moods are countless.  You probably don’t need a list, but here are several that might serve as food for thought:

♦  happy   ♦  optimistic   ♦  funny / witty   ♦  idealistic   ♦  tranquil   ♦  resigned   ♦  downcast   ♦  delighted   ♦  appreciative   ♦  amorous   ♦  excited   ♦  relaxed   ♦  sad   ♦  dark   ♦  inexplicable   ♦  chaotic / frenetic   ♦  gloomy   ♦  pessimistic   ♦  agitated   ♦  bizarre  ♦  bitter   ♦  sour   ♦  resentful   ♦  cynical   ♦  sulky.  weekendblog

When editing, ensure moods are clear, suitable for the circumstances and characters, and serve the purpose for which you intended.

À bientôt, mes amis.

Need Me Some Inspiration

Almost there, almost done.  Today’s editing post is about motivation—what inspires and impels characters.

Once the draft is completed and you’re looking to review and edit, assess your characters more closely.  Our aim as writers is to draw readers into our stories, captivate them, and hold them throughout.  Solid character motivations will help do that.  When readers can empathize—i.e. understand what characters are going through—they’ll root for them and/or yearn to learn what transpires.

Do characters have personal motivation(s)?  Upbringing, pasts and experiences—and personalities—will affect morals and principles.  These, in turn, will influence decisions and ambitions, actions and reactions.  Characters [like us real-life folks] have reasons for doing what they do.

What about a baddie?  He/she has personal motivations, too.  In mysteries and thrillers, it’s often depicted as a desire for money (greed) and/or power (rational or irrational).  A baddie could be insane—but how did that madness come to be and how does it spur him/her into [crazed] action?

The ultimate question is why?  Why does a character do what he/she does . . .  why he/she pursues a quest, mission, goal . . . why he/she is seeking a certain outcome?

Someone from a rich family may have a fear of losing wealth; as such, he/she is driven (motivated) to ensuring that money is never an issue, no matter what it takes.  If he/she has to crush toes, set someone up to take a fall, or stab someone in the back, so be it.  Someone from a poor, broken home may feel a need to support others from a similar background; as such, he/she is driven (motivated) to assist, by volunteering, working for social services, belonging to the Church, or whatever source he/she deems worthwhile.

Is the motivation logical/believable?  Providing character background enables the reader to comprehend what motivates a character.

Being born with a silver spoon in the mouth could make Charles a benevolent, kind soul who aspires to help those less fortunate.  On the flip side, it could make Anton believe he’s entitled—to everything.  As such, he’s self-centered and goal-driven, and will walk over everyone and anyone who gets in his way.  Nothing wrong with basic scenarios.  But consider building on them.  Maybe Charles saw his father browbeat servants and workers.  Maybe Anton had a mollycoddling mother.  Maybe Charles traveled to a third-world country with his father in his teens and received his first taste of poverty.  This resulted in an overwhelming desire to abet people in need.  Maybe Anton traveled to a third-world country with his parents and was so overwhelmed, he decided he’d never lack for anything.

You don’t have to explain character motivations in exhaustive detail, but provide some particulars as to what pushes them; this will help readers understand what makes them tick and why the storyline is progressing the way it is.

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Could motivation be unreasonable or absurd?  Sometimes characters are driven by things (experiences, events, phobias) that aren’t always logical or obvious.  From time to time, they’re impulsive, even reckless: they act out or do something that they may not normally do, given the event or scenario.  Play upon this to make that plot more intriguing and unpredictable.

Motivation could develop or change with the storyline.  In real life, our motives change with time or as an action/event occurs; why not have someone’s motivation transform courtesy of an unexpected plot twist or two?  Make them multifaceted or convoluted to add tension and edginess.

Motivation could be physical.  Perhaps your character is stranded in dense brush or on a deserted island.  Suddenly, he/she is compelled to find food and water, safety and shelter.  The loss of a home during a hurricane may result in the goal of seeking finances and/or a new location to start over.  Self-protection might provide impetus when a tough-assed thug confronts a character, knife in hand.

Consider the following when doing your edit:

  • Do your characters’ motivations show who they are?
  • Have you provided details as to where the motivations stem from (the “why”)?
  • Is motivation relevant to all of the main character(s)?  How is it different in secondary characters from that of main character(s)?
  • Do characters develop and/or learn as the plot progresses and, as such, do aims/purposes change?

Motivation could be singular throughout the story, depending on the plot.  If it is, that’s fine.  It can still change a character (he/she realizes something astounding, sees something new within, becomes softer or harder or vengeful).  Make that motivation clear early on and have at it: i.e. pull us in.  If you opt for multiple [changing] motivations, ensure they’re logical—that they transpire because of events and actions (and resulting emotions and reactions).

Hopefully, this post has provided some . . . inspirational motivation.

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He/She . . . Who?

We’re nearly done with editing posts . . . just a couple more.  Today, we’re looking at fiction characters.

You do it, I do it—read fiction to escape.  But we can only escape if the characters and storyline/plot are appealing, exciting, fascinating, curious, attention-grabbing, ________________ (you fill in the blank).

As a mystery writer, I’m inclined to stick with this genre.  I love it.  And I love series with characters I’m drawn to [and root for]—like Alex Delaware and Stephanie Plum.

Our characters need to be believable, real, even if they lean toward crazy and/or over the top.  As such, we need to ensure we describe them well—not simply their appearances, but their likes and dislikes, actions and reactions, history and background.  Characters need to come to life on the page or screen.

After the completion of the first/second draft, we should have a good idea of what makes our characters tick.  If unsure, go back.

As you review each scene, contemplate the characters.  Maybe there’s only one carrying the scene, providing a narrative summation of an event or incident (check out the post re Point of View).  Maybe there are two, maybe more.  Regardless of count, make certain that he/she/they are serving a bona-fide purpose: i.e. creating friction and tension and/or progressing the plot.

Expose your characters through dialog, actions and reactions.  How they speak (nuances, accents, grammar) and function (act, work, behave) reveals a lot.  Provide idiosyncrasies and habits to make them seem lifelike and not clichéd or mechanical.

Back when, I shared how I keep tabs when creating my Triple Threat Investigation Agency stories.  I have a scene record and a character chart; in the latter, I literally log all details:

⇒  name   ⇒  age   ⇒  appearance (including scars, tatts, and so forth)   ⇒  family history; background   ⇒  likes and dislikes   ⇒  quirks   ⇒  hobbies   ⇒  habits    ⇒  favorite expressions   ⇒  significant moments or happenings (an occurrence in one book may later affect one in another book).

A character chart is good to have on hand, especially if you’re doing a series.  Variety is the spice of life, but consistency demonstrates professionalism (you don’t want Jake having grass-green eyes in one book and mud-brown in another, or having Bob love cats early on and later kicking one because he hates them).

When you’re editing and focusing on characters, consider the following:  blog3

  • Are characters believable and appealing enough to have readers want to continue reading?
  • Are they all motivated or driven?
  • Do they have weaknesses, fears, phobias?
  • Are characters different, distinctive?
  • Are goals and quests evident?
  • Do some have secrets and/or fervent views and opinions?
  • Does something shocking or life-changing happen to change one, or more?
  • Do secondary characters serving bona-fide purposes (or are they there for “decoration”)?
  • Are villains despicable enough to provide tension and friction, and challenges?
  • Do characters suit the genre, setting/location, and era?

Characters shouldn’t be flat or unspectacular.  Like scenes, they need to be painted with vibrancy . . . they need to be watered and nurtured like plants.  Readers need to see them, to feel for and with them.  To accomplish this, you truly do need to know your characters—and know them well.   wateringplant2

Remember, life is all about growing and developing.  We do.  So should your characters.

Setting the Setting

How about a look-see at settings today, given we touched upon scenes in the last editing post?

Setting relates to time and location/place in fiction—the “milieu” in which a tale transpires.  There can be ethnic, political, and communal components, as well as mood or ambiance.  Setting can be very specific (year and city) or it can be descriptive (a dilapidated warehouse on an industrial waterfront).

Settings can be a major facet of the story or merely serve as background, and whatever your choice, use description, dialog, actions and reactions to help establish it. wppic1

Don’t shy away from using setting as a conflict for your plot/storyline—a place could provide friction and tension given what is happening there at the time (a flood or earthquake) or serve as a source of obstruction (lack of people or resources during dire moments).

Example:  Despite the excruciating pain, Ted shakily tied another strip of cloth around his bleeding leg.  The nearest cottage was two miles away, through dense woodland.  To boot, heavy wet snow was falling more intensely now.  Could his young brother, Jason, make it safely there and back?

Time: the duration [of time] a story spans or the actual period (22nd century, Dark Ages, 1950s).

Ethnic, political and communal components may affect characters in different ways, considering the era, perceptions and sentiments.

A dark rainy night will impart a different impression or feeling than a bright sunny day.  An incident at Easter may be perceived differently than one occurring at Halloween.  Give thought to what sort of emotions you’d like to invoke in your readers and how you might do that through various and varying time factors.  Think about time passing by, running out, seemingly [or truly] standing still.

Don’t forget symbolic connotations: a sunrise can signify birth or rebirth; a brilliant sun and sky might represent hope or success (a positive factor); night could symbolize something mysterious or perilous, or unknown.

Example AKnowing the robbers were close behind, John anxiously rode along the raging river.  Jamestown wasn’t far off.  Hopefully, everything there was all right, given the unsavory group who’d visited last month.

Example BKnowing the stage-robbers were close behind, John anxiously urged his mount along the raging river.  Jamestown wasn’t far off, but who knew what he’d find there, given the vicious band of civil-war renegades who’d ridden through last month—then returned.

Location/place: where the story is set, such as a country or state, city or town, neighborhood or woodland, or even an alternative world.

While the location can be fictional—like planet Xaltoxon3B—it still needs to smack of realism.  Give thought as to how you “paint” that setting.   Add famous buildings and popular parks, lakes and rivers, celebrations (some towns have decades-old fairs and parades), distinctive culinary delights.

When a setting takes place in a particular country or historical period, remember that there are language nuances, traditional dress and/or uniforms, never mind different modes of travel (to name but a few).

Do your due diligence—get to know the location(s) and place(s) you’re writing about, even if they’re truly fictional (envision them).

Example ALarry and Jeena ambled along the park in the cool weather, feeding ducks and squirrels.  They stopped to watch a group of excited tourists take countless photos.

Example BEmbracing the brisk March weather, Larry and Jeena ambled along the Boston Common, feeding ever-hungry ducks and scampering squirrels.  Amused by eager tourists taking photos by the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, they decided to stop and offer local history.

Mood/ambiance/atmosphere: a feeling the story aims to convey (dark and mysterious, animated and fun, sad and forlorn).

Express mood through all features—narrative, dialog, actions and reactions.

Exterior factors—such as weather and climate, season and temperature—can influence events and incidents, and characters’ feelings or outlooks.  Christmas, for example, would normally be a happy time . . . unless your character had an exceptionally bad experience one year.  Nothing like adding twists and turns and flips to affect mood and/or add emotion (like excitement or tension).

Show, don’t tell.  Be descriptive, but not overly so that you create that snoozzze effect.  Provide details through dialog, too.  Mix it up.

Descriptions and details will give life to your settings.  Be vivid.  Ensure they’re clear, convincing and credible (even if they’re not real).

Example AWhistling, Johnny walked along the traffic-heavy street and nodded to passersby on his way home.

Example BWhistling a 90s boy-band song, Johnny sauntered along a litter-lined Brooklyn street and nodded to passersby scurrying to get out of the December cold.  Droning traffic and raucous music from various clubs and shops wouldn’t dampen his mood.  He could smell the cream-heavy mac-n-cheese and feel the cheer waiting at home.

Consider adding smells, sights, sounds, and tastes.  You can be subtle or calculated, detailed or vague—but ensure your “place” enables the story/plot to bloom and blossom.  As the artist, you have a vast canvas–the page.  Have at it, my friends. blogpostwed

Roll 10, Scene 2, Take 4

Ready for another wee editing session?  Yeah?  Awes-some.

While we don’t use clapperboards in fiction writing, when editing scenes, we certainly end up with several “takes”. WPblogC

To quickly sum up a scene: it’s basically an act, a passage that reveals events and actions as they occur.  Readers “see” what’s transpiring as it happens.  They connect to the characters; they feel for the characters.

scene = action and reaction = plot purpose

You can have faultlessly correct scenes—the grammar is perfect and the details are descriptive—but how do they read?  Do they pull readers into the plot and action?  Or do they have a snoozzzze effect?

     Cordially yet coolly, Terry and Lester greeted the guests in the great hallway.  The fifty-something twins bore little resemblance to each other: the former was lanky, the latter fleshy.  I found them indifferent, distant, and sensed this long weekend at the chateau would be more than out of the ordinary.  A frisson quavered down my neck and shoulders.

Maybe this is more effective (you judge)?

          “Welcome to Chateau Cormier.  We hope you enjoy your stay,” Lester said coolly with a slight bow, his egg-white face tense.

          Terry, a lanky version of his fleshy twin, flourished a long slender arm.  His tone, too, leaned toward stony.  “Please make yourselves comfortable in the main dining room.”

          A frisson quavered down my neck and shoulders.  A gut feeling suggested this long weekend would extend beyond the ordinary.  “Could I bring my bags to my room instead of leaving them in the foyer?” I asked with forced cordiality.  No one had greeted us at the door, or seen to our needs, so I assumed we’d be fending for ourselves.

It’s better to show and not tell.  The second example has more “life”, whereas the first one tends to be a little flat.  You want to yank those readers in and hold onto them, so steer clear of excessive narration.  Get them involved; sustain interest.

Scenes also contain action, but often that action is dialog.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, but you don’t want to be overly excessive in the chat/chatter department, either.  If the intent is to have a dialog-filled scene, add action here and there.  Why?  It gives readers insight (imagery, visualization) into what characters are doing and/or where they are. WPblogA

Scenes usually have locations and settings (to be discussed in another post), which further add to the visualization component.  They enable readers to picture surroundings and backdrops; in essence, they add another dimension.

“It’s a nice watch.”  John held the gold watch up to the light to better view it.

“It’s a stunning watch.”  Standing by a tall window in the cluttered Boston antique shop, John studied the gold 18th-century timepiece.

Some genres, such as sci-fi and historical fiction, require more explanation than others.  Descriptions of events and settings are vital, given the landscapes.  This, however, could be accomplished through the addition of scenes as opposed to straight [endless] narration.

Give thought to the characters in a scene: are they important enough to warrant one?  Or can the details of their actions/storyline be summarized in a short narrative (summation)—through the narrator or another character?

And what about feelings and emotions in scenes?  They’re important, too.  They’ll give readers insight into what makes characters tick, and play the deciding factor in whether readers will dislike or like (root for) them.  Provide these through actions and reactions rather than simply stating (telling).

When you’re editing scenes:

⇒  give thought as to the aim of the scene (has it been successfully conveyed)

⇒  consider how revision will affect later scenes (ensure adjustments tie up loose ends)

⇒  make certain there are enough of them (not just narrative summations and/or copious amounts of dialog)

⇒  confirm that they differ in length, actions and reactions, conflict and friction, and dialog arrangements

⇒  check that settings and locations aren’t repetitious in details/descriptions; previous posts, variety is the spice of life—and fiction

⇒  make sure that they flow logically (rework them if they don’t).

After an edit, ask yourself if scenes:

⇒  engage readers

⇒  are strong/dynamic

⇒  paint [pretty/realistic] pictures

⇒  smack of energy/excitement?

If any scenes prove as limp as yesterday’s tuna-salad sandwich, there’s only one thing to do: snip, snip, snip.  WPblogB

Next post, let’s carry on with a similar theme: settings.

 

Distinctive Markings in Dialog (also known as Punctuation)

Can’t say why, but I’m feeling like Ms. Tutor these days.  <LOL>  Let’s continue dialog as it relates to punctuation.

There’s nothing wrong with bending or breaking rules now and again in fiction writing; in fact, it can be rather refreshing.  When it comes to dialog punctuation, though, it’s better to stick with the norm.  Sure, you’ll find a few authors that break from said norm—like James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Cormac McCarthy (“if you write properly, you shouldn’t have to punctuate”).  Generally speaking, though, we’re accustomed to certain dialog conventions and can find it jarring if they’re not typically utilized.

Given most of us don’t like to study grammar and the like, let’s stick to the basics as they relate to American writing rules (our friends across the Big Pond have different ones).

Two main/common rules to start:

  1. Keep punctuation inside the quotation marks when a character is speaking.
  2. Start new paragraphs for new speakers (this makes it easier to follow who’s saying what and when).

Now that we have that emblazoned on the ol’ memory banks, let’s move on to a few more.

Dialog begins with a capitalized word.

“Montague claims he won the bet fair and square,” Nancy declared.

The words a character speaks are inside the quotation (which is known as direct dialog).

“Poor Lidia’s gone mad!”

“Poor Lidia’s gone mad!” she exclaimed, dropping onto the sofa.  “Utterly mad!”

As above and below, use a comma between the dialog and tagline.

“I believe Randolph Upperbottom is the murderer,” Taria announced as the butler cleared the table.

Franklin said, “Nonsense.  The man was here the whole time.”

Leaping to his feet, Josh declared, “Yes, Inspector, I can prove it!”

Punctuation separates spoken words from other parts of the sentence.  Periods, commas, exclamation marks and question marks go inside quotation marks—if part of the dialog/discussion.

“You’ve indulged in too much wine,” Marcus said, affronted.  “How could you possibly believe he killed Rachel?”

“She did it!” Laura-Lee said, pointing a shaky finger at the anxious maid.

Here’s an example of when this is not the case:

Taria couldn’t believe her ears.  Did Marcus just say, “You’ve indulged in too much wine”?

Utilize commas when a tagline breaks up a sentence.

“To say that,” Eugenia declared, “is to be utterly rude.”

Use single quotes for quotations within dialog—for example, when someone’s speaking, but also quoting what someone else said.  Punctuation indicates the difference between what the character is saying and what he/she is quoting (repeating).

“Yes, I’m sure.  Marcus definitely said ‘You’ve indulged in too much wine’.”

“Marcus said, and I quote, ‘You’ve indulged in too much wine’.”

James asked, “Did Marcus really say, ‘You’ve indulged in too much wine’?”

What about dialog that’s interrupted by an action or thought?  Follow these steps:

  •  Insert quotation marks at the start of the dialog and an em dash ** at the end of the quotation.
  • Add the action or thought and then insert another em dash.
  • Use another quotation mark to continue with the dialog.
  • Employ a period (exclamation mark or question mark) when the dialog is finished.

Note: there are no spaces between dashes and quotation marks.

“He did it”—Detective Leonard slapped the table—“but we can’t prove it.”

What other basics should we cover?  Ah yes—interrupted dialog.

When a character is speaking and is interrupted (cut off), use an em dash before the closing quotation mark.  (Dialog can be interrupted anywhere, but give thought as to where best to place the disruption.)

Dashes are one thing, ellipses another.  What do we use … for?  Right!  To demonstrate a character’s words trailing off.

“I can’t believe he actually thought that . . .”

We shouldn’t forget names in dialog.  Use a comma before and/or after a name.

“Kyle was the one who shot you, David.”

“David, Kyle shot you.”

“Kyle shot you, David, and then he shot himself.”

What about super long dialog—for example, when a character is explaining something?  You’ll want to break it up into a couple of paragraphs so as not to lose the reader (or create eye strain).  If you do this, don’t use quotation marks at the end of the first paragraph.

“Pierre was so envious of his twin brother’s success, he eventually grew angry, even resentful,” Henry explained to the guests.  “Finally, emotions took control and all rational thought was lost.                                                                                           

“He spent months planning the perfect murder and then how he would take over his brother’s life.  Those millions would be his, of this he was determined.”

Yes, you can have dialog and narration in the same paragraph.  Simply add dialog if the narration (description, account) refers to one character or is the point of view (POV) of only one character.  Decide where best to place it: beginning, middle, or end.  If there are several characters, begin dialog with a new paragraph and a dialog tag.

“I just saw Janka stab th—”

A knife caught him in the throat and he toppled down the steep stairs.

“Marvin really cared for—”

“The hell he—”

“—you.  He did.  He told me so!”

**  An em dash is a punctuation mark, a symbol (—) that is used in writing to demonstrate a break in thought or sentence structure.  It’s used for emphasis, to define or explain, or to separate two clauses.                                                                                                                                                                                  **  An en dash is similar to an em dash, but is shorter (-).  It’s used a) to connect continuing or inclusive numbers, or b) to connect components of a compound adjective when either of the components is an open compound (whew!).  For example, Yonge-Dundas station or 2018-2028.

There you have the basics.  Hopefully, you’re not overly daunted.  It’s just a matter of practice makes perfect.  Truly.

For more intensive/descriptive punctuation rules, do some site hopping—you can never learn enough.

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FYI: I’ve been having formatting issues, so I’ll have to check with WordPress as to why . . . but yes, I am editing and proofing.  <LMAO>  It’s not me!

With a Yadda Yadda Here and a Yak Yak There

Are you up for dialog today(The spelling?  It’s a personal preference thingy.  <LOL>  You say poh-tay-toe, I say pow-tah-toe.)

How characters speak and interact verbally is as vital as any other fiction component (characters, scenes, actions and reactions, conflicts and tension).

Dialog should:

  • add tension/conflict/friction
  • advance the storyline/plot
  • give additional information/details
  • enhance characters.

Engaging readers from the get-go is imperative, so begin that magnum opus however you see fit—through action or chitchat.  Whichever you choose, ensure it’s compelling.  Action should enthrall just as dialog should captivate.

And how will it do that?  By not being wooden or flat, overly descriptive, useless, or repetitious.  Not sure what these entail?  Here are quick examples:

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Wooden/flat:

“Why are you looking so sad, Jason?” she asked.

“Because Susan’s going to Europe for the summer, Marlene,” he replied.

“But summer’ll pass quickly, Jason hon,” she said.

** We don’t use names every time we speak, nor should our characters.  Moreover, “said” used too frequently leads to flat writing (and tiresome reading).

Overly descriptive:

“Hey Tommy, why are you waiting here at this old bus stop for the bus?” Larry asked his tired-looking best friend of twenty years.

“Because the car broke down when I was out driving yesterday afternoon by the lake,” he explained with a rueful smile.

 

** Avoid a glut of details when using dialog and action.  Combine them so there’s balance.

Useless:

“Hey there, ” I said.

“Wow, you finally made it,” she said.  “I’ve been waiting forever.”

“Sorry I’m late,” I said with a grin.

**  Don’t have dialog just for the sake of it.  Provide value-add dialog.

Repetitious:

Harold and Monica watched as John and Seymour raced along the pond in an effort to catch the robbers.

“Look at those guys run after the robbers,” Harold exclaimed.

She frowned.  “I hope they don’t fall into the pond.”

**  Don’t repeat actions in the dialog or vice-versa.  It weighs the story down (and creates a “snooze” effect).

Let’s rewrite the repetitious example:

Gripping hands, Harold and Monica watched worriedly as John and Seymour raced along the pond in an attempt to catch the robbers.

**  “Gripping hands” suggests nervousness or tension, as does the adverb “worriedly” (which is an adverbial tag, as an FYI).  Harold and Monica don’t need to state anything; we know what they’re feeling.

Speaking of tags, keep an eye on those dialog tags—she said, Lawrence replied, Sheila asked.  You don’t want to overuse them, because this leans toward repetitive and dull.  That said, not using enough can be an issue too, because an absence of them may lose readers.  They’ll wonder who the <bleep> is speaking.  It’s fine to use a few adverbial tags—he said angrily, Maria explained dully, Hans pointed out anxiously—but revealing those reactions and moods through actions is even better.

Don’t spell out things for readers.  Conversations can convey what’s happening; so can actions.  Avoid overlapping and being overly descriptive re both.

Let’s return to our two friends:

Stunned, Harold and Monica stopped dead in their tracks—John and Seymour were in hot pursuit of the robbers.

Harold’s eyes widened in disbelief.  “Man, who knew those two could run!”

Monica gripped his hand anxiously.  “I hope they don’t fall into the pond.”

Dialog breathes life into a story by making scenes and characters come alive.  Besides being absorbing, it has to be believable.  Don’t get too “explainy”.  Avoid having characters natter about nothing and at length.  Make it sound real—fiction-world real.  It’s not quite the same as true everyday life; it has its own nuances.  (Read some bestselling authors to get a feel for use of engaging, successful dialog.)

When people talk, they don’t always complete sentences.  They use slang or particular expressions (um, jeez, like, helluva), drop g’s (goin’, leavin’, havin’), and some even swear (to excess).  Listen to friends and coworkers, and note the differences in how they converse.  We all have unique voices.  Make sure characters do, too.

Give thought as to the purpose behind verbal exchanges.  They should move the plot forward, create conflict or tension, or reveal something—such as relationships between speakers, accents or speech patterns, emotions and feelings, what is taking place (has taken place or will take place).

Feel free to use “beats” now and again, too—i.e. small amounts of action added to dialog.

“I’ve heard enough complaining.”  Fuming, Marta marched to the door and spun.  “Call me when you’re ready to play nice again!”

Read dialog aloud to hear how it sounds.  Is it natural?  Contrived?  Too much?  Too little?  When you’re editing dialog, do just that: edit.  Revise to tighten and improve.

Don’t worry if you’re stumbling here and there; like anything, writing and editing dialog will come.  With time and practice, you’ll become a pro.

One last thing: use correct punctuation for dialog.  If you’re not [yet] familiar or comfortable with it, go Googling—there’s lots to be found.  But if you’re not up for checking Google and rooting through countless sites, look for a quick post on Wednesday re Dialog Punctuation 101.

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Action Reaction

Trekking further along the editing tracks, let’s take that gander at reaction.

We know actions assist in character portrayals.  The things a character does reveals something about his/her nature.  For example, if Lester taps the table frequently, it shows he’s nervous or deep in thought or impatient; we’d need to provide more detail or actions to convey precisely what Lester is experiencing and/or thinking.  If Jenny slaps a wall, it’s possible she’s angry or has remembered something important.  Actions can (should) disclose elements of someone’s personality.

The same holds true of reactions.  How a character reacts or responds to an action or comment, event or situation, discloses something about his/her disposition.  Readers learn what makes a character tick, what sets him/her off.  If Chelsea screams at Josh after Josh knocks over a cup of coffee, it could suggest she angers quickly, she’s impatient, or she’s irrational.  Additional details, such as what transpired before or after, would provide more insight.

Characters’ reactions can affect emotions.  If Cecilia is upset with best friend Lidia because she didn’t show up at Cecilia’s 30th birthday party, we might feel for Cecilia—first, because Cecilia was counting on her best friend to attend this milestone celebration and second, because it saddened her.  We might even become angry with Lidia for being so uncaring.  How readers react depends on how various components—characters, dialogs, actions, reactions, and scenes—are shaped.

Which work(s) better?

♦  Ralph flipped back the blanket and rose, standing on unsteady feet as a sense of trepidation washed over him.  He grabbed his sweater and put it on, and rushed to the basement door.  He found the doorknob hard to turn, but when he heard the scream again he somehow managed to crank it and hurried down the shadowy stairs.

♦  Throwing aside the blanket, Ralph hopped onto unsteady feet.  It hadn’t been a dream, of this he was sure.  He’d heard that awful, terrified scream and it frightened him to the core.  Grabbing his sweater, he threw it on and prayed softly as he rushed to the basement door.  Could it be—there was a hidden room down there?  Was there a ghost, like some claimed?  Or was it something much more sinister?  Another scream sent an icy shiver up Ralph’s spine and his hands shook even more as he fumbled with the stiff doorknob.  Finally, the door swung open and he hastened anxiously down the shadowy stairs. 

Ensure that reactions and responses yank readers into the plot and hold them tight.  If characters are lifeless, or seem uncaring or unmotivated, chances are readers aren’t going to want to continue.

If there’s no reaction, the reader might assume the character doesn’t care or is oblivious to what’s occurred, and this may well be the case.  Give careful thought as to how you write and edit a “no response” scene or scenario.  If it suits what’s happening at that time, fine.  Maybe Jeremy doesn’t get riled upon seeing someone kick the neighbor’s cat—and that non-response provides readers with insight into someone who’s non-caring.  If a reaction or response doesn’t advance the action or plot, however, or provides the reader with a “huh?” or “duh?” moment, contemplate a rewrite.

A reaction can be physical (slap, bite, retreat, loss of consciousness).  Make sure it makes sense for the action/scene and characters.  Vary reactions.  We don’t always respond the same way, with the same intensity; the same actions may even prompt different reactions, given when they occur and/or who’s involved.  When editing, bear in mind how physical reactions add to conflict and tension.

A reaction can be verbal (reply, retort, slur, screech).  When you use dialog as reaction, how will it advance the storyline?  How will discussions and conversations rouse readers (such as make them sympathize with the protagonist or loathe the villain)?  Like physical reactions/responses, allow dialogs to add friction (c-o-n-f-l-i-c-t).  Something to think about: what your characters say is just as important as what they don’t.

Reactions could come in the way of thoughts and emotions, too.  What characters are thinking or feeling reveals what’s going on in their minds and hearts.  It provides insight into what they’re about, what they embrace, and what they believe holds true.

When editing, review how characters react to questions and comments, acts and actions.  Do those reactions and responses:

⇒  seem logical     ⇒  reveal character personality     ⇒  develop character     ⇒  vary in intensity     ⇒  enhance the storyline/plot?

How your story progresses via actions and reactions is vital.  Once you’ve engaged readers, the ultimate goal: buckle them in and take them for an exciting ride!  wedpic

 

Action Activation

Chugging down the editing tracks, let’s explore the exciting component of action.

We know plot and characters drive our stories.  Like rum in a Mai-Tai, they should have a knock-you-over factor.  Action is equally important and we’re not necessarily referring to staunch Detective Roberts slamming villainous Tim Smith on his as—uh—butt.

Action, as an FYI, can be dialog, an event or deed, a consequence or reaction.  Action at the onset—the prologue / first chapter—is a good thing because it reels in your readers.  And if it’s well written and maintained, it hooks them to the very end.

Reading the novels of successful authors is a splendid way to understand what great action makes.  You’ll discover that it can be composed of powerful and graphic detail just as it can be conveyed with minimal description.  Some actions scenes are long; others are short.  There are no rules per se, but there is a skill factor which, like anything, comes with practice and time.

Major action yanks your readers through plot twists.  An example: the trio from the Triple Threat Investigation Agency confronts a crazed, ranting killer in an isolated location—but is he the one they’ve been diligently searching for?  Think of slasher flicks as another example.  Every time a couple of unsuspecting teens round a corner in a dilapidated house, something major (fatally gruesome) happens and stunned, curious viewers are riveted.

Minor action is the commonplace things characters do daily, like you and me.  Example: Rey meets JJ at a local bar to review the latest case findings.  A simple scene like this might allow you to get a feel for Rey’s melodramatic nature, learn the two love Mai-Tais, and discover they’re cousins who’ve grown close in recent years.

To make your story work and be compelling you need to incorporate both.  And regardless whether major or minor, use action at the right time for the right purpose.

Genre will play a part; some stories will be slower than others and incorporate progressive development differently.  Whatever the genre, though, you’ll still need a clincher of an opening.  A dynamic beginning will grab your readers’ attention and hold it throughout.

The beginning of your tale should incorporate major and minor action, with the major being the “problem” or “incident” or “event” that pushes your main character on that path to resolution.  Think of it like a call-to-action button.  The minor (commonplace) transpires as a character is strolling (or racing, as the case may be) along that winding or precipitous path. actionblog4

To sustain attention, action has to keep the story surging, sometimes taking different or unexpected directions.  Remember the post about conflict and tension?  Make sure both are consequences of action.  Collectively, they serve like the holy trinity in Cajun cooking: essential flavoring.

One action may lead to one discussion, or several.  It may prompt a response, or many.  It will trigger a reaction, or two.  That action doesn’t necessarily have to be physical, either; it can be emotional, mental, or verbal.  Dialog can prove quite forceful.  Instead of having two characters punching and pushing, have them screaming and/or crying.  Maybe John yells “enough” and flings a laptop at the wall (testy technology annoys the guy big-time).  Lee, never a sucker for sentimentality, might actually cry at viewing something “cute”.

Like subplots and dialog, and that narrator’s voice, action must vary in intensity.  While things should connect, they don’t need a 1-2-3-4 approach.  Mix things up; have readers guessing.  Try 1-7-3-2.  But ensure all is logical.  Variety truly is the spice of life.

As an FYI, action doesn’t necessarily end upon the story’s climax.  It may (and should) continue—perhaps to clarify the reasons for all that has transpired or to provide foreshadowing of a sequel.

When editing action, make certain it:

  • is appropriate to the genre
  • complements the story
  • is necessary
  • is logical/relative
  • suits the characters (given their personalities and backgrounds)
  • doesn’t stagnate by being drawn out or over-detailed
  • continues to the end and doesn’t stop with the climax.

As you’re editing scenes, consider whether the action belongs.  Is it [truly] moving the scene/plot along?  Are your readers going to benefit from it (like learn more about a character or situation)?

Do the actions seem plausible?  If one of my P.I.s gets punched or beaten, she’d be sporting a bruise or two.  In real life, chances are if we’re involved in an altercation, we wouldn’t be looking like we’re walking the Oscar red carpet.  In fact, we may limp down it—with a groan or two.  Do due diligence, as appropriate.  What might someone look like after an accident or fight?  What would be the medical and physical repercussions?  If the main character is racing down a deserted road in the rain, might he/she veer off when wheels lock or slow down as anxiety takes control?  What will the outcome(s) of action(s) be?

Something you’ve undoubtedly heard countless times: show, don’t tell.  That holds true with action.  Don’t tell readers; show them.

Examples—which works better?

  • Fred sighed, obviously unhappy.
  • Fred sat in the chair and looked unhappy.
  • With a loud lengthy sigh, Fred closed his eyes and rubbed his temples.
  • Sighing softly, Fred tossed back the brandy in one loud gulp.  “Why’d Lisa walk out on me like that?”

Take action by breathing “life” into your story.

Next post, let’s take a quick gander at reaction.

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First, Second, Third – Which to Choose!?

This week’s editing post revolves around Point of View (POV), which relates to who’s telling the story.  It’s the narrative voice that pilots readers through the story—the one that allows us to get to know the characters, learn about locations and settings, connect with emotions and feelings . . . and be pulled into friction and conflict (as discussed in the previous post).

Select the POV: will it be first person, second person, or third person?  Here’s a quick sum-up of what each entails . . .

First person: readers follow your story through the narrator’s eyes.  He/she is usually a main character who uses “I”.

⇒  From behind a crumbling pillar, I watched him stroll determinedly into the dim derelict dive.

** A person is telling you his/her tale. **

Second person: readers, essentially, become a distinct character in your story.  They’re addressed as “you” (there’s no “I”).  Leaning toward intimate, this POV is untraditional, probing and exploratory, and is infrequently used in fiction.  It’s also difficult to utilize effectively.

⇒   As you round that corner, you’ll see amber lights lining the dilapidated lighthouse perched precariously on steep cliffs.  It’s an eerie sight, especially when you sight the bats that make their home there.  On one hand, you’re awed by the isolation; on the other, you’re overwhelmed by the vastness of the sky and sea.  Perhaps you even feel a need to soar like an eagle over the precipice, as troubled young John Smith did one chilly night in the summer of 2017.

** You’re being told how to do or react to something or someone.  **

 Third person: the storyteller (narrator) is someone outside of the story, who details characters and events/actions.

⇒   John was as odd as a three-dollar bill.  Kids in school had shied away from him, much like his siblings.  His thought processes weren’t quite “normal”, so his perpetually frazzled mother often claimed.

**  There are actually three types of third-person POV.  In Objective Third Person, external factors are described; there’s very little relayed about characters thoughts, feelings, and goals.  Limited Third Person gets into thoughts, feelings and goals of one character.  Omniscient Third Person has the storyteller revealing thoughts, feelings and goals of all the characters.  **

First Person POV is limited to one character.  A “view” of what’s transpiring solely from his/her perspective enables you to get close and personal.  Myself, I love getting into the main character’s head and discovering what makes him/her tick and how conflicts are eventually resolved.  The narrator should show and not tell.  Try not to spend an inordinate amount of time relaying what the main character is thinking and feeling; let us know what’s happening, too.

Third person POV, depending on which of the three you employ, can prove limiting.  If you’re using Objective Third Person or Limited Third Person, the narrator only provides a little insight into the thoughts and feelings and goals of a character or characters.  If you’re going for Omniscient Third Person, more awareness is created via various characters’ thoughts, beliefs and motivations.  With Third Person, you receive the intimacy of First Person, but you’re also preserving distance; you’re not stuck with one character’s thoughts or feelings, motivations or goals.

There are pros and cons for all (do that due diligence and find a list or two), but once you’ve selected a POV for your story, stick with it from the start.  You’re looking to create believability (and credibility as an author).  Don’t seesaw between two POVs, at least not too often, and if you’re going to do so, make certain it serves a viable purpose.  I’ve seen this done (by one of my favorite writers, in fact); I found it jarring and annoying.  Allow my beloved main character to tell the tale; don’t [try to] pull me into his best friend’s head, too.  pov7

Generally, POV just sort of picks itself when you start writing; something clicks.  Be aware: you’re never trapped by the one you’re using.  Try different ones as you work on a project.  Write an existing chapter with a new POV.  See how it feels and works.  If it’s not working, discard it.  If it is, explore it further.

When you’re editing, make sure you’re in the right Point of View.  If we’re in the main character’s POV, it’s fine to tell us what he/she is experiencing and thinking.  With the other characters, however, communicate what’s transpiring through the main character’s eyes: what is he/she seeing [those other characters doing, reacting, saying]?

POV should bear in mind who the narrator is, what his/her background and experiences are.  Don’t have the narrator using flowery or specialized vocabulary if he or she is a construction work, high-school dropout, or lifeguard.  We all speak with particular sentence structures, a certain level of education, accents or dialects, idioms and contractions.  Ensure narration is appropriate to the POV.

On a related note, consider dialog.  What words would your narrator use (or not use)?  Background, education and experience play a great part re terms and expressions, and phrases used when your narrator—and other characters—speak.

Give thought as to how the narrator, your storyteller, observes [and interprets] things.  What might he or she discern [that someone else would not]?  For example, upon first meeting someone, I tend not to notice the face as much as I see a feature (scar or tatt), piece of interesting jewelry, or item of clothing.  What about you?  We all notice things differently.

Think of POV as a camera, film or photo.  It views the world through a lens.  What is it showing?  And how is the storyteller perceiving and relating what’s viewable in said lens?

When you’re providing a narrator’s POV, make sure it belongs to him or her.  You may be scared of snakes and squeal upon sighting one; Lisa may not.  You might hate yogurt, but Frank can’t stop sucking back the dairy product.  Make sure POV describes accurately and appropriately what the narrator is undergoing.  It’s the narrator—the storyteller—who’s conveying the tale and not you.

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