April 25, 2011

On Dialogue (or another 'He said - She said post')

First! If you follow me, please edit your Google Friend Connect profile to include a link to your blog so I can follow you back!
It's back to basics today with dialogue! I'm a grammar freak (*cue groans*) and nothing pulls me out of a story faster than poor grammar.

To help, I've brought in Kai and Avan, two characters from my latest WIP.

"Hi," Kai said with a wave. "We're here to... make mindless conversation in order to demonstrate Lori's dialogue points."

Avan grinned. "Let's start!"

When followed by a dialogue tag, use a comma instead of a period to end the spoken statement. Likewise, use a comma to separate the dialogue from the tag if the tag precedes the spoken statement:

"You live in the old freight yard now," Kai said, settling on the first topic that came to mind.

Avan hooked his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans and looked down. He said,  "Bit of a downgrade, but at least I've got it to myself."

Dialogue ending in a question mark or exclamation point:

"You still working for the District Mail Center?" Avan asked. "The White Court must be something."

Kai's job as a courier meant she had a pass to enter the South District--the White Court according to everyone who lived outside its twenty-foot stone walls.

"It's crazy!" she said, loud enough to warrant an exclamation point even though she wasn't much for shouting. "Colors everywhere. They should have named it Rainbow Vomit."

Dialogue without any tags, and using action instead to indicate who is speaking:

"I do like to let my actions speak for me." Avan smiled and pushed messy brown hair behind his ear.

Kai suspected it was a calculated move to take full advantage of his dimple. She rolled her eyes. "You could stand to speak less."

Breaking up dialogue with a tag:

"So," Kai said, "how long do we have to keep talking? I have to take Reev his dinner or he won't eat at all."

"Speaking of dinner," Avan said, leaning in close enough that Kai raised an eyebrow and told herself blushing was not an option, "have you eaten yet?"

"Yes." It was a lie and Avan probably knew that, but he smiled anyway and drew back. Kai glanced away.

Don't bury the dialogue in the middle of a paragraph.

Kai shoved her hands into her back pockets and hunched her shoulders. "Are we done then?" They'd known each other for almost a decade, and they'd been friends for most of that time. She didn't know when things had grown awkward, but she blamed Avan. Namely because most things could be blamed on Avan.

Kai shoved her hands into her back pockets and hunched her shoulders. "Are we done then?"

They'd known each other for almost a decade and they'd been friends for most of that time. She didn't know when things had grown awkward, but she blamed Avan. Namely because most things could be blamed on Avan.

Um. Kai and Avan have both informed me that they're leaving now. Which is just as well since their unresolved attraction is leaking into this lesson.

"What?!" Kai said, providing an opportunity for Lori to point out that using the interrobang is considered poor form in formal writing.

Avan smirked. "I thought you were leaving."

"I am," Kai said, glaring. She turned her back, and Avan's smirk wilted, transforming into something else... something softer. With a sigh, he followed her.

(Lori would like to point out that you shouldn't alternate between third person omniscient and third person limited the way she just did, but that's a lesson for another day.)

*Cough* Right. Let's end this.

Final pointers:
• Keep creative dialogue tags at a minimum - 90% should be 'said' because 'said' is invisible to readers and, therefore, doesn't disrupt the flow of the dialogue. Excessive creative tags is a sure sign of a new writer.
examples: exclaimed, muttered, cajoled, teased, commiserate, hedge, proclaim, etcetc DON'T DO THIS

• Make sure all adverbs tacked onto dialogue tags are necessary. Most of the time, they're not. Trust your dialogue to deliver the nuance instead of relying on creative tags and adverbs.

• Dialogue by a new speaker always begins on a new line.

• Any action by the speaker associated with the dialogue should be in the same paragraph.

And there you have it. Did I miss anything?

"Say it like you mean it!"

April 18, 2011

On World Building

First, don't forget to sign up for the Voice Matters Blogfest Challenge (to be posted on Wednesday FRIDAY - changed the date)! And don't forget to drop by tomorrow for the Query Blogfest and, if you can, offer some helpful feedback ♥

I'm outlining a new WIP that I'm super excited to start writing. When I outline, I need to know what the purpose of every scene is and where each plot point will fall. Bits of dialogue usually come to me as well, and I jot them down as I go. But in order to outline at the level of detail I prefer, I first need to have my world fully fleshed out.

So, how do I do that? I make... more outlines lol. And maps. And lists.

World building points and questions to help guide the process:
History - My WIP takes place in a post-apocalyptic future. Even if it's never mentioned in the book, I need to know why and how the world my MC lives in has reached this point. Details like this are relevant to developing the world's political and social systems.

Why were there separate districts in The Hunger Games, and why were they forced to sacrifice their children? What was wrong with Sol-Earth that Amy (and her parents) in Across the Universe needed to be cryogenically frozen and placed aboard the Godspeed? What is the One Ring and how did Sauron use it to nearly enslave all of Middle Earth?

The history of your world affects everything from political and religious beliefs to the development of technology and warfare.

Politics - Who's in charge? Is it a dictatorship or a democracy? A feudal system? A monarchy? A perceived utopia? And how will these things help and hinder your MC?

Society, culture and religion - Is it a rigidly controlled society like in The Hunger Games and Matched? Or is it more diverse and rich like in The Lord of the Rings? Is there a division of classes or a social hierarchy? Are the people technologically dependent? Is there a predominant religion or a wide range of beliefs? Are the people monotheistic, polytheistic or atheistic?

Magical system - If magic exists in your world, are there rules and restrictions? Is the "science" of it explained like in The Sorcerer's Apprentice or is it simply an inexplicable phenomenon? Is it genetic or random? Is it common knowledge or kept secret? Is there an entirely different magical history/politics/society from the "normal" one? What is the purpose of the magic? Are there magical instruments as well, such as wands and time turners like in Harry Potter?

Technology - Since my WIP is a cyberpunk dystopian, there are cybernetically enhanced humans in it. I need to know all the hows and whys of their creation. I also need to come up with how this futuristic world uses technology in its every day routines, and how machines are both conveniences and restrictions to the people and my MC.

If your story is a steampunk, how might technology be unique to that world?

Maps - A map of the world is usually handy if your story takes place on a finite stage, like the ship in Across the Universe. Or within a sweeping fantasy world like Narnia, or in a distant future like The Hunger Games. This can be taken even further with detailed maps of smaller areas and countries, like a map of both Middle Earth and then zoomed in maps of each of its countries. Or a map of the ship Godspeed and then detailed maps of each floor.

Locations - Similar to maps, but not quite. I like to list every location my MC will eventually come across and flesh it out--how to get there, what it looks like, the atmosphere, the people there, and its purpose.

Ultimately, all these questions are linked together, each answer dependent on the next to grow and transform into a fully realized world.
Have fun world building! ♥

April 11, 2011

Editing - Easy Ways to Cut Word Count and Tighten Writing

If you're like me, you probably end up with a higher word count than is typical for your manuscript's genre. But before you start ripping out entire scenes to the soundtrack of a lonely violin, start with the basics. Simply by cutting adverbs and repeated words/phrases/descriptions, I was able to shave 3k words off my manuscript without even touching the scenes at large. Of course, THEN I addressed my plot as a whole and removed scenes I didn't think were necessary, but my word count was looking pretty good by then.

Easy ways to cut word count:
adverbs - I'm not anti-adverbs. I quite like them. But, in excess, they tend to overpower the narrative. Less is more, and when you use them, make sure they're important to the prose and not just used to cover up lazy writing.

crutch words - Most common I've come across are 'just,' '(a) little,' and 'sort/kind of.' These words and phrases can almost always be cut, and the sentence is usually stronger for it. If you're not sure what your crutch words are, have a beta reader evaluate for you, or read your work carefully and when you notice a word repeated even once or twice, use Word's highlight feature to find all repeated instances of it.

Click ctrl+f to open the Find and Replace box. Enter the word you want to search for and then select 'Reading Highlight > Highlight All.' It will then tell you how many times the word was highlighted and display in your document.

extraneous words - typically words that are redundant and state the obvious

She sat down. or She stood up. - She's not going to sit up or stand down (and if she is, then she's doing something very different).

She touched his face with her hand. - It's a sure bet she's not touching his face with her feet.

She let her mouth curve into a smile. - Shortened to: She smiled. or, if you must, Her mouth curved into a smile.

She took a step back. - Shortened to: She stepped back.

His voice flutters around her, quick and elusive, impossible to track. - Repeating the same thing in a different way.

Now consider this example:

Original: Carl turned to look at his Aunt Sue who'd come to stand beside him, her hand resting on his shoulder. She'd taken off the hat and now she stood in front of him, a small smile curving her mouth, gentle and warm but there was a tinge of sadness on her face, in the crinkles at the corners of her blue eyes.

Edited: His Aunt Sue came to stand beside him, her hand resting on his shoulder. She'd taken off her hat. A small smile curved her mouth, but sadness lingered in the crinkles at the corners of her blue eyes.

The second version is much tighter, but still conveys everything the first version does.

Good luck editing! ♥

April 4, 2011

The Aspiring Writer's Soundtrack

Specifically, this song » Haven't Met You Yet by Michael Buble

I've found that many a writer and agent have compared the agent search to dating. You have to look at compatibility in terms of genres, likes and dislikes, communication, what you want out of the relationship, long-term commitment or just a one night book fling, etc. So you do your research, find an agent you believe is The One, stalk memorize their interviews and submission requirements, fret for days, and then, because your CP threatens you with evisceration and/or other Unpleasant Things, you finally shoot off a query with a mixture of dread and anticipation.

Three weeks later, you get a form rejection. Ouch. But, hey, sometimes it's just not meant to be, and you have to move on.

This is where the song comes in. It should be on every aspiring writer's soundtrack.

I've broken my heart so many times I stopped keeping track
Talk myself in, I talk myself out
I get all worked up then I let myself down

I tried so very hard not to lose it
I came up with a million excuses
I thought, I thought of every possibility

Every rejection you receive makes you second guess yourself. You wonder if the problem was your query, your sample pages, the agent's tastes, or whether you're just a talentless hack who should give up and drown your sorrows in a gallon of double chocolate fudge swirl ice cream. You have to sit your confidence down and give it a pep talk just to send off the next query.

On the bright side, you do grow a thicker skin!

I might have to wait, I'll never give up
I guess it's half timin' and the other half's luck

The thick skin is important. Listen to Churchill; he had it right. Never, ever give up. And, unfortunately, a lot of it is timing and luck. Getting the right manuscript into the hands of the right agent at the right time. So focus on what you can control--the quality of your work. Make it the best you possibly can and then send off those queries and cross your fingers.

Somehow I know that it'll all turn out
You'll make me work so we can work to work it out
And promise you, kid, that I'll give so much more than I get
I just haven't met you yet

I love how optimistic the lyrics are! Someday, your time will come. But when it does, the work doesn't stop there. Now, you've got an advocate, but you have to work harder than ever to keep the relationship together and to deliver your best. And I, for one, look forward to it!

And I know that we can be so amazin'
And bein' in your life is gonna change me
And now I can see every single possibility

Okay, still true, but it's probably best not to write love sonnets to your agent until the contract is signed and s/he can't back out of it without more paperwork and awkwardness. *cue maniacal laughter*

What's a song on your personal soundtrack? ♥

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