Archive for the ‘Award-Winning Fiction’ Category

How Important is Dialogue in Fiction?

September 18, 2018

Picture courtesy Pexels.com

I’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. I don’t think it can be over-emphasized. Dialogue, when properly structured, is one of the most powerful tools in the fiction writer’s arsenal. When you turn on the sound, which is what your dialogue is doing, the scene becomes real and immediate.

However, to attract readers, dialogue must sound natural and true-to-life. It needs to be as comfortable as an old pair of sneakers.

The Best Way to Do That
Eavesdropping on a nearby conversation is an excellent way to study how real people talk. Try it sometime in your favorite coffee shop. If you pay attention you’ll discover something important. No two people express themselves in the same way.

More importantly, it’s not like the English they taught you in school. Real dialogue wanders. It begins with a tale from yesterday, interrupts with a rain prediction for the afternoon, and may leap forward to tomorrow’s dental appointment before it returns to the story.

When you realize how people actually speak, what you have your characters say can reveal volumes.

That’s because, in much the same way as we glean information when encountering new people in person, your readers will do the same sizing-up of the characters you create.

Good dialogue gives them the illusion of reality but, because a good writer is an artist, paring away the unnecessary and pointing us to what is important, it is more directed.

Distractions
By that I mean, if it’s done properly, dialogue can convey mood, backstory and more as your characters speak. However, it needs to be judiciously placed among the action to bring us close to those moments of discovery our readers love to follow.

It’s important to remember most people use contractions, sentence fragments and maybe even dialect in everyday speech. Done the right way, these can become tactics to help portray your characters as relaxed, informal or, perhaps, from a certain locale. Lose the subtlety though, and your characters can quickly turn into caricatures.

For instance, I’ve never been one to shy away from curse words to portray something about a character. Use too many, though, and your character may seem ignorant and crass.

Worse, so will you.

Slang presents a different problem. Even when it’s used sparingly, it can date your piece. However that, in my opinion, is an extremely good use for it … establishing, or reinforcing, a time period.

Rules
To me, one of the biggest rules in dialogue is this: No unnecessary words. Nothing to excess. That’s true in all writing, of course, but it has a particular acuteness when it comes to dialogue.

If you include a few unnecessary sentences in a description of place, aside from registering a minor and temporary slowing of the pace, most readers won’t notice or care.

Do the same in a block of dialogue, and your characters will seem to be speechifying rather than talking to their friends. So, don’t do it!

I’ve been told dialogue is one of the strong points of my fiction, and my advice to you is keep it spare. Allow the normal gaps that occur in communication and let the readers fill in the blanks. Give them 80% and let them figure out the rest which, in my world anyway, pulls them directly into the story.

* * * * *

My novel “Blood Lake” – which was a Readers’ Favorite Bronze Medal Winner and a ForeWord Indie Finalist, was just named a 2018 book-of-the-year finalist by TopShelf Magazine.

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On September 18, 2018, I plan to attend the Freelance Writer’s Marketplace Group at the Barnes & Noble store in Rochester Hills. Next month, I’ll be signing books at Lake Orion High School on October 13, and again at the Books & Authors Event at Leon & Lulu in Clawson on October 28. I’ll also be attending the Rochester Writers’ Conference at Oakland University on October 20. If you never attend any other conference, you should try to go to this one.

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Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

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Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

Want to Write a Good Story?

September 9, 2018

Picture courtesy Pexels.com

Every writer has heard the question many times: Where do you get your ideas? The answer from most of them is almost always the same as it is for me …

Everywhere.

Many aspiring writers believe they need to wait for a sudden flash of inspiration to write well but, in truth, generating ideas is more of a process than an epiphany.

You aren’t going to be standing in the shower, humming to yourself, with hot, soapy water cascading over your shoulders when, suddenly, serendipity smiles and you have a flash of unmitigated brilliance.

It’s the idea to end all ideas, and you’re certain you’re a genius!

Except, when you get home after a long day and a treacherous commute, the muse has abandoned you, and you can’t seem to recall that moment of morning insight.

Surely, it’ll come back once you’ve had some time to unwind, right?

If you’re like most people, myself included, there’s a good possibility it won’t. Ideas are notoriously elusive and hard to hold on to.

Jot Things Down
It may seem old-fashioned in the electronic age, but keeping a pen-and-paper notebook nearby has advantages. For starters, writing in longhand boosts memory, making your ideas seem more real and encouraging you to actually do something about them.

If you’re old school, like me, the act of writing things down will also remind you to focus and be in the moment. And that’s important. The best writers are also keen observers.

Revisit Your Ideas
The best method for storing your ideas is one that encourages you not only to keep them, but to use them. Keeping track of them is only useful if you have a plan to come back and put the best ones to use.

Finding what works best for you will probably involve trial and error. Some creatives have been known to use a pen to scrawl a brilliant idea on a napkin or even the back of their hand.

Maybe, if you’re older than three, you’re eccentric enough to even get away with writing on the wall.

Pay Attention
Knowing how to write a good story is a powerful skill. The human mind is drawn to stories. Recite a laundry list of events from your day at work and our eyes glaze over. But tell us how the unarmed local constable heroically saved the day by stopping the crazed bank robber with some duct tape and a paper clip and we’re riveted.

You can learn to do this by paying attention to what’s going on around you. Those snippets of conversation you overheard at dinner; the car you witnessed going the wrong way down the freeway during rush hour; the elderly man trudging down a dark alley, repeatedly calling a woman’s name, could all spark a story.

Although some of the events you describe may be extraordinary, they don’t have to be. They just have to be interesting.

Ask “What If?”
Events aren’t necessarily stories unto themselves, but they can germinate fabulous stories when the writer plants the seeds by asking questions, and letting the characters respond.

What if the car you witnessed heading the wrong way down the freeway at rush hour was driven by a pregnant woman in labor who needed the fastest route to the hospital?

What if the elderly man calling out in the dark alley was a forgetful widower looking for his deceased wife?

One of the primary questions I always ask to get a story started is exactly that …

“What if?”

Remember
Stories are not just sequences of random events … they have to go somewhere. Any good story begins with a character who wants something. The story describes the character’s journey toward getting what he or she wants … or maybe not.

Not everyone gets his heart’s desire and stories, after all, don’t have to have happy endings, only acceptable ones.

Keep your character’s struggle to get something he desperately wants in mind as you build your story framework, and watch your character’s story come alive.

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On September 18, 2018, I’ll be attending the Freelance Writer’s Marketplace Group at the Barnes & Noble store in Rochester Hills. I wrote in the last blog about the things you need for a book-signing. Next month, I get to practice what I preach. I’ll be signing books at Lake Orion High School on October 13, and again at the Books & Authors Event at Leon & Lulu in Clawson on October 28. I’ll also be attending the fabulous Rochester Writers’ Conference at Oakland University on October 20. If you never attend any other conference, you should try to go to this one.

**********

Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

How Well Do You Use Irony?

May 28, 2018

An Example of Verbal Irony Made Visual

Irony is a key element in literature and it can take many forms. Fiction thrives on it, and I use it often, including in this dialogue exchange in my novel “One Way Street”: (to set the scene … the characters are two Marines during the Vietnam War, sitting in a jungle bomb crater following a break in hostilities):

* * * * *

     Blake’s eyes looked up at the jungle without raising his head.
“Was that what you wanted to talk about?”

     I’d almost forgotten the question I’d asked him. “No, I was
just thinking about a guy I used to know,” I said, “a friend…but
you wouldn’t know him…so never mind.”

     “What was his name?” Blake turned to look at me. He had
blacked his face for camouflage and muddy streaks were caked
on top of it. He could have been a clown, if he smiled. Or the
devil himself, if he was angry.

     “Albert Parker,” I said, “He used to live right across the street
from me.”

     “Good guy?”
     I thought about it a moment. “Yeah,” I said, looking over at
Blake, “a really good guy.”

     “You said he used to live across the street. Did he move,
or something?”

     “No,” I said, “he died.”
     “Aw, that’s too bad, man,” Blake said. He adjusted his
bandolier and started to lean back against the mound of dirt
behind us. “What’d he die from?”

     “Coming over here.”

* * * * *

Dramatic Irony
Dramatic irony is a form of irony that is expressed through a work’s structure, and it relates to character. Mark Twain used it often. When we hear Pap in Huckleberry Finn proclaim he would have voted on election day “…if I warn’t too drunk to get there,” we know we’re in the presence of a deluded character.

We know it, but he doesn’t. Every word out of Pap’s mouth seems to condemn him, but he never realizes any of it.

The degree of your character’s delusion depends on the story, of course, but think of ignorance as a sliding scale. It also includes innuendo. “Go ahead. You always do” suggests more than it states.

When a reader’s awareness of the situation differs substantially from that of the characters, their words and actions take on different … frequently contradictory … meanings. It’s often like Blake in the story fragment above, who has no idea where his companion is going with his comments.

The greater the lack of self-knowledge, the greater the dramatic irony. However, if the dramatic irony is ratcheted up too far, you’ll have an unreliable narrator. This may work for humor and satire, but it’s not so good for rendering realistic fiction, which is why I made the reference above subtle … I wanted the dialogue to sound real.

Verbal Irony
In verbal irony, the gap is between what is stated in the dialogue and what is intended. Sometimes it works by overstatement; sometimes by understatement. In either case, the words we hear do not carry the intended image.

It is often close to sarcasm. When a character says “Keep that up, and you’ll win a prize,” he may simply mean “cut it out,” but there is often more of a sting to sarcastic implication.

Situational Irony
The third type of irony, situational, is certainly the most frequently used. You think things are going one way, but the story suddenly makes a 180-degree turn. Actions have an effect opposite from what was intended, so the outcome is contrary to what was expected.

It’s important to note that a sudden reversal isn’t ironic unless there is that gap between expectation and result.

Well-crafted ironic reversals make for realistic plot movement, and character arcs that mirror human existence.

Writers whose vision is extremely ironic we know better as satirists. Satire can be a powerful weapon against conventional views, political ideologies or philosophical views. Dr. Strangelove, a merciless attack on Cold War politics written by Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern, is a classic example.

However unrealistic, the character of Major Kong, sitting astride a nuclear bomb and riding it to its target, thereby setting-off the story’s Doomsday Machine and assuring the demise of everyone, is an image most are not likely to forget.

Irony is something to be sensitive to in your fiction efforts. When it’s working, readers will surely pay attention.

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Remember Memorial Day. I’d like to remind my Gentle Readers that today is a special day, set aside to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. It’s not ironic at all to tell everyone you know who’s been in the military, “Thanks for your service.”

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Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

On March 1, 2018, Rochester Media started publishing my articles about writing. The column will update twice a month. Come on over, take a look, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

On Tuesday, June 19, 2018 I will join other local area writers at the Freelance Marketplace Writers’ Group meeting at Barnes & Noble in Rochester Hills.

On Saturday, July 28, 2018 I plan to participate in a book-signing during Sterlingfest, in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

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Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.


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