Monthly Archives: January 2012
Once upon a time, I told a girl I liked going to garage sales. She laughed at it and made fun of me. Why am I telling you this? Well, first I’m trying to make you pity me just a bit (to soften you up a little). And second, I’m hoping that same garage sale discrimination won’t happen again.
(This is a long post, and I apologize in advance, but I think it’s interesting [although that’s coming from someone with what might be considered a very boring life].)
I’ll be frank here—I’ve never had money. I’ve grown up in a lower middle class family, with the occasional hand-me-down and trip to the thrift store. Not a privileged life, but not a terrible one. Get it? Good. Point is I’ve grown up driving around with mom and dad on Saturdays hitting all the garage sales. We don’t do it all the time (especially not anymore), but when we do, it’s awesome.
Awesome? Well, maybe that’s a little too dramatic, but it’s cool. Some people think that paying full price for something is some kind of privilege. Those people are stupid. I’ll buy something lightly used and a fraction of the price over something brand new and full price any day. You’re saving money, being green (whee), and it’s fun.
It’s fun because of the hunt. You never know what you’re going to find. I’ve been looking for a stand-up CD case holder (you know, like tower with all the little slats to store your CDs) lately, and I haven’t found it. It’s funny, because I used to see those all the time at garage sales when I wasn’t looking for one. That’s the fun part about garage sales. You can’t anticipate exactly what you’re going to discover, and it becomes sort of a treasure hunt.
As a child, most of my “cool” toys were from garage sales. Maybe the majority of my clothes were purchased new, but the toys were all garage sale finds. If you’re a parent, then you know how expensive toys can be. Go to a garage sale and you can get the same thing for 25¢ instead of $15. Worried about germs? Use a Lysol wipe. See how much you can save? You can thank me later.
But why did I mention toys? Well, as a kid I said most of my toys were from garage sales. The truth is that most of my toys now are from garage sales. Yes, I’m twenty and I still have “toys”, but then again I’m talking about my video game library. Listen, I have a lot of games. Since I was little, I don’t (or hardly) get rid of games. Therefore my collection has become something of a literal library. I’ve got games for the NES, SNES, N64, Wii, Genesis, Dreamcast, PSX (Playstation), PS2, Xbox, and Xbox 360. I had a PS3 as well (as well as games for it), but I sold it.
I said it before, I’m a gamer. I don’t play as much anymore, but I’ll always be a nerd. Don’t like it? Tough. Thing is, I’ve gotten most of my games from garage sales or thrift stores. The only things I didn’t buy secondhand are my Wii, PSX, PS2, and Xbox 360. Buying so many games used means they were dirt cheap and I have a lot of them. I’ve never counted, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I had 50 NES games, or 100. That’s the beauty of garage sales.
So now that you get the idea behind me and my garage sales, I can continue with this little story. I haven’t been garage saling (yes, that’s the proper term) for a very long time. Months and months, I don’t know. Well this past Saturday I convinced my parents to go and we struck off on the adventure at 7:30ish. People are crazy about garage saling, so you’ve got to get a pretty early start if you want to find good stuff. 7:30 is good, but 7 is better. Either way, we were off.
Exhibit A: Sale
I made three “large” purchases that day. I hardly find much most of the time when I go. My dad ends up finding all sorts of crap, while I find very little. This time it was a bit different. The first garage sale we hit, I came across a big cardboard box full of game consoles and a tangle of wires. There was a PSX, PS2, and an Xbox inside. I’ve got two of those three, so I didn’t pay too much attention to it, but just out of curiosity, I decided to ask how much they wanted for the whole box. The little boy it belonged to said $10, so I figured why not. Were all the wires in there? Did the consoles work? It was cheap, so I just bought it, threw it in the car and moved on.
Exhibit A: Aftermath
It’s ridiculous how I’m organizing this post, right? Oh well. Once I got home, I began untangling the mess of cords and cables. First up was the Xbox, and I quickly found it had all the proper cords, one controller that looked worn but usable, and another controller that was broken. Armed with nothing but kitchen wipes, I sent off on cleaning it up.
All of this stuff was dirty. I’m not talking a little bit of dust, I’m talking dirt. A fine layer perhaps, but the cords had that nasty thin layer of mold on them, and the consoles were covered in a fine dusting of slightly caked on red dirt. Not cool, but kitchen wipes can clean anything. I cleaned it up nice, plugged it in, and it worked like a charm. One down, two to go.
Next up was the PS2. It received the same treatment, and it was just as dirty as the Xbox. The only controller it came with was broken in half in the back. It looked like it worked, but yeah. I have PS2 controllers, so I wasn’t too worried about it. I cleaned it up and turned it on, no problems. Two down, one to go.
Last up was the PSX. It wasn’t as dirty as the others, ironically, and only took a bit to clean up. All three of these consoles were in good shape, but this one looked the best even for being older. Unfortunately, while it turns on fine and seems to work, it has a very hard time reading games. It acts like your discs are too scratched to play, and when they do play, they freeze on loading screens way too often. It seems like—while it works—it has a difficult time reading the actual discs. I’m not sure how to fix that, but at the moment it seems like the only bust in the buy. Do you know how to fix it?
So in the end, I nabbed two working consoles for 10 bucks. PS2s go for around $40 on eBay, and I think Xboxes are about the same. I’ll probably end up keeping the Xbox, and a friend of the family had his PS2 break, so I might give him a deal on it. Point is that the $35 or so I spent all day is pretty much completely made back with just one item. Isn’t garage saling cool?
Exhibit B: Sale
The next item I came across is a little weirder. Like you see above, there’s a picture of it at the bottom of this section. I tend to buy weird little things, so this odd little straw basket with tiny people in it came into my possession for 50¢. Why did I buy it? I don’t know, but I did. It’s interesting.
Exhibit B: Aftermath
Aftermath? There is no aftermath on this one. It’s tiny and weird and maybe someday you’ll see it on some obscure little item in my hypothetical Etsy shop. I collect these trinkets, you see. This isn’t the first time. Will I ever do anything with them? Probably not, but who knows.
Exhibit C: Sale
This was probably the coolest buy of the day. The odd thing about this day of garage saling was the lack of music CDs. Usually whenever I go garage saling, people are selling off their old CDs. At any given sale, they’re there. It’s so common, that most days when I can’t find anything, I at least get a CD or two. However this time, there were none. None at all, all day. Instead, it seemed that everyone collectively decided to get rid of all their old PSX games.
Usually I don’t find those at all, so it was fun I suppose, but at one sale I found a whole book of them. You know the CD case/books? I don’t know what to call them, but you get the picture. It was full of them, so I just decided to ask “How much for the whole thing?” Bundling up had gone well so far, so why argue with success? The lady thought about it, and said $20. That probably was fair, technically speaking, but half of the games in this thing I didn’t even want. I offered $10, and she said “It’s too early, maybe later.”
That might sound silly, but you’ll find that sometimes when garage saling. Things sell good in the morning, and as the day wears on, it’s smart to price things down, because fewer and fewer people start showing up. That’s what she was thinking, so I just asked “When can I come back and buy it for $10?” Rude? A little, but it was all in good fun. She laughed and said after lunch. Fair enough, so I went and put it back. The thought crossed my mind to hide it, even though it was doubtful that anyone would buy it, but before I could decide to be a douchebag about it or not, she called out “Okay, $10.”
Exhibit C: Aftermath
This purchase was hit and miss. A lot of the games inside, I don’t even want. Is there anyone looking for the 102 Dalmatians game? I didn’t think so. Still, there were quite a few cool games inside, and many that I haven’t even checked out yet. So far I’ve been impressed with a game called Einhander. Sounds like sound crazy German word, but upon playing it, it’s a side-scrolling shooter (like Xevious).
The biggest disappointment was Legend of Dragoon. It’s a pretty epic RPG, and I think it’s worth a bit of money, but upon closer inspection I found that the CD book only had disc 2, 3, and 4. It happens, and who knows, maybe I’ll go back to the same garage sale and get lucky, unless anyone’s looking to sell disc 1? In the end, I know I could get a couple bucks out of a lot of the games. There are 50 or so of them, so at $10 that’s like each disc was 20¢. I think that’s fair.
Exhibit D: Sale
Last one—promise. At one of the last sales we stopped by, I came across a little appointment book looking thing; the ones that zip up and whatever. It caught my eye because it looked like it was leather, and it was Fossil. Cool, but it had a $20 price tag on it. Thinking that was ridiculous, I opened it up and found a palm pilot inside.
I’ll admit that palm pilots are so outdated, but they’re still cool. My dad has one (that he used to use for work), and looking at this one, it looked exactly the same. Unfortunately it didn’t have a charger, but it looked like it was in amazing shape, and it also came with a few SD cards. I talked the lady down to $10 and bought it.
Exhibit D: Aftermath
Even though it didn’t have a charger, it looked the same as my dad’s one and he agreed. The idea was that I could just use his charger. No sweat. Once we got home and check though, we discovered that mine was one model newer than his (the Tungsten E2, as opposed to his Tungsten E) even though both models look identical to each other. His charger didn’t fit for mine, so I was up a creek.
On the bright side, I looked everything up on eBay and picked up a data cable/charger (along with some universal USB adapters for wall charging and car charging) for $6 with free shipping. Altogether, I spent $16 on it, and it looked like Tungsten E2s are still going for $30-$40 on eBay.
So what’s the moral of this story? Garage sales are awesome—that’s what. Half the fun is reselling things and making your money back so you can do it all over again. You’re jealous now, aren’t you? Well in that case, go out there and do it yourself!
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right? Well get out there and find some treasure.
A movie review? Yes, I don’t know. This isn’t a movie review blog, but I warned you that I can be random. This is one of those times.
The other day, I caught the movie Tekken on TV. It was never in theaters (at least not in the US), and it’s adapted from the classic fighting video game, so I really didn’t expect much. Movies based on video games almost never work. Still, I had nothing better to do, so I sat down with my dad and watched it.
Simply put, I didn’t hate it. I was a child who played Street Fighter, Fighter’s Destiny, and Marvel Vs. Capcom. I never once played Tekken, and I while I immediately recognize the old dude with his white hair spiked up on both sides, I’m not familiar with the game or the story. As is typical with most movies adapted from existing stories, Tekken was not original to the game’s storyline. I’m sure it generally was, but when it comes to details, it only took a two minute search to find people complaining “That’s wrong!” Personally, I don’t care about that. That’s how movie adaptions are. If you judge them based on how different they are, you can never give a fair rating.
Still, the movie wasn’t amazing. The story is very cliche: Evil totalitarian militaristic “factions” take over a post-apocalyptic Earth, slummy terrible environments ensue. A massive fighting competition is endorsed by Tekken (a prominent faction) because… that’s what you do when everything goes to pot I guess. The main character lives in the slums, and was taught by his mother the ways of karate and whatnot. Violence ensues, the bad guy kills his mother, and he enters the Iron Fist (the fighting competition) to kill the bad guy ruler and avenge his mother’s death.
I won’t spoil anything. Even though the movie was full of weak dialogue, corny flashbacks, and a plot-hole here and there, I’d still recommend it to anyone who just wants to sit down to a heavy helping of good old fashioned badassery. The fight scenes might be corny sometimes, but the stunts aren’t bad. It’s all very entertaining if you come at it from the right perspective. You’re not going to find a gripping, well written, emotional movie that will leave you thinking. You are going to get a lot of sweaty bleeding dudes, revenge, and a couple scantily clad young ladies thrown in for good measure.
It’s a guy movie. It accomplishes that role, but not much else. I give it 3 bloody fists, because bloody fists are cool.
I’ve been writing for a pretty long time; I’ve brought that up before. A problem I always faced as a young writer was lack of focus and commitment. One day I want to write about something—and I’ve got the ideas all up top—but the next day, I’m bored. Maybe not bored with the idea, but bored with writing it. Something else would steal my interest, and I’d move onto that.
It was hard for me to focus on a single project, basically. I start something; I don’t finish it. I did that a lot, if not always. A lot of people have that problem. I know I have that problem, but I thought that I grew out of it a bit.
Seems I haven’t quite ditched the habit. It’s difficult, because while I am able to embark on a project and focus on it, I have so many ideas! I’m working on two novels and one serial. Those are all time-consuming projects. Amidst those things, I need to update this blog more often. I need to sit down and write articles for my job. When I do take the time to work on a personal writing project, I don’t know where to start. I don’t know which project to work on. Then the thought comes to mind that I should start writing something entirely new. A short story, or flash fiction. Something I can submit to places and possibly get published and paid for.
As much as I talk on this blog, and try my best to help people (mostly with their virus problems, as it seems from my 100+ hits a day on my “System-Check” Virus post), I have problems myself. I know I have the skill and ability to do useful things, but more often than not I just don’t know where to direct my figurative blows.
Old habits die hard, and I’ll still have to grapple with them for control. In the meantime, it’s good to take a step back and remember that everyone is always learning. As a writer, you never stop growing, and I’ve only just begun my journey.
If you just sat down to read this and haven’t read part A of this installment yet, please click here. This installment will talk more about how you can use dialogue to augment your writing, while the last part explained how to create strong, believable dialogue.
So how can you use dialogue to your advantage? Dialogue is just dialogue, right? You need it one way or another; it isn’t an extraneous addition. That’s completely true, but that doesn’t mean you’re required to think inside the box. Like anything, dialogue is a tool, and tools are there for you to use in a variety of ways. Before I get into anything fancy, though, I want to bring out one more point that I believe is key to creating quality dialogue.
First off, note that what I’m going to say here isn’t what your writing teacher told you. It isn’t what the “experts” will tell you. In spite of that, I’m right. That sounds more than a little conceited, but I’m deadly serious here, and I’m by far not the only one who holds the same view on this. What am I talking about?
“When writing dialogue attributions, almost always use said.”
It’s likely you’ve heard that before. The argument behind this “staple writing rule” is that said is invisible to the reader, and that using other verbs for dialogue is distracting and useless to your reader. There is merit behind this mindset—I don’t deny that. However, it’s a very robotic way of thinking. How should you look at it? Well that’s up to you, and in the end, your personal writing style is what matters. Let’s dive into this a little deeper.
There are pros and cons behind using only said. I’m not going to draw up a list here, because it’s not that clear-cut. When you use said, it is generally invisible. It’s the simplest attribution there is; it’s telling the reader who just “said” the last chunk of dialogue. There’s nothing wrong with that, however as a writer, you should never overuse a word. It doesn’t matter what that word is—said is subject to that rule just like anything else.
Said is not invisible when you use it too much.
Some might argue against that train of thought, but you can’t argue against what a reader sees when they read your work. I was a reader before I was a writer, and when I read a “well respected” author and saw said used over and over and over… I saw those attributions. It bugged me, and that was back when I was fairly young. It bugs me even more so now. It’s lazy. It’s a cop-out that uses the “expert opinion” as a fallback crutch.
But what if you don’t use said? What if you use screamed, or cried, or whispered? What if you take into account what’s happening in the scene before choosing what attribution to use? There’s nothing exactly wrong with that, however you don’t want to be redundant.
If your story just read … “What’s wrong with you? I know you did it!” Sally accused. … you’ve got a problem.
Why? Because there was no need to tell the reader that Sally was accusing someone of something; she just said “I know you did it!”, so why do you need to state that the dialogue there was an accusation? You don’t, and that’s a prime argument that any writing teacher will give you for the exclusive use of said.
That’s only looking at one side of it, though. It’s perfectly possible to find an attribution in most cases that isn’t redundant, and isn’t spelled s-a-i-d.
If your story just read … “It’s okay, I believe you.” Sally whispered. … do you have a problem?
No, you don’t. If you simply put said in place of whispered there, the true intent of the dialogue wouldn’t have been portrayed. There are a lot of instances where this is true, and sadly that’s something that a lot of teachers completely ignore in their discourse. I argued quite a bit with an instructor of mine about this subject (I can be a bit too difficult for my own good), and after a long discussion, he basically backed down and said that there are many different ways to write.
The fact is, you can indeed distract your reader if you continually force a synonym for said into your dialogue. As with anything, you need a balance. Your writing should flow and incite your reader’s interest, so just the same as using synonyms of said again and again, using said again and again is not going to make your reading flow. Striking that balance between the two can be difficult, but in the end it’s usually pretty apparent what attribution fits each piece of dialogue. If someone asked a question, asked is a perfect attribution. If someone said something in a harsh, quick tone, barked is a workable attribution. If someone just said something… you can still use said. You know your writing better than anyone else, so make a concerted effort to piece your dialogue together correctly.
How can we break this all up though? Well, we of course do not need a “he said/she said” after every spoken phrase. In a two-way conversation, it’s often clear who is saying what after you’ve established who is speaking in turn. This might seem like a very basic principle, but it’s a key component of writing dialogue that is enjoyable to read. Make sure you don’t confuse your reader, though.
What I want to talk about more deeply here is something called a beat. Beats are very simple, but at the same time, when you utilize them correctly, the effect is drastic. Let me illustrate.
“What am I supposed to do?” Tom asked.
“Well I don’t know,” Mary replied. “Have you tried talking to her?”
“Absolutely not! She doesn’t even know I exist, Mary.”
“That’s the problem, silly. It’s up to you to change that!”
There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, pick up a book off the best seller rack and you’ll likely read a passage of dialogue that is structured just like this. That’s just lovely, but it’s boring. It’s weak. It’s lazy! How can we use beats to make it better?
“What am I supposed to say?” Tom asked.
“Well I don’t know,” Mary shot him a knowing look. “Have you tried talking to her?”
“Absolutely not! She doesn’t even know I exist, Mary.”
She laughed and slugged him in the shoulder. “That’s the problem, silly. It’s up to you to change that!”
See how that works? There’s only one attribution in that exchange. A beat is extremely simple, but it goes a very long way towards livening up your dialogue. The first example was boring, simple, and told you very little about either character. Even though this is an extremely short example of dialogue, in the example above you can at least immediately see Mary’s personality a little. There’s more life in your dialogue when you use beats.
In technical terms, a beat is a sentence of a character’s action, before, after, or in the middle of a line of dialogue that shifts the reader’s focus to that character. It eliminates the need for an attribution, and it gives us a much better image of the scene.
The key is to use balance. Don’t become a mindless drone of the “expert’s” creed. Pull from each practice, mix it up, and make your writing flow. That means you shouldn’t be afraid to use said, synonyms of said, or beats. One thing I will suggest is that you make pretty heavy use of beats. Don’t be stingy with them. It’s much cleaner to the eye to read actions than it is to constantly wade through he saids and she saids, including any synonyms thereof. It might take a little bit more effort, but you should never sacrifice quality for ease of writing. That’s another thing I’ve heard from teachers. “Just use said. It’s invisible to the reader, and it’s easier on you.” Easier on you? I think the silliness behind that idea speaks for itself.
We’ve finally come to the end of this installment of Breathe Life Into Your Writing! I hope you were able to get a good idea of how you personally can create strong, well written dialogue. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.
There will be more to come soon, but in the meantime, be sure to read up on the other parts you might have missed!
Being sick sucks. Seriously. I didn’t even post yesterday, which is uncommon, since I update this blog everyday. I hardly had the oomph to sit on the couch.
The night before last, I puked. Not once, but fourteen times. Yeah, fourteen. Thirteen of those times, I had nothing to throw up, so you can imagine how much fun I had. It was so bad that I ended up just trying to sleep on a blanket on the bathroom floor. I was lucky if I fell asleep for five minutes between puke sessions.
The entire ordeal started at around 1am and probably didn’t die down until 8am. At some point, I was able to keep down some Pepto. I got a few hours of sleep, but woke up not feeling much better. Stumbling out onto the couch, I ended up watching Wifeswap all day while getting nothing but liquids down. I ate one cracker and a few bites of Jell-o all day. Awesome, right?
Falling asleep was hard, but I probably managed to nod off around 11pm. I woke up a couple hours later and hurled again. Fun fun. I woke up today at around 10:30am, and I still feel like crap, but I figured I could at the least offer up a lame little post like this. I did finish off a blog article for a freelance job I’ve got, so at least today isn’t a total loss like yesterday was, but I really need to get better.
Hopefully I’ll feel better enough to write something more useful for you guys tomorrow, so stay tuned.
We’re getting deep into these now, aren’t we? I feel pretty fancy using Roman numerals beyond a series of “I”s strung beside each other; now I’m using “V”s! Stupidity aside though, if you haven’t read any of the first three parts, I’d suggest you start here. You don’t have to, but since this series is aimed to build your repertoire of skills to liven up your writing, every little bit helps. If you’re too lazy and just want to read this one? Well, that’s okay too. Let’s get started.
Dialogue sounds pretty simple. In a way, it is. Compared to the other points I touched on in this series, dialogue seems far more basic and structural. That’s true, because without good, meaningful dialogue you don’t have a story. The thing is, dialogue is much more than just a boring, structured necessity. Dialogue is something you can use to help your story soar or plummet to the earth. Use it correctly, vividly, and it might even carry your writing (which we don’t want to happen, but still). Use it incorrectly, and no one will keep reading your stuff.
Listen up; dialogue is important.
Not just a little important; dialogue makes your story. Without dialogue, your story is going to read like an essay, complete with mind-numbing blocks of exposition that no one wants to read forever. Without dialogue, you might as well be writing something like this. An article. People read articles to learn something, or to follow something someone did (in the case of blogs in general). When people read to learn, they do want to be entertained, but they’re reading for a different purpose. When people are reading a blog about someone’s life, what happened to them that day, etc, the entire piece moves because it’s a firsthand account of something that really happened. Even though it’s not dialogue, it comes across more interesting because it’s almost as if the writer has sat you down and is directly talking to you about what happened. It comes across stronger than simple exposition.
What about stories though? People read stories for one reason: to be entertained. That’s why fiction writing is so difficult. If you know a lot about a certain topic and you know how to write, it’s not that hard to write something like this; something instructional. When you’re writing fiction, you have to captivate your reader at every turn. You have to keep them guessing, but you can’t confuse them too much. You have to keep the story moving, but not too fast. You have to make the characters believable, but not too believable and boring. You have to make the story more realistic than real life, but still include aliens and vampires.
It is fun, but it’s a juggling act. Society has a pretty short attention span, and you have to make a masterfully concerted effort to keep that focus. It’s not easy. What’s the point behind all this? Dialogue is likely your number one tool in grabbing people’s attention. Exciting, believable dialogue that moves your story along will go a long way towards interesting your readers. How can we create that dialogue though? How can we do it right?
That’s an extremely complex topic. I could probably write a whole new series just on dialogue. Instead, I’ll try to be concise here. I’ll try to highlight a few things that I think are the key elements of successful dialogue.
- Understand your characters.
- Consider where your scene is going.
- Keep it real.
No kidding, that’s it. If you get those three points down, you’ll be a dialogue god. Unfortunately, not many have done that. I guarantee that even the greatest authors of all time still write a scene, read back the dialogue, and throw it in the trash. It’s a constant struggle. That’s not too say it’s hopeless; a lot of the time you can sit down and pound out a scene full of dialogue, read it back, and it’s perfect.
You have conversations yourself, so you know how people talk. When you try to replicate real speech onto the screen it often comes out sounding funny. Still, there will be a lot of times where it just flows. One character says something, and the next replies like anyone would, just like two people in real life. Hopefully you made sure to make their conversation mean something to the piece, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s go over each point in a little more depth.
Understand your characters
The point behind this is that you don’t want dialogue written that doesn’t match your character. If you’re writing the dialogue of a six-year-old, which spoken phrase would he use?
The sound of tiny scampering feet against linoleum made Mrs. Parker turn towards the noise. Her little one latched onto her leg—almost causing her to fall—and whined, “Mommy my tummy hurts!”
Obviously the first one doesn’t fit, unless little Timmy was abducted by aliens where they injected arcane knowledge into his little brain before laying him back in his bed. That’s the point here, dialogue needs to mirror your character’s motivations, goals, and personality. If you understand your character inside and out, you won’t make as many mistakes when you’re writing their dialogue.
If I could choose any of these three points to pick out as being the most important, it would be this one. I can get over a line of dialogue in a story that doesn’t have much purpose being there, or sounds a little contrived when I read it aloud, but when a character says or does something that just plain doesn’t fit them? That annoys me, and unless I’m really absorbed in the writing, I might not keep reading. Still, this is only one point. They’re all important; especially this next one.
Consider where your scene is going
This point is actually too simplified. Not only do you want to keep in mind the direction of the scene, you also want to look at the big picture. I’m talking about the plot, theme, and direction of the entire piece of writing. Dialogue in the first chapter might connect to something at the end of a book! Read the example below and keep in mind that this dialogue is placed a story titled… “A Shadow In The Deep” (if there is a real book called that, woops).
The smell of booze and saltwater drifted about the sleepy tavern, old neon lights above the bar humming a peaceful tune. A ratty old man, weathered and grey by the raging seas took a swig of his bottle and said to a man across from him, “Went out yesterday an’ caught me a whole mess of cod. Should have seen the nets full to bursting, ha ha!”
The smell of booze and saltwater drifted about the sleepy tavern, old neon lights above the bar humming a peaceful tune. An old man sat across from another, terror fixed on his wrinkled face as he whispered to the man across from him, “I think my days on the sea are over, Ted. Have you seen it? That thing? I swear, I saw it! Sliding beneath the waves, bigger than a whale! Someone’s going to get killed by that monster, mark my words…”
This one isn’t as obvious as the first examples with the little boy. There’s believable dialogue in both of these, and each example stays pretty true to a discussion between two old seadogs over a pitcher of ale. The difference here isn’t that one of these examples is wrong, it’s that the second one has a purpose being in the story and the first doesn’t.
There’s nothing wrong with a casual conversation between fishermen talking about their haul, but what does that tell the reader about the theme of the story? How does that move the story forward? It doesn’t, but when we read the second example, we see that one of the men is haunted by something he saw. He warns his old fishing buddy about what he thinks is out there, beneath the waves and waiting to strike, as he believes. When we read that, we’re given a glimpse of what’s to come. It creates suspense in knowing that as we read through this story, we’re slowly getting closer to learning the truth and meeting this monster face to face.
Don’t you agree that the second example accomplishes more, considering where the scene and story are going? This is a more difficult point, because we don’t want to load every line of dialogue too heavily with plot information, but we need for our dialogue to serve a purpose. Even if two of your characters have a casual conversation, it should serve a purpose, even if that purpose is just making the characters more comfortable around each other. Perhaps they shoot the breeze about sports in chapter three, and end up falling madly in love in chapter eight? The first small conversation served a purpose, and that’s the idea here.
Keep it real
The focus behind this point is pretty simple. We just want our dialogue to be believable. We want to be able to see the characters in front of us, and hear what they’re saying. That’s a difficult task you have as a writer, in that you’re trying to make words come across as visual. When your reader can picture what they’re reading clearly in their mind, you’re doing a great job. How can dialogue lend strongly to this, though? Lets look at another example.
The slam of the door echoed through the house, shaking the walls as a woman stood facing the blocked doorway and said, “Abbie, you need to calm down. Open the door.”
“No mom,” Abbie replied. “You don’t understand me. I don’t want to talk to you.”
The slam of the door echoed through the house, shaking the walls as a woman pressed herself up against the doorway and pleaded, “Abbie! I’m sorry, I just want to talk, please! I love you…”
“You love me? You make me sick!” Abbie screamed back, her voice muffled through the thin walls. “You just don’t get it. Leave me alone!”
Do you see the difference this time? There’s nothing especially wrong with the first example. The dialogue stays true to the feelings of both mother and daughter, and it has a purpose. The problem is that it’s weak, robotic. Phrases like “You don’t understand me. I don’t want to talk to you.” tell the reader what’s going on and how the character feels, but they don’t sound natural. When you read that, you feel like you’re reading dialogue, not hearing it. It doesn’t flow like dialogue should.
In the second example though, it’s different. The dialogue is moving, active, raw. It fits the characters and progresses the scene, and it also sounds like a real argument between a teenage girl and her mom. You can feel the emotion here much more strongly than before, and because of that it’s much easier to hear it in your head as you read.
That’s the key behind this point: you want the dialogue to sound real. You don’t want your reader to read it; you want them to hear it. When your characters speak, it should sound as natural as if they were right in front of you having a conversation. How can you accomplish this? Well, it isn’t really that difficult. You’re human, you have family and friends. You talk. You know how people interact and converse, and when you create dialogue, you’re trying to mirror that. The subject of the written words can be anything, but the naturalness you hear in everyday speech needs to carry those written conversations. Beyond that, just read your dialogue aloud after you write it. If it sounds funny, you’ll probably hear it.
I hope all of that wasn’t too much information at once. Dialogue is an extremely deep and complicated process, but at the same time it’s very simple. There are a lot of ways to make your dialogue hit harder, but in the end, the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) policy works just as well. If you’re doubting some dialogue you’ve written, just ask yourself three questions mirroring the points above.
- Would my character say that?
- Does this dialogue serve a purpose?
- Does it sound natural?
If you can’t answer yes to all of those questions, odds are you should probably work on the dialogue in question till you can.
Thanks for reading. If you didn’t notice, this is a two part installment, so keep your eye out for part B of the dialogue discussion. Also be sure to check out any parts of this series that you missed!
- Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part III: Symbolism
- Dialogue – a powerful tool! (madgeniusclub.com)
- Writing Believable Dialogue – 1. Less is More (bardicblogger.wordpress.com)
I started this blog thinking a post a day wouldn’t be too bad. Up til this point, I’ve done alright, but that pretty much stems from the fact that I have way, way too much time on my hands.
I’ve been doing a lot though, lately. I’ve been “busy”. I still hold a relatively high standard to what I post here, but since I almost always post something up everyday, sometimes the standards slip. Like today? The standards flew out the window. Not only have I been writing doing some freelance blog writing, I spent today working with my dad. While the man’s colorful vocabulary might be inspiring to some, it doesn’t make up for the time I could have been writing.
That sounds kind of silly in retrospect. I got out of the house for once, had an honest day’s work, and made some money, but it just wasn’t creative. I could have sat down, written a handful of blog posts and made the same amount of money (okay, less). Even writing articles about things that don’t necessarily inspire me still feels creative. I’d rather be investing more time into my projects, but those aren’t making any money. Someday they will (hopefully).
So while my posts these days might not suffer, I’m getting them off later and later it seems. Yesterday’s post came after 6pm Hawaii time. That’s way too late for everyone else. I’m not even done writing this and it’s nearly 10pm. These posting times aren’t helping statistics and aren’t attracting new readers. It’s just too late for people. Still, better to get them up than not at all, right? …Right?
Anyways, I’ll shut up now. Tomorrow I’m aiming to not only focus on some story writing, but also putting together another article for a job and an insightful post for you guys.
Wish me luck? Right, no such thing. Let’s just hope I wake up before noon.