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Sick Again, Seriously?

Apparently no matter what bug happens to be going around, I’ll get it. Last time it was the stomach bug, and I got that. Then a cold went around, and now I’ve got that. I still feel pretty terrible, but it’s getting better as time goes on. The last few days I’ve literally felt like a zombie. Everything hurt and when I walked around it was more like “trudging”, complete with the occasional grunt and moan. My skin might not have been rotting off the bone, but it sure felt like it.

The worst thing about being sick is that my brain seriously does not work. Most would think “Hey, you’re sick, you have nothing better to do, you can write!”, and I can’t. I try, but nothing comes. I just can’t think well when I feel like that, and the most I can do is force out an article for my job. Even then, that probably looks like crap, but oh well.

So what do I do while I’m sick? I lay on the couch and watch things on TV that I would never watch otherwise. On the worst day, I watched about 3 hours straight of The Next Great Baker and Cake Boss. And I wanted to eat cake all day. I got really sick of loud Italian voices though. It kept me busy though, so I can’t really complain. When it wasn’t on anymore, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Sad, right?

The one creative thing I’ve been doing is some drawing. I’m terrible at it, but I’m on a friend’s art forum and they’re doing this little “Feb-A-Thon” thing where you upload something you’ve drawn everyday. It’s fun, and I decided to play along, even though in comparison to the other artists there my stuff looks like a 3-year-old drew it. It’s better than nothing though, because I need to keep my brain working somehow.

Since I know you’re wondering how badly I draw, here. It’s a character from something I’m working on, so while it’s garbage, at least it helps me visualize and keep writing.

Yes, I draw like a 7-year-old girl. Sue me.

 

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Writing Communities To Watch I: WritersCafe.org

When I jumped into the writing world, I immediately sought out a good writing community. In the past I wrote a lot of fanfiction, and a lot of it found its way to fanfiction.net, a popular site for that sort of thing at the time. However when I woke up one day and decided “I want to be a writer (more so than I have been before),” I knew that writing fanfiction wasn’t going to get me anywhere. A swarm of ideas buzzing around in my mind, I sat down and wrote two pieces of flash fiction that would lead me towards the start of my first original novel: Children of Solus.

That wasn’t long ago, and that novel is still long from completion, but the fact was that I needed to get myself out there. I needed to join in the hunt for new opportunities, all the while honing my skills and seeing what others thought of my work. To do that, I needed to find an online writing community to give myself an applet to show people what I could do. After all, sitting alone in a house writing silly stories that only I read to myself isn’t exactly the recipe for inspiration, encouragement, and personal success. No, I needed to put myself out there, one way or another. I plopped down on the office chair, spent five minutes or so searching for somewhere to upload my work (a long time for one with such a short attention span), and came across WritersCafe.org.


The site looked great; clean, well organized, eye-catching, and developed with writers in mind. I signed up and got right to work. First off, there is a high level of categorization when it comes to putting your writing where it needs to be. The list of genres to choose from and file your work under is extensive, and I think that’s an important thing when you’ve got a massive public database of writing. From metafiction to lyrics, WritersCafe has it all, and the upload system is simple to use and pretty self-explanatory. The site does not support file uploading, instead forcing you to copy and paste your work, but that’s not a big deal in the grand theme of things.

Once you’ve got your text in the editor and ready to submit, you have to option to tag your piece with keywords as lightly or as heavily as you’d like. You also can upload a picture with each piece of writing, which when clicked on later will popup in a fashion similar to when you click on a photo in Facebook. It’s a nice touch, and the site doesn’t force you to use only certain dimensions for your images. In addition to that, you can upload photos to an album, and even manage a simple blog all within the website, both of which can be viewed and commented on by others on the site.

Something nice about WritersCafe is its “newsfeed”, which is basically a simplified clone of Facebook’s newsfeed. Any other writers who you have added as friends will see when you upload a new piece of writing, photo, blog post, or even when you receive a comment on something. In return, you’ll see their activity. It’s smart to create a lengthy friends list, that way more and more people will see what you’re doing and read your work. As with most writing communities, there are a lot of common courtesies that come with this. If someone comments on (reviews) something of yours, it’s polite to review something of theirs. A sidebar on the main page will create a list of the last six or so people who reviewed your writing, suggesting that your return the favor. This easy access list and constant reminder creates a pleasant atmosphere where most will trade reviews without being asked.

The newsfeed is a nice feature, and very easy to use.

If you do want to ask for reviews or anything else more specific, WritersCafe also has a well categorized forum. The forums aren’t very active, but you’re likely to get answers to your questions sooner or later, and many are always looking to trade reviews with their fellow writers. If you want a bit more socializing, writers are open to create groups, complete with their own private message boards, and most groups are always looking for new members. On a similar note, writers are also allowed to create contests, customizing them to accept only certain types of writing (such as poetry, screenplays, or books), or anything and everything. Usually these contests follow a certain theme, allowing anywhere from one submission per writer to nine separate submissions. Most of the free-for-all contests become bloated with way too many applicants, but some of the more theme oriented ones find a reasonable number of applicants, giving everyone a fair shot at winning fun little awards.

The last unique facet of WritersCafe that I personally think is a great addition to the site is the presence of a section dedicated to writing courses. Anyone is allowed to upload courses, which within them hold a number of separate lessons. For example, I have my Breath Life Into Your Writing! course on WritersCafe, with each of its various installments uploaded as lessons such as “Part I: Personification, Part II: Metaphors & Similes” and so on. Readers are then able to go through the lessons at their own pace, with the option to subscribe to the course, which gives them a notification when the next lesson is uploaded. While much of the courses might be coming from novice writers, you’re sure to find a treasure trove of free writing tips and tricks.

There are courses on many different subjects, all at your fingertips.

WritersCafe sounds like a dream come true, right? Well, with dreams usually comes nightmares. WritersCafe isn’t perfect.

The most annoying aspect of WritersCafe is its server. During any given day, you will probably find yourself trying to load the homepage to no avail. Sometimes I can use the site with no problem all day, while others I can hardly load the main page once or twice. The site goes down way too often, and it’s been going on like that for years. Odds are it will continue on this way for some time.

Besides that, there aren’t too many negative points about WritersCafe. It has a few quirks that can be annoying, for example when you copy your writing over into the editor and upload it, the site will break all of your em dashes. For some odd reason, the site doesn’t like em dashes, and it turns then into quotation marks. This can be annoying if you—like me—do that a lot. It’s easy enough to fix if you just go through your writing in the editor and change your em dashes into two hyphens, but that can be time-consuming and a major annoyance when it comes to long stories and novel chapters.

Something else that can be frustrating is finding readers for longer pieces of writing. Poetry gets a lot of attention on WritersCafe, while books get almost none. It was months before my novel began receiving a good amount of attention, and only after I had a pretty large friends list, but that’s an issue you can focus effort into and conquer yourself through communication with other novel writers (who are also looking for readers) as well as groups dedicated to longer pieces of fiction. It takes effort to find the right people for this sort of thing, but at least you have a good community with similar interests and goals.

It’s time for a list now. Pros and cons, anyone?

Pros:

  • Clean, organized, easy to use.
  • Effective use of categorization and tagging for uploaded pieces.
  • Easy access newsfeed that most writing community sites do not have.
  • Friendly atmosphere encouraging review trading.
  • Easy to use forums.
  • Groups function complete with private message boards.
  • User created contest section.
  • User created courses section.

Cons:

  • Server constantly goes up and down.
  • Submission process breaks your em dashes.
  • Little attention paid to long pieces, with most of the attention paid to poetry.
  • $99 monthly subscription.

Just kidding on that last one; the place is free. I just felt like there were too many pros as opposed to the cons, so I decided to try and balance it out a little bit.

All in all, WritersCafe is a really great site. I’ve found the community to be pretty friendly, and the usability to be very high. It’s simple enough to figure out your first time using it, and detailed enough take time mastering. It’s got a lot of features, and they all work very well. I’ve been using it for awhile now, and I’m hardly ever disappointed (except for when the server goes down for six hours).

As for a rating, I give it a:

8.5 out of 10.

High praise? I guess it is, but I think WritersCafe.org deserves it. It might not be the most popular writing community out there, or the most professional, but it works. It was created with writers in mind, and as a writer, I think it’s a great way to get yourself out there, bolster your confidence, and hone your skills among fellow writers.

I couldn’t talk about every facet of the site, so go ahead and try it out for yourself. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I Got Published

Someone pointed out to me that all of my blog posts are like 500+ words long. Perhaps some people like that, but I imagine most of you sit down, start reading, and then say to themselves a few moments later “I don’t have time to read this, forget it.”

Maybe I’m wrong, but either way today I have a very short announcement: I got published. It’s nothing major, but it’s also not just something unimpressive like an online zine that is practically begging for submissions and will take anything with proper grammar. I talked about Ether Books before (check the link to my review on them below for more info), and that’s who accepted a short story of mine. It took about a month and half for them to get back to me, but that’s not too bad considering that they are a pretty big company, and are always growing.

Within two weeks my first published piece of fiction will be available to download through the Ether Books app on your iPhone (or smart phone?) or through iTunes. You can download the iTunes app to your computer here. The story is not available for download just yet, so in the meantime I’ll give you a short taste of the story “Company Girl”. Enjoy.

 

He’ll kill you, Johnny.

    The asphalt felt like jagged teeth against the balls of my feet. Clawing, digging, biting at my bare calloused flesh with each hurried footfall. The chill breeze nipped at my skin, goosebumps pouring down my spine. How long do I have? I couldn’t see the moon in the sky. Clouds veiled the luminary like shadowy fingers—as if someone jumped me from behind; a bag thrown over my head as they pulled me into the darkness. I could hardly see my own hands in front of my face. How did I get myself into this mess?
    The rustling obsidian walls at either side exhaled a devilish howl, the icy wind clinging to my bones …

 

Want to read more? I’ll be posting as soon as the story is available for download; I’d much appreciate your support!

Writing Communities To Watch, Prologue: How Can The Internet Help Your Writing?

As an unpublished (or even published) writer, the internet can be a very useful tool. That thought may come across as “the internet will help you find job and/or get yourself published”, but while that can be true, that’s not what I’m referring to. Getting published and making money doing something you love is great—wonderful even, but something comes before that, in my opinion.

What am I talking about?

Writing + Internet = ?

It’s not a cement concept I’m talking about here, but in simple terms, the internet can help you grow as a writer. How exactly? That’s where the idea gets murkier. You have to choose wisely where to “train” your skills, so to speak, on the internet. When you’re uploading your own material for others to critique, anyone can say anything. In spite of that, as a writer you should be able to take positive points even from the most wantonly negative feedback as well as the positive. Some people may simply pat you on the back for what you’ve written. There’s merit in that sort of thing, but it’s rather small. Encouragement is key for new writers to grow. After all, if you don’t have faith in your writing yet, having someone tell you it’s good is a vital step in the growing process.

Of course, what you really want to find is good constructive criticism. This can be difficult to find, but odds are that if you’ve shown your writing to anyone before, it’s been your friends and family. Sometimes that can be great, but it’s hard to get unadulterated feedback from your personal acquaintances (unless your personally know a writer or editor). Whenever my mother or grandmother happen to read something of mine, there’s a disproportionate amount of positive as opposed to negative. That’s natural, and that’s why it’s key to find unbiased, educated feedback on your work.

If you write unopposed, you’ll never grow as a writer.

That sounds like an odd term to use, doesn’t it? Unopposed. I thought for a moment when I typed that, and I think the word fits perfectly. As a writer, you are trying to convince your readers that you’re good at what you do. It’s a battle of personal skill, and it never ends. Even established authors receive terrible reviews. The aim is to convince the majority of your readers that you know your stuff. You can never get everyone. Look at someone like Stephanie Meyer who wrote what is probably the most influential and popular book series of the modern generation. Some people absolutely love the Twilight saga, and some think it’s absolute rubbish. I don’t mean to argue for or against how skilled of a writer Stephanie is—the point is that she hit her audience hard. There will always be haters, but in the end, if the majority of your audience loves what you’ve done? You’ve succeeded in what you set out to do.

But what’s all this business about your writing being “opposed”? Like I said above, you’re fighting for your readers’ respect in a way. To be successful in that endeavor, you want to bulk up your writing muscles. Any skill is like a muscle, and writing is no different. You practice continuously—and eventually the muscle grows. However, if you want successful exercise in this sense, you need resistance, tension, something pushing back against your effort. This is where the internet can come in.

You’re not alone out here. There are thousands upon thousands of people who want to do exactly what you want to do. That’s a blessing in one way, and a curse in another. It’s a curse in that it’s difficult not to become lost in the flood; you have to fight to stand out. It’s a blessing in that you have many, many peers who are helpful and willing to aid in your growth as a writer. This input comes in many forms, but one of the strongest applets you have available to you is the public writing community.

If you noticed the title of this post, what you’re reading is a prologue. This will be a series, highlighting different writing communities across the web and the pros and cons of each of them. The purpose of this first post is to explain the merit behind using writing communities, while the installments following this will review various writing communities. Simple, right?

The difficult thing is using the internet in general correctly as a tool to improve your writing. It’s going to take effort and intuition on your part to find useful beta readers, critique, etc. On any given writing community, you can very well find a fellow writer who might be willing to read over your work in order to give you many forms of constructive criticism. Everyone is at a different writing level, so while one person may be able to help point out grammatical errors and minor things, another might be able to give insight into much deeper matters, such as character development and plot. It’s up to you to find the right person, and that can be a challenge in its own right.

I once talked quite a bit with a fellow writer—a young guy about a year younger than me. As soon as I met him, I could tell he thought quite a bit of himself. I can see that in people, because while I may not think “I’m hot stuff”, I can be relatively hardheaded and opinionated. I know how to be tactful, but at the same time, I have no problem telling people what I think. I’ve done a lot of critiquing myself for other writers, and I think I’m fairly helpful in that sense. I can sit down and tell someone “This is off”, but at the same time I can see why they wrote what they did. I can see the merit in it, regardless of execution. I always try to do something when I read over someone’s work to give them constructive criticism; I highlight how they can take the idea they are trying to convey to their reader, and make it stronger and more relatable.

This may or may not be him, but the idea of the attitude is clear enough.

When it came to this young man I was in contact with, like I said, I could see the kind of personality he had. Still, he wasn’t a terrible writer, and I’m open to all the criticism I can get. He read over a chapter of my novel Children of Solus and gave me some reasonable thoughts. At this point I thought “Hey, this guy is cool”, and a month or so later he messaged me, bored and wondering if I had anything that I wanted read over and criticized. Since he offered, I sent him a couple short stories. Awesome, right?

Not quite. In a setting where he had the Word document in front of him, and the ability to type his comments beneath each chunk of written story, his true colors were shown. I understand some critics are quite harsh, and I’ve received relatively harsh feedback. In fact, I like harsh feedback, because when I read it, I have to argue with myself why each comment against my writing is wrong. Sometimes those arguments in my head aren’t very strong. Sometimes they have holes. That’s when I have to take a step back and say “Okay, that’s actually a really good point”. In the end, it augments my writing and makes it better.

However when it came to this guy, he basically tore open every point he could possibly convince himself was “wrong”. To illustrate how petty he was, he wrote an entire paragraph bashing the fact that an eight-year-old said thank you, claiming that the simple phrase of “thank you” didn’t fit that age, and that it made the reader think the character was a teenager. He even ignored the fact that the child had a strict upbringing. No child says thank you, huh? All the while, he was so terrible at interpreting the simplest concepts that he didn’t even discern that the “thank you” he ranted about so much was said in a sarcastic manner. It was an incredibly simple concept within a story that was written in a very dumbed down fashion from a child’s perspective.

Still, any insight can be useful, and a few of the things he brought out I did consider into an ongoing second draft. Funny enough, the next criticism he brought out basically told me “You’re stupid and wrong” concerning the title of a certain therapist in the story. Little did he know I’ve personally been to psychologists and psychiatrists too many times to count, yet here he was telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about, and to do some personal research before I make things up. From this point alone, I could tell he was a know-it-all.

Still, like I said, even the most uselessly cynical of criticism can aid you in your writing—you just have to grow some thicker skin. I replied to him, explaining certain points that I did not agree with him on, explained my personal experience with therapists, and I thanked him for his effort and the points that he did bring to my attention that I agreed with (even though after the first section of the story, he decided “This sucks, you need to rewrite the whole thing” and didn’t even read the last three quarters of it). He came back at me swearing and generally being an ass, telling me my story was Jr. High level at best, along with a slew of other needlessly hurtful comments. The fact that I even slightly criticized his criticism just made him flip out. I can’t imagine how this guy takes criticism on his own stories.

Don't let overly negative feedback affect you.

Obviously I found someone who was not a very good critic. I knew my story had issues (I wrote it over the course of a single night), and certainly needed cleaning up, but the points he picked on were terrible. I could have read it over myself and created better arguments with myself. Still, the entire thing kind of shook my faith in myself. I know I’m a pretty good writer. There’s a lot of room for growth, but I know I don’t write Jr. High quality work. Regardless, I felt like crap for a few days after until I showed the story to a trusted friend of mine who not only writes, but also is a talented comic artist. She’s tough too, and she pulled apart things as well, but they were useful things. Through her input, I know that when I do sit down to create the second draft, it’s going to be a lot better.

That’s the thing when it comes to this subject. You have to glean good criticism from bad, and negative doesn’t equal bad. Odds are that facets of your stories suck. When someone points them out, hopefully they do so in a tactful way, but even if they don’t, you need to take their input with a grain of salt. Your writing will benefit. All the while, look for markers in the personalities of people who criticize you. If they’re acting like a holier-than-thou know-it-all, you’re probably not going to get very useful criticism. Looking back at my bad experience, the only written material the guy had online were political rantings and mediocre poetry. It’s smart to look at written work of someone who might review your writing. If their writing sucks, they might not be able to help you much.

In the next installment, I’ll talk about a writing community that I have quite a bit of experience in, called WritersCafe.org. Be sure to follow me or check back soon for an in depth review on the first writing community in this series!

2012 Hits!

Yesterday (I think) the Sundance Press reached total 2012 hits.

Sweet.

I think that’s pretty cool, and I just wanted to say thank you to all my subscribers and readers. When I started this blog little more than a month ago, I didn’t expect much. I’ve never, ever written a blog. The social media game is kind of something I got sucked into as I realized the necessity of it for writers trying to break into the industry. I wasn’t too keen on jumping into Facebook and Twitter. That’s just not my thing, but what can you do? I also knew I needed to create a blog, and the Sundance Press was born.

Since then, I’ve grown to enjoy maintaining this little blog. I’ve put a lot of effort into it, and even created my own graphics for the site (another graphical update is coming soon). Once upon a time, I updated it everyday. Unfortunately through sickness, laziness, and lack of constant ideas, I don’t do that anymore. I try my best, but I put a lot of time and effort into my instructional posts. That takes time, and it’s all off the top of my head and a product of my personal experience. Some people use other teachers’ publications as a basis for their posts, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I personally try hard to give all of you unique tips and tricks. I’m no expert, but I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I can impart some of my own wisdom to fellow writers. It takes time to think lessons up though, so that explains why I might not post as much as others.

Anyways, I didn’t mean to go on and on about this. Simply put, thanks for reading the Sundance Press, and keep coming back please!

Old Habits Die Hard

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.

Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part IVb: Dialogue

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.

Apologies to whoever this old gentleman is, but the experts are not always correct.

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!

Storiad.com

Today I decided to talk about a site that I stumbled across awhile ago, and have just now been looking into more deepy. It’s called Storiad.com, and put short, it’s a writing community created with the purpose of connecting publishers and various other media professionals to writers.

The site is put together pretty well. I’m still learning the ropes myself, but it’s easy to navigate and pleasing to the eye. The founder of the site, a writer named Ramzi, launched it back in 2010, so it’s still in the beta phase and constantly evolving. It’s free for writers to sign up right now (I’m not sure if that might eventually change), so there’s really no reason not to go sign up and check it out. For media professionals looking for writers, it costs a monthly fee, which is actually rather fair. It’s a great resource for either side from the looks of it.

The focus of the site is to “pull” in a traditionally “push” industry. As a writer, you do a lot of pushing to get jobs. The idea behind Storiad is to create an environment that a publisher can come into in which they pull writers into job opportunities. Having your work speak for itself sounds nice, doesn’t it?

The profile setup is pretty detailed, creating something along the lines of a resume. Beyond that, you can fill out pages for each of your projects, adding tags for archival purposes, as well as a short “pitch” for your story just as you might include in a query letter. It’s encouraged that you post a portion of your story (the first chunk or so) so that scouts can read over part of your story, as well as your professional information and query letter behind the story, all without you having to do anything.

Sounds too good to be true, and with a slew of writers on the site, it might be a little difficult to find people just coming to you. I haven’t fully investigated and tested the process, but what I see looks good. There’s also a marketplace section of the site that lists various media companies who are looking for submissions from short fiction to screenplays. It looks like there’s a good community aspect of it as well, which I won’t go into because I haven’t experienced it yet for myself, but it looks like you can find critique from other writers on Storiad too.

Since I’m no expert on this matter, I’d suggest you check it out for yourself. Remember, any publicity is good publicity!

Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part IVa: Dialogue

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.

Fun, right?

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.

  1. Understand your characters.
  2. Consider where your scene is going.
  3. 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 feet against linoleum made Mrs. Parker turn towards the noise. The little boy tapped her leg patiently before speaking in an articulate voice, “Mother, my stomach is having pains.”

 

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.

 

When something doesn't sound natural, the emotion behind it is lost. You don't want to lose that emotion.

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.

  1. Would my character say that?
  2. Does this dialogue serve a purpose?
  3. 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!

 

Busy, busy.

I felt like this today, but I think that had more to do with the fact that I was functioning on 3 hours of sleep and a Mountain Dew.

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.