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.
- Who Won ‘Next Great Baker’? (huffingtonpost.com)
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.
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.
Following this current trend of me humbly asking you (yeah you—I see you there) what you think about this blog, I wanted to pose a more interesting question this week. Nothing too difficult, but I think it’s a fun topic.
What inspires you?
It can be a song, an author, an artist, a place, anything. Inspiration comes in every form, and part of being a successful artist (of words, paint, or whatever else) is knowing how to absorb that inspiration! I’ll admit it can be hard, especially when you just aren’t in a creative mood, but I’ve compiled a few tips on how to get those creative juices flowing.
- Listen to music: Maybe even music you don’t usually listen to. Check out new stuff—it may stir up new ideas in you!
- Watch movies: You might feel like a lazy schmuck, but visual stories are powerful tools of inspiration!
- Move: I’m not talking about moving states or houses, just move! Absorb your environment, even if it’s made of brick and stone.
- Read: This one kind of goes without saying. You don’t need to copy things, just absorb the ideas and life within your favorite author’s books and let it spark your imagination.
- Browse through art: Sites like deviantART have amazing artists! Just browsing through the galleries is a great way to come up with new ideas.
- Live: No, I don’t mean that in a touchy-feely sense. I mean just let your everyday life inspire you. Fictionalize your world!
Those are all pretty basic tips, but I think they’re the most useful things you can do to get inspired short of just sitting down and thinking! Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do, but never downplay your own ability to craft your very own ideas through good old brainstorming. Some people take a notebook with them everywhere they go, jotting down ideas when they get flashes of inspiration. I personally don’t, because while I can’t remember other things, my mind is a trap when it comes to any writing idea that pops up. Still, find what works for you. You don’t want to forget something important!
Something I find useful is capitalizing on your inspiration sooner rather than later. If something happens, or you see or hear something that inspires you, write about it quick! I just went through hell dealing with a computer virus, and it inspired me to start on this crazy techno-thriller. It’s a big project, so I didn’t bite off more than I could chew, I just started on it. That’s what I’m suggesting. If your mind is ticking, telling you what to write, write it! You don’t have to finish it, just get those ideas on paper, even if you just throw down a rough first chapter; it still gives you a base. I’m the same way with my poetry. I don’t focus on poetry—it’s just a hobby for me. When something hits me—inspires me—I write a poem about it. It doesn’t take long, and it doesn’t take too much effort when I’m feeling inspired. I also think that if you have a poem written up, you can always use it as a basis for something bigger in the future (if you end up going that direction).
So what inspires you? Who inspires you? What’s something of yours that you’re proud of that just… flowed? When inspiration hits hard, sometimes you can quickly crank out some amazing work. Has that ever happened to you?
Be sure to leave a comment!
As you can see above, I decided to ask you all a question. Why do you come here? I’d imagine usually by accident, woops! But if you did happen across my humble little corner of the web, what made you check it out? What makes you come back? Maybe it’s as simple as wanting something to read, or maybe it’s as serious as learning from the the tips and tricks I write about. Do you enjoy my writing; my fiction or my articles? Anything!
So don’t be shy, lazy, or difficult. Just click one of the options and press “vote“. If you’ve got a more specific reason, go ahead and type it in, or leave a comment here. I love to hear from my readers, and it’s nice to hear what people actually find interesting to read about here. Maybe the results will sway me to focus on certain aspects of the blog a bit more.
Thanks for reading everyone!