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You know The Undercover Soundtrack? The Alliance of Independent Authors got curious about it and asked me to write a post. Why did I set the series up? What do I get out of it? What do the participating authors get, aside from a singular blogging challenge and another place to get their work seen?
I’m musing on these questions and others at the ALLI blog today. And if you’ve been wondering if you dare ask for a spot, I talk about that too. Do come over. (Or if you’ve wanted to ask but are shy about doing so in public, email me on rozmorriswriter at gmail dotcom…)
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This weekend I guested on John Rakestraw’s Google writing hangout. He sent me a bunch of questions about dialogue, and I wrote so much in preparation that I got an epic post. Then when we got nattering on air with his co-conspirators, we delved off into other questions anyway. So I thought I’d run a dialogue special in the next few weeks. If you’d like to watch the hangout the link is at the end of this post.
(That pic is not Mr Rakestraw and friends, BTW. Tis Husband Dave at the BBC, pretending to read the news with his writing partner Jamie Thomson.)
Meanwhile, here’s today’s topic -
How do we get the characters talking?
Some manuscripts I see have no dialogue, or very little. There will be plenty of description, back story and even action, but the writer won’t have allowed the characters to step out of the narration and express themselves and interact with others. If there are conversations, they will mostly be reported instead of shown ‘live’ -
‘he told her that the best thing he’d ever done was to buy that log cabin in the woods – especially now they needed somewhere to hide until the stalker stopped watching the house’
Of course, sometimes there are good reasons to report a conversation. It’s by no means forbidden. But if all or most conversations are reported it can feel like the characters are being shepherded by the book and never acting independently – and so they don’t seem as real.
Dialogue makes characters real
Dialogue scenes let characters come to life. We see them acting, responding to other humans, experiencing events. For the reader, it’s like the difference between reading a report and being an eyewitness. They feel a personal, vivid connection with the moment.
And it’s a rich connection. Dialogue scenes allow you to demonstrate human complexity – what the people feel about each other, what their innate responses are according to their personality. (This can often create trouble for the writer, as I’ll discuss in a moment.)
What about first-person narration?
First-person narratives might need less dialogue because we already feel the character. Every piece of description, back story or other prose will be seen through the filter of that person’s psyche. So will their encounters with other people. But it will seem odd if there are no scenes where other characters are allowed to breathe, act, emote and be real.
Readers often look for dialogue before they decide to buy
Some readers flick through a book and are put off if there isn’t a good proportion of dialogue. Dialogue is easier to read than screeds of prose. But that’s not just because the paragraphs are more spaced – it’s because good dialogue is vivid.
So why do writers find it hard?
Some don’t of course. And if you’ve been reading this with a halo of confidence, could I ask if you find non-dialogue prose difficult?
This difference is usually where the problem lies.
Writing dialogue requires a specific frame of mind. When you’re in the flow of setup, action, back story or description, it’s tricky to switch to dialogue. In every other kind of narration, you control the camera, the voice of all the in-between stuff. For dialogue you have to let other minds in. That’s quite a gear-change. Especially if you have to inhabit several people, with different agendas and personalities.
Sometimes you realise, as you put yourself in their shoes, that they don’t see things the way you do. The lines you want to give them feel false. Or they run away with the story because of their responses. You have to let them find their own way, and maybe adapt what you wanted them to do. You realise a plot event is impossible because the characters won’t do it and you can’t work around it. This sense of frustration rarely happens with other types of scenes.
How to get your dialogue scenes running smoothly
Write dialogue scenes on different days from narration. Give your brain time to adjust.
Don’t put too many characters in the scene. In novels, it’s hard to manage more than three people who are all talking and responding. In fact, three’s a crowd because someone usually has to take a back seat. I’ve often seen writers try to emulate the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs where seven characters are sitting around a table. In the movie it works, but in prose it usually becomes an unmanageable mess.
Be prepared to rework a dialogue scene over and over. I’ve often had to spend several days on a dialogue scene, trying to get it truthful and authentic (not to mention interesting). Some characters can be particularly stubborn; Gene Winter in My Memories of a Future Life was exciting to use because he was unknowable and unpredictable – but this made him a devil to handle. He sounded wrong until I found something he’d agree to do. This struggle, of course, made me write better scenes.
This is the great challenge and reward of dialogue. Because you’re taking a step into the characters’ psyches, you find out what they’re really made of.
Next post: dialogue is more than talking. Watch the full discussion with John Rakestraw here.
Thanks to Budd Margolis for the pics of Dave and Jamie
There are more tips on character creation, character voice and dialogue in Nail Your Novel: Bring Characters to Life
Do you have trouble writing dialogue scenes? How do you approach them?
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‘But I’m not religious,’ I said.
‘So what?’ she said.
And then I remembered a story I read as a teenager that greatly influenced my attitudes. If you were around two years ago when I was launching My Memories of a Future Life, it may be familiar because I first wrote about it then. If not, or if you don’t mind deja vu, take a leap into Beyondaries. You can also read interpretations of the subject by Dan Holloway, Chila, Scathe meic Beorh, Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick, Michael Potts and Grace Bridges.
In other news, Lifeform Three is coming soon! If that makes you curious, sign up for news. If not, as you were
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It’s ultra-streamlined to suit all writing approaches. If you like to create a detailed synopsis, my tips will get you going. If you want only the barest essentials, they’ll guide you while giving you room to explore and express. And if you’re still undecided or wonder if NaNoWriMo is even possible, hopefully they’ll persuade you to take the plunge.
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I always feel a tad self-conscious when I get asked to write about what I’ve been up to. Post an entire piece without trying to help, inspire, solve problems…? Can’t I turn it into advice, just a teensy bit? No, said Women Writers, just write what you’ve been doing. Once I started, it turned out I had quite a bit to report for the past few months, so here it is….
And since we’re sharing news, tell me … in the past year, have your writing dreams become a step more possible?
PS WordPress informs me this is my 500th post. Which must indicate somethingorother about progress!
authors, creativity, culture, dreams, Fix and Finish With Confidence, guest post, guest posts, how to write a novel, literature, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, publishing, Roz Morris, self-publishing, sharing news, tad, update, Women Writers, Women Writers Women Books, Women Writers Women Books blog, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, writing life
Wherever you are, you can be at the Edinburgh ebook festival. It’s a two-week programme of online bookish events starting at 11am every morning with a short story and rolling on until 11pm with reflective conversations about reading and writing. That’s 11am BST, Being Scots Time. There are author events, residencies where writers discuss issues for publishing and creatives, workshops and a daily sheeping forecast. When in Scotland…
Each night at 10pm I’m providing the music via selected reruns of The Undercover Soundtrack. So here I am, explaining to what an Undercover Soundtrack is and what listeners can expect. Do come over.
authors, book festival, comedy, deepen your story, Edinburgh, Edinburgh ebook festival, entertainment, fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, guest post, guest posts, how to write a book, how to write a novel, inspiration, literature, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, publishing, Roz Morris, self-publishing, sheeping forecast, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, writing life, writing to music
Okay, that’s not until November, but many serious NaNo-ers will be starting to prepare in the next few weeks. So I’m at Multi-Story, with a plan for creating your NaNo novel – by starting with its people.
Why start with the characters? Because if you know who they are, you’ll want to tell their stories. If you like to plan in detail, you’ll understand who must do what and when. If you like to wing it, the characters will take hold and drag you into an adventure. So if you fancy designing a novel this way, come over to Multi-Story.
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Today, Jane Friedman has showcased an excerpt from the characters book on her blog, and she chose the tutorial where I explain this tricky balancing act. If you’re curious about the book – or if you simply want to know how much of your carefully crafted background to include – come on over and see.
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I’ll leave the story to that post, but briefly, I saw an interview on the Writers & Artists Yearbook website, responded to it, and seem to have woken them up to the fact that indie authors are rather more advanced than they hitherto thought.
Even better (and this isn’t in the post) Bloomsbury then asked me to call them. They’d had a rummage through my blogs and wanted me to write for their website and newsletter. (Wow. Big smiles at NYN HQ.)
So W&A – the bible for creatives in the UK – is expanding its coverage of self-publishing as a serious and respectable option. But I detected they’re a tad nervous about it. The editor I spoke to asked if I ‘minded’ writing about self-publishing. That suggests he’s encountering more negative attitudes than positive. No matter. They’re responding to what’s happening in the creative world.
I also have to relish a sense of a circle closing. Years ago, when I was a beginner querying agents and publishers, W&A was my route map for what seemed an audacious and mostly impossible dream. When I wrote the querying section of Nail Your Novel, I recommended using them. Now, thanks to a tweet that alerted me to their post, and a tweet I sent to them, I’ve flipped to the other side and they’re introducing me to their audience. In our online, endlessly connected world, new opportunities might be only a tweet away.
In other news, tomorrow I’m skyping into the Grub Street arts centre in Boston as a guest expert in a seminar on creative book marketing so you’ll get a proper post from me about our discussions. And next Saturday, I’m on a panel at Stoke Newington Literary Festival in north London, talking about multimedia self-publishing. Both those opportunities sprang from relationships made completely on social media. In fact, everything has. Before that, I was an invisible editor and a concealed ghost.
So tell me – what opportunities have come to you from social media? And what tips would you give to help people make the best of it? (Oh, and here’s the Independent Authors Alliance post, in case you’re curious about the W&A Incident… )
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When I was Kobo’s Writer in Residence at the London Book Fair last month, they were fascinated to hear about my series The Undercover Soundtrack. Firstly because they’re keen on fostering innovative ways for writers to get together and make contact with readers. And second, because they were busily scribbling their own novels and were imagining what they’d say was on their soundtracks!
Anyway, they asked me to write an introductory piece for the Kobo Writing Life blog. If you’ve ever wondered what all those red posts are, here’s Undercover Soundtrack 101. I tried to mention as many past posts as possible – so if you’ve been one of my guests, hop over there and see if you’re starring on the Kobo blog…
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As @NailYourNovel I post 4 to 5 useful writing links per dayMy Tweets
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- ‘Music to make a creative space’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Kirsty Greenwood December 4, 2013
- How to write down story ideas so you can remember why they were brilliant December 1, 2013
- Could The Undercover Soundtrack help you reach readers? Post at the Alliance of Independent Authors November 30, 2013
- ‘Sex, drugs, metaphysics and rock’n’roll’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, David Biddle November 27, 2013
- How do I develop something special in my writing? November 24, 2013
- 2 Tone Records and two cities riven by conflict – The Undercover Soundtrack, Catriona Troth November 20, 2013
- Social media: a message in a bottle November 18, 2013
See what I did there…