Punctuation – it does make a difference!

Here are five ways that punctuation helps our dialogue and makes it easier for the reader to understand and enjoy.

punctuation

1. To show an interruption—or break—in dialogue
Tyler tightened the grip on his pen. ‘I think you’re being unreasonable in wanting—’
‘In wanting what?’ Michelle demanded. ‘I just want you to show me respect—’
‘You’ll get respect when you earn it.’

In the above example the long dash, or Em Dash, shows how the two speakers are cutting each other off. It adds pace and energy to the dialogue.

2. To show a trailing off …
Caitlin stared wistfully at the foam of her cappuccino. ‘I just wish I could find someone who gets me …’
Donna didn’t know what to say to her friend. She simply stirred her latte.
Caitlin sighed. ‘Do you think I’ll ever find love …?’

In the above example, the ellipsis, or three dots, shows that Caitlin’s dialogue trails off. It slows down the pace and shows the spaces in dialogue.

3. To add some drama or to make a point

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Dorothy stood with her hands on her hips. ‘Don’t you dare speak to me in that tone of voice!’
In the above example, we use the exclamation point to show Dorothy’s raised voice and the emphasis she is putting into the sentence. A word of warning: Don’t use more than one exclamation point – it can look amateurish.

4. Don’t stop!
Often dialogue is still a part of a sentence and by using a full stop, we break the flow of the dialogue. This is a mistake many new writers make when using dialogue attributions and tags. We need to know when to keep the dialogue together.
‘I really need to go for a manicure and massage.’ Said Paula.
‘I really need to go for a manicure and a massage,’ Said Paula.
‘I really need to go for a manicure and a massage,’ said Paula.

In the third, and correct example, the comma is breaking up the dialogue so that it reads naturally. Keep in mind, in the other two examples we could have broken the dialogue using the dialogue tags differently.
We could have said:
Paula yawned. ‘I really need to go for a manicure and massage.’
OR:
‘I really need to go for a manicure and massage.’ Paula stated as she lounged back on the deck chair.

In these examples, we’re separating the action from the dialogue – so we’re creating a different structure for the dialogue.

5. Close the door behind you!
Another thing to watch out for is this rule: If you open an inverted comma or speech mark, make sure you close it when your character is finished speaking.

‘Our nail polish will keep a shine for fourteen days, said the therapist.
‘Our nail polish will keep a shine for fourteen days,’ said the therapist.
If we don’t close the dialogue off with the appropriate mark, the reader will be confused and assume everything after the first mark is speech. So watch out for this in editing.

Baring the soul…

Writing, as all writers know, is fraught with fear and doubt on every side. Am I any good? Will I get published? Will I get good reviews? Will I sell any books? We always ask these questions of ourselves. But perhaps, the most inherent danger of the writing life is the necessary baring of our souls to the world.

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After watching a writer friend perform and share so much of himself in his stories, I thought writing, at its most primal level, will always be part truth. No matter how far removed the subject matter, no matter how diverse the cast of characters, the story is always in some form about the author and their experiences.

Anytime we work with material that lives in a deep part of ourselves, we may feel a sense of dislike about showing our audience a part of ourselves we don’t want others to know. But, we have to work hard and deeply to give the reader something worthwhile reading. You are showing the reader your flaws, not your strengths in the depths of your writing. You’re exposed, a bit like dreaming you’re naked in public. People can see you right down to your core.

Insecurity

The best novelists are those who can tap into their characters psyches at a primal level. They can reveal a characters innermost fears, fantasies, darkest sins. To reveal these things, to bring them to life in a way that will resonate with readers on a deeply human level, means the author must identify and understand all the associated feelings, at least to some extent.

Can I do that? Can I allow my characters to identify with these feelings? Can you in your writing? I’d love to hear what you think. Happy Writing!

Challenges – to make or break…

coffee_mug___2014_nanowrimo_calendar_by_margie22-d7zl2voOkay, so from much collegial nagging I’ve taken up the challenge – the NaNoWriMo challenge. Can I do it? Should I do it? Why should I do it? So much self doubt begins to creep in and all the excuses come out. I have to clean the house, wash the dog, move all the cobwebs, do some cooking to freeze and then there’s the Christmas shopping to begin. I need to do another book review, I need to read another book. Then there’s my day job…

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Excuses. I can find so many; one for each day of November when the challenge takes place. But, do I really want to? I haven’t been sleeping well lately, waking several times through the night. I think though that this may be because I have so many thoughts spinning inside my head its time to get them out. I’ve been mulling over and over what to do with an old story – should I continue with it? Should I edit what I have? Or, should I begin another? Do I go with the children’s theme or the adult?

challengesDecisions? I don’t like to make them for myself but I know I have to. I am the only one who can see whats inside my head and I am the only one who can sift through it all. So, in ten days, the sifting can begin. Slowly but surely. Can I write for 30 days straight? I need to lock the self doubt away and just do it. Yes, it will be a challenge but one I am also looking forward to.Challenge-Quotes-20

Will you take the challenge?

Story Structure…to outline or not?

images4Structure is the most important technical aspect of any story. It brings solidity and focus to a story; yet it is often overlooked and misunderstood. Novelists sometimes believe structure will sap their stories of originality. But structure is nothing more than a roadmap — a time-tested archetype for crafting the rise and fall of action and character evolution within our stories.

Story structure

The classic approach to structure divides story into three acts which some authors, will also argue, can be broken down further into nine. So, how can we make structure as easy as possible? Structure presents difficulties because it gives us a lot of stuff to remember all at once. Beyond that, we’re also faced with the question of how we structure our stories when we may not yet have any idea what happens in them. Structure is applicable no matter your personal writing process.

This is when outline comes in. How does outlining create story structure?

Outlines allow us to brainstorm important moments in our stories and figure out how all the pieces fit together. We save time and stress in the long run, by using outlines to figure out dead ends and speed bumps, so we can avoid them during the time-intensive first draft.

Whether your outlines consist of a mental list of major scenes, or notebooks full of detailed planning, you’ll be sitting down to your first draft with a structure of sorts already in mind. This structure won’t necessarily be story structure as defined above. But you will at least have a shape of the story in your head. You’ll know its beginning, middle, and end.

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You can identify and plan major structural points before writing the first draft. You can see your entire story at a glance, helping you identify inconsistencies in plot and character arcs. You get the opportunity to count scenes and estimate word counts, so you can time major plot points. They act as a checklist of sorts, against which you can double-check the existence of overall structural points before diving into the messiness of the first draft. You can use your outline as your dry-erase board for explorations of and experiments with ideas, preventing the need to delete hundreds or even thousands of words. Structure, in turn, will guide you in identifying your major plot points. From there, you can figure out how best to fill in the blanks.

Some authors prefer to use this list of structural events as the outline. You can go ahead and dive into your first draft without knowing anything more about what happens between the pit stops on your roadmap. Or you can use your knowledge of these events to guide you in fleshing out your outline even further.

Proper story structure is never a choice. We each have to identify and create the processes that will help us maximize both our creativity and productivity. And for most of us, the outline will be our greatest tool in building strong stories with spot-on structure.

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First Draft Woes…

First drafts are our agony and our ecstasy. This is where our glistening ideas spill onto the page. This is where we get to play around with our ideas, see our characters grow and our themes mature. First drafts are fun. They’re our creative playground.

But they’re also tough. Our words on paper rarely measure up to the sparkling perfection of the ideas in our heads. We run into plot holes, creative blocks, stubborn characters, and personal doubts. We want so badly to get our first drafts right—both on the general principle of wanting to do our story justice and to spare ourselves the work of intensive edits later on.

Instead of letting my words just pour out of me whenever I sat down to write these first drafts, I instead sat there and thought. And thought and thought. Write a paragraph. Read it. Think about it. Obsess about word choice. Obsess about how the characters are coming across. Fuss about thematic implications. Drive self crazy. Rewrite paragraph. Sit and stare at screen. Write a new paragraph.
simpsons
Sound painful? It is. I’ll bet it also sounds super familiar to a lot of you. Authors are under a ton of pressure to get it right. And instead of being mitigated once you have a reading public, it only gets worse. Instead of sitting at our desks and thinking about our stories, we sit there and think about How to Be an Awesome Writer.

Fiction is an amalgam of art and craft. We can think about craft. We should think about craft. Craft is an analytic, left-brain exercise. Art, on the hand, is a deeply subconscious, emotional journey. We shouldn’t think too hard about that—at least, not while we’re in the act. Thinking too hard dries up the creative side of the brain and dams up that subconscious flow of ideas, words, and images.

How do we fix this all too prevalent problem? The answer is simple. The implementation, however, isn’t always so easy. As soon as I stopped over-thinking my process, my infernal internal editor shut up, my characters started talking to me again, and my writing improved vastly. Turned out the very thing I thought was helping me be a good writer was holding me back.

Editing, as a left-brain aspect of the process, is supposed to be thought about. The first draft isn’t. The first draft is the place to smear your raw creativity onto the page. Don’t worry about being awesome. Don’t worry about being perfect. Just have fun. Live your story; find your awe. Don’t think too hard about what you’re doing until after you’ve done it.

snoopy-writing

Conscious writing: Being authentic. What does it mean?

“I am always tuning my orchestra. Somewhere deep inside there is a sound that is mine alone, and I struggle daily to hear it and tune my life to it. Sometimes there are people and situations that help me to hear my note more clearly; other times, people and situations make it harder for me to hear. A lot depends on my commitment to listening and my intention to stay coherent with this note. It is only when my life is tuned to my note that I can play life’s mysterious and holy music without tainting it with my own discordance, bitterness, resentment, agendas and fears.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging.

violin

Conscious writers develop their intuition through conscious listening, and in the process, discover the sound of their authentic voice. If you’re an artist of any kind – writer, poet, painter, dancer, authenticity is an extremely important word, yet, it’s a concept that’s hard to define.

I-AM-ME

What authenticity isn’t…
1. It isn’t your habits: It’s tempting to confuse an authentic piece of work with the first idea that comes into your head. If you don’t have to make an effort to think of it, then it must be natural, right?
2. It doesn’t mean always sticking to the facts: Authenticity does not mean you have to be precisely correct or fill listeners in on every detail of what happened to you. We all write about our personal experiences. The important thing is to get down to the universal emotions and eternal lessons beneath the facts of what happened.
3. It doesn’t mean writing in a vacuum: Authenticity doesn’t mean you have to entirely reinvent the craft of writing by yourself. It’s okay to learn from others.
What authenticity is…
1. Taking risks: It’s a risk to show your weaknesses, vulnerabilities, your feelings. It’s a risk to try something you’re not sure will work but to grow and learn we need to take risks, even if it means failing. Authenticity is not static but you don’t need to jump into the deep end of the pool before you can swim. Take your time. Take those little steps; just don’t stand still doing the same thing over and over.
2. Expressing a theme or idea in a way that is uniquely honest: No two people are the same. You have your own ways of seeing and thinking about things. It takes honesty, courage, and some hard work to really get to know yourself. What are the themes and characters that resonate for you? What kinds of books do you like to read? Why do you like them? What are the ideas and characters they deal with? These must connect with something inside of you or you wouldn’t find them so compelling.

be yourself
3. Communicating with listeners effectively and personally: Being authentically you doesn’t mean shutting yourself in an ivory tower. How you define yourself has a lot to do with how you relate to others. If your words are so dense, poetic, and personal that no one else can understand them, it doesn’t mean that you’re being more authentic than someone who writes unassuming, informal text that everyone can relate to. You need to find the voice that communicates with others and, at the same time, expresses your ideas, images, and emotions.

be who you are

Which story do I write?

After spending the weekend at a writer’s festival www.festivalofgoldenwords.com  my mind has come back brimming with ideas. Ideas about characters, stories, plots, with so many scenes playing themselves out inside my head I can’t sleep!

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One thing I did learn, and was somewhat a common theme, is that the most important decision a writer will ever make is which story to write. Sometimes that will be an easy decision: the right story can, at times, be staring you in the face. But sometimes the choices can be overwhelming.

So how do you choose?

This is never a decision for any of us to make lightly. Whatever story we choose is one we’re going to be spending an extra lot of intimate time with. If we choose the wrong story, we could end up wasting time and expending untold frustration on the project. But if we choose the right story, we’ll be embarking on an exciting and fulfilling journey that will help us grow as writers and hopefully produce a book we can share with others.

stories-problems

The following are some thoughts that I brought home with me.

1. Look Beyond the Premise

If your story doesn’t have a great premise, you shouldn’t be writing it. But a great premise, by itself doesn’t make a great story. Where do you see this premise leading you? What kind of characters will populate this story? What will they be seeking? Who will be opposing them? What kind of world will they be living in?

2. Realize Loving Parts of a Story Isn’t Enough

Let’s say you have an idea for a story and you love the setting and the interaction between the characters, but, the suspense created simply doesn’t interest you too much. Before you commit to a story, you need to love everything about it. Think through the ramifications of your premise. Are you going to have fun and be able to maintain interest throughout all its logical progressions? Or will you grow bored with some aspects?

3. Make Your Own Head Explode

If you’re going to have any chance of blowing your readers’ minds, then first you have to blow your own. A story can be a great idea in itself, but if it doesn’t thrill you, then you need to question whether you’re going to have enough passion to see it through. Ask yourself: Is this a story you were meant to write? Is this a story you can’t not write? If the answer to either is no, then you might want to rethink.

4. Look for Characters With Strong Voices and Interaction

Not every seemingly great story idea comes complete with the rest of the trappings necessary to make a great book. Think about your characters. Are they already so vibrant in your head that you can sense they’ll have unique and powerful voices on the page? Will they be memorable and definitive? Will they interact with each other in meaningful and important ways? A great premise that lacks great characters is going nowhere fast.

5. Look for a Bigger Story

Most of my story ideas start out with the interaction between two characters. But, by itself, that’s not enough to fill a whole book. Consider your ideas. Can you sense the weight of a bigger story beneath the surface? What are the stakes? Who else will these characters end up affecting through their interaction with each other? If you can’t at least sense the possibility for greater depth, then the idea may not have enough strength to carry itself.

6. Figure Out What Kind of Story It Will Be

You’ve figured out your premise and your characters. So far, so good. But do you know what type of story you want this to be? Don’t sit down to write a story without knowing what you’re trying to create. Understand your story’s tone, from start to finish, into a cohesive whole. If you lack that understanding of your story, you won’t be able to create the cohesion and focus you want it to have.

7. There’s a lot to be said for instinct

Don’t Be OCD! I admit it: I like to do things in order, including story ideas. But just because a story idea is the next one in line doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right one to be writing at this time. Get in touch with your instincts. Which story feels right? And, more importantly, which ones don’t feel right?

No matter how much consideration we invest in choosing our next writing project, we won’t always be able to predict which stories will be successful for us and which won’t. But by considering these factors, we can at least eliminate some of the ideas that definitely aren’t ready to be written.

 Have you got a story to tell