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The Illusions of Dialogue by Jesse Teller

I came from a family of storytellers, I mean, gifted storytellers. They could pick you up and lift you into a tale like none other I have ever known. I apprenticed under them, and it made me the writer I am. I have been telling stories all my life and writing for most of my life, and at first, the storytelling didn’t translate to the written word.

If I wrote the story as I heard it, it always fell flat. There was no way to transfer the experience of telling a story to writing one. The teller has more tools.

Words don’t make the story. My grandfather had an eighth-grade education. He had a very basic vocabulary. But man, listening to him tell a story was an experience I cannot describe.

Well, I’m going to try.

It was not the words he used at all; it was the way he spoke. He used inflection like a master working a clay pot. He had a grip on the dramatics. He knew when to sip.

Have you ever been listening to a story being told by a truly gifted storyteller, and he stops to take a sip of his drink? There is magic in that moment. The entire room freezes. No one speaks. No one breathes. The sounds of the room drop down to nothing. The TV in the background turns itself down, and everyone waits.

The thing I learned from my uncles, grandfather, and mother is that it is not the words, the sound effects, or even the tone of voice. It is in the pause. The pause holds all the power of the tale. Conversation is this way as well. Magical moments wait within the breath between words. The rhythm of the speaking tells the story in a way nothing else ever could.

Think about great orators. The breaths they take and the way they pause are the magic of the speech.

You don’t believe me. You are looking at me like you don’t believe me. Okay, let’s look at any piece of dialogue. I’m a writer. I happen to have some right on hand. Hold on while I get it.

Okay, I’m back. Did you notice that the period at the end of that last paragraph did not accurately convey the passage of time? Remember that. We are getting to that.

Now, in order to make my point, I’m going to show it to you bare bones and suck the illusion right out of the piece. Yes, my friend, there are illusions in every great piece of dialogue. That is actually why we are here. Just wait.

“I know, you make cheese. You’re a spy. Named Smear. Who makes cheese. Smear, the cheese maker. I would wager a guess that you’re the most dangerous cheese maker this country has ever known,” Rayph said.

“I’ll get better,” Smear said. Both laughed.

“I have to go. Got a thing to do. Thanks for the tea and what-have-you.”

This is the dialogue of a scene I have written. All the conversation is there. Every word of it. I have not changed a letter, not one piece of the conversation.

So, this is what we know now. Smear makes cheese. He is also a spy. He is dangerous and the country knows it. Rayph is leaving, and he has thanked Smear for the tea. We know that. It is right there. But the illusion of talking has been sucked out of it.

No one talks like this. This is totally unbelievable. Sadly, this is what I read a lot of the time. You can’t feel the cadence. You can’t feel the rhythm of the conversation. That is a major problem in writing because we are given crude tools to work with. We have a comma. That tiny piece of punctuation is supposed to imply a pause in the conversation. Well, it doesn’t. What would you say if I told you there is a long pause between the two phrases “thanks for the tea” and “what-have-you”? There is a pretty long pause there. Rayph also takes a breath for effect between the phrase “I know you make cheese” and the phrase “You’re a spy named Smear.” A pretty important pause lives right there. This conversation, like every one you have had, is riddled with pauses for effect and little breaths that give the dialogue meaning and make it worth listening to or reading.

In order to write real and convincing dialogue, we need to feel those pauses. They need to be there, but a simple comma or period will not do. It is too crude a tool. Go back up and read that piece of dialogue again. Feel how stilted it is and how clunky. Now, this is how it actually reads. This is the illusion I wove in it to give it breaths and dramatic pauses:

Rayph nodded. “I know, you make cheese,” Rayph said. “You’re a spy. Named Smear. Who makes cheese. Smear, the cheese maker. I would wager a guess that you’re the most dangerous cheese maker this country has ever known.”

“I’ll get better,” Smear said. Both laughed.

“I have to go. Got a thing to do,” Rayph said. He stood and drained his mug. “Thanks for the tea and,” he motioned to the cheese, “what-have-you.”

No comma in the world is going to change the first version into the second. But if we weave a little magic with tag placement, then we give the illusion of a pause. Look at the first line.

“I know, you make cheese,” Rayph said. “You’re a spy. Named Smear.”

Placing “Rayph said” in the middle of the speech makes the reader pause to read that tag. The thing about tags is they are almost invisible. If you are reading a well-written piece, you don’t even notice them. They blow right by you. When you read that sentence, you don’t even think of the tag. But you have to pause in the conversation long enough to read it. That one beat, the amount of time it takes to read that two-word tag, gives the reader just enough of a breath to make it look like the speaker stopped talking for a moment, thought about what he would say, and said it.

One tag did that. It was not punctuation. It was not a really long period or comma that created the rhythm of the speech. It was a tag.

Let’s keep looking. I want to take a minute and look at the last part of the dialogue. Let’s start here:

“I have to go. Got a thing to do,” Rayph said. He stood and drained his mug. “Thanks for the tea and,” he motioned to the cheese, “what-have-you.”

I needed a longer pause between “Got a thing to do” and “Thanks for the tea.” So, I broke free of the conversation and, just for a breath, described an action. In the time it takes to read that tiny bit of description, the speaker has taken a long pause. I do the same thing between “Thanks for the tea and,” and the line “what-have-you.” In that breath, he has looked at the cheese and has been unwilling to call it cheese at all. He instead calls it what-have-you.

But when I throw in that line of Rayph motioning to the cheese, it gives the idea that he had no idea what to call it. Was it cheese or some other disgusting thing that he ate? Without a pause right there, a break in the rhythm of the conversation, we don’t understand at all.

Great dialogue, like a well-told story or a perfectly orated speech, is filled with pauses for dramatic effect. We can’t use those pauses when we write a conversation, but by using brief spots of description or a well-placed tag, we can create illusions of that same effect as if we were standing in the room hearing Rayph and Smear talk about tea and what-have-you.


Jesse Teller fell in love with fantasy when he was five years old and played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. The game gave him the ability to create stories and characters from a young age. He started consuming fantasy in every form and, by nine, was obsessed with the genre. As a young adult, he knew he wanted to make his life about fantasy. From exploring the relationship between man and woman, to studying the qualities of a leader or a tyrant, Jesse Teller uses his stories and settings to study real-world themes and issues.

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Author Spotlight: Girls of Dirt (Dirt, Series Two) by C.C. Hogan

Welcome to this week’s Friday Author Spotlight! Today I have fantasy author, C.C. Hogan, returning with Book One in Dirt Series Two, Girls of Dirt! He’ll also be sharing his wisdom on dealing with social issues in fantasy, but first more about C.C. …

Short, dieting, cook, lives in own sad world and drinks too much wine. Damn; must be a writer!

LOL, and that’s all he has to say on that…

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About the Book

It is five hundred years since the events of series one. The world has been ruined by petty wars and the dreams of Pree and Farthing have been forgotten. The population is smaller, trades less often and is poorer. Even the dragons are thought of as only children’s stories; they probably never existed.

But on the beautiful Isle of Hope, Silvi Farthing is seventeen, a cheese maker, living on her own and about to be rescued by an incredible creature from her own family’s forgotten past; Be-Elin, the dragon.

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Keep reading for a guest post from the author:

Dealing With Social Issues in Fantasy

Just because I am writing a story set on a world that does not exist does not mean I cannot deal with issues that we face in our own world in our real lives. Unless a writer decides to leap into the complete unknown and create an imaginary world that is unique, and that is a rare thing, there will be correlations between their fantasy land and their own experiences. Generally, this is seen as a good thing since many readers like to be able to recognise characters and situations in some form or fashion so they can relate to them.

When I was planning the Dirt Saga, I made the conscious decision to make it as close to our world as possible without it actually being our world at all. I wanted all the characters of whatever species to be believable, almost as if it would be no surprise if you encountered them walking down your local high street. This meant imposing limits on characters. Dragons are big and can fly, but they don’t breathe fire or live in damp caves; they have communities and families like we do. Magicians might do things that we cannot do, but they do not wave wands or pick up and hurl rocks across valleys; their abilities are more subtle and vague. And of course, all characters can face problems in their lives because of the culture.

Series two of Dirt, which is now available, features several female lead characters, both human and dragon, and the main lead is a young woman called Silvi. In series one, I talked about issues such as slavery, inequality, poverty and so on, but having a mainly female-led in series two cast allowed me to address sexism head on.

Silvi Farthing is not just a young woman, she is also a lesbian. Although I do not make a huge deal of her coming out or deciding on her sexuality, it is there in plain sight and some accept it and some do not. We do not know a huge amount about her younger life, but there are hints that it was more abusive than she easily admits to and this is at least partly responsible for the strong, independent streak that drives her through the story.

When addressing any problem in any type of tale, it helps to have something to compare it with; my situation must be bad because over there I see someone whose life is better. In real life, this is not always clear cut. Sexism as we see it today has to be compared to centuries of history that says men are superior to women and therefore what women suffer is not sexism. It was unforgiveable even back then, in my mind, but it was the status quo and we still have to fight that today when making arguments for equality; look at the women in some towns in the USA who not only think they SHOULD be subservient to men but also support Trump and have no issue with his terrible comments. This is sometimes joyfully referred to as dealing with dinosaurs. In a fantasy, you have the opportunity of inventing a comparison that does not exist in our real life and is therefore less ambiguous.

In Dirt, dragons are my perennial good-guys. They live hundreds of years, think friendship is more important than family, don’t have nations, borders, or the subsequent wars, don’t lie, and have no sexism or any other bad isms. If they were human, they would be unbelievably perfect and would not work, but because they are a species that do not exist, as long as I make them realistic, give them humour and tempers, I can get away with it. So, when Silvi is attacked by some men because she is a lesbian, although she is rescued by a dragon, the dragon is confused. Such violence is unknown in her people and she does not understand it. Oh, if that were so amongst humans too!

Fantasy is the perfect genre to address many issues that plague our world. It allows the writer to work with interesting metaphors and similes, whether that is using inter-species contact to portray racism or fantastical cultural structures to portray ageism and sexism. In Star Trek, they used the character of Data to ask logical questions about irrational human ideas; it was a little clunky sometimes, but worked quite well. Probably one of the best examples is George Orwell’s Animal Farm which used farmyard animals to explain the danger which was Stalinism. Of course, you can go the other way like Mervin Peake did with Gormenghast, and have a set of characters none of whom you would invite to dinner!

I wouldn’t advocate that a writer must deal with difficult social issues, but certainly it can be an opportunity that is hard to resist. In the end, a fantasy is only set in a fantastical environment; the story is still one about people of some kind or other. People create societies and sometimes those societies stink. Humans have managed that in every society they have ever built, right up to and including today. So, if you feel that there is an opening to perhaps raise an issue from our own world in your created world, go for it. It will add depth to your story and will resonate with readers.

I will leave you with an excerpt from series two of Dirt. Silvi is sitting on the ground and next to her is the vast Bren-Hevvin. Just his head is much bigger than she is, and his body wouldn’t even fit on the cover. This is not about sexism, but about war, yet another important issue. There has never been a dragon on dragon war; their culture is so different to ours that there has never been a reason for one.

“Dragons don’t want to go to war, do they, despite your dreadful jokes. It is not in your blood. I see it in your eyes sometimes.”

“You do? What do you see? I don’t think you want to go to war either, but you do.”

“I didn’t want this war, you are right. But there is a difference between you and me; between humans and dragons. When I look into Hal’s eyes, when we are planning and realising the consequences of our plans, I see his hatred of war, but I see a tolerance of it. He knows we have no choice, and he understands that however terrible, it happens again and again and is part of our existence. War makes sense to him, even if he abhors it.”

“And what do you see in my eyes?”

Silvi turned and looked up into the big, soft, face of the Draig Mynyth Coh. He was not beautiful like a desert dragon or a sea dragon, but he had a face you could love. Even when he was angry she could happily hug his face if she had long enough arms.

“When I look into your eyes, I not only see a hatred of death, dear Bren-Hevvin, I see puzzlement and confusion. You don’t understand war in any way whatsoever; it mystifies you. You only know that they happen and humans start them. I have seen the same in every single dragon I have ever met.”

Dirt is a fantasy saga by CC Hogan. Series two is out now as an eBook on Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and other stores. The series starts with Girls of Dirt and includes a recap of series one.

3 Ways to Connect with Fantasy Readers by Dave Chesson

It’s impossible to succeed as a fantasy writer without knowing how to reach the right readers.

Even the best book with a wonderful cover can’t be considered a success if it doesn’t reach the people who love it.

There are currently over 197,000 fantasy eBooks on offer in the Kindle store alone, not to mention many more short reads. In such a competitive environment, it’s not enough to simply wish that a book draws the attention of readers.

Fantasy authors should actively seek out every opportunity possible to find and connect with people who are likely to love their work.

If you’ve published fantasy for a long time, finding your future fans may be second nature to you. If you don’t know where to start, don’t worry!

These simple tips will help you to reach the right fantasy readers to make your next book a soaring success.

Participate In Online Communities

The passion fantasy fans have for their genre means Amazon doesn’t even list fantasy along with other fiction categories. It has its own special section. That’s how widely loved fantasy is.

As such, fantasy fans are passionate about connecting with like-minded people online.

Many busy fan communities exist solely to help fantasy fans meet one another and discuss the books they love.

As a writer, you should seek out and engage with these communities as much as possible. There are several important reasons to do so.

First, there is no better market research than listening to fans directly. Hearing fans talk about what they like and dislike is a great way to finetune your own work.

Second, by offering value and participating in community discussions, you show yourself to be someone who is knowledgeable about fantasy and has something to offer the fan community. When it’s time to promote your next work, you’ll find it a lot easier to market to people you have a preexisting relationship with, rather than people who have never heard of you.

When participating in fan communities, it’s important to give value, rather than just promoting your own work. You should actively enjoy and contribute to discussions regularly. Visiting only to promote your own books is a mistake which will do you more harm than good.

Network With Other Fantasy Authors

As well as reaching out to fans directly, it’s a great idea to use your fellow fantasy writers as advisors.

There’s no need to discover everything for yourself. Fantasy writers who have been publishing and marketing their work for a long time will have plenty of tips to share on the ways they reach out to readers and connect with them.

It’s useful to get a wide range of opinions rather than relying on just one author. By getting lots of advice, you will be able to see what is working well across the board.

Just as you shouldn’t interact with fans selfishly, you shouldn’t interact with authors selfishly either. Don’t just ask endless questions. Strike a balance between getting the information you need and contributing something in return.

Take Charge Of Your Brand

You have one powerful weapon to help your books succeed in the crowded marketplace that no one else has.

Yourself.

As it becomes harder and harder for fantasy fans to gauge which books are worthy of their time, authors can increasingly stand out from the crowd by building a strong brand.

Branding is simply using the right combination of words and visuals to make a positive impression upon the readers who come across you. This means writing a bio in language that will appeal to fantasy fans, using a pic which is appropriate for the genre and ensuring that all of your branding efforts are easily accessible, such as through an Amazon Author Central page.

There’s nothing better from a reader’s perspective than feeling they know and admire a writer as much as they do their work.

Building a solid brand as a fantasy author is the fastest way to make that happen.

What Works For You?

What are some of the successes you’ve had reaching out to fantasy fans as an author?

If you’re a fantasy fan yourself, have you ever discovered an author in one of the ways mentioned?

I’d love to hear about your personal experiences in the comments.

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