Renee Writes

Posts tagged writing

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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How to Overcome Writer’s Block: 5 Simple Tips by Christina Battons

Writer’s block is one of the most dreaded things for many of us. Even the experienced writers face it from time to time; however, the more experienced writer is, the quicker they are able to overcome it.

Beginners or less experienced writers aren’t as lucky, though. They can find themselves stuck for days, unable to produce something they find worthy and decent. Of course, not all of us can afford such long writer’s blocks, especially if we have to earn a living with the help of our writing. That’s why today I’ve prepared some simple tips that could help you overcome it quickly and finally get back to writing.

1. Step away from writing.
There’s no point in spending hours staring at a blank page when the words simply won’t come no matter how long you do this. Instead, step away from your writing for a bit and try to do something else. This will help you relax and switch your attention from writing to something you actually feel like doing at the moment. This way you’ll be able to relax and maybe even find some inspiration and ideas.

Of course, the best way to do this is to do something creative instead of simply switching to your housework or work projects. This way your mind will rest more and will be able to produce new ideas.

2. Go outside.
Long walks not only allow you to rest – they are a great source of inspiration. When you are walking, you are observing the world around you, looking at how people look, how they behave, noticing the nature around you, and so on. The flow of oxygen to your brain also increases, making it easier to concentrate and think more clearly.

3. Free writing.
This great technique isn’t used by writers only but can be especially beneficial to them. Free writing is simple: you choose a certain time or page limit (for example, you are going to write for an hour or are going to write three pages) and start writing until you reach this limit. The mere thought of doing so scares some people, but actually, you don’t have to write a masterpiece or something. All you need to do is to write: maybe this will be a story or simply everything that comes to your head, from daily worries to feelings that have been bothering you for a while. Free writing is great because it helps get the things out of your head, making more space for amazing ideas, as well as helps develop the writing habit.

4. Mind mapping.
Mind maps are used in different areas of life, helping to establish the connections between certain things or objects and develop new ideas. They are a great tool for writers too, allowing to solve various plot problems, link together certain abstract ideas, come up with the new stories or plot twists, as well as expand some ideas too. That’s why you should definitely try them if you feel stuck at some point of writing.

5. Make a promise and stick to it.
One of the harshest and most effective ways to overcome the writer’s block is to actually continue to write no matter what. Some people sit and wait for the inspiration to come, while some simply start writing, hoping that inspiration will come in the process. While this technique won’t be useful to everyone, it still can help many of us a lot.

If this seems tempting but too challenging, start with a small step. For example, promise yourself that you are going to write 100 words a day no matter what. This won’t take much of your time and so seems like an easy task – at the same time, this means that you’re going to write something consistently, day after day. Do it for a couple of weeks, then increase your daily limit to 200 words a day, and so on.

These techniques can help you a lot. Moreover, you don’t have to use all of them to overcome your writer’s block. Start with one of them and then add another or combine all the techniques that seem appealing. And don’t forget: writing isn’t about making everything right from the start (you can do it later while editing or try using one of proofreading services). Concentrate on the process, not on the result.


Christina Battons is a web content writer and blogger from LA. I am a graduate of the University of Southern California. Currently, I write for various blogs like Thriving Writer or similar. I am interested in topics about education, writing, blogging, motivation, etc. My writing I use as a tool to further the education of others. My free time I spend with my family, friends, or riding my bicycle. You can connect with me through Twitter or Facebook. I’ll be happy to hear you, just drop me a line!

Weekly Fantasy Fix: Death in Fantasy Stories

 

Valar morghulis — all men must die. Very rarely do we ever read a story where the mortality of the characters does not concern the specific piece of art or literature being shared. Even in children’s books and movies, death often can play a central role. I think this awareness of our own mortality is something that speaks to many readers while providing a believable dilemma for any given story. It bespeaks to an inescapable truth that we all will die, and offers the question as to what that means to us. Is the death worthy? Does it need to be? And what choices do we have between our first breath and our last?

This is really the mentality many fantasy writers grasp during the process of telling their story, right? The decisions that the characters make in the course of their fictional lives defines them and their legacy, whether you actually kill the character in the book or not. BUT, when you do choose to kill any character (from the significant to the mundane), is it done to highlight the character and choices they made?

See, I get frustrated when fantasy stories include easy rescues for the heroes in order to keep the plot moving forward. This is one of the reasons I like Martin’s Game of Thrones; he simply isn’t afraid to eliminate a character, and he will always find a way to carry on with life (aka, the story). The threat of death is real in his stories, and even heroes can die. This realism makes readers think about issues like death and about how unpredictable life can be. This is a central theme that resonates with me. What themes will resonate with your readers?

As writers, we must understand death is a subject that makes people uncomfortable, and although our stories will tell of death, it should be done with purpose. People have emotional reactions to fictional character deaths. Some come to fiction to escape the concerns of their everyday life, but this is a certain avenue–especially in fantasy–that can rarely be escaped. And, when confronted with the sudden death of a beloved character, viewers and readers are jarred into dealing with the uncertainty of their own life.

How will you approach this topic, and what message will you tell?

Joshua Robertson, CEO

Crimson Edge Press, LLC

 

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