Dialogue Drafting

One of the quickest ways to smashing writer’s block out of the way is by pre-writing the dialogue for your upcoming chapter. Focusing solely on what your characters will say to each other cuts away all the time and energy it takes to set up the scene in terms of describing the environment and the actions the characters will take during their conversations. Stories only move forward because of character interactions and so it’s important to learn to how to do some Dialogue Drafting.

Talking Heads Build the Body

Common writing advice warns writers against turning characters into a bunch of talking heads that exist in a vacuum without non-verbal communication or relation to the environment they converse in. However, for the sake of Dialogue Drafting, the point is to write nothing but the dialogue with little to no “stage direction” that you later turn into narrative.

The point is to have all your characters air out their grievances with each other in whatever stream of consciousness you happen to write if you just focus on what they want to say to each other. A lot of it will inevitably be a bit of small talk before the central themes and conflicts of the story get mentioned, but consider that all as a mere warm up. You will know you’ve hit your stride once you get emotionally invested in their conversations, even if it’s not a heated argument, but nonetheless a critical conversation they must have with each other.

When you’re not concerned about writing any narrative description and let them speak in rapid succession with each other, several things can emerge from this free flow form of writing. You need to free yourself from the expectation to maintain descriptions of the setting, your casts’ physical appearance, and the actions they take within their environment while they have these conversations

Dialogue Drafting can help you:

  1. Discover your characters’ voices.
  2. Reveal what’s truly at stake for each character.
  3. Organically evolve their relationships to each other.

Giving Your Characters Some Singing Lessons

Dialogue Drafting can help you learn how to make your characters talk more uniquely from each other. When all you have is a bunch of talking heads clutter a page or five, you will easily get bored by how similarly your characters speak if dialogue isn’t your forte. Soon you’ll find yourself trying to create different speech patterns for each character to make them stand out more.

Just like singing, dialogue in fiction requires refreshing rhythms and “melodies” in order to maintain reader retention. How you do this is by deciding how much or how little characters speak. For instance, a verbose character contrasted by one who values brevity and concision will react and speak in a drastically different way from one another.

Couple that with the kind of vocabulary each character is equipped with, you can bring your characters’ dialogue to life much more with this in consideration. Do they use big words or simple words? Do they speak too much or too little? Do they speak loudly or quietly? These are all the things to consider when you are crafting a character.

Try and think of it musically: each character is a different instrument in a song. Each instrument, in a well written piece, will do their job in laying the foundation of the song and maybe sometimes get their spotlight moments the way a sweet guitar solo does before letting the rest of the instruments breathe and say what they need to say.

Likewise with your characters, some will have to hang back and not say much before they step in and say their piece especially when a certain point of contention in the conversation means more to them than it does for the others, which brings me to the next point.

Revealing Character Motivations

When you do this dance of inhabiting all of your characters’ voices in rapid succession, they begin to reveal things to you that they truly wanted. Especially things you may not have originally outlined for their GMC’s or for the chapter as a whole. This is because when you’re not concerned with the setting or physical movement of characters, you are actually constantly shifting between their minds and letting them speak for you.

It is an odd thing to consider that these fictional characters we create having a life of their own, sometimes separate from what we intend for them, let alone display in our manuscripts, but nonetheless I believe this is true at some psychological level. After all, the characters we create are simply amalgamations of ourselves and other people we have met, so while they may or may not closely resemble us or the people we have (hopefully) loosely based them on, what stands eternal is the behavior.

What this means is that people may have certain mix of thought patterns and behaviors unique to them, but thought patterns and behaviors in general exist in a universal realm regardless of time and person exhibiting them. There are commonalities among all people, and so the characters we create may not be “real” in a sense, but they are hyper real because they represent various modes of beings human undertake.

I apologize if that’s a little too heady, so a simple way to put it is this:

No matter how many new people enter the world and how different they may be in appearance, they will still inevitably embody common human behaviors. Or even simpler; we may look different from each other, but we’re all almost inevitably the same.

Keeping that in mind when you write a Dialogue Draft, you may start to learn that your characters share common goals, but go about them in a different way, or maybe they have different goals, but approach them in the same way–along with every other combination in the book.

Whatever the case, Dialogue Drafting will reveal the fundamental differences and similarities between your characters, for better or for worse. Sometimes those similarities are due to the lack of individuating them from each other, and other times they’re good story serving similarities that they need to learn and discover along the way.

In doing so, they get to experience the following:

Ever Evolving Relationships

While there is much to be said what people, and characters do to each other and for each other, what relationships all come down to is verbal communication. Your word is bond. What you say to others and how you communicate with them create an implicit promise of interacting that way unless stated otherwise.

If you’re kind and generous then it is implied that people can come to expect more of that from you. If you’re mean and cold hearted then it is implied that people can come to expect more of that from you as well. Until of course the other party says something that is either suspicious of the former and/or opposed to the latter.

We may all have almost the same needs and desires, but how we communicate them and how we mix and match our own values are what’s unique to each of us. What generosity means to me might mean something entirely different for you because we most likely have different ways to measure how generous we want to be respectively.

So that said, another thing you learn from Dialogue Drafting is how your characters communicate the same needs differently, as well as what that could mean for the future of their relationships if they so choose to maintain it. We’re all social creatures and we need each other to survive, but that doesn’t mean we have to get along with every single person on the planet. That would actually be counter productive because you can’t please everybody and not everybody can and will like you.

Again, while behaviors might be universal, how we measure our personal values will be unique across individuals, and it’s in that fundamental difference that creates conflict, as well as pave the way toward relationships that either end up stronger, strained, or severed.

If you’ve mapped out your own Interpersonal Economy for your ensemble of characters, every cost and benefit you’ve outlined between individuals will become more pronounced when you write a Dialogue Draft. It’s through our words that we express our values and it’s through our relationships that we either affirm or deny them depending on any new information that may get us to rethink our positions.

And in the end that’s what all dialogue is really about: characters stating their positions and arguing why their needs should trump the needs of others, or at the very least be taken into account equally if they aren’t already.

Piecing it All Together

Now of course once you’re done Dialogue Drafting, you can’t keep your characters bodiless and nothing but mere heads floating in a vacuum of nothingness. But thanks to the dialogue you have pre-written for your chapter, you are even better equipped to fill in the blanks in regards to the environment and the physical actions they may take in between certain lines.

You will almost always have way more dialogue than you can actually include in your manuscript so this is the part where you will have to trust your instincts and see which lines are worth keeping and which ones need to be discarded. Some lines of dialogue might turn into internal narrative for a first person book, or side insights for a 3rd person one. Some may not even make the cut.

The lines that will make it, though, are the ones you feel strongly resemble what the characters are truly about and actually move the plot along due to the shift and evolution of their relationships from the exchange. Another great benefit to Drafting Dialogue is to get the throwaway dialogue out of the way so it’s much easier for the meaningful dialogue to emerge and be honed in on.

Did you find this Workshop Wednesday tip useful?

Have you done anything similar to Dialogue Drafting before?

Let me know in the comments below, and happy writing, Your Write to Live Lovers!

Movie Montage Motivation

Training montages are a staple for underdog movies like Rocky, which features one of the most epic montages of all time. It’s so epic that I presume it’s the film that popularized training montages in the first place. When Eye of the Tiger queues up and we see Rocky training for his title bout against Apollo Creed, we can’t help but feel hyped up for him because of all the hard work he’s putting into preparation.

Today’s post is all about those long grueling hours of preparation that we put into a moment of time that has a much shorter duration than the actual training itself. And that’s the interesting part about training montages in movies. They condense a huge passage of time into just a couple minutes for however long the hype up song will play for, but when it comes to the main event, that scene is what gets drawn out and dramatized.

Unfortunately, real life works the opposite. UFC fighters can train for months on end only to be KO’d under a minute in the first round. Or even if they do go the distance in a championship match, the 25 minutes they spend fighting in the octagon still does not compare to the endless of hours, weeks, and months of training.

In a montage, all that quick cutting between training activities is super exciting, but if you watch all that in real time without the hype up music backing it up, you would probably get bored real fast. After all, no one has time to spend months in the movie theater watching Rocky jog around Philadelphia for an hour and then go punch a speedbag and some frozen meat, and get punched himself, for several more hours.

So while montages may gloss over all that extensive training time for the sake of retaining viewer retention, you as a person working toward a goal, must actually retain your motivation toward training in whatever field you’re attempting to master. It’s not as fun and exciting as having all your training time summed up in 3 minutes to a hype track, but that’s what makes it even more important.

Real life training is long, hard, and messy.

Motivation can only last so long before resistance and discipline begin to rear their ugly heads. When natural motivation begins to wane, the doubts start pouring in, making you think twice about whether or not you’re on the right track. You hit plateaus in your capacity to learn and retain new things, you mess up on things you thought you’ve mastered, and worst of all, you might even experience imposter syndrome where you can’t even believe you can achieve such great things.

In these times of struggle it is important to take stock when you get stuck. My examples so far have been bleak, considering how Rocky actually ends, along with what I said about a UFC fighter getting KO’d in the first round. To turn things around, I want to posit that even if you “lose” despite of all your training, it really does come down to that cliché where life is all about the journey, not the destination.

Even if you try and fail, at least you’ve developed the discipline to strive for what you want. And while a lot of hard work and persistence may not amount to much in the end result, at least in the final analysis you’ve put your best foot forward and built your life brick by boring brick.

Everybody wants to get on stage and sing their song, but not many people out there are willing to take music lessons, lug their gear around, and commit to endless hours of rehearsals and soundchecks. By dedicating yourself to your craft every day, you are already ahead of the curve. Better yet, removing the unproductive concept of comparing ourselves to others, we are already becoming better than our past selves when we make the decision to develop our skills.

On the brighter side, while I can’t guarantee you succeed in achieving your goals if you dedicate yourself everyday, I can at least say that you are increasing your chances of success tenfold by simply putting the work in. In fact, I’d even argue that the end goal should not be the goal. Rather, the goal should be whatever you have ahead of you for that day in particular.

So say you’re a writer like me and you want to write and publish a novel. It’s a daunting task to say the least, but the thing about goals is that they comprise of a subset of mini goals that lead toward it. While the end goal is to have a novel published, the daily goal could and should be something along the lines of 500-2000 words a day, or whatever amount you’re most comfortable with.

Make the montage, the training, the goal itself. Approach it with all the enthusiasm you can at the beginning, but don’t let the initial loss of motivation stop you because then that’s when you’re being tested as to how well you can adapt these activities into routine habits that you just do as part of your daily life.

Simply put; success is a lifestyle, not an end goal.

How to Thrive During NaNoWriMo

Today is the day writers all around the world take part in National Novel Writing Month, an annual event that challenges them to write 50,000 words all within the glorious (or grueling) 30 days of November. Whether they are glorious and/or grueling is completely up to you. I know this from experience.

I’m not going to pretend I have an on going track record with NaNoWriMo as I have only done it once last year when I rewrote my YA novel, It Starts at Home, completely from scratch a third time in a row. My advice is drawn more from the past decade of novel writing, things I’ve observed about myself, that in turn I hope you can relate to and glean some value from.

So without further adieu, here is how I learned not to beat my head against the wall during NaNoWriMo:

1. Remember Your Why

Amidst the commotion of trying to write 1667 words a day, remind yourself why you write in the first place. Perhaps there are some injustices you want to expose through your fiction, or you simply want to entertain. Whatever your reason, it has value because you want to provide value through it or at least have something burning inside you, urging you to express it. Let the call to adventure ring loud and clear. Make it more about the message than about reaching a quota.

2. Don’t Make it About Word Count

Sure, it’s important, as it is a measurable guage of how much you’ve done, but don’t sweat it if you can’t reach 1667 a day or the 50,000 at the end of November. Word count is important, but it shouldn’t take precendence over expressing yourself and possibly spreading your message. Especially if you have controversial topics to cover in your book, accept that it’s not going to be easy, and the fun is in the challenge of finding ways to convey your philosophy through fiction.

3. Don’t Find Time, Make Time For Writing

This is something I hear often from working parents with children, and anybody else with very busy working schedules. It’s important to know that no matter what obligations you’ve got going for you in life, whether you show up or not is completely up to you and it is your life to manage. No one else’s. Don’t find time to write, make time to write. Make it a priority. You don’t have to do a million things in your life. Yes, pay bills. Yes, feed your children. But if you have the free time to sit around and play Candy Crush, maybe make time to write and see that as your leisure time. Scratch that. Writing is leisure time, no matter how difficult it gets at times.

4. Keep a Progress Journal

Give yourself 10-30 minutes a day to free write about your book, detailing all your progress and intetions with it before every session. You gotta warm yourself up to writing and what could help is giving yourself the opportunity to write whatever’s on your mind will free up space in your brain to focus on the narrative. This works especially if you’re stuck at certain points. The more stuck you are, the longer the progress journaling session should be. Progress journals are also where you can remind yourself of your why in a more concrete way than just repeating the mantra in your head.

5. Let Yourself Write

This is a no brainer, but basically what I mean is to not get caught up in syntax and style. If you have trippy sci-fi or fantastical fantasy concepts in your story, that’s fine, but don’t let all your wordiness get in the way of simply telling a story. And who cares if it doesn’t make any sense or if it isn’t eloquent? This is most likely just another draft to be improved on later. So let yourself write to your heart’s content and kick perfectionism to the curb where it belongs!

6. Write in Tiny Bursts

If you can’t stomach 1667 in one 20-60 minute writing session, do little by little throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be done all in one sitting. Do 500-600 in the morning, another 500-600 in the afternoon, and the final 500-600 at night. Before you know it, you’ll reach the daily quota without burning yourself out from one intense writing session in the day.

7. Let Yourself Fall Behind

It could happen. In fact it happens to a lot of writers, even published ones. Let yourself fall behind and be okay with it. Despite what I said about making time to write, sometimes life gets in the way, or worse, our egoes prevent us from putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). If and when that happens, accept it with grace and don’t let it deter you from getting back into the groove. You never know, you just might write 3500 words in one day to catch back up with the daily average.

8. Exercise

Writing is a very physically limiting activity where you are confined to a chair all slouched over and giving your mind a massive work out. Don’t forget to give your body a work out, too! Exercise can help release some muscle tension as well as clear your mind when you focus on the sensations your body goes through during exercise. Go for a run, lift some weights, or do some yoga. There’s an endless amount of options for physical activity, and often times it is due to physical stagnance that our minds also refuse to work, so go and create a little communion between body and mind.

9. Write a Crappy Story on the Side

More often than not, the novel you choose to write for NaNoWriMo is “The Big One,” and that’s all well and good. However, with that comes the pressure to make sure it’s done right, even if you follow tip #5. In addition to letting yourelf write, I propose you let yourself write crap. Yeah, if you feel stuck with your main work in progress, go start a side story that you write for the express purpose of writing as poorly as possible. This is a sure fire way to pump out 3000 meaningless words before hunkering down and writing your finely honed 1667 main manuscript words for the day.

10. Reward Yourself

When it’s all said and done, be sure to reward yourself. The time it takes to write may seem like a huge price to pay with little to no tangible, immediate return on investments, so it’s best to make one for yourself. This can be treating yourself to a bath, a Netflix binging hour (or five), or if you’re a gamer like me, a gaming session could feel incredibly better after having written. In the wise words of my cousin, after all your hard work you gotta “treat yoself!”

11. Sleep!

And as a bonus tip: sleep! We live in an unhealthy culture that rewards and promotes the notion that “sleep is for the weak,” and busy bodies often proclaim that they’ll sleep when they’re dead. I sure as hell hope you don’t buy into mythology, as sleep is a very important human function. Yes, it sucks that eats away the time we could be doing more more more with our lives, but deal with it, sleep is a fact of life. You need to recharge your batteries in order to operate better than you would hopped up on caffeine and a single muffin.

What all these tips come down to is: treat yourself kindly.

Happy writing!

 

How Being a Wallflower Improves Your Writing

introvert at party
Photo credit: http://happymonsters.tumblr.com

It is a common stereotype that writers are quiet people, and often feel isolated even in a crowd of people out in public. While this is a generalization, and I know that there are some charismatic and extroverted writers out there, their introverted counterparts and extroverted writers themselves can benefit from being wallflowers.

Wikipedia defines it as: “A wallflower is someone with an introverted personality type (or in more extreme cases, social anxiety) who will attend parties and social gatherings, but will usually distance themselves from the crowd and actively avoid being in the limelight.”

Wikipedia goes on to explain how wallflowers would much rather observe a social setting than engage in it, and this is where today’s writing tip comes in. You don’t have to suffer from social anxiety or introversion–as if it’s something to “suffer” from, as most people come to believe–in order to utilize today’s writing tip.

Whenever you find yourself out in public in a moment of silence, take note of how people behave and what the setting looks like. You can either write this down in the notepad of your mind, in an actual travel sized notebook, or even on the notepad app on your smartphone if you have one.

What this will do is give you a myriad of ingredients you can use in future writing. Even if some details never make it on the pages of a manuscript, it still helps to get the mental exercise flowing in order to sharpen your ability to observe and absorb. Here is a list of things to pay attention to and take note of:

For People

  • How do they express themselves physically? Do they use grand hand gestures and speak loudly, or do they move minimally with hushed tones?
  • What are they talking about with their conversation partner? How excited or bored are they in engaging in this conversation?
  • Take note of the contrast of these two “characters,” if there are any.
  • What kinds of clothes are they wearing and are their wardrobes congruent or juxtapositional to their behaviour? Maybe they’re wearing fancy bowties and suits while swearing like sailors, or sporting some baggy low riding pants and talking like gangsters.
  • Pay attention to physical and verbal ticks. What kinds of words do they use often and what noticable movements do they make? Maybe they like to say “like,” a lot like it was like a comma. Or maybe they tend to rub their eyes with the heel of their palm whenever they are disagreed with in conversation.

Just remember to keep in mind that you shouldn’t watch too hard or they’ll find it creepy. Best to use your peripheral vision and pretend not to be listening. Since it’s none of your business what they’re talking about, you don’t want to eavesdrop too much. Just enough  to notice a few patterns.

For Settings:

  • Inspect the architecture of your surroundings. Is it all brand new and recently constructed, or has this place existed for quite some time? What are some details that give away its age? This can range from burn marks in the cement from too many smokers having step foot upon it, to smooth and undented walls.
  • How does it feel to be there emotionally and physically? Is it cold or warm? Do you feel comfortable or uncomfortable?
  • Are there any noticable scents or odours pervading the air? If you’re at a restaurant, perhaps the aroma of fried chicken triggers your gut to hunger for it, or if you’re in a warehouse the stench of dirt makes it hard to breathe to the point of even tasting the duskiness of the environment.
  • And here’s my favourite: close your eyes and pay attention to the sounds that surround the environment. Is it noisy or quiet, or even somewhere in between? If you’re at a mall, pay attention to how assaulted you are with different radio stations playing different types of music as you move from store to store. Or if you’re at a cafe, notice the low hum of patrons conversing or that university student’s fingers click clacking against their laptop keyboard as they rush to finish an overdue paper.

And as my last point was about to do there, a story then begins to take place. Whether it’s a story you’re inventing in your head or a story that is unfolding right before your very eyes, noticing all these details will help you craft more detailed scenes in your writing. We don’t notice details until they go missing, and the mark of good writing is incorporating them in a way that integrate into the scene without drawing too much attention to itself, rather they help embellish the main focus of a story which is human interaction.

Being a wallflower has its perks (no pun intended in reference to the YA novel). Chances are people around you will leave you to your own devices and you can take the opportunity to jot down details of your environment in order to build your vocabulary and the wide range of possible ideas you can use in your writing.

Have you ever paused and taken a social situation in as a silent observer?

What kinds of details and sensations have you gleaned for doing so?

If you haven’t been in wallflower mode before, how does this whole suggestion feel to you? Let me know in the comments below!

Why Subtitles Improve Your Writing

“Marriage?” He scoffed. “We can barely afford this house.”

“But we’ve been together for 10 years,” she whimpered.

He sighed and leaned back with his chair creaking beneath him. “You’re right, but–“

Have you ever come across these kinds of expressions while reading a book and wondered what they meant? Or maybe your mind filled in the gaps based on the context of the scene? Whichever was the case for you, I highly suggest that whenever you watch a TV show or a movie, that you put on the subtitles, even if the characters speak your native language.

Here’s why:

lily 0lily 1lily table clatterlily 3lily 4

Watching TV shows and movies with subtitles on allow you to learn three fundamental things:

  1. How dialogue is written
  2. What sound effects and expressions sound like
  3. Rhythm and beats of a scene

1. Dialogue

The most obvious reason why you should try watching TV shows and movies with subtitles on is to see how punctuation works, and maybe even expanding your vocabulary with new sophisticated words characters may speak.

If the characters are also incredibly nuanced in the way they all speak, seeing the phonetically written versions of their speech along with listening to how they deliver their lines, will also help you get a sense of certain word patterns different characters use. Do they speak in long bursts with little to no breaks in between words? Do they seldomly speak? What kinds of words do they often use?

For extra measure, having a notepad ready to jot down your observerations can help inform the kind of unique dialogue your story may benefit from.

2. Sound Effects and Expressions

With that opening sample scene I came up with, despite the lack of detail, I’m sure you can get a sense of how the situation might feel like for both the man and woman. Even if you don’t know what a scoff is, you can sense that it is something he is passive aggressively dismissing based on his following dialogue.

While you can get away with knowing what special words like scoff and whimper mean, you might run the risk of misusing them in either having them used in the wrong context, or simply breaking a certain character’s personality.

The man in this sample scene is anxious about marriage due to finances, and it doesn’t sound he really loves his girlfriend. If he did, maybe his sigh would come earlier because marraige is something he does want, but his financial woes get in the way.

Furthermore, the creaking of his chair can add to that scene to convey that he and his girlfriend are indeed in financial trouble, so much so that they are sitting at a table with low quality wooden chairs that creak.

Watching something with subtitles on can often help you hear what all these non-verbal expressions and environmental sound effects may sound like. It wasn’t until watching some TV shows and movies with subtitles on did I truly understand the difference between laughing, cackling, and chuckling.

3. Rhythm and Reason

Referring back to those screenshots of the scene from How I Met Your Mother, I originally wanted to only post pictures two, three, and four, but then realized I would be depriving you guys of this fundamental lesson. Watching with subtitles on can also help you understand the rhythm of a scene.

The first shot is silent, with Lily and Marshall sitting next to each other minding their own business. Marshall calls Lily’s name and she nearly jumps out of her skin because by screenshot number three, she is startled and hits her legs against the table causing it to clatter. She asks Marshall how long he’s been sitting there and in the final screenshot, she curses having the eye patch for obstructing her vision.

Had I not put the first and last screenshots, this scene would have no set up and no pay off. It would be devoid of context and the impact of Lily’s fright wouldn’t feel as full without that silent moment between herself and fiancee. Furthermore, without the final screenshot, the scene wouldn’t be as funny without her cursing the eye patch.

Learning how subtitles are spaced out between a scene, as well as how sound effects and expressions interject between what the characters are saying, can help you establish in your own work the rhythm and pace to which your characters interact.

I will definitely write more later on this concept of rhythm and beats in a scene, but for now, what I would like to emphasize is how helpful it is to get a sense of how that all feels on your own terms.

So give it a try; watch your favourite TV show and movies with subtitles on, specifically your favourite scenes in each story to see why they move you the way you do. You will be surprised by how the spacing between lines drastically affect the feel of the scene, as well as the new vocabulary you might come across in terms of non-verbal expressions and environmental sound effects.

Did you find this unorthadox writing tip helpful?

What has been your experience with subtitles?

Do you have your own piece of unorthadox writing tips? Feel to share all this and more in the comments below!