Friday, October 28, 2016

The Dos and Don'ts of Writing Internal Dialogue -- by Rachel

Internal dialogue is cousin to the soliloquy, or in other words it is the point of view character speaking to himself or herself. Getting into the head of a character gives the reader a richer view of the character and of his story world, and gives the reader a chance to live vicariously through the character. With that said, internal dialogue should be used with caution.

A little bit of internal dialogue goes a long way.
As the writer, you may need to write a lot of internal dialogue to work out who your character is and what they’re experiencing, but the reader doesn’t need to read long rambling paragraphs of your character’s thoughts. They’ll find it wordy and get bored. So take out your red pencil and start deleting anything that isn’t critical to moving the story forward.

The strongest portrayal of character and story are through action and speech.
Readers want to see characters doing things and getting into conversations with other characters. Real soliloquies must be absolutely fascinating to hold your reader’s attention. In general, trust you reader to pick up on most of what is going on from what happens outside of the character’s head.

Use internal dialogue to build tension, not to kill it.
Too much internal dialogue gives away what the character is about to do, which steals the thunder from their actions. If a character is about to do something surprising or a pivotal moment is coming up, lose the preamble and let the character’s action take the reader’s breath away.

Now that we’ve discussed the ways internal dialogue can go wrong, let’s talk about what makes internal dialogue work.

Internal dialogue is the place to make a character’s voice shine.
A character’s voice can make the story and have the reader come back for a second read. Whether the voice is punchy, lyrical or mysterious, writing internal dialogue with a strong voice can seduce a reader into a story and keep them enchanted all the way through.

 Internal dialogue is a gold mine of reactions.
What are the non POV characters doing? How does this make your POV character feel? Rather than giving long expositions, intersperse bursts of how your character is responding to what is directly in front of her. See the following scene from Still Missing:

I wanted to get up and walk out the door, but the firmness in his voice had me nailed to my chair.
“So why couldn’t you leave?” “I was looking for something.” Bile rose in my throat.
My body grew even colder, and Gary’s edges blurred in front of my eyes.

Notice how Annie punctuates the dialogue with her reactions to the conversation and to Gary. This adds emotion, but the core of the scene is what is being said.

Internal dialogue lets the reader in on the sensory world of the story.
This is more than narration. It is the poetry of the story that brings the reader out of their world into the book. Even if you’re writing a fast paced suspense with little room for poetry, the character’s voice can bring alive their jangling nerves and the gritty murder scene by the firsthand sensory experience of the character.

Internal dialogue brings out the themes of the story.
As the character reflects on their story and the world around them, the reader delves deeper into the themes and nuances that make the story what it is. While best used sparingly, it’s likely that these reflections are what the reader will remember most about your novel.

See the internal dialogue from Hannah Coulter:

It is hard to say what it means to be at work and thinking of a person who you loved and love still who did that same work before you and who taught you to do it. It is a comfort ever and always, like hearing the rhyme come when you are singing a song.

Hannah's internal dialogue brings the experience alive of growing up in a community where each generation expected to follow in the past generation's footsteps. Notice it also carries a strong voice and includes sensory information. It is this voice and the themes it carried that I remember a few years after having read the book.

Ultimately, the test for internal dialogue is this: Does it add something essential to the story that can't be found in dialogue or action? Then your story needs it.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Writing Between the Lines: Sub-Text -- by Rachel

This is one of my favorite writing subjects. Sub-texting is about all the ways we speak without directly saying what we mean. It is what gives dialogue its zing. Because, let’s face it, dialogue that is straightforward and says exactly what it means is not only unnatural, it’s boring.

Sub-texting is the way a man and a woman court each other by looks, by hints, by posture, but never speaking their attraction out loud. It’s the way an argument takes place seething under the surface, implied, but never actually confronted head on. It’s the way someone lets you in on the fact they’ve got a secret without actually saying so. In short, it’s what makes both real life and fiction tantalizing.

Ways to Include Sub-Text in Fiction

Have a character speak without words.
About two-thirds of communication is non-verbal, so you can rarely communicate what is being said using only dialogue. However, just throwing in a shrug or a wince isn’t enough to make for interesting sub-text. What is the character unable to say? How do they use their physical selves to hint at it? Or, even better, perhaps they have something they’re desperately holding back. How can you use their own bodies and faces to betray them? Its’ important to remember that dialogue is a form of conflict, and sometimes this may even be internal conflict within a single character.

To make for compelling sub-text, find interesting ways of describing non-verbal communication. For example, in The Blue Sword, McKinley doesn't write that Corlath is angry and refuses to answer. Instead, she has Harry think about “a silence so rigid that speaking into it was like chopping holes in a frozen lake.”

Have a character intentionally misdirect the conversation or say something different than they mean.
Did I mention that dialogue is conflict? One way a character pulls off conflict is to avoid giving another character the answer they’re looking for, whether because of an inner or outer struggle. The reader will be left with the sense that the character has information they can’t share. For example, in Paradise Valley, Domingo in response to Miriam’s kiss looks at the horse “with something akin to love” and tells Miriam to thank her father for the gift of a saddle. Miriam is hurt. But the reader knows the look of love is for Miriam and that he can’t respond to her because it would offend her father.

Have a character answer a question that hasn’t been asked.
Good dialogue in real life involves a fair amount of mind reading. In other words, someone asks a question, but the respondent has to work out what kind of information the questioner is really seeking. This can make for snappy dialogue in fiction. A character may ask a question, but under the surface is the real question they’re too afraid to ask, don’t know how to ask or don’t even realize they want to ask. When the listener picks up the question that’s hanging in the air instead of answering the spoken question, it creates an element of surprise as the conversation zigzags around the reader’s expectations.

Have a character pick up on an answer that hasn’t been given.
The questioner can hint at the answer the respondent is unable to supply herself. In Still Missing, when the police question Annie as to why she stayed on at her abductor’s cabin for two days after she was free to go, Annie won’t give a straight answer. Finally the police inspector says, “We found a basket and some baby clothes, Annie.” In this way, he tells her that he already suspects the answer. Annie stayed on because she was looking for her missing baby. This keeps readers on the edge of their seats. They know about the baby, but waiting for the police to draw out the confession from Annie, first in hints and then in bits and pieces creates tension. 

Ultimately, you want to achieve two things with subtext. You want there to be an element of mystery, which you achieve by letting the reader know that some things are hidden just under the surface. And you want to create the kind of complexity that mimics real life. Giving the reader something to read between the lines is a way of doing this.  

Friday, October 14, 2016

Where Voice Diverges from the Writer -- by Rachel

Last week we talked about how voice flows out of an author’s own personality. However, there is a place where voice diverges from the writer.

A writing voice is more fluent than a spoken voice.
The writing clan has more than its fair share of introverts and social misfits. The beauty of writing is that you get to play with the text until it’s just right, so while you may stumble through spoken speech, your writing will flow. Even if you’re a great speaker, people will shoot odd looks your way if you wax too poetic or get too philosophical in spoken conversation. But in fiction, lyrical writing and depth always have their place.

Characters have a voice too.
Especially if you’re writing in first person, your character’s voice may come across in ways that aren’t reflective of your own voice. At least not directly. I’ve heard Suzanne Collins speak and can tell you she comes across as a placid woman, nothing like her Hunger Games protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. Now, undoubtedly Collins’ voice comes through in other ways in the story but in some important ways, the author’s voice and the narrator’s voice are not the same.

If you write in third person, the character’s voice may not come across with such force. Still, your voice will need to convey the essence of your character. So if you’re a confident person writing a self-doubter, your voice will need to convey that. Additionally, if you have a foreign character, they will use an occasional word or sentence structure in their narrative that is not characteristic of your own voice.

Experimenting will alter voice.
Yes, if you play with style, character or language, the voice of your work will invariably be changed. It won’t disappear, but telling a story with a broken chronology or an unreliable narrator, for example, is going to separate the writing from your natural personality and style.

Now don’t get me wrong. If you write more fluently than you speak, you do have that fluent person inside of you. If you’re writing poetically or exploring deep themes, you have that within you too. Every character and every bit of experimenting arises from what you know and who you are. But does your voice sound like you as you have dinner with your family or friends? Not likely. It has diverged from the public persona that your loved ones know best. But, then, maybe that is the truest self there is – the one hidden deep within, who only comes out on paper.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Finding Your Writing Voice: Maybe Its the One You Were Born With -- by Rachel

Think of it like this. When the hard rock band in Gilmore Girls is asked to play an Air Supply song, they’re horrified. Air Supply??? But then they decide if Jimmy Hendrix rocked out “The Star Spangled Banner” they can rock Air Supply.

Just as a song can be sung to different beats, a story can be told in dozens of ways. The way you tell your story based on your tastes and personality is voice.

The key is making a story your own. Who are you? What do you pay attention to? Are you leisurely as you study your surroundings or do you charge through life with purpose? Are you optimistic or cynical, lyrical or all business? What have you experienced firsthand? How do you carry on a conversation? This your nature and it should show up in your writing.

Maeve Binchy had a voice – chatty, like someone telling the juiciest gossip or giving you encouraging advice across the cafĂ© table. I have a strong suspicion this is how she was in real life. Wendell Berry has another kind of voice altogether. He is a poet as well as a novelist, so his writing is spare as he finds the marrow of character, setting and theme in the details. If you were to pick up any of your favorite authors’ books without seeing the cover, you could probably identify the writer by the character of their sentences.

Reviewers and agents often given certain novels high stars because of voice, so new writers try to write with voice, whether that means being flowery or punchy. Whatever they’ve decided voice means. But if you want to write with a compelling voice, don’t try to “have” a voice. Find your own.

The trick is knowing who you are and what is important to you. I think I became comfortable with my own voice after writing a blog about growing up with a sensory “disorder.” It was after that I began writing with more sensory language. Additionally, I’d tried my hand in several genres, but learned that I didn’t feel at home in any of them. As I began writing the kind of fiction that came naturally to me and exploring themes that were most important to me, I found my voice.

Writing with voice does mean putting yourself on to the page for all to see. It’s a little daunting being so authentic, especially if you’re a private person. But who you are is where the value of your story lies. Let your thoughts, your words, your vision, your self flow into the storytelling, and finding your voice will be unavoidable.

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