A clean slate for the new year.

I did it! I managed to finish the revisions of Breaking Bread before the end of the year. I’ve passed it off to a few readers for last minute feedback on the change in the story. I’m sending to my editor today with his promise to have it back to me by the end of February. In the meantime, I will work on the book cover and writing the dreaded blurb. Watch for publication in early March!

Today, I opened the file for “Here Lies a Soldier” and began rereading the story so far. I’ve dusted off my notebook for the novel and begun jotting down ideas for some changes and for what happens next. I can feel the neurons beginning to fire and I’m looking forward to picking up the threads of this story set between modern day and the time of The Great War. Watch for interesting bits of research I find as I read to write.

I also received some very exciting news at the end of the year, but I will save that for tomorrow as it deserves a post of its own!

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The plot thickens…

“…coincidences to get your characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it is cheating.” – Emma Coates; Pixar story artist.

I read that advice some years ago and never forgot it. Whether you write by the seat of your pants (pantser) or you meticulously plot out your story (plotter), you eventually will come to a point where you write yourself into a corner or your plot hits a wall. You have a couple options: scrap it and start over from the point you got yourself into that mess, or write yourself out of it. If you choose the latter, the challenge is writing a solution without taking the shortcut of using coincidence to bail yourself out.  Not only does it ask too much of the reader, it just begs them to roll their eyes and put down the book with a heavy sigh and an ‘oh brother’. image

One helpful way to avoid figuratively standing on tiptoe in your painted-in corner is to use a timeline spread sheet or plot diary, if you will. What I mean is, make notes for yourself along the way that keep track of the plot points that build your story. Most of the time you will catch the issues with the story before they become major rewrites or too complicated to resolve without resorting to the implausible.

Why it’s important:

  • Avoid writing things ‘out of time‘: If Johnny doesn’t say (X) until chapter 4, Susie isn’t going to know about it in chapter 2.
  • If you are dropping clues or innuendos, having a spreadsheet will help you distribute them throughout the story at critical places.
  • It helps you set a good pace for the action. You don’t want all the intrigue or action bunched together with big stretches in between when nothing happens. The plot should progress like a sine wave, with a build to the action and a rest before the next bit. Or like stairs, where the intrigue builds until the climax.
  • It will keep you from ‘speeding’ through time. In other words, certain events need a minimum length of time to unfold in order to be realistic. Days, weeks, months may need to pass to bring a romance to fruition. The same is true with a criminal investigation or a legal case.

Whatever method you use to record your plot, include the dates, the chapter and page number and space for detailed notes on what was happening. So even if you don’t meticulously plot out your story ahead of time, plotting along the way will help you avoid wasting time later with lengthy revisions and corrections.

I wish you happy writing and productive editing!

Header image via imglip, David Tenant image via Pixabay.

More about dialogue

After reposting my discussion about dialogue, I thought of a few more things to take into consideration when creating conversations between and among our characters.

  • Their age – older people will use different terms and expressions from younger people. The references they choose will be age appropriate as well. People in their 20’s and 30’s aren’t going to quote The Andy Griffith Show, for instance. They probably don’t even know who that is. Older folks may speak a little more formally, they may not curse or use slang as often. In Three Empty Frames, one of my characters is an elderly gentleman. He says things like “Heavens to Betsy” and “Why, I never!” which is perfectly acceptable for someone in his 80’s. However, if his daughter, in her late 20’s, spoke that way, it would sound ridiculous.
  • Regional expressions – I touched on this briefly in yesterday’s post. There are local expressions and terminologies that won’t travel to all parts of the country. I’ll give you a regional Philly example. “Jawn” is a term only used in this part of the country that refers to a person, place, event or thing. And while it pretty much defies definition, maybe it’ll make more sense if I use it in a sentence. “I really want the new iPhone but that jawn is too expensive.” “Went to see Roger Waters in concert last month. That jawn was awesome.” No one in Indiana or Florida or Utah is going to say “jawn”.
  • Cliches – I despise cliches. However, people do use them in their everyday speech. This is really up to the writer, but overusing cliches even in writing dialogue gets really boring. Keep them to a minimum.
  • Use of names – what I mean is having the speaker constantly say the name of the person to whom he is speaking. Like this:

“Joni, are you ok?”
“Yes, Graham, I’m fine.”
“Thank god, Joni. I was worried.”
“Graham, you are too sweet.”

We know who is talking to whom after the first two lines, the names don’t need to be constantly repeated. We don’t speak like that to each other in the real world, don’t do it in your fictional world, either.

  • Speech descriptors – while I don’t completely buy into Elmore Leonard’s rule of only using ‘said’ and ‘asked’ to describe speech, I do think it’s usually the best choice. I had read this rule after writing the first draft of my first Bucks County Novel. When I went back and read aloud all the ways I had described what people were saying, I cringed. Shouted, blustered, snapped, laughed, spat, hissed, giggled, sighed, moaned, grumbled, mumbled, murmured, whispered, muttered, shrieked… well, you get the idea. I changed 80% of that back to ‘said’ and ‘asked’. And to be accurate, people don’t ‘laugh’ or ‘sigh’ their words, they ‘say’ them with a sigh. Like this:

Wrong: “What am I going to do with you, Kerry?” she sighed.
Right: “What am I going to do with you, Kerry?” she asked, sighing. (or with a sigh.)

Our fictional conversations have to be natural. It will impact the believability and relate-ability of our characters. Readers need to be invested in those characters to want to keep reading their stories. And we want those stories to be read!

Happy writing and productive editing!