Welcome to the blog of author Tricia Goyer!

Friday, August 3, 2007

35 Things you need to know about writing...

Check out 1-6 here, and 7-9 here and 10-14 here
and 15 -19 here and 20-23 here

#24: Keep a Character's Dialogue and Actions in the Same Paragraph I haven't done a purely formatting tip since Tip #2 so I thought it was time, especially after all that marketplace talk.

Beginning novelists don't always understand that there are real rules when it comes to formatting dialogue in fiction. They also don't always realize that the reader has come to understand that certain formatting cues imply certain things to the reader. But these must be understood and mastered in order to be sure the reader is not confused.

I won't go much into formatting dialogue except to say that the punctuation should almost always go inside the quotation marks and that you often use a comma where normally you would use a period. Here's an example.

Wrong: "That's a wonderful sentence." he said.

Wrong: "That's a wonderful sentence", he said.

Right: "That's a wonderful sentence," he said.

Note that the period should've been a comma in the first example and the comma outside the quotation mark should've been inside it in the second.

This pattern holds true even if the spoken sentence continues.

"That's a wonderful sentence," he said, "but shouldn't you stop talking now?"


"That's a wonderful sentence," he said. "But shouldn't you stop talking now?"

Keeping Dialogue and Action Together

Tell me who is speaking here:

Jennifer moved to the window.

"You don't really mean that, do you?"

"Of course I do."

Larry belched.

"What does it mean?"

"It means we're no longer the 'it' couple."

He drained his beer.

Jennifer sobbed.

On the mantle the clock chimed eleven.

"I hate you."

Now, besides the obvious literary grandeur of that exchange, what did you notice that was odd about it?

Hopefully you noticed that it was very difficult to detect who was talking. What if I told you that it was Jennifer who said, "It means we're no longer the 'it' couple" and it was Larry who said "I hate you"? Is that what you got out of it? Well, maybe that's what the author meant.

The point is you don't know because you can't tell. The author separated the character's spoken words from his or her actions.

It doesn't sound like a big error, I know, but it's very confusing to the reader. I see it all the time in the unpublished manuscripts I work with. The good news is that it can be easily fixed.

Now read the scene again and see if you can follow along better.

Jennifer moved to the window. "You don't really mean that, do you?"

"Of course I do." Larry belched.

"What does it mean?"

"It means we're no longer the 'it' couple." He drained his beer.

Jennifer sobbed. On the mantle the clock chimed eleven. "I hate you."

Note that it could've been parsed differently, and thus interpreted differently, by attaching different spoken lines to different action beats."

The reader needs you to attach the action to the spoken words in order to maintain a fix on who is speaking. For the sake of clarity, keep a character's dialogue together in the same paragraph with that character's actions.

What you're doing is using the character's actions in three ways: 1) as a speech attribution (see Tip #14), 2) as a beat to manage pacing, and 3) as a tie-down to the setting. Plus you're keeping your reader oriented as to what's happening.

Simple little technique. Big payoff. Go thou and do likewise.
jeff gerke

#25: Have a clearly definable conflict in your story—not a negative one either. Not a passive one—resisting change. A negative goal makes it difficult to keep your characters together. Not—they don't want to be together because he reminds her of something bad. But— she must convince him to admit his paternity to his daughter before it's too late for the child to have the needed surgery.
linda ford

#26: In my book on writing for a living, QUIT YOUR DAY JOB, I say that writing is "a holy calling." I certainly do feel called to write. But the fact that God has called you doesn't mean you don't have to suffer painful indignities and work like a dog before your calling is fulfilled.

Joseph in Genesis had a calling from God. He was called to save his family from famine, but God took him through all kinds of injustice, suffering, betrayal, slavery, and wrongful imprisonment before his calling was fulfilled. He spent seventeen years in slavery and prison—the PRIME years of his twenties and early thirties—before God elevated him and brought him into his calling.

Everything worth doing demands perseverance. If writing was easy, everybody would do it. It's hard and it takes a lot of persistence, and that's why those who can legitimately call themselves writers are few. Every writer goes through rejection. Sorry, no exceptions. It's the nature of the business. I've been writing fulltime since 1989, and I still receive an average of one or two rejections a month. It's not something you whine and moan about. It's just part of the business. Ray Bradbury talked of getting rejection letters forty years into his career.
Dr. Seuss's first book was rejected 23 times before it was picked up—then it sold 6 million copies. Madeleine L'Engle's A WRINKLE IN TIME: more than 30 rejections.
Richard Hooker's M*A*S*H: 21 rejections.
Richard Bach's JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL: 18 rejections.
Frank Herbert's DUNE: 13 rejections.
Mystery writer Donald Westlake actually papered the wall of his apartment with rejection slips; he had collected 204 rejection slips by the time he sold his first story.
jim denney

1 comment:

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