Reading Like A Writer


I spoke a couple of weeks ago about a method I use to take the sting out of query letter rejection (here). Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to read a few books. While I await the release of Shadow’s Claim by Kresley Cole and Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter, I’ve selected a few free ereads.

Photo by Jessie Harrell

For a while now, I’ve been reading like a writer. Sometimes it takes the joy out of a book, other times it adds a whole new level of appreciation. This month, I read one book in each category. Overall, I enjoyed both of them. However, one author has me willing to pay money for the next book, the other not so much.

Here’s what did/didn’t work for me:

The Book I’ll Pass On

  • I have to admit, I loved the premise of this story. It was well into the genres I like. The author had a strong grasp on the paranormal creatures in the story and did a wonderful job of staying consistent with the supernatural powers in the world created.
  • There was tension and conflict in the story, but some of it felt orchestrated and much was resolved through hap and circumstance.
  • This one was a YA book and the author nailed the age and attitude, but it was a little over board.
  • The author used regional slang and clichĂ©s to the detriment of dialogue.
  • Plus, and I might be guilty on this one, the author had multiple scenes of every day things with no underlying tension. For example, the MC was getting ready for a date and that was it. No underlying emotional or mental tension.

The Book That Hooked Me

  • LOVED the heroine and the hero.
  • The voice hooked me right away. The MC is funny and relatable and freely admits her faults without out sound too self-deprecating.
  • The world building is wonderful and information about the setting is doled out in small digestible doses.
  • The supporting cast a.k.a. minor characters are intriguing in their own way.
  • I cared about what happened to the MC if she failed to reach her goal.

Have you ever picked up a free book which hooked you so well you purchased more from the author (if it’s paranormal romance, I want titles and names, please and thank you 🙂 )? What drew you in? Have you picked up one that turned you off, and if so say why (out of respect, please KEEP TITLES and NAMES ANONYMOUS)?

[Update: Look what I found. Free Kindle books here.]

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Character Emotion


Developed by Gloria Willcox

We are taught early on to hide our emotions. If a sibling or friend says something mean to us, our caretaker says to ignore it. Boys are taught not to cry and girls are told they’re overreacting. Adults learn to show only socially acceptable, surface emotions.

When creating character emotions, writers should dig below surface feelings. When I first came across this Feeling Wheel, I was so joyful (excited/fascinated) by the possibilities. Knowing the deeper, raw emotions can  create more complex character emotions and influences dialogue, as well. Emotions have a direct impact on how characters communicate, the words they use to convey or hide their true feelings, and the sound or tone of those words.

Here’s a scenario: Lexi and Tyler are preparing to go parasailing, something Tyler’s never attempted. Surface feelings: Lexi feels powerful. Tyler feels scared.

How would raw feelings affect dialogue for Lexi? If her powerful emotion stems from feeling important/discerning, she’s liable to speak like a leader using statements rather than questions. If they stem from feeling appreciated/valuable, she’ll probably ask questions and try to boost Tyler’s confidence.

How would raw feelings affect dialogue for Tyler? If his scared emotion stems for being anxious/overwhelmed, he’s liable to speak in clipped sentences. If they stem from insecure/embarrassed, he’ll probably turn into a comedian to cover his discomfort (note: this is my character’s specific reaction to this emotion. Your characters might respond differently).

How do your characters respond differently to deeper, raw emotions? What kinds of things do they do to cover them up?

Chat With Me: Hearing Voices? Week 2


Different Strokes: Dialogue

This is week two of my Blog Chat, “Different Strokes.” It highlights how differently writers work through issues, which techniques work for them and which ones don’t, as well as how they hone their craft. Each month will have one topic and four guest bloggers (one per week).

I’m happy to introduce my next guest blogger, Gina Klein. She is a monthly contributor to KC Parent magazine. Gina is an author of children’s fiction, young adult fiction, and adult nonfiction.

What type of fiction do you write?
I write both children’s picture books and chapter books, and I also have a young-adult novel in the works.
 
How do you stay true to each character’s voice?
I get to know my characters from the start. I envision a person I know or have met in my life that has traits similar to my character, and I build on that.
 
Give an example of a technique you’ve used to distinguish characters in dialogue.
To distinguish my characters in dialogue, I might have one character with a tic that shows up when he/she speaks (i.e. a nod of the head, a twitch of an eye, etc.); or I might have one of the characters speak with an accent or drawl of some sort. Since I write for children, I find it easy to distinguish one character from another because of their little tics and their word choices.
 
What do you do when characters stop talking?
When they’re not off doing something after a conversation, I like to make my characters thinking about something. I enjoy showing what goes on in their little minds. 🙂
 
What things do you try to avoid in writing dialogue?
I really try to avoid the he said/she said thing. I like to find a variety of ways to show who’s talking (as mentioned above) rather than having to say who said what after each dialogue sentence. I know it’s something you have to do, but I like trying to avoid too many of the he said/she said endings. So, instead of saying:
 
“I want some bread, Mama,” Allison said.
“In just a moment,” Mama said.
 
     I might write it like this:
 
Allison held her grumbling stomach and frowned. “I want some bread, Mama.”
Mama smiled and reached inside the hot oven for the fresh cinnamon bread. “In just a moment, dear.”
 
Do you have a favorite quote about writing dialogue?
“Characters take on life sometimes by luck, but I suspect it is when you can write more entirely out of yourself, inside the skin, heart, mind, and soul of a person who is not yourself, that a character becomes in his own right another human being on the page.”  — Eudora Welty
 
Is there a particular author(s) whose character dialogue you admire?
One that stands out to me at the moment (and is not a children’s author) is the author of Girls in Trucks … Katie Crouch. I got hooked reading that book because of her great dialogue and characterization. It really brought me into the minds of the characters and the story. 
 
How can people learn more about you and your writing?
If you’d like to learn more about me, you may visit my web site: www.ginaklein.com. On my site, you’ll also find a link to my blog! Hope to see you there!

Do you pull characteristics from people you know to build characters? Do your characters have tics? Do you give your characters discussion topics outside of the context of the story?

That’s Not What I Meant, And You Know It


Dialogue is a useful tool in writing. It can move a story forward, reveal information about character motivation, plot, or backstory, or create conflict. Conflict stems from the way characters communicate, how one characters talks, what the other hears, and the emotions it invokes. For example, 

Nevan Said…

Rena Heard…

Your mother invited us to dinner, but I want some quiet time this weekend.  I don’t like you’re mother.

 

Nevan Said…

Rena Heard…

Your mother invited us to dinner and I want some quiet time this weekend. Let’s eat with your mother. Then, I’ll need time alone.

 

The method of communication you chose depends on what you’re trying to convey through dialogue. The first example will most likely lead to an argument and expose character motivation. The second, might lead to an in-depth conversation and reveal backstory.

 What techniques do you use to escalate tension through dialogue?

Chat With Me: Hearing Voices?


Different Strokes: Dialogue

I’m starting a Blog Chat called “Different Strokes.” It highlights how differently writers work through issues, which techniques work for them and which ones don’t, as well as how they hone their craft. Each month will have one topic and four guest bloggers (one per week).

I’m so excited to kick off this chat with my first guest blogger, Dawn Allen. Dawn earned her MFA from UNO. She has published several short stories/articles and is an awesome critique partner.

What type of fiction do you write? 
 YA/Adult
 My YA tend to be in the Sci/Fi, horror, or Fantasy/Paranormal. My adult novels are mystery/suspense.
 
How do you stay true to each character’s voice? 
I make sure my characters are well-developed. If you know your characters well, it will be impossible to stray from who they are. And I have a backup crew who knows my characters as well as I do. My girls will catch it if I miss anything with my characters.
 
Give an example of a technique you’ve used to distinguish characters.
I like quirky characteristics. One of my characters has a cat tattoo from her ankle to the back of her knee. Another is Native Samoan and barters for everything; he never uses cash and doesn’t pay taxes. 
 
What do you do when characters stop talking?
I’ve been known to write first person pieces where they write about how much they hate their creator (me). When they get that out of their system, they start talking again. And I’ll admit it’s a bit of fun even if it is masochistic.
 
What things do you try to avoid in writing dialogue?
For me I have to forget that I’m an English teacher. Dialogue is going to sound stilted if it’s grammatically perfect so my inner grammarian has to shut up. I watch for times when my author voice shows up – I love words and I can’t let my love of big words come out in my YA for instance. Unless there’s a good reason for the student to speak in that way. 
 
Do you have a favorite quote about writing dialogue?
I don’t have a favorite one about dialogue. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever come across one on dialogue. But my favorite writing quote is from Chekhov: 
             
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”  ~Anton Chekhov

Is there a particular author(s) whose character dialogue you admire?
Hands down, Harlan Coben. He rocks with authenticity in his dialogue. Also, he reveals characterization in his dialogue really effectively.

How can people learn more about you and your writing?
I’m on Facebook, Twitter [miserwriter], and my own blog ‘[dawnall.wordpress.com].

Do you give your characters quirky characteristics? What kind? Do you tend to write in first POV or third POV? Have a favorite quote about dialogue?