Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

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For me, one on the most enjoyable aspects of writing is dialogue.  However, this is not true for all writers. Many struggle with conversations between their characters resulting in too much narrative. Not that narrative isn’t good (as well as necessary) but too much of one thing is seldom productive.

There are several reasons why dialogue is so important in writing:  it breaks up the narrative, helps with characterization, gives the reader insight into the character, and makes the story real and believable.

The human eye needs white space when reading. All narrative is not only boring but tedious to read as well.  Injecting dialogue into the story breaks up the never ending line of sentences and gives the eye a much needed break.  It also keeps the reader engaged and interested in the story.  It keeps them turning the pages.

Dialogue can be used to describe a character, their looks, their background and/or their past without being an info dump.  For example, in my book, The Adventures of Dixie Dandelion, my character, Big Mike talks about Dixie this way: “I expected a wee snip of a shy girl. You neglected to tell me she’d be a stick of dynamite with a fuse of wild, scarlet hair.”  In two sentences the reader discovers that Dixie is far from being shy, she’s spontaneous and explosive, and has red hair.

How characters talk is also a great way to describe their background. For example, In Soldiers in the Mist, my character Charlie is well educated while his friend, Specks never learned to read or write.  Charlie would say:  “I have none,” while Specks would say, “I ain’t got none.”

Using certain words and phrases in dialogue is yet another way to describe your character.  Big Mike is Irish. Using phrases such as, “Top of the morning to ye, or Tis a big shillelagh ye have there,” tells his nationality and adds flavor to the story.

Dialogue is nothing more than two or more people talking.  If I ever get stuck in not knowing what to say, I act out the scene and just say what comes to mind. Sometimes I have a friend help me with this.

People talk. So do your characters.  Sometimes their conversations can surprise you and can turn the story in a whole different direction. Be brave. Write their words.

Give your readers something to talk about!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sense of Place

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Description begins in the writer’s imagination but should finish in the readers.  Stephen King

Sense of place…connection…that is the goal in both fiction and nonfiction. Skillful writers placing their readers in the bodies and minds of their characters, giving just enough tantalizing description to prompt the reader to engage his or her memory and finish the picture. The challenge, however, is to spark readers’ imaginations in new ways and avoid the heavy telling line of adjectives. So how do we do this? Below are four suggestions that have worked for me.

Refresh your senses. Take the job of describing away from your eyes. Go somewhere you can be alone. I like to refresh in the outdoors, but you can do this anywhere. Close your eyes and be silent. Listen, breathe, feel, taste, think. Don’t hurry this. Just relax and let the words come. It takes time but is so worth it. I do this often, because there are so many voices clamoring for my mind that my sharpness wears down to dullness. The following is an example of one of my refreshment exercises as I sat on my deck:

 The breeze offers hope of refreshment from the sun’s determined holdover of summer. Its whispering changes into bellows, lifting cobweb strands of my hair, tickling my cheeks. In the distance a bird chants a one-note dirge and a jay screams its complaint. The crow sings off key and the hawk calls out a warning. Clearly this warrior of the sky is not pleased with the dysfunctional melody.

Isn’t that better than writing the cool breeze blew through my hair while the birds sang a cacophony of songs?  I think so. You can do this anywhere you are. If you are in a coffee shop, shield your closed eyes with your hands and pretend to read a magazine. The more you do this, the more you will notice the nuances around you, sparking your imagination.

Use one sense to describe another. This is a challenging exercise, but fun too. Earlier I mentioned a blue-jay’s scream. Think…what would that bird’s call look like? To me? Shards of glass. I might write: The jagged shards of the jay’s call pierced my ears. Ask yourself what chocolate feels like or what success tastes like.  Again, have fun with this.

Use light to set the mood. Harsh light gives the feel of impatience, anger, resistance. A thin stream of light through the curtains might reveal vulnerability. The sliver of dawn separating earth from sky may indicate hope. Shadows give the feeling of doubt and insecurity. Firelight in a dark room is romantic and cozy as does the twinkling Christmas Tree lights. But deep darkness, heavy on one’s soul, indicates sorrow, hopelessness or depression. So don’t forget about the light!

Reveal things about the character. Finally, think about the setting around the character such as a room, furniture, even the clothes he or she chooses to wear. Describing these will reveal a lot about the character without you having to say anything about him or her. For instance, if the character has an overflowing ash tray on the coffee table, magazines scattered all over the floor, wine glasses with gnats in them, lumpy couch cushions with a myriad of un-matching pillows. The air had a yin-yang odor of stale cigarette smoke and incense. What would that say about the person who lived there? What if the coffee table was spotless and glossy with nothing on it. Magazines are alphabetized in holders, sitting on a perfectly organized book shelf. The couch is black leather, as rectangular and hard as the coffee table. No pillows. The prevalent smell about the room comes from a lemon-eucalyptus candle. What would that tell you about the person living there?  What would a grandmother’s cottage tell about her? Smell of baking? Comfy afghans? What if grandma wore a mini-skirt, a plunging neckline, and heavy green eyeshadow? By describing these things the reader would already know a lot about the character without writing a word about their person.

So you see, description is a lot more than a string of adjectives. By giving tantalizing bits of description in creative ways, your reader will connect with your prose, and as the master, Stephen King says, they will finish what you start!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interviewing Your Characters

How are your story ideas born? For me, it all begins with a character. Maybe it’s someone I see at a mall, or at the airport. Perhaps it’s someone in a car next to me at a traffic light. The list goes on and on.

Next comes “I wonder.”

I wonder why he is smiling? Why is she crying? What makes him clutch so tightly to that steering wheel? Where is he going? Who is going to meet her at the airport?

With such curiosity in the beginning, your character’s story might flow like ice melt in the spring. But lines or pages into your story, “winter” often comes too soon as your ideas once again begin to freeze.

What then?

I’ve shared many of the techniques I’ve used to “thaw the frozen stream” in my book, Creative Characterization. But my favorite method is “Interviewing Your Character.”

Characterization is only one element of fiction. But, in my favorite stories, other elements—plot, setting, and conflict—are seen, felt, touched, heard, even tasted through the characters. Therefore, an author must know her characters as well, if not better than, the “real” people in her life.

So, how do you get to know your characters–make them tell their secrets? I’ve used two different techniques:

Interviewing on Paper

  1. Write down several questions you’d like to ask your character. (Suggestion: Use the list below to start a conversation with your character, rather than a Q&A session.)
  2. Close your eyes and imagine sitting with the character. Imagine the setting—the sights, sounds, smells.
  3. Write down the conversation as it happens in your mind.
  4. As your character talks to you, pay attention to his “voice” not only in dialogue, but also internalization. Write in that voice.
  5. This is not a time to edit or censor, but to gain knowledge. Don’t lift your pen from the page or your fingers from the keyboard.

Interviewing “In Person”

  1. Find a friend, relative or fellow writer to interview you as you portray your character.
  2. “Become” your character. Assume her personality, including her voice. If she’s a child, speak as a child. If she’s from the South, speak like a Southerner.
  3. Your interviewer can start with a few questions listed below, or ask something he’d like to know, especially if he’s familiar with your story or character.
  4. As best you can, remain in the persona of your character. Try dressing as your character!

The deeper you get into the role of your character, the more you’ll discover about your character and how he or she sees the story.

Here are a couple of questions to get you started. Try to start a conversation, rather than firing off questions like in a Q&A session. As in real life, you’ll learn more in a conversation.

  • Tell me about something or someone who made you angry or happy.
  • Who was your greatest teacher?
  • Tell me about a time someone teased you as a child.
  • If you had one day left on earth, who would you want to spend it with?
  • Tell me a secret, either about yourself or someone else.
  • Who would you like to thank and for what?
  • If you could be a fly on the wall, where would that wall be?
  • Who do you need to forgive?

Though I have many other questions in my book Creative Characterizationtry to come up with your own questions, too. I created my list of questions by thinking of things I’d like to ask friends, family and even strangers to get to know their secrets. (I rarely have the courage to ask some of these questions of people in “real life,” but you can ask your characters ANYTHING, right?

I’ve used interviewing many times with my stories or novels, but my favorite instance–the time I learned the most–was when I interviewed Nobu, a character from my historical fiction, The Red Kimono. If you’d like to read the interview, click HERE.

You’ll learn many new, exciting and perhaps, surprising things about your character (and story) through this “conversation.” However, you probably won’t (nor should you) use everything. Still, the more of your characters’ secrets you learn, the better you’ll know how he sees the world. This knowledge will lead to deeper and richer characters and stories and therefore, will keep your readers turning the pages.

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NOTE:  I’ll be teaching the interview method and other characterization development techniques with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen at this year’s Ozark Creative Writers Conference October 11-14. Come enjoy the Ozarks in autumn—the perfect setting to share and learn with other writers.

Rules Are More Like Guidelines

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All of our lives we are told, “No. You can’t do this. You have to do that. That’s not allowed. You must follow the rules.”

When I first started writing, I joined a critique group.  Their input was priceless and it lead to publication. Since then I have written and published five books. I’ve learned  my craft through trial and error, following advise from more experienced writers, and learning the rules.

Writing has a Holy Trinity of its own:  Point of View, Internalization, and Sense of Place. Every writer is told to include these three points in each scene.  As a beginning writer I got so caught up in making sure I had these attitudes in every chapter, I forgot to write.

Of course I realize there are basic guidelines that help  beginners become more professional and organized. By learning colors and textures, an artist creates more breathtaking drawings.  By taking lessons and learning the mechanics of certain strokes,  a swimmer can slice through the water in record time. All professions and professionals learn the rules and dedicate hours and hours of practice following said rules.

Ok, I get it.  By learning and following the Holy Trinity of Writing, a story goes from flat to 3-D.

But:

I can’t help but wonder, who made up these rules?  Did Shakespeare,  Dickens, Hemingway, and Faulkner sit around one night and decide: hook the reader with the first sentence, a writer must have an agent,  writers can have only 10 minutes to pitch their books, etc, etc, etc..   Of course not.  In fact, Dickens self-published!

Remember the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean? In this movie the Pirates Code played an important part.  But I loved Barbossa’s explanation when he said, “And thirdly, the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.

My point is this:  There is no right or wrong way to write!

True, there are more productive ways.  However:

Creativity is a free spirit. She loves to run. She doesn’t want or need any stinkin’ rules!

So, am I telling beginning writers not follow the rules?

NO!

By all means, learn all the rules. Become efficient in using them. Hone your craft. Know the rules inside and out. Get published.  Then . . .

Break them!

The Quest for the Illusive “They”

Truths by Ruth

My twin brother, Jim has a great sense of humor. He can be extremely quick with a comeback and is very witty at times. He’s had me rolling on the floor with laughter more than once. A particularly memorable time in Branson comes to mind when I laughed so hard at one of his off-handed comments, I about peed my pants. Sometimes, it isn’t what he says but more the way he says it that sends me into a fit of guffaws. Through the years, Jim has sent emails that made me laugh out loud and marvel at his insight and wit. At one time I was printing these little gems out and saving them but, alas, two moves later I’ve lost them.

Recently, Jim had a bout with pneumonia. He’s recovering now but still has health issues that make me cringe. We were emailing back and forth last Friday…

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Karma and The Golden Rule

Truths by Ruth

Daddy was a Christian Scientist, therefore my brother and I were raised in this religion. Mama was a Methodist. How did this work? Well, if my brother and I became sick, Daddy prayed over us while Mama poked pills down our throat. The best of two worlds to my way of thinking.

Now before I go any further, I need to add this disclaimer: even though I was raised in Christian Science, what I actually know about the religion is very little. As a child the phrase, “oh you don’t believe in doctors” was the standard response when asked what faith I was. This is not true. Christian Scientists know doctors serve a very important cause, they just choose to seek healing by prayer instead of medicine. Also, please know, I am in no way, shape, or form bashing the Christian Science religion. I have received numerous healings from Daddy’s…

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Body and Soul

Truths by Ruth

In my youth I was a lean, mean fighting machine.

I was a sport’s nut. Softball. Basketball. Track. Even football. In fact, a High School football coach once told Mama if I were a boy, I’d be a star running back. (Alas, at that time, girls were only cheerleaders or majorettes. Too boring for me.) I was in the best shape of my life when I was a Girl Scout camp counselor. All that climbing hills, walking, swimming, and canoeing plus the sun’s rays sculptured me into a tanned, buff goddess. Ionic, at that time in my life, I was not aware of my lean, hard shape. I could less. I took my great health and frame for granted.

Today, however, my slim, muscled physique is kinda . . . well, squishy. I look in the mirror, and hate what I see. I tell myself, “Ruth, you’re so fat. Look…

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The Power of Music

Truths by Ruth

William Congreve said, “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast (sometimes beast), to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”

Sometimes I wax philosophical, usually after a couple of drinks. There are times, however, I get deep without the aid of good bourbon and in the most unlikely places. For example, Monday morning driving to work.

I’m not a morning person. Never have been. Never will be. If I could work 10-5 and get paid for 8 hours, I would be in seventh heaven. Alas, my employer isn’t as enlightened, so I am on the road at 7:30 more grumpy than any cat could ever imagine. Road rage runs amok. My brow tightens into a frown so intense it hurts. I swear at the radio. I bitch and complain out loud to no one. I am not a happy camper nor do I wish to pretend that I am…

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Meet Author Meg Dendler

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Meg Dendler has considered herself a writer since she won a picture book contest in fifth grade and entertained her classmates with ongoing sequels for the rest of the year. Beginning serious work as a freelancer in the ’90s while teaching elementary and middle school, Meg has over one hundred articles in print, including interviews with Kirk Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. She has won contests with her short stories and poetry, along with multiple international awards for her best-selling Cats in the Mirror alien rescue cat children’s book series.

At the Corner of Magnetic and Main is her first adult novel, but it won’t be her last. Meg and her family (including four cats and her dog, Max) live at 1,400 feet in the Ozark Mountains on what they call Serenity Mountain, just outside of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

AT THE CORNER OF MAGNETIC AND MAIN

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SYNOPSIS: It’s hard to get on with your life when you’re already dead. Penny had been stuck in the same diner for decades—ever since she died in 1952. Her diner was comfortable and safe. Serving ice cream to those who dropped in on their way to the next level of existence, she helped to ease their transition into The Light, the one place she can’t go. Her afterlife was perfect.

But when the ridiculously handsome, bad-boy biker Jake Thatcher shows up and becomes stuck as well, Penny rediscovers feelings that she thought had been buried with her body.

Life is still life, and love is still love. But was her existence really perfect, or was it something else entirely?

The SISTERHOOD is excited for fellow writer, Meg Welch Dendler, on the debute of her new novel. And as you can see, she has a pretty darned good premise. So what kind of writer comes up with such ideas? We thought you’d like to know, so we asked a few questions!

Meg, what was your inspiration for this book?

It started with the actual diner that sits at the corner of Magnetic and Main. We had lunch there, and it was just so kitschy and delightful. Then a friend mentioned that “at the corner of Magnetic and Main” sounded like a good book title, so I started pondering what that book would be about. After that, I was off and running. 

Hook us with your first line!
“Life never ceases to be life, just as love never ceases to be love, and love is eternally at the heart of what every immortal soul years for.”
What actors would you choose to play the leading roles in your book?
There has been a lot of controversy at my house about this because my husband sees Penny very differently from how I see her. I hate to put faces with my characters for that very reason. I’d rather let the reader develop his/her own way of seeing her. But I will admit that a young Ian Somerhalder was definitely what I had in mind when I wrote Jake. When I do a Facebook party in December, one of the games will be to cast the movie version, so I’m really curious to see how others would cast it. 
What message did you want the reader to come away with, if any?
From the opening line, it is obvious the book is about love. It’s also about learning how to get unstuck. The characters, as ghosts, are stuck here in a semi-earthly life, but it is just as easy to get stuck and dormant and lost in normal life. I’ve been there many times. Penny’s challenge is to take her life into her own hands and find a way to keep seeking a joyful life full of love. I truly believe that life continues past what we can see, and I can only imagine that we keep wanting the same things. Like love. Everyone wants to be loved.
Tell us something quirky about yourself.
I also write children’s books about animals, so I’m forever coming up with names and stories for the creatures we see around our property. One time we spotted a massive black snake, probably seven feet long, heading up the steps of our outdoor pavilion. Instead of freaking out, I just decided that we would call him Dwight. It’s easier to calmly imagine a huge snake somewhere in our yard if his name is Dwight. Much less threatening.

 

Hurry and purchase your copy of:

At the Corner of Magnetic and Main by Meg Dendler

Trade paper: 180 pp | ISBN 978-1-942428-50-3  | Price: $13.97       eBook:   ISBN 978-1-942428-51-0  | $4.97

Availability: via Ingram, Amazon.com, BN.com, Pen-L.com and local booksellers

MORE INFORMATION, please visit:

www.Pen-L.com/MagneticAndMain.html

 

Links for Meg Welch Dendler:

Web site:

http://megdendler.com

 

Blog:

http://megdendler.blogspot.com

Newsletter Sign Up:

http://megdendler.com/readers-group-sign/

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/MegDendlerAuthor

https://www.facebook.com/KimbaBabyCat (Kimba fan page)

https://www.facebook.com/MagneticandMain (book page)

Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6951290.Meg_Welch_Dendler

Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/Meg-Dendler/e/B00BBNY5O2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1441924340&sr=8-1

LinkedIn:

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/meg-dendler/64/625/315

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/MegWelchDendler

https://twitter.com/KimbaBaby

Books:

“At the Corner of Magnetic and Main”

http://www.amazon.com/Corner-Magnetic-Main-Welch-Dendler-ebook/dp/B015YWEZFO/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

“Why Kimba Saved The World”

http://www.amazon.com/Kimba-Saved-World-Cats-Mirror-ebook/dp/B00BB2S7AG/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1395166391&sr=1-1&keywords=why+kimba+saved+the+world

 

“Vacation Hiro”

http://www.amazon.com/Vacation-Hiro-Cats-Mirror-Dender-ebook/dp/B00FGX6C5S/ref=pd_sim_sbs_kstore_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=1Y4HFPYB7C0M97MHGW8E

 

“Miss Fatty Cat’s Revenge”

http://www.amazon.com/Miss-Fatty-Cats-Revenge-Mirror-ebook/dp/B00KZ1YF5K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1403035560&sr=8-1&keywords=Miss+Fatty+Cat%27s+Revenge

 

“Max’s Wild Night”

http://www.amazon.com/Maxs-Wild-Night-Meg-Dendler-ebook/dp/B00W8FOKS8/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1444755913&sr=8-1

 

Autographed Book Copies:

http://megdendler.com/purchase-autographed-books/