Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Trick to Writing Good Dialogue

The trick to writing good dialogue is voice.  What would he or she say?  The answer is entirely in language.  The choice of language reveals the nature of the characters, their ages, their backgrounds their education, their relationship and how they handle conflict.

Avoid long dialogues but keep the sense of exchange.  The following is the best example of economy of dialogue that I have read:

"You asshole," she snarled.
"You're the asshole," I said.
"I hate you."
"Ditto," I said.  "Ditto and square it."

                            --T. Coraghessan Boyle, "The Night of the Satellite"
                               The New Yorker, April 15, 2013, p.62

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fiction is Truth Inside a Lie

Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.
                                                                    --Stephen King

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Importance of Story

The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them.  If stories come to you, care for them and learn to give them away where they are needed.  Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.  That is why we put these stories in each other's memories.

                                                                            --Barry Lopez

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Breaking Through a Character

Sometimes people are constitutionally unable to travel their inner world.  They cannot exhibit enough conflict and contradiction that we recognize them as belonging to our complex human race.  That is, they do not seem capable of change.  They lack traits and desires that are at war with the world and other people.  In other words, bland as oatmeal, without the raisins.

In fiction, however, such a character can be a great set up.  Was he always bland and boring?  Why?  What can be done to make him feel?   Perhaps as a writer, you can grant him the opportunity to enter conflict and thus discover his own desires and contradictions.  Most of us are gentle, violent, tough, fearful, lusty, prudish, sloppy and meticulous--all at the same time.

Oh what fun to pierce the world of a protagonist and make him squirm.  Get to his core.  Thus, the plot starts.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Motivation: What drives us in fiction and in life

Motivation is the heart and soul of any character's action or inaction.  Without motivation, a character has no need to move, to act or react--coerce, ridicule, praise, lie--and so if our characters lack strong motivations, chances are we won't have much of a story.  No one will want to do anything; their need won't be strong enough to get them up off the couch and out the door.  There will be no impetus for the story to be told.  
Characters want, they yearn, often desperately so, and this motivation rises in direct conflict with an opposing desire.  Ultimately there is a climax.
This is the classic architecture of a story:  conflict, climax and resolution.  Character one has a motivation, character two has an opposing motivation, there is rising conflict-- followed by a climax and resolution.  
                                                                Paraphrased from On Writing Short Stories
                                                                Edited by Tom Bailey

Monday, August 19, 2013


It is akin to style, what I'm talking about, but it isn't style alone.  It is the writer's particular and unmistakable signature of everything he writes.  It is his world and no other.  This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another.  Not talent.  There's plenty of that around.  But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking:  that writer may be around for a time.
                                                                                        --Raymond Carver, "On Writing"

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Habit is More Dependable than Inspiration

Forget inspiration, habit is more dependable.  Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not.  Habit will help you finish and polish your stories.  Inspiration won't.  Habit is persistence in practice.
                                                                                   --Octavia Butler

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Love and Hate in Writing

What's vital for the fiction writer to remember is that the wicked, the violent, and the stupid do also love, in their way.  Just as humble and loving and thoughtful people also hate.  Hate humbly, hate lovingly, hate thoughtfully, and so on.
                                                                                     --Don Bauer

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hard Stories

I want hard stories, I demand them from myself.  Hard stories are worth the difficulty.  It seems to me the only way I have forgiven anything, understood anything, is through that process of opening up to my own terror and pain and reexamining it, re-creating it in the story, and making it something different, making it meaningful--even if the meaning is only in the act of telling.
                                                                                      --Dorothy Allison

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Why Does A Story Have to be a Good Date?

A story has to be a good date because the reader can stop at any time . . . Remember, readers are selfish and have no compulsion to be decent about anything.

                                                                         --Kurt Vonnegut

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Humor in Writing

Life's Irritations

Write humor out of your bad experiences, not your good ones.  Think about it.
Which would make a better story, your best trip with your best friend or the worst, with your father muttering obscenities over a steaming radiator, while your sister screams for a bathroom right now!!  What was awful then is probably hilarious now.  Some of life's most irritating things--telemarketers, computer glitches, being kept on hold forever-- yield some of the most reliable humor.

Progress On My Second Novel

The main problem in my second novel is drawing out the female protagonist. She is 21, admitted to a psych ward of a hospital after a suicide...