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Review of Dialog: Techniques & Exercises for Writing Effective Dialog

Dialog book image

This post is for my fellow writer friends out there. I just completed another book in the Write Great Fiction series and wanted to share it with you. It is entitled Dialog: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialog and is written by Gloria Kempton. I’ve been slowly working my way through the Write Great Fiction series and up until now, my favorites have been Revision & Self-Editing and Plot & Structure, both of which are written by James Bell. After reading Dialog: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialog, I now add this book to my favorites list as well.

For many writers, writing dialog is one of the more difficult aspects of the craft and certainly can be tricky. If you are struggling with dialog or wish to add a little extra polish to it, you’ll find this handy guide an invaluable tool.

The material is presented in a fun, witty and informal matter which makes it especially approachable and does an excellent job at illustrating the mechanical aspects of writing conversation between characters Using passages from well-known novels such as Harry Potter and Moby Dick, the author provides concise examples of the “Do’s”and “Don’t” of writing dialog. The book is not just filled with tips and tricks, but additionally delves into specific details of dialog and dialog structure using specific passages as examples.

The book is broken down into the following Chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Releasing the Voice Within—The Purpose of Dialog
  • Chapter 2: Mute Characters and Stories—Abolishing Your Fears
  • Chapter 3: The Genre, Mainstream, and Literary Story—The Dialog Matters
  • Chapter 4: Wheels of Motion—Dialog That Propels the Story Forward
  • Chapter 5: Narrative, Dialog, and Action—Learning to Weave the Spoken Word
  • Chapter 6: In Their Own Words—Delivering the Characters and Their Motivations to the Reader
  • Chapter 7: There Is a Place—Using Dialog to Reveal Story Setting and Background
  • Chapter 8: Breaks or Accelerator—Dialog as a Means of Pacing
  • Chapter 9: Tightening the Tension and Suspense—Dialog That Intensifies the Conflict
  • Chapter 10: It Was a Dark and Stormy Night—Using Dialog to Set the Mood and Facilitate the Emotion
  • Chapter 11: The Uhs, Ands, and Ers—Some How-Tos of Dialog Quirks
  • Chapter 12: Whoops! Dialog That Doesn’t Deliver—The Most Common Mistakes
  • Chapter 13: Punctuation and Last Minute Considerations—Tying Up the Loose Ends
  • Chapter 14: Dialog Dos and Don’ts—Some Practical Tips
  • Chapter 15: Connecting With Readers—You Can Make a Difference
  • Appendix: Checklist

As you can see from the chapter breakdown above, this comprehensive guide provides a wealth of information that can help you to bring your characters to life and move your dialog writing to the next level. I’ve not seen a better book devoted to the study of dialog than this one and found it not only helpful, thought-provoking and enlightening, but also essential. This in-depth book has found welcome place on my literary bookshelf. Recommended!

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Latest Novel Released

A Touch of Cedar book cover image

I’m very excited today. My latest novel, “A Touch of Cedar”, is now available as an e-book on Amazon and Kobo (soon on Barnes and Noble.  It is a time-travel ghost story feature gay characters.  Here’s the blurb:

When Marek and Randy purchased an old house in the hopes that it would help heal their troubled relationship, neither one suspected that their lives were about to change in ways they couldn’t possibly imagine. They didn’t know their house was haunted.

Swept back in time to the year 1870 by an old suit that Marek finds in the attic, he finds himself torn between the love of two men:  Eli, who was murdered by his own brother four days after Marek’s first visit — and Randy, his own adulterous lover in the present.  Caught in the web of a one-hundred forty year old murder, Marek vows to return to 1870 to stop Eli’s murder. But time is running out.  Will he succeed?  And if he does, will he stay in 1870 or return to his own time — and to his own lover who is waiting for him in the present.

You can check it out HERE:

 

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Neil Gaiman’s Commencement Address – Advice for Creatives

Neil Gaiman image

I’ve been a fan of the author Neil Gaiman for many years now and have enjoyed such books asAmerican GodsAnansi BoysCoraline and Stardust as well as the Sandman comic collection. So I was more than delighted when I stumbled across his 2012 commencement address to the University of the Arts Class in Philadelphia.

The talk was inspiring, motivating and a worthwhile view for anyone in the creative fields, especially novelists. Below are some of my favorite points of his talk.

LACK OF CAREER PLAN

Neil states that a career implies some sort of career plan and that is something he never had. I could relate to this on so many levels. Each time I tried to plan out my future career-wise, I would inevitably fail (mainly due to losing interest) and instead, I simply ended up doing what my heart directed me to do. I tried computer programming, teaching at a University, finance – “proper jobs” in other words, only to end up following my own dream at the end of it . So I kind of ended up doing what Neil did: creating a list of things I want to do and scratching them off when done. This kind of leads into his next point:

IT’S BEST TO HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING

When you have no idea what you’re doing, then you don’t know that what you want to do is “impossible”; thus, you cannot be limited. If you don’t know that your idea is impossible, then it’s easier to accomplish because you don’t know it’s impossible. In the rapidly changing businees world of today – especially in publishing – there are many of us who have no idea what we’re doing. While that can be scary, it is also freeing.

DO WHAT YOU NEED TO DO

In his talk, Neil said that if you have an idea of what you want to do, you need to go ahead and do it! But be prepared: you may have to do things in order to reach your goal. For example, in order to learn to be a writer, Neil spent time being a journalist. One cannot simply decide to be a doctor or dentist without obtaining proper training (you’d get arrested and/or sued). Thus, if one wants to be writer, one needs to put in the time writing and learning about the craft. I personally am always reading some book about writing or taking creative writing workshops when available. One never can be “finished” with learning.

DEALING WITH THE PROBLEMS OF FAILURE

This is advice that I’ve heard several times – Learn to be thick-skinned. That is a lot easier said than done, especially when your work is the brunt of a scathing review. But we do have to realize that not all of our projects will succeed; hell, some of them won’t even make it out the front door. I remember one author saying, “Keep putting stuff out into the world. The more you put out, the more likely one of them will be a success…and the more your put out, the better your work will become.”

DEALING WITH THE PROBLEMS OF SUCCESS

I had a good chuckle when Neil talked about “The Impostor Syndrome” – the idea that others will figure out that we nothing but a fake and not really qualified to be a writer, an artist, or whatever. Once we start becoming successful, many of us feel as though we are getting away with something and that sooner or later, people will figure us out. I remember feeling this way for years when I was a French teacher at a university – I feared that someday, someone would come up to me as say, “What are you doing here? You’re not qualified to teach French. Why you cannot speak French at all!”

He also said that when we get to the point where you feel that you are exposing too much of yourself to the world, that things are getting too personal, too raw, that is is the moment where you are starting to get it right.

MAKING MISTAKES

Get out into the world and make mistakes. While addressing the class of 2012, Neil said to them, “I hope you make mistakes. Making mistakes means you’re out there doing something.”

DON’T DO IT ONLY FOR THE MONEY

Don’t do it only for the money because you will end up getting bored with your project and losing your enthusiasm for it. Neil said that anytime he did something only for money, it rarely ended up being a success. Instead, do work you are proud of – and the success (and money hopefully) will follow. I have found this to be true in my life on more than one occasion.

FINDING YOUR OWN VOICE

Neil stressed the importance of finding your own voice. While copying the technique of others is okay in the beginning (many of us copy the style of others without realizing it – it’s how we learn initially), eventually, we need to find our own voice and make the kind of art of which only we are capable – or as Neil put it “Write as only YOU can.”

BEST ADVICE

The best piece of advice that Neil ever received was from Stephen King who said, “Enjoy your success.” I think that this is helpful advice for many of us. Instead of worrying about the next deadline, the next project, what the reviews will be like, etc., we need to relax a bit, let go, have fun and enjoy the ride. Revel in your successes!

THE NEW WORLD ORDER

Neil closed by talking about how the nature of distribution is changing and how the distributions channels for creative people are in flux. As he put it, the gatekeepers are leaving their gates and now we can be as creative as we need to be to get our work seen. Today, there are new rules but nobody as of yet, is quite sure what those rules are. So we make our own rules. This can seem frightening and intimating – but also intensely liberating, as Neil states. That’s what I’m finding, is the most fun of all!

You can view Neil Gaiman’s Commencement Address in its entirety HERE

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The Art of Keeping a Journal

Journal Image

Photo by Barnaby

I have faithfully kept a journal since 1980 and because of that, I have a record of the important times, places and people in my life over the past 30 years. I have recently begun transcribing my journals into the computer and as I read through them, I recalled people, events and places long forgotten. Through my written words, I was able to relive experiences that I had when I was barely out of my teen years and as I continued to read, saw myself develop into the man I am today. My earlier entries – the one’s that took place when I was in my early 20’s – were obsessed with love and romance – I wrote about little else. Funny to see how the focus of my life has changed. What I find particularly interesting is how much I’ve changed – I barely recognize the immature boy I was back then who constantly bemoaned his relationship setbacks.

Yes, I am a strong believer in keeping a journal – and in my opinion, the reasons to do so are many.

WHY KEEP A JOURNAL

Keep cherished memories alive

Even though we may not believe so at the time, the majority of the experiences that occur in our lives will be forgotten. People I was certain that I would always remember – always be in contact with – were completely gone from my memory until recently, when I rediscovered them on the pages of my journal. Without my journal, I would not have 30 years of cherished memories at my fingertips. All of them would be gone forever.

It’s Excellent Therapy

Many people in the mental health professions recommend journaling to their clients as part of the recovery process. I can’t tell you how many times I have “journaled out my anger” rather than taking it out on someone else. Just writing about all my emotions and feelings often provided clarity about a situation or problem.

Problem Solving

Journaling can also help solve problems. By writing down the pros and cons of a difficult situation, I have more than once received flashes of insight which then helped me to move forward. Moreover, taking your time and putting a troubling issue to paper may help you to see the situation from a different perspective, which may then lead to a solution.

Receive New Insights

Writing out your thoughts and feelings can lead to some interesting insights about your life – aspects that may not have come to your attention before. When I worked as computer programmer in a hectic corporate environment, it was journaling that helped me to realize that I was in the wrong profession – and that what I really wanted to be was an entrepreneur and create my own business. Sometimes simply writing it all out can provide you with both motivation and a starting point.

Additionally, reading old journal posts aid you in realizing how much you’ve grown (or perhaps how much you’ve strayed from your original goals), especially once you revisit all the mistakes you made!

Learn About Yourself

For many, one of the most important uses for a journal is to learn about yourself. A habitual journaling practice can help you to define who you are and what you believe in. By writing regularly about an issue or a topic in my journal, I found that I was more than ready to discuss the topic intelligently and confidently when it came up in real live conversation. In this way, it has helped to clarify my opinions and beliefs – basically help me to decide who I am.

Creativity

Journaling can spark creativity. I know of several people whose journals gave rise to an entire novel. I personally have had many new ideas pop up into my head while writing in my daily journal. This blog post was one of them. Journaling regularly can also make you a better writer. There’s an old adage that goes, “If you do something every day, you can’t help but become an expert at it.”

Proof That You Existed

A friend of mine, whose mother passed away a few years ago, told me that the most valuable treasure she has ever received was her mother’s journals. Her mother, an avid journaler, documented her entire life on paper, ever since she was a young girl. My friend says that reading those old journals keeps her mother alive in her memories. She also told me that reading her mother’s thoughts and feelings is like getting to know her for the first time. Think how much your children and grandchildren will enjoy reading about your life. Who knows? Maybe your journal will someday end up in at a historical society or museum and will provide others insight into what life was like for someone of your time period.

Stress Management

Journaling regularly helps counteract the negative effects of stress in your life. When I had gone through a particularly challenging period in my own life, I discovered that journaling about it made me feel much better afterwards. Be releasing my anger and frustration on the page, I felt calmer and more relaxed.

Goal Planning

Journaling can also help you to achieve and stick to your goals. Writing about the achievements you’ve made and the milestones you’ve attained can help you to keep on track. Sometimes just logging your achievements on paper provides ample motivation to see your goals through to the end.

Logging Daily Activities

A journal can also help you to keep track of daily events and activities in your life. This can be quite helpful if you ever have to remember or prove what you did on a particular day. You can even use your journal as an expanded version of an event calendar.

Hand-written journal with pictures

Hand-written journal with pictures

Photo by sushi♥ina

HOW TO KEEP A JOURNAL

The way to being successful in keeping a journal is to find the journal medium that is best for you. A friend of mine asked me what is the best type of journal to get? I told her, “the best journal to get is the one that you will write in.” Don’t buy an expensive Italian leather-bound journal book if you wouldn’t write in it. The first step is giving some thought as to whether you want to keep a paper journal or store it electronically on your computer. There are advantages and drawbacks to both.

Some possibilities include:

Bound Journal Books – these can range in price from about $15 to several hundred dollars. Sometimes just having an impressive looking journal book can give you motivation to write.

A Notebook/Tablet – this can be as simple as basic black & white speckled composition notebook. Keep in mind however, that cheaper paper may yellow over time. This is the issue I’m currently facing – one of the reasons that I have begun transcribing my older journals into electronic format.

Blog – Some people keep their journals electronically “in the cloud” using blogging software. Most of the popular blogging platforms such as WordPress, Blogspot and LiveJournal allow you to keep your posts private, for your eyes only. You also have the option of sharing specific posts (or all posts) with others, if you so choose.

Journaling Software – There is a wide array of journaling software available for both the PC and the Mac. In addition to text, most of these applications also allow you to add videos, photos and other media to your journal posts. I currently am using MacJournal (Mac only) to transcribe my old journals. I find it stable and quite flexible.

Looseleaf Binder – more flexible than using a bound book or a notepad. Using a looseleaf binder allows you to move your pages around – or even group them by topic.

Information Gathering/Database Software – There are many software packages used for information gathering that make an excellent platform for journaling. An example is OneNote for Windows — or EverNote or DevonThink for the Mac. Like journaling software, you can also add photos, videos and sound files to your entries.

Scrapbook – Scrapbooking is a favorite activity among many folks and a nice visual way to record your life. You can include text, pictures, ticket stubs, flyers, newspaper/magazine articles and much more to your scrapbook journal. This is an excellent choice for creative folks.

HOW TO STICK WITH JOURNALING

Find a time that works for you to journal and stick to it. Try to be consistent as possible. The longer you journal at your designated time, the more it becomes an ingrained habit. I personally make journaling the last thing I do before I go to bed – no sleeping until I’ve journaled. Some people do their journaling first thing in the morning. If you’ve had an especially hectic day and find ourself too exhausted or too busy to sit down and write a full entry, write one sentence – heck, write one word if that’s all you can muster up. I came across one journal entry in my journal dated October 22, 1992 that simply stated: “Disappointment” ‘Enuf said.

WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

When deciding to keep a journal, there are many possibilities available to you. You might keep a daily journal of your thoughts, emotions and events in your life. Or you could keep a theme journal such as:

  • Art/Sketch Journal – a place for all of your drawings and sketches.
  • Child Journal – a place to record all of the memories and events related to the raising your children. This can include such things as first words spoken, funny sayings or phrases your kids come up with, the ideas your kids have, milestones in your child’s life — basically, anything you want to remember.
  • Creative Writing Journal – a place for all of your creating writing – poems, songs, short stories, fiction, non-fiction – any way you express yourself creatively.
  • Dream Journal – a place where you record all of your dreams.
  • Exercise Journal – a place where you keep track of how you exercised, how much you exercised, your caloric intake, food consumed, your weight, etc.
  • Gratitude Journal – a place where you record all the things that you are grateful for – the people and things in your life that really matter to you.
  • Grief Journal – a place where you write all about the grieving process. Such a journal can help with both long-term and short-term healing.
  • Hobby Journal – a place where you record all the details about a hobby – materials, patterns, projects, costs, etc.
  • Idea Journal – a place to jot down any ideas that come to you during the day. A fleeting idea could be the premise for your next big novel.
  • Mood Journal – a place where you track your emotions.
  • Nature Journal – a place for you to record all that you see, feel and experience while out in nature.
  • Prayer Journal/Spiritual – this is a place to help you connect with the Divine and your spirituality.
  • Reader’s Journal – a place where you write about the books you read. Include such things as what you liked/disliked, synopsis, techniques the author used and important points you want to remember.
  • Vacation Journal – a journal that lists not only places you visited during your vacation, but also your thoughts and feelings about the places you visited. Many people’s lives have been permanently altered by an eventful vacation.

The possibilities for theme journals are endless. I keep a daily personal journal that pretty much includes anything I want it to – stories, songs, poems, quotes I heard during the day, my moods, thoughts, what I did, creative writing ideas, scribbles, drawings and more. There are no rules for your journal – write whatever resonates with you. What’s important is that you fill the pages.

You never know – journaling may even cause you to go out and search for adventure! I remember once reading a quote from a man who journaled. He said, “Journaling forces me to lead an interesting life so that I have something to write about.” Maybe it will do the same for you.