I constantly remind students about a few things they should always try to discover, understand and carry out in their writing. This list of a half dozen things moves you from the writer who’s gotten Draft One onto the page into the writer who’s reworked that first draft into a piece that shines. Big steps to take. But there are little things that matter too; here are some of them.
Three of the BIG Half Dozen
- Showing your readers things happening doesn’t mean explaining about them while they happen.
- Giving us the physical, visual and visceral in the ways you show us stuff (slipping into scene) means having it happen without overt narration about it.
- Dialogue also requires characters to move from time to time and to have responses. Don’t write ‘talking heads’ in every instance of your dialog. Mix in your actions, reactions, and dialogue in a single paragraph or even in a line.
One of the Lesser Half Dozen
- A paragraph works best with a single thought. Changing the thought to a new one should start a new paragraph. Look to any of your longer paragraphs. Does the thought change? Does the narrator go on to talking about something new? Can the big paragraph be cut in half at some point?
Look to the Example and Exercises for the other two craft basics to consider.
- Example Toggle
Better Dialogue on the page
Lets look, before and after, at a bit of dialog.
Before: we have every bit of dialog at the opening of most of these sentences, with the action, if any, at the end.
My family greets me in the kitchen. "Hey! It's the black sheep." Garret, my brother, crows, "Got a boyfriend yet?"
"No, Gar, had a bowel movement yet? Oh - wait "Sorry, you are one."
"Mom..." Shannon says. "Make her stop."
"Language, young lady.." Mom warns.
Aunt Ruth goes so far as trailing me back to the twins' old room so she can inquire if I'm 'using safe sex', like it's a new fragrance that'll make me a bit more popular.
A better way of doing things is to show dialog along with the visual. So, think about your word choices, what order you give the reader things, (mix up action with talking) and how much action you put into the work, rather than telling us about it.
Warning: Showing doesn't mean adding actions that mean nothing.
- She gave him a look.
- I brushed my hand across my forehead.
- He reached for a peach
Showing actions must have something to do with your characters’ reactions and motivations.
- Garret's actions are rough.
- Shannon's are shy and embarrassed.
- The Narrator's are rebellious, and her mother's are stern but preoccupied.
Garret grabs me in the same half-assed hold he's used since I toddled. "Hey! It's the black sheep," he crows, as I come into the kitchen for coffee. "Got a boyfriend yet?"
Shannon sighs and turns pink; looking deeper into the recipes on the page she's open to. I hate this. "No, Gar, got an asshole yet?" I squirm out of his grip, "Oh - wait, Sorry, you are one."
"Language, young lady." Mom warns, frowning, spoon waving. Aunt Ruth goes so far as trailing me back into the twins’old room so she can inquire if I'm 'using safe sex', like it's a new fragrance that'll make me a bit more popular.
Blend the action and dialogue in how you give us that on the page. Bring in the responses of your characters. Try this with any of your own work (second to last craft basic of this lesson).
Syntax - how something is said, in what order.
Actions - show us with actions that reflect your character being affected by what is happening around them.
We’ve not cut out what we meant to show between the Before and After examples, we’ve just used stronger syntax to say (show it happening) it to the reader.
- Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle
Lesson Exercise 1:
And finally, Dialogue rules
Take a page of your own work and run these exercises:
Dialogue rules put one person speaking (or thinking inner thoughts) in a single paragraph. If you move to a new thinker/speaker you start a new paragraph.
“Would you like to taste this chicken liver?” He asked.
“Chicken livers are gross,” she replied.
Some Small Stuff
- Where the pronoun (he or she) in a speech tag follows a comma, write it in lower case.
- A and The (Yes. It Does Matter)
WHEN do you use a or the?
Non-Specific: Use "a" or "an" the first time you introduce a noun in a paragraph. A as in any one of several.
I saw a movie last night.
A man ran into the street.
Specific: Use "the" the second time you use that same noun in the same paragraph.
(The as in that specific one)
I saw a movie last night. The movie was entertaining.
A man ran into the street. A car hit the man.
- Count and Non-Count Nouns
A count noun is the name of something that can be counted:
One book, two books, The book. A book.
A non-count noun does not take "a" or "an" and does not have a plural form. A non-count noun is the name of something that cannot be counted:
Milk, flour, freedom, justice.
This is content after....