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Dialogue Help for newer writers

Caged Maiden

Staff
Article Team
Hey folks, not sure if anyone else posted this, but it's a good little introduction to writing good dialogue. It talks about what pitfalls exist in writing dialogue, and helps a newer writer to strategize. It isn't a bad read for even a prolific writer, because lesson three just gets you thinking about goals and reaching them with your dialogue.

Make your dialogue more dynamic | BookBaby

Hope someone finds it useful!
 

T.Allen.Smith

Staff
Moderator
There are two, relatively new, writers in my live crit group that struggle with this.

I'm going to forward this link on to them.

Thank you.
 
I'm currently on a dialogue-focused outline for my WIP, so this is very helpful. 24 minutes in and now I realize that I overuse exclamation marks!
 

Caged Maiden

Staff
Article Team
wowzers, glad I posted this! Looks like a few folks here thought it was worthwhile. I usually don't like to post "How-to" videos because I believe there are a lot of ways to write well, but I really felt like I believed in everything these lessons covered, despite the complete ludicrousness of the examples he gave at the beginning of each lesson. 115k words and NO dialogue? Really? OMG.

Anyways, glad you guys found it helpful. I'm not really totally confident in my dialogue, but I tend to let critters have a go at me and let me know where I've strayed from reality. Still, it was nice to just listen to the last lesson and reflect on whether I'm accomplishing my goals or in fact more concerned with plot and neglecting the very essential element of human verbal communication. Such a key element, and yet we often either go too far, or not far enough. I'm terribly guilty of having all my characters talk like me...so that's going to be a tough one to overcome at some point here...

I really felt like the bit about adverbs and their proper use and improper use was really good, especially for newer writers, because I crit a lot and often have this same advice to give. Yeah, this was a good little set of lessons for any writer, I think. Something for everyone, even if it just feels like review for some folks here.
 
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Ben

Troubadour
Let me echo the thanks as well, the videos are high quality and have a lot of useful info, well worth the time.

Curious if you've used the AutoCrit tool they mention in the videos and your experiences if you have?
 

Caged Maiden

Staff
Article Team
While I can't really rate something I haven't tried, I question the overall usefulness of such a program for any prolific writer. Similar programs tend to be marketed at new writers who are trying to gain a basic understanding of writing. They focus on things like repetitive words, passive writing, cliched phrasing, overuse of pronouns or adverbs or words like "had", and proper grammar. I think those tools are useful up to a point, but I don't really feel like I need that kind of tool. The problems my works suffer are more specifically related to the writing style itself. By that I mean that I don't have any problems with writing dialogue correctly (since we're on the subject of dialogue), but I'm not necessarily writing the BEST dialogue for a situation. I've yet to hear about a program that can take my character's modestly inspired attempt at humor and turn it into a real zinger. HA! I find that the best critique by far is given by a critique partner who really understands me and my style, and moreover my goals I'm trying to immediately accomplish in a given scene or even paragraph. My writing partners are tough and have a good understanding of the craft itself, and of story-telling in general regardless of genre. I can't imagine any program could ever replace another set of well-informed eyes scrutinizing a piece.

I find that my personal skill toolbox is extensive, meaning I attempt anything and have gotten fairly competent at many styles, voices, PsOV, tones, ways to describe things, creating deep settings, crafting unique character experiences, etc. but my use of "writing aids" is very limited. That's mostly because to use them, there is an amount of dedication to learning their full use, and then there's the down side of the time involved with the learning, vs. just actually writing. Scrivener is another that many people love, but I feel like I can't fully utilize. I'm better off with a basic Word document, where I can create multiple documents for outlines, compile cut scenes or paragraphs, timelines, calendars, etc.. I have a full array of docs I've created to fill in for each work, like character background sheets, plot flow charts, conflict escalation charts, outlines, query letters, etc.. As far as what I use to actually write...well I keep it down to the actual novel (including multiple saves for drafts, especially if I'm doing a major overhaul and want to save changes in case I trim too much or go too far off the deep end in a late-night writing delirium), and an open thesaurus.com tab on my browser. That's pretty much it for me. Oh, and in one novel, where I write title chapters in Italian, an open tab for babylon translator, just in case. :)

I keep it simple, I suppose. Research gets saved in its own doc, say, if I cut and paste an article about something pertinent to a working novel. I save them all in a "research" folder for each book and call it good. Sometimes I bookmark things online, like name databases or whatever. As far as writing and learning how to "do it right", I have a few favorites I've used from time to time when I have obscure questions. The Blue Book of Grammar is a good one. I bought the book and use the companion website for rare issues. While most of the book is common sense, it's really nice to have a resource at my fingertips when I have a question that might eat me alive if I don't answer it RIGHT NOW. ;) Ha, my last one was in describing several characters who were "down and out" as in, I know it's "mothers-in-law", but is it then "downs-and-out"? HA! I didn't look that one up, BTW, I just changed the sentence because it sounded better "down-and-outs" to my mental ears. Better to just avoid the really tricky crap, right?

I've posted a number of my favorite resources here in the past, all in this Writing Resources thread. Most are things like the Elizabethan Compendium of Common Knowledge and the Military Survival Guide app, things that can help people in broad ways. I tend to see most How-To books and blogs as fun reads, but ultimately not of much help. They tend to have a limited scope and be targeted at people who have yet to learn all the "rules" so that they can break them properly? It's really a double-edged sword, I think. Give advice, but then in the next breath admit that we tend to hold in high regard those works that stretched or outright broke those rules. And so that's my take on why writing advice is great, but should be used as a guideline. Perhaps to be followed 80% of the time, and then disregarded gloriously the last 20%.

Also, I'm sort of against paying for a resource that I feel able to provide myself. While I admit I can't see many of my mistakes, I SHOULD be able to, and so I won't pay a program to point out that I loved a particular word one day and used it three times on a page. I have to be responsible for that kind of thing myself. And what the programs can't catch, things like missed opportunities, I have my critters to do for me. And in return, I do the same bang-up job for them! So in that way, I'm happier to pay with my time than my cash, which I find less personal and less reciprocally beneficial, anyways.

I'm a new real estate agent and I got into the business because I'm really passionate about buying and selling homes, not because I think it's a quick way to get rich. Anyways, there's a saying in real estate that I think applies to writers too: "If you want to make money in real estate, don't become an agent--sell things to agents." It's SO true. Why deal with difficult clients and run yourself ragged and miss your kids growing up, to make $100k a year, when each agent I know spends thousands of dollars a year promoting their business? Selling them services is easier and more immediate. Writers work hard and will spend money to achieve their dream of being published, but very few will ever make it big. If you develop a tool and a hundred writers all buy it for an affordable $100, you're making more a year than most writers ever will! And so, I don't see a lot of tools that actually help professional writers, instead they're geared toward taking a small amount of money from people who are at the beginning of their career, hoping they'll get to a professional level. I think money is better spent on professional editors. Imagine, if I bought all these programs, it would cost me several hundred dollars a year in monthly fees for online critique groups like Scribophile, and resources to better your writing like Masterwriter, etc. and if I'd just abstained, by the time I was really ready to publish, I'd have "saved" enough to just pay a professional editor to do the job I need after I learned how to write well enough to send it to said editor. Yeah, sorry that might sound like I don't support those groups, but I actually liked Scribophile, and can certainly see the benefit of a program like Scrivener for people who thoroughly organize as a method for writing (I just don't). Masterwriter was developed for songwriters, and for that application, I think it's pretty darn good. I just prefer my thesaurus.com and dictionary.com.

Sorry to have rambled. I might be guilty of procrastinating writing a scene that has me ready to punch my screen. I have to say, the way I learned to write was trial and error. Mostly error. I was a good English student and have a natural aptitude for punctuation and grammar, but I was never a writer in school. In my early twenties I started writing because I hated my job and I looked busy at my desk when I was scribbling for hours on paper. It was tragic, really. But as I kept writing, I kept building more interesting stories (though I had no actual writing ability, if I'm being honest). When I came here in 2011, I was a closet writer looking for a way past a really tricky situation. I had started to research seafaring in the late 1500s and I realized there was very little information to be had. I found things about the Mary Rose and what kinds of weapons were aboard vessels. What kind of ships sailed and their purposes, and what they were capable of as far as sailing distance, resources in their holds, etc. but virtually nothing about the life of the actual men aboard. Their diets, clothing and names, sure, but nothing about what it was actually like to address an officer, what the hierarchy felt like, whether there were rivalries between certain sailors, and how those played out, or any of the more "human" elements that concerned me. I put aside my research, began writing in the challenges, and started working on another novel. A year later, I met a person here who answered all my questions and totally gave me the confidence to write the ship voyage scene, but by then I was hooked. I loved this site and my new friends, and I'd begun to critique with a few folks here, and they became my guiding light in the storm-rough seas of this writing journey.

Critique was the thing. It helped me see where I was weak and where I was strong (because alone I couldn't see either, but my partners told me a lot of truth, and it was my turning point, the point at which I wanted to be more professional). I learned so much about writing simply from giving critique, and even five years later, I sometimes feel lost and unsure of what I'm doing in a particular scene or chapter, but then I'll take a break and give a couple critiques, and suddenly, my problems are sorted, my motivations and goals clear once more, and I'm back on track. Holy crap, I need to do a critique this afternoon instead of torture myself with this chapter further. I'm stuck and it sucks, and I'm not getting less stuck by staring at it for two days. I just keep fiddling with things around it, trying to get over my stuck-ness, and it isn't working.

Okay, now I'm really sorry for rambling. But thanks for listening, I figured out what I need to get my mind off the problems I can't solve at this moment!
 

Ben

Troubadour
Thanks for your thoughts on the program, and hearing your other thoughts and storiy was appreciated as well! :) - it was fascinating to hear some of your journey! I only started trying to learn to write about six months ago, having done no creative writing since high school (20 yrs ago). So I'm still new at it but I think your advice is very sound - doing the work of revising and figuring out why things work or don't for yourself is far more edifying in the long run than running some program that probably lacks any human sensibility. I discovered mythic scribes a few weeks ago, and it is a great community we have here
 
I would say, never underestimate the value of having a program analyze your writing. It's just easier to catch other people's gaffs than it is your own, so for revision work I think they can be valuable... so long as you don't get caught up in the statistics and doing everything they might suggest. They can make you think about things you might not otherwise consider. Sure, you might not change a thing, but making you think is good. And another bonus is they do it without human judgment.
 
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