Advice, Characters, Dialogue, Fiction, Tips, Words, Writing

Smiling as I fly?

delta-airplaneI scheduled this to post this morning because I am flying to New York City today. First, I’ll be meeting up with my son, daughter-in-law, and two youngest grandchildren in Salt Lake City. So. today’s post is an oldie … but I hope a fun goody. I will try to respond to comments as often as I can while I’m away, but until then talk amongst yourselves.

smileyfaceOf course, we all know now that Forrest Gump invented the original Smiley Face, but there’s another less familiar one, the Carl’s Jr./ Hardee’s Happy Star. While driving home this morning, I passed two of these Happy Star signs and realized that I like this smiley better than the original. Do you see the difference in their smiles?

When you truly smile, you eyes change shape, they crinkle at the edges, or change angle slightly, or closecarl star a bit. That means the Happy Star smile looks more genuine. The traditional smiley’s eyes are not smiling. To be honest, he looks rather deranged. Try it! Open your eyes wide and smile. Don’t you feel just a teeny bit over the edge?

Okay, this is a writer’s blog, so you’re wondering what this has to do with writing—you are, aren’t you? Here’s my take on it, we need to make sure our characters’ expressions and actions match their words. That’s also a way to avoid the plague of unnecessary adverb use. Is there any doubt what’s happening or how the words are delivered in the following scene snippets?

Sawyer’s face was all teeth and dimples as he said, “Nice to have you back, Freckles.”

The barrel of Sayid’s gun pressed into Ben’s back. “I advise you not to make a move,” he said.

At the sight of the fifty-foot obelisk rising from the jungle floor, Hurley backed away, eyes darting from side to side. “Dude,” he said, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

Advice, Characters, Dialogue, Fiction, Narrative, Tips, Voice, Writing

Whose voice is that?

Yesterday, a friend posted a link on Twitter to an article by Kurt Vonnegut (a fellow native of Indianapolis) titled “How to Write With Style” and in it he gave seven tips to improve your writing. The one that stuck out the most to me was #5 Sound like yourself. He says about writing voice:

The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago.

Sometimes that voice creeps into my writing—when I’m trying too hard, when I’m pushing to write this scene right now, no matter what.

Vonnegut says:

I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am.

A writer I admire, Frank McCourt, died this past Sunday, and I’ve spent some time this week listening to interviews with him as well as re-reading bits of Angela’s Ashes. He wrote exactly as he spoke. Of course, he wrote memoir, though he was working on a novel, last I heard. I hope it was finished; I’d love to see how he wrote fiction.

To me, it seems easy to write my blog posts in my own voice … though I don’t write it exactly the way I speak. I’m appalled at the grammatical errors I hear come out of my mouth. But I do write the way I think.

[Hmmm … is it normal to speak differently than you think? Tell me you do the same! Please.]

Meryl Streep is one of the actors I admire. She’s praised for her command of the accents she uses for the characters she plays. I have to be a Meryl when I write dialogue. I have to speak for many people, and each has to sound like themselves, but ultimately, it’s my interpretation of their voices. It’s me acting a part.

But it’s my narrative I have to guard. I have to banish that “cultivated Englishman” and let my own “person from Indianapolis” shine through.

How are you doing with voice?

Characters, Dialogue, Dream, Fiction, Inspiration, My Books, Novel, Writing

The art of balance

Anne Lamott says this about dialogue: “Suddenly people are talking, and we find ourselves clipping along. And we have all the pleasures of voyeurism because the characters don’t know we are listening. We get to feel privy to their inner workings without having to spend too much time listening to them think. I don’t want them to think all the time on paper. It’s bad enough that I have to think all the time without having someone else dump his or her obsessive-compulsive, paranoid thinking on me, too.”

I’m fairly strong on dialogue. For me, it’s the easiest part to write; it’s the narrative I struggle with. But I know I can’t have my characters talking non-stop, as some realworld teenage girls do … you know … like … bffs.  So, I have to go back and add some action, some description, some thoughts. Even then, as I write in close third pov, thoughts become another sort of conversation, which I tend to get carried away with. I have to remind myself to interject some action between spurts of inner monologue.

I think most of you who read my blog are writers, so I trust you’ll understand what I’m going to say next and not take the title of this blog literally. The idea for the novel I’m writing now came from a dream I had exactly a year ago. Initially, I wrote it down as a short story, somewhat loosely based on the dream, but the characters weren’t satisfied. Meredith protested that I hadn’t really told her full story. Jalal insisted that I didn’t really understand his devastation. And Renee informed me that I flat out just didn’t have a clue.

So, I said, “Tell me.” And for the last eleven months I’ve listened as they told me their stories. I’m fascinated when they talk to me, but when they don’t, I sulk, I get angry at time wasted, then I fear they won’t ever speak again. When they do speak, or think, I’m fascinated and gladly record it all. Of course, I also watch what they’re doing, I just don’t like to write that part out.

But <sigh> I know I also have to write the parts I don’t enjoy, otherwise …  all talk and no narrative will make this a dull book.

Dialogue, Fiction, Writing

To smile, or not to smile …

smiley2 Of course, now we all know that Forrest Gump invented the original Smiley Face, but there’s another less familiar one, the Carl’s Jr./ Hardee’s Happy Star. happystar2While driving home this morning, I passed two of these Happy Star signs and realized that I like this smiley better than the original. Do you see the difference in their smiles?

When you truly smile, you eyes change shape, they crinkle at the edges, or change angle slightly, or close a bit. That means the Happy Star smile looks more genuine. The traditional smiley’s eyes are not smiling. To be honest, he looks rather deranged. Try it! Open your eyes wide and smile. Don’t you feel just a teeny bit over the edge?

Okay, this is a writer’s blog, so you’re wondering what this has to do with writing—you are, aren’t you? Here’s my take on it, we need to make sure our characters’ expressions and actions match their words. That’s also a way to avoid the plague of unnecessary adverb use. Is there any doubt what’s happening or how the words are delivered in the following scene snippets?

Sawyer’s face was all teeth and dimples as he said, “Nice to have you back, Freckles.”

The barrel of Sayid’s gun pressed into Ben’s back. “I advise you not to make a move,” he said.

At the sight of the fifty-foot obelisk rising from the jungle floor, Hurley backed away, eyes darting from side to side. “Dude,” he said, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”