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Monday, December 30, 2013

He Said, She Said!

Here are a few of my biggest dialogue gripes as a reader/writer.  This isn’t expert advice, it’s just me. 

Three Gripes:

1.       “Yeah, right,” he said sarcastically.

2.       “Sure,” he smiled.

3.       She took a big mouthful of food.  “What?” she splattered.

Why do I list the above phrases?  Because such dialogue markers drive me crazy when I read them, and not in a good way.  That’s why!

Gripe # 1:  Many writers’ conferences ago I heard from an editor who said she hated adverbs.  They aren’t necessary.  In fact, when used excessively (adverb J) they weaken your writing.  Her examples included several phrases similar to the first listed above.  Let me explain:  if a scene is set up the right way and I’m following the dialogue, do I really need to be told that the speaker is sarcastic?  Seriously?  I think not.   What about when a character speaks:  “heartily?”  Or: “seductively?”  How about: “boldly?”  Most of the time, the vast majority of the time, I don’t need that stupid “-ly” word.  Leave it out!  Readers aren’t’ stupid!  Of course there are exceptions, and a writer may use an adverb because he/she wants to emphasize something important about their character.  Adverbs aren’t evil.  Just don’t use them every other word, and PLEASE don’t use them non-stop with your dialogue markers!

Gripe #2:  This is simple.  It is physically impossible to smile a word.  You speak a word.  You might speak while smiling, but you don’t smile out a word, dang it!!  I’m actually okay with something like:  “Yeah,” he laughed.  I know.  Hypocritical of me, but I think it IS physically possible to laugh out a word.  Maybe it’s just the speech therapist in me, but I hate when characters in books “smile” their lines.  I’d prefer something like:  “Sure,” he said with a smile.  You get the picture. 

Gripe #3:  Oh, this one drives me insane!!!!  I’ve found online lists galore that provide writers with ways to avoid using the word “said” when writing dialogue.  Why???  I can’t find the source to quote here, but I’ve read more than once that we readers skip over the word: “said” because it’s not that important.  Our brains ignore it, because we already KNOW we’re reading dialogue and that the characters are having a conversation with each other.  Duh!  Of course, there are exceptions.  I use:  “he asked,” or “she replied,” or “she whispered,” or “he murmured,” on occasion, but NOT ALL THE TIME!  99.9% of the time, I prefer “he/she said.”  Period.  I don’t need writers to go all out and try to find creative ways to mark their dialogue.  In fact, when they do, they really bug me!  A few examples, from books I’ve read: 

“Yeah, about that,” he sniffed.  (See Gripe #2).

“Please,” he burbled.  Burbled?

“It was strong,” he stated.  Uh, yeah.  I know that’s a statement.  Thanks for clarifying.

Example #3 at the beginning of my post is actually kind of funny, I’ll admit.  However, it was in a book filled with many, many other creative words used in place of the word: “said.”  It got to the point where it was annoying, not clever or funny. 

In conclusion:  “Enough with the adverbs,” Rebecca said angrily.  “They don’t help you at all,” she sniffed.  “In fact,” she burbled, beginning to cry, “they make me want to weep.”

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Famous Last Words

“Yaroo!” I shouted, and I didn’t give a beetle’s bottom who heard me.


(Last words of the novel:  “I Am Half-Sick of Shadows” by Alan Bradley).

Oh, how I love that man, er, writer!

As it’s nearly the end of the year, I decided to look up a few of the last lines of some of my favorite books.  We always hear how important first lines can be, but I don’t often hear writers praised for how they end their books.  So, I did a little digging.  I learned one thing:  great writers care about every word.  I think they end their books perfectly.  Here are a few of my favorite last words:

·         “All was well.”

(Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling)


·         “With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them.”

(Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)


·         “But there are much worse games to play.”

(Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins)


·         “But they never learned what it was that Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which had to do, for there was a gust of wind, and they were gone.”

(A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle)


·         "I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."

(Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.)            


·         "He drew a deep breath. 'Well, I'm back,' he said."  (Sam Gamgee speaking).

(The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkein)


·         “He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.”

(To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee)


·         “Oh my girls, however long you may live, I can never wish you greater happiness than this!”

(Little Women, by Louise May Alcott)


I’d love to hear some of your favorite last lines!  And, by the way, Merry Christmas!never can wish you a greater happiness than this!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Your Main Character is Sooooo Neurotic!!

“Wow, your main character is SO neurotic!!”

So that’s what the agent who was critiquing an excerpt from a book of mine said to me, with a grimace on her face.  An actual grimace.  I kid you not!  The expression on her face was that of a person who’s just stepped in something particularly nasty, or the look of a Prius owner as they ‘put put’ along while I roar by in my big, gas-hogging, planet destroying non-hybrid SUV.  That kind of expression.

I wasn’t angry.  I was hurt. 

Why, you might ask?  After all, she was a well-respected agent giving good, and I might add, paid-for advice to a wannabe writer who needs lots of help.  Here’s the deal.  She was talking about a character named Rosemary, and I realized that in a way, Rosemary is me.

No, I didn’t go to France as a teen, pretending to be someone I’m not and scheming for a way to convince my host family to keep me forever.  I don’t have a severe communication disorder that prevents me from talking clearly, like Rosemary does.  But as a teen, I did have a lot of the same hang-ups that Rosemary had.  I was shy.  Painfully so.  So shy, in fact, that life was torture for years.  If you’ve never been that shy, you probably won’t understand where I’m coming from.  Let me just say that jumping “head first into a swimming pool full of double-edged razor blades,” to quote Weird Al, was always preferable to walking into a room full of strangers, better than being called on in class,  and I prayed for illness or calamity to befall me if I ever had to give a speech.  It wasn’t simply a problem with public speaking, either.  I could hardly look other kids in the eye as I walked down the hall, and sometime didn’t respond when spoken to.  That went on for many, many years.  Neurotic?  Oh, yes. 

The excerpt this agent critiqued for me included scenes that demonstrated just how socially awkward Rosemary was.  She was alone with a boy for the first time EVER, attracted to him and desperately wanting to flirt, but fully aware of the fact that as soon as she opened her mouth, her words could very well come out wrong.   Also, keep in mind that Rosemary was fleeing a situation that I would describe at the very least as emotionally abusive.  She’d truly never been left alone before, even for a moment.  What would YOU do in such a situation?  You’d likely develop a few hang-ups and be, shall we say, a little NEUROTIC, wouldn’t you???

I guess I was hurt because I know what it’s like to be the freak.  I know what it’s like to hear other kids whisper while casting glances and smirks in your direction.  I know what it’s like when you so badly want to say something witty and clever and funny, but all you can manage is a vague smile while you turn away, mentally kicking yourself for not talking to the cute guy, the great girl that you wish would be your friend, or the awesome teacher who’s trying to reach out to you. 

So, back to Rosemary.  Agents have expressed interest, but not enough to represent me.  At least, not yet.  But I’m still trying.  And, I’m trying hard not to take things personally, to think that I’m the one being rejected on a personal level when it’s my writing, my characters, or maybe just the fact that agents don’t think there’s a market out there right now for what I’ve written.

And, I will continue to create characters who are neurotic.  That’s what I am, and it’s what I do.  J

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Shades of Everything

In 2024 an alien ship crashes in the middle of Los Angeles, ironically crushing a theatre where a movie premiere about an alien invasion is in full swing.  Hundreds die and worldwide panic ensues.  Who are the aliens, where did they come from, and are there more of them on the way?

In 2026, a worldwide meeting is held.  The aliens are peaceful.  Calling themselves the Kindred, they have come to Earth seeking asylum.  Their planet is dying.  In exchange for a place to live on our world, the only other planet known to them to support life, they will share their technology with the human race, healing our toxic waters, soil and air and curing all known diseases.  They only ask to share the rule of the planet.

Nearly a century later, these massive, bug-like creatures (Ender’s Game, anyone?) have ruled peacefully alongside their human counterparts in the “WorldGov” council.  Enter Malek, our hero.

Malek is nearly thirteen, and about to take a very important test.  This test, a neural scan, will determine his role in life:  that of a Worker, forced to labor in whatever menial job assigned to him, an Assistant, who can receive additional education but also has his career selected for him, or one of the Chosen, allowed to pursue the path he chooses, receiving the best education possible to allow him to achieve his goals.  (A tinge of Divergent, perhaps?  Even a little bit like Matched.)

But Malek has a secret, and fears that during his scan it will be revealed.  Born with brain damage, he can only speak and move thanks to a special “Suit” that connects directly to his central nervous system via nanowire, invisible to the human eye.  He must hide his secret because those who have physical or mental disabilities of any kind are automatically forced to become Workers. 

So my story progresses.  Malek discovers that all is not well in Kindred-land.  A rebellion of sorts is in the works.  (Hunger Games, anyone?)  Add to that the fact that his father, Valerius, has been selected as one of the lucky few humans to receive a “Kindred Body,” grown in a lab from his own DNA and virtually indestructible.  Valerius has his brain removed and placed into his new Kindred Body.  However, when Daddy comes home, he isn’t quite himself.  (Wait for it….Invasion of the Body Snatchers!!!)

Honestly, my third round of NaNoWriMo was a good experience.  I easily met my word count goal, enjoyed the characters I created, and found myself thinking about types of plot, inciting incidents, the emotional growth of characters, etc. etc. etc.  However, somewhere in the middle of this whole deal, I realized what I’d already known:  I can’t do sci-fi.  At least, not unless I channel a whole bunch of writers who have already filled our libraries and theatres with well-known stories.  Oh my heavens, I even had rebels who lived in a home carved out of a massive rock formation in the middle of the Arizona desert (The Host, y’all.)  Okay, it was only two rebels, and their house was awesome, not cave-like at all, but still…

So, near the end, I got a little slap-stick.  My aliens (that whole “bug-like” thing was a government lie) had evolved from plant life on their world.  Hence, they were willowy (pun intended) tree-like, Little Green Men.  (Ta Daaaa!!!!)  Malek befriends one of them and has to help save him from the evil humans.  (E. T.!) 

Ah, well.  Lessons learned.  I only regret I wasn’t able to work in that classic line from Scooby Doo.  My evil antagonist, cornered and defeated, would snarl:  “It was only the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on humanity, and I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”  Maybe next time.  J