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Posts tagged ‘US writer of teen fiction’

Writing Dialogue In Novels, by Monika Schroder

Beginning writers are tempted to copy how real people talk. Dialogue in fiction is more than just a conversation between the people in the book. It serves many purposes. It moves the plot along, reveals character and improves pacing.

Good dialogue is reminiscent of the way people actually talk, but it shouldn’t exactly sound like it. Yes, you should listen to people’s conversation and notice phrases, diction and expressions used. Carry your notebook and write down slang or funny sayings. You might be able to pepper your character’s speech with these things. Pay attention to the way people interrupt each other or hide their true feelings with what they say. Be careful not to just imitate real conversations. In reality people meander and go off on tangents. They add one association to another and wander all over the place. The dialogue in your story has to have a focus and function in your story.

Dialogue is also a perfect place to employ the old rule of ‘show, don’t tell’. If a character is a bully it will show in his manner of speech. If he is boisterous or shy, it will be depicted in his way of speaking. What a person says and how he or she says it expresses personality.

Start a new chapter or scene with a conversation between two people. The conversation can indicate what happened between the end of the last chapter or scene and the beginning of the new, and thereby letting time pass and move the plot forward. Dialogue can also fill the reader in on what occurred in another setting or in a subplot of the story.

However, it is tempting to use direct speech to explain too much. Doing this leads to clumsy dialogue that stands out as unnatural and awkward:
“Some authors overdo it,” he called out, taking her hand and focusing on her hazel-colored eyes. “They add action description in the middle of their direct speech.” He shook his head and sighed. “It breaks up the pacing,” he said. “It’s just not a good idea.”

Using action in the midst of a line of dialogue has its place sometimes but it’s usually best done precisely and sparingly. Otherwise you slow down the movement of the scene.

When I visit schools I still see posters with “Verbs to replace ‘say’” on classroom walls. I wish teachers would stop with that practice. Attributions after dialogue should not draw attention to themselves. “Said” or “asked” suffice in most instances. If possible, let the reader infer who is speaking from context.

Great dialogue works on many levels. It needs to be concise and cut down to the best lines only. How do you know you have it right? You do it the same way you test all other parts of your text: leave your work-in-progress alone for a while and come back to it after a few days. Re-read. If it sounds good, it probably is. If it sounds trite or artificial, revise.

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Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

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Writing Teen Novels
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Pacing A Novel, by Lish McBride

Pacing is often the bane of my existence. My beginnings are never fast enough, my middles are squishy and my ends need to be slowed down. I’m three novels in and this has become a comforting pattern. The great thing about pacing is that it can be fixed. The bad thing about pacing is you have to fix it, which means editing, which always makes me incredibly whiny.

So now that I’ve proved to you that I have issues with pacing, thus invalidating anything I say after this, I’m now going to give you a quick and dirty run down on how your novel should be paced. Just because I can’t seem to follow the rules it doesn’t mean I don’t know what they are.

Beginnings are important, so your first page has to be shiny and wonderful. When I pick up a book in a bookstore, that first page makes it or breaks it for me. You could have the best synopsis in the world, but if that first page is boring or sloppy I lose all hope for the rest of the book. Great books have snappy openings – I know how both Moby Dick by Herman Melville and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens begin and I haven’t even read those books. Yet. I used to have the opening to The Thief of Always by Clive barker memorized. Openings are important.

So how does one make their opening a winner? Well, I can give you a few pointers. First, you should immediately ground the reader. They need to know exactly what kind of world they are stepping into. What tone do you want to strike? Which senses do you wish to invoke? Which character do you want to start with?

The best way to get things going is to start in medias res, which is a fancy Latin way of saying “into the midst of things.” Basically, you want to jump right into the narrative or plot. Don’t bog the story down with twenty pages of immediate back-story. Don’t dilly-dally, friends. Jump right into that sucker. Look at the opening you’re working on. Do you start in the right place? Does the reader leap right into your story? If not, cut some things.

You should never be afraid to cut away the fat (just save and back up EVERYTHING). Things can always be added back in later if you change your mind, or that necessary snippet can be moved elsewhere. You have a whole novel. Stretch out a little bit and enjoy the space. My middles always need to be trimmed down. They wander and slow down, and it’s just no fun. I have to edit them to death. Part of that is because I always have a firm sense of where the story starts and ends but my middles are always a little hazy. That’s okay. I don’t mind cutting. The trick is to figure out what to cut. This is where beta readers or editors come in. They are great at pointing out which spots were slow and clunky. If you don’t have access to such people, read through it yourself and think, “Is this part really necessary here?” or “This page goes on too long – what can I cut? What can I condense?” Sometimes mapping/outlining the chapters help. As always, read it out loud to yourself. That’s the best way to catch mistakes.

Stories generally follow an arc. You know, the whole ‘beginning, middle, boiling point, resolution’ thing? Yes, that. Well, characters should have their own arcs, and if you’re doing a series, it usually has it’s own arc too. Keep that in mind.

Your endings need to live up to the promise you made at the beginning of the book. This means it needs to be just as strong. Your characters should be at the end of their arc and should be changed (if they aren’t, you need to make sure the reader is clear on why they haven’t changed). Conflict should be resolved – or if you’re leading up to another book, resolved enough to satisfy. It needs to be memorable. Like the beginning, you have to re-establish tone, senses and imagery. You need some sort of emotional bang. You might not get it on the first try but, again, that’s what editing is for.

Homework: What part of novel writing is tricky for you? Beginnings? Middles? Ends? Think back on your favorite novels and think about what worked in their beginnings, middles or ends. How can you apply those things to your own work?

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Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

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Handling Novel Writing Deadlines, by Paul Volponi

Chances are that when you land your first book deal, you’ll be sitting on a completed manuscript. You’ll be given a general publication date which will usually be aligned with an industry marker. Common release shedules are Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter – followed by the year. For example, Summer 2015. That designation will now trigger some deadlines for you to meet as a writer. That’s right: deadlines.

I know, you were probably thinking – Hooray, I’ve finished this novel and it will be published. Well, not so fast. Here’s how these deadlines generally run: After a gap of several weeks, your editor will return a marked-up manuscript. Nowadays, it’s mostly done electronically, to save paper and the cost of mailing. At this point, the editor will point out any potential flaws in the work, including scenes or lines which may be crystal clear to you but not to potential readers. Grooming the work in conjunction with your editor’s notes may be done several times. Hence, several soft deadlines, though each succeeding one may get a little firmer as you progress and edge closer to the publication date. During the editing of my novel Black and White, which features two narrators (best friends Marcus and Eddie) in alternating chapters, we made several passes through the manuscript making sure each voice was clearly distinguishable from the other. Eventually, there will be a hard deadline for a manuscript that is completed in its content.

No, you’re not done yet.

Next the manuscript will go to copy-editing. After a few more weeks, the copy editor will present you with possibly 100 inquiries: spelling, meaning, accurate connections to worldly events, detail consistency and other things you would never have imagined. This will provide you with another deadline (usually a short one) to resolve all of these inquiries.

In my teen novel Rikers High the copy editor had a tough time with authentic jail slang. That slowed the process down a bit and was fairly frustrating.

Writers can feel a lot of pressure to meet these deadlines. I’ve been through this process 11 times with three different publishers, from the world’s biggest to a small one-man operation. It can either move ahead easily or be very daunting, depending on the work, the publisher and what’s going on in your life at the time. I was able to make every deadline for my first 10 novels, including having to face a change of editor mid-stream on my 8th work. It wasn’t until my most recent time through the process that a particular deadline couldn’t be met (here I faced a change of editor and a new person coming in to run the publishing company). So the book was pushed back approximately six months. Having that happen is never a good feeling, especially when you’re busy planning and writing the next novel.

How can you deal with these deadlines? Stay loose, calm and focused. Plan your goals week-by-week, instead of day-by-day, to avoid any low feelings. I also encourage fledgling writers to meet their own personal deadlines while compiling a potential manuscript – deadlines such as, I’ll finish this new chapter in 10 days. I believe the practise really helps. Remember, this is your novel. No one is more qualified to get it successfully nailed down than you.

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Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

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