Greatest Writing Strength

I give great dialogue and I have an excellent bead on human psychology.

I give credit for these things to reading, excessively, many genres, much non fiction. My entire life.

Minoring in film didn’t hurt my dialogue skills.

I majored in history in case you were wondering. That’s more on the psychology side. LOL.


V is for Verbal Fight

Na na na na na na na I wanna start a fight – Pink


V (1)Think about your dialogue as an action scene. It’s a verbal fight, a verbal spar. Everyone wants something. Each character has an agenda.

People don’t respond perfectly or even appropriately to what is said.

People don’t speak in complete sentences.


Your characters pattern of speech says something about them. Use dialect as a subtly applied flavor, not as a sauce.

Sometimes saying nothing is the most powerful answer.

-Purpose Driven Dialog Panel

Weekend Workshop Sunday Edition

We have reached the last chapter in Everyday Editing by Jeff Anderson. And here is it, the good stuff, dialogue.

-Dialogue moves the narrative along and/or reveals something about a character. (I think I’ve heard that before.) Use a distinctive voice.

-We indent every time a new person speaks. The end punctuation should go inside the quotation mark.

-Dialogue can help us show rather than tell.

-Said is NOT dead. (hrm….)

“Good dialogue encompasses both what is said and not said.” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Writers are selective, they choose to write about what is important and they edit that which does not move the story along.

Anderson makes a long an impassioned arguement in favor of “said”. He firmly believes that “said” fades into the background, it’s a nonentity in the world of dialogue tags but other words that could be substituted for “said” stand out. And you don’t want every tag to stand out. Tags should be utilitarian not art. He suggests dialogue packets- stimulus, internalization, and response, to add detail and movement and possibly leave off the tag altogether.

It’s a good arguement. One I will certainly consider at some point, possibly while I am flying home today.

Wednesday Writer’s Cafe – Canceled

The restaurant where we meet on Wednesday night was doing some renovations this week and closed on Wednesday. Hrmph. Who do they think they are? The owners or something? LOL

So some of us, met at my house, had dinner, and watched Gosford Park.

Yes, the movie night we discussed last week came to be already.

I love Gosford Park. It is so incredibly subtle in the way it was written and then filmed. You have to really watch and listen to everything. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times and I still caught something new last night. It is such a brilliant mix of carefully crafted words that blend with tiny actions to give things the whole meaning. For example….

The maid has been fired. The daughter of the house is asking if she is in any difficulty. The maid says apart from having no home and no job. The daughter repeats with particular difficulty. The maid placing a hand on her stomach says no. To which the daughter says you were always much clever than I was.

This scene reveals so much if you catch it all. The daughter is asking if the maid is knocked up. At the same time it reveals just what the daughter is being blackmailed about. It’s a short 20 seconds but man does it answer so many questions.

What do you think of Gosford Park? Have you seen it? Did you understand it? Did you catch all the undercurrents? Do you think Midi and Parks will meet back up at the funeral or will Parks immediately change his position? Enquiring minds want to know. Alright, this enquiring mind wants to know.

Weekend Workshop Saturday Edition

Thanks for tuning in after my weekend off. In the mean time I have skimmed through Chapter 8: Writing for the Camera, Chapter 9: Writing Stage Directions, and Chapter 10: Script Format. I have decided to skip all three chapters here as they are very specific to script writing for film and television and this is very definitely about writing novels. So onto Chapter 11: Rewriting from Story Sense by Paul Lucey.

I am sure most people have heard for the first 100 pages an editor/agent is looking for a reason to say no, after that they are looking for a reason to say yes. Which means as writers we have to spot the weaknesses in our work and rewrite in until they hang in there to page 101. Novels are not written, they are rewritten.

Seek critics who want to help you more than they want to please you. You want your beta readers to be honest, not gloss over the yucks and emphasize the positives. You want the opposite. You want someone who wants you to write the best novel you can and will be unfailingly honest about everything they see.

Is there excessive or repetitive dialogue? Is your dialogue sharp and witty?

Do all the characters serve a purpose in the story?

Do you have thoughtful content about something or is it feel good entertainment? There’s nothing wrong with either direction but it helps to know who you are trying to appeal to.

Is the conflict productive, moving the plot and prizing secrets from the characters?

Chances are if you were intrigued enough by your story idea to spend weeks or months (dare I say years?) working it into a novel, other people will be intrigued too. Stop flitting from idea to idea and devote yourself; time, energy, and passion, into the work. It shows.

If your characters are boring, give them something to work with. Get to know them better. Give them the flaw that makes you hate your mother in law or love your best friend.

Is the story boring? Did you over explain? Are you telling or showing?

Are your characters predictable, known, stereotypes? Are you trying so hard to do the opposite of a stereotype that you become a predictable stereotype anyway?

If nothing is working….take it apart, down to the nuts and bolts if you must, down to chapters, down to separate scenes in chapters. Then throw out what is troublesome and put whats left back together with scenes that work. It’s a ton of work, but if your story idea is really important to you, invest the time and trouble.

In the end, someone will always be a naysayer. Someone will tell you it can’t be done. You can’t do it because x, y, z. And you’ll be tempted to give them some example where it has been done. Don’t bother. Save that witty repartee for your novel.

After all, if living well is the best revenge, then publishing is the best stinging comeback.

Weekend Workshop Sunday Edition

The exercises from Chapter Seven of Story Sense, Paul Lucey.

Written regarding NCIS, Season 5, Episode 1.

1. Analyze in terms of the dramatizing strategies discussed in this chapter. Note when each convention appears and briefly describe its nature and purpose.

coincidence: Jeanna’s father picks Tony and Jeane up at the hospital. Rene is also a catalyst (he’s the frog).

coincidence: Abby finds the search results the director tried to erase.

reveal: the director tells the team the woman tony has been seeing is the frog’s daughter.

obstacles: can’t get satellite coverage.

reversal: the bad news: no coverage, good news – traffic cameras catch him. back to bad: Catalyst- Tony’s car blows up.

misunderstanding: the whole team thinks Tony is dead. (We know he isn’t because he’s still in the show seven seasons from now.)

contrast: Abby refuses to believe it is Tony until Ducky says so.

reveal: Abby tells Gibbs the prints on the bottle and glass are the director’s father.

undeserved suffering: someone is going to great lengths to convince the director her father’s alive

reveal: the director thinks the frog killed her father

coincidence: Ziva identifies the limo on the camera feedback-was Tony following it.

misunderstanding: Palmer doesn’t get why Ducky is so taken my the minimal lung scarring. Leads to catalyst/reveal-the dead man is not Tony (plague)

catalyst: Cort shows up demanding Tony. (CIA)

false alarm/reversal: Cort tries to choke information out of Tony, only to find himself facing multiple guns

reveal: Tony explains what happened in the morning (surprise meet the parents). The frog had known for months that Tony was undercover. He forces Tony into the limo and takes both cell phones. The car blows up. The Frog thinks he was the target. Tony wonders if he was the target. Tony is angry because Jeanne knows the truth now. The Frog wants out, he’s going to call and arrange a meeting, because he trusts NCIS.

catalyst/coincidence: who bombed Tony. Jeanne is the target

coincidence and contrast: the frog is in the director’s study.

catalyst: Gibbs shows up in the house.

reveal: the frog paid the director’s father the bribe

reveal: Gibbs tells the director the gun is not loaded.

reveal: flashback. Tony tells Jeanne who he really is.

the false alarm: the team is searching the yacht, guns drawn. But the frog is not there.

superiority: as the team walks away the audience gets to see the frog floating in the water with a bullet in his head.

2. Time the speeches and scenes in the show analyzed. Note whether the speeches end abruptly or linger. Note whether they use transitional visuals that show characters traveling from one location to another or whether the action cuts directly from scene to scene.

Multiple jump cuts per shot.

most speech is clipped and short. back and forth, snappy dialogue.

3. Examine how the film uses conflict to dramatize the story. What causes and intensifies the conflict? How does the conflict relate to the problem? How are the problem and the conflict resolved?

Constant conflict between the characters, the other agencies, and the good vs bad guys. In this show, the possible death of one of their own causes conflict with the CIA and between the characters on an emotional level. Tony is not dead, but the frog is. the problem really doesn’t resolve in this episode. Nor does the emotional conflict. Tony is heartbroken over Jeanne. The director is distraught over her father. Gibbs is in a position not to trust the director. Everyone is pissy.

Weekend Workshop Sunday Edition

As usual here are the exercises that go with Chapter 6 from Story Sense by Paul Lucey.

1. Screen the first act of a film or TV show and study it for its dialogue. Note when and how the dialogue reveals backstory, theme, characters, and relationship. When does the dialogue contain subtext? What is the nature of the subtext; backstory, situation, relationships, theme, or plot? Look at the non verbal part of the dialogue. How are the actors conveying this?

Watching NCIS, Season Four Episode 23.

Dead guy found in the back of a taxi on it’s way to NCIS by the guard at the Navy Yard entrance. Shock on the guards face. Open mouthed expression.

Gibbs watching video on the war in Iraq, Cynthia reminds him the files have to be reviewed by Friday, and tomorrow is Friday. (Talks with irritation.) Gibbbs replies I had a wife like you once Cynthia. Reveals back story on Gibbs-been married before, got divorced. Further conversation, reveals where the director is. Gibbs approves files because he knows the agent, rejects when he doesn’t know them.

The director calls, Gibbs refers to the “frog” a bad guy the director has been chasing the whole season. (Backstory.)

Ducky says it’s not often we get to walk to a crime scene. (Theme of the show. Death and detection.)

Jeanne calls Tony, she wants to buy a house. He is completely freaked out. (Relationships)

Tony and McGee joke about Tony not being a a boy scout and Tony having been a frat house wet tee shirt contest scout. (Backstory and personality)

Gibbs comments on every bit of conversation that occurred ostensibly out of ear shot. (Character)

the cab drive make multiple disparaging remarks about marriage in front of Tony.

Gibbs is dodging calls from Cynthia, he does hate a nagging woman. (This is clearly a theme of the episode, fearful scary marriage with nagging women.)

Abby and Ziva compare first time sex stories. Abby’s in a cab. Ziva in a weapons carrier. (Backstory and characters)

The names on the list, most of which are dead, Tony and Ziva are to look for the living ones to find a connection.

Cynthia wants Gibbs to take a call from the Yemen embassy, the dead guy having been identified as an embassy employee.  They send an attache. Who reveals the young man was very connected.

2. I skipped this one. It wanted me to act out a scene. No thanks. I have no acting chops.

3. Write a dialogue based on the following prompt.

-A man or a woman becomes tired of waiting for his or her lover to propose marriage. An ultimatum must be delivered “Marry me or I’ll marry my friend in Texas.” The person receiving the ultimatum is shaken but refuses to be pushed.

Catching sight of Steven, Maya rode slowly over to the fence on Salem her twelve year old trail horse. “Glad to see you’re back.” She leaned down to provide a perfunctory kiss. “It felt like you were gone for months.”

Steven shook his head slightly.

“Yes months!” Maya insisted.

Clearing his throat Steven said nothing.

“Did you miss me?” Maya slid from the saddle and opened the fence.

Giving a small smile, Steven slipped his hand under Maya’s elbow.

“I knew you missed me as much as I missed you.” Maya pounced. “Did you bring me anything?”

Steven sighed.

“Perhaps something in a small blue and silver box?” Maya giggled.

Steven chortled.

Maya stopped giggling abruptly. She whirled to face Steven. “You’re never going to marry me, are you?”

Steven sighed heavily.

“If you don’t want to marry me, just say so. I can always marry my friend in Texas.”

“That might be for the best.” Steven’s voice remained even.

“How could you say that? Don’t you love me?” Maya demanded.

Steven sighed heavily again and very quietly under his breath replied, “Not so much.”

Maya pretended not to hear him. “I’m serious, if you don’t marry me soon, I’ll go to Texas.”

Steven opened the door and gently propelled Maya in from where she had been enjoying some yard time. It was like this every day with her. He scanned her bracelet and walked her over to the group therapy room. Steven wondered why they bothered with this one, it wouldn’t do her any good. It never had, all these years, not one bit.