Tag Archives: writing basics

Using Subtext in Writing Dialogue

Some people just have a knack for writing dialogue, however it takes more than just a “good ear”.   There are other important elements that go into effective dialogue writing.

Some writers may believe that eavesdropping on  a conversation on a subway car provides instruction for how dialogue should be written.  Sure it may sound great.  After all how much more real can you get than hearing people engaging in real conversation?  Surprisingly their conversation may sound great but it will rarely make it to an award winning work of art.  Why?  Because writing good dialogue that makes readers fall in love with your characters and drives them to want to continue and finish your novel involves Subtext elements.

To understand what Subtext is all about, consider the following dialogue:

 

MARY:    “What did you do to your hair?”

KATE:  “I tried something different.  Do you like it?”

MARY:  “Well, to tell you the truth – no.  It makes you look like a hooker.”

KATE: “Well you don’t have to be so mean about it.”

Now consider the same exchange but with subtext:

MARY:  “Did you forget something?”

KATE:  “What?”

MARY:  “Red Lipstick, and shoes and dress to match? You know something to go with your new hairdo. “

While the first exchange falls flat, the second one provides more dramatic style.  Mary simply suggests that Kate looks like a hooker rather than tell her.  But even then, the subtext could be even more subtle.

Let’s look at the following exchange between a couple who hate each other – on the day of their wedding anniversary.

BILL:  “Happy Anniversary Honey.”

JANE: “Twenty years already.”

BILL:  “Twenty happy years.  We should celebrate.”

JANE: “It’s so underrated.  Let’s do something we both enjoy.”

BILL: “Agreed.  There’s a ball game this afternoon.  I’ll see if Pete wants to go.”

JANE: “And I’ll ask Betty if she’d like to go to the mall.”

In this exchange, “Something they both enjoy” translates into something that doesn’t involve each other.   It works because it falls under the rule of showing not telling.  We are showing the feelings each other have for each other.

Next time you write dialogue ask yourself the question Can I write this exchange by showing how the characters feel without being direct? In other words can you use subtext to convey the dialogue?

 

 

 

 

 

Get Your Damn Novel Written Already! Three Critical Rules

This post doesn’t have anything that is new.  It just cuts to the chase and lets you in on the bare essentials of writing.

First things first….there are many tips – great tips – on writing but never become too prescriptive on your approach.  Why? Because every writer is different.  Keep what works, drop what doesn’t.

So let’s get started:

Rule 1:  Don’t get discouraged!

Here’s a scenario: you’re an avid reader; you work in a dead end boring job; you decide you want to write a novel.  You finally sit down to write a novel.  You have an idea (perhaps you don’t) and you stare at a blank piece of paper and after 10 minutes you write the first sentence:

   It was a rainy night and Bernie was lying dead on the asphalt of his driveway.

You decide you’re tired and go watch TV and the next day you read the first sentence of your first novel.  You conclude it’s crap.  You decide you’re no writer.  Full stop.

Getting discouraged is EASY.  It has happened to the GREATEST writers.  The single biggest detriment to writing that great novel is YOU.  You need to believe in yourself and get passionate about what you’re going to do.  It’s not the easiest pursuit but it may be one of the greatest ways to earn a living.

Rule 2: Inspiration doesn’t come – it’s made!

That’s true.  Many beginning (and some established) writers only write when inspiration comes.  The truth of the matter is that inspiration comes when you take the time to write.

So how do you actually make inspiration come?  You need to follow the next rule.

Rule 3:  Set aside time each day to write!

Writing consistently is key to gaining momentum on your writing.  One of my biggest challenges as a new writer was setting the time each day to write.  Then some ten years ago I came across NaNoWriMo.  The annual event that challenges writers to write a complete (50,000 word) novel during the month of November.  That first year I wrote 63,000 words.  The novel turned out to be crap but the experience was key in developing a writing habit.  To this day I write every day.

Rule 4:  Don’t re-invent the wheel!

There are only a few dozen stories to write.  That’s it!  Some 20 Plots  make up the bulk of any (good) story that has ever been written.

The Plot forms are as follows:

  • Ascension and Descension
  • Coming of Age (also called the “Maturation” plot)
  • Escape
  • Forbidden Love
  • Rescue
  • The Riddle
  • Rivalry
  • Underdog
  • Temptation
  • Metamorphosis
  • Adventure
  • Chase
  • Discover
  • Love
  • Quest
  • Revenge
  • Sacrifice
  • Transformation
  • Wretched Excess

All great stories come from these basic plots.  Learning and mastering their form will make for not only well-rounded stories but also help you in deciding how your story will (and should) develop.

 

Using the Right Word – Le Mot Juste!

Painters use paint, house builders use bricks – and writers use WORDS.

Influential French novelist – Gustave Flaubert – would spend days searching for the one right word.  He believed that success to good literary work required the painstaking task of foraging through until le mot juste – popped off the page.  It was no wonder if would take him weeks to write a single page.  This technique greatly limited his output – but there is no question as to the quality of his work.

The Right Word isn’t The Biggest One!

Writers, especially beginners believe that you need to replace every word with an obscure replacement from a handy thesaurus.  In reality, a simple word is sometimes your best bet.

Which sentence sounds best?

  • I crossed the field and kicked the ball to the back of the net.
  • I crossed the field and struck the ball to the back of the net.
  • I crossed the field and propelled the ball to the back of the net.

There really isn’t a right answer.  Choosing the right word isn’t just a matter of context within a sentence.  Sometimes the word must reflect the entire paragraph – or page – or chapter.  For instance, the more uncommon a word is – the less you should reuse a word.  In the above examples, I can get away with using the word “kicked” several times…but using “propelled” would not be advised.

Profanity

Sometimes the right word is a bad one!  But be cautious not to overuse them.  Doing so will reek of amateurism!

 

How to Make Your Story Believable

Making your story believable is dependent on your “authoritative voice”.  Convincing the reader must be paramount if you want your novel or short story to succeed.  Here are some key methods great writers use.

Research

Research is key.  Readers are smarter than you think.  They can easily sift out “fake facts”.  On the flip side, injecting some true researched tidbits can gain you respect from your reader.

But a word of caution….you can OVERDO it!  Don’t make your story sound like a Wikipedia article!

Hook The Reader Quickly

Inject tension early in your novel.  Doing so (early) tells the reader that the writer – has an important story to tell.  Starting the story off too immersed into pointless description and expository is a great way to lose your reader.

Keep the Story Going!

The story should keep the plot going.  Think basketball, where the aim of the game is to keep the ball moving and ultimately make the basket.  If all you’re doing is dribbling aimlessly your reader will lose interest.  Every seen should be directed at moving ‘the ball’ to the ultimate goal (plot goal) or subplot.

 

As a writer, your ultimate goal is keeping the reader engaged.  The techniques above are only a few that are key.