The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Thursday, October 23, 2014

When to NOT Follow the Rules

      Anyone who knows me knows I am a strict rule-follower. For example, when I wrote an underground newspaper in 7th grade, it corresponded with this rule:

* Middle-schoolers are a crazy bunch and must rail against the system.

    I am also known far and wide for my adherence to fashion rules. Oh, Oscar de la Renta, before he died, swooned (and often fainted, he was so aghast) over my fashion choices. The rule I stick to:

* Crocs are appropriate in every situation. A black tie event? Black Crocs, of course.

    Here comes the sticky wicket when it comes to rule-following. NaNoWriMo is coming up, and there is no way in not-heaven (as Val is fond of saying) that I want to start another project. I don't have another novel novel idea in me. The well in me has run dry when it comes to that long of a fictional project.

    However, I do have a NaNo from cough*cough*cough (several years ago--more than two coughs, Cathy C. Hall). Last year, I scrapped the whole thing and started--more or less--from scratch. It's been slow slogging, and now I have 20,000 words on the page (and lots of mashed potatoes under my belt).

Here is a picture of my original NaNoWriMo novel. It will be lining my guinea pig cage...whenever I get a guinea pig.

     I was a NaNoWriMo participant last year, and the other writers in my writing critique group (the WWWPs) called ourselves NaNoWriMo Rebels. We adored many of the components, but--for the most part--were not strictly adhering to the rules.

     Should I be a rebel again? I know I can't keep up with the word count (I teach third grade and it's a brutal year, workload-wise) but I benefit from the nudge prod electric cattle prod that NaNo provides. There are write-ins that I've enjoyed participating in. 

      I figure that however I can add to my word count, I should do it. But what do I call myself, since I was a NaNoWriMo Rebel last year? I need a new name on a new badge to pin onto myself, since it's a new year for NaNo.

      Any suggestions?

Monday, October 20, 2014

All He Wanted Was Some Wheat Toast

       I went to The Write Direction writing conference in Columbia, Missouri on Saturday. It was hosted by Columbia's chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild. I went to several great sessions, but on today's post, I'm focusing in on a dialogue workshop led by Terry Allen.

     We looked at some screenplays that had been rewritten. In the clip (above) from the movie Five Easy Pieces, the Nicholson character really wanted some wheat toast. The earlier version of the script had wheat toast buried in the middle of the dialogue line--in several dialogue lines. It was revised to end with "wheat toast" each time.

* Put what is most important at the end or at the beginning. The weakest part of the dialogue line is in the middle.

However, if you have a character that is weak (lacks confidence, for example), have them say the most important part in the middle of their line.

    Think about it. If Rhett Butler had said, "My dear, I don't give a damn, and I'm telling you as frankly as I possibly can," that doesn't have the same impact as the line he does hurl at Scarlett.

     When your character is talking, as a writer, you should be very clear what each character wants, even if they're not openly sharing that with others.

Every character should want something... even if it's only a glass of water.
                                                                      ---Kurt Vonnegut

* Why would a character ask directly for what they want? Why wouldn't they?

       Consider the text and the subtext. What is getting in the way of a character getting what they want? What are they willing to do in order to get what they want?

* What is not said has huge meaning.

       Here is a bit of dialogue I was composing for you am bluffing you with:

"I love these cookies. They remind me of the cookies my mother baked, but of course, she's been dead since I was thirteen, when she died in a fiery car crash caused by a man who was stalking her. I really shouldn't eat so many of these cookies, because my verbally abusive husband will denigrate me when I get home, but of course I cannot control my eating because I've got an addictive personality. It used to be booze...then it was meth. Now, it's mashed potatoes, which I gobble by the bowlful to comfort myself after giving birth to conjoined twins a year ago," Maggie said sobbingly.

* Don't use dialogue as an information dump.


* If you feel the need to explain how a character is saying something, the dialogue is not strong enough. Avoid taglines.

      And make sure each character has a distinct voice. Consider their word choice, choice of phrases and sentence structure. Each of the characters should not sound like a carbon copy of you. (This is something I struggle with.)

* Let go. Let the characters speak through you. Not as you.

      What are some dialogue lines from movies, television shows, books or your own writing that is memorable? Stealin' Sioux wants to know...