Saturday, March 24, 2012

He Said / She Said. . .

Every writer has his/her own unique style of delivering a story to their readers.  Some use lots of dialogue, others use a great deal of detail and some equally balance the two extremes.  I’ve heard arguments on using “too” much dialogue wherein it’s really not considered “storytelling,” which I find interesting because every movie you watch, (outside of silent films), which usually come from books, have dialogue.  It would seem pretty boring if the characters never had any interaction with one another, wouldn’t you agree?  But from a writing standpoint, how much dialogue you use can make or break a story—and your use of technique can make all the difference too. 

 One point to dialogue that is essential to any story is in knowing which character is speaking.  For some writers, this is an easy task, while others struggle with this.  If you, the writer, have to continually tell your reader who is speaking, you have missed the mark big time and may cause your readers to become agitated trying to figure it out.  I cannot stand to read a story where I have to continually go back and forth to see who is doing the speaking.  You can lose readers quickly if you do this too often. 

When establishing strong characters, it is important to make sure their voice is heard and understood.  Take for example an excerpt from my novel, Silent Knight, Chapter Reunited:   I’ve set the scene for you below.  From the way it reads, you will instantly be able to tell who is doing the speaking without me telling you who is.

Clarence looked down at his plate and Reggie kept his attention focused on his plate as well. Neither of them said a word. Reggie broke their silence first.
“Man, these greens are really good. Ma knows how to burn a pot!”

“She sure does.”

“Hey, man, I know you’re upset, but really, Ma is right. You know how my pop is. I’ve never known that man to listen to anyone.”

Clarence sighed and picked up a forkful of mac and cheese and jammed it in his mouth.
“So you gonna judge us all. Is that it? Why the f*ck did you come back if you’re gonna to take that attitude?”

“Wait a damn minute! That’s not fair! I’m not judging anyone. It’s just that coming back here has really drained me, that’s all.”

The dialogue of the characters speaks for themselves and what it is they are speaking about.  When setting a scene, you give enough detail so your reader may picture it in their mind, then you follow it up with speaking.  When done correctly, the reader will feel like their watching a movie, rather than reading words on a paper, or in today’s case, on an electronic device.  It should flow just like you’re having a conversation with another person.  I love stories I read with lots of dialogue, especially when it’s a heated debate.  It makes for a fun read.  I enjoy writers who have mastered this skill, and I’m proud to say I am among them.  My readers love that about my stories.
However, having said that, you have to be careful not to overdo your speaking.  As you are writing and picturing the scene in your mind, you have to remember there are things your characters are doing outside of just speaking.  For one, when your creative juices are flowing, you’re not always aware of the dynamics of your characters’ actions—that’s usually because you’re basically concerning yourself with laying down the groundwork to the story, which is fine.  As you know by now, there’s a reason writers must do revisions.  Using the sample excerpt above, take note that the wording in bold sets up the scene.   What you’re creating is giving your reader a visual of how your characters are interacting.   Second, you must always be aware that things may make plenty of sense in your mind, but it’s your job to convey that to your readers.  This, too, is tricky and can be hard.  Even when you feel strongly about something a character may have said, sometimes the reader may not interpret it the same.  No worries—life goes on and all will be forgiven provided you have written a good story.  It’s very important and key to make sure you bring those things up, while you have the reader’s full undivided attention.  If you just write straight dialogue with nothing in between, the story will not flow nor will it appear real.  Again, picture yourself when engaged in a conversation with various types of people, and think about how you’re interacting with those people.  The more you practice this, the better your dialogue will be.

When thinking of speech among characters, there are points of view that are equally important.  Please note there are three points of view a writer may choose, and I’ve read some books where an author used all three, which makes for a challenging task to the writer, but also an engaging story for their readers, if done correctly.

First-Person Point of View:  Is a story being told by your character’s narration—I, me, my, mine.  Silent Knight was written in first-person, as the story was told by six different characters expressing his/her own views on the way things were in their eyes.  First-Person is also one of the easiest points of view to write from, and the one most authors like to pick because of its ease to write.

 Second-Person Point of View:  Is a story being told by the author to draw his reader in.  In some rare cases, the author may use words like you and your to describe a scene.  The second-person has a more intimate feel for the reader, and can be a fun view to write from, but with a lot more detail finesse needed to pull this view off.   Mello & June had a combination of first-person and second-person.  This was very challenging to write from both perspectives, but rewarding that I was able to accomplish it.

Third-Person Point of View:  Is a story being told like an outsider looking into the story—the reader being the “outsider.”  This doesn’t necessarily have to be the author’s view, but the character’s view or someone intricate to the storyline.  In this voice, it’s usually the author’s voice you hear more so than the character’s voice, wherein he/she gives descriptive detail and lures you into what is going on.  This voice is very similar to first-person, but with the exception of hearing the author’s voice instead.  This is a fun voice to play around with also. 

As you can see, using the three different voices will lend some very interesting storylines to its rightful author who handles it with careful ease and much precision.  Playing with all three voices can prove very difficult, and before one tackles that, it is important that you know what your story is about (instead of trying to wing it), and have your outline ready and know your characters pretty well to decide where each of them are going and how they will relay to your readers.

One thing you do not want to do is have so many different things going on that you confuse the reader to the point where they will not even try to figure out who is speaking or why, and give up on your story.  You want to avoid doing that at all cause, but there are writers who take that risk and are successful, and other times, they are not.  All writers like to drag their stories out to build suspense, which is great to do, but have you ever read some stories where you’re engaged; the characters are speaking; and then you get to the end of the chapter, only to be left feeling like you’ve missed something?   It’s almost as if being built up to be let down.  It’s very tricky with how much of this you should do in your story, but a good rule of thumb is to make sure whichever voice you choose for your characters to speak in, that you keep it consistent throughout the story.

As we’ve spoken in past blog posts about writing, it can be a very rewarding experience to create things from one’s mind, but it can also be just as grueling a process because of all the things you have to be aware of while doing it.  Which is why on my first draft of any manuscript I write, I don’t worry about doing things totally correct, but I concentrate more so on getting the story told.  The fun part (not) comes with the editing, which, as you already know, you have to do!  There is no getting around this no matter how much you hate it, and trust me no one hates revisions/edits more than me.  Oh God how I hate that part of writing, but you cannot consider yourself a writer, if you do not edit yourself.  There’s no such animal.

So, you’re still thinking of writing, eh?  Good luck and have fun!

Kimberly Ranee Hicks, Author/Poet
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