Tag Archives: Dialog

Why “it was really, really good” isn’t good enough

Success or Failure?Last night I finished a huge scene. It’s pivotal to a plot thread, and required a great deal of unique dialog and a metric ton of description.

Both were challenging by themselves; together, they were a nightmare.

I wrote no less than 1500 words; 3x my daily quota. If you saw the progress meter jump 3% today, now you know why.

Nevertheless, I was satisfied with the result.

If you read “The Novelist’s Burden” below, you know why I was aching to share this material, in spite of the fact it’s still probably unpolished (I can never tell until a few days later). So it was that when my wife arrived home from class and lab, I gave her an appropriate number of hugs before begging her to read a total of 68 pages, half of them containing new content.

She loved it. Which is frustrating to me. You see, my wife loves everything I write, whether it’s legendary or total crap. It’s very sweet, but it makes it impossible for me to judge the quality of what I’ve written.

But let’s suppose for a moment she was more critical and never said my work was good unless it really impressed her. And last night she thought my new material was very, very good.

That’s still not good enough.

What I’m going for, folks, is that when you set down the manuscript, you say “wow”, just the slightest bit breathless. You might not say it aloud, but if you’re at least thinking it, I’ll have won.

Anything less is just me playing in the sandbox for my own amusement.

The Heroes’ Council Revisited (and) Adding Scene 3.5 After Scene 9

I’ve come to discover that the “no comments” link here on the blog is a little misleading.

I have the blog set up to post directly to Facebook; sometimes friends comment there. Just as often, readers email me comments or suggestions instead of posting here.

Several people have gotten back to me with advice about the Heroes’ council. Some advice was to cut it out; others suggested tell it from a POV that would be more interesting than just listening to a bunch of old guys talk, or add another twist.

All of the suggestions combined boil down to one simple goal:

Make it interesting.

Of course, putting it that way is rather vague, but the crux of it is to add a character, or agenda item, or twist, or perspective to make it interesting, because on its face, a bunch of old guys debating political action isn’t necessarily by itself all that fun to watch.

I had already written most of the scene, but disliked the “I’ve seen it all before” feel. Last night I redressed it a little bit. The interesting angle (to me) was Damek’s ability to hear the thoughts of those present. And yet I didn’t want to fall into the trap presented by third-person omniscience, where the narrator seems to bounce from person to person so rapidly that the reader becomes disoriented and disconnected.

Many of other men’s thoughts/feelings are generalized, summarized, or grouped together when they are similar so that I can rattle off the description more quickly and move on to the dialog again.

I was also able to give the whole scene what I thought was a sharper impact upon conclusion, in not just one, but two angles of dialog. But I’ll have to wait until I’m ready to preview it here (I don’t think it’s ready yet) for you to tell me if I’ve succeeded.

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Part of my struggle to move from amateurism to professionalism in writing requires me to embrace new methods I haven’t previously used.

One such method is writing non-chronologically. I’ve always done the traditional thing, starting a novel on page one. I spend about a week on the first sentence, another week on the first page, and then dive in more fully. Whatever happens next is whatever I write next.

This is not necessarily the best method for completing a novel. One of the critiques I’ve gotten for Perfect Justice is that the beginning doesn’t entirely set up the ending.

Well, “no duh” as I used to say; when I started writing the story, I had a different ending in mind than I did when I got to the end.

This is why some people write the ending first — not only do you have someplace to go, but you know exactly what it is. You can then insert a clever turn of phrase or choice bit of dialog 300 pages earlier which directly impacts the conclusion.

I haven’t written the ending for FRAGILE GODS yet (though I have outlined it), but I have a pact with myself that if a scene jumps out at me before I reach it in prose, I will dive in and write it without waiting one, two, or fifty chapters in the interim.

What I didn’t expect was to apply this in reverse…having already written 8 or 9 consecutive scenes, it became clear to me that an idea I had was far more appropriate as scene 4 than as scene 10. It’s a scene about the Jek’s farm after the tragedy in Scene 2. As far away as Scene 10, it was just distracting, whereas after scene 3, it helps build suspense.

OLD SEQUENCE:

1. Damek (A)
2. Jek’s Farm (B)
3. Damek (A)
4. General Shoji (C)
5. Damek (A)
6. General Shoji (C)
7. Damek (A)
8. General Shoji (C)
9. Damek (A)
10. Jek’s Farm (B)

Viewed that way, I can tell the return to Jek’s farm is a bit jarring so late in the game. Plus it introduces a new character, one who plays a huge role in story later. Introducing her earlier allows me to weave three story elements together like so:

1. Damek (A)
2. Jek’s Farm (B)
3. Damek (A)
4. Jek’s Farm / Issia¬†(B)
5. Damek (A)
6. General Shoji (C)
7. Damek (A)
8. General Shoji (C)

Time for another preview.

I’m including the first scene again because it has been revised slightly to make the first paragraph (hopefully) a stronger hook.

My frustration with the second scene is that I was sorely tempted over and over again to rush through the dialog, because that’s the meat of the story. Yet each time I read it I find it lacking details; what are these guys wearing? Where are they? What are they doing? What time of day is it?

And every time I try to include those details, I feel that the pacing is becoming horribly bogged down. Maybe you guys can help.

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The first sign of war was a single rider approaching Mekli’s camp, kicking up clouds of dust in its wake. Children paused to watch, while most of the adults feigned disinterest. Hundreds of tents huddled against the desert floor, dying campfires serving as loci for several families, casting large shadows in the failing light. Pots and clothes hung from lines stretched across the open.

Mekli walked beyond the boundary of his camp, duty-bound to receive the rider first and anxious to keep his conversation private. Good news was never delivered with urgency; this rider’s haste was an ill omen.

The rider arrived and dismounted smoothly. If his garments had once held color, it had faded in the sand and sun. He approached Mekli with a sure step despite his long ride. Mekli envied his youth.

“Honored Father,” the rider said with a bow, which Mekli returned.

“Tell me your name, messenger,” Mekli invited.

“I am called Viktin, of the Tektimti tribe.”

“You are welcomed here, Viktin. May our fires be home to you. But you did not come here to exchange formalities with an old man.”

“No,” Viktin admitted. “The Asoki prepare for war.”

“The Asoki always war,” Mekli said dismissively.

“No, Honored Father. Their tribes are united now. They mean to conquer us next.”

Mekli chewed the inside of his lip, considering. It was hard to imagine Asoko unified.

“Tell me everything,” he said.

#

As usual, Azai’s mind was impossible to read. Damek strained to perceive his brother’s thoughts, but the effort was futile.

“Give it up,” Azai advised. “You aren’t strong enough and you never will be.”

Azai was probably right. But Damek didn’t need the Sight to know his elder brother was excited.

“Something’s on your mind,” Damek said. “Even if I can’t tell what.”

Azai face lit with a grin, and he gave his white headband an unconscious tug.

“Honor and glory, little brother. We’re about to take our true place in the world.” He stopped pacing and sat across the campfire from Damek.

“Our true place?”

“As heroes,” Azai clarified, turning abruptly serious.

Damek snorted. “Heroes?”

“That’s right. The Asoki finally mean to conquer us.”

“I’ve heard the rumors,” Damek said. “I suppose you plan to become a great warrior?”

“Better,” Azai said. “You and I are going to stop their whole army.”

“A poor joke, Azai.”

“Little brother,” Azai said, “I have never been more serious in my life.”