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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

He Said/She Said Helpful Hints

Continuing on the week's theme of what makes successful dialogue...

One of the things I've seen a lot as an editor and avid reader, both of unpublished and published writers, is a tendency that newer or less-experienced writers have of forgetting all about showing the reader the physical actions of their characters as soon as they begin to speak. That means a lot of exchanges that look like this:

Danielle looked at Jason.
"You really mean that? You're going to ask Sarah to prom?"
"I was thinking about it."
"Why? Because you heard she got breast implants?"
"Don't be mad just because she went through a growth spurt."

Or whatever. Basically, you see lots of dialogue that follows the format of a script or a play: lots of exchange, and not much for a reader to visualize.
The biggest problem here is that you're missing an opportunity--namely, you're missing the opportunity to show us how your character feels about the things he or she is saying and hearing. Possibly he/she feels vehement about the point he/she is trying to make; possibly he/she is lying, or avoiding some other truth, or uncomfortable, or nervous, etc. etc. And the best way of indicating these different attitudes is by showing them.

For example:
Danielle stared hard at Jason.
"You really mean that?" Her voice sounded weird and squeaky, even to her own ears. "You're going to ask Sarah to prom?"
Jason shrugged, looking at Danielle sideways. "I was thinking about it," he said, and she wondered when he had gotten so good at sounding casual.
"Why? Because you heard she got breast implants?" She blurted out the words without meaning to, and instantly regretted it. Her face was burning. She had just said the word breast in front of Jason. The last time they'd discussed body parts was when they were three and splashing around naked in the kiddie pool.
"Don't be mad just because she went through a growth spurt," Jason said, chucking her on the arm. She jerked away.

Here you have the opportunity to develop a complex relationship between your characters, and to indicate subtle shifts in what they are thinking and feeling, even within a single conversation. In the first exchange, Danielle's words might communicate that she is jealous, or skeptical, but they communicate little else--you have no idea what her relationship with Jason is really like. In the second exchange, you have the opportunity to learn more about their history together, and their changing relationship through time. Even relatively small physical gestures--he chucks her on the arm (super friendly); she jerks away (the friendliness is grating on her)--can be incredibly revelatory. Is Danielle falling in love with her childhood best friend???

Helpful Hint: When you're editing your MS, go through the pages of text. if you see a lot of pages with a ton of white space, it probably means lots of dialogue that needs fleshing out with physicality and gesture.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Monday Musings--Realistic Dialogue

What makes dialogue "feel" realistic? This isn't a rhetorical question--I'm actually interested in hearing, and then reposting, your responses. Please post examples, reference writers, or quote passages you feel might be relevant.

The interesting thing about dialogue that feels real is that, interestingly, it's actually NOT perfectly realistic. For example, in real life, you might be on the phone with your friend telling a story about your night while simultaneously surfing the internet, and a direct transcription of your end of the conversation would look like this:

"Yeah, and so then he was like, getting all crazy or whatever, and I was, like, wtf? You know? It's like...he has such a problem... [pause] What? Oh, no, sorry. No, I'm not typing. No, anyway, what was I saying? Oh! So he was, like, you know that's over, say it's over, and I was like, what are you talking about? I don't know. And then Jon came over and we kind of just, like, dropped it, so I have no idea."

While that may be "real" dialogue, it actually reads as both stylized and incredibly annoying. In fact, it's the opposite of good writing: it uses lots of words without actually saying anything meaningful.

On the other hand, we all know the dreaded "Dawson's Creek" phenomena: I hate it when I read a manuscript (or open a book) and find a 16-year-old girl, described as an average student, shy, maybe with not much of a romantic history, who speaks like this when in a confrontation with, say, her stepmother:

"I'm tired of the fact that you and dad have a perfect domestic life, while I feel totally excluded. It's as though he has completed forgotten about my real mother, and you're pretending she never existed!"

That's a lot of clarity for a 16-year-old, and more transparency of thought/communication than most adults ever express.

Then again, if a 16-year-old were to say to her best friend in a novel: "I hate how dad and Kerri just pretend like we're some family in, like, an LL Bean commercial, you know? He doesn't even talk about her anymore--my mom, I mean. Like she never even existed."

I'd buy that.

Again, though, it's far easier to point out what makes BAD dialogue than to identify what makes GOOD dialogue. Some more pet peeves:

"Cliche" dialogue: "Oh my god," Becky, the head cheerleader, chirped, "Did you, like, see what she was wearing? Lo-ser."

In teen books, too many "teenisms": "OMG WTF! I cannot BUH-LIEVE Andrew didn't retweet you!"

In children's books, children who talk like what conservative grown-ups in the fifties wished their children had spoken like: "Oh, wow, Tommy!" Sarah said, as Tommy showed her the treehouse. "That's super neat!"

I'd like to spend time this week on the blog, focusing on dialogue. So please, tell me: what kind of dialogue do you respond to? And what kind of habits/tendencies do you see in written dialogue that drives you bananas?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

In The Land of In-Between

Finishing a novel is always a bittersweet experience. It brings a tremendous rush of accomplishment, which I think partly relates to the geometric aspect of a novel: a good novel has an arc, it has a clearly delineated shape, and there's a kind of ingrained satisfaction you get to completing its symmetry. Then there is the fact that you just plain made it through the slog--through all the days when every single cell in your body resisted the computer and the page, when each sentence took forever to work its way out of the muddle and murk of your brain, when friends were calling and the sunny skies were taunting you to come out and enjoy! When you finish a novel, you have once again come to the end of a long, hard, dusty, and often grueling road...like a marathon, except without anyone to cheer you on and offer you little sippy cups full of juice at the finish line.

On the other hand, finishing a novel often fills me with sadness, and a kind of regret; for months I have toiled among the same characters, in a specific world, and all of a sudden they are gone, and the world buds away from me, complete, floating off into the ether like a soap bubble. It leaves me with a sense of loss that (I'm ashamed to admit) has more than once made me cry.

Last week I finished the sequel to Delirium, which was an interesting experience for me partially because I knew it was not the end of these characters or this world--I still have a final book in the trilogy to complete, and my mind almost instantly began cycling forward to the new book, plotting and scheming and thinking about what will come next. But if completing Delirium 2 didn't leave me with the usual sadness, it also didn't leave me with the typical feelings of accomplishment; the road is not yet finished.

For now, however, I am in that blank and shimmering space in-between books, a wonderful and also terrifying place to be. I won't start Delirium 3 until early next year, so for now novelistic possibilities are endless. I could write a book of poems! (For the sake of all potery-lovers/readers in the world, however, I'll spare you.) Or a rhyming picture book! Or a murder mystery featuring a delinquent cat detective! (Again, in the interest of good taste, I won't--but I could.)

This will be my week to explore a new project, and once again get started on another marathon slog toward the finish line. Maybe I'll invest in some sippy cups, just in case. :)

Boxes and Gas Leaks and Books, Oh My!

Alright, peeps. I'm getting serious about my blog hiatus and I'm vowing to be much better about posting. I recently moved, and my apartment is still in a state of disarray (plus my oven broke--thus the "gas leak" portion of my post title), but I am slowly carving my way through the mess of boxes and books, and am feeling a little less like a headcase and a little more like a human.


Now I just need a title...

Thus the reason for my MASSIVE TITLING CONTEST!!

Okay, so I realize that typically in order to title books it helps to have read them, but I've never been a super traditional kind of girl, so I'm just going to go ahead and host the titling contest anyway. However, keep in mind that this is the follow-up book to DELIRIUM, whose Goodreads description I've pasted below:

Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love -the deliria- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the governments demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

All you have to do to enter is write in with a suggested title for book 2 (hint: it should be a single-word title that kind of "goes" with the title of Delirium, and suggest big, epic, explosive adventures, or sweeping illness, or tragic love...any of the above, really. :)) As long as you suggest a title you'll be eligible to win--I'll select the ultimate winner at random.

And what, pray tell, will you win?

Signed ARCs of both Before I Fall and Delirium, along with other secret goodies I plan on digging up for you POSSIBLY INCLUDING: a tote bag, signed bookmarks, and a large smiley face drawn on a sheet of paper. (What? I LOVE smiley faces!)

I can't wait to hear what you all come up with!


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I'm baaaaaack

Hello, my pretties!
Did you miss me? Sorry for the long blog delay...I was wrapping things up in Paris, and then I returned home to a horrifically disordered house and a To-Do list that could double as a phone book, except with a lot more incidents of the word "laundry" in it.
Anyway, I wanted to share the news that I'll be celebrating my return to the states this weekend in true literary style, by participating in the awesome annual BROOKLYN BOOK FESTIVAL! See below for Sunday's "Youth Stoop" events--I'm on the Happily Ever After panel with absolutely SWOON-worthy authors, so come check it out. (Actually, you should just make a day of it...you'll want to once you see what else is going on during the day!)

*You’ve Got to Be Kidding. Former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Jon Scieszka (Spaceheadz), National Book Award Finalist E. Lockhart (The Treasure Map of Boys) and Mac Barnett (The Brixton Brothers) take on the absurdity of life in books and writing and talk about their ways of making us laugh, including hamster space aliens and panicky smart alecks. Moderated by Betsy Bird. THE YOUTH STOOP 10:00 AM

*DRAWN! Illustrator Draw-off. Illustrators bring magic to words with the simple stroke of a pencil. Watch award-winning illustrators create in response to a few energetic prompts from the audience, and hear them discuss the magic behind their illustrative work. Mike Cavallaro (Foiled), Shane Evans (Olu’s Dream) and Vanessa Brantley. Moderated by Darren Farrell (Doug Dennis and the Flyaway Fib). THE YOUTH STOOP 11:00 AM

*Concrete Jungle Where Dreams are Made. Laura Toffler-Corrie (The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz), Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich (8th Grade Superzero) and 2009 Newbery Award winner Rebecca Stead (When You Reach Me), bring us relatable, inspiring characters embracing challenges with friendships and popularity—while trying to solve a mystery or two—set against very different New York landscapes. Moderated by Wendy Lamb. THE YOUTH STOOP 12:00 PM

*About a Boy. Newbery Honor-winning Jacqueline Woodson (Peace, Locomotion), debut author Torrey Maldonado (Secret Saturdays) and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Charles Fuller (Snatch: The Adventures of David and Me) offer us a rare look into the minds and hearts of young boys who could really use a second chance. THE YOUTH STOOP 1:00 PM

*Happily Ever After? Lauren Oliver (Before I Fall), Jenny Han (It’s Not Summer Without You) and Sara Shepard (Pretty Little Liars) talk about characters who are forced to relive their past, come to terms with haunting memories and who have committed terrible acts. Moderated by Kirsten Miller (The Eternal Ones). THE YOUTH STOOP 2:00 PM

*When it All Goes Wrong. Adele Griffin (The Julian Game), Tracy White (How I Made it to Eighteen) and Sofia Quintero (Efrain’s Secret), discuss what happens when life gets out of hand, from online stalking to addiction to the lure of living double lives. THE YOUTH STOOP 3:00 PM

*Making It. Mitali Perkins (Bamboo People), Francisco X. Stork (The Last Summer of the Death Warriors) and Kate Milford (The Boneshaker) bring tales of their characters’ extreme survival to the stage, from a teen soldier in Burma to an orphanage in Mexico to a girl in 1913 Missouri who finds herself in the middle of a battle between good and evil. Anjali Wason, moderator. THE YOUTH STOOP 4:00 PM

Tiger Beat. Teen author band Libba Bray, Daniel Ehrenhaft, Natalie Standiford and Barnabas Miller perform at the Festival. THE YOUTH STOOP 5:00 PM

Content by Lauren Oliver - Copyright 2011. Blog designed by Ella Press Studio - 2011.

Author Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie - Copyright 2010. Original Font Idea by Erin Fitzsimmons - 2010.