Creative Series IV: Mastering Dialogue

If we look back to our discussion in Creative Series III, we found that dialogue can not only make or break our story, but allow our characters to tell the story for us. When you create dialogue, there are no perfect words that you can give to your characters. As the creator of your world, you have to allow your characters to interact. The best method in learning how to deliver fantastic dialogue, is to become a good listener.

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Exercise 1

Your objective is to understand dialogue.

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To learn about people, how they interact with each other, you need contact with the world. Go to a “public location”. Any established business can be considered a “public location”. Bring a pad and a pen or pencil. Please notice that I did NOT include recording devices. I am certain that simply installing a voice recording app in your cell phone would make this assignment less painful, but there is a reason I am giving you this advice. Aside from other countries in the world, if you are in the United States, you can be prosecuted in at least 12 states for illegally recording conversations without someone’s knowledge (http://www.rcfp.org/reporters-recording-guide). For my award-winning short story I created my dialogue by listening to conversations that I jotted down on a notepad, snatches of conversations that I overheard from my fellow shipmates.

Picnic Party 002Even though I knew them well, I took notes of their conversations.

coffee-2425369_1920Lessen your risk as a writer.

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Learn how to write down snatches of conversations you may hear. A journalist is a person who collects, writes, or distributes news or other current information to the public. Develop these skills. You will find that they can help you in your endeavors to create meaningful dialogue between your characters.

Exercise 2

Make an attempt to converse with a total stranger in a public place.

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You may or may not know what you are going to talk about. You may find yourself interrupting a conversation that is already in progress. The purpose of this exercise is for you to understand your own motivation in a conversation. Work on listening to the other person’s answers. Make a concerted effort to ask questions whenever possible, rather than making your own statements.

Understanding motivation behind dialogue.

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External factors can motivate dialogue. In my work as a bookseller, I meet many people. Over seventy percent of my customers were talking about the weather today, because the past week has brought the southwestern United States searing heat. When Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, the entire world was talking about the eruption, because ash was drifting thousands of miles, even reaching the east coast of the United States.

Think about external factors as moments in time, that can be as fleeting as the wind.

Exercise 3

Create five characters, defining their motives for living life as they see it should be lived.

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Make each character different from the other characters, with the understanding that you will be forcing your five characters to interact with each other in the future.

Work on developing a conversation between at least 4 of your 5 characters.

If you are having problems, try some of these examples:

What kind of conversation could an atheist have with a person who believes in a religion. What could they talk about? Could they find common ground?

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What kind of conversation could a person who believes in peace have with a person who believes in war?

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What kind of conversation could a person who believes in liberal democracy have with a person who has conservative values?

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What kind of conversation could a person who is endowed with a beautiful face and body have with a person who possesses a normal face and body?

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What kind of conversation could a person from a city have with a person from a rural town?

Work on developing conversations between people who in “normal” circumstances may not meet each other. Use what you learned from your previous two exercises.

Next week: Creative Series IV: Weaving the Tapestry that is our Story.

Creative Series IV: Populating Our Story with Characters

This part of our Creative Series will cover characters.

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Characters are a very important part of every good story. Characters are the primary colors of your plot. Without characters, a story can become a lifeless, dull, carcass of a plot which loses the reader’s interest. It is the writer’s job to create interesting characters to populate their story.

Look at the world around you.

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Our world is filled with trillions of characters. In my eyes, there is no reason why a writer cannot imagine how to fill their stories with rich, colorful characters. Unless we live in a cave, we have a vast treasure trove of people around us to create our characters. A character can be a neighbor down the street. A character can be our best friend. A character can be the clerk who helps us at the grocery store. A character can be a fellow student in a class.

We can create prejudice for our characters before they open their mouths.

 

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What if our character wears clothing that is one color? What if our character wears clothing that is bright and filled with design? What if our character has a large scar on their cheek? What if our character does not smile? What if our character is always smiling? What if our character wears a worn T-shirt, shoes with holes and blue jeans that are tattered? What if our character wears a black suit, sunglasses and a cowboy hat? What if our character wears blouses with only 2 buttons buttoned? What if our character wears dresses that cover almost every inch of her body? Think about how we can dress our characters to cause certain ideas in our readers…a picture of our characters as the reader sees them out on the street?

We can create personal quirks for our characters.

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Our character can smoke. Our character may drink alcohol. A lot of alcohol. Our character might drink mint teas. Our character prefers diet sodas. Our character has a twitch. Our character stutters. Our character includes a specific word when they say anything. Our character holds their head down, never meeting anyone’s gaze. Our character shuffles. Our character walks with a limp. Our character has a cast on their arm. Our character winces with pain…constantly. Our character looks up all the time. Our character looks down all the time. Our character talks to themselves. Our character is very quiet and hardly says a word.

We can break rules with our character.

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Think of the character who is meek and mild, suddenly becoming assertive and angry. What happens when we have established a character who wears sunglasses throughout our story, suddenly deciding not to wear sunglasses? Imagine a character who is a bully one day, risking their life for someone the next day. Our characters can change or they can remain the same way throughout our book. Characters can change, just like normal people can change in our everyday lives.

Characters within our stories are like suns in a very large universe.

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Characters establish the rules and groundwork in our stories. Like a sun in the universe, characters can have friends (like planets) who revolve around them, caught in the gravity of their personality. Our surroundings can become characters in of themselves. We can create gentle surroundings or harsh, rough surroundings. We can create weather as a character. We can create a physical environment as a character. Our environment surrounds us, binds us together to resist or accept it.

Our story sample.

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5 characters will inhabit a house.

Last week, I created a house as part of a story, based on a photograph. Today, I will create basic character sketches as I begin to populate the house with people. For this exercise, I will describe two of my characters with what they wear. I will follow with 2 more character sketches that focus on their physical appearance as opposed to what they wear. My last character sketch will describe a character based on personal quirks.

Character Number One

Joquan emerged from the kitchen. He was always impeccably dressed. From his black leather cap that hung just over his eyes, to his black shoes. Joquan rarely shaved. He preferred to wear large, ornate cufflinks with a gold Rolex watch that just peeked out of the edges of bone white shirts. He wore the most interesting shoes, always a sharp, metal tip at the end of each shoe.

Character Number Two

Ismeralda walked out of the foyer. She preferred to show off her assets with low-hanging blouses and shorts, sheer wisps of material that seemed to look almost transparent in the bright sunlight. Dark sunglasses hid her eyes, while silver bangles hung from her earlobes, their weight so great that they caused the skin of her lobes to stretch dangerously low. Her hair was long, curled in a coif that ended in a point. Ismeralda wore open-toed shoes that seemed to raise her height by almost a foot, the heels clicked and clacked on the hard stone floor of the house as she made her way from room to room.

Character Number Three

Haram came slowly down the stairs. His skin was a deep brown. His hair unkempt and unruly, his thick eyebrows almost came together as one brow. A ragged scar ran from the top of an ear, all the way down to the edge of his chin, while tattoos covered a bare chest, back and arms. His eyes flashed in the harsh glow of the lamp, one eye steel gray, the other an iridescent green. He smiled a toothy grin, many of his teeth brown and dull, contrasted with several teeth that glinted with gold.

Character Number Four

Theresa seemed to waddle out of the bedroom. Her arms were laden with folds of skin that belied heavy weight and years of eating rich, fatty foods. Her face was pudgy, rosy cheeks gave one the impression that she was once a hamster in another life. Her hips and legs were bared today, vibrating with every step that she took. Theresa’s eyes were almost closed, her mouth set in a permanent scowl that seemed to say, “Stay away from me.”

Character Number Five

George mumbled to himself as he reached for the patio door. His shuffle seemed as incoherent as his tendency to sometimes sing to himself, occasionally waving his arms from side to side as he made his way into the waiting boat on the dock. “Flibberty Flubberty,” he stated to himself as he cautiously made his way into the boat. George mumbled to himself again as he brought his hands together to fiddle with his fingers, reaching down to his zipper and pulling up on its extended tab. The boat rocked a bit as George sat down on a cushioned seat that was set into its very center. He rocked a bit, listening to the splish and splash of water that lapped at the edges of the boat. George stopped rocking. He sat still a moment, then laughed to himself as the boat continued to rock ever slow lightly, its hull responding to the waves that gently rocked it from side to side.

Next week: Allowing our characters to come to life with dialogue.

Creative Series IV: Meeting Your Muse

Today is the day that we begin to create a book, short story, poem or article.

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Today is the day that we meet our muse. What I will be doing from this point to the end of the series, is creating a storyline and finished product online. For the next few parts in our series, we will literally create a story from this blog, using all of the tools that we have covered.

First is our idea.

What will we write about? I am going to stick with a work of fiction. To start, I want to find something to write about.

I am R.M. Almeida.

Welcome to Meeting Your Muse. Our series begins and ends with the creation of a story. Let us begin with a rough idea for our story.

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Any external event in our lives, can influence our thoughts, our actions or our ideas. As writers, we can use external events to bring out those small introductions to create a story.

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A story can be born at the start of a hailstorm, perhaps a harbinger of events to unfold.

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What if your story starts in a location that is as innocent as a parking lot?

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Your story could be a park or a beautiful lake, surrounded by expensive homes, nestled in palm trees that bake in the hot sun. It can be a dilapidated shack in the slum.

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So, our story can start anywhere, anyplace or at any time. What we do know, is that we are beginning to meet our muse…that part of us that is able to become detached from the real world around us…a part of us that can begin to create a world not of this reality, with its own standards, rules and laws. A world that only exists within the very fabric of our imagination.

We are in our zone…we are ready to begin writing.


Our First Exercise

I have found a place close to home to begin writing my story.

It was a dream.

When I saw my dream home, I salivated as I looked at the huge bay windows that overlooked the swimming pool, garden and lake that sat next to the sprawling structure. A small boat tied to a landing that led to the house, was camped like a tourist on the blue-green lake that shimmered in the bright Nevada sun. Schools of fish lavished themselves on occasional insects that came too close to the surface of the water, their insect lives snuffed out as if they were candles being pinched by a butler as a fish jumped out of the water to engorge themselves.

It was a home that I could live in for the rest of my natural days, my own personal getaway where I could relax on a sofa, so overstuffed that I sank into its soft, velour pillows even before I sat down. A megalithic television screen offered me the delights of technology that only the filthy rich could envision. Each room was more inviting than the most passionate lover I could imagine, a nirvana holiday enervated from the most sensual Feng Shui dreams from a magazine in house design.

Who knew that such a gorgeous home could be one so putrid with the smell of death?

Next in our series: Populating our Landscape with Characters

Creative Series IV: Planning, Outlining and Editing…A Second Set of Eyes

Edited by Bill Guthrie

Creative Series IV: Planning, Outlining and Editing…A Second Set of Eyes

Welcome to the final leg of our journey as writers, authors, poets, scriptwriters, playwrights and authors.

It is time to begin planning what we are going to write.

notes-514998_1920My topics for this article will cover:

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • The art of writing

The last part of this article involves the mechanics of preparing for what you are going to write about.

Hardware

The way we write, edit and publish what we write has changed dramatically.

keyboard-70506_1920Word processing software was available almost 40 years ago. Pencil and paper however, are still employed by many writers to begin the writing process. There are other writers who use typewriters, opting to either scan or retype what they have written into a digital media. Many new writers have embraced new forms of software and digital media to express themselves. Digital forms of writing include blogging, word processing or social media. Our world has changed and the media which we use to express ourselves have also metamorphosed into mobile forms of writing. Many writers now use mobile applications, designed for cell phones or tablets to post to blogs housed on the web.

There are technologies which are being evaluated and tested by many writers.

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Technologies such as voice-recognition software, often standard with many mobile devices have come a very long way, although there are many users who insist that the hardware still needs a lot of work. The popular Microsoft Windows operating system software included voice recognition software as a complimentary package for years. The Apple operating system also comes with complimentary voice recognition software. The most recognizable voice recognition software (Dragon Naturally Speaking, by Nuance), continues to become more and more accurate. The software company has defeated several transcription barricades…increasing its accuracy in deciphering business terminology, problems understanding speech impediments, different types of accents, noisy environments and lisps have improved dramatically. There are more common forms of modern writing hardware that exist as well.

The Word Processor

Word processing software has been around for a long time.

I remember using Wordstar 1.0™, the predecessor of today’s word processing software.

Wordstar_ScreenshotWordstar™ software was included as part of a package deal with the Kaypro 2X™ (a computer I purchased in 1985…my decision for the brand, since my hero “Arthur C. Clarke“, had created his novel “2010“, from his home in Sri Lanka). Wordstar™ was a product that relied on a certain level of mastery, an understanding of memorizing key code insertions, which I was bound and determined to conquer within a short amount of time.

Thanks to that technology, I could develop, write and print short stories from isolated locations in the world.

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My award-winning story “Shadow Trail”, was written while I was serving my country on a ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I wrote countless poems in South Korea, short stories in the Philippines and wooed a woman in Perth, New South Wales, with a short story that is still unpublished today. My Kaypro 2X™ computer survived power outages in South Korea, brownouts in the Philippines, even devastating power surges onboard my ship (prior to the availability of surge protection equipment), yet kept working effectively, like a Timex watch.

Word processing software has changed a lot since that time.

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Microsoft Word™ is one of the most popular word processing software programs used in the world to date. For writers, the mastery of this software can be critical to success. Much of the editing process has been made simpler, but understanding how each ribbon in Word functions can make a writer’s job very easy. Word’s ability to save a document as a Portable Document Format (pdf) format (Adobe™ popular “universal” document), allowed an entire industry to adapt to changing needs long ago.

As a former trade professional, I feel that it is important for a writer to know how to use Word.

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The View tab for example, can be used to “stitch” together word documents, created as chapters to form a complete book, or saved as a .pdf file. Knowing this technique, a writer could easily create a book in small, bite-sized pieces. If you think of your book as a lake, writing your book the old fashioned way would be akin to filling a lake with a garden hose. Word allows you to create small streams around the lake, providing a path for those streams to eventually fill the lake with each successive stream until it is filled. There are many websites and YouTube lessons that offer Word training free of charge. I will be offering Word training for writers, at a small monthly fee soon, from my 5Artz.com website.

Many varieties of software allow writers to adapt to their digital needs.

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WordPress, developed in 2003, is an easy-to-use open source content management system (CMS), that is deployed as a part of an internet hosting service or network host. Thanks to WordPress software, developed a few years ago for the computer desktop, writers can create web or weblog content, published direct from their computer to their website, for worldwide dissemination in mere seconds.

Open Source software is now available for writers who desire to create their own EPUBs.

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Electronic Publishing (EPUB) formats are for the popular e-book formats, sold from retailers and distribution outlets worldwide. This format has gained popularity as a salable digital format for books, because it can be read on many popular digital devices. Sigil is an open source software, easily downloaded and installed on virtually any personal computer. This software is not easily mastered, but once the writer understands how it works, can create electronic books featuring audio, video or text combinations that can greatly enhance the value and desirability of the writer’s work.

Available as a free download, Microsoft’s OneNote™ is a tool that has helped me for decades.

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OneNote Software

OneNote™ is software that was developed for free form gathering and multi-user collaboration. It is one of Microsoft’s oldest and least used products. OneNote™ is an indispensable tool to collect, organize and plan anything. Book research can be done relatively quickly and easily. I cannot say enough about OneNote™.  If you are a writer and you don’t use OneNote™, I feel that you are cheating yourself of a very valuable and flexible commodity in your writing arsenal.

The Art of Writing

We have discussed tools at our disposal, now to planning and preparing to write.

Outlining what we are going to write has been a methodology which writers have adopted as an organizational technique for centuries. The outline has been modified over the years.

There are many variations of outlines:

These variations can help a writer not only collect one’s thoughts, but also organize how the story or content can best be presented. Many writers find that once they develop a specific outlining technique, that eventually, they can outline creatively in their minds, before they have even started developing their ideas.

idea-2123972_1920One excellent resource that I recommend was developed by Kate Turabian, who wrote “A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations“. One of the things that Kate talked about was a kind of mind map; a very flexible tool that can be adapted for plot and character development when writing stories. I recommend purchasing the book, it is a very effective tool.

Setting ideas to paper can be as daunting as when an artist begins dabbing colors onto blank canvas.

hourglass-1703330_1920When the writing process begins, it can be a challenge. There can be days when a writer cannot think of what they want to say, or how they want to present what is coming to mind…even if those ideas are soundly ensconced within an outline. A writing professional (a person who is paid to write) has no choice about “not writing”. Deadlines are the norm for a writing professional, something a novice writer should adopt as a mantra. If a writer is having problems coming up with something to write, many of the prior methods and techniques I have discussed in earlier creative writing articles can be used to “get one’s creative juices flowing”.

Taking you through the writing process.

light-2188464_1920For this final creative writing series, I will be taking you through the process of writing. I will be implementing fresh ideas every week for this final part of the creative writing series, taking each challenge step-by-step, challenging you…the reader…to create your own challenges, develop your own writing style and completing the writing process to start the process all over again.

As we work, I want to impress one important rule.

beautiful-2314_1920As you are writing, get a “second set of eyes” on what you are creating. I for example, am very fortunate. I have a mentor, who was a professional writer for over 40 years. What is a “professional writer”? Any writer who is paid to write is a professional writer. A paid, professional writer can be an author, poet, scriptwriter, playwright, journalist, songwriter, marketer, advertiser, technical writer or any person who engages in any form of writing. What sets the successful writers, who earn a living from their art form, from the writers who struggle with their writing is that “second set of eyes”.

Always, always have someone you can share your writing with.

Next in our creative series: Creative Series IV: Meeting Your Muse.