Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Open Tuesdays

[image4.png]It’s time for another Open Tuesday while our blogmate, Kathryn Lilley, is on medical hiatus. Bring us your questions, comments and discussions. If you have a question about writing, publishing or any other related topic, ask away in our comments section. We’ll do our best to get you an answer.

And don’t forget you can download a copy of FRESH KILLS, Tales from the Kill Zone to your Kindle or PC today.


  1. So, dialog...How do you make sure that you're not using too much? How do you make sure that it is that appropriate balance between realistic, fun, appropriate to character? And how do you make sure that it moves the story along, but isn't just too much conversation? I've noticed that when I do my write like crazy, pantser, first drafts my characters seem to be talking their way through things a lot, which brings me into their heads, but seems like way too much chit chat. Now I'm revising. How do you decide what to keep as conversation and what would be better to show in the 'telling'? How do you keep the sharp, intimate character edge, but not be a talkie?

  2. I like Chaco Kid’s question because I’ve sometimes asked the same question. But I’m not sure there is a “right” answer. I look at some authors and they have small amounts of dialog, but it seems to work. I look at others and they have mostly dialog and it seems to work. So I’ve quit worrying about it. If it seems to work when I read it back, I go with it.

    But I would also like to point out that dialog is one of the things that helps to control the pace of the scene. Having two characters shoot statements back and forth in rapid succession increases the pace of the scene. But if we take time out to smell the roses between comment and response it slows the pace. We want a mix of paces in a novel. When characters are agitated and arguing we want dialog to come more rapidly. When characters are mulling things over we want to slow it down. Let them listen to the clock ticking.

  3. Chaco and Timothy, as it happens I am conducting an upcoming Writer's Digest webinar on "Sizzling Dialouge". It's a favorite subject of mine, because I found there's not a whole lot out there on this part of the craft. So over the years I formulated a workshop on it that's been taught all over, including to numerous screenwriters. It's a subject well beyond a short comment, so I'll just mention the first point. Remember that dialogue is a "compression and extension of action." It is never small talk, as in life. Everything a character says is to further his or her agenda in the scene.

    If a character has no agenda, he shouldn't be in the scene at all. Knowing the agendas and putting them in conflict, even slightly, keeps your dialogue organic.

  4. James, I just looked at the class, I think it's the same reason I couldn't take one of your others... bad timing. I'm at work on weekdays until after 5pm - so I would need a class later in the evening or on a weekend. Think you'll be doing any at a time like that soon. I've enjoyed the couple of books on writing I was able to snag by you and that would be a great class.

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  6. I've been working in first person and dialog gives me quick bang, action, and immediate response. I think that's why I lean that way, but I am worried about leaning too hard in that direction.

  7. I think the real danger of rapid fire dialog is that we can lose sight of where we are. One author I know uses quite a bit of dialog. I was reading his book and he was doing well until I got one particular chapter. He went straight into dialog between two characters, the lead and a character that he had introduced before but one I had forgotten. He assumed that I would know by the character’s name that the scene was set in a psychiatrist’s office when it would’ve been more helpful if he had slowed down and set the scene. It’s an easy mistake to make, since the author would know that the characters wouldn’t meet elsewhere, but readers don’t know that until we tell them. So it’s good for the characters to look around once in a while.

  8. I appreciate the conversation on dialogue. I'm heavy on that myself. I'm currently writing my second book in a series and will go back and layer in narrative, description, etc.

    What I'm wondering today is for those of you who write a first fast draft, how many words are you typically short of your final copy? I'm sure it's probably different for everyone. What I'm trying to figure out is when I should stop writing that first draft. For instance, I have close to 50,000 words. I still have to do a lot of layering to get to around 85,000 which is what I like. And I know I need some more story to sustain the middle.


  9. Jillian, someone once said there are two kinds of writers: taker-outers and putter-inners. Gilstrap, I think, is a taker-outer, writing long and cutting. You may be a putter-inner. Either approach can work. Some writers like to write lean and get the story down, then do as you say, layer it.

    I typically finish a first draft right around my desired word count. I have in the past gone well beyond, and taken out. If time permits, that's not a bad strategy, because cutting almost always makes things move better, with plenty of story knowledge attached.

  10. Jillian, I've been in both positions- having to cut 10,000 words in the second draft, and having to add them. I do tend to be dialogue-heavy in my initial draft, and I do exactly what you mentioned, going back and adding more setting and character description later.

    I think you have to be careful to include enough tags that the reader isn't confused- one of my pet peeves is having to go back to figure out which character is speaking.

  11. What is the best way to co-author a book? Or are there different styles for different people? I would like to co-author my first piece of fiction with my 14 yr old daughter since it is Teen/YA fiction.

  12. MePlusFour, collaboration on fiction is tough. Unlike non-fiction where most of the facts and details already exist, fiction takes place only in the mind. Nothing exists. I am a third of the way through my 6th thriller co-written with Lynn Sholes. It took us 10 years in a weekly critique group before we decided to work together on our first project. We still have disagreements and disputes, but we quickly discovered that the two most important steps in collaboration for us are: 1. Talk through the story over and over again until you both have a similar vision of the global tale and the individual characters including their motivations. 2. Lose your ego. Repeat both steps as needed. Good luck.

  13. Thanks Joe for the comment! That means a lot to me! We definitely totally agree on the plot. Now to just get together and write. That is the tough part. She is the best writer but I am doing all the writing. Hard to come to agreements but I like your idea about losing your ego. I wouldnt exactly say she is better .. just a different style.
    thanks again.

  14. Hi Jim,
    I don't think I know if I'm a taker-outer or putter-inner. I guess I'm going to have to allow myself enough time to practice with those.

    Hi Michelle,
    Which of those processes do you enjoy more? Adding or subtracting word count? And thanks for the advice about including enough tags. I can easily see how that would happen.

    I think I might just experiment and flesh out the first 3 chapters by adding narrative and description and see how it's going. Then I'll keep writing I think to about 10,000 words shy of the word count I want and go back and see what happens.

    I appreciate both of you letting me work this out. It's nice to have others to bounce things off of now and then.

  15. I like the topic of dialogue. It’s something that I thought I would dread, but honestly, I find it a great way to “show” my characters (and sometimes setting) without exposition. My trouble, often, is long conversations. They aren’t ho-hum exchanges and hold meaning for the story (mostly), but they can be somewhat long. My WIP is targeted for 100k words. At the current pace of my draft, I’m estimating 10-15k over budget – much of that is dialogue. The hard part will be going through each line, ensuring it’s relevant, and then finding ways to compress lines together to make them more concise without feeling awkward and clunky.

    Here’s my question of choice: Have you ever had to cut a main character out all together? I have one who’s just not living up to my expectations. He has a great story (my opinion of course), but I just don’t have the word budget to accommodate his subplot without sacrificing the main story line. It’s hard to cut a character that’s fully fleshed just because I don’t have enough time to spend with him.

  16. Richard, I posted a blog sometime ago here at TKZ about having to cut a main character. Here's the link: http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2009/07/life-and-death-of-teresa-castillo.html Hope it helps.

  17. Thanks – good post! It’s nice to see I’m not alone with this issue.

    So now - to muse over writing him out or deleting him all together. My first thought is backup to his “commitment point” for the story and have his resolve crumble. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate in a YA story for a MC to fail overcoming his personal demons, but it is realistic since we don’t always conquer ours as adults.

  18. Jillian, that’s an interesting question. I both add and delete work as I move from the first draft to the final version with a tendency to increase in word count. But I wanted to get a more exact number, so I went back to the manuscript for my last book, And Thy House, and found that between the first draft and the second version of the fourth draft I have a total increase of 569 words—essentially two pages. But your results may vary.

    One of the things I do is to mark off various milestones in my outline by page number. If I know that my final word count goal is approximately at page 334, then I know that the midpoint of the novel should be on page 167 and the second act begins at about page 84, etc. Because I have a rough idea of how I’m doing in terms of final word count as I reach each milestone, I can adjust my writing as I go and the final word count won’t change much, even if I make major revisions on subsequent drafts.

  19. I much prefer adding- subtracting is tough, because it usually means I have to remove some scenes wholesale, which in turn affects the surviving sections of the book. IMHO adding is easier- although by the third or fourth draft, I'm usually always over my word count anyway and need to cut back again. It's always two steps forward, one back with me.

  20. MelPlusFour, I've only collaborated one time, and it will likely be my last. My project, SIX MINUTES TO FREEDOM, was nonfiction, co-authored by Kurt Muse, who is the person who lived the story we told. As a non-writer, he took no umbrage when we drew the lines of responsibility around the basic rule that he got us all the access we needed to write the book, and he kept me from making mistakes. Other than that, he let me do the writing.

    The end result is one of my proudest accomplishments.

    To be perfectly honest, though, I question the wisdom in your case of coauthoring with a teenager, even if said teenager is a relative and a certain source of information. In the long run, I fear that your coauthor's youth will make your book a difficult sale.

    That said, I've lost track of the times I've been very, very wrong.

    Good luck!

    John Gistrap

  21. MePlusFour - Suggest you read lots of YA fiction. Collaborating with someone? Dunno. Would find it tough to communicate during the creative process & can't imagine how the 'kill your darlings' process would pan out. Works for Joe & Lynn - so who's to say.

    Dialogue? Too much - too little? IMHO needs to be crisp & have a point. Story dictates. Avoid using it to disguise backstory or create a shortcut. Chit chat sucks. (Tim, last time I smelled a rose I got stung. True.)

    Cutting or adding words? Tend to cut. Get the draft down then hack, chop & move. Always looking at pace, continuity & relevance. Gets easier to identify with practice. Commas still kill me. They should be outlawed.

  22. Wow, leave for a little while and it gets even better in here. I write and edit. I find padding and adding can be not fun if I feel I've said things succinctly, and it can be really hard to keep cutting when you feel you are to the bones and nerves... however both have their place for me cutting can really force me to polish something down and that works really well for me on shorter pieces. It keeps things tight. But it has been nice on my novel to write a little lean, giving me room to go in and layer in the details and explanatory things I missed on my quick write- because I knew it, but didn't explain or tag things well enough for others. It has also given me wiggle room to tweak some plot stuff for more impact and give place for a couple of really neat things that never even occurred to me on the first pass. I figure if I keep trying things I'll eventually figure out what works best for me.

  23. Hi Timothy,

    I like what you had to say about:

    One of the things I do is to mark off various milestones in my outline by page number. If I know that my final word count goal is approximately at page 334, then I know that the midpoint of the novel should be on page 167 and the second act begins at about page 84, etc.