Do you have any advice for writing dialogue? My characters’ words sound as if I’m sticking a tongue compressor down their throats and forcing them to speak.
- Painful Communication
Painful, the best way to learn is through example. So here we go…
“Hello, I am Painful,” I said.
“Hello, I am Dear Lee,” she said.
“Nice to meet you,” I said.
“Nice to meet you, too,” she said
“George, this is Lee,” I said.
George said, “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” Dear Lee smiled.
“I wonder where Georgina, my wife is,” George continued. “Oh, there she is.” George pointed.
“Come over and meet Dear Lee,” George yelled.
“Lee this is my wife Georgina,” George said.
“Nice to meet you Dear Lee,” Georgina said. “How do you know Painful?”
“From this conversation,” she answered.
I walked into the conference room and couldn’t believe my luck. There was Dear Lee standing alone at the punch bowl. This was my chance to introduce myself to the greatest advice columnist ever.
“Hello,” I stammered. I was feeling a bit shy. Her beauty was overwhelming. She must have sensed my awe and gently smiled and offered her hand.
“I’m Dear Lee.” She introduced herself as if an introduction was necessary.
“Of course you are,” I spouted out just before covering my mouth with my hands. What was I some kind of idiot? Of course you are.
“I am Communication.” I took her hand in my and instead of shaking it, I kissed it. I had never done anything like that before.
“How charming,” she commented after a brief pause. “What brings you to the workshop?”
“I’m one of the presenters,” I answered staring into her emerald green eyes. I could get lost in those eyes.
I felt something tugging my shirt sleeve. “Are you alright?”
“Yes,” I answered drifting back ashore. “I’m very alright.”
“Well then?” She expected me to answer as if she had already asked the question.
I took a shot. “I’m talking about Effective Dialogue.”
Dear Lee gave me a quizzically look. It was cute how her one eyebrow lowered causing tiny little creases around that magical eye.
“That’s not what we’re talking about is it?” My shoulder slumped and I was no longer a six-foot tall. I was not longer a man but a buffoon. Then I spied my out. George.
“George,” I said, grabbing him by the shoulder as he was passing by. “I’d like you to meet someone.”
I introduced him and in turn he introduced her to Georgina, his wife and a fan of Dear Lee.
“How do you know Communication?” Georgina asked grinning like a drunk monkey.
“We just meet,” Dear Lee replied, giving me a wink. “But I’d like to get to know him better.”
What are the differences between the two examples?
You’ve decided to write a novel. Simple enough, right? You sit down at your computer, ideas buzzing around your head, excitement so great you can barely hold still long enough to let the computer load. Just as that crisp pixilated paper is upon the screen, you stop.
What do you know about writing a novel?
Luckily, the authors at Writers News Weekly know exactly how you feel. Let’s be honest with one another - how much did you pay attention in your high school English class? Chances are, probably not that much. Consider this series your crash course through eleventh grade English, without all the over analysis of Cather in the Rye.
I know your first question - why do I need to learn about writing?
Writing, just like any other skill that one possesses, takes practice. In order to perfect a craft, we must learn it. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training for it beforehand, would you? If you do, may I recommend ice packs and Advil for your seriously damaged body. Just like writing, jumping in with no training could result in a damaged mind. Those synapses will be fried by page ten. It may seem easier (and quite frankly more fun) to just dive into a task and start writing the next great American novel. But without some knowledge of the craft you are attempting to master, your novel isn’t going to make it past the front door of any publishing house.
I know, I know, you
The first step is to get rid of the clutter in your mind. Enter the first step to writing: Freewriting.
I’m sure this goes without saying, but you don’t practice writing by pumping out a novel. The novel is the culmination of all that practice. So, how do writers practice writing? We freewrite.
Consider this exercise a way to warm-up your creative muscles. It requires little thought, but allows words and thoughts to flow naturally, getting your creative juices flowing. Here’s how to do it. Sit down and write. About anything. Whatever comes to mind, let it flow onto the page. Don’t hesitate, just allow those ideas to flow onto the page. Perhaps they will make sense, perhaps they will look like gibberish. Don’t worry about what it looks like or how bad your spelling is. Freewriting is for you and you alone.
If you find you’re having some trouble, use some of these exercises we pulled from Writing Aerobics 1: Writing Exercises for the Beginning Novelist, with permission of the authors and our own slight adaptations and variations.
1. Look around the room you’re in. What’s catching your eye? The first thing that you notice, stop. Write about it. The only stipulation being that you must mention the object within your writing. If the object triggers a memory, write about it. Make up a story about it. Have the object merely serve as a grounding point from which to move.
2. Pick up a magazine. Flip it open and find a picture of someone. Write about them. Give them a name and a background. Make them ambitious or lazy. Create a day in their life. What happens when they wake up? Do they drink coffee? Do they have tea? Do they shower first? Make your character entirely whole.
The greatest advantage to freewriting is the idea that you are free to do whatever you’d life. This is not meant to be read by anyone but yourself. Don’t hold back - just go. Ready, set…write.
I know that I’ve asked this question before, but seriously? What in God’s name are we doing?
The ESPN announcer took a long time to explain that new deal signed by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, explaining in detail how each nickel would be shelled out to the man who stands on the field and throws the ball to another really well paid man.
“I’ll tell you something,” another guy said. “As hard as Drew works he deserves every penny of that $100 million dollar deal.”
What could be the hardest part of his day outside of the 16 days when someone is trying to hit him?
Standing in the free lunch line?
Claiming his new free shoes?
I’ve watched a man work on an assembly line. I’ve watched a man covered in black dust at a foundry. I’ve seen men climb steel 30’ in the air, and I’ve also seen men fall from that spot to the ground below.
Hell, I work harder than Drew Brees.
Then there’s my favorite part of all of it:
When we hear from guys like Brees who just had to threaten not to play with the ball because they needed to make sure to take care of their family.
You don’t think they say dumb things like that?
Latrell Sprewell once made the claim that he had to “feed” his kids.
Uh, do they eat gold, Latrell?
Patrick Ewing once told the public that people should feel bad for the players in their dispute with the owners because:
“We make a lot of money, but we spend a lot of money.”
But back to my original question:
What are we doing?
Let me be the man who says it for the world to hear.
Drew Brees does not need and does not earn $100 million. Tom Cruise does not need and does not earn $20 million a film.
What is needed is a system that isn’t broken. Our kids should be able to kick a ball around during recess!
They can’t because the schools are out of money.
Think of that, people. The kids can’t play ball because we are paying, through taxes and fees, hundreds of million dollars to watch grown men play with a ball and then tell us how hard they work.
After eighteen years of living in Mars, PA, I was ready for a change. It wasn’t that I actively disliked the town, or that it was all that unpleasant to be here. It’s just that I needed to leave. I needed to do something.
When I was younger, I had gone with my Dad on one of his shorter business trips down to Pittsburgh, only an hour away give or take traffic. I made the mistake of mentioning to the hotel clerk that we were from Mars. That earned us some odd looks, the kind that you level at the old cat lady that seems to stalk every small town in America. That’s just how it was, and I was ready to leave.
I got that chance soon after the spring graduation ceremony. My parents had gathered all of the neighbors and my friends from school around our front yard. When my buddy Tom parked on the curb next to the driveway, the first thing I saw was everyone standing on our unfortunately thick green crabgrass and dandelion garden while smiling and laughing.
“Son,” my Dad called from the front of the crowd. “There comes a day in every young man’s life when he need a bit of freedom, room to breathe and grow.”
“Come now, Norman,” my mother said at his side. “Just tell the dear boy already. I swear. You’d talk his ear off until you were blue in the face.”
“Anyway’s, son,” he tossed me a set of keys. I snatched them out of the air. “Congratulations.”
“No way,” I said. “You didn’t— I mean that’s…”
My Dad smiled. “She’s in the garage.”
I didn’t know what I wanted to do more, run over and hug my Dad or run inside and hug whatever beautiful beast this key started. A second latter a group of my friends rendered it moot by hauling up the rusted out garage doorframe. A showroom-new, 1974, Volvo sedan sat waiting inside. I hugged my Dad then ran to the car.
It was beautiful.
My mother walked over to the car, a red and grey scarf in hand, as I started the engine, the motor roaring before settling into a rich hum. “Here you go dear. It’s just a little something I made.” she said, gently draping the hand woven garment around my neck.
“Mom,” I pleaded.
“No buts, mister. No son of mine is going to catch a cold, if I can help it.” She smiled, brushing back my hair, the same as she had when I was a child. “Besides,” she said. “All the movie stars used to wear them.”
I gently squeezed her hand. “Thanks Mom.”
“So, boy,” my Dad said as he leaned through the rolled down passenger side window, one arm propped against the doorframe. “Any plans on where you’d want to go?”
“Oh, I know!” Mom exclaimed. “Why not Detroit? You haven’t seen your cousin Vinnie in years.”
I nodded, “Why not?” It wasn’t as if I had anything planed out yet. All that mattered was the chance to escape this town, just one chance to do something. Besides, I did want to see Vinnie again. The last time I saw him was almost four years ago when he got the job with General Motors.
“Take her for a spin, son.” Dad Said as he and Mom backed away from the car, the rest of the party clearing a path on the driveway. I put the car into reverse, one foot on the brake, then slowly eased the car headlong onto the street.
When I had cleared Tom’s car I heard a loud metallic screech. My head turned to the side in time to see the other drivers stunned, uncomprehending face as his front bumper crashed into the door.
The frame crumpled, shards of broken glass sprayed inward. My car spun from the impact then slammed into the ancient oak on the corner of the neighbor’s property.
Somewhere between the sight of the red smeared upholstery and the blare of the ambulance, I blacked out.
Michael Farina is a English Major with a Creative Writing Concentration from California University of Pennsylvania.
Back in the day, when our grandparents walked uphill both to and from school, the arts were an Olympic competition.
Olympics art competitions ran for 40 years - from 1912 to 1952. Medals were awarded for sport-themed literature, painting, sculpture, architecture and music.
Between 1912 and 1948, 151 medals were awarded.
Now, I’ve said before that I am completely un-athletic. The thought of diving into a pool or doing a back flip on a balance beam is outrageously unrealistic.
I’m probably more likely to inherit wizarding powers than athletic ability (still keeping my fingers crossed).
I know I’m not alone. I’m not saying all writers are un-athletic. I’m just saying we all have specific skill sets.
Look at Michael Phelps, for example. He is the most decorated Olympian of all time, but I’m 100 percent positive that he would not fare well in a literature match-up with J.R.R. Tolkien, or a sculpture-off with Michelangelo (if it was remotely possible).
I’m just asking, why shouldn’t the arts still count?
The same person who founded the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, was inspired by the Greek Olympic Games that included competitions in musical performances, singing and heralding (public announcing). He wanted the modern games to follow that tradition.
John MacAloon, a historian from the University of Chicago, was quoted in a National Public Radio article explaining the importance of the arts in Olympic history.
“He (de Coubertin) felt very, very strongly that if you didn’t have competitions in the arts, then all you had, as he put it, was a mere series of sporting world championships,” MacAloon said. “So, it was his idea. He fought for it, and it took ‘til the Stockholm Games of 1912 for the first competitions to actually be organized.”
Debates began almost immediately after the arts competition became a reality.
“True art is art for art’s sake. How could this art for sport’s sake really be authentic? Would you get any quality submissions? Why would artists create original works against such a new and uncertain format? Artists themselves are not always really happy to compete directly with one another. And when they do, they would prefer a jury of their peers,” MacAloon said in the NPR article. “So the artists were afraid that they would be judged by people from sport, and the sports people were afraid they’d get submissions from artists that really were not deeply connected with the theme.”
They did get submissions though, some great, some not so great.
MacAloon seemed fairly certain that none of us would recognize the names of any medalists.
The arts competitions came to an end when the president of the International Olympic Committee decided that the professional artists should not be able to compete. He believed in amateurism in sports.
I wonder what he would think of the Olympics now.
Would he say that Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte were amateurs when they came into this year’s Olympics?
Let’s face it, the Olympics have become “a mere series of sporting world championships.”
And, to be honest, I kind of like it that way.
Just because the artists were making work that was sports-themed doesn’t make it an Olympic sport. Right now, the Olympics are the world’s greatest sports competition. Adding arts competitions to that world doesn’t make sense, even if it is about sports.
I think there should be a completely different worldwide competition that focuses solely on the arts. It should be judged by well-respected, successful people in the artistic community. We can just call it the Artistics (working title, of course).
Sarah Bell is a student at Waynesburg University and plans to live long and prosper.
Cliff Fazzolari’s “Nobody’s Home” just taught me my new favorite quote: “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle our inner spirit.” As someone with post-it’s full of quotes wallpapering the entire space above my desk, I’m a sucker for inspiration. In addition to embodying many of my favorite motivational quotes, “Nobody’s Home,” the story of a young girl’s strength in the face of her tumultuous life with her abusive, alcoholic father, was the most inspiring work I’ve read this year.
First and foremost, Fazzolari developed brilliant characters. “Nobody’s Home” was the type of novel that left me feeling personally acquainted with and invested in the life of the characters, especially the protagonist, Shari. As Shari struggled from the very first page to even survive at the hands of her controlling father, I felt swept up in her story, captivated by her strength and courage. Her never-ending faith dictated the tone of the story, adding incentive to continue reading such a sad tale.
Don’t get me wrong, “Nobody’s Home” is admittedly hard to read. At times the tragedy and sense of hopelessness threatened to make me put down the book as I couldn’t bear to read about any more heartbreak. However, the connection I felt to the main character and realization that Shari actually lived the story, not just read about, prompted me to keep going until the very end.
In addition to the brilliantly portrayed and relentlessly inspiring protagonist, Fazzolari’s supporting characters contribute greatly to the story as well. My favorite, a wise elderly neighbor who gives Shari strength in the form of his memory when she needs it most, is just one example of the characters that add life to the story. Fazzolari portrayed even the vile father figure as multidimensional, writing in an honest yet non-judgmental tone. I felt like a member of Shari’s family as I caught glimpses of a human side of the father and hoped against all hope that he would do the right thing.
With the exception of the father, everyone else that Shari meets becomes her newest source of inspiration and strength, sending the beautiful message of the power of encounters with other human beings. This theme will leave readers with the sense that even short-lived connections with others can serve an astounding purpose. While I could never spoil the ending of such a rewarding story, I can promise that the conclusion maximizes this theme and makes the difficult reading worth it. Just as each person Shari meets helps to make her a better and stronger person, I feel better from my exposure to this novel. “Nobody’s Home” will undoubtedly stick with me, and any reader, long after closing the book.
Lowcountry Writers’ Retreat’s onsite mentor, Mary Ann Henry, touches on Folly Beach, retreats, and the importance of making do with what you’ve got.
Q: In 2000 you moved to Folly Beach. How do you think this new setting has inspired you, and how do you think it affects new writers? A: I think there’s something about an expansive view, whether it’s the mountains or the plains or the ocean, that allows the mind’s eye to rest and rejuvenate. Being on a barrier island such as this one puts one closer to nature. It’s only a quarter of a mile wide. So you have the marsh and its subtle beauty and then, only a five minute walk away, the dramatic expanse of the ocean.
Q: Is there a common thread you find in writers who attend Lowcountry Writers’ Retreat? A: Some writers come for the group experience of workshops. Many other writers prefer to come solo. The solo writers either work totally on their own or with me. When I’m working with a writer, I meet with them and then, together, we come up with a plan. We set goals for what they’re going to accomplish and they set their own appointment times for when I’m going to check in with them and offer a critique.
But sometimes writers just come to work on their own projects and I think they just like the idea that someone’s close by who understands what they’re doing and I’m here ‘just in case.’ They want the experience of learning or writing in a setting that is different from their own. Hemingway said he went to Paris to write about Michigan and to Michigan to write about Paris. It helps to get away.
Q: What is your teaching approach in workshops such as Short Story Boot Camp or Writing is Good for the Soul? A: In Writing is Good for the Soul, I use a combination of guided imagery and mediation and immersion in nature to help writers connect with the interior parts of themselves. And to trust that source of their writing. It’s more of an inside-out approach and it brings forth writing that is often surprising, even starling, for the workshop participants. And there’s no critique. Workshops that deal with craft are more traditionally ‘Teach and Critique’ experiences. Each type of teaching has its place.
Q: How has your background in advertising and video scriptwriting/producing benefited your ability as a writing instructor? A: Working in advertising instilled the whole concept of drop-deadlines. It was write or not get paid. It’s good training for toughening one up. It’s also excellent training for writing for your intended audience which many beginning writers forget to think about. I think scriptwriting honed my dialogue chops. I never handed in a project that I hadn’t read aloud and ‘acted out’ many times to get the rhythm of the conversations right.
Q: What advice would you give to writers who are not able to attend the retreat? A: Many years ago I read an article by Annie Dillard who talked about how she and her husband set up their own individual tents in their backyard where they went to write because it was so important to have that 'other place'. At the time I was inspired to winterize a tree-house that my daughter had out-grown. It was a world away and a lovely place to write. But, the cottage compound I live in today has an old potter's shed in the back that has been transformed into a place that is very nearly sacred. I use it to slip away, to drink morning tea and meditate and to work on my writing. Sometimes I use it to teach small groups.
It's important to have a place that allows you to slip out of your everyday skin. To go somewhere magical. I think that every writer, wherever they are, can fix up a room or a corner of a room (or an abandoned tree house or potter's shed) and create that retreat.
Alison Taverna is a student at Chatham University and believes in the power of an English muffin.
Smell Like Your Favorite Book!
Like any nerd, I enjoy the scent of a good book – the older the better. Wafting through the stacks of a used bookstore are sundry smells that incite memories of my grandmother’s library . . . or the mildew that covered the canvas walls of my family’s pop-up camper. I had not, however, considered that I, too, could carry such an aroma. Until now, that is.
Reminiscent of Cosmo Kramer’s “Beach” scent, Geza Schoen and Gerhard Steidl paired up with Wallpaper magazine to produce their new scent “Paper Passion.” This designer perfume concentrates all the sensuality and intellect that books possess into one convenient spray bottle. I’m imagining a new sort of irresistibility. Like AXE, only for nerds.
Packaged inside a book-shaped box, this product has all the benefits of a real book except, you know, the words. Still, you can’t get much cuter than that. While I was wondering what type of person would purchase this for actual use (and not as a fun-and-funky gift,) I was also considering rubbing my wrists with my most aged copy of Huckleberry Finn. Apparently I am the targeted market.
But why stop with perfumes? I think this is severely limiting this idea’s market potential. In my experience, people will buy anything. My roommates bought a cookie-scented air freshener for our living room and my mom once bought me a leather car freshener – so, really, book-scented Glade plug-ins are just around the corner. I feel like I just gave someone a really good idea. Whoever gets rich off of “Aged Text” laundry detergent, you’re welcome.
Erin Carlson is studying writing at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. In her free time she enjoys eating and playing with her new kitten.