08 March 2012

In the Next Booth, or Dialogue Schmialogue

This is my purgatory: a diner in New York City, about half full with people, not too loud, not too quiet. A Wednesday evening in late February. It’s about to start snowing, but no one will know this until they leave. But here’s the problem: nobody can leave. And it’s because of me, because I’m stuffed into a booth with my laptop trying to figure out what these people should say. And since I can’t, we’re all trapped, doomed to stare at each other for all eternity.

Fade in: the diner scene. The first turning point. This may arguably be the most important scene in my story, where my characters finally admit their attraction for one another and start figuring out what to do from there.

Ok, so I’m not a screenwriter, but with the amount of dialogue I use, maybe I should try. This has always been a problem for me. I’m perfectly aware of this fact on my own, but of course I’ve been told this by people on a teen writing website I used to frequent, college professors, or coworkers who started my short story but never finished it (you know who you are!)

So I’ll just admit it. I, Sarah Anne Foster, am a dialogue abuser.

Let’s backtrack to last March when I was having my short story workshopped in my fiction class. I had already chopped down my darling from the 38-page monster that it was down to a more reasonable 24 pages that my fellow writers would be able to digest. And when it came time to discuss the diner scene, like I had dreaded, the subject of dialogue came up. The professor actually held up a page from this scene and compared it to another, more prose-filled page, displaying how quickly the reader breezes through a page of mostly dialogue. This would have been mortifying if I hadn’t been expecting it.

Now while I wholeheartedly admit that I use too much dialogue, I actually disagree with what the professor said next. He claimed that when writing in first person past tense, it’s like you are actually pulling from your memory and you wouldn’t remember exactly what was said. For the most part, you should paraphrase. I really disagree with this. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book in first person past tense that didn’t reveal everything that the characters were saying like it was happening in real time. Sure, paraphrasing can be great when you’re summarizing some boring dialogue, but the important lines, I feel, should be there. It isn’t a memory, it’s a story. Even if it's in past tense, the reader needs to be in the moment.

Unfortunately, the amount of dialogue in this scene wasn’t my only problem. It was also what was being said. The problem with this scene can be summed up very well by a comment made by another student in my workshop: “I’d love to be in the next booth.” Basically, my characters are having a very (I mean, VERY, like could be construed as illegal) private conversation in a very public place. The whole conversation was pretty over the top even if the characters had been alone on the living room couch. I’ll spare you an example. Enough mortal eyes have already been exposed to it for my liking. I’ve eventually been able to justify the location to myself (just trust me) beyond my own indulgence, but it comes with a condition. I have to tone it down.

So once my characters are discussing whether it’s a good idea or not for them to have sex, this is the part where I should yell “CUT!” Make my presence known and say, “All right, all right, rein it in, boys. You’re being ridiculous.” But as usual, my dialogue tends to run amok. It’s like the characters go on and on with their conversation and then turn and look at me and say, “Oh, you’re still here?”

The hardest part is figuring out how to get my characters to say things without actually saying them. Is it with gestures, glances, uncomfortable silences? Do I write the whole scene in whispers? It’s a grueling process, but I’ve come up with an interesting strategy: just keep writing the dialogue. I’ll write lines and lines of it and then go back and cut out half. I find if I get out everything that they could possibly say, it’s easier to pick out what they actually should say.

So the solution to my dialogue problem? Just write some more dialogue. Maybe take a break and order a cheeseburger. We’ll get out of here eventually.

01 March 2012

Why I Don't Outline

This can be explained not in words, but in pictures. This is how my evening began:

Not looking very promising, right? Well, this is how it ended:

I rest my case.

Fun Facts: Volume One

What's that, you say? This isn't a real blog post? Again? Well, too bad. I'm feverishly typing away Chapter Five at the moment and with my writing-ADD I started making a list of things I've noticed about my writing. I find most of them rather humorous, so hopefully you can at least have a laugh this week.

Here goes:

  • ·         Despite my self-proclaimed status as grammar nazi, I wholeheartedly believe that when it comes to dialogue, all bets are off. People don’t always speak perfectly. I probably overuse “uhs” and “ums” and “…” as well. I won’t apologize. Except maybe to my first editor.
  • ·         If I’m writing from the point of view of a teenager (which is, um, always), I will find some way to get their parents out of the picture, whether it’s through supernatural elements, important jobs, or general whorishness (e.g. Jordan’s mom).
  • ·         I didn’t know whorishness was an actual word until Microsoft Word did not put a red squiggly line under it just now.
  • ·         I will never just give you the first person narrator’s name. You gotta work for it, wait for the right character to say it. Sometimes you have to wait for chapter two.
  • ·         I live under the impression (or delusion) that every male character I’ve ever created has no chest hair and wears boxers. And they’re circumcised. There, I said it.
  • ·         I have a tendency to occasionally write prose in a poetic fashion. And even if it’s beautiful, it never works. So let’s just say that rereading Lolita for inspiration right now is not helping as much as I had hoped. WHERE ARE ALL THESE FLOWERY WORDS COMING FROM? DAMN YOU HUMBERT!
  • ·         I feel as though I have a translator in my brain that takes what I want to write and changes it into what a teenage boy would say. My favorite example is a line of dialogue that started as “please don’t speak,” and in about five seconds became, “just shut up, ok?” This translator was not always so great and my original strategy was just to swear a lot.
  • ·         What isn’t so easy is having a word that seems PERFECT for the situation but then I realize that my narrator wouldn’t know or use that word. So if anybody has a dumbed down word that means “pretense,” please let me know.
  • ·         I’m crazy about making playlists for my books. There are official ones, unofficial ones. And if you happened to make your way into the Borders I used to work at that one Thursday night during liquidation, you were poisoned with the playlist for my current book because I was allowed to take over the CD player. I will now enjoy an evil laugh with my muse.
  • ·         He just said that he doesn’t have an evil laugh, but that all of his laughs are inherently evil.
  • ·         Sometimes, and I mean ONLY sometimes, and it has to be the perfect trigger (when my boyfriend annoys me) I will start talking as Jordan. He always catches on right away, which I suppose is a good thing, if it means I’ve defined the voice enough.
Ok, I’m done rambling, I swear. I’ll get back to my chapter now.

17 February 2012

Delays and Apologies

Ok, I know I only have seven followers but I also know that there are some random people out there who read this as well, for whatever reason (however you've stumbled onto here, thanks for sticking around).

Anyhoo, I know I haven't made an actual blog post in a few weeks, and there's a perfectly good reason for that, I promise. Basically, my next idea sort of required me being done with a particular scene in my novel. Needless to say, I'm not. It's slow going. But instead of my blog turning into some internet version of a ghost town, I thought I would at least check in.

I think I'm going to abandon the resolutions/recap entries, because, well basically, they're not going well. I gave up on the poem-a-day project pretty much immediately after January ended. It's sad, I know, but it wasn't any fun realizing each night about half an hour before bed that I still had to write a poem. And I hated most of them. There are a few gems in there that I'm hoping to polish but I think going forward would be exhausting. I'd rather focus whatever free time I have on my novel.

Oh and I bet you thought I would post something on February 15, didn't you? Yes, a year has passed since I started my book. I was hoping for a day with feverish, unstoppable writing, but that was really just wishful thinking. I did make some progress, but this particular chapter I'm working on is like pulling teeth. Actually, it's like pushing characters who just stare at you and say, "No, I'm not going to do that. Go away." What can I say, they've changed on me. My weak character has become stronger, my evil character has become, well, less evil. The things I had them do a year ago just don't work anymore. But I'm figuring it out. It's all in the process.

01 February 2012

Recap: January

So it’s the first of a new month, and to keep up with my resolutions, I’m going to share my progress thus far. The plan is to continue doing so for the rest of the year. Here we go.

Poems Written: 31/31

Overall, a success, although not every poem was brilliant, of course. A lot of opportunities for editing, and just a few duds. And I’m very proud to say, no haikus. If you’re wondering where I get so many poem ideas from, let me just say that 10 out of the 31 poems were related to my novel (usually written from the point of view of a character), another 10 were about writing in general, and one was about cleaning my apartment. You work with what you got.

Movies Watched: 9

This goal isn’t that hard, especially when I work nights and have the whole day to myself with digital cable on demand. Most of the movies I watched were ones that I was only mildly interested in, but were free.

Favorite Movie: I can’t decide between Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows and My Week with Marilyn. Loved both for very different reasons. I’m also not that good at movie reviewing. We’ll work on that.

Least Favorite Movie: Letters to Juliet. The most predictable load of crap I’ve ever seen. It’s one of those movies where you think the trailer gives away pretty much everything. Well, it did. Not a single surprise, and it wasn’t even heartwarming or mildly amusing.

Books Read: 2

Yes, I know, it’s pathetic. Especially because I should be reading 8 or 9 books to keep up with my goal of 100 for the year.

Favorite Book: Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley. What can I say, I knew about halfway through that this book would break my heart and it did. It brought me to tears; I wanted to throw it against the wall and I screamed at it once.

It wouldn’t really be fair to call my only other book my “least favorite,” so I’ll save this title for next month. I hope.

While I haven’t gotten anywhere on the whole getting published track, it should be said that my drive to write has seriously increased in the last few weeks. I’m hoping for more chapters and hopefully at least one short story in the next month.

Year Totals:
Poems: 31/366
Books: 2/100
Movies: 9/100

30 January 2012

The Curse of the Novel

I’ll just come out and admit it: I can’t write short stories.  It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve tried to write several short stories, when I was younger and in college. But they always fall into two categories, the first being absolute crap. These stories usually are choppy, uninspired piles of nothing that I probably will never return to. The second category, however, is the exact opposite.

I’m cursed. Whenever I write a short story that I actually like, for whatever reason, it just doesn’t work in such a short format. It needs to be a novel.

The first time didn’t seem like too much of a big deal. I was fourteen at the time, and had just written a little snippet of a scene, where a girl is dreading the end of the school day because she has to meet up with a boy whom she despises. It was only natural to start wondering who these characters were and why they were in this situation. So I started backtracking and crafting different plot ideas in my mind. Eventually, I had a novel.

The second time happened just a few months later. I’ve mentioned the manifesto of my teenage years as being a fantasy novel called Bleeding Life. Well, that, too, started as a short story, about a girl who falls for a mysterious young man who just so happens to be immortal (I came up with this long before Twilight came out, thank you very much). The short story ended with the girl being turned into the same breed of immortal being, but it seemed unfinished. What would happen to these characters now? This couldn’t possibly be the end of their story. There was so much, an entire world, in fact, to explore. The rest was history. I was cursed for a second time.

The third time, of course, happened almost a year ago, and unlike the first two times, I knew something was up from the very beginning. Although I had committed to writing a short story, there was just too much happening and I couldn’t contain it. While I was writing the first draft, I wondered if I should aim for a novella instead. But I kept going, finally curbing it at nineteen single spaced pages. It was long, to say the least. I knew I’d have a problem submitting it for my fiction class, so I spent one long, agonizing day trimming down the story so that it wouldn’t exhaust my classmates.

Despite its length, things within the story still happened too quickly. People who read it wondered why the characters would behave in certain ways, or give up information about themselves so quickly. I realized what was about a page and a half of sexual tension needed to be several chapters long in order for it to make sense. So here I was again, only this time the decision was not so easy. I was so worried that by turning this story into a novel, it would become watered down, not as strong as it was in its current form.

But eventually I conceded with my better judgment and took the leap. I’m still working on it, obviously, but I’m more committed to it than any other piece of writing that I’ve done before. And this time is even more different, because rather than expanding on a short piece to find out what happens before or after, I’m taking a completed piece and stretching it out to fit the novel format. It seems more like adapting a previous work into something different. I certainly would never give this up, but I just have to accept the fact that yes, I am cursed. And I may never write a proper short story.

26 January 2012

What’s in a Sexually Ambiguous Name?

Let me preface this by saying that the “What’s in a Name” blog was not supposed to be a two-parter. But as usual, things are beyond my control. Believe me, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

I was faced with a new character, one that wouldn’t even span the course of an entire chapter. Honestly, if I lined every character in my book up in order of significance, there would probably only be three characters less important than her. And yet, she was in need of a name.

Within the scene itself, she’s a very striking character. Almost like the female counterpart to my narrator, an adversary even. She shows up suddenly, challenges his attitudes, his beliefs, and serves as a temporary temptation. Basically, she doesn’t put up with his bullshit, which he finds incredibly sexy. So at least for this scene, this girl was important, and to give her some dignity, I had to name her.

Since I started writing my novel in early 2011, I have it stuck in my head that this is when it takes place, so I figured this 15-year-old girl was born in 1995. So I cruised the internet to my favorite name site, behindthename.com, and found the list of popular names in 1995. I scrolled past the typical names—Jessica, Ashley, Emily, Brittany, and my own name, which was #5—in search of a name that spoke to me.

My eyes stopped on #29: Madison. I liked it instantly. And not just because it was different than all of those stereotypical girl names, but because, like Jordan, the name could be either a boy’s or a girl’s. It seemed kind of perfect, to put both characters on the same level and watch them butt heads.

That would have been the end of it—the decision had already been made—but curiosity got the better of me. To the left of the list of girls’ names were the top 100 boys’ names for that year as well. I’m not sure what made me look at it at all. Some force of nature, it seemed, because then I just happened to see #29 on the boys’ side. It was Jordan. Those two names had been standing side by side the entire time, and I hadn’t even noticed. Madison was even more perfect than I had thought.

I can’t really explain why these things keep happening to me. I just kind of go with it. I’m sure someday I’ll be writing Part Three.