NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Familiar with this line of dialogue? If you said yes, then you are in good company with millions of people who recognize this line from Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone With the Wind. Dialogue is critical to any novel and is an important tool to develop your characters and give the reader insights into their deepest feelings, fears and emotions. When dialogue is good, you don’t even notice the pages flying by. When it’s bad, well, it’s awful.
Every writer needs to use dialogue to make their characters come alive – it makes them real to the reader. The narrative part of the story, including the setting and the action, is important, but it's dialogue that makes your characters human. To help illuminate the importance of dialogue, I’ve outlined ten points to remember when writing:
1. Use dialogue to express internal and emotional turmoil of your characters. Many times the way someone says something means more that what they actually said. Also to whom your characters speak to and in what manner is important.
2. Stories tend to move faster when there is more dialogue. Dialogue should be a very active part of your story. If you re-read your manuscript and find pages and pages of narrative, backstory and/or internal musing, the odds are that the reader will find the pace slowed considerably. See if there is a way to rewrite some dialogue into all that narrative.
3. Use dialogue to show the reader your protagonists’ relationships to other characters in the story. This is a great way to show instead of tell.
4. Use dialogue to heighten sexual tension. Words can often have more than one meaning. Use that to your advantage.
5. Remember to ensure your character is speaking properly. Is she high-bred or lower-class? From the city or the country? From the North or the South? Ages affect the way characters speak – is he 25 or 55?
6. Use dialogue to replace narrative if the story seems slow. If weather is important to the story, have the characters chat about it, instead of having someone looking at it and thinking how cloudy it is.
7. If a character is alone and there is no way to bring another character into this particular scene to break up the narrative, then I sometimes have my characters speak aloud to themselves. It can be humorous and, of course, as someone who often speaks to myself, I can identify with this and it makes my character seem more human.
8. Everything the character says should be important to the story. Your novel has no room for incidentals, nonsense or pleasant chit-chat that isn’t leading up to something. If you see it in your manuscript – cut it. Extraneous dialogue will slow your pacing.
9. Everything your characters say must somehow be connected – there should be a thread running through the story, including what the characters say and do.
10. Dialogue must be appropriate to the genre in which you are writing. Read books in the genre, the line and the publisher you are targeting. This is very important. Sci-fi writers approach dialogue in a way different than those who write mysteries and those who write romances. While the basic rules for using dialogue still apply, there are particular nuances that are unique to each genre.
Now, having said that, what is your favorite line of dialogue in a book or movie? Is there a memorable line of dialogue that will always be linked in your mind to a particular moment in the story? I’ll start by saying I love many of the one-liners in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, such as in the Terminator when he says: “I’ll be back.” How about you?
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Monday, August 29, 2011
Strangers on a Train (1951)-A psychotic socialite confronts a pro tennis star with a theory on how two complete strangers can get away with murder...a theory that he plans to implement. Starring: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, and Ruth Roman
Double Indemnity (1944)-An insurance rep lets himself be talked into a murder/insurance fraud scheme that arouses an insurance investigator's suspicions. Starring: Fred McMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson.
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)-A married woman and a drifter fall in love, and then plot to murder her husband... but even once the deed is done, they must live with the consequences of their actions. Starring: Lana Turner, John Garfield, and Hume Cronyn.
The Big Sleep (1946)-Private detective Philip Marlowe is hired by a rich family. Before the complex case is over, he's seen murder, blackmail, and what might be love. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely.
Out of the Past (1947)-A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames. Starring: Robert Mitchem, Kirk Douglas, and Jane Greer
Mildred Pierce (1945)-After her cheating husband leaves her, Mildred Pierce proves she can become independent and successful, but can't win the approval of her spoiled daughter. Starring: Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, and Ann Blyth.
If you haven't seen any of these films, I highly recommend them. Also, check out the collection of film noir for free online at the Moving Image Archive.
Friday, August 26, 2011
Something is wrong with my work in progress. Something is wrong with my baby.
It started so well, with an idea that wouldn’t leave me alone. What would have happened if an A’lle ship crash-landed in what is now southern Quebec three hundred years ago? How would the settlers of 1711 have reacted to the aliens? Would the survivors be treated as “devils” in the ultra religious world of the settlers? Would they adapt to each other? And if they did adapt, how would history change as a result?
From that background Constance emerged, demanding that I tell her story.
It is 1911, and she is the first A’lle investigator, part of the constabulary of St. Vincent, and she must contend with a society that treats her people as second-class citizens and a Church divided between declaring the A’lle devils or God’s chosen.
Then an A’lle boy is murdered.
I began to write the story, full of the heat of creation. Then my first novel, On Her Trail, was accepted at Carina Press and I had to set my baby aside to do the edits, copy edits, cover blurbs and design info... the “stuff” that accompanies publishing a novel. Once that was done, I picked up Constance’s story again. Before I could get more than a few chapters written, Carina accepted my second novel, The Shoeless Kid, and I had to put Constance aside once more.
Finally, after Shoeless was released and the attendant busywork was over, I returned to Constance, determined not to stop until I’d told her story. And I wrote my heart out... 40,000 words, 55,000 words, 80,000 words... until I finally stumbled to a stop, no longer able to ignore the little voice telling me I’d taken a wrong turn.
I was having trouble forcing myself to the keyboard, when before I'd looked forward to getting back to the story. I couldn’t figure out what Constance would do next, when before her actions and decisions had flowed seamlessly from the previous scenes. And worse (I shudder to admit it), I was getting bored.
Something was wrong, wrong, wrong.
So here I am, so close to the end I can almost see the finish line. But I’m on the wrong race track. I’ve been talking with writer friends, brainstorming ideas. I’ve printed the story-to-date out and am reading it, trying to pinpoint where I took the wrong fork in the road. I feel a little sick to my stomach, honestly. What if I can’t find what I did wrong? What if Constance remains forever trapped in the wrong story?
Are you a writer? Does this ever happen to you? How do you avoid or fix it? If you're not a writer, have you read any stories where the writer took a wrong turn? Where a good story went bad?
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Although the trip had nothing to do with my work, I couldn't help but glean some writerly lessons to share:-)
First and most important - families have lots of secrets, baggage carried from childhood that shape who we are and how we relate to others. That baggage can be one event viewed completely differently from the parties involved. (Lots of writing fodder gathered.)
Second, some of that baggage is better left unopened. I got to thinking that airing dirty laundry isn't always necessary or wise. Sometimes back story can be kept in the character's head and can be just as powerful if no one but that character knows about it.
Sometimes the very best story ideas are right under my nose! We had humor, drama, mystery and even shades of tragedy. The ideas are flowing through me and I'm taking notes!
Finally - and this has nothing to do with writing - drivers on cell phones are a major road hazard. EVERY time we encountered someone driving erratically, they were talking on the phone. Yes - every single time, and there were many of them out there. (I'll step down off the soap box now).
Overall, I don't feel a shred of guilt for completely ignoring my WIP and all my social networking. I had a good time and reconnected with the people who matter most in my life. Did you take a vacation this summer? If so, did you take away any lessons from your adventures?
Monday, August 22, 2011
Are you nodding or shaking your head? As a group of mystery/thriller/suspense authors, what do we think about that? :)
This is just a light-hearted look today, but authors are often disappointed when readers and reviewers give away significant plot twists when they talk about a book online. In the old days (Clare rocks herself in a granny chair), of course this was more difficult, when books were only in print. Then you could only pass on spoilers to the people you physically met. But now online and in the world of ebooks, we can tell anyone ANYTHING! Great for exposure and creating a buzz for our new book… maybe not so good when we have a devastating twist on the last but one page and want to keep that as a special surprise for the reader.
Even the writers of the article aren’t sure if they agree with the findings *g*. The link to the article is below, but here are the main points (hmm, does that count in itself as passing on spoilers???):
“Even though we are no fans of spoilers, Wired's Jonah Lehrer makes a good case for why humans derive pleasure in understanding. "The human mind is a prediction machine, which means that it registers most surprises as a cognitive failure, a mental mistake," he writes. "Our first reaction is almost never 'How cool! I never saw that coming!' Instead, we feel embarrassed by our gullibility, the dismay of a prediction error." …
... As far as the second reason (a good surprise lets you focus on the quality of telling), the A.V. Club's Sean O'Neal suggested another theory, boiled down to readers just liked how the spoiled stories "cut to the chase." Which is to say, readers liked the cliff-notes version.”
Well ... maybe, maybe not, I say :).
I think most readers understand the need to be cautious of spoilers, especially if they love being surprised themselves. Else why do people read mystery at all? I’ve personally been impressed that readers have kept the murderer’s identity secret in Blinded by Our Eyes. There aren’t many candidates : and the book is more of a Whydunnit than a Whodunnit. But I appreciate them keeping the spirit of the genre. Also in my book Freeman, it’s not until the final chapters that Freeman’s secrets are exposed to Kit, the young man he’s developed a tentative relationship with. It’s critical for the suspense in the book that these secrets peel out gradually – that’s part of Freeman’s narrative style at the very least! Again, I’ve been grateful that readers and reviewers praise it without needing to give away WHAT HAPPENS *g*.
So what do you think? Keep secret or spill the beans? And how much do you mind, as both reader and author?
Friday, August 19, 2011
1. Drink mojitos till you turn green and smell like mint
2. Overcome your fear of being a Twitter Twit
3. Refrain from screaming obscenities at Facebook
4. At least remember to visit your own blog
5. Thank God your office is near the bathroom
6. Delete the ton of spam hitting the In Box regarding Mexico, romance, penis enlargement, Japanese investments, South African lotto, and Viagra
7. Don't neglect your needy dogs
8. Resolve to take classes on Friending and Tweeting
9. No more lighting celery fronds thinking they're cigarettes...you quit, remember???
10. If anxiety kicks your ass, start on #1...24 hours early
Hope all of you have a marvelous weekend. Sorry I'm late - been outta state on an emergency with loved ones.
Maureen, hope YOU had a great birthday!
See ya'll next time,
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Monday, August 15, 2011
I pride myself on turning in very clean copies to my editor because I'm a ruthless self-editor (I do love my red pen). Even then, I need and love my editors because I won't catch everything. And, you know, they do these other things like catch continuity errors and such. Sometimes, however, errors do slip by the writer, the editor, and the copy editor and make it into print. No, it's not only an e-book thing. The following list is compiled from books by big name authors from big name publishers.
route canal (no, this story did not take place in Venice or Amsterdam)
hare’s breath (wow, two for two!)
the greatest sigh of life (no, this wasn’t during a sex scene)
her curves pressed to the plains of his body
horde of jewelery
loosening thunder (I didn’t realize thunder could be tense)
reigned in his anger
imminent scientists (they’re right outside the door)
eyes slid passed her
unladylike epitaph (if I wasn’t planning on cremation, I guess I would be okay with “Bee-otch” on my tombstone)
the patience of Jove (someone skipped Sunday school)
fulfilled the duel roles of butler and secretary
Friday, August 12, 2011
1 - Information only the police would have is made too easily accessible to the protagonist. A lot of writers try and get around this one by making the lead investigator the protagonist's romantic interest. That was a fun, fresh idea twenty years ago. Now days? Not so much. Now days the fresh, fun idea is the lead investigator is the protagonist or the protagonist simply has to work around not having the same information that the police have.
2 - The killer's motivation is crazy. No, I don't mean the writer came up with a crazy motivation. I mean the motivation itself is craziness. That way, no matter how illogical the killer's moves and motives are, it can all be explained by Teh Crazy. Now if you give the killer rational and believable motives for committing his crimes, you also waaay up the chance that the reader will figure out whodunnit. But even if the reader ultimately figures out the killer a few pages ahead of schedule, believable motives for all your characters still makes for a more satisfying read.
3 - The killer is a serial killer. See above. I know, I've written a few serial killer novels too, but with 43 stories under my belt, obviously I'm grabbing for any and every idea. What's that you say? The first mystery I wrote had a serial killer? Oh. Well, of course! Serial killers have built-in thrill value and, again, they're pretty easy because Teh Crazy eliminates the need for any kind of logic on the part of the killer. The serial killer is pretty much as worn out a convention as the lady in the nightgown fleeing along the cliffs, the castle lit by one lonely light in the background.
4 - Not enough suspects. There are all kinds of crime stories. Sometimes we're writing romantic suspense and sometimes we're writing classic cozy mystery and sometimes we're writing thrillers. In a thriller, we usually know who the killer is right away -- the who dunnit is not the important element -- but in a classic mystery or even romantic suspense, the reader likes a little more of a puzzle. More characters mean more subplots and that is certainly more work for the writer, but it results in a more satisfying and entertaining mystery.
5 - The prologue that begins with the gruesome murder of an unknown character. Generally this is a yawn. We're not invested in the character, we already know what's going to happen to her or him, and very rarely does anything that occurs in the prologue tie into the rest of the story in a meangingful way. THE KILLER HAS STRUCK! That's pretty much the point of most of those prologues. And they're usually popped into place because the author has a sort of dull first chapter, so a gruesome murder is supposed to compensate for that. A better idea is to write a really strong first chapter with characters we're soon going to love.
The qualifier to all of the above is sometimes someone comes along and makes all of these "mistakes" and yet still makes the book work. So write the best book you possibly can and all the rest of it will likely fall into place.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Excited as children about to enter an enchanted realm, my husband and I board a ferry that whisks us across the Connecticut River from Chester to Hadlyme. In front of us—at the peak of the highest of seven commanding hills, a hill known as The Seventh Sister, Gillette castle— a formidable fortress that belongs to the Middle Ages and the “retirement home” of William Gillette, the actor, dramatist and inventor— commands the lower Connecticut River Valley.
Gillette—intelligent, witty and mischievous—gave the breath of life to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional Sherlock Holmes, wrote two plays–Sherlock Holmes and The Painful Predicament of Sherlock Holmes and earned over three million dollars, a hefty sum in the early1900s, with his portrayal of the great detective.
Begun in 1914, the castle was completed in 1919, at the cost of one million dollars—equal to about thirty million today. Beneath the castle’s tower and turrets are secret passageways and a staircase that disappears. The framework of the manor is steel and oak covers its beams while inside twenty-four rooms exhibit exposed stone and forty-seven doors and every window in the castle are made of hand carved southern white oak furnished with a different lock, individually designed by Gillette, locks that would challenge anyone but Sherlock Holmes. Gillette’s sitting room mirrors Sherlock's at 221B Baker Street and the fourth level of the castle holds a secret hide-a-way. Entry to the hide-a-way, comfortably furnished with two windows and a fireplace, is by a ladder, a ladder Gillette would pull through a trap door. Raffia matting and Japanese rice grass decorate the main hall, floors are made of hardwood, and within the room is a concealed door through which William Gillette often made a grand entrance. Gillette conceived and directed the castle’s construction with the same originality and sense of the theatrical he utilized as a playwright and actor.
In 1898, Gillette’s fascination with Sherlock Holmes led to a correspondence with Arthur Conan Doyle. At their first meeting, he arrived at Doyle’s home wearing a long gray cape and a deerstalker cap. Sherlock Holmes incarnate— in his forties Gillette was the right age and at the perfect height at 6’2”—Gillette’s patrician features and deep-set, blue eyes made him appear to have stepped out of the pages of Doyle’s book. When Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about Holmes appeared in Collier’s Weekly in 1903, the illustrator, Frederick Dorr Steele, used Gillette as his model.
Gillette extensively rewrote a five-act play that Doyle had written then cabled Doyle asking permission to “Marry Holmes.” Sir Arthur replied, “He could marry Holmes or murder him or do anything he like with him.” The original rewrite was lost in a fire at the Hotel Baldwin in San Francisco but Gillette reconstructed the play and sent the manuscript to Doyle. According to David Stashow’s 1999 book, Teller of Tales: the Life of Arthur Conan Doyle, Doyle’s reaction to the script was, “It’s good to see the old chap again.”
Sherlock Holmes – A Drama in Four Acts, produced by Charles Frohman, opened in Buffalo on October 23, 1899 then moved to New York’s Garrick Theatre on November 6. Gillette’s creative mind produced spectacular lighting and stage effects—musical themes and dramatic chords were also used to convey mood and emphasize conflict as it unfolds in the mystery melodrama. The setting is dark and gloomy Victorian London where Holmes rescues the lovely Alice Faulkner, saves a royal marriage and confronts his arch-enemy Professor Moriarty. Frissons of fear chill and delight the audience when at the end of Act I, in the Stepney gas chamber scene, Holmes places Alice behind him and smashes the room’s one lamp with a chair—the theatre is abruptly plunged into blackness. The only light left in the chamber comes from the glow of Holmes cigar.
“The public likes villains,” Gillette said in his opening night speech and since 1899, the audience has enjoyed a most satisfactory encounter between Holmes and his evil adversary, the reptilian Professor Moriarity.
Playing the part 1,300 times, his imprint on the character is recognized today. Instead of the straight, oily clay pipe used in Doyle’s books, Gillette introduced a curved Calabash pipe—he could hold the curved stem pipe between his teeth, display his distinctive profile and speak his lines. He wrote and introduced the most celebrated line—“Elementary, my dear Watson.
Gillette made his last stage appearance in the part in 1932 when he was in his seventies but his appearance, once seen on cigarette cards and a cartoon in Vanity Fair Magazine, still defines the fictional Holmes.
He died at the age of eighty-three in 1937—in his will, Gillette asked his executors not to sell his estate to some “blithering saphead,” after his death. His wish was granted when the State of Connecticut bought the property in 1945 and invited the public to Gillette Castle State Park. William Gillette, with his eccentric castle, panoramic view of the Connecticut River and the aura of theatrical magic that floats over the estate, continues to offer entertainment to an appreciative audience.
Monday, August 8, 2011
There are a lot of books out there with FBI/Special Agent heroes and heroines. Personally, I like the Regular Joe (or Josephine). I have no idea what it's like to be an uber cop, but I connect with characters who are normal people thrust into abnormal situations: the soccer mom who's kids are threatened, the accountant who accidentally discovers his company is laundering money for the mob, the lawyer who discovers his client really IS guilty.
It's easy for readers to put themselves into a regular Joe's shoes and wonder, what would I do?
The Firm by John Grisham is a perfect example. Mitch is just a promising young lawyer who's just scored his dream job-until he learns what the firm is really up to and that they have him by the short hairs. Harlan Coben is another writer who pulls the reader in with his ordinary person characters.
What type of character's do you like?
Friday, August 5, 2011
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
When people ask me how I managed to write a character as evil and twisted as The Babydoll Strangler in my romantic suspense novel The First Victim, I tell them it was easy.
The rules that govern polite society don't apply to villains. They are scheming, ruthless, narcissistic, soulless predators who think they're above the law. These cruel, malevolent sociopaths enjoy frightening and hurting their prey. They're fun to write. They're even more fun to read!
I'm a huge fan of authors who can create the kind of bad guys (or gals!) that have me checking to make sure I've locked the doors. My favorite villains and their creators include:
Arthur Conan Doyle's Moriarty
Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley
Ed McBain's The Deaf Man
Daphne Du Maurier's Mrs. Danvers
Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter
James Patterson's Cassanova
Stephen King's Pennywise
JK Rowling's Voldemort
All of these villains wield fear as their weapon of choice. Some with charm. Some with violence. All with surgical precision.
The authors who created them have branded these characters in my imagination with the kind of skill that leaves me both jealous and amazed.
How do you feel about villains? Love 'em? Hate 'em? Or love to hate them? Which ones are the ones you can't forget (even if you wanted to)?
Monday, August 1, 2011
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