The SolAARium: Discuss the craft of writing - Alphabetical Index in the 1st Post

Gaijin de Moscu

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Craig Ashley said:
But yeah, I try to avoid angrily, sadly, mournfully, ect whenever possible.

Great discussion on this... you pretty much captured my approach, Craig.

As a matter of fact, to get to the visual effect without using the '...ly' buggers, I simply create a visual of my scene before writing it. Either I google for a picture that would reflect the mood, or jot something down with a pencil... then I list all the emotions that this visual awakens in me -- or ideas it gives me; and then the writing comes out very fast. I simply play the game of 'use the given words' -- I use the words I listed while looking at the visual.

This helps me to avoid the lazy writing of the 'he growled menacingly at John who trembled cowardly' kind... just my two cents... sorry if, unlike Hemingway, I'm stating the obvious...
 

Rensslaer

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I'll go on with more later, but first I want to address a couple points from a few posts back.

As for descriptions like "whispered" or "angrily" I think it really depends on the situation and the context. On one hand I agree with King that if you can adequately set up the dialogue so that the context conveys how something is said, then the dialogue gains in power and impact. That said, it's just not always possible to set things up that way. Especially in complicated dialogue, you can go through a symphony of emotions in one short passage. Descriptors let the reader know what's going on when there's just not room to set it up in proper context.

And regarding how much to let the readers know... I find that I'm sometimes frustrated that events or conditions (or even characters) that haven't been in the readers' eyes recently (realtime) are forgotten. These AARs, which are serialized stories, take place over a length of real time, which affects how people perceive them. I'm beginning to see the value, here, of the .pdf files for long stories (mine is over a year old and growing!). Or perhaps an index for important events. Thoughts?

CatKnight said:
Lastly writing dialogue is…hmm, my readers seem to like mine, but I think I’m still learning. My dialogue tends to drift very close to question and answer sessions.
Catknight, I think you underestimate yourself! The magnificent dialogue I remarked upon the other day was just brilliant. Don't think it's bad because it's a "question and answer session". Frankly, most dialogue in real life is question and answer sessions. I think the point is more, "is the dialogue a believable question and answer session?"

For instance, compare these stupefyingly extreme selections:
1)
"My King, I believe they are going to attack us. But from which direction?"
"Well, it's obvious. We have mountains on both sides of us. They will attack from the plain, where they have the easiest approach."
"Of course, that is their only natural choice."
"But no, my King. Because it is so obvious, they will not attack from the plain. They will come from behind, where we do not expect them."
"Ah, but you are right. Very well. Let's deploy to the rear."

2)
"We know they are planning an attack. Where is it most likely to fall?"
"Well, a frontal assault would be the easiest. But they will know that our strongest defenses are there. Where are we weakest?"
"If they occupy the heights to the west, they can bombard us and reduce our defenses against the frontal attack. I'm not so worried about the east because they have no easy access in that direction."
"Could they come at us from behind?"
"We do have scouts deployed, so we would be able to detect movement to that direction, and would have time to redeploy our defenses. On the whole, it would gain them little."
"Very well. Deploy two regiments to dig in and defend the western heights. Put the bulk of the rest of our forces at the front, with screening forces on either side."

I think very few of us strive in spoken language (as opposed to written) for sagacity and exactitude. We may write like Spock, but we don't talk like him! :rolleyes: I think the main key to dialogue is making it believable. It's more the mind and thoughts behind what's said, and the mind and thoughts of the author behind the contrived situation, rather than what the character actually says. History may be a contraindicator, but I tend to think the stupid, clueless people wouldn't be at the centers of power, so we don't know what they would say.

In short, Catknight... You have believable dialogue, backed up by intelligent critical thinking on the part of your characters. They respond to believable situations and believable challenges set up by other characters. That's why I'm so impressed with your dialogue. :)

Rensslaer
 

Storey

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Gaijin de Moscu said:
Great discussion on this... you pretty much captured my approach, Craig.

As a matter of fact, to get to the visual effect without using the '...ly' buggers, I simply create a visual of my scene before writing it. Either I google for a picture that would reflect the mood, or jot something down with a pencil... then I list all the emotions that this visual awakens in me -- or ideas it gives me; and then the writing comes out very fast. I simply play the game of 'use the given words' -- I use the words I listed while looking at the visual.

This helps me to avoid the lazy writing of the 'he growled menacingly at John who trembled cowardly' kind... just my two cents... sorry if, unlike Hemingway, I'm stating the obvious...

I do the same in that what I see in my mind I write into the story. This way I seldom if ever use the "she said, I said routine. The up side of creating a scene is the reader knows what the dynamics are and usually doesn't have to be told what the mood of the speaker is. The down side of creating a scene is that it is time consuming to put it mildly and can slow down the story to a point where it becomes a problem. The only time I have to use some sort of he said she said is if I have three or more people talking in a scene. here is an example of how I handled a scene with three characters, Higgins, Aurturo and Ezra ben david


Higgins sat back and straightened his tie in surprising agitation as the silence in the room lengthen.

Suddenly Aurturo’s voice cut through the room.

“Why do you always leave out the other part of the story?”

“I’ve given everyone all the pertinent information have I not?”

Aurturo smiled and waved his finger at Higgins.

You’ve given what information you considered important enough to pass on to our companions but that is not the same as giving a complete account of what this is all about. Your version of the story is somewhat like viewing an elephant through the eyes of a blind man.”

“Nonsense sir and you have the bad habit of misusing metaphors as frequently as a pigeon anoints a statue.”

“None the less I think it is prudent for us to look at all of the facts. Consider if you would that you haven’t told Mr. ben David of the consequences that all of the previous translators have suffered after decoding the manuscripts.”

Ezra’s head popped up.

“What was that?”

Higgins’s shook his head in dismissal.

“There is no link that has been proven beyond bad luck or bad planning.”

“Excuse me but what are you two talking about?”

Aurturo frowned.

“You can’t seriously say that after the strange deaths of three men who’s only link was the manuscripts that it all boils down to bad luck?”

“Would someone tell me what you two are talking about?”

Higgins shook his head in agitation.

“Bad luck or the fates if you will, there is not a shred of evidence that the deaths are linked in any way other than the machinations of evil men trying to find the manuscripts before us!”

“I don’t mean to be rude but what are you two talking about?”

Aurturo his voice starting to show frustration answered.

“Higgins you can’t say with a straight face that there are no unnatural aspects to this situation.”

“The only thing unnatural is your need to propagate endless suppositions involving the supernatural at the expense of reason.”

A book slammed down on a desk with a slap that shouted with the help of numerous pages bound by thick leather. Higgins and Aurturo stopped and looked at Ezra. The small man’s eyes were animated with curiosity and anger.



If I do it right it should be clear who's saying what with the least amount of nudging the reader in the right direction of who is speaking by indicating the seakers mood.

Joe
 
Last edited:

Craig Ashley

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I've used words like said, asked, replied, inquired. Mostly to denote who the speaker is if there is the potential for confusion. I've also used the technique Storey just outlined, but not as skillfully or as often. If you don't mind, Joe, I'm gonna add that arrow to my writer's quiver.
 

Storey

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Craig Ashley said:
I've used words like said, asked, replied, inquired. Mostly to denote who the speaker is if there is the potential for confusion. I've also used the technique Storey just outlined, but not as skillfully or as often. If you don't mind, Joe, I'm gonna add that arrow to my writer's quiver.

Thanks Craig. To be clear I have no problem using said, asked etc. In fact my example uses "answered". It’s just a personal choice to rarely use that style. For some reason I find it jarring when I'm writing. Go figure. However I still have to tell the reader who's talking so I go about it another way. What is missing the most from the characters in a story? Body language. We can't see them so unless the writer tells you what they look like, are doing, how they move, stand etc the reader is left in the dark. So instead of saying "Aurturo said Higgins said" I do something like this.

Higgins stood with his hands balled into fists. His jaw was clenched and you could hear his teeth grinding.

(Dialogue)

Aurturo leaned against the wall, his arms and legs casually crossed as his grin slowly widened.

(Dialogue)

At this point I should be able to write endless dialogue between the two of them without giving the reader any more help on who's speaking because their mood and style of speech should be enough to keep things clear. However I like to give the reader visual images of the characters because I find it more interesting so I'll drop in an occasional detail of what they look like or are doing. I’m sure I do it too much but I enjoy it.

Joe
 
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Lord Durham

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Captain tapped his fingers gently on the ale-stained oaken table as Lochlan strode up with two frothing mugs clutched in a large, calloused hand.

"Damn that Storey!" The Ranger sat heavily, the wooden bench protesting with a dangerous creak. He set the mugs down hard, suds splashing wildly. "I was going to do what he did."

Captain wiped a fleck of ale from his shirt. "Do what?"

"What he did!"

"What did he do?"

"Demonstrate how to write dialogue without resorting to unneccessary descriptors."

"Oh, that."

Lochlan pushed a mug over. "Here. Drink up."

Captain took up the proffered ale and drank deeply. He belched. "No need to bother, then. Storey got the point across."

"Indeed. You know, his dialogue has really improved over the years."

"You noticed."

"Yep."

"Shh. Here comes Geoffrey. He'll probably think we're talking about him."


* * *
Descriptors are best used to set up the speakers, and then casually tossed aside until another person or persons require introduction. Even then, actions can intro new characters with much more effect. Adverbs attached to descriptors should be used sparingly, if at all, "he blared loudly."

I know this has been discussed earlier in the thread (probably indexed, at that), but sometimes talking your dialogue out loud is enough to tell if it works or not. Writing dialogue is hard, writing good dialogue is very hard and takes practice--lots of it.

In fact, written dialogue isn't natural. Next time you're near the water cooler, listen to a couple of people speak. You'll hear each sentence laced with such mind-boggling words like 'um', 'ah', 'er', 'you know', 'I mean', long pauses, stumbled-over words, clipped sentences... you get the drift. That said, the writer's job is to make it sound right, and natural. Not like real life at all.

BTW, Gaijin de Moscu's use of pictures to set a mood, or help establish details for a character, is an excellent idea. I've been involved in three writing contests that involved building a story from a picture. They're great for inspiration.
 

Storey

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Lord Durham said:
BTW, Gaijin de Moscu's use of pictures to set a mood, or help establish details for a character, is an excellent idea. I've been involved in three writing contests that involved building a story from a picture. They're great for inspiration.

Another good way to practice writing was sent to me by a friend. Enjoy.



> Here's a prime example of "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" offered by
an English professor from the University of Phoenix:
>
>
>
> The professor told his class one day: "Today we will experiment with a new
form called the tandem story. The process is simple. Each person will pair off
with the person sitting to his or her immediate right. As homework tonight, one
of you will write the first paragraph of a short story. You will e-mail your
partner that paragraph and send another copy to me. The partner will read the
first paragraph and then add another paragraph to the story and send it back,
also sending another copy to me. The first person will then add a third
paragraph, and so on back-and-forth.
>
> Remember to re-read what has been written each time in order to keep the story
coherent. There is to be absolutely NO talking outside of the e-mails and
anything you wish to say must be written in the e-mail. The story is over when
both agree a conclusion has been reached."
>
>
>
> The following was actually turned in by two of his English students:
>
> Rebecca and Gary.
>
>
>
> THE STORY:
>
>
>
> (first paragraph by Rebecca)
>
>
>
> At first, Laurie couldn't decide which kind of tea she wanted. The
>
> chamomile, which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home, now
reminded her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times, that he liked
chamomile. But she felt she must now, at all costs, keep her mind off Carl. His
possessiveness was suffocating, and if she thought about him too much her asthma
started acting up again. So chamomile was out of the question.
>
>
>
> (second paragraph by Gary)
>
>
>
> Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron now in
orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about than the neuroses
of an air-headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with whom he had spent one sweaty
night over a year ago. "A.S. Harris to Geostation 17," he said into his
transgalactic communicator. "Polar orbit established. No sign of resistance so
far..." But before he could sign off a bluish particle beam flashed out of
nowhere and blasted a hole through his ship's cargo bay. The jolt from the
direct hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the cockpit.
>
>
>
> (Rebecca)
>
>
>
> He bumped his head and died almost immediately, but not before he felt one
last pang of regret for psychically brutalizing the one woman who had ever had
feelings for him. Soon afterwards, Earth stopped its pointless hostilities
towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4. "Congress Passes Law Permanently
Abolishing War and Space Travel," Laurie read in her newspaper one morning. The
news simultaneously excited her and bored her. She stared out the window,
dreaming of her youth, when the days had passed unhurriedly and carefree, with
no newspaper to read, no television to distract her from her sense of innocent
wonder at all the beautiful things around her. "Why must one lose one's
innocence to become a woman?" she pondered wistfully.
>
>
>
> (Gary)
>
>
>
> Little did she know, but she had less than 10 seconds to live. Thousands of
miles above the city, the Anu'udrian mothership launched the first of its
lithium fusion missiles. The dimwitted wimpy peaceniks who pushed the Unilateral
Aerospace disarmament Treaty through the congress had left Earth a defenseless
target for the hostile alien empires who were determined to destroy the human
race. Within two hours after the passage of the treaty the Anu'udrian ships were
on course for Earth, carrying enough firepower to pulverize the entire planet.
With no one to stop them, they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan. The
lithium fusion missile entered the atmosphere unimpeded. The President, in his
top-secret mobile submarine headquarters on the ocean floor off the coast of
Guam, felt the inconceivably massive explosion, which vaporized poor, stupid
Laurie.
>
>
>
> (Rebecca)
>
>
>
> This is absurd. I refuse to continue this mockery of literature. My writing
partner is a violent, chauvinistic semi-literate adolescent.
>
>
>
> (Gary)
>
>
>
> Yeah? Well, my writing partner is a self-centered tedious neurotic whose
attempts at writing are the literary equivalent of Valium. "Oh, shall I have
chamomile tea? Or shall I have some other sort of F--KING TEA??? Oh no, what am
I to do? I'm such an air headed bimbo who reads too many Danielle Steele
novels!"
>
>
>
> (Rebecca)
>
>
>
> Asshole.
>
>
>
> (Gary)
>
>
>
> Bitch.
>
>
>
> (Rebecca)
>
>
>
> F&*%K YOU - YOU NEANDERTHAL!!
>
>
>
> (Gary)
>
>
>
> Go drink some tea - whore.
>
>
>
> (TEACHER)
>
>
>
> A+ - I really liked this one.
 

coz1

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Those are some great examples. I know I struggle with that quite often in my own work.

And Storey - the last was a classic. I have a few of those "projects" behind me. :rolleyes:

I might also add one thing about descriptors, particularly adverbs. King says he goes through his work and strikes out every single one. Perhaps a might extreme, but it does make the writer work just a bit harder to phrase something just right. Keeps you from being lazy, which is all too easy to be sometimes. I know I surely can be.
 

Pirate Z

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Durham -- I generally do what you do, now that I think of it. You first 'introduce' the participants in the conversation, by using the '[insert name of character] said' and variants routine, and then discard this as the conversation continues. Generally, I suppose it makes dialogue carry over more naturally to the reader.

I do, however, sometimes enter a 'he said' and variants (i.e. 'inquired', 'replied', etc etc) every now and then, just to ensure the reader doesn't get confused as to who is talking. :)
 

Lord Durham

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Pirate Z said:
I do, however, sometimes enter a 'he said' and variants (i.e. 'inquired', 'replied', etc etc) every now and then, just to ensure the reader doesn't get confused as to who is talking. :)
So do I. Readers don't always stay focused. Nor do the writers, for that matter. :)

I was once challenged to write a post that was all dialogue and still maintain the distinctive separation between characters. It appeared in the 'Guess the Author' thread and turned out rather well.
 

coz1

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New question -

How much description is too much description?

When building a scene, and a picture for the reader to see in his/her minds eye - where does one draw the line in descriptive terms? How far should one take the description of the table next to the nobleman? Exactly how much do we need to know about the wall behind the bar of the tavern the men have entered? How many terms and particulars does one need to use to describe the tunic that Sir Tancred is wearing?

Learned minds of AARland, I open the floor.
 

Alhazen

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This is a problem I struggle with. I suppose it is hard--for me at least--to draw a balance between too much--as in describing the inlays on the buttons on the nobleman's breeches :wacko: From just saying "he had pants on." :D

Robert E Howard was a master of description, and could paint a scene with just one or two lines. I think it takes practice, but your readers really are smarter than you think, and can use their own imaginations if you just give some simple guidance. Let them imagine the main character the way they want to, not the way you 'know' him to be.

Now, when writing battles, for example, I try to be as detailed as possible, probably because personally I prefer the 'mud and guts' style of being right in the action, seeing the dirt on people's clothes, tasting the blood in their mouths.

Something like a tavern wall, I think perhaps a style of "describing what the characters see" may work best. Im not sure. If a protaganist was intrigued by what's on the wall, why not describe it? If not, if he just gazed past it or ignored it, leave it alone.
 

The Yogi

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Alhazen said:
This is a problem I struggle with. I suppose it is hard--for me at least--to draw a balance between too much--as in describing the inlays on the buttons on the nobleman's breeches :wacko: From just saying "he had pants on." :D

I tend to think that less is more - the readers don't really care about details such as how something looked, or felt or smellt, he wants to know what is going to HAPPEN next. Anything that the reader doesn't need to have described to understand what is happening or that helps create the mood you want for the scene is in excess. That, of course, isn't drawing the line to finely, I realise, but it is something to go on at least.

And I don't follow it religiously.

In the example you mentioned, if the buttons are important (because Sherlock Holmes is going to find that they're evidence), then describe them in detail, together with other parts of the mans finery to cover up that the buttons are important.
 

Mettermrck

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I've seen instances of great books with both ways. Robert Jordan, to me, is the epitome of uber-description, especially of clothing. :) I've also seen medieval fiction which scarcely describes a thing, which works since most of us can picture medieval settings in our heads. I find that if you're writing a setting that your readers are probably familiar with, you don't need to describe as much. If it's a unique world, then you might want to work at it more to bring the world to life.

I tend towards some description. Typically, I write out the drama and plot and then if I feel like it's too sparse, I double-back and try to expand upon the setting or certain parts. The easiest for me is to think of the 5 senses the main protagonist is experiencing. What does he feel? smell? hear? see? taste? Usually this does a lot to set the seen. I've also found that analogies can do wonders to bring a world to life without straight description. John Sandford's Prey mystery series is awash in these rich descriptions, for example. Essentially, I try to strike a balance.
 

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Well, as was pointed out in an examination of two chapters of Lufthansa Terminal, I would tend to describe in great detail, which left the reader with little to imagine, however it was noted that is did provide a very rich atmoshpere, so its really a question of two faces.
 

Alhazen

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I agree with Sir Humphrey, as, like him, I prefer much detail. When I read a novel, especially historical fiction, I want an author who displays a mastery of the subject and the time period with little details and facts. Im a stickler for realism, even in fantasy. Which is why I far prefer Conan or A Song of Fire and Ice to things like Tolkien or Wheel of Time.

It really is two preferences. Some readers do not like being barraged with information, others, like me, enjoy the detail. Don't get me wrong, I know a certain amount is 'too much'. But sometimes its the little gems of information that make a story seem real, is it not?
 

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Description should set the scene but not overpower it. The point's been made that less is more, which for the most part is true. A good rule of thumb is to provide sufficient detail for key settings that have relevence to the story. In other words, descriptions, like dialogue, should advance the plot and not serve as a distraction. Or worse yet, a deadend. This is especially true with short stories, though less with novels. This applies to characters and scenery, and should include the five senses where possible. Alhazen stated that Robert E. Howard was a master of setting a scene with minimum exposition. He's right. Howard could paint a vivid tapestry in a couple of lines, where most writers would require a detailed paragraph to achieve the same effect.
 

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Lord Durham said:
This is especially true with short stories, though less with novels.

I learnt a good rule of thumb for short stories descriptions:"If you at any time have a rifle hanging on the wall, it must be fired before the end of the story!":D

A little extreme, perhaps, but I like it!
 

Lord Durham

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The Yogi said:
I learnt a good rule of thumb for short stories descriptions:"If you at any time have a rifle hanging on the wall, it must be fired before the end of the story!":D

A little extreme, perhaps, but I like it!
That is actually a paraphrase from something I posted on page three of this thread way back when. It had to do with DEMs and forshadowing, but can easily apply to pertinent descriptions:

One of the best ways to deal with this is to foreshadow the intended DEM. It could be an innocuous sentence describing a tire iron in a previous post, but at least its existence has been established for future use. Obviously this involves a bit of plotting, but the astute reader will recognize that the tire iron did not magically appear at the right moment.

That being said, Anton Chekov stated that if you show a fireplace with a shotgun hanging above the mantel in Act I, then the shotgun had better be fired before the curtain falls.
 

The Yogi

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Lord Durham said:
That being said, Anton Chekov stated that if you show a fireplace with a shotgun hanging above the mantel in Act I, then the shotgun had better be fired before the curtain falls.[/i]

Yep, it was that Checov quote I had heard, but apparently had a rather fuzzy recollection of. So it refered to playwriting, not short stories eh?