Jas requested: How do you write dialogue?
- Get to know your characters. Figure out how they think and speak.
- Give them their own original voices because if you can switch the names of any characters and still have the words they’re saying be in character for them, you know you have a problem.
- Research. Know what time period and type of character you’re writing for. A rich CEO won’t speak the same as an inner city school kid. A modern character won’t talk the same as someone from fifty years ago.
- Say your dialogue out loud. Make sure it’s something that makes sense and is realistic.
- Dialogue should add to the story. It can deepen or move the plot along, add to relationships, or build conflict or tension. Just make sure it’s keeping the story moving and the scene interesting.
- Going along with the previous point, remove pointless dialogue.
A: “Hey, what’s up?”
B: “Not much.”
A: “Me either.”
B: “Any plans this weekend?”
A: “I think I’m gonna sleep in.”
A: “How’s your husband?”
B: “He’s fine.”
A: “That’s good.”
It’s as boring to read as it is to write, probably even more so. Readers may skip it completely and maybe even end up missing something important in between all the meaningless lines.
- You don’t always have to write it out. Instead of writing a pointless line, add to the story:
"Are you coming over this weekend?"
Lisa froze, then immediately began to rattle off a million things she had to do instead.
Maria frowned. Who was going to help her finish the project now? She only had hours left and the presentation was still just barely started.
Not the most exciting example, but you get the point. It’s much better than having to read…
"Are you coming over this weekend?"
Lisa froze. “Oh my gosh, I can’t possibly. I have to babysit then I’m helping my neighbor garden at one and my mother is going to be just furious if I don’t finish all my chores but I promised my dad to help him mow the lawn too and my brother wants me to help him beat this level he’s been stuck on his new video game. Oh man! I just remembered that I’m looking after my cousin’s cat all day tomorrow too. You’re allergic to cats, right?”
Maria frowned. “You knew we had to finish the project! There’s only a few hours left to work on it! How am I supposed to finish it all by myself? It’d be impossible! We barely started the presentation! I don’t think I can do this…”
The quicker you get to the point, the better for the most part.
- Don’t use the same words. Words to use instead of ‘said’. This doesn’t mean you have to use ‘avowed’ or ‘beseeched’, but it’s beneficial to change it up sometimes instead of using the same few words.
- Don’t be cheesy. Think about how you’d react if someone said these words to you.
- Avoid cliches, or do your best to. These phrases lose their power over time because we get so used to them.
Few things will tick me off faster than improper gun safety in fiction. Unfortunately, many authors fail to properly research guns, gun usage, and gun safety. Guns are so ubiquitous in our culture that many people think that they already know all they need in order to write gun usage into a story, but what one picks up from cultural osmosis is even less accurate than your average summer blockbuster.
Deaths and injuries from gun accidents are distressingly high, and most of them could be prevented by following the three basic rules that every gun user is taught (assuming they go to a professional class).
1. A gun is always loaded. Always. Even if you personally took the magazine out and cleared the chamber, the gun is still loaded. This means you should treat every gun as if it could kill you, all the time, regardless of what you think is in it. It is very, very easy to mistake a loaded gun for an unloaded gun, and it only takes one mistake to get shot in the face. This means: no treating guns like toys, no tossing guns around willy-nilly, and NEVER HAND A GUN TO SOMEONE BY POINTING IT AT THEM. In fact, any weapon being handed from one person to another should be passed handle-first. Guns should always be treated with respect and never with carelessness, because the key here is to built up good habits. You want careful treatment to be your default, the way you act when you’re not thinking, because it only takes one careless moment at the wrong time to kill someone.
2. Never point at something you don’t intend to hit. This ties back to the first rule. If a gun is always loaded, then anything you point at, you should be fully prepared to put a hole in it. This seems obvious for while you’re shooting a gun, but I mean always keep track of your muzzle. When you’re carrying it, when you’re loading it, when you’re transporting it, when you’re walking around, always. People will get careless all the time, standing around with their gun out, and end up pointing it at a neighbor’s foot or back, simply because they’re not watching where their gun is. I’ve seen people put a weapon down on a table and it points at the person sitting across from them, or they’ll be firing at a range and turn to look at something without realizing that the gun they’re holding turns with them. I’ve seen people put on holsters wrong so the gun points at their own foot. And I’m sure we’ve all seen (at least in pictures) the idiots who stick a gun in front of their pants and have the barrel pointed straight at their junk. (If you must stick something in your pants, stick it in the back; you have a better chance of surviving a shot to the butt.)
The part of this rule that most people forget (especially when writing) is that what you’re aiming at is not the only thing you’re pointing at. We call it a backdrop; all the things around and behind your target. Bullets travel through bodies, so if there’s a mom holding her baby right behind the bad guy, don’t shoot the bad guy because you’ve got a good chance of hitting her as well. Also, don’t fire into a crowd. Even the best crack shot in the world can’t count on hitting a bad guy in a crowd without hitting bystanders.
3. Don’t put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. It takes very little, especially when you’re scared, to pull that trigger by accident. A good startle, tripping over something, or even simply being too tense can make someone fire off an unintended round. (Putting steady pressure on a trigger, as if getting ready to fire, can make you pull it back far enough to fire without realizing it. It happens a lot.) There are times when you’ll walk around with your finger on the trigger, but generally speaking those are times when you’re ready to hit any bad guy you come across.
Following those three rules, and treating weapons as things that require careful handling and not as things that simply make you cool, will go a long way toward not only making gun-using readers happy, but showing your character as competent. But there’s also a few miscellaneous faux pas that I see all the time in books that drive me nuts:
DISABLING SHOTS ARE NOT A REAL THING. No, stop whatever you were about to say, THEY’RE NOT. Why? Because guns only require one working arm. If your opponent has a firearm and you shoot him anywhere — ANYWHERE — he can still return fire. True, some people will faint or be incapacitated by injuries, but YOU CANNOT AND SHOULD NOT COUNT ON THAT. Besides which, a person distracted by their bleeding leg might only be distracted for however long it takes to put a field tourniquet on it, and then they’re back to firing but you’ve stopped paying attention to them.
SHOOTING EXTREMITIES IS NOT SAFE. I’ll grant you that it’s safer than shooting someone in the head, but it’s entirely possible for someone to bleed out or die from shock after being shot in the arm, shoulder, or leg. Major complications can also arise which cause the person to die later. If they survive, they have a good chance of suffering from nerve damage or other life-long disabling injuries. Now, if your (character’s) only aim is to try not to kill someone, if they want the guy to have the best possible chance of surviving, then fine, shoot at a leg. But it should be treated as ‘best possible chance,’ not a certainty.
SHOOTING THE TORSO IS NOT IMMEDIATELY FATAL. It’ll take several minutes to die, if they die at all. Back when dueling was common, it was often the case that both parties would get shot for just this reason. The first guy to get hit would still be on his feet and going, only now he’s pissed off from being hit so he fires back. This happens in combat a lot, too, especially with combatants hyped up on adrenaline. This is why military and police types are taught to empty their gun into people, not fire once and wait to see what happens. Also, people have survived being shot multiple times in the torso. It’s not as uncommon as you think.
In short, while it may be more common to survive being shot in the leg and die from being shot in the chest, you should never count on a bullet to do any given thing in a body. Bodies + bullets have too many variables, and just about anything can happen. That, really, is the key: don’t have a character expect a specific outcome, because anyone with experience would know better. (Those without experience could still expect movie science, but you don’t have to give it to them.)
STOP TRYING TO GET HEAD SHOTS. Lots of people seem to think that headshots make a character more ‘badass,’ but they’re not what a serious shooter would try and take. Heads present a smaller target, and if you miss them then you miss completely. Military and police types are trained to aim for the center mass, because not only does a torso provide a bigger target, but if you’re slightly off you’ll still at least hit something. Also, a dead target is a dead target, whether you put your bullets in the chest or the head. Don’t try and tell me that your character is just such a good shooter that they never miss; that only works in comic book physics. In the real world, with movie targets and no superpowers, even the best shooters miss. A lot.
DON’T CROSS LANES. If there are multiple shooters on each side (i.e., your character and her buddies), then it is extremely important for the shooters to keep track of each other. If they have trained together, they should know what each other person is going to do so that they don’t run in front of each other. Crossing into another person’s lane is a great way to wind up with friendly fire. If your shooters haven’t trained together, this should be a concern for them, which means they should be talking a lot to keep track of each other. (This is also why emergency responders don’t want bystanders to help, even if they have training. Being trained doesn’t mean you’ve trained with them, and odds are you’ll all just trip over each other.)
Now, obviously, you might have an inexperienced character that doesn’t know all of these rules. They might have no more knowledge than your average movie-watcher. That’s fine. But you, the author, should know all the rules of gun usage so that you can display the consequences of misusing guns.
A Guide for the Seasoned and the Not-So-Plot Savvy
This is a subject that a lot of writers tend to struggle with. They have ideas, great ideas, but are uncertain how to string them together into a solid plot. There are many methods that have been devised to do so, and most seem to be based on something you might remember:
The 5 Point Method
This is your basic plot diagram:
Exposition – This is the beginning of your story. This is where you introduce your character (s), establish a setting, and also present your main conflict.
Rising Action – Your story now begins to build. There are often multiple key events that occur where your main character may be faced with a new problem he has to solve or an unexpected event is thrust at him.
Climax – Everything you’ve been writing has been leading up to this moment. This is going to be the most exciting part of your story where your main character faces the main conflict and overcomes it.
Falling Action – This is mostly tying up loose ends after your main conflict is resolved. They are minor things that weren’t nearly as important as the main conflict, but still needed to be dealt with.
Resolution –The end of the story.
This is probably the easiest way to remember how to string together a single (or multiple) plots. It may be easier for some to define the main plot as the central conflict, or the thing that’s causing your main character a huge problem/is his goal.
The 8 Point Method
This method is used to write both novels and film scripts, and further breaks down the 5 Point Method. From the book Write a Novel and Get It Published: A Teach Yourself Guide by Nigel Watts:
Stasis – The opening where the story takes place. Here you introduce your main character and establish a setting (Watts defines it as an “everyday” setting, something normal, but it can be whatever you want).
Trigger or Inciting Incident – The event that changes your character’s life an propels your story forward. This is where you introduce the main conflict.
The Quest – The result of the event. What does your character do? How does he react?
Surprise – This section takes of the middle of the story and involves all of the little setbacks and unexpected events that occur to the main character as he tries to fix the problems he’s faced with and/or achieve his goal. This is where you as an author get to throw complication, both horrible and wonderful, at your protagonist and see what happens.
Critical Choice – At some point your character is going to be faced with making a decision that’s not only going to test him as individual, but reveal who he truly is to the audience. This cannot be something that happens by chance. The character must make a choice.
Climax – This is the result of the main character’s critical choice, and should be the highest point of tension in the story.
Reversal – The consequence of the choice and climax that changes the status of your protagonist, whatever that may be. It could make him a king, a murderer, or whatever else you like but it has to make sense with the rest of the story.
Resolution – The end of the story where loose ends are tied up. You’re allowed to leave things unresolved if you intend to write a sequel, but the story itself should be stand alone.
Three Act Structure
While this method is usually for screenplays, it is also used in writing novels (for instance The Hunger Games novels are split up into three acts). From the The Screen Writer’s Workbook by Syd Field: Acts 1 and 3 should be about the same length while Act 2 should be double. For instance if you were writing a screenplay for a two hour film Acts 1 and 3 would be 30 minutes each while Act 2 would be 60 minutes.
Act 1, Set Up – This contains the inciting incident and a major plot point towards the end. The plot point here leads into the second act and is when the protagonist decides to take on the problem he’s faced with.
Act 2, Confrontation – This contains the midpoint of the story, all of the little things that go wrong for the protagonist, and a major plot point towards the end that propels the story into the third act. This is the critical choice the character must make.
Act 3, Resolution – This is where the climax occurs as well as the events that tie up the end of the story.
Another way to look at this method is that there are actually three major plot points, or disasters, that move the plot forward. The first is at the end of Act 1, the second is in the middle of Act 2, and the third is at the end of Act 2.
The Snowflake Method
A “top-down” method by Randy Ingermanson that breaks novel writing down into basic parts, building upon each one. You can find his page on the method here. His ten steps:
Write a single sentence to summarize your novel.
Write a paragraph that expands upon that sentence, including the story set up, the major conflicts, and the ending.
Define your major characters and write a summary sheet corresponding to each one that includes: the character’s name, their story arc, their motivation and goal, their conflict, and their epiphany (what they will learn).
Expand each sentence of your summary paragraph in Step 2 into its own paragraph.
Write a one page description of your major characters and a half page description of less important characters.
Expand each paragraph in Step 4 into a page each.
Expand each character description into full-fledged character charts telling everything there is to know about the characters.
Make a spreadsheet of all of the scenes you want to include in the novel.
Begin writing the narrative description of the story, taking each line from the spreadsheet and expanding the scenes with more details.
Begin writing your first draft.
This is what I do. I tend to keep in mind the basic structure of the 5 Point Method and just roll with whatever ideas come my way. I’ve never been a fan of outlines, or any other type of organization. According to George R.R. Martin, I’ve always been a gardener, not an architect when it comes to writing. I don’t plan, I just come up with ideas and let them grow. Of course, this may not work for some of you, so here are some methods of organization:
- Character Sheets
And if all else fails, you can fall on the advice of the great Chuck Wendig: 25 Ways to Plot and Prep Your Story.
Remember, none of the methods above are set in stone. They are only guidelines to help you finally write that novel.
Everybody says, ‘My topic is the most important thing you can learn in order to write science fiction and fantasy,’ when they write a tutorial for FARP. But I’m actually not exaggerating. The art of creating worlds is crucial to good Fantasy and Science Fiction.