Friday, March 26, 2010

The Rain On My Car Is a Baptism...

 It is a truth universally known by most of you that, for me, a character driven writer, writing dialog and believable characters that breathe is the easy-like-Sunday-morning part, pure pleasure. Voice and style come naturally to me, as well. In truth, I don't really outline. I just jot notes in a notebook, make some lists, and think a lot. Then I sit down with my laptop (sometimes in bed), and, maybe this is a sign of insanity, but suddenly colorful characters just show up, take me on their journey, complete with sounds, tastes, smells, and before I know it I have a beginning, middle and end.

Huzzah! Right?

 That first draft is a MESS. Drop downs with lame notes to myself that don't make sense later. Connecting those pesky plot lines in the second draft? NOT EASY for me. It's a torture akin to getting a Brazilian...with an epilady. One hair at a time. Getting the structure and plot(s) under control, hole-free? I am Sisyphus, doomed to keep at it, throughout eternity. (or the 4th draft, whichever comes first)

This is where people tell me that I should outline, use a [fill in the blank] method, plot my arcs, color code, charts, graphs...just typing that makes me twitch.

 That's just not how I function. I truly admire those organized people. I wish I was a chart and grapher. But, as much as I wish I was more like that, I have faced that I will never be that person.
 My first draft, as I have said before, comes organically, instinctively. Yes, there are notes on napkins sometimes, too.  But if I'm too strict with pre-plotting, it's like I've already told the story, bored now, why bother. Or, I do some weird rebelling against myself that makes me go off script from the Plan. So I just have to be loose with it. I wish it wasn't that way for me. It'd be less messy.
Anyway, I've resigned myself to the inevitable multiple rewrites to fix the parts that DO fail me...later. After I write the first draft. Oh, and believe me, there are always many overhauls with regard to plot and structure. Honestly, I do tolerate the rewrites, even those evil plot holes. I liken them to a big puzzle. I (sort of) enjoy don't hate working at it until I get all the pieces connected. Like I always say, I want to give my beta readers (I have three, and they are full of the awesome) as clean a manuscript as I am able.

Okay, so I've bored you posted about my wing-it process before, and every single time I get emails and comments asking me to explain how I:

-mend my plot snags and other areas of weakness? Answer: With endless drafts, studying craft, reading a lot, and with help from my husband and beta readers!


-how do I write my characters and their dialog so believably?
I consistantly parry this question. The main reason for this is, I have no idea how I do it. It is like explaining how you have a dream or how you breathe. I don't know how to articulate what happens in my pea brain, because I don't understand it myself.  Plus, who would want to know how I do... anything? I'm afraid I'm a study in how NOT to [fill in the blank].

However, I was asked again just a couple days/posts ago, so, I thought all morning long, and could not come up with anything provocative, not one morsel meaty enough to chew on. But then again, I don't know how YOU guys all plot, especially you complicated plotters. Y'all are brilliant.

Anyway, for me it all boils down to character. And finding the truth to those characters. That's where the dialog gold is.
Is there a person alive who doesn't relate to Lloyd, in some way? Don't you admire his innocence and honesty? His shivering in the car because he is so happy gives me goosebumps. How painful is it to watch/hear him leave Diane eight (8! awesomely, painfully hilarious!) messages after she breaks his heart? Don't we all relate? When he says "...burn it, NUKE hurts me just knowing it's out there..." we feel his angst and suffering and humiliation.
When he's driving in his car, while the rain is pounding, "The rain on my car is a baptism. The NEW me. Ice man. Power Lloyd. My assault on the world begins now." We feel his lame attempt at a pep talk to regain his self esteem, take back his power that she holds over him, in his mind. I love that scene. Haven't we all been there in some way? But isn't this just exactly how Lloyd would try and prop himself up? It rings true, clever, very Lloyd.

 How careful was the layering of James Court (Diane's dad)? John Mahoney played that role perfectly nuanced, such subtle manipulations that later become overt. We dislike him soon enough, but appreciate that he loves his daughter. Then, slowly, he unravels, and we begin to hate him. Most of us have had a person in our lives that manipulated us, lied to our faces, the name of "love", right?
So we relate to Diane's plight, her guilt, her desire to please, her pain, the betrayal.

All these characters are familiar, relatable...and yet, interesting and unique. They're just like us, and also they're different and intriguing...and believable.
If I went to the prison yard to meet with Diane's father, and give him her note, the second James started talking that condescending, degrading talk to me, I'd have told him he was an *&$%%#@*, and quickly walked out of there. Buh-bye. But, staying true to his good-hearted, earnest ways, Lloyd takes it, continues to be honest, and continues to try and makes James feel better. His character stays true, even under pressure. I relate to him, even when he does something different than I would do, and I like him more for it.

Say Anything is not an original story, in fact the theme and plot has been done to death. What makes it work is the script writing (dialog!), the believable, fleshed out characters (and arguably the great cast).

While I am too lame to explain exactly HOW I pull my characters out of the ether and how they reveal themselves to me over the course of the first draft (beyond my usual: It's like a movie playing in my head, I'm a freak.), I am also a reader, and I DO know what turns me off when I read a novel and find the characters flat and unbelievable.

-Believable characters and believable dialog comes from a writer that knows their characters, and understand people in general.
-Readers must quickly gain some emotional involvement, and keep that emotional involvement through to the end. If done well, the emotional involvement stays with us long after the last page has turned.

The quickest way for me to lose interest in a book is to read flat, cliche'd main characters. I will not care enough to continue, no matter the brilliant story concept or control of prose or tight plotting.  For me, I don't need to like the characters, but they must feel real and they must be interesting.

If a character half-way through a book suddenly does something so out of character, especially without real motivation....I am out. And pissed off!

Character choices drive the story. I work hard to make sure their choices ring true to their personality and values. Make sure it moves the story forward. If not, I rip it out.

 Dialog SHOWS how a character relates to other people, shows their voice, how they act and think, as well as use of language, slang, dialect, and mannerisms.  Their sense of humor, what they are willing to say aloud, and what they don't say, all are part of how dialog reveals character. If you know your characters well, then writing believable dialog should come naturally.

To make sure you get this right, get out and 'people watch' (and eavesdrop!).
Listen and watch carefully HOW people really speak. Most people speak very differently than they write. We tend to speak casually. Notice where a breath is taken, or when they move their hands. Watch how their face moves when they chat with friends, or during family arguments. Watch when and how people interrupt. How often do they use the other person's name (not very often), do they use nicknames, or slang terms like 'dude' or 'bro'.
Even if we are talking about aliens, or talking animals/insects (Mrs. Frisby, Charlotte...) they must stay 'in-character' unless there is a compelling reason that is explained well.

I know anyone reading this blog already knows all this.
I am still not answering the question I keep getting asked.

Well, I won't go on any longer, because I know there are a hundred books out there by brilliant, pedigreed, qualified authors who can break down the technical aspect of writing dialog. It is well documented here and among all who know me, that I am non-technical. I wish I could offer something more helpful. What I can offer is my support. You are full of WIN. And the sure knowledge that we're in this together.

Happy Weekend! (sorry for all the typos, no time to read through for clarity...gotta run!)

"Why is it," he said, one time, at the subway entrance, "I feel I've known you so many years?"
"Because I like you," she said, "and I don't want anything from you."
— Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451)



Piedmont Writer said...

Inspirational. Gotta love Lloyd. And I think you hit the nail on the head -- The secret is to SAY ANYTHING. Who cares what the conversation is, as long as the dialogue is true to the characters. They can say anything they want.

Jill said...

I am also character driven & plot is harder. Having an outline would probably confuse me (and scare me). Sit down at the computer and let the characters tell me what happens! That's the only way... for me...

Irish Gumbo said...

Criminy, as if I didn't have enough to think about...and who was it that said "There is no such thing as writing, there is only rewriting"?

BTW, when I saw "Say Anything" for the first time, I was absolutely gobsmacked that someone knew who I was :)

Shelley Sly said...

Wow, you covered a lot in this post, and it's all truth! I especially love how you emphasized how important it is to connect with the characters. Preach it, sister! No one wants to read about boring people, and that's something even I've struggled with in my own writing. Characters are #1 for me when reading, and the more I write, the more I'm making them #1 in my novels too.

Jemi Fraser said...

Love it! I don't plot, graph or chart either. Just the thought gives me the heebie-jeebies *shudder*

Christi Goddard said...

Here is my outline (still in my head):

Guy wakes up in unexpected situation
he deals with differences
he meets others with same problem
something terrible happens
they rely on each other
big reveal
the end

I'm on chapter two now :-)

I would have to say dialogue is my strong suit. Everything else just sort of comes together, but snippets of dialogue strike at all hours and I have to jot them down.

I suck at fight scenes.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Say Anything is one of my all-time favorite movies and you quoted my FAVORITE lines...The rain on my car is a baptism... Brilliant characters, brilliant dialogue. John Cusack can do no wrong in my book, anyways.

Loved your post and hearing your methods. You're an inspiration!

DL Hammons said...

This post is a good example of why I have something waiting for you over at my blog. :)

Susan Fields said...

I envy you that effortless first draft! For me, the first draft is harder than the revisions. Takes all kinds, I guess.

Tara said...

My first draft comes out the same way as yours. I'm also character/dialogue driven. The plotting comes around later. Sometimes much later.

Ben Hutchins said...

Fantastic . . . to see that there is another writer out there like me. I've tried to outline my stories in advance as well, and it just doesn't work. My mind doesn't work that way. All I need is a plot and a main characater or two, and then the story unfolds as I type away. Besides, I love to see where my characters take me. So you go girl.

P.S. I'm still laughing about your profile description.

She Writes said...

Dialog I am weak at!

Wendy Ramer said...

Excellent dialogue advice! And as for the lack of outline, I'm with ya, sister. My stories just come to me. The characters appear on my computer screen and tell ME their stories. And that is what makes the writing process so beautiful to me and gives me the patience to deal with rewrites. I couldn't write any other way.

TechnoBabe said...

Yep, if the character is interesting I will read the entire book.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Hey Lola ~ Me again! I left you a little something on my blog this morning :D

Kazzy said...

When I read or watch movies I am always much more interested in the characters than the plot. I don't know how you write so freely like that though. Wow.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Lola. You and I seem to function very similarly when it comes to the writing process. We were destined to become blogger buddies!

And now I want to rent "Say Anything." Thanks for that, too. ;o)

Tawna Fenske said...

Great blog post!

Funny you should mention John Cusack's character in "Say Anything." The hero in one of the books I just sold (BELIEVE IT OR NOT) bears a striking resemblance to him, and I even made a couple Cusack references in the manuscript. Guess he's just a character who resonates with many of us, huh?


Jeff King said...

Wonderful blog and great post... I too am a writer who lets the characters direct the story; all I do is write down what I see and hear without messing it up.

It helps in the beginning to project a person I know into the characters, so I know how they would react to certain circumstances, but all in all the content of my novel comes to me during composition.

Thx and keep it up.

Jm Diaz said...

I will say, your ability to describe torture is, well, unprecedented. Your Brazilian gave me chills.

Terresa said...

Great quotes from both Say Anything and F. 451. Love 'em both. As well as this,

"I won't mess with that process."

Pansters of the world, unite! {I'm one of them, too, colored coded outlines be damned!}

Michelle McLean said...

Ah, great post :) I've actually chucked books across the room when the characters do something so unbelievable for who they've been the rest of the book that I just can't take it anymore.

Anonymous said...

Lola, I like your words. I love Say Anything because it says so much, so simply. I think you do the same things as people who outline...write until it's finished. They just have more of a guide. If you really want to mix it up, write that first draft and THEN decide to outline. that'll get ya!

Lisa said...

I missed reading you while I was down for the count. I love this post and I'm itching to reach the one about Vonnegut.

Just last night I set aside a book that I really wanted to like because of two things. First, bad dialogue. It was so stilted I wanted to claw my eyes out. The second thing was a whole bunch of words including the names of designers and that annoying habit of describing in great detail the clothes that main character is wearing. I admit I'm new to reading what is, I suppose, Chick Lit, but holy crap! I wouldn't know a Jimmy Choo from a shoe from Payless. It's just not on my radar screen.

This post and my experience last night make me think that I need to do another read through paying particular attention to dialogue. So thank you.

Mary McDonald said...

I know this is an older post, but had to respond. I love writing dialogue. For me, it's when my characters get to reveal themselves. Sometimes, they even surprise me with what they say. Weird, I know.

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Lola Sharp
My name is Lola. (I'm not a showgirl) Yes, L-O-L-A Lola. It's the least of my worries. Let's move on, shall we? This blog is mostly about my misadventures on the journey to publication and beyond. My passion for lush prose, quirky characters, art, music, literature, performing arts and anything creative will be a major theme here. This journey of mine will not always be pretty. Much like rubbernecking a train wreck, I know sometimes you just can't help but look at the carnage that is often my life. So strap on your neck brace, helmet and 5-point harness and come along for the ride! Licentia poetica.
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