Friday, March 26, 2010
6:51 PM | Posted by Lola Sharp | | Edit Post
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.
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 it...it 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, guilt-tripped...in 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)
- 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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