Sweet, Cool or Sick? Keeping it Real in the Fictional Realm

A couple of weeks ago, I was doing some male bonding with my son and father-in-law.  We were up at the family cabin, trying out the composite bow my son had received for Christmas.  We were all feeling quite manly as we took turns thocking  plastic-shafted arrows into a ferocious styrofoam target at fifteen paces.  On my son’s third round, he took a shot and hit the target on the very outside edge, causing it to spin and topple.

“That was cool!” my father in law exclaimed.

“Sweet!” I echoed.

“That’s sick!” shouted my son.

Cool - “Neither warm nor very cold; moderately cold”

Sweet - “Having the taste of sugar or a substance containing or resembling sugar, as honey or saccharin.”

Sick - “Suffering from or affected with a physical illness; ailing.”

So which was it, really? Was it cool, was it sweet or was it sick? Technically, it was none of the above.  But realistically, it was all the above. And technical does not and should not live in dialogue.  I’ve learned that as I slog through countless re-writes of my novel.  Technical is boring.  Save that for the training manuals.  You need to craft dialogue from the little bits. Fill it with idiosyncracies, improper grammar, accents, euphemisms, colloquialisms, etc.

I know my son.  He’s real.  He’d never say something like “awesome” or “that was rad!” when that arrow hit.  And if my Dad was from London, perhaps he would have said “That was a splendid shot, wasn’t it?”  But he isn’t, so he didn’t.  He said what came to his mind based on his context.  I said what came to my mind because of who I am, as did my son.  Three different generations, three different, overlapping contexts and three different reactions. Yet each of us meant the same thing by it.

The tricky part for writers is keeping it real with those characters that spring from our heads and onto the page.  Dialogue is about getting somewhere, but not always on the direct path.  Characters need to arrive in their own mode of communication and usually they don’t take the direct route (unless that is simply a trait of your character). We’ve got to make them believable. We need to hear their voice in our head when they “speak”. I try to read all my dialogue aloud many times over to make sure it has realistic cadence and punch. We need to make those people so real that you could drop them into any scenario and know how they’d react.

Here’s a quick test. I could tell you immediately how each of my main characters would’ve responded if they had seen that arrow hit…could you? ; )

I’ve read a couple of much more detailed posts lately on dialogue.  If you want some more from others on the writing path, I highly recommend:

Got any other suggested resources?  Post them here!

Turning a New Twitter Leaf

It’s time to reveal my great Twitter experiment! Okay, well maybe it’s not grand enough to be classified as “Great”, but it is mine, and it is an experiment. For a few years now, I have tried to remain faithful to a strict business-only code on my Twitter account; no talking about anything other than IT nerdiness and Government 2.0. I kept my other pursuits, such as DIY, writing and music exclusive to my Facebook site or here on the blog.

These last few weeks have seen an intersection of my interests. If you read this blog with any regularity, you’ll know I’ve recently completed my first novel. As I travel down the highway seeking a literary agent to represent my work, I have begun following authors, publishers and other aspiring writers via Twitter. These are folks in the genre and the industry, the ones I want and need to learn from. Just as I’ve surrounded my online self with the goverati who walk the govt 2.o walk, I want to do the same with my writing circle of expertise. The combination has created a very interesting stream of posts that fly across my twitfeed. And now I find myself fighting stronger and stronger urges to post (gasp!) non techie posts on twitter! No…I musn’t! I might lose a follower or a dozen or 100. I can’t let that happen…can I?Will You Be My Friend?

Sure I can! My twitter feed is mine, all mine. If it doesn’t work for me, who does it work for? Many moons ago, I did a post on why Twitter held value for me as a techie 2.0 govie. But it doesn’t matter what subject you want to review as long as you get the right kind of symbiotic audience to fit your needs.

Yesterday I had a great time talking to a New Media class at Syracuse University about social media use in government. I reminded them (and myself) that social media is SOCIAL and MEDIA. It is a conversation at a cocktail party, not a lecture hall. You mingle, you find common interests and forge new relationships.

So that is exactly what I am going to do. Don’t cry Government 2.0, I am not giving up on us, I just don’t want these boundaries keeping us so exclusive. It’s not you, really, it’s me. I want a more open relationship. I want to be able to see other topics. We’ll still be friends, I promise.

So to my “old” government 2.0 friends, I’m still here and still full-on geeked out. Bear with my seemingly random non-2.0 posts if you can. If not, I’ll understand your stealthy “unfollow” with no hard feelings at all.

To my “new” writing friends, hopefully you’ll accept a noob among your ranks. I look forward to connecting with you all via new channels about our common topics and struggles.

As of this publishing, I am the proud recipient of 387 followers. In a month or so, I’ll follow this post up with an update and a review of my great experiment! I would really appreciate any candid feedback, positive or negative on this one, so send me your two cents below!

11 Ways to Find a Literary Agent (via Write Nonfiction in November)

As I work through the book-writing process, I scour the web for helpful advice and tips to help me achieve each milestone in the long journey from idea to print. Here’s a great post I found today for those looking for a literary agent.

Every wanna-be author who has dreams of being picked up and published by a traditional publishing house wants to know how to secure representation by a literary agent. Why? Because the large publishing houses won’t look at manuscripts or proposals from “unagented” writers. Some mid-sized, and most small, university, niche, and regional publishers will look at, and often welcome, unagented submissions, however. If you dream of having that publish … Read More

via Write Nonfiction in November

The Query Letter (aka My One Page of Stress)

Wow.  So much for celebrating.  Last week I finished the second draft of my first novel.  Yea for me, right?  Hardly!  If getting a novel published was a sport, it would have to be high hurdles!  Writing the book itself was only step one in a litany of stuff that has to be done before you’ll ever be privy to that goofy smile you’ll get when you see your name on the shelves in Barnes and Noble!

The next thing I had to do was the query letter, an intro letter that you use to attract the interest of an agent or a publisher.  These are extremely specific in form and content and from what I’ve learned, deviation will not be tolerated.  As I wrote, rewrote, swore and re-wrote again, I had flashbacks to my senior year of college, when I was frantically trying to fill a one-page résumé with the eye-candy that would get my foot into an employer’s door.  Everything had a specific place and a specific format – deviation from it would likely cost your résumé a one-way trip to the circular file.

Back then the issue was trying to find enough relevant content to fill the page.  Now I am trying desperately to cut down the content to keep it at the one-page length.  Of course I could spout pages and pages of sheer poetry on how wonderful my story is, but the cold, hard reality is that I have about 20 seconds to sell my book to an agent who has an overflowing inbox of similar material.  So I’ve got to hit them with something that gives them enough interest to pause long enough to read my Plot Summary, aka My Two Pages of Stress (coming soon to a blog near you).

After so many revisions of the query letter, several of the keys on my keyboard have formed a coalition against the Backspace key, which they now feel receives significant favoritism from my fingers. I cannot blame them.  I spent more hours on that single page than I did on several chapters in the book itself. Nowhere is quality over quantity more apparent than in the novel query letter!

But I am happy to report that the letter is completed, at least in draft, and I’ve sent it to some successful (i.e. published) authors for a critique!  I’ll post an update after I receive their feedback.