Tuesday, January 4, 2011

J. Daniel Stanfield's Tales of the Faerevold Quittance

My guest today is J. Daniel Stanfield, author of Tales of the Faerevold Quittance.

J. Daniel Stanfield was born and raised in Boise, Idaho. He is a retired U.S. Army Officer. First, he was an enlisted soldier and non-commissioned officer along the former West German-Warsaw Pact border. After receiving his commission, he served in wide variety of Intelligence and Electronic Warfare positions. During his military career, he had the great honor and privilege to lead soldiers, and serve in the Fifth Special Forces Group, with Navy SEAL team 5, and as a Strategic Intelligence Officer for the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. He holds a Masters of Science and Doctorate in Business Administration, and has a passion for the arcane subjects of social and organizational design, grand strategy, and decision-making. He currently lives nears Kansas City, Kansas with his wife Christine and their menagerie of dogs and cats.

Happy New Year, Stan. Thanks for stopping by during this busy time to talk about your book.

Thanks, Susan.
What books came along at just the right time to influence your reading/writing?

The entire writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs; everything from the Tarzan to the John Carter of Mars series. I am also an fan of Asimov (I, Robot is a penultimate Science Fiction story), Robert A Heinlein (especially” Starship Troopers”, “The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and “Friday”, Larry Niven (His Kzin are absolutely fascinating, and I’d like to write about them someday), and of course, J.R.R.Tolkien.

What are your writing goals?

To create stories told well.

What is your most rewarding experience during the writing process?

Allowing my characters their own voices.

Tell us about your latest book. Is it available in print, ebook, and Kindle formats?

It is a hybrid of science fiction and fantasy, and currently only available as an e-book at

How do you develop characters? Setting?

I am most interested in writing about the nature of mankind’s need for a forgiving God. Hence, my characters are flawed in important ways; others more significantly so.

Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?

I first outline, craft screen cards, and then finalize the project.

Describe your ideal reader.

My writings are ideally for college educated professionals between the early twenties and mid sixties.

After hours of intense writing, how do you unwind?

I am a simple man of simple pleasures. I unwind by talking with my wife, watching a decent game of college football, pheasant hunting with my bird dog, a cold beer, wargaming with my pals. Those sorts of things.

Any current projects?

Several are in the queue. I’ve just finished the screen cards for another science fiction-fantasy story. Plus, I have a story from my Army days I need to finish, a few parodies, plus the pre-quell and sequels in the Tales of the Faerevold series.

Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Go to and read and review my work. If they like it, I appreciate a recommendation. Interested people can find my events by following me on Twitter @gepaduex and / or

Thanks for telling us more about yourself and your writing. Have a wonderful New Year!

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Discussion about Dialogue

Peter Abresch has taken on the task of discussing dialogue, often one of the biggest challenges of writing fiction. Sit back and read what he has to say. Leave a comment if you'd like.

Happy New Year, Peter!

Let's talk about dialogue.

Susan, same to you! What can I tell you about dialogue? It has to ring true. It has to sound like real dialogue between people w/o it actually being a real conversation.
This is the subject of BookMarc #32

Dialogue - Part 1 of 4

Reporting a real conversation between people would bore our readers faster than a kid sliding down a greased pole.
"Good morning," Sally said.

"Good morning," Sam replied.

"And how are you this morning?" Sally interjected.

"Just fine," Sam exclaimed. "And how are you?"
Grease up the pole, Charlie, our readers are outta here. From this--which is real life dialogue, along with all the ah's and umm's and you-know's--we can see we have to doctor conversation so it sounds real, but render it down to get out the fat.
"Good morning," Sally said.

"Hi," Sam said. "Seen the morning paper?"
We bypass the mundane and jump right into action, yet we must keep the ring of authenticity. Dialogue must also be part of show. A sign of a rank amateur is to have two characters speak solely for the benefit of conveying information.
"As you know, Sally, Kumquats are our business. We are the biggest Kumquat processors in the world."

"Yes, I know that. And I hear the Kumquat crop has been devastated by drought this year, Sam."

"Yes, Sally. We might have to layoff half our staff."

"That will be a hardship on them, won't it Sam? Especially with Christmas coming on."
Give me a break. Telling is telling whether we have quotes around it or not. A dead give away is that "as you know," for if Sally already knows, why tell her? We can still convey information in dialogue, we just have to show it.

Sally looked at the worry lines on Sam's face. "What's bothering you?"

He shook his head and sighed, then nodded towards a big Christmas tree outside. "I have to lay off half my plant."

"Now? At this time of year--"

"Don't start." His jaw set. "You think I like it. We're reaping the benefit of last year's drought on the Kumquat crop. I either lay them off or go into bankruptcy, then we all lose."
Well, it might not be perfect, but you get the idea.
In the first example there is more wrong than just content. Look at the speaker attributes--she said, he replied, she interjected, and he exclaimed. These are also the mark of a rank amateur. In Ed McBain's AUDIO books, it bothers my wife to hear him use he/she said that might continue on for twenty lines. But for print, McBain is right on. Speaker attributes of he/she said disappears for readers as part of the quotes surrounding the dialogue. They never see it. The only thing that registers is who is speaking. But if you throw in a whole lot of exclaims and interjects they'll stand out like a squashed frog on a wall. Use he/she said or he/she asked all the time. Even the other way around said he/she calls attention to itself, although I find myself using it occasionally. Hey, I'm human.
Similarly, in the third example there is more wrong than just telling in dialogue. Notice how the two speakers keep using the other's name? Does that sound natural? If you just met someone you might repeat his name to remember it, and for the reader to remember it, that might get by. But between two people who know one another? It's another sign of the amateur. Always try to picture two people talking, then take out everything but the essentials to advance the story, add to characterization, or gives a sense of place.
BTW, continually using names in narration is just as clunky. After introducing the characters so the readers knows their names, use pronouns wherever your can, it brinks them closer to the reader.
Dialogue should make up 40 to 60 percent of our story, so we have to get it right.
Now, let's talk about using tags, beats, and body language as dialogue identifiers.

In BookMarc #32 we said we only wanted to use he/she-said for speaker attributes. But there are other ways to identify dialogue ownership.
This is the subject of BookMarc #33

Dialogue - Part 2 of 4
When we said we only wanted to use he/she-said for speaker attributes, we also want to use them w/o modifiers. This is obvious from what used to be called Tom Swifties from early 20th century books of the same name:
"I'm dying of thirst," Tom said dryly.

"We could freeze out here," Tom said coldly.
But the same can be said of using an adverb for an emotion:
"Now, Dear, we shouldn't be doing that," Sally said angrily.

"Let's go to bed together," Sally said shyly.
If the dialogue doesn't carry the emotion, a modifier won't cut it. It has to be rewritten. And if the dialogue does carry the emotion, the adverb is un-necessary and detracting:
"Cut that out," Sally said.

"I don't know how to put this, but, ah, maybe, um, sometime maybe we should maybe think about going to bed together," Sally said.
But there are some exceptions to using modifiers, like when we need to describe the volume of the dialogue:
"Keep in the shadows," he said softly (quietly, lowly).

"Keep in the shadows," he whispered.

"Watch out," he shouted.

Some writers disparage 'whisper,' but I use it because the one word conveys speaker volume. The same with shout or yell. Does that mean it's okay? I think any of the above examples work so long as they aren't overused. In a short scene, once is enough to set it up and the reader will assume an answer is also spoken in a whisper. We might want to use it a second time as a reminder for longer tracts. We also might tell how it sounds if it's important or character dependent, but even here we still use 'said.'
"I'm Senator Rafferty," he said, using the full imperial power of his sonorous voice.

Of course, if the dialogue is a question, 'ask' should be used instead of 'said.' I sometimes try to pose a rhetorical question using said, like--"Waddya say?" he said--but my last editor always changed it to ask, and, wanting to be published, I acquiesced. She insists, as well, I change 'till' to 'until' although both are valid, but TILL I have a best seller, I'll go along.

Tags, beats, and body language are also be used as a dialogue identifiers, especially in writing group scenes.
Tags are particular words, actions, or mannerism that have been previously built into single character. If George blinks nervously all the time, we can use the identifying tag when he reenters a scene--George came into the room, big eyes blinking away--or when he is speaking you can use the tag w/o the name:
"Why do that?" Blink, blink. "It's unnecessary."
Beats are small bits of action specific to a scene. If conversation takes place while repairing a car, it's logical to intersperse the dialogue with an identifying action:
"It is so necessary." John tightened the nuts on the engine block. "We'll never make it to Timbuktu unless it's fixed."
Finally, we can use body language as an identifier, a better indication of a character's true feelings than what he/she says, and we can use it either in concert or in conflict with the dialogue:
"Who wants to go get an ice cream?" Jim asked.

Jane stared sideways at Jim, her arms and legs crossed, hands clenched into fist-balls. "I'd love to go with you."

Sally's eyebrows arched. "I'll go, too." She leaned forward on her chair as if ready to spring to her feet.
Sally is obviously excited about going with Jim, but Jane, contradicting her dialog, probably wants nothing to do with it.
You can do a lot with body language. Sometimes you can replace dialogue with just a simple she nodded or he shook his head for obvious responses. But consider also of all the other facial and body actions that a character can use to indicate an action or moment of thought, how he stands, shrugs, leans against the wall, crosses arms, wrinkles his brow and turns down his lips. These body actions can be used as a dialogue identifier, a beat, and, if we have built up a specific action for a character, we can use it as a tag, as in the blink, blink above.
"I don't know." John rubbed his finger beside his nose twice in that peculiar action he does when he's unsure. "Tell you what." He pointed his finger. "Let's see how the ballistics match."
From this body language example it should be obvious John's dialogue is paused while he is thinking, and if John has done this a couple of times before, we can eliminate "in that peculiar action he does..." because it has become a tag for John. Now you might argue that it cost more words than just saying, John thought a moment, but body language says a lot about a character. Using it as I have here gives us the picture, it SHOWS us, it engages us as a real world action. Is it worth spending the words? Your decision. Me, I'd spend them.

Next time, we'll use speaker attributes, beats, tags, and body language to demonstrate an example of writing a dialogue scene among a group of characters.

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