Thursday, January 13, 2011

Raven Bower's Apparitions

My guest today is Raven Bower, author of Apparitions and soon-to-release Wendigo. Welcome and Happy New Year, Raven. Please tell us about your writing goals.

Thanks, Susan. My main goal with writing is simple in that I want to be the very best writer I can be. Yet it’s complex in that the goal requires constant assessment of my writing (which is sometimes hard to do!) and the pursuit of gaining more and more knowledge to apply to my writing. It’s a never-ending goal!

What is your most rewarding experience during the writing process?

Readers. I love readers and people of all sorts and being an author has granted me the ability to meet so many wonderful people. From the fantastic people in the writing realm to the astute and vibrant readers I’ve been able to exchange thoughts and stories with.

I also write screenplays and that’s given me the opportunity to meet some dedicated folks in the local movie industry. It’s been grand fun seeing ‘behind the scenes’ up close and personal. Though, I often feel sorry for them having to deal with all my questions and curiosities.

Tell us about your  books. Available in print, ebook, and Kindle formats?

My first book, Apparitions, is a genre mix of supernatural suspense and romance with some dark elements thrown in there. It’s available in print and ebook. Wendigo, which is Book Two of the series will be released in ebook format Jan/Feb of 2011 and print in May/June.

Were any of your books more challenging to write than the others? If so, why?

Yes. Oh yes. To date I’ve written five books, three of which are at various stages in the publication process and two screenplays, one of which is under production.

By far the most challenging was the first fantasy book I wrote and ended up trashing after a year and a half of toil. Contrary to what many seem to believe, fantasy is a very exacting genre and the author needs not only a ton of information that isn’t necessary in other forms of writing but they need to build an entire world – from scratch. It’s a world building intense genre and believe me, if the writer doesn’t have their world and ‘rules’ down darn good before they start – wow it can be just…yeah. Bad.

That said, it was a learning experience and this time it’s getting done the right and patient way of ensuring a smooth and magical story for the reader. Granted perhaps my multitude of maps and graphs and uhm…half a wall of binders full of information and world building might be going overboard but hey, better too much information and tools than too few!

How do you develop characters? Setting?

Mmm most excellent question. I don’t suppose carefully will do? * winks *
I’m a character writer and hold to the idea that plot is character and character is plot. For me the two can’t be separated. So, creating characters is a focal point of mine. I’ve developed a character sheet that asks questions that I need to know in order to delve deep into the characters and bring them to the reader in living, breathing color. I spend a lot of time with each ‘cast’ member before even thinking of typing the words ‘Chapter One’ on my manuscript.

Setting is important as well. To keep things consistent and detailed I write up a description of each setting. Sometimes it’s just a few words and other times it’s several pages long depending on the setting’s importance in the scene or story on a whole. Though, most of the details in the write ups are never used (Lord forbid…the poor reader would want to hang me for derailing the story for grocery lists of details – and rightly so I add!). Still, I find them infinitely important especially because most of my writing is serial work. I never know when the characters will go back to a certain place and readers are smart folk, they’ll call foul if the carpet was blue in Book One and mysteriously changed to pumpkin orange in Book Four.

After hours of intense writing, how do you unwind?

 Movies and wine! Movies have a special way of recharging my creative batteries because I can kick back, relax and be entertained. But they’re inspiring to me as well because the work, sweat, tears and dedication necessary to take a movie from Idea to Script to Finished Movie is arduous. Knowing that people of that caliber exist and make their dreams come true keeps me motivated.

Any current projects?

Two actually at different stages of development.

Book three of the Apparitions series is in pre-publication editing mode so I work on the edits my editor wants to see done when she doesn’t have the manuscript.

I’m also finishing up the character outlines and creating the story flow outline for a fantasy series. The world building is well underway and is expected to continue throughout the series entire. No rest for the wicked! Actual writing of the first draft is expected to start in early January 2011.

Where can folks learn more about your books and events? 

My website: has a list of Events, links to the books and notices on upcoming or in progress works. My email is also on there in case anyone has questions or comments – love hearing from readers!

There’s also Facebook and a board at Horror World – links available at the Raven Bower site.

Raven, thanks for dropping by. Continued success! Bloggers, leave a comment for a free copy of my first novel, Genesis Beach.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dialects, colloquialisms, and Slang

Are you a writer using dialects, colloquialisms, or slang in your writing? Peter Abresch is back to discuss this tricky task. If you find this article useful, please leave a comment and you'll be entered to win a free book.

Speaking in a dialect is part of our heritage in this polyglot country of immigrants, as well as speaking in colloquialisms and slang. Writing it in dialogue is a bit more tricky.

This is the subject of BookMarc #35

Dialogue - Part 4 of 4
For our writing to come alive it we must use the words to trigger our readers's imaginations and life experiences so that they build our world inside their heads. But in the end, our readers must use those imaginations and experiences to make it work. Putting dialect into dialogue requires more than the normal amount of this collaboration. Let's repeat a few sentences of the dinner scene from BookMarc #34.
He piled on food and carried it to the table.

1. "Hello, Jim," the black-haired Sana greeted in her sing-song India English, "We were indeed wondering if you would make it to tea."

2. "Made a quick trip into Bolder Harbor," he said, spreading lunch booty around his place setting. "Needed a sprayer."

3. "I'tis easy to see you believe in a hearty lunch."
I identify Sana's speech as India English to give the reader a clue to the lilt of the following sentence, "We were indeed wondering if you would make it to tea."
In addition to that, I use words that reflect the India English manner of speaking, such as "indeed" and using "tea" for dinner (or lunch) in sentence 1, and "I'tis" and "hearty" in sentence 3.
The trouble with using dialect is it has to sound right w/o using fractured words. Things like, "Why do dat gu' tret me that'a way," won't do it. At one time it might have, but today's reader won't spend the time deciphering it and could instead toss the book aside. Besides, it's intrusive. Our readers will stumble over it when we want them to be breezing along in easy reading. If we want to use dialect, or simulate a foreign language, we need to do it through word use and an altered sentence structure. Let me give you three examples which may not be the best, but will give you some idea:
"I should charge both a ya," Belinda said, the police chief's dark eyes shifting from Jim to Dodee, "but since you're leaving Friday, get outta here. But, hey." She held up a finger. "I'm going back home to bed. I don't wanna hear about you guys no more. Don't wanna be woken up no more. Don't wanna be drug out in the middle of the night no more. Knowhatamean?"
"May I help you, suh?" she asked, her voice dancing with the lilting inflection of the West Indies.

"I'm here for the Elderhostel," Jim said. "Is there still space for me to park my car?"

"Yes suh, what you must do, because this next street is one direction, go up to the second corna, take three rights and come back to the side of the hotel. If you will then honk your horn I shall raise the gate for you."
"So!" The word spit out of the darkness from the direction of a Gestapo Death's Head cap reflected in the flames from the fireplace. "Vhat did you find in the attic?"

Jon recognized the timbre of voice, but couldn't bring the tone into focus, as if a soprano was singing bass.

"Come, come, Herr General." The shadow in the black uniform was moving towards the door. "Have you suddenly got laryngitis? It is a simple question, yes? What was so interesting in the attic, hum? So interesting you kept me waiting?"

Did the guy have a gun?

"So," the black figure at the door now, "should I shoot you, mein General, hum?"

Oh, hell, he did have a gun.

"Or should I give you the spanking you deserve?"
The first is from BLOODY BONSAI and I got mixed reviews on the police woman. Some said she was the best character in the whole book, and others thought she was over the top with her "knowhatamean." The second is from its sequel, KILLING THYME. I did use a few altered words, outta and wanna in the first section of dialogue, and suh and corna in the second, but I don't think anyone will have trouble knowing and hearing them. I think a few obvious words sprinkled sparingly about will not slow the read, and they help with the inflection in a long conversation. You have to make the decision if that works.
The third example is from a pre-published novel of mine, one I still have hopes for. I think it is my best attempt at using altered English sentence structure, sprinkled with a few known German words, to simulate a character talking in German. I used "vhat" in the first piece of dialogue because I wanted to make sure the reader got it that the speech was in German, but switched back to "what" after that. Again, you have to be the judge if it works. BTW, anytime we use a foreign word it should be italicized, like mein.
Let me close out this section on dialogue with an English simulation of German written by a master, John le Carre from THE SILENT PILGRIM:
"Are you inadequate, Mr. Nobody? I think perhaps you are. In your occupation, that is normal. You should join us, Mr. Nobody. You should take lessons with us, and we shall convert you to our cause. Then you will be adequate."
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Monday, January 10, 2011

More on Dialogue

I have read so many books that make me cringe with overuse of dialogue tags, so I'm glad that Peter Abresch has consented to discuss the issue with all of us who struggle with effective dialogue.
Welcome back, Peter.

Hello, Susan.
There are a few techniques to ease the burden of writing group dialogue, along with tags, beats, and body language. First a review from BookMarc 33, our last discussion.

Tags are particular words, actions, or mannerism that have been previously built into single character and are identified only with him/her. Beats are small bits of action specific to a scene. Finally, body language, self explained as any action and character uses such as a shrug.

Okay, let's check out a reworked and edited dinner scene from Bloody Bonsai as an example to point out how it is done given that the POV character is Jim Dandy:

He piled on food from the buffet line and carried it to the table.

1. "Hello, Jim." The black-haired Sana greeted him in her sing-song India English. "We were indeed wondering if you would make it to tea."

2. "Made a quick trip into Bolder Harbor," he said, spreading lunch booty around his place setting. "Needed a sprayer."

3. "I'tis easy to see you believe in a hardy lunch."

4. "A good lunch sets you right up for a good dinner." Smiles around the table and giggling from Tiffany Crew. "I'll do exercises for a couple of days to take it off."

5. "How about a week?" Dodee asked.

6. Kelly Massy nodded. "How about a month?"

7. "How about a year?" The female half of the Miettlinens gave a pursed lipped smile.

8. Clarence Harmoney forked in some potatoes and gravy, and turned to Simon Crew, "I'm in garbage. That is, I own a garbage company. So, you retired?"

9. "Semi-retired. I'm a stockbroker. No clients anymore, but I'm always working on my own portfolio."

10. "Uh huh. That how you met your wife, she a client of yours?"

11. Jim put down his fork. Clarence had asked the question they all entertained; if the twenty-something roommate was his wife.

12. Tiffany dabbed a napkin to her lips. "Not hardly."

13. "Actually"--Simon adjusted his hexagonal glasses and patted her hand--"I was a client of hers."
Let's break it down according to sentence number.

If we didn't know it was Jim Dandy with a plateful of food, we certainly knew it after line 1. In line 2 we don't need to identify him by name because he is responding, and the same for lines 3 and 4 because, even in a group setting around a table, the reader will assume the two are responding to one another until told differently. But if a different character does break in, the reader must be told, which is what happens on line 5 with Dodee identified by an attribute.

Two more speakers are brought in and identified with body language on lines 6 and 7.
We change speakers again on line 8 with a beat--potatoes and gravy--and body language--turn to Simon Crew–and this eliminates the need to identify who is speaking line 9. Also line 10 needs no identification because it is a response to line 9, the reader assuming these two will be talking to each other until told otherwise.

Line 11 is a bit of interior monologue of Jim, who is the POV character, to convey information.
Following this, on line 12 we identify Tiffany with a beat--dabs napkin to her lips--and finally Simon in line 13 with body language. Notice here had we fully developed the glasses tag for Simon, we might have gotten away with the man adjusted his hexagonal glasses.

We need to look at a few other dialogue bits in this scene. In # 2 we have a fractured sentence, and that's okay. We don't speak grammatically correct English and so our dialogue should reflect that. Our dialogue should also be a reflection of the character, the rough and tumble of Clarence's "I'm in garbage," in sentence 8, and the more refined Simon's use of "stockbroker, client, and portfolio" in 9. Our goal should be to make each dialogue bit so character-oriented that using it in itself will be an identifier. I don't think I'm there yet. Or ever will be.

To write dialogue in group scenes we have to render it down to the essentials. Real life dinner scenes are chaotic with everyone speaking at once. In fiction we report only the conversation between the main players, and even then we keep it down to those things necessary to advance the plot, add to the characterization, or give a sense of place. If we wanted to give it a sense of the chaos around the table, however, we could do that by inserting a line or two of body action and/or internal monologue.

"Hello, Jim." The black-haired Sana greeted him in her sing-song India English.

He saw her lips moving, but couldn't hear with the cacophony of kinves and forks clattering on plates and the buzz of conversation interspersed with laughter. He cupped his hand around his ear. "What was that?"

"I say, we were indeed wondering if you would make it to tea."

He nodded, spread his hands to indicate the noise in the place and leaned towards her. "Made a quick trip into Bolder Harbor. Needed a sprayer."
That would be enough to carry the idea in this short scene, but if it was longer we could add something similar eight or then lines down to touch it up a bit, remind readers of the noise.
Three things will help us with all dialogue, not just in a group. First, we need to try to make notes on stray conversations we hear, especially unusual words and sentence structure. Second, read our dialogue out loud and/or into a tape recorder. If it doesn't sound right, it won't read right. It either needs to be rewritten, or broken up. Third, somewhere between the first and last draft, pull out all the dialogue for each character as though it is a separate book, and read it contiguously for continuity. I know, that's a lot of work, but I never said writing was easy, just if we did it right it would be reading easy.

Notice that I've also used some dialect in sentences 1 and 3. We'll talk about using dialect, and using English to explain what is said in a foreign language in BookMarc #35.

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