So, I’m back in the camper for the summer because we rent out our hosts to tourists every year. Well, it’s the second year, that almost makes it every year, right?
To put this in perspective, we have two dogs, one obese cat, two humans (occasionally three) in this tiny camper from the 1980s. We painted it white so it wasn’t as depressing, but let me tell you, painting things white doesn’t make anything actually bigger.
Anyways, I was trying to quickly make a camper video about dialogue and I failed completely. Here it is below. Don’t judge too harshly.
If you don’t want to die from secondhand embarrassment let me sum it up for you. The takeaway from this video is meant to be people react to different things in different ways. People speak in different ways. Show this in your dialogue. Think of how your mom talks, your bestie, your avo, the lady at the bar, your rabbi. Not everyone talks the same. Think of how they all react to one simple situation like a rat popping out of the garbage bin in the kitchen. It wouldn’t all be the same, right? Respect and embrace that difference and show it in your story.
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It’s Writing Tip Wednesday and this week, I’m actually going to give a little writing tip. I know!
We all pause for a moment of stunned silence.
Have you ever read a story and every line of dialogue for every character sounds exactly the same no matter what the characters’ backgrounds are?
“I love you a lot,” Character #1 said. “A wicked amount.”
“You’re an awesome lady,” Character #2 said.
“You are the wicked awesomest lady ever,” Character #1 said.
“Will you two awesome ladies please move along? I’m in a wicked hurry?” called out Police Officer #1. “No offense.”
Random pretend dialogue from a bad book that I just made up in my head
See what I mean?
So there’s a reason that flat feeling is happening. There’s a reason that all the characters sound the same when those characters aren’t the same in the writer’s head. The reason is because the author isn’t thinking about words.
Someone once said (maybe Rita Mae Brown?) that “Language is the road map of culture. It tells you where a people are from and where they are going.”
For every word we write (or speak) there are connections we have in our brains. We make associations with each word and those associations are formed by our own lives, our cultures, our media consumption. Everything. They are keys to who we are, what we do, what we’ve done, where we’re from, what we’ve been exposed to and how we think.
Don’t be afraid to play around with individual words and think about how substituting one similar word for another really makes a difference.
Let me tell you a tale vs. Let me tell you a story.
I find her account truthful vs. I find her account veracious.
The woman is honest vs. The lady is honest.
I have no citation for this because I’m making it up again.
Don’t be afraid to play around with words, to tweak them – especially in your dialogue. Our differences in background and thought is often truly evident in our speech patterns and word choices. People aren’t the same in real life. They don’t talk the same in real life. We should try to make sure that we don’t seem the same in our stories.
Here’s an example Of PEople’s differences in speech patterns and word choice:
Think about past and current presidents and this difference in language is even more obvious. Presidents are all similar in that they are politicians who have attained a great amount of power, English is their first language, all are male, but even so… their speech patterns are profoundly different.
I’ve used the most current tweets (as of this writing) to show the difference in word choice and sentence structure and communication style of four of the last five presidents.
Congratulations to a truly great football team, the Clemson Tigers, on an incredible win last night against a powerful Alabama team. A big win also for the Great State of South Carolina. Look forward to seeing the team, and their brilliant coach, for the second time at the W.H.
In 2018 people stepped up and showed up like never before. Keep it up in 2019. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’ll be right there with you. Happy New Year, everybody!
.@SenatorCollins — political courage and class. I salute my wonderful friend and her principled leadership.
Yet another president
Senator John Culver was a smart, principled, progressive, and tough public servant who represented his constituents with honor for 16 years. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and the people of Iowa.
Our final president example
I think it’s pretty easy to pick out President Clinton and Trump and Obama, not just because of what they’re talking about, but because of their word choices and sentence structure.
So, think about your stories, your life and the people you communicate with. That’s my writing tip – word choice is telling. Make sure that everyone doesn’t sound the same. And if you aren’t a writer, this applies in your own life to – sound the way you want to sound.
A Really Cool Blog Post (not by me) that you should check out.
One of my friends/acquaintances, Carla Tanguay, has a really great blog post about how to use music for self care. It’s right here. You should check it out.
Carla is a “nationally board-certified music therapist with over 15 years of experience in clinical music therapy and healthcare management. She holds a Master’s degree in music therapy from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College and has trained over 30 music therapy interns.”
But she’s also a great, clear writer and one of the kindest smart people that I know.
OUR PODCAST – DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.
Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!
BE A PART OF THE PODCAST!
Hey! If you download the Anchor application, you can call into the podcast, record a question, or just say ‘hi,’ and we’ll answer. You can be heard on our podcast! Sa-sweet!
No question is too wild. But just like Shaun does, try not to swear, okay?
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Night Owl” by Broke For Free.
People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.
The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?
It’s awesome and quirky and fun.
FLYING AND ENHANCED
Men in Black meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You know it. You can buy them hereor anywhere.
I offer solo writing coach services. For more about my individual coaching, click here.
I am super psyched to be teaching the six-month long Write. Submit. Support. class at the Writing Barn!
Are you looking for a group to support you in your writing process and help set achievable goals? Are you looking for the feedback and connections that could potentially lead you to that book deal you’ve been working towards?
Our Write. Submit. Support. (WSS) six-month ONLINE course offers structure and support not only to your writing lives and the manuscripts at hand, but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors.
Past Write. Submit. Support. students have gone on to receive representation from literary agents across the country. View one of our most recent success stories here.
It’s Writing Tip Wednesday and today we’re talking about talking.
What’s that mean?
Dialogue, baby. It’s that magic place where the characters get to speak for themselves.
So, the number one tip is super obvious, but yet… so many of us don’t do it.
SAY YOUR DIALOGUE
That’s easy enough, right? But actually listen to how the words sound. Is it awkward? Too perfect? Is someone saying an 895-word sentence?
Think about the breath units.
Wait. Breath units? What’s that?
A breath unit is how many syllables are read in one breath. You breathe at periods and commas and punctuation marks, right?
So, if your dialogue sentences have more than 20 syllables? It’s going to be cruddy. If it’s all five or less? It’s going to sound cruddy too.
Poets use this writing tool and think about this all the time. Fiction writers should too because the cadence of your words and your writing matters AND because you should have as many tools in your tool box as possible.
Once you know the tools, you can break the rules for dramatic effect. Stephen King often writes a 100-word sentence full of long breath units and follows it with a one-breath-unit sentence-slash- paragraph for a dramatic punch.
And I sort of did that up there.
See? This sentence is super long (40 syllables):
Stephen King often writes a 100-word sentence full of long breath units and follows it with a one-breath-unit sentence-slash- paragraph for a dramatic punch.
And followed it with this (2 syllables):
That’s not dialogue, but it helps make it understandable, right?
And to be fair, not all people and all cultures have that typical upper middle class white person in the United States breath unit. Think of Eminem or Busta Rhymes or Tech N9ne for a second and all the words each of those men can say in one breath. Chopper-style rap has this awesome, intense emphasis on speed and pronunciation, which throws the rules of breath units out the window. Here’s a link to some fast rap examples courtesy of Red Bull.
Warning: There is profanity.
And those differences are important. It’s good to remember where the ‘rules’ come from and who they come from and also to give yourself the liberty to play with them or against them.
So, do that. Say your dialogue aloud. Play around with the breath. Think about the things your character is feeling underneath the words she’s saying.
If a cop or a werewolf is chasing your Scooby gang, they aren’t going to be eloquent and have long beat units. If they’re on drugs, giving a speech, or borderline hysterical? Those beats are going to show that.
I’m heading to Freeport, Maine on Sept. 28 and then Houston and Virginia Beach pretty soon to promote my picture book biography of Moe Berg. It’s called The Spy Who Played Baseball.
I’ll be hanging with a lot of other cool authors in Freeport.
ENHANCED, the follow-up to FLYING is here! And the books are out of this world. Please buy them and support a writer.
The last TIME STOPPERS BOOK is out and I love it. You should buy it because it’s empowering and about friendship and bias and magic. Plus, dragons and elves.
For signed copies – email firstname.lastname@example.org for Sherman’s or email email@example.com let them know the titles in which you are interested. There’s sometimes a waiting list, but they are the best option. Plus, you’re supporting an adorable local bookstore run by some really wonderful humans. But here’s the Amazon link, too!
You can buy prints of my art here. Thank you so much for supporting my books and me and each other. I hope you have an amazing day.