Let’s Talk


Let’s Talk

By Nandy Ekle

 

“Hi. My name is Main Character.” He raised his hand in a wave.

“Hi, Main Character. My name is Nemesis.” He nodded toward Main Character.

Main Character smiled. “It’s good to meet you.”

“Thank you. It’s good to meet you too.”

Main Character looked past Nemesis’ shoulder and Nemesis looked down at the floor. The clock ticked an awkward moment.

Main Character jerked his face back to Nemesis’ face as a flash of thought passed through his mind. “We’re supposed to inspire writers to write a believable dialogue.”

A light snapped on in Nemesis’ eyes. “Oh. Do you mean, like, actually sounding like two people having a conversation instead of sounding like two sides of the same person?”

“Yes. That’s right.” Main Character smiled while his head moved up and down.

“I see.  How do you think a good writer does that?”

Shrugging his shoulders, Main Character said, “Well, I think they have to just almost actually hear two different people speaking and write what they say exactly the way it’s said.”

Nemesis’ eyes darken slightly. “Ya’ know, Mainy, I do b’lieve you jes’ hit da nail rat own its big ol’ head.”

“Yes. And that means the writer needs to know his characters very well.” He took a coupe of steps backward.

“Yore galdern rat ‘bout dat dar rule.” Nemesis took a couple of steps forward toward Main Character.

Main Character turned his head and looked over his shoulder for the door behind him, then he looked back at Nemesis. His brow was lined with worry. “So, do you have any advice to add to that?”

Nemesis stopped moving and lookd up into space as if an idea would appear like a light bulb. “Well . . . yeah. They prolly need to make shore dem readers know who’s tawkin’ when. ‘Cause, like us? We ain’t just standing still flappin’ our gums. We’re acchully doing’ sumpin’”

“That’s right,” Main Character said.

Nemesis grinned a dark toothy grin. Yeah.” He turned to look at the person reading their dialogue. “Got that, reader? Now.” He paused and leaned forward until his nose nearly touched the reader’s nose. The dark light came back to his eyes. “Go do it!”

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

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The People Speak – Part 2


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People Speak – Part 2

By Nandy Ekle

How many of you readers out there never talk to yourselves? You never have a running conversation in your head, never ask yourself questions, never tell yourself your opinion, never remind yourself of your to-do list? 

The inside of my head sometimes sounds like a throng of voices. I don’t mean, like, hearing voices telling me to do bad things, as in schizophrenia or psychosis. I mean it’s like the two sides of my brain talking to each other, so much so that I need to listen to music with lyrics while I work my day job, just to keep the creative side out of the analytical side’s business.

Our characters, who we want our readers to believe are real people, are exactly the same. They have inner thoughts the same as we do. And these inner thoughts can be very important to our story. It can tell us more about the character, it can move the story along, it can even be a fantastic vehicle for flashbacks and important back story. 

There are some types of story where inner dialogue is critical. I read a story once about a woman with a mental syndrome causing her problems. She desperately wanted to heal from that, so she took a trip in order to come to terms with this. The problem I had with the story was there was very little inner dialogue to show her healing, her metamorphosis. The author didn’t set the problem up very well as far as symptoms in the beginning, and suddenly, at the end, she was well. I didn’t feel like had made that emotional journey with her.

Another thing to remember when using inner dialogue is to keep your character’s voice, speech, personality, and view of the world intact. If your character has a secret side to them, that’s wonderful, but give us a clue to this secret in their outside layers. Then, with the inner dialogue, you can let it out flamboyantly. But always remember their view of the world.

Back to Liane Moriarty. In Big Little Lies, one of the main characters has this secret side to herself. She’s seems a little scatter-brained on the outside, a little, like, “whatever . . .” But through her inner dialogue, we learn she is guarding a terrible secret that she doesn’t know how to handle. For excellent examples of all kinds of dialogue, read Big Little Lies. 

The People Speak – Part 1


POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People Speak – Part 1

By Nandy Ekle

Believable characters have believable dialogue. Your characters should sound like real people, not the narrator. The narrator (you, the writer) has their own voice, rhythm, and way of putting words together; the characters do too.  

This is critical. Without effective dialogue, the characters remain paper dolls. And this is another place where your people watching skills and whatever knowledge of psychology you have is key.

We are writing words for people to read. And since those reading our words cannot hear the words as they come out of our mouths, we have to rely on the readers’ imaginations to fill in the sound. And this is why it is critical to make the characters sound like real people.

Each character has a distinct and personal way of speaking. You may have someone who speaks boldly enunciating each syllable of each word as if they are on a stage and want the entire theater to hear everything said. You may have a character who is timid and hates to be seen or heard. You may have a comic who turns everything into a joke. 

For excellent examples of distinct dialogue which reveals the characters deep down, read anything by Liane Moriarty. Ms. Moriarty is an Australian writer, and her culture and language are different from mine, but humans are humans. Her stories are about characters who act, react, and speak to each other. And they are all very different. And there is never any doubt who is talking when they talk. 

In Big Little Lies, you have the older, brasher, standing-on-a-stage character; the timid, shy, don’t-look-at-me character, and the strong, intelligent, caring character who carries a terrifying secret. Even though this is printed word instead of pictures, we know exactly who is speaking as soon as they open their mouths.

Next week we’ll look at the importance of inner dialogue.

Your homework: Watch and listen to people having a conversation. Pay attention to body language, words, dialect, facial expressions, and tone of voice. These are just some of the things that makes every person’s speech unique.

The People – Part 4


POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People – Part 4

By Nandy Ekle

This week, let’s spend some time in that mysterious realm of psychology.

I am not a psychologist, never took more than one or two classes college, but I am observant. And when I need to know something, I know how to find out. Plus, I have spent a lot of time since before graduating high school reading about different theories. And, as a confirmed introvert, I am a people watcher on the highest level. So take my views as you will.

There are a lot of theories that, in my opinion, are pure silliness. If you think long and hard about anything, you can turn it into a huge overpowering mountain. But there’s also a lot that, again, my opinion, are wrapped in truth. 

It helps to know what kind of personality your character has. Sometimes I don’t even realize the depth of my character’s soul until I am well into the story (being an avid “pantser”). But when you think about it, it follows that a person with a serious goal will make the decision to do whatever it takes to meet that goal. But we also know that every single personality type that has ever drawn breath has issues and hang-ups. And this is a great place to draw conflict from. 

Back to The Shining (if I ever taught a writing class, that book would definitely be the text book for my class). Jack’s surface goal is to keep his family afloat. Having lost a job because of his issues is the surface conflict. But it’s so important to him he is willing to take a menial job just to make sure his family is taken care of. Not only that, he puts up with being humiliated to even be in that position. Now, deep down there’s even more to it. He is humiliated with himself. He has not been able to keep his family afloat because of his own bad decisions, and he knows this. Which feeds his “demons.” 

But deeper down, it’s more than his family at stake. Because of the “demons”, he will forever fight (not trying to be a spoiler), but his actual goal is his own healing. And we all know that healing comes from pain. So he must go through ultimate pain to get to the healing. And this terrifies him. (READ THE BOOK)

Your homework, think about your character’s surface goal and what will he give up to attain it. What inner issues stand in his way? Is he covering up something deeper? Is there one last little shred of himself he is not willing to let go of to reach the pinnacle?

The People – Part 2


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People – Part 2

By Nandy Ekle

Last week we talked about giving our characters layers. We talked about the surface layers. So, as promised, we will go deeper into character development. A little knowledge of psychology is helpful, but the main tool is to know people around you. And people watching is an excellent way to gather information.

For one of my short stories, My Sweet Prince (in the anthology One Murderous Week, available in print from any bookstore), my main character came to me after driving home from a weekend trip. I stopped at a convenience store for a cup of coffee and the store clerk was sitting on a stool behind the counter, chewing a wad of gum and reading a romance book. And suddenly I could see several layers behind her eyes. Here was this young woman working all night long in a store. She likes to read romance books, probably as an escape from a dull job pulling a boring shift. The gum smelled like bubble gum. Personally, I like to chew gum to help stay awake when I need to. But I also noticed a bruise on her arm. The bruise could have come from anywhere, and that was the whole point. I really knew nothing about this woman other than the little clues I could see in my fifteen minutes in the store.

So, back to Jack Torrence from The Shining. His surface layer was arrogance and anger. And Stephen King made the statement later that he didn’t like Jack’s arrogance. But really and truly, the arrogance was necessary because it hid a deep well of layers that would only work if there was a hard shell to cover them up. He has guilt, anger, shame, confusion, sadness, and self-loathing. And every single time I read the book, I stumble on a layer I had not seen before. The reason it all works so well is if arrogance is all there was, we would never be able to sympathize with Jack. However, if the story opened with all the deeper darker layers instead of the surface, Jack would not have been a believable character.

Next week we’ll talk about some of the psychology involved in creating a believable, likable character your readers will cheer/weep for.

Your homework, think about a situation you’ve been in recently where you meet a group of people for the first time, like a party. Think about one interesting person you met. List the clues you see to tell you something about this person. What is it about this person that stands out in your mind? How can this become one of your characters?

The People – Part 2


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People – Part 2

By Nandy Ekle

If you’ve ever dealt with people—any amount of time at all, even just a moment—you know every single person in the world is made of many layers. Even newborn babies. I remember watching my babies, just a few hours old, sleeping and wondering what they were like. 

Your characters must have layers just like real people do. If they don’t, they won’t be believable. They won’t connect with your reader. Your reader will close the book and say, “Who cares.” So inventing a character takes careful work.

You have the outside layer, the surface. This is what the world in your book sees—not necessarily what the character looks like (unless your story is about overcoming a physical condition). This is the part of your character, your person, that starts the story.

The next layer is something that maybe is not so evident right away. 

Here’s an example. One of my favorite books is The Shining, and the layering is exactly why. When the story begins, we see a man in a job interview. The interviewer is talking away with Jack, explaining the job, and explaining that he knows about Jack’s past problems. The very first line of the book shows us Jack’s attitude toward his prospective employer—he’s arrogant. He’s angry that the problems of the past are drug out into the open when he thought he slayed them. And he’s angry that this prissy little man talks to him as if he is intellectually challenged. So immediately we empathize with Jack. We all know what these things feel like.

But we find out later, only a few pages into the story, that the anger and the arrogance are only shields he has built as defense mechanisms. His inner layers are far more complex and far darker than we have any idea about. 

And we can identify with that as well.

Next week we’ll talk about the deep stuff. 

Homework: Describe in the comments below how your favorite character appears to his/her world. Then describe the first sign that reveals a deeper layer, and what that layer is.

The People


POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People

By Nandy Ekle

So, who are the people we write about? We have to have a main character, usually this is our hero. And we have to have a villain, the one who thwarts our hero (or vice-versa) in everything he/she wants. Most stories need secondary characters on both sides, because in real life no one is alone all the time. 

So we’ve defined their roles. But who are they? This is where your love of people watching comes into play.

This past summer I went to a city I had never been before, and I was able to sit at a table and just watch. This place is a place known for all kinds of people and situations. And it was an absolute feast to watch. I saw hundreds of tourists walking up and down the street. I saw performers on street stages, on street corners, and on every square of sidewalk there was. I saw people with hunger in their eyes, wanting the big win; people with desperation in their faces, realizing they were trapped in a life they didn’t like; and people like me, just taking it all in. 

And I know each and every person I saw, whether in sparkly lacy feathery fine-ness with tails and bow-ties, all the way down to the group of people dressed in dirty rags as they vomited into the trash cans; they all had a story. They all had a reason for being there. And they all had a purpose they were looking for. 

And next week we’ll discuss some of these purposes.

15 Minute Challenge


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

15 Minute Challenge

By Nandy Ekle

A writer’s job is to look for a story in ordinary, every day events. So, I like to play a game with myself when I’m driving. Whether I’m driving the 20 minute piece of road to my day job, walking around the grocery story throwing together meal plans for the week, or toodling down the highway for 13 hours to see my children, I look for anything that might spark my imagination. 

Sometimes it takes some time to get a piece of a story. Like, there’s an empty field I drive by every day. But one day a tractor shows up and begins pounding a mound of dirt. A month later planks of wood seem to have grown from the flattened dirt mound. Walls begin to go up, and a roof grows seemingly over night. Pretty soon I find myself marveling because I can’t remember what it was like as an empty field. And I know I can make a story out the experience.

But there are also subtle things that I can’t tell if anyone else has noticed or not. Such as, I also pass an old empty, closed up store front building on a corner crossroads every weekday morning. It suddenly dawns on me as I pass by one morning that there’s always a white pick-up truck in the empty old parking lot, just sitting there, facing the street. Inside the truck is a person wearing a big white cowboy hat. That’s all I can tell about this person. I think this is a man, but have never seen his face. He’s not there when I pass it in the afternoon on my way home. And he’s not there when I pass the corner on the weekend going out to run my errands. He doesn’t wave, he doesn’t get out of the car, and no other cars or people are around him. I have no idea who he is or why he’s there. And that, my friends, is a burning log of story ready to pop.

So here’s my challenge to you, dear blog readers. The next time you’re going to be driving, turn on the video camera in your phone and record 15 minutes of driving down the road. You might be surprised at the everyday weirdness you never even knew you were seeing.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

The Future


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The Future

By Nandy Ekle

On a recent trip with my husband, I met someone who made my heart soar. I met a young lady, around the age of 18 or 20. She had brown, very curly hair, glasses on her face, and braces on her teeth. And her eyes told me she was very shy, but couldn’t hold her interest any longer.

“I heard you write stories,” she said in a small voice. She had sidled up as close to me as she dared, which was still a little far away for me to hear her easily (I have begun to wonder if my hearing might be going the way of my spike heeled shoes).

“Yes, I do. I write mainly short stories, but I’ve also got a couple of novels going as well.” I smiled nurturingly at her.

“I used to write stories when I was in junior high,” she said, just barely over a mumble.

I felt my face split with an excited grin. “Really? That’s when I started writing!” When I told her that, her face lit up as if the sun had risen, even though the clock said the time of day was after nine p.m. 

She and I talked for another hour about writing, stories, ideas, other authors, books to read for instruction, and books to read for fun. I don’t know how she felt at the end of the evening, but I know I felt wonderful.

I’ve always believed that young people who love to write deserve a special place. After all, writing is not a social activity; it can be lonely. And for a young person to enjoy writing a story instead of sitting on the hood of a car with a bunch of buddies, that’s a special person.

But more than that, I believe our youth is our future and it’s our job, as seasoned experienced writers, to encourage them with their craft. One day, we olders will be gone and the youngers will be in charge.

So when you meet these young folks, give them the encouragement you craved when you were their age. Always remember, you might just be in the presence of the next Stephen King, or E. A. Poe.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

Writing Ideas


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Writing Ideas

By Nandy Ekle

I have a book of writing prompts called 300 More Writing Prompts, and I thought I’d share ten of them with you.

1. Name a novel you’d love to model your life after.

2. How far would you go to get what you want?

3. Have you ever been betrayed? If so, how?

4. Create a short story about your life that is complete fiction.

5. You’re in charge of a murder mystery dinner theater for one night. Describe the scenario you’ve set for your guests to solve.

6. How do you feel about secret admirers?

7. What is your idea of the perfect summer?

8. When you close your eyes, what do you daydream about?

9. Name something you’re never willing to risk or take a risk on and why.

10. What was the scariest urban legend or ghost story you’ve ever heard, and how did it originate?