Dialogue Tags


Dialogue Tags

Natalie Bright

Dialogue is spoken communication between characters. The purpose of a tag line is to let your reader know which character is speaking.

Most commonly used dialogue tags:

Said

Asked

Yelled

Hollered

Whispered

As a reader, we hardly notice the tag lines. “He/she said” is boring, and our eyes are used to reading said. We want to know what’s between the quotation marks.

Seriously, can a person “screech” or “Sigh” or “acknowledge” words? Can you “laugh” a sentence? Instead use descriptive words to create motion or response in your characters. Over use of anything besides “said” can be annoying. Think of how you can use narrative in place of tag lines.

One of the best resources for an explanation of dialogue is the book WRITING REALISTIC DIALOGUE AND FLASH FICTION by Harvey Stanbrough. I highly recommend this book as an addition to your writing reference library.

Here’s an example from Mr. Stanbrough’s book:

She approached him cautiously. “Come on now, Baby,” she cooed. “You don’t want that knife. What are you going to do with that?”

He swung the knife in a wild arc. “I just can’t stand it anymore!” he exclaimed. “I’ve had it?”

If you read the same passage above out loud omitting the tag lines, it reads the same. In fact, we might even say that the tag lines of cooed and exclaimed are somewhat annoying. You could add a he said or she said if you want, but the action and narrative helps us know who is talking. The imagery is still the same no matter what tag lines you use.

Happy writing and thanks for following WordsmithSix!

natalie

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LISTEN TO YOUR CHARACTERS


LISTEN TO YOUR CHARACTERS

Natalie Bright

 

A discussion at a writer’s workshop led by Jane Graves, an award-winning author of contemporary romance, changed the way I think about writing.

Her advice was to, “Hone in on the one thing that speaks to you. Freshness and originality comes from what you can imagine.”

Are your characters waking you up at night? Do their conversations light a fire in your gut? What do they want? Who are they?

I know this may seem abnormal to most folks, but my characters have complete conversations. I have no idea where they are or even who they are, but I know without a doubt that what I’m overhearing is important to my work in progress or something I’ll be writing in the future. My writing took on new meaning and depth when I started listening to what they were saying.

My big dreams were to be an award-winning romance novelist, but the words in my head were mostly kids, more specifically children who lived in the Texas frontier of all places. In the beginning of my writing journey, I pushed the voices out of my head and tried to create romance stories. The whole creative process was a chore; I hated the characters, the dreary plotline, and the editing process seemed like torture. What made me think that I’d ever be able to write a novel?

Janes’ words got me to thinking. What I’ve been obsessed with since a very early age, besides writing a book, is history and stories set in the Old West. Everything about that time period fascinates me and I consume historical fiction and nonfiction like air.

Believe me I’ve tried to change the ages of my characters so they’d fit a publisher’s specs, follow the advice of my husband who said if I’d write a marketable romance it would be easier to sell, and considered the ideas of a well-meaning editor who insisted I add a werewolf to make a western tale marketable. The writing process wasn’t fun anymore until I finally gave in the voices inside my head. I haven’t looked back since.  You are unique, and only you can write the story that needs to be told. Have confidence in your abilities and story-telling instincts. Have confidence in your characters. Let them show you the way.

 

LET’S TALK BOOKS: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon


LET’S TALK BOOKS: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Natalie Bright

In keeping with our January theme of characterization, I’d like to discuss Claire, the main character of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I’m late to the party, but admittedly Book One in the series is next to impossible to put down. I’ve been reading every evening instead of writing over the past week. So much for the New Year’s word count goals.

As far as characters go, Claire is not that complex or memorable. She doesn’t really leap off the page, even though the book is written in first person POV. She has likable qualities; beautiful, smart, always wants to help and heal, faithful wife who loves her husband. The guilt she feels about loving two men in different centuries makes for great internal conflict.

Last night I realized her flaw. Claire never does what she is told which always results in something bad. And the consequences are the worst scenario, the worst possible outcome that adds a surprise plot twist and keeps us reading. Gabaldon does an excellent job with story hooks.

SPOILER ALERT

Jamie tells Claire, do not go the Geilie’s house. “I dinna want ye anywhere near her…” he says. Jamie has to leave to accompany the Duke. Of course, Claire is summoned to the witch’s house through deception. We suspect it’s a lie. We know she shouldn’t go, but Claire grabs her healing herbs and of course, the consequences are horrific.

I was so angry at Claire! Why can’t she just do what she is asked? What an idiot! I felt the same frustrated, anger experienced sometimes with raising two teenaged boys. Wow!  It surprised me how much I am invested in this fictional character’s journey.  Now that’s powerful characterization.

Are you reading OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon? I’d love to know your thoughts…

 

Cardboard Characters


 

Cardboard Characters

Natalie Bright

One of the most difficult tasks for a writer is to create fictional characters that seem real and believable to the reader. I love books in which characters seem to jump off the page and ones that remain in my head long after the book is closed.

Much Like Cardboard

Are your characters more like cardboard; stiff, emotionless, without personality? They have names and faces, but they are just on the surface of your story and nothing more. The solution: dig deeper into your character’s motivation.

As an author, you must torture your characters. It is impossible to reveal deep character feelings and personalities without applying deep, intense pressure. The ways in which they react to that pressure reveals their temperament and psyche.

Using Character Profiles

Complete character profiles on both your protagonist and your antagonist. There are many great example forms available online.

Don’t stop at the name. Create a birthdate, a history of where they were born, family description, dominant characteristics, weaknesses, and physical limitations. Create historical events for your character that might have happened in their life such as school’s name, college, children’s names, etc.

Write A Letter

Many of my author friends write a letter in first person POV from their character. Don’t think; just free write. Let them reveal their secrets, desires, fears, self-image.

This trick worked great for me on the story I am working on now. My main characters are a young mule-skinner and a Comanche brave. I am alternating chapters between their points of view. I want to show the contrast between how very different their worlds are, yet they are both sixteen-year-old boys. They each wrote me a letter about their different worlds. One holds a great hatred for his father, and the other resents the physical limitations he has to live with. Now I have something to build upon and add the conflict. At this point, writing is more fun than work.

Keep moving forward and thanks for following WordsmithSix!

CHARACTER


CHARACTER

Natalie Bright

 

“What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?” HENRY JAMES

 

As David Morrell reminds us in his book LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING, plot and character are intimately related. Every character that comes on scene has interaction with your main character and will establish a relationship with that main character. Your protagonist will interact with each of those minor characters in some way, and their actions and dialogue move the plot along. Is that relationship from the past or a new one? (Be sure to add Morrell’s book to your writing reference library.)

According to E. M. Forster, main characters are multidimensional. They surprise us, they are complex, and they are difficult to describe succinctly. They are defined by who they are.

The iceberg theory is a style of writing coined by American writer Ernest Hemingway. “The dignity of the movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above the water”. Same is true for characters and their stories. What is obvious to the reader implies a much larger truth and depth. That is why the majority of your character profile will never appear in your story, but you know your characters intimately. As one workshop instructor explained, the writer should know what is in the main character’s closet.

What does your character want, and what obstacles can you throw in their way to prevent them from achieving that goal?

Characters & The Five Senses


Characters & The Five Senses

Natalie Bright

 

The main character Hassan in the movie The Hundred Foot Journey, is a culinary genius whose talent propels him to a world-renowned chef.  The title refers to the distance between Hassan’s family who relocates to France because of a tragedy and opens an Indian restaurant across the road from a traditional French restaurant. I have watched this many times, and I always tear up at the same scene.

The Power of Taste and Smell

One of my favorite scenes is the perfect example of how the power of taste and smell can be used to create powerful emotion.

While sitting in his darkened, closed restaurant overlooking the Paris skyline, Hassan hears a young co-worker on break. He raises his head, pauses, and then slowly rises from the floor. The young man is eating. “Do you want some?” he asks.

As Hassan dips pieces of fried bread into the dish, the young man explains that his wife cooks the traditional Indian way on an open fire in the courtyard of their apartment using spices from their homeland. Tears well up in Hassan’s eyes and you can see the emotion and internal conflict on his face. His mother, who had died in a fire, was the one who had taught him the use of spices. The family’s relocation from India to France had been a struggle of cultural differences. All of this is visible as Hassan buries his face in his hands and sobs. You understand the conflict that is going through his mind. There is no dialogue. He doesn’t voice his pain, but you know. It is a very powerful scene triggered by smell and taste.

INCLUDE THE SENSES

Characters should experience several of the five senses in every scene. This pulls your reader into the emotion and setting and reveals the conflict that the character is experiencing. During the editing process, I find it’s easier to deliberately focus on enhancing the five sense during one pass. As I read every scene, I think about the reality for that character. What more can be revealed? For example, the smells of food, the sounds of nature, the feel of satin fabric, etc. Dig deep into the slightest, most minute detail of what that character is experiencing. Maybe it’s good as written, but maybe it can be better.

Here’s Your Homework

Think of your favorite movie and watch a scene that triggers emotion based on any of the five senses. If you have a particular scene in mind, be very specific with your search terms to find it on YouTube.

Watch the scene several times. Now, turn off the video and write that same scene. Be descriptive about the senses that trigger the emotion. Fill your pages with emotion and rewriter the scene.

The Writing Life Quotes


The Writing Life Quotes

Natalie Bright

 

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”
—Samuel Johnson

A Few Quotes for Motivation


A Few Quotes for Motivation

 

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

— Anne Frank

 

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

― Sylvia Plath

 

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”

— Stephen King

 

“People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.”

— R.L. Stine

 

Happy Writing!


The Creator of the Western Novel

Natalie Bright

 

Best known as the creator of western fiction, Own Wister was a “Pennsylvanian who sat down in South Carolina, and wrote a book about a Virginian who lived in Wyoming.” I happened upon a copy of his book, THE VIRGINIAN, in a used book store. The opening scene is fantastic, as we meet a rough, sometimes rude, man-of-few-words from Virginia. A “slim young giant” who earns a reputation as an accomplished horseman. The edgy descriptions and literary prose are different from what you might expect in a western, but an enjoyable read.

Born in Philedelphia, July 1860, Wister attended school in Europe, St. Paul’s School in Concord, and entered Harvard as a music student. He made many notable friends, the most famous being Theodore Roosevelt. They shared an enthusiasm for the West.

If was during the summer of 1885 that a doctor prescribed a trip out West for health reasons, both physically and psychologically. Between 1885-1900 Wister traveled 15 times to Wyoming. During that time he began his first of many journals, and also wrote hundreds of letters.

“I don’t wonder,” Wister wrote, “a man never comes back [East] after he has once been here for a few years.”

July 2, First Journal Entry.

In 1902 THE VIRGINIAN was published, dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt. Set in Wyoming between 1874 and 1890, Wister described it as “an expression of American faith” and stressed “rugged individualism”. By 1911 the First Edition had gone through thirty-four printings. In the era of paperbacks, sales reached millions. It has been adapted for the movie screen four times.

The Owen Wister papers are housed in the Library of Congress. The University of Wyoming has the Wister Journals, and Owen Wister letters can also be found in the Houghton Library at Harvard University.

 

A Few Tips about School Visits


 A Few Tips about School Visits

Natalie Bright

Like most parents, I have volunteered at the school to help with book fairs, teacher appreciations, band boosters, and fundraisers. I started writing when our sons were in elementary school. I had visions of volunteering at the book fair one day where my book would be sitting on the Scholastic cart. As you can guess, the publishing industry rarely coincides with an author’s big dreams.

The reality is I finally have several children’s books out, but both boys are too old to read them. Our youngest is a high school senior this year, and I continue to volunteer as a parent at the local schools, but work in a slightly different capacity. I’ve changed my focus to writing and reading. This year I’m offering a free power point workshop on writing to the schools in our district. Even more fun, is the added bonus of having the star of one of my books, a rescue horse named Flash and his trainer, participate in some of the events as well.

We’ve got six programs under our belt now. Here are a few things to consider about book promotion on a local level.

  • Reach out.

Clubs, organizations, and schools are desperate for programs by authors. With fees in the $1000 and up range for most nationally known bestselling authors, school budgets can only afford these type speakers every three to five years.

Reach out to everyone you know and find contact addresses online.  Does your local library have events that you can participate in? Send school and public librarians a postcard or flyer and make it easy for them to contact you. Be flexible and work with their schedule. Herding 700 kids in and out of the library takes some skills, but it is doable. I try to make myself available on a one-to-one basis as well. Be friendly and approachable for teachers and kids. At the end of the day, you’ll be exhausted and inspired.

  • Shine and Sparkle

Kick some booty on the very first gig. Wow them and give them more than they expected. Develop a powerful, informative presentation that enhances the school curriculum. Word will spread.

  • Be Open to Criticism.

I have tweaked my program several times based on feedback from librarians, teachers and principals. I always ask the librarians three main questions at every school visit, “What are your kids reading? Did I connect with your kids? How can this be better?”

I learn something from the students as well. In the first part of my program, we go through a series of slides about everything that writers write. According to a very attentive third grader, guess what I had left out; graphic novels. These are hugely popular with kids today. Based on questions, I also added pics of my workspace and of my co-worker, Kitty, our cat.

  • Kids Are Visual

Use lots of pictures of young people in your power point. Kids today are very visual. Everything is photos, movies, video games, YouTube, and pics of their friends on snapchat. Your presentation must have relatable pictures. There is not one image of any adults in my 30-minute presentation.

  • Kids love FREE things

Send a bookmark home which includes your book covers, website, Instagram tag and ordering information. Include the name of your local book store that carries your books. They may not purchase a book on the day of your author visit, but believe me, kids will remember you. They will point you out to a parent at the grocery store. Have books in your car.

What’s popular with the kids in our school district, you might be wondering? Interestingly, every elementary school has been different. Graphic novels, particularly ones about real historical events, wouldn’t stay on the shelf. The school last week loves horror and scary stories, so the GooseBumps series is always checked out. The school this week is reading mostly Big Foot and alien stories, even the girls. Who knew, right? Harry Potter holds  no interest for this upcoming group of elementary aged readers. And girls have turned their backs on typical “girlie” type stories like the Barbie series which used to be very popular.

The interesting point that I have learned is that kids talk about their favorite books, just like adults do, and you’ll see those patterns from the books they check out. Two friends will read a book, and they tell their friends, and they tell others, and so on. BUZZ and word of mouth still works.

Start locally. With a little effort, you can make your book the BUZZ of the schools in your area.

Natalie Bright is the author of the nonfiction Rescue Animal series, easy readers featuring two rescue horses, Flash and Taz. Her Trouble in Texas series is a wild west adventure for middle grades set in the Texas frontier. She also writes women’s fiction. To see pictures of author events, go to Instagram.com @natsgrams Nataliebright.com