Things to Avoid in Writing: Expositional Dialogue

Today, class, we shall talk about dialogue.  More specifically, expositional dialogue.  What’s expositional dialogue, you say?  Well gather round while we discuss it.

Even if you don’t know it by the fancy name I used for it, you are no doubt familiar with it.  When you are reading a novel and the characters start telling each other things they would obviously know for the sake of revealing the information to the reader, like this:

Mother:  "When I had you on April 20, 1992, you were the cutest baby I ever saw.  I just don’t know what happened."

Daughter: "You know, mother, my life changed when Dad walked out on us.  Now all I want to do is smoke pot and watch TV all day long."

That is expositional dialogue.  I exaggerate, but you get the point.  Obviously, when the mother mentions her daughter’s birthdate, it is information her daughter already knows.  And when the daughter replies with choice bits about her own life, it is, again, information her mother knows. 

Expositional dialogue makes readers groan.  Avoid it.  Usually expositional dialogue is a lot less obvious than the above example.  Writers sometimes use it unwittingly in their never-ending efforts to show, not tell, so the impulse behind it is pure.

I was reminded of the issue of informational dialogue when reading a post on Trashionista, which gives a great example of it here.

Another Great Blogger

One of the things I am consistently amazed about is how positive and supportive the blogosphere is.  Over and over again, I meet other bloggers who are willing to go out of their way to help each other.  The best community, as far as I am concerned, is Blog Catalog, but there are plenty of other good ones as well.

One of the awesome bloggers from Blog Catalog, Kim Darrell, runs five, count ’em, five blogs.  You can read one of them here.   But don’t go there quite yet, because first you want to hop on over here and read all the nice things she said about little ole moi!

Thanks, Kim!  You’re the best.

Writing Exercise: The DaVinci Device

I learned the Da Vinci Device from one of my MFA mentors, Melissa Pritchard. (And let me note here, this was probably long before the dreadful novel The DaVinci Code came out and ruined the name.)

The DA Vinci Device forces you to write in the three different styles of description. Take an object or something from the natural world and describe it three different ways:

1. Objectively–In a strict journalistic fashion, ie, who, what, when, why, where, how, totally objective. These are concrete attributes you can see, smell, taste, etc. Here’s an example:

“It’s a small farm town in the San Luis Valley, down by the New Mexico border. High and dry, flat and windy, ringed by mountains—Sangre de Cristos to the east and south, San Juan, La Garita, and Conejos-Brazos to the north and west. White frosted in winter, dirt brown in spring, green in summer. The cottonwoods that it’s named for turn gold in autumn, and the air is thick with the damp earth smell of potatoes, piled at the edges of fields, stacked in bins and boxes, truckloads and railroad cars full.” (Judith Ryan Hendricks, Isabel’s Daughter).

2. Figuratively or Metaphorically—what does it look like? What does it remind you of? The house looked like a ship docking, etc.

“Even our father is pressed into dancing, which he does like a flightless bird, all flapping arms and potbelly.” (Michael Cunningham, White Angel).

3. Abstractly—relating it to the emotion you feel when you see it. Poetry is full of abstract description, relating an object to a quality apart from itself. Example:

“And Dawes was restless because it was August, and August wasn’t a month, it was a short afternoon, an executioner leading directly, without jury, and finally toward the school where they chained him to dull rooms…” (Dow Mossman, The Stones of Summer).

Here’s a brilliant descriptive passage that uses all several different kinds of description:

“The daughters march behind her, (concrete) four girls compressed in bodies tight as bowstrings, (figurative) each one tensed to fire off a woman’s heart on a different path to glory or damnation. (abstract).” (Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible).

This is a wonderful way to train yourself not only to describe things in different ways but to teach yourself to see.

So here’s your exercise: Take an object and practice The DaVinci Device on it. 10 minutes. Go.

Once you get used to doing this, you can do it all the time to keep your description muscle sharp.

Writing Exercises: Techniques for Generating Ideas and Getting Started

Techniques for Generating Ideas and Ideas for Getting Started Writing

Generating Ideas

MAKE LISTS:

The best way to do this is to do it fast. Number a page from one to ten or twenty and go!

Drawing from your own life:

1. Jobs you’ve had
2. Careers
3. Passions
4. Obsessions
5. Quirks
6. Pet peeves
7. Loves
8. Interests
9. Favorite authors and their themes
10. Habits
11. Places you’ve lived or visited.
12. Hobbies
13. Your daily routine
14. Family members
15. Pets you’ve had
16. Names of streets you’ve lived on.
17. Items of clothing you’ve loved
18. Cars you’ve owned
19. Lovers/Relationships
20. Dreams you remember
21. Favorite movies, their themes
22. Favorite phrases, where did they come from?
23. Your most-used cliches

Now take a look at your lists. Do you see any themes emerging? Do all your passions and obsessions coalesce around one main idea with offshoots? Can you start to write about items on your list? For instance, under places you’ve lived, write what you like and don’t like about them. Start to cross-pollinate. If you want to write a piece of fiction, you could transpose your daily routine onto living in a different place.

What would your current life be like in a totally new environment? Even changing none of the details of your daily routine, in a new place it would be different. If you moved to a small mountain town in the winter, for instance, suddenly you’d have to build in time every morning to shovel the snow away from your car. Of if you moved to LA from a smaller city, the morning commute would be much different. If you moved from LA to the country, you’d suddenly free up tons of time you used to spend in the car.

What if you crossed the authors on your list and imagined them writing about another author’s themes? What if a very macho male author wrote about domestic issues? What kind of story would result? For non-fiction, what kind of essay could you write linking several contemporary authors and exploring their themes in terms of a current social issue?

Drawing From the World:

1. Places you’d love to go
2. Political issues that make you crazy
3. Social problems you’d like to solve
4. Politicians you love
5. Politicians you hate
6. Celebrities you love
7. Celebrities you hate
8. TV shows you love/hate

Other ideas:

1. What you’d buy with a million dollars
2. What you’d take on a round the world journey
3. What three items you’d want with you on a dessert island
4. What people from your life you’d want with you on that island
5. Would you rather be too hot or too cold?
6. Other deep questions from childhood (like #5)
7. The first three things you’d do if you ruled the world

You can think of numerous other ways to cross-pollinate from your lists, and you can also think of other things to add to it. Write new ideas for lists as they occur to you. Keep going back to the lists and use them as the basis of a journal entry or a free-write. The thing about ideas is once you start cultivating them, they come fast and furious.

Word Games

1. Choose 20 verbs, 20 nouns, and 20 adjectives. Write them each on a separate piece of paper and put them, according to category, in separate containers. When you are ready to write, draw one of each, make a sentence of it, and start writing.

2. A variation on the above is to choose 20 occupations, 20 personality traits, and 20 locations. Draw one of each, create a character from it and start writing.

3. Take a thesaurus, photocopy random pages from it. Run your finger down the listings with eyes closed, stop, and use that word to create a sentence and then a paragraph.
4. Take first lines of poetry and use them as starting points. Or take a poem, photocopy it, cut up all the words and put them back together again into a sentence or several.

5. Use Refrigerator Word Magnets to create sentences and spark ideas.

If you have a vague idea, but aren’t sure how to develop it, try the following:

1. Utilize the five Ws and the one H. Who, what, when, why, where and how. Answer all of these in depth for your idea.

2. Explain the idea, in writing, as if you were explaining it to an alien who does not understand the mores of society. For instance, if you had an idea about the history of desks, you’d have to start by explaining what a desk is. If you had an idea to write about marriage, you’d have to explain what marriage is. This is an excellent way to go deeper into the heart of the idea.

3. Look at it through different lenses. How would a reporter, a poet, a screenwriter, a novelist, a short story writer, an essayist, a letter writer approach it?

4. As above, put through the eyes of people you know.

5. The old standby, do a cluster.

6. Quickly cut pictures from magazines that remind you of your idea and make a collage.

7. Do a repetitive activity, like walking or sewing or knitting or weeding. Some thing about this jars ideas loose.

The Big Questions

1. Why do you want to write?
2. What moves you?
3. What stops you?
4. For whom are you writing?
5. How can you be true to yourself as a writer?
6. What causes you to get blocked?
7. What is your legacy?

Other Useful Techniques

1. Brainstorming. Take one of your lists and force yourself to go deeper, writing as many ideas from it as you can in one minute.

2. Over-responding. Similar to above. Take an idea, a problem, a concern and over respond. Similar to over-reacting, except over-reacting is desperate and over-responding is positive. Think of all the ways you could possibly solve a problem and then push yourself to list more. This would be great for character development—over-respond to a character’s problem and think of all the possible things that could happen to her.

3. Utilize your sub-conscious. Tell it you need an idea. Tell it you need to develop an idea you have. As you are falling asleep, read over what you have and tell your sub-conscious to work on it in the night. Or do that right before you go for a walk.

You can easily hire writers at smartwritingservice.com to have your essays and term papers written from scratch! Check it out!

Blog Carnivals

One of my blog catalog friends, Jimbozs2000, has started a blog carnival.  Its pretty cool, all the moreso because he picked up one of my posts.  Head on over to his blog and check it out.  You’ll see me if you scroll down a bit and you can also lclick on the Why I Write heading.

While you are there, check out some of the other great blogs he has linked to.  A lot of them are people from blog catalog, which in my not-so humble opinion is the most user-friendly and fun blog networking site.

By the way, Jimbozs maintains about 10 blogs.  I’m not quite sure how he has the time to keep them all going.  I am in awe!

Typepad Outage

The Typepad data facility had a power outage this afternoon and nobody could access Typepad for a few hours.  All seems well now.  So, if you tried to get on earlier and were wondering what was going on…that’s the scoop.

I Won An Award!

Schmooze This is the coolest thing ever–I won an award!  As you can see it is the Schmooze Award and I got it from the amazing and wonderful Susanne at Sue’s Daily Photos, which you should check out immediately. Her photos of Key West will make you want to book a ticket there, today.

The award is for bloggers who get involved and make an effort to get to know others.  The fun thing, and the really, really hard part is that I now get to turn around and award the Schmooze Award to five other outstanding bloggers.  Truth be told, I’ve been obsessing about this for days. 

While there are many wonderful social networking communities out there, I’ve found my home at Blogcatalog, and I met all of the bloggers I’m awarding today there.  You should check it out.  I think it is the most user friendly and just plain ol’ fashioned friendly of all the sites.

Okay, here goes.  Drumroll.  Oh God this is hard.  No, I’m ready, really.  Here we go.  Ta da!  The Schmooze Awards go to:

Pierre Vachon, at Another Point of View.

Pierre is an opioniated middle-of-the-road progressive and we need more of those, plus I love opioniated people AND, he is a great adder of blogs to his blogroll of Suspicious People. 

Suzy Q at Creative Writer Within.

She’s a relatively new blogger, but she’s putting together a great collection of articles and information about creative writing.  Really great stuff.  She linked to my creativity series and that made her a heroine in my eyes.

Thomas Hamburger at Harry McFry Investigates.

My man!  You must go read the adventures of Harry.  I love the way Thomas, aka Paul, is serializing his novel on his blog.  He was one of the first bloggers to really reach out to me so I think that we should honor him forever and ever, don’t you?

Lisa McGlaun at LifePrints: Good News for A More Compassionate World.

Lisa is an accomplished freelancer and writer, but does she spend time focusing on herself?  Oh, no.  Instead, her goal is "giving back all the kindness and love that’s been shown to me."  Her blog is about people who are making a difference, and if that’s not worthy of an award, I don’t know what is.

Andrew at Odlum Online.

He’s a great networker at Blogcatalog, and I love that he gave my blog a great review.  Thanks, Andrew.  But most of all I love that I can go to his site and learn stuff about the internet and websites and that he writes in an entertaining and literate style.  A techy with literary flair!  I so love it!

I’m going to go have a drink now.  Now, I’m not really, its only noon.  Go visit all these wonderful blogs and check out Blogcatalog for more.  Honestly, there’s so much great stuff over there, its amazing.  And thanks again to Susanne for awarding me in the first place!

Amazing Novel: The Master and Margarita

Bulgakov David the Poet wrote and told me he was reading an incredible Russian novel.  "What a novel this is," he said.  And because I admired that nice turn of phrase I ordered the book from Amazon.

It is The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

Written as a satire during the Stalin years, and because of that unpublished for thirty years, the novel is about the arrival of the devil in Moscow and the mayhem that ensues.  There is also a storyline set in Jerusalem about Pontius Pilate meeting with Yeshua Ha-Nozri (sorta Jesus, but sorta not).  Apparently there is a third storyline, which I’ve not yet reached (I’m only a couple chapters in) about Margarita learning to fly.  Can’t wait for that one.

The reviews on Amazon refer to this novel as being life-changing, and everyone’s favorite novel ever, etc, etc.  Now I know we have to take reviews on Amazon with a huge dollop of salt but in this case I think the reviewers are writing truthfully.  There’s no reason to hype Bulgakov because he’s been dead since 1940.

My edition of the novel has good annotations and a nice afterword, but I thought I might want a bit more and I’ve found some great links.  There’s Wikipedia, of course, and I also found a great site called Master and Margarita.  Check it out here.  It’s worth it to go read the welcome page just for the romance of it all.

Ghostwriting

One of the main ways I make my living is through ghostwriting, and I love it.  I get to write about topics I’d never write about otherwise, meet fascinating people, and enter the minds of those fascinating people.  Sort of like writing fiction, only not.

What is Ghostwriting?

Ghostwriting is when I write the book for you but your name appears on the book.  As far as the world knows, you are the author of the book.  If I’m lucky, you might thank me in the acknowledgments .  But even that is not really necessary.  Some big-time ghostwriters even get a “with” credit, as in “by famous person with ghostwriter.”  But not usually.

Who Uses Ghostwriters?

A better question might be, who doesn’t use a ghostwriter?  Generally, ghostwriters are employed for non-fiction projects, though many a novel has been ghostwritten (you can read a post I wrote about that here.)   Many of the best-selling business and self-help books are ghostwritten, as are those by politicians and celebrities. 

Not only famous people hire ghostwriters.  People in all walks of life who are too busy to write a book or simply feel they don’t have a way with word hire ghostwriters.  Working with a ghostwriter can be an efficient way of getting your book to print.

Why Do I Need a Book?

You may not have dreams of bestseller status, but you do need a book.  Why? Here are some reasons:

  • A book lends your career immediate status and prestige.  No matter what profession you are in, having a book to show for yourself gives you credibility.
  • If you do any public speaking, or aspire to, you need a book because many speaking bureaus will not book you unless you have one. 
  • A book  offers a potential  additional income stream.   You may choose to sell it on the internet or as a  back-of-the-room product.  If you are providing useful content on your website or blog, people will want to buy a book to read more.  If you are giving inspiring lectures, people will want to read more.  Give them what they want–a book.
  • A book offers you a chance to spread your message in a different channel.  Make no mistake, even iin this digital age, a book is still considered the ultimate authority.

What is The Ghostwriting Process?

People come to me when they have an idea for a book, have been struggling to write one for awhile, or need to get a product out fast, for any of the above reasons.  Generally, the client will have a fair amount of material or notes on the project ready.  If this is not the case, there may be quite a bit of upfront interviewing time required. 

It is my job to take this material and shape it into a finished product that reflects the voice and style of the client.  No two of the books that I ghostwrite will sound like the same author if I’ve done my job correctly.  I assess the potential readers and what sort of style might be appropriate for them, also.

Every project differs, but basically I’ll send the client constant updates of the the manuscript for him or her to edit and make changes on.  I guarantee my work and I’m not happy until the client is happy. 

How Long Does it Take?

The time frame varies.  I’ve gotten books out in as short as a month, while some projects tend to take much longer.

How Much Does it Cost?

While I have a base fee, again, each project will vary in cost.  It depends on how much material you have ready.  Some books really only need a rewrite or edit, while others require a massive assembly of notes and research.  Still others may need a lot of upfront interviewing time to pull the story out of the client, and this, of course, will cost more.   Please, please, please don’t assume that a ghostwriter will work for royalties only.  We’re professionals, too, folks, and we like to eat also.  Royalties are more of an “if” than a “for certain” and if they do every manifest, it may not be for months or years in the future.  Unless you can find a ghostwriter who needs experience and a credit to show, forget about asking us to work for royalties.

I’m Sold, What’s My Next Step?

Contact me  and we’ll discuss specifics.  If you’re not quite ready to hire a ghostwriter, and want to do it yourself, I can help coach you to get your book onto the page, too.