Getting Out of Your Own Way

Getting Out of Your Own Way

Sooner or later (and probably repeatedly) we all manage to tie our own proverbial shoelaces together before we sprint after something.

Most of the time, we don’t do it on purpose. We usually think we’re doing the right thing or making the best choice.

That is especially true in writing.

Writing a novel can be such a huge undertaking. You’re building your whole world and portraying a select few journeys through that world, all while trying to grab your reader’s attention without being garish.

I know that I struggle with too much subtlety. Or at least, what I see in my mind as subtlety. It’s probably more accurate to call it a failure to inform your reader (lol).


So here’s my lesson for today: Yes, you want your book to have subtlety, but there are important things you have to find a way to convey to your reader. You can’t raise the stakes with scene (action) and sequel (down time) if your reader doesn’t know exactly what the stakes are.


If you fail to properly build the intensity of the focal points of your story, you’ll end up with one of two things happening:

1.) Conflict and climax that the reader isn’t fully invested in the outcome of.

or

2.) Conflict and climax that the reader doesn’t fully understand.

Both will completely pull the teeth out of your story. The best and most gripping stories are ones we care about the characters and the outcome, and ones where we understand the dynamics and forces at work (at least, the important ones. In mysteries this is not the case, but your reader is expecting not to understand, and to eventually discover)

Book Cover 11

I am now undertaking what I hope to be the final round of editing for my novel, Hood, Book One of the American Rebirth Series. (Though I feel like I’ve said this before.) I find that as much as I try to make concepts clear, I’m still working on smoothly informing the reader of important aspects of the story. I know that I tend to be overly subtle, hoping the reader will read between the lines. My lesson to myself is relax, the reader will do that on his own. You don’t have to make his or her job harder by not telling them what they need to know.

Hopefully, I’ll have the book out next month. But I’m endeavoring to not rush the process. I’d rather it come out in its best possible form than just push it out because… well, I can’t wait to get it out there 😀

-Evan Pickering

Advertisements

6 Things About Writing Dialogue You Need To Know

6 Things About Writing Dialogue You Need To Know

There is nothing, NOTHING more story-killing than bad dialogue.

Nothing.

It can be a book, a movie, a show, anything. Specifically here we’re talking about books or short stories. But the second someone says something completely contrived or unrealistic or just wildly out of character. . . you hear that sound? That’s the sound of the fictive dream being shattered.

Dialogue is so very important. It is a exceedingly tough line to walk to have your characters feel genuine, engaging, and true to themselves all while keeping the rhythm of the story. It only takes a little incongruency to make your readers go “Huh?”

Your characters have voices. They speak to each other, to the reader, to you. They hide things, they lie, they mask emotions, they show emotions, they speak their minds, they put themselves on the line. And ultimately, the dialogue is what makes your readers love your story. After all, it’s how your beloved characters interact and show themselves in the world you’ve created.

Every writer has a different relationship with dialogue. Some tend to love it, some tend to hate it. Sooner or later we all feel both ways. I tend to love it, but I also tend to rewrite the living hell out of it. Dialogue I thought was awesome one week I think needs serious change a week later.

So here are my tips on dialogue:

1. Focus on character realism without getting too hung up on it.

It is of critical importance that your characters stay true to themselves when they speak. But that doesn’t mean they always have to have the same opinion, feelings or actions. After all, people change their minds all the time. If your story is doing its job, your characters should be changing a lot through the conflict, so it’s natural that what they say will change. But make sure whatever is happening, whatever your characters are saying, that it’s true to their personality, that it makes sense to their internal beliefs.

2. Don’t get cute.

You know what I mean. Good dialogue should feel real. In real conversations, people change the subject, misunderstand each other, don’t respond, answer simply or talk nervously. Don’t write some binary rolling complex thought train all the time. Yes, dialogue should be action-reaction… but keep in mind that characters have motives, people want to steer conversations certain ways for different reasons. The trick is, simultaneously you have to keep the dialogue in a pace and form that drives the story. Don’t let your characters take over the narrative drive all the time.

3. Keep it simple. Shorter is often more powerful.

“I can’t have you second guessin’ yourself,” Bill said.
Owen worked his jaw, staring out the window as the rain collected and fell in wild paths down the glass.
“There’s no room for it. We won’t survive.”
“I heard you.” Owen turned, moving away from the conversation.

Okay, that’s just a random sample I made up. But you get the point. People often speak very simply, and from a writing/reading perspective, the more short and punchy something is, the harder it hits the reader. Granted, you want to vary sentence length and conversation based on the mood of the scene and of the characters. But the more you can trim the better. Just think of Pulp Fiction. One of the best and most memorable lines in that movie, a movie featuring plenty of outstanding dialogue is: “Zed’s dead baby.”

4. Get Some Distance.

Any writer worth his salt is going to spend a heck of a lot of time editing. As I’ve said in previous posts, editing is really the true bread and butter of writing. But when it comes to dialogue (and your story,) you’ll get so close to the words that you can become numb to them.

It’ll feel hard to tell whether you’re actually making positive revisions or just changes for the sake of changing. For that reason, It’s very very valuable to set your manuscript aside for awhile. Weeks, months, whatever it takes. Don’t look at it. Don’t even open it up. Read some other books you love, read some editing and writing nonfiction if you want. Come back to it once some distance has grown so you can be more objective and look at it with an honest lens. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy.

5. Use your voice.

When you re-read it, read the dialogue aloud to yourself. In character. It might feel weird, but do it. Try to act out each character as you speak their words. Hearing it all out loud does wonders for figuring out what makes sense and what doesn’t, what has normal speaking rhythm and what doesn’t. You want your words to read smoothly like spoken word.

6. Ultimately, put yourself / your stamp on your dialogue.

There’s all kinds of rules and guidelines out there for writing. Much like the ones I’ve put up above. But the bottom line is that millions and millions of stories have been written and told over and over. So at the end of the day, only one thing will seperate your story from anyone elses. Your voice. You as the writer, your feelings, your experiences, your own flavor to your dialogue. At the end of the day you’ll live or die by the unique elements of you as a writer that you bring to your story. So don’t steamroll what makes you you as a writer. Let it fly (within the context of your characters, ofc.)

Book Cover 11Here’s some shameless plugging for my novel above, hopefully it will be done by sometime next month! I promise I’ll let you all know when it goes live. Enjoy your writing and keep it rollin’, peeps.

-Evan Pickering

Excerpt #3: Hood, Book 1 of the American Rebirth Series

Excerpt #3: Hood, Book 1 of the American Rebirth Series

While I’m undergoing yet another round of professional editing (sweet, delicious feedback) I figure let’s keep this thing going with another excerpt!

While I am antsy to get this thing published and out there, I’m trying to remind myself to be patient. . . after all, It’s better to take longer but come up with a better product than just hurry the damn thing out there. So, deep breaths, writers, neither you or I can rush the growth process.

-Evan

Hood, Book One of the American Rebirth Series

Excerpt #3


Kerry stared out the windshield of the truck at the broken bridge ahead of her. The sun was high in the sky and the wind rushed through the river valley. The empty road and tall grassy clearing past the bridge might as well have been miles away. The tall grass swept and swirled about in a graceful dance with the wind, and she wanted nothing more than to just be there on the solid earth with the overgrowth. Her hands clutched the wheel tight. Her mouth was dry and her eyes felt bleary from lack of sleep.
“Pull the truck in close,” Hood said from behind the guardrail atop the wall. Behind him was a straight drop to the riverbed, but he looked as though he didn’t notice or wasn’t worried. “Closer. Pull her all the way against the wall. We ain’t worried about the paint job.”
Kerry turned the wheel and then counter turned to slide the truck closer. The front left panel of the car scratched and squealed as the stone bridge dug into its side.
“That’s it, nice and tight.” Hood said. “We want to get as much leverage on this baby as we can.” He slapped the hood of the car with a metallic thud. To Kerry, the wall was one more thing trapping her inside the truck. She closed her eyes and exhaled. Sweat beaded on her forehead and made the steering wheel slick under her hands. This wasn’t what she had hoped for.

She kept seeing the image from her childhood play over and over in her head. Sitting in the back seat, her parents in the front seats. They crept through the intersection, and out the driver’s side window came the front grill of a truck. Glass exploded as the car flipped over and over, she slammed her eyes shut feeling herself spin in the air, slung out of her seatbelt, hitting the ceiling. She opened her eyes, numbly looking at her own shattered hand covered in blood as she lay on the ceiling of the up-side down car. Her heart started to race just conjuring the memory.
Between Whiskey trying to kill her and having no choice but to play chicken with her worst nightmare, maybe she should have just kept hiding in the darkness that night she saw them.

The Single Most Important Thing For Publishing Your Own Book

The Single Most Important Thing For Publishing Your Own Book

We all know that a lot goes into writing your own book. For those who want and choose to do such a thing, it feels about as strenuous and painstaking as childbirth (oh god please don’t hit me ladies).

I say to anyone who I talk to about this, write a book you’ll love, and write it so you’ll love it even if no one else ever reads it. At the end of the day, that’s what will give you satisfaction. But reality is, we want people to read it. We don’t live in the world alone, and we want to share our creation with others.

So then, we want to undergo the journey of [self] publishing.

For any new author (and lets face it, even an established author) who wants to publish and have success doing it, you need one thing:

A GOOD PROFESSIONAL EDITOR.

There you have it, folks. Believe me, you have no idea what you’re doing wrong until you have someone help you. We all think we’re better writers than we actually are. We think (at first) people will love our stories as much as we do. Reality is, you have accept and learn from every single mistake and hiccup you make to become a better writer, and you have to hook, lure, entrap every reader with your words, your story, your characters (for fiction writers, anyway).

It is really, really, really hard to do all that on your own. If you can’t afford a professional editor, then at the very least, find a trusted person to honestly read and review your book to you who won’t pull any punches. But fair warning, they can never help you learn like a good professional editor can.

Trick is, finding a great professional editor. I was lucky enough to get one through my mother, who is a published author.

Thank god for her.

That is all,

Evan Pickering

Excerpt from my new book: Hood

After two years worth of writing, Months worth of editing and hack-sawing more than half of the book and then rewriting the whole dang thing again, I’m happy to present a snippit from my new book: Hood, Book One of the American Rebirth Series.
As any writer will tell you, even a finished book still feels like it needs editing. So I’m going to forego my endless need to tweak and just toss it up. Here goes:

With a click light filled the room, so bright Hood had to turn his face and jam his eyes shut.
“You’re getting full of yourself,” came the hoarse voice of the old sheriff.
The idea that the sheriff had Hood’s life in his hands was a dark seed in his mind. He needed to buy some time, find out why he was here, why he was still alive.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Hood answered at length. The yellow floodlight nailed to the wall still shined in his eyes, but he adjusted enough to be able to see that they were in an portable arch-shaped metal warehouse.
“Of course I’m right.” the old man said, pacing in front of him. “Sneaking through my land, stealing from me and thinking you’d just run back home unmolested. You and your self-righteousness. I swear, I can smell your naiveté on the wind.”
Hood licked his lips and kept silent. The old man leaned in close to Hood. His breath smelled like old cigarettes. His bald, middle aged face was worn and weary around blue eyes. It was a look of disappointment, the look of a vulture flying over picked bones. His search was over.
“You know what it is that did you in,” the sheriff said with a smile and focused eyes. “It’s pride. The same pride that god saw in us when he smote us down.”
Hood smirked, his head leaned forward with his brow keeping the light out of his eyes.
“Granted, I’ve never read the good book cover to cover, but I’m pretty sure you don’t qualify as the godly type.”

The sheriff swung his pistol at Hood’s face. The handle connected with his eyebrow, his head snapping back from the blow. The pain seared, his head feeling numb. The worn barrel of the sheriff’s pistol hovered in front of Hood’s right eye. Inside the barrel was darkness.

A tight frown quivered on The sheriff’s face. “You don’t talk to me about godliness. You’re just a mongrel slinking around this hell on earth.”
Hood breathed in slowly, closing his eyes. Despite being provoked the Sheriff still hadn’t shot him. Gotta keep him talking.

Okay, so…Why should I care about your characters?

Perhaps the largest pitfall for writing, for all writers, is the story in your own head. The great challenge that is translating your all encompassing world and its precious characters to the reader is often the simplest oversight.

In our own minds, we know why we love (or hate) our characters. We know the value of their story. It does not need critical acclaim. It’s precious to us in a way you can only hope someone else feels after reading.

Because of that fact, many novels fail to live up to their potential. We all are vulnerable to this. Let’s say you write a protagonist, a character that is more than just an idea to you. You build a huge, complex world, a winding story with intrigue and power… and no one cares.

Some may argue that not all stories need to be character driven. While maybe this is true, the best ones are– after all, we love stories not as some fictitious-historical account, but as a journey for an individual (or a group). 76481-004-0F2A901AHemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls is an entire story about blowing up a bridge. We aren’t captivated over hundreds of pages because we wonder if the bridge will blow up or not; we are captivated because Robert Jordan’s thoughts and desires and fears along the way grip is in an impossibly real way.

“You don’t really understand an antagonist until you understand why he’s a protagonist in his own version of the world.”
― John Rogers

This quote is a summation of how characters should be viewed. Every one of them are real, living characters in a world that isn’t real.  Don’t do them the disservice of holding them back from their true potential as people. Do you have moments when you truly sympathize with the anatagonist(s)? Do you have moments when you doubt the protagonist(s) intentions? Everyone thinks they’re changing the world when they write a novel; after all, it changes our own world with the labor of love it entails. But we must realize that you have to pull your readers in– and be honest with yourself, if you read the story as if it were someone else’s, would you actually give a damn about the characters?

The truth is, the thinnest, most barren stories can be carried like a baby on the backs of strong, loveable, characters (provided they have some sort of challenge to overcome). So don’t be oversensitive, throw away your heart, and re-read your story. Why should anyone give a damn about your characters? Is their struggle real, relatable? Can they have deep, complex emotions without being a sad sack or downright annoying? Throw curveballs, have the world change them.

In the perfect world, they’ll be that close friend that reader wishes he or she could help but is just out of reach.

<>~<>~<>