Friday Links Return: Jump Start Your Vacation Brain

Friday Links Return feels like an appropriate title for my first blog post in a while. These links should help get your writer’s brain working, whether you’re stuck in summer vacation mode or the winter doldrums. Stir things up, jostle some new ideas around, or tackle that project you set aside months ago.

Likewise, I plan to use this post as a segue back to some regular blogging. Both work and life remain busy, but writing always serves as an excellent distraction from larger concerns. Time for me to remember that and get back on schedule. Friday Links Return is by no means a one-shot deal.

Despite the radio silence, I continued to collect interesting tidbits as if I were blogging the past few months. Today you benefit from my hoarding. I discarded things I considered time sensitive, but plenty of the slightly older links remain. I bring you writing advice and publishing culture. Also, I apologize now for what I’m about to do to your TBR piles. So many book recs. I hope you feel inspired on so many levels. Wishing you a wonderful weekend, and happy writing!

Friday Links Return:

10 Fairy Tale Retellings that Are Deeper, Darker, and Sexier than the Originals. – I love a good fairy tale for grownups just as much as the versions from my childhood. Some great ones on this list.

Read It Forward’s Favorite Reads of July 2018. – A wonderful list of great titles released this month.

Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2018 Book Preview. – One of my absolute favorite lists of upcoming releases, this biannual collection from The Millions always leaves me excited about so many new titles on the schedule.

That RWA LTA Speech (News from Suz). – Romance author Suzanne Brockmann received the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s national RWA conference in Denver, and her speech caused quite a stir. It’s an excellent, inspiring read.

How Finland Rebranded Itself as a Literary Country. – Interesting for the literary angle, but also as a lesson in changing up your image.

Our Fiction Addiction: Why Humans Need Stories. – A look into the whys behind our obsession with books, movies, TV series, etc.

On Becoming an American Writer. – Alexander Chee takes an honest and often-difficult look at the realities of being a writer in the U.S., and offers up some advice.

Geniuses Need Not Apply: On Creative Writing Courses. – A brief look at some different approaches to learning how to write, and their potential worth.

How to Write Great Dialogue. – Some quick and dirty tips from editor Kat Brzozowski.

The Novel within the Novel. – A look at some books that have secondary stories nested inside of them. I love this device when it’s done well. Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders is another great example. Intriguing reads, whether or not you intend to give the structure a try in your own project.

Friday Links: Writing into the Holidays

Happy Friday, everyone! Whether you’re gearing up for holidays or simply motoring through the end of your week, it’s a festive time of year and I hope you’re taking some time out to enjoy a great book or squeeze in a little writing. Those of you participating in the December Writing Challenge are in the home stretch now, with just over a week left until the end of the month. Keep up that daily habit and you’ll find yourself all primed to write your heart out in the new year.

In case you’re looking for a little bit of a break from all the hectic activity this time of year, I’ve got some fun links for you this week. I hope they give you some inspiration or just a nice change of pace from shopping and cooking and getting ready for friends and family. Enjoy, and happy writing!

The Art of Revision: Most of What You Write Should Be Cut – Some handy advice, especially for anyone reworking their NaNo novel.

Farewell to the Reader in Chief – A look back at President Obama’s dedication to reading and literacy.

Stephanie Danler on Having Your First Book Blow Up – The author discusses her experiences with having her debut become a hit.

18 Non-Book Gifts for Literary People – Some last-minute shopping ideas for those bookish types on your list.

The Paris Review Staff Picks: Our Favorite Reads of 2016 – A series of lists from various Paris Review contributors.

The POC Guide to Writing Dialogue in Fiction – Some tips on how to get it right.



Friday Links: Inspiration and Creative Risk-Taking

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you’ve had a terrific week and that your weekend looks equally bright. Spring has truly sprung here in SoCal, and I have the twitchy nose to prove it. Suddenly everything is in bloom. But that’s fine with me, because I always think spring is a highly creative time. Something about all those new things growing and in bloom, plans formulating for summer vacation, stretching muscles that are stiff from curling up in a cozy spot all winter. It’s a great time to brush off your old, neglected ambitions and get moving. So if you’ve found yourself dragging when it comes to getting your writing done, I want you to shake off those cobwebs, flex your fingers, and get to work. Try something new, aim high, and tell that internal voice-of-doom to take a hike.

To inspire some creativity and perhaps a bit of risk-taking, I’ve got a bunch of fun links for you this week. Even if there’s still snow on the ground outside your window, or you’re in the other hemisphere facing down the start of autumn, take a few minutes over the weekend to dive into a different project or take a fresh look at an old one. You never know what kind of inspiration might take hold. Happy writing!

This Is How to Be Creatively Productive – Thoughts from writer and artist Danny Gregory.

Polygon Map Generation Demo – World-building a completely new land for your fantasy novel or story? Use this site to generate an all-new continent to go with your setting.

Readers are willing to follow writers into risky territory: Alexander Chee on Writing and The Queen of the Night – Some terrific observations about how and when it can pay off to write something truly different.

Wit and the Art of Conversation – Thoughts on what wit is, precisely, and observations on what makes it appealing. Great for writers working on improving their dialogue.

6 Ways to Track Down a Magazine Editor – Advice for anyone in the freelance trenches or looking to get into freelance writing. If you’ve been thinking about it and putting it off, what are you waiting for? Go for it.

Second Cousins,” “Once Removed,” and More, Explained in Chart Form – Handy relative definitions, very useful for anyone sorting out a big family drama, on paper or in real life.

A Lifelong Lover of Books Breaks Ground Atop the Literary World – Q&A with Lisa Lucas, who recently became the first woman and first African American to head up the National Book Foundation. Proof that there’s always new ground to break.

Friday Links

Happy Friday! Another busy week, though mostly busy in good ways, for which I’m grateful. It was also a good week for gathering links; I feel like I have some particular goodies in this Friday’s batch, so I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. It’s a nice balance of readerly to writerly, and there should be a little something for everyone.

I’m looking at a working weekend, but with a little luck I’ll be able to squeeze in a bit of personal reading time. What are your weekend plans? Enjoying spring weather? An outing with friends or family? Regardless of your schedule, I wish you some reading time as well, not to mention a bit of quality time with your writing. Happy weekend, and enjoy!

A New ‘Wrinkle in Time’ – A look at the recently discovered passage that was cut from the original manuscript of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel.

Six Tips for Improving Your Dialogue – Great advice from author Eileen Cook.

Publication Opportunities for Writers: May and June, 2015 – A list of places to submit your work in the next couple of months.

The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison – Wonderful profile of the award-winning author.

At the Biggest Writers Conference in the World – One writer’s experiences at the recent AWP conference.

Writing Believable Dialogue: When Do Characters Sound “Real”?

Writing dialogue presents many challenges, chief among them the question of how to make your characters’ conversations ring true. You want your reader to remain engaged in your story, and nothing will throw them out quite as quickly as a bit of dialogue that seems wooden or stilted, or, worse yet, boring. It’s one thing if your reader starts skimming your descriptions of the setting (no, you don’t want them to do this, either, but it’s the lesser of the evils) and another entirely if they give up on the character bits. One they skim a conversation or two, chances are you’ve lost them for good.

But what makes a character sound real? Often writers make the mistake of approaching dialogue like a form of transcription. They sit in a coffee shop and eavesdrop on the tables around them, then mimic the speech patterns they’ve overheard, including all the verbal ticks that human beings exhibit when they’re sitting around chatting. This practice tends to produce dialogue riddled with written-out pauses, indicated by ellipses or dashes, as well as verbal space holders, such as “like” and “um” and “uh.” But when was the last time you read a novel that copied this real-life practice? Including these non-words wastes valuable real estate in your novel, they don’t add to the story, and they actually get to be annoying to read. In a real-life setting, we tend not to notice each other’s verbal ticks unless they’re unusual or extremely frequent. We’re used to them and our ears and our brain conspire to dismiss them entirely. When reading, however, we become hyper aware of them very quickly.

Another real-life verbal pattern that gets left out of written dialogue is small talk. I’m not saying there isn’t any chit-chat whatsoever, but what there is tends to be pared down, used very sparingly, and it should prove some sort of point about your characters — discomfort with the situation, strangers who don’t know what to talk about — rather than simply starting off a scene. Just because two people meeting for lunch might start their conversation with “hi” and a couple of sentences about the weather before getting down to business discussions or the latest juicy gossip, doesn’t mean your characters should as well.

So what can you take away from your coffee-shop eavesdropping sessions? Plenty of things. Pay attention to body language. How do different people hold themselves during a conversation, and what do you think it means? Do they lean in, meet the other person’s eye? Do they keep their eyes down on the table, fiddle with the sugar packets? How do they behave if there are more than two people sitting together? Can you determine their dynamic? All of these clues are great things to note about your characters between lines of dialogue, and can often help you establish who’s speaking without getting into the repetitive “he said/she said” attributions.

Pay attention to tone and volume. Listen to see if they say each other’s names. Writers frequently have characters start a line of dialogue by saying the other person’s name, but in real life, we rarely do this, especially if there are only two people speaking. If you’ve established a scene between two characters — no one else around — why would they keep addressing each other by name? What does it serve?

When it comes time to write your dialogue, there are a number of things you can pay attention to in order to make it flow and seem realistic — meaning that a reader believes that a human being might have said those words.

  • Develop a voice for each of your major characters. This involves considering who they are, what sort of background they have, and the vocabulary that might go along with their personality, career, and lifestyle. If you have them use a very notable word or expression — something that stands out and is memorable for the readers — make sure that becomes their thing. Don’t let your other characters use the same distinctive terms or phrases unless there’s a reason — echoing to poke fun, a child repeating after them, etc.
  • Avoid long, intellectual-sounding words unless there’s a specific reason to include them. If you have a couple of scientists discussing their work, you can get away with including some technical terms, but those same scientists chatting about what they did over the weekend will sound far more like your average human being talking about their off time and use the associated vocabulary.
  • Vary your sentence lengths, but keep them mostly on the shorter side. If you have a very wordy character, it’s okay to let them run on occasionally, but dialogue in novels tends to work better when you actually let everyone speak, maintaining a back-and-forth. Again, there are exceptions based on situation and character — someone’s shy, or getting chewed out — but broken up dialogue sounds more realistic and is easier to read. Keep long speeches and rambling sentences to a minimum unless your story specifically calls for a monologue, lecture, etc. (And if it does, be sure to break it up a bit with mentions of action/reactions/surroundings, etc.)
  • Read your dialogue out loud. This is important. I recommend reading all your work out loud at some point — it’s a fabulous way to catch missing words, half-edited bits, repetition, etc. — but it’s especially vital with dialogue. If you can’t say the sentence yourself, can you expect your character to say it? As you speak, ask yourself if you can imagine a real person saying those words.

The key to writing realistic dialogue is not to copy the way people speak in real life, but to write dialogue you could believe a person said. Real-life dialogue is boring, riddled with broken sentences, space-fillers, back tracking, and dropped subjects. If you sift through the average one-hour conversation, you might find twenty minutes or so of interesting information, with the rest divided between mindless murmurs, random tangents, and repetition. We excuse it in real life, but we don’t expect it in our fiction. A scene of dialogue is like any other scene in your novel; make it advance the action and add to your characterizations. It needs to pull its weight from start to finish.