Wednesday 28 January 2015

You Don't Say

When I started writing fiction a couple of years ago, one of the things I had to learn quite quickly was how to handle dialogue. It is through dialogue that our characters come to life and we can show through their words a lot of information about them without telling the reader. I found that one way to hear dialogue is to eaves-drop on conversations...on a bus, in a queue to pay in a supermarket, in fact, anywhere where people are interacting by talking. I immediately start making assumptions about the people who are talking and about the situation that they're talking about. Later, I often start to think up stories about what I've heard. I noticed that very often the dialogue I overheard contained short sentences, part sentences and if I've written perfectly constructed complex sentences as dialogue, they will appear 'clunky' and unnatural. One member of my writing group writes dialogue particularly well and reveals so much information about his characters simply through what they say.

Where your story is set can be implied by the words used. My daughter moved to Manchester after many years living in Hertford. Now, when she's offered a cup of tea, she's noticed people say, 'Fancy a brew?' In a recent story, one of my older characters said to his young colleague, ‘You, ok, now, Nia, bach?' Even though a reader may not know what 'bach' means (little one), hopefully they would gather that it's a term of endearment in Wales where as if I'd used 'duck', 'pet', 'honey', 'princess', these would suggest other regional settings.

After years of encouraging pupils to use a variety of synonyms for 'said', I was soon taught that these give your story an amateurish look. It's best to stick to 'said' as the only dialogue tag and even then, it should not to be accompanied by an adverb. The words spoken should be the important ones to read and 'said' retreats into the background and almost becomes like a punctuation mark. As long as the reader knows who's speaking, we don't need a dialogue tag at all. A character's actions and mannerisms at the time of speaking can show the reader how the words were said and how the character was feeling. 

There is an excellent section on dialogue in Telling Tales: How to Write Sensational Short Stories, a book based on the first writing course I took which was taught by Lynne Barrett-Lee. In it, she says that writing good dialogue:

  • brings your story to life
  • moves the action along
  • incorporates back-story and any vital off-stage information
  • displays character and differentiates between characters
  • creates atmosphere and tension
Have you written any stories after overhearing a conversation? Have any of you written a story completely in dialogue?

Thank you for reading my blog. You may follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer  Facebook page.

Saturday 10 January 2015

Calling All Cat Lovers

My story 'Monty The Tabby Tom Cat' - inspired by a real life, Monty, belonging to my son and daughter-in-law, Jon and Rebecca, - appears in 'The Cat Who Chose Us and other Cat Stories' and is available at Amazon.
All proceeds to Cats Protection.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Out With The Old...
I ended 2014 by succumbing to the horrible sore throat and coughing bug that seems to be doing the rounds. I did feel well enough to make the first meeting of the New Year with my writing group yesterday and knew it was time to get back to my writing. So, here goes...

 In my very first blog post on January 1st 2014, I wrote

I need to set myself some goals. I think, I procrastinate, I dilly-dally and dither 2014 I must WRITE,WRITE, WRITE! 
Here are the goals I've set myself:

  • Start a writing blog  
  • Write regularly and more often
  • Get at least one story published in a woman's magazine
  • Get back on track with my novel and finish a first draft.
I look forward to sharing my progress with you. Any advice gratefully received!

How did I do? Which of those goals were achieved?
  • The Writing Blog - achieved    Apart from holidays and over Christmas, I have managed to post quite often. I am very grateful to the writers who have commented regularly - you know who you are so a big thank you! - and although sometimes there may not be many actual comments, the 'stats' reveal that the blog is being read.
         Stats - 51 posts with 317 comments, 9663 page views which included 4612 from the USA, 3828 from UK followed by page views in China, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, Romania and Poland. The post with the most views was the Woman's Weekly Workshop one.
         I'm sure the fact that after each new post, I put a link to my blog on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page as well as tweet on @JanBayLit has widened the readership.
  • Write regularly and more often - achieved in part   I still don't write as much as I could. I spend too much time thinking about it. It's as if I need deadlines all the time - competition deadlines and the keeping up the word count of Nano worked for me. All I need to do is set deadlines for myself, I suppose.
  • Get at least one story published in a woman's magazine - not achieved    Over 2014, I sent two to Take a Break Fiction Feast, two to The People's Friend and one to Woman's Weekly. That's not enough, is it? 
  • It wasn't all doom and gloom on the short story front, though. Four more stories have been published on Alfie Dog Fiction, one of which was selected for the ghost anthology The Day Death Wore Boots.
  • Four of my stories have been published on Cafe Lit and three more on Creative Frontiers, one of which was serialised over five days. 
  • My story 'Missing Without Trace' was long listed in the Alfie Dog Short Story competition and my entry, 'Second Chances', was long listed in the Worcester LitFest Flash Fiction competition. It was included in the anthology Fifty Flashes of Fiction
  • Get back on track with my novel and finish a first draft - almost achieved Although I haven't finished the first draft entirely, I have completed a great deal of it, 52000+ words. I'm definitely back on track with it and know where I'm going. Taking part in Nano in November was the way I achieved so much progress towards this goal. It proved I can sustain my ideas in an extended piece of writing and I'm excited about completing the first draft in the early part of the  year.
  • I didn't achieve all of my 2014 goals but as this blog is about my writing journey, I certainly feel I have made progress and am looking forward to the year of writing ahead.
...In With The New

Here are my goals for the New Year:
  • Complete the first draft of the novel and work on it so that I feel ready to apply to the RNA New Writers' scheme at 12.02 a.m. next January 1st. I had hoped to do that this year but knew it wouldn't be ready by the deadline in 2015. The piece of advice that I kept hearing in my mind was 'Make it the best you can.' Yes, I know I could have sent it in even though it wasn't finished but I know I have to finish a complete first draft before I can set about getting it 'to the best I can.' 
  • Continue to write short stories and submit them to competitions and magazines. Perhaps set myself a goal of two new stories a month with the end of the month date as the deadline. 
  • Aim to get one story accepted in a print magazine before the end of December 2015.
  • Aim to make the short list of a short story competition sometime during the coming year.

I hope they are SMART targets for me.
Do you think they are specific enough? 
How I be able to measure my success? 
Are they achievable for the stage I'm at on my writing journey? 
Realistic for me?
Is a year too vague? Would it be better to break the year down into smaller chunks of time? 

What do you think? What are your goals and targets for 2015? I'd love it if you'd leave a comment. Thanks. :-)

Thank you for reading my blog and all good wishes for a very productive year in 2015! HAPPY WRITING!