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There’s a writer I know who always pens the perfect dialogue. His characters can banter with all the snap and speed of a table tennis tourney, their chatters’ cadence a direct reflection of the intensity of the situation, or in its languor, its lack thereof. Dialogue can paint a vivid portrait of a character’s personality, revealing the level of intimacy between the protagonists, or recreate a historical era with its manner of speech and choice of words. Dialogue, in and of itself, can be your book’s barometer, setting the mood through the characters’ zingers, laments, opines and asides. Prose would be decided dry and lumbering without it, relegating readers to trudge through page upon page of telling not showing, its characters never really coming alive. Knowing this, I think we could all agree attention to dialogue is essential to good writing. But so is too much attention, which is what new writers often can’t see.

There comes a time in every professional writer’s life when the work ceases being written and thus becomes read. From the time it leaves the desk and goes before a beta-reader or an editor, it begins to exist on its own, without the aid of its creator’s vision. What the reader sees is exactly what the writer has put forth, but if what they’re seeing becomes skewed in the transmission, then it’s not the reader’s fault if they don’t “get it.” Dialogue, as stated above, is a wonderfully descriptive vehicle to transport your story along. But if you’re only saying so much outloud then finishing the balance of the information in your head, you’re not getting your character’s message–or your vision–across to your readers.

New writers often have fabulous stories in their heads, but fail when getting them to the page. Often, this mistake shows itself in dialogue, as the characters will say things colored by insider information obvious to the writer, but not so much to the reader. This happens when the writer is so close to the story they unconsciously fill in the missing information. When this happens, try closing your eyes to take a look at the scene, then write what you’re seeing beyond what the characters are saying. When your hero says, “Feeling a bit depressed today?” Don’t wait for the heroine to simply say “Yes,” before the hero rambles on. Imagine the scene from his point of view. Let us see her with her head in her hands. Let us feel her tremble under his touch as she breaks into tears. Do we hear the ocean rumbling below as they stand on the cliff, taste the salt in their mouths? Dialogue’s essential, but if you’re not giving us the complete picture, you’re only getting half your story on the page.

Years ago, ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” after some complaints about all the yak going on during the games, dropped their color commentators from the night’s telecast, simply showing the game with the score on the screen. The experiment was a rousing failure, as the game lost its sense of immediacy, its excitement, its human quality. Dialogue in our writing works the same way, but only when we’re adding the complete picture, by coloring inside the lines. If we don’t, we’re left with just a line drawing, a one-dimensional outline with no substance or depth, a yadda yadda yadda of sound and fury, signifying a lot more work to do!

 

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Diagnosis: Writer – Five Sure-Shot Symptoms

vintagetypewriter_93579-758x485No, you’re not crazy, even though your friends and family think you are. Even so, you have to admit that at time, you do seem a bit “off.” Still, how do you measure crazy against what accurately borders on obsession? I was thinking of this last weekend while lunching with some fellow writers, wondering whether they’re afflicted with similarly bizarre affectations, or if I was I suffering in silence. Odd or not, it’s made me realize that dammit, I must be a real writer, because although I’m not cutting off an ear or anything for my art, I sure am suffering some peculiarities. Such as:

1. Post-it Note Addiction – It’s true. I carry them everywhere. I have pads of them on my desk, in my purse, in the pocket of my course binder. I whip them out to jot down lines of dialogue, character descriptions, plot lines–even the premise for this post. They’re all over the place in my office, and when I’m on  the road and inspiration clocks me, I jot down my genius and stick them to the inside of my wallet so I don’t forget. By the way, they’re also good for shopping lists, as you can stick them right in front of you on the inside of the shopping cart.

2. Drinking Hot Liquids Cold – During the winter months I usually have a cuppa something at my elbow while I’m writing, but I have to tell you, I can’t remember the last time I actually sipped it while it was still hot. Usually the cream’s left a sheen on the coffee, or the tea’s soaked down the string to the tag, an “accident” puddling on my desk, whatever’s in the cup long, gone cold. The opposite effect is true in the summer, when I never seem to sip anything cold: the ice just a memory, the glass dripping condensation. I should probably just yank a bottle out of the cabinet and forget about it. Either way, it all ends up the same place: room temperature.

3. Vitamin D Deficiency – My last routine blood screen had everything come back normal except my Vitamin D level. Apparently deficiencies of this vitamin, which is created by sunshine, can cause depression, chronic fatigue, weight loss (I wish), diabetes, heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis. In addition to a disease I thought went out with the nineteenth century–rickets! “It’s not unusual to see decreased Vitamin D levels in the winter,” my doctor had said. “But yours? Don’t you even step out on the porch?” All right, I guessing the LED glow from my laptop isn’t enough, so I suppose it’s supplements until the snow melts and I’m hitting the sidewalk again.

4. Plot-related Memory Loss – Has this happened to you? You’re driving along, trying to work out what exactly Protagonist A is going to leave on Protagonist B’s doorstep, and the next thing you know you’re sitting in the parking lot at work, with no idea how you got there. Or you’re in the shower and you’ve just thought of the perfect setting for your heroine’s vacation. But there’s this bottle of conditioner in your hand, and you can’t remember if you washed your hair first. Whether you’re staring at blank walls or losing threads of conversations, it’s not early dementia–it’s Plot On the Brain. And trying not to think about it only makes it worse. Better to lock yourself in the closet and get it down and over with.

5. You Do It Anyway – This I have found the most telling. You’ve written a bunch of novels, a dozen short stories, more than a few essays, innumerable blog posts, even kept a journal for more years than you’d care to own up to. And although you’ve had some limited success, though nowhere near where you’d like to see yourself, you keep doing it. You finish one piece then start another, because you know if you don’t your axis will tilt and forget the Vitamin D–you’ll feel a deficiency worse than if all the chocolate in the world suddenly disappeared. You can’t help yourself, even on the days when that rejection shows up in your inbox, you still want to do it. You’ll cry and curse and hate the world for stopping you from doing what you can’t seem to give up. But then all of a sudden that perfect line plants itself in your head, and you’re back to doing it anyway. You’re so pathetic. Maybe. Maybe not. But oh man, sometimes it’s such a bitch being us.

Okay, enough whining. Back to work.

 

When a Kiss is not just a Kiss

Vintage-Valentine-Day-AdsThis Valentine’s weekend I’m going to put on my romance writer’s hat and dwell a bit on one of the three most important occurrences in a romance Novel – a) the first meeting between the two lovers, b) their first kiss and c) the first time they make love. Now, being of a perspicacious sort, I’m venturing a guess you’re hoping I’m going to jump all over c but sweetie, you’re wrong, mainly because that’s just too darn easy. Instead I’m going to focus on what is infinitely more monumental – the first kiss.

Yes, monumental. Are you kidding? you say. What can be more earth-shaking to a relationship than the lovers’ consummation? Think about it this way: if consummation is the inaugural flight, then the first kiss is the trial balloon. If it doesn’t fly, if it isn’t convincing enough, then chances are this trip’s going nowhere.  Consider this from one of my earlier (yet unpublished) masterpieces:

“You make me crazy, Jane,” he said softly, brushing his hand against my cheek, “but you’re in my head, and you won’t go away.”

I could feel the tenseness of his body against mine, and that dizziness returned, my legs wavering. He must have felt it, too, as he held me tighter, my hands finding their way to the small of his back. Then I looked into his eyes, the lightning drawing the gold from them, and then to his lips, slightly parted and ready to fall onto mine.

I had never wanted anyone more.

“Jane,” he said, and the sky exploded.

I fell into the all of him, his mouth warm and delicious on mine, my mind as fuzzy as drugged. He wrapped his arms tighter and lifted me from the ground, his lips tracing tiny charges across my collarbone. I reached down and gathered his head against me, kissing the windy sweetness of his hair. Then he whirled around, setting me to the picnic table.

“Well, hallelujah,” he said, smiling at me.

It would have been easy to simply write that he kissed her, she welcomed it, then they moved on to whatever ultimately transpired in the scene. But that would’ve been larcenous to the readers. They’re expecting more. In a romance, just as in a real life relationship, a first kiss is so much more intimate than even the sex. In actuality, it’s the first act of trust between the couple, and either’s reaction will determine the course their relationship will take. Was it mutual? Was it welcomed? Was it reciprocated? Does it lead to more? Does it change the relationship for better or for worse? Consider this from an even earlier tour de force:

She moved closer to him, so close she could see the slight tremble on his face, feel his breath on her cheek, hear nothing but the sound of her flaring pulse. She raised her eyes to his as he took her hand and pulled her into his arms.

“And it scares the hell out of me,” he said as his mouth fell to hers.

Brett’s world went black for a moment, though its spin remarkably advanced. He tasted warm, soft and vaguely of whiskey, and wonderfully, wonderfully like more.

She lost her head for the duration, found it acting of its own accord. She saw its mouth opening wider and wider still, saw it drawing its breath from its share with his. Saw its eyes flutter in an almost-swoon, thinking that a distinct possibility if she hadn’t been so securely in his arms.

Here was the man she once thought a killer, who would have killed to save her son’s life, who could have lost his own for doing it. At once who he was didn’t seem so essential anymore, as long as he was who he was now.

“Brett, Brett…” he whispered, burying his face in her neck. She arched it back as his kisses trailed electric charges against her skin, her eyes opening and closing with the force of her breath coming hard. She raked her fingers into his hair and dragged his mouth back to hers, his kisses desperate and greedy, her heart pounding against his own wildly-beating chest.

He laid his cheek against hers, gathering her so closely she could feel herself melting into the folds of his body. Then upon his cheek she felt a startling moistness as he suddenly drew apart from her.

He held her out, her breath catching at the sight of him staring. No longer did she question the evening light when his sudden pallor was so apparent.

“Forgive me,” he said.

Oh yes, things have definitely changed, but is that good? Is either lover coming away from this encounter exhilarated with the romantic discovery of each other, or has their bussing made things more muddled than ever? (Maybe if I ever get this epic published, I’ll be able to tell you!)

The thing is, a kiss, at least in the world of romance, is never a simple thing. It’s probably more complex than a Newtonian theorem. To do it right, at least in this writer’s opinion, it must be electric, life-altering, physically shattering and ultimately axis-tilting. It should be one of the most descriptive pieces of writing in the book, and neither participant should come out the same as before they entered into it. It may crash them together or force them apart, but it should always leave them longing for more. But most of all, it should open them to a world neither of them ever experienced or expected, and one they couldn’t ever imagine living in without each other again.

All Excerpts © Gwen Jones 2015 – All Rights Reserved.

Of Writers’ Conferences and other peccadilloes of being out in daylight

CreateSomethingMagicalConAd_FINAL_webThis year I have a chance to go to three assemblages of a literary nature, and they are as varied as the wounds inflicted by so many cats in a sack. If you’re a fan of these things, whether a beginning or seasoned writer or any stage in between, it always helps to crawl out of your cave and go hone your skills a bit, not to mention mingle with your peers at the hotel bar (or perhaps schmooze an agent/editor or two with a “hey! it’s on me!” Always appreciated.) At the top of my list is the Liberty States Fiction Writers “Create Something Magical” Conference, coming up March 21-22 in Iselin, NJ. It is by far a stellar collection of panels, workshops, editor/agent appointments, and all around fun. I go every year (five years running), and it’s open to anyone who writes fiction–mystery, sci-fi, horror, romance, YA, children, or just general fiction-types. I’m also a member of this fantastic group and we’ll take you whether you’re an NYT bestseller or you’ve just started scrawling dark-and-stormy-nights on Post-Its. Come on over, we’ll love you all.

Next on the agenda would be Book Expo America on May 27-29 in New York City. And since it’s a book-expo-americatrade fair held in the publishing capital of the work, anyone who’s anyone in the book biz, from writers to publishers to editors and agents, usually show up. (Although I hear that next year it will be moving out of NYC, boo-hoo, so if you’re in the Northeast, you may want to try to make this year.) I try to get to BEA every year, too, as I can connect with the latest trend out there in publishing, see some great authors speak and sign, as well as generally soak of the milieu of being around the book industry. (Plus it feeds my thirst for $5  bottles of water.) Not all events are open to the general public, but there is a readers’ track, and a special one for librarians, so take a look at he site and see where you fit in. I get all sparkly-eyed every year when I go, as it’s pretty much Disneyland for Writers, as far as I’m concerned.

RWA 2015 NYCThe next one is a definite biggie because of the 35th anniversary of the Romance Writers of America annual conference, also held this year in NYC July 22-25. Last year I did a book signing for RWA at their BEA booth, and they’re a wonderful and gracious group of people and very supportive of writers of all stages in romance. But since this would be my first time to a conference of this magnitude. I must say I’m a little terrified. Not of the conferenceno!-but of the prospect of spending four days buying food at NY prices. Now I know there are lots of fabulous places to eat on the cheap in New York, but to find them, I’d need to bring my sister who lived there for twenty years. But she writes sci-fi/spec fiction, so I suppose I’ll be on my own. Still, if you write romance, this is the Real Deal.

There are more conferences out there, of course, and a great source to look for them, no matter what you write, is agentquery.com, for listings all over the country. Writers, as a whole, live in their heads far too much, and need to get out there once in a while, at least to see that they’re not alone in all their weirdness. And we are weird, you know, and it’s high time you accept that, and celebrate it within the bosom of other like-minded weirdos. Come on–you know you deserve it!