Friday, August 28, 2009

Sunshine Delay

I was supposed to post my final dialog comments today but I ran off to the circus (well, the Evergreen State Fair) with Big Boy, Miss Busy Boots, two all-you-can-ride wrist bands and a pony ride punch card. The rule in my household: you must tour all the animal barns, at least one hokey show (clap for those All-Alaskan Racing Pigs, especially Harry Porker), milk the fake cow and admire the 4-H displays before any midway rides. Am I a grinch or what?

In lieu of much here, please visit Amanda Forester's fabulous website that went live last week. She's a fellow Greater Seattle RWA member with her first book due soon and she dares to undress the knight in shining armor.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

He said, she shrugged, I rewrote.

Today's technical advice for polishing raw dialog is a long post but I hope you come away with something for your own writing or follow the links to fun free reading stuff.

I had an ah-ha moment at Elizabeth Hoyt's Writing Between the Lines workshop at 2008 RWA Nationals. She emphasized that a reader can only separate the identities of two speakers for four exchanges - only four lines - before needing a tag or beat to keep from getting lost. Think about that. We've all lost track of the speaker before and had to count "that's him, that's her, him, her, him, so this line is her." I shared this revelation with a friend who thought she was the only person who counted lines and blamed it on her dyslexia. Don't make your reader doubt her own brain! After four exchanges, tag or beat it. (I wish I could cue a little music but maybe I'll make it play in your head ... their words are really clear, so beat it, just beat it...)

What are tags and beats? Tags are "he said" or "so-and-so inquired." Like a scrap of paper dangling from a shirt, they identify the maker (or in this case, the speaker). "Said" scans neutrally and is often preferable to words like "screamed" and all its synonyms. "Said" won't jar the reader out of the flow the way yelled, muttered and spit do.

Beats are things that happen in a section of dialog that identify the speaker. A beat might include movement or it might be internal thought. Examples from Chapter 2 of Elizabeth Hoyt's free online novella The Ice Princess are "Isaac cleared his throat" and "Isaac turned to Lord Howling and raised his eyebrows." The reader knows who says the next line so Hoyt doesn't have to add "Isaac said." A bit more:

  • Avoid the redundancy of using a tag and a beat such as "he said as he shut the door."
  • Movement is preferable to a tag. It emphasizes and shows emotion.
  • But - too much movement or internal thought chops up the dialog and distracts the reader. Hoyt suggests one short paragraph of internal thought per half page. One more thing to check in my edits.
  • If you must convey explanation or backstory through dialog, create interesting movement around the speakers. Hoyt described the hero shaving his face during an otherwise mundane conversation. In Save the Cat!, Blake Snyder called this principle "The Pope in the Pool" moment in screenwriting. You can tell the audience anything if their eyes are watching the Pope swim in a pool during the talking.

Terry McLaughlin shared a checklist of layers that turn dialog into an emotion-laden conversation worthy of publication:

  • Hands (no wringing, but do you know where they are? touching chin? in pockets?)
  • Props (twisting purse strap? earrings? stabbing food at a tense dinner?)
  • Facial Expressions (I am frequently guilty of adding high speed eyebrow movements that I must later edit away, but some are good.)
  • Body Language (leaning in, leaning out, turning toward, slumping, straightening?)
  • Movements (sitting or standing? walking away and turning over shoulder to talk?)
You can see Terry's multi-layered dialog in her free excerpt from A Small Town Homecoming. With all this in mind, and tweaking the earlier words so they fit Wulf and Theresa's characters, here's my second version of the snippet (apologies for blogger's paragraphing problems):

He put the box down carefully and she felt an unfamiliar urge to pout. A package was more important? Then he leaned closer and cupped her cheek in one hand. "Thank you."

"For what?" His palm was warm and calloused and she wanted to rub her face against it but they were standing in the middle of Macy's so she held still.

"For listening to me for once and staying safe. For going with Ivar."

Watching his lips move sent memories of their warmth shivering across her skin. She gripped the railing that separated them from the escalator well to stop from reaching for his head and pulling it down to her. Not here.

"I saw Ivar's rune and knew you were safe." His lips came closer as he leaned across the space. Even though his mouth filled her vision she could barely follow his words. "It took a day for me to reach Copenhagen, another before Mulla rigged my return."

"Wait --" she thrust her palm out to stop his advance. "Two days in Mulla's apartment and you didn't call?"

"I have this problem with telephones." He flashed that dimple, always so unexpected on her warrior.

She would not give in that easily. "Many men do. They still call."

"Figured I might as well make it here."

She rolled her eyes to no effect since he was staring at the box between their feet. Yeah, she already knew he had no sense of time passing. Who would after fifteen hundred years, really? "No friends on your flight, I hope?" She tried to keep her voice light but it would be a long time, if ever, before she could forget the chaos and fear of their flight to Copenhagen.

"Mulla crated and shipped me air cargo. Seemed like the easiest way to avoid a chatty seatmate."
Back to Me: Improved since Monday? Did you notice that I removed some of Wulf's pronouns and two repetitive lines of the exchange? I tried to make him more direct - he is a special forces soldier and immortal warrior, not a chatty bff. I added hands (she grips rail, holds palm up; he cradles her cheek) and a prop (the box - what's in it?). A question for you - does rolling eyes work when you read it on a page? His dimple shows he smiled. Should I end it with a period after dimple or does the "unexpected" phrase work?

I still need to up the emotion and tie it to the overall conclusion. This dialog feels hanging in space to me, even when I read it in its full context. Theresa is being remarkably cool - neither angry nor happy to see him - so either I have to develop a reason for that or I have to change her reaction.

Please tell me what you think! Anything that's not clear? That I should edit out? Any more to add? Friday I'll share the final version but until then keep writing.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yadda Yadda ...

Dialog. If you hear it in your head, you might consider being a writer. If your lips move while you drive, wash dishes or take a shower, you are a writer already even if you haven't put anything on paper.
Dialog. It's what I write first. I explained in a previous post how I organize to write a lot, quickly, with forward momentum. My system of writing dialog, a product of my trials and errors as well as classes with Elizabeth Hoyt and Terry McLaughlin, usually requires at least three visits to a scene. That breaks down nicely to a week of blogging, doesn't it?

First, I put down the words the characters say and nothing else. At the Emerald City Writer's Conference Terry McLaughlin said "get out of the way and let the characters talk." That's what I try to do. I don't bother with quotation marks because they interrupt and distract me by making me wonder about subsequent punctuation. I manage to capitalize where necessary because I'm a moderately fast touch typist, but if you're not, don't worry about caps either.

In this first hashing, I do NOT interrupt my writing with "he said" tags or action beats such as "the viscount shook his head." If I have more than two people, I might use the speaker's first initial here or there to keep things straight in my head, but nothing else. If I have a really important event that the characters must react to and I need a note to myself to recall how the scene blocks out, then I write [car rolls in ditch] and continue with the conversation. Here's a first draft of part of my last scene in Warrior's Hilt, the reunion that ends with happily ever after. Wulf and Theresa meet at the top of an escalator at Macy's in New York. She's been waiting at his brother's home for three days after they fled an explosion at an open-air historic village museum outside of Copenhagen:

Thank you.
For what?
For listening to me finally. For going with Ivar and staying safe so you would be here for me.
What took you so long?
His lips hovered over hers. I saw the rune in the snow and knew I could stop looking for you. He kissed her and didn't stop. [her feeling]. It was a day before I could make it to Copenhagen and another before Mulla had me fit for public.
And you didn't think to call?
I have this problem with telephones.
Many men do. They still call.
Lately they seem to be bugged.
Handy excuse.
I figured I might as well come home.
No repeats of our other flight?
Mulla checked me as air cargo. Seemed like the easiest way to avoid chatty seatmates.
Me again: So I have some problems making indent work in a blogger block quote. If you know how, please tell! How hard was it to follow which character, Wulf or Theresa, is speaking? If I did a bang-up job, each character's voice would come through in word choice and structure. The reader would know immediately what a man had said and what a woman had said without tags. I'm not that good on the first pass.

My thoughts: The first couple lines were unclear and need tags or action/movement beats to clarify speaker and add interest, but I hope readers feel that "you didn't think to call" and "many men do" were said by the heroine. This raw dialog could play various ways. Is Wulf penitent or unrepentant? Sorry or cocky? He's a bit wordy for an immortal Viking warrior turned Special Forces soldier, unless he's nervous (he is; he's about to propose). The heroine's terseness could indicate anger, frustration, sarcasm or maybe teasing, confidence or flirting, depending on her body language and emotions. I can see her face in my imagination but I need to translate that to paper.
Your Assignment, Should You Choose to Accept It: Write the dialog only leading to a marriage proposal and post it in the comments. As in my example, you can use two sentences for set-up. Wednesday we'll tackle the next phase - editing - and we can all work on any posted samples. Or you can comment on mine!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Favorite Foodie Romance?

Every summer, I rediscover my love of cooking. I bike to the local farmers market. I pick blackberries. I make everything from scratch. In short, it's lovely, and it serves to remind me that food can be many things: calorie-laden comfort, a sign of affection, or the start of something sensual!

Not surprisingly, some of my favorite romance novelists seem to agree with me.

I'm sure I'm not the only one to appreciate Jennifer Crusie's food descriptions! Who could forget the chicken marsala in Bet Me--the "golden-brown fillets and huge braised mushrooms floating in luminous dark wine sauce" (44). And don't even get me started on Emilio's bread, or the Krispy-Kreme makeout scene...

Then we have Agnes and the Hitman, where food-loving takes a close second to Shane-loving. The food columns! The raspberry sauce! The trauma of evil fondant! And those fantastic breakfast scenes wherein suspicious individuals come together over buttery eggs, and the pancake syrup falls in sugary ropes... what's not to love?

Clearly, I am a fan of food in literature. I am hoping you have some recommendations for me. What are some other romance novels that get your taste buds tingling?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Love and Marriage

Today is my parents' 40th wedding anniversary. Four decades of marriage: pretty impressive, huh? Even more impressive when you consider that they're high school sweethearts. Yeah, they started dating back when my mother was 15 (or, as she likes to say, "we've been together since we were fetuses"). They've never been with anyone but each other!

Over the past few years, I've learned a little something from watching my parents. (Before that, I was a teenager and I knew everything.) I think one of the reasons they're still happy together is that they're not complacent about their marriage. It would probably be very easy to get lazy after so long. But they still do new things together--they vacation in new places or try new restaurants. They laugh together A LOT and still create their own personal in-jokes with admirable frequency. They're friends as well as spouses.

I hope, in 40 years, that Mr. Marvelous and I can say the same!

Their story would make for a terrible romance novel. They've never dealt with secret babies or arranged marriages. My father is not a vampire. My mother is not a plucky FBI agent. They don't fight crime and the state of their relationship has nothing to do with bringing about or averting the apocalypse.

And yet, they inspire me every day by the way they treat each other.

And so, to honor my parents, I ask the question: what real life romances inspire you? Maybe they inform your writing. Or maybe they inform your life. Either way, I want to hear about them!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Must Read Romance

In my quest to locate the definitive list of Must Read Romances to test the true romance devotee, I found a variety of lists, but none of them reflected my romance preferences (and were therefore inferior, ha).

I found This List, from the Romance Reader, but it seemed to be more "Old Skool" romance and I was disappointed by the absence of the New Guard. Nary a Lani Diane Rich or a Kresley Cole in sight. And paranormal was woefully underrepresented.

A couple weeks back, the Smart Bitches were in People Magazine, plugging Bosoms and romance novels as a whole. They sent along to the people of People a list of their favorite romances and the people of People distilled that list down to these five:

1. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
2. The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale
3. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
4. Magnate's Make-Believe Mistress by Bronwyn Jameson
5. Naked in Death by J.D. Robb

I have to say, this is a nice list. Diverse, high quality stuff. But it isn't my list. I doubt you're ever going to get romance readers to agree on a top five (or even a top fifty), but that's part of the beauty of this business. There is marvelous variety and plenty of readers who love every inch of the romantic spectrum.
(And if you're interested in Candy from SBTB's Favs you can find that list HERE.)

Anyway, here's my nit-picking of the SBTB list, along with a list of my very own:

1. Bet Me is not my favorite Crusie. Not by a long shot. (Though of course, I still love it, because it's still brilliant.) I also wouldn't say it's the most universal. I would definitely have a Crusie on my list (no question about that), but mine would have to be Welcome to Temptation. The book that popped my Crusie cherry, so to speak.

2. What? No paranormal? No vamps? No shifters? Say it ain't so! My #2 slot has to have a paranormal slant. Shana Abe? Kresley Cole? This is a hard one to choose, but I think I'm gonna go with Jacquelyn Frank's Nightwalkers. Jacob.

3. Okay, I like Loretta Chase and all, but if I only have to pick one historical, of all the historicals out there, it's gotta be Julia or Eloisa. Quinn or James? How to choose? There is a glut of Regencies, so I'm going to go Georgian on this one. Desperate Duchesses, baby

4. Honestly, I am not a big fan of category romances. I just don't have one of these on my list. I'm afraid I'm going to fill this slot with, ahem, the rather hot side of the spectrum. My favorite naughty romance would have to be an Emma Holly guilty pleasure: Prince of Ice.

5. J.D. Robb. It wouldn't be a romance list without a listing from Dame Nora, eh? I did really like Naked in Death, but as romantic suspense go, not really my fav. I tend to veer more toward the action edge than the darker side. I like my romance fluffy, thank you very much. So my list is going to showcase the lighter, adventure-ier edge of the rom-suspense genre: Roxanne St. Claire & her Bullet Catchers. Kill Me Twice.

What would be on your top five? Which books would you give to a genre-newbie to try to turn them into a lifelong card-carrying romance-reading addict?

Monday, August 03, 2009

100 (or so) Books

A few months ago, a list put forth by the BBC made the blog rounds. 100 Books. The BBC estimated that the average person would have read only 6 books off this list.

Now, I’ve read substantially more than six (and I have a feeling the more literarily inclined DSW will have read far more than I), but I still found myself with a discomfiting number of "Oh, I should have read that!" moments.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it:
1) Look at the list and bold the ones you have read.
2) Put an ‘X’ after ones you’ve started but not finished.

3) Italicize the ones you LOVE with a passion that cannot be described.
4) Star (**) those you plan on reading.
5) Tally your total and post it in a comment here. (You do not get partial points for wanting to read or having read part of… that’s just to keep you honest.)

And now, without further ado, THE LIST:

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (Oh, Jane, how do I love thee…)
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien XX (I read the Hobbit & the whole Fellowship, but I just couldn't get any farther.)
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (Someone needed to give the Bronte sisters some happy pills. Of course, think of the literature lost if they lived in the days of Prozac.)
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (What is with lumping the series all together? There are clearly more than 100 books here.)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible (yes, the whole thing, and I'm not even religious)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (Can I smack Catherine & Heathcliff over the head with something heavy?)
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell (I am such a sucker for dystopian literature.)
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (I think I spent as much time arguing with my friend Leslie about whether or not this was a crap series as I did actually reading it. I was not a fan. She was vehemently in favor.)
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens (See Wuthering Heights above for smacking of Pip & Estella)
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy **
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller (Amazing book. Beyond brilliant)
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I'm counting this one even though I missed two of the histories. No one has read King John. I defy you to find one person who has actually read that play. One!)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier**
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks (Never even heard of it. Ignorant me.)
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger (I find I love this one in spite of the fact that it made me cry buckets and was irritatingly fatalistic. Can't wait for the movie.)
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot**
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens**
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy** (This one was assigned reading in college and I skipped it. It's been eating away at my soul ever since...)
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh** (Shut up, Brian. I’ll get to it.)
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky** (See War & Peace and eating away at my soul...)
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (I’ve got a weird thing for Steinbeck. He flips my switch. Don’t ask me why.)
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (Weird. Seriously weird.)
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy**
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens **
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
(Dude, Item 33? The Chronicles? I protest the redundancy. I’ve read the whole series but I am appalled by the BBC’s lack of precision.)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini (Crap book. Absolutely hated it. If you liked it, you are wrong. Email me if you'd like an in depth argument of all the ways it sucks.)
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden** (I'll probably read this just because someone gave me a copy.)
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown** (I'll get around to it. I have to work myself up to Dan Brown lest I dent my walls chucking them across the room. I had a small problem with the jumping out of a helicopter without a parachute part of Angels & Demons. I bitched about that for days on end.)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (In Spanish! Take that! I am a literary mogul!)
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan (And after I saw the movie I have no urge to ever read this. Blech.)
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel**
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens**
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon**
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez X
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov**
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas X
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac** (Must read, if only because I have a freakish need to travel constantly.)
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie**
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville (Yeah, the whole thing.)
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce (Never never never. I had to read Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. After that Joyce never gets another second of my life.)
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath X
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome (I’ve never heard of this book… but the title sounds kinda dirty… I find myself intrigued)
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt**
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (Read this? Only every single Christmas!)
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert**
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton (Again, never heard of it. I’z so unedumacated.)
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad X
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole**
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute (And yet again, never heard of it. *sigh*)
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare (And is there a reason this isn’t included in Complete Works above?)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
(And I love the play, too.)

My number is 47. I’ve read not-quite-half of them. I’d say that’s not too shaming. Although, I have to say, I’m not too keen on the BBC’s list. There’s an odd mix of popular and classic which leads me to wonder how they picked these 100.

How do you come up with a list that lines Douglas Adams up right next to Shakespeare? And I love Jane Austen, but why everything she ever wrote and no Mark Twain? No Ayn Rand? No Robert Heinlein? No Vonnegut or D.H. Lawrence? Narnia is on there twice but no Mary Shelley? Faulkner? O’Hara? Robert Penn Warren? Who made this list? I guess these are the 100 books you should read growing up British.

My questions for you: How many have you read? (If you've read them all, I will be suitably awed, amazed, and ashamed of myself.) What books should be on this list but aren’t? What books do you think should be required reading for everyone?

And later this week... a list of must-read romance novels to test your smut-o-meter.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Savor a Rake, Win Some Cash

The second book in Delilah Marvelle's School of Gallantry series comes out on August 4th! To celebrate, the author is running a very cool contest over at her website.

You can wander over there for contest details, but we have them here. Email Ms. Marvelle (Delilah at DelilahMarvelle dot com). Send her the School's quote from Lesson 27, and you will be entered to win one of three $50 Visa Cards. Winners will be contacted via e-mail by September 10th.

And don't forget to buy Lord of Pleasure, on sale August 4th!