Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tall Dark Strangers

Once upon a time.... nevermind. Let me just tell it straight. I was looking for something on my computer this evening and I ran across something I haven't seen in a long time, in fact, had forgot all about. It is about a man who popped into my life several years ago. He was a bit of a nuisance but he hung around and I guess he grew on me. I've not seen him in a while but he must still be here because this fell into my lap, so to speak, reminding me of his presence.

This was written as an "assignment" from a book I got somewhere. The instructions were to write about myself from my character's point of view. Well, I did and this is what he has to say. 

Me According to Simon

Bollocks! She didn't invent me. I told her all about myself and she wrote it down. She can be a bit difficult, our Dixie. Kept telling me to shut up and let her sleep. I spoon fed her the entire story and she's whining about a little sleep.

Am I supposed to tell you who I am? Simon. There is some mystery about my last name. She's keeping it a secret for the moment, probably because I've managed to keep it from her. I work for an agency specializing in … well, we collect information. You'd say spy. We say brokers. I attended university in England. Lovely English mum and GI father.

I came about when she was doing NaNoWriMo. I was a walk-on character in a forum. Don't think anything was supposed to come of it but I liked it and hung around. Played with some other characters a bit but then she got involved in my business. I have a unique talent and she became rather fascinated by it. She's insatiably curious, you know. I read minds, in a manner of speaking. When you are asleep, I can enter your dreams and obtain information. She quite liked that.

Now, all about Dixie. I doubt you have that much time. She's a widow and the grandmother of a precocious little girl. I quite like Sarah. Very direct child with a sunny nature. Dixie's a lot more childish with her and I suspect that's who she really is at heart. She'd be perfectly content to sit in the sandbox and build sand castles. Of course, she'd invent all the people and have them doing outlandish things. Complains when I feed her a story but can sit in the sun and spin a dozen yarns for a six-year-old. Bloody nuisance.

What else.... ah. Dixie was married 35 years and her husband died in the 2009 ice storm of a massive heart attack. Happened in the middle of the night. She did CPR. Difficult. Still, I showed up just after that, about six moths later. I think talking to me helped keep her mind off darker things. I found it amusing that she likes dark haired men with blue eyes. And perhaps a bit sad.

Dixie probably worries too much about her writing. She's capable but I don't know where she's going. She's bloody annoying at times. She knows she should get up and write and the blasted fibro simply wipes her out. Other times she's fine and she still doesn't write. She blogs constantly. Leaves me twiddling my thumbs far too much. She's got the blasted story nearly finished. Get on with it.

Honestly, after I read it I laughed out loud. I'd forgotten how charming he is. 

River City Writers Are Published At Last!

I'm so excited to introduce you to the new anthology by River City Writers. It went up on Amazon today.

It has taken lots of effort to make it happen. I'm so proud of my writers and so thankful for the hard work they've put into this. I can only claim credit for getting the ball rolling and writing two stories. All the rest is the result of their dedication to the project. 

DeWayne Todd deserves an award for a brilliant cover in addition to two very good stories. He also knows more about self-publishing now than he ever dreamed possible. He did it all while working, going to graduate school, and being a great Dad.

Kudos also go to Tammy Vick for her help setting up CreateSpace and assisting DeWayne with the process. She teaches high-school, paints, writes, and takes very long walks. She is also the best NaNoWrio Co-Municipal Liaison ever.

Please take a moment and check out our first efforts on Amazon. The Kindle Edition is The River City Writers Present Crossroads

If you would like to order a discounted copy for $8, email me at Cynthia.I.Maddox@gmail.com

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Dialogue Dilemmas

If you're a writer, you may already know that he/she said is a long debated issue. Yet there are numerous reputable publications that deal with writing and usage that have addressed the issue enough times that it should be understood by most writers.

If you read children's books you see he said, she said used a lot. That's an indefinite, by the way, but as accurate as I can get. I read a book to Sarah some time ago and it nearly drove me crazy because the author kept using "he said" in every instance of dialogue. Through the whole book. Which was not short enough. I wanted to throw it against the wall before I finished it. I didn't but I wanted to.

As I read the comments to the question posted in an online forum about this issue, I became equally annoyed. I'm not about to throw my computer against a wall so I'll vent by writing a post with my view of the he/she said debate.

First. there is nothing wrong with using he said or she said in dialogue. It adequately identifies the sex of the speaker. That's pretty much all it does.

Example 1:
"Bring me the basket of apples," he said.
"Sure, sweetie," she said.
It is clear who is speaking. It is also pretty boring as dialogue goes. There is nothing happening. But you know someone spoke.

Example 2:
"Bring me the basket of apples."
"Sure, sweetie."  
Now we have a real problem. We have no idea who is speaking. Is it man, woman, child, two men, two women, or Martians. To advocates of he/she said, this appears to prove the point. Clearly, he said, she said does something helpful but is it absolutely necessary to use those two tags to identify speaker? Is there a better way?

Example 3:
Nick snapped the newspaper open and squinted at the page. "Bring me the basket of apples, Susan."
"Sure, sweetie." She placed the small basket in the center of the table. "Nick, where are your glasses?"
He looked over the top of the paper and smiled. "On the nightstand."
Susan rolled her eyes and headed for the bedroom. "Of course they are."
 Note that we didn't use he said or she said one time. We didn't need to because it is very clear from the story who is talking. The usual tags have been replaced by the story moving forward.

Dialogue does not move a story forward, actions do. If I remove all the actions in this example, leaving only the dialogue the characters become flat and stagnant. And if I use he said, she said something else happens.

Example 4:
"Bring me the basket of apples, Susan," he said.
"Sure, sweetie," she said. "Nick, where are your glasses."
"On the nightstand," he said.
"Of course they are," she said. 
I admit this isn't GAN (Great American Novel) writing but which works better: 3 or 4? I think 3 is far more interesting to read and is far less bumpy. The tag he said is like a stop sign with a speed bump: unnecessary and annoying.

Maybe you see no problem with 4. In your writing you always use the he/she said tags and don't think there is anything wrong with it. You have to have it to identify the speakers. Right?  No. Sure you do. OK. Let me prove my point.

Example 5:
"You told me you'd be here at seven," he said.
"I'm sorry. I got tied up at the office," he said.
"Yeah, well, I've been standing here, under this skinny awning for 45 minutes in the pouring rain," he said.
"Look, I couldn't help it," he said.
"What's so important you had to keep me waiting?" he said.
"I got fired," he said. 

Example 6:
Mark yanked open the car door and slid into the passenger seat. "Brad, you told me you'd be here at seven." He shook the rain off his hair, spraying Brad in the process.
Brad winced and swiped his hand across his face. "I'm sorry. I got tied up at the office."
"Yeah, well, I've been standing here, under this skinny awning for 45 minutes in the pouring rain." He tossed his brief case over the back seat and buckled his seat belt.
"Look," he said, "I couldn't help it."
Mark paused and glared at him. "What's so important you had to keep me waiting?"
For several moments, Brad couldn't speak and he used the time to pull into the traffic. He took a deep breath and let it out. "I got fired."

Example 5 or 6? Obviously, in 5 you don't know who is speaking and what is happening. I could have put story details before and after the dialogue but again, your reader is going to be annoyed trying to figure out who is talking. They'll also get tired pretty quickly with the repetition of he said. The last thing you want is your reader going to sleep.

"But it is more words!" they said.

Yes, it is. Very good words that move the story forward and don't bore the reader. Note I only used he said once. I could have cut that by restructuring the sentence but I got lazy. And that's why writers fall into the habit of he/she said. It is more work to write paragraph 6 than it is to write 5. It requires more thought.

In and of itself dialogue is boring. If it wasn't people wouldn't go to sleep during speeches. In speeches the speaker or speakers are standing behind a podium, talking to an audience. The average listener's attention span is only 20 minutes long. I suspect the average reader isn't much different unless the book is riveting. Obviously, example 5 is boring. Maybe 6 is too but you have to admit it reads much better.

My point is that using dialogue tags is a tricky business. Although you can use he said or she said after every piece of dialogue, you shouldn't. Really. Yes, it is all right to use it here and there and there are times it will be necessary but do so with exceeding restraint.

I challenge you to write your own page dialogue in different ways. I suspect you'll change your views about dialogue tags and you'll see a major improvement in your writing.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Revision is Mandatory

I love this woman's podcasts. She is always so upbeat and encouraging. I always take something away with me after listening to her. I encourage you to check her page and podcasts out.

I'm passing this particular one along to you because it is so important. Everyone needs to edit their work. I don't care how good you think you are, you aren't. We all make mistakes and even if you read your work 4 or 5 times, you won't catch all your mistakes. Someone else will find them.

I've done editing for folks here and there for years. In college I did a lot of it for friends. I've done it for friends who write in more recent years. I love doing it but I'm never surprised if I find dozens of problems. I expect it. Writers aren't perfect at writing. 

I always tell people that if you don't like my suggestions, you don't have to take them. Once I edited a short piece for someone and they didn't say they didn't like my suggestions; they simply didn't do a revision. Later I saw a post somewhere by that same person and there were numerous errors. They hadn't edited that either but this was on the web for thousands of folks to see. 

Better to have a bruised ego than to be known as a sloppy writer. Well, that's my motto. To me it is disrespectful to the reader not to make sure that my work is the best I can make it. It still won't be perfect but my efforts will show. 

You know that meme going around that says "if yuo cna red ths"? It looks like a mess but after a second, you have no trouble reading it. Why? Our brains are wired in such a way that when we read something our brains will auto-correct.With writing such as this post, no matter how many times I read it I can still miss something.  Recently, my son said, "Mom, you need to edit your posts better." 


I always miss something so he's probably right. He isn't a writer but he reads my blogs. He's offered to edit them for me. I'm thinking about it. 

Don't take editing suggestions as an insult. You don't have to agree with them. You don't even have to take their advice. Just remember the person editing is trying to help you become the best writer. Sometimes they may be wrong but it is up to the writer to be sure of that and be able to revise appropriately.

So, get the red pencil out and start wielding it with confidence. Let someone else edit for you, loan them your red pencil.  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Breaking News!

My writing group began an anthology in 2015. Things happened. Life interfered. BUT.... if the stars align correctly, in two to three weeks the River City Writers will present The Crossroads Anthology, a collection of short stories and poetry by the River City Writers group.

I can say with all confidence that those involved with this project have worked very hard to bring it about and as one of the editors, I can promise you that there is some good reading between the covers. I'm so proud of them!

I'll post more information as it becomes available with a link where you can get a copy of the book. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

World Writer's Day

Originally I posted this yesterday and realized I had the date wrong! So, I've corrected it.

What are you doing on this World Writer's Day? Are you writing? Thinking about it? Or are you chucking the whole thing and going to the Bahamas?

I'd like the Bahamas.

I'm on my 4th cold of the last 6 months and coughing my lungs up. I do think this cold is less harsh than the previous ones but it could get worse.

As a result of my illness these last several months, I've written no more than 1500 words and most of that was since January. January was a good month. I had some Acyclovir and the bug cleared out in days. They won't give it to me again so I'm sick again. I so miss my old doctor.

I've been really busy with so many doctor's appointments that I can't get organized. And my sleep apnea mask is giving me problems so that my sleep is disrupted. I've been so tired for several weeks now that I can't think well. I was nervous about driving yesterday because I was so sleepy I was concerned I'd have an accident. I didn't but it was difficult to deal with the fatigue.

So, that's my list of excuses this week. I do hope you'll take some time to feed your muse today and write 300 words. I plan on doing just that.

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