Tag Archives: tips

Week 3: All the Little Things

Week 3: All the Little Things

Week three. Sometimes it feels like the Wednesday of NaNo. In week one we had a plan or the hope of a plan and asked ourselves ‘what if.’ Week two we held fast to our imaginations and steamed past the naysayers. Then week three arrived. Purple bars started appearing under some people’s pictures. Then there are those of us who aren’t quite (or not at all) near the blasted purple bar worrying as we shovel coal in hopes of creating some more steam because it feels like there might not be quite enough. This is week three. Don’t worry. It’s almost week four.

So what can you do when all those coals of ideas pushing your imagination on seem to be running low?

One of the things that is fascinating in steampunk is while there is that crazy juxtoposition of ideas and openness to just about anything, there is also a lot of attention to detail. Do an image search on steampunk and once you look past the tophats and corsets and bustles of the Victorian era, you may begin to notice that what sets them apart are all the little deatils. There are cogs and chains and intricate clockwork devices. The pistols are engraved and the brass is aged. Texture is layered over texture and every seam is defined. Without those details they don’t make the jump from Victorian to steampunk.

Word nerd that I am I looked up the etymology of ‘details’ and at its French roots it means to separate (de-), to cut (tailler). Further back that to cut is from the Latin talea meaning a twig or cutting.

What does this have to do with steampunk or NaNo? Maybe its where my own NaNo manuscript is as, but there are two pieces of inspiration I take from this.

The first is that all those ‘minor items or events regarded collectively’ can be a great place to visit when you are stuck and trying to figure out how to get those 1,667 words in for the day. Describe the details that make your story yours. Maybe your character loves pierogies or spike heels. Perhaps they decorated their whole home in purple or there is something strange about the street they live on. Daily writing prompts are a great place to find inspiration for this.Those details may never make it past the first draft, but there is a lot to be learned from the details of your world.

The second is that original Latin talea. In horticulture a cutting is a part of a parent plant that is cut off in order to grow a new and separate plant. Look through what you have written. Where are there places that you have skipped over details or days or emotions? Can a new scene be grown out of it? What unanswered questions can you address?

Need help figuring out some details? Other wrimos are a great source of info. Come and pluck their minds at our write-in today at E. Lansing Grand Traverse Pie Company or any of the others coming up between now and the end of the month.

Go get lost in the little things and we’ll see you soon.

Alaina aka A_Rachelle
Your co-captain of the Airship NaNoLansing Sojourner aka co-Municipal Liaison for USA::Michigan::Lansing

Find us online:
Our Forums

Crafting Believable Dialogue

Crafting Believable Dialogue

Dialogue is a tool used to further the action, to give us a sense of characterization and to ultimately drive the story along.
Roger Colby

“Show” don’t tell

A lot of our communication happens through body language and tone. Instead of using adverbs to get a point across, let the actions of the character speak for them.

Example 1a*

“I don’t want to dance,” she said pensively. “I just want to stand here.”
“Give me a break,” he huffed angrily. “I only wanted to hold your hand.”

Example 1b*

Everyone danced, their bodies swaying slowly to the beat of “Makin’ Love Out of Nothing at All”.
As Rick reached for her hand, Judy’s face drew down, a perfect scowl.
“I… I just don’t feel like dancing,” she whispered, then said again louder over the din. “I just don’t feel like dancing.”
Rick’s eyes watered slightly, his hand going to his nose as if to stifle a sneeze.
“I only wanted to hold your hand.”

Develop a unique voice for your characters

Your characters personality, history, time period and location should all influence the way they talk.

Are they gruff or taciturn? Use short clipped words.
Are they bubbly and talkative? Long bright fountains of words.
Do they come from a place with a distinct colloquial sound? Use it, but don’t abuse it. A little goes a long way.

Also, remember your time period. If you’re writing historic fiction don’t use modern slang unless there are time travelers involved.

We don’t speak with proper grammar

Very few characters speak with proper grammar – and those who do should stick out because of it. We use contractions and can be awkward, fumbling fools of speakers. Don’t be glib. Don’t be too correct. Do use the proper writing grammar to let your characters know what they’re reading. Reading your dialog aloud will help to identify potentially stilted sections.

Avoid “he said/she said”

Those arguments are trying enough in real life. Don’t force them upon your readers. Interspersing actions with your dialogue can go a long way to helping this, and remembering that every bit of dialog doesn’t necessarily need to call out the speaker – especially if you’ve developed unique voices for your characters

Remember pace

The tone of your dialog can set the pace for the scene, so use it.

Example 2

Turner took a long draw on his cigarette and blew out small circles of smoke, “We should leave soon.”

Example 3

“Go! Go! Go!” Excitement practically vibrated off of Maria as she bounced in the confined space of the bleachers.

Use the ‘layered’ approach**

Write first draft in a way that feels natural then fix the dialogue/action-description ratio in your editing


Break It Up

Write a conversation using this format to break apart your dialog and actions

Character name: Single colon if talking immediately
Character name:: if there is an action, thought, or other information before speaking :: Hi! With that second double colon I am now speaking :: but I can go back to description at any time ::

Here’s an example:

Gideon:: received his message and being out and about was closer to Sean’s office then his rooms and decides it’d be easier to just drop in instead of sending a message. Reaching the room instead of knocking he just opens the door and is surprised to find that Sean is not there. He should be waiting for a response to his message. Sees Carma on the couch and crouches down next to her, touches her shoulder lightly :: Carma
Carma:: Opens her eyes. Then seeing Gideon smiles slightly. She likes him a lot. He reminds her of Tony :: Is mom here yet?
Gideon:: brushes a hair off her forehead, shakes his head :: I wish she were. I was hoping Sean might be able to give me some news. Do you know where he went?

Now pick two or three characters of your own and write a short scene where they meet a new friend or enemy. Include any descriptions that come to mind. Any extraneous information can be removed later.

Characterize Your Protagonist/Antagonist

Describe their personality

Abrupt or Long-Winded?

Do they have an accent?

Do they use colloquialisms (If so, which ones)?

Do they mumble or speak clearly?

What is their favorite explicative?

What is their level of education?

Are they an introvert or an extrovert?

What are their beliefs?

Does the way they speak change in relation to another character or where they are in the story?

Are there psychological influences?

What are their goals when speaking?

Parental/family influence

Favorite part of speech (noun/verb or lots of adjectives)?

What are their speaking tics?

How complex is their speech?


*Writing is Hard Work: Writing Believable Dialog
Writing is Hard Work: The Dos and Don’ts of Dialogue
Writing is Hard Work: Emotive Dialog
Wordserve Watercooler: Writing Believable Dialog
Woosh Editing: Writing Believable Dialog
Novel Bootcamp: Writing Believable Dialog
**Laura Howard: Writing Believable Dialog