DIALOGUE or DIRE LOG?

Da way Oi sees it dat dire log gotta be true to dat guy speakin’ y’know?

After reading countless guides and articles I have come to realize that there are many differences of opinion when it comes to writing dialogue in an accent or dialect. I remember reading some of the respected names in literature back in school and their proficiency with the English language flew out the window when it came to some of their colloquial characters. Mark Twain is the first that comes to mind but I recall others who wrote of the Southern States in the 1800s where regional dialects were often thick and confusing.

Current wisdom appears to be that dialect should be kept to a minimum and a few experts have even suggested that you explain that the character speaks with an accent but the actual written dialogue should be presented in proper Queen’s English. I prefer the minimal approach.

In my current writing project I have a character that suffers speech issues due to an accident that damaged the Broca’s area of his brain. With this, and his outwardly awkward and backwoods appearance, he comes off as a bit of a buffoon but in reality is a well-read, philosophical and intelligent man. His overwhelming frustration of knowing what to say combined with the inability to communicate his thoughts accurately and concisely leads to other issues that I won’t get into here.

It probably took you close to five seconds of work to read the first line of this blog.

‘The way I see it the dialogue has to be true to the character’ is much easier and faster to read and that, I believe, is the secret.

The reader. It has to be easy for the reader to grasp the dialogue at a normal reading speed. Unusual spelling or made up words fight the flow of the experience to the point that reading becomes a bit of a chore. That’s the last thing we, as authors, should want.

Writing the voice for my main character has been the biggest trial. Invariably I start with far more complicated and scattered dialogue and keep paring it back until it moves along like those other voices, most of which speak pretty good English.

Here is a sample of the upcoming book:

Annalee reached across and took the book from his hands. “You read that as perfectly as anyone could Fergus. I’m impressed”

“So I passed?”

“With an A plus.”

“No big deal, it’s easy.” Fergus shrugged. “Don’t have to think on what I say ‘cos the book tellin’ me the words y’know? That whole thinkin’ thing is what mess me up sometimes, gettin’ ahead of myself an’ stuff. It comes to readin’ and I just gotta concentrate and say what the book says to say, thass all.”

Hopefully you found it easy to follow.

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TIME TRAVEL & TRUTHS

“No…I wouldn’t want to go back. You can’t change just one thing, it’s all intertwined…one thing causes another and so on. Take away that first thing and a whole branch of your life tree could disappear and who knows where I’d have ended up. I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking with you if I could’ve gone back and changed something.”

So says Danny in a deleted scene from my current manuscript. It is the obvious theory of time travel and actually makes a lot of sense.

Time travel is easy when writing a manuscript but the same theory applies. When I began this story I decided to keep writing as the ideas flowed and I’d go back and organize it later. At one point I was reading what I had written and decided one scene would work better in a later part of the story so I used a bit of fictional time travel and relocated it. It was only during what I hoped would be my final read-through that I realized what I had done.

As this is a sequel to “White Wolf Moon” I have to keep in mind the people that might not have read the original story so all the little “in” references have to be introduced. One of the major references was to the place that all the characters gathered on weekends simply called “The Ranch”. Using internal narrative I had Evan (the main character) reminisce about the pioneer property with an introductory description of the geography and the activities they had experienced back in the 60s. That narrative (and a few other mentions) was in the scene that I had moved. Anyone who hadn’t read “White Wolf Moon” would have had no idea what the characters were talking about in the current manuscript.

Another flaw in the time travel was a new character calling an original character by her first name. Their introduction was also in the scene that I had moved so there was no way he would have known this woman’s name as he hadn’t met her yet. That might work for a psychological horror story but not in mine.

Lack of continuity aside I’m surprised at the number of little things I’m finding that need to be tweaked or totally redone. It tends to make me wonder what kind of head space I was in when I wrote it.

Another topic, still in keeping with the fictional flow of this blog…truth on the internet. If I’m to believe everything I’ve read then Shania Twain has died not once but twice over the past few years; Michelle Obama is really a man; Sandy Hook was a Government plot to outlaw assault-type weapons (no children were harmed apparently, they were just “actors”); Malaysia Flight 370 was hijacked by ISIS and is buried in the sand in Syria awaiting another 911 fiasco; President Obama doesn’t know what a cattle guard is, and of course the re-occurring chestnut…Paul is dead.

What got me started on this was a post to a BC Wolf Hunt petition by a man named Bill Schoel whom I don’t mind mentioning because I apparently embarrassed him into hiding. He claimed that a “friend” of his had his dog killed by a pack of wolves that frequent downtown Kamloops, British Columbia. I’m not sure why he chose to name Kamloops as the setting for this piece of fiction but I’m glad he did. I have lived in the city for many years now and I don’t recall any wolf sightings…bears and cougars yes, but no wolves. I’m pretty sure a wolf pack patrolling downtown would make the news. I took him to task and he withdrew into wherever people like that go but not before he had multiple “likes” and confirming comments about his post. It is those people I question. Do they not check out these comments to ascertain the validity before jumping on the Fool Express? I find it amazing that in this easily accessed information age so many people are so misinformed. Perhaps they’re just lazy and would rather mindlessly buy into the flavor of the day than expend what minimal energy it takes to check the facts. Bill should have googled his ludicrous story prior to writing his comment and he wouldn’t look like an idiot trying to spread something that wasn’t true.

One comment I received was questioning whether I thought I was smarter than the rest of the world. My response was “It has nothing to do with being “smarter” it’s simply using your head and presenting verifiable facts (preferably with links). You don’t have to be a genius…just someone who wants to do a little digging and get it right before you comment.”

Alas I fear it’s easier to look the fool.

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PICKLES & STICKLERS

I’m not sure where the saying “I got myself into a real pickle” came from but it describes the first major stumbling block on my read-through/edit of the manuscript. I haven’t read some parts since I wrote them and I’m quite surprised at the number of things I’m finding that just don’t feel right. As individual pieces they seemed fine but reading them within the context of the overall story they just don’t flow as well as they should. The changes are mostly minor, a word here and a word there and eliminating words repeated in the same paragraph, you know…all those little things you ignore on a first draft. It was relaxing at first and I found myself thinking that this was going to be easier than I had anticipated.

Then came the pickle.

It was a scene of nothing but dialogue between two characters. The first part flowed beautifully and I found myself giggling at lines I didn’t remember writing but then, like an unseen speedbump in the supermarket parking lot, I hit that one line with a jarring thud.

I wanted to get into some old-age philosophy with a character that I’ve always used as comedic and I felt that bringing out his previously unrecognized wisdom was important to the storyline. I realized the problem instantly but correcting it was far from instant. One issue was that I wanted to keep most of his thoughts as they tie in with later dialogue but the bigger problem was in the setup leading up to his words of wisdom. It was something the other character wouldn’t say in casual conversation. The line was forced, obvious, and clearly out of context with the rest of the dialogue.

Over three days I attacked this stickler, trying all my tricks to get past it. I worked on other scenes and came back to that one, getting more frustrated each time. I tried staring at the screen and strumming guitar chords (which always works). I recorded the dialogue on my digital recorder (which usually works). I took a walk around the block and mulled over different angles but that didn’t work either. By the way my block is comparable to three or so regular city blocks so circumnavigating it takes time and about half of it is along riverbank. Watching television, doing laundry, cleaning the basement or taking down the outdoor Christmas lights…it didn’t matter what I was doing that damn scene was the only thing I could think about.

I was working on another scene, this one where Evan (my main character) was sitting on the porch and puffing on his pipe. I included his minor vice because it was something I could identify with. I used to smoke a pipe and had quite a few of them lying around. My son from Alberta is a pipe smoker/collector so last summer I gave him all my old pipes except for three that were special to me, one of them being the first pipe that I bought with my first paycheque back in the early Sixties. I watched him sit across from me on my deck puffing away and remembered how much I enjoyed this activity back then so last July I bought a pouch of tobacco. The fact that I am still only about halfway through that pouch is testament to the number of times I have lit up, the last time being Christmas. Another determining factor was the $35 price tag for a pouch. The previous tobacco I bought was, I believe, about $4.00 (which shows how long ago that was).

Yesterday the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and a fresh new season was in the air. I decided to take my coffee along with a pipeful out to the deck and grind out my dialogue dilemma.

There are some who might say it’s purely psychological and they would probably be right but within ten minutes of going over that scene in my head…it came together. It was so obvious and so minor that I feel embarrassed that I didn’t see it days earlier. The line I was stumbling over wasn’t the only problem…so was the line leading into it. I changed that one and a new segue line naturally followed. Lesson learned? Look at the big picture and don’t get hung up on one element. It all ties together and sometimes what you’re looking at isn’t all there is to see.

I’ve dropped the pickle back in the jar and tightened the top…until next time.

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A LITTLE VOICE TOLD ME I WAS WRONG….

My old desktop computer had a text-to-speech feature that I don’t have on the laptop I’m using now. I never used the feature anyway so I wasn’t concerned about upgrading or downloading it when I set up this computer. A few years ago I bought a home music studio program to record a few songs for my own entertainment. This program (Music Maker) has the text-to-speech option but other than trying some special effects on my music I didn’t use it…until now.

This morning I decided to put the first three pages of my new manuscript into the program. I listened while a pleasant, if not somewhat static, female voice read it to me. Aside from a few words that had double meanings (wind as an example) and mispronouncing both the main character’s names she did quite well. Keep in mind these are pages that I have gone through twice, checking for errors and flow, and I was prepared to sit back and just enjoy having someone read me the story.

This isn’t quite what happened.

First she found the missing word “a” in what I had written (“brief career as writer/singer”). That’s one of those things I had read over countless times and just read it as being there. Then the little lady found an ellipse that wasn’t and read it as “period, period, period” although I find it funny that she doesn’t read aloud the single periods or other punctuation. The non-ellipse, I believe, was the result of me switching the language on the keyboard, something that happens frequently although I’m not sure how I’m doing it. This became clear when she read “he’d” as “he-accent-dee”.

She also repeated a line and corrected my grammar by removing the “s” from a word. (“Evan had toured the exhibition of those ‘exciting new visions’ but had seen nothing of note in any of the pieces, most resembling his own failed attempts in Grade Nine art class. He guessed it must be an age thing. With so many years behind his eyes his ‘visions’ probably aren’t what they used to be.”) Out of context she was right…but the “s” stays.

I also found that when you hear sentences transferred to speech you pick up on clumsy wording and I’ve smoothed a few lines out that actually sounded fine in my head but not-so-fine out loud.

I’ve nearly finished tweaking the whole manuscript but I’m throwing another step into the process. Once done I’m going to find a quiet place, throw on the headphones, and let this charming computer lady read me the whole book and see if she finds anything else I’ve missed.

For those that have the Word (or any version of) text-to-speech I suggest giving it a try. It reads exactly what’s there and assumes nothing.

Writers today are fortunate. We have a wealth of wonderful computer tools to assist us with our passion. Text-to-speech has just been added to my list.

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GRAPE EXCERPTATIONS….

Okay, the title has nothing to do with anything except that I’m sitting behind the laptop snacking on bowl of grapes. I usually prefer my grapes aged and liquefied but it’s a bit too early for that sort of thing.

First a HUGE thank-you to SK Nicholls for the wonderful review of “White Wolf Moon” and for making me realize that I haven’t been as diligent with the book (or the blog) as I should be. That is all about to change…in fact there are going to be a few changes in my writing life. I can only hope this tired old brain can keep up with the learning curve (more on this in future blog postings). Interestingly though…the more I delve into these changes the more this tired old brain seems to wake up. Before I embark on this journey I have to unload some of the baggage that has been occupying far too much of my time. I have been distracted by my on-going involvement with wolf issues of late but a lot of that has now come to an end. While I am still and always will be decidedly pro-wolf I have come to the conclusion that any sort of dialogue with most of those anti-wolf people is just a waste of time…time that could be better spent in other arenas.

I have started restricting my on-line time to “absolutely necessary” occasions (checking emails, updating blogs/facebook etc.) and I now allow myself about two hours a day for such activities, first thing in the morning and again after dinner. How successful I’ll be remains to be seen because, as I’ve already discovered, it’s not easy to break those old habits.

So my journey starts here and while the destination is far down the road it’s now one step closer. Once again thank you to SK Nicholls for the nudge!

Following is an excerpt from the sequel to WWM that could just as easily refer to the process of writing and independently publishing a book…

Jenn picked up the large paperback, read the title then smiled at Evan. “Beginning Guitar?”

“Like everything in life you need to go back and do a refresh of the basics every once in a while.”

“But you’ve been playing for years.”

“True but when I uncovered that book it made me think of how I felt when I first started playing. There was the sense of accomplishment when I’d finally get a new chord down but there was also the excitement of discovery. It was all so fresh and new for me. I was creating sound…me, little Evan Morris, was making music of sorts. I set my sights on stardom, producing records and living the dream. That became my destination but I quickly realized that the journey is every bit as important as the destination. You can’t have one without the other. You do have to have a goal in mind but if you’re obsessing over the future goal then you’re not concentrating on the now…the journey. If you have the desire the destination will always be there so just let it go. Focus on the now and enjoy the ride. Just because you’re driving to Disneyland doesn’t mean that there aren’t many wonderful stops en route. You have to put Mickey in the back of your mind and fill that mouse-less space with any turn in the road that strikes your fancy and take time to appreciate the mini-destinations along the way. Each of them can be a treasure and they’ll eventually take you where you want to go so relax…Mickey will still be waiting when you get there.”

“So…stop and smell the roses?” Jenn laughed. “Sorry…”

“Don’t be, its true.” He reached for Suzi and began lightly strumming. “Honestly I’m not very good at this but it really doesn’t matter. It’s for me and that’s why I do it. Over the years I’ve let it slip and now I see what I’ve been missing. It isn’t just the music but all that comes with it…the peace, the relaxation, the magic of creation, and the evolution of ideas…the little things. It’s all about making music, good or bad, that reaches into the mind and soul of the player or composer and takes him to another place. If other people can appreciate the journey then that’s good but it still comes back to the simple selfish joy of creation.”

“Ah but you also have your record album…” She pointed to the framed copy of ‘Roses and Rust’ on the wall behind his desk. “Wasn’t that a part of the original destination?”

“Yeah it was a bonus…but sometimes the destination isn’t quite what the trailers promise.”

“You seem to have forgotten about all those people on your fan pages. Now they’re appreciating that journey too.”

Evan grinned. “Yes they are and I still can’t believe it. After fifty years I guess I finally got there.”

“And Mickey was still waiting.”

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WHERE DID I GO?

I realize I haven’t been posting much recently…in fact I haven’t been on-line that much over the past three weeks. It all started with me asking the question “Where did I go?” and subsequently trying to come up with the answer. This started me on a bit of a self-awareness journey through time.

I remember the Sixties which (according to current wisdom) means I wasn’t there…but I was. Mostly I remember my attitudes from back then. My group was a part of what most refer to as the hippie generation but we were all experiencing our last throes of teendom or in our early twenties. We still hung onto a bit of the fifties attitude and this “love and peace” philosophy came along at a perfect time for us.

We had seen the other side and while kids thirteen and up were quick to embrace hippiedom…grow their hair, do a little weed, and live the “free” life…we could understand how this movement came about and we appreciated what it all meant. We also knew that nothing was free.

We all had to work because someone had to pay for the freedom we experienced living together in an old house or our weekend romps up at the old cabin on a property owned by the grandparents of one of the guys. It was an idyllic if somewhat brief existence that taught each of us a lot about life and the people that share that life. We had differences but they only served to make us appreciate the commonalities which far outnumbered them.

When it was all over and each of us moved on to more traditional lifestyles (mortgages, kids, pets, etc.) we found inner conflict waiting in the wings.

Yes I still had the same job but everything else had changed. It was difficult maintaining the outlook on life to which I had become accustomed and soon it sank into the murkiness along with the tie-dye shirts, granny glasses, and torn-out jeans. Okay I still wear torn-out jeans but now it’s a choice.

Over the past few years I’ve found myself becoming the grouchy old man that used to live next door and I don’t like it. I’ve been told this comes with age but I don’t buy into that. Somewhere in my 67 year-old body is that guy who used to puff his pipe, sip wine, play guitar, and read for hours beside the pond at the bottom of a clearing.

Three weeks ago I set out to find him and eventually I did. In doing so I realized why he went away.

As noble as it is I feel that we perhaps spend too much time thinking about other people and not enough time thinking about ourselves. What I do…what I enjoy doing…isn’t necessarily what other people see as important. I have long had the philosophy that you don’t have to support what I do…just don’t keep me from doing it and we’ll get along fine. The same goes for the philosophy itself…you don’t have to agree with me just don’t try to change me but it seems a lot of people don’t understand the concept. You have your own beliefs and ideals and far be it for me to try to change them. I respect the differences we may have and I only ask the same in return.

It’s also important to not let this “think about yourself” become the end all yet many people have and thus the “entitled” generation was born. We are all part of this thing called life and like it or not our paths will cross at some point. How we handle relationships with others is based a lot on how we feel about ourselves. If we are comfortable with all that we are both physically and mentally then we can more readily accept what other people have to offer. Sometimes it’s enriching and sometimes it’s not but it’s all a learning experience if you’re open to it.

So where have these rambling thoughts taken me? To my backyard on my recently built deck with a couple of books on the table, guitar on my lap, and a bottle of Baroness Von Hinder-Faarten 1986 by my side. The pond at the bottom of the clearing has become an oscillating sprinkler but that’s fine. With my renewed old outlook on life I’m far more flexible than the me I had become.

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BACK TO BUSINESS…finally!

A big thank-you to author J.P. McLean for including me in her blog hop.  As much as I would love to continue the process I have hit a bit of a snag and, for various reasons, it appears I am to be the last twig on this branch. It’s unfortunate because this seems to be an easy way to introduce new authors and their work to a wider audience. Following are my responses to the supplied questions. While this breaks the format of the blog hop I invite any author to introduce themselves and provide a link to their blog in the comments after my post. Perhaps in some way this will also spread the word?

BIO:

I was born at Fort George, Scotland, in 1947, moving to Canada with my family in 1955. As an army brat I spent a decade in various locations across the country finally settling in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1964. With careers in radio broadcasting, advertising, and photography under my belt I moved to Kamloops, British Columbia, in 1994. I’m an organized hoarder with a roomful of toys/collectibles, music/movies, and books…lots of books. I watch, read, and listen to most genres depending on my mood. I’m married with three children, six grandchildren, two cats, and a rabbit.

1) What am I working on? Three things…one is an idea that came to me in a bizarre dream, another is a clean-up and compilation of poems and short prose I have written since high school, and finally the sequel to my first published book “White Wolf Moon”. That first book was easy as most of the elements and characters were fact-based thus little research was required but the sequel has been a chore. WWM also had an underlying thread throughout but the sequel hasn’t and by early critiques that seems to be a problem. I have the material but it needs a commonality other than the characters. That’s my stumbling block at the moment…the rest of the elements are all there and just waiting for a tie to bind them.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? I’m not sure I can answer this. It is what it is and it’s more of a character study than anything else. The characters and the dialogue drive the storyline and any narrative (other than internally from the characters) is minimal. “White Wolf Moon” was a combination of light dialogue and a heavier historically-based narrative about the Sixties. A journalism student’s ongoing interview with an old “hippie” was the glue that held it all together. While the semi-fictional dialogue careened from one off-beat topic to another the interviews dealt with war, assassinations, riots, and the not-quite-so-lovely side of the Summer of Love. Perhaps this blending of fact and factual-fiction is what makes it different?

3) Why do I write what I do? The original idea for “White Wolf Moon” was more of a personal diary with no intent to publish. I sent copies to a few of the people that were mentioned in my work and they all thought that with name changes, it should be published. The real life “Danny” even fronted me the money to accomplish this. The sequel is being written for the number of readers that wanted to learn more about the relationships and quirks of the people in the story plus answer a few questions that I hadn’t realized I’d left unanswered.

4) How does my writing process work? Ah there’s the rub…the process. I write when the urge strikes me. I tried setting aside a certain time and place but this doesn’t work as well for me as running into the house and jotting down a wandering thought that camped in my head while I was weeding the garden. I also tried setting daily word count goals but I soon discovered that the quantity isn’t as important as the quality of however many words I manage to get done in a sitting. I have a digital recorder that I carry with me so that if an idea does pop into my head I can dictate it to myself. Sometimes it’s as simple as describing a person walking on the sidewalk in front of me that might make an interesting sideline character. I have occasionally recorded other people’s conversations because they have an interesting speech pattern that I might be able to give to one of my characters. I find that the time I spend observing people and places is as valuable as the actual sit down and type time.

Once again thanks to J.P. Mclean for considering me. Over the past two years she has helped me understand this whole publishing game and is a supportive shoulder when needed. You can find out all about her books here: http://www.jpmclean.net

And for those that have been following my other activities over the last while…my backyard-deck is finally done! After mixing, pouring, leveling then sealing/painting the shattered concrete I built a deck over top of it all. I can now finally get back to the business of writing, blogging, and relaxing a little.DECK2

Have a great week folks!