Archive for July, 2010


I love the Writing Excuses podcast. It’s my favorite companion while folding laundry.

On a recent episode, the topic was stilted dialogue. One mistake that’s hard to avoid in dialogue is having the characters saying things to each other that they already would know about. Authors try to reveal needed information and want to avoid the dreaded info dump, so they put it in dialogue. But often this doesn’t sound natural.

“As you know, I’ve been your foster mother for five years now,” Mary said.

“Yes, but before that, you’ll recall I lived on the streets,” John replied.

Even without the “as you know” or “you’ll recall” this dialogue is dumb because both characters know this information and wouldn’t say it to each other, no matter how much the author needs the reader to know the info. In the olden days, stage plays sometimes had such dialogue between a maid and butler–often enough that this sort of thing has the nickname “Maid and Butler Dialogue.”

In the podcast, Brandon Sanderson described using an argument between characters as a way to get around this problem.

“Good grief, after living here for five years, you still can’t seem to remember when curfew is. You’re grounded!” Mary said.

John frowned. “There ain’t no curfew on the streets. I lived there long enough to know.”

Not a great example, but you get the idea.

Next time you find yourself maid-and-butlering, try turning it into an argument.

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I saw this painting on a friend’s blog a couple of days ago and I’ve been in a spasm of angst ever since.


Circe Poisons the Sea, by John William Waterhouse

In Roman myth, Circe poured poison into the sea to kill a rival sea nymph.

This painting has made me stop and ask myself what poison I am pouring. I fear I spew a constant stream of poison into the sea of my fragile psyche.

I can’t write. I’m a hack. I’m deluding myself to think anyone would want to read my blithering. My writing is boring, corny, convuluted, illogical.


What is the antidote? What can I pour in to counteract the harm I’ve done? What can I do to stop myself from pouring more, more, more?

In The Sower, Alek dreams of a poisoned stream. When blood pours in, the stream is purified.

I don’t want to bleed.

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I saw something on Nathan Bransford’s blog that made me stop and think. (You know, that bigshot agent that sorta looks like Tom Cruise?) He said he often will tell an author that this or that isn’t working, and they’ll reply, “But that’s really how it happened,” or “That’s how people really talk.”

He likens reproducing life as it is to putting a beet on a plate and calling it dinner. Writers must elevate, add spice, make it hot.

What can you do to make your writing hot today?

Nathan’s Beet Blog

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“Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

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Or, How to Make Yourself Purely Insane…

photo credit

I think the synopsis is one of the hardest parts about novel writing. And judging from the whining I hear, I’m not alone. So how do you do the dreadful deed? Let’s boil it down. Maybe it will go down softer that way.

1. Are you writing a synopsis for a particular agent or editor? Find out what format they want, because it differs widely. Many agent websites specify what they want in a synopsis. If they don’t, email them if you dare.

2. Now for the long part: Write one or two sentences about EVERY SCENE in your book. You might even discover unnecessary scenes by going through this process–bonus for you. No matter what tense or viewpoint your story uses, write these sentences in 3rd person, present tense. Brace yourself. This step takes TIME.

3. Smooth and connect these sentences, adding motivations. Don’t just say what happened. Say why and what the ramifications are for the character. Use the same voice your book uses–formal, chatty, gritty, etc.  Format this with single spacing, double space between paragraphs, as in a business letter.

4. Cut and condense until your document is at the length required in #1.

5. Take a nap.

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