Writing Dialogue

Throughout this blog, I’ve touched upon several aspects of my writing process – from creating characters and developing narrative arcs to discussing influences and inspiration (and distractions). It has occurred to me that I have yet to expound on one of the most critical components to a story, regardless of genre or length.

Dialogue.

I’m rather an introverted person (as anyone who knows me can attest)  – if I’m ever among a crowd of people (and that’s a rare occasion in and of itself) I’m often the one standing off to the side listening to other people’s conversations and generally observing those around me – I don’t really like to talk too much and usually feel awkward in social settings.

[Brief disclaimer to those who do know me well – a huge exception to the aforementioned reticence to interact and converse with others is whenever I am at theatre-related occasions, whether it be waiting at the lobby or the stage door of a theater or waiting in line at a CD signing. Those are the times when I will strike up a conversation with whomever is around me – I’ve met a good deal of friends that way, discussing similar interests and shared experiences. ]

Anyway.

Writing dialogue has never been my strong suit, as I tend to be more comfortable describing locations and situations, and conveying inner monologues for my characters. I’m not so sure why this is the case, though it might stem from my introverted nature (I’m not a psychiatrist) and my reticence to speak out loud; I have little problem “conversing” via email or Facebook messaging, or (for that matter) blogging, which is somewhat akin to dialogue albeit written and not spoken, so it’s more like narration than actual conversation. Though this is not to say that I have not ever written any dialogue – after all, I have in my archives an unfinished novel (which is soon to be revised and inserted somewhere in the MASC Chronicles) and several short stories (both on paper and in Word documents) that contain some dialogue, as well as my current works in progress.

It’s just that much of the dialogue that I had written comes across (at least to me) as being highly melodramatic (and almost Victorian) and somewhat unbelievable [I “blame” my years of watching General Hospital for my apparent tendency to have my characters recite such melodramatic conversations, and some of my more outlandish plot ideas].

In an attempt to (sort of ) remedy this situation, I’ve decided to participate in a writing exercise posted in one of the Facebook writing groups, and write my entry using only dialogue. I’m not sure how this will turn out, but it’ll test my ability to write more plausible dialogue; also, as an added challenge to myself, I’m just going to write whatever comes to mind, without plotting out the narrative or the characters beforehand (though I have caught myself being “distracted” into casting some of my existing characters into this writing exercise).

This should be interesting – perhaps one of these days I’ll post an excerpt here, though (introverted as I am) I’m not quite at that stage yet.

One day.

Someday.

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Inspiring Distractions and Distracting Inspirations

Previous blog entries have expounded upon the various influences and inspirations behind my writing style and the distractions and digressions that have resulted due to the aforementioned influences and inspirations. This week’s blog will expound (once again) on those two topics for the sheer reason that they are the source of the motivation and frustration with which I contend when embarking on this strange and awesome path that is called novel-writing. In fact, they are both enable and abet each other, forming a very interesting circle of life (as it were) when creating plots, characters and story arcs.

Inspirations for my characters, novel plots and narrative arcs come from various places, from the [mainly British] television I’ve watched (either via PBS or, more often that not, YouTube), musicals and plays I’ve seen, to video games and bits of conversations overheard at random places. These sources of inspiration can also be distractions from the writing process, as I sometimes become engrossed in various TV series or intensely focused on the RPGs on my Nintendo 3DS XL; of course, with my attention fixated on these distractions, they soon become inspirations, with the potential to dig myself out of the plot holes I tend to create, thus perpetuating the distractions/inspirations cycle.

With all the seemingly infinite possible paths my stories can take, whether it be on a micro level  (within a single novel) or a macro level (throughout a series or over the course of the saga), ideas and themes tend to appear like (plot) bunnies, with some discarded after a period of time, and others going the distance and embed  themselves so far into the narrative, that removal is impossible.  As an unwritten rule (yet never really applied) when handling these new plot bunnies, and other ideas from my various muses (or reviewing returning ideas and such), they are given quasi-free reign to showcase their contribution(s) and  wait to see if they are compatible (or at least usable) with the existing structure. If  said contribution is deemed incompatible or unusable, it gets filed away to the Realm of Discarded Ideas and Lost Characters, with the hope to be rediscovered in the near future.

Of course, much of the aforementioned talk (or rather text) can be the launchpad potential meta-story about my writing process, with the Muses, plot bunnies, and such as my merry band of characters – trust me, it’s on the (long) list of “stories I need to write after I finish (or at least start) writing the MASC Chronicles. A further (albeit probably quasi-mad) challenge would be to have all of these potential stories occur within the same (fictional and most definitely alternate) universe – One Universe to Bind Them All…

Anyway.

Distractions and inspirations, inspirations and distractions – in the end, they’re two sides of the same coin; one does not (or at least probably cannot) exist without the other. Or at least for this writer, they don’t and can’t and probably won’t; though which of the two is the “light side” and which is the “dark side” remains to be seen (or written).

Pacing the Narrative

I’m quite aware of the fact that the bulk of my writing life has been spent pondering, plotting and developing plot, narrative and characters – I have the notebooks, legal pads and flash drives full of folders to show for it. Of course I’m also quite aware that I’ve devoted much of the blog entries musing about character development, and quasi-vague statements regarding the stories I’m currently writing/plotting, so in theory I have amassed several dozen narrative stories and several scores of characters – which is quasi-true. There’s even a plethora of (mostly unfinished) chapters to (mostly unfinished) stories and characters that are shadows of themselves – though most of these have gone in to the “vault” (akin to a songwriter’s “trunk” from which half-finished or finished-but-doesn’t-really-fit-anywhere songs are kept), hopefully to be used at a later date.

Over the years of plotting, pondering and (occasionally) writing the narrative, I’ve always  (or at least usually) focused on the overall (macro) sequence of events – how each novel builds upon the over the course of the series/saga, as well as how the actions of one generation affects their descendants. I’ve spent a good amount of time (probably more than I should have) pondering plot points, figuring out sequence of events and possible tangents a narrative could venture, along with musing about characters and their exposition and relationship to one another. Much of the aforementioned pondering and musing have been on a macro level, from one novel to another, and between series within the saga (to the point of drafting a general timeline of major events with the series/saga), and not (yet) on the micro level, that is the exact pacing within a novel.

All of which leads me to this quasi-rambling post about pacing the narrative, both on a macro and micro level [once upon a time I had thought of pursuing a career in finance, but those thoughts soon faded in favor of writing]. While I have written / sketched out the overall plot of any given novel, I’ve never really focused on the chapter breakdown within a single novel. I’m quite an avid reader of many literary genres, and there does seem to be a plethora of options to undertake when figuring out the pacing of the story – some novels unfold within a single day, while others take years to tell their tale.

Considering that the MASC Chronicles as a whole is to span over several centuries (albeit with jumps in time along the way), and each series within the saga is to span several years (or at least that’s the aim), the question of how to pace each novel within the series within the saga is somewhat of a puzzlement. If the pacing is too slow, then the momentum of the overall story arc is lost, and has the potential of meandering into side tangents; on the other hand, if the pacing moves too quickly, some of the nuances are lost and confusion can occur.

Hmm… when I started to write this blog entry, I thought I was going somewhere with this topic, but now that I’ve come this far, I’m not quite sure where this entry is going [as a minor disclaimer, I do tend to write these as a stream of consciousness, of whatever pops into my head, and usually post them as is, with not too much editing].

I’m sure there was a point to writing this, but I suppose this week’s entry is to be more a rambling, nonsensical one. though on a side note, I’m quite diligent in posting an entry each week since I started this blog a few months ago – I suppose I had thought then that by now I’d be able to share samples of my writing endeavors or at least expound more on the overall plot and discuss character traits or something.

Then again, as an introverted writer (is there any other kind?)  I’m hesitant to post any of my fictional writing, being overly sensitive  and self-conscious, wary of criticism (again, traits I’m sure just about every writer shares). I do hope to overcome this hurdle some day, but as for now I’m still stuck in the land of plotting and character building, with short forays down the trail of narrative writing.

Maybe some day when I have the time (or when I find the right inspiration) I’ll write a meta novel about plot bunnies, Muses and other aspects on the Art of Writing.

But for now, it’s back to figuring out a semblance of a narrative arc for the novel(s), series and saga.

The Merits and Dangers of Writing Fan Fiction

As previously stated in a fairly recent blog entry, fan fiction is a curious phenomenon – when written well and handled correctly it can be an homage to established character(s), earning praise and admiration from the character’s fans; conversely, if the handling of such beloved (and sometimes revered) is mismanaged, then the wrath of fans can be quite brutal. Of course, whether or not fan fiction is good or bad is subjective, based on personal preference and essentially one’s opinion of the quality of the fan fiction story. Rarely is there a unified consensus of what is considered to be good fan fiction and bad fan fiction, which can be also said of the source material – everyone is bound to have a positive, negative or indifferent opinion of a story. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and while one may (or may not) agree with it, in the end, it’s just an opinion.

What prompted this revisit on the topic of fan fiction (as opposed to the entry regarding I intended to write about how to pace a novel’s narrative, which will probably be a future blog entry) was the recent announcement that the Agatha Christie Estate has commissioned crime writer Sophie Hannah to write a new Hercule Poirot story, to be released late 2014. From the details gleamed from an article from UK newspaper The Independent , the story is to be set in the early part of Poirot’s career (without sidekick Captain Hastings or Chief Inspector Japp), so that it is to fit within the canon as opposed to being a story set in modern-day.

I am an avid fan of Agatha Christie’s novels (I count her as one of my heroines and an author who influenced me to take up writing mysteries), and have read all of her Poirot stories; I have also watched the many film and television adaptations that were made, and watched Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov and David Suchet (who, in my opinion, is the best of the three) inhabit the persona of that little Belgian detective. As the ITV series of Poirot comes to a close (as David Suchet has successfully, and for the first time, I believe, portrayed Poirot in every story in the Christie canon), it probably seemed logical that there be something new for Poirot fans to enjoy. The general reaction, as far as I’ve read on message boards and social media, has been negative, but I for one will reserve judgement until the novel is released or until more details about the narrative is revealed. Who knows? It might be good.

I’m actually surprised that there hadn’t been an official (or even unofficial) fan-written novel or short story with Poirot published already (aside from various online fan fiction stories), considering his popularity among fictional detectives. After all, there have been scores of short stories and novels featuring Sherlock Holmes (possibly the only fictional detective that is as popular and revered as Hercule Poirot) over the years, of varying styles and genre mash-ups. Then again, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never successfully killed off Holmes (though he had once, in the short story “The Final Problem” but was pressured to resurrect him due to popular demand at the time), so in the Holmes canon as Conan Doyle left it, Holmes retired to the country to study bees. In contrast in the Poirot canon as Christie left it [SPOILER ALERT], Poirot died at the end of Christie’s final published novel Curtain (a novel at which I tear up every time I read it, even though I know the outcome). So there’s that finality for Poirot that is absent with Holmes; but given this new novel is to be set years before his death, that hurdle is removed. Sorta.

All of this brings me (in a very long-winded and roundabout manner) to this blog entry’s title of the merits and dangers of writing fan fiction – I’m not familiar with the works of Sophie Hannah, though I’m sure to receive approval from the Christie Estate, what she submitted must have been good enough (by whatever standards set by the Christie Estate).  There have been many writers (established and emerging) that have tried their hand at writing continuing or expository tales using established, popular characters, to varying degrees of success. Again, the degrees of success is subjective, though sales figures are a quasi-objective measure of success of failure.

As I’m embarking on writing a fan fiction novel (though using characters not as popular as the aforementioned characters), there’s that balance of staying true to the characters as they have been established in the official canon, and the creative injection of adding different facets to the character, based on inferences gleamed from the established canon. The author can be praised or vilified for the addition (or liberties, depending on how you look at it) made to the canon.

Maybe I’m repeating what I had written a fortnight ago, but it does bear repeating (I suppose). The creative inferences I’m making in my fan fiction novel Carpe Noctem, are most likely different from what (little) is established in the source material, and I do hope (when I finish writing it) I can gain approval from those who hold the rights to the characters and story and publish that novel.

Time will tell if this new Poirot novel is accepted and how it will be perceived within the canon.