Archive for March, 2012

Writer Research

March 30, 2012

Just because you’re writing fiction, it doesn’t give you license to make everything up.

Well, okay, so maybe it does. It’s your story, you can do whatever you want. But, let’s say you want someone to actually read it. Now, things are a little different. You want to write a story that will draw readers in—that will engage them. We’re talking about writing realistic fiction or fiction that is at least entertaining enough that the reader will be willing to suspend disbelief. There’s a word for that true-to-life feeling that a story can have—one that writers often throw around when they’re trying to sound smart and writerly: verisimilitude. And that’s what you want. So how do you accomplish that? How do you write a story that feels real to the reader? Well, you employ another, less impressive word: RESEARCH.

Research for fiction writers

Research is a word that fills many creative writers with dread. But unless you want people reading your story to roll their eyes and say “that would never happen,” then it pays to do your due diligence.

There are plenty of ways to research your novel including the following:

•    Using the internet (obviously the quickest and most painless way)
•    Visiting the library (ah, check you out…the old school approach)
•    Traveling to locations where your story will take place (a bold move there Hemingway, you sure you’ve got the moxy?)
•    Interviewing people who know about the things you are writing about (now you’re just getting crazy)

How does research make for realistic fiction writing?

Personally, I recommend using a combined approach where you employ all of the techniques mentioned above. Doing so allows you to inject detail into your work—nuances that someone might not know unless they’ve been somewhere, eaten the food there, and talked to the locals. Whether your reader has been to your story’s locale or not, I guarantee you that such details will still make your story seem more real for her.

Now, I know there are many writers who would rather take a bullet from their own antagonist’s gun (let’s say it’s a .44 caliber slug from a Smith & Wesson Model 29—that’s Dirty Harry’s gun… I researched it) than go out and actually talk to people. But, I still recommend doing so. No matter what you do, make sure you check out the facts behind your subjects, characters, settings, etc. As cliché as it was, my aforementioned gun became more real when I gave you a few extra details—and your fiction should do the same.

Make Your Dialogue True-to-Life

March 6, 2012

Dialogue is one of those things that a lot of writers struggle with. It’s difficult to make the things your characters say sound true to life—to convey the important details of the story without sounding forced or fake. Here are some tips I hope might help you:

5 Tips for Writing Convincing Dialogue

  1. Never use dialogue as an information dump. Too many writers rely on dialogue for story exposition—that is to say that they relay details about plot or backstory through the things their characters say. The result? Writing that sounds completely fake or is what is often referred to as “on the nose dialogue.” Like this: “As you know,” Dr. Constance said, “I’m a forensic specialist, trained by the FBI in DNA analysis, so I’ll take this sample back to the lab for testing.
  2. Use simple dialogue tags. Fancy dialogue tags like she denounced or he proclaimed might seem like a good way to show off your writer’s vocabulary, but in truth they draw attention away from your dialogue. She said or he said is almost always your best choice. Let the characters’ words speak for themselves.
  3. Use dialogue beats to help with story pacing and to convey information or emotion. Dialogue beats are brief depictions of character action inserted in between dialogue that help bring the scene to life. Like this:“Nah, I don’t mind,” Dan shrugged his shoulders and grinned as he wiped a dirty bandana across his forehead, “Let’s do this thing.”
  4. Remember that often less is more. When you write dialogue look back and see if there are words you can leave out or there is a shorter way to say what you just wrote. People often say things the shortest way possible in real life.
  5. Be careful when writing dialect. Many writers think that giving a character an accent or a drawl is a great way to make the character come to life—and it can be. But if done in a way that is too heavy handed it can turn your character into a stereotype or a joke. Or even worse, you can offend or annoy readers. So, keep in mind that when it comes to dialect, a little goes a long way.