Elements of a Great Story – Dialogue

This month on Aussie Owned and Read we’re looking at the elements of a great story, and to help me write about crafting good dialogue, I’m lucky enough to interview fiction dialogue expert Professor S. M. Artmouth, known best for his work at the University of Wordoming.

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Photo by Leonardo Valente via Pixabay

‘Professor Artmouth, welcome to Aussie Owned and Read.’ I give the professor a big AO&R smile. ‘It’s an absolute pleasure to have you here.’

He leans back in his chair and nods. ‘I’m sure it is.’

I blink, then glance down at my notes before the man catches me starting at him open-mouthed. Surely he didn’t just say that?

I clear my throat. ‘You’ve been teaching fiction writing for some time now, and your area of expertise is dialogue. What would you say is the first thing a writer should keep in mind when trying to write good dialogue?’

‘That, Ms … Sorry, what was your name again?’ The man’s bushy brows scrunch above his thin-rimmed glasses.

‘Colmer. Kat Colmer.’

‘Yes, yes.” He waves away my answer like I’d interrupted him. ‘A writer must always ask if their dialogue is essential to the story. It must either advance the plot, reveal character, or reflect theme. If it does none of these, it’s a waste of space and must be done away with.’ Another wave of the hand. Maybe he’s swatting away redundant bits of dialogue?

I shift back a little in my chair so he doesn’t accidentally smack me in the nose. ‘What’s a mistake you see beginner writers make too often?’ I ask.

Professor Artmouth rests his elbows on the arms of his chair and steeples his fingers. The thoughtful contemplation he forces across his face is so comical, it takes everything I have not to laugh.

One of the most repeated mistakes I see in the fiction of unseasoned writers is the misuse of dialogue as a way to dump information on the reader. It may not be something that you, a recently published author with no formal education in creative writing, may easily identify in a manuscript. However, someone like myself, a highly esteemed professor of the literary arts, one who presents with a distinct air of intellect and authority as well as above average good looks, can spot a dialogue information dump from the other side of the country.’ He angles his head and gives me a pitying look. ‘Dialogue should never be used to blatantly give the reader information. Any attempt at exposition in dialogue should be in the context of confrontation. Good dialogue simply must include conflict of some sort.’

I grip my question sheet tighter in an attempt to avoid showing this douche of a man a conflict of a very different kind. ‘No gratuitous information dumps. Got it.’ I shift in my chair. Time for another question. ‘What advice would you give writers when it comes to crafting dialogue that’s distinctive to a particular character?’

‘Careful selection of vocabulary,’ he says, adjusting the cuff of his badly ironed shirt.

‘And by that you mean…’

‘By that I mean the vocabulary should fit the character, Ms Colman.’

My smile is forced. ‘It’s Colmer.’

‘Yes, yes.’ Again with the hand wave. ‘Now, let me illustrate. If, for example, you were to base a character on me, you’d want to use complex and elevated vocabulary to make sure the reader understood my character came from the upper class and was highly educated.’

I look down at my notes. ‘And highly conceited.’

‘Excuse me?’

I cough. ‘I said, could you please repeat that?’

Artmouth frowns, but he loves the sound of his own voice too much to stop talking. ‘The vocabulary must be right for the character, is what I said.’

‘So we should be realistic in how we represent characters and their speech when writing dialogue.’

‘Yes and no.’ No hand wave this time. Just a smug smile as he leans back in his chair and waits for me to ask him to explain.

I take a slow breath. ‘Please elaborate.’

‘I believe it was Hitchcock who said that great story is life with the boring bits taken out. So it is with great dialogue. We want to give the illusion of real life dialogue with all the mundane parts removed. No one wants to read umms and ahhs after every third word. And don’t get me started on overuse of dialect and colloquialism.’ He rolls his eyes, and a wave of pity for his creative writing students rolls through me.

‘Last question,’ —because I’m so over this interview— ‘I’ve heard it said that good dialogue should be working double duty. What exactly does this mean?’

‘Ah, good question, Ms Colman.’

‘It’s Colmer.’

He ignores me. At least there’s no dismissive hand wav— Wait. There it is.

‘Good dialogue should strive to include …’ Fart— I mean, Artmouth leans forward conspiratorially, like what he’s about to divulge is the holy grail of dialogue writing, ‘…subtext,’ he finally says, and waits for me to be duly impressed. My lack of awe sends him slumping back against his chair. ‘What I mean is, what isn’t said is just as important, if not more so, than what is being said.’

I nod.

So does he.

The air between us bulges with subtext that isn’t fit for polite conversation.

‘Professor Artmouth, it’s been an experience.’ I offer him my hand, but — surprise, surprise — he waves it away.

‘Yes, yes. I’m certain it has been.’ And with that, Professor S. M. Artmouth proceeds out of the room, followed closely by his overinflated self importance.

 

For more information on dialogue in fiction without the need to interview pompous fictitious writing professors, I recommend James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self-Editing for Publication. He’s got a fantastic chapter on writing and editing dialogue.


Kat Colmer AuthorKat Colmer is a Young Adult author and high-school teacher librarian who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Sydney, Australia. Her debut YA The Third Kiss is out now with ENTANGLED TEEN. Learn more on her website, or come say hi on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

 

Review: ILLUMINATE by L.L. Hunter

Emma Raine looks like your average eighteen-year-old.

But she holds a secret deep within her.

She is a magical being, a powerful queen of a faraway mythical land who fled her destiny.

No one will ever know.

And she’ll kill you before you ever will.

By day, Emma is a journalism intern in one of Sydney’s top media companies.
By night, she researches ways of keeping magic hidden, of keeping her world separate from the life she lives now.
But something is stirring in the streets of the trendy Australian city.
There are whispers of magic, and Emma must stop it before it takes hold.
Her search leads her to the mysterious forests of New Zealand, the one place she swore she’d never return… and the man who rules it all.

In the enticing first novel of the spin-off of the Dragon Heart Series, can Emma keep her magic hidden from the one man she thought she’d never see again?
Or will his interest in her illuminate everything?

You can’t run from your destiny.

An illuminating tale of magic and immortal love.

Hidden magic Book 2, Illuminate reveals many aspects of what has now become Emma’s life in a mostly normal world. Tormented and alone, Emma keeps herself busy killing magical creatures that dare show themselves to humans – though it is clear early on that her desire to kill the other magical beings stems from her anger towards her own magic and the path it led her on.

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L. L. Hunter has created characters that you connect with immediately, their personalities are portrayed perfectly, and Hunter really shines when writing the dialogue between them.

I love the interaction between Darcy and Emma. Their love/hate relationship is driven by a passion born the moment they laid eyes on one another.

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They are both immortal, and though Emma once trapped him in his house, he feels a longing for her that keeps him near her even hundreds of years later. I am excited to see how their relationship develops over the course of the series.

I can’t wait for Hidden Magic Book 3 – Where will L. L. Hunter send Emma next, and will Darcy be there beside her?

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I give Illuminate four stars. My only wish was that it was a little longer, but I guess with book 3 on it’s way out, I won’t have wait long to discover more of Emma and Darcy’s story.

 

Elements of a Great Story – Pacing

This month on Aussie Owned we’re looking at the elements of a great story. I chose pacing because it’s one of my favourite elements of story, and one I have struggled with from time to time — particularly when I was a wee baby writer working on my first novel. (I liked to overshare about the day-to-day of my characters’ lives, you guys. No, I loved it. I was still getting to know them, and that’s fine in a first draft — but some of those scenes had to go because, ye gods, they were boring.)

Pacing is, simply, how fast the story unfolds. The “right” pacing varies depending on the requirements of your story. Some stories take you along like you’re old friends going for a stroll along the beach, slowly immersing you in events until you’re invested (before probably sucking the sand out from under you or smashing you with a wave). Other stories are the equivalent of riding a runaway stallion, all thundering hooves and branches slapping you in the face and maybe, if you’re lucky, the chance to pause and eat some grass at some point.

Okay, I’ll stop with the terrible similes!

The tools for adjusting a story’s pacing are varied; action and dialogue speed the story up, while description slows it down. Short sentences and paragraphs speed it up; long sentences and paragraphs slow it down. I think it’s best expressed by one of my favourite writers (who writes fast-paced speculative fiction and gives the best writing advice I’ve found on the internet), Chuck Wendig.

Further reading … but not, like, in a boring way

I love to give book recommendations, and, happily, I can readily bring to mind two five-star favourites with very different levels of pacing. (Both are speculative fiction, because that’s how I roll.)

The first is Aussie urban fantasy Shadows by Paula Weston (and in fact the whole Rephaim series). The four books of this series are set over the course of a couple of weeks. Sure, there are flashbacks, particularly in the last one, but still. It really gives you a sense for how exhausted the characters must be, the urgency of the storyline. When they had a chance to pause for food or a sleep I was relieved on their behalf! I can’t recommend this series highly enough.

 

The second book I’m recommending is one I just finished, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. This man is a world-building, story-crafting genius. I strongly recommend his works if you like your fantasy on the EPIC side of epic — Goodreads tells me the hardcover of The Way of Kings is over 1000 pages. (I listened to this on audiobook and it was 45+ hours long.) Because Sanderson spends so much time building his worlds and layering them with backstory and foreshadowing, the books are immersive and the build of tension is slower than in some other stories, but the stakes just keep getting higher and higher. And there are flashes of action that keep you gripped.

 


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer whose latest urban fantasy, False Awakening, hits the shelves at the end of August. Preorders are now available from your favourite ebook retailers.

Point of View

Here on AOR this month we’re each looking at different elements that make up a great story. Point of view, or POV as it’s often referred to, is so important.

But first…. WHAT IS IT?

Simply, it’s the perspective from which the story is told.

This isn’t simply which character but rather the style/technique used. There are several common types of POV.

FIRST PERSON:

Here, the main character (usually) tells the story in the form of an ‘I’ narrator.

First person POV is used often in YA writing in particular because it has that sense of immediacy. however, it is important to note that the reader can’t know anything the character doesn’t see/hear/experience.

An example of a recent first person book I read and loved was ‘TRUST’ by Kylie Scott. It opens with a hold up in a convenience store and the POV makes the reader experience that drama along with Edie, the main character.

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THIRD PERSON:

Single – here, the POV is limited to one character but uses ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘it’ form. Again the reader is limited by what that character knows. Can choose to be ‘deep’ where we’re right in that character’s head or further away.

Multiple – again ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘it’  but can follow multiple characters in the story. It works best to change view points at obvious scene/chapter breaks.

Omniscient – again ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘it’  but now the narrator knows everything. Kind of a narrator god.

In the Harry Potter series, which is written in the 3rd person, we see most of the action from Harry’s POV and often experience his emotions strongly however we sometimes see from other characters POV too (eg at the beginning of each book).

 

SECOND PERSON:

This is the ‘you’ for of narration and is the most unusual in fiction.

I actually can’t think of a book I’ve read in 2nd person POV. I’d love to know if you have?

 

I think that different POV work for different stories and the best way to work out what is best for you to read and write is to try them out.

 

🙂

Beck

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I always wanted to write. I’ve worked as a lab assistant, a pizza delivery driver and a high school teacher but I always pursued my first dream of creating stories. Now, I live with my family near Adelaide, halfway between the city and the sea, and am lucky to spend my days (and nights) writing young adult fiction.

The Elements of a Great Story — Setting

This month we’re taking a ‘for the writers’ spin on our theme and talking about what makes a story great. I’ve been tasked with world building, which is something I love!

Worldbuilding is the term we use to describe the creation of an imaginary setting.

Creating worlds that feel as though you’ve stepped right inside them is a tricky talent that will turn a good story into a great story. Let’s think about some books that fit into the ‘great’ category and examine their settings in terms of beleviability;

  • Harry Potter. I know, I know, I use JK Rowling as an example all the time, but honestly she’s one of the best storytellers out there. The magic world in which her characters live is so well rounded that many, many muggles have tried to run through the column on London station marked 9 3/4. Heck, I’m still waiting for my Hogwarts letter!
  • The Lunar Chronicles. This futuristic world of magic and science is so realistic I wonder if it’s actually a glimpse into the future. If Prince Kai will someday reign over the Eastern Commonwealth, if we’ll colonize the moon, if cyborgs … who am I kidding? We’re only a sneeze away from real, live, breathing cyborgs right now!
  • The Mortal Instruments. A world hidden within our own that holds magic, paranormal creatures, and other beings who keep us safe. Like the other two worlds mentioned, I wonder if I just drew the right rune on my arm … would everything pop into focus? Is the old church in my neighbourhood really an institute? If I dive down to the very bottom of a clear mountain pool will I find a gateway into the seelie court?

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All three of these series contain amazing worldbuilding. Let’s take a look at what they have in common.

  • They’re immensely detailed.
  • Those details are woven through every aspect of every character and every aspect of every scene. Think Luna’s fear of nargals. Think ‘moving’ photographs in newspapers. Think feasts that appear out of thin air. Think moving staircases and plants that screech when uprooted. Think language choices unique to the world. Think wumping willows and rooms of requirement. Think extracted memories and listening devices shaped like ears. Think Harry Potter. All of these things, no matter how large or small, add up to create one amazingly unique, almost realistic world.
  • The places in these books feel so real they become like another character in the story. Hogwarts. The Rampion. Alicante. All settings, but if I asked you to describe characteristics or even a personality-type feel to these settings I bet you could.
  • In great stories the reader doesn’t feel like they’re trudging through paragraphs of description to find the plot. The setting (world) is slotted into the story so seamlessly the reader doesn’t notice it’s there.

SUBTLETY IS KEY!

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Setting is an essential part of any great story. Together with great characters, solid (and invisible) world building is what makes readers keep coming back to a series. It’s what makes us wish fictional worlds were real (or hope they’re not :P).

I’ve shared a few of my favourite bookish worlds. Which ones do you love?

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Stacey Nash writes Aussie YA / NA. Her Oxley College Saga is a series of romances based in the fictional Oxley College on a university campus. Her Collective Series is YA trilogy about a girl who discovers secret sci-fi technology and the organisation who suppress it. To find out more about Stacey’s books or to connect with her on social media (where she tries to be engaging), check out these places: www.stacey-nash.com, instagram, twitter, facebook.

The Elements Of A Great Story – PLOT

This month on Aussie Owned we are talking great stories and what the elements are that make it great. Firstly we will be talking PLOT.

Plot is the driving force of your story.

So what is plot? Plot is more than story, it is the large scale events that both move your story forwards and change your character from who they were in the beginning. It is essential that the characters are driving the plot, not the plot moving along on its own or without any connection to the characters key to the story.

After the brief introduction, there will be an inciting incident, a climax, and a resolution.

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The inciting incident should happen as close to the beginning as possible. Too soon, and we won’t care about the character so the inciting incident won’t have impact. Too late, and you run the chance of leaving the reader bored.

A great example of this is Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy. Within the first chapter we learn that the two main characters are mentally linked, one is a princess, and the other is her ‘body guard’. Oh, and they’re on the run. Their close bond draws the reader in and makes you care about them by association. After this brief set up, the inciting incident is when they are found by the people they’ve been running from and are dragged back to the academy.

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The climax is the turning point in the story. It is the moment that the character decides to do something about the incidents facing them. After this point the main character will never be the same.

A great example of this is Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight. Bella decides to go after James because he claims to have her mother. She doesn’t tell Edward or the other Cullens of her decision. This confrontation in the story is a well-timed climax. Far enough into the story to have led to it with other driving incidents, but close enough to the end to give the protagonist time to develop the resolution.

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The resolution is simply what happened at the very end. It is where you show how the character you started with those many pages ago, has changed due to the incidents and climax they have experienced.

A great example of this is J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. As a whole the series has a perfect resolution. All three characters are pivotal to the story and each have their own resolutions, but the story ends with them together. Reflecting on how they have grown and changed from the meek, nervous and shy eleven year olds to the badass near-adults of the final pages.

The resolution of the story and not just the change of the character is important too. In Harry Potter, there is a very clear line between good versus evil and this resolution was made clear when Harry chooses to use Expelliarmus instead of one of the Unforgivable Curses.

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For more in depth education on the importance of plot in a story, you can check out this cool PIXAR tutorial – https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/pixar/storytelling

 

Review: One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

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New York Times bestseller

One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.

Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.

Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.

Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.

Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.

And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

 

Is it just me, or does that cover totally sell the book? From the moment I saw this one I knew I had to get it. Until I saw it was multi-POV. I really don’t dig it. Multi-POV is sooooo hard to get right and from the top of my head I only know one author who has done it well.

That said, it wasn’t too bad.

One Of Us Is Lying was a great debut. The writing is strong, the concept is fantastic, and the characters were really relatable. Marketed as The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars is the most spot on comps I’ve heard of in a long time.

Bronwyn, Nate, Addy, and Cooper are the main narrators. I can’t say I like any one of them more than the others, but as the cover clearly states, they’re pretty cliché. The author did try to delve a little deeper into their personalities but with four perspectives we’re never with each character long enough to really care deeply about them.

That said, I seriously enjoyed this book. It was a great read, and I loved the mystery to it.

The only thing that disappointed me was the ending. The climax was great, and written really well, but I picked who ‘did it’ right from the start. That could come down to the enormous amount of YA I read, but I really would have loved to be totally surprised. I’m yet to find a murder mystery that has completely taken the ground out from under me.

I definitely recommend reading.

 

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary