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 staring 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!

 

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.

Instalove – my take.

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We live in a world of instant gratification. Instant coffee. Instant noodles. Instant cameras. Instagram!

But what about instalove?  That ‘lerve’ so many YA protagonists seem to fall victim to in so many novels of late.  Does it work? Are you as a reader convinced?  And if we DO insist upon instalove, are we demeaning the female gender?  Are we saying that girls can’t see past a pretty face and hot bod?

 

Hmmnn… Let’s backtrack for a mo. Because I think I know where the problem lies.

First off: Does every YA novel need a romance?  I was reading an article the other day that says ‘not’. 

And it made me think… After all, each of my YA novels has indeed featured a romance. And the reason I did that is  – quite apart from the fact that I love a good old romance – it is part of the profile of the average teenager. It is imprinted into their collective DNA that between the ages of 14 and 17 that there will be a (fatalistic/obsessive/ intriguing/mild – choose the applicable qualifier)romantic  interest in the opposite or same gender. 

It’s a time when a match is lit to the hormones  – and it’s perfectly natural.  Does that mean every story has  to be a romance? No. Never.  But to me it’s always about world building. And if as the author you set out to recreate the YA world, then there are certain elements that must be included  or it won’t ring true.  In my humble opinion, romantic attraction or interest in some form has to be one of those inclusions.

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Even if it’s not your protag who’s  suffering the pangs of unrequited love, it could be a friend. But I kinda think it has to be given a nod, has to be acknowledged or that world won’t reflect that world they inhabit.

And I think there are a lot of authors who think the same way. Except it comes across as : Oh wait! I’ve gotta add a romance!  

Aha! Problem found!

No, no, no!

You know what? You don’t gotta add anything if it doesn’t fit. And that’s despite what I just wrote above. What it must ‘gotta’  be is story first.

Throwing in a romance because you think it should be there – looks – and is – like it’s an afterthought. Plot your romance  along with the other part of your story. After 72 books, I say that I imagine myself hauling a thick entwined rope over my shoulder through the book. Each of those strands is another element of the story, and I weave those elements as I go.  The romance is one of those equal elements.  It’s not a stand alone. It’s woven into the fabric of the story.

However, we’re talking about instalove and so if your story allows for romance, or if it’s a straight romance, then there are ways you can manage the process without asking the reader to accept that one glance across the cafeteria is all it took and boom!  Stars and flashbulbs…  

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My advice:

  • Take is slow and easy
  • Let them discover each other
  • Find where they connect
  • Let the verbal sparks fly. Get some snappy clever convo going on.
  • Let them see past the facade to what lies beneath
  • Weave this aspect into the story into the overall plot. This isn’t just another issue for your protag to contend with – it’s something that complicates and adds depth to your overall plotline.
  • This is his or her life. In real life we don’t stop and think, oh okay, I’ll stop trying to solve this mystery now and pop on my romance hat because it’s time to think about her/him. Really?  Doesn’t happen. It’s seamless. They overlap.

When it’s action time:

  • Remember they’re new to this. Fumbley and awkward.
  • Awkward is okay
  • Confusion is normal.

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So – I guess my point is that even if the love/romance isn’t your main theme or plot, it can still be a subplot. And why not? What better way to complicate a plot than to also have your protagonist agonising over that significant – or possible significant – other?

But, if you’re going to do it, do it well.  Or I’d be forced to agree with the article author and suggest you leave it out. 

kaz-profiles-022Multi award winning author Kaz Delaney has published 72 novels for kids, teens & adults over a 20 year period, many of them  published in several languages. Thirteen are YA novels and every one features a romance. Her latest is The Reluctant Jillaroo, Allen & Unwin, 2016 .  She is repped by JDM Management.

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

 

This, for me, is a hard review to write. Which is why I need to write it.

What Thomas has created with this book is talking point, a highlight to the divide in society and the racism that still exists. This is what ‘own voices’ books are all about.

Starr is a brilliant character who accurately portrays the struggle to find your place in the world. She’s an easy character to relate to and to cheer on. I loved her voice, I loved watching her grow, and I loved seeing how she faced up to the challenges in her life.

In case you have somehow missed hearing about this book, THUG is about a girl of colour who is raised in the ‘ghetto’ yet attends school with a predominately white population and tries to hide her ‘blackness’ in order to fit in. This book was written by a woman of colour, about a woman of colour, and there is no whitewashing to the story.

Because of this, the book is confronting to someone who usually reads stories through a white lens.

The quiet thought-provoking narrative really makes you question your own bias. It shows how racism isn’t just the intent behind your words, but also how society has conditioned you to subconsciously think. Thomas did such a great job introducing us to Khalil that when he is shot and killed by a police officer you feel it. It’s horrible.

And then the news reports start. Reports we’ve all seen following the shooting of a person of colour. Maybe they were a drug dealer, or had a concealed weapon. Maybe they were portrayed as being a threat. THUG then goes on to show the other side. The caring person who was doing whatever he could to support his family, who was sorely missed by the people left behind.

This mix of real world events and relatable characters force you to question which reaction you would have had under the circumstances.

As amazing as I found THUG, I did feel the beginning ran a little slow. It felt like a long book (I’m used to quick reads I think) up until the grand jury’s decision, but from there I couldn’t put the book down. The ending was so beautifully written I needed a moment to check out of real life once it was finished.

If you haven’t read THUG yet, I suggest getting it on your TBR pile. It’s no surprise it debuted on the NYT Bestseller List.

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(and a half)

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary and is on a mad dash to edit the crap out of MS 2

Romancing the Reader

This month on Aussie Owned and Read we’re talking about romance. I’m a romantic at heart, I love the happy sigh when my couple get together. I love the tension and the payoff. I’d probably see a romance in a book even if there wasn’t one.

But, I think there’s a special romance in reading and that’s between the book/author and the reader.

I’ve felt it myself, for the Harry Potter series for example. I have pop figures and a wand and socks and more because that world holds a romance for me that I’ll never lose. I’ve read criticisms of the books, even agreed with some but it doesn’t change the romance for me.

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As a reader and writer it makes me wonder what it is that creates the romance.

First there is the courting. The reader needs to be wooed and for that there needs to be an initial attraction. The cover and title help with this. Who hasn’t fallen for a beautiful cover? Then there’s the author themselves. Thanks to the internet a reader can feel they know something about the author, through their social media and also other books they might have read. There’s word of mouth and advertising too.

That’s all well and good to get you on the book date but what keeps you there and gives the reader that love affair with a book?

I think it’s different for everyone but for me it’s a little like a relationship with another human. Keeping me entertained, following through on promises and mixing things up enough I don’t get bored.

Anyone had a great book romance recently?

(you’ll know cos you’ve gushed to your friends and stared lovingly at it more than necessary)

 

 

🙂

Beck

beck nicholas_ bec sampson

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.

Four Times I Got on the Wrong Ship (aka Unlucky in Love Triangles)

Featured image source: Shutterstock

Ship noun (in fanfic) 1. a relationship.
— verb (t) (shipped, shipping
2. to create a relationship between two characters in a work of fiction, as in the genre fanfic.
[shortened form of relationship]

— Macquarie Dictionary

Love triangles* are one of the biggest tropes in modern YA and in speculative fiction more broadly, usually of the two-guys-one-girl variety.

(The geometry nerd in me has to point out that it usually isn’t a triangle but two lines with one connecting point. Gale never snogged Peeta in The Hunger Games … though it’d be the work of a few seconds to turn up a fanfic where he did. Anyway, moving on…)

For a writer, they are loads of fun and a great source of romantic and dramatic tension. For a reader, love triangles can be the ultimate in wish fulfilment. But I have another game that I play when I read books with a love triangle, which is “pick my favourite love interest and watch them lose”. If love triangles are a race between the (usually) two guys for the (usually) one girl, don’t back my bet, people. I almost always get on the wrong ship. Part of that is because I tend to go for the best friend character, the boy next door, rather than the brooding and enigmatic one, and in urban fantasy (my favourite genre) Mr Enigma always wins. 

Four times I got on the wrong ship

Katniss, Peeta and Gale (The Hunger Games) — I was pro-Gale in the beginning, though I did have a soft spot for Peeta (as the boy next door) as well. It just seemed obvious to me that Katniss was hung up on Gale from the start. Of course, then she got broken and he couldn’t deal. By halfway through the third book I had changed ships, but for the first two? I got it totally wrong. 

Hermione, Ron and Harry (Harry Potter) — It’s been a while since I read the books, but I don’t remember JK Rowling inserting much in the way of a love triangle into them. It was more that I was on the Harry ship from the start, and I could never quite deal with the whole Ron thing. Sorry, Ron. 

Clary, Jace and Simon (The Mortal Instruments) — This was a textbook case of me liking the nerdy, normal best friend over the brooding and arrogant Mr Enigma. Given the allegations that Simon is based off Harry from Cassandra Clare’s fanfic-writing days (and Jace is Draco), that shouldn’t be a surprise. At least I’m consistent!

Alyssa, Jeb and Morpheus (Splintered) — This was a race to the bottom between the boys for me. Jeb was the literal boy next door but I hated his domineering attitude even more than I hated Morpheus’s manipulations. At least Morpheus had playfulness going for him, but I wanted neither of them to end up with Alyssa — which, again, was the opposite of what happened. (I only read the first two Twilight books, but I felt the same way about Edward and Jacob. Hard pass on both.) 

Do you play the “who will win” game when you read books with love triangles? Are you better at picking the ship that wins out in the end? Or do you go your own way, fanfic style, and create a ship outside the parameters of the original story — such as Draco and Harry, or McGonnagall and Snape? Leave a comment telling us about your favourite ship!


Cassandra PageCassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer who has used used love triangles a couple of times, in her Isla’s Inheritance YA urban fantasy trilogy and her Lucid Dreaming adult urban fantasy duology (the second book of which comes out later this year). Mmm, triangle-y. 

 

The Best Aussie (YA/NA) Romance Reads

We’re talking about romancing the reader this month and today I want to mention some swoonworthy Aussie books that well and truely romanced me.

Summer Skins (Kirsty Eager) — the best traditionally published aussie NA I’ve read. Set on campus at an aussie uni, it’s a boys vs girls prank-fest and so much fun.  Get on it!

Words in Deep Blue (Cath Cowley) — so much more than a YA romance. This book is emotion and feeling and friendship and grief all rolled into a ball that isn’t contained nor repaired by love. Just beautiful.

Pieces of Sky (Trinity Doyle) — another book about grief and friendship and love and loss. This book is an amazing aussie YA with a gorgeous aussie beach setting.

On the Jellicoe Road (Melina Marcetta) — My goodness. Perfect is one word I’d use to describe this read. It moved me in ways that no other book has. It’s a romance and a mystery and so well written I had writer-envy.

Grafitti Moon (Cath Crowley) — It’s quirky, it’s gritty, it all takes place in one single night. And it’s home to amazingly unique characters that I just want to befriend.

 

The AO&R crew have also written some Aussie romance. Check out the Our Books tab or Goodreads list for more details. I’d suggest Lauren’s Emerald Cove Series, Stacey’s Oxley College Saga, Beck’s Fake, Kaz’s Reluctant Jillaroo, Sharon’s Open Heart Series, Cass’s Lucid Dreaming, or Katie’s Cadence. All are vastly different, yet common in that they hold a romance and an Aussie setting. The rest of the crew have their debut books releasing soon!

What’s your favourite Aussie YA/NA romance read?


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.To find out more about Stacey’s books or to connect with her on social media (where she tries not to only romance), check out these places: www.stacey-nash.com, instagram, twitter, facebook.

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