Sunday, January 30, 2011


By Suzanne Roberts

I’ve collected some ideas in my attempts to make my writing more natural and clear, so that the reader can see and feel what’s happening in the story and know the main characters well.

Dialogue must be accurate, and, since I can’t always remember exactly how a person spoke, I carry paper and pen with me. When I hear people talking, especially in a southern or country dialect, I listen and write down what they are saying and how they are saying it. This, for me, is the best way to make the dialogue authentic.

When I was in Charleston in a restaurant recently, my friend and I sat near a group of people speaking in southern drawl concerning religion, marriage, abortion, and myriad of topics. It was like I’d discovered gold. I took out my notebook and began writing their dialogues. Noticing what I was doing, my friend said, “You know, you can get into trouble for that.” So I turned away from them, placing my notebook on my knee. What’s a better idea for recording dialogue? A hidden tape recorder? I’m sure that wouldn’t cause any problems.

Read. Notice the style, vocabulary and methods used by the writers to make their books real, exciting, suspenseful. When I am writing I highlight passages that I think are particularly well written. This helps me see how they are crafted, what works and what doesn’t.

Description - Become aware of everything and everyone around you. Look at the clouds. Are they white and full, floating in the blue sky, or grey and threatening, racing across the shadowy sky. How does the wind feel? Is it cold and harsh or warm and soothing? Consider your character’s point of view. If she is angry, the sun might be a blinding beam of light making it hard for her to see and irritating her eyes. If the character is happy, the sun could be luminescent, sparkling on the water, and bringing out the color of the flowers.

In Bad Dirt, a brilliant book of short stories by Annie Proulx, she describes a game warden traveling through an area of Wyoming.

On a November day Wyoming game and fish Warden Creel Zmundzinski was making his way down the Pinchbutt drainage through the thickening light of late afternoon. The last pieces of sunlight lathered his red-whiskered face with splashes of fire. The terrain was steep with lodgepole pine giving way on the lower slope to sagebrush and a few grassy meadows favored by elk on their winter migration to the southeast.
Observe the people you meet, notice their appearance, movements, speech, idiosyncrasies. Do you see anything you could use for your characters? Add only those that will help the reader see and understand the characters.

Don’t write to publish. Write about what interests you in your own style, which might be erudite or simple. Both styles work. Worrying about publishing makes writing more difficult and less enjoyable, and, probably, in the long run, less publishable.


Laura Puccia Valtorta said...

I love Annie Proulx and her short stories, especially the Wyoming Stories. Have you read "That Old Ace in the Hole" novel by Annie?

monjon said...

Several interesting ideas. I particularly agree with the last paragraph.