Breaking Up Dialogue

I’ve never been good at writing dialogue. Describing a scene I can do all day. The poetry of it, the sensory experiences, finding just the right word to describe something perfectly. I love it. If I could write a story without dialogue, I probably would.

I have gotten better at dialogue over the last few years. Establishing a character’s voice, their thought patterns, the things they’re likely to say. I’m still not great at it, but definitely better than I used to be.

What I struggle with now, is where to put the dialogue. When I read stories from published authors, I’m always impressed at how they’ve managed to find just the right time for a character to say just the right thing to move the story along. A lot of explaining happens through dialogue, and it’s tough to make those things come out naturally, when they’re supposed to.

In my current fantasy project, my protagonist, Callum, is trying to find the answers to some questions he has about magic. The only way he can find these answers is to ask other practitioners of magic. But I’m having trouble keeping the dialogue scenes short and not filling up entire chapters with them.

At the moment I’m embedded in chapter 13. Callum encounters a friend he hasn’t seen since chapter 3, and she’s going to answer some of these questions for him. But I don’t want it to be some kind of question-and-answer session between them. I want the answers to come out naturally in their conversation. Also, there’s a lot of information she needs to give him. If she tells him everything at once, it’ll take up half the chapter.

I’m assuming that readers don’t want to read entire chapters of dialogue. At least, not often. They want that dialogue broken up by action scenes that progress the plot, or else they’ll get bored and put the book down, which I definitely don’t want. But how do I know where those dialogue breaks should be? When should other characters reveal this information to him? How often should he talk to the same person? What information can he be given to act on, and what information should be saved for him to act on later?

I don’t want to bog down my readers with extensive dialogue scenes, and give out all the information at once. But I don’t feel like I’m experienced enough to parcel it up like it needs to be.

I don’t have the answers. If you do, let me know. This post is more of an I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing rant of a post. So, I’ll just keep working on it, and maybe one day I’ll have it all figured out.

Midway Points Make Me Panic

This weekend I began writing chapter 13 of my fantasy project. There’s nothing particularly special about chapter 13. It doesn’t even fall directly in the middle of the book (so far as I know; I don’t have a set number of chapters).  But it’s starting to cause me anxiety.

The middling point of a book is kind of terrifying. I enjoy beginning chapters, where you get to set a scene and write exposition and create this brand new world. The characters are new and exciting, and there’s the anticipation of “anything can happen”.

But the middle? You have to actually make the characters do stuff. You have to bring storylines together. In mine, I need to bring all of my main characters into the same physical location and make them interact. I have to explain everything that’s going on (without being too explainy) so the reader understands why the characters are acting the way they are. I need to kill a few of them off, and I’m still undecided on who to kill off and when.

I need my readers to be emotionally invested. If I’ve done my job up to this point, then they care about my protagonist and want him to succeed. They’re connected to my other main characters, and I’m not going to tell you what they should be feeling about them because I don’t want to give the story away. The coming action events need to tug at their heart strings, make them fear and hope and be incapable of putting the book down.

Now is the time to buckle down and make concrete decisions and actually turn the direction of the story. I’m not that great at this part. It’s hard. And scary. Sometimes I’d rather stay at the beginning, where things are easier and I don’t have to think about it as much. Where the decisions I make aren’t life or death (figuratively for me, literally for my characters). But like anything else, if I never push through the middle, the story never gets done.

Talk to me in the comments. What part of the story is the hardest for you?

Solid Progress

So, after the debacle that was writing chapter 10 in my fantasy project, I wrote a post on Reworking My Goals. It was fitting, because I found myself a lot farther behind schedule than I wanted to be.

Now I’m making solid progress. I wrote chapter 11 last week, and I just now finished chapter 12, with still one more working day left in this week (meaning Saturday. Tomorrow is out-we’re going to Carlsbad Caverns!). I feel proud. I really buckled down, and churned out some good pieces of story.

I know these chapters need work. I’m trying to explain a lot about how my magic system works, and it’s coming out in messy dialogue that doesn’t always feel very natural. But that’s okay. The chapters are done, and I can move forward. Like everything that’s come before, the flaws can be cleaned up (or completely rewritten, if necessary) in editing time. After the story is done.

That’s what I’m trying to keep in mind here. It doesn’t have to be perfect this time around. I’m still deciding on where my story needs to go and how it needs to get there. I have the main plot decided, but all the little things in the middle are still up in the air. Some pieces might not match. I’ll catch them later.

This is a short post, but my laptop is currently down to 8% battery and I don’t really know how much time I have left. Once I put it away for the evening I don’t like to get it back out, and my chapter took longer to finish than I expected it to.

I’m gaining momentum. And I look forward to cranking out chapter 13 next week.

Utilizing Name Generators Feels Like Cheating

I’ve never been interested in using a name generator. I first found out about them earlier this year, and from the get-go they struck me as cheating. Why do I bother writing if I can’t even come up with my own names?

For anyone who doesn’t know, name generators are exactly what they sound like. You hit a button, and they populate the screen with random names that you can use for characters, cities, geography, pretty much anything you can think of.

I usually don’t struggle with naming characters. That comes pretty easily to me. Anything else, though? That’s pretty hard. Cities. Villages. Lakes. Even the kingdom in my fantasy project is currently unnamed. I feel like a name should mean something, not just be a compilation of letters, but I can’t seem to figure out what it should be. The regions of my kingdom? Northern Region, Central Region, Southern Region, Lakeshore Region. Fairly unimaginative, I know, but appropriate for the role they play.

Whenever possible, I try to find a play on words and incorporate foreign words into my naming. For example, the Southern Region of my kingdom is based on Celtic names, so one of my main  coastal cities is named Halvard, which means “defending the rock”.  Hodder River runs next to the capital city, Hodder meaning “peaceful”.

I really struggled this past week. I needed to name a mountain range, and my mind was just drawing a blank. So, against my better judgment, I turned to a name generator. I don’t remember which one, it just happened to be the first of the search results listed. I prowled through the list, and nothing really resonated with me. Many of the results simply looked like someone pulled letters out of a hat and stuck them together to make a word. And, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get used to the idea of using a name that something else chose for me. It still felt like cheating.

So, I closed it out and started doing some mountain research. Searching mountain ranges got me nowhere, since most of those are easily identifiable: Rockies. Alps. Cascades. Andes. But individual mountains, not so much. The Northern Region of my kingdom is based on the Vikings, so I focused my search on Scandinavian mountains, and I finally hit home. When you find the right name, something just clicks inside your brain. There’s a mountain in Sweden named Areskutan Mountain, so I stole it and named my range the Areskutan Mountain Range. I think it fits, and I’m completely comfortable using it.

I don’t know why I feel differently about using name generators versus names that already exist. Someone else came up with the name “Areskutan”. I didn’t. Yet stealing that name sits just fine with me, while using a name generator doesn’t. I wish I knew if published authors use name generators, but I don’t have a way to find out. I posted a question about it on a writing forum, but I only got a handful of answers. Three, to be exact, from people who do use them when writing fantasy or paranormal works. But they’re in the same boat I am, so I don’t know how much weight their opinion carries.

I know that in the end it all comes down to personal preference, just like any issue that arises when you’re trying to write a book. It’s all subjective, which is sometimes good and sometimes really bad. For now, I’m going to continue to eschew name generators. I’m not comfortable with them, and using them would make me less comfortable with my story, and that would be a bad thing indeed.

Writer friends: Do you use name generators? What are your thoughts on them?