Friday, July 10, 2015

Oh Say Can You Say

When I first joined my critique group, there was a little questionnaire that my group leader sent around so we could fill it out and get to know each other a bit.  One of the questions asked what our writing strengths were and one of them asked for our weaknesses.  My exact answer for my strengths was "Not really sure I have any strengths unless an unlimited imagination counts."

Ever since I filled that out at the end of January '15, I've been wondering if I have any strengths as a writer.  This stays in the back of my head whenever I'm writing or reviewing someone else's work.  I'm consistently jealous of other peoples abilities to flesh out characters.  I was recently reading Marissa Meyer's book, Scarlet, the second book in the Lunar Chronicles.  She has so many characters going in her series but they're different, interesting, realistic, and so much fun! Even though there are some things about her writing I don't care for as much, I was really impressed with her character development.  I'm already planning to reread them to get some pointers.

As I've been critiquing other people's work, I've discovered that a lot of people have difficulty writing realistic dialogue.  There's too much back and forth a lot of times and I've read more than one piece of work where the characters trail off onto mundane, unhelpful filler conversation which doesn't get the reader anywhere.  Dialogue is probably one of the longest things I've been working on as a writer.  Even before I knew what paragraphs were or how to use a comma (the last one is still a bit iffy).  Realistic dialogue was really important, even to my twelve year old self.  If only I'd cared as much about my character development.  I'd be much better off today.

Here are some examples of different types of dialogue from my books.  You'll get to see the evolution of my writing and possibility get a good laugh.  Hopefully only when you're supposed to.

June 2012 - A story about two sisters having to move on after their parents death.

“Last box!” Amanda announced triumphantly, plopping the box, which I could only hope didn’t have anything fragile inside, down on top of a stack of already taped and ready boxes.  Her normally perfect hair was a bit fuzzy, revealing her naturally curly hair which she was always trying to tame, and she had a smudge of dirt on her face.
“I can’t believe we’ve finished!”  Angela, a girl with an energetic personality and bright red hair to match dropped down onto the couch next to me.  I laid my head back gratefully, my sore muscles glad for the rest. 
                “A few hours she says-“ I said but was cut off when Amanda tossed me a roll of tape, giving me a raised eyebrow. 
                “Hey, just be grateful we had help or else it would have taken twice as long!”
                The front door opened and a blast of hot summer air swept in, accompanied by a groan from Angela.  She was hot, even when it was ten degrees outside so summer was really not her favorite time of year.  If it was possible, she would walk around in an air conditioning bubble 24/7.
                “Good timing Danny,” Amanda said to the tall blond, gesturing toward the stack of boxes.  “These are the last.”
                “Got it,” He said, grabbing three of the heavy boxes at once and taking them almost effortlessly out to the moving truck.

May 2014 - A story about a girl who's family is forced by the government to house an alien from another planet.

The vibrating in my pocket interrupted my pity party and I pulled the device from my pocket, keying in the password. I missed my old smartphone every day I had to use the BFFT phone and figure out some of its many complexities. Of course, it wouldn’t look good for a government worker to be using a ‘common’ phone like the others.
Mom’s face appeared in bright HD as if she was standing right in front of me, the worry lines that hadn’t appeared until last year more apparent by the day.
She didn’t have to say anything else for me to know she’d been told. After a deep breath, I forced a smile. “How was your day Mom?”
Mom looked like she wanted to launch straight into her worries but she attempted to keep calm. “We had our mandatory inspection today.”
“Today?” If this was Mom’s idea of small talk, I was not looking forward to hearing her real concerns. “Everything went well?”
“They said everything was in good order.” Her eyes shifted a little.
“Mitch caused a bit of a problem.”
I swallowed. “How much is a bit?”
“One of the inspectors gave him a warning.”
She continued to avoid eye contact. “And a bloody nose.”

June 2014 - A story about a reluctant, self conscious model for a makeup company and the son of the rival company.

“Zane.” It sounded slightly less dry than I’d been feelin. Why of all people…
“You recognize me?” I couldn’t tell if his surprise was genuine or not. Seeing him up close, I wished I could've made fun of his photoshopped posters as much as mine but I couldn't.  His hair had perfect volume and not a hair was brushing against his forehead.  His skin was even, his jaw square.  I didn't even want to start how good his silver suit looked on him.
“Are you here for the food?” He gestured at the table, his eyes still flitting between me and the poster.
Say something say.
“You’ve gotten taller.”
Oomph. Genius.
He raised an eyebrow. “You haven’t.”
My smile froze. Your arrogant jerkiness has grown with you. Who do you think you are to—
“I read you and your brother are working hard on fall line. C&Z will take on a whole new meaning with you guys taking so much hands on responsibilities.”
He nodded. “You read?”
At least I can.
I dug my ring into my hand a little harder, trying to stop my snarky train of thoughts before it derailed in the direction of my mouth. “When I get a chance to.”

August 2014 - Story about a girl having to take care of her grandmother in assisted living.

The hallway was quiet except for a few staff making the rounds with pills and checkups. Violet got to the elevator before she was out of breath and leaned on the wall for support. The drugstore was close but maybe not close enough.
“Whoa, you’re up early. So much for seven thirty P.M. being the only seven thirty in a day.”
Violet’s stomach clenched with her hand. Why him?
“Yeah, well, some days I have to make an exception.”
Chris stepped back as he got the full view of her face. “Whoa.”
“That’s the second time you’ve used that word in the last two sentences.”
“What’s wrong?”
Violet rolled her eyes. “What do you think is wrong with me? What’s wrong with every old person in this complex?”
“You caught it?” His bouncy tone had quieted a little and he searched her face carefully.
I’m living with a woman who won’t even go to the bathroom by herself when she’s sick. Of course I caught it! “Yeah, looks that way.”
“Do you have to get some medicine?”
“No, just some juice.”
He frowned. “Juice?”
“Grandma won’t take her pills without it and we’re out.”
“So…you’re getting it.”
“She’s too dizzy to.”
He blinked, his jaw tightening. “And you’ve been throwing up all night.”
Violet looked at him defensively as the elevator binged open in front of them. “How did you know I was throwing up all night?”
“You obviously haven’t looked in the mirror yet today.”
“Thanks.” Violet stepped into the elevator, hoping he’d be too grossed out to get in with a sick person.

Current (2015) - Queen of Time

“You almost done, Gwen?” Claire appeared at my side.  Her rhinestone glasses perched on the end of her nose and a sloppy stack of self-defense books filled her arms.
“Light reading?” I shoved at my bangs only to have them slid down again a minute later.
 “Did you read this one?” She angled one of the books my way, the cover depicting a girl going at a punching bag in full makeup.
“Not worth it.  Ever chapter has an advertisement for some gadget to protect yourself.”
“Huh.” She tapped the cover.  “Guess she doesn’t go for the whole ‘the body is a weapon’ thing.”
“The average women carries more weapons than she might think.  Car keys, a purse, heels.” I pointed at Claire’s square pumps which completed the tailored pants and blousy top she wore.  She had the preppy librarian thing on point.
“Mom wants me to learn self-defense.  She’s sure working at the library isn’t safe.”
“It’s good she cares.”  I restarted the computer and it came to life with no evidence Parker’s report ever existed.  I smothered a sigh.
“Gwen.” Claire sat in the chair next to me.  “How are things at home?  Is Bill treating you well?”
“It’s fine.” I opened a new document and set my font preference.
“It’s fine is Gwen code for everything.  Good is fine, bad is fine, fine is fine.”
“Mandy likes him.” Or his steady income.  I liked to think the first.
“Mandy liked Jacob too.”
I flinched.  Claire muttered something under her breath before taking my hand.  “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
The computer curser blinked restlessly at me. “It’s fine.”
“No, it’s not.”
“You don’t need to be involved.” I pulled away.  “Bill isn’t Jacob.”
“Gwen, you’re a bright girl.  Probably brilliant.” She leaned in.  “But you have to know your own limits.  It’s not a weakness to ask for help.”
It is when it’s not your problem.
“I have to get this finished.  Parker’s going to be here in a few minutes to collect it.”
On cue, my phone beeped.  I flipped it open and scanned the text twice before snapping it shut again. 
“That’s not Parker, is it?”
I shrugged. 
“Let me guess, he wants you to totally change the whole paper.”
I cleared my throat.  “Actually, no.  He’s running short on time and wants me to drop it off for him.”
Claire tapped her purple nails against the desk.  “Where?”
“It’s no big deal.”
“I’ve got this,” I said in the same way I’d been telling myself for days.  “It’s just this last thing and then I’m done.”
She raised an eyebrow.
She patted my shoulder.  “Gwen, you’re smarter than almost any girl I know.  Do you really think that’s true?”

She didn’t wait for an answer as she slipped away, leaving me with the dusty computer and a stress headache. 

Dialogue is something I usually feel confident and comfortable writing.  As long as I know what information needs to happen in a scene, I can usually find a way to make it work.  I do much better when I'm writing sarcastic characters dialogue.  It's probably why I've hard such a hard time with writing Gwen.

Anyway, all this to say, if I were to tell someone my strong point as a reader, I would tell them I'm most confident in my dialogue.  I don't know, I guess my readers are my best judges.

-Anna Leigh

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