Sunday, January 31, 2016

Winter Institute and The Last Coffee Shop Disguised as One Lovely Blog Tag

Look at my post title.

This is why no one has hired me to name things. :P

Well, I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Denver (for work), and I am:
A. Thoroughly exhausted, and B. Behind on non-bookselling life. Prepare yourself for sleepiness and gifs . . .

Basically me at work when I got back

Nevertheless, I really wanted to share a few things on the blog and do some updates. In this regard, Sarah from Ink and Paper Tall Ship then inadvertently came to my rescue. She tagged me for the "One Lovely Blog" tag a month and a half ago. Thanks Sarah!

The rules:

1. List 7 facts about yourself

2. Tag 15 other blogs to do the same

She was always a little shouty, imo, but this was funny.

As usual, I am flouting the rules by writing 7 facts about my trip, and tagging no one. Not, understand, because I don't know 15 lovely blogs! I know LOTS of lovely blogs, and I am just choosing not to tag you all :) I will be like a ninja with tags, only tagging when least suspected.

In case you didn't read this post (linked), I was at the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute for the last 4-ish days. It was in Denver, Colorado, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous! I spent any spare minutes (and there weren't many of them!) walking the streets of downtown and taking it all in. If you follow me on Instagram, you saw pictures of exciting things like candy and lights.* I might incorporate some of those pictures into this post :)

Fact #1: The ABA gets some great keynote speakers.

Though this is my first Winter Institute, I've heard nothing but good things about the many speakers the ABA has had come in to inspire booksellers, authors, and publishers. This year's keynotes were Martin Lindstrom, Amy Cuddy, and Newbery medal winner Kwame Alexander. I was only vaguely familiar with them (i.e., I knew their names and what they did), but they were all absolutely fabulous!

Martin Lindstrom gave us fascinating insights into how "small data" can show and predict trends, and teach you a lot about marketing, business, and people.

Amy Cuddy (TED talks) worked with us on presence, confidence, and personal power. She was sweet and fun, and her presentation was great for introverts! (Fake it until you become it)

Kwame Alexander was hilarious and charming. He told us stories about his childhood, inspired us with his determination and drive, and was generally fantastic. I hadn't read his books before now, but they just jumped onto my list ;)

"Stories bypass reason and go directly to our unconscious" - Martin Lindstrom's talk


Fact #2: Denver has some fabulous Asian Fusion cuisine

Aside from books, Japanese and Korean food are something I always seek out in a new place. I found several gems in Denver. I had kimchi stew (kimchi jjigae) for the first time (it's incredible), and some lovely sushi as well. And naturally, I bought a bunch of imported sugar . . .
This is a serious priority
Miso and Sake at Aoba Sushi in Downtown Denver

And I found a quiet ramen shop. I worked on my book and was sad to leave :(

Fact #3: Downtown Denver is a lovely place for walking enthusiasts

Like most cities, there are a lot of interesting things to see within a 3 mile radius. Though Winter Institute had a packed schedule (and fifteen minute breaks, tops), I managed to sneak out a few times for some fresh air. After the sessions ended each evening, I had a little more time to walk around.

I went rogue on Sunday for a couple hours - to go to church. The church I attended met in this awesome synagogue!

 Fact #4: I finally got to meet some of the authors for the reading program I did - Indies Introduce.

Not everyone was able to make it, but the whole session on the Indies Introduce program was still really neat. Each author read a two minute selection, and then answered a question from one of the II booksellers. I was too shy to get on stage and ask a question, but I did get to visit with some of the authors, including Martin Seay, author of the upcoming debut The Mirror Thief. My blurb was the one chosen for the Indies Introduce promo spreadsheet, and we follow each other on Twitter, so this was a lot of fun for me.

 The picture on the right is a few of the covers for authors who couldn't make it to Winter Institute.

Fact #5: Booksellers like to party. And their parties are a lot of fun! 

The ceiling at the opera house.
There was a party basically every night. And by party, I mean organized events with booksellers, authors, reps, books, snacks, and drinks. The Scholastic party was at a gorgeous opera house. They had a french fry bar. It was as amazing as it sounds. I had a fabulous Cabernet, but I forgot to write down the name of it! Other party highlights included the author receptions (I met authors like Ruta Sepetys, and re-met Alexandra Bracken - who is one of the most personable, sweet authors I have ever met).
Okay, maybe this is not an accurate representation (it's not). But this reminds me of my sister and I pretending we are having a party. It usually involves dancing in the car. Badly.

And did I mention that there were books? More about that next.

Fact #6: BOOKS . . . BOOKS . . . EVERYWHERE!

This is the book I took home from the swap.
If you've ever been to BEA (Book Expo America), then you know what I'm talking about. There are a few magical times when people are just handing you books, and letting you keep them. And it's overwhelming. And you have to choose. I came home with books from all the keynotes, signed ARCs, and more ARCs that looked interesting. I actually preferred Winter Institute to BEA - it's centered on my line of work, and a lot less crazy (there are a ton of people at BEA). But I will go anywhere where they hand me books.

All of the publisher partners are incredibly generous - from the parties, to the books, to the time and knowledge that they put into their sessions. I learned so much about business, bookselling, publishing, the industry, and the importance of local independent bookstores.

Speaking of bookstores, I visited both locations of the iconic indie Tattered Cover Bookstore - and it was even better than the hype!

One of my favorite parts was the Backlist Book Swap - basically, you brought a book (5 years old or older) that you thought was under read, and swapped it for another person's pick. It's a brilliant idea, and could be easily adapted to many occasions. If you were wondering, the book I brought for the swap was Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. It's a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth, and explores sacred and profane love. It's brilliant, beautifully written, and I've hardly met anyone else who loves it!
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”
― C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Fact#7: While I Can't Sleep on a Plane - I Can Finish a Book Draft!

Writing a first draft is the easy part - usually. But what started out as a silly short story became a behemoth that took me thirteen months to draft. It's a lot longer than a short story. A lot.

Anyhow, I was exhausted on the flight home, and I tried to sleep. It wasn't working, so I plugged in my headphones and pulled out my computer. Two hours later, we were landing in Grand Rapids, and I'd just typed the last few words of The Last Coffee Shop. Well, the initial draft. Revisions and polishing are ahead, but now I have something to polish! And I won't feel so bad about starting one of the handful of projects buzzing around in my head. 

The last page of The Last Coffee Shop
 It's hard to express the feeling that finishing a book (even if it's just a bad first draft) gives you. It's heady, satisfying, and I usually want to break out dancing. Needless to say, since I was on a plane, I refrained from the latter.

There was so much more about my trip (especially what I learned), but I'd have to write about twenty posts! The information alone was worth it, and it was a lot of fun too. I met a lot of booksellers, and I hope I'll run into more of them at future events. Denver was a cool place, and I'd love to go back some time.

The sunrise as seen from my hotel room.

So there you go. Feel free to pick up the tag and link back :) Have you ever been to Denver? Are you planning on any trips in the next few months?

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Brief Update and Emoji Book Tag Mini Book Reviews

Update First:

All of those book reviews I planned on writing . . . well, they didn't happen :) And as we near the end of January (PANIC!), I'm not sure I'll have that much time for reviews! But that's okay. While I haven't been online, I've been writing, working, and reading a lot.

More importantly, I've also been prepping for the ABA Winter Institute. I've never been before, and I was honored to win a scholarship to this Bookseller Education/Networking event. I'm really excited, but kind of intimidated! All of the booksellers/book people I've met have been wonderful, kind, and welcoming, but this is a lot of people. Qualified, professional, accomplished people. Did I mention there were a lot of them?

Now, if you're the social, extroverted person, you're wondering why I'm freaked out, right? I am not a social event/party person. I spend parties washing the host's dishes, reading their books, playing pirates with their children, or having intense conversations in shadowed corners.

So much of my conversation happens in my head anyhow, and I try so hard to focus, that I usually end up stuttering out a few coherent sentences. It's not impressive. So yes, I'm nervous. But I'm also really excited. I love learning, I love taking notes, and I love educational sessions. For real. That is my element. And I am excited about meeting people. Just, a few at a time.

With the amount of stuff the ABA has planned, I probably won't find time to blog or read/write. However, I plan on taking pictures (and copious amounts of notes), and learning a lot from my more experienced peers. And I am sure there will be lovely people who will graciously accept (or ignore) that I am a 9-year-old masquerading as a 26-year-old!

Whew! Now that I've gotten that off my chest - Here's what I've been reading and a few thoughts about each one, using the Emoji Book Tag that E. Rawls tagged me for oh, I don't know, two+ months ago!

Emoji Book Tag - Or What I've Been Reading


1. Match the Emoji to a book.
2. Rule number 1 is the only rule I am following.

The Pouting Emoji: These next two share the pouting emoji because #1 was just not as in-depth as I was looking for, and #2 was not exactly what I was wanting from it :) 

Don't get me wrong, I actually really enjoyed both books - just not as much as I wanted to!

Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty by Dan Jones - 3.5 out of 5 stars

Dan Jones writes trim historical nonfiction that makes for easy, fun reading. However, if you're looking for really scholarly stuff, read the books listed in the bibliography.

Magna Carta is a great refresher on this pivotal period in English history, and an informative look into a document that has had such an enormous cultural impact. Jones is a good writer and he excels at condensing large amounts of information.

All in all, a fun book.

Marked in Flesh (The Others #4) by Anne Bishop - 3.75 out of 5 stars (ARC - Released March 2016)

I actually finished this in December and never reviewed it. I love this series, with a few minor reservations (my usual adult novel reservations, lol). Marked in Flesh was a solid entry in a strong series - so why the 3.75 stars? I just felt like it didn't break any new ground. It was obvious where everything was headed from the previous book, so there weren't many surprises.

That being said, Bishop's writing is as lush and enthralling as ever, and it is truly amazing that she's managed to develop and maintain such an immense world and cast of characters. Her character development is continual, with new facets being revealed with each installment. My biggest question - what is the last book going to be about? I'm not sure how I feel about this.

A big, big thank you to Penguin/Roc for the ARC!

Laughing and Crying Emoji:

Tokyo Ghoul, Volume 5 by Ishida Sui - 4.5 out of 5 stars (ARC - Released February 2016)

Okay, this may seem a little strange, but few mangas yo-yo between hilarity and tear inducing drama like Tokyo Ghoul! Not that it has *actually* made me cry, but poor Ken has come pretty close.

The emotional intensity just rises in this continuation of Ken Kaneki's tragic story. The moral dilemmas increase and the stakes rise, and we get to know a few more of the surrounding characters better. Ken's developing feelings about consuming any human flesh just get more complicated with each chapter. There's quite a bit of action (culminating in a showdown with the Gourmet), and more exploration of Rize's fascinating subplot.

And the art . . . I've never seen anything that is so beautiful, yet so raw and gruesome. Ishida is a very talented man.

Thanks a bunch Viz for the ARC!

The Fist Emoji: 

Vicious by V. E. Schwab - 4.5 out of 5 stars

You can see this either as a fist bump or a punch. A punch is appropriate for Vicious, as it was basically about supervillains. It's also pretty violent.

I know I wanted to punch Eli and his god-complex all the way to the moon . . .

With complex characters and moral dilemmas, a lot of snark and shameless geekery, this book was everything that I wanted out of a supervillain story. I had only a few minor quibbles (Eli's cliche backstory, and the fact that he was like a not-as-good Light Yagami in some ways. Oh, and it is a little higher on the foul language meter, so be advised)

However, the fist bump application basically sums up my feelings about the ending. I haven't been left with such a satisfied smirk on my face in a long, long time . . . perfect ending.

Sad Emoji:

  The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro - 4.5 out of 5 stars

None of these really fit this book, so I'm strong-arming here!

I am against the grain on this book: I love the dreamy, fable-like quality of it. It's beautiful, sad, sweet, touching, and full of strange depth. It's like a clear pool that looks shallow and boring, but the longer you stare at it, the more you realize that it's full of life, deep and clear, and absolutely lovely. Ishiguro's Japanese-English heritage makes for an interesting twist on a quasi-Arthurian quest saga, and I really loved it. But yes, it was kind of sad.

Happy Nerd Emoji: 

The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi by William Scott Wilson (currently reading)

A perfect fit for this emoji !

I periodically indulge my fascination (read: obsession) with Japanese history and culture. Naturally, I always come across the legendary swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi (1584‒1645). He was a warrior, a wanderer, and an acclaimed artist, and so crazy talented that you can hardly believe he was real. But he was, and this is one of the most readable, well-researched biographies I've found yet. Wilson's writing is the perfect balance between entertaining and informational, and he narrates like a storyteller.

So as you can see, my reading year has started out pretty well. I have some more ARCs to get to, and a mammoth TBR, so I won't lack for material!

Have you read or do you intend to read any of these books? Feel free to swipe the tag and emoji your way through some books.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Discussion Time: How Does Music Affect Your Writing? (Or Does It?) with Sample Tracks

I had a whole lineup of posts to get to, and then . . . the muse struck. I have been feverishly trying to finish my draft of The Last Coffee Shop, and guys, I'm almost there! I was stuck in a giant writing rut (for TLCS) since October- I knew what I wanted to happen, it just wasn't, happening. If that makes sense? 

Also, I tend to get a little down at the beginning of the new year - I know, I know, that's stupid - but there it is. Instead of seeing potential or a fresh start, I get overwhelmed by all the things I need to do, plans to make, and everything I didn't accomplish the year before. Being buried by all the snow we didn't have in December did not help my energy levels (who wants to go to work in blizzards or freezing rain?)*

But you know what, things turn around so quickly when you're a writer. One minute you're afraid you'll never write another coherent sentence (this can't just be me), and the next, your fingers are flying to the moon and back with new ideas. 

As some of you might have guessed, I'm what I call a "musically affected"writer. I consume copious amounts of music while writing, and make extensive, elaborate playlists for every book, and major characters. Since I have an enormous amount of trouble concentrating on anything for long, the playlists really help to get me "in the zone,"and stay focused on my story and its world/characters.

Sometimes, getting through a difficult passage (writing wise) can be the difference between the "right"song and the "wrong" song. I have zero musical aptitude, but there is a lot of talent out there ( which is a boon for anyone in my boat). With a little digging, I can usually find just the musical cue that I need.

Which leads me to the overall theme of this post (sort-of): 

Have you ever noticed musical impact on your writing, and how so? 

I find this subject endlessly fascinating, and I'd like to hear from other writers. Has a particular song/cd ever influenced the way you wrote something, or given you a plot idea? 

I know that things work the other way around - one of my all-time favorite bands, Dutch symphonic metal greats Within Temptation, have songs (and whole cds) inspired by the novels they read. And they aren't alone (it does seem more prevalent with metal bands).

I have stumbled across bands inspired by everything from Lord of the Rings to fairytales to Batman. And if writers inspire musicians, you know that it goes both ways.

So what are some bands/songs that have inspired your writing (good or bad!).
How do certain songs/types of music influence your writing?
Has a song ever "saved" your plot, or pulled you through writer's block?

Now that I've asked you to weigh in - I'll share five diverse tracks that helped me through my recent writing slump. All of the songs are linked to the artist's websites, for more information. I also added explanations for why I picked each of the songs, and links to the character descriptions! (All images, songs, and lyrics are copyrighted to the linked artist, and posted here to share - no money is made from them or from this blog)

Note: If you read this post, you have to watch at least Exhibit B, or I will find you . . .**

Exhibit A: "Little Games" by The Colourist

I write character-driven novels, so the intricate relationships between people figure deeply in how my plot progresses. I love this California band's lush pop sound, and the clever, wry lyrics about a relationship gone sour. While I'm not writing about a romantic relationship, the lyrics are ambiguous enough to apply to other scenarios, and both the sound and the words fit the situation so well. It also has that dance-y feel that has shaped so much of TLCS's soundscape.

Exhibit B: "Hurricane" from the Korean production of Death Note: The Musical, performed by Hong Kwang-ho as "Light"

I found this video completely by accident (I was looking for stuff from an unrelated musical), and was intrigued - Death Note, a musical? Straaaange. But I watched it, and I couldn't have cared less if it was about space puppies or organic corn farmers - Hong Kwang-ho is. that. good.

The way his voice conveys the intensity of the lyrics (and Light's character arc, which makes more sense if you're familiar with Death Note) left me speechless. I attached the subbed video for that reason - just listen to how he manages to communicate, even if you don't understand a word.*** Good music (especially in theater) has no real language barriers, and this is a perfect example.

So how did it help? As I said above, the drama and power of the vocal made a perfect emotional background for writing some dynamic rising action. It's unrelated subject matter - but that's beside the point. Now if I could just buy a download somewhere . . . (growls faintly in frustration)

Exhibit C: "Roundtable Rival" by Lindsey Stirling

Lindsey Stirling has catapulted to popularity in the last year, and for good reason: her music is unique, and her personality is vibrant and fun. I love how this video is a steampunk showdown. The confrontational but playful nature of this piece worked very well for the constant tension between my main characters and their interests. It's a bit like a showdown every time Luc and Mads have a conversation!

Exhibit D: "Trade Mistakes" by Panic! At the Disco

Jupiter Jive, the elusive yet strangely pivotal dancing thief, could be summed up by Panic! at the Disco. To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of PatD (though I love Brendon Urie's voice and quirky sense of humor) - but for whatever reason, they quickly became JJ's voice throughout the writing of TLCS. And while many of their recent (ish) songs suit him well, Trade Mistakes is a song with intriguing lyrics and a beat you can dance to. Again, it's a song with a playful sound, but a very guilty note to the lyrics!

Exhibit E: "Let's Not Fall in Love" by BIGBANG

While there is a lot of K-pop on my Jupiter Jive playlist (in addition to pop-punk, Latin pop, and well, an abnormal amount of pop****), few bands ran away with my ears like BIGBANG. From their flamboyant on-screen image, to their intriguing songwriting and catchy music (and talent), they have quickly lent tracks to most of my playlists. However, it wasn't till I heard Let's Not Fall in Love that one of their songs clicked with what I was currently writing. About 30 repeats later, I found that I'd not only written past the part where I'd stalled, I was almost done. I feel like I owe someone a thank-you note - I was that stuck!

So there you have it: a mini taste of The Last Coffee Shop's writing soundtrack. While every song might not directly relate to the action, each piece did something for me while I was writing.

 Feel free to share some of your favorite current tracks in the comments, and don't forget to answer the questions (if you don't write books, do you listen to music while blogging or doing writing-related work?)

*If I got to stay home during said weather, I wouldn't be so grumpy about it, I promise!
**Just humor me here.
***In related news, my Korean studies are . . . proceeding. I'm a very faithful student with zero natural aptitude, but that's never stopped me from trying things before!
****And hip hop. I don't normally do hip hop - but apparently Korean hip hop is an exception? And I don't have anything against pop music, per se, I just don't listen to the actual radio, so I'm not normally up on what's playing :P

Monday, January 11, 2016

Beautiful People #14 - Not A Repeat of My OTHER Writing Goals List

I was a tiny bit dismayed when I saw the Beautiful People theme for this month: Writerly Resolutions and Goals, since I'd already done a slightly similar post. However, when I skimmed the questions, I realized that I hadn't really answered any of those questions. So, naturally, I decided to tackle the challenge of a whole new list. Because, why not?

Beautiful People is a monthly meme for writers, hosted by Cait and Sky (click their names for their respective awesome blogs).

Writerly Resolutions and Goals for 2016 (Part II, Sort of)

1. What were your writing achievements last year?

Other than my book deal (see here), I amassed a large word count on three other projects, completed another year of steady reviews for a local publication, and picked up blogging again.

2. Tell us about your top priority writing project for this year?

Finishing The Last Coffee Shop. This has been my BP topic for most months. If you want to read about it, click here. I would also like to finish my draft of my NaNo project, The Butler Did It, and do some polish edits on some of my older, finished manuscripts.

3. List 5 areas you’d like to work the hardest to improve this year.

1. Organization (just in writing, I'm not asking for a miracle!)
2. Plotting. While I'm not as bad as Swiss cheese here, I tend to pay a lot more attention to my world and characters than, you know, the plot. And with a mystery like The Butler Did It, that doesn't work out so well. I'm planning to rework and chart that book's plot soon.
3. The quality of my blog and posts. Writing can always improve!
4. My editing. I just need to actually, you know, do it.
5. Focusing. Maybe not just in writing. I tend to jump from book to blog to book to another book and subject to subject. This makes research a little scattered, even though I love research. So I need to pick something to work on and Just. Work. On. That.

4. Are you participating in any writing challenges?

Other than (planned) NaNo, no. Does anyone have any suggestions? I love challenges!

5. What’s your critique partner/beta reader situation like and do you have plans to expand this year?

My beta/critique is nil right now, mainly because I have nothing I'm ready to show someone! However, I do have a few victims friends, and my long-suffering and loyal sister/bff Grace, who are intended readers when I have something that won't make me screech in embarrassment.
I am open to more betas - I just need something for them to read, that's all.

6. Do you have plans to read any writer-related books this year? Or are there specific books you want to read for research?

Erm, no? I am always doing research for something or other. I love nonfiction and have a tendency to pick up random books and head down pointless rabbit trails. I have two pet projects that I really want to get some preliminary research down for, so I'm reading a few books for those right now (hey, it's an excuse to read another book about samurai).

7. Pick one character you want to get to know better, and how are you going to achieve this?

I want to get to know most of the characters in The Butler Did It better, but especially the narrator/MC, Ernestine. I will probably do intensive character sheets, and maybe some Beautiful People posts :)
As I've said before, my characters are usually the part of a novel that I'm most confident about. They're also my favorite part.

8. Do you plan to edit or query, and what’s your plan of attack?

Edit. Edit. Edit. Since I have a book coming out this year, I'll be focusing on getting more manuscripts in publisher shape. My plan is discipline! Despite my distraction issues, I'm pretty good at making myself do things. So I plan to chart out an editing checklist and guide for the rest of the year (probably from February on, since my January is already pretty busy), and stick to it!

9. Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” What are the books that you want to see more of, and what “holes” do you think need filling in the literary world?

As a mad King Arthur buff, I can never see too many Arthurian novels. However, I am equally interested in world mythology. We need more fantasy/myth stories set in places like Zimbabwe or Malaysia, and rooted in their unique cultures. Also, more graphic novel - novel fusions, like The Graveyard Book or The Nest. I love manga and animation inspired art, and I'd love to see more books that fuse traditional novels with a more visual medium.

On that note, I am currently stewing over two novel projects set in a mythical variant of Korea, and rooted in actual Historical Japan, respectively. The latter is a retelling I've been wanting to do for ages. The only problem with it is that I want it to have illustrations. So, either more work for me, or I write the book and find an illustrator someday. (My dream is to team up with one of the amazingly talented artists on deviantart).

10. What do you hope to have achieved by the end of 2016?

While world domination would be my second option, I'd really just like to get my debut novel into as many readers' hands as possible. Also, to have a few rough manuscripts, and at least one that is publisher ready, that would be phenomenal.
If you didn't mean books - then progress with my Japanese and Korean studies. I am dreadful with languages, and I'm trying to learn two (in addition to my sorry Latin and bad French, and perfectly acceptable English).

So what are your writing (or other) goals for this year? Do you have any challenge suggestions for me?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

7 Basic Tips For Writing Better Dialogue

Whether you are a narrative-heavy author, or you lean toward more dialogue driven scenes, all authors have to agree on the importance of good dialogue. In some ways, all books are dialogue: a conversation between the writer and the story, between the story and the readers, and most obviously, between the characters. It's the latter, the dialogue between characters, that this post will be examining.

First off, what makes "good" dialogue? To answer that, we have to look into the purpose of dialogue within a novel.

The way I see it, dialogue must fulfill these 3 functions.

1. It develops characters
2. It moves a scene forward
3. It propels the plot and embellishes the narrative

Based on those three requirements then, "good dialogue" would not only be integral to the story, it would act as a way for the author to reveal the character's personalities, preferences, and drive to the reader. But it gets a little more complicated.

Imagine, for example, that you're writing a book about a young girl set in Victorian London. It's probably obvious that you couldn't have her tell people that they looked "cool,"or that something was "awesome." Even if she had a laid back personality, modern slang would jar the reader out of Victorian London, and ruin the character's voice. So we can add to the above - dialogue must suit the tone and voice of both the novel and the characters.

The problem above is nothing a little research can't fix. But "correct" dialogue can still come off as stilted, and jar you out of the story as well. So how do you find the balance between natural and accurate? There's the difficulty in dialogue right there.

This brings us back to the original question: how do you write good dialogue that doesn't snap the reader out of the story, and that helps the novel's flow?

It's different for every author and novel, but here are Seven Universal Tips for Writing Dialogue, whether your novel is in futuristic San Francisco, or Ancient Greece.

1. Always read your dialogue bits aloud, preferably to another person.

This might be embarrassing at first, but I can't stress its importance enough. When you read your novel aloud, you'll hear exactly how the character's speech patterns sound. So will your listener. Something that sounded okay in your head may sound completely different read out loud.

2. Watch the formality of your writing "speech."

This is one I've had a lot of trouble with in the past, as I was steeped in ancient literature for years! Alternatively, slang falls into this same category. If informal, slang-filled speech is the norm (i.,e., you're writing about greasers or flappers), use it sparingly. You want your readers to be following along, immersed in the story, not referring to Google every five minutes. The same goes for immense/rarely used words.

3. To convey a certain time period/era/type of character, a little bit of a foreign language, slang, or dialect goes a long way.

Some authors are stronger at this than others (Mark Twain, John Green, Cormac McCarthy, and Zora Neale Hurston come to mind), but this is one of the trickiest things to pull off. You don't want to date your novel (i. e., using too many 20th century specific words/phrases), and you don't want it to throw off the reader (see number 2).

As much as it is possible, leave your setting details to the narrative. For example: Make your readers feel like they are in the court of Louis XIV before you add any French. And then, when you add the French, think of it like cayenne pepper - a seasoning where a pinch pervades the entire dish. Make sure your French is authentic to the mid 1600's, and accurate for aristocrats and/or serving class. This can be a lot of work, but it will make your story feel more real, and read better, even if your reader knows nothing about 1600's France.

4. Listen, listen, listen to how people talk.

People are people - they tend to raise their voice at the end of a question, stop in the middle of a sentence, and lose their train of thought. While you don't have to replicate speech patterns exactly (and it would be tedious for both you and the reader if you did this!), a little bit of careful listening can give you a feel for how dialogue should flow to sound natural.

Listen to the people around you and think about how they might be thinking/feeling as they talk: did they pause because they were unsure, or because they are telling a lie? Now, I'm not encouraging you to over-analyze your friends and acquaintances! I just want you to examine speech patterns, and the way people actually talk :)

5. Read Screenplays or Stage Plays

Think about a movie or a play. Unlike a novel, a movie's narration is typically visual. We aren't told that this is Paris, we see the Eiffel Tower and know we're in Paris. This gives a movie a huge advantage in setting the scene. They can skip right to the characters and the dialogue.

Novelists have it a little harder, but it's still rewarding to look at how a scriptwriter handles character. Good dialogue often separates a great movie/play from a terrible one, and strong characters can sometimes rescue a mediocre plot.

So back to the screenplay: read a good, strong script/play (Casablanca, The Godfather, To Kill a Mockingbird, Schindler's List, Psycho, Oedipus the King, The Importance of Being Earnest, Henry V, etc). Study how the author uses dialogue to reveal the character's personalities and establish each unique voice. How do they incorporate humor? How do the characters interact among themselves - do they change how they speak around particular people?

6. In First Person - Even the Narrative is Technically Dialogue

First Person dialogue is different from third person dialogue in that the narrative is in the main character's distinctive voice. However, most people have a lot more internal dialogue than external.

For instance, if I see a girl with a shirt I like, my thoughts might look like this: That is an awesome Star Wars t-shirt. It has Han and Chewie on it, which is different. I love that color green. I wonder which film is her favorite? 

However, what I actually say is: "I love your shirt!"

See how much of my inner dialogue was left out? A more outgoing or talkative person might say more, or even pursue a conversation, but it was enough for me to say "I love your shirt," so I stopped there. This tells you that I'm more introverted, but have an active thought life.

Likewise, when writing in first person, make sure that you remember to stay in your character's brain. You don't have to detail every little thing that crosses their mind, but be conscious of how what they think and what they say might differ. While this can create unique difficulties within the narrative (you can only see through one character's mind), it also makes a more intimate bond between the reader and the narrator, immersing the reader in your story. A careful balance of internal and external dialogue can really help your reader understand the character and empathize with them.

7. Read! And Pay Attention :)

Sure, this is the first and best writing advice out there, but since we're looking at dialogue, think of a book that made you laugh or where the characters really stood out. Chances are, the author was good at dialogue. Reread one of your favorite novels and look closely at how the character's interact. How does the author space dialogue and narration? How does the dialogue fulfill my requirements from above? How much dialogue verses narrative fills a page?

Still lost and looking for examples? Here are some fun books and the corresponding skill they showcase:

#3 and #6 - Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. 

Examine how Schmidt uses the first person narration to establish the time period, Holling's (the MC) personality and voice, and to drive the story.

#2 and #3 - Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke OR Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. 

Though both of these novels are fantasy, they do a superb job of reminding you that you are in a different era. Manners and customs are different, but never hard to understand. Also pay note to how the dialogue helps the worldbuilding.

#5 - Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias and Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge.  

You might not be writing a screenplay, or ever intend to, but both of these books will help you be a more dynamic storyteller. Learn from movies and TV, and apply those techniques to your own writing. For a good example of this type of writing in novel form, check out The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins is (surprise!) a scriptwriter as well as a novelist, and her action scenes really benefit from her visual media experience.

If you are a writer, did I miss anything? What are your tricks for realistic dialogue? If you are a reader, what books really hooked you? Do you have any favorite dialogue or quotes to share?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

TTT: Gif-ful Writerly (and Readerly) Resolutions For 2016

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Well, I haven't participated in The Broke and the Bookish TTT in awhile, and I'm feeling a bit foggy in the idea department, sooooo, you get my Top 10 New Year's Resolutions! Most of them are writing or book related, but I am prone to fits of incurable randomness.

If you'd like to participate, click here.

It's the 5th already, so I suppose I'm resigned to the fact that 2015 is over. Not that I was particularly attached to it, or anything, it just felt too darn fast. Still, there is a lot to look forward to in the coming year. Especially my book. But in the meantime, I do have some goals, resolutions, and things I'd like to accomplish. And what better way to keep myself accountable than to post them where other people can see?

Writerly/Readerly Resolutions for 2016


1. Promote My Debut Novel (Knight of the Blue Surcoat)!

I have been blabbing pretty endlessly about this, but it isn't going to stop. As soon as I get that date, I will be even louder. Prepare yourselves.
Are you?

2. Finish Drafting The Last Coffee Shop and Complete at least One Rewrite

I'm really, really close on this one. I've actually done some rewrites up to the halfway point as a stalling method. I don't know what it is about endings with me - if I know exactly how I'm going to end something, I seem to have a more difficult time reaching the end! How does that make any sense?
Does anyone ever look more dumbfounded than Dean?


3. Complete at least One Rewrite/Polish/Edit of One of My Other Novels

This might be the most out there resolution on this list. I am a notoriously slow editor.

Maybe if I walk away no one will remember I said this.

4. Review All My Arcs, Even If It's Just a Paragraph on Goodreads

I have an ARC problem. There's something about an unreleased book that makes me go all melty inside. And then I feel incredibly cool for having an exclusive. Even if no one reads my paragraphs that I pledge to write, I still plan on writing one for every single ARC. *rides off into sunset*

Fabulous Ferb

5. Be More Diligent About Teaching Myself Japanese (And maybe Korean)

Lifelong goal peoples. I forked over what little spending money I have in my budget for some books and cds and workbooks. I'm better at applying myself to something if I have made an investment. And it's also (kind-of) research - because I've had a novel idea stewing that is set in an alternate East Asian landscape. Secondly, traveling to Japan is on my top ten life goals. I'd like to at least understand a little of this complex, elegant, and beautiful language.
Kanji? Are you laughing at me?


6. Make an Actual Writing Schedule- And Follow It

Well, my previous attempts have been glorious failures.
I don't think I've actually tried hard enough.

7. Win NaNo

More glorious failures. I have hit the 50K word mark once. But that was before I started working all week! But I will not be thwarted by NaNo forever. Maybe this is my year . . .
NaNo, it's me or you.

8. Learn An Awesome Dance - Because Research

There is a lot of dancing background material in TLCS. I've watched tons of videos and listened to hundreds of dance-y songs to get the feel for things. And all it left me with is the desire to do at least one dance well. My enemies are my coordination and dreadful memory for moves.
I don't think I could learn this one in 50 years of practicing

 9. Read At Least 75 Books That I Have Never Read Before

Goodreads, I'm counting on you. Here's my profile link if you want to join in (and be reading friends). I easily exceeded my goal of 50 this year (nevermind that half of my book count was manga!). Ideally, I'll read one book I own, one for review, and one to expand my horizons. That seems like a good rule of thumb.
Me at every event I've ever been dragged to.

10. Put Up One Or More Blog Posts A Week

I definitely saw helpful results from my blogging this year. I got (a little) more confident about sharing my work. I made friends. I consciously tried to work at my writing, even on a casual level. And everyone's input has not only been helpful, it's actually set me back at my personal (or novel) writing with increased drive. In some cases, it's made me want to write my books even more than I already did, or given me a breakthrough. Writing teachers always told me that a little writing every day, of any kind, would help. *hangs head in shame* I'm glad I finally listened to their advice.
I think I can do this dance, at least.


 So what are your resolutions or goals for 2016 (writing or otherwise)? Do you feel prepared for the upcoming year?

I might be able to learn this one. But I would only wear these clothes if you paid me.