Monthly Archives: December 2011

Notes Of A Storyteller: Dialogue- Part One (How NOT To Do It)

There I was, in that stereotypical writer’s hunch at my desk. The laptop glowered at me maliciously. My weary eyebrows managed a frown in response. My wrists and fingers hardened, ready for another onslaught. My mind braced itself for a beating. Hunching over a little more, I cast out for my ideas.

“Okay,” I breathed, “What am I going to write for “Notes Of A Storyteller” this week?”

If you thought that was intense, you don’t even want to know what writing dialogue is like.

You may or may not have been down this road before. Those who have may raise their glass with me; those who haven’t may sit down and listen to me. There are two things that kill a novel quicker than anything else: your very first sentence and your dialogue. Oh, your dialogue. There are some truly horrendous examples out there. None could ever be worse than what I wrote as a wee, innocent sophomore in high school…

   “Where’s the strength in that?” jeered Mathonar when he stopped by and noted Arman’s more pale mead mug.

“Where’s the sobriety in that?” retorted Arman, observing a full mug of something that looked strong enough to craze a troll. Vertaen and some of the knights oversaw the debate with amused and grinning expressions.

   “Since when has anyone factored something stupid like that into drinking?” countered Mathonar.

    “I won’t argue with you on that point if I’ve got to explain your logical contradictions.” scored Arman, and Mathonar laughed and walked away.

    “Just what contradictions did he make that you couldn’t explain?” challenged Vertaen after he left the eye’s sight.

    “If I have to attempt telling anyone the folly behind matching up sober, stupid, and drunk the way he did, I’ve got nothing to say in the slightest.” said Arman, drawing guffaws around the group.

    “There’s a rare ‘un!” laughed one knight, “Wit and morals!”

    “Won’t see one of those again, I reckon!” said another.

I don’t care how terrible you are. If you can manage something even slightly better than this, you have hope as a novelist. If you can string together at least four lines that make a lick of sense, and that sound like things that human beings would actually say, then you just might have a future in storytelling.

Next week I’ll show you a sample from The Quest as it is today, vastly improved from what you just read. I’ll tell you then how to do good dialouge. For now, here’s a list of don’ts…

1) Don’t ever assume you are the wittiest writer ever

2) Don’t ever stop going through every line of dialouge, looking for something to edit

3) Don’t explain too much. Let your characters talk. Inserting a paragraph of facial expressions or background information will kill the rhythm of your dialogue. If you do a good job, the words your characters say will clue us in to personality, reaction, etc.

4) Don’t emulate Charles Dickens or Alexandre Dumas if you’re looking to connect to the readers of today. I’m terribly sorry. I know they sound wonderful. Feel free to tap into their skills of making words sound good; do not make your lines of dialogue longer than a paragraph. Readers don’t like that. They expect snappier dialogue these days (I’ll get more into that next week).

5) Don’t ever get discouraged and don’t ever stop trying. No matter how badly you screw up, there’s no way you’ll write anything as bad as The Room.

Come back in 2012 for Part Two!

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The Storyteller Reports: Business Doubleheader

RANT OF THE WEEK: The Many Genres that Highly Effective People Read

My adoration for The Wall Street Journal has gone on for years. Once again they tickle my thoughts with a feature on some books that business leaders call influential. Before I go on, let me test your expectations.

Of the four titles below, what would you expect Ray Fisman (professor of social enterprise and co-director of the Social Enterprise Program, Columbia Business School) to call an influence on his view of business?

A) The Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie

B) Competing for the Future by Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad

C) Frog And Toad Together by Arnold Lobel

D) The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual by Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger

Believe it or not, it’s C. That’s right. The business brain in the suit names a children’s book as one of his big influences in business theory. A few others like him cite books like Henry IV, Part One by Shakespeare, and In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson. You can check them all out here.

In the meantime, allow me to do the commentary that the Journal didn’t do. I have never read a business advice book in my life. I probably will someday, but I received Crime and Punishment and The Faerie Queene for Christmas. Somehow The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People doesn’t seem as appealing. It will be a while yet before I read Covey’s famous book, or anything like it.

Why should I, if one of the primary influences on Mark Cuban was Ayn Rand? It seems to illustrate something that I have subconsciously held for a number of years. Business books seem to deal with business. Literature and philosophy deal with the human condition as a whole. Why should I spend my precious time with specifics when there is so much to be understood in the whole? And if I approach life, reading and improving myself as a whole, will this not trickle down to specifics like business management?

I know there’s at least a couple of my followers for whom this is relevant. I, too, am an indie author, selling fiction for money. My reading choices have higher stakes than the average American. My time with words is a powerful investment in how I look at the world. Every deposit I make must yield bountiful returns. Too many failures will ruin me not as an author, but as a human being.

Am I being snobbish? Of course I am. I needed some sort of self-confidence to start writing in the first place. Will I read a business book? Someday, if it’s truly worth it. But until then, I run to the arms of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Edmund Spenser. They will teach me more than Michael E. Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Business Don’t Work and What to Do about It ever will.

STORYTELLER OF THE WEEK

You may or may not know E.D. Kain. He blogs for Forbes.com about “nerd culture”. Whether you’re a nerd or not, you should be interested in what he has to say about the “evil corporation” stereotype in movies. After watching the trailer for Ridley Scott’s upcoming film Prometheus (an Alien prequel that doesn’t call itself an Alien prequel), Mr. Kain commented on how it might continue the corporation stereotype.

He also comments on how we can expand on that. I won’t steal any of his thunder. Check out what he has to say. For his insightful ideas, I name him Storyteller of the Week.

Monday Meditations: Celebrate! It’s Christmas!

Didn’t you read the title? Celebrate! It’s Christmas!

SONG OF THE WEEK

“Silent Night” by House of Heroes

Thousands have covered this old tune. Tim Skipper and Company still find a way to do it justice.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.”

Charles Schultz.

Notes Of A Storyteller: The Day Notepad++ Vanquished Sean McGuire

There’s a reason I cancelled my features last week while I was coding The Quest.

HTML is not nearly as easy as it should be. I scoffed when I first found I would have to do it. After much googling, David Gaughran, The Creative Penn, and Guido Henkel convinced me to go through and code the whole novel. This meant putting paragraph codes on every single paragraph, at the beginning and the end, and taking every single quotation and inserting quotation codes, and other minutiae that I loathe and despise.

Anyone who knows me knows that I hate details. When I get the essential concept of something, I don’t like making the effort to learn about all the details that stem from that one concept. You can imagine, then, how much this task seemed like drudgery.

Well, I made it through, and if you don’t believe me, you can check out that pretty fantasy novel on the Kindle Store to find out otherwise. For those of you that also want to self-publish online, you came to the wrong post. I am not the Alpha and Omega of e-book construction. Neither is Guido Henkel, by any means, but please check out his free guide on e-book formatting. It’s the only reason I got my own book online in one piece.

The only thing I have to add is a stern lesson.  I started reading Guido’s guide… and then began to skim it. I felt brilliant. There were only certain pockets of information I needed here! I just needed to pick them out and move on and get the job done! And then I would have more writing time.

This worked out perfectly until I hit paragraph tags. The software I use (and highly recommend) for HTML formatting is Notepad++. There’s a replacement function on there that puts Microsoft Office to shame. Not only can I replace one group of words with another, I can enter in groups of words and symbols that do more advanced things.

There were two different codes that Guido recommended entering for paragraph tags. Either one would do the same thing: put paragraph codes at the beginning and the end of each paragraph… with the click of a button.

<p>It’s really cool. It makes all of the paragraphs in my document look like this.</p>

Well, turns out only one of those codes that Guido suggested actually works in Noepad++. And I was skimming through the document, and th eonly code i saw was the one that didn’t work.

3 days later, I finished manually inserting the paragraph codes for the beginning of the paragraphs. Then I went back to the website and found the regex function that actually worked. 5 minutes later all my codes were in place.

My advice to you is twofold.

1) Read David Gaughran, The Creative Penn, and Guido Henkel.

2) Read them thoroughly and do not skip a single freaking sentence.

3) I am a compulsive liar.

4) Download Notepad++, because it’s hard enough coding HTML on there without grappling with Microsoft Office Word.

The Storyteller Reports: For Once I Don’t Have Anything To Complain About

For those of you who’ve seen one of my “Rants of the Week”, you know I can be cruel with these posts. Guess what? It’s three days until Christmas, according to my time zone. Therefore I shall do an Ebenezer and make myself merry. I’ll even write a positive “Rant”. Happy holidays.

RANT OF THE WEEK: A Brilliant Idea By A Brave Man

When World War I hit Europe, the response of culture was something more fragmented and cynical than what had come before. The Romanticism of James Fenimore Cooper and Nathaniel Hawthorne yielded to the harsh bite of Ernest Hemingway and Sigfried Sassoon. Literature was never quite the same.

Or was it? An Englishman named J.R.R. Tolkien survived those horrors as well. You might be familiar with some fantasy titles he wrote. His work seethes with pain and loss, but never with the same harshness as some other veterans of war. In fact, it’s remarkably beautiful. Perhaps it is even more beautiful than anything Cooper ever wrought with his pen, or even Hawthorne.

That’s why I’m excited and proud to hear about Benjamin Buchholz. This man went through the war in Iraq as an officer for the American army. On only his second day, a little girl was killed in an accident. Who knows what other dark things he saw after that. In any case, upon his return he decided to write a fiction book.

All of the works I’ve heard of concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seem hard-boiled to me. Generation Kill and The Hurt Locker don’t have many traces of Romanticism in them. Breaking the trend (according to my limited knowledge) is Buchholz’ novel One Hundred and One Nights, about a scarred man who befriends a girl. Every night, his new friend tells him a story; Buchholz specifically drew from Scheherazade’s famous exploits to inspire his own work.

The Baltimore Sun was the first link to alert me about this. Buchholz has some amazing things to say about his literature and his experience. Give yourself an early Christmas present and see what he has to say. 

I think this could be a little different from the usual take on the Middle East. I know little about the modern literature that surrounds that (I haven’t even read The Kite Runner), but that doesn’t cool my excitement. Once I pay for next semester’s college tuition, I may want to save up and get a copy of this book. I feel like taking a chance.

STORYTELLER OF THE WEEK

Charles Dickens.

If you even need to know why, go read “The Christmas Carol”. Or check out my laud to one chapter that he wrote (the greatest chapter of any novel, anywhere, any time). All hail the master.

The Quest Is Available On Kindle At Last!

After a thunderous battle of submissions, re-submissions, and submission boxes with red lines around them marking, “Please enter a normal number for your series, please”…

The Quest (Part One of the Kingdom Trilogy) is available for purchase on the Kindle Store and Smashwords!

If you want to be a stubborn old-timer and get the Smashwords copy, go here.*

If you want to be one of the cool kids, and even sit with them at their lunch table, pick up the Kindle Edition.

Either way, it’s only $2.99.

If you need some time considering whether this novel is worth your three dollars, allow me to hypnotize you with my new, ten-million-times-better-than-the-last-one cover design.

Illustration (and copyright) by Martha Bartell

Keep staring… that’s right… fall under my spell… for my diabolical overthrow of your mind with aesthetics… don’t pay attention to that last phrase… just keep staring at that beautiful cover…

If you got as far as this paragraph, you are immune to my Jedi mind tricks. Congratulations! You are free from my control! You’re still welcome to grab a copy of The Quest, if you like. Arman falls off a stone tower, nearly drowns twice, faces down murderous phantoms, escapes werewolves, and is nearly crushed by a troll; he went through that and more to give you a fine story to read. You owe him one, don’t you?

* = Mark Coker, if you’re reading this, I’m just kidding.

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If you’re looking for The Storyteller Reports, check back tomorrow. It’ll be up then.

Monday Meditation: The Sort Of Thing That Demands A Pair of Sunglasses

In other words, this week is about style.

SONG OF THE WEEK

“Cowboy Bebop Theme Song”

In case you were bored with the ever-so-stylish James Bond theme, here’s something else for the secret agent in you. If I ever sneak through a North Korean nuclear complex in a tux, this song will be playing on my iPod.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

“Hit it.”

The Blues Brothers

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For those of you waiting on the Kindle edition of The Quest, Amazon is being difficult. Everything is submitted, but they want me to submit it again. So I am. I’ll keep you posting. It is coming, and it’s got a new cover that puts the old one to shame. Check that out on the Smashwords Edition.