Friday, January 27, 2017

Deadly Dialogue Makes Murder Boring

I bought a book a few days ago because I liked the premise and setting, and pets were part of the mix. What could be better?

I won’t know, because I put it down after ten pages. I rarely do that, but I couldn’t take 150 pages of multi-sentence dialogue that was supposed to provide background. Who talks like that? No one even took a sip of coffee.

Sometimes paragraph-speak is part of one character’s persona. When they all talk like that it comes across as an author’s character flaw.

That doesn’t mean short bursts of conversation are essential. In fact, when characters talk as if they’re in a snappy sitcom, that doesn’t seem very genuine either. So what makes for fluid, natural conversation?

In a screenwriting course with the late theater director Davey Marlin-Jones (more years ago than I care to admit) he stressed a key point. People talk in spurts and they interrupt each other a lot. They talk over each other and they finish each other’s sentences.  Maybe not in Shakespearean plays, but in today’s world.

Here are the things I consider as I edit what my characters say. 
  • Would it take more than one breath to get it out?
  • If two or three sentences are essential, can some natural movement break up those words? After all, we rarely sit with our hands in our laps.
  • Can spoken information be revealed another way?
  • What is the person listening to the speaker doing? Can their action or expression alternate with the speaker’s words?
  • Would I (or others in the room with the character) be willing to listen to someone go on and on without interrupting them? If not, why would the reader want to put up with that?·
For every reason to use natural speech patterns, there are requisite opportunities for some characters to be windbags. If there is scientific evidence to present, an investigator would probably let the medical examiner present it. Even then, if you watch Law and Order, you’ll see the detectives pepper the ME with questions. She does tell them to be quiet and let her finish sometimes.

In a couple of books I’ve had a funeral scene. No one interrupts a priest or rabbi (usually), but a character listening to the talk can have a thought of their own in the middle of the soliloquy.

 I had a lot of fun with the editor’s eulogy in FromNewsprint to Footprints. The deceased was a jerk. Every time a former colleague made a well-crafted, tactful comment, the protagonist (Melanie) had a thought about what the editor was really like.

"A lot of small papers have closed or cut back to one day a week. The News is still at three days, and Hal hired dedicated staff to cover events in our community."
He also fired a lot of them.
"As we move forward to serve the people of South County, everyone at the paper will use the skills Hal taught us."
Except no one else will throw staplers.

Structuring the eulogy that way let me convey some needed information without putting readers to sleep. Plus it gave me a chance to have some fun.

I honed my dialogue-writing skills in several screenwriting classes. The screenplays I wrote weren’t very good, but reading them aloud as I wrote taught me more than any books.

If an author isn’t sure their own reading aloud will provide enough distance to evaluate conversations, they can ask a friend to read, or speak into a recorder and listen. There’s a good chance the characters’ words will take on a life of their own.
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Monday, January 9, 2017

Finding Affordable Audio Books

    I always have a book going in the car. For me it takes a CD, since my car doesn't have Bluetooth. I don't want my car to die. But I'm looking for any excuse to buy a car that lets me listen to digital books -- which are books in mp3 format.

     You can listen to digital books on any portable device -- your ipad, Kindle, most phones. I have used my Kindle with headphones to listen to audiobooks. It works fine, but if I'm driving I pay too much attention to the technology. Better (for me) to have a built-in system in the car.

     Without digital listening, the library is the best bet. I take out three or more at a time, and if I'm going on a long trip the local library extends the due date.

     Retail sellers of physical audiobooks include Penguin Random House Audio, Audio Bookstand, and Goodwill Books Online.

     Yes Goodwill. They don't have all books every day, but a search for J.K. Rowling's books (on CD) showed they were less than half the price of other sites. Sure, it's more convenient to order a book today for $55 than to check back to see if you can get it for $22 later, but that's a big price difference.
     In a pinch, I stop at a Cracker Barrel and rent books on CDs. You pay an up-front deposit, but if you return the book you pay only about $3.50 per week and get the deposit back. I'd rather pay that than listen to blaring music or argumentative talk radio. (See the bottom of this post for the Cracker Barrel program. No, they aren't paying me. I just love affordable options.)

     My audiobooks are published in digital format only. A CD set would be cool, but I don't see people paying $45 for my books. Using Audible (an Amazon company that provides digital copies) they are under $20.

     The HUGE advantage to using Audible is that Amazon sometimes offers people who buy the Kindle version a discount on the audio version. I just looked at Behind the Walls (Jolie book 6), and it shows the Kindle version for $2.99 and audio narration added for $1.99.

        Buying the Audible book and a Kindle copy means reading is synced between devices -- if you read ten percent on the Kindle and switch to the audiobook, it starts you in the same place. Amazing.

     An author has to permit Whispersync, but many do. You do need a Wi-Fi connection to make the sync.

     How does Audible work? The one-month free trial lets you borrow one book (of any price) for free. After that it's $14.95 per month for one book, and you get 30% off of others. Very affordable compared to buying audio CDs. (You provide a credit card, so you have to remember to cancel within 30 days.)

     What happens if you cancel an Audible membership? The books you bought are still available to you. Very consumer-friendly. See the Audible Help Center.

     Why did I write this today? My mom would have been 95 today (January 9th) and she lost most of her sight because of MS. She would have gone bonkers without the Library of Congress' Talking Books' Program (what she called the service for those who cannot see or hold a book). It's officially called the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and is free if a person provides appropriate information. Your library will have info.

     I hope you have what you need to enjoy listening to a book. If you want to listen to what I deem the absolute best audio books, borrow a copy of any of the Harry Potter books, as read by Jim Dale. You will be mesmerized -- as we are by a good book.

 Cracker Barrel Rental Program
Purchase a Books-on-Audio title at full retail price at any of our over 630 locations, listen to it, and return it to any of our locations for a full credit less a $3.49 per week exchange fee (plus tax where applicable). Book prices range from $9.99 to $48.00 (plus tax where applicable) based on the number of cassette tapes or CDs (or size of the book). If you are not able to return it to a location you may mail it back to Guest Relations at P.O. Box 787, Lebanon, TN 37087.
 **  Want to get updates on my books and occasional special offers? Get on my email list. I'd love to be in touch!
*** If you are an author who wants to know how to produce audiobooks at no cost, check my blog post on audiobook production. It's a lot of work, but very rewarding.
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 Check out Elaine's web page, sign up for her classes, or receive her newsletter.