Watch Some Dialogue

The other day, Candace, a transplanted San Diegan, who now lives near Tulsa, spoke with her writer friend, Dave. Although he keeps an apartment in Los Angeles, his home is in St. Louis.  Dave earns his keep by crafting screenplays and novels. When he’s not writing, he often guest lectures at UCLA. Great literature is his passion. Candace has been published, mostly short stories and poetry. Dave is Candy’s mentor and online critique partner. Once a week, using Skype technology, they meet over the Internet to discuss the progress she’s made since their last online visit.   Here’s a snippet from their video conference.

“I’ve been thinking about taking the romance I’m writing and turning it into a movie script.”

“The process is similar to writing a novel, yet different.” Dave took a sip from his coffee mug.  “Words make up a book, that’s obvious.  Plot exposition, character development, and the description of setting rely solely on the written word.”

Candy glanced outside her home office window. A cardinal, the promise of winter, settled on the limb of a Bartlett pear just off her back deck.  “It’s been said a novelist paints a picture with words.”  Candy rolled her eyes. God that sounded cheesy.

“True…” Dave nodded. “…but in a movie, screen shots help create mood and give the audience a sense of place. Facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language build the hero, heroine, and villain.”

“I get that movies are more visual, but dialogue really drives the story. I’ve been doing some reading. I read the notes from your last lecture. You said dialogue is what grants the audience insight into the characters’ motivations and moves the plot. Without it, a film is just a silent movie, literally.”  Candy frowned at her reflection in the mirror hung over her desk.  “To get good at writing strong dialogue, I’ve been watching it.  I set all my TVs to mute then turned on closed captioning.  Now I don’t watch TV. I read it. My eyes tune into how each of my favorite character’s voices is separate and distinct.”

“It helps, doesn’t it?”

“Abso-friggin-lutly.” She grinned. “I’ve noticed the dialogue in my novel is stronger than ever.  The pace of the story moves faster, there’s movement even during the ‘ah’ moments. I’ve started writing the dialogue first in every scene. Then I go back to fill in the setting, the physical movement of the characters, and inner monologue.”

Dave took another sip. “So how’s the weather back there? I’m hoping to get home this weekend.”

“Freakin’ cold. I’d stay in LA if I were you.”

“Thanks. But my neighbor’s getting tired of checking on my dogs.” He smiled then cocked his head. “See you next week?  I expect to have Chapter Four in my Inbox by Sunday.”

“It’ll be there.”  Candy logged off. She opened her current WIP, scrolled down until she reached the promised chapter. “Back to work.”

What’s In A Word?

I recently bought a tee-shirt with the saying “There. Their. They’re not the same”. This covers a common error that many people make, confusing sound-alike words with different meanings. But what about words that are spelled different, pronounced different, but having meanings similar enough to be used incorrectly?

Such as bum, tramp, hobo, and vagabond. Often dictionaries give basically the same definition to these words: lazy, dirty, without means of support, or drunks. Yeah, I’m sure some of these definitions fit the bum, tramp, etc. But they can also fit certain members in the general populations. By custom, these words do have particular criteria.

Bum: one who lives in same area without a job, “bumming” goods and services from any one who will give them to him/her.

Tramp: one who travels from place to place without a job, taking goods and services from any one who will give them to him/her.

Hobo: one who travels from place to place, looking for any job that can earn them money, goods, and/or services.

Vagabond: one who travels from place to place, working any job that will earn them enough to take them to the next place they want to visit.

Bums & tramps have many reasons for their lifestyle; alcohol or drug abuse & mental illness are common among this group as well as brushes with the law.

Hobos are a little different. Some travel the road because they want to. Most commonly, they are more numerous during financially depressed eras. They take great pride in refusing chariety, willing to work at any blue collar job, even just for room, board, and cigarette money.

Vagabonds: free spirits who wander the world, looking for the next adventure. They may have a home, but stay only for limited periods before getting itchy feet. They are the only ones of this group who stay in touch with families. They will even send money home; they just can’t stay home!

I’ve always been fascinated with how often some words are misunderstood. I had a co-worker who raised Holy H*ll because I called her a “wench”. She was livid that I called her a “whore”! Had to show her in a dictionary that a “wench” was an archaic word for a “woman”. Guess who had fun calling her a “wench”?

I’m soooo bad.

Another Language Change

“Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,

Y cladd in mightie armes and siluer shielde,

Wherein old dints of deepe wounds did remaine,

The cruell markes of many’ a bloudy fielde;…”

That, my beloved ones, was from Spenser’s FAERIE QVEEN, Canto I.  And that was how people spoke in Queen Elizabeth I’s England.  Quite a difference to today, isn’t it?  Now how about the following?


That is computer slang.  I downloaded 7 pages of these short speaks plus a page of emoticons.  Makes you wonder, in 100 years, will the books we write today read as strange to future folk as the Faerie Queen sounds to us today? Will college students studying literature giggle when our books are read out loud in class?  Will they groan about how long the book is when they’re used to shorter books?

In one of the Star Trek movies, Spock asks Kirk why he is using so much profanity when they’re back in time on 20th century Earth. Jim explains that is normal for the period; it said so in all the literature of the era.  Like Harold Robbins and Jackie Collins.  “Ah,” says Spock.  “The greats.”  Every time I see that scene, I crack up. 

But one thing is for certain.  No matter how the language reads, the stories that DO become the classics have the same basic appeal to readers.  And, that Bainbridge Scholars, is what writing is all about.  Not to just make a living, but to create a book that will last the ages.

I Fought the Wasp

Last Sunday afternoon, it was a beautiful day, and I spent part of it sitting in a comfy chair outside, listening to the chimes in the glass trees and watching the hummingbirds at the feeders. That’s me, happy and smiling: 

Then I decided to plant some tomatoes I’d bought the day before. (Yes, I know I’m late, but I always am.) Life was good . . . until he came along:

He made a sneak attack from the rear, and that was the end of happy, smiling me. He nailed me on the back of the right knee, and I was down for the count. Wailing, “Oh my God oh my God oh my God!” I danced my way into the house for medication and ice packs, checking as I passed through the kitchen that my EpiPen was where it was supposed to be in case I needed it. Then I collapsed into the chair, and did nothing for four days but whine, try not to scratch, give in and rub a little, take more medicine, replace ice pack and repeat.

Seriously, I lost four days to a wasp sting (and the antihistamine that makes me feel like someone pulled a translucent curtain between me and the rest of the world).

I did stir myself once, to clean and refill the wasp trap, then move it closer to where I got stung. This morning I happily emptied out a dozen or more dead pests and refilled it.

Here’s hoping all the rest of them die so sweet a death!

Senior Wrangling

Yes, I know I’m way late, but I have a good reason. Or maybe an okay excuse. For the past few days, I’ve been senior wrangling. For those of you who haven’t done it (though you will, I promise you!), senior wrangling is helping your parents get through the last part of life…all without losing your mind.

Now understand, I’m twice blessed. Once because I still have my dad alive. And my second blessing is that my younger, but fully retired brother who is Daddy’s slave. He has the power of attorney to manage Dad’s bills. He’s daddy’s main driver. But every now & then, David and his wife go out of town. Then daddy’s welfare falls on me.

You know what it’s like? It’s like living with a toddler again. I had to take him to the doctor’s office; getting him into the car involved several steps. First, a potty break. Then getting him from the powerchair to his wheel chair. Then I had to replace the bootie over his foot. Then came the joy of getting him from the wheelchair into my car…and I had to replace the bootie on his foot. And away we go while he kept telling me how David drives this way, not my way…about 20 times.

Once we are at the hospital, dad can’t remember where we are supposed to go. After 45 minutes & a multitude of phone calls (Thank you, St. Johns’ volunteers!), we contact the correct office only to discover he doesn’t have an appointment. Luckily, they slide him in and they do a procedure that takes only 5 minutes. Oh, and I replaced his bootie.

Then we head back to his place, an almost exact reversal…including replacing the bootie! Arrrrgh!
And that was only one half a day. Do you want to hear about the rest??? No, I didn’t think so! But you know what? That mischevious old man is soooo worth the hassle. He’s always been the very best daddy and I’m his Princess forever! Love you, daddy!

“Editor” Isn’t Always A Dirty Word

I’ve worked with a boatload of editors over the last 20+ years. Some were easy, some were wonderful, some were persnickety, and one was Satan in human form. A good editor is priceless — and by good, I don’t mean easy. I’ve had some tough editors who taught me so much, who made me work harder and really stretch to give the best I had in me.

Now I have a new editor. His name is Cam, and he’s 3 years old and already thinks he knows how to tell my stories better than me. He’s as impatient as the Satan editor, and as ruthless, too, but I love him to death so it’s okay.

At least once each week, Bob and I pick up Cam when his dad goes to work and take him to Merritt’s Bakery, where he eats chocolate-glazed long johns with chocolate milk and repeatedly commands, “Tell me a story, Grandma.” Of course, I do,until his mom comes to get him.

Each story starts with “Once upon a time,” and each one stars Cam. Sometimes he’s a superhero; sometimes he’s a police officer. Lately, the child editor has insisted the protagonist must be Cowboy Police Chief Cameron. He must have a pistol, a gun belt, handcuffs; a horse, a cowboy hat, a big cowboy belt buckle, and his guinea pigs, Winnie and Megan, are optional, depending on his mood.

Last Friday’s story:

Me: Once upon a time, there was a farmer named Farmer Brown–

Him: No, no, once upon a time, there was a Cowboy Police Chief Cameron.

Me: I’m getting to that. And Farmer Brown lived on a farm, where he had horses and cows and pigs and chickens–

Him: And a Cowboy Police Chief Cameron!

Me: Who’s telling this story? You or me?

Him: You. But you’re not getting it right.

Sigh . . . everyone’s an editor.

Go Back To Basics

Tonight at my hospital, we had a Code Black. That meant we moved our kids & their families out into the halls, away from the windows in their rooms. While out there, one of my little bitties started choking. Of course, there’s no wall suction in the hall & the halls are crowded with beds and cribs so I can’t even move him to an interior room with wall suction. So I went back to basics; I inserted one of the long suction catheters & sucked that mucus out with my mouth.

Once upon a time, that’s how I used to get sputum for lab testing. But in those days, there was a device where you could use mouth suction without risking mucus in the mouth. Over the years, we got used to our fancy machines and a lot of the newer nurses were a little grossed out by what I did. Sometimes, writers are the same way…caught up with the “fancy” parts of writing.

Ever have a section you just can’t get to work out? A character who doesn’t do what he/she is supposed to do? Dialogue that limps along? Bet you went looking for help. Either on the Internet or notes taken at a former workshop or maybe even picking the brains of more experienced writers. And these are all good remedies, but what about that particular piece of writing where you just can’t get outside help to answer your need? Go back to the basics.

There are a lot of fancy theories out there. Five different plotting methods. All kinds of “fill-in” charts and forms. Tons of “how to” books. Again, go back to basics. You’re basically a storyteller. That means the basic thing you do is tell a story. If you have a section that’s stopping you, forget everything but the story. Tell it & be dammed to the “official” way. An editor may not approve. An agent might cry. And your CPs might stare at you and say, “What were you thinking?”

As long as the section moves the story along, no matter what crap the actual words are, you can always fix it later. And once you have the basic story down on paper, well, those things you learned from books, notes, and trusted fellow authors can help you fancy it up. So don’t think of the basics as too simple for a gifted writer. Be the storyteller first, then the gifted writer.