The dialogue-narrative bust-up

Well, I got a few hyphens in there anyway.

As I progress with my fourth novella, the third using the character Bobby Olsen, I find I am using more dialogue in this latest piece of writing. Or that should be ‘dialog’ as my story is set in America with American characters.

Before I wrote the first book I used very little dialogue in my writing, it was all description or narrative. Then in my third book, not about Bobby Olsen, I determined to try and tell as much of the story in speech as possible. It made the tale speed along, and the word count to mount quickly. Now in my current novella I find I am incorporating a lot more dialogue. Again the number of words is climbing, 53,000 so far compared to 43,000 and 35,000 for the other two stories involving Bobby Olsen. Of course, does this mean the story is better? Or is it all waffle?

I find in particular that there are scenes where I could easily just have the narrator, Bobby, tell us what happened but I am finding I am writing these out as dialogue. Yes, the answer is to strike the right balance. Too many conversations and they must run the risk of repeating phrases from earlier dialogues, or prolonging the action too much. Too many characters, particularly minor ones, might start to sound the same, trying to make peoples’ speeches sound different is hard work. And you have to include more details about the characters such as mannerisms and just general descriptions such as what they’re doing with their hands or how they are standing. More and more words. A good thing?

One particular difficulty is the relationship between Bobby and his sidekick and partner, Carol. With more dialogue between them I am having to really think about how their relationship must be developing and avoid them sounding too much like each other. It was easy when they first met and the dialogues were sort of ‘jousts’ between them, those sort of ‘will they/won’t they?’ scenes. Now they are an item it’s tricky to move their relationship forward. Or does it need to?

And there’s the action sequences which in the type of stories I am writing do tend to occur. If you have two good guys chasing one bad guy, how much dialogue can you have between the two good ones? People don’t talk much when running, yet the reader needs to know where the narrator’s buddy is. Yes, it’s question of balance again but by including more dialogue overall I find I naturally start adding more in every scene. It’ll be much easier when the books are made into movies – you can see where everyone is!

The conclusion is, there is no conclusion. You need a balance of dialogue and narrative. Poor dialogue is as bad as poor narrative. Overlong dialogue is as bad as overlong narrative. Strike the balance and you’ll be a good writer, my son/daughter…

 

 

 

 

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Linda Ronstadt

Why, when I write now about characters set in the late 50s and early 60s, do I listen to so much Linda Ronstadt?

My first memory of her was from back in the 1970s when I was attracted to her looks like so many other teenage boys. Her music didn’t interest me at the time; it was all Bowie, prog rock, glam rock, so the singing of a beautiful young woman didn’t really hit the mark. Then, just a few months ago I discovered her early singing with a group called The Stone Poneys. I’m not sure how this came about. It may have been I heard one particular song on the radio or it was just one of those ‘recommended’ videos that appear on the righthand side when you choose to watch something on YouTube. Some choice of mine must have brought up this song, ‘Different Drum’. And, wow, what an impact that song had on me. Yes, there was this stunningly beautiful young woman from the late 60s; yes, there was this wonderful song by Mike Nesmith of The Monkees; but it was the voice that caught me lock, stock and barrel.

A little research and I found out about The Stone Poneys and their folk song background. Linda’s vocals on their songs is very precise, full-vowelled and very English in its presentation. Yet on ‘Different Drum’ she lets go and gives us the hint of what could be lying underneath all that wholesome sound. I later discovered that the song was recorded not with The Stone Poneys but other musicians, which may explain why she felt freer to express herself. They had a minor hit with the song and it saw the launch of Linda’s career.

 

Further research, helped by more ‘recommendations’ on YouTube, took me to more songs of Linda’s. A visit to a local HMV store gave me a CD full of her hits. A few more were downloaded from iTunes. And I am well and truly captivated by Linda’s voice.

A few songs in particular stand out.

First, this version of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’. Firstly, what an epic song. And what an individual version by Linda. The band seem to be playing a very loose tune, some people commented it almost seemed like they were playing another tune! On CD I wonder if it was a recording of a live version, it sounds so natural. And Linda’s vocals and interpretation are incredible.

Next, ‘Stoney End’. I’m not sure I had ever heard this song before finding it on Linda’s list of recordings. It’s another wonderful version by the woman, really letting go with her vocals, such a balanced, piercing voice.

 

And lastly, or I will list all her songs, ‘A Long, Long Time’. Here her vocals are so melancholy, so powerful. What a voice she has, on all her songs. And so now I find these are the songs I play when writing about my PI in New York in the 50s and 60s, along with the Frank Sinatra ones I’ve written about before.

Linda is now battling a terrible illness, but at least we have all her fabulous recordings to listen to and watch.

 

 

 

 

 

Book 3

Strange how you can create a character for a single piece of writing, say for a writers’ group meeting, then you end up spending most of the next two years creating stories for him/her. That’s how ‘Bobby Olsen’ has come about. As mentioned in a blog post somewhere earlier here or over on my other blog dedicated to him and his books, he started as an unnamed character in a 1500 word piece written during the Xmas break from my writers’ group meetings. Three months later this nameless guy made his audience debut and I have written mainly about him since.

And now it looks like a third book/novella is in the making (or writing). Some months ago I had finished a novella (not about Bobby Olsen!) and yet wanted to go on writing whenever I found myself in a coffee house. Usually about three to four times a week! Gulp! Yes, literally, gulp!

I started by writing something along the lines of the story I had just completed, a story set in the present day, but after two or three paragraphs I found myself sliding back into the comfort zone of late 1950s New York…and Bobby. Over the past three or so weeks I have used my coffee house visits to edit what I had written to see if there is a coherent story to be continued. And there just about is. I love beginning new scenes with new characters for Bobby and his business/lifetime partner Carol to interact with. Joining them all up into a plot can be tricky. Some can be red herrings in that they are Bobby’s everyday clients early on in the book before the main storyline takes over, but this time I am trying to tie more of them into the long term plot.

Then I reached the stage where I had to get the paper and pencil out. And the eraser. All the characters and their connections or lack of them were written out on several pieces of paper taped together and I tried to link as many as possible with lines and arrows. And something like a plot has been created, if maybe a little stretched in places.

Hold on, was that the ping of a broken line I just heard? Help!

And then I have started transferring this from the tablet I use in the coffee houses to the Scrivener programme I use on my laptop at home. And where I try to break it down into chapters. So, it’s the tablet for creating the new writing, Scrivener on the laptop for ordering it all and editing it. In the coffee shops I don’t like logging on to the public Wi-Fi so I have to do all the research (I am an Englishman living in the UK writing about 1950s New York/USA…) at home on the laptop. And at some point I need to read it all through to see if it makes sense and is actually interesting!

I have reached around 30,000 words so far and Bobby and Carol have only just left New York (there seems to be a road trip in each book with these two characters) so it might develop into a 60,000 word book. Or crash and burn around 32,000! I guess the danger is to fall between the trap of being too long for a sharp-written novella and a full-blown novel. It’s a journey and it’s fun. And I don’t even try to market the books when finished, so the emphasis is on FUN! The fun of creating something out of nothing.

So, onward goes Book Three. A title? Absolutely no idea..!

 

 

 

Creating characters

I guess every writer has their own way of creating a character. I tend most of the time to start with a name. With my stories being set predominately in the late 1950s/early 1960s New York and America I find there is a rich vein of names to mine into. Just by googling surnames or first names for America in a given decade or even a particular year leads me to either lists from government departments or baby-naming websites. Nancy Hecht, Mildred O’Connell, Dirk Allocca, Walter Ernlaid, and Ruby Dexheimer all featured in my last novella.

One of my favorite characters – delectable and dangerous Buffy Summers.

I have to admit I’m not the best at keeping records of what my characters look like. Although I have been using Scrivener for the last three years and I do use the facility to create ‘Character’ pages, I am lazy at updating them and seldom if ever fill in details such as ‘inner motives’ or ‘personality’. I expect my characters come across as very shallow because of this. I just about remember to keep records of their hair colour and what make of car they drive. I did have an awful time with the last book when I realised I had given the protagonist, Bobby Olsen, two different cars during a lengthy road journey. It wasn’t fun sorting out Chevies and Packards.

Another – the cunning Odysseus

Of course it’s interesting to think of books you’ve read where you get to the end and you realise that you’ve never been given a description of the main character by the writer or by the other characters in the story. Some writers go the other way and give a very detailed description early on. I think I prefer the former method. That is maybe why I don’t describe Bobby closely. You can all think of him how you like. I can remember when I was reading episodes out of the first novella involving Bobby at a Writers’ Group and finding out that some of the people there thought of Bobby as looking like me! I guess that’s easy to do when you’ve read out a story with ‘I’ telling the tale. Well, if I’m Bobby, I can’t wait to meet my Miss Rios…(you have to read the books to get that reference, or you can probably guess).

And Tom Hanson from 500 Hundred Days of Summer

Now, how about killing your characters off? Easy with the bad guys, unless you get a secret desire to use them again in a sequel. But the good guys, or the innocent ones, that’s hard. I can remember in the first Bobby Olsen story I had him teamed up for half the book with the above-mentioned Miss Rios. Toward the end she gets shot. That was a big dilemma. Kill her off and get a real shock value, or have her recover and possibly be a permanent sidekick for Bobby? I fear a movie director might finish her off, especially if they were not planning a sequel. Me? Well, read the story and find out.

And my greatest two from childhood – The Lone Ranger and Tonto

 

 

Sequel

Well, I’m not sure if anyone still visits here as I haven’t written anything for some time. But I have at last got around to publishing the sequel to my novella ‘Bobby Olsen’. That was uploaded in June 2017 and the sequel was actually finished way before that, in February 2017. It has sat in a folder on my computer ever since. A house move, a relocation to within a five minute walk of several coffee houses, and the distraction of writing another novella, unconnected with the Olsen ones, has led to this delay. Anyway, it is now edited as best I can and available.

What next? I have about 25,000 words of a third Bobby Olsen story on my tablet and a couple of thousand words of another story set in the present day. I’m not sure if either or both will develop further. There is a limit to the quality you can produce just sat in a coffee house so I would need to dedicate time to writing at home, something I have found quite hard to do over the last year. We’ll see what happens.

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Circe by Madeline Miller

 

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A shout-out for this book, published a few months ago. If you buy into the Greek myths you will love this story about Circe, a character most of us only come across when she appears in The Odyssey. The author has researched the myths well and put her own spin and interpretation on various aspects, especially at the end where she both shows awareness of the sparse surviving remnant of The Telegony and makes a slight change to this elusive text.

It is the overall style that will capture the reader, however. It reads like a myth itself, and what greater praise can you give such a book than to say it reads like a translated version of a tale.

Some critics might argue that the author had an easy ride in that she had most of her plot already written for her – some 2,000 years ago! – and most, if not all, of her characters already created and their personalities at least hinted at in various other myths. But it is still a heck of a task to tell the story in a knowledgeable and coherent form, and to keep it entertaining and moving at the same time.

Time now to track down her earlier publication about Achilles…

Personally, I am still trying to edit a story I wrote two years ago and continuing to add another three or four hundred words to another tale whenever I am in a coffee house alone. I find it very difficult to concentrate on writing at home , hence my absence from posting here.

 

 

 

Hung Words

(another oldie, from early last year)

There is something I need to remember.

There is something I need to remember, something that keeps slipping away from the cliff edge of my mind, toppling away into the depths below, crashing down among all the other lost forgotten words.

It is nudging me again, a letter here, a syllable there, never quite shape-shifting into a complete word. My mouth starts to form the sound, gags on the unemitted gasp, swallows the crumbling letters, and the word tumbles away again over the yawning fall.

Down there with all the broken neglected words are the broken neglected people, the ones who made mistakes, never learned their lessons, never considered they had done wrong, and a few who tried to find the word before it trailed away, the same one I am losing all the time.

Once, very long ago, so long ago there is no known segment of Time to describe it, I knew the word. That, I can recall. I did used to know it, could utter it, could give myself a second chance.

Never taken, of course.

Of course.

That would have changed everything, would it not? Maybe for the better, maybe not, strange as that may seem. Would He have survived so long, if I had remembered the word, or would He have gone the way of all the others, cast aside once His diatribes grated once too often in minds fast becoming equals to His.

It is in here somewhere, flitting around, hiding behind the longer words, the ones which have many meanings, unclear, confusing, misread and miscued, and easy, so easy, to deceive with. Many of those I have used throughout the ages of my time. To mystify, to trick, to ensnare. This elusive word is smaller, difficult to catch among the multitude of letters strung together into the many syllable definitions of deceptive ideas and motives.

For a moment there I thought I glimpsed it, trying to inch forward, to let its first sound sneak onto my tongue. Once there I am sure I could catch it, speak its name, before it slips away. Or is it being pulled back? Is that the problem? Is something tug of warring with me, pulling the word away, jerking on its long tail, flinging it over that precipice, down again into the pit of churning bones and burning vocabulary, from whence it starts the long struggle back up, fingernails scratching holds on blood-rinsed rocks, weak muscles hauling upwards over shredded tissue and deleted sounds, its eyes ever locked up high at the prospect of rebirth.

Time is short now. He will not wait much longer. This is the final time.

I know.

He knows.

He has won.

But he is waiting to see if the word can be remembered. If my blackened lips can form the two syllables they have never pronounced together. At least not since the Beginning, when I broke one way, and He broke the other. Will my mind still be able to format the two sounds into the one word? Or will it fry my being like sunlight on a mythical vampire?

Wait. Wait. I see it. Crouched behind a concept hidden in the very darkest of the dark quarters of my dark mind.

I have it! It is trapped there, a mistake made, left itself no way out but toward me.

That concept, lying never used, irrelevant to me, a false god to worship if ever there was one. Until now. Yes, I have the word. It cannot back away. It sits, naked, exposed, fearful now of rebirth, scared of its implications. But I have it. My tongue snakes around the concept named Truth, pincers the shivering syllables, swallows first that notion to ease the speaking of the word.

I gorge on the feeling, warmth streaming throughout me. The word follows it, up into my mouth, rolling around between my red-dripped teeth, and is spat forth with the conviction of one realising rebirth can be.

‘Sor-ry.’