Friday, August 22, 2014

How to Develop Characters for a Novel

Six Distinct Ways to Develop Character

1. Head to toe physical description
2. Unique physical and other characteristics 
3. How a character acts and reacts
4. What a character says about himself, about others, and about issues
5. What others say about a character and how that character responds
6. What a character thinks about

Other writers will no doubt come up with other ways to develop characters. In the nineteenth and earlier centuries, writers often used a character's name to indicate the kind of person a character was: Mr. Goodfellow, Snidely Whiplash, etc. But we also see modern-day examples: Miss Ballbricker (Porky's, the movie), Doug and Windy Whiner (SNL). Using names for characters that indicate a character's type is fun, but be careful not to overdo it. These days it often creates a comic mood.

Character physical description, along with unique physical characteristics

New writers often overlook a real physical description of their characters. My general rule of thumb is that as soon as a character is introduced in a story, readers should get a good first look at as much of the character as possible, followed by something unique in the character that distinguishes him or her from everyone else in the story. Of course there is the danger of intruding upon the story to stop and describe the character. But writers should find a way to sneak in the description at the earliest possible moment, without woodenly stopping the flow of the story. 

I suggest a top-down description:
When Leo came in from the rain, his normally curly black hair was plastered to his head, and the ringlets dripped water onto his face, as if he were sweating. His brow was creased, and his coal black eyebrows were drawn together resembling the wingspan of a predatory bird in flight. His deep blue eyes with girlishly long eyelashes, were unfortunately hidden behind thick-lensed glasses. They rode on the tip of his nose, which he pushed to the bridge of his nose against the insistent moisture on his face. In calmer moments people noticed his full and rather pale lips, which were pressed into a thin line at his wet discomfort. He pulled the backpack off his right shoulder and set it on the floor beside the first table he had come to in the coffee shop, and then he struggled out of his wet sports jacket. Normally, it hung on his thin shoulders like he'd borrowed it from a big brother. And once he'd removed the jacket, he flung it on the back of a chair at the table. He'd worn what he thought was his best dressy blue shirt, and it too clung to his undeveloped chest like a second skin. His corduroy slacks rode a little high on his trim waist. He was six feet tall, and fully half of that was waist, long thighs, and chicken-leg calves that prevented him from wearing shorts, as "chicken legs" was the first thought that came to him when he looked in the mirror. He'd worn Hushpuppy shoes and they squished as he managed to finally take a seat, trying to relax, having no idea that his usually chronic red cheeks, which some people mistook for a healthy demeanor, was now splotchy and hot looking, as if he were running a fever.

The above is definitely not great literature, but we learn several things about the character, Leo, just from the physical description, how he carries himself, how he is flustered from having gotten soaked before he got to the coffee shop. We also manage to describe his clothing, as well as a distinguishing characteristic in his chronic red cheeks. Yes, he might have Rosacea. We know that if he were not wet from the rain, his outfit would indicate that he had made some attempt to dress up, wearing his best dressy blue shirt, a sports jacket, and was going for a casual, well-dressed appearance. In entirely young, twenty-first century story of teenagers, we might also see that his dress would be considered nerdy. The thick-lensed glasses are a good start. Have them be taped on one of the earpieces, and the effect will scream "nerd!"

A writer can also choose to do a bottom-up description, which can be effective, let's say if a character is lying on the pavement having been attacked by an assailant, and when he comes to and another character is standing over him, it would be natural to begin with the shoes and work his way up to the face of the person standing over him. There are also scenes in movies where the first thing we see of a character, let's say of a beautiful woman arriving at a red-carpet affair, is her shoes as she steps out of the limousine onto the sidewalk, followed by her shapely calves, her clingy red dress, that shows off her lithe figure, and so on as we follow her movements out of the car, up her body, until we get a full view of her.

But it is also natural in real life that once we get an overall view of a person, we concentrate on the face, the eyes, the mouth, and whatever distinguishing characteristic that makes that person unique. Sometimes it is a limp, a missing limb, an overly large nose, any one of a million features.

How a character acts and reacts

This way of developing character can be used over and over throughout the novel. Maybe the local football star slaps Leo on the back, just as he's about to take a sip of latte, and we can see Leo cringe (indicating timidity, fear, or even feckless annoyance against a greater, more powerful character). Now let's take a look at how the football star comes into the same coffee shop, also soaking wet. He would no doubt be laughing and jovial, having enjoyed the spectacle of himself, and we can almost see him shaking off the water like a German Shepard coming in out of the rain. In fact the local football star might really like Leo and is simply not aware of his intimidating presence or the sudden discomfort he causes in Leo, when he slaps him on the back. We see these opposite actions and reactions in many scenes in both novels and movies, and it gives readers a chance to see into the personality of both characters at once. I'm going for the obvious action and reaction in simple scenes to show how we get a feel for a character as the story unfolds. But there are all kinds of nuances of character body language that can illustrate personality.

What a character says about himself, about others, and about issues 

(Here, we'll also show character direct and indirect thoughts during dialogue. This is part of the sixth way we reveal character traits and personality)

When we engage characters in dialogue, we have an opportunity to reveal further character traits. From my Two Brothers Press website, I have extracted a dialogue scene between husband and wife that shows how what they say, what they think, and how they react to each other reveals all sorts of character development. I have used what would be mundane dialogue, "What's for dinner?" (which I caution against) as a vehicle to carry the character development of both husband and wife:

"What are we having for dinner? John asked, almost shouting as soon as he stepped into the house, slamming the door behind him. It had been a hard day and he hoped his wife would hold up her end of their rotten marriage and feed him a good meal.

"Pizza," Betty shouted back. Whether John realized it or not, she worked just as hard as he did, and she wasn't about to slave over a hot stove, only to see him wolf down his food, fart, and move off to the living room to vegetate in front of the TV.

"What kind of pizza? John asked, irritated that Betty had once again ordered in their food. It better not be pepperoni, he thought. She knows it irritates my colon.

"Pepperoni," Betty said, lowering her voice, almost growling, daring John to complain. She wasn't about to work her ass off for him and never would again, since she'd found out he'd been boffing the secretary—and a good bout of methane gas and bloating would serve him right. Does rat poison look like parmesan? she wondered.
We can learn a great deal about the personalities and kind of characters these are by their actions, although nothing in what they say reveals personality traits. We see that the wife Betty has a passive-agressive personality by serving pepperoni pizza to her husband. While she barely does her "wifely" duty as John thinks she ought to, she refuses to really do his bidding, and she is punishing him at the same time, knowing that he will suffer from intestinal distress. The husband of course is a selfish person; he has his "fun" on the side with his secretary and yet still expects his wife to be there for him when he gets home. What I also tried to show is if writers must discuss mundane topics (and what's for dinner is surely among the mundane), it can be done in such a way that we get a great deal going on under the surface, not only by what is not said, but what each character thinks, in both direct thoughts (those that are italicized) and narrated thoughts (written in third person by the story narrator). Further the dialogue description (Betty lowers her voice and almost growls her answer), shows that she is angry. John's actions of slamming the door and almost shouting his question also reveals his state of mind.

 What others say about a character and how that character responds

Now, let's continue with another way to develop characters with Leo, Dave the football star, and a bully named Chad to reveal character traits, by what characters say about another character and how a character responds. To avoid cluttering up the example, I'm going to avoid detailed description of setting as the dialogue unfolds. It's still in the coffee shop, and to Leo's dismay Dave the football star has sat down at his table, and he is joined by Chad, the most popular non-athlete in the school.

    "So, four eyes, did you get my research paper done?" Chad asked. He leaned forward and grinned widely showing his perfect teeth, and it hit Leo that he probably practiced his million-dollar smile in the mirror.
    "Um-yeah," Leo said glancing at Dave and then at Chad. He pulled the still dripping back pack from the floor and rustled through a compartment until he pulled out a rather damp-feeling sheaf of papers. He was appalled at how the ink-jet printer ink had feathered into the paper, just enough to make the type look out of focus. "'s damp. sorry."
    Chad snatched the research paper from Leo's grasp and thumbed through it, as both Dave and Leo watched. Chad looked up. "Redo it, you little chickenshit. I can't turn this in."
    "Uh—okay. I'll get it to—"
    "You're not doing any such thing, Leo," Dave said, flicking the edge of the paper. "You spent enough time." He turned his focus on Chad. "Make do with it, you moron," Dave said directly into Chad's fading million-dollar smile. 

In this really bad example, we see that Chad enjoys intimidating others, and of course he comes up with demeaning ways to inflict embarrassment on Leo. We see that Leo is painfully compliant, and this is a personality trait, at least in his overt reaction to what Chad says. We also see that in his mind, Leo sees through Chad's outward personality, knowing that like everyone else, he must practice the kind of mask he wears in public, flashing an obviously practiced smile.

And we see Dave's personality. He's impatient with badly behaving people like Chad, and perhaps his utter lack of self-consciousness allows him to be direct, telling Chad to accept the paper, damp or not, and be satisfied.

We can imagine the three young men's conversation either ending abruptly as Chad takes the paper and leaves the table, or we can see that perhaps he puts up resistance to Dave's demand that he accept the paper. We think that Dave will probably win this round, and we also see that he's rather protective of Leo.

What a character thinks about

As we saw in the above example, we get a hint at what Leo thinks about, and it reveals a bit of insight into his personality, when he realizes that Chad must practice his looks in a mirror. But more important than the internal thoughts that might accompany dialogue, we can use "what a character thinks about" to reveal much deeper aspects of a character's personality. When we see a character by himself, engaged in thinking, the writer needs to realize that there can be no lies. The character's inner thoughts must reflect how they really feel about things, how they really are, when they're by themselves. This is where evil and goodness are revealed in our main characters. I use the terms "evil" and "good" loosely, because it doesn't have to be murderous evil, just not good. When we see Chad alone, his thoughts might reveal how he enjoys controlling little nerds like Leo to do his bidding, or we might even see that he reveals his own fears and self-concept issues. We might see a side of Leo in his private moments that show readers how he really admires people like Dave the football star and how he wants to find a way to emulate such people. He might also reveal his own kind of "not good" when he thinks about how glad he was that the research paper he did for Chad was almost ruined by the rain. We might also learn that he deliberately sabotaged portions of the paper that would bring down its grade somewhat. Again, we might see that Leo also has a kind of passive-aggressive side to his personality.

In conclusion, writers should realize the value of using private moments and character thoughts to reveal deep, yet subtle personality traits in a story's characters.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Editing Factories - A Little More Information

Not to be Confused with "Editing Factories"

Quite frankly, I was surprised to note that the term "editing factory" had already been used in the following context: something having to do with enabling one to edit movies, enhance web pages, and associated software.

What I mean by an editing factory is what the freelance book editing industry has become seeking all the independent, agent-less, and non-traditionaly-published writers. In other words, writers who are going it alone and need their work edited, mainly for self-publishing, are the target clients for editing factories. Writers decide to self-publish for a variety of reasons, and self-publishing (usually through a POD company) is becoming the publishing  goal of hundreds of thousands of writers. I've done it myself after having been published traditionally. Writers want to take control of their own timetable for getting their work out to the public, and the smart writers know they need to have their books professionally edited before submitting them to self-publishing companies.

So there's a whole industry that has sprung up to accommodate those writers who want to make sure their books are competitive, competently edited, and ready for typesetting, which in turn will make their books appear as well-done as the traditionally published writer. Since the traditional book publishing industry is controlled by only five mega-companies, it is no wonder that new writers find it increasingly difficult to break into print the old way; and the old way was the new way near the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century. Before that...guess what...writers did it themselves.

So the editing factories I am referring to are those that have become big companies that hire a lot of freelance editors who work for wages., for example hires thousands of editors, each one hoping to get an editing assignment through You can almost see a big room with editors on staff working in cubicles, getting assignments and having their work quality-checked by another set of staff. Another such company is Scribendi, although my perusal of it did not show that it was for book-length manuscripts. Scribendi has over eight hundred editors waiting for an assignment. Although in reality the editors work at home on their own computers and download the assignments and upload the edited manuscripts back to the factory they work for.

The main characteristic of these factories is that the editors never meet the writers whose books they edit. Instead, the writer and editor are deliberately kept apart, and all correspondence between the writer who might have questions and the editor who answers them are handled by the go-between. Why do you think these factories don't want the editor and writer to be able to identify each other? Because they don't want the writer and editor to go off together and work on the manuscript by themselves. First, it would cut down on the income stream to the company. It's much better to keep the writer enthrall to silver, gold, and diamond services packages of various levels of edit and keep the editor on something a little more than minimum wage.

Are the editors who work for these factories good editors? Many of them are college students who manage to pass the editing tests the company gives them. They're not seasoned writers or editors. They're learning as they go. But these "editors" are seasoned and good enough to pass their quality checks on the manuscripts they edit. Not only are they given quality assurance tests, but they are required to return work that hits all the marks in the company's quality-check forms.


  • Subject/verb agreement
  • Pronoun reference/agreement
  • Proper diction
  • Proper comma usage
  • Punctuation, in general
  • Sentence fragments
  • Run-on sentences
  • Dangling participles
  • Left-out word
  • Number
  • Citations/Endnotes
  • Etc.
Then the QC wants to know if the editor

  • Pointed out colloquialisms not in dialogue
  • Pointed out wordiness (whenever possible)
  • Did dialogue punctuation correctly
  • Pointed out inconsistencies in character names
Concerns with formatting

Now, besides these obvious kinds of errors in a manuscript, and especially if we're dealing with fiction, these factories also want to make sure that editors cover a number of content and development issues:

Character development
Description of setting and character
Structure in a three-act type of arrangement (usually)

But what is lacking in this kind of "artificial-intelligence" developmental editing is leaving out the creative aspects of editing. The factories want to see manuscripts drenched in the proverbial red ink, the more the obviously better a manuscript has been edited. But let's also be realistic, editing is done in these factories in a time-crunch system. Will the editor ponder a better way to develop the plot, take into account the three main types of conflict in all stories, fit the characters to the type of conflict that arrises, tailor the description of place and time to the needs of the story? Probably not in any truly meaningful way. I call this "artificial-intelligence" editing because the QC factors the factory managers have devised are basically checklists. The dream of some software companies is to devise intelligent grammar checking programs, but anyone who is a thinking, engaged writer will soon despair of using such software to better revise prose that is rhythmic, almost poetic in description, mood evoking in its unique way of expressing an idea, an action, or a character's personality.

I picked a grammar-checking software program at random on the Internet and used its "try it" button. I gave the checker two bad sentences to see how they would be improved:

Example 1

Test sentence: The Jews in World War 2 were sent to concentration camps by the Nazis and were treated badly. 

Corrected by grammar checker: The Jews in World War 2 were sent to concentration camps by the Nazis are being treated badly.

Example 2

Test sentence: Me and Jan got up in the morning, then he and I ran to the lake where we engaged in the process of swimming. 

Corrected by grammar checker: Grammar checker said there were no mistakes.

Example 1 is at the very least partially cast in passive voice, but there are also incorrect spelling/expressions in the sentence. The correction, which is the second sentence in each example is made even worse. Not only did the grammar checker NOT correct the passive voice, it also created an issue with verb tense. Nor did this "artificial intelligence" grammar software recognize just what the intent of the sentence might be.

Example 2 is even worse, since the grammar check said there were no mistakes. "Me and Jan got up" is incorrect. Should be Jan and I got up..." We NEVER use the object pronoun "me" in the subject pronoun's place in a sentence. And "engaged in the process of swimming" is unnecessarily wordy.

These examples illustrate only that artificial-intelligence grammar-checking programs are not there yet and that we still need a human touch. Now, how does this relate to editing factories and the thousands of editors (freshly minted college students, mostly) working there? By the very concept of the quality check forms that an editor's work is tested against when he/she has uploaded a freshly edited manuscript. Those doing the quality check will run the manuscript through a grammar and spell checker. You don't expect the QC people to also edit each manuscript, do you? The QC person also only spot checks a few pages here and there. Further, there is no way to "spot check" developmental editing, and yet these companies really kick into high gear with their up charges when it comes to developmental book editing—as much as 3.5 cents per word. In a hundred-thousand-word manuscript that's $3500.00. How much in royalties through book sales will it take to just break even?

The only true relationship that an editor and writer have that works as a collaborative effort is for the editor and writer to communicate directly with each other, and editing factories are simply not designed to allow this. Instead, writers should look for independent editors and bypass the editing factories, unless all the writer wants is a proofread manuscript, not a truly edited one.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Editing Factories vs. Professional Editing Services

Conglomerates are Taking Over. The Urge to Merge

Any writer who has ever searched beyond her own hometown for help in editing a manuscript eventually turns to the Internet for help. There is always Craigslist for everything from apartment rentals to used cars to editorial services. But believe me this is a really scary way to go. And then there are the results one gets from a Google Search, using this or a similar string:

"Book Editing Services"

Go ahead...take a look. Visit a few of the web sites. I'll wait...

Okay, so what did you find?

The first things I saw on my Google search were ads for First, Kevin Anderson & Associates, and Grammarly; these ads were followed by Mill City Press that claims it provides editing services you can actually afford, to the tune of basic copyediting at 2¢ per word. That's $2,000.00 for a hundred thousand words. Basic plus services cost 3.5¢ per word with add on prices, and the costs escalate from there. Now, this is not to disparage their services. They're what I call an editing factory. You never get to actually meet and work with your editor, as you would at a traditional publishing company. They and similar editing service companies employ dozens if not hundreds of "freelance" editors. They give tests to prospective editors, and then hold them to strict editing behaviors, usually requiring that editors use various manuals of style, but especially The Chicago Manual of Style, which is currently the 16th edition, which is the trusted source for publishers. You will receive excellent technical editing, but when it comes to developmental editing, these companies depend on rote methods to determine wordiness, passive voice, plot development, etc., and what you get is a kind of artificial-intelligence response to the true style of your writing and story development. Some writers might feel right at home allowing their manuscripts to be edited by unseen hands. But to me such editing service web sites are clinical, white lab-coat antiseptic, and cold to the touch. The problem is that editing factories have taken over the editorial services market, and presumably the "urge to merge" is at work when writers search the Internet for editors. The editing factories are getting bigger and bigger. You get big outfits, corporate in nature, and very lacking in true humanity. Be aware, too, that in-house editing at sites like Author House, iUniverse, CreateSpace, and others have become highly corporate, and the human touch is growing faint.

If you want a truly warm touch from an editor you can actually correspond with and explain why you don't want to do things in a strict, clinical way, you will need to search through the other sites, several pages in on the Google search list. What I would look for if I were trying to get a manuscript edited, evaluated, and get suggestions for substantial revisions would be an individual who has hung out her sign on the Internet, who has taken the time to tell me what her qualifications are and explain how she works. You want an editor who works with you. Expect to pay for services up front, because an edited document returned to the writer can be used by the writer without making payment. Editors don't want to get stiffed. However, choose an editor who will do some preliminary work on your manuscript to show you what kind of editing will be done. This is usually about ten manuscript pages. This should be done for free. This is your opportunity to evaluate the editor. Don't take it lightly, and don't take offense if it appears to have been butchered in red ink.

You might also want to be assured that there's a pull-out clause in your contract. If, before the editing is done, you decide you don't want the services, you should be able to pull out of the service and receive a refund on that portion of the manuscript that has not been edited; since fees are usually charged by word count, the editor should be able to accommodate your cessation of services. But you should also be aware that if you decide to change things in your manuscript before the editing is completed, but AFTER the editor has started work, all hell will break loose, and fees will have to be adjusted—upward. The best advice I can give at this point is be patient. Submit only a manuscript that you can allow to be edited before you start making changes. Many freelance editors will also accommodate follow-up editing for a reduced price, or what we call a second round, which should not be as much as the first round. But expect to pay for services rendered.

Also, go to Preditors & Editors website to see if any publishing service, agent, or editorial services have received complaints.

When editors work on manuscripts and when writers submit their manuscripts to be edited, I cannot stress enough that both the editor and the writer must be professional in their dealings with each other. As both a writer and and editor I have seen issues arise on both sides, and so I have provided an article titled: Freelance Pitfalls "Editors, Beware...Writers, Beware," which you might find helpful.

Description, the Red Meat of Writing

Setting Description, the Static and the Active

I consider description, which comes in many forms and flavors to be the true red meat of writing. Neither in books nor film is it really possible to tell a story without filling in the environment, the surroundings, the place in which a story takes place. Nor is it really possible to create a character without filling in a character's being, which involves physical substance that is animated and sentient.

Let's pick on novice writers again. Quite often we can be two or three chapters into a novel and we've yet to know what the main characters looks like, what the houses they live in look like, or the streets and the towns in the story. Some argue that readers will fill in the details, but until we have a good description of each character and place, we might as well have our eyes shut and just listen to what the characters say. Worse yet, without a substantial description of place to go along with the characters, we might as well just listen to disembodied voices in a void—and that is boring. In fact, creating a complete story is like the problem God had when he created the universe out of nothing, or like the question posited by physicists in the Big Bang theory. First there was nothing and then there was...all this. Readers like to know where a story is taking place, what the characters look like, whether it is night or day, if it's hot or cold, windy or still, and if the location smells like dead fish, freshly brewed coffee, or...or...pine. In other words if they're on a pier in the Gulf of Mexico, in Starbucks, or in a cabin in a pine forest.

I've actually read books that are too laden with description of every kind, and many readers complain that there is too much description in some novels. This is true. Description can get in the way of the story and the plot, but without description, we're back to the void.

Now let's take a look at another important distinction in setting description, whether the setting is static, as in My Dinner with Andre, or if characters meet and have dialogue and perform action in changing and shifting settings. We also need to distinguish between the description of place and the description of the environment, the weather. Yes, I said the weather.

We set tone and mood by the use of weather. Which is more suspenseful, walking through a cemetery on a sunny morning during Memorial Day, when the sky is clear, and there's a cool breeze in the air or walking through a graveyard at midnight when it's pouring rain and so dark we can only make out the shapes of the gravestones when lightning flashes? This is active description. We have our setting, but with active description of the setting (in this case the weather) it all changes.

So, when we create a story, we should try to create an entire world, just as if it were being filmed. We have to create everything in the reader's mind, including concrete description of places and people, but we can also create description that we can smell, feel, and hear. The more we appeal to the reader's five physical senses the more complete the environment in which a story takes place.

For more on description as the red meat of writing visit this page. Yes, there is some repetition, but about halfway through this page, readers will be treated to a real graphic example of descriptive writing.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Without Characters There is No...?

Without Conflict there is no...?

Earlier I said that without conflict there is no story, no plot, and without characters there is no conflict. When we examined what elements went in to make a novel, the big three were conflict, plot, and character. In a previous post we saw that the unfolding of the plot is dependent upon the type of conflict we have, and so now to complete the circle, without knowing what the characters are going to be like will we really know what the conflict is?

Or is this a chicken...egg conundrum?

In an even older post, I talked about narrative point of view, voice, and narrative tense. So, now we have the cookbook set before us, and we're going through the recipes, considering the ingredients that go to make up a novel. There is one other major ingredient that I have not yet mentioned, and that is setting. I would like to caution new writers that any kind of story can happen in any kind of setting, but in fact, I had a New York editor tell me that the boot heel of New Mexico was an odd place to set a gay story (that's southwestern New Mexico to those of you who don't know; and to those of you who really don't know, New Mexico sits in the 220,000-square-mile blank area bordering Arizona on the west, Texas on the east, Mexico on the south, and Colorado on the north)  I guess what she meant was that gay stories can only happen in exotic settings like, well, New York City, San Francisco, or some exotic location. And we all know that Stephen King's horror novels can only happen in Maine.

A further word of caution. Even though it seems that only certain kinds of stories can take place in the rural Deep South, involving rednecks, hunting dogs, and swamps, that's not necessarily true either.

Anyway...ahem...I digress.

The characters in a novel are central to the kinds of conflicts a plot has, as well as the kinds of resolutions that work themselves out.

I'd think you needed to do a great deal of planning before ever beginning to actually write a novel. In fact, many writers do sketch out their novels before writing them. They already know who the characters are going to be, even what kinds of scenes will need to take place to move the plot along. Seasoned writers who outline their novels even have a good idea how long it will take to finish the novel.

I know...really? Writers can do that?

I think you can consider me a seasoned writer, as well, and I can tell you that the only book-length works I've ever put together from an outline were technical manuals for the various high-tech companies I worked for. Those manuals had a specific purpose, and if I were writing an operator's manual for a new phone, I wouldn't include any information at all about how to operate a forklift. But  writing a novel is much more organic, and halfway through writing the first draft, I've had characters pop into the story that I didn't even see coming. But I suppose this is a digression, too.

If you're going to have a story about bullying, you'll need to think about characters who are bullies and characters who are victims. If you're going to think (similarly) about a story about domestic violence, you'll need the abusers and the abused, and for good measure the relatives of the abuser and the abused. War stories usually have soldiers, generals, and the setting is usually on a battlefield. I know, this is rather obvious.

So the point is there is a great deal of planning that goes into writing a novel, or in my case, a great deal of subconscious fulminating before I sit down to write. I might have the opening lines at the ready when I sit down, and I think I have the narrative voice I'll be using, whether it is going to be first person or third person. I usually also have a kind of vision of what I want the story to be about and I have the main character in mind.

When I wrote the first line of my first novel back in 1986, I wrote:

Joel woke up disturbed.

I also knew why he was disturbed and what had happened, and so much of the first chapter, at least, was there in my subconscious waiting for me to tap into it. But I didn't know what was going to happen during the rest of the day when he woke up disturbed. However, I had a good idea about the kind of character Joel was. And so the conflict for him was not Man vs. Himself, but rather he was the kind of character who trusted his feelings beyond any other trait. He never doubted himself, and his conflict came from those who did not trust their own feelings, but who put more stock into what other people thought, what their religion had to say, whether society would frown on them. So I knew that at least one other character would carry the conflict of Man vs. Himself, and Joel would be involved in Man vs. Man conflict.

I hope this illustrated how we think of what kind of characters we need for the kinds of conflict the characters will be involved in, which determines how the plot will unfold.

Most novels have at least a main character who fills the role of protagonist, and in Man vs. Man novels, there is usually an antagonist. It took me twenty years to learn, however, that the antagonist doesn't have to be totally bad. In fact, villains are much more effective if they are conflicted or the product of abuse, misunderstanding, self-doubt, etc. We love to hate our villains in literature, but we should also have villains that remain human and full of contradictions. And the same can be said for our protagonists. If they are so sugar-sweet and perfect, they become much less interesting. So our heroes might do things that are not nice, just as our villains can do things that are good.

The rest of the characters in a novel can run the gamut from hero-like to villain-like at moments in the story. I would dare say that the most interesting novels are filled with imperfect humans, who show us the widest range possible of human nature, at its best and its worst.

Cowards can have moments of utter bravery; heroes can have moments of paralyzing fear. In the end, unless it is a specific genre, most general novels are character driven. So, without characters, there is no conflict, without conflict there is no plot, and without plot, conflict, and character, there is no novel.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Plotting the Novel

How Conflict Unfolds in the Plot

In a previous post I talked about the conflicts that are the building blocks of a novel's plot. In this post I'd like to discuss and illustrate the major parts that go to make up the plot (the story) in a novel. It doesn't matter which of the three major types of conflict we encounter in a novel.

The elements of plot:

1. The Hook (should occur close to the beginning of the novel, if not in the opening lines).

2. The Action. This is a multifaceted idea. The action is broken into scenes. It depends on what the characters do when faced with the conflict in the story, and like the old physics adage, for every action (scene) there is an equal and opposite reaction. We'll bend this  little statement as we discuss plot. We will show various types of action later in this post.

3. Rising Action. As the characters move from scene to scene in a story, a well-plotted novel will cause the action to increase in intensity, throw roadblocks in the way of achieving a solution to the conflict, and otherwise build upon what has come before.

4. The Climax. The climax should be the pinnacle of the action that has been building. It's not a good idea to end the story there. Readers want some sort of resolution after this. This is sometimes called the denouement.

5. The Resolution (denouement). Once the conflict has reached its climax and whatever happened in the climax, we need to leave room for cleaning up the story, tying up major loose ends, etc.

A more general way of looking at plot is to say that a novel has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I mention this, because in all the evaluations I have done over the years, I often had to ferret out the writer's plot movement and point out that she did not devote enough time to the middle of a novel, did not adequately develop the hook (the opening/beginning), or the end had very little to do with the beginning and the middle. Consider the plot as taking place in three acts. Longer novels are often subdivided into parts—and guess what, they usually have three parts. We won't complicate this concept right now with subplots.

The Hook, the opening

The Hook should occur near the opening of the novel to get readers to continue. If you don't do that and instead opt for pretty words or description or get involved in describing a character without an indication of some conflict, readers will quickly decide to choose another book. Believe me, they will.

Now we also need to choose a "hook" that matches the kind of conflict the story is about. It might sound like all novels should be action packed stories and that the hook should be as exciting as the beginning of the Terminator movie, when Arnold Schwarzenegger drops naked out of the sky. So let's consider some short story and novel openings—remembering that the hook should match the conflict in the novel.

For a long moment, while his hands shook, Jonathan held the new bottle of whiskey. He'd told his wife he would quit. But right now all he could think about was that first burning sensation in his throat...
Readers ought to be able to figure out from these two sentences that the conflict is going to be about an alcoholic (Man vs. Himself) who has made a promise to his wife to quit drinking. We see that we don't have to have an explosion down the street to hook readers. Further, the opening indicates that the plot in this novel will involve Jonathan fighting or giving in to his addiction.

The opening scene could go in several directions. Jonathan could open the bottle and gulp the contents. He could put the bottle back in its hiding place. His wife could come in just when he'd decided to pour the whiskey down the sink and assume that he was about to take a drink.

Opening lines or paragraphs set a mood right away, or they hint at something out of the ordinary. They don't have to be supernatural or suspenseful in the sense of a spy novel. It can be something as simple as an interrupted routine, say, in an old folks home.

The food trays didn't arrive at eleven o'clock. In fact, outside in the hall there was no sound, no sound whatsoever...
I would like to think that something as gently disturbing as this opening could go in any direction. Maybe something has happened and all the staff in the hospital have suddenly disappeared. Maybe a virus has temporarily killed them all and, in a couple of hours or less, those shut-in patients will suddenly be overrun with zombies.

Nonetheless, there are really great examples of the "best" novel opening lines, and all you have to do is "google" "the best novel opening lines" to get an indication. Also try "the worst novel opening lines" for some really fun reading.

The Action

Whatever movement we get from the opening lines should start the story moving along. And again, like the hook, the action in a plot doesn't have to be relentless, non-stop, thriller-type action. Maybe the novel is about how a mentally challenged person is suddenly thrown out onto the streets and has to try to find food and shelter...Like I said, there are as many stories as there are writers. Just remember to keep the kind of action in a story that is indicated by the kind of conflict it contains. Sometimes you want the characters to succeed fairly easily and think that they're all set. But don't be seduced by making the entire novel too easy on the characters. There is no story without conflict, so keep that in mind.

Rising Action

I like to call readers' attention to a typical Stephen King novel to indicate "rising action," because his novels are quite often relentless in building tension, going from one scene to the next, and things get worse and worse until the climax. One of his fairly recent novels (NOT the TV series) titled Under the Dome shows rising action in a great way. This mysterious dome drops out of the sky and traps a small town beneath it. now they have to find a way out of it. But in failing to do so, we see that after a while, everyone begins to realize that the air is beginning to smell worse and worse. In fact, the carbon monoxide build up is beginning to replace the oxygen, and by the end, the survivors are beginning to panic, wear oxygen masks...anything to be able to breathe. There's a lot more going on and this is one of the subplots, but it eventually leads to the climax in the story.

The Climax

The movie Enough with Jennifer Lopez about an abusive husband and her attempt to get away from him and start a new life builds most of the tension only after she has successfully gotten away, making him think she has drowned. We see her starting a new life, taking self-defense classes, and otherwise taking on a new identity—and just when she thinks she's safe—her husband finds a small piece of evidence months later and begins his renewed hunt for her; the climax comes when he finds her. Not realizing that she is definitely not the same person she was, he attempts to attack and subdue her, but she is able to fight back, and in this movie the fight is the climax, but it is not the end of the story. The conflict is Man vs. Man, but of course Jennifer's drive to improve her self-defense skills is also evident in the story and while she is not in conflict about self-improvement it has elements of Man vs. Himself in it. I won't tell you how the story ends, but it is quite satisfying and is relevant to the conflict in the story.

The Resolution/Denouement

This is where the story is wrapped up, in one way or another. Sometimes novels end and leave it up to the reader to decide the true resolution. Sometimes,  the writer spells everything out and even attaches an epilogue, dropping back in to show us how the characters are doing a year or so later. The possibilities for the resolution in a book are as endless as there are stories. The most important concept to keep in mind, however, it that the resolution should also be a logical extension of the conflict, and the resolution should be relevant to what has gone before. Sometimes new writers get themselves in trouble and have no idea how to extricate the characters and themselves from a story that has no end in sight. The worse thing that a writer can do is to suddenly create a "deus ex machina" solution to a story that changes the kind of story it is. For example, let's say the story has been about a car thief who is on the run from the cops, and by the climax is standing on a cliff facing either having to jump or be captured by the now impossibly overwhelming army of law enforcement agencies. In Thelma and Louse, we see that they just drove over the cliff and went out in a blaze of glory. This fit the kind of story and conflict of what had gone before. But let's say in our stolen car story, our anti-hero car thief is one we want to win or get away, or something—anything but being gunned down on the edge of the cliff or captured and taken into custody. So what's a writer going to do? In a Deus Ex Machina solution the writer depends on an implausible action that has not evolved from the story, like having a divine intervention come to the car thief's rescue and whisking him away, car and all, into an untouchable realm. In other words, if you've written a story that is grounded in ordinary reality, don't suddenly turn it into a fairy tale, science fiction, or ghost story at the very end.

Friday, August 8, 2014

What are the Major Parts of a Novel?

What else besides the story and the characters create a complete novel?

As you can see the title of this post and the subtitle apparently ask the same thing in different ways. But let's separate the "parts" of a novel from the gestalt of a novel. That odd word, gestalt, is the organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts. Maybe an analogy will help show the difference.

The major parts that go to make up an apple pie are the apples and the crust. But there are also the spices, the ripeness and tartness of the apples, the flakiness of the crust, the effect that cooking has on the ingredients, and even the relative humidity in the atmosphere when the pie is cooked. The pie becomes more than just the sum of its parts.

The plot, the characters, the setting, and the dialogue are among the major parts of a novel. But like the more subtle ingredients and spices in an apple pie, the novel also has an author's writing style, character development, conflict, syntax, word choice, the writer's intent, even the writer's state of mind go into the gestalt, and the whole is much more than the sum of its parts.

Let's first look at Conflict as a building block of Plot...

What does "plot" mean? It means what happens in the novel. But the subtle thing (or maybe the overt thing) in the plot is the conflict, and without conflict there is no story. That is not to say that the conflict has to always be on the scale of a war story. Try as I might I cannot come up with more than three general types of conflict in all stories. Note that when I say "Man" I am referring to the human population of both sexes, but we could also consider any group of entities (aliens on a planet that have no humans) and still have the three types of conflict that go to make up the conflict, the thing that creates the plot.

The three types of conflict:

Man vs. Man
Man vs. Himself
Man vs. Nature

That's it. There are no other types of conflict that can't be covered by these.

Well, actually there's Man vs. Machine, so maybe...but that's just another episode of Battlestar Galactica.

As we examine each one of these types of conflict, we will begin to see that they encompass all conflict that is possible. But remember that there can also be a combination of these types of conflict in a single story and usually does contain more than one type of conflict.

Man vs. Man
Man vs. Man is the conflict of one person with another, one group of people with another, one nation against another nation. Stories of war are Man vs. Man. Stories of two opposing political opponents for the office of the President of the United States are Man vs. Man. Stories of the police fighting a street gang in a big city are Man vs. Man.

Man vs. Himself
Man vs. Himself is the kind of conflict we might see on a more personal level. A kid being bullied in school who can only resolve the bullying by standing up for herself, overcoming her fear and cowardice and weakness of body and fighting ability, agility, or outsmarting her tormentors through a change or development within herself; a substance abuser who can only get his life back on track if he can stop drinking or doing drugs; a woman who is being abused by her husband or boyfriend is at conflict with herself until she has the courage or enough self-esteem to leave the abusive relationship; a gay person struggling with self-acceptance—all these are Man vs. himself conflicts, but we obviously can have a mixture of this conflict with Man vs. Man, because there are the bullies, the gangs, those that condemn the gay or lesbian person, and the domestic abusers that also have to be dealt with. Man vs. himself can also include an amputee learning to function fully as we've seen athletes do.

Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Nature is the kind of conflict where a farmer's crops are wiped out by a flood, people trying to survive in a drought condition, someone climbing Mount Everest. In this last one, it will obviously also include Man vs. himself, reaching deep down for that last ounce of strength and endurance to continue up the face of the mountain.

Still all conflict can be seen as these three types or a combination of them.

Illustrative examples of conflict in plot...

Man vs. Man
I just watched the somewhat older movie (1971) Straw Dogs about a successful writer and his wife who returned to her hometown so that he could get away and devote himself to writing. The wife was a successful actress on a TV series, and the people in her hometown assured her that they had watched every episode. The writer hires a crew of locals to repair the roof on the barn on the wife's property. This was set in a Southern town in Mississippi, and of course the stereotypes abounded. The roofing crew was made up of a former high school football star and his friends. He had dated the wife when they were in high school. In fact, it comes out that he still believes that he should have a claim on her and, as the plot and conflicts develop in the story, the former football star rapes the wife in her home, when the husband is out hunting with the roofing crew. In fact, taking the city boy hunting was a ruse to get the wife alone. The rising action in the movie, of course, was how the small town gang of rednecks were pitted against the writer and his wife. The main conflict therefore was Man vs. Man. But the writer/husband had some Man vs. Himself conflict to take care of in learning to stand up to the redneck gang.

Nonetheless, the major conflict was Man vs. Man. We find this the usual kind of conflict in such stories, as well as in action/adventure, suspense-thriller, war stories, and even sports films.

Man vs. Himself
Stephen Crane's novel The Red Badge of Courage is one of the best examples of Man vs. Himself. Even though it is set during the American Civil War, which is hyper Man vs. Man conflict, the plot hangs on how the main character, Henry Fleming, faces the eventual prospect of going into battle. He is concerned about his rising fear and wishes he could be like the other men who are apparently fearless and who appear to welcome the coming battles. But Henry is a coward and eventually runs. He must find some way to justify his desertion to himself, and when someone hits him on the head with the butt of a rifle, and he bleeds, he at first parlays that "wound" into his own red badge of courage and eventually weaves a tale of his heroics during battle. But by the end, he has really changed and knows how to convert his fear within himself. There is a great deal of symbolism in the Man vs. Himself aspects of this story; this novel is studied in high school literature classes, as well as in college. Readers of the time thought that Stephen Crane himself had served in the Civil War because the story was so authentic, and yet he hadn't. He had only imagined what it must have been like.

Man vs. Nature
Perhaps one of the most iconic novels of Man vs. Nature, John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, is also one that powerfully renders the other two main types of conflict, Man vs. Himself, and Man vs. Man. The "nature" part of the conflict is of course the great dust bowl days of the 1930s and while it is not the central plot it is the thematic antagonist that set in motion the westward migration of people in the midwest, which centers around the Joad family that packs up and intends to work picking fruit in California. The journey there is where the main elements of the story lies. And so it is with most Man vs. Nature stories. This conflict is a vehicle for humanity and its best and worst to be explored. Unless a Man vs. Nature story is completely mindless, it can act as a powerful vehicle to explore the depths of Man's humanity.

In subsequent posts, I will explore other aspects of plot development, as well as character development, growth of characters, and other elements of what goes into creating a novel.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Dialogue in Fiction - Part 2

How to Make Dialogue Realistic...

It might be counter-intuitive to say that "realistic" dialogue in a story should not be as mundane as dialogue is in real life or be dialogue that doesn't move the story along, that it should show character traits by what is said and how it is said, and that it should add information to the story. That's counter-intuitive because in real life, many times dialogue is very mundane. So, I guess the real point about "realistic" dialogue in fiction is whether or not it unfolds the way real-life dialogue does. [Of course, there are writers who are masterful at writing surreal dialogue, which better fits the need of their stories, which are also surrealistic.]

I'll get into creating realistic dialogue in a minute. But first let's consider what the job of dialogue is in a story. As I indicated it should have certain characteristics:

1. It should not be mundane and should have a purpose.
"What do you want for dinner?"
"Oh, I don't care. Whatever you want."
"How about pizza, then?"
"Sure, what kind?"
Please, please don't use dialogue like this—even though it occurs in real life all the time. Maybe that's why we read fiction, to get into more interesting lives.

2. It should show the traits of the characters by what they say and how they say it.
We want to read dialogue that deliberately or inadvertently reveals character traits.

3. It should add information to the story that is not handled by the narrative portion of the story. Dialogue is a good way, for example, for one character to reveal something to another character that wouldn't otherwise be forthcoming.

But how do we make fictional dialogue feel authentic?

In a previous post on dialogue, I talked about the three main elements of dialogue: what is said, who said it, and how it is said. I hinted that dialogue should also occur in that order, most of the time. Here's an example of dialogue that is NOT presented in this order:

Jonathan was hurt and confused when Jessica came into the room and screamed, "I hate you!"
This is obviously an extreme example of inverted dialogue order, but it easily illustrates a departure from realistic-feeling dialogue. How could Jonathan feel hurt and confused...before Jessica comes into the the room and screams, "I hate you!"? First, he doesn't know that Jessica is going to speak; second, he doesn't know that she is going to declare her hatred; and third. he doesn't know that she will be screaming it. But new writers do dialogue this way much too often. They have one character react to another character's speech before the character speaks. They describe how something is said before it is said.

In a sense, the order in which the elements of dialogue are presented is the main way to make fictional dialogue realistic.

A second way to make dialogue realistic is to use only two tags, either "said" or "asked." The main function of a dialogue tag is to indicate which character is speaking. Many times writers think that they have to vary the dialogue tags to help characterize how a characters speaks, and we get some really funny and really awkward examples. Yes, I'm guilty of using "she screamed" as a dialogue tag, but sometimes departure from "he said" or "he asked" feels right. But let's look at another one of my awful made-up examples. I'm avoiding dialogue description in this example to highlight the use of dialogue tags.

"Give me your money," demanded the thief.
"I don't have any money," cried the girl.
"Oh, yes you do. I saw you put it in your purse," the thief chuckled evilly.

In the first statement, the "demanding" is imbedded in the dialogue, so it's not necessary to repeat it in the dialogue tag. In the next two statements, the girl cries her answer and the thief evilly chuckles his response; just try crying and chuckling as you speak their lines. You'll see that you sound like the novice actors in a high school play, who actually attempt to laugh their lines.

Now, let's add dialogue description (how it is said) to this same example. We will see that the writer can add a bit of dimension to the dialogue which helps characterize each of the characters and keep the dialogue tags simple.

"Give me your money,"the thief said, his tone gruff and demanding.
"I don't have any money,"the girl said, crying.
"Oh, yes you do. I saw you put it in your purse," the thief said. His chuckle sounded evil.

I know...I know...this example stinks. But you get the point. We don't want the dialogue tags to characterize how something is said. We leave that up to the third element in dialogue. Quite often how something is said can be greatly extended into descriptive action that accompanies the dialogue. Also note that when there are only two characters in a dialogue, we don't have to use dialogue tags for every exchange, unless the exchanges take up so many lines that readers can get confused as to who is speaking.

Finally, realistic dialogue accomplishes something beyond just having characters come together in a scene and chat or chatter. You know in real life when you're in a group and people are chattering about nothing, it's quite easy to tune out the conversation. That's what readers will do if the dialogue is not compelling, interesting, and rich with information in a work of fiction.

Dialogue in Fiction - Part 1

Dialogue in Fiction is much more than what the characters say...

There are several parts to what we call dialogue in fiction, and we have generally accepted labels for each part:

Dialogue: what is said
Dialogue tag: who said it
Dialogue description: how it is said

These are the big three parts, but when we consider that "dialogue" takes place between at least two people (characters), then we can also describe each of the character's physical, emotional, and internal responses to the dialogue. We also have "internal" dialogue, and this differs quite significantly from "external" dialogue. Internal, or direct, dialogue is what one of the characters is thinking vs. what she is saying. Let's illustrate this little bit of dialogue first before we proceed with a fuller description of the function of each part of dialogue:

"Would you like to be my date for the prom?"
Not even if I have to stay home. "Oh! Thanks for asking, but I kind of already promised someone else."

I didn't want to muddy up the example with the other elements of dialogue. I just wanted to illustrate that the "internal" dialogue is presented in italics, to show what one of the characters was thinking, before showing what that character said aloud, which is bracketed with opening and closing quotation marks.

Dialogue should rarely be presented in a vacuum. In other words, dialogue occurs within an ongoing scene, and a scene clearly lays out setting, with concrete description of place. So, now let's take the hapless character who has asked another character on a date to the prom, but this time, I'm going to put it all together and present all the possible elements of full dialogue:

But first, let's say that we've already described "Hapless Character" whose name is Johnny. He's the high school nerd. He wears thick-lensed glasses and has a mop of black hair, which he has forever despaired of controlling. He has beautiful blue eyes and long lashes, which you can't see behind his totally utilitarian glasses frames. He's old enough that he's almost out of the acne stage, but not quite and, in fact, right now there's a big, red zit in the middle of his high forehead. He has a small nose, which gives him the appearance of being two years younger than he really is, but his nicest feature (if only he would smile more often) is his full lips and nicely straight and white teeth, which his dentist father has made sure are in good shape. He's not athletic, but he still has a nice square jaw, although it's not the jutting jaw of a jock, and since he's a nerd, he's used to keeping it tucked close to his chest. He's small of stature, on the skinny side, and because he has low self-esteem he carries himself in a semi-permanent cringe when he's around others; part of this is from being bullied by the football jocks who aren't quite sure why anyone ever bothers to read, although it doesn't stop them from bullying Johnny into doing their homework for them.

The potential prom date is, of course, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, cheerleader, Scarlet, who dates revolving guys on the football team. Maybe deep down she's a really nice person, but she learned early that being a little accommodating to popular guys in school gives her an "in" when it comes to being noticed. She's pretty in the conventional sense, and although she's smart, she hides it on purpose. Her face is nicely configured, with a small nose that has just the slightest perky upward attitude, and even though her lips are not as full as Johnny's, she overcomes their thinness with expertly applied, bright red lipstick. She does eyeliner and eye shadow but only enough to make her lashes look longer than they are, and which give her eyes (she wears contacts) a bright, twinkling look. In grade school, where she and Johnny first met and where Johnny first fell in hopeless love with her, she was not yet not a nice person, she was not yet self-centered, and she was not yet desperate to date the football quarterback, which is about the only player on the team she hasn't dated. Like Johnny, she is also small of stature, but unlike him, she has learned to stand straight and thrust her chest out, with her chin held high.

The prom was only a month away, and Scarlet made it a point to spend her after-school hours at the local coffee shop, which used to be a Starbuck's, but during that company's adjustment to the economic downturn was one that went out of business in the town of Newport, Texas, population forty thousand—give or take a few thousand, depending on whether or not you believed the sign coming into town. The interstate had bypassed the town, and so the population was shrinking. The coffee shop was now called The Coffee Pit and, ironically, was busier now than it had ever been as a Starbucks. It still had a wall of glass front that faced east, which diffused the afternoon sunlight and gave the red leather chairs and glass tables a cozy, rather than an antiseptic, look. Scarlet liked the diffused light as well, because she could see who was coming in off the street, but they couldn't readily see her until they were inside. So on that Friday afternoon, Scarlet was busy scanning the pedestrians walking by the shop, hoping that Daren Culp, the quarterback would come by. Every day, she dressed in her street clothes that still shouted "Cheerleader!" with her short, pleated crimson skirt, crisply pressed tuck-in blouse, and utterly white shoes. But instead of Daren she saw Johnny lurching nervously through the tall glass door, looking furtively around, until his four eyes came to rest on her face, which she kept inscrutable, ready to turn into a smile or a frown depending on what she needed to express.

Oh, god! Here he comes, she thought turning up a slight smile on her lips when Johnny came up to her. It was not unexpected, since Johnny often helped her with her homework, and that was precisely what he asked her by way of greeting, if she needed any help in her English class. She was seated at a table a few feet away from the glass wall, near a corner of the room, which gave her a view of the whole cafe.

"Hi, Scarlet," Johnny said, redundantly with a second greeting, shuffling his feet and clutching a ridiculous pile of books close to his chest like a girl. "I was...uh...wondering if you would like to be my date for the prom?" he said. He had obviously flunked Socialization 101 in his freshman year, because he got straight to the point before making small talk.

Scarlett chose to brighten her smile just a bit more, but she made sure to punctuate her eyes with slight question marks. Not even if I have to stay home, she thought, waiting just a beat to keep him on the hook. "Oh! Thanks for asking, " she said, scrambling for a good excuse, "but I kind of already promised someone else!"

About that time, right after the words were out of her mouth, Daren pushed his way into the coffee shop with a confident, smooth motion, even managing to hold the door open as a woman was making her way out the door with a cardboard tray of drinks with to-go lids firmly in place. They exchanged smiles, and then Daren made his way over to Scarlet and Johnny, who was still standing awkwardly with his back to the cafe door.

If he asks me to be his date now, Scarlet thought, with Johnny right there, he would know she had lied to him, and she didn't really want to hurt his feelings.

Daren was glad to see Johnny, but he needed to get him away from Scarlet for what he wanted to tell him. Daren had seen Johnny without his glasses...

This example of dialogue, setting, and scene description is rather stereotyped, and I wouldn't imagine doing much with it, but I made it up to illustrate several things about dialogue, one of which is that dialogue doesn't take place in a vacuum. And rather than just presenting what was said and who said it, we have several threads going on in the weave of the dialogue that adds fullness and a bit of reality to it.

First note that the two main lines of dialogue are done in such a way that we situate the characters into a scene, complete with setting. When the prom invitation comes, the first item of the dialogue is what is said, followed by the dialogue tag (who said it), and I have used hesitant speech patterns for Johnny to show that he is nervous (how it is said). This is followed by a bit more description of the character's state and characterization of his speech as being awkward.

Second, note that when a different character speaks, we change paragraphs, but again we set up the dialogue so that after we see what Scarlet is thinking (internal dialogue) we get what is said, who said it, and how it is said.

Finally, note that the three main parts of dialogue work best and more realistically if we keep the three parts in the same order: what is said, who said it, and how it is said.

In another post, I will discuss why keeping the dialogue parts in this order is the most realistic, and give examples of how changing the order of presentation of the parts of dialogue tends to make it less realistic. In real life we don't know how someone is going say something until we hear them speak, and we don't even know that they are going to speak until they speak. Ponder this and look for the next post: How to Make Dialogue Realistic.