LTUE and chicken salad sandwhiches
A few months ago I put together a pretty awesome class about wound events using (with permission) Angie Hodapp's character timeline. I submitted it to LTUE (Life The Universe and Everything) and though they rejected my class they asked me to be on panels (LTUE loves their panels).
I was pretty excited about some of the classes, but others didn't make a lot of sense why I was on them. Picture books? I'm sorry for whoever went to that class. I knew just what I'd googled. The class on conversations, though, was one of my favorites and how to describe setting without overwhelming the reader was awesome! Here are some of the notes on things we talked about in these classes.
First off I was super stoked to go to something writing conferences call "The green room". It's a room only presenters get to go in. I was also pleasantly surprised to find out they feed the presenters for free! I had the most delicious chicken salad sandwich on a fluffy-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside croissant. To top it all off there was a heavenly scrumptious eclair that I devoured. Coming from someone who only went to conferences as a volunteer because it was free these free meals were a huge deal:) After my first weird panel on picture books I went back to the greenroom for dinner only to find the same chicken salad sandwiches. Oh. Ok. They were still yummy. The next day guess what they provided for lunch and dinner in the green room? Chicken salad sandwiches. Saturday? You guessed it. Another presenter said it's the same every single year. But free is free and though I may not be able to eat them again until next year I'm still super grateful.
The class on describing setting was a lot of fun. But to be real for a minute I was super crazy nervous. So much so that I got a bit sick to my stomach. It was so hot in the rooms and I sat next to a person with a lot of fun energy that made me kind of goofy. I don't remember a ton of details about the class other than I talked a lot and shared weird information (like how we own the same china as Mr Bingley in BBC's version of pride and prejudice. I'm pretty sure it related to something I was talking about).
Here are the questions we discussed with my answers I think I gave :)
How do you make visualizing the setting easier for the reader without info dumping?
Steven King said, "Description begins in the writer's imagination, bit should finish in the reader's." You don't need to give every detail in fact you should on purpose leave some up to the imagination of the reader. This is why when a movie is made there are often a lot of comments like "That's not how I pictured that." Because a good writer sets up enough description to put the reader in the scene but then lets the readers do the rest. Description denotes importance so unless its necessary to the tone or mood of the scene, a breadcrumb of some later revelation, holding some emotional importance to the plot, or character arc, maybe leave it out. I find it easier to write too much in the first draft and then in editing pick my favorite description and take out all the rest. I'm always hearing from my beta readers "Pick one!" because I sometimes use too many adjectives:)
It's also important to know WHEN to give setting details.
When I thought about what I would say in this class I thought about a documentary I watched on people with Aspergers. They had several people with the syndrome watch movies and then studied the direction of their gaze. When scenes with heavy emotion came onto the screen those with Aspergers focused on things in the back ground. Instead of analyzing the distraught faces or firm embraces their attention shifted to the swinging light in the back ground or the door behind the couple in the scene or the chair that got knocked over. When writing setting you have to make sure the description is coming at the right times. In other words don't make your writing have Aspergers. If emotions are high that is not the time to mention the hanging lamp. When action is at it's height that's not the time to describe the ornate door, or the color of the chair that fell. Remember description denotes importance. So unless the character is considering grabbing that chair to bang it over the head of their attacker or yank the chain of the lamp to turn out the lights there really shouldn't be much mentioned about the surroundings at all. Description of setting during high emotion or action distracts and slows the pacing. You can however use them for slow moments of set up. Perhaps something feels off about the room before the attack and the person is noticing the same strange marking on the door as they had in their dream. Or perhaps the character mentions the lamp to the love interest before they start kissing as a way to show their nervousness. There are so many ways setting can be useful without having to be plain descriptive. Make it do double duty.
Dialogue and dialogue tags.
I don't remember the exact question but I know we got asked a couple different ones about dialogue. Personally I think great dialogue starts first and foremost with great characterization. If you don't know your characters well enough to know how they talk then you're not quite ready to start writing the story yet. It's often true in life that we talk like the people we hang around the most. I lived a semester in Wisconsin and came home saying really weird things even though I couldn't hear it until I was surrounded by my southern friends and family. Hang around your characters so you know their unique way of talking.
There are several character questionnaires online to help you better know your characters. ( https://thewritepractice.com/character-interview/ https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/novel-writing-10-questions-you-need-to-ask-your-characters) But I find it most helpful to base them off of characters I already know pretty well. Not often after actual people but other characters. For instance I made the villain of my upcoming novel my main characters mother. I patterned the mother after Mrs. Bennet from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was so easy to create dialogue when I heard that proud selfish woman in my head. I took that characters faults in P&P and magnified them. You know you have good characterization when someone makes a suggestion to you and you can say "my character would never say/do that."
Though dialogue tags (he said, she says) are very often necessary too much of it can bog down scenes. Again with high intensity scenes you want to try and shorten the description AND shorten the tags as well. If you have good enough characterization you should be able to have moments of quick and clear back and forth conversations between characters without ever telling the reader who said what. Space out your different uses of dialogue tags. Have moments where you just say"he said" have moments where you use movement "he said while running a hand through his hair" (although be more creative:) and have moments where you don't use any at all:
"Why?" "To make it hard to grab them." "What do you do once you have them?" "You eat them." "Don't they burn your tongue?" "Sure but-" " The why would you-" "Because it's fun, dummy..." (Six of crows, Leigh Bardugo)
Lastly I wanted to talk about monologuers. Recently there has been a thing going around facebook about the difference between those who have internal monologues and those who do not. I have a lot of internal monologue. And guess what! Almost everyone in this class did as well. I think most writers have a lot of talking going on in their head. Use this to your advantage!
(all the monologuers)
I'm a crossing guard for a local elementary school. I write little clips about stuff I see all the time that is never used but it helps me practice. When I see a situation, how would I describe it? What would be the most important details? One time a group of construction workers were working on a sidewalk. A good looking young man sat in the driver seat of the truck chewing his gum and lazily watching the workers behind him. A college aged girl came by on a bike and, in trying to avoid them, completely biffed it. Like full on face plant into the asphalt. The guy in the front seat quickly got out to help her and though I was too far away to hear them I created the most amazing flirtatious argument that could be an awesome meet cute for any rom-com. Practice description whereever you are and describing settings will come easy when you sit down to write.
Last few quick pointers when it comes to conversations. Your characters need to have unique ways of talking but this DOES NOT MEAN MISSPELLING WORDS TO INDICATE SLANG! doesn't mean you can't ever do this just maybe pick one or two words that are always abbreviate to create slang then be consistent with them. But only if you must. You can find lots of other ways to get slang across. Every line should have a purpose. Think of conversations that you remember. What made them memorable? Do you really remember the "hi" and "bye"'s? Only time you do is if the situation was awkward or intense or if the person was hawt or gross or unique. If your dialogue is going to include the Hi and bye it better have some other purpose. Avoid on the nose dialogue-rarely do we say exactly what we mean. Unless that's part of the characterization. In the tv show ATYPICAL the main character is a teenager with autism. He literally says everything he's thinking. Dialogue can show relationships, good or bad ones. Maybe the character talks differently when around different people. Dont be redundant with your dialogue tags. "That's horrible news." unless they're being sarcastic saying "he said gloomily." is redundant. Let the reader use some of their imagination.
I had a great time at the symposium and if you're ever interested in going look up LTUE. It's an affordable wonderful conference focusing on writing, artwork, and gaming every February in Provo, UT. I hope to go back next year and overhear but not just for their chicken salad sandwiches.