Coffee and Contemplation: National Book Lover’s Day

Today is an exciting day for bibliophiles. National Book Lover’s Day is an unofficial holiday for those of us who love reading and collecting books. I didn’t realize for many years most of the books I owned were nonfiction. This wasn’t a conscious choice. Those were the only books I wanted to read at the time. I started reading more fiction and even gave myself a purpose to read more fiction. I gave myself a goal for the kind of fiction I wanted to read. I wanted to read the kind of fiction I wanted to write.

It began as a list of horror fiction with a supernatural focus. As I read and researched, I realized I wanted the supernatural more than the horror. There are many stories and novels that are supernatural but are not horrific. Likewise, there are many stories and novels that are horrific but have not supernatural elements. I began looking for both supernatural horror and magical realism in stories and novels. This has made for an interesting collection of books I’ve acquired. There are many stories that are not scary in the least but still involve supernatural creatures or beings. Some stories are even humorous in their absurdity.

I plan to share this list of books I’ve read on my journey one day. For now, tell me what you all are reading right now. What kind of books are you most interested in reading and collecting? I also want to leave you with a couple quotes that you may find interesting. One of them has some profanity, but I’m against censorship so consider yourself warned.

“It wasn’t until I started reading and found books, they wouldn’t let us read in school, that I discovered you could be insane and happy and have a good life without being like everybody else.”

John Waters

“We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.”

John Waters

Write Prose Like the Pros: Beats in the Dialogue

What are beats? Beats are bits of action narrated during dialogue. This would be called stage business or blocking when reading a stage play. There are also internal beats where a character has a short passage of interior monologue. Beats can help change the pace and tension of a scene depending on how many are used. Fewer beats give a faster pace and can help build tension in an argument scene. Too many beats can stop the pace of the story and move at the same speed as an entire page of narrative summary.

Don’t use too many beats and don’t use too few. What’s the right amount? It depends on the scene. Use fewer beats to build tension. Use more beats to slow things down and give the reader some time to breath. Peaks and valleys. In most cases, there only needs to be enough to keep the reader in the scene. If the scene takes place in a machine shop, an occasional commentary on noise being heard will remind the reader where the characters are speaking. Beats are also important for showing body language to the reader. This is as important as what the character says.

Beats help break up the page making it more engaging. A full page of a one paragraph narrative summary may look boring on the page. That narrative may be important but it’s easy to break it up with beats or internal beats. Through a couple internal beats into the paragraph and now there’s several paragraph on one page and some short internal monologue. But don’t overdo it. If it isn’t important to the story or plot and doesn’t help move the story or plot along its path, it isn’t needed. Do what’s right for the scene and the story overall.

The best place to learn how to improve one’s writing is with Renni Browne and Dave King’s “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print.” If I were teaching a class on fiction writing, this is the book I would use as the course textbook.

Write Prose Like the Pros: Dialogue

Dialogue is the best tool at a writer’s disposal. More can be shown through dialogue as opposed to telling through narrative summary. There’s less work for the writer if the characters tell the story or share the exposition. Showing versus telling through dialogue is also important when conveying character emotion. The characters should tell the reader how they feel instead of the writer telling the reader about the characters. There is also some freedom when writing dialogue. Characters can use informal idioms pronounce things incorrectly so long as it fits with their character. 

The narrative around the dialogue is as important as the dialogue itself. When detailing which character said what, it’s important not to describe any feelings. Search for -ly adverbs describing emotions and remove them. Don’t tell the reader “He said angrily.” Show the reader the character is angry with what they say in their dialogue. Remember to read aloud the dialogue. Sometimes reading dialogue sounds different than saying dialogue. If dialogue doesn’t sound natural or realistic, the reader will notice. Most people don’t use big words when they speak. Unless it fits with that character, keep the words simple. Use ‘think’ instead of ‘conclude’ or ‘get’ instead of ‘retrieve.’

Speaker attributions can be tricky business for some writers. They’re important so the reader knows who’s speaking. Some writers will use words like grunted, spat, exclaimed, blurted, retorted. They may think they’re giving their writing more flare, but people don’t often grunt words. And if they do, they’re intelligible. Stick with said. If the dialogue ends with a question mark, everyone knows it’s a question so why follow it with ‘she asked?’ One thing that helps me is having only two people speaking at a time. It’s easier to go back and forth instead of bouncing all over the place. And always put the name or pronoun first in the speaker attribution. ‘He said’ sounds more professional than ‘said he.’

The best place to learn how to improve one’s writing is with Renni Browne and Dave King’s “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print.” If I were teaching a class on fiction writing, this is the book I would use as the course textbook.