Tag Archives: writing dialogue

“Never Have I Ever” for Writers

imagesRules of the game: I make a statement about writers or writing. Anyone who has done the thing that I’ve said, must take a drink (or whatever your vice might be).

Warning – of course you must be legally eligible to take said drink and not planning to be responsible for small children or operating a motor vehicle or heavy machinery any time soon. Writing is serious business, folks! 😜
So, here we go…
  1. Never have I ever finished writing my novel, novella, short story or poem
  2. Never have I ever gone back to revise one more time, after I said I was done
  3. Never have I ever had writers block
  4. Never have I ever written a stereotypical character
  5. Never have I ever info dumped
  6. Never have I ever used the words “just” or “almost” too many times
  7. Never have I ever been jealous of another writer’s success
  8. Never have I ever made an egregious grammar error
  9. Never have I ever used a word incorrectly
  10. Never have I ever looked down my nose at <fill in some genre of writing>
  11. Never have I ever wanted to quit writing altogether.
  12. Never have I ever told something when I could have shown it
  13. Never have I ever had a kind of dumb idea for a story and written it anyway
  14. Never have I ever written awful dialogue
  15. Never have I ever switched points of view without realizing it

Bonus, double shot question: Never have I ever thought I might have written the next blockbuster bestseller!

This is so disgusting to me I almost couldn't put it in the post.

This is so disgusting to me I almost couldn’t put it in the post.

Ok! Are you still standing? Did you get to the end without drinking (or whatever)? If you’re still standing and can see straight, go back and ask the same questions in Truth or Dare. Or while playing beer pong or quarters. Or from your Ouija board or tarot cards. Or just for the heck of it. If you’re not swinging full out, risking it all, making mistakes, sometimes falling into a pit of despair, chances are you’re not a writer and you meant to read a blog about 12 ways to clean your bathtub drain or something. That’s cool. Never have I ever successfully gotten all the hair out of my bathtub drain. I feel you.

Wait, you weren’t dumb about this, right? Because, you know, this blog post was metaphorically speaking. You knew that, right?  Um… Hey! Would someone out there get this reader some coffee, please?!

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Writing Authentic Characters & the Artifice of Cindy Sherman

I went to the Cindy Sherman exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art last week. It was truly fabulous. If you’re a writer and you don’t know who she is or about her work, I strongly urge you to check her out. As a writer myself, and as someone who edits and represents others’ writing, I find Cindy Sherman’s body of work fascinating, inspiring and even instructive.

I think that one of the challenges in creating believable characters, dialogue and voice in writing is not only to choose the right words, so to say, but also to achieve authenticity. My Mac-tionary/Macthaurus thingy that looks up words for me on my laptop says that authenticity means “of undisputed origin; genuine.” So when building characters and crafting the words that come out of their mouths, usually the idea is for them to be three dimensional, to be undisputedly who we are creating them to be. To be authentic.

For over 30 years Cindy Sherman has been photographing herself, posed, styled and dressed as types and characters of people. One of the things that makes her work brilliant, I think, is that she manages to climb inside her subject and is then able to project something out to the viewer, while simultaneously being the photographer and having the ability to capture that something.

As writers, we kind of have the same task. We need to be able to climb inside each of the characters we are creating, and then have them speak their words, take their actions, be part of a story. And I think a good writer doesn’t merely do this only for the main character. When we craft our characters from the outside, looking in, they just don’t read as authentic. What Cindy Sherman achieves in her work, because she is both photographer/stylist and model, is to highlight that discrepancy between who a character thinks they are and who and what we, as the lookers, actually see.

When you build a character or write dialogue, rather than writing it how you might hear it, try writing it how you might say it. Climb inside them to perform their actions. Then, after you’ve written, have someone read it to you and then listen. I think a shift in perspective like this is invaluable. It is inhabiting your characters. It is being the photographed and the photographer.

All of the above photographs are by and of Cindy Sherman, in the current MOMA exhibit which runs until June 11, 2012.

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