It’s been a long week and I’ve accomplished little in regards to writing.
I was looking forward to cracking open Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott all week. Her writing is so relatable. As I am working my way through her book I feel like she gets me. As a writer sometimes I see the world a little differently and Lamott does a fantastic job defining the role of a writer and making me feel like I’m not the only person who memorizes conversations I overhear or constantly writes prose in my mind as I observe the world around me.
Today as I read about dialogue and set designs I got excited about revisiting my novel Encounters on Park Bench and refining both of those aspects. Things are moving forward with my book and I’m currently in the process of getting manuscripts out to agents. I covet advice and well-wishes to help me get through this daunting process. It’s so easy to get caught up in the idea of publishing, though, that I lose sight of the value of writing every day. I’m so thankful I have decided to read Bird by Bird, because it is igniting my passion for writing that has been snuffed out a bit by sending out query letters, receiving news of rejection, and waiting.
Nothing is more telling about the characters in your story than their dialogue. You can describe them and their feelings until your hands fall off from overuse, but dialogue will be just as effective and use much less energy to produce. A character’s voice can reveal so much: how they feel, what they think, where they come from, what they enjoy, what they hate, how they dress, the people they spend time with, etc. The list of things that dialogue can tell us about a character can go on and on.
Something within a reader exhales when after pages of description they find themselves privy to actual conversations between characters. One paragraph of dialogue can reveal more than five pages of description. The beauty behind dialogue is that it can be so succinct, yet so informative.
The hardest part of dialogue is getting it right. Finding a character’s voice is no easy task. A reader will pick up on the inaccuracy of dialogue if it is there so you want to be sure that the voice you give your character is authentic. Nothing is more distracting than poorly written dialogue. Dialogue in a story should be a tool to propel the reader into the body of the character it should not be a distraction to the plot or sequence of events.
In my book Encounters on a Park Bench, finding the voice of my main character, Kurt, was the hardest part of the whole book. In my first few drafts I struggled to nail his voice. What background do I have with homeless men in Chicago? None. But it is through research and combing through my subconscious that I was able to finally hear the voice of my uneducated, broken, recovering alcoholic protagonist. His son on the other hand-an educated journalist-came much quicker to me.
As a writer it is unfair to think that you have to possess extensive knowledge on every type of scene you craft in your books. To expect that you could dream up a perfect paradise in Bermuda without ever having stepped foot on a beach is absurd. To detail the ancient ruins of China without the experience of wandering one Asian street is naive. The good news is that just because you haven’t been to these exotic or notorious places doesn’t mean that you are confined to only write from your personal experience. The Good Lord gave us friends, phones, and the internet as resources. Writers should write as much as possible on their own experiences, but then they may turn to resources when it comes to things beyond their knowledge. That’s what friends are for.
In this chapter, Lamott discusses a novel that she wrote about a woman who loved to garden. Like me, Lamott characterizes herself as a plant killer. Her knowledge of gardening is small and her experience minimal. In her strife to write about gardening she turned to a local nursery and partnered with a gardener to write and describe a lovely garden in her novel. Together they designed a set that was so accurate that Lamott’s readers were astonished to discover that she does not possess a green thumb of any kind.
Designing sets for our characters can be a daunting task especially if we limit ourselves to our own travels. I could never write a story on my own about a wealthy person living in California or a tale of a homeless man in Chicago.
As a writer, lean into your resources. Develop relationships and work with others to refine your work. Dream up settings that you could never craft and work cooperatively with another to design that set. Writing is not a solo project.
The Ameri Brit Mom