Crafting Conversations: Writing Your Novel’s Dialogue In Script Form

So, I was writing one of the dialogue scenes between two of my characters, Áine and Devlin, and wanted to make sure that they kept their voices and that everything felt natural. One of the ways that I do this is by stripping away all the extra stuff around the dialogue (except for a few necessary action pieces) to make sure that they sound unique and natural. Then I’ll speak the dialogue out. If you have a friend or a significant other around, see if you can coerce them into acting the dialogue out with you. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about when I say ‘strip away all the extra stuff’. I’ll start with the original scene, and then show you the script form:

Original Prose:

“So…,” he said, still looking through the spyglass. “…are you going to tell me what’s wrong?”

He took a step back, tilting his head to the side to look at her with a raised eyebrow. The two siblings could never keep secrets from the other, so it was no surprise that he’d noticed something was bothering her. Áine glanced back towards the manor.

“You know that historia?” she asked, looking back at her brother.

“The one you fell asleep reading?”

She nodded.

“Well…it’s the strangest thing…but…,” she started, trying to figure out the best way of stating this without sounding absolutely crazy or making it seem like too big of a deal. After all, she wasn’t even sure if it was a big deal. “…I don’t remember reading it.”

“What do you mean you don’t remember reading it?” Her brother stared at her with that mild look of confusion he sometimes gets; usually when reading a book that was a little too verbose. She let out a sigh, shaking her head.

“I mean I’ve been trying to, but I can’t remember. It’s blank. I remember opening the book to read it, and then next thing…next thing I know…I’m waking up,” she dropped down to a whisper at the end, eyes darting around as if at any moment some gardener might jump out of the bushes and yell ‘Aha! Gotcha!’. Her brother followed her gaze for a moment, before hurriedly shaking his head and pinching between his eyes.

“Wait for just a moment…,” he started, before raising a finger and saying, “…you’re telling me that you – you – don’t remember a book. None of it?”

“Not a word,” she said. Now that she was seeing her brother’s reaction, the strangeness was starting to feel more real. She wasn’t the only one who found this odd. Because the truth of the matter was, out of all the books she’d read in her sixteen years of life; out of every historia, every novel…she remembered every word. Every single word. Until now.

“Have you tried your whole Mind Library thing?” he asked, whispering the last part. Áine shook her head.

“No, I haven’t had time. But still, even without that I should remember the text. I should remember the words, Devlin. Something isn’t right and…,” he placed his hands on her shoulders.

“Easy. Look, check your library. I’ll keep an eye out. Dad should be a little while. I’d say you have…,” he pulled out a little brass pocketwatch from inside his vest. “…at least another half hour,”

Áine nodded, taking a deep breath. She sat down at one of the stone benches on the sky-ledge, resting her hands on her skirt and breathing in through her nose. Half an hour. That was plenty of time to see if the book was there. She closed her eyes, letting the breath out through her mouth. In through her nose, out through her mouth.

“Oh…and ‘Lin…,” she said, opening up a single eye to look at her brother. “…stop stealing people’s pocketwatches.”

The last thing she saw before closing her eye was her brother’s mischievous grin. Then she returned to her breathing and let the world slip away from her…

Script Form:

Devlin: So…are you going to tell me what’s wrong?

Áine: You know that historia?

Devlin: The one you fell asleep reading?

Áine: Well…it’s the strangest thing…but…I don’t remember reading it.

Devlin: What do you mean you don’t remember reading it?

Áine: I mean I’ve been trying to, but I can’t remember. It’s blank. I remember opening the book to read it, and then next thing…next thing I know…I’m waking up.

Devlin: Wait for just a moment…you’re telling me that you –you– don’t remember a book. None of it?

Áine: Not a word.

Devlin: Have you tried your whole mind-dream-library-thing?

Áine: I haven’t had time. But still, even without that, I should remember the text. I should remember the words, ‘Lin, and I don’t and something just isn’t right and–

Devlin: Easy. Look, check your Library. I’ll keep an eye out. Dad should be a while. I’d say you have… *pulls out a pocketwatch* …at least half an hour.

Áine: *sits down and closes eyes* Oh…and ‘Lin… *opens one eye to look at her brother* …stop stealing people’s pocketwatches.

Can you spot the changes that were made after I wrote the scene in script form? Why do you think I made those changes and how do you think that improves the scene, if at all?  Let me know in the comments. Do you ever write your dialogue in script-form? How do you go about ensuring realistic dialogue for your stories?

Portrait of a Protagonist: On Developing Áine

It started not with a name, or a face, or even a voice. It started with two words. I had decided a while back that I wanted to figure out what my two favourite words were and after a very long time I made my choice. I settled on ‘brave’ and ‘albion’. Now, this had not been an easy decision. Close seconds were the words ‘shutter’ and ‘avalon’, and for similar reasons. Shutter and brave can both be nouns and verbs, but often their verb sides get forgotten. I decided that if it were between brave and shutter, I’d rather be brave.

The decision between avalon and albion was less about character and more about appearance and sound. I decided I liked the ‘b’ more than the ‘v’ and I went with that. Right about now, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with developing a main character. Well, it’s simple. The character I’ve created started with those two words. Brave and Albion. Brave Albion.

It started with these two words that I had decided were my favourite words, based off a multitude of things. Sound and meaning, etymology and history and simple appearance of letters. I don’t mean to say that Brave and Albion are the best words. Simply my favourite. And from those two words, I created the story I wanted to write. It had taken a lot of consideration to choose which were my favourite, so I knew these two words had plenty of meaning to draw upon.

But first came a character. I knew she would be brave, that was obvious. But what came later was that she was more than that. She was bravery. She was all that I thought to be brave and courageous, and it became for her the central-most part of who she was. And it also drove elements of the plot, but more on that later. Today, we’re talking about the main character. One word was an idea, the other one a place. But the more I branched out from those words, the more they began to relate. The idea became solid and real and the solid and real place became an idea. The idea of Albion is just as real as the place once was, and in a way, still is.

In my private definition of what bravery is, it is separate from courage. It is stronger. It takes courage to protect a stranger, to fight against an injustice, to climb a dangerous mountain. But one can be brave in the smallest of ways. One can be brave to continue believing in love, or hope, when the world has offered you nothing but pain. One can be brave when they are weak, and in many ways, bravery exists in its purest when we are weakest. Of course, these are my own private definitions of these terms, and in no way do I claim to say they are the definitions. I’m just letting you follow on what my thought process was like in the early stages of my character development.

Which brings us back to character. I knew I wanted her to be brave. And yes, I knew she was a girl from the beginning. I can never know why, and won’t pretend to understand. It was simply one of those things writers seem to just know about their worlds, as if they were facts and not make-believe. So I was thinking about bravery, and I was thinking about albion, and I was thinking about stories and books. And I knew that she must be a reader. There she was! Sitting in a little carriage, straining her eyes to see little words in the pages of a rather old book. She was a red-head, no, no, she was blonde and she had a dusting of freckles across her nose and under her eyes and her skin was a little pale beneath the freckles. But she was so pretty, I was sure she must have been nobility. A princess, or the daughter of a duchess or lord. Sure, her eyebrows were a little thick and her skin was a little pale, but those eyes were something else. Blue, like the sky on a cloudy day, almost grey in their paleness. She looked sad, but she wasn’t.

Thinking about books and stories and albion had put her in a place and had dressed and influenced her. The book she held in my mind had no title, but it had a cover that reminded me of King Arthur. And I knew more. I wanted her to be brave. She had such cloudy eyes, they reminded me of the skies in Ireland. I called her Lilian for a time, but knew she’d need a better name before I truly started. Aine was a pretty name. It was strong, and it had old roots and old meanings. Her story was a little sad, and Aine looked a little sad, but she was a survivor. It seemed fitting. I knew I’d make her go through a lot, in my writing, but I knew she could handle it. I sat her to the side for a while and I started writing more about the world.

I’d decided much earlier that books would be a key element in my story. I thought about the streets of London in the 17th and 18th Centuries. I thought about libraries, and archives, and shadows of former empires influencing modern nations. I thought about Rome and record-keeping and tales of ancient libraries. I thought about the intelligentsia of past times, of arbitrary political houses, and of the demystifying of all the world’s riddles, except the ones that are closest to ourselves. Magic would play an important role in my story, but it would be bartered with and used as a tool for an eternal cold war, rather than as an actual weapon. It would be whittled down to a practice and an art, rather like how sword melee became fencing. It would be the equivalent of royals fencing with nuclear weapons, so to speak. Books contained magic, and that magic was gathered and collected and fought for in secret, in a struggle to see who was hypothetically on top. All under the watchful eyes of the Emperor who is the one who keeps a cold war from becoming a real one, but largely with fear and strength.

I knew, of course, that reading was important to Aine. I also discovered that her only true ‘power’ came in the form of an uncanny memory for things she has read. Now, books seem to be the only things she memorizes. She doesn’t remember every detail of the world, only what she reads. I knew that she may seem a little naive, and perhaps she is a little. I knew that she had a strong sense of what was right and wrong, and that it was mostly because of the books she had read. She thought books to be safe, and wonderful and it created in her a distrust of the Emperor and even of Librarians, of which her father worked as one. Librarians tracked books down for the nobility. Librarians were commoners who couldn’t afford the right to own books, but had somehow learned how to read. If it was found out that you could read, you were sent to the Imperial Academy, where all Librarians are trained. The Academy is dangerous, and many don’t even survive the training. If you do, you simply get assigned to tracking down books for nobility. The greatest Librarians are the ones who manage to save up enough money by finding valuable historias that you can buy the right to own books, which essentially marks them as a minor noble. Other Librarians marry into one of the great Houses and become minor nobles that way, but marking themselves as allied with that noble through marriage.

Her father was a House Librarian, under the long employment of Mr. Caraway. Most of his work consisted of simply picking up a book Lord Caraway had arranged to be bought from another noble. Many nobles barter and trade with books, and this was what most of his work was. Sometimes he was sent to find books still in the old ruins. These jobs could be dangerous. Her father never allowed her to accompany him on these events. She would always be left at a hotel or an inn to wait until he came back, and then she would get the opportunity to read the little book or historia on the trip back to Mr. Caraway’s home. Needless to say, she spent a lot of time traveling, but mostly with her nose in a book. She had a brother who she loved dearly, though they were quite different from each other. Her brother was courageous.

He was also prone to stealing pocket things from people and breaking into places he shouldn’t be. I knew he had an affinity for pocket-watches, and necklaces. I was curious as to how they interacted. Did they bicker, did they get along? Was there any resentment? What would one sacrifice for the other? What wouldn’t they? I knew that it was because of her father and brother that Áine had kept it a secret that she could read for this long. She was an opinionated person, with strong ideals of right and wrong. She also had a great love for books. The idea of having to keep that a secret upset her more than anything else. Being a Librarian wasn’t all that bad, in her own mind. She’d seen her father get injuries, but overall it didn’t seem terrible. Fear of being a Librarian wasn’t a strong enough reason for her to be so careful, so against her own character for so long. No, it was deeper than that.

Áine had lost her mother, when she was four years old. She doesn’t remember much from that early in her life. She doesn’t even remember her mother’s face, or the sound of her voice. Her father worked hard, and he’d always been a bit of a distant man. At least, for as long as she’d known him. He could talk and be kind and he very clearly loved them. But his mind was always somewhere else. He was forgetful about the simple things, like preparing food or brushing your teeth, or going to bed on time. It was Áine who learned to do those things. So, in a way, she became a bit like a mother. And she was bright. At least bright enough to realize that her father and brother might not survive losing another family member.

So, her truest personal enjoyment came when she got to read. Books, as they are, exist as fuel to dreamers. They sharpen our minds and make the impossible seem achievable. In her case, this was a recipe for unease. Reading books that fueled her dreams, but still bound by love and family obligations. But her curious spirit was only being given more energy, building up inside of her in this treasure trove of stories whose words she never forgot. Her remarkable memory allowed these things to be just as strong today as they were the day before, or a month ago, or a year ago.

To truly know how she’s the bravest person I’ve ever had the joy of writing, you’ll have to wait until the book comes out. Or stick around and keep an eye out for future scenes from the work in progress. Let me know in the comments about how your protagonist came to be.

Fictional Writers – On Developing Lore For Your World

“It was a city dreamt in autumn. The street garden trees had shed their leaves and they were scarlet, and they were yellow; and they were the roof tilings, and they were Ana in a dress; they were the roots who split the cobblestones and they were the ivy, on a home, with a window just the size for dreaming,”

-A City Dreamt In Autumn

So, I figured that since I’m in the middle of doing this for my own story, I’d take a moment to talk about the subject of creating lore for your fictional world. In the story I’m currently writing, my protagonist lives in a world where books play a crucial role. Not only are they central to the culture, but they constitute the basis of my world’s ruling structure, laws, and even magic. On a more personal level, they are extremely important to my protagonist, and a particular book even plays a pivotal role in the story itself.

In worldbuilding, something that is often overlooked is the nature of ideas, stories, and histories. A world is understood through their records, their works of fiction and non-fiction. All great ideas, revolutions, theories, and dreams spawn thousands of pieces of writing. In fact, written communication is one of the most fundamental elements found in the creation of a civilization. So why do we so often overlook this in our own worldbuilding?

If there was an event of great importance in your world’s history, surely someone wrote about it. Thse writings would have influenced ideas, manners of speech, common sayings. And there would have been writers who spoke strongly on both sides (though in history, the writings of the winning side are often the easiest to find) and not just in history books, but in songs and poetry, fiction and non-fiction, essays and novels.

For my story, my character has a remarkable memory. No doubt she’ll draw on quotes to try and prove points, and so for me, I’m having to make sure that there are things for her to draw from. Of course, I also don’t want to write a dozen books just for background information, either. Instead, having a list of important subjects and ideas is the way I go about this. Under each subject, event, idea, or place that would have been written about in this world’s history I am listing a few brief summaries of fictional writers and what they wrote, with a few fake quotes so I can remember what kind of voice I was using for that person. Which leads me to my next point. The voice of your fictional writers should be distinct from your own style. Luckily for us, we have thousands of wonderful writers in our own history to draw inspiration from.

Of course, this level of detail isn’t necessary for most stories, but it is still something I believe we should all at least keep in mind while we’re writing and worldbuilding. Whatever time period or type of event you are writing about, there have been similar things in our own history that you can guarantee someone wrote on. Read those things. This includes essays and journalism pieces. There are some great non-fiction writers out there who could shed great insight in on whatever subject you’re writing.

Let me know in the comments below any thoughts you have on the subject, I’m curious. Also, let me know of any moments where you’ve used non-fiction (or something else) as a resource for your story.



Crafting Your First Page: A Practical Lesson On Writing Your First Scene

We both know that writing a good opening scene is hard. It’s got to be perfect. These next few sentences are going to determine whether or not someone reads your book or puts it down right then and there. That’s a lot of pressure. If you’re anything like me, you may sometimes spend more time on your opening scene than any other. But what makes a good opening scene?

We all know about creating a hook. We’ve heard it a million times. You’ve probably read a thousand things on what constitutes a good hook, but it still isn’t working. I’ve heard it mentioned a few times about how a conflict should be introduced right away. Put them right in the scene. Introduce the protagonist.

There’s even more material out there on what NOT to do in your first scene. From opening cliches, to whether prologues are a good idea or not. But what I’ve found works for me, is to just ask myself a few simple questions. What are the single most important goals of understanding?

What are goals of understanding? They are elements of your story that the reader needs to know. It constitutes plot points, locations, worldbuilding elements, and characters. Characters is a broad term in my vocabulary. Anything that elicits an emotional response from my protagonist is a character. From places, to enemies, to customs and traditions. Anything they have an opinion on, is a character. And the things that will influence the emotions and actions of the protagonist the most are the first goals of understanding we must reach.

So, clearly, we need to know who our protagonist is. This doesn’t necessarily mean your main character must be introduced, but rather than someone who represents our protagonist. For example, say your main character is a farm-boy. He’s a laborer, a male, and he’s young. In the first scene, we could show a young, male hunter out in the woods. He discovers or comes across whatever the threat of the book is, and he is killed by it. Or flees.

This way, when you move to the next chapter, and introduce your main character, the reader instantly understands the relation. You introduced the danger, and now we know the stakes for this main protagonist. In fantasy fiction with different races other than humans, it is good enough to just have the first person and the second person be the same race. Or of the same faction, group, organization, etc. This type of element is what was used to great effect in G.R.R Martin’s first epic Song of Ice & Fire book. We see these grizzled men of the north type people, in great fur coats and black, who call themselves men of the Night’s Watch. They confront this terrible force, get killed, all but for a single man who flees. After this we meet the Starks. Still a cold land, still obviously not too far from where we just were. Indeed, one of them has even announced that he plans on joining the Night’s Watch not too far from then. We know what danger he goes to, but he doesn’t.

These types of elements are what make stories like that so engaging. Even as you reveal goals of understanding, you raise a new question. Conflict would better be described as tension. There’s an engaging desire, a fear, a question. You want something, but you don’t have it. The answer. The full picture. What happens? Wanting something and not having it is the base of tension and conflict. So, I’ve decided to use the mock scene I wrote up yesterday as an example. Let’s start with the first paragraph, and then we’ll break it down.

The book, bound in cracked leather, was only a little larger than Lilian’s open hands; the pages smelled of vanilla and grass, and on the cover there was the faded picture of a willow tree with a sword in its roots. Such a simple thing. Yet, when Lilian read it, it was with the full knowledge that if anyone saw her, it would be the end of her life as she knew it.

Alright, let’s look at what I did here, and why I made the decisions I did. After many revisions, it whittled down to this. In the novel, this book will soon play a pivotal role. That is why special attention is spent describing it. It’s telling the reader, this is important. But not only that, introducing the book allows me to introduce the element of Lilian’s world that is so different than ours. A worldbuilding clue. In this story, books are ancient, powerful things. Because of their potential, and their uses, only two kind of people can read. The nobility, who are able to pay for their freedom and right to literacy, and the Librarians, who are commoners that learned to read and now work for the nobility by tracking down books for them. If anyone is discovered to be able to read, they are given two choices. Pay for a tutor who can train you to understand reading and the powers that come with it, or be taken from your home and family to be sent to a school, where you will eventually become a Librarian. Living your life in service to the nobility. To some people it’s worth it. Be sent away to a school, learn about books, and get to read stories all over the world and deliver them to nobles. But Lilian has a family. As we are soon to find out.

But, she also knew that come tomorrow, she may never get the chance to read this book again. It would be out of her hands, stuck on the shelf of some noble who would never truly appreciate the wonderful story within. A hundred books had passed through her hands and each one had been the same way. Delivered by her father to someone with enough money to buy the right to read. But how anyone could read a novel and not care about the story was something she would never understand.

As you can see, the questions that were raised in the first paragraph are expanded on. We were left wondering how her life would end as she knew it, and why this book was important. Now we’re told that all books are like this, we’re told that she has a father, and that it was because of her father that she got to read books. And she loves reading, as we are about to find out.

Her dad had decided to take the long way back to Corseil, just so she’d have more time to read the book before they were forced to finish the delivery. He was a Royal Librarian. And a Librarian only finds books, they don’t own them. Lilian, as the child of a Librarian, had neither privilege. So these precious moments on the road, so few and far between, were her only opportunities to do what she loved most. Read.

In this paragraph, we’re given some locations. We’re told more about the nature of her father’s job, and more about the circumstances of her reading. We’re given more information about where they are. And since the last two paragraphs were about ideas, the next section should ground the reader again. As you can see, I’m already preparing to bring the scene back into focus, by mentioning that she’s on the road, so that in the next paragraph, the transition is smoother.

The motor carriage rocked, clattered, rumbled, and rattled constantly, but luckily Lilian had long ago grown used to reading under these conditions. The interior of the black carriage was lit by the hum of electric torches, which cast their orange glow across the worn leather seats and the family of three that sat in them. She looked at her younger brother, Jasper, who was snoring in the passenger seat next to their dad.

And we’re back in the scene again. We’re in a carriage, it’s clattering and generally being uncomfortable. The name and the image of it rumbling gives us a pretty clear idea of what kind of vehicle this is, and what sort of time period this is similar to. Not only that, but we get introduced to the third character, her brother. And in the next paragraph, we’re told a little more about him.

Lilian and Jasper shared the same honey-blonde hair, and though he was almost two years younger than her, people often mistook him for being the oldest. He was nearly as tall as their dad, who was the odd one amongst the trio. He had scruffy brown hair and a short beard that was already developing flecks of grey.

Here we get some description of our three characters. Notice how I use differences to invoke similarities and create an image. Comparing one to another is a great way to highlight features. Also, it lets you know that if they don’t look like their father, they must look like their mother. Bringing to our attention the fact that she hasn’t been mentioned. This is key piece of information. Without even saying it, I have allowed the reader to understand a plot point. I didn’t infodump, I didn’t break POV to tell you, and I didn’t force them to have some contrived conversation to bring up the fact. Trust that your reader is smart enough to figure things out on their own. Not only that, but when you let them discover and imagine and think up conclusions on their own, and then be right, it gives your reader a feeling of success, which draws them deeper into enjoying your story.

In the first five paragraphs we’ve introduced our protagonist, the two most important supporting cast members, the most important elements of the world, and a conflict. We’ve also hinted at a secret, in the mystery of why the mom isn’t there. Each sentence serves a purpose, and anything that isn’t necessary has been stripped away. Feel free to read the full mock scene. It’s exactly 1,667 words, so if you were wondering how much you’d have to write a day to complete NaNoWriMo, there’s a good visual reference. Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions, critiques, or comments, leave them below. I’m always interested in hearing about different people’s methods and techniques. Happy writing!

Finding Your Protagonist

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When you look for a character, you are committing to the most elusive hunt in the world. The hunt to understand another person. To truly be able to figure out how they would feel, how they would act, what they would do. In such a daunting situation, most of us writers end up writing people that are just like us. At least, in the manner of their worldview. We write what we know. But it’s a fine line between channeling past experiences to empathize with a character and writing a contrived cast with no life.

So, how do you ensure life in your characters? I’ve often found myself in moments, trying to find a character. I start trying to think one up. You run it through some charts and profiles and identify fears and motivations and think to yourself, I’ve got a really well developed character. But then you go to write them, and there’s no magic. Did we take the magic out of them by planning them too much? And so then you start trying to write without overplanning, but you just find yourself staring at a blank page.

Both of these situations come from not letting yourself find a character. Not create one. Discover one. You need to preserve the magic. If you don’t believe in them as magic, you’ll never be able to create that feeling in your readers. And when you “create” a character, you’re plugging them into formulas and charts and making it a science. Writing needs magic, not formulas. But I’m rambling. You’ll find me doing that here and there. Back to the subject.

How do we create this mysterious magic, this life, in our characters and writing? I can only say what it’s like for me. It starts with listening. Closing your eyes, or staring at the ceiling, and just listening. Think of places. I call this part “seeing vague shapes”. Like ships on a foggy sea, just lights and impressions in the mist. Finding a protagonist is like being stranded on the open seas, floating on a raft. It’s dark, and foggy, and you’re just hoping that one of the shapes in the mist comes close enough for you to see each other. Then you just see where the ship takes you.

I spend the time on this boat getting to know the crew. Our story won’t begin until we reach the port, but we have plenty of time to get to know each other before then. A month on the open sea, with the captain and his crew. Thirty days to get to know your protagonist and supporting cast.

I like to use a sketchpad for the whole concept stage. Blank white paper, with no lines. This time around I only got to see my character here and there. I knew she had a very good memory. She had memorized every word she ever read. I knew that her being able to read was a fact she had to keep secret, but I didn’t know why. I found out her name was Lilian, and that only her brother called her Lily. I found out that she bites her nails when she reads. That she’s torn between her dreams and her fears. The dream to write her own story (and to be worthy of one), and the fear of separating her family. I’ve been able to catch glimpses of her strong bond with her brother, the deep love she has for her father, and yesterday I finally got her to talk to me. After days of listening, I finally heard her speak. To answer the questions I had for her. Hopefully today I’ll be able to heard her think. I just need to remember to keep listening.

I recommend listening to good music and looking at fantasy environmental art. There’s tons of boards on Pinterest that are great for that and I’ve started developing my own references board on the site to track my inspirations. Let me know about how you develop and discover your characters. I’m interested to hear how other people create characters. There is no right or wrong way, and what works for one person might not work for another. And what works for you now, might not work for you later. It’s always good to hear about as many methods and techniques as possible. So let me know, do you prefer to plan it all out, just come up with it as you go, or something in-between?