A Busy Spring

I’m behind in my ambitious writing goal for the year, which is no huge surprise given that I set the bar very high at 240,000 words. I’m counting editing and revision at 750 words an hour, which is three-quarters of what the NaNoWriMo site recommends, but it jives with the amount of work I usually get done in an hour when I edit/revise my work.

It’s a busy spring for me so far. I have nine writing-related projects on my desk this quarter, including encyclopedia articles on the Scott Antarctic Expedition and the Indian Howdah for ABC-Clio’s The British Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia; a biography and a cultural and historical context article on Ray Bradbury for Salem Press’s Critical Insights: Ray Bradbury encyclopedia; my first draft for Corrugated Sky’s second anthology.

I’m also going to present a paper at the Mid-Atlantic Conference on British Studies annual meeting, which is coming up the beginning of April, so I need to delve back into my research for that. Which brings me to another project, which is turning my master’s thesis (about 100 pages) into a full-length book. But for that, I need a lot more research, so it’s a time-intensive project.

And the last two items on my list (so far this year) are my novel, Seacombe Island, and a book on writer’s prompts. I’ve spent quite a bit of time organizing my calendar and to-do list so I’m not having all the deadlines at once, but it means working ahead and I find that soft deadlines (ones I impose on myself) are easier to let slide by than hard deadlines (drop-dead dates, or dates imposed by the publisher). I pride myself on not missing hard deadlines, although I’ve had to ask for two- or three-day extensions in the past when an article has proven to be troublesome, or when holidays muck up my scheduling.

And so I’m avoiding working on articles right now by, well, writing about my writing. I guess that counts as words toward my yearly goal, so I’ll gloat on that for a moment and then clear my desk and get cracking on today’s list of things to work on.

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 115

This week’s Thursday Writing Prompt is about dialogue. During a recent writer’s group meeting one of my reviewers noted that my draft had a lot of dialogue tags. Those are things like “Sam said,” “she said,” etc. It’s good to have some of them to make sure that a reader can follow your character’s exchanges and know which of them is speaking, but too many tags draw attention to themselves and not the speech.

So that gave me a thought: why not write some dialogue that purposely uses too many tags, and then rewrite the entire piece with none at all? The point is to become aware of using tags by planting one on every line of speech and then seeing how many you can get rid of before it’s too difficult to follow the dialogue.

You can avoid dialogue tags by adding descriptors to the sentence that show action. For instance, in my novel Seacombe Island (I’m still looking for an agent — hey, is anyone reading this?) I have these two short paragraphs. On the first one there is clearly a dialogue tag to indicate that Jasper is speaking, but on the second one I’ve avoided having a tag by instead providing a descriptive bit about Tom:

      “You wouldn’t have jumped,” said Jasper, spreading his hands wide and stepping down off the stairs. “We had no time for niceties and such.”
      “I could have drowned!” Tom’s voice seemed strained to his own ears, as though he had been shouting for hours. “Did you even think of that?”

So there’s your inspiration. Write at least ten lines of dialogue between two or more speakers (of course, I’m assuming your character doesn’t spend much time talking to himself or herself). Copy and paste the text so you have two sets of speech. Now, on the first set, make sure you have a dialogue tag for every character every time they speak. For the second set strip out all the tags and rewrite as necessary to make sure the dialogue is clear.

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 43

Theater District street scene, New York City.
West 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues.

This week’s Thursday Writing Prompt gives you five objects that you must use in your writing. Since I’m featuring a New York City photo for this week’s prompt, why don’t you try your hand at writing a play scene?

If you have no experience writing scripts, don’t despair. I have one modest scene that I wrote for an undergraduate writing class that consists of two people sitting on a sofa having a discussion about synchronicity. (It’s really exciting, but since nothing blows up in the story I haven’t managed to sell it to Hollywood yet.)

Anyway, Script Frenzy has an Intro to Playwriting web page that will get you started in the process if you don’t have experience, and will probably be a good review if you have done some script work. Script Frenzy is brought to you by the same folks who started National Novel Writing Month, which runs during November every year. Script Frenzy happens during April, and requires you to write 100 pages of a script in one month.

I won’t ask you to do that much writing! Five or six pages of a script might be a good starting point, as it will give you enough space to start to develop a story or sketch out a scene. As advertised, you’ll need to include five objects in your story. Here they are: a crushed, dried carnation; a wedding ring; an unopened letter with no return address; an invoice for a rental car; and a postcard from a swank hotel.


Thursday Writing Prompt No. 39

For this week’s Thursday Writing Prompt you’ll be asked to write a short story in the form of an e-mail exchange. You can have as many people in the story as you want, but since the format of e-mail is very similar to dialogue, there won’t be any real need to describe scenery. The story is going to rely exclusively on what your characters write to one another.

This may actually be harder than it sounds, because pure dialogue can become boring, but resist the urge to have your characters describe their world. You should be able to pull off a story without having to add filler. Remember to give each character a distinct voice. Even with e-mail a person’s voice and personality should come through in what they write and how they write it. Some people are terse, which can sound snippy, while others repeat themselves or ramble on.

So here’s the scene set-up: your characters work together and the e-mails are a work exchange.  Don’t fall into the trap of having everyone use text-speech, because not everyone LOLs in their e-mails, especially at work. Let’s say that something important has just happened at work; maybe someone got fired over an incident that involved your characters. The fired person will not appear in your story, but the other people involved are still there.

Now, to add a twist: because this is a sensitive subject at work, your characters can’t write freely about what happened, so they have to allude to it. But they have to understand one another. Now, go to it and have some fun!