How to Write Dazzling Dialogue by James Scott Bell

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You know it when you hear it—dialogue that sparkles on the page and practically begs to be read out loud. Dialogue by people like Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, and Richard A. Thompson. I love clever dialogue and eagerly read anything that can tell me how to write it better.

HOW TO WRITE DAZZLING DIALOGUE points out the numerous ways that dialogue can go wrong and gives a brief explanation about why it’s a problem. Bell also gives examples of good dialogue, so we can see the difference. The examples are from well-known books, plays, and movies, and he is great at picking out excerpts that illustrate his points. Bell shows why characters in agreement make for boring dialogue (and boring books), how to handle exposition in dialogue, and how to handle tricky dialect.

Bell offers exercises to try, some of them quite unexpected. For example, try having a character say the exact opposite of what he should say, or insert a random line of dialogue from another book and see where it goes. Not all of these exercises will end up in the final draft, but some of them might.

However, Bell doesn’t discuss any of the techniques in depth and only gives a single example for each. Although he uses first-rate examples, he doesn’t really explain why they work. He’s very good at pointing out beginner mistakes, but misses some of the more subtle problems that can creep into dialogue. HOW TO WRITE DAZZLING DIALOGUE will teach you how to write competent dialogue—good enough to keep you out of the slush pile—but probably won’t teach you how to write the sparkling dialogue readers love.

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HOW TO WRITE DAZZLING DIALOGUE can be found here.

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rating: 3 stars

 

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This book is best for: beginning writers

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I recommend this book or Writing Vivid Dialogue by Rayne Hall

Creative Cursing by Sarah Royal and Jillian Panarese

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Research is important for writers. I’m a nice midwestern suburban lady who writes about tough urban cops, hackers and PIs. How do I get everything in my books authentic, including the swear words? It’s important for me to research how…

…Oh, who am I kidding? I love this book because I have the sense of humor of a twelve year old, and profanity amuses me. I admire people who swear creatively. Good cursing is like poetry. It says a lot in a short space, and when done well, packs an emotional punch.

CREATIVE CURSING is a spiral bound book with two words per page. It’s split down the middle so you can flip back and forth, making endless combinations of words that don’t usually go together. Most of the left side is body parts and fluids. The right side is words like jammer, muncher, biter, with a few wild cards like waffle and monkey.

This book is not for everyone. Writers of sweet romance or cozy mysteries or books for young people don’t need this book. (Although those writers might appreciate some fresh expletives for when the printer jams or the tenth rejection letter comes.) Even the most jaded writer might balk at some of the word combinations. But hey, if it gets too raw, you can always flip the page back to “fart waffle” or “poop splash.”

I recently moved and got rid of most of my hardcopy books. This is one of the few that made the move with me. Nobody needs a book like CREATIVE CURSING. But some of us really, really want it.

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CREATIVE CURSING can be found here.

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Rating: 3 stars

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I recommend this book.

Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt

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The title of BOOK IN A MONTH reminds me of late-night infomercials that promise magical wealth or weight loss or beauty with no effort. Of course, there are people who write complete books in thirty days, some of them quite good, but that’s a lot to ask of beginners. However, Schmidt isn’t expecting her readers to write polished prose. She anticipates messy first drafts that ignore things like subplots and subtlety and consistency. Following Schmidt’s method won’t produce a book, but more of an outline/first draft hybrid.

Schmidt teaches writers how to plot the most straightforward type of novel with a three-act structure and a well-defined hero and villain. The plot points will come at predictable intervals, building to a crashing climax. Nothing wrong with that. Even better, the thirty-day method offers no time to procrastinate, second-guess, or get caught in loops of self-editing. The idea is to go in one direction only: forward.

While butt-in-chair is always good, the real danger is that a writer can spend all her time on Schmidt’s worksheets and pre-writing exercises and never write a word of the novel. Being busy doesn’t equal producing solid work. Schmidt suggests hand-writing notes directly in BOOK IN A MONTH, and the book is spiral-bound for that purpose. However, the space for writing is too small and the use of reward stickers seems juvenile. Naturally, Schmidt suggests that writers buy a new copy of BOOK IN A MONTH for each novel they write, as if they will never progress to writing on their own and will need her worksheets forever.

I admit to skipping the assignments, but just reading through BOOK IN A MONTH gave me some good tips and was great for motivation. I can see how this book would be absolutely perfect for a certain kind of writer. Someone with a burning passion, a strong concept, and no idea where to start would love this book, especially if they like lots of structure. And if a writer sees it through to the end, she’ll end up with a finished draft robust enough to stand up to the vigorous editing it will need.

Not bad for thirty day’s work.

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BOOK IN A MONTH can be found here.

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rating: 3 stars

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This book is best for: beginning writers

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I recommend this book or 2,000 to 10,000 by Rachel Aaron or Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

 

 

This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley

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Write every day.

Mosley starts with this advice and repeats it often in this slim volume. Every book for writers says that. But so what?  It’s simple math: the more you work, the more books you’ll produce. There is nothing that makes this advice special. Nor is there much that’s special in any of Mosley’s tips. THIS YEAR YOU WRITE YOUR NOVEL is a hundred pages of bland, uninspiring prose with none of the verve and hard truths that make Mosley’s novels so fascinating.

THIS YEAR YOU WRITE YOUR NOVEL is full of the basics we all learned in school. Mosley discusses first and third person narration, show-don’t-tell, and the uses of dialog. But it’s descriptive rather than prescriptive. He’s great at telling you what works, but isn’t much interested in why it works or how to do it. He seems to have little insight into his own process, much less that of other writers.

I’m okay with books that don’t offer much actual instruction if they offer something else, like inspiration. I like some good cheerleading as much as the next writer, and if an author can remind me how awesome writing is, I love that book forever. However, Mosley is a workmanlike writer, with a regular routine. It’s just a job to him; certainly nothing to get excited about.

That’s not to say that THIS YEAR YOU WRITE YOUR NOVEL is all bad. I liked Mosley’s emphasis on rewriting, knowing that it takes multiple drafts to finish a novel. He is humble and straightforward, but in trying to erase his self-importance from THIS YEAR YOU WRITE YOUR NOVEL, he seemed to erase his own personality as well. Mosley probably didn’t offend any writers with this book, but he didn’t engage many of them, either.

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THIS YEAR YOU WRITE YOUR NOVEL can be found here.

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Rating: 3 stars

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This book is best for: beginning writers

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I recommend this book or Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain or You’ve Got a Book In You by Elizabeth Sims

The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray

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THE WEEKEND NOVELIST is just what it sounds like: a blueprint for finishing a novel in a year by writing only on weekends. I haven’t actually tried Ray’s full plan (only parts of it) but it seems like a good way for a busy person to get a lot done, especially if the writer commits huge blocks of time weekend after weekend. I like Ray’s year-long timeline, which seems much more realistic than those books that promise you’ll produce a novel in a month.

Ray’s plan builds logically and systematically from idea to outline to finished novel. There are no creative writing exercises just for the sake of having exercises. Ray wants the writer to focus every bit of her limited writing time on making the novel happen. Through character studies, a detailed plot arc, and setting details, the plan in THE WEEKEND NOVELIST will make sure all the parts come together in a harmonious whole. Ray doesn’t promise your work will be great literature or even publishable. However, it will be finished and that’s no small thing.

Ray uses excerpts from many novels as examples, such as THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST, THE GREAT GATSBY, and THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY. They are well-chosen and help illustrate his points. Where Ray falls down, however, when he tries to write his own examples. He uses an imaginary work-in-progress he calls “TROPHY WIVES” that is full of clichés, sexist tropes, and plain old bad writing. It’s not going to inspire anyone.

I give THE WEEKEND NOVELIST a cautious thumbs up, because it’s absolutely perfect for a certain type of writer. If a writer understands plot structure, is comfortable with detailed outlines, is willing to write scenes out of order, and refuses to deviate from the plan, this could be the perfect writing guide. But it could turn off as many writers as it turns on. Someone who is more of a “discovery writer” won’t enjoy this plan, and will probably abandon it in a week or two. But for someone who takes comfort in outlines, or a beginning writer who just needs a helping hand to get from idea to finished draft, THE WEEKEND NOVELIST might be just the thing.

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THE WEEKEND NOVELIST can be found here.

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rating: 3 stars

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This book is best for: beginning writers

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I recommend this book or Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain

The Word-loss Diet by Rayne Hall

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THE WORD-LOSS DIET is a small book, more like a booklet. But this only means that Hall has heeded her own advice and doesn’t use extra words to pad the page count.

THE WORD-LOSS DIET has one purpose: to eliminate flabby writing. Hall doesn’t get deeply into copyediting issues. She’s here to help writers pick the low-hanging fruit. But that’s not all bad. Eliminating the most common causes of bloated writing is a great place to start.

Hall wants writers to eliminate “crutch” words which can slow the pace and make prose seem clumsy. Words like look, begin, sigh, smile, and wonder are common problems. Writers should also watch out for really, very, quite, just, and most adverbs. Hall gives wonderful before-and-after examples to help new writers get the message.

This is basic information, but any writer who can cut these offending words on the second draft is well on her way to smooth, salable copy. The trick, of course, is to internalize these rules and never write the offending words in the first place. If you’re already there, great. If not, THE WORD-LOSS DIET is a helpful reminder along the way.

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THE WORD-LOSS DIET can be found here.

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rating: 3 stars

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This book is best for: beginning writers

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I recommend this book or The Little Book of Self-Editing for Writers by Bridget McKenna

The Fiction Writer’s Handbook by Shelly Lowenkopf

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Writing, like any profession, has its jargon. A writer’s vocabulary overlaps a bit with that of a literary critic. For example, words like deus ex machina and first-person narrative will be familiar to any English professor. But things like inner critic and withholding backstory and discovery draft are unique to writing. When we talk to other writers—or to ourselves—we need to know what those words mean.

THE FICTION WRITER’S HANDBOOK is an encyclopedia of sorts, giving definitions of over three hundred concepts. Think of it as a toolbox. Each technique is used a specific way, and the more tools you have, the easier the job. The better you understand things like plausibility, reversals, or payoffs, the better you can use them.

A writer could read THE FICTION WRITER’S HANDBOOK straight through as an alphabetical list of definitions, but that defeats the purpose. All the entries are hyperlinked and cross-referenced, making the ebook ideal for browsing. You can be led from entry to entry, letting your interest be your guide.

THE FICTION WRITER’S HANDBOOK is not exactly a how-to book, although there are some writing lessons in it. It’s more of a general reference book, so when your writing teacher says you need a narrative hook, or you read a blog about the villain’s agenda, you’ll know what those terms mean. With Lowenkopf at your side, you’ll also know exactly how to use them.

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THE FICTION WRITER’S HANDBOOK can be found here.

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rating: 3 stars

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This book is best for: beginning writers

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I recommend this book or 101 Things I Learned in Film School by Neil Landau and Matthew Frederick or Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain