Wednesday, May 27, 2015


I'm knee-deep in a couple of projects that are requiring a lot of my brain space at the moment, so I thought this week I'd simply share short reviews of some books I've read and enjoyed recently.

Cinders
Michelle D. Argyle

This is a great crossover read for folks who like literary and women's fiction to give fantasy a try. The fantasy elements are light touch; it's the emotions that take center stage here.

I think the novella format was perfect for an expanded reflection on the tenuousness of Cinderella's "happily ever after." Argyle's considerable talent as a short story writer is clear in the emotionally-charged, sensory-filled scenes that hum with tension and subtext. Her gestures toward a larger milieu might make die-hard fantasy fans feel a little shortchanged, but I found the economy of her descriptions refreshing--lush without drowning you in detail.



Just One Day
Gayle Forman

I am often a sucker for a good travel story, but this book is so much more, and goes directions I could not have anticipated. Forman understands the travails of late adolescence/early 20s exceptionally well, and seems to really get millienials and their unique challenges as a generation. While this one isn't as lyrical as If I Stay, it offers so much, I think I love it nearly as deeply, but differently.

I love how the story upends a lot of very naive fantasies about travel romances. While the sheltered girl, Allyson, steps out of her comfort zone and takes a risk, it's not an unrealistically all-positive experience. Growing and changing isn't a seamless process; some bumps and bruises will come along the way. And for some, the task of individuating can be as much an inner war as one with authority figures. Allyson's character frustrated me at times in the best possible way--I so wanted her to fight for a self she could happily own. And she does, eventually. I'm so glad Forman didn't glibly skip over the painful processes that get her there. It makes this story so powerfully real, and one I think will be very encouraging to young women out there in this phase of life, trying to figure themselves out.


The Good Luck of Right Now
Matthew Quick

I've been meaning to pick up one of Quick's books since I heard him speak and give a reading last year. His insight about "voice driven writing" really resonated.

What immediately hooked me in The Good Luck of Right Now was the narrative voice--charmingly awkward and wise at once. Bartholomew doesn't entirely seem like someone you'd ever meet in real life. A good 20 years of his existence seem unaccounted for. (No, seriously, what has this guy done with himself from age 18 to 38? Not even an attempt to hold a job? Really?) But that seems beside the point. This book is more interested in the future far than the past, for some people don't truly live until those who have defined them die, leaving space to individuate.

I enjoyed the quirky cast that assembles around Bartholomew, especially the troubled priest, whose devout heart is admirable in the midst of his suffering. Bartholomew's therapy partner Max is pretty hilarious, if a bit painful to hear (he drops an F-bomb in every single sentence he utters, a sign of his stuckness in rage). Bartholomew's grief counselor-in-training Wendy and "The Girlbrarian," his love interest, are two more wounded souls that round out the ensemble. Together they challenge and begin to heal one another. I found the theme of role-playing--how we pretend with one another as a way of coping, or dodging emotional minefields--well done and thought-provoking.


The Glassblower
Petra Durst-Benning

I'm not a big historical fiction reader, perhaps because so much historical fiction strikes me as stilted sounding or, conversely, full of anachronisms. For the most part, this book did neither. The translation was relatively fluid and didn't use overly modern-sounding idioms. It felt "past" without beating you over the head about it.

This is a lengthy story, and may feel like it drags to those who are accustomed to novels that wrap in 250 pages. Durst-Benning does a fairly good job covering the storylines of all three sisters, though I felt the youngest, Marie, got short shrift compared to her elder sisters.

I really enjoyed watching these three women grow over the course of years and learn new skills that enabled them to become self-supporting in an age when women were largely blocked from being heads of household. Their ups and downs were thoroughly enjoyable to read. I especially appreciated that the first installment of the series wraps up enough that there's a sense of closure, but with tantalizing hints of more drama to come.


Attachments
Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park set my expectations for this author fairly high. While the characters were largely likable, the story itself is a predictable romance plot with little in the way of real tension. A few times I felt a bit impatient and irritated with the characters' stuckness in unhappy situations of their own making. That made me root for them a bit less.

I'd seen other reviewers complain that the newspaper's draconian e-mail policy doesn't seem realistic for 1999. I'd agree if we were talking about a big city on the East Coast, but this story is set in the Heartland, which lagged behind, especially then. I very much remember my employers in Philly being this weird in 1995-96 about the potential for lost productivity and scandalous/illegal Internet use. Gen-X readers will probably like the story more than younger folks, who probably can't entirely fathom just how much tech has changed how we behave in a relatively short time.

What have you been reading lately?
7:37 PM Laurel Garver

I'm knee-deep in a couple of projects that are requiring a lot of my brain space at the moment, so I thought this week I'd simply share short reviews of some books I've read and enjoyed recently.

Cinders
Michelle D. Argyle

This is a great crossover read for folks who like literary and women's fiction to give fantasy a try. The fantasy elements are light touch; it's the emotions that take center stage here.

I think the novella format was perfect for an expanded reflection on the tenuousness of Cinderella's "happily ever after." Argyle's considerable talent as a short story writer is clear in the emotionally-charged, sensory-filled scenes that hum with tension and subtext. Her gestures toward a larger milieu might make die-hard fantasy fans feel a little shortchanged, but I found the economy of her descriptions refreshing--lush without drowning you in detail.



Just One Day
Gayle Forman

I am often a sucker for a good travel story, but this book is so much more, and goes directions I could not have anticipated. Forman understands the travails of late adolescence/early 20s exceptionally well, and seems to really get millienials and their unique challenges as a generation. While this one isn't as lyrical as If I Stay, it offers so much, I think I love it nearly as deeply, but differently.

I love how the story upends a lot of very naive fantasies about travel romances. While the sheltered girl, Allyson, steps out of her comfort zone and takes a risk, it's not an unrealistically all-positive experience. Growing and changing isn't a seamless process; some bumps and bruises will come along the way. And for some, the task of individuating can be as much an inner war as one with authority figures. Allyson's character frustrated me at times in the best possible way--I so wanted her to fight for a self she could happily own. And she does, eventually. I'm so glad Forman didn't glibly skip over the painful processes that get her there. It makes this story so powerfully real, and one I think will be very encouraging to young women out there in this phase of life, trying to figure themselves out.


The Good Luck of Right Now
Matthew Quick

I've been meaning to pick up one of Quick's books since I heard him speak and give a reading last year. His insight about "voice driven writing" really resonated.

What immediately hooked me in The Good Luck of Right Now was the narrative voice--charmingly awkward and wise at once. Bartholomew doesn't entirely seem like someone you'd ever meet in real life. A good 20 years of his existence seem unaccounted for. (No, seriously, what has this guy done with himself from age 18 to 38? Not even an attempt to hold a job? Really?) But that seems beside the point. This book is more interested in the future far than the past, for some people don't truly live until those who have defined them die, leaving space to individuate.

I enjoyed the quirky cast that assembles around Bartholomew, especially the troubled priest, whose devout heart is admirable in the midst of his suffering. Bartholomew's therapy partner Max is pretty hilarious, if a bit painful to hear (he drops an F-bomb in every single sentence he utters, a sign of his stuckness in rage). Bartholomew's grief counselor-in-training Wendy and "The Girlbrarian," his love interest, are two more wounded souls that round out the ensemble. Together they challenge and begin to heal one another. I found the theme of role-playing--how we pretend with one another as a way of coping, or dodging emotional minefields--well done and thought-provoking.


The Glassblower
Petra Durst-Benning

I'm not a big historical fiction reader, perhaps because so much historical fiction strikes me as stilted sounding or, conversely, full of anachronisms. For the most part, this book did neither. The translation was relatively fluid and didn't use overly modern-sounding idioms. It felt "past" without beating you over the head about it.

This is a lengthy story, and may feel like it drags to those who are accustomed to novels that wrap in 250 pages. Durst-Benning does a fairly good job covering the storylines of all three sisters, though I felt the youngest, Marie, got short shrift compared to her elder sisters.

I really enjoyed watching these three women grow over the course of years and learn new skills that enabled them to become self-supporting in an age when women were largely blocked from being heads of household. Their ups and downs were thoroughly enjoyable to read. I especially appreciated that the first installment of the series wraps up enough that there's a sense of closure, but with tantalizing hints of more drama to come.


Attachments
Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park set my expectations for this author fairly high. While the characters were largely likable, the story itself is a predictable romance plot with little in the way of real tension. A few times I felt a bit impatient and irritated with the characters' stuckness in unhappy situations of their own making. That made me root for them a bit less.

I'd seen other reviewers complain that the newspaper's draconian e-mail policy doesn't seem realistic for 1999. I'd agree if we were talking about a big city on the East Coast, but this story is set in the Heartland, which lagged behind, especially then. I very much remember my employers in Philly being this weird in 1995-96 about the potential for lost productivity and scandalous/illegal Internet use. Gen-X readers will probably like the story more than younger folks, who probably can't entirely fathom just how much tech has changed how we behave in a relatively short time.

What have you been reading lately?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Journaling is a kind of focused freewriting that can be useful for exploring, in a loose and free manner, either a character’s thoughts or your own.

Image: Teo Studio, www.etsy.com/shop/TeoStudio
Like the childhood diary that could be padlocked, think of journaling exercises as a “for my eyes only” prewriting. As with jots, the goal is to get ideas out as quickly as you can without judgment or revision.

Journaling is especially helpful for voice-driven writers who first need to get inside the protagonist’s head before planning any story events. It can also be a way for you to mentally process key parts of your plot. When preparing for revision, it can be a helpful way to think through what is and isn’t working in a manuscript. It’s also a great warm-up for beginning any writing session, especially if you’ve been away from the manuscript for a period.

Journaling exercises


Journal your key characters’ important memories that shaped them most
Journal about your key characters’ deepest fears
Journal about your key characters’ ambitions and dreams
Journal about your protagonist’s bucket list
Journal your protagonist’s opinions of other characters
Journal your antagonist’s view of the protagonist
Journal about your protagonist from the viewpoint of another key character
Journal a fiasco moment in your character’s voice
Journal about a moment your character would feel empowered
Journal about potential plot events as a character might experience them
Journal about conflicts among characters
Journal your protagonist’s impressions of key settings in your story
Journal a basic arc of your story in your protagonist’s voice
Journal your impressions of each character in your story
Journal about scenes that are almost ready, and how you might polish them
Journal about problem scenes and how you might repair or replace them
Journal your hopes about this manuscript
Journal your concerns about this manuscript

How might journaling help you keep moving forward with a project?
12:09 PM Laurel Garver
Journaling is a kind of focused freewriting that can be useful for exploring, in a loose and free manner, either a character’s thoughts or your own.

Image: Teo Studio, www.etsy.com/shop/TeoStudio
Like the childhood diary that could be padlocked, think of journaling exercises as a “for my eyes only” prewriting. As with jots, the goal is to get ideas out as quickly as you can without judgment or revision.

Journaling is especially helpful for voice-driven writers who first need to get inside the protagonist’s head before planning any story events. It can also be a way for you to mentally process key parts of your plot. When preparing for revision, it can be a helpful way to think through what is and isn’t working in a manuscript. It’s also a great warm-up for beginning any writing session, especially if you’ve been away from the manuscript for a period.

Journaling exercises


Journal your key characters’ important memories that shaped them most
Journal about your key characters’ deepest fears
Journal about your key characters’ ambitions and dreams
Journal about your protagonist’s bucket list
Journal your protagonist’s opinions of other characters
Journal your antagonist’s view of the protagonist
Journal about your protagonist from the viewpoint of another key character
Journal a fiasco moment in your character’s voice
Journal about a moment your character would feel empowered
Journal about potential plot events as a character might experience them
Journal about conflicts among characters
Journal your protagonist’s impressions of key settings in your story
Journal a basic arc of your story in your protagonist’s voice
Journal your impressions of each character in your story
Journal about scenes that are almost ready, and how you might polish them
Journal about problem scenes and how you might repair or replace them
Journal your hopes about this manuscript
Journal your concerns about this manuscript

How might journaling help you keep moving forward with a project?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

We live in an information-saturated world with greater access to reading material than any other time in human history. In such a glutted marketplace of ideas, quality matters more than ever before.

Photo credit: 5demayo from morguefile.com
Editing is your first line of quality control in developing excellent written products. You shouldn't entrust your work and reputation to anyone who claims to know those elusive comma rules. Because perfectly placed punctuation is not enough to stand out. Message matters. Presentation matters. Clarity matters. Beauty matters.

Are you ready to take your writing to the next level? You’ve come to the right place. I am a veteran wordsmith who brings decades of editing experience to every project entrusted to my care--and I'm taking new clients.

Check out my new tab, "Editing services" to learn all about what I can do for you!

Tell me, what do you most look for in an writer/editor relationship? 
12:04 PM Laurel Garver
We live in an information-saturated world with greater access to reading material than any other time in human history. In such a glutted marketplace of ideas, quality matters more than ever before.

Photo credit: 5demayo from morguefile.com
Editing is your first line of quality control in developing excellent written products. You shouldn't entrust your work and reputation to anyone who claims to know those elusive comma rules. Because perfectly placed punctuation is not enough to stand out. Message matters. Presentation matters. Clarity matters. Beauty matters.

Are you ready to take your writing to the next level? You’ve come to the right place. I am a veteran wordsmith who brings decades of editing experience to every project entrusted to my care--and I'm taking new clients.

Check out my new tab, "Editing services" to learn all about what I can do for you!

Tell me, what do you most look for in an writer/editor relationship? 

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

I volunteered to run a workshop on writing at a women's retreat for my church. Our congregation has more than its fair share of highly educated people, situated as we are near several major universities and medical institutions. With that in mind, I've been busy assembling some writing exercises to appeal to brainy spiritual people who want to take a break from the grind and do something different.

The retreat speaker's theme is "Things Not Seen," which provided a good jumping off point for the kinds of exercises I plan to offer. I don't know exactly who will turn up and where they are in their particular writing journey, so I've had to think broadly about topics that could be thought-provoking and nourishing to both veterans and newbies.

Things Not Seen: Writing Explorations


We cannot see the wind, but its force is powerful.

Hidden blocks: why I don't write


Distractions
"Losing our voices is a natural outcome of trying to ignore what bothers us." --Georgia Heard, Writing Toward Home 34.

What rumblings in daily life are too painful to face? Make you feel resigned and helpless? Write about what is rumbling for you, what bothers you. What prevents you from seeing or changing the situation? It's not an ideal environment that you most need, but rather honesty and awareness. Brainstorm what your personal blocks are and how you might move toward clarity.

Inner Critics
"To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing." --Elbert Hubbard

To write, you have to face the inner sources of criticism, those harsh voices in your head that fill you with doubt and a sense of defeat. Identify them. What do they look like? Where do they work? How did they enter your life? How did they gain power over you? Personify these voices in as much detail as you can.

Write a letter to your critics and let your anger flow. How have they harmed you? It might help to express the specific fears you have about writing that they have exacerbated. Express how you will protect yourself from their negativity.

Now imagine your muse/guardian angel/Holy Spirit who knows and loves you and wants you to flourish and help others flourish through the beautiful truths you share. Write what you hope and dream for your writing. Write how you would like this protective spirit to keep you safe inside, what messages you most need to hear, and what resources you need in order to write.

Lack of vision
"Where there is no vision, the people perish." Proverbs 29:18a

Perhaps your desire to write has been a vague rumbling you've been unable to articulate. Without a sense of the why, you indefinitely put off starting any project. What you most need is to draw to the surface an inner passion that has been pushed to the back burner.

Take some time to brainstorm and think more deeply about why your desire to write exists. Complete this sentence: I want to write because _____. Be specific. Is there a particular truth you want to share? An audience you want to engage with? Have stories shaped you in a significant way that you want to engage with more deeply at this stage of life? Is there a set of skills you want to develop? A favorite author you wish to emulate?

Hidden Emotions


Emotions are the raw material for all creative writing (and quite a lot of nonfiction as well). Use one of the following prompts to delve into a strong emotion, and let your exploration lead you toward the beginnings of a work of memoir, fiction or poetry.

Don't be afraid to begin with brainstormed jots and lists, or snippets of conversation, or messy stream-of-consciousness musings. Think of your first step as "making clay" that can then be shaped.

Anger
Repressed anger can be a major block to creativity, as it tends to fester and cause deep soul damage. Release anger by writing about it, as a journal entry, a poem, or channeled through a fictional character. Be brutally honest, holding nothing back.

Grief
Unresolved sadness in your life can be another major creativity blocker. Write about a significant place of loss you have been reticent to address. Circle around the edges, gradually going deeper into details and the emotions they stir up in you. Turn these musings into a memoir of loss, a poem, or story about a character grieving a loss--or struggling to do so.

Shame
Your deepest secrets are your deepest, truest sources of story material. To access that material, you have to bravely allow those secrets to come to the surface, at least in your own consciousness. Write a list that completes this sentence: "I could never tell...." Feel free to throw in some pseudo secrets and to scribble out anything you are completely mortified to admit. The goal is to think about and acknowledge these deeper stories. The act of acknowledging them to yourself will allow you to tap into the power this material has.  You might find, in giving your secrets to a fictional caretaker to grapple with, the old shame releases its hold on you.

Fear
Being scared is one of the key drivers of all human behavior. It often tinges even places where we should feel most confident or at ease. Write about the things that consistently leave you uneasy or even terrify you. What worst-case scenarios often invade your imagination? Write about them in detail. Put a fictional character through your worst fears. How will he or she cope?

Love
Desire and longing--inner passion--are powerful drivers that can combat fear. Think of a time when you fell in love, whether with a person, a place, or a discovered passion for something. Write about that experience, either as memoir, poem, or channeled through a fictional character's slightly different details. What did this person, place, thing, experience call forth from you (or him/her)? What fullness did it offer you (him/her)?

Comfort
A desire for peace and harmony is a deep longing of the human heart. Write about a time/place when you experienced being fully welcomed and loved. Include as much detail as possible. Alternately, think of what kinds of moments, relationships, or environments would enable you to experience comfort and peace. Describe it for yourself or a fictional character.

Pivotal Moments
This is a mix-and-match exercise for exploring emotion in all its complexity. Choose a word or phrase from each list to select a mattering moment. Consider why it is significant to you, or a fictional character you create. How did/does it shift your/her self concept, approach to tasks, relationships? Write a memoir piece, poem, or short story.

List A
first, last, best, worst

List B
memory, accident, surprise, school day, class, performance, game, event, outing, vacation, holiday, pet, project, date, kiss, relationship, job, car, home

Final discussion

At the end of our time, we'll wrap up with sharing a little of what each person has written or a reflection on the exercise chosen and what was gleaned from the experience.

Which of these prompts appeal to you most? What is  your experience with retreat workshops?
5:40 PM Laurel Garver
I volunteered to run a workshop on writing at a women's retreat for my church. Our congregation has more than its fair share of highly educated people, situated as we are near several major universities and medical institutions. With that in mind, I've been busy assembling some writing exercises to appeal to brainy spiritual people who want to take a break from the grind and do something different.

The retreat speaker's theme is "Things Not Seen," which provided a good jumping off point for the kinds of exercises I plan to offer. I don't know exactly who will turn up and where they are in their particular writing journey, so I've had to think broadly about topics that could be thought-provoking and nourishing to both veterans and newbies.

Things Not Seen: Writing Explorations


We cannot see the wind, but its force is powerful.

Hidden blocks: why I don't write


Distractions
"Losing our voices is a natural outcome of trying to ignore what bothers us." --Georgia Heard, Writing Toward Home 34.

What rumblings in daily life are too painful to face? Make you feel resigned and helpless? Write about what is rumbling for you, what bothers you. What prevents you from seeing or changing the situation? It's not an ideal environment that you most need, but rather honesty and awareness. Brainstorm what your personal blocks are and how you might move toward clarity.

Inner Critics
"To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing." --Elbert Hubbard

To write, you have to face the inner sources of criticism, those harsh voices in your head that fill you with doubt and a sense of defeat. Identify them. What do they look like? Where do they work? How did they enter your life? How did they gain power over you? Personify these voices in as much detail as you can.

Write a letter to your critics and let your anger flow. How have they harmed you? It might help to express the specific fears you have about writing that they have exacerbated. Express how you will protect yourself from their negativity.

Now imagine your muse/guardian angel/Holy Spirit who knows and loves you and wants you to flourish and help others flourish through the beautiful truths you share. Write what you hope and dream for your writing. Write how you would like this protective spirit to keep you safe inside, what messages you most need to hear, and what resources you need in order to write.

Lack of vision
"Where there is no vision, the people perish." Proverbs 29:18a

Perhaps your desire to write has been a vague rumbling you've been unable to articulate. Without a sense of the why, you indefinitely put off starting any project. What you most need is to draw to the surface an inner passion that has been pushed to the back burner.

Take some time to brainstorm and think more deeply about why your desire to write exists. Complete this sentence: I want to write because _____. Be specific. Is there a particular truth you want to share? An audience you want to engage with? Have stories shaped you in a significant way that you want to engage with more deeply at this stage of life? Is there a set of skills you want to develop? A favorite author you wish to emulate?

Hidden Emotions


Emotions are the raw material for all creative writing (and quite a lot of nonfiction as well). Use one of the following prompts to delve into a strong emotion, and let your exploration lead you toward the beginnings of a work of memoir, fiction or poetry.

Don't be afraid to begin with brainstormed jots and lists, or snippets of conversation, or messy stream-of-consciousness musings. Think of your first step as "making clay" that can then be shaped.

Anger
Repressed anger can be a major block to creativity, as it tends to fester and cause deep soul damage. Release anger by writing about it, as a journal entry, a poem, or channeled through a fictional character. Be brutally honest, holding nothing back.

Grief
Unresolved sadness in your life can be another major creativity blocker. Write about a significant place of loss you have been reticent to address. Circle around the edges, gradually going deeper into details and the emotions they stir up in you. Turn these musings into a memoir of loss, a poem, or story about a character grieving a loss--or struggling to do so.

Shame
Your deepest secrets are your deepest, truest sources of story material. To access that material, you have to bravely allow those secrets to come to the surface, at least in your own consciousness. Write a list that completes this sentence: "I could never tell...." Feel free to throw in some pseudo secrets and to scribble out anything you are completely mortified to admit. The goal is to think about and acknowledge these deeper stories. The act of acknowledging them to yourself will allow you to tap into the power this material has.  You might find, in giving your secrets to a fictional caretaker to grapple with, the old shame releases its hold on you.

Fear
Being scared is one of the key drivers of all human behavior. It often tinges even places where we should feel most confident or at ease. Write about the things that consistently leave you uneasy or even terrify you. What worst-case scenarios often invade your imagination? Write about them in detail. Put a fictional character through your worst fears. How will he or she cope?

Love
Desire and longing--inner passion--are powerful drivers that can combat fear. Think of a time when you fell in love, whether with a person, a place, or a discovered passion for something. Write about that experience, either as memoir, poem, or channeled through a fictional character's slightly different details. What did this person, place, thing, experience call forth from you (or him/her)? What fullness did it offer you (him/her)?

Comfort
A desire for peace and harmony is a deep longing of the human heart. Write about a time/place when you experienced being fully welcomed and loved. Include as much detail as possible. Alternately, think of what kinds of moments, relationships, or environments would enable you to experience comfort and peace. Describe it for yourself or a fictional character.

Pivotal Moments
This is a mix-and-match exercise for exploring emotion in all its complexity. Choose a word or phrase from each list to select a mattering moment. Consider why it is significant to you, or a fictional character you create. How did/does it shift your/her self concept, approach to tasks, relationships? Write a memoir piece, poem, or short story.

List A
first, last, best, worst

List B
memory, accident, surprise, school day, class, performance, game, event, outing, vacation, holiday, pet, project, date, kiss, relationship, job, car, home

Final discussion

At the end of our time, we'll wrap up with sharing a little of what each person has written or a reflection on the exercise chosen and what was gleaned from the experience.

Which of these prompts appeal to you most? What is  your experience with retreat workshops?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Not all research materials are created equal. Take anything you find on the Internet with a grain of salt, especially Wikipedia articles that aren’t heavily annotated with cross references to reputable sources (ones that are fact-checked).

Is the person who wrote the book you’ve picked up genuinely considered an expert in the field? Are the reviews positive? Seek published reviews, not simply those posted on Amazon, which anyone could write, even someone with an axe to grind—like a jilted lover or former student who flunked the author’s class because he was too lazy to do any of the assignments.

Photo credit: kakisky from morguefile.com
Be aware that even published reviews can reflect some strange biases that don’t necessarily negate the value of the author’s work. Agendas abound in academia especially, and a young scholar might try to build a reputation levying strange accusations against older scholars for not, say, spending enough time on a hobby-horse topic.

As you might gather, trying to sort out who is worth listening to can become a major time-suck. But by doing a little due diligence on a few books, you should be able to build up a short list of reputable voices on your topic, be those scholarly journals, national journalism organs, or simply well-informed bloggers.

At times, there’s really no substitute for going directly to the best source. For tips on finding experts, see my post Expertise is Everywhere, and for tips on conducting informational interviews, see my post Channel Your Inner Reporter.

How do you typically determine whether a source is high quality or simply bogus?
2:49 PM Laurel Garver
Not all research materials are created equal. Take anything you find on the Internet with a grain of salt, especially Wikipedia articles that aren’t heavily annotated with cross references to reputable sources (ones that are fact-checked).

Is the person who wrote the book you’ve picked up genuinely considered an expert in the field? Are the reviews positive? Seek published reviews, not simply those posted on Amazon, which anyone could write, even someone with an axe to grind—like a jilted lover or former student who flunked the author’s class because he was too lazy to do any of the assignments.

Photo credit: kakisky from morguefile.com
Be aware that even published reviews can reflect some strange biases that don’t necessarily negate the value of the author’s work. Agendas abound in academia especially, and a young scholar might try to build a reputation levying strange accusations against older scholars for not, say, spending enough time on a hobby-horse topic.

As you might gather, trying to sort out who is worth listening to can become a major time-suck. But by doing a little due diligence on a few books, you should be able to build up a short list of reputable voices on your topic, be those scholarly journals, national journalism organs, or simply well-informed bloggers.

At times, there’s really no substitute for going directly to the best source. For tips on finding experts, see my post Expertise is Everywhere, and for tips on conducting informational interviews, see my post Channel Your Inner Reporter.

How do you typically determine whether a source is high quality or simply bogus?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

In the past, I was pretty reticent to join Twitter. The stream design felt overwhelming, and the brevity of what could be posted seemed to favor witty one-liners over genuine engagement. But since 2012, I've learned the ropes a bit and see the benefits of the medium.

image: www.goingmobo.com
I also see a lot of habits among some tweeps that aren't compatible with my goal of making genuine connections with readers and a supportive author community.

Maybe that isn't why you're on Twitter. Fine, but don't take it personally if I choose to unfollow or even block you for some of the following behaviors.

Numbers hounds

There are a cluster of habits that point to a tweep's primary desire to have a high follower count. Unless someone is a genuine celebrity, having a followers count that is disproportionately higher than follows tells me this person cares only about appearing popular or famous.

Here are some typical numbers hound behaviors:

Random follows
This type follows every last person their followers follow, even if there is not one single point of intersection of interests. Doing this makes you look like a bot account. I will assume you hired a click farm if you have no apparent interest in the things listed in my profile.

Repeated follow, unfollow, refollow
If I choose not to follow you, it's usually because your content doesn't interest me, not because I didn't notice you. Dropping and adding over and over just so you show up in my feed merely makes you annoying. Do it enough and I'll block you.

Favorite-never-follow
Folks who repeatedly favorite my content, but when I follow them abruptly stop doing so and ignore me are clearly only motivated in building their follower counts. If you like my content, connect, but don't play stupid games like this. I'll thank you for your favorites, but I won't follow.

Pushy types

These folks want to connect, which is great, but they overstep the boundaries without taking the time to adequately build a relationship first.

Here are some behaviors I deem pushy:

Aggressive mentions
These folks drop my Twitter name into tweets with their random musings, or with information about their book for sale. Folks, this is what your own Twitter stream is for. If I'm interested, I'll favorite or retweet. But using the mention function in this way is like being a door-to-door salesman. It's invasive.

Reserve mentions for interacting with something I said, to thank me, to let me know you're giving a shout out about something I did that you liked (shared useful info., wrote a book you loved, gave helpful advice, that sort of thing).

Nonstop sales stream
If your tweets are constant "buy my book" or constant sales pitches of others, it's going to feel like nothing but noise rather than connection.

If you've been guilty of this, make sure you add value-added tweets to your stream. Use the #Discover and search for helpful #writingtips or #inspiration to retweet. If nothing else, go hit up a quotes website, gather some inspirational messages and schedule regular doses of nice and "you can do it" among the sales. I'm willing to bet those tweets will garner you the most followers. Everyone needs more positivity.

Tit-for-tat offers
If you choose to like my FB author page, great, but don't tell me you liked it and I ought to like yours back. You know why? Facebook algorithms will screw us both over if our author pages are full of fake fans. The REAL fans are exponentially less likely to see new content.

If you like my books and my page, and are genuinely seeking to be my champion. God bless you. But for Pete's sake, don't do it to oblige me to owe you favors. That's really just a form of extortion.

Offensive content
If your stream is filled with hate speech, foul language, constant put downs, whining and complaints, or p0rnographic material, I'm going to unfollow. I'm clearly not your target audience.

Note that I said "filled"--occasional grousing is normal, as is occasional salty language. But venomous verbal attacks of things I care about are not great connection-makers or conversation starters.

And erotica writers, please don't read it as "judging you" when writers of other genres like me don't follow back. Maybe we're judging ourselves, as in, I know what things would tempt me to be unfaithful to my marriage, at least in my imagination, which Jesus taught is bad for me and which St. Paul taught me to flee from. Also, I write Christian YA and I carefully curate my follows so that my part of the Twittersphere is a safe place for teens who want to live a life of faith.

Direct messages: the gray area

I have really mixed feelings about DMs. Here are the kinds of DMs I see regularly, and how I feel about them:

TrueTwit notifications
If I get a TrueTwit notification, I'll know you are carefully curating your feed, which is totally legitimate, if a bit of a hassle for me. I get not wanting bot accounts bothering you.

However, bot accounts tend to unfollow pretty quickly if you ignore them. So do other annoying types mentioned above (except the follow/unfollow/refollow--those you have to block). In the meantime, this hoop you require new followers to jump though is likely to turn away good, genuine connections who don't have time for your hoop routine. Consider ditching TrueTwit, and simply follow back only those accounts with interesting content.

Buy links
This is just a private version of aggressive mentions. I ignore these.

I'd prefer you showed me in your feed that your book is one I want to read. Show me cover art, share interesting interviews you gave to bloggers, share snippets, that sort of thing--in your own feed.

Other site links
Mostly these are tit-for-tat Facebook like "suggestions"--like my page, I'll like yours. I highly doubt the like I give will be returned. And I don't really want fake fans anyway. I ignore these requests also.

Better that you periodically tweet your FB page link (a few times of week max), so that your real fans can find it.

Bizarre comments or threats or links
I assume your account has been hacked if you tell me someone is spreading rumors, or you ask for financial help, or you send a condensed link with a vague teaser like "you won't believe this!" I might do a mention ("@joeschmoe bogus DMs are being sent from your account") in hopes you will see it, and then unfollow you just to distance myself from your hacker.

Get-to-know-you questions
These can be wonderful or just weird.

A good one might be, "I liked the blog post you shared about dialect.  What book or author do you think does that well?" or "I loved the Harry Potter books, too. Which is your favorite?" or something along those lines. It shows that you engage with my content and want connection. As long as you don't require great effort for me to answer ("how can I get published?") or get too personal ("are you married?"), I will likely interact.

If it's clear you have a stock question that's auto-sent to every follower, ones that tie to your content but show no knowledge of mine, I'm apt to ignore. "Who are your favorite cowboy hero's?" was one such question posed to me. That assumes I like cowboy romances--I don't--and that I don't mind grammatical errors like your inability to make the word hero plural (it's heroes, silly). I promptly unfollowed this writer, despite the good writing tips she shared in her feed. The DM made it clear she's far more interested in selling and engaging with readers than being part of a writing community.

Free content
This is actually a decent tactic, giving a Twitter follower access to free content like a short story, if they'd like to know more about you and your writing style/genre/themes. It is a gift that invites deeper connection, a generous gesture.

I'd caution to not do this with brand-new followers. Interact for a while first. Otherwise, it will seem pushy.

Requests to connect elsewhere or promo opportunities
Sometimes folks use DMs to ask how to connect on sites like Goodreads or Pinterest, because they'd like to connect there too. That's perfectly fine. I'll answer when I have time to respond.

I've been offered guest posts through DM also. The most effective ones say something complimentary about my content and give a link, so I can see what their site is like. Because I write religious fiction, I have to take care to stick with sites that aren't promoting erotica or occult material. That's just basic branding.

So if you want to reach out to followers this way, think value-added and friendly, helping connection.

What Twitter behaviors do you consider turnoffs? What alternate suggestions do you have for folks who've made these mistakes?
12:03 PM Laurel Garver
In the past, I was pretty reticent to join Twitter. The stream design felt overwhelming, and the brevity of what could be posted seemed to favor witty one-liners over genuine engagement. But since 2012, I've learned the ropes a bit and see the benefits of the medium.

image: www.goingmobo.com
I also see a lot of habits among some tweeps that aren't compatible with my goal of making genuine connections with readers and a supportive author community.

Maybe that isn't why you're on Twitter. Fine, but don't take it personally if I choose to unfollow or even block you for some of the following behaviors.

Numbers hounds

There are a cluster of habits that point to a tweep's primary desire to have a high follower count. Unless someone is a genuine celebrity, having a followers count that is disproportionately higher than follows tells me this person cares only about appearing popular or famous.

Here are some typical numbers hound behaviors:

Random follows
This type follows every last person their followers follow, even if there is not one single point of intersection of interests. Doing this makes you look like a bot account. I will assume you hired a click farm if you have no apparent interest in the things listed in my profile.

Repeated follow, unfollow, refollow
If I choose not to follow you, it's usually because your content doesn't interest me, not because I didn't notice you. Dropping and adding over and over just so you show up in my feed merely makes you annoying. Do it enough and I'll block you.

Favorite-never-follow
Folks who repeatedly favorite my content, but when I follow them abruptly stop doing so and ignore me are clearly only motivated in building their follower counts. If you like my content, connect, but don't play stupid games like this. I'll thank you for your favorites, but I won't follow.

Pushy types

These folks want to connect, which is great, but they overstep the boundaries without taking the time to adequately build a relationship first.

Here are some behaviors I deem pushy:

Aggressive mentions
These folks drop my Twitter name into tweets with their random musings, or with information about their book for sale. Folks, this is what your own Twitter stream is for. If I'm interested, I'll favorite or retweet. But using the mention function in this way is like being a door-to-door salesman. It's invasive.

Reserve mentions for interacting with something I said, to thank me, to let me know you're giving a shout out about something I did that you liked (shared useful info., wrote a book you loved, gave helpful advice, that sort of thing).

Nonstop sales stream
If your tweets are constant "buy my book" or constant sales pitches of others, it's going to feel like nothing but noise rather than connection.

If you've been guilty of this, make sure you add value-added tweets to your stream. Use the #Discover and search for helpful #writingtips or #inspiration to retweet. If nothing else, go hit up a quotes website, gather some inspirational messages and schedule regular doses of nice and "you can do it" among the sales. I'm willing to bet those tweets will garner you the most followers. Everyone needs more positivity.

Tit-for-tat offers
If you choose to like my FB author page, great, but don't tell me you liked it and I ought to like yours back. You know why? Facebook algorithms will screw us both over if our author pages are full of fake fans. The REAL fans are exponentially less likely to see new content.

If you like my books and my page, and are genuinely seeking to be my champion. God bless you. But for Pete's sake, don't do it to oblige me to owe you favors. That's really just a form of extortion.

Offensive content
If your stream is filled with hate speech, foul language, constant put downs, whining and complaints, or p0rnographic material, I'm going to unfollow. I'm clearly not your target audience.

Note that I said "filled"--occasional grousing is normal, as is occasional salty language. But venomous verbal attacks of things I care about are not great connection-makers or conversation starters.

And erotica writers, please don't read it as "judging you" when writers of other genres like me don't follow back. Maybe we're judging ourselves, as in, I know what things would tempt me to be unfaithful to my marriage, at least in my imagination, which Jesus taught is bad for me and which St. Paul taught me to flee from. Also, I write Christian YA and I carefully curate my follows so that my part of the Twittersphere is a safe place for teens who want to live a life of faith.

Direct messages: the gray area

I have really mixed feelings about DMs. Here are the kinds of DMs I see regularly, and how I feel about them:

TrueTwit notifications
If I get a TrueTwit notification, I'll know you are carefully curating your feed, which is totally legitimate, if a bit of a hassle for me. I get not wanting bot accounts bothering you.

However, bot accounts tend to unfollow pretty quickly if you ignore them. So do other annoying types mentioned above (except the follow/unfollow/refollow--those you have to block). In the meantime, this hoop you require new followers to jump though is likely to turn away good, genuine connections who don't have time for your hoop routine. Consider ditching TrueTwit, and simply follow back only those accounts with interesting content.

Buy links
This is just a private version of aggressive mentions. I ignore these.

I'd prefer you showed me in your feed that your book is one I want to read. Show me cover art, share interesting interviews you gave to bloggers, share snippets, that sort of thing--in your own feed.

Other site links
Mostly these are tit-for-tat Facebook like "suggestions"--like my page, I'll like yours. I highly doubt the like I give will be returned. And I don't really want fake fans anyway. I ignore these requests also.

Better that you periodically tweet your FB page link (a few times of week max), so that your real fans can find it.

Bizarre comments or threats or links
I assume your account has been hacked if you tell me someone is spreading rumors, or you ask for financial help, or you send a condensed link with a vague teaser like "you won't believe this!" I might do a mention ("@joeschmoe bogus DMs are being sent from your account") in hopes you will see it, and then unfollow you just to distance myself from your hacker.

Get-to-know-you questions
These can be wonderful or just weird.

A good one might be, "I liked the blog post you shared about dialect.  What book or author do you think does that well?" or "I loved the Harry Potter books, too. Which is your favorite?" or something along those lines. It shows that you engage with my content and want connection. As long as you don't require great effort for me to answer ("how can I get published?") or get too personal ("are you married?"), I will likely interact.

If it's clear you have a stock question that's auto-sent to every follower, ones that tie to your content but show no knowledge of mine, I'm apt to ignore. "Who are your favorite cowboy hero's?" was one such question posed to me. That assumes I like cowboy romances--I don't--and that I don't mind grammatical errors like your inability to make the word hero plural (it's heroes, silly). I promptly unfollowed this writer, despite the good writing tips she shared in her feed. The DM made it clear she's far more interested in selling and engaging with readers than being part of a writing community.

Free content
This is actually a decent tactic, giving a Twitter follower access to free content like a short story, if they'd like to know more about you and your writing style/genre/themes. It is a gift that invites deeper connection, a generous gesture.

I'd caution to not do this with brand-new followers. Interact for a while first. Otherwise, it will seem pushy.

Requests to connect elsewhere or promo opportunities
Sometimes folks use DMs to ask how to connect on sites like Goodreads or Pinterest, because they'd like to connect there too. That's perfectly fine. I'll answer when I have time to respond.

I've been offered guest posts through DM also. The most effective ones say something complimentary about my content and give a link, so I can see what their site is like. Because I write religious fiction, I have to take care to stick with sites that aren't promoting erotica or occult material. That's just basic branding.

So if you want to reach out to followers this way, think value-added and friendly, helping connection.

What Twitter behaviors do you consider turnoffs? What alternate suggestions do you have for folks who've made these mistakes?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Writing effective dialogue is tricky, no doubt about it. It can't be pointless and boring. It can't be too fast or too slow. But most of all, it can't be confusing.

An important consideration in creating dialogue clarity is paragraphing--which lines should be grouped together, and which ones shouldn't.

I think the best way to learn is to analyze an example, then look for guiding principles.

Below is a section of an unpublished middle grade short story of mine about a bunch of preteen musicians at a competition, trying to psych each other out. It's in third person limited omniscient POV, told by eleven-year-old Callie.

Because the audience is younger readers, more of the dialogue has either a tag (he said), or an action beat (Joe smiled), or a description than would be strictly necessary for adult readers. But note that there is variety in how speakers are identified. Constant "he said...she said" can be as grating as no attribution is confusing.

Note also in the fifth through seventh paragraphs, there is one actor, but noticeable shifts in emphasis, which calls for separate paragraphs. Callie goes from processing to decision to acting on a decision. Those paragraph breaks are an important clue to the reader to pay attention, something is changing with each new paragraph.

---

The flautist beside her kicked her legs out straight. Callie flinched when she noticed a wide run snaking from ankle to knee of the girl’s dark tights. [Callie's observation, her POV]

“Trumpet, huh?” the flautist said. She tossed her hair and wrinkled her nose at Callie. “You know a brass player has never won this contest.” [flautist response]

Callie set down her horn and said, “You have a run in your tights.”

The flautist narrowed her eyes. “Nice try, brassy. I’m gonna wipe the stage with you.”

A snarky comeback tumbled to the front of Callie’s brain. Then she remembered the boy who’d been stalking the hall, bragging. He came back from the audition red-eyed and smelling of puke. Two minutes under the bright lights and his toughness had vanished. A scared kid among other scared kids. Why couldn’t anyone be real about it? Or at least less jerky? [Callie's interior mental and emotional processing]

Could I? she wondered. Could I play a new tune, a different game? [Callie's crux moment thought]

Callie sat up straighter. “I have an extra pair you can borrow if you want.” [Callie acting on decision]

“What?”

“Tights. I have extras. You want them?”

The flautist looked at her leg and screamed. “What am I gonna—? I can’t go out there like—!” Her lips pressed into a thin line.

Callie pulled a crinkly cellophane package from her bag and set it on the flautist’s lap. “Here, please take them, um…”

“Amber,” the flautist whispered, sniffling. “I’m Amber.”

“I’m Callie.” She jutted her chin toward the bathroom. “Go ahead, there’s time.”

Amber nodded, clutched the tights, then jogged down the hall.

The boy violinist a seat down from Amber smiled and gave Callie a thumbs-up. “Nice strategy,” he said. “One down, eighty six to go?” [new actor introduced]

Callie shook her head and rolled her eyes. [action beat only reaction]

“Let me guess…I have spaghetti sauce on my shirt? Mismatching socks? Come on, Trumpet Girl, bring it on.  I can take it.”

“You look fine. Good luck.” Callie blew another warm breath into her horn.

“Yeah, right. It is spaghetti sauce, isn’t it? Man, I knew it!” He jumped up and ran for the bathrooms, nearly banging into Amber. [violinist action and speech, segue to new actor]

“What’s his problem?” Amber asked as she took her seat.

“Nerves, I guess.”

“Hey, Callie? Um…thanks for the tights. They’re way nicer than the ones I was wearing.”

“No problem.”

Amber bit her lip. “Can I ask you something?”

“I guess.”

“How come you’re being nice to me? I was, well, not to you.”

Callie shrugged. “I just don’t see the point of us all snarling at each other.”

“But it’s all part of the game. Throw the other guy off balance and all that.”

Photo credit: ronnieb from morguefile.com
“I came here to play music, not mind games. Honestly, does putting other kids down make anyone a better musician?”

Amber picked a hangnail. “I think it just makes me tense, trying to look tough.”

Callie nodded. “Exactly. I mean, what good is that?”

“So how do you not get nervous?”

Callie twirled the mouthpiece in her pocket. “I remember how it feels when I’m playing. Like there’s liquid gold flowing from my breath, through my horn and filling everything with light and happiness.”

Amber stared at her, wide-eyed.

“That sounded totally nuts, didn’t it?” Callie said.

“No. It sounded nice. Light and happiness. I like that.”

The boy violinist stomped up the hall. He stopped in front of Callie’s chair and yelled, “I look fine! Totally fine!” [previous actor returns. His actions and speech]

“Of course you do. Didn’t I say that?” Callie replied.

“She did, I heard her,” said a cellist two chairs down. “So how about you stop hollering? I’m trying to meditate.”  She closed her eyes and laid her hands, palms up, in her lap. [tertiary character speech and action]

----

What are some key takeaways from this example?

1. Same actor and speaker in a paragraph.

2. New actor or speaker, new paragraph

3. Segues to new actors need to be clear.

4. Use not only tags, but also action beats, descriptions, distinctive diction (dialect, pet phrases), address to another speaker ("Hey, Joe"), or mention of a relationship ("Mom wouldn't like it") to distinguish speakers.

5. Reactions that are unspoken--action beats or the POV character's thoughts--should be separate paragraphs from what they are reacting to. See #1 above.

6. Moments of interiority or even action interspersed in dialogue should be paragraphed topically or thematically, with breaks for new topics or themes or actors (see THIS post for more examples)

For further reading, I recommend Gloria Kempton's Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2004.

Do you find paragraphing dialogue difficult or easy? Why?

12:08 PM Laurel Garver
Writing effective dialogue is tricky, no doubt about it. It can't be pointless and boring. It can't be too fast or too slow. But most of all, it can't be confusing.

An important consideration in creating dialogue clarity is paragraphing--which lines should be grouped together, and which ones shouldn't.

I think the best way to learn is to analyze an example, then look for guiding principles.

Below is a section of an unpublished middle grade short story of mine about a bunch of preteen musicians at a competition, trying to psych each other out. It's in third person limited omniscient POV, told by eleven-year-old Callie.

Because the audience is younger readers, more of the dialogue has either a tag (he said), or an action beat (Joe smiled), or a description than would be strictly necessary for adult readers. But note that there is variety in how speakers are identified. Constant "he said...she said" can be as grating as no attribution is confusing.

Note also in the fifth through seventh paragraphs, there is one actor, but noticeable shifts in emphasis, which calls for separate paragraphs. Callie goes from processing to decision to acting on a decision. Those paragraph breaks are an important clue to the reader to pay attention, something is changing with each new paragraph.

---

The flautist beside her kicked her legs out straight. Callie flinched when she noticed a wide run snaking from ankle to knee of the girl’s dark tights. [Callie's observation, her POV]

“Trumpet, huh?” the flautist said. She tossed her hair and wrinkled her nose at Callie. “You know a brass player has never won this contest.” [flautist response]

Callie set down her horn and said, “You have a run in your tights.”

The flautist narrowed her eyes. “Nice try, brassy. I’m gonna wipe the stage with you.”

A snarky comeback tumbled to the front of Callie’s brain. Then she remembered the boy who’d been stalking the hall, bragging. He came back from the audition red-eyed and smelling of puke. Two minutes under the bright lights and his toughness had vanished. A scared kid among other scared kids. Why couldn’t anyone be real about it? Or at least less jerky? [Callie's interior mental and emotional processing]

Could I? she wondered. Could I play a new tune, a different game? [Callie's crux moment thought]

Callie sat up straighter. “I have an extra pair you can borrow if you want.” [Callie acting on decision]

“What?”

“Tights. I have extras. You want them?”

The flautist looked at her leg and screamed. “What am I gonna—? I can’t go out there like—!” Her lips pressed into a thin line.

Callie pulled a crinkly cellophane package from her bag and set it on the flautist’s lap. “Here, please take them, um…”

“Amber,” the flautist whispered, sniffling. “I’m Amber.”

“I’m Callie.” She jutted her chin toward the bathroom. “Go ahead, there’s time.”

Amber nodded, clutched the tights, then jogged down the hall.

The boy violinist a seat down from Amber smiled and gave Callie a thumbs-up. “Nice strategy,” he said. “One down, eighty six to go?” [new actor introduced]

Callie shook her head and rolled her eyes. [action beat only reaction]

“Let me guess…I have spaghetti sauce on my shirt? Mismatching socks? Come on, Trumpet Girl, bring it on.  I can take it.”

“You look fine. Good luck.” Callie blew another warm breath into her horn.

“Yeah, right. It is spaghetti sauce, isn’t it? Man, I knew it!” He jumped up and ran for the bathrooms, nearly banging into Amber. [violinist action and speech, segue to new actor]

“What’s his problem?” Amber asked as she took her seat.

“Nerves, I guess.”

“Hey, Callie? Um…thanks for the tights. They’re way nicer than the ones I was wearing.”

“No problem.”

Amber bit her lip. “Can I ask you something?”

“I guess.”

“How come you’re being nice to me? I was, well, not to you.”

Callie shrugged. “I just don’t see the point of us all snarling at each other.”

“But it’s all part of the game. Throw the other guy off balance and all that.”

Photo credit: ronnieb from morguefile.com
“I came here to play music, not mind games. Honestly, does putting other kids down make anyone a better musician?”

Amber picked a hangnail. “I think it just makes me tense, trying to look tough.”

Callie nodded. “Exactly. I mean, what good is that?”

“So how do you not get nervous?”

Callie twirled the mouthpiece in her pocket. “I remember how it feels when I’m playing. Like there’s liquid gold flowing from my breath, through my horn and filling everything with light and happiness.”

Amber stared at her, wide-eyed.

“That sounded totally nuts, didn’t it?” Callie said.

“No. It sounded nice. Light and happiness. I like that.”

The boy violinist stomped up the hall. He stopped in front of Callie’s chair and yelled, “I look fine! Totally fine!” [previous actor returns. His actions and speech]

“Of course you do. Didn’t I say that?” Callie replied.

“She did, I heard her,” said a cellist two chairs down. “So how about you stop hollering? I’m trying to meditate.”  She closed her eyes and laid her hands, palms up, in her lap. [tertiary character speech and action]

----

What are some key takeaways from this example?

1. Same actor and speaker in a paragraph.

2. New actor or speaker, new paragraph

3. Segues to new actors need to be clear.

4. Use not only tags, but also action beats, descriptions, distinctive diction (dialect, pet phrases), address to another speaker ("Hey, Joe"), or mention of a relationship ("Mom wouldn't like it") to distinguish speakers.

5. Reactions that are unspoken--action beats or the POV character's thoughts--should be separate paragraphs from what they are reacting to. See #1 above.

6. Moments of interiority or even action interspersed in dialogue should be paragraphed topically or thematically, with breaks for new topics or themes or actors (see THIS post for more examples)

For further reading, I recommend Gloria Kempton's Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2004.

Do you find paragraphing dialogue difficult or easy? Why?