Friday, April 30, 2010

I've seen a number of posts recently on the topic of character naming. I happen to love researching and choosing names and have built up a little library of name books, including a few I picked up overseas on Irish names and Welsh names.

I thought it might be fun to have a little playtime with an oldie but goodie from my library, The Baby Name Personality Survey by Bruce Lansky and Barry Sinrod (New York: Meadowbrook Press, 1990). The authors surveyed 150,000 people from across the nation and asked their impressions and expectations of image, personality and appearance for 1,400 names. (These are heavily influenced by popular culture, so keep in mind the book is 20 years old.)

Here's the entry for my MC:
Danielle (Hebrew) judged by God
Danielle is pictured as a pretty, exotic Frenchwoman who is intelligent, well-bred and reserved.

Would you like to know what the survey says about your character's name (or yours, or one of your kid's)? Drop me a note in the comments. I'll post the results Monday.
Keep in mind the book covers common names; recent creations like Braden and Jace aren't included.
Friday, April 30, 2010 Laurel Garver
I've seen a number of posts recently on the topic of character naming. I happen to love researching and choosing names and have built up a little library of name books, including a few I picked up overseas on Irish names and Welsh names.

I thought it might be fun to have a little playtime with an oldie but goodie from my library, The Baby Name Personality Survey by Bruce Lansky and Barry Sinrod (New York: Meadowbrook Press, 1990). The authors surveyed 150,000 people from across the nation and asked their impressions and expectations of image, personality and appearance for 1,400 names. (These are heavily influenced by popular culture, so keep in mind the book is 20 years old.)

Here's the entry for my MC:
Danielle (Hebrew) judged by God
Danielle is pictured as a pretty, exotic Frenchwoman who is intelligent, well-bred and reserved.

Would you like to know what the survey says about your character's name (or yours, or one of your kid's)? Drop me a note in the comments. I'll post the results Monday.
Keep in mind the book covers common names; recent creations like Braden and Jace aren't included.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Copy-editing for my job has been eye opening this week. Dense and difficult ideas are par for the course in the lit-crit essays that cross my desk, but my current headache is an author's style tying me in knots. He's enamored of adding "softening phrases" and asides to nearly every sentence. I'm ready to tear my hair out after reading line upon line like this: "What he means here, then, is blah-bitty blah, that is, yada yada yada." This author has what I'd call verbal tics he probably thinks make his style sound conversational. For me as a reader, it's just incredibly annoying. His style makes the good ideas murkier than they need to be.

Grappling with this essay got me thinking: many of us may also suffer from the verbal tic malady. We use favorite stylistic devices or techniques over and over that sound good to us, but grate on a reader. My question is, how do you identify this problem in your own work? How do you learn to control it?

Has your work ever suffered from verbal tics? How did you know? Please share your best tips for "tic checking."
Wednesday, April 28, 2010 Laurel Garver
Copy-editing for my job has been eye opening this week. Dense and difficult ideas are par for the course in the lit-crit essays that cross my desk, but my current headache is an author's style tying me in knots. He's enamored of adding "softening phrases" and asides to nearly every sentence. I'm ready to tear my hair out after reading line upon line like this: "What he means here, then, is blah-bitty blah, that is, yada yada yada." This author has what I'd call verbal tics he probably thinks make his style sound conversational. For me as a reader, it's just incredibly annoying. His style makes the good ideas murkier than they need to be.

Grappling with this essay got me thinking: many of us may also suffer from the verbal tic malady. We use favorite stylistic devices or techniques over and over that sound good to us, but grate on a reader. My question is, how do you identify this problem in your own work? How do you learn to control it?

Has your work ever suffered from verbal tics? How did you know? Please share your best tips for "tic checking."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Years ago I picked up a gem at a used bookstore, Georgia Heard's Writing Toward Home. The title spoke to my identity crisis of the moment: My parents had retired to Florida, overwhelming me with a sense "you can't ever go home again." Heard's pithy and poetic chapters on developing a creative life are worth savoring. In a chapter entitled "Where does poetry hide?" she includes this poem:

Valentine for Ernest Mann
by Naomi Shihab Nye

You can't order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to a counter, say "I'll take two"
and expect it to be handed to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, "Here's my address,
write me a poem," deserves something in reply.
So I'll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them....
(Qtd. in Heard, Georgia. Writing Toward Home. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1995. p. 10.)

I found tremendous encouragement in Heard's commentary on it. She says, "We don't necessarily need to change our lives around to be writers or to be writing more. We must change the way we look at our lives. By looking at the small, everyday circumstances and happenings, we find ideas to fill volumes."

Where have you found poetic or fictional material hiding in the everyday? Have you ever had a change in perspective--how you look at your life--that opened up a well of ideas for you?
Monday, April 26, 2010 Laurel Garver
Years ago I picked up a gem at a used bookstore, Georgia Heard's Writing Toward Home. The title spoke to my identity crisis of the moment: My parents had retired to Florida, overwhelming me with a sense "you can't ever go home again." Heard's pithy and poetic chapters on developing a creative life are worth savoring. In a chapter entitled "Where does poetry hide?" she includes this poem:

Valentine for Ernest Mann
by Naomi Shihab Nye

You can't order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to a counter, say "I'll take two"
and expect it to be handed to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, "Here's my address,
write me a poem," deserves something in reply.
So I'll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them....
(Qtd. in Heard, Georgia. Writing Toward Home. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1995. p. 10.)

I found tremendous encouragement in Heard's commentary on it. She says, "We don't necessarily need to change our lives around to be writers or to be writing more. We must change the way we look at our lives. By looking at the small, everyday circumstances and happenings, we find ideas to fill volumes."

Where have you found poetic or fictional material hiding in the everyday? Have you ever had a change in perspective--how you look at your life--that opened up a well of ideas for you?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I've been hesitant to blog about this topic, because it's one of those things I hide in my writing, there to be found by those who look for it, but I hope not so jarring that it draws attention to itself. But every once in a while one of my critique partners will come across a passage like this in my work:

Snippets of my life appear between arty shots of hydrant rainbows and sullen subway riders. Wide-eyed child watches a huge Snoopy balloon soar past in the Macy’s parade. Skinny kid with braids pokes puddles in Prospect Park. So-serious teen perches on the Public Library steps and sketches lions.

Then come the blinks and the questions: "what is this, poetry?"

Um, yeah. See, I almost can't help myself. I'm terribly addicted to the sound toys of poets, assonance and consonance. Assonance, for those of you who've avoided lit classes, is a repetition of vowel sounds; consonance, of consonants. Alliteration is sometimes used as a blanket term for both, though it is often applied only to repeated initial sounds. Assonance and consonance are repeated sounds from anywhere in a word--beginning, middle or end.

I've decided to come clean about my addiction because A) it's national poetry month; B) I hope others find poetic devices cool rather than hopelessly nerdy; and C) I believe these devices can make anyone's writing more musical.

The thinking behind sound devices is often onomatopoetic; the sound and meaning are linked. If you want to convey a sense of something sliding, for example, you'd choose hissing, sibilant words containing "s", "sh" and "sw." For example, "In her rush, she slipped sidelong, smearing grease along one sleeve."

Have a character in pain? Choose words with lots of O sounds (both short and long) to make the passage seem to groan on the page. For example, "John groped for his coat in hopes the Tylenol bottle hadn't dropped through the hole in his pocket."

I'm not always so calculated about how I choose sounds to achieve a particular effect. It's very easy to overdo it. But I do find that playing around with word choices can yield a more aurally pleasant experience.

In the passage I quoted above from my current WIP, I paired "child" with "wide-eyed" and "kid" with "skinny" rather than the reverse because of the shared vowel sounds. The Macy's parade balloon could have been any cartoon character. I chose "Snoopy" for the double blessing of the "oo" assonance to match "huge" and "balloon" and the "s" consonance to match "soar", "past" and "Macy's". The last two sentences in my example pop with a plethora of "p" repetitions (as did that sentence. See? I can't stop myself!).

Is writing like this crazy time-consuming? I suppose it could be if you aren't attuned to the sounds of words. And if you push the technique too far, you can end up with incoherent sound experiments that seem like bad James Joyce parodies. (Does the world need another Finnegans Wake or Ulysses?)

If you'd like to try incorporating sound devices in your prose, here's what I recommend:
~Study the greats (Plath and Ginsberg are two who come to mind).
~Go lightly.
~Choose lingo that's natural to your character.
~Find ideas in a rhyming dictionary (especially for assonance).
~Play.

See if some word choice changes can make a plodding passage begin to sing.

How about you? Do you like sound devices? Never notice them? Find them gimmicky? Are they something you'd like to try in your work?
Thursday, April 22, 2010 Laurel Garver
I've been hesitant to blog about this topic, because it's one of those things I hide in my writing, there to be found by those who look for it, but I hope not so jarring that it draws attention to itself. But every once in a while one of my critique partners will come across a passage like this in my work:

Snippets of my life appear between arty shots of hydrant rainbows and sullen subway riders. Wide-eyed child watches a huge Snoopy balloon soar past in the Macy’s parade. Skinny kid with braids pokes puddles in Prospect Park. So-serious teen perches on the Public Library steps and sketches lions.

Then come the blinks and the questions: "what is this, poetry?"

Um, yeah. See, I almost can't help myself. I'm terribly addicted to the sound toys of poets, assonance and consonance. Assonance, for those of you who've avoided lit classes, is a repetition of vowel sounds; consonance, of consonants. Alliteration is sometimes used as a blanket term for both, though it is often applied only to repeated initial sounds. Assonance and consonance are repeated sounds from anywhere in a word--beginning, middle or end.

I've decided to come clean about my addiction because A) it's national poetry month; B) I hope others find poetic devices cool rather than hopelessly nerdy; and C) I believe these devices can make anyone's writing more musical.

The thinking behind sound devices is often onomatopoetic; the sound and meaning are linked. If you want to convey a sense of something sliding, for example, you'd choose hissing, sibilant words containing "s", "sh" and "sw." For example, "In her rush, she slipped sidelong, smearing grease along one sleeve."

Have a character in pain? Choose words with lots of O sounds (both short and long) to make the passage seem to groan on the page. For example, "John groped for his coat in hopes the Tylenol bottle hadn't dropped through the hole in his pocket."

I'm not always so calculated about how I choose sounds to achieve a particular effect. It's very easy to overdo it. But I do find that playing around with word choices can yield a more aurally pleasant experience.

In the passage I quoted above from my current WIP, I paired "child" with "wide-eyed" and "kid" with "skinny" rather than the reverse because of the shared vowel sounds. The Macy's parade balloon could have been any cartoon character. I chose "Snoopy" for the double blessing of the "oo" assonance to match "huge" and "balloon" and the "s" consonance to match "soar", "past" and "Macy's". The last two sentences in my example pop with a plethora of "p" repetitions (as did that sentence. See? I can't stop myself!).

Is writing like this crazy time-consuming? I suppose it could be if you aren't attuned to the sounds of words. And if you push the technique too far, you can end up with incoherent sound experiments that seem like bad James Joyce parodies. (Does the world need another Finnegans Wake or Ulysses?)

If you'd like to try incorporating sound devices in your prose, here's what I recommend:
~Study the greats (Plath and Ginsberg are two who come to mind).
~Go lightly.
~Choose lingo that's natural to your character.
~Find ideas in a rhyming dictionary (especially for assonance).
~Play.

See if some word choice changes can make a plodding passage begin to sing.

How about you? Do you like sound devices? Never notice them? Find them gimmicky? Are they something you'd like to try in your work?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"A penny saved is a penny earned," says Ben Franklin (or St. Ben as he's usually perceived here in Philly). It's a maxim that our "buy now, pay later" culture would do well to heed when it comes to financial matters.

The problem comes in extrapolating this idea to every area of life. There are times when being parsimonious, frugal and thrifty are not good. Dickens dramatized a life of thrift taken to extreme in A Christmas Carol. In Ebenezer Scrooge we see a frugality of money and of feeling. Scrooge's background explains much of his parsimony, and at his core is a soul cut off from the sources that could heal it. He learns in the course of the story that true wealth is found in extravagance and generosity.

I've been deep in the revision process for many months now, and I'm realizing that parsimony has no place. This is not the time to hoard hard-earned words. The more I resist completely chucking pages, the more I become a Scrooge. I become hardened and closed to my characters. They don't speak to me, and the story dies.

Early drafts are a road map, not the treasure itself. Be brave, friends, and willing to freely and extravagantly rewrite every single word of your book if necessary. That hard-earned currency of character and story that came in the drafting process needs space to breathe and the freedom to surprise you still in revision. Open the window and toss out the coins like Scrooge on Christmas morning. The generosity will repay dividends you can't yet imagine.

Do you struggle with a frugal heart in your writing and revising? What scares you about being an extravagant reviser? How does Scrooge's story encourage you?
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 Laurel Garver
"A penny saved is a penny earned," says Ben Franklin (or St. Ben as he's usually perceived here in Philly). It's a maxim that our "buy now, pay later" culture would do well to heed when it comes to financial matters.

The problem comes in extrapolating this idea to every area of life. There are times when being parsimonious, frugal and thrifty are not good. Dickens dramatized a life of thrift taken to extreme in A Christmas Carol. In Ebenezer Scrooge we see a frugality of money and of feeling. Scrooge's background explains much of his parsimony, and at his core is a soul cut off from the sources that could heal it. He learns in the course of the story that true wealth is found in extravagance and generosity.

I've been deep in the revision process for many months now, and I'm realizing that parsimony has no place. This is not the time to hoard hard-earned words. The more I resist completely chucking pages, the more I become a Scrooge. I become hardened and closed to my characters. They don't speak to me, and the story dies.

Early drafts are a road map, not the treasure itself. Be brave, friends, and willing to freely and extravagantly rewrite every single word of your book if necessary. That hard-earned currency of character and story that came in the drafting process needs space to breathe and the freedom to surprise you still in revision. Open the window and toss out the coins like Scrooge on Christmas morning. The generosity will repay dividends you can't yet imagine.

Do you struggle with a frugal heart in your writing and revising? What scares you about being an extravagant reviser? How does Scrooge's story encourage you?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Welcome to the final day of my Eleventy-one awards program, celebrating my 111 followers (plus quite a few more) and their wonderful writing. Day by day, you've had a chance to see different approaches to persuasive dialogue in action. Today I reveal the top prize winner!

As in the previous days, I provide a short commentary after the winning entry that includes take-home tips to try in your own work. Today's winner, as you'll see, shows us how negotiation can be complex, yet still FUN. There are some great techniques to see here, and try at home!

Without further ado, my grand prize winner is...

Janet Johnson!

Janet won a fifteen-page critique. You can read Janet's winning novel excerpt from The Other Prince HERE.

(My publishing copyright arrangement with winners was a one-time short term use. All rights reverted to the respective authors after one week.)

====================

What I noticed immediately is how natural Janet's dialogue sounds. I found I could read this aloud in two distinct voices without any effort, just based on the word choices and cadence. I feel Bob's somewhat whiny petulance, and yet I like this guy from the beginning. He's insightful and witty about his predicament and really humble. Briann exudes a no-nonsense approach to life, and yet she, too, is insightful and a good listener to boot.

Some of the details tell us we're in a fantasy setting, but the lingo here is lighter and more contemporary feeling. It's fantasy that doesn't take itself too seriously, very like Rowling in tone. That's a plus as far as I'm concerned, because I can't read much of the "forsooth, my lord," sort high fantasy nowadays without snickering. But I digress....

Janet's piece is a persuasion you'll see in almost every genre--creation of an alliance. I learned a lot about what goes into trust-building by studying what she does here.

Trust surely comes when one feels understood and heard. Notice how Briann draws Bob out, getting him to talk about his specific fears. I love how she pulls up a bucket and sits. It's a nonverbal cue that says "I'm available, I'm invested, talk to me." She asks questions initially, but doesn't interrogate. As he opens up more, she simply reflects what he's saying to show that she's processing, taking it in.

She waits to press him to action, first by teasing, then by offering a solution. Because she has heard him out and because of the earlier teasing, he doesn't get angry at her suggestion. He instead shifts the conversation's tone to a humor sparring. It's a way of getting back onto familiar territory. Bob's more comfortable with his self-deprecating side than with the guy Briann suggests he might be. That, my friends, is some solid characterization. Go and do likewise!

Briann knows just which buttons to push to get Bob to agree to her plan. It's an interesting mix of attack, shaming, name-calling, plus compliments, reassuring, and even exposing inner self. Janet grabs many tools from the negotiation toolbox and works them to great effect in a very small space. It impressed me greatly.

What totally kicked me in the throat here, though, was Bob's inner thoughts near the end of the scene. He's sensed that not only does he have a plan for dealing with his problem, but that his relationship with Briann has subtly shifted. Or at least he's aware that he wishes it would. He reads back meaning into what just transpired and hopes intensely for just a moment, caught up in the dream of being that guy, the one Briann sees in him. That guy that Briann could love. Then...THUD, he's back to being humble old Bob. Wow. I've just seen the larger story arc play out in his head in just a handful of words. Nice. Very nice.

Technically, I think the piece would be just as effective with fewer dialogue tags. Feel free to weigh in about that in the comments.

What do you appreciate about Janet's winning entry? Which of her techniques do you want to try in your own work?
Saturday, April 17, 2010 Laurel Garver
Welcome to the final day of my Eleventy-one awards program, celebrating my 111 followers (plus quite a few more) and their wonderful writing. Day by day, you've had a chance to see different approaches to persuasive dialogue in action. Today I reveal the top prize winner!

As in the previous days, I provide a short commentary after the winning entry that includes take-home tips to try in your own work. Today's winner, as you'll see, shows us how negotiation can be complex, yet still FUN. There are some great techniques to see here, and try at home!

Without further ado, my grand prize winner is...

Janet Johnson!

Janet won a fifteen-page critique. You can read Janet's winning novel excerpt from The Other Prince HERE.

(My publishing copyright arrangement with winners was a one-time short term use. All rights reverted to the respective authors after one week.)

====================

What I noticed immediately is how natural Janet's dialogue sounds. I found I could read this aloud in two distinct voices without any effort, just based on the word choices and cadence. I feel Bob's somewhat whiny petulance, and yet I like this guy from the beginning. He's insightful and witty about his predicament and really humble. Briann exudes a no-nonsense approach to life, and yet she, too, is insightful and a good listener to boot.

Some of the details tell us we're in a fantasy setting, but the lingo here is lighter and more contemporary feeling. It's fantasy that doesn't take itself too seriously, very like Rowling in tone. That's a plus as far as I'm concerned, because I can't read much of the "forsooth, my lord," sort high fantasy nowadays without snickering. But I digress....

Janet's piece is a persuasion you'll see in almost every genre--creation of an alliance. I learned a lot about what goes into trust-building by studying what she does here.

Trust surely comes when one feels understood and heard. Notice how Briann draws Bob out, getting him to talk about his specific fears. I love how she pulls up a bucket and sits. It's a nonverbal cue that says "I'm available, I'm invested, talk to me." She asks questions initially, but doesn't interrogate. As he opens up more, she simply reflects what he's saying to show that she's processing, taking it in.

She waits to press him to action, first by teasing, then by offering a solution. Because she has heard him out and because of the earlier teasing, he doesn't get angry at her suggestion. He instead shifts the conversation's tone to a humor sparring. It's a way of getting back onto familiar territory. Bob's more comfortable with his self-deprecating side than with the guy Briann suggests he might be. That, my friends, is some solid characterization. Go and do likewise!

Briann knows just which buttons to push to get Bob to agree to her plan. It's an interesting mix of attack, shaming, name-calling, plus compliments, reassuring, and even exposing inner self. Janet grabs many tools from the negotiation toolbox and works them to great effect in a very small space. It impressed me greatly.

What totally kicked me in the throat here, though, was Bob's inner thoughts near the end of the scene. He's sensed that not only does he have a plan for dealing with his problem, but that his relationship with Briann has subtly shifted. Or at least he's aware that he wishes it would. He reads back meaning into what just transpired and hopes intensely for just a moment, caught up in the dream of being that guy, the one Briann sees in him. That guy that Briann could love. Then...THUD, he's back to being humble old Bob. Wow. I've just seen the larger story arc play out in his head in just a handful of words. Nice. Very nice.

Technically, I think the piece would be just as effective with fewer dialogue tags. Feel free to weigh in about that in the comments.

What do you appreciate about Janet's winning entry? Which of her techniques do you want to try in your own work?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Welcome to day three of my Eleventy-one awards program, celebrating my 111 followers (plus quite a few more!) and their wonderful writing. Day by day, you'll have a chance to see different approaches to persuasive dialogue in action. As your ever-analytical host, I provide a short commentary after each winning entry that includes take-home tips to try in your own work.

Without further ado, my first runner-up winner is...

Victoria Dixon!

Victoria won You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation by Deborah Tannen.

You can read Victoria's winning novel excerpt from Mourn Their Courage HERE.

(My publishing copyright arrangement with winners was a one-time short term use. All rights reverted to the respective authors after one week.)

===================

Elegant. That word sums up this delicious bit of tense dialogue. What makes it so is Victoria's use of milieu and balance.

By milieu, I mean more than just setting. Victoria draws on the larger cultural mores of her Asian setting--how the characters dress, move, gesture, emote, establish hierarchy and express intimacy is formed by a larger culture. That culture pours meaning into the deepness of a bow. Power plays in this environment happen with the flicker of an eyebrow. Friendship is given or withdrawn in the inches between to two people on a bench. In this rigid social structure, so much deep conflict is expressed in the slightest gesture or inflection or turn of phrase.

The words these two men say to one another seem, on the surface, rather bureaucratic and even dull. But the tension ripples nonetheless. How does Victoria do that? She interprets the data through Xiongli's thoughts. His interpretations guide us so we know what to make of Wu. In the West, we might see a look in the eyes as honest, a confident stride as ease. Not in this culture. These things make Xiongli uneasy. We quickly pick up that Wu's manners mark him as cocky--a force to be reckoned with.

If your writing involves any kind of world-building, whether it's a contemporary non-Western culture, an historic culture or a futuristic non-earth world, you need to establish milieu. Victoria demonstrates an important aspect of how you present the particulars of your milieu: use of a protagonist interpreter guide. Without Xiongli's hints about how to understand every gesture, this piece would have quickly become incoherent.

Victoria also balances three narrative elements very well: dialogue, action and inner thoughts/emotions. The dialogue takes on greater weight because the movement through the scene and Xiongli's reactions work alongside to heighten tension. While no actual fighting takes place, there is a constant threat of violence, from seeing a face "covered with scars," to "guards...within sword range" to a dagger clutched inside a sleeve. The constant reading of nonverbal cues also puts us on edge. We quickly realize this meeting is more than two men talking--these are representatives of two large powers, with the ability to back up any threat made.

I think I was most wowed by the insertion of Wu's fish feeding in this scene. This gesture that seems innocuous is anything but. It's a delay and diversion tactic on one hand, and a show of power on the other. It makes Wu appear calm, unruffled by this government heavy. And yet Xiongli's description of "gasping" fish and "waiting mouths" undergirds the impression that Wu holds power over his guild and can call upon them when necessary.

In the midst of all these small gestures, these men exchange threats and negotiate a way for the empire to capture an enemy that Wu's guild has been traitorously harboring. The give and take is so very diplomatic and coldly calculating, you can picture how the enemy Zhang will be brought to justice--in a swift, stealthy ambush. Chilling and powerful and incredibly page turning!

What do you appreciate about Victoria's winning entry? Which of her techniques do you want to try in your own work?
Friday, April 16, 2010 Laurel Garver
Welcome to day three of my Eleventy-one awards program, celebrating my 111 followers (plus quite a few more!) and their wonderful writing. Day by day, you'll have a chance to see different approaches to persuasive dialogue in action. As your ever-analytical host, I provide a short commentary after each winning entry that includes take-home tips to try in your own work.

Without further ado, my first runner-up winner is...

Victoria Dixon!

Victoria won You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation by Deborah Tannen.

You can read Victoria's winning novel excerpt from Mourn Their Courage HERE.

(My publishing copyright arrangement with winners was a one-time short term use. All rights reverted to the respective authors after one week.)

===================

Elegant. That word sums up this delicious bit of tense dialogue. What makes it so is Victoria's use of milieu and balance.

By milieu, I mean more than just setting. Victoria draws on the larger cultural mores of her Asian setting--how the characters dress, move, gesture, emote, establish hierarchy and express intimacy is formed by a larger culture. That culture pours meaning into the deepness of a bow. Power plays in this environment happen with the flicker of an eyebrow. Friendship is given or withdrawn in the inches between to two people on a bench. In this rigid social structure, so much deep conflict is expressed in the slightest gesture or inflection or turn of phrase.

The words these two men say to one another seem, on the surface, rather bureaucratic and even dull. But the tension ripples nonetheless. How does Victoria do that? She interprets the data through Xiongli's thoughts. His interpretations guide us so we know what to make of Wu. In the West, we might see a look in the eyes as honest, a confident stride as ease. Not in this culture. These things make Xiongli uneasy. We quickly pick up that Wu's manners mark him as cocky--a force to be reckoned with.

If your writing involves any kind of world-building, whether it's a contemporary non-Western culture, an historic culture or a futuristic non-earth world, you need to establish milieu. Victoria demonstrates an important aspect of how you present the particulars of your milieu: use of a protagonist interpreter guide. Without Xiongli's hints about how to understand every gesture, this piece would have quickly become incoherent.

Victoria also balances three narrative elements very well: dialogue, action and inner thoughts/emotions. The dialogue takes on greater weight because the movement through the scene and Xiongli's reactions work alongside to heighten tension. While no actual fighting takes place, there is a constant threat of violence, from seeing a face "covered with scars," to "guards...within sword range" to a dagger clutched inside a sleeve. The constant reading of nonverbal cues also puts us on edge. We quickly realize this meeting is more than two men talking--these are representatives of two large powers, with the ability to back up any threat made.

I think I was most wowed by the insertion of Wu's fish feeding in this scene. This gesture that seems innocuous is anything but. It's a delay and diversion tactic on one hand, and a show of power on the other. It makes Wu appear calm, unruffled by this government heavy. And yet Xiongli's description of "gasping" fish and "waiting mouths" undergirds the impression that Wu holds power over his guild and can call upon them when necessary.

In the midst of all these small gestures, these men exchange threats and negotiate a way for the empire to capture an enemy that Wu's guild has been traitorously harboring. The give and take is so very diplomatic and coldly calculating, you can picture how the enemy Zhang will be brought to justice--in a swift, stealthy ambush. Chilling and powerful and incredibly page turning!

What do you appreciate about Victoria's winning entry? Which of her techniques do you want to try in your own work?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Welcome to day two of my Eleventy-one awards program, celebrating my 111 followers and their wonderful writing. Day by day, you'll have a chance to see different approaches to persuasive dialogue in action. As your ever-analytical host, I provide a short commentary after each winning entry that includes take-home tips to try in your own work.

Without further ado, my second runner-up winner is...

Tricia O'Brien!

Tricia won an eight-page critique. You can read Tricia's winning story excerpt from
"Princess Charming" HERE.

(My publishing copyright arrangement with winners was a one-time short term use. All rights reverted to the respective authors after one week.)

=========================

Tricia's use of detail and description is important for cluing you in that this isn't a contemporary setting, but a fairy-tale-esque one. But she doesn't belabor the point. There are just enough "telling details" for the reader to sense the wealth, pomp and especially the MCs discomfort. The contrast of Charming's colloquial inner voice with the formality of the situation shows us she's being forced into a defensive position.

Looking for a way to make your antagonist more formidable? Have him force a meeting somewhere he is comfortable and in control and your protagonist is disadvantaged and out of her comfort zone.

The way father and daughter attempt to chip away at one another is clever indeed. King Ormond presses again and again by calling upon lofty themes of destiny and duty and calling. Charming refuses to play the game on his terms. She acts at her "maximum capacity" (as James Frey calls it in How to Write a D**n Good Novel) and uses every skill in her arsenal to defend herself. Charming's feistiness is what makes this piece sing. Nothing irritates me more as a reader than the helpless wimp who capitulates without putting up any resistance. Even Jesus wrestled with God in Gethsemane about facing the cross. Give your characters a spine, please!

Charming openly defies the king, first by questioning the validity of his interpretation. Seeing that her mother is sympathetic (and a potential ally), she highlights the personal risk she'd face on this quest. In doing so, she's shifted the ground under the king. He can stick with his line of argument, but he risks losing the queen's goodwill.

When you find your characters' arguments becoming a little too predictable or boring, consider following Tricia's lead. Add a third party witness who isn't actively taking sides and see how it can add complexity and alter the techniques your characters use to try to get their way.

The more the king tries to boss and bully, notice how Charming emphasizes her own unfitness. Her hope is to gain advantage in her cause by showing herself weak. This kind of move might seem counter-intuitive, but it's effecting and real. It tells you a lot about what kind of girl she is--quick-witted and self-deprecating and likely to approach problems creatively.

Once her father stops bullying and instead appeals to her uniqueness, he reclaims the superior position of sympathy. She must take on the quest because no one else can--and people are counting on her. To continue to defy at this point will no longer earn Charming any sympathy from the queen or the courtiers. Her options for escape are cut off. She capitulates.

What do you appreciate about Tricia's winning entry? Which of her techniques do you want to try in your own work?
Thursday, April 15, 2010 Laurel Garver
Welcome to day two of my Eleventy-one awards program, celebrating my 111 followers and their wonderful writing. Day by day, you'll have a chance to see different approaches to persuasive dialogue in action. As your ever-analytical host, I provide a short commentary after each winning entry that includes take-home tips to try in your own work.

Without further ado, my second runner-up winner is...

Tricia O'Brien!

Tricia won an eight-page critique. You can read Tricia's winning story excerpt from
"Princess Charming" HERE.

(My publishing copyright arrangement with winners was a one-time short term use. All rights reverted to the respective authors after one week.)

=========================

Tricia's use of detail and description is important for cluing you in that this isn't a contemporary setting, but a fairy-tale-esque one. But she doesn't belabor the point. There are just enough "telling details" for the reader to sense the wealth, pomp and especially the MCs discomfort. The contrast of Charming's colloquial inner voice with the formality of the situation shows us she's being forced into a defensive position.

Looking for a way to make your antagonist more formidable? Have him force a meeting somewhere he is comfortable and in control and your protagonist is disadvantaged and out of her comfort zone.

The way father and daughter attempt to chip away at one another is clever indeed. King Ormond presses again and again by calling upon lofty themes of destiny and duty and calling. Charming refuses to play the game on his terms. She acts at her "maximum capacity" (as James Frey calls it in How to Write a D**n Good Novel) and uses every skill in her arsenal to defend herself. Charming's feistiness is what makes this piece sing. Nothing irritates me more as a reader than the helpless wimp who capitulates without putting up any resistance. Even Jesus wrestled with God in Gethsemane about facing the cross. Give your characters a spine, please!

Charming openly defies the king, first by questioning the validity of his interpretation. Seeing that her mother is sympathetic (and a potential ally), she highlights the personal risk she'd face on this quest. In doing so, she's shifted the ground under the king. He can stick with his line of argument, but he risks losing the queen's goodwill.

When you find your characters' arguments becoming a little too predictable or boring, consider following Tricia's lead. Add a third party witness who isn't actively taking sides and see how it can add complexity and alter the techniques your characters use to try to get their way.

The more the king tries to boss and bully, notice how Charming emphasizes her own unfitness. Her hope is to gain advantage in her cause by showing herself weak. This kind of move might seem counter-intuitive, but it's effecting and real. It tells you a lot about what kind of girl she is--quick-witted and self-deprecating and likely to approach problems creatively.

Once her father stops bullying and instead appeals to her uniqueness, he reclaims the superior position of sympathy. She must take on the quest because no one else can--and people are counting on her. To continue to defy at this point will no longer earn Charming any sympathy from the queen or the courtiers. Her options for escape are cut off. She capitulates.

What do you appreciate about Tricia's winning entry? Which of her techniques do you want to try in your own work?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The happy day has arrived to begin announcing the winners of my Eleventy-one Celebration Writing Contest, in honor of making 111 blogging friends.

Contest entrants submitted a short piece, 700 words or less, that was dialogue-driven and displayed and instance of characters negotiating or persuading. I've selected four winners out of the thirteen entries: a grand prize and three runners up. Winners were selected based on how well they followed the prompt. Here are the questions I asked when evaluating each piece:

~Does each character have a clear point of view and emotional pulse?

~How skillfully does the persuader work his or her tools of persuasion?

~Does the persuaded character convincingly defend his or her ground before capitulating?

~Is the story coherent and smooth?

~Is the dialogue paced well for the situation?

~Does each character have a distinct voice?

As I post each winning entry over the next four days, I plan to include a short commentary afterward with some analysis and take-home tips to try in your own work.

Without further ado, my third runner-up winner is...

Jenna Wallace!

Jenna won The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer by Sandra Scofield.

You can read Jenna's winning novel excerpt from The Shadow Scribe HERE.

(My publishing copyright arrangement with winners was a one-time short term use. All rights reverted to the respective authors after one week.)

========================

I really like the economy of this interaction between MC Lara and Isobel. We pick up pretty quickly that they're in a restaurant without getting bogged down in excessive description. Just a few well-placed cues like pointing with food and the waitress interrupting. The setting is somewhat incidental, but not irrelevant--being in a public place puts certain constraints on how heated a conversation can become.

Jenna uses almost no dialogue tags, the "she said, I said" sort of thing. Instead, she makes each character's voice unique enough you can quickly distinguish each speaker. Isobel's speech is more formal and nuanced, while Lara's is colloquial and straight forward. A few actions sprinkled in keep us anchored.

This act of persuasion is very light-touch. Isobel builds her case in little increments, always starting from points of agreement with Lara, then pressing against Lara's areas of resistance with questions. This is an excellent way to shape a negotiation.

When Lara presses back, note how Isobel tries to appear nonchalant, as if she's willing to back down, when in fact she's just dodging a blow. Lara's internal thoughts show where and how the persuasion is working. Nice, huh?

I think Jenna's most compelling technique here is drawing in an off-stage character and building an alliance against him. She's subtly moved the line of conflict. Not longer is it Isobel vs. Lara, but Isobel and Lara vs. David.

What do you appreciate about Jenna's winning entry? Which of her techniques do you want to try in your own work?
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 Laurel Garver
The happy day has arrived to begin announcing the winners of my Eleventy-one Celebration Writing Contest, in honor of making 111 blogging friends.

Contest entrants submitted a short piece, 700 words or less, that was dialogue-driven and displayed and instance of characters negotiating or persuading. I've selected four winners out of the thirteen entries: a grand prize and three runners up. Winners were selected based on how well they followed the prompt. Here are the questions I asked when evaluating each piece:

~Does each character have a clear point of view and emotional pulse?

~How skillfully does the persuader work his or her tools of persuasion?

~Does the persuaded character convincingly defend his or her ground before capitulating?

~Is the story coherent and smooth?

~Is the dialogue paced well for the situation?

~Does each character have a distinct voice?

As I post each winning entry over the next four days, I plan to include a short commentary afterward with some analysis and take-home tips to try in your own work.

Without further ado, my third runner-up winner is...

Jenna Wallace!

Jenna won The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer by Sandra Scofield.

You can read Jenna's winning novel excerpt from The Shadow Scribe HERE.

(My publishing copyright arrangement with winners was a one-time short term use. All rights reverted to the respective authors after one week.)

========================

I really like the economy of this interaction between MC Lara and Isobel. We pick up pretty quickly that they're in a restaurant without getting bogged down in excessive description. Just a few well-placed cues like pointing with food and the waitress interrupting. The setting is somewhat incidental, but not irrelevant--being in a public place puts certain constraints on how heated a conversation can become.

Jenna uses almost no dialogue tags, the "she said, I said" sort of thing. Instead, she makes each character's voice unique enough you can quickly distinguish each speaker. Isobel's speech is more formal and nuanced, while Lara's is colloquial and straight forward. A few actions sprinkled in keep us anchored.

This act of persuasion is very light-touch. Isobel builds her case in little increments, always starting from points of agreement with Lara, then pressing against Lara's areas of resistance with questions. This is an excellent way to shape a negotiation.

When Lara presses back, note how Isobel tries to appear nonchalant, as if she's willing to back down, when in fact she's just dodging a blow. Lara's internal thoughts show where and how the persuasion is working. Nice, huh?

I think Jenna's most compelling technique here is drawing in an off-stage character and building an alliance against him. She's subtly moved the line of conflict. Not longer is it Isobel vs. Lara, but Isobel and Lara vs. David.

What do you appreciate about Jenna's winning entry? Which of her techniques do you want to try in your own work?

Monday, April 12, 2010

So I'm back, bearing gifts (don't worry, I'm not Greek) after an unplugged week that was medium-productive. I'm all set to announce contest winners beginning Wednesday, and I churned through a good pile of editing at my job. The novel revisions are coming. I wish I were a little less anxious about these last two chapters I need to rewrite and wasn't waking several times a night from subplot panics and fears I'll never finish. Then I remember I felt the same way before rewriting chapter 7 and chapter 8 and chapter 9 and I did some pretty bang-up rewrites of that chunk in under six weeks--my crit group had few changes--so maybe I should stop being such a neurotic idiot and get the sleep I need to be productive. Whew. My neurotic side thinks in the craziest run-ons.

So, back to gifts. I have some lovely blog awards to acknowledge and pass along!

The first is the "You Are My Sunshine" Supportive Commenter Award. I received this one from Sarahjayne Smythe over at Writing in the Wilderness.

I pass it along to the following supportive souls who never fail to give me a boost:

Amber at the Musings of Amber Murphy
Anne at Piedmont Writer
Charity at My Writing Journey
Karen at Write Now
Mary at Play off the Page

The second bit of blog bling, "It's Like We're Soulmates," comes from Nicole at One Significant Moment at a Time. With this one, I get to create fun fictions about each of the friends I pass it along to. So here goes.

Carol at Carol's Prints owes her willowy figure to titanium bone extensions implanted at Raidon Academy for Bionic Ninjas. Also, she can kill you with her brain.

Crystal at Write Because You Must developed a new type of watercolor paint that emits fragrance when viewed under a blacklight.

Karen at Novels During Naptime, a champion pairs figure skater, split with her partner when he admitted he prefered Tonya Harding's skating to Nancy Kerrigan's.

Expert hypnotist Sarahjayne at Writing in the Wilderness implants in all her students the suggestion to immediately read Shakespeare whenever they hear the phrase "ohmigosh."

Tricia at Talespinning earns extra spending money as a paparazzi photographer who stalks British ex-pat actors.

Wow, that was fun. Whoever came up with that award rule was a genius.

Which of these invented secret identites or abilities do you wish you had?
Monday, April 12, 2010 Laurel Garver
So I'm back, bearing gifts (don't worry, I'm not Greek) after an unplugged week that was medium-productive. I'm all set to announce contest winners beginning Wednesday, and I churned through a good pile of editing at my job. The novel revisions are coming. I wish I were a little less anxious about these last two chapters I need to rewrite and wasn't waking several times a night from subplot panics and fears I'll never finish. Then I remember I felt the same way before rewriting chapter 7 and chapter 8 and chapter 9 and I did some pretty bang-up rewrites of that chunk in under six weeks--my crit group had few changes--so maybe I should stop being such a neurotic idiot and get the sleep I need to be productive. Whew. My neurotic side thinks in the craziest run-ons.

So, back to gifts. I have some lovely blog awards to acknowledge and pass along!

The first is the "You Are My Sunshine" Supportive Commenter Award. I received this one from Sarahjayne Smythe over at Writing in the Wilderness.

I pass it along to the following supportive souls who never fail to give me a boost:

Amber at the Musings of Amber Murphy
Anne at Piedmont Writer
Charity at My Writing Journey
Karen at Write Now
Mary at Play off the Page

The second bit of blog bling, "It's Like We're Soulmates," comes from Nicole at One Significant Moment at a Time. With this one, I get to create fun fictions about each of the friends I pass it along to. So here goes.

Carol at Carol's Prints owes her willowy figure to titanium bone extensions implanted at Raidon Academy for Bionic Ninjas. Also, she can kill you with her brain.

Crystal at Write Because You Must developed a new type of watercolor paint that emits fragrance when viewed under a blacklight.

Karen at Novels During Naptime, a champion pairs figure skater, split with her partner when he admitted he prefered Tonya Harding's skating to Nancy Kerrigan's.

Expert hypnotist Sarahjayne at Writing in the Wilderness implants in all her students the suggestion to immediately read Shakespeare whenever they hear the phrase "ohmigosh."

Tricia at Talespinning earns extra spending money as a paparazzi photographer who stalks British ex-pat actors.

Wow, that was fun. Whoever came up with that award rule was a genius.

Which of these invented secret identites or abilities do you wish you had?

Monday, April 05, 2010

Thanks to everyone who submitted a story or excerpt to my Eleventy-one Celebration Writing Contest. You should receive a confirmation e-mail from me by 10 a.m. today at the latest. Contest judging will take place 4/5 through 4/13. I'll begin announcing winners 4/14.

I'll be unplugging for the week while I read contest entries, strive to meet a deadline at my job and, of course, revise my heart out. Thankfully, chocolate is back on the menu. :-)

Have a great week, friends!
Monday, April 05, 2010 Laurel Garver
Thanks to everyone who submitted a story or excerpt to my Eleventy-one Celebration Writing Contest. You should receive a confirmation e-mail from me by 10 a.m. today at the latest. Contest judging will take place 4/5 through 4/13. I'll begin announcing winners 4/14.

I'll be unplugging for the week while I read contest entries, strive to meet a deadline at my job and, of course, revise my heart out. Thankfully, chocolate is back on the menu. :-)

Have a great week, friends!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The deadline is fast approaching (tomorrow!) to submit your entry to my Eleventy-one Celebration Writing Contest in honor of making 111 blog friends. (For my new readers, the celebration has a hobbit theme built around the amazing age Bilbo celebrates in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring.)

Let's start with the tantalizing treasure to be won:

Grand Prize
A 15-page critique OR copy editing
From a professional editor with 14 years' experience and a masters degree in journalism

Runner-up prizes (3 total):

An 8-page critique OR copy editing

The Scene Book: A Primer for the Ficition Writer by Sandra Scofield
Scofield's primer on the basic building block of fiction--the scene--is the one resource that took my writing to the next level. It's like an MFA course in travel size. It covers everything you need to know to build solid scenes that flow logically and artfully build and release tension.


You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation by Deborah Tannen
If you ever want to write the opposite-sex POV, this is an invaluable resource for understanding the differences between how men and women talk. Tannen is a linguist who studied gender communication styles and does an in-depth analysis. It's a fascinating book written for a general audience that will improve your writing AND your relationships.

What do you need to do to capture such fabulous prizes?

Contest rules:
1. Submit a piece of original fiction (not previously published), up to 700 words. It can be flash fiction or a scene from an existing WIP that works as a stand-alone scene. It may be any genre except erotica or horror. And please refrain from using R-rated language.

Your scene or story must be dialogue-driven and show an instance of negotiation (give-and-take conflict) and persuasion, like the post-party scene in Fellowship of the Ring in which Gandalf convinces Bilbo to leave the ring of power in the Shire (pp. 41-43). You can read an excerpt HERE. (This is meant to illustrate the type of scene, not the style. You don't have to mimic Tolkien.)

2. Include your name, e-mail and postal addresses with your submission.

3. By submitting to the Eleventy-one contest, you give me permission to publish your winning entry on Laurel's Leaves. Payment for this publication is stipulated above. (The editor in me had to include that legal stuff. If you have concerns about rights being granted, drop me an e-mail.)

4. Send your submission via e-mail as inline text to laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com.

5. The deadline to submit is Sunday, April 4, midnight EDT (eastern daylight time).

Many thanks to all of you. I look forward to the prize drawing and reading your amazing dialogue scenes!

Easter miracles
As many of you know, I have a fantastic teen alpha reader who's part of my church youth group and has been cheering me on since 2006. She graduates this spring and will be heading off to college in the fall. I'd already begun grieving her loss as I edited her college application essays around Christmas time, because all but one of her top school choices were far-flung.

At the Good Friday service yesterday, I got amazing news: she's decided to attend a great Ivy-League school right here in Philly--University of Pennsylvania! As I hugged her and cried happy tears, I said, "I was willing to let you go, but I'm just so happy for me that you're staying!"

I also recently got a very exciting incentive to push hard to complete revisions: one of those out-of-nowhere this-must-be-divine-intervention things. I can't say any more about it now. But watch out, chapters 10 and 11--you will be getting a hard thrashing! And chapters 12-20 will continue their strict weight-loss regimen that I've been attending to this week.

Have a joyful Easter, friends!
Saturday, April 03, 2010 Laurel Garver
The deadline is fast approaching (tomorrow!) to submit your entry to my Eleventy-one Celebration Writing Contest in honor of making 111 blog friends. (For my new readers, the celebration has a hobbit theme built around the amazing age Bilbo celebrates in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring.)

Let's start with the tantalizing treasure to be won:

Grand Prize
A 15-page critique OR copy editing
From a professional editor with 14 years' experience and a masters degree in journalism

Runner-up prizes (3 total):

An 8-page critique OR copy editing

The Scene Book: A Primer for the Ficition Writer by Sandra Scofield
Scofield's primer on the basic building block of fiction--the scene--is the one resource that took my writing to the next level. It's like an MFA course in travel size. It covers everything you need to know to build solid scenes that flow logically and artfully build and release tension.


You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation by Deborah Tannen
If you ever want to write the opposite-sex POV, this is an invaluable resource for understanding the differences between how men and women talk. Tannen is a linguist who studied gender communication styles and does an in-depth analysis. It's a fascinating book written for a general audience that will improve your writing AND your relationships.

What do you need to do to capture such fabulous prizes?

Contest rules:
1. Submit a piece of original fiction (not previously published), up to 700 words. It can be flash fiction or a scene from an existing WIP that works as a stand-alone scene. It may be any genre except erotica or horror. And please refrain from using R-rated language.

Your scene or story must be dialogue-driven and show an instance of negotiation (give-and-take conflict) and persuasion, like the post-party scene in Fellowship of the Ring in which Gandalf convinces Bilbo to leave the ring of power in the Shire (pp. 41-43). You can read an excerpt HERE. (This is meant to illustrate the type of scene, not the style. You don't have to mimic Tolkien.)

2. Include your name, e-mail and postal addresses with your submission.

3. By submitting to the Eleventy-one contest, you give me permission to publish your winning entry on Laurel's Leaves. Payment for this publication is stipulated above. (The editor in me had to include that legal stuff. If you have concerns about rights being granted, drop me an e-mail.)

4. Send your submission via e-mail as inline text to laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com.

5. The deadline to submit is Sunday, April 4, midnight EDT (eastern daylight time).

Many thanks to all of you. I look forward to the prize drawing and reading your amazing dialogue scenes!

Easter miracles
As many of you know, I have a fantastic teen alpha reader who's part of my church youth group and has been cheering me on since 2006. She graduates this spring and will be heading off to college in the fall. I'd already begun grieving her loss as I edited her college application essays around Christmas time, because all but one of her top school choices were far-flung.

At the Good Friday service yesterday, I got amazing news: she's decided to attend a great Ivy-League school right here in Philly--University of Pennsylvania! As I hugged her and cried happy tears, I said, "I was willing to let you go, but I'm just so happy for me that you're staying!"

I also recently got a very exciting incentive to push hard to complete revisions: one of those out-of-nowhere this-must-be-divine-intervention things. I can't say any more about it now. But watch out, chapters 10 and 11--you will be getting a hard thrashing! And chapters 12-20 will continue their strict weight-loss regimen that I've been attending to this week.

Have a joyful Easter, friends!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Thanks to Kelly of Kelly's Compositions for hosting today's First Page Blogfest! Stop by her blog to find all the other blogfest participants and links to their offerings.

Here's the opening of my novel Bring to Light. Happy reading.

================

Dad? Here in my room? No freaking way.

I lean on one elbow and squint, brush mascara flakes from my eyelashes. What the heck? It can’t be. Just days ago, he was gone. Nurses powered down his monitors, pulled a sheet over him and rolled him away.

Yet he’s here. Himself again: thin, lanky and strong. There’s no trace of the crusted bandages, crazy quilt of stitches, angry bruises, dripping tubes, blipping machines, creepy Darth Vader breathing. Relief washes over me, warm and bubbling.

He leans on my desk like he did every night and runs a hand through his thick, ginger-blond hair. His blue eyes crinkle in the corners. I want to jump up and kiss those crinkles, kiss his hawk nose and big ears. Hang on and never let go. But I can’t move, can scarcely breathe.

How can you possibly be here? I thought…they said…you’re…supposed to be dead. You were cold and gray and still as a rock.

He frowns. “Dead? Blimey, Dani, that’s got a bit of a final ring to it.”

Whoa. He must’ve heard me. But how? I didn’t say anything out loud.

I must be dreaming. But I’ve been in the room two minutes, tops, sorting stuff for my carry-on. That’s not enough time to doze off. And I just had a Coke with supper.

No, I’m pretty sure I’m awake. And yet my dead father is talking to me, and reading my thoughts and how could that be possible unless...it’s not him. It’s a ghost. An evil spirit. Or… just the standard grief hallucination: dead relative pops in, hovers, smiles, leaves.

Keeping him in my sight, I push aside the pile of toiletries, sit up and hug my knees. He goes on smiling and watching, but his eyes seem sad. What would happen if I tried to touch him? Would he disappear like mist on a windshield? Better not risk that.

“What…what are you doing here?” I finally say.

“No idea. You tell me.”

So it’s interactive. Huh. I don’t think that’s part of the standard hallucination.

“I don’t know why you’re here, or even that you’re here. Jeez, I don’t even know if you’re you.”

“I see. Quite the dilemma.”
Friday, April 02, 2010 Laurel Garver
Thanks to Kelly of Kelly's Compositions for hosting today's First Page Blogfest! Stop by her blog to find all the other blogfest participants and links to their offerings.

Here's the opening of my novel Bring to Light. Happy reading.

================

Dad? Here in my room? No freaking way.

I lean on one elbow and squint, brush mascara flakes from my eyelashes. What the heck? It can’t be. Just days ago, he was gone. Nurses powered down his monitors, pulled a sheet over him and rolled him away.

Yet he’s here. Himself again: thin, lanky and strong. There’s no trace of the crusted bandages, crazy quilt of stitches, angry bruises, dripping tubes, blipping machines, creepy Darth Vader breathing. Relief washes over me, warm and bubbling.

He leans on my desk like he did every night and runs a hand through his thick, ginger-blond hair. His blue eyes crinkle in the corners. I want to jump up and kiss those crinkles, kiss his hawk nose and big ears. Hang on and never let go. But I can’t move, can scarcely breathe.

How can you possibly be here? I thought…they said…you’re…supposed to be dead. You were cold and gray and still as a rock.

He frowns. “Dead? Blimey, Dani, that’s got a bit of a final ring to it.”

Whoa. He must’ve heard me. But how? I didn’t say anything out loud.

I must be dreaming. But I’ve been in the room two minutes, tops, sorting stuff for my carry-on. That’s not enough time to doze off. And I just had a Coke with supper.

No, I’m pretty sure I’m awake. And yet my dead father is talking to me, and reading my thoughts and how could that be possible unless...it’s not him. It’s a ghost. An evil spirit. Or… just the standard grief hallucination: dead relative pops in, hovers, smiles, leaves.

Keeping him in my sight, I push aside the pile of toiletries, sit up and hug my knees. He goes on smiling and watching, but his eyes seem sad. What would happen if I tried to touch him? Would he disappear like mist on a windshield? Better not risk that.

“What…what are you doing here?” I finally say.

“No idea. You tell me.”

So it’s interactive. Huh. I don’t think that’s part of the standard hallucination.

“I don’t know why you’re here, or even that you’re here. Jeez, I don’t even know if you’re you.”

“I see. Quite the dilemma.”

Thursday, April 01, 2010


I use the term "negotiation" the way Sandra Scofield does in The Scene Book. She describes it as "an exchange of character desires and denials and relenting, until some sort of peace is carved out, or else the interaction falls apart." Negotiation is a way of approaching conflict as power plays, in which each character tries to get what he or she wants.

In an earlier post, I analyzed a negotiation in process to give you an idea of how it looked in practice. Today, let's look more broadly at power play.

How characters relate
Power in relationships can be about hierarchy. Private to sergeant. Novice to expert. Citizen to leader. Subject to king. Within hierarchical relationships, certain rules govern how the more powerful can exert his power. Power plays in these relationships will often revolve around these rules to uphold what is just and good.

Other relationships are based on equity and intimacy--friends, colleagues, partners, lovers. These, too, will at times become out of balance because of something internal or external to the relationship. A lover grows bored. A friend becomes popular and hip. A colleague cheats. A partner gets lazy. One party will often try to take the upper hand and exert power temporarily in order to restore or create balance and intimacy in the relationship.

Somewhere in between are relationships that are both hierarchical and intimate: parent and child, mentor and protege, teacher and student, older and younger sibling. In these relationships, restoring intimacy will at times trump restoring justice, or vice versa.

Keep this in mind as you build character conflict: is the relationship hierarchical, equitable or mixed? It will make all the difference in how the characters will wield power.

How one wields power
The tools of exchange in a negotiation will vary among relationships and temperaments. Some exchanges will use mostly negative tools, others mostly positive. The most compelling exchanges will use a mix of both.

Negative tools
accuse
badger
blame-shift
clam up
compare to enemy
complain
defy
exert authority
indebt
intimidate
lie
name-call
outwit
refuse
remind of past failure
shame
threaten
twist truth

Positive tools
apologize
beg
call in a favor
compliment
compare to hero
distract
downplay
expose inner self
flatter
joke
reason
reassure
remind of goal or dream
remind of past triumph
request help
share
truth-tell

What are your common approaches to conflict? Which type of relationship in conflict do you most enjoy writing? Least enjoy or struggle with?
Thursday, April 01, 2010 Laurel Garver

I use the term "negotiation" the way Sandra Scofield does in The Scene Book. She describes it as "an exchange of character desires and denials and relenting, until some sort of peace is carved out, or else the interaction falls apart." Negotiation is a way of approaching conflict as power plays, in which each character tries to get what he or she wants.

In an earlier post, I analyzed a negotiation in process to give you an idea of how it looked in practice. Today, let's look more broadly at power play.

How characters relate
Power in relationships can be about hierarchy. Private to sergeant. Novice to expert. Citizen to leader. Subject to king. Within hierarchical relationships, certain rules govern how the more powerful can exert his power. Power plays in these relationships will often revolve around these rules to uphold what is just and good.

Other relationships are based on equity and intimacy--friends, colleagues, partners, lovers. These, too, will at times become out of balance because of something internal or external to the relationship. A lover grows bored. A friend becomes popular and hip. A colleague cheats. A partner gets lazy. One party will often try to take the upper hand and exert power temporarily in order to restore or create balance and intimacy in the relationship.

Somewhere in between are relationships that are both hierarchical and intimate: parent and child, mentor and protege, teacher and student, older and younger sibling. In these relationships, restoring intimacy will at times trump restoring justice, or vice versa.

Keep this in mind as you build character conflict: is the relationship hierarchical, equitable or mixed? It will make all the difference in how the characters will wield power.

How one wields power
The tools of exchange in a negotiation will vary among relationships and temperaments. Some exchanges will use mostly negative tools, others mostly positive. The most compelling exchanges will use a mix of both.

Negative tools
accuse
badger
blame-shift
clam up
compare to enemy
complain
defy
exert authority
indebt
intimidate
lie
name-call
outwit
refuse
remind of past failure
shame
threaten
twist truth

Positive tools
apologize
beg
call in a favor
compliment
compare to hero
distract
downplay
expose inner self
flatter
joke
reason
reassure
remind of goal or dream
remind of past triumph
request help
share
truth-tell

What are your common approaches to conflict? Which type of relationship in conflict do you most enjoy writing? Least enjoy or struggle with?