Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Writing techniques - my experience of layering and dialogue

Over the last few days I’ve been working on an outline for my serial story. If you read a lot of author blogs you’ll often find authors bemoaning the synopsis writing. Anything where we have to condense our opus/imagined opus into a few action-packed and (hopefully) winning lines can be daunting, understandably so! Yes, there was gnashing of teeth.

I got the serial story oultine done but it was with some trepidation that I sent it off -- and great delight that I had it approved! Yay!! So, it’s all systems go on that front, and the story is now tentatively titled YIELD TO ME. I have one other project I want to finish first and then I envisage doing the bulk of the serial story work next week. I have started it though, in fact I’ve been writing the dialogue…First.

When I took a moment to think about it I realised I’d been moving towards this kind of writing technique over the last couple of years. When I start a novel, for example, I’ll often write a couple of key turning points first, in order to get to know my characters quickly. These scenes are ones where conflict is high and emotions rise to the surface, so it’s like diving in at the deep end, having to decide what makes my characters tick, and quickly. I then go back and start at the beginning. These conflict scenes are often jam-packed full of dialogue too. I’m still learning about writing dialogue, but I know I’ve learnt an enormous amount. The key thing is I now know how important dialogue is! ;) It wasn't always that way, I've learnt slowly over the years and I'm getting there. One of the highlights of 2007 for me was seeing this comment in an RT review of my novella in the KINK anthology: “Walker shows a talent for dialogue that is impressive.” Yes, it made me happy. That’s because dialogue engages the reader and moves the story along quickly, bringing it to life. I want to master it.

When I first attempted to write novels one of my first ports of call was Harlequin Blaze. I submitted a partial and had the full requested. I was eventually rejected, but I had a great response from the editor and lots of good advice. The editors wanted to keep the line North American, my voice was too British, and they suggested I look at either Temptation or Spice. Spice had only just been announced and was very much in the concept stage at that point. It’s funny to think that I'm now lucky enough to be able to follow that editor's suggested path and that I'm writing for Spice. I still have to pinch myself...

However, back to Blaze… While I was trying to write for that line I eagerly read books and articles by the Blaze authors. Julie Leto has some great writing advice on her site. Please do go read these gems if you’re an aspiring author. In this one, Julie talks about having to write in short periods of time when there was a lot of other pressing business. A baby on the way, a full-time job, a big family, and… a request for a book! She spent each lunch break writing, and she layered in the story, writing the dialogue first. I can remember reading this article and was amazed to think that she could do that! At that time I was new to writing longer stories, very much learning as I went. The rambling sort of writing I did back then was important to me finding my way, but it was primarily an exploration -- and it was also a luxury.

When you’re writing for a specific line or length, you need to have a much better grasp on where your plot is going and what sort of relationship your characters are going to have. It’s when you have those things in place that you can use layering as a writing technique.

Thinking back to when I read Julie's article and my reaction made me realise I’ve come a long way, because I am able to adopt this practice now. It wasn’t something I consciously set out to do. It’s come as a natural progression for me, as was learning how to write a short story, then a novella, then a novel. I'm still learning how to write more productively and engagingly. Julie’s words of wisdom were definitely bedded in the infrastructure! Do check out her work.

Currently I’m working across several projects and December is looking busy with lots of things I want to finish up. We're planning to proper break around Christmas, so it's a short month in work terms. Gotta get busy!

4 comments:

Jeremy Edwards said...

Terrific, edifying essay!

I found this bit especially fascinating:

When I start a novel, for example, I’ll often write a couple of key turning points first, in order to get to know my characters quickly. These scenes are ones where conflict is high and emotions rise to the surface, so it’s like diving in at the deep end, having to decide what makes my characters tick, and quickly.

I haven't heard of that strategy before—ingenious!

Btw, my verification word is conterie, which may actually be a real French word related to storytelling!

Victoria Janssen said...

Nice post! I also like writing dialogue-heavy scenes early on - it helps me a lot in figuring out the characters.

Justine Elyot said...

What a helpful post - as a definite 'rambler' (working on it!) with a very British voice, these were fascinating insights for me. Dialogue is my favourite tool for establishing character early on in the reader's mind - I sometimes go overboard with it though.

Saskia Walker said...

Jeremy, thank you! The post came about when I looked at what I had written and recalled the article on Julia Leto's site. Nothing planned, ha. I'm not confident with giving writing advice but sometimes just sharing an experience can be helpful to someone.

PS I never get good verification words like you do, I'm jealous ;)

Victoria, thanks! Similarity in approach there then.

Justine, your book is calling to me from the tbr! Please don't be concerned by my British voice comment. I've worked with lots of international editors and a British voice has never been a disadvantage. In that case it was that the category line (Blaze) was traditionally North American. Having said that, Blaze has changed a lot since then, so even that is dated.