I don’t know how to do that

Research is mandatory. For any and everything. Not just to learn something new, but to brush up on something once learned.

There is temptation to research the crap out of something, get excited than brow beat the reader with all that glorious knowledge. I try to avoid this. I’ve been told that about 90% of what you learn on any particular subject won’t or shouldn’t make it into the book. Now I’m not talking about the main subject matter. Like if the book is about motorcycles, then sure there should be more than 10% on the machines.

What I’m talking about are the things or nuances in a book that make it real and interesting.  Do I know how to fly a plane? Nope, but with a bit of research I could have someone in my book be a pilot with just enough information to make it believable. Because I’m not a pilot nor do I know any personally I would keep that as a minor character trait. Maybe even a hobby. Elude to it, maybe use flying a plane as part of the story. But if I learn all there is to know, then proceed to attempt to educate the readers on what each button and gauge does, it wont go well.  I can practically hear the covers being slammed shut just thinking about it.

For me there are my main reasons to research

Learn something new

How to fly a plane or what do people who fly planes do? videos, texts, other stories. Everyone does this type of research
What does the interior of the penthouse suite look like at a hotel? Most hotels have virtual tours or numerous images online to work off of.
What does a one room apartment look like in an apartment? I’d look up rentals and go for a virtual tour.
Google maps is my favorite tool for getting a peek at a destination I may not have personally visited. Go for a google street walk. Don’t forget to note the traffic or people. 

Remind of something old or once known

I know how to fish, but sometimes I need a reminder on what bait to use and when.
Familiar places can come back to life with a return visit or a google street view visit.
I remember being in school, but times have changed. Interviewing kids or teachers can be a great asset to a fresher look on a classroom etc.

Get better description

I employ my FAB approach (See blog The FAB pencil)  Sure I know what cars look like but a specific one? Dealerships and manufactures often have detailed descriptions.
Take a car out for a test drive. 
Hire a limo for the night
Go to a similar destination or event that happens in your book. The park, the theater, a restaurant. Whatever or wherever, visit with fresh eyes, open ears and a clear nose. 
I’ve never seen a live rat up close. Maybe a trip to a pet store is in order. 

Get a better understanding

I may not know the in and outs of a particular mental illness or behavior. Books, documentaries and interviewing a psychiatrist or afflicted person can be an invaluable research tool.
I Have no idea how to fix flat tire. Sure I’ve seen it in movies… if I really needed more information its out there. You Tube, the local mechanic. 

I have no clue how to start a fire if stranded in the woods. But my one character should… 

If I don’t know, I research. I may only use a tidbit of what I learned but knowing more than necessary allows me as the writer to use that wee tidbit effectively and correctly.

I think its neat how  open people become when you say. “Hey I’m writing a novel and I have a Police officer character. Do you mind if I ask you a question?”  Not every person will be willing to sit down to a full length interview. But from asking several cops different questions I not only got my answers, but I also got alternate perspectives.

If you do plan or get an interview, be prepared. Ask questions you know will get you the information you need to write your scene. Remember I wouldn’t go on and on and on about how pepper spray is attached to the vest, nor how it’s exactly used, feels, smells, or tastes. But if I need to touch on one of those aspects to enrich a moment then it was worth it.

I’ve never had white-hot chocolate. Maybe I’d get some and FAB it. Then ask others what they think of it… What I like/dislike and why will not be the same as someone else’s reaction/opinion.  Sometimes my research is spontaneous. I see something new or interesting and I take a closer look or inspect it further. I use my instinct to alert me to potential plot fodder.

My advice about research.
Do it. Take notes. Open your eyes, listen, feel, smell and taste. Learn and try. Make it fun and even try new things. Research isn’t all books and lectures.


Related blog posts worth reading:

The FAB pencil

Details, details, details

How did that sound?

Copyright © 2017 All rights reserved


Exorcising Exposition

Dialogue. I love writing dialogue. There is one thing I sometimes catch myself doing and maybe even don’t catch it.

Expositions. In dialogue, it is using dialogue for the benefit of the reader. This information belongs in narrative or better-written conversation. Basically, it’s when characters talk, telling each other information they should logically know. It’s weird and awkward and the reader knows it.

Extreme example time.

John glanced down at the fuel gauge. “Oops. We forgot to fill up with gas from the gas station when we switched up before we started driving across this long remote forest highway.”
“That’s okay John, we have the gas can you packed. That will be enough to get us to the next station.”
“No. I didn’t pack it, you did.”
They looked at each other.
“That’s not good. There are no stations for miles we need gas to get to the next gas station. John, how could you forget such an important thing? If the car runs out of gas we’ll be stranded. We’ll never get to the cabin for our epic weekend getaway of fishing, drinking booze and smoking pot. You need to turn the car around and go back the way we came.”
“Yeah, I’ll turn around now to go get gas and maybe a gas-can because the cabin is so far out from the last station.” 

Um… no way! Cars don’t run on empty? Okay so to start off this is a great example of telling instead of showing, only it’s within the dialogue. Awkward right? The exposition also tends to creep in as run on sentences. Most of this can be dumped into the narrative. To start people just don’t do this. They do not naturally speak the redundantly obvious.

“Exposition in dialogue” or “Dialogue for the benefit of the reader.” This is when two characters tell each other things they both already know and have no reason to talk about, just to give the reader important information. It’s unnatural and awkward and should generally be avoided or put in the narrative or better-structured dialogue.

Solutions to this problem.

Option one. Try to have the characters contemplate or Reminisce.  I recommend using these with caution, it can sound forced or wind you right back into loading the dialogue up with exposition.

John glanced over at his friend Tim. “Man! I can’t wait to get to the cabin.”
“Right?  Dude, an entire weekend of booze, pot, and fishing.”
“Like the good ole days. Nothing and nobody for miles, but bears and trees.”
John glanced at the speedometer and then the gas gauge. “Crap we forgot to top up.”
“It’s fine, you packed the gas can.”
John gripped the wheel. “I thought you did.”
They looked at each other and Tim paled. “Dude, I’m not walking six hours back to that damned gas station. Turn around.”
“On it.” John slowed to make the U-turn.
“We’re idiots. We need to pick up a gas can.” Tim said. “Imagine getting there and running out of gas? We’d die for sure.”

While I’d have conversations about important things, it’s a fine line to know when it’s necessary or obvious dialogue.

Option two. Explaining or telling a character who doesn’t know is a good way to allow for rich conversation if you’re looking for a narrative break. This can easily come close to sounding fake or forces so be careful and as lazy writing. Since the two are heading out on a trip I’ll have to bring a third character into the conversation.

John glanced over at his friend Tim as Jack rolled joints in the back. “Man! I can’t wait to get to the cabin.”
“Right?  Dudes, an entire weekend of booze, pot, and fishing.” Tim looked back at Jack. “Just wait till you see it, nothing and nobody for miles. Just bears and trees.”
John glanced at the speedometer and then the gas gauge. “Crap we forgot to top up.”
Tim scoffed. “It’s fine, you packed the gas can.” 
John gripped the wheel. “Uh no. I thought you did Tim.”
Jack shook his head as Tim looked back at him. “Don’t look at me.”
Tim paled. “Dude, I’m not walking six hours back to that damned gas station in the dark. Turn around.”
“On it.” John slowed to make the U-turn.
“We’re idiots.” Tim snorted. Without gas, they would be in very real danger.

Option three. Arguing. Arguing is another way to allow dialogue to contain more information. This can also be risky if the dialogue is unnaturally loaded with information.

John looked at the fuel gauge. “Tim you forgot to get the gas when we switched up back at the rest-stop.”
“No, you did. No biggie we have the gas can you packed.”
“It was your job to pack it. I packed the booze, pot and fishing gear.” John shot Tim a hard look. 
“No, it wasn’t. I’m not walking the six hours down that dark road back to that damned rest-stop so bears can munch on my bones. Turn around.” His voice oozed with a low level of fear.
“Yeah, yeah I’m turning now. We better get a gas-can too since we’re both freaking idiots.”
They nodded in agreement since the cabin is too far from any gas station to not have one. 

Lastly and fourth. Narrate it. This is the best way to fix this IMO, to put the exposition into the narrative where it really belongs. This is not a word count friendly method, but in the long run, it has much better flow.

The car sped down the vacant highway bordered by vast expanses of forest in all directions. John glanced at the speedometer then at the fuel gauge.
“Ah cr, p Tim we forgot the gas.”

Anxious to get to their cabin, they neglected to check when they stopped to switch places, use the restrooms and grab more junk-food. The rest-stop, twenty minutes back up the road, is the halfway mark to their weekend of booze, pot, and fishing. Neither thought to check the fuel gauge when they switched places driving.
 Tim reached for his can of coke.”You brought the gas can. It will get us to the next station.”
John gripped the wheel. “Wait. I didn’t pack it. I thought you did.”
Tim paled. The bear infested remote old-growth forest was not the best place to become stranded with a jeep full of tasty smelling food. The near seven hour-long walk back would take them well into the night.
Tim tilted his head and scrunched his face. “Seriously? Dude turn around.”
John smirked. “Yeah yeah I’m on it.” He said as he slowed to make the U-turn. “We should get a gas-can too.”
Both men looked at each other dumbfounded. It was a stupid move not to have one in this wilderness. The cabin was a fair distance from the last available gas station.

How I change or fix the dialogue expositions also depends on what tone I want. I don’t want to make them cranky or argue they’re about to head out on a grand weekend adventure. Stating the obvious in dialogue is easy to do and easy to fix. I often find myself focusing on getting the story out I put exposition in the dialogue because I’m rushing or if I’m honest I got lazy. My desire to be the best I can, and write my stories as well as I am able, is what drives me to learn and share.

My advice about exorcising exposition.
Read the dialogue out loud by yourself or with someone. Record it and play it back. Is that how people talk or are they verbalizing narrative?


Other chatty posts;

Conversing is easy…not!

Talking Trivial

Speak up!

Hold your tongue!

Copyright © 2017 All rights reserved


Building chemistry

I have set down books that fail to build proper inter-character chemistry.  Why? Because there is nothing more awkward than reading stiff lifeless interactions that feel forced or unwelcome. They should flow and feel organic to the reader.  I love a story that sucks you in, makes you feel at home and a part of the story. So if conversation or interactions fall flat, chances are I’ll either slog it out or set it down. As a writer that would be the ultimate worst to know someone felt that way. Therefore I spend extra time building the relationships, good or bad.

So what do I do when it comes to interactions? I know that I respond/react/interact differently with different people. This should be true for my characters. If I don’t have a clear set idea of how that is I will make sure to keep notes on it in my character bio’s. I Cant have Amber being friendly with Sasha for no reason. Or Anne talking silly with Tony. These aren’t always super obvious things either, a reader will appreciate the detail even if they don’t outright notice it. In fact, they may appreciate it more if they don’t.

Some things that a person might do with one person but not necessarily another

Joking around
Show respect
Touching – touch an arm, back or hand
Intent listening undivided attention
Eye rolling or sneering behind back

Chemistry isn’t always about romance or the potential for it, however, it is what people think of when the subject comes up. It is a big factor in story telling. So I will focus on that as well. Building romantic chemistry is a very serious business. A lot has to happen. Physical cues, verbal suggestions, behaviors, actions, and reactions. It’s an elixir of buildup. If I’m writing a sudden ‘romantic’ chemistry the scene will be intense and hold a lot of action tags and cues.  If I can build it up over time I like to sneak in little tidbits. Like touching of hands, blushing and things like seeking out their company over others and maybe doing small favors that have great meaning.  Subtle and flirty.

Since chemistry is an internal thing, for me it is tricky. I don’t use internal or first person POV. So I use a lot of action and description to show the chemistry instead of telling the reader it’s there. I find this is the best way to suck the reader into the romance and build the hope that the couple will get together.

The chemistry between friends should, in my opinion, be about making each other happy or comfortable. Set them at ease and or rev them up for stress releasing fun. An awkward show of friendship in the form of stiff interaction or conversation would be unbelievable to the reader. Real friends chill, tease and care.

Dale leaned his head back on the sofa. Scott handed him a beer and flopped down next to him. After a long draw, Dale sighed heavily. Scott glanced over at Dale’s miserable face, picked up the remote and turned on the game. Distraction was necessary.
Scott decided to go fishing for the right conversation topic. “Amber was weird today.”
Dale nodded. “Sure was.” he lifted the beer bottle to his lips.
Scott smiled slyly. “Rachael tripped today. She did a fantastic face plant into the meeting-room floor.”

The tension left Dale’s shoulders. The non-Amber conversation welcome. “Oh?” He finished the last half of his beer in one chug.
“No blood, but the clients got quite the show.” Scott got up to retrieve Dale another bottle. “Thanks.” Dale took the offered drink, sat back and settled in to watch the game.
“You should have seen it.” Scott began to tell the spiteful story.

Romantic chemistry seems easy to write, but in reality, it can be difficult to stay in POV and show instead of telling. Fluid movements and simple reactions are, in my opinion, the best way to illustrate this.

The stars twinkled in the cloud-free moonless sky. Anne breathed deeply the cool air as they left the restaurant. Immediately Tony slipped his hand in hers lacing their fingers. With a small smile, she glanced at the delighted gleam to his face.
“I’m not used to this.” Her confession needed no explanation. 
“I know.” He squeezed her hand gently and rubbed his thumb over the soft skin.
“How?” She licked her lips. “How do you know?”
“Because.” He lifted their hands and kissed the back of hers. She sighed softly and he smirked. “You react to every little thing I do as if it were some grand romantic gesture.”
“Oh.” She looked away and swallowed several times. It was true, she just didn’t know it was obvious. 
“Don’t act like it’s a bad thing, Anne.” Tony stopped, let go of her hand and made her face him. 
“It’s not?” Anne blinked slowly as his right hand brushed her cheek, cupping her face.
His lips parted and he leaned closer. “No.” His warm breath played across her lips and she shivered. Their eyes locked and she held her breath. “I’d say it’s a good thing.”
It was all she could do to nod her head, speaking was not an option. 

Whether it’s romantic, platonic or rivalry, the interaction between two people should be personal. I do my best to keep it this way because it not only reads better but it elicits emotions from the reader. I really try not to mix styles between characters. Scott and Dale can chill and depend on the other for distraction, I wouldn’t have them behave the same way exactly with other characters. This quiet understanding is strictly for them. Same goes for Anne and Tony, he’s not her first boyfriend, but he’s the only one she gets breathless around.

My advice about building chemistry.
Start from the first moment characters meet. If they have met or already know each other before the story starts, show their comradery or chemistry subtly and often in little ways that will endear the reader to them and their Symbiosis.


Other romantic posts

Setting the mood

It’s a love hate sort of thing

Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved