Monday, August 5, 2013

Day 211 of the 365 Days of Blogging

The author, Dane F. Baylis


For the next offering from the ASKEW POETRY JOURNAL, Issue #14, let's hear from Ron Alexander. Ron is considered one of the guiding forces in the Santa Barbara poetry community. His voice is wry but possesses a depth that gives the reader a chance to work into the meaning and come away with an appreciation of the world as seen by a warm, yet satirical, sensibility.

Ron Alexander
Photo by D.F. Baylis

                                                          MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER
                                        In last year's annual poetry workshop, Irene,
                                        the ashen woman in the floral caftan who sat
                                        in her own folding chair next to the door, said
                                        she could not listen to poems that were not rhymed,
                                        said she preferred villanelles but as long
                                        as a poem was at least rhymed, she would listen.
                                        To emphasize her point, she opened her purse
                                        and removed a stained meat cleaver, which she held
                                        in her lap for the rest of the day. We set
                                        a record for the most villanelles produced in a single day
                                        in the history of writing workshops, which only goes
                                        to show how a little helpful incentive can stimulate
                                        the creative process. This year, we have emailed
                                        Irene, telling her we look forward to her return.


When I'm not on this damned network, doing my best to flog as much of other people's stuff as they'll permit, I spend A LOT of time writing. It used to be almost nothing but poetry, but a journal publisher years ago asked if I'd write some short fiction for her. I balked, I stalled, I did all but flee in panic. Finally, I coalesced with her on this and, with some patient guidance on her part, I produced a couple of okay pieces.
It's been a long time since that first effort. I now split my time between poetry and fiction, with fiction getting the lion's share of my efforts. The one thing I came to realize through this endeavor is that, without knowing it, when I write poetry, I am writing dialogue. I let my characters tell as much of the story as I can. Filling in between only to move them from place to place and scene to scene economically. It has been a short leap between the voices of the people in my poems to the ones who appear in my fiction.
In 'literary fiction' this is a thing that can be looked down on by the mavens of the written word. I write genre fiction. Dark urban noir pieces where the good guys aren't always who we'd like them to be and almost nobody gets out clean. There is a type of speech used by these people in real life which has a patois and honesty all its own. (Even when there isn't an honest word being spoken.) It's the raw power of these colloquial patterns that lends flesh and blood to characters and makes them the reader's guide through the rack and ruin of the urban landscape and the underbelly of the city.
So, am I the only benighted lummox out here who still loves it when the characters do the talking? As an answer to that I offer you this article written by Nicole R. Murphy on the Writer's Resources in the Articles section:

Writing Good Dialogue
by: Nicole Murphy There’s nothing that kills a scene like hackneyed dialogue. Just stop and think about the average B-Grade Hollywood Movie. Sure, at times the plot is bad and the characterisation woeful but most of the time, what stops it from being a good movie is the dialogue. Cringe-worthy dialogue. So, how do you write good dialogue? There are a number of factors and the most important one is: don’t try too hard. Not every thing out of a character’s mouth has to be scintillating. Sometimes, the best dialogue comes about because it’s so simple and normal. So relax. You need to let your characters speak. If they are highly educated, they will probably speak with great grammar and have a high vocabulary. If they left school at fourteen and have worked for five years in the local abattoir, their language is likely to be more colourful. If your character is a chatterbox, let them ramble. If they are the strong and silent type, let them be silent. Don’t force words into their mouths and don’t try to make them conform to your own views of good communication. Good dialogue flows. The characters react to what another character has said. For example: “I went to the show the other day.” “Really? Was it any good?” “Not bad. The dogs were cute but the cows were too noisy.” “I was talking to George the other day.” Huh? How did talk about the show bring George into the conversation? To make it flow, it needs something more like: “I went to the show the other day.” “Really? Was it any good?” “Not bad. The dogs were cute but the cows were too noisy.” “Speaking of dogs, I was talking to George the other day...” If you aren’t sure if your dialogue flows, the classic way to test it is to read it aloud. You’ll hear any problems, just like you do in the bad Hollywood movies. Better still, get your family and friends to act it out for you. It gets them involved in your writing and you can stand back and really observe and listen to what is going on.
The other thing dialogue needs is connection to the action of the story. Stop and think about the conversations you have. They are always related somehow to the action of your day, whether it’s a conversation you’re having as you catch the bus to work or a conversation with a work colleague or catching up with your partner at the end of the day. Keep the dialogue connected to the characters, the setting and the plot by surrounding it with action. The example above is quite bland. But surround it with action and it comes alive. Carrie sat down, opened the sugar packet and sprinkled it in her tea and then stirred it. “I went to the show the other day.” “Really?” Sophie took a long sip of her coffee. “Was it any good?” Carrie shrugged. “Not bad. The dogs were cute but the cows were too noisy.” She poured milk into her tea. Sophie put her coffee cup down and leaned forward, eyes sparkling. “Speaking of dogs, I was talking to George the other day...”
Now the dialogue seems real, because we can picture the characters and their setting. We also get an idea of how they’re feeling. Carrie’s shrug tells us the show didn’t really thrill her. Sophie’s sparkling eyes tell us she’s got something exciting to say. So spend a bit of time developing your dialogue, and your stories will be much more successful.
About The Author
Nicole R Murphy is a writer and copy editor. You can take advantage of a free trial of her copy editing by visiting
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------, love, write.
Want to follow or subscribe to this blog? There are gadgets for that on the right side of the page. You can leave comments in the form below. I can be reached directly at . You can also find links to some of the sites I visit from time to time on the right. I'm also looking for submissions to the Your Work/Your Love page. Authors retain all rights.
Dane F. Baylis

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