In the process of getting things done all that’s necessary is a focus on action, dialogue and description or A.D.D. With this technique any writer can add substance to their work and engage their readers. But don’t just take my word for it, read widely and learn from other writers, how it is done. (In this article, I’ve highlighted a few novels and added an excerpt of a scene from They Walk the Night.)
Take for example the novel, The Silent Wife, which took me about three or four days to complete. Of course going over it again at a slower pace, I can see how the actions of the various characters appear genuine and unique for each of them, because this author draws her readers in from the get go. In it’s most simplistic terms the novel is about a woman who doesn’t ask for anything from the guy she’s with, only to lose it because he has developed an interest in someone else.
True to life, these characters seem to step off the page, begging for recognition because their actions are as truthful and real as that of any other ordinary individuals. (Spoiler Alert) Take for instance Natasha, the young woman who gets involved with a married man and has the audacity to ask him to leave his wife. A woman who we can almost feel sorry for as the story progresses, because what she wants doesn’t seem to be much of anything, and yet it is denied her, which of course is what makes the novel a good piece of fiction and a great read. Because we are presented with the whole picture, actions, motivations, choices. Don’t believe me, take the time and read the novel for yourself.
So let’s break it all down. A stands for ACTION. Remember, something must happen in your novel or story. Every writer knows this because we are attuned to conflict. Or like one of my friend’s used to say,that she was always attracting other people’s drama. Well whatever you call it, it is the key ingredient in any story. Take Brandi and Teresa for example, if you’re following my updates of The Way of the Seer. These two friends (Brandi and Teresa) fall out with each other because one of them (Brandi) believes wholeheartedly in having special powers, so much so in fact that she desires them. Her friend, Teresa on the other hand, who may be wiser and more conscious of the way of the world, tries to talk her out of it. Thus conflict ensues and the story begins with Brandi’s journey to find herself and hopefully learn more about her absent father.
So, how about you? What’s your short story, poem, novel or article about? How can you gain the reader’s interest and get them to follow what you have to say? Are there vampires, werewolves or goblins? Or is there something else that will excite them as they read your tale?
D is for DIALOGUE. Remember that everybody has something to say. Or at least everybody must say something meaningful and that dialogue has different uses. (So we can be learning about the characters, advancing the story forward, adding mood/music to the scene etc. For more info, check out This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley. These are three of the five things he points out in his novel.) Who are your main characters and what do they say? Can you make their dialogue unique, so that the reader can tell who is talking what, if their names were omitted? Say your words out loud. Do they seem plausible? If so keep them, if not attempt a re-write or get a second opinion.
Or take some of the text that is spoken in your favorite tv dramas or novels and play with them. Ask yourself if your character(/s) was in such and such a predicament what would they say. One show that I enjoy listening to or watching because of their banter is The Good Wife. In some small way, their play on words often makes things interesting. Besides this, there are many great novels where the text is both relevant and useful. I think short stories have this down pact, because whatever is offered is necessary. Of course film and poetry are different mediums that use language or diction to their advantage. So that dialogue is there for many reasons, one of which is to move the story along.
Remember, your characters must be conveying something and it shouldn’t all be just exposition. Try reading a first person novel like Now is Good or Wrecked and a third person novel like The Coldest Girl in Coldtown or Viral Nation. See how different authors use dialogue in their stories and how the type of narrator affects what is being said. Think for example the distance the narrator is from the reader and how that voice or distance shapes the story. Taking for example Viral Nation, which could be more of a novel where a cast of characters sort of tell the story versus Now is Good, where the main character, Tessa is looking at her life. Seeing both sides can help you decide on what’s best for your story.
And last, but not least, we have DESCRIPTION. How good are you at describing what happens to your characters or setting the scene? Read, read. Write, write. A lot of what we do, can be improved by habitual practice (something hinted at by Octavia Butler in her discussion of talent versus the practice of craft. Sitting down and writing she insists can happen if you agree to sit and write, day after day. Like a well-oiled machine, you can train yourself to get better). Natalie Goldberg calls it “continual practice” in her novel, Writing down the Bones. I think as writers, we need to be more observant. And sometimes if we are lucky our brain is busy storing stuff away for future use, something that we are not always aware of. Description can come to mean setting, the layout of our scenes and the care with which we describe what is going on. Or even something as minuscule as paying attention to our characters and making sure that the things we say about them in the beginning of the story, doesn’t conflict with something that appears later on. So read widely and learn from what you read, on how to improve your work and become better, because you never can tell where that mark of inspiration will come from.
And just in case you need a little hint of how all this can be achieved: here is an excerpt from the novel, They Walk The Night (which ended up becoming Rebecca Trainer: Mind Reader. It inspired this site). Maybe it can help inspire you to read more and learn how to use A.D.D to your advantage.
Here is the beginning scene of chapter four, where Special Agent Jody Watkins – a city cop who is chasing after children with special powers, who can read minds – is being interrogated after she narrowly escaped a scuffle Rebecca Trainer, that almost ended her life.
Jody looked around the sparse room that she had paced countless times before. Her eyes focused on the dark screen. It was strange, because she was seated in the suspect’s chair, as two of her colleagues paced the interrogation room, that seemed smaller than she remembered it. She pulled at her collar and rubbed sweaty palms into jeans, thankful that they had chosen against handcuffs. All-the while she wondered about the identity of the person behind the bullet-proof glass.
Maybe she would only receive a minor reprimand, she thought. If they believed her story.
“I need you to go over what happened again?” the taller male cop said. He looked down at her as if she was a rookie; his eyes moving from her to the statement.
Agent Watkins sighed. Balling her hands into fists. “That’s what I’ve been doing for the last two hours,” she said, without looking up. “Why don’t you just tell me what you’d like to hear. And I’ll say it.” She closed her eyes, thinking that the day couldn’t get any worse. Everybody made mistakes.
She pulled back and sank deeper into her chair, the sound of the bullet leaving the chamber echoing around her. Why had she opened fire? she wondered, pulling at a stray braid that had come loose. She could still see the look of determination etched on the girl’s face.
“Agent Watkins, this isn’t play school,” the shorter female cop said, laying a hand on her shoulder. “You said that she came in to report an assault. What we would like to know is what changed? And why? Why would this girl, Rebecca Trainer decide to turn the gun on you if you were only trying to help?” The woman looked at the statement, sheepishly. “Was she provoked?”
Sure, Agent Watkins thought, before shaking her head. “I didn’t provoke her.” She shook her head. “The girl just insisted that the landlord had threatened her and I told her that her accusations were unsubstantial.” She indicated to the orange form and straightened her skirt. “No one knows where she got that scar. Or busted her nose.”
The other female cop lifted her hands and looked at her partner who frowned. “So you didn’t believe her?” She pulled out a seat. Sat down. “Others have said that there was something there. What did you know that was different?” she asked, shoving the files over to Jody.
“I can’t tell another cop how to do their job,” Agent Watkins said. The woman wasn’t a friend or someone she could trust.
The two cops eyed the mirror. They were at a standstill because Agent Watkins refused to budge.
What could she tell them? Jody wondered. She barely knew the girl. “Talk to Tron,” she said. “He gave her to me.”
The two city cops eyed her and the male one said, “He’s being dealt with.”
Hair on the edge of her arm perked up and she felt a sliver of regret. It was almost as if she had done something wrong. She could feel the guilt rising. But she pushed it down. Now wasn’t the time for the truth.
The female cop turned to look at her again. This time, though, her gaze was slow. More certain. “What we’re concerned about is you. Why did you move her?” She paused. “You could have used any of these rooms. But instead you chose to take her to your hovercraft. What are you trying to hide?”
Agent Watkins cleared her throat. “We’ve taken this charade far enough.” She stood. “If there’s anything else, contact my lawyer.” She dropped a business card onto the desk. “You’re three years my junior and you’re telling me, how to do my job.” She unclipped her badge. Let it clatter on the table.
“Sit down, detective,” another male voice boomed from the speakers. “Nobody is trying to tell you how to do anything,” he said. “If you’d show a little more tact we wouldn’t be wasting time and manpower behind an operation that should have required fewer officials.”
Special Agent Jody Watkins grabbed the edge of the table to keep herself from falling. That voice sounded familiar. She grimaced. Tried to reflect. Cases like these were in-house matters. Things that were outside his purview. Her husband had no reason to be here. She wiped her brow with the back of her hand and tried to count to ten.
The side door opened. Two men, the District Leader and the Captain, stepped inside. “You’re dismissed,” the captain said, motioning to the two city cops who had been assigned to the case.
They bowed at the district leader in his purple robe and then glanced quickly at Jody. They had heard that she was connected, now they knew the extent of it. Silently, they followed the captain back into the squad room.
“Must you be so harsh with everyone?” he asked, kissing her cheek. Chuckling as she pulled away. He raised his hands in the air and stepped back, knowing that she would be suspicious. “I am here merely as an observer of justice,” he said, looking at her; waiting for the lines on her forehead to soften.
“No, I know you,” she said, forcing a smile. “You follow your own instincts.” She examined his face. “What concessions have you agreed to?”
Let me know what you think. Or ideas for future posts…And thanks for reading.