Monday, June 25, 2018

Oh. Okay.

 Dialogue so often defines characters in books. So do their thoughts. However, sometimes they need to take a different path, just like we do.

I know someone who had to have a biopsy of her right lung recently. She was told prior to the procedure that it’s rare, but the lung could collapse during the biopsy. They gave her something and put her into “twilight sleep.” It knocked her out. At some point the person doing the biopsy shook her shoulder and told her that her lung had collapsed. She looked up and said, “Oh, okay,” put her head down and went back to sleep. Good ol’ twilight sleep. This is the same woman who, after surgery, kept asking people where the guy was who ate all the chicken. Huh? No one knew what she was talking about, and when she came around, neither did she.
The point of these stories is that sometimes our characters can say something from out the blue, too. It’s just that there should be something leading up to it so it makes some kind of sense to the reader. How many times have you said something odd before realizing the person you’re talking to has no idea what you’re talking about?

Personally, and this is just me, a story is more realistic if the character does or says something out of character once in a while. Dialogue can be so important. How often do you bite your tongue and keep quiet when you really, really want to voice an opinion? Things often just slip out when we originally meant to keep our thoughts to ourselves. Let your characters do the same thing. It’s a good way for them to get in trouble or set themselves up for a confrontation.

Yes, I know that sometimes they honestly need to keep their thoughts to themselves, but occasionally they should speak up. It’s another way to keep the story moving.

Sometimes when I’m considering a line of dialogue I stop and think, would Jane Doe say something like this? Or would she be more likely to give John Brown a withering look? Thinking about what real life people might say or do can help when writing dialogue.

I read an unpublished manuscript where the main character was so outspoken that it was, well, disturbing. This same character came across as Superman, who could say and do anything without worry about retribution. No one could get the best of this character, verbally or physically, and it was so unrealistic that I couldn’t finish it.

I realize that in fiction we often have to cross some lines, but when it comes to dialogue, make it serious, make it funny, make it wild, or make it whatever you want it to be, but keep it believable. If your character asks, “Where’s the guy that ate all the chicken?” make sure she or he has a reason, as in the case of just having had surgery or maybe she is just coming out of a deep sleep.

Why the heck is an author writing about this type of dialogue? In this case it’s because I’m talking about dialogue that’s out of the ordinary, which is sometimes preferable. Sometimes it wakes up a dreary story. It can keep readers on their toes. For that matter, it can keep an author on his or her toes. If I’m working on a story and find my mind wandering, then I know it’s time to liven things up, and maybe past time.

A writer doesn’t need to be funny (although that’s my own preference), but they need to keep things lively. Move things along, and sometimes use dialogue to do it.

“Where’s the guy who ate all the chicken?
“I dunno. Probably down at the Chicken House looking for more.”
“Oh. Okay.”

Any thoughts on quirky dialogue? Please share.

Until next week, look for some good dialogue in the books you read. Have a great week!

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Entrance to Nowhere - A Sandi Webster Mystery might have some quirky dialogue. Funny, but I can't remember for sure. Uh huh.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Invisible Author

I was listening to a saleswoman talking about being invisible to customers the other day and it suddenly struck me what a good point she had. Authors can be invisible while writing and it can be quite helpful.

 I tried to make myself invisible, but I ended up looking like a vampire.

Write a scene and then stop to observe for a moment. Step inside the story and take note of each point you or your character has made.

Let’s say you’ve written a scenario where your character is going to have a confrontation with someone. You’ve described where this is going to take place, but have you mentioned what might be giving your character the feeling that something is wrong before the confrontation?

While your character might be watching out the window, trying to decide what to do next, put her/him in “Freeze” mode. In your mind, you step into the scene. Look around. See what your character sees that you might not have mentioned yet. Does she see a shadow under the tree in her yard? Does she see a pile of cigarette butts outside her door? Is there a muddy footprint  on her porch?

There’s always the possibility none of this will work. Let your character, with you on her heels, take a walk in the park late at night, or through an empty warehouse. Put her/him in “freeze” mode again.

While she or he is standing quietly, you (the Invisible Author) can go anywhere you want to and you can plant some clues. On the other hand, you can decide to let your character be taken completely by surprise. You’ll probably still want to look around and see what will show up in the scene though. It won’t be just two people confronting each other. The surroundings are part of the scene.

The fact that you can put everything on Hold while you snoop around and search for things to make the scene unique can be interesting. I did it in Old Murders Never Die. There was a ghost town called Wolf Creek in the story and I had the opportunity to survey the entire place in my mind while I wrote the book. I even drew myself a map so I‘d know where every building and house sat. I was able to figuratively walk through deserted buildings and streets and see what people had left behind over a hundred years earlier. It was fun being the invisible observer, and it made writing the book more interesting, too.

Taking this a step farther, if you’re a reader you might enjoy being an invisible observer, too. You can mentally yell, “Look out!” at a character and, although you’re standing right behind them, they won’t hear you. It’s one more way to be interactive with the story you’re reading.

Another way you, as the Invisible Author, can add to your story is to watch what people are doing, often unintentionally. Maybe your character is in a restaurant asking someone prying questions and the person is nervous. Watch as they fold and unfold their napkin, or tap their fingers on the table top. They could be chewing on their lip, or their eyes could be darting nervously around the room. Maybe this person spills their iced tea when, with shaking hands, they set it on the table. Small actions can be very important.

These are simple things, but as the Invisible Author there’s a whole vista of things or mannerisms open to you. If this isn’t something you already do, then give it a try. As the Invisible Author you might even kick the bad guy in the shins, although he won’t feel a thing. Scratch that and let a dog bite him on the ankle and run away.

Have you been unconsciously snooping in your own book? Are you finding or planting clues your character may have missed? Are you boldly walking around the setting for a scene? Rub your hands together and get busy.

Until next time, enjoy the world of fiction and figure out what you can add to it to make it more memorable.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Love a good ghost town story? Try Old Murders Never Die – A Sandi Webster Mystery. It’s an oldie but a goodie.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Did You Catch that Mistake?

Note the face of innocence

I’m snitching on myself this week. I noticed one specific mistake each in two books I’ve written. Both times I called one character by another character’s name. Not being perfect, I’m sure there are other mistakes, too. Stuff happens, no matter how careful I am.

Because I write, proofread, fix and proofread again, it’s become a habit. When I read books by other writers, I tend to zero in on typos or mistakes. It’s very annoying to me. I just want to read and not notice things. I simply want to enjoy the story.

I’m reading a series right now that has many errors, but I won’t mention the author’s name because that wouldn’t be fair. Here’s the thing. The writer’s stories are so engaging and enjoyable that I don’t care about the mistakes. Just give me the story.

I’ve read books by Big Name authors and discovered errors, and they have editors who do great jobs, but sometimes things just seem to slip past us – or them.

I think writers, editors and readers often miss typos because they read the work as it’s supposed to read, not the way it actually does. Our brains have a way of doing that to us when we’re expecting a certain word or phrase.

Sometimes our brains work faster than our fingers while we type. It can be difficult to keep up.

Is it the end of the world if we make a mistake? No. Will a reader call us on it? Possibly. Can it be fixed? Certainly. However, if you’re as lazy as I am, you just hope no one notices. The thought of rereleasing a book makes me want to hide under the bed. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot; now my readers will start looking for errors. I can only say, enjoy the story, forgive the mistakes.

Any distraction can cause problems – the phone ringing during a crucial scene, the dogs barking, the mailman bringing a package to the door, even a sudden revelation or inspiration regarding a whole different scene.

So to all writers who know they’ve made a mistake, my heart goes out to you and I hope readers will be forgiving. We do the best we can, which isn’t always… Oh, the heck with it. Enjoy the stories you read as much as I’m enjoying the series I’m reading. I don’t care about the author’s mistakes. Just give me a good story.

Until next time, I hope you have a great week filled with good weather and sunny beaches.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Gin Mill Grill – A Sandi Webster Mystery is the latest in this series, and will be followed by a book as yet untitled. Sometimes the title is just out of my grasp, but it’ll come to me.

Monday, June 4, 2018

About Words and Phrases

This is a repeat of a post I wrote several years ago, but I think it’s still relevant.

Several years ago, before “going postal” became a catch phrase, I was at work and talking to someone who worked in a different department. I was mildly annoyed about something someone had done (I can’t recall what) and said, “Oh, I could just shoot him,” referring to someone whom I don’t even remember. The person I was talking with was horrified, and I was quite surprised. I hadn’t said it with venom, or even any real anger. I had to explain that it was only a figure of speech. He didn’t know what that meant, so I had to explain that to him. By the time I walked away, I could have throttled the man I’d been talking to, figuratively speaking.

As a writer it breaks my heart to hear people trying to clip figures of speech out of the American dialogue. For heaven sake, not everything is meant to be taken seriously. A cliché is a cliché, and a figure of speech is just that – a figure of speech. There’s a time for political correctness; however, I tend to think of that as common courtesy and common sense speech.

If I overheard someone plotting a murder and they said, “I could just shoot him,” that’s one thing. However, if I heard a friend say the same thing about the husband she was frustrated with, I wouldn’t give it a second thought. She would have been venting, letting go of some of her frustration, and that would probably be a good thing. Marital argument averted? Maybe. Hopefully.

I was once at the airport and someone asked me what I do for a living. I almost told her I write murder mysteries, but I caught myself and simply told her I’m a writer. Good grief! I didn’t want the TSA calling me aside because someone overheard me utter the word murder. I also didn’t want to be a diva and look down my nose at her and say, “I’m an author. (sniff)” I’m just a simple writer with simple ways, but I do write darned good mysteries that aren’t simple. I should be able to be proud of what I do and sing out the words, “I write murder mysteries and I think you’d like them,” without looking over my shoulder.

So, okay, as a writer I think people are getting carried away with the hidden meaning of words and phrases. I think the Word Police need to take a step back and think about the context in which these figures of speech are being used. Use some common sense, for crying out loud.

I know we live in trying and scary times, and there’s more violence in the world than there should be. However, lighten up a little. There’s enough drama with what’s really going on today without worrying about catch phrases and clichés. These are tools a writer uses occasionally, and they’re also words that people use every single day, somewhere and in some way. It doesn’t mean that everything they say should be taken literally. If you think you heard something that was a viable threat, then talk to someone. Common sense should tell you if something might be more than a figure of speech.

Now I think it’s time to step down off of my soap box and get back to the mind-boggling idea of taking more comments with a grain of salt. The only killing that goes on in my world is in books, and I’d like to keep it that way. Don’t take offense if one of my characters says something that’s not politically correct. They’re just fictional people, after all.

(For those who might we wondering, this post has nothing to do with any particular current events.)

Until next time, enjoy your week, and I hope you find a moment to just do something silly and stress free.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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In Bogey’s Ace in the Hole – A Bogey Man Mystery, a little old lady overhears a murder plot and reacts differently than most of us would. This is an oldie but a goodie, and an example of discriminating between a figure of speech and a real threat.