Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Bookstore is Wounded, Not Dead

I am reading the most delightful book called The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee. Part memoir, part history of bookstores, the book confirms the existence of bibliophiles through the ages and the need to preserve extant book stores. True book lovers want more than just the book in our hands; we crave the entire experience of being surrounded by books and other book people. It’s so easy to download a book, but the aesthetic is thin and unsatisfying. Many writers were fostered by the presence of bound volumes, their heft and aroma, and the texture of words and illustrations on a page. Printed books have existed since ancient times, and these were not limited to religious texts and intellectual treatises. Even in ancient times, book buyers wanted romance and mystery. More evidence for the power of story and its place in human nature. Cave men craved story enough to carve into cave walls.

With the advent of e books and digitized media, story is not lost. The form has changed, just like we no longer carry clay tablets. Our tablets are bright, colorful and interactive, yet something feels lost. Reading on a tablet is a bit like dating a string of attractive people with whom you have little in common, but holding a book is coming back to an old lover with whom you have an enduring history.

I wonder about future generations, and how they will forge a bond with story that lingers. As much as the paperless society has been predicted, books published in paper form are tangible.

The publishing world is changing so fast even the “experts” don’t know what to expect. Independent authors are finding cheaper and easier means to get their work published and purchased. With KDP and Pubit and other e publishing venues, writers can upload text, design a cover, answer a few questions, and make their books available throughout the world. Granted, most self published writers should let their works simmer awhile and revise them before offering them up to a buying public. Do the ten thousand hours. But society is in a hurry, and the pursuit of instant fame and fortune is prevalent. Writers will never have a reality show, (though there is plenty of drama among writers). Perhaps readers want the illusion that the story writes itself and the writer and his/her life is secondary. A writer can be famous and anonymous at the same time. Other than Stephen King, can you picture your favorite author’s face?

There is room for multiple platforms, and my guess is kids reading stories on e books now will one day want to own a precious bound and illustrated volume of their favorite tale. The radio didn’t die when TV came out, and we though there is a junk food restaurant on every block, we still like a home cooked meal. Nothing feels like a book store. Other than the library, which is free, other stores will not let you hang out for hours and buy nothing. A coffee shop is close, but it’s missing books.

“When exploration and trade brought far corners of the world closer together-The Age of Exploration, The Age of Enlightenment, the Age of Rail, etc- there was a sharp rise in literacy. The ability to read was needed to keep up with the new technologies and business practices. And mandatory reading is always followed by elective reading. The more readers, the more books needed; more books, more bookstores.” (p.55, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop)

Happy holidays, everyone. Yes, it is Christmas Day, but a writer never sleeps.

Happy Writing.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Dialogue About Fictional Banter

Imagine you see a short story, or (horrors, and entire novel) that begins with:

“Shut up!” he proclaimed.
“NO!” she intoned.
“Why not?” he shouted in a fierce tone.
“Because why?”
“Because I don’t want to,” she said, sneeringly.

The above passage has a number of problems. First, it’s dull. This is the kind of conversation you are likely to hear between two kids in the back seat of a car. If you have a scene which includes sibling rivalry this might work, but don’t linger. An entire story or novel with this kind of dialogue will make the reader toss your book over a freeway overpass.

The next issue is the dialogue tags. Proclaimed and intoned are used in the wrong context here. When one says “shut up,” it’s already implied by the words shut up the speaker is angry. (The exception would be the slang use of Shut up!” in which case your speaker might slap hands or bump fists with his/her fellow character.) “Shut up!” with an exclamation point, or just “Shut up,” will suffice. (Don’t overuse exclamation points.)

Intoned is also not needed. A response to Shut up is likely to engender use a snarky retort. Trust your readers to decide that for themselves how the speakers sound. If one starts a story this way, quickly give the reader a sense of people and place.

He shouted in a fierce tone is also not needed. The reader already senses this pair is carrying on a fierce conversation. Shouting is fierce.

The adjective sneeringly is just awful. Avoid adjectives and adverbs ( and clich├ęs) like the plague.

So how do we put tags on dialogue?

Said is one of those invisible words like and, a and the. Tags in dialogue are only needed if there is accompanying action or a vivid metaphor.

Your dialogue should 1) Provide information, 2) reveal characterization, and 3) move the story ahead.

Like any scene, there must be a reason for it. Dialogue is not the same as everyday conversation. Most of what we utter throughout the day is uninteresting weather reports and comments on the price of gas.

Beginning a tale with dialogue is risky. Here is one way to solve this scene.
“Shut up!”
No.” Ashley said, smacking her brother
“Ow!” he rubbed his arm. “Why not?”
“Because why?
“Because I don’t want to.”
Dana glanced toward the back seat, and said, “If you kids don’t shut up I’m going to duct tape your mouths closed.”
They rode the rest of the way to the mall with the sound of Tommy sniffling.

Happy Writing.