My favorite shirt when I was seventeen was a white tee with the Parental Advisory sticker image on the front. At the bottom, the correct verbiage was replaced with “Explicit Fucking Lyrics.” I loved that damn thing. In my mind, there was an edge because the F-word was right there for everyone to see. I was stickin’ it to the man.
This weekend, I bought the new album by Mumford and Sons. What drew me to the band and the purchase was their song “Little Lion Man.” Sure the acoustic guitar is catchy and who can pass up a fast moving banjo? But it’s the chorus that sucked me in with “But it was not your fault, but mine. And it was your heart on the line. I really fucked it up this time. Didn’t I, my dear?” The way the singer emphasizes “fucked” commands an emotional reaction. I understand the seriousness of the situation and perk up to what happened.
Even with age, I have an affinity for the word “fuck.” One of my current favorite song titles is “Hatefuck” by The Bravery. Awesome. Don’t you already have some idea of what the song will entail? Go ahead, check it out to see if you were right. It’s an effective adjective, a poignant verb, and the best exclamation a girl could hope for (good or bad.) Think about it. Doesn’t it really tell the whole story? If it doesn’t tell the story, it certainly adds some flair, you have to admit. My mother has the differing opinion that it shows you have no skill to find a better word for the situation. At times when writing, I agree. But in my every day life, I find it’s the word I like. The one I’m drawn to even when I have a dictionary of perfectly proper words to choose from.
Some may wonder how I could have this opinion when I am the mother of two small children. To me, it’s just a word. One word doesn’t get more power or meaning than any of the others. We have a choice to use any one we want to convey any thought we want. That’s the power in them. I’ve realized this more with diving deeper into the world of writing. Even the most innocent sounding words can have much bigger impacts depending on their context. “I’m disappointed in you” or “I don’t love you anymore” or “You’re a failure.” These are much more powerful than a simple four letter word deemed vulgar.
I make no apologies for my draw to saying, using, loving the word “fuck.” It doesn’t mean I don’t calm it down when I’m hanging with my “churchy” friend because I respect her. But she also never judges when a bomb drops in her presence because she knows it’s me. But you know you have arrived in your love for the word when a Twitter acquaintance, @tragic_spinster, whom I adore and stalk sends this message today, “I just noticed that the very first word of dialogue in my newest WIP is “Motherfucker.” I thought of you.”
That’s fuckin’ awesome.
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After clubbing teenagers in the back of the head to get closer to the prize, I am faced with another question. Sure, there will be the obvious one of a voice calling out “Who invited their mom to this show?” while they point to me, but that’s not the one I’m talking about. Another will snicker about how sad it is when old people try to do young people stuff. But that’s a statement, not a question. I’ll shut them out. Their hurtful words won’t matter. I’ll be close. In the inner circle of Mikel-land and only one thing matters. What do I say?
The choice of words will make all the difference in how our chance meeting will go. What is a convincing sentence to grab Mikel’s attention? So much so that he’s begging me to join him for beers and conversation about the writing process, music, and whatever else you talk about when drooling out the side of your mouth. A question or statement so great the night will end when we exchange emails, he accepts me as a Facebook friend, follows me on Twitter, and we become BFFs for life. That’s a lot of pressure for the ten word sentence I will have about 3 seconds to deliver when I’m mashed up against his body from all those screaming teenagers trying to get their own piece.
Will it be something witty? Hilarious enough to show him I have a sense of humor? Intellectual to make me sound waaaay smarter than I am? Interesting enough to have a rock star be my BFF? How do you catch the attention of someone who has met hundreds of thousands in the course of three years? (Especially when you aren’t a size 0 with double D boobs.) This is where I turn to you for your guidance and our second contest begins.
What should I say when I have 3 seconds to talk to Mikel?
The rules are the same. A winner will be picked from each question. If you refer a friend, they mention you in the comment section, and I choose their suggestion, you both win! Another dozen cookies on the line and I’ve been told they are delicious.
Remember to give me something good because you only have one chance to make a first impression. And this one better be a doozy.
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After getting up at 2:45am, waiting in my front yard for a cab that didn’t show at 3:30am, and finally flying into PDX by 6:00am, I sat through a nine hour meeting. This is the first meeting of a series that will consume the entire week and be attended by the same fifteen people. Out of the fifteen who attended, ten regularly tried to say the same thing. Some talked louder, others raised their hands, but one kept piping up and rolling right over the others. What they all had in common was they didn’t say a damn thing.
In a meeting, my M.O. is to clam up unless I have something “good” to say. My desire to beat someone’s head in with a heavy rock because they are talking for the sake of talking doesn’t mean I might not be that person. This meeting had important people in it; a flame for these “talkie” moths to be drawn. They can’t help themselves in professing their importance with “Pay attention to me” dialogue.
What I found staring at each person with their mouth partially opening waiting to get in their two cents was how frustrating non valuable dialogue can be. Of course, I daydream about how this torturous experience needs to teach me something about writing fiction. How many times are you reading a story or watching a show and want to scream, “Just say it!”
I understand their dialogue defines their character. For example, the one person who regularly pipes up with her unsolicited opinion demonstrates how obnoxious she is. She’s assuming her audience cares about what she has to say. Yes, a writer could “tell” you she is arrogant or “show” you through a long drawn out dialogue about something no one else cares about. (Side note: Tell her to get a blog.) But it is important to remember it’s a fine line. Having her character drone on for five minutes in a rant about nothing might be better described with the other participants shifting in their seats, rolling their eyes, or whispering giggles to each other. The actions of others might tell a world more than the words falling out of your characters mouth.
The lesson was never more evident than it was today. My outburst of “What is your point?” might not have been the best reaction in my professional meeting. But it would be worse to have a reader throw my book to the ground, stomp on it, douse it in lighter fluid, and spit on it to put out the fire after all that remained was ash. Too much? Then you haven’t met this character yet.
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As I’ve mentioned before, one of the first piece’s of wisdom when becoming a writer is “Don’t write a book about your life. You aren’t that interesting.” Sage advice. But don’t you wish at times you could be the main character in the story of your life? You may think it’s a given since you’re living it. But referring to the advice up top, your life is not what a story is made of.
The exciting part about being a main character is you say all the right things. You can be witty, funny, smart, or sharp at any time. Your thoughts and words have been carefully crafted, re-read and edited. They’re created with emotion and analyzed to ensure it’s the most succinct way to get your point across. Conversations with others can be quick-witted, firing words back and forth with lightening speed and delivering the perfect blows. (Ha, she said blows.) So why can’t we do this in real life? How many times have you woken up the next day, after a heated conversation taking place the night before, and slapped your palm against your forehead screaming “I should have said that.” Hubs and I have a favorite joke in those moments where we quote George from Seinfeld with “The jerk store ran out of you.” A classic episode about this exact idea.
Also in a book there will be personal growth from beginning to end. A person starts out one way with a flaw and will resolve that by the end. A lesson will be learned even through humiliation, gut-wrenching emotions, or unimaginable bliss (maybe even all three.) The main character will work through a perfectly created problem and come out the other side a better person. (They will if the book is successful.) Wouldn’t it be nice if lessons were learned in three hundred pages?
And do I even have to go into the romance? Tawna Fenske (yes, my blogging idol) had a great entry about making love in a field with her husband. She’s a romance writer so it must be even more tempting to indulge in those romantic opportunities. If you read it, you will see her husband brought her back to the reality of a field crawling with bugs, passing hikers, and even piles of horse shit. Not so romantic after all. Along those lines, I wouldn’t want my husband to be dead, an angel, or a serial killer even though the books I’ve read lately (two I love–Sookie Stackhouse and Dexter) have these characters. But boy howdy, some of those scenes with vampires are sure steamy and get the heart racing. (For those that still have hearts that beat.)
If this is to be taken seriously, it looks like I never have witty dialogue, any emotional development, and my love life might be less than passionate. The funny part is my life is just the opposite. Some may disagree with the witty dialogue part and think I’m always pullin’ a “George,” but I do know there has been personal growth (even in last year) and Hubs definitely still lights my fire. Does this make me a main character? No. This makes me a person. And it helps me create better main characters because I bring my pieces of reality to them. They are lucky to have a delete key to erase their mistakes. But that’s what makes it fiction.
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Posted in Dialogue on November 7, 2010|
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This week was my birthday. It’s a dreaded time of year because it starts the questioning of what I have done with my life. It’s followed closely by the new year which only brings up the topic again. To make matters worse, people ask your age and you have admit the number. No matter what it is, they have a reaction…which is never good. They are either surprised that you weren’t as old as they thought (which doesn’t say much for appearance) or are surprised you are that old.
It was someone talking about a gift they bought me that stood out this year. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the giving of the gift because I understand people don’t have to purchase anything to celebrate my birth. (It wasn’t that big of a deal.) But when discussing the giving of the gift it was said, “I’m going to give you something to make you beautiful.” My first reaction was asking myself “should I be offended?” Is there the implication I need beauty? Which also implies I’m not beautiful now?
Please know this isn’t to get responses of what a beautiful person I am, blah, blah, blah. This is an example of how important dialogue can be–spoken or written. When I type out something one of my characters says, did I really mean it that way and will others who read it feel the same? They will be bringing in their experience and insecurities as the background for how they interpret the sentence. It reminds me to craft my characters well enough to make sure there aren’t different ways to take what they are saying.
I know the person who said the comment wasn’t trying to insult me. She would probably be hurt to know I took it that way. But I’m bringing in my own insecurities and beauty is one of them. It’s the power of impact, even though it may have never been the intent. Lesson to writers (and speakers) out there to make sure you are choosing your words wisely and in the right context, because who knows what someone will hear.
I’m sure we’ve all caught the end of a conversation saying “It was so big she could hardly get it in.” While the men will giggle and take pride in their manhood, women will sigh and understand it was cramming a twenty pound turkey in an overpacked refrigerator.
What are some funny sayings you’ve heard where you were waaay off the mark? Or was it something you said giving someone else a completely different story?
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