What should a writer pretend to be when writing dialogue?

Before I answer the question posed I want to set the scene before two characters talk.

In a short story I am working on, a man is walking down a hallway, stops in front of a door with a security window, punches a code into a keypad, and enters into another hallway.

I do not tell what the facility is, but through describing what the man sees in the hallway, like the color of the walls and what type of pictures or posters are hanging on the wall and using phrases like ‘institutional carpet’ and what he observes by watching people, some of whom are looking at a TV, though few seem to be comprehending, the reader should get the idea that the man is in a nursing home.

The man walks into a room where a woman is sitting and looking out the window. He pulls up a chair and begins to talk. So now we have  a setting. And now they must talk.

When faced with a conversation, especially an emotional one and one with a twist, and a conversation that must reveal character , a lot of thought must go into the dialogue.

You must know your character, know how he talks, and know his personality. What you need not know is how the conversation will end. If you chose to think of how it will end and write towards that end that works too. For me, I like to make it up as I go along. Like an improve actor.

If I know my character, then I can imagine the conversation. As I write I know the man is going to reminisce about two things. One will is about how happy he was when he got married and the other is the worst day of his life when his two children, home from college, are killed in an auto accident.

So, like an actor, I go with the scene. A writer must get into the character’s head and pretend to be the character. Writing fiction requires you, not to think, but to feel. A good actor feels the words, understands the emotion. Once you feel the emotion of the words, the dialogue flows. It did for me, usually does. And in this moment where the man says more than the woman he is conversing with I come up with something that makes it all work, including the twist.

You see, the man thought he was talking to his wife. The woman said that she was not his wife, that her children were not dead. She made short interjections, then asked him to call a nurse, three of four times she would break in and ask for the nurse.

When the nurse does come she sees the man and an empty chair.

The man was not in the right room, his wife is dead, the woman who lives in the room was watching TV in the activity area, and the man had dementia.

But you never say what the facility is. You never give the background like a reporter giving news. You reveal through descriptive imagery and through dialogue, imagining you are an actor, not on the stage, but on the page.

Finished imaginings of mine are found at the top of my web page and the e-books are available on Amazon.

Thanks for reading.

I raise the curtain behind a writers madness in writing a sentence

Writing is rewriting. The following is based on a short story I am starting. I thought it might be fun and instructional to show what goes through a writers mind as he/she tries to get a sentence and paragraph.  So let’s peek into my madness.

 

THEY COULDN’T GET OUT, THOUGH SOME COULD GET IN.

I know who ‘they’ are, the reader doesn’t. ‘They’ could be humans, or ‘they’ could be animals. The sentence needs clarity.

THE PEOPLE INSIDE COULDN’T GET OUT, THOUGH PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE DOOR COULD GET IN.

More specific, yet dull.

A CODE ON THE DOOR WAS NEEDED TO GET IN. THREE NUMBERS TO PUSH, THEN A CLICK WAS HEARD, THEN ONE PUSHED THE DOOR OPEN, LOOKING THROUGH THE WINDOW TO MAKE SURE SOMEONE INSIDE COULDN’T GET OUT, OR RATHER SHOULDN’T GET OUT.

Better, but awkward, does not say how the code is used. Does someone say “Alexa, please open door” or say three numbers, or are buttons pushed on a security pad. Also grammar is bad.

A MAN WALKED DOWN THE CARPETED HALLWAY, THE WALLS HUNG WITH INOFFENSIVE CHEERFUL POSTERS LEADING TO THE DOOR.

Problem is the walls are not hung, the posters (framed-should have used framed posters) are hung, and that is not what leads to the door.

A MAN WALKED DOWN THE INSTITUTIONAL CARPETED HALLWAY TOWARDS A THICK METAL DOOR WHICH HAD A REINFORCED WINDOW. FEW USED THIS HALLWAY, ONLY VISITORS AND STAFF AND THERE WAS ALWAYS MORE STAFF INSIDE THAN VISTORS. NEXT TO THE DOOR WAS A SECURITY PAD. THE MAN PUSHED THREE BUTTONS ON THE PAD, HEARD THE CLICK OF THE DOOR, BUT BEFORE PUSHING THE DOOR OPEN, THE MAN BRIEFLY PAUSED TO LOOK THROUGH THE WINDOW IN THE DOOR TO MAKE SURE IT WAS SAFE TO OPEN. THERE WERE PEOPLE WAITING TO GET OUT AND THEY MUST REMAIN. IT WAS CLEAR.

I like this. I used institutional carpeted to give the reader a hint of the type of building. I used ‘few used this hallway’ to make the reader wonder why (part of the hook if you will). And for the same reason wrote ‘more staff than visitors’ so that the reader will wonder what kind of place has more staff than visitors along with ‘few used this hallway.” The hallway and the building I hope arouse the reader’s curiosity. Then we have some action the man ‘pushed,’ ‘heard,’ and ‘paused.’ And finish with people inside must remain. And why.

If your first reaction is this is a jail, it is not. My intent is to describe what is inside the door through the actions or inactions of the people inside, doing so without telling you what the building is, but by describing what is going on it will become clear to the reader. Always better to show, not tell. I am not sure I am done with the opening paragraph. But it is time to move on to the second, to move forward, then go through it all over again.

 
The point for writers is to just write a simple sentence no matter how bad it looks, and then expand. Just starting gets the creative juices going. It may be slow for a bit, but then it picks up and you get on a roll. And as every writer knows, that is when magic happens.

My e-books are found on Amazon.

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COOL: The Mysterious definition of cool.

I have always associated the word ‘cool’ with hip slang of the 1950’s and also with jazz. Imagine my surprise when reading Moonstone by Wilkie Collins published in 1868 when I came across the word ‘cool’ used thusly:

“She has been a guest of yours at this house,” I answered. “May I venture to suggest-if nothing was said about me beforehand-that I might see her here?”

“Cool!” said Mr. Bruff. With that one word of comment on the reply I had made to him, he took another turn up and down the room.

In other words, Bruff liked the idea. The usage seems contemporary as in ‘good idea’ not from a writer who was a friend of Charles Dickens. I had to explore the coolness of this find.

My Dictionary of American Slang has three columns on ‘cool.’ In the 1920’s cool was slang for killing someone, no doubt a gangster term. ‘Cool’ can  be ‘to postpone; to wait for; to be in control of one’s emotions; aloof, unconcerned; thrilling, groovy; satisfying, pleasant; crazy, gone, mad, wicked, far out, among other meanings.’ And yes, the weather can be cool.

None seemed to fit what Bruff meant. So I checked Online Etymology Dictionary and found the following: “calmly audacious” is from 1825. Now that is what fits for Bruff’s comment. Franklin Blake needs to talk with Rachel, a woman who refuses to see him. But it is imperative he talks with her to help unravel a mystery. So when Blake sets forth his idea, Bruff thinks it is an audacious plan. Cool!

Who knew?

Wilkie Collins was hip to use ‘cool,’ the perfect word for the reply. It reminded me to always search for the right word for the right reason in my writing.

Here are my cool e-Books, two fictional mysteries and a collection of short stories.

 

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What Did Picasso Mean About Inspiration

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

-Pablo Picasso

It seems on first reading that unless you sit down to work you will not find inspiration. There is something to that, for when you are involved in a creative endeavor the more focused you are on your work inspiration does occur, taking you in directions you had not thought of. That is one of the joys of creating.

My mind will be writing with a certain intent, but then inspiration swoops down, sneaks through my ear, seeps into my brain, where it whispers a strikingly singular thought that ignites a bursting light, giving me an ‘aha’ moment. Now I am heading into another direction. And I love it.

But . . .

Inspiration does not have to find you working. Inspiration can come through dreams. Many of my short stories have come to me through dreams, or just letting my mind wander where it chooses as I sit in a chair, TV and radio off, just me waiting for something to creep into my thoughts. It never fails (almost never). Or it can strike you as it did when I was walking in a cemetery, saw a well dressed old man, carrying a shovel among the graves with intent and purpose in his walk. I turned away and let inspiration strike me and it did. The result was Flowers for Martha Clemens.

I may be confusing inspiration with imagination. My Roget’s offers for inspiration: animate, invigorate, energize, vitalize, exhilarate, awaken, stir, thrill, and exalt, among other words. Imagination in my Roget’s says: dreaming, creative, visualize, idealize, vision, reflection, whim, fancy, among other words and phrases.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary I found this about inspiration: “The sense evolution seems to be from “breathe into” to “infuse animation or influence,” thus “affect, rouse, guide or control,” especially by divine influence. Inspire (v.) in Middle English also was used to mean “breath or put life or spirit into the human body; impart reason to a human soul.” Literal sense “act of inhaling” attested in English from 1560s. Meaning “one who inspires others” is attested by 1867.”

For imagine I found this: “mid-14c., “to form a mental image of,” from Old French imaginer “sculpt, carve, paint; decorate, embellish” (13c.), from Latin imaginari “to form a mental picture, picture to oneself, imagine” (also, in Late Latin imaginare “to form an image of, represent”), from imago “an image, a likeness” (see image (n.)). Sense of “suppose, assume” is first recorded late 14c. Related: Imagined; imagining.”

It seems that inspiration and imagination are connected in the creative process. When inspired something ‘breathes’ something into your soul and it infuses your imagination.

I don’t like that Picasso appears insistent that inspiration only finds you when working, because nobody likes to be working. I will take revelry, dreams, and lazing about. But I was inspired to imagine the following e-Books available on Amazon. And now back to work as my revelry is over. For now.

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Are you beautiful or lovely-the difference

The definitions I am using from the 1959 Webster’s New World Dictionary come from a blog I subscribe to by CS Perryess. On should give credit where credit is due. He loves words and old dictionaries. These definitions are great for writers because writers need to be specific; the right word for the right reason.

I will compare words from the 1959 Webster’s New World Dictionary that Perryess cited to my 2000 American Heritage Dictionary.

Beautiful: 59 Webster says, “applied to that which gives the highest degree of pleasure to the senses or to the mind and suggests to the object of delight one’s conception of an ideal.” My 2000 Heritage says, “having beauty.” I think Webster wins here, though the Heritage definition of ‘beauty’ closely resembles the 59 Webster definition of ‘beautiful,’, but not with the succinct clarity of Webster.

Lovely: 59 Webster says, “applies to that which delights by inspiring affection or warm admiration.” My 2000 Heritage says, “Having pleasing or attractive qualities; beautiful.” Once again Webster has a more beautiful definition.

I pause here to say that I have the American Heritage Dictionary because-and I forget who-recommended this dictionary for writers. I am having second thoughts.

Moving on to . . .

Pretty: “implies a dainty, delicate or graceful quality in that which pleases and carries connotations of femininity or diminutiveness.” My 2000 heritage says, “Delightfully pretty or dainty.” Webster now up 3-0.

Comely: “applies to persons only and suggests a wholesome attractiveness of form and features rather than a high degree of beauty.” My Heritage says, “Pleasing in appearance; attractive.” I must say here is where Heritage, to be blunt, really sucks. Their definition is generic, non-specific, lacking any ‘definition’ in the definition. It is is blah. 4-0.

Fair: “suggests beauty that is fresh, bright or flawless and, when applied to persons, is used especially of complexion and features.” My Heritage says, “beautiful; lovely.”  Really? That’s it. That’s all you’ve got? Webster’s 5-0.

Yuck to American Heritage. I looked up ‘yuck’ in my Heritage Dictionary. It says, ” Used to express rejection or strong disgust.” Well they got one right.

What I find in the 59 Webster’s is clarity in language, a defined definition. What I find in my 200 Heritage is blandness, unimaginative language, lack of clarity.

I used my Heritage from time to time on my e-novels on Amazon.

But I will be buying a new dictionary today.

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What is the Difference Between Someone or Somebody

Writers need to be precise whether writing fiction or non-fiction. There are many words whose definition is so subtle that the wrong word can throw off the sentence.

So in working on my e-novel yesterday I stopped myself trying to decide whether to use ‘someone’ or ‘somebody’ and thought to see which is proper in the context of my sentence.

I checked six books on language usage, books that discussed problem words and expressions, the which word when type of books. There was no mention of either word I was looking for. I checked the dictionary and found either word is okay, they are interchangeable.

If they are interchangeable then why do we have two words? Can’t we eliminate one or the other. If they mean the same thing then one must go.

But wait I said to myself. Check the Internet.

One site confirmed they are interchangeable, but that someone is five times more popular in usage than somebody. Fewer syllables, easier to use. But one site is not conclusive and how do I know someone is five times more popular. What is their source.

Another site said the following: ‘Someone’ is used if you are in a location where there are many people around, but you don’t know whom you’re referring to. Sounds confusing? To break it down, if used in a sentence ‘“ ‘Someone has left the room and started screaming loudly’ it means you don’t know exactly who left the room with all the people around.

‘Somebody’ is used if you are in a location and you are referring to a person with a slight importance. For example, ‘Somebody has left the room and started screaming loudly.’ The use of ‘somebody’ is to refer to the person whom you possibly know but unknown in the current situation.

Huh?

Again the source is not known. From where do they get that definition, especially when every other website or grammar book says they are interchangeable.

Does anybody know the answer. Or is it ‘Does anyone know . . .’

Okay let me grab a book

If somebody, or anybody, is interested in my e-books then anyone, even someone, can click and learn more

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How a Candy Bar Changed My Life

It happened when I was four years old. A seminal moment I will never forget for even at four I realized something, and what I realized changed my life.

My aunt was driving me someplace, the where and why forgotten. I remember she stopped at a drugstore and went inside to purchase something. She came back out and handed me a candy bar.

I was curious as to what the candy bar was called. I was a year away from learning how to read, so I needed some help.

“What is the name of this candy bar?” I said.

“You know,” she answered.

“Now I don’t.”

“You know,” she said a second time.

Being four and being a boy, I was subject at times to a temper tantrum. I was on the verge of one by saying with strong emphasis, “No I don’t know. I CAN’T READ!”

I stared at the still unwrapped candy. It was long, had a silver wrapper and some letters on it. I kept looking down at it while my aunt pointed to the first letter. She said, “This is the letter U and this is the letter N and this is a O. It says U-No.”

“OH!”

I realized the power of letters. I realized the power of words. I learned the power of being able to read. I felt I was on the outside, that I was at a disadvantage.

This point was driven home when I learned how to read. Beginning with the Dick and Jane readers, progressing to the Hardy Boys, moving on to Jules Verne, I kept reading because the power of words, what they meant, what they symbolized was like having a super power.

I still read. I read fiction, non-fiction, e-Books, magazines, newspapers. And candy bar wrappers. I read because knowledge is power, but knowledge is gained from reading and discerning, analyzing, and thinking about what I read. And it is the letters, the words, that convey all that you need. U-No what I mean.

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”
– Confucius
“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
– Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
– Frederick Douglass

Reading also led me to writing as these e-Books on Amazon attest.

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Defining The English Language through slang, jargon, and “The Arrival”

In the preface to Dictionary of American Slang, Stuart Flexner defines different aspects of the English language. I quote his definitions along with my American Heritage Dictionary (AHD).

  1. Slang, ” body of words or expressions frequently used by or intelligible to a rather large portion of the general American public, but not accepted as good, formal usage by the majority.”

No offense to Mr. Flexner, but that is a stiff, academic definition. My American heritage Dictionary is more fun. ” a vocabulary of casual or playful, often short-lived expressions, especially for humor, irreverence, or striking effect.”

I can wrap myself around that definition. The Flexner definition comes from a 1967 copyright copy of the slang dictionary. Perhaps words become more clearly defined over time, an evolution of meaning if you will.

     2. Colloquialisms, as defined by Flexner, “familiar words and idioms used in informal speech and writing, but not considered explicit or formal enough for polite conversation or business correspondence.” He adds, “Unlike slang, however, colloquialisms, are used and understood by everyone in America.” He cites an example of “Friend, you talk plain and hit the nail right on the head,” as a colloquialism.

I always wince at ‘polite conversation’ as the phrase makes me think of boring conversation; after all, polite indicates being nice and not offending anyone, and what fun is that. The AHD defines it as simply, “informal speech and writing.” 

3. Dialects, again by Flexner, “words, idioms, pronunciations, and speech habits, peculiar to specific geographical locations.” AHD says ” A regional variety of a language.” Essentially the same definition, just with fewer words. Though, in this case, I like Flexner.

     4. Cant, jargon, and argot, are “words and expressions peculiar to specific segments of the population,” according to Flexner, and that sounds like his definition of  colloquialisms, but going deeper, cant is ” idioms . . . understood only by members of a specific occupation, trade, or profession.” Jargon is “technical, or even secret vocabulary of such a sub group; jargon is ‘shop talk.’  I plead stupidity as I see no difference, only different words in defining terms. Argot is ” both cant and jargon of any professional criminal group.”

AHD defines cant, much the same way as Flexner, but as secondary usage, the primary usage being ‘Insincere speech full of platitudes or pious expressions.” Is this a case of a word perhaps evolving into a different type of meaning? A generation or culture can change the meaning of words over time. Consider the word ‘gay’ that has gone from a meaning of gaiety and fun to sexual preference.

AHD then says of jargon, “Nonsensical or incoherent talk,” as the primary definition, once again using Flexners definition as secondary. As for ‘argot’, they are in agreement.

What does it all mean?

It means words are something we understand, though we may not always be in agreement with meanings. There are nuances, slight changes, and evolving language over time, even interpretation. If we are not in agreement it leads to miscommunication, and on a larger level, perhaps arguments, even wars. Think of the difficulty of language in the movie The Arrival, not just with the aliens, but with all the countries trying to understand each other as well as the aliens. Understanding words and meanings are important-and fun to study, if you love language.

Language is a virus from outer space- William S. Burroughs.

Here are my viruses e-books on Amazon

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