Why a Writer Should Work Like an Actor

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 choose 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 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.

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.

Why rewrites-Take a Peek

To give some insight into rewrites I will show the original opening paragraph to a short story that is due in two weeks. Then I will show the revision and indicate reasons for change.

The original opening:

On a white park bench near a cobblestone footpath in Queen’s Park, London, sat Mayda Engel waiting for the American writer, Gordon Manton, renowned for his mystery novels and of being suspected in his wife’s death eight years ago. No body was found; no hint of a crime scene, but of course the rumors, the suspicions. It’s always the spouse isn’t it?

And now the revised opening:

Mayda Engel looked left, then right, before glancing behind her. She was sitting on a white wooden bench near a cobblestone footpath. Her heart pounding, her breath laboring, her mind wavering back and forth; yes she was meeting a murderer at his request, but no she told herself, he was never arrested, only suspected. His wife’s body was never found, no crime scene, nothing to indicate murder, only malicious gossip eight year ago when the wife of writer Gordon Manton disappeared. Mayda didn’t believe he was a killer, but still, one can’t assume, or at least, should not assume.

Reasons for the revision:

The original is bare bones, giving the facts as to who (Mayda), where (Queen’s Park, London), what (waiting) and though it indicates who she is waiting for, there is not enough hook.

But in the revision, she is clearly apprehensive, looking left, looking right, looking behind her. Her heart is pounding, her breath labored, her mind wavering. Is she meeting a killer? It better engages the reader.

The original is passive, the revision more active. I also dropped the location of London because I revised the entire story, making cuts about why Gordon bought the house which resembled the Keats house in Hampstead, therefore location was no longer important. The cuts were done because it added little to nothing and was not needed. When in doubt delete.

A writer always wants to get things right and because of that there is a tendency to spend a lot of time on each paragraph. This is something Goethe did. He said he wrote one page per day and never looked at it again. But he said, he would rewrite that page over and over, and over and over. And again and again.

Everyone is different in their approach. But maybe it is best to write down the bare bones, keep writing with an active mind, getting down as much as you can before your mind shuts down. Then let it sit, get back to it with a fresh mind and see what is missing and fill in the details.

No matter your approach the key to writing is the rewriting. And the rewriting. And maybe I will give it another look tomorrow.

Here are two collection of e-book short stories available on Amazon.

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Two exercises to tone up your novel writing

In order for your novel to flow smoothly, keeping your readers interest, there are two writing exercises to challenge yourself with to make the writing better.

One is to experiment with short stories, and I include flash fiction as well. Writing a short story  is like going on a diet. It forces you to take the fat out of a story, leaving you with lean writing. In a short story you can not pad with cake and ice cream, meandering through a landscape of unneeded calories as you struggle to build a word count acceptable for a novel. Short stories and flash fiction  mean getting to the climax quick with shorter wordplay, using fewer words, and less is more. It is about thinning your writing, compressing and condensing.

The second exercise is to write poetry. I confess my creative sense and sensibility does not lend itself to this discipline. If I could overcome this obstinate obstacle my novels would be better. But do as I say, not as I do. Challenge yourself. I do have a degree in English Literature and have read and studied poetry, so I have background to fall upon. What poetry does is force you to develop a better understanding of imagery and metaphor. And of course a rhythm.

Imagery are the sensory feelings and thoughts conveyed to the reader through words; so use the right words for the right image. For instance, take the cliché phrase ‘He has as much chance as a snowball in Hell.’ Blah. How about ‘He has as much chance as a Dracula does of getting a suntan.’ Two things here, a cliché has been eliminated and a more colorful imagery has been put in it’s place.

All writing, even a novel is an experiment, but through short stories and poetry, you are preparing yourself for a marathon called a novel and the better prepared you are the better you will do. When you compress your writing from exercising through short stories and mix in appropriate imagery you will be a lean, mean writing machine.

I could have written more, expanding on my theme here, but I am trying to cut down on words.

At Amazon my E-books, fat or thin, depending on your sense and sensibility.

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A short story about a magical book for you to read

My short story, The Book That Couldn’t be Put Down was published last year in Mason County Writes. I offer it here to read at your leisure.

The Book That Couldn’t Be Put Down 

It began so innocently.

Kellum Buchman, who frequented library sales, rummage sales, Goodwill, thrift stores, used book stores, any outlet for cheap books, was considered a bookworm by sneering lowbrows, considered a booklover by loving family, and  Kellum, who was browsing for books at a yard sale when it happened, considered himself, without snobbery, a bibliophile. Then it happened.

It was such a simple act. Picking up a book he noticed on a table full of well-worn books, old magazines and postcards, something he or anyone has done hundreds of times. It was an old book, one with a leather cover, thick with crisp pages; excellent condition really. Holding the book in his left hand he read the copyright page. A first edition from 1909 from a writer he had not heard of, not that it mattered to Kellum.

He decided to buy it and was switching the book from his left hand to his right, when he noticed something odd. He looked up to see if anyone noticed. The person in charge of the yard sale was sitting in her aluminum framed patio chair not looking at him, but chatting with another woman, both as old as most of the books and magazines on the table. Other bargain hunters were scanning flower pots, bowls, silverware, and other human detritus, once key components of a life, now either trash or collectibles depending on one’s sensibility.

Still looking around him, Kellum tried pulling the book off his left hand. It would not come free though his left hand was flat against the back cover. He turned around, his back to customers, and quickly put out his left arm, palm up; but the book did not drop, simply falling open like a spread out accordion.

Turning around he drew the book to his chest, trying his best to act nonchalant.  He intended to buy more books, but considered the inherent problem. What if another book he picked up with his right hand . . . no, it could not be chanced. He walked up to the woman in the aluminum chair and paid $2 for the book and hurried off.

Back in his apartment, bookcases on four walls surrounded a much faded, well-trod on Oriental rug. A green swiveling comfy chair, the arms of which were no longer green where the hand would rest, but stained brown from human contact over how many years sat in the epicenter of the rug with a 1950ish floor lamp placed near the chair for optimum reading. Standing near the lamp Kellum once again raised his left arm and tried to shake loose the book and once again it would not fall. He tried to pry up the book at the corners, peaking to see if there was some type of Super-Dooper gloopy glue that was causing this unnatural act. He found nothing to indicate why the book was stuck to his left palm.

He tried to think of what do to. Could smearing butter or grease break the hold? He didn’t see how as neither could get between his hand and the book cover. Hot water? Besides damaging the book he didn’t think it would work, after all how hot should the water be? Boiling? No, that was not the answer. Take a knife and slowly slide the blade between fingers and book to see if he could edge his fingers away.  He had a box cutter, but ruled that out as being too sharp and would no doubt cut away his skin. He got a pocket knife and tried to pry the book away by sliding the knife near the bottom of his hand, but though he could, with some trouble mind you, get the knife slightly between book and skin, going any further proved fruitless.

Then an idea struck him. He bent over, his left palm facing down, the book resting on the floor. He then placed each foot on either side of his palm, the feet resting on the edges of the book, and then pushed down with his feet while trying to straighten his back. Smart plan, but high hopes turned to frustration as the desired effect did not come close to success.

Kellum sat in his old green swivel chair, his head tilted back, stared at the ceiling. He just sat and stared, thinking of nothing, pretending what happened was not real, but a dream. He was using deniability as a method to calm his nerves, come to a peace in which the answer would come to him without thinking. No need to panic, no need to overthink. Relax and let the answer come to you.

An hour or so later he woke up. The book was still there. No dream and no answer. Having a book attached to your hand presents problems. He realized this when he had to use the bathroom. Now I will not tell you what he was doing as in either case you can imagine for yourself the problems he encountered. It was, of course, awkward. Not to mention time consuming.

And naturally making dinner or any meal was also problematic. He was for all intent and purpose a one armed man. But one who forgot that at times and tried to do something, but the book would knock off a glass onto the floor, shattering into small pieces, presenting yet another problem. At least a normal one armed man does not have the weight of a large 1909 leather-bound thick book pulling at you. It forced him many times to bring the book to his chest like a professor walking with his books to class, hugging them so they would not escape.

Showering was out of the question; bathing being a reasonable alternative, he was able to come clean without too much distress.

But these were the least of his problems. The larger one being he would have to call in sick tomorrow for how could he go to work and do his job as surgical tech, sterilizing medical instruments and assisting in surgery. And for how many days would he have to do it?

Naturally he thought of going to a doctor, he knew many of them. They of course called him a bookworm and other related indignities, though of course intellectually he knew bookworm was not an insult, but emotionally he felt the way his coworkers used the word, it seemed to be insulting. Going to them would make him the object of intense ridicule.

So he called in sick, again and again and again, until he was told not to come in any more. He never left his apartment except to take trash out and only in the middle of the night. He ordered home delivery of his groceries, telling the store to place them outside the door, knock, and then leave. He paid online and always tipped. He paid all bills online, declined to accept any invitations from family or what few friends he had to go anywhere. He had become a recluse.

Then things took a hopeful turn.

One night he took out the trash and a young girl noticed him struggling with the garbage bag, the book hugging the bag. He put the trash in the can and turned and saw the girl.

“You can’t put the book down, can you?” she said.

“What are you talking about?”

“No matter what you do, the book will not let go of you; the book is stuck on your hand.”

“How did you know? Have you been spying on me?”

“No. The same thing happened to me.”

“But you have no book now. What happened, I mean how did you get rid of the book?”

“Have you read the book?” she asked.

“No . . . I mean I . . . wait . . . your smiling. That’s it! You mean all I have to do is read the book and it will leave me.”

“It worked for me. Think about it. When you read a book you get involved with characters, their stories, it can consume you, staying with the story until it is over, then there is the come down after the reading when everything returns to normal, the story fades away as another story in another book takes its place. Read the book, finish the story, and life will return to normal. The story wants you, needs you as much as you need it, for a story needs readers as much as readers need a story, so the book is insisting on being read and you will be one with the book until it is finished.”

“It’s so simple,” he said. “The answer was obvious, it was in front of me all this time and I couldn’t see it. God, I feel stupid and me a reader. I guess I got mad at the book and blamed it or something. I read other books, not easy, as I’m sure you know, but . . . there the book was and I hadn’t even bothered to read it. Thank you. I’m glad I met you.” He looked at the book on his hand, smiled, and then looked up at the girl. She was gone. I didn’t get her name he thought. In fact he had never seen her before. Maybe she was a new tenant in the building.

Back in his apartment he started to read the book, got distracted thinking about the girl, about 19 or so, maybe older, her dark shoulder length hair, her suggestive smile-thought he thought that he might be projecting her smile as suggestive to flatter himself-but she did have cute dimples.

He shook off his memory of her and restarted his reading, getting involved in the characters and the story. The book was nearly 600 pages so could not be read in one night, or in two. As much as he wanted to finish the story, to let the book fall way, to get back to a normal life, he felt it could not be rushed. Each book, each story, had to be savored like a gourmet meal; letting the flavor come to you, slowly chewing it all, taking it all in bit by bit.

Over the next couple of days as he got further into the story he noticed a change. It was not any loosening of the book, but a change in his skin. It started that first night, the night he met the girl when taking out his garbage. His skin color was yellowing ever so slightly and it got progressively yellower and dryer each day. Naturally it worried him, interfered with his concentration of the story, as he continually went to the bathroom mirror to check his skin. He also noticed it was not just his arms, but his legs, his face, his chest, in fact his entire body color was changing the more he read.

On the third day looking at his skin while sitting in his green comfy chair on the faded oriental rug he realized what the skin looked like, realized as he rubbed his right arm over his left arm above the book. His skin was like parchment, in both color and feel. Was the book poisoned or something? The girl never told me about this? Did it happen to her? He never noticed as she stood mostly in shadow near the trash cans. In fact, he thought, I didn’t get a good look at her at all.

Then he could no longer read, feeling that, in fact, reading was making things worse, that the more he read the more his skin was turning into parchment. But that was not the case as going without reading for a day his color did not change. In fact, after not reading, his hair was turning to what can best be described as papyrus. And his eyes; his eyes, once hazel, now looked like white pulp.

Then things got worse.

On the fourth or fifth day, he could not remember which, as he could not sleep and lost track of time, he noticed writing on the parchment of his skin. In sentences winding around his arm beginning at the wrist and moving upward, he saw the words appear as if someone were writing on his skin. He looked at his legs and saw the same, sentences being written as he watched. His chest the same. He hugged the book to his chest and tried running to the bathroom to check his face, but he could not run as the front of his body was changing. The shirt was becoming a hard cardboard like material, the same on his back. He could not make it to the bathroom. The book was not done with him. It was not that the book could not be put down; the book would not let him go. They were becoming as one.

A week later a young girl with shoulder length dark hair walked into Kellum’s apartment. She looked in very room and did not see him. She saw a large book on the floor between a large green comfy chair with worn down arm rests stained from years of human contact and the bathroom. She squatted down and looked at the large leather bound book and smiled. She did not touch it.

Other weird stories by your host are found in these two E- books on Amazon

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