Thursday, October 8, 2015

Suspense, Interior Dialogue, and Vulture Warning

Zestful Blog Post #127

I keep a file of ‘Blog Notes’, and therein I just noticed that I’m supposed to mention that there’s a piece by me in Writer’s Digest’s latest ‘Workbook’, which are these few-times-a-year compilations of material for writers who are browsing the newsstand and want a nice juicy compendium of craft advice and inspiration for a reasonable price. This one contains a reprint of my “21 Suspense Hacks” article from the magazine. Coincidentally, this morning somebody at WD tweeted about the article, and my inbox got filled with notices of nice people retweeting it. Thank you!

I love this article, because I was able to do what I love most: remember great stories, reread some, analyze them, and then write what I think. I used examples from Edgar Allan Poe to Charles Portis (a severely underread and underrated author, in spite of the 47-year-old success of True Grit, a novel I consider one of the greatest gifts any author ever gave to the world) (the movie/s don’t do justice to the incredibly witty and nimble prose of the book; the movie/s are fermented vulture dung compared with the book), Mary Renault, Aesop, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, and even God.

What kind of suspense did God write? Well, in the Bible it tells us that he kicked the angel Lucifer out of heaven (for cause). Right there, you have this banished, injured party. What do we think—that Lucifer’s gonna just slink away and never be heard from again? Hell, no! And therein lies the suspense. If you have a banished angel in chapter one, you know you’re going to put a vengeful son of a bitch later in the book. You just have to.

I can’t tell you how much I love to write articles for that magazine. Each one is a combination of essay and research paper, which, hey, I actually went to school for. Usually, I pitch ideas for articles to the editor, and she says yea or nay.

But last week an editor for WD Books got in touch asking for an original chapter for a book on dialogue they’re putting together for next year. They’re reprinting some other stuff of mine, and this new piece needs to be about internal, or interior, dialogue. I said yes—yes being the right answer for pretty much every question in the universe—and now I’m thinking about it.

How cool is that? 2,500 words on how characters think, essentially. How great authors have represented that, how to do it, mistakes to avoid.

[BTW, vultures seem to have an entire repertoire of nefarious deeds.]

Two days ago I went on an airplane journey. There’s always a point during the flight, after my nerves settle down from all the airport zaniness, after I’ve done the crossword in the puke-pocket magazine, where there’s like this mellow window of creativity, and I write. I wrote general ideas about this article, and I realized what a meta subject internal dialogue is. Rightly, of course, it’s internal monologue, not dialogue. But you have the character reflecting, thinking, making judgments, and those judgments are not always what the character puts out to the world. That’s part of a great writer’s art.

Isn’t it cool, just to be able to think and write about this stuff? What would you like me to address in this article? Welcoming any suggestions/requests.

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  1. How do you feel about literally an internal dialog? Can it be pulled off or does it seem like the person is some kind of nut because she is talking with herself. The old adage,it's okay to talk to yourself as long as you don't answer, is that true, do you think?

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  3. Betty, somehow your post came up twice, so I deleted one. I definitely use literal interior dialogue in my books, come to think of it, especially the Lillian Byrd books. The construction I use is like this:
    ME: (...)
    ME: (...)
    ME: (...)
    etc., with Lillian arguing back and forth with herself on some point. It's comic, and it's an economical way to show her internal conflict. So yes, it can work, if your tone and style can handle the inherent jokiness of the format.

  4. thanks for your article in WD Nov/Dec 2015. It inspired me.

  5. You're welcome, Dina. Glad it rang true to you, and thanks for stopping by and letting us know!


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