I was rather fortunate to visit an exhibition of Norman Parkinson’s fashion photography from the 1950s and 1960s, at Bristol’s M Shed. Sixty choice images telling the story of how the formal fifties gradually morphed into something more free, culminating in the very mini skirt of the late sixties. With Mary Quant aplenty – as well as some real life fashion exhibits to accompany the stills – it was a neat education. Not to mention the dozens of magazine covers – predominantly Queen, but also Vogue and Life – all of which completed a small but perfectly formed snapshot.
I’ve been struggling with ‘making my dialogue work’. So after a reminder from one of my MA course mates, it seemed the perfect moment to revisit Robert Graham’s essays from the previous term. In his book ‘How to Write Fiction‘ Graham lists the seven key attributes dialogue should have. For easy reference I have summarised below.
1. creates and builds narrative tension
2. reveals character
3. is usually at its most effective when it comes in short speeches (2 lines max)
4. is often indirect (characters say one thing and mean another)
5. is characteristic of the person speaking it (make sure the right character is saying the right line)
6. is multipurpose (more than one thing going on at the same time, even if displaying multiple points from this list)
7. People don’t listen, characters don’t always respond (non-sequiturs make for good dialogue)
Refreshed and enthused, I will revisit scenes and try some new ones.
It hasn’t been the easiest fortnight for me and my book (sounds quite lonely and sad that). I tinkered with some new and reworked copy for my MA cohorts, and while there is praise there is also a lot of criticism. All constructive of course, but looking at other people’s more coherent narrative arcs and the like, I was left feeling a bit disheartened.
I also realised my fragmented approach to writing so far had left my laptop littered with a trail of word documents, none of them very well labelled. More of a mishmash of docs in a folder entitled NOVEL. Thank goodness I’ve still got the Scrivener trial. It was recommended by a course colleague, and I also have a user manual installed on my Kindle, specifically for the purpose of using Scrivener to write a novel.
Today I sorted all my bits of copy (I think) into parts, chapters and scenes as I see them at the moment, as well as adding some research notes and links. More to do, but I’m starting to feel in control, which is a start.
I recommend all essayists, novelists and the like take a look at Scrivener to see if it might help get things in order and make your life a little easier.
It’s been a difficult week as I’ve become really bogged down with the tense of the opening of a section of writing. Bizarre really. I was writing in a sort of omniscient present tense (all breathy and immediate) but as I progressed it felt a bit laboured and as if I might write myself into a corner.
So I sought advice from my current MA workshop tutor (who was really helpful) and it seems the above can be the case. So I started writing in a 3rd person past, relating the events. This seemed to flow more readily.
I’m still not sure though.
Also, having read back some of the 2,000 words I’ve written recently (not a great effort in the space of a month) I decided they were decidedly below par. Not a complete waste of time, but less good than I would have hoped. I’m now combing through trying to see if it’s a structural issue or whether there’s too much in one place, or if it’s just badly written :0).
Not a good week on that front. More positive things to follow I hope!