My last post was about balance, and all weekend long I fought to maintain it. Despite the swings back and forth between sane and not, I completed several writerly tasks without driving my family away.
I rewrote a few more chapters in my WIP, I punched out drafts for two posts, and I read more of Becky Levine’s book, The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide.
I love Becky Levine’s down-to-earth writing style.
Unlike the evil antagonist in my mind, she doesn’t judge her readers when she discusses the elements of storytelling that a writer should know – but might not know – well enough.
Take, for instance, point of view. I know it, for the most part. But when I got to the chapter on point of view and read “close third” versus “distant third,” my personal antagonist pounced on my moment of insecurity.
“You should get this part, easy,” she hissed. “If you don’t you should go back to writing 101.” Then, she skipped off into darkness and left me with my head hanging.
Levine is much more gentle. She doesn’t assume the reader’s knowledge, one way or the other. She simply drops in a reminder about the differences between each point of view and moves on.
She goes on to explain that while point of view helps us determine who narrates the story, voice brings the narrator to life:
When I read a book where [voice and point of view] are strong, I come away certain that, if I met the story narrator on the street, I would recognized him or her. And it wouldn’t be the color of her hair and eyes that would look familiar, it would be her personality. If I stood and talked to her for a few minutes, I would be able to state the book where I’d “met” her before. When I experience this feeling, I know that the author has created a truly distinctive voice (p. 82).
Browse through a host of writer’s blogs, and you’ll find plenty of posts on voice and attempts to uncover the mystery behind creating that strong voice in writing. After reading through more of Levine’s book, I honed in on one way I can strengthen my narrator’s voice in my WIP: dialogue.
Dialogue moves the story along, breaks up long narratives, and aids in character development. Levine calls dialogue “the multitool of fiction.”
When you look closely at [it], you’ll find tools for character, plot, setting, voice, you name it (p. 91).
Voice, there it is. But, Levine doesn’t mean just words bubbling from a character’s mouth. Dialogue beats (as she calls them) reveal meaning behind those words, insights into a character’s personality, or the tone of a conversation.
Dialogue beats are the words and phrases surrounding a character’s spoken words (p. 95).
For example, here’s a piece of dialogue from one of my past Wednesday’s Word posts with, what I think, is a dialogue beat tacked on the end:
“Carry Millie for 50 yards as fast as you can. Whoever crosses the finish line in the least amount of time wins the grill!” Her mother clapped to get the crowd going.
What strikes me about the importance of dialogue beats is not so much how they enhance a narrator’s voice. Misuse of dialogue beats can skew the point of view or clutter the scene with too much information.
My WIP is written in close third person point of view (pow – take that, evil antagonist. Get thee back to thy dark corner). Dialogue and dialogue beats are crucial in creating that strong narrative voice for my story. Which means, as I finish rewriting this draft (and then return to the beginning again), I must keep an eagle eye on every aspect of the dialogue I write.
Looking back, today, through a few old posts of my own to find an example of dialogue and dialogue beat, I couldn’t keep my mind off of voice and whether or not it clearly showed through in each post. As painful as it is to read back through old pieces sometimes, I love seeing the work through a wiser eye. I gain that wisdom through reading the works of authors like Becky Levine.
On a side note, we writers woke up on the same plane of thought this morning, with dialogue on the mind. I saw a few other links to posts on dialogue come across Twitter. Here’s one on “dialog tags” (Behler Blog’s term for dialogue beats).