Saturday, 19 September 2015

Can Internal Dialogue Make Your Novel Better?

Firstly, what do we mean by internal dialogue?
Internal dialogue is the name we give to the technique used when writers show their character’s thoughts, as opposed to actual dialogue denoted by quotation marks. It’s also known as internal thought or inner dialogue.
With inner dialogue, the reader is privy to your character’s thoughts, but of course, the other characters will not know what your character is thinking. This makes for a really interesting perspective within any story.
Why is it used?
Internal thoughts are a great way of revealing character. It lets the reader become part of the character’s personal and intimate thoughts and therefore they learn what your character is really like, what they truly think and feel, but it also gives the reader their true motivations.
These thoughts give the reader some insight into the character that wouldn’t normally be revealed in the narrative. Often they can reveal the real character – deep personality traits emerge, inner emotions are revealed and a different side to your characters can be shown.
We also use inner dialogue to raise the emotional level of the narrative, all from a personal viewpoint. For example, when we see the terrible effects of war through the eyes of a character at the gates of Auschwitz, we hear his thoughts, we feel his pain and loss and his fear. As readers, we get to understand the character from a different and personal perspective.
More importantly, internal thoughts create immediacy. If you want to make a connection with your reader, then internal thoughts will do just that.
Another thing it does is allow the reader to see any conflict the character might have – since conflict is the fuel of every novel – whether that conflict is between the main character and others, with outside forces or whether the conflict is simply with him or herself. That conflict can be revealed within their thoughts.
Writing Inner Dialogue
There is a lot of conflicting advice regarding how internal dialogue should be written, but there is no hard and fast rule on this, other than to always be consistent.
There are plenty of ways internal thoughts can be shown to the reader, however, they should never be enclosed by quotations marks, simply because the use of quotation marks denotes vocalised speech.
Also, beginners tend to make the mistake of writing dialogue tags even after telling the reader who is doing the thinking. For example, you need only write ‘he thought’ rather than ‘he thought to himself’ or ‘she wondered to herself’.  Adding the tag ‘to himself’ or ‘herself’ is unnecessary because the reader will know the character is thinking to him/herself.  He thought or She wondered are adequate.
The most common way of presenting internal thoughts is by using italics, which differentiates between Arial or Times New Roman font used for narrative and dialogue seen in most books. This acts as a visual marker to the reader. Once it is clear who the viewpoint belongs to, the reader will know who is doing the thinking by the use of italics, for example:
He stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile, and saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings.
No! What’s happening…where are they taking the women?
Here, the character is fearful about what is happening and sharing his thoughts with the reader. This gives a personal viewpoint and it lends perspective, depth and emotion to the story. You will also notice that the thoughts are presented as present tense. The character is presently thinking – it’s an action not consigned to a past action, therefore it must be shown as present tense.
If the character was recounting what had happened to someone, i.e. something that was in the past, then the thoughts would be presented as past tense:
He had stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile, and saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings.
No! What was happening…where were they taking the women?
The example shows that it’s a past recollection by using ‘He had’ at the beginning, which tells the reader it’s something that occurred in past. The rest occurs in past tense to keep it consistent.
The same general inner dialogue guidelines also apply if you are using first person, for example:
I stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile, and saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings.
No! What’s happening…where are they taking the women?
You will notice that italics were not necessary in this example – you don’t have to use italics if you’re using first-person narration, simply because the reader will already know who is doing the thinking – it can only be the main character whose viewpoint is the basis of your novel.
Another way to show thoughts to not use italics at all, but to simply use a thought tag to denote who is doing the thinking, for example:
He stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile, and saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings.
No! he thought. Where are they taking the women?
The only thing to look out for if you use this method is that it’s wise not to pepper your narrative too much with ‘he thought’ or ‘she thought’, but instead use them sparingly, especially if you have multiple POVs and you have to differentiate between a number of characters for your reader.
How They’re Presented
The examples used here show the internal thoughts on a new line, like speech. Many books do this as a standard way of presenting thoughts. This simply makes it easier for the reader; however that’s not to say it can’t be included within narrative, because it can, as long as it’s set out properly and you identify who is doing the thinking, for example:
God, it’s so cold, he thought, as he stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile. He saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings. No! What’s happening…where are they taking the women?
Or this example:
God, it’s so cold. He stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile. He saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings. No! What’s happening…where are they taking the women?
These examples show how thoughts can be included within the narrative. They work just as well as thoughts that are set out on new lines. Whichever method you choose, the key is always to remain consistent throughout the story.
There are, of course, some things that writers should be aware of, so that errors don’t occur.
Don’t head hop. You don’t have to write the thoughts of every character in your novel. Just stick to the most important main characters, the ones the reader is truly interested in.
The reader doesn’t need to know every unimportant thought from your characters. The reader only needs to know the thoughts that move the story forward and advance the plot.
Always be consistent.
So, can internal thoughts make your novel better? They are a versatile tool for the author, they add depth, emotion, they reveal character, they create immediacy and they make it personal to the reader.
Internal thoughts add that extra dimension to your writing, so don’t forget to make full use of them!

AllWrite will be taking a short break and will return 10th October

Sunday, 13 September 2015

How to Build Your Strengths as a Writer

Writing is a constant learning process. It is always evolving and therefore writers also evolve.
Being a good writer isn’t enough. We all have our own strengths where our writing is concerned. Some of us are brilliant at description. Some of us can do realistic, snappy dialogue. Some of us are meticulous plotters and planners and some of us are good at all aspects of writing. But whatever that strength is, there is always room for improvement.
Writers are always striving to be better, so how can you build on your strengths as a writer?
Read – a lot
The more you read, the more aware you become aware of writing techniques, individual voice and styles and the way writers set out their narrative and dialogue. Reading other famous authors is still the best way to gain an insight into how it’s done. Long before the internet was invented, most writers learned their craft by reading lots of different books.
The more you read different genres, the better your understanding of fiction writing becomes. Not only that, but reading will also increase your vocabulary and your awareness of narrative and dialogue. By reading well established authors, you will also get to understand the how differently they approach writing; it will give you a greater appreciation of fiction writing and will no doubt inspire you.
Always Plan
At every opportunity in the story writing process, much of a writer’s strength will come from planning – everything from chapter breakdown, plot, characterisation, themes, subplots, setting and so on.  Planning is advantageous because it acts as a guide and directs the writer where to go next. It can also prevent writer’s block or other writing problems.
Become a novel planner and you immediately build on your strengths as a writer.
Criticism and Feedback
Criticism – a word that makes most people shudder – is something every writer needs to face. Why? Because even if the criticism levelled at us seems unfair and unwarranted, it has an uncanny knack to build our resolve to push us to do better, regardless.
Sometimes the criticism is right and necessary – perhaps someone points out that a particular scene doesn’t work, or maybe the characters seem flat and uninspiring, or maybe the story has the feel of a limp lettuce.  A good writer will recognise and understand those criticisms and do something about it. They can correct those weak aspects or errors and thus learn from it so that they don’t repeat the same mistakes.
There are also times when criticism can be unwarranted and unfair. Sometimes those who criticise are the kind of people that have no knowledge, experience or expertise a writer or the publishing industry as a whole. Sometimes the critique comes from someone who has never faced the scrutiny of an editor or been traditionally published. (Self publishing doesn’t count, since there are no quality controls in place to sort the good from the positively awful, and the majority is badly written).
The other thing that helps a writer is constructive and positive feedback from editors, publishers or other readers who can point out the areas that you are good at, but also highlight the areas where you are weakest. This is where feedback is essential for new writers in particular - it means they can then concentrate on the weak areas of their writing and improve their skills.
Rejection can work in the same way – it allows writers to accept any criticism, learn from and improve because of it.
Attend Workshops/Writing Courses
Workshops are another good way to learn more about writing, particularly as there are plenty of shared resources available to help. You can also talk to other writers, share advice and experiences and further learn from any writing courses on offer.
Join Writer's Group/Writer’s Forum
Writing groups or forums can be beneficial to budding writers because they are often made up of a range of people with differing levels of experience and skills.
Sometimes, speaking with people who have the experience of being traditionally published can help because they have a wealth of knowledge and experience and can offer advice that is tried and tested, but also offer various levels of support, and often there are usually people there who have expertise in certain areas of writing.
Learn to edit
Don’t assume that once your magnum opus is written that all responsibility for it can be dropped and it can be dumped in an editor’s lap for them to sort out. If you do, then don’t become a writer – as part of the skill set of a writer you should learn how to edit to a sufficient level that you learn about your writing, you learn what you’re doing and you spot your own mistakes.
Editors can help with grammar and syntax, characterisation and sentence structures etc, but they can’t tell you about voice and style or interfere with the true sense of the work. Don’t expect others to wipe your backside when you can do some of it yourself.
Write, Write, Write
It goes without saying – the more you write, the better you become.  Everything you write is considered practice, of sorts.
Not everything we write will be perfect – far from it. Every first novel is dire. That is until we start learning and improving until we gain confidence and the skills to make that novel into something that someone will want to read.
And don’t stop at novels – short stories and flash fiction are a great way for writers to improve and hone their skills.
But the best way a writer can improve on their strengths is to listen to feedback, learn from it, read voraciously and keep writing.
Next week: Can internal dialogue make your novel better?

Sunday, 6 September 2015

How Many Storylines Can a Novel Have?

This is one of those questions that writers – particularly beginners – always ask, but the answer can depend on the type of story you are writing and the amount of characters you have.
Firstly, writers should understand what we mean by ‘storyline’. A storyline is another word for plot, which is at the heart of your story. The plot is the main storyline; it’s what your novel is all about. A novel will have one main plot and several smaller storylines to accompany it.
Think of these little storylines as story threads.
Character Storylines
Having more than one storyline is not uncommon – in fact, your main characters will have their own storylines within the overall plot. If they didn’t have their own stories, the novel wouldn’t be as fully fleshed out as it should. Important characters will always have their own story to tell and certain parts of the novel should reflect this.
For instance, one character might have a particular background story that relates to the main story, or perhaps one of the other main characters has a story that intertwines with the protagonist’s story in such a way that it requires further attention in order to develop the story arc.
You can have as many storylines – or threads – as required, since there are no rules on this, however it’s wise to keep things simple and uncomplicated, especially if you are writing your first novel. That means you don’t have to write a storyline for absolutely every character. Writers tend to concentrate on just one or two key characters, otherwise too many character threads and subplots will just make things messy, because for every subplot you create, you must satisfactorily resolve it by the end of the novel. And if you have too many, it could cause problems.
In fact, the amount of storyline that you write for the each character will depend on how important each thread is to the main plot, so for instance, if one of your main character’s storyline is closely entwined with the main story arc, or closely related to the protagonist, then you should develop it accordingly.
If, however, the storyline is secondary or not as essential to the plot, then it should warrant only a small amount of attention by comparison. 
Your primary storyline will always be about your protagonist. It’s their story, their journey, and finding the answer to the main character’s goal is the driving force of the story. The rest of the characters just happen to share lots of experiences with main character along the way.
Subplots are another word for storylines. These refer to the mini-stories that are related to and run parallel to the main plot. Hence the name sub-plot. (‘Sub’ in Latin means something that is beneath, below or behind – so a subplot is a storyline that is below or considered behind the main plot).
If, for instance, you have a hero who falls in love with the girl, then there will be a sub-plot to support this. In addition, there might also be the girl’s own storyline. Both these will run parallel to the main story. Or you might have the hero and another character working together, away from the other characters and the story, which again, could form a sub plot. And that other character could also have his or her own storyline, too.
It may sound complicated, but in truth it isn’t. If you think of each main character having their own little storyline, then in addition to that you might have a sub-plot involving one or more of the characters that revolves around the main story, then the process will become clear.
In truth, a novel can have many storylines. Obviously, the downside is that if it has too many then the novel will become overcomplicated, hard to follow and a chore to read. They should never overshadow the main story plot and never become too many that they swamp the main story entirely.
In fact, writers don’t have to have that many storylines in order to write a good book. The idea is to keep it fairly simple and easy for the reader to comprehend – this makes for a much better novel to read, and a much easier one to write.
Next week: How to build on your strengths as a writer