I’ve spent the last week on the way to, at, and coming back from a writing conference. (Still not home yet.) I have a bunch of notes, even more presentations I need to go back and catch up on the recorded videos, and a few to mourn making the best decision available with limited time.
(I do not regret looking at a friend I only see every few years, and saying “I can always catch that panel on video. I can’t catch lunch with you on video. Don’t worry about it.” Even though it turns out that one wasn’t recorded… still the right call!)
But I have a little oxygen problem. Namely, the altitude and my lungs were not friends… by the end of the conference, I was somewhat acclimatized, but the travel to and from went over 7,000 feet altitude, and that wasn’t friendly at all. (Thank G-d and capitalism for supplemental oxygen in a can.)
So what do I do when I want to make with the words, and the brain is working on three out of six cylinders? I brainstorm. I can’t quite call it outlining, though those of you accustomed to such exercise are welcome to do so. I think of it as writing down the POV of the next chapter, and then listing out the pieces that will go in, like finding the edge pieces or any really unique bits of a jigsaw puzzle. Snatches of conversation. Objective for the chapter. Bit of scenery.
If I can, I then assemble them. This method worked out to about a completed chunk of WIP every three days.
But I couldn’t even fully manage that some days, especially when overnighting in Flagstaff, AZ. What then? I read through the WIP, and whenever something stick out at me, I do minor bits of editing. It keeps me in the story, and allows a pass for better description and dialogue.
Speaking of dialogue, one of the interesting bits of advice given this week was in a panel on writing for audiobooks, by a gent whose books have won a fair number of Audies. We all know that repetition of words is an irritant to the reader and listener – it’s why we take care not to repeat a word or phrase repeatedly in a sentence, paragraph, or page, because the repetition is… Yeah, you’re already making stabby motions with your pen, aren’t you?
But we make an exception for the word “said”, believing it invisible to the reader. And because readers skim, it often is. But because audio listeners can’t skim – every word is delivered at the exact same pace – and because they’re getting exact readings, no abridged, the repetition of “he said” “she said” “Jack said” “She said” “John said” “Jane said” is like a constant dripping faucet of torture to the listener.
This author noted that his first book used the word “said” 800 times.
The most recent epic fantasy? 150.
There’s still a place and time for it, especially in complex conversations between several people. But even there, he replaces a lot of the opportunity for “he said” with an action beat. “Jack tipped his chair back and studied the rest of the board.”
And in conversations between two people? If their styles of speech are different enough, you can drop a lot of dialogue tags and the audience can still follow along just fine.
What say you?