How do you put a soundtrack behind written fiction?

I haven’t written anything here in a while. The good news is that I’ve been writing and submitting fiction as much as my schedule allows, racking up the rejections and all. Anyway, I had a thought the other day that I wanted to share.

George Lucas once said something to the effect that a soundtrack is a large portion of a movie. Now, I remember him saying this, I think it was during an Academy Award ceremony back in about 1993 but that’s over 20 years ago. I tried looking it up and the quotes I come up with say 50% so let’s go with that.

I started thinking, how do we create a sound track with a piece of writing? I don’t mean literally. I suppose I could mention pieces of music, put quotes from lyrics at the beginning of every chapter, etc., but I don’t think that’s the answer.

I find that I enjoy fiction written by people who are either poets or also write poetry a great deal, it’s somehow richer. So, my suggestion is that we create soundtracks for our fiction by our word choice, by the rhythm and flow we create in the sentences we write. Then there’s all the wonderful tools of the poet – alliteration, metaphor, simile, hyperbole and anything else you care to include.

I’ve been thinking of creating a short story that simulates the improvisation of jazz. Soon, maybe in April during Camp NaNoWriMo. There are a couple projects to finish up first.

Just a thought.

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Writing dialogue without quotation marks?

QuestionMarkWoman1922

I just finished the novel Benediction by Kent Haruf. This was only the second book that I’ve read from the modern era that did not use quotes to set off dialogue. It wasn’t totally foreign to me but, to be honest, I wasn’t aware that there were a number of authors doing this.

The only other book that I’ve read, written in modern times, that used this quoteless dialogue was Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which I loved. It was a work of speculative fiction so I assumed that her lack of quotes to delineate dialogue was part of her intention to create a certain atmosphere. I accepted it and really enjoyed the story. I thought the lack of quotes gave it a very internal feeling.

I thought the lack of quotation marks in Benediction was difficult to follow at first but I was soon okay with it.  Again, I thought it gave the novel an internal feeling or perhaps even a timeless feel.  It was as if I were looking at events that happened through frosted glass.

I wondered why someone would choose not to use quote marks to delineate dialogue. I did a quick search online that led me to an article from Lionel Shriver on the Wall Street Journal site where I learned that a number of modern authors, including James Frey, Kent Heruf and Cormac McCarthy, are popularizing the trend.

Shriver contends that “By putting the onus on the reader to determine which lines are spoken and which not, the quoteless fad feeds the widespread conviction that popular fiction is fun while literature is arduous.”

Here’s one of my prime problems with it. I have no problem reading dialect and dialogue without quotation marks. I’m a very fast reader and can adapt. However, I know people who simply cannot read dialect, such as Mark Twain. Their brains simply don’t translate the written word into sound in their head. I believe that writing is about communicating. Anything that gets between the reader and the story inhibits that communication. Now, I know that not every book is for every reader but, as writers, shouldn’t we be trying to communicate in the most clear manner possible?

I also came upon a an interview Cormac McCarthy had done with Oprah some years ago in which he says that the intent is to make the reading easier, not harder. “If you write properly you shouldn’t have to punctuate.”

He does concede that “You really have to be aware that there are no quotation marks to guide people and write in such a way that it is not confusing who is speaking.”

I think that is a rather large challenge and whether writers who write without quotation marks live up to it is another matter altogether.

I took this issue to my writer’s group last night. One of my group contended that a good story will not be brought down by poor grammar or punctuation. Another member said she wouldn’t be able to get past the first few pages. Yet another threw something on the floor in disgust and said that it was sheer laziness on the author’s part.

I think I will personally continue to use quotation marks in my writing, but I won’t reject a book just because the author does not use them.

What do you think? Were you aware of modern authors writing books without quotation marks to set the dialogue apart? Do you enjoy it? Do you do it yourself? I’d love to hear some more perspectives.

Organizing a NaNoWriMo Novel The Jim Butcher Way

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Okay, first of all, do you know who Jim Butcher is? He writes this fantastic series of urban fantasy books based around a wizard named Harry Blackstone Dresden in modern day Chicago. If it sounds interesting, there’s already something like 12 books in the series. Check him out at your local library or on Amazon. Here’s Jim Butcher’s Amazon page.  

Okay, he also writes another series called Codex Alera and I’m sure the writing is just as fine but I haven’t read it so I can’t say I love it, like I can the Harry Dresden series. They are fun, fast-paced action but also really good writing and he always hits me with something deep somewhere along the way. Love it!

Anyway, he also wrote a a LiveJournal where he shared information on writing. I’ve been looking at distilling it down to steps I can use to plan my novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month.)

Here’s what I came up with. If it looks interesting, check out Butcher’s LiveJournal for more in-depth and better explanation. Be warned, it goes backward. You have to scroll to the bottom to the see the first entry then work up. 

Some of these were good reminders for me but some were new ideas that make good sense, like the Stimulus-Response Transactions.

  •  Conflict should exist in one form or another in every single scene. 
  • All of your characters need to have a goal
  • Use “Stimulus-Response Transactions.” Something happens to your character and he/she reacts. If you reverse that, it can confuse the reader so don’t do it unless you are very confident.
  • Write in either first or third person, especially if you’re just starting out. It keeps things much simpler.
  • Choose your point of view character based on who has the most to lose.

Write a Story Skeleton description of the main plot of your book in two sentences.

“*WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS*, *YOUR PROTAGONIST* *PURSUES A GOAL*. But will he succeed when *ANTAGONIST PROVIDES OPPOSITION*?”

Characters

What is (or what makes) an interesting character?

  • Exaggerate a feature – physical, mental or emotional.
  • Give them an interesting position, whether it is a social, geographic, intellectual or moral.
  • Introduce your character with a solid Characteristic Entry Action that is typical of who and what he is.
  • Make sure they act believably.
  • Make your character a whole, full person by showing his or her emotions, reactions and decisions.

I love the idea of Tags and Traits. It can help make your character unique if you pick the right combination and it helps solidify the character in the reader’s mind.

  • Tags are a few specific words you use to describe your character, and as much as possible, only your character.
  • Traits are unique items like a prop.

The Big Middle seems to be Butcher’s way of thinking of the climax. If it’s different, I’m not sure how. Maybe it just arrives earlier. (If somebody has a different understanding of this, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.) Basically, Butcher recommends creating a great big dramatic event for the end of the middle of the book which will lead directly to the homestretch.

The organization of scenes the way he explained it makes a lot of sense to me and really helps in plotting and organizing a story. They have to include –

Scenes

  • Point of View Character
  • Goal
  • Conflict (scene question)
  • Setback (scene answer)
  • Possible scene answers include
  • Yes! (but that gets you no where so) –
  • Yes, but..
  • No, and furthermore!

Sequels

Sequels are what happens after a scene. A character reacts emotionally, then thinks about it logically, considers possible outcomes to actions he could take and makes a decision. It’s simple and this is how people react to events so it keeps the reader moving forward quickly.

A Story Climax is the answer to the story question. It should include –

  • Isolation – friends can’t help him now.
  • Confrontation – obviously, with the antagonist.
  • Dark Moment – Confrontation did not go well.
  • Choice – between something good and something really bad.
  • Dramatic Reversal – poetic justice.
  • Resolution – keep it short.

Organization – The Basics

  • Write down your protagonist, his tags and traits, and how you intend to introduce him.
  • Ditto, but for the main opposition.
  • Create a story arc on paper or somewhere and fill in the opening scene, the big middle at the top and the climax on the right.
  • Fill in any scenes that you have in mind.
  • Add in phrases describing scenes that lead your character from one to the next.
  • Do Story Arches for all of your subplots.
  • Profile every significant character on his own sheet,
  • Outline scenes and sequels.
  • Repeat until climax.

As I said, this is the basics, Butcher’s (very entertaining) LiveJournal is something like 47 pages long and remember, this is one way to do it. Maybe it looks good to you, or maybe parts of it do. Take what works and leave the rest.

Happy Novel Planning!