The verbose help guide: dialogue and character

Hey, I have 100 WordPress followers now. Maybe I should do a celebratory giveaway or something.

Last time I talked about setting out dialogue.

Today I want to talk about characterisation via dialogue.

Dialogue, as a reader, is hands-down the thing that makes me engage in your writing (if you write fiction). As a writer, it’s the thing that makes me write. You see, I’m not a visual reader. I don’t see this talked about often, such that it took me twenty-nine years to know this absence of response to visual media (as opposed to a preference for other methods of engagement) is in fact a thing: there seems to be this assumption that everybody has the ability to see things inside their heads on some internal movie screen. I don’t. I don’t have, and never will, see anything I write in my head. It wasn’t until a teacher (speculative fiction writer and poet Tracey Rolfe) mentioned that she also doesn’t have this ability (she knows things on an abstract level, but she doesn’t see), and this is why she works so hard on visual description in her writing, that the penny dropped. Other people see things when they readWould you believe that I had no idea this was the case? It explained so much: visualisation techniques recommended by psychologists and other sundry pain specialists resulted in frustration, annoyance and tension such I’d end up wanting to tear my eyeballs out of my head (sadly, no hyperbole). I never understood why they set such store by this thing or how it was even possible to do. To me it was absurdity.

I don’t interact with the world on a visual level. I can tell by your tone of voice what your mood is, but I’m never going to know the colour of your eyes or how many times you’ve worn that pair of shoes. However, readers who are not me expect (especially in speculative fiction) a moderate to high level of visual description, the painting of images via words. We might laugh at the extremes of Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin, who describe everything and at length, but most of us still expect the words an author writes to provoke a mental image. I work hard to describe as much as I do (and to find the right balance of description: because I don’t see anything or even desire it, I don’t know on an instinctual level what is too much or too little) and I’m nowhere near mastering visual description in the way I need to be a great writer.

Why am I telling you this?

Dialogue is my entry point into a book. I’ve got fantastic auditory processing in terms of memory and comprehension if I’m in an environment where my sensory processing issues aren’t overburdened by competing noise (I don’t go to clubs because I hear everything, which means I hear nothing, and I’ve been to many a restaurant, bar or cafe that’s almost as bad). I can hear and recollect (flashback, even) words people spoke, complete with pitch, tone and emotion. When I read each character has a different-sounding voice in my head (and their dialogue voice sounds different from their prose/narration voice). None of this makes me unique or special, by the way. We all do it. It’s just that for me, in the absence of my inner film screen, I am more reliant on my inner radio to develop a connection with the characters. I can appreciate what they look like on an abstract level – ooh, the protagonist wears metal band T-shirts – but I’ll never see it. I will hear everything they say. Good, human, real-feeling, emotional, distinct dialogue – not necessarily clever dialogue, snappy dialogue, funny dialogue or witty dialogue – matters to me because it’s how I build a sense of your character beyond the abstract. It’s how I slide into their skin and journey with them through your book.

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Three simple words: I’m an author

My new job involves talking to a lot of new-to-me people. (It also involves epic losses at Magic the Gathering and being walled-in by Funko Pop! figures.) I’m spending a surprising amount of time chatting to shop regulars while they browse cards from the 2015 core set and buy up most of our Planeswalkers, which usually leads to questions about who I am and what I do when I’m not grabbing the Khans folder from under the counter.

To you, my readers, the answer seems obvious. I write verbose blog posts, short fiction and novels. I write about writing, creativity and the life of a queer-with-mental-illness writer. I spent a large part of last Thursday talking about my writing process to my fellow writer-friend, which is illuminating in the sense that I have enough awareness now, about my own process, to speak on it. I’ve written two novels and one novelette in this year alone, so I think I’ve grasped the output side of writing. Sure, I don’t have many readers as yet, but I’ll keep working on that, and, maybe one day, I’ll be able to make half a living income from my words. Everything else I do is pretty much an adjunct to writing or a way of keeping a roof over my head while I write. It doesn’t matter what people say about my writing (although those comments are most often positive): that is incidental to the fact that my life is about the arrangement of words to create meaning.

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The verbose help guide: dialogue

I told Julia Kyle that I’d been reading a bunch of self-published and indie queer ebooks, most of which I didn’t dislike but did leave me in want of books about queer, trans and non-binary leads with mainstream-standard (good mainstream-standard, because we can all point to any number of awfully-written mainstream-published novels) copyediting and/or structural editing. I’m not even talking content, here (the amount of women, the handling of queer relationships, the fact non-binary people don’t exist, the way authors slept through Year 12 Biology because they don’t understand how a fever works, the repeated failure to write horses in anything approaching a correct fashion). I’m talking the nuts and bolts of sentence construction and ebook design. I’m talking the things I’d love to never see in a book, the things I’m editor enough that I can’t unsee or ignore, the fiction-writing basics that are in fact not-basic enough they slip past even attentive and edited self-published and indie writers.

Julia made the mistake of asking me if I’d write a post on these things: what to do, what not to do, how to avoid it.

I may have cackled. A lot. And responded with enthusiasm enough she quoted me on Tumblr. Someone wants me to talk about all the things running through my head every time I crack open a book? Someone has given me permission to get on my editorial high horse? Fuck and yes, mate.

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Queering words: a field guide (part 2)

Hello. Last time I discussed the two basic rules for approaching the language used by the queer people in your life, which can be boiled down to don’t be a douche, but sometimes we say things that seem reasonable to us without understanding that they’re not-so-reasonable to the audience. After all, empathy, sensitivity and respect aren’t exactly qualities prized in Western society, and privilege makes it hard to develop these traits with regard to minorities. How does one be a genuinely empathic person if one doesn’t have some experience of pain and suffering? How does one relate to that pain if it is only an abstract concept?

I think this is why so many allies complain about misandry, reverse racism, heterophobia, cisphobia and other such reverse/anti isms coming from minorities. Think about it. If you haven’t been hurt, if you live in a society where you are privileged and prioritised, having somebody call you a cracker or a fucking cishet is probably going to feel like a hit to the face. Of course, there’s no systematic oppression behind those words, nothing but a tired, frustrated and hurting minority voicing their pain, but when one has no or little experience of pain, when society is set up to tell you that you are amazing, special and deserving of having every fucking book written about you, it probably feels like oppression. Imagine a spoiled rich kid getting a shock because his parents tell him he can’t have a new iPad after he threw the old one on the kitchen table and cracked the screen. We, who are not rich, just roll our eyes. Allies who don’t share the minority status in question are that rich kid. We minorities know it’s nothing like the knowledge of waking up in the morning knowing that people loathe you so much they deny you basic human rights, a scratch compared to a broken nose, but allies don’t. In my experience, the best queer allies are those who have hard-earned knowledge of oppression in other ways (my friends who understand chronic health problems, mental illness and misogyny, for example). They are the most able to put themselves into my shoes and do what they can to make life as easy as possible for me.

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Promotion: rabbits, creativity and words

I know. You come here for discussion about, oh, writing and creativity and queerness and gender and mental illness … not rabbits. Even if they’re ridiculously cute rabbits, which they are (trust me, I’ve seen all the photos). Your life may be better for the detour into rabbit gorgeousness, but that’s not exactly what you expect to find when you venture into my world of pondering and verbosity.

These aren’t any ordinary rabbits, though.

These are my friend Miche’s rabbits, and this is her book on looking after Netherland Dwarf Rabbits in Australia, complete with her gorgeous Anne Geddes-esque photography.

This book matters to me because, over the last couple of months, I got to midwife this project.

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Reflections on acknowledgement and gratitude

I feel I should mention that this is less an argumentative essay – this is why you need to do what I’m doing – and more a reflection on why I feel the way I feel.

I believe in crediting as many of the creatives as possible who are involved in allowing me to create the things I do.

It’s all the more important when those creatives have put their work (images, textures, fonts) into the world for free.

Now, I think I give back in the sense of paying forwards: a great deal of my work goes out into the world for free, too. If I were getting paid for every word I wrote, I’d be putting down the well-deserved licensing fees for the images and fonts I use. As it stands, however, I wouldn’t be earning much money from my words even if I insisted on payment (the artistic world doesn’t work that way), so in order to create I am obliged to the generosity of other creatives (who live and work in the same boat when it comes to revenue and the creative life). Creation, in fact, doesn’t happen in isolation. Sure, I can create words myself. I’m fortunate enough to be able to edit them myself (to an extent, anyway) and design books myself, but I sure as fuck can’t design a good font, print my book or pop my book in an online store without the unsung assistance from other creative people. This post would not exist without the designers and web techs who developed WordPress and the layout I use. I can make lovely documents in InDesign, but I do that on the back of the many, many designers and technicians who created the program; I do that on the back of the foundries who created the fonts I love. There’s a reason why Adobe Creative Suite costs so much money, and it’s not (just) because Adobe CS operates in the same kind of industry-standard monopoly as Microsoft Office. Consider how much a good font package alone can run for!

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Words matter, but what about the packaging?

Excuse me for a moment, blog, while I hold conversation with the students who come after me.

Sherryl Clark asked me to write this after I expressed sadness at the lack of interest this year in Desktop Publishing and Publishing Studio classes. I am sad. This conversation happened at the launch of Platform 16, my first project credit as managing editor, a project that could not have happened without studying Publishing Studio the previous year. This post is something of a fusion of last year’s Rotunda speech, my Information Session speeches, my Litfest talk and the presentation I gave to this year’s Editing 2 students. It seems to be something I say a lot, but it also seems to be something in need of saying.

This might sound a little strange, given that I’m a novelist and short fiction writer by inclination. I’ve just finished the third draft of my novel, a project I’ve been working on for months, and by hook or crook will I see this thing published. Yes, I got a lot out of Advanced Fiction and Short Story. I’m learning a lot from Michelle in Advanced Non Fiction. My writing has improved no end by throwing myself into as many writing classes as I could squeeze into my schedule, and I don’t regret that for an instant: I know I wouldn’t have the ability to completely redraft a novel three times (and counting) without having studied Advanced Fic with Tracey. The novel I am writing today wouldn’t exist in its current shape without Myths and Symbols or Scriptwriting.

The classes I got the most from, though? The classes that have made me as a professional-to-be?

Desktop Publishing, Publishing Studio, Editing 2.

I know. They’re not about words.

They’re about liberation.

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