stephen king

reading, writing, and social field hockey

I learned something about myself when I started my sophomore year of college at Millersville University.  I enjoyed being athletic and fit, and I enjoyed spending time with my friends, but I did not love field hockey.  **gasp** This was a big surprise, because I really thought I did.

I learned this as the fall progressed without me, for the first time in eight years, picking up a hockey stick.  I had so many good memories, but what I learned that season was that it wasn't the sport itself I enjoyed.  I loved being with my friends, working towards a common goal, fighting together, laughing (and sometimes suffering sunburn) as a team.  Oh, and winning. We were pretty awesome, you know...

Don't get me wrong, I LOVED watching the US Field Hockey team play their last game before the Rio Olympics.  It's a great sport.  But the game would have been weird to watch alone. I was there with my dad and my sisters, rehashing wonderful memories!  We could've been cheering for baseball (GO YANKS) or for a group of synchronized mamboing penguins.  My point is, what I thought I loved was not what I loved.

What I have learned now that I'm this wildly mature adult version of myself is that I love the social aspects of all things I do. Board games, sports, eating... I love the talking and the story-swapping and the laughing and the "you think that's bad wait until you hear what happened to me" one-up-man-ship of talking with interesting people.

Reading (and writing, I've learned) for me is also very social.  Like Stephen King taught me in On Writing, I write better dialogue because I'm an extrovert.  I want to talk about my book. I want to Book Club with other people and dialogue about the characters I created. (Yes, I used Book Club as a verb.)  I want to hear them laugh and watch them read the sad parts. 

Nothing has made me happier than hearing people's comments as they read The Senator's Youngest Daughter. I recently had the privilege of sharing a Facebook messenger dialogue with a friend as she read my novel.  She opened the book over a period of days, letting me know what she was thinking and experiencing as she read it.  What a glorious, encouraging, treasured experience for me.  

I love making people laugh, making people feel something, so to experience her trip through Brenna's story was fabulous.  Some of the comments would be enormous spoilers, so I can't relate them all here, but here's a sample of how she made my day:

  • I may or may not have neglected every chore I had today in exchange for more time with Brenna.
  • I can't stop.

  • Poor [husband] has only seen my forehead sticking out the top for two days lol

  • I just got goosebumps.

  • I'm sad it's over. Please write more books.

So no more field hockey for adult me, but hopefully more writing in the future.  And I want to talk to you about it: about what you're reading, about what I'm reading, and hopefully, about what you thought while reading what I'm writing.  



             

beats to balance a novel's dialogue and description

"How do you balance dialogue and description in a novel?"

"That's a good question, self."  

"Thanks!"

"And I'm happy to answer it."

Hmm.... I think I've gotten too used to writing in dialogue. I read something interesting in Stephen King's On Writing (which you have to read if you want to write fiction; it's required) that discusses how introverts tend to write more/better descriptions and extroverts (me! me! me!) tend to write more/better dialogue.  This is probably what led one of my helpful pre-readers to remark that certain parts of that draft of The Senator's Youngest Daughter felt like reading the script of a play. 

What an insightful comment for me to hear.  In my rookie zealousness, one thing I'd done upon printing out my first copy of the book (then still entitled "The Doghouse") -- after celebrating that I'd written 214 pages and then lamenting how much paper and ink I'd used -- was to use a blue highlighter and mark sections of the book that I thought were too boring to look at. In other words, anything that was more than a paragraph or two of "description" I marked to be turned into dialogue. 

So, had I been writing a script?  Maybe!  Or maybe I was trying to keep my book from being boring. Either way, my uncle's instinct turned out to be also a professional insight as I heard the same thing framed in a different way from my editor, John David Kudrick.  His comment centered around "beats."  

What's a beat in writing?  I'll pass on his comment verbatim:

Nice to get in some “beats” (actions) during dialogue to help us better see the characters. 

This was a revolutionary discovery for me.  As a reader, I hate when an author inserts a lengthy description or character's thought in the middle of a conversation.  No one honestly has time between being asked "how are you?" and answering "I'm fine" to notice the color of the sky, the scent of the coffee shop across the street, and the man shuffling newspapers on the nearby bench.  So while still avoiding the interruptions I dislike as a reader, I can still engage my own readers' imaginations to picture my scene with simple "beats."  

Some examples I liked that editor John suggested:

  • I shrug.
  • Tate sighs.
  • Kyle nods.
  • Gabriel rolls his eyes.
  • Dad pauses, then continues.

So simple, right?  But yet, transformational.  I love what they did to my dialogue.  As an added bonus, they helped me avoid the dreaded adverbs with which I'm otherwise known to over-season my writing.

  • "Kyle nods,." before his agreement replaced "confidently"
  • "Gabriel rolls his eyes," before his retort replaced "sarcastically"
  • "Dad pauses, then continues," before the rest of his thought replaced "hesitantly"

 

"Kelley. how do you balance dialogue and description in a novel?"

I raise my eyebrows. "I don't know; The Senator's Youngest Daughter is my first book!"

"But I'm asking your opinion!"

I shrug. "Then, I'd say, try using some beats. They're simple actions that break up dialogue and help your reader better see the characters,"