The Writer’s Toolbox: Dialogue – Part 3

One of my clients, a man who hopes to become a successful novelist, recently told me that his favorite writers are Pat Conroy, Cormac McCarthy, Stephen King, and Nelson DeMille.

I was glad to hear it. Those four authors cover a wide range of writing styles. During the conversation with my client, it became clear that he not only reads novels by these authors, but he thinks about the novels and the writing techniques that have made these authors so successful.

You should be doing this, too. By exposing yourself to variety in your reading habits, and by paying attention to how successful authors work their craft, you’ll be able to find your own writing voice and, hopefully, your own success.

Speaking of successful authors . . .

Block vs. Burke

In my recent blog posts about dialogue, I mentioned one of my favorite writers, Lawrence Block. I especially like Block’s Matthew Scudder series. Scudder is a private investigator who also happens to be a recovering alcoholic. He usually has serious personal problems to resolve while tracking down murderers, kidnappers, and other appropriately evil antagonists. The dialogue in these novels is typically quick back-and-forth lines that give the reader little in terms of physical setting and visual hits on the characters as they interact.

Another author I like is James Lee Burke. Like Lawrence Block, Burke has written a series about a private investigator. This man’s name is Dave Robicheaux, and he lives and works in the New Orleans area. There are a lot of similarities between Block’s character Matthew Scudder and Burke’s character Dave Robicheaux. Both are private investigators. Both are ex-cops. Both are recovering alcoholics. Both are intelligent and introspective. Both often have relationship problems. Both are good at solving murders.

With all those similarities in their stories and main characters, you might think that Burke and Block would naturally adapt similar styles in how they use dialogue.


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The Writer’s Toolbox: Dialogue – Part 2

In my blog post of February 10, 2014 (The Writer’s Toolbox: Dialogue – Part 1), I included an excerpt from Lawrence Block’s mystery novel A Long Line of Dead Men. Block depends heavily on dialogue to drive the story lines in his novels, yet his narrative rarely steps outside the dialogue to give the reader details of physical setting, and he rarely shows how the characters are reacting to one another as they talk. There aren’t many smiles or shrugs or hand gestures in Block’s dialogue scenes. Instead, he depends on the dialogue itself and the reader’s imagination to flesh out the scenes. Check the February 10 post for a good example of Lawrence Block’s technique in writing dialogue.

Block is a successful, award-winning author. Does that mean you should follow his example as you craft scenes of dialogue in your own novel?

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The Writer’s Toolbox: Dialogue – Part 1

I hope you’ve been keeping your toolbox close at hand, and that you reach into it whenever you need a tool to help you breathe life into a character, build tension into a dramatic confrontation, pick up the pace of your story, or give the reader important background information. If you write novels or narrative nonfiction books, characterization, drama, pace, and backstory are all important tools.

I talked about the writer’s toolbox in my January 14, 2014 blog post. My point was that instead of looking at things like characterization and plot as elements in a story, you should view them as tools to be used in crafting your story. It’s more than semantics. When a carpenter arrives at a worksite, he has his own toolbox with things like hammers, saws, and drills. He doesn’t tote these tools around because he wants people to know he’s a carpenter, and he doesn’t wait for the tools to hop out of the toolbox and assert themselves. The carpenter is in charge. He selects the tool he needs for a particular job, and he uses it in the best way to accomplish what he needs to accomplish.

Think of your writer’s toolbox in the same way, as something you reach for when you need to accomplish a particular task.

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