Writing Challenge: day 48

Day 18 of the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge was on descriptive writing and why less is more. Another lesson on showing and not telling. While I intellectually understand this, actually doing it is much harder. Here are Lynn’s tips on descriptive writing:

  • Use all of your senses
  • Do not overuse adjectives
  • Use unusual similes
  • Avoid clichés
  • Use original metaphors
  • Be original
  • Don’t over do it

Today’s writing exercise was to describe our childhood bedroom. This was a challenge to figure out because my Dad’s Navy career and then going to college had us moving every few years. But I tried to tackle it and ended up writing about my baby blanket. I hadn’t realized that it was a constant through all the moves. It must have been a comfort when home changed from Hawaii, to Maryland, to Odgen to Seattle and finally Rexburg. As a teenager I used that tattered soft flannel quilt as the base for a colorful bedspread. Last time I was in Rexburg, it was still there. I’m sure it still is. My Mom doesn’t through anything out. I doubt anyone else remember that my baby blanket is inside.

Writing Challenge: day 47

How to format dialogue was the topic for Day 17 of the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge. Lynn gave seven tips that I’ll need to refer back to as I’m writing my Dad’s history about Key West. Here they are:

1. Each time a new conversation or speech begins, you start a new paragraph. Additionally, every time there is a new speaker in a conversation, there is a new line. You do not include multiple speakers in one paragraph, so if one person asks a questions and another person responds, the question and the answer must be on two different lines. The use of this technique allows your reader to keep straight who is speaking.

For example:

Victoria asked, “When is Adam leaving for America?”

“On Thursday,” Grandpa replied.

2. Learn to use single and double quotation marks. Double quotation marks are used to indicate dialogue unless it is a quote within a quote, in which case single quotation marks are employed.

3.  Understand the placement of quotation marks. Tradition dictates that punctuation falls inside the quotation marks. You may find some editors and professionals who are changing this practice but I would encourage you to stick with tradition.

4.  Use commas before dialogue tags, for instance:

“I don’t want to go to Grandma’s house,” Helen said.

5.  Dialogue Tags are the he said/she said of quotations. Don’t use these as forms of descriptions.

For example:

“I don’t want to leave,” Adam whimpered.

Instead of telling the reader he whimpered, spend your time describing the scene so we can see the image of Adam whimpering.  It is perfectly acceptable to use he said/she said multiple times or not at all. The idea is your tags should be invisible and the focus should be on the dialogue.

6.  With that being said use dialogue tags sparingly. You don’t want a string of he said, she said, he said, she said cluttering your story. If you know your characters and have given them a distinct voice, your reader will know from the dialogue who is saying what.

7.  Capitalize only the first word of a dialogue sentence. If your dialogue is interrupted by a dialogue tag or description, you do not need to capitalize the second part of the sentence.

Today’s free writing exercise was to write a conversation and practice formatting it correctly. I tried to remember the details of the conversation I’d had with my Dad not long before but I could only remember a couple of exchanges about the weather. We also talked about the history but I couldn’t remember the words that we used. So I went to Facebook looking for a short video and I found this one.

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Here is the dialogue I wrote from the video. Feel free to let me know where I’ve messed up on formatting.
Walking across the deck, Dad follows the carefully laid out string to where it ends at Jimmy’s tooth. He can’t help but let out a little laugh as he looks at Jimmy’s face but he puts on his serious face and says, “Hi Jimmy.”
“Hi,” Jimmy replies with the string hanging out of his mouth.
“What are you doing? Huh.”
“I’m just getting my tooth out,” Jimmy says.
“And how are you going to do that,” Dad prompts.
“Gonna fire a rocket.”
“You’re going to fire a rocket? And it’s tied to your tooth?” Dad asks.
“Yeah,” says Jimmy.
“All right. Are you ready for this? Yeah? You gotta push that button real hard until that lights up,” are Dad’s final instructions. “You ready?” Jimmy gives a slight nod.
Jimmy focuses on the control box then up at the rocket and back again several times. His face finches. For a moment nothing happens. Suddenly Jimmy smiles and touches the empty spot in his gum. It worked!
This was a good exercise and one I’ll use in lots of places. I’ve wondered about how to format dialogue before and just pretended I knew what I was doing. I was also reminded that my memory isn’t as good as it used to be. Not sure it was ever that good at remember things like conversations though. Did you learn anything new from Lynn’s 7 tips or did you know them all already?

Writing Challenge: day 44

Today I tackled day #14 in The Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge. That makes it the halfway mark. Yeah! I’m learning lots on this journey. The topic for today, “Re-Creating Past Conversations” is basically how to add dialogue without crossing over the line into fiction. Here is a little of what Lynn had to say about sources for re-creating dialogue:

  • Notes from an oral history interview and direct quotes from interviews can help shape dialogue in your stories.
  • Quotes from diaries, letters, affidavits or other documents can be constructed into dialogue. You can use these sources to give the illusion of dialogue in your narrative.

Lynn emphasized that while we should never make it up, she thinks here a two exceptions to the rule:

  • You can look to remembered conversations to add dialogue. Perhaps you remember your father telling you a story about his grandfather or a conversation you had with your grandmother but you can’t recall the conversation verbatim. You can recreate the conversation capturing the essence of the exchange, as long as you are open about the recollection.
  • You can also create habitual or typical dialogue. Habitual dialogue is merely capturing the flavour of a conversation that happened in real life, demonstrating the sort of talk that went on, but you stop short of claiming that it actually happened. Be clear about this. This is where you’ll cue the reader with inference cues such as usually, or always.

For today’s writing exercise of listening to a conversation and writing it down to get a feel for how real dialogue goes, I went to the library. I needed to pick up a book they had on hold for me anyway. It wasn’t a very successful attempt. I couldn’t hear well enough to catch very much of the conversations. Usually I could hear one side of it or they were walking and they would get out of range. Silly place to choose now that I think about it. We are trained to talk quietly in the library and people doing a pretty good job of it. I think I’ll try this exercise again at the first opportunity.

Have you used dialogue in your family history writing? My first and only attempt so far was with My Grandma Mary.