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(Fark)   "Did not." "Did too." "Did not." "Did too." "Did not." "Did too." "Did not." "Mommee" This is your Fark Writer's Thread, reasoned debate and dialogue edition   (fark.com) divider line
    More: CSB, Fiction, Cascading Style Sheets, Anton Chekhov, short story, Fiction-writing mode, A Story, The Action, Short story  
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831 clicks; posted to Main » and Discussion » on 30 Sep 2020 at 5:05 PM (3 weeks ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook



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2020-09-30 4:01:12 PM  
A while ago, I had someone ask me a question from a friend about writing.  I dunno why, they seemed to think I knew what I was talking about in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, but I digress.  The question was, "Let's say you're writing a short story, and you're writing a bit of character dialogue. My friend is stuck in the dialogue and is looking for tips to get back to the 'action'."

I still think my answer was correct, if completely useless, but here's what I came up with as a response:

I would say the question misses the point.  Dialogue and action are both tools to move the story forward.  Dialogue is used to show a character's internal mental state, and the action should be derived from that.  If it's not directly required by the story, then it shouldn't be there (Chekov's Gun applies to everything) and if a story is stuck in dialogue, it may be either extraneous and not needed at all, or exposition that could or should be culled and replaced by showing, not telling.

If the dialogue is the story itself, or it shows the 'action' as being the characters changing over time, then its fine as it is, but if someone is stuck in it then it suggests it's not part of the story.


Writing question of the week:

As a writer, how would you approach the question?  How do you balance between dialogue and action?

Fark Fiction Anthology Update:

I'm working through the line edits for each accepted entry now.  Well, not right this second, but figuratively speaking.  I hope to at least send out all notifications by this weekend, even if I don't have the edits all done.  Progress is definitely occurring; I'm also continuously being blown away by how good some of the writers are here on Fark.  I've already had one 'Holy crap, I am not worthy to edit this' moment and I'm pretty sure there will be more. Stay tuned!
 
2020-09-30 4:04:56 PM  
I think about the story, everything flows from that.  If your story has numerous characters interacting, you're probably gonna have a lot of dialogue.  Don't worry about how much, just make it work.
 
2020-09-30 4:47:30 PM  
I kind of have the opposite problem. I've had to work to use more dialogue.

I tend to write either from a first-person perspective, or a 'tight third-person' where each section focuses on one character, and the narrator tends to take on some of the characteristics and diction of that character. (E.g. Lois McMaster Bujold, Charlie Stross sometimes, etc. As a simple example, in Bujold's novel "Cryoburn", there's a section from the point of view of the main protagonist, then one from his bodyguard, then one from a kid. Although they're all done in the third person, the vocabulary and descriptions shift toward the 'focus' character; like simpler sentences and smaller words for the 'kid' section.)

Those styles can make it easy to fall into "telling, not showing" if you're not careful. I find that forcing myself to take blocks of text (which I tend to generate first) and rework them into dialogue usually makes for a better flow.

The best solution to 'getting stuck in the dialogue' is to add some action. It's a movie, not prose, but "The Terminator" is famous for mixing its infodumps with action. If some character needs to explain something, they are simultaneously weaving through a car chase or hiding from the police or whatever. Have the characters doing something while they talk, even something as simple as washing the dishes. Describing how they move, pause, look at each other, all can be useful.
 
2020-09-30 5:16:34 PM  
I get a bit stuck as I expect my readers to make connections and inferences and figure stuff out. That said, you gotta lay out a lot in advance to make them want to like, or at least be interested in, your characters. Keeping the mystery in the story and the characters while still enticing someone to keep reading seems pretty tricky.
 
2020-09-30 5:17:14 PM  
No it isn't.
 
2020-09-30 5:28:23 PM  

edmo: I get a bit stuck as I expect my readers to make connections and inferences and figure stuff out. That said, you gotta lay out a lot in advance to make them want to like, or at least be interested in, your characters. Keeping the mystery in the story and the characters while still enticing someone to keep reading seems pretty tricky.


I write the story, write the dialogue, and along the way I add in description and, as I edit, I write more description and setting.  What you are doing is assuming your readers aren't stupid.  When you add in description and setting, you are getting them lost in the world you've created but you really don't need that much.  Too much and you slow things down.  Hemingway did it well and became the template for many future writers (although his parents didn't understand why people thought he was so good.  Good for him for not listening to his dumbass parents.).
 
2020-09-30 5:39:36 PM  
I'm currently reliving 4th grade since my kiddo needs assistance with remote learning. It's made me think about how writers can lose sophistication in trying to write for lower lexiles. There are authors that successfully weave wonderful stories at elementary level and those that sound just like the headline.

I went back and reviewed a story I wrote from the point of view of 6yos. I realized that I err in the other direction. I have this sort of airy mind-reading introspection going on. Not enough dialogue.

I am glad I write poetry for the most part, so I have a form that flows instead of a mess. But, in prose, I'd suggest that one of the big detractors I notice--and it's especially distracting in audiobooks--is the said, said, said... We're listening to a book rn that falls into that trap. A said, "Blah, blah, blah." B said, "Blah, blah, blah." And so forth.

If you can intersperse the dialog with action, I think that's the most important aspect, honestly. I think it matters less how much or little of it there is overall and more how it is integrated.
 
2020-09-30 5:40:45 PM  

toraque: As a writer, how would you approach the question?  How do you balance between dialogue and action?


ALL DIALOG ALL THE TIME, BABY! WOO!!

No, but seriously, that's just me. I play to my own strengths. You want a good story out of me, I'm good at making it go forward via people talking, win/win. I have read books with NO dialog, The Ruins comes to mind, which manage to pull that off just fine too.

It's all in the service of the story. What are you doing? Why do your readers need to know/see this? Do you need the most satisfying way to get from A to B right here or just the fastest?

I have gotten myself in a time situation where it's almost impossible for me to edit things down right now, because that would mean removing stuff I've already published. This last installment I'm doing this week has to be made to clean everything up (at least until I take my break and do a huge editing of everything fixing multiple issues) and it's almost all talking. I have to get a bunch of strangers home AND describe a new world mechanic I've introduced. But at the very least it all builds the characters and the world.

Honestly, I know I'm supposed to murder my darlings, but I'd rather let them have the funny conversation about race and culture while trying to eat breakfast than just say, "They were all very tired and they sat there staring at each other while chewing, like cows." If I think it's funny, I will usually leave it in, and I'm my only editor.

A sample, where I dash off a few hours worth of resolutions and everyone's current status because one character has been asleep (FARK likes to unformat things from Google Docs):

Then she checked the kitchen for occupants and demanded her update, without screaming: "What went wrong while I was asleep?"

Cerise turned and revealed a naked Lucy sitting in the sink with a bowl of some soft food, which the baby was either feeding herself with both hands or bathing in. It was yellowish. Hyacinth suspected an instant pudding. "Ah," said the pink woman. "Well, Tommy and Penny had enough playing house and they ditched the baby and went home. Annie has done something to her shoulder and although she means well she is not equipped to hold a baby and she is mildly stoned. When I suggested waking Calliope she stamped on my foot and scuffed my favorite shoes, so the baby went into the sink instead. Mr. Yaojing's hand started to hurt again, so we confirmed that he would like a merger and he didn't care about being conscious for it and then we fed him random things out of your doctor bag until he felt better. He wanted to lie down but Annie thought he ought to stay in the kitchen so we can make sure he's still breathing."

Steven had his head on the table. His hand was next to it, palm upwards with a blue ice bag on top. "Still breathing!" he confirmed for them, without moving. "Woo," he added.

"Calliope, Seth and Erik are asleep. Mordecai is trying not to, but I caught him snoring so he's in and out of it. The D'Ivers went upstairs to bed about an hour ago. Mr. D'Iver paid for breaking my hedge clippers, and I think you should pay him back because this is your shelter and everything is your fault. That little blond boy said he's not leaving until he knows his teacher's okay and I shooed him away from the basement but I'm not sure where he is. Fred still can't remember where he lives, but he coughed up this phone number. You can deal with that when you want to hike to someplace civilized. I threw food at the man in the attic and whatever that is in Room 101, and on that basis I think it's safe to say I have usurped all your authority out from under you and I am within my right to rule your kingdom and sentence you, the deposed monarch, to death."

Hyacinth considered her briefly. "So what's the hold up?"

"I don't want your shiatty kingdom, take it back so I can go home!"

"I'm really all right, I just need lower flats," Ann broke in.

"Woo," Steven said.

"Ba!" Lucy said. She reached for the pink woman with her sticky hands and was ignored.

"Can you dial Fred's phone number somewhere on your way home?" Hyacinth asked.

Cerise sighed. She tore the top sheet from the kitchen pad and tucked it into the front pocket of her overalls. "I imagine so, but I can't promise you because I look like a lunatic."

"Thank you for trying," Hyacinth said. She looked away. "I'm sorry, you know."

"I know. What do you want me to do about it?"

"I don't know."

"Then it's your move." Cerise frowned and paused with her hand on the back door. "Unless I forget how much I hate your crazy house the next storm. Goodbye, Annie, sweetheart. Feel better. I'll see you at work." She shut the door behind her. Hyacinth heard a pair of high heels thumping down the stairs.

--- it all makes more sense in context, but that's multiple plot lines being swept up, including the one where Cerise glued Hyacinth to the wall for emotional reasons. With just enough non-dialog to show the setting and their actions while they speak. Hopefully it's crazy enough to keep a reader's attention.
 
2020-09-30 5:49:22 PM  
I never post here but I'm so excited that I finally finished writing a novel that I want to tell the world! Hooray!

I'm sure the editing process will take months but I'm just basking in "look at all these words" right now.
 
2020-09-30 5:59:20 PM  

tn_prvteye: No it isn't.


I came here for an argument
 
2020-09-30 6:06:49 PM  

meerclarschild: I am glad I write poetry for the most part, so I have a form that flows instead of a mess. But, in prose, I'd suggest that one of the big detractors I notice--and it's especially distracting in audiobooks--is the said, said, said... We're listening to a book rn that falls into that trap. A said, "Blah, blah, blah." B said, "Blah, blah, blah." And so forth.


You don't need that when you're listening because good audio book readers do the voices and you know who's talking right away. It's the change of format which makes "said" unnecessary. When all you have is print, even if the characters have very divergent ways of speaking, you still need to tag them sometimes so as not to be confusing. "Said" is bland like wallpaper and disappears, unlike more dramatic verbs which can take you out of the dialog.

Another thing I never hear the writing advice people talking about is that "said" forces a reader to insert a pause. "I am an artist." has a different inflection in the mind than, "I," she said, "am an artist." A word like "shouted" or "drawled" makes a bigger pause, the more uncommon the word the bigger the pause - with really weird ones running the risk of making your reader pull up and go, "Huh?"

An audio book reader also does the inflection and pauses for you, but a break to say "said" forces one, and it doesn't sound natural in that format. In writing it works more like punctuation, or an HTML tag - or repetition in ASL, if you're familiar with the grammar. BOY [DIALOG] BOY. Most writers understand this instinctively - If I want this character to sound like this, then "said" goes here and not there - but they don't talk about it in terms of inflection.

If we made a habit of reading periods and commas aloud, you'd get pretty sick of those in audio format too!
 
2020-09-30 6:07:09 PM  

EnderWiggnz: tn_prvteye: No it isn't.

I came here for an argument


No. You came here for an argument.
 
2020-09-30 6:11:23 PM  

DoBeDoBeLurk: If we made a habit of reading periods and commas aloud, you'd get pretty sick of those in audio format too!


Phil Foglio has a species of aliens which speak that way in one of the Buck Godot stories.

*****
"Alvin comma does Mister Godot have a history of altruism question mark"

"Are you kidding? I'm convinced someone, somewhere is paying him to breathe!"
 
2020-09-30 6:24:50 PM  

Wenchmaster: DoBeDoBeLurk: If we made a habit of reading periods and commas aloud, you'd get pretty sick of those in audio format too!

Phil Foglio has a species of aliens which speak that way in one of the Buck Godot stories.

*****
"Alvin comma does Mister Godot have a history of altruism question mark"

"Are you kidding? I'm convinced someone, somewhere is paying him to breathe!"


My mom taught me punctuation at preschool age by reading like that. She also had me draw them in the air and make a different noise for each mark. It was fun for about a year, but when I start reading like that to myself nowadays, I know it's time to stop editing and go to sleep.

"Put down the spoon and step away from the sugar bowl!" Exclamation point! Whip-pop!
 
2020-09-30 6:25:36 PM  

DoBeDoBeLurk: meerclarschild: I am glad I write poetry for the most part, so I have a form that flows instead of a mess. But, in prose, I'd suggest that one of the big detractors I notice--and it's especially distracting in audiobooks--is the said, said, said... We're listening to a book rn that falls into that trap. A said, "Blah, blah, blah." B said, "Blah, blah, blah." And so forth.

You don't need that when you're listening because good audio book readers do the voices and you know who's talking right away. It's the change of format which makes "said" unnecessary. When all you have is print, even if the characters have very divergent ways of speaking, you still need to tag them sometimes so as not to be confusing. "Said" is bland like wallpaper and disappears, unlike more dramatic verbs which can take you out of the dialog.

Another thing I never hear the writing advice people talking about is that "said" forces a reader to insert a pause. "I am an artist." has a different inflection in the mind than, "I," she said, "am an artist." A word like "shouted" or "drawled" makes a bigger pause, the more uncommon the word the bigger the pause - with really weird ones running the risk of making your reader pull up and go, "Huh?"

An audio book reader also does the inflection and pauses for you, but a break to say "said" forces one, and it doesn't sound natural in that format. In writing it works more like punctuation, or an HTML tag - or repetition in ASL, if you're familiar with the grammar. BOY [DIALOG] BOY. Most writers understand this instinctively - If I want this character to sound like this, then "said" goes here and not there - but they don't talk about it in terms of inflection.

If we made a habit of reading periods and commas aloud, you'd get pretty sick of those in audio format too!


I never thought of the said as disappearing, but that makes sense. The problem I was noticing was probably from a) it wasn't a very good audiobook rendition and b) the back and forth was formatted without action. So, instead of banter while other things were going on, even small things, we got awkward people sitting across the table saying lines feeling.

I agree that the problem isn't solved with using different words for said. I think describing movement could solve some things. But the whole dilemma for me is how to get more dialog in my works, so I'm still looking for the balance.
 
2020-09-30 6:33:54 PM  
It's been a weird couple of weeks. I ended up being a guest of the local hospital for a week, mostly doped to the eyes on some esoteric painkiller because morphine doesn't work on me. When I finally managed to get free and back home, I had dreamed up (literally) a murder-comedy TV series set in northeastern UK (where I've never been) called, "The Bell End Murders", poking fun at the UK's racism, classism, and general parochialism. Complete with cast and six short episode outlines.

While recovering at home, I also dreamed up a short story about a near-future catastrophe in space, told from the perspective of a journalist who'd happened to interview the doomed spaceflight crew before they'd launched. The title is Lunar Requiem, but I might as well have called it Better Writing Through Chemistry. Here's part of it.

*****
Some idiot was pounding on my door, and the thumping almost exactly matched the pulse in my hung-over head. I groaned and glared at my clock, praying the time display was wrong, because nothing good ever required frantic knocking on any door at 2:30 AM.

I oozed out of bed and pulled on a pair of shorts, then went to identify- and possibly murder- the lunatic at my door. The thundering on the wood echoed painfully in my ears as I reached the door and keyed the door camera live.

It was Roscoe--of course it was Roscoe. Roscoe Williams had been my next-door neighbor for the last five years and he'd suddenly figured out I was a journalist five days ago- when my latest article suddenly went viral. Since that epiphany, he'd been harassing me to find out the "hidden truths" behind every ridiculous conspiracy theory of the past thousand years or so. He often provided beer to lubricate these discussions and usually had an open mind, so I tolerated it- most of the time.

I wearily keyed the speaker live. "What the ever-loving fark is your problem, Roscoe?" In retrospect, this might not have been very polite, but anyone battering on your front door after 2AM deserves no politeness. Especially Roscoe.

The door-pounding stopped, and Roscoe excitedly stabbed at the keypad, eventually finding the transmit button after several attempts. "Jack!" he shouted incoherently. "It's all gone wrong, just like you predicted! Turn on the news!"

I hung my head silently and staggered back to my nightstand to grab my phone. Hundreds of messages from just about every news organization on Earth were flooding my in-box and voicemail, along with three "emergency" calls from my agent and an actual emergency call from my attorney. There was only one real possibility for that level of panic related to my recent article, and I nearly cried at what that must mean for two very special people whom I considered friends.

I slumped onto the edge of the bed, "Oh, shiat!" I muttered, burying my face in my hands.

After wallowing in despair for a bit, I jumped into the shower and pulled on some clean-ish clothes before stepping into my studio. I left my phone on silent for the moment. I needed to get some information before I started trying to respond to the global news shiat-storm which seemed to be metaphorically knocking on my door.

The major media sources were all unanimous that the Chang'e 7 mission had suffered a catastrophe on ascent when leaving Luna. No one knew much beyond that, but my name- and article- were being mentioned with increasing frequency by the various talking heads. This worried me a bit, but explained why Henry Ortega had sent an emergency message.

A few actual space experts had been dug out of bed and were repeating the useful information- including the fact that it was a colossal waste of time to theorize in the absence of facts. The launch site was currently in Lunar darkness, and Earth-based telescopes couldn't see much. One of the NASA folks mentioned the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) would be in position to get some detailed imagery in a couple of days, and that imagery could be compared to existing imagery to let us know what had happened. Very sane and reasonable, but not what the screaming herds of news-consumers around the globe wanted.

No one important was mentioning Lin Xue and Jian Da- the crew of Chang'e 7. The space specialists kept deflecting by saying we had no way to know their status. The unspoken assumption was they were both dead. Even less-spoken was the stark fact that any attempt at rescue would take weeks at best, and any survivors would be dead (from dehydration, starvation, or anoxia) long before any rescuers even managed to launch from Earth. For their sakes, I hoped both had perished quickly and painlessly.

I shut down the monitors and gave myself over to grief for a few minutes before I composed myself and called my attorney. After getting some usual good advice from Henry Ortega, I called my agent and had her put out a brief press release declaring my sadness at the news and directed all inquiries to the PR team Henry had hired while waiting for me to get back to him. I turned my phone off and filled my go-bag with spare clothes and batteries and waited for the security team Henry was sending to get me out of the media target zone my suburban house was already becoming. I could hear helicopters orbiting the neighborhood, and there were almost certainly camera drones of various configurations testing the HOA's electronic defenses already.

At 3AM, I powered my phone back on and called Henry. His security team was in place and ready to extract, and two decoy missions were already in progress. Henry passed me over to the security lead, who told me to remove the battery from my phone, wait ten minutes, then slip out the kitchen door, where the team would pick me up. I slipped out of my neighborhood inside a padded utility box in the back of a battered Toyota pick-up, but we're pretty sure we lost all the media circus waiting to demand answers I didn't have.

Twenty hours later, I was in a low-key but very secure hotel in San Francisco, and the media shiat-storm was just getting into full throat. Everyone was demanding to know where I was and why I wasn't talking to them, and the less-reputable "news" agencies were outright claiming I'd been kidnapped by China, NASA, several species of non-existent aliens, or all of the above. The shrieking was both frightening and awe-inspiring. As a journalist, I report on this sort of crap all the time. I never expected to be the subject of the usual media hysteria.

The FBI dragged me out of my isolation and turned me over to the folks at NASA to talk about the disaster. Their spaceflight folks wanted my impressions of how the ascent module had been designed and what the probable root cause of the crash could have been. Due to a series of stupid geopolitical moves by successive Chinese and US administrations, NASA and Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA) were not allowed to talk to one another, under any circumstances. This left CNSA without a lot of access to real-world skills and knowledge developed the hard way by NASA, but also meant only CNSA knew what they'd come up with to solve similar problems.

I wasn't particularly useful to them. My article had focused on the people involved in Chang'e 7, not the hardware. The scientists and engineers and especially the crew had firmly impressed me with their professionalism and dedication and determination to succeed against all odds. Hardware is rarely as impressive as the people using it. We spent several days going over various mock-ups of CNSA spaceflight systems, hoping I'd recognize something and give NASA some more information about what had happened.

Four days later, LRO made a pass near enough to the Chang'e 7 landing site to get some imagery. The Ascent Module was missing, but there was debris scattered in an arc on one side of the site, suggesting the Ascent Module hadn't launched cleanly. LRO found the module two orbits later, crashed against a pile of Lunar regolith nearly thirty kilometers from the landing site. By now, the whole world was in mourning, as even the least technical people on Earth realized Lin Xue and Jian Da were dead.

I got drunk and stayed that way for two days.

When I sobered up and started checking the global media, I found my name increasingly paired with the term, "the man who predicted the Chang'e 7 disaster," which was completely untrue. As background to my article about the people involved, I had included frank estimates of the many potential ways a manned Lunar mission could possibly go wrong. These estimates had all been well-documented by the US Apollo program, plus decades of unmanned missions landing spacecraft on Luna and Mars and other bodies. There are lots of inter-operative moving parts in any space mission, and there are tons of ways for things to go very badly.  My grievous sin arose from mentioning that any failure of the Ascent Module would leave the crew stranded on Luna with zero hope of rescue. The point of this observation was to highlight the courage of the flight crew, but that was being completely overlooked by everyone. I was "the man who predicted the Chang'e 7 disaster" according to the global media. Three days after that, the Chinese government had made a public request for me to be interviewed by CNSA- which only fueled the media feeding frenzy.
 
2020-09-30 6:45:30 PM  

meerclarschild: I never thought of the said as disappearing, but that makes sense. The problem I was noticing was probably from a) it wasn't a very good audiobook rendition and b) the back and forth was formatted without action. So, instead of banter while other things were going on, even small things, we got awkward people sitting across the table saying lines feeling.

I agree that the problem isn't solved with using different words for said. I think describing movement could solve some things. But the whole dilemma for me is how to get more dialog in my works, so I'm still looking for the balance.


I can get so focused on something that I stop seeing it in context - like I feel there are too many "ing" verbs being used but then each "ing" sticks out like a sore thumb and I can no longer figure out where they work naturally. It's like when you suddenly remember you're breathing all the time, or you have knees. I'm probably going to be overemphasizing "said" for a while now that I've noticed it in this context!

It can help to take a breath and produce something unselfconsciously like a naked toddler dancing, just so you don't get so bogged down in the technical that you lose the beat of the music. You do know how people talk to each other, when, and why. You're a people! It's just in a different context and that's tripping you up.

I highly recommend talking to yourself. It's a lot more natural than typing and if it sounds wrong you can hear it. You don't even necessarily have to put it in, just pause every once in a while and go, "Got anything to say about that, Bob? 'Yeah, I think that guy's being a jackass.' 'Well, fark you too, Bob!'"

This is one of MANY reasons it's easier to write alone!
 
2020-09-30 7:01:22 PM  
Actually, I thought of one more thing re: dialogue. What I'm writing needs infodumps in some form. Suspending disbelief is gonna require a fair quantity of struts and bracing. There's already conversations introducing key stuff... but having people just talking to each other about things can get old, too. So here's an attempt at dropping some information that was originally some paragraphs of the protagonist summarizing stuff. Making into dialogue - of a sort - flows better. I think.

---

The only reason I made it onto the project was because Marilyn intervened on my behalf. And that was because of the connection between her and Ellen. The career opportunity of a lifetime. Of course I took unfair advantage. You see, Marilyn had invented time travel.

I missed most of the big fuss after the announcement - not a lot of Internet service in the Peruvian jungle. I skimmed the articles and blog posts and videos after I got back. It went kind of like this:

The Public: Time travel?! Holy crap!

Very Serious Scientists: Relax. It only works for particles like electrons or photons. Anything larger takes too much energy. It's more of a 'time eye' than a 'time machine'.

The Public: Photons? So we could shoot a laser and kill Hitler?

Very Serious Scientists: No, of course not! We could never send that much energy, and we can't reach there anyway. After all, [a whole bunch of math and physics technobabble that almost no one really understood. Least of all me; I'd death-marched through my stats classes.]

The Public: Um...

Very Serious Scientists: Look, it barely functions at all. There's only, like, two or three configurations that can work.

The Public: Such as?

Very Serious Scientists: With a couple hundred watts of power, a lab with some liquid helium, an ultraviolet laser, a beam splitter, and a few other odds and ends, you can see almost a quarter-second into the past.

The Public: So we could spy on -

Very Serious And Exasperated Scientists: No! The max range is barely ten centimeters around the 'focus points'. Since the whole device is at least two meters across, it's like only seeing the inside of your eyeball. (But it's a good thing she can show it really works, otherwise us Very Serious Scientists wouldn't be talking about this crazy stuff.)

The Public: Fine. Whatever. Anything else it can do?

Very Serious Scientists: If you've got several megawatts to work with, you should be able to see right around 5,722 years ago, almost anywhere on Earth.

The Public: But we wanna see dinosaurs!

Very Serious Scientists: There is a stable window approximately thirty million years ago. And you could see all the way out to the orbit of Jupiter...

The Public: Now we're talking!

Very Serious Scientists: ...but you'd need the entire energy output of the Sun to do it.

The Public: For fark's sake! This thing's useless!

Very Serious Scientists: Not quite. Dr. Dranch has invented a way to put a video camera at the earliest dawn of the Bronze Age.

The Public: Well, that's kinda cool. I guess.

Basically Every Single Historian, Sociologist, Archaeologist, Anthropologist, Linguist, etc. etc.: GIMME! I WANT IT! I WANT IT NOW!

The European Union eventually coughed up the money. In Spain, at Lemóniz, a mothballed nuclear plant got revamped and the Time Eye got going.

I had my (freshly-minted) doctorate of anthropology, specializing in late prehistory. I'd done field work for my thesis on minimally contacted tribes. So, to be clear, I was qualified. And so were over six hundred other applicants... for only fifteen positions. But the rest of them didn't know Ellen.
 
2020-09-30 7:15:37 PM  

sorceror: Actually, I thought of one more thing re: dialogue. What I'm writing needs infodumps in some form. Suspending disbelief is gonna require a fair quantity of struts and bracing. There's already conversations introducing key stuff... but having people just talking to each other about things can get old, too. So here's an attempt at dropping some information that was originally some paragraphs of the protagonist summarizing stuff. Making into dialogue - of a sort - flows better. I think.


Interesting story. The concept reminds me a bit of David Drake's Time Safari series. Wouldn't mind reading more.
 
2020-09-30 7:32:54 PM  

sorceror: Actually, I thought of one more thing re: dialogue. What I'm writing needs infodumps in some form. Suspending disbelief is gonna require a fair quantity of struts and bracing. There's already conversations introducing key stuff... but having people just talking to each other about things can get old, too. So here's an attempt at dropping some information that was originally some paragraphs of the protagonist summarizing stuff. Making into dialogue - of a sort - flows better. I think.

---

The only reason I made it onto the project was because Marilyn intervened on my behalf. And that was because of the connection between her and Ellen. The career opportunity of a lifetime. Of course I took unfair advantage. You see, Marilyn had invented time travel.

I missed most of the big fuss after the announcement - not a lot of Internet service in the Peruvian jungle. I skimmed the articles and blog posts and videos after I got back. It went kind of like this:

The Public: Time travel?! Holy crap!

Very Serious Scientists: Relax. It only works for particles like electrons or photons. Anything larger takes too much energy. It's more of a 'time eye' than a 'time machine'.

The Public: Photons? So we could shoot a laser and kill Hitler?

Very Serious Scientists: No, of course not! We could never send that much energy, and we can't reach there anyway. After all, [a whole bunch of math and physics technobabble that almost no one really understood. Least of all me; I'd death-marched through my stats classes.]

The Public: Um...

Very Serious Scientists: Look, it barely functions at all. There's only, like, two or three configurations that can work.

The Public: Such as?

Very Serious Scientists: With a couple hundred watts of power, a lab with some liquid helium, an ultraviolet laser, a beam splitter, and a few other odds and ends, you can see almost a quarter-second into the past.

The Public: So we could spy on -

Very Serious And Exasperated Scientists: No! The max range is bare ...


You know, reading it this way, I almost want you to start it off with a blog post. Or someone on a video laying it out for their YouTube followers. "Hi, tubers! Welcome to Cartoon Science! [Puppet Science, Mr. DNA Explains the Universe, endless possibilities] We're getting a lot of requests to do the Time Eye! This is some really exciting new stuff, so let's get right to it! Remember to like and subscribe! Basically, these very serious scientists said..."

You could even follow it up later, "Hi, tubers! Today on Cartoon Science, we're going to explain why there's a pterodactyl rampaging through Yorkshire!"
 
2020-09-30 7:47:42 PM  

DoBeDoBeLurk: You know, reading it this way, I almost want you to start it off with a blog post. Or someone on a video laying it out for their YouTube followers. "Hi, tubers! Welcome to Cartoon Science! [Puppet Science, Mr. DNA Explains the Universe, endless possibilities] We're getting a lot of requests to do the Time Eye! This is some really exciting new stuff, so let's get right to it! Remember to like and subscribe! Basically, these very serious scientists said..."

You could even follow it up later, "Hi, tubers! Today on Cartoon Science, we're going to explain why there's a pterodactyl rampaging through Yorkshire!"


A very solid approach, but unfortunately it's ruled out for structural reasons. The central conceit involves a culture resulting from a long and significantly different alternate history. To a large degree, the ways the culture is different is the point and theme. Exploring the differences and the rationales for them is central.

So, I settled on an approach. The protagonist is an anthropologist from our universe, stranded in this alternate one. The book is their memoir, and way of synthesizing what they've learned and experienced. They miss the old world, and are writing as if they were telling their story to someone from that world. Just to help them remember what it was like.

In short, it's a memoir with footnotes. The story's in the main text, with inline blips for critical words or concepts. But the bulk of the explanations (the kind of stuff lots of readers skim over anyway) go in footnotes. Since the protagonist's an academic, properly done the style itself can be used to help characterize them. Also I'm pinning a lot on making the protagonist's style engaging, or at least amusing. And the experiences they go through, and their responses to them, interesting.

We'll see if I can actually carry out such a plan...
 
2020-09-30 8:05:23 PM  
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I win.
 
2020-09-30 8:52:33 PM  

sorceror: DoBeDoBeLurk: You know, reading it this way, I almost want you to start it off with a blog post. Or someone on a video laying it out for their YouTube followers. "Hi, tubers! Welcome to Cartoon Science! [Puppet Science, Mr. DNA Explains the Universe, endless possibilities] We're getting a lot of requests to do the Time Eye! This is some really exciting new stuff, so let's get right to it! Remember to like and subscribe! Basically, these very serious scientists said..."

You could even follow it up later, "Hi, tubers! Today on Cartoon Science, we're going to explain why there's a pterodactyl rampaging through Yorkshire!"

A very solid approach, but unfortunately it's ruled out for structural reasons. The central conceit involves a culture resulting from a long and significantly different alternate history. To a large degree, the ways the culture is different is the point and theme. Exploring the differences and the rationales for them is central.

So, I settled on an approach. The protagonist is an anthropologist from our universe, stranded in this alternate one. The book is their memoir, and way of synthesizing what they've learned and experienced. They miss the old world, and are writing as if they were telling their story to someone from that world. Just to help them remember what it was like.

In short, it's a memoir with footnotes. The story's in the main text, with inline blips for critical words or concepts. But the bulk of the explanations (the kind of stuff lots of readers skim over anyway) go in footnotes. Since the protagonist's an academic, properly done the style itself can be used to help characterize them. Also I'm pinning a lot on making the protagonist's style engaging, or at least amusing. And the experiences they go through, and their responses to them, interesting.

We'll see if I can actually carry out such a plan...


I'm sure you've put lots of work into this already and I'm just being silly, but: Make it a blog, make it a blog, make it an anthropologist with a blog! You already know how to make posts on the internet! Engaging! Amusing! Path of least resistance! Make it a blog! 😋
 
2020-09-30 10:21:42 PM  

DoBeDoBeLurk: I'm sure you've put lots of work into this already and I'm just being silly, but: Make it a blog, make it a blog, make it an anthropologist with a blog! You already know how to make posts on the internet! Engaging! Amusing! Path of least resistance! Make it a blog! 😋


Almost six thousand years of history radically altered, and you think there's still gonna be blogs? Cultivated citrus fruits probably aren't that old! Writing isn't that old! 😜
 
2020-09-30 11:07:36 PM  
I will eagerly await my email...
 
2020-09-30 11:32:22 PM  
In regards to the question:
I"m certainly no dialog expert, but as usual I go by what I learned by accidentally taking Journalism classes:

I can't have the whole article be all quotes, because it looks weird and reads awkwardly. So i summarize parts, with "quotes to spice things up or make a specific point." I dont go too long without a quote (depending on type of article) and I also don't use long quotes... unless there is a reason to include that long quote. Mostly, that style is for economy of space on the page (500-1000 words usually) and ease of digesting that info.

Writing fiction I tend to use the toolset I've gathered writing for the smallville newspaper for three years. So dialogs aren't too long... unless there is a reason for a longer one. Even so, I tend to weave in some sort of "action" that advances the story.

A "data dump" conversation could take place any where - why not someplace useful? If they are walking down the street the details of the people and buildings shapes and colors that world. Or a conversation between coworkers at work, what they do there, gives opportunity to reveal things.

As a mystery writer once advised, whenever you are in need of some action/conflict, write somebody entering the room with a gun drawn.
 
2020-09-30 11:47:02 PM  
I would say that since I usually write in third person deep POV, like sorcerer brought up earlier, the thing I'm constantly monitoring myself on is making sure I don't spend too much time in the characters' heads, where nothing is moving forward in their world other than their thoughts.

If I'm going to need to show a mental/emotional turning point for them when they're alone with no one else with whom to engage in dialogue, then I make sure to have something physical the character is doing that I can intersperse with their internal monologue, so it won't just be this daydream journey that's disconnected from their reality.

It could be as simple as having them move from one place to another, so I can put in the action of them moving through the environment, how they're perceiving the sights and sounds while they think, etc. In my WIP for example, I have a character mentally processing some things while he waits for another character to return to his location. During this time, I have him scaling a fish, just for some action and so the reader can have a mental picture placing him in the setting.

As far as "getting stuck" in dialogue, I wonder if that's a byproduct of a particular kind of process. I know we all have our way of brewing up a story. Plotters vs Pantsers, etc. I hear from author friends who frequently say things like, "These characters are just talking to me and won't shut up!" And then they jokingly bemoan how their scene is getting way longer than they'd planned because the characters keep wanting to say or do additional things.

I mean, I have an imagination, too, and I do spend time in my planning phases zoning out and test-running conversations between characters to get a feel for what some good dialogue would be between them, but after that is where I personally diverge.

My personal feeling is: I am the creator almighty of these characters, and they will damn well obey! Just because an extra idea pops up for something they might say or do, doesn't mean it *has* to end up in the story. As toraque pointed out, Chekov's Gun and all that. If the plot or characters would be the same without it, it probably doesn't need to be in there.

Again, I'm not disparaging anyone else's process, I'm just saying the feeling is foreign to me of not being able to control my characters. It just doesn't compute. I'm the boss. And I'm an outliner, so I'm usually like, If it's not in the plans, we're not diverging unless it's just a sudden discovery of awesomeness that I realize is vastly going to improve things.

But IF that's the case, and I'm feeling like, "Okay, I've made the points I need to make for the story with these characters talking here," a straight-up cheater way out is just to have the characters get interrupted by something else that either ends the scene and/or is part of the next bit of action to come. A phone could ring, another person could walk in and want something, lightning could strike and everyone immediately shifts their attention, etc. I have used this method plenty when I feel a conversation has served its purpose but I don't have any pithy ending for it planned. YMMV.

/also, you always know you're in the weekly writers' thread when every comment is a Wall of Text hahahaha
//it's probably why we do this: we're wordy
///threes
 
2020-10-01 11:44:18 AM  
Dialogue: Is there anything it can't do?

Dialogue is how you show what your characters are thinking and feeling. It's how they react to events and each other. It's how characters bond and argue. It's how they negotiate, intimidate, investigate, obfuscate. It's how they make points and score points.

Done properly, a conversation has all the suspense, intrigue, drama, and impact of any action sequence. If your friend gets stuck writing dialogue, it's because they don't have a clear idea of what they're trying to accomplish. Have them watch a dialogue in a movie or TV episode and plot it out. What are the characters trying to accomplish? What is their strategy? What do we learn about them, other characters, and the story? What is the outcome, and how did they reach it? Repeat as necessary.

You have to balance dialogue and action because the reader will get bored with a steady diet. Ideally, as several other answers have pointed out, you want to consolidate the two. You also want to vary the pace and intensity, for the same reason.
 
2020-10-01 2:10:11 PM  
So late to the party that I thought about saving this for next week's thread, but does Fark have any recommendations if I want to write something short that might actually get seen? Getting paid would also be nice. I don't have a great attention span and I kind of like researching, so this sounds like a better fit than trying to write an entire novel.

I got an article published on Cracked in the latter days of their peak years, and I loved most of the experience, particularly how much their readership loved it (got a lot of comments like "Hell yeah! That was just like Old Cracked!"). Then I had kind of an emotional falling out with them after their editors greenlit my next article and then redlit it before publishing without giving a reason. They've of course sense totally gone to hell.

Any recommendations on who I might want to write for next? The whole "fun facts with jokes" style was such a good fit for me. Some thoughts:

-Cracked seems a little tempting because the bar is so much lower now, and the bar for publishing was what really made my Cracked experience difficult. That said, they're such a smoldering ruin of what they used to be that they've long since turned off the view count for their articles and new articles get about 10% as many comments as the old ones.

-Mental Floss sort of sounds like Cracked minus the humor. Maybe they'd appreciate a little humor?

-I'm vaguely aware that there are some spinoff sites run by the former great editors of Cracked's heyday.

-Surely there's a billion others out there. Any recommendations?
 
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