Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Alcohol and Writing

What do Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Dorothy Parker, Edgar Allen Poe, Silvia Plath, F Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, Raymond Chandler, O Henry, and John Cheever have in common? If you said they were all great writers then you would be correct. But they also share another commonality; they were all alcoholics.
Apparently there is a pattern between heavy drinking and heavy writing. None of the above mentioned, unfortunately, came to a happy ending. Hemingway and Plath took the easy way out while the rest died the painful wracking death of the abusive drinker with their yellow livers and minds of mush.
Still, one could conclude and equate libations with literary genius. I imagine to Joyce and his fellow Irishmen, a snort before a prepositional phrase was a necessity, but for the others perhaps it was just an innocent way to get the brain started and on its way to magnificent prose. Their problem was they didn't know when to stop.
To be honest, I sometimes have a pint of inspiration before taking pen in hand. The words seem to flow easier after a pat on the back from the St. Paulie Girl or my friend, Buddy Weiser. Just one or two a couple of days a week. I also keep no guns in the house just in case I write that great American novel, fall into depression, and then blow my head off as famous authors are prone to do.
Ever curious, though, perhaps we should experiment. I had two beers earlier and now I will continue to partake of the sweet nectar and see if it effects my writing. I will take breaks between my flowery prose and then quaff a few more before returning to write.

Break--- Another beer.

Okay, I'm back and I truly feel smarter and much more prosier.
How's this: She sucked hard on the burnt filter of her Winston and knew then how she would murder Paul and get away with it. Brilliant. That was lovely wasn't it?

Break--- Two more beers.

Back again. So what is it with Capote anyway? Did he make up In Cold Blood or what? I'll bet he wrote To Kill a Mockingbird for his buddy, Harper.

Break--- Two more brewskis.

Yeah--I'm back--So what, you wanna make something of it? You people make me sick. Blog this. What is a blog anyway? Isn't that the Steve McQueen movie or something? What do you mean coming to my blog without my permission? Why if I were Hemingway and had to read this modern tripe I'd shoot Kurt Cobain!

Brake------------- I'll have tea martoonies please.

Jack Nicholson, the actor, not the golfer."Heeeeeerrrrr's Johnny!"
So. What do ya want? Yeah, I'm talking to you, my invisible reader who's sitting there in your underware--underwier---underwear. There we go. Stop reading!

Br-Br-Brake again---Two Landsharks so Jimmy Buffet can get more frickin' rich.

Okay--Okay--What?--Okay, what kind of name is Faulkner, anyway? Is it like-- What was I saying? Oh, yeah. Is it like the movie or something? Meet the Faulkner's. Hello, Mother Faulkner. What? bbbbbbbbzzzzzzzzzggggtaj Okay. Sh-Sh- Shut up! No. You go to hell. I mean it.

Brake again time-Time for sleep.

Well. It's the next day and I must say my writing last night was not only inspirational and exciting but, dare I say, genius.
If in the future I write four or five best sellers I will be able to spend my nights wallowing in self-pity while drinking myself to death and then I can be a famous author and leave my legacy just like the aforementioned drunks.
God Bless Beer.
And keep on not writing.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

For God's sake, don't write realistic dialogue

What's that you say oh negative Nelly? I said, don't write realistic dialogue, meaning have you ever listened to yourself talk? You "umm" and "uh" and "you know" and spout cliche after cliche. Write interesting and believable and memorable dialogue, otherwise the reader will tune you out faster than Michael Moore changes radio stations when Rush is on.
A good way to assure you'll never be published is to have lousy dialogue in your fiction. Believe me, I'm an expert at writing lousy dialogue. It's hard to write believable, memorable conversations though many successful authors manage to muddle through, ala Tom Clancy and his 700 page epics, 680 of which are filled with narrative. And then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Elmore Leonard and Robert Parker who live and die by their dialogue quite well, thank you. Still, most new author's dialogue sucks.
Recently I attended a writers conference where Davis Bunn, a bestselling author, talked of his early struggles and eventual success with dialogue writing. When an editor bluntly told Bunn he wrote the worst dialogue ever written, Bunn decided to do something about it and proceeded to go to fast food restaurants and record other's conversations. Later at home he would transcribe the dialogue verbatim to train himself in the art of writing realistic dialogue.
Now I'll tell you why that didn't work for me.
With recorder in hand, I sat in a booth at McDonald's next to a couple of teen age girls rapt in their story, which resulted in the following conversation:

Girl 1: "It was like, you know, forever before Riggs, like, told the cops about Mandy the wannabe Paris."
Girl 2: "I know. Like, yeah."
Girl 1: "Yeah, I know. I'm saying. It's like with your father, you know, so gross. She's such a biotch."
Girl 2: "Whatever."
Girl 1: "I know, I'm saying. She acts like, what? I'm such a wannabee? And Riggs wife, like fifty or something, she says okay, and tells the cops Mandy was lying, like forever."
Girl 2: "Wannabee. Like I'm not a slut but like, okay, why the A in English then? Whatever."

I know, fascinating repartee, but here is how a novice author would write it:

Girl 1: "Chantelle, can you believe that Mr. Riggs, our fifth period English teacher talked to the police about his involvement with Mandy?"
Girl 2:"I know. I can't believe it either, Britney."
Girl 1:"Yes. It's like dating your father. Mandy is fifteen and Mr. Riggs is thirty-five. He is in so much trouble. Mandy is so crazy."
Girl 2:"Yes, Britney. I agree."
Girl 1:"Yes. And Mr. Riggs wife told the police that Mr. Riggs only worked with Mandy after school to help her. She thinks Mandy is lying."
Girl 2:"She might be, but she got an "A" in the class and we both know she didn't deserve it."

Okay-awful. no one talks like that, but you wouldn't believe how many novice writers have their characters speak exactly that way. So what you should do is write believable characters speaking believable dialogue that not only entertains the reader but also advances the story. Avoid stiff conversations and the starts and stops of normal speaking.

Let's rewrite the dialogue correctly:

"Can you believe Riggs waited a month before talking to the cops?" Britney said to Chantelle who was busy sucking the last of her Coke through her straw.
"Yeah," Chantelle said. She pointed the straw at Britney, probably to make a point. "He's guilty. I can tell these things. I have a gift."
 "Uh huh. Mandy's such a bitch. Maybe she's lying, but God, it's like doing it with your father."
"Whatever."
Britney frowned.Chantelle could be a moron sometimes. "His wife knows about it but tries to act like it's nothing. She says Mandy's lying. Like, I'm sure."
Maybe she is. A wannabee. Always me, me, me. She wants attention so she says Riggs did it. Maybe it's true. She got an "A" remember?"
"Yeah," Britney said. "But she's a "D" student."

So there you go. Lesson learned. Don't write realistic dialogue. Write interesting dialogue.
And don't write it better than me.

Keep not writing.