31 March 2015

Dynamic dialogue: that's what I'm talk'n 'bout

Lloyd and Diane discuss the fate of their relationship...

Now that is what I call great dialogue.

OK, so by this point in our growing acquaintance with each other you will be coming to understand that the things characters like Lloyd have to say (yeah, I'm talking about the 'wow that's so cool/true/funny/brilliant/heartbreaking I want to repeat it to my family and friends' lines of dialogue), are hugely important to me.

I'm a dialogue devotee, if you will.

That's why - and I'm delivering you an insider's secret here - I want dialogue to be the hero of my novel.

When I say 'hero' I mean it in the way that hero used to mean something special, which was before every reality television cooking show contestant out there felt the need to identify 'heroes' in boring old bowls of spaghetti and pedestrian plates of fish & chips.

What I want is for people who read my book to come away:

a. Thinking to themselves WHAT A GREAT GODDAMN READ. 

b. Feeling somewhat mournful that they won't be hearing my characters speak anymore. This is because, much to the reader's surprise, it was the dialogue in my book they loved the most.

Now, not all novelists decide to make dialogue king but I'm taking my cues from greats like John Steinbeck and Elmore Leonard. They are writers whose dialogue is so real a reader can hear it as if its being spoken aloud. And that's what I want.

Alright, so I never said my goal wasn't a lofty one.

Good dialogue takes work. Great dialogue takes a LOT of work and, I'd wager, a little magic in the form of characters who just know what to say to each other (they do the talking, the author does the typing kinda thing).

But, when my five beta readers (that's the handful of people you hand your novel to when it's ready to be looked at by eyes other than your own; the step before you submit to a publishing house)...when those guys come back to me with their feedback I'm going to be banking on them telling me the dialogue is on point, excellente...the shiniest star in a sky full of them!

Now if I was really brave this is the point at which I would share with you a dialogue scene from my novel and ask you what you think.

Sorry, I'm just not that brave...not yet.

I will get there though, so stay tuned.

Until then, how about a little dialogue from a true master.

From John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men

'I forgot,' Lennie said softly. 'I tried not to forget. Honest to God I did, George.'
'O.K.—O.K. I’ll tell ya again. I ain’t got nothing to do. Might jus’ as well spen’ all my time tell’n you things and then you forget ‘em, and I tell you again.'
'Tried and tried,' said Lennie, 'but it didn’t do no good. I remember about the rabbits, George.'
'The hell with the rabbits. That’s all you ever can remember is them rabbits. O.K.! Now you listen and this time you got to remember so we don’t get in no trouble. You remember settin’ in that gutter on Howard street and watchin’ that blackboard?'
Lennies’s face broke into a delighted smile. 'Why sure, George, I remember that…but…what’d we do then? I remember some girls come by and you says…you say…'
'The hell with what I says. You remember about us goin’ into Murray and Ready’s, and they give us work cards and bus tickets?'
'Oh, sure, George, I remember that now.' His hands went quickly into his side coat pockets. He said gently, 'George…I ain’t got mine. I musta lost it.' He looked down at the ground in despair.
'You never had none, you crazy bastard. I got both of ‘em here. Think I’d let you carry your own work card?'
Lennie grinned with relief.

19 March 2015

Moody blues

Lloyd Dobler: Why can't you be in a good mood? How hard is it to decide to be in a good mood and be in a good mood once in a while.
Constance: Gee, it's easy.

This week I've had mood issues. I don't know about you but for me a bad mood that's sparked by one thing can very quickly become an infectious disease scenario. It leeches it's way into every aspect of my life.

So it was no surprise to find that this week's arrival of Bad Mood Brown took a toll on my writing. Whenever I sat down at the computer I just couldn't get it happening.

The chapters in my novel that I'd planned to re-draft to perfection by Friday (today) remain a hot mess.

The contract writing that I do to earn a few dollars here and there: it took twice as many hours as usual to complete (extra time that, of course, I can't charge for).

And my fledgling blog? The little slice of Sare that I'm putting out into the world...it threatened to flatline. I've started three new posts this week but could I get past the second paragraph on any of them? No.

What am I even doing? I thought, as my moodiness delivered a crashing wave of insecurity. Does anyone really want to read these stupid posts that I'm putting time and effort into? Does anyone really care?

The answer is...well, the answer is: maybe not.

But that's actually not the point.

If you could just check your crappy mood at the door for a while Sarah, I told myself, then you'd remember that this blog is supposed to be something enjoyable. A place where you can write and share and, hopefully, grow.


So now, having wasted far too much time wallowing, I'm doing my best to shake off the shitty 'tude and do what Lloyd Dobler suggests: decide to be in a good mood.

Writing this post has helped.

So has the mug of milky earl grey tea and the creme brulee tart I consumed while I wrote it.

Happy mood to you.


12 March 2015

What took me so long?

Lloyd Dobler on what he wants to do with his life.

“I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that.”

When I was nearing the end of high school, much like the evasive Lloyd, I had little idea about what I wanted to do with my life. At 17 it's a big question right? And at that point in your development as a person the answer you choose to give has a lot of potential to be more about other people's wants than your own.

In my family there was the weight of expectation (five older siblings had done well academically and all had embarked on law degrees). I spent year 12 feeling periodically shit-scared about the day my OP would arrive in the mail - the day when my father would learn that I had no chance of getting into Law at uni. No chance. I say periodically here because I was lazy enough (as my marks would attest) that it wasn't a weight I carried around 24/7. 

So, under these pressure-filled circumstances (when I was in the mood to feel the pressure, that is) I plucked a new narrative out of the sky and ran with it. I declared that I had NO interest in studying law, marks or not. Instead my heart was set on becoming a journalist. There wasn't much, if any 'heart' in it of course...the choice was little more than a stab in the dark.

A lucky-ish one though. I did become a journalist. And my degree taught me things I still return to on an almost daily basis. This was followed with three fledgling years spent working in newspaper journalism. If I'm honest about it, I don't think I was ever a real journalist. I didn't have the instinct for it. The thrill of the chase never EVER drove me. Mostly because 90% of the time I was worried about stuffing up. Which I did. Several times.

Before long I crossed over to what was considered by my journo colleagues to be 'the dark side' of news-making: Media and PR. To my surprise (there was no grand plan involved here, remember), this proved a much better fit for me. There were more aspects of the work that I enjoyed and therefore more things I felt I was good at.

I worked in this field, on and off, for 11 years. And I liked it, well enough. For a lot of that time I was working from home and it was a job that managed to fit in quite nicely with me and the changing shape of my life (i.e. the periodic introduction of children: 1; 2; and then 3).

Then two things happened. 

1. On a whim I started writing a novel.

2. I had my 4th baby.

Both were exhilarating and addictive. But I already knew that about babies. I didn't already know it about creative writing.

I can clearly remember the day I sat down at my computer and told myself to 'just write'. The words, they came thick and they came fast. Lets not talk about whether they were good. They weren't. Let's talk about how they transported me to a place I'd never spent enough time: my imagination. Ok, so I've just typed the word imagination and, really, I think even it sells short what I'm trying to describe. The place writing took me that day - where it takes me every day - is imaginary but it's also so real and so gripping I can never seem to spend enough time there.

A passion had been ignited in me that felt so amazing I couldn't imagine ever doing anything else. I still can't. It's why I have slowly but surely grown my commitment to writing from something that I played at to a pursuit that I'm deadly serious about.

That's taken some effort and a fair amount of personal resolve. You see, I may never get there (having books in shops with my name on them) and if I do it might take another four years...perhaps more. It feels a bit like I've signed up for an apprenticeship with no end-date. Some people just never get their tradie's license on this one. That's the reality.

And yet, I turn up for work every day. Because I want to be there. No-one pays me, friends and family have long since given up asking about my progress. In fact, my kids are the only ones who characterise me with blissful ignorance. Mum writes books, they proudly tell people. Well, technically I do!

But it's all ok. Perfect actually. Because this is what I want to do with my life.

The only thing that ever bugs me is this: why did it take so long for me to work it out?

2 March 2015

My year of listening dangerously

The scene at the party, where Lloyd does his best to look out for best friend Corey (a girl), whose obsession with her ex-boyfriend, the promiscuous Joe, has manifested itself in the writing of songs.

Lloyd Dobler: Joe. Joe. She's written 65 songs... 65. They're all about you. They're all about pain.

Joe: So, what's up?

OK, so my memory is sketchy in places, but if I think hard enough about it I can kind of manage to pull together a basic soundtrack to my life so far.

Dancing in front of Rage aged five as Billy Idol sang (screamed) When the Rebel Yells in the weekly countdown. The smell of Juicy Fruit chewing gum and McDonalds' cheese burgers pairing perfectly with Buddy Holly's upbeat Everyday as it played in the tape deck of my Dad’s yellow station wagon on the drive from Brisbane to Charleville in 1985.

Listening to Tori Amos' album Little Earthquakes (the first CD I owned) aged 15, on the CD player my Japanese host family had gifted me when I spent a week in their Osaka home in year 11. Tori's lyrics were so genius I even peppered them through an english assignment I wrote that year. I got a C+

The song that would become my nightclub anthem at 20, Madonna's Ray of Light. I'm not sure why Madge moved me exactly but she was who I'd ask for at the end of the night when drunk enough to hassle the DJ for a song request.

The Counting Crows tape (tapes weren’t quite passe at that point) my husband made for me two weeks after we met. Mr Jones still takes me back to sitting on the wooden floorboards of my room in the share house I lived in at the time, listening to the entire tape over and over again feeling that music could, like, totally connect people.

And so on...

So yeah, music hasn’t NOT been there in my life. It's been around. Here and there.

But is just 'around' really enough? That's the question I started to think about towards the end of last year.

At the time I'd become addicted to a podcast my sister put me onto. You may have heard it, BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. Every week a celebrity guest is asked to choose eight pieces of music, a book and a luxury item they'd take if they were cast away on a desert island. Throughout the program the celeb discusses his or her life and the reasons for their musical choices. [Check it out if you haven't already. My fave interview, I think, is Dustin Hoffman.]

So I was listening to all these fascinating people (actors, writers, singers, entrepreneurs, you name it) talk about their lives and the music that has punctuated big and small moments in them and the reality of how stunted my exposure to music was - is - hit me. Like a brick.

I found myself beginning to compile little lists. At the end of each episode I'd scribble down the different songs and pieces of music that I wanted to go and seek out on iTunes. Seriously, so much of it was soooo good and most of it was stuff I'd never have known existed otherwise.

While this was happening, another thought struck me. It was about my house and what fills it everyday: NOISE. Well, I do have four kids who like to fight and scream, A LOT. But rarely, within all that noise, is there music playing. The CD player that once sat in our lounge room and was only ever used sporadically died about five years ago. Then the advent of docking stations and bluetooth speakers kinda passed us by and we never replaced it with anything.

To return to Desert Island Discs for a moment: I'd hear a celeb say how they remember growing up in a house filled with music, and all I could think was: shit, that is so something I should be providing for my kids!

OK, so, long story short, out of all of this I decided that in 2015 I wanted... no, that I needed more music my life. So did my kids. Music EVERY day. And a wide-variety of it.

I took myself to JB Hi Fi and felt like a loser as I asked how bluetooth works. Then I got the now slightly irritated 20-something shop assistant to take me through speakers and set-up.

I bought a set of speakers and then it began. My year of listening dangerously.

The speakers sit on the bookshelf in our kitchen/living area and since January I've been growing playlists of a seriously eclectic mix of tracks. From Frank Sinatra to Regina Spektor. From Johnny Cash to The House Martins. From Sia to Strauss.

I try to have music playing when I'm writing; when the kids are running in and out of the house in the afternoon after school; when we're sitting around the table eating dinner at night.

It really is a pretty perfect accompaniment to life.


I can, on occasion, take a project like this a little too far. Such as last week when my 10-year-old daughter wanted me to turn off one of the playlists I'd compiled so that she could put on one of her own. When I attempted to highlight the story-telling merits of, say, a singer like Sinatra over that of Taylor Swift I'm pretty sure I achieved zero traction.
Mum, don't you know anything! Taylor Swift writes ALL her own lyrics.