Thursday, January 19, 2017

Writers Boot Camp: Lip Service

Have you ever participated in a sort of boot camp? Right now i'm about halfway through an iron tribe fitness challenge. Which should be synonymous for sweat-like-a-pig-and-look-like-an-idiot torture training. And yet, there's something to be said for putting yourself out there, gritting your teeth, and just going for it. Little by little your strength grows and you even surprise yourself by what you can actually accomplish once you've worked those hibernating muscles. But as much as it hurts, we're all trembling and nearly puking together. 

And that got me thinking about writers who maybe don't have a support group, or perhaps who haven't been sharing their chapters with their critique partners for whatever reason. It doesn't matter how strong your writing muscles may be, there are still times when flexing your stuff feels rather intimidating. When you feel like you're stumbling around on achy legs and relying on clumsy muscle memory. Wondering if maybe you've lost your touch or if certain muscles aren't working quite as they used to. 

Just like those brutal lunges and impossible planks, it's not comfortable at first, and that burn definitely doesn't feel so hot. But nothing will serve you better in the long run than developing perseverance. Because if you can take some instruction and endure that initial soreness that comes from a battered ego, you'll end up lean and mean and stronger than ever.

We all say we want to grow as writers. Often times that's lip service. It sounds good. But wouldn't we all rather just be great already? Well, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but that is one muscle that needs constant exercise. So if we want to whip our flabby scenes into shape let's talk about a different kind of lip service. Not the smoochy kind I tend to teach about. The smart-mouth, sassy pants, word-play kind. One of my favorite things to write, besides a boiling point kissing scene, is banter. 

I can't tell you how many books I've read where scene after scene pass with gobs of missed opportunities for verbal foreplay or quirky characterization. I'm not implying that it has to be present in every scene, just that it can really amp up the dynamic and intensity of your chemistry on paper. Not just between your characters, but between you and your reader. 

PLUS! It makes your characters more relateable and 3-dimensional.

Let's hit the weights! We all have different strengths and weaknesses and this is the perfect learning opportunity. We will work on a two point system for each entry. Finding a strength and offering a suggestion. Note that these will be just that, suggestions. Like anything, take it with a grain of salt. If it works for your style, apply it. If it doesn't fit, no harm no foul. We're only looking at a tiny piece of the whole picture and writing is anything but an exact science... so lets get some story tidbits flowing and work that inspiration muscle till it hurts so good.

Who's brave enough to play? I'll go first for the warm up!

Boot Camp RULES and REGS:
-Suggestions and encouragement welcome from any and all commentors on each entry. 
-This can be very nerve-wracking for some. Kindness is mandatory, but the best trainers are known for pushing you to the limit. If you submit an entry, keep that in mind. We are rooting for you to succeed and succeed BIG! This is not a critical exercise but an educational one.
-Try to keep your entries about 250 words or under. Just a snippet that is a good representation of your style will work great! We're looking for personality in your dialogue here. If you're stuck for a good example, post a scene that needs whipping into shape. We're on it!
-If there is a large response, check back for your a response this weekend. I promise to get to them all!

I'll give you two examples from my rough draft of the types of verbal volleying we are looking for here: 

Something spunky... 

         Roughened fingers curled around her hand. “Redmond.” He shook with vigor. “Come from a long line of Norwegian blondes. Born as bare as a cue ball, so the hair is purely coincidental. Some say it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
            “And what do you say?” She shook back.
            He smiled; big, bushy eyebrows dancing with merriment. “I say it’s luck. Maybe destiny. Helped me charm the purddiest little redhead into marrying me, and it makes it plum near impossible for people to forget my name.” He released his hand to ruffle his trimmed-up chops. “Losing some of my flair though. Still smokin’ hot, just a bit of ash cooling in the fire,” Red punctuated with a wink.
            Everleigh grinned, feeling like she’d found a kindred with another spunky cock-eyed optimist who rambled just as much as she did. “Definitely unforgettable.” 
(Note: These are not wasted words. They tell you much about your character without a lot of back story dump or internal rambling.)

or something quirky that brings your character to life...

 “Put me down.”
“What? No.” Rivulets of sweat tracked down his neck and disappeared beneath the collar of his shirt.
She started to wriggle loose which awakened the shock-addled nerves in her leg. Oh oww. She sipped a breath through gritted teeth. “Jase, really. I know I’m heavy.”
He barked a laugh, holding her tighter until he found the right door and entered the darkened room. “It’s not you.”
“Ha! That line is still out there, huh? Brutal.”
She felt him shaking his head as he leaned down. Shockingly cool granite hit the backs of her legs where he deposited her on a counter.
The instant loss of his heat was replaced by a flood of light. She shouldn’t have looked but it was instinctual. A deep red stain had soaked through the fabric tied around her thigh. Tributaries of blood wove a crimson web down her leg like liquid fishnets. The entirety of her robin’s egg canvas shoe awash in a glaring garnet.
“Ohhh.” Swaying, she smacked her head against the mirrored wall. “Oh geeze. Umm.” She pinched her eyes shut. “Baby giggles. First kisses. Breakfast Blend. Stevie Wonder. Fresh baked bread. Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Singing in the Rain.”
One big hand cradled her skull and kneaded the offending spot. Another pried open one eye and struck her retina with a flash of light. “What are you doing?” His voice scraped over her skin.
“I’m finding my happy place so I don’t face plant in the sink. What are you doing?” She batted at his hand stretching her eyelids oh so flatteringly.
            “Just making sure you’re still with me.” 

(This is a very tense scene that peels back another layer of the characters identities and struggles. The playfulness is a much needed reprieve for the reader after the previous action sequence. Use that dialogue to your advantage. Make it work for you. Don't make it filler!)

Let's see what you got?

<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

Amy Leigh Simpson writes romantic mysteries with honesty and humor, sweetness and spice, and gritty reality covered by grace. When she’s not stealing moments at naptime to squeeze out a few more adventures in storyland, she’s chasing around two tow-headed miscreants (Ahem)—boys, playing dress up with one sweet princess baby, and being the very blessed wife to the coolest, most swoon-worthy man alive. Amy is a Midwestern-girl, a singer, blogger, runner, coffee-addict, and foodie. Her Sports Medicine degree is wasted patching up daily boo boo’s, but whatever is left usually finds its way onto the page with fluttering hearts, blood and guts, and scars that lead to happily ever after.

Check out her NEW romantic mystery novel FROM WINTER'S ASHES! Available NOW!


Casey said...

Ooo, I can't wait to see what everyone shares!! I love, love, LOVE dialogue and banter! It's some of my favorite to write and my favorite to read. I might have to dig into my WIP and see what I have so far to share. Makes me want to go write some great banter right now! I love your playful scene in the kitchen, Ames! So, so fun.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

I know! I'm itching to read some scenes!!! You NEED to share! I think the last time I got to read anything of yours was Alley Cat retreat at Angie's! :) <3 (and they're in the bathroom, but close enough ;)

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Yikes, you're right! This seems intimidating, but here's my tidbit. It's a Historical Romance set in the 40's during the rise of the jazz culture. My heroine's feisty, she just clobbered the sergeant with her handbag, mistaking his intentions. (Formatting was a bit tricky copy and pasting in the comment scrunched it all together. I had to delete and retry. So I had to manually space it. ;)

She tipped her chin, placing only inches between their faces, her heavy breathing pulsing against his neck. “Let me go.”

The darkness prevented him from reading her expressive eyes. “Are you going to attack me again?” If someone would happen upon them, they’d appear like a couple, cozying up, positioning for some good kissing. The situation poked him strangely humorous.

“Are you laughing?” The disdain in her voice pinched his mouth shut. “Does the captain know of your intentions? How about your wife?”

He released her, and she skittered back to her side of the bench. “I’m not married. Relax. You don’t have to be afraid of getting pawed.”

“I’ve been around dogs long enough to know what kind of meat they like.”

"No, kiddo, you’ve been around wolves.” He flicked on the flashlight, the car’s cabin now lit enough to show the scowl cemented on her face.

"Better to be around a wolf than a liar.”

Her prickly response nicked his defenses. “Liar? How so?”

“You told me your name was Mick.” She folded her arms. “I heard the captain call you Ace.”

“That’s my nickname.” One he didn’t particularly like. He should be proud of his ace status, relishing the glory of a war-hero. But the success suspended from hooks of death, digging into the remains of a tormenting memory.

“You a poker player?”

“No. A fighter pilot.”

Hack away! I can take it ;)

Debbie Stehlick said...

What a fun post! Can't wait to read what people share😉

Cara Putman said...

Great idea! Now to read them. Rachel, I like what you have here. There's good personality and a sprinkling of backstory that doesn't stop the action.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Rachel, I love it! The dialogue is snappy! I like the action tags that sort of stage the scene. It's very well done! The tension is ripe! And I love your word choices. "Scowl cemented on her face." "Nicked her defenses." I'm quite intrigued where this will go (and where it came from) But no hacking from me. The only thing I might add near the beginning is how she felt in his arms. Was she rigid. Pliant. Trembling. Soft? Her breath pulsing on his neck is oh so nice, but I'm looking for that flash of awareness that would accompany having a woman in his arms. Even a prickly one. ;) Aside from that teensy suggestion... LOVE!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Me neither!! 😆

Rachel McDaniel said...

Thank you, Amy! Great suggestion <3

Unknown said...

Thank you, Cara!

Pepper said...

Soooooo fun, Ames! As usual, you're super duper at banter! I love how you bring two characters together through conversation!!

Rachel, WTG!! That's a wonderful and intense scene!!

Yay!! Sharing a little convo :-)

What did the clerk say? A four-hundred-year-old manor house? Imagine what you can make of this?”

“Which is exactly what I’m trying to do.” He shook his head, following her across the room as she continued to ooh and ahh over various features, chattering on about the craftsmanship in the woodwork, the Victorian light fixtures and even…the elegance of the peeling wallpaper.

Peeling wallpaper? Yep, this girl was a unique breed.

“I’m used to upscale luxury hotels with a streamlined production of four to six hundred rooms, and elegant and efficient hospitality. I was raised in it; and now, as a partner, I have this working system in place. A nice, predictable, reproducible plan.” He sighed and slipped his hands into his trouser pockets, gazing over the room. “This doesn’t fit the plan.”

“But what an opportunity.” Nora slowed her pace until they walked side by side. “You get to make something new.”

He slid her a cautious smile. “I’m not too bad at my job, Nora.”
The corners of her eyes crinkled when he said her name. She liked hearing him say it. His chest expanded with warmth. Possibly as much as he liked saying it. “My previous plans have been pretty good ones when I’ve used what I know.”

“Well, you still can use what you know, right?” She gave his shoulder a playful bump with hers, breaking the formality from their first meeting. “Just spruce up your plans a bit. Mold them to the culture of this town. Blend them with the beauty of England.” She gestured to the room. “The structure, class, and bling are already in place for you.”

He gestured toward the ornate chandelier in the middle of the room. “Bling isn’t necessary for a quality stay.”

“No, it may not be necessary.” She shrugged, her grin crinkling up her nose. “But sometimes—especially when we label it luxury—we’re looking for more than what’s necessary.” She tilted her head back, taking in another view of the room. “I, for one, love a world with embellishments and color. Color gives us rainbows and breathtaking sunrises and Kool-Aid moustaches.”

Rachel McDaniel said...

Thank you, Pepper!

Oh my! I fell in love with the Kool-Aid moustaches reference! And the grin crinkling up her nose :) Is this your " Brittalachian" story?? *sorry if I botched your word~ I did my best ;) *

Pepper said...

It's kind of a 'teaser' for my Brittallachian novel coming out in April. This is a novella that is coming out in March :-) Cute, Jane Austen inspired novella.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

So excited about this one, Pepper dear! I agree with Rachel, the kool aid mustache makes it real cute! ❤

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

[Lurker speaking up]
I love this concept.

Went to look for my notes/tries and found that most of my exchanges are snippets like a script or (does this make sense?) makes it look like the characters are mind-readers: they're perceiving layers that aren't obvious.

Basically I'm realizing my characters are way too perceptive/meta and I'm still figuring out how to fix that.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Amy Jane! So glad you spoke up! I think we all do that sometimes. As the author, we're overly intuitive about our characters. Sometimes we forget they don't know as much about each other as we do 😂 My best remedy for this is to read your scene and dialogue out loud like a performance. I always catch my slips when I let's the words air themselves out. I also see where it feels forced or unnatural. Even if your not an actor, it's still good to get a feel for the lyric and the cadence of the voices that will be perceived on the page. Hope thst helps!