Writing How-To: Improve writing conversations

I answered this question on Quora but I thought I would expand it and make it a full blog post.

Q.  How can I get better at writing conversations?

There are a few things you should do if you want to get better at writing conversations. This can be writing for short stories, novels, screenplays, anything.

1. Listen to conversations going on around you, and write them down.

Whether you’re on the bus, in a cafe, or walking down the street, pay close attention to the conversations happening around you. Listen to the inflections in the banter, then write it down.

2. Read them aloud.

You can get a friend to help you, or do this yourself. Your ear is more likely to pick up errors, and notice if the words sound false or awkward.

3. Remove or refine dialogue tags (e.g. said, asked, replied).

You don’t need to get rid of them all, but including them at the end of every line of dialogue stunts the flow of the conversation. Once you make it clear who is talking, you can even go for short bursts without the tags altogether.

Example –

“Hey Marie, how’s it going?”

“Not too bad, you?”

“Can’t complain. Did you get that text I sent you the other night?”

“No, I didn’t.”

You can see that you don’t need the tags. The punctuation can almost tell it all.

You can also choose to refine your tags. The thesaurus is filled with helpful synonyms of ‘said’ and ‘asked’, etc. Or, better yet, include descriptions and actions after the dialogue.

Example –

“Hey Marie, how’s it going?” David asked, though he already knew the answer.

“Not too bad, you?”

“Can’t complain.” A shrug left David’s shoulders. “Did you get that text I sent you the other night?”

“No, I didn’t.” Marie shifted her gaze, unable to look him in the eye.

See? Just by adding some descriptions and actions, you bring the dialogue to life, and progress the story. We learn more about the characters and the situation.

4. Character backgrounds.

One mistake some writers make, is to make all characters sound the same. Each character has a different background, so use that. Think about:

– Born and Raised. An Australian doesn’t speak the same way as someone from New York. If English is not their primary language, are their phrases stunted?

– Education. Do they talk in slang, or technical terms. This also depends on their degree, for example, technical writing terms are very different to technical medical terms.

– How old are they? Teenagers are more likely to talk in slang and unusual terms. The elderly might not use conjunctions as often.

– Who are they talking to? What relationship do they have? Have they been in a sexual relationship before? Are they hiding a secret from them?

5. Read, read, and read some more!

All of these are important, but you really do have to make sure you read. Read a short story, read a book, read a screenplay, read a news article, read a magazine. Just read anything!

Further reading:

There are MANY blogs, books, and online tutorials that talk about this and other writing tips, tricks, and techniques.

Check out: Creative Writing Now, Writing Forward, Daily Writing Tips.

Writing How-To: Plot and Structure Plan – SIMPLE version

Over the last fifteen or so years, I have dedicated myself to researching new writing (short story, novel, script) tips, tricks, and techniques. So, naturally, I want to share them with you all.

Some of these tips will be from my own experience, some from research, and some from my university studies.

Let me begin by saying these structure plans are not a ‘must do’. Yes, they are how the vast majority of novels and screenplays are written, but writing is a creative form and can always be beautiful when done uniquely. This is the simple version (in-depth version still to come). For examples throughout, I will be using Speed (1994) – this means there will be SPOILERS!

1. Believable/Sympathetic lead character

Each story needs to begin with the introduction of the lead character and the world of the story. The majority of lead characters need to garner sympathy from the audience. If we feel bad for them when they are being targeted by the bad guys, we will root for them. (i.e. Jack Traven and Harry Temple are L.A. SWAT officers. Straight away we see them in action, and acknowledge them as the good guys. When Jack shoots Harry to get to bomber-Howard, there is humour, a likeable emotion. We like them, therefore we root for them.)

2. Urgent/Difficult problem

This is where the action really takes off. Our lead character must be affected by an urgent and difficult problem. Not every problem the lead character will face is evident at this point, but it sets up the antagonist. (i.e. Bomber-Howard contacts Jack, and sets up the premise: “There’s a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up.”)

3. Attempts to overcome the problem

This is where the majority of the story/novel/screenplay takes place. Imagine a cliff with jagged rises. Each plateau is another problem. There are no real limits to how many problems your story needs, but each one needs to keep progressing the story. (i.e. Speed (1994) contained many problems for Jack to overcome. They include – not in order because I can’t remember – getting onto the bus that has already reached the bomb activation limit, passenger with gun and subsequent shot driver, navigating in heavy traffic without slowing, getting passengers off, etc.)

4. Climax/Last stand

This can either be a continuation of the action – one thing leading to the next and never letting up or giving the lead character time to breath and recover, or almost like an after-thought – such as in Speed (1994) where Jack and Annie think the event is over only to have to face one last, major, problem. This problem needs to be more threatening than the others. The lead character doesn’t even need to be entirely successful (though it is the norm), but it is the end of the conflict.

5. Resolution

The end of the story needs to almost mirror the introduction. It will show how the world of the story has changed, and how our lead character has grown from the experience.

So, this is the simple version of the Plot and Structure Plan. I will be going through the in-depth version soon, but this version is still great for beginners.

Writing Tips and Tricks

As a writer – beginner or life-long – I’m sure you have googled terms like: ‘how do I earn money by writing’, ‘pay for my writing’, and ‘writing jobs’.

I was one of those people too. I have always had an intense passion for writing. It didn’t matter what I was writing, or even if it was for school, and finding out I could get money for it was the cherry on the cake.

There are a few ways you can earn money by writing. This could be writing for an established company as part of their staff, writing your own ideas (stories, scripts, blogs, etc.), or freelance jobs.

Today I’ll be talking about freelance jobs.

It can be very hard to find a company that not only allows freelance writers to work their way up from zero experience, but also give them the opportunity to earn dollars instead of cents for their work. There were a few websites that I tried, but, about two years ago, I found one I absolutely love.

Upwork (formerly Odesk and Elance) was a godsend to me. While there are tests you can do to show future employers you are a good fit for their job, I don’t think any of them have impacted me at all. There were a few jobs I immediately applied for, including writing articles, reviews, and transcribing audio files. I didn’t know what I wanted to focus on, but as long as I was making money for my work, I was willing to give any job a try. There is also no limit for a pay-out (but there is a $1 fee for it so you have to at least have $1).

Almost straight away I landed a couple of long-term jobs, and was even recommended to another employer outside of Upwork. So, it’s now been about two years, and I am still loving working with them.

Even if you don’t want to remain a freelance writer, you can use it to hone your skills and make some important connections.

Let me know if you’ve worked on Upwork or if you have another site you would recommend.