Monday, October 15, 2007

Short and To the Point

A portion of Mars with Cupid,
(my scanner didn't care for Cupid)
Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri),
oil on canvas, 1649.
Cincinnati Art Museum.

I like reading excerpts.

One of the reasons I like reading samples from WsIP is because the short snippits may magnify, by their brevity, a facet of writing skill.

Gabriele of the Lost Fort posts portions of her historical fiction every Friday as a contribution to one of those round-robin internet thingies.

Her scene from Friday describes a tense and dramatic confrontation - a challenge by a rightful leader to a ursurper, from Kings and Rebels.

Observe a bit of dialogue:

"Agantyr took a step back, the sword in his hand pointing down.
I thought you dead, drowned in Maelaren lake.

I live, Kormac said..."

Writers are advised to differentiate the voices of their characters so they don't all sound the same.

What is not always emphasized is that dialogue must also suit the situation.

Sometimes I experience a vague sense of irritation at dialogue and it doesn't seem to matter what genre. This snippit brought home why.

I live.

Short and sweet and entirely consistent with the scene. No long oratorical, info-dumpy excesses to dilute the tension while other characters stand around scratching their asses and cleaning their fingernails with their choice of blade.

I live.

There's about to be a lot of slash and burn and blood. Trial by combat. The fate and future of a lot of people hang on the outcome. No one's going to run off at the mouth in a situation like this. Not for real. There might be trash talk later, while they're having at it, but not now.

I live.

Two terse words. Which, incidentally, tell us a lot about the character too -- which is another job for dialogue.

Well done, Gabriele.


Erik Ivan James said...

I agree.

This post is also well done, Bernita. One of the things I am finding as I do my rewrite, is that I have often rambled. In many places shorter and to the point works better.

SzélsőFa said...

an excellent example when saying less is sayig more.
I'm glad you put this into our light, Bernita.
we have a saying for this: 'sok beszédnek sok az alja' - meaning that a long speech has many debris and unwanted trash at the end.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Erik.
That's what revision's for. Damn few of us get it absolutely right on the first draft .

Gabriele has many other skills, Szelsfoa, but this snippit really brought a particular point home.

bunnygirl said...

What I like about this example is that it renders a sense of language (since presumably they aren't speaking modern English), and Kormac's personality (alpha male, all the way). And this feat was accomplished in just two words!

Although pages and pages of backstory isn't my greatest writerly flaw, I do tend to write long. My recent foray into short fiction is SO good for my writing! I never dreamed I could pack so much into 1,000 words, but it's amazing how much you can cut and compress, even when you aren't starting from a place full of fluff and "as you know, Bob."

I suspect practicing poetry would be even more effective for learning to compress ideas, but I draw the line there. I do have standards, after all. ;-)

Now if only blogger's word ver were equally interested in keeping things short. *sigh*

Bernita said...

Other forms are indeed great discipline, Bunny.

Gabriele encapsuled a lot of things in those two words.

Demon Hunter said...

My problem is that I tend to write too little and then have to go back and spiff it up a little. Great insight, great post, Bernita! :*)

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy the power of variation. A writer sings to the reader leading her up to the moment, then wham. A terse, strong statement burn in like a brand.

Charles Gramlich said...

I also get pretty irritated at dialogue a lot of time. It's so hard to do it well, so easy to do it poorly.

Bernita said...

Thank you, my Demon.
That's my problem too.
Too mean and lean - revision for me always means more addition than subtraction.

Effective not only in dialogue, Jason.

That's quite true, Charles.
Dialogue is a beast of burden and some writers fail to load the animal properly.

StarvingWriteNow said...

"Dialogue is a beast of burden and some writers fail to load the animal properly."

Well said!!

December/Stacia said...

Ah, I love dialogue, and that is an excellent example. Gabriele is so good!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Starving.

Yep, December.
And this is the sort of thing she does that makes me yell YES!

Gabriele C. said...

Aw Bernita, you make me blush. Thank you so much for your kind words and thoughtful analysis of what's going on somewhere in my brain I'm not even aware of. :) I only know that I find good dialogue difficult to write.

my frist drafts are pretty polished because I edit while I go. It's a wonder I can do that working on several NiPs and out of order. But it makes for slow progress and low wordcounts.

Thank you, Bunnygirl.
Yes, Kormac is an alpha male. :)

Thank you, Demon Hunter, Jason, Charles and December.

*goes hiding and blushed some more*

Bernita said...

Gabriele, for my money you hit it perfectly.
Delights me.

spyscribbler said...

Gorgeous writing. I just love that: "I live." It's awesome when we find the perfect sentence, you know? When it's absolutely perfect?

Love it.

Bernita said...

I so agree, Natasha.

Shesawriter said...

Yup. Couldn't have said it better. The old less is more adage fits perfectly in this instance, and that writer delivered.

Bernita said...

Yup, she did, Tanya.