Let’s do a blog about… Dialogue

I used to think I was bad at dialogue, and maybe I am. Ultimately, you’re judged on your work by the people that read it. Hopefully, you are people who have read my work and if you haven’t, maybe you will.

In either case, I’m going to give you my approach to doing dialogue in prose, because I like to think I’m special and have worked out something very important. And it’s my blog so ner ner nerner ner.

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Being your own boss is awful/amazing and I hate/love it.


I worked in an office once. For three weeks. It didn’t last.

The guy I worked for directly was cool and all, and even if the job itself wasn’t really that fun it wasn’t awful. It was the two hour commute that made it untenable. That and the way offices work.

If you read my books, you might notice there’s a general disdain amongst my characters for the dynamics of “office people”. Having remembered that this is a thing that I do, I thought I’d take a moment to differentiate between “office people” and “people who work in an office”, because they are not in fact the same thing. Most notably, they are distinguished by one being able to use the phrase “by the close of play” unironically.

Anyway, this is neither here nor there. The important thing is that, being essentially self-employed, I get to set the pace for how and when I work. Which is awesome. I can get up at midday, slob around until 3, then smash out my daily quota of words and have a sandwich. LIVING THE DREAM.

Except for the fact that no-one ever wants to work, even if it is something they love doing, which sounds like nonsense. When you are beholden to doing something as a career, there’s always going to be that little bit of resentment, and part of the reason good writers manage to exist is because we have become a dab hand at using that resentment to fuel anything other than what we’re supposed to be doing. So we sit there and we write novels instead of doing essays, because “you’ll never make money doing that, go and get a real job”.

When that becomes your real job, this doesn’t go away.

I expect most people who are their own boss actually have some external power figure they really answer to — like a wife or dog or something — but I haven’t managed to procure one of those yet. So mostly I have to threaten myself with crushing guilt to actually get myself to start working.

Writers are weird, okay?

Back to work

stolen from invisiblebread.com

stolen from invisiblebread.com

So recently I had a nearly catastrophic computer cock-up, which coincided nicely with me taking a few days off to recharge my creative batteries. With both of those now sorted, I can finally get back to work on SNIDE.

It always feels a bit like a copout to take a few days off writing. I set myself a quota, and when I don’t meet it, it does tend to feel like I’m slacking. Once I get back to work though, that notion is gone. It’s hard to explain, but I can feel a change in the writing, like a great pressure has abated. Once that pressure starts building, so it feels like every word you type is being forced, that’s when you know it’s time to take a breather. Writing, for me, always feels a little like that anyway — usually because I get myself so caught up in jesus, I have so many words left — but when you start running dry it gets so much worse.

But now the reservoirs are full, and I can get back to it.

Also, in other news, I’m holding in my hands right now a printed copy of Lore and Order. It’s the preview copy to make sure it all looks good in book form, and I am pretty happy with the result if I’m honest. Hopefully you will be too, once you can get your hands on it. I’ll have more information about that in the nearish future I should think.

Finally, still planning on doing audiobooks on both Diplomancer and Lore and Order when I get a minute. Reading your own stuff aloud is quite daunting actually, especially with regards to something you wrote so long ago like Diplomancer, just need to psych myself up for that.


Changing of the Guard


Having not done a series yet, I’ve not had to tackle the idea of a rotating cast. With each book being a one-off, the cast is the cast is the cast, but I’ve been reading the Fables comic books again recently, and that’s been going on for long enough that rotating the cast happens organically.

When this sort of thing happens in TV, it is almost always awful. Rarely does it happen because the story demands it, more likely it’s because the actors had better jobs to go off to. The replacements show up and something just doesn’t feel the same.

Maybe this is one of those things where stuff just works differently in TV than in comics or books. Or maybe it’s a problem in all media if you put more effort into the characters than the world. The reason the changing of the guard works in Fables is because the world is so rich, there’s room for infinite numbers of stories and characters. It feels like a world that would go on without a specific character. If your world is centred entirely around one character, the world is going to collapse when you remove him.

I’d quite like to craft the sort of story that can keep going even if I change the guard a little. Maybe I already have.

Diplomancer is going into a library


It’s not necessarily wise to believe everything you are told on twitter, but I’m only little so I don’t have to be wise. When someone says they’re going to put your book in a library, you tend to believe them.

I’m not going to speak for all writers, because that would be daft, but I will say that I hold a library as more or less the ultimate form of acceptance that, yes, you are a proper writer now. I’m very much on the “libraries are good” bandwagon, as you might guess.

The news also came at the perfect time to re-motivate me to work on SNIDE. I’m writing a lot of dialogue right now, and I always find it difficult to want to do that. It is extremely important that dialogue flows well, which tends to mean lots of rewriting as I go, which I am not happy about. My preferred method is to get it all down and then rewrite it at the end.

But, well, if Diplomancer is going to be in a library, I had better get to work on more things to join it. Can’t have it being all lonely on the shelf now, can we?

The Routine is in Jeopardy


I might take the day off today.

I have to go to the dentist and have my face drilled which, despite the apparent frequency of this occurrence, I am still not quite used to. Wandering around with a sleepy face kind of makes it hard to focus for me, seeing as I spend the entire time prodding my sleeping face to try and pinpoint the moment feeling comes back.

But this isn’t a blog about dentists, it’s about what all this means for my writing routine.

I’m awful at breaking a routine. Once it is broken, getting back into it can often be damn near impossible. Sometimes, that can be a good thing, but when it comes to working on a book it often means a few weeks of nearly getting to work again before finally smashing through the unseen barrier. SNIDE might even have already been through this once, I can’t remember.

This was why I kept writing last week, even though I felt truly awful and was full of cold, because I didn’t want to break the routine. But there’s feeling awful, and then there is having holes drilled in your face.

So I do this little blog as a reminder to myself that I need to not let the routine stay broken, and get back on things tomorrow. Still need to do 10,000 words this week, even if it means working into the weekend. If I don’t, I might never finish the damn thing.

So close to halfway-ish.

SNIDE: The second act slump


I have a habit of checking my word count a lot when writing a book, which isn’t helping me right now.

For a while it is super useful, seeing that I’ve made so much progress. The first ten thousand words feel like a slog, but once you start nearing fifteen thousand it begins to feel like you’re actually doing something important. Then you start to near forty thousand, as I’m doing now, and all you can think of is I’m not even halfway yet.

I still need another sixty thousand words. Possibly more. That’s really bloody daunting. I tend to let the story dictate itself to me as I write, and this book is no different, but I’m rapidly running out of expected material, marching straight into terra incognita.

This happens in every book, and once I cross the magic midway marker things should start to make sense again. But right now it’s a bit scary. It’s also getting all serious, and I mostly don’t write things that are serious. I mostly write things that have sarcastic shitbags annoying people for 300 pages.

All this being a legitimate writer business is weird.

On Emergent Storytelling in videogames


I’m often confused by people who champion emergent stories in games, but that’s largely because the stories they cite are rubbish. That said, I’ve been playing Crusader Kings 2 an awful lot, and that’s throwing stories at me left right and centre, and all of them are great.

At least until I tell people about them.

Usually, stories are a thing that should be shared. That’s the whole point of writing a book, to share a story with the world. To that end, you have to structure it in such a way that you ease the reader into it, or grab them so hard they dare not pull away. This, I think, is why I get that sense of confusion with emergent stories.

The ones I experience, like in games like Crusader Kings 2, are built around my experience with the game, the thousands of things that one can’t easily articulate that shape your game. When the story forms, it already has that bedrock of interest. When others tell me their stories, this bedrock is omitted – because it is not something easily transmitted – and so I don’t tend to connect with their stories.

This sounds like a criticism, but in truth it isn’t meant as one. If anything it is praise. True, maybe the stories aren’t easy to share with conviction, but at least they are powerful enough that you remember them.

And besides, any game that lets you create an alternate history where Abyssinia conquered Spain is fine by me.

(It’s totally research, not procrastination. Honest.)   

SNIDE: Writing baddies


Writing the baddie always seems to become more fun for me than creating the protagonists. That’s not to say the others are arduous, but they tend to be a bit easier to put together. There are more pitfalls with the bad guys, and that’s what makes it fun.

It’s important that the villains be believable, as I’m sure you know. The moustache twirling madman of old still has his place, but it is largely in satires and spoofs. A proper villain has to think they are doing the right thing, which means when you are designing them, you need to find a way to justify what they are doing.

For SNIDE, this means I’ve had to work quite hard at that. The logic I’ve had to work with to keep the villains consistent with the plot as well as somewhat realistic has been great fun, and has given me numerous jumping off points I can exploit in future stories too.

Essentially, writing is exploring. I go nosing around the heads of tiny little people I build out of words, and they surprise me every time. The ones in SNIDE have been especially good at it, to the point where I find them dictating huge detours from where I expected the story to go.

And I’m okay with that, because they are awesome.