I’ll Take Theme for $1000, Alex

I'll Take ThemeThe continued editing of my novel has been an equally wonderful and painful experience. One of the points I wanted to make sure I had cinched up was my story’s theme. It was time to revisit one of my favorite posts by writing guru, K.M. Weiland. Then I realized that I should probably share this one in my Writing Toolbox.

What’s the Difference Between Your Story’s Theme and Its Message? posted on December 14, 2014, by K.M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors.

Staring Down the Barrel of Chapter One

Staring Down the Barrel of Chapter OneI have heard that the first chapter of a novel is the most rewritten chapter of all. I have also heard this is because everything that we want our novel to be and everything that it should be comes spooling out of those first words, sentences, and paragraphs. If the groundwork for the rest of the book isn’t compellingly laid out for our potential readers, and if our readers aren’t hooked by our initial efforts, our novel is doomed. No pressure there.

For the past week, I have been staring at the pages of the first chapter in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Based on the paragraph above, you can probably guess what my current goal is. Still, I refuse to force my story into an outline or someone else’s expectations and/or opinions of what my novel, as a whole, should be. I will, however, accept advice that helps me tell my story the way I know it needs to be told.

Today, I’m stocking my Writing Toolbox with two pieces of writing advice relevant to my situation. The first comes from Jacob M. Appel’s March 29, 2011, post for Writer’s Digest, 10 Ways to Start Your Story Better. I’ll be employing a combination of Mr. Appel’s suggestions to refine the essence of my first chapter.

The second, more recent piece of writing advice is from K.M. Weiland, Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 38: Irrelevant Book Endings. I’m exploring the end of my novel to ensure that the beginning of my book set up my desired ending. If not, a chapter one rewrite and restructure may be in order.

Somewhere, an outliner is screaming, “You could have avoided this if you’d only outlined to begin with.” That may be true, but I enjoy exploring the rabbit trails too much. It’s where I often receive my next piece of writing inspiration, and I’m certainly not interested in turning off the creative supply outlet.

Writing What You Hear – Dialect & Accents

There is a character in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, who is Mexican.  For a minor character, Lucia is one of my favorites.  She’s smart, classy, and in charge of all that goes on around her.  In short, she’s the perfect foil for her boss, the intelligent, elegant divorcée, Prudence Mayfield.

Prudence is nobody’s fool, but Lucia keeps her in check when needed. She pulls no punches with her employer and sometimes their conversation is quite spirited. My initial attempts at writing a Mexican dialect were hilarious and amateur. I needed to find a way to convey Lucia’s nationality without her dialog sounding cheesy or offensive.

Assistance came from a video on Howcast by voice and speech coach Andrea Caban. My mistake was that I never consider the posture of the mouth or the musicality of the dialect when writing for Lucia. The breathy S sound at the end of words, the hard R sound, and the nasally tone were exactly what I wanted for my character. How could I put that on paper without writing ridiculous phonetic spellings that would drive the reader insane?  By describing Lucia’s accent.

Originally, the only phonetic spelling I was going to use was jew for every time she said you.  I have since decided against this so I don’t offend potential readers.  Still, when I read Lucia’s comments out loud, I always do so in her accent. I’m confident the suggestions employed helped me to better express her dialect on the written page.  Please share your experience writing a foreign character’s dialect.

Recommended sites for writing dialect/accents:

How To Do a Mexican Accent

The Dos and Don’ts of Dialect

Andrea Caban – Dialect Coach

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