Elements Of Setting In Writing

The Elements Of Setting In In Your Writing

Tips from a pro to help you incorporate appropriate elements of setting to make your story come alive.

Looking at how Aziz Ansari uses elements of setting in his clever Netflix series Master Of None shows why it matters where your scenes and stories take place. In fact, the buzz around the little show that everyone is talking about may be as much the product of setting as it is chemistry between characters.

Master Of None is a program with many predecessors. The protagonist is young. He is a dreamer. He is desperately trying to figure things out as he lives life. As charming as he is, he is unlucky in love.

While the subject matter is nothing unique, Ansari utilizes a fresh approach to tell this familiar story. Take “The Dinner Party” the fifth or middle episode from season two.

It is no spoiler to reveal that Dev (Ansari’s character) has recently returned to his native New York from a cooking internship in a small Italian village. At the end of season one, he left his NYC problems behind to learn the art of making pasta by hand amid romantic locations steeped in ancient history.

And, as all love lost protagonists do, Dev also befriends Francesca while overseas and they hit it off.

But Dev and Francesca can only be friends because she has a boyfriend. In “The Dinner Party” Dev invites Francesca, who is visiting the states, to a Manhattan soiree put on by one of his new buddies, a producer for the cooking network where Dev works as a host. This is the place to be. Everyone is going to be there and the party is so posh that John Legend gets up and plays piano at the behest of his host.

Writers Ansari and Alan Yang expertly utilize what amounts to a simple apartment setting. One of Dev’s oblivious actor friends happens to be at the party too and he’s constantly interrupting their banter. When they do get to talk, Dev helps Francesca overcome her stilted use of English with loving charm. Of course, it’s a foodie party, so passionate opinions about the myriad plates of food crop up between them. No one can simply like or dislike a dish. They have to argue about it. As the evening wears on, Dev opens the debate on flavor notes in a glass of wine (which Francesca charmingly describes as tasting like shoes). When the moment is right, the flamboyant host butts in and upstages Dev’s humor.

Five obstacles to Dev’s goal of Francesca. All of them arising naturally out of the elements of setting in the episode.

“The Dinner Party” is about how two people can be so close yet remain far away from one another. In order to accomplish that goal, Ansari and Yang had to create an organic setting that provided ample interruption. What better than a dinner party? How about a dinner party put on by professional foodies?

The episode culminates in the two characters sharing a cab after the long evening. This is the episode’s (and maybe the series’) golden moment. Dev is charming as always. Francesca listens to him and laughs at his little quips but… they just cannot execute the kiss they both so plainly want from the other. There is a genuine love between them but after an evening of missing they cannot get where they need to go.

Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl proves elusive. The formula is stock. Ansari is not content to write out a cliche he knows will work. Instead, he freshens the bittersweet story line using setting.

Give me a call or email me if you want to talk about how you can leverage my skills and experience to make your story come to life. It can make all the difference in the world!

 

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Writing good dialogue – Ghostwriting Tips

Tips For Writing Good Dialogue

Advice from a pro

Writing good dialogue, authentic dialog is tough. People talk in nuanced ways that aren’t always easy to capture on the page. They say you need an ear for it.

How does someone hone that ear though?

Playwright David Mamet’s advice on the subject is famously simple and abrupt. The great Mamet once advised a room full of eager creative writing graduates to eschew graduate school. Instead, he said, find a bar, preferably a pool hall without a television where they could sit down and listen.

Seems simple. Replace tuition with bar tab.

I have taken David Mamet’s advice to heart. I do not play pool (at least not well) but I do take frequent trips to a comfy stool at the quiet bar down the street and simply listen to what people say. It has proven to be the best means of achieving dialog that sounds like real people.

Writing good dialog comes from refinement.

Here are five truths and tips to refining your character dialog to achieve that authentic tone.

Read It Out Loud:

This may sound simplistic but a lot of writers that I know are afraid to do it. And why?

Because their dialog sounds hammy and on the nose.

If you want that real voice, read it out loud and avoid adding your inflection at all costs. This is a critical step, especially if you’re writing a screenplay, which is in large part a performance of your dialog.

Think In Negotiations:

All dialog is a negotiation. Think of what you say on a day to day basis at work or at home. Verbal communication is an expression of desire or purpose, all with the intent of affecting someone else.

This applies even when a character is talking to themselves. Self-talk is grooming for future interactions.

There is a very simple exercise to sharpen this sense. Put two characters in a room. One wants something that the other has but they cannot name or ask for it.

Write it and see all the ways allusion and suggestion enrich the conversation.

Negative Space:

Allow for negative space in your dialog. People don’t always say everything they are thinking. Omissions are as important as inclusions. If your character conversations begin with a hearty hello and end with their chosen means of good-bye, your dialog is probably overwritten.

A way to get this down is follow a simple rule: arrive late and leave early.

Conversations Are Rhythmic:

Straight line conversations simply do not exist. I cannot express this more emphatically. No one walks into a room, announces their purpose, gets what they want and walks out.

One of the ways I work on this is recording conversations. Get permission then record a normal conversation and you’ll see that it’s a rhythmic construct of all the above elements.

Introductions. Negotiations. Negative Space. Repeat.

Mamet Is Correct:

The core truth in Mamet’s statement applies. You cannot learn to hear real dialog a from TV or movie. Writers must find their story subjects in the world and listen to how they talk, interact, negotiate and feel.

An easy tip for writing good dialogue: Go out. Find that barstool. Sit. Listen.

If you’re having trouble writing good dialogue, or with any other area of your work, it may be beneficial to consider working with a professional ghostwriter. A ghostwriter works with you behind the scenes to take your writing to the next level. Considering it? Get in touch!

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Professional Ghostwriter – Ghostwriting As Path to Publication (Part I)

Ghostwriting can be an effective way to learn how to make craft into a business. As a long time professional ghostwriter, the best practices I have developed have gone a long way to prepare me for more success in where my ambitions lie.

Here are a few handy tips on how you can parlay a successful ghostwriting practice into a better platform for your own publication:

Clear Client Communication:

Writing is a solitary pursuit. Yet it is an equal truth that no successful writer can be an island.

Whatever you choose as the path for your project (whether that be a novel or a memoir or a feature length screenplay) at some point you will need to communicate clearly with a team of editors and publishers, designers and marketers. Even if you choose to go with the self-publishing route to bring your book to market, you will still find yourself working with a team.

Use your ghostwriting experience to hone these skills. Learn how to discuss project specs. Talk about time lines. Be clear about expectations. Discover the value of saying no.

Receiving Notes:

No one ever wants to hear that they need to go back to the drawing board. As difficult as that may is for anyone to hear though, re-writing is the soul of good writing.

Humble yourself. Take good notes while listening to your ghostwriting client. Have your own ideas to add. Most importantly though, do not take getting notes as a personal attack.

Bring what procedural feedback you get back to the table and dive into draft two. Learning how to deal with criticism (especially the bigger monster: self-criticism) is key to becoming a professional in any creative venture.

That Professional Feeling:

This may seem a little corny… but feeling like a professional goes a long way toward becoming a professional. Call yourself a ghostwriter. Imbue that definition with class.

Put your title on your business card. A professional ghostwriter carries a certain feeling about them that amateurs do not. That can go a long way toward distinguishing yourself from others vying for the same publisher or agent’s attention. At a writer’s conference, everyone is out applying for the same job. It’s a helpful boost to feel as though you’ve been there before.

Stay tuned for more another set of tips on how to use your ghostwriting practice as a path to publication in the second installment of this blog.

 

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North Coast Redwoods Writers Conference: Part III

Click on these links to read part one and part two of this blog series.

img_0307My name is fourth on the open mic list. At the podium, my voice shudders as I read. “What I’m Thinking About When You Describe How A Beehive Works.”

An open mic reading is an apropos end. I see many hand scribbled notes, poems and excerpts make it to the microphone. Shedding the polish from art feels good.

Ken Lethko announces the conference’s end. His voice is riddled with melancholy. This too feels refreshing. This was a labor of love for those who put the event on. Leaving for the weekend is difficult, which feels corny. I keep walking back in, looking for things I may have left behind.

img_0319I see the part of Crescent City that graces travel books. Down on Pebble Beach Drive at five on a September afternoon, the tattered coast begs for a confession. It wants me to mark the moment, so I take a selfie facing left. Then I take another facing right.

The bartender at Seaquake Brewing says I look like a writer to her. I search frantically for a wrinkle or stain on my shirt. All of her dinner recommendations are out of town, twenty or thirty minutes. One is an hour. More interesting than my dinner of Pad Thai and fishcakes is the ad hoc therapy session taking place in the booth next to me. I write a few choice moments in my notebook.

By 9AM I’m an hour down the road at the bartender’s favorite spot in Cave Junction. Already back in Oregon. Taylor’s a butcher shop/restaurant and for $5 my scrambled eggs, fresh sausage and toast are immaculate. I buy peach jam to bring home. I save raspberry for my next trip through. I need to figure out a way to thank that bartender for her recommendation.

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Tips For Writing Conference Networking

No Matter Your Writer Goals, Behavior Dictates Success

Willamette Writer's ConferenceLast weekend was the 50th Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, Oregon. I have attended this particular conference for going on eight years and I am consistently shocked by the way writers behave when they find themselves in confined spaces.

Some people get it. A majority do, actually. Others clearly don’t though. Four days in a hotel with your colleagues can be stressful even terror inducing. Don’t let it get to you.

Here are five tips to keep in mind before you attend your next conference.

Be Friendly

I’m always shocked at how the tried and true axiom “treat others the way you want to be treated” flies out the door in professional scenarios. It absolutely should not. These should be the moments this trait needs to come out to shine.

Talent is great. It’s enviable. People you meet have to want to work with you though. Are you acting like the kind of person who they’re going to want to call?

That impression begins the moment you walk into the conference room.

Don’t Be Over Polite

The flip side? Try and remain genuine. No one likes someone going over the top into phony. Holding doors and other obsequious behavior may get you into trouble.

Brand Yourself as Friendly & Helpful

While attending the Willamette Writer’s Conference I volunteer. Consequently, people associate me with some inner knowledge about the conference’s inner workings.

Even when my shifts are complete and I’m attending classes, people seek me out to ask questions. I don’t have to help but I do. Once again, it goes back to that age old axiom.

Don’t Get Star Struck

My father once said something very important to me when I was young and I keep it close to me now. Everyone you meet is just another person doing their job.

How I translate that in the conference scenario is, treat those agents and producers (and hotel staff pouring your drinks) like you would anyone else you encounter during your day.

That guy might be the perfect agent for your book but you know something? He’s probably thinking about the wife and dog he left at home. Or he’s just struggling to reach five o’clock.

Keep Your Mind Open

Remember your goal is connection. You may have your sights focused on signed with an agent or manager but you never know how that connection will happen.

It may not be during your assigned pitch session. Your long worked for break may come via someone you shared small talk with in a classroom.

Keep yourself open minded.

Subscribe to my blog today for more tips and pointers on the writer’s life.

Get in touch with me today for 20% off of your manuscript consultation. Just let me know how you found me in your first email!

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