The Darkest Moment

Stories are all about conflict and transformation. If the main character in your story can achieve all of his/her desires without any struggle at all, then it wouldn’t be much of a story. It is therefore the job of the writer to make things difficult for the hero/heroine. One writer likened this to getting your main character stuck up a tree and then throwing rocks at them. As readers, we tend to love an underdog: someone who succeeds in the face of adversity. Therefore, as writers, it is our job to make sure our main characters suffer, so they can earn the success that they truly deserve.

Often the main character also has to learn something important about themselves before they can take that final step to success. If you are familiar with the Three Act Structure, you will know that this epiphany moment usually occurs following the main character’s darkest moment at the end of the second act. The darkest moment is that time when all seems lost and our hero/heroine is in the depths of despair. It is at this point where they find something new about themselves, which gives them the courage and inspiration to go on.

Even if you don’t believe in a three act structure, the darkest moment is usually recognisable story beat in most successful stories. It is the emotional darkness before the dawn of success. Without it there is little emotional contrast. Some writers talk about two stories: the outer story we associate with the plot line and the inner story about the change or transformation of the main character during the course of the story. Another term often used is the character arc.

Of course, not all stories are about main characters that change for the better. Some may change for the worse, or they may refuse change despite everything. It depends on the type of story you are writing. In an action-driven story, the inner story may seem  unimportant compared to the outer storyline. But it’s still an important component. It’s just more subtle. That’s because  all stories are about characters; and if you want your reader to empathise with those characters, you need to understand the character’s inner story. It is the character’s inner story that carries the moral theme of the story (for example, good will overcome evil, love conquers all, freedom is worth fighting for, family is important  etc.). And as I have said in an earlier blog, without at least one theme you have no story.

Dialogue – the seven rules

dialogueI’ve been writing for most of my life. It was hard not to. It was part of my job as an accountant to write reports, letters and other forms of communication. So learning to write fiction shouldn’t have been that difficult, should it?

But of course it was. Business writing is about communicating facts and opinions. It’s the part that appeals to the logical side of our brains. Writing fiction is quite different. It is a creative process — painting with words and engaging the emotions of the reader. I had a lot learn!

One of the most obvious differences was dialogue. Dialogue reflects the emotions of thoughts of our characters and helps the writer bond with the reader. There are some basic points of the structure that I had to learn. That part was easy. But mastering the skill of writing good dialogue is more difficult. (And I’m still learning.)

First the easy part: the dialogue conventions and techniques.

Rule 1 : Each change of speaker should be a new paragraph. That way it is easy to understand when someone else is speaking.

Rule 2: Dialogue tags should be limited to a bare minimum to understand who is speaking. By tag, I mean ‘John said’,  ‘he  said’, or ‘she said’ etc. If it is obvious who’s speaking, no tag is necessary.

Rule 3; Avoid emotive tags, such “I’ll kill you,” he threatened. It’s pretty obvious that the speaker is threatening and it adds nothing. Similarly avoid the use of adverbs in tags such as ‘he said cynically’. Again the cynicism should be obvious from the text. In practice, ‘said’ is probably the easiest tag to use as it is relatively invisible to the reader.

Rule 4: Where there is an ‘action beat’ before the dialogue, the speaker is presumed to be the same. For example: John turned towards Mary. “Get out of my sight.”  Here it is presumed that John is the speaker and so no tag is necessary.

Rule 5: Don’t use dialogue as an information dump to inform the reader. For example: “As you know, John. We’ve both suspect the butler is the killer.”  This type of information dump just sounds awful.

Rule 6: Don’t mimic small talk about the weather, their health or anything else that isn’t relevant to the story line. Dialogue should appear natural, but shouldn’t mimic all the distracting features of natural speech.

Rule 7: Dialogue is a form of action. There should be elements of tension and sub text in the exchanges. Not answering questions, or answering a question with another question can raise interest in the readers mind as to why the speaker is being evasive.

Those are probably the basic rules you need to understand, but it is only the start. There is a real skill is crafting good dialogue. I tend to write my dialogue quickly by listening to the characters in my head. (Yes I hear voices). Then edit, edit and edit again. My own experience is that I tend to edit dialogue more than any other part of my writing. It’s only when it feels natural and real that I am satisfied.