The Inner Dialogue: A Method for Figuring Out Your Stories

So if you didn’t hear, a novel I’ve been working on since college is getting published, and I’ve been working with a professional editor to make sure that the story is the best it can be before publication. During the revision process, we agreed that the number of flashbacks in the story were actually getting in the way of the story, so I should nix them. Unfortunately, that meant a third of the book went out the window, and another third that relied on that first third had to go as well.

Yeah, that got me depressed for a little while, and it took a lot for me to climb out of that funk. But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m actually here to talk about what happened with my story. Because you see, now that essentially the majority of the novel had been chucked out, I had to figure out where to go with the story. I couldn’t go the original direction of the story, because the flashbacks I’d tossed out were so essential to that direction.

Luckily, I was able to come up with a new direction for the story using a method that I’d never used before, which I call the inner dialogue. I can’t remember where I picked this method up,* but it’s stayed in the back of my mind for years, and I figured this was as good a situation as any to use it.

The inner dialogue is where you simulate a conversation with your inner writer (we all have one) when you’re struggling with what to do with a story. This could be trying to overcome writer’s block, figuring out why what a character is doing in the story feels wrong to you, having to rewrite a majority of the story, or any other issue you may be having during the writing/editing process of a story.

Here’s what you have to do:

Get a notebook and pen, or a typewriter and paper, or open up your preferred writing program on your computer. Imagine that you’re sitting down with your inner writer at a cafe, in your favorite writing spot, in a dark basement underneath a seedy dive bar, wherever you feel most comfortable talking to your inner writer. And have an honest conversation with them, writing down what you say and writing down what your inner writer says back. Think of it like texting, only you’re texting with a part of your mind you use for storytelling.

Bounce ideas off them, talk about the criticisms people have with the story, discuss what about the story is bugging you. Something about this method, writing out the problems and some possible situations to remedy this, allows your mind to open up and see new possibilities and solutions.

It might also make people wonder if you’re channeling spirits and doing automatic writing and/or if you’re having some sort of psychological crisis. But I think that’s a risk worth taking for finding what you need to make a story as good as it possibly can be.

Here’s an example conversation of me and my inner writer (who I’ve found to be very sassy during our conversations) discussing a hypothetical book idea I’ve been working on. My dialogue is written normally, while my inner writer uses bold letters:

So we’re doing this again, are we?

Yes, we are. Alright, let’s talk about my idea for a novel I’ve been working on. It centers on a group of cheerleaders.

I’m sure it does, you naughty dog.

Ha ha, very funny. Anyway, we’ve gone over what would happen to them once they arrive at the main setting of the story. But why does it happen? There’s always a catalyst that sets things up. Even if we don’t see it until the end of the story, there’s always something that starts the horror off.

Not always, baby boy. Remember The Haunting of Hill House? That really didn’t have a–no wait, that’s not right. The catalyst was that they entered the house for the investigation, and one of the subjects is mentally still very much a child, which puts her the most at risk to the house’s charms.

Yeah, catalysts in stories can be debatable or hard to pin down sometimes. But what could be a catalyst for this story. Why does this happen to these characters?

You were playing around with the idea of the setting being an illusion, weren’t you? Something created by the characters and the dark secrets in their minds. Can we do anything with that still? Maybe a variation?

You see where this is going, right? But it is very effective. I got ideas for this hypothetical novel just from doing an inner dialogue here in this blog post. And if doing it as a demonstration in this blog post can give me ideas for a novel, imagine what it can do for your work at home.

With that in mind, I just want to leave you with a couple of tips for doing this. You don’t have to use them, but I find them useful:

  • Be honest and write down everything. It may be a lot of work, but you’ll find it helpful to write down everything in these dialogues. Especially if you want to go back and see what you’ve come up with. Any thought, any idea, could prove useful, so write them down, even if your thoughts are kind of weird (mine certainly are).
  • Give your inner writer a voice. Like in your stories, the inner writer is also a character, even if they only exist inside you. That being said, you’ll want to give them a voice, motivations, everything you’d give a normal character. That way, they can speak to you just like any other character, and make the dialogue that much more effective.
    It also helps to give the inner writer’s dialogue some distinguishing characteristic, so it doesn’t get jumbled up with your own. A different font, italics, as long as it helps you differentiate, it’s all good.
  • Mark the dates and times of the dialogues. Often these dialogues can last a while. Mine lasted two weeks while I was trying to find a new direction. So mark the date and times you had these dialogues in the document you’re using. You’ll find it very helpful for later.

Nobody wants to find out a story is flawed or that they can’t figure out how to fix its problems. But there are a variety of methods to overcome these issues. Perhaps the inner dialogue is a good one for you, and will help you write, edit and publish your best work. You just have to sit down, and commit to talking to yourself for a little while. You never know what you’ll unlock.

*For some reason I think it might have something to do with Stephen King, but I think I’d remember if I came across this method in a King novel. If you have any idea where it came from, let me know in the comments. I’d like to give a proper acknowledgement to whoever or wherever I got the inner dialogue.

What’s in a Genre?

complete collection of John Grisham fiction an...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What’s in a genre, or even better, what IS a genre? Simply put, a genre is a “category” such as sci-fi, mystery, romance, paranormal, and fantasy to name a few. (You can find  a much longer list here – http://www.bubblecow.net/a-list-of-book-genres). However, just because every book written will be crammed into a genre, it doesn’t mean the author is a genre writer. Literary fiction is generally considered non-genre writing, while the usual suspects (some of which I listed earlier) are considered “genre books”.

Confused yet?

So what is the point of genre? Logically, it’s to help a reader find a book they’d like. If you like mysteries, you want to check the Mystery shelf in your book store. If you like chick-lit, you want to hit up the chick-lit section, etc. etc. But, genre is more than just a helpful category, it is also a calling card.

Take a look at these authors below and see if you can match them with their genre:

  • Stephen King                    Sci-fi
  • John Grisham                   Comedy
  • James Patterson              Non-Fiction
  • Anne Rice                         Christian Fiction
  • Neil Gaiman                      Children’s
  • JK Rowling                       Black Comedy

How did you do? Were you able to line them up? Hint – I already did it for you. Stephen King’s time traveling sci-fi book 11-22-63 is a departure from his usual horror novels, while Skipping Christmas is far from John Grisham’s normal thrillers, and of course JK Rowling is breaking away from her young adult wizarding series with her forthcoming black comedy.

So what happens when an author writes outside their genre? That depends on many things, such as how established the author is, how far removed the new genre is from their old one and even whether the resulting book is any good. Some fans will follow an author into the adventure of a different genre, while other fans are left feeling betrayed and angry because they didn’t get exactly what they expected.

But wait, isn’t that the point of genre classification in the first place?

Yes, it is, but some readers have a habit of snatching up the newest book by their favorite author (or any author) without actually reading the description.  Why? Because they expect certain things about the book to tell them what they’re going to find inside, and one of those things is the author.

For instance, I long ago made the mistake of uploading an old children’s book I’d written to Smashwords as an example of formatting ebooks with images in them. It’s not an amazing work by any means, but it did the job. I was able to show people what an ebook with colored pictures looked like and it even got some pretty decent reviews. Fast forward two years. Despite changing the author name on the book, and attempting to move it from one author to another on Smashwords (I am going to try again soon), I’ve gotten several reviews on my short vampire stories on Barnes and Noble complaining because, unlike the other, it is “not a children’s story”.  Yes, the description clearly states that it is not a children’s story, but readers have downloaded it anyway and been disappointed, and those disappointed readers left a one star review, and enough one star reviews will drop the overall ranking. And when the overall ranking drops, your target audience, who has clicked over to check out your work, will just as quickly click away because the book/story only has one or tow stars over all and…  It turns into a quagmire.

But what if you want to write in a different genre?

You can do that. Lots of authors have done it successfully, but many use a key tool – a pen name. Sure,it’s okay, and might even be a good idea, to tell your fans “Hey, this is really me!”, but a pen name helps to keep your readers from being confused about what to expect. If you use a pen name be sure to make a SEPARATE account on Smashwords/Amazon/B&N/etcf or EACH pen name, otherwise the meta data will still list your primary author name as the publisher as you’ll be right back where you started.

How do you feel about genre? Do you think it’s a handy “tool” for quickly finding books or authors you might like, or do you think the literary world has let the tail “wag the dog” so that genre writing has become a trap?