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  1. #1
    P. Ryder

    Dialog and other considerations

    I have an idea for a semi-fictional novel in which I hope to influence social change. In the course of this work, it is my desire to engage the reader to care about the protagonist and his welfare. One of my problems is how to decide which situations to include in the story's progression and what dialog would best affect the desired outcome.
    Which point of view to use is another question -- first person or third. I am not really entirely certain how to write a story in entirely first person narrative, especially in a past tense retrospective.
    I would like to use multiple time lines and intersperse them betwixt and between chapters. However, I worry that this will make the book somewhat harder to follow. Since my aim is to effect social change, making the book somewhat less readable is hardly a plus.
    You may ask yourself how a book can be "semi-fictional". I intend to utilize a jumble of true stories to create a fictional character whose life includes facets of many real persons' lives. So, in effect, the book would not really be fictional, merely the compendium of numerous true life stories.
    Any suggestions or critique are certainly welcome. I will post chapter drafts at various times for evaluation and discussion. This may be a very long process. I am barely tolerant of imperfection and will likely re-work the manuscript for several years or more in order to obtain the best effect. It may be something of a challenge to create dialog that will at once eliminate vagueness of meaning and yet create interest for the reader.

  2. #2
    Smiling Curmudgeon

    Re: Dialog and other considerations

    Since you've told us precisely nothing about the "social change" you "hope to influence", it's tough to provide suggestions regarding "which situations to include and how dialog would best affect (effect?) the desired outcome."

    You're right to worry about "multiple time lines" (timelines?) "and intersperse them betwixt and between chapters."

    Since you forsee a "very long process" and are "barely tolerant of imperfection and will likely re-work (rework?) the manuscript for several years or more" you've got plenty of time.

    Yes, given your post, there is a chance that it "may be something of a challenge to create..."

    Sorry for being a bit harsh about your post. Your questions are phrased in such a pedantic fashion that I wonder whether you're serious about the learning process ahead.

    Others will offer true wisdom.

    Go for it.


  3. #3
    R. Radish

    Re: Dialog and other considerations

    P, ever read Strunk and White's little book?

  4. #4
    Mya Bell

    Re: Dialog and other considerations

    P Ryder: "You may ask yourself how a book can be "semi-fictional"."

    That's a no-brainer.

    I agree with cur on the rest of it, though. The style of your post is stilted and pedantic and bordering on preachy. In a lecture, you can get away with that since students are obliged to sit through it whether they enjoy it or not.

    In a book, you have to be engaging, concise, and entertaining. I would work on your delivery a bit and post again.

    --- Mya Bell

  5. #5
    gulliver h

    Re: Dialog and other considerations

    sadly, ideas are a dime a dozen. Everyone has them. It's the execution that matters. You seem to be severely overthinking (and p.s. saying: I'm going to write a book to affect social change is really going to make eyes roll, on any occasion. Even people who do that, don't generally SAY it. Barring a few unspeakable examples.)

    Just write a good book first. And then come see us. Right now, it just sounds like...well, a lot of hot, slightly pretentious air.

    We, too, are barely tolerant of imperfection. That's what makes a writer, generally. You haven't cornered that market. And as yet, as far as I can tell, you haven't even written anything...

    so, go to it.

  6. #6
    Cathy C

    Re: Dialog and other considerations

    Social commentary novels, intended to change society's values, come from time to time. Brave New World, Frankenstein, Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1984, Farenheit 451, Animal Farm--these were all written to comment on things the author saw as "wrong" with society.

    And yet we haven't changed all that much, despite the books being required reading for pretty much every American adult under the age of 60. (I have no idea what the required reading lists look like in other countries.)

    Still, yours might be different. You might well write something that could change all of society, so please do write it. As for the multiple time lines, I'm reading an ARC of one now that is likely to be the "breakout" book of the author. The publisher believes it will be. The switches between times are seamless and a joy to read . . . so it IS possible to get it right.

    First or third is up to you, but it sounds like you're uncomfortable with your ability in first person. That means you'll either have to practice until you get it right, or stick with a POV that will allow you to express what's in your head.

    Oh, and there's no such thing as "semi-fiction." The moment you take a real event and embellish it with your own thought process, you've turned it to fiction. Just the way it works. If you write "semi-fictional" in a query when you're ready to sell it, it'll be put aside into the "reject" pile at an agent's/editor's office before they get to your signature. Even James Frey didn't write a "semi-fictional" memoir. Once the facts turned out to be false, it ALL became fiction, because the real timeline was removed in place of his own embellishments.

    JMHO, as always.

  7. #7
    Chuck Shaw

    Re: Dialog and other considerations

    To write a book that will “influence social change” requires four steps;

    1. An idea capable of influencing many people to modify their core values or behaviors.

    2. Writing a book that presents the desired changes in such a way the reader approves and agrees with your viewpoint.

    3. Getting the book published

    4. Getting a significant number of people (or a small number of people who are in a position to influence whole populations) to read it.

    In spite of the obvious truths posted above, Karl Marx did it with some of the most indigestible prose ever written, so it is possible. I don't know if I should wish you luck or stick poison pins in your voodoo doll. Please consider the possible (though very unlikely) consequences of your writing. Like a firearms, a pen in the hands of an uncaring amateur can be very dangerous to bystanders.

  8. #8
    M. K. Theo

    Re: Dialog and other considerations

    Ryder ...

    Lots of good advice here, but maybe I can simplify it for you.

    First, write the book any old way it goes from beginning to end. Then, you can go back and re-write it to test what works best. Usually, you shouldn't have to rewrite more than a couple chapters to figure out if it's working or not.

  9. #9
    Anthony Ravenscroft


    When writing, polemic & entertainment tend to be diametric opposites.

    There's not a huge demand for polemic, especially from unknown writers -- if they've got an established base, then there's a chance at least.

  10. #10
    Joe Zeff

    Re: truism

    Cathy, Frankenstein was written because two authors and their wives were on holiday near Geneva and the weather turned rainy. They decided to pass the time by writing ghost stories, one each. Mary Bryce Shelly was the only one to complete hers. She may have decided to put some social commentary in, but the main reason for her writing it was boredom, pure and simple.

    As far as I know, you're right about the others, and your general statements about such books are right on the mark. In order for a book to change society, it has to get published, bought and read. That means it has to be entertaining as a story. The best ones are so entertaining that you don't even realize until later that there's a message in it, but that's hard to pull off.

    My advice is to learn to tell stories that are interesting, engaging and entertaining first, then worry about injecting some social commentary and a message. You've got a much better chance to succeed.

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