One Day I Will Write About This

One Day I Will Write About This

Guest blogger: Erin Silver

When my husband left me to be with another woman — when he confessed he was in love with someone else — there wasn’t much I could say. But I do remember telling him one thing: One day I will write about this.

fist-bump-1195446_640At first, I couldn’t write about my experience. The feelings were too raw. The emotions too heightened. I had no perspective on what had happened to me and what it meant in the grand scheme of my life. If I had tried to write about my divorce when the process began four years ago, it would have been an angry jumble of words. Words I may have regretted sharing one day.

Something told me it was time

But within two years, I was ready. Something clicked inside of me. Something told me it was time. By then, I was no longer angry. I had grown as a person and a writer. And suddenly I had a story to tell; a story about someone who was betrayed and bewildered, left to start life over from scratch. Someone who had to rediscover herself and find a way to become happy for the sake of her young boys.

strategise-865006_640I had worked through some real lows with my therapist and eventually came to realize that I wasn’t actually worthless and unloveable. Among the lows were some really bad dates and the feeling that I might never find love again. That was a terrifying thought: not knowing how my story would end or if the eventual ending would be happy. But there were some highs, too: taking my boys on a road trip all by myself, being accepted into a Masters of Fine Art in Creative Nonfiction program, meeting someone special and watching our kids grow to care for one another. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything.

Sharing my story

interior-design-1048090_640I began scouring my brain for different angles, different facets of my story to share with new audiences. I pitched certain ideas to certain editors, and I followed up and followed up and followed up until I began selling pieces.

I wrote about taking my son to therapy for Todays Parent, co-parenting for the Globe and Mail and going back to school for the Toronto Star. I pitched a blog, A Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce, to UrbanMoms.ca and write regularly about my everyday experiences. Before I knew it, I had developed a portfolio of articles and blogs related to divorce, single parenting and co-parenting. I’m now writing an intimate and even funny “foodoir” (memoir plus food) about the last four years of my life.

It’s not necessarily been cathartic, as you might think. I’d prefer to describe it as a mandatory part of my existence. I can’t explain it or rationalize it. It’s not like I want to talk about it; I want to move on. I don’t want to confess my private life to people I’ve never met; it’s not pleasant dredging up memories and feelings I wish I’d never experienced. When I get into the thick of it, it’s actually quite painful. I write as I cry and I cry as I write. But I’m drawn to it not because it’s fun, because I have any interest in bashing my ex, or hanging onto the past. No, it’s just something I must do.

Because if I, a writer, don’t write about it, then everyone else going through the same thing will erroneously believe they are alone.peas-580333_1920

It’s how I felt when it happened to me. Like nobody understood my pain or suffering. Like I was the only one who was ever cheated on, betrayed, and divorced; who had to date after being dumped, put my life back together, and manage as a single mother. If I write about it — all aspects of my journey, my innermost feelings and thoughts — someone else might realize that things happen for a reason and that you must rise above challenges, face disappointments head on, to get to a better place. It’s truly what keeps me going.

Writing your experience

If you feel drawn to a particular or painful topic, like me, here are a few tips that can help you write about it:

  • Wait until you’re ready. Don’t rush the process.
  • Keep a journal, then refer to it later.
  • Take the time to reflect on your experience, even if it’s painful.
  • Be honest with yourself. Is that really how you felt?
  • Don’t hold back. If you’re uncomfortable with what you’ve written or feel too exposed, you can always edit it later.
More about Erin:

erin silverErin Silver is a writer, editor and blogger with work in Good Housekeeping, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, Today’s Parent, Chatelaine, ParentsCanada, Best Health and Clean Eating magazine, among others. Her blog, “A Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce,” appears on UrbanMoms.ca. Erin also blogs for the HuffingtonPost.ca. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction at King’s College in Halifax and writing her first book, Burnt: Cooking My Way Through Divorce.

Making a Scene… with Dialogue

Making a Scene… with Dialogue

In just over a month, I head to the Ontario Writers’ Conference to mingle with writers, publishers, agents and editors. I’m also delivering a workshop on dialogue, specifically on dialect and diversity in dialogue.

It took me many years to become comfortable using dialogue. My early characters spent a lot of time in their heads thinking about what was going on. In their heads, they voiced concerns, got angry, wanted to ask about stuff. The reader knew all this, [if they were still awake at this point] but the other characters in the story didn’t. Eventually, I realized my characters needed to react and interact— out loud!

But just saying everything out loud is not the whole story. Dialogue scenes are powerful. Dialogue is one of the best ways to engage the reader. Even if characters are sitting still, a dialogue scene works as an action scene and propels the story forward. And it can do so much more—even several things at once—like reveal character, advance the plot, create mood, build conflict, reveal backstory or support the theme.

“Writing good dialogue is art as well as craft,” says Stephen King. Here are 5 tips for writing good dialogue scenes:

Know why you are writing the scene

Dialogue is not filler—or shouldn’t be. If your characters are just discussing the weather or what they want for dinner, your readers’ eyes will glaze over. Kind of the same way I skip over all the pictures of people’s dinners on Facebook. Will the scene reveal or hint at some backstory, or let the reader see how the relationship is developing, or give information about the plot.people-talking

“You wouldn’t say that if you had known my mother.” (Hint at back story? Reveal character?)

“Mike said it was just over the hill, an old factory where they processed paint or something.” Relaying information BUT it must be new to the reader AND to the character being spoken to.

Make dialogue do double duty

Once you’ve decided what the main purpose of the dialogue scene is, see what else you can make it do at the same time.

 “You wouldn’t say that if you had known my mother. She was a right ball breaker. Besides, she had a stash of these things up at the old farmhouse in Williamstown.” (hint at back story PLUS info for the plot?) 

“I’ll never step foot in that woman’s house.” (Opinion of another character? Showing anger and resistance? Plot problem?…all three?)

Anchor the scene

It’s okay to dive into the scene right in the conversation, but if you start a chapter with dialogue make sure it’s not “floating”. Readers need to know who is talking and where they are, and what point this is in the story. If you don’t, the reader will find it hard to absorb the dialogue nuances or subtext because they will be too busy trying to get oriented. I’m not suggesting a long piece of exposition here. Set it up in the chapter before, use a name in the spoken dialogue, or add a beat of setting.talking

Floating:  “I can pick you up around seven. At the diner okay?”

Anchored: When Leah reached the motel, she rescued her cell from the clothes on the backseat. “Amber, I can pick you up around seven. At the diner okay?”

Show emotions

Always be aware of the emotions being felt by the characters speaking and convey that in word choice and body language, not exclamation points or adverbs tacked onto the end.

Adverbs and punctuation: “I will NOT GO!!!” said Lily defiantly.

Beats and word choice: Lily crossed her arms and stared from under smoldering eyebrows. “A team of horses couldn’t drag me to that place.”

Never use dialogue as an “info dump”

My critique circle calls this an as-you-know-Bob moment. Characters should only talk about the things that are important to them at that point in the story, that fit with their emotions at the time, and that they would ordinarily say in real life to another person.

As-you-know-Bob moment: “We’ll go to Mike’s place, near your Mom’s house, and give rubbish-143465_960_720him the book you’re holding.” (The listening character knows where Mike’s place is and knows who is holding the book. No emotional content here.)

Real words: “Ok, Ok. We’ll go to Mike’s place, already. Give him your bloody book.”

Spending time on dialogue is well worth the effort. It dramatizes your story helping readers feel like they are actually listening in.

Do you have any dialogue tips to share? Post in  the comments below.

If you want to explore dialogue further, here are some other blogs you might find interesting. .and useful.

Keep it Simple: Keys to Realistic Dialogue Part 1

Keep it Simple: keys to Realistic Dialogue Part 2

On Writing – Dialogue – Robert J Sawyer

9 Easily Preventable Mistakes Writers make with Dialogue