Write Honest Dialogue, You Racist Swine

Hi Folks,

The following is a guest post by my friend, professional fiction writer and ghost writer Dan Baldwin.

Billy Ray Watkins stood in the doorway of the old shack where the unfortunate sharecropper was kept prisoner. Watkins, 300 pounds of angry bigotry and hate, pounded his fist, sneered and wiped the chewing tobacco spittle from his lips. He grinned and said, “You lacking-in-a-proper education, fatherless son of the African veldt, I’m going to smack the doodoo out of your ebony tushie.”

Writers have an unspoken contract with their readers and that is to write with honesty, especially dialog. To write any other way is to break that contract, disappoint or even enrage your reader, and put your writing career on the fast track to the “$1 Each” cardboard box at the front of the foodstore. To write any other way produces drivel like the lead paragraph in this post.

My thriller Sparky and the King takes place in the 1960s Deep South. The plot involves members of the Klan and organized crime figures bent on vengeance against the influence of “race music” embodied by one Elvis Presley. Honest writing demanded that I used the language of those people when I wrote sections of the book in which they appeared. Some of that writing was uncomfortable, but necessary.

Honest dialog can challenge a writer not only in the writing of it, but also in the selling. I tried to explain to an agent who objected to the racial hatred in the terms used by my characters. I said, “Three hundred pound murdering racists in the Deep South don’t say ‘people of color.’”

Honesty isn’t always easy to write. I’ve heard “How can you write such filth?” more than once. Honest writing invites criticism, much of it off course and unfair. My mother was a devout Christian lady and every time I gave her one of my novels I always warned, “Now Mom, remember it’s not me saying and doing all those bad things; it’s the characters.” She understood. I gave a copy of Sparky to my doctor and she understood – I think. However, every time I’ve been in for an exam since, she’s had an armed guard in the room, so….

The bottom line for a writer is basic: If you want to write about certain people and aspects of our culture, you have to use the language appropriate to that time and place and those people. You’ll have to use foul language, unpleasant scenes, and despicable characters doing despicable things. If you can’t do that honestly, choose another subject so you can honor your contract with your reader.
Dan’s Quote of the Week: “If the Creator had a purpose in equipping us with a neck, he surely meant for us to stick it out.” Arthur Koestler

To learn more about Dan Baldwin and his work, please visit his websites at http://www.danbaldwin.biz or http://www.fourknightspress.com/. You can subscribe to either or both by emailing him at baldco@msn.com.

You Know More Than You Know

Note: This is a guest post by my friend Dan Baldwin. (Thanks, Dan.)

Hi Folks,

You know more than you know, you know?

Hemingway wrote, “A writer, of course, has to make up stories for them to be rounded and not flat like photographs. But he makes them up out of what he knows.”

That’s wonderful advice, but there’s a trap in it.

I have encountered many writers who have shied away from a project due to a fear of not knowing the desired subject matter. “I don’t know anything about Planet Zygorth and the Sleekbelly Vixens of Tyros, so I can’t write about such things.”

Following that logic, Frank L. Baum never would have ventured down the rabbit hole and instead of reading about The Wizard of Oz we’d be reading about The Guy Down the Street in Mattydale, NY.

There are many things I have never done. For example,

I’ve never been in a gunfight in a wild west saloon (the Caldera and the Canyon series).

I’ve never sat down with a KKK boss to plan the assassination of Elvis Presley (Sparky and the King).

I’ve never been stalked by a mad shaman on top of a hill in Arkansas (The Ashley Hayes Mysteries).

I’ve never been a lonely vampire looking for a family (Vampire Bimbos on Spring Break).

I know nothing about these things, yet I’ve written about them, sold books and even won awards for writing about what I don’t know.

What’s the secret?

Take your experiences, your emotions, and the people and events in your life and place them whereverthehell you want to place them in your writing.

Sure, neither you nor I have ever been to a rowdy singles bar with Conan or Han Solo. But we have been to bars, restaurants, and parties with some pretty interesting characters.

We’ve never been in an old west gunfight, but we’ve been in heated confrontations in board rooms, committee meetings, and in personal encounters.

We’ve never been stalked by a mega-python in the veldt, but we all know that sudden zap of fear when we see the lights come on in the patrol car that’s been following us for the last mile and a half.

Use that information. Writing is about characters and their emotions, and you know that stuff backwards and forwards. You live it every day. Now, all you have to do is put it in place.

Never be intimidated by what you think you don’t know; you really do know more than you think you know. You know?

* * *

Dan’s Quote of the Week: “A simple style is like white light. Although complex, it does not appear so.” Anatole France

BTW, Dan’s new photo books feature 21 of his Arizona flowers snapshots, each with poetic commentary.

Wildflower Stew is the first of four photo/poem books. It’s available (Just in Time for Christmas!) in paperback and e-book from Amazon, and in ebook from Smashwords as well as other distributors.

To learn more about Dan Baldwin and his work, please visit his websites at http://www.danbaldwin.biz or http://www.fourknightspress.com/. You can subscribe to either or both by emailing him at baldco@msn.com.