I am now writing the second edition of my book, It All Started in Mandalay and I decided to put in a lot more dialogue. My readers told me they loved the characters but felt that they would get a deeper understanding if there was more dialogue. Writing the dialogue was easy, but figuring out where to put the quotation marks was another story altogether because it sometimes gets quite complicated.
Instead of getting into the car and going to the library to get a grammar book, I walked over to my bookshelves and pulled a novel off of my shelves to see examples. The first book I saw was called Ungifted by Gordon Korman. It is a terrific book and more importantly had lots of dialogue so I used that as my guide for the mechanics of how to do it.
Now let me tell you the rest of the story...Gordon Korman was my student twenty years ago and now he is my teacher! Isn't it strange that of the hundreds of books I could ave taken off my shelf I picked the book that was my former student's!
One of the things I did was use the first edition of my book as a tool for a small class of Asians I teach English speaking and writing to who live in Toronto. We are a small group of six people and every week we read a chapter of my book and comment on it. I use it as an opportunity of teaching syntax and grammar points but what I have discovered is that I am learning so much more than any of my students. They are giving me such insights into my book that I had no idea were even there! I wish I could write as well as they give me credit for, but I will tell you I am learning so much from them about Asian culture that it gives me such a better understanding of the Asian characters in my book.
An author friend of mine, Shaul Ezer who wrote the Nubian Princess told me he used the draft of his first book at a reading club, took all of their criticisms under consideration and rewrote the book as a result. Based on what my EAL class told me, now I think I could add more drama by playing more with one of the characters to make him evil!
If you want to write seriously, many eyes have to read what you say before you finalize your book, which gives the writer perspectives on both your own book and life. Just a terrific exercise where the teacher becomes the student.
To sum up, I guess what I learned was that writing is a dynamic process and one can't write in isolation. There has to be a synergy to what you write. For example, now I am writing a book about a Jewish partisan in the Polish forest during world war two. I do a lot of writing, but also a lot of listening to the few Holocaust survivors left and their children.
When I went to my email today the library told me I had a book waiting. What do you think this book was? Naturally a book by a survivor called the Hands of War. Is someone trying to tell me that if you want to write well you have to be well read and you have to become a student?