Writing Books/A few Qs about writing
Hey, I'm 16 and I've either written a handful of short stories or the first few pages of a novel-not sure which. Is it possible to format a novel by having lots of very short chapters with a single vignette each? The vignettes wouldn't necessarily progress in linear order, but each one would go deeper into the plot and reveal more about the characters, etc. However, the second vignette might be set years after the first, then the third is a year before the second, etc. Is it possible to format a novel like this? I don't think I could write the novel the standard way, starting writing on what will end up to be page 1 one of the novel and writing the whole thing from beginning to end in order. I'm having much greater sucess with writing vignettes, and if I could assemble them into a novel when I'm completed that'd be great.
Also, do you have any tips for dialouge? My dialouge really sucks-sounds rather unnatural and campy.
Also, would you be willing to read through some of my writing (about 4 pages worth) and let me know your thoughts? It'll maybe let you see what I'm talking about when I talk about the vignettes...
If you don't want to, no worries, but if you can, that'd help
A weather-beaten statue of an angel stood with sword drawn and wings raised in the center of a cobblestoned courtyard. Rain poured down on its sculpted face, kissing its faded features before falling to the ground. Behind it, in the shadow of its wings the most beautiful girl in all the world crouched, loading a clip into a pistol. She froze as footsteps splashed into the courtyard. They stopped, and a maleficent hand reached down slowly to a holster. She caught her breath and held it between trembling lips as he tenderly stroked the top of the holster, then unclipped it and drew his weapon. He inspected his pistol absentmindedly, turning it this way and that to catch the light as he set a slow, measured tread towards the statue. “They say” he began, “They say when you were made, an angel lost her shining face to you.” The malefactor cocked the chamber suddenly. The harsh sound rang through the courtyard and gradually died away to be replaced by the soft patter of the rainfall. “Seems poetic to do the same on the day that you die.” He aimed without looking and fired. The statue's head shattered into a shower of dust and marble. A cruel jagged piece of angel flew across her face and dug a deep cut in her cheek before continuing on its path to shatter against a wall. Drops of blood and tears of pain fell to the stony floor, to mingle with the rainwater and disappear. Taken off balance by the sudden assault against her ethereal face, she dropped to her knees before catching herself with one hand. She paused, watching the rainwater run around her lily white hand, then tapped the last of her willpower and pushed herself to her feet.
He sidestepped slowly, keeping both eyes on the statue where he knew she was hiding. Her huntsman smirked for a moment, showing a flash of teeth, then whispered, “Come on Angel. Time to for the immortal killer to die.” Angel gripped her pistol with both hands, closed her eyes and took a shuddering breath before diving from cover. She rolled when she hit the ground and continued moving with inhuman speed until somehow she got her feet underneath her and exploded onto her feet, pistol aimed unerringly at her enemy's heart. It never got a chance to fire. He had three rounds in her before she stopped rolling and another two while she was trying to rise. Angel blinked once, surprised. Her pistol was still aimed straight at him but now it was shaking and she couldn't quite muster the strength to pull the trigger and then she couldn't get the strength to keep holding it anymore and it clattered to the floor. She stood for a moment more, holding an empty hand aimed straight and true at his heart and trying desperately with lungs filling with blood to say something to the man who robbed her of life. He chewed on his lip for a moment, looking at the unexpected specter of a bloodstained angel with an outstretched arm, then shot her in the forehead.
Boots splashed through the water to stop near her head. He paused for a moment, then leaned over and brushed crimson-streaked golden hair out of the way so he could kiss the most perfect lips ever made. He rubbed his chin while he looked at her eyes, staring blankly up to heaven, then closed them slowly in a final act of mercy. He walked away, leaving an angel corpse sprawled on the cobblestones behind.
A shot rang out. Heart's blood exploded out of the exit wound in his chest and he slapped a hand over it. When his life seemed intent on escaping through clenched fingers, he resigned himself and removed his hand. He watched his blood pour out as the rain licked his hand clean. At length Angel spoke. “I'm sorry.” He turned around, slowly, painfully. His vision hazed with the pain, and when it cleared his dying eyes beheld the most beautiful sight they would ever know.
Angel's pearly white dress was scarred by bullet holes and stained by angel blood, but she stood unhurt. Her silken hair was plastered to her face by blood and rain, but he could still make out the beginnings of tears glimmering in her eyes. Ethereal wings shimmered into being behind her as she dropped the pistol that took his life. Again she spoke, though she could hardly force words through a throat choked by emotion. “I'm so sorry!” Angel lost herself to grief then, stamping a dainty foot on the watery cobbles and watching the ripples caused by her passion subside. She looked up and cried with tear streaked lips, “I didn't want you to throw your life away!” Her hands shot to her face to try to conceal the liquid proof of heartache, and she sobbed quietly in their refuge. Her wings curled around her anguished face, and Angel sank to the sodden stone. Her killer shook the intruding blackness off for a moment and reached a questing hand towards her gossamer wings. He brushed her feathers with a trembling finger, then withdrew his dying hands and looked at her in question. Angel blinked back tears and ran her delicate hand over a feathery wing. “These wings?” Her gaze lingered on them for a moment, then shifted to the dying man in front of her. “You gave them to me when you said I was beautiful.”
-Second vignette (Angeline=younger Angel)
A screaming man fell to his knees. The driver fired another shot through the windshield, ending the man's life as the rest of the men in the car boiled out and readied weapons. The driver paused a moment, waiting for any sign of vitality from the only man foolish enough to lay down his life in a vain attempt to protect another. When no breathing was evident, he lowered his smoking pistol and stepped out of the car. A grotesque reflection of the fallen hero shone on the driver's sunglasses as he reloaded. The men took a moment to regroup, then headed purposely towards a small restaurant. An elderly man looked on from inside his shop, his hands frozen from their work as he watched death run past him. One of the men slowed to a stop before the restaurant and raised a shotgun at the picture window, blasting it into a thousand sparkling shards.
Food trembled on the forks of the motionless diners. The group stepped into the diner, glass cracking beneath their boots. The most beautiful face in all the world, grimy from long hours in the kitchen, peeked around a corner at her assassins. Angelic eyes widened, then locked with the shaded orbs of the driver. Her reflexes were a bit faster than his-her head turned back around the corner just in time and only her hair felt the cruel caress of his bullets.
A single gossamer lock, separated from its kin by fate and malice, floated gently to the ground. It was crushed into the greasy floor by the heavy tread of the first assassin able to gather his wits and pursue her. Angeline, moments ahead of him, ducked into an inviting doorway and locked it quickly before powering up the stairs ahead of her. The first assassin never slowed, slamming into the barrier with all of his weight, trusting in his strength. He fell flat on his back, cradling a broken nose and buying Angeline precious seconds. The assassin with the shotgun was close behind and wasted no time before blasting the door into splinters. Angeline, with an awkward body barely past puberty, tripped on the last stair when the shotgun sounded. She pushed herself to her feet but too late-her prone body offered an enticing target to the shotgun at the foot of the stairs. He pumped and fired again, catching her in the ankle with a slug just as she regained her feet and turned the corner. She screamed the first time she felt her weight come down on her broken ankle but she refused to stop and she refused to scream again-she held her pain through lips bitten so tightly they bled. Angeline limped onwards, sobbing quietly and leaving bloody footprints behind.
The assassins, smelling an ambush, proceeded carefully. The driver aimed down the sight of a submachine gun and ascended the stairs, the rest close behind. When he reached the top and saw nothing but a short hallway and a balcony beyond, he lowered the gun and ran forward, then stopped when he saw Angeline.
She was standing on the railing of the balcony, both angelic hands stretched heavenwards to welcome the sun. A hundred feet below her lay a lake-clear as glass. The first rays of the rising sun caressed its surface-turning water to gold with an ease that the greatest of alchemists could only dream of. The driver licked suddenly dry lips. “The game is up, Miss Angel-I'm sorry. Do come down-this will be over quickly, I promise.” Angelic teeth shone for a moment behind tear-streaked lips and Angeline stepped off the balcony into the embrace of faith. The assassins rushed to the balcony to bear witness as an angel fall from heaven.
Angeline plunged almost to the water before she remembered her wings. A single powerful beat sent her airborne and dipped the tips of her wings in the water. The wind quickly dried her wings, sending a crystalline trail dancing behind Angeline. She flapped her newfound freedom, soaring up almost to the clouds then diving down and skimming the surface of the water. She laughed then-for the first time. She dipped a lazy finger into the water beneath her, then her whole hand. She lifted it out of the water, watching with a sudden and unexpected joy the marriage of water and newborn sun transform her hand into a sparkling beauty. By now, the driver had lined up his shot and the first submachine gun burst pattered across her right wing, shattering the hollow bone inside.
Angeline had enough time to open her mouth for the scream that never came before gravity asserted itself and she was submerged. The driver lit a cigarette and puffed thoughtfully while he waited for the ripples to subside. Eventually, the water became calm again and only a smattering of angel feathers, torn violently from a wing on its first flight, marked her grave. After it became evident that Angeline had drowned, he flicked the cigarette over the balcony and went downstairs.
Angeline clawed her way to the surface and exhaled her last breath, taken nearly an hour ago. The desperate, airless blackness that had covered her vision began to clear. She rested for a moment, pulling in shuddering breaths of the sweetest air she had ever tasted, then located the shore and began paddling. When she walked ashore, she managed two steps before her strength failed her completely and she fell into the sandy embrace of the shore. Angeline laid there for a very long time before moving.
-Third and final vignette
“Here.” The bus lurched to a stop, belching greasy exhaust skywards as the driver turned in his seat and looked at Angeline. “Are you sure, miss?” The most beautiful face in all the world creased into a tired smile and bobbed in acquiescence. “I'm sure, thank you.” Angeline lingered on the last step off the bus for a moment before setting foot down on the snowy earth. She hefted a backpack onto feathery wings, safely tucked under her cotton dress, and started towards the beckoning lights of the nearby city.
A half hour later, footsore and desperately hungry, she stopped and looked pleadingly at the flickering neon sign of a diner across the street. She counted her meager capital-she had enough for a hot meal, though barely. An impish breeze tickling her nose with the smell of broiling meat and the cries of a stomach that had not been full for weeks decided for her.
Angeline entered unnoticed, and sat quietly into the first booth available, doing her best to somehow sink into the red vinyl cushion completely. She made a pretense of studying the menu, but after spending so long in the hungry cold the warm food-saturated atmosphere of the diner was quickly sending her into a sort of lightheaded euphoria that didn't allow much concentration. She ordered the first thing her starvation-bleared vision could focus on-a gigantic bowl of hot vegetable soup. When it was set before her famished eyes, it seemed too wonderful to be true. Her trembling hands hesitantly encircled the bowl, and she seemed to be trying to imbibe the soup entirely through slowly warming hands and eyes stretched wide in worship. Angeline's stomach nosily prompted her to begin eating, and she began spooning the hot wonder into her mouth. The starving angel warily matched her pace with the other diners at first, but after a half dozen glorious spoonfuls her control broke down and she ladled the soup into her mouth as fast as she could. Eventually even this wasn't fast enough for her and she lifted the colossal bowl to her delicate lips and drank the entire bowl in one long draught. She set the empty bowl down and wiped her mouth, a rosy glow filling her pale face. She folded her hands neatly in her lap and let her eyes slowly close, basking in the happy glow of a belly full of hot food and an irrational feeling of safety.
None of the employees would dare disturb her. When closing time came and she showed no intention of moving, they fetched the manager from the backroom. The manager looked at her for a long moment. His hand rubbed the stubble on his chin, then half rose as if to interrupt a teacher. It lingered there for a moment, then dropped back to his side. He gave up, shrugged and walked away. The employees cleaned up as best they could around her, then waited for their unexpected angel to awaken. Eventually her eyes fluttered open. An angelic hand shot to her mouth and her cheeks burned red in embarrassment. She started fumbling for her cash, but the manager stopped her. A few words were exchanged in lieu of payment and she was out the door before the manager could think to ask her name.
A frigid breeze slapped against her face as soon as she exited the diner. She stood ankle-deep in muddy snow with the flickering neon glow of the diner sign providing her a lurid backdrop as she tried to revive the transcendent feeling she had inside. When the feeling proved loath in coming, Angeline lowered her head, shrugged her bulky backpack onto hidden wings, hugged herself against the cold and bitter reality and started wandering aimlessly, looking for home. The diner employees stood silent watch while their angel disappeared into the misty snowfall. They waited at the window for a long moment after her last feature disappeared into the milky gloom.
The sun was setting when Angeline blinked frosted eyelashes and looked again at a simple wooden crucifix nailed onto a nondescript door. She traced the weathered wood of the crucifix with a finger with a numbed finger, then pushed the door open. She waited a moment for her eyes to adjust, then padded into the abandoned church. Dying sunlight and powdery snow drifted through a hole in the broken stained glass on the wall, covering the pews and altar and giving the whole scene a dreamlike look. Angeline let her backpack fall the ground behind her and unfolded downy wings at last. Weary feet crunched through the snow as Angeline walked to the center of the church. She stood frozen a moment, then tottered backwards into the fluffy snow. Snowflakes drifting to earth melted on the angel's face. In a fit of childhood she made a snow angel, then, still giddy, stood and inspected her work. Angeline giggled. Her wings were covered with soft snow that was thrown free to drift back to earth as she took flight. She hovered for a moment when she reached the top of the church, then flapped towards an alcove housing a stained glass window.
Angeline curled up in the alcove, her wings providing a welcome bed. The last of the sunlight cast a dizzy arc of color across her as she rummaged thorough her backpack. A pistol was the first thing she her questing hand touched, but she set this aside with an unconscious shudder and continued searching. She withdrew at last a dogeared paperback, then leaned back into the embrace of her wings and began to read.
Many, many thanks
Dan, I just published a novel composed entirely of newspaper clippings, diary entries, email exchanges, website screen captures, and other such things. No actual dialogue or narrative. If I can do that successfully, anything's possible, including your vignette scenario. It won't be easy, and you should actually have a REASON for doing it that way. And your reason had better be more than: "I don't think I could write the novel the standard way, starting writing on what will end up to be page 1 one of the novel and writing the whole thing from beginning to end in order."
Truth is, you don't HAVE to write a "normal" novel that way. It often helps, but it's not a necessity.
Concerning dialogue... First, practice your dialogue scenes by reading them aloud. If you can read them TO someone, all the better, but even reading them to yourself will help. It'll allow you to pinpoint the parts that don't sound natural. Pay attention to dialogue in good movies (not TV, though). It's usually well written. And a general rule of thumb with dialogue: Less is More. When you've got it to the point where you think it's good, go back and cut out a bunch of it. Make the sentences shorter. Then make the words shorter.
At this time, I'm not available for reading your samples, but ask me again a few months from now. I might have time, then.