E05 – Interview with Jeff Elkins (video, show notes, transcript)
Today, Jeff Elkins, the Dialogue Doctor, wins the podcast!
Books, Movies, and Authors
Romancing the Stone (1984)
Minority Report (2002)
The Once And Future King by T.H. White
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Clune
Story Grid by Shawn Coyne
Save the Cat! By Blake Snyder
Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells (series)
Tom Clancy (author)
John Grisham (author)
Elizabeth Gilbert (author)
Crys Cain (author)
T.J. Clune (author)
Stephen King (author)
Jose Saramago (author)
You can find Jeff at http://www.dialoguedoctor.com or https://jeffelkinswriter.com. Listen to his podcast The Dialogue Doctor in your podcast player!
Support us on Patreon at https://patreon.com/revisionwizards
V.E. Griffith’s website: https://www.vegriffith.com
Miss Catherine M.H.’s website: https://www.scribes-pen.com
The Revision Wizards are at https://www.revisionwizards.com
Transcript at: https://revisionwizards.com/?p=2077
Miss Catherine M.H. 0:00
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m Miss Catherine MH and with me today is VE Griffith. This is Episode Five. And today we’re talking to Jeff Elkins, the Dialogue Doctor. And we’ll be talking to him about character voice. And speaking of voices, like the last episode, my audio just when, nope, and decided to cut out in the middle of it. So you get to watch if you’re on YouTube, Jeff, making fun of me, and me having to mimic what he’s saying. So thanks for indulging us. And I hope you have fun watching this.
V.E. Griffith 0:40
We do have one big announcement to make. We have our first patron. So we want to give a big shout out to Mary. Your support is really really appreciated. We think it’s amazing. And we’re looking forward to seeing you in the Revision Wizard Slack. If you’d like to join Mary and support the podcast, you can check out all our rewards at patreon.com/revisionwizards. And now on with the show.
Alright, well I’m VE Griffith and this is the Revision Wizards podcast and I’m here with my co host Miss Catherine MH. And joining us today and having more fun than should be allowed is the Dialogue Doctor, Jeff Elkins.
Jeff Elkins 1:23
Friend for years, friend for tears, quote a weird thing from Hoosiers. Yeah,
V.E. Griffith 1:29
there you go. Okay, we always ask …
Jeff Elkins 1:30
Before you ask me a question. No, no, before you ask me a question. I have to know what the pins on Catherine’s hat are. Oh, there’s two pins on her wizard’s hat. I need to know.
Miss Catherine M.H. 1:41
I have a little typewriter on the side. And this one says write write write.
Jeff Elkins 1:47
Nice. I love it. Yeah, they give some kind of weird magical balance to your hat. Yes. Awesome.
Miss Catherine M.H. 1:53
I have others. I just gotta get them out there.
Jeff Elkins 1:56
Nice. Sorry. Hey, you asked me I asked you before we came on. If I could just completely derail the podcast.
V.E. Griffith 2:01
Absolutely, feel free. The only thing that we the only thing that we ask every guest is would you please tell us your pronouns?
Jeff Elkins 2:09
Oh, he and him.
V.E. Griffith 2:10
Jeff Elkins 2:11
That’s an excellent question. Nice. Excellent question. Yeah, I appreciate that you ask everybody to because there is a, there’s a weird thing in the world where like, you, you only ask people who are gender diverse, and that’s just as bad as not asking. So don’t do that. So I appreciate that. You ask everybody. That’s awesome.
V.E. Griffith 2:28
Yeah, I’m still getting used to it because this is, you know, we’re new. But that’s something we want to we want to do because I agree with you. Okay, so,
Jeff Elkins 2:37
yeah, you’re new but you’re coming out of the gate like a rocket baby. You’re taking off.
Miss Catherine M.H. 2:45
Jeff Elkins 2:46
It’s magical. It’s marvelous. Wonderful. Sorry.
V.E. Griffith 2:56
Go for it. Catherine.
Jeff Elkins 2:57
Alright, questions. Let’s go hit me, hit me. It’s like I’m done, I’m out. I surrender already. Jeff has won the podcast in four minutes. Yay! Sorry.
Miss Catherine M.H. 3:11
No worries. So you are known in the writing community as the Dialogue Doctor but …
Jeff Elkins 3:17
Whoo, that’s a scary sentence. How are you gonna finish that. You are known to the writing community, ooooh. Okay, the Dialogue Doctor, Okay. Okay. Okay. We’re good. Sorry. Okay, I’m known as the dialogue doctor. That is true. Sorry, I caught your question. I apologize. I will behave.
Miss Catherine M.H. 3:40
No you won’t. So what is your writing process?
Jeff Elkins 3:45
Um, my writing process involves a massive amount of anxiety and stuffing emotions, eating tons of ice cream. Until finally I surrender. And then actually go put some words on the page. That’s and that’s just being honest. Now I’m writing process for fiction or nonfiction because they’re different.
V.E. Griffith 4:06
Let’s start with fiction.
Miss Catherine M.H. 4:09
Let’s start with fiction.
Jeff Elkins 4:10
Okay. I’m a really heavy plotter. So all of my I’ve done 13 novels. Every novel starts with a specific scene. So I’m a big scene guy like I I don’t know what it is, I think, I think in scenes, so I need a very like, emotionally charged scene. So for example, right now, I’m working on a novel. That is, I don’t I’m actually working on two but I’ll do that one. I’m working on a novel and I have a scene with two teenagers on their their mandatory lunch break. And they’ve made a garage door opener that can tell if someone is a robot or a human. And they’re in the park pointing the garage door opener at people betting on whether they’re robots or humans like playing a little game. And then the robot cops show up, because they’re really, they’re not supposed to be doing that. And they run away. So like that scene is going to become a whole book. So I get a scene first in my head. That scene typically involves characters, I can usually pull at least a minimum character arc from that scene, like, Oh, this is I like this character, I like this voice, I can see the journey in my head that I’m going to take that voice on. And then I use a spreadsheet to knock out all of the beats. So I’ve been like plot every scene. I’m not stuck to that sheet, like, I’m not like obsessed with like, now that I have the sheet, I can’t go away from it. But that’s where I start from. And then I just start writing the scenes one at a time. A lot of times, like, you know, I’ll start a scene, and then it takes a turn. And that impacts all of the scenes down line. Sometimes I’ll start a scene and like, a character will show up in the scene. And I’m like, oh, that character is missing from the cast. So then I have to like, go back and like rebuild a little bit to put that character in. But, and I am not a like, you know, write of vomit draft and then go back and edit, I edit and write at the same time. So I write a scene, and then I am I immediately like, I’ll get up and walk away for five minutes. And then I immediately come back and edit. So by the time I’m done with my first draft, it’s really my second draft. I don’t ever really finish a first draft, either I get to the I get to about the three quarter mark. And then I go back and I start rewriting. Because when I get to the third quarter mark, I’m like, Okay, I now get like, the ending I planned is never the actual ending of the book. So I get to the third quarter mark, and I’m like, Okay, now I know how this is going to end. So then I go back, and I edit all the way through. And then I finished the last quarter of the book. That’s how it that’s my process. I don’t recommend that. But that’s what I do.
V.E. Griffith 7:09
What what …
Jeff Elkins 7:10
it is very anxiety driven.
V.E. Griffith 7:13
Well, I , you’re a writer, that’s why, you know, that’s, that comes from being a writer.
Jeff Elkins 7:19
it’s very, like, it’s very full of self doubt. I don’t really like a dark night of the soul unless it makes me cry. If I’m not crying when I’m writing a dark night of the soul or a low point, then it’s it’s garbage and it needs to go away. It has to be redone. It means that I haven’t actually, like, pulled off what I’m trying to do. Yeah, so that’s, that’s how I, that’s how I write it’s very, I need to be emotionally engaged to every scene, I need to have an emotional connection to every scene to be happy with it. Yeah. So I’d like to say that like this is a, I’m now writing a nonfiction book on this process that I call pain, agony, and the ecstasy of spreadsheets. But you know, I haven’t had a breakout novel I’ve had I’m a grinder, I’ve had slow steady build with every novel I have. So like, this isn’t working. I don’t recommend anybody do this process. Like, it might sound like Harry Potter, I’d be like, This is how you do it. But you know, it’s just it’s a painful, messy, filled of self doubt, weird process where I’m never happy with any scene until it actually makes me feel something. And then some scenes I just give up on. I’m just like, well, it has to it has to be in the book. I should also say, I do write dialogue centric drafts. So every draft I write is a conversation. There even actually even fight scenes like I write. My first series was a supernatural thriller about homeless superheroes that fought monsters from another dimension. So fantastic idea that nobody wanted. Nobody asked for nobody wanted and I was like, here it is. Anyway. Those don’t sell great.
So. So it’s like, you know what people really want in Captain America. They want Him digging through the garbage looking for his breakfast. That’s what they want. They want Captain America in a dumpster. Um, nobody wanted that. So anyway, I wrote it anyway.
But again, for me, it’s the emotional attachment. Like there was something very emotionally engaging that I wanted to say about poverty and about like, let’s let’s get real about like, what it looks like for somebody that’s trying to do good in the world that doesn’t have a paying job. Like what was that actually look like? So you know, living that, yeah. One of the heroes at one of the heroes is a 13 year old kid, and he just gets the crap beat out of him. And, you know, there’s a scene the dark night of the soul is a scene where his like, adult partner, who’s supposed to be like taking care of this kid. The kids like in the front seat, the passenger seat of the car that they own, that they park on top of a parking garage, because they don’t have anywhere to live. And the kids like laying in the front seat clutching his teddy bear. And like that’s, for me, I need that like emotional charge to be happy with the scene. Again, readers have not given the stamp of approval in mass in this effort. So I do not recommend following in my footsteps in my weird plotting experiment, but that’s how I that’s how I write fiction. Oh, dialogue centric first draft. So I envision every scene as a conversation. I start with the conversation. I used to write just dialogue only. So like I’d write just like the dialogue. And then I’d come back and so it looked more like a screenplay. And then I’d come back and have to fill it in. That wasn’t because I was doing something intelligent like, oh, this will bring the dialogue out first. That was just because like, I only heard the conversation. So I just like write that conversation. And then I’d be like, I kind of put context around this and like, you need to know where they are. So So then I’d go back and I’d fill in the rest. But I have I actually I was doing that just like in a weird like, Oh, this is how I think and write. And then I ran into somebody who was like, No, that’s the way a writing teacher taught me to write dialogue. I was like, Oh, that’s cool. I just did that by, you know, the absence of any formal training. So that’s yeah, that’s how I write. But now I don’t have to do that anymore. Because my scenes are dialog centric, regardless, because that’s how I taught myself to write. So that’s yeah, that’s like a 10 minute answer. That should have been a two minute answer. You’re welcome.
Miss Catherine M.H. 11:37
No, you’re fine. So would you say that your your process has changed a lot from that first book all the way up to where you are now? Like, were you doing the editing as soon as I’m done with it, or were you writing it, and then you’ve learned your process works better with editing as you go.
Jeff Elkins 11:58
the process hasn’t changed, but I’m way more efficient. So I used to spend like a week on a scene, like, or two weeks on a scene, like just work in the same scene over and over and over, just like, I gotta get this scene, right before I can move on to the next one. Now, I kind of know what I’m looking for before I come into a scene. So I’m like, okay, so it skips a lot of the like, wandering around trying to find the heart of the scene, like now. So it’s not that the process has changed. For me, it’s just gotten a lot faster. And my first, you know, I think that’s true of all of us. My first novel took me a year to write and it was GARBAGE. And then I rewrote the whole thing. So it took two years for me to publish. And then my second novel took a year. And then after that, it was like, three months, and I can knock one out. I will say, though, I do I don’t know why I do this, but I do get very emotionally invested in novels. And so I have to take a two month break. I can’t, I can’t write one novel, and then just start writing the next one. I’m too like, emotionally exhausted. So I write one, I publish it. And then I start plotting the next one in my head, what I start doing is that I start looking for that like, critical scene that’s going to define the book for me. And like, I’m like, Okay, so like, I’ve got the I’ve got the scene in my head for the two boys. I might write that one next. The other scene I have in my head right now that I say they’re in my head. I actually put them on paper. But the others you might have right now is working on this like rom com treasure hunt. I really, I don’t know, did y’all I grew up watching Jewel of the Nile with my mom, and Romancing the Stone. They’re like, weird Michael Douglas movies, that were like, the idea was like, these are romance novels come to life like back when like people kind of mocked romance novels before we realized that all romance writers were billionaires, but we were like, haha, romance, Harlequin novels. Meh meh meh.. So like, they made these two movies that are like, this is what a realistic romance novel is like. And so the lead the lead woman, whose man I can see her face, Catherine, I can’t remember her last name. I’m not calling you Catherine, her first name is Catherine. So I can’t remember her name. But she was in the movie. She is actually a romance writer who’s stuck. And so she like, goes on this journey. And she runs into like, Michael Douglas in his prime, not old Michael Douglas. Now, that’d be weird. And he’s like, you know, big and strong and like they go on this adventure together. I really loved those. So I’m kind of looking. I’m working that in my head. Like, I wonder if I can write a novel that matches that like Romancing the Stone. Yeah. Also, the problem with my writing is that it’s very genre bending. I never considered a genre for more than three books evidently. So that’s also doesn’t sell great. Don’t do that. These are all this, you can title this podcast episode “Things Jeff Says Don’t Do.” Don’t Don’t do what Jeff does. Yep.
Miss Catherine M.H. 15:14
So Aaron and I are talking about …
Jeff Elkins 15:15
You guys got to cut me off. I’ll just keep talking. I’ll just keep going with it.
Miss Catherine M.H. 15:18
Yeah, I’m cutting you off now.
Jeff Elkins 15:19
Okay. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. [laughter]
Miss Catherine M.H. 15:22
Aaron and I were talking about some different things that we’ve noticed with your writing. And we’ve noticed that there isn’t a whole bunch of internal dialogue. Do you write internal dialogue? Do you hate internal dialogue? I’m someone who uses it heavily.
V.E. Griffith 15:42
I do as well.
Jeff Elkins 15:44
I’m just kidding.
Miss. Catherine M.H. 15:46
I italicize it just so you know, I know. That’s the thing. I against me.
Jeff Elkins 15:51
I my absence of internal dialogue isn’t because I like it or don’t like it. It’s just, it’s it literally has to do with my lack of education. So like, I was not until I started the Dialogue Doctor. Like, well, not necessarily well, about a year before the Dialogue Doctor. I was really like, you know what, I need to expand my understanding of books. I was dyslexic. Miss Catherine, I know you and I share that. I was dyslexic. And I really struggled in English class, like English in high school, and college was the worst. Well, first off, I went to a wonderful school that I will I will, you know, die to defend. But my inner city, New Orleans education wasn’t the best. Um, so like, I took AP English in high school, and we read The Once and Future King and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In a year year that was it, we read those two books the entire year. And I remember I went to my AP English teacher, and I was like, You know what, I’m ready to take this test. This AP test is some college credit. And she was like, you’re not prepared.I was like, Well, I’ve got an A in your class. And she’s like, this is the list of books you should have read. It was like 30 books on it. I’m like, I read two of these. And she’s like, Yeah, it was like, ah, so I went to college, I had to do remedial English classes in college, because I didn’t know any grammar. And I remember the first paper I wrote in college, the professors like write a true story about your life. So I wrote this story about this time that I got pulled over by what was the question again, I’m just kidding. I remember it. I got I wrote this story about this time, I got pulled over by the I was in a van with a bunch of my friends. I grew up in an all predominantly African American neighborhood. I was in the band with a bunch of my friends and we got pulled over by the cops. And, you know, they like craft us on the side of the road is a big mess. It’s like two o’clock in the morning. It’s terrifying. Like, it’s the first not the only but the first time I had a gun in my face. Like it was just a terrifying moment for a 16 year old kid to have an adult man stick a gun in your face. So I wrote about that. Because he was like, write something that like, you know, he was like, write about a memory that you still think about. That’s true. And so like, I’m a 16 year old kid, I’ve left New Orleans, I’m in Texas in school. I’m like processing I wrote that. He wrote on the top of my paper, he’s like F, I said, a true story. So I was like, Fine, I’m done. I’m done. I didn’t like English. Anyway, I’m done. I don’t like any of you guys. So. So I didn’t write anything. Like I avoided English and writing. Just terribly. So. All that to say when it gets the inner thoughts, it’s not that I don’t like them. It’s just that I was poorly read. I read Grisham. I read Clancy. You know, I’d read books here or there that people would give me but they really did fall in that kind of like, legal, sometimes military thriller, but I don’t really like guns, go back to the story about them in my face at 16. So like, they’re, you know, I’m not a fan. So yeah, so I just didn’t, I didn’t read enough to know that like, oh, inner monologue was possible. And then, when I started writing novels, I was like, I should expand my knowledge. If I’m going to write novels, I should read more novels. And that’s when I first started encountering inner thoughts. So it’s not that I don’t like it or that I, I don’t do it intentionally. It’s just that like, that’s not what I that’s not where I was groomed as a reader. So it’s not what I know how to do. But I do, I really respect it. And I do wish I could do it. I do think the thing about inner thought, as of now that I’m, you know, now that I’ve edited I think I’m I’m over 250 Now, I haven’t counted recently, I was like 239 A couple months ago, but now that I’ve worked with a ton of authors, and a lot of them use inner thought I have learned a ton about it. And I have written some beautiful novels with a lot of inner thought in it, I think it’s a wonderful tool. The thing about inner thought is it’s kind of a direct tap into the readers emotions. So dialogue, the reason dialogue is important. The reason it like dialogue is character engagement, right, like two characters engaging with one another is dialogue. It’s not the thing in quotations, it’s the exchange of expectations and emotions between characters on the page. So the thing in quotations is the verbalization is like the verbalization part of that dialogue. But dialogue also includes body language, and it includes inner thought, because the inner thought is the is the expectation. So what the inner thoughts do on the page is, they kind of bring the reader into that dialogue. The pros and cons of that is the pro is that it can be very intimate. And it could very much if done well, it can very much expand the readers of voice in, I’m sorry, I can expand the character’s voice in a very powerful way, especially, which is very popular right now, if you have a very shy character, if you got a shy character, inner thoughts are incredibly important. Because they allow the reader insight into what the character is actually saying and doing. But that being said, The con is that as writers, we tend to use them as a crutch, because when we use them, we can feel the power of i have this intimacy with the reader. If I do this, I can let the reader directly in the thoughts. And we get too direct with it. And the the interior, the biggest mistake I see authors make is that the interior thought isn’t different enough from the exterior vocalization that it actually matters, you should just have the character say it out loud, right, like so there’s this like, the character’s interior thoughts sound the same as their vocalization that can become very, I’m gonna use a big word that can become very pedestrian, it can come very like, Oh, you’re just telling me everything that’s happening in this character’s head. So I think interior thoughts are a great tool, if you strategically so if you have a character that’s intentionally withholding interior thoughts are great if you have a character that’s shy and struggling to vocalize interior thoughts are great, if you have a character that’s masking, like the character is speaking in one way, but actually, internalizes in a completely different way. That’s a fantastic and that’s a fantastic opportunity to put those thoughts on the page. There’s also a lot of different ways to do it. So there’s the like, first person POV in italics, Catherine, like you were saying, that’s like the most blatant, like, hey, there’s a there’s an extra voice in this scene. And it is my character’s brain, right like, and I do recommend a writer treat it like an extra voice. So I get writers, I catch writers all the time where they’re like, once every seven paragraphs, they have an inner thought, as no, if you’re going to have an inner thought that thought is that brain is a character in the narrative. And we need to get connected to that brain. So we need to hear from that character as much as we hear the exterior thoughts, right. Like if you want to figure out a balance, as much as this character vocalizes or more, we should hear in the interior thought, that’s one way to do it. Another way that I’ve seen people do it really beautifully is just give the P the first person POV Narrator asides as they talk, that’s the same, right? Like, Elizabeth Gilbert does this beautifully in her novels, she does this like first person POV, where the narrator usually is in the future, telling the story to the reader. And the narrator will have these asides where the narrator explains how things felt or what they were really thinking or what was really happening. You know, and like I said, this, but I thought those, that’s an interior thought, it’s the same, it’s just not as direct. And then, you know, I think Crys Cain taught me the phrase third person close, which is what TJ Clune does a lot. Again, another way to tell interior thoughts, where there’s a third person narrator that’s constantly describing what’s happening inside the character’s head. So, you know, Linus is the character in, I’m not quoting, I’m just making that up, but Linus is the character in the House in the Cerulean Sea, and he’ll be like, you know, the boss looked down and said, You know, I don’t think this picture is appropriate for your desk. You know, Linus loved the picture and didn’t care if the picture was appropriate or not, but he said, Yes, sir. Like that’s, that’s a third person close. You’re still giving me the interior thought of the character. It’s just not in italics, or in first person, but in that sense, I still get it. So I think there’s a lot what’s beautiful for as authors is there’s 1000 ways to do it. Right, like, and the question is, I think we all do what’s natural to us. That’s why I don’t do it, I think great authors of which I would not include myself, but I think great authors are very strategic about it. And they’re like, Oh, I know that using like, I remember I worked for a little while doing construction.
I was a blacksmith. I try not to say that out loud. Because my the Dialogger community, my Dialogue Doctor community teases me because I used to say it all the time. I was a blacksmith for a while. And I worked with this, like master blacksmith who had all of these tools. He had like a huge toolbox on the back of his pickup truck. And there was like 1000 tools in it. And I had no idea what 990 of them were for. Right? Like, I was just like, Oh, there’s the hammer and the screwdriver. I know those two, I’m good to go. He knew what they were all for. Exactly. So when we get to a job, he’d be like, I need this tool. It’s on the bottom shelf that looks like this. And you could like it, it turns [machine noise]. And I’m like, okay, so I go get the rear rear tool. And like he would solve the problem he was working on in like 30 seconds because he knew what his tools are for. I think as we grow as authors, understanding, the impact of the tools that we can use, and how those really can strategically shape the readers experience in our story is the goal we should all be looking to master. Not that I have mastered it. But that is the goal we should be looking to master. So I think it’s that like moving from like, Oh, this is where I’m comfortable at, which is where I still am to like, I understand my tools. I know how to use my tools. I know what these tools do to the reader. So I can when I want to tell a short story or want to tell, you know, something else. I pulled these tools out like I see Stephen, I read a lot of Stephen King now. And I see Stephen King doing them the keys at that, like master level where he’s like, you know, he doesn’t always write in the same style in the same format. He always writes in the same genre. Well, not actually he doesn’t. But I can see him using tools and strategic ways was like, Oh, if I change how I use this character’s voice, or if I change our music and our thoughts here, I can really shape the character the readers experience with the story. I think that’s something we should aspire to. And you’re welcome another 15 minute answer that could have been two.
V.E. Griffith 27:24
Well, you know, you’re okay, well, you’re a Three Story Method Editor, like Catherine, Miss Catherine and I. How does that help you? Yeah, there you go. Yeah, for those of you can’t see, he’s got a challenge coin. Right? That’s right. Does does? How does the Three Story Method sort of go along with, with internal dialogue or with dialogue generally, or does it.
Jeff Elkins 27:58
So the Three Story Method is really about, for me, the three story method is about scene construction. Like you got, you can’t like as a writer, you have all these knobs you can turn, right. And the knobs that you turn, create this experience for the reader. So if you think about who if you think about Minority the movie Minority Report with Tom Cruise, which is like the coolest sci fi movie from the 90s ever, where he’s got these gloves on, and there’s like this, like, holographic computer, and he’s like moving stuff around, he’s like, put that over there, put that over there. It’ll like turn this thing up. And like this image gets bigger, you have the, you have the ability, you have all these knobs at your fingertips. All these ways you can manipulate what the reader sees in their imagination. Characterization, right? Like, your character voices, your cast, how those cast players play off of each other. That’s like one set of knobs on your dashboard that you can like play with. Plot, and, like the construction of a story in a scene, that’s another set of knobs on your dashboard. Right? emotional triggers is another set of knobs on your dashboard. And they connect, right like if you’ve got, you know, this cast X cast, it’s going to naturally lead to y conflicts, right? Like if you’ve got if you really want like you know, the letter five emotional triggers, that’s really gonna lead to like, you know, the number z plot points. So it’s that like combining you have all these knobs to turn. the Three Story Method editing stuff, the focus on a story having conflict choices and consequences, that lives in that like plot section of the dashboard for me. So it lives in like the scene construction and the story construction. I know that every scene has to have a conflict and Every scene has to have the character either openly or suggestively, or like openly, or at least the perception of choices. And then I know that I, at some point, I need to see the consequences on both the micro and macro level, right, and that plays into my cast, but my cast are like different knobs I can turn. And those character voices that build out that casts personality, there are different knobs I can turn, and like whether I want the emotional tone to be happy, or sad or exciting, or, you know, suspicious, I don’t think that’s an emotional tone, but it doesn’t matter. Whatever I want that emotional tone to be, I’ve got those knobs as well. So whatever I would say, whatever is easiest for you to start with, that’s where you start and then turn those knobs. So if you need, like, if you’re a plotter, it’s really easy for you to be like, Okay, I can set up a scene, this is the conflict. And then they’re gonna have to make these choices and this is the consequence. And then you need to like work the care. And then you need to write the scene and then work the character voices. Do that, if you’re better at the character voices knob, right? Put two characters in a conversation, get them talking, and then go back and be like, Okay, so what’s the conflict here? Right, but you have to ask that question. You can’t not ask that question. But it’s just about like, Whatever’s easiest for you do that first, and then go back. But does that answer the question? Like, I see them as like different areas you can play in to make your story what you want it to make the so when we say story to make the readers experience what you want the readers imaginative journey to be?
V.E. Griffith 31:45
Yeah, that makes sense. How, how do you as an editor, you know, it actually does believe it or not. As an editor, do you have a method that helps people write dialogue or write internal dialogue? In particular, since that’s what we’re sort of talking about?
Jeff Elkins 32:04
Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, something I’ve learned about myself is that I’m not actually an editor, I’m a coach. And those are different things. An editor looks at your piece, whether it’s a short story, and they’re like a line editor, and they’re looking for grammar or their developmental editor. And they’re looking for, like structure or their diagnostic editor, like a Three Story Method Editor. And they’re doing like a diagnostic read of your story. And editor looks at the story and is improving the story. And as a second hand, is working on you as a writer, right, like through the experience of the story, I actually work the writer first. So I don’t take editing clients anymore, I only take coaching clients, I’ll do a one time coaching session with you, or I’ll do like multiple, you can book me for like four sessions at a time. So and when I do that, I’m looking like you always send me words. When I look at those words, I’m like, okay, which panel of the dashboard to really take this illustration, and just like slam it with a dead horse as many times as I can. Because that’s what that metaphor means. When I’m looking at the dashboard, which aspect of the dashboard? Are you already doing really well? And which aspects of the dashboard do you need to improve on? And then typically, at the first of the conversation that I have with a coaching client, I’m like, What do you want to learn? Because if you don’t want to learn the emotional trigger side of the dashboard, it doesn’t matter how much I talk about it, if you don’t care of like, we need to really like work on the emotional flow of this and you’re like, so if you don’t care about that, then it doesn’t matter.
But so I read coaches look at the client, and they’re like, How can I help you improve as a writer, I tell my coaching clients a lot, we likely won’t finish a book together, we’ll likely do like eight sessions, and then I won’t have anything to coach you on for a while. Now I do have clients that I take through a whole book. And I find most of that becomes because they we just really enjoy working together. And it’s fun. So like, we just keep going. But I also have clients where I’m like, I need four sessions. And I need to work on my character voice. And so we spend four sessions, just all of my edits, all of my comments are about like, Hey, let me help you find tools that you can use as an author to improve your character voice. So that’s, that’s what I do as a coach over an editor, if that makes sense. So the Three Dtory Method for me is just another thing, it was another way another deep learning for me. I mean, you know, I signed on to it for the community because you guys I like hanging out with you guys. But for me, it was and I’m super loyal, six on the enneagram. So Jay was like I’m doing this new thing. And I’m like, I’m there. Jay, I’m the anything you do. So you and me, ride or die, baby, because that’s just how I roll. So I have my community and I’m ride or die. But that being said, like, I tried editing, and I’m just not good at it. Because I ended up like wanting to get the author on a call and be like, Hey, let’s talk about the decisions you’re making in this piece. And they’re like, no, no, I really just want you to send me the edits. I’m gonna go, I can’t do that. My comments, my editing comments won’t actually make any sense to you. Because a lot of times my editing comments are like, what’s the choice you’re making here?
Like? Did you mean to do this? Like, that’s, that’s the kind of like, I will just leave that. Like the page like, Did you mean to do this? And that’s what I realized, like, these aren’t helpful edits. These are something that this is coaching. This is it. So yeah, so that’s just where I’d actually been. And it also is because I really, I have a deep desire to see people succeed. So that I don’t think that success as somebody who’s written 13 novels, and like, you know, seven of them have been read by, like, 50 people. I don’t think that success is based on one book. Yeah, all that to say, I would, I would rather work with the author than then the piece, which is why I would say I’m a coach, not an editor. And the Three Story Method stuff is just one of those knobs that I’ve I’ve had to master because I didn’t I, you know, I read the Story Grid. I obsessed over the Story Grid I read, Save the Cat, I obsessed over the Save the Cat system. And then Save the Cat Writes a Novel came out, I obsessed over the Save the Cat Writes a Novel. I read Robert McKee’s Story, like, you know, I had studied all this stuff before the Three Story Method, I really think that the Three Story Method is the simplest way to get at it. So it gave me a language to use with coaching clients that I can be like, Okay, let’s talk about that. But when people come to me for like, a story diagnostic, I’m like, You should call Aaron or miss Catherine. Because they are their actual editors. I don’t.
You don’t want my notes. My notes are gonna be like, really? You’re gonna like, what does it even mean? Yeah. So I don’t and I forgot your question. But I’ll keep talking. I’ll keep talking if you want me to.
V.E. Griffith 37:41
Catherine, you’re muted.
Jeff Elkins 37:43
You’re on mute, Catherine. I feel like now I have stunned Aaron into silent laughter and I have somehow magically made Miss Catherine mute. I have one this podcast. You have to turn your pink slips over to me. I don’t know what a pink slip for a podcast was. You’re still muted? Because I’m still winning. You have to, I don’t know what that is.
V.E. Griffith 38:03
You can have my hat.
Jeff Elkins 38:06
It’s like in Grease. We’ve raced Greased Lightning my Greased Lightning has beaten your unnamed cars because Greece Lightning I’m pretty sure is the only car in that movie. You’re still muted. I’m just gonna keep talking. I’m pretty sure. Victory is mine. I pretty sure it’s the only car in that movie with a name. So I’m Greased Lightning and you’re the unnamed cars that I now on the pink slips up. Because I’ve won the podcast. You didn’t know this is a competition when I came on, did you? You’re still muted. It’s hysterical, though. Well, you’re so frustrated.
It’s a shame though. Because I love talking to you. I’ll just pretend like I can hear you. Do you want me to do voices? You can move your mouth and I’ll go, hey Jeff why are you so awesome. Awesome. The most amazing and great. Yes.
V.E. Griffith 38:56
Okay, so sorry. Okay. I, you talked a little bit about this, about how internal dialogue needs to be a character the brain needs to be a character. Do the voices need to match?
Jeff Elkins 39:14
Oh, so character voices stem. So like. If you think about your character in three different components, the character’s background, your character’s personality and your character’s voice. The Catherine’s typing that we’re all in big trouble, she’s figured out a way to communicate outside of talking. Dang it! Doesn’t mean I have to read it. So if I’m just kidding, I’m teasing! If you have all people like man this guy’s a jerk, I don’t ever want to hear him again.
If you have a if you have those three components, background personality and voice, the background is kind of where I recommend well where a lot of writers start. It’s like what they’re great at is where is like building these big story bibles of background. So if you start with a background and And then move to the, the personality like based on what that character has experienced, based on their family history based on their genetics based on their place and culture, based on how the outside world perceives them, based on how they perceive themselves, what is the personality kind of blooming out of that, like, how are they responding to all of that, and then that personality is then expressed through a voice, the voice, the internal external voice, both need to come out of that personality, you can’t have separate. So like, if you’re going to use the Enneagram, because I mentioned it earlier. And you’re like, my character is one that’s a very black and white thinker. That’s like, they they have they have, they are called the perfectionist, they have an internal critic, right, your character can have like, masked their voice so that they never externally express that internal critic, but that that internal narrative that you’re giving to the reader, better be that internal critic, if that’s the personality you’re going for. Does that make sense? So whatever that personality is, or if you’re using Strengths Finder, right? And like, one, you’re like, Okay, I want a character, who’s, let’s find a weird one. For my own strengths. I want a character whose main strength is context, they’re obsessed with the past. Right? So like, if your character is obsessed with the past, they, their external voice needs to talk about things that happened before. And their internal voice needs to be obsessed with worry about the future lining up with the past. Does that make sense? So like, your external and internal voice, need to align on the personality, because what you’re doing, and here’s where I think most writers miss what the tool that internal voice is. What internal voice is, is you’re saying, like, Hey, you already have the external voice, right? Like you can already get from this character, everything that you’ll get from every other character in the book. But I’m also going to give you this bonus voice. And so the bonus voice needs to add to the reader’s engagement and intimacy with the character in some way. It needs to give the reader insight into what who that character is and why that character is making the choices they make. And like, why that why the consequences that those choices are causing, are either bringing growth or stifling growth for that character. Right, like, so. It’s like, you gotta use it as a strategic tool, if you’re just throwing an internal voice in there, because it helps you communicate emotional tone, I would say do better. No, I’m just kidding. That’s a terrible thing to say.
I would say think strategically. Sorry, I’m just kidding. I wanted to see your face! I would say think strategically about how you’re using it, and try to enhance the reader’s experience with your character through that internal voice. Do but I didn’t mean do better. I’m sorry. I’m really wound up. Alright, Miss Catherine has a question. Can I ask Miss Catherine’s questions, Aaron?
V.E. Griffith 43:04
Absolutely. Feel free here. Since we can’t hear her we’ve got we’ve got audio problems with Miss Catherine again this week. So
Jeff Elkins 43:12
Yeah, she’s still yelling. It’s yeah, it’s Yeah, maybe. Maybe after I leave, she can have her pink slip to the podcast back. All right, Miss Catherine asked as one dyslexic writer to another, that’s a terrible voice. You don’t sound anything like that. I don’t know why. Just the higher pitch is is better. But I guess if I had done like a lower pitch that would even be worse. Alright, as one dyslexic writer to another have any tricks for writing and editing that people can use? Yeah, if you’re dyslexic don’t write. I’m just kidding. I totally write. No, um I think for me, I don’t I haven’t found any tricks. I don’t know. I would ask you that question, because I haven’t really found any. But you can’t answer me because you don’t have a voice. So sorry, podcast listeners, short out of luck. In the podcast ended sad. No. So I don’t know. I learned for me typing is better than writing by hand. If I write by hand, I reverse everything. I flip all my letters. I like flip my words. So typing seems to some for some reason typing seems to mitigate that for me. I don’t know why
V.E. Griffith 44:24
do you have trouble?
Jeff Elkins 44:26
For some reason? Oh, yeah, go ahead.
V.E. Griffith 44:28
I was gonna say when you’re typing, do you have trouble with homophones, words that are spelled differently but, and mean different things but sound the same? There they’re and their?
Jeff Elkins 44:37
Yeah, I mean, those little bastards. Um, can I cuss on this podcast? I’m sorry, I just did. You can edit me out. Aaron’s like, oh, I’m cutting this down to 10 minutes. So yeah, no, I I do have trouble with homophones. The biggest problem though, is that I can’t see them. So I also I will write words backwards. which is a weird thing, but when I’m typing, I will literally just type a word backwards. So, finding great spell checks are really good for me. The problem is that, like I said, is I’m writing and editing at the same time. So like, I’ll write a word backwards, and then immediately stop my flow and fix it. Because, and not because I saw it, but because this red line appears underneath it. And I’m like, oh, so it does slow me down a lot. Again, don’t do what I do. So but I do think finding good writing partners like people who are willing to like read your work and catch that nonsense is really helpful as dys- or dis- er lessdyxic [sic] writer. My partner, Laura, who does the Dialogue Doctor podcast with me and like, is also a Dialogue Doctor coach, she sta- we started working on stuff together, she was my main editor. And she was the one kind of catching all that stuff for me, which was incredibly generous and magnanimous of her. The higher we can elevate her on a pedestal, the better it is. So a bit amount of great words. She’s awesome. So yeah, but that’s, I would say, try to find partners that can help you with that. I was just very lucky to have somebody who’s like, I don’t want to read stuff, but I like to write it. Yeah, so that’s, that’s what I would do. That’s what would be my only recommendation, pain and suffering. My recommendation for dyslexic writers be prepared for pain and suffering. Yeah. And don’t think readers are going to take some pity on you because you’re dyslexic. They do not care. They do not care. They’re heartless. I love them. Heartless bastards.
V.E. Griffith 46:44
But they will email you about your errors.
Jeff Elkins 46:47
They will they will send you they will send you God bless them. I love indie publishing. Because when when I get one of those emails, you better believe I crack that thing open. I make all of those edits. And I push that thing right back up. I like you know, that’s what’s great about indie publishing is I’m in control of the versions. So if you send me an email, it’s like, Hey, I caught 24 misspelled words, in your last document in your last novel, I’m like, could you like tell me the words? I will fix them all. I will fix all of them right now.
V.E. Griffith 47:20
I still have that line that is good from Inside Outside.
Jeff Elkins 47:23
I know it’s great. I haven’t fixed that one yet. That one’s I’m still too emotionally attached to that one to actually look at it again. Okay, so I’m just letting that sit.
V.E. Griffith 47:30
Okay, then I won’t send you the rest of the chapters I haven’t sent you.
Jeff Elkins 47:33
Yeah, please don’t. You’ll make me cry. Miss Catherine said she has an alpha reader who laughs and reads my mistakes out loud to me. Yeah, those are the best and worst people. They are, they’re the best. They are the best of times and the worst of times, when somebody is willing to like, hey found all these edits, these errors in your book, like, [crying] Thank you. [crying] So, yeah. So best of times and the worst of times.
V.E. Griffith 47:59
Is there anything we didn’t cover?
Jeff Elkins 48:03
I mean Catherine’s like, why would you ask this guy that question? This is not the guy to ask that question to.
No, I don’t think so. I’m trying to think about it we focused on in our thoughts. I’m trying to think about anything specifically about him or thoughts we didn’t cover, we talked about the need to be strategic with them about using them with a character voice. I think that what most writers do is they start with the exterior voice and then go to the interior voice. So they’re like, Oh, my character sounds like this. And then I’m going to add these feelings in the inside, I actually recommend you flip. I would say you start with the inside and go outside. So like, start with that interior voice, decide what that interior voice based on the personality sounds like, and then decide what aspects of that interior voice get vocalized. I think that’s a better way to go about it. Decide like, you know, I really, I think there’s a lot of opportunity, especially in kind of our current cultural conversations around classes. You know, Miss Catherine, I know one of your themes is race that you write about. So like, and racism, I think, even in like stuff like sci fi, the idea of masking, I think, is a really important thing that interior voice can help with where you have, you know, like I grew up in the inner city and I know a lot of my a lot of the friends that I grew up with had an interior had I like, community voice, as in like, This is who I am and this is how I talk and then like a teacher voice. Whereas like when I’m speaking with a teacher, I mask how I actually speak because there’s expectation there’s cultural expectations placed upon me that have less to do about my intelligence and have more to do with forcing me into a specific culture. I mean, if we really want to get me in about it that have to do with colonizing me, I think there’s some real opportunities there. Like that’s the kind of thing where like, I would want a writer to be like, Yeah, I’m strategically going to use this interior voice to demonstrate how masking works. Like that’s man, that would be a powerful. Yeah. Yeah. So Miss Catherine says the customer service voice. Miss Catherine right now is operating as my interior voice. She says the customer service voice. Yeah, it’s that that works too like, you have your work voice and your actual voice. So if you have to be assertive, if you want to take it away from race, you have to be a certain person at work and then your actual voice, but that’s what I’m saying. Like, get that actual voice down first, get that interior voice down first, and then decide what that exterior vocalization sounds like. What that character is willing to vocalize what they’re not willing to vocalize. Because at some point, at the big dramatic moment in the story, that guard is going to come down. And that x, that internal voice is gonna get vocalized. And that’s the either the big home run, like if it’s a shy character that’s been holding back, that’s the big like, yes. Or it was a character that’s been masking something about themselves. It’s a big like, Oh, you just let that out loud. And what are the consequences of that choice? Right, like so. But using that interior voice strategically, in this Catherine ask, italicize or not italicize? That is the question. Is it nobler of the mind, I’m just kidding. So I’m to italicize or not italicize. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re consistent. That’s the thing. My crusade against the italics has nothing to do with metallics, it has to do with inconsistency. So my crusade against italics is, is the dialogue says, If you’re going to use a tallix in this, I’m just going to rant, you asked me if there’s anything else I want to talk about. This is what I want to talk about. Buckle up, we’re gonna be here for an hour. If you’re gonna, if you’re gonna use italics, you get to use them. For one thing. You cannot use italics for a character’s voice. I mean, you can do whatever you want. You can write your whole book in italics. I see you. What’s his name, who wrote that great, dystopian novel, that’s all in italics. Man, The Road, I see you The Road. You can write your whole book it italics if you want, I don’t care. Do what you’re gonna do. Just don’t expect me to read it. I’m just kidding. I love that book. It’s a beautiful book. So Oh, stay on target. The italics. If you’re gonna use italics to demonstrate an internal voice, it gets very complicated for the reader. If you’re then also using italics to like, oh, this character has a weird accent in my space novel. So I’m going to give all of the characters who speak in this accent italics as well. And now as a reader, I’m like, Okay, wait, is this italics? Space voice? Or is this italics? internal voice? What is this italics and, or like, sometimes this italics is internal voice and then, but every once in a while I’m going to use this italics to also emphasize a word. Okay? Am I supposed to hear that word?
Like that? I’d say that word. But what are you doing with these.
So consistency is what’s important it is, it is like italics is like a hammer. And I think sometimes as writers, we we love our hammer. So we just walk around whacking on all the walls with our hammer, and it’s like you didn’t need to hit that wall with that hammer, you didn’t, that you just made a hole in the wall, you didn’t need to do that. That was You’re ruining our house. That’s what the reader is saying, You’re ruining we were in a nice house. And then you started hitting things with your italics hammer, and now you’ve ruined our house. But it is it is about consistency. So like, you know, the murder bot novels, I cannot remember her name, the author that wrote those, they are really great sci fi, man. She’s using brackets and parentheses and italics and like she’s got every tool, but it’s consistent. And after I read the first chapter, my brain will click and I’ll be like, I know what all of these things are. Right like, and that’s the thing is that when you’re writing, when you’re using these tools to create this imaginative journey for a reader, what you’re doing is you’re you and the reader are developing a common language about what these things mean. So italics has a has a meaning in your book. And if you’re using attacks to mean like five different things, here’s making it hard on the reader. So my crusade isn’t against italics. It’s against italics used for different things in books, but that’s also true of like parentheses and brackets and whatever you want to do. It is weird though, you’ll be reading a book and you and the author get that common language together and then you just start to click into it like, I remember the first time I read Jose Saramago, who doesn’t use any punctuation and I’m looking at the page I’m like, This is the weirdest I don’t even know how to read this. I just started reading it. Sure enough, but like page two it’s like in my brain, I can see it. I know who’s talking when I know when someone’s talking. And I know when it’s prose like, I can you just start to see it and you’re just like, oh yeah, this is some weird beautiful mind crap going on. But so like that just to say like, there are no rules. It’s about you creating an experience for the reader. So, whatever that experience is. That’s the That’s what you want the reader to do. Like, that’s what you want the reader to journey on. I lost my words not they’re gone.
V.E. Griffith 55:34
Well, thank you, Jeff.
Jeff Elkins 55:37
Me or Miss Catherine, neither of us can say her words anymore.
V.E. Griffith 55:40
Well, thank you very much for coming on. Where can we find you on the internet?
Jeff Elkins 55:45
Um, I am the internet. And I’m just kidding. I’m on dialoguedoctor.com you can find me at dialoguedoctor.com for writers, if you want to come and grind with me in fiction, come read, come buy all 12 of my novels. You can buy all of them, you’ll get four different genres. One series splits genre in the middle, because I just got tired of urban fantasy. And I was like now we’re writing something else. So come join my my crazy at jeffelkinswriter.com. But for writers dialogdoctor.com is where you find all the things. There’s a free Tuesday newsletter that often comes out on Wednesday or Thursday. There’s also a Patreon group that you can subscribe to. And then there’s a weekly podcast if you want to listen to this kind of nonsensical rambling every week. As I say My motto is you’ll be sorry. But yeah, come Come join me.
V.E. Griffith 56:41
Well, we will do that I love your podcast, I really appreciate your, your unique style. It’s it’s it’s fun to listen to. It is. It’s fun to listen to.
Jeff Elkins 56:55
No though, thank you.
I am super excited y’all are doing this. I think you’re both amazing editors, I think you have a lot to offer to the world. So I have worked with both of you individually for a long time. For a long time for a year. I’ve worked with both of you individually. But I’ve seen both of your work as writers. And I’ve seen you edit and I think you have a ton of wisdom to offer to the writing community. So I’m very excited that you’ve decided to share your magical wizardry with the rest of us. It’s great. So thank you. Thanks for having me
V.E. Griffith 57:29
Okay, well, I’m VE Griffith. You can find me at vegriffith.com. And you can find Miss Catherine at scribes-pen.com even when she can’t talk. Thanks very much. Have a good night.