ThinkB4YouSpeak & Revision Tip #17 – consider the reader

Wonderful news of positive change from GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network)! After one year of their hard-hitting "Think Before You Speak" campaign, teens attitudes about anti-gay language have significantly shifted.

From the GLSEN website: "For instance, findings from a recent survey conducted by the Ad Council in 2008 and 2009 of teens aged 13-16 suggest that a higher percentage of teens in 2009 think that people should not say "that’s so gay" for any reason (38% in 2009 vs. 28% in 2008) and a higher percentage also report "never" saying "that’s so gay" when something is stupid or uncool (28% in 2009 vs. 18% in 2008).

"In the Ad Council’s nearly 70-year history of creating campaigns to raise awareness and change public opinion and attitudes, we don’t often see shifts of this magnitude in just over a year," said Peggy Conlon, president and CEO of the Ad Council. "We’re looking forward to building on this success with a new series of PSAs and online tools that will help to further raise awareness and engage teens online."

Here is one of the videos that made the huge impact:

I adore Wanda Sykes. Just saying.

GLSEN is now started their second-year of education and awareness about the devastating effects of anti-gay hatred and language. Their website has information for parents and educators, along with all kinds of stuff you can put on your blog or website, plus polls, videos and lots more. Please take the time to check it out nd pass the word. (Thanks to School Library Journal’s Extra Helping for the heads-up!)

Revision Tip #17

I keep thinking about the slightly different approaches Barry Lyga and I have to writing dialog.

I forgot to mention one part of that.

Your audience might affect your decision about how you structure dialog.

Many people are not sure who their audience is when working on the early drafts of their novel. Nothing wrong with that. But as you revise, you need to know who your reader is. The way you tell a story to olders teens will be different than the way you tell it to middle grade students. At least, I hope it would be.

My theory is that teen readers (ninth grade and above) have enough reading and life experience under their belts that they do not need as much visual action details accompanying dialog as younger readers do.

(This could also account for part of the difference between the Lyga and the Halse Anderson Schools Of Proper Dialog; Barry only writes for teens.)

The danger, of course, is that your middle grade (or younger) reader will get bored if you layer on the descriptive action with a heavy trowel.

Try this: Pull out only the action words from your dialog scene. Here’s an example from a page I am working on now:

Character A speaks.
Character B gives reader visual description of Character A.
B speaks.
A reaches into sack and speaks. Hands apple to B.
B grabs apple, bites and speaks (note: he hasn’t eaten for more than a day). Apple juice runs down his chin.
A removes hat, nods and speaks (introducing self)
B swallows, wipes faces on sleeve, speaks
A speaks
B speaks
A speaks
B chews and thinks
A speaks

I know – it’s kind of boring to look at it that way, but by putting it under the microscope, I can make sure that the action details are an integral part of the story. They reinforce the fact that Character B is hungry, that he needs help, and that Character A might be a person he can turn to. It also balances a debt, because B helped A out of a bind in an earlier scene.

Bonus tip: since action in dialog scenes needs to be minimal and precise, it is a great opportunity to hone in on that perfect tiny detail that says volumes about the characters, setting, or conflicts at hand.