Everyone is Writing Texting Wrong

Since becoming a bona fide author, I’ve met a lot of other authors. And once you have author friends, you are going to do a lot of beta reading. Since texting and direct messaging in Twitter and Facebook are so much a part of modern life, it’s natural that the characters in these stories are going to do that. And I’ve watched as author after author struggles to convey these conversations. And I’ve noticed a consistent theme to their approaches:

Everyone is doing it wrong.

Everyone except me, of course. Because this is my blog and I get to define reality here. If you’ve read any contemporary fiction, I’m sure you’ve seen the various approaches:

  • Use italics or a weird font
  • Indent funny
  • Identify speakers like it’s a screenplay

It’s all horrible and distracting and unreadable. Let’s take an analogous situation. Suppose you have two deaf characters who are talking in sign language. Would you stop writing words and include a bunch of gestures? No. Of course you wouldn’t. You would use a couple dialog tags to convey it was a signed conversation and then move on, right?

“Hello,” she signed.

He smiled broadly. “How have you been?” he signed back.

“I’ve been well,” she said. “I’ve missed you.”

We establish that they are both signing, and then it’s just regular dialog. We’ll use normal tags like “said” and “replied” and “asked,” and we’ll occasionally throw in a “signed” in there to remind the reader that this is a silent conversation.

So why should texting be any different? Why are you trying to make the prose on the page look like the actual text conversation?

“Hello,” she texted.

He smiled broadly. “How have you been?” he texted back.

“I’ve been well,” she said. “I’ve missed you.”

See how natural that is?

In my first novel, the two main characters almost exclusively text (it’s about a Twitter affair), so I have a lot of experience in this and a lot of reader feedback on whether my approach works. It works. Texting is just dialog. Write it like dialog.

Here’s an example from Entropy (which is a really great book you should buy here).

“Good morning beautiful!” It was the first private message she saw when she went online in the morning. It was from him.

Her heart pounded. Okay, so he thinks I’m beautiful, she thought. Or maybe that’s just what he says to every girl.

She greeted him back, and after a few minutes they were chatting again. It was the same as last night. He still seemed uninterested in her as a woman, but engaged with her as a person. It was strange and new. They talked about a lot of things. They shared pictures of their families, and talked about their marriages. Lisa told him about Roger.

Lisa told him how things with her husband were boring and stable, but nonetheless exhausting. “I feel like I need to walk on eggshells around him all the time. I never know what’s going to set him off. And when he goes off, he can be so cruel.”

“Keeping things stable takes energy,” he replied. “I guess it’s a little counter-intuitive, since you think of Newton’s first law: a body at rest will stay at rest. But the reality is different. Think about an old water tank you find in the woods. It’s sitting there, doing nothing, and yet it’s slowly falling apart. Eventually the rust eats away at it beyond a certain threshold, and it collapses under its own weight.”

“Okay?” Lisa replied. She had no idea where he was going with this.

“But if you actively maintained that tank, it could last forever. You just need to sand it and give it a new coat of paint now and then. You must tend to it. It’s stable, but to keep it stable requires that you put energy into it.”

“Like my marriage,” Lisa said.

“Exactly,” he said. “A marriage takes work. You have to constantly put energy into it to keep it from falling apart. Going nowhere takes energy. Stability isn’t what you get when you do nothing. It’s what you can hope to achieve when you work hard.”

“And working hard is exhausting,” Lisa added.

That was a text conversation, but who cares? What’s important is the dialog, the connection, the power dynamic being established, all the usual stuff that character interaction gives you. The fact that they happened to be texting instead of talking is incidental and not at all important.

(End rant.)

Regrets is now Free

About a year ago I wrote a post in which I showed that nobody wants to read novellas, so there is no point writing them. And shortly after that I accidentally wrote a novella. It’s now a year later and despite having a dozen 5-star reviews on Amazon, including this downright amazing one, and having the low, low price of $0.99, I’ve only sold 43. That means I’ve made $15.05, which is my break-even point since I spent $14.95 on the stock photo of a keycard for the cover. I’m going to take that $0.10 profit and spend it on hookers and blow. BRB.

At least I’ve proved myself right. Nobody wants to read novellas.

I’ve decided to go ahead and make this story free. I popped over to Smashwords, which I use to get my ebooks onto everywhere except Amazon, and set the price to zero. Then I asked KDP Support (love them) to price-match on Amazon to make the price zero. That happened today, and I immediately got about 50 downloads. This was before I even told anyone I made it free. So maybe there’s some pent-up demand for five-star free smut, even if it’s just novella-length. (It isn’t even novella length. It’s like half-novella length at best. It’s more of a short story that went long.)

It’s not a bad piece of pulp, so if you haven’t read it yet, you should probably go ahead. It’ll only take you an hour. You can get it at Amazon and every other ebook retailer.

I have no illusions that this is going to lead to sell-through to my novels. I tried that already with my short story Attractions, and despite that also being really, really good, and having a teaser from my novel in there and everything, it’s led to no sales to speak of. Across all channels I’ve given away over 1000 copies of Attractions and it’s yielded bupkis. So no, I’m not making Regrets free to draw in readers for the Entropy trilogy. I’m making it free because it’s not selling anyway, so why the hell not make it free?

I hope you enjoy it! Leave more 5-star reviews!