Guest Posts, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Guest Post: Skill vs. Talent – Which Do You Have? by Ryan Lanz

Please welcome back author and blogger Ryan Lanz! This time, Ryan will be discussing the differences between talent and skill, and which you need to make it in the writing world. 

  • tal·ent [tal-uhnt] noun: a special natural ability or aptitude.
  • skill [skil] noun: the ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well.

What if you don’t have natural talent? Does that mean you may as well give up?

It’s not quite the chicken or the egg debate, but it’s up there. I’ve heard people go in circles about which comes first and which is necessary. At what combination of both does one continue the grind and attempt at success? I’d be surprised if you haven’t asked yourself that question. It’s a part of being human.

What does each really mean?

This comes from the university of my opinion, but I would describe talent as the natural ability that needs little to no refinement, and skill is the unnatural ability that you have to develop. For those of us who’ve played sports (myself excluded), I’m sure you’ve all encountered someone who strides onto the field and makes it all look so darn effortless.

This person hardly shows up to practice, and you have a fairly good idea that it took hardly any effort to accomplish. Same with the person who aced every test in college with little preparation, leaving you in study hall time after time with a bucket of coffee. You must have missed at least three parties because you had to cram for the Calculus exam, right?

Which is better?

Good question. And one not so easily answered. Sure, we would all like natural talent that we don’t have to pour so much effort into, but sometimes that doesn’t quite pan out. Often, we are born with enough talent to have an affinity for a profession, but the rest has to be made up with skill. In writing, there are dozens of abilities that need to be present to make a good novel, such as foreshadowing, prose, description, natural dialogue, pacing, etc.

Let’s say that you have a knack for writing dialogue, but your setting description rambles on and on. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and you’ll have to practice at writing setting description over time to develop it into a skill, even if it’s not a natural talent. To be fair, natural talent does get you to the goal quicker.


Related: Finishing a Book is a Skill


The combination of the two

If Tiger Woods is not the best golf player of all time, then he comes very close. He started golfing on professional courses at the age of two years old and was featured in a golf magazine at the age of five. Tiger spent 545 weeks combined total as the world number one. In my opinion, that is some superb natural talent. Although Tiger has mounds of it, he still had a golfing coach (and probably still does) through most of his career. That’s combining the natural with the refined skill that creates that sweet spot. Think about how you can make a similar combination.

Is it so bad if you don’t have natural talent? Should you give up?

The one downside to having natural talent is that you don’t have as much appreciation for the effort. Let’s look at two writers: one who writes his/her first book and quickly becomes published, and the other is a writer who labors for ten years to even become noticed. Both eventually become published and successful, let’s say. I think it’s fair to say that the latter writer has more appreciation for the effort of the craft. There are small nuances of writing that I feel are best represented when someone has to massage and mold their skill over the long-term.

I believe that about anyone can accomplish about anything if they were to dedicate their entire life to it, even if that person doesn’t have a drop of natural talent. Ask yourself what craft you can accomplish if you were to invest 20 years to its perfection. So, no, don’t simply give up on it. You may have been born with talent in a profession you’re not interested in. That’s okay, just work to catch up in a profession that you are.

Conclusion

If you sharpen your skill enough, people will believe that you’ve had talent from the very beginning, regardless of how much you actually had to start with.

Original post here.


Guest post contributed by Ryan Lanz. Ryan is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on TwitterFacebook, and Tumblr.

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Guest Posts, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Guest Post: The Dos and Don’ts of Dialogue Tags by Ryan Lanz

Today, I’m pleased to host author and blogger extraordinaire Ryan Lanz. His article is packed with tips on how to correctly use dialogue tags. As someone who struggled with this as a beginning writer, trust me when I say: this is great stuff, and I wish he had written this post years ago! Over to Ryan …


Writers use dialogue tags constantly. In fact, we use them so often that readers all but gloss over them. They should be invisible. However, there are ways to misuse them and make them stand out.

In an effort to avoid that, let’s take a closer look at dialogue tags. Toward the end of “Tag travesties” is something I sorely wish someone had told me before I started writing.

Why do we use dialogue tags?

The simple answer is that we use them to indicate who’s speaking. In visual media, such as movies or television, the viewer can easily tell who’s talking by lip movement and camera angles. When reading a book, obviously that’s not an option.

Tag travesties

There are certainly ways to misuse dialogue tags. When I was a new writer, I felt compelled to overwrite. I’m sure every new writer goes through a version of this. I observed how successful writers used simple tags like “said/asked” and thought to myself, that’s boring. I’m going to be an awesome writer by making them more interesting. You don’t have to admit it aloud, writers, but we all know that most of us have. Let’s look at an example of this:

  • “We can’t cross this river,” Alanna exclaimed repugnantly.
  • John crossed the room and shouted disgustedly, “I’ll never take you with me.”
  • “This has been the worst day ever,” Susie cried angrily.

For those of you who still aren’t convinced, let’s up the dosage with a paragraph:

Hank crossed the room and sat down. “We should have never waited this long for a table,” he seethed, leaning over to glare at her. 

“If you wanted a better spot, you should have called ahead for a reservation,” Trudy returned pointedly.

“Well, perhaps if you didn’t take so long to get ready, I could have,” he countered dryly.

Can you imagine reading an entire book like that? *shiver*

So why do new writers feel the urge to be that . . . creative with their dialogue tags? Back in the beginning, I thought the typical tags of “said/asked” were too boring and dull. It didn’t take me long to realize that dull (in this context) is the point.

Image your words as a window pane of glass, and the story is behind it. Your words are merely the lens that your story is seen through. The thicker the words, the cloudier the glass gets. If you use huge words, purple prose, or crazy dialogue tags, then all you’re doing is fogging up the glass through which your reader is trying to view your story. The goal is to draw as little attention to your actual words as possible; therefore, you keep the glass as clear as possible, so that the reader focuses on the story. Using tags like “said/asked” are so clear, they’re virtually invisible.

Now, does that mean that you can’t use anything else? Of course not. Let’s look further.

Alternate dialogue tags

Some authors say to never use anything other than “said/asked,” while others say to heck with the rules and use whatever you want. Some genres (such as romance) are more forgiving about using alternate dialogue tags. I take a more pragmatic approach to it. I sometimes use lines like:

“I’m glad we got out of there,” she breathed.

The very important question is how often. I compare adverbs and alternate dialogue tags to a strong spice. Some is nice, but too much will spoil the batch. Imagine a cake mix with a liter of vanilla flavoring, rather than the normal tablespoon. The more often you use anything other than “said/asked,” the stronger the flavor. If it’s too powerful, it’ll tug the reader away from the story and spotlights those words. In a full length book of around 85,000 words, I personally use alternate dialogue tags only around a few dozen times total.

By saving them, the pleasant side effect is that when I do use them, they pack more of an emotional punch.


Related: How to Write Natural Dialogue


Action beats

I have a love affair with action beats. Used effectively, they can be another great way to announce who’s talking, yet at the same time add some movement or blocking to a scene. For example:

Looking down, Katie ran a finger around the edge of the mug. “We need to talk.”

That added some nice flavor to the scene, and you know who spoke. The only caveat is to be careful of not using too many action beats, as it does slow down the pacing a tiny bit. If you’re writing a bantering sequence, for example, you wouldn’t want to use a lot of action beats so as to keep the pacing quick.

Dos and don’ts

Sometimes, action beats and dialogue tags have misused punctuation. I’ll give some examples.

  • “Please don’t touch that.” She said, blocking the display. (Incorrect)
  • “Let’s head to the beach,” he said as he grabbed a towel. (Correct)
  • Sam motioned for everyone to come closer, “Take a look at this.” (Incorrect)
  • Debbie handed over the magnifying glass. “Do you see the mossy film on the top?” (Correct)

Conclusion

Like many things in a story/novel, it’s all about balance. Try alternating actions beats, dialogue tags, and even no tags at all when it’s clear who’s speaking. By changing it up, it’ll make it so that no one method is obvious.


About Ryan

Ryan Lanz is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on TwitterFacebook, and Tumblr.

Image courtesy of Onnola via Flickr, Creative Commons.