Writing Dialogue That Brings Complicated Characters To Life with Author Karen Outen

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Even our podcast editor describes author Karen Outen as “a breath of fresh air.” After twenty years of work, her book, Dixon Descending, features two brothers with a seemingly impossible goal: To be the first Black American men to summit Everest.

We discuss how Karen learned to write realistic dialogue that jumps off the page, her publishing journey of more than 20 years, and how to pitch complicated ideas–and know when they’re ready to send to agents.

Karen Outen’s fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, The North American Review, Essence, and elsewhere. She is a 2018 recipient of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award and has been a fellow at both the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Michigan and the Pew Fellowships in the Arts. She received an MFA from the University of Michigan. She lives in Maryland.

Transcript here: manuscriptacademy.com/podcast-karen-outen

The journey to Everest (00:00:43)
Karen discusses the audacious journey of Dixon and Nate to summit Mount Everest, the challenges they face, and the consequences of their actions.

The fascination with Mount Everest (00:02:15)
Karen and the unnamed guest discuss the allure of writing about Mount Everest and the unique experience of researching and writing about mountain climbing.

The concept of “second-tier fun” (00:04:29)
The guests delve into the concept of “second-tier fun,” discussing the challenges and rewards of writing and mountain climbing, and the enjoyment found in retrospect.

The mountain as a living force (00:05:39)
Karen and the hosts explore the idea of Mount Everest as an embodied force, discussing the climbers’ relationship with the mountain and its impact on their experiences.

Karen’s publishing journey (00:07:10)
Karen shares her long journey to publishing her novel, including the challenges, rejections, and the support she received from the writing community.

The importance of writer friends (00:10:04)
The discussion revolves around the significance of having a supportive community of writer friends and the impact of their encouragement and guidance.

Finding inspiration for the book (00:11:17)
Karen reads the opening page of “Dixon Descending” and discusses the process of refining the first page and the structure of the novel.

The journey of character development (00:13:24)
Karen shares her process of discovering the central theme of the book and the challenges of structuring the narrative to balance the present and the past.

Exploring consequences and character stakes (00:16:17)
The conversation focuses on the development of character stakes, the consequences faced by Dixon, and the complexities of his relationships and responsibilities.

The dynamics of dialogue (00:22:36)
The discussion centers on the distinct and vivid dialogue in the book, and Karen shares insights and tips on writing compelling dialogue.

Revision Process (00:31:28)
Insights into the author’s revision process, including techniques and the role of feedback from readers.

Bravery in Publishing (00:34:30)
The author’s perseverance and challenges faced in the publishing journey.

Pitching Complicated Work (00:46:18)
Tips for summarizing complex stories and knowing when a manuscript is ready for submission.

Efficiency and Core of the Story (00:47:24)
Understanding the efficiency of storytelling and presenting the core of the narrative.