A Loss for Words?


Photo by Alie Krohn, Photostream Creative Commons

Photo by Alie Krohn, Photostream Creative Commons

“What the hell kind of people read books about words?”

I love this. I took it from a interview with one of my favorite people who is also an author and a word wizard, Arthur Plotnik. I don’t know of anyone who makes reading about words, or how to “write words better” so much fun.

I don’t know what I would do without his book, Spunk & Bite. Mine looks a bit like a squished porcupine with all the tabs I have added for quick access to all the info.

Take a look at the interview on The Grammarist, if you’ve a mind, and you will not only learn something, but I bet you will smile doing it: http://grammarist.com/nofront/interview-with-arthur-plotnik/




IMG_2894Ever wish someone would surf through all those writing, publishing and marketing blogs, pick out the best and most informative ones and drop them in your email?

Someone has.

His name is Gene Lempp, and once a week he compiles a list of all the best and lists them on his blog at http://genelempp.wordpress.com/

He even categorizes and writes a short synopses of each so you can choose which ones you want to read.

Gene is another special example of how writers go out of their way to help one another. Is there any other “business” like this?

Thank you, Gene!

Show and Tell

Remember Show and Tell from Elementary School?  It wasn’t Show versus Tell, or Show instead of Tell, it was Show and Tell.

Show, don’t Tell, is what the writer is continually told, and this is good advice . . . usually.  Do not tell us your character is afraid; show us his fear.

As P. Bradley Robb says, every rule has an exception.   Knowing when to show and when to tell is the sign of a writer who has learned her craft, of a writer who has found his voice.

One instance telling makes sense is when showing will slow down the pace when it is appropriate to speed it along.  It always takes more time, more words to show a thing than to tell it.  Sometimes showing can get wrapped up in unnecessary detail, relating a writer’s knowledge, knowledge that is not necessary to the plot, the scene or the character.

Another would be filling in background information, description or events that are not as important as scenes that you want to stand out, those which you will show.

It is always a case of:  Is this scene, description, character trait important enough that it must be shown? How will showing affect the tension and pace of the story?  If important showing slows down the pace too much, perhaps it is misplaced.

Back to my own novel now — hope I have shown everything at the right time and place.

The Need for Constructive “Critters”

Best intentions.  Good bloggers blog at least once a week, twice is even better.

Yes, I realize I am not one of those.  I will try harder, but guarantee nothing.

I keep discovering interesting new sites and getting sidetracked by them, and am often too lazy to get back to my blog.  One of those sites is so good I had to join it – Critique Circle.  Let’s back up a little.

I started writing fanfiction on LiveJournal years ago, and it was nice to have a “built-in” fan base, even nicer when those fans commented on how much they loved my little stories.  It can be difficult to write in a vacuum, which has always been what writers do, as writing is best done all by one’s lonesome.  On the other hand, once you decide you are serious about what you write and want to improve, “I love this story,” doesn’t give you much useful information.

Add the fact that many of us do not know how to give a constructive, helpful critique.

Enter Critique Circle.  The membership is free.  The site gives examples and templates on how to critique.  You have to give a certain number of critiques before you can submit up to 5,000 words and get critiques from other members.  Critiques are graded on how helpful they were by the writer who receives them.  This is only the beginning of all the helpful goodies that are on this site.  No, I do not own stock or make any money from Critique Circle.

I have submitted two chapters of my novel so far, and benefited enormously from the critiques already received.  Check it out.

Writing and Bowling

First, my sincere apologies for not having updated this blog for so long.  Last week we found out my husband has melanoma, and it knocked us both sideways a bit.  Today is exploratory surgery, and we will learn more.  Enough of that.

I have begun editing my Civil War novel, after letting in hide away for a couple months.  How interesting.  I word-searched the phrase “There is” for starters and received over two hundred hits.  Good grief Charlie Brown!  If there is anyone out there who does not know, this phrase, or any other form of the verb “to be” is not a good way to begin a sentence.  “There is a lot of rain blowing against the window” is so flat compared to “Rain blows against the window in torrents.”

Writing reminds me of learning to bowl when I was in high school.  My father taught me.  From the moment you hold the ball and look down the lane at the pins, you must remember to relax, let your arm fall straight down in an arc, release your held breath, left foot first, bend a little at the knees, lift behind exactly straight, look right at where you want the ball to go, keep your hand straight, thumb next to you, fingers on the side, the ball must just kiss the board, point it where you want it to go, etc. etc.  I am sure I forgot something.  Do it and do it and do it until those little synapses in your brains and arms and fingers are built and do everything automatically.  Lots of time and lots of practice.  Same with tennis, soccer, horseback riding, football.  Writing.

The Second Draft

You are ready to edit into your second draft.  First, do the mundane stuff:

  • Run spellcheck, only do not depend on spellcheck to catch everything.
  • Check grammar and punctuation
  • Look for those extraneous adverbs, particularly those pesky ones ending in “ly.”  She does not speak softly, she murmurs.
  • Delete cliches with something original.  This includes overused words.
  • Turn passive to active.  The book was not dropped by him.  He dropped the book. This also includes words like was, is and have – be more descriptive.
  • Have you varied sentence length?
  • Check for words such as like or as.  A metaphor would be better.
  • Many editors do not like the word, There, to begin a sentence.
  • Points of view should be clear.
  • Fix pronouns without clear antecedents.

The not so mundane:

  • Does your beginning have a “hook?”  Are the first paragraphs interesting enough to make the reader want to keep reading?
  • Does the ending satisfy?  You have given your readers expectations.  Have you satisfied them?  Recall the books you have read where the ending either disappointed or was “just right.”  Why?
  • Does the end of each chapter make the reader want to continue to the next?
  • Be sure you are showing, not telling.
  • Timing/pace.  Do not include information all at once.  Build intensity, then give the reader a break.
  • Are your characters’ motivations clear?
  • Use figurative language and simile whenever possible.  (Again, be careful of cliches.)
  • Stephen King came up with an idea.  If you have not beforehand, when reading through your manuscript, look for symbolism and theme.  He cites the recurrence of blood at three crucial times in his novel Carrie.  He realized how its meaning for sacrifice, virgin blood and its emotional connotations would add to the meaning of the book.  Symbol “can serve as a focusing device for both you and your reader, helping to create a more unified and pleasing work.”  He also says beware of forcing it; it should come naturally.  If it does not, do not force it.
  • Theme relates to why you bothered writing the story.  What is it about?  In your second draft, you want to make this clearer.  Focus.  If there are paragraphs, scenes, even whole chapters of your manuscript that do not relate to this theme, delete them, or save them somewhere for another story.

I will have the detail about all this in future posts.  Stay tune.

Above All Be Genuine


Child Dreaming in WindowAccording to Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Robert Olen Butler, the process of writing is not intellectual, but emotional, and it is necessary to enter our dreamspace in order to write honest, inspired fiction.

I dream a lot; our dreams dive deep into our true selves—into our anxieties, fears . . . and joys.

The photo above? That’s me, eagerly looking out the window at the world. Many pounds and wrinkles later—still searching.

I like to know what other people are thinking. I hope you will let me know. You can disagree with me, of course, but please be nice about it.