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/

 

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Can’t Get Excited About Your Scene?

I have done the worst thing a blogger can do.  Disappear.

Everything has changed.  Nothing has changed.  No one cares, I bet.

I think I have become a better writer.  I am still learning.  Maybe I can help you to become a better writer, too.  Or at least write something interesting here, mainly for the beginning writer like me.  Still beginning, though I have been at this for five years.

I am self-taught.  That means I don’t have a Masters in Writing.  I have taken classes.  I read books and blogs on writing.  I have subscribed to The Writer magazine all these years, and I study it, keep all the articles in appropriate files and refer to them often.  The Writer is one hundred twenty-five years old this year!

Notice how I wrote that number out?  Please do.  Unless your number is abnormally long, like 1,346, or a year, or . . . it’s best to check a good dictionary, which will tell you which numbers should be written out.  If you don’t have one, get one.  Get a good thesaurus, too.  Don’t depend on an on-line synonym guide.

Today the most important thing I learned was:  If you can’t get excited about writing a scene, don’t write it.  If you aren’t excited about writing it, your reader won’t be excited about reading it.  Why did it take me all this time to figure that out?

It’s important information I have to get across to the reader.  The character, in this case, She, thinks about a past instance that began her life search for information about her mysterious family.  She can’t her mom or anyone to talk about it, so she’s going to get her best friend, He, to help her.  Boring to write, boring to read–all those thoughts, and where do I put her while thinking them, etc., etc., etc.?

Put this stuff in the action, in the dialogue.  Bit by bit it comes out when She explains to He why She needs his help.  Simple, huh?

Readers like dialogue more than description.  Readers like action even more.  Add a little action to your dialogue.  Put some conflict in there, too.  Voila–it’s no longer boring.  It was fun to write, too.

Where do you put your boring stuff to give it punch?

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.

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.

The Book is Dead

“There are also the people who say, quite rightly, that writing and publishing a “real” book is still the big dream, and people will keep chasing that dream no matter how much we all argue that the book is dead, that times have changed, that no one reads any more, etc.”

This excerpt is taken from Jane Friedman’s blog (Writer’s Digest), and I suggest you read the rest of her post here.

I realize I am not posting what I said was next, but I have been reading so much about the future of publishing all over the web, that I thought writers ought to be aware of what is going on out there in the publishing world.  The state of the economy is only making the transition to digital publishing happen sooner rather than later.  Here is what I have been discovering:

It is cheaper for a reader to buy a digital book than a printed one.  That is a fact.  People in third world countries, people with less than many of us in developed countries, are getting access to the web and to the ability to read digital books.

It is also cheaper for publishers to publish digitally.  The quality of the writing of digital works has improved.  Many magazines that publish only on the web are getting as much respect as anything published on paper.

Barnes & Noble has just developed their own digital reader with more books available than Kindle.  Apple has announced their development of a digital book reader.

We are in a major transition period of which you must be aware if you want to publish.  If you are writing a novel, short stories or poetry, you cannot ignore the web or eBooks.  This includes marketing yourself and your writing.

Stay tune.