#FD2017 Final Days Of 2017 Day 2: Explore Your Preface

safari angel

safari angel back

I know what you’re thinking. Why is that a silly ornament? It’s a pretty angel. A nice silver ornament. But take a closer look. What’s she wearing that hat for? Is she going on safari? And what is she doing? Smashing some vines into a crescent moon? And what’s going on with her neck on the back there? And with the robe hanging down, that back is hilarious. It looks like a swan stuck in a tablecloth trying to fly through the letter O.

#vss very short story

Stacy’s prom took an odd turn when a swan, the opposing team’s stolen mascot, got loose and during its chaotic attempt to escape became entangled in the buffet table’s skirting. After pulling the snacks and punch bowl smashing to the ground, it flew through the large letter O of the Ooh La La lettering of the photo-booth. The motion-censored camera took a series of haunting photos of an angel that night–blurred by the light of her aura, of course–that made the rounds on the internet. At least if was a prom to remember.

Today’s Poetry Prompt and Poem

Today’s prompt is from the PAD Chapbook Challenge Day 23

For today’s prompt, write a preface poem. A preface is a super literary term as the term typically relates to books–usually as the opening statement or introductory remarks of a book. So I’m mildly surprised I haven’t used this prompt previously. However, I think it’s perfect for the chapbook challenge, because poets who are writing to a theme have an opportunity to write a poetic preface. Of course, stand alone preface poems are just as interesting.

I decided on my theme for my Chapbook last night, so I thought I’d tackle the preface poem today.

The Journey

In his ordinary world
Vines cover the arbor around the garden gate
He finds security in laboring from early to late
He is practical and thrifty, on the minimal he’ll skate
Thus never in a state of want

Then adventure calls
A discovery of surprise found at his feet
Questions so exciting they cause his heart to leap
Curiosity tears from scheduled promises to keep
Fear focusing his approach to love

And he would like to refuse
Ignore the nagging pull to find the answers
Turning people that he speaks to into dancers
Causing both parties to suddenly forget their manners
Making him a fish out of water

He listens to a friend
A trusted sounding board and mirror
Hoping he can make his actions clearer
As opposing forces begin to grow nearer
But he tells him it is his decision

Now there’s no turning back
He found a thief in the garage
The threat to his safety was not a mirage
He imagines a gearing up montage
His pocket knife returns to his pocket

Those he must oppose
All think he knows of their secret grave
They won’t all get the satisfaction they crave
To hold his ground he’ll have to be brave
Even as his family betrays him

He feels the darkness closing in
The lies and family secrets all laid bare
He begins to wonder if he should even care
Falsely believing his had a true love so rare
Why protect an illusion

He’s standing in rough seas
But the killers don’t know he’s lost his way
They still believe he has more to pay
They’re here to make him rue this day
He will have to fight

The mystery is finally uncovered
The meaning of the map and its origins revealed
A body to be recovered from an unmarked field
The threat of revelation no longer his to wield
The cost is death

Through sacrifice, survival
The enemies of his unknown enemies now friends
His lawn strewn with blood of lives lost to foul ends
The truth here set free forges time for amends
The physical pain will subside

He feels a need to resist
Like he should be angry at a life so unfair
But he can’t ignore that God answered his prayer
And had brought an end to this terrible nightmare
He will have to adapt and forgive

The healing waters flow
He has a new appreciation for other people’s trouble
No longer caught up in his perfect-life bubble
He feels new love; it burst through the rubble
Nothing can be the same

Editing Focus

-from Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction) by James Scott Bell.

The Character Voice Journal– Write stream-of-consciousness in the voice of your character. Mr. Bell suggests these questions to have your character talk about:

  • What do you care most about in the world?
  • What really ticks you off?
  • If you could do one thing, and succeed at it, what would it be?
  • What people do you most admire, and why?
  • What was your childhood like?
  • What’s the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?

To continue this practice, there are three questions to ask your character in the Ask Your Character section of each of the Experience Writing daily posts in November.

#FlashFicHive

Flash Fic Hive Day 2

graphic by Anjela Curtis http://anjelacurtis.com/

Looking at these options, I still needed some inspiration. I rolled my Story Cubes:

And picked a card from my Writer Emergency Packand I chose a couple of Oblique Strategies (Creativity ideas from Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt): 1. Infinitesimal gradations 2. Decorate, decorate.

So what have I got for a flash fiction story idea?

The cashier from the dollar store promises to get the decorations and plastic instruments to her hair-dresser girlfriend’s house in time for her son’s birthday party. The clock is ticking and she has to get across town. As she’s locking up, she waves to the man staring at her from the car lot across the street. He comes right at her as if drawn like a magnet and picks the flowers out of the bank along the sidewalk and gives them to her. He tells her he has admired her from afar for almost a year. Yesterday, he found out he only has a month to live and he wants to know if she will go to dinner with him to bring some joy to his final days. She feels like she has been thrown into a game of Scruples. Does she tell him the truth, that she is attracted to women and in a loving relationship, or does she bring some joy to a dying man by spending a little time with him. What could it hurt? But there is a bee in the flowers and when she politely says thank you and goes to smell them, the bee stings her right in the eye. She thinks it’s the end of the world because she is allergic and she’s going to miss the birthday party. But the man, knowing she’s allergic to bees because he watches her every day and has made it his hobby to know everything about her, has an epinephrine auto-injector and stabs her right in the leg.

Don’t Forget To Read!

In Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction) by James Scott Bell, he recommends taking notes while you read. After you’ve read the book for pleasure and thought about it, got back and make index cards for each scene. Number the cards, give the setting, what the scene is about, and what, if anything, makes you want to read on. This exercise helps burn plot and structure into your mind.

He also recommends recording your observations. Jotting down any technique you appreciate or insight you have while you read. When you see a technique, or find one in a writing book, practice it. Incorporate it into your own writing.

If you’re interested in using this technique of reading to improve your writing, grab a copy of my study guide-Read to Write: Conflict and Suspense.

What book are you reading today?

Happy Reading and Writing!

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Final Days Of 2017! #FD2017 Day 1: Creating Achievable Goals

Dancing Boa Santa

For our visual prompts this month, I thought it would be fun to share some of the odd ornaments I’ve been given and some strange things I’ve used as ornaments. If you have some strange or funny ornaments that you would like to share as a visual prompt here on Experience Writing please let me know.

#vss very short story

Santa thought a trip to New Orleans might make him feel more festive. With his new boa and sparkly pants, he couldn’t help but jiggle and jangle. Once he returned to the North Pole, the elves had to scramble to find enough glitter to fill his new demands.

Today’s Poetry Prompt and Poem

Today’s poem is inspired by PAD Chapbook Challenge Day 29

For today’s prompt, write a response poem. The poem can be a response to anything–a piece of news, some art, a famous (or not so famous) quotation, or whatever. However, I thought it might be a cool opportunity to respond to a poem that you’ve written this month. If both poems work, it could make an interesting dynamic to have two (or more) poems that interact with each other.

I went back to the first poem I wrote in November, “I Don’t Write Poetry” from Day 1: The Ordinary World. I chose a couple of lines I really like “Life is a state of constant decay
But hard work helps the end’s delay” that I thought I might use in this response poem. But now, I’m thinking I might use this prompt as an opportunity for one of my other main characters (My MC’s wife) to respond to the first poem.

The Poet Who Won’t Show It

Imagine my surprise
I didn’t realize
He’s a poet
Through his adamant refusal.

He uses lovely words
For the world he observes
As he’s working
Hard on his recusal.

My pride would but offend
Though I know it’s all pretend
His hard edges
Are all a butch facade.

But he’ll never mend his ways
Even getting mad at jays
For being lazy
In the poem he’ll never write.

Editing Focus

I’m going to start this study with Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction) by James Scott Bell. I have read this before, but not worked through it. I hope to use it as more of a workbook this time around.

Exercise 1: Pick six books in your genre that you think might be comparable to your novel . Look for similar themes. Look at your favorite author in your genre. Look at similar styles to your writing and voice in your genre. Pick six books that you think you might be able to use to say, “My story is like ___________ combined with _______________  in the style of _____________.

You can definitely choose books you’ve read before, but plan to read them a couple more times, studying different aspects.

Exercise 1: My six books
The Hiding Place by David Bell
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Evening News by Marly Swick
These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

#FlashFicHive

#FlashFicHiveDay1

graphic by Anjela Curtis http://anjelacurtis.com/

 

I’m excited for #FlashFicHive this month. After spending the month of November working on a novel, writing some flash fiction is going to be fun. I hope you will join us in creating some flash fiction goals for the month. I plan on writing my very short stories every day, but I also want to work on some longer pieces. I have one Christmas-themed flash fiction story that needs work that I hope to look at this month as well.

Don’t Forget To Read!

(made me think, “Don’t forget to breathe!”)

If you’ve been following along for a while, you may have noticed that I read many books at once.

Today, I plan to finish Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace and turn my attention to The Hiding Place by David Bell. These are both books that I picked up thinking they might be comps (comparison novels) for this year’s NaNoWriMo project. Shallow Graves started out well. I was intrigued by the premise and the main character, but then it took a turn and floundered. I’m afraid I’m only getting through it at this point. I hope The Hiding Place turns out to be much more enjoyable.

What are you reading? What are you planning to read this month?

I hope you’ll join me for a month of writing and editing in these Final Days of 2017.

Happy Reading and Writing!

#Writober Day 4: It was a dark and scary night

 

I love the eerie silence of today’s image. It screams, “Something nefarious is about to happen!” If you look very carefully, you are not alone. A person and a dog are up ahead. Are they walking toward you or away from you? Do they scare you, or will they come to your aid? I can’t wait to hear about the stories this image inspires.

#vss: very short story

The neon sign pulled me along the dark, silent sidewalk with its promise: Come Get That Action. However, the sign wasn’t meant for me. Hungry, pale lurkers awaited my arrival.

#OctPoWriMo

Today’s prompt: Between Clouds & The Water

Over at the OctPoWriMo website, today’s post poses a great question: Where does poetry hide? I think this works well with our visual prompt.

The Great Escape

Late at night on the glowing screen

Deep in cryptically labeled folders in folders

Tempests of swirling, spilled passions

Words that escaped frontal lobe prisons

Tunneling and burrowing through sewers

Risking life to leap walls

Razor-wired barriers of rules and fears

To be squirreled away for private eyes

This is where poetry hides.

 

#FlashFicHive

Retweet Storm: Post lines at a hashtag & quote-RT to #FlashFicHive

When I’m on twitter, I head over to Free Writing Events @writevent to find out about the day’s hashtag games for writers. They are a great editing exercise.

day 4 fic hive

Note: There’s a typo in the “Visit” honeycomb. It should say @writevent like my link above.

wed write events.jpg

Themes:

#WackyWed – make us laugh

#1LineWed – Light

#WFWed – Amusing

#WhyIWriteWed – Thanks

#TalesNoir – Horror/Genre mashup week

#WineWords – Smooth/Soft

#WeirdWriters – Vacation

So, there are a ton of options for publishing a line from today’s great #Writober story. Have fun sharing your lines!

While you’re on twitter, don’t forget to head over to #pessimisticmoustache and to share your isms to describe that street.

#JustCreateChallenge

Today’s image also works well with the #justcreatechallenge over at authorapril.com. Yes, I have found yet another great event for #Writober. April L. Taylor offers two prompts each day; one for writing, and one for an art project. Today’s prompts are about Setting and Perspective! Perfect, right?

 

I hope you find today’s prompts inspiring.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Twitter #Hashtags That Motivate Revision

Twitter hashtags for writers and bloggers

Create visuals like this at canva.com. It’s quick and easy.

Twitter did not appeal to me at first (or second or third). So why, you ask, would I write this post? Recently,  I find myself enjoying it more and more. There are lots of fun challenges for writers and the character limitation ends up being a great revision tool.

How Twitter can help your revision

One Word Search

Many of the writing challenges have themes. One of the challenges I did had “green” for its theme. I opened my work in progress (WIP) and typed the word green in the find bar. This brought up every instance of the word green in my manuscript. As I searched through, looking for a sentence I would like to share with fellow writers and readers, I found myself editing every single sentence. I also noticed a trend toward shiny green eyes that I probably wouldn’t have noticed otherwise–time for a game of pessimistic moustache with body part eyes. I posted:

(that’s the first time I’ve embedded a tweet. So many firsts recently here at Experience Writing )

Themes and Word Count

The reason twitter is working so well for me as a revision tool is the limited character count. Another theme I participated in was Send/Receive/Give. In my WIP, my main character wrote a poem that fit this theme perfectly. However, I could only use a small part of it within a tweet. I thought it was a great revision exercise to attempt to keep the message and feel of the poems with so few words. Here is what I tweeted:

Finished revision and ready to pitch?

The third line of hashtags in my picture is for you. Writing a pitch for your book that will fit in a tweet is great practice for creating your logline. When you’re ready to start querying agents, or are working on a new story idea #MSWL is great! Agents list stories they are looking for. This can quickly narrow your agent list to agents looking for your work.

Check out Twitter Pitching Like a Pro over at publishingcrawl.com

These are only a few ways that I find Twitter helpful to my #writingprocess. There are many more hashtags to explore and create. Have fun!

For more hashtag suggestions L.M. Pierce has a great list.

There are also many books out there about using twitter for writers. For more tips and tricks check out:
Your Book, Your Brand: The Step-By-Step Guide to Launching Your Book and Boosting Your Sales

Twitter for Writers: The Author’s Guide to Tweeting Success (Writer’s Craft Book 8)
Twitter for Authors Artists and Entrepreneurs: Social Networking for the Creative Mind

Don’t forget to enter the Gator McBumpypants Contest that ends on Friday and come back Thursday for a guest post from author Michael Onofrey.

Part Two The Worrying Wave of Weak Verbs: a cautionary tale of the murderous search for to be, to have, to do, to get, to go and to make

Action verbs

He went down the slide.
He slid. He zipped. He whooshed!

In my last post, I shared an amazing discovery, a  little book full of helpful tips called The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier by Bonnie Trenga. At the end of exploring Chapter Seven, you’ll recall I encountered a “there was” problem in my manuscript. After my battle with “there was”, I moved on to Chapter Four: The Delicious Drama of the Weak Verb. Finding specific verbs is important, interesting and sometimes fun, but I didn’t find it delicious.

In Bonnie Trenga’s words:

“Weak verbs are everyday, normal verbs we use all the time. However, they’re often repetitive, passive, wordy, or too general. These verbs frequently fail to clarify the action, and they make readers work too hard.”

Which verb does she start with? You guessed it, our friend “to be”. Along with the battle of “there was” that we discussed last time, she also mentions “it was” and “this was”. Because “there was” introduced me to my worrying workload of weak writing, I won’t linger on “to be”, but introduce you to the other worrying weak verbs and how I began to weed them out.

action verbs

He got up the rock wall.
He climbed. He hauled himself up. He tested his upper body strength.

As the title of this post suggests, other weak verbs include: to do, to get, to go, to have and to make (Trenga also suggests to occur and to use). Because my manuscript is written in past tense, I started my search for the past tense of each verb: did, got, went, had and made. When I typed “did” into the find bar in Word an astounding, heart-breaking 826 instances came back. However, a friend and fellow writer, Sherri Ann DeLost offered a very helpful tip: when typing a word into find type a space before and after it, so the results only include the word not the letters within another word (such as candid). This made a large difference bringing my did count down to a reasonable 180 or so (though many “didn’t”s may still need to be dealt with).

After seeing the staggering number of verbs in need of more specific replacements, I decided I needed lists of specific action verbs at the ready. I started with my thesaurus and found some replacements.

Did: acted, performed, achieved, executed, completed, concluded, determined, ended

Had: kept, controlled, enjoyed, held, owned, possessed, retained, included, contained

Got: acquired, gained, obtained, took, received, knew, bought, gathered, understood

Went: moved, exited, left, retired, escaped, traveled, ran, walked, passed, wended

Made: initiated, originated, started, created, produced, shaped, formed, crafted, built, constructed, fixed, readied

These are only a few examples of the words I found, but I didn’t feel like I had enough replacement verbs, so I searched online. I printed out these three lists:

http://www.westga.edu/~rmcrae/FYW/Awesome-Action-Verbs.pdf

http://www.cvisual.com/film-techniques/writer-action-verb-list.pdf

http://cdn.writershelpingwriters.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Active-Verbs-List.pdf

and here are some other lists you may find useful:

http://www.fourcornerslearning.org/TechTips/Resources/Action%20Verbs.pdf

http://www.wellesley.edu/sites/default/files/assets/departments/cws/files/complete_list_of_action_verbs.pdf

http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~cainproj/writingtips/preciseverbs.html

http://www.momswhothink.com/reading/list-of-verbs.html#verbs%20list

I created a key: D=did, H=had, W=went, G=got and M=made and scoured my lists, writing the correlating letter or letters next to the strong verb that could replace the weak verb.

With all of these active, descriptive, precise verbs at the ready, was I prepared to attack my weak verbs? Some of them.

Here’s an example from my work in progress with the verb “got”:

“Ben grabbed a handsaw and got up on the step ladder while Anna attempted to twist the branch and tug at it to help it along.”

Ben grabbed a handsaw and climbed the step ladder while Anna attempted to twist the branch and coax it along.

I found stronger replacements for hundreds of  weak verbs, but I also found new issues. Many of these weak verbs were like parasites in symbiotic relationship with other words to create a different meaning than the replacement verbs I so obsessively collected. Example:

“Went back” led me to find as many words as I could for returned.

“Had to” led to must, needed, and wanted.

“Did his/her best” to = I don’t know. I’m still working on this one.

After I worked through each of the weak verbs, examining my sentences over and over again, I thought it would be fun to do a new word cloud of my manuscript to see if this exercise had changed my overused words. I was sure changing so many “went back”s would get “back” off of my list at least. If you haven’t read my earlier post about overused words, you can make your word cloud here. Sadly, “back” was still there, but more shocking was “make”. Hadn’t I just spent an entire day replacing make?

The answer was no. I had focused on the past tense of the weak verbs and, like “there was”, led to “there is”, and “there were”, I needed to search for each of the other weak verbs in all of their variations.

“Make” presents interesting challenges: “Make any sense”, “Make sure”, “Make it look like”, “Make this work”. At least one or two “make sure”s can become “ensure”. I would greatly appreciate other suggestions.

As you can see, verb choice presents unending challenges and sparks the neurons.

This week I will be reading my entire novel for content: plot, action, consistency, etc. I will also pay close attention to whether my verb choices have changed the distinctive voices of my characters. I tried to keep that in mind as I made changes, but I’ll only know for sure after I’ve looked at the big picture. Wish me luck.

Happy Writing!

The Worrying Workload of Weak Writing Part One: the discovery of the stretched-out sentences.

Book coverOver the last two years, I thought I had read every book my local library system offered on writing: instructional, anecdotal, genre specific, technique specific–the works. Last time I went to the library, however, a cute little book I hadn’t noticed before jumped out at me: The Curious Case Of The Misplaced Modifier by Bonnie Trenga. Modifiers were part of my research for my Hemingway post and I enjoy film noir and spent a lot of time researching film noir imagery for a puzzle design of Edward Hopper’s Night Hawks (believe it or not, I created a puzzle piece shaped like a man under a lamppost). Maybe that was why I brought it home, or maybe it was perfect timing; I was finally primed and ready for the serious revision this fun, easy read hid within its pages.

Editor Bonnie Trenga has created a humorous and entertaining study of seven mistakes writers make and how to remedy them. She starts each chapter with a catchy detective story title and weakly written scene that includes the specific errors discussed in the chapter. Once the reader learns to recognize and correct the errors, she is encouraged to correct the opening anecdote. Though I chose to take the exercise to my manuscript instead, I found the book format clever and inspired.

Though every chapter is informative, I started reviewing my work in progress with the tips from Chapter Seven: The Stretched-Out Story of Wordy Writing. I thought I would breeze through my manuscript correcting a few wordy sentences and move on to changing a few weak verbs, but my eyes have been opened and my writing will never be the same.

I started by opening the find function in word to highlight “even though”. Trenga recommends changing it to although, but I found other ways to tighten the sentences as well. Examples:

“He never talked about them, but even though he betrayed them and lied to them every day, she knew that he somehow loved them and didn’t want to harm them, or leave them.”

I changed to

He never talked about them. He betrayed them and lied to them every day, but she knew that he loved them and didn’t want to harm them or leave them.

and

“Even though he held her arm, she still wanted to run away.”

became

Even with Rick holding her arm, she wanted to run away.

After even though, I took a look at “Not only . . . But also”. Trenga recommends replacing both parts of the phrase with “and”. Let’s see what I came up with:

“He felt an urge to call Karen, not only to get it out of the way, but to make sure she wouldn’t mess things up.”

He felt an urge to call Karen, to get it out of the way and make sure she wouldn’t mess things up.

“She and her husband not only traveled to all the places Anna still needed to go, but sent her postcards and the most gorgeous invites to the best parties.”

She and her husband traveled to all the places Anna wanted to go and sent her postcards. She also mailed handmade invitations to her wonderful parties.

So far so good, right? Not too many instances to tighten up. The sentences were fun to play with, but then–I typed in “there was”. The sea of “there was”s was momentarily overwhelming. I dreamed of going AWOL or lying down and playing opossum, but I battled on for you, dear future readers, for you.

Trenga recommends to delete the offender which works in this example:

“He went into the ladies’ room and happily saw there was a lock on the door.”

He went into the ladies’ room and happily saw a lock on the door.

and this one

“Now, he saw that there was a faux stone facade along the back wall with pillars and statues so it looked like an ancient Greek temple.”

Now, he saw the faux stone facade along the back wall with pillars and statues like an ancient Greek temple.

Here are some other ways I struck down and defeated “there was”:

“He had evidently put in some effort. There was champagne and chocolate covered strawberries.”

He had put in some effort evidenced by champagne and chocolate covered strawberries.

“He was surprised there wasn’t any apparent bruising on his face.”

He expected more apparent bruising on his face.

“Rick knew there was no reason for worry.”

Rick wasn’t worried.

“There was a bright red light glaring out of the front of this fabulous piece of hunting technology.”

A bright red light glared from this fabulous piece of hunting technology.

“Brittany wished there was a way to make sure she would never see him again.”

Brittany wished for a way to make sure she would never see him again.

and a fun example of the many ways to reword one sentence

“Maybe there was something to what that stupid jerk Pat said.”

Maybe that stupid jerk, Pat, was right.

So that stupid jerk Pat wasn’t completely wrong.

She refused to admit that Pat could be right.

Oh F@#!, could Pat be right?

This is a small sampling of the epic battle I fought through the night to wipe out the rampant “there was”. “There were” still awaits on the horizon with “there is” and “there will be” as reinforcements. I will fight on.

Stay tuned for my next post in which we discover that the battle with “there was” was only a skirmish–a prelude, an aperitif–compared to the war on weak verbs to come.

Reading as a Writer: Today I learned something I do NOT want to know!

Writing in a nice outdoor setting.Recently, while reading a manuscript, I came across some dialogue that looked to be punctuated incorrectly, so I made a note about it that I intended to give to the author. This morning, I got online to find reputable sources that would back my claim. To my surprise, honestly horror, I found seven different sources that said: the rule for quotation marks in dialogue, if one person is speaking continuously over multiple paragraphs, is to start the speech with quotation marks and continue to put quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph, until finally putting closing quotation marks at the conclusion of the speech. Only one source agreed with me, that if a single person is speaking, no matter how long their speech, the writer puts quotation marks at the beginning and closing quotation marks at the end.

I looked over the pages of dialogue in the manuscript again, since the overwhelming majority of style informants told me I was wrong, and I still couldn’t stomach it. Each time I saw the quotation marks at the beginning of a paragraph, it triggered new speaker in my reader’s brain. I tried to recall any memory of seeing this form of monologue before. I started tearing through the books on my shelves looking for just one other example, but didn’t find one. It looked like the characters in the books on my shelves didn’t give speeches–especially not the kind that would have separate paragraphs.

I wondered if this was an evolution of style, something new that I missed, but that wasn’t the answer: I’ve been reading a lot of current fiction lately. Those extra quotation marks just looked so wrong.

Another thing that bothered me about “the rule” was the reasoning. In all of the informative posts I read on the subject, the reason for the extra quotation marks was so the “lazy reader” wouldn’t forget that someone was talking. Honestly?  I’m supposed to put weird, out of place quotation marks within one character’s monologue–as a rule– because someone thought my readers would forget someone was talking? I’m going to go with rules, once learned, are meant to be broken.

I can’t imagine what it would take for me to put those distracting, confusing marks in my dialogue, but I now know better than to tell someone else that it’s wrong. At the moment I don’t see any of my characters giving long-winded speeches, but if they do, I’ll make sure they won’t speak in paragraphs. I do not foresee my readers ever being described as “lazy”.

Have any of you come across writing “rules” that you can’t abide? I’d love to hear about it.

Revision: The Plan and then What Really Happened

Heron in the reflection of Mt. Rainier

Reflection

Today’s revision was inspired by two things. One, last weekend at writers meet-up we were each challenged to come up with a goal to accomplish during the two weeks before our next meet-up. I announced to the group that I would have a re-write of my first chapter done. This felt like a reasonable goal as I had already presented the first page to my critique group. Two, I read a chapter in The Road to Somewhere (second edition) on reflection that inspired me to read through my first chapter and write a reflection piece.

The plan–To read through the first chapter of my novel and journal on some of these prompts:

Why did I want to write this piece in the first place? Where did it come from?

Has the original idea Changed? In what ways?

What problems have occurred in writing it? How have I resolved them? What problems remain?

What really happened–I forced myself to read through the whole chapter which was only nine pages but took a while because I couldn’t stop myself from making changes as I went. I became overwhelmed by the issues I had with it, but after some deep breathing went back and cut large chunks that didn’t move the story along and weren’t insight into the character’s motivations. I made sure to paste these chunks into a file of removed sections in case I want them later. Then I went back and rewrote page two and three of the chapter.

While rewriting, I wanted to revisit the idea of starting with chapter two, so I jumped ahead. I decided my original starting point is the correct place to start the story, but started editing the second chapter until my brain hurt. So, as with most of my writing, reflection and revision are non-linear processes. A goal of rewriting the first chapter before next meet-up may be more difficult than expected, but a good goal none the less.

Revision: Overused Words

Whole story word cloudAn important aspect of revision is the hunt for overused words. One good way to do that is to use the “Find” option in your word processor: type the culprit in the find field and see how many times you’ve used it and where it is located. Each writer has different words they tend to gravitate toward. Creating a personal overused word list will become very helpful. I know that I overuse just which I can usually just find and remove. There are many lists of overused words on the internet to help you get started. Here’s an example:

From Claire Fallon’s article in the Huffington Post:

Here are 12 words that have been so overused they really don’t mean anything anymore:

  • literally: Originally meant “in a literal or strict sense,” but is used as a more general intensifier for things that are not strictly true. Because of this, “in a figurative sense,” the exact opposite of the original meaning, has now been added to the dictionary as a definition for literally.
  • unique: Originally meant “unlike anything else,” but is used to mean “different, to some degree, from the standard or the norm.”
  • awesome: Originally meant “causing feelings of fear or wonder,” but is used as a general, positive descriptor like “great” or “cool.”
  • amazing: Originally meant “causing overwhelming surprise or astonishment,” but is used as a general, positive descriptor like “great” or “cool.”
  • totally: Originally meant “completely, in every part,” but is now used as a general intensifier, much like “really.”
  • basically: Originally meant “essentially” or “fundamentally,” but is now used as general verbal filler.
  • incredible: Originally meant “impossible to believe,” but is now used as a general, positive descriptor like “great” or “cool.”
  • really: Originally meant “actually true,” but is now used frequently as a general intensifier.
  • very: Meaning “to a high degree,” we all just need to stop using it in every other sentence.
  • honestly: Originally meant “in an honest and genuine manner,” but is now often used as general verbal filler.
  • absolutely: Originally meant “in a complete and total manner,” but is now used as a general intensifier.
  • unbelievable: Originally meant “impossible to believe,” but is now used as a general, positive descriptor.

I recently read a book that had a serious seemed problem.

“seems”
—This word weakens the sentence it is
used in. If something happens it shouldn’t “seem
to” happen it should simply happen.
                              from slcc.edu
 Thesaurus: seem
Jullianne Q Johnson said this about the word seemed: A new problem word arose, and I blame it on writing reports for a job I had working with at-risk kids. In these reports, we were not allowed to say anything like “Bob was sad,” because we didn’t know it, we were only observers. So we had to write things such as “Bob seemed sad.”  Seemed. Unless one is a lawyer or an eye witness in a court of law, seemed is a very boring word choice. My usage was under 100 times, but I axed quite a bit of them for being too uninteresting to live. If it wasn’t for my word cloud, I wouldn’t have known “seemed” was a problem.
She recommends using a word cloud to find overused words. She puts her whole manuscript into  Word it Out. I decided to try it with the first ten pages of my middle grade novel. Word cloud for first ten pages of My Monster is Better than Your MonsterThat was fun. Hitting the Random Settings button changed the colors and font and the Redraw button changed the arrangement. It looks about right. I’ll head back to my manuscript and “find” looked and like to make sure they aren’t overused.

Exploring the Senses – Finale: Using sensory information in your writing

image from asiadesignwithpurpose.com

image from asiadesignwithpurpose.com

Through this series on exploring the senses we (you and I) have explored all the major senses and more. We’ve experimented with how sensual stimuli trigger memories that can inspire writing and played with different ways to add sensory detail to our writing. Now, I want to talk about when and how to use this lush sensory information we’ve discovered.

While writing your first draft, feel free to write all of the sensory details for everyone and everything. During the rewrite however, it’s important to ask yourself: Did I add this detail because it tells the reader something important about the character, because it is an important element of the story, or just because I thought it was cool? If the honest answer is the last one, take it out. Even if you came up with the greatest way to describe the color of the sky or the smell of water, if the sensory detail is not important to telling the story, take it out. Don’t let this statement turn you away from sensory detail in any way. Most sensory details add depth to your characters and dimensionality to your settings. I solely wish to remind you to be aware of your readers. When you bring sights, sounds and smells to a reader’s attention, s/he will expect them to have importance and be let down if they don’t.

Unexpected sights: The little bunny and its surroundings looked normal at first, but upon closer examination the bunny was really a swirl of white dots, as if I could see its cells magnified in space.

Unexpected sights: The little bunny and its surroundings looked normal at first, but upon closer examination the bunny was really a swirl of white dots, as if I could see its cells magnified in space.

Creative mismatching of sensory detail is a quick cue to readers that they aren’t in Kansas anymore. A pink sky over yellow water that smells of asparagus is an instant cue that the reader is not on the earth s/he is familiar with.

Exercise: Create as many sensory mismatches as you can in 5 minutes. Use your favorite ones to imagine a place where this sensory information exists (i.e. another dimension, another planet, the center of the earth, an undiscovered land at the bottom of the ocean, under the melting ice caps, inside a future space station, etc.). Write a scene about a person experiencing this place for the first time using the sensory details you’ve created.

Inspiration from exercise: After staring at the bunny circles until it made me dizzy, I looked down, but down was no longer an option. I was separating into colorful cells, worlds within worlds orbiting each other. How did I still have my consciousness?

Inspiration from exercise: After staring at the bunny circles until it made me dizzy, I looked down, but down was no longer an option. I no longer had form. My cells now danced, worlds within worlds orbiting each other. How did I still recognize my consciousness?

I’ve enjoyed exploring the senses with you. Don’t forget to stop and smell the bad smells as well as the roses, and describe them in all their malodorous glory.

Over the next few months I’ll be working on the first rewrite of my current novel. As I work, I look forward to sharing my discoveries: what works, what doesn’t work, trials, tribulations and epiphanies. Please share your tips, tricks, suggestions, or questions along the way.