Beware The Creeping Nouns

creeping-nouns

I am reading A Writer’s Coach: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies That Work by Jack Hart. Though it is geared toward journalism,  the information is useful and inspiring for my fiction.

One sign of a skilled writer is avoiding redundancy. Mr. Hart uses the analogy of felling a a-writers-coachtree. The skilled woodsman takes efficient strokes and controls where the tree falls, but the “city slicker” hacks away, exhausting himself and endangering his neighbors.

Sharpen Your Axe

During your first draft, you don’t want to think about word choice, you just want to get your ideas down, right? But what if, some of those overused words, those pesky redundancies and expletives never got on the page? It would save you a ton of time during editing.

This Halloween, you are sharpening your axe for a monster hunt. You are hunting E.B. White’s “leeches that infest the pond of prose” and Jack Hart’s parasites that live alongside them in that pond. Once you are trained to recognize these monsters you can stop them dead before they get to your pages!

The Leeches and Parasites

leech

Leeches –

Expletives are more than the beeps we hear on TV. The word expletive also means any syllable,word, or phrase conveying no independent meaning,esp inserted in a line of verse for the sake of the metre (from dictionary.com).

Make sure to hack away at “it is,” “it was,” “there is,” “there were,” and “there are.”

Creeping Nouns are nouns that attach themselves to other nouns but add nothing but dead weight. Mr. Hart believes that if we avoid unnecessary use of “situation,” “field,” and “condition,” we could eliminate half the creeping nouns published. Here are a couple examples from A Writer’s Coach.

. . . and one source said the Cincinnati Reds manager faces a possible suspension for gambling activities.

Gambling is already the activity causing the possible suspension. Activities is redundant.

Officials are saying the combination of millions of dying trees, the seventh year of drought conditions and . . .

Drought is the condition thus conditions is redundant.

Hart’s other examples of creeping nouns you should include on your monster hunt are: field, industry, profession, concerns, event, experience, facilities, situation, and status.

Remember: these aren’t words you want to eliminate from your writing, they are words that can become creeping nouns that create redundancy when they cling to other nouns.

parasites

Parasites –

To avoid parasites, you want to avoid over using qualifiers. A qualifier is the same as a modifier – a word, phrase, or sentence element that limits or qualifies the sense of another word, phrase, or element in the same construction.(dictionary.com)

Mr. Hart calls these parasites “petty modifiers” and “needless qualifiers.” The monsters that should see the sharp blade of your axe before they mangle your writing are: rather, somewhat, generally, virtually, pretty, slightly, a bit and little.

And don’t forget the pernicious overused words: very, like and just!

Happy monster hunting and happy #Writober.

 

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About Writing: Guest post by Michael Onofrey

picture of man sitting next to his dictionary on a grassy hill writing in the park

The urge to write is what got me into writing fiction, or trying to write fiction. And by “urge” I mean a feeling that I want to write. This was what motivated me and what continues to motivate me. I don’t think this is unusual—the urge to write. A lot of people have it. But of course those numbers diminish considerably when it comes to picking up a pen or sitting down at a keyboard.

It wasn’t until well into middle age, forty-five years old, that I sat down at a keyboard with the intent of writing fiction. Of course in college (community college and then university) I wrote papers (essays and book reports) like everyone else. But that’s different than composing fiction with the intent of submitting to publications. Of course all writing counts. I’m not belittling college. I’m simply distinguishing between college papers, with the exception of creative writing classes, and fiction for publication. I think anyone who has done both understands the distinction.

Also, in college I majored in U.S. History, which is now call American Studies. So my only background and my only qualification for writing fiction was, and is, reading books, fiction mostly. But there, too, I got a late start, for I didn’t begin to read until I was in my last semester of high school (Industrial Arts major). I could hardly read. This might strike some people as strange. But it’s not strange. A lot of people coming out of high school are poor readers.

An odd set of circumstances prompted me to pick up a book. I was dating a girl from another high school, which made our dating possible because we were of very different social circles, for if we had been going to the same school we wouldn’t have gotten together. But by going to different schools neither one of us, her in particular, suffered any social embarrassment, for high school life is all about cliques. She was a half a year ahead of me, which meant she would be graduating in June, whereas I wouldn’t be graduating until the following year at the end of January.

When summer rolled around, the summer of her graduation, university life about to begin for her in September, she jilted me, which, even though I expected it, sent me into a mental tailspin. Strangely, on the afternoon of that devastating phone call I started driving and wound up in front of a bookstore. She had mentioned the titles of books during our time together and I, for whatever reason, had remembered two—The Stranger by Albert Camus and Another Country by James Baldwin. Still dizzy with confusion, I went into that bookstore and asked for those two books.

What a way to begin reading, not to mention having to look up words on nearly every page. Fortunately, as if it were a minor miracle, I was able to follow the stories, and a window flew open and there I was, looking out at a new world.

Man carrying dictionary by a lake
“I carried a dictionary and a novel everywhere I went”

I carried a dictionary and a novel everywhere I went for eight years, and when loading up a backpack every bit of weight counts. I’m still a poor speller. I still consult a dictionary often for spelling and definitions and word usage. I wouldn’t recommend getting a late start on reading, just as I wouldn’t recommend getting a late start on serious writing. Six years after I started writing and submitting, a small literary journal (Words of Wisdom, North Carolina, a publication that has since ceased publishing) accepted one of my stories.

Six years—that’s a lot of rejection. And I still get a lot of rejection. My writing is not consistent, and I don’t think it ever will be, just as I will never be a good speller nor will my vocabulary have the natural range that it might have had if I had started reading at an early age. Okay, so that’s the way it is. A lot of other people have it worse. Imagine trying to write in Aleppo, Syria.

Writing will probably never be more than a hobby for me, and by hobby I mean an activity that doesn’t generate enough money for me to live on. I wish there was another word besides “hobby.” “Pastime” maybe? But that’s even more nonchalant than hobby. If I were teaching at a college or university, I could say that publishing stories, while getting little in the way of remuneration, was worthwhile because it adds to my curriculum vitae (CV), which might serve to boost my position and income. But I don’t teach at a college or a university.man carrying dictionary by some shops

In addition to not making millions there is rejection, which is always painful. In dealing with rejection, stoicism would be a nice rejoinder. After all, rejection is part of the weather. Even the most renowned writers have had work rejected, primarily before they became famous. There are only two choices when faced with rejection: feel the pain and move on, or feel the pain and give up. This isn’t about heroics. This is pragmatism. Most stories that are submitted to a publication are going to be turned down.

I’m hardly different from anyone else. I like acceptance. I write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and submit. Rejection, rejection, rejection. After six months or so, another look, another rewrite. Revising has become fun. I don’t know why. Maybe because it presents an opportunity to play with words and sentences, as well as ideas and point of view. I do give up on stories, but I keep them on file. Now and then an idea will occur that pertains to a story I’ve given up on. I’ll draw the story up and try the idea. And then I’ll submit. Hey, all they can do is turn it down. Now and then one of those formerly dead stories will get accepted.

Also in the hash are different publications with different editors who have different tastes. Usually a rejection carries no real comment, perfunctory comments yes, but no real comments. Every once in a while, though, there is a genuine comment. Some are encouraging. But some . . . On a couple of occasions an editor has given me a totally pissed off lambasting, boredom and tedious detail cited. I guess they had had it up to their necks with that stuff, dull writing and details, and took it out on me. Or maybe they had a hangover, or maybe they couldn’t meet a mortgage payment, or maybe they were in the middle of a divorce. Yet, within that same week that same story (respective stories, but at different times) got accepted by a publication which I had deemed more reputable than the one(s) the tongue-lashing(s) came from. Highs and lows—the landscape.

man with dictionary walking by rocks

“Highs and lows—the landscape.”

 

At other times, I had given up on a story only to have it accepted after a whole lot of time by the last publication where the story was still (as it turned out) under consideration. Recently a story of mine was accepted and published by a university journal after the story went through two years of rejection and rewrites—forty-seven rejections. Why did I keep at that story? Because I believed in it. Giving up on a story or continuing with rewrites and submissions is a tricky thing, a case-by-case thing. But—I keep all my stories on file.

Favorite authors—here’s the link to my listing on Poets & Writers where I’ve listed my favorite writers: http://www.pw.org/content/michael_onofrey

About books concerning reading and writing—I return again and again to How Fiction Works by James Wood and Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (P.S.) by Francine Prose.

 

author Michael Onofrey bio picMICHAEL ONOFREY was born and raised in Los Angeles. Currently he lives in Japan. Over seventy of his short stories have been published in literary journals and magazines, in print and online, in such places as Cottonwood, The Evansville Review, Natural Bridge, Snowy Egret, Terrain.org, Weber–The Contemporary West, and The William and Mary Review. Among anthologized work, his stories have appeared in Creativity & Constraint (Wising Up Press, 2014), In New Light (Northern Initiative for Social Action, 2013), Road to Nowhere and Other New Stories from the Southwest (University of New Mexico Press, 2013), and Imagination & Place: An Anthology (Imagination & Place Press, 2009). He can be found online at Directory of Writers, Poets and Writers, and on Facebook.

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.

The Pessimistic Moustache Game: Avoiding cliche description

 

 The idea and tools

I recently read The Hollow by Agatha Christie and one simple but unique description jumped out at me.

“He came in accompanied by Inspector Grange, who was a large, heavy built man with a down-drooping, pessimistic moustache.”

I love the idea of pessimistic facial hair and it really got me thinking. What other isms could be paired with body parts to make unique descriptions? I started a list of isms to join pessimism: optimism, skepticism, nihilism, liberalism, etc. I also wrote a list of often described body parts: cheeks, eyes, lips and so on.Once I exhausted my own ideas, I did a little hunting on line and found some useful sites for more ideas. For isms check out The Phrontistery. I printed out their amazing list of philosophical isms and their definitions. For a list of cliché body part descriptions head over to obsidian bookshelf.

The game

So how do you play The Pessimistic Moustache Game? To start, one player has a list of body parts or other physical descriptions (e.g. gait, scar, laugh, etc.) and the other player(s) has the list of isms. The person with the body part list chooses a body part and says it out loud. Then the other player(s) has to match it with an ism to use as a descriptor. The person who chooses the best ism for the body part gets to choose the next ism and the other player(s) matches it with a corresponding body part.

You can add another dimension to the game by printing out pictures of people to inspire the descriptions though that might limit the responses.

My experiences

To date, this game amuses me to no end. I find the exercise challenging and every match makes me laugh. Has it improved my writing? Have I found the perfect new way to create unique descriptions? Maybe not, but I’ve only played with one other person so far and the possibilities are endless. It sure does make me laugh.

Further development

A couple days ago, I was reading In the Beauty of the Lillies by John Updike and found another very interesting phrase.

“. . . its heavy sweet smell rose around him possessively . . .”

I hadn’t thought of a smell being possessive before. And if a smell can be possessive, why not someone’s fingernails, or lips? The list of isms could definitely be expanded to include other conceptual adjectives that one would not usually attribute to body parts.

Then there is also descriptions of sensations (like smell) and perceptions. The Pessimistic Moustache Game could include matching senses to isms. What is the smell of materialism? What is the texture of postmodern feminism?

I hope you enjoy playing Pessimistic Moustache and it gets the neurons churning while you laugh and laugh. Please send me your favorite matches in the comments, so all my readers can play along.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Want More Readers?

While preparing my next newsletter, I noticed that my last one had a bunch of great information in it. I don’t want anyone to miss out, so here it is to give you a taste of what goes into my newsletters. If you like it, please sign up to get monthly installments and your free copy of Read to Write: Conflict and Suspense.

social media buttons

So many places to post content. Make it good content!

Give your readers what they want how they want it

No matter what you are publishing to the web, your readers are going to read it differently than they would a book or other type of written media.

Studies have shown (Nielsen 2006) that people tend to scan web content. They look at the title, subtitle and first paragraph and then quickly scan to the end. This has led to two ideas of content design:

Both ideas work together. The F-shape design emphasizes grabbing your reader’s attention with an exciting title, an informative sub-title and summarizing what you are going to talk about in your first paragraph.

The upside-down pyramid is a design where you put the most important thing you want to say (or the conclusion) at the top of your post and make sure everything that needs to be read is on the top two thirds of the page.

Make your content sexy

Sexy content has nothing to do with sex (unless you’re writing erotica). It’s all about reader appeal. What makes someone look at your page of content and think, I want to read this? White space.

White space? Then why write anything, right? No, the blank page isn’t sexy. The sexiness of white space is the breath between ideas, like a rest in music creating suspense.

To create white space in your content you can use:

  • titles
  • subtitles
  • bulleted lists
  • numbered lists
  • infographics
  • images
  • tables
  • videos
  • links

In other words, anything that provides useful information and breaks up the text.

Accessibility

For me, one of the most interesting sections of learning to write for the web was the discussion of accessibility. When scrambling to finish a blog post, or in the excitement of posting a video to youtube, it is easy to forget to make our posts inclusive to as many people as possible.

When posting blog posts and videos in the past, I put very little thought into the image descriptions and alternate text. I didn’t really understand the purpose off these extra steps. But they have a very special purpose.

Imagine that you can’t see. How would you know what the image looks like that the blog post references? The digital voice on your computer would read the description of the image.

Now imagine you can’t hear. The website you are looking at has a great video, but you can’t hear a word the person is saying. Adding text to your video gives this reader access.

Spending just a little extra time with accessibility tools can enhance your content and increase your readability.

SEO: Titles and Key Words

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become big business. It is how websites, blogs, people, anything, is found through a search engine on the web.  Increasing your SEO may increase your readership. How do you increase your SEO? By using the key words your readers are searching for in your titles, key words and content.

Overwhelming, right? Not anymore. Last month you learned about creating personas. You spent time researching and getting to know your readers. Now, ask each persona, What did you type into your search engine (maybe assign a different search engine to each persona–Fred uses Bing, Jenna uses Yahoo, etc.) to find this content?

This exercise changed my ideas about key words. When I first started blogging, I listed my key words for a blog post one word at a time, but when I search for things I very rarely type one word searches. Pay attention to how you search the web. Try to image yourself searching for a topic and finding your website or blog. How did you get there?

Making sure that your titles, subtitles and phrases in your content all include your key word phrases will increase your SEO.

Take Away

Even if you have taken the time to write and edit the most interesting, well-written content that you know your readers will love because you did the research and took the time to get to know your readers and your competition, you still need to present your content in a way that will appeal to how they read on the web.

Radio Inspire Me: A Fun, New (to me) Writing Exercise

My excitement with Future Learn’s Fiction Course continues. One of the exercises from week two is to turn on the radio and come up with a story or beginning of a story (500 words) based on what you hear. I was skeptical but determined to try, so I set my radio to AM and slowly moved the dial until I heard a voice. The first thing I heard was not only give the rooms of your house warmth, style, and comfort. I quickly changed the tuner to noise, so I didn’t hear anything else. The voice made me think of a door-to-door salesman and I imagined some odd things for him to be selling. I enjoyed it so much, I decided to try a couple more. By the time I developed my idea, all of my radio segments fit right in (they are in italics) and I wrote an idea for a Sci-Fi Flash Fiction story. Enjoy!

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Horace Bentley-Jaguar IV felt a bit woozy as he adjusted to the three-dimensionally rendered environment. Wiggling his toes felt real, but they wiggled inside shoes made from animal hide buffed to a glaring shine, the kind “wealthy” people had worn on earth during the times of excessive greed and poverty before the original Moon Colonies. He held a colorful beverage with small white and green spheres skewered by a tiny stick floating in the liquid. Wanting the full experience, he brought the glass to his lips. He felt a sharp tingle on his tongue, then a slight burn in his throat, but he didn’t taste or smell anything. Good try, he thought.

With his first immersed step, a warm, confident voice said, “Welcome to your new BAM-AG Home and the best decision you will ever make.” The voice reminded Horace of a strange history lesson he had once seen as a boy. A man in stiff, off-white polyester (a frightening chemical concoction that was banned on the Moon) with large green and blue horizontal and vertical stripes from shoulder to pant hem had arrived at a woman’s door and used a similar voice in an attempt to convince her that she wanted to exchange his pieces of thick, hairy floor covering for pieces of paper.

The voice of the retro-plaid coercer continued, “BAM-AG appreciates that you love your current BAM-AG Home, but with the overcrowding of the Moon Colonies, violent asphyxiation fatalities have surpassed reports of gun violence and oxygen combustion combined. That is a 600% increase over the last six years. If this trend continues, the Moon will be as unlivable as the Earth in only ten short years. But you already know that, don’t you?”

Horace nodded his head enthusiastically, pushing the gyroscopic centering mechanism of the rendering to its limits.

“Lucky for you, the same visionary company that developed The Moon Colonies understood the market and had the ability to teach me their understanding, so I can share it with you. When you purchase a BAM-AG Home you are getting the best that The Conglomerate of Corporate Super-Powers can offer. In other words, your investment is backed by the leaders you trust.”

Horace admired The Logos of The Great Leaders tastefully rendered along the mantel.

“The mind-blowing Future Tech Sensors covering every surface of your home, respond to your physical and emotional needs before you even know them yourself. The intuitive controls not only give the rooms of your house warmth, style and comfort, but also provide you with complete security: regulating oxygen levels to reduce combustion; controlling perimeter armaments in case of threat; and delivering holographic companionship and entertainment.”

The inspiring tones of The BAM-AG March began to play behind the voice bringing a tingle from Horace’s temples to the top of his scalp.

Today is the day that you need to remember those lost–not only those on Earth, but the increasing losses here on the Moon—and plan for your family’s future. Don’t wait! Act today and your BAM-AG Home will be ready when your grandchildren arrive on Mars.”

 

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Four

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe banner for episode four

Episode Four: She Only Tastes What She Wants to Taste

When we left Moxie, she was buying shoes and overheard Nettles making mysterious plans . . .

 

Moxie signed her receipt with her well-practiced illegible scribble and hurried around the side of the tent, but Nettles and his conspirator were nowhere to be seen. She didn’t have an appetite for greasy fair food, so she decided to spend the rest of her break relaxing at her tent. She enjoyed the new spring in her step as she followed the footpath. The trees and underbrush thickened around her until it was almost dark in the mid-day sun. The first couple of tents she passed were obviously new and temporary employees—small tents with no sign of life around them. The further she walked, the larger the tents and more elaborate the living space. The camp across from hers had a full wood dining area with a table, shelves, two walls and a roof.

Moxie’s tent had been set up where Sir Gerald, the missing lute player, had lived every summer for the last eight years. The entrance of her three room, eight-person tent opened to a stone patio with a rock wall with little nooks for candles and outcroppings for coffee cups or bowls. Moxie imagined him spending all of his free time wandering the area alone searching for the perfect large, flat stones to plant in his patio and collecting shiny treasures for the wall. Then she remembered Nettles had said Sir Gerald liked the wenches, so maybe rock gathering walks was how he drew in his conquests. She now saw each of the prettiest rocks as a notch in Sir Gerald’s bedpost.

Moxie dove into her complete mess of a living space. Her bags had exploded, throwing her possessions everywhere, the moment she opened them. A slight smell of musk made her think that Pearl must have stuck her with some old, used tent. She grabbed her motorcycle helmet and put it on, buckling her chin strap just to feel normal. She unburied her leather jacket and hugged its thick leather to her chest before slipping her arms into the silky lining. The smell of motor oil and the grime of the road embraced her like a friendly hug.

Moxie believed that to be the best she had to always push her boundaries. That philosophy had led to many gnarly spills, so now she lived in constant pain. Walking up and down the hills of the fair on uneven ground wasn’t helping. She set up a folding chair on the stone porch and sank into it. The sound of frogs chirping in ecstasy bounced off the trees from a distant unseen pond. She popped a couple Tylenol 3 and washed them down with a swig from her flask. The warm burn finally loosened the knot in her shoulder and she took a deep breath of clean forest air which instantly threw her into a coughing fit.

Finally feeling like herself again, Moxie took another swig from her flask and contemplated the events of the day. Sure, she was a stranger to the ways of the renaissance fair, but this place and these people seemed extra strange. She wondered what Nettles was up to. And the King and Queen were certainly worried about something. Maybe the Queen was the one talking to Nettles by the shoe tent. Or maybe it was Megan. Megan and Ryan were involved somehow. What about the angry jouster? What did the King do to make that actor so angry? Does any of it have to do with Sir Gerald’s disappearance?

Moxie caught herself imagining Sir Gerald looking similar to the angry jouster, flowing blonde mane, perfectly groomed facial hair, muscular arms and those abs. . . . Wait a minute. The jouster was wearing armor. She was fantasizing about the lead singer of Sex With Helmets. He was so hot. And she should be spending this weekend with him at Scandrum. Why Pearl, why?

 

Family of skunks

from hww.ca

Moxie’s thoughts were interrupted by a little grunt that sounded like a tiny pig under her chair. She froze when she saw the black and white critter waddle out only inches from her foot. She imagined she was a statue and held her breath. She had heard many horror stories of the consequences of startling a skunk. This place was bad enough without having to bathe in tomato juice for the next few days. The skunk sniffed and grunted along the little rock wall, circled her chair and waddled back under her tent. As it ducked under the pallets she saw a little family of eyes and noses welcome it home. Oh great, thought Moxie, not only do I have to worry about my fellow musicians, the King and Queen and a violent jouster, I get to live in fear of stepping on a skunk every time I’m near my tent. What if I have to pee in the middle of the night?

Moxie took a long swig from her flask and with a big sigh got up and left her camp. She walked down the path to the bottom of the hill near the frog pond and tromped through the woods to the back of the joust field. Her helmet protected her head and face from branches and leaves and her leather jacket protected her arms from brambles and thorns. She was thinking how well her motorcycle gear prepared her for life in the woods when she opened the door at the back of the castle.

“My lady, hast thou lost thine God given mind?” Nettles shrieked. He ran over to Moxie and tried to yank her helmet off of her head.

She pushed him away with one hand while undoing her chinstrap with the other. She calmly put her helmet under her chair and put her jacket on a trunk along the wall. “Calm yourself Nettles. I walked the back way. Nobody saw me, except a skunk and maybe some frogs.”

Nettles scowled and returned to his seat. “You were supposed to join us earlier as a wandering minstrel. Where were you?”

“I needed to buy shoes and then I needed to set up my camp. I’m sure you understand.”

“Indeed. However, you will be expected on the morrow.”

“Whatever you say Nettles.”

During the second joust, the angry knight was nowhere to be seen. He was replaced by his squire who could barely stay on his horse and yet managed to win his joust. Everyone stuck to their script and their lines were stilted and emotionless. She wondered what happened to the King and Queen. They had been such amazing actors this morning, now they might as well be wooden cut-outs. She also wondered where the angry knight had gone. The show was completely lacking without him.

She planned to ask her fellow musicians after the joust, but they were packed up and out the door as soon as the last note finished resonating. She took Nettles’s brisk “On the morrow” to mean they were done for the day, so she grabbed her helmet from under her chair and hurried out the back of the castle. She happily skipped back along the path she had made through the woods thinking that this gig was actually not that bad. Then she felt a stinging, itching sensation and noticed scratches on her arms. She had forgotten her jacket.

Moxie hurried back the way she had come. She didn’t want to give up a minute of her free time. She didn’t notice that she wasn’t alone until after she put on her jacket. She recognized the King’s voice. He sounded nervous.

“Look. I made a mistake. What do you want me to do?” he said.

She didn’t hear another person, but then something heavy scraped across the floor and she heard thuds and a crash like something or someone falling over.

Then the King begged, “Please, don’t.” She heard a grunt like someone was punched or kicked in the gut and then the King yelled, “Oh God. No.”

Then nothing, complete silence, so Moxie peeked around the wall. She saw the King lying in a heap on the ground and a dark figure at the back wall about to open the door. Before she could duck back behind the partition, the figure turned and stared through her with piercing green eyes. The figure paused. Had he seen her? Was he coming to get her? Moxie didn’t dare to look. She grabbed the lute, holding the body of the instrument to use the tuning pegs as deadly weapons. Just as she was sure the figure would be upon her, she saw Nettles.

“Lady Sharpe, what doest thou?” he said.

Moxie screamed and almost impaled him, but caught herself and put down the lute. She peeked around the corner. No one was there, except the motionless king.

Nettles followed her gaze. “What’s going on in here? Is that King Terrence?”

Nettles hurried forward and checked for a pulse. “Oh the realm is lost. The king is dead.”

“Really Nettles? This is real life. Could you stop?”

Nettles turned sharply. His green eyes bore into her like daggers. “Moxie what have you done?” he said.

 

Is the king dead? Who was the shadowy figure? Is Moxie a suspect? Tune in next time for another heart-pounding, thrill-a-minute misadventure.

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Three

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Three

Episode Three: She Only Smells What She Wants to Smell

When we last joined Moxie, she thought she had witnessed a jewel heist, but when the dust settled nothing appeared to be missing . . .

During the rest of the parade Moxie felt accosted by stench. Every few feet brought a wave of yet another foreign smell. A hint of honey or beeswax lofted over the sawdust and dirt, but was overpowered by baskets of over-ripe tomatoes as they passed the fool in the stocks. Then they passed the food booths wafting of all kinds of edibles crisping in boiling oil. Moxie could feel a coating of thick burnt fat forming in her nostrils. As they rounded the bend near the lower theater she smelled damp moss, or was it mold and fungus? And finally, the stinging she recognized from this morning as the smell of horse dung marked their arrival to the jousting field.

At this point the parade disbanded, the majority of participants preparing for their next show at one of the theaters or the town square. Some went to work a shift at a booth. Moxie followed her fellow minstrels to the castle to play background music for the joust. The King and Queen with their court continued their regal show gliding up the front steps to their thrones.

Moxie slipped through the back of the castle and took her seat. It felt good to sit. The thin, black slippers from the costumer let every sharp pebble leave a mark on her foot. She would need to find some real shoes as soon as she got a break. She removed her music from the joust music envelope and quickly looked over all of the pieces. She felt a pang in her gut when she saw a bunch of sharps and flats, but quickly recognized a simple D-minor B pattern. Once she felt sure of the music, she looked up and saw the crowd.

There were people everywhere. It looked like a tsunami of moving colors had hit the front gate and poured down the hill. Moxie was shocked. She couldn’t believe this many people would want to spend the day re-enacting the Middle Ages. From all the people in t-shirts and jeans, she realized they were actually people watching other people re-enact the Middle Ages. She couldn’t decide which was stranger.

The jousters’ introductions caught her attention. There were four knights in shining armor. Each had a squire who introduced him to the King and Queen and to the crowd. A knight on a horse with a light colored blanket had been challenged by a dark knight on a horse with a dark colored blanket. A straight forward battle of good vs. evil, but one light colored knight seemed to have lost his script and was picking a fight with the King.

When Sir Ivan was introduced to the King, he rode his horse to the very edge of the building holding his sword to the King’s nose. The Queen’s cheeks blushed. She looked prepared to leap from her perch.

“The King abuses his power,” shouted Sir Ivan. “He takes what is not of his kingdom. He does not respect the boundaries of the land and does not repay his debts.”

The King quickly stood and moved closer to the Queen. “I believe you have become overzealous in the spirit of battle. It is not I who have brought you challenge,” he said looking to the Queen for support.

“Yes, dear knight. Save thy blood lust for the joust,” she said.

“I cannot hold my tongue any longer, my lady. The King is a tyrant and his moments for this earth are at an end.” The knight lunged forward but his horse and the building kept his blade far from the King who now stood behind his throne.

The crowd gasped and rose to its feet. Moxie was enthralled. That was some incredible acting. She really believed that knight wanted to kill the King and that the King and Queen were afraid. She would never have expected this caliber of talent at a renaissance fair. This place must pay serious bank to get that kind of talent. That reminded her that Pearl had never told her what she was getting paid. In the future, she would have to ask Pearl more questions before taking a gig.

Moxie felt a kick in her calf. Nettles said, “One, Two, Three, Four.” And the first song of the joust began.

Image of jousting on horsepack

photo from prweb.com

The first joust went as expected. Moxie couldn’t watch very closely because she had to follow her music, but it looked like the good knight was hurt, but then he rallied and won. No surprise there. The second joust, however, the joust between Sir Ivan and The Black Knight, Sir Shadivan, took a strange turn. In the middle of the second run at each other, Sir Ivan took a right turn and went straight for the King. The King lunged out of the way a second before the jousting lance pushed his throne over and put a hole in the back wall.

Megan screamed to Moxie’s left. The floor shifted like an earthquake under Moxie’s chair and she worried that the building was coming down.

An announcer came over a loud speaker saying, “There you have it, folks. Wasn’t that an exciting joust? Please exit the grounds in an orderly fashion. The next joust is at 3:30. Enjoy the fair.”

“Wow,” Moxie said. “You guys really know how to put on a show. That was my kind of joust. I’ve only seen motorcycle jousting which is, of course, way cooler. But that was better than expected.”

Megan and Ryan had disappeared. Nettles laughed nervously.

“So what now?” Moxie asked.

“It be the time of the midday repast. Returnest of an hour and a half. Then we will wander the grounds playing until the second joust. Again, I wonder if thou hast read thy prepared materials.”

Moxie ignored everything but that they had a break. “Perfect. Where can I get some shoes?” Moxie held out one of her feet to display the pathetic slipper.

“The cobbler’s booth is next to my jeweler’s booth. I’m headed that way. Prithy walk with me.”

“Sounds good.”

The cobbler wanted to measure Moxie’s foot and make her custom, leather knee-high boots, but that would take a week and $600 and she needed shoes now. Her smallish feet were just the right fit for a sample pair the cobbler had on hand. They were an unattractive pea-green short boot, but they felt like hugs for her feet. Moxie hated dropping $100 for shoes she would never wear outside of this place, but she was desperate and the cobbler had a monopoly.

While Moxie waited for the cobbler to run her credit card, she smelled the sweet smell of honey and overheard Nettles, on the other side of the tent flap, talking to someone in hushed tones.

A girl’s voice said, “Went off without a hitch. No one will ever know.”

“Are you sure? She didn’t see you?” Nettles replied.

“So what if she did? Nothing’s missing.”

“Right. So when’s the exchange?”

“Don’t you worry your little head. I have everything under control.”

“Yeah like last time?” Nettles hissed. “I think I’ll take the lead this time.”

“Sure, Nettles. Whatever you want. But I think this guy could be trouble.”

“Yeah, I think he made that clear to everyone.”

“Fine. You asked for it. He said directly after second joust.”

“So where’d you stash it?”

“Where I stash everything.”

“Guess that’s convenient enough.”

 

What is Nettles up to? Are the re-enactors just great actors or is the King in real trouble? Tune in next week for another hair-raising, action-packed misadventure full of twists, turns, anachronisms and . . . skunks?

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode One

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe serial banner

Episode One

She Only Hears What She Wants to Hear

 

Moxie Sharpe felt increasingly uncomfortable as a young costumer pushed and prodded her breasts into the highest possible cleavage while tightening laces through each layer of metal holes. Pearl had messed up before, but this time was the worst.

“Take a deep breath.” The girl grabbed her reigns and yanked.

“You know I’m going to slap you once I figure out what the hell is going on,” said Moxie.

“Now I do,” she said. “Usually, this is why women pay for this costume. I’m just doing my job. Enjoy the faire, me lady.” She curtsied.

Moxie saw herself in the mirror. Damn, that girl knew how to make cleavage. “Sorry,” she said as the girl strangled her with a large necklace and handed her a claim check.

“You can keep the costume, but we have your clothes and we know where you live,” she said.

The script did not move the costumed.

The dresser whispered, “I know who you are. You are Moxie Sharpe. Would you sign my hands? Like, ‘These touched Moxie Sharpe’. Here’s a marker. I won’t tell. I mean, I will, I won’t be able to help it if you sign my hands.”

This costume rental comp didn’t make up for anything. After signing the girl’s hands, Moxie left the building cursing Pearl, human beings in general, life on any planet, the universe, and skirts. She was not costumed for the show she was prepared for and she did not walk into the world she knew. She especially did not walk into Scandrum–The largest rally for all motorcycle enthusiasts, not to be confused with Scandium the largest medieval larping excursion.

It is a fact that renaissance fairs, if well costumed, are all about great boobs and cleavage, so the pawing was not what upset Moxie. Moxie was upset because she was at a renaissance fair. When Pauline Pearl, Moxie’s mentor and seriously overworked agent, said Moxie was going to play Scandrum, Moxie jumped at the chance. She had dreamed about being the headliner at Scandrum since she was tall enough to compete in the bike-o-lympics. Her dad had taken her to the annual rally every year when she was little and she continued to go even after he split. She believed one day she would run into him and he would explain why he left without saying good-bye. She thought he would congratulate her the first time she won the bike-o-lympics, or maybe the fifth time. Now, up on the huge stage, he would have to see her. And how could he not be proud? Sure, she was only a stand in—The bass player for Sex With Helmets had crashed his Harley through the wall of the Wild Boar Saloon just three days before the largest gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts in the country. It had been all over the news—but it didn’t matter how she got there. It was the big show.

Moxie would have known something was wrong if she had looked at the music when it was sent over, but she knew Sex With Helmet’s set list. The bass player liked to bang away on open strings which made stepping in a breeze. This was important since he was also accident prone. Before this latest crash, she had stepped in when he had drunkenly stumbled into a bull and then again when he accidentally took a dangerous cocktail of controlled substances and tried out his new gliding suit. His foray into urban skydiving chipped some bricks in a downtown building and his front tooth. Luckily, the band name was a reference to the fact that he always wore a helmet. He never took it off.

Moxie also might have known something was wrong if she had been asked to provide her own instrument, or organize her accommodations, but Pearl had taken care of absolutely everything for Moxie since her first band hit the charts when she was sixteen. Moxie finally noticed something was wrong when Pearl sent a car without a trailer for her bike. Pearl explained that the misunderstanding wasn’t completely her fault when Moxie finally got her on the phone.

“I never said you were playing Scandrum. I got you the gig at Scandium before Sex With Helmets called about their unfortunate accident. I was having trouble finding you anything and then this job fell in our lap. The lute player for The—”

“Did you say lute?”

“Yes, the lute player for The Midsummer Minstrels had mysteriously vanished the Tuesday before opening weekend. They were desperate for an emergency replacement. And you seemed so excited when I called. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised by how happy you were.”

“Pearl, I don’t play the lute. Why would you take that gig. Can’t we back out and get Scandrum. I want Scandrum.”

“No. They already went with Shayla. Besides, you always tell me you can play anything with strings. A lute has strings, right? I’m really asking. A lute’s kinda like a mandolin, right?”

“Yes, Pearl. But that doesn’t make this any better.”

“You’ll be fine. Plus, that lute player might show up and you can come home. You get paid either way. It’s a cushy gig. And you love camping.”

“Camping?”

“Yes, a big fancy tent set up on pallets in the woods. It will be magical. You might even meet a wood nymph. Who knows? There could be mini-dragons.”

“You are nuts Pearl. You know that? Fine, but I’ll need a couple rehearsals.”

“The fair opens tomorrow early.” She hung up.

Pearl was known to get confused sometimes. And shiny things like motorcycles and knights in shining armor can be incredibly distracting. But Moxie had to admit she might have heard what she wanted to hear.

Moxie couldn’t get a full breath without the bodice biting into her ribs. Despite her discomfort and devastating disappointment, Moxie was surprised to feel a little excited. She wasn’t sure if she was lightheaded from lack of oxygen or if it was the bright sunlight slanting through the thick green trees combined with the dust kicked up as she walked the sawdust covered path, but she felt a little dizzy in a good way. She passed the wenches setting up their food booths along the center path and the fool setting up his slack rope at the small theater as she continued down the hill to the joust field.

The moment she reached the bottom of the hill, her nose stung and her eyes watered, her senses overcome by sweaty horse and man. She covered her nose and mouth and ran around the jousting field to the faux castle at the far side. At the back of the plywood building she gasped for air and was rewarded with the fresh scent of pine.

“Good morrow, me lady,” said a man holding the door open and beckoning her inside.

I guess my character will be mute, thought Moxie, because I am not going to talk like that.

“You must be Sir Gerald’s replacement. He’s been amiss these four days. Your lute awaits. Follow me.” He beckoned and Moxie followed.

The Midsummer Minstrels’ main job, he explained, was to entertain the king and queen during the joust, once mid-morning and once in the afternoon. They were also part of the parade in the morning and evening. Moxie was sure she would be fine during the jousts because she could read the music, but during the parades she would really be winging it.

Moxie should have known she couldn’t be mute, not even for a minute, she was too curious. “What do you think happened to Sir Gerald?” she asked.

“I assuredly do not know. Though his eye doth wandereth upon the wenches.”

“Hey, man. Can you cut the crap. The show hasn’t started.”

Moxie’s companion looked shocked. “One should express oneself in language of the day every moment one is upon the grounds.”

“Wow. My bad,” said Moxie. She sat down and picked up the lute.

The instrument was badly out of tune. The first tuning peg felt gritty and sticky. She slowly let go and looked at her fingers then held them up. “Is this blood?” she said.

What happened to the lute player? Is there something sinister lurking in the forest? Can Moxie play the lute? Tune in next week for another pulse-pounding episode of daring misadventure.

Read to Write: Conflict and Suspense

Studying conflict and suspense

My selection of books to study conflict and suspense

Improve your writing while you read

Experience Writing is all about bringing you along on the roller-coaster of my writing life. Changing my focus from my writing life to yours means I need to let you in on my plans, so you can join me, right? To do that, I typed up my plan of action for studying conflict and suspense.

Plan of attack

I consulted my notes from several books on writing and laid out a plan of questions and exercises to explore while reading a selection of novels. I included identifying conflict in character, setting, dialogue, and story beats. Each section includes exercises to apply to our writing. If you would like to join me on my quest for knowledge, or are curious to see what I came up with, you can download my action plan.

I want it button

 

Poll results show you like book reviews, so

For a quick primer on writing conflict and suspense, I recommend:

conflict and suspenes

The ideas are clear and well explained with many useful examples and exercises. I like the idea of creating a personal actors stable to audition for your characters, but did not include it in my study plan as I didn’t see that helping me with my study of suspense. I created a different character conflict chart for our action plan.

Please let me know what you think. If we find the exercise satisfying and worthwhile, I can imagine creating this type of Read to Write action plan for many aspects of writing.

Don’t forget to tune in on Sunday for the first episode of The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe. I’m excited to see what Moxie gets into. Oh, the suspense!