#FineArtFriday: Street Scene on a Rainy Day by Francesco Miralles Galup (ca. 1891)

What I love about this painting:

We see a perfect rainy spring afternoon in a busy cosmopolitan city. It could have been any large city at the end of the 19th century. The street is busy, full of carriages, and pedestrians must be careful where they step.

A cart full of flowers passes in the background, headed for the market. Two well-dressed ladies dodge puddles in their effort to cross the street. Around them, shoppers gossip and umbrellas abound.

Like every chihuahua I’ve ever known, the little dog is miserable, unhappy with the damp.

 

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Francisco Miralles Galup was born Francesc Miralles i Galaup (6 April 1848, Valencia – 30 October 1901, Barcelona). He was a Catalan painter, best known for his realistic scenes of bourgeois life and high society.

When he turned eighteen, he received parental permission (and financial support) to study in Paris, where he would remain until 1893, with occasional visits home. During his first years there, he copied masterworks at the Louvre and may have worked briefly with Alexandre Cabanel. He eventually had several small studios in Montmartre and on the Rue Laffitte.

He exhibited regularly at the Salon and the Sala Parés, back home in Barcelona. He also became a client of the well-known art dealership Goupil & Cie, attracting wealthy buyers throughout Europe and America. This was a relief to his family, who had initially been concerned that they might have to support him indefinitely. Their ability to do so had been compromised as they had lost much of their fortune in the Panic of 1866 and were losing more of it as they paid off their debts. In fact, they eventually moved to Paris so he could help support them.


Credits and Attributions:

Escena de carrer c1891, Francisco Miralles Galup / Public domain

Wikipedia contributors, “Francesc Miralles i Galaup,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Francesc_Miralles_i_Galaup&oldid=894995022 (accessed February 28, 2020).

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Self-Editing: Looking at Paragraphs and Sentence Length

I was recently asked how long sentences should be. There is no hard and fast rule, but opinions abound, so I will offer you some things to be considered in the editing process.

Let me say first that sentence length is a matter of the author’s personal style. Some of us write long sentences strung together with commas, and others break things out into shorter, more concise packets of information.

If you are familiar with the rules of punctuation and use your commas wisely, longer sentences will flow well.

If you’re unsure of how to use commas, and simply put them anywhere you pause, or take a breath, you’ll have a long, convoluted mess on your hands, similar to this sentence.

In writing genre work, we consider the age and reading experience of our intended reader. Generally speaking, for younger readers, we use shorter sentences and a narrower vocabulary.

For older readers who read in a wide variety of genres, compound sentences and a wide vocabulary pose no problems.

In the final chapter of his novel, Ulysses,  James Joyce enters the head of Molly Bloom. He spews an internal dialogue that runs on for more than 24,000 words with only ONE punctuation mark. The final paragraph of the book goes like this:

“…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. “

As a side note, I had to take a college class in order to read and enjoy James Joyce’s work. Most of us hope our work won’t require a reader to take a college-level course to appreciate it.

Sentence length becomes problematic for most readers when:

  • The sentence contains numerous clauses
  • The clauses are unrelated.
  • The sentence runs on and on and on.
  • The author uses little or no punctuation.

Several factors affect sentence length. Commas and the fundamental rules for their use exist for a reason. If we want the reading public to understand our work, we need to follow them.

Commas join two independent clauses. The independent clause is a complete stand-alone sentence. Sometimes, if sentences are too short, our work becomes choppy.

  • Greg worships the ground I walk on. His adoration never tires me. (Two sentences)
  • Greg worships the ground I walk on, and his adoration never tires me. (One compound sentence)

Dependent clauses are unfinished sentences and can’t stand on their own. They should be joined to the sentence with a conjunction.

  • Greg worships the ground I walk on and brings me my coffee.

You do not join unrelated independent clauses (clauses that can stand alone as separate sentences) with commas as that creates a rift in the space/time continuum: the Dreaded Comma Splice:

Comma Splice: Greg kissed the hem of my garment, the dog likes to ride shotgun.

The dog has little to do with Greg, other than the fact they both adore me. The same thought, written correctly:

  • Greg kissed the hem of my garment.
  • (New paragraph) The dog likes to ride shotgun.

Would it be better if we used a semicolon? No. A semicolon in an untrained hand is a needle to the eye of an editor.

The dog riding shotgun is an independent clause and does not relate at all to Greg and his adoration of me.

Semicolons join independent clauses that could stand alone, but which relate to each other.

I recommend you avoid joining more than two clauses. Even when an author uses semicolons correctly, they can create some lo-o-o-o-ong, run-on sentences. Sentences comprised of more than twenty to thirty words can be difficult to slog through.

Sentences all become paragraphs, whether they are comprised of one sentence or several.

Paragraphs are not just short blocks of randomly assembled sentences. A paragraph is a group of sentences that fleshes out a single idea. That means that only one thought or speaker is featured in each paragraph.

The rules are simple:

  • Present a single idea per paragraph.
  • Present the dialogue and reactions of only one person per paragraph.
  • Present the viewpoint of one character per paragraph.

All through her book, Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones wrote two points of view into one paragraph. The story is brilliant, but that habit made the dialogue very difficult to follow in some places.

A paragraph done wrong:

Ron said, “You cheated on me.” Jamie clutched his arm. “I don’t want to lose you.” He pulled away. “You disgust me.”

That’s a confusing passage, but it doesn’t have to be. Three ideas are explored there: Ron’s accusation, Jamie’s guilt and fear of losing him, and finally, Ron’s disgust.

Ron said, “You cheated on me.”

Jamie clutched his arm. “I don’t want to lose you.”

He pulled away. “You disgust me.”

While it makes for short paragraphs, you must break out Jamie’s reaction. One thought, one point of view per paragraph, no matter how short that makes it.

In English, a good paragraph agrees with itself. It is logical, and the central idea it contains is developed.

Sometimes, we will end up with long paragraphs. In a paper book, paragraph length isn’t as much of a problem as in an eBook. I’ve noticed that versions of eBook novels containing long paragraphs tend to appear as page after page of an unbroken wall of words.

That can be confusing, and the reader may decide to move on to a different book.

Thus, for a manuscript that you intend to publish as an eBook, consider dividing long passages at logical places, using two paragraphs to explore the idea. This is especially a problem when the paragraph contains a long section of internal dialogue, which is frequently written in italics.

Each author writes differently. Both sentence length and paragraph length are individual, part of the fingerprint that is the author’s voice. If longer sentences are your style, by all means, write them.

I no longer use as many compound sentences as I once did. Those who have read my earlier work are grateful for that gradual change.


Credits and Attributions:

Quote from Ulysses, by James Joyce, published 1922 by Sylvia Beach

Wikipedia contributors, “Ulysses (novel),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ulysses_(novel)&oldid=777540958 (accessed May 7, 2017).

Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones, Tim Stevens, Illustrator, Greenwillow Books (US), Methuen (November 1986) Fair Use.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 February 2020, 02:23 UTC, <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Howl%27s_Moving_Castle&oldid=941685495> [accessed 25 February 2020]

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Self-editing: ensuring consistency #amwriting

Today I’m continuing a series on self-editing that I began on February 12, Revisions: Self-Editing.

The revision process is where some of the worst errors that can mess up a manuscript are committed. This is because making changes on a large scale within your manuscript is a tricky job at best. Ensuring consistency requires focus, the ability to be meticulous, and an eye for detail.

Good editors have these qualities, but if the services of a good editor are out of your financial reach, you must find a way to self-edit and still come out with a literate manuscript that flows well and engages the reader.

A tool I have mentioned before in this series is the style sheet.

In 2012, after reading the first chapter of my raw manuscript, my editor asked me for a style sheet. She was disappointed but not surprised to find I didn’t know what she meant.

My work was so uneven that it was clear I had never listed my made-up names. Things evolved as I went along. I forgot how I spelled that one minor character’s name in the one scene where it was mentioned. However, at the midpoint of the novel, the character had an important role and a slightly different spelling.

This happens because fundamental things sometimes change as we are going along in our first draft:

  • Character names evolve.
  • Place names evolve.
  • A different character becomes the protagonist—it may be someone you initially thought was a sidekick.

These adjustments happen because we realize something isn’t logical, make the changes, and move on.

Unfortunately, we’re only human and don’t always catch all the places we needed to change.

Once my editor pointed this out to me, I put together a comprehensive list of how I wanted to spell the names of every person, place, and creature in my novel.

Even though I spent several days doing this, the editing process was slow and agonizing because I didn’t catch half the words.

What the style sheet should cover:

All names, created or not: Aeos, Aeolyn, Beryl, Carl, Edwin, etc.

Real and created animal names: alligator, stinkbear, thunder-cow, waterdemon

Created words that are hyphenated: fire-mage, thunder-cow

All place names, real or created: Seattle, Chicago, Ragat, Wister, Sevya, Arlen, Neveyah

Some authors use a program called Scrivener, which apparently assembles all that information for them and does magic tricks to boot.

I’m happy for those who have figured it out, but be warned, there is a large learning curve if you go that route.

Frankly, Scrivener was a waste of money for me because my mind doesn’t work the way Scrivener does, and I became quite frustrated with it.

For me, it’s simpler to copy and paste my words into a spreadsheet or document labeled with the book or series title and the words style sheet, such as Bleakbourne_style_sheet.xls.

You don’t have to be fancy unless you want to. Google docs, Open Office, and MS Office all offer perfectly good word processing programs with both documents and spreadsheets, and all you need is to keep a simple list of people, places, and things.

I keep this document open while I am writing a first draft and try to be scrupulous about listing every name, place, animal, and hyphenated word.

In cases where your characters are traveling, you might need a simple map. I get fancy because I’m a wannabe artist, but you don’t have to. All you need are lines with north and south listed, and the names of towns and other places that have parts in the story.

But how do we make these corrections in our manuscript? We do what is called a global search.

I open MS Word, which is my word processing program, and do it this way: With your mouse or stylus, highlight the word you want to find every occurrence of. On the far right of the home tab, click ‘find.’ This will open the navigation pane.

Or, on your keyboard, press the ‘ctrl’ key and the ‘f’ key at the same time. This is the keyboard shortcut to the navigation pane.

With that word automatically highlighted, you have a choice to make: is it a word you want to delete or replace?

First, you must understand that you are about to embark on a boring, time-consuming task.

If you get hasty and choose to “Replace All,” you can inadvertently ruin your entire manuscript. I’ve used the following example before, but it bears repeating:

Your writing group tells you that you overuse the word “very.” You decide to simply eliminate every instance of the word “very” because that seems like the most logical way to resolve the problem quickly.

So, you open the navigation pane and  the advanced search dialog box. In the “replace with” box, you don’t key anything, thinking this will eliminate the problem. You then hit “replace all.”

Don’t do it.

Please.

Every, everyone, everything—you get the idea.

Every word in the English language is made up of a selection of letters chosen from only 26 letters. These letters are used in many combinations, with different meanings. Before you click “replace all” consider how many common words have the letters h-a-s in their makeup:

  • hasty
  • chase
  • chastity

Trying to cut corners in the editing process can easily mess things up on an incredibly large scale. Looking for weak words and phrasing is a time-consuming task.

Things to look for and possibly delete or change:

  • Any kind of qualifier or quantifier: just, a little, a bit, somewhat—these are words that show indecision. Active prose should not be indecisive.
  • Action-stopping words: started to, began to— these are word combinations that slow and stall the action. They are passive, so if you want to write active prose, go lightly with them. Your characters shouldn’t begin to move. Have them move and be done with it.
  • words that end in the letters ly: probably, actually, sympathetically, magically … etc. These are weak, telling words. It takes thought and intention to show what you mean rather than telling it.

Examine the eight forms of the word be. Decide if they are useful or not in the context you are using them.

  1. be
  2. was
  3. were
  4. been
  5. being
  6. am
  7. are
  8. is

Weak combinations using forms of be that you should look twice at:

  1. was being,
  2. has been,
  3. had been,
  4. is being,
  5. am being

Why do we look at each instance of weak word combinations? Sometimes the words and combinations I’ve noted in this post have a purpose, which is why they remain currently in use.

We may need them to make a certain point in conversations, but in the narrative, your prose is often stronger without them. That and very can easily become crutch words, bloating and fluffing word count.

Once you see the magnitude of what the editing process involves, you realize that most editors don’t charge enough money for the amount of work involved in doing the job right. However, while the process of self-editing is time-consuming and requires diligence, it is doable.

Don’t underestimate how savvy and smart your readers are. You can’t cut corners, and you can’t let small things slide.

Passionate readers care about the quality of what they purchase. We should take pride in the quality of what we publish.

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#FineArtFriday: Roland à Roncevaux, by Gustave Doré

Roland at Roncevaux, by Gustave Doré (b 1832 – d 1883)

Date: 19th century

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 149 cm (58.6″); Width: 114 cm (44.8″)

Collection: Private collection

What I love about this image:

First of all, this shows the battle as being dark, ugly, and doomed, which history tells us, it was.

Doré chose to illustrate a historic battle that took place in the year 778. However, he painted a heroic image of Roland, surrounded and his unbreakable sword held high. This is as the battle was portrayed three centuries later by medieval authors whose embellishments were romanticized fantasies rather than accurate historical descriptions.

About the Artist:

Paul Gustave Louis Christophe Doré, born 6 January 1832 –  died 23 January 1883, was a French artist, print-maker, illustrator, comics artistcaricaturist, and sculptor who worked primarily with wood-engraving.

Doré was famous for his highly detailed, romantic engravings of heroic classical literature and also the Bible. His illustrations are still considered to be among the finest ever produced.

What he is not as well-known for are his paintings, which are both detailed and vivid, and portray a wide variety of subjects.

About the Story of Roland

The story of Roland’s death at Roncevaux Pass was embellished in later medieval and Renaissance literature. The first and most famous of these epic treatments was the Old French Chanson de Roland of the 11th century.

Two masterpieces of Italian Renaissance poetry, the Orlando Innamorato and Orlando Furioso (by Matteo Maria Boiardo and Ludovico Ariosto), are further detached from history than the earlier Chansons, similarly to the later Morgante by Luigi Pulci. Roland is poetically associated with his sword Durendal, his horse Veillantif, and his oliphant horn.

Roland also appears as a sometimes tragic hero in some Arthurian legends, and many Norse and Germanic tales.

The true history of Roland’s Demise at Roncevaux (via Wikipedia):

The Battle of Roncevaux Pass (French and English spelling, Roncesvalles in Spanish, Orreaga in Basque) in 778 saw a large force of Basques ambush a part of Charlemagnes army in Roncevaux Pass, a high mountain pass in the Pyrenees on the present border between France and Spain, after his invasion of the Iberian Peninsula.

The Basque attack was a retaliation for Charlemagne’s destruction of the city walls of their capital, Pamplona. As the Franks retreated across the Pyrenees back to Francia, the rearguard of Frankish lords was cut off, stood its ground, and was wiped out.

Among those killed in the battle was a relatively obscure Frankish commander, Roland, whose death elevated him and the paladins, the foremost warriors of Charlemagne’s court, into legend, becoming the quintessential role model for knights and also greatly influencing the code of chivalry in the Middle Ages.

There are numerous written works about the battle, some of which change and exaggerate events. The battle is recounted in the 11th century The Song of Roland, the oldest surviving major work of French literature, and in Orlando Furioso, one of the most celebrated works of Italian literature. Modern adaptations of the battle include books, plays, and works of fiction, and monuments in the Pyrenees.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Gustave Doré – Roland à Roncevaux.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Gustave_Dor%C3%A9_-_Roland_%C3%A0_Roncevaux.jpg&oldid=369725623 (accessed February 20, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “Gustave Doré,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gustave_Dor%C3%A9&oldid=939834558 (accessed February 20, 2020).

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Revisions and Self-editing: repetition and inconsistency #amwriting

I just finished reading book two of a three-part sub-series, set within a larger 21-book series. I enjoyed it but would have liked it more had the protagonist not repeated his back story aloud every time he was asked. That was a flaw that ran deep into book three. All that repetition just padded the word count.

All through this 21-book series, numerous proofing errors and random cut-and-paste-mistakes make it clear to me that few people other than the author see these manuscripts, and they aren’t professional editors. Yet, his work sells because he has marvelous characters and compelling storylines. He is now putting out four or more books a year and is published by TOR.

The Big 5 publishing giants are just as tempted to rush a manuscript to publication as we indies are, and editing sometimes falls by the way. However, if an indie publishes work as badly edited as that, the entire indie community suffers abuse.

Since the large publishing houses aren’t doing editing the way we always thought they did, it’s up to us to find the flaws before we submit our work to them or publish it ourselves.

When we lay down the first draft, the story emerges from our imagination and falls onto the paper (or keyboard). Even with an outline, the story is forming in our heads as we are writing it. While we think it is perfect as is, it probably isn’t.

The revision process is about far more than merely grammar and word placement. It is about making sure the story arc doesn’t flat-line.

Those who regularly read my blog know that I frequently repeat an idea, phrased just a bit differently further down the post. My elderly brain seems determined to make that point, no matter what. We all do this in our first drafts, and very few things are more “first draft” than a blog post.

Inadvertent repetition causes the story arc to dip. It takes us backwards rather than forward.  What I have discovered in my own work is that the second version of that idea is usually better than the first.

Last week, in my post called Revisions: Self-Editing, I talked about the way I do my revisions, how I try to get an unbiased view of my work. Basically, I print out each chapter. Beginning with the last paragraph on the last page, I work my way forward with a yellow highlighter.

Then I put the corrected copy on a recipe stand beside my computer and make the revisions in a new file. (I never delete the old files, because we never know when we might need something we have already written.)

Here are a few things that stand out when I do this:

  • Repetition of entire ideas, each instance worded slightly differently.
  • Inadvertent shifts in the spelling of names for people and places, such as Dyljan becomes Dyjan. (Keeping a style sheet of how names and created words are spelled and doing a global search for each before publishing resolves that.)
  • Places where I have contradicted myself, such as a town being north of the main character’s location, but they travel south to get there. Making a simple hand drawn map resolves the location problem if you remember to look at it.
  • Punctuation errors and missing quotation marks also stand out when printed.

The style sheet can take several forms, but it is only a visual guide to print out or keep minimized on my desktop until it’s needed. I copy and paste every invented word, hyphenated word, or name the first time they appear in my manuscript, and if I am conscientious, I’ll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale.

My editor is grateful that I make this list so that she doesn’t have to.

All the lists of words and things to look for, all my knowledge comes from having worked with editors who are passionate about writing. Many years ago, Maria gave me the list of weak words to watch for.

Carlie trained me out of using “that” as a crutch word.

Irene trained me to notice my inadvertent shifts in spelling and to love how grammar works. She kindled my desire to learn more about the craft.

Alison trained me not to be so thin-skinned and self-important.

If you have the resource of a good writing group, you are a bit ahead of the game. I suggest that you run each revised chapter by your group and hear what they have to say. Some of what you hear won’t be useful, but much will be.

And yes, you will have to make more revisions. I have discovered that the real work of writing comes after you have written the story.

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The Author’s Voice: Word Choice and Placement #amwriting

We are drawn to the work of our favorite authors because we like their voice. An author’s voice is the unique, recognizable way they choose words and assemble them into sentences.

With practice, we become technically better at the mechanics (grammar and punctuation) but our natural speech habits shine through. Voice is how we bend the rules and is our authorly fingerprint.

When we begin the editing process with a professional editor, most will ignore the liberties we take with dialogue but will point out our habitual errors in the rest of the narrative.

Many times, what we want to say is not technically correct, but we want that visual pause in that place, in that sentence. Casual readers who leave reviews will have gained some understanding of grammar but if your voice is consistent, they will accept your choice. However, they will notice inconsistencies and illiterate writing.

This is why the process of editing is so important. Knowledge of the mechanics of writing is crucial. If you don’t understand the rules, you can’t break them with authority. (For the first part of this series, see my post Revisions: Self-Editing.)

Consider Raymond Chandler’s dismay when he discovered his grammar had been heavily edited by a line editor and then published without his input in the corrections:

“By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.”  – Raymond Chandler, in a letter to Edward Weeks, Editor of The Atlantic Monthly, dated 18 January 1947. (Read the letter in its entirety here.)

When we self-edit, we don’t have to wrestle for control of our work, true. But I have to be honest—I have worked with many editors over the past ten years, and only one tried to hijack my manuscript.

What is the mood you want to convey with your prose? Where you place the words in the sentence greatly affects the mood. Active prose is Noun-Verb centric. Compare these sentences, two of which are actively phrased, and two are passive. All say the same thing, and none are “wrong.”

I run toward danger, never away.

I never run away from danger.

Danger approaches, and I run to meet it.

If it’s dangerous, I run to it.

Can you tell which are passive and which are active? Which phrasing resonates with you? Could you write that idea in a different way?

Where we choose to place the core words, I run to danger, changes their voice but not their meaning. The words we choose to surround them with changes the mood but not their meaning.

Other ways to use the core concept of I run to danger:

Danger draws me. I race to embrace it, to make it mine.

If it’s dangerous or stupid, I will find it.

Danger—who cares. Running away is stupid; it always finds you. Meet it, grab it, and make it yours.

I saw him, and in that moment, I knew I’d met my destiny. He was the embodiment of danger, and I wanted him.

We could riff for half an hour on just four words, I run to danger. Each of us will write that idea with our own brand of brilliance, and none of us will sound exactly alike.

One of the things we must look at in our work is consistency. Is our narrative comprised of a smooth pattern? We don’t want our work to be jarring, so we want to think push, glide, push, glide.

Once you have established the mood you are trying to convey, look at how you have placed your verbs in the majority of your sentences.

Some are: noun – verb – modifier – noun. I run to danger when I see it. (Active)

Some are: infinitive – noun – verb –  modifier – noun. When I see danger, I run toward it. (Passive)

NOTE: PASSIVE VOICE DOES NOT MEAN WRONG!

Good writing is about balance. How we combine active and passive phrasing is part of our signature, our voice. By mixing the two, we choose where we direct the reader’s attention.

Some work you want to feel highly charged, action-packed. Genres such as scifi, political thrillers, and crime thrillers need to be verb forward in the way the words are presented. These books seek to immerse the reader so more sentences should lead off with Noun – Verb, followed by modifiers.

If you clicked on the link and read Raymond Chandler’s letter in full, you will see it is aggressive and verb-forward, just the way his prose was.

In other genres, like cozy mysteries, you want to create a sense of comfort and familiarity of place with the mood. Perhaps you want to slightly separate the reader from the action to convey a sense of safety, of being an interested observer. You want the reader to feel like they are the detective with the objective eye, yet you want them immersed in the romance of it. To do that, you balance the active and passive sentence construction, so it is leaning slightly more toward the passive than a thriller.

Weak prose makes free with all the many forms of to be (is, are, was, were).

  • He was happy.
  • They were mad.

Bald writing tells only part of the story. For the reader to see and believe the entire story, we must choose words that show the emotions that underpin the story.

To grow in the craft, we learn to convey what we see through words.

Passive voice balances Active voice. It is not weak, as weak prose holds the reader away from the immediacy of the experience, and when active prose is interspersed with passive, it does not.

Voice is defined by word choice, and Passive or Active prose is defined by word placement, not how many words are used.

Weak prose usually uses too many words to convey an idea. So, we want to avoid wordiness no matter what mood we are trying to convey.

  • One clue to look for is the overuse of forms of to be, which can lead to writing long, convoluted passages.

How many compound sentences do you use? How many words are in each sentence? Can you see ways to divide long sentences to make them more palatable?

A wall of words turns away most readers. Look at your style, as you work your way through your revisions, and see what positive changes you can make in how you consistently phrase things.

Take a short paragraph from a work in progress and rewrite it. Try to convey that thought in both passive and active voice. Then blend the two. You might learn something about how you think as a writer when you try to write in an unfamiliar style.

The following is a  list of words I habitually use in a first draft and then must look for in my own work. I look at each instance and decide if they work as they should or weaken the sentence. If they weaken the prose, I change or remove them.

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#FineArtFriday: View of Delft by Johannes Vermeer ca.1661

View of Delft by Johannes Vermeer

Genre: cityscape

Date: between circa 1660 and circa 1661

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 96.5 cm (37.9″); Width: 117.5 cm (46.2″)

What I love about this painting:

The scene is as clear and sharp as if it were viewed through an open window. The colors are both bright and muted–true to life. The red of roof tiles contrast with the blue of both the sky and a blue painted shingle roof. The reflections on the water, the people on the shore show us a lovely morning in the Netherlands.

Vermeer is considered the master of light, and indeed, the quality of light in all his works is remarkable. The shadowy reflections on the dark, still waters look as real as a photograph.

About this Painting, via Wikipedia:

View of Delft  is an oil painting by Johannes Vermeer, painted ca. 1660–1661. The painting of the Dutch artist’s hometown is among his most popular, painted at a time when cityscapes were uncommon. It is one of three known paintings of Delft by Vermeer, along with The Little Street and the lost painting House Standing in Delft. The use of pointillism in the work suggests that it postdates The Little Street, and the absence of bells in the tower of the New Church dates it to 1660–1661. Vermeer’s View of Delft has been held in the Dutch Royal Cabinet of Paintings at the Mauritshuis in The Hague since its establishment in 1822.

The technical analysis shows that Vermeer used a limited choice of pigments for this painting: calcitelead whiteyellow ochre, natural ultramarine and madder lake are the main painting materials. His painting technique, on the other hand, is very elaborate and meticulous.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “View of Delft,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=View_of_Delft&oldid=933182285 (accessed February 14, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Jan Vermeer van Delft 001.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Jan_Vermeer_van_Delft_001.jpg&oldid=338278968 (accessed February 14, 2020).

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Revisions: Self-Editing #amwriting

Nowadays, all authors are financially responsible for getting their manuscript revised, edited, and proof-read, even if they intend to go the traditional route. Editors for the large publishing companies have a landslide of work to pick from, so they aren’t going to accept unedited messes, no matter how good the story is.

Hiring an editor is not cheap. Freelance editors are in business for themselves and must be paid for their work. Therefore, a 70,000 word manuscript can cost from around $700.00 or more to have edited, depending on the services you want.

An editor spends many hours combing the manuscript, so if you break their fees down to an hourly wage, they probably aren’t charging enough.

I always recommend that authors hire an editor if they can, because our eyes may skip typos and autocorrect errors in our own work. Those who are regular readers of my posts know that I am horrible at catching my typos and other errors.

We overlook the flaws in our work because we are as immersed in visualizing the scene as we were during the moments when we first wrote it. Our eyes see what we imagine to be there, rather than the typos or missing words.

Many editors offer a service called Beta Reading at a much more affordable price. Beta reads are helpful in identifying areas you may want to revise.

If you’re a member of a writers’ group, you have a resource of people who will beta read for you at no cost. As a member of that critique group, you will read for them too.

Be careful how you phrase your comments on their work. Be accurate and find positive things to point out as well as areas that need work. If you are harsh and dismissive, your work will receive that treatment in return.

Regardless, if you intend to publish what you write, you are responsible for making the line edits in your work.

If you are unable to afford a full professional edit, there is a way to make a pretty good stab at revising your own manuscript. However, it is time consuming, which is why an editor’s services are not cheap.

Open your Manuscript.

Break it into separate chapters by copying and pasting each individual chapter to a new document. Doing this preserves the original manuscript, and breaks it down into manageable chunks.

Save the chapters in a new file labeled with the word ‘revisions.’ For a current work-in-progress, I would label this new file: Barons_Hollow_revisions_02-12-2020

Clearly and consistently label each chapter. Make sure the chapter numbers are in the proper sequence, and that they don’t skip a number. For a work in progress, Baron’s Hollow, I labeled my individual chapter files this way:

  • BH_ch_1

Print out the first chapter. Everything looks different printed out, and you will see many things you don’t notice on the computer screen.

  • Turn to the last page. Cover the page, leaving only the last paragraph visible.
  • Starting with the last paragraph on the last page, begin reading, working your way forward.
  • Look for typos and garbled sentences.
  • With a yellow highlighter, mark each place that needs correction.

YOU MUST UNDERSTAND AND OBEY THE BASIC RULES OF GRAMMAR.

First, you need something called a style guide. As an editor, I regularly refer to my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style. If you are an author writing fiction you someday hope to publish, and have questions about sentence construction and word usage, this is the book for you.

The researchers at CMOS realize that English is a living changing language, and when generally accepted practices within the publishing industry evolve, they evolve too.

A less expensive option you might consider investing in is Bryan A. Garner’s Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. This is a resource with all the answers to questions you might have regarding grammar and sentence structure. It takes the CMOS and boils it down to just the grammar.

For quick reference, here is a list of links to articles I’ve posted on the basics of grammar:

Authors are like everyone else. We get tired and sometimes take shortcuts.

Punctuation is not an area where we can cut corners. Punctuation serves as the traffic signals, keeping the words flowing at a good rate, and avoiding verbal chaos.

Those who  think the common rules of grammar don’t matter to readers are doing their work and their reputation a disservice.

You don’t have to be perfect, but readers want to enjoy the book, not struggle through rambling, garbled sentences.

Self-editing is not an easy task. As a rule, I don’t recommend it, because we authors see what we want to see. However, the costs of such services place severe constraints on some of us. This means that hiring an editor is out of reach for some.

With that in mind, on Monday we will look at how the placement of words, both nouns and verbs, affects the flow of our narrative.

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The Quantum Mechanics of Conversation #amwriting

The supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A Star gives the spiral shape to our galaxy and keeps it together. Gravity keeps what goes into it from flying out.

All around us, gravity works in less massive, unobtrusive ways. Here on Earth, gravity on a small scale keeps everything securely stuck to the surface.

In writing, punctuation serves the same function as gravity, keeping our sentences from flying apart.

Even if you aren’t writing science fiction, your work must obey certain fundamental rules, or it will be unreadable. But in this case, the physics that constrain the chaos are the laws of grammar and punctuation, the quantum mechanics of writing.

The one place where the fundamental laws of grammar are allowed to deviate from the norm is in conversation.

Creating memorable characters is the goal of all authors. After all, who would read a book if the characters are bland or uninteresting? But what is it that makes a character interesting? Is it only witty conversation and great scenery?

When you envision your characters in conversation, you must think about what the word natural means. People don’t only use their words to communicate. Bodies and faces tell us a great deal about a person’s mood and what they feel.

You want to convey those visual cues in small, unobtrusive ways by picturing your conversations and the characters who are having them.

Beats or actions serve to punctuate the dialogue, to give the scene movement, and to maintain a strong mental picture in the absence of description.

These small actions can show the mood of a character and are often best placed where there is a natural break in the dialogue. When done unobtrusively, beats allow the reader to experience the same pauses as the characters, without stopping the action. They’re an effective tool and are essential to good dialogue, but don’t overdo it.

Otherwise, just use a simple dialogue tag, like said, or replied.

Don’t make the mistake of getting rid of speech tags and attributions entirely. Even with only two characters in a scene, the verbal exchanges can become confusing. Use speech tags every third exchange or so to keep things clear for your reader. Nothing is worse than trying to figure out which character said what.

Even worse, the action takes over. The dialogue fades into the background, obscured by the visual noise of foot shuffling and paper rattling. For this reason, we don’t want to inject an excess of flushing, smirking, eye-rolling, or shrugging into the story. Each of those actions has a specific use in conveying the mood, but anything used too frequently becomes a crutch. We must be creative, the hardest part of being an author.

What about exclamations and verbal tics? We frequently speak this way  in real life, but we don’t want it in our work, so I recommend you avoid using them.

When an author employs exclamations and verbal tics to excess, it is exhausting for the reader to wade through. Paragraphs peppered with instance after instance of “Ahhhh…” “Ugh!” “Yuck!” and  “Blech!” are too distracting.

Have you ever met a person who habitually holds conversations hostage, not allowing others to speak? They open with a meaningless syllable, such as “Aaahhh…” and continue droning on that syllable while they gather their thoughts.

These are ‘thinking syllables.’ This is what is known as a ‘verbal tic’ and can be such an ingrained habit that the speaker is unaware of it. The guilty party may suffer hurt feelings if you try to hurry them along.

These are difficult speech behaviors to convey. They are supremely annoying in real life and are excruciating to read in a book. Therefore, we don’t want to read them in a story or novel. I recommend you don’t begin your sentences with thinking syllables like  “Ahh…” or “Hmmm….”

As a reader, I’ve come to feel your best bet when dealing with verbal tics is to give a brief instance of their speech pattern. After that, if it is important, occasionally mention the way their habits annoy other characters.

I don’t enjoy reading heavy accents and am leaning away from writing them into my dialogue.

More and more, I try to limit the use of misspellings, bad grammar, and vulgar accents, especially when trying to point out that the character is uneducated or from a rural background.

Writing their dialogue by using common words and employing a few vernaculars conveys the sense of who they are, where they are from, and allows the character dignity.

It’s far too easy to go over the top, and turn the character into a parody, a cartoon of a person, instead of someone who feels real.

Use only a few well-chosen words to convey the idea of the accent. Use those words in a consistent manner for that character in such a way that it isn’t incomprehensible.

I have discussed conversations at length before, so I won’t bore you with repeating myself. Instead, I will list the peeves I have with the work of even the most famous authors:

  1. The exposition dump: “Bob, remember how I told you (blah blah blah)?”
  2. Repetitively naming the characters being spoken to: “Bob, remember how I told you (blah blah blah)?”
  3. Bizarre speech tags such as ejaculated or spewed.
  4. Internal dialogues that are a wall of italics going on forever.
  5. Spelling out accents to the point they are visually incomprehensible. “Oive got a luverly bunch uv coconuts…”
  6. Leading off with verbal tics. “Aahhh…ummm…”
  7. Never resort to writing foreign languages by using Google Translate (or any other translation app). A single word used consistently here and there to convey the sense of foreignness is one thing, but in general, if you don’t speak the language, don’t write it.

The word-pond of Story is like a supermassive black hole.

Grammar and punctuation serve the same purpose as gravity, giving shape to the Story, forming it into a familiar, identifiable structure.

Conversations, both spoken and internal, light up and illuminate the individual corners of the story, bringing the immensity of the overall story arc down to a personal level.

Good conversations and mental dialogues bring characters to life and turn them into our  closest friends. The laws of grammar sometimes break down on the quantum level when our friends are speaking naturally.

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#FineArtFriday: Frost Fair on the River Thames near the Temple Stairs, by Thomas Wyke

Today I’m revisiting a painting, Frost Fair on the River Thames near the Temple Stairs. by Thomas Wijck (also Thomas Wijk, or Thomas Wyck; 1616–1677). He  was a Dutch painter of port views and genre paintings. This painting details a moment in history, the winter of 1686-1684, as seen though the eyes of one who lived it. I first published this post in January of 2018.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Wijck was born into an artist family and received his training from his father. He journeyed to Italy, presumably by 1640, the year in which a ‘Tommaso fiammingo, pittore’ (Thomas the Fleming, painter) is documented as residing in Rome in the Via della Fontanella. Although this evidence of his residence in Rome around this time has been questioned,[1] a number of his pictures depict scenes in and around Rome which would indicate a visit to the city at some point.[2] He also resided in the environs of Naples, where he executed many sketches which he subsequently worked up into drawings of coast views.[3]

In 1642 Wijck returned to the northern Netherlands, where he became a member of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke.[1] In 1660 he was appointed Dean of the Haarlem Guild.

He went to England about the time of the Restoration and was much employed. He was followed there by his son and pupil Jan Wyck, who remained in Britain for the rest of his career and played an important role in the development of English sporting painting. Thomas Wyck was also the teacher of the Haarlem painter Jan van der Vaart, who later also immigrated to England.

He died in Haarlem in August 1677. Pieter Mulier II was a follower of his style.

What I love about this painting:

Everywhere you look you see color. Red wheels on a cart, red tents, blue tents, and yellow–color is everywhere. We sometimes think of the 17th century as a dark colorless time, but clearly it was not. People were much the same then as they are today. We love to have fun and will find a way to enjoy ourselves even in the harshest conditions.

And winters during that time were harsh. Fuel for heating and cooking was expensive, food was expensive, and many people died from the cold and starvation.

Quoted from Wikipedia: During the Great Frost of 1683–84, the worst frost recorded in England, the Thames was completely frozen for two months, with the ice reaching a thickness of 11 inches (28 cm) in London. Solid ice was reported extending for miles off the coasts of the southern North Sea (England, France and the Low Countries), causing severe problems for shipping and preventing the use of many harbours. Near Manchester, the ground was frozen to 27 inches (69 cm), in Somerset, to more than 4 feet (1.2 m).

In the pedestrian tunnel under the south bank of Southwark Bridge, there is an engraving by Southwark sculptor Richard Kindersley, made of five slabs of grey slate, depicting the frost fair.[19]

The frieze contains an inscription that reads (two lines per slab):

Behold the Liquid Thames frozen o’re,
That lately Ships of mighty Burthen bore
The Watermen for want of Rowing Boats
Make use of Booths to get their Pence & Groats
Here you may see beef roasted on the spit
And for your money you may taste a bit
There you may print your name, tho cannot write
Cause num’d with cold: tis done with great delight
And lay it by that ages yet to come
May see what things upon the ice were done

The inscription is based on handbills,[20] printed on the Thames during the frost fairs.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Thomas Wijck,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Thomas_Wijck&oldid=913753600 (accessed February 7, 2020).

#FineArtFriday: Frost Fair on the River Thames near the Temple Stairs, by Thomas Wyke was first published here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on January 20, 2018.

Wikipedia contributors, “River Thames frost fairs,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=River_Thames_frost_fairs&oldid=820904368 (accessed January 19, 2018).

Frost Fair on the River Thames near the Temple Stairs, by Thomas Wyke ca.1683-1684 via Wikimedia Commons (scan from FT magazine, 2007-09-30) [Public domain]

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