Tag Archives: #writetip

Using Polarity #amwriting

When I get into revisions, I often find my characters seem two-dimensional. Certain passages stand out because the characters have life, an intensity that feels palpable.

Others, not so much.

ContrastsI aspire to write like my heroes, authors who create characters who come alive. While I’m in that world, I see the people and their stories as sharply as the author intends.

Some of my work manages to find that happy place, but other passages feel flat, lacking spark. That is where I look at contrast – polarity. When I use polarity well, my narrative makes my editor happy.

I know I say this regularly, but word choice matters. How I choose to phrase a passage can make an immersive experience or throw the reader out of the book. Sometimes I am more successful than other times.

My goal is to make vivid sensory images for my readers, but not one that is hyper-dramatic and overblown. Subtlety in contrasts is as essential as painting a scene with sweeping polarities. They both add to the texture of the narrative but must be balanced for optimal pacing.

Poets understand and use polarity. John Keats used both polarities and similes in his work. The last stanza of To Autumn begins with this line:

“Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;”

We see one obvious polarity in that line, and also a sneaky one:

  • Lives or dies is a clear polarity.
  • Sinking implies heaviness, and Keats contrasted it with light wind, a less weighty, gentler sensory experience, the opposite of the weight of sinking.

activatePolarity gives the important elements strength. It provides texture but often goes unnoticed while it influences a reader’s perception.

The theme is the backbone of your story, a thread that binds the disparate parts together. Great themes are often polarized: good vs. evil or love vs. hate.

Think about the theme we call the circle of life. This epic concept explores birth, growth, degeneration, and death. Within that larger motif, we find opportunities to emphasize our subthemes.

For example, young vs. old is a common polarized theme with many opportunities for conflict. Both sides of this age-old conflict tend to be arrogant and sure of their position in each skirmish.

Wealth vs. poverty allows an author to delve into social issues and inequities. This polarity has great potential for conflict, which creates a deeper narrative.

In my current outline, I seek to see beyond the obvious. I am searching for the smaller, more subtle contrasts to instill into my work. My intention is that these minor conflicts and hindrances will build toward each major plot point and support the central theme and add texture to the narrative.

This outline is evolving into a mystery. The main character is a peacekeeper who must solve it. To that end, I am inserting clues into the outline, guideposts for when I begin the first draft. On the line that details the plot arc for each chapter, some of those words will have antonym’s listed beside them, opportunities for roadblocks.

The theme of justice looms large in this novel. Hopefully, I can make this plot worthy of the characters I’ve created and who stand ready for NaNoWriMo.

Contrast is the fertile soil from which conflict grows. It can make protagonists more interesting, and in worldbuilding, it underscores the larger theme with less exposition.

Contrasts within the narrative shape the pacing of the action, as ease is contrasted against difficulty. In my projected piece, justice as a theme allows for many contrasts. Justice only exists because of injustice.

Polarity is a sneaky way for each word’s many nuances to raise or lower the tension in a scene.

Let’s look at the word cowardice. Cowardice is a gut reaction to fear. In real life, cowardice is often exhibited as a habitual evasion of the truth or as an avoidance mechanism.

It can be shown in an act as mild as a fib told for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Or it can be as epic as an act of treason committed for fear of a political change in a direction the character finds untenable.

Bravery can be as small as a person facing a silly fear or as thrilling as a responder entering a burning building to rescue a victim.

I like stories with protagonists who contrast acts of bravery with small acts of cowardice. It adds texture to their otherwise perfect personalities and subtly powers their character arcs.

In all its many forms, polarity is a catalyst—the substance that enables a chemical reaction to proceed at a faster rate. In this case, the reactions we’re trying to speed up are the emotions of the reader.

oxford_synonym_antonymI use the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms. This book is as essential to my writing as my copies of Damon Suede’s Activate and the Oxford Writer’s Thesaurus.

Here is a sample of words found in the “D” section of the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms. I’ve posted this list of opposites before because they create powerful mental images:

  • dangerous – safe
  • dark – light
  • decline – accept
  • deep – shallow
  • definite – indefinite
  • demand – supply
  • despair – hope
  • discourage – encourage
  • dreary – cheerful
  • dull – bright, shiny
  • dusk – dawn

In short, by employing polarities in our word selections, we add dimension and rhythm to our work. Polarity is an essential tool for both character creation and worldbuilding.

Often you can find great reference books second-hand, which will save you some cash. But even at full price, the books I referenced above are good investments.

However, we’re all cash-strapped these days, so a comprehensive list of common antonyms can be found at Enchanted Learning. Their website is a free resource.

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The Business Side of the Business: Publishing Industry News #amwriting

Autumn is arriving as we speak, and it’s a good time to look at how the publishing industry is doing.

publishingIndustryChatLIRF03162021Let’s have a look at how the Big 5 Publishers of literature did last year. You will note that the top players have changed since my last Big 5 article. Some of the big fish have been absorbed by the even bigger fish since we last looked at them.

#1 on the list is Penguin-Random House. They’re headquartered in Germany and are still the big kid in the schoolyard. Last year they reported earnings of 3.3 billion US dollars.

#2 is Hatchett Book Group. They are headquartered in France. Their reported earnings were 2.7 billion US dollars.

#3 of our top 5 is a corporation called Springer Nature. They publish periodicals and magazines like Nature and Scientific American. They’re headquartered in both the UK and Germany. Their reported earnings were 1.9 billion US dollars.

#4 is Wiley (John Wiley and Sons), a US company publishing academic and instructional materials. They reported revenue of 1.7 billion US dollars.

#5 is McGraw-Hill Education, with reported earnings of 1.7 billion US dollars.

So, did you notice the trend? Only two of the top five traditional publishers are focused on publishing fiction.

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

And what is affecting the profits for these companies? According to Publishers’ Weekly, supply chain issues combined with inflation and dropped earnings in the first quarter of 2022. However, strong backlist sales propped things up at Penguin-Random House, titles like Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and Atomic Habits by James Clear. They also report that the late Dr. Seuss’s titles sold more than 5.7 million copies in that period.

As always, audiobooks also performed well. Penguin-Random House’s global CEO Markus Dohle said the ever-expanding international audio business has become a strong growth pillar of their publishing efforts. He also noted a technology- and data-driven transformation of their sales, marketing, and publicity strategies.

This side note about the backlists propping up the Big 5 reminds us to be careful when we’re offered a contract. Legacy book contracts are a terrible danger zone for the author. A hastily signed contract means you might never receive back the rights to your intellectual property (your books), even if the publisher is no longer publishing it.

Quote from the Authors Guild post of July 28, 2015:

Diamonds may be forever, but book contracts should not be. There’s no good reason why a book should be held hostage by a publisher for the lifetime of the copyright, the life of the author plus seventy years—essentially forever. Yet that’s precisely what happens today. A publisher may go bankrupt or be bought by a conglomerate, the editors who championed the author may go on to other companies, the sales force may fail to establish the title in the marketplace and ignore it thereafter, but no matter how badly the publisher mishandles the book, the author’s agreement with the original publisher is likely to remain in effect for many decades.

Most of us are not attorneys. If we go the traditional route, we should consider hiring a lawyer specializing in literary contracts.

This is good advice, even if you are represented by an agent. The complexity of negotiating a literary contract is both confusing and intimidating. By not having the advice of a professional, you risk unwittingly signing away secondary and subsidiary rights to your own work forever.

Many well-known authors were smart or had good lawyers. They either weren’t offered or didn’t accept a legacy contract. These authors regained the rights to their work when the contract terms were fulfilled. They’re now self-publishing their backlists and earning more royalties even though they sell fewer books.

On the indie side of things, we’re in the same boat financially as the Big 5, but we’re better positioned in some ways. We’ve always relied more on digital sales, which have no upfront cost outlay. Many indies are moving to audiobooks too. However, we do need paper books.

Significant cost increases for paper and production (and for distribution and freight) will affect our costs and profit for the foreseeable future. Per an email I received from Draft2Digital, due to supply chain issues and the rise in material costs, their print partner will be increasing D2D’s costs. This means that effective October 1, 2022, the cost of author copies via D2D Print will increase.

I suspect the same will be true for Amazon KDP and IngramSpark.

Scientific American 1848For indies, our most reliable royalties have always come from digital sales, although we do sell some print books. But the best route to gaining loyal readers has been book fairs, conventions, and signings at bookstores.

We pay upfront for our stock of books and have to keep an eye on our inventory to ensure we have enough on hand for each event. So, with printing costs going up, we will either raise prices or see a drop in our already-slim profit.

So, that is the industry’s current state as of this week. The Big Traditional Publishers are still consuming each other as fast as possible. At some point, there will only be one Big Traditional Publisher owning thousands of popular imprints worldwide, and they will be based in Europe.

The publishing industry is currently in a downturn because of inflation and production costs, but little has changed for indies. We’ve always been at a disadvantage, so in some ways, we’re better equipped to deal with change. We adjust and go with the flow whenever the market goes up or down or moves in a new direction.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Nature volume 536 number 7617 cover displaying an artist’s impression of Proxima Centauri b.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Nature_volume_536_number_7617_cover_displaying_an_artist%E2%80%99s_impression_of_Proxima_Centauri_b.jpg&oldid=675402098 (accessed September 20, 2022). ESO/M. Kornmesser (photo displayed on the magazine cover), CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons.

Cover of Scientific American, the September 1848 issue Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:SciAmer.gif,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:SciAmer.gif&oldid=655833071 (accessed September 20, 2022).

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Outlining is Pantsing it in Advance so you can Wing It Later #amwriting

Over the years, I have learned many tricks to help people get a jump on their NaNoWriMo project.

Most writers will start an entirely new story. Some have an outline, but others are flying blind, or in author speak, “pantsing it.” Other writers will continue writing the first draft of an unfinished work-in-progress.

plotting as a family picnicI am a planner, but I’m also a pantser. I’m just writing to a loose outline. All I need is a little free time in advance of November to let my mind wander.

When I first began writing, I found Excel useful, but any document or spreadsheet program will work. The outline becomes my permanent stylesheet for that novel. I think of outlining as pantsing it in advance—a visual aid for winging it later.

Once I’m done winging it through the story and am in revisions, some scenes will make more sense when placed in a different order than originally planned. An outline allows me to view the arc of the story from a distance, so I can see where it might be flatlining. Perhaps an event should be cut completely as it no longer works. (I always save my outtakes in a separate file for later use.)

Over the years of editing and reviewing books, I’ve assembled a list of questions that help me nudge a novel from an idea into an outline. If I make notes as I think of things, I’ll never lose those characters or their story. Even if I can’t get to it right away, I’ll have all the essential stuff in a document and saved.

The first two questions I ask are what genre do I think I’m writing in, and what is the underlying theme? I prefer to write character-driven fantasy. A world will emerge with the characters, and I will make notes as bits and pieces of that environment occur to me. I have a deep streak of gallows humor in my personality, so humor in the face of disaster will be a theme. This theme comes out in most of my work.

Who are youNext, I ask the creative universe who the protagonist is. I create a brief personnel file, less than 100 words. It’s a paragraph with all the essential background information. Sometimes it takes a while to know what a character’s void is (a deep emotional wound), but it will emerge. I note the verbs, adjectives, and nouns the character embodies, as those give me all the necessary information.

Let’s create a protagonist. He doesn’t have a story yet, but that will come along once I have a few other people figured out.

Brand (MC) (Fire-mage, armsmaster, 36, divorced. Brown hair, brown eyes, suntanned.) Parents were mages, now deceased. VOID: Deep sense of failure. A convergence of personal tragedies led to a failed suicide attempt. VERBS: Act. Fight. Build. Repair. Protect. Create. ADJECTIVES: wary, sarcastic, hopeful, dedicated, considerate. NOUNS: sorrow, guilt, purpose, compassion, wit.

Does Brand have close friends? If not, will he gather companions? This question is important. If he doesn’t have friends at first, I will leave space on that page to add them when they emerge from my imagination. As I contemplate Brand’s story, perhaps a love interest will show up later, or maybe not.

What happens to take Brand out of his comfort zone? Sometimes I don’t have the answer to this for quite a while. Other times, it’s the spark that starts the story.

The entire arc of the story rests on how I answer the following question. What is Brand’s goal, his deepest desire? Currently, it looks like he’s hoping to regain his self-respect. That will become a secondary quest when a more immediate problem presents itself.

What stands in his way? Who or what is the Enemy?

Let’s name the enemy Silas. What is his deepest desire? How does Silas control the situation at the outset? Once I know who the antagonist is and what they want, I give them the same personnel file I give all the other characters—I identify a void, verbs, adjectives, and nouns for him.

Once I have Silas described in a paragraph, I can determine the quest. Silas is the key to what Brand must achieve. A believable villain is why Brand’s story will be fun to write.

Now we come to creating the plot. I decide where the story begins, then list a few possible scenes, using keywords to show mood and intention.

Mood words for meditationMeditating on mood words often precipitates a flash of brilliance that has nothing to do with anything. What if …

Newly arrived in the border town of Axeton, Brand discovers an ancient gate sealed with a magic lock. Beyond it, a faint path leads into the Deadlands, but where does it go? No towns exist in the moors, and no country wants to claim the Deadlands. The elemental creatures are too dangerous. Could it be a beastmaster searching for rare elemental creatures to use as weapons? If so, who has that skill, and what could they intend to do with them?

This plot twist forces me to rearrange the outline, and now I have to change Silas’s paragraph to make him a beast master. He can’t be two-dimensional, a cartoon villain, so why does he do evil with this talent? Why does he think he is the hero? The answers to those questions should give Silas a personality. We should feel some empathy for him.

How does Brand react to the pressure Silas exerts? Side characters may emerge as Brand works his way through the problems, people who will influence the plot’s direction. As the outline evolves, I will see many places where the struggle can deepen the relationships between the protagonist and their cohorts/romantic interests.

Later, after I have the characters figured out, I will work on the plot outline and try to shape the story’s arc. This is where roadblocks and obstacles do the heavy lifting, and my outline will contain ideas I can riff on. Brand will have to work hard to achieve his goal, but so will Silas.

Information and the lack of it drive the plot. Brand can’t have all the information. Silas must have more answers than Brand and be ruthless in using that knowledge to achieve his goal. My outline will tell me when it’s time to dole out information. What complications arise from Brand’s lack of information? My outline will offer hints for what he can do to rescue the situation.

With each chapter, Brand and his companions acquire the necessary information, but each answer leads to more questions. Conflicts occur when Silas sets traps, and by surviving those encounters, Brand gains more information about Silas’s capabilities. He must persevere and use that knowledge to win the final battle.

I could actually use this example as the genesis of a story, but I have a different outline in progress. Having my characters in place and an outline on hand helps keep me on track when I am pantsing it through NaNoWriMo. New flashes of brilliance will occur as I am writing, and hopefully they will make the struggle real. But two fundamental things will remain constant:

Brand’s determination to block Silas and wreck the enemy’s plans is the plot.

Brand’s growth as a character as he works his way through the plot is the story.

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The Action Scene #amwriting

I attended the Southwest Washington Writers Conference this last weekend. On Friday, I attended two master classes offered by sci-fi/fantasy author Jeff Wheeler. The first class was on worldbuilding and writing the first chapter, and while I understand that aspect of our craft well, I enjoyed hearing his take on it.

action scenesThe second master class was on the how of creativity. Those of you who follow my blog know how the subject of creativity fascinates me. If you haven’t read any of Jeff Wheeler’s work, here is the link to my 2013 review of his first book, the Wretched of Muirwood. It’s book 1 of one of my favorite fantasy series of all time.

The next day, I was privileged to be on a panel, What I wish I had Known, Four Veterans of the Indie Trenches. We talked about the pitfalls and pratfalls of our early years in this business and what we could have done differently.

But that is life. You learn from your mistakes and grow in the craft.

One of the seminars I attended on Saturday was offered by Lindsay Schopfer, From Body Language to Brawls. Again, I have a method for fight scenes, but as he pointed out, action is about so much more than mere brawling. That concept lines up with my theory that every scene is an action scene, even the quieter moments. Tempo and how we pace the intensity is as important as the plot-arc of every scene.

But Lindsay offered five questions about planning the action in each scene. They were different from how I normally think. I found them pertinent to the plot outline I am currently building for this year’s foray into NaNoWriMo.

strange thoughtsFirst, Lindsay pointed out that thinking is an action scene, as are conversations. He asked what a character does while thinking. He pointed out that Humphrey Bogart had a way of tugging on his ear when thinking, a habit that carried over into his movies. A side character with a certain amount of screen time but isn’t the POV character can be shown as real when they have a small personal habit that appears from time to time.

Lindsay cautioned new writers to go lightly, and I agree. If you give one or two side characters an occasional personal habit, you won’t muck up the visuals with a barrage of personal tics.

Next, he asked what their body language betrayed about them when they were worried. I liked that he brought that up because if our characters aren’t worried, they should be. How do we show our characters’ individual ways of handling worry? We all exhibit signs of anxiety in different ways.

Lindsay asked three more questions: how do our characters look when they’re happy or excited? How do they look when angry? When depressed?

You can show these emotions with either a facial expression or a physical reaction, combined with internal dialogue or conversations.

For me, the most challenging part of writing is balancing the visual indicators of emotion with exposition showing the more profound, internal clues.

We need to offer the reader a hint, a gesture, or a fleeting expression. Their imagination will do the rest.

It takes work and practice to write a narrative so that we aren’t telling the reader what to experience. We allow the reader to infer what to feel. Remember, we are still in the inferential layer of the Word Pond, the layer in which readers draw conclusions from the clues we offer them.

I suggest the Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi as a good affordable reference guide to showing these emotions. Sometimes we hit a spot where we know what we need to say but not how to phrase it. This guide offers good hints for how to show what a character is feeling, someone to point the way.

However, I must point out that discretion is a good thing when it comes to showing emotions.

Enrico Mazzanti (1852-1910), Public domain, via Wikimedia CommonsWhen a character’s facial expressions take over the scene, they become cartoonish, two-dimensional displays of emotion with no substance. A landslide of microscopic showing can make your characters seem melodramatic. All that physical drama doesn’t show a character’s emotions. What is going on inside their heads?

You must relay the thought process that led to those physical reactions. You can lay the groundwork with some crucial bits of exposition. Just a bit, not too much.

The trick is to use words that offer the most information in the least amount of space. It’s a trick I’m still trying to master.

I will stop reading stories where the author leans too heavily on slowly painting visual descriptions of the characters’ internal struggles. Creased foreheads followed by stomach-churning, gut-wrenching shock and wide-eyed trembling of hands are a bit too in-depth for me. Pick one indicator and go with it.

Finally, Lindsay pointed out something I have also said before. Word count matters in a fight scene. When I write an action scene involving violence, I ask myself how long it will take a reader to read that blow-by-blow description of the melee.

A war is one thing – it takes up page after page because it is the driver of the story. But when a fistfight or sword fight takes up three pages of description, I can’t suspend my disbelief as a reader.

Physical fights in real life are fast, violent, and finished in a space of minutes. It’s not humanly possible to go on and on with no rest. That is why professional boxers have rounds – fight a while, rest a while, and so on for 15 rounds.

If it takes me forever to read that running commentary, I will skip forward, or worse, set the book aside.

2022 cover mock-upAnd this brings me to the core of this post. During NaNoWriMo, when I write new words as quickly as possible, I lean too heavily on the external, relying on a lot of smiling and shrugging. Conversations are action scenes, but too much “face time” is too much.

Those facial expressions and gestures are markers for the second draft, words signifying places where more work will be required to flesh out the scene. This is where writing becomes work.

If you haven’t seen this before, here is my list of surface emotions, code words I use in my outline to remind me of what action I should portray in a given scene:

  • Admiration
  • Affection
  • Anger
  • Anguish
  • Anticipation
  • Anxiety
  • Awe
  • Confidence
  • Contempt
  • Defeat
  • Defensiveness
  • Denial
  • Depression
  • Desire
  • Desperation
  • Determination
  • Disappointment
  • Disbelief
  • Disgust
  • Elation
  • Embarrassment
  • Ethical Quandary
  • Fear
  • Friendship
  • Grief
  • Happiness
  • Hate
  • Inadequacy
  • Indecision
  • Interest
  • Jealousy
  • Love
  • Lust
  • Powerlessness
  • Pride
  • Regret
  • Resistance
  • Revulsion
  • Sadness
  • Shock
  • Surprise
  • Temptation
  • Trust
  • Unease
  • Weakness

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When your novel is only a novella #amwriting

Sometimes we find that our work-in-progress is not a novel after all. We get to the finish point, and that place might be only at the 40,000-word mark (or less).

WritingCraft_short-storyIn some circles, 40,000 words is a novel, but in fantasy, it is less than half a book.

You could try to stretch the length, but why? If you have nothing of value to add to the tale, it’s better to be known for having written a strong novella than a weak novel.

I’m a wordy writer but sometimes the finished work is shorter than I’d planned–a lot shorter. Then I have to make a decision. I could choose to leave it at the length it is now and have it edited. Or I could try to expand it.

If my beta readers feel the plot lacks substance at that length, I let it rest for a while then come back to it. Then I can see where to add new scenes, events, and conversations to round out the story arc.

Other times, the story is complete, but only about half the length of a novel. Sometimes this happens in the revision process.

In the second draft of any manuscript, I weed out many words and hunt for unnecessary repetitions of information. At that stage, the manuscript will expand and contract. It hurts the novelist in my soul, but the story may only be 35,000 words long when the second draft is complete.

I do a lot of rambling when trying to visualize the story. While I usually do it in a separate document, it often bleeds over into my manuscript. During the editing process, I sometimes find that besides the four chapters that don’t fit the plot anymore, three more chapters mainly deal with background info, and can be condensed into one.

CAUTION INFO DUMP ZONE AHEADA detailed history of everyone’s background isn’t required. As a reader, all we need is a brief mention of historical information in conversation and delivered only when the protagonist needs to know it.

Unfortunately, I sometimes forget to write it out in a separate document.

Once I condense rambling passages, I end up with a scene that moves the story forward.

Some other things to watch for in the second draft are areas where I have repeated myself but with slightly different phrasing. These are hard for me to pick out, but they can be found. I decide which wording I like the best and go with that.

Also, in the first draft, I use a lot of “telling” words and phrases I will later change or cut. I look for active alternatives for words and phrases that weaken the narrative:

  • There was
  • To be

When I change these words to more active phrasing, I sometimes gain a few words in the process as showing requires more words than telling.

But then I lose words in other areas. Again, I’m speaking as a reader here, but when reading conversations especially, it’s good for an author to use contractions. It makes the conversations feel more natural and less formal. It shortens the word count because two words become one: was not becomes wasn’t, has not becomes hasn’t, etc.

Most times, I can cut some words, even entire paragraphs. Often the prose is stronger without them, and these words need no replacement.

In the first draft, I regularly employ what I think of as crutch words. I can lower my word count when I get rid of them. These are overused words that fall out of my head along with the good stuff as I’m sailing along:

  • So (my personal tic)
  • Very (Be wary if you do a global search – don’t press “replace all” as most short words are components of larger words, and ‘very’ is no exception.)
  • That
  • Just
  • Literally

I have learned to be ruthless. Yes, I might have spent three days or even weeks writing a chapter that now must be cut. But even though I try to plot an outline in advance, the arc might change as I write the first draft. New events emerge, and I find better ways to get to the end than what was first planned.

It hurts when a really good chapter no longer fits the story. But maybe it bogs things down when you see it in the overall context. It must go, but that chapter will be saved. With a name change and perhaps a few place-name changes it could be the genesis of a short story.

I save everything I cut in a separate file, as I guarantee I will find a use for it later. I always have a file folder inside each master file labeled “Outtakes.” Those cut pieces often become the core of a new story, a better use for those characters and events.

I have learned to pay close attention to the story arc. Once your first draft is complete, no matter how short or long, measure the story against the blueprint of the story arc.

blueprint-of-the-story-arc

  • How soon does my inciting incident occur? It should be near the front, as this will get the story going and keep the reader involved.
  • How soon does the first pinch point occur? This roadblock will set the tone for the rest of the story.
  • What is happening at the midpoint? Are the events of the middle section moving the protagonist toward their goal? Did the point of no return occur near or just after the midpoint?
  • Where does the third pinch point occur? This event is often a catastrophe, a hint that the protagonist might fail.
  • Is the ending finite, solid, and does it resolve the major problems? Even if this story is one part of a series, we who are passionate about the story we’re reading need firm endings.

Some people think they aren’t a real author if they don’t write a 900-page doorstop.

I tell them that it’s not important to have written a novel. Whether you write poems, short stories, novellas, or 700-page epic fantasies, you are an author.

The Emperor's Soul - Brandon SandersonNovellas hold a special place in my heart. A powerful, well-written novella can be a reading experience that shakes the literary world:

  1. The Emperor’s Soul, by Brandon Sanderson
  2. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  3. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote
  4. Candide, by Voltaire
  5. Three Blind Mice, by Agatha Christie
  6. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  7. The Time Machine, by H.G, Wells
  8. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
  9. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
  10. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  11. The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James

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The Plot Generator – a cure for boredom #amwriting

We all have moments where we can’t figure out what our characters need to do next. Sometimes, all we have is a character and a vague premise for the story. I’ve been invited to write a short story for a specific anthology, but all I have is the ghost of an idea.

plot is the frame upon which the themes of a story are supportedRather than obsess about my lack of creativity, I decided to have fun with it. Several young writers in my NaNoWriMo region have said they used a plot generator to jumpstart their ideas, so I thought I’d give that a try.

The internet has a plethora of plot generators – who knew there was such a demand for plots? I chose the top one because of the algorithms. Or perhaps it was at the top for something even more sinister – corporate bribery.

Either way, no problem. No matter how it got there, if it’s at the top of page one, it must be good, right? I believe everything I’m told by the internet, so I went with it.

The website opens with a template. You plug in a few words that pertain to what you think your story is, and presto! The internet generates your plot.

I thought I’d try that and see what it came up with. I invented two characters, John Smith and Morris Jones.

When asked what sort of dwelling they inhabited, I decided they lived in an inn.

The next spot in the template wanted a word that described what the dwelling meant to my characters.

“Well,” I thought, “it’s probably cold and rainy out there in Fantasy World, so an inn means ….”

  • Shelter

After that, the plot generator asked me for a list of keywords.

Well, that was both unkind and unfair.

I’m horrible at thinking up keywords. If I could think up keywords, I wouldn’t be consulting a plot generator. I’d be looking up my horoscope instead.

But the template was staring at me, demanding answers. I had a teacher who always looked at me that way, making me nervous, expecting results ….

So, I fired off the first words that popped into my head, most of them aimed at the stupid plot generator:

  • Author-thoughtsCursed
  • Lying
  • Worrying
  • False
  • Deceitful
  • Frantic (my state of mind)
  • Charming (me, if you actually know me)
  • Passionate (me, when it comes to chocolate)
  • wicked
  • Fake
  • Violent
  • Cold (how the search for keywords left me)

Then I was asked for three professions. By now, I was getting into the swing of things and having a good time. I decided to give John and Morris honest occupations:

  • Blacksmith (definitely honest).
  • Loan shark (definitely dishonest, but it popped into my head, so …).
  • Pharmacist (fairly random, but we had to pick up a prescription later, so it was on my mind).

Who were their companions? I had no clue, so I opted for generic:

  • Men
  • Mages
  • People

The generator asked what they might be searching for. I didn’t know my two characters were searching for anything. “Well,” I thought, “this is a fantasy, so ….”

  • Spells
  • Swords

Then the generator asked me to name a big battle. That stumped me. I figured that Waterloo was already taken, and the Battle of Hastings was too. So I went with a made-up name:

  • Shallowford

This is what the plot generator gave me:

In an inn there lived a deceitful, frantic loan shark named John Smith. Not a cursed charming, passionate inn, filled with charms and a worrying smell, nor yet a wicked, violent, cold inn with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a loan shark-inn, and that means shelter.

One day, after a troubling visit from the pharmacist Morris Jones, John leaves his inn and sets out in search of three false spells. A quest undertaken in the company of people, mages and fake men.

In the search for the mage-guarded spells, John Smith surprises even himself with his loyalty and skill as a blacksmith.

During his travels, John rescues a sword, an heirloom belonging to Morris. But when Morris refuses to try lying, their friendship is over.

However, Morris is wounded at the Battle of Shallowford and the two reconcile just before John engages in some serious lying.

John accepts one of the three false spells and returns home to his inn a very wealthy loan shark.

By golly, I think that’s the perfect plot for a story in five paragraphs, including a happy ending. The prose is … (insert superlatives here).

the hobbitThis plot generator has clearly been studying J.R.R. Tolkien, as it has managed to plagiarize the first paragraph of The Hobbit right down to the punctuation.

“In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole with ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry bare sandy hole with nothing to sit on or eat: it was a hobbit-hole and that means comfort.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, published 1937 by George Allen & Unwin.

Maybe I should write a Gothic romance next. I could probably use the same keywords.

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Verbs and the Nouns that Love Them part 2 #amwriting

Verbs are the engine words of our prose. They show the action, but like all words, they have shades of mood, nuances that color the tone of my paragraphs. Verbs can either push the action outward from their partner nouns or pull it in.

Verbs there is no tryWhen I write poetry, I look for words that contrast vividly against each other. I choose action words that begin with hard consonants, emotion words that begin with softer sounds.

If I can do this for poetry, I should be able to do this for narrative prose – but alas. For some reason, my poetic brain goes on vacation when I am trying to write a first draft. My work is filled with a bald telling of events.

But that’s okay. All I need at that point is to get the story written down.

But during revisions, when writing really becomes work, and I’m trying to turn that boring mess into something worth reading – that is when I need to use my words. Finding strong verbs and employing contrasts in my word choices becomes essential when embarking on the second draft.

I know that power verbs push action outward from a character. Other word choices pull the action inward, and contrasting the two creates a feeling of opposition and friction. This contrast of opposites injects dynamism into a passage, a sense of vitality, vigor, and energy.

Readers are attracted to dynamic prose.

Note to self: write dynamic prose.

Verbs that push the action outward from a character make them appear authoritative, competent, energetic, and decisive.

Verbs that pull the action in toward the character make them appear receptive, attentive, private, and flexible.

I want to make my characters well-rounded but not quite perfect. I hope they are relatable and human. The way I show their world and their place in it must convey who they are.

opposites work togetherConcise writing is difficult for me because I love descriptors. So, I have to make my action words set the mood. To do that, I must use contrasts.

  • Brood
  • Deny
  • Embrace
  • Escape
  • Consent
  • Refuse
  • Agony
  • Ecstasy

A part of my life was burned away. I was destroyed, but now I was reborn in ways I’d never foreseen.

My action words are burn, destroy, and birth. This character’s entire arc is encapsulated in those three words. The contrasting words I choose throughout their story will make or break that novel.

Can I do it? I don’t know, but I’ll have fun trying. In the beginning, this character’s verbs will be darker, their actions more inward and brooding.

At the end of the story, events and interactions will alter them despite their desire to remain safely static. They will experience a renaissance, a flowering of the spirit.

But verbs and nouns by themselves don’t make engaging prose. They need modifiers and connectors.

I will have to select modifiers and connecting verbs to enhance contrasts. Since I can’t go wild with them, the few I choose must be power words.

Many power words begin with hard consonants. The images they convey project a feeling of power:

  • Backlash
  • Beating
  • Beware
  • Blinded
  • Blood
  • Bloodbath
  • Bloodcurdling
  • Bloody
  • Blunder

When things get tricky and the characters are working their way through a problem, verbs like stumble and blunder offer a sense of chaos and don’t require a lot of modifiers to show the atmosphere. When you incorporate any of the above “B” words into your prose, you are posting a road sign for the reader, a notice that ahead lies danger.

Here are some words to create an atmosphere of anxiety – words that push the action outward:

  • Agony (noun)
  • Apocalypse (noun)
  • Armageddon (noun)
  • Assault (verb)
  • Backlash (noun)
  • Pale (modifier)
  • Panic (verb or noun)
  • Target (verb)
  • Teeter (verb)
  • Terrorize (verb)

Here are some words that draw us in:

  • Delirious (intransitive verb)
  • Depraved (modifier)
  • Desire (verb)
  • Dirty (modifier)
  • Divine (modifier)
  • Ecstatic (intransitive verb)
  • Embrace (verb)
  • Enchant (verb)
  • Engage (verb)
  • Entice (verb)
  • Enthrall (verb)

Writing is an adventure, and I learn something new every day. Some days I like what I write; other days, not so much.

john barrymore memeThe drive to understand why some books enthrall me and others leave me cold keeps me reading and looking for new stories.

Life can be a bumpy road.

The key is to focus on the good things and laugh at the inconveniences. Make a little time to do something creative, and always make time for the people you love.

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Verbs and Character Creation #amwriting

This morning I am writing beneath an overcast sky to the sounds of seabirds and waves. It’s the perfect soundtrack for the moment. Later today, the sun will emerge from the mists, and the air will be full of laughter and excited chatter. Knots of parents, children, and dogs will dot the sandy shore, along with all the paraphernalia that goes along with a visit to the beach.

Words-And-How-We-Use-ThemUnfortunately, although we asked for a ground-floor condo, we were assigned a second-floor unit. My husband is managing the stairs – slowly. On the good side, we have the god’s-eye view of a wide stretch of beach, the perfect deck overlooking it all.

canon definitionWriting is going as well as ever, a little up and down. I’m building the framework for a new story, which I will begin writing on November 1st. The world is already built; it’s an established world with many things that are canon and can’t be changed. So, I’m working my way through the bag of tricks that help me jar things loose.

One thing that helps when creating a character is identifying the verbs embodied by each individual’s personality. I am searching for their motivation, the metaphorical “hole” in their life. What pushes them to do the crazy stuff they do? In several seminars I’ve attended, this aspect of character creation was referred to as their void.

Anyway, I’m thinking. I’m identifying the void that blights the lives of each character. I’m letting my mind off its leash and taking notes.

So let’s pretend we’re plotting a novel, and we’re going to use verbs to do it. It could be any kind of novel, but for the sake of this post, we’ll plot a romance novel.

Jack Kerouak on writing LIRF07252022Protagonist HER: Anna Lundquist, an unemployed game developer. She inherited an old farm and has moved there. She embarks on creating her own business designing anime-based computer games. Anna is shy, not good with men unless discussing books or computer games. VOID: Loss of family. VERBS: Create, Build, Seek, Defend, Fight, Nurture. Modifiers: Adaptable, ambitious, focused, independent, industrious, mature, nurturing, private, resourceful, responsible, simple, thrifty.

Protagonist HIM: Cameron (Cam) Berglund, a handsome and charismatic lawyer. His parents divorced, and he was raised in his mother’s home city. He inherited his father’s failing family law firm when his father committed suicide. VOID: Fears to trust. VERBS: Charm, Fix, Mediate, Heal, Advocate. Modifiers: Analytical, cautious, discreet, ethical, honorable, independent, just, pensive, observant, perceptive, private, proactive.

But if we’re writing romance, there must be a little drama before Anna settles on the right man:

Alternate Almost Protagonist HIM: Nic Jones is a ski bum and the charming owner of a coffee shop where Anna uses the internet for the first week until her cable is hooked up. He is writing a novel. VOID: Parents were killed in a plane crash. VERBS: charm, feed, desire, embrace. Modifiers: Ambitious, charming, courteous, disciplined, empathetic, flirtatious, imaginative, independent, pensive, persistent, private, quirky.

Two of Anna’s verbs are “fight” and “defend.” This forces us to ask ourselves why those verbs apply to her. Enter the antagonist:

antagonistAntagonist HIM: Matt Gentry, owner of MGPopularGames and Anna’s former boss, is angry at Anna for leaving his firm. On a skiing trip with an old fraternity brother who owns an art supply store in Starfall Ridge, he sees her entering Nic’s coffeeshop. Matt discovers that Anna is now living in that town. He learns she has started her own company and is building an anime-based RPG. He goes back to Seattle and files an injunction to stop her, claiming that he owns the rights to her intellectual property. VOID: Narcissist. VERBS: Possess, Control, Desire, Covet, Steal, Lie, Torment.

As we go through the process of sorting out the voids, verbs, and modifiers for these characters, we have some of the bones to form the skeleton of a novel. It’s still incomplete, but it’s a beginning. If we were actually writing this story, we would need to research how narcissists behave to ensure our antagonist fits the classic narcissist description but doesn’t become cartoonish.

In my current work-in-progress, a fantasy novel set in my world of Neveyah, the plot is going in the direction of a murder mystery. I haven’t identified the antagonist yet, but I’m inching closer.

I almost have a grip on my two main characters. I know their voids and main verbs, but their secondary verbs and modifiers are still eluding me. Lenn is a fire-mage, and his main verb is “act” (as in to take action). Dalya is an air-mage/healer whose main verb is “nurture.”

Both mages are members of a sect that hunts rogue mages when necessary and have certain powers that come along with that task. I will have my characters built and my plot fully outlined when NaNoWriMo begins. Ironing out this issue is the perfect excuse to sit and watch the seabirds quarreling with each other.

Next week I will continue thinking about verbs and how they do so much more than set a scene in motion. Some verbs push the action, some pull us in, and some don’t work as intended. All verbs set the mood, portraying the action in the light you, as their creator, envision.

pelicans-seagulls-Cannon-Beach August 20, 2021

Pelicans and seagulls on Cannon Beach in August. © Connie Jasperson 2022

Right now, my personal verb is “observe.”

I know it looks like I’m sitting here doing nothing, just gazing at the wildlife with a silly grin.

But actually, I’m working. See this notepad and pencil? See the wind-sculpted Einstein-esque hairstyle I’m rocking? This is how great minds look when they’re working.

Honest.


Credits and Attributions:

The image of pelicans and seagulls in the fog on Cannon Beach is from Connie Jasperson’s private collection and is copyrighted.

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Narrative Voice: Balancing Verbs, Modifiers, and Infinitives #amwriting

We are drawn to the work of our favorite authors because we like their voice and writing style. The unique, recognizable way they choose words and assemble them into sentences appeals to us, although we don’t consciously think of it that way.

In Monday’s post, Narrative Voice, an Author’s Style, I mentioned three components of an author’s voice:

  1. How the habitual choice of words shapes the tone of our writing.
  2. How the chronic use and misuse of grammar and punctuation shape the pacing of our sentences.
  3. How our deeply held beliefs and attitudes emerge and shape character and plot arcs.

Words-And-How-We-Use-ThemToday’s post focuses on word choice. What do you want to convey with your prose? This is where the choice and placement of words come into play. Active prose is constructed of nouns followed by verbs or verbs followed by nouns.

Where we choose to place the verbs changes their impact but not their meaning. Also, the words we surround verbs with change the mood but not their intention.

But let’s look at how modifiers and infinitives fit into the written universe and visualize their place in our prose.

  • Modifiers are words that alter their sentences’ meanings. They add details and clarify facts, distinguishing between people, events, or objects.
  • Infinitives are mushy words, words with no definite beginning or end.

Both modifiers and infinitives are useful, and both have the power to strengthen or weaken our prose.

When doing revisions, I look at how I have placed my verbs in relation to nouns, modifiers, and infinitives in the first draft. My outline told me what the scene should detail but the words were written the way they fell out of my head.

Which tends to be in a passive voice.

WordItOut-word-cloud-4074543The second draft revisions are where I do the real writing. It involves finetuning the plot arc, character arcs, and most importantly, adjusting phrasing.

The tricky part is catching all the weak phrasing. Those of you who write a clean first draft are rare and wonderful treasures – I wish I had that talent.

When I find a stretch of passive phrasing, I reimagine the scene. I want to see how to strengthen the narrative and still keep to my original intention.

At times, nothing will work, and the scene must be scrapped.

A passive sentence is not “wrong.” No matter how active the phrasing, a poorly written sentence is not “better.”

Too many passive sentences slow the pacing, and readers don’t like that – but they do like a chance to breathe and absorb what just happened. So we mingle active and passive phrasing to keep things balanced.

And despite what the self-proclaimed gurus on Reddit might rant, good writing is about balance.

The ways we combine active and passive phrasing are part of our signature, our voice. By mixing the two, we choose areas of emphasis and places in the narrative we want to direct the reader’s attention.

powerwordsWordCloudLIRF06192021Some types of narratives should feel highly charged and action-packed. Most of your sentences should be constructed with the verbs forward if you write in genres such as sci-fi, political thrillers, and crime thrillers.

These books seek to immerse the reader in the emotion generated by the action, so most sentences should lead off with noun – verb or verb – noun, followed by modifiers and infinitives. You will have more active phrasing than passive: push, push, glide. The reader will adjust to the pacing rhythm you establish if you are consistent.

In other genres, like cozy mysteries, you want to immerse the reader in the character’s emotions. You create a sense of comfort and familiarity by manipulating 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 an objective eye, yet you want them immersed in the romance of it. You balance the active and passive sentence construction, so the narrative is slightly more relaxed than a thriller.

Passive construction can still be strong despite being poetic. A poor choice of words makes a sentence weak.

Has someone said your work is too wordy? An excess of modifiers could be the offenders.

modifying-conjunctions-04262022What clues should you look for when trying to see why someone says you are too wordy?

  1. Look for the many forms of the phrasal verb to be. They are words that easily connect to other words and lead to writing long convoluted passages.
  2. Look for connecting modifiers (still, however, again, etc.).

The many forms of to be (is, are, was, were) are easy to overlook in revisions because we habitually use them in conversation. They’re kryptonite in the prose of an action-based narrative.

In the first draft, I keep in mind that bald writing tells only part of the story. Regardless of my efforts, it slips in. This is because I am telling myself the story at that stage of development.

When revising the first draft, I sharpen my prose. I try to paint active word pictures of the mental images I visualized when I first wrote them, but without going overboard. I change the wording to use words that begin with hard consonants. They sound tougher and carry more power.

We all approach creativity differently, and what works for me might not work for you. However, the more you write, the more you will find your preferences and writing style changing in one direction or another.

One more thing about wordiness: the number of conjunctions and connecting modifiers we use contributes to wordiness and sentence length. My first drafts are littered with run-on sentences—me telling myself the story. I look for them when making revisions because long compound sentences can be confusing.

It’s a struggle. I rewrite some sections several times before I finally make them palatable.

If you are interested in a bit of homework, take a short paragraph from your 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.

I have posted the following list of words before. I habitually use these morsels of madness in a first draft but wish I didn’t.

It takes forever, but I look at each instance and decide if they should remain or if they weaken the sentence. Ninety times out of a hundred, I change or remove them.

In the interests of keeping the post down to a reasonable length, this list is a picture. If you want to copy it, right-click on it, select “save as,” and choose either .jpeg or .png.

weak-words-LIRF04262022

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Narrative Voice, an Author’s Style #amwriting

Every story, poem, newspaper article, or song has a recognizable fingerprint: the author’s unique voice or style. Voice and style consist of three aspects:

  1. The habitual choice of words shapes the tone of our writing.
  2. The chronic use and misuse of grammar and punctuation shapes the pacing of our sentences.
  3. Our deeply held beliefs and attitudes emerge and shape character arcs and plot arcs.

a writer's styleSome authors are forceful in their style and throw you into the action. They have an in-your-face, hard-hitting style that comes on strong and doesn’t let up until the end.

Dashiell Hammett perfected the crime noir novel with short, choppy sentences packed with power words:

Quote from TheMaltese Falcon:

MalteseFalcon1930“I’m going to send you over. The chances are you’ll get off with life. That means you’ll be out again in twenty years. You’re an angel. I’ll wait for you.” He cleared his throat. “If they hang you I’ll always remember you.” [1]

Other authors take you on a journey. They have a more leisurely, fluid style of writing. Neil Gaiman is poetic and thoughtful, leading you deeper into the story with each paragraph.

Quote from Stardust:

Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at the stars because we are human? [2]

When we first begin writing, our style is heavily influenced by the authors whose works we love. Our stories are an unconscious reflection of what we wish they would write.

We develop our own voice and style when we write every day or at least as often as possible. We subconsciously incorporate our speech patterns, values, and fears into our work, and those elements of our personality form the voice that is ours and no one else’s.

Developing a broad vocabulary is important because we are creatures of habit. When we want to express ourselves, we fall back on certain words and ignore their synonyms. This is where a good online thesaurus comes in.

oxford_synonym_antonymBut I prefer to keep my research in hardcopy form, rather than digital. The Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms is a handy tool when I am stuck for alternate ways to say something.

And it makes the perfect place to rest my teacup.

We all have “crutch” words. These are words we choose above others because they say what we mean more precisely, or they color our prose with the right emotion. Unfortunately, I can be repetitive with certain words when expanding on an idea. Having alternatives that express my idea does two things:

  • It often gives me a different understanding of what I am trying to say, which improves the narrative.
  • It makes my work less tedious. (I hope.)

modifying-conjunctions-04262022As we become confident in our writing, we learn more about grammar and punctuation in our native languages. We learn to write so others can understand us.

The great authors use those rules to energize their prose. They are knowledgeable about sentence and paragraph construction and the fundamentals of grammar—the aspects of writing we call mechanics. They write to industry standards. When they break a rule, they do it deliberately and consistently.

Our word choices are a good indication of how advanced we are in the craft of writing. For instance, in online writing forums, we regularly are told to limit the number of modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) we might habitually use.

We are like anyone else. Our work is as dear to us as a child, and we can be just as touchy as a proud parent when it is criticized. We should respect the opinions of others, but we have the choice to ignore those suggestions if they don’t work for us.

Our voice comes across when we write from the heart. We gain knowledge and skill when we study self-help books, but we must write what we are passionate about. So, the rule should be to use modifiers, descriptors, or quantifiers when they’re needed.

How we use them is part of our style. Modifiers change, clarify, qualify, or sometimes limit a particular word in a sentence to add emphasis, explanation, or detail. We also use them as conjunctions to connect thoughts: “otherwise,” “then,” and “besides.”

Descriptors are adverbs and adjectives ending in “ly.” They are helper nouns or verbs, words that help describe other words. Some descriptors are necessary. However, they are easy to overuse and are sometimes reviled by writing groups on a mission.

When I begin revising a first draft, I do a global search for the letters “ly.” A list will pop up in my left margin. My manuscript will become a mass of yellow highlighted words.

I admit it takes time and patience to look at each instance to see how they fit into that context. If a word or phrase weakens the narrative, I change or remove it. If that descriptor is the only word that works, I leave it. Ninety percent of “ly” words get removed.

Quantifiers are abstract nouns or noun phrases. They’re used to convey either a vague impression or a nebulous quantity, such as: very, a great deal ofa good deal ofa lot, many, much. The important word there is abstract, which shows a thought or idea that doesn’t have a physical or concrete existence.

In some instances, we might want to move the reader’s view of a scene or situation out, a “zoom out” so to speak. The brief use of passive phrasing will do that.

ozford-american-writers-thesaurusHowever, quantifiers have a bad reputation because they can quickly become habitual, such as the word very.

When I am laying down the first draft of a story, quantifiers, descriptors, and modifiers fall out of my head and into the keyboard. They are a mental shorthand that tells the story in only a few words, which is essential when we are just trying to get the story down before we lose our train of thought.

They are subconscious signals to our future selves that indicate an idea needs expanding and rewording for impact. They tell us to rewrite that sentence to strengthen it.

Limiting descriptors and quantifiers to conversations makes a stronger narrative. We use these phrases and words in real life, so our characters’ conversations will sound natural. The fact we use them is why they fall into our first drafts. But they weaken the story’s impact if we let them bleed over into the narrative.

neil gaiman quote 2Our narrative voice comes across in our choice of hard or soft words and where we habitually position verbs in a sentence. Where we automatically place the words in the sentence is a recognizable fingerprint.

Sometimes I read something, and despite how well it is constructed and written, it doesn’t ring my bells. Maybe I’m not attracted to the author’s style or voice.

That doesn’t mean I think the work is awful. It only means I wasn’t the reader it was written for.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Quote from: the Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, © 1930, published by Alfred A. Knopf. Fair Use.

Illustration, Original Cover of The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, © 1930, published by Alfred A. Knopf. Public Domain.

[2] Quote from Stardust by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess, © 1999, published by DC Comics. Fair Use.

Illustration: Original Cover of Stardust by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess, © 1999, published by DC Comics. Fair Use.

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