Tag Archives: writing

The creative process #amwriting

A few years ago, I accepted a NaNoWriMo dare to write an Arthurian tale with a steampunk twist.

I rather quickly regretted that.

The first question I asked myself was: Where do Arthurian and steampunk connect well enough to make a story?

The answer was that they don’t. I was faced with the mental blankness we all feel when a story refuses to reveal itself.

For me, a bit of mind-wandering always loosens things up, so I sat on my back porch. I picked a knight at random, Galahad, and pondered the problem. What kind of a person might Galahad have been, had he truly existed?

Those characters were supposed to be men of the 5th or 6th century, ordinary men. But the tales featuring them were written centuries later. Their 11th-century chroniclers presented them in contemporary armor as worn by Crusaders, and so did all subsequent authors.

Despite the heroic legends written about them, they would have been flesh and blood and would have been subject to the same emotions and physical needs as any other person.

What if Galahad and Gawain were lovers? That thought led to these questions:

What really happened after the Grail was found? What if somehow Galahad got separated from Gawain through a door in time when the magic in the world vanished with the Grail? How would Galahad get back to Gawain?

What if Galahad was marooned in Edwardian England, with Merlin. That was how the steampunk aspect of the story came into being.

That story became Galahad Hawke

The main character is Galahad Du Lac, son of Lancelot Du Lac, illegitimate, some chroniclers have said. If he is, we have to accept that the fifth century was a lot less concerned about the proprieties than Victorian Romantics gave them credit for.

Galahad is a knight-errant, a classic character in medieval chivalric romance literature. The adjective errant in this context means wandering. These characters roam the land in search of adventures to prove their chivalric worth.

They engaged in knightly duels or went in pursuit of courtly love. The medieval romance of highly ritualized courtly love was a rigid structure. It defined the behaviors of noble ladies and their lovers. It was tightly intertwined with the principles of the Code of Chivalry.

The Chivalric Code was a system of values combining a warrior culture, knightly piety, and courtly manners. Adherence to the Code of Chivalry ensured a knight epitomized bravery, honor, and nobility.

Thus, since the established canon dictates that Galahad isn’t attracted to women, he goes on quests to find strange and magical objects such as the Holy Grail.

The story is told from Galahad’s point of view and opens just after the Grail is found. As I said above, history and fantasy merge in the Middle Ages, so I took the high fantasy route.

Galahad Hawke was published in a short collection called Tales from the Dreamtime.

I read some medieval literature in college and found his story both varied and fascinating. So, different versions of Galahad appear regularly in my work.

Nowadays, Galahad is considered a minor knight. However, what we regard as canon about him is taken from Sir Thomas Malory’s 1485 work, Le Morte d’Arthur, in which he has a prominent role.

Mallory’s collection was a reworking of traditional tales that were hundreds of years old, even in his day. Also, he wrote it while in prison for a multitude of crimes, so we can be sure it’s not historically accurate.

Traditionally, Galahad is an illegitimate son of Lancelot du Lac. He goes on the quest to find the Holy Grail and immediately goes to heaven, raptured as a virgin.

But was he raptured? If he was not raptured, what could have happened to make medieval chroniclers think he was?

And he never married, but humans tend to be human, so why would bachelorhood make Arthurian chroniclers assume he was a virgin?

You might wonder why the notion of a virgin knight and being taken to heaven before death was so important to the medieval chroniclers. Why would they write it as though it were factual recorded history?

People always rewrite history to suit the times in which they live.

Medieval chroniclers were writing some 300 to 400 years after the supposed event, during the final decades of the Crusades. We have excellent records of 15th and 16th-century political struggles, and yet we make things up about the Tudors and Elizabethans as we go along, because they were interesting people and we love to imagine what they must have been like.

Religion and belief in the Christian truths espoused by the Church were in the very air the people of the time breathed. All the physical and material things of this world were entwined and explained by the religious beliefs of the day.

Literature in those days was filled with religious allegories, the most popular of which were the virginity and holiness of the Saints, especially those Saints deemed holy enough to be raptured.

Death was the common enemy, the one thing kings feared as much as beggars did. Those saints who were raptured did not experience death. Instead, they were raised to heaven, where they live in God’s presence for all eternity.

Thus, Galahad’s state of virginity and grace was written to be an example of what all good noblemen should aspire to.

The High Middle Ages, the period of European history that commenced around 1000 and lasted until 1300 (or so), saw a flowering of historical-fantasy writing in England. The craft of researching history was not an academic subject taught in school.

Reading history and writing their own accounts was a hobby for educated men who had the time, social position, and the talents to pursue it. Also, it was the purview of well-educated members of the clergy. The scientific method did not yet exist, so their “histories” were colored by daydreams, fantasies, and religious beliefs.

This means the assertions these authors claimed were history weren’t authenticated by the kind of intense research that we apply to academic subjects today.

I like to think that if J.R.R. Tolkien had been writing history in a monastery during the 7th and 8th century, The Lord of the Rings would have the same place in our historical narrative that the Arthurian Cycle has now, and Aragorn would have been the king who united all of Britain.

Sure, the histories from this period are highly questionable. However, they’re entertaining fantasy reads, leaving us free to riff on them and create our own mythologies.

So that is what I’m doing—working on my Alt-Arthurian novel, and also an unfinished spec-fic novel I pulled out the archives, looking for something cheerful to write.

What are you writing? I hope you are enjoying good writing time during this period of uncertainty and voluntary house-arrest!

5 Comments

Filed under writing

Society, the hidden underpinning of worldbuilding #amwriting

Authors all know that the physical setting of a story and the immediate environment must be absolutely clear in their mind. But there is a hidden aspect to worldbuilding, one that is nearly invisible to the casual reader.

Whether you are writing real-world environments or sci-fi/fantasy, a significant part of the world your characters inhabit is their society.

This aspect of worldbuilding is a fundamental underpinning of any novel, but it is one that goes virtually unseen. How people live, and their place in society is an invisible component of any story.

All societies are made up of layers. What those layers are is listed below. What makes your story different is how you apply the layers and yet keep them subtle to the reader.

We build the society in our minds, and to us, it is rock solid. It helps to write a page or two of background info, just for yourself. The reader doesn’t need to know the details or the history, only that it is.

My Tower of Bones series was initially invented as the setting for an anime-based platform-style RPG (Role Playing Game) that was never built. We intended to create a Final Fantasy style world and game, but the tech crash happened, and the game didn’t materialize.

However, I had retained the rights to my maps, my characters, and my storyline. This worldbuilding eventually became the basis for the Tower of Bones series. Mountains of the Moon is the original story that the series grew out of, although it was the fourth book to be completed and published.

Companies like Square-Enix have it right. Over the last three decades, they’ve consistently produced anime-based RPG games that are considered classics. These games have a rabid following because they share one commonality: they all have unforgettable characters, memorable worlds, and deep, involving storylines.

When I was asked to write the storyline for the game, I began with my protagonist, a hapless yokel named Wynn Farmer. I created a word-picture of his world and how the dangerous environment shaped his society.

Then I made a list of questions about the society Wynn lived in.  The answers formed the picture of his world and his place in it.

With that done, I set it aside to use as reference material for when I needed to know how a particular character would react in a given situation. We intended to determine what was important enough to be a cutscene later, but never got to that stage. Cutscenes are generally a short transitional animation, marking places where the storyline advances and giving deeper insight into the characters, their motives, and their ultimate quest.

This is the method I still use today when I create a new world.

I have posted the following lists before, so if you have already seen them and are bored now, thank you for stopping by.

Society is always composed of many layers and classes. How is your society divided? Who has wealth? are there

  • Nobility?
  • A servant class?
  • A merchant class
  • A large middle class?
  • Who makes up the most impoverished class?
  • Who has the power, men, women—or is it a society based on mutual respect?

Do they have a written language? This is really important if you are setting your people in a medieval world or in a really low-tech society because it determines how knowledge is passed on. Low-tech generally equals an oral tradition.

  • How are people educated?
  • Who is allowed to learn to read and write?
  • How are bards, storytellers, and other disseminators of knowledge looked upon?
  • How is monetary wealth calculated?
  • Do they use coins? What is their monetary system? If you are inventing it, keep it simple. (I generally use gold, divided into tens: 10 coppers=a silver/ 10 silvers=a gold)

Ethics and Values: What constitutes morality?

  • Is marriage required?
  • How are women treated?
  • How are men treated?
  • How are same-sex relationships viewed?
  • How are unmarried sexual relationships seen in the eyes of society?
  • How important is human life? How is murder punished?
  • How are treachery, hypocrisy, envy, and avarice looked upon?
  • What about drunkenness?
  • How important is the truth?
  • What constitutes immorality?
  • How important is it to be seen as honest and trustworthy?

Religion and the Gods: How important is religion in this tale? If it is central, ask yourself: Is there one god/goddess or many? If the worship of a deity is a vital part of your tale, you must design the entire theology. You must know the rituals and understand how their deity holds their hearts. You must know how that deity considers his/her worshipers.

  • What sort of political power does the priestly class wield?
  • What is the internal hierarchy of the priesthood?
  • Who has the power?
  • Is this religion a benevolent entity or all-powerful, demanding, harsh?
  • How does the priesthood interact with the community?
  • Who can join the priesthood?
  • Do people want to join the priesthood, or do they fear it?
  • How is the priesthood trained?

Level of Technology: What tools and amenities does this society have available to them? What about transport?

  • Hunter/Gatherers?
  • Agrarian/farming
  • Greco-Roman metallurgy and technology?
  • Medieval metallurgy and technology?
  • Pre-industrial revolution or late Victorian?
  • Modern day?
  • Or do they have a magic-based technology?
  • How do we get around, and how do we transport goods? On foot, by horse & wagon, by train, or by space shuttle?

Government: There will be a government somewhere, even if it is just the local warlord. Someone is always in charge because it’s easier for the rest of us that way:

  • Is it a monarchy, theocracy, or a democratic form of government?
  • How does the government fund itself?
  • How are taxes levied?
  • Is it a feudal society?
  • Is it a clan-based society?
  • How does the government use and share the available wealth?
  • How is the government viewed by the citizens?

Crime and the Legal System: What constitutes criminal behavior, and how are criminals treated?

Foreign Relations: Does your country coexist well with its neighbors?

  • If not, why? What causes the tension?

Waging War: This is another area where we have to ask what their level of technology is. It is critical for you as the author to understand what sort of weapons your characters will bring to the front, and also what the enemy will be packing. Do the research and choose weaponry that fits your established level of technology.

  • What kind of weaponry will they use?
  • How are they trained?
  • Who goes to battle? Men, women, or both?
  • How does social status affect your ability to gain rank in the military?

These lists are a jumping-off point, something for you to consider. The answers to these questions always lead to my considering other larger concepts, ideas and values that combine to make up a civilization. Please feel free to use this roster to form your own inventory of ideas about society.

Know your world, know the society, and write with authority.

Give your readers just enough detail to show that your world is real and substantial. You don’t need to go into detail about how that world came to be. You, as the author, are the only one who needs to know those details.


Credits and Attributions

Potions of this post were first published here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy as “Creating Societies,” © 2018 by Connie J. Jasperson. https://conniejjasperson.com/2018/09/24/creating-societies-amwriting,  published September 24, 2018.

Sword image via Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Espadon-Morges.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Espadon-Morges.jpg&oldid=350432233 (accessed March 18, 2020).

4 Comments

Filed under writing

The Rant from Ground Zero #amwriting

I live and write in the Olympia area of Washington State. We are a short drive from Seattle, the epicenter of the Corona Virus outbreak. Four of our children live within a few miles of the nursing home where 27 deaths have so far occurred that are linked to this disease. One of our daughters is a health care professional in that part of King County, a Reflexologist.

I will admit that it has been difficult to focus on writing.

In December, I wrote a short story with the theme of “Escape,” tailoring it specifically for an anthology with that theme. It is a dark story, detailing a virus that brings humanity to its knees.

Two weeks ago, I had just clicked the “send” button when the news of the nursing home deaths burst, and the Pacific Northwest went mad—panic shopping ensued.

Yesterday I made the decision to pull that story from consideration. I don’t think the world needs another dark tale about viruses, especially one with no happy ending.

I submitted a different story, one that is not necessarily happy. However, it’s optimistic and deals with a girl in 1950s America hoping to escape her difficult parents. The theme in the new submission fulfills the intention of “escape.” I don’t want to read anything that’s a downer right now, so I suspect that readers of an anthology won’t either.

I don’t see any reason to “panic shop.” I’ve been poor, and I know how to function in a world that isn’t 21st century America “clean.”

As far as housekeeping goes, those wipes and all that sanitizer aren’t really that useful, but they make people feel safer. I’ve never used them, as I’m allergic to chlorine bleach and use a mix of 1 cup white vinegar to 3 cups of water in a spray bottle for spot cleaning doors and even windows.

I’m old and officially began adult life at the age of 19 in 1972. I know that a sink or bucket full of hot, soapy water cleans most surfaces in my home well and doesn’t leave a nasty chemical residue.

White vinegar is an acid, and in a strong solution, it disinfects as it cleans. See this article: Does Vinegar Kill Germs?

Plus, it’s cheaper.

So how do we go forward as a people during these strange times? Here in Washington State, Governor Jay Inslee has worked tirelessly. He’s made hard decisions to ensure that our state does all it possibly can to meet this threat.

From this point on, we will admit that we can’t depend on those in our national government to respect us here in the Northwest. We know they won’t be honest with us, nor will we count on them to supply the country’s health system with what it needs.

We will learn new habits that will change how we interact with the world. We denizens of Ground Zero will elbow-bump but won’t shake hands, or hug, or kiss cheeks when in France. We won’t spread viruses if we can avoid it, and we’ll try to avoid getting them.

Panic shopping will settle down as this passes. Here at La Casa del Jasperson, we have enough to get by, and if we run out and the stores are empty, as I said at the beginning of this rant, we will manage. During the Reagan years, we were financially challenged, and since those days I’ve always been prepared for emergencies.

In the meantime, I have a large virtual community of writer friends, and we communicate through various boards on social media. My Tuesday morning writing group will be meeting via Google Hangouts. We have a Discord Channel for Olympia NaNoWriMo.

It is allergy season. Today March 15th, the tree pollen index is low, but with the advent of spring, that will change. My allergy to Douglas Fir will kick in as soon as the lovely green dust of tree pollen begins to cover the cars.

This year I will take allergy meds because a sniffly nose is a bad thing in this day and age. If the meds don’t work, I’ll have to stay home and dream about the new, remastered version of Final Fantasy VII.

Or, I could play the old, classic version again…heh heh…. I can probably still do that even if the meds work as they’re designed….

Never mind.

I have books to write and a house to clean.

Again.


Credits and Attributions:

Logo owned by Square Enix for Final Fantasy VII Remake. Copyright 2020 Square Enix, Fair Use.

Wikipedia contributors, “Final Fantasy VII Remake,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Final_Fantasy_VII_Remake&oldid=945625103 (accessed March 15, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Bottles of vinegar at a supermarket.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Bottles_of_vinegar_at_a_supermarket.jpg&oldid=218865788 (accessed March 15, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Jan van Grevenbroeck, Venetian doctor during the time of the plague. Museo Correr, Venice.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Jan_van_Grevenbroeck,_Venetian_doctor_during_the_time_of_the_plague._Museo_Correr,_Venice.jpg&oldid=213078370 (accessed March 15, 2020).

2 Comments

Filed under writing

The synopsis #amwriting

On Monday, we covered the query and cover letter. Today we are going over the synopsis, which is a short summary of your story or book. Indies will occasionally have to write a synopsis if they submit their longer work to contests, agents, or publishers.

When a contest or publisher asks for a synopsis, they don’t want a book blurb, which is a “this is why you should buy my book” teaser. They do want a short description filled with all the spoilers so that the work goes to the right editor or (in the case of a contest) reader.

Most submissions are electronic. I’ve mentioned before how important naming your files is. You want your work to be easily found, so don’t label your synopsis file “synopsis.doc.” Be specific and include the book title: Don_Quixote_Synopsis.doc

Try to be brief. For an average 300 – 400 page novel of less than 100,000 words, 500 to 800 words is good and won’t frighten off your intended editor/publisher. Length can vary—some agents and editors will want a longer synopsis, so be sure to check their website for their guidelines.

For a short story, a paragraph or so in the cover letter is usually all that is required for your synopsis.

Why do agents and editors want a synopsis when they can have the whole manuscript? They will ask for the first two or three chapters but are subject to time constraints. They don’t have time to read and judge an entire novel, so if they are interested at that point, they turn to the synopsis.

The synopsis, with its recounting of the events, will tell them if the rest of the book will keep the reader hooked. If they like the way the plot evolves, they will ask for the entire manuscript.

Your synopsis is not intended to entertain the editor. Your first few chapters should have done that. It is meant to be a brief, dry recounting of the who, what, where, when, and why of your entire novel.

If we are boiling a 350 page novel down to 500 – 800 words (which is only around one page), what do we include in our synopsis?

Harry Bingham of the UK’s largest literary consultancy, Jericho Writers, says:

A synopsis is a 500-800 word summary of your book that forms part of your agent submission pack. It should outline your plot in neutral non-salesy language and demonstrate a clear story arc. Every major plot twist, character, and any big turning point or climactic scene should get a mention. [1]

In other words:

  • Summarize your novel and include all the twists.
  • Don’t give it the hard sell.
  • Start at the beginning and hit the high points of the plot all the way to the end.

In this, as in most things, the internet is your friend. For a great article that includes both an excellent example of a synopsis, a good template, and many more details of how to write a synopsis, go to https://jerichowriters.com/synopsis/.

The following synopsis is of a book published in 1605, and which is 1,072 pages long. A book of this length would require a 2,000 word synopsis to cover the high points.

400-word Synopsis of the first 10 chapters of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote is a metafictional account of the mid-life crisis and adventures of a nobleman (hidalgo) from La Mancha named Alonso Quixano. The first chapters are taken from “the archives of La Mancha,” and the rest is translated from an Arabic text by the Moorish author Cide Hamete Benengeli.

Nearing 50 years of age and living in an unnamed section of La Mancha with his niece and housekeeper, Quixano is usually a rational man. He is obsessed with reading tales of chivalry and knights-errant. However, by not sleeping adequately because he was reading, Quixano is easily given to anger. He believes every word of his fictional books of chivalry to be true.

While he is asleep in his bed, his niece, the housekeeper, the parish curate, and the local barber burn most of his chivalric and other books. The priest must decide which books are bad for morality, so he can know them well enough to describe every naughty scene.

After the books are burned, the niece and priest seal up the room which contained the library, later telling Quixano that it was the action of a wizard.

The loss of his books causes him to lose his mind. Quixano decides to become a knight-errant. He will revive chivalry and serve his nation, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha.

After a short period of feigning health, Don Quixote requests his neighbor, Sancho Panza, to be his squire, promising him a governorship. Sancho is a poor and simple farmer but is far more practical than Don Quixote. He agrees to the offer, sneaking away with Don Quixote in the early dawn.

They begin their quest to revive chivalry, starting with Don Quixote’s attack on windmills that he believes to be ferocious giants.

The two next encounter two Benedictine friars traveling on the road ahead of a lady in a carriage. The friars are not traveling with the lady but happen to be on the same road. Don Quixote believes the friars are enchanters who hold the lady captive. He knocks a friar from his horse and is challenged by an armed Basque traveling with the company.

As he has no shield, the Basque uses a pillow from the carriage to protect himself, which saves him when Don Quixote strikes him. The combat ends with the lady leaving her carriage and commanding those traveling with her to “surrender” to Don Quixote. [2]

I do recommend you go to the Jericho Writers site and follow their guidelines if you are asked for a synopsis. The article there is one of the most comprehensive and useful ones I’ve read anywhere. Again, that article can be found at https://jerichowriters.com/synopsis/.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] How To Write A Novel Synopsis: Includes Template & Example, © 2019  by Harry Bingham, https://jerichowriters.com/synopsis/ (Accessed 03 Mar 2020).

[2] 400 word Synopsis of the first 10 chapters of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, condensed from Wikipedia.  Wikipedia contributors, “Don Quixote,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Don_Quixote&oldid=943081150 (accessed 10 Mar 2020).

Don Quijote de La Mancha and Sancho Panza, 1863, Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Don Quixote in the Library, by Adolf Schrödter, 1834 PD|100, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Wilhelm Marstrand, Don Quixote og Sancho Panza ved en skillevej, uden datering (efter 1847), 0119NMK, Nivaagaards Malerisamling.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Wilhelm_Marstrand,_Don_Quixote_og_Sancho_Panza_ved_en_skillevej,_uden_datering_(efter_1847),_0119NMK,_Nivaagaards_Malerisamling.jpg&oldid=376321256 (accessed March 10, 2020).

Leave a comment

Filed under writing

The Cover/Query Letter #amwriting

Every author who wants to sell their work will be required to craft either a query or cover letter at some point in their career. This is frequently a requirement for submission to a magazine or contest.

Some authors despise that process so much that they go indie, thinking they won’t have to leap that hurdle, only to find there is no escaping it.

Writing queries and cover letters can be an inconvenience if you don’t know what is expected or what you should include.

I’ve attended several seminars on the subject and have written many of them. The best place I have found with a simple description of what your query letter should look like is at the NY Book Editors website.

Boiled down, what they tell you is this:

  1. If you are mailing it or submitting a cover/query letter as a separate document, be formal:
  • Your address at the top of the page, right-justified.
  • The agent’s address, this time, left-justified.

In an email, you don’t do step one. However, you DO make sure your personal information is in your signature.

  1. Be personal and polite. Greet and acknowledge the agent or editor by name: Dear Ms. Stuart

The body: This is important: the body of your query letter should not exceed three to five paragraphs.

  1. The 1st paragraph is where you introduce yourself. Perhaps you met at a convention or seminar, or you’re a fan of one of the authors they represent. If you have a connection with the agent or editor you are approaching, mention it but be brief.

If you have no previous connection, NY Editors suggest you get down to business right away with your attempt to sell your short story or book. Their point of view on this is that you only have a few paragraphs to sell your work, so make those words count.

The 3 most important things to include in the 1st paragraph are:

  1. Title of the story (or novel)
  2. Genre
  3. Word count

The 2nd  and possibly 3rd paragraph must give a brief description of the work—showcase the plot and tell them why you think it is a good fit for this publication. Do as briefly as possible—do not write a 3,000-word synopsis.

ALL prospective publishers, whether for magazines or larger houses, want the hook and the essence of that short story/novel in these paragraphs. They want to get a feel for who you are as an author.

Do NOT give it the hard sell. The www.NYBookEditors.com website has this to say about query/cover letters: “You must walk a very fine line between selling your manuscript without coming across like the parent who knows his kid is the best player on the bench.”

The final paragraph is where you post a short (as in BRIEF) bio of you. Mention your published works, and whatever awards you have acquired. If samples of your work are available on your website, say so.

When submitting queries to two widely different types of editors, anthologies or magazines, the submission guidelines will be different. However, the basic cover/query letter is the same.

Magazines: Most magazines are available online nowadays and they usually want electronic submissions. Many publishers use Submittable, a service offered by a submissions manager software that makes the process simpler for both authors and editors. If they want their submissions sent via email, the email you attach your submission to is your cover letter.

Large Publishing Houses: Most agents, editors, and publishers want a 1 page, 300-word description of your novel. This is the query letter, as described above. Your ms is not attached to this.

Every magazine, publisher, editor, or agent has a website detailing the way they want things submitted. In general, the larger publishers and agents want to receive letters and/or emails formatted to rules that are readily available on their website.  You must read and follow them carefully.

I have mentioned the word “brief” numerous times in this post—and hopefully you see why. Choose your words carefully so that your brief paragraphs showcase you and your work in the best way possible.

This is most important: don’t forget to double-check your letter for typos and spelling errors. We all make them, and we don’t want them to be our legacy.

A sample email cover letter might read:

Dear Ms. Editor,

My name is Connie Jasperson. I was introduced to you at the 2019 PNWA conference during the book signing event. I hope my story, A Cold and Dangerous Place, might be a good fit for you.

A Cold and Dangerous Place is a quest tale about forgiveness and human frailty, with some elements of high fantasy. It is 3,500 words and has never before been published. I have attached the manuscript as a word document in Vonda McIntyre’s manuscript format, as specified in the submission rules.

I live and write in the Olympia area of Washington State, and am active in several writing groups. I am a founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group have independently published nine novels. My short stories have appeared in several anthologies. One of my short stories was included in the 2019 anthology Swords, Sorcery and Self-Rescuing Damsels, featuring stories by authors such as Jody Lynn Nye and Katie Cross.

Thank you for your consideration,

Connie J. Jasperson

123 Writer Rd. S.E.

Buymybook, WA 01234

c.jasperson@writer.com (email)

123-456-7890 (phone)

The body of any cover letter will be laid out in the same fashion. Title, word count, and genre are important. Agents and editors want to know that you sent them the kind of work they specialize in.

Sometimes my queries get good results, and sometimes not. I’ve said this before, but query letters are like ice cream. Everyone likes certain flavors and have to be pushed to try out new.

You just have to cross your fingers and hope your manuscript and letter arrives on a day when the person in question is in the mood for a story exactly like what you are selling.

1 Comment

Filed under writing

Self-editing: The Point of No Return #amwriting

Misfortune and struggle create opportunities for growth. We place obstacles in our protagonists’ paths that will force change on them. Crises, even small ones on the most personal of levels, are the fertile ground from which adventure springs.

In the editing process, we must ensure these opportunities are clearly defined, logical, and in the right place.

Most disasters are preceded by one or more points of no return.

Consider the engineering that goes into building and maintaining a dam.

Wikipedia says:

Dams are considered “installations containing dangerous forces” under International humanitarian law due to the massive impact of a possible destruction on the civilian population and the environment. Dam failures are comparatively rare, but can cause immense damage and loss of life when they occur. In 1975 the failure of the Banqiao Reservoir Dam and other dams in Henan Province, China caused more casualties than any other dam failure in history. The disaster killed an estimated 171,000 people and 11 million people lost their homes. [1]

When a mistake is made in the planning or construction process of a dam, it sets a chain of events into motion.

There are usually opportunities to notice the problem and resolve it long before the dam breaks, but despite the diligence of the engineers, the construction workers, and the maintenance personnel, the flaw may go unseen, and everyone is at risk.

Once the river begins flooding, the workers and people living downstream are faced with an event from which there is no turning back.

We must identify this plot point and make it subtly clear to the reader. Knowing the flaw is there, and seeing the workers unaware of it ratchets up the tension. The moment cracks appear in the dam, you have placed the protagonist at maximum risk.

Many times, in my real life, I’ve been boxed into a corner, frantically dealing with things I could have avoided, had I noticed the cracks in the metaphoric dam. When you look at history, humanity seems hardwired to ignore the “turn back now” signs.

In every novel, a point of no return, large or small, comes into play. The protagonists are in danger of losing everything because they didn’t recognize the warning signs, and they are pushed to the final confrontation, whether they are ready for it or not.

Arcs of action drive the plot. Sometimes that action is a chain of seemingly unconnected events. The first event is a catalyst, setting in motion the small events that follow. Each incident progressively forces the protagonist and their companions to a meeting with destiny.

In the editing process, we want to make sure the events are in a logical order, and that they serve the purpose of forcing the protagonist down the path we have chosen for them. Also, we want the reader to say, “Now I see the connections.”

Points of no return aren’t always large disasters. Events can force the protagonist to a confrontation with himself.

Perhaps a family is forced to deal with long-simmering problems.

Events from which there is no turning back are the impetus of change, and that change is what the book is about.

Midpoint is often a place where a choice is made from which there is no turning back. From that point, the narrative rises to the Third Plot Point, an event that is either an actual death or a symbolic death.

This major event forces the protagonist to be greater than they believed they could be. Conversely, it can break them down to their component parts.

Either way, the protagonist is profoundly changed by this crisis.

The structure of the story must be closely examined in the process of self-editing to ensure the logic of the plot.

During the build-up to the final point of no return, we want to ensure these events develop our characters’ strengths, so they are ready to face the final crisis.

Structural editors identify both the protagonist’s goals and those of the antagonist early on. They look at the arc of the story to make sure the author shows why these goals are important and why they justify the struggle that will ensue.

  • How does the protagonist react to being thwarted in his efforts?
  • How does the antagonist currently control the situation?
  • How does the protagonist react to pressure from the antagonist?
  • How does the struggle deepen the relationships between the protagonist and their companions or romantic interest?
  • What complications arise from a lack of information regarding the conflict?
  • How will the characters acquire that necessary information?

Obstacles in the protagonist’s path to happiness make for satisfying conclusions, no matter what genre you’re writing in. Whenever the protagonist overcomes an obstruction, the reader is rewarded with a feeling of satisfaction. That reward keeps the reader turning pages.

I love books that allow us to get to know the characters, see them in their environment. An incident happens, thrusting the hero down the road to the Lonely Mountain, or trying to head off a war.

In The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien set the first point of no return early. An acquaintance, Gandalf the Wizard, invited himself and twelve friends to dinner at Bilbo’s house, knowing that politeness would compel the hobbit to feed them.

The next day Bilbo found himself walking to the Misty Mountains with a group of Dwarves he only just met, leaving home with nothing but the clothes on his back.

By serving dinner to the unexpected guests, Bilbo passed the first point of no return. He heard the stories and listened to their songs. After having seen the map, even if he were to turn back and stay home, Bilbo would have been forever changed by regret for what he didn’t have the courage to do.


Credits and attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Dam failure,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dam_failure&oldid=943367090 (accessed March 3, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Alfred Zoff – A River Dam.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Alfred_Zoff_-_A_River_Dam.jpg&oldid=283453136 (accessed March 3, 2020).

The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, Theatrical release poster, Warner Bros. 2012 (Fair Use).

3 Comments

Filed under writing

Self-editing: Action, Events, and Introspection #amwriting

If you are a member of any writers’ forum on Facebook or through a private group, you know that today’s authors are constantly prodded to emphasize the action in their narratives. For new, inexperienced authors, this can lead to an imbalance, a narrative where the characters aren’t allowed time for introspection.

An editor looks at the scenes to see how they fit into the narrative and to ensure they are in the right order and flow into each other well.

Sometimes, I see a manuscript where it seems as if a horrific event has been inserted for the sake of shock value. In the revision process, you should examine these scenes to see if they do their job.

  • Was the event foreshadowed well, or did it come out of nowhere?
  • Is the scene necessary to force change and growth on the protagonist?
  • How are her fundamental ethics and ideals challenged by this event?

A structural editor will tell you that if there is no personal cost or benefit to the protagonist or antagonist, there is no need for that scene.

Writing these blind alleys is not a waste of time. You never know when you will need those ideas, so don’t throw them away—always keep the things you cut in a separate file. The fact that an idea doesn’t work for one book doesn’t mean it won’t work in another.

For my own work, I label that file “outtakes.” Having these unused scenes ready to adapt to other uses comes in handy when I need an idea to jump-start a new story.

In the rush of writing the first draft, it can be easy to focus on setting traps and roadblocks for our protagonist and her nemesis. We forget that readers need a chance to process what we have written.

Events must force the character to grow. Creepy scenes must have a purpose. If your story absolutely must contain that scene, it must deeply affect the characters involved in it. Events must be catalysts for the character’s evolution and growth.

We may think we have written evolving characters, but they remain stagnant if you don’t allow the reader time to see that evolution and process it.

We’re all avid readers. Consider how your favorite authors in these genres connect their underlying themes with the action and growth of their protagonists, and how they allow the reader to process each event.

Political thrillers are set against the backdrop of a political power struggle. They feature political corruption, terrorism, and warfare as common themes. How the protagonist negotiates these situations and is affected by them is the story. Introspection is key to the reader’s understanding of the events and their root cause.

Romance Novels detail the developing relationship between two people and show how they overcome the roadblocks to happiness. Both the conflict and climax of the novel are directly related to the core theme of a romantic relationship with a happy conclusion. Without small chances for introspection, the reader won’t feel connected to the protagonist and their story.

Literary fiction focuses on the protagonist of the narrative. This genre features introspective, in-depth studies of complex, fully developed characters. Action and setting are not the points here, although they frame the character and provide a visual perspective. In other words, opportunities for introspection are a key feature of literary fiction.

Science Fiction details realistic speculation about possible future events. All technology should be based solidly on knowledge of real world science, both past and present. A thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the Scientific Method is crucial. Events involving science and technology must be based on known and theoretically possible physics. Morality and the wider effects of  the choices we make are a strong theme in all science fiction. Without introspection, moral choices get lost.

Fantasy is my usual genre to write in. It is often set in an alternate, medieval, or ancient world. The common themes are good vs. evil, the hero’s journey, coming of age, morality, romantic love. Some fantasy is set in urban settings with paranormal tropes, but if that is the case, the author has similar constraints to those affecting the science fiction author. In urban fantasy, the reality must be true to life and contrast with the paranormal. This contrast highlights and emphasizes the fantasy elements.

These genres look widely different, but they all have one thing in common—they have protagonists and side characters who experience life-changing events. These moments become important to the reader.

In my mind, genre and setting are a picture-frame, a backdrop against which the themes that drive the action of the story are played out.

What is the underlying theme of your story? While you were laying down the first draft, did you notice a moral concept that was woven into the story? Was it love? Was it destiny? Was it the death of hope?

In the revision and editing process, we must identify the events that strengthen that theme, and frame them with moments of reflection.

Personal growth and the hero’s journey are often the central themes in my work. Those are the stories that hooked me as a young reader, and I still gravitate to them.

The idea of the heroic journey was first introduced by Joseph Campbell, the American mythologist, writer, and lecturer, in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (published in 1949). In this ground-breaking work, he discusses the monomyth or what is called “the hero’s journey.”

He describes how this motif is historically the common pattern of humanity’s myths and legends. Each of these tales involves an unlikely hero going on an adventure. This hero, in a decisive crisis, wins a victory, then returns home changed or transformed.

I often use Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Hobbit as an example. When Bilbo Baggins faces the giant spiders, he also faces his own cowardice. Bilbo is amazed to find he has the courage to fight them.

That scene was the first step in his realization that his bravery doesn’t depend on the magic ring he found earlier. He is afraid, but he is not afraid to be courageous. This is a core concept of this book, and of the entire Lord of the Rings series.

What is important to you? When you look for a book, what catches your interest? When you look at it from a distance, what do all the stories you love best have in common?

Those are the themes you should be writing to, what your events must support. You must allow your reader the chance to consider how those events affect the protagonist, to absorb the theme and deeper personal meaning of that character’s journey.

In that way, you will hook the reader and keep them firmly in your world.

4 Comments

Filed under writing

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]

11 Comments

Filed under writing

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.

3 Comments

Filed under writing

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.

7 Comments

Filed under writing