Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Attention New Writers...
Theo Fenraven, a published author and an editor agreed to let me pretty much copy/paste 2 posts he wrote on his blog. I found these posts to be extremely helpful and I believe writers starting out can benefit a great deal from them.
1. Superfluous thats. I notice them every time, and have actually gotten to the point where I mentally skip over that word when reading, I hate seeing it there so much. Try the sentence without it; if it sounds good, if it makes sense, take that damn word out.
Other often superfluous words that drive me and other readers crazy: well, so, even, up, just, and believe it or not, back. That last one sometimes gets used over and over in a paragraph. You can make dialog sound natural without taking it from real life. I mean, none of us write the way we talk and that’s a GOOD THING, otherwise, the books we write would make us all insane. An occasional “uh” or “well” is okay, but don’t start every line of dialog with it even if, in real life, that’s exactly what you do. In real life, you’re boring. Let’s try not to mimic that in fiction.
2. Guys who are come (or cum, if you prefer that spelling) machines. They get it up, they come, and instantly, they are hard again, ready for another round. Even at age 18, it takes a couple minutes, and if you’re over thirty? I know there are some machine gun cocks out there, but please allow refractory time for the merely mortal men. Use the waiting time to talk or cuddle or throw darts at a wall, but do give them a bit of time.
3. I began to walk across the room or He was beginning to dance. Stop that! Be firm. Be brave. Say I walked across the room or He danced. Take out those useless extra words and clean up your writing. Say what you want to say. Get to the point, because I’m beginning to hate seeing this kind of writing, and so many inexperienced authors do it.
4. He tried to kiss her. I tried to fill the sink. As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” This one is a particular thorn in my side. While there are instances when “trying to” do something applies, mostly it’s just more clutter. Do it already. Kiss her and then fill the sink.
5. Independently moving body parts. He moved his eyes around the room. Oh yeah? Nifty trick, moving eyes that way. Did they like it better on the shelf by the pothos or next to the window? His feet shuffled along the path, going right at the fork in the road. Nuh-uh. Feet don’t have a mind of their own. He shuffled along the path.
6. The hand problem, which a lot of writers seem to suffer from. He moved a hand up and tweaked her nipple. He used his free hand to stroke the inside of her thigh. This one should be obvious. You can’t tweak or stroke without using your hands, so stop writing this way. Just tweak her nipple and stroke her thigh. She’ll thank you for it and so will the reader, who understands you are using hands and not bionic metal parts that are cold and might hurt.
7. Detailing gestures. He shook his head no. Shaking your head implies no; you don’t have to say it (unless you’re in a country where the usual gestures don’t apply, in which case, publish there, not here). He shrugged his shoulders. What else is he gonna shrug? His hips? His knees? He shrugged. Short and sweet.
8. Authors who use ten words when one will do. Complex, convoluted sentences do not impress. They wear the reader out, and if you make them tired enough, they’ll toss your book aside. Always write as simply as possible. Beautiful sentences don’t contain a plethora of adjectives and adverbs.
9. Overuse of exclamation points! Very rarely does someone speak in a way that requires their use! If you want to impart excitement, terror, or other strong emotion to the reader, put it in the writing, not the bang! Someone please stop me now! <whew> That’s better. If you use too many bangs in your story, you will be thought of as an amateur.
10. They all looked in his direction. The group of chanters all passed out as the poison gas hit them. Spot it yet? ALL. For some reason, this one gets thrown in the oddest sentences. It’s another one of those often superfluous words writing can do without. Reading aloud, or having your writing read to you, can be eye-opening. I’m pretty sure you’ll hear these things even if your eye misses them.
11. He stood up. She sat down. Minor quibble here, but worth pointing out. If you sit, down is implied. If you stand, up is implied. Think about it.
12. Repetition. Ooh, this is a bad one with some writers. In their head, they are writing beautiful sentences but in reality, their mind got into a rut when they weren’t looking and started repeating the same word or phrase, over and over and OVER again until the reader upchucks in disgust. I’m really good at spotting these; I’ll nail you for them every time. If you want to get ahead of the game, download the free program SmartEdit, which will do the looking for you. It doesn’t fix them, it only points out the sheer number of times you wrote He rolled his eyes or She lifted an eyebrow.
If you actually think about what you write, you’ll be amazed how quickly you improve. Becoming aware is the first step toward developing your own style. Writing well is a huge accomplishment in this world full of mediocre writers. But remember, all writers, even the best, need someone with a critical eye to tweak their manuscript. I’m talking about a discerning beta or a good editor. I happen to be both. Keep that in mind if you think you’re ready to self-publish or submit that novel to a publisher. I even have testimonials, which one day I will post. :)
Being published is a privilege, one you earn by learning your craft and being a professional, and if some pain goes along with that, tough shit. No one’s forcing you to write. Take up knitting. I hear that’s popular now. Get a goat, milk it, and make yogurt. Move to the country and stop wearing clothes when you garden.
If you write for publication, you should never stop learning, never stop trying to improve. Don’t assume you know it all and can rest on your cushy laurels. Your personal standards should always rise, not hover around ‘good enough.’
You want an editor that’s going to slap you around, make you cry, even make you bleed, because that person is going to help you put out the best work you’re capable of. They’re going to help you take that piece of coal and turn it into a diamond.
Oh, you were out of coal that day and handed in a a block of petrified wood? You were tired, you were sick, your aunt who lives in another state was sick, the cat puked in your favorite shoes, a dark cloud crossed the sun, you just didn’t feel like going over that manuscript even once before submitting? Shame on you. If you do this, you’re not a writer. You’re not a professional. You’re not taking yourself seriously, and no one else will, either. See previous paragraph about knitting and goats.
Where is the line between the author’s style and plain bad writing? If I can’t get through one paragraph without highlighting something, you’re either lazy (didn’t re-read or get it beta’d) or you can’t write. Either way, you’re wasting everyone’s time.
I can’t say this often enough: learn your craft.
Read. Observe how good writers handle this description or that action. Write write write, always seeking to make your sentences better, leaner, more powerful. You’re in love with the word actually and use it at least once on every page? Get over it. Time to break up with that bitch and move on.
Become your own harshest critic. Never hesitate to slash and burn if it means you’re turning your work into a diamond. Your editor will appreciate it. The reader will love you for it. And in the end, who doesn’t want a diamond? Coal is easy. Go for precious gems.
More things a writer should never do:
1. Head anywhere, i.e., we headed out of town, headed to the kitchen, headed up the stairs. “Head/headed” seems to have become the universal word for moving characters from one place to another. USE SPARINGLY, because it’s really getting irksome to see it used to the exclusion of all other ways to accomplish your goal. He went to the kitchen. She trotted up the stairs. They slunk out of town. “Head/headed” is lazy writing.
2. He made as if to rise. Even writing that made me laugh. Uh, what? He rose. He stood. He leaped to his feet. Write cleanly, simply. Don’t throw a lot of extra words in there. It scrambles readers’ brains.
3. Dialog tags. You know what those are. “Leave,” he said. ‘He said’ is the dialog tag. Get in the habit of using them only when necessary. You’d be amazed how much better your story flows if there is not a surfeit of dialog tags. Let your characters talk and move in a sea of soaring narrative. Dialog tags only slow things down, especially when they are anything other than ‘he said.’
4. Expand your vocabulary. I don’t want to read “He nodded,” “he nodded again,” “he nodded a third time” in the space of three paragraphs. If you can’t think of anything else to write, see previous paragraph about knitting and goats. Stop relying on the same old words and phrases. Come up with new ways to say old things. Avoid repetition like the plague, because that’s what it is: a plague, and on all our houses, not just yours. (If you didn’t get that reference, you aren’t reading enough: Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare.)
5. “He grabbed his own cock.” “She got into her own clothes.” “He closed his own car door.” UGH. Take ‘own’ out of there please! I’ve been seeing this too much lately and it pisses me off. I get that you think it’s necessary to put that in there when there are two or more people in a scene, but don’t. If John is grabbing a cock, it’s either gonna be one he owns or a friend’s, in which case, that would be stated: He grabbed Mike’s cock. If he’s grabbing his cock, ‘own’ doesn’t belong there. It’s a junk word.
6. “He felt,” “she felt,” “they watched.” For the love of all that is holy, NO. If your point of view (PoV) is clear, there is no need to phrase the action that way. “He felt William sag against him.” Nope. William sagged against him. Or: “He watched Suzie rearrange the furniture so it was sure to trip him.” Nuh-uh. Suzie rearranged the furniture so it was sure to trip him. Learn this one. It will save us all a lot of eyerolls.
7. “…and with his free hand, he gingerly touched her pigeon-shaped mole.” The ‘free hand’ thing makes me laugh and then want to punch something. All of you is free, not just the spare hand. Remember our discussion on body parts in the last post on editing? Find it here.
This is WORD FOR WORD. I didn't change any part of those 2 posts. Some people may not know Theo so here is the link to his blog... Theo Fenraven on Wordpress He has published MANY books as well as edited many more. He knows what he's talking about.
If you're like me you constantly ask yourself if you're doing it right. You wonder how it is you can learn to be better, to not only love writing but be good at it.
I hope this is as helpful for you as it is for me. I want to thank Theo for allowing me to copy this and share it with all of you.