WriterWoes #11: Miss Teacher…?

I recently taught a Danish creative writing class, and it forced me to outline some of the many pitfalls of writing to a very varied audience in terms of age and writing experience. While this is not exactly a woe of writing, I will nonetheless share the material of the class on here in the vague belief that somebody may benefit from it – by happy mistake or otherwise.

Everything is based on my own experiences, which is the only way I believe that writing (and every other creative art) can be taught – Jedi-Padawan style!

*Curtain parts, lesson starts*

“Opening scene”:
Why do we write?

We have something to say – to ourselves and to others.

When we choose a genre, we work with different elements and rules, but every genre tell the same story – the story about you, and I, and us.

“Act I”:
Active & Passive

Always, always write active sentences.

This is the most basic rule that makes for good writing. I knew about it for long, but I never implemented it into my routine until recently – that was a mistake, I tell you.

Active sentences stay on eye-level with the reader. That is to say, they engage with the reader by offering more clarity and more emotional impact/investment than their passive counterparts. Therefore: always use them.

How to spot the difference?

If you can add “by” to the sentence, it’s passive.

Passive: “She was killed by the falling tree.”
Active: “The falling tree killed her.”

 “Act II”:
Saidisms & Purple Prose

Saidisms:

This is best explained with an illustration:

Unavngivet

Don’t dumb down your reader by explaining every single nuance of your characters’ dialogue. No one likes to be spoon-fed a book. Rather, write the dialogue well enough that you won’t need to clarify it. Then in the rare cases when you do choose to clarify, it will have a much stronger effect on the reader.

Writing is all about effect – about affecting your reader…

 

As an extension of saidisms, also be aware of excessive use of adverbs.

Purple Prose:

Purple prose… is not necessarily a bad thing, but it should be approached with caution. Jane Austen and Edgar Allan Poe and F. Scott. Fitzgerald, for example, are masters of this and their novels are literary classics that should be on every bibliophile’s shelf. Purple prose is, however, something that can quickly become an unintended crutch to lean on.

So, what is purple prose?

Purple prose = flowery, ornate, extravagant writing

Why can it become a crutch?

Because it may take the reader’s focus off the plot – indeed, it may even take your focus off your plot – and you will lose your reader along the way if your novel is pretty packaging without proper content.

“Act III”:
Microtension & Macrotension

Here it goes, simplified to the extreme:

Macrotension = plot, plot, plot and plot

Microtension = line-by-line-by-line basis

Microtension is what captures and holds the reader in the moment. It’s what makes them turn to a new page. Unfortunately, it’s often overlooked by the writer in favor of macrotension, of the important and exciting bits of your novel that you’ve been just dahhyying to write…….

Well, don’t.

Don’t do that, please.

Microtension is so, so important if you don’t want to lose your reader.

Here’s a couple of examples on how to implement microtension:

Character-based: a sudden change or contradiction in the protagonist’s emotions

Setting-based: the protagonist is in conflict – add a thunderstorm, kettle boiling over, knock on door etc.

Grammar-based: carefully consider the arrangement of your paragraphs. Think about the (sometimes) poor timing of subtitled TV-shows where you end up reading the joke before you hear it spoken aloud. Does the joke not lose impact/tension/effect because of this? This is the same with paragraphs. Move your protagonist’s realization of unrequited love to a new paragraph; don’t let it lose impact by bundling it together with the mundane tasks of checking emails and making breakfast.

Consider the paragraph work below, and tell me which one have the most impact?

She was afraid of what she had done. A proper person would stand up and face the consequences, but Juliette had never been a proper kind of person.
And so Juliette ran.
Consequences be damned.
When she finally stopped running, she was too far away from home to make it back in time for the funeral, which was really just as well, wasn’t it?

She was afraid of what she had done. A proper person would stand up and face the consequences, but Juliette had never been a proper kind of person. And so Juliette ran.
Consequences be damned. When she finally stopped running, she was too far away from home to make it back in time for the funeral, which was really just as well, wasn’t it?

I admit that these two examples are both extremes, but they serve the purpose of explaining, do they not?

If you remind yourself to consciously work with microtension, you will not only have a better text for a final draft, but you will also have less overall editing to do.

“Curtain Call”:
“Thought verbs” 

This… is not a favorite technique of mine, though I do find myself intrigued by the idea and the lesson that lies therein.

What are thought verbs?

Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires etc.

What’s the problem with them?

Crutches and spoon-feeding, again.

Just like saidisms and purple prose, these so-called thought verbs run the risk of “saying too much”, and you thus run the risk of losing your reader along the way. Again, put your trust in the reader. They understand more than what you think they do.

*Curtain closes, lesson ends*

Liebster (Discover New Blogs) Award!

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Ah, so I got nominated for the Liebster Award. Which I had no idea existed. Whatsoever. At all. So, yes, that took me by surprise. But by nice surprise, of course! And it’s all thanks to the lovely, talented Storyspiller! Make sure to give the blog a peek. If it counts for anything, it has my stamp of approval. Anyway, on with the (award)show!

The rules of this award:
1. Acknowledge the blog who nominated you and display the award.
2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger gives you.
3. Give 11 random facts about yourself.
4. Nominate 11 blogs.
5. Notify those blogs of the nomination.
6. Give them 11 questions to answer

My answers:

1. What is the first moment you remember from your life?

I honestly don’t know if this is a true memory or not, but I have a very vivid memory of crying in my stroller, staring up at the sky, having lost my pacifier, supposed to sleep, but now upset that nobody can hear me and haven’t picked me up…. Like I said; I have no idea if this is fabricated or not, but regardless, it’s there in my memory.

2. What was your last milestone?

… Paying my bills, feeling real good at adulting.

3. What is your favorite cuisine?

Danish traditional cuisine, particularly fish.

4. If you could give a speech to the whole world what would you talk about?

Not myself. For the love of god, not myself.

5. Do you like fried or baked?

I just… love food… both fried and baked.

6. Brown or white rice?

White for Asian dishes, definitely. And for fish. Brown for, well, meats?

7. Favorite disney movie?

Beauty and the Beast – no other contender for the spot. Also, I’m a feminist by nature, so no, don’t get me started on the Stockholm Syndrome debate here.

8. Who’s your favorite author?

Hmmm. Maybe if I had a starting letter, I could choose from the dozens of authors that I wholeheartedly love? No? Let’s see… Stephen King for horror, Diana Gabaldon for historical romance/drama/sci-fi, Neil Gaiman for whatever the hell his core genre is, Laurell Hamilton for supernatural, Charlotte Brönte and William Faulkner and Ray Bradbury for classical lit, Lisa See for historical with Asian focus, Jay Kristoff for YA (the only YA author I’ll read nowadays), Ai Yazawa for manga…… erm… yeah, I better stop now…

9. What kind of magazines do you read? 

Online literary ones. But I was never that great of a magazine reader, truth be told. Do comics count as books or magazines? Or, wait, they’d be a genre on their own, wouldn’t they?

10. If you could go anywhere where would you go?

Into a book. Or computer game. Or a movie. Anything with a good, fantastical narrative.

11. If you had your own mythical animal which one would it be? (Animals from books count)

Don’t know if this counts as a mythical “animal”, per se, but here goes: the specific yōkai from Japanese folklore that floats around and licks ceilings. I’d like to float around and lick the ceilings of my enemies.

11 Random facts ’bout me:
  1. I paint as a secondary hobby.
  2. I’m a master of lies.
  3. I decided to learn Japanese recently… I now live to regret it.
  4. I’m a longtime lover of K-pop and K-drama. (And J. And Chinese.)
  5. I love writing to the flicker and flame of candlelight.
  6. I wish I dared taking singing lessons.
  7. I also wish I knew how to ride a horse.
  8. I have weird, soft nails that grows in curves rather than straight.
  9. I recently chopped off half of my hair, including every last bit of dye. I now carry my own hair color for the first time since thirteen years old. And the color is not at all what I spent the last fourteen years thinking it was, meaning boring and bland. What a waste of money, right?
  10. I began my writing career as a writer of fanfiction.
  11. I prefer craft beer to white wine, but I prefer red wine to white wine.
Blogs I nominate:

https://rltierney.com/

https://simplesoulsister.com/

https://piecesandpapers.wordpress.com/

https://sawritingsblog.wordpress.com/

https://fictioncafe.net/

https://lowfrequenciesatnight.wordpress.com/

https://orchidslantern.wordpress.com/

https://aplikestowrite.wordpress.com/

https://jccauthon.wordpress.com/

https://weedstoash.wordpress.com/

https://randomroamings.wordpress.com/

My questions:
  1. What is your favorite type of weather?
  2. Do you like licorice – as in, real black licorice?
  3. What other language(s) do you wish to learn?
  4. What is the most comforting sound you can think of right now?
  5. Have you ever considered a name change for whatever reason?
  6. Which book do you hate the most?
  7. Who’s your favorite author?
  8. Christmas or New Years?
  9. Travel by plane or by ferry?
  10. What color highlighting pen do you prefer?
  11. If you could live a day of no consequences, what misdeed would you do first?

That’s it! I’ve not been very active lately, but this nomination finally seemed to set things into gear once more. It was super fun, too! And as for the blogs I’ve nominated, I’m crossing my fingers that you choose to participate in this bit of innocent fun. Promoting each other, especially fledgling and growing bloggers, is an honorable thing to spend one’s time on, is it not? As far as I understood, the blogs that I nominate has to have less than 1000 followers, so even if they aren’t actually new in terms of time, they are new in terms of deserved recognition. And new to me, as well, and hopefully now new to you!

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WriterWoes #9 – The Do’s of Dialogue

This is less of a woe, and more of an advice to whoever cares enough to listen to a self-taught writer who may or may not know what the heck she’s doing. Anyhow, I had saved this post for a different page, but, alas, I decided to post it here – so, here we go, my two cents on the matter of dialogue:

  1. Identify and toss the extras

    How often do you hear yourself talk in lengthy complex sentences?
    How often do you toss in five adjectives in one sentence, maybe more?
    Not often, right?
    While poetical writing is beautiful and poignant in its own right, it can be difficult to make work in dialogue, particularly in modern times (a.k.a. the age of text messaging).
    Of course, every style and voice is different, but where it pertains to dialogue only, I very much believe that less is more – to quote Stephen King: “the road to hell is paved with adjectives.”
    But, but, but, there are always exceptions: if you’re writing a historical piece, for example, you should always engage in dialogue that fits the period.

  2. Mind the punctuation

    When you identify and toss the extras, the punctuation becomes important. Why? Because while we don’t naturally talk in complex sentences, we do tend to talk in ellipses, dashes and italics. Do not, however, rely on ellipses, dashes and italics in your dialogue. If used too often, they lose the punch-thwack effect you want them to have. Bottom line: trust the reader to understand what your characters are saying and instead use the punctuation to tell the reader how your characters feel. If you will, have a look at the example below and consider the effect of punctuation on the mood of the sentence rather than the clarification:

    “… Can meet? What do— can? I’m set to leave for Wallace’s property— land— the man’s whatever in a matter of days. You said that you would help me; now you ask me to finish the document all on my own with guards lurking outside my door both day and night, breathing through the damned keyhole, until the two of us can meet again— can meet—what do you mean by can?”

  3. Delay the underpainting

    One way to secure an easy, readable flow in your dialogue is to delay the underpainting and focus solely on the tennis-match dialogue itself. When applied to writing, the so-called underpainting equals the meaty bits of text in between your dialogue – that is, your character’s actions, the tinkering of plot, scenic descriptions, and whatever else. It can be advantageous to save this for later so that it won’t interfere with the natural flow of dialogue as it transfers from your mind to your fingers and, lastly, to the paper before you.

  4. Read it aloud

    In a way, dialogue is much like poetry in that it ought to be read aloud. After all, dialogue happens out loud in real life and not inside your head (of course, that’s debatable, but let’s not debate that just now). Reading dialogue aloud gives us the absolute best idea whether something sounds natural or unnatural. It shows us the hitches, or the lack thereof, in the flow. Remember that in the matter of dialogue, our ears work far better than our eyes.

Easy is as easy does!

Basically, if you do not speak it, you should steer clear of writing it, so always keep that rule of thumb in mind. Otherwise, write your dialogue however you want to. The best writing ultimately comes from the gut – in it’s original, first-draft form, of course.

FiftyWordStory #6

She had the eyes of a snake; eerily yellow and with a vertical slit. Sometimes, if the sunlight hit from the proper angle, the color of her skin would turn sheer, almost translucent, like the cast off slough of a sister snake.
Please… why am I the guilty one here?