Quick Bites: Little

Be careful.  Little is one of those words that you write it and you’re trying to imply something, or take away from the shock of something, or you aren’t even thinking, and then you look back and you’re like “Wait, what?  That makes no sense at all.”

Let’s go through the reasons I use the word ‘little’ and then why it’s a bad plan.

1. I want to imply that the action is happening, but it’s not in a huge way.  

Example: He jumped up and down a little.

Why it’s bad:  The word ‘jump’ means, by it’s very nature, that you take your feet off the ground.  There is nothing little about it.  It just can’t be a little action.  If I am jumping a ‘little’ what am I actually doing then?  It’s way better to use a word which more accurately described what ‘he’ was doing.

Fix it! He bounced on his toes.  

2. To soften an action which I feel might be too dramatic for the text.

Example:  He screamed a little, backing away.

Why it’s bad:  You can’t have it both ways.  I know that it’s kind of scary to have complete control, and sometimes you want to soften the blow to your characters, give em a break, or maybe you’re worried about being labelled as melodramatic.  But at the same time… you’re a writer.  Your job is to create drama.  Softening that drama just means you’re slacking on the job.  

Fix it! He screamed, backing away.

3. To take the place of ‘a small bit’ or show that something is a small amount.

Example:  He adjusted the pillow a little to lay flat.

Why it’s bad: This is the easiest.  Frankly, ‘little’ is filler here.  No really, take it out.  “He adjusted the pillow to lay flat”.  Exact same sentence; because you’ve already implied the small amount of effort taken by using the word ‘adjusted’.  

Fix it!  He adjusted the pillow to lay flat.  

Hope this helps!  If you have a word you’d like me to analyze for quick bites, feel free to leave it in the comments!

Quick Bites: To

As I am editing ‘Sword’s Blessings’, the sequel to ‘Pandora’s Ring’, I am thanking my editors for teaching as well as editing.

‘Pandora’s Ring’ was easily edited at first flush, but when you looked deeper it was kind of a mess.  There were a few reasons for it, none of them plotting/pacing/character problems, but just tiny little grammatical things which kept cropping up.

One of those was with the word ‘to’.

You see, ‘to’ can be used in a directional sense, as in “from there to here.”  or “give it to me.”  but it’s also part of the infinitive form of words, and that’s where the problem lies.  I have a tendency to use infinitive form in the wrong places. When you use the infinitive form of a word, you sometimes end up implying that what was going to happen… didn’t.

See here:

She turned to give him the paper.

I would guess that half of you read that just as I would read it.  As in she turned around and gave him the paper.  But I would also imagine that some of you were like “Ok… she turned to give him the paper… but what happened?  What stopped her?”

You see the trouble?  Half of your readers will understand exactly what you meant, half will be like “But WHAT?!  Why didn’t she just give it to him!?”

Therein lies the trouble.  Don’t kick your readers out of the narrative like that.  A 50% keep rate is not ok, so while directional ‘to’ and ‘to infinitive’ which is, in fact about to be followed up by a ‘but…’ are both ok… try and pare down on them otherwise.

Got it?  Great.  Michael will be on tomorrow with Tidbit Tuesday!

A Quick Analogy

I’m sorry to have been away for so long, but between a sudden influx of work (holidays, marketing and advertising job, you get the idea) and moving for the second time in as many months, I’ve had to stick mostly to quick bits on twitter, and have only the time for a brief update today.

I wanted to draw a quick analogy between moving house and writing a story.

First, you have the house/apartment itself.  It is bare, but it has structure, compartments, walls, and all the necessary rooms.  This is akin to the brainstorming of a story.  You sort of see the rough outline in your head, get a vague feeling for the world, and maybe think up some of the major plot points and themes.

Second, you move the furniture in.  These are similar to the characters.  They are the players in your grand scheme, your structure.  They might all match up, or they might be different as the sun and a rock.  If you got your characters from Wal-Mart you might have a rather peculiar story (though watching this video I would believe it if you ever have gotten a character from Wal-Mart.)  but if your furniture is from there it’s cool too.

Next, you take your boxes of stuff and get them in there.  These are the complications, complexities, flaws, idiosynchracies, challenges, trip ups, flares and flounces, tone and aura of your story.  They are what will make your home, and your story, undeniably yours.  Everyone has furniture.  A bed and a chair of some kind; whether you have a mattress on the floor or a nice canopy bed makes no difference, you still sleep in it.  Not everyone has a Tachikoma in a tiny fascinator hat  sitting on their night stand.

There is a good chance that I am a Ghost in the Shell fan.

Finally, you take all that stuff that you’ve gathered together over the years, and you put it all in it’s rightful place.  You neaten.  You decorate.  You Feng Shei if that’s your thing.  But the point is that you make it work, all together, within the frame of your apartment, and not just hilly nilly chilling in the boxes like about half of my stuff is still doing (sigh).

What’s your favorite analogy to writing a story?  Feel free to steal the idea and blog for yourself, I’d love to see it!

And Suddenly… Projects!

Phew!  I have lots of projects on the table right now and as I haven’t posted in awhile I’m going to relate them all to you, you may be excited or sympathetic about them as you see fit!

  • Nanowrimo: I am freshly caught up only to fall behind again.  Man, Nanowrimo hasn’t been this difficult in years.  This just goes to prove how different Nano can be from one year to the next.  I think I’m still on track to finish though, so never fear!
  • The folks for Spark Anthology contacted me asking for some material.  I am super excited to say that the short story, One Cog Short of Paradiseis now being spiffed up (and finished, ha.) for it’s debut with this anthology, as well as a Tidbit Tuesday being chosen for a place.
  • Pandora’s Ring is with the Line Editors.  Ooooh, I can’t wait to see what Lyrical Press does with the cover!  I loved Valeria’s.
  • To that end, I am trying to streamline/edit/prettify the sequel to Pandora’s Ring.  The second book is tentatively named Sword’s Blessings, and as it’s stuck so far I think it’ll be the right title, but I’m still not certain yet, you know?
  • I’m looking into trying out Radio as a medium.  A fellow writer offered her blog radio to talk to fellow romance authors, and if I like that I’m going to see about contacting some radio shows.  We’ll see!  I can talk your ear off about writing, so hopefully I won’t stick my foot in my mouth or anything.
  • Finally, I start a day job tomorrow, in the Management training program for a marketing place here in Omaha.  It’ll be nice to be working again!

How to Restructure Your Story

What to do when your draft isn’t quite singing: make a list of the points of each scene and rewrite the scenes based around those points.

Here is a problem I run in to a lot:

  • First I write the beginning of the story.
  • Then the story changes direction.
  • So I write what the story tells me to do.
  • Then I have all these tail ends from before the story changed direction.
  • Like a good author, I wrap up those loose ends, which no long have anything to do with the main story.

You see the problem here, right?  There’s a bunch of stuff left over from a previous story that never shaped up.  So how do we deal with that?  What if the loose ends are kind of entrenched in the story so well you aren’t even sure what’s going on?  That’s going to require a full story restructure!

Deep breaths, don’t panic.

I’m not sure if that counts as big friendly letters.

Here’s a few things you can do to painlessly restructure your story.

#3 Talk to a friend.

Ok, yes, our friends sometimes get a little sick of hearing about our writing.  I’m pretty sure I’ve got friends who would very much like to stick a cattle prod to me every time I blabber about “I gotta go write” or “wah my plotline is unraveling”.  But we also all have that friend who is either a writer themselves and thus will lend a sympathetic ear (or at least not smack you) or is an avid reader and totally ok with hearing about your next big idea.  If they need a bribe, offer to buy them a coffee.

Now, what you need to do is tell them exactly what happens in about 2-5 minutes.  All they need to do is sit there and nod their head at minimum.  If they’re awesome (or you bought them some very fine coffee) they will ask questions about things you missed or things they are interested in.

Make a note of this conversation.  What did you forget to tell your friend about your story?  What did you leave out for the sake of time?  What subplot did they need clarification about the use of, and what character did they roll their eyes at.  Now, go back to your manuscript.  If you left it out, you might not need it.  If they needed clarification on something, either you didn’t make it clear enough OR it’s just padding on the wall to make the MS bigger.  If a character sounds cheesy in conversation, they probably need some work.

I do this quite a bit, though generally it’s as the story is being created rather than at the end.  Most of the time it’s MIchael that gets to listen to me (which is great, cause I don’t have to pay him :D) however lately I’ve also been working with an old friend of mine working on her first epic fantasy.  I help her out, she helps me out.  It’s fabulous.

#2 Pull out the good old fashioned note cards.

This one is a classic but it does in fact work.  Take the note cards and read through your manuscript.  Jot down important points – all of them, whether you think they’re extraneous.  Note page number or card order or something.  When you’re done with that, take the cards and sort them.  Sort them by character, sort them by scene, sort them by setting, sort them by all sorts of things.  A pattern will emerge with your extraneous points:  they won’t have any groupings.  Most other scenes take part in the city, there’s this plot line that’s on a farm in the country, and for some reason it never merges.  The king is the main character, but there’s this stubborn little plotline about a foreign knight.  The cards will be alone, or they’ll stick together in every grouping as a sad little clique that bullies the good, smart kids.

I did this once.  Only once.  Why only once?  The story I was working on (a side-plot of The Athele Series) was 150 pages long.  I took over the student lounge with my note cards and sorting.  Now, it did give me great perspective into my story, but I just couldn’t manage the amount of clutter, so I moved on to using #1.

#1 Two Words:  Microsoft Excel

Man, I don’t know how many of you have figured this out, but excel spreadsheets aren’t just for your science labs!  It was probably that onus which prevented me from using this method for so long, actually.  I’d spend hours on excel in various college labs, and so I never saw it as a writing tool, but wow, it’s awesome.  You can use it for character stats, setting and world building, I even once used it to keep track of how many people the big scary villain was killing in total.  (it came to over 13.5 million)

Recently I’ve been using it as a tool to keep track of and clean up my plots.  In a similar way to the note cards I type out the major plot points and take a good hard look.  What can I cut?  What can I streamline into other parts?  What can go into another story or book?  Excel gives you the added luxury of being able to use multiple levels of sorting, though.  A scene can have importance to more than one character, and it can conceivably use (or be important to) more than one setting.  With excel, you can sort this stuff with hardly a thought.  Not only starkly useful, but versatile!

What kinds of things do you do to keep your plots straight?  How do you sort out an extraneous bit?  Let us know in the comments!

Five Reasons to Take a Break

Taking time away from your writing is tough.  Will I be able to pick up where I left off? you wonder.  “Will I know where I am?”  “Will the characters stage a  mutiny in my head and wander off?”

Yes, these are all things which we risk when we walk away from our writing for a wee bit.

But the thing is, we really need  to walk away some times, for a few reasons.

#5 Taking a break gives our poor wrists a rest.

I don’t know about you, but there is a very physical aspect of writing which pains me often.  If I don’t take a break for a day here and there, I get the worst carpal tunnel.  Now, this is a minor issue: if I need to work and it hurts, I put on some braces and carry on.  But it sure is nice to get a good old calm day in there.

#4 Gives us time for other important stuff

Like family.  Or husbands.  Or exercise.  Or whatever your alternative hobby is. We all have them.  For instance, I love to run.  I’m really no good at it, but I truly enjoy it.  I love to shop, and hang out with friends, and chill out with Michael, and watch TV and movies and all that normal type stuff people do.  This stuff is important guys, and in pursuing our dreams of being big shot authors, we can’t leave the little things behind.

#3 Lets us recharge our creativity.

One of the things that some people don’t realize is that in order to be creative you must study creative things.  This includes reading, watching TV, going to a musical, a play, a rock concert, a club where everyone is dancing crazy, whatever.  Some people think that while you’re reading or watching a show, you might steal others ideas, or they might color your writing.  Sure it might.  But unless you’re dumb, you’ll know if you’re outright stealing ideas.  Different shows and books have given me plenty of fodder for plot twist types but I’ve never used the exact same twist in the exact same way, and it has certainly never panned out the same way.  Looking at other people’s creativity gives you another perspective on your own; so don’t fear it.

#2 Lets our stories stew and bubble for a while

Whether or not we realize it, our stories are always chilling out in our heads; melding, simmering, fermenting, boiling, rotting, whatever.  They’re there.  And sometimes, when you shelve it, the flavors suddenly merge, or a brand new mold grows over the top, and when we pull it out, we go “Wow!  What a strange moss-covered story!” (if you understand that reference, I love you.)

#1  Let’s you recoup your motivation

Lets face it.  We all get tired.  And with rest comes the ever dangerous Apathy.  It’s happened to me, it sucks.  You rest and you’re all, “this is nice.  Why should I start working again anyway?  It’s not going to get anywhere.”

Thats the big fear I have about resting.  Taking a break.  I’m worried I’ll lose my momentum and love for writing.  But in the end, taking a rest actually keeps me from losing it.  Yes, getting back into the ‘write every day whether you want to or not’ game is hard when you’ve been taking it easy, but in the end, once you get started again, you’re like ‘THIS IS AWESOME, I’M AWESOME, EVERYTHING IS AWESOME”.  Your motivation needs a kick-start, yes, but once it gets going it’s a raging river of amazing.

So go ahead.  Take a break.  I’ve got one more before my week off and the writing spree which will take place therein (or editing spree: I’m not sure yet as it depends on editors).

Learn From My Mistakes!

Aye yai yai!  On this round of editing, I am going through on the computer, so that it is much easier to change whole paragraphs and switch around scenes.  I have also overcome a lot of my “nooooooo, I worked hard on that don’t delete it!” whining.

This time I am going to focus on telling stories within stories.  Sometimes it’s necessary  but you have to do it really carefully.

This phenomenon comes up most often when giving a character some back story.  You’re writing along, in the groove, and explaining what happened to this character way back when which explains why they are reacting, or will react, to a situation in such a way.

Ok, that’s great, but the problem is that you’re going to force the reader to take a step back from the story.

Think of it like mirrors.  When you have just the single story, unfolding in front of the reader, it’s easy to pay attention.  Everything is happening right in front of you and it’s difficult to get confused.  Example:

He took the cloth off of the chair and jumped.  Holy crap that’s a huge spider on the seat.  Damn, what if I had sat down? He thought.

Awesome.  Cool.

Now, pretend that this develops into a case of arachnophobia and this character is now encountering a spider in his home.  If you’ve had that scene previously, you don’t need to explain to the reader why he’s a bit freaked out.  But if this is the first time this character has had something from his point of view, or it’s the very beginning of the book, well, you have to explain what’s going on.

A lot of times, our first instinct is to go like this:

He had taken the cloth of the chair and jumped.  There had been a huge spider on the chair, and what if he had sat down on it?  From that day on, he’d been an arachnophobiac.

Explanation, three lines flat.  Easy quick.  But quite a mouthful.  This is called past perfect tense.  It tells of a past event while in the past already.  So we’ve essentially held up a mirror to the mirror, and what happens when we do that?

I mean, I guess past perfect is better than Future Semi-Conditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional tense, but you get the idea.

If at all possible, I like to squish past perfect.  It doesn’t read well aloud, it isn’t even easy to use when you genuinely need it in real life.  The best way to do this is to simply use example A as a previous scene so that there’s no reason to explain.  But sometimes, one simply can’t do that for one reason or another.

In these cases, try a flashback (which is what I am going to do for the particular bit which set off this blog post).    So, for instance:

He stared at the spider on his wall.  Not again.  He’d seen this before, and it came back to him vividly as only a phobia could…  

A note though: don’t overuse flashbacks.  They get old fast.  This does force you to be careful with showing the reader which point in time you are at, but it’s also more pleasant to read.

Another alternative is to put the story into dialogue.

“No, really.  I took the cover off and BAM there’s this huge spider!  I mean, what if I’d sat on it!  It would have torn my balls off!”

Not only does this allow you to tell the story in a slightly more amusing way, but we get a little more insight into how the character feels about it.

So there you have it.  One big problem, and a few assorted solutions.  How do you feel about past perfect, or stories within stories?

NOTE: The first THREE people to comment on THIS POST and tell me where the tense specified in the picture caption is from get a gorgeous Korean postcard!

Quantity vs. Quality

In high school, I took a creative writing class.  It was one of those electives that people either loved or hated.  The grade was based on your ‘portfolio’, which was nothing more than a big folder with all and any of your writing.  Your assignments, your journaling, your poetry and everything else.  A portion of your grade was based on your completion of the assignments.  A bigger portion of your grade was based on if you had a certain amount of pages in your folder. Not what those papers were, not even if they were filled with your undying hatred of squirrels.  Just that they were there at all.

It was a fun class.  But some people really objected to this grading system of quantity over quality.  I’ve never quite known where I stand on it before, but a commentor said something which put me firmly over the ‘good thing’ line.

Ok, here’s the thing.  Writing is hard.  I mean, really hard.  First you have to learn the rules of the English language, which, take it from an ESL teacher, not easy.  Then you have to learn a whole new set of rules which are specifically for people writing creatively, then you have to contend with your imagination so that you have something to write and then you have to learn how to edit your work and then… ok, yeah, you get the idea.  It’s hard.  Being a writer isn’t something you just ‘Ho hum, I’m just gonna write this thing and I’ll be famous and awesome!”

Boy do  we wish.

But where to start?  We’ve all heard the whole “Just write.  Write anything and everything.  Just do it.” adage.  But a lot of people balk, saying “but I’ll write so much useless crap.  Why should I waste my time writing crap when I could concentrate my energy a little more and get something half decent on my first try?”

This kind of logic works on some writing.  Research papers, dissertation type things, scientific reports, technical data analysis – all of that is extremely focused on quality, as it should be.  Like-wise, I think that a lot of non-fiction is this way – there is only so much story to tell, and you want to get it right.  You need to get your facts across in a succinct, easy to understand way.  Therefore, quantity isn’t so much the issue.

But fiction, and I mean all kinds of fiction, from literary to fantasy, doesn’t have that vibe.  Fiction is focused on quality, yes, but unlike non-fictional and technical writing, that quality is not made up of facts.

Let me repeat that.  The quality of fictional writing is not made up of facts.  Fiction writers have an entire other field to play on called voice.

Chuck Wendig of Terrible Minds has a flat out amazing post on voice, which you should go and read right now before you continue on.  I’ll wait.

Ok, now go and reference number 11. This shit takes a long time.  Truer words have never been spoken.

I started writing in high school.  I found the first vestiges of my voice in college, but I overshot it – the stories were acceptable but my creative writing teacher always told me that my voice was not to be used as a crutch, and he was completely right.  I finally beat it back from the phase of overusing the voice as a crutch and brought it back just enough that we could live in happy harmony and then went through a period of refinement wherein I was still messing around that line to find just the right balance.

Count it, guys.  That’s 7 years of serious writing.  Four Nanowrimos, three years of creative writing classes, and several fanfictions before I even found the beginnings of the voice.  If you wait until I had my voice pretty well established, you’ve got to add another two years at least.  Up to 9.
Now – I’m pretty sure that starting real writing when I was 14 had a lot to do with the lag time between starting writing and finding my voice.  Part of voice is being yourself, and knowing exactly who you are in high school and college is a difficult task at best.

So the point being that it takes an awful lot of writing before you can really get that voice which seriously marks the quality of a fiction piece.

Now, back to the argument in high school of Quantity over Quality, and the big reason that quantity, at least in the early stages of learning to write, wins.  Yes. You can write a good story by taking your time and outlining and being careful with every sentence structure and thinking through every word of dialogue.  But especially as a beginning writer, you are far more likely to lose momentum, stare at your blank page and then throw up your hands and walk away.

That’s not gonna make you a writer.  That’s gonna make you the “oh I’ve got a half-finished book I’ll pick up again later” person.  Not judging, just saying.

But here’s the thing.  Once the words are on the paper, you can go back in and make them better.  Strengthen the voice, erase typos, tighten scenes, fix plot holes and polish up that sentence.

If the words aren’t on the paper though, there’s nothing to do.

This is why I jumped onto the Nanowrimo bandwagon with such ferocity.  I can deal with my manuscript being a mess as long as it’s a manuscript, and I’ve been tutored on the quantity side of the fence since I first started really writing.

Nowadays, I don’t even bat an eye at 2,000 words written.  I know I can and I do whenever I have the time and inclination.  And because I don’t have to worry about the amount of words I write, I can focus a little more on quality.  I can remind myself that ellipses and em dashes in my writing will come back to bite me in the edit, I can get the dialogue punctuation right the first time.  Because the quantity is up, I can focus on the quality.

So there you have it.  Both quantity and quality are important in writing.  But if you have no quantity, your quality isn’t going to improve no matter how pretty that blank page is.

 

Editing Techniques!

I have been continuing the epic journey of the red pen o’ doom.  It’s been illuminating, to say the least.  Now, I’ve talked about editing a lot, and actually I’m almost done with it, but I wanted to share some new things I’ve been doing in order to break the boredom, fix things that are terribly broken, or otherwise edit.  

#3 The Unquestioning Delete

The original length of Sleight of Spirit was just over 171,000 words long.  I’m 2/3 of the way through.  It is now more like 167,000 words.  This is a result partially, of me deleting the crap out of adverbs, as described in this post.

And ya'll thought you knew how unhinged we were already.

But it’s also a matter of me looking at whole sentences, paragraphs, and going “…that doesn’t fit.  Well crap!” and taking my trusty mouse and backspace button to it.  I’ve got the original document and the print copy, the words are not lost to the universe.  I just need to kill them (Gotcha.)

#2 The Land Amongst the stars Game

Here is the basic idea.  I set an arbitrary goal for the day, based on my mental state and the things I have to do.  This goal is generally a little higher than is comfortable.  (For instance, yesterday was Saturday.  My goal was to reach page 220 from page 188.)  The idea is that, even if I don’t hit the goal, I’ll get close.  And hey, I made it to page 214 before a run sapped the remainder of my mental strength.

To some people, this might be a little self-defeating.

Because we all know how this ends...

However, if I make a goal for five pages, I will do five pages.  If that goal is ten or fifteen pages, I will do that and only that.  But 20 pages on a week day, I have to struggle for that.  I might not get to my goal, but I’ll go way above the other three goal options.  And since my goal is to have it done by March 12th, struggle to get it done faster is good.

#1 The Chop it up and Do it Over 

There were a few scenes in Sleight of Spirit which just didn’t quite work for me for one reason or another.  Either they didn’t fit with the mythos any more, didn’t quite get across what I wanted them to, or they were just plain clunky.

But rewriting from scratch sucks.  It’s the curse of the blank page at work.  We hates it precious, we does.

http://www.knitnut.net/2007/03/my-precious-moments/

Yeah.

So what I did was take a few acceptable sentences from the scene and rebuild it from there.  Alternative worlds and histories are great fun to me, so it was light work to look at the goals I had for the scene and just re-write the same things in different ways.  Alternatively, sometimes I just wanted the stupid scene to be thoroughly different, so I took the first sentence of dialoge and tweaked the response.  From there, think of Ian Malcom describing chaos theory.

Ok, so I'm obsessed. I admit it!

In case you don’t remember, he essentially says that with the tiniest of variations, things can go completely off track, even if they’ve worked before under, seemingly, the exact same conditions.  Changing one word of a response has been known to derail entire conversations from how Michael and I thought they would go; but in this case I use it to my advantage.

Try it!  It’s kind of fun!

That’s about the gambit for now.  Have any of you run into awesome editing tips lately?  How’s it going?  Did the precious moments picture make you giggle as much as I did?  (The artist is here)

Three Writing Mistakes I Made Over and Over

As I mentioned several days ago, I’ve been editing.  In contrast from when I was doing it on the computer and hated it, I’m actually finding this to be kind of fun with my red pen of doom.  I am now in book 3 of cycle 1 (If you’ll recall, each cycle is broken into 3 books, of which Sleight of Spirit is the first).  This means I’m around page 200.

And you know what?  I’m starting to want to reach back in time and throttle myself.

We’ve all got our little ticks in our writing, and I’m no exception.   I am confident in my characters and my plot.  It’s just I never realized how utterly obnoxious those little things were, and how prevalent, until I started correcting them once and for all.

Most of these you’ve all heard before.  Hell, I’d heard them before I ever started writing Sleight of Spirit.  You tell yourself “Oh, it’s ok, it’s just a little.” or “I’m using it differently than the rule mentions,” or there’s not even a specific rule, you’re just doing it so that you can move on and keep writing.

I love you, readers, and I want to try and pass some writing advice to you that I would have used a comically large frying pan to get across if I was able to time travel.

Ladies and Gentlemen: The Frying Pan O'Doom (With regard to Patricia C. Wrede)

#3 Holding Patterns. 

I didn’t even realize this was a thing, nor did I have a name for it, until I read an Editor’s bio (I would completely link here, but I can’t figure out where I saw it!  Gr!).  Someone who did a short read of my work mentioned it as well.  A Holding Pattern is the sentence structure you settle into when writing on autopilot.   As soon as it was mentioned, I immediately saw what they meant.

In all technicality, holding patterns aren’t bad English, and they aren’t even the worst thing that can happen.  But they’re noticable to a reader because they start to think “hey wait I’ve read that”.  Really, they haven’t, they’ve just seen the pattern too many times.

It’s really annoying to fix.  You have to go in and mess with your conjugations and shift words so that the sentence changes in structure but doesn’t change in meaning.  It’s not difficult for most any native speaker, we do it automatically, but it does take lots and lots of time.

In short, try to watch your holding patterns, because considering how easy they are to avoid the first time around, even if you’re in the midst of Nanowrimo, they take up an awful lot of editing time.

#2 Chapter Closing Sentences

I have a tendency to have a really fabulous ending to a chapter.  A huge fight and someone walks out.  A death.  An epiphany.  A solemn declaration.

But then I muck it all up because I need people to walk away in order to close the scene in my head.  So there’ll be this great ending dialogue, capped off with “He walked away.”  This sort of messes with the flow of the writing because of course someone walks away!  It’s implied that this is going to happen, or that the stoyline of the chapter is otherwise over.  But by writing “They walked away” I take away from the starkness of the ending.

I remember why I did this, actually, but it still makes me want to tear my hair out.  The sentences are there so that my mind closes the chapter.  They’re like authorial glue.  I know who walked out and who stayed, and I know that the chapter is completely done.

But readers are smart.  They can pick up on things like walking out, or the implication that the characters are sitting around some more and shooting the breeze.

So watch this one, but if you need to write it like I do, go ahead.  Just remember to edit it out later.

#1 Adverbs

Oh, adverbs.  My lovely little friends.  I finally understand why all my writing teachers told me to stop using you.  Everyone just said ‘oh, they gum up the reading’ or ‘oh, they’re just bad form.’

But in reality, Adverbs, you are just plain redundant.

Division of Reptition Agency.

An example:

“Hey, what did she say?” Amy asked softly.
John growled faintly .  “Just some crap about ‘we’re all in this together’.  Blah, blah, blah.”
“Man, that sucks.”  Amy replied sympathetically.

Adverbs.  They work.  They do the job.  But you can do it way more efficiently with some good word choices and a little thought.

“Hey, what did she say?” Amy whispered.
John growled.  “Just some crap about ‘we’re all in this together’.  Blah, blah, blah.”
“Man, that sucks.” Amy sympathized.

A whisper is soft speaking.  A growl is quiet.  It’s also implied by the fact that the conversation as a whole is being done covertly.  The adverb can be taken out just by changing it to a verb.  This streamlines the writing significantly.  The whole ‘adverbs are bad’ thing also links with ‘show vs. tell’.  Verbs show.  Adverbs tell.  Which is better?

Right. 

I’m going to admit it.  I will probably always have a weakness for adverbs.  They help me concentrate on what’s going on and exactly what’s happening within  given scene.  But man.  They have got to go.

So do you have these weaknesses?  Or do you have something else?  Have you checked for your holding pattern lately?  Your closing sentences?  Your adverbs?  Did you count how many adverbs I used while ranting about adverbs? (6, if I counted right.) Good luck!