Tag: Writing Tips

#Writing Tips and the WHY behind them

I’ve been seeing this great table from Josh Bernoff floating around on Facebook and thought it might be a good addition to Unleaded: Fuel for  Writers. We have all seen many “Top 10 Tips for Writing.”  What I like about this list is that it tells you why specific actions or forms of writing may be less valuable to you. That then lets you better decide why you might want to follow the tip and also when and where you might not choose to follow it.

 

Top-writing-tips-Bernoff

The quick list is below but please do take a look at the more detailed article.

  1. Write shorter.

  2. Shorten your sentences.

  3. Rewrite passive voice.

  4. Eliminate weasel words.

  5. Replace jargon with clarity.

  6. Cite numbers effectively.

  7. Use “I,” “we,” and “you.”

  8. Move key insights up.

  9. Cite examples.

  10. Give us some signposts.

 

References:

10 top writing tips and the psychology behind them: http://withoutbullshit.com/blog/10-top-writing-tips-psychology/

 

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#Writing and #Worldbuilding Resources

WorldBuilding Moon, Cityscape and Book

World building is one of those parts of writing fiction that people either feel comes naturally to them or that they struggle incessantly with.  I can’t say I’ve met anyone who says, “Oh yeah, it’s just another part of writing.” One of the activities we are doing in our local writing group is having presentations and guided discussions as a way to share information and resources and learn together. I just led tonight’s talk on worldbuilding.  We talked about how we did it as individuals, what we struggled with, what we enjoyed and how our writing process was impacted (i.e. are you a plotter or pantser and how did that play in).

Just thought I would leave some of links that we used below:

Worldbuilding Information and Resources

 Collected for Cat Vacuuming Society Writing Group (7/9/15)

30 Days of Worldbuilding Exerciseshttp://www.web-writer.net/fantasy/days/
These are short, 15-minute exercises that can help you make crucial decisions about your world, and what you want your story to say about it.

Jump-Start your Imagination Creative Writing Exerciseshttp://howtowriteshop.loridevoti.com/2011/02/jump-start-your-imagination-creative-writing-exercises-for-worldbuilding/

7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding http://io9.com/7-deadly-sins-of-worldbuilding-998817537
When worldbuilding fails, it can wreck your whole story, and leave your characters feeling pointless.

____________________________________

Chuck Wendig’s 25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuildinghttp://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/09/17/25-things-you-should-know-about-worldbuilding/
Worldbuilding is one of those topics that bakes my noodle every time my brain chooses to dwell on it. I have a whole bucket full of opinions, many of them in stark disagreement with one another. World-building covers everything and anything inside that world. Money, clothing, territorial boundaries, tribal customs, building materials, imports and exports, transportation, sex, food, the various types of monkeys people possess, whether the world does or does not contain Satanic “twerking” rites.

Patricia Wrede’s Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions on SFWAhttps://www.sfwa.org/2009/08/fantasy-worldbuilding-questions/
The list of questions is meant to aid authors of fantasy fiction who are seeking to create believable imaginary settings for their stories. While many may be helpful, they will not all apply to every story. The idea is simply to provoke people into thinking about the ways their settings and backgrounds hang together.

Worldbuilding versus Storytelling (Or Does the Phantom Menace have Better Worldbuilding than Star Wars: A New Hope) – http://io9.com/does-the-phantom-menace-have-better-worldbuilding-than-1026016172
The original Star Wars doesn’t explain. You’re just thrown in the deep end with a space battle. In The Phantom Menace we have trade disputes and negotiations. Does the prequel then have better worldbuilding than A New Hope?

Hunter Liguore’s World Building Through Map Makinghttp://www.draftjournal.com/content/draft_exercise-liguore.pdf
Let’s say you’re writing a story about a family that lives on a farm in the late 1800s. (Think O Pioneers! by Willa Cather.) Your main character works in town, two miles from the farm. If you were to make a map, you would immediately mark these two locations. But what else is there? What surrounds the farm? What might your character encounter on that two mile journey? Some questions you might ask yourself.


Dialect and Disability

Note from Day: For those of you just coming to Unleaded: Fuel for Writers, the post below is from Unleaded contributor Robb Grindstaff.  As mentioned in Saturday’s post, his debut novel, Hannah’s Voice is now available.  Robb also took the time to add to Unleaded’s collection of Writerly Tips.  

Dialect and Disability in Fiction

Hang with me, and I’ll connect these two unrelated topics.

Using dialect or accents in fiction can be treading dangerous ground. In my novel Hannah’s Voice, the story is set in a small town in North Carolina. I needed the characters to realistically speak with a southern accent, use local idioms, and generally sound as if they were from North Carolina.

I lived in North Carolina for several years, so I know what a Carolina accent sounds like, and I know how it differs from a Texas or Oklahoma accent, where I’ve also lived. The accent in the central Piedmont is different from the Blue Ridge mountains. Fishermen on the coast sound completely different than bankers in Charlotte or NASCAR fans in Greensboro. Even in one town, people will speak with different degrees of accents and use different phrases depending on their age, gender, occupation, income and education level. The accent can even fade in and out depending on who they’re talking to.

In fiction, every character also must have a unique, distinguishable voice. If every character sounds exactly the same, it’s hard to tell who is speaking. So I needed to write each character with a true-to-life dialect for that character. I wanted the dialect to help ground the reader in the setting, in the tone of the novel, and give each character his or her own voice.

But have you ever tried to read a novel or short story where the writer accurately portrayed, or at least attempted to accurately portray, a strong dialect? It doesn’t matter if it was a southern accent, or an Old West novel, rural New England or an urban black setting.

When the dialogue is in too heavy of a dialect, it can be almost impossible to read and very irritating. If you happen to be from that area and speak that dialect, it will feel like the writer is making fun of you. Exaggerated southern accents are common in movies and television, and usually with the sole purpose of showing southerners in a less-than-favorable light – the ignorant redneck syndrome. Isn’t that just as bad as overdoing the stereotypical African-American dialect or an ultra-heavy Hispanic, Asian, or Arabic accent?

Dialect is a strong spice in fiction. A little bit goes a long way. Too much, and it becomes so overpowering that you just can’t get it down without gagging. You can sprinkle a little cinnamon on your apple pie, but don’t try to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon. You can choke to death.

Finding the exact right amount of dialect spice is tricky. Too much, it becomes unreadable. Too little, and you lose the flavor. I’ll use a couple of examples to illustrate. This first one I’m just making up:

“Wa-al, howdy y’all. I was jes’ a-fixin’ up some vittles. Y’all come in here and set a spell afore I puts on da grub, den we’uns will stuff our faces with dese here homemade biscuits ‘n’ gravy.”

Could you read an entire novel where all the characters spoke like that and the writer spelled out all the words in a phonetic replication of an accent? Readers will stumble over every word, every sentence, have to stop and re-read on occasion and try to translate what the characters are saying. At least until they give up and throw the book across the room.

Second example, from Hannah’s Voice, where her Sunday school teacher says this about Hannah:

“What on Earth has gotten into this child?” Mrs. B stood in the middle of the living room, rubbing her hands together as if she were washing them in a sink. “Running out into the storm like that to grab a pile of snow. That just ain’t natural.”

In the North Carolina setting that’s already been established, Mrs. B speaks in a manner that fits the town and the character. But nothing there is overdone or attempts to sound out a southern accent. It should read easily and natural, whether you’re from the south or from North Dakota or California. Can you hear the accent? I hope so.

The second type of dialect I had to deal with in Hannah’s Voice was that of a six-year-old child, the first-person narrator in a book that is aimed at adults, not children. Again, I wanted to go with light flavoring, just enough to make it clear to the reader that the story is being told by a six-year-old for the first half of the book. The second half jumps ahead to when Hannah is a teenager. But if I’d precisely mimicked a six-year-old’s voice for 150 pages, it would have been as unreadable as the exaggerated southern drawl example above. Neither could I write it narrated by an adult voice and tried to keep it in real time from a six-year-old’s perspective.

I went for relatively simple, straightforward language, but I let Hannah’s voice and her internal thoughts rise a little older than a typical six-year-old, sprinkling in a little of the phrasing and idioms and thought patterns of a child to keep the reader grounded in the character and her age.

Several trusted beta readers pointed out things that a six-year-old would never say. A writer-friend who is a child psychologist gave me a lot of tips on the thought processes at age six, and I tried to blend those in naturally to help create a believable six-year-old, but with a voice that an adult could read without distraction or irritation.

Later in the book, the story jumps ahead to Hannah as a teenager. Also a bit tricky here to keep her voice consistent, and yet older, more mature in her words and thought processes, yet clearly recognizable as the same girl.

When Hannah goes to college, she is paired up with a deaf roommate. I didn’t think, “Oh, I need a character with a disability.” What I needed was a character that would play against Hannah’s character. Hannah stopped speaking when she was six, way back in chapter two, and hadn’t spoken in twelve years. Um, yes, by the way, I had to write a first-person narrator who doesn’t speak. But that’s a subject for another day.

So Hannah doesn’t speak, and the college matches her up with a roommate who can’t hear. That’s why I needed a deaf character. Ginger, the roommate, can read lips, but that doesn’t help since Hannah doesn’t speak. They have to figure out how to communicate.

Ginger can speak, however. As many deaf people do, Ginger spoke with a dialect—the natural voice of someone who has learned to speak but has never heard her own voice or the voice of anyone else.

Back to the dialect thing. I wanted to accurately convey Ginger’s voice, her dialect, the way she pronounced words, the extra sounds she would throw in. I wanted to show that sometimes people had trouble understanding her.

But I didn’t want to make it so hard to read that it became irritating to the reader. Neither did I want to make it so exaggerated that it could be construed as ridiculing the way a deaf person speaks. I wanted just enough of that spice to create the character’s voice in the reader’s head.

I went stronger with Ginger’s dialect when she is first introduced to the reader:

The dorm room wasn’t quite like the orphanage. The orphanage was a little nicer. It looked more like the shelter—block walls and worn vinyl tile floors. I covered most of the floor with a rug Suzette had given me, and stacked my textbooks for the first semester on the shelf. First in alphabetical order, then I took them all down and put them in order of my class schedule.

“Yo kind ah vanal, awn’t yo?”

I didn’t understand Ginger’s words. I shook my head and motioned for her to say again while I looked at her, like that would help since I didn’t read lips.

“I say-ah-da,” she enunciated and exaggerated each syllable, “‘ou kind ahv ay-nal, awn’t ‘ou?”

Just organized, I wrote, and she giggled.

Here, I wanted to establish her voice, and I wanted the reader to have trouble understanding that first sentence the same way that Hannah had trouble understanding it.

As the story progresses, the degree of that dialect quickly fades as Hannah (and thus the reader) grows accustomed to Ginger’s way of speaking.

Ginger told me Warren was upset.

“He finally worked up the ner-vuh to ask ‘ou out, and now ‘ou awn’t coming back-uh. He is kind-uh cute, don’t ‘ou think-uh?”

It’s still there, and much stronger than the southern accent used throughout the book for all the characters, but it’s lighter than at the beginning. Even with this lighter version of Ginger’s dialect, I couldn’t use it much. She’s a minor character who only appears in a few scenes. If she’d been a major character throughout the book, I would have gone much lighter on the dialect.

Give your characters unique voices that fit the story, the setting, and each character. Use dialect when appropriate to your story, but be very careful not to overdo it. Let it flavor the voices lightly, not overpower the dialogue. Don’t make readers work to hear the voice or have to decipher what the characters are saying. A little goes a long, long way.

 


Video Saturday – Michael Connelly – Advice to Writers

Michael Connelly  is author of detective novels and other crime fiction.  The ones I’m familiar with feature LAPD Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch and criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller. The latter is the main character in the 2011 film The Lincoln Lawyer with Matthew McConaughey (and is likely to become a new tv series as well.) 

His video and advice is short and sweet. 

You must keep writing and you must keep reading

 What is interesting and what I think might be a slightly more controversial point is that he says you MUST write every day.  I’ve seen some discussion from folks who have pointed out that there are folks with other jobs and families and other obligations.  They carve out time on the weekends and on many days, but not necessarily EVERY day.

So…”write every day”  True or untrue?


Wednesday Writerly Words

USA!  USA!  USA!

Okay, those weren’t actually writerly words at all, but the World Cup makes me think of two things.  First is how sports that are so popular in the rest of the world can be so unpopular in the US.  And second is about a former member of our writing group who disappeared to cheer for the US in 2006 and never came back again.  I’m horrible with names, but what I do remember is Silent America.  He created a future world that immediately intrigued the group with that one throwaway detail, one he admitted he never planned to revisit, the fact that somewhere along the line, America just went silent.  This world he built was beautiful and well thought out, and probably the best bit of world building I’ve seen, published or not.   And I walked away from it with two lessons:

1)  While world building is necessary for just about any story not set in the time and place your readers live, don’t let it get in the way of the story.  Yes, there are books out there where the plot is just a thin pastiche spread out to give the author an excuse to show off his world, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

2)  Much like Silent America, your readers may latch onto something you didn’t intend them to latch onto.  In my own work, it’s the talking teddy bear in Capsule that was very much meant to be a cute image and then go away, but apparently haunts nightmares now.  And that’s okay, I love it when someone asks a question I never intended them to ask.  Just remember that, while answering these questions can sometimes lead your story to new and interesting places you didn’t intend, you are under no obligation to do so.

DL Thurston can be found at http://DLThurston.com/blog Rust is available now for Kindle, ePub readers, and iBooks, coming soon to Sony Reader.

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Logic versus Emotion and Old Ladies

Mean Maiden AuntToday’s episode is Logic versus Emotion. What I’m talking about is what motivates a character. A lot of times when I’m crafting a story I look for logical reasons for characters to do things. The hero thinks, “I must save the beautiful girl who-I-think-I-love from the evil zombie space dinosaurs as she has the map that leads to the treasure.” But what about the hero’s maiden aunt who just might happen to be with him? That logic won’t work for her if she thinks the girl is a, “Cheap floozie who got herself into that situation by being stupid, and I’m comfortable enough I don’t need any buried treasure.” There is some emotional motivation in those viewpoints; the hero thinks he loves the girl and the maiden aunt thinks the girl is a tart, but it is logic that is stronger. I’m just now starting to explore the potential of emotional motivations that may be an additional tool to propel characters into action when logic may say “no.”

Audio Files: Coming Soon

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