editing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Hunting Down the Pleonasm

By Allan Guthrie

I can’t stress strongly enough that writing is subjective. We all strive for different goals. Consequently, we all need our own set of rules—and some of us don’t need rules at all! Personally, I like rules. If nothing else, it’s fun breaking them.

1: Avoid pleonasms. A pleonasm is a word or phrase that can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning. For example, in “Hunting Down The Pleonasm”, ‘down’ is pleonastic. Cut it and the meaning of the sentence does not alter. Many words are used pleonastically: ‘just’, ‘that’ and ‘actually’ are three frequently-seen culprits (I actually just know that he’s the killer can be trimmed to I know he’s the killer), and phrases like ‘more or less’ and ‘in any shape or form’ are redundant.

2: Use oblique dialogue. Try to generate conflict at all times in your writing. Attempt the following experiment at home or work: spend the day refusing to answer your family and colleagues’ questions directly. Did you generate conflict? I bet you did. Apply that principle to your writing and your characters will respond likewise.

3: Use strong verbs in preference to adverbs. I won’t say avoid adverbs, period, because about once every fifty pages they’re okay! What’s not okay is to use an adverb as an excuse for failing to find the correct verb. To ‘walk slowly’ is much less effective than to ‘plod’ or ‘trudge’. To ‘connect strongly’ is much less effective than to ‘forge a connection’.

4: Cut adjectives where possible. See rule 3 (for ‘verb’ read ‘noun’).

5: Pairs of adjectives are exponentially worse than single adjectives. The ‘big, old’ man walked slowly towards the ‘tall, beautiful’ girl. When I read a sentence like that, I’m hoping he dies before he arrives at his destination. Mind you, that’s probably a cue for a ‘noisy, white’ ambulance to arrive. Wailingly, perhaps!

6: Keep speeches short. Any speech of more than three sentences should be broken up. Force your character to do something. Make him take note of his surroundings. Ground the reader. Create a sense of place.

7: If you find you’ve said the same thing more than once, choose the best and cut the rest. Frequently, I see the same idea presented several ways. It’s as if the writer is saying, “The first couple of images might not work, but the third one should do it. If not, maybe all three together will swing it.” The writer is repeating himself. Like this. This is a subtle form of pleonasm.

8: Show, don’t tell. Much vaunted advice, yet rarely heeded.  An example: expressing emotion indirectly. Is your preferred reader intelligent? Yes? Then treat them accordingly. Tears were streaming down Lila’s face. She was very sad. Can the second sentence be inferred from the first? In context, let’s hope so. So cut it. If you want to engage your readers, don’t explain everything to them. Show them what’s happening and allow their intelligence to do the rest. And there’s a bonus to this approach. Because movies, of necessity, show rather than tell, this approach to your writing will help when it’s time to begin work on the screenplay adaptation of your novel!

9: Describe the environment in ways that are pertinent to the story. And try to make such descriptions active. Instead of describing a book lying on a table, have your psycho-killer protagonist pick it up, glance at it and move it to the arm of the sofa. He needs something to do to break up those long speeches, right?

10: Don’t be cute. In the above example, your protagonist should not be named Si Coe.

11: Avoid sounding ‘writerly’. Better to dirty up your prose. When you sound like a writer, your voice has crept in and authorial intrusion is always unwelcome. In the best writing, the author is invisible.

12: Fix your Point Of View (POV). Make it clear whose head you’re in as early as possible. And stay there for the duration of the scene. Unless you’re already a highly successful published novelist, in which case you can do what you like. The reality is that although most readers aren’t necessarily clued up on the finer points of POV, they know what’s confusing and what isn’t.

13: Don’t confuse the reader. If you write something you think might be unclear, it is. Big time. Change it or cut it.

14: Use ‘said’ to carry dialogue. Sid Fleischman calls ‘said’, “the invisible word.” That’s not quite true (anyone who doubts this should track down a copy of Fletcher Flora’s Most Likely To Love), but it’s close enough. And don’t use adverbs as modifiers. Adverbs used in this way are ‘telling’ words (I told you rule 8 was rarely heeded!).

15: While it’s good to assume your reader is intelligent, never assume they’re psychic.

16: Start scenes late and leave them early.

 17: When writing a novel, start with your characters in action. Fill in any necessary backstory as you go along.

18: Give your characters clear goals. Always. Every scene. And provide obstacles to those goals. Always. Every scene. If the POV character in a scene does not have a goal, provide one or cut the scene. If there is no obstacle, add one or cut the scene.

19: Don’t allow characters who are sexually attracted to one another the opportunity to get into bed. Unless at least one of them has a jealous partner.

20: Torture your protagonist. It’s not enough for him to be stuck up a tree. You must throw rocks at him while he figures out how to get down.

21: Use all five senses in your descriptions. Smell and touch are too often neglected.

22: Vary your sentence lengths. I tend to write short, and it’s amazing what a difference combing a couple of sentences can make.

23: Don’t allow your fictional characters to speak in sentences. Unless you want them to sound fictional.

24: Cut out filtering devices, wherever possible. ‘He felt’, ‘he thought’, ‘he observed’ are all filters. They distance the reader from the character.

25: Avoid unnecessary repetition of tense. For example: I’d gone to the hospital. They’d kept me waiting for hours. Eventually, I’d seen a doctor. Usually, the first sentence is sufficient to establish tense. I’d gone to the hospital. They kept me waiting for hours. Eventually, I saw a doctor.

26: When you finish your book, pinpoint the weakest scene. Cut it. If necessary, replace it with a sentence or paragraph.

27: Don’t plant information. How is Donald, your son? I’m quite sure Donald’s father doesn’t need reminding who Donald is. Their relationship is mentioned purely to provide the reader with information.

28: If an opinion expressed through dialogue makes your POV character look like a jerk, allow him to think it rather than say it.  He’ll express the same opinion, but seem like a lot less of a jerk.

29: Characters who smile and grin a lot come across as deranged fools. Sighing and shrugging are also actions to avoid. Eliminating smiles, sighs and shrugs is almost always an improvement. Smiling sadly is a capital offence.

30: Pronouns are big trouble for such little words. The most useful piece of information I ever encountered on the little blighters was this: pronouns refer to the nearest matching noun backwards. For example: John took the knife out of its sheath and stabbed Paul with it. Well, that’s good news for Paul. If you travel backwards from ‘it’, you’ll see that John has stabbed Paul with the sheath! Observing this rule leads to much clearer writing.

31: Spot the moment of maximum tension and hold it for as long as possible. Or as John D. MacDonald put it: “Freeze the action and shoot him later.”

32: If something works, forget about the rule that says it shouldn’t.

Source: Adventure Books of Seattle https://www.adventurebooksofseattle.com/Hunting%20Down%20the%20Pleonasm2.pdf

Allan Guthrie is a Scottish literary agent, author and editor of crime fiction. He was born in Orkney, but has lived in Edinburgh for most of his adult life. His first novel, Two-Way Split, was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award, and it won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award in 2007. Wikipedia

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book promotion, book sales, Google Ads, self-publishing, Uncategorized, Welcome

When Is A Book Not A Hershey’s Bar?

Always, of course. So, why do we market them like Hershey’s bars? Here’s two thoughts on that.

1. Most books, like Hershey’s bars, are not advertised. When did you last see an ad for Hershey’s bars? Hershey does not need to advertise them because they are everywhere candy bars are sold. Like J.K. Rowling’s books are in all the book stores. Yes, her publisher will advertise her new book, but that’s just sensibly putting the cart after the horse. They want fans to know she has a new book.

2. When books are marketed, they are marketed like Hershey’s bars, as if they too, were a commodity and people should buy a package of the same thing and if they like it, come back for more of the same book. Books are not commodities. Each one is unique. So, there are no repeat sales of the same book to the same consumer.

What to do? Consider yourself – yes, you, the author – as the commodity. One thing of which we can be certain is that when a reader is looking for something to read, they usually do not envision a cover or make up a title to look for. They will, however, consider a novel from J.K. Rowling if they have enjoyed reading her.

“Sell yourself first.” That’s what any professional sales manager teaches. Don’t expect a stranger to trust what you sell if they do not trust you. How do you get readers to know you well enough to try your book? One writer here that understands this is Perry Palin. In many ways, he sells books to people who have first come to know him. Another may be Mimi Speike. She plans to initially stir up her market with Guerrilla marketing techniques which may make her infamous.

How do you get yourself known as a writer? Use the Comments section to let us know. We, obviously, need all the ideas that we can get!

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Uncategorized

YESTERDAY’S GONE

I dreamed a great change but of course forgot it on waking up. All I have left is the vision of being in a red brick building watching men move stacks of books on forklifts. Light from dirty windows illuminate dust in the air. Cries of anguish ring from a pot bellied man in a three piece striped suit and bowler hat, “Out, damned Kindle! out, I say! – Nook: Kobo: Publishing is murky!”

Not murky at all. Book publishing has been replaced by book marketing: This Notebook I write on can publish what I write and distribute it worldwide tomorrow. No factory of men and equipment are needed, no shipping, no bookstores. Just ereaders. Writers no longer need publishers, we need marketers. And, they must have a commissioned revenue model to be trusted. Amazon does. Anybody who wants paid up front to try to sell your books should offer you a free bottle of snake oil because that’s all you’ll get for your money.

Which brings up a question: Who, out there, actually markets books effectively?
Please comment if you know anyone!

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blogging, Research, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

Being There

Seeing something helps a writer to describe it. Actually being in a setting lets the words choose themselves. Take the inside of the International Space Station, for example, one of the most advanced miracles of modern technology to have ever been built by mankind. It’s a mess. The room I’m in now is maybe 20 feet wide by 20 feet high by, maybe, a little longer. The white and grey walls are totally covered with color-coded cables, cases, boxes and storage packs. And there are wall panels that slide out like file cabinet drawers to allow access to the experiments being conducted inside. Not a spec of space is wasted on the four walls. You can’t walk on any of them. No floors needed here. Just float between the walls. I guess that explains the four laptop computers fixed at impossible angles. No up or down. Just float over and use one. The panel sections lining the walls are marked by metal strips to which, as astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, of the European Space Agency, showed me, she can attach shower safety hand bars (OKAY, she called them something else.) She uses the bars to hold onto when she’s working. She can also slip her stocking feet (no shoes needed here) under the bar to hold herself in place while she completes an appointed task. Or, attach a camera like the one giving me this inside view.

Yes. It’s virtual reality. But how else am I getting aboard the ISS to see what kind of socks astronauts wear? Or watch the sun rise over the rooftops of London, from a rooftop in London, and turn to see the The Shard sticking up a thousand feet into the sky? Or stand among Parisians in a little park and be the only one rubbernecking the Eiffel Tower towering above me? All without leaving my writing desk.

The little tripper lets you describe settings by putting you inside them. It’s cheap. A $20 viewer will let you use your cell phone to watch YouTube 360 videos of just about any place people can get to today. I recommend virtual reality to any writer without a twenty million dollar travel budget for a ticket to the space station.

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Uncategorized

What’s Up, Pussycats?

 

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I’m worn out, on my website ever day, trying this, trying that.

Which is why I’ve had so little to say lately.

My apologies to here, and to the TSU and Rabbit Hole threads on Facebook.

That guy up there is Sly. (And who else would it be?) In my half completed drawing he is wearing his pharaoh costume that he dons for John Dee’s séances. I tried to find my image of Dee in his pharaoh garb, but as usual, I can’t lay hands on it. (My files are a mess.)

I’ve been building my website. I finally have a format that will work with a light use page, excerpts, come-ons, a brief intro, etc., and will also do for full chapters. I’ve created a background to underlay all. The images will change with the various sites but the configuration will remain pretty much as is. I am snaking type around images on the background – that left/right/centering of images with a type runaround never works for me, never works as well as I could wish.

I have registered names of six sites in case I decide to put the whole thing up. That would be two novellas to a site. More than that and the menu gets too crazy.

I can always lasso and marry images in Photoshop, but my next task is to learn how to create a clipping path. (I have never figured that out.) So that (ideally) I can place images in the text layer and not have unused areas blocking out what lies behind.

I follow the discussion on Facebook in a thread populated by designers. Someone said: I create my design in (some software I never heard of) and hand it off to the developers to write the code. Here am I, trying to cheat and trick my way around WordPress, getting it to do things it doesn’t want to do.

WordPress could make life so much easier for us with a few small changes. A way to indent first lines. A way to right indent paragraphs. No, they save that stuff for the upgraded plans. You gotta pay for that convenience. Irritating.

Why do I like WordPress? Over Wix, I mean. I love Wix. In Wix you can do anything you want to do, almost. That’s the problem. WP forces me to rein in my more extreme design-y tendencies.

GD’s a whirlwind of activity over on Facebook. I’m trying to wrestle WordPress to the mat. What’s everyone else up to? Or are you sitting back, watching the money roll in?

 

 

 

 

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About Writers, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Overheard

Facebook Writers Cafe, Mainstreet Earth:

Lydia Caatt: Whatever it’s is you are describing look up a similar description or something. I look up photos online and decipher how I’d describe it to a blind man.

Ernest Van Horn: Write in such a way that you feel that you’re in the skin of the character. You are not “angry”, your heart is pounding, face is burning, and thoughts are fast but focused on who wronged you.

Watson Davis: Put yourself in your POV character’s head and then write what they experience, what they see, what they smell, what they hear, what they feel inside and outside. Stay in their head as they move through their world. Don’t write “I began to feel the wind against my skin”, don’t write “I felt the wind against my skin”, instead write “The wind brushed against my skin.”

Christy Moceri: Everyone, no matter how well they write, has moments of doubt. It’s not a reflection of your skill or potential, it’s a reflection of the fact that you’re an artist. I’ve learned to think of my opinion of my own work as just background noise.

Niki Bond: Make sure you’re in-tune with the characters’ emotions.

Ian Bristow: There is a limit with setting descriptions though, IMO. I think those should be reserved for the more long term settings, as I personally don’t like to be reading and get a detailed description of something I will only see the once. It is not only misleading about how important that setting will be, but descriptions are not generally story movers, so I’d rather engage in conversation or get the thoughts of the MC as they move through that setting.

Edward Buatois: Just always remember, ALL writing is about emotion. In action, your character(s) want something. They worry that they won’t get it or will be injured or killed or will be left in a worse position than before or if they fail something terrible will happen. Salt your action scenes with that and they will never be boring.

JM Chandler: Take my voice out of it.
Tap into the emotion of the scene/character. Kurt Vonnegut was genius at this.
Lazy writing will tell you what the emotion is. Insightful writing will describe it.

Lance Cargopants: Realize your reader is intelligent and picks up clues. And what would be an unmistakable clue to you? Example: Like that scene in Sum Of All Fears, where the president does this humorous speech before the press corp, and a phone goes off. Then another. Then all of them

& finally, Hunting Down the Pleonasm
Take a look. 🙂 You will not regret knowing this.
https://www.adventurebooksofseattle.com/Hunting%20Down%20the%20Pleonasm2.pdf

Photo: Left Bank Writers Retreat in Paris. Hemingway, memorialized with a plaque at the bar, once lived just down the block and made the cafe his unofficial office, writing in a red leather booth and drinking with fellow writers F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ford Madox Ford. In Hemingway’s day, cafes were the social hub for the Left Bank Writers – providing an inspirational mix of food and wine, companionship and all-day office space.

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book promotion, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

The Ramblings of a Grave Robber

Deb Whittam’s latest release.

I have a job. I tell people I assist with relocations. I just don’t tell them how, or where, or what.
My name’s Stacey Dearling and I’m a grave robber.

I rob graves so the guilty can be punished … by heaven or hell. Less
I have a job. I tell people I assist with relocations. I just don’t tell them how, or where, or what.
My name’s Stacey Dearling and I’m a grave robber.

I rob graves so the guilty can be punished … by heaven or hell.

Stacey Dearling has a job and she does it well, but when a series of events takes her beyond what she knows, she realizes that expectations and capabilities are confusing things and she doesn’t like the consequences.

The Ramblings of a Grave Robber – Free on Smashwords

Deb Whittam

Read Deb Whittam’s Smashwords Interview: “Currently we are travelling around Australia in a caravan, so when I am not writing I am exploring. We decided to undertake this trip as we had never really traveled in our own backyard and we have been amazed by the natural wonders we have discovered.”

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