Wordslinger first began in December 2011 as a monthly series of writers’ essays for the Bookish Temptations website. In this column, Morgan explores the many elements of fiction and offers tips on how to get the most out of the proverbial pen. After three years, Morgan wrote his final Wordslinger post in 2014, but we’ve decided to take a walk down Memory Lane and re-post the column here. The pop culture references may now appear dated, but the writing advice is timeless. Enjoy!
Originally posted on the Bookish Temptations website, January 2012:
This is my second post to Bookish Temptations and my first as a monthly contributor. I am very excited to begin and my goal with these continued submissions is to explore the things that matter to us as readers and writers. To that end I have chosen as my first topic of the new year:
1st person vs. 3rd person
Some writers like to tell stories from a more personal point of view, while others like to introduce details and insights that a single person might not notice or record in their narrative.
Readers likewise have habits and desires concerning how stories are told to them. For some the narrative style is mandatory, for others it is barely noticed. I will therefore referee three rounds between the two most commonly used styles.
Before I begin I would like to share my methodology with you; I regularly write in both 1st and 3rd person and although I studied literature at Portland State University, I will mostly be using research and interviews I’ve done for this project alone. (I wanted to make sure that current trends were accurately represented and PSU was a looooong time ago).
Round One: Definition
Even if you already know the definition of the three types of literary narrative styles, please indulge me as I frame it up.
1st Person storytelling speaks from the “I” point of view, as in, “I grabbed the monkey bars and wondered if my small hands would hold me, let alone carry me across the imaginary lava pit I had installed just that morning.”
3rd person storytelling speaks from the “he/she” point of view, (omniscient if you will) as in, “She held his face to the gravel with her unlaced boot. His smirk was now painted on the rocks in a bloody tribute to her rebellion.”
There is of course a 2nd person storytelling style and that is speaking directly to “you”, as in, “If you want to get the best tasting watermelons, choose ones with a yellow bellies; This insures that you have chosen melons that have not been disturbed as they ripened.” As you can see this
style of writing is seldom useful outside of toy assembly instructions and the hokey pokey. Interestingly enough, these “Wordslingers” submissions tend to lapse into the 2nd person style from time to time. (Reread the first sentence under Round One header, it starts with 2nd person and ends with 1st person yet it is a completely acceptable sentence structure).
By definition alone, 3rd person storytelling allows the writer more avenues to explore and therefore puts the them in the best position creativity. This is merely a matter of access to information that can be shared with the reader. So, while the fight is not over, round one goes to 3rd person.
Round Two: Application
Using a personal method of telling a story like 1st person gives the writer more access to the kind of intimacy that makes characters seem completely real. And while the same level of depth can be achieved in a 3rd person narrative, the confined emotions of one person will always jump off the page with greater charge.
1st person has a way of drawing the reader in and putting them at ease because they can usually assume that the storyteller will make it through okay. (Ironically, that’s only sometimes true).
Writers want to create a world for the reader to get lost in and telling a story in 1st person is the equivalent of having an arm around the readers shoulder as you share an eye witness account.
It also lends credibility to the story when it is coming from a witness, even though the witness is also fiction.
Therefore, round two goes to 1st person.
Round 3: Communication
Writers not only need to convey depth of character but they need to tell a story and that must remain key. If you lose your story you lose your story.
Characters in 1st person stories are all to often forced to “find out” things the writer needs the reader to know and this can become very transparent and hurt your story more than it helps. Sometimes the best thing to do is to find a way around it altogether or turn it into a moment of discovery for reader and character alike.
While 3rd person may not be able to delve into the sorrows of one single character as efficiently, it can communicate story points far easier and readers do not appreciate being confused. 3rd person also has the authority to jump in and out of characters and paint a more vivid emotional picture.
3rd person is certainly more difficult to master. A writer can get themselves tangled in all the information that is available to share. I myself am like a goldfish in that way and find 3rd person writing sometimes overwhelming. It also and promotes writer’s block more than the 1st person style does.
Still, round three goes to 3rd person because in the end we need to communicate as effectively as possible.
It’s not a knockout and some of you may still maintain that there was never even a reason to debate the issue but 3rd person is the winner of the match.
More importantly, 3rd person is what is most commonly used in the big leagues. 90 percent of all novels are written that way and must be mastered if one is going to write professionally.
Stephenie Meyer is a recent example of how there are always exceptions and it shows that in the end this is all just personal preference. Like our taste in music or pie it should remain un-judged and accepted.
I prefer writing in third person but seek out 1st person opportunities because of the challenges they offer. As I mentioned in last month’s post, I have even written a story told from the perspective of a cat because I enjoy telling stories from interesting perspectives. (I heard that the movie War Horse is told from the horse’s perspective but I’m not certain if it’s true). 3rd person appeals to me more often because I like giving the reader information that my characters don’t have. It can create a very interesting relationship between the reader and the people they are following through the story.
As long as you choose to celebrate fiction you are making the wise decision as far as I’m concerned and just because more people do something one way doesn’t make it right for you. Read what makes you feel good, write what you makes you feel good and you will be get more out As long as you choose to celebrate fiction you are making the wise of your fiction in the end.
Also, that was not a bunch of crap about choosing good watermelons. I know it’s not the season yet but you’ll thank me next summer when you are eating juicy yellow bellied melons.
Wordslinger first began in December of 2011 as a monthly series of writers’ essays for the Bookish Temptations website. In this column, Morgan explores the many elements of fiction and offers tips on how to get the most out of the proverbial pen. After three years, Morgan wrote his final Wordslinger post last month, but we’ve decided to take a walk down Memory Lane and re-post the column here. The pop culture references may now appear dated, but the writing advice is timeless. Enjoy!
Originally posted on the Bookish Temptations website, December 17, 2011:
**Introduction by Jennifer Locklear**
During the closing months of 2009 as my husband was beginning work on his first original story, I discovered the world of Twilight FanFiction. It was the first time I had read stories online, and as my time in front of the computer screen began to increase (significantly), he took notice.
When I explained how I was spending all my free time, he took an interest in the fact that not only were people posting stories online but they were also able to receive immediate feedback from readers. I introduced him to several of the stories I was reading, and within a few days our lives took an interesting turn as he began to consider posting a story of his own.
One evening after I arrived home from work, my husband announced he had begun writing his own FF. He asked me to read what he had written that afternoon and to let him know if I thought it was worthy of posting.
What I read blew me away and I immediately signed on to be his beta. I had to see where his story would take me.
Morgan Locklear quietly posted the first chapter of his epic turn of the century tale on Valentines Day 2010. To our delight, Bella Voce quickly earned readers because his profile page acknowledged that he was writing with an extra pen in his pocket and many females in the Fandom wanted to see how a man wrote our beloved Edward and Bella.
Although I knew he had a talent for music and songwriting, his skills as a storyteller took me by surprise. Not only did Bella Voce include ornate imagery, depth of character and an interweaving of history, Morgan continually amazed me by writing several thousand words each and every week for the better part of two years.
Now that Bella Voce and its sequel, Brutte Parole, have been completed, Morgan is looking forward to returning to that original story he started a couple of years ago. But thankfully for those of us who are fans of his work, he won’t be leaving the Fandom anytime soon.
Putting the Y in Twilight
with Morgan Locklear
The experiences I have had as a man in the female dominated Twilight Fandom all started because I’m a reader. I think that if a man does not read for pleasure he stands little chance of understanding the Fandom. But even as a reader, Twilight was nowhere near my radar despite the fact that I had already enjoyed the Mortal Instruments series.
The Twilight Saga (I hate that it’s called a saga by the way) is a decidedly female oriented story, as evidenced by the first person narrative from Bella. Therefore, it is seen by most men as another romance novel and rightfully so.
I saw the first film and still had no desire to pick up the book (although I did like the casting and the music and Billy Burke was a riot). Also, I knew that Robert Pattinson was a star right away. At the time, I did not remember him from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (and when my wife told me it blew my freaking mind), but I could tell that the kid was the kind of actor who, like another beautiful Robert, could end up directing one day.
I am referring to Robert Redford. He was a gifted and popular young actor who looked too good to be respected until he proved himself with a career rich with wise choices and an unfaltering self-identity.
Pattinson will be up there with the likes of Tom Hanks in everyone’s eyes by the time he’s forty. I will even risk a few words about the very polarizing Kristen Stewart. Even though she is not my type, she is beautiful. But before I jump off the wooden actress bandwagon I would like to point out that she was cast, like Robert, because they shared many social traits of the characters they played.
So, was she stiff or too good? DON’T ANSWER YET!!! I can tell that I haven’t convinced many of you who are determined to hate her and that’s cool, but please listen to one other argument:
Keanu Reeves was a Shakespearean stage actor in Canada who was regarded as the best of his age. (Not kidding). After a small role in a movie (filmed in part in my sister’s car on the Oregon coast) he was cast as Ted “Theodore” Logan in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
He played his part so convincingly that he found himself only being cast in similar roles. Has he had some bad movies? Of course. Has he proven that he is way better than we all thought? Yes. Don’t believe me? Watch The Devil’s Advocate opposite Al Pacino.
I think Kristen has some things to learn, but that’s why we are called human BEINGS. It’s because we are never done “becoming” who we are. Don’t believe me? I’ll tell you what, I’ll put all my eggs in her new Snow White movie. I can tell she is trying to prove something just like Rob did in Remember Me. And, like Rob, she will turn in a stunning performance.
Okay, back to the Fandom…
The only reason I even considered reading Twilight was because I had decided to start writing a small book. Because mine was also written in first person, my wife innocently suggested that I might find the Stephenie Meyer books helpful. I often take advice from my wife – she is smart and witty and has good taste in both books and movies (and men), so I read it.
I gobbled up all four books in a few weeks. As a man, I found the pacing good and the characters effortlessly drawn. There was tension but not too much gooey angst and that was good. My favorite book was Breaking Dawn for one simple reason – it was the first book that Bella stopped constantly bitching about being turned into a vampire.
What can I say, the books lingered in my mind. I became distracted from the book I was writing (a zombie story) and suddenly switched to writing a story about a beautiful young vampire named Bella. She was living in Paris during the 1890’s but had been turned several hundred years before when she was a nineteen year old nun. I wrote a prologue that introduced a human named Edward, who fell in love with her when he attended one of her concerts at the theatre she owned. Bella spied him in the audience and intended to feed on him, only to end up falling in love with Edward as soon as they were introduced backstage.
I showed the prologue to my wife and she suggested that if I write the story as fan fiction I would get feedback and perhaps become a better storyteller.
What a great idea.
When I decided to challenge myself with the task of posting the first chapters even though I only had the vaguest idea of how the story would end, I upped the ante and put myself on a weekly posting deadline. It was the single biggest challenge in my life. (And this is coming from the legally blind father of two children).
During the past two years, I stopped reading other books almost altogether so I could devote my time to writing and now I am anxious to complete reading a few Fandom stories as well as finishing a few hardcovers that are still sitting on my shelf with movie stubs as bookmarks.
Two years later, Bella Voce and it’s sequel, Brutte Parole, are complete. Somehow I also found the time to record an original soundtrack to go along with the stories and I have made literally thousands of friends online.
I can honestly say that it was being a man that probably brought most of my readers at first but like I told my wife, the writing has to keep people coming back for more because the novelty of having a Y chromosome will wear off long before my story is done being told.
I dragged my shy lurker wife into the spotlight with me as she was my very skilled beta and she has since written a short story of her own. We are now working on a story together that I am very excited about. It will begin posting on her FanFiction page (RandomCran) in early 2012.
She came up with this cool idea that takes place partly on a movie set and has some great twists and asked me to write it with her. We have had a good time and I get to write a really bad guy (which I love). It’s called Exposure and it’s one of three things I have planned for 2012 to stay active in the Fandom despite my biggest project being put to bed.
Top Ten things I’ve learned since I’ve been in the Fandom.
1. Women are way more horny than I ever knew about.
2. Strangers are way more generous than I ever thought possible.
3. There are hundreds of unpublished writers on fanfiction.net who could go pro today.
4. Sam Beam (A.K.A. Iron & Wine) is a genius!
5. I’m not the only man in the Fandom (and I’m talking straight guys too!)
6. My wife is a better writer than I am.
7. Seriously, women are waaaaay more horny than I thought.
8. Everyone just wants to be listened to sometimes.
9. T/J means Tweet Jack.
I would like to address negativity as well because not to would be ignoring a factor that has had a lasting influence on me. One other thing I learned is that some people hate for the sake of hating and fighting back will only make things worse, especially when your opponent is anonymous and ignorant.
I was targeted by a hate group last year because I defended another author they were bullying and so they turned their limited sights on me. My thread posts were reposted out of context to make me look arrogant (well, more arrogant anyway) and when I went to their blog to annoy them and play the part of bad guy, I offended other people reading and not just the perpetrators. I thought my tactics were obvious but it backfired and some people wrote me off that day without ever getting to know the truth.
We all know the truth now, that so called group was another fic author and a few followers. But it made a lot of people paranoid and ruined a lot of good fun, so I guess she got what she wanted, (except that book deal).
Yes, it still bothers me that people were willing to bash so many others just because a self-proclaimed hater told them to, but I like to think the Fandom will chase off the next one off together.
Regardless, this Fandom has brought my wife and I closer together than ever before and that alone was worth the trip. But there is so much more that we have gained during our time here. We have friends for a lifetime now, many we have met in person, and we are making more every day.
We have also been a part of many different worthwhile fundraisers and continue to be overwhelmed by the generosity by the people who call Twilight their obsession.
We are currently involved with the Fandom Against Juvenile Diabetes fundraiser and I have just completed a very original story that is told from the point of view of a house cat named Edward (an ECPOV, if you will). It’s called House Rules. Please visit the blog: email@example.com and donate what you can to read many, many wonderful stories from some of the best authors in the Fandom.
Our fifteen year old son has Type One diabetes, and believe me the medical field is close to finding a cure. With your help, it will happen within his lifetime.
I hope this has been an entertaining look at my somewhat foggy view as someone who could have stayed an outsider if not for all the hugs that have pulled me in. From my wife and I, thank you for that. If you do not know us, please find us on twitter and say hello (@MJLocklear and @RandomCran). We are chatty, especially with each other.
And now back to my tawdry little pirate sex romp coming soon: “Arg Isle: Search for the Treasure Trail.”
With the exception of a short story called Pirate’s Booty that I posted on this site in 2012, I have stuck to topics that revolve around the writing and editing process. I seldom referred to my own work by name; however, last Tuesday my wife and I had our first novel published and I would like to write about our experience.
Exposure was my wife’s idea. She wanted the story to be sexy but funny, and she wanted a villain you’d love to hate. She approached me with the outline and asked if I wanted to put my zombie book on hold (again) and co-author the story with her. I liked that it took place in and around a movie set and jumped at the chance to work with someone who had already proven herself as a keen writer and a ruthless editor. (I used to call her Darth Beta).
Once we were accepted by Omnific, (our first choice of publisher, and not just because they initially published Gabriel’s Inferno), we were contacted by the managing editor who immediately asked us to find fifteen thousand words to cut. Challenge accepted…we cut twenty-two. Once we got the hang of it, it was easy to see what was unnecessary versus what was supporting the story.
After our big “cutting” edit, we were assigned an editor who worked with us for the next four months to prepare the story for publication. He had us re-think almost every aspect and pushed us hard to explore all avenues, but always treated us with respect and an open mind. As a result, we are much happier with the final result than we had been when we first submitted the manuscript.
The most amazing thing about the whole process to me is the realization that only six weeks ago we added a small scene to the middle of the book. This was done to better examine a character’s response to something. The fact that some passages are two years old, while others are less than two months old, is mind boggling to me. It reads seamlessly, of course, but I’ll always know and it’s just a bizarre feeling.
Now that the book is out we are in full PR mode, but have spoken to each other about the importance of not letting our Facebook and Twitter pages become one endless plea to buy our novel. We have all had that author in our timelines who does nothing more than program “gremlins” to give themselves a shout out every thirty seconds, and it’s not an account you usually wish to continue following. That’s not to say that one shouldn’t use their social media to remind fans and friends of their projects, but it’s possible to do so without drowning them in links to Amazon.
Writing professionally is like playing poker – it’s not a single pot that keeps you in the game; it’s consistent winning. We are both already working on solo novels for publication and hope that one day we will be able to devote ourselves to the profession full-time. If not this book, then maybe the next. But, if nothing else, we are growing closer as a couple by working together, and we’re growing as writers by listening to the good advice given to us over the years.
I hope that Wordslinger has been dispensing such advice, and now I am in the position of putting my money where my mouth is. Exposure is the result of two years of work by a dedicated married couple who just wanted to produce a fun and funky read with super steamy bits and more pop culture references than an episode of Robot Chicken.
If you’ve read this column and always wondered if I follow my own advice, or if any of it will work, I urge you to let Exposure speak to the success of discipline and dedication. (As well as having a wife that writes half the book).
In closing, I’d like to share an excerpt from our novel…
We wish to begin by thanking Becca, Elli and Sue, all of whom volunteered their valuable time and talents. They read this story and provided feedback at nearly every stage in the writing process. From the beginning, their commitment and enthusiasm for this novel has been nothing less than amazing. They invested as many months into this story as we did, and did so from behind the scenes. This is why Exposure has been dedicated in their names.
Thank you to Nina for her guidance and support. She has been instrumental in the publication of this story and we extend our heartfelt appreciation. Thanks also to Mina Vaughn for generously providing advice early in the submission process. She steered us in the right direction, and we are grateful for her assistance. We also thank Carmen and Chris for their friendship and help during a critical time.
We have enjoyed our collaboration with Omnific and especially wish to thank Nina, Lisa, Elizabeth, Colleen and Kimberly for their hard work. Special thanks go to our editor, Sean, for taking us on and showing us the ropes. We consider ourselves fortunate. We’ve enjoyed working with him and everyone at Omnific and look forward to doing so again in the future.
Writing has brought us closer together as husband and wife, but also required much of our time and attention. Our friends and family deserve more thanks than we can adequately provide. Over the past four years, there were moments when those closest to us raised an eyebrow or two, but no one ever discouraged us from the journey. For that, we will be forever grateful.
Finally, we wish to thank E.L. James and Sylvain Reynard. Their stories sparked our own creativity while their friendship and support have enriched our lives. Many thanks for all they have done for us.
And of course, no list of thank you’s would be complete without thanking those of you who choose to give our book your time and attention as readers. We’re excited to finally share Exposure with you and we hope you’ll enjoy the story.
I have a much harder time editing my books than writing them. Mostly, I think it’s because I have to move paragraphs around and shuffle things around. This stresses me out to no end.
I happen to be a very linear writer. I begin at the beginning and write until the story is completed. My wife often times writes scenes out-of-order and builds the story around them. I can relate to this as a musician because many of my songs have a completed chorus before I begin working on the verses. I don’t mind working backwards with a piece of music, but fiction just has so many damn WORDS.
As much as possible it’s important to always work on the same document, but just like train yards have run off track, sometimes you’ll need a blank page to just store your unassigned segments. I believe that as long as you feel like you’re not forgetting or losing anything, you’ll have the peace of mind to work without too much tummy angst. It works for me.
Sometimes, I just want to be lazy and avoid any cut and paste scenarios, but if I work slow and use a run off track, I can make my changes and keep my sanity.
I am fascinated with authors who can write the endings of their books first. Part of me admires the skill and part of me worries that they aren’t benefitting from all the character and plot developments that become so important.
Still, I bet it was nice for J.K. Rowling to know ahead of time that she had her shit together, and I gotta respect that.
Making an outline is a fantastic way to keep you from getting too dizzy when you’re writing or editing your manuscript, and it will greatly assist you when you are putting a summary together (which you will eventually have to do if you publish).
That summary will be a lifeline when you’re story is ripped open like a toy poodle in a tiger cage and you’re wondering if you are ever going to get Humpty Dumpty back together again.
Not every story needs to be re-worked in this way, but having the ability and the fearlessness to go that deep to assist your novel will strengthen the work and present the story in the best possible way.
I keep thinking of all the ways Quentin Tarantino could have cut Pulp Fiction together. Beginning half way through and then catching us up worked great, but many movies begin at the very ending and tell the story in a series of flashbacks. Many more cut things seemingly randomly until things start to make sense.
Books are the same way, they can be manipulated to tell the story in a particular order, or from a certain point of view until you want additional information to be introduced.
Again, I like things a bit more simple, but don’t want to deny any of my books the chance to get better. So I take a deep breath and start picking apart those scenes that need extra TLC.
Fortunately for me, I have a talented and patient writing partner who can perform these acts of insanity and come out smelling like a cinnamon bun. You may also have these attributes, but you won’t know until you try.
Also, you should learn how to make cinnamon buns.
Have you ever been reading a book and the author says the exact same thing two sentences in a row? Sure, they change some words around, maybe reverse the observational order, embellish it a little, but essentially repeat themselves. It’s just a natural instinct to be understood completely and there’s scarcely an author living or dead who hasn’t been trapped by literature’s version of the double-take.
I don’t know why this is such a subconscious temptation and even though they’re far easier to spot than typos, we let them slip by time and time again. No author wants to be pedantic, but writers are somehow blind to their existence even after the editing process. Even readers allow a certain amount of repetition, (did you notice that the first two sentences of this paragraph basically said the same exact thing)?
Reminding readers of certain facts throughout a novel is necessary, but what I’m talking about here is those horrific instances that occur right next door to each other, (or at least in the same neighborhood). Some of my absolute favorite authors fall victim to this more frequently than I would prefer, but I don’t really mind and I certainly don’t blame them. But I want to make sure I keep it under wraps in my own writing and I have a plan in place to succeed.
I have said many times in these Wordslinger posts (ironic in this moment, I know), that authors can get too close to their work and miss things. Getting other people involved to review your work, especially if they have different focus goals, is the best way to clean and clear your fiction.
Film directors and producers have long known that movies exist in three forms: the written version, the shot version, and the edited version. They recognize that these processes build on each other like Legos (SPACESHIP!) They have their individual merits, but the combined efforts and talents of people over time make the finished product.
Not surprisingly, many directors have learned to love the editing process because it allows them to change everything from tone to pacing without sacrificing the material. The same can be true for a novel. First you write it, then you re-read and re-work the entire piece, (what I call a squeegee), and finally you turn it over to social or professional editors who will begin rounds of magnification that will really start to bring out the essential soul of the book and polish the pivotal moments.
Have I ever mentioned that my wife and I read our stories out loud to each other? I hope I have because I can’t say enough how different things sound to my ears than they look to my eyes.
Even if you have betas, and editors, it is shockingly easy to miss instances of double dipping so you need to assign yourself or someone else, to look for this specifically. I’d encourage you to just spot and eliminate them as you are writing, but again I have to acknowledge the hypnotic power they have to go unseen at the time of conception.
At least when you do find them, you get to pick your favorite to keep.
Recently, I have addressed the pitfalls of writing from too many POVs in one chapter. Today I would like to dig a little deeper and discuss the individual voices of your characters and reveal what is actually an industry wide slip-up in narration.
Every character has a certain way of thinking and talking. So does the narrator’s voice (if the book is in 3rd person). It’s actually the narrator’s voice that gets mishandled most often when a writer says something as a character that is clearly information or verbiage more suited to the story teller.
It’s an easy mistake to make, and almost 50% of my own edits are search and destroy missions looking for just this sort of pulp foul. It is especially easy to spot if you’re writing with a particularly snarky voice and you see that a lead character says something in a way that has already been established as the omnipresent voice. Sure people change, and so do characters. It’s not even unheard of that all characters and even the narrator share a similar speech pattern and sense of humor, but a good separation is only going to strengthen your work.
If your character can suddenly identify every flower on the hill, and you hadn’t established them as a botanist, or at least a cast member of Little House on the Prairie, then maybe you’re assigning them uncharacteristic attributes that might be better suited for your narration. It’s rarely this obvious, of course, but this kind of “swap” writing is out there everywhere.
In the defense of authors, they have all the voices in their own heads after all, and that makes this error a hard problem to spot. This is especially true in the moment they are assigned to their respective literary bodies. And again, this really is a third person issue and seldom becomes a problem with first person narration.
Doling out the humor can be a big trap sometimes. A particular joke or funny observation might only be appropriate as a narrator, but we want to give the gag to a character to enhance their presence. (Or maybe we’re not even thinking about it that hard). Either way, it might not be the best use of the wit, so it’s worth the time to craft the delivery of a good joke so it sounds as organic as possible. Although, that reminds me, if you have a really dirty joke, or shocking statement to make, putting the words in the mouth of a brazen character is a great way to separate yourself in a way from a potentially embarrassing bit of writing. It may prove necessary, vital even, but as a writer you might not want your narrator to point out certain (pervy) things.
As usual, I am swimming in nuance here and dealing with highly subjective issues that defy the ability to be generalized, yet here I am. Ironically, it’s one of the biggest literary landmines and rarely gets a post dedicated to its nuisance. (Notice now similar the words, nuance and nuisance are).
It’s not just dialogue either, authors get inside their character’s head a lot and their thoughts must be true to them as well. It can be a difficult skill to master but a stringent edit should shake out the incongruences.
Writing a book is like directing traffic in a country where no one is required to obtain a driver’s license and the drinking age is twelve. Which is to say; you spend most of your time jumping out of the way. I know I like to make it sound like writers have little control over their craft, and admittedly, I am dramatizing the effects sometimes. We have God-like power over our own creations, but it’s our desire to see them walk on their own that has us often chasing after them like kids running behind the ice cream truck. Frankly, it depends on the day.
I am lucky to write, (and read) with a partner, my wife, Jennifer. She and I have read more than two dozen books to each other over the course of our marriage, and have written one book as a couple. But even when we’re working on solo projects, the other set of eyes and ears, and access to another brain can be like turning the light on in an otherwise completely dark room.
I am particularly good at spotting the kinds of things I have been warning against in this post as well as keeping a consistent tense in the writing. She, while proficient in these skills, has a knack for finding the kernel of any scene and getting the emotional tone just right. We both know how to write a steamy love scene too, although we rarely do that together for obvious reasons. (as in we wouldn’t get very far in the writing).
If you have an editor, or beta reader, encourage them to help you identify any instances where you cross-assign characteristics. You will have one more reason to be proud of what you’ve accomplished.
Writing is more than just an art, it’s a dream. And for once, it’s a dream we can share with each other. Keep dreaming my friends, I’ll be in the ice cream truck.
Vocabulary, it’s one of the ways in which we measure a person’s intelligence. A rich vocabulary has traditionally been seen as a high-born, well-educated trait and regularly celebrated. However, when you’re trying to relate to a reader, fancy words can derail them and slow down your story.
Did you know that a nomadic portion of the metamorphosed igneous or sedimentary deposits of the Proterozoic ear accumulates no bryophytic plant life? Did I lose you halfway through the question due to my aggressive vocabulary? What if I had said that a rolling stone gathers no moss? Better? A big vocabulary doesn’t make a smart book smart, it makes it boring. Worse yet, it makes the author look pompous.
I’m a talker, and I have a proclivity for the prolific approach to my narrative. So for me, it is imperative that I don’t burden my reader with unnecessary work just because I know fifteen different words for dildo.
As usual, my posts come with a warning not to over-correct and abandon the ideals of great writing to spare a few indulgent sentiments. Being able to describe things in a multitude of ways is a great tool for avoiding using the same word over and over again and it’s not the same as deliberately and consistently choosing laborious ways to get across the same point. The line between poetry and pedantic pros is a blurry one and wide enough to pitch a tent on so there is a lot of room for interpretation.
Using unexpected words from time to time is definitely worth doing, but I have read some books lately that have been laughable in their insistence on subjecting me to a barrage of obscurity that even the New York Times wouldn’t try to cram into a crossword puzzle.
Am I forced to conclude that a verbose author must certainly be intelligent because they have such a command of the English language? No, I am forced to conclude that the author is desperate for approval and needs an editor.
I guess moderation is the key here, too much of a good thing and all. That’s the challenge of writing in general. There are a lot of rules that you must follow, but only so far and then you have to pull back lest you alienate your audience.
Here’s what I do. If I break out a twenty dollar word and I like its placement and sentiment and don’t feel that it jars the reader out of the moment, I’ll allow it under the condition that I don’t plump up the paragraph with any more shiny syllables. Keeping my extra-curricular vocabulary separated is a great way of having my cake and eating it too.
I have read chapters of mine and wondered if I thought I was getting paid a nickel each time I used a certain word. Objects are the worst, chairs, beds, the house, it can get monotonous. I encourage you to seek a thesaurus to smooth out moments like these only.
This really can be a tough aspect to negotiate. I love to see a new turn of phrase and highlight them on my iPad when they come up. But a collection of monster words just makes me roll my eyes, (which also makes me lose my place).
A good editor will help you determine what is indulgent and what is prudent. Some of the best writing I have done in the last few weeks has been what I cut out of a story to strengthen it.
In parting, I should like to observe that some characters have big vocabularies and using such language in the course of dialogue from that person does not count as indulgent. It’s a loop hole that can be exploited as long as it serves a purpose, (which is to say that it serves your story).
I hope I have not just confused the issue further. I do believe that that if you can recognize the difference between situations in which to use alternate wording, you will be able to still produce flowery writing without heaping on too much honey.
I love to read short chapters, but I have only recently begun writing them. Like movies, I tend to string many scenes together and even switch POVs at my leisure. This may work in the movies but in a novel it can be confusing and, worse yet, annoying.
George Lucas and his film American Graffiti helped begin a movement in the film industry where multiple story lines were advanced at once and even intertwined. We as audience members have grown so accustomed to this fast pace that now even sit-coms have three different story arcs going at once. (I’m thinking of some of my favorite Seinfeld episodes).
When writing, I invite you to embrace the last bastion of intimate story telling; the chapter. A chapter can be as long as a novella and works for many authors, but it doesn’t have to be a series of separated scenes. Any single scene can be an island.
If you’re looking for a rule to follow, I submit that any change in POV or location should be strongly considered a good place to start a new chapter.
Worried about length? (And who isn’t)? Don’t be, I’ve read plenty of 400 word chapters and you know what it got me? A bigger sense of accomplishment.
However, in the interest of putting a figure on it, I’ll submit that a chapter that is 1 to 5 thousand words is a great target as well as a fairly consistent modern standard.
I try to keep web posts such as this one to about a thousand words because I know it’s long enough to be worth the time to explore any given topic, but not so long as to intimidate readers. Maybe it’s even because of my relationship with Bookish Temptations that my fiction has segmented into more bite sized morsels over that last two years. In that case, I say thank you, because it has the added bonus of making novels easier to edit.
It should be noted that my endorsement of short, poignant chapters in no way changes my sour views on a web fad known as “drabble” posts. I heartily maintain that purposefully dinky chapters (250 words or so), is seldom going to fully engage a reader no matter how much instant gratification it gives the writer.
Beginning with a thousand words is just a starting target and a great daily writing goal in addition. Keeping it under 5k allows the reader a chance to settle into your writing without subjecting them to a lengthy parade of characters and locations.
Side trips can be fun, but ultimately hurt your final product if they don’t directly serve the story. Just like in real life, too many side trips results in running out of gas before you get to your final destination.
I mostly write in a third person narrative and often dive down into the heads of many of my characters, but too much head hopping even confuses me later on. Separating these sections by making them their own chapters is greatly assisting my quest for clearly defined plot lines while giving me the freedom to even switch them around from time to time.
It takes guts, but chapters that have only one scene can be shuffled like drink coasters at the Elks Lodge. You never know what combinations can be unlocked by simply shuffling the order of events.
THIS IS SELDOM NECESSARY AND NOT A COMMON STEP IN THE EDITING PROCESS, But, it is eye-opening and has inspired both my wife and I. The changes we make usually stick.
Don’t you like to come up for air every ten to fifteen minutes when you read? I sure do, and I can’t believe I’ve subjected readers to colossal 15 to 22 thousand word chapters in my fan fiction days. If I re-edited those books, the chapters would quadruple.
Most of the advice I offer is pretty well vetted and tested but I want to acknowledge that there are countless examples of amazing books with chapters longer than a Dakota freight train and I don’t knock it one bit; I only suggest that current styles and preferences are leaning toward screenplay sized scenes.
Fortunately, that trend lends itself to clear and considerate writing and I am a fan of both. As a person who suffers from being a little too wordy, this is the kind of thing that keeps me in check and makes my stories tight and focused. (Again, a big help in editing).
I still encourage writers to follow those rabbits down their respective holes and let characters off their leashes once in a while. I just think it helps more to keep changes in points of view separate for the sake of simplicity alone.
Here’s hoping that you have twelve excellent chapters in the year 2014, and as usual, I’ll be here every first Saturday to lend my blurry perspective.
As I write this, I am 28 days and 41,000 words into my NaNoWriMo book. National Novel Writing Month takes place during the month of November, and last I checked in, well over 30,000 people were signed in on the NaNoWriMo website.
The goal during NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month, and I had a rather unexpected turn to my project. I’d always assumed that I would write the first 50,000 words of what would eventually be a much longer book, but as I near the 45,000 mark I’ve come to realize that I will complete my story before the word count is met.
This is not a bother because I’m sure that my second pass (my squeegee read through) will inspire another five thousand plus words of extra material.
I have slowed down to get the ending right. It’s important not to feel rushed, so I purposely took a few days off last week once I realized that I was going to get what I wanted out of this endeavor.
It’s weird to think that the last time I submitted a Wordslinger I hadn’t even picked half of my character names, and now this idea is a fully realized novel with just an edit to go until completion.
I ended up very happy with the way the story turned out, which is to say that it turned out like I expected, and I didn’t have any characters wander too far off script.
It’s a ghost story (my first). It takes place mostly in New York City, which is a bonus for me since I have a real boner for the Big Apple. I had the joy of delving into subway history and learned the island of Manhattan from fifty feet underground. It was a lot of fun and as I edit I’ll use the time to research further.
The last three books I wrote took a year each, and I’ve got to say that doing it this way sure has it’s advantages. Yes, I spent three hours a day with my nose buried in my computer, Yes, I ignored my Twitter friends and barely even looked at Facebook even though my wife and I launched a writers blog a few weeks ago, but I got ten times as much written in the four weeks and now I can take Christmas to polish and lengthen it a bit.
I have two friends who joined me in writing novels this month, and I’m happy to report that they both have accomplished their goals. It’s no easy task but having the support of colleagues goes a long way towards realizing your own successes.
I started with an outline, a five page version of my whole story. Then I started by developing my main character. I told rich stories about her past that I liked almost as much as my main plot.
It isn’t necessarily an action packed book, but time moves swiftly and the characters’ needs become of paramount importance. I tried to keep the emotion engaging, but not too overdone, and I got to make up my own rules about how ghosts behave in the world I created.
That was my favorite part of writing the story, and I plan on expounding on the laws I set forth to add even more depth to the new environment that takes place in an old setting.
New York became its own character as I’d hoped, and that was part of the reason for picking such a storied city. It’s cheap, I know, but I don’t mind cheap if it’s good. That just makes it a better deal.
This makes four books I’ve written in four years, but now that I know I can knock one out in a month I may try this again in March or April if I have the time. It was empowering and everyone I know is still trying to wrap their head around the idea that I even tried to attempt something so daunting.
And it does seem daunting on paper, but in practice, it’s only a daily discipline that develops into a divine document. As long as you don’t mind missing a few of your favorite TV shows, or going to bed a little late on some nights, you can have yourself a novel in no time at all.
My wife, whom I call Darth Beta will join another valued partner in evaluating and exfoliating the story and I look forward to that next step in the process.
I’m much further along in another project and juggling the two may become a totally new challenge that I’ll be lucky enough to face.
I hope you all have a toasty holiday season and your Nooks and Kindles are filled with good books.
My wife showed me a picture of a happy cartoon book once:
I love this picture.
Reading was actually a great fear for me all through grade school. I hold things very close to my eyes when I read and tend to go slow. When I was called upon to read aloud in class I always feared that it would sound like I was just learning to read.
Books on tape (and I do mean tape) got me hooked on fiction but when I wanted to read the most current books I just muddled through. However, I discovered that exercise was exactly what my eyes needed and soon it came very easily to me. Much later in life, I worked in radio where I read fresh news copy live on the air every day. I still read pretty slowly compared to most and I type much faster than I can follow half the time.
Last month I wrote about how research can lead you into wonderful ideas for your story while adding accuracies and trivia that everyone likes. This month I wish to stress the importance of not losing your appetite for fiction especially as you begin to write stories yourself. Sure, there’s a great argument for not wanting to inadvertently influence your own work. I worry about that myself, but influence is inspiration which only strengthens my point that you want to expose yourself to as much as you can, especially in your own genre.
Another great argument against reading while in the midst of writing is all the time you lose. It feels like you’re cheating on your book. I get that, but there’s a time to write and there’s a time to read. Think of yourself as a well, you have to fill the well with words before you can draw them up to fill your own creations.
I get the feeling that some of you didn’t need convincing of this in the first place. You love to read and couldn’t stop if you tried. That’s why you’re here. In fact, I wonder if next month I shouldn’t just write a post called: Isn’t Pizza Yummy! Or How About That Sex!
But for some, reading while writing is as difficult as trying to eat pizza while having sex. I want to acknowledge that if a more focused approach works for you, don’t bother trying to clutter your style with my new devices.
I still struggle with finding the balance. I only know that the more I read, the better I understand the craft. The better I understand the craft the more I grow as a writer. The more I grow as a writer the better opportunities I’ve received.
But where is the time to fit in all this reading and writing along with a family and a full time job? As a gentleman, I never regarded a bath as an indulgence. Like Jerry Seinfeld, I find it a very dainty affair. I’m no homophobe, (and I get the irony of even making such a statement since I got my start writing Twilight fanfic), but I just had never enjoyed the experience of a bath as much as I was expected to.
However, I’ve lately discovered that a warm bath is a haven for reading. (This was not unlike my great red pepper discovery of 2002). More than anything, a bath is big tub of peace and quiet. Again, I sense that I have merely been stating the obvious today but sometimes it’s nice to just sit around and agree on stuff together isn’t it?
If maintaining a healthy reading habit in the midst of penning your own pulp is only a little out of your comfort zone, try to compromise by reading educational or historical books. (Recipes don’t count). But anything that can turn the flow of words the other way for a little while will benefit you, trust me.
My wife can read four different books at a time while working on two stories and editing another two. I start out with several options but get into one book and follow it all the way to the end without stopping. It’s like contestants row on The Price Is Right. Sometimes the new guy gets to run right up on stage and sometimes it’s someone who’s been there a while but was the only one who didn’t overbid.
I do tend to work on multiple stories at once, but that’s just to satisfy my multiple personality disorder(s).
I am going to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year and my next post will share my experience with you. I plan to type 50,000 words in 30 days, while completing the book I am currently enjoying (A particularly harrowing offering in a longtime men’s adventure series I follow called Deathlands) and beginning a novel my wife recommended called, Eleanor and Park. It’s going to be a challenge, but back in those fan fiction days I pumped out 40 thousand words a month for two years straight, so I’m up for the task.
I believe that it will be my continued forays into someone else’s pages that will keep me on the right track as I begin a big new project…that and Red’s Strawberry Ale.