Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Putting ourselves out there to be evaluated by others--whether it's for critique partners or blog readers or agents and editors or the reading public--will involve risk every time. We may get all negative feedback, all positive or a mixed bag. Any of these scenarios has the power to eviscerate our productivity, though. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield offers this wisdom for keeping forward movement and using criticism well:

The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next will be better, and the one after better still.
The professional self-validates. She is tough-minded. In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively. Where it fell short, she'll improve it. Where it triumphed, she'll make it better still. She'll work harder. She'll be back tomorrow. (88)

Pressfield goes on to talk about the proper place of criticism and our work. We use it to change and grow, but don't let it feed our inner insecurities. Because that inner force that Pressfield calls "Resistance" wants more than anything for us to quit this whole writing business altogether.

I especially like the hope Pressfield offers here about our creative selves--that we're capable of many projects, thus success or failure on the work du jour should never have the power to make or break us. The amazing future-you will come into being as long as you keep showing up and working.

Have you struggled with crushing doubt in the face of criticism? What helped you pick up and move on?

If you could meet your future self, what would you ask her? What wisdom do you hope she'll have for you?
Tuesday, January 29, 2013 Laurel Garver

Putting ourselves out there to be evaluated by others--whether it's for critique partners or blog readers or agents and editors or the reading public--will involve risk every time. We may get all negative feedback, all positive or a mixed bag. Any of these scenarios has the power to eviscerate our productivity, though. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield offers this wisdom for keeping forward movement and using criticism well:

The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next will be better, and the one after better still.
The professional self-validates. She is tough-minded. In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively. Where it fell short, she'll improve it. Where it triumphed, she'll make it better still. She'll work harder. She'll be back tomorrow. (88)

Pressfield goes on to talk about the proper place of criticism and our work. We use it to change and grow, but don't let it feed our inner insecurities. Because that inner force that Pressfield calls "Resistance" wants more than anything for us to quit this whole writing business altogether.

I especially like the hope Pressfield offers here about our creative selves--that we're capable of many projects, thus success or failure on the work du jour should never have the power to make or break us. The amazing future-you will come into being as long as you keep showing up and working.

Have you struggled with crushing doubt in the face of criticism? What helped you pick up and move on?

If you could meet your future self, what would you ask her? What wisdom do you hope she'll have for you?

Friday, January 25, 2013

It's Friday Phonics time, and today we will be tackling the homophone pair discreet and discrete. Mixing up these two higher-level vocabulary words is something I've seen in both beginner and scholarly, PhD-level writing. Once again, spell check will not help you.

The more commonly used term is the double E version, having to do with secret-keeping. Let's take a look at definitions, visuals, examples and mnemonics to get the words clear in our heads.

Discreet

© carulmare, Flickr; Rembrandt. 1661. Matthew and the Angel
adj. -- having discernment, prudent, able to keep delicate matters secret; modest and unpretentious; unnoticeable, unobtrusive

adv. -- discreetly
n. -- discreetness, discretion

Examples
John trusted her to be discreet about his gambling debts.

Lady Ambrose signaled the Duke by discreetly touching her cheek.

A key rule of medicine is discretion with sensitive patient information.

Mnemonics
LEE was so DISCREET, she allowed no man to ever SEE her KNEES.
The BEE flew DISCREETLY from TREE to TREE.

Discrete

photo by schurch, morguefile.com
adj. -- separate, individual; having distinct or unconnected elements

adv. -- discretely
n. -- discreteness

Examples
The color of the grass makes the Joneses' yard discrete from the Wesleys'.

Detective Nicholson felt there might be two discrete perpetrators, not one.

Mnemonics
We kept the areas DISCRETE with CONCRETE that would not SECRETE moisture.
Joe needed to DELETE six DISCRETE lines of INCOMPLETE code.

Test your skills

1. I wish I knew how to make my designs look more _____ from each other.
2. Francesca moved _____ to Philip's side and whispered in his ear.
3. Lady Mary depended on her family to be ____ about the affair with Mr. Pamuk.
4. Dr. McMahon developed three ___ treatment options for the condition.

Do you struggle with keeping these terms discrete? Any others I should cover in the future?

Answers: 1. discrete 2. discreetly 3. discreet 4. discrete.

Friday, January 25, 2013 Laurel Garver
It's Friday Phonics time, and today we will be tackling the homophone pair discreet and discrete. Mixing up these two higher-level vocabulary words is something I've seen in both beginner and scholarly, PhD-level writing. Once again, spell check will not help you.

The more commonly used term is the double E version, having to do with secret-keeping. Let's take a look at definitions, visuals, examples and mnemonics to get the words clear in our heads.

Discreet

© carulmare, Flickr; Rembrandt. 1661. Matthew and the Angel
adj. -- having discernment, prudent, able to keep delicate matters secret; modest and unpretentious; unnoticeable, unobtrusive

adv. -- discreetly
n. -- discreetness, discretion

Examples
John trusted her to be discreet about his gambling debts.

Lady Ambrose signaled the Duke by discreetly touching her cheek.

A key rule of medicine is discretion with sensitive patient information.

Mnemonics
LEE was so DISCREET, she allowed no man to ever SEE her KNEES.
The BEE flew DISCREETLY from TREE to TREE.

Discrete

photo by schurch, morguefile.com
adj. -- separate, individual; having distinct or unconnected elements

adv. -- discretely
n. -- discreteness

Examples
The color of the grass makes the Joneses' yard discrete from the Wesleys'.

Detective Nicholson felt there might be two discrete perpetrators, not one.

Mnemonics
We kept the areas DISCRETE with CONCRETE that would not SECRETE moisture.
Joe needed to DELETE six DISCRETE lines of INCOMPLETE code.

Test your skills

1. I wish I knew how to make my designs look more _____ from each other.
2. Francesca moved _____ to Philip's side and whispered in his ear.
3. Lady Mary depended on her family to be ____ about the affair with Mr. Pamuk.
4. Dr. McMahon developed three ___ treatment options for the condition.

Do you struggle with keeping these terms discrete? Any others I should cover in the future?

Answers: 1. discrete 2. discreetly 3. discreet 4. discrete.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Today is my final installment of my series on "Reducing Bloat / Revising Overwriting."

Overly elaborate diction is what most think of when they hear the term "overwriting." I'd argue it's just one facet of a tendency to go thick, lush and heavy-handed when drafting. The trick is to identify and correct it during revision.

Advanced vocabulary
Your characters' word choices show us who they are, so it's important to be accurate. Generally word choices should be consistent with a character's age, level of education and socio-economic status. Just as a fifth grader wouldn't discuss post-feminist hegemony, a college professor wouldn't call his enemy "stinkypants."

There are exceptions, however. You might sprinkle in words like "indubitably" and "elementary" to show that your fifth grader fancies himself an amateur sleuth like Sherlock Holmes. A social climber might adopt fancy lingo but misuse it. A grade-skipping child prodigy would wield her vocabulary like a weapon.

As you revise, be willing to question your word choices. Advanced vocabulary can communicate some things you don't intend. It gives the impression that you, the writer, are insecure or a bit out of touch. It can also taint your characters with a popular stereotype: the evil genius whose intelligence is paired with heartless ambition, or the socially awkward hopeless nerd whose head is stuffed with useless knowledge.

Literary devices
As I wrote in this post, sound devices can be an effective tool to make your work sing. But if you're too heavy-handed, it sounds silly or just plain annoying. Generally assonance (repeated internal vowel sounds) is less jarring than alliteration (repeated initial consonant sounds) or rhyming, so you can be a little freer with it.

How heavy is too heavy? I don't have a hard and fast rule. If sound is a big piece of your style, you'll have a hard time identifying overkill. Ask three or four trustworthy readers who get your intent to help you trim all but the best of your devices.

Metaphor and simile can quickly become overdone. Beware of the tendency to describe every detail through comparisons. Watch out especially for inept comparisons that don't fit the character or situation. Stephanie Thornton posted some hilarious examples of simile gone awry.

A whole-work "controlling metaphor" or motif is often fine, however. If done well, it can unify and strengthen your work. Sarah Dessen's Lock and Key, for example, uses the motif of doors, keys, fences, houses to examine what makes a place home, and people around us family.

Allusion can be an effective way to say a lot in a small space--your reader will pour in all the context without your needing to explain. But if the book, film, song or historical event you reference is too obscure, it hinders rather than helps your reader. A character whose thoughts are filled with allusions to pop culture will come across as shallow and lacking original ideas of his own.

Name dropping brands is another type of allusion that becomes irksome quickly. Call your fleece jacket a "North Face" once, then stick with generic terms like fleece or jacket in subsequent reference.

Dialect
Take extra care when presenting a character whose regional accent isn't mainstream. The best way to handle dialect is through word order, cadence, grammar, and word choice. But go lightly, especially with regionalisms like "youse guys" or "blimey" or "y'all." And as much as possible, stick to standard spellings. If you've done your research and can imitate the cadence and use the right lingo, your readers will "hear" the dialect without the tortured spellings.

Which of these diction areas trips you up? Any other helpful hints to add?
Monday, January 21, 2013 Laurel Garver
Today is my final installment of my series on "Reducing Bloat / Revising Overwriting."

Overly elaborate diction is what most think of when they hear the term "overwriting." I'd argue it's just one facet of a tendency to go thick, lush and heavy-handed when drafting. The trick is to identify and correct it during revision.

Advanced vocabulary
Your characters' word choices show us who they are, so it's important to be accurate. Generally word choices should be consistent with a character's age, level of education and socio-economic status. Just as a fifth grader wouldn't discuss post-feminist hegemony, a college professor wouldn't call his enemy "stinkypants."

There are exceptions, however. You might sprinkle in words like "indubitably" and "elementary" to show that your fifth grader fancies himself an amateur sleuth like Sherlock Holmes. A social climber might adopt fancy lingo but misuse it. A grade-skipping child prodigy would wield her vocabulary like a weapon.

As you revise, be willing to question your word choices. Advanced vocabulary can communicate some things you don't intend. It gives the impression that you, the writer, are insecure or a bit out of touch. It can also taint your characters with a popular stereotype: the evil genius whose intelligence is paired with heartless ambition, or the socially awkward hopeless nerd whose head is stuffed with useless knowledge.

Literary devices
As I wrote in this post, sound devices can be an effective tool to make your work sing. But if you're too heavy-handed, it sounds silly or just plain annoying. Generally assonance (repeated internal vowel sounds) is less jarring than alliteration (repeated initial consonant sounds) or rhyming, so you can be a little freer with it.

How heavy is too heavy? I don't have a hard and fast rule. If sound is a big piece of your style, you'll have a hard time identifying overkill. Ask three or four trustworthy readers who get your intent to help you trim all but the best of your devices.

Metaphor and simile can quickly become overdone. Beware of the tendency to describe every detail through comparisons. Watch out especially for inept comparisons that don't fit the character or situation. Stephanie Thornton posted some hilarious examples of simile gone awry.

A whole-work "controlling metaphor" or motif is often fine, however. If done well, it can unify and strengthen your work. Sarah Dessen's Lock and Key, for example, uses the motif of doors, keys, fences, houses to examine what makes a place home, and people around us family.

Allusion can be an effective way to say a lot in a small space--your reader will pour in all the context without your needing to explain. But if the book, film, song or historical event you reference is too obscure, it hinders rather than helps your reader. A character whose thoughts are filled with allusions to pop culture will come across as shallow and lacking original ideas of his own.

Name dropping brands is another type of allusion that becomes irksome quickly. Call your fleece jacket a "North Face" once, then stick with generic terms like fleece or jacket in subsequent reference.

Dialect
Take extra care when presenting a character whose regional accent isn't mainstream. The best way to handle dialect is through word order, cadence, grammar, and word choice. But go lightly, especially with regionalisms like "youse guys" or "blimey" or "y'all." And as much as possible, stick to standard spellings. If you've done your research and can imitate the cadence and use the right lingo, your readers will "hear" the dialect without the tortured spellings.

Which of these diction areas trips you up? Any other helpful hints to add?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Conflict should be at the core of what drives a story forward. Ah, but here's the rub: being conflict-averse and passive aggressive is far more common in real life than shouting matches, car chases and fisticuffs. Given the choice, most will flee from conflict rather than stay locked in it.

Unless there's glue.

In Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell gives one of the better explanations for this aspect of characterization he calls "adhesive." He defines it as "any strong relationship or circumstance that holds people together" (81). In other words, adhesive is the compelling reason opposing parties can't just peaceably part ways.

© libertygrace0, Flickr Creative Commons
What's the strong reason for your lead to stick around? What keeps her going in spite of obstacles and motivates her to reassess and take new action with each set back? How about the antagonist? Why doesn't he just go pick on someone else?

Adhesive is usually found in the reasons behind your lead's pursuit of her goal and your antagonist's opposition of your lead. Bell lists some broad categories:

~Life and death. If the opponent has a strong reason to want to kill your lead, that's a powerful glue. Your lead's struggle to stay alive is a powerful motivation to keep on keeping on.

In some genres, fear of losing one's identity, autonomy or reason for living--in other words, fighting to escape a psychological death--are the driving force. The lead must change and grow or die inside.

~Professional duty. Readers can understand how a doctor won't give up on a patient, for example. Our professional lives are often tied up in our sense of purpose and reason for living. To fail professionally means a kind of psychological death.

~Moral duty. A husband whose wife and child are kidnapped won't sit idly by. Nor will a pastor who discovers one of his parishioners is being abused. To give up on doing the right thing would mean letting evil prevail--a spiritual death.

~Obsession. Someone who has lost touch with reality may become powerfully locked to something they desire--whether it's the celebrity they stalk, and object they believe will empower them or a family member they need to control and dominate.

~Physical location. This is a setting-based twist on the life-and-death adhesive. Opponents might become stuck in a place that would be more deadly to flee from than to stay in. Think of the family snowed in at the haunted hotel in The Shining.

What's the glue in your story conflict? How might the applying concept of adhesive make your story stronger?
Wednesday, January 16, 2013 Laurel Garver
Conflict should be at the core of what drives a story forward. Ah, but here's the rub: being conflict-averse and passive aggressive is far more common in real life than shouting matches, car chases and fisticuffs. Given the choice, most will flee from conflict rather than stay locked in it.

Unless there's glue.

In Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell gives one of the better explanations for this aspect of characterization he calls "adhesive." He defines it as "any strong relationship or circumstance that holds people together" (81). In other words, adhesive is the compelling reason opposing parties can't just peaceably part ways.

© libertygrace0, Flickr Creative Commons
What's the strong reason for your lead to stick around? What keeps her going in spite of obstacles and motivates her to reassess and take new action with each set back? How about the antagonist? Why doesn't he just go pick on someone else?

Adhesive is usually found in the reasons behind your lead's pursuit of her goal and your antagonist's opposition of your lead. Bell lists some broad categories:

~Life and death. If the opponent has a strong reason to want to kill your lead, that's a powerful glue. Your lead's struggle to stay alive is a powerful motivation to keep on keeping on.

In some genres, fear of losing one's identity, autonomy or reason for living--in other words, fighting to escape a psychological death--are the driving force. The lead must change and grow or die inside.

~Professional duty. Readers can understand how a doctor won't give up on a patient, for example. Our professional lives are often tied up in our sense of purpose and reason for living. To fail professionally means a kind of psychological death.

~Moral duty. A husband whose wife and child are kidnapped won't sit idly by. Nor will a pastor who discovers one of his parishioners is being abused. To give up on doing the right thing would mean letting evil prevail--a spiritual death.

~Obsession. Someone who has lost touch with reality may become powerfully locked to something they desire--whether it's the celebrity they stalk, and object they believe will empower them or a family member they need to control and dominate.

~Physical location. This is a setting-based twist on the life-and-death adhesive. Opponents might become stuck in a place that would be more deadly to flee from than to stay in. Think of the family snowed in at the haunted hotel in The Shining.

What's the glue in your story conflict? How might the applying concept of adhesive make your story stronger?

Monday, January 14, 2013


In my ongoing series on reducing bloat (aka revising "overwriting"), we've looked at eliminating tangents and sentence-level wordiness. Today, we'll look at "sins of the tongue"--that is, types of overwriting that crop up in dialogue.

Softening phrases

Indirectness can be an effective way of showing a character’s non-confrontational nature or anxiety or indecision. Or it can simply be your anxiety appearing on the page. Take care to limit how many softening phrases you use.

Some common softeners to search for: maybe, might, seem, just, like, kind of, sort of, a bit, a little, tends to, as it were, you know, I think, I guess, I don't know.

Sample 1
He seemed kind of like, you know, maybe a bit of whiner.

Your best fix for this verbosity is to simply trim. Pick the phrase that best fits your voice.
He's kind of a whiner.
He seems whiny.


Or be direct:
He's a whiner.

Sample 2
Jared told Nate, “I think maybe we sort of like each other a little. I don’t know.”

Body language can stand in for some of the softening:
Jared shrugged. “We like each other a little.”

So can narrated action:
“We like each other,” Jared told Nate, but there was Lia dancing with the neckless linebacker.

Or try internal thought:
“We like each other,” Jared told Nate. At least in bio, where there were no neckless linebackers to hit on Lia.

The idea here is to mix techniques. What makes something overwritten is repetitious abuse of a single technique. Make sense?


Verbal tics

In an effort to make dialogue sound authentic, many beginning writers transcribe real conversations. Unfortunately, this makes for very annoying reading. Your goal should be verisimilitude--"like reality"--that reflects some of a speaker's peculiar turns of phrase without going overboard.

Some common tics to look out for: like, just, totally, literally, you know.

Sample (college student I overheard in elevator):
"Like, omigosh that dude is like, you know, so totally friggin bizarro freak-boy weird."

She has some colorful lingo here, but tends to gush and repeat herself. Some trims do the trick:
"That dude? Total freak boy."
"You see that friggin bizarre dude?"

Remember that "book speech" should be more efficient and compact than real speech. Use verbal tics like hot peppers in a sauce--just enough to add flavor. Too much, and it's inedible.

Evasive maneuvers

Perhaps you have a character who tries to evade truth telling by going on long-winded tangents. In early drafts, I let my MC do just that. The trick for revision has been to represent this in a way that gets the idea across without being tiresome to read. I've found it's definitely a case where telling works better than showing.

Overwritten example from an early draft (brace yourself, it's a doozy):

“Well, it was a total nightmare getting here,” I say. “We got into a holding pattern over Heathrow and I wanted to get out of my seat so bad. They cram you in there like a pack of Crayolas. I wish I could have taken my legs off and stowed them in the overhead bin. The guy in front of me had his head practically in my lap most of the way and there was this Amazon warrior princess sitting across the aisle from me who must work for the WNBA or something. She was huge. Her legs were sticking way out in the aisle and people kept tripping over her giant feet and falling on me. This one kid tripped and dropped a handful of superballs, and they bounced and ricocheted all over the place. If almost everyone hadn’t been asleep, it would have been total pandemonium. After we finally landed and got luggage, I had to go through customs all alone because the rest of my family are citizens. So I end up behind this bunch of drunk college students who danced around and sang ‘Born in the USA’ at the top of their lungs. Some of them got hauled off by security. I hope they got strip-searched, stupid goons. By the time I find my grandparents, I have a raging headache, but there was nowhere to get coffee. My grandfather is Mr. Fit and Spry, so he’s like, ‘let’s pop on the Tube, we’ll get to King’s Cross in no time.’ King’s Cross is the rail station with trains that go up to the northeast and Scotland. It was in Harry Potter. You know, platform 9 ¾? There’s a sign for platform 9 ¾, but they keep a luggage trolley in front of it so no crazy kids run into the wall and crack their heads open. Anyway, the tube ride is like an hour long, and this was New Year’s Day. So in addition to hung-over people who had been partying all night, the train’s packed with suburbanites heading to the city to hit the post-holiday sales. Of course, everyone’s totally annoyed to have to climb over our fat suitcases, but they’d never say anything. The British never do. They just sigh a lot, glare and generally look ticked off.”

“I wondered when you were going to pause for breath."


Dreadful, right? My reader certainly wouldn't have the patience to wade through Dani's random babbling about things with no significance to the plot or this scene.

I repaired this using narrative summary, then transition back to dialogue:

I launch into a long-winded story about my travel woes: the cramped flight, rowdy jerks in line with me at customs, endless rides on the Tube and train, my uncle’s crazy driving. How I wish I'd beamed straight to Ashmede, like they do on Star Trek.

He laughs. “Don’t get your hopes up. No one could survive being atomically deconstructed. It’s a bogus concept altogether.”

The key is to discern what you most want to communicate. In my case, it wasn't the content of Dani's babbling that mattered, it was action of babbling itself that showed her anxiety and duplicity. Remember that not all telling is evil. It has a place in your toolbox.

Which of these areas trips you up? Any other helpful hints to add?
Monday, January 14, 2013 Laurel Garver

In my ongoing series on reducing bloat (aka revising "overwriting"), we've looked at eliminating tangents and sentence-level wordiness. Today, we'll look at "sins of the tongue"--that is, types of overwriting that crop up in dialogue.

Softening phrases

Indirectness can be an effective way of showing a character’s non-confrontational nature or anxiety or indecision. Or it can simply be your anxiety appearing on the page. Take care to limit how many softening phrases you use.

Some common softeners to search for: maybe, might, seem, just, like, kind of, sort of, a bit, a little, tends to, as it were, you know, I think, I guess, I don't know.

Sample 1
He seemed kind of like, you know, maybe a bit of whiner.

Your best fix for this verbosity is to simply trim. Pick the phrase that best fits your voice.
He's kind of a whiner.
He seems whiny.


Or be direct:
He's a whiner.

Sample 2
Jared told Nate, “I think maybe we sort of like each other a little. I don’t know.”

Body language can stand in for some of the softening:
Jared shrugged. “We like each other a little.”

So can narrated action:
“We like each other,” Jared told Nate, but there was Lia dancing with the neckless linebacker.

Or try internal thought:
“We like each other,” Jared told Nate. At least in bio, where there were no neckless linebackers to hit on Lia.

The idea here is to mix techniques. What makes something overwritten is repetitious abuse of a single technique. Make sense?


Verbal tics

In an effort to make dialogue sound authentic, many beginning writers transcribe real conversations. Unfortunately, this makes for very annoying reading. Your goal should be verisimilitude--"like reality"--that reflects some of a speaker's peculiar turns of phrase without going overboard.

Some common tics to look out for: like, just, totally, literally, you know.

Sample (college student I overheard in elevator):
"Like, omigosh that dude is like, you know, so totally friggin bizarro freak-boy weird."

She has some colorful lingo here, but tends to gush and repeat herself. Some trims do the trick:
"That dude? Total freak boy."
"You see that friggin bizarre dude?"

Remember that "book speech" should be more efficient and compact than real speech. Use verbal tics like hot peppers in a sauce--just enough to add flavor. Too much, and it's inedible.

Evasive maneuvers

Perhaps you have a character who tries to evade truth telling by going on long-winded tangents. In early drafts, I let my MC do just that. The trick for revision has been to represent this in a way that gets the idea across without being tiresome to read. I've found it's definitely a case where telling works better than showing.

Overwritten example from an early draft (brace yourself, it's a doozy):

“Well, it was a total nightmare getting here,” I say. “We got into a holding pattern over Heathrow and I wanted to get out of my seat so bad. They cram you in there like a pack of Crayolas. I wish I could have taken my legs off and stowed them in the overhead bin. The guy in front of me had his head practically in my lap most of the way and there was this Amazon warrior princess sitting across the aisle from me who must work for the WNBA or something. She was huge. Her legs were sticking way out in the aisle and people kept tripping over her giant feet and falling on me. This one kid tripped and dropped a handful of superballs, and they bounced and ricocheted all over the place. If almost everyone hadn’t been asleep, it would have been total pandemonium. After we finally landed and got luggage, I had to go through customs all alone because the rest of my family are citizens. So I end up behind this bunch of drunk college students who danced around and sang ‘Born in the USA’ at the top of their lungs. Some of them got hauled off by security. I hope they got strip-searched, stupid goons. By the time I find my grandparents, I have a raging headache, but there was nowhere to get coffee. My grandfather is Mr. Fit and Spry, so he’s like, ‘let’s pop on the Tube, we’ll get to King’s Cross in no time.’ King’s Cross is the rail station with trains that go up to the northeast and Scotland. It was in Harry Potter. You know, platform 9 ¾? There’s a sign for platform 9 ¾, but they keep a luggage trolley in front of it so no crazy kids run into the wall and crack their heads open. Anyway, the tube ride is like an hour long, and this was New Year’s Day. So in addition to hung-over people who had been partying all night, the train’s packed with suburbanites heading to the city to hit the post-holiday sales. Of course, everyone’s totally annoyed to have to climb over our fat suitcases, but they’d never say anything. The British never do. They just sigh a lot, glare and generally look ticked off.”

“I wondered when you were going to pause for breath."


Dreadful, right? My reader certainly wouldn't have the patience to wade through Dani's random babbling about things with no significance to the plot or this scene.

I repaired this using narrative summary, then transition back to dialogue:

I launch into a long-winded story about my travel woes: the cramped flight, rowdy jerks in line with me at customs, endless rides on the Tube and train, my uncle’s crazy driving. How I wish I'd beamed straight to Ashmede, like they do on Star Trek.

He laughs. “Don’t get your hopes up. No one could survive being atomically deconstructed. It’s a bogus concept altogether.”

The key is to discern what you most want to communicate. In my case, it wasn't the content of Dani's babbling that mattered, it was action of babbling itself that showed her anxiety and duplicity. Remember that not all telling is evil. It has a place in your toolbox.

Which of these areas trips you up? Any other helpful hints to add?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

In my series on reducing bloat (aka revising an overwritten manuscript), today we'll be tackling tangents, a term you might associate with geometry. My MC Danielle, an gifted artist, struggles terribly with geometry in particular and with numbers generally. When she initially signed up for classes, she was sure shape-related math would be breeze-easy for her arty brain.

See, friends? This is how tangents worm their way into your work. It's exceedingly easy for one thought to trigger another, unrelated one. Suddenly you've followed a rabbit trail into a deep thicket.

I don't yet have a fail-safe for preventing these mental hiccups while drafting. But I have found that longhand free writing warm-ups help me gain focus before diving into a real manuscript in process.

There are a number of places tangents often appear in pieces I've critiqued (and my own drafts): moving from here to there, dialogue transitions, descriptions and internal monologue. Let's look at each.

Movement
Beginning writers often falsely believe they have to account for the MC's every move. Thus they write some intensely boring descriptions of waiting for the bus, or bickering with siblings in the car, or roaming soulless suburban subdivisions.

Unless something plot-twisting happens during movement, cut these yawn-inducing scenes. Instead, use narrative summary to get your character to the location where important action will occur. Remember that not everything your character does merits being dramatized (like potty breaks, for example).

Examples
My thighs are burning by the time pedal to the top of Breach Point.

When we return to Caitlin's place, she's sitting on the porch smoking.

The windows are dark when I reach the rectory. So far, so good.


Dialogue transitions
In The Two Towers, Merry and Pippin spend a day with the Ents' Council and learn from Treebeard that it took from mid-morning till dusk for the Ents to complete their initial hellos. Are your dialogue scenes like this? Wasting a full page each on saying hello and goodbye?

Maybe your dialogue gets tangential in the middle, when one character wants to change the subject and fearing a non sequitur, you waste line after line moving from one topic to the next.

How do you repair this? Mix in other narrative techniques: narrative summary, thought, action.

Examples
To skip lengthy meet and greets:
Once everyone was introduced, Penny said...

We exchanged the usual BS about track and chem before I got the nerve to ask, "You think that guy we saw last night was breaking the law?"

To suddenly shift topics with thought:
Jerome was not going there with this girl. "So, what'd you think of Hayden's plan?"

Was he flirting with me? No freaking way. "I, um, just get headaches from ponytails after a while."

To suddenly shift topics with action:
Izzy checked her watch. "Well, look at the time. You give any thought yet to our project?"

Vic's phone buzzed in his pocket. "Shoot, that's my dad. He's probably hyperventilating that we still haven't found Kip."

Descriptions
Descriptive tangents are probably the easiest to identify. Your character might begin describing the lay of the land then expound a full-blown encyclopedia entry of your setting--its climate, topography, architecture, history, etc., ad nauseum. Or your heroine the fashionista savors every last detail of every outfit worn by every guest at a party.

It's so easy to get carried away in loving your fictional world. Just remember that your reader will savor more of the flavor if you sprinkle shorter descriptions all through the work. For more help with punchy descriptions, see my post "Engaging Descriptions Readers Won't Just Skim."

Internal monologue
Exploring your character's inner world in all its rich vagaries might be fun for you, but as a reader I frankly don't give a rip if those thoughts go absolutely nowhere. Character monologues must have multiple purposes in the narrative or they're just filler. Revealing personality alone is not enough.

Monologues must drive the narrative by revealing inner tensions, moral dilemmas, past wounds, drives, desires, attitudes, prejudices, dislikes or fears that could help or hamper your MC in her quest.

Which of these areas trips you up? Any other helpful hints to add?
Wednesday, January 09, 2013 Laurel Garver
In my series on reducing bloat (aka revising an overwritten manuscript), today we'll be tackling tangents, a term you might associate with geometry. My MC Danielle, an gifted artist, struggles terribly with geometry in particular and with numbers generally. When she initially signed up for classes, she was sure shape-related math would be breeze-easy for her arty brain.

See, friends? This is how tangents worm their way into your work. It's exceedingly easy for one thought to trigger another, unrelated one. Suddenly you've followed a rabbit trail into a deep thicket.

I don't yet have a fail-safe for preventing these mental hiccups while drafting. But I have found that longhand free writing warm-ups help me gain focus before diving into a real manuscript in process.

There are a number of places tangents often appear in pieces I've critiqued (and my own drafts): moving from here to there, dialogue transitions, descriptions and internal monologue. Let's look at each.

Movement
Beginning writers often falsely believe they have to account for the MC's every move. Thus they write some intensely boring descriptions of waiting for the bus, or bickering with siblings in the car, or roaming soulless suburban subdivisions.

Unless something plot-twisting happens during movement, cut these yawn-inducing scenes. Instead, use narrative summary to get your character to the location where important action will occur. Remember that not everything your character does merits being dramatized (like potty breaks, for example).

Examples
My thighs are burning by the time pedal to the top of Breach Point.

When we return to Caitlin's place, she's sitting on the porch smoking.

The windows are dark when I reach the rectory. So far, so good.


Dialogue transitions
In The Two Towers, Merry and Pippin spend a day with the Ents' Council and learn from Treebeard that it took from mid-morning till dusk for the Ents to complete their initial hellos. Are your dialogue scenes like this? Wasting a full page each on saying hello and goodbye?

Maybe your dialogue gets tangential in the middle, when one character wants to change the subject and fearing a non sequitur, you waste line after line moving from one topic to the next.

How do you repair this? Mix in other narrative techniques: narrative summary, thought, action.

Examples
To skip lengthy meet and greets:
Once everyone was introduced, Penny said...

We exchanged the usual BS about track and chem before I got the nerve to ask, "You think that guy we saw last night was breaking the law?"

To suddenly shift topics with thought:
Jerome was not going there with this girl. "So, what'd you think of Hayden's plan?"

Was he flirting with me? No freaking way. "I, um, just get headaches from ponytails after a while."

To suddenly shift topics with action:
Izzy checked her watch. "Well, look at the time. You give any thought yet to our project?"

Vic's phone buzzed in his pocket. "Shoot, that's my dad. He's probably hyperventilating that we still haven't found Kip."

Descriptions
Descriptive tangents are probably the easiest to identify. Your character might begin describing the lay of the land then expound a full-blown encyclopedia entry of your setting--its climate, topography, architecture, history, etc., ad nauseum. Or your heroine the fashionista savors every last detail of every outfit worn by every guest at a party.

It's so easy to get carried away in loving your fictional world. Just remember that your reader will savor more of the flavor if you sprinkle shorter descriptions all through the work. For more help with punchy descriptions, see my post "Engaging Descriptions Readers Won't Just Skim."

Internal monologue
Exploring your character's inner world in all its rich vagaries might be fun for you, but as a reader I frankly don't give a rip if those thoughts go absolutely nowhere. Character monologues must have multiple purposes in the narrative or they're just filler. Revealing personality alone is not enough.

Monologues must drive the narrative by revealing inner tensions, moral dilemmas, past wounds, drives, desires, attitudes, prejudices, dislikes or fears that could help or hamper your MC in her quest.

Which of these areas trips you up? Any other helpful hints to add?

Monday, January 07, 2013


Many of you are revising NaNo projects and have discovered that your eagerness to hit word counts led you to create a whole lot of bloated prose. Some of the problem might be tangents, some of it letting characters babble. I'll address these issues in future posts.

Today, I'd like to address some common, sentence-level causes of wordiness. Many of these things are not grammatically incorrect and some may have a place in your writing. Just keep in mind that wordy constructions usually reduce clarity and feel overwritten. Trimming and revising wordy sentences will improve flow and pacing.

Nominals
Beware of these “nouned verbs,” words created by adding suffixes to verbs, such as completion, deliverance, and agreement. They can sound ponderous and clunky. They’re also often a sign of passive writing, in which the subject is buried, typically within a prepositional phrase.

To repair the problem, identify who’s acting, make him the subject and convert the nominal to its verb form.

Whenever possible, replace nominal constructions like “be appreciative of” with the simple verb, in this case “appreciate.”

Examples
Strict enforcement of the speed limit by the police will cause a reduction in traffic fatalities.
Revised: Officers strictly enforcing the speed limit will reduce traffic fatalities.

Olivia’s friends are supportive of her in every way.
Revised: Olivia’s friends support her in every way.

Expletives
“Expletives,” meant in the grammatical sense of “explaining,” use “there” or “it” with a form of “to be” and frequently add unnecessary words. Notice that expletives like to pair with nominals.

To repair the problem, move the subject to the fore and let it act with a strong verb. At times, adverbs can combat the problem, too. (Surprise! Adverbs are not always the enemy. Making long, contorted sentences to avoid them does not truly strengthen your work, does it?)

Examples
There were fifty people in attendance at the meeting.
Revised: Fifty people attended the meeting.

There is a light breeze that is shivering among the branches.
Revised: A light breeze shivers among the branches.
It is apparent that the team members can’t agree.
Revised: Apparently, the team can’t agree.

Dependent clauses
Beware of unnecessary dependent clauses. You can usually eliminate them and they’re easy to find—search for frequent repetition of “who” and “that” followed by forms of “to be.”

Examples
Carrie recognized the dog who was chasing Leah.
Revised: Carrie recognized the dog chasing Leah.

Joe wants a medication that is prescribed by a physician.
Revised: Joe wants a medication prescribed by a physician.
Alternate: Joe wants a prescription medication.

Anyone who is willing to work hard will succeed in this class.
Revised: Anyone willing to work hard will succeed in this class.

Other perpetrators
A few other wordy constructions to watch for:

Using “to be” with “going to” rather than “will”
I am going to think about it.
Revised: I’ll think about it.

Paul is never going to buy that idea.
Revised: Paul will never buy that idea.
Alternate: Paul won’t ever buy that idea.

Using “would like to” instead of “want” 

Casey would like to wear matching outfits.
Revised: Casey wants to wear matching outfits.

Adding unnecessary descriptions when meaning is clear from context

Gilbert put his shoes on his feet.
Revised: Gilbert put on his shoes.

If you can think of others, please drop a note in the comments.

Which of these areas trips you up? Any other helpful hints to add?
Monday, January 07, 2013 Laurel Garver

Many of you are revising NaNo projects and have discovered that your eagerness to hit word counts led you to create a whole lot of bloated prose. Some of the problem might be tangents, some of it letting characters babble. I'll address these issues in future posts.

Today, I'd like to address some common, sentence-level causes of wordiness. Many of these things are not grammatically incorrect and some may have a place in your writing. Just keep in mind that wordy constructions usually reduce clarity and feel overwritten. Trimming and revising wordy sentences will improve flow and pacing.

Nominals
Beware of these “nouned verbs,” words created by adding suffixes to verbs, such as completion, deliverance, and agreement. They can sound ponderous and clunky. They’re also often a sign of passive writing, in which the subject is buried, typically within a prepositional phrase.

To repair the problem, identify who’s acting, make him the subject and convert the nominal to its verb form.

Whenever possible, replace nominal constructions like “be appreciative of” with the simple verb, in this case “appreciate.”

Examples
Strict enforcement of the speed limit by the police will cause a reduction in traffic fatalities.
Revised: Officers strictly enforcing the speed limit will reduce traffic fatalities.

Olivia’s friends are supportive of her in every way.
Revised: Olivia’s friends support her in every way.

Expletives
“Expletives,” meant in the grammatical sense of “explaining,” use “there” or “it” with a form of “to be” and frequently add unnecessary words. Notice that expletives like to pair with nominals.

To repair the problem, move the subject to the fore and let it act with a strong verb. At times, adverbs can combat the problem, too. (Surprise! Adverbs are not always the enemy. Making long, contorted sentences to avoid them does not truly strengthen your work, does it?)

Examples
There were fifty people in attendance at the meeting.
Revised: Fifty people attended the meeting.

There is a light breeze that is shivering among the branches.
Revised: A light breeze shivers among the branches.
It is apparent that the team members can’t agree.
Revised: Apparently, the team can’t agree.

Dependent clauses
Beware of unnecessary dependent clauses. You can usually eliminate them and they’re easy to find—search for frequent repetition of “who” and “that” followed by forms of “to be.”

Examples
Carrie recognized the dog who was chasing Leah.
Revised: Carrie recognized the dog chasing Leah.

Joe wants a medication that is prescribed by a physician.
Revised: Joe wants a medication prescribed by a physician.
Alternate: Joe wants a prescription medication.

Anyone who is willing to work hard will succeed in this class.
Revised: Anyone willing to work hard will succeed in this class.

Other perpetrators
A few other wordy constructions to watch for:

Using “to be” with “going to” rather than “will”
I am going to think about it.
Revised: I’ll think about it.

Paul is never going to buy that idea.
Revised: Paul will never buy that idea.
Alternate: Paul won’t ever buy that idea.

Using “would like to” instead of “want” 

Casey would like to wear matching outfits.
Revised: Casey wants to wear matching outfits.

Adding unnecessary descriptions when meaning is clear from context

Gilbert put his shoes on his feet.
Revised: Gilbert put on his shoes.

If you can think of others, please drop a note in the comments.

Which of these areas trips you up? Any other helpful hints to add?

Friday, January 04, 2013

In my continuing series Homophone Helps, we'll be looking at three sound-alikes I've frequently seen confused both online and in some self-published books. Getting a handle on which word belongs in which context is so important because, for the most part, your computer's spell check won't catch this sort of error.

image from morguefile.com

Peak


peak (n.) - a projecting point, as on a mountain; the high point, top, summit, climax, apex.

peak (v., intrans.) To reach a highest point.

peak (adj.) - excellent or top-rate; descriptor for an insult so cutting it silences an opponent, humiliating (urban slang, US); bad luck, banter that's on the verge of taboo (urban slang, UK).

Common phrases: peak performance, peak of his career, widow's peak, Pike's Peak

Menmonic:  Arriving Atop an Alps PEAK was the Apex of his Austria trip.

lisasolonynko

Peek

peek (n.) - a quick, furtive look

peek (v., intrans.) - glance or look briefly; look through a small opening or from a place of concealment

Common phrases: "Close your eyes, no peeking!", play peek-a-boo, sneak peeks

Mnemonic: When she PEEKED, she could SEE LEE.


image by Alvimann

Pique

pique (n.) resentment; a feeling of wounded vanity or pride

pique (v., trans.) to excite or arouse; to irritate

This term comes to us from the French piquer, meaning to prick or goad

Common phrases: fit of pique, piqued my interest/curiosity

Mnemonics:
The cruel, Quick Quip made her Quiver with PIQUE.
The Queen's Queer Quirks PIQUE our curiosity.

Test your skills

1. Philip covered Carrie's eyes and begged her not to ____.

2. That article certainly has _____ my interest in learning to knit.

3. "You don't think my outfit is the ____ of fashion?" Liz cried, and in a fit of ____, stormed off.

4. Louisa's curiosity was ____, so she climbed to the roof ____ and tried to ____ through the skylight.

Which of these terms tend to trip you up? How did you do on the quiz? 

Answers: 1. peek 2. piqued 3. peak, pique 4. piqued, peak, peek.
Friday, January 04, 2013 Laurel Garver
In my continuing series Homophone Helps, we'll be looking at three sound-alikes I've frequently seen confused both online and in some self-published books. Getting a handle on which word belongs in which context is so important because, for the most part, your computer's spell check won't catch this sort of error.

image from morguefile.com

Peak


peak (n.) - a projecting point, as on a mountain; the high point, top, summit, climax, apex.

peak (v., intrans.) To reach a highest point.

peak (adj.) - excellent or top-rate; descriptor for an insult so cutting it silences an opponent, humiliating (urban slang, US); bad luck, banter that's on the verge of taboo (urban slang, UK).

Common phrases: peak performance, peak of his career, widow's peak, Pike's Peak

Menmonic:  Arriving Atop an Alps PEAK was the Apex of his Austria trip.

lisasolonynko

Peek

peek (n.) - a quick, furtive look

peek (v., intrans.) - glance or look briefly; look through a small opening or from a place of concealment

Common phrases: "Close your eyes, no peeking!", play peek-a-boo, sneak peeks

Mnemonic: When she PEEKED, she could SEE LEE.


image by Alvimann

Pique

pique (n.) resentment; a feeling of wounded vanity or pride

pique (v., trans.) to excite or arouse; to irritate

This term comes to us from the French piquer, meaning to prick or goad

Common phrases: fit of pique, piqued my interest/curiosity

Mnemonics:
The cruel, Quick Quip made her Quiver with PIQUE.
The Queen's Queer Quirks PIQUE our curiosity.

Test your skills

1. Philip covered Carrie's eyes and begged her not to ____.

2. That article certainly has _____ my interest in learning to knit.

3. "You don't think my outfit is the ____ of fashion?" Liz cried, and in a fit of ____, stormed off.

4. Louisa's curiosity was ____, so she climbed to the roof ____ and tried to ____ through the skylight.

Which of these terms tend to trip you up? How did you do on the quiz? 

Answers: 1. peek 2. piqued 3. peak, pique 4. piqued, peak, peek.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Happy New Year, friends. I hadn't intended to take quite such a long blogging hiatus, but I've been battling a rather nasty respiratory virus for many weeks. Something had to give, and knowing how little folks read blogs over the holidays, it seemed wise to back off this venue for a bit.

Many of you have been busily crafting elaborate plans for the coming calendar year. I've never been a huge fan of New Year's resolutions, but I do like goal setting. I think my reluctance to join the resolutions bandwagon is the arbitrary nature of the date. January 1 is in the midst of the Twelve Days of Christmas (day 8, Feast of the Holy Name). The fact it fell on a Tuesday makes it feel even less like "the start of something new," at least to me. For centuries, the new year began in March, which makes more sense, since winter is passing and the new life of spring is emerging.

So it's now 2013, a new number. If that motivated you to set goals, great. If not, perhaps seasonal shifts are a better time for reflection and planning. I sat down and hammered out some creative plans just before Advent. Fitness goals were set back in July. I'll spend time examining spiritual goals before Lent begins.

You've probably heard that trying to institute too many changes at once decreases the likelihood that you'll accomplish any of them. Why not try a quarterly approach instead? Pick an area of your life for each season and set new goals then.

How do you approach goal-setting and planning? Do you like resolutions? 
Wednesday, January 02, 2013 Laurel Garver
Happy New Year, friends. I hadn't intended to take quite such a long blogging hiatus, but I've been battling a rather nasty respiratory virus for many weeks. Something had to give, and knowing how little folks read blogs over the holidays, it seemed wise to back off this venue for a bit.

Many of you have been busily crafting elaborate plans for the coming calendar year. I've never been a huge fan of New Year's resolutions, but I do like goal setting. I think my reluctance to join the resolutions bandwagon is the arbitrary nature of the date. January 1 is in the midst of the Twelve Days of Christmas (day 8, Feast of the Holy Name). The fact it fell on a Tuesday makes it feel even less like "the start of something new," at least to me. For centuries, the new year began in March, which makes more sense, since winter is passing and the new life of spring is emerging.

So it's now 2013, a new number. If that motivated you to set goals, great. If not, perhaps seasonal shifts are a better time for reflection and planning. I sat down and hammered out some creative plans just before Advent. Fitness goals were set back in July. I'll spend time examining spiritual goals before Lent begins.

You've probably heard that trying to institute too many changes at once decreases the likelihood that you'll accomplish any of them. Why not try a quarterly approach instead? Pick an area of your life for each season and set new goals then.

How do you approach goal-setting and planning? Do you like resolutions?