Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Dear Editor-on-call,
Photo credit: Sgarton from www.morguefile.com

How do we figure out where the line is between a stylized voice/dialect vs. proper grammar? I know this is a hugely "case-by-case" basis, but I often find the pieces I write with a bit of a dialect or style get corrected by critiquers for grammar, effectively changing how the character would think.

Sincerely,
Dialectable Dilemma


Dear Di,

I suspect the subtext of your question is this: "What do you do when your critiquers are so zealous in their campaign to promote 'good writing' that they suck all the voice out of your work?"

Let's face it, reading is a subjective thing. Some people like to experience cultures beyond their own, to meet people very unlike themselves--and others don't. Any literary device you choose to use will have its fans and its detractors.

As I see it, you have a few options in this scenario.

A. You keep changing your book trying to please everyone until you hate it so much you shelve it.

Can we say neurotic need for affirmation? Nothing will make you quit writing faster than trying to be everything to everyone.

B. You ignore everything the grammar zealots say, because they obviously don't get you.

Of course, they very well might have good insights into non-dialect sections. Do you really want to lose that too?

C. You ask only those who get what you're trying to do to read and critique.

Here, you run the danger of stagnating, because these friendly folks won't push you to change and grow.

D. You provide requests for specific feedback when asking anyone to critique:
"This story contains dialect. Please highlight spots that you think aren't quite reading smoothly."

If you're getting a lot of advice that feels useless, consider how you can be more explicit about what would be useful. Every reader goes into some default mode when they aren't given instruction. For some, the default is "find a dozen nice things to say." For others, the default is "find every instance of nonstandard usage and sloppy grammar."


You can probably guess which option I favor (D, of course!). While it's a good idea to periodically reassess how healthy or dysfunctional your critique relationships are, don't be too quick to sever ties with those who seem too harsh--or give unhelpful advice. Most folks who get into critique groups do so with the intention to learn and to help. Sometimes all that's needed is a meeting session in which you establish some ground rules, then ask for specific kinds of feedback whenever you submit work to be critiqued.

If that doesn't change things, you can decide to ignore certain kinds of critique (like grammar correcting dialect), mull the crits and weigh their merits, or simply leave if the overwhelming feeling from the group is constant negativity and put-downs.

While I haven't read it myself, I've heard others recommend The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback by Becky Levine as a great resource for both new and established critique groups to function well.

And when it comes to dialect, go light. Research is essential for making it sound authentic. To that end, here are a few previous posts I've written
Swimming in the crick: delving into dialect
Howdy, 'allo, yo: five tips for researching dialect

And here are some addition helpful links on the topic:

The Uses and Abuses of Dialect
Grammar Girl: Writing Accents and Dialects
Writing Dialect: It's in the Rhythm

How have you dealt with unhelpful critiques? What's your take on dialect in fiction?
Have an Editor-on-Call question for me? Ask away!
Wednesday, January 27, 2016 Laurel Garver
Dear Editor-on-call,
Photo credit: Sgarton from www.morguefile.com

How do we figure out where the line is between a stylized voice/dialect vs. proper grammar? I know this is a hugely "case-by-case" basis, but I often find the pieces I write with a bit of a dialect or style get corrected by critiquers for grammar, effectively changing how the character would think.

Sincerely,
Dialectable Dilemma


Dear Di,

I suspect the subtext of your question is this: "What do you do when your critiquers are so zealous in their campaign to promote 'good writing' that they suck all the voice out of your work?"

Let's face it, reading is a subjective thing. Some people like to experience cultures beyond their own, to meet people very unlike themselves--and others don't. Any literary device you choose to use will have its fans and its detractors.

As I see it, you have a few options in this scenario.

A. You keep changing your book trying to please everyone until you hate it so much you shelve it.

Can we say neurotic need for affirmation? Nothing will make you quit writing faster than trying to be everything to everyone.

B. You ignore everything the grammar zealots say, because they obviously don't get you.

Of course, they very well might have good insights into non-dialect sections. Do you really want to lose that too?

C. You ask only those who get what you're trying to do to read and critique.

Here, you run the danger of stagnating, because these friendly folks won't push you to change and grow.

D. You provide requests for specific feedback when asking anyone to critique:
"This story contains dialect. Please highlight spots that you think aren't quite reading smoothly."

If you're getting a lot of advice that feels useless, consider how you can be more explicit about what would be useful. Every reader goes into some default mode when they aren't given instruction. For some, the default is "find a dozen nice things to say." For others, the default is "find every instance of nonstandard usage and sloppy grammar."


You can probably guess which option I favor (D, of course!). While it's a good idea to periodically reassess how healthy or dysfunctional your critique relationships are, don't be too quick to sever ties with those who seem too harsh--or give unhelpful advice. Most folks who get into critique groups do so with the intention to learn and to help. Sometimes all that's needed is a meeting session in which you establish some ground rules, then ask for specific kinds of feedback whenever you submit work to be critiqued.

If that doesn't change things, you can decide to ignore certain kinds of critique (like grammar correcting dialect), mull the crits and weigh their merits, or simply leave if the overwhelming feeling from the group is constant negativity and put-downs.

While I haven't read it myself, I've heard others recommend The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback by Becky Levine as a great resource for both new and established critique groups to function well.

And when it comes to dialect, go light. Research is essential for making it sound authentic. To that end, here are a few previous posts I've written
Swimming in the crick: delving into dialect
Howdy, 'allo, yo: five tips for researching dialect

And here are some addition helpful links on the topic:

The Uses and Abuses of Dialect
Grammar Girl: Writing Accents and Dialects
Writing Dialect: It's in the Rhythm

How have you dealt with unhelpful critiques? What's your take on dialect in fiction?
Have an Editor-on-Call question for me? Ask away!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

In a previous post, How I do it: keeping revisions organized, I discussed my method for tracing particular revision threads throughout a  novel manuscript, tracking them, developing a running list of changes, and methodically tackling those changes.

One of my young writer friends, after reading the post asked, "but how did you figure out what the problems actually were?"
Image credit: clairer at morguefile.com

I rely a good deal on my intuition when it comes to writing decisions, but I also have a pretty strong analytical side that I call on when editing especially. So when it comes time to revise, I have to get these two impulses to play nice.

Once I've wrapped a piece, be it a short story, poem, or novel, I take a break from it for a bit. Catch up on chores. Read. Stream TV shows or movies. Not too long a writing vacation, mind you--just a few days to week.

Then it's time to do a critical read through, scene by scene. The critical read has several components: gut responses, intellect responses, craft concerns. As I read scene by scene, I contemplate the following questions.

Gut responses


  • Is this scene boring? 
  • Does it feel silly or improbable?
  • Am I engaged? Do I feel something or think something after reading it?
  • Does the scene feel too slow in spots? 
  • Does it feel too quick, not escalating naturally, but blowing right past natural reactions and sequences of events? (More on escalation HERE.)
  • Do I buy what the characters do? Do they seem needlessly stupid, thoughtless, malicious, overreacting, under-reacting, etc.?    (Note: The adverb "needlessly" is important, because bad behavior is a key component of dramatic storytelling, but unmotivated or out of the blue behavior that can't be accounted for is more often a sign that something needs to be fixed.)
  • Does the scene feel like I picked the first idea that popped into my head, rather than the best one?
  • Does the scene feel cowardly, like I've written away from a difficult or controversial reality?
  • Does the scene give me a sense of deja vu, like it's a rehash of something I've seen somewhere else? 
  • Does the scene make me want to keep reading?
  • Does the scene as a whole feel on target?

Intellect responses


  • Are the actions here natural? Do they make sense?
  • Am I certain I have the facts straight? Have I adequately researched this to be sure?
  • Are characters acting in a way out of alignment with how I've conceived them?
  • Do the characters' responses connect with what came before?
  • Are the characters' responses and actions the best ones to lead toward my climax and resolution?
  • Is the protagonist blowing his/her chance at being likable?
  • Have the relationships shown change and growth?
  • Have any new characters shown up? Is this the best place to introduce them? Have they appeared out of nowhere late in the story and need to be "seeded" in earlier?
  • Are the characters acting at their maximum capacity (more on this concept HERE)? If not, does their reason for holding back or messing up make sense and do something useful in the story?
  • Is there tension? Is it only one kind (say only romantic, or only physical danger)?
  • Are characters using different tools to negotiate to get what they want (more on negotiation tools HERE)? Or is the interpersonal conflict too much of the same scene after scene?
  • Is the scene pulling its weight? Do the actions here add enough forward motion? 

Craft concerns


  • Is the protagonist's emotional pulse (the driving desire behind his/her arc) coming through?
  • Is this scene happening at the right moment in the overall story arc? Would it work better somewhere else?
  • Does the scene have a discernible beginning, middle and end--a mini arc? If not, what's missing?
  • Is there too much "stage business"--unnecessary descriptions of boring movement here to there?
  • Have I given enough detail to ground where and when the scene is happening?
  • Is there variety in the settings where scenes occur?
  • Has a new subplot popped up here? Does it add anything?
  • Have I missed any opportunities to more deeply develop theme or symbolism?
  • Have I missed opportunities to develop existing conflicts?
  • Have I used too many of the same kind of scene in a row? Am I regularly mixing dialogue scenes with action scenes and narrative summary scenes?
  • Does this scene deserve to be dramatized? Would it work better as summary?
  • Are the most important moments given the most page space? Are there unimportant bits running too long, out or proportion to their importance in the overall story?

As you can see, these three levels or layers of thinking draw on one's emotion and intuition, one's natural intellect, and finally the "best practices" advice of writing craft books. At times, it takes more than one read-through to engage each part of one's self--the feeling reader, the thinker, and the trained craftsman.

How do you identify major threads of revision needed in your work?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016 Laurel Garver
In a previous post, How I do it: keeping revisions organized, I discussed my method for tracing particular revision threads throughout a  novel manuscript, tracking them, developing a running list of changes, and methodically tackling those changes.

One of my young writer friends, after reading the post asked, "but how did you figure out what the problems actually were?"
Image credit: clairer at morguefile.com

I rely a good deal on my intuition when it comes to writing decisions, but I also have a pretty strong analytical side that I call on when editing especially. So when it comes time to revise, I have to get these two impulses to play nice.

Once I've wrapped a piece, be it a short story, poem, or novel, I take a break from it for a bit. Catch up on chores. Read. Stream TV shows or movies. Not too long a writing vacation, mind you--just a few days to week.

Then it's time to do a critical read through, scene by scene. The critical read has several components: gut responses, intellect responses, craft concerns. As I read scene by scene, I contemplate the following questions.

Gut responses


  • Is this scene boring? 
  • Does it feel silly or improbable?
  • Am I engaged? Do I feel something or think something after reading it?
  • Does the scene feel too slow in spots? 
  • Does it feel too quick, not escalating naturally, but blowing right past natural reactions and sequences of events? (More on escalation HERE.)
  • Do I buy what the characters do? Do they seem needlessly stupid, thoughtless, malicious, overreacting, under-reacting, etc.?    (Note: The adverb "needlessly" is important, because bad behavior is a key component of dramatic storytelling, but unmotivated or out of the blue behavior that can't be accounted for is more often a sign that something needs to be fixed.)
  • Does the scene feel like I picked the first idea that popped into my head, rather than the best one?
  • Does the scene feel cowardly, like I've written away from a difficult or controversial reality?
  • Does the scene give me a sense of deja vu, like it's a rehash of something I've seen somewhere else? 
  • Does the scene make me want to keep reading?
  • Does the scene as a whole feel on target?

Intellect responses


  • Are the actions here natural? Do they make sense?
  • Am I certain I have the facts straight? Have I adequately researched this to be sure?
  • Are characters acting in a way out of alignment with how I've conceived them?
  • Do the characters' responses connect with what came before?
  • Are the characters' responses and actions the best ones to lead toward my climax and resolution?
  • Is the protagonist blowing his/her chance at being likable?
  • Have the relationships shown change and growth?
  • Have any new characters shown up? Is this the best place to introduce them? Have they appeared out of nowhere late in the story and need to be "seeded" in earlier?
  • Are the characters acting at their maximum capacity (more on this concept HERE)? If not, does their reason for holding back or messing up make sense and do something useful in the story?
  • Is there tension? Is it only one kind (say only romantic, or only physical danger)?
  • Are characters using different tools to negotiate to get what they want (more on negotiation tools HERE)? Or is the interpersonal conflict too much of the same scene after scene?
  • Is the scene pulling its weight? Do the actions here add enough forward motion? 

Craft concerns


  • Is the protagonist's emotional pulse (the driving desire behind his/her arc) coming through?
  • Is this scene happening at the right moment in the overall story arc? Would it work better somewhere else?
  • Does the scene have a discernible beginning, middle and end--a mini arc? If not, what's missing?
  • Is there too much "stage business"--unnecessary descriptions of boring movement here to there?
  • Have I given enough detail to ground where and when the scene is happening?
  • Is there variety in the settings where scenes occur?
  • Has a new subplot popped up here? Does it add anything?
  • Have I missed any opportunities to more deeply develop theme or symbolism?
  • Have I missed opportunities to develop existing conflicts?
  • Have I used too many of the same kind of scene in a row? Am I regularly mixing dialogue scenes with action scenes and narrative summary scenes?
  • Does this scene deserve to be dramatized? Would it work better as summary?
  • Are the most important moments given the most page space? Are there unimportant bits running too long, out or proportion to their importance in the overall story?

As you can see, these three levels or layers of thinking draw on one's emotion and intuition, one's natural intellect, and finally the "best practices" advice of writing craft books. At times, it takes more than one read-through to engage each part of one's self--the feeling reader, the thinker, and the trained craftsman.

How do you identify major threads of revision needed in your work?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

For today's phonics fun, I'd like to tackle a pair of homophones, pronounced /koar/ I've seen misused even in published books, though not because the spellings are at all similar. Rather, one form of the word is quite simple and familiar, and the other more obscure and less likely to be known.

Let's take a look at definitions, visuals, examples, and mnemonics to get the words clear in our heads. Because spell-check will not help you.

Core

Image: marykbaird for morguefile.com
(n.) the center; the essential part; the inner parts, as of a fruit; muscles in the center of the body.

(adj.) central, innermost, essential, reflecting the essence

(v., trans.) to remove the center or inner parts of a fruit or vegetable.

Examples
Josiah's intelligence gathering was core to their mission.

He felt her rejection in the core of his being.

Mom's core concern was for my brother's safety.

He got six-pack abs doing core strengthening exercises

I had to core and slice the apple so Lila could eat it without harming her braces.

Mnemonics
In her core she did adore the shore.
The core has more seeds that he could store.

Corps

Image: mzacha for morguefile.com
(n.) a group of people engaged in a particular activity. A tactical military group.

This term derives from the Latin corpus, meaning body and comes to English via French, which tends to not pronounce ending consonants. It is most often encountered military and few other contexts and in a handful of borrowed French phrases like esprit de corps, meaning group spirit, loyalty and pride.

Examples
Louis plans to join the Marine Corps.

Greg plays trombone in the Highpoint Drum and Bugle Corps.

The entire press corps stood when the ambassador entered the room.

Gabrielle liked the group pride her class had, the lovely esprit de corps.

Mnemonic
At the end of his letter, a core P.S.: "without the corps I'd be a corpse."

Which sound-alike words tend to trip you up?
Wednesday, January 13, 2016 Laurel Garver
For today's phonics fun, I'd like to tackle a pair of homophones, pronounced /koar/ I've seen misused even in published books, though not because the spellings are at all similar. Rather, one form of the word is quite simple and familiar, and the other more obscure and less likely to be known.

Let's take a look at definitions, visuals, examples, and mnemonics to get the words clear in our heads. Because spell-check will not help you.

Core

Image: marykbaird for morguefile.com
(n.) the center; the essential part; the inner parts, as of a fruit; muscles in the center of the body.

(adj.) central, innermost, essential, reflecting the essence

(v., trans.) to remove the center or inner parts of a fruit or vegetable.

Examples
Josiah's intelligence gathering was core to their mission.

He felt her rejection in the core of his being.

Mom's core concern was for my brother's safety.

He got six-pack abs doing core strengthening exercises

I had to core and slice the apple so Lila could eat it without harming her braces.

Mnemonics
In her core she did adore the shore.
The core has more seeds that he could store.

Corps

Image: mzacha for morguefile.com
(n.) a group of people engaged in a particular activity. A tactical military group.

This term derives from the Latin corpus, meaning body and comes to English via French, which tends to not pronounce ending consonants. It is most often encountered military and few other contexts and in a handful of borrowed French phrases like esprit de corps, meaning group spirit, loyalty and pride.

Examples
Louis plans to join the Marine Corps.

Greg plays trombone in the Highpoint Drum and Bugle Corps.

The entire press corps stood when the ambassador entered the room.

Gabrielle liked the group pride her class had, the lovely esprit de corps.

Mnemonic
At the end of his letter, a core P.S.: "without the corps I'd be a corpse."

Which sound-alike words tend to trip you up?

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Today, January 6, is Epiphany, celebrating the "wise men from the East" coming to honor the Christ child. The Magi had been watching for something good and were willing to make great effort to get close to it. It is a powerful demonstration of hope--what it looks like, how it works.

three wisemen on camels photo: Three Wisemen on Camels ThreeWiseMenblueskyandstars.jpg
Image credit: rappj at Photobucket
Hope comes from keeping an eye on the far horizon and being captivated by the good we see there. We lose hope when unhappy things in the immediate environment consume our vision and we stop regularly scanning the horizon. Big signs could come and go, and we'd miss them. The first step in getting the blessing of an epiphany is to be watchful.

My prayer group friends decided this year we would make use of the "unresolution" approach to celebrating the New Year called One Word that's highlighted on THIS site. Here's a quick description:

If you’re like most people, each January goes something like this: You choose a problematic behavior that has plagued you for years, and vow to reverse it. In fact, you can  think of two or three undesirable habits—make that four or five. Thus begins the litany of imperfections to be perfected commonly known as New Year’s Resolutions.

Our resolutions to change seldom work because they center on the type of person we regret being rather than on who it is that God is calling us to become. We need vision, not regret. Our list of resolutions also overwhelm our ability to focus.


My One Word replaces broken promises with a vision for real change. When you choose a single word, you have a clarity and focus. You are moving toward the future rather than swearing off the past. 

This approach isn't simplistic, it's holistic. The implications are huge--both wide and deep. Drawing together all these ideas--epiphany, hope, searching the horizon, following the good--I discovered my one word. What's keeping me "stuck in Persia" and not following the star, metaphorically speaking, a failure to look, to search the horizon and be captivated by the good I see there.

I've struggled for several years with having lots of ideas but getting distracted, dithering, losing momentum, losing interest, what have you. Too many starts and not enough finishes. And what's keeping me from finishing is not having my imagination captivated, the way the Magi were captivated by the prospect of meeting the great King who had come to Israel.

So my one word for 2016 is purpose. I need to stop following rabbit trails hither, thither, and yon and instead begin moving steadily toward a larger purpose. 

What about you? If you were to chose one focal word to fuel your vision for change, what would it be?
Wednesday, January 06, 2016 Laurel Garver
Today, January 6, is Epiphany, celebrating the "wise men from the East" coming to honor the Christ child. The Magi had been watching for something good and were willing to make great effort to get close to it. It is a powerful demonstration of hope--what it looks like, how it works.

three wisemen on camels photo: Three Wisemen on Camels ThreeWiseMenblueskyandstars.jpg
Image credit: rappj at Photobucket
Hope comes from keeping an eye on the far horizon and being captivated by the good we see there. We lose hope when unhappy things in the immediate environment consume our vision and we stop regularly scanning the horizon. Big signs could come and go, and we'd miss them. The first step in getting the blessing of an epiphany is to be watchful.

My prayer group friends decided this year we would make use of the "unresolution" approach to celebrating the New Year called One Word that's highlighted on THIS site. Here's a quick description:

If you’re like most people, each January goes something like this: You choose a problematic behavior that has plagued you for years, and vow to reverse it. In fact, you can  think of two or three undesirable habits—make that four or five. Thus begins the litany of imperfections to be perfected commonly known as New Year’s Resolutions.

Our resolutions to change seldom work because they center on the type of person we regret being rather than on who it is that God is calling us to become. We need vision, not regret. Our list of resolutions also overwhelm our ability to focus.


My One Word replaces broken promises with a vision for real change. When you choose a single word, you have a clarity and focus. You are moving toward the future rather than swearing off the past. 

This approach isn't simplistic, it's holistic. The implications are huge--both wide and deep. Drawing together all these ideas--epiphany, hope, searching the horizon, following the good--I discovered my one word. What's keeping me "stuck in Persia" and not following the star, metaphorically speaking, a failure to look, to search the horizon and be captivated by the good I see there.

I've struggled for several years with having lots of ideas but getting distracted, dithering, losing momentum, losing interest, what have you. Too many starts and not enough finishes. And what's keeping me from finishing is not having my imagination captivated, the way the Magi were captivated by the prospect of meeting the great King who had come to Israel.

So my one word for 2016 is purpose. I need to stop following rabbit trails hither, thither, and yon and instead begin moving steadily toward a larger purpose. 

What about you? If you were to chose one focal word to fuel your vision for change, what would it be?