Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where a comment turns into a post

Today I read a post on the very helpful writing blog "Word Play," and tried to leave a comment.

My computer believes, however, that - though I can sign into Google to write on my blog - my password is incorrect when trying to leave a comment on another blog. This fallacy has caused me many a moment of frustration the past few weeks, but tonight I'm determined that good shall prevail; I'll just post my comment in post form. (Be sure to read the post on "Word Play" first, to make sense of my comment. As a brief summary, I'll just say that the topic was about realizing that good stories usually need time to "brew" before you sit down and write them, and you shouldn't rush the process.)

Here's what I said in response:

"This is very encouraging to me! The story that I am working on right now has a few chapters typed out on my computer...but I stepped back from it a couple of weeks ago, feeling that I needed to "chew on it" a while longer. I've felt worried, wondering if I should just force myself to "do something," but my gut feelings say to wait. I'm glad to hear that's not a crime. :)

On the other side of the coin, however, I'm worried that my brain is just lazy, and I'm making excuses to not work on the story in earnest. I guess I'm the only one who can know if that's true or not, huh? Or are there clues to look for, to tell me if this story is one that's gonna stick around for the long haul?"

What do you think? How would you answer my question? Are there prompts that you use to get your mind truly working on a story? How do you know when you're being lazy, or the story just isn't ready?

Come on, now - I know I have more than one reader out there, and you can't all have the same issues with Google that I have. :) Even if you're not a writer, you've experienced creativity of some sort. How do you get it flowing? Do you ever "force" yourself to be creative? Does that work, or is it counter-productive? I'd like some feedback on this topic. Should I be worried that my story isn't "flowing"? Even though I stepped back in order to "chew" on the idea, the "chewing" isn't really happening. Ideas don't seem to be coming.

I'm thinking that what I need is just some down time, where I don't have other things on my mind. But that can be hard to come by. Should I do my thinking with a keyboard under my fingertips? Should I make myself write? What do you think?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Bit of Rant

I'm gonna rant a bit today. Consider yourself warned.

"What is she 'gonna' rant about?" he wondered to himself.

Don't you hate that "wondered to himself"? Come on! How else do you wonder? Have you ever "wondered to" somebody else? Adding "to himself" just means you threw two unnecessary words on the page.

"Never thought about that," he chuckled.

May I ask how you chuckle words? What happens if your tongue slips while chuckling big words like "contrariwise" or "enunciation" - do you choke?

"I see what you mean," he smiled.

You just did it again! How does one smile words? It must be very hard to get thick words through your thinly-spread lips and closed teeth.

"You are ruining my fun," he said. "....Are you happy now? I used 'said'!"

Actually, no. Without proper context, how am I to know how you said it? That sentence doesn't define itself. Did you growl it? Whine it? State it? I don't know much about you - how do I know how those words came out?

Now, if you had said "Come over here, Amber," and there was nothing in the previous text to indicate that you were upset with me, I could assume you just "said" it. But if you added an exclamation point, you must - again - define if you shouted, screamed, or cried the words. Context is everything.

Dialogue is big, important stuff. Absolutely essential. But so are the words that come after it! Please, please, please, don't give yourself away as an amateur writer by putting the wrong words there. Characters do not:

chuckle words,
smile words,
laugh words,

They can, however:

...and a multitude of other things, along with the ever-important "said."

Of course, our characters do chuckle, smile, and laugh. They just don't speak it. (If you disagree, try it yourself.)

So be sure to separate the two. Put the words; "I think I get this" then a period; "." (NOT a comma!) then "he laughed."


Now you have no excuse if you write something impossible, like, "It's no big deal," he laughed.

But wait a minute! If I write "'It's no big deal,' Harold said," how do I convey that laughing tone of voice that he's using?

Talent, my friends! Talent!

Without those crutches, you'll have to show Harold's emotions with the words he says, not you say. You'll have to convey it with his actions, not your descriptions. Use laughing words, and punctuation that shows how he's catching his breath and doubling over. For that matter, mention that he's doubling over, and his eyes are crinkled up, and his missing teeth are showing. If all else fails, just say "Harold laughed loudly."

There is some gray area, though. For example, two words I'm not sure on are "groaned" and "sighed." Can you groan words? Or sigh them? What do you think?

Oh yeah - there's another thing that bugs me.

"Laughing loudly," is fine.

"Screaming loudly," is not.

How else do you scream?

Whispered quietly?
Flew quickly?

The only time you need modifiers like this is when the context demands it. For example, "laughed joyfully" is usually redundant and unnecessary. However, if up until now the character has been laughing wryly and sarcastically, a bit of explaining is due.

Leave your "ing" and "ed" words alone unless context demands you explain that they aren't laughing joyfully, flying quickly, running quickly, standing erectly, etc.

....And my pizza dough is finished rising, so I must abruptly end my ranting, and bid you farewell.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Stuff to watch for

I watched a new movie recently.

To be kind, I won't say the title, but I don't think it was very well done. However, while watching, I was reminded of a few things that can apply to writing stories:

1 - Strong plots can carry poor actors. Even though the actors were...well...pretty amateur, I still wanted to see what happened next.

2 - Characters shouldn't sound like they are reading their lines. At first thought, this applies only to actors, but I think it translates to book characters too. They shouldn't sound so...bookish. Would a person in really life say that? Would they say it like that? Think before they talk.

3 - Action and plot isn't enough. You still have to connect with the characters. Ideally, you should bond with the character before they are placed in action, or in danger. Otherwise, you simply don't care. Don't plunge right into things before your reader gets his footing and identifies in some way with the character. Do something to make him/her catch the interest of the reader - even if it's only a sentence or two before you plunge into that opening action scene. (This was a good reminder for me.)

Have you ever learned things about writing from watching a movie? Or reading a poorly-written book? Have you trained yourself to watch for mistakes, and see them as a way to learn, not just annoy you? What have you been taught through this habit?