Posts Tagged ‘craft’


Saturday, May 29th, 2010

One thing a writer should possess is a keen understanding of the meaning of words. Words are, after all, the tools of the trade. We need to know which word to use in this place, a decision that should be driven by the words that precede and follow. A single word comes with shadings, multiple meanings — which shading and which meaning are derived from the context.

Take, for example, the word spell.

  • How do you spell letter?
  • Can you spell me for a bit? I’ve been awake for 20 hours.
  • Come sit a spell.
  • I am under his spell.
  • The witch cast a spell.

Indeed a word with multiple meanings. Each meaning comes loaded with information. Suppose you were thinking of spell in the last sense listed. The witch cast a spell. There are lots of words we could choose instead but not as a direct replacement. enchantment, glamor, hex. If I thought harder about it, I’m sure I would come up with more (bespelled, ensorcelled, see?). Each choice requires that the sentence be cast (heh!) in a slightly different way, each choice affects more than the meaning of the words, the choice affects whether the sentence is makes us think of danger, deception, illusion or something else.

A writer needs to make deliberate choices. I used this word here for a reason. Maybe to call attention to itself. Maybe to pave the way for something yet to come. Perhaps to call attention to some other portion of the writing. You are shaping the story through the words you choose. To do this, you absolutely must understand the nuances. You must satisfy the perquisites of the word. If, for example, you chose the word refute, then you have implied a precedence of logic. Something before had a flaw in its logical structure and at the place where you have chosen to use this word, you darn well better have set up your choice. It does not mean mere disagreement. It implies someone or something has the power to disprove. There is power in this word and by your choice of it, you have the ability to to draw us a character whose mind is impressive or who lacks the wit to, in fact, refute anything.

Sloppy use of words does not make for strong writing. Don’t choose a word because everyone else does in this situation. Choose it because it works here. In this place. Surrounded by these words.

I was moved to this post because I just finished an otherwise delightful book that was spoiled, for me, by imprecision.

When you use words, you are calling upon powerful magic.


The Dread and Evil Had. Also other stuff.

Friday, February 13th, 2009

I just finished reading a short story that for me, could have been brilliant. In my opinion, one of the problems with current Literature is that it’s just far too self-aware. You can feel the author behind the scenes saying Look at what I’m doing with these words. It’s vague and — oh, look a pretty phrase! — Aren’t I brilliant?

I hate that.

This particular story jumped around in time, but instead of working at making it seamless, simply dropped in, had with every verb. He had gone. She had eaten Why? Why do that when you can, with a little work, bring that out of the hideous past like that and make it a direct recollection? There are so many ways to avoid the dreaded and evil had.

These verb forms distance. The reader has to put down a mental marker of where the present left off and hold that while reading about crap that happened in the past, and then pick up that marker when they’re back. I’ve read enough, thank you, to know there are short story writers out there who actually write short stories instead of precious little MFA show-off pieces. Go practice your scales in class. Don’t inflict them on me.
OK,so I’m a little more bothered by this than I thought. Sorry.

In other news, it’s Friday and tomorrow I get to go to my local RWA meeting. Yay!

In reading news, I downloaded the free Harlequin books to my iPhone and today I started reading one and ohmygosh. It’s pushing one of my favorite themes; the hero who’s done the heroine wrong and boy is he going to get it when he realizes what a doofus he’s been to his one true love. I love that.

I’m loving this book and I’m going to go finish it shortly. Plus there’s secret babies only she’s been trying to tell him No, stop that. Do NOT think that an email subject line of I’m Pregnant! would have gotten his attention. I’m overlooking that.

I will report back when I’m done.


Writers: Watch this Video

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

I’d embed this, but it doesn’t seem to be that sort of video. Ira Glass talking about storytelling. It’s 32 minutes. I started taking notes and will review them again later.

Note, please, that the DIRECT relevance to writing comes after the first 10-15 minutes. So if you start wondering what I’m going on about bear with it. He’s just setting up his point and preparing you to hear it. Once he starts addressing the structure of story tellling, he might as well be talking about writing a novel.


Hack Wheeze Cough plus AmaZING

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

And not from allergies. There’s so much smoke from fires in the area that the sky has been nothing but gray haze with a hint of smoke scent. Yuck. We had a pretty dry winter so the grass got dry(er) even faster than usual. Doesn’t take but a spark to get things burning. Hopefully they’ll get the fires under control soon.

The writing is going well enough. I had my first big (in effect) adjustment and today I went over chapters 1 and 2 to get that laid in. I’ve got 21K words so far.

My plot is emerging along with some unexpected, but cool, backstory. No List yet. I’m going to have to come up with another title.

Off to bed.

Updated to add: @marsphoenix is the most amazing Twitter feed EVER. It’s all about the Mars Phoenix project, and really, this would be a great way to find out about Twitter. Really.


Why some Rat Poison maybe isn’t so bad

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

I started reading this book last night and I can’t stand it so much, I’m not going to read past page three, which is I think how far I got. I know all about Mary Sues, the heroine who is too perfect and so brave and all that. And I think the male equivalent is called a Gary Sue or something. But what is it when the whole world is like that? There’s a scene in the movie 9 to 5 in which Lilly Tomlin is skipping through the lunchroom with Disney characters and bluebirds and cutsey animals swooping and trilling around her while Lilly T makes her boss coffee and spikes it with rat poison. This book was like that, only without the rat poison or the coffee. This world needed some rat poison.

I’m just saying, is all. No Planet Sue‘s or Culture Sues. Please.


Apologies to Michael Chabon, but this made my day

Friday, April 27th, 2007

From Pub lunch. I adore Chabon’s writing. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was a fantastic book. So, if he struggles and overwrites and needs to rework, then by golly, there’s hope for me. I should be so talented, but still. I can’t help thinking that the real writers, writers like Chabon, never overwrite or mis-assess their work or every go awry. I bet this book when it comes out will totally rock. I can’t wait!

Editing Chabon
Today’s WSJ looks at the editing process for Michael Chabon’s forthcoming YIDDISH POLICEMAN’S UNION. An on-sale date was set by the end of the 2005 until "his editor slammed on the brakes." Chabon says, "I shudder now when I think that I would have published the old draft." With guidance from Harper’s Courtney Hodell, Chabon "spent about eight months reworking the entire book." She tells the Journal, "He’s a writer of terrific extravagance in the language but great subtlety on the emotional side. A lot of what I was doing was coaxing him to come a little closer to the reader." Chabon admits, "I do overwrite. And this book needed a lot of chopping."


Just call me the garbage lady

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

Today I wrote pretty much all day. I fixed up to chapter 11 and then had to reorder, which meant pulling out the chapter outline and conforming that so I wouldn’t mess up.** The fixing also included deleting a lot of garbage. I was going to knock off at 7:30 but it turned out I was only up 1600 words or so, so I went back to work and for a while there I was deleting more stuff. But then I had this totally awesome idea for my twins and that made the deleting easier. Anyway, now I’m up 2009 and my back hurts and my shoulders are sore because my dog and my cat insist on sharing my lap and I have to keep my legs together and my thighs straight so the dog doesn’t slide off. This MUST be giving me awesome back muscles, right?

** For a long time, I used to give my chapters long descriptive names, but that got to be too much of a hassle because I was constantly having to fix my master document. I have a master document with the main formatting etc and I keep the individual chapters as sub documents. When I need to (like when I’m printing off the whole thing or need to know the total word count) I merge my chapters into the master document. And then, automagically, my chapters number themselves sequentially and the pagination of each chapter picks up from the last page of the previous one. So, I eventually took to naming my chapters 001. 002, etc. This does mean I have to be careful about inserting a chapter somewhere in the sequence, but I have a system that works for me. Maintaining my master document is now a total breeze. My chapter outline is also auto numbered by chapter, but with an internal reference to the actual chapter number. That makes it easy to do virtual moves of the chapters in the outline and lets me know that, say, chapter 16 needs to be renamed chapter 12, with 13-15 being renumbered accordingly. Believe it or not, this is a lot less error prone and much less work than my descriptive names for chapters (and yes, I also started those names with a number.) I spend a lot less time now fixing chapter order errors than I used to.

The thing is, I’m constantly moving chapters around. I’m sure there are writers out there who don’t have to do this, but I do. I try to write my stories front to back, but stuff always happens in the middle that changes everything and events need to move around chronologically to accommodate a better story arc.

Now I’m going to bed.