Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Don't Spend So Much Time Polishing Your Beginning...

...until you've written the whole story.

I'm seeing a trend where writers post their beginning chapter(s) for critique, get feedback, revise, resubmit for critique, get feedback, revise--over and over, you get the idea. What's wrong with that? The beginning is crucial to get right.

I'll tell you what's wrong and this comes from personal experience. If you haven't written down the entire story your polished beginning stands a good chance of getting blown up when you finally have the whole story figured out.

Write the entire draft first. Even better, revise the entire manuscript a couple of times. Then get in and start polishing and seeking feedback. Don't submit an unfinished manuscripts for critique. It's a waste of beta readers' time and a waste of your time. Sure you can learn a lot, but you're story is incomplete. Changes will happen when you finish the rest of it. The voice may change, characters may change, even the entire plot may change. You may find you need to insert foreshadowing in those beginning chapters. Maybe you're world building ideas turn out horribly and you come up with something better by the time you get to the middle of the book. Maybe you've devoted too much effort into a beginning and then find you've run out of word count space for the rest of the book, or you developed polished tangents that have nothing to do with the main thread of the story.

Another danger is that if you do polish up your beginning, you're less likely to want to change it. This can cause a huge struggle with writing the rest. Stories have a tendency to evolve into something different from your first perfect conception. I've seen writers fight the natural flow of their story tooth and nail in order to preserve their precious beginning from needing another overhaul.

And another danger is that if you are submitting an unfinished manuscript over and over to readers to get that beginning just right for agent eyes, you'll wear out your readers. You'll have fewer to turn to when you need help with the middle and ending (which are very important parts too.)  By writing and revising the entire manuscript a few times, you'll learn editing skills and catch things on your own before anyone else sees it. You won't catch everything and will still need beta readers at some point, but you'll have fewer mistakes for them to find. The story will flow better from beginning to end and will make more sense for readers.

I know many may ignore this advice. It's too tempting to see if readers like our beginning. We want that gratification of wowing readers. Too soon, my friends. A beautifully crafted beginning is pointless if the rest of  the book doesn't have the polished guts to follow. Trust me when I say I'm the voice of experience here (minus the submitting the beginning over and over to readers, in that instance I'm speaking from the position of a beta reader.) Unless you have a complete story down and figured out, it's blowing smoke into a headwind to worry so much over your beginning. So save yourselves some stress, gag that inner need for recognition, and get your whole story written and revised a few times first.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saturday Link Special #13

Yes, I did have time this week to scour the blog world and compile some linkage for all of you. Yay! Thanks for reading.

Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award Contest is open for submissions.

Over at Write Away, voting is open on Dawn G. Sparrow's flash fiction contest. Take some time to read the entries and cast your vote.

GLA has an Agent Advice post from Nicole Resciniti of The Symour Agency. Why should you care? She's looking for: "...romance, mainstream suspense, thrillers, mysteries, young adult, inspirational, science fiction/fantasy, and action/adventure." (Hint: research opportunity.)

Literary Rambles: Agent Spotlight: Logan Garrison may be of some interest to those of you who write children's, MG, or YA. She's not specific as to what genres within those age groups but sounds pretty open. Pop over and read through the material and maybe add her to your query list.

Agent Vickie Motter discusses query letters in What Not to Include and What to Include.

Writer's Digest has an informative post on What Writer's Need to Know About Formatting (FAQs) if this is the stage you're at and need some guidelines.

Over at Verbose Veracity, guest blogger Ian Isaro shares his thoughts on Maintaining Your Voice Against Writing What You Think People Want to Read. Guest blogger E.M. LaBonte writes about Writer's Block.

For anyone who believes they are ready but need a nudge to actually put their work out there, read Dean C. Rich's post: Putting the Check-Mark Next to the Goal.

Questions and Archetypes makes a good case for Killing Off the Parents.

Kidlit.com brings up a good point with The Problem With Immortality (or end of the world scenarios.) And oh boy, did I need this one: The Promise of the Novel. It solved some of my current "need to cut out huge chunks due to word count" issues.

Patricia C. Wrede continues to hit things on the nail: Getting from the Beginning to the Middle, More On Prologues.

Angie Sandro writes about How to Find and Keep a Critique Partner.

Writer Cherie hits a similar note with: An Editing We Go...

Likewise, Bookends blogs regarding Giving a Project Multiple Reads. A post that makes you stop to think about what you make beta readers go through if you use them for the same project several times and how important it is to have your work at a polished point before starting to use beta readers.

Strange Horizons maintains a list of Stories We've Seen Too Often. Not only short story writers, but novel writers might find their original twists and plot devices aren't so original after all. Check it out to see if your baby is actually a common denominator.

Jane Friedman at Writer Unboxed has an excellent post on the 5 Attitudes Toward Publishing You Should Avoid. And Carleen Brice brings up the topic (of) Quirky Character Names.

Agent Courtney shares Five tips for revising your novel.

And that's it for this week. So many good blogs to wade through. I know I only skim the surface.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Guest Post: Ian Isaro on Why He Loves Speculative Fiction

Please welcome fellow writer Ian Isaro to the blog today. Ian is another fellow Speculative Fiction Group member who agreed to share why he loves speculative fiction with us. You can find Ian through his blog or his Smashwords profile. Be sure to check them both out and get to know him better. Thanks, Ian, for sharing your perspective with us.

Magic! Lasers! Battles!

...are three things that are unrelated to why I love speculative fiction. The quality that drew me to these genres and that keeps me there as a writer is a little more theoretical than that. Bear with me.

The strength of speculative fiction is abstraction. Nonfiction is free to directly address the real world; speculative fiction is free to indirectly address it. Free from the need to conform to exact facts, it can say something meaningful about those facts that could not have been said by nonfiction.

As a child, I had an implicit understanding of the great truth behind fantasy: that the world can be different. You're probably thinking that's obvious, but not everyone does. There are people who live in a static world where everyone looks the same, acts the same, and believes the same. In that context differences are to be hated and feared, whereas speculative fiction celebrates the unfamiliar.

Everyone has blind spots, assumptions that we never think to question. At the most basic level, speculative fiction invites us to consider that which is different, to consider that anything can be different.

In reading speculative fiction, we look beyond ourselves. We break out of a static world where we understand everything. In doing so, we become better able to accept the real things in life that are outside our worlds of understanding.

The other half of the coin is that we end up looking back at ourselves through the lens of fiction. Not all concepts are alien to us, after all, but through fiction we see them abstracted from the world as we know it. The best fiction forces us to set aside our prejuidices and established thinking patterns because we are looking at something new. We realize what the author is trying to do (hopefully not heavy-handed) but we still exercise our capacity to think anew instead of react as usual.

Condemning speculative fiction as escapist had the potential to hinder our capacity to relate to the unknown. Certainly, it is no substitute for encountering ideas and cultures in the real world (for those of us fortunate enough to have easy access to that information.) But in my experience, an interest in speculative fiction is linked to an interest in the broader world.

If you'll forgive an extended metaphor, speculative fiction is a window, not a magic door. We don't go through into another world, we look out into the world that exists. The window is stained glass, giving us a different perspective of the basic truth on the other side. We look outside to remind us that there is more to the world than the walls we have built, and when we use the door to go out into the real world we see it better for having seen it through the window of fiction.

Everyone uses that door. But while we're inside, I'd rather we look through windows than stare at walls.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pre-Writing: A Cure for Writers Block and Having Limited Time to Write

Blog swapping continues. To read my post on this topic you'll need to jump over to The Write Time, blogging home of Dean C. Rich. Dean's blog is chock full of great time saving tips and advice, valuable stuff for anyone and not just writers.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday Link Special #12

Here is this week's gleaned linkage:

No new agent spotlights this week. So we'll be sticking with posts that deal with writing and publishing in general.

A good place to start is with Authoress's post On the Fine Art of Titling. She has some very good tips.

E.M. LaBonte then shares with us the importance and impact of The First Sentence.

Patricia C. Wrede has some excellent posts: The Problem With Prologues; Not Flashing Back; and Misunderstanding Grammar. (The last one I heartily agree with.)

Agent Courtney also covers story beginnings and description with Eyes the color of the ocean.

Riley Redgate makes a strong case for Taking the Path of Most Resistance when writing.

R.C. Lewis has a couple of excellent posts: Telling Teenagers that Revising Rocks; and she lays out the Levels of Response in the Publishing Game. The first post is a good reminder for all of us, even if we aren't teenagers and the second a must-read for anyone new to the query and submission process.

And last, but not least, author Veronica Roth shares A Peek Behind the Publishing Curtain. A fantastic post that spells out the process and why it takes so long.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why I Don't Do Public Book Reviews

When I first dived into the online community, it was from the primary attitude of a reader. I joined a prominent reading forum and had a blast learning about new books, talking about books, and having the opportunity to meet some authors in Q & A chats. I even posted the occasional book review. I quickly realized something that made me pause and think. Having a writer review a story can sometimes add further insight and/or even injury to a book review because writers tend to know more things to praise or get picky about. I soon stopped sharing my thoughts in public places and this is why:

Reading is a subjective process. There will always be someone out there who hates or loves every book written. And considering only a fraction of the world's population is online for these kinds of reviews (I know more people who aren't connected online than are) it can twist general perception of a book for the writer who's work is being reviewed. They don't get to see or hear the opinion of the many others out there who have also read their book. Plus online popularity is a butterfly and often deceiving.

As a writer, I don't want reviews to backfire on me. Maybe I didn't connect with a certain book. If I write up a bad review online I always run the risk of alienating the author of the book. Maybe we might meet someday and maybe we might have become good friends. And maybe I'll end up loving the next book they write. Why should my personal views give anyone a moment of grief or build up the image of importance because I loved that one book? Of course, we all expect authors to react professionally to good and bad reviews, but we don't exactly live an ideal world the last time I checked.

 I'm also a very active beta reader. I see a lot of manuscripts. I refuse to write public reviews for anyone I beta read for. It's too sticky a situation. Plus, when I beta read, I make a point to shrug off my own subjectiveness in order to be an unbiased, technical helper. That way I can applaud a writer's achievements, even if I normally (as a reader) wouldn't ever pick up their book in published form because it's not what I enjoy reading.

People tend to forget public reviews (even from critics) are op-ed pieces. I'm not a confrontational type of person and would like to avoid either side of the drama. However, if I do absolutely love a book, I will mention it to others. I won't write a review, but I do enjoy using the power of word-of-mouth to help a book I believe in get more attention.

I do have a Goodreads account and I will rate books. No one should ever read too much into those stars I assign. A one star either means I didn't like the story or characters, didn't connect with the writing, or couldn't finish it because I lost interest. It doesn't mean all of the above apply. This is a reflection on my own reader biases. There are some writers I've given high stars to on one book and a one or two star on another. Subject matter in a story holds a lot of sway with me. For instance, I'm not into sex, it's just not enjoyable for me to read. That's me, being subjective.

I really don't read book reviews much anymore. Why? Because someone else's likes and dislikes are not the same as mine. I take note when someone says they really loved a book but then I need to go read up on the story for myself to decide if it is something I might enjoy as well. Book reviews are nice and all, but I don't need to know someone else's mind to make up my own. Recommendations are welcome, but I can't judge a book by its reviewer.

Anyone who's had me for a beta reader can vouch for this: I can take a manuscript apart piece by piece. When I'm in beta reader mode, I'm looking for flaws and strengths. As a reader, I try to turn the internal editor off. I want to sit back and be entertained or learn something. If I know I'm going to write a book review, that internal editor won't go quietly into the dark room on break. I have written a couple of negative reviews where that internal editor tried to play beta reader for an already published book. It's bad form. I'm not happy about that and it's very hard to take a review like that back once it's already public and being read. Plus, I realized that I hate reading scathing reviews. They're mean-spirited, and reek of personal opinion. They're also easy to write and we never know from what angle the reviewer is coming from. Maybe they consider that author or book a personal threat to what they write or believe in. Too often, a bad review from a non-professional, has a personal agenda behind it.

Some people love to write book reviews. Some blogs are entirely dedicated to that end. That's perfectly fine. It fills a niche for some readers. Please don't think I'm knocking down anyone who writes book reviews. There are people out there who rely on the popularity vote and only read books based on the book reviews they find. For myself, I haven't found reviews very helpful, and I hope no one wonders why they only see stars and no reviews on my Goodreads page. Back cover blurbs from other writers and industry professionals don't really do much for me either, as far as persuading me to read a book. They're usually generic sounding.

So there you have it. You won't find any book reviews from me. I give very temperate versions of my thoughts on books in a thread in my private group on AQC. Those mostly serve as "Yes, I recommend this book" or "No, this one just didn't do it for me." I do want to know about great new books from other people, I can just do without all the snark or gushing since they're subjective. I have respect for critics, professional or not, so please don't take offense when I say, "I'd like to make up my own mind, thank you."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Guest Post: Dean C. Rich on Why He Writes Speculative Fiction

Dean's been a guest blogger before, last autumn when he shared some wonderful words of wisdom about friendship with all of us. He's volunteered to visit us again (happy dance!) Be sure to check out his blog: The Write Time where he doles out helpful weekly advice on using time well. And here we go:

First off, thanks Joyce for the opportunity to be a guest on your blog once again.  I've enjoyed reading your posts and I've commented a time or two.  Joyce has become a great friend in the cyber world.  I'm glad the technology has made it easy to connect and develop relationships and enable us all to share.  So to answer Joyce's question here is my post on Why I like to write Speculative Fiction.

When I was in elementary school I loved to read.  My favorite section was the biography section.  I read about George Washington, Ben Franklin, then I found the mystery books during the summer.  The City Librarian introduced me to a set of books that I loved:  Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators.  Those were great mysteries, about green ghosts, coughing dragons, fiery footsteps, etc.

Then in middle school the librarian handed me a book, A Wrinkle in Time.  Loved it.  Author C. Clark, Isaac Asimov came next.  Then I wanted something different, and the librarian handed me The Hobbit.  Then I read The Lord of The Rings.  I was hooked.  In high School I found the Pern series and read all of those. It was great when a new Pern book came out.  Dune was a lot of fun too.  Paul Maud Dib, and spice and worms... 

Well I still like action adventure stories, I love Science Fiction, but Fantasy has captured my imagination.  I wanted to read more about Wizards and Magic.  I couldn't find an action adventure magical book.  So I set out to write one.  Collage came and I'd write when I could.  Then I got married and had children.  I write when I get a chance, but providing for the family and economic downturn has me in places I never dreamed I'd be.  So I write when I can, but I no longer have a lunch break where I can tune out the world and write.  So it has slowed down, but the passion and desire has not.

I like the worlds the above mentioned authors created.  Great places to be.  Great stories.  I wanted to be able to do the same.  So history, action, all come together and the story has to come out.  They fueled my imagination.  So I am a student of writing.  I'm learning what works and what doesn't.  What I like about Speculative Fiction is that it is so wide open.  So many stories can be told and retold in so many different combinations.  What if....  Two words that open whole new ideas and worlds. 

Reality is so gritty and life can be so difficult.  A good read is a great escape, a way to recharge your batteries and help you face reality when you return, but with a different perspective, one that might give you the key to overcoming some current challenge.  Or just the mental break from things is enough to tackle things again.  In any event there are worlds out there in Spec Fic, ways to challenge you that other fiction just doesn't quite work.  Nothing wrong with other genres, I love Sir Author Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Jack Ryan is a fantastic character with Tom Clancy.  Dirk Pitt has exciting adventures.  But to deal with time travel, parallel universes, and well you see, there is just another element that stretches the imagination. That is why I like to read and write Speculative Fiction.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What do you do to pump yourself up for writing a scene you have been dreading?

To find out my answer to this question, this time you need to hurry over to Verbose Veracity, blog home of writer E.F. Jace. Blog swapping continues! Stay tuned for another great guest post here on my blog tomorrow. Be sure to check out E.F. Jace's worldbuilding series on her blog and join in the conversation.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

How do POV changes alter our perception? Specifically, when each POV tells the same story a different way. Does this work?

If you want to hear my take on the answer you need to jump on over to Terri Bruce's website to find out. I'm doing some blog swapping with fellow Speculative Fiction Group members and so far it's been a lot of fun.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Guest Post: Terri Bruce on the 7 Things I Learned About Writing and Publishing in 2011

Please welcome Terri Bruce, a fellow writer on AQC. She has a great website with a blog where you can read her work, get her insights, and get to know her better. Thank you, Terri, for volunteering to do a guest post! You're all in for some great words of advice so without further ado...here's what she learned last year:

1.       Sometimes it’s out of your hands
You can write awarding-winning prose and still never land a publishing contract. Conversely, you can be nominated for the Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Contest (www.readercon.org) and still be a New York Times Best Selling Author. Getting published doesn’t mean you write well. Not being published doesn’t mean that you don’t. You may never know why your big break never came. Talent and perseverance are only two of the magic ingredients—luck is the third. You have to be in the right place at the right time, hit the right agent at the right moment. Find a way to keep the self-doubt at bay, find a supportive group of peers to commiserate with, and, when you get really down, remind yourself how long it took some of the most famous works out there to get published. (http://www.examiner.com/book-in-national/30-famous-authors-whose-works-were-rejected-repeatedly-and-sometimes-rudely-by-publishers) and (http://susiesmith13.tripod.com/id12.html)

2.       There are many paths to success
If you focus on one particular outcome (i.e. traditional publishing contract) you may be closing yourself off to other opportunities. And I’m not talking just traditional versus self-publishing. By day, I’m a grant writer—I get paid to write, and write passionately, about a cause I love. You may or may not become a famous novelist—but ask yourself, is that the only type of writing you’re capable of or that you would enjoy? If the answer is no, then branch out and find other ways to incorporate writing into your life.

3.       You need four groups of people to succeed—cheerleaders, fans, peers, and mentors. Some individuals may cross groups, but most don’t. Keep that in mind.

A cheerleader is someone who encourages you, tells you that you can do it, picks you up and dusts you off when your courage and resolve flag. This is usually your family and friends.

A fan is someone who actually reads and likes your work (and would pay money for it). These people are usually strangers. Most self-published authors only sell 100 copies of their book because they tend to forget that family and friends are not necessarily the same things as fans. If you mom reads mainly James Patterson and you write YA Fantasy, your mom is a cheerleader, but probably not a fan. Be cautious about venturing into self-publishing until you know for sure that your work can generate genuine fans.

A peer is a fellow writer, usually writing in the same or a closely related genre. These are the people you go to for advice and information. This is where your critique partners should come from.

A mentor is someone who has experience and who has agreed to take a formal, active role in your development and growth. This person is there to kick you in the pants when you need it.

4.       Everybody and their grandma blogs about writing
By all means, blog about writing craft if it sets your heart on fire. But the market for blogs about writing craft is pretty saturated, so if you’re blogging to build a base, then write about something of interest to your fans—if you write historical fiction, blog about history; if you write techno-thrillers, then blog about technology. And, unfortunately, the story of your trials and tribulations on the road to getting published might be of interest to your existing fans, but it’s not going to create fans.

5-7.    Drafting, editing, and polishing is a ten step program
No, really, it’s ten steps—don’t argue with me on this. No, you cannot skip any of them. No, you can’t do them in a different order. No, your manuscript is not ready to be critiqued (and definitely not ready for beta readers!) if you skipped step two. And, no, editors don’t exist so that you can skip steps two through ten.

1)      Put words on paper—this is called the Zero Draft (I just discovered this term recently and I LOVE it). It’s rough, it’s ugly, and you never show it to anyone.
2)      Edit—go back over the Zero Draft and turn it into a rough/first draft—turn dialogue carp into stuff people would actually say, get rid of sentence fragments, ensure there are proper transitions between scenes, make sure the plot hangs together, and make a stab at proper grammar and punctuation.
3)      Critique—critique partners are other writers who read your manuscript with an eye to craft: grammar, punctuation, writing technique, point of view slips, pacing, plot holes, consistency, etc. Most writers opt to have their work critiqued as they write to help ensure the plot is moving in the right direction, but some wait until they have completed the entire draft. Critique partners will shred your rough draft. If they don’t, get better critique partners.
4)      Edit—use your critique partners’ feedback to revise your rough draft.
5)      Re-critique—if the critiques identified substantial character, plot, or pacing problems, submit the revised draft to your critique partners to make sure the problems are fixed.
6)      Read the entire thing—after you’ve finished the round of editing from peer critiques, and when you think you have a finished draft, print out your manuscript and read it like a book. You’ll find mistakes; trust me.
7)      Edit—fix everything you found wrong in step #6. Then put the polish on the manuscript—do a search and replace for almost all “ing” forms of action verbs, delete all your adverbs, change all your dialog tags to “said,” and cut all blow-by-blow details of actions by two-thirds.
8)      Read the entire thing out loud—now that you think you have a finished draft, read the entire thing out loud. No, really, read it out loud. You’ll find stilted language, bad grammar and punctuation, and awkward phrasing.
9)      Edit—fix everything you found wrong in step #8
10)   Beta readers—give the polished manuscript to beta readers (beta readers are people who read your FINISHED and POLISHED manuscript as readers with an eye to readability: is the story interesting, does it pull them in, does it make sense, does it flow well and hold their attention to the end, are the characters likeable, does the ending satisfy, etc.). If the beta readers find substantial problems with the work, then go back to step #4 and repeat from there.

Overall, the most important things I learned in 2011 were that agents are nicer than most people give them credit for (50 rejections and not one of them snarky or mean), writing is subjective and the person I most have to please is myself, and that there is always room for improvement. I can’t wait to see what 2012 has to teach me.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Saturday Link Special #11, Plus!

I hope your new year is off with a bang, in a good way. Whether you make resolutions and goals or not, most people have a pretty good idea of what they intend to aim for in the near future.

1. What are your writing goals for this week, month, or year? You can share in the comments or just sit back and really think about the question. What would you like to accomplish?

To be fair, I’ll share mine. I have another round of revision to do on a manuscript but I also intend to get to work on the second draft of an old NaNoWriMo project and if time allows, tear apart and rewrite the half-written draft of an old story using new ideas and inspiration I’ve had for it. That should keep me good and busy on the writing front. I’ll probably have some beta reading to do as well, but I’m going to cut back a lot on beta reading this year due to new personal obligations and responsibilities.

2. Have you done anything zany, fun, or crazy yet this year? Do you have plans to push yourself in any way, to improve a skill or gird up the courage to do or say something you’ve always wanted to?

Truthfully, I hope to finally dive into the query trenches. I’ve only queried once to publish a magazine article and got lucky on the first shot. I consider that more due to the subject matter and the angle I took on it than my query writing prowess. Query letters are not my forte. So I consider this next step to be both crazy and brave on my part.

3. Because curious minds want to know. What movies are you looking forward to seeing in 2012?

I’m eager for The Hunger Games, The Hobbit, The Dark Knight Rises, and will possibly try to go see Snow White and the Huntsman too.
And now for a little fun. We can’t start off a new year without some of that.

Lastly, the linkage! I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted some. I can’t promise to keep on doing it regularly, but I’ll try to do it as often as I’m able.

GLA New Agent alerts!
Claire Dunnington of the Vicky Bijur Literary Agency. She's looking for: "YA fiction, and in particular looking for strong realistic YA fiction and literary middle-grade fiction. (For reference, some authors she enjoyed when she was growing up were Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Louis Sachar, Jerry Spinelli, Noel Streatfeild, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and Virginia Euwer Wolff). She is happy to consider dystopian and futuristic YA, but is much less interested in vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and the like."

Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates. She's looking for: "Hannah specializes in commercial fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy, women’s fiction, cozy mysteries, romance and young adult..."

Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary. She is looking for: "...young adult, middle grade, and adult fiction in the contemporary, paranormal, women’s, and romance genres..."

Jami Gold has a fun Pitch Your Shorts session beginning Jan. 10th. To get ready she has blogposts on Pitch Prep: How to Write a Pitch and Pitch Prep: What Makes a Great First Page?

Need a pick-me-up for the new year? Try reading the Intern's blogpost: dinner with literary agents. Sometimes it's nice to see things on the other side of the looking glass.

Writer Unboxed had a couple of good posts this week: First up is Jael McHenry's Finding the Lines, then for some perspective and a few good writing prompts try out Donald Maass's Warm vs. Cool.

Patricia C. Wrede has an excellent blogpost on Weaving (plot) Threads. Those of you with complex plots, multiple POVs, or several subplots be sure to read this one.

I've run out of time to post more but keep up the good work, those of you who blog!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Blog Spotlight #19: The Writer’s Resource

Today I’d like to point you in the direction of another blog, The Writer’s Resource created by Charissa Weaks.

To directly quote from the blog: “The Writer's Resource is a site that lists helpful blog posts and web articles by topic in an effort to make the writing process a little easier. The goal of this site is to lessen the amount of time aspiring authors spend searching for information therefore increasing the amount of time they have to actually write.”

This blog is a fantastic resource if you’re trying to surf the internet for a specific writing topic or are new to the publishing game and are trying to make sense of it all. It takes time to track down and share good resource links and I’d like to tell Ms. Weaks “thank you” for all her hard work.

Take some time to check her blog out and search around. She also has a nifty submissions page if you’ve written an informative post and would like to share. Another page has a listing of conferences and another direct links to other informative and good blogs that serve as a writing resource.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Disappearing Language

I'd like to preface today's post with a little video:

Seriously. Watch the video first.

Okay, here's assuming you watched it. Wasn't that fun? What did you think about those statistics regarding modern vocabulary versus common vocabulary even a hundred years ago? Children long ago had expansive vocabularies compared to adults today. It's a bit staggering to think about. I'm not saying I'd love to return to the lyrical stylings of Shakespeare but I do pause to ponder when I realize that we lose words from our active English vocabulary more and more each year, and with each passing generation. (And yes, we get new creative words each year to fill in the gap. I use the word creative loosely.)

What has this to do with books? Ever notice how whenever some literary bigshot puts out a list of must-read books most of the titles are for older classics? Kids and adults alike roll their eyes and yawn with boredom at the thought of trying to sludge through classic literature. Part of that reason is the language barrier. We're used to simpler language these days. With constraints and limits to our time, today's market calls for easy to read books that still deliver the rush readers' crave. To have to think or work to get through a book is frowned upon. No one wants to look up a few words in the dictionary, and dare we think of using any of these new—yet old-fashioned—words in our actual speech?

I suppose what frustrates me is when a writer naturally has a wider vocabulary (because writers presumably read a lot and have larger vocabularies than the average person on the street) and they submit their work to others to read and they get a lot of flack for making those readers have to think while reading. Reading today is primarily a pleasurable pursuit and yes, a lot of hype and big advances go to books that sell well because they are accessible to the masses. I'm not knocking on that. Publishing is a business after all. What strikes me as sad, is that in order to sustain the business side, some writers have to dumb down the vocabulary in their books. No one admits that's being asked of us (by the public mostly), but if we want stories to sell, the average person on the street shouldn't be expected to encounter any words that will make them feel uncomfortable because they do not recognize or understand them.

Okay, so some of you are probably thinking, "Yes! I have justification to go full-force in my manuscript and anyone who tells me differently is a vocabulary luddite." Um, no. Like anything, there needs to be balance.

For example, science-fiction is one of those genres where it is tempting and easy for any person of great learning to dive in and expound upon their knowledge within the thin shell of a fictitious story. I've seen it. Some of these types of stories do sell and have an audience—a limited audience, usually made up of other professionals in the same field (or aspiring amateurs) who grasp the terminology used in the story. In actuality, there isn't much story in these novels and many info dumps.

Beware the tendency to unleash your entire vocabulary or professional terminology on your intended audience. Realize that these kinds of books are not usually best-seller material although they can have a faithful following in certain demographics. It doesn't have to be science-fiction. It can be in any field or genre. Words for the sake of words does not a good story make.

Now before anyone gets up in arms, I'm happy to say that there are many books that still get through to the public and do well, that have a sprinkling of abnormal words. Most readers encounter an unfamiliar word, take their best guess at its meaning or skip it. Anyone who tosses a book aside over a handful of unfamiliar words probably isn't the right reader for that book or who has given in to the dumbing-down effect. Don't think I'm calling for tar and feathers here, it's their choice.

Personally, I get a bit tickled when I encounter a abnormal word when I read (especially in middle-grade or YA books.) I also love it when I read an unpublished manuscript that uses direct terminology to describe something in an accessible way. For one thing, it helps to cut down repetitive words and promotes the use of stronger nouns or verbs that don't need extra adjectives and adverbs as descriptors. And yes, I'm not above digging out my hefty dictionary from time to time to really understand a new word's meaning. Afterwards I tend to run into those words in other places and then find myself using them in both writing and speech.

I've seen the same effect with my own children. I read age-designated fiction to them but I also have been reading out of older classics to them. They do pick up on the language and have grasped the meaning of words that go over the heads of their peers. (Plus there's nothing quite as charming and cute as hearing a four-year-old use big words in a sentence.)

There are two sides to the literary snob label. There's the valid argument: why say something with an unfamilair big word when a simpler word will do the trick? True, yet we also run out of simpler words faster and run into repetition issues or sometimes the unfamiliar word drives home the writer's point better than its simpler substitute. I get alarmed at the growing trend in writers to embrace the easy way, to dumb down their prose in order to be more marketable. Society grows stupid with it. We do have an influence. If kids back hundreds of years ago could grasp a wider language because their books taught them too, what are we teaching future generations with our simplier language?

It's important to make books understandable to readers but it doesn't hurt a reader to have to think a little or even stretch their vocabulary. Balance is key. Writers struggle sometimes over word repetition and phrasing that isn't passive. We speak in a passive way and with a restrained vocabulary. Suppose we unshackle that restraint and instead of sticking to basic slang, profanity, and clich├ęd phrasing we start putting more of our rich, powerful language to use? Sure, kids today speak the way they do. We're also influenced by the world around us. Stay in any environment for long enough and you begin to act, think, and speak like others in that environment. Step into another environment and perception alters because it is not the same world. Written language is no different. If all we produce is dumbed down books, we also help contribute to a dumbed down society with a short attention span.

Give a group of people from one environment the power of influence through literature and other media and watch the masses be influenced by that environment until it spreads and spreads. People forget that there were other environments. Some scoff at others from different environments. Other environments attack the growing mainstream. Hurt and anger rebound. Respect is lost and smaller environments are trampled into dust. Right now we're seeing a mainstream of accessible, easy-to-read fiction full of limited vocabulary and sensationalism. It's always had its place among environments. Yet, it is only one environment and shouldn't be allowed to stomp out the others. It's arrogance to assume any one person's environment should be the mainstream or unchangeable.

There are so many sides to this issue, I can't begin to cover them. I think the video shows the point well. At the end of my ramble here I'd at least like to plead two cases: first, don't ever crush a writer just because you can't understand a handful of words here and there in their manuscript. Grow smarter instead. And secondly, don't go overboard, as a writer, with complicated jargon that makes your story thin and puts the reader at a distance. We shouldn't get all purple prosey or try to show off. Sometimes simple words and terms can have a profound influence. Sometimes moving away from our Teutonic words to Latinate ones works better. We can't go back to Shakespeare's time in an instant, if ever. We live in the here and now. We also recreate the here and now each day. Everyone who writes and shares their words has more influence than they know.