Archive for the 'Writerly Wednesday' Category

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009
Writerly Wednesday on Grammar – Semicolons

Writerly Wednesday

Semicolons seem to cause a lot of confusion among writers, to the point that I’ve heard some writers say they are stupid to use or should be banned. But semicolons serve a purpose in writing, even in fiction, and should be used when needed but not overused.

The most common use of a semicolon in fiction is to replace a period and connect two independent clauses without one of the coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet).

The snow came down in huge drifts; we still managed to get to the party.

You can also use a semicolon to connect two independent clauses with one of the conjunctive adverbs (however, moreover, therefore, consequently, otherwise, etc.)

I wanted to stay home and warm; nevertheless, I went to my family’s formal dinner.

Semicolons are also used when you have a series and the units of the series contain commas. Then a semicolon is used to separate the units.

My itinerary includes Paris, France; London, England; and Dublin, Ireland.

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009
Writerly Wednesday on Grammar – Hyphens

Writerly Wednesday

The rules for when a hyphen is used can be a bit confusing because there’s just not a ton of agreement on it and it’s changing all the time. The best advice is to keep a dictionary handy and try looking up the word first. If you can’t find the compound word in the dictionary, treat it as two separate words.

Put simply, hyphens are used to join two words into a compound word.
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Wednesday, August 19th, 2009
Writerly Wednesday on Grammar – Adverbs

Writerly Wednesday

Adverbs are words that modify the meaning of verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. These are often called the “ly” words but it’s not a universal rule that adverbs must end in “ly”. Adverbs are not used to modify nouns.

Adverbs are a perfectly correct part of the English language yet they are frowned on when you are writing fiction in particular. Why is that, when they do a valid job and are not grammatically incorrect?

Well, a sparing and judicious use of adverbs is actually quite acceptable, even in fiction. The problems come about when adverbs are over-used because it’s a sign that the verb they are modifying is too generic or too weak for what you are trying to convey.

For example:

  • “She ran around the corner.” – This is boring and it could convey just about any mood.
  • “She quickly ran around the corner.” – The adverb “quickly” helps set a bit of a mood of haste or hurry.
  • “She raced around the corner.” – This is a better verb choice as it no longer needs the adverb’s help to set the mood.

Adverbs are also considered a sign of “telling” the action to the reader by making the action obvious. It’s a weakness.

In the example above, “ran” is too weak a verb. It can mean too many things (a jog, a panicked run, a terrified fleeing?) and it’s too generic. Because it’s so generic, it makes the sentence almost disappear and become invisible. If that’s what is intended, it’s okay. But if you want to convey emotion or mood, it needs to be stronger.

The one real exception to this is dialogue. The characters need to speak naturally and in accordance with their word and selves and this can mean a more frequent use of adverbs.

So whenever you are tempted to use an adverb, stop and see if you can find a more descriptive verb, adverb or adjective to use instead. Is there a single word that can convey your meaning instead? If you don’t know one off the top of your head, try looking up synonyms or looking in a dictionary. It’s worthwhile.

When you’re almost ready to submit, take the time to search your manuscript for words ending in “ly” and see how many are left. Can you replace any of them with a stronger, more specific, word?

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008
My Take on Reviews

Writerly Wednesday

In light of a few posts on reviews and how authors deal with reviews, I decided to outline my own process for reviews of my books. It might be of some interest to newer authors.

I keep a Google Alert for my name and for the title of each book I release and when I get alerts, I go to check them out. I also find out about reviews when I’m emailed them by my publisher or the reviewer.

I read all reviews of my books. I know some authors do not but I really want to know what my readers think. I read each one carefully and look for what the reviewer liked, what they did not like, and useful comments. I also look to see how that review ranks compared to others of the same book so I can see patterns and things more than one reviewer mentions.

I try to figure out what I can improve for future stories. Is there something I can do differently or add/remove to have made this reviewer happier and can I apply that to what I’m working on now?

The next thing I do is to send an email to the reviewer to thank them for the review. I do this for every review, no matter whether it was a positive or negative review. Even if the reviewer didn’t like my book, they still took the time to read it and write up a review. Most reviewers only receive a copy of the book in return for their review. My personal feeling is that this is polite and professional and I know, when I used to be a reviewer, these thank you notes were rare and appreciated.

If I have questions about the review or want to get more information on something the reviewer said, I’ll ask them in an email. Most reviewers are happy to give more information and elaborate on something that may not have fit in the formal review.

Then I’ll mention the review on my blog and that book’s page on my website. Now in this, I admit, I typically use the postitive reviews or ones that have positive blurbs in them. And I provide a link back to wherever the review is located if it’s online.

If I get a recommended read or similar, I’ll post the graphic for it prominently as it is a thing to celebrate. No good reviews should be taken for granted.

But I never, ever, complain or gripe about reviews except maybe to my husband. You can’t change someone’s opinion of your book by complaining about their opinion. It’s a completely losing proposition and only makes you look bad. It’s far better to read it, get whatever you can from it, thank the reviewer for their time and move on.

I think each author has to decide what they can deal with and how when it comes to reviews. It does hurt when you get a bad review and it affects some people more than others. I eat a few pieces of chocolate and get over it but that’s just me.

I think all authors should remember that these are our customers….

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008
Kaye Chambers–First Person: The Writer’s Knuckle Ball

I want to thank my friend, Kaye, for being my guest today and giving us her take on writing in First Person.

Writerly Wednesday

Hello! I’m Kaye Chambers. I’d like to thank Maura Anderson for inviting me to talk about my favorite topic: writing.

I am a first person author. This week, in light of Tiger by the Tail, I’ve been asked a lot of first person questions and urged to blog about it. Before I get started, I’d like to point out that I’m not Jim Butcher, Laurell K. Hamilton, Katie MacAlister, Keri Arthur…well, you get the point. There are masters of First Person out there and they’re not me. *grins* This is simply my take on writing the hardest point of view there is.

I get asked a lot, “Why First Person? I mean, that’s breaking the cardinal rule.” The answer is easy, “Because that’s the way the story needed to be told.”

Not every story can be told in first person. First person isn’t simply taking your third person limited narrative and changing it to a single POV and substituting “I”. In fact, the best advice I can give on whether or not you should write your next project in FP is to ask if you’ve tried it in third, yet. If a story can be told in third, it should be. It’s not even up for debate. If you, as the author, can write it in third person or even picture it that way, then the character isn’t strong enough to be the single point of focus for the story.

Some stories can not be told in third person. The voice of the character is just too strong. The first manuscript I wrote in first person was started twelve times in third person before I turned to one of my writing circle friends, Colleen, in a wail, “It always ends up with ‘I’.” By the end of the first chapter, the heroine was telling the story so strongly that there wasn’t any other room for anybody else to talk. Her advice was to try it. It was the first project I ever finished. It won an award and I’ve never looked back.

Recently, Samhain Publishing published my third completed manuscript, the second in first person, Tiger by the Tail. I was somewhat shocked by the reception it has received. I love Sasha, but she’s a voice inside my head. If I hated her, we’d have a problem. I wasn’t expecting the world to slip into her skin like I do.
And that’s what makes first person special. It’s like curling up with your best friend over a cup of coffee and talking. She’s telling you a story, or ‘he’ if you’re a Harry Dresden fan, which I happen to be. When I read a good first person, I feel like I’ve made a friend when I’m done. One I’d like to visit again and again and again.

So, you’re thinking of giving it a whirl? Good! The hard part is figuring out how to pull it off. We all have our own voices as authors. In third person, how we turn a phrase is what makes us shine and what we carry with us from manuscript to manuscript. Even third person limited is told from our perspective as authors. Unlike third person omniscient, we can’t be God, but we do control the characters senses. We control what they notice at any given moment no matter how they notice it.

In first person, how your character turns the phrase is what makes them real. How do you separate your voice from theirs? You don’t. You have to trust yourself to be true to the character. It’s like role playing on a grander scale. In order to make first person truly successful, you have to put yourself aside and acquaint yourself with your character on a very personal basis. At a recent workshop I attended given by Bob Mayer, he described it as the most intimate POV as well as the hardest and most limited.

Why is it limited? Because no one else gets to see, hear, think, or define anything. Every tiny detail of your story has to be woven in through subtle details. It’s like painting a portrait. Every detail and brush stroke means something to the grander design. Some details are more obvious than others. For example, your heroine has POV rights – it’s her story – but your hero is thinking he’s going to do something rash. In third person, we’d simply give him some internal thought or dialogue or a POV shift. In first, we don’t have that luxury. We have to build all our secondary characters bold enough so she (and the reader) knows them well enough to pick up on their expressions and body language to address it to the reader. Even if she doesn’t point blank say, “I know he’s up to something,” she can note the details – he won’t meet her gaze, shifting from feet to feet, making a lame excuse to bolt out the door. Without being overt, your heroine tips the reader off to mischief.

Now, I’m also going to make a rather obvious point here about voice. As a first person author, I can’t write the same heroine under a different name with a different premise. My voice has to change according to every POV character. Even though my characters all tell their story as “I”, they aren’t the same person, so the flavor has to change with them. How do you change it? It goes back to the role playing mentioned above. Knowing your character well enough to slip your skin as a person and an author and write from their eyes is how you change your voice every time out of the box. I guess you can say it’s like being a schizophrenic who has permission to embrace the crazy side of themself. Yes, I talk to the voices in my head and let them have a turn at the helm.

This brings me to another point about why first person is so intimate. How deep is deep enough into your character? In third person, we’re allowed a little bit of a narrative filter. In first person, it’s a deal breaker. Falling into narrative telling instead of actively showing (from the POV character) will kill the tone and mood of a first person story. It’s the most common mistake. You just can’t treat a first person story like a third.

It’s another reason why first person is so limited. Until you actively try to write first person, you don’t realize just how much you, as the author, narrate a story. In my opinion, the only way you can successfully write first person is to be deep into character and trust yourself to write the scene true to the spirit of it.

A lot of authors write alternating point-of-views, switching from third to first and back again. That’s not a bad idea if you need to have the reader step back and see things differently or you need to interject plot elements that your point of view character can’t possibly know. By inserting that bit of narration, you also allow the reader to become better acquainted with other characters and other elements in the story.

I’m going to break off here and bring up another type of first person novel – alternating first person views. This opens up the field a bit. It’s adding a different narrator for elements just like using an alternating third person. I am not a fan of it. Why? Because unlike using alternating first and third, you’re not creating distance with your reader in the alternating view. In general, you open the story from the focus point of view and create that initial connection with the reader, create that bond, and then you break it and expect the reader to shift their emotional connection to the alternating persona. It doesn’t work, in general, at least not for me.

First person is like falling in love, one little bit at a time. With each scene, the reader takes that little baby step into emotional involvement. It’s why publishers print, “An Anita Blake Novel,” “A Harry Dresden Novel,” “An Aisling Grey Novel,” or a “Riley Jenson Novel” on the cover of a book. Even if you hated the author’s last book, you’re going to buy it…even if you hated the last one in the series.

Why? Because they’re our friends and we want to know what they’ve been up to.