On Writing: Things That Make It Harder to Read Your Story

On Writing: Things That Make It Harder to Read Your Story.

I’ve recently discovered things during my writing and editing process that have helped me to make my writing better, so I thought I’d share them.  They’re not things I’d have noticed on my own, but with help from friends and technology, they’ve come to my attention.

First is I overuse adverbs.  Holy shit do I overuse adverbs.  Enough with the goddamn adverbs already!  I know I was taught to use them frequently to help set a scene or describe what a character was doing, but I think they are rarely helpful.  If your scene hasn’t told your reader that the hero is carefully removing the detonator from the nuclear device, you need to re-write the scene.  Throwing that adverb in there is only going to slow your reader down and give them a mental stumbling block.

Same goes for adjectives, only not quite so much.  The urge to describe every detail is annoying, and beyond that, it limits the imagination of your reader.  Compare the following sentences: ‘She opened the heavy oak door and scanned the room, noting the black velvet drapes moving in the wind from the half-open window.’ Or ‘She opened the door and scanned the room, noting the drapes moving in the wind from an open window.’

When you read the first one, your brain notes that the door is heavy and oak, then remember that the drapes are black velvet, and by the time you get to the window, there are a jumble of details that all need organization.  The second sentence gives you some detail but lets your subconscious imagine the rest.  For me, this allows me to read and my brain to set the scene on its own without a bunch of clutter.  It helps draw me into the story because I’m creating my own details.  Unless it matters that the door is heavy oak later in the story, there’s no reason to include it.

I also struggle a lot with throwing passive voice bits into my writing.  I never knew how annoying these could be until I started paying closer attention.  What’s passive voice?  It’s generically when actions are described instead of just having a character do them himself.  It breaks story flow and at least for me, it transposes the proper order of the sentence.

For example: ‘The chief of police was told about the crime.’ VS: ‘Inspector Anderson told the police chief about the crime.’  The first sentence shifts the focus first to the chief before revealing the action, and for me, at least, it makes my brain work harder to keep things in order.  I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but I find it annoying, so I’ve been stamping it out wherever I find it in my writing lately.

Not that I’m sponsored or anything, but I have been using Grammarly, and find their paid professional version of their tool to be very handy for catching these kinds of things.  I figure I’ll use the paid version for a couple of months since it’ll give me the incentive to finish all my editing all at once and then I can cancel the subscription until my next book is ready to go through the meat grinder.

Happy writing, hope this helps or at least lets you know there are more of us out here in the literary trenches making all the typical mistakes.

On Writing: Editing

On writing: Editing.

I don’t have a professional editor.  I’m sure this comes as not even kind of a shock to anyone who has read my writing… but honestly after reading books that I’m SURE must have had a professional editor, I’m not completely convinced it’s necessary.

That’s not to say my writing wouldn’t benefit from one.  I just can’t afford it.  I had an aspiring author who hasn’t even published a single book yet condescend, “I just read the sample of your book that you have available on Smashwords.  My suggestion is to hire an editor right away and to work on basic grammar and punctuation.”  Apparently, he has not one, but TWO editors as well as a publicist, a web developer and probably a stylist.  I haven’t read his book though.  It’s not done yet.

I’ve read books published by major publishers with misspellings, bad grammar, awful sentence structure, and worse but still loved the book.  I’ve also read books with perfect grammar that were just awful train wrecks… so to what extent is having a perfectly edited book necessary?  I suppose it probably means more to English majors, literary agents, book nerds, and publishers than it does to your average reader.

I dunno, but every time I read one of my books I re-write at least some of it.  Every time I re-write something in one of my books it usually gets better.  I know that’s not really ‘editing’ like normal people do it but there it is.

I’ve used Grammarly for all my books now, so at least I can be marginally sure that they all meet minimum spec for “Remember to put a comma instead of a period at the end of a sentence that’s a character talking if the sentence isn’t finished,” which is IMO the monocle, top hat, white-glove, raise the pinky while drinking your tea version of who gives a shit editing.  I mean 50 Shades of Grey sold millions of copies.  Did you ever read the dialogue in that pile of rancid rat droppings?  How’d that pass muster?

I’d love to have a dedicated editor who I could pay to argue with me over story consistency, sentence structure, and that horrible accent I want the street urchin to have.  Sadly, at this point, I’m stuck to just hacking at it with a dull hatchet and hoping the rough-hewn timbers of my stories don’t give my readers too many splinters.  I just can’t afford it.

May your edits be swift, may your intuition be spot on, may the fees be small, and may the royalties flow freely.

On Writing: Rejection

On Writing: Rejection

As any author will tell you, rejection is probably the biggest part of being one of these crazed idiots who thinks that even one tiny iota of the filth we squeeze onto the page from the deepest darkest dregs of our creative subconscious is anything any sane person would enjoy reading.  I trust this first sentence sets the tone.  You will get rejected.  It will happen a lot.  In fact, literally the only response I have received from any literary agent, publisher or independent purveyor of literature in any way shape or form has been rejection.

Ok, quick redaction, I did have a letter to the editor published about 8 years ago, and my first book which was written chapter by chapter for a weekly horror blog was also technically accepted.  Well, if someone taking my work and putting it on their blog counts?  I mean … eh … I guess she didn’t say no?  Anyway, back to the doom and gloom.

Where was I?  Right.  Rejection.  It is my opinion that like job applications these days, there is some secret formula that each literary agent or publisher has that your submission query must meet.  It’s different for every one of them and probably doesn’t have any basis in judging the quality of the work but in some ability of the writer to market themselves.  For me, this is a problem.  I suck at marketing.  I suck at writing synopses of my books.  I apparently also don’t write good query letters.

So where do you go from there?  Well.  You pick your shit up and go again when you feel like it.  One of my issues is that most of my novels are series, so if the first one gets rejected, I have a lot fewer options since nobody will accept resubmissions.  Also, I write multiple genres and many literary agents are very genre-specific.  This is what often makes me think about starting another series.  This is dangerous.

(I’ll probably write another one of these about rejection later.  This one’s kind of all over the place.  Meh.  I’m throwing it out there anyway.)

There’s also one other option.  Self-publishing.  We’ve all done it.  Hell, we’re doing it right now.  Of course, that also links back to what I suck at.  Self-promotion.  But I’ll get to the whole self-publishing debacle next time.  Until then, keep your heads up, your glass full, your fingers on the keyboard and may your loose plot threads tie themselves into perfect twist endings.

April Horoscopes

April Horoscopes; Drinks Edition

Aries: Stout.  You need sustenance to keep you warm while you’re waiting for the snow to melt and the weather to warm.  It’s springtime but you’re still hibernating.

Taurus: Whisky.  It’s always whisky for you.  You know it; don’t fight it.  Just don’t overdo it like you always do.

Gemini: Gin, but not just any gin.  You need a Velvet Crush this month.  I know, KoolAid and Gin isn’t classy but it’s your month to slum it.

Cancer: Bloody Mary.  The more extra’s the better.  Seriously, if you can find a way to put a pizza in there do it.

Leo: Tequila.  Doesn’t matter if it’s shots or margarita’s.  It’ll remind you of spring break and vacations in sunny climes.

Virgo:  Lite beer.  I don’t know what’s wrong with you that you’re to be subjected to lite beer but there it is.  Sorry.

Libra: Chartreuse.  I know right?  You’ve probably been wondering what the hell it tasted like.  If you can’t handle it straight try a Green Dragon which is Chartreuse mixed with champage.

Scorpio: Vodka martini.  But you’re not James Bond so stir it and make it dirty.  Three olives.

Sagittarius: Boilermaker.  You must hate yourself.  Well if you don’t now, you probably will at the end of the month.  Just take it easy and you’ll probably survive.

Capricorn: Cider.  Not that fake ass ‘malt beverage’ crap either.  Something good.  Probably something from England.  Make sure it’s cold.

Aquarius: Highball.  Use decent bourbon and brewed ginger ale damn it.  Don’t drink the cheap stuff.

Pisces: White Russian. Take it down a notch, chill with The Dude.