Tuesday, March 30, 2010

IT – No, not the Steven King title

A common grammatical error I find deals with pronouns improperly referring back to their antecedent. One author swore a disconnected "he" naturally refers back to the POVC (point of view character). Well, it might, as long as no other noun precedes your "he" that could cause confusion.

I find "it" to be my particular problem pronoun. I think I'm now getting into a good habit of catching the rascal. Maybe that's why "it" jumps out at me when I'm critiquing others' work. I find ninety percent of the time—a number I pull out of the air—"it" doesn't meaningfully attribute to any subject or direct object, but is left hanging as a thing the reader must guess about, or reread.

Nice habit—not making your reader scan back over what he's already read.

For a mere two letters, that lazy little pronoun can bore a reader as fast as any writing error. Watch every use of the generic "it." I bet you can enrich your prose by striking the poser from your vocabulary.

Write every day!

Regards,
Mac

Monday, March 29, 2010

I Love Jesse Stone

Have you ever read a Robert Parker? Won't take you long, even if you read every word of a book, like me. I just finished STRANGER IN PARADISE. Parker's characters are what makes his books. They are short, quick reads. So short, he has to slow you down. He places his short, often three word directions on one line, and the character's dialog that goes with it on another line.

What's with THAT? I hate that. But I love Jesse's clipped responses. I can see Tom Selleck glaring into his scotch.

Write every day!

Regards,
Mac

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mary Sue Stereotype

I feel vindicated, though disappointed. When a fellow critter claimed my character in Tail Kicker was a Mary Sue, I brushed it off. Hell, what's the point of writing escapist literature about a common individual in a common situation. But the criticism wore on me. I used the litmus test at

http://www.springhole.net/quizzes/marysue.htm

Guess what. My character scored a seven, which implies her personality needs to be bumped up. Not down. I'm not about to do the test on my five-thousand year-old vampire Renee. I'm pretty sure she'd max the thing out. But does that bother me? [Imagine unmanly giggle here] Hell no. I'm writing about an extraordinary person in an extraordinary situation, a giant who surrounds herself with the finest.

I'm going to guess anyone who picks up a vampire genre isn't too worried about an overexposed character. Maybe I'll give her vision that can see through buildings. She's already got some pretty superhuman strength. Hmmm. What else can I give her?

And I must say, Westley Crusher was one of my favorite characters.

Write every day!

Regards,
Mac

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Critique or Pass

Critiquing is the best giveback writers can provide each other. Every writer should participate.

There is a peer in my on-line critique group I love to swap crits with. I've appreciated all of his earlier pieces, and he gives great crits—so he's a relationship I'd like to keep primed. He posted something that was too long for my short attention span, but I eventually guilted myself into giving it a swing.

A long intro to pose the question, when should you withhold your comments? I did a crit one night when I had a badly sprained knee, and was pretty heady on Vicondin. I gave an overly harsh crit. I was propelled to get the crit out when I wasn't in the mood. I've felt guilty for that crit ever since.

Back to the first incident. I had procrastinated doing my on-line friend's crit, plowed into it to find two pages of introductory telling. Nothing hinted there was anything on the horizon that was going to meet my tastes.

Force my way through it, or bow out gracefully? I tell you, tact isn't my greatest asset. I ended up sending him a note explaining I wanted to do his crit, and gave him my reasons why I didn't. He was a gentleman, and appreciated that my reasons in fact gave him valuable feedback.

In a face-to-face crit group I participated in for two years, there was a degree of pressure to crit all submissions. I look back at how poor a process that is. I've never met anyone who likes every style of prose. If a piece lies outside your comfort zone, it's likely you aren't going to give worthwhile feedback… unless you stick to grammatical nits.

My recommendation for new participants to the crit process: when in doubt, pass. You do not want to be that literary writer who insists to the SF guy that he must explain what FTL stands for. (Any SF reader knows what it means.)

Write every day!

Regards,
Mac

Monday, March 8, 2010

Omniscient or Simply Third Person

I've read a half-dozen style books the past year. No surprise, every "expert" has a slightly different take on things, though they generally hold the same beliefs on "the basics."

One author I really enjoyed had a different explanation of omniscient than any other author I've read, and it's stuck in my head. In critique groups you often hear the word omniscient, referring simply to any passage that is outside the protagonist's (or the current POVC's) knowledge.

"My author" defined omniscient as dialogue directly between the author and the reader – very specific author intrusion, such as: "As I write this, I am moved by the emotion of the times."

I like that definition of omniscient. I readily buy-into third person as a sliding scale. On the far left is near-third person (others call it close-third person). On the right is far-third person (or distant-third person).

Viewpoint isn't either or. It's white sliding to black, with much more gray than either black or white. Every nuance the writer deploys either moves the reader left or right. Present or past tense? Do you use present-tense sounding pronouns and adverbs (this-that/these-those/now-then)? Do you heavily leverage internal narrative? Internal dialogue? Does your exposition spring less from the mind of the single protagonist, or leap from POVC to another? Move right.

I personally don't like viewpoint shift. I read a chapter that jumps from the mind of three people and just groan. How can a writer minimize the impact of their protagonist like that, I ask. I have read lots of published authors who jump heads, and sit on the right of the third-person slider. But I suggest that if they all stuck nearer to the protagonist, their stories would be stronger.

Just my humble – well, not quite so humble – opinion.

Write every day!

Regards,
Mac

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tags and Direction

A fellow critique person, otherwise called a critter, who I cross-critique with in critiquecircle.com mentioned a bit of confusion when I made an observation about his tags and direction. What a great topic to bloviate about.

Tags and Direction

They are the plethora that litter our dialogue that helps the reader feel in the scene and identify the characters.

Tags serve only one purpose. No other. They are to clue the reader which character just spoke. Tags ideally disappear. Studies show readers completely ignore Joe said, Mary said constructions. When they get wordy or out of the ordinary (said Tom, in a throaty rasp), they disrupt the flow of reading. This is considered bad by many who write style books and speak at workshops. [In children stories, tags work the opposite. Verb-Noun IS the norm. Duh... who knows—]

Direction is the description/setting/environment between our dialogue. "Jeff stuck his hand in his pocket and squinted at his feet." When you have a direction, they usually allow you to leave out any tags, since they identify the speaker. (This is the reason you never include "direction" of one character within another character's dialogue. That would really screw up the reader.)

Take note that our dialogue is usually separated from our tags by a comma. "He did it," she said. Direction normally stands alone. "He did it." Mary thrust her hands onto her hips angrily.

The minutia of the craft. It's riveting. Ain't it?

Write every day!

Regards,
Mac
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Gems From ABOUT WRITING--Stephen King

I thought I'd share with you some of my favorite gems I gleamed in Stephen King's ABOUT WRITING. Hope you enjoy:

  • Adverbs, like passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind.
  • The road to hell is paved in adverbs.
  • To write adverbs is human; to write he said she said is divine.
  • Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes.
  • Narration moves the story; description creates sensory reality; dialogue brings characters to life.
  • Plot is the writer's jackhammer.
  • Plot is the good writer's last resort and the dullard's first choice.
  • Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story.
  • Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Over description buries him in details and images.
  • Locale and texture are much more important to the reader's sense of actually being in the story than any physical description of the players.
  • One of the cardinal rules of good fiction is never tell us a thing if you can show us, instead.
  • Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story.
  • The most important things to remember about back story are – everyone has a history – most of it isn't very interesting. Stick to the parts that are, and don't get carried away with the rest.
  • When you step away from the "write what you know" rule, research becomes inevitable, and it can add a lot to your story. Just don't end up with the tail wagging the dog; remember that you are writing a novel, not a research paper. The story comes first.
Write Every Day!

Regards,
Mac

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ben Bova's DESK BOOK

I read Ben Bova's THE CRAFT OF WRITING SCIENCE FICTION today. I realized I'd been using one of Mr. Bova's critical tools since my first novel — the Desk Book, but he suggests a component I hadn't thought of, or heard discussed in any workshops.

In project management, my previous field, we had a handy document we called the Project Book. Not too different from the Desk Book. It holds the project time-line. Mr. Bova recommends using the time-line to help you track your use of 'tagonists and minor characters. By plotting by chapter where you mention/introduce a character, what chapters they participate, when you kill them off, you see a new side of your novel.

In a project's time-line, it helps you manage the project by resources, exactly what the character chart does. If a character disappears, was there any point in introducing him? Do you introduce too many characters at once? Do you have too many characters? By leaving a character out of the plot for an extended time, have you lost the advantage of that personality or viewpoint?

Those are a few of the things it can give you. I expect I will find new uses. I am eager to try it on my next novel, which will be a sequel to my RENEE DE RAIS.

Write Every Day!

Regards,
Mac
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