The Garlic Plight: Less is More (The Self-Editing Guide Part 9)

Imagine you are making your favorite dish for someone really special. There’s this certain ingredient called for in the recipe (let’s say garlic) that just sets off the meal. You’ve received lots of praise when adding this particular ingredient, and you just know it’s what will win your friend over when he takes that first bite. So you add a dash or two as usual, but that’s not enough. This person is really special, and you want to make sure he can taste the special ingredient. So you keep dashing in the flavor until you’re certain it will stand out above everything else. He will have no choice but to notice it and be impressed now.

However, when he takes that first bite, his eyes bulge and his face twists as he chews. He nods with fervor and gives the thumbs up, but something is off. Is he simply excited over how delicious it is? Surprised, even? He grabs his water and gulps it down before looking at you and asking what you put in it. It’s clear by his expression and timid voice he’s nervous about something. Finally, he admits there’s just this one flavor overriding everything else, and it would be delicious if it wasn’t so strong.

You’re deflated. You tried so hard to impress your friend, but instead of letting the garlic accent the meal, you let it take over and failed tremendously. So, what do you do? You probably vow to avoid adding garlic to any recipe in the future and clean your fridge of the horrid stuff, but is that really the right choice? Had you neglected to add garlic at all, your friend would have eaten a bland meal devoid of the one thing your previous subjects all praised. Would he have finished it? Probably. Would he have remembered it? Probably not.

The Garlic Plight

The key in this scenario is to always remember one three-letter phrase that keeps beautiful or delicious add-ons in check: less is more.

As a writer, I’m sure you’ve noticed how often people bash adverbs. I never even considered writing an article about them because of this bit of advice I usually come across daily:

“Cut all adverbs.”

“Adverbs weaken your narrative.”

“Adverbs are for the amateur writer trying to impress and wow the reader.”

These are all true to some extent. Too many adverbs do weaken your narrative. New writers do go overboard with adverbs because they think it’s a good way to impress the reader. Adverbs do wow the reader.

Yes, I said that. Adverbs wow the reader. Why else do you think they’re so overused now? Much like the analogy of too much garlic, we discovered what works and we went overboard with it. We want to be the best, right? So we do whatever it takes to stand out from other writers. We think, for a moment, that we can add more beautiful adverbs than anyone else and be remembered for our moving prose. But that’s not how it works.

Adverb inclusion is not the key to moving prose—or maybe it is, it’s a matter of opinion just like the garlic—but that doesn’t mean the reader wants to see nothing but adverbs. An adverb is more like a trump card you use when the narrative calls for it. A trump card is not to be used often, and you should exhaust all other outlets before you resort to wasting it. An adverb is your ace in the hole when you want to write something worth remembering . . . something worth quoting.

Here are two examples of times when adverbs were used effectively:

  1. “When we force something to fit where it doesn’t belong, it breaks. When surrounded by people who can’t appreciate our beauty, humans essentially do the same.” —Kayla Krantz
  2. “The heavy ache in my chest suggested that I was simply trying, and failing, to trade one heartbreak for another. While I still waited for my mind to accept the good news and relinquish all the pain it no longer had reason to feel, my stubborn heart tightened its grip on the past, refusing to forget. It happily lapped up this new betrayal, these freshly severed ties to another I’d loved with such devotion. I never would have imagined that in gaining what I thought I’d wanted most, I would lose something of equal importance, finding myself right back where I had begun.” —Jessica V. Fisette

This is my opinion, and as you can see, one of the quotes are written by yours truly. However, Kayla Krantz’s quote has stuck with me for two reasons.

Number one: It’s true. There’s no doubt the reality of these words resonate within me and will continue to do so for days to come.

Number two: That adverb cannot be removed.

Every time I think back to this quote, I think of the adverb. The editor in me tries so hard to remove it, but it doesn’t read the same. And the writer/poet in me smiles because I can’t take it out. Without that adverb, the entire quote loses something—it loses a huge part of what makes it memorable.

I had planned to write an article on why adverbs are bad, but I have to admit this quote changed my mind. Then, I remembered an ad I created a while back for my upcoming release featuring the second quote, and again, tried to reread the quote without simply and happily. The intended meaning/effect is lost.

But one thing I have to point out is how much Kayla and I both try to avoid overusing adverbs. The reason the quotes aren’t filled with five adverbs to every verb is because we KNOW less is more. The adverbs that made the cut were carefully selected and strategically placed. There was a time I would have added multiple adverbs to that quote, and considering how old it is and how many times I’ve edited it, there were probably a few more that met an untimely demise as I honed my skills as a writer.

So remember, less is more. Don’t purposely choose a weak verb so you can spice it up with an adverb. Don’t run to the thesaurus so you can find all the different ways to exchange sprinted for speedily, hastily, carelessly ran or any other combination of a weak verb with multiple adverbs chasing after it. Sprinted is always more exciting than ran, no matter how many pretty helpers you tack on. But don’t neglect them altogether. Adding a strategic amount of adverbs to your narrative can help it feel well-rounded and read smoother.

How do you handle adverbs? Are you a fan of using them to achieve poetic prose, or does the very sight make your editor’s eye twitch? We’re interested in hearing your take on the topic in the comments!


FIRST QUOTE FROM KAYLA KRANTZ’S RITUALS OF THE NIGHT SERIES:

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SECOND QUOTE FROM THE ALDURIAN CHRONICLES:

Trilogy


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

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Website

 

 

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Reflections (Guest Article by Mark Mackey)

To start this off, in 2009, I had no intention of writing books. I was more interested in trying to forge a career in screenwriting.

I made a short, silent film—a task in itself. I had to search down actors/actresses for it and started off with other students—most of whom said not a chance. This led to using the school’s, I think, casting manager—I don’t really remember her exact title anymore—to get local professional actresses/actor (two women, one male) for it.

By far the easiest aspect of this, the rehearsals, which always took place in the front lobby of the school. Hardest, filming—silent film cameras were used.

The reason behind this, the school had this thing in which they wanted the students to start off creating films the old-fashioned way before moving on to more high-tech digital cameras and sound.

After its completion, time was spent in a darkened classroom slicing the video apart, editing out the unusable parts, and using a specialized tape to put it all together in order to make it comprehensible (it was filmed the old-fashioned way on film strips). Often times, more than not, I had to ask the other students in there for assistance, which they had no difficulty providing.

One last problem with this—aside from getting it put onto DVD’s to provide copies to the actresses/actor—was Walgreens and the use of their camera department. Frustrating it was, they had this policy in which they refused to do it over copyright issues, and it took a while to get this resolved.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time rambling on about this specific experience, only to say I finished the film to personal satisfaction.

In 2010, after writing a screenplay based on a vampire character I came up with a couple of years earlier for a class, Genres in Screenwriting (Vampires), I came up with the idea of changing it into a novel, which is now Maureen: A Vampire Tale (Special Edition). Back then (in 2010), vampires didn’t seem as tired as they are now, but I could be wrong about this.

During this time, I became aware of the whole concept of self-publishing and decided on exploring this route, since querying screenplay agents/companies didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Neither were the few screenplay contests I entered—even though I won a couple.

This was rough going in the beginning, as the paperbacks of Maureen continuously kept being rejected by Createspace due to incorrect format.

Another difficulty I saw with this, the print kept being way too small to read.

Yet a second problem, which popped up during and still does, covers. Often times, I’d get a message which stated, “the cover is unacceptable and needs to be corrected,” and caused nothing but a frustrated headache for me and probably the independent cover artist who had to waste their time in making the corrections to work.

After a long while of suffering horrible frustration over this, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, as Createspace finally pointed out the solution to this problem. The way they said to handle it, use one of their pre-made templates. Problem solved, and I published Maureen twice now, since both the old, first version, and the newer, final version are both available on Amazon, and I think maybe other places.

Up until a few years ago, I used to think writing really long books was such a smart idea.  Not so anymore. The specific reason I discovered this, reading it word by word isn’t such an easy task. The truth of the matter is, it’s downright frustrating and time-consuming.

Let’s talk about another problem I see with writing, the whole concept of NANO month/camp NANO. When I first tried this out, I came out on top, but then the wins kept piling up. Eventually, this sort of got out of control and I kept asking myself: should I do the next one? Yet I continued to do it—each time since ending up with the same results. I keep telling myself this will be the last one yet I continue on to do other monthly word writing challenges as well. I don’t know, maybe I’ll sit the next NANO out.

As a final thought to this, I suppose one of the reasons I’ve been so hesitant to publish any of the NANO projects has to do with something which has come to my attention over the past couple years. Book piracy. I discovered I’m not immune to this while searching out my name for some information.

 

Balancing Life and Writing (Guest Article by Clara C. Johnson)

Balancing the time to write, attending five classes a week, homework, studying for exams, working a full-time job, and spending time with loved ones seems to be for the talented juggler, but I am here to tell you that anyone can do it if you can learn to manage your time well. Unfortunately, many (including myself) heard the famous writing advice that in order to finish your work in progress (WIP) and to become a better writer, you have to write literally every single day. Fact of the matter is, we all have responsibilities outside our writing such as jobs, family, and school that must take priority. In addition, suffering from health complications can also affect your ability to achieve this goal. Frankly, it can be quite impossible for anyone to write every day!

First, I must offer an adjustment to the advice. I think if you plan to become a writer, you should THINK about your WIP every day. This is a much simpler way to help you stay focused on your goals. A simple drive to the grocery store or sitting in the doctor’s office can be a wonderful time where you can think on what you want to do with your WIP. Whether you consider the plot, characters, or a scene you want to add/change doesn’t matter. The overall goal is to get your brain fired up!

As a college student, much of my thinking throughout the day is on all the school work I want to get done by a certain time or studying for an exam I have to take soon. A great tool I learned in my Creative Writing class was to keep a small notebook with me at all times. This notebook is something you should take with you everywhere. Write down your thoughts or describe something you see that interests you. What you write down doesn’t have to necessarily relate to what you are working on right now. An example could be this: you are driving to work, and you notice an old house that burnt down. It may be something you have seen a hundred times before, but you are filled with questions as to what happened to the house that caused the fire. You start to think; what if it was a faulty appliance? Some kids who thought it would be fun to play with fire? You could write this observation down in your notebook for later consideration. An entire story could be written based on this burnt down house.

While this may have nothing to do with your current WIP, you have given yourself a writing prompt. Writing prompts can be a great way to help get your creative gears rolling. You never know, maybe that burned down house could be a vital resource for a story you will work on in the future or your current one. Now, I know not everyone can carry a hefty notebook with them everywhere they go. For you, this “notebook” could be an app on your phone or tablet. There are many different apps you can use for storing your notes. Notecards can work too! Test which method works best for you. As long as you are comfortable with your format, it will benefit you.

My notebooks vary now. I have everything from full-sized notebooks, a small journal, and now a binder to separate my WIP. I spend most of my “plotting” time for my stories in between classes if I get all my homework done early. Sometimes, all I am able to write down is the description of my character’s appearance or personality. The goal is to be able to jot down your ideas onto something for later consideration. Regardless of the format you use, this is the best way I’ve discovered to keep my writing going.

Even then, I have days to a week where I can’t get the time to do it. It’s frustrating and annoying, but I want to say that it’s okay to take small breaks. Things come up, and you may have a couple rough days. Life happens to all of us, and there is little we can do about it. I believe as long as you eventually find the time, you will do it if you truly are passionate about it. Writing is not for the faint of heart and it can seem impossible to do it as regularly as you want. My best advice is to organize your schedule. Set aside time to write and take advantage of the down time you have in between classes, work, or whatever else you need to get done that day. If all you get done is just jotting down an idea for your WIP, that’s okay! As long as you keep up with it and forgive yourself when you can’t do your writing, I’m positive that you will be able to reach your goals! Focus on what you need to do and what works best for you. Each and everyone one of us are different. No two writers are the same.


Clara C. Johnson is a small-town girl who dreamed of magic, swords, and dragons. For the past decade, she has written poetry, short stories, and a novel. She is currently studying English at Penn State University in between drinking too much coffee and writing her next project.

Guest Blog: The Work by Kenneth Lawson

One sits in front of a blank computer screen and wishes the words would just magically appear on it. If one could only twitch a “Bestselling American Novel.”  But alas, the only person who could twitch a novel into existence was Samantha from the TV show Bewitched.

In September 1964, a new show arrived on ABC television. Bewitched followed the misadventures of a female witch married to a mortal man. A half-hour comedy that put a variety of interesting spins on normal family and business life with a witch involved.

What piqued my interest in this show concerning writing is one specific visual trick that they often used on the show. Samantha twitching her nose and making miraculous things happen. House cleaned, animals and people appear or vanish, and that’s just the small stuff the writers had her doing. While the effects worked perfectly in the overall story of the characters and their made-up world, in the long term, this introduced the audience to a concept of “Instant Gratification.” All they had to do was want something, and it would appear out of nowhere.

While anyone in their right minds knows we can’t just twitch our nose and get our work done, or clean our house, or any of the other things they did on the show, there is a broader concept or idea if you will. The idea that a vast majority of the things one wants or needs can almost magically appear.

A key example of this is Amazon. As anyone who belongs to their Prime service knows barring weekends, and holidays or the like that if they order something on Monday morning, chances are very good the UPS truck will be at their door by Wednesday afternoon. This, in fact, a form of “Nose Twitching”  One wants it, a couple of mouse clicks and the package on its way.  Not much more energy expended than twitching one’s “Nose.”

Another great example of the “Bewitched Syndrome” is Pandora, or any online music or movie service. One wants to listen to some classic Sinatra,  a couple of clicks on their mobile device of choice and it plays. One wants to watch a movie or series, a couple of clicks on the remote, and it’s playing on their preferred screen.
There was a day not that long ago when if one wanted to listen to Sinatra croon one had to do “The Work.”

Go to the record store, find and buy a Sinatra record, go home, remove the record from its jacket, place the vinyl record gently on the turntable to keep from scratching it and turn on the record player. The record spun, and mechanically, the arm with the needle moved over to the record and dropped, and the sounds of music came from the speakers. But wait, you weren’t done.

Once that side was over, in about 10 -15 minutes, you had to remove yourself from your favorite listening place and return to the turntable, turn the record over and repeat the process. These are but two of the many examples of the way people have unconsciously​bought into the “Bewitched Syndrome.”

Years ago there was only ONE phone in a house. It usually hung on the kitchen wall, with a LONG cord to the receiver. If one wanted to call someone, they had to know the actual phone number. In years gone by, they didn’t have 7 digit numbers like we do today, you had an exchange, such as the famous BR-549 from Hee Haw fame. You called the operator and told her who you needed to call, and she’d connect you manually to her switchboard. See. More work.

And if you missed a call, You were out of luck, and probably never know it, unless they told you later they tried to call. Today? Instant access, the “Bewitched Syndrome.”

There are so many examples of  “The Bewitched Syndrome” and how it is incredibly easy today to “Twitch” our way through life. To have a wide variety of things done or gotten for us almost magically.

But there are a lot of things there is NO shortcut for. Writing is one of them.

To create, one must sit down and actually do the work. Write the words, build the paragraphs and the chapters, and eventually one word at a time, build a book.
And you can be proud of it. Because you didn’t make it appear out of thin air, you did the work, put in the time, and energy it takes to create.

Bewitched has inspired a generation to create new worlds and tell new tales in different ways. The Bewitched writers did the work to create a television program. Now you must do the work to make your stories come alive, as actress Elizabeth Montgomery did the work to make Samatha come alive on the screen.

Yes, I’ve wished many times over the years I could twitch my nose and have my stuff done.

But alas, I’m mortal like the rest of us.

And I have to do is“The Work.”

 

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Author Bio:

Kenneth Lawson 1

Kenneth Lawson was born in 1961, in Western NY. He was born with a heart disease, called Transition of the Arteries. He is believed to be the first in the US to survive the procedure called the Mustard procedure.

He started writing as a teenager He enjoys classic movies and television, and a variety of music. When not enjoying movies. He can be found writing his eclectic mix of science fiction, mystery, and time travel.

Today he lives in Central Virginia, with his wife of 30 years, and the youngest of their four children.

 

Laughing Our Words & Other Dialogue Don’ts (The Self-Editing Guide Part 8)

Dialogue is an important thing in story-telling. How your character interacts with their friends, family, and even complete strangers tells a lot about his or her personality and conveys information that might not be revealed otherwise. How you describe that dialogue has a huge impact on your audience’s experience while reading your novel. So should you replace your dialogue tags with descriptive words and throw in a few adverbs? Not exactly. If you want to truly immerse your readers in your story, you’re better off doing the exact opposite.

Laughing Our Words & Other Dialogue Don'ts

I like to write in deep point-of-view, which means my goal is to make the words fall away. I don’t just want the readers to see the story unfold before their eyes, I want them to become part of the story. I want them to be in the middle of the action, not just watching from the sidelines. I want them to become the main character—to fight the battle and feel the pain as the sword goes in. So when I’m writing dialogue, any reminders that my audience is reading a story has to go.

Dialogue tags might be one of the most redundant aspects of writing. You add quotations around the spoken passage, and then you end it with he said or something similar to state who is speaking. But there are better ways to clarify this. Here are a couple examples of using a dialogue tag and how to get away with removing it.

“How are you feeling today?” Sarah asked. 

How are you feeling today?” Sarah stepped closer and pressed her hand to my forehead. 

The first one is a classic example of a dialogue tag. The second one removes the uneccessary phrase, clarifies who is speaking by the action that takes place, and shows the characters interacting in other ways as well. The second part of sentence two eliminates the need for tagging and that’s a good thing. Since it is a classic example, anything remotely close to she said or he asked tends to get skimmed over by readers. They’ve seen it more than enough in other novels. In this way, you’re still offering valuable content to your audience while keeping them from being confused on who is speaking.

Some people like to include both in their writing:

“How are you feeling today?” Sarah asked, stepping closer and pressing her hand to my forehead.

But this is even more redundant, since it can be reworded like the second example where the action alone states who is speaking. And, as we covered in the last article, -ING verbs slow down the narrative. If this is supposed to be a fast-paced scene, you’re going to want to drop those -ING verbs and keep the sentences direct and to the point.

So, again, it’s best to just use an action tag to clarify who is speaking. However, if the characters are speaking for a long period of time, you won’t be able to come up with an action for every line—and you shouldn’t try. You need to let the characters’ words take the spotlight in this scenario. That means most times the dialogue needs to stand alone. If there are only two people speaking, then character one will speak first, then character two, and then it starts over. In this case, you can go a few lines without reiterating who is speaking. The reader will have no problem keeping up, as long as it isn’t too drastic of a gap. A brief action tag after a few exchanges can keep the reader on track and immersed in your story. However, if they have to go back to the beginning of the conversation and start over just to figure out who is speaking toward the end, you’ve lost the intended effect. So don’t go overboard. As I often say, a healthy balance is key.

Another issue I see often is when writers choose to use dialogue tags and they use them incorrectly.

“That was funny,” Sarah laughed.

This is actually an action tag formatted wrong. NOT a dialogue tag. However, it is set up as if laugh is replacing said. That means Sarah is laughing out the phrase, “That was funny.” This happens often with various words such as laughed, sighed, yawned, coughed, cried, etc. This is the correct way to write it:

“That was funny.” Sarah laughed. 

In this example, Sarah speaks, and then she laughs. Makes sense, right? Often times it’s written in an even less plausible way:

“That was funny,” Sarah rolled her eyes. 

There is no doubt about it—this is an action tag. NOT a dialogue tag. You can’t roll your eyes into a series of words—that I’m aware of—so this sentence needs to be reworded as this:

“That was funny.” Sarah rolled her eyes. 

The difference is in whether you separate the text with a comma or a period. Keep this in mind when reading over your work and train yourself to take notice how you write your dialogue. The change in meaning can be tremendous, and it’s best to know exactly what effect your writing has on readers when you’re trying to write convincing dialogue. Incorporate these tips into your story and you will have a better chance at immersing your readers and creating realistic character interactions.


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

Facebook

Twitter

Website

You’re Stupid and Your Writing Sucks (Guest Article by David Noe)

Ha-ha! What a funny title! Of course, this can’t possibly be a blog telling someone they’re stupid and that their writing sucks. That’s insensitive, and possibly wrong, right? Yeah, no. This is really an essay on making yourself better. Stated plainly, you can’t get better if you don’t know you need help. Sure, plenty of writers have a hard time, thinking their writing is below average, but there’s a very good reason for that. It’s called math, and writers aren’t generally very good at math. By definition, half of everything ever written is below average. That’s what makes it the average!

Okay, so how do you get on the right side of the coin? You can take all kinds of courses and classes and read all the books that claim they will make you great and you could still be lousy. Feeling better yet? You want to know how to get better? This isn’t the essay for that. You might as well stop reading. The truth is, I don’t care if you’re a good writer or not. I don’t care, and most other writers don’t care, and your neighbor doesn’t care, and neither does their cat. Some self-help books are written for a very specific reason . . . to sell self-help books. If you become a great writer, you may not buy any more of their self-help books. Where would they be then?

I’ll tell you what I want when I read a book. I want to enjoy the book. I don’t give a hang about where the author lives or what the author eats or who the author votes for. I just want a good story. You write a good story and you’ll be a good writer. Too simple? It comes so easy for some people. Yep. That’s the way life is. So, is this one of those tough love type columns? No. I really don’t care about you.

Here, then, is the value of this essay. Only you can prevent forest fires. There is so much value put in buying your way into being a good writer. There is so much coddling of sub-par writers. Nobody wants to hurt anybody’s feelings. Hey, I get it. Who wants to be barraged with a thousand hate-filled posts about what a butt you are for saying something mean (not that I would know)? You’ve got to do you. When I was learning to write comic book scripts, I was fortunate enough to have a professional school me on just how rough my drafts were. I must have rewritten that stupid script a dozen times. Each time, he would absolutely tear it into little bitty pieces. I had read the books. I had even had stories accepted, and I thought I knew what I was doing. It was very ‘Dunning-Kruger’ of me. I was stupid and my writing sucked, and I was extremely fortunate to have somebody tell me that (over and over).

Be smart enough to find somebody better than you (at least half the population) who you feel you can trust. Let yourself be torn apart, BUT only about your writing. Prepare yourself, expect bad news, accept bad news. Write and rewrite and write again. Listen to how stories and conversations actually work. Pay attention to life to develop an ear. If you really want to be better, know that you are one of the ones who has to put the work in. Other people are born with it, not you. You must work at it because you are stupid and your writing sucks and nobody cares . . . until you do. Be a better writer because you want to actually write better, not because you want accolades. Be smarter about your talent because you are paying attention, not because you want people to be in awe of you.

Okay, the secret of this essay is that most of the time, it’s narrated by you. One of the truths is that we can always better ourselves, but there will always be critics. Another truth is that nobody will care about your stories or your abilities unless you do. If you think you are a bad writer, you will be. If you think you are a great writer, you’re probably wrong. Never think you’re a great writer. That’s one sure way to not be a great writer. Always tell the best story you can. Care about your work. Then, the next time you tell a story, tell a better one.


David Noe has several books published by Amazing Things Press (novels, short story and novella collections, poetry, even some humorous, etcetera). He is co-founder and editor at InDELLible Comics. yadayadayadabuymybooksonamazon

His author page on facebook is https://www.facebook.com/tradeofthetricks/