As I continue to edit my work in progress and think about meeting readers’ expectations, especially when it comes to descriptive writing, I recently came across and interesting review of Peter Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read, “a book that explores how people imagine and remember the things they read.”
I’ve always been loath to write (and dislike reading) detailed descriptions of characters and settings. I’m OK with details that surface as the story progresses when they are relevant, but one of the fastest ways for me to lose interest in a book or story is a front-loaded block of description sentences which have no other purpose, and an abundance of adjectives and adverbs. She was tall and had green eyes. She stepped over the puddles with her long legs while smiling at Bob, showing off her perfect, white teeth… Ugh.
At the risk of provoking the popular vs. good debate, aspiring writers who wish to write well should study the novels that have endured (let’s call them the works of “masters” for this discussion), not the forgettable books on the top 10 bestseller list this week.
Free Indirect Discourse (also called Free Indirect Speech) seems a clunky mouthful, but it is also a powerful tool to make your writing more intimate when used in proper measure. Wikipedia says: “What distinguishes Free Indirect [Discourse; FID for short] from normal indirect speech is the lack of an introductory expression such as ‘He said’ or ‘he thought’. It is as if the subordinate clause carrying the content of the indirect speech is taken out of the main clause which contains it, becoming the main clause itself. Using [FID] may convey the character’s words [and thoughts] more directly than in normal indirect.”
Most young writers (of all ages) share their manuscript much too often and much too early in the hopes of getting constructive feedback on their work in progress. For instance, I see a lot of writers share their work after just a first or second draft. Some share “Chapter 1” of a novel, even though chapter 1 is all they have written. Even if such drafts are free of spelling and grammatical errors, sharing a draft so early is a mistake.
Are you writing a story (or writing a novel) to be critiqued? If you are participating in a writing group — be it a fiction writing workshop, a fiction class in school, a writing studio, or a writing seminar — there are a few, simple things you can do to help make sure your work is well received. I bring this up because I often see writers do things which predisposes their critique group to dislike their work or avoid it almost immediately. The good news is these are really easy things to do.
Writers always need help with editing, so this is pretty damn cool: Two of my favorite tools are now working together for free. The Hemingway App has always been free, and Grammarly has a free version. But now, with the Grammarly Chrome extension, not only can you use both of them, you can use both of them together. Let me explain…
In my writing workshop a long debate broke out about adverbs. Why they are evil, when they are needed and when they are not. The participants even offered example sentences of good and bad use of adverbs and when they are and are not needed for clarity.
Few of us think of ourselves as editors. Of course, we all want our submissions to be grammatically correct and stylistically clean and easy to read while being true to our voice. It is hard, though, to get it right. The great news is that there are powerful tools that can help, some of which are free.
I saw a question on a board the other day asking what does it mean to “practice writing”? This could be several things, but my view is that there are three things I practice. And to be clear, I think all writing is practice. Even the things I publish are not perfect. They were just good enough to publish.
Don’t you love it when you get feedback on your fiction that you are doing too much “telling” and not enough “showing”?
When we think about how to write a novel and to be a successful writer of fiction, we must understand the balance of showing versus telling in our work. This is one of the critical skills and one that we can learn. There is no formula, and we need to do both. The trick is to keep them in proper proportion.
How to write a book? Don’t knock your readers out of the fantasy.
I saw a discussion on a board today about writing, and if it is a big deal to not “knock readers out of a story” with inconsistencies, bad grammar, inexplicable changes in tone, etc. If you want to learn how to write a book, and sell your book, I think it is a big deal…a huge deal.
Learning how to write well is more than just cranking out words in response to creative writing prompts. For instance, I’m sure you have gotten feedback in your fiction writing workshop (or writing studio or writer’s studio, which is the more popular term of the day) on a submission from someone who you thought was a self-serving ass. When it happens, your defenses immediately go up and you stop listening for anything constructive. At that point, it is a wasted exercise for you and the person providing feedback. As a young writer, this is not what you need.
Text to Speech (TTS) software is a surprisingly powerful tool to help you improve your writing. Whether you are writing a book, poetry or a business letter, hearing your words will allow you to perceive your words and sentences in a different way. Reading what you have written is one mental process. Hearing your words is a different process. There are subtle but important differences between the two. Listening to your words will enable you to detect errors and clunky sentences in your writing that you can’t “see” when you read your work. There are Microsoft text to speech tools, but those are not the only ones. Find — and use — one that works for you.