Posts tagged writing tips
A Sprinkling of Adverbs: 5 Appropriate Uses

 Adverbs. People hate them. Stephen King hates them. Writing bloggers all across the Internet hate them. Some of my writing professors even hated them. Adverbs are the cockroach of language, apparently. But what's the big deal? Why do adverbs have such a bad rap when they have a purpose and place just like any other part of language? Of course, like any other type of word, you don't want to rely to heavily on adverbs. No "Susie cautiously walked lightly to the poorly lit, haphazardly perched treehouse" type sentences, please. Four adverbs in one sentence is just a bit much. But a story won't suffer from a sprinkling of adverbs here and there. I'd venture to say a well-used adverb enhances writing rather than takes away. And what makes an adverb well-used?

  1. It clarifies rather than confuses. Some types of adverbs are particularly guilty of contributing to vague language. Examples: sort of, kind of, somewhat, to some extent. All of these are adverb phrases that don't do much for a sentence. If you must qualify with an adverb, try one that targets your actual meaning rather than a vague idea. 
  2. It's necessary. In writing, there are times in which an adverb changes the entire meaning/feeling of a sentence. It may be necessary to use an adverb to show an action the way you want it to be shown. For example, you might say, "Timmy stared at Sally." But is Timmy staring longingly? Angrily? Hopefully? Sometimes, as we all know, that matters. Of course, there's always a way to make a sentence adverb-free—"Timmy stared at Sally, eyes wide with fear." or something of the sort— which brings us to the next point.
  3. It's efficient. There may be a hundred different ways to say the same thing, but the best one to choose is the one that streamlines the readability of your work. Sometimes that involves an adverb. Perhaps you have four adverb-less sentences already, and you need a snappy alternative for sentence number five. Whatever the case, don't be afraid to use an adverb if you need to.
  4. It's right. Occasionally, as writers, there are things that just sound "right." We may not be able to explain it, but we know that a sentence or a word is simply meant to be. If an adverb is what's right, it's right. Don't let conventional writing "rules" hold you back.
  5. In dialogue. I implore you: please use adverbs in your dialogue. Forget all the points above and just use them, even if they're vague, inefficient, unnecessary and wrong. Why? Because humans often say things that are vague, inefficient, unnecessary and wrong. Hardly anyone speaks like a narrator all the time. For dialogue to be effective, it must be real. And real people say "kind of." Real people don't say things like, "Timmy stared at Sally, eyes wide with fear." So please, when your character is having a conversation, use adverbs at will, just as you would in life. Make it believable.

How do you feel about adverbs? Useful tool or Language Cockroach? Let me know what you think!

Today's Prompt: Write a one to two page story entirely without the use of adverbs. Include at least one conversation in your story.

Happy Writing!

  

Turn on the Faucet-- Get Writing!

FaucetQuote Some of you may have read my post from yesterday about the bout of writer's block I've been experiencing. Well, yesterday evening I saw this quote and felt inspired. It's completely true what Louis L'amour says: you can't write until you start. So this morning I made a point of waking up before my children. They both ended up in bed with me last night, but I managed to make my escape without disturbing them. Then I showered, brewed some strong-but-not-too-strong coffee, and set right to writing. No distractions (until the two children in question finally did arise). I turned the faucet on, and the water has been flowing ever since! Bye-bye, writer's block! I'm not about to shut off the flow now, but I wanted to share this quote with anyone else who might be having a hard time pressing forward. Take the advice. Start writing. Turn on the faucet and don't shut it off 'til the sink is overflowing.

Today's Prompt: Write a modern day fairy tale (an original story or a retelling of an old favorite). Include water imagery in your opening scene.

Happy Writing!

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Good Sense is Good Writing

 When I was in third grade, I began writing my first novel. It was an interesting attempt, to say the least—a   comedic story of a young girl and her certifiably insane cat. I don't remember much of this story—not the cat's name or the characters or even the basic setting, but I do remember one scene. My main character's older sister, the typical teenager, had her boyfriend over for dinner. Budding novelist me wrote that during the course of dinner, teenage sister's boyfriend began making strange noises and squirming in his seat. Then with a shout, he stood abruptly at the table to reveal a "giant bulge" in his pants (oh dear)!

In my mind, there was a simple explanation. The cat (then a kitten) scratched her way up the boyfriend's pants and ended up as a furry little leg tumor clearly noticable beneath the fabric. I was too naive to see it any differently. My parents on the other hand... Well, they laughed at the unintentional innuendo so much that I was too embarrassed to continue. I didn't try to write again for a few years—not until I had gained a little wisdom and recovered from my shame.

My unfortunate experience came primarily from a lack of worldly knowledge, which I consider to be in the same vein of good sense. I was eight years old or so, so my naïveté is pardonable. If an adult wrote the same scene however, people would shake their heads and say, "She really should have known better." 

Sense, knowledge, maturity, practicality—all of these assets come along with growth, and all are necessary for good writing. Whatever your genre, you've got to have common sense to craft something believable; something that flows well and comes together perfectly at the end. Even in fantasy, a writer's comprehension of reality—real situations, real people, real emotions—should be evident. Otherwise, the work ventures into the ridiculous and leaves the author looking silly (at best).  So use common sense when you write, because sense is the difference between a joke and a masterpiece.

Today's Prompt: Write a short story feauturing a character with good intentions, but bad sense. Teach this character a lesson.

Happy Writing!

KC

Writing in Buttons (The Writing Process)

Buttonsquote I'm a visual person. I don't think in words so much as in pictures. Where one person might internally say to themselves, "Hmm. I'm going to get a cup of coffee," I typically see a steaming coffee cup in my mind's eye. My brain might go so far as to mumble, "Ooh, coffee," but that's the height of my internal verbal skills-- just call me Caveman Kharis.

When I'm thinking of a story, I experience the same phenomenon. There's no, "Wouldn't it be cool if I wrote a story about a guy and a girl falling in love?" (Super original idea, I know). Instead, I see short films projected by my imagination: a boy meeting a girl in a yellow dress; the two of them sitting across from one another in a cafe, laughing; a first kiss on a rooftop; etc. etc.

Those films are my "buttons." As I write a story I get bits and pieces of it in these little pictures, then sew them together. Everything between is the thread: the transition material that carries you from one button to the next, linking them all together. Whether Sandra Cisneros' buttons are like mine, I don't know, but it sounds like our process is the same. What I'm interested in discovering is, are all of our processes the same? Does everyone sew together buttons? Do we all have bits and pieces that we start with and then connect, or does anyone out there see every detail before they begin? I get little pictures at first, but does anyone else get hit with the whole picture (beginning, end, major plot points, transitions, the works) all at once? I want to know.

If you don't identify with this quote, I'd like to hear from you and get some varying perspectives on writing processes. Shoot me a comment and let me know how you're different!

Today's Prompt: There's been a horrible tragedy at the button factory. Write a newspaper article about it.

Happy Writing!

KC

 

 

Love at First Draft--How to Keep the Spark Alive (Quote of the Day)

NicholasSparksQuote When I wrote the last page of my first novel, I cried. I mean, they weren't rolling-down-your-cheeks-and-landing-in-your-coffee tears, but there was definitely a shine in my eyes. There's an astounding sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing a book. All of a sudden, there you are, with a couple hundred pages that you eked out all by yourself--maybe over the course of months; maybe in a few frenzied days or weeks. For some of us, our stories have been in the works for years and are just now coming to a close. It's an emotional experience, no matter how long it's taken. And when it's done? Well that calls for tears--shouts for joy--happy dances--running out the door and kissing random people in the streets! It's finished; it's finished; hooray!

But notice that Sparks says, "the last page of the first draft." Does he know what he's talking about or what? Once we go through hours of editing and revising and scrapping and rewriting, the excitement tends to wane. Your once-cherished story starts to lose its loveliness after you've stared at the same pages for hours, borrowing from the thesaurus and taking out/putting back the same bewildering comma over and over again. Before you know it, your relationship with your novel reminds you of your grandparents' marriage. You know what I'm talking about. The ones who've been together forever, which is amazing, but... They buy each other socks for Christmas and pick spinach out of each others' teeth.

Oh, and they keep squabbling about whether that silly comma belongs or not.

I wish we could hold onto that "last-page-first-novel" feeling all the time. Wouldn't that be great? Well... I think we can at least get it back. I propose that this week, you do something special with your novel; reignite that old spark.

No, I don't mean take it out for a fancy dinner and champagne; what I mean is, leave it alone. Seriously. Take a vacation from editing. Put your novel in a box or a dark corner for a week. Maybe even two weeks. Then, when you start to miss it, go back to the first chapter and read. Just read. Resist the red pen and pretend like this book isn't something you wrote. My bet? You'll find yourself falling in love all over again.

Today's Prompt: Write a comedic story about your grandparents, or another elderly couple--real or fictional--who've been together "forever."

Happy Writing! KC

Hooking a Reader (Quote of the Day)

When I began the novel I'm currently working on, Ourselves and Others, this was my process:

  1. Thought, "I'm going to write a book based on what happened to me."
  2. Opened a word document.
  3. Proceeded to write the most boring 10 pages I could possibly write.

Luckily, upon an initial reading I realized it was awful and promptly scrapped it in favor of "take 2," which is 300 times better than my first try. But even after starting over, things were rocky for a while. I ended up completely restructuring the opening, changing tenses, and renaming my main character about three times before the first chapter was up to snuff.

This only proved to me that the hardest part of the writing process is indeed the beginning. Getting started is difficult enough on its own, but then creating something that will hook readers and draw them into the story? That's the real challenge. That's where the fate of your book hangs in the balance, after all. A novel could be a masterpiece, but if the beginning doesn't attract, no one will read far enough to find that out.

Personally, when beginning a project I always try to think, "What would make me want to read this book?" and then write that thing. Easier said than done, I know. But I do have a little trick up my sleeve to help with that:

Raise a question.

That's it; it's that simple. In the first paragraph—in the first line, if you can—present a question that must be answered. Curiosity is a great motivator for the reader. And of course, you don't literally have to ask a question. What I mean is, say something that will make the reader ask a question—even something as basic as "what happened?" or "what does that mean?" They'll read on to look for the answer, and hopefully your writing keeps them reading even after they find it.

Today's Prompt: Write a story that begins in an ending and ends in a beginning.

And here's a bonus "prompt" for those of you who have completed works or have works in progress:

Copy and paste the opening paragraph or two of your novel in the comments section. Share your beginning with the rest of us!

If you share your opening paragraph and you have something published, feel free to leave the link, just in case you've hooked somebody. ;)

I'll be posting my openings in the comments as well, so read on if you're interested.

Happy Writing!

KC

Quote of the Day—W. Somerset Maugham



Today I'm living that chauffeur mom life and driving the kids around to their various appointments, so there's not much time for reflection on the daily quote. I picked this one because it's quick, it's true, and it made me laugh. Here's hoping it makes you laugh too!

Today's Prompt. You moonlight as a limousine driver. But one night, you show up for a job and end up getting more than you bargained for. The first thing your (or one of your) passenger(s) says to you is "Hurry; pop the trunk!"

Happy Writing!

KC

Quote of the Day—E.L. Doctorow

Someone managed to capture in two sentences exactly what my writing process is like. It's rare that I can see more than a chapter in front of me, but somehow it works. That's how books get written: one chapter after the other. At the same time, I know several people who flesh out a plan before they ever begin writing, and then follow it step by step until they reach the end. I've tried it, and it doesn't work for me at all. I'm too prone to getting caught up in the details of the plan, rather than following the story as it unfolds. I suppose in the end, just as with everything else, we all write in different ways and what works for some people doesn't work for others.

So what's your process like? Are you a planner or do you go with the flow? Have you ever tried a different way?

Today's prompt: Write a short story, on a subject of your choosing, but not in the way you would usually choose to write it (with planning or spontaneously). If you never plan, make an outline of the plot before you begin. If you're a stickler for planning, pick a subject, think of an opening and just go with it. Your story must have a "twist" ending.

When you're done, consider these questions:

  • How did you feel writing in an unfamiliar fashion?
  • Did you find it difficult or simple to switch from one tactic to the other?
  • How might this exercise help you be a more effective writer in the future?

Post your response in the comments! Happy Writing!

KC