Posted in editing, good writing, great writing, how to write, The Writer's Toolbox, the writing process, writing, writing advice

Writing Filters to Use: The Bigger Picture Part 2

Here is the second part to Writing Filters to Use: The Bigger Picture. This part goes over dialogue, scenes, and point of view.

Dialogue

Questions to ask…

  • Did the words seem natural to the characters and fit their personality?
  • Was there too much or not enough dialogue? It’s okay to tell the reader some of the thoughts of the thoughts of the main character, but we should only know the thoughts of other characters through their words and actions, i.e. did the writer show us the story or did he tell it to us?
  • Whose story is it?
  • If dialect is used, is it used effectively and appropriately?
  • Were there enough/too many beats in the dialogue?
  • Was the dialogue used to move the plot forward or as a weal way of cramming back story?
  • Does dialogue advance the story?
  • Is dialogue appropriate to the scene?
  • Does dialogue increase conflict?

Things that can be done to enhance Dialogue…

  • Ensure that characters sound sufficiently different
  • Make sure it is dialogue and not conversation
  • Use genre-appropriate dialogue tags
  • Keep adverbs in dialogue tags to a minimum, unless genre allows them (use he said, she said’s )

Scenes

Things that can be done to enhance Scenes …

  • Make sure there are a sufficient number of scenes
  • Make sure individual scenes satisfy and that they are different in terms of action events, character combinations, dialogue patterns, and type of conflict
  • Give scenes variety in length, format, depth, and pattern
  • Use a variety of settings for scenes (or play against variety and stick to only a few settings)
  • Make sure scenes are in the best order to cause problems for the character and induce tension in the reader
  • Make sure the right scenes are dramatized and the right scenes are summarized

Point of View

Questions to ask…

  • Story view point (first, second, third limited, omniscient)
  • Is it the right POV for the story and for the scene; would another be better?
  • Is POV clear?
  • Is POV maintained within scenes?
  • Character view point
  • Who should be the viewpoint character in each scene?
  • Is the story in the right character’s POV? Would another character work better?
  • If the story is in multiple characters POV, should it be changed to just one character?
  • If the story is in one character’s POV, would the story work better in multiple characters POV?

Things that can be done to enhance POV

  • Make sure that viewpoint character doesn’t change within scenes (no head-hopping)
  • Make sure viewpoint character knows only what he could really know
  • Use a change in POV or viewpoint character to bring story and character closer to the reader or to hold the reader at a distance when necessary

The final and third part of this series goes more into structure of the story.

Posted in editing, good writing, great writing, learning to write, The Writer's Toolbox, the writing process, writing, writing advice

Writing Filters to Use: The Big Picture Filters Part 1

fountain_penOkay, so the initial first draft of your short story or novel is completed. Congratulations! Throw a big party. Pat yourself on the back. That was a lot of hard work. Then things calm down, and you decide to sit down to work on draft number two. You take a gander at your masterpiece to discover it isn’t as glamorous as you first thought. Sure, you knew it needed work, but not that much! Where to begin? What to do? The text before you becomes blurred. It gets hard to breath, and you wonder if maybe this might be what insanity feel like. But before you commit yourself to an insane asylum, there’s hope, and it’s as simple as just a little focus.

That’s where writing filters come in. It’s the process of keeping a few things (usually 2 to 4) in mind while going through subsequent drafts of a story. These “filters” help narrow things down so you can focus on what needs to be done instead of having a panic attack. Sure, there might still be a few panic attacks here and there, but at least you can move through the muck of your jumbled mess. There is a light at the end of the tunnel somewhere, and using writing filters can help distract you until that light can be glimpsed.

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Posted in editing, good writing, great writing, how to write, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice, writing better

Some Things to Keep in Mind When Self Editing

This is based off a writing workshop I took by author Gary A. Braunbeck. I found his class  gave some really great advice, so I thought I’d pass it along for others who might find it useful too. The following is an accumulation of handouts, and notes I took. His advice covered everything from dialogue tags to punctuation. Enjoy.

  • First Rule of Editing. ALL editing should be left to second draft and beyond. A first draft should not be edited until it is completed.
  • Had. Avoid using the word “had” anywhere but in dialogue; when this happens, you will be telling the reader something instead, not showing. Consider the word to be a warning bell if you see it in the body of your narrative.
  • Character Names in Dialogue. Avoid having characters use each others name too much when in conversation; shift the focus by using a simple physical action.

Continue reading “Some Things to Keep in Mind When Self Editing”

Posted in better writing, descriptive, editing, good writing, grammar, great writing, how to write, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice

Common Words to Avoid in Writing

I have always heard that there are certain words that shouldn’t be used or avoided when possible in creative writing. But what exactly are those words? I knew a few of them such as “was” and ly words, but I knew there had to be more, so I did some research and this is what I came up with. Remember this is a guideline only and these words should be avoided most of the time, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use them at all.

The Weak Links
Avoid these words because there is usually another stronger word that can be used instead, so go for the bigger punch.
  • ly words… Check out my blog post The LY Rule to see more about this.
  • any words with these endings…Ize…tion…sion…ment…ance…
  • make
  • made
  • involve
  • involved
  • provide
  • provided
STOP! USE AT YOUR OWN RISK
These words should be avoided at all cost. They don’t do anything for your story but leave ambiguous holes.
  • instantly
  • suddenly
Passive Voice Anyone?
These words typically indicate a passive voice, but not always. Be mindful of these words and how they are being used. If you have one of these words in your sentence, check to see if the sentence is still active, however, passive voice can be a useful tool if used in the correct manner.
  • is
  • are
  • was
  • were
  • be
  • been
  • being
A Big Fat, Duh
This phrase is like shouting duh to your readers. Don’t use it unless you have a REALLY good reason to do so.
  • Of course
Space Holders
These words don’t do much but fill in space and take up word count, so if you want to get your word count down take an ax to these words.
  • that
  • just
  • really
  • very
  • quite
  • sort of
More Description Please
These words are used often, but don’t really say much. Is there another word that would work better and be more descriptive?
  • walk
  • look
  • like
Telling Words
These words usually indicate that you are telling your reader something instead of showing it.
  • saw
  • heard
  • thought
Can You Seem?
What does seem really mean and when you use it, can what you seem really do it? Confused yet? Let’s take a look at an example.
Example… The house seemed quiet.
How can a house seem quiet? Doesn’t a house just sit there, so how would it seem anything at all?
  • seem/seemed
Do you ING?
Watch how many action ing words you use. An overabundance can make a story sound weak. I’m not saying don’t use them just cut it way back and try not to start sentences with an ing words. Remember ing words usually indicate action that is happening now or while something else is happening. If not used in the right way, they can have adverse effects on the way your story plays out.
  • any ING words
Lazy Words
These words can be used but are lazy words. They can easily be fixed with something a little more descriptive and more accurate for your story needs.
  • briefly
  • good
  • bad
  • nice
  • went
  • came
  • got
  • get
Guilty Pleasure
This word is usually used in an abundance (at least with me), but other words should be used instead for proper wording.
Example… As Robert ran down the street… INSTEAD SAY… While Robert ran down the street.
  • as… instead of using as use… while or when
Give Me Some Slang
These words are used, but are actual NOT real words.
  • alot… proper use is… a lot
  • alright… proper use is… all right
Get Rid of It
This word is used when another word would be much more appropriate. The only thing this word is good for is leaving the reader hanging. What does “it” mean? Who is “it” referring to? Be specific. Take out the it and throw him in the trash before it drives your readers crazy.
Example… It was hot… INSTEAD SAY… The Stove was hot.
  • it
Some of these words were a surprise to me and I’m guilty of more than a few violations, but it’s good to have a list now that I can use as I’m attacking my final draft. I’m sure there are more words out there that are on the “don’t use list” please feel free to leave a comment and add to this list.
Posted in adjectives, better writing, descriptive, editing, good writing, grammar, great writing, how to be more descriptive, how to write, ly rule, ly words, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice

The LY Rule

It’s a habit that the budding writer is apt to make. In fact, many writers can put years into writing without learning a very important rule of a proper writing technique I like to call the ly rule. Have you ever noticed how saturated some works can be with words  like gladly, fairly, or brightly? Sure, there needs to be more description in stories, but make sure it’s the right kind of description.

It’s usually a good idea to use less adverbs and adjectives instead of more. It’s all about being as specific as possible and showing your reader what’s going on without resorting to the ly. So that means beefing up your nouns and verbs (especially the action verbs). But ly words are sneaky little suckers, so let’s take a look at some examples to see some ways ly usage can be reduced.

EXAMPLE 1:
She cooked over a hot stove and constantly pushed her blond sweat-matted hair out of her face as she stirred the pot.

So let’s rewrite it without the ly word constantly…

She cooked over a hot stove, pushing her blond sweat-matted hair out of her face for what seemed the hundredth time, while stirring the pot.

OR

She cooked over the hot stove as sweat-matted hair obstructed her vision. Anna swiped it back cursing her blond strands, while stirring the pot.

If you notice taking out the ly constantly you add more description than if you’d left constantly in the sentence. What does constantly actually do for your sentence. Not much, constantly is an ambiguous word. It really doesn’t tell the reader much at all and leaves a lot for interpretation. This is actually the case for most ly words.

Words like quickly, darkly, considerably… How quickly? Did she run as fast as a tiger, or was she faster than a speeding bullet? Big difference right? How darkly? Was the room as dark as a full moon night, or darker than the eye of a black hole? How considerably? Did he walk as far as the mail box down the drive or walk a full marathon? Are you starting to see a pattern here? If you can be specific, do it, because it will add the extra punch to your story that will set yours above others.

Let’s do another sentence for good measure…

EXAMPLE 2:

He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.  “Mr. and Mrs. Black, I hope your trip back home was reasonably safe.”

You can write this sentence a few ways…

You can take the world reasonably out all together and say…

He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.  “Mr. and Mrs. Black, I hope your trip back home was a safe one?”

OR

You could leave it and put emphasis on the word reasonably with italics to show a sarcastic tone…

He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.  “Mr. and Mrs. Black, I hope your trip back home was reasonably safe.”

…The ly serves a purpose of bringing attention to the word, which in this case you want.

OR

He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.”I know the mountains this time of night is a dangerous place. I hope it wasn’t too perilous for you both.”

So you see there are multiple ways that you can avoid the ly words or make them work for you. It’s a matter of knowing what context you want to bring to your story. You’ll also notice that when taking out ly words you usually have to use more than one word to replace that word. So yes, it will up your word count overall to take them out, but the benefits will far outweigh this. In fact you may find that the more you write the more concise you tend to be.

It isn’t possible to take out ALL ly words, but you should try to get rid of as many as possible. I struggle with this ly rule all the time and often find myself having to go back many times to make corrections. So believe when I say, this is a rule that ALL writer’s have a problem with, but it’s a battle worth the fight. The next time you sit down to write ask yourself this. How many ly words do you think you could cut?