Oh, good God. STOP DOING THIS. If you’re writing your scene with basic clarity and structure, it will be evident which person is doing the talking or is the subject of whatever action you’re depicting. It’s fine to use pronouns. You do not need to come up with increasingly complicated and inadvertently fucking hilarious ways to avoid saying “he” or “she” or “they” or ”[character’s name].” Don’t do this with characters who are not human. Don’t do this with characters who are human. Do not do this with a fox. Do not do this with a box. If you feel the need to refer to a character as “the [tall/short/blonde/brunette/older/younger/larger/smaller] whatever,” then ask yourself why you want to do this. If it’s because you think your reader won’t understand who you’re referring to without the descriptive epithet, then consider rewriting the scene so that it’s clearer instead.*
I know the internet is rife with those maddening lists of words you “should” be using in place of more common words, but I have a master’s degree in creative writing and I am telling you very clearly to ignore those lists—or at least to make bloody sure you know the actual meaning, implications, and connotations of the word you choose to use.
Back on Livejournal there was a particularly egregious example of thesaurus misuse directed toward people who were writing stories about horses. The list of words they suggested instead of “legs” included “pistons.” I’ll leave you with that mental image.
*as with all writing rules, there are exceptions to this. If you’re using an epithet because you actually need to, instead of because you’re sick of using pronouns or afraid your reader won’t follow who’s talking, then rock on with your bad Homeric self.
Thank you for this!
One question for clarification, though: if I’m writing an action scene between two women, where I need to keep making it clear who’s doing what at what time to whom, am I stuck just repeating their names over and over? And is that actually as noticeable and annoying to readers as it is to me as I write it or am I ok? Thanks.
I would suggest that the names are likely to be much less noticeable and annoying than “the [whatever] woman” or similar. Do you have an example of the kind of scene you’re referring to? If you know of scenes in other books where two women are interacting, check to see how the author made it clear who was doing what—you can often pick up tips and tricks by close reading of other people’s work.
hey writer buds!
if you’re looking for a good book about writing, The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner is so far by far the best resource I have ever encountered. It’s by an editor with lots of advice for writers about both writing and publishing, and only two chapters in she already has a good conversational voice that I’m very much enjoying.
A quick run-down: FFM stands for Flash Fiction Month, which is a deviantART-based event for writers to write thirty-one drabbles in thirty-one days, one for every day of the month of July. Of course you can personally participate without a deviantART account, but for recognition and full participation and all the perks that comes with it you need to sign up for the event (which is accessed through this link). Today is Day One, so if you want to jump in head on down to dA to see what’s happenin’! Viva la FFM!
So I’ve been thinking, as I edited that novel, that while I still want to edit in the future, I’m not sure I want to do it on the corporate level.
The book I worked on is an ebook, self-published, and I’ll tell you up front that it was pretty rough.
It got me thinking, really thinking, that something I want to do with my life after (maybe during) college besides writing freelance and noveling (why yes, I did just make up a verb) is set up a li’l website offering my editing services to people who want to self-publish but need an editor, whether for grammar or content or both. I’d charge for it, but nothing outrageous, no more than a dollar a page if I’m feeling miserly. I’d like to branch out from ebooks and even look over college papers or short stories for magazines before they’re submitted. Just be someone to offer a second opinion and a well-practiced reader’s and writer’s eye over anyone who wants one. It’ll probably not be a ton of money, but I didn’t go into the literary arts for money (besides, if I get a roommate or two, a cheap apartment, and a job that pays a little more than minimum wage, I’ll be good).
What do you guys think? Am I nuts for thinking this could be a good career path?
Written before we knew the entire flashback because I wanted to write Lin and Sokka interacting. Now entirely moot and qualifies as an AU, but what the heck. I learned that I can’t write angry people, so I went with numb and sad instead. Probably didn’t even get that far, but we’ll see.
Fandom: Avatar: The Last Airbender/The Legend of Korra
Characters: Sokka, Lin Bei Fong
Pairings: Tokka, Sokka-Lin father-daughterness
Rating: PG (for some subtle Adult Activities that happened in the past)
- Over-explanation. This includes prologues. “Prologues are never needed. You can usually throw them in the garbage. They’re usually put on as a patch.”
- Too much data. “You’re trying to seduce your reader, not burden them,” Friedman said.
- Over-writing, or “trying too hard.” “We think the more description we add, the more vivid it will be; but we don’t want to be distracted from the story” we open the book for.
- Beginning the novel with an interior monologue or reflection. Usually this is written as the thoughts of a character who is sitting alone, musing and thinking back on a story. Just start with the story.
- Beginning the novel with a flashback. Friedman isn’t entirely anti-flashback, but the novel’s opening page is the wrong place for one.
- Beginning a novel with the “waking up sequence” of a character waking, getting out of bed, putting on slippers, heading for the kitchen and coffee…a cliche
- Related cliche: beginning the novel with an alarm clock or a ringing phone
- Starting out with an “ordinary day’s routine” for the main character
- Beginning with “crisis moments” that aren’t unique: “When the doctor said ‘malignant,’ my life changed forever…” or “The day my father left us I was seven years old…”
- Don’t start with a dialogue that doesn’t have any context. Building characterization through dialogue is okay anywhere else but there.
- Starting with backstory, or “going back, then going forward.”
- Info dump. More formally called “exposition.”
- Character dump, which is four or more characters on the first page.
In other words:
- give up now
Thanks, but no thanks. Some of these are my pet peeves, but I love doing some of the others. Your counsel as a wise and practiced editor and author is much appreciated, but unless I make my own mistakes, I will never know what works for me. And, for now, the cliches work for me.
Can we take a moment to realize how amazing creative people are?
Just the idea that people out there exist who can imagine far beyond our own little planet and at the same time see into it, into every quirky, dirty, lovely, hidden nook and cranny, is exciting. The fact that there are people, people you know and people who know you, that at this moment are communing with inspiration and both recording and reshaping what they know and feel and hear, is astounding.
At one point, it’s almost a guarantee that your resident writer, artist, musician, director, actor, or what-have-you will come up with something that you helped inspire. In a way, that’s a piece of you, a bit of yourself forged in bronze and up for the world to see. It’s not always a good thing. But the fact that it IS—that’s incredible.
If and when you next get the chance, let your nearest and dearest creators know how blessed and inspired they are; Art might be where the Pain is, but it doesn’t mean that they have to stay there all the time.
Because A) my self-esteem is entirely dependent on the state of my original works, B) I like feedback, C) it would give credence to the statement “Quilly is a writer”, and D) I want to. Maybe some snippets from a different story every day over the next few days. Hmmm. HMMMM.
Everyone’s always turning, looking, staring, snapping, asking, saying, replying, frowning, shrugging, sighing, glancing, and doing all of these things while followed by adverbs I can’t seem to ease my death grip off of.
NNNNGGGGHHHHHHHH. THERE ARE OTHER WORDS IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE THAT MEAN THE SAME THINGS. UUUUUUUUUUSSSEEEEE TTTHHHHEEEEEEMMMMMMMMMMM.
[I said I was done writing things about him, but I guess we all have our weak moments.]
I lie in bed sometimes wondering what it feels like to have someone else’s arms around me, to have lips pressed to lips, fingers through hair, sharing breath, all the messy and beautiful accoutrements of the first step to satisfying biological and emotional need. I’m over him, but sometimes when the night is long and my day is empty I remember the moments when he held my hand and how it felt when we danced and the joy when he laughed at a joke I made. But these thoughts aren’t healthy and now that I know how far I’d gone, those memories have a tinge of greyish regret around the edges and some grainy bittersweet washouts. But sometimes when the night is long and my day is empty I remember him and wish I could’ve been more of a friend than a lovesick shadow. Maybe if I was I wouldn’t write about him and where I went wrong so much.
A lot of fictional stories told nowadays are disappointing from a narrative perspective. From movies to TV shows to books, it seems like the quality of storytelling is devolving (or perhaps there has always been this much low-caliber material, but with the advent of the Internet it’s easier to be assaulted with it). Partaking of a bad story is like feeling your brains go the way of the amusing Hulu commercials and mushy-mush away (and probably those Hulu aliens deserve our mushy-mush brains if we choose to like the sort of material that expedites the process, but I digress). Laziness is an inevitable outcome. Lethargy. Mental stagnation. Bleeeeehhhhhh.
But a good story…is there anything more stimulating? It’s like sliding into a deep pool where all sorts of interesting things live. Life passes by above and around, but our hearts are beating, tongue darting out to wet lips, hands shifting restlessly around the cover or around themselves, muscles tensing as the protagonist draws closer to the heart of his or her own narrative. A moment of tense anticipation, and our minds are racing, wondering what could happen next, readying for the inevitable shock of learning the truth. A love interest’s fingertips trail tenderly down the main character’s jaw, and our hearts soar, teeth digging into bottom lips in silly smiles, perhaps a joyful kicking of the legs to relieve some excess feelings. The hero emerges from a torn world in a blaze of glory, triumphant in victory and lighting the dark landscape with golden peace, and our eyes dampen, perhaps pumping a fist into the air and proclaiming to our own indifferent world their triumph, smiling and laughing and cheering, even if just in the confines of our own minds and hearts. It’s exhilaration, ecstasy, a nigh-transcendent experience.
Then we come back. Then we must surface, wiping away the bright colors of make-believe and returning to the unique, if duller, colors of our own world like shaking away sleep grains. A return to a world where magic is impossible and princes no longer ride white horses to the rescue is a hard one, but it is also a return to a world where a vampire isn’t stalking in the shadows and a dangerous enemy doesn’t have the power to break into our minds and steal or break whatever he wants. It’s hard, but it’s also a world where miracles can happen and people can be kind. Life doesn’t have happy endings all the time, but it has enough to make the stories poignant and make me believe in them. I have little interest in needlessly sad endings. Sad endings are places where hope isn’t allowed to worm its way in and where the silver lining is forcefully choked out of the clouds. We don’t always get happy endings. Sometimes there’s no possible way for a positive spin.
But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying for them, because once the poison wears away from the apple, once the sleeping spell breaks, once the slipper fits, once the wish is granted, we’ll know it was all worth it.
In my opinion, people who don’t clean house miss out on so many small wonders. Like the tiny spiders living under the bottommost edge of the window sill, weaving webs so small they’re invisible and wondering just who you are, anyway, sticking your enormous head into their business. Like the flurry of itty-bitty bubbles that escape from the dish soap when it’s nearly empty and you squeeze it in an attempt to get the soap out faster, how those little bubbles whirr around in every breath you exhale and the tiniest eddies your motions create. Like the fierce if small triumphs when a stubborn stain disappears under the might of your scrubbing arm, the squeak of a clean floor, a clean toilet, a clean sink the Hallelujah chorus to your completed efforts. Like the tenacity of dust, tiny bits of ourselves long forgotten, discarded bits of hair and skin sloughed off in the rough tides of life and living, clinging to every surface imaginable from the ceiling fans to tabletops to the tiny space in between baseboard and wall, hanging on as if to say “I won’t be forgotten so easily.”
I have thoughts of posting a paragraph of the best writing I can muster about everyday subjects every day, here on Tumblr. Not that my blog gets much traffic, but it would give me a goal and at least give me some writing practice outside of fanfiction, which I love but need to write a little less of.
Anybody have thoughts about this? I’m gonna do it regardless, but still, would be nice to know if someone would see.