Read a Bad Book, Improve Your Writing

There’s no better way to learn something than to see a real example of what NOT to do.

If you’re a self-taught writer, you’ve probably already learned the big lessons:

  • Show, don’t tell
  • Use adverbs and adjectives sparingly (or not at all)
  • Less (description) is more
  • Use strong verbs
  • Avoid clichés
  • Good dialogue shouldn’t need tags

I know there’s more. I’ll add them as I think of them. But that’s not my point.

You’ll hear these tips over and over, and you’ll make use of them. You’ll cut adverbs and adjectives and strengthen your verbs and nouns. You’ll replace whole paragraphs of description with one meaningful detail. You’ll eradicate 90% of your obsessively placed dialogue tags (my most recent crusade, and wow, am I guilty). You’ll think your work is done.

Put it on hold.

Then find some bad books. This is subjective, I know, but find books that bore you, books that you want to throw across the room (see Find an Outlet for some Oleaginous Mush), books that beat you over the head and make you feel like you’re so dense you need every little detail spelled out.

There’s a lot of self-published books on Amazon that serve this purpose well. Books that never met an editor, or a beta reader for that matter. Most are only $.99.

I don't know this guy.


Getting through them will be the worst torture you could imagine. But you will be surprised what you will learn. Adverbs and adjectives will leap at you–your jugular, to be exact. Long, winding, redundant description will have you going for your jugular. “Telling” was hard for me to spot early in my writing. Now, it’s a Chevy Suburban in a parking lot full of Smart Cars.

 
It’s easier to see flaws in writing that is not your own. Once you see them, you will then start to see them in your writing.

I’m reading a self-published book on Kindle right now, and it is painful to say the least. However, after the one hundredth reference to the heroine’s eye color with no other useful description to go with it, and no real reason to mention it to begin with, I got a sick feeling in my gut. Did I do this?

I searched my MS for every reference to eye color. Would the protag be thinking about the person’s eye color at that moment? Is it necessary to the story? Is it a cheap way to throw in description?

You notice someone’s eyes when you first meet them. Or if there’s something different about their eyes, a change you’re not used to. Or if you’re smitten with the person and/or a crazy stalker. That’s it.

So, to the author of the book I’m reading now: Don’t tell me her eyes are “liquid brown” every time your hero looks at her! Yes he may be smitten and/or a crazy stalker, but he’s supposed to be an artist! Show us he’s more creative than that! Take some time. Make it meaningful. Or cut it out and spare us.

Blog Skim Query Push

I just got lost in a maze of writer’s blogs. Blogs linking to blogs linking to blogs.

Have you mastered the art of the Blog Skim? You skim a blog. You think, “There’s a lot of useful info here. I need to read this. Oh, what’s this link? Let me click. Lots of useful info here too. I need to come back and read this. Wait, another link. Let me click.”

An endless maze. You never learn anything useful. All you learn is there’s a lot of useful info out there, if you could just stop being distracted long enough maybe you could read it.

That being said, I need to read these later:

I’m intrigued by the idea of “transparent narrative.” I understand the concept (and have applied it), but I didn’t know there was a term for it. I’d like to go through my whole MS again to find areas where I could apply more transparency.

From cmichaelfontes.com:

Transparent Narrative is what happens when your reader stops reading and start seeing. They no longer read word by word, sentence by sentence, or paragraph by paragraph. Rather, they mindlessly flip pages, absorbing the story into their heads, unaware of the outside world and are completely immersed in the movie that is playing in their minds eye. This one thing, above all else, should be the goal of every writer. I know that I made comments about how POV affects transparency, but that is only one piece of the puzzle. Every thing else… I mean everything (character, plot, motivation, word craft, voice, pacing and rhythm, etc etc etc) will determine how transparent your story is. Once again, watch for a post about transparent narrative coming up.

Once I get through the other links, I’ll post some useful tips.

I also found two more books I want to read before I query:

Every time I finish one book on writing, I find TWO more books to read. Every time I finish editing my MS for one issue/idea, I find TWO more things to edit for.

Q: At what point are you ready to query?
A: When you die NEVER

Writing: the Sixth Sense (via Be Kind Rewrite)

This is the first time I’ve reblogged something (I’m still relatively new to WordPress). I can’t resist. This post hits home, and so perfectly explains my writing process and my inspiration.

I’ve always felt like what I write is happening somewhere, in another world where things like that can happen, and I’m just the reporter.

Writing: the Sixth Sense After reading my novel (old draft, now discarded) for the first time, my brother’s fiancée asked me where I got the idea. I had no idea what to say. Of course there were various influences, from Out of the Silent Planet to Stargate, but I can’t rightly say where I got any idea. I can’t say I made it up, either. It’s inspiration. God breathes it at us. Writing fiction is like discovering a story that is really going on somewhere, but you can’t see … Read More

via Be Kind Rewrite

His Emotions Are Like The Grand Canyon Covered By A Giant Tarp

One year ago I read an article on CNN.com that opened doors into my male protagonists’ minds. For some reason, I just remembered it, and had to find it so I could share (and have on hand for future reference). This article validated a lot of what I wrote about my male protags, and gave me the confidence to expand their personalities even more.

Love, sex, and the male brain by By Louann Brizendine, Special to CNN

The most interesting/useful points (to me):

  • …brain differences make men more alert than women to potential turf threats.
  • …the male brain can fall in love just as hard and fast as the female brain, and maybe more so.



Men aren’t insensitive; they just keep it to themselves (Can anyone say “denial”?):

Studies of men’s faces show that the male brain’s initial emotional reaction can be stronger than the female brain’s. But within 2.5 seconds, he changes his face to hide the emotion, or even reverse it. The repeated practice of hiding his emotions gives men the classic poker face.

Sorry, guys. You know it’s true. And we women are suckers for your poker faces.



Perhaps the most interesting thing of all:

When [a man's] mate becomes pregnant, she’ll emit pheromones that will waft into his nostrils, stimulating his brain to make more of a hormone called prolactin. Her pheromones will also cause his testosterone production to drop by 30 percent.

These hormonal changes make him more likely to help with the baby. They also change his perceptual circuitry, increasing his ability to hear a baby cry, something many men can’t do very well before their wives are pregnant.

Watch out for those pheromones!

Tetrakishexahedron

I’m working on a series of four books (plus a prequel, but let’s not get complicated). A series of four is a tetralogy, right? To verify, I looked it up on dictionary.com. Then I got sidetracked by this wonderful, wonderful word:

Tetrakishexahedron
Tet`ra*kis*hex`a*he”dron\, n. [Gr. ? four times + E. hexahedron.] (Crystallog.) A tetrahexahedron.

And I love the definition. It’s so helpful. So let’s look up tetrahexahedron.

Tetrahexahedron
Tet`ra*hex`a*he”dron\, n. [Tetra- + hexahedron.] (Crystallog.) A solid in the isometric system, bounded by twenty-four equal triangular faces, four corresponding to each face of the cube.

Two awesome words, one defining the other.

What is that you say? You would like to see a rotating model?

There is a scene in Book One where my hero cuts something into a cube. Had I known of the tetrakishexahedron, I SO would have made him cut it with 24 sides.

Write Yourself Into a State of Discomfort

I just happened across a great article from a Google search: Ten Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice by Holly Lisle.

There are some great ideas in here. My favorite is #9:

If you’re comfortable, if you’re rolling along without having to really think, if you haven’t had to challenge yourself, if you know that everyone is going to approve of what you’ve done — you’re wasting your time. Writing done from a position of comfort will never say anything worthwhile.

#5 is a fun writing exercise. Pick one of your own values, and write a character with the opposite viewpoint. But don’t write that character to prove your own points. Prove his. Become him, so much that you understand his side. I subconsciously do this when I write from my hero’s POV. Sometimes even I’m shocked by some of his thoughts.