Category Archives: Uncategorized

Welcome the Cranky Old Man!

Do you remember when you were growing up, the old man who always yelled at everybody to stay off his lawn? He appeared for maybe thirty seconds, threatened to call the police, and disappeared again.

Welcome him to Writing Snippets, please! The old cranky man as you’ve never seen him before!

*Wild applause*

Chinish peered through the crack in the curtains, waiting. The animals were playing in the street, kicking their ridiculous toys around. A little further. Just a little further. One darted after the ball, trying to catch it before it flipped past the end of the wall and into his yard.

The ball rebounded from the curb and skittered along the low wall to where his property dipped down below street level.

He sucked in a breath in anticipation of the feast.

The ball bounded through the gap. The animal hesitated, looking back at its companions, then gingerly made its way down into the yard. Chinish struck as soon as the child was within range, an arrow into the soul that sucked, sucked, sucked, pulling all that energetic power. This one had more power than most, and a new thought occurred to Chinish. His eyes widened.

The child started, turned toward the house instinctively for a moment, its eyes frozen wide. When no one appeared in the doorway it worked its way through weeds to where the ball had come to rest and Chinish threw the door open. “Get out of my yard, you filthy animal!”

The child was close now, close enough to see the patterns in the wide eyes. So close that the flow between them was visible.

The child’s fear was sweet, increasing the flow of power. Chinish sucked it all down, careful not to reach too far or take too much. Oh, sweet. Like a draught of cold spring water after a long walk in the desert. It filled him, chilling him from the inside out until he thought he might shatter.

The child stood, terrified, then grabbed its ball and scurried through the weeds to the street.

Chinish kept the contact, let the power soak into him. He felt the child’s exhaustion, heard through the link the complaint of a headache. I’m going home.

Chinish smiled and kept the contact. Tonight, after all memory of the incident had passed, the child would die peacefully in his sleep. Chinish had never emptied one completely before, fearing repercussions from those who might be able to sense his interference on this plane. But maybe, just perhaps the surge of power as the soul left the body would be enough to open the portal again, to send him home.

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Edit 6 (auditory)

This is where I just go straight through the book, looking (actually listening) for anything that stands out. Words, characters, plotlines. Does everything fit? If it stands out to me, it will probably stand out to my readers.

As part of the earlier edits I usually convert the draft to PDF, and here I do it again. This time I read and listen. If you have adobe reader, Ctrl shift Y turns on the reader and Crtl shift B activates it (for Windows). Then I can just lay back and listen, taking notes at anything that sounds wrong.

Being able to listen to my words also gives me a chance to catch things I usually don’t in print, like rhymes or alliterations, repeated words or repeated phrases.

Another thing I look for is places where the description or emotion is insufficient (since those are my weaknesses). I can find this out loud far more easily than I can just reading the words.

I don’t usually find a lot wrong–details, things I need to check like timelines (which moons are in which phases, do the characters speak of things they can’t know yet, etc) and blocking. If one character is involved in a conversation and a moment later he wasn’t present that should have been caught previously, but sometimes I still find such things even at this stage.

Writing this editing series has been interesting on a number of levels, because it’s forced me to actually quantify the editing process and write it down. It’s been a loose structure, but I’ve never written it down this way.

This could technically be combined with edit five, but since I do them separately I split them out. Aside from that, seven seemed like a good number. 🙂


Edit 5 (Which doesn’t have a name)

Edit five is really pretty quick, because by this time I’m deep into another project and have no interest in finishing.

In the fifth edit I’m doing a broad over-view to make sure things fit. Are the issues creating a problem with flow? Does a particular scene work? Why did I put that description there, and would it be better in another place? Did I use the same description more than once? (Which I have done, oops) Are there any sections where I get bored, and want to go do something else?

This is the place where I work on fight scenes, to make sure they read quickly so that the readers don’t get bogged down in details. It’s basically a read-through, stopping at anything that catches my attention.

Then I send the book out to the beta readers again, if I want to overwhelm them. Then on to edit six.

I usually have this process going for a couple books at a time, so one (or five!) might be in Traige stage while another is in stage five and two are in the emotion-description edit stages. I try not to have more than one in each of those two categories, because otherwise nothing else gets accomplished.


Edit 4 (description)

I don’t do description. My novels have been described as “place holders in a shadow world” because there is little or no description. Shapes, colors, scents, sounds, all have to be added after the fact.

The descriptive edit consists of colors, textures, smells, sounds, movement, and even size. Does a character look up or down at another? Are her fingers small? What color are the leaves on the trees?

Trying to fit all the senses in, after the fact, is more difficult to me than the emotion edit. It’s just an artifact of how I see the world.

I like reading books with a solid physical presence, so I try to put those things in my novels. This edit and the emotion edit take the most time.

I’m afraid I have a desire to appeal to everyone, so I want those who like description to be drawn in by the description, and those who like characters to be drawn in by the characters. There’s something for everyone here.

I just need to make sure there’s not too much, but that hasn’t been a problem to this point. If anything, my readers want more than I’m giving them.

I’m much better in this sense than I used to be, but it’s still a continuous struggle.


Edit 3 (Emotion)

I have a very difficult time putting emotion into my novels. To me, their emotions are obvious from their actions, but my readers (almost unanimously) say that they need some indicator of what these people are feeling.

Honestly, if an ex husband comes back with the stated intention of taking custody of their son, I think the woman’s emotions can pretty well be assumed. But apparently not.

So the third edit I do is emotion. At this point I have to put in the little actions, words, descriptions, that will tell my readers what I already feel is obvious.

Makes it difficult, and some might say that if I think it’s unnecessary I should skip it. Since I like the books better when this edit is done, I continue to do it.

This is another step of character development, and unfortunately many of my books are set in a world where visible emotion is frowned on. In many cases what I do is create physical tells for each character. So a character might pick at her skirt when she’s angry and fiddle with her hair when she’s being sarcastic, or whatever. If I can create distinct “tells” for each character they start to pop off the page, just a little.

I go through the book as many times as necessary, trying to put at least three emotion words or sentences on each page. Doesn’t always work that way, but I try.

Then it’s time for the other hard edit, even worse. Description.


Edit 2 (voice)

Edit two is the voice edit, and although part of this gets taken care of in the first edit (mostly on accident) I still need to tweak things. This is usually a short edit for me, making sure the characters are consistent and recognizable.

I need to make sure that each of them is distinct, even if only to myself. I have a bad habit of transferring traits, which leads to using the name of the stolen character in places where they do not belong. So I know that if I use the wrong name for a character they’re blending and I need to fix it.

One thing I have difficulty with, particularly in first drafts, is differentiating the ages of various characters. Some act too old, some act too young, and I have to keep in mind that the way the other characters treat them is going to make a difference in how my readers judge ages.

It doesn’t help that I can’t name those ages outright because days and years are different lengths on different worlds. This leads to my readers saying “What? He isn’t acting 13!” when the character is actually physically 17 or some such thing. So the actions have to stand in for statements to tell my readers what age they’re dealing with.

Again, this is one where I have to trust myself. Do I like (or hate) the characters? Are they distinct enough that I can read straight through without getting stuck on some odd little quirk? Am I trying to figure out who is speaking?

If everything’s good it’s time for the description and emotion edits. These two are the hardest for me.


My Problem (and a few tips)

By Ava Mylne

I have this problem.
I’ve written four full-length novels,
and written to the miserable middles of four more,
but I have yet to submit anything—seriously–for publication.
My problem?
Even after twenty years of practice, nothing
is ever good enough if it came out of my head.
I’m still learning, you see. I still don’t know everything.
No matter how well written something looks to me now,
I’m going to see it in another year and cringe at how flawed it is.
I don’t want to see my own literary flaws
immortalized on some bookstore shelf–
If I ever get that lucky.
I have a lot of very encouraging friends who tell me,
“Just keep trying,” and I do.
My back-brain tells me, “Just keep writing,”
and I will.
Someday I’ll be able to read my own writing
and judge accurately what needs to stay and what needs to go,
but for now, I rely on a dear friend:
Other people’s ideas.

So now, without further ado, I give you: Lauren’s List of Words to Eliminate! (Is this plagiarism? Now excuse me while I go do some editing.)

That
of
ing
ly
just
then
finally
like
as
sound of
made of
so, finally, of course
precisely, slowly, quickly, quietly, softly
all forms of to be
could, should, may, would, can linked to a verb
have, has, had, will, shall, might, must
The word “breathed”—or “hissed” or “growled’ or any other animal sound– used as a tag
amusement vs interest
stare or staring
names of animals–appropriate?
Names used where they should not be (mainly in conversation)


Giving other writers a hand

Some of you may have already come across the wonderfully pithy and inspiring “Hand in Hand” photo gallery put together by the Wofford College Shared Worlds writing workshop this summer (a writing program for teens interested in speculative fiction). It’s a collection of photos of writing advice inscribed on the hands of various professional speculative fiction writers.

The entire gallery is worth checking out. Here are a few of my favorites:

Neil Gaiman

David Drake

Lev Grossman

Joe Haldeman

Karen Tidbeck

Go check out the whole gallery and share your own favorites in the comments.


The Places that Shape Us

By Jocelyn Nash Carlin

This past week I had the opportunity to revisit many places from my past. My parents, after 32 years, are moving out of the home they raised me in and down-sizing their way into a town home in a retirement community. They live one sate away, and I drove with the whole family out to see the home one more time and to help them pack their three decades of accumulated stuff into boxes to prepare for the movers. My home town looks very much the same if you stay in the neighborhood of my childhood. The houses haven’t changed much – some are in need of repair, others have been well-maintained and updated. Some of the yards are well-kept, others less so. But the same was true during my youth. The only major change is that the trees are taller and there are a few extra cracks in the sidewalks. On the other hand, as I drove further afield, I noticed more and more changes. Old shops ripped down and replaced with new. Once-empty fields now filled to the brim with housing tracts. Bright new storefronts and restaurants. Even my old middle school had been completely demolished and replaced with a new building. The place I grew up in had continued to grow and change without me, as if it had a life of its own. It was more than a little disorienting.

Then, on the way home from our visit, we took a detour to the town my father grew up in, to see the old farmhouse once owned by my paternal grandparents. They’ve been gone for about six years now, and my uncle owns the house. I haven’t been back since he and my father decided to subdivide the old farm and turn it into housing lots. The house looks the same on the outside – the same red brick, surrounded by tall trees. The towering catalpa still casts shade over the driveway with it’s dinner-plate sized leaves, the old root cellar resting a few yards behind it. But the familiar fences and outbuildings of the old farm are long gone. Where once stood an old barn and granary there is now a row of ranch-style stucco-coated homes with SUVs parked in front drives and swing sets and propane grills standing in the back. The old bull-pen has been replaced by a street, and a round-about sits right about where another old shed once resided. The reality of progress has washed away the places of my memories, leaving only ghosts behind.

This nostalgia-filled journey got me thinking about just how much our sense of place informs our writing. I can set a story in a city, or a forest, or a frozen waste, or on a space-faring vessel, but in the back of my mind I see rolling fields and distant mountains – gullies lined with scrub and cottonwood – housing tracts and hay pastures standing side by side. Just how much of that makes its way into my writing? How does it inform the way I conceive the worlds I create?

In his study of the Apache sense of place, Wisdom Sits in Places, anthropologist Keith Basso writes:

“…places are perceived in terms of their outward aspect – as being on their manifest surfaces, the familiar places they are – and unless something happens to dislodge these perceptions they are left, as it were, to their own enduring devices. But then something does happen. Perhaps one spots a freshly fallen tree, or a bit of flaking paint, or a house where none has stood before – any disturbance, large or small, that inscribes the passage of time – and a place presents itself as bearing on prior events. And at the precise moment, when ordinary perceptions begin to loosen their hold, a border has been crossed and the country starts to change. Awareness has shifted its footing, and the character of the place, now transfigured by thoughts of an earlier day, swiftly takes on a new and foreign look.”

I’ve been seeing the places of my past as colored by this new and foreign look all week long. It makes me wonder how that disorientation of past memories colliding with present realities impacted Gimli when he stepped inside the mines of Moria, or how different Green Gables seemed to Anne when she returned from college with a new perspective, or how difficult it must have been for Odysseus to get used to his home after being away for so very long.

The interplay of one’s memories of a place with the alterations left by the passage of time is fertile ground for exploration in our writing. Now that I’ve had a taste of it in my own life it’s definitely something I’ll spend more time thinking about as I write.


Call it Instinct

Most authors don’t think about poetry when they’re writing, but they’re well aware of the flow of words, how the words will sound and the rhythm behind them. A battle scene uses smaller, focused words. A love scene (usually) uses softer, smoother words.

For most people the rhythm of language is instinctive. We use it all the time in conversation, in e-mails, in other forms of writing, but for some reason when we sit down to write we think that we need something different.

We don’t. Think of the last argument you had. Did you stop to think about how to make the words flow? I doubt it. And yet the argument moved without a hitch. If you have an argument between characters it’s going to flow in a similar way, with similar words and emotions.

I doubt that you took time to elucidate the abstract considerations of the debate or describe the color of the walls. Um…no. So in writing an argument, description comes far down the list–unless the argument is about the color of the paint, your characters are not going to notice. Nor will your readers, if the scene is constructed properly.

When I think of a battle, I’m thinking lunge, thrust, crunch, dart. Single syllable words that make the reader move faster through my prose. Short, punchy sentences because the scene is moving fast in my head.

In an emotional scene I don’t necessarily want the words to flow faster–I want to give my readers time to absorb what is happening, to experience it. So I choose words and structure sentences that will create a setting and a mood–far more setting and mood than I would use in the battle scene.

People in a battle are going to be paying more attention to their footing and avoiding that sword than to the color of the sky or the fact that their father is missing. Those are considerations for after the action.

You really don’t want people getting lost in your lyrical prose while a sword is swinging toward your MC’s head. You also don’t want your readers speeding through an emotional goodbye scene.

Pacing, rhythm and flow are mostly about scene logic–they should be instinctive. Just like a conversation, if we choose the correct words and structure we’ll end up with a scene that flows and leads readers through to the next, without drawing attention to the fact that it was carefully constructed to do so.