Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Less is more

Make every word count. It's not just good advice. It's what your editor expects from you. Everybody knows adverbs are the devil, right? Your characters don't need to dance gracefully or smile happily (though we might need to hear about it if they're smiling sadly.) But it isn't just extra adverbs that gum up the works of your manuscript. Here are a few other superfluous devils to consider:

1. Wordy structure: 'The pages of the book were yellow with age.' Why not 'the book's pages'?

2. Echoes or overused words: We've all got 'em. Mine are 'tiny' and 'just.' Oh yes, everything I write about is just tiny. And then there are manuscript-specific ones. For Venom, they were 'murky' and 'cavernous.' Murky canals and cavernous palazzos on every freaking street corner. Usually you can pick these out in revision, do a 'find', and replace as necessary. Alternatively, you can paste your whole manuscript into a wordle and it'll give you a cute graphical representation of your verbal crutches.

3. Redundant or excessive modifiers:' The frigid, cold winter.' Simplistic, but I see this construction all the time. 'A thin coating of snow, luminous and iceblown, encased the car is a shell of crystal white.' Sounds good, but what is it really saying? Anywhere you are using two adjectives to modify a noun, I would ask yourself a) if you could show instead of tell and b) do you really need both?

4. Extra prepositional phrases: 'Cass sat up in bed.' If your character has been dreaming or sleeping, chances are we know they are in bed. 'Sam glanced around the room and was surprised to see a rabid chicken advancing.' Why not just 'Sam saw a rabid chicken advancing'? (and then show the surprise.) 'It's in the third drawer of the wooden dresser by the window in your bedroom.' Do you really need all that? Maybe you do. The idea is not to strike all the prepositional phrases, just to recognize them and make a conscious decision as to whether they add anything.

5. TM freaking I: It's the Moby Dick phenomenon. Maybe you're an expert in marine biology. Cool, but kids reading your fun MG adventure about a boy who falls off a cruise ship and gets saved by a pod of dolphins don't care. They don't need to read two pages about what dolphins eat. They just want enough description/information to visualize the pod, to feel like they're really there. Plus, if you fell off a cruise ship would you really be watching dolphins eat? No, you'd be freaking out, wondering if you're going to die, and watching for sharks. Well, I would be anyway.

6. Body parts doing their own thing: 'My eyes lifted upward, ever so slightly.' 'My feet carried me away from the brawl that had just broken out.' 'My fingers reached out to touch the stubble of his beard.' There are some places where this kind of writing might be best for tone or style purposes, but again, you should be conscious of your characters' wayward body parts. Unless her eyes are lifting upward while the rest of her is collapsing into a puddle of blood in the street, 'I glanced upward,' probably gets the job done. Did I mention 'glance' is another one of my overused words?

It's not just about weighing down your manuscript with clunky writing; it's also a financial matter. Longer books cost more to edit, copy edit, and produce. As someone whose debut novel weighs in at a hefty 113,000 words, I can tell you that my editor and I were grateful for every single syllable we were able to trim away without sacrificing the story.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Things for which I am NOT thankful

I thought I'd follow up Wednesday's 'Thankful' post with a fun look at a few things that drive me cray-cray. We've all got them. Here are some of mine:

1. People who start a sentence with "I don't mean to be a bitch, but...." Then don't. Moving on.

2. Twitter spammers. I will follow back most people, but I will drop you like a rabid raccoon if 99% of your posts are shameless self-promotion. I only get on twitter a couple times a week. If I've seen the same amazon review blurb about your awesome mystery book at least 7 times in a single week, that means you're resending the same tweet like 20 times a week. No. Just no. Also, if all your tweets are Please follow => @randomstranger, @randomstrangersmom, @irrelevant, @couldbeanyone... you're also getting unfollowed. I mean, WHO actually follows people for no reason at all???? I'm more about quality, than quantity, if you know what I mean.

3. Insane pseudo-professional cyclists. The asphalt loop around Forest Park is NOT the Tour de France. It is a place for wobbly rollerbladers and jogglers (a jogger who juggles--quite a feat) and freaking little kids on bikes with training wheels. I realize your padded spandex shorts make you feel like a professional, but if you can't slow down for five seconds or share the track then you need to GTFO before someone gets killed, okay?

4. Pet rent. So let me get this straight. I can move in a gainfully-employed, big, sweaty boyfriend who will undoubtedly spill a different flavor of beer on the carpet every week during Monday Night Football for free, but my unemployed cats, whose biggest crimes will be shedding all over my sofa, have to pay monthly rent in addition to their separate security deposit? Something's not right about that.

5. Clueless reviewers. I'm not talking about the mean-spirited people on goodreads who mistakenly think it's funny to decorate their 1-star reviews with jpegs of cartoon characters spewing vomit on book covers. Those people deserve a blog post all of their own. Right now I'm cranky at the people who say:

 "This book really pulled me in and I loved the main character and the setting was so exotic and I really liked everything up until I realized Fabulous Author was presenting Christianity as if it were a myth and I'm Christian so I just couldn't agree with that. 1 star."

Really? So Fabulous Author is maybe a different religion than you are, or maybe she's the same religion, but since this is a work of FICTION her character feels differently, and for that you feel justified giving Amazing YA Novel it's only 1-star review? Ditto for the people who say "I really liked it, Breakout Author is a phenomenal writer, but her MC had sex with an older guy and I just don't think we should be marketing this to teens. 1 star."

What about the parts of these reviews (and yes, they are paraphrased but real) that say "really pulled me in", "loved the MC", "really liked it", "phenomenal writer"? Do these not warrant any stars at all? Rating books should be about how you viewed the work overall, not about your political agenda. And I say that as a writer, reader, and book reviewer.

What's driving YOU crazy?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Things for which I am thankful

Family, friends, colleagues, coworkers, cool patients, that inspector at the auto place who passed my car even though it has a big crack in the windshield, sleeping kitties, sunshine, music, Harry Potter books, blue nail polish, guys with mohawks, guys who make me laugh, girls who make me laugh, kitties who make me laugh, cupcakes as big as my head,, libraries, rent control, coffee shops, people who put themselves in harm's way to save animals or other people, little kids who say 'hi' to me in the grocery store line (bonus points if they have mohawks), and anybody who honestly is trying to make the world a better place, even if the only thing they can do is smile at a stranger.

Never doubt the life-saving power of your smile.

Friday, November 18, 2011

We have achieved ISBN

Okay, so me and a couple of my best pals (and even they might have been humoring me) are probably the only ones who went *squee* when we came across the ISBN and release date for Venom. But if you want to see it, it's here.

Or if you like to think of yourself as anti-establishment, as I sometimes do, it's also here. (though I don't know about the espionage and detective stories classifications. That might be stretching it.)

The coolest thing about finding this is the release date: October 30, 2012. AKA Devil's Night. And the coolest thing about Devil's Night is not that a bunch of thugs in Detroit act a fool, but that it happens to be the night on which the movie The Crow takes place. And anyone who knows me knows that I love that movie so much I can quote just about every line by heart.

Monday, November 14, 2011

TV for writers

In Stephen King’s book On Writing (which is a fabulous read, even if you’re not a fan of his fiction), he recommends that committed writers not waste time "suckling from the glass teat." The dude's got a point. A recent Nielsen survey reported the average American spends 35 hours a week in front of the television. How is that even possible??

As someone with no cable, no satellite, and a boxy 1990s twenty-incher in my living room, I don't watch much TV. But every once in a while something comes along that I just can’t resist. The kind of show where I will watch the episodes over and over and over, rather than even look for anything new. (I do this with Harry Potter movies too, and songs on my iPod, and certain books. Did I mention I have an addictive personality?)
Anyway, I tell myself it’s okay to indulge in these shows because they are so fantabuloso in their voice or characterization that watching them will help me become a better writer. Is this total rationalization? Probably. But still, these shows are really reeeeeeeally good. Most of them didn’t last more than a season or two, probably because the writerly demographic who would have loved them was too busy reading and, you know, actually writing stuff to watch. We’ll just have to blame Stephen King for that.

1.      Firefly: I had to be forced, kicking and screaming (okay, really I was stuck at O’Hare with nothing to do and a Firefly DVD foisted upon me by a well meaning geek-pal) to watch a couple episodes of Joss Whedon’s space-western. Did I mention I hate westerns? Also, not so fond of space. But there’s just something about this ragtag crew of misfit smugglers and stowaways that really sucked me in. And the smoldering non-relationship between ship’s captain Mal Reynolds and intergalactic courtesan Inara Serra is one of the hottest things I ever saw on television.

2.      Veronica Mars: The hottest thing I ever saw on television was the chemistry between emotionally-broken teen detective Veronica and privileged, but misunderstood bad boy Logan Echolls. Seriously. Their dynamic is so sizzling that when I blew through all three seasons of the show in a month I went scouring the web for fan fiction. (It’s out there and some of it is naughty! I’m just sayin’.) Veronica Mars was created by YA author Rob Thomas and the dialogue is near-perfect. If your teen characters are sounding like middle-aged people, this is a must-see for you.

3.      Wonderfalls: Back before the world was ready for magical realism, snarky underachiever Jaye Tyler graduated from her Ivy league college and promptly began a promising career…at a Niagara Falls gift shop. Where the souvenirs started talking to her. Watching Jaye wrestle with whether or not she should heed the advice of tacky gift shop trinkets is hilarious, and surprisingly poignant at times. Tragically, this serendipitous find (thanks Netflix, I did enjoy it) only made it for half of a season.

4.      Twin Peaks: There’s a reason people still remember this mind-bending series from over twenty years ago. Several reasons, in fact. The set-up couldn’t have been more basic: who killed the popular girl? But everything else about the show was shrouded in mystery. All of the characters had secrets. Viewers were never certain if they could trust the FBI agent main character. And let’s not forget those dream sequences. If you want to stray from the traditional novel format, Twin Peaks is a great example of weirdness that worked.

5.      Grey’s Anatomy: I know, I know. As a part-time RN, I should despise this show for portraying nurses as only being good for on-call room sexy-time and spreading syphilis. But don’t hate it just because it’s popular. Shonda Rhimes is a modern day Euripedes. Not only does she make viewers give a crap about a bunch of spoiled surgeons who will never face a lot of the problems we regular people do, she gives us catharsis every episode. Yes, I cry. Every Episode. And I never feel like my emotions have been manipulated. That’s good writing, peeps.

Do you agree or disagree? What are your favorite TV shows and why?