Monthly Archives: October 2016

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horrible writing

Horrible Writing: What Makes Truly Scary Prose

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Happy Halloween, writers! Tonight’s holiday might seem to be a good time to explore how to structure a horror novel, write a screamer of a short story, or develop a fantastically ghoulish character. But why stick to the script? Halloween’s a night for lawlessness of all kinds, so I’m going to buck the trend and talk about truly horrible writing — the kind that makes readers cringe for all the wrong reasons.

On Horrible Writing

Let’s begin with the Holy Grail of horrible writing contests, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Award. Every year since 1983, this award has been given to the most awful opening lines ever written. I’m a bit confused as to why Buller-Lytton was considered such an awful writer, as he did give us the infamous “It was a dark and stormy night.” Nonetheless, the contest persists, and has given us gems like:

She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palatable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination. — Chris Wieloch

She sipped her latte gracefully, unaware of the milk foam droplets building on her mustache, which was not the peachy-fine baby fuzz that Nordic girls might have, but a really dense, dark, hirsute lip-lining row of fur common to southern Mediterranean ladies nearing menopause, and winked at the obviously charmed Spaniard at the next table. — Jeanne Villa

Here’s a truly frightening thought — I kind of like that second one.

Moving along, let’s look at one of the most popular (really, people, for shame) pieces of, er, literature in recent years: 50 Shades of Grey. E.L. James is guilty of many, many sins in this tome, but it’s made her a crap-ton of money, so who am I to judge? Oh, right, I’m also a reader, so judge I may — yippee! I think E.L. was off her meds when she sat down to write. Much of her prose is sprinkled with horrible writing concerning communications from her all-too-real subconscious and a rather cheeky presence known as her “inner goddess”. Ugh. Take a valium now, because here we go:

  1. “My very small inner goddess sways in a gentle victorious samba.”
  2. “My subconscious has found her Nikes, and she’s on the starting blocks.’
  3. “My inner goddess glares at me, tapping her small foot impatiently.”
  4. “Jeez, he looks so freaking hot. My subconscious is frantically fanning herself and my inner goddess is swaying and writhing to some primal carnal rhythm.

Hmmm. She’s got quite a few people in her head. Too bad none of them are writers.

Let’s contrast her with the mother of all scary writers, Stephen King. He’s sold a kajillion books (okay, 350 million, but who’s counting?), consistently appears on the NYT bestseller list, and has even written books on writing (On Writing – buy it and he wins again!). But he’s not immune to shitty writing, either. This great article in the Huffington Post explores a passage from Mr. Mercedes, one of his recent releases, as an example of bad writing, King-style. The upshot of the article is that Stephen King seems to be okay with bad writing as long as the story is good. And, of course, as long as it’s his version of bad writing and not yours. Another article in Salon wonders at King’s bestselling status and considers him overhyped as both writer and storyteller.

Well, maybe he is and maybe he’s not. After all, much of what is considered good or bad (read that second Bulwer-Lytton submission again) is just opinion. Yours. Mine. Theirs. If you can tap into a niche of people whose synapses fire like yours do, you’re in. You’ll be a bestseller, no matter what the crabbed naysayers may shout from the sidelines.

I want my writing to be great. I want everyone to love it. But fact is, not everyone will. Ever. Even if you sell 350 million books, you’ll still contend with crushing criticism from the people in the cheap seats. E.L. James might be raked over the literary coals, but her inner goddess is cashing checks that say somewhere around 60 million people bought, and perhaps liked, her book.

So finally, it comes down to this: popularity. Not the structure of your sentences, the twisting of your plot, or the complexity of your characters, but whether or not your story strikes a chord with readers. There’s no magic formula, no golden ticket, and no rules that will set you on the road to fortune and glory. And that, dear writers, is the truly scary part.

Before I leave you on this awesomely frightening holiday, let me give you one message of good cheer–a lifeline to cling to when you’re ship is well and truly sunk, if you will. The one thing you can control is the amount of writing you produce. If you feel like practice makes perfect, then obviously more is better. If, instead, you look at publishing and popularity like a lottery, then everyone knows the more times you play the more chances you have of winning.

So write. Write lots. Win. 

Boo!

 


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how to edit like an artist

How to Edit Like An Artist

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Writers are adept at painting pictures with words. There are bold and colorful strokes for an ecstatic passage; more subtle ones for a paragraph filled with tension or mystery. Like every piece of art, your writing will benefit from an editor’s touch. And if you’re editing your own work, it’s important to know how to edit like an artist for maximum impact.

I paint and draw as well as write, so editing like an artist comes naturally to me. If you want to learn how, here are a few things to keep in mind.

How to Edit Like An Artist

First, remember that every creative person is different. What works for me may not work for you, and that’s part of what makes our world so colorful, crazy, and unpredictable — just the way I like it. After all, it’s not very creative to simply follow the rules. Remember, you can modify and test everything until you find what suits you and your special style of writing best.

When I paint, I lay down a charcoal sketch first and then put brush to canvas, but when I write, it’s a whole different story. I’m what many writers call a “pantser”, or a writer who writes without an outline, or in my case, any inkling of where I’m going to begin with. That characteristic means that’s one less element to consider when deciding how to edit.

When I paint, I lay on great swathes of color to determine the general structure and direction of the painting. Then I edit by adding details in subtle layers. If I end up with too many details in some areas and the painting looks busy, I simply paint over them. In writing, I take similar steps. I write in a kind of stream-of-consciousness manner that I liken to those colorful areas on my canvas. Because of this, I don’t worry about how to edit while I’m in the midst of it — I just let my writing flow without regard to grammar, diction, or plot details.

I begin detailing after I get that first draft out. First, I make a fact sweep to check that data is cohesive throughout the story. I decide where more plot or character details are necessary and add them. I create subplots if the story seems weak and weave them in. Finally, I add the embellishments: additional descriptive language and dialogue, tweaks on existing passages, and maybe a scene or two.

Then, I’m ready for the final edit. When deciding how to edit your completed work, don’t discount the idea of sending it out for a proper proofreading. While I usually manage a quick clean-up of grammar, spelling, and punctuation myself, I always get a proofreader to check it over after me. After all, I’ve looked at the document dozens of time by now and my eyes are not as sharply attuned to errors as someone who’s seeing it fresh.

No matter what your writing style, treat your manuscript like a work of art in a way that seems intuitive to you. Get the big parts down and then pencil in the details. See the structure of the story as a painting of many elements and arrange them in a pleasing way for the best composition. When you do, you’ll find your writing becoming more colorful, compelling, and creative.

See you on the next page!

 


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new adult novel

New Adult Fiction: A Young Genre with Big Potential

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I’m amazed at how much in the publishing world slips by me, given that I’m a voracious reader and author. The New Adult genre was one of those things I feel like I probably should’ve known about, but didn’t. Thank goodness for author Sonya Ray, whose New Adult series of books pulled me into the 21st century and served as my introduction to this fascinating genre.

A Brief History of the New Adult Genre

The term New Adult (NA) fiction was coined in 2009 by St. Martin’s Press. They discovered a niche that, while similar to Young Adult (YA), could be marketed to a slightly older crowd as well. With its softer approach to sexuality than traditional adult literature, it can even be appropriate for older teens that have more advanced reading skills. This fits perfectly with its demographic, which is readers between 18 and 30.

Protagonists are generally in the 18-25 age bracket. They face issues common to this age group: leaving home, sexuality, and choices associated with education and career.  Traditionally, the YA fiction protagonist is trapped in youth by lack of perspective, leaving many life issues and experiences unaddressed. The new adult protagonist has the advantage of facing issues that require external, as well as internal, insight. These can include college experiences, new jobs, financial independence, and marriages and family beginnings. New adult characters are often more complex, with multifaceted interests and skills that appeal to a wider audience.

Another reason this genre intrigues readers is that, while it focuses on intricate adult matters, it also covers themes common in YA fiction, such as depression, suicide, drug abuse, and bullying. Its dual nature, a delicate compromise between the idealism of youth and the hard reality of adulthood, makes it the perfect backdrop for compelling fiction plots.

A Perfect Example

So, back to Sonya Ray, author of the Three Crowns series, which is categorized as a New Adult/Paranormal Romance. Sweet Tea is the first in the series, and a book which I am eagerly reading every chance I get. Ms. Ray’s writing is compelling and her characters intriguing and complex.

As Sonya says, the Three Crowns series:

“(The series) is about a normal girl whose life is more than what she will allow herself to imagine. It’s her journey of accepting that not everything is black and white. She learns that understanding something doesn’t mean things don’t exist beyond that understanding. Throughout the story she is protected, loved, groomed and pushed to her limits to prepare her for what lies ahead of her. She is tested in all areas of her humanity which will someday bring her to know the person she is destined to be. The human nature of love is a tangled web of emotions for she feels the love of two men who are continually being taken away from her for the sake of their positions in the future as well.”

Here’s what she says about finding her spot among other New Adult authors:

Prior to publishing Sweet Tea, my Editor and I discussed how I wanted to label this series. Although the series begins with high school seniors, it follows the kids as they grow up and deal with adult issues. For that reason, I did not place it under YA. But there wasn’t anything that really fit the series well. For example, it’s not Adult because that is generally erotica, such as Fifty-Shades of Grey. It’s not Chick Lit, because we’re dealing with various young people as they mature. There are “firsts” throughout the series dealing with intimacy. There are also hard core issues that are dealt with as the stories progress. Keeping in mind that this is fiction writing, by Book Six the vampires are calling the humans the true monsters.

Thankfully, my Editor and I agree that the New Adult genre offers a good fit for The Three Crowns in terms of its content. I want to reiterate that there is no hard core sex such as in Fifty-Shades, but there is intimacy that may be inappropriate for certain ages. I have had several parents ask me if I felt this was appropriate for their “age” child. Being a parent myself, that is not a call that I would make for another. I always urge the parent to read the book and decide for their child.

So far, Sweet Tea is fascinating and definitely a great example of this “new” genre. There are seven books to complete the series, with a novella to follow. Five books are currently available through Amazon, with the sixth installment coming soon. Check them out and prepare to be drawn into Ray’s world of love, chaos, and destiny. And, if you’re a writer whose current novel doesn’t “fit”, try the New Adult genre on for size. With its potential to reach a larger audience, it could what your books needs to get noticed.

See you on the next page!

After Sweet Tea, there’s North, Broken Boundaries, Absolution, and Legacy. Click the covers to enjoy!

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apocalyptic writing event

3 Tools to Survive An Apocalyptic Writing Event

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Can you survive a terminal writing event? What would you do if you woke up one morning to discover all your writing had disappeared overnight? Every stroke of literary genius, every word made flesh on the page — gone. What, especially, would you do if your soon-to-be-published novel was a part of that giant data dump?

I’ll tell you what I did, because this scenario happened to me this weekend. Every shred of writing I ever produced was lost. I screamed, cried, and invoked the gods of computer science. I called down a generational curse upon the geniuses at Apple, whose latest OS release, Sierra, took out my hard drive.

Yes, with not so much as a click-whirr, my data took the swirly ride down the computer equivalent of the porcelain throne. All that was lacking was the vigorous flushing sound. Panicked, I searched online for possible solutions. I tried in vain to reboot in safe mode or even run disk utilities. Nothing worked.

Thankfully, I had a WD Passport (an external hard drive) that, as far as I know, has been backing itself up nicely at regular intervals. But I can’t be certain.

In abject misery, I headed to the nearest Apple store to see if anything could be saved. After chatting with the employees, I bought a brand spanking-new machine (yay!) at a hefty price tag (boo) and have my fingers crossed that the IT specialists there will be able to retrieve my heart and soul from the smoking ruins of my six-year-old machine.

In the meantime, I’m lucky enough to have a laptop as a backup. None of my files are here, but at least it can function to keep me connected. Considering how decidedly suicidal I’m feeling over the situation at present, I figure I need to have an emergency plan in place in the case of future writing events of a similar nature. Said plan will be able to save me and my life’s work in case of the zombie apocalypse or another iOS release, whichever comes first. Here’s what I think it’s gonna take to endure:

Apocalyptic Writing Event Survival Kit

  • You need a reliable external hard drive. Next time, I’m opting for a cloud drive, which will make my documents available across all devices and from anywhere in the world, regardless of the state of my stand-alone computer.
  • A hard copy of all my passwords. Passwords for all of my business and personal accounts were encrypted on my computer. I don’t have a hard copy. My passwords are pretty hard to memorize, so without a hard copy I’d have to get new passwords for every single account I use.
  • Hard copies of all written works. This one seems a pain and maybe even a waste of ink, but having hard copies of all my writing right now would save me a ton of stress and angst, not to mention cut down on the number of margaritas I have to drink to stay centered. In the past, I’ve burned hard copies of everything, but recently went to digital-only storage to save paper and time. Don’t do it! Always have a hard copy!

I won’t know until tomorrow if Operation Data Retrieval was successful. But I do know that, moving forward, I’m going to be far more careful with, and protective of, the contents of my machine in case of another writing event like this one. So, as my old Latin professor would say, scriptores cave—writers beware—and protect your writing like it was the gold of Croesus. After all, it just might be!


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dark side of writing

The Dark Side of Writing

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If you write long enough, you know that being a writer has a dark side. A side so inky that it seems to suck every mote of brilliance from my universe and stuff it down a maw as black as a politician’s heart. That dark.

Even before Catholic mystic St. John of the Cross wrote the treatise that spawned the term “the long, dark night of the soul,” creatives everywhere have recognized the gloomy sides to their otherwise bright and spangle-filled worlds. It’s no secret that writers and other creatives are much more prone to depression, sensitivity, and moodiness than your average Joe. We see things differently than others, and this often makes us feel odd or alienated.  To cope, we sometimes arrange our lives to allow for thoughtful retreat from the ant-like business of humanity, and then end up feeling more isolated. Luckily, we aren’t afraid of our darkness, and often tap into it to create our best and most impactful works.

While having a midnight moment of my own, I discovered the book Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. In it is this simple chart that pretty much sums up one of my writing projects:

dark side of writing

From Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

While even the upswing on the chart seems gloomy, it did shed light on the lifecycle of my dark side. Project beginnings are heralded with an admixture of adrenaline and hopefulness. I feel invincible — like whatever I’m working on is going to be The Next Big Thing. Then, I realize it’s gonna take time–and lots of it–to make it a success. I begin to obsess on finding morsels of available moments that I can cannibalize for my creativity’s sake. Ultimately, everything takes longer than expected, at which point boredom sets in and I’m fully immersed in the dark side of writing. I’m bored. I’m demoralized. I’m convinced no one will want to read what I’ve written anyway. I think, “Why bother?”

But, sure as there’s a silver lining to at least one cumulonimbus in the sky, my attitude will eventually muscle its way back into the sunshine. Perhaps I’m not as fresh-faced and glowy as when I began, but I’m able to see the benefit in continuing on.

What this chart’s missing, though, is the second half of the story. After all is said and done, I don’t always think the end result sucks. In fact, sometimes I think it’s pretty damn good. What’s even more important is that the next time I’m working on a project, my lows aren’t as low as the last time. Oh, sure, every once in awhile I’ll dip my toe in the depths of the abyss, but the more I produce, the more I realize that the vicious cycle is neither vicious, not cyclical.  It moves and fluctuates with my moods and the seasons of my life. Like a living being, my creativity is unpredictable, mutable, and capricious.

The best thing you can do for your dark side is to make friends with it. Love your creative process, whether it be curled up like an emo 16-year-old under your bed or dancing in abandon on the ceiling. Chances are, you’ll experience highs, lows and everything in between while you’re working through it. Embrace it all. It’s all part of what goes into the making of some of the best writing on the planet —yours.

 


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