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Work Room - Week 6, Part 2

I promised you a Mentor, and here she is! :)

I was really hoping to get tigrkittn involved somehow with this season, but she's been so busy lately that it was going to be tough. I was really happy when she said she would be able to Mentor you guys this week.

I've got to get to work, so here's the link to last night's Work Room: http://therealljidol.livejournal.com/971205.html

The Results/sudden death announcement: http://therealljidol.livejournal.com/970905.html

and the new topic: http://therealljidol.livejournal.com/971359.html

And here's your favorite kittn! ;)

I can't believe it's been eight years since I first discovered LJ Idol and started writing seriously for the first time in my life! I’ve gotten so much out of this game – wonderful friends, a new career I never would have attempted otherwise – www.shadowcatediting.com – and of course the opportunity to read hundreds (thousands?) of incredible stories written in various stages of deadline-induced panic.

Most of us are amateurs – or at least start out that way – and that means we’re writing pretty much from the gut. We haven’t necessarily studied a lot of books on the craft, taken any creative writing courses, or had our work professionally edited. And here’s where that initially puts us at a disadvantage, if we’re trying to write the highest quality essays and stories we can:

We don’t know what we don’t know.

Cliché? Sure, but that’s because it’s true – and that’s actually great news! Yes, really. Bear with me for a minute.

It’s great news because as soon as you discover something that you didn’t know before, your work can grow by leaps and bounds almost overnight. Writerly “tics” I’ve seen recently:

Favorite words. If your characters are staring, grinning, or nodding their way through your story, readers will notice – often before you do. Do events often happen “suddenly” in your work? How many times did you use the word “just” in your last story?

Favorite punctuation marks. Exclamation points and em dashes are likely culprits here. I’m overly fond of both, myself, and reducing their number is often a specific goal when I self-edit my own work before sending it to a pro.

“Words to use instead of said.” Several wonderful writers and editors have already written about this at great length and much more eloquently than I about why not to do this, so I won’t try to reinvent the wheel, but here’s the gist: “said” is invisible, and invisible is good. Unusual dialogue tags draw attention – and they’re drawing it away from what the character actually said and onto your description of it. Instead of describing how something was said, choose words that leave no question.

Short choppy sentences. They look fine when I’m writing them. I know what I’m saying. The scene is playing out in my head as I write. There are several things happening at once, or in sequence. Each one needs to be pointed out. Otherwise the reader won’t see what I see. But is this the best way to do it?
Dialogue tags that aren’t. This can be related to avoiding the word said, but not always. It’s often connected to actions, as in “We should order pizza,” she grinned. Or, “You never let me get anchovies,” he growled. Well, no. Have you ever tried to talk while growling? Try it. We can’t really growl sentences, and we definitely can’t grin them.

These are just a few examples, but practically every writer has some sort of habit that sneaks in to their work when they aren’t looking. So why am I bringing up these issues and not telling you what to do about them? Because you’re smart, and these problems aren’t rocket science. You know what to do about them – unless you don’t know you’re doing them.

That’s often where an editor or beta reader steps in – but you all have each other! Writing buddies can help you create your personal list of “quirks to watch out for” and give your work an instant boost.

So now it’s your turn – have you noticed any unusual or conspicuous habits in someone else’s writing? (When I’m listening to Dresden Files books in the car, I count how many times Jim Butcher uses the word “oblique” – it drives me batty!) Or in your own? Be brave – ’fess up! Then we’ll all know what to watch for!


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 19th, 2017 02:32 pm (UTC)
From a guy whose job involves copy-editing
...and past 11th-placer in Idol:

Active voice, not passive: "She stood..." rather than "She was standing..."

Limit adverbs -- really! ;)

And, while cliche, is true, less is more. Write to your heart's desire on the first draft, but then don't be afraid to prune down the flowery language. Is that word or phrase necessary? Can it be said more succinctly? Is it hurting the flow in your narrative or an essay's train of thought?

Also, one thing I've noticed throughout the writing world is ellipsis abuse...
In journalism, the dot-dot-dot is supposed to signify in a quote where we skipped a bunch of stuff that was beside the point to bring in the next thing he said. (In dialogue, it signifies an interruption, that's OK and I'm mainly thinking of regular prose and essays here.)

Many times, to cause a reader pause and/or set off the next phrase, an em-dash (the long dash or double-dash) will do. And watch how often those long dashes pop up as well -- they are a seasoning, not an ingredient. If you find yourself wanting an ellipsis, would it read just as well if you just hit return and went to the next paragraph?

Still, sometimes if if feels right you can bend practically any rule, but remember, a good team never relies only on its trick plays.
Jan. 19th, 2017 05:23 pm (UTC)
I use "and" in my poetry in a repetitive manner. A lot. I'm trying to move away from that.
Jan. 20th, 2017 07:42 am (UTC)
Hello, my name is Misty, and I abuse and occasionally misuse the poor ellipsis.
Jan. 20th, 2017 03:11 pm (UTC)
Me too! I love ellipsis...
Jan. 20th, 2017 08:49 pm (UTC)
Another one of my personal faves! Although I recently read something where the ellipsis was being used where an em dash belonged and the page looked like it was made of swiss cheese... <-- just had to!
Jan. 20th, 2017 10:16 pm (UTC)
The book I'm working on right now has about 450 pages and almost 200 ellipses. That could be a little too much love... what do you think??
Jan. 20th, 2017 03:36 pm (UTC)

*reads comment about ellipsis usage*
*side-eyes current WIP*
*hovers fingers over delete button*

Jan. 20th, 2017 03:57 pm (UTC)

Never delete! Just keep writing! 

Edit as needed but keep a copy of your raw first draft.

Jan. 20th, 2017 08:51 pm (UTC)
First draft aka vomit draft - just get it all out. (I'm forever in Whipchick's debt for that one!)
Jan. 20th, 2017 03:51 pm (UTC)

I heard Stephanie Meyer used the word chagrined a lot but I never readTwilight.

I tend to catch words and phrases that authors repeat in the same work/series and it takes me out of the story

I just finished rotting my brain withreading a smexy romance where the characters were constantly trying to "swallow around a lump in their throat/dry throat," I was reading on a kindle so I finally did a search and the phrase was used 23 times!

In my own work suddenlyis a word I'm often editing out, also: then, just, very

I also lurv run on sentences so I use anda lot and have a thing for semi colons.

Edited at 2017-01-20 04:07 pm (UTC)
Jan. 20th, 2017 08:53 pm (UTC)
Semicolons are vastly underappreciated, mostly because so many people aren't sure quite what they are for.
Jan. 22nd, 2017 04:29 am (UTC)
I read the entire Twilight series because friends told me, "It gets so much better, it's so worth it, just stick with it!"

I didn't notice chagrined, but OMG, every other page, someone "glowered" at someone else. "He glowered." "She glowered." "...he said, glowering." "He narrowed his eyes and glowered."

OMG JUST STOP. It was horrible. And for the record, the series did not get better, nor was it "worth it." I carry a lot of disdain for her and the series, honestly.

As for my own writing, I know I repeat myself too often, use "and" a lot, and use passive voice too often. I have been learning to look for those things and fix them up. I don't want my writing to be too repetitive or boring.
Jan. 23rd, 2017 12:14 am (UTC)
One of my friends has a horrible time overusing the word "seriously," as in "She seriously needed to do X."
Jan. 23rd, 2017 03:57 am (UTC)
I seriously do that too. Also literally. I literally overuse those words. :P
Jan. 21st, 2017 04:47 am (UTC)
I am a comma whore. I know it and I do it anyway. :P
Jan. 21st, 2017 03:41 pm (UTC)
If I remembered how to post images I'd respond to this with the "Comma, Oxford comma, Shatner comma, Walken commma" graphic. I've been away from LJ too long!
Jan. 21st, 2017 06:01 pm (UTC)
LOL, it's ok. I've seen it enough to grin at the reference. :)
Jan. 21st, 2017 11:42 am (UTC)
I tend to use "And" a lot.And since I never have taken a professional course in writing I tend to do most of the mistakes mentioned here. I am learning not to repeat them though :) Thanks for these tips!
Jan. 21st, 2017 03:43 pm (UTC)
Hardly any of us have actually taken writing courses. I took one in college - got a C, got discouraged, and quit writing for years. Stupid of me. Experience is the best teacher.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )


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