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!