Nature AND Nurture

May 28, 2019

I started writing stories as a child. My first story was about Bennie the Green Bean, and I decided I was going to write children’s books. I eventually majored in Journalism in college. At that time, it never occurred to me to try and make a living writing fiction.

green beans
Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

After more than 20 years working in communications, marketing and public relations, I decided it was time. Time to write my novel. I wasn’t getting any younger. Plus, I had honed my writing skills for years, so knew I could whip out great novels in no time. Ha.

After writing a few days, I began pulling books off my shelves and analyzing them. How much description? How much dialogue? How many characters? Where do you put in the backstory? How do you start the backstory? How many words are in a novel?

 These are just 2 of the many bookshelves in my home office.

I was shocked that I didn’t inherently know these things; after all, I had been a voracious reader my entire life. This was harder than I had expected.

As I wrote, I had more questions. How long are chapters? What point of view should I use? Can I write male characters convincingly? I sought out advice and kept writing.

A few other writers attempting to transition from business writing to fiction writing scoff at my advice-seeking and learning the craft of fiction writing. They’re not going to classes or reading books on craft. They’re writing. They say that’s enough. And maybe it is for them.

Other friends expect me to churn out novels because I’ve been writing my whole life. I know they don’t understand it either. “You’re such a good writer,” they say. “How come your books aren’t published yet?”

writing-monsters-book.jpg

I’ve attended writing conferences, devoured books on plot, description, character development, and more. Recently, I read a book on how to write about monsters by Philip Athans.

Books and conferences are my candy. I soak up the advice and fully engage in the conference sessions, determining what works for me. My friends laugh and their eyes glaze over as I explain the elements that go into creating a scene or writing dialogue. I enthuse endlessly about what I’m learning. I can’t get enough of this stuff. My fiction writing is so much better than when I started out a few years ago. It’s hard to believe how much I’ve learned.

stephen-king-book.jpg

One of the books I read early in this journey is “On Writing” by Stephen King. He mentions that he is always reading a book on craft. What? Stephen King? I think he is a wonderful storyteller and a gifted writer. When I read that, I thought, “I should do that, too!” That book was published in 2000, so I don’t know if he still does that.

Writing speeches, articles, white papers, strategic plans, press releases and web site copy is not the same as writing fiction. That’s not to say all those years writing don’t help me now; they do, in so many ways.

Of course, I wish I could have sat down and written the great American novel without advice, books, classes or conferences, but it didn’t happen. That’s okay. I’m slowly finding my way. This is an unexpected journey and I am enjoying the ride.

Do you think writing is a talent or a learned skill? What writing resources have you found to help you in your journey?

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Describe, Qualify, Modify, Alter, Delete

May 14, 2019

Some common advice for writing fiction is to use very few adjectives and adverbs. This is additional advice I don’t like, and I didn’t understand it at first. How could I describe settings and scenes and facial expressions? Plus, I was moving from writing press releases, speeches and business reports, to writing fiction, so I was excited to use adjectives.

writing report

Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

As I pondered this disappointment and continued writing, I began to understand the directive, although I phrase it differently. Instead, I use adjectives and adverbs judiciously. A friend put it better: “You use them sparingly, and they are very visual”.

Examples abound online, so I’ll just include a short example of an unnecessary adverb.

#1.  “I don’t care,” he said angrily.

#2.  “I don’t care,” he said, pounding his fist on the table.

Which one is more visual?

I also use the words “very” and “really”, and I have to go back and delete them. “Very hot.” “Really big.” How about scalding and gigantic. More descriptive.

I’ve heard the overuse of modifiers called lazy writing. I get that now. There are so many more ways to add description – through dialogue, action, and backstory, to name a few.

As I learned to limit my adjectives and adverbs to make them more effective, I discovered other writing devices. Metaphors and similes and onomatopoeia and analogy. These are fun! So, now, I probably use these too much.

eagle

Avoid clichés. “Soar like an eagle.”

A metaphor is a comparison to add description. A simile is another descriptive comparison but it uses “like” or “as”.

Analogies compare things more directly. — “My house is as important to me as play-doh is to my 5-year-old daughter.”

Personification gives human traits to an inanimate object. — “That pie is calling my name.”

 

Onomatopoeia

{On-uh-ma-tuh-pee-uh}

And my favorite: onomatopoeia. These are words that sound like actions. — “The horse clip-clopped down the path.” “Waves sloshed on the shoreline.” I like the way onomatopoeia is spelled, the way it looks when written out, and the way it sounds. It’s a cool word.

horses

Photo by Jorge Dominguez on Unsplash

Waves sloshed on the shoreline as the horse clip-clopped through the pebbles. The rider felt free, out of the desert at last, like she could spread her wings and do anything. The award meant as much to her as spaghetti and meatballs meant to her Italian mother-in-law. The sun celebrated with her, warming her face, and causing the water to sparkle like diamonds.

A good day.

What literary device is your favorite? And what word do you use way, way, way too often?

Note: My apologies to the English and grammar police if I have misrepresented any terms in this post. I’ve described things as I understand them.

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