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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Sketch Me a Story

April 30, 2019

I write longhand. Yes, with a sketch pad and a rollerball pen. When I get into my zone and write thousands of words at a sitting, I get callouses from the pen rubbing on my fingers.

Typewriters were once the writing instrument of choice. Think Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Agatha Christie, Tennessee Williams. Even today, some writers choose a typewriter rather than a computer. Think Larry McMurtry, poet Maya Angelou, Danielle Steel. (That’s not me in the picture. I think it’s Agatha Christie.)

typewriter writer

Although I’ve never used a typewriter for writing fiction, the idea prompts feeling of nostalgia — writers long ago, solitarily pounding out stories.

When I began delving into writing fiction a few years ago, I wrote on my laptop. The advice I googled online and found in books about the craft of writing went something like this: “Write as fast as you can, get it all out, and then go back and fix it.” Sounded right.

I rose every morning at 5 am, another suggestion I found. I’m a night owl, yet I groggily sat at my laptop and spewed out the words to my story, all the while devouring online writing advice, most of which made no sense to me.

I wrote ferociously, and it took me 3 months to finish my novel. Then, per more advice, I set it aside for a month. What a sense of accomplishment. I had written a novel! It was 120,000 words.

nightowl

Photo by Quentin Dr on Unsplash

When I brought it back out to “fix it”, I couldn’t. It was crap. The writing was awful, and it needed to be completely rewritten. Spewing didn’t work; I needed to figure out what did work.

The early mornings, unfortunately, remain the best time for me to write. I wake up thinking about my characters and before the day’s activities and distractions start, I sit down and write.

I also recognized that I needed to write more slowly, more thoughtfully. As I looked over my writing, I kept going back to a scene I had written one evening while laying in bed watching TV. I had been compelled to write, so I grabbed a notebook – an actual paper notebook – and pen, and I wrote. It was good, and it made me realize that I feel more creative with a pen and pad of paper. I write thoughtfully, creatively, slowly. I contemplate each sentence and each word.blank sketchpad

In what I can only label divine inspiration, I bought a sketchpad. No margins, no lines, just blank paper. This, too, makes me feel creative. After all, writing is a craft, something it took a while for me to understand.

When I took my first cross-country, overnight train trip last year, I went armed with my writing sketchbook. As we traveled through the Rocky Mountains, I sat in the observation car and attempted to capture the view and the feelings the scenery invoked. I took pictures, but mostly I wrote:

I wake as the day brightens. The train’s motion, coupled with the choo-choo sound of the wheels, had rocked me to sleep like a newborn in a cradle. Out the window of our sleeper I see snow-covered foothills of the Southern Rocky Mountains. Thick clouds hang low and I hope for snow.

Foothills give way to boulder-strewn mountainsides while antelope graze in the plain, the white tufts on their heads the giveaway to this city girl. Boulders and smaller rocks sit on top of and next to each other, reminding me of totem poles and Indians and the Wild West. Higher mountains in the distance show gradations of browns and oranges, and rivers and tributaries traverse the countryside.

train

We cross into Colorado, another mountain range filling the windows, this one with rock walls going straight up and topped with copious pine trees. I can only imagine the size of the pine cones.

Snow begins to fall, coating the mountainsides and rail side scrubs. The wind picks up, creating eddies of snow, simulating tornadoes, swirling, swirling and breaking apart. The Colorado River is frozen here, having transformed from running rapids.

We cross into Iowa and see endless fields of corn and grain, the stalks swaying in the wind. Field after field, neat row after neat row, acres and acres of crops. The phrase “amber waves of grain” repeats in my mind, and I’m grateful we haven’t paved the entire countryside and built cities.

I’m going on another train trip in a couple months. The first things on my packing list: A 200-page sketch pad and 4 rollerball pens, black.

Tell me what writing method you use – Laptop? Typewriter? Pencil and paper? I’m curious if other writers have experimented with different tools. What facilitates your creativity?

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The Magic of Writing

April 23, 2019

Beginning today, this blog has a new theme – all things writing. As I pursue a second career writing fiction, I’ll post about my writing journey, the craft of writing, lessons learned, mistakes made, and the people who are helping and encouraging me. I’ll also post about books and authors and publishing.

I started this blog to dole out advice about marketing and promotion, strategic planning, and nonprofits, and I still work as a consultant. Check my website – www.techsavvympa.com – for more information or look at my blog archives.

Here we go.

WRITE

 

Write. A magical word. It’s the ability to conjure scenes and stories from my imagination. I can create characters of any size, color, and personality. I can have people run races or play the piano or murder someone or solve a crime. They can live at the beach or in a city or on a different planet. There can be love interests, annoying neighbors, best friends. I can create a world with monsters or aliens. I can make up my own rules.

How cool is that? It’s the best.

When I say I’m writing, what I’m actually doing is conjuring, creating, imagining.

magic

Photo by Mervyn Chan on Unsplash

Writing and reading are like breathing and eating for me. I have to do all those things to survive and thrive. Although reading was my first love, once I learned to write, reading took second place.

I’ve heard some writers don’t like to sit down and write. Most days, I can’t wait to get to my writing desk. I go to sleep thinking about my characters and what they’ll experience in my next day’s writing.

Many times, my characters do things that surprise me. I’m the type of writer the industry calls a “pantser”, which basically means I don’t make an outline and I don’t know everything that will happen. I rough out my main characters and a main plotline, and go from there. Sometimes I know the ending; sometimes I don’t. (More on “pantsers” and “plotters” in another post.)

oxana-v-524244-unsplash (1)

Photo by oxana v on Unsplash

To me, that’s part of the beauty of it. The characters I create take over and go their own way. They come alive in my imagination, so much so, that I can picture the setting and the people, and their gestures and expressions.

I can see the waves crashing on the shoreline as the angry, young woman throws rocks into the water and clouds roll overhead. I can see the hiker with his walking stick in the woods, seeking a bird or butterfly that’s known to nest there. I can smell the detritus of a burned-out forest. I can touch the coat of the black lap cat who comes around frequently for some love from his elderly owner. I can hear them both purring.

And, yes, I can taste that pineapple upside down cake that the mom makes for each of her six children on their birthdays. Do you see her with flour smudges on her face as she puts the cake into the oven? Can you smell it baking, the aroma filling the kitchen? Her kids can. They all run into the kitchen, one after another. “Is it done yet?” Do you see the scoop of vanilla ice cream melting next to the slice of cake? I do, and I can’t wait to pick up my fork.

Mmmm. What could be better than this?

Time to conjure.

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Where are the good writers? And editors?

May 29, 2014

Much to my disappointment, writing that is error-free, typo-free and grammatical seems to be a thing of the past. TV commercials, radio commercials, and printed materials abound with errors. It makes me crazy and it makes me sad. It also makes me wonder who’s in charge. All I can do is shake my head, after I turn off the painfully sad commercials with people who don’t speak properly. I’ll never buy their products, but obviously I’m not the intended audience so they don’t care. 😦


Tech Terms are Prevalent but Still Misunderstood

January 27, 2014

Every company and every industry has its own ubiquitous acronyms and terms, some of which cross over into other arenas. Information technology is one of the few industries that seeps or creeps into most, if not all, organizations regardless of industry, as well as into our personal lives. Fifteen years ago, I wrote a user manual for my colleagues, explaining new technology. Chapters included:

“What is the world wide web?”

“What is e-mail?”

“How to use e-mail.”

Of course at that time we all had analog mobile phones, which seemingly weighed about 5 pounds.

In the last five years or so, social media has become pervasive. During that time period, I spent countless hours defining social media, explaining its uses, and simplifying its purpose for both colleagues and friends. Texting (in the personal arena) and Twitter (in the personal and business arenas) have been the most confounding across the board. For example:

“What is texting? And why are all the kids using it?”

“I don’t get Twitter. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“I don’t like Twitter because I don’t want to be limited in how many words I can use.” (This one always makes me laugh. Most people would be surprised at how much you can convey using only a few words.)

Three or four years ago, I entered the world of SEO and SEM. At that time, these terms were fairly common, especially SEO, but only amongst the techies. The use of either of those terms outside of technology circles would prompt confused looks and raised eyebrows. No one else knew those acronyms stood for Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing, or even if they did hear or know the full terms, they weren’t the least bit interested.

Now, SEO and SEM are the new keywords; their mention becoming more and more prevalent in business marketing conversations. Business owners and executives know that these processes, if implemented correctly, can help grow their company. However, the use of SEO and SEM is much more complex than simply using keywords, counting views or click-throughs, or looking at your search engine ranking. Yes, all these elements are important to measure, but the latter two are merely basic indicators as to whether additional analysis, testing, and marketing is necessary.

In talking recently with marketing executives at a large national corporation about this topic, I was confused as to why we seemed to be in disagreement. Finally it dawned on me that they were talking basic SEO, as outlined above, while I was assuming they were well beyond that and I was talking about conversion rates and competitors. This illustrates that while these terms may be going mainstream, there still exists much confusion and misinformation.

I’m tracking this with enthusiasm to see where the trend takes us. As a professional communicator with a lifelong love of technology, I can’t wait to see what’s next.


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