Friday, July 31, 2009

Random writing.

Sometimes our creativity...hits a wall. Whether you want to call it writers block or mental constipation or what, sometimes an outside source can jumpstart you.

Below are a few fun random word and phrase generators for your perusal. Some pull up real words, some make up new ones. Have fun! Try using them for a title or an idea or inspiring a rapid-fire quick writing blitz to refresh your mind. Here's another hint - use random pictures and create a quick 500 word story off the top of your head about the image.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A little hashed phrase to go with the word salad...

Anchors away for our next topic!

Um, no, not really. "Aweigh" is correct, however. This hint goes well with the word salad post from last week. See, the English language is a hair-rippingly funny beast. The bastardized, red-headed step-child of many different languages, it causes quite a bit of confusion. And that's just for those of us who grew up natively speaking it! Imagine the frustration of those learning it as a second language!

For all intensive purposes, it's silly to make the language the escape goat when it's the people abusing it...

(*grin* Yes, there are two mangles in that previous sentence.)

Some people could care less... NERTZ! I mean, they COULDN'T care less if they misuse words and phrases. But let's face it, writers should appear to have a better than average grasp on their BIGGEST TOOL...

*Get yer minds out of da gutter!*

I mean WORDS. Words are your biggest tool. You'd run screaming if you caught your surgeon cleaning under his fingernails with the scalpel he was about to use on you, right? Okay, a little extreme, I know, but shouldn't writers take care to use their tools properly? This also applies to editors.

Another problem with these mangled phrases, a problem many writers fail to recognize, is the cliche factor. They've been used, abused, misused, recycled, rode hard and put away wet - you get the picture. It's time to stop using them as an easy crutch. This doesn't mean going ga-ga for making up your own unknown cliche replacements or avoiding them in all circumstances. It means using your tools effectively.

It's easy to say a character is "madder than a wet hen." It's also cliched to hell and back.

How about if you say something like:

"I hate you!" She threw down her dishtowel and yanked the kitchen door open so hard it flew against the wall before bouncing back into her.

That paints an accurate and even slightly funny picture, depending on what else follows.

Yet another reason to know your words well - malaproprisms. (No, a little blue pill won't cure you of those.) "I resemble that remark." God love Curly Howard, that's one of my favorite quotes of all times. Tony Soprano spouted quite a few in his day, as did Archie Bunker.

Don't get me wrong, well-used, intentional malaprops can be hysterically funny, especially if delivered dead-pan. But unintentional use can leave you looking like...well, one of our recent former presidents.

Ninety percent of writing is, after all, half mental. (Apologies to Yogi Bera.)

Befriend your tools, get to know them well. This is another reason it is so important for writers to have reliable critique partners or beta readers to look over their work, another set of eyes to help them nail these little boogers and remove them from a manuscript.

Here are a few helpful resouces for you:

Stay tuned for our next writing how-to topic!

Monday, July 27, 2009

He said WHAT?

Continuing the writing how-to series, another frequent issue that crops up, especially in romance/erotica novels -- guys speaking unnaturally.

"You little minx."

Now, honestly. When have you EVER heard a modern guy call a woman a "little minx?" I'm not talking a period/historical (although in those I think it's overused too). Or a hellcat, spitfire, wildcat, or any other kind of animal other than a b*tch?

Seriously. Think about it.

One of my pet peeves is reading a story where the guy, especially if he's a hulking, hunky Alpha guy, starts talking in a way I've never in my life ever heard a real guy speak.

I read one contemporary story where the Alpha dude used the word "frippery" in conversation.

Really??? No, seriously?

I would have hurled the book against the wall except it was an e-book I was reading on my BlackBerry and didn't want to break it. (I guess that is one benefit to "real" books, you can throw them.)

When caught up in the throes of writing a story, there is a tendency to write like a romance writer instead of writing what a real character would say. Do us all a favor and write REAL. Forget purple prose, don't even go a faint shade of lavender, and especially when writing male dialogue. Have your guys talk like REAL guys, not romance novel guys.

Also, I cringe when I read a book where the guy is talking non-stop throughout the love scenes, basically narrating what he's going to do. Here's a hint: switch to internal dialog or use a narrative description. If my husband talked as much during making love as some romance book heroes talk, I'd duct tape his mouth shut.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Can I get ranch dressing on my word salad?

Continuing the writer how-to series, our next quickie topic: word salad.

That's probably not the best term, because there is a condition called word salad, but for the purposes of this tip it's the phrase I'll use.

Here's how you prevent this condition (and yes, I am screaming):


I read a book in the past couple of weeks - yes, it was from a well-known romance publisher - where the heroine "shuttered." As in, she shook in fear.

The sad thing is, this made it through the author's self-editing process as well as an editor.

(*buzzer* Sorry, we have a nice consolation prize for you. The correct word is "shuddered.")

Even sadder, this was NOT the only instance of this kind of problem, and while the story was good, I doubt I'll buy any other books by this author or this publisher in the near future because frequent editing errors kept pulling me out of the story.

There are a lot of words that sound alike and are commonly misused/swapped. Sometimes this is accidental due to the writer typing so fast (holding up my hand) that their brain doesn't correctly signal to the fingers which version to use. Sometimes this is accidental due to a less than stellar grasp of the language and over-reliance on a spellchecker. Sometimes this is due to sheer sloppiness and failure to self-edit. It doesn't matter what the cause - letting errors like this make it through to a final, production copy is flat-out wrong.

Common offenders: it's/its, their/there/they're, two/to/too, through/threw/thru, by/buy, who's/whose, accept/except, than/then, affect/effect (that one STILL bothers me and makes me drag out a grammar handbook, so much so I'll frequently rewrite the sentence to avoid it entirely), toward (NOT towards), all right (NOT alright)

Another common offender: apostrophe-s used as a plural instead of a possessive (three dog's instead of three dogs)

So turn off your spellchecker and print out your manuscript and use that red pen well and often.

Here are some great resources for you:

Monday, July 20, 2009

Characters Behaving Badly

Characters. Ah, yes, the bane of any writer's existence. Sometimes they just will NOT behave! Or they behave badly. Or they... (fill in the blank).

Here's the problem - you cannot jam a character into a pre-set mold that you've extensively outlined. If you really want to write realistic characters, you have to set your "mileposts" in your story and trust your characters to get you where you want to go. Sometimes they'll detour, but as a writer, sometimes you have to trust they know where they're going even if you don't.

Note: this is not the same as having a detailed character outline, if you're a writer that needs to use such a tool. I'm talking plot outlines at this point.

Have you ever read a story where the characters suddenly seemed to lose their brains and behave in ways totally contrary not just to how they "should" behave inside their constructed universe, but contrary to how they should logically behave based upon their established character (and even based upon "real life")? That's a clear sign of author interference. And I'm not talking a situation where you WISHED they'd done something different, but a situation where up until that point in the story they acted one way, then it's like they were forced by the story to behave...weird.

As an author, your job is to stay the heck out of the characters' way and let them tell the reader the story. Your job is to record the story. When your fingerprints are all over the story, it means you didn't let the characters do THEIR job.

The few times I've gotten totally blocked when writing it was because the characters clearly wanted to go in a different direction than I'd originally planned for them to go, and I was trying to convince them otherwise. Once I let go of the story and let the characters take over again, all was right in their fictional world.

So sometimes, even though they're not "real," your characters DO know best.