Tag Archives: Lance Larsen

To Ly Word or Not to Ly Word: Writing Real Good. I Mean It. (Part 2)

I’ve had the chance to listen to Lance Larsen  speak several times about writing jaw-dropping sentences. If you ever have a chance to hear Lance speak or read or speak and read, GO! You’ll not be disappointed.

Why do you read?

I read, not just for story, but for the way the sentences of a novel sound. I read to see the way an author puts words together. To see the way I am surprised–not just by plot–but by sentence structure or word choice.

Lance has several suggestions for jaw-dropping sentences and I’ll share one: turn the adjective on its ear. Here’s what I think he means. If every word must do work, then that includes adjectives. Lance suggests making adjectives work in new ways, in ways that paint pictures the reader isn’t expecting. Easy writing isn’t always the smartest, best, clearest, most beautiful etc. It tends to be filled with cliches and overwritten and weak. Good writing, of course, takes place in rewriting. BUT if you’re thinking as you write (some people do), you can put better words on the page the first time through and refine as you rewrite.

Exercise: Look at your first five pages. Trying not to love what you’ve written, start trimming. Adverbs. Adjectives. Weak verbs. Weak words. Cliches. Was-ing words. The words I put up on Monday. Description that’s stale. Etc.

What do you have left? If you’ve been honest, your story should be far thinner.

Exercise: Using these new five pages, write this beginning over in short, choppy lines. (If you need an example, look at my novel GLIMPSE. Or read any of Ann Dee Ellis’ novels.) This is just an exercise, so enjoy the line breaks and be intentional when you add or take away words. Make each stanza have hard-working words so you accomplish more with less.

Exercise: Look at your rewritten five pages (which should be far longer, page-wise). Is there sense of place? Strong dialog? Description that is fresh? Are your words working hard? Is there emotion?

Exercise: Lay this rewritten piece aside for a week. When you go back, see how to change it into regular prose. How do the five pages read now? Can you keep writing this way? Can you do the same thing with the next five pages and the next and the next?

Exercise: Read a book that is known to have strong writing. (I suggest The Road. Or at least part of it.) What do you learn from this author? How does s/he make sentence sparkle? How can you imitate her/him.

So, Writing Brothers and Sisters, have fun. Remember writing is hard work. Good writing is even harder. But there is joy in having written. There is excitement in finding a fresh way to say something. Enjoy the experience!

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Life, Voice, writing process

Merry Christmas Day 13 & 14 & 15

Merry Christmas day 13

Life has a way of throwing curveballs. We never really know what to expect. And that can be pretty darn crummy. Another thing that is crummy is when you can figure out  what is going to happen in the novel from page two or three. There’s no reason to read a book when you already know the ending from the beginning.

Look carefully at your  novel. Is it too easy to see who done it? Wha? You’re not writing a mystery novel? Well, you sorta are. All novels should have something that  has to be figured out. Giving that surprise away too soon, or writing poorly so there is no surprise, or just plain being lazy in your writing leaves the reader wanting more.

How can you change up your book so there are plenty of curveballs? Plenty of surprises?

Merry Christmas day 14

For me the name of the character is really important. My editor at St. Martin’s Press said, “Carol! I cannot believe you named your characters after your daughters.”

Well, I do. My daughters. Or other family members.  Or people I love. Or people I hate. They all wind up in my books. (I joke I should have given them each three names not just a first and middle name.)

In my newest novel, MESSENGER, I used all of my grandmother’s sisters and brothers names. That’s a family of 10. Because I love my extended family, the book became that much more  important to me.

So who would you write about?

Why?

How did that person change you?

How is that person complex?

We all know we can’t use our relatives exactly the way they are, but what are 15 things you would write about this person?  What are 15 things you would keep the same about their personality? Their mannerisms? Their speech? Their loves and hates?

I always, or almost always, have Nana smoking, drinking beer, cleaning house, wearing polyester, and laughing. Those are just a few of the things Nanny did.She died almost 25 years ago.  I miss her. When I write about her, she lives again for me.

Merry Christmas day 15

I just saw a post on Twitter about not using adjectives. And I have to admit that I am one of those people who is trying to trim my overuse of them. Or at least I’m trying to do as Lance Larsen says and turn them on ears. (We’ll talk more of this next year.)

Anyone can talk about the Christmas season in cliché ways. It’s snowy. Glittery. Cold. But using adjectives in new and different ways will make your prose sing. It will make the reader stop and pay attention. Yes! That’s what we want!

Take one chapter of your novel and mark  all the adjectives. Now go through and look at the ones that you can cut.  Which ones you can change and make more special? How can you use them in unique ways?

Ack! It must be the season. I used the word special. I really don’t like that word.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ann Dee, Character, Life, Revision, Uncategorized, Voice

New Ideas for a New Group: Memoir

As you know from last week, I’ve been thinking about writing a memoir for some time, maybe putting some of my mom’s memories in my collection of stories.
This morning Ann Dee and I sort of chatted about starting a group that gets together and shares bits of memoirs we have written.
If we do this, we can share some insight on what we learn, here, as we go.
So here’s a definition from dic.com:
Mem-oir    [mem-wahr, -wawr] Show IPA
noun

1.

a record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation.
2.

Usually, memoirs.

a.

an account of one’s personal life and experiences; autobiography.
b.

the published record of the proceedings of a group or organization, as of a learned society.
3.

a biography or biographical sketch.
Origin:
1560–70;  < French mémoire  < Latin memoria
Synonyms
2a. journal, recollections, reminiscences.
While we can’t all be in a group together–you know–meeting physically–we CAN focus on memoir here, twice a month, with writing exercises and etc.
What do you think?
Would you like to play?
Let’s Start with Some Good Reading
Here are some good memoirs, just for the fun of it.
Of course, we have to go with Stephen King’s memoir and book on the craft of writing called On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
I love this book! It’s smart and funny and revealing. And it teaches good writing, too.
A Girl Named Zippy: Growing up Small in Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel
My friend Lance Larsen (keynote at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers [www.wifyr.com]–this keynote is open to the world, free of charge. Come to it. Lance is a great writer and will give us some terrific pointers on writing like  poet.) told me for years to read Zippy. One day at a garage sale I saw a copy of the memoir for .75 and I couldn’t believe it. That is SO MUCH for me to spend on a book. But I remembered Lance telling me to read Zippy. So I circled the memoir (laying on a blanket–the book, not me) and finally decided since Lance said I should, I would buy and then read this. I did. It’s great! Well worth .75 (though I wish I could have gotten the book for a half dollar instead.)
Angela’s Ashes by  Frank McCourt. I loved just about everything about this book. I loved the voice, the way McCourt puts the words on the page, how he paints a picture. I didn’t love the end of the book, but that is just me.
So, if you wanted to play the memoir game with us, I would start with these three titles. And I know Ann Dee has HER favorite books. She may share.
Many of you know that I am a Latter-day Saint. For those interested, here is a quote by Elder B. Henry Eyring. He’s talking about writing a journal or a memoir. He says, “My point is to urge you to find ways to recognize and remember God’s kindness. It will build our testimonies.” (http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2007/10/o-remember-remember?lang=eng)
It seems when I have sunk as low as I can go, when I tell Heavenly Father, “I am done!” He answers me.
If I write a memoir, it will be for the spiritual times, and the funny times and the heart-breaking times.
For me.
For my girls.
My girls always tell me to be happy. And I try.
Maybe a memoir will help them understand me more.
For sure, a memoir will help me understand me more.
And maybe it will help me become a better writer.
And that’s a good goal.

9 Comments

Filed under Ann Dee, CLW, Exercises, writing process

Lance Larsen Tip #4: Revise yourself to Eloquence

I can’t sleep. It’s 4:19 am.

I think it’s because of the pounds of food I ate at the Olive Garden last night. Or the tight pants I sleep in. I can’t decide. At least I’ll get to watch the dangerous happenings in my neighborhood that occur at this time of night.

Now, for tip #4: Revise yourself to eloquence.

If you’ll remember, the last tip was to let the writing lead you. To let go of your grip on the narrative and allow it to breathe. Allow it to take you where it needs to go.

This tip is the opposite. You have to take back control (once the first draft is finished) and shape it into something beautiful.

Lance says: “Just as you must be willing to lower your standards, at first, and write sloppily and inventively, not knowing what you will produce, you must at a later stage step in and revise without mercy.”

You have to be ruthless. You have to be honest. You have to allow your critical eye (and other’s critical eye) to step in and push you to make the book the piece that it could be.

We’ve talked about this before. Every part of the writing process is a process. It takes time, patience and discipline.

I love revision. It is painful but it’s worth it.

One time an editor told me I needed to take out two characters. Two BIG characters. I was like, uh, say what? I need those people. But as I thought about it, and read and reread, I realized that they weren’t as integral to the story as I thought. Of course once I took them out, every other scene in the book needed to change. And I had no middle to my book. I basically had to rewrite the whole thing. I complained. I cried. I ate. But in the end, after hours of work, the book was better.

We should never ever shy away from revision. From knocking things about. From working our bums off.

Annie Dillard said:

At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then-and only then-it is handed to you.

Are you searching? Are your breaking your heart? Your back? And most importantly, your brain? Are you brave enough to tear apart your precious work of art in order to let it become what it has the potential to become?

5 Comments

Filed under Ann Dee, Revision, writing process