Category Archives: Purple prose

When To Delete {Editing Tips}

 

editing

All I can say is: be ruthless when it comes to anything that’s — clunky (awkward), redundant, superfluous, extraneous, clichéd, telling, overdone…

When it comes to having a nice fluidity to your narrative you have to ensure you remove things that simply don’t need to be there, simple! Take them out and if it still works then you are on the right track. Some writers think they have to say it in unique and interesting ways. While, to some extent, that might be true it can, if you work too hard, really feel forced. Then it simply doesn’t work! I have seen some wonderful metaphors and similes lost in a crowd of metaphors and similes! The trick is to use such devices sparingly and in just the right place. This gives them power. Got it?

 

Here are just a few things to ponder… I will talk about filler and the things you can lose from the actual story tomorrow!

  • Description — this is important for allowing the reader to really ‘see inside the moment’, to visualise it as you intended them to, but they don’t need every single detail drawn in for them — just enough and perhaps more importantly to create the right mood, or tone, perhaps, even, to create the right sense of danger if you are leading them to the edge of a cliff face, for example. Sparing, yet vivid wins the day! So it really does come down to how you use your words and which ones. And if in a moment of great tension then whatever you do don’t stop to admire the view, make the description an active part of the movement itself. Look at how other writers do it!

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  • Look at things like attributions; the ‘he said/she said’ in dialogue. You will find that a lot of the time you can remove these as long as you can stay with the flow of the conversation. Better to show some body language so we know who said it. And don’t write  ‘they paused’ — create the pause with an action! None of us stop and pause, well not really! Lose adverbs that are redundant if we can see how something is done or said. Lose different words for said when said is just fine (I have talked about this before!) Punchy and sharp!

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  • Lose clichés as these are considered to be lazy prose! The tears streamed down the face… ugh! How about she dabbed her cheeks or some other more interesting way to show she was crying!

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  • Telling tags: These tell why something is done or said when it’s usually obvious! She stopped the man to ask the time because she was worried she was late. Telling! If we see her rush and ask the time as she rushes we can see it, it’s shown! See what I mean?

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  • Lose ‘that’ and ‘very’ and ‘just’: a lot of the time … see some of my deliberate crossings out. Also see the use of italics when I think the word is more functional so I left it in…  The way that he said it made her smile; he was just so angry (more active?); she was very jealous (though better to show this through actions… right?) Also think about some of the adverbs we overuse! Like ‘suddenly‘… So often there is no other way to interpret the action so lose it and just show the action!

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  • Pleonasms: nodding the headshrugging the shoulders; thinking in the mind… Where else? Get the idea?!!!

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The message here is very simple: if you can lose it, lose it. That way the writing becomes sharper! 🙂 Only repeat expressions or use words that are less functional in a sentence when part of character voice and there is a difference as I will show you later in the week!

Happy Tuesdaying!

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It’s beginning to look a lot like a book tour

Well kind of.

I apologise that all my posts have been about me and my book! I will post more writing tips soon.  Not intended as an ego trip — honest!

So I visited the writing group that meet at the library on Canvey Island yesterday and had a lovely chat. I did feel as if I was suddenly important with my special glass and special water! It’s just me — honest! We talked all things writing and books, getting into some technical things about writing narrative and I did a short reading as well. The library is still waiting for their copies of my novel to come in, although Doreen who runs the group had her copy and came to the launch last week. What a lovely group, I love meeting writers!

After that we headed on over to Maldon where I finally got to meet the lovely Sarah Banhan who I’ve been chatting to for ages on Facebook (we met through mutual friends). We met ‘for real’ at Costa and then headed to the Saint FM studio at Plume School where I was an author on Writer’s Block. It was a whole hour of chatting about books and writing and it flew by, as Sarah said it would. Sarah is a writer herself as well as offering mentoring and writing services to writers and businesses. She really puts you at ease, not that I seem to get nervous about these things these days (which surprises me) and it really was just a lovely chat. Lots of mentions of the novel and also my work with Born Free and the nitty-gritty of writing and publishing.

I don’t think I’ve had so many things lined up on the social calendar with leg one being Bangor events, leg two in Essex but now over as tomorrow I head back for the third leg another Bangor tour and then back this way and trying to line up more events here! So exciting! I need to get further afield too so seeing what I can arrange! Well I will be in LA in March of course!

The main thing now for a debut novelist like me is the importance of word of mouth and trying to create a bit of a buzz about this book. So if you loved it, please spread the word and keep those reviews coming!

So as I sort out some admin things that need doing this morning and try to write as well, before tomorrow, I will leave you with am image from the radio studio! Even if I do look like a big fat bloater! Ah well.

No blog tomorrow as I will be getting ready to travel so see you in North Wales on Friday!

On Saint FM Nov 26th 2013

On Saint FM Nov 26th 2013

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Drink and be filled up

Today’s title is one of the last sentences in Stephen King’s On Writing — and if you haven’t read this book, writers and readers, then you should! The first part talks about his journey from aspiring writer to published writer and is interesting in itself, and the second half looks at the dos and don’ts of good writing. While some might retain an element of snobbery about Stephen King, commercial genre fiction — take heed. He knows how to write and how to write well and he used to teach writing. If I could bag that kind of success I would never stop dancing!

I heard the book is on a lot of creative writing university lists.

I think what it taught me — and I could do with reading it again (I might just do that!) is how to make sure your writing flows, has a sharpness to it. One of the things we all do as new writers is trying to say things the way a writer does, all wordy and clever, and not the way a ‘normal’ person would. And therein lies the error. While writers indeed embellish and illiterate, and it is indeed their intention to make the world look the same — but different, that’s fine BUT if we overdo the lavish language it can feel stunted, awkward, like water from a broken tap that comes in gushes and dribbles. Find those delicious phrases but make it feel like water flowing effortlessly. Now if only it was that easy right?

But there is a distinction I see in my own writing when I started out, and in the writing of the newer writer, to let’s say my published work and others’ published work that stands out. And it’s hard to define it precisely. But it’s that difference that shows me why someone is not YET being published and why someone else is. And I do have to try to fathom this because I do see one of roles as a teacher too — and that means teasing apart the form enough to work out what makes something work and what doesn’t. And believe me I am only on the same journey as you all, we’re just all at different stages. We can all learn from one another!

A common issue is flow (I will and have talked about story and plot before so we will leave that for now) but how you use your language. It needs to feel completely natural. I often mark MSs with ‘awkward’ or ‘clunky’ and I mean it’s wordy and could be said in a much simpler way. Something like And so the fact was that they needed to get going and they needed to get going now.  What about They needed to get going — and now. Something like that. Some of it will be the way the narrator speaks, so for example my character Lydia in While No One Was Watching with her very African-American Vernacular, likes to repeat but that’s voice. So something like I told him we were goin’ and that was it. Yes Sir I told him. We  be goin’ like it or not. Some might argue this is overdoing it but the trick is to use the repetition (essentially here one of my voice devices) for emphasising an important point and not all the time. But things like ‘The fact of the matter was — you could lose. Unless it’s some aspect of voice that adds quirk. But in general narrative, not needed. You could even lose The fact was — just say it. They needed to leave — plain and simple!

I often see either long or odd phrases like  The sensation of excitement filled her up — odd?  The moment was so tantalising it seemed to fill her with such hope. These sound wrong but they are what people write. 

And the other thing is to use really clever words that gets your reader reaching for the dictionary. Now I love to be challenged and I always look up words I don’t know, but every other line? Now I completely lose the flow of the story and I think the writer is just trying to be ‘too clever’. There is a difference between the skilful erudite writer who knows how to make the words flow but still uses this kind of language to add texture, and  I love a good, be it literary or commercial, novel that has these factors. But it’s when it’s there and there is a better, simpler word then use it. Stephen King talks about this in his book quoting example of ‘pompous’ language by many of the ‘greats.’ You also have to consider the character and when the book was written of course for some of these. But what I always remember, that has stayed with me from when I first read this book (some time ago now), is how there really is only one word that is perfect (even looking in a thesaurus you are only finding words with ‘similar’ meanings — not exactly the same) and so if the word ‘fat’ or ‘pretty’ is right — use it. And show the movement, the bulk of someone ‘fat’ etc in the action to bring it to life. Do you need to say ‘corpulent’? I guess it depends who’s narrating — but I think the real style of a writer is not so much in the words used but in how they’re used.

Do you agree?

I think that needs repeating for emphasis:  I think the real style of a writer is not so much in the words used but in how they’re used.

 I think the real style of a writer is not so much in the words used but in how they’re used.

I just finished reading Michael Sala’s The Last Thread on the Commonwealth Book Prize list. At first the flow was so seamless and fast I slid from one thought to another and I took a little while to get into his style (to keep up)  but once I was settled in I marvelled at the simplicity and the grace of the language. It’s not a plot-driven story and therefore literary in form, but elegant and I can see why it’s on the list. But one thing it’s not despite it’s use of language is wordy. I would say Sarah Dobbs’s writing has this same effortless feel and every word feels like the right one. Look at it on Amazon and read the opening  of The Last Thread-– Television on.  Living room swims in light and noise. The shhh from the speakers sounds like rain.  LINK

Simple spare honest language. Beautiful.

No matter the genre I think this rule is a good one to heed.

So as Stephen King says,  Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.

Have a wonderful day quenching those thirsts!

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What are you reading?

Hi and sorry for the lack of post on Friday. I am in Essex and tired after my travel on Thursday and distracted, I realised much later in the day I had not Blogged! Sure I wasn’t missed.

I was thinking as I watched people reading on the train about what we read and how being a writer affects our critical eye?

I still think the best book I’ve read in ages is Sarah Dobbs’s Killing Daniel because not only is it a great story, I love a thriller, but it’s a literary one and the writing is just beautiful. It’s not a literary over wordy novel, just beautiful in its simplicity of language  and you can see how each word has been chosen so carefully, the exact right one. Just lovely. I kept wishing I’d written some of the lines!

At the moment I am reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce on a recommendation and although only four chapters in I am really enjoying it. Very different from Killing Daniel but I am enjoying the humour. It’s far more commercial but so far, so good. I also saw it has made it to the Commonwealth Book Prize 🙂 A light read.

But it is possible to turn off the editor in us? I did pick up on a couple of small typos as I was reading, actually more consistency issues in how she had spelled the same word and a ‘her Mum’ with a capital. I can’t help myself, but I am enjoying it so errors like this can be slipped over. I think if the writing is good and the story is good I calm my editing head!

The test is if I am completely immersed in the story and forget to be an editor then it has to be good — right?

I am amazed and remain amazed at how many writers I know who claim not to read that much! I even heard someone say to me once that they don’t like to read other stories in their genre in case it influences their writing. Er … isn’t that the point? Good writing should have a good influence, and bad writing — well put the book down or smile in the knowledge you can do better?

You need to know your market. I read all kinds of books, not just in genre and I am so glad I do.

What about you?

Well, a copy-edit calls but tomorrow I have special guest Gill Lewis In The Spotlight. I am also off to see Watership Down author, Richard Adams tomorrow which is a real treat, so I will Blog about it later in the week.

Set your dreams free ...

Set your dreams free …

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Editing, where to start?

I have covered many aspects related to writing and editing your work, so which is the most difficult?

I am amazed when I read Tweets and Blogs posts where writers complain about editing. I will tell you why. Editing is what writing is really all about — the nuts and bolts of it. It’s perhaps as much as 90% of writing and is as integral to the process as getting that idea down as a first draft, which is really only the beginning.I think of  the first draft like laying the slab of sculpting clay and forming a tentative shape of what it wants to be — we can see it’s a human or a dog or a tree let’s say and some parts will be more formed and more detailed than others. But do you leave it there? Is that it?

Of course not. Now you must sculpt, deconstruct to reconstruct, mould, craft, tweak and polish. This is the process, this is writing. There does come a point of course where you need to stand back and stop tweaking and perhaps perfection itself is elusive. But indeed it’s the editing that makes bad good and good better, fine finer and great amazing. So never be shy of the process and never think negatively about something that really is the writing process itself.

There are various forms of editing from a full plot or structural edit that usually is where you start after you’ve laid down the first draft; and there’s line editing and copy editing, oh and final proofing. People call the various forms of editing different things, but really I wouldn’t get hung up on a name and they all overlap anyway. I have also talked to people who use the term ‘development’ editing which is more to do with making ideas turn into stories and is very much an initial form of editing akin to structural editing.

When I critique I do a bit of everything. I am copy editing in the sense I am tidying and correcting issues in the narrative itself, explaining rules that are being broken or not understood, so part of it is the nuts and bolts issues, and in some ways I can’t help myself highlighting the clichés and the point of view issues, incorrect formatting in dialogue, incorrect use of semi colons and so on … but what I also point out is the place to start is to look at plot and structural issues first. The corrections and copy editing aspects need to be there to show the writer where they are making fundamental errors, but there is no point correcting all of that first when it’s likely whole sections, even characters will be lost in the big edit. What I think is key to starting the editing process is to look at what’s not working and what is, what needs to be better, as in voice, character, plot and perhaps refer to the story arc as a place to start. Ask yourself what key question the novel explores, what the conflict is that drives the story and is this clear and strong enough? Is the motivation of the key players defined enough to account for their actions and make the plot as credible as it needs to be? These are the big questions and often ones we find hard to see in our own work. So this is where seeking another opinion is useful.

Then look at the scenes in terms of functionality. I use a spreadsheet for this, especially when confronted with a first draft that needs reshaping. People talk about how every word has to count, and perhaps we think this is being too precious and if we teased apart every sentence and every paragraph, the way perhaps a poet might, we would take a lifetime to write a novel. But it does all have to count. It has to be functional; move plot, develop character and explore theme, tie into the leitmotifs you set up from the beginning. So when it comes to your edit, look at function and make sure there isn’t what we call filler … scenes that add little, that are really only padding. This is really where the story’s shape will emerge from your block of clay when you can think it terms of what a scene and then what a chapter does. If you can’t define that then perhaps it doesn’t need to be there. Perhaps there is another simpler way of giving the same information as part of another more functional scene?

Getting started is often the biggest stumbling block, and being able to stand back from your work and see its flaws.

If you can’t afford to pay someone to do this seek a writer’s opinion you can trust or even a reader although they might not have the skills you need, they might be able to tell you something seems wrong, but not how to make it better. But at the very least put that MS away for a while and then go back to it. It’s amazing what distance can do to highlight what you couldn’t see before.

 

And remember editing is process. It can’t be rushed.

If you have any editing questions please ask!

Have a good day writers and readers!

writing-success2

 

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Exploring some thoughts on literary and commercial fiction …

How do you define yourself?

I call myself a writer.

But is that a ‘literary’ writer or someone who writes more ‘mainstream’ or ‘commercial’ writing?

You know a part of me dislikes the distinction, because I am what I am and I write what I write.

But how do you describe your own writing? Can you say for sure which it is?

Well, taking it down to bare bones (and ignoring the blur and the grey areas) ‘Literary’ fiction is character-driven and ‘Commercial’ fiction is  plot-driven. Gross oversimplification but in essence this is the distinction.

What does that mean exactly? Well the former centres around the character arc, in terms of the development, the conflict and the resolution in the character, and external events to have less of a focus.

And the latter, the story arc centres more around the ups and downs of the plot itself.

But this is a generalisation.

In another general sense we might say the literary novel tends to be slower (but not always) and have more of an emphasis on the language and the exploration of human experience.

Commercial novels tend to be about the big hook, grabbing the reader and pulling them into the story. They tend to be more pacey, more about events than the character.

Some think the ‘Literary’ novel is far more wordy and full of purple prose, it might be but it can also be very sparing in its language. It’s more to do with what it explores, and how it uses character than the actual vocabulary.

Some stories are blatantly commercial, but still contain great characters with strong arcs. That said, just having strong characters with developed arcs (which to some extent all stories need) doesn’t make a story character-driven. Likewise, a solid functional plot does not necessarily make a story plot-driven. In essence the distinction is about the reason for the story. Is it to tell a tale, spin a yarn? Or is it to learn something about a character or the human condition?

Now perhaps you can see where there is some overlap. But while one is not mutually exclusive of the other and perhaps we all strive for the combination of both, I think it’s fair to say your novel will fall into one or the other depending on this overall point you’re making.

As for the element of ‘snobbery’ that seems to exist, both forms are equally valid when it comes to literature. If your work has appeal and sells, and people like it, does it really matter? At Hay (and I have told this before but it seems apt here) Sir Terry Pratchett was asked did it matter that he hadn’t won any literary prizes … his response “I don’t give a fuck.” I make no excuses for the expletive.

I think getting that first step on the ladder if you’re not sure where you fall and if like me you tend to write something that in essence is more literary in the way the characters work, but in reality is more commercial in the sense that plot does tend to drive it … then not ticking a specific box can be a problem. Someone once said a story of mine was ‘too commercial’ … this was some time ago. And although it’s being pedantic and all the in the name I wanted to say, “You don’t want a story that has the ability to sell?” But of course I didn’t. In reality it wasn’t good enough, end of, however you want to define it.

At the end of the day, while ticking boxes might seem important and an agent might say this is too literary for a thriller or too commercial for a literary novel, if it’s an amazing novel it will be picked up, whatever it is, and the decision about how to define it is for the marketeers (not to be confused with musketeers who use long swords or mouseketeers that have big ears … both of which are much more fun!)

Be true to yourself.

If what you write makes you happy and makes other people happy, genre is just another word.

Have a great day!

Rare photo of writer who thinks she’s a Mouseketeer. Photo taken near Disneyland which is a common place to spot this rare and greedy bird who has cannibalistic qualities … clearly. *** Approach with caution***

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Symbols and Leitmotifs

One of the things that really excites me about good writing is the extra layering and depth you can add; the deeper subtext, use of symbolism and leitmotifs.

Do you simply tell your story or does it work on many levels?

It seems, like it or not, the inner literary writer in me wants stories to do just that; to work on many levels, like peeling back the layers of the onion, even in the more pacey writing of thrillers I find hidden depths.

Symbolism does play an important role in that as well; it weaves into the subtext and often the whole piece becomes a metaphor for something else. I like my readers to think.

Do you use leitmotifs?

The word comes from the world of music as a matter of fact, and refers to the use of recurring themes in literature. This also ties into the use of symbolism. I never really make conscious choices about using these, they seem to arise organically as part of the creation process itself. Let me give you an example. In one of my early novels, a crow (which classically means death as you know) or groups of crows or a ‘murder’ of crows (apt?) appeared in various places in the novel. They are used to create atmosphere, a pre-empting of an event. But the single crow the protagonist sees on his wife’s grave helps him come to a realisation that there are far more colours in the feathers (he says it’s like oil on water) and it’s about the way you look at things. This ties to theme because colour is important to the novel (it’s called Colourblind by the way.) The crow is probably an over-used leitmotif but do look for leitmotifs in fiction. The other that appeared a lot in the same novel was a ghost cat that would run along the fence and you’re never really sure if it’s there or not. This also carries a significance later.

But don’t overdo it when you notice them in your work, make it subtle for effectiveness. See how I see them as not something I set out to use, but something that comes from the subconscious.

Leitmotifs can take many forms, often also tied into metaphor, but what I like is how they add those other layers, even sub-layers that become part of the magic of the creation itself.

Have a great weekend spinning your magic.

 

 

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