Posts Tagged ‘word choice’

In my last post, I said that I’d heard back from my publisher, Castrum Press, and that they’d given some feedback to help me with the next draft of my novel Rose. Well, I woke up sick today, so I spent my day working on it. As of this afternoon, I’m one-fourth of the way through the sixth draft. If I keep going at this rate, I could be done well before the end of March (God willing).

I also said in my last post that the main issue Castrum pointed out for me was word choice. I’d like to go a bit more into that, as it’s been pretty eye-opening for me.

First issue: adverbs. I’ve heard this before from beta readers before, but I tend to rely on them too much. You know, “really,” “seriously,” “suddenly,” etc. And I thought I’d gotten better at that, but Castrum gave me graphs of my use of adverbs in Rose‘s fifth draft. Whoo-boy. Looking at the draft now, I’ve a lot of work ahead of me. There are adverbs littered all over the place! In future stories, I’m going to have to work on that. Because seriously, how madly, negligently, horribly a writer must I be to readily sprinkle these adverbs all over the draft so willy-nilly?

See the problem?

Second issue: overuse of unnecessary words. Another one of those graphs showed me that I tend to overuse certain words in a story. “That,” “just,” “even,” etc. Technically the sentences still work when I use those words, but they work just as well when they’re absent. Therefore, by the rules of editing, I should excise them. I’m still wrapping my head around the idea of getting rid of them, as when I wrote those sentences, they sounded so necessary. But I’m adjusting. It’s a process, but I’m doing it. Hopefully this is another habit I can kick as a writer. If anything, this draft is a good start.

And third issue: repeating words. I kid you not, I had over 360 instances of the word “look” or its variants. And while it does the job, literature is built on a variation of words that say the same thing. Instead of “look,” I switch it out with words “gaze,” “stare,” “gawk,” “observe,” “survey,” “scrutinize,” etc. I’ve been learning to do that when I encounter words like this, as well as others I’ve repeated one too many times.

If anything, all this has taught me how much farther I’ve to go as a writer. A lot of people know me as the “resident writer,” which sometimes they equate with “expert writer.” And occasionally, when I have successes in my career or when I’m expounding on the art of writing or the craft of horror from behind my keyboard, I can feel like an expert. But the truth is, I’ve only made some progress. It’ll be a long time till I’m able to call myself a real expert writer. If ever.

If there’s such a thing to begin with.

Still, I’m glad I don’t know it all. I have room to grow and improve as a writer. That’s never a bad thing, in my opinion. And if I knew it all, who knows? Things might get boring.

Anyway, I hope to have more news on Rose soon. I’ll keep working steadily on the sixth draft and give you another update as soon as I have one. In the meantime, I’m getting ready for bed. I don’t want to be sick tomorrow as well. Goodnight, my Followers of Fear, and pleasant nightmares!

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I know some of you have been waiting for an update on Rose. And I’m happy to say that I received word today from my publisher, Castrum Press, regarding the last draft I sent to them.

Now if you’re new here and haven’t heard me mention Rose a billion times by now, this is a novel I wrote as my senior thesis in college. It follows a young woman named Rose Taggert who starts turning into a plant creature. Yes, that’s what it’s about. I wrote that novel, and it’s being published. And believe me, what I just described is only the beginning of Rose’s troubles.

Anyway, Castrum Press accepted the novel back in March 2018, and I’ve been doing a lot of work on it since. Actually, I’ve been doing work on it and changing things up since the first attempts to write it. This story’s been written and rewritten more times than I care to mention. I was telling my dad earlier today, every draft has featured almost alchemical changes to the story. Trust me, that amount of change every draft is exhausting!

But based on Castrum’s latest feedback, I have reason to hope the story’s nearing its final stage. The suggestions I got were mainly of the word choice and grammar type. These are mainly problems I’ve been told about before in the past: using words like “that,” “which” or “just” too often, or too many adverbs. At least they were able to give me some visual aids that I can use to help me during the next draft (number 6, if you can believe it). I’ll take some notes, and then get to work.

I won’t say this is the last draft before publication. It depends on what Castrum says, and they have a lot more experience than I do and the suggestions they’ve given so far has worked out for me so far, so I’m willing to listen to their advice. I will say that we are nearing that stage, and both Castrum Press and I are looking forward to getting this story out there for all of you to read. We’re just taking our time to make sure it’s the best product it can be before it’s released.

I mean, it would really suck if we released a sub-standard novel, wouldn’t it?

Well anyway, it’s getting late and I was feeling really tired for most of today, even with caffeine, so I’ll call it a night and start on the work after I get home tomorrow.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll keep you guys updated as news comes in. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Writing any part of a story is difficult. Starting it, the long slog through the middle, trying to wrap it up in a satisfactory way. Any part of it has its own challenges. But lately for me, trying to write the ending–those last paragraph or couple of paragraphs–difficult. I’m not talking about how the story ends, for me that’s usually already in my mind when I start writing the story. I’m talking about the actual words. What I use in the story to finish it out.

Those of us who read regularly think of how stories end, and it’s the most perfect ending, like “and they all lived happily ever after,” only not so cliched and unlikely to happen. More like, “All was well,” or “He turned over and went back to sleep,” or “He reached out to him with a single, terrible, slimy claw.” The words close up the story so well, and it feels perfect. Replace one word or one sentence with something else, and it ruins the whole story, or at least the ending.

It’s those words that close the story out that are so important.

And I’ll admit, with some of the last few stories I’ve worked on, I struggle with finding the right words for those stories. I start to feel too wordy, or that I’m not giving an eloquent closing to the story. Consequently when I end the story, I feel a little unsatisfied. This may be in part due to the fact that I see a movie in my head when I’m reading and writing, so translating something from a mental visual to words is somewhat difficult. Or it could just be finding the right words are difficult. Especially when my brain decides to forget a word or two (kid you not, I forgot the word “agenda” for a week, which sucks because I needed it for something).

Luckily, on a few stories, I think I enjoy the endings of my stories a bit better on the second draft. And those that I don’t, I can change them a bit and that usually helps. But I think–and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only author to feel this way–I would like to not feel so dissatisfied when I finish a story. That the words I use to finish the story ring true to me and feel right. That they’re as close to perfect as “All is well” or “He turned over and went back to sleep,” or “He reached out to him with a single, terrible, slimy claw.”

Well, the good news is that with more practice, I can get more stories done and perhaps figure out what it is that makes those near-perfect endings. Fingers crossed, at any rate.

But tell me, How do you write the best ending for your stories? Is there a trick to doing it? Please let me know, I’m dying to know. Okay, not actually dying, but it would be nice to know.

Until next time Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

As many of you are already aware, I’m a big fan of ballet, and a lot of characters who are dancers or are familiar with dance are peppered throughout my story ideas. With so many story ideas involving ballet and my latest story finished up, I thought it was high-time to write one. This has been my project since Tuesday, and today I finished “Pas de Deux,” my first story to feature ballet and dancers as a major component.

“Pas de Deux” is about two young dancers who decide to test a legend at their dance academy. The legend says that if anyone dances a pas de deux, or dance for two, in a certain studio, they’ll both die. When they dance together and also reveal their feelings for one another, things in their lives take a turn for the darker.

This was a fun and interesting story for me to work on. Besides writing it in five days, which is something unusual for me, but because for a while I wasn’t sure what genre it was. At times it walked a tightrope between dark fantasy and psychological horror, and it could’ve gone one way or the other based on creative and word choices. In the end, I ended up going with psychological horror, as I felt that would make the story better and more memorable.

Using dance in a story as a major component was also something else. I’ll probably devote a post just to this topic alone, but there’s a trick to writing dance movements in a prose story that I had to discover through lots of research of said movements and then writing them into the story. Interspersing both technical terms and descriptions of the terms along with the protagonist’s own beliefs and observations about ballet was both a challenge and a little educational. If ballet shows up in another story (and knowing me, it will), I can use this experience for any dance sequences I want to write into the story.

But for now, I’ll let this story be for awhile. At sixteen pages and 4,622 words, I think it could get published in most publications, assuming that the dance-heavy and flowery opening and the quick second half doesn’t turn some publishers off. Hopefully with the right beta readers, I can get some good feedback for the story and make whatever edits I need to make.

In the meantime, I have plenty of other stories I want to write, so I’ll think about which one I’d like to write next, and maybe put out that post about writing dance sequences in prose fiction. So until next time, my Followers of Fear, goodnight and pleasant nightmares. I’m off to watch a scary movie.

I did not finish watching the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, owing to how depressing it was (I like dark stuff, but that show just took the joy out of living!). But in recent weeks, one scene from that show, a surprisingly not-sad scene, has been coming back to me. In a flashback, the main character Clay is critiquing another kid’s essay, and notices the latter uses the word “unique” several times. When the other kid asks why that’s an issue, Clay says that if everything is unique, it means nothing is unique. And on the surface I agreed with that sentiment, but I didn’t realize how it applied to my own writing until almost a year later.

As many of you know, I recently finished a fourth draft of my college thesis Rose, and that I had the novel beta read by a couple of people, including my colleague and good friend Joleene Naylor. One of the things she pointed out was a problem throughout the novel, and which I’ve been trying to avoid in subsequent stories, is repeating words, especially adjectives. Apparently I’ve been using the word “unique” several times in a single chapter or paragraph, though “unique” wasn’t usually the word I used.

Actually, it tended to look something like this (not an actual line from the novel, but I think you’ll get the idea):

Rose stood in place, refusing to show her fear. Angrily, Paris placed the book on the table.

See how I used “place” twice? A better way to write this might have been:

Rose held her ground, refusing to show her fear. Angrily, Paris placed the book on the table.

See the difference? And I had to do this throughout the fourth draft, identifying where I repeated words in close proximity to one another, and then coming up with a better way to say it.

And I feel like this is a really common issue that writers have to deal with at some point, or possibly at several points, in their careers. Despite our reputations for loving really big words (verbose, callipygian, penultimate, etc), when it comes to fiction, we tend to just use everyday words. After all, we’re normally writing for everyday people, not for a small niche of scholars or people associated with a small religious movement. So if a simple word, like “unique” or “place,” fits the bill for telling the story, we’re likely going to use it. And we’ll use it again and again, if it’s the first word that comes to mind.

But as the above points show, you have to vary what words you use in order to tell a story and not distract the reader. And that’s something I’m trying to learn how to do as a writer. You know, along with learning how to write good short stories. And writing good stories in general. Again, I leave that up to the feedback of my readers. But this is getting a lot of emphasis as well. Because as great as a story is, the language it’s told through can determine how successful it may be. Imagine if Harry Potter had been published and it read like a sixth grader had written it. I guarantee it wouldn’t be the phenomenon it is today and I might not have been inspired to be a writer (unless JK Rowling was in the sixth grade when it was published. Then she’d be the Mozart of literature).

So while I may never actually need to know twelve different ways to say “unique,” hopefully in the future I can avoid making mistakes like the ones above. And if I do (because let’s face it, no author is perfect), I hope I have a good group of editors and beta readers around me to point out those mistakes.

And if you’re an author who makes this mistake, the only way I can think of to avoid it is to do what you’re already doing: think about the words you use. Just do it a bit harder when it comes to the individual words themselves. At least, that’s what I’ve been doing. And I think it’s been working.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Expect another post from me (or maybe even two) very soon. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.