About Writing

Be You

I often think that the problem with contemporary fiction writing is that there are too many rules to contend with. Writing communities are stiff with them. People constantly ask for help with them and enforce them on others. Most of the time, whenever someone asks for a critique, it boils down to, “Am I following the rules properly?”

What about creative passion? Idealism? Soul expression? Where do those fit in?

Why do people ask, “Is this something that others would read?” instead of, “Is this something I care deeply about?”

When it comes to writing, the single most important thing is to have fun. Enjoy it. Randomly burst into laughter because you thought of something funny to write while waiting in line at the grocery store. Cry when your characters are sad. Ride the roller coaster of emotion that comes from being a writer, and revel in the intensity of life. It can be so blissfully wonderful.

Tell as much as you want instead of showing it. Use the word ‘said’ exclusively. Describe everything with adverbs. Neglect world building. Write only subplots. Use your favorite cliches. Include funky colloquialisms.

Just be you.

Don’t copy someone else. Don’t seek out everyone else’s approval. Don’t slavishly follow rules and formulas because someone wrote an article about it. Don’t follow bad advice from the internet.

Figure out what you like, and do it. Perfect it. Develop a strong voice and your own unique style.

I believe that there’s an empathic transfer that happens between author and reader. If you aren’t madly head over heels in love with your own story to begin with, then no one else will feel that way either. If you don’t care, then no one else will care.

And besides,

You can’t please everyone.

But you can certainly please yourself. So isn’t that where you ought to start?

(And yes, I know I’ve written a similar post before, but exposure to writing communities always puts me on this train of thought)

About Writing

Writing for readers

At some point during the writing process, you have to start thinking about your readers.

I don’t mean you should sellout and introduce a teenage vampire who spends all day angsting about how much he hates himself, and all night getting spanked in the local underground BDSM scene, before being chosen to participate in a deadly game of wits and survival. Yuck. No.

When you chat with someone face-to-face, it’s considered polite to speak clearly and audibly, and to continually read the other person’s cues to make sure they aren’t growing bored by your rambling. When you’re done, you say goodbye instead of just walking away.

Writing should be approached with the same considerations. While it’s much harder to work without a present audience yawning and glancing at their cell phones, it’s good to empathize with imaginary readers and place yourself in their shoes, so to speak.

Continually ask yourself questions like:

“Is this sentence clear or do I need to reword it?”

“Is this part boring?”

“Are my transitions smooth or jarring?”

“Does this paragraph flow when I read it out loud, or is it choppy?”

“Is the end too abrupt?”

Etc, etc, etc.

Your readers are your best friends; they’re the ones who appreciate a part of you that even your parents don’t know about (at least for many of us writers, lol). Don’t take them for granted. Be a gracious host and make sure that they’re having a good time.

If you know someone you trust who fits your target audience, go ahead and use them as a beta reader. Watch them read. Pay attention to their facial expressions and body language. While they may say that something is good, a wrinkled brow and down turned mouth will tell you that there was something unsatisfying, but they might not be able to articulate it. Don’t take it personally, just think about how to make it better. I promise you that it’s a good feeling to come back with the improved version and watch someone gush over something they were previously “meh” about.

While it’s good practice to write the first draft for yourself, be in the habit of rewriting the last one for your readers. They have the power to set you down and dismiss you forever, so don’t lord your ego over them. Be nice and considerate, and show some appreciation.

About Writing

Complaining

Why do I complain so much about contemporary literature?

Personally, I’m not likely to run into any sort of shortage of used books to read — as anyone who has been in a thrift store can attest to — so the hottest new releases don’t have any affect on me no matter how badly they are written. If I were to speak truthfully from the coldest place in my heart, I think it would be a relief if publishing houses died wholesale. Good riddance.

Contemporary literature is all about making money. Idealistically, we want to believe that ‘high quality = more profit’, but the popularity of the YouTube channel ‘5 Minute Crafts’ is undeniable proof that sentiment just isn’t true. Profit comes from tickling algorithms coupled with click-bait, and corporations have turned it into a science.

The thing is, ‘5 Minute Crafts’ and its ilk aren’t harmlessly mediocre underneath all the hype. I’ve seen videos promoting burning your hair with a candle, soaking strawberries in bleach, and other such activities that have no business in a DIY context, and should never be tried at home. Seriously, burning your hair is not a fast way to get rid of split ends, it is a stinky way to get rid of your hair. People are prophesying that these channels will one day kill YouTube.

Let’s bring the topic back to books: publishing houses, and by extension writers, are excessively geared towards money. The algorithms utilize formulaic stories that just so happen to hit all the right trending key words, and the shiny covers function as the click bait. Whether or not the story is actually well written and engaging is never the question.

You see, it doesn’t matter how much teachers extol the virtues of reading, no one is going to bother if the experience is a tedious one. Every time I hear someone say that they hate reading, I sympathize with the statement, “Most books suck.”

I say that as a writer.

The last I heard, fiction sales have been steadily dropping for some time now, and I don’t believe that the popularity of video streaming or video games has anything to do with it — movies have existed for quite some time, and the adage has always been, “the book is better” up until now. I believe that fiction is dying because no one gives a shit if the reader has an enjoyable experience or not, so long as they can collect on the royalties.

Statistically I also contribute to “the death of the novel”, because I haven’t purchased anything new in the last ten years, even though I still read books. I’m not voracious by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m usually working my way through something. I’m sure there are others who read plenty of fiction, but who also prefer used books, or websites that provide content for free. Humans have loved storytelling since the dawn of time, and that isn’t going to change.

I complain about contemporary literature because, as a writer, I often feel like I’ve dedicated my life to a field that is gaining an increasingly bad rap through blatant mismanagement. It doesn’t matter how much love and attention I put into producing quality works if people have been taught through experience to hate reading in the first place.

Since I’m not delusional enough to believe that my solitary rumblings are going to have any sort of effect on the world, I often wonder what other sort of venues are there for connecting with readers. How can I publish novels without resorting to books? How can I stand apart from contemporary literature?

About Writing

Sentence Length

I’ve done some groaning on this topic recently, so I figured that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to expound a little more. So, how long should sentences be?

Despite the ubiquity of Twitter-friendly writing in contemporary literature, even Pinterest advises against putting too many short sentences in a row. Why? Because they are monotonous and difficult to read.

However, the counter advice of using varying lengths also has the potential of being misused. If you think to yourself, “I have too many long sentences in this paragraph; I’m going to throw in a short one to spice things up!” STOP AND THINK AGAIN. Longer sentences can provide plenty of variety on their own, especially if you are skilled at using less common punctuation like semicolons or dashes. Learn the intricacies of grammar instead.

Unless you are a poetry master (or giving yourself a writing challenge for the fun of it), don’t try to default to any sort of formulas for sentence length (such as, long, long, short, medium). Don’t use short sentences for the sake of having short sentences. The human brain is smart enough to naturally pick up patterns across paragraphs, and using the same one over and over will become monotonous. Unfortunately, that monotony is also the reason why it’s easy to slip into following patterns in the first place — brains are lazy.

Instead, follow this rule of thumb: The more important the idea is, the more concise the sentence should be.

For example:

He was fucked.

Versus:

He was in the unfortunate position — and he had to admit that it was entirely his fault of finding himself in a dire situation.

The former conveys a sense of urgency and finality that the latter doesn’t possess, because the effect is softened by the use of more words. In the second sentence, we naturally expect the character to find a way out, despite his dire situation, because the urgency just isn’t there. However, there’s no arguing with the simplicity of the three words that compose the first sentence. He’s fucked, and that’s that.

Let’s do another example:

His eyes were blue, surrounded by aging skin that was creased with smile lines, which made them seem soft and friendly.

Versus:

His eyes were blue. They were surrounded by aging skin that was creased with smile lines, making them seem soft and friendly.

In the first sentence, the fact that this character’s eyes are blue matter less than the fact that they are soft and friendly, and the color might never be mentioned again. The point of this sentence is to give the reader a general idea of how this character looks.

In the second sentence, the character’s eyes are *blue*, and the reader subconsciously expects this emphasis to be important later on. Maybe they’re blue because he’s secretly an angel, or maybe someone will recognize him by his eyes after he’s been inflicted with amnesia, or something. This sort of emphasis is a subtle and effective form of foreshadowing. Cool, huh?

For the most part, read your writing out loud to hear how it sounds; you can even record yourself then play it back to get a better idea the flow. If you don’t like what you hear, fix it. Most of us read with an internal voice narrating to ourselves, and writers need to be mindful of that fact when they are plying their craft. That’s how you create something enjoyable.

About Writing

Why I don’t read contemporary books

I’ve said repeatedly that I don’t read anything that was published this decade, because I’m a cranky bitch who hates everything about modern living … and all that. Hur hur.

I’m not doing this to be an irrational hater, but rather to analytically illustrate what I think is wrong with contemporary literature. At random, I have selected a paragraph out of a book titled, Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe, because another blogger linked to it recently (hello!), and I think it serves as a good example of why I have dismissed this decade’s literature all together.

Disclaimer: I have not read this book, cannot review the quality of the story itself, and haven’t the slightest idea of what the writing is like outside of the preview available on Amazon. I have absolutely no opinion on the book itself; my complaint is with contemporary writing practices.

From the sample:

They both turned to look out of the window of the assisted living facility in north London. Issy had installed Joe there when it became clear he was getting too absentminded to live on his own. Issy had hated moving him down south after he’d spent his life in the north, but she needed him close to visit. Joe had grumbled of course but he was going to grumble anyway, moving out of his home to anywhere that wouldn’t let him rise at 5:00 a.m. and start pounding bread dough. So he might as well be grumpy close by, where she could keep an eye on him. After all, it wasn’t as if anyone else was around to do it. And the three bakeries, with their proud, shiny brass handles and old signs proclaiming them to be “electric bakers,” were gone now; fallen prey to the supermarkets and chains that favored cheap white pulp over handcrafted but slightly more expensive loaves.

First, for some unfathomable reason, authors have all decided that they have a raging allergy to commas. Maybe they think it’s more conversational, that commas are outdated and useless, or they simply never learned how to organize a sentence during their schooling; whatever the case, reading feels more like delving into an overgrown forest where one is expected to hack their way through alone. It also makes it significantly harder to read out loud, since being expected to run on and on without any pauses in one long unbroken sentence gives a monotone effect that can be really quite hypnotic … Woah, sorry, got sucked into the wrong dimension there for a moment.

The worst, in my opinion, is something that I think of as “THE TWITTER EFFECT.” You never, ever, not in a million years, see sentences longer than 280 characters (most will stay under 140, which was Twitter’s original cut off point), even in novels. Yes, I know that Moby-Dick was ridiculous for having sentences that spanned more than one page, but that doesn’t mean the answer is to only write short, choppy, status updates in lieu of actual paragraphs. I blame social media.

The longest sentence in the quoted paragraph is 258 characters, including the improperly used semicolon. Four of them are shorter than 100 characters, which accounts for more than half of the sentences in the paragraph.

So, let’s rewrite it. After all, if I’m going to claim that I can do better, I might as well back it up!

They both turned to look out of the window of the assisted living facility in north London, where Issy had installed her grampa Joe after it had become clear that he was getting too absentminded to live on his own. Issy had hated moving him so far from his home, but she had wanted him close by for her to visit, and they had no other family members who were willing to help take care of him. Joe had grumbled, of course, but he was sure to be grouchy anywhere that wouldn’t let him rise at 5:00 a.m. to start pounding dough, so he might as well be grouchy where she could keep an eye on him. The three bakeries of his past, with their proud, shiny, brass handles, and old signs proclaiming them to be “electric bakers”, were gone now, fallen prey to the supermarkets and chains that favored cheap, white pulp over handcrafted, yet slightly more expensive, loaves.

The length is the same, but I combined the seven sentences into four to decrease the choppy effect of countless periods, and enhance the overall flow of the story itself. I used a lot more commas for clear organization, and with any luck, you should be able to read that sucker out loud without stumbling. Give it a shot, and tell me if I’m wrong.

Thusly we have learned: Use commas and think longer thoughts, ’cause I ain’t got nothin’ to read.

I need a rest after writing this post. Whew.

About Writing

My hope

I haven’t read more than a few pages of fiction novels published after 2010. That was the year the world became untenable for me, beginning with my inability to accept the popularity of skinny jeans and yoga pants. I cannot believe that anyone with functioning eyes can put on a pair of leggings, look in the mirror, and genuinely feel good about themselves. C’mon, you deserve better than that. You don’t have to treat yourself like crap just because everyone else is doing it.

As a Millennial, I keep my hopes up that one day we’ll explode on the scene and break all the molds. We’ll tell the publishing world in no uncertain terms that we demand better than 50 Shades of Grey, and crappy literature will vanish along with microwave dinners and Styrofoam cups. We can achieve so much more out of life than what the previous generations handed down to us.

I know what Millennials are capable of. I’ve seen plenty of brilliant short stories and creative ideas posted around the internet, but I have yet to find the officially published full length novels that are of the same quality. Maybe my peers have yet to realize the value of what they have to offer, and never work up the nerve to really throw it out there.

I know I’m not alone. I know you’re there.

Write with unhindered creativity, pour your love of English into every sentence, and do your best to hone your talent. Be artistic. Be real. Be different. Be you. Don’t rewrite Harry Potter and Twilight because they were popular, write the weird and quirky stories that you secretly post on Reddit. Just make them longer. A lot longer.

Self-publishing has become readily accessible to everyone, so you don’t have to follow the old channels of appeasement and rejection anymore — you can reach your readers directly. Don’t be afraid.

Join me, and we can change the literary world.

About Me

Literary World

Whenever I take a gander at the hottest new releases on Amazon, I can’t help but feel like there really isn’t a place for me in the literary world. It’s not that I don’t believe that I have the skill to write, but rather, I think that society’s tastes have drifted too far for my novels to have much appeal.

I’m old fashioned, and I like sentences that flow well together as an easy thought, that can be read out loud to others. I like to focus more on straightforward storytelling, and I don’t particularly care about impressing anyone with my command of purple prose. I’m nothing like Game of Thrones, and I don’t feel any desire to erase my own voice in order to imitate the bestsellers. I don’t have any points to prove; I’m just make-believing because I like to, and savoring the process of filling up page after page.

I really couldn’t care less about what celebrities or the New York Times say about anything. Their opinions are more of a disincentive, to be truthful, and I will feel like an epic failure as an individualist if I gained their approval.

Sometimes I think that the real world is all about hyper-conformity, and trying as hard as possible to be “3 edgy 5 you” to prove how thoroughly you belong in the 21st century. Me? I’m enamored with the basics of True Love and Motherhood, and it doesn’t bother me that I don’t particularly belong to any century.

Ultimately, it doesn’t much matter. I’ve never been one for approval seeking, and in many ways I’ve lived my life to the opposite. As long as I’m happy and fulfilled, nothing else really matters.

I just kind of wish that I wasn’t so gosh darn weird compared to everyone else. Why can’t there be more weirdos in the world?

About Writing

The Chosen One

A trope that I see every now and then that drives me absolutely batty goes something like this:

Congratulations hero! You are the CHOSEN ONE! You have special powers that no one else does!

The intro is all about letting the audience know how super awesome this character is, being the Chosen One and all, and you think that you’re in for some impressive ass-kicking all around, literally and/or figuratively.

Then, as the story progresses, it turns out that the character isn’t that awesome after all, because:

  • They don’t want to be the Chosen One.
  • A dozen other characters are introduced who also have special abilities.
  • Their power turns out to not be anywhere near as cool as it sounds.

Any one of those three would put my teeth on edge, but for whatever reason I usually see all three of these together. I used to try to finish stories that pulled this trope, but experience has taught me that the ending never gets better.

So, let’s break down my bullet points:

  • They don’t want to be the Chosen One

I suspect that the writer is trying to be subversive with this one, but societal context has changed to the point that aspiring to be a mediocre nobody is par for the course — you can even decorate your home with quotes about how you will never do, say, or think anything unique or special. Personally, I have been heavily criticized every time I’ve taken on a new responsibility, often because others treat it as some sort of enslavement.

You have four kids? How on Earth are you ever supposed to do anything?

Oh, I don’t know. Occasionally the kids take off the shackles and I’m allowed a bit of sunshine; just enough to keep me going. So tell me, what do you do with your freedom? Work all day, then veg out on the internet?

Anyway, it would be far more refreshing to see a character who actually wants to be the Chosen One and takes the responsibility seriously.

  • A dozen other characters are introduced who also have special abilities.

I wish I could say that this is due to a lack of imagination, but I can’t shake the suspicion that it’s wish fulfillment on the part of the writer. Usually, the main character is no longer set apart, instead belonging to a tight-knit group where everyone knows everyone else’s pain, and never has to face the possibility of loneliness.

After the cadre has been formed, the enemies start popping up with even stronger powers to justify it all, and the hero is looking less and less unique and interesting. But at least the writer vicariously has imaginary friends!

  • Their power turns out to not be anywhere near as cool as it sounds.

This is the natural consequence of the previous bullet points. Even if someone is uncertain at first, they’ll naturally be drawn into enjoying ULTIMATE POWER when they realize what they can do with it, so in order to keep up with the mediocre aspiration, the ULTIMATE POWER can’t actually be all that seductive or useful. You also can’t make your friends feel bad by being obviously better than them, and the battles need more suspense by dangling the question of whether or not the entire group has what it takes to defeat the single bad guy. Working alone. Against all of you.

Wait, who was supposed to be the Chosen One again?

It’s a terrible trope, which unfortunately plagues the fantasy genre, so I keep coming across it. Le sigh.

Maybe we could try something new?

About Me

Disguised Genres

About ten years ago, I purchased a book that described demonic possessions in the summary on the back cover, and the first chapter was about the main character performing an exorcism. Seemed legit, and I had yet to learn to be jaded, so I went ahead and paid my scant pennies for the thing. However, after about a hundred pages in, the book was spending far more time and attention on gay BDSM than demons, and by the end it had never turned around. It turned out that the exorcism in the first chapter was the only exorcism in the entire book.

I had really wanted the demons.

Around the same time, I had purchased my field guide to demons (on clearance at Barnes and Noble, lol) and was ravenously studying everything I could find on demonology, so I thought it would be fun to throw in some brain candy on the same topic. When I had purchased the book that I had described above, I had been looking for a very specific sort of story, but what I got was completely different genre. The description never mentioned anything about BDSM or homosexuality, and I had been too naive and earnest to risk spoiling the plot by turning to page 150 to figure out what I was actually getting myself into.

It was such a huge disappointment, that it was the last newly released fiction novel I ever purchased. The best way I can describe it is that the author didn’t actually know what to do with her initial idea, so defaulted to the adage “sex sells” with the hope that no one would notice. As the reader, I felt like I had been sold fetish erotica in disguise, and I hate it when the product doesn’t match the labeling on the box.

So where on Earth is the literature for a girl obsessed with spiritual themes?

I still haven’t found it.

Books

Mythago Wood

My kids very generously soaked my copy in water, but thankfully I didn’t have the dust jacket on at the time. You can barely tell that the cover underneath is warped.

This is a novel about two brothers, and a magical forest where the mythological figures of the collective consciousness literally come alive.

The first half of the book is a fairly exhaustive explanation of the forest and its magical inhabitants, named ‘Mythagos’, which feels fairly slow paced. It takes place primarily on a homestead on the edge of the forest, and the main character makes a point of avoiding going too far into the woods. The reader is also given quite a bit of background on the main character, his brother, and their father who had dedicated his life to studying the forest, but whose death serves as the catalyst for the events in the novel. There’s also a woman Mythago, the manifestation of the warrior princess archetype, who captures the main character’s heart and sends him hurtling helplessly into love.

The second half, which takes place in the forest itself, feels dissociative and confusing at times, heavy with mythological references and metaphors, turning this book into a very slow read for me.

However, I have forgiven all of that.

The author was seriously “tuned in” with the subject matter, and the book has a lot of metaphysical depth to it, which makes it good ‘thinking’ material. I have no doubt that this novel will leave a lasting impression, and I’m interested in reading some of the other books about this forest.

The villain is the most cold hearted bastard I’ve ever encountered in a story, and he uttered an absolutely amazing line (which won’t make any sense without context) that had me giggling with sadistic glee. His inevitable defeat came about in a way that was, frankly, unexpected.

Happy ending for most.

I feel bad for the mother, who is mentioned in passing as having committed suicide long before the events in the book take place. Poor woman.

My rating: 4/5