sartorias: (desk)
The other day I posted Jane Austen's writing advice clipped from her letters to a writing niece. Afterwards, I got three different people writing me privately to ask, basically, what is so bad about figurative language?

I thought, if three ask me, others might wonder, or at least want to discuss it. So, with the caveat that "bad" is relative (in other words, if the prose works for you, it's not bad) I went on to dig out the notes I took a billion years ago [note the figurative language there, har har] from a discussion on this topic. This was at an eighties con. Being new at the con circuit after a hiatus of over ten years, I didn't know any of the writers, so I didn't note down their names--it was faster to write A, B, C, and D.

A: Bad writers use figurative language that might sound pretty but the words don't mean anything.

B. I think of those as empty calories.

C. I have my own list, but what do you mean by not meaning anything?

A. Okay, here's the example I always give in workshops. "A touch of anger colored his voice." We all know what touch is--something we can do with our fingers, or our tongue, or whatever. But one thing we can't touch is voices. So the word becomes meaningless.

B. (breaking in) Empty calories.

A. If you leave it out, the meaning is basically unchanged: Anger colored his voice.

C. I like that. We all think of anger as 'red.'

D. If I can put a word in here, I don't agree. We're told that everyone sees anger as red, but I don't. If anything I see it as white, like lightning. I think 'colored' here is lazy writing, a cliche: we all know what it means, but the word 'colored' does no actual work in the sentence.

C. Okay, so what would you put?

D. I'd use a verb suggesting something you can actually hear, since this is about a voice. Anger sharpened his voice, sharpened his consonants, anger tightened his voice, anger roughened his voice, anger thinned his voice. Depends on how you hear this particular character expressing anger. And if you have that character with the roughness of anger in his voice, and the next character express anger with a shrill voice, then you have differentiated those two characters with precise verbs. Whereas 'colored' is so generic it doesn't differentiate any characters.

B. That's what I mean by empty calories. When I do workshops, I pick out words that don't actually do anything for characterization. If you cut them out, nothing changes. So back to touch. If you mean a tiny bit, I had a professor once who dinged me for using "soupçon"--said that that had become a cliche when he was young. Why use a French word when we have gazillion good word in English?

A. Right. Instead of the generic 'touch' you could have a dash, if you're talking about cooking, a hint, a suggestion, intimation. A suspicion if you're not quite sure, a gleam if it's visual, a scintilla if you want to make the character sound pompous,a spark if sparks actually work there.

B. Other empty calorie words I see too often are 'tinge' when there isn't any painting around, though tinge is about color. And so is nuance.

C. I really hate that word. Too many people use it incorrectly. Why not subtlety?

A. Because most of us can't spell it.

(audience loved that.)

B. I totally agree. The word 'fine' used to be generic for niceties, subtleties, delicacy.

C. Hairline. Distinction.

B. Another is 'very' used as an adjective. Okay, this happened. There was this sentence totally empty of calories, "His very heart was touched." I opened one of my girlfriend's romance novels, and that was the first sentence I saw. When I pointed out that only surgeons can touch your heart, and it's not a romantic sight, she threw the book at me, saying, "We know what it means." And I said, "Then why didn't the writer take the time to craft a sentence with real punch? This is forgettable. And 'very heart'? Please.

D. I agree, but my objection first of all would be to the verb. You can line up the most elegant subject, object, modifiers, but if it's hooked together with 'was' the effect is flat. English is jam-packed with terrific verbs. Falling back on 'was' is lazy writing--especially if you want the moment to be emotionally powerful, why are you using a passive construction?

There was more (including a lot about inexact terms in SF), but this is probably long enough to get the idea across.
sartorias: (Fan)
Over here at his LiveJournal.

The take-away is that writers write.

(Curiously enough I recently read a YA novel that converses with fan fiction, by Rainbow Rowell, called Fangirl.)
sartorias: (handwritten books)
Katharine Kerr channels my process.

When I was a kid, I couldn't write short stories because I always thought about "What comes after." When I closed a book, often I wondered about how everyone's life would change; in my stories, I could actually live it by writing it down.

I stopped reading Nancy Drew at about age 12 when I realized that her life was never going to change. No matter what she experienced, nothing happened after. I wonder if writers, nudged into writing sequels to successful books who basically rewrite the same story only with bigger stakes, can't really see what happens after. So instead they take their successful plot, and make it bigger.

That is just a guess. I don't want to imply that there is a better or a worse here, it's just that some of us can't get away from "why" and "what happened after."
sartorias: (Fan)
. . . both as Americans and as writers . . .

I was rereading Byron's letters and journals over breakfast, and these two entries caught my eye:

Whenever an American requests to see me—(which is not unfrequently) I comply—firstly, because I respect a people who acquired their freedom by firmness without excess—and secondly, because these transatlantic visits “few and far between” make me feel as if talking with Posterity from the other side of the Styx: in a century or two the new English and Spanish Atlantides will be masters of the old Countries in all probability—as Greece and Europe overcame their Mother Asia in the older or earlier ages as they are called.

On him being compared to Rousseau, after he enumerates all the figures to whom he's been compared, from Satan to Harlequin to Euripides:

I can't see any point of resemblance—he wrote prose—I verse—he was of the people—I of the Aristocracy--he was a philosopher—I am none—he published his first work at forty—I mine at eighteen—his first essay brought him universal applause—mine the contrary—he married his housekeeper—I could not keep house with my wife—he thought all the world in a plot against him; my little world seems to think me in a plot against it—if I may judge by their abuse in print and coterie.
sartorias: (Fan)
Via [livejournal.com profile] jazzfish, Gertrude Stein gets a rejection letter.

Speaking of whom, I loved the version of Gertrude Stein in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. I don't usually much care for Allen, and Owen Wilson can be a little much, but I loved the Paris of the twenties in this paean.
sartorias: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] superversive is rereading Aristotle's poetics, with recourse to Greek words and their meanings, and applying it all to the problems of today's storyteller.

First chapter here.

Second chapter here..

This is the sort of stuff I love to dig into in a group setting.
sartorias: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] superversive is rereading Aristotle's poetics, with recourse to Greek words and their meanings, and applying it all to the problems of today's storyteller.

First chapter here.

Second chapter here..

This is the sort of stuff I love to dig into in a group setting.
sartorias: (desk)
I hope you'llcheck out the video first--it's very short.

Judith Tarr wrote a YA novel that couldn't be pegged in the usual boxes. Her agent and several editors said "I love it, but I'm not sure . . ." where to put it on shelves? How to market it? Whatever. This post is not aimed at slanging agents and editors, who are dealing with the volcano that is publishing nowadays as well as the rest of us.

It's all about the story. I've read this story. I think it has the potential to be a grabber. But she is also the sole support of nine Lipizzaner horses, with no financial safety net, and while self-publishing gives writers the power to be creative, it doesn't pay the bills until the book is out. So she's trying Kickstarter to earn an advance while she takes the time to rip a good story down to bare metal in order to rebuild it as a great one.

Even a spare buck will help, if enough would like to sponsor her.
sartorias: (desk)
I hope you'llcheck out the video first--it's very short.

Judith Tarr wrote a YA novel that couldn't be pegged in the usual boxes. Her agent and several editors said "I love it, but I'm not sure . . ." where to put it on shelves? How to market it? Whatever. This post is not aimed at slanging agents and editors, who are dealing with the volcano that is publishing nowadays as well as the rest of us.

It's all about the story. I've read this story. I think it has the potential to be a grabber. But she is also the sole support of nine Lipizzaner horses, with no financial safety net, and while self-publishing gives writers the power to be creative, it doesn't pay the bills until the book is out. So she's trying Kickstarter to earn an advance while she takes the time to rip a good story down to bare metal in order to rebuild it as a great one.

Even a spare buck will help, if enough would like to sponsor her.

Writing

Feb. 19th, 2012 06:20 am
sartorias: (Default)
Today's riff is on writers and bad advice.

Yesterday I went up to workshop with the Greater Los Angeles Writers' Organization. What fun that was! There is always a heady energy being around other writers. Everybody gets it. I don't feel like an extra thumb. And so much talent!

Writing

Feb. 19th, 2012 06:20 am
sartorias: (Default)
Today's riff is on writers and bad advice.

Yesterday I went up to workshop with the Greater Los Angeles Writers' Organization. What fun that was! There is always a heady energy being around other writers. Everybody gets it. I don't feel like an extra thumb. And so much talent!
sartorias: (Default)
Narrators, reliable and un.

I didn't actually intend to relate them, but I was asked to write a riff about Megan Whalen Turner, who does some nifty stuff with her narrators, so I'm linking it here.

Discussion welcome at any of these places, and that includes suggestions of books that do cool things with narrators and narration.
sartorias: (Default)
Narrators, reliable and un.

I didn't actually intend to relate them, but I was asked to write a riff about Megan Whalen Turner, who does some nifty stuff with her narrators, so I'm linking it here.

Discussion welcome at any of these places, and that includes suggestions of books that do cool things with narrators and narration.
sartorias: (Default)
Starting off the New Year with a riff about Hilary McKay and feel-good books.

Wishing everyone an excellent 2012.
sartorias: (Default)
Starting off the New Year with a riff about Hilary McKay and feel-good books.

Wishing everyone an excellent 2012.
sartorias: (Exordium)
Deborah J. Ross talks here about several related subjects as Dave and I launch the rewrite (a very significant rewrite) of Ruler of Naught second book in the Exordium series.

I will say more about Ex and writing with Dave tomorrow, when he officially joins Book View Cave, but for now, the thing that made me smile was the spouse's view when their significant person is tied creatively to someone else.

SO many writers I know ended up divorced, not because of the intrusion of another person, but because their spouse felt the writing was an intrusion. It's gotten so that if writer friends find someone special, I kind of hold my breath, hoping they can get over that "So WHY won't you watch TV with me tonight? Can't that stupid book wait? You haven't even sold it!" or "Really? You're going to spend the entire holiday weekend at your computer, when I got these expensive skiiing tickets for you as a surprise? So I'm supposed to go alone, or sit around bored all weekend? Great choice, and what happened to 'marriage is a partnership'?" hump.

Because writing isn't always neatly segmented off as a nine to five job. It can be a 120 hour a week job, or it can be a zero week job, during which the writer mopes and frets, or cat vacuums frantically, driving the spouse nutso yet again.

But hooking up with another writer doesn't always work, either--I've known situations where one's success and actively being courted by editors, reviewers, con-runners, fans, yadda, hurt the less successful partner so much that the relationship strained, and broke.

Then there is always the madness of two writers trying to deal with a family, should they choose to have one--how do you cope when you are both on deadline, or possessed by the white fire?

Anyway, visiting Dave and Deborah is an extra special pleasure, because Dave and I can lock ourselves into his study, end up snickering and laughing up a storm, and when we come out, there's Deborah, having happily worked a session on her own stories, and ready to talk process, progress, books, reading, the universe--and when I come home, it's such a pleasure to hear "So how much did you guys get done?" and zero drama.
sartorias: (Exordium)
Deborah J. Ross talks here about several related subjects as Dave and I launch the rewrite (a very significant rewrite) of Ruler of Naught second book in the Exordium series.

I will say more about Ex and writing with Dave tomorrow, when he officially joins Book View Cave, but for now, the thing that made me smile was the spouse's view when their significant person is tied creatively to someone else.

SO many writers I know ended up divorced, not because of the intrusion of another person, but because their spouse felt the writing was an intrusion. It's gotten so that if writer friends find someone special, I kind of hold my breath, hoping they can get over that "So WHY won't you watch TV with me tonight? Can't that stupid book wait? You haven't even sold it!" or "Really? You're going to spend the entire holiday weekend at your computer, when I got these expensive skiiing tickets for you as a surprise? So I'm supposed to go alone, or sit around bored all weekend? Great choice, and what happened to 'marriage is a partnership'?" hump.

Because writing isn't always neatly segmented off as a nine to five job. It can be a 120 hour a week job, or it can be a zero week job, during which the writer mopes and frets, or cat vacuums frantically, driving the spouse nutso yet again.

But hooking up with another writer doesn't always work, either--I've known situations where one's success and actively being courted by editors, reviewers, con-runners, fans, yadda, hurt the less successful partner so much that the relationship strained, and broke.

Then there is always the madness of two writers trying to deal with a family, should they choose to have one--how do you cope when you are both on deadline, or possessed by the white fire?

Anyway, visiting Dave and Deborah is an extra special pleasure, because Dave and I can lock ourselves into his study, end up snickering and laughing up a storm, and when we come out, there's Deborah, having happily worked a session on her own stories, and ready to talk process, progress, books, reading, the universe--and when I come home, it's such a pleasure to hear "So how much did you guys get done?" and zero drama.
sartorias: (Default)
today's post fits the theme of the weekend.

I have been having a terrific time at World Fantasy Con.Imagine wall to wall writers--from those with experience to new writers seeking to find ways to share their work. New ways--many conversations about ebooks, who's doing it right, what to do, do we need publishers and editors, what share should they have when it is print versus phosphors.

I participated in some very interesting discussions that I will write up when I get home.
sartorias: (Default)
today's post fits the theme of the weekend.

I have been having a terrific time at World Fantasy Con.Imagine wall to wall writers--from those with experience to new writers seeking to find ways to share their work. New ways--many conversations about ebooks, who's doing it right, what to do, do we need publishers and editors, what share should they have when it is print versus phosphors.

I participated in some very interesting discussions that I will write up when I get home.
sartorias: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija and I were talking the other day, and I realized that though I read scads and scads of YA last year for the Norton Award, a lot of them have blended in my mind.

Publishers put out what readers want to read, and popular books do emerge in patterns. When I was a kid, the pattern that came closest to my tastes was the "Four kids go to another world to have adventures." I absolutely loathed and hated the ending wherein the kids have to forget it all when they are safely deposited back into their lives. I hated that ending with every atom of my being. But I read them anyway, because the gatekeepers weren't letting any writers explore the consequences of such adventures--from the relatively simple one of the kids remembering, to what if they chose to stay? So I wrote those myself.

But when I went to the library and scoured the 'new' shelves, that was the most frequent fantasy pattern, besides talking animals, and the occasional historical with a touch of magic. (I loved those, too. One of my top favorites was Benary-Isbert's The Wicked Enchantment--I wonder how that would be marketed today, as it doesn't have a romantic relationship central, nor a teen upwards of sixteen, so how could it be YA? But the language is much more sophisticated than today's MG.

Anyway, obviously teens like the bad-fae boyfriend plot a lot (and the bad-fae and the good-werewolf, or bad whatever and good whatever) love triangle or there wouldn't be so many of them. But it's difficult to get excited about them, especially when the plots follow the same pattern, and come to the same conclusions.

Another one that teens seem to like is the simplistic dystopia. I would probably have liked those too, at thirteen, but the threadbare worldbuilding makes it difficult to get into them now.

Anyway, recommendations are sought over at Rachel's, or here . . . though I am keeping my eye cocked for this year's award, nobody can read everything, so heads up always appreciated.

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