I attended a terrific workshop the other day, and I came home with a whole lot of thoughts. I’m not a workshop kind of person. I’m kind of an anti-meeting person altogether, so this was somewhat of an anomaly for me. I’ve always written on my own, albeit aided by invaluable words of wisdom from other authors on the internet and in books. I’m a bit of a hermit, and I’m also an insanely busy hermit. The idea of sitting stationary for a few hours, listening to other people talk, doesn’t always entice me. But I really wanted to meet these authors, since they’re all from my area. Plus, they’re all members of the RWA, and I’m not, so I wanted to get a feel for what I might be missing. I'm so glad I went.
What struck me the most was how different a lot of the perspectives were … and how different some were from mine. I had a couple of beefs, but I’m keeping those to myself, because really, everything in writing is subjective (except for grammar and spelling). Nothing I write is any more valid than something anyone else might write.
But I woke up this morning with a niggling thought—you know those? That little voice that won’t shut up long enough for you to convince it that you’re too busy to write a blog? Anyway, mine was insistent, and I did think it interesting, so today’s blog is about SEX.
Writing sex, anyway.
One of the questions put to the panel yesterday was by an author uncomfortable about writing graphic sex and/or violence. I can’t recall all the responses, but I got the general feel that the author should just do it, dare herself, be free! And yet … I’ve written a lot, and I still am uncomfortable writing either. In this day and age, where we’re relatively dulled to violence and hard to shock when it comes to sex, do we have to juice it up? Write such rip roaring scenes that you’ll get past the rest?
In my opinion, no.
I’ve written relatively sexy stuff (which I haven’t even considered publishing), and that includes a couple of wedding nights. And oh boy, I’ve written violence. My most controversial scene of “Under the Same Sky” was one of the first things I ever wrote, and it shocked me to the core. I had no idea I had that in me! I wrote absolutely everything my character saw, everything she heard, everything she felt. Through my words, the reader knew every little thing that was going on. Then I remembered that readers had brains and imaginations of their own. I cut, cut, cut, and in the end I came up with something a couple of people have called “Fade to Black” violence. I created the setting, built the tension, put up signposts and fences so the reader couldn’t avoid the scene, but I let the writing suffice. Did I have to indicate every kick, every punch, every thrust? Did I have to repeat the abusive language those creatures used? No. Absolutely not.
When I’m reading, two things will prompt me to set a book aside, unfinished. Predictability and Redundancy. Do I know just about everything about the characters and story within the first few pages? Yes? Not interested. Do I need to learn the details of how to tie a knot? The material on the chairs in a room? The weather? Unless these things are directly related to the storyline or are a central focus of the scene, I could care less. Touch on them, but let’s not dwell, people. I get bored.
The same goes—for me—with writing sex. I figure we all know how sex works, right? Insert Tab A into Slot B, create friction … Why do I have to include thrusting or sweating or groping or panting? And don’t get me going on descriptions of how she’s feeling during her orgasm. I can build to what’s going on through other actions, but once my characters are into it, they’re on their own.
On the other hand, I’m not going to just shut the door on what’s going on. Take this example from “Sound of the Heart.” It was actually pretty graphic for me.
He wanted her to love this, to feel the exhilaration he felt. He wanted her to want more. He certainly did not intend for this to be their one and only time. He tried varying his speed depending on the little purring noises she issued, then realised he couldn't stand thinking anymore. He closed his eyes as a familiar, delicious rumble began deep within him, taking ahold and growing, wave after wave, taking possession of his mind and body.
Not one thrust, not one unnecessary grab, though I’m sure there were plenty in his mind. I could have gone into the down and dirty descriptions, but in my heart, that was enough. I didn’t look away, but I didn’t take away from Dougal’s moment by over-narrating, either.
I think there are three distinct schools of thought on writing sex and violence. The first would be the hands-off, the author who wants nothing to do with writing more than a peck on the cheek. The second is the full frontal, go-for-it, no holds barred (or add in holds just for the thrill of it, if you’re into erotica). But the third is one that people often forget, and that’s Fade To Black.
What I want to say to readers is ... if you’re looking for more graphic stuff from me, it isn’t forthcoming. I am in my characters’ heads already. They deserve a little privacy now and then.
What I want to say to writers is ... if you are uncomfortable about writing sex or violence but it’s necessary for the story/scene, consider writing Fade To Black.
The 12 Editing Gifts of Christmas ... DAY #3!
WHAT IS SYNTAX?
Between December 1-23 I’ll post twelve editing suggestions I hope you can use in the coming year when you’re working on your manuscript. I suppose you could print them off and hide them under your tree, but don’t feel like you have to.
Okay, first I'm just gonna complain a bit because I had this post almost done and the internet swallowed it up ... must have been all the electricity I got going in the air because my very first copy of my BOOK
arrived today!! Yes, the delivery guy, henceforth known as the delivery ELF, brought it. Can you imagine? He had no idea what it was. Anyway, suffice to say, much celebrating and photo taking has taken place. If you're curious, go see my facebook page
Okay! On to today's Editing Tip.DAY #3: SYNTAX
What is Syntax, and what can it do for my writing?
There are zillions of words in the English language (that might possibly be an exaggeration, and the cool thing is how you can transform those words from boring old sentences into great ones just by using syntax. What is syntax? Glad you asked.
syn·tax [sin-taks] (c/o Dictionary.com)
a.the study of the rules for the formation of grammatical sentences in a language.
b.the study of the patterns of formation of sentences and phrases from words.
So really, it's using words effectively. Here are some examples:
Let's start with two simple sentences. Hmm …
I wrote a book. I hope people will buy it.
Let's connect the two phrases with a conjunction ("and"). In this case, I removed the "I" from the second phrase, meaning the second phrase can't stand independently. When this happens, no comma is necessary.
I wrote a book and hope people will buy it.
Now let's connect them again, but this time I'll pop that "I" back in so the second phrase is just as independent as the first. When you have two independent phrases joined by a conjunction, you have to add a comma before the conjunction.
I wrote a book, and I hope people will buy it.
Now let's use what's called a "dependent marker" so phrase #1 become a modifier for phrase #2.
While I was writing my book, I hoped people would buy it.
Let's switch them around now so phrase #2 starts first. We can play with phrase #1 to make it more interesting.
I hope people buy the book I wrote.
Just to make things even more interesting, we can insert a "nonessential phrase" and surround it by commas BUT you have to put the comma after the conjunction ("and" in this case). The reason the conjunction is before is because the nonessential clause modifies the second phrase, not the first.
I wrote a book and, of course, I'm hoping people will buy it.
Along the nonessential phrase thing, you can also insert one that modifies the first phrase. In that case the conjunction comes after the nonessential phrase.
I wrote a book, which was amazing to me, and I hope people will buy it.
If you want to make that nonessential phrase stick out, like it's something that just popped into your head, use em dashes. The conjunction comes before the dashes in this case.
I wrote a book - which surprised the heck out of me - and I hope people will buy it.
If you use brackets instead, it will de-emphasize it. Don't forget the comma after the close bracket.
I wrote a book (which surprised the heck out of me), and I hope people will buy it.
Semi-colons can be used as well, but sparingly. Too many times writers replace commas or periods with semi-colons. But you use it in a few cases. For example, if we change the second phrase into something a little more interesting, we can add it to the first one.
I wrote a book; I'm hoping when folks head into a bookstore they'll pick up a copy.
Use the semi-colon again, still using a more interesting second phrase, but add an adverb or adverbial phrase after the semi-colon, followed by a comma.
I wrote a book; naturally, I'm hoping when folks head into a bookstore they'll pick up a copy.
When you are writing, or when you've finished writing something, read what you've done out loud. Are your sentences all the same length and rhythm? Do they lack a little depth and variety? Anything gets dull if it's all the same.
Look at syntax. Take a sentence or two and play. Create something beautiful out of something plain.
I can’t remember how many times I read this when I first bopped around online, looking at critique sites, listening in on forums, reading comments on writing. Show, don’t tell. Huh.
After I got hit over the head with it enough times, I understood the concept. The author must envelop the reader in the story, fill his senses with setting, character, emotions, action and everything else. In effect, the author must make it possible for the Reader to forget both that they are the Reader, and the fact that they’re reading a story.
Sounds simple enough.
Ha! Personally, I think that part of writing can be almost as difficult as the infamous Agent search. However, it can also be the most rewarding. And if it’s done well, the Reader goes away with an image in their head, something they’ll remember.
In order for an author to Show, not Tell, they must allow their thoughts to be completely “at one” with their writing. Throw in all those techniques and tools we writers are always talking about: metaphors, similes, dialogue, etc. For me it’s kind of a zen thing. While your fingers are flying and your mind is racing along with the action, it’s easy to try to keep up by writing something like,
She ran into the forest, needing to escape. That, my friends, is Telling.
If I really take my time and sink into the scene, I am able to Show.
The pounding of her feet was background to her laboured gasps; her heartbeat raced. The trees closed on her like wolves around an injured deer, their gnarled branches clawing and scraping her sweat-soaked skin. The air was heavy, wet from the storm, and slippery, twisted roots jutted up to grasp at her exhausted feet. Escape jeered from far away. <-------- Goal
You may not like my example. Actually, I’m not convinced either. Could be overdone. But let’s consider it anyway. What are the differences between the two examples?
Basic nouns and verbs
Few or no adjectives and adverbs
Metaphors: Can you see the wolves/trees? Can you sense the menace?
Other devices such as Personification (of the trees and roots, and even of escape)
Covers senses such as: Touch (clawing and scraping), smell (the heavy air), emotion (panic)
Paints clear, precise images: describes details about trees, background on weather and conditions on the ground, location (faraway) of her goal.
On the other hand,
too much Showing can destroy a piece. Too many descriptive words, listing unimportant facts and features ...
In my opinion, there are basically three ways to describe one thing.
The first is Telling.
The cowboy was blond and looked good. <-------- Avoid
The second is what I call a “shopping list”.
He had blond hair that hung to his shoulders and it was messy. He wore a red, green and black plaid flannel shirt that was so old it needed to be patched. It had a square pocket on the left side. His silver belt buckle was large and not very shiny. It was the shape of a wild, bucking bronco with a cowboy on top. <-------- Avoid
The third is to Show.
Long, golden blond waves, tousled by indifference, tickled the solid slope of his shoulders. He’d tucked in one side of his flannel shirt, leaving the other to hang carelessly over his thigh. A tarnished silver buckle winked from behind the worn material. <-------- Goal
Another technique is to throw in a little dialogue. Everyone wants to hear dialogue anyway.
The office manager stormed into her office and demanded coffee. <----- Avoid
Her head jerked up as the office manager stormed into her office and slammed the door behind him. “I want coffee, and I want it now,” he demanded. <-------- Goal
So ... Show, don’t tell:
1. Use effective, descriptive nouns and verbs, adding necessary adjectives and adverbs whenever needed. Don’t overdo it.
2. Cover as many senses as possible: sight, touch, sound, smell, taste, intuition
3. Use writing techniques like personification, metaphors, etc
4. Don’t list things, describe them. And only bother with the ones that matter.
5. Paint clear, concise images that will swallow up the Reader.
Here. Try this. I’ll get you started, and you make this into something memorable ...
The editor hoped her advice helped.
We're writers. We love words. But why do we need to junk up our work with too many of them? It's because we want to make sure everyone reading our book understands exactly what we mean. But too many descriptive words cut up on the piece, shoving speed bumps all over the place for the reader to navigate.
I'll never forget what my mentor, Rona Altrows asked about the first battle scene of mine that she read. She shook her head and said, "This character is amazing. How did he survive all those adjectives?"
So what King suggested (and at first I said Pshaw! I'm not doing that! ... but I did, and wow) was:
1) Take the first page of your book. Read it - out loud.
2) Delete EVERY SINGLE adjective and adverb (of course I don't mean delete permanently. Do this on a separate document. Never delete anything you've written).
3) Now your first page is 'naked'. Read it - out loud. Doesn't that sound cleaner?
4) Read it through slowly again, adding in any descriptive words you feel are imperative. But don't layer it on thick. Don't use three adjectives when you could use one more effectively. For example: It was a hot, humid, oppressive day. Change to: It was a muggy day.
5) Apply this technique to everything you write.
My original first novel was 150,000 words long, and I loved every single word. Using the above technique (and a few others), I cut it to 90,000. And you know what? They're way better.