wordzly

The world of words, reading and writing

Archive for the category “Writing”

Stay Focused!

I’ve fallen off the WordPress wagon it seems.

Not entirely true though. I’ve been neglecting this blog but I have been working on editing my novel.

I’ve edited the first two chapters and have started on the third. Funnily, I may be one of the only people to actually increase the word count during the editing process. Mostly, people cut out unnecessary parts but that’s just the way I’ve worked on the first draft; I wrote it down in its briefest form and am now expanding it into an actual novel.

I’m notoriously fickle and I’ve been side-tracked form this blog as I’ve started up another one. Yeah, my current obsession at the moment is the reality TV show Survivor. I joined a Survivor forum to share all my Survivor experiences, ideas and opinions and it still wasn’t enough so I created my own WordPress blog just for my Survivor thoughts!

If you’re interested you may of course check it out here: http://survivortribalcouncil.wordpress.com/

What’s the future hold for this blog? I may keep blogging here but I may find some new fascination in the next few days. Let’s see how it all goes.

Ta Ta!

Novel Aspirations

In 2008 I decided I wanted to write a novel. I was running low on unread Agatha Christie books and thought Welp! better write my own! I love me some crime fiction, and yet it’s so hard for me to find a crime novel I actually enjoy. I’m in love with those cozy mysteries from the Golden Age of detective fiction, where there was a limited pool of suspects, an assortment of clues and red herrings and someone to wrap it all up beautifully at the end. What I don’t love is the more modern ‘thriller’ angle of an alcoholic, divorced, world-weary cop with a strained relationship with his daughter. Almost every crime novel blurb I read in bookstores advertises ‘the most gruesome murder of Detective Sad-Sack’s career’. And you can bet the murderer’s next target is about to be Detective Sad-Sack!

Anyway, I’ve been side-tracked. I wanted to write the type of novel I liked to read. That makes sense. I came up with (what I thought to be) a rather ingenious plot with a clever murder and enjoyable characters. I was so pleased with myself. The only thing left was to write the bloody thing.

I meandered and procrastinated and did little actual writing. I thought up a bunch of plots for other mysteries until I finally sat myself down and said ‘listen boy-o, why don’t we actually finish this one before we start the next twenty?’

‘It’s too hard’, I replied, and I sent myself to my room without any supper.

I’ve side-tracked myself again. What I’m trying to say is I found out that the writing process is actually quite tricky. It takes a lot of dedication and persistence. And writing. I got about half-way through the novel and hit a slump. I had meticulously planned everything up until then and didn’t know what to write now that I was in unfamiliar territory. I left it.

After sulking around crying about how ‘I don’t know what happens next!’ I decided to bite the bullet and actually WRITE what happens next. That worked surprisingly well. I stuck to a writing plan. I wrote every morning for at least an hour. Two if I had time. In that time I had to get at least four A4 pages of writing. And it worked.

I wish I’d kept a better diary of the process but while the idea for my novel was fleshed out in late 2008, I think I didn’t really start writing until 2010. Then I got stuck. I wrote the second half in 2011/2012. Now the first draft is done. I’ve read through it and admitted it needs serious rewriting. (That’s what second drafts are for!) But I’m excited. I’m determined that I’ll have the second draft done by the end of the year. And it will be good. And I will love it. And I’m going to be such a wonderful and successful author. (Perhaps)

Catch-Up Time

Gosh! It’s been three and a half months of zero activity. This site’s been barer than a baby with a Brazilian! So what have we all been up to in this time? I’ll go first.

I finished the first draft of my book. That’s right! I wrote a whole freaking book! Actually, it’s horribly under the average word count of a novel but it’s only the first draft. There’s still a lot of work to be done before it’s at all where I want it to be. It’s actually really exciting to post about stuff like this because I’m such a shy and secretive person. I conduct all my writing in total secrecy, ready to stash it all away in a second if I fear it’s in danger of being read and appraised.  It sounds silly to be that fearful of showing people my work but writing is very personal and I believe that you shouldn’t show it to anyone until you’re happy with it because otherwise people are going to make suggestions and critiques and suddenly you’re writing for other people instead of yourself.

What’s the book about, you whisper into your computer. I’ll give you two guesses. (Any regular visitors will be familiar with the only two genres I rave on about.) Give up? Well maybe I’ll make a post about it. Keep your eyes, and bananas, peeled.

What else is new? Well, I’ve become once again obsessed with creepypasta. To any not in the know, creepypasta is the name for short stories with a decidedly creepy or scary bent. I’ve been voraciously devouring the stories on Creepypasta.com and even submitted my own! It’s titled ‘If You Go Down To The Woods’, which I posted on my blog last year. How did it go? You can read the comments here. It’s received a fairly positive reaction although some of those commenters are decidedly blunt and harsh. That doesn’t bother me too greatly. I knew that regulars to the site prefer long stories, usually with a supernatural bent, and that’s pretty much the opposite of what I was going for. To each their own! I enjoy the story and I see it as a good chance for me to get my work out in public and receive feedback.

More generally I’ve kept myself busy coming up with new ideas for stories and novels, plotting and doing some writing. One curse of a fertile imagination is that I can never finish one project before thinking up a new one! I’m continuously flitting between several different pieces.

FYI, I do have a life outside of the written word. But that’s hardly interesting.

And there we have it. See, it’s just like old times. How I’ve missed you! Until next time, my little kitten whiskers!

Death of the Author

This just in: the author is dead. Ok, this is old news. The author has been dead for 45 years.

In 1967 literary critic Roland Barthes wrote an essay titled ‘Death of the Author’, in which he claimed the author was no longer relevant to an understanding of the text. Anyone who has done high school English will probably remember writing copious essays about how an author’s context influences their values and beliefs, and how these in turn influence the text and the values it expresses. This traditional approach to literary criticism sees the influences on an author – their historical, cultural, geographical, political and religious etc. context – as shaping the author’s text. To understand a text we must first understand the author.

Barthes rejected this approach, saying that “To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text”. Basically, Barthes was rejecting a definitive explanation of texts that relied only on authorial intent. I agree wholeheartedly with Barthes. Of course it makes sense when trying to interpret a text’s meaning, to look at what the author may have meant. They DID write it after all. Surely they’re the best judge of what the text meant. But mightn’t a text have more than one meaning? Mightn’t a text have no meaning at all?  If we focus only on trying to discover what the author intended then we miss many other interpretations. How do we know what an author intended anyway?

That’s what I dislike most about traditional literary criticism. It assumes we can definitively know what an author meant. How? How can we read a text, come up with a single explanation of it and decide that is what the author meant?

HOOOOOOOWWWWWWWW?

We can’t. Unless they tell us. And even then, that’s just their interpretation. We can have our own. And if they won’t let us, then there’s only one solution. Kill the authors!

Too late. They’re already dead.

Zombie authors? I’m going to stop writing now.

Grammar Nazis: What are the Limits of Tolerance?

Everyone knows one: that person that takes their love of grammar too far. (how could such a thing be possible!) Their Facebook wall consists only of correcting mistakes in other’s statuses. They see mangled syntax as sinful, grow tense when someone uses the wrong tense, and are averse to misused adverbs.

On the other hand we all know someone who flies in the face of all that is holy in grammar. To them, punctuation is merely a suggestion, not a rule; there isn’t enough time in the day for spell checking; they have a strong affinity for the caps lock key.

But which is worse: those that defy any attempts at proper grammar or those that enforce its every rule?

The point of grammar is to achieve clarity when reading, writing and speaking. We need clarity if we are to effectively communicate with others. So grammar definitely has an important role to play. But does it matter if we occasionally misspell or misuse a word? No, as long as your intended meaning is still clear. The stakes can be high when it’s the difference between ‘Let’s eat, Sarah’ and ‘Let’s eat Sarah’.

I do have my gripes though. I can’t help but add ‘ly’ to everyone’s adjective when they meant an adverb. ‘I ran quick’, ‘I laughed loud’, ‘I spoke rude’ all make me want to hit someone. (Preferably the person saying these.)

Incorrect tense is also annoying. ‘I done this’ is probably my most hated saying of all time. ‘I done this good’ just makes me cry. ‘I done this real good’: Now you must die.

I think we should also be more lenient with informal writing. I don’t care if somebody doesn’t capitalise the beginning of each sentence when they’re messaging me or there’s the occasional sentence fragment. Recently, a friend asked me ‘Weather’ I was free on the weekend, and I was able to cope with that because it was obvious what she meant. Abbreviations are usually fine as well when writing informally. You can take the ‘g’ off of ‘swimming’ and I’ll still understand what you mean, but I draw the line when ‘U start talkn Lyk dis cOs u a ganGsta’. And please, don’t just take the vowel out of every word. That’s not how you abbreviate.

So yes, little mistakes are fine as long as the meaning is still understandable. We should all aim for clarity but not get too caught up in getting everything write all the time. See?

The Clocks (Part 2)

This is what you want

And you have told yourself

This is what I want

           who I am

And they adore you

They say it with flowers

or a card,

at least…

But what do they want?

You                                                     are still unsure

If

You are living the dream

This is what you want,                        you remind yourself

EVERY DAY

One night Delia thought she could not see the dawn. And when at last the nighttime lifted and sunlight slipped through she saw that she was wrong. That shining shard tempts her hand. Her grasping fingers tip and topple all the bottles off the shelf into the sea. She finds what she was searching for as her hand produces a fine-tipped brush. Maybe she will try again. Her eyes are closed and they do not hear the sounds around her. The ticking of the clock. Seconds would not pass if she did not count them. The brush is placed upon a page and Delia sings for her daisy’s return. It struggles forward against the beat of the clock. Hush! She does not want to hear you! She pauses to breath as life continues. Life continues without her. Does Delia continue without Life? If Life does not need Delia, then does she need Delia?

Curiouser and curiouser…

The clock is asking her the time and as the midnight sunset whispers secrets to her, she watches the tide swell around her feet. If she is to go swimming then she cannot have so much extra baggage. Her books go, and the critics, and the fans and hardcover editions. Left alone, Delia contemplates.

There is time and always time

You do not know

You do not know

That time is always time

The time is always

That time is only time

That time is always and only time

And time again

You are told

There is always time

To change

Tick             tick          tick         tick      tick

Chime!

Delia looks down and, surprised, notices the clock resting in her hand. One moment to reflect and then she acts. With vigour previously unpossessed she throws the clock. its weight carves through space, striking the static ambience of the air. The world is standing still and Delia wonders if the clock will ever stop. It does. There is a reverberation of silence as it unites with the mirror. Both break in delightful poeticism. Life resumes as icy particles of the mirror rain down. The clock is no longer moving. It is broken and from it pours and inky blackness. Time? No. Words. Or something stronger…

Delia regards the clock. There is time on her fingers.

Delia: What do you have to say for yourself?

Clock: (silence)

Delia: Then I win

Delia begins to write:

I am climbing out from pools of darkness. Finally I sit not to write but to create. Moulding mellow blurs in a sinking caress like clouds of careless autonomy. Autonomy is intoxicating. It revives my senses, awakening something inside of me that lets run an impenetrable stream of consciousness that unites with forceful resonance. My body is my canvas: splashing, streaking divulging ecstasy. In one single moment there is the invitation to thought. Eclectic collections that confound and compound, compressed into a single second. And behind all this lingers a familiar sensation hovering just outside the realm of consciousness.

Delia adds one final thought:

The subtle smell of Rosemary.

                                                                                                                                   

Postscript:

Clocks can see nothing apart from the present

Mirrors aren’t a reflection of who you are, but when you are (who you are)

The Clocks (Part 1)

I wanted to share another piece I wrote. This is a little abstract but there’s definitely still a structured plot going on. I was experimenting with some different styles and forms, and found something I’m happy with. It’s fairly long for a blog post so I’ve split it into two posts. Two posts for the price of one! You lucky duck!

                                                                               

Because the second is quick to pass our past is but a memory

Because the minute is soon to pass our present is immutable

Because the hour is yet to pass  our futures can’t define us

                                                                               

They chime in perfect unison, the clocks.

An atonal crescendo that builds in force, spilling out tumbling notes, choking the air with their delicate fingers, resonating one final note until they can withstand the pressure no longer.

They are of a volatile nature, the clocks.

Rosemary stands for remembrance, but nobody remembered that Delia’s first name had once been Rosemary. She had lost it somewhere in the pursuit of that romantic yearning to become a writer. Delia sounded much more stylish on paperback. It had been her dream to capture beauty in a web of silvery ink, to breathe life into a single page. Alas, people don’t want to read about dreams. Words are words are words. Delia had quickly learnt that what she wanted didn’t necessarily align with what the public wanted, so she gave them what they wanted. Ten years on and Delia’s heart has set cold. The beauty no longer visits her. She had lost more than her name by the time her first book was published.

Once she had danced only to the music within her. Now it is a different tune. The hands of the clock force her own. She submits to its eternal rhythm. It is easy to be seduced by mechanistic beats, as their pulse so perfectly matches your own. One thousand and one chests rising and falling in precise mechanised thumps. Delia sits and waits for the tide to wash over her, to be stimulated, to feel as if all this is worth something. Time gently trickles across her body. Shouldn’t you be writing?

None of this seems right. She should be able to feel something. She searches the room for where Delia could be hiding. She looks into the mirror and sees only a trick of the light. She could have sworn she had just seen…

Rosemary for remembrance

A mirror for resemblance

The clocks found humour in this but did not laugh. They cannot, for they are clocks.

Nine-fifteen

Chime!

Shaken from their reverie, the clocks join one another in blissful harmony: a sycophantic symphony. For six seconds they revel in companionship and then fall silent. It will be another fifteen minutes until they can meet again. This does not deter the clocks as they soldier on in gentle concordance. Softly, but surely, they march in perfect rhythm.

Tick    tick      tick         tick          tick

The darkness whispers to Delia as she gently plucks a soft white daisy from the corners of her mind. A gentle caress brings forth further whispers. Wandering souls drawn with some ethereal beauty. She must not let them fade. She flicks the tip of her fine brush and traces the contours of her memories. Letters slide and glide to shape her thoughts and as the tumbling piles of foam wash over her, like crashing waves over a silken sea, she creates. Beauty.

The clock chimes midnight as time flows gently across her skin like ripples on a star-stilled lake. It floods the room and stains her pages: those carefully crafted dainty pages. They cry rivulets of tiny tears as the lashing rain and flashing light beats beneath her tired lids. The pressure builds, bending the book to crack its spine and strip the blackness of its inky words. Once again the beauty has escaped her. All that’s left are words, as the hours pass and the water rises.

If You Go Down To The Woods

As I said before, I really like horror stories. My favourite ones are short and (not so) sweet. Ones that lead you along a path, perhaps a path you think you’ve walked many times before, except you soon discover you’re heading in a very different direction to what you thought, and maybe – just maybe – someone else is walking that same path.

What I’ve posted here is a short little piece I wrote that will hopefully unsettle and entertain. I thought of it as I was walking through the woods alone – or at least I hope so.

                                                               

The young girl made her way through the thick undergrowth. It was not yet dusk, but the sun would disappear quickly behind the densely packed trees. There is a sort of amplified silence that resonates through woods. All outside noise is cut off so that the only remaining sound is the woods itself. That’s why the sudden crashing to the side of her startled the girl so much. Animals know the danger of making such noise; this was no animal. She spun around as a man emerged from the foliage.

Surprise flashed across his face but was almost instantly replaced with a warm smile.

“Hello little lady.”

The man’s hands were dirty. He was carrying a shovel. The girl wondered what he was doing out here.

He spoke again, “What’s your name?”

“Goldilocks.”

The man laughed at this. “Well, I guess that makes me Papa Bear.” He smiled widely. “What’s a girl as young as you doing here all by yourself?”

“Looking for my friend Janie.”

“Well I can help you look for her.” He grabbed hold of her hand. “Where’s little Janie likely to be hiding?”

The girl looked sad. “She’s not hiding. She’s missing. Me and Janie used to play in the woods together. But last week she didn’t come back.”

“The woods can be a dangerous place for a little girl. Don’t worry, though. I’ll take good care of you.” Again he smiled that big smile of his.

The man began to lead the young girl further into the woods. Hand in hand, they walked on until the trees towering above them entirely blocked out the sky. The girl shivered.

“Poor little thing. You’ll catch your death.” They both stopped as the man lay down the shovel. He took off his jacket and helped the girl into it. He gave her shoulders a gentle rub. “Do you want to know a story about these woods? Bad things happen in here. That’s what I heard. There was once a little girl who was walking through here all alone. It had gotten so dark that she couldn’t find her way back home. Luckily for her, she found a nice man in the woods.”

“Lucky for her”, the girl said.

“Lucky for both of them. He was able to take her back to his house – his little gingerbread house – all alone in the woods.”

“That sounds nice”, the girl said. “What happened next?”

“Unfortunately, the girl was naughty. She wasn’t grateful to the man for saving her. She ran off, back into the woods. That night, the little girl died, all alone in the woods. No one ever saw her again.”

“How do you know she died if she was never found?” the girl asked.

The man leant down, drawing his face close to the girl’s. “Someone has to know, don’t they?”

The young girl smiled as she swung the shovel into the side of the man’s head. “Your stories are so good. I think you’ll make a great friend for Janie.”

The girl whistled to herself as she began to dig a hole.

He Said, She Interpolated

It’s a debate for the ages: is ‘he/she said’ enough or is there room for alternate speech tags?

There is some heated discussion over this question and most people seem to have a very firm belief about which is correct. As I’ve shown before I believe all rules should be used as a guideline; there is always room for interpretation and it usually comes down to a writer’s individual assessment of the particular situation.

Personally, ‘said’ will usually be enough to get by on. Due to its commonality ‘said’ is almost like a punctuation mark: readers instinctively know how to read it and it doesn’t distract from the story. This is essentially what the debate boils down to. A reader is interested in the story, not how many variants of ‘said’ you know, and they will respect you for your commitment to the story over the showing of your eloquence.

There are variants of ‘said’; however, that are appropriate in the proper context and are actually more appropriate than ‘said’ in these contexts. ‘Asked’, ‘exclaimed’, ‘shouted’, ‘whispered’, ‘laughed’ and ‘interrupted’ are all useful, suitable replacements for ‘said’ that are clearer and less conspicuous where appropriate.

It is easier to read:

‘What’s that?’ she asked.    than

‘What’s that?’ she said.

Similarly,

‘There’s something I need to tell you’, he whispered.     and

‘Don’t go in there!’ she shouted.    easily convey a tone of voice that mightn’t be apparent with ‘said’.

So common variants of ‘said’ are fine to use where the situation calls for them but lesser-known speech tags can create confusion and distract from the story, especially when a reader doesn’t know what the word means. Therefore it’s probably best to stay away from tags such as ‘enunciated’ when you mean ‘said’, ‘tittered’ when you mean ‘laughed’ or ‘elucidated’ when you mean ‘explained’.

But what about adverbs? Is it alright to spice up plain old ‘said’ with a few modifiers like ‘she said: softly, harshly, quickly, quietly or hesitantly’. Some might say it’s unnecessary and that what a character says should make it clear how they said it but I still believe adverbs can be used, as long as they are used properly, effectively and sparingly. A few adverbs can make apparent exactly how somebody spoke when ‘said’ just doesn’t cut it but, like anything else in writing, if they’re covering the page it soon becomes distracting for the reader.

Remember also that sometimes a speech tag isn’t needed at all. In brief conversations or when there is only one or two people speaking, the reader is able to determine who is talking without the use of a speech tag every time somebody speaks.

Like Stephen King once said, ‘I didn’t say that!’

Death of the Adverb

It’s always open season on adverbs. No other word class attracts such contempt. It’s fashionable to hate adverbs; many so-called ‘pros’ will demand total adverb abstinence and many people subsequently remove adverbs with reckless abandon. Why? Because that’s what people say to do. Well that’s a stupid reason to do something so again I ask, ‘why?’

Adverbs are redundant. Anyone will tell you. Consider the following sentence:

She ran quickly.

Obviously, the adverb – ‘quickly’—is unnecessary in the sentence because ‘ran’ already establishes her quickness. Or does it? Does everybody run quickly? What if the subject is an eighty-year-old infirmed obese lady? Is the quickness of her running so clearly established?

So adverbs can be useful in modifying verbs but if the quickness of the person isn’t established by ‘ran’ then rather than modifying the verb what about changing it? There is a multitude of interchangeable verbs that carry their own connotations.

She hobbled

She sprinted

She darted

She scurried

She loped 

She shuffled

All of these verbs describe a different sort of movement that is much more evocative than the simple ‘ran’. So we can understand why the argument against adverbs makes sense. Rather than using an adverb to modify a weak verb it is far better to change the verb to a more suitable one.

The problem isn’t that adverbs are redundant. The problem is that people are making poor word choices and are trying to fix this with adverbs. While adverbs are one solution, better word choice is the better solution.

Adverbs aren’t the problem. But they’re also not the solution. So what to do with them?  Avoiding all adverbs is foolish because it shows an ignorance of the scope of what adverbs actually do. Adverbs modify not only verbs but adjectives and other adverbs as well.

She was the least impressive dancer.

The adverb ‘least’ is modifying the adjective ‘impressive’.

The letter should arrive very soon.

The adverb ‘very’ is modifying the other adverb, ‘soon’.

 

There are also two categories of adverbs that do more than just modify single words. They modify the entire sentence. They are crucial to the meaning of the sentence, and to remove them changes the sentence’s meaning.

The first of these – conjuncts – include words such as hence, however, therefore and thus. Similar to conjunctions – which join smaller parts of sentences together – conjuncts join whole sentences together.

So we might have something like:

Marcia’s in trouble. However, I don’t want to go out in the rain.

The use of ‘however’ joins the ideas of the two sentences and shows a clear link between them. Without ‘however’ the two sentences aren’t necessarily linked and the relation between the two is lost. So removing conjuncts from sentences is not a great idea.

The second category of adverbs – attitudinal adverbs – express an attitude that relates to the overall proposition of the sentence.

In the following sentences, attitudinal adverbs are italicised.

Maybe she will come.

Sadly that’s not the case.

Fortunately Stephanie Meyer has many years of writing ahead of her.

In each sentence, the attitudinal adverb changes the entire tone and overall meaning of the sentence.

‘Maybe she will come’ has an implication distinctly different to ‘She will come.’ It would be awfully silly if we were to remove attitudinal adverbs from sentences.

Here are some other really useful adverbs that you probably use all the time and just can’t do without:

Also, never, not, next, often, seldom, then.

 

So we definitely don’t want to remove all adverbs from our writing. I think the crusade against adverbs needs itself to be modified. Rather than fighting against adverbs we should be fighting for clear and efficient writing. Always strive to write accurately what you mean. Often, modifying the word choice with a synonym rather than modifying the word with an adverb will provide you with a more accurate depiction of what you are attempting to say. Sometimes you just won’t be able to find a more appropriate word and it is perfectly fine to make use of an adverb. If the adverb is contributing to the meaning and there isn’t a simpler, more appropriate way of doing so, keep the adverb. If the adverb is trying to hide poor word choice, then dispose of it.

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