Category Archives: Writing Style

Adverb Liberation Front

I don’t know why, but the ‘don’t use adverbs’ rule irritates me. Abverbs are just another thingamajig in a writer’s toolkit. Yes – they can be overused. Yes -they should be replaced by strong verbs when the strong verb is more appropiate. But adverbs can be just as useful as any other word family of our modern syntax.

adverbs

I suspect the real reason why adverbs are viewed with suspicion is that they are usually crutch words. Everyone knows to avoid ‘very’ and ‘really’. ‘Actually’ is one of my crutch words, and is an offender for a lot of other people. I now run ‘actually’ through my word search function when I complete a story; even though I am aware of the problem, it still turns up.

crutch word cloud

Crutch words – the usual suspects

Some people work on the rule ‘one adverb a page’ Some writers refuse to use adverbs at all. It is time to change this outdated way of thinking! So I have formed the ADVERB LIBERATION FRONT. Writers should be able to use any word they want! With confidence! Lovingly.

The only time a writer should avoid adverbs is when a writer is feeling lazy and using them to do all the heavy lifting in their prose. Think of adverbs as a condiment; a few adds to the flavour, but too many ruins the dish.

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under The Writing Life, Uncategorized, Writing Career, Writing Style

Dialogue Insights

 

Good dialogue comes down to six factors:

1. First and foremost, it advances the plot. Indeed … I know this goes without saying, but if I didn’t mention it I would be letting the team down.

2. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. However, when it comes to characterization, dialogue is one of the best methods for adding depth to a character. How they say what they mean is just as important as what they are saying.

3. It should seem natural, without actually being natural. Real conversation is full of ums, ers, and broken sentences. Unless you are writing ‘slice of life’, written dialoque should skip ninety percent of this ‘filler’ waffle.

4. Make it snappy and witty. Memorable. Channel Oscar Wilde or Terry Pratchett. Don’t bore your readers.

5. Dialogue should do more than just be about talking heads. It should also be adding to the underlying theme of your narrative. What are the underlying implications of your dialogue?

6. Alice might think a book without conversations is dull, but remember that your narrative should be more than just dialogue. If you want to have a masterclass, read Isaac Asimov to see how a dialogue can move a story along, and still be full of action.

2 Comments

Filed under Dialogue, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style

Style – Not of taste, but of good quality

Style:

  • a mode of fashion, as in dress, especially good or approved fashion; elegance; smartness.
  • the mode of expressing thought in writing or speaking by selecting and arranging words, considered with respect to clearness, effectiveness, euphony, or the like, that is characteristic of a group, period, person, personality, etc.:
    to write in the style of Faulkner; a familiar style; a pompous, pedantic style.
  • those components or features of a literary composition that have to do with the form of expression rather than the content of the thought expressed.

Taste:

  • the sense of what is fitting, harmonious, or beautiful; the perception and enjoyment of what constitutes excellence in the fine arts, literature, fashion, etc.
  • the sense of what is seemly, polite, tactful, etc., to say or do in a given social situation.

From Dictionary.com

Oxford-Shoes-Loafers.jpg

The Classic Oxford Loafer

There is a current trend to confuse taste and style with quality. The best example I can thing of is fashion; what is currently the style in fashion may not be considered a winner in long term fashion stakes. What I might consider good taste would be very different to what you consider good taste, and yet we could probably agree on what is a classic and quality piece.

shoes-flatform-gucci-clp-rs17-1499

Image of Gucci Shoes 2017 from Harper’s Bizarre website.

Now, when I think of Gucci I think of high fashion. But not everything Gucci makes can be considered a classic style that will meet with everyone’s taste. See the interesting item of footwear above, from the 2017 line. You couldn’t pay me enough to wear these shoes. And yet, when I think of Gucci shoes, I tend to think of classic loafers and the like.

Gucci oxford loafers.jpg

 

Writing is the same. There are fads and fashions in writing, and they change over time. But good quality writing never goes out of style. This is why people still read Charles Dickens, James Barrie, Mary Twain, Mary Shelley, Laura Ingalls Wilder, J. R. R. Tolkien, and their ilk, years after their books were published and they have passed away. They didn’t take any notice of what was fashionable and wrote using their own voices.

Doc Martens

My favourite shoe manufacturer, Dr. Martens.

The thing about good quality is that it is well made, and so it lasts. It is important – to any writer – to always be trying to improve the quality of your prose. You might be telling the worlds greatest story, but it will do you no good if your writing is disjointed and impenetrable. You can’t build a castle in the air with uncut stone and mud.

If you are worried that your prose isn’t clear and easy-to-read, I suggest hunting down a few online courses in grammar. There is no shame in wanting to be the very best writer that you can be!

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing Style

The Competent Woman Protagonist: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Compenent Women

Table by Javier Zarracina for Vox

I read an article about Competent Sidekicks on Vox, and saw this table. I don’t completely agree with it, as Luke did blow up the Death Star, but Leia certainly gave him access to the Death Star plans and his torpedo-firing spaceship. But I do think this table makes a valid point; why do these competent women not get their share of the credit at the end of the day?

Agent 99

Agent 99

This cliche is as old as television. Look at 99 and Maxwell Smart. Smart was extremely lucky to be teamed up with Agent 99, as she did most of the thinking and the hard work while he got most of the credit. What made him survive was luck – not to be underrated, but it can’t be depended upon. Even in the modern reboot, Agent 99 has all the training and skills. Max and 99 are the extreme example of the trope, with Starlord and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy coming a close second.

This occurs quite a bit in literature too. So,how do I avoid this happening in my Steampunk novel.

Well, for starters, my protagonist is a competent woman. And – at the end of the story – she will be getting her credit and her reward. Yep. I finally figured out the reward that would make her happy … a free pass into Kew Gardens. For life. No restrictions. For a woman academic of the 1870s, that is like winning Olympic Gold.

So much more satisfying that marrying her off into a faux ‘happily ever after’.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Characterization, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Genre, Stereotypes, Uncategorized, Writing Style

The Brick-wall Happy Ending: a Steampunk Perspective

mmeteor1_roman fortress in Bulgaria

When I imagine changing places with her I get the feeling I do on finishing a novel with a brick-wall happy ending – I mean the kind of ending when you never think any more about the characters . . .

Dodie Smith; I Capture the Castle

I am currently rereading I Capture the Castle. It is one of those novels that always reveals something new when you read it. This time round, I can see where, on page 324, the author, Dodie Smith, is foreshadowing to the audience exactly how she will be ending her book. In case you’ve never read it (and why not?), it doesn’t have a ‘brick-wall happy ending’. She wanted her audience to think about the characters after the book has finished, and this has contributed to the continuing popularity of the novel.

Why am I bring this up?

I am rather terrible at writing endings.

ben-hur-end-title

I’ve never been a woman able to write a brick-wall happy ending, where they “all lived happily ever after.” Is this because I don’t like ending the story and leaving my characters behind? Is it because real life never has a neat and tidy ending? Is it because an ending is sort of sad and melancholy, and I am avoiding those feelings? It is probably a mixture of these reasons, among others. Endings are complex.

What makes a good ending? Tidying away all the plots and subplots satisfactorily? Vanquishing the villain and leaving the protagonist victorious? A slap-up feast with a roast boar and gallons of ginger-ale? Do you prefer a tragedy; seeing everyone sitting in the ruins of their lives? Or – like me – do you prefer a drawn line in the sand, with the expectation that the characters still have an important part of their lives to go on with?

York

I prefer being able to peep over the wall, rather than slamming up against it. Yet this means that I have to make hard decisions about where to leave things for the characters. I do tend to punish my villains and antagonists, but I am less inclined to ‘reward’ my protagonists with a tidy ending. I prefer to infer they go on to have further adventures.

There is plenty of time to rest after you are dead. Who wants to laze around for the rest of their life? Where is the fun in that? It is fine to take a breather and relax after an adventure, but no one really wants the adventure to end.

In I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith ends the book well before the ‘happily ever after’. It is left up to the reader to decide whether or not the protagonist and the romantic lead end up together. I’ve spent many a happy daydream giving them a range of happy endings, and wondering which one is the correct one (from Dodie Smith’s hints throughout the text).

In my Steampunk work-in-progress, I’ve got two areas in the timeline when I could end the story. Neither will provide me with a neat and tidy ending, but one of them is ‘tidier’ than the other. However, that ending also brings a better resolution to the end of the adventure. At one point, I was tempted to end the story sooner, and that second ending was going to be a whole new book. The problem was … there wasn’t really enough story left to write a whole new book, at least, not without adding in more subplots. I prefer not to add subplots for the sake of adding to the word length. It feels like you are trying to stuff more clothes into drawers that are already full, and just makes everything cramped and crushed and creased.

I think too much of my current story to do that.

But it still leaves me with the problem of how I am going to end my story in a satisfactory manner.

Leave a comment

Filed under Steampunk, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, Steampunk Writer, The End, The Writing Life, Writing Style

Descriptive Language: from Spartan to Purple Prose

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton, from his novel, Paul Clifford

stormy-night

Every writer has heard about the horrible first line for a novel: It was a dark and stormy night. The irony is that this is just an excerpt from the actual sentence, which rambles on for several more lines. As a sentence, ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ is just fine. Add in the rest, and you are into the realms of purple prose.

Purple prose is where the language is so florid and baroque that it distracts the reader away from the story. However, no novel can survive without some sort of descriptive language. It is a matter of style and personal taste as to how much ornate phrasing you use as a writer. Modern tastes tend to favour sparse, short, strong sentences; in Bulwer-Lytton’s era, the fashion was for more flamboyant writing.

I see no reason why you can’t use ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ as it gets the job done. In Bulwer-Lytton’s case, he was trying to get too much done in just one sentence and let it amble onward without a real point. He might be notorious for bad writing in these modern times, but he was (and still is) a well known author who could create a memorable turn of phrase. He coined such memorable catchphrases as ‘the great unwashed’, ‘pursuit of the almighty dollar’, and ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. He deserves a better reputation than as the Father of Purple Prose, since he has contributed much to the English Language.

Let’s look at what is right and wrong with his original sentence. As I’ve previously noted, it is trying to do too much. It is trying to set the scene and provide information about the time and setting. A better method might have been to break the sentence down into smaller structures.

It was a dark and stormy night. A torrential rain was falling in London. A violent and gusty wind rattled along the housetops. It fiercely agitated the scanty flames of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

As you can see, in this first rewrite I am attempting to retain the language of the original sentence.By breaking the sentence into four separate sentences, I get a much better idea of what Bulwer-Lytton was saying, because I don’t get ‘lost’ in the middle of the sentence. Clarity is improved (slightly). But there are certain ideas that are ‘repeated’ and this snippet of text could be given a more modern flow with a slight rewrite.

A violent rainstorm rattled the rooftops of London. The gusty night wind shook windows, and threatened to douse the scanty flames of lamps.

Of course, this is still descriptive writing even though I’ve taken out ‘struggled against the darkness’ as I already know its dark because it is nighttime. I dropped ‘fiercely agitated’ because I used ‘threatened’ instead. This also conforms to the modern fashion of discarding adverbs. I kept adjectives like ‘gusty’ and ‘scanty’, because they are doing a stalwart job of describing the wind and the flames of the lamps. I don’t know if this is better than the original sentence, but it is certainly more concise while retaining the descriptive flavour.

The other end of the scale would be something like this.

Nighttime London was rattled by a violent storm.

or

A violent storm threatened nighttime London.

These are both crisp sentences. They get the job done, but they don’t create an atmosphere or enrich details of the setting. I personally prefer a bit more descriptive language than this, but in certain genres these wouldn’t be out of place. Nonfiction and factual historical recounts often use language like this, when it is important to stick to the facts. This is description cut down to the bones.

As a tweenager, I was in love with purple prose. I read a lot of Victorian-era fiction, and was a fan of Elyne Mitchell’s The Silver Brumby series. Mitchell loved to minutely describe both the horse characters and the scenery in her books. (I’ve read every Silver Brumby book, and yet I still see Thowra as a grey and not a palomino. My Seventies paperback book-covers always displayed silver-white horses.) As I’ve mention, there are fashions in writing styles, and at the moment overly descriptive writing is  considered ‘bad’.

When the descriptive writing draws you into the setting, can it still be considered purple prose?

snoopy

4 Comments

Filed under Descriptive Language, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, Writing Style

Style: with help from a visual definition

style

Every so often, I get asked to define my writing style. Style is subjective. What one person loathes as purple prose in a text, another might adore as poetic and lyrical. How long is a piece of string?

However, this image above – by the talented illustrator Miyuli – gives a masterful summation of style, by showing how style effects the representation of the same subject.

With writing, how you say something is just as important as what you are saying. My style adapts to the genre I am writing in, so my style changes from text to text. I have a much dryer style when I am writing nonfiction to when I am writing fiction. The language in my blog is much more colloquial’ compared to the language I might use in writing a travelogue for a client. So, asking me what my style is, is like asking me what I had for breakfast. It changes, to suit my mood and the project.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, Writing Style