Thursday, July 18, 2019

Writing Tips With a Touch of Snark

Okay Dearies, Style Maven's Snarky Cousin is back after an extended time away. I do hope everyone had a simply marvelous good time while I was gone, writing those wonderful words of gold. I've abandoned my own words of gold to pop in to remind you darling new writers about a few basic elements of craft.

In writing a book, it's not enough to put words on a computer screen and hit publish. Really it's not. It can have the most disastrous effect on readers.

There was a time when one took classes - creative writing classes - in which we darling new writers learned important craft elements. One of which is the proper use of dialogue. For instance, if you have two longtime friends sharing a bit of bubbly and some juicy gossip, you totally spoil the moment with awkward exposition.

What? You don't know what awkward exposition is?

OMG, as the young people might say. Let me bring you in out of the cold. Your two lovely characters are chatting away when they start sharing information they both already know, such as who kissed that boy under the bleachers. Hello! They were both there. They know about the kissing. Then one girl mentions the friend's brothers by name, "Your brothers Kyle and Chris were there, too. Remember?"

Okay, unless the young woman has more than two brothers, does her friend really need to drop the names into the dialog?  If this were a real conversation you were having with a friend, would you decide she has a sudden onset of amnesia? Of course not. That would be a most awkward moment. Perhaps resulting in the confiscation of your glass of wine. 

Something else you might want to avoid is the meandering story-line. Really. That's a thing now. And I've been stumbling across it so often in some self-published books, that I'm now limping. Please, don't take a reader down a new path because there might be an interesting wildflower along the way, especially if wildflowers have nothing to do with the main story line. And if you do choose to take your reader off the main path for a moment, make sure there's a clear route back. Don't leave her stranded at the end of a trail calling for help.

Oh, yes, I can hear the cries now. "What about flashbacks?"

Please do simmer down. I have a beastly headache, and you're right. See, I can say that sometimes. There are times to use flashbacks. Just make sure the transition from what is supposed to be immediate in the story, to a prior scene - whether it is one that somebody is thinking about, or one that we've actually gone back in time to experience with these characters - is clear. One mustn't fog up the windshield of our readers' vehicles. That could cause the most frightful mess.

In closing, let me just say how I feel about the use of the word "felt" in a story. Too many novels are just full of them. When we're writing a first draft, we often say John felt angry or John felt embarrassed or Sarah felt sad or Sarah felt happy as a way to get that emotion identified and bookmarked on the page. Then we can move on to writing the rest of the scene without slowing the plot momentum to fix details.

However, we really shouldn't let those identifiers stand in their bland, boring words. Bring some passion to the scene. Describe those feelings in a way that will make the reader feel them. "Traffic inched along at a snail's pace, and Sarah could see the flashes of red and blue from police cars and ambulances just ahead. She shouldn't have driven. It was too soon. She gripped the steering wheel, willing her eyes not to stray, but they did, and the floodgates opened when she drew alongside and saw the EMTs pull an old man out of the mangled car. It could have been her father."

See. Not a word about Sarah feeling sad.

So, dearies how about we practice a bit. Leave a comment in which you describe a feeling instead of just naming it.

For help with writing emotions, you might want to check out The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Beccca Puglisi. It's filled with tips on how to convey emotions in new and clever ways.
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Posted by Maryann Miller who struggles with craft as much as anyone. That's why there's a second and third and maybe fourth draft before a book is finished.  You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Pageread her Blogand follow her on Facebook and TwitterHer online workshop on self-editing, part of a series of online writing workshops from Short And Helpful, can be found HERE


  1. How about: I tapped my forehead against the brick wall over and over, while my three kids watched, their squabble forgotten for the moment.

  2. Please also do a repetitive word search. No more smirking or eyes traveling hither and yon. :)

  3. Thanks for the added tip, Diana. The book mentioned in the post has really good suggestions for new and fresh ways of showing things like smirking so we aren't all using the same wordage. I think one key to a memorable read, at least for me, is finding those fresh descriptions and phrases.

  4. Great post, Maryann, and just what I need as I'm almost finished with my mess of a book. Did I just write just?

  5. A great post. Reblogged on Dragons Rule OK, but as I have another post today, I've scheduled it for a later date.
    Yes, I agree with Polly Iyer about just. Also 'seemed'. I've just finished a critique of a work by a talented young writer, but one for whom many things 'seemed'.

  6. "Perun bellowed his frustration, unable to smite the offending feline at such close proximity without injuring himself, though his right hand went to the axe he wore on his belt. Vishnu, who had been standing nearby and witnessed the entire debaucle, drew his sword Nandaka and cut the beard so close to Alei's paws that the cat felt the flat of the blade and screeched in fear for his delicate toe beans."

    From The Chase for Choronzon

  7. Great post. Okay, Maryann, here's my feeble attempt: Alan sat at the edge of the pool, and stared at his image in the water. He saw it. Yes, the reflected eyes showed his fear. He was afraid of swimming, but deeper, it was the sole image which bothered him the most as the other couples cavorted in the pool together.


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