Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Independence

"What a good book this is going to be!" I thought. The cover was compelling; the blurb intriguing. I picked it up without a second's hesitation. But then I began reading... and just a few short chapters into the narrative I was absolutely lost. Characters were behaving as though I knew them already. It was as if I had amnesia and was waking up in a world where everything was happening but I didn't have a clue as to the context.

This wasn't a stylistic, literary choice by the writer, however; what I didn't know when I picked it up was that the book was a sequel, and not having read the first book of the series, there was an irreparable disconnect in the narrative. I felt alienated from the story and not encouraged to seek out the previous title to gain clarity on the storyline--instead it left me feeling ambivalent about this story that I had been so excited to dip into.

This book suffered from vague references to past events that greatly informed the current plot points, but the references were structured in such a way that I was made to feel like I wasn't in on some inside story that was happening. I got mad at the writer. I wondered why did the author want to alienate the reader like that?

Back up a few weeks before I picked up that title, when at a writer's conference I attended a session where the speaker encouraged us to write each book as a stand-alone product, even if it is a sequel or part of a series. I didn't really connect to what she was telling us, until I found this book that lacked that thread that held the narrative together.

But along with the title I mention above, where the narrative is not connected and I felt lost, I've also read books on the other end of the spectrum, where there is so much space and attention given to touching on events in the earlier book(s). It's an equally distracting mistake to make. Happily, the vast majority of series I've read have handled the parsing of information carefully and respectfully for the reader. And I've learned to appreciate the attention to detail that this requires.

It would seem that writing sequels is easy; you are, after all, tapping into characters that you've exercised before and it might be easier to get into their storylines. But sequels must be carefully handled; if you are revisiting your characters, you have a duty to carefully straddle that line between readers old and new. You must be careful not to provide too much of the previous story so as not to turn off your devoted readers while at the same time including enough information so that your new readers connect to your material while also being drawn to your previous stories.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Review: 250 Things You Should Know About Writing

250 Things You Should Know About Writing by Chuck Wendig is a great writing book. Eleven chapters that concisely cover the many aspects of writing in 250 (275?) easy-to-digest little nuggets.

But yeah; it's more.

Wendig is smart about the business of writing and he doesn't pull punches, which is why this is a great book and why it might not be for everyone. He uses a year's worth of profanity and vulgarities. And I adore him.

Maybe it's my military background, but I respond to the drill sergeant archetype. He motivates me to want to excel when I try new things. Of course, after I try them, I want to be coddled and provided with the appropriate "atta girl!" affirmations of adoration, but while I'm struggling to succeed, I crave the grit.

This book is available in many formats, I picked it up on Kindle for a steal (99 cents!). If you're thinking mayhaps your writing could use a swift kick in the teeth, I suggest you check it out. Also, visit Wendig's website.

It's definitely not for everyone. If you're offended by swearing, off-color remarks, questionable metaphors or the like, perhaps you should consider another career choice as there is much of that throughout this business. Kidding! If you don't like a gritty approach, this isn't for you, but if you don't mind it or enjoy it then drop the buck and pick this up.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Brevity

What drives a taut scene? The pacing, the characters, the story, to be sure; but also brevity.

Saying the most you can say, creating the greatest impact with the fewest number of words.

Possibly the most important lesson I have learned as a writer and editor is what to leave out. From the completely unnecessary to the verbal crutches that I lean on (we all have those; want proof? Review your work and discover the unnecessary words that pop up like little tufts of crabgrass, doing nothing to further your story save mar the white space), my own writing--and the works I edit--often benefit greatly when these speedbumps are removed.

Flowery, exaggerated, literary description has its place; but practice the art of brevity to hone your skills.

Famously, Ernest Hemingway was given the brevity challenge, asked to write a six-word story; his powerful response:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
A master class in brevity can be found in that short sentence, which creates a textured story in the imagination of the reader. Visit sixwordmemoir.com for more concise gems.

Practice writing a scene with different word counts, especially if it's a scene that is giving you fits. If your scene is 1,000 words, try for 700 or 500; note the difference in tone and expression that you achieve with something as simple as word count and editing.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review: On Writing

The first book on the art & craft of writing that I ever read was Stephen King's On Writing. I know not everyone is a fan of King, but if you ask me? He's a masterful writer. He develops these alternate worlds that require you to completely suspend your own reality. It should be said that these worlds do not often translate well when spilled outside of the confines of the imagination and page; some of King's books defy description, much less adaptation to the screen. But as one of the most recognizable names in fiction, I think he's a great place to begin.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hello, world

Hi, my name is Mari. And I'm a writer/editor.
[Hi, Mari]
Okay, so this is my new blog where I'm going to talk about the stuff I do for money--get your mind out of the gutter!

I'm talking reading and writing.