A Writing Quote

“Words have an individual and a relative value. They should be chosen before being placed in position. This word is a mere pebble; that a fine pearl or an amethyst. In art, the handicraft is everything, and the absolute distinction of the artist lies, not so much in his capacity to feel nature, as in his power to render it.”

~Agnes Repplier

Spanish and English Song

I’m sure almost everyone remembers this song from their childhood days, and if you don’t, well, here it is sung in its original form :p


The above song, La rana cantando debajo del agua (which translates to “The Frog is Singing Beneath the Sea”) is very similar to the English “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea.”

I always find parallels between languages fascinating, and, even though the lyrics are different, the fact that songs in both English and Spanish deal with a frog underneath the sea in some fashion is a pretty interesting one.

 

Verb Videos

These are the only videos I could find that explain verbs in a way I didn’t view as condescending, so I decided to share them. And yes, I do like spending my time watching nerdy grammar videos :p

Don’t Patronize Your Readers

e.b. white quote

In my opinion, this is the most solid piece of advice a writer can give to another because it addresses the most important aspect of the craft: the reader.

Or, in English Comp terms, the audience. Since the concept seems so simple, phrases like, “You can’t write a letter to your boss that sounds like you wrote it to your best friend,” are bandied about.

English teachers try to make it sound like audience is a “common sense” part of writing, but they never explain (at least in my experience) how writing should differ for each audience. Or how it should stay the same.

There is tons of advice out there suggesting that writers identify their readership before they start writing. That’s great advice for non-fiction writers or authors who know who their audience is going to end up being, but what about the rest of us?

What about the writers who address a general audience? How does that affect our writing? How do we keep from becoming, as E.B. White suggests, too patronizing?

Over the years, I’ve found that the best way to avoid it is to write with the assumption that anyone who decides to read something I’ve written is, at the least, my intellectual equal.

That means I don’t try to “dumb down” my writing by making it sound like I’m writing to an 8-year old audience. Even the children’s books I’ve read (that are any good) don’t have authors who assume the child reading their books are stupid. Sure, the sentences are shorter and more understandable vocabulary is used, but there’s none of that “Aw, you’re so cute and dumb, let me try to show you what I’m talking about by cooing at you through my words.”

Those are the writers who get under my skin – those are the books I want to turn into weapons or kindling rather than treat them as real writing. Because real writing, to me, means writing that isn’t condescending, and it means a story that the author assumes I can follow despite all the crazy plot loops and twists he throws my way.


Fiction Audience

In fiction, assuming that your audience is, at the very least, your intellectual equal, is the key element in eliminating excess background information. Too much back-story, a.k.a. info-dump, can – and will – kill a novel. When I draft, I info-dump like crazy because I don’t usually outline when I write fiction, so I am making the world and the rules up as I go. For me, that means when revision comes around, the first thing I have to do is pull out all of that out. Afterwards, I have to reintroduce the most important parts of that information back into the story in areas where it’s vital for the reader to have it.

When you leave too much back-story in your fiction, it does two things:

1) It bores the reader because there’s nothing to separate the back-story from the real story.

2) It insults the reader because the back-story is full of too much “well duh” information.

The following excerpt is from one of the novels I’m working on and is demonstrative of how leaving back-story out of the action is one of the best ways to hook people:

Quentin strode into the room, eyes narrowed. “Get your things,” he snapped.

I grabbed a duffel bag, throwing clothes in haphazardly. I’d never seen him angry, and I didn’t want to risk making it worse.  Taking a cursory look around the room, I hid a flinch at the scowl on his face.

“Take some care,” he said. “We have enough time for you to fold your clothes properly.”

I flushed and removed everything I’d placed in the bag and started over. Carelessness was his biggest pet peeve and with him in this mood…well. Better not to risk it. “Where are we going?”

“We aren’t going anywhere. I’m sending you to the Safe House.”

The Safe House? Why was he sending me there? I wasn’t the greatest fighter, but I wasn’t so weak I needed the protection of a Safe House. My thoughts must have shown on my face.

“Don’t argue,” he said. “The Pulse is dead. He didn’t appoint a successor. I need you out of the way.”

I stared at him for a solid minute before I regained a portion of my composure. “He’s dead?”

“Yes. Hurry and finish packing. There’s only two hours left of true-dark. I need you safe before then.”

The implications of the Pulse having died without appointing a successor caught up to me. “There’s going to be War,” I whispered, sitting down on the edge of the bed, packing all but forgotten. That was bad. That was very bad.

Notice how much I don’t explain in that excerpt, but also how well it hooks. Leaving information out is a great way to draw readers in because it makes them ask, “What the hell’s going on?”

Engage the audience by making them curious, and you will hold their attention through every page. Curiosity is an inherent human trait, so we all want answers when questions arise.

If I’d explained exactly what a Pulse was, why the MC (whose name is Damon) needs to go to a Safe House, or why true-dark matters within that excerpt, the hook would’ve been lost.


Non-Fiction Audience

In non-fiction, the key to avoiding patronizing your audience is the same as in fiction: assuming the reader is, at least, your intellectual equal.

I have helped classmates in the past with their essays, and the number one problem I see is the way they address the audience. They over-explain concepts and, by doing so, make the reader feel like an idiot.

The best way to write an essay is to write it as if you are writing it to yourself. Because we generally don’t patronize ourselves, that technique keeps our writing from becoming patronizing towards others.

The best way to figure out whether your essay seems patronizing is to read it out loud to yourself and assume that someone else wrote it. If it makes you feel insulted, rewrite it until it doesn’t.


Recap: The best way to avoid patronizing a reader when you write is to write with the assumption that all of your readers will be, at the very least, your intellectual equals. 

Traps Fantasy Writers Need to Avoid

Every genre comes with its own set of challenges for amateur writers, and fantasy is no exception. Because magic is such an integral part of fantasy novels (95% of the time), it is incredibly important that writers learn how to avoid the tempting traps the genre has to offer.


1. Writing “Time Period” Language 

Ever picked up a fantasy novel with a lot of “thee, thou, and thy?”

If you answered “yes,” to that question, you need to read more fantasy.

Medieval language has no place in fantasy writing, not even in novels that are set within medieval times. Hell, any novel set within medieval times shouldn’t be written in such an archaic way.

Why?

Because using medieval language creates distance between the story and the reader. As writers, it’s up to us to make sure our readers feel like they are part of the story, like they can immerse themselves in the worlds we build and the words we weave.

Medieval language prevents us from doing that in any story, but exponentially more so in fantasy where the reader is already unfamiliar with the world. 

We need to use common language as bridges from the real world into the worlds we create. We must make our characters seem like people to the readers of our stories. Without that, we lose the connection between story and reader, and there the story falls flat.

Medieval language is also called Shakespearean English. Read the following passages from Shakespeare’s works, and ask yourself: “Is this how I want to come across to anyone who reads today?”

“Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?

Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:

Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly,

Or else receiv’st with pleasure thine annoy?”

~Sonnet 8 

“For shame deny that thou bear’st love to any

Who for thy self art so unprovident.

Grant if thou wilt, thou art beloved of many,

But that thou none lov’st is most evident.”

~Sonnet 10

“Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all;

What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?

No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;

All mine was thine before thou hadst this more.”

~Sonnet 40


2. Too Little, Too Late: Lack of Action 

It’s a fact of life that we live in a high-paced society. Readers don’t have the attention spans they used to, and the vast majority of readers want books whose action starts on the very first page. 

Sure, fantasy authors in the past could write pages upon pages of background information and keep a reader’s attention. That’s not true anymore. One of the worst mistakes a writer – of any genre – can make – is to introduce action after a reader has already gotten bored.

The most crucial part of your novel is the first five pages. In other words, the introduction. 

Because of my rapid reading speed (I can read ~150-200 pages an hour, depending on genre), I don’t waste time in libraries. If a book has an interesting synopsis, I open it and scan the first two pages. If nothing pulls me in, I put it back on the shelf.

In a way, that makes me an author’s worst nightmare. I am both the byproduct of a society that lives a high-octane, convenience-based way, and I was born with ADHD. So the fast pace of society works well for me, but if an author can’t write words that engage me within the first two pages, I won’t read that book.

Personally, I prefer first person over third person when I’m reading, as the story moves much faster. However, if a book is written well enough, third person works fine.

The best fantasy writers are engaging from page one. Actually, the best writers are.

For fantasy, however, here is a list of authors that hooks the reader on page one. 

And that’s just a few of the authors whose books I’ve read – fantasy is my staple genre, after all.

Now, if you’re wondering how to write an effective introduction, start reading the books of the authors in that list. Reading is a writer’s first priority. If you aren’t reading, you aren’t learning how to write. Thus, if you aren’t reading, and reading a lot, you will never be a good writer. There’s no exception to that rule.


3. Too Much World Building

Fantasy is a great genre because, as a writer, you get to make up all the rules. Design new worlds, create new systems of governments – the possibilities are endless.

But you still have to make a bridge from this world into your world. 

If a writer creates a world that is so bizarre that no connecting elements from this world can be found, a reader is going to choose someone else’s books.

Create a world where everyone is a pink elephant with four heads and the moon floats upside down in the middle of the human homeland and try to create a political system based on the average lengths of the necks of those elephants — yeah, who is still with me?

I’d be surprised if most of my readers here didn’t skip over that paragraph – it’s too absurd.

When a writer builds a world, it needs to make sense. Too absurd a world, and no one will read the story. 

So which authors should you read for a better understanding of what great world-building looks like? Well, here’s a list to get you started:


4. No Rules for Magic Systems

It is often said that fiction must be more plausible than real life, and the only exception in fantasy is that magic can be present. Not all fantasy novels have magic in them, but most do.

When magic is involved, the rules need to be clear and consistent. Otherwise, the entire story falls apart.
Here’s a list of fantasy authors who create amazing magic systems:

5. Overpopulation 

A lot of would-be fantasy writers assume that all fantasy novels require a huge cast of characters and that, for some reason, they must write from multiple characters’ point-of-views.

This is the worst mistake a writer can make because it spreads you too thin. If a writer tries to tell the same story with twelve different characters, that writer is going to get lost.

The easiest way to avoid this? Choose one character and write the story from their perspective. Let the novel stand on its own.

If you get to a point where another character’s point-of-view becomes pivotal to the plot, make a note of it, and then go back and write that character’s story separately. 

Writing does not have to occur chronologically. 

Amateur writers forget that they can piece-meal stories. They can write a scene for the beginning of the book, then for the end, then for the middle – or wherever the heck they want. All that matters is the scenes get written. Worry about where they go after the story is finished. 

There aren’t a great deal of fantasy authors who shift from character to character anymore, but the few who do, do it exceptionally. Here’s a list of authors to read if you feel that you absolutely must have multiple point-of-views in your fantasy novel:

Most of the other authors I listed previously have novels that shift point-of-view around; these are the ones that I believe use the technique most effectively.

And here’s a list of the authors who use singular point-of-views: 

Granted, other authors listed also use singular point-of-views, but these are specifically authors who either only have one series published and write in first person or are authors with multiple series with one or more of those series written in first person point-of-view.


Recap: The Traps

1. Writing “Time Period” Language: Avoid thee, thine, thy, thou in your writing.

2. Too Little (Action), Too Late: Engage the reader from page one!

3. Too Much World Building: Make sure you build a bridge from the real world to your created world in the mind of the reader. Don’t overdo it.

4. No Rules for Magic Systems: When you create a magic system, know how it works intimately. Keep it consistent. Make the rules understandable.

5. Overpopulation: Don’t write from the p-o-v of too many characters. Start with one p-o-v and work your way up to multiple p-o-v stories. Unless multiple p-o-v’s are critical to the plot, stick with a single character’s version of the story.