In Defense of Prose, part 2

In Part 1 I basically started my argument/mild rant for how important the quality of prose is in writing fiction, and in this section I want to rebut some common counter-arguments and misconceptions on the topic.

For a good resource see ShaelinWrites

Isn’t style completely subjective?

This is a tricky one. I see a lot of people come to this conclusion after comparing successful author’s writing seeing that their style is different, and deciding that it’s all a matter of opinion.

Not to be judgy and snobbish but my advice to such a stance is to compare some unpublished or poorly self-published work to more successful. The problem with comparing across good books is that you are comparing the largely subjective parts of prose without realizing that even though works can appear vastly different in style, there will be some solid foundations in common between them (more on what those foundations are later)

What I’m trying to say is yes there is considerable subjectivity in writing, but there are also significant parts of the craft which are relatively well established as important and useful towards strong prose. I realize that music is my go-to for analogy (but if the shoe fits run in it) however its like how all musicians must keep their instrument in tune – sure some use unconventional tuning, or play around with non-western musical tones, but not even the most experimental musician ignores their instrument’s tuning.

Don’t lots of people who get published have ‘bad’ writing?

So this is somewhat related to the above. People love to criticize or point out the flaws of successful works. And this seems to fly in the face of what I said in part 1 about the idea of a good story shining through bad writing.

In reply to that I’m going to say sort-of. Something I hope to establish in this sequence of blogs is that good writing doesn’t necessarily mean intensely skillful prose that the mere words of rock people out of their seats, my philosophy of writing is that prose does what it intends to do.

Let’s take two pretty successful but generally slammed works:

1st Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. The DVC is one of recent times most commercially successful works of fiction. What a lot of people don’t know is the Brown had actually written (I think) 3 previous books will with such mediocre sales his publisher was considering dropping him, he’d even written Angel’s and Demons, the first Robert Langdon book prior to DVC. The point is he wasn’t exactly hitting it off as a writer, and a lot of critics point out that the writing is not exactly brilliant in DVC either, its basic, repetitive and kind of written so that you can follow the plot even if you’re completing a Sudoku and watching Inception at the same time, i.e. It’s explained like you need a classroom lesson in following plotlines.

Despite these criticisms I wouldn’t necessarily say the prose of DVC is bad, its just a particular style that isn’t aiming to entertain through words – but the content of the words.

Similarly for no. 2. 50 Shades of Grey is perhaps even more intensely known for being a very big selling critically harangued work. Reading the piece feels like the author is purposefully snubbing their nose at all the writing advice in the word (the first paragraph is the MC looking into a mirror complaining about their plain looks). But again the words do what they’re meant to do – drop the reader into the word of Anastasia and Christian.

What I’m trying to say is not that my argument is pointless but that there are multiple ways for prose to be good, whether its in serving a popular story or wowing readers with the poetry of the work, this doesn’t make learning about good writing redundant, it in fact makes it all the more vital.

But writing rules are all just guidelines not rules right?

This is something that ShaelinWrites addresses in her video linked above. She makes a great point that (at least the rules she refers to) are better considered rules as while there are exceptions, they are somewhat distinct, rather than being considered a guideline where it may apply or it might not. Shaelin’s rule is basically if it strengthens a sentence (more on what that even means later too) then break the rule.

What I hope to do in my next post, when I go into some of the specifics in convince you that there are vital parts of writing prose to learn that are beyond just ‘writerly guidance’

But of course:

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Are there any criticisms or rebuttals of focusing on prose you have heard or even have yourself (don’t be shy)?

 

 

Ug the guilt

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when you’re welcome to ask questions and share your experiences of being a writer – not the glamour side, but the realities hardly anybody talks about. One big question rarely addressed is the problem of not writing. The dreaded P word – procrastination. You know the problem – you desperately […]

via First Monday Mentoring August – why am I so good at putting off writing? — valerieparv

How To Come To Terms With Your Book Is Not Going To Write Itself #SundayBlogShare #Writer

Awww, but I really would quite like it to

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This is a tough one and can take some writers several years to come to terms with.

You will have an unfinished draft novel, sat in a drawer or lounging on top of your writing desk or loitering in your writing file on your computer. All book writing momentum will have left your writer body. The thought of sitting down and ploughing on for another thirty thousand words will not be an appealing one.

It’s at this stage you start to consider the possibility of the following:

  • Magical elves scurrying in during the small hours and writing the rest of your book.
  • Waking up one morning to find its all been a bad dream and your completed manuscript lying on your bedside table.
  • A famous best-selling author replying to your ‘my #unfinishednovel is making me sad’ tweet with ‘let’s meet for coffee and chat through your book. I might…

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In defense of Prose, part 1.

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So my current thing (other than being tired AF) is focusing on prose. I’ve been wanting to blog on the subject for a while now, and realized that two things were holding me up:

  1. a great Reference, and
  2. Accepting that I would probably need to do this over several posts

Anywho part 1. will be about just what is prose and why I am defending it.

So what is prose?

“written or spoken language in its ordinary form, without metrical structure.”

Or in my head – not poetry or song, but words that make up a story.

Basically if you’re trying to write a novel or short story you’re using prose.

So what’s the real deal here, why am I “defending” prose?

(why are all my paragraphs one-liners?)

Well, here’s the thing. As I noted here aspiring and successful writers often talk more about their sexy characters, in their sexy sexy plotlines, and the sexy sexy sexy character development that ensues. Granted these things are much more fun to talk about, I liken it to music, people love talking about soaring guitar solos it’s a little less enjoyable to talk about the technical side of which fingers you use to run through a scale. Nonetheless if you can’t do the latter the former is going to blow chunks.

My point being its all well and good to nut out your amazing content, but its important not to delude oneself that the job is done. I’m not sure if I’ve addressed this issue on my blog or just in general online discussions, but one of the big challenges of creative writing is dealing with the fact that your content and prose are intertwined almost to the point of no return. If a beta-reader tells you they hated your main character its difficult to untangle whether your ideas for your MC were hateable or whether the words you used did not endear them to the reader.

The reason I’m ranting long on this issue is that, today in reading a post about an apparent (it’s the internet don’t ever take anything at it’s word) teenager realizing that it doesn’t matter how good an idea is, if the execution is bad.

And this has got to me my number one argument with other writers, that I’m not being pretentious, high-standard or purposely rude when I tell them their story isn’t going to shine through the dross that is their words (just to clarify that is not how I word it directly to people). I suspect its a hard concept to grasp, because as I often say to other writers you know exactly what your story is, so when you see your work in front of you, the words prompt that story you have in your head. When someone else reads it all they have is the words in front of them to spark the story, so if those words are unclear, bloated or weak, the story that develops in their head will be too.

“No but my story is really epic”

Anyway that particular aspect is a whole other post.

Really the point of my initial post on prose is to try and convince anyone who cares to listen that their words are really important, my plan is to dive further into the actual who, what, where and why of what makes ‘good’ prose in future installments.

 

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Do you have any particular questions or ideas about prose you’d like to see me discuss in the future?

 

 

 

Suspense vs Mystery: What’s The Difference? A guest blog post by Allison Maruska

I like the infographic: Mystery, Suspense and my favourite HORROR

Dan Alatorre - AUTHOR

As a sponsor of my Word Weaver Writing Contest, you get a free guest blog post!

Oh, you’re having a writing contest?

Yeah:

Word Weaver logi FINAL trimmed 2For details on how you can win valuable prizes and get a critique of YOUR writerly work by ME, click HERE


Today, contest sponsor, bestselling author, and friend of the blog Allison Maruska uses her guest blog spot to discuss a writerly topic.

.

renovatio-ebook-v4Before I start, I want to thank Dan for hosting the Word Weaver writing contest and for having me on as a sponsor. My donated prize is an audiobook copy of Project Renovatio, my YA sci-fi/mystery. In brainstorming topics for a guest blog post, Dan and I had a conversation that went something like this:

Dan: How about something about the trilogy? Maybe about their genre?

Me: They aren’t exactly the same, though. Renovatio is mystery. Liberatio and Ancora are suspense.

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The Great Creative Writing Conspiracy (not really)

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I jokingly told someone recently that the purpose of any advice/discussion about writing on this blog was actually intended to mislead other people to thin out the competition.

Now not that I’m far too good or ethical to do such a thing it just seems like a lot more effort that I’m willing to expunge, and I might need a few more followers to actually effect a change.

It lead to an interesting discussion about how maybe there is a grander conspiracy at large among established writers to keep the new talent at bay. Maybe adverbs are quite good, maybe telling is better than showing, MAYBE people want stories with unrelatable character and lots of info-dumps.

Anyway I don’t think that such a conspiracy is in effect. But again on another tangent it did lead me to think about a sort of natural selection in creative writing advice which may be a barrier to aspiring writers: First bear in mind that advice is driven by the free market, whether it be blog views, books sold or whatever anyone who peddles writing advice isn’t rewarded by how much their advice leads to success but by the consumption of said advice.

Suffice to say that topics and advice which is more enjoyable to absorb becomes more popular and gets peddled more often. Thusly, we end up with post after post and book after book about things like characters, plots, tension and world-building.

Now that’s an unfair representation, as I’m consumed a fair few ‘on-writing’ books over the years and learnt heaps about all manner of aspects of fiction, but I do notice that across the blogosphere and the ‘chatter’ most discussions are about characters and plots with a fair dose of fantasy lore. What’s so wrong with this? Well nothing exactly, but in my opinion most people are quite capable of penning good characters and plots, and pretty good at designing a world. What I think most people struggle with is crafting a good scene with style and power within their prose.

Of course all of the above are important for a good story, and it’s pretty understandable that so much is devoted to this sort of content, I mean, even saying all this I don’t want to read that much about scene building and prose. But I think it can be misleading at times to see so much discussion about the content of a story with comparatively little on style. As I mentioned above I think this is a sort of natural selection, where these are the topics which are fun to talk about so it makes sense they’re everywhere, its just also important to keep an objective eye for what you really work on in your own projects.

 

What are your favourite topics in writing discussions?

Do you think the material available out there is misleading?

 

Ten Types of Authors Who Can Go Fuck Themselves

Well it made me laugh, but I probably have to do F@ck myself now!

CLASH

So yesterday I was thinking about an upcoming piece I’ll be writing for LitReactor and chuckled at the amount of reactions I’ll surely get. You see, I’ve been doing the columnist thing for almost a decade. It all started back home with a monthly political column. By the time I stopped writing it in early 2016, I’d received four death threats. In any case, I tweeted this: “Everyone who’s gotten angry at one of my columns should hear the stuff I don’t even bother to pitch.” The result was almost immediate; a bunch of authors said they wanted to read it. I’m all about making my friends happy, so here we are. Thank the writing deities that we have crazy, brave venues like CLASH. Let’s get started, shall we? Here are ten types of authors who can go fuck themselves (God I’m good at making friends!):

1. Authors who hate…

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Editing and Compromise

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I guess you’ll be seeing a lot more blogs procrastination about revision and editing in the near future, but I swear this post was inspired by a genuine convo I had with someone re: editing and compromising on your work.

The discussion was around something that many aspiring writers think about: whether to compromise the ‘artistic integrity’ of their work for marketability.

Personally I think its a false dichotomy.

It’s a weird topic because the two options are hardly as clear as they appear to a novice writer. First of all the editing process is hardly an untweaked work being fired off to a publisher who demands some sell-out change of the work. Far more likely is that by the time a draft even reaches the eyes of an agent and a publisher an author has already made many compromises, tweaks, major rewrites… everything! It would be pretty odd if by that point a writer hadn’t started to develop the skills to navigate this sort of back-and-forth. Without sounding snobbish (heck it’s not like I’m published) its only really folk who are sitting around imagining getting published who think they might get asked to change something they don’t want to in order to be successful. Most experienced writers realize that there is a tonne of editing to be done especially in novel manuscripts, its not like they go straight from author to publisher with only the barest of change (mostly).

On the flipside, it’s not like people walk around with this constant option to ‘sell-out’ and just make money. When an editor suggests changes to a story, sure it is typically intended to increase marketability, but its not like there is a popularity performance enhancing drug that can be injected into your manuscript if only you’re willing to give up artistic integrity. Trying to predict and achieve popularity is pretty much an artform in itself.

Getting slightly deeper into the issue is the question of whether a story needs an audience. Or rather, if a tree reads a book in a forest and has no-one to tell about it, does it count as a story? My point is not that ‘you’re only a real writer if you publish or have a big audience’ but rather that there is no magical cannon for your story that only exists in your head. Yes it’s your story, and you have the right to pursue whatever tale you want to write. But I don’t think that artistic integrity = being too stubborn to make your work accessible to others.

Now don’t get me wrong there are compromises on different levels. For example if a publisher say doesn’t want to publish a minority group as a main character, and as an author you want this – that’s not the sort of compromise I’m getting at here.

I understand that as authors we tend to get attached to our work, and because we know it inside and out, its hard to understand how other might want to change something, and even think it might make it better! The truth is this is exactly why we need other people to suggest changes to our work, so that we achieve the outcome we want with our work, not just cling to the dream.

 

What are your thoughts on compromise and editing?

 

Have you ever had to, or decided to change something major in a WIP? Care to share it?

Time to Edit this Bitch

Sorry for the profanity (not really)

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Editing is not my forte. Drafting is (mostly) fun, word-count goals are clean-cut to work towards, and editing just feels like a potentially never-ending hamster wheel of torture.

Okay its not quite that bad, to be honest its nice to work knowing you have a complete piece in the bank, even if it is terrible. I already know my WIP has a lot of work to be done, it’s probably not even truly ‘finished’ as its half the size it needs to be. (I know most people edit down, but I draft very light on description, character development and basically anything that worries me will become boring to a reader – thus I compost fairly frenetic first drafts)

I’m also aware that there are some very tropey things going on in the story. My main character seems to get imprisoned and captured a lot. I think this reflects that I want them to interact with their antagonists while preserving a sense of their conflict, but I doubt this will be very tolerable to most readers and I’ll have to brainstorm how to maybe make some of the initial interactions more subtly sinister than the MC being caged/handcuffed/magically warded.

Sexism may also be an issue for my story, not that my female characters are raging stereotypes or horribly objectified, they just kind of revolve around my MC, which makes a bit of sense as they’re the one telling it, but again probably won’t be that tolerable for a reader.

Finally I’m very aware that my scene-craft is sub-par. When I write I have zero sense of how to balance ‘setting the scene’ with the core action, I’m happy with the majority of my basic conflicts, choices and so forth, but not so happy with my scenes essentially rushing towards them as quickly as possible.

 

In the past my editing process has been, as I imagine is has for most aspiring writers, a fool’s game of rereading a draft and trying to write it ‘better’. This has a lot of problems with it, at best it tweaks some of the prose to a higher level, at worst it drives you into a hellish loop of second guessing, and missing actually useful editing, like structuring events properly, character development and so forth.

My plan from today is to first essentially synopsis my draft, i.e. read through with a notebook and get the major events and any side-notes down and see if that looks like a palatable novel on a structural level. I’m relative confident that there is a sense of rising stakes with highs and lows throughout, but I’m very sure that the character appearances and development are a mess. I think between showing and telling I’ve tending up avoiding telling and been in too much of a rush to show either!

Once I’m satisfied with the synopsis level of events, I have an unorthodox plan. I’m going to grab a favoured book in the same genre, and imitate its scene-craft. I’m not going to plagiarize or mimic the actual events or plot, but rather I am going to hone my individual scenes to look more like publishable material. As I mentioned above I have no to very little concept of the pacing of an individual scene, anytime I’m not writing something intense I think a reader’s going to get bored and I need to study the pros more closely.

After I’ve done all that I guess I’ll start on the nitty gritty, show don’t tell, murder adjectives, all the rest. I suspect if I manage all the above I’ll probably need a decent percolation break from my draft anyway…

 

What are you editing processes?

Are there any editing pitfalls to avoid?

Any advice on what sort of book (urban fantasy) I should peruse for crafting scenes?

Writing Fiction That is Believable — A Writer’s Path

by Katie McCoach Imagine you are sitting amongst fellow writers in a workshop class or critique group. You’ve just finished reading your work and this group is providing constructive criticism. You are nervous, of course, we understand. This writing is a piece of you—anything you write is. This group understands that as well, and […]

via Writing Fiction That is Believable — A Writer’s Path