Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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X-FILES: IT'S NOT SCIENCE FICTION
Sharla Rae  An author on deadline will tell you that the old saying “Time is Money” is just as true with writing as it is with any other business.  Have you ever spent hours crafting a perfect description only to realize it breaks up the action? Did you delete it and then discover a chapter or two later that very description or part of it was needed?  Next time, DO NOT DELETE.  Instead, create a folder for your WIP called X-Files Title (of WIP). Example, X-Files Love and Fortune. Paste well written “cuts” to your X-Files. Make them easy to locate. Preface each pasting with its origin, that is, the chapter it was cut from along with a brief description.      Example: Chapter one – description-forest, Chapter two – dialogue – argument between Jane Dither and John the jerk. Later, if you haven’t used an X-File entry from a particular WIP, paste it to a general Description or Dialogue X-File. Once it’s actually used, delete it from “all” X-Files so you don’t accidentally reuse it.  It’s simple and it works. And when you’re on a deadline, it’s money in the bank.
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Maslow and Hershey Kisses
by Laura Drake Some of my best ideas come to me while I’m riding my bicycle.  I had an epiphany during a gorgeous Southern California ride yesterday.  One of those moments when several pieces fall into place for a major “Aha” moment – I love it when that happens! For anyone who is not familiar with Maslow, here’s the Reader’s Digest version: In the 1930’s Abraham Maslow put forward his “Hierarchy of Needs” concept to explain behavior.  His theory was that you strive to move toward the top of the list that follows:
  • Self-actualization
  • Esteem needs
  • Belonging needs
  • Safety needs
  • Physiological needs
This is summed up in one of my favorite songs, “Constant Craving” by K.D.Lang. But I digress.  You can’t move up the ladder until the lower need is met, as anyone who’s been on the lowest rung can attest to (been there myself at one dark period of my life.) My husband and I were talking the other day on a completely different subject.  We were watching one of those obnoxious “Weight Loss Breakthrough” ads on TV, and he didn’t understand why people were so lazy; why they couldn’t lose weight and keep it off (he has more drive than most – he lost 50 lbs 5 years ago.) Last piece to the puzzle; I’m a Weight Watchers member, and the talk this week was about creating goals to achieve weight loss.  Okay, stay with me here, because my theory works for anything you want to achieve, not just weight loss. We’ve all heard the goal-setting advice; break a large goal into steps, and achieve those, and you’ll finally get to your ultimate goal/need.  Great.  On paper.  But if you’re like me, when you choose a large goal like losing 40 lbs, learning to knit, writing a book, whatever…you have pictured in your head what the ultimate goal will do for you.  You’re standing on stage, holding up the Oscar to the applause and adulation of the crowd. Okay, I set smaller goals, but ultimately my eyes are on the applause, and my acceptance speech, and the smaller goals aren’t enough to get me excited.  Yeah, I’m making progress, but smaller goals also point out the amount of road I have left to get to my ultimate desire.  I think this is why we fail.  After awhile, you just burn out.  The effort just doesn’t seem worth it, and we move on to the next thing we want.  But there are two problems with that.  First, the goal you’ve abandoned is the one you want most, or it wouldn’t have been your first effort, right?  Secondly, in spite of excuses you make to others, deep down, you know you’ve failed, and it hurts.  You feel guilty, which lowers your self-esteem and makes the next goal harder to achieve, because you don’t really trust yourself to do it. After all, you let yourself down before, right? One of my goals is to get stronger on the bike.  We’re going on a bicycle vacation in Utah this summer, and it involves mountains.  Okay, so I’m riding, trying to figure out how to get consistent with my training – I get lazy when I get home from work, and find other things to do that don’t involve sweat and pain.  Suddenly, I’m distracted by a mockingbird’s song.  I notice that the temperature is perfect.  I look up, and the rolling hills have changed since the last time I rode this route; tawny grass stretches away forever.  I’m so absorbed by the joy of being alive and being out in nature that I don’t even realize I’ve toiled up a major hill – it didn’t hurt at all! That’s the Hershey Kiss part.  Is it the high I’ll get on the podium?  No, not even close.  It’s just a moment’s sweetness on the tongue.  Okay, I’m mixing metaphors, but you get the gist – it’s about focus.  You need to really take the time to revel in the small goals.  Wallow in them.  They are the rest spots on the stairs to the podium.  If you don’t, you’re going to burn out and quit.  Besides, just ask an older actor with an Oscar on their mantel; they’ll tell you the evening was great, but what mattered to them was the journey.  Like Lennon said, “Life is what happens while we make other plans”. The Hershey Kisses are the joy of life!  Savor them; I wish you many.
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ECHOES -- REPEAT OFFENDERS
By Sharla Rae One of the things we discussed in our critique last week was all writers’ tendency to repeat certain words and phrases. “Echoes” is a term I’ve heard applied to frequently repeated words. Read your chapter out loud, and that’s exactly what they sound like. Common Causes of Echoes:
  • Using lame and boring “to be” verbs. When used, they often produce not only echoes but also wordy constructions.
  • Many echoes are subject oriented. For example, let’s say that in one chapter a wagon plays a big part in the action. Echoing “wagon” may be your repeated offense. Subject oriented words are sneaky. At first, they seem absolutely necessary. A closer inspection proves otherwise.
Laura, one of my critique partners here at Stormwriters [see her blogs] found a website that counts repeated words. www.wordcounter.com/ The writer simply copies his/her chapter then pastes it into the provided box. The program allows a list of 25 to 200 repeated words. I chose the whole 200 because some words should never be used over once in a chapter. Another echo finding website is www.sporkforge.com/ I like this one a lot as it lists both repeated words and phrases. (And yes, you will find repeated phrases.) This site also provides the average amount of words per sentence, number of question marks, exclamations, quotes etc.  Why is that important? Editors hate multitudes of exclamation marks and long convoluted sentences. In using these sites, I discovered my own set of echoes. Surprisingly, this same set remained consistent throughout my work. I became a maniac, checking my entire manuscript. I made an interesting discovery. When I reconstructed the sentences to eliminate echoes, the material read better. Even the action scenes were energized. Everything became more clear and concise without “sterilizing” my writing style. Speaking of sterilizing your writing style -- don’t. It’s possible to edit your voice right out of your writing. Sometimes words need to be repeated for affect, especially in dialogue.   Like any editing program, these sites are only a guide. Use your better judgment. The sites also make note of every she, he, the, and character names. For the most part, these can be ignored.   Should these tools be used for every chapter? This is your choice to make. My recommendation is to run your current work through the tool and study the results. Most writers, no matter how experienced, are “repeat” offenders. In time you’ll become so attuned to your personal echoes that avoiding them becomes automatic. Below I’ve listed echoes I’ve found in my own writing and my critique partners’. You might be surprised at some of them. (We were!) I suggest you make your own list, or add to this one. The words in bold font are the bad boys. The number one word that is most abused is “you.” “But” runs a close second. Body parts are almost always repeat offenders. Don’t leave a lot of these lying around. Sorry, I just had to say that. I'd love to hear comments on this blog as well as great editing tips you and your critique groups have leaned.  COMMON ECHOES About Across Actually Again Against All Already Always Any Arm/arms Around As At Back Be Best Better Big But Can Chuckled Continued Could Down Even Eyes Face First For From Get Glanced Go Good Grabbed Grinned Hand/hands Here How If Just Know later left Like Look Made Make More Much Need No Nod/nodded Now Of Off On One Only Out Over Perhaps Place Pull Push Quickly right Shake Shook Sigh/sighed Small Smiled So Some Stared Sure That The Then This Time To Turn Under up Very Way Well What When With Would You
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