Be honest. Don’t pretend you know something you don’t, feel something you don’t feel, or are something you’re not. Just be heart-exposingly honest and readers will appreciate it. Honesty is never boring.
Write your passion.
Write what you love. Write what you are committed to. Write about the topics, stories, people, issues that get your heart aflutter or make your pulse race. When you write your passion it comes straight from your heart. Passion is never boring.Continue reading “How Not to be Boring: 8 Tips for Writers”
What’s the most important part of a story? The plot? The characters?
How about the verbs?
Okay, maybe they aren’t the most important part but wow, they can make or break it.
I’m reading The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton and I am dumbfounded (love this word – oh, and what a great verb!) by how he simply makes up verbs. Out of thin air. He takes ordinary words and he verbizes them (there! I just did it too! I verbized the noun, verb.).
Watch how he does this:
I remember watching my mother from the backseat as she stared at the telephone poles flishing past us, the reflection of the white highway line in the window strobing her haggard face.
The first time it happened, on the first page, mind you, I thought – flishing? huh, never heard of that verb.
But then again and again (and again) he simply created verbs where there were none. Jounced? (okay, that one’s real, but who uses it?) Vigiling? Birth-defected?
How empowering, I thought.
The verb you choose for a sentence can be the difference between eating vanilla store brand ice cream and Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food flavor ice cream. Totally different experience.
He walked slowly along.
The bird flew across the grass.
The bird flashed across the grass.
She thought about it.
She sloshed the idea around in her head.
See? It’s easy. And what Scotton has proven to me, is that if you can’t think of a verb, you can simply make one up. Nobody minds. Really.
The toddler wasted time.
The toddler fiddle-de-dooed.
If you need a few lists of verbs check out foxhugh.com who teaches ESL and has lists of action verbs, PLUS a cat and the hat rap video and a number of other interesting posts. You could also check out ResumeGenius.com which claims to be the longest action verb list in the universe, although I’m quite certain that Fox Hugh has it beat.
If worse comes to worse, you can also right click on a boring verb in your document and look at the possible synonyms, there could be a more interesting alternative there.
Want to pump up your manuscript? Search out words like was, is, walk, sat, run, read, stand, etc., you know the standard stuff from your first grade primer, and see if you can liven up your sentences by plugging in more interesting verbs.
It used to be we had to stick to Webster’s for our word choice, but I’m pretty sure that rule is long gone. I can’t imagine how spell check or auto-correct keep up. That’s their problem, though, because clearly best-selling writers make up words everyday—why can’t you?
After sharing my disdain last week, I take it all back. Digging deeper into this book, I’m finding nugget after nugget of gold.
Maybe I was a bit sensitive after her comments about pantsers (those of us who write by the seat of our pants as opposed to careful outlining). I’ve decided that Lisa Cron actually does have room for pantsers in her heart. At least my kind of pantsing.
She’s not shoving an outline down my throat (at least at this point), but she does want me to know exactly what it is my protagonist wants and what is keeping her from it. The intersection of those points is what she terms the ‘third rail.’
While I may have no idea what’s going to happen in any story I start, I do know my protagonist inside and out and am very certain of what she wants. I even know the first obstacle which will throw her into a tailspin and start my story. After that, though, all bets are off, but inevitably obstacle after obstacle will present itself.
In my novel Girls’ Weekendthere were three protagonists (although Cron has helped me see that there is actually an ‘alpha protagonist’) and I knew what those women wanted (even though not all of them did) and what stood in their way. In reality, looking back, that could have been three books. A nice little series. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
So, yeah, enjoying Story Genius.
The other books are also inspiring me, even Donald Maass. Here’s a line I’ve been ruminating on from Fire in Fiction:
“Like a handshake, an opening and closing line can create impressions and expectations. They can set a tone.”
I’ve gone back and begun looking at each chapter and studied my opening and closing lines. It’s one way to be certain my story is bringing the reader along purposefully. He also talks about being certain there’s a purpose in every scene, not just artfully rendered sentences. I’m a serious proponent of that direction, and I chuckled at his line about the purpose not having to be obvious. There’s no need to “squat atop it like an elephant on an egg.” Totally going to steal that line at some point.
And then this from Fierce on the Page:
“This is the power of the written word. As we take in a story that affects us, we meet ourselves more deeply.”
Yes. That’s exactly it.
Natalie Goldberg echoes this sentiment:
“A responsibility of literature is to make people awake, present, alive.”
Doing all this reading about craft and purpose and style and function some days makes my head spin a bit and makes me feel like not only do I not know what I’m doing, but maybe I should apply for a job at the new Burger King that just opened in town. But Jordan Rosenfeld was there to catch me when she wrote:
“Trust your gut about what resonates and what does not. Know that you’ll know what to cut and what to keep…..You will find the alive passages, and you can even choose to build on them. Those are the words you are meant to write; similarly, the life that flows is the one you’re meant to live.”
I think she might have more faith in me that I have in myself, but I’ll borrow it for now.
May the power of literature change your life this week.
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My son, who is also a writer, posted an article on Facebook that listed the most important writing advice from famous authors to young writers. It wasn’t what you’d expect. This was just off the cuff, what’s-your-best-advice-to-young-writers stuff. The advice was funny and seemed almost nonsensical. Until you thought about it. Take Zadie Smith’s advice:
Whenever you introduce a character, you don’t have to specify that they are wearing pants. Most readers will just assume that they are wearing pants unless you say otherwise.
Silly, right? Only it’s not. Because many times we writers think we need to spell out everything for our readers. We don’t trust them to use their own brains. Writing that holds a reader’s hand is exhausting. It gets bogged down in minutae. And truly, it’s kind of insulting to the reader.
I know I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to stating the obvious. We want to be completely clear. (See what I did there? Ugh. Redundant, right? Like I can’t assume that when you read the word ‘clear’ you knew that it means completely clear. What else would it be? Something is either clear or not clear. Nevermind that the entire sentence is unnecessary as it’s only expounding on the previous sentence which wasn’t that complicated.)
Taping a note to my desk right now that says, “Assume they are wearing pants.”
Then there was the advice from Haruki Murakami. He says,
Every time you write, ask yourself: Could this scene take place in a hot-air balloon? If the answer is yes, then it probably should.
Again, silly advice. Except it isn’t. If your scene could be more exciting, then it should be. Don’t be satisfied with just good enough. Can it happen in a hot air balloon? Great question!
And no-less than George Saunders gives this advice:
When I first started getting some attention, stories published here and there, Don DeLillo took me aside and gave me some advice that ended up being very formative for me. He said, ‘George, if you keep breaking into my home to use my swimming pool, I’m going to have to call the police.’ I always thought that was really wise.
He really didn’t go where you thought he’d go with that, did he? But he has a point. None of this advice means diddily-squat, really. What works for some does not work for others. Don’t try to copy anybody else or be anybody else or swim in anybody else’s pool.
It’s very tempting to get wrapped up in learning the craft and studying other writers and reading every blog/website/article/book out there on writing, those things are important but in the end there’s only one thing that will make you write better—writing.
Put something down on paper. Hone it to the best of your ability. Then write something else. And don’t take others, or yourself, too seriously.