Of Writing and Advice

I know I’ve been gone for a while. I’ve been going through a tough time trying to motivate myself to write, and most of my time has gone to my job anyway. I’m a floral delivery driver now, who still works the back and front of the shop when I’m not driving the van. I’ve also been trying to get an apartment, reading too much fanfiction, and watching shows like The Dead Files, Designated Survivor, The Good Place, and Lethal Weapon. So, to apologize, have some random writing tips I learned in university:

  • If you want to be taken seriously, do your best to learn grammar and punctuation. It is hard. It is subjective in some cases. Everyone makes mistakes. But basic things like where to put commas and how to punctuate dialogue tags is important for your stories. Look at how published writers are doing it and mimic them. Google things you don’t know how to do. Learn it one step at a time. Editors will not give you the time of day if they struggle to read your story; I usually disregard things after the first sentence if it has an error in it. Readers, though, as people who haven’t dedicated their lives to being stuck up snobs like me, will cut you more slack, but not always.
  • Use “said” in dialogue tags. I know what people tell you. I went through 7 years of public schooling where the word was banned from class/papers. Ignore everything you’ve heard. Use said, except where it makes a tonal/clarify difference if you don’t. Expressions, body language, and dialogue word choice can convey a lot on their own. I could rant about this for days and can always explain later why it’s really important to use said.
  • Avoid typing dialogue in all caps in my opinion. Use an exclamation point. Use italics. Use a dialogue tag that indicates yelling. There are exceptions for caps, I’ll admit, like a booming announcement over a loudspeaker or some such, but generally, there isn’t a need.
  • Double punctuation is steadily becoming unprofessional. Sadly, we didn’t welcome the interrobang into common use, so pick ! or ?, not both. (I’m going to pretend none of you commit the grievous sin of triple punctuation, or worse crimes.)
  • Refer to characters with nouns appropriate to the POV. Nancy’s husband is not “the man” to her. It’s “Bill” or “her husband.” My mom is not “the brunette” to me. She’s “my mother.” Nouns express familiarity. “The redhead,” “my roommate,” “my best friend,” and “James” may all refer to James, but which I use defines our relationship/familiarity. Choose the appropriate one. Nothing is more frustrating than reading a romance where Lead A and B have been friends for twelve years, are in love, but refer to each other as “the boy” and “the blonde” within the prose like they’re strangers.
  • Nail down POV. Nothing is more disheartening than slips in POV during a story. Stay in your character’s head. Voice their thoughts and their observations. See through their eyes clearly. If someone is a hundred yards away from your character, don’t mention that that someone has a loose thread on their shirt unless your character is physically able to see that. Embody them. Your prose is thought and flesh.
  • If writing in first person, find unique ways to describe your POV character. Writers tend to fall into one of the following clichés: using a mirror, comparing themselves to another character in the scene, or just outright stating things like “the wind blew through my lush, auburn hair” – at which point I remind you we do not often think of ourselves in specifics like that. For example, I think “the cat grazed my arm” not “the cat grazed my tanned, freckled arm with the scar at the elbow.” Can you get away with these things? Yes. They’re cliches for a reason. But I implore you to get creative. And please don’t pull a My Immortal and just info-dump it straight into the story. I have faith in you to do better than that.
  • Introduce things in the correct order. If your character walks in a new room and meets a new person, describe the room and the person, even with a few snappy lines if the pace can’t handle a big stop in forward motion. I have read stories where two characters will meet and have two pages of dialogue before the POV character describes anything about the second person, which leaves a reader picturing a faceless blur in their head. Stories are movies in your head. Focus the camera lens for us as soon as possible.
  • Share sensory details. If your character sees a person or a map or a flash of a memory, describe it. If they eat a sandwich, give readers a taste. If they smell something, give readers a sniff. Don’t be stingy. Youcan see and experience your world, but if you don’t share it with your readers, we can’t.
  • Use multiple sensory details. We writers default to sight. Utilize others to flesh out your setting and characters. You may want to tell us down to the upholstery on the chairs what a room looks like, but you saying it has orange shag carpeting, panelled walls, and the lingering smell of cat piss lets us see it, smell it, and fill in our own details in quick time. You may think it’s more memorable for a character to have brunette hair and almond eyes, but I’m more liable to remember she had a voice like squealing breaks.
  • The above rules are still important in fanfiction. We may know what a character or world looks like, but we still want to and need to experience it with our five senses.
  • Include unique details – the uninventable detail. This makes your stories/characters/settings both interesting and unforgettable. It makes them seem undeniably real, because how on earth could the author have invented that. I’m sure there are stories you’ve heard or read that had a detail that stuck out to you and you just feel like the author experienced that in real life once and included it in their fiction.
  • Verisimilitude. We had to practice this a lot in my classes. Try to imitate real life as much as you can. Make dialogue sound like real conversations. Make dreams seem like real dreams. Now, genre fiction usually gets away with not doing this, but practicing this still helps you learn and will definitely benefit literary fiction. Our teacher would make us sit in public and dictate a conversation we overheard down to the um’s and repeated words. Then we had to write up a fake conversation and read both to our class. The goal was to have the entire class 50/50 on which was real and which was fake. We did this with dreams too. Studying things this closely will give you a better idea of cadence, transitions, and realism.
  • Don’t overuse adjectives or adverbs. An abundance of either usually means the verb/first adjective you chose isn’t strong enough. Not always, but it’s an indicator. Cut excess where you can. Tighten words when you can. Look at poems for this. They can teach you a lot about the power/versatility/depth of a single, well-chosen word. (And despite what people might say, poems and fiction have a lot in common. Learning the opposite craft can help you. Fiction helped and challenged my poetry. Poetry helped and challenged my fiction.)
  • Don’t live out of a thesaurus. It’s good to expand your vocabulary, or to consult a thesaurus when you feel like you fall back on a certain adjective too much, but don’t do it to sound smart. Learn to sound like yourself.
  • In general, don’t try to sound smart in your prose. We all have our own wisdom. We all convey our own truths with our words. Sometimes, we convey a truth without even thinking about it. I’ve had people point out in my workshops depths to my prose that I hadn’t consciously included. I promise that your perspective in life is unique and that you don’t need to be anyone else or sound like anyone else. What you contribute will touch someone or teach someone. Some of my favourite writing was written by high school dropouts and drug addicts who have a very rough perspective of the world. They don’t try to be smart. They just write what comes to them. They write themselves.
  • Write what you want to write. This was the hardest thing for me to learn. For years, I tried to write YA urban fantasy, which was all I read. I tried to write what I thought people would want to read. It took me four years of university to finally produce a manuscript I had fun writing – an adult high fantasy full of gore and gay sex. Do I think many people will want to read that project (now 80k words long and growing)? Probably not. But it makes me happy and writing isn’t drudgery anymore. If it’s boring or hard to write, you need to switch something up. Write the book you’d pick off a shelf, regardless of what it is. I have plenty of stories I doubt will ever be picked up by a respectable literary magazine, but I let the story do what it wanted and I enjoyed writing it.
  • Back to my earlier point: simplicity is okay. You don’t want your sentences to sound like they went four rounds with a thesaurus or to sound like someone plugged a foreign language into Google Translate and flipped it to English. Prose is very similar to the spoken word. It should have the same cadence and flow. It should be read aloud. Write roughly like you talk/think. No blazing luminaries illuminating the dilapidated, shadowed mausoleum that looms over the cold, protruding tombstones. No sudden epiphanies that snap into my head like a rubber band and fill my body with a thrumming, tense sense of desire. Clarity will always override sophistication. Don’t clutter your writing unnecessarily.
  • Prose should imitate what it’s conveying. Rapid punches, gunshots, and fast-paced fights get short, staccatoed sentences with simple, blunt wording. They are the quick blow or the gunshot. Launch your reader forward through the prose at the same pace as the action. Don’t hamper them. Or slow your reader down. Character A just realized they’re in love. They stare at Character B and the whole world comes to a halt around them. Sentences grow and becomes long, elaborate constructions that cradle a reader, stringing them along and carrying them softly into a crescendo of emotion until it snaps. The world returns. Life goes on. Try reversing this to see how important it is; write an action scene with 30+-word sentences, or a romance scene with 9-word sentences. Prose and pacing go hand in hand. (Remember, though, that sentence length variation is a necessity in either situation. Always fluctuate between sentence lengths. Try reading your scenes aloud for help. Your sentences should translate to spoken word easily. If they’re awkward to read aloud, then they’re awkward to read on the page. We are pretty good natural judges of where a sentence needs to end or when it feels like it should be a beat or two longer.)
  • Have a mentioned have fun? Have fun, with whatever you write. The happy stuff, the dark stuff, the characters, the worlds. Have fun.
  • Narrative voice is important. It’s heavily tied to POV. If your character loves nature, your prose will stop to appreciate it. If your character is a child, your prose might reflect their vocabulary or mindset. If your character is a jokester, their jokes or hilarious observations might make their way into the prose. Consider who is telling your story. What they observe and how they experience the world can very easily do most of the work of building their character for you. Your narrative voice can also do the job of setting your scene or creating a genre tone. A detective novel and a southern horror are going to sound different.
  • Tone and word choice go hand in hand. “Morning sun caressed the sidewalk” is very different from “Morning sun cut the sidewalk.” Consider the story you’re telling. If your character is running through the dark, there is a difference between “headlights beamed in the distance” and “headlights sliced through the night.” Look at your verbs. Do they have positive or negative connotations? Are they angry, eerie, lethargic, etc.? Match the story you’re trying to tell and your prose will do so much of your job for you.
  • Imitate stories you like. If you like their characters, their prose, their mechanics, or their worlds, imitate them. There is a lot of stigma out there about having to be unique. Yes, you need to be unique, but there is no such thing as a story that is wholly unique. Stories talk to each other. They participate in each other. We have tropes for a reason. We have archetypes for a reason. We have clichés and stereotypes for a reason. Take what you like from other stories. Then mix it together in a weird little stew, try to approach it from an angle that feels unique to you, and have at it. Imitation is not plagiarism.
  • Above all, just be yourself, have fun, and write what you want to.

There is a lot more I could rant about, but I’ll cut myself off here. Also, understand that though I’m a (barely) published writer and have a degree in this subject, I’m not an authority. Writing has some rules, but rules are also made to be broken. Don’t take what I say as law, and you are more than welcome to disagree with anything I’ve said.

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Of Reviews and Elites

Book: The Young Elites
Author: Marie Lu
Pages: 355

They will cower at my feet, and I will make them bleed.

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I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.

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Of Reviews and Bone

Book: Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Pages: 358

This was his soul made flesh, the truth of him laid bare in the blazing sun, shorn of mystery and shadow. This was the truth behind the handsome face and the miraculous powers, the truth that was the dead and empty space between the stars, a wasteland peopled by frightened monsters.

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Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart. Continue reading

Of Reviews and Crows

Book: Six of Crows
Author
: Leigh Bardugo
Pages
: 465

We are all someone’s monster.

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Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

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