from Zero to Writer

from Zero to Writer

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Composing Effective Prose: Part 5

Writing DOES have a secret ingredient. Want to know what it is? Read on to find out. Or cheat by skipping to the bottom, who’s gunna know?


I hope this series on prose has helped you, even in the smallest of ways. If you found one tool to help better your prose, were linked to a website you connected with, or fixed even one sentence in your WIP, I accomplished what I set out to do. And if you haven't read it all, you can read Parts 1-4 by simply locating them on the side bar or scrolling down.

Let’s wrap this up with a brief post on Voice.

A good voice is not easily cultivated. It takes year-after-year of slamming down words, figuring out what works for you, and embracing the evolutionary process that accompanies the craft. Like growing, it’s often painful, can come in spurts, and stretches you beyond your comfort zone. But growth (i.e. constant practice, struggle, and fall-on-your-ever-loving-face mistakes) is the only thing that will take you out of writing infancy and into the full maturity of your carefully voice.

Don’t give up because it gets hard. Often times, your greatest struggle leads to your greatest success. At least, I hope so. For all our sakes.

Here are some tips to help cultivate your “voice.” For more excellent advice, check out the links at the bottom of the page…

- Read. Anyone who has read more than a paragraph of my blog knows that I advocate plentiful and abundant reading. Experiencing the writing voices of accomplished writers helps to groom your own.
- Speak into a recorder. Listen to it.
- Observe your surroundings. Write what you see in the exclusive lens to which you see it.
- Stalk people in public—coffee shops, malls, restaurants, etc.—listen to how they speak to help get the voice of your conversations down. That's right, I said stalk them.
- Use vocabulary true to your characters. If you have a woman from the south, “y’all” and “Bless her heart” can be as much a part of her as any other description you give. Ditto for any part of the world. Do your research and use what you’re comfortable using.
- Read a stack of emails you’ve sent to friends, coworkers, or family members in the past, and mimic the spontaneity. This form of writing is often lively, intimate, and (most importantly) engaging.
- Paint with your words. Use the ones you love (careful not to use the same words too often) and brandish them in ways that are distinctive to you.
- Write about what you value, what makes you sick, what keeps you up at night.
- Above all, write often, daily if possible. Write even if the work will never make it into your blog, your short story, or your manuscript. Back in my tattoo artist days, I would draw and draw and draw. Very few of those ever found permanent homes on skin, but they helped me be a better artist. But, come on, you don't need someone to drill into you the importance of practice. Or, at least, you shouldn't.

Avoid the following…

- Don’t use the wrong voice and tone for the occasion or audience. Have you ever read a genre where the voice didn’t quite fit? I read a middle grade fantasy once that read very similar to a Hemmingway-esque adventure. Needless to say, I didn’t connect well with it. Choosing the correct tone requires tact and ample reading.
- Avoid using the wrong POV, tense, or both.
- Avoid using a phony tone. Why impersonate other authors when you can create your own voice?

So, what’s the “Secret to Writing?" Simple.

It’s YOU.

Write in your unique voice, write your unique thoughts and opinions, write your unique story. Out of all the six billion voices in the world, no one can write in yours except you. No pressure.

This has been another "'No Post on Sundays' Post"

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Composing Effective Prose: Part 4


“If you hone your craft, carefully and consistently, looking always for ways to improve, your writing will sing as song lyrics and shine like a well-crafted light show,” said the teacher. “Your writing will become art.”

The student stared, unamused. “Duh.”

Once you have the components of a good sentence wrangled into compliance, you should look at the sentences themselves. 

We can write a good sentence. We can then write another. We can write another after that. And yet another to follow it. 

Or, we can use ever paintbrush in our kit, painting a story with varied brushstrokes and different colors, expanding the universe of the reader with the beauty of words.

Mix 'em up. Sentences should be varied to fit the subject. They can be short, brutal, smart, pithy, lengthy, etc. But, they should never be the same. Think of sentences as people of the world; we are each different, beautiful in our own right. Wouldn't life be mundane if we were all the same, even if we were all "well constructed?"

If you go simple, go deep. It is better to say too little than too much, better to have the reader engaged in his/her own world building than to tire over loquacious expressiveness.

Take one of the most memorable passages from the Bible, in the eleventh chapter of John in the New Testament. These are possibly the most moving words ever written, and they are simple...

"Jesus wept."

Take risks. Consider patterns that best suit your work. Ballet would be brief and boring if the dancers were stuck in first position. Instead, they perform short Brisé volé moves, powerful Jeté entrelacés, ending in a deep, slow Plié. Remember to have variety, energy, and grace to make the performance of your work at it's best.

With a bit of direction on what TO do, please also notice and be aware of what NOT to do. Don't fall privy to one of the following sentence sins…

Purple Prose

Sure, purple prose is beautiful. It’s also heavy and slow. Purple prose is to writing what the dancing hippos were to fantasia.

“The moon shone, dripping over the horizon, shoving aside the shadows and creeping into the dripping sap of the bayou with sticky fingers, pushing its beams of illumination into the mansion, revealing a brooding mademoiselle of tears and grief, knife to throat, morals asunder, gaping in frenzied horror at the draining veins of the stout man, screaming madly at him, “You deserve to die, and so do I!”

Who got through that sentence? Something incredible is going on, and the reader can barely see it amongst “mush.” That doozy needs to be tamed, simplified, and split into several sentences.

Plain Boring

Similar to the passage above, see how far you can get through this paragraph without stopping or zoning out.

“He sincerely regretted to inform the vehicle’s owner of the unceremonious damage caused as their unmaintained boom performed a faulty function and lowered into the front portion of the right corner bumper of the vehicle. Repairs had been required for some time on this piece of equipment, however, due to the large volume of traffic seen in said parking garage, the mechanical needs had fallen into neglect, hence causing damage and frustration.”

There are a hundred ways to tell this in a more interesting manner without losing the reader.

In summation, your reader expects you to take them on a journey! Design the page in a way that takes the words away and leaves only your glorious story.

This has been another "'No Post on Sundays' Post"

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Happy Saint Nicholas Day!

(And happy birthday to me!)

We’re all aware of the figure of Santa Claus, and it’s safe to guess that most adults have a vague knowledge of the history surrounding the man, the myth, the legend. At the very least, I can assume that most people know “Santa Claus” is based on a very real man: St. Nicholas.

However, not only is St. Nicholas an anomaly in our modern world for being one of the few annually recognized Saints (a catholic practice that was largely disbanded in the 1500s during the Reformation; a religious movement that led to the creation of Protestantism), he also has direct ties to me. And that’s the subject of my focus, because it’s my birthday, and I’m selfish like that.

In Western Christians countries, Saint Nicholas Day is observed on December 6th (my birthday!), the day of his passing in 343 AD. He was a Greek man, and the bishop of Myra, Lycia (modern day Turkey).

He was a pretty rockin' dude...

In addition to being the patron saint of children, Saint Nicholas of Myra helped 3 sisters avoid prostitution by leaving them gold on 3 separate occasions, in order for their father to afford a dowry. In the fourth century, a destitute, unmarried woman was likely to turn to prostitution out of necessity.

St. Nicholas reportedly saved three men, who were falsely imprisoned and sentenced to death when the governor Eustathius took a bribe to condemn them.

He protected and offered gifts to sailors, used his inheritance to help the poor and sick, and aided people regardless of sex or age.

He had a thirst for sincere and true religion, suffered the loss of his parents at an early age, and underwent an imprisonment of his own, due to his faith.

Cool dude, right? What a great example of a life well lived.

I, for one, am grateful for the Dutch. St. Nicholas remained an important figure in Holland, even after the Reformation—in a similar fashion to which the works of St. Patrick have been kept alive in Ireland—and many of our Christmas traditions stem from the Dutch practices of St. Nicholas day on December 6th.  Even the name, Sinter Klaas or Sint Nikolass, is where our jolly old saint’s name derives. (Oh yeah, did I mention I went to a college in Holland, MI where our mascot was the Flying Dutchman. The coincidences just keep rolling in.)

So, in addition to sharing my birthday with St. Nicholas’s day, and my namesake with the town in which he served and died, I took it up a notch and married a man named Nicholas. And we love Christmas.

(Please visit the links below for more information)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Composing Effective Prose: Part 3

Don't tell me… SHOW me!

“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” — Anton Chekhov

Let’s all agree that the subject of "show vs. tell" deserves its own blog post, its own book, its own billboard. Plenty of people have done just that (well, probably not in billboard form), so I’ll keep it simple.

The root of all telling comes from an excess of emotional adjectives that fail to transport the reader into the intended experience. Instead, the writer should provoke emotion through character reactions and vivid prose. Don’t simply tell the reader how to feel.

C.S. Lewis says it better than I ever could.

“It’s no use telling us that something was ‘mysterious’ or ‘loathsome’ or ‘awe-inspiring’ or ‘voluptuous.’ By direct description, by metaphor or simile, by secretly evoking powerful associations, by offering the right stimuli to our nerves (in the right degree and the right order), and by the very beat and vowel-melody and length and brevity of your sentences, you must bring it about that we, we readers, not you, exclaim ‘how mysterious!’ or “loathsome’ or whatever it is. Let me taste for myself, and you’ll have no need to tell me how I should react.”

Telling forces a reader to watch the slideshow of your vacation while you narrate. Showing invites the reader along as you travel.

-       Use well placed details to bring scenes to life.

o   “The dressing room was dark and dirty” becomes “A tube of lipstick rolled from the sticky dresser, disappearing into the shadows where dust bunnies congregated in hordes.”
o   “The house looked old” becomes “Paint peeled from the doorframe, wood splintered near the rusty door knob, and the hinges shrieked when awakened as if the house were yawing from a century of sleep.”

-       Evoke powerful associations
o   “My hair was so dry, I couldn’t stand it” becomes “As I ran hair gel through my hair, the brittle strands broke like a dehydrated leaves in autumn.”

-       Use expressive dialogue rather than telling the reader how something is said.
o   “Why did you do that?” she asked, defeated   becomes   “Why would you do such a thing?” she asked, hanging her head.

When you are starting out as a writer, you will find that having a Critique Partner is vital in the assistance of finding and fixing these. Sometimes we don’t see the spinach stuck in our own tooth until someone points it out. It is also vital that you give your writing space and time between revisions. Looking at your work with fresh eyes will help these suckers jump out so you can fix them.


Take each sentence below and show what is happening:

“This was a historic vote”
“It was the most romantic moment of her life”
“The smell was terrible”

Now, go! Tackle that telling. You can do it!

This has been another "'No Post on Sundays' Post"