Tag: craft


Rules and breaking them

A grammar and punctuation maven, I am not. I want to be, though. The more I read and the more I write, the more I appreciate those writers who not only dazzle with storyline and character, but who also construct sentences with careful thought. It isn’t that these writers always follow the rules, but when they break them, it’s with style. So, I’m happily embarking on the never-ending journey of learning the rules . . . and how to break them. What the rules are is up for debate. Reasonable people can disagree (cue: Oxford comma). I think it’s a writer’s obligation to make an effort to know both the rules and the debates about them. I may never have the depth of knowledge that, say, my editor or agent has, but I’m going to at least try. The Elements of Style is always a good place to start. I have the 2005 edition Maira Kalmon illustrated. It makes me smile every time I open it. Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Kingsley Amis’ The King’s English and Stephen King’s On Writing are some of my favorite reads when I want to give in to my inner writer geek.  I’m also a fan of some of the on-line grammar gurus. Grammar Girl, Grammarly, and Oxford Dictionaries are just the thing when I’m in […]

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The meaning of everyday things

 A bottle of beer is just a bottle of beer . . . except when it’s not. Sharing a drink with a friend is usually unremarkable, but if the last time you saw that friend, he was going on his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that bottle in his hand is a statement. If you’re one of his family and friends who take the sacrament at church every Sunday, the beer means one thing. If you’re the friend who’s holding your own bottle, it means something else. In a world where we can get almost anything from anywhere, items themselves have become less tethered to place. I order my Ritter Sport chocolate from Amazon, but I remember the days when it was hard to find outside of Germany. For writers, that means it takes a little more effort to convey the meaning of things without over explaining. When you’re introducing readers to a new place, those things matter, but having a light touch is hard (at least for me!). As a reader I love it when an author introduces me to something new about a culture I didn’t know without making too big a deal of it. Linda Castillo did a lovely job of this in Among the […]

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The Magic of Wordsmithing

 The practice of wordsmithing is defined as making changes to a text to improve clarity and style, as opposed to content. A wordsmith is a person who works with words; especially a skillful writer. I’ve been thinking of word choice more than usual lately because my daughter is applying to college; and for those of you who do not know the joy of the common application, among other things, it requires each student to fill in a 650-word essay. Every word counts. Literally.  Writers know that every word should always count, and yet I know I’ve been guilty of ignoring that wisdom on more than one occasion. Now that I spend a lot of my life thinking about words: how to order them, how many are necessary, which ones to choose and which ones not to, I have found myself entranced with those writers who do it well. For me, a wordsmith is like a magician: they leave me dazzled, but unable to quite figure how the trick was done.  I want to be one of them; one of those magicians. At least once in a while. So, I’ve been watching for the sleight of hand, the well-timed distraction, the puff of smoke. Although I’m still far from having figured it all out, I […]

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Black moments

Guest post by Sherry Harris Black Moments Two weeks ago my daughter and I went to a movie right after I’d spent a weekend with writer friends talking about plotting. Instead of just watching the action, I sat there thinking: there’s the call to action, there’s the black moment, there’s the renewed call, there’s the climactic moment, and there’s the return to what will be the character’s new normal. I still enjoyed the movie, but jeez, I wish I hadn’t analyzed it at the same time. In this particular movie the protagonist has his black moment in the woods, in the mud, during a rain storm. He wallowed for a bit, before he realized he had to go forward, to accept the call, to become the hero of his journey. It made me think about black moments in mystery writing. There’s a difference between black moments and giving your protagonist trouble. Trouble is: your protagonist is being chased through the dark, she comes to a river, she finds a raft, she shoves off, a terrible storm comes up, she loses the pole she has for steering, she hears a speed boat pursing her and a waterfall ahead. That’s a lot of […]

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Looking for a muse? Maybe you should stop.

A muse, that inspirational goddess of literature, science and the arts found in Greek mythology, is supposed to inspire an artist, writer or musician. But does she? Does anyone wait for the muse to walk into their mind and ignite that spark? I’m not saying that ideas don’t spring to mind fully formed as a random thought during the night, or while walking the dog. Those are the words and ideas that writers rush to put on paper. They may in fact be the kernel of the next great novel or short story. However, rather than putting my faith in the muse, I’m a believer in the creative process. I don’t think that relying on a Greek muse will get me anywhere in the long run. Perhaps it’s because I was trained as an architect, and architecture and writing both rely on a creative process. In architecture you may be designing a house or a library. In writing you are perhaps creating a novel or a short story. A mystery or a memoir. Know this and you’ve started. I’m currently working on a series, so I know the name of my main character, where she lives, who her family is and […]

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The bonus book

Recently I took a step back in time and read an article on the craft of writing printed in the Paris Review. It was dated Winter 1986, and recounted an interview with E.L. Doctorow on stage in New York City in front of an audience of 500, and I wish I had been there. Doctorow started by saying that he works through six or eight drafts to complete a manuscript. However, there was one time – a miracle time – when he wrote a book in about seven months. The book was World’s Fair and he credits it to God giving him a bonus book for paying his dues over many long years. How did he decide this was a bonus book? Well, according to Doctorow, Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks and Stendhal wrote Charterhouse of Parma in twelve days, and clearly God spoke to them because if it wasn’t God then it was crass exhibitionism. I’m certainly not at the point where I’m due a bonus book, but I like the idea that one day I might qualify. Thank you Doctorow. The entire interview is worth a read. It starts with a demonstration that fame and literal recognition aren’t necessarily hand […]

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