Archive for July 2020

Fresh Air, Don’t Care   Leave a comment

Magical World Web

What generic ‘rules’ did you abide by when you started
writing that have gone out the window?
Um, whoops! Was I supposed to abide by some rules? I must have been too busy enjoying writing to pay attention. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an Oxford Comma Gal. So much that anybody who has been reading my blog long enough just groaned. I know. I need a new line. But seriously, when to follow rules and when to open the windows and air the house out is a dicey conversation that has no clear winner. I like the smell of fresh rain, and I’m all about opening windows in the fall and spring and airing out the house. But some people don’t open their windows or doors when it rains (and really, it depends on the direction the wind is blowing), and that’s okay, too.
I have, however, tried different methods…

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Posted July 8, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

Open Book Blog Hop – Writing rules and me   Leave a comment

What generic ‘rules’ did you abide by when you started writing that have gone out the window?

This week’s prompt couldn’t have been better timed for me as I received my developmental editing comments last week Monday. I was thrilled that there were far fewer writing style comments that for my previous book and I now feel it has been confirmed that I have improved a great deal at showing instead of telling, fleshing out ideas properly and writing dialogue that flows well.

My editor had a few great suggestions that I am busy writing into my story and also picked up one idea in the book that I hadn’t rounded out as well as I could have. As I read through my book again, after a three week break from it, I have also found a few areas that I felt could be improved on for better flow and…

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Posted July 8, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

NVDT #47 – Excuse Me Your Rules Are Showing   Leave a comment

Not Very Deep Thoughts

The Prompt – What generic ‘rules’ did you abide by when you started writing that have gone out the window?

“Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.”Claude Debussy

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” – Pablo Picasso

Adverbs are the devil, said is it, blah blah blah. My favorite is Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules for Writing. Of which he said there was an 11th he cut for space, and it is “Throw out all 10 rules if it makes the story better.”

I do not pretend to be a great artist, but I understand the rules. Understood the rules. I got into electronic music, by that I mean as a user not an appreciator, and the “regular” rules went out the window. I know what Picasso was saying. Okay, here’s a canvas and some paint. Here’s…

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Posted July 8, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

Cover Reveal #3   1 comment

Produced by Aurorawatcher Publications

It’s official. Thanks to Covid19 turning life into a snorefest, I’m moving up the publication date of Winter’s Reckoning to August. It’s now on Preorder and comes out August 11.

Breaking the Rules #OpenBook Blog Hop   Leave a comment

July 6, 2020 What generic ‘rules’ did you abide by when you started writing that have gone out the window? It’s easier to talk about the rules I broke on purpose when I first started writing …

Source: Breaking the Rules #OpenBook Blog Hop

Posted July 6, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

Open Book Blog Hop – 6th July   1 comment

Stevie Turner

Welcome to this week’s blog hop.  Today the topic is:

What generic ‘rules’ did you abide by when you started writing that have gone out the window?

I did not take up writing until 2013 when I started to work shorter hours and had more time to myself.  I had not previously had the chance to go to university in my younger days, and so had gained neither an English degree nor any experience in journalism which so many writers have.

Subsequently I started writing my first novel ‘The Porn Detective’ with no idea how to form a novel at all, and so I had no rules to follow as such.   I just wrote the words in my head and hoped for the best.  Apparently you just wrote a book, sent it to a literary agency, and then waited for the money to roll in when it was accepted (!). …

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Posted July 6, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

Breaking the Rules   Leave a comment

Richard Dee’s article.

Posted July 6, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

Do You Always Go 55?   18 comments

What generic ‘rules’ did you abide by when you started writing that have gone out the window?

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I’m a Highly Trained Writer, Unlearning the Rules

I’ve been writing almost a half-century now. When I started writing, I was unaware of any rules for writing. It was just something I enjoyed doing. I got good English grades in high school, I earned a BA in journalism, worked as a reporter and later got a Master’s in Journalism. I now know lots of rules for writing.

Do I follow any of them? Sure. But there’s a bunch I no longer find useful, so I don’t. The whole art of writing is to acquire enough skill in the craft to know which rules don’t matter and when to break the rules that do.

Grammar Matters … Mostly

There is a huge difference between writing a news article your editor has allotted 150-350 words to explain a complex issue to the reader and writing a 80,000-word novel. Many of the rules I learned in English classes taught how to use language very precisely, but often at the cost of digestibility. Seriously, never write above your audience’s reading level. Many of the rules I learned in journalism classes were designed to condense what we wrote into easily-digestible, information-dense sentences using words everybody knows. Yeah, college was a fun exercise in shifting my writing style from class to class. I once got a compliment from an English professor that journalism hadn’t ruined by ability to write. Maybe that explains my philosophy of writing novels — there are rules, but nobody should ever be aware of my use of them.

Don’t Sweat Split Infinitives

Most non-writers wouldn’t recognize a split infinitive if it sat down on their lap and screamed “Here I am”?

The rule against splitting infinitives says nothing must come between a to and its verb. Sorry, Gene Roddenberry, but it’s incorrect “to boldly go”. You need to rewrite that iconic line as “to go boldly” or “boldly to go”. Play the substitution game and you quickly realize how silly that rule is. The phrase sounds best the way the Big Bird of the Galaxy used it, In fact, it’s a fairly new rule that never bogged down the classic writers. George Bernard Shaw said, “Every good literary craftsman splits his infinitives when the sense demands it.” So, it’s a rule meant to be broken, because it’s mostly silly and readers won’t notice anyway.

Dangling Prepositions

There’s a rule that says don’t end a sentence with a preposition. What is this rule for? I mean, for what is this rule?

I think I just made my point. The second construction creates a clunky sentence that the reader might need to pause and deconstruct to understand. Pausing readers needing to consult grammar books is bad novelist ju-ju to avoided at all costs.

Ending a sentence with a preposition is completely natural in English and rarely wrong. The rule came about during the 17th century when scholars were deeply immersed in the study of Latin and took to emulating Latin as a model of linguistic purity. Because a preposition can’t be stranded in Latin, some thought that the same should hold for English. Latin differs from English in myriad ways, and to cling to a prohibition that forces you to swap It’s nothing to worry about for It’s nothing about which to worry does nothing for clarity of expression. Even the Oxford Dictionaries agree with me.

But what about sentences like Where’s he at? or Do you want to come with? Should those be considered correct, then? No. Those are examples of non-standard grammar because they’re used in non-standard dialects, not because they end with prepositions. At where is he? does not sound any better, and if the problem with come with is the ending preposition, why doesn’t come along sound just as bad? 

Going Beyond Grammar

Of course, writing novels is about more than grammar. I encountered countless rules for writing novels when I was honing my craft.

Don’t make your opening scene too dark.

You’ll run across this advice in many writers groups and I’ve had beta readers bring it up too. Start the novel with an “establishing shot” — something showing everyday life before the dark events start.

Clearly, I don’t subscribe to that advice as many of my novels start with darkness. I start the entire series of Transformation Project with a scene in which the main character Shane puts a gun in his mouth. In Red Kryptonite Curve, I start in Peter’s dream remembering the sexual abuse he suffered as a child.

Contemporary novels don’t have establishing shots. Readers expect us to start in the middle of things. I establish from that first scene in Transformation Project that death stalks this series and anyone — including the hero — is fair game in the Apocalypse. I’ve had fans say “I really like Shane, I hope you’re not killing him off, but I kind of know you might.” That was after I hung him at the end of A Threatening Fragility. You had to read Day’s End to find out if he lives. In the case of Peter, I want people to know that behind his charming personality and teenage angst lurks secrets that are seeking to kill him. The book and the series it’s spawned are all about how he faces those demons.

The “establishing shots” theory of novel-writing probably comes from a misunderstanding of the “hero’s journey.” The “hero’s journey”, based on the teachings of Joseph Campbell, says a story must begin with the hero in his normal life at home, before the “call to adventure,” like Dorothy in Kansas before the tornado hits. Remember the old bat on the bicycle and the storm brewing on the horizon? The Wizard of Oz‘s opening scenes were bucolic, but the snake was visible on the tree.

Home for Shane, a mercenary, wasn’t sunny and pastoral. Yeah, way back in his history there was Kansas and his family, but in his contemporary life, he’s got demons crawling through his brain. And, poor Peter, his mother was always a part of his life.

Readers typically want action and emotion right away and if you don’t provide it to them, they’ll put your book back on the shelf and go to another one that fulfills their desires.

Nix the Contemporary References to Avoid Dating

Yes, you might risk dating your novel with a contemporary reference — or you might create a classic. Will anyone still be reading your novel in 10 years? Life As We Knew It will be five years old this fall and 2020 has been it’s best years in sales. Of course, I’m writing an apocalyptic series and each new book that comes out acts to draw people to read the whole series, but truthfully, most books read today won’t still be actively read 10 years from now, so if you put a pop-culture reference in it, it won’t matter.

I’m a fan of Alex Finn and especially like her Breathing Underwater. She wrote that in the 1990s, back when cell phones were brand-new, Facebook wasn’t a thing yet, and smart phones had yet to be invented. I have an early printing and, while I recognize some of the references as dated, I don’t care. I made both my kids read the book (which is about dating violence) when they were teenagers and neither said “But, Mom, this is so old-fashioned.” A great book can overcome being dated.

I recently bought a copy through Kindle and noticed when I reread it that some attempt was made to update some of the technology in the book. Some of the updates were fine and then there was one where the whole impact of the scene was destroyed by Nick calling Caitlyn on his cell rather than a payphone. Of course, good luck finding a payphone in Miami these days, but the smell of the hairspray and his fear of the germs of others was completely lost and the scene fell flat because of it.

Brand names, celebrities, and current events add a sense of authenticity that readers can relate to. Cultural references also pinpoint your story in time. Go ahead and let your protagonist’s grandma go catatonic for three weeks after the 2016 US Presidential election. That will give historical perspective and tell readers a lot about your MC’s grandmother without actually needing an info-dump.

Speaking of which, for my European readers, the title of this article references a now-mostly defunct federal traffic rule — the arbitrary setting of a national speed limit at 55 miles per hour. I bet my middle-aged American readers got the reference immediately and it probably made them smile and told them something of what I was going to say in this article. Contemporary references can be spice in an otherwise bland meal.

Said” is a Perfectly Useful Verb. Don’t Get Creative.

This is a bit of conventional contemporary “rule-making” that I have ignored my entire writing career. In journalism, you’re taught to make every word count and so strong verbs are your friend. In contemporary novelist circles, we’re told we’ve read too many Hardy Boy’s books if we use any verb meaning “to speak” other than “said.”

These “experts” insist “said” is invisible to the reader. Any other dialogue tag draws attention to itself. So, use other tags judiciously, the way you do with exclamation marks, but if you use them, only use “said.”.

Point of fact, you want to use dialogue tags sparingly, and only when needed for clarity. You can tell the reader who is speaking by connecting action to the dialogue. But occasionally, the sound of a character’s voice matters, so don’t just waste the opportunity with a generic “said”. On the other hand, don’t just use “growled” or “exclaimed” because you can. I stop and think about the impact of a verb before I use it.

Never Use Sentence Fragments – Even in Dialogue

A beta reader who claimed to be a school teacher lectured me on this once. His whole critique of my novel — which was the 4th in the series, mind you — had to do with sentence fragments, run-on sentences, and colloquialisms … in dialogue The people in Transformation Project sound a lot like the people from my mother’s hometown in North Dakota and the Midwesterners who immigrated to Alaska. In other words, they sound authentic. Characters speaking in complete sentences would sound fake. Even people in New England don’t sound like that.

When you write a novel, your aim should be to present realistic characters, not to impress your junior-high Language Arts teacher. Nobody uses perfect grammar when they speak. Not even Ph.Ds. (A third of my church’s membership holds a Master’s or better, and I have now edited about 20 thesis and dissertations – they don’t even use perfect grammar in writing these documents — until I’m done with them.)

The rules for writing fiction are very different from the rules for writing a scholarly essay. If you confuse them, you’re going to end up with a pompous, comical mess nobody will want to read.

Never use the word “was.”

This grows from the very good advice of “don’t use passive voice”, but “was” is not always “passive.” The past tense of the verb “to be” is also used in creating the past progressive tense in English.

Passive: “The book was read by me…” Passive voice tends to sound pretentious and annoying, although sometimes the passive voice is necessary, so don’t try to eliminate it entirely.

Past Progressive: “I was reading the book when some idiot came in and told me the word ‘was’ is taboo for writers.”

If you change the construction to “I read the book” instead of “I was reading the book” you have no sense of the timeline, which would require adding more sentences to fix that problem. That would be dumb.

Yes, doing a search for “was” is a handy tip for self-editing. It helps to weed out passive construction. A “was” search can also pinpoint lazy writing habits like starting descriptive passages with “there was.”

Don’t go overboard though. Some passive construction reduces tension occasionally and prevents the choppy rhythm that sometimes comes with Hemingway-esque all active-voice writing. Used sparingly, it can actually improve the flow of a novel.

All Viewpoint Characters Need Equal Time

When I started writing Red Kryptonite Curve, I tried to follow this rule. I knew there were three perspectives I wanted to tell the sotry from. The problem was, Cheyenne turned out to be shallow. I didn’t enjoy writing her. And as I wrote, I found she mainly thought the same things over and over again – because that’s what shallow people do. When I stood back from the book and looked at it, I didn’t think Cheyenne had anything more to say. Someone suggested I eliminate her point of view, but that didn’t feel right either. Peter and Ben are male friends. They’re not gay lovers. It made no sense for them to take turns telling a story about Peter’s romance with Cheyenne. The story was originally written strictly from Peter’s point of view and I discovered he’s so in denial about his problems that I needed another POV to be the aware one. I needed Ben, but when I wrote his POV, the advice I got was they needed to be lovers. Yeah, no, they don’t. That’s so overdone these days. So I wrote Cheyenne as the third-wheel, but she’s like a small caster compared to their big wheels and I think it works. I plan to do the same thing with 2nd book “Dancing the Centerline”.

Rules are Structure, but Don’t Be Afraid to Play

I kind of view writing rules like I do traffic laws. They help keep the car out of the ditches, but sometimes they can be bent or even broken without consequences and the outcome will be so much better than if I’d stuck to the rules. Sometimes, driving in Alaska, you have to break the traffic laws just to get down the road. Because of permafrost, which renders our roads into asphalt rollercoasters, you probably want to stay below 55 mph, but you might not always want to drive on the right. Sometimes you have to veer to avoid “dips” (a euphemism for a moon crater that has absorbed the lane and will break your axle should you follow the rules). Sometimes in writing, you’re going to end up with a better novel if you aren’t too wedded to “But everybody says.” Everybody can be wrong and you should do you.

The Man Comes Around   Leave a comment

Cover Reveal #2   1 comment

Winter’s Reckoning has a cover (Book 6 in Transformation Project) and here’s a teaser of what it looks like.

This cover provided by Aurorawatcher Publications
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