Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Value of Writing Fast by Malcolm R. Campbell

You begin your new novel with gusto: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times on that dark and stormy night when Eliza Doolittle Smith tripped over the bloody body of one of her lovers and fell down the basement steps into the cold arms of another dead lover. “Yikes,” she shouted fearfully.

Before Eliza sees the demon hovering behind the neat rows of canned peaches, your inner editor proclaims: “This is crap.”

You know what happens next. You ponder. You stare at that first paragraph until, crap or not, all the life drains out of the story.

When you write fast, you don’t have time to listen to your inner editor or worry about what your parents will say when they read your novel later. Writing fast is scary. We can’t help but notice words and phrases flying by that make us cringe.

Writing fast is also empowering because the story is happening right now, evolving and unfolding before your eyes. Characters are doing things you never expected them to do. The plot is twisting down unexpected streets. You suddenly learn the butler didn’t do it and that the demon behind the canned peaches used to be your protagonist’s sweet grandmother Emmy. What a flowing river of words your story can be when you take a deep breath and just step out of the way.

I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year because I was stuck. I was pondering things too much! No, I didn’t make it to the 50,000-word level. But since I told everyone I was signing up, I had to do something. Staring at each paragraph for an hour just wouldn’t cut it. So, I wrote the opening chapters as fast as I could. Now I’m over 21,000 words into a story I was beginning to worry about writing at all.

NaNoWriMo forced me to turn off my inner editor and just write. No, I’m not happy with every word and phrase on my screen. But frankly, I’m surprised by some of the things that have happened between the characters. I feel empowered because I now know I can finish this book and ultimately be proud of it.

Some writers do their own versions of NaNoWriMo day in and day out by writing for a set number of hours at a specific time every day. Others have a daily word-count goal of, say, 2,500 rough draft words. Whether it’s the satisfaction of a disciplined approach or the pep talks we get through NaNoWriMo, writing buddies and critique groups, each of us needs to find a viable incentive for turning off the inner editor and writing fast.

Writing fast doesn’t necessarily mean writing sloppy. To some extent, it means zoning out and getting into a pure storytelling state of mind in which you more or less learn what’s going to happen as the words appear on your screen. Like your prospective readers, you’ll be spellbound about what might happen next.

You can edit and polish later.

Just write:

She turned on her flash light. There stood her canned peaches in neat rows. Something moved behind the Mason jars. “Oh, Mark,” she cried, is it you? I’m sorry about our silly little argument. Forgive me?” But the thing that moved was thinner than Mark, and its eyes glowed pale yellow, brighter than the peaches, and with an intensity that made Eliza’s skin feel like she was covered with snakes Her late Grandmother Emmy, bless her heart, had always been kind to snakes. Kind to a fault, some said.

For now, hang on and enjoy the ride!

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of three novels. Look for “The Sun Singer” and “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire” on Amazon and Smashwords. His most recent novel, “Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey” is available on Amazon and OmniLit.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

KISS - Keep it Simply Simple by Chelle Cordero

Good for you if you have a grasp of vocabulary that would put most SAT students to shame – but most of that isn’t needed when you are writing dialogue and action. If you rely on long, multi-syllabic words just to make your dialogue sound impressive, you are probably defeating yourself.

Unless you have a character who
characteristically tries to sound like a dictionary when they speak, then don’t fill their speech with long and unnecessary words. Read the dialogue aloud, does it sound natural or does it sound false and stilted. Be honest with yourself, is that the way your character really speaks?

Would most AVERAGE high school students say "I need to eradicate my response on the examination" or would it be more believable for the student to say "I need to erase my answer on the test"? Think which
statement sounds more realistic. Chances are your dialogue should sound just like people you talk with everyday.

You should concern yourself with a different pattern of speech only when you are placing your setting in a different time period, country, or if the speech pattern is specific to a unique character trait such as someone who
doesn’t speak the language well, has a speech impediment or is trying to show off by using fancy words.

Keep your narrative simple as well. You shouldn’t have to rely on the narrative to describe a character’s emotions – their speech and actions should suffice. Be very stingy in using adjectives and adverbs – hurriedly, anxiously,
nervously, angrily, happily – are all words that are better assumed by a character’s actions. Instead of: "More tea?" She poured the hot water nervously. Use: "More tea?" Her hand shook as she poured the hot water. If you say that a character is shouting, it is redundant to say ‘shouting loudly’; the same thing applies to whispering quietly, creeping slowly, and other such combinations. If you feel that using an adjective is absolutely necessary, be careful with your placement; use ‘she said nervously’ and not ‘Nervously she said’. Don’t duplicate words in the same sentence such as ‘Nervously she said nervously…’ Always read your words aloud if you are not sure and listen to what you’re saying – it should sound normal and flow smoothly.

Adding unnecessary words to your writing can also make your words seem less potent. Sentences like ‘She started to laugh’ have less impact than ‘She laughed’, likewise ‘He had come to the saloon’ versus ‘He came to the saloon’. Reduce repetitive words – you probably don’t have to keep repeating that your
character is doing something like breathing (if it fits and sounds right, then use it) but there is no need to keep finding a different word to say the same thing such as inhaling, gasping, panting, etc.

Most people use contractions in their everyday speech. It is usually okay for your character to say "I don’t want" instead of "I do not want". At the same time be careful that you are using correct contractions and
don’t rely just on the sound. A very common mistake is to say "could OF" instead of the correct "could’ve" (for could HAVE). Try not to use slang "contractions" unless that is characteristic of the way your character really talks (like ya know, gonna, gimme, ain’t). Using a thesaurus and dictionary while you are writing may be helpful, but the end result shouldn’t sound like it.

NOTE from the Editor:

Welcome to a complete month of lessons about the craft of writing and being a writer. In the BONUS Section of this book you’ll find more than 50 brain-starting exercises to help you get those words on paper. These short lessons and activities have been previously published as part of the acclaimed Amazon Kindle blog Living, Writing, Breathing available by subscription for Kindle owners, and now are available to every writer.

Chelle Cordero is a multi-published author with Vanilla Heart Publishing and a full-time freelance writer with local and national newspapers and magazines. She resides in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband, family and three spoiled pussycats. In addition to her books and articles, Chelle pens a weekly writing course available by subscription at Amazon Kindle Blogs and volunteers with her local ambulance corps as an EMT. Her website is