Tag Archives: writing

Stop Using “Amazing” To Describe Your New Haircut

Wise words from C.S. Lewis, for those of us who use “amazing” or “absolutely” x to describe something as impactful as a new casserole recipe.

From The Collected Letters of…:

Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

It’s annoying yet forgivable in Facebook status updates, but when you start using them in your narrative in a story, your muse gets gas pains and farts uncontrollably.

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My Daughter’s Stories Are the Essence of Quick Escalation



She doesn’t mince words, nor waste them. Economy of language is her greatest strength.

She actually wanted me to edit these—I did, but not too much since I didn’t want to destroy her voice for the sake of making perfect “adult” sense. Nor did I want to mar the “sheen” of the stories. What it’s a sheen of, I’m not sure.

Lavender the Allibird

Hello! I’m Lavender. I am here to tell you about my weird life. I am an Allibird. Allibirds are special. Let it begin!

I was 13 when I learned “Bird and Beak.” It became my favorite song. One day I was singing it. Now, I was in my big backyard. Then Prince Shining Star heard my sweet voice. When he saw me, he couldn’t take his eyes off me! Then he remembered from one of his books about special birds that Allibirds could be very dangerous. He flew away without a word.

I was so upset I flew away crying. I spent many months in my treehouse alone, but only with my pet ladybug, Spotty. I sobbed very long. I had nightmares that I would stay there forever.

A few days later, Shining Star came back with a case. I longed to be a princess.

He knelt down and said, “Will you marry me?”

I was so happy I fainted. When I woke up, I said “Yes!”

Finally I was a princess. The wedding would be tomorrow.

The next day we went to get married. Then we touched beaks. It was amazing.

The next day I built a nest. I laid an egg in it. It took three months to hatch.

As time passed, I wrote song lyrics. At last, the big day came. The egg hatched! I would name her Lilly.

Don’t miss the next book!

Lilly the Shy Allibird

Hi! Um, It’s me, Lilly, the shy Allibird. My pals sometimes call me Fluttershy. They call me that because when I fly, I flutter my wings, and because I am very shy.

You know my mom, Lavender, right? Now it is time for the story of my life. Lavender has told me her ten times.

When I was having supper with my family, my evil cousin flew in. Then he grabbed me by my wing. My mom punched him and my dad hit him with his talons. Finally he got away with it. He snatched me away.

He finally let me go and I fluttered my wings. It was torture! He told me to go in my room for twelve minutes, because I am twelve years old! I missed my mom and dad. All I had was a picture album of my life. I stayed there for a very long time…about four years! At last he let me go.

When I got home, I went into my big backyard. I played with my big ball. Then I met a prince. He was a parrot. His name was Prince Rainbow. He said “hi” to me, but we went back home for supper.

The next day, he came back again. He asked me, “Will you marry me?”

“Yes!” I said. Then we got married.

The next day, I laid an egg. It took two months to hatch. I will call her Jewel.

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Taking A Month Off

I’m taking December off of my rigorous blogging schedule of maybe posting once or twice a week to finish the first and second drafts of Retardo Montalbán*. It’s verboten form for writers and bloggers to explicitly state things like this, but I’m neither so I don’t recognize those social constraints.

There will be one small post in December about an email list and the re-release of Bored in the Breakroom, this time in print format for posterity-safekeeping for the “grid down” version of the dolphin apocalypse—the most likely of all doomsday scenarios. There will be bonus stories and seafaring carnage.

* The working title. I have a real title that I may stick with but I don’t want to reveal. These things have a tendency to shift even with the most stubborn of creative ambitions.

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Italicizing Foreign Words in Fiction

The dialogue in my current work in progress uses three languages: English (most of it), German (here and there), and Franco-Arabic (it is what you probably think it is). I was under the impression from previous reading that some or many foreign words that were actual foreign language words and not common loanwords (i.e., “taco”) should be italicized. But doing some Google poking there’s some different opinions and no hard and fast rules.

My particular problem is that, as I said, the foreign words are dialogic, not narrative. I’m not a fan of inserting foreign phrases during narration when it’s not basic and descriptive (“Her hijab wafted up in the wake of his forceful gas-passing.”), both in my writing and with others. It comes off as a cheap shortcut to variate writing flow but I’m sure there are some cases when it’s warranted.

I started out with one rule: definitely italicize are words/phrases that are homographic to an English word, like sine, as in sine wave, and sine of the Latin usage. Context can help clarify—i.e., “sine wave” and “sine qua non”—but not always.

Here’s probably the best set of guidelines I came across:

1. If only one unfamiliar foreign word or brief phrase is being used, italicize it.
2. If an entire sentence or passage of two or more sentences appear in a foreign language, type the passage in plain type and put the passage in quotation marks.
3. If the foreign word is a proper noun, do not italicize it.
4. If you are using two foreign words or phrases, one familiar and one unfamiliar, italicize both of them for consistency and appearance.
5. Common Latin words and abbreviations like etc., et al., and ibid. need not be italicized. An exception is sic, which should be italicized and placed in square brackets.

So, taking this advice, in one certain case in my book:

We have a saying back home: Was du allein wissen willst, das sage niemand. If you want to keep a secret, don’t tell it to anyone.”

Would be, using rule 2 above:

We have a saying back home: ‘Was du allein wissen willst, das sage niemand.’ If you want to keep a secret, don’t tell it to anyone.”

THe problem with these rules is that, while reading from now on, I’m going to be unduly noting all the italicized/non-italicized foreign words. Language be trippin’.

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A Question for Fiction Writers Concerning Point of View

A dramatic visual representation of me peparing to do battle with this idea. Not really.

A dramatic visual representation of me thinking about this post. Not really.

My current work in progress, Sarah Jessica Porker*, is alternate history fiction/soft sci-fi. One would think that this would include a lot of world-building and lots of different characters and parties—but one would be only partially correct. There is only some POV jumping and world-building.

The thing is, I want to cut most of it out. It doesn’t need to be alternate history, nor necessarily sci-fi, because the story is about one and a half people, not about the goofy results of a different timeline or otherwordly gadgets (or gadgets that you and I have or have knowledge of, but with different nomenclature). It’s more of a thinky-doey conceptual story about what happens with a few people who try to figure a few things out, than a grand reordering of earth and technology. I want it to be more “hey, this person thought this and then did that, weird” than “crap, that fashion/gun/vehicle sounds weird and btw what is x like in this society?”

Should I shift from third person, with many parties, to first person or third person limited? Most of the novels that (I think) this would be like are small in scope, first person, or third person with strong limitations. The secondary parties that I do currently “jump” to are mainly for exposition, but there are other ways I can do info dumps with the limited POV, easily. I guess that’s why they’re secondary, but they are hardly necessary.

What say you, Internet?

* Working title, not the final one (probably).

Photo from crofesima.

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A Brief Paragraph of a Work In Progress

I don’t blame her.

This section ripped its clothes off to get my attention the other day, while I was proofreading my book. It was saying, “I know you think NaNoWriMo is a steaming heap of silly, but look at my nakedness before moving on. Is there something strange?”

The shuttle-wagons were on the off peak schedule so they walked the half mile to the Erikssons’ apartment complex. The summer night’s balm was heady, pushing against their bodies as they walked on the sidestreets, and it stifled the mild sounds of a sleeping university-city like a sift of fresh snow on the ground. They didn’t speak and they were comfortable in the silence, yet Vincent obligated himself to buy Alan a cup of decaffeinated tea at one of the late night stands outside of the complex.

I noticed the hairy mole in its midsection. What kind of writer compares the feel of a summer night to snow on the ground? Does it work in this instance or is it a signpost for amateur hour?

Photo by CollegeDegrees360.

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An Old Further Seems Forever Review

In honor of Further Seems Forever’s new album as a reunited band, Penny Black, I thought I’d post a review I did of their first album, The Moon Is Down.

I wrote it in early January of 2010, as part of the top albums of the 2000’s, for Buzzgrinder. The site is down but I was able to grab it with Google’s wonderful caching functionality.

At the time the review was something of mine I actually liked, especially since I’m not really the record review kind of guy. Reading back on it, though, there are some things in there I wouldn’t type today. Weird how a few years changes things.

Partnering with releases belonging to their scene’s peers — like Thursday’s Full CollapseThe Moon Is Down bridged the crucial gap between the feet-shuffling self-effacement of ’90s emo and the power-pop emo that would come after and propel the genre’s three letter appellation into mainstream, household use. The band — essentially Strongarm with a different vocalist (the singy-note kind) — and their debut full-length with the strange pink and white color scheme, acted as a stabilizing fulcrum that kind of kept either side of the seesaw from knocking everyone’s Buddy Holly glasses off.

Over a rolling bed of chord voicings — heretofore unused in indie rock circles — and drummer Steve Kleisath’s creative, trickster skin work, then-unknown vocalist Chris Carrabba wailed in his almost-falsetto about romance found dead or gettin’ dissed by once-good friends. So it seems, anyway; one can’t exactly tell.

There was an overhanging theme of alienation brought about by physical separation: a recurring rite of passage that bookended the college experience (Carrabba joined the band just shy of his quarter-century mark). His attempts to reconcile romance and friendships with incompatible geographies borderlined on the obsessive. To him, time may have healed all wounds, but distance ripped them back open. Travel was his savior.

His word choice and delivery were neither too forlorn nor too saccharine (a delicate balance that he obliterated, in my opinion, in Dashboard Confessional), but it was sufficiently sincere enough to make it attractive and unspecific to just about anyone yawning from all the screaming metal bands.

From the power waltz 3/4 of the opening title track to the jazz-slide seagull guitar of the album’s closer, “A New Desert Life,” the Colbert/Dominguez/Neptune signature songwriting is writ large. Further Seems Forever converted droves of hardcore kids into their kinda-sorta Christianized denomination of amalgamated emo and rock. For those still unfaithful to FSF, try listening to Carrabba’s optimism and the guitars’ hopeful echoing in the last half minute of “Snowbirds and Townies,” and feel your doubt drain away. I know it still gives me the shivers.

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Have No Fear, This Is an Easy Read

I’ve noticed a tendency of modern writers to write clipped sentences and paragraphs.

Like this. One or a few in each paragraph, for certain scenes.

Not even action scenes.

Ones where there’s supposed to be descriptive of a scene, or internal thought development.

I can understand if it’s first person from a certain kind of character.

Or in blogging, because reading online is different.

But even that is getting out of hand.

Maybe it’s just me.

I’m not concerned with “online readability” posting techniques, building a social media platform, hosting blog tours, throwing contests at you every week, indecipherable industry acronyms, graphical links and bolded words everywhere, marketing myself to hell.

See, even in that paragraph I used too many commas.

I don’t like screaming at people that come to this blog.

But in printed fiction this style gets aggravating. It reads like those Dr. Seuss’s Board Books.

Should I be blaming authors, readers, editors?

Functional, grown adults should not be writing like this for other adults.

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A Dead Italian Philosopher Says You Can’t Finish a Novel

If Zeno's not in hell because of this, I will put him there.

One way struggling artists assuage a stunted career is to summon da Vinci Leonardo’s “art isn’t completed but abandoned” quote. Its dogged overuse has erased its profundity and replaced it with irritation as it’s thrown in with other quotes on facebook profiles to justify unwanted, and sometimes unacceptable, behavior.

But I’d like to take it a step back and refer critics of a writer’s perpetual works in progress to Zeno and his dichotomy paradox. In this application, novels aren’t abandoned because of some self-destructive unworkability with the plot or because the writer over-affects the tortured artist sensibility; it’s because novels cannot be finished, even published ones. Before all its intended words are written, half of the words must be written. And before that half, half of that, ad infinitum. Not to mention that when it needs to be edited it also needs to be edited halfway…

Therefore, no novels really exist; they’re just partial transcripts of narratives left on the side of the road that just happened to catch the eye of an agent in need of a paycheck. This situation is actually better for aspiring writers…you’re undoubtedly lazy, incompetent, and uninspired, but those aren’t the reasons you work in progress suffers from crippling incompletion. You’re just up against an insurmountable roadblock of ontology. And you don’t need to be an artist to experience the infuriating sadism of self-appointed tasks in artistry.

So, next time a family member ask how far along your novel is, the correct answer, categorically, is “nearly halfway”. Any other response is really giving Zeno the middle finger.

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I Used To Write Her

Merry Christmas, work in progress. You've been bad.

Like someone else in a similar position recently posted, I’ve decided to suspend A Season Underneath indefinitely. The reasons are legion, but the biggest is that I am on my fourth rewrite and it doesn’t seem to be getting a whole lot better. The chapters are just sort of there, with no real story to bite down on. I can’t imagine anyone really liking it, but that might be because I’ve been looking at it for a while now.

I actually don’t mind doing this. The first draft was an elephant gun misfiring at a mosquito. Awful-awful. After a few rewrites most people would have moved on to something else but I kept at it, so I am where I am now because of undue persistence.

It’s a common thing to not have one’s first manuscript published because your first (and sometimes subsequent) book are too horrendous for exhibition. Even established short story writers can’t/won’t bother with their first novel because it’s a beast many tentacles to hack off and a greenhorn novelist doesn’t have an intellectual axe big enough to handle it. They finish it but it sits somewhere on a shelf or hard drive somewhere while the second novel, if the writer hasn’t offed themselves yet to get it done, gets more traction with agents.

So with that I’m starting a new manuscript with the nickname Retardo Montalbán (please, PC language police, find a more worthy cause). It will be soft/social sci-fi, alternate history, not really dystopian, with a sort of Luddite-libertarian feel…no damnable vampire love triangles, wizards, fairy tale characters in real life, hyperdrive shunts, or anything occurring in the year 1,000,000,000 AD. It’s a story with people who do and think things and set things into motion, not a bestiary of gimmicks.

So, birth/death, a new year, and all that jazz. Krampus will be pleased with me.

Photo by riptheskull.

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