Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Music or Karaoke?

When I listen to a great song, I am often amazed by the lyrics. Every word counts, works hard, and sometimes does double duty.

Good writing has rhythm, whether the writing is a song or a novel. The reader rides waves of sounds. Achieving this musical quality in writing can be tough, though. If a sentence is not constructed well or is riddled with mistakes, the result could be more clunk than melody. If a sentence is not divided well with commas, dashes, colons, etc., it could hit the ear like bad karaoke.

Echoes in a story can also ruin the music of it. Maybe a character’s name or pronouns such as he and she are repeated too often. Maybe the writer has a tendency to use the some words too much. *Raises her hand sheepishly.*

Too much alliteration can also snuff the rhythm and good writing.

I find that reading my stories out loud is the best way to find those places where the writing loses its rhythm and song. The rough patches hit my ears like gravel poured out of a metal can. Cutting often helps to fix these sound and rhythm issues. If I simplify (the writing not the thought or content behind it), the music sometimes comes back into the sentences.

William Stunk and E.B. White wrote in The Elements of Style: “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

What do you think? Does music come from making every word count? As in

poetry? As in lyrics? When you are reading a novel, how much does the music of the writing affect your reading experience? If you write, how do you infuse music into your work?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Left? Right? Or Straight Ahead?

In really great stories, we read about select moments, but end up feeling like we’ve been on a journey that includes part of a life or lives. We know characters inside and out, right? Authors take us on these rides. To do this, they make choices, hopefully selecting the best route to the moments and events that illuminate the characters’ personalities, backgrounds, and predicaments. Given the same characters, situations, and general background information, different writers would probably write different stories. I think this is fascinating. Whether a writer turns left at an intersection, swerves right, or goes straight ahead is influenced by that writer’s values, beliefs, and view of the world. The writer is the reader’s driver.

If you are a writer, how much thought do you give to the choices that pop up during the journey of your story? At least during the first draft, I don’t ponder endlessly about my options. I have an idea where I am going, using my outline as a road map. I consider how each turn will change my protagonist’s situation, how it will generate conflict and move the plot forward. Beyond that, I sort of go with my gut, which leads to plenty of dead ends (too many, really). By the end of my stories, though, I know they reflect my passions, views, and values, whether I like this or not.

When reading, do you ever wish an author had turned left instead of right? I will admit that I have, on occasion, wished an author had jigged instead of jagged. Or, I have prepped myself for a hard left turn, only to be swung right. That can be fun, actually.


* Shameless Self-Promotion Alert: I just had to share this wonderful review of Buck Fever by author Kenneth G. Bennett:

(I just love a nice review.) : )

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stick a Fork in It?

In a back and forth email discussion about our works in progress, a writer

friend wrote this about her novel: “I'm sure there are at least fifty more things I could change, but at some point you just have to stick a fork in it.” I love this line because I get her point. And I relate to it. Plus it made me laugh. When it comes to the little fixes in a manuscript, revising could be a lifelong process.

In Writing Magic, Gayle Carson Levine writes: “There is no such thing as a perfect book or a perfect story. Every book in every library on this planet has something wrong with it.” Her point is that perfection is unattainable. And it doesn’t matter. Readers want a story that they can be involved with. Most people probably care less about a description that goes on a bit too long than they do about the characters and the plot. What do you think?

I never feel like my work is perfect. Never. But, as my friend wrote, I know that there comes a time to “stick a fork in it.” For me, this is usually when I can’t stand to read the story any more. I feel like someone has stuck a fork in me.

Do you feel you’ve reached perfection when you have finished revising a manuscript? If not, do you itch to keep fixing or do you let it go?

And when you are reading, do you notice minor issues that need fixing? Or do you tune out the imperfections and swim in the world of the story with the characters?

P.S.: A big THANK YOU to Maeve at for the Versatile Blogger Award! : )

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Grabs You?

By that, I mean what hooks your attention when you start reading a book? What compels you to turn pages and read on, dive head first into a story? Action on page one? A teaser of some tension or incident to come? A compelling character? Something that is happening or about to happen? Or, maybe an opening line snags your interest. What pulls you into the story, whether you are reading it or writing it?

In my opinion, a good hook often plunges a protagonists into trouble and changes his world—right out of the starting gate. I love novels that give me a sense of something that is happening or about to happen. If this is ominous, the hook is around my neck and tugging. Also, if a character is in a disturbing situation and is about to take action, I am interested. This doesn’t have to be a tornado blowing through the protagonist’s life on page one. A small event such as a telephone call can grab me, depending on the call and the character’s reaction to it.

I recently finished Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. It begins with a plane crash where teen beauty queen contestants are the only survivors. I was hooked.

The opening line of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman immediately snagged me: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” And then the next paragraph: “The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.” Gasp! Cancel all appointments—I must read on.

Here is the beginning of a more quiet novel, The Underneath by Kathi Appelt: “There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road.” Not long after this, the reader learns that this kitty is expecting kittens. Where are the tissues? I’m in. *Sniffs*

As writers and readers, we know that the hook at the beginning of a story is very important. So, what grabs you? Has an especially sharp hook snagged you recently?

* Also, a HUGE thank you to MG Higgins at for the “Appreciated Follower Award.” I am most grateful both for the award and her fabulous blog.