Monday, August 1, 2022

2022 August - Having A Project Bible


For a writer, having a Project Bible for their story writing is a means to sorting through ideas, characters, and plot points to verify there is a story with a beginning, a middle, and an ending worth the time to invest in writing it.

Basically a Project Bible is a plan of action a writer creates and uses for themselves. No two Project Bibles are alike because of each writer is unique in the way they tell a story. Project Bibles range from hard-copy, 3-ring notebooks and others are a series of master computer files.

Some Project Bibles are even as simple as 3x5 index cards that contain reminders such as the basic questions to evaluate a character:

First Name - (How is the name spelled and what subconscious reaction will the reader infer from the spelling or look of the work. That is, is the name positive/heroic, negative/villainous, or neutral/too ordinary to be a major character? What does the name mean?)

Middle Name - (Why that name? Is it positive, negative, or neutral? Does the name have a meaning?)

Last Name - (Is there a nationality associated with the name or does the name have a particular meaning—positive, negative, or neutral—associated with it?)

Initials (Initials must not inadvertently spell anything derogatory—the exception is for humor or irony.)

Nickname - (Not all characters have nicknames, but why that nickname? How did they come by it? How does the character feel about the nickname?

Another card might be for:

Body type - (How does their build help or hinder them in seeking their life's goal or the story goal or suit their occupation?)

Hair color - (Why that specific color? What traits does the color represent—or on a subconscious level, what does the color telegraph to the reader?)

Eye color - (Why that specific color? What does the color represent—or on a subconscious level, what does the color telegraph to the reader?)

. . . and the questions go on.

Some Project Bibles include very specific items like full character questionnaires, time-line calendars, maps, research material, short cuts to tags and traits, shortcuts to getting at a character's core values and morals, plot diagrams or questions on plotting (such as the Hero's Journey), collected worksheets garnered from the writer attending workshops and conference classes, and much more.

Regardless of its size or type, a Project Bible can truly minimize the frustration of dead-ends and stories that go off on a tangent.

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Friday, July 1, 2022

2022 - July - The Long and Short of It

 

Quickly jot down your answers to these questions:


1. What is the average word length of a sentence?

2. A long sentence exceeds how many words?

3. What is the average number of sentences for a paragraph?

Here are the answers— 

1. 20 — The average word length of a sentence is considered twenty words, which is the exact word count for this sentence.

Why use such a benchmark for sentence length? Because twenty words can be said in one breath? Yes, that's true, but equally as important is that shorter sentences promote clarity (and as I've said many times— clarity trumps all rules.)

When writing fiction, it is the narrative voice (i.e., how a character or narrator thinks and talks) that the reader hears as they read. Does that narrator consistently speak and think in short, medium, or long sentences? Does that narrator consistently use simple sentence constructions or complicated or clause-filled sentences? Also, how complex is the narrator's language, diction, and syntax? Such things affect sentence lengths and brings characters to life on the page, making readers like them or hate them or feel neutral toward them.

Here's the thing: in fiction, a sentence can stand alone as a paragraph and a sentence can be as short as one word.

2. 30 to 40 — A long sentence is considered thirty to forty words. Exceed those thirty or forty words and clarity becomes an issue. So does running out of breath when speaking such sentences out loud. For the record, in READING LIKE A WRITER by Francine Prose, there is a 181 word sentence. By the way, no semicolons were used in that very clear-to-understand sentence. That sentence is broken apart by eight commas, one pair of dashes, and ends with one period. Those pieces of punctuation and the rhythm of the words allows for clarity and comprehension. It takes a pro to write with such clarity and comprehension at such a long length.

3. 3 — The average number of sentences for a paragraph is considered three (which translates to an average of sixty words.) However, all depends on the topic of that paragraph. After all, the supporting sentences to that opening line (i.e. the topic sentence) can range from three to five to eight. However, at twelve sentences, such a paragraph looks like wall-to-wall-words.

     Wall-to-wall words is a term used to describe blocks of type. When a reader comes to such a block, most readers think the subject matter is boring or too technical and they skip down to dialogue or the indentations to shorter paragraphs.

Here's a tip— any double-spaced manuscript page with four or fewer indented paragraphs should be looked at to see what's in those paragraphs. Those long paragraphs likely need broken apart for clarity. (For single-spaced pages, look for eight or fewer paragraphs.)


Take a few minutes today and go to your work in progress. Use your word processing program's zoom feature, reduce the pages to 50%. Count the white-space of paragraph indentations on each page. Also check for paragraphs that carry over to the next page. Do you have any wall-to-wall paragraphs?  

In those long paragraphs, did you find long sentences, semicolons joining clauses or sentences, or conjunctions like and joining sentences, or even run-on sentences?

Please share your findings with a comment to this blog.

Wishing you a safe and happy 4th of July celebration.

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                 Get the low-down on semicolons in Catherine's guidebook REVISION IS A PROCESS

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Wednesday, June 1, 2022

2022 June - The Long and Short of It

 




Quickly jot down your answers to these questions:

1. What is the average word length of a sentence?

2. A long sentence exceeds how many words?

3. What is the average number of sentences for a paragraph?

Here are the answers— 

1. 20 — The average word length of a sentence is considered twenty words, which is the exact word count for this sentence.

Why use such a benchmark as sentence length? Because twenty words can be said in one breath? Yes, that's true, but equally as important is that shorter sentences promote clarity (and as I've said many times: clarity trumps all rules.)

However, when writing fiction, what will affect the length of sentences is narrative voice. How does the character or narrator think and talk? Do they speak or think in short, medium, or long sentences? Do they use simple sentence constructions or complicated or clause-filled sentences? How complex is the narrator's language, diction, and syntax? Such things affect sentence lengths and bring characters to life on the page, making readers like them or hate them or feel neutral toward them.

Here's the thing: a sentence can stand alone as a paragraph and a sentence can be as short as one word.

2. 30 to 40 — A long sentence is considered thirty to forty words. Exceed those thirty or forty words and clarity becomes an issue. So does running out of breath when speaking such sentences out loud. For the record, in READING LIKE A WRITER by Francine Prose, there is a 181 word sentence. Interestingly, no semicolons were used in that sentence. That sentence is broken apart by eight commas, one pair of dashes, and ends with one period. Those pieces of punctuation and the rhythm of the words allows for clarity and comprehension. It takes a pro to write with such clarity and comprehension at such a long length.

3. 3 — The average number of sentences for a paragraph is considered three (which translates to an average of sixty words.) However, all depends on the topic of that paragraph. After all, the supporting sentences to that opening line (i.e. the topic sentence) can range from three to five to eight but at twelve sentences, such a paragraph looks like wall-to-wall-words.

     Wall-to-wall words is a term used to describe blocks of type. When a reader comes to such a block, most readers think the subject matter is boring or too technical and they'll skip down to dialogue or the indentations to shorter paragraphs.

Here's a tip: any double-spaced manuscript page with four or fewer indented paragraphs should be looked at to see what's in those paragraphs. Those long paragraphs likely need broken apart for clarity. (For single-spaced pages, look for eight or fewer paragraphs.)

Take a few minutes today and go to your work in progress. Use your word processing program's zoom feature, reduce the pages to 50%. Count the white-space of paragraph indentations on each page. Also check for paragraphs that carry over to the next page. Do you have any wall-to-wall paragraphs?  

In those long paragraphs, did you find long sentences, semicolons joining clauses or sentences, or conjunctions like and joining sentences, or even run-on sentences?

Share your findings with a comment to this blog.

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Sunday, May 1, 2022

2022 May - RUE Resist the Urge to Explain

  

 

I often tell writers that there is one rule to writing, which is: Clarity trumps all rules. 

Unfortunately, in an attempt to make things clear to a reader, a writer often overexplains. The result is that editors and critique partners will place RUE in a manuscript's margin (or in a comment box). RUE stands for Resist the Urge to Explain.

Let's look at the most notorious place for overexplaining, which is the opening of the story, and the two most common types of overexplaining, which are setting details and characterization.

Prologues that open a story are notorious for being explanations of characters or settings. Here's a tip—if anything in that prologue is repeated in the story, ax the entire prologue.

Back to setting details, in particular, those in the opening chapter of a story. Novice writers often think they are setting mood or tone with such an expository chapter one opening. Trouble is, such openings have no drama or action underway, making the opening sound like a travelogue or documentary. Such openings bore readers.

Keep in mind that setting details should be sprinkled into the  ongoing action. This is best done through the sensory perceptions of a major character (protagonist or antagonist) who is actively engaged with some sort of worthwhile problem at the beginning of a story.

Yes, writing science fiction and fantasy often requires explanations of strange worlds and settings or how gadgets, technology, or weapons work. The rule of thumb is to allot no more than one to three sentences of description in any one spot (that's 20 to 60 words). In other words, use only those precise, vivid, image-provoking details of a setting, the society, etc. that can be tucked into the story's action or given in small doses by a major character. Unfortunately, putting in such details is where research complicates things.

In all honesty, resistance seems futile in the face of researched knowledge that so intrigues a writer that the writer feels they must share and teach the reader about the history, the theology, a cause, a disaster, or social mores, etc. of a story.

A story is not about everything.

A story is about 

the most important elements that 

support the plot and theme.


Now, let's turn to characterization and the information dumps that are back story, flashbacks, remembrances, and recalls by the protagonist (and sometimes the antagonist or second major character, who is often the romantic lead or sidekick). 

Recalls are short quickies amounting to a sentence or two. Remembrances are often triggered by a sensory perception and are brief, just a paragraph or two. Flashback are lengthy scenes of many pages. A flashback will stop, or slow down, the story's forward movement and action. Such flashbacks force a reader to stop, go back in time, reorient, and forget the now of the story. Getting in and out of flashback requires skills and techniques that most new writers don't have.

Here's another thing—those lengthy information dumps, explanations, or back story details were necessary for the writer to get to know the story and characters but the reader only needs ten percent of it. Which ten percent? The ten percent that succinctly fills in the back story of why a character is who they are or justifies their particular long-held belief or moral value. Such elements are tied into the story's theme and plot and should be inserted only when it is absolutely necessary for the reader to know and understand.

In writing this post, I've had a hard time resisting the urge to explain in greater detail. Suffice to say, I've just touched on the tip of the iceberg.  

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Sunday, April 3, 2022

2022 April - What is Your Inner Ear IQ?

Let's start this month's topic with a Quiz:

When reading words, something magical happens, our brain's inner ear "hears" the voice—the narrator—created by the diction, syntax, vocabulary, and jargon of the words being read. That narrator might be the author or a character or the author-as-a-storyteller (using a storyteller's voice), etc.

So, how good an inner ear do you have? After reading each sentence below, identify the voice of the narrator:
   
    A - "It is half full of water."
    B - "Don't be an idiot, it's half empty." 
    C - "That's just a glass with water in it." 
    D - "Why do you humans concern yourself with a glass containing water?" 
    E - Marsha couldn't believe the conversation had deteriorated to analyzing a glass of water.
    F - When is my master going to pour that water into the bowl for me?
    G - "It is obvious, Sir Charles, that crystal goblet is barely half full."
    H - "Measuring . . .  In the glass is 0.236588 liters of water, which is the equivalent of one cup."


The basic problem with convincing writers about POV-Viewpoint is getting them to realize POV-Viewpoint is not about First Person, Second Person, or Third Person but about "the narrative voice," which is the voice of the person or entity that is narrating the story or article.

Too often a writer hears only their own voice and uses only their own diction, syntax, etc. Thus all the characters and the narration sounds alike. Which isn't good.

Two thing help hone an inner ear and help bring story characters to life. The first is to read voraciously in multiple genres, fiction and nonfiction, memoir, etc. The second is to actually take time to keenly listen to the way people talk.
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So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, 
then you are listening not only to the words, 
but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, 
to the whole of it, not part of it
— Jiddu Krishnamurti, philosopher, speaker, and writer
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For those who took the quiz, here are the answers: 

    A - "It is half full of water." (Optimist)
    B - "Don't be an idiot, it's half empty." (Pessimist)
    C - "That's just a glass with water in it." (Realist)
    D - "Why do you humans concern yourself with a glass containing water?" (Baffled Alien Being)
    E - Marsha couldn't believe the conversation had deteriorated to analyzing a glass of water. (Omniscient)
    F - When is my master going to pour that water into the bowl for me? (A pet or being who cannot talk out loud)
    G - "It is obvious, Sir Charles, that crystal goblet is barely half full." (A highly educated and opinionated person)
    H - "Measuring . . .  In the glass is 0.236588 liters of water, which is the equivalent of one cup. (A machine, an automaton, a robot, etc.)

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