Welcome to my blog!

I'm a divorced mom with a teenage daughter and two pre-teen sons. Writing is my first love. When I'm not writing or working or playing taxi to the kids, I also toy with photography and baking.

So, basically, my camera rarely sees the light of day and my mixer stands in the corner in permanent time-out.

To see some samples of my writing, you can check out my website: www.csrickard.com

Monday, May 4, 2009

Great writing post

Moonrat had a link to this post by Holt on the 10 Mistakes Writers Make. I think the article was wonderful. I thought I had seen it before, but decided it's worth posting here too. Although it's so long, I've cropped everything but the highlights:


The Ten Mistakes
Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)

The list also could be called, “10 COMMON PROBLEMS THAT DISMISS YOU AS AN AMATEUR,” because these mistakes are obvious to literary agents and editors, who may start wording their decline letter by page 5. What a tragedy that would be.

So here we go:

REPEATS
Just about every writer unconsciously leans on a “crutch” word. Hillary Clinton’s repeated word is “eager” (can you believe it? the committee that wrote Living History should be ashamed).


Crutch words are usually unremarkable. That’s why they slip undereditorial radar - they’re not even worth repeating, but there you haveit, pop, pop, pop, up they come. Readers, however, notice them, get irked by them and are eventually distracted by them, and down goes yourbook, never to be opened again.

The same goes for repeats of several words together - a phrase orsentence that may seem fresh at first, but, restated many times, drawsattention from the author’s strengths. Sheldon Siegel nearly bludgeonsus in his otherwise witty and articulate courtroom thriller, FinalVerdict, with a sentence construction that’s repeated throughout thebook:

FLAT WRITING
Flat writing is a sign that you’ve lost interest or are intimidated by your own narrative. It shows that you’re veering toward mediocrity, that your brain is fatigued, that you’ve lost your inspiration. So use it as a lesson. When you see flat writing on the page, it’s time to rethink, refuel and rewrite.

EMPTY ADVERBS
Actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, really - these and others are words that promise emphasis, but too often they do the reverse. They suck the meaning out of every sentence.

(When in doubt, try this mantra: Precise and spare; precise and spare; precise and spare.)

Another problem with empty adverbs: You can’t just stick them at the beginning of a sentence to introduce a general idea or wishful thinking, as in “Hopefully, the clock will run out.” Adverbs have to modify a verb or other adverb, and in this sentence, “run out” ain’t it.

PHONY DIALOGUE
Be careful of using dialogue to advance the plot. Readers can tell when characters talk about things they already know, or when the speakers appear to be having a conversation for our benefit.

Dialogue offers glimpses into character the author can’t provide through description. Hidden wit, thoughtful observations, a shy revelation, a charming aside all come out in dialogue, so the characters *show* us what the author can’t *tell* us.


NO-GOOD SUFFIXES
Don’t take a perfectly good word and give it a new backside so it functions as something else.


The “ness” words cause the eye to stumble, come back, reread: Mindlessness, characterlessness, courageousness, statuesqueness, preciousness - you get the idea.

The “ize” words are no better - finalize, conceptualize, fantasize, categorize. The “ize” hooks itself onto words as a short-cut but stays there like a parasite. Not all “ize” words are bad, either, but they do have the ring of the vulgate to them - “he was brutalized by his father,” “she finalized her report.” Just try to use them rarely.

Some “ingly” words do have their place. I can accept “swimmingly,” “annoyingly,” “surprisingly” as descriptive if overlong “ingly” words.

THE “TO BE” WORDS
Once your eye is attuned to the frequent use of the “to be” words - “am,” “is,” “are,” “was,” “were,” “be,” “being,” “been” and others - you’ll be appalled at how quickly they flatten prose and slow your pace to a crawl. When in doubt, replace them with active, vivid, engaging verbs. Muscle up that prose.

LISTS
“She was entranced by the roses, hyacinths, impatiens, mums, carnations, pansies, irises, peonies, hollyhocks, daylillies, morning glories, larkspur…” Well, she may be entranced, but our eyes are glazing over.

If you’re going to describe a number of items, jack up the visuals. Lay out the the scene as the eye sees it, with emphasis and emotion in unlikely places. When you list the items as though we’re checking them off with a clipboard, the internal eye will shut.

SHOW, DON’T TELL
If you say, “she was stunning and powerful,” you’re *telling* us. But if you say, “I was stunned by her elegant carriage as she strode past the jury - shoulders erect, elbows back, her eyes wide and watchful,” you’re *showing* us. The moment we can visualize the picture you’re trying to paint, you’re showing us, not telling us what we *should* see..

The difference between telling and showing usually boils down to the physical senses. Visual, aural aromatic words take us out of our skin and place us in the scene you’ve created.

AWKWARD PHRASING
Awkward phrasing makes the reader stop in the midst of reading and ponder the meaning of a word or phrase. This you never want as an author. A rule of thumb - always give your work a little percolatin’ time before you come back to it. Never write right up to deadline. Return to it with fresh eyes. You’ll spot those overworked tangles of prose and know exactly how to fix them.

COMMAS
Compound sentences, most modifying clauses and many phrases *require* commas. You may find it necessary to break the rules from time to time, but you can’t delete commas just because you don’t like the pause they bring to a sentence or just because you want to add tension.

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