Tag Archives: writing

Pro-Tip: What Makes Strong Writing?

10 Mar

Across all genres and purposes, writers want to know the one thing they can do in order to ensure readers consider their writing “good writing.”

My first piece of advice is to get rid of the notion of “good writing.” Pitting yourself against other writers in order to determine if your creative vision is “good” will get you nowhere. Writing, even in the academic and professional fields where creativity might sometimes be limited by style sheets and strict requirements, is a deeply personal endeavor. It’s not just the final product that author’s judge, but their journey to get that product. Trying to put worth on an experience is like saying your dream vacation is only worth as much as the airfare costs. It discounts everything you get out of travel on an intellectual, spiritual, and physical level. Writing a text is a trip–maybe not always a vacation–but a trip nonetheless.

So, why would you try to qualify your path against someone else? And why would you settle on the achievement of “good writing” when that’s based on how similar your process and product is to someone else you consider “good?” Isn’t that just good mimicry? You want to be “good,” or rather strong, at what YOU do and how YOU do it.

Strive, instead, for strong writing, writing that holds it’s own regardless of how similar (or not) it is to the work of others you admire. Yes, we first learn by mimicking, in speech as babies, and as authors. But, at some point, you start to sound like YOU, and if you go around trying to decide if your writing, and therefore if YOU, are good enough, you’re likely to have moments of doubt. You might feel like you don’t measure up, like an imposter, like someone who isn’t REALLY an author because you haven’t done x, y, or z thing that some other person who uses the title of author has done.

Strong writing is original, written with pride (but not necessarily confidence because you can be proud of your effort and still worried about its outcome. Confidence takes time), and organizationally sound. Above all of the basic prescriptive grammar and mechanics rules, the tenets that say writing SHOULD be done a certain way, is organization. If you’ve got a solid structure that readers can follow, if it’s logically arranged, if it’s thoroughly explained and balances detail without crossing into the condescending, then everything else you do after that will fall into place. Proper grammar and following the rules (which you can purposefully break once you know them) is only useful if your thoughts are linked together in a coherent way. Every sentence could be perfectly constructed according to the textbook way to use punctuation marks, point of view, and tense, but a text still won’t make sense if the overall structure doesn’t carry your thoughts clearly.

What I’m getting at is this: You want strong writing, not “good” writing because strong writing is not a matter of opinion. A text either makes sense or it doesn’t. A text is either organized or frenetic. (Don’t confuse the organized or frenetic nature of a text with the same qualities of a character. Even pieces with chaotic characters are still organized as a whole, although let’s not get into the unreliable narrator discussion. It’s often an exception). “Good” writing will be different to every author and reader. Stop comparing yourself to other authors, and start holding your writing up to your past work. Are you improving?

Aiken Wine and Sign

20 Jan

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, meme, text and food

Join me at the Aiken Wine and Sign event from 9-4 on Saturday, April 22 at the South Carolina Conference Center. This family-friendly book-signing event benefits the Diann Shaddox Foundation for Essential Tremor.

Drink some wine, have a snack, buy books! An ideal Saturday, in my opinion. I might even have a special raffle prize. -_^

Event details here.

Pro-Tip: Drafting-Behind the Scenes

8 Dec

Hello, all!

I realize this website has become quite self-serving. I haven’t written a pro-tip in a while, but I’ve advertised the life out of my book.

Oh, well. Here comes some more–a pro-tip/advertisement hybrid.

I recently had two of my poems published by Life In 10 Minutes. The first was a characterization exercise for Acephalous. The second was a true-to-life musing about the holiday season.

For my characterization planning, I wrote from the point of view of Atlas to better get into his head. Even when characterization exercises don’t make it into the book directly, familiarizing myself with my characters on that level allows me to write about them as if they are each a real person. I highly recommend it.

There’s no right way to do this. For me, these things usually come in fits and starts in the middle of the night. The MEMO section of my cellphone is awash in brooding prose that has no bearing on my emotional state but that of my characters.

I know other writers who carry around a journal everywhere they go, just in case. That’s a bit much for me. No girl needs anything extra added to the weight of her purse. There’s enough in there already!

However, I am drowning in post-it notes. Someone out there, please invent a post-it note binder or portfolio so I can store these things with some logic.

Regardless of how you might choose to complete your characterization projects, I recommend that you do it somehow, sometime, before you write the final revision of a text. Acephalous is a different book from the version people test read, and it’s a good thing it is.

If your dialogue makes you outwardly cringe, try a character profile sheet or writing a poem from his or her point of view. It works.

 

FOLLOW KEPLER ON INSTAGRAM

5 Nov

kepler

Kepler, the main character and narrator of Humans In My House, is now on instagram!

Follow #Kepler’s adventures as he travels with us @KeplerSeesTheWorld.

Purchase your own #pocketkitty and join in by taking pictures of your journeys. Tag them on Instagram with #HumansInMyHouse or @KeplerSeesTheWorld.

To purchase, visit my Shop to place an order, or come see Red Ink Enthusiast at one of the many conventions we plan to attend in the coming year! (Convention schedule forthcoming.)

12 Years to Get to the Trash Can

7 Jul

I’ve gotten some amazing, useful feedback from the test readers who’ve returned their comments so far. I can’t wait to get the rest and to start rewriting Acephalous Book 1 (which very well could become a longer, single book that’s not part of a series).

Some items I plan on changing include:

-POV shift from 3rd person limited to 3rd person omniscient. Though I value the challenge the former POV presents to an author–successfully presenting all of the characters in a rich and emotionally arresting way without getting into the inner thoughts of most of them–I feel like I’m missing out on opportunities to better link my readers to the characters’ emotions, fears, and motivations, to add history and detail to a scene without narrating or telling.

-Structure/Order of Events. I’m looking to get to the action sooner than the current version does, and to reel people in with the mystery and intrigue of Breena’s situation by making the dreams she experiences carry more weight.

-Character Behaviors. The characters are still hollow at this point, as is usually the case in any initial shell of a story. They aren’t fully independent, separate, complete people in the world of dreams or reality. They each have the beginnings of uniqueness, but undermine their own existences by contradicting their thoughts with their actions, cultivating dislike through unrealistic dialogue, or failing to display their importance to the story. The goal is for each character to sound like a real person, their own person, rather than sound like different variations of me as the author.

To accomplish all of this (and, doubtless, the many more decisions I’ll make as more feedback comes in), I plan on performing a total re-write of the test-read version. I’m going to work page-by-page to recreate each with fresh words. The plot will stay essentially the same, as will the basis of the current characters, but by rewriting in one stretch of time, I will have a more homogeneous text. As it is, I can still tell which sections I wrote as a high school student and which sections come from master’s degree me. It doesn’t mesh.

I’ve worked for a long time to get the story to a coherent shell to share with others for input. It’s a tricky stage where it’s complete enough to call a story, but too rough to call publishable. This version is a husk of what it could be, and it’s always hard to let people read something that I know is not finished. I always pray those reading realize it’s still just a draft, that I wasn’t passing it around as a sneak peek of the completed story. (Read: Yes, you’ll still need to buy the real one to find out what happens even if you test-read it.) The text that will go on sale by the end of next year won’t much resemble the one they read, and I’m thankful. Even Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” For me, while I’m much more proud of the story than what I put in the toilet, and while I wouldn’t store the book alongside your manure fertilizer, it is a first draft of sorts. It took 12 years and who knows how many full overhauls to get to the state where I handed it out for critique, but, in terms of publication readiness, the 2015-2016 version of Acephalous is the first draft. It’s the first draft I’ve had printed and bound; it’s the first draft I’ve let people see; it’s the first draft to be acceptable enough to consider moving forward.

Rewriting is the stage where many aspiring writers quit. We get through the feat of finishing something as huge as a novel and realize that, even though there’s a finished story with a beginning, middle, and end, it’s not acceptable in its current state. It would be easy to stare at the piles of commentary and say, “There’s still so much left to do…” and never say anything else about the project. It can feel overwhelming to think about how many little (and major) things need to change, but authors press on because the satisfaction of creating a viable beginning, middle, and end isn’t enough once people have read it. Viable doesn’t mean finished once someone points out what’s lacking. Personally, I’m thrilled to rewrite and leave the opinions of Mr. Hemingway in the dust.

 

Pro-Tip: Naming Characters

2 May

Whether you’re the type to go for allegory, obscurity, trends, or historical accuracy, naming your characters can take daunting research. It’s a fun job, don’t get me wrong, but it helps to have thorough tools to get the job done.

Baby name websites are a good start. Just Google “baby names” and you’ll find a number of sites that’ll do the trick. They usually include origin and meaning of the name. In addition, many rank the names based on popularity. So, if you want to reflect the times, you can choose a popular name. If you want uncommon names, you know what to avoid. However, these lists, in my experience, are exclusively for given names. And that makes sense. People aren’t looking at lists of surnames for their children. They get those automatically.

Writers, though, we get saddled with having to choose it all. These decisions, if you’re one to put a lot of emphasis on names reflecting personality like me, are foundational ones to make. (It’s totally fine to arbitrarily choose a name based on aesthetic preference alone, too.)

The website Behind the Name is the most thorough list of surnames I’ve found. It includes many geographical areas making naming by ethnicity or nationality is easy. It provides the meaning of each name listed, and it is detailed about noting any variations in spelling or language where applicable.

I’ve gotten a lot of use out of Behind the Name today while working on the second installment of Acephalous. New characters, new names. Comment below if you’ve got your own favorite naming sites to add to the conversation!

Happy writing.

Amanda Marsico

Author, Editor, Red Ink Enthusiast™

Chugging Along

22 Apr

I got my copyright!

The goal is to have Humans In My House, a chapter book for readers ages 7 to 11, for sale by the end of the year. Now, I’m working on securing an illustrator for my little black cat character.

Join me on Facebook for more updates, discussion, and writing resources.

 

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