Once again, and gratefully, I’m sharing excellent writing advice from author Connie J. Jasperson. It’s very timely. I’m about to settle down, first, as a beta reader for a writer-friend’s work-in-progress, and then to make final (I hope) edits to my own WIP, Waterspell Book 4. Connie’s advice on how to show characters’ emotional states will be fresh in my mind as I undertake to help both my friend and myself Do Our Jobs Better.
Most authors who have been in writing groups for any length of time become adept at writing emotions on a surface level. We bandage our wounded egos and work at showing our characters’ inner demons. We spend hours writing and rewriting, forcing words into facial expressions. Happiness, anger, spite – all the emotions get a […]
Here’s excellent writing advice from author Connie J. Jasperson. I’m pleased to reblog her post, as follows, and I invite you to follow Connie at conniejjasperson.com.
You have probably heard of the literary rule known as Chekhov’s Gun, which says nothing should appear in the scene that has no use. If a rifle is important enough to be shown hanging on the wall, someone had better fire it, or it should be removed from the setting. Firing Chekhov’s gun brings us […]
Waterspell Book 4: Drafts 1 and 2. Notes sitting atop the rough draft. Thesaurus parked on the 2nd draft for two weeks in hopes that all the best words will filter through.
My habit of letting the draft of a novel sit for at least two weeks has paid off: On my walk this morning, I suddenly got an interesting idea for introducing a plot twist that will bring readers face-to-face with characters who have previously appeared only in the background. Adding this element to Draft 3 will require additional writing but minimal rewriting. The idea arrived, seemingly out of nowhere, on the 14th day of me setting the ms. aside to marinate in its own juices. The subconscious is a powerful asset when it’s allowed to work its magic in its own time and way.
An indie author sent me her book in hopes that I’d review it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the first two pages. The prose was marred by a series of dangling participles. To wit: “Turning the faucet, hot water filled the tub.” Huh? I’m not convinced that hot water has the necessary dexterity to perform such a maneuver. And: “Lighting the candles, the fragrance reminded me of perfume.” It’s an even greater stretch to picture a fragrance striking a match.
My 99-cent ebook on Self-Editing offers advice for identifying and correcting common errors involving “-ing” words (my nickname for participles). Here’s an excerpt, re-posted from my old blog:
After using your computer to search for “ly” adverbs, then search for “-ing” words. This can be tedious — you’ll find “thing,” “ring,” “string” and other perfectly innocent words when what you’re hunting for are verb-like words that end in -ing. These “ing” words often cause trouble. You may find you’re using them to “back into” too many sentences:
Flipping her hair off her shoulder, Alice turned to go. Reaching the door, she paused. Turning to face him again, she started to speak. Thinking better of it, she stormed out.
A long string of sentences like these will drive a reader nuts. Rewrite to eliminate at least three-fourths of these sorts of “ing” opening phrases.
Also check for “danglers” that don’t quite say what you meant:
Being late to work, the boss fired her. [The boss wasn’t late. She was.]
Lying in the hammock, it struck her that Bob was OK. [A hammock with a temper?]
While walking his dog, the fire alarm sounded. [Talented fire alarm!]
Every time you find yourself using an “-ing” word to back into a sentence, consider rewriting it in solid subject-verb-object form. The result is usually clearer and crisper:
Running to the stable, he mounted his horse. He mounted while he was running? While the horse was running? It’s muddy. Simpler to say: He ran to the stable and mounted his horse.
Reaching for his gun, he fired several shots into the air. Try switching those two phrases and you’ll immediately see the problem: Firing several shots into the air, he reached for his gun. Just keep it simple and direct: He drew his gun and fired.
Crossing the stream, she tripped. Problem 1: It’s unclear. Did she trip while crossing the stream, or after crossing? Problem 2: It’s telling, not showing. This is a weak sentence that describes action that would be better shown: She waded into the freezing water. The current caught her midstream, slamming her off her feet.
Use the Find feature to locate your -ing words, and study each carefully. Recast any sentences you’re backing into, any sentences that are unclear. I don’t mean that you should eliminate all -ing words. But you should consider the value of each one, and choose carefully which to keep, which to rewrite.
Here’s a brief “-ing” opening that works: Turning, he lifted the blackjack from the low shelf and slammed it on the counter.
With the emphasis moved to the “-ing” words, however, the sentence becomes weak and far less effective: He turned his head, lifting the blackjack from the low shelf and slamming it on the counter.
I’m an information junkie. I’m always collecting it — tearing articles out of magazines (yes, I still subscribe to ink-on-paper magazines); quoting the best bits I read and hear; even passing along catalogs like the one from The Teaching Company for The Great Courses.
(Illustration by Corliss Elizabeth Williams for Time)
Possibly I’m a low-level hoarder. I’ve kept an article I tore out of the August 10, 2009, TIME magazine: “Why Swearing Is Good for You.” Author Tiffany Sharples says that swearing “can do more than vent frustration: it can actually reduce physical pain.” A study in Britain found that test subjects could endure painfully cold water longer while swearing. Repeating “a curse word of their choice” made the ice water feel less intensely painful.
“In swearing,” said the study’s lead author, “people have an emotional response, and it’s the emotional response that actually triggers the reduction of pain.”
I passed along a copy of that article to a writer friend who often advises his colleagues to “put more cussing” in our stories. He seems to instinctively appreciate the emotional power of swearing.
Of course, for those of us who write young-adult fiction, swearwords can be problematical. Some teachers, librarians, and parents frown on including obscenities in stories aimed at teenage (and up) readers.
In my YA / new-adult fantasy trilogy Waterspell, my deuteragonist (the character taking the part of second importance) swears like a sailor, and my protagonist, Carin, can almost match him. Their swearing habits are essential to revealing who these characters are.
To get around the objections that would surely be raised if I had used standard American profanity, I gave my characters a different divinity to swear by. They’re in a parallel universe, so it makes sense that their holy figures would have different names than the gods do on Earth. Instead of swearing “By God!” it’s “By Drisha!” in their world.
Another helpful source of inoffensive profanity comes from old English expressions like “gorblimey,” which is a euphemism for “God blind me.” My wizard is fond of saying “Drisha blind me!” It makes people wince in his world, since it’s such a strong oath to them. But Earthlings are not offended.
In my never-ending quest for good, pain-relieving swearing, I mine sources such as old Irish fairy and folk tales. From them I’ve gotten such gems as “A thousand murders!” and “My breath and blood!”
Thanks to TIME’s Tiffany for giving me even more reasons to collect the best in profanity. My characters get into painful situations that require them to vent via a good outburst of colorful language.
Making a place for yourself in a world where you don't belong takes courage. So does moving in with a warlock.
"If you like epic fantasy that sweeps you to amazing, immersive worlds and while following intriguing characters, be sure to add this series to your to-read list." —Once Upon a YA Book
Castles in the cornfield provided the setting for Deborah J. Lightfoot's earliest flights of fancy. On her father's farm in Texas, she grew up reading tales of adventure and reenacting them behind ramparts of sun-drenched grain. She left the farm to earn a degree in journalism and write award-winning books of history and biography. High on her Bucket List was the desire to try her hand at the genre she most admired. The result is Waterspell, a complex, intricately detailed fantasy that begins with The Warlockand The Wysard, and concludes (for the present) with The Wisewoman. But a legal pad filled with notes, formerly tucked away in a desk drawer, has grown into a nearly finished Book 4 that will, in Spring 2022, complete the saga, at long last. Deborah is a professional member of The Authors Guild. She lives in the country south of Fort Worth, Texas.
Magic, mystery, murder, and romance. Waterspell: An intricate save-the-world fantasy adventure with complex characters, cosmic calamities, and the gothic sensibilities of Jane Eyre.
Mix environmental fantasy with magic, mystery, and a little slow-burning romance, add dark dystopian undercurrents, and that’s the Waterspell trilogy—a cross-genre story with too many layers for a single label.