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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Writer's Workshop: Weak and Empty Words




I'm gonna actually talk about the nuts-and-bolts of writing now.  Like, the specific minute details of words and so on that most people don't even realize exist.  We'll start by looking at some truly weak and useless words that have very little, if any, place in your writing.

"Seemed"
Remember Yoda in "The Empire Strikes Back," how he said "Do, or do not; there is no try."  Well there isn't much place for "Seemed."  Something is or isn't.  The only time you should be using this word is if your characters themselves are unsure, and really, you can think of better ways to convey this than "seemed."  "Seemed" also encourages telling as opposed to showing.  Which is also bad.  Duh.  Look here:

"She seemed happy."
"She smiled and laughed."

The second sentence is more effective at conveying an emotion and doesn't tell us the information, but shows us.

"Various"
I recently had somebody point this out to me in something I wrote and noted it as a "filler" word, which was true.  Various is a vague word and usually goes along with other vague words.  Like "Various things," or "Various ideas," and so on.  Those words are empty and don't provide the reader with anything meaty.

"He carried a sack full of various bits of junk."
"He carried a sack full of broken clock parts, empty cans, and rusty nails."

The second sentence gives more detail and maybe we can actually learn something from it.  He's got all metal stuff!  what's he doing with all that metal?  Whatever he's doing, it's a lot more informative than just saying "junk."

"Feel"
This goes for all tenses of the verb.  If you have to tell the reader how something felt (whether it's a physical sensation or an emotional one), that's a bad thing.  You're telling, not showing.  Don't do that!  Stop it!  Bad writer, no biscuit.

"The iron felt hot."
"The iron glowed a dull red and he jerked his hand away as the heat bit his fingers."

Yeah that second one is longer, but it sure sounds a lot nicer!  I know Shakespeare said "Brevity is the soul of wit," but it's okay to indulge a little.  you're not writing print for a newspaper, you're writing a story.  Spruce it up a bit.

Lord knows there's loads more, but three is enough for today.  Those three are pretty big and show up a lot.  And yes, I use these too.  I'm just another poor sinner.  But I also try and keep my eye out for them and get rid of them when and where I can, and I encourage you to do the same.




Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"The Steam Punk" or, "I wrote a book, guess what genre it is?"


Well, I wrote a book.  Actually I've written three books, and have written enough other things to qualify for another 3-4 books, but this is the first book I've written, had edited, got a cover for, and put up for sale.  I'm pretty proud of it, and I think it's a bit of all right.  I also think you should maybe check it out and give it a read.  

And just in case you're wondering, yes, it does adhere to the stuff I just talked about in my last two posts.  It's got steam, it's got punk; it's got magic and monsters and mecha-tanks and all sorts of other fun stuff as well.  It also has a pretty entertaining story and characters, if I may say so.

Right now it's only available on Kindle, but you can get a Kindle app for iPad, and soon it'll be available on Nook and in printed format.  

You can find it -> HERE <-

I'd like to thank my friends and family for all their amazing support, and you, Reader.  You make it worthwhile.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Genre Talk: Letting Off Some Steampunk


We've covered the "steam" half of the equation, so let's move onto the second half...

NUMBER TWO: What's the "-Punk"?

The "-punk" suffix is a lot more widely used than the "steam" prefix.  Last time I mentioned things like cyberpunk, splatterpunk, and others.  The "-punk" suffix connects them all.  But what does it mean?  Well, what's a punk?  What do you think of when somebody says that word?  I think of somebody in a NiN shirt with the sleeves ripped off, sporting a spiky hairdo dyed some outrageous neon color(s) with a nose-stud, one of those metal hopes inserted into the earlobe that stretches it out, with a thin silver chain connecting the two.  I also think of this fine, upstanding citizen saying something like "Fuck the pigs," or flipping off a member of the student council.

Some of you might think of Bart Simpson, or a guy on a motorcycle, or a tomboyish woman in a bar playing pool, or who knows what.  But whatever your image, it's likely to have at least one thing in common: someone who defies societal norms.  That's a fancy way of saying "Somebody who doesn't give a shit what you think."

The "-punk" suffix indicates some form of rebellion (whether literal, cultural, sexual, etc).  Somebody is unhappy with the status quo and they are going to actively change it, or just live their life in defiance of it.  Punk characters exist on the fringes of society, away from polite, "normal" people.  They are the ones who rock the boat just by showing up.

And like the punky characters in a -punk book, the story itself will be something of a punk (is "punk" starting to sound funny yet?  Like if you say "spoon" over and over again and it stops sounding like a real word?  Bear with me).  A -punk story should be about these outlier characters engaged in some form of outlier behavior.  Are they inciting a revolution against the government?  Are they starting a new fashion trend that most people find totally unacceptable?  Are they merely trying to find a place for themselves in a society that is unwelcoming or even hostile?  All those are good -punk stories.  

Last time I talked about Perdido Street Station by China Mieville, and now I'm gonna do it again!  Remember that scientist, Isaac Grimnebulin, and how he was pursuing a new type of energy source?  That was the "steam"; here's the "punk": the rest of Isaac's colleagues, and indeed, the whole academic world, think Isaac's new energy source is a pipe dream, and they don't really like associating with him.  Isaac's a rebel scientist doing things his own way.  He turned his back on proper academia years ago and now does things the way he wants to do them, and screw those stuffy profs at the university.

Pretty much every major character in PSS is like that: a bohemian artist ostracized from the rest of her species, rogue treasure hunters, a reporter for an underground and anti-government newspaper, and so on. What so many would-be steampunk books miss out on is the -punk aspect.  Plenty of steam, but not so much punk.  You gotta have both!  It's not all about the technology and whatnot, it's about the characters and the world and the story too.  

Next time, I'll have a surprise for you.