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Monday, July 29, 2013

Activr Writing

How do you keep your audience engaged in your writing?  Write in active voice.
Lately, I have read a lot of books by independent authors who have an interesting story line, but their writing is boring.  This is because many people write and speak in passive voice.  But if you read some of the bestselling books: The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Dragon Riders of Pern you will note that they are written in active voice.
So what’s the difference?
Passive voice uses the words was, is, were, are, and anything ending ins ing.  Now, the ing words are difficult to avoid, but there is a way to use them while still making your writing active voice. 
Active voice uses action words.  For instance, instead of saying was jumping you say  jumped. 
This is where I sometimes put my readers off.  I tend to write very straight forward in active voice; a style many modern readers are not used to anymore.  Have you ever listened to one of your friends described their day?  Do they use the word was a lot?  Do you?  We are naturally geared toward passive voice.  But passive writing makes for laborious reading.
Consider these two passages taken from my novel Dystopia:
Armed men seized Lina and dragged her out of the room amidst the screams and shouts of the family.  Dana lunged for her sister.  One of the officers thrust her aside.  She banged her head on the table and collapsed to the floor unconscious, as her sister kicked and screamed.
Armed men were seizing Lina and dragging her out of the room amidst the screams and shouts of the family.  Dana was lunging for her sister.  One of the officers was thrusting her aside.  She was banging her head on the table and collapsed to the floor unconscious, as her sister was kicking and screaming.
Which one is more engaging?  Which passage conveys the drama that is taking place?  The first one because it is written in active voice.
Now, this does not mean that you can never use the words was or  were.  Sometimes you will be forced to because there is no other way to convey your thoughts.  Just keep the passive voice to a minimum.  You want your writing to engage your audience. 
It doesn’t matter if you are writing a novel or a report for work; you should use active voice.  Speak in active voice.  It will make your conversations more engaging.  You may even become known as a good storyteller among your friends.  And if you ever think that someone’s writing is too blunt, ask yourself this: would you rather that it be chocked full of the words was and were.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Powerful Descriptions

How do you write a god descriptive paragraph?  That is a question many authors must answer.  When you decide to write a book, you have to do more than tell a story.  You have to show the story.  The only way to do this is through good descriptive verse.
Consider your favorite books.  Read through them and study how they write.  How do they show the story?  How do they draw you in?
Consider the next two paragraphs
The ship on the ocean moved about in the waves. Wind blew around it.  Lighting flashed.  More waves  hit the great ship covering it in water.
Lightning streaked the night sky.  Tumultuous waves tossed the splintered ship as though it were a mere toy.  Foaming water crashed onto the deck drenching any unfortunate enough to be on it.  More lightning flashed followed by roars of thunder.  The ship lurched violently as humungous waves attacked it relentlessly forcing it to dip below the water before shooting back up to the surface once more. 
Which one draws you in?  Which paragraph makes you envision what is happening?  That is what you have to do as an author.  Use descriptive verbs.  You may need a thesaurus to help you out, but that’s okay because it will become your next best friend.
Try this:
Jenna touched the burner and it burned her hand.
Good start, but it doesn’t show much.  But you could write it like this:
Jenna small hand brushed the coiled burner of the stove.  Instantly, searing heat struck her forcing her to jerk her hand back.
Better right?  The words “searing heat” indicate what made her pull back and what she felt.  These two sentences tell you that Jenna’s hand is small and that she jerked her hand back when she burned it on the stove that was still on.
You want your audience to be able to see, hear, and fell the world in your books.  You do not need to have page length descriptions for this.  By simply adding a few words in your sentences, you can show your world without overloading people with long descriptions.  However, many people already know what mountains, forests, or even oceans are like thanks to television and movies.  You can use this to show your world with your touch, without writing a long description.
Consider this:
High up in the mountains the rag tag group of soldiers and exiles crept single file along the narrow ledge.  Pebbles clattered as they rolled down the cliff face.  Fierce winds howled around them chilling them to the bone despite the warm sun that shone upon them.  The thin atmosphere made the trek difficult as many struggled to breathe from the exertion.  Wheezing, they carried onward hoping that the elf knew his way through the mountains and eager for even a small amount of relief.  Men carried small children on their backs.  Others supported the elderly that had difficulty even walking. 
A whistle broke their concentration.  Everyone halted.  Dismayed, Tesnayr looked out at the gorge below.  The path had ended on the escarpment they were all on leading straight to the empty air ahead of him.  Five crevices stood silhouetted against the abyss forming a straight line to the other side.  If it’s not one thing; it’s another.  Tesnayr bit his tongue to prevent himself from screaming in frustration.  These people trusted him to lead them to safety, to deliver on his promise.  He had led them to their death.
You can see and fell the plight of the people.  And with the help of television many already can picture the mountains so the author didn’t have to do a lot of work.  She was also able to describe the scene in two paragraphs instead of two pages.  You don’t want your descriptions overly long because that will slow down your story and your reader will lose interest.
Adding descriptions can be as simple as sticking in one or two words.  Consider the case of Jenna’s hand.  By inserting the word small, I just told you the size of her hand without lengthening the sentence. 
So play around with your sentences and descriptions.  Can you see and feel the world in your stories?

Monday, July 1, 2013

How Chick Lit Transformed a Book Club…and Its Members

By: Ann and Bryn Bauer

With Literary Fiction being all the rage, I have found that the Chick Lit sub-genre has now become an object of scorn.  Titles are now whispered behind hands, listed FB as guilty pleasures and hidden behind other books on the shelf when guests come over.  A few years ago, I would have done the same.  That is, until my book club started reading exclusively in this genre.  Through this change, we found our conversations ease, sharing of perspectives flow and our friendships solidify.  And it all happened because one our members threw Tuesdays with Morrie out of her car window.

Our book club had been meeting for five months and we chose the normal Literary Fiction selections.  You know, the kind of stuff you hear about on NPR, or see on Oprah’s book list.  But, I wasn’t feeling connected with these women.  Making friends was the reason I joined a book club in the first place.  When we met, the first part was fun, eating, drinking wine and chatting.  But when we got to the book discussion everyone seemed a little too measured in their opinions.  Not walking on eggshells exactly but the discussion felt like English class.  I wasn’t learning anything about my new friends, just some vague opinions prompted by library developed questions.  In the beginning I thought “Well, it’s early and we don’t know each other that well.”  By the fifth month I was just about ready to give up the group.  Luckily, on our sixth book club meeting our group got a wakeup call.

After our usual wine and food session, we all sat in Sarah’s living room.  She sat down and said, “I don’t really want to discuss this book.” We had been reading Tuesday’s with Morrie.  Someone asked why and with a slap of her knee she shouted, “Because I threw the God dammed thing out of the car window three days ago! I hate that book!  Why can’t we read something happy?”  Everyone looked stunned and I could tell Sarah was incredibly embarrassed so I opened up and said, “I hated it too.”  I did.  Sarah said that it reminded her way too much of what she had gone through with her father and she couldn’t go through it again.  I said that I had felt the same about another book regarding child abduction as I had been a victim as a child.  Then, the most miraculous thing happened.  Around the circle each woman said how much she had disliked the experience of reading and discussing particular books because it dredged up some past pain.  We had enough drama in our individual lives to spend our precious free time reading about other peoples’ drama.  So, we decided to read things that were fun and reflected our life goals and/or dreams.  I mean, who doesn’t want to dream about living on a yacht or having some high power career with gobs of money?  So, that’s what we did.
Over the next six months we selected books exclusively from the Chick Lit category.  Each time the conversation was smooth and authentic.  Our first meeting, the tone became instantly lighter.  We would of course talk about the plot and characters but then we would inevitably shoot off into tangent conversations about our lives, hopes, dreams and goals.  Our selections gave us the ability and the platform to talk about those topics easily.  Now, I know more about these amazing women than I ever would have if we kept on with “real literature”.  I now attribute my new friends and my feeling of escape to our change in direction.  I attribute it to the positive effects of Chick Lit. 

Author Bio:

Ann and Bryn are sisters who share their voracious appetite for reading, traveling and living life.  Their novel Cuban Sun was born after one sister's struggle with cancer prompted the realization that life is too short to hold off on your dreams.  Both sisters live with their families in North Carolina.