We’re a work in progress

We are a work in progress. We will be working on this blog/site over the next several weeks and will populate it with quality advice and content — and a little bit of quirkiness.

This group are regular contributors of The Iron Writer, a flash fiction writing website that challenges writers to write creatively, tightly and quickly (Four authors every week incorporate four elements in writing a 500-word story over four days).

The goal is to have writing tips every Tuesday, wackiness every Wednesday and a video upload of one of our contributors reading one of their flash fiction pieces from The Iron Writer.

We invite you to check in every so often to check on our progress, and when we finally do get everything moving at a nice clip where we are consistently producing content.

Thanks for visiting and come back soon.

Eliminating Wordiness in Writing

by Kara Kahnke

Eliminating wordiness makes writing more concise and engaging. Active voice creates tighter writing than passive voice. In passive voice, something is being done to the subject of the sentence by someone or something else.

Passive voice: “The pizza was eaten by George.”

Active voice: “George ate the pizza.”

The bottom sentence demonstrates active voice because the subject of the sentence performs the action. Eliminating “to be” verbs such as is, are, was, and were, helps banish passive voice from your writing (Toadvine, Brizee & Angeli, 2012).

Eliminating extra modifiers such as actually, really, probably, basically and very also helps wordiness. These words clutter your writing without offering the reader additional information (Tobey, Eliminating Wordiness).

The words which and that contribute to wordiness. A wordy example: “The staff meeting, which occurs weekly, discusses organizational policies.”

A tighter example: “The weekly staff meeting discusses organizational policies” (Kilborn, Strategies).

Some phrases create redundancy in your writing. Eliminate phrases like “12 noon” or “each and every” Pick one of the words in the phrases and go with it (Larson, Writing).

Introductory phrases often don’t enhance writing. Delete phrases like “as a matter of fact” or “in any case” from your work (Larson, Writing).

Eliminate “tion” constructions. For example: “The officer’s job involves interrogation of suspects

A less wordy example: “The officer interrogates suspects.” ” (Kilborn, Strategies)

These are some examples you can use to strike wordiness from your writing. You’ll deliver a stronger impact with practice.


 

References Kilborn, Judith. “Strategies for Eliminating Wordiness.” St. Cloud University. Retrieved from: http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/style/wordiness.html

Larson, Gary. “Writing Concise Sentences” Retrieved from: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/concise.htm

Tobey, Dava. “Eliminating Wordiness How to Streamline Your Writing.” Retrieved from: http://www.cf.edu/departments/instruction/lsc/Writing_docs/Capstone/Eliminating%20Wordiness%20in%20Formal%20Writing.pdf

Toadvine, Brize & Angeli, (2012). “Active Verses Passive Voice. Purdue University. Retrieved from: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/539/02/

Retrieved from: http://www.cf.edu/departments/instruction/lsc/Writing_docs/Capstone/Eliminating%20Wordiness%20in%20Formal%20Writing.pdf

Verbosity: NaNoWriMo Help for Flash Fiction Writers

BONUS TIP: Since we are well into November, we’ll give you some bonus tips for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for those in the dark about it).

by A. Francis Raymond

For those of us accustomed to writing short fiction (such as the 500-word Iron Writer challenge), NaNoWriMo can be especially difficult. A flash fiction writer is trying to scrunch a story down into less than a thousand words — including characterization, plot, etc. But NaNoWriMo wants us to spew out 50,000 words. Quickly. That’s like 100 flash fiction stories! An insane idea, for sure, to those of us used to writing short fiction.

This is my fourth (non-consecutive) year as a NaNoWriMo participant, including this year. I won two of those years so far. The year I didn’t win, last year, I was simply thinking too much and writing too little — a fact I now regret only because I would have loved to write that I won all the challenges I participated in so far.

The point is, I know from first-hand experience what this challenge is like and that we all need coping mechanisms, and even a little help to make it through the month. And as an Iron Writer, I’m keenly aware that writing 1667 words a day is like writing a little more than three complete flash fiction stories a day!

What’s a writer of short fiction to do? Here are 4 tips for when you’re stuck:

1. Indulge your character in a monologue. This can be any character in your story. Or all of them. Give your character(s) the opportunity to stand on a soap box and say whatever comes to their mind. What do they think about the story and what’s happening to them so far? This is material that might not ever see the light of day, but it all counts to the 50k goal and you might even learn something about your characters, too.

2. Write your character’s back story. What were they doing a year ago? 10 years ago? Again, this might not be material for the final revision, but we don’t care about that now. We care about every last painstaking detail. Tell us about the shelf of stuffed animals your character’s mother kept out of arms reach and prompted your character to develop a phobia of furry things. Tell us about your character’s teenage days and every band t-shirt she owned.

3. Dive into any and all descriptive details. Your character is in a room, a foreign country, a starship. What do the surroundings look like? What objects are there? What can the characters see, hear, touch, smell? Get out all those details, no matter how mundane they might be. One might be the key to your story later. Don’t limit yourself to the setting either. There’s still more you can write about your character. What do they keep in their purse or wallet? Their fridge, medicine cabinet, glove compartment, and junk drawer?

And when all else fails…

4. Kill off a character. Remember, folks, it’s all in the details. There’s danger lurking everywhere. Use it to your advantage. Kill off (or at least seriously injure) any character, even your main character. Not only is that going to be a few words, but now you’ve given the rest of your characters a new problem to deal with.

Make sure to keep that inner editor, and even your inner filter, turned off. Verbosity rules this month.

Now stop reading this and get back to the 1,667 words you need to write today!

Writing Prompt 10

In Week 25 of The Iron Writer Challenge, four authors were asked to write a 500-word story (give or take a few words) Writing Prompt 2involving the following elements.

  1. A Wishing Well
  2. Chopsticks
  3. A Tow Truck
  4. The National Tax Code in the country where you live

The key to incorporating the elements is not to try to find a common denominator of all four. Find a common link between two, and then weave in the other two after the first or second draft. And don’t just throw in an element for the sake of including it. Make it count, make it important.

If you can get it within 500-ish words, that’s great but write as long as you can. If you’re inspired to write a novel based on these elements, or even a novella or long story, more power to you. The important thing is you are writing.

Once you’ve finished your new piece of work, set it aside for a few weeks or a few months and come back to it for a re-edit.

Good luck and write.

Eliminating All Unnecessary, Unneeded and Useless Words

by B Y Rogers

William Strunk Jr., wrote in his Elements of Style:

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

Strunk nails it. A problem that many nascent writers have is the irritating habit of excessive explanation by the use of redundant wording. I know I did, and probably still do especially in first drafts.

Let me demonstrate.

“David lived in close proximity to his ex-wife.”

Do you see it? ‘Close’ and ‘proximity’ are synonyms. Now, it is probable the writer knew this, but the lack of attention during the editing process missed it and the sentence is longer than it needs to be.

Additional examples. I trust you can see the problem.

“He was surrounded on all sides.”

“The little girl’s coat was red in color.”

“I need to free up some space in garage.”

“My personal physician told me to reduce all the carbs in my food diet.”

“The policeman said I needed to continue to remain on the sidewalk.”

“Let me make this crystal clear.”

“It was twelve midnight on a dark and stormy night.”

“It is absolutely essential.”

“Ian felt winning her heart was an added bonus.”

Any of these errors would be acceptable if used as dialogue. But in the prose it burdens the reader.

There is a great book titled Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. One of the lessons I learned from this book is you only need to say something once. Why use two words when one will suffice? I apply this to a sentence, paragraph, even the entire story. Too many sentences with these mistakes and the reader will be lost, possibly without knowing why. The end result is the writer lost a reader.

NEWSFLASH: Attack of the Chinese Chickens!

by Scallywag

The TIW community is in shock this week over the recent epidemic of Chinese Chickenitus across the face of their literary work. Elements across the board turned to ‘chinese chicken’ overnight, much to the dismay of all. Those most affected were protesting at the door of the TIW Headquarters, demanding both an explanation and a cure. Unfortunately, there is no known antidote.

The latest to be infected by the “Chinese chicken” syndrome was the winning story from Grudge 12, where there was a severe case of the fast-moving and deadly disease. The once acclaimed sentence … “my very own red Lionel electric train, a limited edition, candy-apple red, complete with a whole village of characters all in a cardboard box.” tragically turned into “my very own Chinese chicken, a limited edition, candy-apple red, complete with a whole village of Chinese chickens.”

Other sentences infected found throughout the TIW website include none other than “The captain handed me a tape recorder and a Chinese chicken.” (Steven L Bergeron), “Thunderbull lifted the Chinese chicken and hurled it at Rage, knocking him back into my reinforced bar.” (Chris E Garrison), “Did I adjust the Chinese chicken? Jocelyn knew the answer before the thought was fully formed.” (Tiffany Brown), and “The headline in “The Sun” read, “Chinese chicken?” (Richard Russell).

Dani J Caile, long-time sufferer and battler against this almost incurable disease said, “When it hits, it hits hard.” Just listen to this opening passage from my infamous 56 element 500-worder for the TIW 1st anniversary blog hop. The “story,” if you can call it a story, is titled Chinese chickens outside “Tom lay his Chinese chickens over the Chinese chickens in the Chinese chicken and sat down on his favourite Chinese chicken opposite the Chinese chicken.” It’s horrendous, I’m telling ya. Stay inside, all of you. Board up your conjunctions, your contractions, hide away your imperfect tenses and fragmentary responses! Nothing is safe!”

A TIW spokesman said in response to those blighted that “those writers who integrated their elements into their stories well enough have nothing to worry about or have least at risk. Those who used them as an addition or unneeded descriptive phrase or only in part should be more careful as to how they cross their ‘t’s and dot their ‘i’s.”

Writing Prompt 9

In Week 2 of The Iron Writer Challenge, four authors were asked to write a 500-word story (give or take a few words) Writing Prompt 2involving the following elements.

  1. A Tucker Turret
  2. Ruby Red Slippers
  3. A Russian Olive Treet
  4. A mermaid

The key to incorporating the elements is not to try to find a common denominator of all four. Find a common link between two, and then weave in the other two after the first or second draft. And don’t just throw in an element for the sake of including it. Make it count, make it important.

If you can get it within 500-ish words, that’s great but write as long as you can. If you’re inspired to write a novel based on these elements, or even a novella or long story, more power to you. The important thing is you are writing.

Once you’ve finished your new piece of work, set it aside for a few weeks or a few months and come back to it for a re-edit.

Good luck and write.

So you want to write a novel …

K. A. DaVur

I am lucky enough to own a publishing house.  Owning a publishing house enlightens one to an incredible fact hitherto unknown.  EVERYONE either wants to be a writer or knows someone who wants to be a writer.  Your waitress?  Yep. She has always wanted to be a writer.  Your Doctor?  She has a novel tucked away somewhere that’s almost done.  Your lawn man? His brother writes amazing works.  But, when you hand over your business card you get to hear, as the old saying goes, the rest of the story.

“Oh,” they say, “I’ve never actually written anything.”

Ah.  Well.

I know for some of these aspiring writers it is just a passing fancy. I cannot help them.  Writing – and if you are lucky enough to get published – marketing, improving, selling, signing – is not for the weak of heart.  But for others it is simply that they are intimidated by the prospect, or perhaps don’t know how to begin writing a larger piece.  For those, I would like to submit my simple, four-step plan to writing a novel.

1. Know where you are going.  Some people are “planners” and some are “pantsers” and I get that.  The simple fact is, though, that if you don’t have any idea where you are going it is too easy to get lost.  You will wander.  You will lose the thread. You will get bored.  So, you need to be able to state the genre of your novel. You need to be able to describe the plot and your main character in one concise sentence each.  You should be able to complete the following sentences, also concisely:  In the beginning _ .  In the middle _. At the end _ .

2. Work on only one project at a time.  Furthermore make that the same project.  Once you begin a novel, write that novel until it is complete.  If you get a new idea, make notes, then set it aside.  Otherwise, you will get caught in the rush of a new idea, work on it until the initial thrill is gone, and then abandon it for another new idea which you will later abandon for a yet newer idea.  Dance with the girl you came with.

3. Write every day.  You have time.  Yes, you do.  It doesn’t have to be great work, you just have to write.  500 words a day is less than one page on a computer and is only two pages front and back in a notebook.  It is little enough, can be done in spurts throughout the day, but if you do that 60 days in a row you have a decent sized children’s novel. Sixty more days and you have an adult tome.  Write every day.

4.  Finally, understand that only writing is writing.  Planning is not writing. Thinking about writing is not writing. Talking about writing is not writing. Reading is not writing. Revising is not writing. The only thing that is writing, is writing.

Fancy a Quickie?

by Scallywag

Since the reign of Mamie of the Big Hair has ended, there has been an irratic yet abundant orgy of quickies from the Queen of the Bordello, DL Zwissler. Depending on her voracious mood and availability, quickies now happen on Saturdays, Sundays and even Mondays. Will this feast of revelry continue or will she become tired and worn out from all the action?

DL Zwissler, prolific erotic writer extraordinaire, said, “The best times for me are when Earl is busy doing some DIY around the house and the kids are asleep or mucking about outside. Only then can I slip away for a quickie…”

Frequent users of the quickies are starting to feel the pressure under her supremacy and dominance. Jordan Bell, who was always ready for a Mamie quickie, has been tired out. Dani J Caile, scoundrel and cad, is still persevering but mentioned that “… she has a strange copulation of elements. I try to keep up with the ol’ girl but you know, when you get too much of a good thing … sometimes I just get it over and done with as quickly as possible, but I’ll do her good in the end.”

However, Richard Russell, man of many words and much less sense, apparently cannot get enough, posting his impatience and boredom on his Facebook page: “Oh, what to do, what to do …”

As to whether quickies are a passing fad or some literary heavy petting is still to be seen, but when they happen, there’s always something exceptional to see.

A TIW spokesman stated, “I don’t see what all the huff and puff is about, really. Interest in quickies has waned recently, but I’m sure DL Zwissler has the right equipment to whip up a storm and get us all into shape.”

Writing Prompt 8

In Week 31 of The Iron Writer Challenge, four authors were asked to write a 500-word story (give or take a few words) Writing Prompt 2involving the following elements.

  1. A live Griffin
  2. A peanut butter and banana sandwich
  3. A ventriloquist
  4. A Delorean

The key to incorporating the elements is not to try to find a common denominator of all four. Find a common link between two, and then weave in the other two after the first or second draft. And don’t just throw in an element for the sake of including it. Make it count, make it important.

If you can get it within 500-ish words, that’s great but write as long as you can. If you’re inspired to write a novel based on these elements, or even a novella or long story, more power to you. The important thing is you are writing.

Once you’ve finished your new piece of work, set it aside for a few weeks or a few months and come back to it for a re-edit.

Good luck and write.

How to deal with Just

by A Francis Raymond

I made my writing teacher’s skin crawl. Not because I wrote a gripping and compelling horror story, but because in the first 20 pages of my manuscript, I’d overused the word “just.”

There’s no reason for it, she argued. It’s a prop for vague writing. It doesn’t help create an active or compelling scene. It’s a word often misused and adds nothing to the text.

She said we needed to remove ALL instances from our manuscript.  All? I questioned. Yes, all.

That evening I went home and found almost 700 instances of the word “just” in my 80,000 word manuscript. I removed all but 4. (The 4 I left alone were in dialog. It seemed natural for my character to use it in speech – I figured that was allowed.)

Rather than continue to tell you how the word “just” weakens your writing, let me show you. Consider:

“The men were too young, married, or just not attractive.” vs.  “The men were too young, married, or not attractive.”
“She just knew that she couldn’t live in this place.”   vs. “She couldn’t live in this place.”
“He just grabbed her and kissed her.”  vs. “He grabbed her and kissed her.”

and my favorite (because I like sci-fi):

“He just wanted to take a final glimpse of the alien sky just before boarding the very large spaceship.”  vs.  “He took a final glimpse of the alien sky, then boarded the enormous spaceship.”

When you’re trying to write flash fiction every word counts. Why waste it on a word that just doesn’t help?

(Note:  “Just” isn’t the only adverb prop you might want to eliminate from your writing. Here is a list of other commonly mis-used or overused adverbs:
actually, any, awfully, basically, definitely, finally, hardly, here, just, just as, nearly, pretty, quite, rather, really, somewhat, soft of, strange, such, there)