Writing Prompt 7

In Week 42 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. Synchronous Fireflies
  2. A buried, silver Julep cup
  3. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
  4. There must be two main characters and one must be responsible for the death of the other

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.

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How to deal with Very

by B.Y. Rogers

I am convinced that great writing takes great skill and most indie writers are not great, including myself.

However there are a few tricks that each of us can master that will improve the writing skill, even in the first draft.

May I suggest a ‘very simple’ one? It is very, very easy to spot and very easy to fix. Along the way, your vocabulary will increase and hence your writing will improve and your editing will be easier.

Kill the word ‘very’. Remove every one of those darlings from your writing. Do a search of your document, highlight every single ‘very’ and destroy it like you would a malicious, malevolent monster.

‘Very’ is very weak. Look at it this way. In most cases, when we write the word very, we follow it with an emotion, at least generally speaking. We write: She is very angry or he is very happy. (Ignore for the moment the ‘be’ verbs. They need to die as well but that is another lesson). Why use two words when one will do?

Consider this and decide for yourself which is weak, which is strong.

“She’s very happy.” vs. “She’s euphoric.”

“He’s very angry.” vs. “He’s outraged.”

“That’s very important.” vs. “That’s crucial.”

This concept goes back to show vs. tell. Removing ‘very’ paints the picture. Leaving ‘very’ in the text weakens the story and does not engage the reader.

In this context, may I suggest an internet aid? I found that Visual Thesaurus invaluable when trying to find the perfect word to replace two words or a short phrase. Give it try if you haven’t already. It’s a very great (extraordinary) website.

NEWSFLASH: Where is Maureen?

On Monday 22nd September 2014, there was growing concern for the whereabouts of a certain Ms Maureen Larter, Aussie extraordinaire and longtime member of the TIW community. The disappearance of said member Maureen had many members talking as to where she may have gone. Some say, being an Aussie, she had gone on a ‘walkabout’, a traditional aboriginal journey to find oneself, a journey which could last for an indefinite time, perhaps even as long as 3 days. Others mentioned she may have joined an expedition group to find the heart and soul of the lost capital of Australia, Canberra, something which many have tried before but have failed miserably. A small minority of the TIW community have also mentioned that she may only be out shopping for wattleseed and witchetty grubs and lost her way between the jumping kangaroos, climbing koalas and running emus within her neighbourhood. Much to the picturesque efforts of Bobby ‘Salmon’ Salomons and infantile taunting from Brian Rogers, founder of TIW, Maureen still has yet to reply to any tagged comment or post. If she does not reply soon, the community will send out Tony Jaeger to look for her. If he does not find her, then at least he will bring back some mushrooms. A TIW spokesman, when asked about this strange disappearance said “It’s difficult to contact anyone who lives in the Outback at the best of times, let alone when the Fosters and Vegemite sandwiches run out. Maybe we should put some more prawns on the barbie.”

UPDATE: Maureen has been found safe and well, sipping a concoction of homemade lemonade and gin under a Gympie-Gympie tree.

Writing Prompt 6

In Week 46 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 High Diving Horse
  2. An Haboob
  3. Birmingham Jail (The Song)
  4. Jetman

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 I Like to Show

by Dani J Caile

If there’s one thing I always like to keep in mind when writing, it’s ‘show’ more, ‘tell’ less.

At first it’s difficult to see the difference and also to see why it’s important to know the difference. When you write a story, you tell it, right? Yes, but from what distance? Would you like the reader to be engrossed in your writing or to be a mere passive participant of your work? I hope it’s the former, you’d like the reader to ‘be there’, to feel every breath, every action of your characters. (NOTE: there’s nothing wrong with ‘telling’ your story, authors have been doing it for thousands of years. It isn’t called ‘storytelling’ for nothing. But what is the difference? An extreme ‘show’ would be to use Woolf’s ‘stream of consciousness’, whereas the other side of the coin would be to write as a journalist).

‘Showing’ seems to be a ‘magic key’, though overuse could lead to ‘heaviness’, and unless you want a book like ‘The Waves’, brief moments of ‘telling’ are needed to move the plot forward.

So, give you an example? Okay. let’s ‘tell’.

Bob walked down the street to buy a packet of cigarettes because he was dying for a smoke. He met Bert and they went to the shop together. 

Nothing wrong with that, right? I even added the reason for the action. Yawn… anything good on TV? Well, TV is a great example of how to get your reader ‘involved’. Where is your reader in this passage? The reader can see, from across the street, a man walking, meeting another and going to a shop. Dull. The grammar is 3rd person point of view past narrative, the only thing with more distance is if I’d somehow used passive. That would’ve put the reader in another town.

How can I make this passage better by ‘showing’? There are a few ways. Anton Chekhov said ‘use description’, the old “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – a bit dramatic. Here are some ways to ‘show’ (you can find this advice anywhere on the internet).

1. use a character’s point of view (POV), adding their feelings, senses, thoughts and reasons

2. use dialogue, write in scenes

3. cut back on repetition and unnecessary information, known as ‘info dumps’

Let’s see the ‘tell’ passage again.

Bob walked down the street to buy a packet of cigarettes because he was dying for a smoke. He met Bert and they went to the shop together.

I’m going to change it to 1st person POV past.

I walked down the street to buy a packet of cigarettes because I was dying for a smoke. I met Bert and we went to the shop together.

A touch better, but dull, so dull, and still ‘telling’ the story rather than ‘showing’. Who’s got the remote control? Now, let’s enter the head of ‘Bob’, still using 1st person, but as an internal dialogue…

Dying for a ciggie, christ, dying. Money, got the money, c’mon where’s that shop?

Mmm, interesting. Let’s work on the whole passage with added ‘external’ dialogue…

Dying for a ciggie, christ, dying. Money, got the money, c’mon where’s that shop?

“Eh up, Bob!”

“Eh up! Gotta fag?” Stroke o’ luck, Good old Bert, he’s always got a smoke.

“Nah, clean out, man, clean out.”

Shit. “Oh, right. Look, I’ll just go down to the ABC and get some, okay? Be right back.”

“I’ll come with ya.”

Great, all I need, someone to hold my hand.

This is showing what is happening, the reader is right there, inside Bob’s head. Too close? My preference in longer pieces is to use 3rd person past narrative ‘show”, changing a few lines, creating a small separation with comfort zone, but we’ve done so much already, moving from the Ladybird Easy Reader…

Bob walked down the street to buy a packet of cigarettes because he was dying for a smoke. He met Bert and they went to the shop together.

…to the ‘up close and personal’…

Dying for a ciggie, christ, dying. Money, got the money, c’mon where’s that shop?

“Eh up, Bob!”

“Eh up! Gotta fag?” Stroke o’ luck, Good old Bert, he’s always got a smoke.

“Nah, clean out, man, clean out.”

Shit. “Oh, right. Look, I’ll just go down to the ABC and get some, okay? Be right back.”

“I’ll come with ya.”

Great, all I need, someone to hold my hand.

How do you feel? Are you there? Are you a passive reader or standing right there with the character, dying for a ciggie? The remote? Here, but don’t flick.

Writing Prompt 5

In Week 76 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 Pink Fairy Armadillo
  2. A Mason jar
  3. Mount St. Helen
  4. A Wii U

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 ‘Crutch’ Words

Part 3 of a 3–part Series

by D. L. Mackenzie

In the previous installment, we discussed replacing weak verbs with accurately expressive alternatives.  But what about those verbs that are so weak they’re almost invisible?  Like prepositions and indefinite articles, they seem to be necessary – if unremarkable – words which cannot be removed without making nonsense of our writing.

Five of these words are verbs, two are adverbs, and all of them are about as expressive as a semicolon.  Let’s start with the verbs, which I have dubbed The Feeble Five: have, be, get, look, and seem.

Weak verbs abound, but have, be, get, look, and seem are five of the frailest. I am not suggesting that you expunge your writing of all of these words, for they all have their place and proper usage and often no substitute will suffice. Nevertheless, I do suggest you examine your sentences for an over-reliance on these often needless “crutch” verbs.

Have

I have an idea. Try to restrict your usage of the word “have” (and its variants “has” and “had”) to their grammatical function in the various “perfect” tenses (for example, “I will have read what you have written”). Rather than using “have” as a synonym for “possess,” use a more descriptive verb instead whenever possible.

For example, “the intruder had a gun.” What does this mean? We know the intruder has possessed a gun at one time or another, but little more. Perhaps he used to own a gun but he traded it for a scooter. Perhaps he still owns it but left it in his other pants, or possibly it fell into a storm sewer somewhere along the way. Assuming our intruder still owns his gun and demonstrates the foresight to bring it along, what does he do with it? Does he conceal it or brandish it? Does he wave it around or take careful aim?

Be

Don’t be a winner–win! Don’t be worried–worry! Don’t be all that you can be–fulfill your potential! In other words, don’t use “be” merely to attribute a characteristic if another verb will convey the idea better. Now, Shakespeare dazzled with “to be, or not to be?” but remember that Hamlet was contemplating suicide, and “be” was used as a synonym for “exist,” not to ascribe an attribute. Hamlet didn’t ask, “to be alive, or not to be alive?”

Get

For an action word, “get” is a bit sluggish, don’t you think? As a synonym for “obtain,” “get” is often a lackluster substitute for more precise or descriptive verbs. As a synonym for the doddering “become,” “get” likewise doesn’t convey much action at all on its own. Why get tired of something when you can simply tire of it? Why get rid of something when you can simply rid yourself of it? Why get started when you can simply start?

Look

She looked sad. She looked dejected. She looked forlorn. She looked defeated. Well, perhaps she might cheer up a bit if we trouble ourselves to describe her manner and expression rather than trivializing her fragile emotional state with another glib look-plus-adjective phrase. Is she crying? Are her eyes red and puffy? Is her head bowed, her shoulders slumped and trembling as she sniffles and sobs into her handkerchief? If we can accurately describe what we see in our mind’s eye, the reader will certainly get the picture.

Seem

As with “look,” “seem” blunts the impact of adjectives and muddles their meaning.  It’s another way of telling instead of showing, which is always bad form.  “She seemed angry” shows us almost nothing and and doesn’t even tell us that much.  Was she shouting and shaking her fists or pacing and gritting her teeth in silence?  The most regrettable characteristic of the seem-plus-adjective construction is its ambiguity, however.  If a character only seems angry, your reader may be justified in thinking that she really isn’t angry but rather just seems that way.

The L-Word

“His head literally exploded!”  No, it didn’t.  It may have figuratively exploded, but chances are it didn’t literally explode.  Over time, “literally” has taken on a meaning which is the precise opposite of what it really means.  This usage of “literally” may work in dialogue because many people do use it that way, as a shorter form of “he was so angry his head exploded, although it didn’t really explode of course, because that can’t happen, but if I say ‘literally’ you’ll get the idea that he was super-duper angry.”  In the end, using “literally” to modify a verb is not only imprecise, it blunts the impact of most verbs nearly as much as the A-word.

The A-Word

“His head almost exploded!”  Using the word “almost” as a verb modifier is just one notch worse than “literally.”  Saying that his head almost exploded is short for “he was so angry his head nearly exploded, although it couldn’t really explode of course, because that can’t happen, and in fact it didn’t happen, but I got to use the word ‘exploded’ without actually having an explosion and I’m hoping you’ll figure out that this means that he was super-duper angry without me actually describing the scene.”

Contrast this with “she almost didn’t do it,” which means she had misgivings but did eventually come through.  Used in this way, “almost” can convey missed opportunity, reluctance, struggle, striving, and potential.  Just don’t use it to mean “sort of, but not really.”

Your Verbs, Your Style

It may be difficult to accept, but if you’re trying to develop “your style,” you’re doing it wrong.  Your style is already there in your head because that’s where the action is. The writing process is largely the process of envisioning what is happening and then describing it in such a way that the reader “sees” roughly the same thing you see. When you envision everything with clarity and faithfully describe it all with carefully selected words, that is your style.

Read through one of your manuscripts with a critical eye and you’re bound to find vague, ambiguous verbs dressed up with adverbs and adverbial phrases, some of which you may have fallen in love with.  Just as an experiment, rewrite a page or two with more descriptive verbs.  You’ll notice the purple prose falls away, leaving the raw, unvarnished truth in a tighter, more vigorous narrative.  Be true to your narrator’s voice, of course, but remember who’s boss.  That is your style.

Consider this an approach to rewriting and self-editing rather than a method of writing, though.  Second-guessing yourself as you write and stopping to agonize over every verb will stymie your muse, so get it all written down before picking it apart. But do pick it apart.  Rewrite with carefully selected action words. Replace empty verbs that boost word count but add little else. By all means, consult a thesaurus for ideas, but always consult a dictionary to ensure proper usage. Don’t understate, but don’t overstate. Don’t fear ingenuity, but don’t let fear of the commonplace push you into unwise substitutions. Above all, strive for precision and clarity rather than clutter and useless ornamentation. With a fertile imagination and a craftsman-like approach, you can tell your story and express yourself fully and succinctly. And that will be your style.

NEWSFLASH: Time Runs Out For Grudgers

by Lance Chehnmaeyle

Reports have established that the metaphorical pot has indeed been metaphorically stirred, and it has been confirmed that the lines have been drawn in the sand. The veteran master of the funny, Mr. Dani “Grumble” J Caile, and the notorious young Mathew “The Weaver” W Weaver will be facing off next week, and with the Autumn Open already here, tensions run high in The Iron Writers.

A TIW spokesperson remarked that he had “no idea what the young whippersnapper was doing” and that “you can’t even hear what he says half the time with his voice echoing around in that hollow helmet of his.”

The two writers, for so long apparent allies, are now facing off in what has already begun to be called an ‘earth-shattering’ grudge match; indeed, one to go down in history.

“Look, get those cameras away, can’t you see the flash just shines of the armor?” was all young Mr. Weaver had to say on our request for his statement regarding the thrown gauntlet. On being questioned whether or not he was intimidated by the accomplished veteran and his chosen ally, Jordan “Ding-a-ling” Bell, he responded by drawing a sharp, pointy weapon, just prior to the conclusion of our brief interview.

Neither Mr. Caile nor his second, Ding-a-ling Bell, were available for comment earlier this evening, and Miss Mamie “The Mass” Pound, the second on Mr. Weaver’s team, was unapproachable.

Rumors have surfaced that the timing of this Grudge was extremely flawed, as all four writers are involved in The Iron Writer Autumn Tournament as well, which has four of its own elements and a time frame that completely overlaps the Grudge in question.

A TIW spokesperson, when asked about this situation, responded:

“Well, mentioning no names here… but it’s all the fault of a certain someone in a certain suit who everyone knows but no one does. If those writers want to blame someone, it’s him. And you didn’t get this from me.”

We will continue to cover both the Grudge and the Autumn Open in the coming weeks.

In related news, Mr. A Pehst, the reporter present at Mr. Weaver’s interview, is making a full recovery and will be back with his regular column within the week.

Writing Prompt 4

In Week 38 of The Iron Writer Challenge, four authors were asked to write a 500-word story (give or take a few words) involving the following elements.

      1. A flour sack girdle
      2. Bunny, the wonder elephant
      3. The Royal Shakespearian Company
      4. A Roman merchant sailing vessel (If you don’t know what these are, here’s a hint)

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 long story based on these elements, or even a novella or novel, 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.

A letter to Writer’s Block

by Marie Rossiter

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sometimes the best advice for writer’s block is to just say, “Adios, muchacho!” Here’s a way one may say it:

Dear Writer’s Block,

I know we’ve been together for a long time, but this relationship is over. It’s not working out for me at all. What we have together isn’t healthy. In fact, it’s become toxic.

I’d like to say it’s not you, but let’s be honest. You’re selfish and mean. Anything that simply takes and takes from someone and gives nothing in return, except maybe frustration and a feeling of hopelessness isn’t something I’d consider valuable to have around.

You also have a casual relationship with people. You flow in and out of people’s lives for a while—whether it’s to force a creative break for the people who are blessed with countless creative ideas or as to serve as a temporary stumbling block that gets in the way of reaching a project’s finish line.

I thought I was smart enough to have a casual relationship with you: a fling, if you will. I mean, I’m not a child anymore. I believed I could handle a short-term affair with you. But, that’s not how you operate.

You have no issue with being with other people, but you expect me to remain committed to you. You prey on my insecurities as a writer; make me uncertain that anything I may think or say is not worth of sharing with anyone. How clever of you.

You’ve become a crutch, an enabler.

Your presence is simply too big in my life. I constantly feel I need to crawl deeper within myself to get away from you. I thought I could get past the fear despite having you in my life. Yet, you consistently remind me how scary putting myself out there is.

“What if they hate what you write?”

“Even worse, what if they don’t even care about what you have to say?”

“What about the people you might hurt if you write the truth?”

“Do you have any idea what the hell you’re doing?”

I just can’t work well with you anymore. I need to stop hearing the overly critical voices you’ve put in my head and to start listening to my own.

Somewhere along the way, you went from a casual acquaintance that dropped by once in a while to this thing that has latched on to me and won’t let go. I’m prying your vice grip off of me now so I can move forward.

I refuse to use you as an excuse to run away from what I want to do—no, what I need to do.

It’s time for you to start seeing other people. Actually, I think it would be better if you just locked yourself up and not take out your insecurities on those of us who are trying our best to have our voices heard and our stories told. Why do you find it necessary to stand in the way of such a beautiful calling?

This letter is not only by good-bye to you, but to serve as a warning for other writers whom many think it’s a good idea for a quickie relationship with you. I want them t see you for who truly are.

I know you’ll come back again, probably in the not so distant future, to see how I am and what I’m doing. You’ll use your manipulating words to try to wear me down so I will return to you. You will tempt me and perhaps we may even have a fling for old time’s sake. And, if you’re ok with that, then so am I.

I admit you’ll always be lingering in the back of my mind. I suppose I’ll have to learn to live with that. I wish I could say it’s been nice, but we both know that’s not the truth.

See ya later.

– Marie