Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Guest blogger Kristin Molnar: 'Admiral Adverb and Captain Redundancy'

Please give a big shout out to my very special guest blogger, all the way from beautiful NC, Kristin Molnar!

The words flow very quickly out of my mind, through the ends of my rapidly typing fingers, and end up on the page. They let me weave wildly entertaining stories, create brand new worlds, and describe the lives of completely compelling characters. When I sit down, I never know what the day will bring. The best laid plans go wildly astray, and I end up in a wonderland I never really expected. Those are, undoubtedly, the best days.

Admiral Adverb took over in that paragraph. He took my passionate dissertation on why I love to write and made it weak. Adverbs can modify our verbs, adjectives, clauses, sentences and even other adverbs. They can also dilute and distract, or be a crutch for lazy writing.

Suddenly is a lazy of way of transitioning. There is always a stronger way to word a sentence that includes this word. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Okay, knocks on the door are sudden if we don’t expect them, but wouldn’t it sound better like this: The knock on the door startled her out of her revery. It conveys more detail and shows the reader how sudden the event was. There was a strange man suddenly standing in front of Joan. Can become: Joan jumped. The man standing before her had been nowhere in sight just a second ago. Where did he come from?

Dialogue tags are another lazy habit. “I hate you,” John said angrily. That is telling. Show them. “I hate you,” John said, throwing a book at Kate’s head. Not only do we know John’s angry, we know how angry. He is angry enough to throw a book at Kate’s head.

Then there is the redundancy that crops up with adverbs. We waste our words on trite things, like whispered softly. Do you whisper loudly? If you did, would that then, still be a whisper? Here is a list of redundant adverb use: blossomed slowly, softly caressed, whispered softly, blarred loudly, clenched teeth tightly, carefully examines, successfully obtained, berate harshly. Redundancy waters down the writing and can come off lazy or unprofessional to a critical reader. As writers, we want to give our readers the best, so don’t use adverbs as filler just be beef up your word count.

I’ve also made a list of some common offenders that weaken our work and included a stronger word to take their place.
ran swiftly - sprinted, dash, hurry, scamper, charged
frowned angrily - scowled, frown, glare, grimace
quickly - hurried, raced, ran, bolted
spoke softly - whispered, mutter, mumble

Use the right noun and verb and you don’t need to water down your work with adverbs. I used http://www.users.qwest.net/~yarnspnr/writing/adverbs/adverbs.htm to get some of this information. It was an interesting site. A google search of adverb overuse will yield an abundance of resources with suggestions on how to avoid weakening your work by abusing the adverbs.

All of that being said, a well placed adverb can be a wonderful thing. If purple prose gets your point across, or is a character trait in dialogue, then by all means, use it. Use those adverbs only when they strengthen your work and your readers will appreciate them all the more.

Check out Kristin's website or follow her on Twitter:
Twitter: @KLMolnar

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hiccupping over the NaNoWriMo line!

What's the number one rule they teach you in Writing School? 'I before E except after C'? Or is it, 'backup your work like a paranoid maniac'? That's the one.

Pity I didn't go to Writing School. Still, I learn my lessons in life. Or on the train on Monday when I managed to delete my entire NaNoWriMo manuscript. Considering the deadline for NaNo's 50,000 words was yesterday, Monday was a personal catastrophe.

I back up my work once a week - measly when you consider I knocked out 15,000 words in the last 7 days. So with a heavy heart, I retrieved my last backed-up version of the manuscript, and entered the last day of NaNo with only 30k-odd words. The kind people at NaNo said they trusted that I had indeed written my 45k words, and that if I pushed out the last 5,000 words on November 30th, they would consider the 50,000 words to be written and would consider me a 2010 'Winner'. The 5k I finished at 7.50 last night, and therefore, Winner I am.

Am only delira with reaching this milestone, now have to figure out how to put the NaNoWriMo 'badge' on this blog. Ugh, technology you are not my friend.

It doesn't stop at that. I've my missing 15k to redraft, but looming over me is the temptation to enter a Harlequin 'So You Think You Can Write' contest - guaranteed to get an editor's eye and response by January 31st. Oh, far too tempting. Can I do both? Sure I can... Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NaNoWriMo - 40k words and the home straight

Wow, what a climax! No friends, I don't refer to a steamy scene from one of my stories. Rather I've reached a personal milestone on my National Novel Writing Month challenge. Just passed the 40,000 word mark a few minutes ago, leaving me with a meagre (!) 10,000 words to tap out before Tuesday 30th.

So how do I mark this bruiser of a milestone? Alone I fear. Husband is working late, no NaNo friends are online, so there is literally 'no one to hug'.

Fair enough. Getting used to the solitary life of a writer. Every time I reach a work milestone like this, I mark it in three ways: shout an ickle baby cheer of triumph (always), have a cry on the landing (frequently), or if I'm feeling wild, a cup of instant coffee with a few squares of Lindt (rare).

Now need to eat, sleep, get up tomorrow, and do it all over again.

Monday, November 22, 2010

NaNoWriMo - 9 days left but who's counting?

Me, that's who.

9 days left til D-day. November 30th. A Tuesday. I've nothing spectacular planned except the completion of my 50,000 word first draft of a contemporary novel.

At the moment, I've written 28,268 words. Quality words may I add, with a plot that is gelling surprisingly well (yes, I too am amazed). This leaves me with a rather scary 21,732 words to write in the next 9 days. Throw into the foray extra-curricular activities, like a Thanksgiving to celebrate, a NaNo meetup to attend, and a sister's second draft to edit, and the maths starts to scare the bejaysus out of me. In reality, I have just 6.2 days to finish!

Like all McKennas, I plan most of my goals with scout-like diligence. So this morning, I hovered over the whiteboard planning what's what, breaking the task down into hours. If I average 600 (quality) words per hour, I'll need 37 point something hours to make it to 50K.

Next began the painful task of working out a timetable to achieve said 37 hours without losing my sanity or husband. It's short term pain for long term gain after all, so pathetic as it sounds, I've allotted specific hours per day to achieving my desired word count. And if I get to Monday 29th and have surpassed 50k? Then we plan the next phase - the beloved second draft.

How I love the second draft stage: playing with words, experimenting with surprise plot twists and generally indulging in my own little world of fiction. That's when the craic really starts.

But for now, I will kill off one more day's work, striking off each day and wordcount as we go. In the words of Susan McCann, "One day at a time, sweet Jesus."
Bring it on back home there Missus.

Friday, November 12, 2010

NaNoWriMo - is your plot taking shape?

A common thread with myself and my fellow NaNoWriMo writers is that most of us start off not knowing much about our plot. But one of the joys of this month-long challenge is that you don't HAVE to know exactly where you're going - instead, why not let pen/keyboard take you on an unexpected journey?

I've fallen into a happy schedule of daydreaming about the plot for an hour or so in bed, recording those ideas into the iPhone's 'Voice Memo' app, and then getting up to type. Having these two or three items to write about keeps the procrastination at bay and gives me reassurance that at least for today, I've a bit of a plot. It'll come together, right?

I am playing catchup on the wordcount stakes, but managing on average 3k words a day. 3k is small potatoes if you're a full-time writer, but my caution is justified. I want a usable first draft at the end of this, which means no messing, getting the words as right as they can be first time without letting my inner editor near the keyboard. Wordcount is important and all, but if your 50k words is complete tripe, is the challenge as satisfying? Is the first draft usable? Not so much.

This means my pace is much slower than some writers'. The ones who hammer out 1,200 words an hour scare the bejaysus out of me, but I'm smug in the knowledge that I am very happy with my work so far. As far as one can be with a first draft.

Must hammer on and quicken the pace a bit if I'm going to make 50k by the end of the month. I just know there'll be days where I can't stomach facing my characters, their conflicts, loves, and losses.

Once I've more of a plot fleshed out, I'll post for your entertainment. Bye for now, Nicola.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NaNoWriMo Take Two

Have you ever felt like the old grey cells were veiled in a mass of cobwebs?
That your thoughts took ages to meld together, creaking in pain like an old door?
Well, this is how my pregnant brain feels right now. While welcome, the first trimester has been 'challenging', so now that symptoms are finally letting up and allowing me get on with the rest of my life, what do I plan to do with this revived 'never leave me again' energy? Why not hurl myself headlong into another 'challenge'? When it's November, and you're a writer, it means one thing: National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to the seasoned among you.

I'm late signing up, but 50,000 words in a month is doable right? Is 50,000 in 21 days doable? It feels nigh on impossible right now. In 2008's NaNoWriMo, I managed a painful 7k-odd words, but a lot has happened since then. Online class after online class led me to completing my first novella and circulating it to publishers this September. No contract just yet, but already this writer feels a lot tougher than she did in 2008. For one thing, she's learned that everyone (yes, everyone) writes a rubbish 'first draft'.

Ever the planner, I whipped out a calculator first thing this morning and did the maths: my goal means writing 2,500 words every day for the next 21 days. That's roughly equal to one high school English essay a day.

No probs, you say? Try it and see. Sign up to the NaNoWriMo challenge (yeah, you'll be late, but so am I). Look me up under 'Schmicola' and bully me towards my own golden goal of 50,000 words. Good luck!

Monday, June 28, 2010

A marriage take-off

Tell me, how do you celebrate an anniversary? A romantic dinner? A special long-saved-for gift? Sweet huh? It’s ‘paper’ for a first wedding anniversary, isn’t it?

Not if your husband’s an aviation nut. So it didn’t surprise me when mine suggested we each take an introductory flying lesson on our first year wedding anniversary. But it floored me that I agreed to it. (The bottle of prosecco we’d polished off might have had something to do with it.)

My instructor Brian is a good-humored man with (thankfully) many years’ experience. His easy-going, friendly style of instruction is no doubt an attempt to try and soothe my inner turmoil. That is, if he can tell I’m terrified, he’s great at hiding it.

After we get strapped in (the Cessna 152 gives a whole new meaning to ‘intimate’), Brian takes me through the basic workings of the plane, my head nodding maniacally throughout (trying to shake out old episodes of ‘Air Crash Investigation’ you see). Brian called into the tower in confident captain-esque tones, then mentioned the "decent cross-wind" that might make for a bumpy ride. "Oh", I chuckled, "I can handle it."

How wrong I was.

Our little aircraft is assaulted the moment we leave the ground. Mild turbulence it isn’t, as the Cessna yoyoes up and down like a giant pogo stick. Then somewhere during the climb, Brian, in a moment of suicidal madness, hands me the controls - OMG.

He does a great job of ignoring my complete freakout, as I jerk the controls every which way. All I can think is 'whose bloody idea was this?' Damn that prosecco! Somehow we make it to 1,000 feet, and I breathe again - the longest minute of my life is over.

But then, once you’re up, you’re up! And yes, I admit the view is incredible. Against every instinct, I force myself to do most of the flying – its what I signed up to, isn't it? Not that different to those heady vows I took a year earlier: to go the distance with my husband through good and bad, in sickness and in health, all the days of our lives.

Like I say, heady.

Learning to fly is not unlike marriage. No matter how grounded you are, how long you’ve known each other, or how deeply in love you think you are, taking that plunge can shake even the toughest of people. As I so quickly found out, it certainly doesn’t stop at ‘I do’.

In flight, you need to keep one eye on your surroundings and the other on your instruments. Tricky huh? Once in position, the plane will naturally fly itself but like life, those darned external factors meant that she can veer off-course easily.

Love though can be even more awkward – I mean, how can you be sure you’re heading in the right direction? At least in the Cessna I have a compass...

In between my instructor’s prompts, I remind myself to just relax, enjoy the ride. In so many parts of life, we veer between extremes of caution and abandon, and can forget to take in the view along the way.

They say a good pilot will scan all her instruments regularly, realigning where needed, a little at a time. And in marriage too, isn’t that a good principle to live by?

How do you and your partner celebrate the highs and lows of your relationship?
(And if you've any ideas as to how we can mark the next anniversary, please shout! A trip through the Amazon collecting venom samples? A class in redback-spider juggling?)