More Word Count: On Adverbs And Words Ending In “ly”

Previously, I talked with you about cutting out the fluff of a long-winded first draft. Lengthy drafts are more boon than bane because there are many ways to economize your word count. As you continue to cut down your first draft by Steven King’s 10 percent rule and, as Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch recommends, murder your darlings, pay attention to language constructs that can weaken your prose.

On adverbs and words ending in “ly”.

I covered the adverb, “really”, in my earlier Word Count post, but we’ll have a closer look at adverbs because the fact is, if the word ends in “ly” it probab(ly) shouldn’t be in your story.

“Adverbs have their place, but often writers can improve their writing by pruning adverbs.”1

Adverbs serve a distinct purpose, particularly in non-fiction. In fiction, however, the adverb becomes a “telling” word.

You’ll notice in the paragraph above I used the word “particularly”. I could have written, “Adverbs serve a distinct purpose in non-fiction.” In this case however, the word “particularly” was used to weaken the declaration. While it is true that adverbs serve a distinct purpose in non-fiction I could not claim that they do not also have a distinct purpose in fiction.

Adverbs can water-down the impact of a sentence. An adverb can reduce the immediacy of active tense. They force a reader to create their own image rather than “seeing” the story as you tell it.

Let’s see it in an example: “The cat cunningly stalked his prey.”

The word “cunningly” is an adverb. In this instance it describes the way the cat is stalking his prey. This adverb is insubstantial as a descriptive word because the reader must consider what he imagines “cunningly” might look like. A sharper picture could be created by replacing the adverb with sensory description.

Such as: “The cat crouched low to the ground as it stalked on soft toes, ears perked and eyes slit, after his prey.”

This second example is longer but it gives a more precise image. You can “see” this cat. You can see the cunning he uses and don’t have to fill in the blanks or create your own sense of what he is doing.

Remember the adage, “show, don’t tell“? Well, good fiction has a careful balance between showing and telling but examine your manuscript and hunt out those adverbs. When you see one decide if it can be cut or if the sentence could be rewritten with descriptive verbs and adjectives instead of an adverb.

When you’re hunting for darlings to murder you can eliminate many words but you will find that rewriting sentences to avoid depending on the tepid description of adverbs can have the reverse affect. As you cut some words from your draft you add others. The final work will be more compelling but it may not be shorter.

What is important is that your final draft holds the reader’s attention with strong, evocative imagery. Allow your readers to see through the words on the page and lose themselves in the story.

Do you agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

1. Grammar Girl: How to Eliminate Adverbs :: Quick and Dirty Tips

Five Creative Ways to Kickstart Your Novel

At some point everyone aspires to write a novel. Then the hypothetical writer sits down to write, Grand Idea in tow, and can’t find a way to realize it. Then the hypothetical writer gets depressed, closes the window, and quits working for six months, though they continue to tell everyone they know that they’re either writing or “getting ready to write” a novel.

You don’t want to be one of those people who talks about getting things done more than they get things done. Instead, if you want to be writing a novel, you should be writing a novel. Here are some creative ways to get that novel started.

1. Cut to the chase.

Don’t think in terms of establishing everything right away, especially if your grand masterwork hasn’t been outlined and will be more made up as you go along (as if things aren’t made up as you go along). If there’s a single event, or a character, or some other factor that’s making you feel forced to write, write about that right away. It doesn’t even necessarily need a place in your novel
right away; you’ll find a place for it as you go, and establishing that will help make everything else come naturally.

2. Don’t begin at the beginning.

Beginnings and endings are brutally, painfully difficult. They require a whole lot of revision and a great deal of planning to make them successful, effective and not bogged down in cliché. Start from just about anywhere else and your chances of getting frustrated go down considerably; your beginning and end will come when they come. Don’t assume that you’re writing a beginning
when you start writing, and that you’ll find a place for the first pieces you write as you get further along in your writing project.

3. Power through your first draft.

Don’t assume that you’re going to craft something truly great as you simply start writing. Instead of reading and rereading when you only have a few pages, keep moving; when a cohesive whole, or the seed of a cohesive whole, starts to take shape, begin revising then. You’ll feel a thousand times less prone to abandoning the entire project if you’re trying to support more than only a few hours’ worth of work, and your increased investment in the project will help you in the long term as you seriously approach the revision process later on.

4. Experiment with narration. (point-of-view)

If you find it difficult to write in the third-person, try writing from the first-person. Or consider even trying an epistolary format or another version of second-person address. In doing so, you might find yourself suddenly more invested in a character, or a concept, or discovering things that do and don’t work for you as a writer or the long-form work that you’re attempting to complete.

5. Read fiction that inspires you. Poach a good idea if you find one.

Supposedly at some point Pablo Picasso said that “Talent borrows, genius steals.” Don’t steal someone else’s work and don’t plagiarize, but if something moves you enough to start writing, ask yourself why it affects you so much and why it works, and twist that concept or idea until it begins to feel like yours. The best writers are also voracious readers of fiction; they know tropes and the rules of language well enough to be able to subvert and play with them, and how to make something that stands out in a world in which thousands of books are published yearly and there aren’t that many readers. Bringing up your consumption can only help you in the long run.

Andrew Hall is a guest blogger for Pounding the Pavement and a writer on call center management for Guide to Career Education.

Golden Rules For Being A Writer And Dreaming The First Draft

Joseph Clark of The First Footsteps of Poetry wanted to share these tips from his blog with the readers at The Craft of Writing Fiction. Then I read Anne Fortier’s guest post from Writer’s Digest about her Golden Rules of Being a Writer and thought these little “rules” are a great idea. After you’ve read Joseph’s post, please take a moment to share your own “Golden Rules” in the comments.

Dreaming up that first draft requires a lot of time, and the patience of a saint. We all have a real life outside of our imagination; if we could combine the two, there wouldn’t be a straight line in sight across the globe. To be a writer, having an over active imagination is an obvious must, but it is only one of the many traits a good scholar needs in his or her arsenal.

It becomes increasingly evident that good parents also make good writers, as long as the first need is met. Parenting is about having the patience of a saint, so is shaping and editing any piece of work, or even waiting for the idea. It’s been known for weeks or even months before that golden idea will hit. So always keep up with your real life because you never know when your fictional one will want to sweep you away.

How to bring your first draft into existence

  • Poetry:
  • Build up a firm understanding of poetry in general
  • Experiment with poetical devices and forms
  • Imagery, symbolism and other theories, familiarise yourself with them!
  • never forget, the meter is almost more important than the words
  • Novel writing:
  • You can’t fluke it, you need to know what you’re doing
  • Set the scene, it must be as vivid for the reader as it is for you
  • Live in the world yourself, know about it and make all the notes you can
  • Keep your paragraphs in line, let the reader breathe.

My Golden Rules of Being a Writer

I’ll end these tips with my five golden rules for being a writer:

  1. No research is ever wasted, know your topic
  2. No such thing as bad criticism when it’s constructive
  3. Not everything has to have a deeper meaning, some like simplicity
  4. Patience, it always comes to you when you relax
  5. Even writers need down time, it means you can work all that bit harder.

With this very short, but hopefully helpful bundle of words, I hope to have guided or inspired someone out there to succeed at what I’ve devoted most of my life to already. Happy writing!

What are your own Golden Rules of Being a Writer?

Unearth Your Archive Of Fiction Stories

Fiction stories and novels buried in an archive.Most writers have fiction stories from years ago that have since been abandoned to the dark recesses of a desk drawer archive. Some stories never made it past the opening lines, others were just a few chapters away from their dramatic conclusion. While some stories are best left hidden away, others can be revived and fashioned into more exciting plots.

If your current ideas aren’t inspiring you, go digging through your old files to find treasures you may have forgotten that you have! After years have passed, you can read over your partial first drafts with a fresh eye, as if they were written by someone else. Once you find a story that still has potential, read it over and look for areas that can be crafted into a new short story or novel.

Mine the Introduction

Most writers have the peak of their enthusiasm within the first chapter or scene of their story. Introductions bring the first characters and plot points into main focus. It is possible that your characters are incompatible for the story you put them in. A confident, powerful businesswoman may not belong in a sleepy Midwestern town when she’d shine in a bustling city. (Then again, she just might, providing a marked contrast. Your story may vary.) When you can extract characters from a weak plot, you can transfer them to a more exciting storyline.

On the other hand, your plot may shine, but your characters just aren’t interested in seeing the story through. They may be flat and lifeless, and not yield any additional information when you try character building techniques. It may be time to send those characters on their way, and give the story to more enthusiastic protagonists who will care about what’s happening in the world around them.

Dig into the Heart of the Story

For lengthier abandoned manuscripts, it can be harder to pinpoint exactly what went wrong. Characters seem to get minds of their own, going off in unexpected directions and wandering away from the story. Plots can weaken and meander, to the point where even you don’t know what is going to happen next.

While many writers prefer the excitement of an unplanned route, others need a solid plot outline to bring their story and characters back on track. Write out an outline of the plot so far, and see where the story is actually heading. If it is workable, then you can revive that story and get back to writing. If not, see what needs to be cut, rearranged, or expanded into new avenues. If you’re at a loss, use a mind map to free associate possibilities for your plot.

Carve Into Your Words

An abandoned story will need a lot of work, and you will need to put on your editor’s hat for awhile before getting back to the writing. Ruthlessly cut into your story, removing anything that is not serving the plot. You can literally do this with a pair of scissors and a lot of tape, or you can cut and paste within your word processing program. If you don’t want to toss out perfectly good writing that just doesn’t fit, put those unneeded phrases into an idea file that you can go over later.

Have you revived an aging story? What ideas do you use when called to rework an unfinished or finished manuscript?

Photo Credit: Orcmid

Writing a Novel with Romance Author Patricia Strefling

“Writing a novel is like making love, but it’s also like having a tooth pulled. Pleasure and pain. Sometimes it’s like making love while having a tooth pulled.” ~ Dean Koontz

Last week I had the pleasure of talking about Writing Romance and Strong Character with Patricia Strefling. This week Patricia returns and we delve into the finer points of writing a novel, the process involved in writing fiction, and we find out how Patricia gets from initial idea to romance book.

Writing fiction is a detailed process and each writer approaches it differently. Do you plan and outline your books before writing the first draft? What is your “Patricia Strefling” writing process?

The only planning I start with is a “video” in my head about what my character is about… what her problem will be and go from there. You are right, we all do it differently.

I make a list of characters, and facts as I create family members, locations, and other details. This is done on scrap paper stapled at the top. That has worked thus far, but while rewriting my third book I learned a new skill (for me). The new process worked better than trying to “find” my place whenever I needed say, a birthday that I know I mentioned SOMEWHERE.

I now keep a few sheets of lined paper stapled together with each chapter listed and two or three sentences about what that chapter is about. Alongside I list a time-line so I know where I’m at. It makes it so much easier than trying to find a certain scene but forgetting which chapter it appeared in.

Unlike many of my writer friends, I do not plan or outline the story because I really don’t know what is going to happen. I prefer to have a few ideas as I begin and let the story write itself.

One question that comes up frequently is about the day to day routine of a writer. How does your writing impact your day to day living and your schedule?

Wonderfully, I am retired and not required to have a certain schedule. But I must say here that I am ADD, which just means things do not hold my attention for any length of time… except when writing a story! The hardest task for me is to START. Once I start, I cannot stop. The story seems to unwind like a long roll of toilet paper… each small square a scene.

I once wrote an entire 60,000 word novel in 18 days!

How long did it take you to write each book and how much time do you feel you spend working at each stage of the novel writing process?

I tend to be a fast writer, but I slow way down when it comes to editing. If I could write story after story, hand it off to an editor and keep on writing, that would be my dream job. I struggle with re-reading the story once it is written.

Some have taken two months to write, some longer if my life gets busy. After I wrote “Edwina” and published it, readers wanted to know what happened to Cecelia and Spencer. They had engaged in the characters.

WHAT? I had no other story in mind. But about a year later, they had their story. “Cecelia” was a lesson I learned from my readers. They want more you give them more.

Patricia is donating a copy of “Edwina” and a copy of “Cecelia” to one lucky winner at The Craft of Writing Fiction in celebration of her visit here. Last week I shared part one of my talk with Patricia and next Monday I’ll share part three, so you’ll have a total of three opportunities to enter. I’ll announce our winner on the 26th of July.

Want a chance to win? Simply, ask Patricia a question of your own, or leave a thoughtful comment, regarding writing a novel and the novel writing process below. Then share this post with your friends.

Make sure you subscribe to The Craft of Writing Fiction in your RSS feed reader or direct to your email inbox so you don’t miss any of the great posts we have coming up.

Word Count: Murdering Your Darlings and King’s 10% Rule

Murder Your Darlings ~ Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” ~ Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1914)

First drafts tend to be unusually long winded. We write at length because it is the surest way to express those thoughts and impressions most profound. We over-describe. We add chatter. We include thinking words. In the process of writing a first draft we write with a freedom of expression that is uncensored and unfettered.

A first draft is NOT a final draft.

Recently, a client emailed me with a request to edit the first chapter of their first draft. I don’t recommend hiring an editor for your first draft. The story has barely begun to be formed after your first pass and it requires at least one (preferably two) more drafts before it should be handled by others. In this case, the fact that it was a first draft wasn’t the issue. The fact that it was an 11,000 word count first chapter was.

There are no hard and fast rules about how long a story should be. Even the standard guides aren’t concrete. A story is as long as it takes to tell the story. But there are conventions that we tend to follow to increase our odds of being read. Very few readers will be comfortable facing such lengthy chapters.

When Writing Long Is Writing Long-Winded

The best way to handle the obesity of that first draft is to follow Stephen King’s Ten Percent Rule. In 1966, when King was still in high school he received a rejection slip that offered profound advice for the young writer.1

“Not bad but puffy,” the editor wrote. “You need to review for length.”

That wise editor gave King a winning formula:

“2nd Draft = 1st draft – 10%”
~ Stephen King (2002)

But you’ve got lots of darlings in your first draft. How do you really know where to cut the fat and prune the weeds? Which words are fat? Which words are weeds? Each story is different but there are some words we use in modern language that are unnecessary when writing fiction.

Words You Should Search And Destroy

When you examine a draft for superfluous words or seek ways to be more concise you can sharpen the language of the manuscript and reduce the word count. There are a selection of words you can almost always cut without changing the meaning of a sentence. The first five words you can cut are:

  1. Just: The only time this word is actually a word is when you use it to mean, “guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness”.2 There are other meanings but the word is cruelly misused so when it appears in your manuscript odds are it can be obliterated.
  2. Really: I would “really” like to obliterate the word “really”. This is an adverb that is always underwhelming. It has no substance or measure. If you feel inclined toward hyperbole find a more distinct and effective word and no, “totally” doesn’t count.
  3. Quite: This word often feels like it is trying to justify its existence. It is timid and quiet which is perhaps why the word “quite” often gets misspelled as “quiet”. The words in your story should be empowered and confident.
  4. Perhaps: Sometimes your characters may use this to indicate uncertainty. The trouble is, “perhaps” reflects uncertainty to the reader too so use it with care and only in dialogue.
  5. That: This word needs careful consideration. It’s not always one that can be cut without thought like the four above. In that sentence, and this one, the word “that” is used to define the subject of the sentence. But sometimes, even when used in this way, it is not necessary.

A Sixth Word To Cut

  1. So: My personal pet-peeve word is “so”. I believe this word can be obliterated in every single instance. Prove me wrong! If you can think of a sentence that requires the word “so” to make sense, share it in the comments. Until you can, search and destroy “so” in all of your writing.

What other words do you feel should be obliterated from fiction and what other ways do you reduce the word count of your first draft by ten percent?

1. Poynter Online, The Ten Percent Solution First Draft by Chip Scanlan
2. – just (adj.) 1. guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness: We hope to be just in our understanding of such difficult situations.

Photo Credit: 09-18-07 © archives
Photo Credit: 11-27-08 © mark wragg

Why I Don’t Write from Outlines

I Don't Write From Outlines, Do You?Although I carefully map out my blog topics each month, whether I’m writing a full-length feature story or a quick SEO writing tip, I never write from an outline. I have my reasons — and they might surprise you.

Why I Don’t Write from Outlines

Although I carefully map out my blog topics each month, I never write from an outline. This doesn’t change, whether I’m writing a full-length feature story or a quick SEO writing tip: no outline. I have my reasons — and they might surprise you.

Like the best poetry or even a song, an article or a blog post has a rhythm – a melody, a flowing cascade of words down the page. This is different from the “voice” of the writer; it is, for lack of a better term, the “life energy” of the article. A good article should transition smoothly between ideas, leading readers down the path the author wants them to follow.

Full-length feature writing, to me, is like a quiet, spontaneous Sunday drive. I often don’t know where I’m going until I get there. As I scan through pages of notes and quotes, the facts and figures jump out at me, taking their places in line, so that each paragraph leads into the next. Who needs an outline when I have the muse?

The words for a blog post or other Web content, on the other hand, fall fast and furious from my mind in a frenzy. If I took time to outline, I’d lose the idea. Often, blog posts are written before I even have time to think about where they’re going. I type and type — and then I’m done. With my sources in different tabs on my screen and the ideas forming a cloud in my mind, I just write until it’s done and then edit for clarity and conciseness.

Benefits of Outlining

Many writing books say you should outline because it helps a writer to see an article’s overall form and ensures you won’t forget an important fact. In most cases, until I do interviews and/or extensive research, I don’t know where the piece is going. Once I have finished my research and have my notes in front of me, an outline seems redundant.

Some new writers may be scared at staring at the blank page, unsure where their story is going or how they will get there. To me, this is the fun of writing. It’s all up to me – no constraints, no order until I make sense of it all. If I forget a fact because I didn’t have an outline, it probably didn’t belong in the story anyway. (It’s the literary equivalent of the philosophy that everything happens for a reason.)

It’s not exactly a blank page I’m working from either; I have my notes, my quotes. And in my head, there exists the faintest skeleton of an idea, ready to be fleshed out. It’s all up to me to put it together.

In that sense, I guess I do write from an outline. It’s just that the outline exists in my head.

Cast Your Writing Process Vote: Outline or Not?

What about you? What’s your writing process? Do you write detailed outlines? Rough notes? Draw a mindmap? Or do you prefer to wing it, like I do?

Photo Credit: 09-19-06 © OlgaLIS

Pep Talk No. 99 – Believe

Believing in yourself or the quality of your ideas is, perhaps, one of the greatest challenges writers must face before they’ll find success in this industry. Ideas are plentiful and, if you’ve read about the Idea Waterfall you know, there are no bad ideas. But which of the multitude of ideas we have every day can be transformed into something remarkable?

Bigfoot, hard at work writing the perfect novel. George Singleton's Pep Talks, Warnings & ScreedsGeorge Singleton says:

“We should believe in the possible existence of the Perfect Short Story or Perfect Novel in the same way that we believe in Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. They’re out there somewhere, but it’ll take some time to discover them.

Once discovered, without question, it will still take some work to convince people that it’s not a hoax. That should be your goal.” ~ Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds by George Singleton

Believe In Yourself

As writers, our purpose is to convince others that the story we tell is one they want to read. The way we write encourages their interest, it holds them to the page. There are aspects in everything we write that influences the reader from our hooks, hangers, and the sequence of events, to the suspension of disbelief.

A writer needs to believe in more than the possibility that the perfect idea exists. The greater battle comes when we must believe in our ability to TELL the story perfectly. Our ideas begin, pristine, flawless, perfect, and from there it call all go terribly wrong. With every word we write we are growing, learning the craft, honing our talent, and so with each word we get better at transforming our ideas into the form they deserve. To tell a story we must have faith in ourselves and our ability to share our ideas in a way that expresses it clearly to our readers.

One of the greatest fears that cause writer’s block is a sense that we cannot write the story that deserves to be written. This fear is one causing me the greatest concern with my current novel. It is an inner agony to know you have a fantastic story, rich characters, an intricate but solid plot and face the foibles of our own fallacy. Self-doubt is a destructive force that leaves manuscripts unfinished or gathering dust. Too often it is a sense of being unable to bring to the page the idea that originally formed in the mind.

How do you reinforce your self-confidence? How do you convince yourself you can tell your perfect story?

Each time I face this fear I remind myself, “If not me, then who?” There might be thousands of writers better than I but this story is one only I can tell. It is an idea that came only to me and there is no way I could give enough of it to another writer that they would produce my idea exactly as I see it. I am the only writer who can breath life into these characters. I might not do it flawlessly. In fact, it is certain to be imperfect. In lowering our expectations to simply putting the story onto the page we take the pressure of perfection from our shoulders.

This is also the reason I LOVE first drafts. A first draft exists because we make mistakes. No author has ever told their story in a single telling. Novels particularly require careful crafting. The first step is to get an echo of our ideas, our characters on the page. The first draft is a shadow of the story we want to tell. We give ourselves permission to write badly because this first step does not require us to tell it right. Any mistakes we make in the first telling of our story can be repaired in second and third drafts.

Do you ever face self-doubt? What do you tell yourself so that you can move past fear? How do you learn to believe in yourself, to believe you are the one to tell this story? Do you believe in the perfect story?