The Illusion of Freedom When it Comes to Writing

1530456_1385517545003906_1237733881_nWhat is it you love most about writing? For me, it’s about the freedom: freedom to create characters, to remove characters, to make them good, to make them evil. The worlds we build have no boundaries. They are limitless and moldable.

“…though it may seem like the boundaries of your universe are limitless, it’s actually an illusion.”

Just like the plots we write for our characters, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. The freedom you’re experiencing as a writer is limited. Sure we’re aloud to design spectacular worlds that could never exist, use words that will never be found in the dictionary and wield the power to give life and take it away, but there ARE rules.

“…the more I submerge myself into the world of writing, the more familiar I become with these rules.”

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Somehow, first-time writers seem to gravitate toward breaking all of these rules. I did anyway.  Sometimes, I think  agents and editors develop the rules as  a literary litmus to filter out the inexperienced. However, the more I submerge myself into the world of writing, the more familiar I become with these rules. If you want to be published, particularly if  you want to be published traditionally, it is important to pay attention to the rules.  Agents are the filter through which our work flows, so we want to make sure we know what they are looking for. Here are some things many agents agree they don’t want to see in the first chapter of your manuscript.

  • A first chapter where your main character finds themselves conveniently paired up with a hunky lab partner who will eventually become their love interest.
  • A first page that includes the main character looking in the mirror.
  • A first page that includes the main character waking up.
  • Try to avoid prologues.
  • A manuscript in which the first scene is a dream.
  • A manuscript in which the first scene is a flashback.
  • Introduction of too many characters in the first chapter.
  • Descriptions of the weather.
  • Flowery prose.

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I know what you’re thinking. Picky-Picky.  As artists, we don’t like boundaries, rules or restrictions but agents aren’t waiting with a ruler to smack our hands when we break them. There are actually some pretty good reasons for the guidelines they create.

Have you ever made the mistake of laughing at one of your kid’s jokes. It was funny the first time. You even did that that gosh awful inverted snort thing you do when you laugh too hard. Then, because little Sammy got your attention the first time,  he told the joke again, and again and after the 7th time, you finally had to break his heart and tell him he murdered it. This is what agents endure. Twilight was great. It was EPIC for it’s time. But after Twilight, agents were flooded with thousands of submissions about girls on their first day of school in new communities who just happen to become the lab partner of Mr. Right.

Rules are a good thing. They apply to nature, we impose them on our children and on society as a whole. So why shouldn’t our writing have to abide by a few rules as well?

What about you? Ever break a rule? Do you have a story where you bent the rules and it actually worked for you?

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HEADLINES READ: Local Blogger Rises From the Dead to Write About Adverbs

67175_10150121478735993_6174683_n She’s Aliiiiiive! I know. It’s been awhile. If you were going to rise from the dead would it be to write about adverbs?  I have my excuses for my long hiatus from blogging but none of them are interesting enough to read about so we’ll move on. Let’s talk about good writing. Superb writing! It’s what we all want to do – what we want to be known for. For some of us it’s burning so deep it’s tattooed on our souls and if you’re like me, you devour anything that can improve your work. When I hand my work to a critique partner it always comes with instructions to show no mercy. My feelings mean far less to me than the quality of my writing does. So how can paying attention to adverb usage help you in your quest to publish? Well, pay attention young padawan, and I will enlighten you.

“Lazy writers will be passed over every time.”

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I know that in grammar school you were praised for the appropriate and frequent use of the almighty adverb.  i.e. Julia walked quietly through the garden. She moved quickly and anxiously.

Fantastic, but as a reader I want to SEE in my minds eye how Julia did this. Paint a picture that the readers can visualize. Julia walked through the garden, being careful to avoid the crunch of dried leaves beneath her feet and steadied her breath so she would remain undetected. Her movements were swift and she sped through the space in marked time. Though she was able to control her movements, she fought with anxiety that built in her muscles.

Wordier? Yes but could you see it? That is our ultimate goal as writers, for our readers to experience the world in our head. Lazy writing doesn’t take the reader to that place. Here is what I did. I went back through some of my old writing and put the letters LY into the search tool.  My two favorite LY words? Quickly and quietly. I went through and showed how my characters did these things and it strengthened me as a writer as well as my manuscript. There were many cases however, that the adverbs were altogether unnecessary.

“Keep it simple, I say.”

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Something else to pay attention to is keeping it simple with dialogue tags. We like to tag on these little adverbs at the end of a quote to show how the speaker feels. i.e. “You’re always right,” Caleb said regretfully. Or we tag verbs like this: “Whatever you say,” Ileesia seethed.

I know, I just told you not to be lazy when it comes to adverbs but in the case of dialogue it’s usually better to simplify. He said, she said, that’s it. You can throw in the occasional, he asked too. In situations where you really need to establish the characters emotional response, you can add information on the back side of the tag like this. “You will never understand how difficult this is for me,” Monique said. She tried to control the wobble in her voice and the quiver in her lip as the words came out. Or, “You will never understand how difficult this is for me,” Monique said with quivering lips and a wobble in her voice.

I like to look at adverbs as a roadmap. It is my first instinct to use them. Sometimes I just go ahead and write them in then read it back and ask myself what do I really want to say here? How would this look? Then I write it.

What are your favorite LY words?