Reading to Write

663092_26111643You’ll often hear that in order to write, you need to read. Many prominent authors stick by it and advise aspiring writers to make a practice of always having a piece of literature on the go. It’s good advice, as long as you know that if you are reading to write, you need to look at the writing that you are reading differently. Here’s how I do it:

-Accept and note the areas that you have trouble with, whether they include dialogue, structure, characterization, setting, etc. Know and embrace the fact that you have room to improve.

-Pick a story or a book (or a few!) that really made an impression on you in terms of style, tone, and connection. It should be something that you don’t mind reading again, and that you would give a glowing review.

-Read the story slowly. Take your time. Figure out how that story works and how you could use those tools to better your own. If you have trouble with dialogue, compare the dialogue in the book to yours to see where you are having problems. Note how the writer avoided those problems.

-Now look for things that you would change or improve in the book you have picked. Would you have written a certain scene or character differently? Would you have added more detail, or less description? Would you have chosen a different, easier to pronounce, name?

-Remember that your tone, style, and story are unique. Your voice needs to be different than every other author out there. Your story needs to be your own. Don’t worry about why your writing isn’t at that level yet, worry about how you can get it there.

-Don’t base your solutions on only one book. Reads hundreds, thousands. Read articles, blog posts, newspapers, signs, billboards, short stories, flash fiction, etc. Read everything, and let it all influence you to be a stronger, more confident writer.

Obviously, you don’t want to steal from other authors. If you make your story too much like an existing one, it’s not really yours. What you should take from reading to write is how to fix the problems that you have with your own writing. Figure out where your shortfalls are and learn how other authors have overcome or avoided them.

Although many of us see books and writing as an art form, it is also like a complicated piece of machinery. Just like all of the parts of a machine need to work together, so do all of the elements in your writing. Maintain it, improve it, and never believe that you have reached the top because there isn’t one. You can always get better, you can always improve, and you can always learn from what others have done, are doing, and will do.

How do you read to write? Do you practice it consciously? Who is your most loved author in terms of style, structure, and/or tone?

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Dialect in Writing

Beach near Morden, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Beach near Morden, Nova Scotia, Canada.

I’m from Nova Scotia. A small, beautiful, coastal province in Canada where oceans wrap their arms around the earth and lush green hills roll for miles. It’s a place where you know almost everyone, and if you don’t, you know their cousin (or aunt, or mother, or sibling, etc.). It’s a place where Celtic roots tie our souls to the land and shape the very soil on which we stand.

My family is like most Canadian families—we’re made up of just about everything. We’ve got German, Scottish, Native American, and Irish blood in our veins. Not to mention the kinds we don’t know about just yet. This, among other things, leads us to have fierce pride in our province. A place of history, both long and short.

Although many people believe us to have accents similar to that of our fellow East Coasters, the Newfies, we do not. We speak a fairly standard form of Canadian English, except that we say house and mouse and out with an “oa” sound (like oat), and car and bar and far with a soft “a” and a long “r”. Sort of like a pirate would.

My grandmother, however, hails from a part of Nova Scotia where they have adopted an accent that is a hybrid between a Boston accent and how a fisherman from a Disney movie might sound. She is from the South Shore, which she calls the “Sout’ Shoa”. When she says “gahbeej”, it means “garbage”. The same goes for message (messeej). My grandmother has even passed on some words that could possibly be exclusive to our family. Rutching (as in rutchin’ and tearin’) means to toss and turn while in bed and no one ever seems to know what I mean when I say it.

She also loves to say that so and so is “living the life of Riley”, but that is not something that she created. When experiencing extreme weather, Nova Scotians love to say it’s “right cold” or it’s “snowing somethin’ fierce”. We say “eh” more often than we should. We take vowels and either stretch them out or roll them around on our tongues.

I have been living away from home for about 7 years now, and I have lost some of my “accent”, but I can tell you that it makes a return every time I talk to my grandmother on the phone, and not on purpose.

When attempting to use dialect in your writing, make sure that you understand the dialect that you want to use inside and out—have a phonetic comprehension of every single word. When using phrases or terms specific to a certain dialect, have no doubts about the usage. Incorrect usages and pronunciations will throw your reader off and it will be hard to get them back on track. If you’ve got an editor, this is something that they will know to look for and research.

I love to read books that include characters with accents and dialects. It offers depth and substance to both the character and the story. It can even add detail and connection to your setting. If it’s done right.

Do you come from an area with a specific dialect? What does it sound like? Would you ever use it in a story?

A Reader’s Confession

Lord_Voldemort_statue_(4840264866)Our brains work in mysterious ways. They have the ability to modify what we see, and how we see it. I’m sure you’ve all seen those posts online where your brain magically skips over words without you even knowing. I’m sure that you have all scolded yourselves mentally for not being able to find the mistake before your brain registered it as correct. It’s frustrating, and it makes you want to play with the wires in your brain to make you see the things that others don’t.

When I was in grade 5, I had to do a book project. I had a great teacher who basically told us to do the project on any book that we wanted to, and I chose one of the Harry Potter books because my obsession with them was blossoming. I can’t remember which one it was. I made a book poster ever so carefully, and decorated it with cursive Voldemont’s and Harry Potter’s. That’s right, VoldemoNt. Did you catch that? I thought, even after reading at least one of the books at least 5 times, that the antagonist was Voldemont.

I was so proud of my project. I had used silver gel pens on black bristol board, and I thought it was the best project any 10 year old had ever created. I put it on display in the classroom before the morning bell rang, and a girl from my class walked over to inspect it. In my state of ignorance, I thought that she was admiring my work and thinking that her project just couldn’t compare. Instead, she turned to me and said, “It’s Voldemort, not Voldemont. You know that, right?”. I didn’t believe her. I gave her a skeptical look, one that only a child could manage, with eyebrows raised high and eyeballs nearly rolling back into my skull. I let a smile play on my lips to show that her suggestion was not only absurd, but amusing.

Then, after she gave me a look that said you’re an idiot, I took my book into the bathroom so that I could prove myself right in privacy. The first Voldemort that I found had an “r”. I thought it was a typo. I scanned through every instance of the word only to realize that somehow my brain had turned the “r” into an “n”. I’m guessing that I was a shade of red never before seen.

I couldn’t change the “n” into an “r” without it looking ridiculous. I didn’t have my gel pen with me, anyway. I believe that I tried, in vain, to use a black marker to wipe out part of the “n”, but the gel pen shimmered through. I felt like a moron because I had been so obviously wrong about something so obvious. I clearly remember it being the first time that I was really ashamed about something. It was the first time that I had been publicly disgraced.

It was a long time before I realized that perhaps it wasn’t necessarily me, but my brain. I had, upon the first use of the word, registered it as being spelled with an “n”. Therefore, my brain just filled in the rest. I did re-evaluate my reading prowess, but used it to ensure that I look at words like an editor—each individual letter of each individual word.

Has anything similar ever happened to you? What was it?

Did anyone else pronounce Hermione as “Her-me-own”? I did.

Reading and Writing

1170824_79172868As an avid reader, I like to have at least one book on the go at a time. I just finished Angela’s Ashes last night, and hope to start ‘Tis today. I’ve read them both before, but I often re-read things so that I can experience, once again, the specific feelings that book left me with the first time.

Since I have been reading this last week, I haven’t been writing much. I have focused on editing some of the stories that I am preparing to submit to publishers. This is because, when I read, I find that it influences my own writing in a negative way. No matter what the topic, the author’s voice will appear magically on my document and drift through the pages until it sounds like I am writing another version of an already published story.

Therefore, I have to make sure that when I am writing, I am not reading anything. It’s hard for me, because reading is a part of my life both as an obsession and a job. But, for me, it is very hard to let go of a book that I have enjoyed, and I constantly think about it for a time after I have finished it.

The same goes with editing, but it’s a little less harsh. When I am editing something that is non-fiction, or short, I can read whatever I want to. When I have to edit fiction, that’s where it starts to get more difficult. You would never think that editing can be whimsical and light, but it can. Different genres, and different authors, have different tones. They use different words. They have various styles, tastes, and use unique metaphors and similes. It’s hard to edit something without wanting to change it, and I have to be wary of whatever is influencing me at the time.

It’s not about being unable to separate myself from fiction and reality, it’s more like what I read changes my brain for a short time, until I give it some time and let my mind cool. That’s why, when I am reading, I can edit my own stories. ‘Tis is almost the complete opposite of my own work—it sits quietly in the back of my mind while I edit my own content.

When I am writing, I need to make sure that I don’t read. If I decide to read, I have to give writing a short break. For me, the two don’t go hand in hand.

I’m curious to know if they do for you. Do you read and write at the same time? Are you ever influenced by what you are reading, or vice-versa?

A Note on Adjectives

739211_26781351Working with authors is a wonderful thing. You get to be the first to read what has poured from the very depths of someone’s soul before the ink even dries. You get to help them to shape, mend, and bend their characters and stories so that they are even better than they were before. I love that about authors, and I love that about fiction.

One thing, though, that I tend to see often is authors using the same adjectives over and over and over. Granted, I do work mostly with first time authors who are either self-publishing or going through an independent publisher, which means that sometimes their work is less polished than a seasoned writer’s.

One word that I simply cannot stand anymore is “delicious”. As only one editor on a team of three, as much as I protested its overuse, it remained. It was used to describe food—almost every single instance of food in the entire story.

Now, I’m not saying that a word can only be used once, but sometimes description is either unnecessary or laid on too thick. If you are writing a story where much of it takes place around a dinner table or in a kitchen, the descriptions are generally obvious:

She pulled the tray of cookies out of the oven and set it on the stove to cool.

The simplicity of that description is enough to make me smell fresh, hot cookies. I can even see the heat waves rising over the cookie sheet. Because just about everyone has seen something come out of an oven at some point, it does not need supplementary description.

If you find you are using description too often, you can even add it to dialogue if it’s absolutely necessary. This will give your dialogue a bit of pop, and take the description out of the narration.

“Of course!”, she said as she laid the tray of cookies aside to cool. 

Descriptive writing is a beautiful thing, when it’s done right. Just be sure to balance its use so that the story doesn’t get lost among too many adjectives.

If you really need to use description, and it’s working well in your story, take a glance at a thesaurus once in a while so that you don’t become repetitive. The sound and taste of the words in your mouth is just as important as how you hear them in your head. Pick words that slip in between others in a subtle way, words that will make the reader feel your point, instead of getting stopped up on a word that has appeared too many times.

There are tons of online resources out there, and my favourite thesaurus site is: http://thesaurus.com/.

What’s your relationship with adjectives like?

Writers and…video games?

360I am a writer, both by trade and by passion. In my spare time, I read, I play with my dogs and cat, I garden, and among other things, I play video games.

Perusing through other blogs about writing, I have realized that many of my fellow writers also play video games, whether female or male. It seems to be yet another thing that links us together. I started to wonder why, as writers, many of us seem to enjoy immersing ourselves in a fictional reality.

Is it because it is as close as we can get to actually living in a story? Is it because when we write, we see our own writing just as clearly as we see our own lives? Or is it just because, as time goes on, video games are becoming more and more popular and almost everyone plays them?

I think that it is one of the first two. As someone who works with words, I tend to see things differently than others. When it’s raining, it is never simply raining to me. I narrate the rain in my head: the rain, cold and smooth, hurls itself at the parched soil, bringing with it the life that wakes the earth. With video games, stories come to life in the most remarkable way.

Video games allow you to become a part of a story that, unfortunately, would most-likely not take place in your everyday existence. I mean, it would be really amazing if I were to wake up one day and find myself on a cart with Ulfric Stormcloak, but that’s probably not going to happen.

Then, in some RPGs such as Dragon Age, Fable, Mass Effect, The Witcher, etc., you are given the opportunity to exercise your ability to choose. What you decide has an impact on the way that the games plays out. Of course, some games more than others. When I am faced with a decision in a video game, I take it very seriously. I take a lot of time to think about which choice I will make and what it will do to the outcome of the game. Sometimes I will even save before I choose, and then watch how it comes to pass. If I don’t like to outcome, I reload and choose the opposite.

It’s amazing to think that we can create a character that looks like us (or not) and become part of a fictional world. We control the movements, we control the progress, we are an integral part of a virtual story arc. How’s amazing is that?

Not to mention that some games even offer fighting companions, family, love interests, and pets. And the ones where you get to purchase, renovate, and rent out homes (that are customizable to a point) are pretty interesting as well.

This connection between the creative and vast imagination to the world of video games is closer, I think, than most realize or ponder. Games help me to imagination the fictional aspects of my stories in a whole new way, from the characters to the places.

Are you a writer and a gamer? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them! Or, just tell me what you’re currently playing. I am in the middle of Castlevania 2, and I just started Dark Souls 2 (I have already died 6 times).

 

Technology and Language—Negative or Positive?

1234386_19544571If my relationship with the English language were to have a status, it would probably be “it’s complicated”. This is because, although I love correct English, I do not love some of the words and abbreviations that have come along with technology.

I cringe when I see “dunno”, “omg”, or “lol”. I despise even more the social media statuses that read “I should of” or “I seen”. As much as these drive me crazy, there are a few positives to the popularity of practicing written English because of technology.

Prior to texting, email, blogging and all of these forms of online and digital communication, what did we use? Phones. We used our voices to communicate, and because your voice doesn’t show that when you said “conscious” you spelled it “conchus”, we were not as aware of our errors or those of others. Now that we are encouraged to communicate in the written word, errors are being called out and corrected before you even have a chance to “like” the status.

Why is this a good thing? Because spelling and grammar mistakes are embarrassing and language control freaks (like me) are irritating. If someone corrects you publicly, for all to see, perhaps you will learn from the mistake. Even your phone will attempt to correct you if you are wrong. It makes you aware that you are making an error, and will try to educate you on the correct choice. Being made aware of your mistakes is the first step in overcoming them.

Practicing the English language in a setting that you understand is instrumental in developing the correct use of words. It helps us to build our comprehension of the language and it helps us to communicate better in all other aspects as well. If you learn that you have been writing something incorrectly, perhaps you will check to see if you have been saying it incorrectly as well.

As much as I might dislike the new lingo that has come along with technology, I cannot help but appreciate the new drive to communicate through writing. The English language should not be seen as an eternal stone, forever unchanged and unmoved. It should be seen as a a living, breathing thing—constantly influenced by its use and ever-growing.

The best that I can do is to edit (myself and others) when I see a mistake, and attempt to cope with the diverse and ever evolving language that I call my own.

What say you? Is technology a benefit, or a detriment, to written language?

The Introduction

Picture0005Nice to meet you! Because you don’t know me, and I don’t know you, I will start with an intro. To make it fun, I’ll do it grade 6 news assignment style.

Who: I am a publishing, marketing, and communications consultant that lives for reading and writing. I prefer to read fantasy, but I’ve got a little bit of everything on my shelves. Also, see unintentionally scowly photo.

What: At the moment, I write a lot of horror. It’s not my favourite thing to read, but when I sit down to write, that’s what comes out. Other people seem to enjoy it, so I’ll just keep doing what I am doing until something else leaks out of my fingertips and onto the keyboard.

When: I write when I feel like it. I do not set goals, I do not set aside times. I write when I want to write because I am stubborn.

Where: My favourite place to write is at my desk, although I tend to carry around notebooks to write ideas in when they come along. The best place for a story to come alive is in my head, though. I need to work it out internally before I can let it out into the world.

Why: I write because that’s what I do—plain and simple. It’s what I’m good at, and it’s what I enjoy.

How: I have no idea. I just do it.

What are your 5 W’s and H?