Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Light it on fire

An amazing critter of mine, Laura Hughes, just blogged about this awesome site!  It's a collection of words that the Oxford dictionary has said are pretty much endangered, about to die out.  If you're in any way interested in language - ok, come on, we're writers - you'll love it!

As per Laura's example, I've picked a word:
"Recineration - second time a thing or place is burned down"

As in, "After the recineration of her home, Jenna contemplated quitting sorcery school."

Oxford is right.  Even spellcheck seems to think recineration isn't a word.

Now, since this is a writing blog, I'll offer a quick caution from the mouths (pages?) of Strunk and White:

"Avoid Fancy Words: Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute.  Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready, and able."

So, in closing, maybe you can use clever words like "Mingent" (discharging urine),  "Quaeritate" (to ask), and "Panchymagogue" (medicine purging body fluids from the body) in your conversation, but keep them off the pages of your novel.

So, what words have you found?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The art of whittling down

Smaller is sometimes better.

Maybe not better, but sometimes necessary.  And sometimes helpful.

I've been working on my query letter, 2 sentence pitch, and short synopsis for a couple of months now.  Every time I start, I end up with the same thought right before I give up.  "This is ridiculous!  How can ANYone tell what their book is about in two sentences!?  How is it possible to sum up all the nuance and intrigue of your 100,000 page novel in a one page query!?  It's impossible.  No one can do it."

But they can.  And they do.

It seems that getting a novel published is a lot more than just hammering out 80-100,000 words.  After that easy part is done, then you have to condense those words into something much smaller.  Bite-size even.

I know what you're thinking.  "Yeah, yeah, Amanda.  We all already know this.  Why are you telling us again??"

Because, I wanted to tell you there are people out there who write 2 sentence stories.  Beautiful stories that take only one breath of air to read aloud, but that can haunt you for hours after.  A whole world in 25 words.  What if your whole novel were just the 2 sentence pitch?

Take this one, for example:

L. R. Bonehill

There had been rumors from the North for months. None of us believed it, until one night we started to kill our children too.

While, yes, this could just be the first sentence of a (kick-ass!) novel, it also gives you everything your brain needs to go on about it for hours. You can picture the people huddled around their TV, seeing news stories about crazed people killing their own children. You can see the disbelief in their faces. Until one night, the husband wakes up and maybe grabs an ax. Or even just a baseball bat. And starts walking down the hall to his daughters' room. ...I won't go on, but you see my point.

This is the idea behind "Hint Fiction," an anthology of extremely short stories compiled by Robert Swartwood. You can find the NPR story here. (Thanks mom!)

Click on over and check it out. Some of the stories are amazing. I never knew how much information you could convey in 2 sentences or less. I have renewed hope for my 2 sentence pitch. My goal for the end of this week is to have a confident and concise answer to the question, "What's your novel about." ...I'll get back to you on that one.

For now, though, I'll just share with you my own 2 sentence story. I guess I'm in a dark mood.

"Justine pressed the razor to her scar-covered arm. This will be the last time. As it reached her artery, she wondered if she should have sent out funeral invitations to the girls at school beforehand."

Okay, so it's more than 25 words, and it's 3 sentences, but you get the gist. :) I told you I was bad at this brevity thing!

Now it's your turn!

In the comments, add your own 2 sentence story or 2 sentence pitch of your novel. If you comment, please link back to this post in your own blog so we can get more stories going! Why not make this an impromptu blogfest?  Go forth!  Share the love! And have fun!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Put yo' stamp on that bootyshake

Everything I learned about writing, I learned from my hip hop teacher.

No!  Really!  It's true.  He's a wise guy and man, he can get down.  Want proof?  Just look here.  He's the, um, wise looking guy in the front. :)

Anyway, every Wednesday, I go to his "groovin'" class.  Really, that's what it's called.  It's what is considered a "non-choreo" class because we don't run through a bunch of 8 counts and then put it all together at the end.  Pretty much in this class, we just bust a move...and listen to the instructor's inspirational and often hilarious speeches about art and dance and creativity.  It's my Wednesday wind down.

It's amazing how much certain ideas apply across so many of the arts.  Try a few of these on for size:

  • Hip Hop: "You can't memorize my steps and then look all fine their doin' it.  You gotta put your own stamp on it.  Like, show your style through the move.  Show your personality!"
  • Writing: Don't just stick to the 3 act formula hard and fast. Change it up to show your story.  Make it fit what you want.  Otherwise, you're gonna look like a white girl dancing hip hop.  (ie: me)
  • Hip Hop: "You gotta feel this.  Feel the music.  Let it flow through you!  Close your eyes! Hell, come drunk to class if you need to to let loose of your inhibitions!  If you don't feel it, you're gonna look like an idiot."
  • Writing: Remember to feel your writing.  Remember to love it. Remember why you started writing in the first place, not because you want to be rich and famous (I hope...cause the likelihood of that, well...), but because you were driven to do so.  Feel the drive.  Carry on.
  • Hip Hop: "Listen.  I'ma show you this video 'cause I don't think you all see it too much here in Vancouver.  Y'all gotta know what you're trying to do.  I want you to know where all this stuff comes from.  I mean, for some people, this shit is all they have.  They're like...dancin' to stay alive.  Know what I mean?  You gotta watch the greats.  Watch these guys that live for their dancing and then go home and practice.  Practice what they're doing till you think you look as cool as them."
  • Writing: You don't write in a vacuum.  READ!  Read other people's work.  Read in your genre, read in other genres, read the classics.  And then practice your writing.  Look at it (like you would your dancing in a mirror) and then write it again.  Write it again until it's perfect and can sit up there against the other stuff you've read.

I think it's so important to look into other creative genres to see how they get by.  How do they keep their creativity flowing?  How do they continue to improve.  How do they deal with rejection and bad criticism?  There's a book by dancer Twila Tharp all about the creative process.  I've read snippets of my friend's copy, but am looking forward to getting my own because it's sheer brilliance.

Do any of you do other arts?  What have you learned? Do tell!