Tag Archives: phrase

Jun 22

ACTION WORDS! An Article by Mary Deal

Action Words
by
Mary Deal

When you write your first draft, perhaps you simply write whatever comes out just to get the ideas onto the page. You know you’ll go back time and time again to get it polished just right. Maybe you polish your sentences or paragraphs before going onto the next one. Then, after all your editing, you feel something is still lacking. Maybe it’s the way you phrase the action. Maybe it’s a simple matter like your choice of words.

To help you make your prose as descriptive as possible without sounding flowery, read your composition again and look for specific words that could be replaced with descriptive VERBS that zero in on the exact action taking place.

I’m no stranger to getting the first word out that comes to mind and then needing to go back and clean up my grammar. Here are some samples from the novel I’m presently writing. I first wrote this:

Afterward, she went on her way.

If you write a sentence like this, ask yourself, How did she go? Instead of went describe her movements or gait:

Afterward, she sauntered away.

Afterward, she slipped away

Read this phrase:

Danced across the floor

Danced is a descriptive word, but it’s also a little common and could refer to many, many ways of dancing. How about…

Did a two-step across the floor

Waltzed across the floor

And this:

She felt around the floor of the car, trying to find the cell phone

Felt is also quite common.

She groped around the seat and on the floor of the car…

She slid her hand between the seats

Although a lot of emotion can be stirred just reading certain words they, too, can be made more descriptive. Replace this:

The thought of dying came to mind.

…with something like this:

The thought of bleeding to death came to mind

The thought of succumbing to coma, never to wake again, came to mind.

The above has two words to watch. We could have used:

The thought of slipping into a coma… instead, succumbing is more dramatic than gently slipping into a coma. Slipping hints at the character gently fading. Succumbing tells us she would put up a gallant fight to stay alive until, perhaps, more powerful forces overtook her. It’s more dramatic.

Here’s another sentence with two words:

The fireman holding up her head managed to get his upper body through the open windshield space.

More exciting:

The fireman supporting her head managed to squeeze his upper body through the open windshield space.

All of the words replaced above, and many, many more, are common words. The actions need to be exactly defined, made more exciting with better, more descriptive verbs and adverbs if your grammar is to stand out.

Your prose must sing and dance off the page. Anytime you describe what a character does, always check to see if a more descriptive word might apply. Using words that better show the exact actions that your character performs helps your reader become the character. That’s exactly what great prose does.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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May 25

Mary Deal Talks about Creating Your Story Title

Creating Your Story Title

Something writers of multiple stories will experience: Titles may come to you in a flash. Some will take some thinking through.

If you’ve written your first and only story thus far, you may feel you have a great title for that one piece of prose. However, caution should be taken due to lack of experience in titles. You can only know how easy or how difficult choosing a title will be when you’ve written a few stories.

For the person who writes many stories or many books, again, choosing a title may come easy, or it may be one of the most difficult aspects of writing.

Your book will first be judged by its title and cover art. Those are the first two criteria that will attract a potential buyer if they know nothing about you or your book or books. The title and cover must entice the viewer to look further and flip to the back cover and read the synopsis.

Here are some tips to help both the beginning writer and the experienced.

~ Your title should covey the overall message of the story.

An example would be if your story is about a crime taking place in an apple orchard. If you title your book “The Apple Orchard,” then you might have the front cover showing something happening in an orchard, or something related to the crime. Otherwise, a bland title like “The Apple Orchard” could represent anything from a romance to a UFO abduction under the apple trees. The title and cover of this book must work together.

An example of this type of title is Joseph Wambaugh’s “The Onion Field.” His cover is a very dark field with telephone poles and gorgeous sky in the distance. If you did not know the crime behind “The Onion Field” you would have no idea what the story might be about. Wambaugh is just lucky enough to be a bestselling author so people know him and what type of stories he writes, but most of us are not yet bestselling authors. We need more to attract readers.

~ Use an important phrase from within your story. It can be from the narrative or the dialogue.

In my latest thriller, Down to the Needle, the character Joe Arno is goading Det. Britto to hurry. Time is running out. An innocent person will go to lethal injection. Arno says, “Do something, Britto. We don’t want this case to go down to the needle.” This story is about how the case slides mercilessly all the way down to the needle. In my mind, I asked myself: What better title could there be?

Be selective. Choose some of your very best lines of narration or dialogue. Use the very best, or change the wording a bit to fit.

~ An overall theme.

In my award winning thriller, River Bones, I selected from the overall theme. The Sacramento River runs through rural farm and crop lands. Tourists vacation in boats and some stay through the summer. Though illegal, they dump their dinner leftover meat bones and other foodstuffs into the river. It’s easy to find bones here and there or washed up near the river banks. It’s also easy to find bones when a crime is committed by a person who buries his victims in the soft damp river banks that promotes decay.

I named that novel River Bones for that reason, also because just the mention of bones can send shivers down a person’s spine.

In order to decide just the right title for your story, think about what you’ve written. Think about the best lines you’ve written. Your title is right there in your prose.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Apr 06

Sex…with Finesse by Mary Deal (Contains Adult Content: That Ought to Bring in a Few Extra Visitors!)

Sex…with Finesse
by
Mary Deal

(Adult content)

One way to ruin a good story is with a lackluster sex scene or bedroom scene.

As I edit writers, one of the most important problems I find is that fledgling writers have great difficulty writing the obligatory sex scenes, love scenes, bedroom scenes, whatever. Men and women have different types of difficulty. Some women seem afraid to put their feelings and emotions on paper for the entire world to see. Men write withholding or censuring words, or they express the idea of sex without emotion.

What I tell both men and woman is to secretly write down – commit to paper in longhand – everything they know about sex – everything beautiful or every lewd act they know of. Writing with pen and paper keeps a person connected to their concentration. These can be quick notes or the whole scene in paragraphs. Write every dirty word that comes to mind. (Are there really any dirty words anymore?) In committing to paper, something they must do is to additionally write from the POV of the opposite gender. Too, the writer should describe the sex act from the first gleam in the eye all the way to orgasm. Since no one will ever see what is being written, they are to use any words or any language to describe the scene they wish to express.

Another exercise is to write a column of one-word descriptions. When finished, begin again at the top. Only this time, write a complimentary word from the POV of the opposite sex. This provides not only an idea of how well you understand the opposite gender’s POV but also provides a measure of how well you’ll be able to write a response from the opposite sex into the story.

Write everything you know about sex. Take the time to do the exercise just once. When I once ask a guy how much he knew of his real life partner’s ability to respond to him, his response was, “I just keep trying to —- her. She’ll come around.” Needless to say, he wrote some of the most worthless and incomplete sex scenes I have ever read.

One writer reached a point of having finally written a sex scene so well that she went on to write more. I know what her motivation was, considering when you write thorough love scenes, it has the potential to keep you rocking on the edge of your seat!

The simple rule is just once; write everything you personally know about sex. Every bad word and every phrase. When it’s all written down, for sure, you won’t want anyone seeing it or pre-reading some juicy love scene you’ve decided to include in your next story. Heaven forbid they might get to know you better!

This is only an exercise. To keep your thoughts private till you’re ready to do some serious writing, destroy your notes when the exercise is completed. But don’t just simply tear them up and flush them. Celebrate. Burn ’em! Tear them up into fine little pieces and burn them in a bowl much like a funeral pyre. Celebrate the end of frustration and inability to write about sex.

What one gains from the exercise is this: Once completed in privacy, with the repressed thoughts on paper, you will have brought yourself in touch with sex as you know it. You will have faced the fact that you’re either too shy about sex or too brazen, or anything in between. The simple act of committing your knowledge to paper in private seems to allow us to better write about the act when it must be included in stories. For once, you will have written all you know about sex. The initial reason for clumsily stumbling through the obligatory scenes is gone. Committing your views to paper that first time only once is, for the writer, like the first step on the moon. Once you take that first step, you overcome hesitation and apprehension.

You needn’t analyze your responses to these exercises and try to convince yourself that you understand yourself sexually. All this exercise accomplishes is to help you find easier ways of expressing sexuality through writing. It’s almost like saying, “Never mind who you are. Just get in touch with it.” The premise is that once you have written all you know about sex, you will not hesitate to write about it again.

You may not be happy with the very next love scene you write but now you will be able to examine and critique the scene in first draft. Having already written something you know conditions the mind, and the Muse. Now you’ll want to improve upon your scene and your Muse will happily comply. After all, you’ve already written out far more than you need.

Most critics say that in writing sex scenes that we are to suggest, or imply the action. Tantalize your reader with only suggestions of what people do in the sex scenes. Suggest. Writing out every last detail of the sex act becomes nothing more than pornography. That could ruin the image your story needs to convey. You will know exactly what you wish to include in your descriptions and what to leave out after having completed this simple exercise.

This is a good sex scene, leaving something to the imagination:

With all the teasing they had done through dinner – subliminal foreplay – he was already too excited when he slipped between the sheets beside her. He seemed hesitant. The moment she pressed her body against his, he pulled away suddenly and his breathing changed. He clutched a handful of sheet and drew it to himself as he struggled to maintain his composure. Then he said, “I-Im sorry. We’re going to have to wait a while.”

At first she was disappointed. Then she realized she had teased him mercilessly and kept him waiting right through coffee and desert and had herself, brought on his great embarrassment. She smiled, nibbled his ear then prodded his shoulder. “Roll over,” she said. “I’ll give you a feather massage.”

This, to me, is what I call porn writing:

With all the teasing they had done through dinner – subliminal foreplay – he was too excited as he slipped between the sheets. He pressed hard against her and his body felt coarse and clammy. He clutched at her buttocks and breathed heavily and immediately lost it on her thigh.

She felt dirty and frustrated. Her super stud was a dud. In disgust, she threw back the sheet and made a dash for a hot shower where one potential evening of good sex slid down the drain.

Did the coarseness of the second version destroy the sensuousness you felt from the first?

While I realize both versions will appeal to different audiences and that both versions have their places in appropriate plots, it’s still better to leave something to the imagination even if you have your character purging her disappointment in the shower.

Learn to write sex scenes with finesse. It’ll work in every plot.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Jan 26

Something We All Hope for: Avoiding Rejection, an Article by Mary Deal

Avoiding Rejection
by
Mary Deal

The following tips are some that have been reconstructed from a handout I gave at one of my workshops for writers already far along in their manuscripts. On the registration form I asked what each attendee would most like to learn. Surprisingly, the frequently mentioned information pertained to feeling insecure about submitting once the manuscript was finished, and how would they know it was ready for submission.

In order to help avoid rejection of your manuscript, you need to think through what you’ve created. Start by analyzing these points before submitting.

Does your story start off strong enough to grab a potential reader’s attention?

Does your plot contain enough twists and turns to keep the reader from knowing the ending beforehand? Or is your story so predictable that it might be boring?

Does any possibility exist that you’ve created a story that creeps along, when it should fly and keep the reader turning pages?

Do you know the difference between a slow moving, arduous read and a story that moves like lightning where the reader has difficulty keeping their eyeballs in their sockets?

Have you included your own opinions in the plot sequences instead of allowing the scenes and characters to write themselves?

Are you preachy and trying to make a statement concerning something in which you believe and wish to share? Have no doubt. It is a definite turn-off and will show in your writing.

Have you developed your story to its fullest potential? If not, that would be the same as a detective having four clues and investigating only three. Whatever happens in your story, make sure you cover all aspects and possibilities of each scene.

What about your narrative voice? Is it different from your characters’ dialogues? Does it sound realistic or forced?

Always be careful of clichéd writing, and the use of stale jargon. Use only the most recent language of the time period of your plot that people in real life would use if they were your characters. To have a story taking place in present time, but using age-old language just doesn’t work. That’s unless the author shows that their particular story requires it.

Does each and every scene pull in the reader? Are the scenes developed so the reader knows when and where things happen and how the characters fit into that scene? In other words, have you written the scenes well enough so the reader will feel a part of it all and not know that they sit in a chair reading a book?

Do you have the appropriate beginning, middle and ending? As already stated, the beginning should grab the reader’s interest and make them want to keep reading. The middle may sag if you’ve simply tried to flesh out the story by adding inappropriate information that doesn’t feed into and forward the plot. The ending should be dramatic or contain the element of an Aha! experience. Whatever the experience, the reader must feel satisfaction for the characters when the story concludes.

Are your characters’ dialogues commensurate with the types of people you’ve created them to be? Do all your characters sound the same? Even if all your characters share the same backgrounds and social status, you must make each of them unique. One of the easiest places to accomplish this is through their dialogues.

As with the story line, the same applies to the characters. Are they lackluster predictable types?

Do your characters perform to the best of their abilities while moving through the plot? They can be demure to dastardly, but whatever they are, make them true to type and the best that they can be for the situation in which you’ve placed them.

Have you had your finished manuscript edited by a new set of eyes, preferably professional ones? A relative or friend critiquing your manuscript just isn’t enough – unless the person is an English teacher, perhaps.

Too, here’s something I do:

I have my final manuscript in one long file. I do a search for various important words that I may have used throughout the book. When I find too many of one word, I replace some of them with a different word or phrase with the same meaning. To read the same words too often begins to make the writing seem amateurish, as if the author had not seen the inside of a dictionary or thesaurus.

Lastly, these are some suggestions that should be thought through before submitting your work to agents or publishers. This information also applies to short story and novella writers, even some nonfiction. Much of this information may have crossed the mind of the writer way before getting to the end of the writing phase. In that case, that author is a huge step ahead and their manuscript will show it.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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