Sunday, May 31, 2015

JennyRedbug needs YOUR help!

May was a busy month for me. I've not only been busy with work (see below), and spending time with my mom and the rest of my family—we even got some boat work shoe-horned in there. Russel has been designing and installing new cupboards and storage areas on the mighty sailing vessel "Watchfire 2" and I have had to watch, and give advice. Exhausting. Add to that our anniversary and my birthday and you can see why the posts have not been proliferating here.

Luckily my recent book-editing projects have not been exhausting—they've been challenging and exhilarating. I'm doing a line-edit on a timely and evocative Civil Rights Era novel by an author I met at San Diego Writers Conference. Also doing some content/structure edits on a travel memoir and evaluating a new genre novel by an excellent writer. The summer is booking up with new projects, too. I love my job!

You might have missed my last post—it was a guest blog on my friend Oz Monroe's excellent blog. Oz has a fun (scary) challenge for himself: He lets his Facebook friends pick a weekly topic, and the winning topic (by likes) is the subject he writes about. He calls the challenge, "Throw Oz Under the Bus." A couple of us have allowed ourselves to be "thrown under the bus" too, as guest bloggers—I was the latest. The winning blog topic for me was “A feminist perspective on masculinity in the 21st century.” (WTF?) Here's my post for Oz, based on that topic: Man up?

And now, my friends, it's that time of year again...won't you help me to support San Diego Writers, Ink (SDWI), an important non-profit resource in our writing community? Their yearly "Blazing Laptops" fundraising event raises a major portion of their annual operating funds, allowing them to offer great classes at low rates. I donate time to them every year, and I'll be donating a free book evaluation (value $500 to $1000) to the auction; I'll also be writing all day during "Blazing Laptops" at the SDWI Ink Spot in Liberty Station on June 7th.

Could you donate $5 or $10? We'd all appreciate it! My fundraising page is here.

Thanks for any help you can give SDWI, and...
hasta pronto!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Picture This: Good Writing Should be Visual

There have been many studies done on language concreteness—the fact that specific, vivid, definite words and phrases evoke mental images—and it has been shown to be an important determiner of reading comprehension. In a paper published by the International Reading Association, the authors write: ‘“snarling tiger” is concrete and image-evoking, but “policy concept” is abstract, less likely to evoke images.”
Though this conclusion—that some words are more likely than others to produce mental images—seems intuitive, many writers are still ignoring it, and not writing in a way that is most effective at producing word-images. I contend that all of those writers’ readers suffer because of it.
Case in point, a writer I was working with had written a sentence that went something like this: “She remembered how she’d sat there by the fire, as a young girl, having her hair brushed by her mother.” I brought up the concept of language concreteness and together, we changed the line to: “She saw herself as a young girl, sitting by the fire, her mother brushing her hair.”
“Saw” is visual, “remembered” is not—you can picture someone in the act of seeing, but can you picture someone in the act of remembering? And “a young girl” is something we can easily picture (though all of us will have a different picture), so the sooner we get to that phrase, the better the imagery-inducing effect. The mother comes in sooner, too, which is all to the good, as the girl having her hair brushed is a very general idea until the mother comes in—after all, the young girl could have been having her hair brushed by a sister, a friend, or even a teacher. We don’t have to wait so long before we can “picture” what is happening.
This of course, explains the war on “thought verbs” that I’m waging, along with Chuck Palahniuk and others. Thought verbs are not visual. And the current focus on eliminating so-called “filter words” is in some ways driven by the same concept.
One great trick for spotting all this thought-full filtering is to read your work out loud—or have someone else read it aloud. You'll hear endless iterations of your characters having “thought about” and “remembered” and “contemplated” and the like. Mark those words and phrases. When you go back and rewrite, you'll find ways to substitute verbs that make your writing much more active—and, in the process, much more visual.
So, get to reading and re-writing now—and hasta pronto!