Sunday, 29 May 2011

Don't Overstuff Your Verbs — Unpack

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Having received some interest in Minimalism (mentioned in my last post), I thought I’d share this minimalist writing technique for making verbs more active and immediate. It is an approach I picked up from The Cult Writer’s Workshop, part of Chuck Palahniuk’s Official Fansite (this is a paid membership online workshop that costs about $40/year. It was certainly worth the money back when I was a member. Any current active members, please let me know how things are going).

Unpacking Verbs

There are time when it’s obvious an adverb is unnecessary.

He ran quickly to the phone. It’s redundant to have quickly in there, running already implies speed, so you should cut it out. He ran to the phone.

Sometimes it’s perfectly fine to use an adverb (no, really , it is). An adverb is a modifier, and if you’re modifying the verb in an unexpected way that changes the meaning of the verb it can be a useful tool. Examples:

She smiled sadly.
His arm was partially severed.
He whispered loudly.


But most times the adverb is modifying the verb in a way that there is already another word for. Examples:

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Chapter One: Fight Club

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Previous examples of my Chapter One Analysis series can be found here. If you want to read the first chapter of Fight Club for yourself you can find it here.

Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.

In a publishing climate where men are considered a poor demographic to aim a book at, I thought I’d take a look at one of the leading lights of what is called transgressive fiction. No holds barred, down and dirty, psychologically and morally questionable and questioning. 

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Need to Know: the basis of all story

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Any story requires the reader to want to know what happens next. This need to know is called suspense. Usually people think of the big, terrifying, heart pumping moments when they think of the term, but wondering if you need to buy milk is also suspense.


If you can build and maintain suspense in a story, at whatever level, it will be more interesting to read for the reader. See the box above? What’s inside? Not knowing makes you curious, huh?

What if I then say, I’ll tell you tomorrow, and take the box away?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Bunch of Cults

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I hope to make this an ongoing series looking at books and movies that I have been meaning to read/watch and have now got round to. What makes these stories special is that they have a non-mainstream sensibility and may not be overtly commercial, but have managed to find a place within the collective consciousness.



The first book I want to look at is Room by Emma Donoghue. A prize-winning novel about a woman and her young son trapped in a room and occasionally visited by their captor.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Hurry! Free Stuff!

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It’s pretty easy to download movies, music and e-books off the net. It’s pretty obvious none of the industries involved knows how to deal with this or which is the best way to proceed.

The problem is the established companies are not interested in just embracing the new. It still has to line their pockets. If the development of digital product results in cutting out the middlemen, then the middlemen aren’t going to like it very much.

Not only will they seek to dissuade people from choosing alternative methods that don’t line their pockets, they will actively try to fuck things up.

I’m particularly interested in how e-books will develop now that the age of the e-reader is upon us (this will probably be how Skynet gets started). Books are easy to pirate, there’s lots of demand,  and they take seconds to download. What can you do? I think an interesting way to see what the future has in store is to look at the rise of the podcast.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Story seems to be the hardest word

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Lately I’ve been critiquing a lot of writing where the story is full of movement and people go from A to B in search of whatever, but it reads very dull and lifeless. All genres, no matter what demographic it’s aimed at, need story. But even if all the basic requirements are fulfilled, it can still read flat.

A guy is hungry. He has no money. He borrows some from a friend. He goes to the store. He buys some food and eats it. Now the friend wants a favour in return for the loan...

Things happen, someone wants something, there’s an obstacle, a solution is produced and there’s even a suggestion it’s headed somewhere. So why doesn’t it grip you? What we have so far is just a bunch of stuff happening. It isn’t interesting in and of itself, and if you want the reader to be engaged it needs something more.

So, what differentiates story from a bunch of stuff that happened?

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Chapter One: The Hunger Games

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This is a continuation of my series of first chapter dissections where I take apart the opening  chapter of a successful novel to find out what makes it work, how the author hooked the reader, which rules were followed, and which were broken to good effect (previous entries can be found here: Ch.1 Analyses).

Suzanne Collins was an established writer before she wrote The Hunger Games, having written extensively for children’s television and a series of MG books. She moved onto Young Adult with this novel in 2008, the first in a trilogy. Set in a dystopian society in the future, every year two teenagers from each district are sent to the Capitol to compete in the games.

The premise isn’t original, but I’d say the main difference from its forebears is the audience. Stories of this dark nature haven’t been aimed at teens before (even when they’ve starred teens as in Battle Royale). How the author manages to balance this mixture of children and violence is, I think, part of the book’s success.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Loitering With Intent

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Why write? I don’t mean in general or in existential terms (I write because I must), I mean the story you’re working on at the moment, your current WiP, why are you writing it?

Most people, when asked this, will deflect or try not to give a straight answer. Like writing a pitch or a synopsis, it’s seen as an awkward chore to be done only when absolutely necessary.
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