Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Bit of a Break

Devon's Wednesday Ramblings will return in approximately two weeks.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Strunk & White

When it comes to revising your work, the best resource is Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

The original Elements of Style was used in 1919 for Strunk’s college course at Cornell University. One of his students that year was E.B. White, who was hired 38 years later to revise and update the book for re-release by Macmillan.

Since then, it has become THE tool of the writer’s trade. As someone who handles an enormous amount of written material, both in the various projects I head up, the work I do for other publications, and my critique/coaching business, I see the same mistakes over and over and over again. Most of them are mistakes that I remember covering in Third Grade English. There’s no excuse for an adult not to know the difference between “it’s” and “its” at this point. It’s sheer laziness. Errors like that will get an unknown writer tossed into the garbage can instead of the publication pile. It is the writer’s responsibility and part of the job to learn the craft.

As a writer, I am awful at proofreading my own work. Trusted Readers are a must before submission. Also, I have some bad writing habits that I fall into, having to do with passive in early drafts and sometimes picking the wrong word for a shade of meaning. By re-reading Elements of Style – cover to cover – during the revision process, I can go back to the draft and read it with an eye only to those elements of style to which Strunk refers in the text and catch most of them. Again, part of my job as a professional is to turn in a manuscript as polished as possible. Third-grade level errors are not acceptable.

And the book is funny. Take, for instance, on p. 57, under “Misused Words and Expressions”:

“Prestigious. Often an adjective of last resort. It’s in the dictionary, but that doesn’t mean you have to use it.”

Personally, I have no problem with the word “prestigious”, although I can’t remember the last time I used it. But every time I read that paragraph, it makes me laugh.

And any time one can catch a laugh during the revision process – grab it! It will help you retain perspective on your work.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sensory Exercises: Finishing

For the past six weeks, we’ve worked on a series of exercises focusing on the six senses. We have one story that’s been revised each week to incorporate the “sense of the week” into it, and six separate short stories, one with each prompt as its focus.

Now it’s time to go back over all the stories. Revise them. You want to make sure that, in the individual sensory pieces that, while the piece is focused on the specific sense, it does not mean that every other element of a good story. As you revise the stories, think less about the parameters of the particular exercise and more about what makes it the best story it can be. The exercises are merely jumping off points, points of inspirations – it’s up to you to take them and run with them.

In my case, one of the exercises “the taste of single malt whisky”, resulted in a story of nearly 7k called “The Retriever”, introducing two of my favorite characters to date, Sean and Elle. I have at least four more adventures mapped out for them, and the original story is out on submission. The whisky is not the focus of the plotline, but it’s an element in the story, both at the beginning and near the end, and the characters ran off on their own.

Please feel free to share you own experiences with the various exercises, and the types of stories they sparked.

We’ll take a break from exercises for the next few weeks to discuss some other writing topics.