Skip to content

Tag: writing

Tips-y Tuesday: Finding “The One”

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we saw how the Hammer of Detail can crack open scenes like eggs and let flow the juicy rainbows hidden within.

This week I’d like to take a break from talking about writing (with a lowercase w) and look at Writing (uppercase!) instead

The difference? Writing (uppercase!) is everything concerning writing that doesn’t involve words on the page. It’s scheduling time to write, getting in the zone, minimizing distractions, overcoming rejection, etc etc. It’s just as important as writing (lowercase!), since you could have the greatest story idea ever, but if it never actually gets written and published, it’s the same as if you never wrote it.

To start off on the topic of Writing, I’d like to take another look at yesterday’s Monday Masterpiece. It was taken from Beth Revis’s novel Across the Universe, and I was inspired to read it after seeing her video about overcoming rejection on Operation Awesome.

If you haven’t seen her video yet, watch it here. It’s well worth the seven minutes.

As someone who has completed five full novels, and has several incomplete ones, without so much as ever getting a partial request from a literary agent, Beth’s video spoke to me on a personal level.

You always hear about how Stephen King or J.K. Rowling was rejected dozens of times before they were finally published, but here’s the difference: their first novels were good. My first novels (and Beth’s too), were not good. You never really hear about the graveyard of books that accumulates between starting out as a writer and then finally making it.

You always think that every novel you finish and send out to agents is going to be The One, but that’s not usually the case. Like Beth said in her video, she wrote 10 novels before finally getting Across the Universe published, and she thought each of those 10 was going to be The One too. But that wasn’t their purpose – their purpose was to act as steps on a ladder toward something better.

It’s a ladder made of manuscripts, leading up to The  One. The only catch:
you can’t know how many rungs it has until you’ve already climbed to the top.

ladder

I feel the same Beth does. I thought each of the five novels I wrote previously was going to be The One at the time. But now, looking back, I can see their flaws. I’ve learned something important from each of them, making my subsequent stories better. I’m hoping that the current novel I’m writing will be The One, but if it isn’t, then I’ll learn from it and move on as well.

That’s what today’s Tips-y Tuesday is all about: learning from past loves. Just because you sent out the novel you pured your heart and soul into to 100 agents and didn’t even get a  reply, that doesn’t mean you failed. You only fail if you give up. Instead figure out what you did wrong – show the books to friends, family, writing groups – then learn from it and try again. Repeat for several years until successful. Serving size: one.

So if you’re like me and are amazing at coming up with ideas but cursed with mediocre writing skill, don’t give up. Keep on plugging away, and like Beth showed us, it may take several years, but the only way you won’t eventually make it is if you give up.

Or if the Earth explodes. But hey, that could make a good story.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Masterpiece Monday: A Drop in the Universe

Last week on Masterpiece Monday we looked at how Harry Potter is so good that it outright tells us. This week I’d like to change gears from sentences and scenes and look at the effect that a single word can have – specifically the “sound” it can have.

One thing I miss about Japanese when I’m writing in English is the lack of sound effects. For those unaware, Japanese is ripe with onomatopoeia words like sara sara for the rustling of leaves, or gotan goton for the sound of trains on tracks. There’s oven sound effect words for things we’d never imagine having sound effects, like bata bata for the sound of being busy or ira ira for the sound of being frustrated.

Using just the right onomatopoeia word in Japanese feels similar to finding just that right verb in English. Like when you write “he clambered into the car” instead of the generic “he got into the car.”

So when an author uses onomatopoeia in English, I immediately take notice.

I was inspired to read Beth Revis’s YA science-fiction novel Across the Universe after watching her video about failure that was featured on Operation Awesome. Right at the very beginning chapter, I was hit with a line that “sounded” amazing

“Daddy and I stepped back, but not so far that Mom would think we’d left her in that icy coffin alone. Ed pulled Mom’s eyes open. His fingers were big, calloused, and they looked like rough-hewn logs spreading apart my mom’s paper-thin eyelids. A drop of yellow liquid fell on each green eye. Ed did it quickly—drop, drop—then he sort of pushed her eyes shut. She didn’t open them again.”

I don’t know about you, but when I read that “drop, drop” part, I couldn’t help but smile with delight. Using the sound effect is much more effective here than just writing something instead like “Ed quickly dropped them in.”

Not only does the sound effect give us a sense of just how quickly he did it – drop, drop and then it’s over! – but it brings us as close to the scene as possible. When we can hear the physical sound the drop makes, it’s like we’re actually there with the narrator, watching – and hearing! – it happen.

Using sound effects in English can often come across as childish, and even when used well it can read awkwardly if it’s overdone. But when used sparingly and in key places like the above, it can make writing come alive far more than any verb or adjective ever could.

As always, thanks for reading. Join us next week on Masterpiece Monday when we take a look at a character with a sexy voice. See you then!

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 ridiculous details of Japanese office tea 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about the top five most ridiculous details of Japanese office tea. Office tea may not be the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of Japanese businesses – formal meetings, bowing and business cards probably come before that – but it’s just as important.

Tea is basically lubrication for Japanese business like oil is lubrication for a car – it just doesn’t run without it. When I worked in a Japanese office, every meeting no matter how big or small had tea served to the guests. Whenever me or my coworkers went as guests to somewhere else, we were always served tea as well.

It may sound strange to the uninitiated, but it was kind of nice. Not only were you guaranteed a refreshing drink (cold in the summer hot in the winter) whenever you were going someplace, but it made you feel more welcome than if you just sat down and got right to business.

I don’t want to spoil too much more of the details of Japanese business tea, so go ahead and read the article before I accidentally spoil everything. Enjoy!

Read the article here.

Tips-y Tuesday: Cracking Open Scenes

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we looked at how illogic can make your writing feel more real and exciting than something perfectly logical. This week we’ll look at another way to make your writing come alive: cracking open scenes.

As a writer, one of my greatest weaknesses is writing too generically. I forget that the reader isn’t inside my brain and can’t see everything I’m seeing. So what I like to do when I go back and edit is making sure I’ve “cracked open” any generic scenes.

What I mean by that is taking a bland scene then opening it up to reveal hidden, juicy details. Here’s an example of a scene in desperate need of some cracking:

“He woke up and made breakfast, then got ready for work. He kissed his wife on the way out the door then started his drive to the office.”

Yikes, that’s about as generic as it gets. The writer may have a clear image of who this guy in their own mind, but it’s not coming through clearly at all. It’s too airy and makes the reader feel detached from the scene. So here’s what we need to do:

Masterpiece Monday: Harry Potter Show and Tell

Last week on Masterpiece Monday we looked at the magic of one really well-written line, but this week we’re back to the actual magic with Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone.

Showing vs. telling. Ah, the term we all love to use. As writers we’re supposed to show show show and never tell. Just like a good documentary, we’re supposed to give the reader all of the information visually and let them decide for themselves what it all means.

Except that’s not entirely true. Unlike a video documentary, writing relies on the reader following along with the writer pulling words out of their imagination. If there’s a confusing sentence or section, then we have to go back and reread – or even worse just stay confused – taking us out of the story.

That’s why “telling” can be a powerful tool. Sometimes the reader just needs a little push in the right direction to ensure they don’t get lost or confused. Showing vs. telling shouldn’t be thought of as “always show and never tell,” rather it should be more like “showing is fries and telling is ketchup.” A little bit goes a long way and can make the final product even better.

Here’s an example from Harry Potter of how “telling” can help make a scene even better:

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 most offensive Japanese swear words 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about the top five most offensive Japanese swear words. As an armchair linguist, I find swear words fascinating for two reasons: (1) they’re the first words in a foreign language that any student wants to learn, and (2) I can’t believe that so many languages have words that are “forbidden” or “unclean.” I mean, they’re just words!

As far as (1) goes, I think a big reason students clamor to learn swear words is for two reasons: one, it gives them some “bad” vocabulary words to use that other people won’t understand, and two, it gives the language a grittier, more authentic feel. Rather than learning how to say “I’d like three apples please,” you’re actually learning some “real” words that people use when you learn swears.

I remember in high school one Spanish teacher told her class that the best way to pick out a dictionary (before the days of internet dictionaries and smartphones) was to look up the worst swear words you could possibly think of. If it had them, great! If it didn’t, move on to another. I can’t vouch for how effective that method really is, but it did make shopping for new dictionaries a lot more fun.

So if you’re a swear-lover like I am, maybe you’ll enjoy the article. And if not, well, maybe you can learn to love them after seeing how silly it is that certain sounds in another language are considered “taboo.” Enjoy!

Read the article here.

Masterpiece Monday: Oh For “The Love of God”

As you do when you’re a struggling writer, every week I write and submit short stories by the barrel to any online magazine that doesn’t shut its virtual door in my face. And when you’re checking out the online magazines to see if they cater to your kind of genre (I like to dabble in the lesser-known genres of Horribly-Written and Needs-Improvement), you get to read a lot of stories – some of which are pretty good.

This week I’d like to share a short excerpt from a story I read while peeking around the magazine Nimrod International Journal for Prose and Poetry. The story is from the current (Summer/Spring 2016) volume, and the title is “The Love of God” by Laura Jok.

It’s about two teenage girls who go to a summer Catholic retreat, one less willingly than the other. The two girls are going off to college together as roommates when summer is over, and here’s the conversation they have after the narrator failed to wake up her friend when she overslept:

“You sleep like a dead person,” I told her in the afternoon. “She is risen!”
“Is this how it’s going to be in the fall? Are you going to let me sleep through my college exams and stuff?”
“Exams, yes. Stuff, no.”
“I mean it. Can I count on you to wake me in the future?”
“Sista, iamb yore roommate knot chore keeper.”

That last sentence put a huge smile on my face when I read it. It’s a rare feat to express sarcasm and mockery in writing without it coming off as awkward or forced, but Laura Jok pulls it off perfectly here. The intentionally misspellings – which conveniently double as “fancy-sounding” words – let you hear the narrator’s mocking, fake-polite tone in your head as clearly as if she were making fun of you to your face.

It would’ve been so much more boring if the author had simply gone instead with “Sister, I am your roommate not your keeper.” Sure it would get the point across, but there would be no spice or life to it, and it certainly wouldn’t help create a memorable scene. This is a great example of taking a generic interaction, and then cracking it open like an egg with added detail to reveal the colorful (and delicious!) insides.

Click here to read the rest of “The Love of God,” and here to see more of Nimrod magazine. We’ll be back to looking at Harry Potter next Monday with a section that’s so good, it tells you. See you then!

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 crazy things about Japanese supermarkets 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote the top five crazy things about Japanese supermarkets. Having recently returned to living in Japan after being in the U.S. for several years, I was shocked by all the things I had forgotten about the Japanese way of food shopping.

Whenever we think about different cultures, we tend to focus on stereotypical differences: temples/shrines in Japan, kangaroos in Australia, wine and cheese with every meal in France. But when you actually go to the country itself, usually it’s the smaller things that really make it feel foreign.

Like grocery stores, for example.

I’m always glad when I can do an article that hones in on those smaller differences and brings them to light. There’s little chunks of juicy cultural tidbits hidden in those small differences, and exploring them is always a lot of fun.

I don’t want to spoil any of the items on the list here, so be sure to read the article if you want to see what’s different about buying food in Japan. Enjoy!

Read the article here.