6 On Ed Fiction, Adverbs, Tom Swifties, O my! (Write Stuff 0115)
Writing News for the Sunshine State
& the Solar System
Editor: Howard Denson
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In This Issue:
Education novelist Edward M. Baldwin
to speak to NFW on Jan. 10
Edward M. Baldwin, America’s education novelist, will speak to the North Florida Writers on Saturday, Jan. 10. He is the author of the “Duval County books,” classroom dramas set in a fictitious Duval County school district. “Learnt,” his first Duval County novel, met with repeated praise from reviewers. “Victims of Shakespeare,” the next book in the series, is scheduled for release in 2015, followed by “Teacher Deficit Disorder” and “Gun Point Average” respectively.
He also writes short stories with teachers, students, and parents being his primary audience. “Parent Plots, Teacher Tales & Student Stories” was recently published. As an English Education graduate of the University of North Florida, he has served as a high school English teacher and literacy coordinator. He has also helped people pursue their goals by serving as an adjunct professor for an adult education program, where he taught English and a “Strategies for Success” course.
He is an avid tennis player and believes that it is one of the most demanding sports on the planet, comparing it to the martial arts that he used to study diligently. He spends much of his time visiting public schools, coaching tennis, tutoring aspiring writers, and, of course, writing.
He is the editor of three blogs: Baldwin Memorable Moments, Tips to Treasure (Writing Tips for Writers), and Two Cents with Lint. He lives in Jacksonville with his wife, three children, and two cats. You can visit him at http://www.EdwardMBaldwin.com.
For the critiques, someone other than the author of respective works will read aloud the submissions (up to 20 double-spaced TYPED pages of prose, and reasonable amounts of poetry or lyrics). Authors may not defend their work, but they may attach questions they would like answered (e.g., “Is the scene on the beach convincing?” or “Did the story get right the various references to voltage and electricity?”). As the works are being read, the respective authors should listen to the words and rhythms of their creations.
Future meeting dates and locales:.
Jan. 10 – noon, Riverside VyStar – Speaker: Edward Baldwin
Feb. 14 – noon, Riverside VyStar – Speaker: Carrol Wolverton
Mar. 14 – noon, Riverside VyStar – Speaker: TBA
Apr. 11 – noon, Riverside VyStar – Speaker: TBA
The NFW meets at the VyStar Credit Union (760 Riverside Ave., next to the Fuller Warren Bridge and Saturday’s Riverside Arts Market).
The meeting, which is free and open to the public, will begin at noon and end before 3 p.m.
Parking: VyStar requests that NFW members and guests park on the side of the buildings to leave spaces for their regular customers.
Keep up with the NFW
on our Facebook page
On Facebook, join us at any time. Webmeister Richard Levine has changed the privacy setting of the NFW from Closed to Public. That way, you can check out our group at your leisure.
To begin your evaluation, follow the link below:
Later on, if you are in the process of simplifying your e-life and want to leave us, you may do so at any time:
Just go to this site:
On Giving Adverbs
a Good Name
By MARK RIGNEY
“Eschew adverbs.” Does a more frequent and regular trope of writing advice exist? Probably not.
Well, I for one am ready to mount a defense of the unloved adverb. In order to do so, let me offer three lousy adverb-heavy sentences just to set the scene.
He jogged lazily, unconsciously, stoically; he really loved to jog.
“Hey, cutie,” she said, looking over her shoulder sexily.
Longingly, he looked after her with tears in his eyes.
None of these works. The first overplays its hand (and ends with a simplistic assessment besides), using three adverbs where any one would do. “Lazily” probably wouldn’t work, no matter what; it’s the wrong modifier. Can one jog for any real distance with a lazy affect? No.
The second is the absolute exemplar of what writing teachers mean when they demand that adverbs be eschewed. (Writing teachers are also against passive voice, but that’s for another day.) I’m borrowing this example from Stephen King, who offers something similar in On Writing. Whether it’s by me or by King or even by Caspar the Friendly Ghost, this is the sort of sentence that must never, ever stand. Why? Because it forces the adverb to do all the work. If we need to know how the woman in question looks over her shoulder, a neat, cropped sentence like this does its work better by either relying on context (the dialogue, for example) or by expansion. Here’s one solution:
“Hey, cutie,” she said, gazing over her shoulder with a challenging, questioning look.
Still not great, but in concert with a proper story and the details of adjoining sentences, this might prove to be a keeper. (Or it might not: revise, revise, revise. Advice so hoary it’s got two feet in the grave, plus a torso.)
In the third example, above, the adverb heads up the sentence and thereby steals its thunder. It’s more weight than the poor word (“longingly”) can bear. In a fairy or folk tale, this sort of shorthand might cut the mustard, but most mustard, once cut, prefers an environment fraught with vivid detail, an acknowledgment of the near infinite variety contained in the world around us. Consider this alteration:
The tears refused to abate, and he swiped at them with his wrist, wetting his cuffs. In the distance, the old Volkswagen shrank, signaled to turn right on Jefferson, and vanished around the corner, its chrome winking briefly in the sunshine.
Notice. I included an adverb.
Adverbs modify action. They can even modify themselves:
She plays basketball quite gracefully.
In this example, both “quite” and “gracefully” are adverbs. Imagine trying to write the dialogue for Downton Abbey or P.G. Wodehouse while eschewing the word “quite.”
Adverbs also modify adjectives. Advice-prone writers seem to forget this. Sure, extra words don’t help story-telling, but at certain moments, any writer conscious of style might pen this sentence:
His grandmother was consistent to a fault, always.
How many adverbs can you find?
This brings us to adverbial clauses and phrases, essential parts of any writer’s toolbox, and not the sort of thing that anyone speaking or processing English can do without.
Remember: adverbs explain why, when, where, how, quantity, and frequency. With that in mind, consider:
The orchestra played its holiday concert in the park.
Yep. “In the park” is an adverbial phrase. Should we lop it off and throw it to the hounds just because it’s an adverb?
How about this:
After the soccer game concludes and the players are good and tired, we’ll go get ice cream.
The main thrust of the sentence is, “We’ll go get ice cream.” The rest? One long adverbial clause.
So far, we’ve modified place and time. Let’s try something causal (and while we’re at it, let’s try for a better, or at least more intriguing, sentence):
Thanks to his near constant pounding and tattooing, Levon became a skilled, sensitive drummer.
In this example, Levon (Helm) bangs on the drums. Notice that, “Levon banged his drums loudly,” is still a deplorable sentence, but it isn’t only the adverb that’s to blame. It’s the dullness of the declarative. Most of the time, language deserves a little dressing up––and that’s really what’s at issue here. Adverbs attached to simple sentences tend to produce simplistic results. They thrive on disguise, subterfuge. Burial.
Here are three more sentences featuring adverbial clauses, the first dealing with intent, the second with a concession, and the third a condition:
Hoping to avoid cracking the ice further, he proceeded with his legs all but splayed.
“Even though you are technically old enough to drive,
there is no way on God’s green earth that I am getting you a learner’s permit.”
“No, but you may have a cookie if you eat your broccoli.”
None of these needs revision, or the excision of their adverbs. In fact, without them, they’d wither and die.
Finally (adverb alert!), I offer two sentences from a project I’m working on now, The Copyist, a historical novel currently at 86,000 words and destined (so I hope) to top out around 130,000. Here are three somewhat random selections from that book that I quite (adverb alert!) enjoy, and that would be reduced to ashes if I remanded their adverbs into custody:
“Over a cold breakfast taken in our apartments, I relayed to my master
the odious desires of the Portuguese ambassador.”
The experience of being hung by one’s ankles is both singular and decidedly unpleasant.
“It was the abbot himself who laid on the strap, and he showed, I think, real enthusiasm for his task.”
Note that only the second of these three examples lays forth a bare “-ly” adverb, the kind that causes every teacher across the land to break out their dreaded red pen. However, this adverb works (to my mind) because adverbs tend to heighten comedy, specifically in the case of arch and stuffy characterizations. Of course being hung by the ankles is unpleasant! But the experience becomes amusing, at least to a degree, with that extra nudge of emphasis.
The moral of the story: “Eschew adverbs.” Yes.
But don’t skip them out of hand (adverb alert!). Your toolbox would be the poorer for it. Use in moderation, proceed with caution, and as with words in general, write down only those that truly need to be written.
Avoid Tom Swifties, he said evasively
…and other dialogue problems
By HOWARD DENSON
During a couple decades of assisting with contests in novels and short fiction, I learned that the Tom Swifty still exists. Back in the Sixties, discussions about this construction in weekly news magazines made for some fun reading. Some aspiring writers are sharp enough to avoid stumbling into Tom Swifty-Land, but, when others do, the reader laughs…and perhaps pitches the manuscript aside. Such errors occur in dialogue tags, and they have several red-headed siblings and cousins in this area.
First, let me make a confession. Early on (and probably later than I wish to admit), I made almost all of the errors that I will mention in this discussion. On an occasion or two, I had an epiphany that set me on the right course regarding a particular problem, but, more often, I learned what to do from John Gardner’s “The Art of Fiction” and “On Moral Fiction,” John Braine’s “Writing a Novel,” workshops at writers’ conferences, and many books and articles.
I never read the Tom Swift novels created and orchestrated by Edward Stratemeyer, whose crew used the penname Victor Appleton to tell about Tom’s adventures with motor cycles, diamond making, photo telephones, etc. You may go online to the Tom Swift website and read the entire text of novels that are in the public domain.
The Tom Swifty may occur in a first draft when an “-ly” adverb is used, but not when sentences have such adverbs as “later.”
A couple examples of Tom Swifties:
“You shock me,” Tom said electrically.
“I’ve gained fifty pounds this month,” he said heavily.
If you are listing the main problem with dialogue, you must be wary of dialogue that simply isn’t realistic. Mark Twain complained about James Fenimore Cooper’s habit of having a character talk like a country bumpkin in one chapter and then like a gentleman in another. The best way to see if the dialogue is believable is to read the words aloud. If the words flow off the tongue, then they may be natural.
Using tags can cause problems other than the Swifties. Some writers try to incorporate characters’ names in the dialogue, figuring it is a clever way to get around cluttering the page with “he said, she said”:
“What are you doing, Sue?”
“I’m thinking, George.”
“Oh, really, Sue?”
What’s wrong with this? Listen closely to two people conversing. They seldom use each other’s names. An exception to this rule may be, say, a doctor talking to a confused or semi-sedated patient:
“George, what day is this? George, do you know where you are?”
The actual words of people’s conversation should only be used when they are important, distinctive, etc. If you find that you are putting down exactly what two people undoubtedly would say to each other in a certain situation, then see how much of it is mundane. A couple of common offenses (unless your piece is in the spirit of “Waiting for Godot”):
“Be seeing you,” George said.
“I’ll call next week.”
“Look after yourself.”
Let’s say this type of exchange occurs with George and Sam, then with George and Sandra, and Sam and Murphy, etc. Generally, that repetition will cause us to put down a book or magazine. We don’t need the same type of humdrum closings or greetings. Hence, we want to focus on the truly important information from the dialogue and let the other stuff be. There are always exceptions. French anti-novels may deliberately contain disconnected dialogue. If you want to write an anti-novel, write a non-fiction book or don’t write anything at all. It may be helpful to stuff green beans up your nose until the urge goes away. Similarly, some novelists and playwrights may have scenes with page after page of uninteresting dialogue to show the futility and emptiness of life. No one goes to their plays or reads their books anyway, unless some university class on Angst in Lit requires it. You want your stuff to be read.
New writers reason that the readers will tire of continually seeing “he said” and “she said,” so they often struggle to vary the tags with “he insisted,” “she persisted,” “he inquired,” “she went on to say,” etc. Actually, the readers usually don’t notice the tags, so it is perfectly all right to stick with “he said” and “she said.” In a like manner, new writers want to signal how the words should be said, so they write “he bellowed,” “she screamed,” “he hiccoughed,” “she shouted,” and the like. The dialogue itself should reveal that the words are being bellowed, shouted, or screamed.
Often a writer gets in a hurry and uses a “he said” tag, puts in the dialogue, and (absent-mindedly) ends with another “he said” line. So when you are proofing your work, be sure to weed out double-tags:
Tom laughed and asked, “Why are you telling me this? You know it amuses me except when I’m reminded of my late wife,” he said, sorrow spreading across his face.
Some established writers have been embarrassed by their earlier work, especially when they use inappropriate tags:
He smiled, “What are you doing tonight?”
She laughed, “I won’t be there with you.”
When given the chance with earlier works being reissued, writers who care about the craft often go in and repair their rookie flaws.
Sometimes people use dialogue to do what should be accomplished by the narrative. They go on like this:
“I’ll have to leave, go outside the apartment building, check the weather, then stand around, and get a taxi, if I can find one, and then--”
In these cases, the narrative needs some wrap-up sentences. Here is one technique for “wrapping up” as opposed to stretching out a lot of dialogue:
George said good-bye and hurried out of the building.
If something has been learned by one character and needs to be told to, say, a desk sergeant at a police station, a police lieutenant, and then a captain, the character doesn’t have to tell the information three times. Using the above sequence, the writer could say:
George sighed and repeated his story for the third time.
Sometimes empty action is stuck in the middle of dialogue:
“I’ve had it up to here,” George said, lighting a cigarette and blowing smoke at the ceiling. “Up to here, you see?” He took a long drag. “I won’t put up with it anymore.”
Such interludes about smoking and cigarettes may be significant, especially if, say, George was not much of a smoker, but, if they go on and on as bits of business, then they signal that the writer hasn’t really thought of anything for the character to be doing while talking to other characters. Find actions that fit your respective characters, and the dialogue-action mixture will take care of itself. If you can’t close your eyes and see each gesture and twitch of your character as he or she is, say, being grilled by the police, then you haven’t gotten a good grasp of who your character is.
Sometimes writers will give the quotation and then stick on a tag as an after-thought. Especially when the characters sound alike, this can be extremely irritating since the reader has to go through the quote to find out who is talking and then perhaps to back up to re-examine what was said. As a quick fix, move the tag into the middle of the spoken passage, something like the George-section a couple of paragraphs up from here.
Often, a character will have lots of dialogue, but the writer doesn’t indicate what action the writer is performing. Here’s an example of the problem from a film or stage script. An actor is given a pile of new words to say in a scene. The director and actor then ask the writer, “Okay, what’s he DOING while he’s saying this?”
A key problem in some patches of dialogue is that a writer may be trying to explain some scientific principles (or occult beliefs, etc.). Essentially the action has to stop while the writer tries to educate the reader about a Specialized Complicated Subject (SCS). Almost invariably, the writing goes dead. Two or three characters may be explaining the SCS, while one character asks questions, “Oh, why’s that? . . . Really?” What do you do about the problem? The best bet is to SHOW the principle or SCS in operation. If that’s not possible, cut the passage in half and perhaps put the other material in an appendix.
After Cary Grant became a major star, he had a rule concerning the characters he played in films. If expository dialogue had to be used, he insisted that another character say the lines. That probably is a good rule of thumb when assigning dialogue to your protagonists.
As you study dialogue tags from the 19th and early 20th centuries, you may be surprised to come across “he vouchsafed” (“to grant a special favor”) and “she ejaculated” (the latter meaning “she blurted out”). A Tom Swifty from those days could have been:
“I’m sorry, Prudence,” he ejaculated prematurely.
Ideally, dialogue is best handled, if possible, without using ANY dialogue tags: few or no “he saids,” “she saids,” etc. Instead, individual characters will have their own dialogue paragraph. Let’s look at a passage chosen at random from “The Circle,” a novel of the modern Navy by David Poyer, former Jacksonville resident and charter member of the North Florida Writers:
“Nice digs,” said the seaman, glancing around. “Got your own sink and everything.”
“You could have had a room like this.” Dan opened the folder. “Your combined GCT/ARI is one-twenty. There are programs to send enlisted men to Officer Candidate School, the ones with leadership ability.”
Lassard opened his eyes wide. Dan saw now that there was something wrong about their focus, as if the seaman was looking at something in the room only he could see. “You think Slick Lassard’s officer material?”
“I only said he—I said, you had the potential….”
Notice that Poyer only used a dialogue tag once. When Dan is opening the folder in the second paragraph, we know that anything said in that section was said by Dan Lenson.
With Ernest Hemingway and John O’Hara’s writing, we became used to long stretches of short sentences or phrases in dialogue. Papa or O’Hara may have used “he said” at the first instance, but the rest of the dialogue may not require tags. Sometimes we may find ourselves stopping and backing up just to determine who is saying what. That could be due to our inattention, but sometimes the writer is at fault.
If you think that a reader may have gotten lost, go ahead and stick in “Jones said” or “Smith asked.”
Now, what about dialect in dialogue?
Whoa, the proper use of dialect is a big topic, so we’ll save that discussion for another day.
WANT MORE INFO ABOUT TOM SWIFTIES? Click on the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Swifty
FWA resolution: Get fired up in 2015
Happy New Year everyone. Get amped up in the new year to write more and write better by attending more meetings of the Florida Writers Assn. Here’s the first FWA blog post of 2015 to get you started.
Enjoy the holiday and the football games. -- Victor DiGenti, FWA Regional Director
Stuff from a writer’s quill
Skill alone cannot teach or produce a great short story, which condenses the obsession of the creature; it is a hallucinatory presence manifest from the first sentence to fascinate the reader, to make him lose contact with the dull reality that surrounds him, submerging him in another that is more intense and compelling.
-- Julio Cortázar
Stuff from hither and yon
Click on each link to go directly to the story.
The Crack-Up: F. Scott Fitzgerald Might Have
Warned ‘TNR’ About Dumb Rich People
Paul Berman says farewell to his beloved magazine, The New Republic, which he calls “my old and treasured home.” He says: “A continuity does exist, and it persisted for 100 years, and it was a glory of American culture. And if the stupidities and arrogance of an ignorant plutocrat have brought the run to an end, well, the founders of The New Republic warned us from the start about the insufficiencies of a narrow business civilization.” http://tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/187716/new-republic-berman?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=ffe435a071-Sunday_December_21_201412_19_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c308bf8edb-ffe435a071-207183885
Why It’s Wrong to Gloat
Over The New Republic’s Demise
Steve Wasserman says that, despite The New Republic’s flaws, it was one of our few remaining journals of serious debate and opinion. http://www.thenation.com/article/193537/why-its-wrong-gloat-over-new-republics-demise?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=email_nation&utm_campaign=EMAIL%20NATION%20DEC%2023%20%28NEW%29%20-%20Most%20Recent%20Content%20Feed%2020141223&newsletter=email_nation#
To check out the names of writers who were born this month, go to this website:
The list includes novelists, poets, playwrights, nonfiction authors, writers for the small and silver screen, and others.
Looking for your favorite writer? Hit “find” at the website and type in your favorite’s name. Keep scrolling to find writers born in other months.
With misgivings, the list generally omits lyricists (to avoid the plethora of garage-band guitarists who knock out a lyric in two minutes to go with a tune). Often lyricists are accomplished in other writing areas and may cause their inclusion (e.g., Bob Dylan, Johnny Mercer, and Cole Porter).
Unfortunately, some writers fret about identity theft and will only say they were born in 1972 or whenever. Typically that means they don’t get included on a “born this day” list. Recommendation: Writers may wish to create a “pen birthday”; that way, their names stay on the public’s radar.
If you see that we have omitted a writer, give us his or her name (and preferably a way to verify the belly-button day).
Meetings of NFW and other groups
For a listing of meetings of the NFW and other groups in Northeast Florida, click here http://howarddenson.webs.com/meetingsofunfothers.htm
Some Useful Links
Writers, poets, and playwrights will find useful tools at http://howarddenson.webs.com/usefullinksforwriters.htm.
Need someone to critique a manuscript?
If you have a finished manuscript that you want critiqued or proofread, then look for someone at http://howarddenson.webs.com/potentialcritiquers.htm. Check out their entries on the website to see if they suit your needs. They include the following: Robert Blade Writing & Editing (email@example.com); Frank Green of The Bard Society (firstname.lastname@example.org); JJ Grindstaff-Swathwood (email@example.com); Brad Hall (firstname.lastname@example.org); Joseph Kaval (email@example.com); and Richard Levine (Richie.ALevine@gmail.com).
The Write Staff
President: Howard Denson (hd3nson@hotmail. com)
Vice President: Joyce Davidson (davent2010@comcast. net)
Secretary: Kathy Marsh (kathygmarsh@bellsouth. net)
Treasurer: Richard Levine (firstname.lastname@example.org); 5527 Edenfield Rd., Jacksonville, FL 32277
Presidents Emeriti: Frank Green, Dan Murphy, Howard Denson, Nate Tolar, Joyce Davidson, Margaret Gloag, Richard Levine, Bob Alexander, JoAnn Harter Murray, Carrol Wolverton, Margie Sauls, Stewart Neal.