Tag Archives: style

Authors Answer 125 – Is Short Better?

You know the advice where authors are told they should be as brief as possible? Cut out any unnecessary words. Keep it simple. Everything short. Easy. Yes? No? How did this paragraph sound? We talk about this very topic.

Question 125 – Use short words, sentences, and paragraphs. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

Elizabeth Rhodes

Exclusively? No. You need variation in your sentence length, or your writing will sound monotonous.

Paul B. Spence

Only if you are writing for children. I assume my audience to be thinking adults with at least average IQ, probably even educated. If they can’t handle a word like existential or thermodynamic, they aren’t going to understand my stories anyway.

H. Anthe Davis

If this was a law, I would be in jail for life.  I have to consciously control the amount of dashes in my work — lest I end up with six sentences broken up like this one inside a single paragraph.  Semicolons are also my BFFs.  When I edit, I do try to break down some of my impossibly long sentences, especially since I often write them in the rough drafts because I’m still trying to figure out a concept; it’s sometimes possible to replace a whole clause with just a couple words, once I actually get what I’m trying to say.  But as I’ve had few complaints over my endless chains of words, and as I’ve read others’ novels which are just as wordy and tangled as mine, I don’t think the commandment to keep things short should be considered as anything more than a suggestion.  Yes, reread your stuff — out loud if possible — and chop it up where it needs it, but don’t chop it up Just Because.

Cyrus Keith

Agree, depending on the pace you want to keep. You may have a fight sequence. Short words and phrases move the pace quickly, because the action is brisk. Each punch, each kick, each shot, stands on its own. But if you’re waking to a pastoral scene next to a peaceful, meandering river, you want to slow down and relax a bit. Use the flowers, their scent, the taste of the water, the warmth of the summer sun, to lull the readers just a little. Just before you pour gasoline on your characters and set them on fire.

D. T. Nova

You shouldn’t use longer words just to show off your vocabulary, but to avoid them when they do seem more natural to you will come across as dumbing things down.

Sentence length should vary. Having too many long and complex sentences in a row can be hard to follow, but having too many short ones in a row can get monotonous.

Extremely long paragraphs should be used very sparingly, and never without reason.

Eric Wood

If you write children’s books, then yes. Keep it short, simple and easy to understand. If you write YA or for adults then feel free to expand upon the sentences. When short sentences and paragraphs are used too frequently the writing seems choppy and incomplete. To provide the reader with ample detail and imagery longer, more complicated sentence structure will be required. However, when writing a children’s book you need to take care to watch length and vocabulary.

Beth Aman

There’s a place for everything.  You’re a writer; words and sentences are your tools.  They are the building blocks that you use to create worlds and breathe life into characters – you should know how to use them.  Long, rolling sentences take longer to read.  They serve a purpose when used properly; I use them to explain things that take a long time to happen, or need a lot of words for.  They come across as luxurious, like thick carpet.  Short sentences are the opposite: they convey urgency.  They show that things are happening quickly.  I try to use short sentences (and words a paragraphs) for fight scenes and tense moments.  I think the trick to sentence length is this: read a lot, pay attention when you read, and pay attention to your own writing.  Read your writing aloud, get it critiqued, write a lot of things, and eventually it will become second nature.

C E Aylett

No, no and no. Please don’t. Variety is the writers friend. Learn how to use different word and sentence lengths to create effect. Some shorter sentences have a bigger impact if preceded by a long one. And some long sentences can convey wrought emotions better than any fluttering hearts and shallow breaths (read Pride & Prejudice for examples). There has also been a trend to substitute the use of commas for full-stops (periods). This not only creates a lot of fragments in the grammar, it also ruins the fluidity of the prose. Sometimes it works, depending on the voice, and intended style. But generally speaking, if you are not writing a story from a robot’s POV, avoid the stilted narrative and structure your sentences correctly. Except for when they demand you don’t for the purpose of effect. Using too many short sentences can also suggest the author is unable to handle complex sentences and concepts.

In my own writing, I tend to err on the side of short to medium paragraphs (though one paragraph could be one whole single sentence :D). I find white space is a writer’s best friend.

However, no matter what I say, it’s more important the writer finds their own style, what they feel comfortable writing. There’s no point inserting long words you don’t feel confident using, as that will be transparent. If using simpler text works for you then do that. I just finished a brilliant book called Chicago Loop which is an intricate exploration into the mind of a man with sexual psychosis. The vocabulary is not overly demanding but it didn’t stop the author from creating complex layers of character, so it read a lot more densely that it would have in the hands of a less experienced or talented writer.

What I would say all writers should avoid is the use of too many function words. Even with a good story too much <<to have/to be/doing/went/got/looked (my worse faux pas in first drafts)/etc.>> combinations and weak verbs and nouns will make an interesting concept bland.

Jean Davis

Disagree. That sounds like a choppy staccato mess. Variation in word, sentence, and paragraph length help a story flow more naturally and appear visually pleasing on a page.

Gregory S. Close

No.  Short words are not better words.  Short sentences are not better sentences.  Neither are short paragraphs.

Wait…

Tracey Lynn Tobin

Disagree. It all depends on a number of factors. I definitely agree that sometimes a thought can – and should – be written in the simplest, shortest way possible, but sometimes a bit of a ramble is necessary. Complex thoughts require complex words/sentences/paragraphs, and simple ones should be quick and to the point. All in all, any story should use a wide variety of all possibilities. There should be short sentences/paragraphs, and long ones, and the complexity of the word should depend on the point that particular word is trying to get across. Trying to keep everything as short as possible – or alternatively, trying to go the long route – makes a story boring. There needs to be variety, always.

Jay Dee Archer

I disagree, mostly. The length of sentences can affect the pacing of the scene. The length of paragraphs can affect how you read. The length of words can affect how you view the age level. But that’s not all. Ideally, there should be varied length in paragraphs and sentences, as well as words in some cases. If you’re writing an action scene, short sentences can be beneficial. It can make the scene feel more exciting. Shorter words can make you feel like you’re reading a children’s book. Shorter paragraphs can look like you can’t expand on anything. On the other hand, a wall of text can be difficult to read.

Shorter words can dumb it down. Don’t do this. Shorter sentences can be useful for action scenes. Use when appropriate. Shorter paragraphs are more common in dialogue, not narration. It really depends on the conversation. Vary the structure to make it sound more natural. That is important.

How about you?

What do you think? Do you prefer shorter or longer words, sentences, and paragraphs? When is it appropriate for them to be shorter? Let us know in the comments.

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Authors Answer 76 – Authors Reflecting on Their Earliest Writing

All authors started somewhere. We’ve discussed this before. However, when authors look back at their earliest writing, there may be a mix of reactions. Childhood writing would be simple, but how about teenage writing?

320px-Modern-ftn-pen-cursiveQuestion 76 – When you look at your oldest writing, what surprises or embarrasses you?

S. R. Carrillo

It was so boring! I had a tendency to wax poetic about the oddest things, and it would make scenes drag on and on and on forever. I also hated to kill my darlings, so I would get chapters and chapters full of beautiful prose… with little to no plot progression or serious relevance.

Also, I used to headhop. Like a madman. I don’t know what was wrong with me haha.

Elizabeth Rhodes

Years back I was editing a crime novel based on the story of Persephone. That book’s tucked away, but I surprised myself with how much detail I pulled from original myths to create these characters, from Demeter’s failing nursery to Hades’ favorite nymphs. I did cringe when I made (but didn’t catch) several references to my protagonist’s bad teeth (based on a bad toothache I had while writing the story) and a placeholder name I used for a minor character made it into the “final” draft. Who knows what I’ll find if I opened it today.

H. Anthe Davis

My oldest surviving writing is from when I was about twelve, and was edited when I was about fifteen, so I’m surprised to see that even then I had an attachment to certain concepts and character-types, even if almost none of the specifics of those characters have survived.  I wouldn’t really say I’m embarrassed, because my prose wasn’t too bad then, for what I was writing — Dungeons & Dragons-style adventures.  I’m much more embarrassed of the literary short stories I slapped together during college, since I wasn’t allowed to write genre fiction in my short-story classes; the disinterest really shows.

Eric Wood

When I look at some of my earliest writing I cringe. I was a monotonous writer. My descriptions were bland and my word choices were the epitome of  boring. At least in fiction works. Some of poetry that I’d reread years afterward I’d have to ask myself, “I wrote this?” Perhaps because I was reading with fresh eyes, perhaps because I could connect to it so personally, I really liked them. My poetry most always used vivid imagery. But it never carried over to my fiction writing until much later.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

The most embarrassing thing to look back at and see for me is that I was one of the worst offenders I know for creating “Mary Sue” characters (long before I ever know what the term meant). When I first started writing way back in the third grade, I would write stories featuring myself and my friends, or I’d make up female characters who looked and acted suspiciously similar to myself. Wish fulfillment was definitely the name of the game. I didn’t worry so much about silly things like a good plot…I wrote things the way I saw them in my fantasies, with myself as the do-no-wrong heroine whom everybody loved. This was all fairly understandable since I was, like, eight when I first started writing, but the theme did actually persist for quite a while, so I do still have random stuff in my house right at this moment that makes me shudder just to look at it.

Jean Davis

Because my early writing happened during my teenage years, it falls in the embarrassing category. The cheesy characters, dialogue, wandering plot, ugh, it’s all so bad. I did have more description back then, but yeah, still not in a good way.

D. T. Nova

Looking at some of the first stories that I wrote after I started seriously considering writing for publication, there’s one where I’m kind of embarrassed to have held back as much as I did. There is such a thing as too subtle.

And another one literally has more exposition than action, despite allegedly being an adventure story.

Linda G. Hill

What surprises me the most, is that I know at the time I thought my writing of ten years ago was good. What I fear the most is, in ten years’ time I’ll be surprised that my current writing is so much worse than I imagine it is. Did that make sense? …maybe it won’t be that much of a surprise…

Allen Tiffany

Two  reactions: First, it was really bad. Really bad. Adverbs, cliches, stories without any coherent plot, etc. But on the other hand, there was still enough goodness there that I continue to find the stories engaging, and I can still drop into the fantasy.

Gregory S. Close

I am always surprised how simultaneously good and awful my old writing is.  Sometimes I come across a cool line and I think “Did I write that?”  Then, usually immediately after that, I come across a line that makes me groan, “Did I write THAT?”

Paul B. Spence

Nothing about it surprises or embarrasses me. I know where I’ve come from, how far I’ve progressed. I’m not ashamed that I write better now, three decades later than some of it. I’m not surprised to see themes and even the beginnings of stories that I am now writing in some of the older stuff. Some of the ideas in my first novel, Cedeforthy, I developed as a small child. Some of the hardest things to cut are those that you’ve held onto for years.

Jay Dee Archer

When I wrote a short story in high school, I was proud of it. I don’t have access to it anymore, but I think I’d probably cringe at the dialogue and narration. In university, I wrote a bit, as well. I clearly remember how corny it sounded. But then, I didn’t go beyond a rough draft at that time. I should also mention that I wrote in present tense. I’m not very fond of present tense in fiction now.

How about you?

If you write, what do you think of your first attempts at writing? Let us know in the comments below.

When Reading Pushes Me to Write

There are times when a book makes me want to write. Other times, reading gives me little or no inspiration. I’m in the former state at the moment.

For some reason, The Wheel of Time inspires me. The colourful and well-developed characters, the wonderful worldbuilding, and the entertaining story help put me in a creative mood.

On the other hand, The Iliad did the opposite. The characters were like caricatures, very unrealistic, and incredibly melodramatic. The narration (although it was a poem) was adjective-heavy, incredibly repetitive, and the dialogue was completely unnatural. It was difficult to read, and it dulled my creativity. My coming review of the book will say something similar, but I did like it.

Even though I’ve said I wouldn’t be doing much in the way of writing for Ariadne until after we’ve moved to Canada, I have a very strong itch to write. Maybe I can use this opportunity to do some critiquing. Or maybe do some outlining. Or maybe do some more worldbuilding. Maybe all of them. We’ll see.

Do some books inspire you to write, while others do the opposite? Let me know in the comments below.

Reading Influences My Writing

I love to read, and a lot of what I read influences my writing. However, it doesn’t dictate my writing. What reading does is help me learn how to write better.

One way is more technical. I get to see how other authors describe people, settings, actions, and more. It helps me learn better ways of doing that. I also see how they do dialogue, especially using dialogue tags. But I think the big thing is vocabulary. A lot of the books I’ve read have used words I didn’t recognise. It helps me learn new words. That is if I’d remember to make a note of the words. I really should do that.

My writing has been influenced by specific books (and TV series), as well. Ariadne started out as I was reading Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels. I was intrigued by her worldbuilding, so I thought I could build my own world and think up a story set on it. And so I did. Star Trek also had a hand in my world’s development, mainly with interstellar space travel. However, the influence is only superficial in that case. Pern is most likely the biggest influence on my writing. Some of the more recent science fiction novels involve a lot of realism, and that has also given my writing a more reality-based style.

I had an early influence by traditional fantasy, but I’ve since abandoned that angle for Ariadne. I have a couple of fantasy novel series in development that are not traditional fantasy. They are entirely original worlds with mythologies that I created. No elves, no dwarves, no demons.

And finally, I have a solar system travel story that will be nine novellas (probably), and nothing I’ve read has influenced me in this case, except maybe news about space probes visiting planets. I think New Horizons really pushed me to develop this story. However, there’s a movie that has influenced me a little, but I won’t tell you what it is. It’ll spoil the ending.

If you write, what has influenced your writing?

Reading Like a Writer

When I read a novel, I read like a reader.  I turn off the part of my brain that analyses the grammar, counts the adverbs, and evaluates word choice.  I just enjoy the story and imagine what’s happening.  When I read, the words don’t seem to even register in my mind, as they’re automatically converted into a movie in my head.

But you know what? Sometimes, that writer comes out and starts looking at how the author wrote the book.  That’s when I stop paying attention to the story and focus more on the style and word choice.  And you know what?  I see adverbs! Ones that end in -ly! Shocking, isn’t it?  I notice other things, too.  They use other verbs instead of “said” and “asked.”  Wow.  It seems a lot of the advice we’re given about not using adverbs and sticking only to “said” don’t necessarily apply one hundred percent of the time.  It’s all about moderation, not completely cutting things out.

The more I read as a writer, the more I realise that they all break the rules.  Don’t blindly follow the advice of other authors.  Do what you feel is right.  That’s what I think.

Authors Answer 23 – Point of View

I’m eating bacon.

You’re eating bacon.

He’s eating bacon.

I ate bacon.

You ate bacon.

He ate bacon.

Point of view is a choice every author must make before writing a story.  Which is best for the story? Which is best for the author?  Some authors feel more comfortable using one point of view over the others.  First, second, and third person point of view exist in books, though second person is not common.  Present and past tense are both common, though past is more traditional.  And then there’s the level of omniscience.  We have objective, with no knowledge of a character’s thoughts. We have subjective, with knowledge of one person’s thoughts in each scene, and can switch characters.  This is also like limited omniscient.  And then there’s omniscient where you know everyone’s thoughts at all times.

320px-Modern-ftn-pen-cursiveQuestion 23: What is your favourite point of view and tense to write in? Why?

Linda G. Hill

It depends on the story. I’ll sometimes write a short story in first person and less often write in present tense, but if the tale calls for it, I do it with flavour. I love writing voices completely different from mine and first person present tense is the best way. Most of my novels have been written in third person omniscient, jumping from one character’s head to the next but only when there’s a change of scenes. Again, I love to get into my character’s heads and I don’t want to be tied to only one perspective. As for tense, I’d never attempt to write in present tense throughout an entire novel. I get exhausted being in my own head in the present…

Caren Rich

I like third person, present tense. I know original. It allows a little distance and more freedom than first person.  I’ve tried writing in first person, but I feel like I’m spilling secrets.

D. T. Nova

Third person, limited but not always sticking with same character, past tense. The fact that the vast majority of what I read before I started writing was that way is certainly one major reason.

I’ve read enough present tense stories that it doesn’t feel quite as weird anymore, but it still doesn’t really make sense to me; in print, at least, you have a tangible reminder that events after the part you’re currently reading have already been written.

Amy Morris-Jones

I don’t play favorites—at least I haven’t thus far. I would say I’m not much of a fan of second-person narratives, so I avoid those. I also tend to stay away from the future tense—too beyond my comfort zone. Otherwise, though, I’ve written in first person and third, past and present quite regularly.

Jean Davis

I like first person most. Getting lost in the character makes much easier for me to block out distractions that would otherwise compete with my writing time. Present tense is often distracting to read and I’m not fond of writing it so I tend to stick with past tense.

Elizabeth Rhodes

I like writing in third person limited, past tense.  It’s common in fiction, meaning it’s approachable.  It also gives me the opportunity to present the story from multiple points of view from scene to scene, and communicating that clearly to the reader.  The climax of Jasper is told from two specific points of view from people on opposing sides, at roughly the same time.  It’s one of my favorite scenes.

H. Anthe Davis

I generally do third person past tense.  More specifically, I have what I call an over-the-shoulder-camera style, where we’re in one character’s head consistently but that character does not narrate.  I switch POVs, but only between scenes — one of my major pet-peeves is head-hopping within a scene.  Ughhh.  I also try to stick by a rule of POV-contagion — a character can’t become a POV character until they’ve already been in a scene, so no new perspectives out of nowhere.  I have enough characters running around in this series without throwing someone in cold.

All that being said, I am considering a first-person-past-tense story for a certain character — but that remains to be seen.

Paul B. Spence

I prefer to write third person, past tense. I feel that it gives me the most control over the narrative. I do also like first person, past tense, for the intimate feel.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

Personally, I prefer third-person omniscient and past-tense.

When dealing with point of view I like third-person omniscient the best because it allows you to easily hop from character to character when necessary. I don’t mind reading other points of view, but when dealing with something like first person, for instance, it bothers me immensely when the story begins to follow other characters apart from the main one. How does he/she know what’s happening when he/she isn’t around? It just makes me grind my teeth.

As for the past-tense part, I just feel like it makes for better storytelling. I’ve read lots of stories that were written in present-tense, and some of them were pretty damn good, but I just always have this nagging image of the main character talking out loud to him/herself, describing everything that’s happening as it’s happening, and that image is annoying to me. I prefer the idea of someone sitting by a campfire, relaying the details of a tale that’s already occurred.

S. R. Carrillo

I have this unflagging desire to always write in limited third person past tense. It comes naturally to me. I’m not saying this is true of authors who do this, but I feel like first person (past or present) comes across as very amateurish.

Jay Dee Archer

I prefer third person limited, past tense.  It’s what I’m used to, and I feel more comfortable writing that way.  I’m not a fan of present tense at all.  I don’t feel it’s natural to read.  I don’t particularly like first person unless it’s done very well when I’m reading, and I really don’t like telling a story from the point of view of only one character.  I like exploring more than one character in a story.  Omniscient point of view is too intrusive and too god-like.  I’d prefer to be in the thoughts of only one person at a time.  So, I like limited omniscience.  I write what I like to read.

How about you?

What do you like to read or write? Which point of view and tense? Leave your responses in the comments below.

Authors Answer 17 – Writing Influences

Every author has someone or something that influenced them.  They can be anything from another author to a style.  Even a single book can be an influence.  This week’s question is brought to us by H. Anthe Davis.

J. R. R. Tolkien inspired an entire genre.
J. R. R. Tolkien inspired an entire genre.

Question 17: What authors, styles or intellectual movements have most influenced your writing?

Elizabeth Rhodes

First it was Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.  I liked reading multiple storylines at once from many points of view.  There are many authors who use this technique, but I saw it in Puzo’s book first.

The second was a movement that I’m not sure has a name.  I grew tired of stories that boiled down to clear-cut forces of good and evil fighting against each other.  Despite what we may feel, no one person or cause is completely good or evil.  Instead I wanted to write about heroes that weren’t really heroes at the end, villains who might have had a point but maybe didn’t after all, and people trapped in situations where you really couldn’t remain honorable.  Hence my tagline, “There is no such thing as a hero.”

Linda G. Hill

First, I love reading articles about writing. Picking up new tips to help me along is essential to keep up my own focus. Apart from that, I’m most positively influenced by true storytellers. The writings of Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Diana Gabaldon and Anne Rice (at least her older fiction) are factor largely in how I’ve progressed as a writer. I aspire to be just like any of them.

Caren Rich

Not sure how to answer this question.  I like  Southern writers who have interesting, if not odd, characters. Stories with layers.  I shy away from excess language  and sex but enjoy the conflicts characters have with each other.  I want a story where the reader wants to crawl inside and hang out with the characters and walk the streets of town.  I’m not saying I’m there yet, but I’m working on it.

I think, I’ve been influenced by Harper Lee and Eugene Walter, both Alabama writers.  Jan Karon, Zora Neale Hurston, and Mary Higgins Clark are other influences.

Does my writing reflect these influences?  Who knows, but each one has valuable lessons to learn about place, character, pacing, voice, and storytelling.

D. T. Nova

I would say that my tendency to be very dialogue-heavy when there’s no much action going in is influenced by Isaac Asimov; though my actual plots and the level of action don’t really resemble his stories.

The fact that I’m a skeptic and a feminist also shows in my writing.

Amy Morris-Jones

I am most influenced as a writer by books that focus on a strong female character. Issues of identity, empowerment, and development (of self, relationships, etc.) tend to influence my work.  Authors like Anita Shreve, Jodi Picoult, Liane Moriarty, and Ann Patchett are all doing what I like to think I’m doing (some days more than others!)

Jean Davis

The author’s style that has stuck with me most over the years would have to be Steven Brust. I love the snarky humor of his Vlad Taltos series.  A similar snark level has snuck into a couple of my novels and short stories.

Paul B. Spence

Rudyard Kipling, Roger Zelazny, David Weber, Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein.  As far as styles or intellectual movements go, I don’t really pay attention to such things; I just try to tell a good story.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I’m going to be honest, I find this question difficult to answer. For sure I can say Stephen King has influenced my horror writing, and according to “I Write Like” (https://iwl.me/), I have elements of Tolkien and Lewis in my fantasy writing. Other than that, I couldn’t really say.

S. R. Carrillo

Hands down, the most meaningful thing that has happened to me in terms of literature was the discovery of transgressive fiction. It was such a dark and dirty corner of the literary world in a room full of bring and warm things that I devoured as much of it as I could and let it soak into my pores. It was only by reading books like American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr. and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk that I began to feel like there was a place for people like me – readers like me, writers like me. It also introduced me to more erotic and queer fiction, which further affirmed my place among these names and counterculture faces. Transgressive fiction has a special place in the darkest part of my heart.

H. Anthe Davis

I have a few author-mashups that I want to be like when I grow up — say, Jim Butcher’s snark combined with Robin Hobb’s ability to make you care about the fine details of a character’s life, or R.A. Salvatore’s combat plus Clive Barker’s freaky weird stuff.  And while I can’t say that there’s a style that I follow, I have noticed traces of utilitarianism, existentialism and nihilism in some of the characters, as well as various religious philosophies.  I try to keep that stuff out of the plot itself, but I like to let the PoV characters interpret events according to their personal beliefs — and argue with each other as needed.

Jay Dee Archer

Early on, my main influence in getting into writing was probably J. R. R. Tolkien.  I wanted to create a world like he did after reading The Hobbit.  I fell in love with fantasy with him.  As for science fiction, it wasn’t an author or style that did it, it was a TV show.  Star Trek: The Next Generation was a huge influence on me.

But as I grew older and went to university, two authors gave my desires a stronger voice in what I wanted to write, Anne McCaffrey and Terry Brooks.  Ariadne is science fiction, but it will have elements of fantasy in it.  Anne McCaffrey did that, and it gave me the idea.  Terry Brooks’ Shannara showed a world after a great upheaval.  I’d thought about something in a similar way, but not quite like him.

But as for style, fantasy authors like Steven Erikson and science fiction authors like Alastair Reynolds, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Arthur C. Clarke have influenced my preference for realism and scientific accuracy.

How about you?

What has influenced you in your writing? Share your thoughts in the comments below.