Declutter your text: use modifiers in moderation

Modifiers are adjectives, adverbs or phrases whose only purpose is to modify a noun or verb. They are to language what accessories are to clothing. Used unwisely, they can ruin the whole thing.

Let it be clear: I love adjectives and adverbs. They’re an essential part of every language. But as with anything in life, they must be used in moderation.

Decora max res
Decora fashion shows it is possible for “too many accessories” to look great, but it is difficult to achieve; the same is true with modifiers.

Behold the following sentence, written by me 10 years ago:

A white hand with fine and long fingers was faithfully transcribing the properties of plant handwritten in a book bound with ribbons.

This sentence has… ahem… potential, but as is, it’s terrible. It’s a translation, but the original is hardly better. We’ll leave all of the other problems for some other time and focus on the modifiers:

A white hand with fine and long fingers was faithfully transcribing the properties of plants handwritten in a notebook bound with ribbons.

21 words in that sentence, 14 of which are modifiers or part of a modifier. There are even modifiers within modifiers. Worst: the same exact thing could be said in a tighter and more elegant way.

A white hand with fine and long fingers

Except in certain horror scenes, hands and fingers usually go together… no need for both words. Only talking about fingers make the reader picture a hand in their head. Also, there’s a word for “fine and long”: slender. Let’s use that instead.

faithfully transcribing

When I originally wrote this, I wanted to make the character look as devoted as a monk transcribing the Bible. I could leave it there, but I prefer to take it out.

plant properties handwritten in a notebook bound with ribbons.

There is such a thing as too many details. I won’t talk about it in depth here, but know it: some details do nothing for the story and are therefore clutter. Here, it is unnecessary to point out it is bound with ribbons, but I do want to give it a homemade look… Well that’s it: “a homemade notebook”. Now, let’s change the verb for “written”, since it is implicit that it is written by hand from the very word “notebook”.

Revised sentence:

White, slender fingers were transcribing the properties of plants written in a homemade notebook.

That 21-word-sentence is reduced to 14, with now only 7 modifiers. It is still “flowery” enough, but much more elegant.

girl-4-copieAnother trick to get rid of an excess of adjectives, adverbs or other modifiers, is to use stronger nouns (skyscraper or tower for tall building) or verbs (exhausted for very tired), or more precise modifiers (like slender for long and fine, etc.). If I don’t recommend you to use the thesaurus to avoid repeating the same adjective twice in one sentence, I encourage you to use it to find the right word.

Finally, it is often a good idea to “show, [not] tell”. For example, if your character is moody, it should reflect on his actions and words; that’s how people understand others’ moods. Same with most character traits, weather, etc. Compare: “It was cold outside” and “The cold bit my skin as I walked out”.

Oh wow, there is a lot of information in here, but you made it to the end. You did great.

When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.
– Mark Twain, letter to D.W. Bowser, 20 March 1880

Other posts in this series: Narrow your scopeBeware of repetitions.

How I love my love stories (or not)

I was supposed to post the second episode of “Declutter your text”, talking about editing two weeks in a row felt a bit… heavy, so I figured I’d post something lighter today. That being said, here is today’s program:

prideprejudice
Pride and Prejudice

Before I met my husband, I thought I hated love stories. That is… most love stories. I’ve always been a huge fan of Pride and Prejudice. But the movies my more romantic female friends loved made me want to barf.

I never really asked myself why that was because as a rule, I hated things “stereotypical girls” loved: romance movies and books, pop music, shopping, make-up, skirts and even shorts, talking about boys, public display of emotions, etc. I was a tomboy and didn’t care to pretend otherwise.

My meeting with my husband made me discover a sweet side in myself I didn’t know I had. I started to binge-watch Japanese dramas, I read everything Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë… I thought I had changed.

I hadn’t. I tried watching some TV series the other day, and the well-known “excuse me while I barf” feeling came right back. Now, that series has been super popular, so I again felt like an alien not liking it. I made it my mission to watch that show until I discovered what it was I hated so much, and what it was I loved so much in the guilty pleasure romances I indulge in from time to time. I have finally found it.

Buzzer_Beat
Buzzer Beat

I love when the story revolves around one or both character’s passion for something, be it dance, piano, drawing, cooking or even eating, getting one’s revenge or running a million dollar business. The characters then proceed to support each other in their own passion, and together they’ll be able to accomplish great things. I am drawn to that kind of stories like a fly to honey, because they leave me feeling motivated to pursue my own passion.

I hate when love and romantic relationships are the one thing every single character ever care or talk about. Now, I can be understanding: I had a friend in high school who cared a lot about guys and romantic relationships, so much that she’d talk about that 80% of the time. It’s fine. But that the whole cast is like that? It doesn’t feel realistic and there is no character I can identify with.

Also, I’ve watched or read stories in which the “fated couple” have an extremely toxic influence on each other, sometimes to the point where one of them (typically the girl) wants to commit suicide. And that’s not mentioning those in which suicide happens because those are classified as tragedies, not romances. But still… she loves him so much and blah blah blah. Excuse me, but somebody who plays with my heart strings to the point of making me want to die doesn’t deserve the tiniest place in my heart… Again, I know that some girls can’t help it, they love the jerk that disrespects them… I don’t.

densha otoko
Densha Otoko

Finally, I love when men feel “real”. I love when they’re shy, clumsy or unsure what to do, but trying to do it right. I love when they won’t say that perfect sentence the girl wants to hear, but end up conveying their feelings in their own ways. In other words, I love when they’re not just there as a handsome prop.

Of course, those are all just personal opinions. There are no “dos and don’ts” here. Just my own tastes. But I am really happy to realise that the single love story I’ve written reflects what I love, and stays away from what I hate… despite it having been written before I analysed my tastes. After all, my goal is to write a book I’d love to read.

Declutter your text: narrow your scope

cat-1429231_960_720Am I the only one who gets discouraged when, scrolling down a possibly interesting blog post, I see that it’s obviously a few thousand words? Unless the writer is a friend or an amazing writer, I’ll tend to pass. Maybe the writer had a lot to say, in which case all is well, or maybe they rambled forever… which is one of the surest ways to lose my attention.

When you start off as a blogger, you try to say everything in one post. I did. Then, that annoying advice my college teacher would repeat me until I got my essay topic approved came to haunt me again:

“Narrow it down.”

That’s when I realised I was trying to fit 3 posts in 1. From there, it was easy to separate them. What’s difficult is seeing that there are, indeed, 3 distinct ideas. They are so intricately weaved together in your head that you don’t see the different threads. Readers, however, could end up confused or bored and you don’t want that.

So you have a neverending first draft. Excellent! Now, figure out the “point” of your article. editingYou have to be able to summarise it in a few words – your title. If you’d be tempted to add commas, or if nothing seems to grasp the entirety of your content… you might have more than one article in there.

Once you know what your point is, analyse every paragraph, then every sentence in your post. Delete or copy/paste everything that’s irrelevant. Even the funniest of anecdotes will fall flat if it’s not relevant in context. If you have such a jewel, keep it and make it shine bright where it belongs.

All of that is a bit vague, so here’s a concrete example. I tried reading a book review recently and I could not finish it. There was a lengthy introduction about the theme of the book, a rather long synopsis and a few opinions scattered here and there.

I don’t know about you, but when I read reviews, all I want is an opinion. I want to know what worked and didn’t work for you. I can read the blurb on Goodreads, and it will be one that has been rewritten several times by professionals. Actually, most of the times when I read a review, that’s because I’ve already read it and was intrigued by it. Retelling me is redundant.

As for the theme… you can mention it, but make it more than a sentence long and it might look out of place. If that theme is important to you and you feel the need to talk more about it… make another post!

yada-yada-1430679_960_720It’s alright to ramble when writing your first draft. That’s what first drafts are for. It’s even okay to post some rambling, especially if you’re talking about your life. But sometimes you have to be to the point.

Of course, time being a limited resource, you have to let go eventually. I’ve rewritten this twice and edited it for several hours… It’s fiiiiine. *publish*

Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost. That idea is hard to accept. We all have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can’t believe that it wasn’t born perfect. But the odds are close to 100 percent that it wasn’t.
– William Zinsser

Other posts in this series: Use modifiers in moderationBeware of repetitions.

Review: Witch & Wizard

Witch & Wizard coverContext

This book has been on my Amazon wishlist for a while, which means I wasn’t sure about it. I did see it on some top fantasy series list, but I’m ever sceptical – especially when it comes to fantasy. So I let it marinate for a while.

I am currently working on a fantasy novel about a witch, so I thought I would give this a try. However, when it arrived, I was in the middle of reading To Kill a Mockingbird, which I was enjoying and intended to review today (well, ahem, yesterday actually), so I just put it on the to-read pile.

Then, at a family party, my sister told me about this amazing thriller she’d just read by James Patterson. I was like: “James Patterson? Where have I seen that name?”. Don’t ask me how I could ignore the existence of such a famous writer, I just did. James PattersonBack at home, I checked the novel I’d just bought and saw the name written in golden letters, above the co-author’s name, Gabrielle Charbonnet.

So I picked it up. I thought I’d read just the first chapter. I ended up ditching To Kill a Mockingbird and binge-read Witch & Wizard. This is possibly the best fantasy novel I’ve read since finishing the Harry Potter series. It was worth posting the March review late.

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_foliage-12Review

The chapters are very short: like two or three pages. If you’ve been following me carefully, you might know that I prefer long chapters. However, these were so ridiculously short that I ended up completely ignoring chapter changes, just like I do page changes, which made me read super quickly like I do chapter-less books.

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The story is gripping from start to finish. It is action-packed, and unlike in (most) blockbusters, the story doesn’t suffer from it – quite the opposite. Sometimes, in slower books, I feel like the authors had only a short story to tell but desperately added stuff until it was novel-length. Literary dilution of sorts. Witch & Wizard is 100% pure story, not made from concentrate.

I liked the main characters a lot and found them believable and endearing. The villains, on the other hand, I didn’t find too believable. However, neither did the main characters. And if I judge by the awards James Patterson received… I’m guessing something will come up in the next volumes to explain why “regular humans” would act like psychopaths.

I loved that the narration was split between Wisty’s and Whit’s point of view. I identified a lot with Wisty, despite her being a lot different from myself. Not so much with Whit, but he felt real nonetheless. Witch & Wizard The Gift coverAlso, something that happens too rarely: each had their own recognizable voice, like they were really written by a different person. Yet, it was also “homogenized”, so that neither looked like a better storyteller than the other. Awesome work, really.

You can bet the next volume in the series won’t even spend a minute on my wishlist – it’s going straight to my cart! Interesting fact: each book in the series is co-authored with a different writer.

Rating: 9.5/10, give or take .5 depending on the rest of the series.

Who would I recommend this to? Everyone. Really. I don’t guarantee you’ll like it, but it certainly is worth reading.

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_foliage-12Bonus thoughts

For the second time in two months, a book made me discouraged at my own level as a writer. I was ready to give up writing. Of course, giving up writing is a thing I cannot do because I need it too much, but you get the idea.

It sure didn’t help that the dystopian world resembled my own dystopian world in my most favourite, most precious original story, except 100 times better in terms of world-building. It was like: “Here! Compare your amateur drawing with one by an experienced pro. The same thing is pictured, but the results are completely different so you can clearly see just how much you suck.”

When I finished the book, however, I was as motivated as ever. I’m 29. If everything goes well, I should have at least another 40 years on this planet. I can learn. I will learn. James Patterson even has an online course in which he teaches his craft. I might sign up for it when I have the funds.

I will probably never get to the level I aim for. But like they say: “Aim for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

moon and stars

 

A change of pace

cat25I don’t know why – it might be the cold temperature or the desperate need for sunlight – but typically, in February my whole body aches for a change of pace. If I was a little wealthier, I think I’d plan an annual trip to some Carribean beach in February every year.

I had a meltdown last Sunday that prevented me from editing the post written for that day. The cause was fairly minor. It was actually more the result of accumulated stress resulting from the scrapping of our car (see my previous post) and other minor bad lucks that happened after that). But it was as clear a sign as could be that I needed a breather.

At the moment, not posting anything felt a bit like a failure. I was missing a week. Then, I’d miss another, and next thing I’d know, 2 years would have gone by and I would not have posted another thing. It sounds a bit dramatic, but it has happened before, which made it even scarier.winter_essentials38

But here I am. I’m not going anywhere. I needed a change of pace, and I took it. I had a job interview last week and a few other things to do, but aside from that, I gave up my entire schedule for the week. I spent one whole day watching guilty-pleasure TV series. Then I found a Japanese language learning podcast which I started listening to intensively while knitting (my scarf is almost done!).

cat-with-yarnIn the end, I had a very restful week and I am back on my feet, ready to start Camp NaNo with my tribe (we’re doing it a month early). I’m ready to be productive again.

This year, my “change of pace” was fairly short. Last year it lasted a month – I had accumulated fatigue. I think it is healthy, at times, to get out of your routine and indulge in guilty pleasures. It can be as simple as buying pre-made food instead of cooking, putting on your pyjamas as soon as you get home from work or forget the existence of Internet for the weekend.

I think “being productive” is important to a lot of people, but sometimes, in order to remain productive, you’ve got to take a breather.

Be well, you all. Take care of yourselves.

 

A love letter

My dearest,hearts_01

It was not love at first sight. You looked perfect in every way, but I’m not one to be deceived by appearances. Were you really the one for me? I had already been disappointed by many.

Following that first meeting, you appeared before me regularly, showing your best attributes. After a while, I seemed to constantly go back to you until finally, I agreed we could give it a try.

You were hard to handle at first, but I am not one to give up so easily once I’ve started something. I went to wiser people for advice. Before I knew it, I was falling in love with you.

I didn’t flinch when you asked for a more permanent commitment. You made me whole. You supported me in my writing endeavours, and I trust you will for years to come.

I hope we can grow old together. Should it not be possible, know that I will always remember you, my precious Scrivener.

Yours truly,
Idaheart_beat

Sorry for that, haha. And no, this post isn’t sponsored by Scrivener: I do believe everything written there. Microsoft Word is good and all, but after I’d reached 20k words on a novel, I’d have a hard time finding individual scenes to switch them around (and I do that a lot).

I wish you all a happy Valentine’s Day!

snail-reverseAs a little life update: 2017 isn’t starting too well for me. On January 29, there was a shooting in Quebec City, near a grocery store I’d sometimes go to. Six men died, others were injured. I don’t watch the news because tragedies pain me too much, but there was no escaping that one. Then, my husband got into an accident last week and our car, which we both loved and had named Eli, might be a total loss. For his part, he has some neck pain, but thankfully nothing worse.

Also, I’m still unemployed. I went for a translation test yesterday, but I was sick with a cold (as I always am in the winter) and I don’t think it went too well… Here’s hoping spring will bring more job openings!

In the meantime, I cope with the increased anxiety through writing and knitting, which I learned watching YouTube videos three weeks ago. It’s both relaxing and useful, I love it! So far, I’ve made a doll scarf and a dishcloth. I am now working on a scarf for myself.flower_02 I love listening to podcasts while I knit, so if you have any recommendation, feel free to share! I especially like fiction podcasts.

Anyway, I hope you are all well, and if you aren’t… spring is coming in… 36 days! Hang on!

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Review: Spanking Shakespeare

spanking-shakespeareLast November, my NaNoWriMo project included the point of view of a 17-year-old boy. Now, this might come as a surprise, but I’ve never been a 17-year-old boy. I’ve hung out with a lot of them, but I never was in their minds. So for research’s sake, I googled books that would show the “uncensored” thoughts of that particular species.

Spanking Shakespear by Jake Wizner is the one that caught my attention… and I am so glad it did. My only disappointment is: Why is there no French translation of that book? This should be translated! It is a debut novel by a man whose main source of income isn’t writing, and yet it is the kind of writing that makes me despair I’ll never write so well (right until it becomes a challenge, haha). I guess Random House know how to choose their manuscripts.

The voice is the best. Although some anecdotes are funny in themselves, some are only funny because of the way they’re told. Know someone who can fascinate a crowd talking about their trip to the convenience store? That’s the kind of skill I’m talking about. As a writer, I can only admire that.

Shakespear Shapiro’s inner dialogue and the jokes, and the ideas not always well-thought-out… It rings so true to my experience hanging out with boys (and even men). I guess some of the content could hurt “female delicacy”, but I never had that.

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The story isn’t one that will change your life, but it is still rather deep under the humour. Serious subjects are broached. The main theme, though subtle, is strong.

The characters are all endearing (and sometimes annoying) in their own way. They reminded me of people I used to know. I didn’t really identify with any of them, feeling instead like I was there with them.

The only thing that bothered me a little would be the structure. The entire book alternates between the present, where you’re in Shakespeare’s mind, and the past, written down by Shakespeare for his class. While those written pieces are funny and beautifully written, some of them are not absolutely vital to the story and I tend to dislike scenes that just “stall” the story.

Who would I recommend this to? The obvious answer would be teenage boys, especially those who like literature because there are a lot of references to famous writers in there. However, I do believe anyone over 13 could enjoy this book as long as they’re not too easily offended and can tolerate teenage boys’ humour.

Rating: 8.5/10