Tag Archives: writing style

Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Mimi Speike

Posted by November 25th, 2013

mimi_speikeToday we have one of our most seasoned Book Country members, Mimi Speike, as our guest. We caught her at an opportune time–as she’s making final revisions to her historical fantasy series and is preparing to launch them into the world. 

NG: When did you fall in love with writing?

MS: I wrote in school, of course. I didn’t start writing for my own pleasure until around 1984. An idea got hold of me and wouldn’t let go. I’d always read. I began to examine style, particularly that thing called flow. I started writing Sly! and fell so in love with the somersaults that you can turn with well-chosen words that I’m still at it. This is the greatest game there is.

NG: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about yourself as a writer? What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve overcome?

MS: I’ve learned to follow my gut. Screw rules. My Intrusive Author style is universally despised, apparently. But, that’s my voice. I’m sticking with it.

Biggest challenge? The one we all face: self-doubt. Once in a while, I manage to subdue debilitating insecurity, only to be seized by its equally evil twin, unabashed arrogance, no improvement in terms of objectivity. I don’t think in terms of overcoming. I try to balance the Jekyll and Hyde of my authorial personality, and let it go at that.

NG: How did you go about cultivating your writing style, and what role humor plays in the SLY series?

MS: I admire nineteenth/early twentieth-century lush description. I try to emulate it. That whole out-of-fashion scene-setting really turns me on. I also adore exceptional grace of phrasing; I think of it as a musicality. I scour the classics for vocabulary, sea terms in particular. I have a pirate episode in Sly! What do I know of the sea? Nada! Two Years Before The Mast, set two hundred years after my period, furnished information on shipboard routine. That has to do, until I lay hands on more timely material.

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Getting Paranormal with Elisabeth Staab

Posted by June 6th, 2013


ElisabethStaab_bc“It’s about taking what’s commonly accepted and familiar, then finding the tweaks that make it yours.”

I’m excited to welcome paranormal romance author Elisabeth Staab to the blog. Elisabeth is the author of the acclaimed Chronicles of Yavn series. (You’ll love her books if you are a fan of J.R. Ward!) She sat down to talk with us about writing and reading paranormal, vampires, and the secret sauce to creating steamy love scenes. 

Nevena: Thanks you so much for joining us, Elisabeth! Why do you write paranormal romance?

Elisabeth: Thanks so much for having me!

I fell in love with vampires way back during hair braiding and Cheetos munching sessions at a slumber party, when I first saw Michael kiss Star inThe Lost Boys. I point to that as my big moment growing up when I realized that these otherworldly creatures could be something more than just horror monsters. In general, the whole “unexplained phenomena” business always rang my bell. I was the one who told ghost stories and pulled out the Ouija board at parties. So many of us thrive on that mystery, I think. The “what if” factor. What if the leather-clad biker gassing up his crotch-rocket across from you at the Shell station is really a vampire on his way out to fight the bad guys who are threatening his turf? You never know.

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Stephen King’s No-Adverbs Rule

Posted by March 22nd, 2013

How adverbs lead to affectation and weakness in your writing.

stephen_king_sm“…while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.” –Stephen King

Stephen King’s On Writing is one of the most popular books on the craft of writing. And with good reason: it is chock full of practical writing advice and curious anecdotes about King’s own path to publication.

Adverbs are a sign of a timid writer

What amused me when I read it recently was the author’s utter disdain for adverbs. He starts with a grammar refresher:

Adverbs, you will remember from your own version of Business English, are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. … With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.

Here it gets even better:

Someone out there is accusing me of being tiresome and anal-retentive. I deny it. I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, you find five the next day…fifty the day after that…and then, my brothers and sisters, your loan is totally, completely and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they are, but by then it’s–GASP!!—too late.


Adverbs in dialogue attribution ends in affectation

There is one case in which King just hates adverbs: dialogue attribution. He invites us to compare the following sets of examples:

“Put it down!” she shouted.
“Give it back,” he pleaded, “it’s mine.”
“Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said.

In these sentences, shoutedpleaded, and said are verbs of dialogue attribution. Now look at these dubious revisions:

“Put it down!” she shouted menacingly.
“Give it back,” he pleaded abjectly, “it’s mine.”
“Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said contemptuously.

But even if you’re not guilty of populating your dialogue with adverbs, he warns us against another common misdemeanor:

Some writers try to avoid the no-adverb rule by shooting up the attribution verb full of steroids. 

Which leads to atrocities such as these:

“Put down the gun, Utterson!” Jekyll grated.
“Never stop kissing me!” Shayna gasped.
“You damned tease!” Bill jerked out.

King concludes:

Good writing is about letting go of fear and affectation. Affectation itself, beginning with the need to define some sorts of writing as “good” and other sorts as “bad,” is fearful behavior. Good writing is also about making good choices when it comes to picking the tools you plan to work with. 

The bestselling author is a proponent of William Strunk and E.B. White’s simplicity of expression school. If you’ve read their slim volume The Elements of Style, you probably have the incantation “Omit needless words” branded into your memory.

Flowery language, or overwriting, is a challenge for newbie and seasoned writers alike. Spurred on by fear, they try to dazzle readers with verbal fireworks, and might forget that what’s more important that using a “pretty” word is using the “right” one.

A Confession:

I must admit I’ve been guilty of overwriting.

My sin is called qualifiers.

Qualifiers are words—many of them adverbs—that modify the meaning of other words. I wasn’t aware of my problem until one of my colleagues read a piece I had written. She said, “You use a whole lot of qualifiers, and it makes your points weaker.”

Ouch! I reread it and realized that she was right: my writing was peppered with “rather,” “somewhat,” and “quite,” “completely,” “actually,” and “seemingly.” They made my ideas sound tentative, as if I didn’t believe in my own assertions.

These words are an old habit from my academic days, where this kind of “hedging” language is widely accepted. Outside of academia, qualifiers lead to weak, lackluster, and hesitant writing. And I’m determined to weed them out.

What about you? Do you have a writing tic or thorn? What tendencies are you trying to exterminate? 

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