Feb 202012

Just to be cruel, I toted up the word count in your first eight sentences:


Before you get hot under the collar about this, let me just tell you that I learned about counting words in sentences from a guy who is damn fine writer: T. Jefferson Parker. He’s got a couple of Edgar Awards that show I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Jeff Parker once told me that he counted sentences in paragraphs and words in sentences as a way to increase tension. At the climax, the sentences and the paragraphs got shorter; the words fewer. In other words: short crisp sentences are more energetic and keep the reader moving along at that rapid clip you want to claim.

via Query Shark: #220.

I never understand why providing an education is cruel, especially when the people who submit queries to the Query Shark are looking for just that… but… let’s leave that topic aside.

T. Jefferson Parker’s advice is useful for those who want to evaluate the rules of prose construction: Count the words in your sentence to increase tension. As your story comes closer to the climax, shorten the sentences. Short crisp sentences are energetic and keep the reader moving along at a rapid clip.

Feb 052012

If you use these words in your poetry or writing, be very careful. They are so charged as an editor I’ve stopped reading because of them. They can of course be used in a way that are not cliché, but many times just the sight of them can send your work into the DO NOT PUBLISH pile. I’m not really saying to avoid these words. It’s really up to you, but they do send editors running. Be aware.

  1. Soul-this word is number 1 for a reason. Many editors simply hate it.
  2. Heart- this word also can get a manuscript rejected quickly!
  3. Love-ugh, so many other ways to say this one.
  4. Warmth-tread lightly here. Nine times out of 10 this one will get you rejected.
  5. Windows-oddly, more times than not this one is used in a cliché way. Windows to the soul…
  6. Forever-don’t use it.
  7. Death-ok to write about, not great to say.
  8. Life-see above
  9. Feeling- talk all you want to about them, just don’t say the word.
  10. Light- do not use.

via Writing Sense – 10 Words Editors Hate.

Updated my Writing: Words to watch page.

Jan 222012

The starship Theodore Roosevelt is fighting on the far outskirts of a galactic war, its crew made up of retreads and raw recruits. A new first officer reports, Wilson Cole, a man with a reputation for exceeding his orders (but getting results). He’s been banished to the Teddy R. for his actions, but once there he again ignores his orders and again comes away triumphant.

It is when the captain of the ship stubbornly follows orders that Cole knows are wrong that he takes command of the ship and wins a major battle. But victorious or not, the service cannot condone a mutiny, even a bloodless one, and he is brought back to stand trial. But Wilson Cole realizes that a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion…

This is the first of five proposed novels about the starship Theodore Roosevelt. The next four will be, in order, Pirate, Mercenary, Rebel, and Flagship.

The description of the book (from Goodreads) is actually misleading, because the story doesn’t happen that way. It would be more accurate to depict the story thusly:

The starship Theodore Roosevelt is patrolling the far outskirts of the Republic during a galactic war, its crew the unwanted and untrustworthy, at least from the Navy’s perspective. Wilson Cole joins the ships crew, as a new officer, recently demoted, with a reputation for disregarding his orders (but getting results). Though Cole was banished to the Teddy R., he refuses bad orders and once again comes away triumphant.

When the captain of the ship, stubbornly following orders, does something that Cole knows is wrong, he takes command of the ship to avert the death of millions. But, victorious or not, the service cannot condone a mutiny, even a bloodless one, and he’s brought back to stand on trial. Wilson Cole soon realizes that a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion…

And you’ve pretty much summarized the book. It’s a fun romp, almost a space opera. The story is really the inciting event for the five-part story; the life of the Teddy R. (and it’s crew.)

Read further only if you don’t mind spoilers.

There is a lot to like in the first book of the Starship series, and I’ll list a few of the things I like. The writing is great (with a few notable exceptions), the humor is enough to make me smile more than once, a lot of the antics in the book are exploited to world build for readers who are not familiar with Resnick’s Birthright Universe (i.e., me). When you reach the end of the book, you get treated to several appendices, one of which is a timeline of his universe (somewhere in the area of eighteen thousand years 72 stories of indeterminate length.) The richness of the universe and its history really comes through in Resnick’s writing, and you can really see the degradation of the Republic’s government towards a government where the will of the people (stupid as they often are) becomes more important than the will of the representatives who are voted in to power.

Which segways nicely in to some of the things that were wrong with the book. Wilson Cole is the consummate hero, but he is also the consummate cynic. His history, and how he got demoted to the Teddy R., is presented in dialogue and narrative description. It’s history, and Resnick is unapologetic in skipping over the inciting events that lead Cole to the titular Starship. Furthermore, there are some fairly gaping holes in the plot and a few obvious failures in rendering natural dialogue. (If you don’t think about them, everything reads smoothly, but once you do it’s jarring.)

  1. The Bortellites (the bad guys in Act I) are on the planet to obtain power to fuel their ships. Geothermal energy. The natural question is, since most planets should have a geothermal core, why are they in Republic space (enemy space) collecting geothermic energy from this planet? The answer we’re given is that the planet is geothermically active, and with unstated exclamation points. The energy they can get from this planet is greater than any available in their own territory (because if it wasn’t, why would they enter enemy space to steal it?) Considering the fact that this is some three to four thousand years forward in time, it seems a marked lack of imagination on Resnick’s part. Why couldn’t they just build giant solar panel planets in space and collect all the excess heat and photonic energy that every star (closer to the enemies’ home territory) produces rather than going to where Wilson Cole is located?
  2. In Act II, the pilot of the Teddy R states “I’ve put some ground between us and them,” except that (you guessed it) they’re in space. The use of this archaic term aboard a vessel which, we are told, never sets down on planets (and the crew haven’t seen shore leave in a very long time, and the pilot who makes the comment is plugged in to the navigation systems, permanently.) The anachronism is jarring.
  3. In Act III, Cole’s military counselor says, “You  didn’t make your captain walk the plank, or whatever they do these days.” Ok, first the military lawyer demonstrates an intimate familiarity with common practices aboard navel vessels four thousand years prior to the present (in the book), and then he displays a complete lack of familiarity with what passes for common practice aboard present day naval vessels. Wait, what?
  4. In Act III, the political climax of the book, we’re told that everyone is against Cole because he failed to prevent the death of three million Benidottes (but saved five million humans, and his former Captain has been telling the press that he’s bigoted and xenophobic… so the reason he didn’t save the Benidottes is because he hates all other species except humans. This prevents the Navy from finding him innocent.) I’m struggling (like the characters in the book) to understand how the entire civilization is so firmly under the control of the mass media that no one is capable of thinking for themselves.
  5. In Act III, after Cole accepts defeat so that his service mates are not sacrificed to politics along with him (but he’s planning to attempt an escape from prison), Resnick narrates “… Cole lay down on his narrow, uncomfortable cot, dwelling on the realization that he’d spent his entire adult life in the unquestioning service of a military that could do this to him.” (Emphasis mine). Except that the whole point of his history is that he’s never, ever served unquestioningly. The very reason he was sent to the Teddy R. in the first place is because he questioned (and disobeyed) orders, and he’s been questioning (and disobeying) orders throughout the last 245 pages.

Lastly, the climax of the book is political where the first and second Acts of the novel are both action. The result is to cause the quick pacing of the story to grind to a near halt while the protagonists “rot in jai.” Since this is the start of a series, and there are more books to come, I’m willing to forgive. I like Resnick’s voice (as a writer) and Wilson Cole is fun to spend time with.

Jan 192012

via Guest Post: Long Sentences.

This article is long winded and misses the point. Meandering, due to the lengthy quotes, this article presents several ideas and manages a conclusion towards the end. Despite the claims that topic is long sentences, this article’s content is really about rhythm, and how there is just as much value in long sentences as in short sentences. That Theodora struggled with the topic of her article seems evident in the structure of the article itself. She spends the first 550 words of her article quoting an article by Pico Iyer and offhandedly refuting Pico’s article (with only a 150 word response to the 242 word quotation). She then continues with a quote that formed the basis for her article, from Pico’s article, and concludes, “And you know, I see his point.” (at the 76% mark in her 1015 word article.) While there is more to the article, I’ll let you read it for yourself. The point of my article is about what drew me in, what I thought of this opinion article, and what the content of the article was (to me) versus what Theodora claimed the article was about.

The start of her article didn’t grab me at all, and it wasn’t until I reread it carefully that I realized that what really drew me in was the start of the article she spends most of her time quoting (and refuting).

“‘Your sentences are so long,’” said a friend who teaches English at a local college, and I could tell she didn’t quite mean it as a compliment.

So says the first line of that Theodora Goss is quoting. That hook is excellent, but Theodora’s beginning: “Recently, the Los Angeles Times published an article …” is less enticing. Pico’s article (at least the part that is quoted) is flush with long, multi-clause sentences, sprinkled liberally with adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions. His writing is readable and complex, bordering on being florid without being convoluted. I am certainly inspired by his style of prose; I find myself tempted to try longer sentences (Theodora felt the same way), but I also find myself thinking that Pico’s writing is too long. There is no urgency to his writing, which might be perfect for journalism, but for fiction it just does not work.

Ironically, Theodora ends her guest post succinctly (at odds with the title):

So, long sentences. But more important than that, nuance and depth. Those are the lessons for today.

So, long sentences, indeed. Which leads me to the conclusion of my article: this article by Theodora Goss is a mess. While it presents some interesting food for thought, the topic not discussed is rhythm (a topic which is currently plaguing me). Rhythm is at the heart of Theodora’s article, even if she never mentions the word. Pico’s use of long sentences, multiple clauses, and verbosity may provide the information dump (i.e., “bombardment of the moment”) that he so desperately desires, but it also creates a languid, almost soporific feeling to the prose. Amazingly, Pico’s hook is short, being a five word quote. The next shortest sentence in the quotes (provided by Theodora) is eight words.

Long sentences may communicate nuance and depth, but short sentences are like punctuation: Proper use greatly improves your writing. What’s more, sometimes the best way to say something is by not saying it at all.

And that was the lesson I learned today.

Jan 162012

How First Page Shooter Works

First Page Shooter critiques the first 250 words of fiction manuscripts (middle grade to adult, all genres). You have to send the pages for them to be considered. There is a checklist on the post labeled “Directions!”

Keep in mind a critique on your pages might take several days, and if you haven’t followed the directions, your pages won’t be critiqued.

Your chance to be critiqued improves if you aren’t making the same mistakes the Shark has ranted about commented on previously.

First Page Shooter is entirely a volunteer activity. No first pages sent as part of a query will be posted. The only way your first 250 words will show up is if you email firstpageshooter@gmail.com and specifically ask to have your first page critiqued.

There are no rejections. If your first 250 words aren’t posted within about 120 days, they probably won’t be.

This can happen for several reasons: I didn’t get it, you didn’t really make any mistakes I could talk about; it was so bad I didn’t know where to start; I didn’t understand that foreign language. Pick the reason that makes you feel best, because that’s the real reason.

via How First Page Shooter Works | Confessions.

Looks like a great place to get your manuscript critiqued (at least the first 250 words of your manuscript.) Not that you should neglect building a critique group; these public critiques will never replace having someone read through your entire manuscript and tell you what they did and didn’t like. (And then you’ll have to decide what to do with what they tell you.)

Jan 042012

I never thought I’d have cause to refer to this, but just in case I ever do again: I present, “Peter’s Evil Overlord List“. When writing, always double check to make sure that your bad guys aren’t doing something obviously cliched and stupid.

Dec 162011

Reasoning With Vampires: 4th June 2011

Leaving aside the vitriolic comments that Dana makes, including the out of context humor, the reason that I like RvW [Reasoning with Vampires] more than English lessons is outlined in the following two lists.

English in school English on RvW
School is about dry rules and repetition. Class has the format: here are the rules, write an essay or paper, grade paper to determine comprehension of class material and ability to execute. Failure in any part of the process results in low grade. Inconsistent results. Repetition occurs because of authorial repetition. Dana makes it clear (if you read her tumblr regularly) that word choice shows authors skill at communicating concepts, whereas syntax and punctuation is a matter of finesse. This doesn’t make syntax and punctuation less important, but it clearly shows the authors command of the language.
School inappropriately mixed comprehension and composition. Fail at one and you fail at both. Due to the nature of tumbler, one topic, one post is a pretty reliable format.
The only grading done was on your composition. The grading being done is on someone else’s composition, less personal for the reader when the author fails. I think this makes it easier to avoid the resistant, defensive attitude to critique.
I wasn’t interested in composition as a kid in school. I’ve got over twenty years of reading under my belt to build familiarity with the essential rules. (i.e., learning via immersion.) I have had to demonstrate good composition in my job writing technical Q&As, presentations and training material. I am now interested in writing fiction, which makes the rules even more interesting.
English lessons never involved humor, at least not when I was in school. Dana is amusing with her catch phrases: paracrap, punctuation or pronoun abuse and “sentences are not minivans”
Book deconstruction in English involved trying to comprehend the literary theme of a novel. When I was young, I never appreciated theme, so I didn’t care to pay attention. Book deconstruction never pointed out the mistakes of the author. Such assassinations are just not done by academics- unless you’re a kid, a genre author or work for a living. Deconstructing a book for it’s mistakes (what the publishing word calls “editing”) is educational. Showing (tumblr) vs telling (essay) makes the mistakes much clearer. While some of the problems highlighted by RvW could be treated as “artistic license,” the repetition in Meyer’s style suggests the author has only a passing familiarity with the consequences of word choice and punctuation.