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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Insecure Writers Support Group, December 4, 2013

Today is the first Wednesday of the month, which means it is IWSG day. The once-a-month blog hop started by Alec Cavanaugh . IWSG = Insecure Writers' Support Group We share our insecurities and support each other with empathy, sympathy or practical suggestions. 

Check out this bit of writing and see what you think of it:

     Pushing to his feet, The Hero drew a deep breath and lifted an eyebrow, his mouth twisting with disgust as he eyed the scene before him.  The Hero stalked to the doorway.  “So you say,” he growled.  “Speaking for myself only, begging your pardon and hoping that you will take this as it is meant, I must take myself off!  Good day!”
     She clasped her hands at her breast and took a hesitant step toward him.  “Ah, no!” The Heroine  breathed.  You mistook me – or I misspoke – or something – anything at all! – but what does it matter, truly, when you and I have found love and I can indulge The Author’s excessive love of hyphens by putting four in one sentence?”
     His steps dragged to a halt, his eyes lowered; The Heroine  could see the fan of lashes against his brown cheek.  Unwillingly, The Hero turned toward her, raised his eyes, and said, “She has never understood em-dashes and en-dashes…”
     They sighed.
     He spoke again, his voice easing into the thick silence.  “For heaven’s sake, don’t you think The Author has stuffed this passage with enough of those hackneyed, stilted, repetitive word choices that bug her whenever she comes up with them to the point where she ruthlessly blue-pencils them all?  D’you think she might let us go and do something enjoyable now that she’s made her point?”
     “Oh, no,” The Heroine said, lifting her chin.  “She has not yet used a semicolon; that is imperative!”
     "Hey!” The Hero exclaimed.  “Check it out!  She just did!”
     “At last!” The Heroine cried.  “We are free!”
      They turned and looked at the Author. “Well?”
      “Oh, go on with you.," she said with the hint of a grin. "You’ve made my point for me.”

      This passage contains most of my favorite (for which read 'deplorable') habits.  Turns of phrase, punctuation quirks, descriptions.  They're there.  I have others, but these are the main ones.
      I admit here and now that I have trouble shaking them.  That is, I have no problem taking a blue pencil to them, but they will crop out, do what I may.  (Y'know, Diana, your characters breathe a lot," said an editor once...) 
      I think most authors have quirks that they have to fight.  Kill them and they come back, rather like the hydra.
      ...and that's another quirk I have: quoting mythology, literary references, things that either make people go glassy-eyed or else run away.
      Vigilance takes care of them, usually, but I'm embarrassed to have them.

     I think writers are insecure by nature.  I just picked up Guy Gavriel Kay's wonderful book, River of Stars, a fantasy of sorts, certainly alternate history set in almost-China of the Soong dynasty.  A scene where a condemned man, dying at the command of a nothing of an emperor because he is loyal to that emperor, is offered a chance to escape and live out his days. 

He thought about his friends, about wind in your face on a galloping horse, about waiting for dawn and battle, the beating of your heart then.  The taste of good wine.  Even bad wine sometimes.  Bamboo woods, the sun through leaves, a bamboo sword.  His mother's hand in his hair.

   It is beautifully written.  Effortless, with the tinge of poetry.  And of course, I have to compare it to my own efforts.  How can I write that way?  I can't write that way.  There is no beauty in my writing!  Or so I thought.  After all, if you're an aspiring writer you have to be not-so-good...don't you?

Do you?  ...well, do you?

I riffled through some things of mine and came upon this scene.  It is toward the end of a story that needs to be written.  The first man nearly betrayed his king.  And now, defeated, he is waiting:

          He stood in the darkened hallway as his son hurried away.
          Heartbeats passed and he heard the change in the sounds around him. A cheer, suppressed, the rumble of wheels, clatter of bronze-clad weapons. More cheers, silenced again.
          A clank...hushed voices. He raised his head, facing the tall, bronze-clad door, and waited.
          A slit in the darkness widened to painful brightness that spilled across the pavement and lapped at his feet. Movement, merely sensed, solidifying into a form and a face that came in from the sun and moved toward him, gaining solidity and substance as it approached.
          He waited.
          The voice seemed to come from the light. "Why?"
          "I do not know."
          "That is not an answer." 
          "It is the only one I can give."
          Silence, poised on a knife-edge of thought. He had the sense that if he chose to wait an eternity to answer, the listener would be there as well, waiting with a terrible patience.
          He raised his eyes, met the dark gaze upon him, and went to his knees. "You have defeated me," he said. "But grant me this credit: I never tried to fight you."
          "You considered it and took steps to do so in the teeth of my commands."
          He lowered his head. "Yes."
         "And you did not, though you had everything in place to do so. Why?"
          "I could not."
          The man moved out of the light.  "Why?"
          He could see him clearly now. "You have asked and I have answered," he said. "Why continue asking?"
          The other folded his arms. "Because I do not like the answers you give, Holiness," he said. "I want to know how we got to this place from where we were."
          He looked down at the floor, at his hands clasped on his knees. "End it, Sire," he said. "I beg you. If you ever held me in regard, end it."
      I am not Guy Gavriel Kay.  Or not just yet, but that isn't too shabby, considering it's a first draft.  We don't read and appreciate our own work nearly enough.  That is a shame, since we are writing to give enjoyment (aren't we?).  It is not wrong to enjoy your own work or at least, having created something, it is perfectly all right to read it and admit that maybe you do have a spark of ability.

      We're all a bit insecure in that regard, I guess.  Something to share and work on.


  1. You're write, we do all have phrases that we need to control how and when to use. Great your editor can pick up on those... makes it so much easier than trying to catch it on our own or by the myriad of reviewers and readers many have. :) Writer’s Mark

  2. Not shabby at ALL - thank you for sharing it!

    I laughed and nodded my way through this post (and I loved the "scene" with your Hero and Heroine). We all really do have ridiculous habits that just won't go away. My characters breathe a lot, too ;)

    You might not be Guy Gavriel Kay, but you're YOU, and that's pretty damn good!

  3. Oh my goodness, I drove myself CRAZY with bad writing habits this NaNo! I lost count of the number of list sentenses (i.e. description of a noun, despription of another noun, description of a third noun, period) within the first three pages! It's RIDICULOUS. And when it comes time to edit, boy oh boy will there be blue pen galore! Sentences will need to be drastically restructured, repetitive words will need to be changed, paragraphs that beat the reader over the head with their point will need to be completely re-written.

    But like you said, every now and again we surprise ourselves. I love it when I read something I wrote and think "Huh. I guess I am getting a little bit better." That's as good as sit gets!

  4. HA! Your passage... I kept alternating... This is great! that's a bit too much. This is great! Wait no, too much... It's so hard, isn't it? My characters do too much nodding and raising eyebrows, but my REAL problem is tentative languange... all of the faltering 'though,' 'a little', thought, seemed, appeared... my narrator always lacks confidence the first time out and has to get across to the reader that this is just how SHE sees it...

  5. Not too shabby at all! And your opening passage with "deplorable" grammatical tics is a hoot. [Sigh.] Good writing is a hard job!
    --December IWSG co-host

  6. Love your over-the-top example! And I think you're right--sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to enjoy our own writing!

  7. We all have words and phrases that just cling to us, no matter how hard we try to shake them.