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Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Mike Newman
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby Mike Newman » Thu Oct 10, 2013 10:36 pm

Reader Jan,

My question concerns your tastes when the time comes to hook a finger atop a well-worn paperback and slip it from among its unselected brethren. Is it literary fiction from a Franzen, or a genre novel from the likes of a King or a P.D. James?

What do you consistently go back to when you want a book that is sure to satisfy? Just fiction here, non-fiction tastes aren't as interesting. :D


Mike

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby glorybee » Thu Oct 10, 2013 11:17 pm

Mike Newman wrote:Reader Jan,

My question concerns your tastes when the time comes to hook a finger atop a well-worn paperback and slip it from among its unselected brethren. Is it literary fiction from a Franzen, or a genre novel from the likes of a King or a P.D. James?

What do you consistently go back to when you want a book that is sure to satisfy? Just fiction here, non-fiction tastes aren't as interesting. :D


Mike


What a great question!

I suppose my tastes currently run to contemporary literary fiction. If it's edgy, well-written, with well-rounded characters and fast pacing, then it will likely appeal to me. I like things that are different--recently I read "The Rosie Project," where the narrator/protagonist was a brilliant man with Asperger's syndrome, and "The Light Between Oceans," where the protagonist and his wife raise a stolen child.

I tend to dislike genre fiction, or anything formulaic or predictable. Romance, mystery, police procedurals, historical novels...they don't hold my interest.

That having been said--I'll read any genre if it's well-written. Well, almost any genre: I'm not inclined to read horror or fantasy. Sci fi and speculative fiction are fun, chick lit can be entertaining, and I have a daughter who is a middle school librarian who frequently recommends good YA literature to me.

Three of my favorite novels, none of which would be labeled "Christian Fiction," but two of them with strong, positive Christian themes:

1. Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger. Hard to describe coming-of-age story with some magical realism, an awesome little girl who writes cowboy poetry, and a best next-to-last chapter EVER.

2. Once Upon a River, by Bonnie Jo Campbell. Best protagonist I've ever read in a tough teenager named Margo. Outstanding, sparse writing. Campbell is the writer I'd most like to write like (and never will). *This one is NOT Christian and not for those who object to a PG-13ish read.

3. Thin Blue Smoke, by Doug Worgul. Barbecue, faith, baseball, blues, redemption.

Hope this answered your question--what do YOU like to read?
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby Mike Newman » Fri Oct 11, 2013 12:02 am

It did indeed. And your short but wonderful blurbs about your three faves just mighta hooked me. I'll have to get the ebooks and give them a read.

I too find myself often going back to quality literary fiction. I read a lot of books and often recall little of what has come before, but a few standouts in the recent past (that's when I got to them, not necessarily when they were written) in this category have been:

The Art of Fielding by Harbach
Empire Falls by Russo
Room by Donoghue
The Corrections and Freedom by Franzen

What started me reading seriously as a kid was Hitchcock's Three Investigators series. In adolescence it was Stephen King who kept the fire lit, and early adulthood found Catch-22 and The World According to Garp to stoke the flames.

Because of that background I still enjoy genre fiction, generally horror but can vary. I still love King, but he long ago blew past PG-13, so reader beware.

Turning that line of thought to writing, do you find yourself most comfortable with deep characters and so would likely end up writing more of a literary novel if one is in your future? Or does plot come easily and a genre story would be the likeliest output? I guess that's a convoluted way of asking if your writing tastes are similar to your reading tastes.

Mike

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby glorybee » Fri Oct 11, 2013 12:20 am

The one time I attempted to write a novel, it was dystopian speculative fiction. I still love the idea, but I don't think I have what it takes to write a novel. I'm too much of a perfectionist, and I've seen too much junk published. I don't want to write junk, but if it can't be as good as the best that's out there, I don't want to do it. In addition, I have absolutely no ambition, nor any desire to self-promote.

I don't know if you've read any of the stories I have on this site. My favorites are the serious and literary ones, usually featuring one wounded character and usually first person. I feel like I'm pretty good at those; unfortunately, there's not much of a market for micro-fiction "out there."

Had to laugh at "does plot come easily." Absolutely NOT. Characters come easily. Plot was like walking backwards through hardening concrete.

Incidentally, you mentioned two books that I've loved: Room and Garp. Irving is crazy good, and the voice in Room was a virtuoso writing performance.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby lish1936 » Fri Oct 11, 2013 11:31 am

Jan,
This is not a question about writing per se, but I don't know the answer.

When adding your name to the title of an article, what is the right form? Do you use the word, "By." If so, is there a comma after it?

:thankssign

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby glorybee » Fri Oct 11, 2013 12:03 pm

lish1936 wrote:Jan,
This is not a question about writing per se, but I don't know the answer.

When adding your name to the title of an article, what is the right form? Do you use the word, "By." If so, is there a comma after it?

:thankssign

Lillian


Interesting question!

I'll answer the second part first: Never put a comma after 'by' if you're naming the writer of an article (or of anything else). Here's a way for you to remember that: imagine that you'd written a full sentence. This article was written by Jan Ackerson. You wouldn't put a comma there; neither should you put a comma in the abbreviated form.

Now to the first part of your question, which has me thinking in several directions.

If you're writing something that will be published elsewhere, that 'elsewhere' will have their own format for naming writers, and the (magazine, website, whatever) will certainly take care of that when they publish your article.

If you're writing something for your own publication (blog, newsletter, etc.), you could certainly use 'by', but I'm not sure it's necessary. Just putting your name after the piece (or after the title of the piece) would be sufficient.

In fact, the more I think about it, the less I like the use of 'by,' which reminds me of what I'd see on school papers.

Is there an instance that I haven't thought of where you think using 'by' is more appropriate? I'm sure I'm missing something.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby swfdoc1 » Fri Oct 11, 2013 5:47 pm

glorybee wrote:I suppose my tastes currently run to contemporary literary fiction. If it's edgy, well-written, with well-rounded characters and fast pacing, then it will likely appeal to me.


Literary fiction is usually described as being slow paced, but that is a generality and by way of comparison to most genre fiction.

What are some examples of fast-paced literary fiction? I ask because my finished novel (which I used to pitch as a literary-genre hybrid, until I learned the word "literary" is the kiss of death to Christian publishing houses) has attracted some interest from agents and houses, but has so far not been acquired. I have received some negative feedback about its slow pace. I would love to check out some fast(er)-paced literary fiction.
Steve
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby lish1936 » Fri Oct 11, 2013 6:14 pm

Jan wrote:Is there an instance that I haven't thought of where you think using 'by' is more appropriate?


I'm not sure if the following example is "more appropriate," (is that comma in the right place?) or just wrong. :D

"Excerpts from The Rose by Amanda McBroom." The excerpt was listed under a different heading along with other quotes/excerpts.

And by the way, "literary fiction...genre fiction?" Is there somewhere on the Forum where you have listed the different types of fiction and what makes them different? Sorry to say, but being a newcomer to writing fiction, and not necessarily a reader of fiction, I haven't a clue as to meaning or difference. :(

Thanks,

Lillian
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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby glorybee » Fri Oct 11, 2013 6:31 pm

I probably used "fast paced" wrongly--I guess I didn't mean it in any "official" way, but more as "a book that I can read quickly, or a book that I don't want to put down."

Given the "Jan version" of that term, I'd list a few books that fit it, for me:

* The 3 I listed in my reply to Mike, above
* Room, the one he and I have both liked
* Embrace Me, Lisa Samson (Christian and literary)
* When I Found You, Catherine Hyde
* Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
* The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow, Joyce Magnin (Christian)
* Unwind, Neal Shusterman (YA)
* The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby glorybee » Fri Oct 11, 2013 6:46 pm

lish1936 wrote:
Jan wrote:Is there an instance that I haven't thought of where you think using 'by' is more appropriate?


I'm not sure if the following example is "more appropriate," (is that comma in the right place?) or just wrong. :D

"Excerpts from The Rose by Amanda McBroom." The excerpt was listed under a different heading along with other quotes/excerpts.

And by the way, "literary fiction...genre fiction?" Is there somewhere on the Forum where you have listed the different types of fiction and what makes them different? Sorry to say, but being a newcomer to writing fiction, and not necessarily a reader of fiction, I haven't a clue as to meaning or difference. :(

Thanks,

Lillian


Your comma was in the right place. In the US, commas go inside quotation marks.

I'd have written it like this: Excerpts from The Rose, by Amanda McBroom." The comma goes before by, not after it.

Genre fiction is the stuff that you can identify by its shelf in the bookstore: Romance, Mystery, Chick Lit, Sci Fi, Horror, Police Procedural, Historical, Fantasy--that sort of thing. To some extent, the books within the genres follow a certain predictable plot line: in a romance, for example, a gal meets a fellow...they dislike each other but are drawn to each other...there is a crisis or a misunderstanding that drives them apart, even as their attraction increases...the crisis is resolved in such a way that they can acknowledge their love at the end.

The other genres also have their own expected character types, plot devices, and so on. Readers read these types of novels because they LIKE the formula, and publishers look for books that do not deviate substantially from it.

Literary fiction is typically driven more by character development than by plot, and there is no set direction that the plot must take. It's more likely to be written from a unique POV or by using some unusual voice or writing style. Literary fiction can be written in any of the genres; a literary novel may have romantic elements, for example, or a police investigation. But it does not fit any expected formula, nor are its characters typical.

That was totally off the top of my head; googling "literary fiction" may shed more light on this difficult-to-define term.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby swfdoc1 » Fri Oct 11, 2013 7:46 pm

glorybee wrote:I'd list a few books that fit it, for me


Great! Thanks.
Steve
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby Dave Walker » Sat Oct 12, 2013 1:23 am

Hi Jan. I so appreciate your incredibly helpful input. I have a grammar question to do with dialogue: If a person is speaking and concludes what she is saying, requiring a period or exclamation mark, but the story line of the sentence is continuing, do I continue with a capital or lower case for the next word? For example "That's it. I've had enough!" (S)(s)he said, storming out of the room.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby glorybee » Sat Oct 12, 2013 2:20 am

Dave Walker wrote:Hi Jan. I so appreciate your incredibly helpful input. I have a grammar question to do with dialogue: If a person is speaking and concludes what she is saying, requiring a period or exclamation mark, but the story line of the sentence is continuing, do I continue with a capital or lower case for the next word? For example "That's it. I've had enough!" (S)(s)he said, storming out of the room.


In this sentence, you'd use a lower case. Here's how you can tell: if you made it a capital letter, you'd end up with a sentence fragment.

She said, storming out of the room.

This is tricky because when you use the exclamation mark after enough, it seems as if you've ended the sentence, making a capital letter necessary for the next word. However, a slight re-write shows you that this is not the case:

"That's it. I've had enough," she said, storming out of the room.

So your exclamation mark was indicating strong emotion, not the end of a sentence. The same would be true if you'd used a question mark:

"That's it. Can't you see I've had enough?" she said, storming out of the room.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby amilli » Sat Oct 12, 2013 2:57 am

Here's a question: In writing an article or a story etc, it is wrong to talk to your readers? Using word's such as: "what do you think?" or "you be the judge of that" or "take a walk with me down memory lane" etc.
Amelia

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby yarra » Sat Oct 12, 2013 3:05 am

Hi Jan,
I've enjoyed reading the questions and answers for this 'variegated' forum. Thanks for the books you, and others, have mentioned. I'm noting them for the times when I am looking for a good book and can't think of one.
I belong to a (secular) book group. We read a set book each month and then meet to discuss it. It leads me to read books that I wouldn't choose otherwise. Some turn out to be gems and some are not very good. As they are not Christian books some are not very PG rated either. The discussion group can be very interesting and often challenging as people from different backgrounds and beliefs talk about the books. Based in Australia, we read Australian books, British ones, American ones, etc. I recommend a book-reading group as a way to get you reading and reading widely. You can stop reading a book at any point when it becomes too annoying or you don't like the direction it's heading. Then you tell the group why you gave up on the book. Makes for very interesting discussions.

Now, on a completely different topic :), Jan, could you please help me with this question:
When writing dialogue and putting the 'she said' part in the middle, should the second part start with a capital or a small letter? Eg:

"Put that knife down," yelled Dan, "Or I'll call the police."
OR "Put that knife down," yelled Dan, 'or I'll call the police."
Thanks, Ellen

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