Everybody is an expert these days. It doesn’t matter if you’re self-published, traditionally published, hybrid, or, like me, biding your time in the trenches of querying—everybody has something to say about “How To’s” based on experience or simply something cool he or she lifted from Pinterest.
I’ve steered clear of joining the ranks mainly because I don’t have anything published yet. (Uhm, not including all that boring copy I wrote for an encyclopedia set to pay for my MA a long time ago.) Somehow, I got it stuck in my head that until I had earned the title author by means of publication, I wasn’t one.
Then, a few trad pub mentors spanked me for being too unassuming. My mantra has been, “Inspired by Love and Laughter—Aspiring to Write About It,” for almost a year now in my social media outlets.
Except for the Aspiring part.
I didn’t even realize how condescending I was being to myself until it was pointed out to me.
Turns out, I’m not aspiring to be a novelist; I am one. I wrote a novel—a big ass novel that at one point weighed in at 100K but is now hovering over 83K. It’s alive and well and hanging out with some agencies for the time being. It might not be published … yet … but someday, it will be.
It’s a lame reason to hold back all the knowledge I know about writing. I get that, but, nonetheless, it did cage me in … for a while.
I sloughed off the “Aspiring” part this week and have decided to add some lessons to my blog posts. I’ve been an English Language Arts teacher for nearly twenty years. I know a thing or two about plot structure, character development, cultivating voice, the importance of arcs in dynamic characters, and layering to reach the ultimate climax. I teach the ancient Hero’s Journey Archetype (not Campbell’s or Vogler’s adaptation—but I am quite familiar) and The Coming of Age Cycle Archetype. I even wrote my MA thesis on the latter to the tune of nearly 140 pages, and don’t even get me started on the value of symbolism in prose (eh-hem, more than just discovering clever names you might have snatched off a baby naming website).
When it comes to my novel, as lighthearted as it is, I aim to have my reader cock an eyebrow and think, “I see what you did there,” as she’s reading. I am still humble enough to know I have a helluva road ahead of me in learning more as an author, but at this point, it’s time for me to start spilling the beans on what I do know.
Rookie novelist that I may be, I actually have a lot to offer, and lately I have had to combat the I’m not worthy feels when pressing send to the agents I am approaching, so to remedy my querying jitters, I am going to start dipping out of my bag of tricks and share some tips that can elevate someone’s writing:
A Lesson on Length: Size Does Matter
Here’s a popular pin from my PINTEREST board: Writing Tool Kit
If you’ve done Word Press’s Writing 101, you’ll recognize this writing exercise. The assignment was to take the choppy, droning, monotonous cadence of the seven-words-per-sentence prompt and revamp it using varied sentence lengths.
Varying the amount of words per sentence creates a lilting effect for the reader, but rather than packing the lines with extra adjectives and a few unnecessary adverbs to stretch their lengths, I weaved in some poetic devices to bring the setting in the varied lines to life.
“The man rode hard through the woods. The black horse’s effort lay in lather. The sun beat down from high overhead. Dark birds circled, drifted, and then returned. The land baked, and dust hung suspended.”
Naked branches tore at the man’s shirt, gnarled and twisted, bending their claws in desperation, as he broke free from the parched woods. They were closing in. A merciless heat beat down on the wasteland. Desolate. Wrought with lifeless wreckage caused by the blistering sun. His black horse, never faltering once, pressed forward upon the scorched riverbed. Hot breath burst from the beast’s flaring nostrils. Closer still. Men’s cries rang out. Their gunshots shattered dark birds against the stark white sky, once drifting in aimless circles. His freedom neared. He could see the border just over the horizon. Sensing the man’s adrenaline, his horse bore down, and dust hung suspended in the wake of their escape.
Giving something that doesn’t have a heartbeat life in the form of humanlike characteristics or attributes
naked branches … bending their claws in desperation … parched woods … merciless heat beat down …
Two or more words beginning with the same consonant, thus creating sound effects
wrought with lifeless wreckage … hot breath burst from the beast’s …
The use of any of the five senses—sight, scent, sound, taste, and touch
(The whole damn thing—okay, okay… here’s my favorite:)
gunshots shattered dark birds against a stark white sky …
Another trick I used in varying my sentence length was to break the rules of grammatically sound sentences and go for some one and two word punches.
… desolate … closer still …
Using poetic devices to add layers to your writing can elevate it in both quality and quantity.