Internet sites talk about writers’ tool
kits as if they were purchaseable equipment, but in truth our toolboxes are entirely inside our minds. We work in notebooks and on computers, but if we had neither, we could still tell stories to listeners gathered around a campfire. Writing is making something out of nothing but spirit and brainpower.
“It’s brain,” I said; “pure brain! What do you do to get like that, Jeeves? I believe you must eat a lot of fish, or something. Do you eat a lot of fish, Jeeves?” – PG Wodehouse, My Man Jeeves.
I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel
This week from @yourwritingmuse: Your use of the senses in your writing is brilliant– puts the reader into your point-of-view character’s skin. Your Writing Muse
Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind. – Woolcott Gibbs
Notes from the acquisitions editor
Every acquisitions editor has a few red flags in a top desk drawer. This list may save you time with rejections.
- Ten cent transitionals like suddenly, then, next, and realized.
- Actions that come after they occur (eg Stella walked on, having shut the door behind her.)
- Bouncing blonde curls (You wouldn’t believe how often I read stories where blonde curls bounce around. Also, raven hair.)
- Without a doubt, paragraphs jam-packed with sentences beginning with modifying phrases.
- Dialogue tags like “chuckled”, “said flirtatiously”, “shouted”, “gasped”, “For which better dialogue can be substituted,” Mel advised testily.
- Exclamation points. (Excepted, the masters Ray Bradbury and Tom Wolfe.)
- Frequent adverbs, (excepted, the master Bill Bryson.)
- ALL CAPS DAMMIT.
However, there are no hard and fast rules. Many editors think all use of the passive stinks like old fish, but two of my favourite writers, Wodehouse and Churchill, use the passive form a lot, and for excellent reasons, so the passive is not much of a red flag for me. One reason authors love writing is that we enjoy our creative freedom. Do what you like, really, for there will be editors who are fine with ! and Iy. I read somewhere that McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies was rejected many times for its slow start, and it became an adored bestseller. (Note: the previous sentence was in passive form because the manuscript was more important than the editors who rejected it).
How comforting it is to know that none of us will ever catch everything. That’s why we employ brilliant, talented copy editors to work over our manuscripts. Pay them. Pay them more than they ask.
I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel
This week from @yourwritingmuse: I admire the way your first paragraph gives us time, place, tone, and hints at the central conflict. Your Writing Muse
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Writing light comic fiction is tricky, because funny won’t carry a full-length novel on its own. Something big needs to be at stake, and I always think it’s cheating to have characters risk death in this genre. Jerome K Jerome in Three Men in a Boat manages an episodic arc that keeps me in stitches every time I read it (Montmorency!). But above all others in my estimation, PG Wodehouse is most skilled at writing comic narratives. He can weave a plot more complex than a Rube Goldberg machine and still have me rolling on the floor on the tenth read. Take The Code of the Woosters, where Bertie Wooster’s goal is to adhere to his family’s traditional code: “Never let a pal down.” All his pals therefore shovel the worst possible duties upon his narrow shoulders, all of which are life and death to them: stealing a cow creamer, saving an engagement, avoiding a beating, swiping a policeman’s helmet, being flung into jail. And this in a “Golden Fleece”-type narrative clearly and hilariously told, all because no matter what, Wooster’s duty to his pal is more important than life itself. Here, a former girlfriend begs Bertie to take the rap for a crime.
‘I can’t have my precious angel Harold doing a stretch.’
‘How about your precious angel Bertram?’
‘But Harold is sensitive.’
‘So am I sensitive.’
‘Not half so sensitive as Harold. Bertie, surely you aren’t going to be difficult about this? You’re much too good a sport. Didn’t you tell me once that the Code of the Woosters was ‘Never let a pal down?’
Wodehouse’s themes are lofty and literary, involving loyalty, true love winning out, and apotheosis after sacrifice, each of which resonates grandly with readers’ hearts while we belly-laugh over individual scenes. (And I didn’t even mention Bertie’s valet Jeeves yet.) There is none like you, Wodehouse. None.
PG Wodehouse. The Code of the Woosters. Herbert Jenkins, London. 1938.