Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

Posts tagged ‘art of writing’

ZOMBIE Words in Our Writing

Zombie 1Writer Helen Sword coined the phrase “zombie nouns” in a New York Times Article. Most zombie words are innocuous looking and seem harmless—until they pile up in our writing and begin sucking the life from our prose.

Yes, they’re zombie vampires and they want your writing to join the living dead.

While editing manuscripts I automatically hit the delete key for certain words, wondering why the writer didn’t catch them. Then I find those same words in my own work. Zombie words are sneaky. You can find them beginning a sentence (suddenly, just then, immediately, next, obviously), hiding within a sentence (that, just, very, some), or tagging the end of a sentence.

Able to
About
Already
Began to 
Caused (something) to
Continued to
Could
Decided to 
Even 
I might add
Just
Kept ___ing
Like, as if,
Managed to ____
Now
Obviously
Proceeded to
So to speak
Started to
Still
That
The fact that
Then
To say the least 
Very

I challenge you to go over a paragraph of your writing and find zombie words to eliminate or replace with live, active words. Filler words

  •  I hope I’ll get some eggs from my hens today. Better:I hope the hens give me at least five eggs.
  • The boat made its way to the dock. Better: A gentle thrust from the motor guided the boat into the dock.
  •  Suddenly, I heard Ben shout. Better: Ben shouted.  
  • “I hope the storm doesn’t hit us,” Linda worried. Better: “I hope the storm doesn’t hit us.” (leave out “Linda worried”)

zombie writer The Worst Offenders

THAT: You’ll be able to cut this word most of the time. Read your sentences aloud to check.

SOME: Be specific!  Some is a wishy-washy word, showing you don’t know what you’re talking about.

REALLY: Meant to show extremes  (REALLY big), this word shows lazy writing. If something is really big, big, it’s large, huge, stupendous, or another exact word.

VERY: Mark Twain said it best; “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

 JUST: This zombie word just loves to sneak into our sentences: “I just didn’t know what to do.” “I just got tired of him.” “I just didn’t see you standing there.”

How do we kill zombie words? Edit your work with a keen eye to find words that don’t carry their own weight. Use your DELETE key on the zombies and writing will be more alive. You can read more about self-editing by following this blog, and in my new book Dialogue for Writers.

Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.

A great investment for writers

A great investment for writers

She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

A new review of Dialogue for Writers

This book delivers. If you are a writer, you’ll find a wealth of information and insight that will allow you to assess your style and discover practical ways to make good writing better.
Even popular published authors can benefit from this book. For instance, I am a Stephenie Meyer fan. She is a master of her genre, but if she had read Sammie Justesen’s book, Edward would not have”snickered” and “chuckled” so much that these particular dialogue tags became annoying and distracting. Sammie Justesen’s book offers great advice from a number of perspectives including the all-important publisher’s perspective. I have no hesitation in rating it a five-star book.

 

Book Covers: Do They Matter?

YES, book covers do matter.  We should judge a book by the cover—and everyone does. A book cover tells us how professional the author is.  Did she care enough to hire a professional designer instead of using a cheap template?  Is she smart enough to select a compelling cover? Does the cover show what to expect inside the book?

Knocked-Up-Satans-Daughter

This is wrong on so many levels

Do-it-yourself book covers: You’ve seen them. Garish colors, hard-to-read text, a perplexing title, and weird symbolism.  Sometimes I cringe in sympathy for the proud author who thinks he’s going to sell a million copies of an ugly book.

A bad book cover. Don't you agree?

A poor choice, don’t you agree?

Publishers are not immune to bad cover decisions, which is why we use a professional designer to help keep us on track.  For us, a book cover is all about product development, marketing, and making a profit. Isn’t that what you want? As you consider the cover for your book, think about these basic elements:

1.  Your book cover is primarily for MARKETING .  We often struggle with writers over this concept.  The book cover is not  a place to display your favorite colors, explore the inner life of your characters, or show how artistic you can be.  The cover is all about convincing people they must have your book.  The book cover is your number one sales tool.

2. At first glance, prospective readers should be able to tell your book’s genre, the general subject, and the tone of the book. The Color of the Wild For example, you don’t want a New Age title that resembles a history book, or a romance cover with a horror vibe. Our new book  The Color of the Wild is a memoir that focuses on nature.  The cover’s soft colors hint of intimacy and a human story.

  1. Chemo front cover large fileBackground colors are important. You can choose a vibrant, arresting color like bright red, or go with a soft color.  Keep in mind that white fades into the background on internet sales pages.  We chose bold purple for Chemo: Secrets to Thriving from Someone Who’s Been There.  The authors didn’t want the standard pink for breast cancer, and readers seem to love this shade of purple.

4. Your font should be easy to read, even when you shrink the book cover to 25% on your computer screen.  These thumbnail copies will appear online, and the title should still be legible.  Avoid fancy fonts that make people read twice.

5. Avoid clutter.  If you’re writing about home repair, don’t have ten different tools scattered around the cover. Focus on your main idea and avoid distracting images.

  1. Final-ISA CoverYour own photo?  Yes, some authors place their pictures on the cover to good effect.  This works if you’re attractive and the setting helps show readers what the book is about. For example, with our book Community College Success we considered half a dozen cover images and finally decided to use our author, Isa Adney. Isa hired a professional photographer, which is way better than using a selfie!

7.  Unexpected is good, but don’t go too far afield.  Your book cover isn’t the place to be overly cute or use symbolism most people won’t understand. The cover is for your readers, not for your ego. shut-up-skinny-bitches-cover The cover for our book Shut UP, Skinny Bitches! is for shock value, but that may not be the best choice for your book. If you’d like a quick, easy way to study book covers, sign up for a service such as BookGorilla, GoodReads, of BookBub that will send cover images and book descriptions to your Inbox every day.  Just remember to stay within your own genre. I also recommend book designer Joel Friedlander’s amazing web site: www.thebookdesigner.com Sammie Justesen is the author of Dialogue for Writers, a new book from NorLightsPress.

FRONT cover final

Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.

She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

A recent review for Dialogue for Writers:

Did you know dialogue matters even for poetry? I didn’t, and I am so glad I do now! This small book packs a punch. It easily and accessibly convinced me of just how and why good dialogue matters, why many pieces could use more of it, and when not to use it. The author also helps the reader learn to plainly identify what makes good dialogue good and what does and doesn’t work through the use of a plethora of useful examples. It is also full of different kinds of useful information for writers of all sorts. There are gems in it such as “Usually the best point of view character is the one with most to lose.” (page 83) If your writing could benefit from some good editing, try this book. If your writing could benefit from some new tricks, try this book. It won’t disappoint. I think of it as a course on dialogue in itself and there are exercises at the end of each chapter.

Find the book on Amazon.com:   http://dld.bz/dngkg

Memories are Made of This

I recently started working on a memoir, and at the same time I’ve discovered how difficult this genre can be. Fiction seems much easier—just make stuff up as you go along.  Need a villain?  Create one and give him both good and bad traits to make him believable.  Need a handsome hero?  Find a photo and invent a personality and a past.  Need a happy ending?  No problem!  But memoir is another story, with so many things to consider:

  • Who will read it?
  •  Where should I begin?
  •  What should I include—how much detail?
  • Will people be hurt or angry about the things I reveal
  • Will they think less of me?
  • Is my story even worth writing about?

I have many questions, yet I know people have already walked this path and left clear directions.  So I spent an hour shopping for books on memoir writing. I finally settled on one that suits me best: Fearless Confessions: AFearless-confessions6 Writer’s Guide to Memoir by Sue William Silverman.   This book is fun to read and addressed all my concerns about how to dredge up memories and turn them into fascinating (or in my case, at least tolerably interesting) stories that will resonate with readers. She answers such questions as:

  •  How do you identify and combine the voice of your younger, less experienced self with your wiser, reflective voice?
  •  How do you devise plot powerful enough to make the leap from mere story to universal meaning?
  •  How do you sift through thousands of memories to find expressive metaphors?

The exercises in Silverman’s book are deceptively simple and progressively lead readers to dig more deeply into the past and use richer language to describe it.  As the author of a writing guide, I know it isn’t easy know what, and how much, to tell your readers. Sue Silverman seems to intuitively know what matters most to a memoirist, and she provided all of that in Fearless Confessions.

deanmartin-logoMemories are Made of This

Take one fresh and tender kiss

Add one stolen night of bliss
One girl, one boy
Some grief, some joy

Memories are made of this

Don’t forget a small moonbeam
Fold in lightly with a dream
Your lips and mine
Two sips of wine

Memories are made of this

Then add the wedding bells
One house where lovers dwell
Three little kids for the flavor

Stir carefully through the days
See how the flavor stays
These are the dreams you’ll savor

With his blessings from above
Serve it generously with love
One man, one wife
One love through life

Memories are made of this
Memories are made of this

Sammie Justesen is the author of Dialogue for Writers, a new book from NorLightsPress.

FRONT cover final

http://dld.bz/dngkg

Sammie is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association

From a recent review:

Did you know dialogue matters even for poetry? I didn’t, and I am so glad I do now! This small book packs a punch. It easily and accessibly convinced me of just how and why good dialogue matters, why many pieces could use more of it, and when not to use it. The author also helps the reader learn to plainly identify what makes good dialogue good and what does and doesn’t work through the use of a plethora of useful examples. It is also full of different kinds of useful information for writers of all sorts. There are gems in it such as “Usually the best point of view character is the one with most to lose.” (page 83) If your writing could benefit from some good editing, try this book. If your writing could benefit from some new tricks, try this book. It won’t disappoint. I think of it as a course on dialogue in itself and there are exercises at the end of each chapter.

The ART of Writing Descriptions

Writing descriptive passages is much like painting a scene. Both artists and writers must decide what to leave in and what to ignore.  Joyce Hicks, my favorite watercolor artist, has this to say about painting scenes:    Joyce Hicks May 20

“The most common mistake artists make, as beginners, is to follow the natural tendency to try to say too much in a painting. Doing so leads to confusion and overshadows the piece’s main message. Remember that less is more, and knowing what to leave out is far more important than how much you leave in. As your skill and experience grows, you’ll learn to eliminate unnecessary clutter from your work and to focus on composition instead. If your goal is to take your work to the next level, you must first understand the meaning of design as it relates to art before you can move forward as an artist. You need to visualize your subject in simple terms so you can paint relationships between shape, color and value instead of painting ‘things.’

“For many who first begin to paint, the tendency is to act as a human camera recording subjects as accurately as possible instead of using time-honored principles and elements of design to produce works of art that are more pleasing and worthwhile. Knowledge is power, and the lack of it is what leads to failure. Fear of failure blocks the way to bold, confident statements and paintings that look as if they had almost painted themselves. It’s not enough to simply want to paint beautiful pictures; you must also arm yourself with necessary skills and knowledge if you are to have any hope of doing so.”

How true this is for writers, including me. I don’t want to be a human camera, yet I do want readers to “see” the things that surround my characters.  This concept is especially challenging as I write a memoir, because as I try and bring memories to life, my heart wants to include everything.  These are techniques I use:

writing hug

1. Ask yourself, “If I wrote this description as poetry, what would I include?” Good poetry is clutter free. Imagine the classic poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” and think how Robert Frost might have written that scene in a novel. He chose to use the most vivid, painterly images in his poem, and they could be transformed into a compelling prose passage.

2. Work descriptions into the plot and combine them with action. This technique eliminates the stress of writing long passages and keeps the story moving.

3. Don’t be afraid to let your readers use their imaginations. Give them the bare bones and let their minds fill in the rest.

4. Since you’re writing from the viewpoint of a character, only include what that person would notice. Avoid having a narrator (you) interrupt the story to describe scenery or background information.  Stay inside one character’s head.  If you’re writing in first person, don’t have the character stray too far from the story.

5. Use strong, active words and concrete details instead of  vague, hazy descriptions.

6. Remember, knowing what to leave out is far more important than how much you leave in.

We artists sometimes cram too much information into a story or in a painting. Joyce Hicks says, “Doing so leads to confusion and overshadows the piece’s main message.”  As authors, we need to recognize the most vital message within each passage, then check to see if our writing supports that message without confusing, boring, or distancing readers.

PAINTING WITH WORDS HEADER

We are painting with words, are we not?

 

 

Sammie Justesen is the author of Dialogue for Writers, a new book from NorLightsPress.

FRONT cover final

http://dld.bz/dngkg

Sammie is also president of the Lawrence County Art Association

Joyce Hicks’  new book is available for preorder on Amazon:

Enjoy her blog at: http://jhicksfineart.com/blog/ 

Joyce Hicks book

 

 

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