Tag Archives: Daily Prompt

Writers’ Workshop Advice: Tighter Prose

8 Oct

Hello, blogosphere!

Once a month I go to a writers’ workshop.  The participants vary though there are a few regulars.  I thought with my Wednesday night job that I wouldn’t be able to attend anymore, but I had no appointments this week and was able to go!  One of our regulars is a professional editor who is always handing out great writing advice.  A few of his sticking points have to do with writing on the ‘word-level.’  By this I mean that it’s not focused on voice, flow, or technique as much as on engaging a reader through word choice.  I took notes on his advice and I want to do an experiment!

I found an old prompt that I wrote a while back.  The prompt was: Write a death flashback scene of a villain’s life.  I want to go through it and work on the four things this editor recommended for tightening up one’s writing.  The four things (I’ll go into reasons later) are:

  • Adverbs
  • Adjectives
  • Forms of the verb ‘to be’
  • Prepositional Phrases

I’ll mark up the writing using the key above (ex. adverbs in dark purple, adjectives in green, etc.).  Then, I’ll go through each of the editor’s suggestions and explain why it helps to tighten up writing.  Then, I’ll re-write the passage with those suggestions in mind and you can tell me which you prefer, what parts you like best, and why.  Here we go!

David felt his heart clench inside his chestFrantically, he stumbled toward the phone in the living room but collapsed on the rug ten feet short.  He started to crawl, but the pain was too intense.

There was no one else in the house and he knew he was having a heart attack.  No one ever visited the big farm house.  No one would even know he was gone until he didn’t go around to pay the wages, and pay day was four days away.  David’s heart clenched again, this time in fear.  He was going to die alone.

There was no wife to rush to his side and cry over his body.  Jeanine had left twenty years ago and there were no children.  David had regretted how he acted, but he didn’t know another way.  He spent all day talking to his workers, treating them like the scum of the earth that they were; it was hard for him to come to Jeanine at the end of the day and be polite and loving.  His personality wasn’t a switch to turn on and off.

No friends would be his pallbearers at the funeral.  Come to think of it, there was no reason for a funeral at all.  The closest thing he had to friends were the men he bought fertilizer and farm equipment from in town twice a year.  They knew his name, did that mean they would mourn his passing?  UnlikelyMaybe the banker would mourn him.  David visited the bank frequently to inquire into his stock values and interest rates.  The banker would notice he was missing.  But he never came to visit so David couldn’t be saved.

His mother might arrange a funeral, if she was still alive.  When he’d left home, David had never looked back.  He was so determined to build a life for himself as far from the one-room house on another man’s ranch that he’d severed all ties.  He hoped his father was dead so that he didn’t have to bare this embarrassment in his father’s mind.  David remembered hearing that you shit yourself after you die.  His father would only laugh at that.

The room grew darker around him, but David could still make out the dear possessions in his living room.  The television set he never watched, purchased only to see the looks of jealousy on the faces of everyone else in the general store.  There was a bookcase filled with classics and first editions of which he’d never cracked the spinesPriceless art hung on his walls and David couldn’t help but wonder who would inherit it after he was gone.

A single tear rolled down his face.  It wasn’t from fear of death because David knew that Death would be a welcome ending.  It wasn’t from pain, as David considered himself above pain and suffering.  It was a tear of loneliness, one solitary tear.

So there’s the starting point.  Now, I’ll go into the four suggestions and talk about how they can lead to stronger writing.

Eliminate adverbs: This same topic came up on The Daily Post last week.  The basis of this argument (shared by many writers, including the great Stephen King) is that an adverb can be removed and replaced by a stronger verb.  Writers who find themselves using adverbs to excess are likely using the same basic verbs over and over, making for repetitive, boring, and weak writing.  The advice: use them sparingly if at all.

Minimize adjectives: This is a similar argument to the adverb argument.  Adjectives describe a noun.  Someone overusing adjectives is using weak nouns.  By minimizing adjectives, the writer forces himself to find more varied, unique, and impactful adjectives (now there’s a list of adjectives I should eliminate in a revision).

Avoid passive voice to the extreme: I say ‘to the extreme’ because that was what impacted me the most.  More than not using the passive voice (the SUBJECT was PAST PARTICIPL(ED) by the DIRECT OBJECT), this editor recommended getting rid of anything that could be construed as the passive voice and eliminate as many uses of the verb ‘to be’ as possible.  What a challenge!  This again related to the adverb advice: you can use a stronger verb.  ‘To be’ is one of the backbones of English and any language, but it’s such a common verb that it’s vastly over-utilized.  A stronger substitute works better.

Avoid prepositional phrases: There are two caviots to this advice: (1) keep it in dialogue and (2) unless it reads awkwardly without the phrase.  Wow, I would have never thought of this!  We can relate this one to the adjectives advice in that prepositional phrases can many times clutter a sentence with unnecessary description that detract from the message the writer wants to get across

Armed with this advice, I’m going to attempt to follow as much of it as possible and clean up my earlier prompt into much tighter, stronger, and impactful prose.  Here goes nothing!

David felt his heart clench.  He stumbled toward the phone but collapsed ten feet short.  He started to crawl, but pain coursed through him.

The empty house provided little relief from his sufferings.  Few visitors came visiting and no one would notice his absence.  The workers only spied him on pay days and one had just past.  David’s body tensed, realizing he would die alone.

The silence surrounding David struck him.  His wife had left him and their caustic nature never brought on a tendency toward children.  David regretted how he acted, but he’d never learned how to behave.  He spent all day working and treating the employees like scum; he couldn’t come home and fake polite and loving.  His personality didn’t turn on and off like a switch.

No friends would serve as pallbearers.  Come to think of it, a funeral would be a waste.  The men he bought farm equipment from might come but additional seats would remain vacant.  The men knew his name; did that mean they would mourn his passing?  Unlikely.  Maybe the banker would mourn him.  The bank allowed him to watch his money grow.  He and the banker used Christian names together but didn’t visit each other’s homes.  David had no savior coming.

His mother might arrange a funeral, if she still lived.  Once he’d left home, David hadn’t looked back.  He’d challenged himself to succeed and built life far from the one-room house on another man’s ranch his parents called home.  He hoped his father had passed so he wouldn’t have to hear this embarrassing end.  David remembered hearing that the recently deceased shit themselves.  His father would laugh to find David’s pants full of shit.

The room grew darker, but David could still make out the hoarded possessions surrounding him:  the television set he never watched, purchased only to see the clerk’s jealous look;  the bookcase filled with classics and first editions he hadn’t read;  the priceless art smiling sadly back at him. David couldn’t help but wonder who would inherit it all.

A single tear rolled down his face.  It didn’t reflect a fear of death because David knew that death would bring a welcome ending.  He was in no pain, as David considered himself above pain and suffering.  David shed a tear of loneliness; a solitary tear.

So there we are!  An original and a tidied up version.  Which do you prefer?  What (if anything) do you like about the cleaned up version?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

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Prompt Group: Wyoming and a picture

27 Sep

Every other Tuesday is my prompt group!  This time around, I liked what I did for the prompts.  Instead of posting what I wrote, I’m going to post the prompts first.  If you want to, write them!  You can leave a comment or do a pingback so I know to go read your writing.

  1. The stark, bleak wastelands of Wyoming (3 minutes)
  2. This image:
Prompt picture

Picture provided by Suleman, I’m not sure where it came from.

All right, now that you’ve done that, here’s what I wrote.  I hope we came up with some completely different stuff.

  1. Well, this is where the buffalo roam and the deer and antelope play.  If only a discouraging word could be heard seldom.  Instead, my mother keeps telling my baby brother to calm down and we’re bound to find a bathroom soon.  Though, it seems unlikely since we haven’t seen a person in an hour and then it was some uber-psyco cyclist with seven gallons of water in her saddlebags and a ham radio strapped on the back.
  2. No matter how low I crouch, there are always those smaller than me.  No matter how small I feel, there will always be those lower.  It’s a funny thing in life, that you are never the bottom of the barrel.  There’s always someone lower down, someone looking up to you thinking “Dang, i wish I was where that guy is.”
    This time, they were physically shorter than me.  Their whole lives, the twins had wished they were taller, were able to see over lunch counters, could sit on a bench without jumping first.  And myself?  Well, I despised my height.  Always looking down on people from a height I didn’t want.  I had to duck through doorways, pretend I wanted to wear shorts all year long, and hope the celing was high enough in a hotel shower.
    No matter how low I got, I was never lower than them, figuratively and literally.  Their height brought them down the way mine did.  It’s funny when you’re at extremes of the spectrum, you see the middle in the same light.

How did these prompts go for you?

Daily Prompt: Service

19 Sep

I haven’t been inspired by a Daily Prompt for a while, but this one is getting some creative juices flowing!  Like yesterday, please comment!  Let me know if my dreams are hopeless or at least what I can do to be a better writer.  I’m going to be out of town for the weekend but when I get back I’ll have a Novel Girls post and a book review to post.  Something to look forward to.

This snippet is based on a character from my first WIP, June.

Daily Prompt: Service

June’s favorite part of the day was after the food was cooked and simmering in the industrial sized pots.  She was sweating and covered in grime, but she usually got a five minute break before the workers started coming to her kitchen.  She had timed it right that day and was sitting on a small stool, giving her feet a break from her weight, when the first children raced to get in line.

The children always came first, racing from the fields and competing to be the first in line.  June usually gave the winner a little something extra, like the biggest slice of bread, but she would also give it to the last child to arrive.  She wanted the children to know they were all worth a little something special.

They called her Miss June and she loved to hear their voices singing to her as they made the mad dash to get in line.  “Miss June!  Miss June!  Did you make soda bread, Miss June?  Is there meat in the soup today, Miss June?  I’m first, Miss June, give me some extra cornbread!”

After the children, the elderly workers showed up.  The supervisors in the field usually let them go first because they walked so slowly, but the children were fast enough to pass them on their way to the kitchen.  After two years, June knew her regular customers and what they would eat.  Mr. O’Conner had no teeth so he got extra soup and no bread.  Mrs. Williamson couldn’t eat anything hot, so June set her soup aside early to cool.  They each smiled and thanked her warmly, nowhere near as pleading as the children.

The women were next, out of courtesy.  June saw the defeat of their position written in the faces.  Many of them were like her; having grown up middle class, their lives were reduced to nothing after the stock market crashed.  She didn’t degrade them with a smile and a pep-talk; they knew as well as she did that these were the worst of times and were only getting worse.  Many of them saved their bread to feed to their children before bed when their stomachs started to grumble again.  June wished she could make more and send them back to work full but it was out of her control.

The men came last, quiet and somber.  They took their hats off to her and she could see the line the sun drew across their foreheads.  Of course, there were a few that were friendly and talkative.

“Afternoon, Miss June,” Jim Boyle always said.  She answered with a polite “Afternoon,” and a smile every day.

“Thank you, ma’am,” Mr. Gambo always said.  June gave him a larger piece of bread because his wife was at home, sick with child and didn’t get fed while she didn’t work.

Marco Amato never said anything; he stared with deep blue eyes that reminded her of Tony.  It made her look away to see those eyes, ones she thought she knew so well, staring at her every day.  Hearing his voice for the first time startled her.  He had a thick Italian accent and she almost didn’t understand him.

“Why you look sad at me, Miss June?”

She cast her eyes down.  “You remind me of someone.”

“A lover?”  Thinking of Tony as her lover made June blush.  “I think that I spoke bad,” he recovered.  “A man that you loved?”

“Yes,” she said with a sad smile.  “Please don’t be offended.  You have the same eyes.”

He grinned.  “You loved an Italian man?”

“Yes, very much.”  She didn’t bother to tell him she still loved an Italian man.  That night, June wrote Tony a letter, explaining why she was sad whenever she saw Marco, but it was a letter she could never send.

Marco continued to talk to her every day, his English becoming clearer and his sentences better formed.  Over time she forgot to be sad when she saw him coming.  But if she looked him in the eye, she could only see Tony staring back at her.

Write Now Prompt: Clouds

18 Sep

I’m going to take some liberties with the Write Now Prompt from yesterday.  It made me think of my NaNo novel in a roundabout way.

I’ve noticed, dear reader(s) that you aren’t much on commenting when I do prompts.  Are you too afraid to tell me I’m terrible and should give up my aspirations of being published?  Nonsense, I’m waiting for the trolling!  Please tell me what you think of this character and this sample.  This is not from my NaNo story necessarily, but is based on it.  Enjoy!

Prompt: The dark clouds rolled in quickly, casting strange shadows across the landscape.

Melissa stared absentmindedly out of the bus window.  The sun set earlier and earlier this time of year.  It was almost that fabled time all Alaskans talk about when the days are shorter than the nights, all leading up to days with no daylight.  Melissa could not say she looked forward to that with any anticipation.

As the sun set quickly, the shadows danced across the lawns on the side of the road.  She watched them become longer and longer until the sun was behind the horizon and it was pointless to look out of the window: she could only see her reflection.

There was only one other person left on the bus when Melissa got off at her stop.  The two had never exchanged words, but had an unspoken relationship as the two who took the same bus every Wednesday.  They exchanged friendly nods in passing and Melissa missed his smile when she was alone on the pavement heading to her grandma’s house.

She’d been in Fairbanks for about two months and was still not used to the bone chilling wind that came after the sun set.  Wrapping her scarf around her nose, Melissa leaned into the wind to offset the weight of her grocery-filled backpack.  The walk wasn’t long, but it gave her enough time to think over all the things that had to happen before her child was born.  She could feel the life inside her and instead of evoking excitement, it felt like a ticking time bomb getting ready to explode.  There were cribs to buy, diapers to learn how to change, and a house to baby-proof without moving things around too much.

The small ranch house came into view as Melissa rounded the corner and walked past her neighbor Julie’s house.  She could see the glow of the TV inside and the shadow of Julie on her treadmill walking in step to the beat of a reality singing show.  Seeing the show reminded her of her parents back in Georgia and how they would always rope her into watching with them.  She had disliked how viewers were encouraged to place so much hope in singers who had only the thinnest chances of ever selling a song in iTunes.  Melissa didn’t like having her emotions toyed with by a host in a sparkling suit.

She put the key in the lock and opened the door slowly, wondering what her grandma would call her.  The day before she had been Melissa, but just that morning she had been Janine, her mother’s name.

“You’re late, Melissa!” her grandma called from the kitchen.  “You’re never this late on Mondays.”

“It’s Wednesday.”

Her grandma didn’t respond.  She got embarrassed when her memory failed her.  Melissa knew that things were only going to get worse.

Melissa found her grandma sitting in front of the TV in the living room watching the same reality show Julie was sweating to.  It made her smile to see her grandma watching the same shows as her daughter.  Or was it the other way around?

“I’ll make dinner,” Melissa called over her shoulder as she headed into her bedroom to change, dropping her shopping by the kitchen door.

“Thanks, Janine,” her grandma said.  Melissa was too happy to correct her.

 

So now it’s time to interact, reader(s).  What could I have done better?  What did you like?  Please leave a comment and let me know.

Daily Inspiration: Acrobatics

15 Sep

I didn’t care much for the Daily Prompt today, but luckily I found Daily Inspiration and their prompt helped me think of a scene.  It was a rather simple one, “Describe an acrobatic scene.”  This takes from the female protagonist in my first WIP after the main action of the novel.  Enjoy!

There wasn’t much else to do the weekend the circus came to town.  Everyone else was going and David begged and begged for June to take him.  She wasn’t one to deny her nephew what he wanted, especially when it sparked her curiosity as well.  One day when John and Dot were at work, she gold David to put his shoes on because they were going to the circus.

His little eyes were wide the second the big top came into sight.  He wanted to see, touch, taste, and smell everything within the circus’s fence: the bearded woman, the tigers, the small stand selling popcorn.  June was afraid his little heart would stop when the ringmaster walked past them.

“Say, young man, are you enjoying yourself today?” he asked David, even though it must have been clear he was with how big the young boy’s smile was.

David nodded, too excited to reply.

“And have you seen the acrobats yet?  They’re the best part of the circus.”

The small boy looked up at his aunt, his eyes wide, pleading to be taken to the circus.  The ringmaster had a twinkle in his eye as he tipped his hat at June.  He had roped her into spending another nickle for the two of them to get into the acrobats tent and he must have known it.

“The show starts in fifteen minutes in the big top,” the ringmaster said and walked away with a smile.

David started jumping up and down with excitement.  “I want to see the acrobats, Aunt June!  I want to see them fly!”

June gave in easily; she loved to spoil her nephew.  They found their way to the big top and found seats in the second row.  David was bouncing up and down as he waited for the show to begin.  When the ringmaster walked to the center of the sawdust-covered ring, David went rigid.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the greatest show on Earth!”  His mustache was moving wildly with the gusto of his speaking and the whole audience was entrapped.  “You are about to see amazing feats of strength, grace, and beauty that will astound and amaze you!  I ask that you please keep silent and let our performers concentrate on their act.  Four people walked into the big top and lined up behind the ringmaster.  “Coming all the way from Europe,” he said with a sweep of his arm, “we have four of the finest performers here for you today.  Please, give them a warm welcome!”

The crowd clapped wildly as the four acrobats gave a friendly wave to the crowd.  Two dashed out of the circle and the remaining two began their routine.  The executed cartwheels, back flips and handstands that left David clapping happily next to June.  She smiled, reminded of her own childhood and the excitement she felt when something new came into her life.

The spotlight turned off on the performers and shone on the two who had run off.  They were standing high above the crowd’s head on small wooden platforms.  The man of the pair held a trapeze in one hand as he waved.  With a leap, he left the platform and sailed through the big top.  On his back swing, he looped his knees over the bar and reached for his partner, who he grabbed easily from the platform.  The two of them flew as one through the air.

June’s heart was caught in her throat out of fear.  She didn’t want to be a witness to the death of one of the performers.  David was clapping while June tried to remember to breath.

The two performers from the ground had made their way up to another platform and one of them struck out on a second trapeze.  The swing of the two timed up and with a might grunt, the first man threw his partner into the air.

The second she spent in mid-air made June tense with nerves.  What if the second performer’s grip slipped?  What if the timing of the act was wrong?  What would happen if she wasn’t thrown hard enough?  The danger of the moment made her heart stop.

When the flying woman’s hands connected with the second performer’s wrists, the crowd broke into a roaring round of applause.  As the crowd around her rose to their feet, June realized she was already standing.  The action had swept her up and she was ready to rush to the acrobat’s aid if she should fall.

The crowd slowly began to sit back down and June joined in.  She distracted herself for the rest of the performance by watching David’s reactions.  She couldn’t bring herself to watch the performers fly though the air.  It was a dangerous performance and June had had her fill of dangerous professions when she was in Chicago.  Thinking of the voluntary risk only made her think of one person and how his career path had cost him everything he loved.

Daily Prompt: Excitement

8 Sep

So, I realized that that the post I wanted to be published tonight went up last night instead.  Oh well.  I guess I’ll just have to write up another post for tonight.  Am I right?!

I liked doing the Daily Prompt yesterday, so I’m going to do it again today.  Again, these are my characters from a scene not (yet) in my novel.  I’m just getting to know them better.  Here, we’re visiting June, my female protagonist.

The Daily Prompt: Excitement

June was shaking with anticipation.  She hadn’t been to this barber shop since Donny’s father was shot there.  The bullet holes that Benny’s guys had fired were still in the back wall.  The distillery that had been there was gone and the owners were new.  The blood of Donny’s father was long since cleaned up, but the memory was permanently etched in the plaster.

“All of it, ma’am?” the barber asked.

“All of it,” June replied, her voice revealing that she wasn’t quite as sure as her words implied.

The snip snip snip of the scissors was all she heard for a time.

“You need to stop shaking, ma’am.  You want a straight line and I can’t guarantee that with all your shaking.”

“I’m sorry,” June said.  “I’m just so excited.”

The big man smiled.  “Lots of ladies are excited to finally get their hair bobbed.  Though, most of them did it years ago!  What made you finally change your mind?”

June thought a moment on what the best response would be.  Was it that she knew her brother would be mad?  Was it that she finally felt like the flapper mentality was creeping into the crevices of her brain?  Or was it that she wanted to impress a certain blonde who she knew would be enthralled?

“I got a new hat and I just knew that it needed some short hair to make it look like the bee’s knees.  It just had to be time for a bob!”

The barber let out a chuckle and made his final snips.  It hadn’t taken long and there was no going back.  June fingered the ends of her hair as she gazed in the mirror.  The long flowing red locks were short and came to an abrupt end like a sentence cut off by a whining child.

“It looks wonderful, ma’am.  I’m sure you’ll be quite the sheeba in your new hat.”

June grinned.  That was the plan, after all.