The Six Traits: Word Choice

Tuesday, August 25

Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
~C. S. Lewis

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
~Mark Twain

When brainstorming today's topic I remembered these quotes from back in June.
Word choice is important. It makes charaters leap off the page, makes action seem real, and adds prose-like quality.
The Number One Rule (and I'm guilty of it myself) is DON'T USE WORDS YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND.
I sometimes use words I've heard that sound long and fancy, even if I have no clue what they mean. Then it usually backfires and makes me sound…well, not as brilliant as I’d hoped.
That lovely thesaurus word isn’t always the right word. Small words have a place in literature. Small words are especially useful when describing something huge and “beyond description.”
Like most of the six traits, you don’t have to worry about word choice during the first, or even the second, draft. It’s more of a polish than a building block.

Words convey the intended message in a precise, interesting, and natural way. The words are powerful and engaging.


Writing Unconsciously

Friday, August 21

I'm one of those people who feel like every time I write, my future reader is peering over my shoulder, clucking their tongue and making remarks. I feel I have to please them in every way.

So far, the only way I've found to work around that is by writing unconsciously.
I'm not talking about yoga or getting yourself into a trance. (But if that helps you take the focus off the 'what-if-I-don't-get-it-right' syndrome then great, do it.)

What I mean is writing the words you want by letting the words carry you.
Let the words carry you like an ocean wave (that sounds so corny.) But if any of you have ever swam in the ocean, you notice how the waves rise you up and down flowing easily and with zero effort.

If you fight the waves, you quickly become exhausted. If you let them carry you, it's very easy, though they'll take you places you may not have planned to go. (Since we're comparing the ocean to your story, that's okay.)

I kind of zone out before writing, maybe do a little free-writing beforehand. I try to focus on my characters when I'm writing, not a nonexistent reader. (Which is pretty ironic since my characters don't exist either.)

LET THE WORDS CARRY YOU. You are a little boat in an ocean of words, be taken places you've never imagined.

Over-thinking can kill creativity.


Why People Write

Tuesday, August 18

I was reading Writing For Your Life by Deena Metzger, and she spoke about the magic of words. Something I'd completely forgotten about.
"Oh Yeah. That magic."

I used to be so adamant about the magic of words, being able to create things where before there was only you and the blank paper.
And then I forgot. And the blank page appeared frightening rather than an invitation to be creative.
But the worst thing that came from forgetting was that I began viewing writing as a chore/desk job.
Back in July I wrote about loving what you do. Why did you want to write to begin with?
I started because I loved words. (If that's not why you started that's fine, don't freak out.)
But it stands to reason, that to love writing you should probably love words.
You are a wordsmith. Words are your trade. Love them and they'll love you back.


Writers' Pride

Friday, August 14

You've just written a chapter that your very proud of. The sentences are lyrical. The action is engaging. It's then you realize that it isn't the direction the story needs to go. But its so good.
Letting it go was one the hardest things I learned to do (and I did a lot of it.) The trick is to not get attached to your writing.
Stephanie Meyer wrote a 700 paged sequel to Twilight called Forever Dawn. She didn't like it so she chucked all 700 pages! (Where does she find time to write 700 pages anyway?)

Sure, be proud of your writing, of what you accomplish. But don't be attached to every word.

If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative.
~Woody Allen


The Six Traits: Organization

Thursday, August 13

This one's relatively short; organization means that things happen in order. Beginning, middle and end.

Writing out of order is sometimes confusung, but don't worry about putting the puzzle pieces together until you've written the rough draft .


The organization enhances and showcases the central idea or theme. The order, structure, or presentation of information is compelling and moves the reader through the text.


Writer Cliches

Wednesday, August 12

"So, what do you do?" they ask.
"Oh," I say offhand. "I write."
They look at me skeptically, their eyes trying to find the nonexistent book bag on my shoulder, the pencil in my ear, and the notebook that I should be clutching.
"Of course, you obviously don't take it very seriously," their wan smile says.
Think again.
No one seems to believe you're a writer until they've walked in the room and interrupt you scribbling something on a napkin. It's only then that their eyes swell with trust and the sentimentality of ‘wow, a person dedicated to their craft.’ And we're back to the cliche starbucks writing.
For the record, I do more than writing books and blog posts.

 In other news, I've been working on a couple rough drafts I never completed while I've been waiting for the revision deadline. So far it has proved to me that my notebooks are chronologically a mess. I seem to write better when I'm not writing in order.
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.


Dialogue Part 1

Tuesday, August 11

I recently learned a trick while writing dialogue. Have your characters be busy while they talk. (i.e. kneading dough, fixing a car, dancing)
That way, if you need  a  pause you can write more then 'she didn't answer;she was angry.' and say ' she remained silent, glowering at the dough on the counter, her hands punching it as if it was his face.'

This tip does not apply for every conversation. During the quick conversations you can add fidgets, like brushing their hair away from their eyes.


The Six Traits: Conventions

Friday, August 7

Conventions are one of those necessary things that no one much likes.
Spell-check's one my best friends. But best friends can make mistakes. Which means you have to read over your manuscript.

Yeah, the WHOLE THING.
(While your at it, you might as well read it aloud. I've heard that's helpful in the revision process.)

 What to check for:
Grammar: sending a publisher a manuscript with the words "I is a good writer" might not give a terribly good impression.
Spelling: Spell-check can mistake a misspelled word. It's not 100% accurate.
Punctuation: Periods, colons, semi-colons, accents, quotations. All those dotty little things.(Look out for that tricky "it's" and "its")
Paragraphing: Dialogue, change of scenery, different subjects.

Capitalization: Names, beginning of sentences, the works.

If it's any comfort, every writer has to go through that.

What the rubric says:
The writer demonstrates a good grasp of standard writing conventions (e.g., spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, usage, paragraphing) and uses conventions effectively to enhance readability. Errors tend to be so few that just minor touch-ups would get this piece ready to publish.


The Six Traits: Voice

Thursday, August 6

What I think is one of the most important six traits is Voice.
I'm not talking about your character's voice (though that's still important) I'm talking about yours; the writer's voice.

Take this example from THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahme;

Never in his life had he seen a river before--this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake and a-shiver--glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble.

That's Kenneth Grahme's voice. I'm sure Stephanie Meyer's description, Hilari Bell's, J.K. Rowlings, and my description would be very different.
How would you describe it?

Voice: The distinctive style or manner of expression of an author or of a character in a book.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

Your voice won't be distinct immediately. It takes time to 'discover' it. And the only way to find it is by writing as much as you can. That's the only way to be a better writer. The more you write, the more unique your voice will become.
I can't tell you what your voice is, much as I'd like to make things easier for you. Only you can figure that out.

But according to the Arizona rubric for the six traits, the highest score would need these elements:
The writer speaks directly to the reader in a way that is individual, compelling, and engaging. The writer crafts the writing with an awareness and respect for the audience and the purpose for writing.


How to Write a Gripping Beginning

Wednesday, August 5

Photo from

Well, I'm off the hook. Researched a bit on how to revise and most of them say to put away the rough draft and not look at it for a month. I think I might just follow their advice...

Speaking of hooks, I've been meaning to get around to doing a post on grabbing your reader on the first page. Or 'hooks' as they're usually called.

When I'm skimming through books, I generally read the first page. If it's dull, back it goes the book on the shelf. (And honestly, the whole "don't judge a book by its cover" rule is never obeyed by readers.)
So the first page is important.
Don't get freaked out, those of you who've yet to finish your rough draft. Each time you edit your story the first page changes, so you don't really need to worry about it until the final draft. (The final draft. That seems so far away...)

A few good examples of first lines that make you want to keep reading;

The King killed my canary today.
~Goose Chase, by Patrice Kindl

When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it's never good news.
~Stormbreaker, by Anthony Horowitz

The best time to talk to ghosts is just before the sun comes up.
~Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson

And of course;
I'd never given much thought to how I would die...
~Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer

So, what happens when you're at the stage of composing an engaging first page?
For one thing, Once Upon a time is a thing of the past. Never. I forbid it. Unless of course, you're trying to be funny.
One of the best places to begin a book is in the middle of the action. ("I ducked the flashing blade..." that sort of thing.)
Or in the middle of dialogue. ("A spy? Here?" I said doubtfully.)

Begin as close to the end as possible
~Kurt Vonnegut (What a last name)

In Elizabeth Haydon's The Floating Island the story starts with the main character in a jail cell writing out the events that happened to get him there. That made the reader want to read on to find out how he got into such a sticky mess.

Option a) start with catchy dialogue
Option b) start with action
Option c) start in the middle of the muddle


The Truth about Writers

Monday, August 3

Before I began writing, I had this idea in my head that writers were these highly chic, good-looking people, wealthy, and preferably with reading glasses. I imagined them 24/7 sitting at a desk effortlessly pouring forth brilliant words and sending them onward to publishers.

Uh uh. Nope.

Truth be told, they're average people who struggle to figure out the first draft.
My imagination still runs away with popular belief and I picture myself, a full-fledged published author, sitting in Starbucks munching on pastries and "effortlessly pouring out words". How cliche is that?
Believe me, if you're going to write, its not a way to "make money on the side." At least not after a while.
Writing becomes one of the things you think about most. you worry about your characters almost as much as you worry about life.
But I love it. I don't know what else I'd want to do.

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning:  I wanted to know what I was going to say.  ~Sharon O'Brien
P.S. I hadn't noticed the difficulty in commenting until I tried to comment! That's fixed now so no excuses for not giving feedback. :)


Finishing a Rough Draft

Saturday, August 1

I finished my rough draft last night!

True, it isn't a Mona Lisa, but that's what revision's for!
I'm very excited!

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