Sunday, October 23, 2011


One of the first things a new writer learns is that the word "was" does not belong in her story in any kind of large quantity. I learned that the other words to avoid can include "that" and "just" and well . . . about any other word we tend to overuse.

But "was" is a biggie.

Awareness kept my wazzes to a minimum, as did my critique partners. Fast forward to no cps and a natural tendency toward laziness. Of the 15,000 or so words I sent out to be read by other authors to make sure I had a grip on the story I'm writing, "was" made up about 18,000 of them. At least that's how it felt when I went through and made revisions.

I think I'm cured. My manuscript is not was-less, but it is less was-y. My plan is to finish this story with a minimum of wazzes.

How about you? Have you ever known better? Let a bad habit infiltrate your work?

CR: The Baby Thief by L.J. Sellers.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What I Think Donald Maass Said

I attended a workshop a couple of years ago conducted by Donald Maass (author of Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction and "more than sixteen novels" which he's rumored to have written using a pseudonym). I took pages and pages of notes, mostly exercises using the manuscript I'd completed at the time.

Looking through those notes this morning, I couldn't actually find this, but I swear he said it:

"If it isn't on the page, it doesn't exist."

So, I've decided he said it. And since this is my blog, I've decided he said it more than once.

Apparently, for me, it might have been a good idea to say it One. More. Time.

A few wonderful authors reviewed my First Fifty pages recently, and one catch (among many great catches) revolved around my minimal use of physical description and other personal detail. Wow. True.

I know my characters so well, see them in such a highlighted and defined way when I tell their stories, that I made the fatal assumption everyone else could see them as well. I neglected to put their descriptions on the page.

The trick is to find a balance. I do not want to become the Tom Clancy of characterization. I want to give just enough detail that my readers can take it from there, and enjoy their own mental images of my characters.

Have you ever read a book and half-way through you're told the brown-haired protagonist is blonde? Not only does it take me out of the story, it kind of ticks me off.

I recently read a wonderful series of books featuring the same protagonist. Unless I missed it, no description appeared in the first few books. So, in my mind, he bore a strong resemblance to Brian Dennehy—a kind of gentle giant. Imagine my shock when I read that he was small and wiry? I shook my head and decided to stick with Brian.

So, part of my First Fifty revisions include a bit more description. Hopefully, just enough.

For those of you who are much like me, here it is, One. More. Time:

"If it isn't on the page, it doesn't exist."

Today is also my blogging day at Crime Fiction Collective. I'm tackling my need to be perfect and would love you to stop by there as well.

CR: You're Next by Gregg Hurwitz. I'm loving this book and at about half-way through, feel like I can highly recommend it. It's such a pleasure to be reading something I enjoy.

It's all better with friends.