Archive for the ‘Better Writing’ Category

At the risk of seeming cheeky (don’t mind me, I have a burning secret desire to reside in the UK and drink lots of black tea with the locals), I’m going to post an email that I got from a reader last night. But before I do, allow me to dissect myself and let you know what the different parts of me are thinking right now.

The first part of me is probably just chuffed (there I go again with the UK bit!).

Another part of me hopes to inspire other writers, especially aspiring writers who haven’t yet polished and put their stories out there. Because I’m just a big kid writing stories from his basement, posting stuff on the internet. You can definitely do this too. Believe me, it feels great. This is absolutely so much fun.

Another part of me thinks this is a perfect example of how to send an email to a writer. 1) She blows much more praise in my direction than I deserve (and I love her for that). 2) There’s helpful feedback, which I requested in my author’s note at the end of my book (and I love her for that). Seriously, if you enjoy a writer’s work, you can give back so much to them by writing a review and/or sending an email like this. It makes our days (weeks? months? years?) and gives us wind gusts at our backs to help us put out the next story faster. I can’t overstate that.

The last part of me loves that she recognized two things I worked very hard on (heh, he said hard on): 1) formatting and proofreading, and 2) a lack of major plot holes, continuity errors, and inconsistent/contradictory information. I also love that she is dead on accurate about where I can improve on my characterization. In fact, I’ve already been working on the very thing she mentioned as I’m writing book 2.

Another part of me loves that this reader offered to be a beta reader, and I want to let you know that you too can volunteer to “beta read” my future books; that means you can be an early reader who lets me know where I’ve really screwed up (something I’ve been known to do a lot) so I can fix those issues before publishing it. And if you’d like to beta read, I intend to have a book 2 for you by the end of the year. Know that all good beta readers surely go straight to Heaven.

Alena granted me permission to post her email, so here it is, without further ado …

Subject: Tiny Gods, That Was Delicious!

Hello Moses,

I just finished reading “The Black God’s War” and I’d just like to tell you, “Bravo!” I truly enjoyed reading your book, and will probably enjoy reading it at least 3 or 4 more times. Since you said that you welcome critique, I figured I would shoot you an email (also, I’m REALLY curious about your pantheon, but more on that later).

Ok, so first things first: I think this might be the first e-book I have read to date that does not contain ANY formatting, spelling, punctuation or typographical errors, indie or not. At least I’m pretty sure of that. You see, I read a lot of e-books nowadays (I think I now have ~110 titles), and almost every one has those errors. It’s extremely irritating to be reading and have your groove thrown off by a misspelled word or an error in the format. I’m sure you can understand my frustration.

Now, onto the story: I honestly don’t know where to start. Ok, the pantheon. Wow. I loved the blend of gods, and the world building you did, just in the Rezzian religion, and would liked to have seen a bit more about the Pawelon spiritual beliefs. Also, I don’t believe you ever fully explained the meaning of Lux Lucis, though I gathered a bit from context. Maybe this will come in a later volume?

The characters were very believable, and I liked the way you developed them, but I think you probably could have done a little bit more  By this, I don’t mean to say that you didn’t go an amazing job with character development or on building each individual story line; you did. What I mean is this: Have you ever read a story that was in first person narrative and felt after a while that you were inside their head and could feel their emotions? I feel that, even though your story is primarily in third person, there are tiny glimpses into the protagonists beings. I think you have the skill to make us, the readers, feel like we’re inhabiting that person’s body while we are reading, and thus bring us into the story line, as well.

I loved the rich descriptions you gave about all the settings, clothing, the way men and women appeared and acted, the types of weapons they chose to use. I liked the cultural differences you gave to the two races in battle, and their differing strategies, along with cultural reasons for these strategies.

I would also like to congratulate you on something. When I read, I often look for plot holes or clues or undeveloped threads in the story, and I did not see any. It didn’t seem that you had any contradictory information in your story, nor were there any undeveloped thoughts or places the characters could have grown that just got forgotten.  And that’s kinda rare in a debut, indie novel.  So, good job there, buddy!

There are probably some other things I’d like to talk about, and ask you questions about, but it’s 1:30 in the frickin’ morning, and I have to wake up in a few hours. (OOOH!  The pantheon.  Really curious about how you developed it.) So, I should go to sleep.  It was lovely reading your book, and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Cheers,

Alena Markins

P.S. I know you don’t know me yet, but I’m planting this seed in your head now. I would really like to become a beta reader at some point in the future. This is something we could talk about, if you’re open to it. I know that many authors are very nervous about this, so I will understand some hesitancy on your part. However, I do know that many authors like reader feedback from someone who is not just trying to make money off of them and genuinely enjoys a good product. Hopefully, I can convince you to be amenable to this idea in the future. I think you’ve got some great ideas and would like to read more of your work. Plus, I just like knowing secrets, especially if I know I’m the only one who knows them. :)

*****

And that, my friends, is why we write.

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My good buddy and editor Joshua Essoe has succeeded in pulling me out of guest blog hibernation. The result is this incredibly strange post I wrote over at The Fictorians for those considering going indie. It features some good resources, and even a little advice (warning: the advice comes from me).

I need to add a lot of new bloggers’ reviews of The Black God’s War to my ‘book’ page above, but here’s one I have to share today. This one felt like a soul kiss. Thank you, Nina Post! It’s all good. We’re both married.

p.s. the email notifications haven’t been working on my blog recently. If you got an email about this one, there are three recent posts you may have missed, including a post about where the heck I’ve been for the last five months. EDIT: Those darn notifications still aren’t working. Hmph.

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This morning, I decided to start a thread at the Writer’s Cafe at Kindleboards. It turned into this (I’ll just reproduce the post here).

On Facebook, someone said:

“I give my boss (who owns a small editing company) a weekly update of all the hot topics in book publishing news, and I get so tired of reading about people recommending self-publishing as essentially another get-rich-quick scheme. I feel like it’s all about the business end of things rather than the honor and prestige of producing a quality piece of literature.”

To me, this rings true. I understand that we’re mostly interested in talking about the business end of things over here (I like to talk about these things too), but that’s really the point. Indie authors are for the most part, all about the business end of things. Does this help us when readers see this? Does this help us in reality?

Why aren’t we talking–with other writers, on our blogs, on Facebook and Twitter–about books that have inspired us, whether classics or recent indie works? Why aren’t we analyzing what goes into great writing, great scenes, great characters, great plots, great dialogue. Why aren’t we lauding great books over great sales, at least more often than we do? Do we love words or do we love numbers? Poetry or spreadsheets?

We all have different goals and we’re all in different situations. I don’t believe that anyone’s goals are better or more important than anyone else’s goals. I have enough trouble judging the worth of my own goals. Entertaining thousands of readers through a combination of good books and smart marketing is a worthy goal, period. I think most of us want to write the best books we can and market them as well as we can so that we can reach more readers and make more money.

But, I offer this question: what is your heart’s desire as a writer? Because that is what you will tend to create in your life. Is it money? Fame? Respect? Craftsmanship? The journey or the destination? What are the inevitable outcomes of these goals? There are no right or wrong answers–just wherever you really are. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying money or fame.

I ask myself this question a lot and the answer isn’t always clear. But mostly for me it comes down to the journey of crafting good (hopefully great, perhaps someday classic) books. For me, that goal is more sublime. Money and fame come and go, and fame in particular is a mixed blessing. Respect is nice, but there’s no freedom in being enslaved to other people’s opinions.

What reading and books are all about–for readers–is beholding something touched by a muse of inspiration, raising your consciousness to behold the beauty and magic in a great story crafted with love, skill, and devotion. When that’s the goal–for an author–the only number that matters is one. One reader is all that matters. Whether that one reader is you, the author, or someone else–that’s up to you.

I respect anyone who wants to make enough money to live comfortably, support a family, or support their favorite causes. I respect anyone who wants to go on the roller coaster ride that is fame; life is short and at least fame brings you into other people’s lives. I respect those who wanted to be respected. Critical appreciation is as good a measuring stick for value as anything else.

Here, there are no right answers. Only honest and dishonest ones. Life will eventually show us the value of our goals, and then we’ll change again.
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I met Bryan Thomas Schmidt last year when I was looking for a roommate at World Fantasy Convention. Turns out, he’s written a scifi/space opera that’s been summarized as “Moses in Space!” His first novel is out–he’s written a tremendously fun throwback story that reminds readers of Star Wars. Here’s Bryan’s guest post with tips for writing with better characterization. He makes a number of good points, and I was able to pick up some nice ideas from his article:

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The Worker Prince by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

One of the keys to good storytelling that hooks readers is creating relatable characters. What are the tricks apart from character naming to accomplish this challenging task?

To start with, create individuals not stereotypes. Yes, characters have a story function. Yes, some of them are even like tropes, filling necessary roles like comic relief, the buddy, the confidant, etc. But that doesn’t mean you should stop there and fail to flesh them out. People are unique, no two the same, and so should it be with your characters. Each character should respond differently to a particular situation from any other character. For example, fight scenes, can often be a place where characters blend into one and all react the same. Instead try treating such common scenes as opportunities to reveal character through uniqueness. How would one character fight differently than another? Work this in and your story will be richer, your characters stronger. There are many other common scene types where you can similarly emphasize the uniqueness. Look for them.

Second, each character should have his or her own vocabulary. People use words differently, so your characters should as well. One of the best ways to distinguish and develop characters is through dialogue. Educated people use more sophisticated words, while less educated people structure sentences  differently. Think of this as you develop each character’s voice and use it to set them apart, create conflict and develop them throughout your story. Vocabulary, in fact, is far more effective than attempting to create accents. Phonetically, accents already pose problems and can even devolve into silly or, far worse, confusing dialogue styles which detract from the story.

Third, another way to develop character is by choosing the protagonist whose point of view will tell particular scenes. I tend to consider who has the most at stake in a particular scene and make the scene happen in that POV but there are varied theories. Whatever your method, your characters can be developed well through use of POV. For example, I had a scene where a couple are fighting. At the same time, an old enemy is stalking them with intent to do them harm. I told the scene from the enemy’s POV, even though he never interacts with the couple because it allowed me to further both the romantic storyline and the antagonist’s storyline in one scene through his internal monologue as he witnesses their discussion. Three character arcs and two plotlines were thus furthered in one short scene.

Fourthly, People’s tastes vary, and so should characters’. What they wear, how they choose it, etc. can be a part of characterization. Everything from color to fabric choices to scale, formality, and even clothing cost can be used to establish character. We use such things daily as we observe others to determine things about them, and readers will use such details as clues to define characters if you include them. Sartorial Style can be a tool for characterization.

Fifthly, we all have our favorite do-dads, don’t we? Things we take with us everywhere we go. The cliches for women are purses and for men, perhaps, favorite hats, but we all have something. Sometimes it’s small enough to fit in a pocket. Other times, it’s carried around for all to see. Props are a great tool for revealing character. Spend time observing people around you. What props does each person have? Keep a spreadsheet or list of potential props for characters. Yes, when writing fantasy or science fiction you might have to be more inventive than just copying from a list you made at the mall. That’s called writing, dears. In any case, props can add great flavor and speak volumes about characters.

Sixthly, who a person spends his or her time with says a lot about them and so use it to develop your characters well. Fellow characters, animal or otherwise, can be great for revealing character. We see how they interact with each other and we learn volumes about who they are. Think about it: what would the Lone Ranger have been without Silver or Tonto? What about Batman without Robin? There’s a reason Michael Keaton quit after two movies: he was lonely (Ok, that might be just a guess).

Seventh, it seems obvious but sometimes it’s easy to forget to dig deeply into a character’s past for material to develop the character. Even things you know about them but don’t include in your narrative can be of value. All the experiences of that character’s past serve to shape who he or she is becoming, from determining responses to various stimuli to emotional hot points from happy to fearful. When your character seems to become stagnant, review what you know about his or her past, then ask yourself if maybe there might be more to uncover which would help you as you write. You can only have too little backstory, never too much. It’s core to the internal battles all people face and will enrich your ability to write your characters with depth and broadness that stretches outside the boundaries and limitations of your story itself.

Lastly, another that seems obvious, but developing your character’s likes and dislikes can take you all kinds of places, especially when you examine how they might clash with those of the characters around them and even the attributes of the world around them. All kinds of instances will soon arise where you can reveal more of the character through actions resulting from these traits. In the process, your story will have built in conflict and drama and perhaps even humor you might not have thought of before. Character traits are a great way to add spicy detail to your story, surprising and entertaining readers at the same time. And don’t just limit yourself to personal preferences either. Character traits can also include physical ticks like clenching hands when angry or a slight stutter or even a limp or other defect.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

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A really cool thing happened to me last week. John Mierau (one heck of a good interviewer) talked with me about The Black God’s War, my process, and indie publishing. Here’s the interview.

I’ve conducted a lot of interviews with best-selling science fiction and fantasy authors over the last year. So it was terrifying interesting to be on the other end of the Skype connection.

By the way, if you haven’t seen the new map for my novel, here it is. I’ll probably blog about it soon.
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Here’s some of the best advice I’ve read on the subject of writing dialogue. It’s reprinted with permission from David Farland. You can find out more about David and sign up for his free Daily Kick emails at DavidFarland.com. The retweet button doesn’t seem to be working, so you can also retweet from here.

Below David’s Daily Kick, you’ll find a link to an excellent article on “Dialogue Tags vs. Action Leads/Inserts”by freelance editor Lane Diamond.

David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants – Don’t be “On the Nose.”

David Farland

David Farland

The topic for today’s kick comes from a question by Brandon Lindsay, and it’s going to take a moment to get to the point.

In screenwriting, one bit of advice that you’ll often hear is “Don’t be too ‘On the Nose.’” It means, don’t have characters giving speeches, telling you what’s going on inside them, playing down to the audience. Imagine that you have a character who is angry, and we get the following snatches of dialog:

Angela: “What are you so mad about?”

Derek: “You! Why did you have to wear that red dress? You look like a slut, and at my company party!”

Can you hear how hokey, how contrived, that dialog sounds?

There are a number of ways to avoid being ‘On the Nose.’ For example, maybe Derek doesn’t quite know what he’s angry about, or maybe he doesn’t dare say it. Or maybe he’s torn, because Angela looks so hot, and Derek noticed how his boss was eying her. Or maybe he’s even worried that the problem goes deeper. Maybe he’s not sure about Angela. Is she flirting? Does she really feel committed to him?

So you re-cast the dialog, you circle around the truth, skirt the deeper issues. You let the audience wonder what is going on, let the actors perhaps interpret the performance, insert their own nuances. You might reconsider the argument:

Angela: “What are you so . . . furious about?”
Derek: Pushes her away, turns and starts to walk. She follows. “Nothing.”
Angela: “This isn’t nothing. Tell me, please?”
Derek: “Really, I’m not mad.”
Angela: “Liar.”
Derek: Sighs. “It’s not you. It’s . . . did you see my boss, undressing you with his eyes?”
Angela: “He’s a drunken slob.”
Derek: “A rich drunken slob, and other women throw themselves at him.”
Angela: “I’d rather throw myself at you.” Derek hurries his pace, leaves her behind. “Grow up. You’re so immature.”
Derek: Whirls and yells at her: “You looked like a slut! And you acted the part . . . perfectly!”

Now, do you see what I’m doing here? Instead of having a character define himself, instead of having him come to the point, I let him circle the point. I let characters argue about who they are. Derek is defining Angela. She’s trying to define him. Others will be defining each of them separately during the course of the story. In other words, one central conflict in most stories is “Who are you?” It’s not just a question, it’s the center of an argument. A lot of different voices from various characters should come into play, sometimes with wildly different accusations. Who is Derek? Maybe his priest thinks that “He’s that gay guy.” His mother might think he’s too shy to ever “make a catch.” His father worries that he’s an over-educated loser. His girlfriend thinks that he might be ‘the one.’ The local cop might think he’s good for a murder, and the truth is, even Derek isn’t sure who or what he is. The story grows as he decides which roles to take and steps into them.

So, when you’re creating characters for a screenplay or book, you avoid being on the nose. You as the author know all of the secrets, all of the answers. You just don’t spill them too easily.

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Hi, everyone. Moses again. Another article I recommend on writing dialogue comes from freelance editor Lane Diamond. Check out his advice on Dialogue Tags vs. Action Leads/Inserts part 1 and part 2.

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Earlier today I read a question on a message board for writers, the Writer’s Cafe at Kindleboards.com (one of my favorite online haunts). The name of the thread was “Personal Glory or Commercial Success?” and the first post asks this:

Ideally, we’d like to be able to write books that are both meaningful to us as well as popular in the consumer market.  Realistically though, it’s extremely uncommon to have both.  If you had to choose, would you rather write for personal fulfillment even if it doesn’t attract much in the way of sales or write what will more likely appeal to the masses and give you some amount of decent profit?

Definitely both.

But I’ve come to a soul-searching moment with my book. Mine is at a point now where I think it’s finally in good enough shape to publish it, after working on the book for 21 months. If my top goal was to make money, I’d probably release it now and get to work writing another one so that I could try to have a second release before the holidays.

But I’ve found I literally can’t do that. I’m still poring over the book, making every detail as good as I can possibly make it. I’m trying to root out every weak instance of ‘telling’ in the cases where telling isn’t the best choice, and trying to make every sentence concise and clear. I want every piece of dialogue to ring true, and every character to work and feel real. I want every part of the story to be logical and to function with maximum emotional impact. These are some of the goals, anyway. I’m doing the best I can with them.

By doing all this, instead of releasing my book in May like I’d hoped to, I might not be able to release the novel until June at the earliest and probably August at the latest (I’ll guess July). And I know this might cost me some money because it’s slowing down my current and future release schedule (or maybe make me more money in the long run–it’s hard to say).

But when I’ve looked really deeply at it, I’ve decided that if people are going to spend some money on my book and, more importantly, hours of their lives reading it, I can’t feel good about that unless I know that I’ve given everyone my very best effort. That’s what I want from any author I read, so that’s what I have to give.

I’ve realized that my #1 goal, literally, is to write the very best book that I can, however long that takes, still absolutely with an eye toward commercial success–but regardless of whether my release schedule helps or hurts me in terms of generating an income from writing. I’m living off some of my savings to do this, but in the end, I want to know that I gave everyone the very best I had to give, and I think that’s worth more to me than commercial success. Then again, maybe this is the best way to have longterm commercial success. But I’m okay with or without commercial success as long as I know that I didn’t cut any corners just to make more money. That’s not saying anything about anyone who has that goal–it’s just not my top goal.

I want some people who read my book to feel like it’s one of the best reading experiences they’ve ever had. I want my book to be one that stays with some people for years, one that they want to re-read some day. Even if it’s just a small percentage of people that feel that way, that’s what I value most, the qualitative experience that those readers might have, not the numbers in my bank account.

Writing this book (and then hopefully more, similar books) is literally my top personal (selfish) desire, for my life. After this, my top goals are to be the best dad and husband I can be and eventually to focus more on charitable projects. This is why the writing of the book is more important to me than the money. This is just how I feel. I’m not comparing or contrasting myself to anyone else, and I know I’m very lucky to be in a position that allows me to approach writing this way. Then again, I’ve worked hard at other things so that I could do this some day.

Thanks for asking a great question. Sorry if I gave you more than you bargained for  ;)

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Suvudu recently posted an hour-long video of Terry Brooks speaking at an Oregon library. Suvudu titled their post: “Terry Brooks – Setting as Character,” but a different part of his talk snagged my attention.

Question put to Terry Brooks: What’s your favorite of all the books you’ve written?

Terry BrooksTerry Brooks: What’s my favorite book?

The one I’m working on right now. Which is going to be the best book I’ve ever done. Which is what I tell myself with every book I write. The contract I have with readers is very simple. I will always give you my best effort. And my best effort will always be geared toward saying that this book will be at least as good as the last book I wrote, if not better. You may not see it that way when I get done, but that’s the goal.

Because I’ve read too many writers, and I’m sure you can speak to this too, who write four or five really good books and then suddenly they take a vacation. And you think, what’s this? I just spend $25 on this book that looks like some kind of retread or half an effort. It’s irritating.

Or, as some of my favorite writers do, they write 300 really good pages and then they write a really bad ending. Which is unforgivable–unforgivable! That’s my contract with you, though. I will never do that, and if I do you should call me on it. I don’t want to have to go into a room full of readers at any point in my life and defend myself because I didn’t put forth my best effort and I know it. I want to be able to say, “At the time I wrote that book, this is the best I could do, and I think it’s a pretty good book and this is why I think it’s a pretty good book.”

Shawn Speakman filmed the video at Terry Brooks’ request. Three cheers for Shawn and Terry!
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David Farland

David Farland

No matter how long you’ve been writing, the study never ends. Whether it’s the nuts and bolts of craft, how to construct a gripping story, or how to sell a manuscript, there’s always more to learn, even more so because the world publishing is rapidly changing.

It’s not easy to find an old pro who will share their best secrets and tips with you, but that’s what David Farland (the pen name of Dave Wolverton) does for free with his email service called the “Daily Kick in the Pants.” I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve learned from this free service. I knew David Farland was a respected and successful writer with decades of wisdom behind him, but I didn’t realize how invaluable some of his tips would be until I started reading his “Daily Kick.”

You can sign up for it at DavidFarland.net.

There’s also new item on David Farland’s home page (10/19/10), a free recording of a recent conference call:

David Farland’s First Authors Advisory Conference Call

Listen in on David’s first ever Authors Advisory Conference Call where Dave covers everything from world creation to adience analysis!

David Farland will also be speaking at the next Superstars Writing Seminar in Salt Lake City, UT, January 13-15, 2011. I attended the first event and loved it Here’s a blog post from Kevin J Anderson about the event. Early bird pricing is still in effect until the end of October. Tell ‘em Large Mo sent ya!
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The most advanced, approachable book I’ve read on writing is Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark. It’s divided into 50 chapters intended as 50 tools in the writer’s toolbox. Let’s look at one of those tools. I’ve expressed my own ideas in this piece, except when I explicitly paraphrase or quote Clark.

Tool 20
Choose the number of elements with a purpose in mind.
One, two, three, or four: each sends a secret message to the reader

Writers constantly choose between 1, 2, 3, and 4-or-more. How many adjectives to describe something? How many ideas in a sentence? How many sentences in a paragraph? How many sections in a chapter?

Let’s look at our four options. First up …

The Power of One

Clark gives the example: “That girl is smart.”

Here the writer gives the reader no alternative. The reader can only focus on a single thing. The power of one focuses the reader on what the writer wants him to believe.

“Tom Wolfe once told William F. Buckley Jr. that if a writer wants the reader to think something the absolute truth, the writer should render it in the shortest possible sentence. Trust me.”

When a writer is worried that readers may not believe something, the brevity of one comes in handy. Writers are liars. If you’re going to make something up and hope that others buy the lie, sometimes it pays to say it quickly and move on, leaving no time for debate. Speaking of debate …

Two. Different.

Clark gives the example: “That girl is smart and sweet.”

What just happened? To begin with, now the reader has to think and do a little more work (smart and sweet? Hmmm …). I believe this slows the reader down, which may or may not be what the writer wants at that time. Does the writer want the reader to turn the pages quickly at this point in the story? Or stop to ponder the girl’s nature? Twos are speed bumps.

The point that Clark makes is that the reader has to compare the two items. Twos clash. When I use two adjectives or adverbs together (I know, using adverbs–how scandalous! Adverbs are dangerous, but never eliminate a tool from your chest!), I normally want them to contrast with each other. “She smiled sweetly” doesn’t have the same potency as “She smiled viciously.” In this case it’s a verb and an adverb that create the two effect, because smiles are assumed to be sweet unless we’re told otherwise. “Smiling sweetly” is mostly redundant; “smiling viciously” is not.

Be careful when using two adjectives together that mean essentially the same thing. One is probably better. For example:

“It was a dark and stormy night; …” (dark and night are redundant together, as are stormy and dark).

“It was a stormy night; …” (better, sorry Snoopy)

When using two adjectives together, I often prefer ideas that contrast so they can be more interesting as a pair. For example:

“The sky was dark and twinkling.” (at least when the reader stops here, she gets an interesting contrast to contemplate).

Three: Encompasing, Magical, Whole

While the duality of two leaves the reader to resolve a battle (which is great when contrast is intended), three heals the kingdom. Three is lyrical, smooth, and elegant. Clark gives the example: “That girl is smart, sweet, and determined.”

Ahhhhh.

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.
Larry, Moe, and Curly.

All is well with the world. Is this why trilogies are so popular with high fantasy writers?

In my own writing, I like to use–in moderation–a good number of sentences with three verbs. “Jack grabbed the bottle, popped the cork, and downed the Champagne.” I feel a fluidity there that keeps the reader moving along, though this works best when used as a change of pace to other sentence structures. A similar option is a paragraph with three sentences: “Jack grabbed the bottle. His thumbs popped the cork. The sweet Champagne warmed him as it poured down his throat.”

Compare that to: “Jack grabbed the bottle and downed the Champagne.” Or, “Jack grabbed the bottle. The sweet Champagne warmed him as it poured down his throat.” I think a ‘two’ sentence, or a paragraph with two sentences, works optimally when there is tension and contrast like this: “Jack grabbed the bottle and then put it back down,” or “Jack grabbed the bottle. He looked at it for a few minutes and then put it back down.”

Four or More: When Will it Ever End?

Clark’s example: “That girl is smart, sweet, determined, and neurotic.” Feels different, right? Although I think in this example, there’s another effect involved. That’s a three (“smart, sweet, determined” are positive terms), contrasting with “neurotic,” so that the overall effect is something like a two wrapped up in a four.

Clark writes: “In the anti-math of writing, the number three is greater than four.” But he goes on to say that there can be a literary effect with longer lists. He gives this example from Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn:

I’m a carnival barker, an auctioneer, a downtown performance artist, a speaker in tongues, a senator drunk on filibuster.

Here’s a four-or-more example from my own writing (my book, THE BLACK GOD’S WAR, with a novella-length introduction now available for $0.89 on Amazon or free on Smashwords):

They gave rise to a percussive din: rhythmic crunching of boots, hearts pounding against metal, out breaths exploding in unison, tens of thousands racing as one, muscling to live another hour beneath the goddess’s baleful sky.

Summary

Here is Clark’s summary:

  • Use one for power.
  • Use two for comparison, contrast.
  • Use three for completeness, wholeness, roundness.
  • Use four or more to list, inventory, compile, and expand

(see what he did there?)

Skilled writers make deliberate choices to use 1, 2, 3, or 4-or-more; they also like to mix things up and use them all.

In my own fantasy world, I would’ve liked to have been a major league pitcher, choosing a unique sequence of fastballs, changeups, curves, and sliders for each batter in each situation. Instead, I get to use 1, 2, 3, and 4 creatively as a writer.

You gotta keep the readers on their toes!
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