I was doing a deep critique for a student in the Creative Writing Magnet at
Woodside High School in Newport News, VA (hi guys!) when I saw them.
Them. Those – things. They mostly come out at night, but sometimes show
their evil little
faces in broad daylight. Impertinent snots.
I'm talking about adverbs, of course. Those words that end in “ly” and modify
hungrily, angrily. Those words.
They are not your friends.
$5,000 in prizes, including top prize of $2,000.
Submit 1-3 unpublished poems on the theme of
war, up to 500 lines in total. Enter online or
by mail. Guidelines.
And why not, you may ask? At first, they seem kind of... nice. Like little
helpers. You might
think that dialogue attribution is a little unclear, needs a little
qualification. He didn't
just shout “Up yours, pal!” It was “Up yours, pal!” Bob shouted truculently. He
slam the door when he left the room, did he? Certainly not. He slammed it
June didn't just run from the dark, handsome stranger in the alleyway. She ran
“Help!” she said.
“Help!” June shrieked pleadingly.
See how quickly that gets old? It's like swallowing a teaspoonful of cinnamon
when you really
just wanted a sprinkle of it on your toast. You choke; your eyes water
thing you know you're rolling around on the floor, howling like a kicked dog,
drooling, nose dripping...
Or is that teargas I'm thinking of?
While adverbs may not make you spontaneously dribble mucous, they are
surplus... and 99 per cent unnecessary due to a wonderful phenomenon called context.
Context. This is a great word. All writers should love this word, because it's
about what you
didn't write. What you didn't have to write. Context means you can take a break,
kick off your
shoes, drink some lemon iced tea, watch the latest episode of Lost...
Okay, don't drift off to sleep on me. It's like this: if you build Bob's scene
well enough, you
won't have to tell readers Bob was truculent. You'll show them with the setup –
and circumstances surrounding Bob's comment (did you catch that “show don't
Subtle, yes? I didn't just slide it in there. I slid it in there unobtrusively).
If June is running down an alley, being threatened by a dark, handsome stranger,
do you really
need to tell readers she was fearful?
Context. It's just one word that means you have some more words left over for
session. And that's a good thing.
Getting rid of all your excess adverbs means you'll have ten pages left over at
the end of your
manuscript for meaningful, enlightening prose. And that's even better.
About the author Dave Duggins has been writing and publishing short fiction for twenty years. He's the editor of
Spacesuits and Sixguns, a webzine of contemporary pulp fiction.
Recently retired from the Air Force, Dave now works full time as a creativity coach, helping writers through his coaching website at
You’ve probably seen ads for them in your favourite writing magazine, and
maybe even one or two on your favourite writing websites, too. They’re writing
programs, and they’re the bane of the beginning and intermediate writer.
Programs that offer you instant help on putting together new exciting
characters, complete with unique features – some going so far as to include
pictures to help you visualise your new characters. Plot programs that let you
point-and-click together an entire plot as if it was truly as simple as that.
Setting programs that give you pre-made places – from buildings to vast plains
to exotic alien planets – to help you place your cardboard
characters who will eventually be drawn into your point-and-click story.
As any experienced writer knows, these programs don’t work. They don’t work for
a variety of
reasons, but the crucial thing every writer needs to understand is that the most
thoughtful fiction comes from the real world. A writer’s experiences should
directly affect the
fiction they choose to write, no matter what genre it is. Great writers draw
from people they know, people they’ve met in real life. It doesn’t have to
necessarily be an
exact copy of someone the writer knows – a great writer can blend the personas of
multiple people they have met into one truly unique fictional character.
The best plots come from the real world. Even in genre fiction, even in
something as fantastic as The Lord of the Rings, there are traces of the real world floating among the
storyline. A great
writer will take his or her experiences and blend it with the imagination to
create a unique,
interesting plot that no computer program could have ever come up with. The
biggest pitfall the
beginning writer hits is the myth that their life isn’t interesting enough to
from. Every human being’s life is unique and interesting in some respect, which
is one of the reasons some of the bestselling books of all time are about the simple lives of
characters drawn from the real world. Even in the case of genre fiction, a great
writer can draw their own life experiences, situations, conflicts and love interests.
The best settings are right here in the real world. A computer program can give
you a great image
of a building for you to use in your next corporate corruption story, but it
can’t show you the
cracks in the west wall that are concealed by a dying fern plant, or the
magazine vendor who
always sets up shop next to the brown dot-matrix map of Milwaukee painted on the
floors in the centre of the massive lobby. Find your setting in real life and
take notes. Find
what makes the setting unique. Find the details a computer program can’t give
you and you’ve
doubled your skills as a writer.
The best fiction is able to tell a reader more about the real world than every
reality programme on
About the author Ken Brosky's first novel will be published in fall of 2007, and his most recent short stories will be published this summer in
World Audience and WTF Magazine. Ken also provides editing help to other writers at
and is the editor-in-chief of Brew City Magazine.
Jerry Ryan recently found success in a writing
competition he found through firstwriter.com. We caught up with him
to talk to him about the competition, and his writing.
fw:Congratulations on your success in the Next Stop
competition. Tell us a little about the competition and your entry.
JR: The competition called for short stories that
might lend themselves to film or TV projects. From
over 600 submissions, 15 were selected for inclusion. "A.K.A." is a love story and a crime story involving two
ex-DEA agents and an exotic dancer, a drug deal gone
wrong, and mistaken identity.
The prize included publication in the St. Martin’s
Press anthology (http://nextstophollywood.org), a
small cash advance, a split of royalties with the
other authors and the publisher, and best of all, some
nice participation if the stories are optioned and/or produced.
fw:How did you get started writing?
JR: In the early 90s, I enjoyed an unplanned
sabbatical from my job and went back to school. I
took a writing course, “Writing the Natural Way” using
the book by Gabriele Rico. It was like someone let
the genie out of the bottle. I haven’t stopped
writing since. The clustering technique unleashes the
hidden treasures locked in the right side of the brain
and gets them onto paper. It’s a technique I use in
writing fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, poetry, and
JR: It’s the cheapest form of therapy I know.
Fiction writing allows me to test characters with
ethical flaws in situations that test those ethics.
Sometimes I know what the characters will do. Often,
they surprise me and insist on doing something I
hadn’t planned for them to do. That’s when writing is
really a kick.
I use poetry to work through life issues, to stay in
emotional touch with feelings often repressed in daily
life. My day job isn’t that satisfying on a gut
level. Poetry fills a need that other forms of writing
Poetry became a tool to prime the pump for ideas for
my other writings. I found I enjoyed the denseness of
language and economy of words inherent in a poem.
Poetry is a discipline that I now enjoy for its own
As mentioned, I love cycling. With over 30 years and
35,000 miles in the saddle, I've had my fair share of
cycling experiences. The idea for writing about
cycling came from friends constantly calling with
questions about buying a bicycle, what accessories to
have, where to ride, how to fix.... you get the idea.
The result was a series of articles written for
novice to intermediate cyclists and enjoyed by all
those who bicycle and love to read about cycling.
They say “Write what you know.” It’s true.
fw:What made you start entering competitions?
JR: As an unagented author, I found it was difficult
to get short stories and poems published.
Competitions are a great place for your work to be
judged by people who will give your work a good,
critical read. When you win a few, it helps your bio
when you submit elsewhere.
fw:Did you find it difficult to find
competitions to enter?
JR: No – the opposite actually. Search engines turn
up more contests than you can shake a joy-stick at.
fw:So if competitions were so easy to
find, how did firstwriter.com help you?
JR: Since I’ve subscribed to firstwriter.com, I’ve
pretty much depended on my search criteria to give me
more contest opportunities than enough to
fw:You mean through the InstantAlert
emails we send out? It's amazing how many people subscribe to search our
databases, but then find it's easier to sit back and let the listings come to
them. It's also interesting to see how
many people we interview tell us that their story of success began with an
InstantAlert. But we send out far more competition InstantAlerts than you could
ever possibly enter – how did you pick which ones to go for?
JR: I go to the website listed in the InstantAlert
and get a feel for the contest, read previous winners.
fw:Do you write stories to fit competitions, or
do you find competitions that fit your stories?
JR: Unless I have writer’s block and need the
motivation and challenge that a contest might provide,
I usually search for contests that match up with works
I’ve already completed.
fw:How do you choose which of your stories to submit for
JR: Some contests are more literary in nature, some
are genre specific. You can figure that out by a
quick trip to the website. Make sure to put the
right seat in the right saddle.
fw:Do you try and target a specific
type of contest?
JR: I like to mix things up. It’s also a little like
playing poker. What are the money odds of winning,
the reading or entry fee compared to the prize? Is it
worth my time or will there be thousands of
fw:How do you think submitting to
competitions differs from trying to get published?
JR: Competitions usually have judges who are
sincerely interested in finding work that they would
love to publish. Many contests are run by university
fine arts programs that are looking for good new work,
as opposed to the literary and commercial markets
where your story or poem is one more manuscript
plucked out of the slush pile and read by an
overworked and underpaid editorial assistant or
fw:How long did it take before you
started getting results with your writing?
JR: I wrote constantly and submitted work for about
three years before I hooked up with Windy City Sports.
That seemed to be the key to becoming more
successful. When someone pays you regularly for what
you write, you’re a writer, not just a dilettante. I
still enter competitions and still meet with more
rejections than acceptance, but I keep plugging away.
fw:That's interesting – that
even being a writer of nonfiction can help you gain acceptance in other fields
like fiction and poetry. Were there any other factors that you think were key to
JR: Writing every day. Anne Lemot, in her book
by Bird wrote about not waiting for the Muse to move
you before sitting down to write. If you sit down to
write every day, the Muse will know where to find you.
I would recommend joining a good writers' group that
offers support along with a high level of critique, a
group that allows you to read your work aloud. It’s
amazing how your best work stands out, and how your
less than stellar effort show up when you hear it out
loud. It’s easy to spot the bumps in your work.
fw:And what are your plans for the
future? Are you still entering competitions, or do you have other plans for your
JR: I enter at least four competitions every month.
I have a completed a nonfiction book compiled from
the cycling articles I’ve written entitled Bicycle
Crazy: A Practical Guide to Life on Two Wheels. I’ll
be looking for a small publisher or agent. I have
several novellas, screenplays, and short stories in
the can that I’m always shopping. I have over fifty
poems that I’m always looking to place. I’m 30,000
words into a sci-fi novel that includes time travel,
asteroids, dinosaurs, and, of course, human beings
with human failings.
Wow, that sounds like a busy schedule! Best of luck with all of it, and thanks
for taking the time to talk to us.
To search firstwriter.com's
database of competitions for yourself, please click
uses English spelling conventions.
Spellings such as "realise"
differ from other spelling conventions
but are nonetheless correct.
Novella submissions invited Hayseed Novellas is a new journal seeking to publish novellas by promising writing talent. Each issue will include three novellas, at least one of which will be by a previously unpublished fiction writer.
One issue is planned
in 2007, for which submissions are currently being sought. For more details, go to
Embassy 14th Annual Poetry Contest This unique contest gives poets the opportunity to see their poems choreographed and costumed by Natica Angilly, and performed at the fabled Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco by the world renowned "Poetic Dance Theater Company", during the Dancing Poetry Festival of September 29.
Three winners will have their poetry performed and receive $100 each in prize money. Further prizes of $50, $25, and $10, are also offered. The closing date is May 15, and the cost of entry is $5 for one poem, or $10 for three.
23rd Annual Santa Fe Writers Conference The 23rd Annual Santa Fe Writers Conference will take place from June 18 to June 23, 2007, featuring Kate Braverman, Allison Hedge Coke, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, and Page Lambert. Guests will include a publicist, an agent, and publishers, among others.