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  Issue #50

Free Writers' Newsletter

   Apr 28, 2007  

        

Adverbs of doom
By Dave Duggins
Editor, Spacesuits and Sixguns Magazine

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 verbs. Messily, hungrily, angrily. Those words.

They are not your friends.

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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 didn't just slam the door when he left the room, did he? Certainly not. He slammed it angrily. June didn't just run from the dark, handsome stranger in the alleyway. She ran fearfully.

“Help!” she said.

No, no.

“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 uncontrollably. Next 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 nonetheless unpleasant 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 – the situation and circumstances surrounding Bob's comment (did you catch that “show don't tell” reference? 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?

Nah.

Context. It's just one word that means you have some more words left over for tomorrow's 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 www.voidguner.homestead.com.

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Do writing programs work?
By Ken Brosky
Editor-in-Chief, Brew City Magazine

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.

Want to make more from your non-fiction book?

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 interesting and 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 their characters 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.

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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 build fiction 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 unique 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 marble tiled 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 TV combined.

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 www.FinalDraftLiterary.com and is the editor-in-chief of Brew City Magazine.

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My writing competition success
An interview with writer, Jerry Ryan

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 Hollywood 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 business letters.

Since then, I’ve been a columnist and feature writer for several Chicago area publications (the Courier Sun, Windy City Sports, the Chicago Amateur Athlete) writing about my other love, cycling. I’ve had poetry published and won several prizes in literary magazines and firstwriter.com: https://www.firstwriter.com/competitions/poetry_competition/previous_winners/5thpoetry.shtml

fw: What was it that attracted you to writing?

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 don’t.

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 pleasure.

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 consider.

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 each competition?

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 submissions?

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 intern.

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 your success?

JR: Writing every day. Anne Lemot, in her book Bird 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 writing?

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.

fw: 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 here.

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In this issue:

Spelling conventions

fwn uses English spelling conventions. Spellings such as "realise" "colour", "theatre", "cancelled", etc. differ from other spelling conventions but are nonetheless correct. 

News:

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 hayseednovellas.com.

For over 750 other publishers, click here

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Artists 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.

For more details see www.dancingpoetry.org 

For over 150 other contests, click here

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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.

For more information click here 

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