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'09 Authors Insider Tips

Everything About Epublishing
by Angela James
Digital Publishing & Print
Common Myths of Epublishing
Ebook Formats and Devices


FictionCraft
by Louisa Burton
Compelling Characters
Point of View, Part I
Point of View, Part II
Learning to Love Conflict
Story Structure
Keep ‘em Guessing
Keep it Simple
Keep Your Writing Real
The Importance of Pacing


Literary Streetwalker
by M. Christian
New World of Publishing
To Blog Or Not To Blog
Meeting & Making Friends
Thinking Beyond Sex
Selling Books
Walking the Line
e-book, e-publisher, e-fun
Still More E-book Fun


Shameless Self-Promotion
by Donna George Storey
Our Journey Begins
Pitches and Bios
Websites, Blogs & Readers
Publicists, Press Kits and...
Viva the Internet
Adventures in Cyberspace
Promoting In the Flesh
Make Your Own Movie
Bigger is Better
Looking Back, Planning Ahead


Two Girls Kissing
by Amie M. Evans
Questions to Ask Yourself...
Tough All Over


The Write Stuff
by Ashley Lister
Ideas
Practice Makes Prefect
5 Books for Fiction Authors
Poetry In Motions
Six Serving Men
Ashley Lister is Anal
Stealing Ideas
Celebrating Poetry


2009 Smutters Lounge

Ashley Lister Submits
by Ashley Lister
Myths
Graduation


Cooking Up A Storey
by Donna George Storey
A Year of Living Shamelessly
Adultery, Exhibitionism ...
John Updike Made Me Do It ...
Story Soup: Forbidden ...
Lessons from Amazon
Naked Lunches ...
Erotic Alchemy
Secrets of Seduction
Are You a “Real” Writer?
Don’t Fondle My Sentence


Cracking Foxy
with Robert Buckley
The Passionate Taphophile
Havens on Earth
A Knight Without Armor
Jail-Baiting
Magic Carpet Rides
Getting Hammered
Keep It Quiet
Hang Around for a Spell


Get All Worked Up
with J.T. Benjamin
Worked Up About Why
Worked Up About Why, Part II
All Worked Up About Porn
The Catholic Church
Purity Movement
The National Crisis
The Future
About Homosexuality
Public Indiscretions


Pondering Porn
with Ann Regentin
Premature Ejaculation
Auctioning Off What?


Sex Is All Metaphors
by Jean Roberta
Who's Who Around the Table
Retro-Shame
Ritual Sex
Mixed Legacy
The Spectrum of Consent
Drawing the Line
Marriage without the Hype
The Distracting Smirk
Innocent Guns
Gardens of Earthly Delights


Provocative Interviews

Between the Lines
with Ashley Lister
Anneke Jacob
D L King
Kristina Lloyd
Lisabet Sarai
Mitzi Szereto
Portia Da Costa
Shanna Germain
Sommer Marsden
Susan DiPlacido


Guest Appearances

Marketing a Self-Published Novel
by Jeanne Ainslie

FictionCraft

by Louisa Burton

Bulldogs in Boas:
Keeping Your Writing Real

 

Did you ever read a book or a manuscript and feel a lack of involvement in it, as if a story is being told, but it isn’t really happening, at least not to you? These are the books we end up putting down because they simply don’t grip us. We can’t lose ourselves in them, which is the ultimate purpose of reading fiction.
 
One of best ways to alienate your reader (if that’s what you’re going for) is to establish confusion and fuzziness as to what’s really going on. If your reader is uncertain about what your characters are doing or why they’re doing it, if they can’t picture the setting, can’t quite grasp the time period, can’t remember your characters’ names or complicated relationships, or aren’t brought up to speed on the politics or technology or whatever that your plot revolves around... if they don’t get it, you will lose them.

It’s really not that hard to clarify important information for your reader, and it’s critical that you do so. The only uncertainty you want is uncertainty you’ve deliberately planted—in other words, story questions where you hold back information to pique the reader’s curiosity. In that case, the reader knows something’s being withheld and she’s playing along with the game. In fact, if you do your job right, this kind of uncertainty will keep her turning the pages, anxious to have her questions answered. The other kind of certainty (“Wait a minute, am I supposed to know who this guy is?”) just yields frustration.

Obscurity can also result from using vague but refined (and therefore supposedly impressive) words in lieu of straightforward words that pack a punch and create a sense of immediacy. John Gardner addressed this problem in The Art of Fiction:  “Insufficient detail and abstraction where what is needed is concrete detail are common—in fact all but universal—in amateur writing.... If the writer says ‘creatures’ instead of ‘snakes,’ if in an attempt to impress us with fancy talk he used Latinate terms like ‘hostile maneuvers’ instead of sharp Anglo-Saxon words like ‘thrash,’ ‘coil,’ ‘spit,’ ‘hiss,’ and ‘writhe,’ if instead of the desert sands and rocks he speaks of ‘the snake’s inhospitable abode,’ the reader will hardly know what picture to conjure up.”

Or, as Stephen King puts it in On Writing, “One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed.”

Storytelling is an interactive process. The point is to transfer the vision you’ve created from your brain into your reader’s brain as efficiently as possible so as to generate the maximum emotional impact. The more extraneous folderol you force your reader’s mind to slog through in order to get to that vision, the less of it she’ll absorb, and the less moving it will be.

“Extraneous folderol” often comes in the form of an emphasis on style over content, a subject I explored in last month’s article, “Keep it Simple,” but which bears reinforcement. Writers trying to self-consciously impose a style on their work usually spend a lot of time and effort coming up with awesome ways to say things. Contrived verbiage is a common sin in the work of aspiring authors, but I know multi-published writers whose novels (and therefore, careers) suffer from it, too. No, I’m not saying your work shouldn’t have style; I’m saying it shouldn’t have an affected and mannered style.

You know how a child who’s just learned cursive will start adding curlicues and what-not to her handwriting to make it prettier and more distinctive? The result may or may not be more visually pleasing (probably not; simplicity is, after all, the soul of elegance), but it will almost certainly be more difficult to decipher—and isn’t communication, after all, the reason you write anything? By the same token, if your fiction is all dolled up with Byzantine sentence structures, fancy-ass turns of phrase, and vague “creatures” conducting “hostile maneuvers” in “inhospitable abodes,” it may or may not have a certain cerebral or esthetic appeal (probably not; same reason), but it will likely fail to engage your reader on a gut level. Do you want to make your reader’s heart race as she turns the pages, or do you want her to think, “What an awesome way to say that. Wonder what’s on the tube?”

About modifiers: We’ve all been told this a thousand times, and I’ll make it a thousand and one: If you want your story to keep from getting lost in the language, edit your adjectives and adverbs down to a mini­mum. Instead of two or three adjectives, search for the perfect one. (The “crystalline lake” as opposed to the “clear, crystal blue lake.”) Vivid verbs tend to have more impact than a verb modified by an adverb. (“The horse thundered down the road” as opposed “to the horse galloped quickly and thunderously down the road.”)

And although none of us likes to use a memorable word too many times in close proximity, you don’t have to get too het up over the more common, everyday words. It’s much better to repeat yourself once or twice than to come up with alternatives guaranteed to get your reader’s eyes whirling. If your character is drinking coffee, it’s “coffee.” It’s not an “inky liquid,” a “caffeine-laden fluid,” a “cup of alertness,” or a “Columbian concoction.” Please don’t waste your creative energy on this kind of thing. I mean, really. Please.

Some writers inflict an artificial style on their work in an effort to be taken seriously by the literary elite. To quote Orson Scott Card in Characters & Viewpoint, “We... hear some writers praised because they were revolutionary or experimental, violating the conventions and expectations of their time. So it’s no surprise if many young storytellers reach the conclusion that great writing is writing that has to be studied, decoded, and analyzed, that if a story can be clearly and easily understood, it must be somehow childish, inconsequential, or trite. This is far from the truth. Most great writers followed all but a few of the conventions of their time. Most wrote very clearly, in the common language of their time; their goal was to be understood.”

So, how do you develop your own distinctive style without disengaging your readers and coming off as pretentious? The same way you develop your own distinctive handwriting, by simply telling your story as well and as clearly as you can. Just as your handwriting should have its own unique look without any conscious effort from you, so your fiction will acquire its own inimitable voice if you just strip off the evening clothes and concentrate on telling your story.

See you next month, same time, same place...

Louisa Burton
October 2009


If you have comments or questions about this column, please send them to Louisa Burton

Read more of Louisa Burton's FictionCraft in ERWA 2009 Archive.

______
"FictionCraft" © 2009 Louisa Burton. All rights reserved.

About the Author: Louisa Burton is a multipublished author of some two dozen erotica, romance, and mystery novels for Bantam, Berkley, Signet, NAL, Harlequin, and St. Martin’s. A former publishing professional who is in love with the sound of her own voice, she has also taught numerous fiction writing courses and workshops. Way too much info about her current project, the Hidden Grotto series of erotic fantasy, is available at LouisaBurton.com.



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'09 Movie Reviews

Blame It On Savanna
Review by Byrdman

Cry Wolf
Review by Spooky

Faithless
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Heaven or Hell
Review by Oranje

House of Wicked
Review by Diesel

The Office: An XXX Parody
Review by Spooky

This Ain't The Partridge Family
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'09 Book Reviews

Anthologies

A Slip of the Lip (ebook)
Review by Jean Roberta

Best Women's Erotica '09
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Bottoms Up
Review by Ashley Lister

Enchanted Again
Review by Victoria Blisse

Frenzy
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Girls on Top
Review by Ashley Lister

In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed
Review by Ashley Lister

Libidacoria (Poetry)
Review by Ashley Lister

Licks & Promises
Review by Ashley Lister

Like a Thorn (ebook)
Review by Lisabet Sarai

The Mile High Club
Review by Ashley Lister

Nexus Confessions: Vol 5
Review by Victoria Blisse

Nexus Confessions 6
Review by Victoria Blisse

Oysters & Chocolate
Review by Kristina Wright

Playing with Fire
Review by Ashley Lister

Sexy Little Numbers Vol 1
Review by Ashley Lister

Up for Grabs
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Novels

A 21st Century Courtesan
Review by Donna G. Storey

The Ages of Lulu
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Amanda’s Young Men
Review by Kristina Wright

As She's Told
Review by Ashley Lister

Bedding Down
Review by Victoria Blisse

Broken
Review by Ashley Lister

Brushes & Painted Dolls
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Cassandras Chateau
Review by Ashley Lister

The Edge of Impropriety
Review by Kristina Wright

Exposure
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Free Pass
Review by Ashley Lister

The Gift of Shame
Review by Victoria Blisse

Kiss It Better
Review by Ashley Lister

The Melinoe Project
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Mortal Engines & The ...
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The New Rakes
Review by Ashley Lister

Ninety Days of Genevieve
Review by Victoria Blisse

Obsession: An Erotic Tale
Review by Kristina Wright

Sarah's Education
Review by Ashley Lister

Seduce Me
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Lesbian Erotica

Lesbian Cowboys
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Night's Kiss
Review by Jean Roberta

Where the Girls Are
Review by Jean Roberta

Gay Erotica

Animal Attraction 2
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Boys in Heat
Review by Vincent Diamond

Faewolf
Review by Lisabet Sarai

The Low Road
Review by Jean Roberta

Personal Demons
Review by Jean Roberta

Ready to Serve
Review by Vincent Diamond

The Secret Tunnel
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Shuck
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Transgressions
Review by Vincent Diamond

Non-Fiction

Best Sex Writing '09
Review by Kristina Wright

The Big Penis Book
Review by Rob Hardy

Erotic Encounters
Review by Rob Hardy

The Forbidden Apple
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Hollywood’s Censor
Review by Rob Hardy

Lady in Red
Review by Rob Hardy

Licentious Gotham: Erotic...
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Live Nude Elf
Review by Rob Hardy

Live Nude Girl
Review by Rob Hardy

The Other Side of Desire
Review by Rob Hardy

Scripts 4 Play
Review by Ashley Lister