All posts by bhart

The Noble Pen for Dec 13, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

Dec 13th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

This week is our annual clash with a big party at the restaurant.  When you enter, look to your left for us in some corner.

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People who are interested in the differences in languages might want to read this book, which examines characteristics beyond vocabulary that differentiate twenty of the most-widely spoken.

Victories

Randy had a great book release party for Sins of Omission, and sold 46 books.

Nick finished the second book of his trilogy.

Stacie wrote thank-you letters to children’s librarians at two libraries because they are awesome.

Education

What’s in a name?  Writer’s Digest offers some rules for picking the names of your characters.  Debbie Young has fifteen ideas about picking names. The NY Times has some ideas, too.   Anne R. Allen suggests making them distinctive, but has some cautions to keep the names appropriate for the time and place.

And while we’re thinking of names, consider whether you need all those characters to be named and developed.  The delivery guy and the office assistant who don’t reappear don’t need names.

Each generation wants new symbols, new people, new names. They want to divorce themselves from their predecessors. ~Jim Morrison

Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names. ~John F. Kennedy

I call everyone ‘Darling’ because I can’t remember their names. ~Zsa Zsa Gabor

Upcoming Schedule

Dec 13
Randy
Logan
Stacie

Dec 20
Ciuin
Aime
Logan

Dec 27
Open slots

Jan 3
Laura
Nick
Randy

Jan 10
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Dec 6, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

Dec 6th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Don’t forget Randy’s book release party at 5:30 on Wed. Dec 5.

Victories

Aime worked didn’t make the NaNoWriMo goal, with 20k words in November, but that brought her up to 71k on the Democracy story.  She compiled the Scourge chapters with some partial editing for a reader.

Ciuin finished the draft of Chessmaster.

Education

Tension, uncertainty, or in its stronger form suspense, is what keeps readers turning pages.  Here are some situations that can be used to build tension.

The writer must balance between keeping the reader uncertain versus pulling unbelievable plot turns out of the hat.  If the main character is in a shoot-out, the reader needs to worry that he might get hurt or killed.  In a romance, the reader needs to wonder if the girl will end up with the prince, or at least how she could overcome obstacles to end up with the prince.  A murder mystery usually isn’t mysterious if we know who did it and how.

On the other hand, we shouldn’t use “deus ex machina”, pulling a miracle out of nowhere to save the protagonist.  You can’t make up an ending that has no roots in the earlier pages.  Important events should be foreshadowed.   The Ellery Queen mysteries had a rule that the reader should always think at the end that they should have figured out the mystery, because all the necessary clues were there.

It’s tempting to hide the relevant foreshadowing in extraneous detail.  But the concept of Chekhov’s gun says that if there is a gun on the mantelpiece in an early scene, it must be used later in the story.   The reader shouldn’t have to remember and sort through too much irrelevant detail.

So how do you balance foreshadowing, omitting irrelevant information, and keeping the reader uncertain?

Some writers advise a moderate amount of misdirection to keep the plot unpredictable (and here). Think like the stage magician, who keeps you focused on one had while the other does the tricky work.  Give the reader clearly vital information but distract them by immediately going into the battle, chase, or emotional confrontation.

Give the important event or fact an obvious, unimportant reason to be there.  Let the reader assume a lower relevance for events than they turn out to have.  Use details that just seem like scene-setting but turn out to be critical.  Or let something obviously important turn out to have a different meaning than assumed.  Don’t lie to the reader, or place too much emphasis on the red herring, or they will feel cheated.  Just lead them to lie to themselves.

Give your character decisions to make, especially if they are difficult choices between alternatives with uncertain outcomes.

Once you become predictable, no one’s interested anymore. ~Chet Atkins

Upcoming Schedule

Dec 6
Nick
Stacie
Aime

Dec 13
Randy
Logan
Open slot

Dec 20
Ciuin
Open slots

Dec 27
Open slots

Jan 3
Laura
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Nov 29, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

Nov 29th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

The Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year is “Toxic” due to the frequency and ways it was used in 2018.

Victories

Because we didn’t meet this week, we don’t know of all the wonderful victories and accomplishments.

Education

There are so many possible mistakes, it’s hard to avoid them all.  Even good manuscripts are often rejected, so you want yours to be one of the cleanest.

Here’s a list of few mistakes concerning the overall approach.  Moira Allen offers an excellent list of ways to get a manuscript rejected.  Jefferson Smith tabulated and ranked the mistakes that broke his immersion in stories.  James Scott Bell lists elements of a story that may be lacking interest.  Here’s Susan Breen’s list.

Upcoming Schedule

Nov 29
Aime (5700 words)
Ciuin (short)
Logan

Dec 6
Nick
Stacie
Aime ?

Dec 13
Open slots

Dec 20
Open slots

Dec 27
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Nov 22 (Holiday edition)

Next Noble Pen Meeting

Nov 22nd, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

As most employers are giving their people Thursday off to work on their writing, we won’t meet this week.

Victories

Aime wrote 3,000 words in one day, which is more than usual, but is lagging her NaNoWriMo goal by being at only 10K so far.

Stacie got a writing day.

Dylan is not officially in NaNoWriMo but is turning out enough to meet their goals.  He participated in an author event at West Liberty.  He got paid for a commission, and is working on the last one he plans to do.

Education

A sentence presents a complete thought by naming a person or thing (noun) and an action (verb) and often including more descriptive adjectives, adverbs, or subordinate clauses.  Two sentences improperly joined is a run-on.   A phrase that lacks noun or a verb is a fragment, and should be avoided, except perhaps in dialog or rarely for effect.

A fragment can sometimes be turned into a participial phrase.  These are a useful construction for adding thoughts to a sentence, if not overused.  The participle is a verb form (action word) which most often, but not always, ends in -ing.  Participial phrases are attached to a complete sentence to modify or supply additional information about the subject or object noun (person or thing) of the sentence.

For example, “Rowing the heavy boat, John soon tired.”  The participial phrase “Rowing the heavy boat” is not a sentence because there is no subject person to do the rowing.  “John soon tired” is a sentence, but needs the added phrase to explain why John, the subject of the sentence, became tired.

The participial phrase should be set off with a comma from the sentence as above, or in “Pulling into the driveway, the noisy car alerted the occupants of the house.”

The noun should always be the nearest one to the phrase that modifies it.  It would be incorrect to write “Pulling into the driveway, the occupants of the house heard the noisy car” because the phrase appears to modify the nearest noun, occupants, who were not in the driveway.  This mismatch is called a “dangling participle.”

A writer needs to be careful that the actions are simultaneous.  There is an implied “While” with the participle.  “Walking up the stairs, Joe opened the door” is wrong because he can’t do both at the same time.  Some people call these “time warps.”

Upcoming Schedule

Nov 22
Thanksgiving – no meeting

Nov 29
Aime (5700 words)
Ciuin (short)
Logan

Dec 6
Nick
Stacie
Aime ?

Dec 13
Open slots

Dec 20
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Nov 15, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

Nov 15th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Amazon subsidiary AbeBooks recently took back their decision to cut off some countries from access to their operations, after a protest by hundreds of participating book dealers.

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Barnes and Noble is not doing well.  Although some blame Amazon, others say Amazon is not the whole problem.

Victories

Randy wrote on his novel and was very pleased with what he produced.

Nick wrote on the second book of his trilogy and is now in the home stretch.

Aime has produced 6,000 words on her NaNoWriMo effort, which is a bit behind schedule but good for the amount of time available to write.

Ciuin wrote some paragraphs she really liked but lost them to the computer spirits.

Education

Passive voice (Wikipedia) is usually not the most effective way to express the exciting events of a story, but it can have its place.  Excessive use will tend to slow down the pace and leave a reader uninterested.

Passive means that the person or thing the action was done to appears as the subject, as in “The letter was written by me.”  The actor is either unspecified, or relegated to an afterthought.

You can often identify passive voice by the lack of anyone doing the stated action, as in “The fort was attacked.”  But by whom? Zombies?  Even if the sentence goes on to say who did it, the emphasis has already been shifted away from them.

The passive sentence “The bank was approached by the stealthy conspirators” probably has the emphasis in the wrong place.  We need to pay more attention to the conspirators than the bank, which is just sitting there.  Active voice helps us do that, as “The stealthy conspirators approached the bank.”

Sometimes passive voice is appropriate.  “The letter was written by me, but the enclosed poem was not.”  The letter could be most important to the idea being expressed rather than the writer.   Another use of passive voice, particularly in scholarly writing, is to talk about a result while avoiding the mention of who caused the action, which may be unimportant or unknown.  “A new cancer drug was developed that year.”  “The building was demolished last week.”  The Wikipedia article linked above gives more discussion of when passive is appropriate.

Advice about passive voice (pdf file) and other subjects is given by this article. (Note that sentence is passive.)  Another article gives advice about passive voice. (Active)

Note that not every form of the verb “to be” is passive (Part 1)  (Part 2).  In particular, the progressive (also called continuous) tenses are active, as in “I was running.” Running is still an active verb in this case, not a gerund (noun form) as it would be in “Running makes me ache.”

Upcoming Schedule

Nov 15
Rebecca
Logan
Randy

Nov 22
Thanksgiving – no meeting

Nov 29
Aime
Ciuin
Logan

Dec 6
Nick
Open slots

Dec 13
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Nov 8, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

Nov 8th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

You don’t often read a review that says a story about a murder on the moon got lost in info dumps and lectures and comes across as “a TED Talk being given in the middle of a car chase.”  It’s a lesson I have to keep reminding myself of.

Victories

Aime signed up for NaNoWriMo, where the goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November, and also talked her sister into it.

Ciuin gave a lesson on clear writing to her museum class.

Education

Do you need a prologue for your novel?  They are somewhat controversial and usually avoidable.

The best use of one is hen it takes place in a different time or place than the rest of the story, and perhaps does not involve the main character.   The challenge is to make it interesting, since the real story hasn’t started yet, to avoid an info dump, and to transition easily into chapter 1.

The controversial nature is shown by the number of  discussions of them on writing forums.  Another thread suggests some people skip them, which could make the rest of the story confusing for them.  Often a prologue could just as well be chapter 1.  Other times they should be deleted and their information woven into the story as needed or used as a flashback.

Upcoming Schedule

Nov 8
Nick
Logan
Aime

Nov 15
Rebecca
Logan
Randy

Nov 22
Thanksgiving – no meeting

Nov 29
Aime
Ciuin
Open slot

Dec 6
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Nov 1, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

Nov 1st, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

The Imagine Other Worlds with Authors (I.O.W.A.) organization is planning a 2019 event somewhere in the CR area.  Prior participants will get priority, but you can sign up on their interest list if you would like to try for a spot.

Victories

Rebecca wrote the start of a new story.

Education

Writing isn’t easy.  This tutorial discusses some pitfalls that frequently trip beginners.  Here’s a list of most common mistakes that lead to rejection.

The “Immerse or Die” critic believes a good story doesn’t have anything that breaks the reader’s immersion.  He published a list of the things that most often took him out of stories.  Topping his list was weak mechanics, followed closely by unnatural actions by the characters and too-frequent repetition of words or phrases.  Those, along with illogical worlds and info dumps, accounted for half of the problems.  He found the issues fell about equally among world-building, storytelling, and editing problems.

Upcoming Schedule

Nov 1
Logan
Bill
Exercise

Nov 8
Nick
Logan
Aime

Nov 15
Rebecca
Logan
Open slot

Nov 22
Thanksgiving – no meeting

Nov 29
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Oct 25, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

Oct 25th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

An essay discusses H. P. Lovecraft (wikipedia), whose writing is fundamental to the horror genre, and finds his personal attitudes horrifying.

Victories

Randy is not getting a response about a signing he thought might happen in Decorah, but has a store in Dubuque interested in doing on in the spring.

Jesse submitted a very personal essay.

Ciuin evaluated alternatives for fight scenes.

Logan is rewriting a novella from years ago.

Education

Some authors start at the beginning of a story, without much of a plan, and see what develops.   They write “by the seat of their pants,” to use a metaphor that came from pilots who stay oriented by their senses instead of by instruments.  They let the story develop as it seems to need to go.

John Irving says he always knows where he’s headed, though it would appear from the interview that he doesn’t necessarily know how he will get there.  Still others know every step of the way before writing any scenes.  Each writer needs to try various advice to find what works for them.

Jan Ellison offers some tips.  I particularly like her point that you need to get to the end of the story before you spend time polishing parts of it.  That approach is consistent with the Snowflake Method.  It’s hard to bring yourself to tear up a beautiful chapter when you find later that the plot needed to go a different direction.  There are many ways or levels of detail to outline, from a strict structure to a loose summary of the story.

Which are you, or can you take a middle road?

Upcoming Schedule

Oct 25
Rebecca
Logan
Randy

Nov 1
Logan
Jesse
Ciuin

Nov 8
Nick
Logan
Aime

Nov 15
Open slots

Nov 22
Thanksgiving – no meeting

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Oct 18, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

Oct 18th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

A recent flap brings up the difficult question of how similar something can be to others’ work without being a rip-off.

Victories

Randy totaled up his sales at 396 for the first book and 90 already for the second.  He has a five-star review on Amazon for the second book.

Logan’s short story has passed the first reading to possibly go into an anthology.

Education

Word repetition is a common problem for writers.  In the early drafts you are working at getting the story told in any words that come to mind.  As you revise, you need to notice when you are overworking a word and find a way to rephrase, use a pronoun, or find a synonym.  Ben Yagoda has some tips.  The more common words can be repeated more often.

This article discusses finding and replacing these echo words.

Repetition can also be used for desirable effects such as emphasis, rhythm, and mood.  More discussion here.

Upcoming Schedule

Oct 18
Aime
Jesse (long)

Oct 25
Rebecca
Logan
Randy

Nov 1
Open slots

Nov 8
Nick
Open slots

Nov 8
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Oct 11, 2018

Next Noble Pen Meeting

Oct 11th, 2018 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Mark Twain gave a young writer some advice in a letter that is up for auction.  If you have a spare $50K you might buy that letter, but fortunately the article tells us some of its contents.

Victories

Aime finished the second book in her quest to read all of Vonnegut’s works.

Several of us wrote drabbles this week.

Nick wrote on his trilogy.

Education

Nominalization (wikipedia) means taking a verb or adjective and adding a suffix to make a noun.  An example would be the adjective global.  It can be made a verb by adding to get globalize.  It can become a noun by further adding to make globalization.  It is sometimes a helpful process to create a word that succinctly expresses a meaning not easily conveyed by other simpler words. We get such useful words as difficulty,  investigation, failure, and reaction by nominalization of the base words difficult, investigate, fail, and react.

Taken to excess, nominalization makes writing obscure and pompous.  Clarity suffers.  Or to put it another way, a preponderance of nominalization incurs a tendency to the proliferation of obscurification and pomposity.

Ciuin has been suffering under academic writing styles and suggests this five-minute video as good advice about nominalization.  A short pdf file has good points about passive voice and nominalization.

Upcoming Schedule

Oct 11
Ciuin
Nick
Bill

Oct 18
Aime
Jesse
Open slots

Oct 25
Open slots

Nov 1
Open slots

Nov 8
Nick
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill