The Hero’s Journey

In our previous post, Mapping and World Creation, we introduced some of the basics of writing speculative fiction genres, and especially looked at the “rules” for science fiction and fantasy.

Today, we’ll take an introductory look at “The Hero’s Journey,” a major story-telling cycle described by Joseph Campbell. As you read about the stages in the cycle, try to think of what stories these stages remind you.

 The Hero’s Journey: The basic pattern of the hero’s journey is found in myths and narratives throughout the world. This universal pattern includes important myths which have been passed down for thousands of years as well as being found in the most modern books, films, video games, comics, and more.  You might be surprised to discover that pretty well all these stories share a similar basic structure and stages. These kinds of stories are known as “monomyths” and include “archetypical” heroes. The oldest heroes form a pattern of an idealised model of a person, object or concept from which similar heroes and their life journeys have been derived or copied right to the present.  Stages of the hero’s journey include:

  1. Separation: The hero is dragged from the comforts of home to experience growth and change. (Think Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings)
  2. The call: The self-realisation of imbalance or injustice in the hero’s life (or a realisation of societal injustice) that invites him or her into the adventure, the unknown. (Consider Shakespeare’s Hamlet)
  3. Threshold: the jumping off point for the adventure, the point between known and unknown. (Threshold guardians are obstacles that interfere with or delay the start of the journey. They can be literal (physical barriers, people) or figurative (fears/doubts). (Can you think of a threshold and a threshold guardian from one of your favourite stories?)
  4. Challenges/temptations: obstacles/difficult experiences that test the hero. The hero emerges stronger from each challenge. Helpers help and support the hero along the way, but are usually not present (or have only minor parts) during the final battle. Often there is also a mentor, a guide that keeps the hero focused on his or her goal. The mentor helps the hero obtain the skills to overcome challenges. In many stories, the mentor must die so that the hero can face a major challenge alone. (Think Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death in Star Wars)
  5. The Abyss: the greatest challenge of the journey where one must “slay the dragon” or be in “the belly of the whale.” This often includes a journey to the underworld. (What story does this bring to your mind?)
  6. Revelation/Transformation: a sudden change in the way one thinks or views life. Transformation often occurs through death and rebirth in the great myths. It is symbolic of the old self dying and the new self being reborn–which of course cycles back to the call/self-realization. In some stories, the death and rebirth of a mentor results in this transformation of the hero and other important characters in the story.
  7. The Return/Sharing the Gift: This is the final stage where the hero contributes to society, sharing experience, knowledge, and wisdom he or she has gained through the journey.

Check out the diagram at the top of this post. Can you use it to create your own stories based on the Hero’s Journey cycle?

Coming up: An introduction to writing utopian and/or dystopian stories!

Your comments: What are your favourite stories that follow the stages/cycles of “The Hero’s Journey”? Have you written any stories that follow this pattern? Share your thoughts in the comments! Thanks.

Mapping and World Creation

Think about your favourite science fiction or fantasy story–and the amazing “world” that the author has created for it. How do writers come up with these fantastical ideas? We’ll be exploring this topic together over the next few posts.

Speculative fiction includes science fiction, fantasy, horror, superhero, dystopian, utopian, and other similar genres. These genres can be mixed together and form unique new sub-genres with surprising new worlds and ideas: vampires in space, techno-mages, superheroes in parallel worlds and whatever else your imagination can conjure.

Rules and systems: Whatever fantastical “world” you come up with, remember that it has to “make sense” and be “believable” to your readers. Worlds have “rules” and “systems” — physical, metaphysical, magical, societal, governmental and more — and you need to establish those rules and develop your plot and characters from them.

Borrowing ideas: Can you borrow ideas from worlds others have already created? Certainly, you can get “inspiration” for plot and world ideas … and you can follow classic story development. While you can get ideas from modern books and movies, don’t forget classic texts (Shakespeare, The Bible, The Iliad/The Odyssey) and characters from classic literature. Then consider, for example, combining modern scientific and technological ideas with classic characters (a fantasy Sherlock Holmes? A galaxy jumping Ulysses?). Ancient stories have provided us with plot outlines that have been used in even the most famous modern sci-fi and fantasy genres. The “hero’s journey” is a great place to start!

Science Fiction: If a story is set in a universe that follows the same general rules as ours, it’s science fiction. In general, science fiction is about “what could be but isn’t.” Like our world, it is basically involved with science and technology, and magic is rarely invoked other than some “metaphysical” references/beliefs. Some “rules” of science fiction include:

  • Explain logically how space travel works.
  • Avoid using “techno babble” (jargon in any genre should be avoided!).
  • Use names that fit the world and story–and avoid names that are difficult to say and/or read.
  • While special languages can be intriguing, use them for “effect.” Using them too much is annoying and confusing for many readers.
  • As in any other story genre, “show” what things are or how they work–avoid too much “telling.”
  • In most cases, your characters should have some fairly “humanoid” characteristics (legs, arms, body, face)–especially your main characters–as this makes it easier for your readers to relate to them.
  • Make sure that the technology your characters use fits in with the world’s rules and the place and era.
  • Once you’ve created rules for your “world,” keep them in mind as you write your story. Just like in our real world, if the plot doesn’t match up to the world’s “rules,” your readers will notice–and be annoyed!

Think about the science fiction you have read and/or watched. What worked in those worlds? What didn’t work? Why didn’t it work? What other tips would you suggest to authors who want to write sci-fi? (Please share your thoughts in the comments).

Fantasy: This genre is set in a universe that doesn’t follow our world’s rules. In general, fantasy is about “what couldn’t be but is” (because you’ve invented a world with new, different rules, and your story’s plot and characters fit with this new world’s systems). Fantasy almost always involves some level of magic, rather than relying on scientific rules.

Some fantasy rules to consider are:

  • Magic has to have limits. Too much reliance on magic makes it unbelievable to your readers. Just like any other genre, if you rely on “magic” (or any other unbelievable or way-too-handy) solutions to your story’s problems, your readers are likely to roll their eyes!
  • You don’t have to have every fantasy creature or characteristic you’ve run into when you’ve read or watched other authors’ fantasy works. Don’t clutter! Figure out what best fits your world–and the creatures that inhabit it. Be original.
  • As in sci-fi, avoid difficult names, and avoid too much use of the world’s special language. For fantasy, created languages can be useful for magical chants and prophecies–but don’t have your characters use them all the time.
  • Again, show–don’t tell!
  • Just as the technology in a sci-fi story has to make sense in the world you’ve created for it, so magic has to fit in with the rules of magic for your world. What? Magic has rules? Absolutely! And make sure your readers understand the rules of magic in your world so that when you do solve conflict with magic, they’ll understand and accept it.

What other fantasy rules can you think of, based on your own reading and viewing of fantasy and your own experiences writing fantasy? (Again, please share your thoughts in the comments).

What else should you consider when creating worlds? Don’t forget the basics of all good storytelling:

  • Characterization: Too often the #1 problem in a boring story is a boring main character. Of course, you want to create a character that has an interesting, complex personality that develops through the story. Besides that (and along with it) there are lots of ways to make a character interesting: murder and mayhem, marvel or mystery, any kind of conflict–all important aspects of speculative fiction.
  • Setting: Focus on the strangeness of the world you are creating. How will your hero/protagonist live there or travel through it? How will it affect your character and the actions in the plot?
  • Defining events: Use a defining event, such as the death of the hero’s mentor (think Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, or the death–and resurrection of Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe) or the arrival of a superior species (think War of the Worlds), to focus on how your protagonist (and sometimes your antagonist and other characters) deals with that event.
  • Unique ideas: Use a unique idea that requires exploration by your hero/protagonist–or even use an “issue” in our own world, and explore it through the unique world you are creating. For example, suppose fuel supplies for transportation are found in one main location, and the ownership of the location is being fought over. Sound familiar? This is an ongoing issue in our own world, and with some unique twists, became a major plot element of the Dune series.

Read, Watch, Listen and Write: Read as many books as you can. Watch as many different types of movies and TV shows as you can. Especially look for ones that are high quality and/or ones that are truly unique, creative, different than the norm. Remember, the more you read and write the better writer you become.  But while you can draw on a favourite author’s style, don’t forget you develop your own ideas, voice and spark that makes your writing different (unless you are writing “fan fiction” … but that’s another topic).

The title for this post included “mapping” worlds–and we’ll be getting to that in upcoming posts. We’ll also look at topics like the “hero’s journey” and other ideas related to creating worlds. Stay tuned!

 

Kinds of Flash Fiction

My last post introduced the type of writing called “Flash Fiction.” Today I’m going to provide a list of different sorts of flash fiction and some sites worth checking out. If you’re looking for daily writing “prompts” that are short and quick but also provide opportunity for developing strong writing skills, flash fiction is a great opportunity.

There are many kinds of flash fiction, written within various constraints. You can even create your own constraints. Here are some examples:

There are many examples of flash fiction in anthologies and journals, and on many online sites. Here are some sites worth checking out. Many of them accept submissions and/or hold contests.

Why not try out some of these flash fiction writing forms–and let us know which ones you like best? In fact, how about sharing some of your efforts in the comments?

Flash Fiction and other Quick Writes

Flash fiction focuses on small but telling moments of life, and every word, every sentence, even the title, matters. A character’s essence is revealed through small hints. Suspense is built by what is left out, letting the reader fill in the gaps. Show only the top 10 percent of your story, using suggestiveness to let the rest be imagined by the reader. Flash fiction stories are usually considered to be less than 1000 words—and as few as six words. They are confined to a single, powerful incident that bears symbolic weight.

The roots of flash fiction go far back in history to parables and fables. Its newfound popularity may have origins in the physical constraints imposed by viewing text on a computer screen without the need for the reader to scroll down. This challenges the writer to use a handful of carefully chosen images or snapshots that convey only enough information to sketch out the central idea and provide a satisfying conclusion.

To get a feel for writing flash fiction write a story of 500 words or so. Then do a second draft, paring down to about 250 words. Then pare that down to 100 words, practising the arts of omission and conciseness. See how the story changes and is even enhanced when you remove things. Chisel the story again and again until its sculpture relies more on its gaps than its words.

Like other stories, flash stories have a beginning, middle and end, and are formed around conflict and character change. Plot is less prominent because the story is wrapped in a single situation. A flash story distills one moment to its essence. Every word, every image, every bit of characterization must be exact, leading to a simple, clear story with few characters and one central conflict. While each flash fiction word must be essential, a good writer will still provide detail, texture and movement.

Flash fiction isn’t so difficult when you consider that most stories we tell in real life are under 500 words. When you are hanging out with friends and sharing an incident or a joke, you want to keep their attention and interest. “Hey, did you hear about…?” You tell it quickly, while they’re still listening. Write flash fiction much as you chat with your friends. And if you long to expand upon your flash fiction story, you can always use it as the kernel, later on, for a short story or even a novel.

Here are some flash fiction pointers to consider:

  • The title has to work very hard, as it points to the crisis, moment, or emotion that the story is focused upon.
  • Plot reduction: Narrow down to a single small event or idea that, insignificant as it appears on the surface, potentially has great meaning.
  • The setting must be presented concisely and clearly, so the reader can immediately identify the situation–and remember to show more than tell. Consider commonplace settings which readers easily recognise and relate to.
  • The back story should be brief and be something all readers can relate to.
  • Characterization is still important–a defined character with desires/needs and a distinctive voice, facing opposition to those desires.
  • The story requires a clear climax and concise resolution.
  • Use allusions to provide flow. Historical dates, single names of people or events, widely recognised characters and/or stories all paint clear pictures in the reader’s mind and save words.
  • Choose words very carefully. Weed out all adjectives and adverbs, then reinstate only those that give a distinct flavour to the story. Again, show rather than tell.
  • Publishing: Flash fiction won’t make you rich. Many journals won’t even pay you—but your name and bio will be there. Become recognised so readers will want to explore your longer works.

As with other writing, writers should approach flash fiction from a place of passion—emotion, love, hope, dreams, fears, personal interests, ideals. Search within for core human experience, yet be original and creative. Write the stories you want to write, in your personal style.

What experiences have you had writing flash fiction? Share your thoughts and tips with us in the comments. Thank you!

Coming upsome specific types of flash fiction for you to try out 🙂

Writing Inspiration from the Visual Arts

When the “writers’ muse” seems to have flown away, those lists of “writing prompts” just aren’t doing it for you, and the weather is too nasty to head outdoors for inspiration, you can always draw from (pardon the pun!) the visual arts–sketches, paintings, sculpture, photography, cartooning, film and more.

Here are some inspirational ideas to develop some “creative writing with art”—or you can use your own imagination. Ideally, combine both visual art and writing in some way. You can choose one project and dive deep, or you can play around with two or three different projects. You can work alone, or if you wish, you can work with a partner or small group, discussing your project with others and helping each other come up with creative ideas.

Using visual art (or even live arts such as dancing) available to you right now, right where you are, reflect on it and let it inspire your writing. How? Well, you could …

  • Sketch it; describe it in writing; turn it into a story; turn it into an alternative art form (for example, create a story from a photograph and present it as a comic or graphic story).
  • Create a mini-memoir of some aspect of yourself or of some event in your life that’s been recorded in a photograph or home movie, combining sketches and words. Perhaps create a photo essay with captivating captions in suitable fonts, or create an illustrated “family story” for your children and grandchildren.
  • Using a “plot template” (google “plot templates” and click on “images” — then choose one of the many options available), plan a story on the template, using a combination of sketches and words. Then write the story.
  • Choose a photo or other picture as inspiration. Write a “snapshot,” including observations from all your senses, to describe the picture (and/or the situation in the picture) for a reader who has not seen the picture. Help them “see” it through your word snapshot.
  • Create your own story in comic or graphic novel format, using panel templates (google “panel manga templates” and then click on “images” for lots of options). Draw inspiration from comics, cartoons and graphic novels.
  • Do one or more of the following “Language and Art” activities, to help you think more deeply about art, and how it can be related to writing:
    • Art critic: Become an art critic and write a review of a piece of art. Write your review as if you were a newspaper columnist or reporter. Include specific details to support your critique.
    • Letter to the artist: Choose a favourite piece of artwork. What questions do you have for the artist? Tell the artist about your feelings about his or her work and how it inspires your writing.
    • Be the artist. Imagine you are a public artist, or an illustrator for children’s books, graphic novels, magazines, comics, etc. Describe your artwork. What is it? How large is it? What is it made of? What does it represent, what is its story? Where do you get your inspiration? Where will it be displayed (or published)?
    • Tell a story: Choose a piece of artwork. Imagine it can see and hear. What can it see from its location? What can it hear? Write a story from the perspective of the piece. Add events and dialogue to give an interesting view of its world.

How do you use art to inspire your writing? Please share your ideas in the comments! Thank you!

Poetical Fun

A couple posts ago, I posted a ditty called “Abbreviations Poetical.” And over the years, I’ve often indulged my odd sense of humour by writing our annual Christmas letter in poetical format, as in “Haida Gwaii Christmas.” And I’ve even celebrated important family events with poetical humour (which perhaps sounded like I’d already been celebrating a bit too much as I wrote) such as with my “Ballad of Bill and Marj” for their anniversary. And occasionally I set aside rhyming style in favour of some prosaic humour as in “What a Day I’s Been.” I think we writers can sometimes get way too serious about our craft and forget to relax and give free rein to some simple, silly humour in our writing.

Recently I led a creative writing workshop for youth which focused on humorous poetry. It was a lot of fun and the young people came up with some really comical and entertaining verse. So today I decided to share some forms of poetical fun that you serious writers might like to experiment with to refresh and invigorate yourselves and your writing 🙂 While some of these forms can be used for serious verse, try to inject humour in these exercises. Here goes, and have fun!

Terse Verse: Terse verse contains two rhyming words that answer a question. The long title is written in question form and capital letters. Example: “WHAT DOES A FOX CALL FIFTEEN RABBITS? A Beast Feast” (Scott Johnson). List pairs of interesting rhyming words. Select a rhyming pair. Think of a question about the rhyming words—this is the title. Create two or three terse verse rhymes!

This is Mine Poetry: names and describes something you own, and ends in a funny or surprising way. It follows an ABCB rhyming pattern and has 3 quatrains (stanzas of 4 lines each).

  • Quatrain 1: line 1: name the thing you own; lines 2,3,4: write phrases to describe the object. Arrange so 2nd and 4th lines rhyme.
  • Quatrain 2: line 1 repeats the 1st line of the 1st quatrain. Lines 2,3,4 continue to describe the object.
  • Quatrain 3: line 1 repeats the 1st line of the 1st quatrain. Lines 2,3,4 provide humor or a surprising idea.

ABC Poems: Begin with “A” and go through the alphabet with one word for each letter. They don’t always make sense but they are fun and challenging. It can be one long poem using the whole alphabet, or a series of shorter poems using part of the alphabet.

Name Poetry: uses the letters of a name to begin each line. The poem may describe the subject or express the writer’s thoughts about the subject. It is written in a nonrhyming acrostic form. It usually expresses appreciation, interesting insights, or humorous thoughts about the person or object. Can you write a humorous piece of Name Poetry?

Tongue Twister Poetry: is a silly statement in which most words begin with the same sound. The silly statement should be as long as possible!

Trouble Poetry: contains two ideas written in couplet form. The first line names the item that is trouble. The second line rhymes with the first and gives a humorous, unusual, or clever explanation or conclusion. Example: “The trouble with soda pop is that / Eventually it becomes flat.”

Seven Poetry: is a rhyme about what happens to seven things in a group. These poems are meant to be humorous and maybe a little crazy! Here’s an example from Kim Hanscom: “There were seven sisters/ Sleeping in a bed./ The first fell off/ And bumped her head./ The second cried all through the night./ … (and so  on through number seven).

Couplets: The simplest rhymed pattern is the couplet, which consists of two rhyming lines. The lines can be of any length, but the rhythm and rhyme should match the thought or mood of the poem. Example: “The cow is of the bovine ilk;/ One end is moo, the other, milk.” (Ogden Nash) Can you create some humorous couplets? How about a series of them, related to one topic?

Clerihew: a four-line poem that makes a brief, humorous statement about a person. Structure:

  • line 1 ends with a person’s name;
  • line 2 rhymes with line 1;
  • lines 3 and 4 rhyme with each other.

Limerick: a humorous five-line poem that follows a definite rhyme pattern and has a particular rhythm. Each “foot” contains one or two unstressed syllables followed by one that is stressed. There must be three of these feet in each of the first two lines, two in each of the second two lines, and three again in the last line. Lines 1, 2, and 5 all rhyme with each other, and lines 3 and 4 rhyme with each other.

Poems about Spelling: Do a lot of word spellings drive you crazy? Write a funny poem which includes words you think are spelled in ridiculous ways!

List Poems: Pick a subject and make a list of ideas, objects, or actions about that subject. Try to make it as clever or funny as possible. Example: “Wasps: Wasps like coffee./ Syrup./ Tea./ Coca-Cola./ Butter./ Me.” (Dorothy Aldis)

Narrative Poems: Turn a funny story or anecdote into a humorous poem.

Making up Words: Sometimes a real word just won’t fit the bill. Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), Dr. Seuss (Sneetches), and A.A. Milnes (Winnie the Pooh songs) were masters of this form. Are you creative enough to write a poem with made-up words?

Figures of Speech Poetry: English idioms and clichés are excellent hunting grounds for humorous poems. Think about what could happen if they were literally true! Then write about the results.

If you’re feeling really “stuck” when it comes to creating these humorous ditties, get together with a couple others (children are especially creative!) and create together. Have fun!

Do you use humour exercises to inspire your writing? Tell us about them in the comments. Thanks.

What Am I Doing These Days?

I was reminded the other day that I haven’t done an update recently about my personal writing and editing activities. So here’s a quick summary!

OWL: Okanagan-South Writers’ League: I continue to be actively involved with our local writers’ group. You can find out more about us at our OWL Facebook page.

Word Guild South Okanagan: I also attend this writers’ group!

Okanagan Valley Writers’ Festival is happening this weekend, and I’m really looking forward to it. Check out the website and our Facebook page, which I do admin for.

Pen And Paper Mama Services is my business name, and you can find out more about the tutoring end of my business at my penandpapermama website … and I’d be delighted if you’d “like” and “follow” my business Facebook page! And of course, I’d also be delighted if you’d “like” and “follow” my normajhill site which you are on right now 🙂

I’ve been leading STEPS creative writing workshops for youth this winter and spring at the Shatford Center. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m sure I’ve learned as much or more than the youth 🙂  Find out more about STEPS here.

I’ve also recently done a workshop on “Self-Editing Tips and Tricks” for the writers’ group in West Kelowna.

And I’ve been working on my Summerland stories, editing the old ones, and creating new ones, using my new copy of Scrivener writing software, which I’m finding really helpful! My goal is to publish them in book form!

I’m also continuing to write on my blogs 2 or 3 times a week, and continue to work on some of my other writing projects, including my “family stories,” my Haida Gwaii stories, and more. And I’ve been taking a course on how to write excellent sentences (from The Great Courses website).

Oh! And of course, I’m continuing to do editing.

And that’s about it! (Enough, I’d say 🙂 )

 

Quick-view tips and tricks for self-editing

Quick-view Self-Editing Tips and Tricks:

Reference materials and helps:

Software aids:

  • Use the Comments margin notes feature in Word 2010, and possibly Track Changes, both found under the “Review” tab
  • Use the find/replace feature (under the “Home” tab in Word) for your commonly misspelled words
  • Add unusual spellings, names of your characters, place names, etc. from your manuscript to your spellchecker
  • Use a word cloud site (e.g. wordclouds.com ) to upload your manuscript and find out which words you use repetitively
  • Use text-to-speech software to listen to your manuscript (here are some reviews  )
  • Check out detailed tips on use of “Find & Replace” and other editing features in Word: http://www.molly-greene.com

Some useful self-editing tips:

  • Multiple read-throughs for different purposes, with time breaks to keep your mind fresh
  • Focus on one part of the manuscript at a time
  • Read aloud or tape, then listen
  • Listen to someone else read to you
  • Write the first draft without editing; revise and edit in later drafts
  • Jot down margin notes on hard copy print-out, and use proofreader marks
  • Write summaries of the plot from different character POVs (points of view)
  • Highlight 3 or 4 pages of adjectives, similes, metaphors, etc. and examine your use of imagery
  • Highlight bland words, “to be” verbs, etc. on 3-4 pages; realise what bland words you commonly use and replace them with better words throughout the document
  • Highlight first words of sentences for a few paragraphs; do you use too much repetition?
  • Do a highlight exercise to check for use of evocative sensory words and descriptions (colour, shape, texture, size, weight, emotion)
  • Check and consider carefully all words flagged by your spell/grammar checker (but remember that spell checkers often won’t notice homonym or similar errors so you still need to proofread the document yourself, and grammar checkers aren’t always aware of your reasons for choosing particular wording, punctuation, etc.)
  • Notice your common errors; make a list and watch out for them and correct them
  • When planning, make lists of descriptions of characters, setting, etc.; then refer to them as you write and as you edit, for consistency
  • Proofread chapter headings, page numbers, front and back matter, etc. (as well as the story)
  • Watch carefully for homophones (both homonyms and similarly spelled words)

And some useful self-editing and proofreading “tricks”:

  • Start at the end of the manuscript and move to the beginning (sentence by sentence, or paragraph by paragraph, or chapter by chapter
  • Use a ruler or cut out frame to focus on individual lines
  • Take a break: fresh eyes
  • Print out and read on paper instead of the computer screen; try using pastel paper; When you think you have the manuscript perfect, have one copy of the book printed out and read through again, as you’ll often find things you’ve missed, due to the change in format.
  • Try a font change (style and size)
  • Place a transparent pastel sheet over your computer screen (to find mistakes you’ve missed and to prevent eyestrain)
  • Watch out for use of jargon, cliches, platitudes, buzzwords, coined words, and bureaucratic language.

For more in-depth information on some of these self-editing tips, check this article on my blog.

Help! What self-editing tips and tricks would you add to this list? Please add them in the comments. Thank you!

Abbreviations Poetical

Do you have trouble remembering the rules of abbreviation? Maybe this rhyme will help you remember!

Abbreviations keep it short–
Like “l” is litre and quart is “qt.”
In articles and stories, use the shorter form
For words like Ms and Mr., because they are the norm.
But for short forms not well known, starting with long form is the best;
Add the short form in (parentheses) … then use short form for the rest.
Feel free to use the short form in writing technical–
Tables, graphs and charts—so they don’t get too full.
Use abbreviations for titles or address:
Mr., Mrs., Dr., Ms; Pte., Gen., and the rest.
Some abbreviations are just casual shortened terms
Like ad, fridge, phone and memo; cello, photo, math and perms.
Use days and months in short form in calendars and notes,
In tables and citations, but not in prose and quotes.
Postal abbreviations are now in format standard;
Two letters are the limit—with no period—not hard!
No periods for metric … cm, g and ml …
But Imperial still needs that dot; it’s lb., in. and ft. still.
For time, periods don’t matter; consistency is the key:
Sec., min., wk., or mo. – or yr, AD, BC.
With degrees of temperature, whether F. or C.,
Don’t forget the period in matters of degree.
In technology and science, periods are almost zero,
But capitals are iffy—ppm, mph, but UFO.
Social media’s the new thing, with abbreviations clever:
B4, BTW, cre8, and LOL, wtvr.
If you use the Latin “i.e.” remember it means “in essence,”
While “e.g.” means “example given;” it’s all just common sense.
When you change short forms to plural, usually you just add an “s,”
But metric symbols stay the same; use apostrophe if ambiguous.
See? Abbr. R so EZ, there R just a few sm. rules,
Y not try 2 edit with these super simple tools?

by Norma J Hill aka penandpapermama

(This silly but hopefully useful rhyme was concocted by yours truly. While I’m willing to have you share it, please be kind enough to give credit where it’s due. A link to this page https://normajhill.com/2017/03/31/abbreviations-poetical/  and my name at the end of the rhyme would be a good start. Thanks!)

Writing Concisely–Tips from an Editor

 

This post contains excerpts from editor’s comments I made to one of my clients on the importance of writing concisely. I hope you find it helpful.

*****

I have attached a copy of your original manuscript, with words, phrases, and even some paragraphs highlighted that I feel you could withdraw from the manuscript without affecting the meaning. In fact, tightening up your writing will make your themes stronger, improve the flow, and overall create a much better “read.”

One of the signs of a good writer is the ability to make your manuscript as good as you can—and then go through it and ruthlessly remove any and all words that don’t “for sure need to be there.” This is a painful exercise for a writer, but it really does improve one’s writing. Most times, ¼ to ½ of a manuscript can be deleted!

As writers, we love our descriptive words (especially extra adjectives and adverbs), and our “examples” and so on. They sound pretty and we feel they make the writing more pictorial. And we were taught to do that in school! BUT we have to learn what is actually necessary, and what is “frills.” And too often, a lot of our words are frills.

Nowadays, readers are not as willing as they once were to read long, rambling stories and documents. Even a generation or two ago (before the internet) many people were happy to read a 200,000 to 300,000-page novel. But now, it is the 80,000-word novels—and the 50 to 60,000-word novels (and even shorter novellas) which are selling the best. Novels which require a lot of world-building, such as in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, can be up to 110,000 to 120,000 words, but that’s pretty much the limit.

Readers tend to be in a hurry nowadays, and they don’t have such long attention spans. While I’m not convinced this is always a good development, it is the way things are. And actually, in many cases, getting rid of the extras really does improve the writing.

I’ll give you an example. A while back I wrote a “note” on my Facebook page. That note was about 1000 words. Quite a few people “liked” it – but one of my friends pointed out to me that it could be a “fantastic” piece if I tightened it up. She and I sent it back and forth 3 or 4 times, and she kept demanding that I “cut more.” Along the way, I realised I needed to include another important point, which resulted in even more cutting of less important parts from what I’d originally written. In the end, I got it down to 400 words. This made it short enough to be published in the local papers as a “letter to the editor.”

And the thing is—I got amazing responses. People I’d never heard of looked me up in the phone book, and called to say how much they liked it, and how well written it was. This included people like English professors and other highly educated writers and speakers in various fields. It wasn’t just my “friends” liking it—it was people who are highly respected. This was a good lesson to me!

I would suggest you read the article, A Key to Great Writing: Make Every Word Count, by Stephen Wilbers. It is an excellent “how-to” post with many specific tips on writing concisely and effectively, whether fiction or non-fiction.

Questions and Responses: What are your favourite tips for concise writing? Have you had experiences in which you’ve improved a piece of writing by ruthlessly making it more concise? Please share your tips and experiences in the comments. Thank you!
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