Writing Prose

User avatar
Radish
Posts: 51
Joined: Fri Feb 08, 2008 12:05 am
Platform: Mac
Location: Portland, OR

Fri Feb 15, 2008 6:27 pm Post

After transferring all my manuscripts' bits and pieces into Scrivener, I spent the next few days re-arranging my files' hierarchy -- I can actually find stuff now! [yay!]

During all that frenetic shuffling, I discovered a few things: the story arcs and plotting are solid, characterisation is strong and organic, the dialogue flows in a very human fashion, and the make-believe world is believable.

However [damn those howevers!], my prose is unforgivably abysmal.

Can anyone suggest methods or techniques or exercises to help me remedy this problem of clunky and awkward prose? Does reading or writing poetry help?
what was that middle part again?

Th
Thequietone
Posts: 286
Joined: Mon Jul 16, 2007 5:45 pm

Fri Feb 15, 2008 6:39 pm Post

I suggest you post an example as "abysmal" does not tell anyone exactly what is wrong.

Paul

User avatar
Radish
Posts: 51
Joined: Fri Feb 08, 2008 12:05 am
Platform: Mac
Location: Portland, OR

Fri Feb 15, 2008 7:06 pm Post

Thequietone wrote:I suggest you post an example as "abysmal" does not tell anyone exactly what is wrong.

Paul


Ye gods, no. I'd rather not subject myself to that, as I'm already feeling wretched about my prose non-skills. Later on, I'd certainly welcome some feedback, but there's nothing that I can let anyone read at this moment.

My first drafts tend to look like scripts, plenty of dialogue and activity that [vaguely] resembles stage direction. Kinda like dining on the moon -- great chow, but no atmosphere. Maybe instead of 'abysmal' I should've said 'utterly absent', but that's a painful [!] thing to admit.

Are there any novelists/storytellers, whom you feel do a great job at narrative prose, that you can recommend I study?
what was that middle part again?

User avatar
Wock
Posts: 2540
Joined: Fri Aug 24, 2007 8:09 pm
Location: Gallatin, Tennessee (USA)
Contact:

Fri Feb 15, 2008 8:53 pm Post

A little role play may help.

Put yourself into the character and the scene then freeze it.

Sit back and think to yourself how would you (the character) see things and how would you act towards things if you were really there. What would you notice and what body language would you use? What are your actions and responses? Do they feel genuine of does it feel "canned"

When writing dialogue the first rule is to FORGET all writing rules. And keep in mind this. WHen one is in a comfortable environment they notice many things and tend to speak in longer sentences, they may use more body language to express excitement, anger, or discomfort. During action or nervous or emotional parts people tend to "shorten" their sentences and their focus. Also people do not speak in monotone. They have tons of inflections and body language that are part of the conversation

but....

Writing dialogue is more kin to a phone conversation, where only the words and infelctions/stress are conveyed and everything else is left up to our imaginations. When you write you may have to "cue" the reader of the character's emotional state (body language) subtley to convey the mood and make sure the dialog matches the body language.

So when you are writing a scene with dialog remember noticeable (but subtle) BODY LANGUAGE can cue the reader to a characters state of mind during a conversation then the reader will use their "imagination" to fill in the gaps of what that character is doing during the dialog.

Things like crossing your arms (defense, stand offish)
Crossing one's legs (comfort or at ease, or discomfort, nervous)
Leaning forward (aggressive, excited, conspirital, nervous, paranoid)

etc
etc
etc

Just a thought. I could be way off base of what you are asking but in the end it truly depends on your style of writing.

Hope that helps?
The wheel is turning but the hamster is still dead.

User avatar
vic-k
Posts: 7135
Joined: Fri Apr 27, 2007 8:23 am
Platform: Mac + Windows
Location: Protesting in the nude, outside ex Red Lion TESCO Store

Fri Feb 15, 2008 9:40 pm Post

Raddish, my little plump pink one, wrote :

Ye gods, no. I'd rather not subject myself to that, as I'm already feeling wretched about my prose non-skills.


Chéri nobody can be as bad as the fool, and he writes raddish :oops: oops! sorry, rubbish all over the place. go on, gi`s a look :wink:

Le D :twisted:

PS Chéri beware the winged wackoe! :shock: his idea of roll play is `"You show me yours, and I`ll show you mine."
As a professional, you, are your one and only asset. Without integrity you are worthless, but with it, you are priceless.

Ma
Matthew Graybosch
Posts: 79
Joined: Wed Jan 23, 2008 3:29 pm
Location: New York

Sun Feb 17, 2008 4:41 pm Post

Get a copy of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style if you don't already have one. Take advantage of the dictionary app that comes with OS X. And keep writing. Talent is a blade. Everybody gets one, but whether you get a pocketknife or a katana, your blade is always blunt at the beginning. You have to keep writing to sharpen it.
Using Scrivener 1.12 beta on 1st gen MacBook (Lilywhite Lilith)
"Arioch! Arioch! Hookers and blow for my lord Arioch!"

User avatar
alexwein
Posts: 1063
Joined: Wed Jul 12, 2006 4:30 pm
Platform: Mac
Location: Ashland, Oregon, USA
Contact:

Sun Feb 17, 2008 5:28 pm Post

Hello Radish,

I notice, ahem, you are in Portland, Oregon?? WELCOME!!!! (Ha! Just a few more and we'll be able to take over the Scrivener forum, as I've planned all along! :twisted:)

Oh, er, yes, hello. If you do, indeed, live in Portland, Oregon, it is a writer's mecca of sorts. There are so many ways you can develop your prose writing skills. You can join a writer's group, take writing classes, do workshops, go on retreats, definitely read books that really excite YOU, not just one's other people recommend, and notice what excites you about them. Find other writers to talk to about writing. It's all here. If you are interested in workshops and/or classes, I can send you a private email if you like with a few links. I'm certainly not going to have an exhaustive list.

But if you are serious about writing and want to write well, I think you will have to take the plunge and be willing to find a kindly but honest group of other writers and show your stuff to them. It takes courage to be a writer! I was stuck for years because I was terrified of other people seeing my work. Then when I was at Columbia U. (majoring in philosophy) I partook of the creative writing program there and dove in head first. It was an incredible experience. Same thing with my non-fiction project--my dissertation--I got stuck, fearing the defense and other people judging me. I finally took the plunge and had an amazing time of it and learned a lot. AND now have my Ph.D.!!

It's all about learning and growing and writing. Not about protecting yourself.

So, take the plunge, dear Radish! You can do it in a safe way with people who only have an investment in helping you be a better writer.

Just my 2 cents!!

Alexandria
Inspiration is for amateurs...the rest of us just show up.
-Chuck Close
http://alexandriapallas.com

User avatar
Radish
Posts: 51
Joined: Fri Feb 08, 2008 12:05 am
Platform: Mac
Location: Portland, OR

Sun Feb 17, 2008 6:54 pm Post

Wock wrote:A little role play may help.

...

Sit back and think to yourself how would you (the character) see things and how would you act towards things if you were really there. What would you notice and what body language would you use?


Wock, this isn't a problem for me -- I've got a cinema going on in my head 24/7 [bloody distracting, that]. I sit back, watch the characters do their thing, and take copious notes. Body language, habits of interaction, and speech patterns are distinctly character-specific, no matter how I try to coax [or threaten] a character to do or say something other than what he/she insists on doing or saying at any given moment.

Wock wrote:When writing dialogue the first rule is to FORGET all writing rules.


Heh. :) Again, not a problem. Yeah, that probably sounds arrogant, but I say it in all humility -- for most of the dialogue, I'm basically just taking dictation from my characters, who are rarely at a loss for words.

Matthew Graybosch wrote:Get a copy of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style if you don't already have one. Take advantage of the dictionary app that comes with OS X. And keep writing. Talent is a blade. Everybody gets one, but whether you get a pocketknife or a katana, your blade is always blunt at the beginning. You have to keep writing to sharpen it.


Michael, I do have and use a copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style -- I'm a [nearly fanatical] devotee of it! And as a logophile I'm a big believer of dictionaries, being particular fond of Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary.

In all frankness, my worst foible at this time is not the dialogue or characters' [inter]actions or the story structure, but my ability to describe all that -- my prose tends to be very dry, and very trite. It lacks poetry, it lacks the 'music' of the written word. It is, in a single syllable, "meh".

So I gotta figure out how to un-meh my rassa-frassin' prose.
what was that middle part again?

User avatar
Radish
Posts: 51
Joined: Fri Feb 08, 2008 12:05 am
Platform: Mac
Location: Portland, OR

Sun Feb 17, 2008 7:05 pm Post

vic-k wrote:Raddish, my little plump pink one,


*gasp of shock* Oh, the fiend --he peeked!

vic-k wrote:go on, gi`s a look :wink:


Gimme some time to make something presentable --

vic-k wrote:PS Chéri beware the winged wackoe! :shock: his idea of roll play is `"You show me yours, and I`ll show you mine."


Um, yikes.
what was that middle part again?

Ah
Ahab
Posts: 777
Joined: Sun Oct 01, 2006 8:00 pm
Location: Maine

Sun Feb 17, 2008 7:09 pm Post

Radish wrote:
Wock wrote:A little role play may help.

.
In all frankness, my worst foible at this time is not the dialogue or characters' [inter]actions or the story structure, but my ability to describe all that -- my prose tends to be very dry, and very trite. It lacks poetry, it lacks the 'music' of the written word. It is, in a single syllable, "meh".

So I gotta figure out how to un-meh my rassa-frassin' prose.


Read it out loud. Although this isn't the quickest way to detect wooden prose, it's certainly the cheapest and easiest. Your ear readily separates "writing" from "speaking."

User avatar
Radish
Posts: 51
Joined: Fri Feb 08, 2008 12:05 am
Platform: Mac
Location: Portland, OR

Sun Feb 17, 2008 7:48 pm Post

alexwein wrote:I notice, ahem, you are in Portland, Oregon?? WELCOME!!!! (Ha! Just a few more and we'll be able to take over the Scrivener forum, as I've planned all along! :twisted:)


Howdy, Alexandria! (and where do I sign up for this conquest?)

If you are interested in workshops and/or classes, I can send you a private email if you like with a few links. I'm certainly not going to have an exhaustive list.


Ple-eeeeease do! I'm a current member of local writers group, and have been going over MHCC's current catalogue for lit/comp, and there's the weekly pilgrimage to Powell's [just so you know I'm not vegetating].

It takes courage to be a writer!


Heh-heh-heh. Try being a commercial illustrator. If that doesn't grow you a nice, thick, ego-repellant rhino-hide, nothing will. :twisted:

So, take the plunge, dear Radish! You can do it in a safe way with people who only have an investment in helping you be a better writer.

Just my 2 cents!!

Alexandria


Plunging, and dog-paddling. Woof. Wait -- which way to the shore?!
what was that middle part again?

User avatar
Radish
Posts: 51
Joined: Fri Feb 08, 2008 12:05 am
Platform: Mac
Location: Portland, OR

Sun Feb 17, 2008 8:05 pm Post

Ahab wrote:Read it out loud. Although this isn't the quickest way to detect wooden prose, it's certainly the cheapest and easiest. Your ear readily separates "writing" from "speaking."


Agreed, Ahab and that's something I do all the time. But, oh, it has a price:

"Oh-hhh, the poor dear," the onlookers muttered behind their hands while shaking their heads. "There she goes again, talking to herself. And in different voices, yet! Her doctors really ought to get her meds straightened out."

:lol:
what was that middle part again?

St
Studio717
Posts: 376
Joined: Fri Aug 25, 2006 6:27 pm
Location: California

Sun Feb 17, 2008 8:24 pm Post

I'd recommend doing the exercises in Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft. I've mentioned it before in terms of how wonderful the section on Point of View is, but the other sections are also brilliant, imo.

There's also John Gardner's books on writing. They are from the early 80s (as I recall) but in the back of at least one of them was a section of exercise on writing prose that I found excellent. His books can be... um... annoying in their tone sometimes, but the information - especially on prose writing - is invaluable. I'd check your local library and see if they have any of them. That way you can see which one helps you most without having to purchase the lot of them. (It will also let you see if you can stand his attitude.)

Most how-to-write books (or many, at least) focus on the parts of fiction and structuring, but a few can help you get better at writing. You might also want to look at Janet Burroway's Narrative Craft. It's a text book (literally) but it uses examples, often whole short stories, to show how to do things.

When I was first teaching myself craft, I had two copies of an earlier edition - one for reading and one for highlighting. :)

HTH :D

Ma
Matthew Graybosch
Posts: 79
Joined: Wed Jan 23, 2008 3:29 pm
Location: New York

Mon Feb 18, 2008 12:19 am Post

Radish wrote:It lacks poetry, it lacks the 'music' of the written word. It is, in a single syllable, "meh".


I'm in similar straits. Read my work, and you can tell it was written by a metalhead. It's all power chords and thumping bass. :)
Using Scrivener 1.12 beta on 1st gen MacBook (Lilywhite Lilith)

"Arioch! Arioch! Hookers and blow for my lord Arioch!"

User avatar
Radish
Posts: 51
Joined: Fri Feb 08, 2008 12:05 am
Platform: Mac
Location: Portland, OR

Mon Feb 18, 2008 6:43 am Post

Studio717 wrote:I'd recommend doing the exercises in Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft. I've mentioned it before in terms of how wonderful the section on Point of View is, but the other sections are also brilliant, imo.


Ooh! I've got a copy of Steering the Craft -- been a long while since I'd read it, so thanks for reminding me of that one. I'll check with the library for Gardner's and Burroway's stuff.
what was that middle part again?