Saturday, June 28, 2014

Adjectives and Adverbs - Use Them Sparingly

"Adjectives and adverbs are rich and good and fattening.  The main thing is not to overindulge...Some adjectives and adverbs have become meaningless through literary overuse.  'Great' seldom carries the weight it ought to carry.  'Suddenly' seldom means anything at all; it's a mere transition device--'He was walking down the street.  Suddenly he saw her.'  'Somehow' is a weasel word; it means the author didn't want to bother thinking out the story--'Somehow she just knew...' 'Somehow they made it to the asteroid...' When I teach science fiction and fantasy writing I ban the word.  Nothing can happen 'somehow.'

Ornate adjectives are out of fashion.  Nobody much is likely to say that anything is sesquipedalian, these days. But some conscious prose stylists use adjectives as poets do; the adjective's relation to the noun is unexpected, far-fetched, forcing the reader to stop and make the connection. This mannerism can be effective, but in narration it's risky. Do you want to stop the flow? Is it worth it?

I would recommend to all storytellers a watchful attitude and a thoughtful, careful choice of adjective and adverbs, because the bakery shop of English is rich beyond belief, and narrative prose, particularly if it's going a long distance, needs more muscle than fat."

        -Steering the Craft, Ursula K. Le Guin, pp. 61-62

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Theodore Roethke on Craft

Theodore Roethke. Manic-depressive, hard-drinking male-chauvinist-pig. Extraordinary, nurturing teacher and legendary poet. In class he tread lightly on some students' strange work, in case this evidenced a hallmark of an emerging style.

We love to call him our Northwest poet, but he was imported from University of Michigan to the University of Washington. At the infamous Blue Moon in the University District where he hung out, there is a picture of him on the wall. The adjoining alley is named after him.

Here are some of his quotes taken from the book, On Poetry & Craft:
  • Literalness is the devil's weapon.
  • Art is our defense against hysteria and death.
  • There are only two passions in art; there are only love and hate--with endless modifications.
  • God is one of the biggest bores in English poetry.
  • The sneer is easy to master and usually the mark of the adolescent.
  • Break in on the reader sideways. Think with the wise, talk like the common man: Give noun a full swat, But adjective, not.
  • The idea of poetry itself is a vast metaphor.
  • Simple and profound; how little there is.
  • Too eager to say what a lot of people will want to hear.
  • I long to be a greater failure in life so I can write better books.
  • Today I'm going to lecture on confusion.  I'm all for it.
  • This course is an act of faith. In what? In the imagination of us all, in a creative capacity--that most sacred thing--that lies dormant, never dead, in everyone.
  • Transcend that vision.  What is first or early is easy to believe. But...it may enchain you.
  • I dream of a culture where it is thought a crime to be dull.
  • Never be ashamed of the strange.
  • There are those who can hold forth, but me, I have to holler.
  • He was a man with little capacity for any kind of thinking: therefore he was made an administrator.
  • Teaching goes on in spite of administrators.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mr. Muse Lives in the Basement

There is a muse, but he's not going to come fluttering down in your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground. He's a basement guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live  in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you.  Do you think this is fair? I think it's fair.  He might not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist (what I get out of mine is mostly surly grunts, unless he's on duty), but he's got the inspiration.  It's right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There's stuff in there that can change your life.

--Stephen King, On Writing, page 144.

As far as how-to books are concerned, there are many out there.  I like to couple Stephen King's memoir with Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones.  They couldn't be more different.  Yet, they both are right on, as far as writing goes.  My students find them both equally helpful.

Best Submission Rejection Ever

"Catherine, at this time, we don't handle projects with swearing in them."