Tag Archives: writing style

Two Heads are Better Than One: It’s Not Just a Sesame Street Song!

I can’t stand it when writers get too descriptive. It’s not that I don’t understand the value of description. It’s not that I don’t see the skill that a beautiful and clear description requires. After a certain point, I just stop caring. It’s nothing but a big yawn for me.

julie campbell writer - writing descriptionYes, description is needed to tell the story. If I begin a story that dives right into a conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Character with absolutely no insight into who they are, how they look, and where they are, then I have lost an opportunity to give you, Reader, the chance to imagine the story in the way that I do.

After all, if I don’t tell you that Mr. and Mrs. Character are having their conversation on the deck of a sailing ship, then you might be imagining them in their kitchen, sitting on the porch, or on a picnic blanket at the park. Even if I do tell you that they’re on the deck of a ship, I need to tell you that they’re on a sailing ship or you might think that they are on a massive cruise liner.  For that matter, are Mr. and Mrs Character merely passengers, or is Mrs. Character actually a pirate queen who terrorizes the nine seas (it’s my world, it can have nine seas)?

However, if I spend the first thirty pages of the book describing the precise wood used to construct the deck of the ship, the type of sealant that was applied to protect it against the salt in the seawater, the name of the family that developed said sealant, the back story on how they came into the sealant-development business, the precise shade of brown that is achieved after the application of the sealant, the number of knots per plank and the difference the sealant makes in the clockwise swirling pattern of the knots in the surface of the deck, and so on, then I’m pretty sure that I’ll have lost your attention halfway through the first paragraph. I know that my mind would certainly have wandered by then (possibly to a story from a book that wasn’t as overly descriptive).

At the same time, though, I love to write description. I adore describing a scene. Since, I can see everything very clearly in my head, I want to share that image with everyone who is experiencing the story that I am telling in the Book. But where do I draw the line? It is in this area that I find myself relying very heavily on Amanda’s opinions. I haven’t come to the point that I have had the guts to ask for it (although, being a very smart person, she may see the subtle hint in this post), I think it’s coming close to the time in which I am going to need some extra help in the editing process to know when it’s time to just shut up.

I am confident that I can do my part in giving the book some polish, but this was a team writing effort and I know that it will be a team editing effort, too. We can only work on it independently for so long and then it’s time to get out the boxing gloves.  I only hope that I will be able to take the criticisms of the length of certain descriptions with dignity and not break down into a ball of tears on the floor. If the next post sounds a little bit cranky-pants, then you’ll know that things are off to a rocky start and that I’m clinging to that thirty-page ship-deck description. Wish me luck!

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Is That Your Lunch on Saturn’s Moon?

As I was reading the news this week, I came across an article in the “Science” section of Google News that was entitled TUPPERWARE FOUND ON MOON of Saturn. Naturally, I clicked. Thoughts were whipping through my mind. Holy cow! I wonder if that’s what happened to my lunch when it went missing when I was in seventh grade! I thought I’d accidentally left it on the bus. All this time, it’s been floating in space and has landed on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons!

Julie Campbell writer - honest titleIt took me all of three seconds to discover that I’d been duped. Of course I was! There is no Tupperware on the surface of Titan. The story being reported was actually describing the discovery made by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. It detected traces of a substance called propylene in the atmosphere of the moon. Propylene is used to make a number of different types of plastic products, including Tupperware. Was I impressed? Not really. In fact, I was ticked.  I felt as though the author of the article had personally sought me out to lie to me.  That certainly wasn’t the case, but that was how it made me feel (I know I can be honest with you, Reader.  You understand).

I’m not the kind of person who can’t laugh at herself. I make a lot of mistakes on a daily basis, and I can get a good chuckle out of the foolishness of many of them. But I’m not a fan of being tricked by the media. I love a clever title. I also know the value of an amazing title that will encourage people to click through – which that one clearly did. However, there is something to be said about making sure that the title is actually accurate so that the visitors to the site don’t find themselves simply put off by what they find.

Upon further research into the topic of the NASA findings, I found many article titles that said that propylene had been found on Saturn’s moon.  Not really exciting enough to move me to click the mouse.  But there was another one similar to the title that had tricked me, which read Propylene (the chemical Tupperware is made of) found on Titan. Ignoring the misuse of the preposition, that title was much more relevant to the topic and still encouraged me to click to read more. The difference was that when I arrived at the second article, I wasn’t instantly frustrated with the author.

This is a struggle that readers and writers continually face. Although it is a sizable achievement to write a great article is filled with well written, interesting information, without a flashy title, the odds are that people won’t take notice. Without taking notice, no one will ever read it and know how amazing it is. But there has to be a line between a title that will draw readers and a title that is simply a lie.  Where is it?

When it comes to my own work – including the Book – I don’t feel that I need to sink as low as to trick my readers into reading my work. Indeed, this means that coming up with a title that will truly grab the reader is quite a challenge, but it is a worthwhile challenge. I would rather have my readers know that I respect them than to have them think that I’d do anything to try to trick as many people into reading what I have to say. That’s why this post was not entitled “If You Read This Blog, I Promise to Send You $1 Million”. It’s just not true. It may have caught your attention and you may have clicked to give it a try, but you would have been disappointed.  I have respect for you, Reader, so disappointing you is never my goal.

To write a work that other people will read comes with a certain obligation not to deliberately mislead just to build a webpage’s visitor count. To quote Amanda, in her last post Even Superheroes Need Limits, “with great power comes great responsibility” (which she was quoting from the Stan Lee Spider-Man movie…which was quoting Voltaire…who may have been quoting someone else, but I didn’t Google it that far).

Writing online with the intention of having other people read your work comes with the responsibility of respecting the reader enough to tell the truth as you see it. Deception should be left to the world of fiction, where the reader can be led down one path so that he or she can be surprised when the truth is revealed. The news, on the other hand, is best kept in the world of reality. After all, reality is warped enough to keep us all interested and reading for the rest of our lives – no imagination or lies required!

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A Work in Progress

Although I have been posting every weekday and I am still greatly enjoying it, I don’t always have a story to tell about my progress.

Julie Campbell writer - work in progressWith that in mind, and with the help of the feedback that I received through the polls that I ran last Friday (Thank you for your help!  You can still participate. Just click here to find the right post), I have decided that it’s not entirely necessarily to post every weekday just for the sake of posting (because it’s fun).

I’m going to slow things down a little bit and try to post three days per week – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That will help me to make sure that I’m always writing something of value, that I always have something interesting to say, and that I’m not driving you crazy with my wordy babble!

I think that this blog, like the Book, is a work in progress. I’m starting to get to know when you, Reader, are most likely to want to read, and I’m beginning to figure out what topics are most appealing to you.

Of course, writing a blog post, like writing a book, isn’t something that has a certain specific structure for success. That’s why there are some great books out there, and there are some books that never should have been – there is no single format for making them great. But still, blogging, like book writing, isn’t just a matter of what the writer wants.

When I write, I write for me. It’s a very selfish thing for me to do and I love it. But at the same time, if I ever want people to read what I have to say, then there will need to be a little bit of give. When it comes to the Book, Amanda and I plan to write our story the way we love it and the way it makes sense to us. There really won’t be a way to know what the reader thinks until it’s already completed and published.

But when it comes to this blog, we’re working together. Reader, through your comments, private messages, and posts on social media (as well as your participation in the polls last week. Thanks again!), we’re getting to know one another and we’re working together to make this a great experience.

Yes, I’m still writing this for me, but it’s great to write it for you, too, and I’m slowly (but surely) figuring this out.

Thank you for your patience over the next little while as I discover what else you’d prefer me to write about and at what hour you’d like to see the posts appear. Please feel free to disagree with the choices that I make and drop me a line in the comments below the posts to let me know what you’d like to see from the posts or what you’d prefer not to see anymore.

Off I go for now. See you on Friday!

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How’s My Driving…Er…Posting?

Three whole weeks!  How time has flown.

Julie Campbell writer surveyI know that my co-author, Amanda, and I are both enjoying sharing our thoughts with you as we struggle through the battles and celebrate the victories of turning our Book’s rough draft into something worth publishing (and turning us into bajillionaires), but I’m also wondering what you think of the experience.

Fortunately, I just found out how to use the “add poll” feature on this blog.  What does that mean?  We just got interactive!

Please let us know what you think about the experience so far.  If you have additional thoughts that aren’t covered by the little survey, below, please add them to the “Comments” for this post.

That was fun, wasn’t it?  Alright, you twisted my arm, here’s another one:

Addictive, aren’t they?  Okay, one more, since you insisted:

Thanks so much for reading, following, sharing, and overall sticking around.  More blog posts are on their way from both me and Amanda.

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Learning About Myself Through Editing

I’ve experienced a number of insights as I’ve been going over the Book that I have neglected for three years. Technically speaking, the story I’m now tackling is more than a decade old. It’s been edited, poked, and prodded, but it’s old work.

Julie Campbell writer self learningAs I read over what is there, I’m discovering a lot about myself. My thought patterns for telling a story aren’t exactly the same. I do love what I have, and the story is still very strong, but the way that I was expressing it had a “deliberate” feel. By reading it, I could see exactly what I was trying to accomplish – not a great experience from the reader’s perspective.

I can spot the words that I selected through the use of a thesaurus instead of choosing something out of my own vocabulary. I can identify all of the “set ups” that I chose to lead a reader in a certain direction. Those are only powerful elements in a story when they are seamless, not when they stand out.

What I’m discovering is that what I wrote ten years ago and picked at for a while was a story. Now, it’s time to make it into a book. I may not have been able to do it then, but I feel confident that I can do it now.

There is something to be said about spending a tremendous amount of time on a written project. In school, I was always told not to write a paper at the last minute because one of the most important steps was to be able to sleep after having completed a piece, and then edit it after having had some time to forget about it for a while. Like most students, I finished most of my papers at 3am or 4am on the day that it was due, but it doesn’t mean that I have forgotten the lesson.

As I read over the Book, I can now see the true value that my teachers were trying to express. Certainly, ten years is a bit on the long side, but it has given me time to learn, grow, practice, and improve, so that I can view my work with a fresh (albeit moderately crazy) mind.

It has been frustrating me that I hadn’t gone back to the Book earlier so that I could have had it published, sooner. But now that I am actually working on it, I can genuinely say that I’m glad that I waited until this point. I’m feeling much more confident about it, and I know that I have the skill to be able to lift my words from being a decent story to being a very good book.

We’ve all read stories that were exceptionally enjoyable but that were poorly told. That is just what the story I am writing used to be. Soon enough, it will be an enjoyable story, but it will be told in a book that is worth reading. I can’t wait to see how that looks.

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Who am I? (No, Not 24601)

While re-reading and editing the Book, I have come to a discovery that I have found to be rather amusing. As was the case when I was writing these pieces for the first time, I am – once again – allowing myself to become lost in the characters that make up their fictional world.

Julie Campbell author character developmentI’ve always considered this ability to be a very positive one, as it helps me to remain truer to who the characters are, and better gauge what they would think about various circumstances and how they would react to the situations that they must face.  It’s like a form of “method acting” as a writer. It is important, because it stops me from forcing my own personal reactions onto the character.

This practice, as useful as it may be, also appears to have quite an unexpected side. I have found it rather entertaining to note that when I’ve been disturbed from writing a cute character or a kind one, my reaction to the interruption is often similar to the one that the character would have, while in his or her “current” mental state (in the place that I am editing in the “Book”). What isn’t quite as fun are the times in which I am writing and editing someone unpleasant or downright villainous. Those reactions to the distraction aren’t quite as warm – to say the least.

It has made me think back to the early days of the Book, over a decade ago, when Amanda and I were originally talking on the phone and writing the first pages together. I can quite distinctly remember snapping at my sister on more than one occasion, just because she came to my bedroom door to tell me that dinner was ready or to ask me if I’d like anything.  It wasn’t her fault, but she interrupted the wrong character!

The influence that writing characters can have on one’s own behaviours is quite a shocking one, if you’re anything like me. While it is an experience that I thoroughly enjoy, it makes me think about the nature of a real individual’s personality. As much as we may form strong characters for ourselves throughout our lives, it really doesn’t take much to change our reactions and behaviours to ones that are completely outside of what we believe our nature to be.

For me, simply imagining what it is like to be someone else is enough for me to temporarily behave as they would. Naturally, it isn’t a lasting impact, and I don’t suffer from a multiple personality disorder (nor do I).  At the same time, even though this change in myself is one that continues for only a split second, it is still quite notable that who I am can be that fragile under the right circumstances.

I’m not exactly sure what to make all of this, quite yet, but it is something that I will be mulling over for a while. After all, this may be an important thing to understand when it comes to making certain that my characters in the Book are reacting in a genuine and realistic way. A person’s actions aren’t always a matter of doing what a list of character traits prescribes. Sometimes, they can surprise you.

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The Karenina Effect

Earlier this year, a heartbreaking event had one of those astounding “everything happens for a reason” impacts on me. The situation was awful, but at the same time, it managed to reconnect me with a friend with whom I had lost contact. It had been about 15 years since I’d spoken with her, and then suddenly we became better friends than we ever were, “back in the day”.

Julie Campbell - Karenina EffectAt some point during our regular, mile-long (or kilometre-long, for those of us who use metric) emails, my old-new friend mentioned that she had downloaded an e-copy of “Anna Karenina” and that she was starting to read it. I had always had an irrational fear of that book, after having heard it mentioned incessantly by the characters in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, which I read when I was in high school. I had assumed that it was a story that would be far too complex for me to understand.

After some encouragement, I downloaded my own copy. Alright, in truth, I downloaded several copies. As much as it may be free and easy to find because it is public domain, there are an awful lot of bad translations out there!

As I first started reading it, I was surprised to see that my friend was right about “Anna Karenina”. It is far more accessible than I had expected it to be. However, as it turns out, accessibility isn’t everything.

When I read for enjoyment, I read to wind down at the end of the day, immediately before I go to sleep at night. It’s the only time I have. Unfortunately, a barely-conscious state is not at all compatible with this story. Tolstoy did love his descriptions and slow-moving dialogue, but my ability to remain awake does not. While I’m certain that the description and dialog create a foundation upon which a glorious story is finally built, I haven’t been able to make it past the first quarter of the book, to see it for myself.

The book has what I am now calling “The Karenina Effect”. Despite the fact that there may be a story buried within it that approaches genius, I will likely never know about it because it has a similar impact on me to a large mug of chamomile tea and the sound of steady rain. Zzzzzz….

Could Tolstoy have known that he was creating the ideal non-prescription Ambien alternative for someone like me? But more importantly (at least, to me it’s more important, and this is my blog post, so there!), will I know it if my own descriptions will have a similar impact on you, Reader, once I finish editing the Book?

A book is a very personal thing. The Book that I’m writing with Amanda is easily one of my favourite parts of my life. I think it’s good. Very good. And I’m working hard to make it better. At the same time, when the day comes for it to be published, is there any way to know for certain that it won’t need a complementary energy drink coupon sold along with it?

Reader, if my blog posts are your best method for combating insomnia, you’d tell me, right?

Note – WordPress has just informed me that as I am using this platform for free, they will occasionally place an add below the posts on this blog.  I just wanted to take this opportunity to say that those are added automatically by WordPress and that none of the ads were selected by either Amanda or myself and neither of us endorse any of the products or services being advertised. 

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