Is Co-authorship Worth It?

The Sarcastic Muse

Perhaps this is a naïve blog post, but I’m curious to know how both readers and writers approach multi-authored novels. A co-authored novel is, as the name suggests, a novel with two authors (multi-authored would thus be greater than two). I’ve seen them in just about every genre. I’ve read a couple, too. They were generally laid-back, rather simple stories to begin with, but I’m not sure if that was due to co-authorship, genre, or just overall mediocre writing. I suppose there are two sides to this coin: from the writing perspective and from the reading perspective, so I’d like to delve into that here.

Writing a Collaborative Novel:

Coauthorship Image: Morguefile

It seems I really have more questions than answers when it comes to co-authorship. I’m a soloist for just about everything in life, so when I start considering the prospect of a collaborative writing project, I tend to…

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How to Write Poetic Prose: The Sound of Words

shadows

Image: Morguefile

This is an exercise to show you how even prose writers can use sound as a tool in their prose. The repetition of sound patterns is something that many writers do naturally, but I’ve heard some say that the ‘poetic’ style just isn’t their thing or that they can’t do it, etc, etc. And though I know prose writers often opt for simplicity rather than flowery, harder-to-understand prose, there are still things you can do, even as a genre writer, to increase the efficacy of your words.

NOTE: This is what I study academically, but I’ll try to keep the linguistic terminology out of it as much as possible, as that’s not what’s important. A “natural ear” for this kind of thing is probably what a lot of people call “talent”. We’ve all met them: those writers who effortlessly write beautiful, flowing, rhythmic prose. They are most likely employing these techniques subconsciously. It’s not something I can teach, per se. I’m not even sure I know how to do it myself. I can only show you how to be aware of it so that you might see your own work differently.

For this exercise, I’m using an excerpt from the first draft of my incomplete, unedited fantasy novel. I am posting the entire paragraph so that you can have some bearing as to what’s going on in the piece, but I decided, for the sake of time and space, that I’ll only focus on one line.

She dreamed of fire. Not just of the fire as it sang over burning snow, but of the souls who danced among the embers in its wake. They glistened like ice and rubies, their celestial bodies alight but not charring, cloaked with flames that stained the shadows red. They circled her where she lay—nestled in a cushion of cold and unable to move—and hummed their timeless elegy: Let us burn. Let us burn. All that burns will return.

I’ll analyze this line: “They glistened like ice and rubies, their celestial bodies alight but not charring, cloaked with flames that stained the shadows red.”

The beauty of any writing usually relies on the way it uses poetic devices. When we consider prose from the viewpoint of phonetics, this beauty is enhanced via well-timed, alternating patterns of both similar and differing sounds. In other words, though I repeat similar phonemic patterns (sound or letter combinations), the key is to know when to deviate from and alternate the repetitions by playing on their differences, thus acquiring the basis of their rhythm.

So let’s take the first part of the sentence:

They glistened like ice and rubies, their celestial bodies alight but not charring . . .

The most notable vowel is the strong /i/ in “like” and “ice” and “alight” and the way it combines with the /s/ sibilant consonant (the /c/ is also pronounced as a sibilant, so it counts). I alternate the pattern by arranging the /s/ so that it’s placed, at times, before the long /i/ vowel and sometimes after.

The word ‘rubies’ is important. From the semantic standpoint, it conveys color, which thus employs one of our senses (sight). The sound of the words theoretically adds another layer to our sensory perceptions as well as to our understanding of a word’s meaning. “Rubies” chimes with “bodies” via the /ies/ rhyme as well as the voiced stop consonants /b/ and /d/, and both are two syllables in lengths, which perhaps subconsciously binds them together semantically. Also, the word “rubies” at the beginning of the sentence alliterates with the /r/ phoneme in “red” that appears in the final clause. Both represent a similar color and belong, more or less, to the same semantic field.

celestial bodies alight but not charring

The repetition of /l/ and /t/ here softens the sentence. By softening the sounds, I soften the existence of the thing I’m portraying. They are supposed to be ghost-like, celestial, transparent, spirits (take your pick of words), and the sounds arguably reflect that (this debated concept is call sound symbolism). If we consider the /s/ and /al/ sound combination, then we can see that I’ve placed it in such a way that it comes at the end of the first word and then repeats at the beginning of the last word, thus acting in liaison with the /s/ in “bodies”: celestial bodies alight. This is what creates my rhythm. I repeat the sound pattern after breaking it up with the short /o/ vowel in “bodies.” The short /o/ keeps the sound soft in the sentence and merges well with the schwa-like /a/ in “alight” when it combines with the dental consonant /l/ (dental just refers to the placement of our tongue, which in this case is against the back of our teeth). This repetition of soft sound combinations don’t sharpen until the hard /i/ in “alight,” which is a necessary deviation from the softer rhythm in order to maintain the flow of the sentence. If I were to constantly repeat the same soft sibilants and dental consonants, the line would lose both its tempo and the attention of my reader.

Now look at the final clause: cloaked with flames that stained the shadows red.

Here I have shifted the patterning again, this time with two specific internal rhymes. You’ll notice that I start the clause with the long /o/ in “cloaked,” then I switch to the long /a/ in “flames.” Instead of repeating that part in the same pattern, I perform a chiasmus (a reversal of the pattern) by inverting the sounds. I repeat the long /a/ in “stained” and then I return to the long /o/ in “shadows.”

The pattern is thus: /o/ /a/ <–> /a/ /o/

Then, as previously mentioned, with the /r/ in “red,” I link the entire clause to the first one by making it alliterate with one of the first words in the overall sentence: “rubies.”

They glistened like ice and rubies, their celestial bodies alight but not charring, cloaked with flames that stained the shadows red.

Another interesting facet of that line is in the consonants. If the chiasmus pattern helps maintain the rhythm with vowels, then the rhythm of the consonants is upheld via the use of consonance (successive repetition of the same consonant within a word) and alliteration (repetition of consonants at the beginning of the stressed syllable or at the beginning of a word).

cloaked with flames that stained the shadows red.

As you can see: the strong final /d/ or /t/ (both are dental consonants) at the end of several words creates a certain prosody, the placement of the nasal /m/ or /n/ after the hard /a/ vowel sound illustrates another form of internal rhyme, and the repeated /s/ sibilant is an important link, not to just this small portion of the sentence, but to the entire sentence as a whole. Also, the hard /cl/ followed by a softer /fl/ combination and the /th/ in “that” and “the” and “with” work as important alternations to the hard/soft combinations, thus further connecting the words.

So, if we were to quickly highlight the possible sound patterns and connections of the entire sentence, the coloration would look something like this (I’m not even sure I have enough colors):

They glistened like ice and rubies, their celestial bodies alight but not charring, cloaked with flames that stained the shadows red.

There are, of course, more patterns, but I wanted to offer a basic analysis so that perhaps it could interest you in your own work. These are not things you should pay attention to while you’re drafting, not unless you want a giant headache, but they are things you can keep in mind if you’re debating one word over another, or if something sounds “off.” Say your sentences out loud, think of how you pronounce things and the way certain sounds are able to work in cohesion. All of this can form a stronger, more poetic, and more captivating narrative.

Have you tried this before? Do you see patterns in your own writing? How do you hear the words you write? I’d love to hear how you guys approach this topic (and if this was helpful at all)!

What is Strength in a Female Character?

Image: Morguefile

This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a while now. It’s difficult to find the words for this topic in a way that doesn’t necessarily push everyone’s buttons. But I do find it an interesting thing to consider.

What do you think makes a strong female character? And why do we have to define strength according to gender?

Please read my post over at The Sarcastic Muse and let me know what you think!

What is Strength in a Female Character?

Do You Have Multiple Writing Projects?

The Sarcastic Muse

Recently there seems to be some kind of editing virus going around. I’ve read a lot of blog posts, tweets, and general comments about writers who are currently having trouble moving forward with their edits. Apparently it’s contagious, so  beware!

On a more serious note…

There’s a lot of advice out there about what to do when you’re stuck on one phase of the writing process. Editing, as was the above example, or writing the first draft (my eternal illness). As I do with most advice, I read it, consider it, and still do my own thing. That’s INTJ, for you. (Unless it’s some damn good advice.) But I am curious to know how others push past that “stuck” stage. More specifically, I want to know: How many of you guys work on more than one novel at a time? And if you do, why do you feel it is…

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Writing Process Blog Tour

I was supposed to have this posted on Monday, but life got in the way as life is wont to do, so I’m a bit behind with all things internet.

D.Emery Bunn kindly nominated me for the writing process blog tour. If you’re the sort of writer who likes in-depth analysis of certain writing or editing aspects, then his blog has a wealth of information. He typically posts quality advice about the writing process itself — how to approach scenes, how to edit one’s own work, how to world-build (to name a few general topics). You can find him here: www.demerybunn.com.

The writing process itself is an interesting subject since it so widely differs from person to person. I’m convinced that no two writers write the same way. If you’re curious about how my process works, then here it goes:

What am I working on at the moment?
That depends on the day. Overall, I’m working on one novel that I’d classify as ‘literary’ speculative fiction, though that term is largely debatable, and another novel that is probably a run-of-the-mill fantasy. There’s a sci-fi novel in the works, too, but I hesitate to say that I’m really working on it. I’m also writing a collection of poems and putting my abused, over-edited short story back together again.

How does my work differ from other of its genre?
I’m not sure it does. It’s probably not for me to say. This begs the question: “What is genre?” My speculative fiction novel could be classified as sci-fi since the story takes place on Mars. But the story itself is character-centered and setting-specific. The plot is mostly mental. It lacks a lot (most) of the expected action of mainstream sci-fi/fantasy, so perhaps it differs in that regard.

In general, most of my work is character-focused rather than plot-driven. My characters must overcome the everyday issues we face as humans in a setting that we don’t see every day. I write what I want to read, after all. Nothing is more powerful or moving than the internal journeys of well-developed characters.

Why do I write what I do?
I opt for settings or worlds that are not necessarily our world because they offer the most freedom for exploration. I often feel restricted by the modern, physical Earth as I know it, so this is my way of asking, “What if?” Since I’m a future-focused person in general (I’m always looking forward),  sci-fi works well for my creativity. When I get to create a fantasy world, the options seem limitless. I like the challenge of writing something into existence that exists no where but in my head.

How does my writing process work?
I’m not sure it does work. I have trouble finishing things. In general though, I feel the spark of an idea forming and start writing parts of it down (usually in the margins of class notebooks during lectures). I usually have one scene with the main character clearly formed in my head, so I start asking Wh-questions: Who? What? When? Why? It’s important for me to know the characters as soon as possible, so I flesh them out as best as I can before I start observing their environment. Sometimes I need to know their names before I’ll even consider the plot.

When I’ve figured out the backbone of the story, I’ll start writing it. Just to get a feel for how the characters interact with the environment and with one another. I rarely, if ever, outline, but I do typically know where the story is going (at least a general direction). I have “milestone scenes” that I know I need to reach. The why and the how of getting to those scenes, however, is always a surprise.

Most of my story planning, overall writing process, and characterizations transpire in my head. I spend a lot of time searching for the right feel of the story. I write by sound. When I’m in flow, the sound of the words in my head is like a pulse or a beat of music. When I hit a wrong ‘note’ (word), it sounds off-key, and I’ll actually edit and change it until I get the rhythm back. I hear and feel the words more than I read or see them. If that makes sense. This a huge part of my process and probably the most important aspect for me as a writer.

 -:-

Per the terms of the tour, I’m supposed to nominate three other writers. But the writers I would have normally nominated have already participated, and I don’t actually know (personally) a lot of fiction writers; therefore,  I’m breaking the rules. Next week you can expect a post from the wise Robyn LaRue. She has spent a lot of time studying the writing process — her own and the processes of others — so here’s a little bit more about her:

BlogTimg

Though her primary passions are writing and mentoring writers, Robyn LaRue is also a quilter, potter, glass fusionist, amateur house designer, wife, mother, grandmother, and simple-living advocate.  She writes fiction and non-fiction with the help of coffee, chocolate, and toast. Her characters are often on the cusp of life changes and live in literary, YA, and women’s fiction novels. She is currently preparing to publish her debut novel, Shadows Wake. She can be found at her website www.robynlarue.com or on twitter @thewritinghabit.

A Bit of Grammar: Passive and Active Voice

The Sarcastic Muse

A couple months ago, I did a post on the verbal categories of tense and aspect. Now I’d like to continue on with this series and take a look at another verbal category: passive and active voice. Many writers understand very well what the passive and active voice is, but as I mentioned in my previous grammar post, it can be confused with the progressive and perfect aspects. Seeing as I can’t do anything halfway, this is a post for those who’d like to acquire a deeper understanding of how  passive and active sentences are actually formed. In doing so, this may help you understand how you’re using your sentences in your own writing.

So what is passive voice and what is active voice?

In short, a passive sentence is a sentence whose subject is not the one doing the action. To break this down further, we can first consider…

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