Writing Tip: Can’t Get a Character to Talk? Get a Thesis

So I have been . . . absent. Sort of. By absent, I mostly mean that I have not been posting much on this blog. If you follow the Sarcastic Muse, then you probably catch me over there once a week or so. (I attempt to write coherent posts about editing and such. Conclusive evidence that any of it is useful cannot be provided.)

But I’ve got to get back on board with this writing gig, so I’m here to dazzle you all with my tales of interesting . . . okay, no, interesting probably isn’t the right word.

To be fair, I have been writing lately. I have been writing a lot, a lot, a lot.

About Estonian poetry.


Shh . . .  Don't tell her I'm here. Image: (c) Michelle Mueller

Shh . . . Don’t tell her I’m here.
(This is not the character in question.)
Image: (c) Michelle Mueller

Somewhere in the midst of my research, I finally started reading a book I’ve been deliberately not reading for two years. Mostly because I had it only in Estonian, and let’s just say this is not the kind of topic you want to read in a foreign language unless you have an affinity for headaches and a desire to kill things. Needless to say, I realized that perhaps the author — in all his talk of signs and signifiers and structure of the text (see Juri Lotman for more details) — was on to something. Something that I could actually use for my novel. (Thesis? What thesis?)

And the novel I’d had percolating in my head for a year and a half came tumbling forward at full speed, as if it had been parked in a garage somewhere in the back of my brain and had suddenly been hit with dynamite. Yes, almost two years ago, I started a (rather bad) novel about . . . stuff. It was sort of a fantasy, sort of a sci-fi novel. Actually, the fact that I can’t tell you exactly what it was about should raise a red flag. That’s why I stuffed it in the mental garage in the first place.

But it had a character I liked loved got along with. One that I wanted to give the right story. She just didn’t seem to know what her story was yet. Which was fine. I’m patient understanding capable of attempting to accommodate characters. I had other projects, anyway.

Well . . . characters are vindictive. We all know that. I shouldn’t really be surprised by what my own are capable of given that they are born from the strange, spinning dark hole I call my mind. But this one? She’d been quiet for a year and a half. The second my thesis had a definitive deadline with an end in sight, I couldn’t get her to stop talking. She’s still talking. (Note: she can’t even talk — she’s mute.)

(That doesn’t stop her.)

(Seriously, I have been having strange dreams lately.)

She’s been so loud for the past week that I had to actually stop writing the thesis to appease her.

(Yes, yes, I’m back to working on the thesis now.)

So there you have it. I have answered the problems of writers everywhere. Having trouble writing your novel? Don’t know where it’s going? Characters not talking?

Step One: Start writing a thesis.
Step Two: Procrastinate.
Step Three: Get serious about completing it. Try to stay on task.
Step Four: Problem solved. (You’ll just have different ones.)

Have any instances you can share when the characters kept interfering with your everyday life?


Phonetic Punctuation: How Do You Hear Punctuation Marks in Your Writing?

The Sarcastic Muse

I once wrote a post suggesting that writers should think of their writing as music, but what happens when someone takes this seriously? What would happen if we actually sounded out punctuation marks when we spoke, for instance? Well . . . we would then be using what Victor Borge aptly calls phonetic punctuation. Though he approaches the idea with humor, it’s worth noting that, in addition to being a comedian, Mr. Borge was also a conductor and a pianist. It’s probably fair to say that he understood punctuation in ways many writers do not.

Punctuation is a tricky thing. All those marks decorating the page, silent and unavoidable in our writing. Yet, those marks — which have no actual phonetic transcription, no sound (minus Victor Borge’s interpretation) — are the rhythmic backbones of words. How is that?

When you use punctuation in your stories, you are transcribing…

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Writing Fluid Fiction: When Should I Spell Out Numbers?

The Sarcastic Muse

Writing Fluid Fiction: When Should I Spell Out Numbers?Do you ever get to a number in your manuscript, pause, and then wonder: what should I do with it? Should I spell it out? Should I leave it in numerical form? Well, the good news is that there are no “official” rules. At best, there are a bunch of guidelines, and most of the time, it will be up to the editorial practices of the publishing house or up to you to make the final decision. But the bad news is that because there are no official rules, the various requirements and advice can be confusing. So I’m here today to give you a general idea of what to do with those pesky numerical decisions.

What’s the general rule for numbers?

As an editor, I am more or less in agreement with The Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS), which suggests “for nontechnical contexts” (aka: fiction) that you spell out…

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Writing Fluid Fiction: How To Use Ellipses

The Sarcastic Muse

Writing Fluid Fiction: How To Use EllipsesHave you ever wondered when it’s appropriate to use those three little dots in your prose? When used correctly, ellipses, as with most literary devices, can help with story progression and character development. But their efficacy will largely depend on how and where you place them in your story.

What do ellipses do?

Well, they have two primary functions:

1.) As a stylistic element, they allow the reader to infer meaning from the prose: whether formal speech patterns (pauses), the act of trailing off, or a switch in subject matter.

2.) They show that text has been omitted—mostly as a means of brevity.

In fiction, ellipses are most often found in speech or thought. Fictional dialogue is meant to feel real, but in reality, it would be impossible to mimic everyday speech without including a bunch of superfluous speech patterns: mis-starts, filler words, and repetitions. In normal speech, we ignore…

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Line Editing: Is It Really Necessary for my Novel?

The Sarcastic Muse

Line Editing: Is It Really Necessary for my Novel? A good line editor can see prose in a pumpkin patch.

Today is Halloween. Tread carefully around our website. Amanda (our resident horror writer) will release the monsters from her lair tonight. Beware. And watch your children closely when they’re out searching for treats. You never know what they’ll find in the shadows — or what shadows will find them.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time today (or this month). But I figured I’d give Amanda some love. Last night, she and I did a little work with her flash fiction piece. (Read it HERE.) Sadly, I had to leave after the first paragraph and a half, but I think she did a fine job without me anyway.

But what were we doing? It’s only a few hundred words, right? It shouldn’t take that long. No reason to stay up until 4 a.m. 5 a.m. Well…

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Looking for Great Free (Sci-fi and Fantasy) Fiction? Check Out These Online Magazines

The Sarcastic Muse

Looking for Great Free (Sci-fi and Fantasy) Fiction? Check Out These Online MagazinesDo you like reading free stories? A lot of people, surprisingly, don’t know that many online magazines and journals provide free access to their content. And that’s why I’m here today. I’m about to open up a world of free story nuggets — and you will never be short on reading again.

Since I’m a predominantly literary and speculative fiction writer, that’s what I tend to read. Literary journals typically require a subscription, but many will showcase one or two pieces from their latest or past issues. They are worth reading, especially if you’re thinking about sending a piece of your own.

Speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, and horror) magazines tend to have more content available for public consumption. Below I’ve taken the time to amass a list of a few of my favorite magazines that offer free and easily accessible fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Speculative fiction (horror, sci-fi, fantasy):


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Writing Fluid Fiction: Rolling Eyes, Turning Heads, and Other Autonomous Body Parts

The Sarcastic Muse

Have you ever paused while reading a story because the character’s body has suddenly taken on a life of its own? You know what I’m talking about: the rolling eyes and the wandering hands that no longer have an actual person controlling them. You probably find yourself with a comical image in your head, too.

As with passive voice, dangling modifiers, and simultaneous action, this phenomenon — known as autonomous, disembodied, or even animate body parts — is an issue of writing craft and remains my biggest pet peeve as an editor.

What are autonomous body parts?

A body part is “disembodied” when it acts independently of the character: “Her fist pounded on the door.” The sentient body part becomes the subject of the sentence and thus completes/does the action of the verb.

Why are they bad?

Writing Fluid Fiction: Rolling Eyes, Turning Heads, and Other Autonomous Body Parts Eyes should only be autonomous if they’re the kind you find rolling around…

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