Tag Archives: research

Forbidden Words

If you’re a writer, or a prospective one, you might hear a lot about “rules” of writing. What you don’t always hear is a good explanation of when to follow the “rules” and when to break them, or even an explanation behind the “rules.” Unfortunately, I’ve seen that lead to some really bad writing. I’ll work my way gradually through some of these rules, but the one I want to address today is “forbidden words.” (Did you hear the spooky theme music? No? Let’s try again… “FORBIDDEN WORDS…”)

You might think these are the kinds of words you disguise by typing on the top row of your keyboard, but that’s not what I mean. (Although you might want to watch those, too.) No, I’m talking about when other well-meaning people tell you to never use an adverb. Or an -ing word. Or was or were. Or “just,” or any other particular word. Don’t take their advice.

I’m not saying to ignore the advice, either. I’m saying you should understand it so you know when to take it and when to ignore it. I think it’s time for some examples. (Cue suspenseful music…)

If you search the internet, you can find lots of lists of “words to avoid in writing.” Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to look. Done now? They usually list words that are overused or nearly meaningless, like really, just, or completely. What’s the difference between beautiful and really beautiful? Maybe nothing, or maybe you want to use gorgeous as a stronger word choice for the second example. But sometimes you do need those nearly meaningless words. (They were invented for a reason.) For instance, “he slid into his seat just before the bell rang” is considerably more urgent than “he slid into his seat before the bell rang.”

Let’s look at adverbs for a minute. When shouldn’t you use them? When they merely reinforce a word that doesn’t need reinforcing. He whispered quietly. she smiled cheerfully, the bell dinged musically. Yup, we got the idea with the verb, thanks. When should you use adverbs? When it either clarifies something the verb can’t do alone (she painted frantically) or turns the verb on its head (“Death kindly stopped for me.”–Emily Dickinson).

In other words, if you CAN cut an adverb or a “meaningless” word, do, but if cutting it changes the sentence, keep it for the sake of the poor reader and your dear story.

Now let’s talk about verbs. You might have heard about “passive writing” and the horrible use of “was, were, and -ing.” Take a deep breath while I tell you the rumors of their demise ought to be greatly exaggerated. “If you can finish the sentence with ‘by zombies,’ then it’s passive writing and ought to be destroyed” (by zombies) is one I frequently hear. Okay, fine, I added the second “by zombies” because I wanted to make a point.

There are reasons to use passive sentences. Here’s one: you don’t know the acting subject. “She was murdered!” but we don’t know by whom. Here’s another: you don’t want the emphasis on the acting subject. “She was murdered!” and until we get over the shock, we don’t care who did it. Does that mean its okay to blithely sprinkle passive sentences all over your writing? No, I didn’t say that, either. Use them when you need to use them, and for the sake of your action, don’t use them when you don’t need them. (Which, really, is the basic rule for all writing techniques.)

One more point about was, were, and -ing. It might shock you to know that sometimes they are ACTIVE verbs, not passive! “The apple was red” is an active sentence. (Not a very interesting one, granted, but still active.) When you usually start getting in trouble is when you combine was/were/are and -ing verbs, because even if the verb is active, the sentence might not be as strong as it could be. “The robot’s eyes were glowing” is weak, while “the robot’s eyes glowed” is strong. But if you try to cut every being-verb in your story, you’ll end up with monstrosities like “She seemed a pretty girl, despite her plain brown hair.” She SEEMED pretty, or she WAS pretty? Don’t laugh; I didn’t quote, but I’ve seen sentences that were even worse, that didn’t make any grammatical sense at all because the author “heard WAS is bad” and cut them all without regard to necessary sentence structure. (Read the “pretty girl” sentence without either *seemed* or *was* to see what I mean.)

So, next time you see a writing rule, figure out the reason behind the rule before you start applying it wildly across your writing. Your readers will thank you.

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

Writing Conference Report: LTUE 2019

Every year for several years now, I’ve gone to the Life, the Universe, and Everything sci-fi/fantasy conference in Utah. It’s sort of a writing conference, and sort of not. They also have art classes, and a game room, and presentations of academic papers, and meet-and-greets.

But I mostly go for the writing classes. And the business classes. And the worldbuilding classes. And the oh-that-sounds-super-cool classes. Two of my family members got to attend a weapons class with real weapons. They raved for weeks.

First, a little practical advice.

Wear good shoes and comfortable clothes/hairstyle. Take food to eat, especially if you aren’t going to take an actual lunch break. Look for a freebies table. Talk to people–lots of people. If weight bothers you AT ALL, slim down your bag to lighter than you think you can carry all day. Ask experienced attendees which bathroom tends to have shorter lines, and use it immediately after class. Drink lots of water (if you lightened your bag, take a small bottle and refill it every hour). If you have business cards, bring them. If the class you want to take is full, try something else or find someone for a conversation.

I’m going to have to split my best take-away advice from the classes I attended this year. I’ll put the business notes in a different post. Here’s the worldbuilding and craft notes. If the class was a panel, I didn’t list the speakers or keep track of who said what.

Foraging, by Cedar Sanderson
Some plants are topically poisonous (absorb through skin).
Never test edibility by tasting.
Blue-colored berries are probably fine, red be cautious, white avoid.
Some things will slowly make you sick, so just because you ate it once and didn’t die doesn’t actually mean it’s safe.
Animals are a better source of emergency food than plants.
Predators are usually not yummy.
Some animals have poison glands. Even deer have scent glands that can spoil the meat if punctured (same for gut).
Fuzz/hair is usually toxic /nasty.
Just because an animal ate it doesn’t mean it’s safe for you.

Objective Correlative  (accent on the second syllable of Correlative), by Rosalyn Eves
Telling emotion is worst, showing is better. Putting the reader inside your characters to feel the same emotions themselves is better.
5 ways to do that:
Objects (readers must understand importance)
Metaphor
Situation (setting, events, etc)
Chain of events (action-reaction)
Movement or gesture
Build up moment until reader is immersed and feels like the character.
Don’t overuse; save for important moments when you can slow down.
(I left the class thinking, “THIS. I want to learn to do THIS.”)

Suspense
Every chapter should have conflict. Some should still be rest chapters
Ticking time bomb + obstacles
Switch from high tension to low and back again to reset the tension
Reader knowing something character does not, creates tension
Don’t withhold information the pov character knows

The Beginner’s Guide to Self-Editing, by Kelsy Thompson
A great class, but since she offered her slides to attendees, I didn’t take notes. Also, it was a two-hour class and she moved fast enough through enough material that taking notes wasn’t very practical. If you get the chance to take the class, I recommend it. She covered development editing first (big-picture story items) and then moved down to line editing (actual language) and proofreading (typos).
I did like her encouragement to aim for professional but forget about unattainable perfection.

Beats & Microbeats, by Devri Walls
For intense speed, shorten sentences.
Slow beats use longer, more descriptive sentences.
Do not overdo or everything will be flat
If action or romance scenes are lacking, slow down!
Dialogue: speech tags and action slow scenes. Cut for faster scenes.

4-part Pacing, by J. Scott Savage
Plot is events, pacing is timing
Use foreshadowing for something ELSE and your true twist will slip through.
1st quarter draws interest.
2nd quarter delivers on promise.
3rd quarter is heart of story.
4th quarter is climax.
There is a turning point at every quarter.

Backstory
Give the minimum your reader has to know, in time for them to use it. Not Tolkien!
Walk through as the character would, and be subtle.
Skip As-you-know-Bob (conversations held only to explain things to the reader)

Showing vs Telling
Boil things to the most important showing details.
Naming an emotion is usually telling.
Which parts do the reader need to feel (show) VS just know (tell)?
First draft is worry-free zone. Go ahead & tell, & edit it later.
War That Saved My Life (book): look for showing.
First chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Foreshadowing
If you disguise the foreshadowing as something else, it can hide your real purpose.
Mix truth and lie to confuse readers.
Using multiple techniques is trickier.
Let some red herrings be true to throw readers off balance.

Sagging Middle
If you aren’t having fun anymore, back up and make a different choice.
The middle is the main part of the story.
Use MICE quotient to determine what kind of obstacles you need.

Favorite NonFiction Books

Here are my favorite non-fiction books and authors (including biographies), in random order. For favorite writing, family/parenting, religious, or personality/behavior/cognition books, please see separate posts. I didn’t include homeschooling books, but if anyone is interested in that list, let me know & I’ll make a post.

Miscellaneous Books

Biblioholism: The Literary Addiction, by Tom Raabe

Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings, by Diana Pavlac Glyer

The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief, by Clair Davies

Foam Rolling Guru, by Jason van den Berg

The Naturally Clean Home: 101 Safe and Easy Herbal Formulas for Nontoxic Cleansers, by Karyn Siegel-Maier

Business, Careers, and Finance Books

What Color Is Your Parachute? 2009: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers, by Richard Nelson Bolles

Built to Last; Good to Great; and Good to Great & the Social Sectors, by James C. Collins

The Mormon Way of Doing Business: Leadership and Success Through Faith and Family, by Jeff Benedict

The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness, by Dave Ramsey

The Making of A Well – Designed Business: Turn Inspiration into Action, by LuAnn Nigara

The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting and Running a Business, by Steve Mariati

Start and Run a Profitable Home-Based Business: Your Step-by-Step, First-Year Guide, by Edna Sheedy

Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-Up Book You’ll Ever Need, by Rieva Lesonsky

AMA Complete Guide to Marketing Research for Small Business, by Holly Edmunds

Do-It-Yourself Direct Marketing: Secrets for Small Business, by Mark S. Bacon

Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting an Online Business, by Frank Fiore

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Home-Based Business, by Barbara Weltman

Camping Books

Beyond Backpacking: Ray Jardine’s Guide to Lightweight Hiking

Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers’ Companion, by Leslie Mass

Backpacking: Essential Skills to Advanced Techniques, by Victoria Steele Logue

The Appalachian Trail Backpacker’s Planning Guide, by Victoria Steele Logue

Trail Safe: Averting Threatening Human Behavior in the Outdoors, by Michael Bane

Cookbooks

Pressure Perfect: Two Hour Taste in Twenty Minutes Using Your Pressure Cooker, by Lorna J. Sass

How to Repair Food, by Marina Bear (the only one of these cookbooks I actually own…)

What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained, by Robert L. Wolke

The Thru-Hiker’s Handbook: Georgia to Maine, by Dan Bruce

Backpack Gourmet: Good Hot Grub You Can Make at Home, Dehydrate, and Pack for Quick, Easy, and Healthy Eating on the Trail, by Linda Frederick Yaffe

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking, by Jeff Hertzberg

Not Your Mother’s Food Storage: Store the Food You Use Every Day, by Kathy Bray

Science & History Books

And Then You’re Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling Over Niagara, by Cody Cassidy

Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach

Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle, by Douglas J. Emlen

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, by Steven Johnson

Seven Miracles That Saved America: Why They Matter and Why We Should Have Hope, by Chris Stewart

The Miracle of Freedom: Seven Tipping Points That Saved the World, by Chris Stewart

Biographies

The Boys in the Boat: The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics, by Daniel James Brown

Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas

Richard Feynman

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield (which actually had a strong influence on my decision to be a “real” author)

The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, by Eric Metaxas

Unlikely Heroes, by Ron Carter

To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson

A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park

Let It Go: A True Story of Tragedy and Forgiveness, by Chris Williams

Faith: Behind the Fences: A True Story of Survival in a Japanese Prison Camp, by Kelly Dispirito Taylor

 

What non-fiction books have made a difference to your life? Tell me in the comments.

M. C. Lee

Favorite Personality, Behavior, and Cognition Books

I think it probably says something about me that I have an entire category of these books and can make a post from just my favorites… Let’s ignore that, though, and you can browse my randomly ordered list of personality, behavior, and cognition books.

Personality (and yes, I know my type for almost every one of them (Reading People has some I don’t know))

Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery, by Don Richard Riso

The Color Code: A New Way to See Yourself, Your Relationships, and Life, by Taylor Hartman

Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, by Anne Bogel

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better, by Gretch Ruben

The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, by Gary Chapman

Behavior/Cognition

Feminist Fantasies, by Phyllis Schlafly

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, by Dan Ariely

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy F. Baumeister

You Can Never Get Enough of What You Don’t Need: The Quest for Contentment, by Mary Ellen Edmunds

Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior, by Kerry Patterson

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why, by Amanda Ripley

Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, by Tom Rath

How Will You Measure Your Life?, by Clayton M. Christensen

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence, by Gavin de Becker

Aristotle Would Have Liked Oprah: And Other Philosophic Musings, by Ethel Diamond

The Definitive Book of Body Language, by Allan Pease

The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine

On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, by Louis Markos

Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome, by Ty Tashiro

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell

Extremes: How to Keep Your Virtues from Becoming Vices, by Robert I. Eaton

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, Elaine N. Aron

How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, by Brene Brown

Every Body’s Talking: What We Say Without Words, by Donna M Jackson

Achieving Your Life Mission, by Randal A Wright

 

Enjoy learning more about how your brain works,

M. C. Lee

Favorite Writing Books

Writing (Craft) Books:

The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write with Emotional Power, Develop Achingly Real Characters, Move Your Readers, and Create Riveting Moral Stakes, by Donald Maass

Story Pitch: The How To Guide For Using A Pitch To Create Your Story, by Scott King

You Must Write: Success Through Heinlein’s Rules, by Kevin McLaughlin (some craft, some business)

Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology, by Brandon Sanderson et al

GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction, by Debra Dixon

all the Emotional Thesaurus books, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

Writing Fiction for Dummies, by Randy Ingermanson

Behind the Book: Making The Death of Dulgath, by Michael J. Sullivan

Story Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction, by Larry Brooks

Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew, by Ursula K. LeGuin

No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript That Sells, by Alice Orr

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: 6 Steps to Writing and Publishing Your Bestseller!, by Phillip Athans

How to Write Killer Fiction, by Carolyn Wheat

Aliens and Alien Societies, by Stanley Schmidt

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, by K.M. Weiland

The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, by Noah Lukeman

Building Better Plots, by Robert Kernen

The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need To Know About Creating & Selling Your Work, by Writers Digest Books

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card

Wrede on Writing, by Patricia C. Wrede

The Fantasy Fiction Formula, by Deborah Chester

Characters and Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card

Breathe Life into Your Life Story: How to Write a Story People Will Want to Read, by Dawn Parrett Thurston

Plotting Your Novel Workbook: A Companion Book to Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, by Janice Hardy

Writing (Business) Books:

Successful Self-Publishing: How to self-publish and market your book in ebook and print, by Joanna Penn

Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should (Let’s Get Digital, #1), by David Gaughran

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. How to Publish a Book, by Guy Kawasaki

Become a Successful Indie Author: Work Toward Your Writing Dream, by Craig Martelle

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, by Sheree Bykofsky

Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts, by Joanna Penn

Author 2.0 Blueprint, by Joanna Penn

Pulp Speed for Professional Writers: Business for Breakfast, Volume 9, by Blaze Ward

The Secrets of Success, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (it’s a single chapter/booklet, but a lot to ponder)

Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, by Mark Coker

HOW I SOLD 80,000 BOOKS: Book Marketing for Authors, by Alinka Rutkowsky

Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook, by Helen Sedwick

Darrendrakar Genetics

A fan asked me how Darrendrakar genetics work. Well, it’s more complicated than *I* can understand completely, but let me at least tell you a few things.

If you’ve read my young adult Unexpected Heroes fantasy series, set on the world of Kaiatan, you’ll know that the shapeshifters in the country of Darrendra have one alternate form that is as natural to them as their two-legger form. (You can’t call them human. “Human” is a Terran species, and “humans” can’t change shape, sorry. Darrendrakar do go by “man, woman, or person,” though.)

In book one, Wind of Choice, the shapeshifter we get to know the most is Ludik. His alternate form is a black jaguar. (Trivia: any of the big cats, when black, can be called panthers.) He comes from the kindred (tribe) of cats, called Felid. Furthermore, he comes from the sub-group of “big” cats, which includes lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, and the makarodonts that include such lovely specimens as sabre-tooth tigers (although the Darrendrakar call them something else).

In Darrendra, any of the big cats are cross-fertile, as is evident from Ludik’s mother being a tiger and his father being a lion. This is different from Terra (our Earth), where you almost never get that sort of thing, except for mules. (But sometimes…  http://ligerworld.com/shasta-the-first-ever-liger-in-America.html ) On the rare occasion you get a cross on Earth, the child is not fertile. In Darrendra, they are. In fact, you can get all sorts of results, depending on what genes run in the family. The Darrendrakar don’t have “mixed” children, like ligers. The genes will fall out on one side or the other, or select from other ancestral genes. Ludik has two brothers that are lions, a brother and sister that are tigers (one orange, one golden), and a sister that is a jaguar (but spotted instead of black).

Oddly, Ludik’s identical-as-two-legger brother is a lion (not a jaguar) when he changes shape. Why they look so similar as people and so different as cats is one of the mysteries of Darrendran biology that I can’t explain. And if you ask a Darrendrakar, he’ll just shrug and ask why not.

What you DON’T get in Darrendra is the big cats crossing with the small cats (not housecats, but cheetahs, mountain lions, ocelots, etc). Well, they could mate, but they either wouldn’t have children (most likely), or their children would be sterile. (Within the small cats, they are cross-fertile between types, just as the big cats are within their own group.)

The same difficulty works across Darrendrakar kindreds. Sure, a Felid and a Canid could marry, but they wouldn’t have children. Add in the typical uneasy peace between kindreds, and an interkindred marriage would be pretty difficult. Even without being “forbidden,” that kind of reality tends to discourage most interkindred romances.

This is also why you hardly ever see marriages between the four different peoples on Kaiatan. The winged Iojif, the shapechanging Darrendrakar, the gilled Nokai, and the solar-powered Iskri almost always marry someone from their own kind. And you never, never see an avian with gills or a solar-powered shapeshifter. The genes do not mix that way.

So, what did I leave out that you want to know? Leave a question in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer it!

Language of Flowers

My YA fantasy series has a culture that communicates with their goddess and each other by using flowers and their cultural meanings. I’ve been asked if I invented that idea. Well, the goddess part, yes, but the flower part, no. Here are some articles you can read about the well-established practice of sending messages with flowers, including a list of meanings.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_of_flowers

http://languageofflowers.com/flowermeaning.htm

http://thelanguageofflowers.com/

https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/publications/flowers/flowers.html

http://www.stranges.com/language-of-flowers/

You might notice a few discrepancies between the websites, or between the sites and my books. In that case, please consider my books to use the Darendrakar version of the flower language, translated to the best of my ability.

Agrimony (go look it up),
M.C. Lee

Kinship

I write about different fictional cultures, and I like that. I do use some ideas from real (Terran) life, as well as some ideas that I make up (or don’t realize come from real life). And I do research lots and lots of things. I find it fun, most of the time.

One of my story characters, Nia, comes from a culture with pretty loose family rules and infrequent marriage. She led me down a path of kinship research that was highly entertaining, except when I couldn’t find the right term for a kinship relationship. (After trying several exotic terms, I finally settled on the simpler “near-sibling” and “far-sibling” terms for some of her brothers and sisters.)

If you like dabbling in anthropology, here are some fun kinship articles for you.

An explanation of kinship terminology, and a glimpse at several different systems (how families are set up and who is considered related): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinship_terminology

Kinship terms (what relatives are called) in different languages. Click on each language to explore: http://www.omniglot.com/language/kinship/index.htm

The particular character I was telling you about has a highly complicated family due to her culture, so I had to draw a genogram to keep track of her family. It isn’t a standard genogram, because I didn’t bother with dotted lines, and I had to break some rules in order to get everything down. (If you can do better, let me know how, & I’ll adjust.) It does, however, allow me to know who’s who and how they’re related, as well as random facts I threw in for my own writing convenience.

But before you look at her family tree, here’s an explanation of genograms in general: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genogram

And a look at the rules used to create them: https://www.genopro.com/genogram/rules/

And now you can scroll back up to my current best attempt at Nia’s scrambled family tree. 🙂