Breaking the Rules of the Writers’ Blog

Supposedly there are several rules for keeping a writers’ blog in order to keep it valuable to both other aspiring writers and publishers. Now, I definitely am not aiming at publishers when writing this – the other writers, and possibly readers, are the ones I would like to reach. However, I am getting the feeling that I break those rules too often.

First of all, every blogger needs to be cautious of their amount of posts. To be honest, if I notice people are posting their musings about ten times a day, it is doubtful that I am actually going to take a look at them. I am sorry for that, but such an amount becomes bothersome to keep up with. I try to make sure I don’t do that – in fact, I am pretty sure I don’t do that, as I am sadly in the opposing category of bloggers: those who post way too less and way too irregularly. In order to keep a steady base of readers, one must make sure to actually post to their blogs. While I try to make sure I do that, sometimes my enthusiasm just falters. Suddenly, I lose all inspiration and don’t even want to write a thing anymore. As soon as I stop for a few days, those few days quickly turn into weeks. This is something I should try to avoid, just by keeping up the stream of ideas.

Secondly, the main goal of a writer’s blog should be to either help other writers or to get help for themselves. However, my posts definitely don’t consist of any helpful tips. Yes, there may be some hidden in my posts, but they generally are not the main point. I doubt anyone actually sees them in there. Strangely enough, I am getting the feeling that my posts that aren’t focussing on writing tips are the most well-read. Maybe people just enjoy reading about my musings more, or it may be because I am not an expert, but it still strikes me as odd. I am defying the entire point of the writers’ blog by posting all of this nonsense, yet it appears that people enjoy that nonsense. At least, it is what I seem to get the most responses to. This is still a writer’s blog; I am going to keep it that way, but I am not afraid anymore of breaking the rules.

In the end, I am not entirely sure what the benefit of keeping a blog as a writer is. Nobody is going to find me this way. I am not going to posts my manuscripts on here, as that would cause publishers to never want anything to do with me. I do it, though, because it is fun to me. Keeping this blog is not so much a job as a nice activity to keep me writing. That is all that counts.

Children’s Books That Should Not Be Written

Children's Books That Should Not Be Written

Of course the list of children’s books’ titles I just posted is merely a joke of which I do not know the original source – it is all over the Internet, so it was impossible to trace back its origins. However, there still is a point to this list. Some children’s books should not be written; period. Although the limits may be vague, I believe standards should be set.

Firstly, no children’s book should actually encourage children to act inappropriately. By that, I mean acting in ways that is harmful or dangerous, either for the child themselves or for the others around them. This is not to say that nothing can happen. Children’s books should be filled with fun, adventure and danger – why would any child otherwise want to read them? Reading is about knowing about the unknown, which is why it is such a good passtime. Stealing candy from a candy factory is a great example of something that could definitely happen in children’s fiction. It is adventurous, but it is also dangerous and illegal. Does that mean that it should not happen at all? No, that is not what I am trying to say. Still, the characters should not just get away with their crime – which is what this is. Breaking in in factories is illegal. The main characters should be caught, one way or the other. They might be seen, or they might feel remorse. They should not run home laughing without trouble and then eat candy for the rest of the week without anyone ever finding out. The example may not be all that realistic, as there are not that much fun factories around, but the point still stands.

Secondly, children’s books should not be about actively making the reader feel bad about – about themselves or in general. “Your parents just don’t love you” may happen in the real world, and it sometimes does happen in books, but I am not sure if I agree with this. Should children really be reading those depressing close-to-home stories? While they might be comforting, they could also be a powerful trigger, whether the reader actually experienced this or not. Another example about making children feel bad is the title “The Monsters in your Closet are Real”. This is great for older children who don’t believe in monsters anymore – not for the little kids for whom this title seems to be intended, although it is just a joke.

Lastly, children’s books should not be age inappropriate, no matter how straight to the point this advice may seem. If it doesn’t come up in children’s minds yet, it probably isn’t a good idea to write a story about it. Chances are the readers won’t enjoy it or otherwise get ideas that may be harmful. Romance does not occur often in children’s fiction for the reason that most children do not care about it. They may have crushes on each other, but they do not go around groping each other – or at least, they should not be. Middle Grade fiction may include a kiss, but that’s it. The same goes for topics such as abuse. The level of it should be age appropriate. The higher the intended audience, the more severe it can be, but it still should not cross those lines.

Even jokes can hold an important message: some children’s books just should not be written.

What do you think of that?

The Tale of Coven’s End – A Short Explanation of my Series’ Story

This is not really a blog post in the sense of what I normally write. It is a short introduction to my series, complete with its own fairy tale.

I am always afraid to be regarded as already being published. Posting an excerpt of my first chapter seems a little dangerous to me, so I decided to write a short fairy tale about the origin of my series’ little village called Coven’s End. It probably won’t ever appear in the story, as the level is already too high for my audience. This is not how I normally write, in all honesty. Just to be clear, my series concerns a cursed village, where portals to other worlds keep popping up. The main characters have to deal with all of these strange occurrences, until they figure out what causes all of them.

“Once upon a time, wise men and women ruled over these lands. They knew about the power of nature and spirits. They used that knowledge to create a better world. However, their own people started mistrusting them. They did not understand the magic, so it frightened them. Eventually, they were so scared that they drove off the wise ones. Angered, the wise people decided to flee and come together where no one could find them, so that they could use their powers in secret. They called these groups ‘covens’. Still, no matter how hard they tried, they were found every time. They had no place to go. Their last gathering was here, in these woods, where they decided that the people of this country did not deserve them. After all, they were called ‘witches’ now. When their attackers approached them during their last ceremony, the witches cursed them, their families and this entire village. Right after, they disappeared. That was the end of the coven of Coven’s End – and the reason for every single bad thing happening in this village. The power of the witches is still all around us.”

Now, I have a question: is it really that dangerous to post a small excerpt from an actual chapter?

Writing Tips, Part V: Telling versus Showing

During my time here on WordPress (which is not that long), I’ve seen this question come by several times. I typically try to explain, but it is difficult to do so in only a few lines. I am talking about the ancient debate between showing (mimesis) and telling (diegesis). I am sorry for throwing those terms in there; for some reason I felt compelled to show the one thing I remember from my past literary theory classes. Anyway, that is not the point. The point to this blog post is that I am going to try and explain the difference between showing and telling, so that hopefully the “Show, don’t tell” rule will become clear.

Firstly, telling often refers to describing emotions and conversations in such a way that the reader will have to come up with his or her own interpretations. It is not that horrible; however, a story that is written in this mode will come across as dull and lifeless. For example, you could write:

“She looked happy and surprised. ‘Would you really do that for me?’”

That is not the most visually stimulating word choice, is it? Instead, you could also write:

“Her eyes glimmered in the moonlight and she smiled. ‘Would you really do that for me?’”

I know it is not the best example, but I hope you agree that the second instance is more interesting than the first. Another example, from a first-person point of view, is:

“I felt embarrased.”

Yes, the character feels embarrased, but there are ways to make it clearer. However, it is important to note that a character cannot see themselves. They cannot make observations involving their own bodies, unless it is what they exactly do or feel. They cannot see their cheeks getting red, but this would be fine:

“My cheeks started to glow and I looked down, trying to avoid her glare.”

I admit that this idea of showing is often overly dramatic and it may feel unnatural to some. However, from what I’ve gathered, these second instances are always preferred over their duller counterparts.

Secondly, do not give away information without any explanation to back it up. While you could say that a character is smart, it would be more interesting to have him work out a difficult mathematical problem or come up with a well thought-out plan. Do not say a character is brave if nothing in your story points in that direction – in that case, it would be completely unnecessary information. The most important part here is to let your readers draw their own conclusions about characters’ personalities. The same goes for descriptions of the environment; make your characters use the furniture, or, if you really have to, have them note one important detail. That is enough.

Thirdly, “showing” instead of “telling” is also about choosing the right words – the words that exactly fit the picture you are trying to paint in your readers’ minds. By choosing the right word, you won’t have to explain anything else. You won’t even have to use adverbs to clarify (and, as we all know, adverbs are our enemies). For example, there is the word “to walk”, which means “to move by using one’s feet”. It is one of the least descriptive verbs out there. Instead of “walking”, there are so many other words out there that could be used. “To stroll”, “to pace”, “to hurry”, “to scurry”, “to bolt”, “to dart”… None of these words describe plain walking. However, make sure not to overdo this. “To say” is generally just fine. While you could use other words to imply the way something is said, words like “to warn”, “to note” and “to comment” are not necessary. They are all literally about saying something, wrapped up in a fancy package.

All in all, “show, don’t tell” is all about bringing your story to life. Do not make random statement about characters and at the same time, stay clear from dull descriptions of situations. Show what you would see if you were actually present – unless you actually think in sentences such as “he was sad”, in which case you should not write down your natural observations.

What do you think? Is it indeed so important to “show” or is it fine to sometimes just “tell” something?

An Essay on Essays

Essay-writing is one of the most important skills taught at college-level education. However, while writing an academic essay generally is not that difficult for those who know the rules, the rules are still the basis for the entire skill. In order to write an academic essay, one should pay attention to thesis statement, topic sentences, layered structures and an academic tone.

Firstly, the thesis statement is the core of the entire essay and should therefore be clear and complete. For an academic essay, the thesis statement should always be the last sentence of the introductory paragraph. It is supposed to contain every point to be made in the essay, although it is used as a summary and should be clear per se. A great thesis statement cannot be too long, though; it can best be kept under a maximum of twenty-five to thirty words.

Secondly, the topic sentences are supposed to be elaborations on the points made in the thesis statement, meaning that every topic should be granted its own paragraph. The rules for a topic sentence are almost identical to those for the thesis statement: it has to be clear, concise and should not surpass the maximum word count. By and large, a topic sentence starts with a linking word. ‘On one hand’ and ‘on the other hand’, ‘on the contrary’ and the numerals ‘firstly’, ‘secondly’, ‘lastly’ et cetera are appropriate as paragraph starters. Also, every topic sentence should be explained in its own paragraph.

Thirdly, layered structures in the body paragraphs cause the argument of every paragraph to be comprehensible and clear. There can be said to be three layers, which should be used in order. The first layer is generally the topic sentence itself, which introduces the subject or the argument. The second layer is the explanation of the first, but it can contain more than one sentence, as opposed to the first layer. Lastly, the third layer consists of examples to clarify the explanations.

Fourthly, an academic tone has to be kept over the course of the entire essay, which can be accomplished by using several rules (this is an example of a bad topic sentence). It is important not to use the first person in an academic essay, as the tone of such a paper is supposed to be objective. Personal interferences would cause the essay to come across as subjective, no matter the research that was done. However, this seemingly unpreventable subjectivity can be prevented by writing in the passive. Also, the informality of the diction should be kept to a minimum. Learning the words of the academic word lists by heart allows one to avoid those informalities.

All in all, writing a great essay is not too difficult as long as one to hold on to the right structure and tone. On the condition that the voice of the author is confident, the essay will come across as of higher quality. While content definitely matters, essays for college-leveled education should foremost stick to a set thesis statement, topic sentences and an academic attitude.

 

(I apologize if this seems rather pretentious; I wanted to do something special for my 25th blog so I decided to go with one of the subjects taught at my university: essay-writing proficiency. I hope it is alright, considering I am still a first-year student with not that much experience.)

The Publishers’ Nightmare

I am the publishers’ nightmare. As a shy non-native speaker of the English language who lives overseas, I probably couldn’t be a worse candidate for the English publishing houses. However, that does not mean I would forsake my dream without a fight.

Firstly, yes, I may be shy, but that is not everything I am. It does not shape me as a person, especially because I am shy when it comes down to talking about the weather and other seemingly unimportant subjects. As long as I am not interested, I am shy. Still, once I actively get involved with anything that lies close to my heart, I basically cannot stop talking about it. That’s still a quite annoying quality, but a lot easier than not knowing what to say. To the publishing house that claimed on its site that it refused to accept work from socially awkward writers: too bad, but I am not going to show you my work. I have enough self-esteem not to give it up for your socially inacceptable standards. Do not put guidelines like that up on your site.

Secondly, yes, I may be a non-native speaker of the English language, but that does not mean I am not allowed to try. To me, writing English children’s books is much more interesting than doing so in Dutch. The former is much more lively, in contrary to the stiff Dutch vocabulary. Besides, I am officially a student of the English language. I should be able to master it at a near-native level of speech and writing, and writing is not a problem for me. I consistently get great grades on my essays, so I doubt that would be a problem. However, mastering the literary language is a self-contained skill. I may have to practice some – or a lot – more, but in the end, I will reach my goals.

Thirdly, yes, I live overseas, which may be a huge problem for English publishing houses. Most of them prefer manuscripts from actual British writers, which I am not. However, the British Islands are not that far away from where I live. Nothing but a canal – and a sea, but that would make it sound like a bigger problem – divides Great Britain and the Netherlands. I know it is a presumptious idea to ever have to cross that sea, but I can still dream, right? Plane tickets are not that expensive. I could make it.

All in all, while I may be a true nightmare for British publishers, at least I would like to disprove the reasons why I could never reach my goal. It may still be far off, but publishers, beware. I will cross that ocean, one way or the other.

The Science of Translation

My upcoming exam will be on translation sciences, as translations make up a great part of today’s literary world. Don’t get me wrong, but when I chose a course called Translation Sciences, I was under the impression that we would be taught how to translate. Sadly, that’s apparently not the way universitary courses work. Instead, they are all theory and no practice.

Ever since I was able to read English, I have dreamt of becoming a translator. More precisely, my dream was to translate my own manuscripts into English, hoping that they would be able to spread out over the world that way. That is probably idle hope, though. If I wanted to become a translator, I should have attended a school of applied sciences instead of a regular university.

Personally, I’ve given up on the idea of translating my Dutch manuscripts into English. To me, it is absolutely impossible. The Dutch and English grammar look alike at first sight, but there are so many differences between them that even looking at Dutch texts confuses me. In English, the Dutch “ik woon hier al mijn hele leven” is translated as “I’ve been living here my entire life” (“woon”, in this case, is “have been living”). It is terribly confusing when two languages use different grammar, yet I have to use both at the same time. That is why I have to do without. It may not be a bad thing, though; not being able to really translate has forced me into writing my stories in English. Writing definitely can happen much more quickly when you do not have to use interim measures. I will become a translator someday, but not from Dutch into English. For now, I’ll just be a student, a writer and a wage slave.

The Masters of Literary Theory

No, I am not a master in anything, nor do I think I am. However, after today, I am supposed to at least be adept in the various theories of literary analysis. To be honest, I do not believe most of them – but the test was not bad.

For example, I could try to analyse my own finished manuscript. I’m most likely prejudiced about it, but here we go!

From a feminist point of view, The Face Stealer is probably deemed slightly sexist or otherwise repressed, since the main cast consists of male characters – the two brothers – and they often get into fights with the girls because they are rude and sometimes just mean.

From a postcolonial point of view, I am going to guess that The Face Stealer is viewed as a racist story. Not because it is meant to be racist, but because of the mainly white cast – honestly, what do they expect from a small English town? My main characters are redheads. To the postcolonial criticists, I am sorry that my English boys are Caucasian. Even worse, the monster they have to fight is snow-white! Maybe my professors went a bit too far, but these strange ideas apparently are everywhere.

From a Freudian/psychoanalytic point of view… Well, if you know Freud, you’ll get the point. Of course it’s not an innocent children’s story, there must be some perverse thoughts hidden in there!

To be honest, I really enjoyed this course. It was interesting to find out about all these possible interpretations of stories, although I’ve got to admit that I think most of them are a load of nonsense. I don’t think I am sexist or racist or perverted. Perhaps these theories should not be applied to children’s stories. That would make the world a much better place.

Why I – excuse me – suck at grammar

Today I had to take an exam on the English grammar, consisting of multiple choice and grammar improvement questions. This might seem crazy for someone aspiring to become a writer in the English language, but I have a feeling that this test did not go well. I suck at grammar – or most precisely, at its rules.

The past participle and the gerund are about the same. The epistemic and the deontic modal sound the same – but they are not, because right now I’m looking them up at Wikipedia. Thankfully I am able to distinguish the present perfect continuous and the present continuous.

While I love making posts about the rules of writing, I am not the kind of person that typically sticks to these rules. Whatever I do is based on whatever feels right. Thus, whenever I write in English, I go with whatever seems fitting. However, that is sadly not the way exams work. As a student, I am supposed to know the exact rules, and not just be able to use them. I love writing. I love studying English. I do not love studying an excessive amount of rules that nobody has ever heard of. Sadly, I should have seen this coming. It is my own fault to choose to study a subject like this. Let’s just hope I did not fail the exam.

Writing Tips, Part III: Outlines and Structures

Now that I finished my first manuscript, I figured it would be better to just keep on writing. I cannot look at the text yet as if I’ve never seen it before; therefore, I cannot start the editing process. In fact, editing now would hinder my ability to keep up the pace. Once I’ve written enough, I’ll return to where I once started and polish it. However, that moment is not here yet. For now, I’m simply going to outline my second manuscript. For others struggling with the same – which I personally find rather hard – here are a few tips.

One: start out with brainstorming. This probably seems like a logical step, but you’ll need it. Write down whatever comes to mind. See which ideas you prefer. Some might work well together, while others don’t. Choose with a basic idea and stick with it. Once you’ve done so, do not go back to creating new ideas – no matter how tempting it is. If anything else seems interesting, write it down – then forget about it.

Two: now that you have a basic idea, come up with the ending. This might seem like a strange leap in thought, but knowing the ending definitely helps in the process of fleshing out the story. The more detailed it is, the clearer the path becomes that needs to be taken in order to get there.

Three: which characters, changes in attitude, attributes and scenes do you need to get to the ending? Let the story revolve around – that does not sound like the right word, though – obtaining those essential elements. That way, every step and every action will bring the story closer towards the ending and there will be no unnecessary elements to it.

Four: this is where the actually outlining begins. Write down everything you know so far and try to create a structure for the story in which every single elements fits. You could do this by writing a synopsis or by creating a chapter-by-chapter outline, whatever works better. Make sure not to include anything but short descriptions of the scenes.

Five: by now, you should know your story’s main points and main scenes. This is the time to start writing, to bring your world and its characters alive. Following the steps, it should not be hard to write down the entire story from the beginning to the ending. After all, you know what needs to happen. However, this is definitely the fun part. Outlining a story before writing it does not take the creativity out of the process, because there is more than enough left to be creative with. Make the characters speak. Make the characters act. Although you know what is going to happen, the way in which it is going to happen is not set. Play with that.

This might seem a boring technique, but many beginning writers get stuck because they do not want to create an outline; they just want to start writing. However, if you have no idea where your story line is going to take you, chances are you are lacking a plot. A manuscript without a plot can never be called a book – unless you are a famous, established writer, which I am not.