‘One Man’s Meat…’ (A few words about clichés)

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Every EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher always feels happy to find a new frequently used word or a popular phrase and share it with her students. As I was looking through recent publications about the art of writing this morning, I ran across an article called ‘The List of Clichés You Should Strike Down in Editing‘. The article offers great tips on writing for authors and provides “a non-definitive list of clichés to avoid”.

My first thought on seeing it was: “Oh, it is good to know for my future writing experiences.” But the longer I studied the list, the more interested I became.

“Wait a minute,” I said to myself, “as a foreigner, I didn’t even know that some of these word combinations have a reputation of hackneyed phrases, and probably people in other English speaking countries wouldn’t find them ‘hackneyed’, either.

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Then I thought that, as long as these phrases have gained the reputation of being used too often, they are probably well-understood and accepted by thousands of people, which means… that my students need to know them!

Really, what can disgust an editor becomes a desired tidbit for a teacher and her students. Here is the list from the article. Learners of English, enjoy!

Chip off the old block
Loose cannon
Ace up his sleeve
Scared of his own shadow
Add insult to injury
Avoid like the plague
Let the cat out of the bag
Bad to the bone
Cross that bridge when we come to it
Bald-faced liar
Trial by fire
Bark is worse than his bite
Beggars can’t be choosers
Armed to the teeth
Bee in her bonnet
Ugly as sin
Bent out of shape
Bend over backwards
The bigger they are, the harder they fall
Let off some steam
Burning the candle at both ends
Caught red handed
A checkered past
Until the cows come home
Take the bull by the horns
Fit as a fiddle
Chomping/Champing at the bit
Come hell or high water
Cute as a button
No stone unturned
The devil is in the details
All your eggs in one basket
Don’t rock the boat
Down in the dumps
Beat around the bush
Driven up the wall
Keep an ear to the ground
Level the playing field
Barking up the wrong tree
Everything but the kitchen sink
For all intents and purposes
Force to be reckoned with
In the nick of time
It goes without saying
Knock it out of the park
Neither here nor there
Bite the bullet
Nothing to sneeze at
Older than dirt
Open a can of worms
Pleased as punch
Quiet as a mouse
Weed them out
The whole hog
Go the whole nine yards
Work like a dog
Get up on the wrong side of the bed
Yanking your chain
Nip it in the bud
Tough as nails
At the end of the day
When push comes to shove
No use crying over spilt milk
Back to the drawing board
Phone it in

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Very Short Prose: A Present

I ran across this photo and could not help writing the story below.

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Ivanka Trump in chinchilla

A Present

He carefully put a large silver box on the table. Its silky red ribbon trembled enticingly.

Must be a fur coat, she thought. Oh, my God, he is awesome!

“Make a guess. What is there?” He asked.

She frowned feigningly and touched the box with her perfectly manicured fingers.

“Something furry?”

He nodded.

“Something delicate?”

“Very!”

His eyes were glowing with fondness.

Must be chinchilla, she thought. Those coats are devilishly expensive!

“You did remember I wanted it, didn’t you?” She said, and pulled the red ribbon.

He nodded again. He waited.

Oh, she was so excited!

“Darling, I’ll marry you! You are wonderful!” She cried out.

The ribbon slipped down, the box opened up.

She recoiled. She stared at the gift. She fell speechless.

Two small furry balls with shiny black eyes were staring at her from the box.

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Learning to Outline

book_outlineIn the Soviet time, when I studied at school and later at university, no one ever bothered to teach us any methods of writing. We never did any training in organizing or planning compositions, not to mention such things as structuring book plots or writing marketable outlines. As far as I know, the situation has not changed much since then in the post-Soviet educational establishments, so many of my compatriots, even those with diplomas of journalists (no universities have ever had any programs for fiction writers here) have a good understanding of how to plan, or structure, or organize a text. So, I have been learning to do this from A to Z, previously as an academic books author and now as a beginner in fiction writing.

I really loved to study K.M.Weiland’s book “Structuring Your Novel” and I have her brilliant novel structure scheme on my table all the time:

RESIZED-structuring-your-novel-visual-chart-screenshot My other favorite guide is the 3-Act Structure guide, which is skillfully described by Emma Johnson  and a number of other experts in methodology of writing.

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Yes, I prefer to call it by a boring word methodology, because in fact, it is always a method that turns any action into a skill.

Method is the only tool that can turn a spontaneous action into a skill.

In my culture the learners of this kind would be called “samouchka” (“самоучка”, Rusian: a self-studying person), which means that I often have to develop my own methods of doing things. So I do.

I have developed a convenient scheme of outlining fiction books for potential marketers, based on the existing novel structuring methodologies, which I mentioned above. Below, is my little scheme (or model):

A Novel Outline Model

With [some unusual condition that distinguishes him] [the main character’s name] is looking forward to a [the main character’s primary intention or goal]. Instead he walks into [First Disaster], and [Point of no return].


[The second main character’s name] has been [the 2-nd main character’s condition in the beginning of the book]. But [his/her initial intention/goal] is confounded by [the conflict of the story].


[The main character’s name] becomes involved into [Second Disaster (The Midpoint: the main character’s push to action, his move to different circumstances)], so he/she is seeking [the main character’s new goal]. Instead, he/she discovers [the 2-nd Pinch point event, when the antagonist’s power is reaffirmed], and faces [Third Disaster (an event that provokes the inexorable course towards the Climax].

I have played with the model, trying to create outlines for my books, and it seems to work well! With this structure (plus some time spent on polishing of the outline) I can create outlines a lot faster than just by doing it out of my mind. You are very welcome to try it, and please, tell me if you can think of improvements for this model.

I will greatly appreciate any comments and suggestions. Thank you!

author

Word Counts, Query Letters, and Synopses, OH MY!–My guide to tackling the bane of every writer’s existence!

I HAD TO reblog this brilliantly written article by C.L.Rose, which provides howto tips for authors about putting together query letters and synopses. I like this particular one, because, in spite of its friendly, encouraging style, it offers scientifically precise A-to-Z recommendations about the whole process of writing these documents.

C.L. Rose

Not only is this my first blog post for this new blog, but it’s my first post for 2017: the year to top all years. Oh man, I’m so fricking excited. You guys have no idea. Seriously. NO idea. There are so many BIG things planned for this year, it’s going to blow your minds!

source

That’s not what this blog is about, though! HAHA! Sorry for getting you all syked up and then being like, “No!” But trust me, if you’re a writer, you’ll want to read this. I’m going to be discussing the three biggest issues I see as an Acquisitions Editor–words counts, query letters, and synopses.

Now, there’s a good amount of debate among the writer/publishing community as to the “correct” information for these three things. So, in this blog, I’ll be giving you my thoughts and ideas on each one, and an overview and guide to how…

View original post 1,818 more words

My Prosaic Haiku: ‘End of the World’

doomsday

The missiles were approaching. People panicked.

“Dammit,” men whispered.

“Oh, Lord,” women sobbed.

“Get me more funding! Quickly!” Yelled the Minister of Defense.

“Didn’t I warn you?” Shrieked a Nobel laureate.

“Oh, God. Why now?” Cried a middle-aged woman in a wedding dress.

Senators and their secretaries sobbed silently.

Only the President retained his composure.

“It’s over, but I am with you, my friends,” he typed and twitted the message.

For sure, a man like him was not elected for nothing!

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Haiku is a very short form of Japanese poetry, it is characterized by juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji (“cutting word”) between them. I call my short ones ‘prosaic haiku’ because they are short (usually less than 100 words) and because they also include juxtaposition of two ideas, which may not be obvious at the first reading.

Verbal Art Made Visible

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I’d like to begin this one with a quote:

“Conflict generates energy and that energy, at its best, reveals a universal truth. In almost every iconic masterpiece you will see this equation at work. Writers would be well served to seek out some of these iconic visual works and examine them closely.” Annie Weatherwax

These words belong to an artist, who found her way to writing fiction by studying masterpieces of visual art- a necessary component of education for every creative person, which so many representatives of the verbal arts world ignore today.

Conflict is a critical condition for plot development in fiction writing. Tension, its inevitable product, helps keep the story dynamics and thus, ensures its ripeness and thoroughness. As Annie Waterwax notes,

“Tension is a primary component in all forms of art, achieved by the conflict between opposing elements. It’s the tension that holds our interest. In a masterpiece, the energy created by that tension reveals a universal truth. And a masterful artist does this without the viewer knowing it. She slips the message into our collective subconscious unnoticed.”

This peculiar talent of knowing how to send ‘the message into our collective subconscious’ is often overlooked by writers as something irrelevant, and the reason why they cannot do it is lack of general aesthetic education. Sadly, fiction writing is rarely mentioned as an art form today (in my opinion, it still is); the widely accepted ‘standards’ of fiction writing focus mainly on genre, plot and structure requirements, while the artistic beauty of writing is just a nice additional bonus, welcomed mainly by publishers, because majority of readers are rather attracted by fast-pace plot development and intrigue than by the way it works to enrich our aesthetic personality. Overwhelming majority of people today prefer visual arts and music to reading, while appreciation for the beauty of writing style and its harmony with genre and structure of the story is regarded as an extravagant whim of the few.

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Still, knowing a lot about art in general helps every writer, because it broadens their imagination and develops their artistic taste. I am glad to see that the most appreciated fiction writers today (irrespectively of the genre they write in) are always people of good aesthetic taste (quite often, they are passionate art lovers). 

Putting it simply, developing a good aesthetic taste is a way to see more beauty around you, and- yes, one needs to learn to see beauty! And beauty is exactly that energy, mentioned above, which reveals universal truths to a person. Without learning about it, an author lacks necessary means of high-quality writing.

Our imagination is born deep inside our mind, in the storage of memory, knowledge and life experiences which we have accumulated during our lives. If we have a good deal of beautiful images, associations and emotional memories stored there, the final products of our imagination have more potential to be beautiful, too. Only an author who has a good taste for visual (musical and other) arts can create really beautiful verbal pictures and deliver them to other people’s minds. I think we should always remember this when we sit down to create our masterpieces in writing.

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Suspense… in Life and in Fiction Writing

 I have been reading about the role of suspense in fiction writing and, as it often happens in the world of writers, I found a number of excellent articles describing features and merits of suspense, but none of them provided a decent definition of the term. Some works characterize suspense as a “sense of anticipation or worry that the author makes the reader feel” (https://prezi.com/wyt6zmamrm9w/elements-of-suspense-in-literature/ or http://elementsoflit.weebly.com/foreshadowing-and-suspense.html), which provides general understanding of the role of suspense, but is a bit misleading because, according to this description, suspense is a human feeling: an emotion, that’s all.

The scheme which I posted above presents suspense in one row with other genres of literature: mystery, horror. It is not the first time that I see attempts to present suspense as a whole separate genre of litreature:

“So, you’ve been working on a new novel… what genre? Historical again?”

“No. Suspense.”

“Ah, I see.”

Maeve Maddox, the author of the article ‘Is Your Novel “Mystery,” “Thriller,” or “Suspense”?’ (https://www.dailywritingtips.com/is-your-novel-mystery-thriller-or-suspense/) calls suspense a separate genre of fiction, with a note that “sometimes the three are presented as separate genres, and sometimes they’re lumped together as Mystery/Suspense, or Suspense/Thriller”. This shows that many authors and critics today have realized that suspense is not necessarily a mystery or horror, it is something different, because its meaning has changed for the reader. The reader sees suspense as a puff of obscurity on her face.

Suspense2

Suspense is not necessarily a mystery or horror, it is simply a puff of obscurity on your face.

“SUSPENSE: the main character may become aware of danger only gradually. In a mystery, the reader is exposed to the same information as the detective, but in a suspense story, the reader is aware of things unknown to the protagonist. The reader sees the bad guy plant the bomb, and then suffers the suspense of wondering when or if it will explode.” (Maeve Maddox; Please, find the link above)

This description corresponds well with the above scheme and also shows specificities of suspense as a high-grade genre of fiction literature. So I have been wondering: isn’t it a sign signaling to all authors that a new genre has been born and is actively building its way into the list of “traditional” genres of fiction? Can I write in a letter to a literary agent: “My novel is a suspence with some elements of fantasy”, or would it be safer to call my novel a “suspense fantasy”, where the main accent falls on the word “fantasy”?

Can we call suspense a genre of fiction? If yes, how ripe is the genre today? Somehow I have no doubt that suspense will soon form into a separate, widely accepted genre of lirature, because in the 21-st century people who read are seeking for fast-paced, action-packed, yet emotional fiction, and suspense is exactly what they need, because it apeals to the readers’ hearts.

In their reviews of suspense, some authors just leave it without a definition and move right on to discussing the distinguishing qualities of suspense fiction in comparison with other genres. Here is, by the way, a very good analysis by Stephen James, called Six Secrets to Creating and Sustaining Suspense, available on Writers Digest at http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/6-secrets-to-creating-and-sustaining-suspense. In this article, the author looks at four factors necessary for suspense – reader empathy, reader concern, impending danger, and escalating rension – which are regarded as the author’s roadmap to the readers’ hearts. Then, the author suggests six ideas, or tasks, which a writer should set and achieve to create a good suspense effect in a piece of fiction:

  • put characters in jeopardy;
  • include more promises and less action;
  • keep every promise you make;
  • let the characters tell readers their plans;
  • cut down on the violence; and
  • be one step ahead of yur readers.

These tips, along with the detailed explanations provided in the article, must be very valuable for every author, as they set direction for an author’s effort, and still, these are just tools of suspense as a writing method, they are not the laws of a genre… yet.

Stephen James concludes his article with the words-

“No matter what you write, good prose really is all about sharpening the suspense.”

Well, if this statement is true, it does not make suspense a separate genre yet, but it surely makes it even more: a cross-genre requirement, a condition of achieving high quality of writing, a goal to which every author should strive, regardless of the genre they are trying to conquer.

Well, to me, the question is still there: what place does suspense have in contemporary literature? Is it already a separate genre or is it rather a method of writing?

Do you believe that in a couple of years, when more suspense masterpieces have arrived, all book stores will install shelves with a one-word sign “SUSPENSE”?

If you have answers to these questions, please, share. I will appreciate any comments on this. Thank you.

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Today, suspense is a method of writing, which is making its way to become a separate genre of fiction.

 

I, a Passer, Close to Everyone, Alien to All 

I, a Passer, Close to Everyone, Alien to All. (“Я – прохожий, близкий всем, всему чужой.”) M.Voloshin

These beautiful lines belong to Maximilian Voloshin,  a Russian poet of Ukrainian-German origin, commonly known as Max Voloshin (1877 – 1932). I just finished re-reading Voloshin’s Faces of Creation (“Лики творчества”), a profound and masterful study of evolution of some art movements, a book which I had admired as a student, and now re-discovered again, nearly 30 years later.

Voloshin_06

“Art is intimate. Art is the artist’s appeal to another
man. The secret of artistic pleasure is always committed
only between two people.” M.Voloshin

Voloshin_01 Max Voloshin was one of the significant representatives of the Symbolist movement in Russian culture and literature. He became famous as a poet and a critic of literature and the arts.

Voloshin_03

His poetry is as symbolistic as his paintings, yet it is so besutiful that I keep rolling his words over in my mind again and again. Here are a few lines I particularly like; I tried to interpret them into English for you:

Так странно, свободно и просто      So oddly, so freely, so just

Мне выявлен смысл бытия,              I can grasp secret meanings of things:

И скрытое в семени “я”,                      The semen, revealing my kinks,

И тайна цветенья и роста.                The magic of rising and rust.

В растенье и в камне – везде,           In every creation or being

В горах, в облаках, над горами       In the clouds, beyond, and above

И в звере, и в синей звезде,             I can hear the song of agreeing

Я слышу поющее пламя.                  with the rapturous fire of life.

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Voloshin was known for his brilliant translations of a number of French poetic and prose works into Russian, but amazingly, the Wikipedia article about him hardly even mentions the fact that Voloshin – a critic, a poet, and a philosopher – was also a great artist himself. As a tribute to his artistic talent, here are a few images of his works.

Voloshin_02 “The unconscious is, perhaps, the only reality,” Voloshin used to say. (“Бессознательное – это, может, единственная реальность.”) He believed that when a person’s conscious skills grow, the subconscious “burning” inside her dies out. (Сознательное мастерство растет, подсознательное горение идет на убыль. ) He himself, however, was the master of both, and his beautiful art is a prfect confirmation to this.
Voloshin_05

 

 

 

 

 

Being yourself in the 21st century

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”. Oscar Wilde

Now, replace the word “mask” with the word “Facebook” and read the quotation again. It remains true in today’s world, doesn’t it? We can put in “Twitter”, or “Google”, or any other name of a virtual communication network, and Oscar Wilde’s words will sound like a correct observation about our current lifestyle.

behind-a-mask

A century ago, a mask (a really good one) was needed to help a person feel safe about speaking out their mind. Today, you can click on an “enter” button and write anything you want on a virtual wall; what is more, you can be pretty sure that you won’t be made responsible for your words. Does this mean that “being yourself” and expressing yourself openly has become more welcome in today’s world?

Honestly, I don’t think so. Our current lifestyle has given us unprecedented freedom of expressing ourselves and sharing knowledge with each other – freely, unconditionally, and practically in no time, but today, unlike it was in Oscar Wilde’s time, even when you say something meaningful to the world, your words will drown in the ocean of other stuff, which pours into our minds through social networking systems, press and media every minute.

Well, of course there are topics which people prefer to bypass even on social media. I have noticed that some articles of ambivalent meaning on Facebook (nothing special, just the ones that require a different angle of vision) are often ignored and receive no feedback at all, which means that people are still wearing their masks, even when their identity is “protected” by the freedom of social networks. Yeah, people have become smarter.

carrot-stick-approach  

But have they become wiser?

There is so much information everywhere around us that we – the people of the 21-st century – have learned to protect our minds against it: we simply don’t care anymore. In our crazy run away from the past to reach out for the future we forget to pay attention to the reason of the run.

To a 21-st century writer, whose mission is still the same – to observe and reflect the reality as it is – the new system of mind protection raises a problem: I mean, how can writers’ voices be heard when the readers have lost the ability to care?

behind_mask_cat_woman

In the 20th century it was not unusual to hear a saying that “a good writer is the nerve of his time”. The new millennium has led us to an opposite approach: how good is the writer’s “nerve” unless it is connected to the reader’s brain?

I hate to say this, but today, what used to be called the “nerve” has a tendency to transform into a logbook. The only hope is that the emotional personality in each person will still remain intact, it will require some emotional activity from us. If human feelings (like compassion, tenderness, affection, sympathy or others) are going to hide behind even harder masks than a century ago, then people will probably want to turn back to reading fiction in order to satisfy their needs in emotional life. Have you noticed that reading fiction is already becoming an intimate occupation? I think this trend will intensify in the nearest future.

I’d like to share another observation here: the growing interest to reading fantasy and sci-fi books. Isn’t it another evidence of the changes taking place in human minds to satisfy our need of self-expression? True or not, but one thing I can say for sure: people are actively learning to be themselves in the 21-st century. With a new design of our masks, we still find it difficult to speak out the truth. So, some of us plunge into the world of fantasy as we look for ways to satisfy the need to be ourselves.

The Challenges of First-Person Narrative

“I would so hate to be a first-person character! Always on your guard, always having people read your thoughts!” ― Jasper Forde, Lost in a Good Book

Elephant-Sitting-Thinking-Contemplation-H

Writing from the first person is a big challenge, I realize it more and more every day. The most important thing is to keep the reader interested at all times, which means that the character has no right to be boring, even for a single moment!

When writing from the first person, it is very important to keep rational balance between narration and dialogue: if I allow my character to ramble, I’ll kill the readers interest in a few pages, but too many dialogues may be killing for the whole novel, too.

Then comes the necessity to follow “show not tell” rule: one of the most difficult tasks, because if I am the one who tells the story, I often have a temptation to simply tell it and go on.

Also, my character needs to have the voice – I mean, my character happens to be the one who experiences stuff and then learns the lessons and makes the conclusions – to accomplish the goal of the whole writing. My character becomes the one who sets the questions and answers them for the reader at the same time: the situation which seldom happens in real life and thus, is difficult to reproduce in a reader-attractive manner.

Finally, if I want to grab the readers’ attention and keep them excited to the very end, my character should continuously explore her own personality and “alter” it as she moves forward with the plot. The gradually accelerating pace of the narration should be inseparably connected with personality dynamics of the main character, and once this person is telling the story, she needs to take every step consciously, but then it is difficult to keep the air of mystery in the book: the story risks to become too predictable to be interesting! This is another challenge for the author.

It seems, I need to be a Mark Twain to do such a thing well enough! Talent, plus wit, plus tremendous life experience, plus really hard work, ah, yes – plus the ability to learn from one’s own mistakes: this is the formula of success for the task of writing a first person narrated story. Quite a complex one, don’t you think? 😉

 

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Concrete Dreams

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