Book Review: The Writer’s Book of Wisdom (Part 3)

Hey! I actually did it this time! Huzzah!

Without any further ado, here’s part 3.

Rule 37: The “as” clause is for amateurs.

Hey folks, guess what? I’m an amateur.

I believe that the “as” clause creates a sort of… unity. Not unity in the essay sense, but the sentences flow better. The book suggests that you separate them into different sentences. But if they’re both two small phrases, having two short sentences could stop the reader short in confusion.

They do concede that there are cases where the “as” clause is necessary, and even make a point of using “and”. But personally, I kinda like the sound of the “as” clause.

Rule 38: Avoid clichés and stock phrases.

… But these things create a simplicity that the reader needs. A few well placed stock phrases (Big as a house, Sweet dreams are made of this, Who am I to disagree? ) can strengthen your story. It’s like a metaphor, taking your work and giving a sort of lifeline for your reader to latch onto and understand in the sea of information you’re throwing at them.

Rule 39: Trust the precision of your nouns and verbs.

Do not, for the love of all that is holy or not, DO NOT think that more adjectives make your writing better and stronger.

It doesn’t. It creates a feeling of wordiness and it actually weakens your noun or adjective. Instead of saying “She said angrily”, say, “She snapped.”

This is why you need a good grasp of uncommon words.

Rule 40: Don’t overuse negatives.

This is an interesting concept, one that I’ve never heard before. But it seems very true. The idea is that using “negative” phrases (She didn’t like people, he didn’t want to lose) create a dark mood. So if this is what you’re going for, then now you know how to make one.

To create a positive mood, get rid of no can’t, won’t, hate, don’t. ect. Instead of “She didn’t like people”, try “She liked being alone”. Instead of “He didn’t want to lose”, try (of course) “He wanted to win.”

Even if you’re creating a dark mood, realize that you might need a bright point to keep your readers reading.

Rule 41: Be mindful of your diction.

Diction is simply a fancy word for your choice of words and how they get your point across. The book says that action verbs are better than linking verbs (they are. And yes, “are” is a linking verb. So is “is”).

The right word in the right place can make a book better. In the words of Mark Twain, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between “lightning” and “lightning bug” (And he uses a metaphor, to boot!)

If you want one character to look at another character closely, you could say stare, but that really means to look at for a long time. Peer would be a better word.

Again, a grasp of words is all but necessary.

Rule 42: Avoid repeating words that sound or look similar.

In a single word, homonyms and homographs. “The soldier threatened to desert in the desert.”

Your brain is trying to figure out which is de-SERT (to leave) and which is DE-sert (The place) that you don’t really understand what the sentence is saying, thus the sentence is lost.

So you will need to know a lot of words.

Are you sensing a pattern here? I know I am.

Rule 43: Play with words.

Because words are our playground (another metaphor!), and we should have fun with them. The book suggests doing crossword puzzles, making up spoonerisms, riddles, and jokes.

Collect oddities in language (Like why singular verbs end in “s”. Seriously. Why?) and write them down.

Do word games. I personally enjoy the word game “Jumble Crossword” in my local newspaper

Rule 44: Collect good titles and practice writing your own.

The title is the first thing a person sees. Keep it cool.

The book has a few basic categories for good titles, but I don’t think you have to be limited to these.
• Oxymoronic – Use words that are oxymorons. Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Little Big Man
• Poetic – Make poetic titles using the rhythm of words. Robota, The Soldier Who Fell from Grace With the Sea – Note: I don’t understand how Robota is very poetic, but Steven Goldsberry knows better than me… The Soldier one is written in iamb, anapest, iamb, and anapest, which are all fancy terms that say what syllables in a poem are stressed. (We had a whole poetry unit in English last year, and I still haven’t forgotten its terrors…
• Clichés – Twist around or use clichés. And the Thought Plickens, Pay it Forward (sob ☹…)
• Thematic – Give an example of the basic trait (violence, money, sex, ect) The War of the Worlds, (violence) The Battling Bibles (Violence and religion)
• Phrases – Just normal, everyday phrases. Drive, He Said. Dude, Where’s my Car?
• Classics – Phrases from previous works (this is when that favorite literature scrapbook can be a big help.) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings comes from the poem “Sympathy”. Brave New World comes from The Tempest. Look around!

The book advises against abstract titles. The title “Hate” can be used by pretty much any novel. But “The Hateful Angel” or “The Hateful Assassin” is more concrete. You want your title to tell a story in and of itself. And in this dawn of single-word titles (Tangled, Brave, Frozen, Furious, Ink, Page, ect) You want to make sure the title describes your story.

Page by Tamora Pierce is an good one. It is a book about Keladry of Mindelan’s page years. Very descriptive title, pertains to pretty much only her story, so that’s a pass.

Furious by Jill Wolfson is… okay. It pertains to her story since its about the Greek Furies, and “Furies” was already taken. I give her a grudging half-pass.

I won’t go through the whole list, but go to your closest bookstore or library and look at all the newer books. Notice how short their titles are. Keep your titles short but let them tell about your story (Page), and you should be good.

Rule 45: Be brief

The book says to use short sentences, and I agree. If you have ever read Hemmingway (I am sooooo sorry for you), then you know his sentences can go on for a whole paragraph. He is undoubtedly the worst school novel I ever read. Even worse than The Founding Brothers. And that was bad.

Don’t always write short. Long sentences aren’t the devil. They can help you. After all, a long sentence after a few short ones is a nice breath of air. Just don’t go TOO overboard.

The thing the book advertises is to be brief and cut away the extra fluff.

Eeeeeeehhhhh…. Kinda. I’ll get more into this in Rule 54.

Rule 46: For speed in communication, write clearly.

Make your plots simpler. One of the reasons The Last Airbender was better than Legend of Korra (Mainly season 2) was because the plot of The Last Airbender was very simple: Aang needs to learn all the elements to defeat the Fire Lord. That’s it.

Legend of Korra was complicated. Korra needs to open the Spirit Portals, but she really doesn’t but she should, but Unalaq wants her to but he wants to do it himself, and then Varrik is thrown in there (GREAT plot twist, btw), then she needs to close them, and it’s just needlessly complicated.

Just like keeping a plot simple, write relatively simply. You need to entertain.

Rule 47: Accelerate the pace with “invisible writing”.

Basically, strip your story down to the bones and peel off a bit of the bone covering. Then you should be good.

Sometimes, I agree.

When it’s used to further the plot it can be good. But you know what? A brief pause from the plot can further it. Don’t go on for whole paragraphs about the sunset unless the sunset is going to be important. But spend a few sentences talking about its beauty, because, why not?

Don’t take this as a freebie to write about every detail. Write about action, not description. Best of both worlds, use both. “The hazy sun set over the low hills that rolled towards the north.” You know that the day is probably foggy or misty, that there are low hills a ways away, and that they run towards the north. Not bad.

Rule 48: Vary sentence structure and type.

Using too many long sentences in a row can get really annoying and will make people want to put the book down, which is not something you want, since they are the people who are going to buy the book. You want the people reading your story to be entertained by the way you vary your sentence lengths, since doing so makes your story much easier to read and will make people want to buy it.

Too many short sentences is also bad. For the same reason as above. It sounds choppy. It’s too easy to put down. Heck, you’ll want to put it down. You’ll beg.

Get my drift? By varying sentence length, you make the book more interesting. You give it life. So when you’re editing or rewriting, keep in mind the length of each of your sentences so you don’t put too many long and short ones in a row. If you do that, you should be great!

Rule 49: Be interesting with every sentence.

Basically, don’t use transitions.

…which… doesn’t work well, leaving too much room for awkward (and poor) transitions from sentence to sentence.

Now, (see? Transition. Do I write like crap? Yes? Well, screw you, buddy. 😉 But I hope I don’t write like crap. If I do, I know why!) don’t fill your novel with phrases like, “Next” “then” “finally”. Because then it gets an academic feel. And especially if you’re writing in the increasingly popular category of YA fiction, academic tone will send readers flying. Teens read to escape school, not embrace it.

Rule 50: The discipline of poetry will sharpen your sentences.

Ah, poetry. When I first started writing, I thought poetry was needlessly frivolous and stupid. But there is some good poetry out there. I personally like Emily Dickinson and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Read a bunch of poems, find your favorite poets. Follow rule 22 and copy them word for word. Get a feel for how they compose poems.

If you go to high school, find them in your literature book (if you have one of those giant tomes. I don’t think everyone has them.) or ask an English teacher. Most decent ones should have a few ones they enjoy. If you know what kind of poem you like, tell them and ask them if there are any similar ones.

If you go to/live near a college, there might be a poetry class. If you’re going to that college, take the course. If you’re not, ask or email the professor if he has suggestions.

It might seem awkward asking a random stranger for advice on poems, but if you let them know what you’re using it for (to learn to write better), then most would be happy to help.

The reason you should write poetry? (Maybe I should have put this first…) To learn how to write a sentence. “But Teeeeeeeess, I know how to write a sentence!” You whine.

But poetry is short, and you have to learn how to put as much info in a short burst. It also teaches showing rather than telling. If you put
The tiger was hungry.
It stalked closer.
The bunny saw and ran away.
The tiger caught up and ate it

Most two year olds will tell you it sucks.

Rumbling from deep within
The tiger pads cautiously closer
A rabbit’s nose sniffs the air and its body quivers
Too late
Blood and sinew stuck between the tiger’s teeth

…I’m gonna stop before I hurt myself. Yeah. I have a ways to go before I write what I consider good poetry. But everything takes time, and while this might not greatly improve your writing if you’re already pretty good, it definitely doesn’t hurt, so let’s give it a try!

Rule 51: Sentences are written like jokes: the punch line is at the end.

This is an okay rule. It’s hard, especially if you are trying to write as quickly as possible (AKA, during NaNoWriMo), and its tedious to fix in editing. But especially for the end of chapters, it’s practically necessary. It creates a bit of suspense until the very end. You NEVER want to let go of suspense until it’s run to the ground and then a bit more.

An example? I’m gonna rip directly from the book, since it’s late, I’m tired, and I’m barely halfway through the book.

The pirate found eight perfectly cut deep red rubies at the bottom of a treasure chest.

Ignoring the overuse of adjectives (Deep red could really be burgundy, but whatevs.), the most “exciting” part of the sentence is rubies, wouldn’t you agree?

So we want that word at the end. How to word it?

At the bottom of a treasure chest, the pirate found eight perfectly cut burgundy rubies.

But you want to start the sentence with a bang. So…

The pirate found, at the bottom of a treasure chest, eight perfectly cut burgundy rubies.

But if the new sentence doesn’t sound right, don’t write it that way. Above all, you want the story to sound natural. (More on that in Rule 55)

Rule 52: Write towards a climax.

With every sentence, paragraph, chapter, and novel, you want to write towards a climax. If you’ve passed eighth grade English, you probably remember the witch’s hat or whatever that showed the basic arc of every story. Exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, most of us know this by heart.

But it takes careful perusing and a lot of time to make the right things climaxes. If you make too many things climaxes, the climaxes lose their salience. It’s just not special anymore.

It takes time, practice, and a very discerning outside editor to help with this.

Rule 53: The first duty of the writer is to entertain.

Who wants to write a book no one will read? Not me.

I mentioned The Founding Brothers? Yeah. Snoozefest. I was surprised that the book was published relatively lately. Like, 2000s. It sounded like the 1800s. So I will not read it. He’s very informative, but doesn’t entertain me.

Rule 54: Tell your story as fast as you can.

You shouldn’t spend time on frivolousness, but speeding through a story at the cost of the narrative isn’t advisable.

Take Tangled as an example (can’t you tell I’m a teenage girl?). The moment Rapunzel and Flynn (He’s always Flynn Ryder in my mind!) really get the feeling that they like each other is after they’re trapped in the cave, and Rapunzel uses her glowing hair to help them find the way out. They camp at a campfire, and you get the feeling that they now trust each other.

A lesser storywriter would have that be all the love development the couple gets. After all, they escaped death together. What else do they need?

Well, not much more. But whether unconsciously or purposefully, Dan Fogelman knew that the story needed to take a break while the two got to know each other.

That’s why the village scene was so powerful. Not only the gorgeous music, but the fact that they were doing normal things (buying food, eating ice cream, going to the library), not furthering the plot.

One could argue that this furthered the plot, since it was characterization. But what did we really learn? They like each other? We already know that. But it’s a breather of sorts, the calm before the storm.

So the moral is to take the time to fully tell your story, but don’t take too long. Readers can be impatient buggers.

Sorry this is a bit longer than most of my others. I just want to get back up to speed.

I wish you a Happy New Year! Parts 4 and 5 up tomorrow, if nothing goes wrong!

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