and if you're wondering where i get the video

thatsanovelidea  asked:

Hello! You mentioned in your 'Novel Writing 101' video that you do a sentence level revision where you try to make the language sing. I was just wondering what this means and how you go about it? Sorry if this is a tricky ask, I know you're crazy busy. p.s. The End Games is awesome!

Hi! Thanks for sending this Ask. I actually get this question a lot.

For me, making the language sing (or trying my best to) is a product of specific choices. Those choices primarily have to do with:

1. the tone/mood of the word, and whether it fits the scene, and hopefully elevates it;
2. syllabic rhythm;
3. interesting or unexpected sentence structure, though not at the expense of readability and clarity;
4. specificity of imagery and description, and again whether they fit/elevate the scene;
5. and finally, does it FEEL right?

Of course, much of this is subjective. I might love the rhythm of, say, E.B. White’s work, while others might find it too singsongy, or something. I also should note that “voice” is largely an unconscious and instinctive process for me, at least when I’m writing a first draft. Later, during revision, I fine-tooth literally every word in the book, and will write notes to myself like, ‘This scene = too dark for use of ridiculous. Find other word?,’ or ‘This paragraph needs more meditative tone/pace. Add commas, if possible?’

Sometimes when you describe a process as unconscious, people think, “Well, great, I guess I was either ‘born with it’ or not.” But I think that’s wrong. I mean, it may be true that some people have a predisposition to certain skills, but we have enormous agency in improving our abilities. It takes practice, and it takes research, and for writers, “research” means reading.

Lots. Lots and oodles and bunches and lots.

And not just reading, but *purposeful* reading. If you come across some passage that lights you like a glow bug, ask yourself, “What just happened? How did this lady do that? Where was the turn, the image, the setup?”

Over time, you’ll internalize some of the precepts of what you see as good writing. First, it’s conscious knowledge; then it’s conscious competence (i.e., you can do it, but you have to analyze every word as you go); then it’s unconscious competence. Progress isn’t linear, of course, and sometimes, regardless of how long you’ve been at it, every sentence you write will feel dead on the page. But that’s okay. Work through it. WORK through it.

Anyway, I could probably write much more about this, but I woke up way too early this morning, so my noggin is barely puttering along. However, super quickly, I’ll expand on my points above. (The numbers will match the numbers above.)

1. re: tone, like I said, make sure the word choice matches how you want the scene and reader to FEEL. As for elevating the scene with language…. Ack, it’s tough to explain. Basically, for every description or verb or whatever, see if you can come up with something that feels fresh and new and makes a familiar experience feel more nuanced or expansive.

2. This has to do with the “meter” of words, which is a function of syllable count and syllable accent. Some people with a nearly angelic understanding of this include (off the top of my head) A.A. Milne, E.B. White, and Cormac McCarthy. In YA, Sara Zarr and John Green are among my favorites.

3. Can you make the sentence end in an unexpected way, like maybe have the end of the sentence reveal something surprising about the meaning of the rest of the sentence? Also, can you make the sentence structure itself reflect the *feeling* the words are trying to evoke? (The classic example is using staccato sentences in action scenes.) Be careful with this, though. It’s quite easy to overwork your sentences, especially in revision. After all, *you* know how every sentence goes, so the sentence may feel lifeless simply because you’ve read it so many times. Also, always remember to be generous to the reader. For my money, clarity and readability rank above “artfulness” every time.

4. I am having such a hard time coming up with how to word this…. Okay, here goes: Without overdoing it, choose unexpected and precise details, unique imagery, and metaphorical or simile-based descriptions that somehow tie what is literally happening into something different and more emotionally potent. Again, this is subjective, but one of my favorite examples comes from the poem “Fog” by Carl Sandburg: “The fog comes on little cat feet.” Whoa, right?

5. This is the most subjective of all. But Billy Joel once described a songwriting theory created by Keith Richards (the Rolling Stones guitarist) that I think might illustrate it. 

Richards has this songwriting theory called “Vowel Movements” (ha-ha-ha), and the theory goes that lyrics don’t just have to have a certain rhythm, rhyme, and meaning, but also must have vowels/sounds that FEEL like they “match” the movement of the melody. I think the example Joel gave was “Start Me Up.” (If you haven’t heard the song, click this link. You just need to listen to the first thirty seconds.)

Okay, so the lyrics go, “If you start me up/ If you start me up, I’ll never stop.” Now, let’s replace those words with others that match the basic rhythm. 

“I need a pizza pie / I need a pizza pie, I need it now." 

(This is Billy Joel’s example, not mine. :] )

Obviously, the revised lyrics are ridiculous, and admittedly it’s difficult to imagine *any* new lyrics if you’ve heard the song. But still, the words just don’t FEEL right. The end of the first line NEEDS to have an “uh” sound. I don’t know why, but it does.

So anyway, that’s all I’ve got at the moment! I really hope this helps. Thanks again for the Ask, and for the kind words about THE END GAMES. DFTBA! :D

andnonethewiser  asked:

Hey Louise! I'm getting my first tattoo soon (like this weekend soon) and I decided to get the word "strength" written across my left kidney. Over the past 6 yrs, I've totaled around 100 kidney stones, which is why I'm placing it where I am. Your blog and videos never fail to cheer me up during those painful times. Several of my friends even say that you're my personality twin. So I was wondering if you would mind writing "strength" out for me so I could have my tattoo in your handwriting?

Oh my goodness what a request! I feel like my writing definitely isn’t special enough to be enscribed on your body for your whole life but am honoured that you asked. I hope it all goes well and that you don’t ever have to deal with another kidney stone xxx