Feels like breathing through a straw.
Joints are cool but full of tar.
Plus your weed won’t go too far.
Rip a bong, filled with ice,
Weed’s all gone but y’all feel nice.
Save your lungs and hit the vape.
Grass’ll last and you’ll feel great!
1. Write the sentence, not just the story
Long ago I got a rejection from the editor of the Santa Monica Review, Jim Krusoe. It said: “Good enough story, but what’s unique about your sentences?” That was the best advice I ever got. Learn to look at your sentences, play with them, make sure there’s music, lots of edges and corners to the sounds. Read your work aloud. Read poetry aloud and try to heighten in every way your sensitivity to the sound and rhythm and shape of sentences. The music of words. I like Dylan Thomas best for this–the Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait. I also like Sexton, Eliot, and Brodsky for the poets and Durrell and Les Plesko for prose. A terrific exercise is to take a paragraph of someone’s writing who has a really strong style, and using their structure, substitute your own words for theirs, and see how they achieved their effects.
2. Pick a better verb
Most people use twenty verbs to describe everything from a run in their stocking to the explosion of an atomic bomb. You know the ones: Was, did, had, made, went, looked… One-size-fits-all looks like crap on anyone. Sew yourself a custom made suit. Pick a better verb. Challenge all those verbs to really lift some weight for you.
3. Kill the Cliché.
When you’re writing, anything you’ve ever heard or read before is a cliché.They can be combinations of words: Cold sweat. Fire-engine red, or phrases: on the same page, level playing field, or metaphors: big as a house. So quiet you could hear a pin drop. Sometimes things themselves are cliches: fuzzy dice, pink flamingo lawn ornaments, long blonde hair.Just keep asking yourself, “Honestly, have I ever seen this before?” Even if Shakespeare wrote it, or Virginia Woolf, it’s a cliché. You’re a writer and you have to invent it from scratch, all by yourself. That’s why writing is a lot of work, and demands unflinching honesty.
4. Variety is the key.
Most people write the same sentence over and over again. The same number of words–say, 8-10, or 10-12. The same sentence structure. Try to become stretchy–if you generally write 8 words, throw a 20 word sentence in there, and a few three-word shorties. If you’re generally a 20 word writer, make sure you throw in some threes, fivers and sevens, just to keep the reader from going crosseyed.
5. Explore sentences using dependent
A dependent clause (a sentence fragment set off by commas, dontcha know) helps you explore your story by moving you deeper into the sentence. It allows you to stop and think harder about what you’ve already written. Often the story you’re looking for is inside the sentence. The dependent clause helps you uncover it.
6. Use the landscape
Always tell us where we are. And don’t just tell us where something is, make it pay off. Use description of landscape to help you establish the emotional tone of the scene. Keep notes of how other authors establish mood and foreshadow events by describing the world around the character. Look at the openings of Fitzgerald stories, and Graham Greene, they’re great at this.
7. Smarten up your protagonist
Your protagonist is your reader’s portal into the story. The more observant he or she can be, the more vivid will be the world you’re creating. They don’t have to be super-educated, they just have to be mentally active. Keep them looking, thinking, wondering, remembering.
8. Learn to write dialogue
This involves more than I can discuss here, but do it. Read the writers of great prose dialogue–people like Robert Stone and Joan Didion. Compression, saying as little as possible, making everything carry much more than is actually said. Conflict. Dialogue as part of an ongoing world, not just voices in a dark room. Never say the obvious. Skip the meet and greet.
9. Write in scenes
What is a scene? a) A scene starts and ends in one place at one time (the Aristotelian unities of time and place–this stuff goes waaaayyyy back). b) A scene starts in one place emotionally and ends in another place emotionally. Starts angry, ends embarrassed. Starts lovestruck, ends disgusted. c) Something happens in a scene, whereby the character cannot go back to the way things were before. Make sure to finish a scene before you go on to the next. Make something happen.
10. Torture your protagonist
The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.
Here is an article from my publisher, Kay Green, who runs a small press, with her own point of view on what all these terms mean.
Is "vanity-published" one of those phrases that only ever apply to others? Even if I was, would I ever admit to it?
Last week he went on his first walk and now has three to four walks every day- mainly back and forth to the school as that is largely what my day consists of.
He's a fairly clever pup; in the first week- age just 2 months he learned to 'sit', and give his 'paw'. He now knows 'beg' and will 'lie down' if I give him a treat. He refuses to 'lie down' without a treat though.
He knows 'get in your bed' and will readily get in his bed whenever he's been in the garden. He also knows 'Din-dins' and 'walkies'.
He has a poo after every meal- in the garden where he should do it and he's even dry in the morning when we get up.
So...I believe that the dog is not a total moron, which pleases me.
What I can't understand though is the second he steps foot onto a carpeted surface he pees himself.
I have forgiven most things;
breaking out of the kitchen, racing upstairs and seeking out and devouring one very beautiful and more importantly comfortable silver sandal. He's ripped several items of clothing, totally destroyed the cat's scratching post, ripped blinds, chewed drawer handles, eaten plants, killed the honeysuckle, flattened the reeds around the pond....
All of it is forgiven because he's a baby wolf and he's just doing what baby wolfs would do- if they lived in houses.
What I can't get over is his preference for carpet over grass when seeking out a suitable toilet.
He's now banned from the living room- poor soul. He has the run of the back lobby, kitchen and of course garden, but I no longer let him into the rest of the house. During the day I'm either in the kitchen or garden anyway and at night time he tends to take himself off to bed when the kids go up. So this hasn't been much of a problem.
I do think it's a shame though. It would be nice to see him curled up at the end of the sofa.
Their client is the piteously reluctant bride.
"She's my wife", cries the odious bridegroom
"No! She's your widow" is the reply, reinforced by a shot.
The Solitary Cyclist - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sallyanne was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and Cambridge University. She is building her list and is looking for talented writers of literary and commercial fiction. She is also passionate about writing for children & young adults, and is interested in narrative non-fiction, quirky gift books, food writing and crafts. Watson, Little Ltd is a long established literary agency which handles an unusually wide range of adult, children’s and young adult fiction and non-fiction.
When did you come into agenting? What did you do before? And why agenting?
I did an internship at Watson, Little Ltd in 2007 and have been here since – first as an assistant agent, handling the agency’s audio, serial rights and permissions, and then building my own list as a literary agent. I love the thrill of finding and working with talented authors, and seeing a project through from typescript to finished book. I also enjoy the variety of my job and how every day is different.
What sort of books do you love?
My tastes are quite wide-ranging and in adult and children’s fiction I enjoy everything from literary novels to the more commercial end of the market. Above all, there must be a great story that will keep me interested and a compelling voice. Being from Dublin, I’m always interested in Irish writing, as well as anything with a multicultural slant. Anything that makes me cry will also win me over!
Have you ever opened a new manuscript, read a single page, and thought ‘I’m going to end up making an offer on this’? What was it about that page which excited you?
Yes, and there’s no better feeling! There’s always the worry that the rest of the manuscript won’t live up to that opening page, but if you’re already excited you know it’s something special. It’s usually the voice that will immediately hook me in, and in this instance it was the confidence of the writing that made me feel I was in good hands.
What’s your pet peeve on covering letters?
As agents have limited time to read unsolicited submissions, you need to grab their attention and often less is more when it comes to covering letters. It also helps if authors have researched the agent they are submitting to; most agents have profiles on agency websites so there shouldn’t be any excuse for sending projects to agents in genres they don’t handle.
Where do most of your authors come from? The slushpile? Personal recommendation? Or what?
Most of my authors have come from the slushpile and I read everything that comes in, trying to respond as quickly as I can. I’ve also taken on authors I’ve met at writers’ festivals and graduate events, and through client or publisher recommendations. In non-fiction, I occasionally approach interesting personalities I’ve read about in newspapers and online, such as my first client, Mark Boyle, who went on to write THE MONEYLESS MAN.
Do you need good personal chemistry with your authors?
I think it certainly helps and it’s always a good idea to meet an agent before signing with them where possible, to see if they’re a good fit for you. I think the most important thing is that you agree with the agent’s vision for your book and writing, however, and good communication is vital in getting the most out of the agent-author relationship.
What’s the most important part of your job? Is it editing/shaping the manuscript? Selling the manuscript? Or supervising the publication process?
All of the above, depending on the day!
If you had one bit of advice to give to new writers, what would it be?
I think the main mistake authors make is sending their typescript out too early. Very rarely is a first draft perfect, and I’d advise not beginning to query until you can’t see how you can continue to improve your typescript. I’d also advise to read as much as you can in the genre you are writing in, and keep trying!
Sallyanne is one of the agents appearing at this year’s Festival of Writing. Each year we invite literary agents who are hungry for new talent and who represent some of the biggest and best agencies in the business. Don’t miss your chance to book a one-to-one session with an agent of your choice.