Romance Kills and Some Advice on Wordiness

Romance Kills Out Now

romance_kills_cover_smallA “Heartless” serial killer has brutally murdered three Romance Novelists on the verge of their breakthrough. The victims died after being stabbed through the heart. Why butcher romance novelists? Has someone he cared about hurt the killer?

Three private investigators decide to fight back, and the women meet in colorful, eccentric New Orleans. They must stop this madman before he strikes again, but are they willing to risk their own lives?

Find out and download Romance Kills from Amazon

The story is a collaboration of three authors: Stephanie Colbert, Schuyler Pulliam and yours truly. Each of use wrote the point-of-view of one character. Amber Buford is mine.

If you ponder about teaming with a fellow scribe, read my blog post about co-authoring:

https://rebeckajager.com/2019/04/04/should-you-co-author-a-book/

The Principal Sin of Wordiness

I write thrillers, and the genre hates rambling. You might write fantasy or romance, but believe me: readers want to get on with the plot! To combine straightforward action with the first commandment of an author: show don’t tell becomes a Mission Impossible unless you’re prepared to re-write and re-draft.

When I wade through the early drafts of my stories, I recognize the complex sentence structures. New writers want to stand out and prove their mastery of the English language. Getting rid of wordiness doesn’t mean that your writer’s voice bleaches as you strip the text. Reading George Orwell is a light exercise. He uses odd words at times and lectures about the dangers of totalitarianism, but the text flows. If you love J. K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins, return to Harry Potter or the Hunger Games with your wordiness-spotting goggles on. These famous ladies know how to get on with the plot. They force you to turn the page almost at gunpoint.

Hiring a professional helps the “green” novelist to trace the celebrity footprints, but most editors charge by the word count. Removing the excess description means you’ll pay less for the slaughter of your darlings.

Scan your writing for the following:

  • “Being” verbs. You’ll have to use “was” sometimes, but it slows the pace of your sentences.
  • Passive voice means your protagonist is on the receiving end of the action. Your characters should act: conquer, fail, and rise—not stand around besieged by lazy words. Use strong verbs which engage the reader’s senses, and paint a scene. Marketing masters know their active expressions: https://www.enchantingmarketing.com/strong-verbs/
  • But don’t go overboard. A thesaurus becomes the writer’s best friend at times, but use variation with taste. Dialogue verbs are the usual suspects which point to the use of a dictionary: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/dialogue-words-other-words-for-said/ 
  • (my pet peeve is “snapped” but replacements like: “avowed, beckoned, beseeched or cajoled” make me wince). Use alternative verbs with due respect: https://owlcation.com/humanities/400-Alternative-words-for-said
  • Filler words. Turn to your WIP and cut words without losing the meaning of the passage. Replace them with others who have more punch if you end up with a naked style.
  • Filler sentences. If you say almost the same thing in five sentences, feel free to cut three of them. I fell in love with northern nature as a child. When my books feature the animals or sceneries above the Arctic Circle, I beat around the bush. Know your favorite sin: wordiness is mine.
  • Clichés. These buggers consume space in your writing, and they have zero impact on readers. “Pitch black” inches it’s way onto my pages, but I know to weed it out. Tropes can kill your entire ending, but they possess sentences as well.
  • Unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. When it comes to description, sometimes less is more. A –ly here and there hurts no one, but these bastards multiply if you let them grow.

More information: https://writeitsideways.com/working-past-wordiness-for-fresher-writing/

The Action Scene

Wordiness destroys your action and adventure. The tempo of combat must be quick and tense. Perhaps you studied the art of fencing before you posed the villain against the hero in swordplay. You feel obliged to describe every gesture with due finesse and detail.

Rid excess wordiness from your action:

  • Avoid writing a character’s mundane actions.
  • Avoid having your characters’ seem to’ or ‘proceed to’ or ‘decide to’ or ‘begin to’ do something.
  • Say it once, say it well. Don’t teach your reader to wield the rapier, show him the cut-throat combat, and place your hero in danger.
  • Remember to engage your reader’s emotions! The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression will help if your words run dry.
  • Use your writing software’s find-function to track repetition. If you find forty instances of “was” in one chapter, you have a problem. If you use a fancy verb and repeat it too near the first occurrence, you destroy the impact.
  • Omit ancillary words and phrases: sit down- omit the down.

More information: https://www.maloneeditorial.com/novel-wordy-7-ways-tell/

My previous blog post on writing action: https://rebeckajager.com/2019/05/24/how-to-write-realistic-action-sequences/

Be Merciful to The Newborn

Evolution has developed writers into a cruel bunch. We flog ourselves without mercy, especially when we re-read our text. This phase can put an end to your writing career if your superego takes control. Let the first draft overflow with wordiness: get the book out of your head and onto the paper. When you revise your second or third draft, take care of tautology with due ruthlessness.

The Sidekick – The Shadow or The Flame?

Young attractive Witch walking on the bridge in heavy black smoke.

When I hear the word sidekick, the image of Batman’s Robin conjures. Who could forget the guy wearing the green pantyhose? The word is forever linked with the lesser one of the power duo.

The Urban Dictionary defines a sidekick:

“A friend/associate of a more popular, charismatic person. The sidekick gains most of his/her acclaim from merely being connected so closely to the more powerful acquaintance.”

It’s easy to write a sidekick who follows the heroine like a shadow. Sometimes the shadow is long, and sometimes it travels ahead of her, but shadows rarely mean anything except symbolism.

And then an interesting secondary character flows out of your pen like lightning. This person keeps you awake at night and leads the story into unknown depths as a bright flame.

The safest route to prevent the sidekick from stealing the spotlight, is to make her/him inferior to the heroine/hero but where’s the drama in that?

Someone to save the day

If you’re like me, you write a villain who radiates raw power. He keeps kicking the hero’s ass, and you need someone to help defeat him. My recommendation is to make the villain stronger than the MC because this way you build pressure and suspense! You drive the plot forward with bloody desperation.

The sidekick can come to the MC’s aid at the darkest hour: when the villain is about to strike a spear into the hero’s heart.

The sidekick is abler than the hero under unusual circumstances:

  • The hero is wounded and unable to defend himself
  • The hero is under a spell or doesn’t sense the approaching death
  • The secondary character is the only one around and must rise to save the day
  • The villain’s BFF changes sides and become one of the good guys to keep the hero safe. He has the element of surprise on his side.
  • The sidekick betrays the hero and reveals that he has been working for the evil one the whole time. You can feel the salt stinging on that wound for a long time. This twist forces you to prolong the final battle- which is a good thing. Keep postponing the reader’s satisfaction.

And so on. I’m sure you have seen movies which utilize a lesser character to bring the plot into a grand finale via roundabouts.

Just Different

The sidekick can be a person who contrasts the hero, like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson. Watson is a man of medicine with practical wits, and a war hero, who reflects the intellectual superiority of Sherlock Holmes. Where Holmes is in danger, Watson comes to the rescue. Where Holmes is at loss, Watson is confident because he is different.

Sometimes the secondary character, which you intended as a vessel for plot advancement, steals the readers’ attention. That’s what happened to Liva Löwe in my book The unholy Warrior. She’s the one my beta readers found most attractive because they can relate to her.

The key to the reader’s heart is arousing empathy. Keep your sidekicks relatable!

Sometimes the heroine can appear too strong and hardheaded, which is fine for the MC. But the presence of a gentler person who finds her courage when all else crumbles can have an earth-shaking effect on the reader.

In my book The Unholy Warrior, the heroine Rebane Nordstrom thinks she’s invincible, and the young German girl she saved is a mere nuisance to be dragged around:

“Each twig crackled under Liva’s foot and the fir trees slapped her with prickling branches. The willows grabbed the young woman’s shirt and her hair got tangled in the thorny bushes. The forest forbade Liva’s presence. Rebane advanced too fast for her to keep up.

“Rebane, wait!” she shouted when her friend’s leaf green camouflage merged with the shade of the grove.

Rebane turned around and her expression didn’t hide her frustration:  “You’re noisy like the running elk. The elk doesn’t care because she’s big. Everything cedes in front of her but you’re not the fucking elk, and nothing here fears you,” Rebane hissed and spat on the moss.

“I’m sorry. Can’t you see that I’m trying?”

“And be sure to step where I step as we cut through the swamp. The sacrificial grove is dangerous. It will swallow you if you stray one inch. I’d be unhappy to lose you, my friend.”

Liva’s eyes filled with tears. The words she tried to form stuck on her lips. Rebane took a firm hold on her smooth white hand and Liva squeezed her arm like she was about to drown.

“Thank you for saving my life,” Liva said but the wind which whispered among the trees scattered her voice.

****

At this stage, Liva is weaker than Rebane who is a trained soldier and a master survivalist. The women have just crossed paths, and I take my time to reveal Liva’s unique qualities. She has survived kidnapping and slave traders, but with a different approach than Rebane who shoots first and asks questions later. Liva is more than meets the eye. She is in touch with the divine healing power. Omens and visions give her understanding of what plagues Rebane. Mother Nature is a dominant bitch and she has a significant role in my book. Liva Löwe is an adapter: she molds her being to fit the surroundings.

Blurring lines

Is Julia a sidekick of Winston Smith in Orwell’s 1984? Yes and no. A love interest can be a sidekick. Winston and Julia rebel together.

Boy-boy and girl-girl pairs are abundant in literature and movies. If the heroine and the sidekick represent different sexes, you can write a sub-plot of budding love. One-sided affection raises the stakes a notch by introducing another level of conflicting interests. A disgruntled lover is a fertile ground for the enemy to grow resentment towards the hero.

Julia_1984.jpeg
Suzanna Hamilton as Julia in the Film 1984, MGM 1985.

But I see Julia as the last nail on Winston’s coffin. From the introduction of Julia, Orwell predicts the main character’s doom. To make the aide betray the hero is a great idea: the knife twists deep inside the gaping wound. In fact, Winston and Julia betray each other at the face of an invincible enemy: the system.

Any_Amasova
Barbara Bach as Major Anya Amasova in Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977 Eon Productions).   

The representatives of the enemy can become sidekicks for the hero. Just one kiss from the deadly 007 and poof! A battle-hardened communist assassin becomes the Playboy bunny because sex makes her see the system of Motherland as evil.

Okay, I over-simplify.

I’m not complaining because Ian Fleming’s James Bond is excellent entertainment. The secondary character can exist as a borderline case through the entire Bond movie.

We know where Major Amasova’s loyalties lie when we see the ending of The Spy Who Loved Me.

A Writer from The Periphery- Fiction as Your Second Language

Winter, snow covered tree landskape at dusk

When you’re a writer and a member of a small nation, you cannot expect the reading world to understand your train of thoughts. I go to great lengths while trying to master English grammar because I hope to gain a wider audience. I use Grammarly to save my writer’s ass, but my literary thoughts have appeared in English since childhood. Don’t ask me why. Maybe I owe it to Hollywood?

The Finns are a northern nation of circa five million people inhabiting a narrow and long stretch of forest between Sweden and The Russian Federation. Our language is tough on grammar, and all of us learn English in school because nobody understands what we are saying- or bothers to learn Finnish. I wouldn’t bother if I didn’t learn it from my mother as an infant. It’s that hard- trust me.

Learning English as a second language poses several challenges on writing fiction.

Even if we Scandinavian writers learn to master perfect English on our keyboards, our patterns of thought and perception remain native Scandinavian.

I tend to write about familiar things which I’ve experienced firsthand. Although my novel The Unholy Warrior takes place in the not-so-distant future, I write about the arctic nature which has enticed me all my life. I take care in explaining things, but sometimes I use sayings which aren’t understood by the English-speaking audience.

If I abided by the writing rules of my favorite author George Orwell, I wouldn’t use a metaphor in the first place. His rule number one is:  “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”

So I managed to break the most important rule of my favorite author. He broke his own rules frequently, but he was a master of style and emotional impact. Rules are meant to be bent, right?

More on George Orwell’s writing rules: https://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/george-orwells-5-rules-for-effective-writing/

The Blue Hour vs. The Golden Hour

In my first draft of The Unholy Warrior, I used the term “the blue hour” which is a way the Finns describe the magic blue shade of the arctic scenery right after sunset- during the winter. Everything wears the most magical shades of deep blue. The sparkling snow enhances the luminous color, and the Aurora Borealis appear. Some readers didn’t understand what I meant because they have never seen this phenomenon with their own eyes. The correct term is The Golden Hour. To paint the mental picture for my readers, I must use the wrong color or explain myself.

As a newbie writer, you cannot afford to lose a single reader!

The same goes with Aurora Borealis- the fox fires. Most people have seen images of the sun’s particles hitting the northern atmosphere and creating the ghostly waves of color and form on the polar skies. Sometimes the Aurora Borealis appears in Southern Finland- if you are looking at the evening sky in the countryside where the city lights don’t block the beauty of the untamed nature.

Knowing what Aurora Borealis is, differs from the experience of witnessing them yourself for the first time. The magic will make you cry. It’s that beautiful. The FoxFire rocks the fundament of your soul!

I needed to broaden my description:

“My breath puffs up in clouds. I remove my Canada Goose Expedition parka hood and gaze up.

Each inch of the black velvet fills with dotted stars until the Aurora Borealis lights up the sky with elusive neon green. I take off my down-stuffed mitten, and my hand becomes numb in seconds. It’s freezing: minus twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit. The sky is alive with light, movement, and color. Blue breaks through the darkness. Lilac appears on the edges, where blue dissolves into the ruby red.

And he comes forth from nothingness with stars in his fur. The playful FireFox gallops across the sky. His black paws kick the air in the West where the remnants of the sunset still lick the horizon. The fox arches his back and springs into an agile leap. He lands on his extended front paws in the dark East. He throws his head back while his flames never stop moving. His tail is fluffy and brushes the cold sky with vivid color. Sparkles pop as he touches the hillside and the mute treetops. The tip of his tail whips the dome of heaven until he pauses. When he looks down at me, a sly smile spreads on his canine face. I feel so small compared to the scale of Mother Nature.”

The passage above is an excerpt from my short story Touch of Heaven. You can get it on Amazon Kindle

Or download the story from my web page

The Upside-down Spider

I set up my social media accounts as part of establishing my writing presence on the net. Sometimes I tried to be funny and used the Finnish saying of the upside-down spider. I just realized that no one understood what I meant but I’m not going to elaborate on what the saying means to the Finns (because it’s extremely dirty).

“Upside-down spider” defined by the Urban Dictionary: 

  • An undefinable phase which can pertain to anything in your vast imagination. Correct, I have a boundless imagination.
  • “You’re about as cool as an upside-down spider.” If you said this to a Finnish girl she would seriously maim you.
  • “I’d rather suck my own poop than eat an upside-down spider.” I don’t understand what this means!
  • Charles J. banged a girl resembling an upside-down spider. This example came close enough.

My point being: we the Scandinavians (or Russians, Chinese, Nepalese and so on…) must check out the meaning of the common saying before we write it to an English-speaking audience. I am still pro-slogans despite Mr. Orwell because sometimes the common phrase consolidates the purpose.

“Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous,” is his rule number six and I believe him. After all, his dystopian novel “1984” hangs on the best-seller lists seventy years after he wrote it! https://money.cnn.com/2017/01/25/media/george-orwell-1984-best-seller

The Upside of Being a Writer from the Periphery

Being a member of the distant minority has its sunnier side. You have an excellent opportunity of letting your readers experience your spiritual homeland by writing about the people, the mood, the weather and the animals of your latitude. The northern nature- especially Lapland- is experiencing a boom of tourism after decades of investment in advertising the untouched winter wonderland.

Why not write about it?