Critique Technique, Part 42—The Dreaded Expository Lump

Old car stuck in the mud

photo credit: Toronto History via photopin cc

Ah, the dreaded expository lump, that moldering mass of minutiae, that exhausting example of authorial excreta, that soggy swamp of supercilious sentences that sends the reader straight into the Slough of Despond. (Yeesh, enough with the purple prose.)

You know what the expository lump is, of course: that paragraph or page—or worse yet, pages—in which the author stops the story to tell you everything he knows about a particular character, setting, situation, etc. His intent is good—there are things the reader needs to know—but not all of them, not right now. And not all at once.

Unfortunately, this lump, also known as an info- or data-dump, isn’t the exclusive province of the novice writer. We all risk writing it. As we get better, perhaps our lumps and dumps are shorter and a little less obvious: a sentence or two, rather than a paragraph or three.

New writers make two mistakes. First, they haven’t learned to trust the reader to figure things out. Second, they haven’t learned that the reader is their partner in creating the story, filling in what the writer leaves out. As a result, the new writer takes it upon himself to describe and explain everything.

Driving a story into an expository lump is like driving a car into a deep puddle of thick, gooey mud. First there’s the shock of the sudden loss of momentum, then that sinking feeling as the mire swallows the story car. The drive wheels may still be throwing around lots of mud words and making a mess but the story’s going nowhere. Finally, when the writer driver takes his foot off the gas, even for a moment, the mud words flow back into the story tailpipe and the engine vapor locks and dies. The passenger reader is left stranded, wondering how she’s going to get out of the mud, rather than looking forward to dinner at Grandma’s.

As a critiquer, you play the role of the friendly tow truck driver, come to pull the hapless writer motorist out of his self-made morass. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to wade down into that muck yourself to find where to place the hook so you can pull the story car out without ripping the bumper off.

The first thing to do is assess the situation: what happened here? As I noted above, the author’s intentions were good. He wanted the reader to know important stuff! But alas, he misjudged what was important and what wasn’t, like misjudging the depth of the puddle.  Or maybe he didn’t know what was important.

All right, then, time to pull our hapless writer out of the fine mess he’s gotten himself into. Sometimes this is easy. The puddle isn’t very deep and just pulling the car straight out—that is, deleting the lump altogether—is all that’s needed. At other times, though…

Oh, no! The winch cable snapped! Everyone’s okay, but now what? It’s time for some some serious mucking to shovel out all those mud words that are stalling the story.

But here’s the thing: not all mud words are bad. The story needs some to be interesting. The key is figuring out which ones need to stay, which need to be gotten rid of, and which need to be put in a bucket in the trunk to make mud pies with the grandkids later. (Boy, this analogy is getting really messy!)

The mud words that need to stay are the ones that give color and life and depth (in other words, traction or at least interest) to the story at that moment.

So how much is the right amount? That’s a tough question. In part it depends on the nature of the story; some genres expect more description and hence a slower pace than others do. Another part of the answer depends on the needs of the story at that moment. For example, when introducing a character for the first time, it may be important to reveal not just some of his physical characteristics but some of his motivations, let’s say, or his perceptions of his surroundings.

Deciding when the piece you’re reading is getting stuck in the mud is easy enough. You’ll start saying to yourself, “All right, already! Get on with it!” But to decide what needs to be taken out, you may have to get to the other side of the puddle, if not all the way to Grandma’s house—that is, to the end of the scene, chapter, or piece—before you can look back and make that determination.

Let’s sum up, then. The expository lump or info-dump has two main problems: it delivers too much information at one time, most of which doesn’t contribute to the needs of the story at that moment. Second, it slows the story’s momentum, even bringing it to a dead stop.  As a critiquer, your job is to identify which details should stay and which should be pulled out, perhaps to be used later, when they can be sprinkled in at the places where they add to the story. Be sure you fit your suggestions to the genre and style of the story and what the reader needs to know. With your help, the author will turn story-strangling mud into a fine and rich loam from which the flower of the story will bloom.

How do you tell when you’ve hit an expository lump? How do you help the author fix it?

ANNOUNCEMENT

This is the last installment of Critique Technique that will be posted on the Cochise Writers blog. Starting next time, these posts will appear on my own site, www.rossblampert.com, on the Critique Technique page. As time permits, I’ll bring all of the other posts in this series over to the new site too.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 5-7, 2013

Boy, so much for a quiet weekend! Today’s post is CHOCK FULL of Great Stuff on a wide range of topics, including one we haven’t touched on in a long time: radio. Grab a cuppa and settle in.

CRAFT

Writer’s Digest editor Jessica Strawser (@jessicastrawser) provides a meaty set of tips in How to Start a Novel Right: 5 Great Tips. My fave of the five is Lee Child’s write what you feel, not what you know. The others are pretty darn good too, though: create a doorway of no return; minimize backstory; add character-defining sensory details (emphasis mine); and make secondary characters significant. Check out the details and the articles they were taken from.

KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) continues her excellent series on scenes with Pt. 5: Options for Disasters in a Scene. As Katie notes, “disaster” is a strong word that can conjure up the wrong image: that every scene has to end in a catastrophe. Before she gets into her detailed discussion of scene disasters, she notes, “The point [of the disaster] is to keep the pressure on and never let up.” Yup. Right on target.

Jael McHenry (@jaelmchenry) offers three things to look for when putting The Finishing Touches on a novel: follow the key thread all the way through, looking for inconsistencies; check for your biggest weakness; and strengthen your voice. Check out this quick and to-the-point piece on Writer Unboxed.

Can A Man Really Write Romance? Matthew Turner (@turndogmillion) claims he can and describes how he did on Joanna Penn’s blog The Creative Penn. Some of his keys: watch, listen to, remember, and ask women about how they think, feel, and react. Lots of trust required there, on all sides.

Speaking of drawing from unlikely sources (I was?), Joel Friedlander (@jfbookman) presents 6 Winning Ideas for Self-Publishers Straight from “Downton Abbey.” Sound like a stretch? Check these ideas out:

  • Pay attention to detail;
  • Keep the audience engaged with continuing storylines and evolving characters;
  • Seek feedback from the audience;
  • Do what it takes to stand out from the crowd;
  • Keep up with the changing market; and
  • Be memorable.

BUSINESS

So what’s the truth about the status and staying power of ebooks versus print books. As 2013 begins the jury is clearly still out.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Derek Haines’s(@Derek_Haines) Authors – How to Promote Yourself is one of the better (particularly, more concise) descriptions I’ve seen recently on how to—and how NOT to—do promotion. While he doesn’t touch on even all of the major social media platforms (there’s nothing on Google+, LinkedIn, or Pinterest) it’s easy enough to extrapolate his comments on Twitter and Facebook to them.

Dan Blank (@DanBlank) asks four specific questions of authors preparing for the launch of their next/first book in Don’t Make Your Book Launch Like a Trip to the Dentist on Writer Unboxed: what have your ideal readers read recently, where can you go (on- and off line) to meet them, who manages and organizes these places, and who can you contact by e-mail who would care about the book? Figuring out those specific names and places well in advance is key to making launch day less stressful.

TRADITIONAL MEDIA

Here’s something we don’t see very often: Brad Phillips (@MrMediaTraining) on Jane Friedman’s blog on 5 Things Bad Radio Guests Do (And 7 Ways to Rock on Radio). Having been a radio guest a few times, I can tell you he’s right on track, although I’d add one more thing: remember that your audience can’t see you nod or shake your head! When the host asks a question, give a verbal answer. Seems silly, doesn’t it, but every host I’ve worked with has reminded me about that.

But not all radio programs are created equal: some are less equal than others, no matter what they claim. Check out Victoria Strauss’s (@victoriastrauss) Global Talk Radio: How to Waste Money and Fail to Influence People on Writer Beware® Blogs. These points ought to say enough: hosts pay to have shows; guests pay to be interviewed. More ways to separate novice/desperate writers from the money they don’t have.

THE WRITING LIFE

Divide and Conquer: Building an Author Platform by Proxy by Kristin Morin (@kristinba) on Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn blog is one of those posts that could go into all sorts of categories—business, tech, social media—but it seems to fit best here. Kristin describes how she and her husband have partnered to create his writer platform. She knows the tech side but it has to be his platform. Lots of useful tips and steps for making this team approach work. Something to consider if the whole tech side of platform has you bamboozled.

Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) has an interesting take on The Facts vs. The Story You Tell Yourself regarding some of the tribulations of the traditional publishing world. And while self-publishing advocates would see her discussion as more reasons to self-publish, we should be clear that the indie publishing world has its own situations that can make writers crazy.

Find something here that a writer friend should know about? Feel free to share it with them. (It’s that old pay-it-forward thing.)

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, December 8-10, 2012

It’s been a busy weekend and Monday out there on the blogosphere. Plenty of terrific stuff in all the areas we’re interested in.

CRAFT

KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) begins a 12-part series on scenes today with Structuring Your Story’s Scenes, Pt. 1: Mastering the Two Different Types of Scene. Twelve part??? Boy, there must be more to this scene thing than I’d realized. 😉 Actually, if you’ve read Jack Bickham’s book Scene and Structure, which I highly recommend, that won’t be such a surprise. For this first post, Katie defines the two types of scene—scene and sequel—just as the post title says she would. This should be a valuable series.

Cathy Yardley (@cathyyardley) offers what she calls A Simple Approach to Revisions on Writer Unboxed. Now, “simple” might be a relative term, particularly when you see the level of detail she goes through in her first of three passes through a text, even more so if you’re a pantser. On the other hand, that material reminds me very much of Scene and Structure, so it makes a lot of sense. Best bet? Check out the post and decide for yourself.

Scrivener, the software package designed specifically for writers, is becoming more and more popular, and with good reason. Unfortunately, if it has a weakness, it’s the tutorials that come with the program. Well-intentioned but, at least for my learning style, not as effective as I would have liked. Despite its title, Scrivener: An Introduction to Novel Writing is the last (so far, anyway) of Nick Thacker’s series on Scrivener on Livehacked. While the post looks really long, that’s deceiving because it’s full of screenshots. Even better, this is one of the best practical summaries of (just some of!) Scrivener’s capabilities I’ve seen. If you’re still on the fence about using this program, or have it and are feeling overwhelmed, take a look at this post. (Thanks to Joel Friedlander for pointing it out.)

BUSINESS

Having just been through a freelance edit of my WIP and query letter, I can tell you that Chuck Sambuchino’s (@ChuckSambuchino) Freelance Editing: How to Hire an Editor for Your Book or Query Letter is right on target. I didn’t run into any of the red flag issues he highlights but it’s good to be aware of, and beware of, them.

My first reaction to Robert Lee Brewer’s (@robertleebrewer) What Writers, Editors, and Publishers Should Worry About was that it applied primarily to non-fiction since he ends his first paragraph with, “Deliver what your audience wants and needs.” To some extent, that impression is correct, but at the same time it’s too limited. It does apply to fiction writers, memoirists, and poets, too, because he’s not talking just about content, although that’s first and foremost, but also about discoverability (can your potential readers find you and your work?) and connection (do your potential readers see you as human?). The key to a successful writing and publishing career isn’t any of these three things but all of them together.

Joe Konrath (@jakonrath) has an Interview with Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki) on his blog today, conducted by Barry Eisler. If you haven’t heard of Guy, he’s the former Chief Evangelist (I’m not making that up!) at Apple. Now he’s an entrepreneur, lecturer, and most important here, author of “numerous books on marketing, start-ups, and entrepreneurism,” according to the intro, including one launching today called Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book (abbreviated APE!). It takes a while to get to the interview, so to speed up your reading, I suggest you scroll down to questions 6-8 at the end; that’s where the really interesting stuff is, on the future of publishing and the self-published author’s responsibilities.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Nina Badzin’s (@NinaBadzin) 7 Ways Twitter is a Writer’s Endless Holiday Party on Writer Unboxed offers some great tips on how to make better use of Twitter. I can see several are hints—I mean, tips—I need to take!

Chris Robley’s (@chrisrobley) How to Promote Your Book on Twitter: An Intermediate’s Guide to Tweeting on The BookBaby Blog takes those tips to the next level with introductions on how to use TweetDeck, HootSuite, Google Analytics and more. Thanks again to Joel Friedlander for pointing this post out.

THE WRITER’S LIFE

James Scott Bell’s (@jamesscottbell) 10 Ways to Sabotage Your Writing on The Kill Zone could fit either in this category or “business,” since it applies to both. If you’ve been studying this craft/business for a while, or better, been actively practicing it, these 10 ways will be familiar, but for someone new to the craft, this post contains warnings well worth heeding—even if that’s not always easy to do!

An important (and unavoidable) part of the writing life is getting feedback, and dealing with it isn’t always easy. In Sticks and Stones: The Highly Sensitive Writer Toughens Up, Kimberly Vargas (@_KimberlyVargas) offers some examples of the really rough criticism some well-known authors have received and suggests ways we can deal with the sting, even if we can’t eliminate or avoid it completely.

So that’s it for today. What do you think? Which posts did you like most? Which least? How can I serve you better? Let me know via social media or in the Comments below.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, December 6 & 7, 2012

Some really important stuff in the Business and Life sections today, not to mention valuable things to know about Craft and a little bit of crazy and not-for-the-squeamish Fun.

CRAFT

Juliet Marillier touches on an interesting but not that uncommon topic in A Dog’s-eye view on Writer Unboxed. Science fiction and fantasy authors have had to deal with the question of how you make a non-human character, especially if they’re a POV character, both comprehensible and alien at the same time. Many authors have tried it, with varying degrees of success—“success” being a very squishy concept, depending on what they were trying to do. If this is something you’ve ever tried or want to try, give this piece a look.

Danny Iny (@DannyIny) offers some suggestions on How to Write Smart, Not Fast on Write to Done. I was concerned at first when he wrote, “…you need a system…” but fortunately he doesn’t prescribe a particular system, per se, but a system for developing your own. OK, I can live with that.

Joanna Penn (@thecreativepenn) discusses her process of revising in Writing a Book: What Happens After the First Draft? While her particular technique is, of course, her own and may not work for you or me, not only does she have a few interesting twists, like editing on her Kindle for word choice, but she provides quite a few links to other posts, not only her own. For my own immediate needs, the link to her article on beta readers was helpful but there are half a dozen others as well. They alone make this post worth your while.

How Do You Know If Your Work is Any Good? It’s one of the oldest questions around, and not unique at all to writing or even the arts. Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) takes a crack at it, starting by asking how each of us define “good” and what kind of validation we’re looking for. Nothing really new or revelatory here, just good solid reminders to help you keep yourself in balance.

Along this line, check out the quote from Steven Spielberg, provided by Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) in Being Fearless Is Overrated.

BUSINESS

I’m still having trouble with writers who slime all agents all the time because some (small? who knows?) percentage manage to screw up. But that said, when you read pieces like Dean Wesley Smith’s (@DeanWesleySmith) A Side Note About Agents you can’t help but wonder what’s up with agents like the one Smith discusses, who’s being sued for failing to do his job. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder why the competent agents aren’t (a) speaking up for their profession and (b) making a real effort to weed out the bad apples. (Mixed metaphor—sorry!)

Along those same lines, Victoria Strauss (@VictoriaStrauss) issues yet another warning on Writer Beware, this time about The Albee Agency: Book Publicity Faked. What amazes me—and her—is that this agency seemed not to think that nobody would check on their claims. So when Strauss did… I’ll let you guess what happened. “Writer Beware”: it’s so true.

THE WRITER’S LIFE

With the end of the year approaching, we’re tempted to look back and assess. Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) continues her Write It! Wednesday series in that vein with What Successes Will You Celebrate This Year? Celebrating, or even just acknowledging, our own successes isn’t a bad thing. I can list a few: the continued growth and success of the Cochise Writers’ Group, the creation and growth of this blog series, the fact that all of you are reading it (THANK YOU!!!), and the soon-to-happen transition of my major Work In Progress to Work Completed (for now, anyway). What are your successes?

On a much less happy but perhaps even more important topic, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (@kriswrites) continues her series on estate planning with Ghosts of Writers Future. This long as always but important piece is the first of a series on the relationships between wills and copyrights and what how long copyrights last after your death means for your estate and heirs. I know this isn’t a comfortable topic—I’m working on a change to my will and one of its charitable remainder trusts right now—but having lived through what happens when someone dies without a will, trust me, if you value your writing work and love your family, you’ll want to read and heed what Kris is writing here.

FUN

Whether you’re a mystery or thriller writer or not, check out Jordan Dane’s (@JordanDane) White Elephant Christmas Gifts for Crime Fiction Buffs on The Kill Zone. Some of them, like the outfit consisting of a horrible Christmas sweater, pink cowboy hat, and plaid shorts are funny, others, like the bleeding bath mat are just plain creepy. All in good fun, though—at least so long as the words “you have just been poisoned” at the bottom of the coffee mug aren’t true!

Have a great weekend. Happy reading and writing!

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, November 10-12, 2012

Spent the weekend at the TusCon science fiction, fantasy, and horror convention. Had a great time and learned a lot, too. Many thanks and kudos to the Baja Arizona Science Fiction Association (BASFA) for putting on their 39th con!

The downside of convention-going, of course, is catching up, which I’m now doing…with these results:

CRAFT

Clare Langley-Hawthorne has an interesting piece on The Kill Zone about Unreliable Narrators. Inspired by the first-person narrator of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Clare discusses the key things that make an unreliable narrator someone we still want to spend time with. If you’ve ever considered writing (or tried to write) such a character, stop on by to check out Clare’s insights.

We all know the dictum that writing is rewriting. And rewriting means deleting—drowning your darlings, killing your kittens, all that. But deleting material doesn’t have to mean that it’s gone for good and forever. The mechanics and rationale for that are the subject of KM Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) Why Writers Should Never Hit Delete on her WORDplay blog. Her technique—moving to-be-removed material to a separate file—is one approach; there are others. In any case, it’s material you can get back if needed. And sometimes you need to.

Back at The Kill Zone, James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) discusses The Perils of Internet Information, especially how easy it is for something supposedly true can be spread around as if it were. Jim’s article centers around various famous quotes, but of course the message is much broader.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Nina Badzin (@NinaBadzin) has a terrific post on Writer Unboxed about How to Tweet so People Will Listen. What I particularly liked about this post was, rather than being a list of don’ts, it suggests good ideas and explains why they’re good (okay, plus some bad ideas and why they’re bad, but just a few).

Nathan Bransford’s (@NathanBransford) guest poster Jon Gibbs (@jongibbs) takes care of the negative side with his 10 Marketing Techniques That Annoy Potential Readers. Not all of these are done on social media (and, to be honest, I saw some of them used at TusCon) and some of them are just flat astonishing but yes, people really do them. (This is one of three posts that came to my attention via Joel Friedlander’s weekly summary on The Book Designer.)

BUSINESS

Robert Lee Brewer (@robertleebrewer) offers several great tips for how to Develop a Slogan to Help Your Author Platform on his My Name Is Not Bob blog. The key points are that a good slogan builds an identity and communicates value while distinguishing you from your competition. Big companies and political campaigns have known this forever but writers can benefit from it too.

That said, however, Dan Blank (@DanBlank) has an exceptional piece on We Grow Media titled What We Leave Behind—The Real Meaning of Your Platform as a Writer. The title is almost longer than the post but this one part is so good I have to quote it here: “The effect you have on others is the platform. The meaning and purpose behind your work is the platform. The information you share that reshapes someone’s understanding is the platform. The story that inspires and opens new doors – that is the platform.” Wow. Kinda puts things into a different (and better) perspective, doesn’t it? (This piece also came via Joel Friedlander.)

Finally, and again via Joel Friedlander, a very cool set of Tools for Testing Your Ebooks from the PressBooks Blog. The authors list 7 (and provide links to 6) tools that let you look at your ebook in EPUB and PDF formats as they will appear on various ereaders so you can be sure they’re okay before you actually publish. Man, can this ever save heartache!

That’s what I found. What have you found out there on the blogosphere that’s worth sharing? Post your suggestions in the Comments.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, November 8 and 9, 2012

Wouldn’t you know it? The day I need to hurry, there’s LOTS of great stuff to write about. To work, then!

CRAFT

Let’s start with Jordan Dane (@JordanDane) on The Kills Zone and Writing Dialog – Tips. It’s not that there are any astounding new insights here but Jordan’s compiled a lot of good ideas into one easy-to-access location.

Similarly, Gabriela Pereira’s (@DIYMFA) piece Read Like an Agent doesn’t break any new ground but provides a good all-in-one-place summary of why the first few pages of your book are so important and how to make them so strong they are, as she puts it, un-put-downable.

Robin LaFevers’ (@RLLaFevers) long but excellent article on Transformational Journeys—Working with Archetypes on Writer Unboxed not only lists and describes various archetypes, it also discusses how to use them to turn ordinary characters and writing into something far greater. Very well worth your time.

Also on Writer Unboxed, Lisa Cron (@lisacron) discusses 2 Ways Your Brain is Wired to Undermine Your Story—And What to Do About It. Her two main points are that we all have a tendency to write about the world the way we see it (to “see the world as we are” as she puts it) rather than how it really is, and we naturally resist any idea we don’t already hold to be true. Clearly, both of these things can work against us, especially if our characters hold significantly different views from our own, have different motivations, etc. Another terrific article.

Whether your manuscript is done or not, people are going to ask you, “What’s it about?” How can you answer without launching into your entire “elevator speech?” That’s where the one-sentence summary, or logline, comes in. Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) Writing a One-Sentence Summary provides an excellent—though not one sentence long—guide for how to construct it (courtesy of ex-agent Nathan Bransford), plus an example.

Finally for this section, Robert Bruce (@robertbruce76) and his commenters provide their lists of The Best Writing Quotes That Ever Existed on 101 Books. Okay, so maybe “ever” is a bit of hype and the quotes aren’t new, they’re still worth rereading every now and then.

BUSINESS

Just one business piece today. Top 5 Goals for your Book or eBook Cover comes from Joel Friedlander (@jfbookman) and is based on his experiences not only of designing covers himself but of reviewing hundreds of others. Quickly, the goals are: announce the book’s genre, telegraph its tone, explain its scope, generate excitement, and establish a market position. Of course, to get a fuller understanding of those goals, you need to hop on over to the article itself. It’s a quick and easy read.

THE WRITER’S LIFE

At the other end of quick and easy is Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s (@kriswrites) Want to Be Read 100 Years from Now? Here’s How. Now, from the title I thought this was going to be a piece on quality writing. Instead, it’s a very long piece on estates and copyrights. Not a happy topic but an important one. I just wish the post wasn’t over 3800 words long. SIGH.

That’s it for today. Monday’s post will be delayed as I’m (a) heading off to a science fiction/fantasy/horror convention in a few hours and then (b) taking part in a Veterans’ Day parade on Monday. We vets have made sure no foreign power has interfered with your right to read, write, and say what you wish (at least here in the United States) in the last 200 years. (This year is the bicentennial of the beginning of the War of 1812. Has anyone noticed?) I hope you’ll keep that in mind not just this weekend but throughout the year.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, October 18-22, 2012

Go on the road for a few days and the Great Stuff (and laundry) starts to pile up. So much that I’ve decided to put out a bonus Great Stuff post tomorrow. (The laundry’s already taken care of.) Today I’ll focus on articles on craft and the writer’s life. Tomorrow will be all business. Here we go.

CRAFT

I’ll confess right up front that I’m no fan of writing prompts and exercises—I’m BUSY, dammit!—so when Jane Friedman posted 3 Steps for Using Prompts to Writer Better & Get Published by Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA), I was a bit dubious. OK, more than a bit. But Gabriela’s approach is practical: use writing prompts to build writing stamina through practice, improve your skill at specific techniques, then apply what you’ve learned to a project. If you’re not sure about using writing prompts, give the post a look and the suggestions a try.

Characters’ emotions are at the heart of fiction, so David Farland’s (@davidfarland) Surprising Emotions: How Will Your Character React? on The Bookshelf Muse immediately grabbed my attention. Even better, his article offers three surprising (to the reader) ways of presenting emotion. The surprises are having the character: under-react, over-react, or react the “wrong” way. Used with care, these reactions will reveal something interesting or important about a character, and readers are always up for that.

James Scott Bell’s (@jamesscottbell) Baloney Advice Writers Should Ignore on The Kill Zone shouldn’t just raise a smile—or an out-loud laugh—it should clear away the fog of bad (or at least questionable) advice that gets handed out to new writers. Check out his five bad pieces of advice and the counterexamples that prove them wrong.

CRAFT AND LIFE

I decided to use that subhead because these next two pieces live on that boundary between a writer’s craft and his or her life.

Anna Elliott (@anna_elliott) gets us started by Exploding the Perfect Writer Myth on Writer Unboxed. We’ve all run into it, probably, particularly from non-writers: the belief that a writer’s words come out as perfect pearls perfectly strung the first time we put them down on paper or screen. HA! Worse, of course, is the new writer who believes that’s what he’s just done. That’s a painful critique group meeting! But the flip side, as Elliott points out, is that nagging, secret belief that we should produce those perfect pearls each time. That’s why, she says, it’s so important to love the revision process.

So you got the darn thing DONE and it’s out there in reader-land. KM Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) thoughts about How to Tell if Your Book Is a Success on WORDplay center around each writer’s personal definitions of success and failure. Her 14 questions just begin to scratch the surface of the topic, focused as they are on ratings and money, but they’re a place to start the conversation—one that’s good to have before that book comes out.

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Dr. Rita Hancock (@ritahancockmd) addresses preventing a problem that many writers have to deal with: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome on WordServe Water Cooler. She covers the symptoms, diagnostics (which don’t sound like any fun at all), treatments, and most important, how to prevent the condition in the first place. Hint: it has to do with sitting position, arm angles, and keyboard height. Sound complex? It’s not. Check it out.

Finally, Harvey Stanbrough (@h_stanbrough) suggests 12 Ways to Make Your Critique Group Effective. Twelve may sound like a lot but a few are one-time-only actions and the rest become automatic parts of how the group runs quickly. Practical and effective.

That’s all for today. What Great Stuff have you found? Share it in the comments below.