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Emma Darwin
I write novels and short fiction and I live in South East London.
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... and some others which might be useful. As always, Writers' Workshop's Festival of Writing at York was a brilliant, bewildering long weekend, stuffed with workshops, talks, keynote speeches, book signings, and oceans of talking and drinking and eating and writing. As well as the mini-course on Self-Editing Your Novel that Debi Alper and I gave on Friday afternoon, I taught workshops on prose - Plain & Perfect, Rich & Rare - and on The Heart of Storytelling: three- and five-act structure. I sat on an industry panel about Historical Fiction, and I did lots of one-to-one Book Doctor sessions,... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at This Itch of Writing
Specificity is ALWAYS the answer, I think. Another reason for not using the phrase passive writing: it doesn't actually give the writer any clues to what to do about it.
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I don't think I've ever told a student their writing is boring to their face, but ...
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The trouble is that people do turn warnings into rules, when people who'd like to sound like gurus - even things as bonkers as saying that the most common and basic verb in the language is for some reason not "allowed". Which is slightly understandable - even if wrong - when people say "show don't tell", because Showing is usually more vivid and that's usually what we want. What's really wrong-headed about warning baby writers against using "to be" is that the verb being there isn't the problem: it's the canary in the mine for other problems. It doesn't actually teach the writer about the nature of the problem. I suppose what's obvious to anyone who has a natural talent for good writing isn't obvious at all to people who still feel at sea among the options (or really are born with a tin ear for how language works) and so they reach for a rule. As for "passive writing", I don't think it's even a terribly good label, as well having the confusion with the grammatical meaning of passive. I agree with Leila - it's very non-specific, so the best way to replace it would be to use a word which gets more exactly at the specific problem in that case. Some that occur to me, depending on the problem: flat, dull, un-vivid, un-energetic, distanced, stodgy, padded, limp ...
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To be fair, I think when e.g. Orwell says it, he's starting from an "Of course I only mean this some of the time, for writers who don't know any better and need telling" ... and then it gets taken for gospel, instead of merely a pointer being made in a particular context, and not really about fiction at all.
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See you there!
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It's just been London's turn for the Historical Novel Society Conference, and as part of a packed programme, Suzannah Dunn and I were asked to give a workshop on "Figures of Speech: Recreating Past Voices". That too, was packed: it's just as well no one else turned up or we'd have had people sitting on the floor! As is the way, I found myself referring quite often to posts on the blog, so here's a roundup of the ones I remember, and any others which seem relevant. Do say in the comments if I've missed any, or there are any... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at This Itch of Writing
You're welcome, Roy. (Hope it's okay that I redacted your email address, which was showing as your username - which does tend to get found by the spammers...)
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Oh, blurgh! to rejections. The un-fun part of the business. But The Crocodile Hotle that sounds really interesting - best of luck with it!
Toggle Commented Sep 3, 2014 on Why Do I Write? at This Itch of Writing
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Richard, as far as I know it's because: - it couldn't be done in typewriting - it makes for silly spacing because no computer is very good at justifying, so it usually looks awful and you get great gaps of white, which the eye doesn't run along easily, and "rivers of white" when they join up down a page. Typesetters are trained to tweak things so that doesn't happen. - when production managers estimated how many words in a typescript, they used a process which as I remember was called "casting off": counting words-per-line and lines-per-page, and doing a complicated formula based on the design of the book to give an accurate forecast about how many pages the typeset book would be: apparently it was more accurate than basing those sums on a word-processor wordcount, and all the production sums would be based on that estimate. Justifying the lines messes those sums up. All of which adds up, I suspect, to a feeling that a justified manuscript a) doesn't work so well with the professionals' intuitive sense of the pace and shape of the work, and b) shows that you're not a pro because you don't know the difference between a manuscript - which is what you're sending in as the raw material - and a properly typeset book, which is produced by professionals.
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There seems to be confusion between the actual grammar of active and passive voice, and prose that's accused of being "passive". So, let's start with the bare facts. When the action - the verb - of a sentence is being performed by the subject of the sentence, the sentence is in active voice. This kind of subject + verb + object construction is the basic building block of English. Anne chases the cat. The dog bit Ben. Here, the action is being done by the subject of the sentence: "Anne chases" and "The dog bit". When the action is being... Continue reading
Posted Sep 2, 2014 at This Itch of Writing
'Fraid so... He was *counts on fingers* my grandmother's great-uncle. Green Tea is sooooooo scary. I remember being very scared by Uncle Silas, too, which I read when I was a teen.
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Lovely to see you here, Rebecca. Glad you found the blog interesting.
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You're welcome, Cindy. I reckon the York ducks must be pretty tough, really. Think of all the essays the probably dine on the rest of the year... See you there!
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Yes, I think often they do come about very naturally. But I think it can be a place where the very different speeds that we write at, compared to reading-speed, can confuse things. I've sometimes thought after slaving away on a big scene, "Goodness, the reader's going to need a breather. This goes on FOREVER." And it's only weeks later, in revision, I see that it doesn't go on forever at all and the reader doesn't want the breaks I'd put in - it was just that it it was a difficult scene and it took me forever to write. And I've gone back and stitched things back together across the breaks.
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I think that's very true too, and I hadn't quite thought it out like that. Sustained, lose-up attention to trivial things will make you notice major things - trying to correct a dodgy bit of grammar can make you work harder on the whole sentence. And sustained, close-up attention to major things will mean you actually notice slips in punctuation. It's a bit like the way that following almost any diet, whatever clever principle it's supposed to follow, will mean you lose weight, simply because you're actually watching what you eat in a way that you don't the rest of the time.
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Yes, exactly - there's the "Why not NOT annoy the judge" thing. Not that I'm personally irritated by circles over "i"s. But it's a terrible waste of exam time.
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Yes, in one sense they're trivial - if it's a good story, it's a good story - and in another it really does affect how you absorb the story, even if you're trying not to be affected. With grammar and syntax, of course, there's always the possibility that it's deliberate, depending on the voice of the story. But sometimes it very obviously isn't...
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You're welcome, Hugh! I think we all find it easier to see what's going on in others' writing, than we do in our own. Learning to write is very much a process of learning to read our work as others will ... but we never can entirely!
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One of the things which has made my summer busy and fun has been writing a story for a new collection, Dreams of Shadow and Smoke: stories for J. S. Le Fanu, which is published this Thursday. Though he's now mostly known as the author of Uncle Silas, the influence of J Sheridan Le Fanu on the ghost and horror tradition in literature is vast, not least in his homeland: his vampires pre-date those of that other Irish writer, Bram Stoker, and his novel The House by the Churchyard was an important influence on Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. As V S... Continue reading
Posted Aug 26, 2014 at This Itch of Writing
I should imagine he does - most writers do. It's possible to write a story without using it, but a writer who can't handle free indirect style is very limited in what they can do. And yes, it's basically a way that the narrator's voice and the character's voice can be integrated so the text conveys both at once. Very clever - and yet to us now it seems so simple and natural that lots of writers use it without even knowing that's what they're doing!
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The paper is because it's infinitely quicker and more intuitve and expressive to comment and correct with a pen, on others' work as much as my own. And if I'm reading in the garden I can't see the screen properly half the time. Always supposing I've remembered to charge the laptop in the first place... I don't print out things like competition entries, if they don't arrive on paper, but I do for appraisals and teaching if I possibly can. Re spacing etc. those basic professional and/or academic guidelines have evolved for very good reasons: to make things more readable for people who have to read an awful lot. Obv if we personally prefer something odd, then that's different, but it's the writer's job to conform to normal professional presentation not the editor's/teacher's/agent's/judge's, any more than it's a teacher's job to run a student's essay through a spell checker, or to sort out the referencing, before marking it for - among other things - its spelling and referencing.
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Carol, yes, practicing what we preach ...
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Yes, I do agree about the professionalism. Although I also think that people vary wildly in how much they notice - let alone care - about that kind of thing. Some of the people who send out untidy MS don't know that one should care, some either consciously or unconsciously can't be bothered, but I do think that a few genuinely, honestly can't see it... "I always fear making comments like this that my own failings are going to come back and embarrass me." Yes, I'm waiting for someone to quote something I wrote on the Itch .. It's not mostly genuine conviction that makes me so ofen be saying "the opposite is also true" - but it has the side-effect of not offering quite so many hostages to fortune!
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Yes, absolutely - at the very least, you'll get all the credit that what you've said is capable of earning... I bet it wasn't crap, either! Similarly, I'm stupidly proud of my PhD examiners' comment that my thesis was "notably free of typographic errors" despite, as you say, that being in some ways the least important thing about it.
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