Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pitfalls in the Pomp of Speeches and Storytelling

Tis the season for graduations, and this year, I will be attending at least four. Two down, two to go.

For fear of being misinterpreted as overly critical, let me begin by saying I thoroughly enjoy listening to senior speeches. They are full of insights and accomplishments that graduates should be proud to share.

However, they also provide a glimpse of some pitfalls common to speeches and writing alike. Writers, take note! Finding these mistakes in someone else’s speech is much easier to do than spotting them in the pages of our own writing.

Don’t use a big word when a small one will do.

Graduates have drilled vocabulary words, memorized SAT and ACT lists, and frequented dictionary.com on a regular basis. They are proud of their knowledge, and well, they should be.

The irony is that after learning impressive-sounding words like penchant and ambiance, deleterious and surreptitious, graduates have people (like me) tell them to replace their pedantic words for everyday ones.

Why? While knowing what big words mean is important, most people don’t like stuffiness. They prefer simplicity.

In the writing world, remember that readers don’t want to keep a dictionary by their side. They want to get lost in the story, not the meaning of the word anachronistic.

Word choice and appropriateness will make all the difference in your ability to communicate.

Don’t be wordy.

The best speeches are short, simple and sincere. My favorite speech so far has contained all three of these qualities. The result? I was able to relate to the graduate and actually remember something from the speech (without scribbling notes).

If you are writing a novel, you may have to skip the “short” part, but you should not sacrifice clarity for word count. If an action does not serve to build the plot, cut it out. If the dialogue is humorous but long-winded, trim it up.

In short, make every word count.

Don’t preach at your audience.

One of the speeches I heard belonged more at a political pep rally than a graduation ceremony. While I agreed with what the graduate was saying, I also felt myself stiffen as though someone were shouting at me.

No one enjoys a lecture, and as writers, this pill can be a hard one to swallow – especially for Christian fiction writers. We want to convey truth through a story, but how can we do so without pointing fingers?

Here’s my suggestion: Tell the story well, and let the story tell the truth. Make the struggle your character’s struggle, and simply let the audience watch the drama unfold and come to their own conclusions.

Thank you to all the graduates for sharing your speeches and words of wisdom. Congratulations on what you have accomplished! May your futures be bright.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

Myth #3: Authors keep dozens of copies of their books on hand

Maybe first-time self-published authors do. Yes, it is very exciting to see a box of books with your name on them. However, I’ve discovered that keeping large quantities of books on hand isn’t wise unless I don’t want to be able to get into my closet. Instead, I try to plan book signings in advance and order copies accordingly for the event.

True story. This is my conversation with a sweet senior lady about my book.

Lady: I’d really like to buy your books. I’ve heard great things about them.
Me: Thank you! I’d love for you to read them.
Lady: Can you get me copies of them?
Me: Well, I don’t have that many left since my last book signing.
Lady: *Incredulous face*
Me: (Hurriedly) But you can go on Amazon and order them. It’s really easy.
Lady: What’s Amazon? I’ve never heard of it.
Me: I’ll look in my closet and find a copy.
Note to fellow writers: Make exceptions where appropriate unless you think you can successfully explain that Amazon is not just a river in South America but also an online shopping experience that has nearly everything imaginable for sale.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Myth #2: Some writers are immune to writer’s block

Writing, like any other job, has its tough spots, and we diagnose this ailment as writer’s block. No writer – I repeat, not one– is invulnerable.

I dearly love my friends who cheer me on in my writing and are kind enough to check in on me every once in a while to make sure I’m still breathing – like one of my friends who engaged me in the following texting conversation the other week.

Friend: Hey girl, how is the book coming?

Me: A little slow today… trying to work out some plot details and

feeling a bit distracted.

Friend: Is everything ok?

Me: Yeah, it may be a slight case of writer’s block, but I’m forcing myself to just write anyway. That usually helps me through it.

Friend: Does this happen to you a lot?

Me: Not too often… No writer is immune, though. I wish!

If a writer tells you he's having a rough day, don’t ask why. It just happens. The wise person knows to give his writing friend a brownie and a hug – and then shoo him back to his desk to get back to work.