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The Golden City
Just like everyone else, writers have their pet peeves. Our are just stranger...

Set Your Phasers to Destroy: Unnecessary Verbs

by Tina Gower

Hi ho grammarly types! I’m dyslexic and I’m here to infiltrate your peaceful paradise of complaints and peeves. Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle.

My beef concerns writing weaknesses. Weaknesses in imagery with the verbs we choose and how we use them. As a school psychologist I was trained to help people with learning disabilities (like disabilities that hinder reading phonics, syntax, and comprehension). I picked up a few tricks to help people boost reading fluency and comprehension.

Along the way I discovered a funny problem that causes a mental roadblock. It’s something that I first stumbled across in other writing. Then, like a flu virus, it spread into my stories when I first started the craft and it’s a bad habit.

It’s the use of the double verb. It poses an imagery problem and puts in extra words that are unnecessary. It messes with clarity and gums up our sentences. Your mission is to seek and destroy the double verb.

Type these words into your document search tool:

Began/begin to
Tried to
Attempted to
Started to

I’ll use examples of this offense in a few sentences:

Helen tried to walk away from Harry.
Margaret began to sit on the couch.
Bob started to shake Mary’s hand.
The dog attempted to steal the cake.

I hope you’re awesome and you found none, but if you did find these and you’re wondering what’s the big deal, I’ll tell you.

First of all, it’s a logic flow problem. Imagine “trying to walk” okay maybe you can imagine it. Maybe you’re shaking your head and think I’m being silly. Now get up and “try to walk.” Show me what a “try to walk” looks like. Did you stumble? Did to stand paused in place wondering what to do next? Was your foot hovered in the air?

When I tried this on myself I wanted to know what a “started to sit” was. I decided physically get up out of my chair and “start to sit.” My butt hovered comically in the air. Most of the time those words can be taken out with no problem. Have people go ahead and sit (Margaret sat on the couch). Let them shake hands (Bob shook Mary’s hand). If they don’t complete the motion it will add more tension and conflict to come up with better way of showing this in body language. For example, what if someone went to shake hands and the other person carefully folded their hands behind their back. Whoa! Total awkwardness and much more interesting than a “tried to shake” situation.

Also, some writers are cheating cheaters. They know this rule and they find ways around it (or maybe don’t know the rule and just have other problems). So they’ll say, “he started sitting,” or “he tried talking.” Nice save, but we can do better. Again, a focus on the interesting body language will bring out more emotion and strengthen writing. It will paint a better picture of what is actually happening in the story. Ideally, we’d have no throw away words in a story—double verbs are so easily thrown away and don’t bring any emotional power.

Bonus Peeve:

The word “felt.” Run a search in your current work in progress. Unless it’s referring to felt as in the material (wool felting), or another word for touch, it might be clogging your opportunity to show emotion on the page.

She felt angry.
He felt sad.
Maria felt as though she were in a pit of eternal sadness, like a hole of nothing opened up and swallowed her.

Felt is usually followed by the naming of an emotion. Readers get told how the characters feel. Imagine how fun it is to sit on the bench at a park and people-watch. We watch some guy stomping around and screaming and we think, “oh, he’s mad!!” A little thrill zings up our spine. But we don’t get the guy stomping in the park saying, “I am angry!” Well, maybe, but that’s not as interesting. I’m giggling sort of thinking about it. I imagine Will Ferrell delivering those lines and automatically add “whirling tornado” (embedded link: to the end of it. Instead use body language, use internal thoughts, use setting, use a visceral response. Much more interesting. Much stronger. Readers get to make the connection. It’s more fun for readers and writers.


photo-283x300In her youth, Tina lived her life in a land of fantasy called the State of Jefferson. No really, her home state technically didn’t exist (except in the minds of the community members and locals). With a zip code borrowed from a town a half hour away and a state that never quite became recognized in the Union, Tina still managed to find footing in the real world. She earned a master’s degree in school psychology, raised guide dogs, and eventually decided to train her own two children. She believes them to be perfect, but that depends on if her children are as real as her hometown. Tina has sold short fiction to professional science fiction markets, won writing awards, and is represented by Rebecca Strauss at DeFiore and Company.

You can follow her on
Facebook: www.facebook/gowertina
The Golden City
Back in 2007, I attended Life, the Universe, and Everything, a science-fiction and fantasy symposium -- my first SFF conference of any kind. Stacy Whitman was the editor Guest of Honor. At the time, she worked for Mirrorstone, the children and YA imprint from Wizards of the Coast. I took notes at the panels. She seemed like an amazing editor, but I was pretty sure I’d never get to work with her. I wasn’t writing anything that I thought Mirrorstone would be interested in seeing.

But publishing is a strange place. In 2009, Stacy founded Tu Books. Now, I’d often heard that you must have an agent before getting a book deal, but Tu Books, at the time, had open submissions. Why not just submit? After hearing her speak at LTUE, I was pretty sure that Stacy was a brilliant editor I’d want to work with (which turned out to be 100% accurate). Honestly, I was also excited by the idea of sending an editor chapters, rather than trying to pitch to agents. Writing pitches has always been incredibly hard for me.

So I sent her Drift, and waited patiently for my rejection letter, because authors who submit novels through the slush are supposed to get rejection letters, right? Instead I got a revision letter, and eventually an offer.

I know not everyone is a fan of conferences, but I enjoy them. I go to listen to smart people talk, to talk with writer friends, and in more recent years, sit on panels and hopefully say something wise. Being put on the spot on a panel actually forces me to think very quickly and I’ve learned a lot about writing that way, too. And sometimes, the unexpected comes of conferences. I never would have thought that attending LTUE years ago would, rather indirectly, lead to me having a book coming out today.


MKHutchinsPic-300x298M.K. Hutchins' debut novel, Drift, is a YA epic fantasy featuring a floating island surrounded by a monster-infested, watery hell. Her short fiction has been published in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, and a half-dozen other places.

She's studied archaeology in college, compiled histories from Maya glyphs, excavated in Belize, and worked as a faunal analyst. A long-time Idahoan, she now resides in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband and her three boys.

Does Anyone Really Know What Time it is?

The Golden City
My husband and I were recently talking about my issues with time.  My grasp of time has always been a bit....well...


Yeah, like that.

Let me explain: I work at home. I often do no know what day it is. Not only the date, but sometimes the day of the week.

Now this is a common problem for people who are nearing a certain age, and who work at home.  There's not a lot of stimulus to tell you where you are in relation to the rest of the world.  TV is one of the few things that imposes a schedule on me...well, that and taking the dogs to daycare once a week.

I do try.  I use Google Calendar. I have a date book within hand's reach at all times. I have clocks with the day of the week on them. I always try to travel with watches. But I just can't seem to keep time straight.

And for me, this problem far predates middle age.  Let me point out a few shining examples...

1) I showed up an hour late for a Business Law final.  It wasn't because I was sleeping or goofing off.  I was studying for the test. I had a clock right in front of me. I had been attending that class for an entire semester and knew what time it started.  Nope, I just kept looking at that clock and thinking 'one more hour to study'...   (This did NOT do my grade in that class any good, since it left me with only 30 minutes to complete a 90 minute test.)

2) When I was working as a buyer, I would sometimes show up on the wrong day for an appointment with a vendor.  Not weekly, but a few times a year.  (There were LOTS of appts to confuse. I would usually go to NYC with 60 or 70 appts planned.) It's almost as if I don't understand a date book.  My record is showing up a week off schedule*, which the Shah Safari rep just found funny, and since he had a free hour, he showed me the line then anyway.  (I was, thankfully, on good terms with most of my product reps.)

3) I missed an entire day of inservice at the beginning of school one year. I thought school started the next day.  No, I didn't have the start date wrong in my head or on my calendar.  I just thought I was living in Wednesday instead of Thursday, so I had one more day.  ::sighs::

(And no one bothered to call to ask me why I wasn't there, either, which shows you the real importance of inservice meeting days.  FWIW, the district decided not to dock me a day's pay because I did so many 'extra duties as assigned'.  But it took them the better part of the school year to reach that decision.  Bureaucracy.)


So when I ran someone's guest blog posts a week early recently, I felt stupid.  I had it on the right day in my calendar, which is two feet from my hand.  I was just mentally living in the wrong week.  I thought it was already June when it was still May.  ::headdesk::

All I can ask is that people be forgiving when I screw something up. At least I'm far more likely to do something Early as opposed to Late.

I wonder is there's a name for this...or if I'm the only one...



*This is why I LOVE e-mails, which give me a paper trail to double check, as opposed to the old days when we had to do things by phone.


The Golden City

The 400,000 Word Mistake

By the time I sold "The Dark Apostle" series, I had already committed a mistake I always advise newbie authors against: I had written the complete 5-book cycle. I had the time, I had an onerous option clause in a prior contract that prevented me from selling for a long time, and I had this great character I wanted to write about, so, hey, why not? Well. . .once my agent brought in an offer on the series from DAW books, I found out exactly why not.
They loved book 1, Elisha Barber—and they didn't feel the other books lived up to the promise of the first. I was excited to have sold 5 books which were already written, only to find that I would need to re-write 4 of them. Not only that, but to re-envision them—to make them bigger, deeper, more epic. Yikes! This is one of the reasons I advise authors not to get ahead of themselves on writing sequels: if something changes in book 1, you've got to rewrite the others. Or, in the next 4 books, as the case may be. . .

(The other reason is simply that, if you can't sell book 1, having books 2-5 doesn't help—better to spend your time writing an unrelated book, after jotting your notes for the continuing series—then you have a different product to sell if the first series concept doesn't fly. That's how I ended up writing Elisha Barber, BTW—I was creating an alternate book to offer if publishers didn't bite on my other series.)

The idea that I had to essentially trash about 400,000 words of prose did not rest well with me. I stomped around and kicked things, had a few tense conversations with my agent, then tightened my belt and decided to give it a try. My new editor had some ideas about how the series arc would go. I wasn't crazy about them, but I wrote up an outline anyway. That one didn't work. So he had some other ideas, and I put them together with my other ideas: still no good. Then I hit on a great approach, and developed a third outline I am very excited about—and the editor is, too. Elisha Magus, book 2 comes out July 1, with book 3 already in my editor's hands, and book 4 out with my local critique group. By the end of the year, I hope to draft the grand finale—book 5, writing toward that great ending I envisioned and outlined months ago.

The end result of my failure to follow my own advice has been not only a stronger, bigger, and more marketable series concept, but also an improvement to my own plotting and brainstorming approach. I'm no longer afraid of the outline, but can view it as a tool to come up with something better—a tool I can manipulate to make my future books stronger, even before page 1.

About the author

ECAmbrose-sm-199x300As E. C. Ambrose, I’m the author of the Dark Apostle series from DAW books, a dark historical fantasy series about medieval surgery. (Yeah, I know, “dark” and “medieval surgery” is kind of redundant, but I want to make sure E. C. Ambroseyou know what you’re getting into.) The series started with Elisha Barber (7/13) and continues in July of 2014 with Elisha Magus.

My short fiction has won the Tenebris Press Flash Fiction contest 2012 and is forthcoming in Fireside. You may also have seen my non-fiction pieces “The Romance of Ruins” and “Spoiler Alert!” in Clarkesworld magazine.

When I’m not writing, reading grim and gory history books, or visiting strange museums, I work as an adventure guide, taking teens into the White Mountains of New Hampshire for hiking, rock climbing, kayaking and campfire stories. All of them have come home alive. . . so far.

E. C. Ambrose website
E. C. Ambrose blog
On Twitter
On Facebook

Apologizing in advance....

The Golden City
For the next month I'll be enduring two releases: the Mass Market Paperback of The Golden City will be coming out a week from today, and the Trade Paperback of The Seat of Magic will be debuting on July 1.

In addition, I'm looking at a mid-July release of The Golden City in the UK, only two weeks before WorldCon! (The Kindle version has been available there all along. This is the release of the Mass Market version there.)

Because of that, I'm floundering around trying to get my social media lined up for the rest of the summer. I'll have one con per month through September (SoonerCon, ArmadilloCon, WorldCon, and Fencon), and one in November (WFC).

At some point, I will get my edits for Book 3 (The Shores of Spain). And I still have to be writing Dreaming Death in the background of all this other stuff.

So the next few months will be a balancing act of multiple commitments. I will probably be very bad about keeping up with my friends. So I'm apologizing in advance if I miss anything great of yours. Or even your everyday greatness.

(For US people)
In addition, if you're interested in a Mass Market copy of The Golden City, I've got a bunch to give out. So just let me know (message would be good.)

Thanks for all your patience!

Corset, 3 weeks in...

The Golden City
So I've been wearing a corset for three weeks. It's quite comfortable now, although since last week was a heavy gardening week and this week is a heavy housework week, I haven't (won't) be wearing it a full 12 hours per day. And since I have to drive long distance on Friday, I won't be wearing it then...

But it has done wonders for my posture. I've discovered (or re-learned) that my slumping problem occurs in the middle back, not the lower back. If anything, my lower back tends to sway in the other direction. That means that the corset does NOT cure my slumping. However, what it does do is remind me not to slump. When I start to slump, I feel the bones of the corset shift against me, and I sit up straight again.

So for that, it's been really helpful.

In addition, my appetite has actually been less, although I don't think I've lost weight since that first dramatic drop. (I haven't weighed in two weeks, so I don't know.)

As an interesting aside, I ran across this blog post today, wherein the blogger describes trying to sleep while wearing her corset. I'm not sold on the idea, especially since I'm a flailing sleeper. I think I put my desire to sleep ahead of any advantage that could be gained by that.*

Anyhow, I'm almost at the end of my four weeks, but I will be continuing to use the corset while working. (In fact, I've purchased another.) It does seem to do what I want it to do.

*I am not in this for waist-training. I have plenty of waist to train, but I prefer not to tight-lace.


The Golden City
Today the Novelocity authors talk about the things that make them fall in love with a new project!

For me, this is the image that kicked off the entire series of "Dragon's Child" stories:
Jia-li hands


What's the tipping point for you? When does a project suddenly become dear to your heart?


Scrivener, Day 8

The Golden City
A week into using Scrivener, and I've figured out how to get it to do most of the things I want it to do. I've loaded Dreaming Death into it (along with the new proposal part), and divided the mss up into scenes, then grouped those scenes by which day they occur on.  Then I input a synopsis for each scene, probably the function of Scrivener that will be the most useful for me.

In the screenshot below, I've compiled scenes from two days, color-coded by POV character. The first thing this allows me to do is get my playing field leveled between my characters. (Teal and pink should be about even, yellow is less frequent.)


In addition, I can view these as an outline, and even print out an outline of the book that combines those synopses. The outline function also includes the 'POV' colors, and has a separate column for 'Status', where I'm starting to put in whether a scene should be rewritten or dumped.


Another capacity of Scrivener is that it allows me to attach other types of files to this document. For a start, I've uploaded all the 'character' pictures I used for this book (see Eli below). At this point, I'm not sure how helpful this will be. I suspect it would be more helpful where I have a lot of historical research I could attach to the file, but this book isn't historical, and thus at this time all I have uploaded is the pictures of the people.  I do, however, suspect that I will be including some photos of other things, such as maps, room layouts, and items like furniture. (How many times did I have to go back and try to find my map of the Ferreira front sitting room?)


So although I haven't been using this long, I do think it will be useful in formative stages of writing.

Unfortunately, it can't help me remember that phone conversation with my editor that led me to decide to dump a character. Now I can't remember why I did that, and I think I need to undo it. This is why I always prefer email conversations....I can go back and look at them!


Some random updates...

The Golden City
Corset: 3rd week underway. Still keeping on, but with my efforts to exercise more, it's difficult to get in 12 hours. I'm willing to cut the hours  back, though. Poor women who had no choice but to exercise while wearing one of these....which offers an explanation for those long long walks. I also have to wonder how comfortable this would be while riding a horse.  Hmmm....

Scrivener: After several days, I'm learning work-arounds for some of the Word functions that I lack, although the missing synonym finder is the one I still miss most. I'm in the process of using Scrivener to outline Dreaming Death,  which I think will be its greatest use for me. My outlines are really important.

Gardening: I had several things die over winter, things that usually survive our winters here (my agastache, my cannas, and several of my gauras, for example). I still need to replace a few hawthorns, but we've dropped back into low 60s highs (after several days near 100.)  I wish we could have an 'average' year.

Speaking out the out-of-doors, I recently had to stop taking the allergy spray that I've been loving so much, but the side effects became too much to put up with. So now I'm back to Tavist, and am sleepy in the morning.  Put this together with the cold, and all I want to do is crawl back in bed.

Scrivener, Day 1

The Golden City
Writing-Clip-Art-300x300Yesterday I fired up Scrivener for the first time. I read all the way through the tutorial, then uploaded a novella (32K) into it, and started to mess around with the program.

Now, to preface things here, I'll say that I'm pretty good with figuring out what computer programs do, figuring out work-arounds, and getting them to do what I want. Most programs don't present a challenge for me. Therefore, whatever I say here may not apply to you.

After loading in my novella, I broke it up into Parts and Scenes, added a few items to the 'Research' area, and created an outline on the program's Corkboard (a very handy feature for someone who quickly tires of writing index cards.) All of that was simple after reading the tutorials. And when I got through that, I already had a good idea when the program would be useful for me.

I think that the longer I write, the better the program will work. So for drafting novels, it will be very nice. Short stories, no. I'm still not sure about novellas. 30-40K is an easy length for me, and I think that's on the cusp of Scrivener usefulness/non-usefulness.

When I draft a scene, I will be able to attach date, location, POV character, clothes, to the actual scene itself. I can view the scenes in sequence or individually. I can group them by date (which is probably what I'll do since I don't put in chapters until the next draft.) Essentially, Scrivener seems to act like a series of interactive file folders, which will be very useful when I'm trying to figure out initial structure.

What Scrivener will not be useful for is later drafts. I probably won't finish drafting the novella in Scrivener because I'm already past the creation stage...I'm at the edits stage.

Scrivener is missing some very useful aspects of Word. The one I've already noticed is that Scrivener doesn't have a right-click "Synonyms" function. Wow, after only a few hours, that's the ONE THING I noticed that I really wish it had. (You can check the Online Thesaurus, but that's not nearly as handy as right-clicking and having your answers pop up.)

So my verdict is that when I'm creating a new draft or working on an outline, THEN Scrivener will be nice. But after that, we're exporting to Word so I can get real editing done.


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