Friday, September 20, 2013

The Evil of Filler Sentences

I use Grammarly to check plagiarism because plagiarists are nearly as bad as terrorists. 

I have been studying writing for a good amount of time now. I always figured that, as a writer, I should study my craft. A college class I am taking brought my attention to the importance of the sentence. I might even call it an epiphany. You might laugh at this, thinking that of course the sentence is important. It is, after all, necessary for writing and communication. It could of course be argued that words are the true building blocks and if any epiphany should happen it should be about their importance. I would agree with all these arguments and assumptions, but nonetheless I came to realize in an instance how little I valued the sentence. 

My reasoning for this rests on one thing: filler sentences.

What are filler sentences?

In truth, I do not know if "filler sentence" is a technical phrase. I choose to use it because I can, because I am a writer, because I can create words and phrases and attach meaning to them. My definition of a filler sentence is a sentence that holds no real purpose or meaning. 

Let me further expand on some ways to recognize filler sentences so that you will understand my meaning more fully. Also, let it be known that I am hesitant to use the phrase "filler sentence" in regard to non-fiction, so we will be taking into consideration fiction writing in this post. 

When writing a short story every sentence is important. The same applies with novel writing. Filler sentences are those sentences which really are not important. Here are three good questions to ask yourself in order to identify a filler sentence: 

1. Does this sentence further the scene or plot? 

2. Does this sentence mean anything? 

3. Does this sentence create any feelings? 

I recently finished editing my novel and I had to get rid a lot of filler sentences. I learned that I sometimes wrote sentence just to change a scene or explain something. These sentences were bland and were only there to fill in space. I keep a wide eye open for them when writing my short stories as well. In a novel one of these sentences can easily be ignored, but in a short story every sentence needs to be important because bland, filler sentences stand out like a man wearing an eyepatch at a glasses convention (if such a thing exists, but you get the picture). 

I learned to value every sentence I write because of my fear of the evil filler sentence; evil which I fall into far too often. Just as in vocal communication it is easy for someone to take something we say the wrong way, we must be careful that every written sentence has purpose and is necessary so that we do not mislead our readers from what we are really saying.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Can Anybody Write?

Can anybody write? This is a question that I have seen circulating in the writing community for a few years now. I know for a fact that many writers ask themselves this question and I know many avid readers who proclaim that "not everyone can write."

I asked a question similar to the very basic one mentioned above over on Facebook and Google+. I learned my lesson as far as asking broad questions, but I also received a load of excellent responses. Due to those responses, I considered summarizing several of the different viewpoints put forth and then setting them down here for you all to consider, but I have decided against that for this post and I may do it for my next.

This post, however, is about what I feel a writer is and whether or not anybody can write. I know some people will agree with my definition. I know some will not. But is that not the true beauty of the thing we call the internet? (By true beauty, I am not denying the greatness of cats and rainbows.)  We can read the opinions of others and decide whether we agree or disagree without feeling pressured to make a decision right off?

To keep things simple and direct, here is my working definition of a writer: A writer is an artist whose constant use and mastery of words goes beyond what is commonly taught, whose life is devoted to quality writing, and who consistently writes because it is simply what they do.

To back up this working definition I have three things and accompanying question that allow me to know if someone truly is a writer.

1. Passion
Do they have a passion for their work and continuously seek to improve the quality of their work?

2. Talent
Do they have the ability to create work that is enjoyable, as an art-form, to readers?

3. Perseverance
Do they push on with consistent writing despite disappointments or rejections? 

Before  I answer the question of "can anybody write," I would like to clarify something. By consistent writing/consistently writes I mean that the person writes something worthwhile at least every week. There are seven days in a week, this should not be too hard to do. I do it with articles for my church newsletter or with short story prompt websites.
Also, honestly, a declaration of talent should come from someone other than one's mother or loved one.

So, can anybody write?


Individuals have varying talents, that is what makes them individuals. Writers are talented with being able to write well, but they also possess passion and perseverance. There have been posts and discussions about the difference between the hobby writer and the professional writer. I would say my thought of a real writer would fall under the professional category due to the perseverance aspect. A hobby writer fails qualification due to the sporadic occasions that they actually write.

In my mind, an individual must possess all three, Passion, Talent, and Perseverance to be a real writer.

There you have it. I have left out a bunch of word definitions and qualifying arguments, seeking to give you the simplest view of my answer to the question as possible. I believe I have succeeded.

Joshua A. Spotts

Here are some websites with prompts to help with writing something every week.

Cleverfiction is the site I use. It is a good community and has some interesting prompts.
Poets and Writers is a well-known and respected website for writers.
If you have a twitter, I am sure there are some good twitter accounts to follow for prompts as well. The internet is a marvelous place and resources for helping writers abound.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Three Things to do Before Editing your Novel

1. Write the novel.
As important as writing the novel is, I'm just joking here. But can a writer edit a novel without writing one? Of course! It just wouldn't be the writer's novel, it would have to be some other writer's novel. The title of this post dictates, however, that these are three things to do before editing your novel. Thus we can determine that these things should be applied to a novel you have already written.

Okay, here we go.

These things come from my own observations, or more aptly put, my own regrets. But I think they are good ideas in general.

1. Create a chapter-by-chapter outline of your entire novel.

I am no outline writer. Indeed, when I get an idea the flesh is put on it as I write. But I know that a precise, though brief, outline of what each chapter is about in my novel would be very helpful. That way, if I have a question about a certain event I can reference the chapter outlines and go directly to the chapter in which the event was supposed to happen. I have spent a lot of time flipping back through my novel when it would have been faster to look at my chapter outlines. I know I have written one of these lists, but the file is buried in my many files within several folders. Thus, in conclusion of this section I would advise not only writing a chapter-by-chapter outline, but printing it out too so that you don't forget you have it.

2. Create a list of characters.

This list allows you to keep track of your characters. It should contain the rudimentary descriptions of your characters as well as the primary occurrences in their lives. It would also be helpful to note which characters, usually minor, die and when or when they leave actual influence to the plot-line. I lost track of one of my characters that I had early on. I forgot about him. If I had created this list I would have been  noticed his unexplained disappearance earlier instead of getting halfway through the edits and then saying, "hey, what happened to so-and-so?"

3. Create a list of the major events.

When I saw major events, I mean major, plot twisting events. This meshes with number one certainly and probably even number two, but it will allow you to see individually every major event. This will help you spot plot holes, I know it would help me. I have a mental list, but I still have to flip back through pages to reassure myself that a certain event has already happened.

There you go. I intend to put these three things into practice for myself this afternoon. I regret not having done it earlier, considering I am halfway through my final edit, but they should be useful things even for the second half. If you think it will be hard to compile these lists, you're thinking rubbish. At this stage you know your novel better than anyone else, so compile those lists and edit that killer novel of yours!

Joshua A. Spotts

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