Sunday, July 11, 2010

A lot of Yackum

You learn a lot from rereading first drafts. And second drafts and third drafts too, for that matter. Rereading "Murder in Panel Five," a satire on the typical Agatha Christie mystery, I've discovered a lot of what we call yackum.

"Yackum," aka "rambling," aka "unnecessary nonsense," becomes the vice of all writers when slogging through draft 1 of an unpublished short story. Novelists can get away with yackum, especially if they are literary elephants like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, but short story writers do not have that luxury. Unlike novelists, who experiment with their medium to the point of exasperating us readers, the short story writer has to tell a story. Period.

Types of yackum to look out for:

1) Dialogue- Usually worse in novels, but unnecessary or flat dialogue must go. If it sounds false? Cut it. If it has one word off and the word can't be removed? Cut it. Characters put the "yak" in "yackum".

2) Inner Dialogue- Even worse than outer dialogue because it occurs in the character's head. Aka Rambling for God Knows How Long, especially in a mystery. Show your character's reaction, don't have them say it. Yak in yackum, folks!

3) Description- Hairier than dialogue, but rely on your ear for this one. If you read at an open mic, you'll trim on the fly to avoid being cut off in the middle. You want concise and lyrical sentences. And if you have even one paragraph (four sentences) waxing on, the editor will probably slap your manuscript. Here you can break the dialogue rule and have other characters judge your protagonist, or each other, as long as you keep it concise and clear.

Have fun!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Great Literary MacGuffins: Titles to Examine

Since in an earlier blog post I talked about Literary MacGuffins that should be the title of your story, why don't we take a look at some classic Literary MacGuffins:

We read this novel in gifted 4th grade, listening to audio tape, as mentioned before; I finished it ahead of everyone else and mispronounced "sadist" for several days until our teacher put it on our vocabulary list. In a nutshell: Meg, the protagonist, goes on a journey with her precocious brother Charles Wallace and  schoolmate Calvin to rescue her father from another planet with the help of Ms. Whatsit, Ms. Who and Ms. Which, three strange ethereal beings.  
First, the title "A Wrinkle in Time" refers to a new term called a tesseract, which is indeed such a wrinkle. The tesseract links the book together because the three "witches" in the story use the tesseract to travel through time and space, and a mishap with a tesseract starts the book by taking away Meg's father. Makes sense, no?
And since we're talking about Madeline L'Engle, may I say rest in peace, since she died in 2007, and thank you for writing such a wonderful book.