Saturday, March 8, 2014

As I mentioned earlier this week, we’re going to make some changes to KSW. This writing blog is now just about two years old, which totally blows my mind. Two years, and it’s evolved a ton since the very beginning.

  • Why the changes?

KSW will continue being a writing help blog, but in a different way. The writing help community on Tumblr has expanded so much since we first began, and now there’s a plethora of super knowledgeable writing help blog maintainers that we respect and love, and they’re in better places to answer all those writing questions with extraordinary detail – and quicker.

We’re, unfortunately, not in those places anymore. As some of our long-time followers know, I run about 99% of this blog on my own because Victoria has a full-time job, but now that I have two jobs, working on a third, on top of self-publishing, I can’t dedicate as much time to the blog as I used to.

  • So, what’s going to happen?

We’re changing our focus. Answering questions and writing up articles takes hours upon hours, and while I enjoy doing it, I can’t afford to like I used to. Instead, we’re going to fill a niche in the writing help blog community – a niche we’ve been playing with since the very beginning.

A lot of you are already familiar with our intro critiques, the First 250 Words Smash, and also our KSW Writing Exercises. What I’ve been doing in the recent history of KSW is critique these intros and then set up exercises based off of common writerly issues (which, most recently, also included a guide on how to tackle the upcoming batch of exercises).

This is what I want KSW to focus on: actively helping writers like all y’all.

  • Does that mean no more articles or asks?

Nah, that means the articles I write up will be directly related to the batch of exercises I put together based off of recent intro critiques.

As far as asks go, we’re going to encourage you to send your questions to our writing help blog friends who answer quickly and awesomely. Seriously, they’re incredibly wise and knowledgeable, and a lot faster than I can be.

  • Is that all?


Actually, there’s another half to this change. For the first time, we’re going to take on a team of beta readers to do exactly what we’ve been doing: critique intros.

Yes, we have a lot of trouble keeping up with Word Smash submissions, especially lately. But with KSW’s huge (and continuously growing, thanks to our writing help community friends) follower base, it’s seriously high time that we took on some additional peeps.

So, we’ve put up an application for any of our followers to join the KSW Team solely to critique intros.

Tickle your fancy? Then click the “read more” so I can entice you further.

  • What will a beta reader do, exactly?

Depending on how many applications we get and how many peeps we take on, a KSW beta reader will critique an intro every week or so, which is about 1-2+ hours. If you can dedicate this time, we encourage you to apply for a spot.

The cool part is that I will be a coach, working collaboratively with you. I’ll read through your critiques and make an assessment of what to tackle in the KSW Exercises. We’ll be communicating here and there, but we like to take things easy and make sure everything stays fun. As soon as it stops being fun, that’s bad.

  • What are the benefits?

As a coach, I can help you hone your critiquing, revising, and editing skills, which in turn hones your writing. I learned a lot of what I know now simply from listening to other writers give their own personal critique on a piece we had collectively read. It really helps to see others' perspectives.

A secondary thing is that Victoria and I are also in need of our own critique partners for our self-published series. So, if you decided you were interested, and you could set aside the time, you’d get both Victoria and I as your mutual critique partners for your completed manuscript(s).

I mean, that’s pretty cool, because the only time we ever critique is for the Word Smash and our own critique partners.

As a team member, you can choose to be represented on the blog anonymously, or with your credentials and your own writing blog or what have you, in a little bio. It’s up to you. You’ll also get your own signature like we have for the end of your critique. Totally legit style.

  • How can I apply?

Copy the application here, then paste it in an email to keyboardsmashwriters at gmail dot com with your answers. If your answers tickle our fancy in return, we’ll send you a sample passage for you to critique and send back to us.

What we’ll be looking for with the form: simply if you’re a good match for the KSW Team. Experience isn’t necessary (some could say we lack experience, ourselves), but we’ll definitely be looking at good spirits and enthusiasm.

What we’ll be looking for with the sample critique: all the usual staples of well-written critique, such as personal perspective and comprehension, and how thoughts are communicated. You don’t have to be perfect – of course not. We’ll be looking at potential and natural skill – stuff you might not even realize you have. Anything else, we can help you work on.

  • When’s the deadline?

The deadline is when I decide we have a strong enough team. Different applicants might be able to make different commitments, so I won’t know how many we need until we have the KSW Team together.

That being said, I don’t want to leave the applications open indefinitely. I just don’t know how many applications we’ll actually be getting. I’m always surprised.

So, to that extent, the applications might close suddenly. I’ll give a last warning, of course, and I’ll take on extra team members if they totally wow me, but make sure to keep a lookout for that notice if you’re planning to apply.

Okay, are you ready? We’re totally excited for your application, so get it started. I'll reopen the ask box just in case anyone has any questions, but the ask box is only open for questions pertaining to the application process!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

First 250 Words Smash! #45

Most Wonderful Author: Marc @ Tumblr
Most Evil Critique Master: Sarah
Working Title: N/A

The flames come out of her lungs with the ease of a passioned scream. Her skins erupts in hot flashes, her teeth are made tender and raw, her hair flows in the air possessed by her fury. She is held down by the hands of two men with stones axes gripped in their arms, hunger in the bellies. They ravening through her village with the creed of self preservation etched in their hearts. The woman they hold down follows through example. She shreds through them with her voice. Screaming molten hate at their hearts. She drives them from the soil like so many fields of grain, hands reaching up to the sun in triumphant glory. Never do they or others like them return. The woman, now worshiped, would be remembered throughout the course of this history as the first of many. Her fury, tyranny, benevolence and mercy held in the same hand.

The punctuation of her reign ending with a kingdom made of hard stone. Song are sang on the day of her assassination. Death coming at the hands of tribe of warriors who move the shadows to their command. Her death followed by an eruption of light. The edges of night cutting her flesh with jagged ease. Thus was the cycle, seats of power were forged and opponents of the throne would come with legions to steal the crown. Across the world, cultures would mold the land to their whim, feeling the pulse of the earth flow though them. 

Strong Points –
I can tell that poetry is behind a lot of the writing. There’re definitely some interesting visuals going on here, and one of my favorite lines is this analogy: “She drives them from the soil like so many fields of grain.” I think this is one powerful simile, and it resounds so deeply with the passage overall. There’s a strong connection between the simile and the story, something that’s super critical when we’re looking to leave the right impression with the reader.

There’s a lot of experimentation here, which is good. Practice helps us develop our skills and add new tools to our writerly toolbox. After we’ve grown as writers, we get to look back at old stuff and realize how much better we are now. So definitely keep experimenting and playing with words!

Some Tips –
While there is certainly some strong wording, there are some various grammatical errors and incorrect word usage. Of course, prose isn’t always meant to be taken literally, which is the beauty of having creative (and poetic) analogies and leaving impressions. But, if the language is too vague, or even too precise, the images that are translated don’t make sense and leave the reader baffled.

Let’s take this sentence:

Her skin erupts in hot flashes.

When I picture something “erupting”, I picture something volcanic, or something shattering, like brick during an earthquake. Erupting means explosive, something that breaks apart because of some powerful force. So, in this instance, I’m picturing her skin literally exploding.

However, that doesn’t mean the word “erupt” can’t be used in this instance, because it’s a strong word that can potentially leave a strong impression. We can fix this sentence easily, but I’m hesitant about using the phrase “hot flashes” because, well, for me, “hot flashes” is a term commonly used for menopausal women.

So, as far as fixing this sentence, it’s super quick. All we have to do is rearrange the words:

Hot flashes erupt from her skin.

Now, it’s not her skin that’s exploding, but the power inside her. Many writers often make this mistake – as in, they target the incorrect subject with the verb. And, just as easily, these issues can be resolved with simply rearranging the words. Be aware of what your verb is doing to which subject or object.

As I said before, experimenting and practice is great. What I think should be the next skill to work on is restraint. I feel like you’re a poet first. That’s just how the writing comes across. But that eye for poetic phrasing encourages a lot of purple prose.

(Remember, “purple prose” is language that is often considered flowery, to the point of superfluous and/or distracting.)

An example of a very purple line is this:

They ravening through her village with the creed of self preservation etched in their hearts.

It feels to me, personally, that at least “creed” was located via thesaurus. (I actually didn’t even know “ravening” was a word either – Victoria schooled me on that one.) I could most certainly be wrong, but that’s my guess based on the way the word feels in the sentence. Sentences like the following are also contributors to this feeling:

The punctuation of her reign ending with a kingdom made of hard stone.

I even looked up “punctuation” just in case there was some sort of meaning other than periods, exclamation marks, commas, etc. The other definition I found was “to interrupt or occur in (something) repeatedly,” which I still don’t think applies to this sentence? I suppose this would probably go under the “incorrect word” tab.

But anyway, using a thesaurus is, to me, totally okay. Sometimes the word we need isn’t the word we have in our repertoire. However, if a writer finds a word from a thesaurus, they absolutely need to know what it means, both in definition and in modern culture.

As an example, “hot flashes” literally just means flashes of heat. But, culturally, “hot flashes” is used a lot more commonly as part of menopause. I also didn’t know ravening was a word (I learn something every day), which means it’s either an uncommon or dated word, or that I’m just embarrassing myself. Both are very likely.

If a writer’s choosing a word because it sounds cool, but they’re not totally familiar with it, then it’s a good idea to either take the time to become intimately familiar with it, or refrain from using it at all. Using a word we’re not familiar with can result in words that look like we popped open a thesaurus, standing out like a beacon.

But, for me, the purple part of the sentence is mostly “with the creed of self preservation etched in their hearts.”

It feels like a long way to say that these guys were simply striving to survive. Purple prose is deadly in that it slows down a narrative. It drags the prose with heavy words, trying to pack in as much information in one sentence as possible, or forcing poetic too hard. It’s either a struggle to read, or inorganic/insincere – or both.

A practice in restraint is shaving off the words that take away from the sentence more than they add to – which is also a good practice for poetry. Find the most important impression of the sentence, the idea that matters the most, and focus on that. Unpack the more telling words like “creed” and “ravening”. Show us what “creed” and “ravening” mean.

Take that sentence and ask, “What’s the most important information that needs to be conveyed?” That these guys are going to kill this woman out of survival? Are they pleased about this? Are they forced to? Or are they like a pack of wolves, hunting? How can this sentence be restructured so it frames this idea? How can the whole paragraph be restructured to frame this idea?

Think of it this way. If you step into a city like New York and see hundreds of towering skyscrapers, it’s an incredible sight, but it’s a lot to take in. In a single glance, will you remember any one or two buildings? Maybe. How about their size? They all look tall, right? It’s really hard to focus on any one building.

But, if you step into a city and see a single skyscraper surrounded by much shorter buildings, that single sky-scraper might look even bigger than any of the buildings in New York, and you’re going to remember it. Nothing is taking away from you studying this one building. Nothing is taking away from you remembering it. Restraint in writing is just like this.

As far as story stuff goes, my recommended reading is First 250 Words Smash #25x3. The things I’d talk about here in regards to the story have already been talked about there, so check it out!

Would I Keep Reading?
Not yet. There’s a lot of great potential and good things going on, but more practice is definitely needed as far as craft and story go. Keep writing, keep getting feedback on both technical skill and craft, and keep growing! Good luck!