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Friday, March 9, 2007

Modified Men & Modified Words

Modified Men:
Over the weekend, I caught an old episode of Star Trek called Space Seed with Ricardo Montalbán as Khan, the genetically engineered super-human who took over control of the Enterprise and released his crew from cryogenic sleep.

I loved that character! I loved his aggression, his arrogance, and his absurdly high levels of testosterone. It made me hot just thinking about how bad he was. I would probably never date a guy like that. (sigh--it would only end in his bludgeoning.) But for fiction, this is exactly the kind of guy I like to read about.

Woody Allen men need not apply. I'm not saying there's not a place for sensitive guys, but for space operas, I think the main character ought to be larger than life. This is strictly personal taste though. I just like bad boys. Nice guys are the kind you bring home to mother. Bad boys are the kind you take to bed at night, and in the morning they help you fight off the monsters.

I feel the same about fictional female characters. I like gutsy women doing stuff I could never pull off--yet live to tell the tale. I want them sensual and seductive and confrontational. By golly, if I can't hunt frackenzellers and woo Brad Pitt lookalikes, I want to live vicariously through the heroines.

Again, personal taste. Stories with emotional baggage and long, drawn out personal journeys live best in the literary market. A space opera is just that, it's exciting, monumental and outside the realm of reality. It's escapism in the purist sense of the word.

I enjoyed watching that Star Trek episode. It reminded me of the reason I like SF so much. It also reminded me that I watched it as a first-run episode…agh! 40 years ago.

And Modified Words:
Darn “ly” words! One of my reviewers cautioned me a few weeks ago to watch my modifiers. So I did a hunt-and-destroy through my manuscript and she was right. I got lazy around the middle of the story and started using “ly” words rather than real description.

I have a feeling it was because I tend to get impatient with the middle. I want the story to hurry up and finish so I probably cheated to get on with the story.

What’s the best way to replace “ly” words? Concrete verbs and nouns. I found whenever I replaced a modifier with specific language it snapped to attention.

For example: She looked at him hungrily.
Replace with: She licked her lips, watching him like a panther.

Both sentences mean the same thing, but the second one gives you a concrete image.

And then this happened: Yesterday morning I had to wait for my computer at work to reboot so I walked over to our office-friendly lending library to see what they had on the shelves. The people at my workplace read a lot of mainstream and mysteries. No SF. I’m sooooo alone!

Anyway, I picked up The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger. She sprinkled modifiers like salt on a pretzel! It gave me a chuckle.

As writers, especially within our writer circles we pound our peers about adverbs, adjectives, head hopping, passive voice, and characterization. But you know what? Successful writers are getting away with just that.

The reason they can is because they are telling a good story. The second reason is that the majority of their readers are not writers.

I have to admit I don't enjoy reading the way I used to. I find myself analyzing the story as I go along rather than allow myself to be absorbed in it. But that’s okay. I learn lots.

Reviewers, you keep right on nitting me. I don’t mind in the least. Writing a killer story is my responsibility, but if I can write it with powerful language, I’m all the better for it.