What’s Up Wednesday

Dilemma! Should I do a What’s Up Wednesday post, or a RTW Book of the Month post? Clearly, I decided to do a WuW. And if you really want to know what my pick for best read in August is… I’ll blog that sometime around the weekend or shortly thereafter. For those who don’t know, What’s Up Wednesday is a meme devised by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk wherein we respond to four reading/writing-related prompts as a way of catching up with each other. So what’s up with me this Wednesday…?

What I’m Reading

I’m currently reading THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker. In the story, the rotation of the Earth has slowed, causing the gravitational pull to be stronger (with resulting effects on bird flight and baseball), longer days, and so on. In the midst of the panic and confusion, Julia, the 11-year-old main character, has to continue dealing with life–friends leaving, parents arguing, bullies at school, and so on. I’m not very far into it (my fault, not the book’s), so I can’t say much about it. I will say this: the MC’s age might be misleading with regard to genre. This is not an MG novel. I don’t think it’s ever stated, but I think Julia is narrating the story as a much older person. The things she focuses on, and the insight she brings to the events are not what you would expect of someone in middle school. In other words, the story might be about Middle Graders, but the voice is definitely not MG. I thought this an interesting observation, especially since we often ask ourselves what makes a YA or MG book YA or MG. As this book shows, it’s not just about the age of the characters.

What I’m Writing

I’m still working on revisions to the WIP. It’s slow going, partly due to life, and also partly because I wrote the first draft without much thought to vocabulary and voice. My main consideration as I wrote this novel was the story, with the occasional alien word and hints at a voice as they came to me. Now, I’m having to go through each line carefully, thinking “Is that something she would say? Does she know that word, or concept? How else might she express that thought?” Sometimes this results in a word substitution. Sometimes it results in entire sentences or paragraphs being removed or re-written. Some might argue this is where the real craft of writing lies, and I must admit, I think there’s a lot of truth to that. It took creative energy and inspiration to write the first draft. But it’s in this stage that the story moves from being a story to my story. This is where the clunky prose and half-developed ideas hopefully become elegant phrases and fully realized narrative. It where the humanoid-shaped hunk of marble becomes Michelangelo’s “David”–or something like that. And when it’s done, it’s off to beta readers, who will help me make it even better! That’s the plan anyway.

What Inspires Me Right Now

Nothing specific, except the craft of writing itself. It’s very easy to be inspired to write when you’ve just written something that, at least to your ear, sounds really good. Or when you confront a challenging passage, and you’re not sure how to express that idea, or if that idea needs to be expressed. These are the things that keep me at it. And rewards. I’ve promised myself a nice reward when the novel is beta reader ready.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

Aside from the usual things in life, I participated in yet another Janet Reid Writing Contest this past weekend. I was quite pleased with my entry, and while it didn’t win, it did get special recognition for “minimalism” (see the results, and read the finalists’ entries HERE). By this, Janet was referring to the fact that I used all five challenge words consecutively in one phrase. I confess, I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, so I was especially pleased it worked. I’m thinking about doing the next one (whenever that is) as a rhyming poem. Yes–I love a writing challenge! In fact, I’ve been thinking about compiling all my JRWC entries into one article. It might be interesting to see how I’ve grown as a writer over the past few years of doing these. What do you think?

What have you been up to this past week? See Jaime Morrow’s blog for details on how to participate, and to find out what’s up with other people.

A Monday “Save-a-Word Saturday”

For a while now, my blog buddies Susan Francino and Tyler-Rose Counts (collectively, The Feather and the Rose) have been running a weekly meme designed to rescue obscure, archaic words from the lexical graveyard. They call this feature “Save-a-Word Saturday.” Those participating must find an old, rarely used word, define it, and use it in a sentence, a paragraph, or some other creative expression based on the week’s theme.

I’ve been meaning to take part in this for a while, so for this, my 600th blog article, here’s my contribution. This week’s theme is LOVE:


Definition: adj., n. – habitually and abnormally suspicious (person).

Use: The Valentine’s card didn’t sit well in Jennifer’s querulent hands. Prom queen looks and cheerleader figures had eluded her all her life. She could barely stand her own reflection, so why should anyone take notice? The card mocked her; but she would have the last laugh. Ten minutes later, Joe passed by the lockers and saw the torn remains of the card. He swallowed down a wave of emotion when he recognized the handwriting. His heart laid scattered on the floor.

Do you feel challenged to rescue an obscure word and come up with a creative way to use it? Visit The Feather and the Rose, and join in the blog hop!


Walk the Plank on Vacation

The YA Buccaneers are throwing down the gauntlet again with another flash fiction challenge. Flash fiction is a great way to hone your writing skills, helping you to cut unnecessary words, find ways to say a lot in a short space, and dabble in different genres and styles without the huge commitment of a novel. This challenge is on through the end of the month, so check out the YA Buccaneers blog for details of how to join in the flash fiction fun.

The theme for this month’s challenge is “Destination: Vacation!” Here are the rules:

  • The story must be 200 words or fewer (excluding the title)
  • It must be on the month’s theme

For a further challenge:

  • Begin with the words “I’ve always wanted to go” (included in the word count)
  • End with the words “I’m so glad I went!” (included in the word count)
  • Use exactly 200 words

Here’s my 200 word contribution:


“I’ve always wanted to go to–” followed by the name of the sun-kissed destination. This was Julie’s mantra every day during the winter. Why do they always show these vacation commercials when there’s ten inches of snow outside? Rhetorical question.

After the fourth ad for Jamaican resorts, I booked the tickets. Two weeks of golden beaches, palm trees, and friendly smiles. Fourteen days of sipping rum punch to the lapping of the waves, watching the sun set like an orange slice on the horizon. The chill of ice cubes the only reminder of home.

We arrived late on Saturday night to a full hotel, and ended up in a dive with paper walls and broken window screens. Sleep surrendered to humidity and mosquitoes. We took our romantic evening strolls by the shore with half the island. On the third day, I lost my wallet to a smiling local. He brushed past me, then melted into the crowd.

 After four days we returned to the frigid climes of home, our smiling neighbors, our heated home, our comfortable bed.

 Now when those commercials come on TV, Julie is silent.

It was the vacation from hell, but I’m so glad I went!

Check out the other entries at the YA Buccaneers blog.


What’s Up Wednesday

After a break last week, I’m back to a Wednesday blog, and this week it’s a What’s Up Wednesday contribution. WuW is a meme created by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. Check out their blogs to find out how to participate, and to see a list of other participants.

What I’m Reading

I just finished THE DAUGHTER OF TIME by Josephine Tey, and posted a review on Goodreads, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here. It’s a detective novel but with a couple of differences. First, the detective never leaves his room. In fact, he’s in hospital recovering from a broken leg, so he never leaves his bed! Second, the case is a genuine historical mystery: King Richard III and the mysterious death or disappearance of the princes in the Tower, for which Richard is traditionally blamed. Was Richard really guilty? Or was the story of wicked Uncle Richard a creation of the Tudors to soil his name and enhance the reputation of Henry VII, the king who succeeded him? While the historical mystery still remains, there are many good points brought out in the novel. The recent discovery of Richard’s remains in a car park doesn’t really impact the evidence presented in this story, since the modern investigation addressed more Richard’s physical appearance, not his character. However, one thing upon which Tey and the modern researchers agree is that the so-called contemporary accounts of Richard are not entirely trustworthy. Anyway, it’s a good book, and definitely worth reading if you’re interested in English history.

What I’m Writing

After a break for the WriteOnCon writing conference last week, I’m back to revising my novel. I re-wrote the query (even though it’s not ready to query) for WOC, and now I need to finish getting the novel ready for beta reading. I would like to get it to beta readers within the next few months, but I’m not going to rush revisions. Thankfully, I got some positive feedback last week that encourages me to get on with it, which leads nicely into…

What Inspires Me Right Now?

I’m feeling quite inspired by the nice comments, and constructive criticism I received for the pages I posted of my novel in the WOC forums last week. As regular readers know, I’ve been concerned about getting my female teenage alien’s voice just right, and from what people said, it sounds like I’m on the right track. Very encouraging.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

I noticed on the news yesterday that author Elmore Leonard died. I’m not going to pretend that I’m his number one fan, but I knew who he was, and recognize some of the books he’d written. One of the things he’s famous for is his Top Ten Rules of Writing. While there are a number of good things he says in these “rules,” I particularly like his summation of the rules: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” When I think of all the books I’ve read and loved, and think about what it was about them that made them stand out, it was the fact that the writing was so good, it was almost invisible. I was so absorbed in the text, I wasn’t thinking about the writing, I was just reading the story. That’s hard to achieve, but worth aiming for.

So, what’s been happening in your life this week?


WriteOnCon Reflections: A Self-Interview

I’m back from WriteOnCon, which sounds a strange thing to say since a) WriteOnCon finished last Wednesday, and b) I didn’t actually have to physically go anywhere to attend. However, aside from yesterday’s devotional, this is my first blog post since WriteOnCon. And while the conference finished Wednesday, the forums were open all week (and they’re still open, but not as active, and without Ninja Agents dropping in). So I thought I’d give you a quick report, but to make it fun I thought I’d do a self-interview. Why a self-interview? Because I’m not important enough for anyone else to interview me, so I’m going to pose myself questions and answer them.

Hello, Colin. How are you?

Very well, thank you Colin. Okay, stop being weird and get on with this self-interview.

Sorry. So, how did you find WriteOnCon 2013?

By going to www.writeoncon.com.

Very funny. I see you’re not going to make this easy are you…

Oh, alright. Overall, it was great. Lots of articles posted, some interesting vlog posts from writers, and, of course, LOTS of forum activity with hundreds of queries and first pages posted. Some of them were jaw-droppingly excellent, and I expect to see published.

What was the best thing about this year’s WriteOnCon?

Definitely the Google Hangouts. This year, they had agents and editors responding to Twitter pitches and first-pages. Instead of using chat rooms for these, however, they set up Google Hangouts, so you could actually see the people responding real-time. One of the WOC admins moderated by selecting the Tweet/page, reading it, and then letting the agent/editor respond. While there were a few technical difficulties, overall this gave a much more real-time, “being there” feel to the events. I hope next year they’ll utilize Google Hangouts even more, perhaps with Q&A sessions, and even some of the presentations.

What was the worst thing?

Chat room Q&A. The chats themselves were great, but I really don’t like the chat room format for these. Response time depends so much on one’s ability to type, and that’s not fair since not everyone is a speedy typer. This is why the Hangouts are far better–a lot more real-time, interactive. Thankfully, it seems the WOC admins agree with me, and they’re looking into using Hangouts more next year.

Did you have anything to submit to the forums?

Although I didn’t finish my first round of edits for my novel, I polished up the first 5 pages to submit for feedback. I also revised the query and posted that. Since I’m not ready to query this novel, my objective with the query was to see whether people liked the concept, and might be willing to read the novel. What I wanted more than anything, though, was feedback on the pages. If you’re a regular to the blog, you’ll know how I’ve griped and complained about the woes of trying to write a first-person account in the voice of a teenage female alien. This was an opportunity to see how well I’m doing with that.

And…? What was the reaction?

I didn’t get any Ninja Agent bites, but that’s okay. I’m curious whether this was because the title didn’t appeal, or because I listed it as “Sci-Fi/Historical” and none of them wanted to touch that… or perhaps they just didn’t get to it. That would be useful to know for when I do query it. However, I received generally positive reactions to the query, along with great suggestions for strengthening it. So I’m now in the very strange position of having a good query letter for a novel I’m not yet ready to query!

The reactions to the pages were quite encouraging, too. For the most part, they found the voice entertaining, readable, and largely understandable. Some suggested I back off a little from the alien language at the beginning to help the reader acclimate to it, and perhaps add some indicators as to where the opening scene takes place. Both excellent suggestions I plan to implement.

Would you still recommend WriteOnCon?

Absolutely. This is about as good as writing conferences get without paying any money, or having to travel anywhere. And for that, it’s pretty awesome! And next year looks like being even better, so plan to attend!

Thanks, Colin!

Oh, stop it! Next time I’m getting Conan O’Brien to do this…

Readers in the UK: Don’t forget to check out the UK Graham Cracker Giveaway. Just under two weeks left!



What’s Up Wednesday

It’s Wednesday, so… What’s Up? Before I go there, I would be remiss in the extreme if I didn’t say that What’s Up Wednesday is a blog meme created by Canadian sister-writer-bloggers Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. Check out their respective blogs, and click on the widgety linky thing at the end of their WUW posts to find out what others are up to. So, here’s what I’ve been up to this week:

What I’m Reading

I have a subscription to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (I enjoy mysteries), but my other reading has prevented me from staying on top of these. The result: a lot of back issues to read through. So, I’ve been doing a little catch-up over the past week, and enjoying and not-so-enjoying some mystery short stories. It’s not all for fun, though. If you recall from last week, I said I needed to start writing some short stories, so this is also supposed to remind me how to structure a short story. More on that in a moment. In the wings, I have THE DAUGHTER OF TIME by Josephine Tey, a book my Mum sent me, which appears to be an investigation into the truth behind King Richard III but in the context of a fictional detective story. Here’s the back-of-the-book blurb:

Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III that bears no resemblance to the Wicked Uncle of history. Could such a sensitive, noble face actually belong to one of the world’s most heinous villains–a venomous hunchback who may have killed his brother’s children to make his crown secure? Or could Richard have been the victim, turned into a monster by the usurpers of England’s throne?

Grant determines to find out once and for all, with the help of the British Museum and an American scholar, what kind of man Richard Plantagenet really was and who killed the Princes in the Tower.

It was written prior to the recent discovery of Richard’s bones, and the revelations from that find, so it’ll be interesting to see what Tey’s take is.

What I’m Writing

I’m still plugging away at revisions on the WIP, hoping to get as much done prior to WriteOnCon as possible. If I haven’t finished by the weekend, I’ll concentrate on polishing the first five pages and getting my query ready for the conference. I’m seriously looking forward to the critiques; they’ll help determine whether I’m on the right track, and how much revision still needs to be done.

I have an idea for a short story, but like my SNVI (see last week), it’ll have to wait. Though I’m more willing to work on a short story while editing WIP than I am the SNVI. But not until after WriteOnCon!

I didn’t place in this past weekend’s Janet Reid writing contest, but it was fun nevertheless, and there were some really superb finalist entries. She’s running another one this coming weekend. I honestly believe these contests have helped my writing, which is why I urge all my writer friends to give them a try. Author A. S. King is also running a flash fiction contest that I’ve entered. The prize is an ARC of her new novel, but again, prize aside, I recommend you give it a try.

What Inspires Me Right Now

When it comes to my WIP, I have to say as I edit it, I’m thinking “this isn’t bad, and this is fun!” So, editing and writing is currently inspiring me to continue editing and writing. Sounds odd, I know, but there you go!

What Else I’ve Been Up To

The usual–family, church, work. FourthBorn has been writing a story. It’s more of an extended dialog, play-style, so I’m encouraging her to re-write it like a “real” story. She’s a bit of a late-starter when it comes to reading, so we’re taking a trip to Barnes & Noble on Friday for some Daddy-Daughter-Bookstore time. I feel good that I can help her navigate the MG section, and point out things she might like.

Also, I’m running a giveaway for my UK readers who want to help me find a suitable British alternative to the Graham Cracker. Enter HERE!

What’s your week been like?

What’s Up Road Trip Wednesday: Book of the Month for July, 2013 Edition

It’s blog meme mash-up time! I’m combining today’s YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday with Jaime and Erin‘s What’s Up Wednesday meme. Why? Why not! Both are good memes, and I want to do them both. And it so happens that this week’s RTW falls nicely into the first WUW question:

What I’m Reading (AKA: Book of the Month for July, 2013)

This month has been a pretty dismal reading month. Not that the books I read were terrible, but there wasn’t one that really pulled me in and got me talking about it all over Twitter and your blogs (and this one). And usually there’s at least one book that gets a 5-star review and some “gotta-read-this” chatter from me. That said, I read one book that I think is worthy of being crowned Book of the Month, despite its flaws. And that book is…

I AM NUMBER FOUR by Pittacus Lore. Let’s get the controversy over with first. Pittacus Lore is a group pseudonym for James Frey and Jobie Hughes. Yes–that James Frey of A MILLION LITTLE PIECES infamy. I know this would be off-putting for some from the get-go, and I understand that. My take is, this is a work of fiction, and he’s not trying to palm it off as fact. And from what I’ve read, most of the criticism against Mr. Frey was over his lies and deceit, not over the quality of his writing. With that in mind, I decided to give him a break and give the book a chance. And overall, it’s a good book. I couldn’t fault it technically, and especially found the finale engaging and page-turning.

I described what the book is about in last week’s WOW. (However, I messed up the numbers: there are more than nine who escape Lorien. Nine of those that escaped are of a special class of being that will eventually develop powers–Legacies–that can be used to defeat their enemies. Each of the nine has a guardian/mentor. It is the nine that the enemy is targeting, and of these, they have killed three. John Smith is number four.) My interest in it was because it’s about an alien on Earth, like my current project. However, this made me particularly sensitive to issues I’m grappling with. For one thing, it bothered me that the only way you know John is an alien is by his abilities. There’s nothing in his mannerisms, his word choices, or any subtleties of character that would indicate he’s not human. And I just didn’t buy some of the back story explanations. For example, all of Earth’s major geniuses were the offspring of Lorien. Really? And the Lorien people gave us language (despite the fact that English is a hybrid language–Germanic-Latin-Greek-French-etc–so they wouldn’t have just given us “English”). But the characters are, on the whole, good, and the story is fairly strong. Moreover–and this is what makes it a four-star book, and worthy of Book of the Month–I wouldn’t say no to reading the next book in the series.

There’s some profanity, mainly the “s” word, but not too often, so I’d rate it PG-15.

What I’m Writing

Still working on edits to the current project, though with a little more panic in my typing because I’ve realized that WriteOnCon is only a few weeks away, and I want to have something for the query critique and pages critique forums. If you don’t know what WriteOnCon is, visit the website. In short, it’s a two-day writing conference geared toward authors of “children’s literature” (i.e., picture books through YA). It takes place online, so you don’t have to go anywhere, and it’s free, so you don’t have to pay anything. There will be agents and other industry professionals giving talks, and lots of fun events. This’ll be my third year, and I’m looking forward to it. I hope to see you there.

What Inspires Me Right Now

ABBA lyrics. Seriously. If you know anything about the story I’m editing, you’ll understand what I mean.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

Not writing short stories as I’d hoped, but writing some flash fiction for Janet Reid, and the YA Buccaneers–both challenging and worthwhile exercises. Plus the usual work, family, church, and so on.

UPDATE: Oh My G-Dragon (K-Pop reference there–thank you SecondBorn)!! My entry in Janet Reid’s contest was selected as a finalist. I didn’t win, but with so many great entries to choose from, it’s an honor to be considered one of the top six. Janet says she’s running another contest this weekend. I seriously recommend you give it a go; it’s such a lot of fun.

How’s your week been?

What’s Up Wednesday


It’s time for a Wednesday catch-up on life, courtesy of Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk’s meme (see Jaime’s blog for details). So, what’s been happening in my life?

What I’m Reading

I finished John Grisham’s THE CONFESSION, and was disappointed and underwhelmed. This is sad, not only because I hate to think of all that time and effort put into writing and publishing something disappointing and underwhelming, but also because it was a great premise, and could have been so much more. Anyway, I’ve posted a review to Goodreads (which you can read HERE), so I won’t take up any more time griping about it now.

The next book I’ve started is I AM NUMBER FOUR by Pittacus Lore. The premise behind the story involves a small group of aliens–nine in total–who have survived the annihilation of their people by a rival race. These nine have taken refuge on Earth, where they are hiding out until they are ready to strike back. However, their enemy is tracking them down. Until their powers develop fully, their only protection is the fact that they can only be killed in numerical order. Numbers nine through five have all been killed. The story is told from the perspective of Number Four, who is a teenager, going to an American high school, and coming to terms with being next on the list. If you recall what my WIP is, you’ll understand why I was interested in this (the whole alien-on-earth scenario, told from the first person). The book’s enjoyable so far, but I’ll reserve full comment on it until I’ve finished.

What I’m Writing

Still plugging away at revisions to the WIP, though it’s a bit slow-going at the moment. Given all the encouragement I received last week, I really need to push myself to make quicker progress. Maybe this week will be a better week. I also need to write some short stories. I’ve said that before, I’m sure. But I need to quit saying it and actually do it!

What Inspires Me Right Now

Reading how my blog friends are progressing with their WIPs/revisions is both inspiring and convicting. Yes, some of you don’t have full-time jobs and families, so theoretically you have more time. But in reality, we all have distractions and things that keep us busy apart from writing, so I have no excuse. If you guys can find make the time to write, so can I!

And remember the vampire story idea I mentioned last week? Well, it’s still rattling my brain, pleading for attention. I’m struggling to keep it at bay, which is another reason to make better progress with the WIP. I won’t start on SNVI (Shiny New Vampire Idea… NOT Shiny Vampire New Idea… please!!) until I’ve finished revising the WIP.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

I participated in literary agent Janet Reid’s latest writing contest on Saturday. These contests are so much fun to do, I really encourage my writer friends to give them a try when she runs them. The chances of me winning, or even being a runner-up, are very slim because so many great, imaginative writers compete. But if you read my entry (see the comments), you may see the influence of SNVI…

How’s your week been?

TTT: Top Ten Turn-Offs

It’s been a long time since I’ve participated in The Broke and the Bookish‘s Top Ten Tuesday meme, but this week’s topic is interesting, so I thought I’d give it a shot. You know the way these memes work: write a post on the day’s topic, add your name to a linky list, and visit other participants. Check out The Broke and the Bookish for more details and to read what others are saying.

The theme for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday is…

Top Ten Words/Topics That Will Make You NOT pick up a book

For the most part, I’m a “never-say-never” kind of reader (though there are some topics that I am really not interested in), but here are ten words/topics that are the hardest sell for me. I’m most likely to pass on books that contain:

  1. Erotica. One of the few “never” genres/topics on my list. Absolutely not interested. Just don’t want to go there. Thank you.
  2. Romance. I’m not a fan of extended kissing scenes, or stories where the protagonist’s love-life is the whole story. I can put up with some romance, as long as it’s well-written, not too in-your-face, and the rest of the story’s worth it.
  3. Western. I confess that I haven’t read any westerns, but I’m not a big fan of the movie genre, so I can’t see how translating cowboys and dusty trails to the written word is any more appealing. I’m open to being proved wrong on this, though.
  4. Horror. Before my blog friends laugh at me because they know I read Stephen King, and I’ve said I’m planning to write a vampire story, let me explain. As a general rule, I’m not into blood-and-guts stories. But, if it’s well-written, and leans more toward suspense than gore, then I’ll give it a try. ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD is a good example of the kind of horror I’ll read.
  5. LGBT. I don’t endorse the lifestyle, so I’d hardly find books where this is a central theme that enjoyable.
  6. Pioneer/Frontier. Possibly more because of the setting than the theme. I’m sure a lot of these books are good stories, but they sound too much like westerns when I read the cover blurb. Not a “never,” but it would be a hard sell for me.
  7. Christian. Let me explain. As a Christian, I am very sensitive to how my faith is portrayed in novels, regardless of whether or not the author is a Christian. I don’t expect Christian characters to agree with me on every point of theology (I’ve written characters that don’t), but I get very irritated when Christians are stereotyped, or when Christian beliefs are misrepresented (especially by those who should know better). So, I’m very cautious when the cover blurb describes a character as Christian.
  8. Hunky Guy/Sexy Girl Covers. Okay, not technically “words” or “topics,” but I find it very off-putting when the publisher decides to market the book with a cover that tells you more about the perceived target audience than the story inside. When I see a book I might have been interested in with a muscle-y shirtless guy on the cover, I immediately think, “Oh, this is clearly not intended for me” and move on.
  9. Poetry. Reading Jen’s list prompted this. Like Jen, I want to be into poetry and really like poetry, and while there are some poems in the past that I’ve thought “wow, that’s really good!” I don’t like poetry enough to want to read a whole book of poems. Maybe one day…

Okay, so that’s not ten… but it’s as many as I can think of right now.

How about you–what are words, themes, or topics that are literary turn-offs for you?

Adjectives and Incidental Music

I know some of my blog friends are really into movie soundtracks. Great movie music can really help to enhance the story and the whole cinema experience. Could you think of “Star Wars” without the epic John Williams score? Or, indeed, the equally brilliant “Harry Potter” theme that captures the mood of the series so well? And incidental music, the orchestral flavoring behind the action, can serve to heighten the tension, or give atmosphere to the scene. Done well, incidental music will enhance, underscore, and draw attention to the acting. Done badly, incidental music will take over. It will become front-and-center of the movie. The action on-screen will cease to be as important, like in a music video.

Have you ever watched an emotional scene in a movie, or a TV show, and wondered if that scene would have the same effect without the music? Imagine a man and a woman at a railway station saying their final goodbyes. Their faces soaked with tears, their voices straining with emotion as they declare their undying love for one another. Usually, the music behind is full of passion, longing, yearning, with trembling violins, and so on. Here’s the question. If you take away the music, is the acting strong enough to elicit the same emotional reaction from the audience? Are the words the writer put in their mouths powerful enough to not need the aid of an orchestra to convey the feelings? In a number of cases I truly wonder.

Here’s an interesting example of a highly emotive scene with not a single note of incidental music, except at the very end. The most tear-jerking part relies on the quality of the acting. You may not think this is the best–and it probably isn’t the best example–but I think it illustrates my point. It’s from Doctor Who, the final episode of the classic series “Planet of the Spiders” (1974). The Third Doctor returns from Metabelis 3, his body broken by radiation poisoning. He’s at the point of death, and says farewell to his companion, Sarah Jane Smith, and the Brigadier:

In movies and television, incidental music can become a crutch when the acting isn’t quite up to evoking the necessary emotion. Similarly, in writing, we can use adjectives to save us the bother of being creative with dialog and description. We can use cliches to get around having to come up with inventive turns of phrase or metaphors. When we write, we should approach every adjective and every writing “trick” with a similar challenge: if I remove that adjective, that phrase, that cliche, does the quality of the writing stand on its own? If not, then we need to work harder to make it work without those crutches.

What are your thoughts–both about incidental music, and writing short-cuts?

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