Guest Post from Grammarly: Are Style Guides Poisonous to Your Fiction Writing?

grammarly 2 This week’s guest post comes from Nikolas Baron of Grammarly. Thanks, Nick!

When I sit down to learn how writers write — their styles, preferences, and techniques — I fluctuate between feeling limited and focused. Most companies have official style guides to help writers communicate in a clear voice with tense, tone, vision, and style. Some writers find style guides constricting; but to become a published author, a writer needs to adhere to the guidelines of the magazine in which he or she wants to be published. Writers dream of being published in “The New Yorker” not only because of the prestige, talent, and luck they must have to make it between the pages, but also because they like the style of the magazine. Publishers have a distinct voice they want to resonate through the ink and text of their magazine. It is a good idea to look into what kind of material a magazine, newspaper or publishing company publishes before contacting the business with your work. Style guides help writers see the end of the tunnel and the path they should follow to a successful piece. Although they can be limiting, style guides are an important branch of the writing tree.

Writing fiction novels is far different from writing a short story and hoping to publish it in a magazine, newspaper, or literary journal. When you write a novel, you can write however you want, for as long as you want, about whatever you want. When you are a writer for a fiction literary journal or hope to publish a piece in one, it’s important to remember that a style guide keeps the magazine going. Readers are buying and reading that magazine for a reason; they like the content and style of the material. Violating the style guide and writing something outside the material defeats the purpose of having a magazine devoted to that particular niche. When you’re looking for a place to publish your material, do your research. Spending the extra few hours finding a magazine that caters to your style, techniques, and genre will not only show the editors you understand their goals, but your material has a better chance at becoming published. Also, when you submit your work for publication, an online proofreader can be key. Proofreading your work will help to incorporate different stylistic elements you identified in their previously-published pieces.

Would you publish a Stephen King short story in a children’s literary magazine? Probably not. This is the same sort of idea that goes into professional writing. You wouldn’t want to send a query letter to a science fiction journal if you write romance stories. It’s unprofessional, shows that you blatantly don’t care about their journal, and that you’re too lazy to spend a few minutes looking into what they normally publish. Styles of journals, along with their style guides, are critical to keeping your favorite publications going. By ignoring them, you’re only putting your publishing career at a disadvantage.

When you book a writing job, you want to make sure that you fit in with their style; you could be writing in it for quite some time. Do style guides limit grammarly 3you? Perhaps in some ways, but if you have chosen the right place for you to write for, those limitations will most likely be small. When you begin proofreading your articles, it’s a lot easier to fix and incorporate pieces of the style guide. It’s also easier to find those mistakes when using an online resource like Grammarly. Grammarly has a great proofreading tool that will help you look at your writing in a mechanical sense and identify your most common errors. If it seems like a style guide is too limiting, it could be because your writing is mismatched with what the editors are looking for. Although some style guides are extremely specific, sticking to a style guide is what keeps writers employed, and magazines, newspapers, and literary journals afloat by being consistent with viewpoint and style.

By Nikolas Baron

Nick’s Bio:

Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

The Unforgettable Image Part Two: The Link Between Imagination and Memory

by guest blogger Lee Stoops:

but I’m such a cute cliché…

 In our generation of images and scenes, we tend to recreate the things that have strongly affected us. I need to note something about cliché here. Something is labeled cliché when it affects (or has affected) a lot of people. The problem with cliché, and why it doesn’t work for unforgettable imagery, is that it doesn’t have power. Because it’s common, overused. Clichés don’t surprise or evoke…anymore.

So, getting back to what we know and how we imagine: There are those few experiences that infect us, the things we can’t forget, especially the things we often times want to. These experiences are deeply informed by both imagination and memory.  So let’s break it down a bit.

Imagination: It has a fundamental and paradoxical dichotomy. It’s sensory, yet exists separate from the physical. Imagination makes hearing possible when there is no sound, remembers smell when there is no scent, makes images available when the eyes are hidden behind the flesh of lids.

But, the purpose of imagination is to provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge. It is the fundamental faculty through which people make sense of the world. It plays a key role in our human learning process.

Imagination, informed by memory, makes it possible for us to create, deepen, and understand the idea of the “other” – something I’m suspect we, as humans, are alone in our ability.

Memory: It is nothing if not imagination. The generation of feelings, both emotional and sensate, past and present, is the work of imagination.

While imagination is the tool with which we tell stories, paint pictures, sculpt statues, and compose music, process our world, make sense (or try to) of everything that happens, and then draw connections, what we’re really doing is forming memories to inform future experiences.

When we write, we use both imagination and memory to develop our scenes, our images.

When you write a scene, whether something you’ve a sense of for a story or something you remember for a personal essay – what happens?

As soon as it’s in words, it sharpens. And becomes permanent the way you imagine/remember it.

We’ve all heard that our memory is our truth. But what’s more? When we take the time to write these things, fiction or nonfiction, they also become our memory – they round memory out, possibly even replace memory.  

In the next post, we’ll dig into the science and how we can use it as storytellers.

Wrestling Alligators

Alligator-psd-Free-Download-1267444406562Here is the audio version of the prologue to my latest novel,WRESTLING ALLIGATORS.

It’s a ways off, but am looking forward to recording all of my novels. If you are a voiceover actor, musician, etc., check out Zen Pro Audio. Warren Dent will take good care of you. Amazing prices and stellar customer service.

(update: link should be working now)

Reading coming up at Roar Shack!


A Partnership with

Portuguese Artists Colony



Home At Last


Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 826LA

4 – 5:30 p.m.

Note Location and Time Change!!!

Thank God for books and music and things I can think about.

–Daniel Keyes

Roar Shack is a collective of writers and artists, and over the coming months we’re going to bring you voices. Some of us come from fiction, some from memoir, some from poetry, and from music and performance and just about anything that leaves its own blood on the page. We want to bring you what you may not be getting much of. Won’t you join us?

Our next show is April 14, 2013 at 826 LA in Echo Park  ( from 4-5:30 pm.

 We dare you to miss this lineup:

Kate Maruyama: Kate Maruyama’s fiction has appeared in Controlled Burn, Arcadia and Stoneboat among other journals. With Diane Sherlock, she co-founded Annotation Nation, a site that looks at fiction in terms of craft. Her debut novel, Harrowgate comes out this fall from 47North and she lives, writes, teaches, cooks and eats in Los Angeles

 Ben Loory: Ben Loory is the author of the collection Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day. His fables and tales have appeared in The New Yorker, on NPR’s This American Life, at Selected Shorts, and other places. He lives in Los Angeles and doesn’t ever want to get the flu again.

 Jason Gutierrez: Seventeen years ago Jason started taking photographs to avoid having to write. Now he wants to write to make up for the photographs he doesn’t get to take.

He hails from the city of angels, and can easily be bribed into photographing your literary event.

 Diane Sherlock: Diane Sherlock is the author of four novels, DEAD WEIGHT, WILLFUL IGNORANCE, GROWING CHOCOLATE, the upcoming WRESTLING ALLIGATORS, as well as WRITE TO BE HEARD, a book on craft. Her writing has appeared in The Rumpus, The Citron Review, scissors and spackle, Mo+th, Present Tense, and Bird in the Hand: Risk & Flight. She co-founded Annotation Nation with Kate Maruyama and has a blog on writing. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles and has been a finalist for the Artsmith Literary Prize and nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

 She’s worked as a freelance writer for several production companies, as a producer and production manager for film and TV, and is a member of SAG-AFTRA. Her latest screenplay was a finalist at Sundance and Austin. She is also an honorary Masai after a 2011 trip to the Masai Mara. She will be attending the TEDGlobal Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland this June.

 Sofia Gil: Sofia Gil started her work in theater, starring in the plays: Much Ado About Nothing, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune, Closer and The Brothers Grimm.

She has written two plays of her own, and recently transitioned to the world of film.

Last year, she co-wrote and Executive Produced her first short film, Moon Town, which will release this Spring. Currently, she is working on a collection of short stories and pre-production on her second original film.

 Musical Guest: The Noble Gasses! Sometimes Surf. Sometimes Soul. Sometimes what you least expect.

 Live Write! A thrilling feat of writerly improvisation! As you arrive, you get to vote on a prompt. The winning prompt will be revealed to four intrepid authors – two of us and two of you audience types, onstage for all to see! We’ll all write to that prompt while Scott plays – it’s going to be impossible not to listen to him, but no one said this was going to be easy. Then the Live Writers will each read their just-written words, and the audience gets to vote! The winner will develop the work into a finished piece to be read at the next show. 

Sunday, April 14

4-5:30 p.m.


1714 W. Sunset Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90026

(213) 413-3388


PARKING: There is a large lot behind 826LA and the rest of the businesses on that block. Cash or credit feeds the machine!


so much &*^#$@%( hyperbole!

less is more? whaa…?

Want to stand out with your writing? Or in general? Remove hyperbole from your writing and, for that matter, your speech. Have you noticed that people now seem to be incapable of speaking without it? We’ve become gushers of adjectives, adverbs, and expletives. A touch of hyperbole can strengthen a scene, but if it’s not there for a specific purpose, cut it. If you read the scene aloud and it calls attention to itself, cut it.

too much?

Less is more in these days of overstatement. “I was so f-ing exhausted.” You go beyond exhaustion, you’re probably dead. “No, really, I nearly died from exhaustion.” Did you just finish the Ironman? Then okay. But thanks to advertising, politics, and the entertainment industry, it’s become our standard way of speaking. No one is wrong, they’re diabolically evil. They can’t have a different opinion, they’re horrendously stupid. Along with it, mercy, the benefit of the doubt, even common ground have disappeared (and in this climate, you want to stop bullying? Good luck with that). Once hyperbole becomes the norm, it loses its effectiveness as a device. We get jaded as stories push the envelope further and further. Get simple. Get back to a good story, well-told.

what else do you need?
simplicity is beautiful

If you need a bit of hyperbole for effect in your writing, combine it with a simile or metaphor. Also, use different levels – and that would include zero – of hyperbole in the character voices. Allow your characters different speech patterns. Let the characters be as varied as people in the world. As with any literary device, be aware of what you’re using and why.

Hyperbole done right? The master, as always (from Hamlet, Act V, sc i)


O, treble woe
Fall ten times treble on that cursed head,
Whose wicked deed thy most ingenious sense
Deprived thee of! Hold off the earth awhile,
Till I have caught her once more in mine arms:

[Leaps into the grave.]

Now pile your dust upon the quick and dead,
Till of this flat a mountain you have made,
To o’ertop old Pelion, or the skyish head
Of blue Olympus.

 Hamlet is not about to be outdone – he even says so at the end of his speech later in the scene:

‘Swounds, show me what thou’lt do:
Woo’t weep? woo’t fight? woo’t fast? woo’t tear thyself?
Woo’t drink up eisel? eat a crocodile?
I’ll do’t. Dost thou come here to whine?
To outface me with leaping in her grave?
Be buried quick with her, and so will I:
And, if thou prate of mountains, let them throw
Millions of acres on us, till our ground,
Singeing his pate against the burning zone,
Make Ossa like a wart! Nay, an thou’lt mouth,
I’ll rant as well as thou.

don’t OD with the hyperbole, son

What’s the rush?

In the last post, I briefly addressed the dragging of feet that can go along with finishing your work or getting it out into the world. We cannot know if success will come quickly, after many years or not at all. All we can to is to try to be prepared and that means making the work and ourselves the best we can.

There’s another way to defeat yourself and that is rushing work out. NaNoWriMo can teach you to just write and write fast. Very fast. There’s huge benefit in that. Clean out the system, prove to yourself you can be far more productive than you imagined, discovering that your characters have things to say in scenes that may not make it to the next draft, but give you valuable information on who they are and so on.

Sometimes you need to slow down. Examine the work, your process…. That can mean slowing down to play with the story. Whether you write fast or slow, it is important to honor your own process once you land on it, but be aware it may change from piece to piece or book to book. What is important about not rushing is not rushing the work out into the world. We tend to believe we’ve written THE BEST BOOK IN THE WORLD as soon as it’s done. It takes perseverance to write over seventy thousand words for a novel. Talent aside, it’s a lot of work! You feel you should be rewarded – at least appreciated – and that’s fine, but don’t act on it, not until you’ve had more eyeballs on your manuscript. Reward yourself in other ways and take the time to make sure your work is ready to send out.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to have at least one great mentor and to surround yourself with talented writers, preferably ones who will tell you the truth. And one or two non-writers as well. Ask a few people to read it before you start querying agents. This does not apply if you’re, say, Jonathan Safran Foer with Joyce Carol Oates as your advisor on your senior thesis. There are exceptions. Now back to real life!

Pay an editor to go through it and make sure it is free from errors and that it flows. Get both specific and global notes. Check the punctuation and do not rely on spell check. Look at the overall structure – do sequences make sense? Is there a strain of a theme that gets lost halfway through? I will give you an example. I had a very talented editor give me notes on WRESTLING ALLIGATORS. She pointed out that I made an allusion to the Daedalus-Icarus myth at the beginning that was then not explored in the rest of the text. It was a challenge, but in one of the subsequent passes (after I’d dealt with her other points), I spent a fair amount of time walking in the hills trying to come up with an answer and finally found it. It enriched the manuscript in a way I never expected and I would have not found it on my own. If I had rushed the manuscript out, that piece would have not been addressed and I would have missed the growth I experienced in that challenge. I really enjoyed solving the problem and discovering a way to solve it will benefit future work.

There are many things about the writing life that are challenging and one is the balance you have to strike between knowing when to go fast and when to slow down. Have you ever wish you’d taken more time before sending work out? Or do you have a triumph about taking your time?

Writing & Money

What is your relationship to money? We tend to accept it as a given that if we create, we will be poor, but what it we challenge that assumption?

I contend that the traits that most often lead us into the arts, or at least into creating fiction, are many of the ones that limit earnings. So often we come to the page or the stage out of need, out of hurt, out of a desire to make things right for ourselves, to find a voice denied us. The higher elements of motivation – creativity and imagination – are the ones to point the way to a more satisfying relationship to money and success.

Can you own your full potential? Are you willing to put everything on the line or do you make excuses for not finishing the short story, the novel, the play, etc.?  For not writing today? We all have 10-15 minutes a day to write no matter what excuse we make. What about not submitting it once it’s done or undercutting yourself to a potential agent or publisher?

First comes the inner work. For much more on this, read Overcoming Underearning and Financial Recovery. Challenge your assumptions about what is possible, not only with your time and your writing, but about what comes after you finish.

The Balkanization of society into fragments is not good for the arts. You’re not exploiting another culture if you explore it, certainly not if you love it. I know a Dutchman who loves Japanese culture so much, he learned Japanese and found a way to live there half the year. Who knows what new ideas and relationships may come out of that? We need each other. We need commonality, communal explorations, not only to find solutions, but to find those intersections where great art resides. You want to make money? Do what you have not dared to do. Go where you have not been. Learn about yourself and your limits. And get your work out into the world. It may not come in the form you expect. Chance are it won’t arrive the way you thought it would, but if you don’t try, don’t risk, you are guaranteed stasis.

Breathe into your fear, your fear of finishing or of failure or of success and experience the alchemy that happens when fear is transformed into excitement and energy. That will fuel the persistence necessary to the creative life. Break through your old assumptions. Now, go write!

And then what if…?

Curiosity is the engine of art. The desire to know or learn and the desire to create come together in the best writing. Probably the two defining questions for the writer are ‘what if?’ and ‘what happens next?’ To which Lisa Cron would add ‘and so?’ (read her book Wired for Story to find out more about that)

The stimulus to trigger your curiosity can come from anywhere: a bit of conversation that passes you on the street, articles, daydreaming, music, museums, the line at Starbucks, you name it. Following any of those questions is the path that takes you into your material. While writing this, I did a Google search on curiosity and found a Tumblr on morbid curiosity.  If that or another site featuring people at their favorite celebrity tombstone doesn’t give you an idea for a story, I don’t know what will. There are so many approaches you can take – who died, how, what was their life like, why be photographed at the tomb of someone you never met, what is the fascination, hobby or obsession? and so on. Maybe it only gives you a jumping off point for a character, but that’s no small thing.

If your curiosity is strong enough, it can blast through writer’s block or fill up a blank page before you have time to be intimidated. All it takes is imagining or encountering a question compelling enough to get you to ask “and then what happened?”

How can you use curiosity to enhance your writing? First, keep a small notepad or recorder with you or use your smart phone so you can makes notes as you encounter inspiration or story ideas, a bit of dialog or an interesting character. Keep reading all kinds of material, including things outside your normal interest, try new things, Google random words, go rock climbing, learn the tango, travel, pay close attention to your environment and see what happens. The wonderful thing about curiosity is that it is endless.

How has curiosity led you into a story?

Who Needs A Mentor?

I’ve been very blessed with great mentors. Rob Roberge and Gayle Brandeis in particular helped shape my work. Cheryl Strayed totally saved me in workshop – saved Growing Chocolate – with her suggestion to flip the last two chapters. I did have to go back and clean some things up, but that change kept the tone consistent all the way to the end and preserved my original intent. That’s the great thing about a talented mentor – they will not rewrite your work or suggest changes according to their vision or how they would write, but try to help you find your own way in your own voice. Also, for me, kind encouragement goes a long way and all three of these people are extraordinarily kind. That doesn’t mean they aren’t rigorous because they are. I never felt like I could slide or get away with anything. Plus they’re so fiercely smart, it would have been foolish to try. But as far as mentoring styles, I cannot hear ridicule. I shut down. Mean mentors don’t work for me. Criticism as bloodsport? No thanks. The world is cruel enough. We don’t need to help things along in that department.

Rob got me started on the path to better writing. He’s one of the best teachers out there. He asked a lot of questions and clarified the difference between mystery and murky and so many other issues. Mystery is fine, withholding certain bits of information is fine, but you don’t want murky. Readers want to know what’s going on in any given scene, so tell them. Lucky for all of us, he’s working on a craft book.

Gayle has many gifts including relating writing to the body. Plus she gets more done than practically anyone I know; we, her mentees, were suspicious that she does not need sleep, but she says she does so we will take her at her word. She must bend time somehow. 🙂 Anyway, as writers we tend to live in our heads and Gayle always reminds me that there’s much more to it.

In addition to the mentorship on any particular book, there is the mentorship of career, which is now more or less where I am with these three wonderful people. At a certain point, you make the shift from writing to your writing career. These three writers and others I had the privilege to work with at Antioch and elsewhere, have all taught me the value of continuing to move forward, of hard work, of taking chances. They are all productive and pretty darned cheerful in the process. Cheryl has been unfailingly gracious as she steps into the dream so many writers wish for. Rob and Gayle are generous with their time even with the demands of their own writing, teaching, readings, and so on.

Did I mention they all write beautifully? They do.

Who are your mentors? If you don’t have one, find one at a conference, a master’s program, workshops, even conventions such as Book Expo or AWP. It will save your sanity, help your writing, and, if you’re fortunate, enrich your life.

P.S. If you need a pep talk, here you go.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Seventh Rule for Writing Fiction

We’re almost there – here’s #7 of 8 rules for writing fiction by Mr. Vonnegut as delivered by guest blogger Aaron Gansky.

by adgansky

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. –Kurt Vonnegut

Pneumonia, maybe, and a host of other things. Would we call this literary promiscuity? Perhaps, and the same risks apply. Vonnegut is not alone in his call for monogamous literature. Stephen King, in his book On Writing discusses a similar idea. He mentions that every writer has an ideal reader, and should hold that ideal reader in their mind as they’re writing. For King, his wife is his ideal reader.

We’ve heard the adage that “you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” The same holds true for fiction. If you write to please all of the people, more often than not, you will fail to please anyone (most notably and sadly, yourself). Your story will lose itself in trying to be something that it’s not, that it shouldn’t be. It will get lost in itself, so to speak, and perhaps never see the light of day.

Your ideal reader may be the same for all your books, or they may change. For example, if you’re writing a western, you’ll likely have one reader in mind, maybe your father with whom you grew up watching Bonanza. Maybe, after the western, you try your hand at a fantasy, and your ideal reader is now your first girlfriend, who swore she wanted to save up her money to have plastic surgery on her ears to make them pointed like an elf’s. Maybe you write a horror, and you think of your best friend with whom you spent every Halloween for the last twenty years. Then again, you may be lucky enough to have, as King does, a wife that fulfills multiple roles and, regardless of the genre, serves as an ideal reader.

Either way, understanding who  your ideal reader is can help shape the path of the novel—what would they most like to see next? What would surprise them here? How would they feel about this particular scene?

Knowing your reader (singular) can also help you finish your book. Two often we get caught up in trying to add something for everyone, which is both futile and frustrating. Somewhere, about a hundred pages in or so, you’ll realize that your novel lacks a clear direction. There are too many threads to make a quilt. Instead, you’re working with enough threads to make several bed sets.

Streamline and focus. Your reader will thank you.