Category Archives: Joshua Essoe

Style As Your Fingerprint

There’s not a lot out there about developing one’s writing style. Because it’s supposed to be yours, right? No one is supposed to help you shape that: it’s uniquely yours. YOUR voice. But how far, exactly, can you go with that? When does style obstruct grammar rules? When does style turn off potential editors and publishers? Unfortunately, there is no right answer.

Let me explain.

Over the years, I have heard various editors from Baen, Harper Collins, Shadow Mountain, and other publishing houses on panels explain, “I want something new. I don’t want the next Stephen King. I don’t want the next Stephanie Meyer. I want you. I want your unique style and your unique voice.” One might be thrilled to hear this call for individualism. “Then I’ll send in my personal style where I don’t use quotations, and don’t capitalize anything!” I want to say that takes it too far. But then again, there’s James Frey. Munch on this little excerpt from his break out novel A Million Little Pieces.

Hey, Buddy.
His voice is deep and dark.
Hey, Buddy.
Tracks crisscross his forearms.
I’m talking to you.
Scars run the length of his wrists.
I’m talking to you.
I look in his eyes. They’re blank.
What?
He points.
That’s my chair.
I turn back to the television.

Did that blow your mind? It should. Most manuscripts that stylized do seem to make it past the slush pile… across the desk and into the trash can.

“Perhaps I’ll send in my manuscript of one-liners that play around a semblance of a plot!” Again, I’m hesitant to negate this, too. Behold the king of one-liners, Oscar Wilde.

“How about my hard-to-follow stream of consciousness novel?” I must hold back from rolling my eyes and sighing, as this is what James Joyce is famous for.

“Ah, but my extremely lengthy novel filled with citations!” I would say that would be

This is DFW's annotations on Don De Lillo's Players, for crying out loud. Imagine what Infinite Jest is like.
These are DFW’s annotations in Don De Lillo’s Players. Now imagine what Infinite Jest is like.

boring, but then again, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is on almost every bookshelf of every English major in America.

A very wise editor and friend, Joshua Essoe, once told me something along the lines of: “Prove you know what the rules are before you go and break them.” I think this is fantastic advice for new writers. Editors and publishers need to trust that you know what you’re doing. Slowly injecting your style as you go is the way to job security.

At the same time, I can’t help but wonder: what if the authors I’ve mentioned above had done the same? Maybe if they hadn’t boldly stepped out into the world with their styles fully realized, style wouldn’t be as important as it is today. Maybe we should be so bold as to say, “Yes, I know my style is unique, but just read it, and let me know if it doesn’t just knock your socks off.” Because chances are, if your story is solid and engaging, your style will only add to it.

About Kristin Luna:
Kristin Luna copyKristin Luna has been making up stories and getting in trouble for them since elementary school. She writes book reviews for Urban Fantasy Magazine, contributes to the blog The Fictorians, and her short story “The Greggs Family Zoo of Odd and Marvelous Creatures” was featured in the anthology One Horn to Rule Them All alongside Peter S. Beagle and Todd McCaffrey. Her short story “Fog” recently appeared on Pseudopod. Kristin lives in San Diego with her husband Nic.

I Would Do Anything for Love…

 

But I won’t do that. You know what I’m talkin’ about, Meatloaf.

 

Instead, we did all of this:

Victoria Morris Threaded the Tapestry

Gregory D. Little Subverted the Meet Cute

Ace Jordan did the Science of Love to Explain the Murky Middle

Mary reminded us that All You Need is Love

Joshua Essoe gave us advice about Writing Sex ScenesIn two posts!

Clancy showed us the Flip Side: Bad Girls and Anti-Heroes and Why the Guys Love them

Travis Heermann Examined and Bound

Kim May Pleasured us with Pain

Stephan McLeroy no longer Struggles to Define Love

Leigh Galbreath Drew us in with Dysfunctional Relations

Tracy Mangum gave us a master class in Love in Screenplays

Jace Killian showed us the Try and Fail in Love

Matt Jones made Ignorant Secret Troubled Love to us

Tracy Mangum followed up with Sex in Screenplays

Lisa Mangum reminded us that First Comes Like

Frank Morin pushed A Life of Passion

Colette advised us to Let Love Simmer

And RJ Terrell wrote On Love

 

Sure, this month is over, but we know you’ll be back. If you fall we will catch you, and we’ll be waiting. Time after time.

 

The Monster Mash: Writing Sex Scenes, Part Two

A guest post by Joshua Essoe.

In part one we talked about if you should go all the way, how to decide, creating tension in all the right places, and what position you should take. Tonally speaking.

Today, let’s get into some specifics of when you’re trying to verb the adjective noun.

Your characters should inform everything that takes place between them. Who are they? Are they gregarious and shameless? Well then, yeah, a character like that might just throw their clothes off, give strip teases for the thrill of it, and view kisses as fun but meaningless.

Is your character shy? Well that character is very unlikely to just throw their clothes off or have sex in a changing room. Maybe they want the light turned off first, maybe they kiss tentatively, and slowly, maybe they need their partner to undress first.

And let’s not forget about laying down complications, hiking up tension, and stroking inner conflict. Maybe your character feigns confidence and it gets tested terribly when things heat up. Maybe they’re worried about some perceived physical defect. Maybe the character is married or committed to someone else–what kind of inner conflict would that engender? How would that other relationship inform their choices in the romance with someone else? Are they in love with two people at once?

Let’s get deeper into the question of how far you should push.

Just like any other scene, you focus on what you want your readers to focus on. And that is what your specific character would be focused on. What does your viewpoint character find attractive and sexy about the character they are with? Both physically and in their personality, their movements, their smell, the sounds they make. Maybe that shameless character is turned on by having everything articulated. That character definitely likes the dirty dirty. Maybe that shy character is focused on the eyes and minute facial expressions. Use all the senses. What is going to make it interesting and unique are the specific details you use. The more specific and narrow you make your focus, the sexier the scene will be. And yes, sometimes that means you’ll be writing about what parts go where and what that feels like.

The way you inform your readers of that, what words you use, will depend on your characters, the tone of the story, and how you’ve set it up. There should always be some words on your Do Not Fly list. Let me suggest a few:

  • Turgid, adj
  • Purple, adj/noun
  • Fleshy, adj
  • Wrinkled, verb (If this is an adjective, then please don’t send me this MS.)
  • Pert, adj
  • Moist, adj

These are not sexy words. Even penis. Penis is not a sexy word. They accurately describe something, sure, but analytically relating what a thing is, or what a thing does, does not sexy make. Likewise, be careful with the placement of your sexy words because it will be hard, err, difficult to keep from using them over and over. Keep track of those little buggers or everything is going to end up wet, or hard . . . or turgid.

But, like everything else in writing, it is a careful balancing act. Just like any other action scene, don’t go overboard with your descriptions or you’ll bog down your prose, and kill your pacing and interest. When I say focus in and use specific details I don’t mean that you should describe every single movement or action taking place. You can leave some things to your readers’ imaginations. They’ll fill in the blanks.

Be aware of the tropes. There are a lot out there, but here are some common ones:

  1. The woman or man is unattainably attractive.
  2. She has an apparent willingness to have sex with the male protagonist, usually as a means of manipulating him.
  3. The female character is duplicitous, and either secretly evil or forced to act that way for some reason.
  4. Rape. I can’t tell you how tired women, in particular, are of reading rape used as a tool to garner sympathy, or stoke conflict. But that is a separate article.

One final note. It’s worth talking about the actual, physical writing of these kinds of scenes. I heartily recommend your local Starbucks if you want the dude with the Beats by Dre, the man in the pinstriped shirt, and the cute, spikey-haired girl sneaking stares as your face flushes, your breath quickens, and you start to sweat. Just please keep your hands on your keyboard at all times.

Or maybe you should plan to write these things in private. And then you can let your hands do whatever they gotta do.

Wherever you chose to write your dive in the dark, don’t stop, once you start. Going halfway into the scene, then pulling out for a break kills your own tension and takes you out of the flow. It would be like texting with your buddy while you’re bed-pressing with your partner. Just like in real life you want the process to go smoothly without interruption. Write the whole scene in one ecstatic burst. Do not go back to read what you’ve written. Do not count how many times you’ve used the words “moist,” and “pert.” It doesn’t matter, don’t break your rhythm.

That means do not stop to edit yourself! The scene might suck, but that does not matter, just like any first draft, you’ll have your chance to go back and massage it into splendor later.

If you’ve never written a sex scene, and maybe even if you have, you may feel embarrassed, or even scared enough that you can only manage a tag to yourself, “put the sex stuff here.” For those of you that this applies to, take heart. You don’t have to view writing sex and romance as writing a sex scene or writing erotica. You’re just writing a scene. That’s it. You’ll do great. Let your characters guide you, listen to them, just as you would with any other scene, and write.

Joshua EssoeAbout Joshua Essoe:

Joshua Essoe is a full-time, freelance editor. He’s done work for best-seller David Farland, including the multi-award winning novel, Nightingale; Dean Lorey, lead writer of Arrested Development; best-seller, James Artimus Owen; and numerous Writers of the Future authors and winners, as well as many top-notch independents. He is currently the copy editor at Urban Fantasy Magazine.

Together with tie-in writer Jordan Ellinger, indie success-story, Michael J. Sullivan, and traditionally published author and NY Times best-seller, Debbie Viguie, he records the weekly writing podcast Hide and Create

When not editing . . . ha ha, a joke. He was a 2014 finalist in the Writers of the Future contest, and lives with his wife, and three horrible cats near UCLA.

The Monster Mash: Writing Sex Scenes, Part One

A guest post by Joshua Essoe.

This is an intimidating subject, and one I think many authors have a lot of questions about. Should the characters indulge in a little horizontal refreshment? Do they or don’t they? Should I or shouldn’t I?

In loving someone else, we really do discover things about ourselves. The act of sex opens up all kinds of emotional territory for us, and it’s great to show characters discovering themselves through their physical loving of one another.

First, let’s decide if your story needs a love scene. Just like any other scene, ideally, it should do three things–advance the plot, show character progression, and turn you on . . . I mean entertain. If the sex can reveal character, or advance plot, or increase tension, you should consider including a little limb mingling in your story. Especially if the genre encourages it.

I read an awesome quote from Delilah S. Dawson who writes the Blud series:

“Remember in Mallrats, where they were doing the dating show, and the suitors were asked if their kisses were like a soft breeze, a firm handshake, or a jackhammer? Gil answered, “Definitely a jackhammer, I’m in there with some pressure and when I’m done, you’re not the same as before. You’re changed.” And we laughed, because he was a douche. But your sex scene should be like that: it should move the story forward and somehow affect the characters emotionally. Maybe the hero learns to open up, maybe the heroine decides she wants to be more aggressive in her real life, maybe they’re just having what they think is a last fling before a giant orc battle. But it has to mean something, or else it’s just porn.”

So here are some things to consider:

A) Is a character’s personal life necessary to the story?

B) Should the sex be explicit or implied?

C) What genre is it for?

Each genre is going to cook the meat and potatoes a different way, and have different expectations and limitations. Do your research and find out what is required, and what is prohibited. Keep in mind that just because a story has a sex scene in it, it doesn’t make it erotica any more than an action story becomes a romance because there is a romantic relationship in it.

Sex scenes and romances are all about the tension. They’re about building that moment that readers are waiting for. That moment where one thing turns to another. That first kiss after all those “innocent” touches, or all that longing. It’s that slow build to that first moment where the clothes finally come off, or the first time that one character finally admits that they love the other. The buildup is where it’s at. That’s what’s interesting and engaging. The reward of the actual kiss, or the I-love-you, or the sex is nice, but it means little without the buildup of characters and those characters’ desires. Wine and dine your readers before taking them home. Everybody enjoys some foreplay.

Terry Goodkind did a masterful job of creating romantic tension in his first few Sword of Truth books. We really wanted Kahlan and Richard to get together just as much as we were invested in the central conflict being resolved. When they finally kiss and when they finally get together, however briefly, it is immensely satisfying.

Another excellent lesson from that series is that the tension of their love affair decreased exponentially with each new book that kept them apart. With the repetitive pulling apart and coming back together, it became frustrating. You can’t be a one-trick pony, no matter how good that trick is; you have to show your readers new problems, give them new conflicts. There’s only so long readers will be willing to wait, and only so much they’ll be able to stand before getting frustrated or bored and putting your story down.

You have to keep up the cycle of tension, but it has to be fresh tension.

So, okay, the characters really do need to do the pickle tickle. It’s necessary to the story, okay? How do you handle it?

Unless the tone and mood calls for it, unless the characters and the story call for it, don’t be needlessly crass. There are plenty of ways to describe things, and use implied information to inform your readers of exactly what is going on.

In one sci-fi manuscript I read, the writer plunged me into gratuitous sex scene after gratuitous sex scene with no build-up or tonal foreshadowing, and seemingly without purpose besides the writer’s desire to write raunchy sex scenes. It was like having a picnic on a cloudless day that abruptly begins raining frogs on you. It didn’t make sense and was quite jarring.

Language is important. The specific words you use are important. Don’t write a book that has a little flirtation, and then jump into a chapter where one character is practically raping another. Don’t abstain from using any harsh language, and then use all the filthiest words you can come up with when you get to your sex scene. Your story needs consistency and everything must be set up so that you are appropriately managing your readers’ expectations.

Tone is important, but don’t be afraid to have a funny sex scene either. Coming-of-age sex scenes, for example, could be just as much about the humor in the awkwardness as it is about that life-changing event for the characters. You can still do funny, and tender, and sexy all in one scene if you want. Life is nuanced, and so should your sex scenes be.

In part two, we’ll take a deeper poke at how far to go, tropes, and character penetration. Until then, don’t write anything you’ll regret in the morning.

Joshua EssoeAbout Joshua Essoe:

Joshua Essoe is a full-time, freelance editor. He’s done work for best-seller David Farland, including the multi-award winning novel, Nightingale; Dean Lorey, lead writer of Arrested Development; best-seller, James Artimus Owen; and numerous Writers of the Future authors and winners, as well as many top-notch independents. He is currently the copy editor at Urban Fantasy Magazine.

Together with tie-in writer Jordan Ellinger, indie success-story, Michael J. Sullivan, and traditionally published author and NY Times best-seller, Debbie Viguie, he records the weekly writing podcast Hide and Create

When not editing . . . ha ha, a joke. He was a 2014 finalist in the Writers of the Future contest, and lives with his wife, and three horrible cats near UCLA.