To tell a compelling story…

The hard parts

Posted on: February 9, 2011

Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, twitter pal Tawna Fenske just snorted and said, “You said hard. Heh.”

Sorry to disappoint you, but ‘hard’ in this blog post refers to ‘challenging’, ‘arduous’, ‘demanding’, even ‘Herculean.’

And somewhere in New York, author Sean Ferrell just snorted and said, “That’s what she said.”

Difficult! That’s the word, people! I’m talking about difficult writing tasks. For some people, it’s writing sex scenes that fills them with dread, for others, it’s dialog, and for pretty much all of us except the Wonder that is Jeff Somers, it’s writing query letters.

I have a long list of writing challenges that I’ve decided to address as part of my 2011 resolutions.  I’m writing more short stories because brevity is one of those challenges. Writing riveting opening scenes is another one. But this week on Twitter, tweeps Jessica Lemmon (@lemmony), Patricia McLinn (@PatriciaMclinn) and Heidi Betts (@HeidiBetts) helped me analyze a real thorn in my side.

The problem? Describing the silent laugh people do when something is NOT funny. It’s a “Yeah, right” laugh, full of sarcasm but no mirth.  Is it a “snort?” Is it a “snork?” Perhaps it’s a “chortle?” I don’t know and I can’t stand it anymore!

Here are some ways I’ve treated this problem:

  • “You’re right,” she shook her head and laughed once. “You always are, even when you aren’t.”
  • “Yeah. You would think that.” His face warmed and he managed half a laugh.
  • “I love him.” She finally admitted it with a shrug and a soft laugh, a sound that screamed pain.

Why does this bug me so much? I suppose it has ties to my issues with brevity. Why isn’t there a single word that conveys the sort of sarcastic, unhappy, embarrassed anything-but-happy laugh I’ve tried to describe? Why must I use a phrase – indeed, an entire sentence, to describe a single expression?

I’m frustrated. But, as Heidi pointed out, it’s creative writing so we’re allowed to be creative. I’ll continue in my quest to find the perfect way to show the emotion I’m looking for. Meanwhile, are there any parts of writing challenge you?

‘Fess up. I promise I won’t laugh, snort, chuckle or chortle.


7 Responses to "The hard parts"

I can’t pick just one thing that challenges me. It’s all a challenge. As writer’s we have command of the entire English language…but that’s often my problem. I am the most indecisive person in the world and having that many options with which to create a book is overwhelming to me. I never know if I chose ‘the perfect words.’ We have chosen a Herculean task, my dear.

think of it this way, if there was one word to describe “sarcastic, unhappy, embarrassed anything-but-happy laugh”, there’d be a danger in overusing it. since there isn’t a word, you’re allowed to use any variety of words to convey it. hooray for options!

Huh huh. You said sex.


writing challenges? ha! I’ve got too many to count. First and foremost for me, it’s writing the actual BEGINNING. I write and rewrite and rewrite my beginnings many, many, many times before I actually get past page three. once I get to page four, Watch Out! 🙂

I like hard parts.

I also like writing sex scenes.

However, I would rather remove my own skin with a carrot peeler than write a synopsis.


Charissa – you’re right, but some of the challenges are fun and others feel like chores. I’m never sure if the image I have in my head is the one I’ve captured with words when it comes to this laugh-that’s-not-funny concept.

Abby, this is true. I love that we have dozens of words to pick from to describe a real laugh. Guffaw, chuckle, roar, giggle, side-split, hysterics, etc. I just lament the lack of the word I need.

Bill, I wondered which of you would leap on “sex”. I thought it would be Tawna. Here’s your cookie. Ooops. Sorry. Where is my mind? Here’s a bacon strip.

Karla, I also rewrite my beginnings repeatedly. But they don’t fill me with dread. I just enjoy that part.

Tawna, put down the carrot peeler! The synopsis. Good one!

I’ve used “a dry laugh” to convey that “yeah, right,” it’s-not-really-funny kind of laugh.

And when I’m writing, I like the hard parts best. Huh. When I’m not writing, too. 😉

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