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Celebrate poetry today by carrying a poem in your pocket

Today, Poem in Your Pocket Day, is the day people who love poetry are carrying a poem in their pockets to share with others.

You can also share your poem selection on Twitter by using the hashtag #pocketpoem.

Below are two of my favorites.

Share the title of your favorite poem in the comments below. If you’d like to receive a poem a day in your e-mail, sign up.

Spring Storm by William Carlos Williams

The sky has given over

its bitterness.

Out of the dark change

all day long

rain falls and falls

as if it would never end.

Still the snow keeps

its hold on the ground.

But water, water

from a thousand runnels!

It collects swiftly,

dappled with black

cuts a way for itself

through green ice in the gutters.

Drop after drop it falls

from the withered grass-stems

of the overhanging embankment.

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Inspire your manuscript by creating a photo book

As a writing coach, I’ve seen many ways my students approach writing their manuscripts or screenplays. Whether you’re writing a memoir or novel, photos can be an entry into your story world.

One of my memoir clients pulled out a binder he had created with photos of characters in his story that he’d scanned from old photos and newspaper articles, and magazine photos of places he was writing about. He arranged the photos and other images in the order he visualized the scenes taking place in the manuscript.

To write scenes in my own memoir, I scoured photo albums and searched for historical images of the time period when my grandfather would have immigrated to the United States. The images of street scenes inspired descriptions and a sense of the time. Details from the photographs sparked even more concrete images that helped lend authenticity to the scenes that I needed to imagine.

Young adult author Walter Dean Myers creates a photo collage to build out his characters in the pre-writing phase of his work. He finds photos that represent his vision of the character, and his wife creates a collage of them that he hangs on the wall by his computer. As he writes his pages each day, the characters become more real to him. He feels he gains understanding and this helps him build out their personalities.

To learn more about how Myers develops his stories, read How to be a prolific writer like Walter Dean Myers: A three-step process.

For more information about Myers, visit his website.

For another idea to create structure in your story writing process, read Create a chaos board to capture your writing ideas.

What is your process for diving into your writing?


How to really get readers to care about your characters

In the short video below by screenwriter and director, John Truby, he says one of the biggest mistakes writers make is how they create their characters.

Truby says most writers create characters by making them as detailed as possible. We’ve all heard this advice, right? Make your characters detailed, use all five senses, etc.

But Truby says having detailed characters does NOT make your audience care about your characters.

What makes them care is discovering two things:

1) what is the character’s fundamental weakness — their fundamental flaw?

2) what is the character’s story goal?

Truby says the best stories will show the character going after their goal, which will then make them deal with their greatest internal weakness.

To hear what else Truby has to say about creating great characters, watch his video below and check out some of his other videos:

Be your own writing judge: Six tips to help you win contests and attract agents

One of the hardest things to do as a writer is see your own work objectively.

The past few weeks, I’ve been reading entries in a writing contest. It’s always a great learning experience to analyze other writers’ work, which is one reason I always recommend writers join critique groups.

It’s interesting to see how many issues are common among the manuscripts I read. See if these ideas and tips can help you judge your own work more objectively.

1. Create mystery. Every story should have questions that will spark readers to turn the page so they can find the answers. What does the protagonist desperately want? Make the stakes big so readers absolutely must keep reading to find out how on earth the protagonist will succeed. And while you’re at it, deprive readers of the answer as long as possible.

2. Create active protagonists. I frequently see protagonists who are living in their heads too much or being the victims of the action instead of the ones acting.

3. Don’t put too much backstory up front. You’ve probably heard this advice before, but it still remains one of the most common manuscript problems. Don’t risk rejection. Readers and agents want to see action and trouble from the beginning. They really will keep reading to find out more and will be happy if you weave the backstory in as you go.

4. Pace your story. Alternate dramatic scenes with calmer narrative to give the readers breathing space.

5. Create characters that readers can identify with. Not every character has to be a hit with readers but you don’t want readers to finish your book — or worse — stop part way through and say, “Actually, I don’t like any of these characters!”

6. Don’t overdo description. Description is an art. It’s an opportunity to be creative and use sensory images that put the reader in the grip of the story. But make sure you weave it in so that it doesn’t bog down your story.

Four techniques to take your story to the next level

At the core of any successful story is a great idea. So what makes a great idea? What triggers tension? What moves the plot forward in a satisfying way?

Here are four tips for finding ideas to push your writing forward:

Find a moment of truth. Maybe you have a character floating around in your head. There is a sudden realization that marks a turning point or major change. A pivotal moment where nothing will be the same again. Now, figure out what came before and what will happen after.

Create a shocking twist. You’re writing along, minding your business and suddenly your character up and does something shocking. It is unexpected. It is inevitable. It suddenly changes your story from good to great. If you’re in a stuck place, or just casting about for a story idea, ask “What if” to find your shocking twist.

Find a haunting image. Have you ever seen a painting or photograph that punched you in the chest? Stuck in your mind? We write words to create visual images in readers’ minds, so it’s not surprising that images could spark a story idea or scene. Next time you see something striking, ask yourself why it resonates. Freewrite about it. See what bubbles up.

Write about something weird. I was chatting with a plumber recently who had come to my house to do some work. We got to talking about writing and he said he had done some writing but he was stumped because all of his ideas were “weird.” My response: “And how is that a problem? Weird is good. Go with it.”

For a related post about finding ideas, read Carol’s post Four questions to help you mine your life for story ideas.

Five clues to a great story from filmmaker Andrew Stanton

In his great Ted Talk, filmmaker (“Toy Story” & “WALL-E”) Andrew Stanton shares his thoughts on storytelling.

Stories tell us who we are and give our life affirmation and meaning, says Stanton. Here a few other ideas he has about story:

  • Stories make you care;
  • Stories are inevitable but not predictable;
  • Each character has a spine–an inner motor–a dominant unconscious goal they are always striving for;
  • Change is fundamental in story. Life is never static;
  • The secret sauce? The best stories infuse wonder.

To learn more about what story is, watch Stanton’s talk here:


Tips and best practices for writing young adult books

Do you ever wonder how to hit the mark in your manuscript to bring all the elements together that will resonate with readers and potential agents? The challenge of making everything work — from dialogue to setting to characters to plot and more — is what makes writing so appealing to me.

I’ve been judging a YA writing contest this month and in the process, it’s made me think about what works and what doesn’t work in writing young adult literature.

Don’t underestimate or overestimate your audience. Consider the age range of your target reader. The language and style of writing for a 12- to 14-year-old may vary slightly from that of a 14- to 17-year-old. These kids are smart and often have flashes of maturity beyond their ages. That said, they are still who they are and will revert back to moments of immaturity. You might be writing a scene where a child is showing wisdom beyond her years, but the next moment have a meltdown. Think about how you can use this knowledge of your audience to create authentic characters who act their emotional age. Also, ask yourself if by the end of your story, your characters have evolved. They should have changed by the end in some way, gaining maturity and insight as a result of the conflict they’ve been through.

Create a gripping plot. YA writing is no different than adult fiction when it comes to writing strong plots with action, consequences and tension. Are you creating obstacles, amping up the action, and pushing the action forward in each scene to its conclusion?

Create a compelling narrative voice. You’ll engage the reader quickly if they can latch on to a voice they connect with. Think about how your reader might identify with the narrator and how the narrator says what she says.

Resist the impulse to have a strong “moral message.” Don’t be preachy. These readers are smart and savvy and that kind of writing will knock them out of the story world you’re trying to create. Let the themes and messages of your story organically reveal themselves through your characters and the progression of the plot.

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