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Posts from the ‘Craft’ Category

How one piece of writing can morph into something else

A few of my writing friends and I meet up occasionally to read our work and give each other feedback. One day, I read a poem I’d written about an encounter with a woman who had Alzheimer’s.

When I finished reading it, one of my friends said, “I really like that character. I want to know more about her. I think you should write a story about her.”

I’m not sure why, but when I get a writing idea, I usually know exactly what format it should take: poem, short story, novel, flash fiction. But I realized that one format CAN evolve into something else.

It really made me think. Maybe some of the writing we do is a warm up that can take us in a new direction. My poem still stood on its own as a complete poem, but my friend inspired me to learn more about my character and where I could take her story.

So I was especially interested in a blog post by Roz Morris, on her blog Nail Your Morris suggests that if you want to see if you can turn a short story into a novel, start by doing some planning. Whether you sketch out general ideas or a detailed outline, this plan will help you see the possibilities. Next, “climb in and explore” your story. See if and what you can enlarge in your story. For more excellent tips, read the whole blog post, How to turn a short story into a novel.

Roz also has a series of Nail Your Novel books that you can check out on her blog.

Exercise: Look at your body of writing. Do you have a piece that could be the beginning of something different? Write on.


Are you stymied by a scene? Duck and cover

It happens to all of us.

You’re working on your manuscript and you get stuck. The writing feels clunky. Something isn’t working. This is when you must duck and cover.

“Duck and cover” is the term author Pam Lewis coined to describe her process of jumpstarting her writing when she’s become stuck.

“I open a blank page on my computer and ask myself, ‘What’s going on in the scene?’ I close my eyes and watch the characters and hear them.”

In her current manuscript, Lewis said she used the technique to figure out what a character was doing in a particular scene. But she realized the technique helped her see what mattered to the character and the character’s emotional state. With her eyes closed, Lewis saw that the character’s hands were trembling, she was sweaty, and didn’t smell good.

Duck and cover can be a way of accessing the sensory details of your scenes.

Lewis is the author of A Young Wife, Perfect Family, and Speak Softly, She Can Hear.

Watch the scenes of your novel as though they were a movie, Lewis says. Start by writing the action or what the character is thinking or feeling. Sometimes Lewis writes random dialogue to get the sentences flowing again. “It almost always offers something useful, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m writing about at the moment.”

“Even more important than what the characters say sometimes is what they do and their facial gestures,” Lewis says.

For more ideas to break through writing resistance, read Four tips to defeat your writing funk.

How limiting creative choices enhances creativity

I recently had lunch with one of my older friends who lives at a retirement community. At the table, I met Robert, 88, another resident. As our group visited, I turned to Robert and asked, “What is your creative passion?”

“I’m a sculptor,” he said.

I asked him if the retirement community had an art room to work in. No, he said. He just worked in his apartment.

“There are some limitations,” he said.

I told him, “Sometimes limitations enhance creativity.”

“That is true,” he said.

As it turned out, Robert had been a university art professor, worked as director of an art museum, and traveled extensively. As I talked to Robert, I found that he had another limitation that affected his creative pursuits. He was losing his eyesight, which affected his whole approach and experience as an artist. Read more

Freshen up your manuscript with this exercise

You may already know I’m a big fan of the online Lawson Writer’s Academy. When I earned my MFA, I was a poet learning how to write prose and put together a complete manuscript. Mission accomplished.

And now, through Margie Lawson’s academy, I’m learning writing craft I didn’t learn in my MFA program: How to develop deep point of view, what makes a scene click, the importance of MRUs (motivation response units) and having them in the right order, how to use dialogue cues (Margie’s term) that evoke emotion in the reader, how to use body language effectively and many other aspects of a well-written novel.

In a recent post, Margie writes about the importance of writing fresh and shares some great examples.

After reading her post, I found several places where I could freshen up my own writing. Here are some examples (I bolded the trouble spots):

Example 1:


“How are you getting home?” Noah frowned and I found my eyes tracing the outline of his lips. Lips I’d recently felt pressing against my own. Lips I’d recently tasted.

“I’ll get a ride from Lily…”


“How are you getting home?” Noah shot me his I-think-you’re-making-a-big-mistake scowl.

I loved the way his lips puckered when he did that. Lips that had recently pressed against my own. Lips that tasted of sea and mountains and home.

I cleared my throat, struggling to dial down my hormones. “I’ll get a ride from Lily…”

Comment: in the before example, “frowned” is boring and overused and doesn’t describe much. The following bolded phrases, “I found, I felt, I tasted” are all filter words…it’s much better to just give the reader the experience.

Filter words are words that remove the reader from the action and filter the character’s experience through the writer’s point of view. Instead of seeing the action through the character’s eyes, the author is filtering it first. Examples from first person point of view: I saw, I thought, I felt, I heard, etc.  Read more

Five ways to build your curious nature

I’m a curious person.

My intense curiosity propelled me into a writing career. So when I read Bernadette Jiwa’s post, The Relationship Between Curiosity and Business Growth, my curiosity meter spiked into the red zone.

Jiwa tells about going to her local florist one Friday night and being surprised by the sheer number of roses she found in the shop. Buckets of roses filled almost all the floor space. She assumed they were for a wedding the next day and questioned the florist. The florist explained that the roses were for a customer who bought 110 bunches of 10 roses every Friday evening. The florist didn’t know what the customer did with them.

As a person who lives a life of curiosity, I could hardly stand not having the answer to this question.

Curiosity is what drives children to develop skills, scientists to devise groundbreaking inventions, and writers to write best selling novels by asking “why,” “how,” and “what if.”

The good news is we’re all born with this trait and developing and embracing it can make us better writers. Exercising our creativity can help us be attuned to story ideas, build out better characters, and think of more creative plots.

Make a practice of pursuing your inquisitive nature each day with these tips: Read more

Fast first draft writing advice from author Ian Fleming

Congratulations to all the NaNoWriMo Writers who have completed their challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November! I wasn’t able to participate this year due to family concerns so I decided to do my own challenge in December. My goal: finish the first draft of my manuscript-in-progress.

I’m putting together my plan and compiling bits of inspiration to help me stay focused (they get printed out and pasted around the house). I came across a great quote on how to write fast by author Ian Fleming.

Confession: I haven’t followed his advice in the first half of my book–I’ve been doing A LOT of editing and fixing which is probably a bad idea until the entire story is finished. In my defense, the time and attention spent on the first half has made me a stronger writer and craftsman. Maybe it will all wash out in the end and the second half’s first draft won’t come out sounding like a drunken chipmunk? Oh, a girl can hope!

So…on to Fleming’s advice that I think is spot on:

In the May 1963 edition of the long-running ‘Books and Bookmen’ periodical published by Hansom Books, Mr. Fleming penned an essay describing his creative process for the James Bond novels.

Here’s his advice for writing fast first drafts:

“I never correct anything and I never go back to what I have written, except to the foot of the last page to see where I have got to. If you once look back, you are lost. How could you have written this drivel? How could you have used “terrible” six times on one page? And so forth. If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism, you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain. By following my formula, you write 2,000 words a day and you aren’t disgusted with them until the book is finished, which will be in about six weeks.”

Read the full essay.


Dialogue tips: the fastest way to improve any manuscript

In this 30-minute video below, author Joanna Penn interviews author and writing teacher James Scott Bell about his book on dialogue, “How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript.”

Bell gives some great tips to make your dialogue sing and catch the eye of an agent, publisher and reader:

  1. Characters shouldn’t be feeding each other information they already know. Example: Brother to sister: “Look sis, our mom, Linda who is a school teacher is home.”
  2. Don’t hide exposition or backstory in dialogue. Readers are savvy, will pick up on it, and won’t be happy. Bell says if you must convey the information, try turning the exchange into a confrontation. More information tends to be exchanged when people are confrontational.
  3. How do you differentiate dialogue between characters? Bell suggests keeping a voice journal for each main character. For more on this, see my earlier post, “Use a voice journal to capture your character’s original voice.”
  4. When using an action beat instead of the dialogue tag “she said or he said,” make sure the action is integral to the story — otherwise you’ll wear out the reader over the course of a novel.
  5. Read your dialogue out loud. Make it snappy and vital. Make it sing. Also read dialogue out loud from other novels and screenplays.
  6. Think subtext—what are the characters really saying underneath the words they speak?

For many more great tips on using dialogue to quickly improve your manuscript, watch the video here:

For you Nanowrimo peeps, try this exercise to increase your word count: Dive deep and write some dialogue runs between characters down the page without any tags or actions. Just straight dialogue. See if you can get into a rhythm and keep going. You can clean it up and add actions and attributions later.


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