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Posts from the ‘Craft’ Category

How and why you should develop intuition in your characters

This morning, I was working out at the gym on an elliptical machine, not thinking of anything, when suddenly an intense sadness welled up inside me. Having lost my husband over two years ago, I thought it was another layer of grief so I allowed it to rise up and release but instead of releasing, the feeling became more intense and raw. Tears welled up as I continued to work out. I couldn’t figure out what had triggered the feelings and why they were so incredibly strong. And then a thought flashed through my mind—whose feelings are these?

From years of working with and helping people, I know that sometimes I’ll intuit other’s thoughts and feelings, but I’m usually pretty good at recognizing when this happens and setting up my boundaries. For me, this means doing a specific visualization.

This morning, the thought persisted that the sadness I was feeling wasn’t mine. I looked at the man working out on the machine next to me. He didn’t look sad. He didn’t look as if he was in pain. He seemed fine. Read more

Poetry prompt: How to use a favorite poem to create your own

Have you ever read a poem that inspired you in your own writing?

Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes,” is one such poem for me. I have read it several times over the years. It’s one of those pieces that has stayed with me and became even more resonant over time.

My husband died two years ago so when I re-read Oliver’s poem recently it was from this new perspective of understanding how fleeting our time is here, how every moment is a blessing.

Her work inspired me to write a poem called, “When Love Comes.” I started by following the general form of her poem but then allowed my poem to flourish and take off in its own direction. Though I started off using her form as a guide, I made sure I used my own words and my own ideas.

The result? I like it enough that it’s going to be the final poem for my poetry book to be published later this year.

Below are a few tips for using another poet’s work as a jumping off place for your own poetry: Read more

What I love about writing poetry

For National Poetry Month, I thought I’d share some thoughts on my most favorite and least favorite parts of writing a new poem:

My favorite part of writing a new poem:

  • The idea that invades my mind like twining ivy and won’t let go until the entire poem has been put to paper
  • Making messy lines and blot outs and squiggles with my colored pen on paper as I play with ideas and words
  • Typing all that mess into a fresh, new document on my computer—that feeling of chaos becoming somehow ordered
  • Rereading the poem, feeling both its wholeness and its incompleteness in my mind and body
  • Editing the poem, fussing with words and line breaks, challenging myself to see what can be more specific or fresher
  • Reading the poem for my writing critique group to see my creation through new eyes, discovering where the poem can be improved

My least favorite part of writing a new poem?

Making the final edits and being “done” with the poem. To me, finishing a poem feels like when your best friend visits after too much time apart—you talk and laugh and cry as if it hasn’t been months since you last saw each other. For those moments you feel whole and connected and in the flow of life. Then she leaves and you’re happier for her having been there, but a little piece of your heart goes with her, and you long for her return before the door has even finished closing.

Finishing a poem is a little like that. I am happy for its completion while longing for its return—which is really a longing for the return of the feeling it evoked in me. Maybe this is why I love giving poetry readings, so I can visit my poems one more time.

What are the favorite and/or least favorite parts of your writing experience? Please share in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

Build characters and advance your plot with these dialogue best practices

Dialogue is a powerful way to reveal your characters and move your story forward. In The Craft of Character online class through Coursera.org, authors Amy Bloom and Brando Skyhorse discuss the role of dialogue in character development.

The class is part of Wesleyan College’s Craft Your Story Like the Great Writers specialization that takes students through plot, character development, setting and description, and style. The creative writing specialization covers elements of three major creative writing genres: short story, narrative essay, and memoir. The classes start at $79 each, but you can access videos and certain assignments free of charge.

In a video interview, Skyhorse, author of The Madonnas of Echo Park, and Bloom discussed the role of dialogue. Great dialogue should:

Reveal your characters. One of the ways readers get to know characters is from what they say as well as what they do, and more specifically, what they do to one another, Skyhorse said.  Dialogue should deepen the reader’s understanding of character or advance the plot. Read more

Four tips for writing a synopsis that sells

Before I wrote my first synopsis, I thought it would be a breeze—after all, I’d done the hard part, right? I had finished and edited an entire book! What could be harder than that? Plenty, I was to learn.

Recently, I helped chair a major literary contest where I read over 100 book synopses. I was impressed with a handful of the synopses, but, for the most part, they were vague or poorly written or trying to be “mysterious” when they needed to be clear and to the point. I realized that I was probably not alone in my dread of the synopsis. Writing a GOOD synopsis is one of the hardest tasks undertaken by a writer.

The main purpose of a synopsis is to provide a summary of an entire novel. It must provide an overview of the plot (including the ending), characters, and theme.

Put yourself in the shoes of a literary agent who is deciding from your synopsis whether or not to read the first pages of your book. Your synopsis has to be even more perfect than your stellar novel. No pressure, right?

No worries. Below are a few tips to help you make your synopsis sing: Read more

Discover the power of word choice

Whether you’re writing prose or poetry, word choice is paramount. The words you choose determine where the emphasis is placed in your line or sentence and, thus, where you draw your reader’s attention.

In honor of National Poetry Month I’ll use a few of my poems as examples of the difference a word can make.

From my poem “Suppose someday I say hot springs:”

 

Original:

will I remember our hike up Sol Duc,
how we riffed fingers over silk moss,
how we stepped stone to stone
over the creek that crossed our path,
how we posed for a photo on the rickety
footbridge dwarfed by fir and red cedar?

Revision:

will I remember our hike up Sol Duc,
how we riffed fingers over silk moss,
how we stepped stone to stone
over the creek that crossed our path,
how we posed for a photo on the rickety
footbridge under fir and red cedar?

As you can see, I changed the bolded word “dwarfed” to a simpler word “under” in the revision. Why? Dwarfed is a more unusual and striking word but, because of this, it draws more attention to itself—attention that I don’t want in that particular place.

My first choice draws my reader’s attention to the footbridge while the revision places the emphasis more on the “we” of the stanza and the trees—which is where I want it. Read more

Showing vs. telling: Take down the wall between your character and your reader

I’ve heard the phrase “show don’t tell” at least a million times in my writing career. And, mostly, that’s good advice—though there are times when “telling” is more economical and gets the job done.

But in most scenes, and especially when I want to draw my reader into deep point of view, I try to show as much as possible. I draw on the senses instead of my character’s intellect.

In other words, I want my readers to experience the event with my character instead of my character filtering the experience for them.

Below are a few “before” and “after” sentences from my current manuscript: Read more