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Posts tagged ‘writing advice’

Draw on personal pain to write believable characters

I started reading a new paranormal novel last month that I had high hopes for based on how quickly and easily the first few chapters hooked me. The plot was refreshing, unique, and action-filled from the beginning. Interesting, quirky characters reeled me in. But it quickly went downhill from there.

I’m the type of reader who usually doesn’t give up on a book. I always have faith that the author will pull out of the temporary bog and finish, if not strong, at least well. I have only given up on two books in my life. My new paranormal novel was the third.

What went wrong? Read more

Ask questions to find your story’s theme

Writers often hear the advice, “write what you know,” but my philosophy is, “write what you WANT to know.” A good way to begin discovering your story’s theme is to ask questions because we come to understand who we are and our place in the world by asking questions.

In the 12-minute video below, the creators of the animated movie “Inside Out” share how the theme of their story emerged for them over time as they went on a quest of discovery.

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

Writing advice from a Tasmanian cave spider, or how to get your creative juices flowing

Ok, I lied. This post isn’t really about writing advice from a Tasmanian cave spider—more like life advice.

Hang with me for a moment. You’ll see what I mean.

After taking nearly a year off from writing poetry, I had an idea to kick start 2015 with the goal of writing two to three new poems a week for the month of January. But I wasn’t feeling very inspired. Some pretty heavy stuff was going on in my life, and I felt drained.

Then, a gift arrived in the mail.

My blogging partner Carly sent me The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop, by Diane Lockward (I hadn’t even mentioned my goal to her…scary how we think alike, isn’t it?)

Now, I’m normally NOT a “prompt” person but being the good friend that I am, I felt I should at least flip through the book so I could extend my sincere gratitude to her. (Wink. Wink). Late one night, I dragged the book to bed with me and the strangest thing happened—the pages reached out and grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

Hands down, best poetry craft and prompt book. Ever. Nine of the ten poems I’ve written so far this month were inspired by the book.

But what does this have to do with a Tasmanian cave spider? Read more

Avoid common writing problems by following Kurt Vonnegut’s advice

Besides writing literary classics Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut was a professor. He taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Harvard University, and City College of New York. His tips for writing a good short story have become classics in their own right.

I’ve pasted his tips in a notebook as part of my writing and revision checklist. The list gives me structure for analyzing my work and asking if I’ve done everything I can to add depth and meaning to my stories. Whether you’re writing a short story, memoir, or a novel, the tips I’ve listed below apply.

Maybe you’ll want to add them to your own writing and revision list:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one or two things—reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading character, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they’re made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

The video below shows some great photos of Vonnegut throughout his life. If you’d like more ideas for what to add to your revision list, read Carol’s post, Make your writing stronger by removing filter words.

Plotting a story is like solving a puzzle

Some words send shivers down my spine. Plot. Outline. Crisis. Climax. Beats. Scenes. Structure

Since one of my motto’s in life is to “go fear-ward,” I decided the best way to overcome my shivering was to dive into the world of “plot” and demystify it.

I read books, went to conferences, and played with the different exercises and ideas recommended by others to wrap my head around this idea of plot. (In my next post, I’ll share the books I found most helpful).

Along the way, I had several epiphanies. I realized that all plot really is is a series of events in your story. Plot is what happens. (Tweet this).

And, really, when you think about it, we’ve been learning about plot since the first day we learned to read: Read more

Turn your goals into daily habits

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

I was reminded of the above quote this week while reading Kathie Pugaczewski’s blog post “Keep Pulling.”

Aristotle was right. We are our habits. Day in and day out. Creating better habits takes consistency and discipline for a certain number of days until the pattern becomes ingrained into our very being. Read more