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Posts tagged ‘writing craft’

Find your flow with writing prompts — part 2

As mentioned in part one of this post, writing prompts can help get us into the flow of our writing. Poetry prompts are easy. Pretty much anything can be a poetry prompt. But what if you’re working on a longer project like an essay, short story, or novel? Learning to develop your own prompts for a specific project can be a powerful tool in your writing practice.

The more we practice developing prompts and writing from them, the better writers and storytellers we will become.

Think about the word practice for a minute. Practice is defined as to do something habitually and also as to pursue a profession such as law. But, really, anything can be a practice.

I’m currently doing a 30-day yoga challenge courtesy of “Yoga with Adrienne” on YouTube. I don’t have a naturally flexible body, so I have to modify many of the poses. This is one of the things I love about yoga—it’s flexibility to fit any body type. It’s called a “yoga practice” for a reason. I love saying the words “yoga practice” because they remind me that I don’t have to be perfect. In order to get better at anything, we have to practice it. 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

Be a better reader to be a better writer

A simple writing truth is that to be a great writer, you must be a great reader. To fully absorb the author’s artistry, analyze the stories you read to understand how the writers crafted them. How did the author engage you as a reader? What was satisfying about the story? What craft elements stood out for you? What didn’t work?

As I read, I stay alert for sentences or paragraphs that cause a ping in my chest. Then I ask myself why I liked them and make a note.

Watch for these elements of writing craft as you read.

Metaphors. I assigned myself a project this week to make a note of metaphors that stand out in my reading. They don’t even have to be good. We can learn from something we read that doesn’t seem to work quite right. Note the metaphor and why you do or don’t like it. I’ll be doing a blog post in the future where I’ll share a list I’ve collected.

Description. When you read a distinctive description of a character or a setting, take notes about what makes it different so you can apply the ideas to your own work. Look for descriptions that are organic to the story. In the post-apocalyptic novel, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, he describes the world his father and son characters inhabit. “Dark of the invisible moon. The nights now only slightly less black. By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.” Read more

Grab your reader with a good beginning

Good beginnings matter, whether you write poetry, memoir, novels, or short stories.

A compelling beginning hooks your reader’s attention, including agents and editors, who may hold the key to publishing. Imagine your readers walking around a bookstore and pulling books off the shelf to read the first page or downloading a sample to read online. Would your book capture their interest?

Check your story’s beginning against these three elements of a good beginning. Good stories should:

Raise a question. Create a sense of curiosity to draw readers into your story. At the heart of every good story is a question that must be answered. A protagonist wants something and the reader must read to the end for the answer.

Hint at what’s to come as your story unfolds. A beginning is an opportunity to set a tone and give clues to what’s in store. One of my favorite books and an example of how the author set a tone is “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger.

Surprise the reader. How often are you surprised by the first paragraphs of a book? This book surprised me in the first line:
“The Winter War” by Philip Teir
“The first mistake that Max and Kateriina made that winter — and they would make many mistakes before their divorce — was to deep-freeze their grandchildren’s hamster.”

Check out these examples and see how they meet the criteria of good beginning.

“The Haunting of Hill House” is a ghost story by Shirley Jackson, who also wrote, “The Lottery.”
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” Read more

How to create a metaphor practice, part 1

Before I sit down and “go in” to my writing for the day, I like to do a few warm ups—kind of like a singer going through her repertoire before going on stage.

I might reread a few pages from the day before or maybe do a free-write on an aspect of my story I’m still trying to figure out. Sometimes, I’ll play around with creating metaphors or similes that I might use in my story. All of these are a great way to get my creative juices flowing.

Reminder: a simile compares two different things and usually uses the words “like” or “as” in the comparison; a metaphor describes two different things by stating that one thing is the other or has some of its qualities.

Simile: his eyes were as blue as the ocean

Metaphor: his eyes were the ocean

What are the benefits of creating a metaphor practice? Read more

Writing tips from bestselling fantasy author George R.R. Martin

Earlier this month, bestselling fantasy author George R. R. Martin spoke at the Sydney Opera House on his series The Game of Thorns and the craft of writing. Below are a few highlights from Chris Jager’s article on Lifehacker.com.au.

Avoid fantasy cliches: “One of the things that drives me crazy is the externalization of evil, where evil comes from the “Dark Lord” who sits in his dark palace with his dark minions who all wear black and are very ugly.”

On writing “grey” characters–complex characters who are not all good or all evil: “We’re all grey and I think we all have the capacity in us to do heroic things and very selfish things. I think understanding that is how you create characters that really have some depth to them.” 

Show grief but don’t overdo it: “Presenting not just death, but grief is important. We’ve all experienced the loss of our parents, or sibling, or close friend, and it’s a very powerful emotion.”

Check out the rest of the article to see what Martin has to say about POV, borrowing from history, and imagination.

Add depth to your novel or memoir with this structural technique, Part 2

In my last blog post, I wrote about how author Elizabeth Rosner used a structural technique to add subtext to her novel. In today’s post, I share an example from a memoir.

In Lisa Dale Norton’s memoir Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills, she wrote 12 sections called “Notebooks” that created connections between chapters. Norton’s idyllic childhood ended when her parents divorced when Norton was 12. After 13 years of drifting, attending college, and surviving a rape where she was left for dead, Norton returned to Ericson, Nebraska. She began writing stories intertwined with threads of the landscape and its impact on her imagination and identity.

Norton weaves natural images of plants, wildlife and the landscape of her childhood summer home in Nebraska with an account of her search for self as she returns to the Sandhills, her childhood home.

“By lying close to the land, skin to sand, bone to wind, I believed I could merge with the grasses, with the hills. I believed I could become whole again. I did not know this on a conscious level.” Read more