Monday, December 19, 2011
The winner will also get the same personal care and professional quality we give every client.
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And if you still have problems, email me: email@example.com.
But whatever you do, hurry. The auction will end on Wednesday, Dec. 21. That's in TWO DAYS. Or less, depending on when you're reading this.
Please help us get the word out by passing this on to your writing groups, list-serves, blogs, enews, etc. Thank you!
If you prefer a more traditional approach (or a guarantee you'll "win"), we are also offering gift certificates of any amount for any of our services. You can visit our website at http://www.inspirationforwriters.com/products/giftcs.html to order one yourself, or you can email me and I'll help you. We can email gift certificates so they'll arrive in time for Christmas, or, if you prefer, we'll gift wrap and drop ship for you. Yes, we'll even include a hand-written card personalized just for you. The good part? You'll get a 5% discount! Order a $100 gift certificate and pay just $95. Save $50 on a $1000 certficate. Certificates can come in any denomination, so you can make it fit your budget.You can also order a gift certificate good for a specific service instead of a monetary value. Email me and we can figure out the specifics and make sure you get exactly what you want. The best part? You can order one for yourself! It's a great gift to give--or to receive. This offer ends on December 23, so hurry.
Now, go enjoy your day and start the new year off right.
God bless us, every one.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
by Guest Blogger Karin Gillepsie
Have you ever read the work of a young, uncorrupted writer? It’s like venturing into a jungle: Fresh. Green. Wild. Monkeys beating their furry chests. Parrots shrieking. Anacondas curling around trees. A chaos of creativity.
Such a writer is ruled almost entirely by her subconscious. The subconscious—let’s call her Crazy Daisy—doesn’t know the difference between a gerund and a dangling participle; she only cares about expressing herself. Writing is play, not work.
Unfortunately, Crazy Daisy, charming as she is, has a problem: her work meanders like a toddler strewing petals at a wedding; she needs to be reigned in.
Enter Ms. Grind.
Ms. Grind Cares About the Rules
She’ll tell Crazy Daisy that a sentence can’t run on for three pages or that exclamation points shouldn’t be showered over a page like pepper. She’s so bossy and judgmental she frightens away Crazy Daisy. Ms. Grind doesn’t care; she doesn’t needs that wild little girl hanging around anyway. Yet when she tries to have fun with her prose, it’s scary, like having Dick Cheney ask you to pull his finger. Most of her writing comes out freeze-dried and soulless.
Fact is, all writers are slightly schizophrenic, their minds divided between Crazy Daisy and Ms. Grind. We usually start out dominated by Crazy Daisy but once we immerse ourselves into the sea of endless writing rules, Ms. Grind tends to take over.
Can Crazy Daisy and Ms. Grind live harmoniously in a writer’s head? In other words, is it possible to create prose that’s technically proficient but also has passion, wonder, and playfulness? Yes, but only if you allow Crazy Daisy and Ms. Grind to play to their strengths.
New Ideas Usually Come from Crazy Daisy
You’re taking a walk or daydreaming and suddenly . . . BAM! You get a great idea. Crazy Daisy, impetuous minx, wants to start writing immediately. It’s like she has a case of diarrhea. You’ll be tempted to run with her. Don’t do it. Stop and take a moment to diaper the little imp.
Believe it or not, it’s time to bring Ms. Grind into the equation—not to shoot down the idea—but to structure it. Ms. Grinds loves outlines and plans and she’s good at them. After a little structure work, she might find that the idea isn’t workable after all. Sadly, not all of Crazy Daisy’s ideas are golden. She likes to take risks—and some don’t pay off.
In fact, it’s wise to begin every writing session with Ms. Grind and structure your thoughts when you sit down to write, whether to compose a short scene or a brief essay. You’ll satisfy Ms. Grind and give Crazy Daisy some perimeters. T.S. Elliot summarized this process:
When forced to work within a strict framework, the imagination is taxed to its upmost and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom, the work is likely to sprawl.
Keep Ms. Grind Out of Your First Drafts
Once structure’s in place, it's time to let Crazy Daisy loose. Allow her to scribble on walls, turn somersaults or eat paste. Sometimes she might break down structural walls—but that’s okay too. Ms. Grind, however, isn’t allowed in. Why? Because she’ll keep up a steady stream of inner dialogue that sounds something like this:
That sentence was abysmal. It must be fixed immediately. Can’t you do anything right? Who do you think you are, passing yourself as a writer?
Occasionally Crazy Daisy interjects, bringing flashes of brilliance, but mostly it’s Ms. Grind who stands over the writer, wielding her ruler.
Not surprisingly, Ms. Grind doesn’t give up her authority easily. How can you keep her out of your head when you're drafting?
Learn How to Break the Judgment Habit
Most people aren’t aware of the stream of criticism flowing in their minds while they’re writing. Thinking is so fast and transitory, it can be hard to catch Ms. Grind’s endless digs. That why it’s helpful to develop a habit of sitting quietly and meditating for fifteen minutes each day. Ms. Grind will no doubt object, saying, “What a ridiculous idea. Do you realize we’re wasting valuable writing time sitting around doing nothing?”
She’s no dummy. Ms. Grind knows that meditation is the best way to access all of Crazy Daisy’s wild brilliance. Meditation helps you to recognize Ms. Grind’s judgmental thoughts, and to ignore them when you’re drafting a piece.
When Crazy Daisy takes over the draft, watch out, because diamonds and gold nuggets will start shooting out of your computer. BEWARE. Don’t pat yourself on the back because that, too, is a judgment, and any time you make a judgment, you’re issuing an invitation to Ms. Grind. The time for judgment, positive or negative, is in the re-write. Not now.
Writing will suddenly be fun again and as effortless as letting out a whoop of joy. You’ll find yourself falling in love all over again.
One caveat: Crazy Daisy is very messy.
When you go back to revise, you might be horrified at the results. Yes, the writing was intoxicating but the hangover’s a killer. Ms. Grind will say, “I told you so.” Don’t listen to her. Simply ask her to help you clean it up. She’ll balk at first, saying, “If you left things to me there wouldn’t so much clutter.”
True, but neither would there be so much fresh, wild writing. Give it a try and see. It can be a little disorienting. You might not even recognize your own prose. By the way, there’s an easy way to tell which personality dominates your writing. If you love the drafting phase and hate structure and rewriting, Crazy Daisy probably dominates your writing. If you like outlines, loathe the drafting phase and love to polish your prose, you need a T-shirt that says “Team Ms. Grind.”
*If you resisted reading this article, thank Ms.Grind. She’s not interested in articles about making writing fun. It threatens her authority. She much prefers list articles like “Ten Ways To Punch Up Your Dialogue.” They’re useful; this article is a waste of time. Crazy Daisy, indeed.
Karin Gillespie is the author of five novels. Her publisher’s website is http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Karin-Gillespie/20149647.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
1. You can spend endless time studying, learning and relearning in order to become the world's next great grammarian... OR
2. You can take a look at this quick and easy cheat sheet whenever you have doubts about the the way you've used the words which, that, who, whom, its, it's, whos, or whose. Or if you an unsure about one of those pesky semi-colons
Included in the graphic above are some of the most common grammatical mistakes that people make in writing everyday, and was created and complied by a group of English 304 (Technical Editing) students at West Virginia University.
Friday, October 7, 2011
I had no idea what to expect when I arrived on the idyllic campus of Converse College for my first semester in their MFA in Creative Writing Program. I was nervous about meeting my dorm-mate (Me? Staying in a dorm? With a total stranger? At my age?), who turned out to be a spectacular poet, mother and now my sweet friend. I wondered if I’d be accepted among a group of sixty students, forty-five of whom already had a history together, or if the professors and visiting authors would look down from their lofty positions as they berate my writing. After all, these people were real writers—authors whose names I recognized, whose novels and poetry collections sit on my bookshelves even now.
I needn’t have worried.
These same instructors and brilliant students are now my friends: we touch base via email, follow each other’s daily lives on Facebook, share links to interesting blog links and sometimes chat on the phone about everything from a class assignment to a great novel we’ve read to a recipe you’ve just got to try!
But what is a low-residency program, and what do you do in it, I’m often asked. Well I can’t speak for all of them, but I can tell you about mine. Here’s a typical day in the life of a Converse low-res student:
Breakfast in the dining hall (surprisingly yummy food), begins at seven and lasts until nine, and you are welcome at a table with your cohorts, or you might want to sit with a professor or a visiting author to chat about, oh, anything.
Before the first session of the day begins following breakfast, students can attend one-on-one meetings with their faculty mentor to discuss the semester syllabus, to brainstorm about a current project, or to chat about suggestions for their reading list. On some days, student group meetings are held in this time frame, as well. If students don’t have a scheduled meeting, they’ll often use this for a leisurely chat over coffee, free writing time, strolling the campus grounds (beautiful gardens, impressive statuary and quiet nooks for settling in with a good book).
The day’s first craft lecture follows. Doesn’t this sound boring? I mean, come on, a craft lecture? Let me tell you, these things are amazing! This semester, Dan Wakefield taught us using his late friend Kurt Vonnegut’s fiction, authors Leslie Pietrzyk (my mentor this semester—Yay!) and Marlin Barton gave inspiring lectures on story beginnings and using violence in fiction, and national bestselling author Robert Olmstead lectured on how characters’ thoughts can change the whole direction of a story. Powerful stuff, and these were only a few of the fiction lectures! “But wait,” you say, “do you mean you studied things other than fiction in a fiction program?” Absolutely! One of the reasons I chose Converse is that students are encouraged to attend lectures by professors outside their primary genre. Not only does this present inspiration in directions you might not have considered, but it provides a broader scope should you decide to teach in the future. Hence, I enjoyed seminars by phenomenal poets Denise Duhamel, Suzanne Cleary and Albert Goldbarth. I also benefited from seminars, lectures and readings by guest faculty and speakers, including Brock Clarke and Marshall Jon Fisher and faculty Susan Tekulve and our amazing program director Rick Mulkey.
A leisurely two-hour lunch followed each day’s first seminar, when you’d hear chatter and laughter throughout the dining hall and across the campus as new relationships budded and old friendships grew fonder. Of course, some of this two-hour period was usually spent writing or reading, digesting not only dessert but the instruction and information we’d received in our day’s first lecture.
A walk in the sun across the campus green led us to our afternoon workshop. Workshops are broken into genre—fiction, non-fiction and poetry—and each workshop includes only five to ten students and one or two professors in a roundtable setting. It’s here where the real work occurs, where students watch their skills grow like magic and their writing improve before their eyes. No kidding. I’m still amazed at how much better my writing was on the last day as compared to the first day. Not only were we instructed in methods to improve our work, but we applied those things to our writing and discussed what worked and what didn’t. Workshops were very “hands on,” and over the course of the residency, each student had an hour’s discussion and constructive critique of their own work by the workshop instructors and fellow students. Instructors welcomed our questions and encouraged each student to offer feedback and share their opinions of the selections we read and the writing exercises we completed.
A second stimulating lecture period followed our craft workshop. Some days, these periods consisted of events like a panel discussion of authors or even a sit-down Q & A with Algonquin Publishing’s Executive Editor Chuck Adams. Receiving this kind of insight into the world of publishing is critically advantageous to a developing author’s success and, as students, we were ever aware that we were being provided a “secret map” that will guide us through the tangled jungle of submission and publication.
Dinner (and more laughter) follows this last lecture of the day, then we’re treated to an hour of guest speaker, faculty or student readings. The readings are casual and comfortable, and some of the stories and poems shared take us from hilarity to tears and back again. The night’s readings end with a social hour, which tends to morph into social hours. As our ten-day residency progressed, these social gatherings grew longer as our conversations grew deeper and our friendships became stronger. A few at a time, students and faculty disbursed to grab a snack, study, write, or do a load of laundry. The common areas of the dorm (usually the veranda) always remained a social meeting place, however, even into the wee hours. Get an idea you need to bounce off someone? Head to the veranda. Can’t think of a word you need to complete a rhyme in your sestina? Head to the veranda. Can’t finish your bag of popcorn? Don’t worry, your friends on the veranda will devour it for you. Eventually—sometimes as the sky begins to brighten again—the rocking chairs slow, and the last few upright writers head to their beds and dream of new stories before time to rise and do it all again.
Too soon, our residency ended, but the flame of passion for writing still burns strong as each of us work from home to complete our semester assignments. We study the novels and books on our individualized reading lists. We write critical theory papers about what we’ve read, discerning what works and what doesn’t in those stories, and deciding what we’ve learned that we can apply to our own writing. We also write our own stories or essays or poems—creating packets that we’ll send to our mentor every three or four weeks. We stay in touch with our mentors and our cohorts, and always, we look forward to the next semester, when we’ll be together with our like-minded, creative family at Converse.
Monday, July 25, 2011
by Stacy Tritt
Summer heat fried your writer’s brain? Bust through writer’s block with these fun prompts!
1. First Line Revamp:
Take the first line of one of your old stories, poems, novels or nonfiction piece and try to take it in a new direction. Or, borrow someone else's first line to get you started. Here are a few you can use, but please, don't get in trouble for copyright infringement; make sure to make these your own or credit the author.
· “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
· “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
· “I am an invisible man.” —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
· “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.” —Samuel Beckett, Murphy
· “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” –J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
2. Favorite Words Shake-up:
Write down several of your favorite words on small slips of paper, put them in a bag and shake them up. Be sure to include different types of words (nouns, verbs, and adjectives are all good choices.) Draw two or three words out of the bag and see if you can create some fun new lines that will get you started on a new story. Here are some of my favorite words to get you started.
Scissors, Creepy, Eggplant, Ghastly, Skipped, Dropped, Awkward, Guffawed, Lost, Monster, Toe, Outraged, Dangerous, Wandered, Kitten.
So, let’s say you draw the words Scissors, Awkward, and Kitten. You could come up with the lines, “I kept telling Bobby Blackburn that if he didn’t stop running with scissors, a kitten would laugh at him for being awkward. But would he listen? Of course not.”
Now, these lines may sound a little silly, but they just might spark a story: Who is speaking? What sparked the idea that a kitten would laugh at a boy? Is the narrator trustworthy? What really happened? If the answers to those questions don’t spark a story, they might just spark a character—or another situation. The idea here is to get the creative juices flowing, and to get unlikely words to match up.
3. Down with the Weather:
Look out the window right now. Imagine being stuck outside with only three items (any three items you want!) in the current weather. How would you feel, what would you be doing, what would be your emotional responses and physical instincts? Get a vivid picture in your mind of what it would be like, then start writing a scene from one of your character's view point about being stranded in the weather you see outside right now.
4. Point-of-View Switcheroo
Take a story that you’ve already written and change either the point of view OR change the viewpoint character. So if it was originally written in third person, try writing it in either first or second person and vice versa. Or try it from an omniscient narrator. OR, pick a different character as your viewpoint character. Here’s one example:
“Sally ran to the corner, panting.‘Wait! Don’t leave, you jerk! We weren’t done talking yet!”’
This could morph into;
“I ran to the corner, breath tearing at my lungs. ‘Wait!’ I panted, clutching my side. ‘Don’t leave, you jerk! We weren’t done talking yet!”’
The point of this exercise is to revisit your old work and see it from a different angle so you can improve it.
5. Social Network Stew:
If you are a member of a social network like Facebook, Twitter, or even blogs and email, they are a breeding ground for interesting phrases and dialogue. Try to create a conversation between two characters by tweaking random friend’s status updates, tweets, or one-liners from your email inbox. You’ll be amazed at all of the great writing fuel that you overlook just because it appears to be just a normal part of your daily life.
Got your brain cooled off? Or is it just heating up? Now that you’ve got your wheels turning, go hit your word processor, quick! The heat of your summer writing is just getting started.
(c) Inspiration for Writers, Inc., 2011. For more writing tips and techniques, visit our website, InspirationForWriters.com
Sunday, June 26, 2011
~Brenda Ueland, author If You Want to Write, A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit
Creative people are dependent on their imaginations. The perpetual answer to, “What if?” fuels the work of artists, choreographers, teachers, writers and anybody who relies on ideas for sustenance. Ideas are generally responses to sensory input from the world we experience day in and day out. If all it takes is the world to stimulate creative ideas, where did the idea of “writer’s block” come from? How is it possible NOT to have something to write about if all we need is experience? Writers become too comfortable in their surroundings and what feels like consistency becomes boredom. Boredom becomes complacency. When the brain is bored it shuts down. When we stop feeding our brains a variety of sensory impulses, we go on autopilot for a while, then the ideas dry up.
In Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, she describes a process called “filling the well” as the work creative people require on a regular, ongoing basis in order to maintain “focused attention,” or what I call awareness. Many people think they are aware, but most people are secure in their situations because they have created and repeated them over and over until the sensory organs shut down and they think they are experiencing writer’s block. While it’s popular to say you have or have had writer’s block, I think it’s a bunch of whooey. Because if we journal often enough, read plenty, exercise regularly, avoid foods that cause us problems, and engage the world in new ways then writer’s block is a myth. A writer may not have the whole story plotted out or be writing on the work-in-progress every single day, but as long as that writer keeps the keyboard tapping or the pushing the pen or the body and the mind thinking and moving, they are not blocked. Ever. How does it work?
I was in the audience at a book fair several years ago and young adult bestselling author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was answering questions. A young man asked what she did when she had writer’s block. Ms. Naylor responded, “I never have writer’s block. I have writer’s diarrhea. I don’t have time to write all the stories I can think of.” A very prolific writer, Naylor knew that the more she wrote the more she had to write, but everyone gets tired. That’s when the brain needs entertaining and the chance to feed itself with sights, sounds, motions, smells, and feelings it hasn’t experienced recently to shake up the creative juices and get them spilling onto the page again. This is what I refer to as creative play. It’s when a writer takes a leap out into the world and thoughtfully fills her mind with the ideas, arts, and images of other creative people.
It’s more than reading a good book or going to the movies. It’s going to museums, taking walks, taking pictures, doodling in a journal, taking a class in ceramics or ballroom dance, and attending concerts and lectures that open your awareness to the possibilities out there. The practice of creative play or “filling the well” is the opposite of what most writers do all day in their jobs. That’s primarily why it’s such a challenge. Our writing is about us and just us. We manipulate fictional lives and imaginary settings, but creative play demands we go out in the world and gain a new awareness by appreciating the work of other artists. It’s that simple. Appreciate someone else’s work in a deep, thoughtful manner on a regular basis and you will never run out of anything to write.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Giving life to a character is one of the most rewarding parts of being a writer. It's also one of the most difficult. Too many times in fiction we witness the "cardboard" or one-dimensional character. It takes more than the snap of a finger to create real characters, those we can visualize and root for and love. Instead, they develop over time, over many hours spent together.
As a writer, you need to think of the development of characters as being a process, a life cycle, instead of a moment of genius creation. One of Inspiration for Writers most requested workshop is "The Life Cycle of a Character," which breaks getting to know a character into several phases.
CONCEPTION is the initial spark, the idea that originally causes us to want to create this character. Sometimes the plot generates a spark—we know a story we want to tell and we need a character to tell it by. Sometimes we see a setting—a country porch with a dilapidated swing—that makes us wonder what kind of person lives there. Sometimes we run across a photograph that sparks our imagination and we create personality to go with the physical features. Or sometimes we see a possession like an antique spinning wheel and wonder the type of person who would own such a thing. Whatever the cause, writers conceive a character from an idea.
During the conception phase, we need to start assigning characteristics (knowing that once our character takes on a life of his own, he may change any of our assumptions about him). But, to get started, we still go through the paces. You may find it helpful to use a Character Trait Chart to assign physical description and background information.
BIRTH is when we pick up the limp character that we assigned physical attributes and psychological traits to, hold him in our arms, and breathe the breath of life into him from our very own souls. It's also the turning point -- his actual birth—and we cease having absolute control over him.
The first breath of life is when our character has a goal or "character statement." What, more than anything else in the world, does this character want? Consider the following character statements:
To become wealthy so the love of my life will return my love.
To have fun.
To keep my family together.
To break into the Rock 'n Roll charts and become a rock star.
As you can see, a character's goal can be as deep or as vapid as the individual. Note that for some characters, this statement may be a life goal, but for others, it may change as the character matures. Regardless, this is what motivates our character, and we must understand this motivation if we are to continue to add depth to his personality.
Part of a character's birth is the "layering" of personality traits. I have found that a good book of the Zodiac that includes both star signs and moon signs is a "cheap" way to add dimension to a character. Also, I search psychology books for complementary traits. Using resources can help with your writing. For example, you may find that alcoholics often possess irrational fears and suspicions or that a criminal skyjacker often has a religious mother who confided in him, that bed wetters are often aggressive and have difficulty adapting to new situations. These are the types of traits that add dimension to our characters.
ADOLESCENCE is when our character begins interacting with his environment. How does the setting of the story affect him? What is going to happen to him and how will he react to what happens to him? What conflict or fatal flaw will prevent him from achieving his goal? How will he overcome this conflict or flaw? How will he grow?
MATURITY is the final fleshing-out of a character. We now add body language (be sure to study a good body language text to understand how posture, facial expressions and mannerisms affect the way we are received by others) and dialogue to our character. We need to give him a distinctive voice, not just externally, but the way he will think in internal dialogue. Perhaps most importantly, we need to understand his emotional makeup. To fully understand our character, we need to mentally try him out in several emotional scenes so that we can know how he will react.
DEATH. Great characters never die. Never.
So—giving life to a character is much like being a parent. We do the best we can for our characters, give them years of our lives, our love and understanding, but the day comes when they rebel and say, "Enough. Let me be me," and we must allow them to live their own lives. And that is when we as writers have truly given life.
For additional tips, worksheets, and discussions, order your own copy of the Inspiration for Writers Tips and Techniques Workbook, which can be found on our website: InspirationForWriters.com
Monday, April 25, 2011
The best news? We'll send a free card to the first ten people who email Sandy at IFWeditors@gmail.com. Be sure to send your full mailing address and state what you want (a free Writing Wrongs card). If you belong to a writing group and would like enough for your group, email Sandy with the number of people in your group.
Now, in case you can't wait for your full-color card, here's what they say:
Think your manuscript is ready to send out into the world? Before you do, polish your prose by eliminating or reducing:
~ Spelling and grammar errors. Proof once more.
~ Telling. Take the time to act out scenes with appropriate action, dialogue, and description.
~ Was, were, is, are. Each time you locate one of these “to-be” verbs, find a way to omit it. They are often a clue of passive sentence construction. Bad: There were three boys in the room. Better: Three boys wrestled in the gym. Note that fixing passive construction forces us to use more powerful verbs and urges us to be more specific.
~ Present participles (the fancy name for “ing” verbs). Replace with past tense wherever possible. Bad: It was raining. Better: Rain pelted the windows.
~ Helping verbs. Bad: She began to sing. Better: She sang. Bad: She could hear a train. A little better: She heard a train. Much better: A train whistled in the distance.
~ Adverbs. “Ly” words are a sign that a stronger verb is needed. Bad: She was exceedingly tired. Better: She was exhausted. Better: Exhaustion weighed her shoulders, ached her limbs.
~ Creative dialogue tags. Bad: “I love it,” she jittered. Better: “I love it,” she said.
~ Dialogue tags. Replace with an action or body language. Better: “I love it!” She hopped on one foot and danced around John.
~ Dialogue explanations. Don’t tell your reader what your dialogue shows. Bad: John told her off. “Don’t you ever do that again!” Better: John’s eye twitched. “Don’t ever do that again!”
~ Intensifiers. Very, really, totally, completely.
~ Any nonessential word. If a sentence reads just as well without a word, leave it out. Common criminals: that, of, prepositions at the end of a sentence, and suddenly used to create urgency (when action should be creating that urgency).
~ Clichés. If you’ve heard it before, so has your reader. Find a fresh way to say it.
~ Stacked adjectives. If you must use an adjective, pick the strongest one. Bad: The large, gray, angry fox attacked the rabbit. Better: The large fox attacked the rabbit.
~ Exclamation marks. Use only when shouting.
~ Ellipses ( . . . ). Use only when text is missing or, occasionally, as a device to show a falling off in tone during dialogue.
~ Redundancy. Say it once; say it right. Readers are smart. Really.
~ Viewpoint breaches. Know whose head you’re in and stay in it. Or stay out of all heads.
~ Smiling, nodding, laughing, sighing. Nothing wrong with these, but overuse will remove the sizzle from your finely-crafted words. If you use any of these more than once per scene, try to find more creative actions or fresher body language.
~ Gawking characters. Get your character out of the way of the action. Bad: John saw the sun rise. Better: The sun tiptoed into the horizon. Bad: Jill watched the squirrel shell nuts. Better: The squirrel shelled nuts.
~ Named emotions. If an emotion is named, it means you’re telling, not showing. Bad: She was angry. Better: She slammed her fist on the keyboard.
Be sure to request your card while supplies last. And remember, when you need a second set of eyes to review your writing, we're here.
(c) copyright 2011, Inspiration for Writers, Inc. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
In October, I attended a presentation by Diana Gabaldon, the author of the bestselling Outlander series. The presentation took place at the Charleston Civic Center as part of the 2010 West Virginia Book Festival. Gabaldon shared her insights into how she wrote her first novel and established her career as a novelist. What I found most interesting was her writing process, her experience writing a series, and her advice to aspiring authors.
Gabaldon started writing her novel Outlander to practice writing and to see if she enjoyed writing a novel. What surprised me was that she did not start her novel knowing exactly what it would be about. In fact, Gabaldon picked a setting and worked her plot and characters around it. She knew she wanted to write about Scotland in the 18th century, so she went to the library to research that time and place. Gabaldon also knew that stories needed conflict. When she stumbled upon information about the Jacobite rising of 1745, she decided to work her plot around that historical conflict.
At this point, Gabaldon had found her novel's setting and conflict. She joked that she also wanted many handsome scotsmen in her novel, but she recognized that the story needed a woman to "add sexual tension and balance genders." So, she created a protagonist named Claire, then noticed that Claire "took over plot and told the story."
From there, Gabaldon used the setting, conflict, and characters to develop her novel. She did the latter in a peculiar way as well: she wrote the scenes out of order as they came to her, rather than writing the story from beginning to end.
The way Gabaldon experiments with her writing process shows how writers who want to write can carve out a novel from as little as one element. Perhaps we can jumpstart our creativity by focusing on whatever elements we have (setting, plot, characters) and then linking those elements to others. Or perhaps we can complete the scenes we know we want in our story and, by doing so, discover subplots or hidden characters in our story.
Writing a Series
Gabaldon also explained how she structured the Outlander series itself. First, she mentioned the value of cliffhangers. A fan once noted that one of her novels "wrapped up everything so neatly," and she joked, "Well, see if I do that again!" Cliffhangers give readers an incentive to buy the next novel in the series by either leaving part of a conflict unresolved or by introducing a new conflict. Gabaldon wraps up several plotlines in her novels but always leaves an unresolved or new conflict to keep her readers hooked.
Another topic Gabaldon discussed was the shape of her books. She explained how stories have shapes; for example, the shape of her novel Outlander includes three triangles whose peaks represent the plot's emotional climaxes.
We can come up with ideas by plotting the shapes of our own stories. A peak too early might suggest that the rest of the story will drag without any more climaxes. To fix this, add a subplot or two to build complexity. On the other hand, a long climb to a peak might suggest that the story will drag unless a few minor climaxes occur beforehand. We can also "plot" multiple characters to see where we could add minor conflicts to the overall story's structure.
Advice to aspiring authors
After describing her writing process and the structure of her series, Gabaldon gave the audience advice. First, read everything so you can find out which subjects and writing techniques you like (and which ones you dislike). For example, I never knew I loved economics until I took a course in it. If you find a subject you enjoy, find out more about it, and if you like an author's writing technique, try it out yourself.
Second, write to get your ideas down on paper and to practice writing. Writing down ideas gives you material to work with and completes a major step in the writing process. Also, writing shows you what writing methods work best for you.
And third, don't stop writing. It takes effort to start writing down ideas, and once you lose that momentum, you will probably struggle to pick it up again. Writing constantly will keep that momentum going and can even accelerate it by keeping your work fresh in your mind.
I hope Diana Gabaldon's experience and advice gives you ideas to work with in your own writing. If you want to know more about Diana Gabaldon and her work, visit her website.
Monday, March 14, 2011
And check out these great blogs for ideas to keep your writing and publishing healthy and prosperous.
http://writeitforward.wordpress.com/ Bob Mayer
http://jenniholbrooktalty.wordpress.com/ Jenni Holbrook
http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/ Kristen Lamb
http://inspiration4writers.blogspot.com/ Inspiration for Writers, Inc.
Be well, write well.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Have a story about an animal? Want to win a FREE 1,500 word edit as well as some other goodies from Inspiration for Writers, Inc., including a tote bag and some writing supplies? Enter our FREE writing contest. This month’s theme is amazing animals. Submit your story up to 1,000 words to IFWeditors@gmail.com with an e-mail title of “Animal Writing Contest Entry” by March 31. Also in the email text, please give us your name, email address, and snail mail address (yes, we keep these confidential), AND, please let us know if we have permission to print your entry, your first name, and your city/state or nation in a future blog or newsletter column. We will send a "we received your entry" email to all entrants, so if you don't get one, email again or call Sandy at 304-428-1218 during regular business hours (M-F 9-5 Eastern time).
Our editors will judge the entries on content, creativity, writing style, and writing craft. The winner will receive a prize package that includes a FREE 1,500 word edit from one of our renowned editors (a $45 value!), an Inspiration for Writers duffle bag, a GHOSTWRITERS tote bag, and other miscellaneous goodies. Now, get writing!
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
You’ve heard me say before that I don’t believe in writer’s block. I do, however, believe in writer’s laziness, writer’s excuses and writer’s procrastination. I’ll agree—albeit grudgingly—that you might sometimes need inspiration in order to put fresh words on paper. When you feel you have nothing to write about, often it’s because your internal censor is telling you that you can’t write. You have nothing to say. Well turn that sucker off, and stop letting it run your life! Seek a tiny bit of stimulation, and start stringing words on paper. You don’t have to attempt a bestseller today; you simply need to encourage ideas to flow from inspiration. You may ask where you can find that inspiration. (You’re kidding me, right)? It’s all around you! If you feel the brain-pipes are clogged, here are a few ideas and prompts to get the ink flowing, again.
- Pick up any random newspaper and write down three headlines. Any three will do. Now link these headlines into a (somewhat) cohesive story. Hint: Tabloids can provide crazy story ideas that just might turn into a saleable piece!
- Look at a photo in the newspaper, but don’t read the caption. Write your own caption for the picture, as if you were in that photographed scene. Now write the article to go with the caption.
- Circle twelve random words from different articles or advertisements in the newspaper. Write them down. Now write a short-short story using all of those words.
What if? –
- You wake up in jail. How did you get there, and why? Who will you call—and who will you hide this incident from?
- You open a box and find something that will change your life forever. What is it? Tell the story.
- Your character is a really bad guy. Really bad. But today, he knows he’ll never again commit another crime. How did he come to this point, and what was his wake-up call?
- Your character is a near-perfect person. Today she commits a felony. What happened?
From literature –
- Pick any scene from Shakespeare and re-write it with modern characters in your hometown. Think of the story of Hamlet occurring in downtown Boston.
- Mesh a modern-day story with an old fairy tale. For instance, a friend wrote a hilarious story of “Forrest Gump and the Seven Dwarfs.”
- Write down the first line of any novel. Now use it to begin a new, completely different story.
Other sources –
- Choose a scene from one of your own stories. Write it from a different character’s point of view.
- Look in the Yellow Pages for any random company, and think of the career of a person who works for that company. Write a scene based on their job.
- Think of a song you enjoy and read the lyrics. Now write a story based around those lyrics.
- Think about a rumor you have heard. Change the names and setting, then write the story.
I encourage you to try at least one writing prompt each week, even if you’re in the middle of writing a novel or nearing the end of your memoir. Often when you allow your creative mind to switch gears and play with something different, new ideas will form that can enliven your current work. Consider writing prompts your “throw away” work. Don’t worry about revision as you write—just write! If the story turns out to be amazingly good, and this will happen from time to time, then you can go back later and tighten, revise and build upon the initial draft. And when you’re ready for an edit or proofread, you know where to find us!