See*Photo*Write Challenge Response

I’ve been neglecting my writing exercises lately. When our writer’s group (1st Writes) meets weekly, we do a timed writing exercise together. It’s so fun and a great way to keep the writing muscles working. When we don’t meet, I slack off and rarely do any exercises, even though we have a weekly photo prompt exercise on the 1st Writes blog. For some reason, I spend way too much time thinking about what to write, rather than just sitting down and writing. So this week, I was determined to sit down and write for 15 minutes on the See*Photo*Write prompt. I did not waste time over-thinking it. Here’s the photo and my response –

Tea Time

“You’re crazy, Edna,” Louise held her hands up in exasperation.

“Crazy? I am certainly not crazy!” Edna looked away from her best friend of 30 years. “I may be old. I may loose track of the days and I may forget where I put my teeth at night, but one thing I’m not is crazy!”

“Now, Edna,” Louise leaned forward to pick up her teacup.

“And furthermore, when you invite a friend over for tea, it’s the height of rudeness to insult their sanity,” Edna took a quick, angry sip of her lukewarm tea.

“Don’t get your dander up, Edna. I wasn’t insulting you. I’m simply pointing out that you’re crazy if you think your husband looked like Gibbs! Robert was short, round and bald. He looked more like a bowling ball and nothing like the handsome and debonair Mark Harmon.”

“Well, I never,” Edna pressed her lips firmly together, unwilling to admit that Louise’s description of her beloved Robert was spot on.

Of Mice And Christian Writers

Did you know that if you boil a mouse, its skin falls off and you can reconstruct the bones?

Award-winning author Joyce Magnin

No? Me neither. And like me, you probably could have gone your entire life without knowing that morbid piece of information, but I bet you never forget it – just like I won’t forget the very memorable and inspiring workshop on writing that award-winning author Joyce Magnin gave at a meeting of Lancaster Christian Writers this past Saturday (May 19, 2012).

The ‘mouse’ tidbit came up while discussing quirky and eccentric characters. The inspiration for Joyce’s off-beat characters stems from her own quirky personality and her mother, who was a special woman and who encouraged Joyce, even if that meant allowing her to experiment on a dead mouse. I don’t know about you, but if my mother had discovered I’d boiled a dead mouse in one of her pans on the stove, she would not have been calm, cool and collected about it! But Joyce’s mother was, and in the process, helped Joyce grow to be confident and true to herself.

Listening to Joyce was a real treat! I laughed a lot and learned a lot about what God has to do with our writing, which was the theme of her workshop.

Highlights of Joyce’s presentation:

  • The truth is we are children of God; we are beloved; we are sisters and brothers in Christ. We must embrace who we are in Christ first and foremost.
  • Once we accept that God loved us so much He sent His son to die for us, we should also accept that God loves us and has given us a gift – writing. He wants us to use that gift.
  • If God is in us, He’s in our writing. Don’t stress about conveying the message of salvation or teaching the gospels. God will lead the reader to the truth He wants them to find. To me, this was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders!
  • Writers have an incredible responsibility to share the truth. Joyce suggested that writers are like pastors in between Sundays. During the week, we turn to books, magazines, blogs, articles, devotionals, television and movies for education, encouragement and inspiration. Writers have many opportunities to minister with their words.
  • God gives us the ability to write, but it’s not enough to be born with it; we must practice and develop our writing skills. When success comes, and Joyce warns that success will come in God’s time and that we may have to wait, but when we succeed, we should remember not to turn our eyes from God, and instead remember to be humble and give God the glory.
  • Once we’ve accepted the truth and developed our talent, we must then fine-tune our technique. It’s okay to want positive feedback on our creations and it’s beneficial to our talent and technique to hear constructive criticism. We grow as writers by reading, writing and critiquing.
  • So, what does God have to do with writing? The answer, in a word, is…everything!

Final encouraging words from Joyce –

  • God created us for His story.
  • We are a part of His narrative.
  • We are all characters in His creation.

I highly recommend –

A Time To Write And A Time To Play

I loved playing with Barbies when I was little, okay, even when I wasn’t so little, but in my defense, I had little sisters so…anyway…moving on.

It was always fun and exciting to pull out my dolls, dress them up, do their hair and act out a story that had been brewing in my head, but I could only do this after all my homework and chores were done. Even if all I wanted to do when I came home from school was get out my ‘Magic Moves’ Barbie doll and pretend that she was traveling to Paris for a modeling shoot, I had to work first and play later –Mom’s rules.

Recently, I realized that Mom’s rules are still ingrained in my brain and for me writing my novel is the adult equivalent of playing ‘Barbies’. I’ve been writing my novel in my head for years. While I’m running, vacuuming, showering or falling asleep, I pull out my main character, dress her up and act out scenes with her. But making time to sit down and write out the scenes has been a struggle because I keep thinking – work now and play later.

There’s just always something more important to do than write my book because writing my book is fun! I feel guilty spending time on my novel when there are chores to be done –Mom’s rules.

Only, wait. I’m the Mom now and I can change the rules. It’s okay to write my book if the laundry isn’t done and the floor needs mopped. I’m an adult now and my characters are real in a way that my Barbies weren’t. My characters can speak and other people can hear them; if I stop thinking of writing as just playing around. My characters have free will and a life of their own. Even if I know exactly what I want my main character to say in a certain scene, she sometimes defies me and says something out of the blue, which fits the scene better. It’s kind of spooky the way she does it.

I don’t want to take the fun out of writing by labeling it ‘work’ but I don’t want to keep shoving it aside as ‘play’. There’s got to be a happy medium; l just need to find it. Until I do, this Mom is making a new rule: write now, work later, and don’t forget to play whenever possible.

The Tell-Tale Blog – Tips for Writers from Edgar Allan Poe

For Halloween, my blog dressed up as the blog of Edgar Allan Poe

About Me

 

Edgar A. Poe, New York

 

Known in some circles as “The Tomahawk Man” because in criticism I will be bold, and as sternly, absolutely just with friend and foe. From this purpose nothing shall turn me.
I am also the Editor of THE BROADWAY JOURNAL; author of THE RAVEN, and still as poor now as ever I was in my life.
I blog about the art of writing and occasionally rage against the idiocy of the literati.

Blog Excerpt

We would have to be living in the 19th century to not know that National Novel Writing Month begins tomorrow. In an effort to assist participants in their endeavor, I have compiled a list of tips for writers from my critical essay The Philosophy of Composition.

  • Always be original.
  • Have the plot mapped out in your mind. Every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its [final resolution] before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.
  • Ask yourself, “Of all the many emotions the mind body and spirit can perceive, which will leave the greatest impression upon my reader?” then choose a novel and vivid ‘effect’, or impression.
  • Once you have determined the effect you wish to convey, decide whether the effect is best illustrated by incident or tone — whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone — afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.
  • Make your work readable in one sitting.

It is my opinion that any work should be undertaken step-by-step with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem, even though this seems too rational a process for a romantic writer.

For the sake of an example, let us look at my own process for writing The Raven, which actually began with the final stanza.

I started first with structure. I did not conceive of any specifics about what the poem was going to be about. I was not thinking of a Raven. I only determined the length of the poem, which is ideally 100 lines. (The Raven is 108.)

Next, I considered the impression, or the effect I wished to convey to my readers, and if I’ve blogged about it once, I’ve blogged about it a thousand times: Beauty is the essence of any poem and an obvious rule of art. That pleasure which is at once the most intense, the most elevating, and the most pure, is, I believe, found in the contemplation of the beautiful.

Having determined my effect, I next considered tone. Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Thus, melancholy is the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.

With the tone defined, I next contemplated what poetic techniques to use to best evoke melancholy, and hence, I decided on the refrain, specifically a one-word refrain. At this point, I considered the sound of the refrain, which led me to the word – ‘Nevermore’. Note, that this word came to me through the mechanics of the poem and not through any contemplation of character, setting, or other story details.

Nor did the use of a raven in the poem arise from a previously constructed story idea. I chose a raven because the refrain was most plausible being repeated by a non-human being. My first thought was of a parrot, but a raven fit the tone of the poem.

At this point, I asked myself “Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?” Death — was the obvious reply. I now had to figure out how to combine my ideas in the best way possible to prove this point. Details like setting, character, dialogue began to emerge, but it’s important to note that these details and circumstances came as a means to fill out the meter and structure I first determined.

As I’ve reached the word limit we typically set for blog posts, I will close for now with a final piece of advice for those endeavoring to write a novel in one month:

Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.

***

Bibliography

Poe, Edgar A. The Philosophy of Composition.

English, Anthony D. ed. Concise Anthology of American Literature. NY: Macmillann Publishing, 1993.

Notes on ‘Writing Popular Fiction’

Writing Popular Fiction by Dean Koontz

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Writer’s Digest; 1st edition (1974)
  • ISBN-10: 0911654216
  • ISBN-13: 978-0911654219
  • ASIN: B000I2YUNS

The most successful writer […] is the one who can sit down at his typewriter every working day and produce a certain number of words or finished pages, regardless of what he might prefer to do instead (p.180).

First, let me start off by saying that this book was published in 1974 and some of the information is no longer relevant; however, some information never goes out of date.

In this book, Koontz examines the ‘major categories or genres of fiction’ and gives specific ways and examples of writing well in each. According to Koontz, the major genres of popular fiction are:

  • Science fiction/Fantasy
  • Suspense
  • Mystery
  • Gothic/Romance
  • Westerns
  • Erotica

Right away the book shows its age. In the chapter on ‘Gothic/Romance’ Koontz only discussed the Gothic novel and it’s structured plot formula, which is not nearly as popular now as it apparently was then.

In an article from March 19, 2008 titled Sub-Genre Descriptions, Writer’s Digest lists the major genres of popular fiction and includes the sub-genres. As one would expect the Gothic novel is not under the Romance category; it’s considered a sub-genre of Horror.

While the categories have changed, Koontz is on point with the five story elements required for good fiction:

  • Strong Plot
  • Hero/Heroine
  • Clear believable motivation (i.e. love, curiosity, self-preservation, greed, self-discovery, duty and revenge)
  • A colorful background

Tips for Writers

Generating story ideas:

Everyone is a witches’  cauldron of bubbling facts, ideas, images, and memories. You must learn to tap this magical brew and order the unconscious plots within it (p. 153).

  • One method Koontz uses is to choose a dramatic or colorful word and free associate as he uses the word in a string of possible book titles, which he writes in a spiral notebook.
  • Another method is to play with a narrative hook. Sit down and type an intriguing opening sentence or paragraph. Then another and another and so on until your imagination takes flight.
  • Do the same exercise as above with character descriptions rather than opening hooks.
  • Help stories surface by reading:

With every novel you read, thousands of facts, characters, and plot twists are stored in your subconscious, constantly interacting below the level of awareness. When they jell [sic] and rise, they are usually in an original arrangement that bears no resemblance to the books that inspired them (p. 159).

Dialogue Tags

A few weeks ago, Dawn @ The Write Soil posted a very helpful tip from the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (1993 edition):

Do not tag dialogue with other verbs. Use said. (Strong Dialogue Series #5)

It was hard for me to accept this rule. It’s not alright to use ‘ask’? That seemed preposterous. Ever since, I’ve been interested in learning what other writers have to say on the subject. Koontz instructs writers to use said but also gives simple variants of said like – shout, call, reply, ask, and insist to use. If more force is required he suggests using these versions – cry, scream, howl, and wail.

Titles

  • Make titles dramatic, colorful, intriguing.
  • A title should promise one or any combination of 4 things – exotic events, suspenseful action, a violent incident or sex.
  • Keep titles short with the promise in one key word.

7 Title Mistakes:

  • Dull titles
  • Cliche titles (unless you give it a clever twist. For example – Do Your Christmas Killing Early; Slayground; Murder is the Best Policy
  • General titles
  • Incomprehensible titles
  • Misleading titles
  • Revealing titles
  • Arty titles

Finally, I read it all the time – ‘just write and edit later.’ I agree with this practice, but I also have a lot of trouble sticking to it. Koontz advises eliminating revision whenever possible because your emotional involvement with the story can be the “intangible quality that makes the book exciting and marketable”. He also argues that planning to do several drafts fosters an attitude of carelessness with your first draft.

Koontz also warns writers to NOT take a break from your book once it is finished because the break gives you time to start doubting your story. (Been there!)

Overall, I found the book worth reading. I’m glad I spotted it on the library’s shelves!

Notes ‘On Writing’

 

You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself (p. 236).

 

This is not a book review of Stephen King’s On Writing, although I will say that I enjoyed the book and found it entertaining as well as informative. While I read, I took notes, which I then typed up –it’s my learning process. The book is a treasure trove of information, tips and advice to writers. Here are a few of the gems I picked up:

 

On Writing Practice

I’ve read it countless times before, but hearing it from Stephen King seemed to really hammer the idea home –in order to have a writing practice you need a space dedicated to writing; you need to schedule time to write; you need to set a goal for your writing time. I’ve known it all along –heard it from other writers and many bloggers – but I think I finally ‘get’ it.

The problem is I can’t sit in a room and write with the door closed, as Stephen King does when writing a first draft. I can’t do that with a three year-old. If she wants me or needs me, then I can’t ignore her for my writing. Perhaps this will keep me from succeeding, but she is my priority at this point in my life. I might as well be honest and up front about it if I want to attempt to have a successful writing practice. (I can, however, let Daddy read her a bedtime story and get in some uninterrupted writing time.)

On Getting Ideas

There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun (p. 37).

King creates stories from situations and doesn’t do much in the way of plotting. He compares writing a novel to uncovering a fossil –starting with a premise and slowly and gradually uncovering the story and developing the characters as he writes. The analogy works well and as my writing process is similar to King’s it made a lot of sense to me, but he also explains that not everyone can write that way –it’s just how it works for him.

On a Writer’s Toolkit

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write (p. 147).

Vocabulary

King’s advice – Use the first word that comes to your mind if it is appropriate and colorful.

Grammar

Memorize Strunk and White’s Elements of Style

Narration

Show don’t tell.

Description

There’s no need to go into great detail about a character’s appearance. Give enough detail to bring your reader into the story without overwhelming them with too much.

Description begins in the writer’s imagination but ends in the reader’s (p. 174).

Dialogue

Be honest.

On Revision

Rewrite formula—2nd draft=1st draft – 10%

King sends his manuscript to his ‘Ideal Reader’(for King, it’s his wife Tabitha) and 4-8 other people.

His ‘readers’ look for factual errors and give subjective evaluations (i.e. what worked and didn’t work for them).

When revising your 1st draft –

  • Review elements from your ‘toolkit’ (i.e. vocabulary and grammar).
  • Knock out pronouns.
  • Eliminate pointless talk.
  • Add clarifying phrases.
  • Remove over-explanations.
  • Delete adverbs (adverbs are abhorred and should be eliminated at all cost –not just in dialogue tags but everywhere. If you have to leave a few in, that’s okay, but only if you just have to).
  • Look for meaning so that in the second draft you can add scenes and incidents to reinforce the meaning and delete meandering material.

Ask yourself –

  • Is it coherent?
  • If so, what will ‘turn coherence into a song?’ (i.e. what will make the story better.)
  • What are the recurring elements?
  • Do they entwine and make a theme?
  • Is there resonance? In other words, is there something that will linger for a little while in the reader’s mind and heart?
  • Is there resolution?

King gives a great sample self-critique of his own work in On Writing.

On Agents

Looking for an agent? King suggests doing research and consulting the Writer’s Market. (Personally, I think that the blogosphere has much better advice for writer’s seeking publication than King gave in On Writing, but what he did share was useful.)

Ask agents for a list of publishers to whom they have sold books or a list of magazines to whom they have sold short stories.

Be wary if an agent charges a fee to read your work.

***

Reading this book has reinvigorating my writing process. I hope you found a tip or two to help you along in your writing journey as well!

See*Photo*Write Challenge Response

Click here for this week’s See*Photo*Write Challenge at 1st Writes.

Under an Olive Tree

“I can’t stand it anymore. I wish he were dead. He just…exists; he’s not living.” An old woman dabbed at the corners of her eyes with a thread-bare handkerchief she kept wringing in her hands. “Isn’t there anything you can do for him, Doctor? To end his suffering?”

“Mrs. Papadakis, he’s not suffering…”

“Not suffering? He doesn’t know who he is anymore! How is that ‘not suffering’?”

“What I mean is…”

“I know what you mean, Doctor.” Mrs. Papadakis clutched her purse tightly and glanced quickly at the window where the man who had once been her husband sat staring blankly ahead. He didn’t even know she was in the room! Refusing to cry anymore, she stiffened her spine and turned for the door. “I might not be back to visit for a while. It’s too hard seeing him like this.” With those words, a wife left her husband.

Under an olive tree in Greece, Nicholas Papadakis remained oblivious.