What is JacketFlap

  • JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans.
    Join now (it's free).

Sort Blog Posts

Sort Posts by:

  • in
    from   

Suggest a Blog

Enter a Blog's Feed URL below and click Submit:

Most Commented Posts

In the past 7 days

Recent Posts

(tagged with 'Writing Craft')

Recent Comments

JacketFlap Sponsors

Spread the word about books.
Put this Widget on your blog!
  • Powered by JacketFlap.com

Are you a book Publisher?
Learn about Widgets now!

Advertise on JacketFlap

MyJacketFlap Blogs

  • Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.

Blog Posts by Date

Click days in this calendar to see posts by day or month
new posts in all blogs
Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Writing Craft, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 172
1. Call for Submissions on the Theme of Disobedience: Poemeleon: A Journal of Poetry

Poemeleon: A Journal of Poetry is now accepting submissions for our next issue, Volume VII, The Disobedient Issue. We are leaving the interpretation of the concept of disobedience open, but know that this issue was inspired by reading Poetics of Disobedience by Alice Notley and by necessary acts of civil disobedience everywhere. Please send only your best work, any length, any style.

Deadline for this issue: January 31, 2015

Expect a response within 1 - 3 months after close of submissions. If you have not heard from us after this time period please feel free to inquire.

The details:

- Please submit 1 to 5 poems, 1 craft essay, and/or 1 book review, using the online submission form.
- Please include a brief third-person bio in your cover letter.
- Simultaneous submissions are fine as long as we are notified promptly when work is accepted elsewhere, but please no multiple submissions. The only exceptions to this rule is if you are submitting both poems and an essay, or both an essay and a book review, or both poems and a book review.
- Previously published is also fine, as long as it was in print, not online, and as long as you as the author retain all copyright. Because we strive to be the first online publisher of your work, if it has appeared anywhere that is publicly accessible on the web (including on your blog) then it is considered previously published. Please feel free to contact us and we will provide clarification on a case-by-case basis.
- We acquire one-time, non-exclusive rights to publish your work, at which time all rights revert back to you as the author. If we should ever decide to create a print anthology and would like to include your work, we will contact you.
- If accepted for inclusion you may be asked to provide a brief contributor's statement exploring your view of disobedience in literature . (See past issues for examples of what me mean.)
- Please note that we are a non-paying market.
- No snail mail submissions. All submissions must come through our online submissions manager.
Upload your submission here.

Add a Comment
2. Call for Submissions: Mason's Road: A Literary & Arts Journal

Call for Submissions - Mason's Road: A Literary & Arts Journal

We are pleased to announce the opening of our next submissions period! We are now accepting your best Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, Poetry, Drama, and Craft Essays. The theme for Issue #10 is “Memory,” and we are looking for unique and arresting takes on this topic.

Our submissions period runs for three months: August 15 – November 15, 2014. There are two ways to submit to Mason’s Road. You can submit for free any time during our submissions period, and your work will be given thorough consideration for publication. Or, you can submit with a $10 fee, and your work will also be considered for our Mason’s Road Literary Prize, which includes publication and a $500 prize to the best entry we receive. Please visit our website for submission guidelines.

In our just-published issue, we feature work by prize-winning authors, including Jay Kidd, Nicola Waldron, and Stephanie Dickinson .We also have interviews on craft with poet Cynthia Atkins, screenwriter Tom Grey, and novelist Therese Anne Fowler. We are proud of the excellent array of work we selected from over 500 submissions, including the short story, “Formication,” by Patricia Canright Smith, winner of the Mason’s Road Literary Prize. Visit our website to check out all of the current issue’s works.

Sponsored by Fairfield University’s MFA in Creative Writing, Mason’s Road is an online literary journal with a focus on the lifetime learning of the writing craft. It is run by the program’s graduate students, and its goal is to be both educational and inspiring. Anyone in the literary community is welcome to submit, comment on the current selections, and engage in a dialogue about our craft.

Thank you in advance for helping us spread the word among your creative writing students, faculty, and contacts!

The Mason’s Road Editorial Team


MEMORY
Marcel Proust once said, "Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were." Such is the mystery and miracle of memory. Virginia Woolf believed that emotions cannot be fully developed in the moment, rather, only by remembering them in the past. Perhaps that is why, while we exist in the present, we have a tendency to live in the past, feeding on memory and experience to inform our future. Literature, especially, has all to do with memory. It is no coincidence that the majority of prose is written in the past tense as if being recalled from somewhere, and we even have a whole genre of nonfiction dedicated to memoir--a word derived from the French and Latin words for memory. Poetry is very often reflective, and even futuristic drama has an organic way of telling a story of the past. Why are we so tied to memory, and perhaps more curiously, why do we feel compelled to share memories with others? Mark Twain said, "A clear conscience is the sure sign of a bad memory." The implication is that alongside our memories of happiness and joy, there must surely be memories of sadness and regret. What value does this add to the human experience? How can literature help us to answer these questions? The editors of Mason's Road look forward to reading the creative ways in which our contributors delve into the eerie abyss of Memory. As Aldous Huxley puts it, "Every man's memory is his private literature." We are excited for this opportunity to read so many chapters of so many different stories.

Add a Comment
3. Five Things I Learned From Doing NaNoWriMo

It’s been nine months since I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and wrote 50,000 words of a novel in under a month. It’s one thing to bask in the manic euphoria of pounding out 50,000 words like an intense sprint around a track. But it’s completely different thing to step back and look at what you’ve written and see if it’s worth anything. Yes, I braved reading my NaNoWriMo draft, and I’ve even begun to draft revisions. But what I’ve discovered in the post-NaNo-creation glow is pretty surprising…

First draft button

1) My First Draft Isn’t Shitty

First off, I’m not a fan of the term shitty first drafts. Yes, it was created to help us deal with our need for perfection in the first draft, but I also think it creates a cycle of negativity. The idea of telling ourselves our drafts are shitty, only reinforces the negative feelings we already fear about our work. Sure, a first draft may not be publishable, but honestly, I never think they’re shitty. However, if there was any instance where my theories on shitty first drafts would be overturned it would be NaNoWriMo … after all, I pumped out this draft in 2 ½ weeks. Only…

My NaNoWriMo Draft isn’t shitty!

Sure, it’s not polished gold, but there are so many important discoveries in it, explorations that led to new plot points, beautiful lines, sassy sections of dialogue, and even entire scenes that are good. Not scenes that are okay… but good!

My point is: we should trust our first drafts more. Trust the joy and the positive energy that can come from freeing yourself up and writing quickly. Trust the fact that you do know what you’re doing and your writing is better than you think it is!

female-empowerment2) Revisions are Empowering

Okay, so my first draft isn’t complete crap, but there’s still plenty of work to do. The second great discovery about writing a quick first draft is that when you approach revisions you immediately know what to do to make the book better. Revisions don’t become nail-biting, hair-pulling, exercises in frustration. Instead, revision become empowering!

For me, it can be the despair, the sense that I don’t know what to do, that makes writing so hard. But revising this novel has been invigorating and fun. There’s power and purpose in sitting down with raw material and knowing exactly what to do to shape it. It helps me to see how much I already know about crafting good stories, and that I’m able to do it with intention.  

old chronometer3) It Doesn’t Take as Long as I Think to Write a Novel

Looking back at my NaNoWriMo time sheets, I’ve discovered that I spent an average of 1½ hours writing per day. Yes, there were a few days where I put in 3 to 4 hours in a sitting. But mostly it was 1 ½ hours a day. As I’ve moved on to revision, I’ve also put in an average of 1 1/2 hours per day. By keeping a time sheet I’ve started to see how much I can accomplish in a short amount of time. In fact, I haven’t even put in a full month’s worth of work into this novel yet!

One of our big struggles with writing is finding the time to get it done. But I’ve been floored to discover how much I can accomplish with only 1 ½ hours a day! I bet most of you could find 1 or 2 hours in your day to write.

no_plan_road_sign4) Scenes That Went Nowhere…

Not every section of my NaNoWriMo draft works. But, I discoverd a pattern to the pages that fell flat or went nowhere. These scenes were searching for direction, and without it they floundered.

In my pre-planning stages I outlined and created scene-cards for the scenes I knew existed. I did, however, leave a few blank. I made the excuse that I’d figure it out later, while writing. It turns out that every scene I promised to figure out later on, didn’t go anywhere. Sometimes I’d know the general action of a scene, but the things that really killed my momentum were not knowing what my character wanted in the scene, or what his or her emotional change would be. All the scenes with a clear character goal and emotional change came alive on the page. Perhaps this is the through line I needed to guide me while writing really fast.

blinders5) Everything You Think You Know is Wrong! Or… Don’t Put On Writing Blinders.

I was certain that NaNoWriMo was going to be a huge failure. I had some snobby ideas about how a novel should be written. I was certain those participating in NaNoWriMo were wasting their time. But boy was I wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

I don’t think I will write every novel in my future this way. But I do think it will be a great way to write some of them. But man, if I’d stayed in my stuffy singular way of looking at things, I would have never discovered this amazing tool and these important lessons.

So get out there and try new things with your writing. Try things you’re certain will not work. Allow yourself to fail. We never know what will work until we put it into practice and give it a whirl.

What Did You Learn from NaNoWriMo?

Did anyone else participate in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you re-read your work? Started revisions? What discoveries have you made?


0 Comments on Five Things I Learned From Doing NaNoWriMo as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
4. Five Things I Learned From Doing NaNoWriMo

It’s been nine months since I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and wrote 50,000 words of a novel in under a month. It’s one thing to bask in the manic euphoria of pounding out 50,000 words like an intense sprint around a track. But it’s completely different thing to step back and look at what you’ve written and see if it’s worth anything. Yes, I braved reading my NaNoWriMo draft, and I’ve even begun to draft revisions. But what I’ve discovered in the post-NaNo-creation glow is pretty surprising…

First draft button

1) My First Draft Isn’t Shitty

First off, I’m not a fan of the term shitty first drafts. Yes, it was created to help us deal with our need for perfection in the first draft, but I also think it creates a cycle of negativity. The idea of telling ourselves our drafts are shitty, only reinforces the negative feelings we already fear about our work. Sure, a first draft may not be publishable, but honestly, I never think they’re shitty. However, if there was any instance where my theories on shitty first drafts would be overturned it would be NaNoWriMo … after all, I pumped out this draft in 2 ½ weeks. Only…

My NaNoWriMo Draft isn’t shitty!

Sure, it’s not polished gold, but there are so many important discoveries in it, explorations that led to new plot points, beautiful lines, sassy sections of dialogue, and even entire scenes that are good. Not scenes that are okay… but good!

My point is: we should trust our first drafts more. Trust the joy and the positive energy that can come from freeing yourself up and writing quickly. Trust the fact that you do know what you’re doing and your writing is better than you think it is!

female-empowerment2) Revisions are Empowering

Okay, so my first draft isn’t complete crap, but there’s still plenty of work to do. The second great discovery about writing a quick first draft is that when you approach revisions you immediately know what to do to make the book better. Revisions don’t become nail-biting, hair-pulling, exercises in frustration. Instead, revision become empowering!

For me, it can be the despair, the sense that I don’t know what to do, that makes writing so hard. But revising this novel has been invigorating and fun. There’s power and purpose in sitting down with raw material and knowing exactly what to do to shape it. It helps me to see how much I already know about crafting good stories, and that I’m able to do it with intention.  

old chronometer3) It Doesn’t Take as Long as I Think to Write a Novel

Looking back at my NaNoWriMo time sheets, I’ve discovered that I spent an average of 1½ hours writing per day. Yes, there were a few days where I put in 3 to 4 hours in a sitting. But mostly it was 1 ½ hours a day. As I’ve moved on to revision, I’ve also put in an average of 1 1/2 hours per day. By keeping a time sheet I’ve started to see how much I can accomplish in a short amount of time. In fact, I haven’t even put in a full month’s worth of work into this novel yet!

One of our big struggles with writing is finding the time to get it done. But I’ve been floored to discover how much I can accomplish with only 1 ½ hours a day! I bet most of you could find 1 or 2 hours in your day to write.

no_plan_road_sign4) Scenes That Went Nowhere…

Not every section of my NaNoWriMo draft works. But, I discoverd a pattern to the pages that fell flat or went nowhere. These scenes were searching for direction, and without it they floundered.

In my pre-planning stages I outlined and created scene-cards for the scenes I knew existed. I did, however, leave a few blank. I made the excuse that I’d figure it out later, while writing. It turns out that every scene I promised to figure out later on, didn’t go anywhere. Sometimes I’d know the general action of a scene, but the things that really killed my momentum were not knowing what my character wanted in the scene, or what his or her emotional change would be. All the scenes with a clear character goal and emotional change came alive on the page. Perhaps this is the through line I needed to guide me while writing really fast.

blinders5) Everything You Think You Know is Wrong! Or… Don’t Put On Writing Blinders.

I was certain that NaNoWriMo was going to be a huge failure. I had some snobby ideas about how a novel should be written. I was certain those participating in NaNoWriMo were wasting their time. But boy was I wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

I don’t think I will write every novel in my future this way. But I do think it will be a great way to write some of them. But man, if I’d stayed in my stuffy singular way of looking at things, I would have never discovered this amazing tool and these important lessons.

So get out there and try new things with your writing. Try things you’re certain will not work. Allow yourself to fail. We never know what will work until we put it into practice and give it a whirl.

What Did You Learn from NaNoWriMo?

Did anyone else participate in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you re-read your work? Started revisions? What discoveries have you made?


0 Comments on Five Things I Learned From Doing NaNoWriMo as of 8/11/2014 6:27:00 PM
Add a Comment
5. 5 Important Ways to Use Symbolism in Your Story

So many elements go into a truly good book. When we turn that final page with a satisfying sigh, it’s often hard to identify just what made it a success. But many times, symbolism is one of the things that ties the whole work together. Done sloppily, it’s heavy-handed and forced, and turns the reader off. And when it’s done well, symbolism is one of those elements that the reader doesn’t notice; they just recognize that everything worked. It’s an important element, but really hard to do well. That’s why I’m glad to have K.M. Weiland here today. Symbolism is just one element that she tightens the focus on in her latest release: Jane Eyre: Writer’s Digest Annotated Classics. I had the pleasure of reading this arc, and it was so incredibly interesting, seeing a classic analyzed to see what made it a success. It frankly would have scared the poo out of me, being the one to pick apart such an iconic, well-known novel, but Katie totally nailed it. So rather than blather on, I’ll just turn things over to the expert ;).

Symbolism can sometimes be a tough concept for authors to get their heads around. How do we come up with the right symbols in the first place? What should they be symbolic of? And how do we incorporate them into our stories without making them so obvious we lose all their symbolic value?

Symbolism offers one of the richest opportunities for writers to deepen their themes, past just the conscious appreciation of the readers and right into their emotional and subconscious cores. That’s a lot of power right there. And we’d be crazy to leave it on the table.

V8374c_JaneEyre.inddCharlotte Brontë’s classic masterpiece Jane Eyre (which I analyze in-depth in my book Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic) is a wealth of symbolism. You want to know how to do it right? All you have to do is learn at Brontë’s feet. Following are five methods of symbolism she used to enhance every aspect of her story—and which you can use too!

Symbolism Type #1: Small Details

You can include symbolism in even the smallest of your story’s details. The colors your characters wear. The movies they watch. The pictures they use to decorate their apartments. All of these details offer the opportunity for symbolic resonance.

In the first chapter of Brontë’s story, Jane Eyre is reading a book called Bewick’s History of British Birds, which features significantly bleak and desolate descriptions of the English landscape. On the surface, these descriptions have no connection to Jane’s world—except that, of course, they do. Brontë could just as easily have given Jane a cheery romance to read. Instead, she used the bleak descriptions to symbolize Jane’s bleak life as an orphan living with her cruel aunt.

Symbolism Type #2: Motifs

A motif is a repeated design. In a story, a motif is an element repeated throughout the narrative, often to obvious effect. Sometimes, however, it will be used in a less conspicuous way that infiltrates the readers’ subconscious with a web of symbolic cohesion.

The concept of orphanhood is prominent throughout Jane Eyre, most notably in the main character’s own status as a loveless orphan. Indeed, the concept of love and what people have to do to earn it is central to the entire story. Brontë reinforces the obvious aspects of this motif time and again throughout the story. Consider just a few examples:

  • Early on, a servant sings a song about an orphan girl.
  • Adele, the child Jane is hired to look after, is ostensibly an orphan.
  • When Jane encounters the Rivers family, late in the story, she discovers they are newly orphaned themselves, after the death of their father.

Brontë never draws attention to the motif by directly comparing these examples to Jane’s own orphaned state. Rather, she simply allows their presence in the story to reinforce the overall effect.

Symbolism Type #3: Metaphors

Motifs can also be metaphors. Indeed, some of the best symbols in literature are visual metaphors for thematic elements. You may choose to use fire to represent a character with a hot temper. Running water may become a symbol for purification. Illness might represent sin or corruption.

The main metaphoric motif in Jane Eyre is that of birds as symbols for captivity and freedom. Brontë uses the bird metaphor throughout the story to symbolize the relativity of every character and setting in relation to this fundamental theme. Small, plain birds such as sparrows represent Jane. Birds of prey refer to Rochester. And Thornfield—Rochester’s prison and Jane’s sanctuary—is frequently described in terms of a bird’s cage.

Often, strong metaphoric language will emerge naturally while writing a story. In the rewriting, see if you can identify any recurring motifs that crop up. Can you strengthen them to better represent your theme? Try to figure out ways to use different aspects of the same motif to describe varying characters.

Symbolism Type #4: Universal Symbols

Some symbols are ingrained so deeply in our social psyche that they are used in practically every story. The power of these symbols lies in the fact that they will already have been accepted deep into your readers’ subconscious minds. (Their potential weakness, of course, is that their very prevalence can make them seem like clichés.)

Weather is a particularly good example. Thunderstorms are often used as the background for a character’s defeat—or as a contrast to a seeming victory. When Jane accepts Rochester’s proposal, the lightning that strikes a tree in the garden isn’t just a random happening. It’s a portent of the dark revelations that will soon sunder their love.

Symbolism Type #5: Hidden Symbolism

Some types of symbolism will be so deeply buried within your story that your readers may not recognize them at all. Obviously, the value of hidden symbolism is significantly less than that of other types. After all, what good is something if the reader never notices it?

For example, Rochester’s horse is named Mesrour. Very few readers will catch the significance of this: Mesrour is the name of the executioner in Arabian Nights.

Why name the horse this at all? Why not Blackie? Or even O Beauteous One? For starters, both of the latter names would have been a poor use of our Symbolism Type #1. “Mesrour,” even without explanation, enhances the already dark and mysterious tone of the novel. And for those readers who do catch the obscure reference, the symbolism will only be that much stronger.

Symbolism is a delicate dance. But authors can’t afford to overlook it. When choreographed correctly, it can spell the difference between a three-star novel and a five-star novel. Just ask Jane!

K.M. WeilandK.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

The post 5 Important Ways to Use Symbolism in Your Story appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

0 Comments on 5 Important Ways to Use Symbolism in Your Story as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
6. Transitions in Time

The landscape of time can be a ticklish beast, particularly when writing. We live our lives in a linear fashion, always moving forward, never backwards or sideways. Our characters often live their lives linearly as well. In fact, books themselves must be read in a front to back fashion where chapter one leads to chapter two and so on. Yet time – or story time – is more malleable in a novel than it is in real life. Engaging a reader in the whole history of a world and character requires flashbacks, summarization of memories, and whole scenes that make us time travelers. Or as my favorite time traveler Doctor Who would say:

As authors, the question is how do we deal with all this wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff without disorienting our reader? Jumping around in time is a luxury we can explore, but walking blindly into a flashback, without any cues to the reader, will break the fictive dream and draw attention to itself. It will commit the cardinal sin of writing, which is to remind the reader that they are reading.

One of the best ways to transition a reader in time is through the careful crafting of language. Words are our tools and used craftily, that can lull a reader through an invisible portal from one time space to another.

Let’s look at four techniques to help a reader flawlessly transition through story time.

mango1) Word Repetition

Create transitions through the repetition of sounds, syllables, objects, and words. In the excerpt from The House on Mango Street below, the repetition of the words know and because are used as a portal from one time period to the next. The words move us from the present day story space to a new location in Mexico, and then back again.

“I have never seen my Papa cry and I don’t know what to do. I know he will have to go away, that he will take a plane to Mexico, all the uncles and aunts will be there, and they will have a black-and-white photo take in front of the tomb … because this is how they send the dead away in that country. Because I am the oldest, my father has told me first and now it is my turn to tell the others.”

2) Sentence and Phrase Repetition

Create transitions through the repetition of phrases, images, and sentence structure.

In this second example from The House on Mango Street, the repetition of a sentence structure creates a rhythm and punctuation to the paragraph. It is the repeating words along with the repeating rhythm that transitions the reader from impression to impression.

In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine … It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings … songs like sobbing. It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine.” (The House on Mango Street)

humanbraincloud_shot13) Word Association

Remember being a kid and playing the word association game? The mind likes to make connections through visual images evoked by single words. You can also use this technique to create transitions in time and space.

The word association game begins with hair in the example below. It then riffs off of imagery to transition from hair to bread, thus moving the reader into a memory.

“But my mother’s hair, my mother’s hair, like little rosettes, like little candy circles all curly … sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you… is the warm smell of bread before you bake it, is the smell  when she makes room for you on her side of the bed … the rain outside falling and Papa snoring.”  (The House on Mango Street)

wordUp-44) Question and Answer

You can also use a question to transition the reader from one time to the next. The question creates curiosity in the reader’s mind and the answer works as a transition into the new time space.

“No address. No Name. Nothing in his pockets. Ain’t it a shame. Only Marin can’t explain why it mattered … but what difference does it make? He wasn’t anything to her. He wasn’t her boyfriend … Just another brazer who didn’t speak English. Just another wetback … How does she explain it?  She met him at a dance. Geraldo in his shiny shirt and green pants…” (The House on Mango Street)

There are a lot ways to transition between time and space in a story. In later posts we can discuss things like: cause and effect, causality link-chains, or pause button violations. For now, focus on the magic of phrasing and how your words can makes a transition seem inevitable, natural, and invisible.

See these time transition techniques (and more) in practice by reading and studying these awesome stories:

  • How to Tell a True War Story by Tim O’Brien
  • The House on Mango Street by Sanda Cicneros
  • Small Damages by Beth Kephart

0 Comments on Transitions in Time as of 7/28/2014 5:38:00 PM
Add a Comment
7. Transitions in Time

The landscape of time can be a ticklish beast, particularly when writing. We live our lives in a linear fashion, always moving forward, never backwards or sideways. Our characters often live their lives linearly as well. In fact, books themselves must be read in a front to back fashion where chapter one leads to chapter two and so on. Yet time – or story time – is more malleable in a novel than it is in real life. Engaging a reader in the whole history of a world and character requires flashbacks, summarization of memories, and whole scenes that make us time travelers. Or as my favorite time traveler Doctor Who would say:

As authors, the question is how do we deal with all this wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff without disorienting our reader? Jumping around in time is a luxury we can explore, but walking blindly into a flashback, without any cues to the reader, will break the fictive dream and draw attention to itself. It will commit the cardinal sin of writing, which is to remind the reader that they are reading.

One of the best ways to transition a reader in time is through the careful crafting of language. Words are our tools and used craftily, that can lull a reader through an invisible portal from one time space to another.

Let’s look at four techniques to help a reader flawlessly transition through story time.

mango1) Word Repetition

Create transitions through the repetition of sounds, syllables, objects, and words. In the excerpt from The House on Mango Street below, the repetition of the words know and because are used as a portal from one time period to the next. The words move us from the present day story space to a new location in Mexico, and then back again.

“I have never seen my Papa cry and I don’t know what to do. I know he will have to go away, that he will take a plane to Mexico, all the uncles and aunts will be there, and they will have a black-and-white photo take in front of the tomb … because this is how they send the dead away in that country. Because I am the oldest, my father has told me first and now it is my turn to tell the others.”

2) Sentence and Phrase Repetition

Create transitions through the repetition of phrases, images, and sentence structure.

In this second example from The House on Mango Street, the repetition of a sentence structure creates a rhythm and punctuation to the paragraph. It is the repeating words along with the repeating rhythm that transitions the reader from impression to impression.

In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine … It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings … songs like sobbing. It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine.” (The House on Mango Street)

humanbraincloud_shot13) Word Association

Remember being a kid and playing the word association game? The mind likes to make connections through visual images evoked by single words. You can also use this technique to create transitions in time and space.

The word association game begins with hair in the example below. It then riffs off of imagery to transition from hair to bread, thus moving the reader into a memory.

“But my mother’s hair, my mother’s hair, like little rosettes, like little candy circles all curly … sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you… is the warm smell of bread before you bake it, is the smell  when she makes room for you on her side of the bed … the rain outside falling and Papa snoring.”  (The House on Mango Street)

wordUp-44) Question and Answer

You can also use a question to transition the reader from one time to the next. The question creates curiosity in the reader’s mind and the answer works as a transition into the new time space.

“No address. No Name. Nothing in his pockets. Ain’t it a shame. Only Marin can’t explain why it mattered … but what difference does it make? He wasn’t anything to her. He wasn’t her boyfriend … Just another brazer who didn’t speak English. Just another wetback … How does she explain it?  She met him at a dance. Geraldo in his shiny shirt and green pants…” (The House on Mango Street)

There are a lot ways to transition between time and space in a story. In later posts we can discuss things like: cause and effect, causality link-chains, or pause button violations. For now, focus on the magic of phrasing and how your words can makes a transition seem inevitable, natural, and invisible.

See these time transition techniques (and more) in practice by reading and studying these awesome stories:

  • How to Tell a True War Story by Tim O’Brien
  • The House on Mango Street by Sanda Cicneros
  • Small Damages by Beth Kephart

3 Comments on Transitions in Time, last added: 7/28/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
8. 4 Tips for Writing Great Scenes

We all want to write scenes that grip our readers and keep them glued to the page! Easier said than done, right? Well, here are four tips that I try to keep in mind every time I sit down to craft a scene. They aren’t 100% fool-proof, but they often help me find that extra oomph to make my scene’s sing.

ptsd-soldier-crying1)  Make Sure Your Scene Has Dramatic Action.

The number one reason a scene falls flat is because it doesn’t have any dramatic action. Dramatic action is the action the protagonist takes to resolve the problem he has suddenly been faced with.

In STORY, Robert Mckee talks about dramatic action as “story events” and defines them as an event that creates a meaningful change in the life situation of a character and is expressed and experienced in terms of a value and achieved through conflict.”

Well plotted stories are built on stringing together the scenes that have dramatic action. These are the important moments within the character’s life that move the plot forward. For example, we seldom see a character go to the bathroom or sleep, because there’s no dramatic action in these moments. Instead, we pick the scenes that are the most exciting and meaningful for the reader to read.

smiley face images2)  Is There a Significant Emotional Change in the Scene?

A great way to tell if your scenes have dramatic action is to check and see if there’s a significant emotional change. If the character starts the scene happy and leaves it happy, nothing has happened. But if a character starts happy and leaves sad, then something has happened in the scene to change their life situation and make them sad.

You can track the emotion of your scene by drawing emotion faces (happy faces, frowning faces) at the opening and closing of your scenes. The emotion should reflect the emotion your character carries into the scene, and the emotion the character carries out of it in when it’s over. If the emotion-face is the same, for example both are grumpy faces, then you don’t have any dramatic action in the scene. This indicates that the scene may need to be cut or revised.

expectations-a-poem-by-pooky3)  Set Up Reader Expectations

Setting up expectations helps the reader to feel the emotional change in a scene. If we know what a character wants and expects as she enters a situation, the reader becomes more invested. They want to see if the character succeeds or fails. You won’t have any reversals and surprises if you haven’t set up any expectations for the reader.

It’s much more exciting to watch a scene where a character scales a cliff if we know he’s afraid of heights, or we know his family is trapped at the top, or we know he thinks he can’t do it. It’s rewarding to see the character defy his fear. It adds tension if we know each misstep means he’s one step further away from saving his family from that fire-breathing dragon above (of course … you’ve got to set that up that dragon!).

Protecting4)  Stop Protecting Your Characters

Even though we’re told to “torture our characters” it’s really common for us to protect them instead. Have you ever written as scene and decided to:

  • Have an important conversation interrupted by another character/event.
  • Had a character freeze up and avoid talking about their feelings in internal monologue.
  • Had your character avoid asking an important question? Or had another character avoid answering it?
  • Hinted to something, not once, but over and over and over again, and never unveiling the truth until late in the book.
  • Bailed your character out of a situation before it reeeeeeally got tough?
  • Avoided writing a scene because you the author felt uncomfortable?

All of that, is protecting your character (or in the example of the last one, yourself). The most common culprit is interruption. What’s happening is we start a scene, but the second it gets to the tough questions or uncomfortable conflicts, we bail our characters out of the scene and ask our readers to wait.

Sometimes we think we’re creating mystery and tension by drawing out the answers to questions, or avoiding the main conflicts. In real life we absolutely avoid questions and conflicts. But in drama … well, we want the drama!

Don’t cut off the scene before it gets going. Don’t avoid the dramatic action!

Stop protecting your character by allowing her to wander, avoid, and be bailed out of situations. Lock your characters in a room and make them deal with their conflicts! Be brave and get to the guts of the scene.

Happy scene-writing everyone!


4 Comments on 4 Tips for Writing Great Scenes, last added: 7/2/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
9. Immersion: The Writing Process

We each have our own writing processes, and every book demands to be written differently. While participating in the #writingprocess blog tour last month, I talked about how my current WIP has been a difficult project to wrap my brain around. I said:

“This book demands immersion. She demands focus for hours at a time. And I’m not talking half-assed freewriting or NaNoWriMo first draft word-puke. This novel wants my blood. I do the best I can to keep myself immersed in this novel as much as I can, because she likes to hole up and shut me out for weeks if I’m not diligent.”

I haven’t been diligent. I’ve allowed this project to hide in the back of my mind. I’ve been avoiding it.

So after failing to immerse myself in this novel, I’ve decided to dive in 100% and go for it. There’s no time like the present. I just dropped my fiance off at the airport and he won’t be back for five days. Which means I have five days without distractions. It also means I can turn my writing studio (which happens to be in our living room) into a shrine to this project.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done. Say hello to my workspace this week:

SAMSUNG

Yup, I’ve covered the walls with all of the brainstorming I’ve done on this project: character sheets, outlines, mind-webs, questions I need to answer and more.

Workspace

I’ve been working through John Truby’s 22 Steps of Story Structure:

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

I’ve collected setting and location images:

SAMSUNG

I’ve created character sheets with photos and lists of controlling beliefs, external goals, fears, moral needs, self revelations, and distinguishable traits.

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

As much as I’ve been avoiding this project … I can’t anymore. Not if I have to look at this every morning!

SAMSUNG

Lets hope this keeps me motivated!

I wish you all happy writing this week and the next. And if you have images of your work spaces, I’d love to see them!


8 Comments on Immersion: The Writing Process, last added: 6/20/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
10. The Tension of Unfulfilled Disaster

the-spectacular-now-book-imageI recently saw an advanced screening of the film The Spectacular Now. This honest and moving film is based on Tim Tharp’s YA novel (which also happens to be a National Book Award Finalist). The story follows Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a high school senior determined to live in the present and forget the future, as he stumbles from one good time to the next. With a flask in one hand and his happy-go lucky attitude in the other, Sutter gets involved with the sweet and shy, Aimee (Shailene Woodley). But disaster is coming … because who can live in the present moment forever?

I’m going to try really hard not to spoil this movie (because you really should go see it). But what I want to talk about is the film’s uncanny ability to build tension based on the audience’s expectation of impending disaster… and then, never fulfilling that expectation.

Spectacular now movie

Let me give you an example: If I show you a character who’s an alcoholic and then I hand that character the keys to a fancy new car, what do you expect to see happen in the next scene?

A car crash of course.

This is a classic example of reader interaction. Readers love to guess what is going to happen next. It builds tension. It gets the reader involved as a participant in the story. It’s fun to wonder what will come next! But a great story doesn’t usually fulfill that expectation. It exceeds it. This is where crazy plot twists come from. The reader thinks a plot will go one way, and then — BAM! — it zags in a whole other direction. What a thrill!

Only, The Spectacular Now doesn’t really do that either.

It doesn’t try to up the ante with a new twist or an even bigger payoff. In fact, the film doesn’t like to payoff the viewer’s expectation at all. Sure, this sounds absolutely frustrating, but in actuality it’s surprisingly fulfilling and honest. Because how often does disaster really strike in our lives? Yes, we are always afraid of it (and that’s the exact expectation the story is playing on), but I bet most of us would agree that our lives are never as intense or dramatic as a film or novel. It’s the fear of what’s coming that scares us. And that turns out to be the primary tension of the movie. Disaster is hanging out there, somewhere in the future, but the future is what the protagonist is trying so hard to avoid. It’s brilliant, and at the same time, there’s something insanely dramatic and fascinating in Sutter’s ability to avoid it!

I wanted to bring this up because I feel like stories far too often choose the dramatic disaster. This is particularly hard to avoid when films overwhelm us with explosions and fights to the death. But I think there’s room to make writing choices without the spectacle. Choices that can be just as powerful. Choices that might actually be more honest and fulfilling because they don’t “go there.” I feel like so much of our lives (our real lives, not fictional character lives) are built on the tension of unfulfilled promises and that space between living in the now and looking toward the future. That feeling – that’s what The Spectacular Now so beautifully captures. And frankly, its one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time.

Go see it.

Spectacular Now


2 Comments on The Tension of Unfulfilled Disaster, last added: 8/22/2013
Display Comments Add a Comment
11. The Right Word

Mark Twain QuoteMark Twain famously once said “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter – it is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.”

As writers it’s important to know that we’re more than storytellers, we are wordsmiths! Every word we type has potential to do more than convey character and plot. Our words can also deepen the mood and emotional resonance in our novels.

Ilsa J. Bick is a master of this technique. In her apocalyptic zombie novel, Ashes, Bick intensifies each page with the danger of her world through the use of aggressive words. In the following examples Bick uses the violent words of: slash, spear, and pierced, to describe otherwise peaceful images.

ashes_sales-1“She registered the slash of morning sun in an already too-bright and very cold room…” (301).

“She heard the creak of Tom’s footsteps overhead, and a spear of light pierced the darkness as he shone his flashlight down the stairs” (159).

Bick’s words are doing double-duty. They not only convey the imagery and action of the scene but they also infuse each sentence with emotional stakes. Never once does Bick’s protagonist feel free of the horror that surrounds her. This is because Bick allows her powerful word choices to accumulate over the entire novel, creating an air of danger that is unconsciously felt by the reader.

Two Great Exercises to Learn How to Do This Yourself:

Exercise #1: Scene Analysis

Pick a scene in a book where you (as reader) felt an emotional connection. Perhaps this was a scene that made you cry, or cringe, or got your blood pumping. Re-read the scene and pick out the words that relate to the emotion you felt. Take a look at those words and how they’re used. Become aware of when a specific word choice affected you unconsciously!

Exercise #2: Write with Word Lists

A great way to use this technique in your own work is to create word-lists. Ask yourself what the emotional mood of the scene you’re writing is (i.e. fear, nervousness, lust, etc.). Now write a list of words that invoke this feeling for you. For example, if the feeling is nervousness, my words list could include:

wobble
chatter
prickle
tremble
ice
upturn
squeamish
clench

As you go to write your scene, try to use some of your words. You don’t have to use all of them, and you will easily start to come up with new ones as you write. But when you’re done you’ll find a new emotional layer has been added to your work with the touch of a few carefully chosen words.

If you’re interested in word choice and the use of language, also check out these great articles:

This article was originally published on THE PARKING LOT CONFESSIONAL in 2011. 


2 Comments on The Right Word, last added: 9/3/2013
Display Comments Add a Comment
12. The Right Word

Mark Twain QuoteMark Twain famously once said “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter – it is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.”

As writers it’s important to know that we’re more than storytellers, we are wordsmiths! Every word we type has potential to do more than convey character and plot. Our words can also deepen the mood and emotional resonance in our novels.

Ilsa J. Bick is a master of this technique. In her apocalyptic zombie novel, Ashes, Bick intensifies each page with the danger of her world through the use of aggressive words. In the following examples Bick uses the violent words of: slash, spear, and pierced, to describe otherwise peaceful images.

ashes_sales-1“She registered the slash of morning sun in an already too-bright and very cold room…” (301).

“She heard the creak of Tom’s footsteps overhead, and a spear of light pierced the darkness as he shone his flashlight down the stairs” (159).

Bick’s words are doing double-duty. They not only convey the imagery and action of the scene but they also infuse each sentence with emotional stakes. Never once does Bick’s protagonist feel free of the horror that surrounds her. This is because Bick allows her powerful word choices to accumulate over the entire novel, creating an air of danger that is unconsciously felt by the reader.

Two Great Exercises to Learn How to Do This Yourself:

Exercise #1: Scene Analysis

Pick a scene in a book where you (as reader) felt an emotional connection. Perhaps this was a scene that made you cry, or cringe, or got your blood pumping. Re-read the scene and pick out the words that relate to the emotion you felt. Take a look at those words and how they’re used. Become aware of when a specific word choice affected you unconsciously!

Exercise #2: Write with Word Lists

A great way to use this technique in your own work is to create word-lists. Ask yourself what the emotional mood of the scene you’re writing is (i.e. fear, nervousness, lust, etc.). Now write a list of words that invoke this feeling for you. For example, if the feeling is nervousness, my words list could include:

wobble
chatter
prickle
tremble
ice
upturn
squeamish
clench

As you go to write your scene, try to use some of your words. You don’t have to use all of them, and you will easily start to come up with new ones as you write. But when you’re done you’ll find a new emotional layer has been added to your work with the touch of a few carefully chosen words.

If you’re interested in word choice and the use of language, also check out these great articles:

This article was originally published on THE PARKING LOT CONFESSIONAL in 2011. 


0 Comments on The Right Word as of 9/3/2013 4:46:00 PM
Add a Comment
13. Minimize the Obstacles

boulder_in_road_obstacle
I’m blogging at Books & Such today. Here’s a preview:

When you’re a debut author trying to break in to traditional publishing, one of the most important things to remember is this:

Minimize the obstacles.

You already know it’s not going to be easy to break in, so you want to avoid making it even more difficult on yourself. This is why agents give so much advice on their blogs. Not every piece of advice applies across the board to every author, but we’re trying to help you have the best chance of attracting an agent and publisher.

Assuming you’ve written a terrific book…

What are some possible obstacles to finding an agent and publisher?

Read the post at Books & Such to find out. Click Here.

 

The post Minimize the Obstacles appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.

Add a Comment
14. Call for Essays on Writing Craft: Passages North

Contribute to Passages North's online Writers on Writing column.

Send us short essays about how you write, craft tricks you're willing to disclose, frustrations about your muse.

Send us your lamentations and praises. Tell us stories about stories. Share your insider info.

For more information, visit our website.

Add a Comment
15. Call for Submissions: TAB

TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics is reading now for its monthly electronic issues in early 2014. Send a small batch of poems, a short essay on craft or pedagogy, a critical essay, a book review, or an interview. We will consider all writing of or about poetry.

Recent contributors include Hadara Bar-Nadav, Oliver de la Paz, Lauren Camp, Susan Johnson, Jesse Lee Kercheval, and many more. Online submissions only; no submission fee. To find out more and read recent issues, check out TAB at our website.

Add a Comment
16. Call for Submissions: The Cartier Street Review

The Cartier Street Review is alive and well and requesting submissions. Please send poetry, flash fiction, articles on writing, short stories, and reviews of books, music and other type articles for consideration to:

violetwritesATgmailDOTcom (Change AT to @ and DOT to .)

Please put submission into the subject line along with your last name and the type of work you are submitting.

A short note to the editor such as, “Hi I am writer submitting 3 poems titled …”

Include a short bio with your submission.

Add a Comment
17. Call for Submissions: CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop invites writers of all stripes (Poets! Fictioneers! Memoirists! Journalists! Essayists! Dramatists! Genre-benders!) to submit to CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing. Writers are invited to submit their personal aesthetic philosophies and manifestos for the anthology, writing exercises and prompts that have helped to kick-start their imagination, and short essays on the art of writing, reading, and being creative. Please send us a brief (7 pages max) submission in one of the following categories:

I. Credos:

Writing manifestos, rules to live by, artist creeds, hand-written notes to self, aphorisms earned, and personal philosophies on what makes good writing work and why. If you have ever typed or scrawled out a manifesto, we would like to see it. Feel free to send us manifestos for creative writing that you have drawn up for yourself or for your writing group. We accept typed written credos, hand-written lists, and even collages that demonstrate your aesthetic philosophy.

II. Writing Exercises:

We would like you to send us writing exercises, prompts, or any practices that have helped energize and motivate your creative writing practice. Is there a daily ritual you do to kickstart your imagination? Are there writing exercises and prompts that you keep on going back to or to use in class with your students? We are interested in your favorite writing exercises. Please send us original writing exercises or prompts, or please write to us about how your favorite published writing exercises work.

III. Essays on Writing Advice:

We are looking for essays that describe the writing process, essays on creative arts communities, salon culture, and advice on creative writing. What has helped you sustain and catalyze your writing career? What has inspired you, from reading the works of your favorite authors, experimenting with new forms, finding communities of writers, experience with social media and writing, etc.? We welcome any essays on creative writing between 5-7 pages.
 
Please also include: A brief biography of 200 words or less.

SUBMISSIONS PERIOD: October 15, 2013 - January 15, 2014

Submit here.

Follow us on Twitter @CamWritersWkshp

Facebook.

Add a Comment
18. Books I Didn’t Finish, AKA, What Killed it For Me

118261956_569a6777d1_b

Courtesy of wit @ Creative Commons

I like keeping lists. And I like books. So I guess it makes sense that I have a lot of book lists. Books To Read, Books I’ve Finished, Books I Want to Buy, and possibly the most informative one: Books I Didn’t Finish. As a reader, it happens quite frequently that I’ll start a book, and for whatever reason, my attention wanes and I end up putting it down unfinished. As a writer, I want to know why this happens so I can avoid making the same mistakes in my own stories. The reasons behind a book’s failure to grab my attention are varied. Some of them I see often in books I read; some offenses I’m guilty of committing myself. Because of this, I figured I’d share what I’ve learned so we can all try not to replicate these errors in our stories.

For this first installment, I’m pulling from a book I was really looking forward to reading…well, let’s just call it Book A (I’m a positive person, and since this isn’t a review, the title doesn’t matter). Regardless, this book was historical fiction—one of my favorite genres that I find in short supply—and a retelling of an old myth. The cover was gorgeous and the back copy contained an accurate summary of the story. The writing itself was strong, the descriptions evocative. So what killed it for me?

In the first chapter of Book A, the heroine’s life had taken a dramatic turn which included a global move away from her family and friends to a place she’d never been. And when she got there, everything was great. Her new home was luxurious, her benefactor doting and accommodating. In this new place, she was actually better off than she’d been at home.

Zzzzzzzz…

I was underwhelmed at this point but continued on to chapter two, hoping things would pick up—and I did find a vague undercurrent of danger, the feeling that all wasn’t as it seemed. But it was too vague, too distant. The character wasn’t concerned, and she didn’t seem to be in any real danger, so I wasn’t worried about her. And I never made it to chapter three.

Clearly there was a lack of tension, but why? What was it about this story that put me to sleep? When I examined it further, I realized that I didn’t know the hero’s goal; she wasn’t thinking about what she wanted or discussing it or wishing for it. Because she never revealed her greatest desire, there were no stakes for her should she fail to achieve it. It didn’t seem to matter one way or the other if she got what she wanted, so I didn’t really care if she succeeded.

129126482_3e8ae9242b_o

Courtesy of urban_data @ Creative Commons

For readers to be involved in your story, your main character has to have a goal. Simply put, this is something she wants to accomplish by the end of the story. Goals come in many shapes and forms. A character may want to discover his own identity (The Bourne Identity), make a living and survive in 19th century Paris (Belle Epoque), or find his birth father (Elf). If you don’t know what your character wants, then the reader won’t know, either. Figuring out the hero’s goal is the first order of business.

The next important step is to reveal this goal to readers through the context of your current story—through dialogue, the character’s thoughts, through action, or a symbolic keepsake or memento, etc. And the sooner you do it, the better. In the movie The Bourne Identity, we’re all of eight minutes in when Bourne, who has clearly lost his memory, says with great emotion, “What if it doesn’t come back? We get in there tomorrow, I don’t even have a name.” With this simple bit of dialogue, viewers see exactly what Jason Bourne wants. We know what he’s going to spend the rest of the movie trying to accomplish, and we spend that time rooting for him to do just that.

Because I have a fear of overstating things, I tend to be too vague when it comes to my character’s goal. Through consistent feedback from my trusty critique partners (What’s she after in this scene? I don’t know what she wants, etc.), I’ve learned that it helps, in the drafting stage, to state the goal outright. Mention it more than once. Then, when revising, soften those references and turn them into examples of showing rather than telling. Maybe remove a few of them altogether. This has worked well for me to make sure readers know my character’s goal without smacking them over the head with it.

So, to summarize: 1) know your character’s overall story goal, and 2) reveal it at the start of the story so readers will know what needs to happen for the hero to succeed.

Hopefully this information will come in handy for you and will help you write stories that readers can’t put down. An understated goal is one big reason why books fall flat for me, but there are definitely others. I’ll be writing more posts in this series as those reasons become clear. Enjoy!

~~~~~~~

Also, Angela’s at the DIYMFA today talking about Flaws, Emotional Trauma, and the Character’s Wound. If you’re interested in figuring out why your character is the way he is, she’s got some not-to-be-missed info for you.

The post Books I Didn’t Finish, AKA, What Killed it For Me appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

0 Comments on Books I Didn’t Finish, AKA, What Killed it For Me as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
19. Call for Submissions: Mason's Road: A Literary and Arts Journal

Mason’s Road: A Literary and Arts Journal is currently accepting submissions for our ninth issue. The theme for Issue #9 is “Truth,” and we are looking for unique and arresting takes on this topic.

All submissions will be given thorough consideration for publication. However, your work will also be considered for our Mason’s Road Literary Prize, which includes publication and a $500 award. For this issue, the award will go to the best entry we receive, as judged by Bill Roorbach, the award-winning author of Life Among Giants.

Our submissions period runs for three months: February 15 – May 15, 2014. Please look here for submission guidelines.

Add a Comment
20. Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Out Loud

Dystropian Task ForceHave you been reading the Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Cooper’s blog? If not, you should!

I participated in the series back in January with my thoughts on breaking the rules of character development, but my fellow VCFA dystropian classmates (who are fast selling books, getting agents, and taking the writing world by storm) have posted a ton of amazing articles for you to devour. The posts include life lessons on writing, hard truths, and of course a picture of a cute dog!

How could you resist?

Check out the awesomeness:

Journal Writing and Craft  by Melanie Fishbane

Writing Truth and Authenticity Amidst the Noise by Jessica Denhart

Writing Lessons Learned from My In-laws by Jeff Schill

What Travel Writing Taught Me About Fiction by Steve Bramucci

A Cute Picture of My Dog … And Words About my Writing Life by Rachel Lieberman

The Top 10 Uses for an Action Scene by Sheryl Scarborough

Breaking the Rules of Character Development by Ingrid Sundberg


3 Comments on Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Out Loud, last added: 4/15/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
21. Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Out Loud

Dystropian Task ForceHave you been reading the Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Cooper’s blog? If not, you should!

I participated in the series back in January with my thoughts on breaking the rules of character development, but my fellow VCFA dystropian classmates (who are fast selling books, getting agents, and taking the writing world by storm) have posted a ton of amazing articles for you to devour. The posts include life lessons on writing, hard truths, and of course a picture of a cute dog!

How could you resist?

Check out the awesomeness:

Journal Writing and Craft  by Melanie Fishbane

Writing Truth and Authenticity Amidst the Noise by Jessica Denhart

Writing Lessons Learned from My In-laws by Jeff Schill

What Travel Writing Taught Me About Fiction by Steve Bramucci

A Cute Picture of My Dog … And Words About my Writing Life by Rachel Lieberman

The Top 10 Uses for an Action Scene by Sheryl Scarborough

Breaking the Rules of Character Development by Ingrid Sundberg


0 Comments on Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Out Loud as of 4/15/2014 6:43:00 PM
Add a Comment
22. The Gap: How to Make Your Story a Page Turner!

Lately I’ve been having a hard time finishing books. Not because the writing is bad, or the stories don’t have developed characters, or even interesting plots. The problem is the stories don’t grip me and I’m not compelled to pick them up again to see what happens next.

Tired and bored boy sleeping among the books

With so many distractions in life – television, facebook, cooking classes – it’s easy to put a book down and stop reading. This is a reality we all must face. So, how do we keep our readers hooked? How do we make it impossible for them to put the story down?

Of course there are a lot of possible answers to that question, but the one I want to talk about today is The Gap.

The Gap is a concept coined by Robert McKee in his craft book STORY, wherein he argues that we read because we want to see characters presented with situations that “pry open a gap” in their lives. He describes the Gap as a moment in a character’s life when the world acts in a way that surprises them. It’s a revelation and/or situation in which the character’s landscape operates outside of what they knew was possible.

For example, a tornado headed straight for your character’s house is a gap in their life. Normal life has been interrupted by mother nature and now your character must act. But a gap can also be as small as the “cool kids” deciding to talk to your character at school. It’s any event that tilts your character’s landscape in a new way and presents your character with new opportunities and obstacles. At least, on the surface that’s what a Gap is.

But let’s talk about how to maximize the Gap and make your stories un-put-downable!

McKee describes the Gap this way:

story“The protagonist seeks an object of desire beyond his reach. Consciously or unconsciously he chooses to take a particular action, motivated by the thought or feeling that this act will cause the world to react in a way that will be a positive step toward achieving his desire. From his subjective POV the action he has chosen seems minimal, conservative, yet sufficient to effect the reaction he wants. But the moment he takes action, the objective realm of his inner life, personal relationships, or extra-personal world, or a combination of these, react in a way that’s more powerful or different than he expected … his action provokes forces of antagonism that open up the gap between his subjective expectation and the objective result, between what he thought would happen when he took his action and what in fact does happen … The gap is the point where the subjective and objective realms collide, the difference between anticipation and result, between the world as the character perceived it before acting and the truth he discovers in action.” (McKee, Story)

Creating a Gap for your characters isn’t as simple as throwing obstacles in the character’s way and hoping for drama. A compelling Gap will present your character with a situation that demands they make a difficult choice. This choice should be one that isn’t easy to run away from. I should “trap” your character and not allow them to return to their normal way of life. This is the space in which characters grow. It’s the space in which plot becomes so intoxicating your reader cannot put the book down.

Why? Because we want to see what choice the character will make. And, we want to see the consequences of their actions.

McKee goes on to say that:

“Once the gap in reality splits open, the character, being willful and having capacity, senses or realizes that he cannot get what he wants in a minimal, conservative way. He must gather himself and struggle through the gap to take a second action. This next action is something the character would not have wanted to do in the first case because it not only demands more willpower and forces him to dig more deeply into his human capacity, but most important the second action puts him at risk. He now stands to lose in order to gain.” (McKee, Story)

Okay, let’s look at an example to help illustrate this idea.

One of my favorite examples of a compelling Gap is in the reaping scene in The Hunger Games. As writers we have a lot of choices to make in our novels. Hunger Games author, Susan Collins, could have chosen to have Katniss’s name pulled out of the reaping basket. This would have presented a Gap in Katniss’s life. She would be presented with the choice of accepting the challenge of the games or running away and putting her family in danger. But Susan Collins makes the Gap even more intense and unimaginable for Katniss. Instead of pulling Katniss’s name from the reaping basket, her sister Primm’s name is pulled. Now the world has really opened up and torn a Gap in Katniss’s life. The world has truly acted in a way she did not see coming.

Katniss

The Gap forces Katniss to choose between staying alive and watching her sister go off to die, or choosing to volunteer in her sister’s place and fight to the death. Neither decision is a good one. If you were forced to put the book down at that moment, before Katniss made her decision, don’t you think you would be itching to get back to reading? YES! Of course you want to see what choice she will make. This is the stuff of great drama!

Sunshine posterAnother great example of Gaps is the movie Sunshine. This is a lesser known sci-fi film directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland. Every action, decision, and plot point in this movie has a consequence that forces the characters to face a new Gap. The film follows the crew of ICARUS 2, a spaceship flying toward Earth’s dying sun in hopes of “rebooting” it with a nuclear bomb. ICARUS 1 failed its mission in the past and ICARUS 2 is Earth’s last and final hope before the planet dies from lack of sunshine. The first gap in the film comes when ICARUS 2 receives a distress signal from ICARUS 1. The crew is now forced to make a choice. Do they alter their course to intercept ICARUS 1 and get a second “payload” bomb to help re-boot the sun, thus allowing them two chances for mission success, or do they stay on course and gamble that the one payload they have is enough? It’s not an easy decision. Both choices have consequences. As a reader we want to see what they will do!

The brilliant thing about Sunshine is that each Gap has consequences that lead the characters to a second Gap, and then a third. In Sunshine these Gaps aren’t simple issues of survival. Instead these decisions force the characters to make choices that challenge what it means to be human, how far they are willing to go, and what is an appropriate sacrifice for the greater good. I love the film because it isn’t plot and action for the sake of plot and action. Every action opens a Gap in the character’s world and forces them to react in ways they never thought possible. (Note: I’ve been deliberately vague here, in case you want to watch this movie – which you should!)

I realize both of these examples come from high-stakes adventure stories. Let me give you an example of a Gap that isn’t “life or death” in nature:

Sky is EverywhereIn Jandy Nelson’s young adult novel, The Sky Is Everywhere, teenage protagonist Lennie is dealing with the death of her older sister, Bailey. There’s a wonderful Gap when Lennie is hanging out with her sister’s boyfriend Toby. The two are chatting about Bailey, remembering her, and then they look at each other and — BAM! — Toby kisses Lennie. However, the gap comes in the moment when Lennie realizes she likes kissing her sister’s boyfriend! Suddenly the world has acted in a way outside of all that Lennie thought possible. And even more exciting, now she has to decide what she’s going to do about it.

So, how can you apply the concept of The Gap to your work?

Ask yourself these questions about your book:

  1. Within the scope of your story, what Gaps have been presented in your protagonist’s life?
  2. How is your character challenged and incited to act by those Gaps?
  3. How has the Gap brought into question what your character believes, wants, and thinks is possible?
  4. What are the consequences of the choice your character makes when presented with a Gap? Does that choice move the story forward and take your character to the next Gap in the story? If not, does the Gap need to be changed so it challenges your character in stronger way?
  5. What does your character learn about herself as a result of the choices she makes when presented with those Gaps?

It’s one thing to throw obstacles, problems, and action at your character, but that doesn’t make the story compelling on its own. We often hear the phrase “torture your characters,” but that’s not what captures your reader’s attention. It’s the moral questions imbedded within the choices they must make that allows your reader to peek through the words on the page and see what makes us human. It’s those choices and the subsequent consequences that compel readers to picking the book up, again and again, to see what will happen next.

Want to learn more about The Gap? 

Please Read:

  • Story by Robert McKee, specifically pages 147 to 149.
  • McKee also talks about the Gap on pages: 154-157, 177-180, 208, 270-271, 311-312, 362.
  • These page numbers are based on the 1997, hardcover, It Books edition.

7 Comments on The Gap: How to Make Your Story a Page Turner!, last added: 5/22/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
23. The Gap: How to Make Your Story a Page Turner!

Lately I’ve been having a hard time finishing books. Not because the writing is bad, or the stories don’t have developed characters, or even interesting plots. The problem is the stories don’t grip me and I’m not compelled to pick them up again to see what happens next.

Tired and bored boy sleeping among the books

With so many distractions in life – television, facebook, cooking classes – it’s easy to put a book down and stop reading. This is a reality we all must face. So, how do we keep our readers hooked? How do we make it impossible for them to put the story down?

Of course there are a lot of possible answers to that question, but the one I want to talk about today is The Gap.

The Gap is a concept coined by Robert McKee in his craft book STORY, wherein he argues that we read because we want to see characters presented with situations that “pry open a gap” in their lives. He describes the Gap as a moment in a character’s life when the world acts in a way that surprises them. It’s a revelation and/or situation in which the character’s landscape operates outside of what they knew was possible.

For example, a tornado headed straight for your character’s house is a gap in their life. Normal life has been interrupted by mother nature and now your character must act. But a gap can also be as small as the “cool kids” deciding to talk to your character at school. It’s any event that tilts your character’s landscape in a new way and presents your character with new opportunities and obstacles. At least, on the surface that’s what a Gap is.

But let’s talk about how to maximize the Gap and make your stories un-put-downable!

McKee describes the Gap this way:

story“The protagonist seeks an object of desire beyond his reach. Consciously or unconsciously he chooses to take a particular action, motivated by the thought or feeling that this act will cause the world to react in a way that will be a positive step toward achieving his desire. From his subjective POV the action he has chosen seems minimal, conservative, yet sufficient to effect the reaction he wants. But the moment he takes action, the objective realm of his inner life, personal relationships, or extra-personal world, or a combination of these, react in a way that’s more powerful or different than he expected … his action provokes forces of antagonism that open up the gap between his subjective expectation and the objective result, between what he thought would happen when he took his action and what in fact does happen … The gap is the point where the subjective and objective realms collide, the difference between anticipation and result, between the world as the character perceived it before acting and the truth he discovers in action.” (McKee, Story)

Creating a Gap for your characters isn’t as simple as throwing obstacles in the character’s way and hoping for drama. A compelling Gap will present your character with a situation that demands they make a difficult choice. This choice should be one that isn’t easy to run away from. I should “trap” your character and not allow them to return to their normal way of life. This is the space in which characters grow. It’s the space in which plot becomes so intoxicating your reader cannot put the book down.

Why? Because we want to see what choice the character will make. And, we want to see the consequences of their actions.

McKee goes on to say that:

“Once the gap in reality splits open, the character, being willful and having capacity, senses or realizes that he cannot get what he wants in a minimal, conservative way. He must gather himself and struggle through the gap to take a second action. This next action is something the character would not have wanted to do in the first case because it not only demands more willpower and forces him to dig more deeply into his human capacity, but most important the second action puts him at risk. He now stands to lose in order to gain.” (McKee, Story)

Okay, let’s look at an example to help illustrate this idea.

One of my favorite examples of a compelling Gap is in the reaping scene in The Hunger Games. As writers we have a lot of choices to make in our novels. Hunger Games author, Susan Collins, could have chosen to have Katniss’s name pulled out of the reaping basket. This would have presented a Gap in Katniss’s life. She would be presented with the choice of accepting the challenge of the games or running away and putting her family in danger. But Susan Collins makes the Gap even more intense and unimaginable for Katniss. Instead of pulling Katniss’s name from the reaping basket, her sister Primm’s name is pulled. Now the world has really opened up and torn a Gap in Katniss’s life. The world has truly acted in a way she did not see coming.

Katniss

The Gap forces Katniss to choose between staying alive and watching her sister go off to die, or choosing to volunteer in her sister’s place and fight to the death. Neither decision is a good one. If you were forced to put the book down at that moment, before Katniss made her decision, don’t you think you would be itching to get back to reading? YES! Of course you want to see what choice she will make. This is the stuff of great drama!

Sunshine posterAnother great example of Gaps is the movie Sunshine. This is a lesser known sci-fi film directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland. Every action, decision, and plot point in this movie has a consequence that forces the characters to face a new Gap. The film follows the crew of ICARUS 2, a spaceship flying toward Earth’s dying sun in hopes of “rebooting” it with a nuclear bomb. ICARUS 1 failed its mission in the past and ICARUS 2 is Earth’s last and final hope before the planet dies from lack of sunshine. The first gap in the film comes when ICARUS 2 receives a distress signal from ICARUS 1. The crew is now forced to make a choice. Do they alter their course to intercept ICARUS 1 and get a second “payload” bomb to help re-boot the sun, thus allowing them two chances for mission success, or do they stay on course and gamble that the one payload they have is enough? It’s not an easy decision. Both choices have consequences. As a reader we want to see what they will do!

The brilliant thing about Sunshine is that each Gap has consequences that lead the characters to a second Gap, and then a third. In Sunshine these Gaps aren’t simple issues of survival. Instead these decisions force the characters to make choices that challenge what it means to be human, how far they are willing to go, and what is an appropriate sacrifice for the greater good. I love the film because it isn’t plot and action for the sake of plot and action. Every action opens a Gap in the character’s world and forces them to react in ways they never thought possible. (Note: I’ve been deliberately vague here, in case you want to watch this movie – which you should!)

I realize both of these examples come from high-stakes adventure stories. Let me give you an example of a Gap that isn’t “life or death” in nature:

Sky is EverywhereIn Jandy Nelson’s young adult novel, The Sky Is Everywhere, teenage protagonist Lennie is dealing with the death of her older sister, Bailey. There’s a wonderful Gap when Lennie is hanging out with her sister’s boyfriend Toby. The two are chatting about Bailey, remembering her, and then they look at each other and — BAM! — Toby kisses Lennie. However, the gap comes in the moment when Lennie realizes she likes kissing her sister’s boyfriend! Suddenly the world has acted in a way outside of all that Lennie thought possible. And even more exciting, now she has to decide what she’s going to do about it.

So, how can you apply the concept of The Gap to your work?

Ask yourself these questions about your book:

  1. Within the scope of your story, what Gaps have been presented in your protagonist’s life?
  2. How is your character challenged and incited to act by those Gaps?
  3. How has the Gap brought into question what your character believes, wants, and thinks is possible?
  4. What are the consequences of the choice your character makes when presented with a Gap? Does that choice move the story forward and take your character to the next Gap in the story? If not, does the Gap need to be changed so it challenges your character in stronger way?
  5. What does your character learn about herself as a result of the choices she makes when presented with those Gaps?

It’s one thing to throw obstacles, problems, and action at your character, but that doesn’t make the story compelling on its own. We often hear the phrase “torture your characters,” but that’s not what captures your reader’s attention. It’s the moral questions imbedded within the choices they must make that allows your reader to peek through the words on the page and see what makes us human. It’s those choices and the subsequent consequences that compel readers to picking the book up, again and again, to see what will happen next.

Want to learn more about The Gap? 

Please Read:

  • Story by Robert McKee, specifically pages 147 to 149.
  • McKee also talks about the Gap on pages: 154-157, 177-180, 208, 270-271, 311-312, 362.
  • These page numbers are based on the 1997, hardcover, It Books edition.

0 Comments on The Gap: How to Make Your Story a Page Turner! as of 5/22/2014 3:30:00 AM
Add a Comment
24. Story Midpoint & Mirror Moment: Using Heroes’ Emotions To Transform Them

I recently read a Huff Post psychology piece on Turning Negative Emotions Into Your Greatest Advantage and immediately saw how this could also apply to our characters. Feel free to follow the link and read, but if you’re short on time, the rundown is this: negative emotions are not all bad. In fact, they are necessary to the human experience, and can spark a shift that leads to self growth.

And after reading James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between and attending a full day workshop with him a few weeks ago, I can also see how this idea of using negative emotions to fuel a positive changes fits oh-so-nicely with Jim’s concept of “the Mirror Moment.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s look at what a mirror moment is.

mirror 2Mirror Moment: a moment in midpoint scene of a novel or screenplay when the character is forced to look within and reflect on who he is and who he must become in order to achieve his goal. If he decides to continue on as he always has, he will surely fail (tragedy).

If the story is not a tragedy, the hero realizes he must either a) become stronger to overcome the odds or b) transform, shedding his biggest flaws and become more open-minded to new ideas and beliefs. One way or the other, he must better himself in some way to step onto the path which will lead to success.

Jim actually describes the Mirror Moment so much better than I can HERE, but do your writing a BIG FAVOR and also snag a copy of this book. (It’s a short read and will absolutely help you strengthen the character’s arc in your story!)

To see how the two tie together, let’s explore what leads to this essential “mirror moment.” Your hero is taking stock of his situation, realizing he has two choices: stubbornly continue on unchanged and hope for the best, or move forward differently, becoming something more.

The big question: what is the catalyst? What causes him to take stock of the situation? What causes his self-reflection?

The answer is not surprising: EMOTION. Something the character FEELS causes him to stop, look within, and make a choice.

Let’s assume this isn’t a tragedy. If this moment had a math formula, it would look something like this:

Emotion + look within = change

So what type of emotions are the best fit to encourage this necessary shift toward change? And are they positive emotions, or negative ones? Let’s experiment!

Common positive emotions, taken right from The Emotion Thesaurus:

Happiness + look within

Happiness is contentment, a feeling of extreme well being. If one feels good about themselves and where they are at, it doesn’t encourage a strong desire for change, does it?

Gratitude + a look within

mirrorGratitude is thankfulness, an appreciation for others and what one has. Because again, gratitude creates contentment, feeling “full” and thankful, it doesn’t make the best catalyst for change. However, if you were to pair it with something like relief (such as being given a second chance), then  gratitude over being spared something negative could lead to resolving to change.

Excitement + a look within

Excitement is the feeling of being energized to the point one feels compelled to act. On the outside, this looks like a good candidate for change, but it depends on the type of excitement. Is the “high” a character feels something that distracts them from self reflection (such as being caught up in the experience of a rock concert) or does it inspire (such as the thrill of meeting one’s sports hero in person)? If one’s excitement propels one to want to become something better, then change can be achieved.

Satisfaction + a look within

Satisfaction is a feeling of contentment in a nutshell. It is feeling whole and complete. As such, looking within while satisfied likely won’t lead to a desire to change anything–in fact it might do just the opposite: encourage the character to remain the same.

Common negative emotions, again right from The Emotion Thesaurus:

Fear + a look within

Fear is the expectation of threat or danger. Feeling afraid is very uncomfortable, something almost all people wish to avoid. Some even try to make deals with the powers that be, so deep is their desperation: if I win this hand, I’ll give up gambling, I swear. So, combining this emotion with some self reflection could definitely create the desire to change.

Frustration + a look within

mirror 3Feeling stymied or hemmed in is something all people are familiar with and few can tolerate for long. By its very nature, frustration sends the brain on a search for change: how can I fix this? How can I become better/more skilled/adapt? How can I succeed?

Characters who are frustrated are eager to look within for answers.

Embarrassment + a look within

Embarrassment is another emotion that is very adept at making characters uncomfortable. Self-conscious discomfort is something all usually avoid because it triggers vulnerability. When one feels embarrassed, it is easy to look within and feel the desire to make a change so this experience is not repeated.

Shame + a look within

Disgrace isn’t pretty. When a person knows they have done something improper or dishonorable, it hurts. Shame creates the desire to rewind the clock so one can make a different choice or decision that does not lead to this same situation. It allows the character to focus on their shortcomings without rose-colored glasses, and fast tracks a deep need for change.

*  ~  *  ~  *

These are only a sampling of emotions, but the exercise above suggests it might be easier to bring about this mirror moment through negative emotions. But, does this mean all positive emotions don’t lead to change while all negative ones do? Not at all!

Love + a look within could create a desire to become more worthy in the eyes of loved ones. And emotions such as Denial or Contempt, while negative, both resist the idea of change. Denial + a look within, simply because one is not yet in a place where they can see truth. Contempt + a look within, because one is focused on the faults of others, not on one’s own possible shortcomings. Overall however, negative emotions seem to be the ones best suited to lead to that mirror moment and epiphany that one must change or become stronger and more skilled in order to succeed.

1ETSo there you have it–when you’re working on this critical moment in your story when your character realizes change is needed, think carefully about which emotion might best lead to this necessary internal reflection and change.

(And of course, we profile 75 emotions in The Emotion Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, so that’s just one more way for you to use it!)

 

photo credit 1: Dhinal Chheda via photopin cc
photo credit 2: nowhere Zen New Jersey via photopin cc
photo credit 3: stephcarter via photopin cc

The post Story Midpoint & Mirror Moment: Using Heroes’ Emotions To Transform Them appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

0 Comments on Story Midpoint & Mirror Moment: Using Heroes’ Emotions To Transform Them as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
25. Immersion: The Writing Process

We each have our own writing processes, and every book demands to be written differently. While participating in the #writingprocess blog tour last month, I talked about how my current WIP has been a difficult project to wrap my brain around. I said:

“This book demands immersion. She demands focus for hours at a time. And I’m not talking half-assed freewriting or NaNoWriMo first draft word-puke. This novel wants my blood. I do the best I can to keep myself immersed in this novel as much as I can, because she likes to hole up and shut me out for weeks if I’m not diligent.”

I haven’t been diligent. I’ve allowed this project to hide in the back of my mind. I’ve been avoiding it.

So after failing to immerse myself in this novel, I’ve decided to dive in 100% and go for it. There’s no time like the present. I just dropped my fiance off at the airport and he won’t be back for five days. Which means I have five days without distractions. It also means I can turn my writing studio (which happens to be in our living room) into a shrine to this project.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done. Say hello to my workspace this week:

SAMSUNG

Yup, I’ve covered the walls with all of the brainstorming I’ve done on this project: character sheets, outlines, mind-webs, questions I need to answer and more.

Workspace

I’ve been working through John Truby’s 22 Steps of Story Structure:

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

I’ve collected setting and location images:

SAMSUNG

I’ve created character sheets with photos and lists of controlling beliefs, external goals, fears, moral needs, self revelations, and distinguishable traits.

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

As much as I’ve been avoiding this project … I can’t anymore. Not if I have to look at this every morning!

SAMSUNG

Lets hope this keeps me motivated!

I wish you all happy writing this week and the next. And if you have images of your work spaces, I’d love to see them!


0 Comments on Immersion: The Writing Process as of 6/19/2014 12:49:00 AM
Add a Comment

View Next 25 Posts