Monday, August 25, 2014

You're Special: Use it in your Writing

I know that you've heard the old adage "Write what you know," am I right? If that were really true, only serial killers would be writing thrillers and such, but it's not, so some of us have to to research and write outside out comfort zone.

However, we all have some special knowledge and experience that we can work into our fiction. It's a definite advantage to us and we can make it interesting to our readers. And, best of all it gives us a great credibility with our publishers and the public. You are unique.


So, what do you know?
Even if you haven't worked in any important or interesting field, don't think that you don't have material you can draw from. Use some time now to make a list of what experience you have and what you've learned.


  • experiences you have lived
  • places you have lived
  • friends you have made
  • hobbies
  • times in school
  • jobs you've held
  • volunteer work
  • places you've visited
  • romantic relationships
  • experiences as parent, aunt, uncle, or godparent, or grandparent
  • health background
It's important to remember to use your expertise, but don't overuse it. Don't let your expertise become overwhelming.

Always sprinkle in interesting facts that wouldn't otherwise be known to crease a sense or realism among the characters and in the setting. It will let the reader know that they are right in the middle of the author's world.


What special gifts do you offer the world?





















Copyright: dacasdo / 123RF Stock Photo


Reference by:
Your Writing Coach by Jurgen Wolff

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Writing Prompt - Do You Agree?

Here we are, it's Friday again and time for the Friday Writing  Prompt. Today we are going to go with a "Do You Agree?" prompt. Use the following "Do You Agree" prompt to stimulate those writing juices and maybe even come up with a story?

"It has often been said that 'Ignorance is bliss,' and 'What you do't know won't hurt you' ' Do you agree with these statements?' Why or why not?"

Would you agree or wouldn't you? Why or why not? Can you cite other sources that say differently?

These are the kinds of questions this prompt should stimulate and even more. Write ideas, a list of words that might come in handy with the story, maybe a list of research material you might need.

Did this prompt help you? Why or why not? Were you able to identify with a character who would think this way? Please let me know in the comments below.

Happy Writing!

Monday, August 18, 2014

10 Ways to Develop Your Unique Writing Style


When you think of "Writing Style" you consider the way the idea is presented, not really the idea, itself.

Consider this: a reader picks up a book usually because of content, but more often than not not, puts it down because of style.

1. Think About Style - According to Gary Provost, author of 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing "There is not subject that cannot be made more fascinating by a well-informed and competent writer. And there is no subject that cannot be quickly turned into a literary sleeping pill by an incompetent writer."

2. Listen to What You Write. Writing is a visual art. Provost says, "To write is to create music." So, as writers this of yourselves as composers, and think of your words as making muss. You must read aloud what you write and make sure it sounds melodic. Listen for dissonance. Listen for the beat. Listen for gaps in music. Listen for sour notes. Listen for instruments that don't blend well. As Provost says, "Its is the way in which you combine them that can make the writing succeed or fail. It's the music that matters."

3. Mimic Spoken Language.  Make your writing conversational. Of course, we're not talking about an exact duplicate of speech, oh,  no! What Provost means, is your writing must convey to the reader a sense of conversation. Don't make it an ordinary conversation, make it a good one.

4. Vary Sentence Length.  If you tried counting every sentence in every paragraph in every book all you'd end up with would be a headache. If you tried to make every sentence the same length in every paragraph what you'd end up with is a headache. Why? Because it would be boring. The sound drones on an on with no ending. Let your ear help you with this. It demands a variety, as in music, it demands a beat, a rhythm, a harmony.  Use short sentences, medium sentences, longer sentences, mix them up. Use short sentences to evoke  a sense of urgency. Longer sentences to give the reader a rest. Remember, you're not just writing words, you're writing music.

5. Vary Sentence Construction. In school, do you remember how to structure a sentence? Subject ? Verb? Object? However, ideal sentence construction can bore readers. Of course, you shouldn't go out on a limb and rearrange sentences willy-nilly with no nod to Strunk & White, That's not what I'm saying, however, keep the principle elements of the sentence dancing so they'll create they're own music.

6. Write Complete Sentences. In most cases, a complete sentence creates a complete thought. Incomplete sentences were not acceptable in grammar school. However in the writing world, they do have their place. Provost says, "Good writing often contains incomplete sentences." It's a useful tool -- when USED WISELY and SPARINGLY. As far as Provost is concerned, "...write complete sentences 99% of the time. But now and then if a partial sentence sounds right to you, that's what you should write. Period."

7. Show, Don't Tell. Usually shorter is better. However, it sometimes takes more words to show than it does to tell. That's okay. Description helps.

8. Keep Related Words Together. When you go to a grocery store, even if you've never been there before, you can find most everything you're looking for without the use of a map or customer service. Why? Because they group related items together. Do the same with words. Adjectives should be placed near the noun they describe. Adverbs should be close to the verbs they modify, and dependent clauses near the words on which they depend for meaning.

9. Use Parallel Construction. As the steady of a drum often enriches the melody, the repetition of a sound can improve the music in your writing. Placing words and sounds together by arranging sentences sentences together to show the reader similarities of information contained in sentences is called parallel construction.

10. Don't Force a Personal Style.  Similar to a new set of clothes, style is something you cannot force on a person, or your writing. As Provost says, "Style is your writing.... Do not try to write like Erma Bombeck, Hunter S. Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, or anybody else. If you fail you will look foolish, and if you succeed you will succeed only in announcing to the world that you are not very creative."

Be you instead. 


















Copyright: rtimages / 123RF Stock Photo

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Writing Prompt - Television Violence

Here we are, it's Friday again and time for the Friday Writing  Prompt. Today we are going to go with a "Television Violence" prompt. Use the following "Television Violence" prompt to stimulate those writing juices and maybe even come up with a story?

"Many people believe that television violence has a negative effect on society because it promotes violence. Do you agree or disagree? Use specific reasons and examples to support your response."


Did this prompt help you? Why or why not? Were you able come up with a response for the prompt? Do you believe or disbelieve that television violence promotes violence? Were you able to come up with specific reasons and examples?

Please let me know in the comments below.

Happy Writing!


Monday, August 11, 2014

12 Ways to Give Your Writing Special Powers

Did you ever wonder how to give your writing special powers? Well, Gary Provost, who wrote 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing, did just that.

And, lucky for you, I'm going to tell you just what those 12 special powers are and you are going to get to use them in your writing and be special too!

1. Use Short Words
Shorter words are more powerful and less pretentious. Provost says, "The fastest way to learn why you should use short words is to read anything by Ernest Hemingway. ... Hemingway was a miser when it came to syllables and words."

2. Use Dense Words
Dense words are words that crowd a lot of meaning into a small space. Provost says, "The fewer words you use to express and idea, the more impact that idea will have.... For example: Once a month is monthly; something new is novel; people they don't know are strangers; and something impossible to imagine is inconceivable.

3. Use Familiar Words
Familiar words have power. A words that your reader doesn't recognize has no power. Provost says, "if it confuses the reader and sends him or her scurrying for the dictionary, it has broken the reader's spell." Provost adds a couple of tips: "A words is unfamiliar if you never heard of it until you found it in the thesaurus or if you haven't read it at least three times in the past year."

4. Use Active Verbs
Active verbs do something. Inactive verbs are something. Provost says, "You will gain more power over readers if you change verbs of being such as is, was, and will be to verbs of motion and action."

5. Use Strong Verbs
Words are weak when they are not specific, not active, or are unnecessarily dependent on adverbs for their meaning. Action verbs, are the primary source of energy in your sentences. Provost says, "They are the executives; they should be in charge. All other parts of speech are valuable assistants, but if your verbs are weak, all the modifiers in the world won't save your story from dullness."

Choose your strong verbs wisely. Sharpen a verb's meaning by being precise. Turn look into stare, gaze, peer, peek, or gawk. Turn throw into toss, flip, or hurl. Be suspicious of adverbs. They are usually adjectives ending in -ly. Did your character nervously pace or pace? Did your character quickly wolf down her supper or wolf down her supper?

6. Use Specific Nouns
Provost says, "Good writing requires the use of strong nouns." What is a strong noun? It's one that is precise and densely packed with information. Watch for adjectives doing the work of nouns. According to Provost, "Adjectives do for nouns, what adverbs do for verbs; that is, they identify some distinctive feature."  They identify the color of the noun, the size, shape, or how fast it moved. Adjectives do great work when they're needed, however, a lazy writer drags them along too often when they're not needed. Think of it this way. Would you rather know Steven Spielberg or someone who knows Steven Spielberg?

So, before you write a noun that is modified by one or two adjectives, ask yourself if there is a noun that says the same thing. That really is Steven Spielberg. Instead of writing about a black dog maybe you want to write about a Labrador? A large house or a McMansion? Do you want to start the joke with a man just walked into a room or the priest just walked into the room?

Specific nouns have power. When you take out a general word and use a specific word, readers assume you are trying to tell them something. And you usually improve your writing. So make sure you choose the specific word that delivers the message you want delivered.

7. Use the Active Voice ... Most of the Time
Provost can't say it any better, "When a verb is in the active voice, the subject of the sentence is also the doer of the action." Am I right? or Am I right?

The active voice makes for more interesting reading. Right? Right.

The sentences are shorter.

It holds the reader closer.

It creates the ambience of "something is going to happen."

However. But. On the other hand. Yeah. You get the picture.

There are times, as Provost says, "when you need to use the passive. If the object of the action is the important thing, then you will want to emphasize it by mentioning it first. When that's the case, you will use the passive voice."

AGast! I know. I know. It's true.

We'll use Provost's example: Let's say you want to tell the reader about some strange things that happened to your car. In an active voice it would look like this:

Three strong woman turned my car upside down on Tuesday. Vandals painted my car yellow and turquoise on Wednesday. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched my car into orbit around the moon on Thursday.

The example above is not wrong, per say, but it's choppy. To give the story flow, you would use passive voice keeping emphasis on the car:

On Tuesday my car was turned upside down by three strong women. On Wednesday by car was painted yellow and turquoise by vandals. On Thursday my car was launched into orbit around the moon by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Get the gist?

8. Say Things in a Positive Way ... Most of the Time
Usually what matters is what did happen, what does exist, who is involved. So develop the habit of telling things in a positive manner. If you want your reader to experience the silence of a church at night, write it in a way so that the reader understands the effectiveness of how silent the church was in a positive manner.

Of course, sometimes the negative must be emphasized as well to get your point across. If it's past 6 pm and your wife isn't home yet, you're going to say, "Jennie isn't home yet." not "Jennie is out."

9. Be Specific
Specifics is always better than generics. Provost says it this way, "A specific word or phrase is usually better than a general one."

He has a little exercise for you.
Picture a box.
Now picture a black box.
Now picture a black box with shiny silver hinges.
You can see this box more clearly as it becomes more specific. Right?

Of course, I could go on and on about this small black box with shiny silver hinges on one end and an inlaid marble top which has a crimson heart painted on it with the most darling cupids dancing around the heart, and on and on, but by then you'd be bored out of your mind. Right? Right.

So, the point I'm trying to make is be specific, but not wordy.

My son James is having difficulty with two subject.
Not specific.

My son James is flunking math and science.
Specific.

10. Use Statistics
According to Provost, "A few placed statistics will establish your credibility. If they are accurate and comprehensible, they will show the reader that you have done your homework and know what you are talking about."

However, too many statistics can number your reader's brain and their ability to draw meaning from them. Provost says it very well, "Statistics should be sprinkled like pepper, not smeared like butter."

11. Provide Facts
Use facts to give the reader the opportunity to draw their own conclusions. It gives your writing a stronger impact.

12. Put Emphatic Words at the End
What are emphatic words? Why those are words you want your reader to pay special attention to, of course!

They are the words that have the information you most want to communicate to the reader. As a writer, you can get extra attention from your reader, by placing these words at the end. Provost explains that this is a lesson best learned by ear, "Listen to how the impact of the sentence moves to whatever information happens to be at the end."

I come to buy Caesar, not to praise him.
I come not to praise Caesar, but to bury him.

Ask what you can do for America, not what America can do for you.
Ask not what America can do for you, ask what you can do for America.


Did you learn some new special powers for your writing? Are you going to apply them and begin improving your writing today?












Copyright: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo

Friday, August 8, 2014

Friday Writing Prompt - What If

Here we are, it's Friday again and time for the Friday Writing  Prompt. Today we are going to go with a "what if" prompt. Use the following "what if" prompt to stimulate those writing juices and maybe even come up with a story?

"What if you opened a fortune cookie and found a tiny map inside?"

What would you do? What kind of map is it? Where does it lead? Is your character going to follow the map?

These are the kinds of questions this prompt should stimulate and even more. Write ideas, a list of words that might come in handy with the story, maybe a list of research material you might need.

Did this prompt help you? Why or why not? Were you able to imagine a character opening the cookie and finding the map? Did you want to send your character on an adventure? Please let me know in the comments below.

Happy Writing!


Monday, August 4, 2014

Tips for Breaking down Writer's Block

We've all been there at one point or another in our writing career. We stare at the blank page, we pace, we (argh!) do housework or chores!!

So, what does writer's block mean, anyway?

Well, for some authors it could mean that it's time to give the writing a rest and let the muse take a break.

For other authors, it means you're pretty darn stuck on something and you can't figure it out. Maybe the plot is going nowhere, you can't get your characters to talk to each other or to you, or maybe they've up and left the story.

Maybe you're just waiting for inspiration to strike. Well, keep waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Writing is hard work. Really hard work, and if you think it's going to come easy to you, like a magic voice whispering the words to the next best seller in your ear, wake up. You're dreaming.  According to James V. Smith, Jr who wrote The Writer's Little Helper, "Creativity doesn't strike sparks in you like a bolt from the ionosphere. You can't expect much from wandering around idyllic settings waiting for an inspiration."

Every author is going to encounter some sort of challenge while they're writing. That's a given.

Joseph Heller said, "Every writer I know has trouble writing."

Well, Mr. Heller, you got that right. Listen to Mr. Smith who says it succinctly, "..writing does not occur by thinking about it. Writing only happens when you do it, so plant your butt in a chair and get busy."

So, how do we get past the block and get back to writing? What a great question. You, in the back, you get an extra credit for your effort.

You can go out on Amazon.com and buy all the books you can find about Writer's Block. That should take up an afternoon and use up about $100.00 on your credit card. But, it's not getting you any closer to getting over your Writer's Block.

You want answers now. Right now.  Well, here you are, tips for breaking down Writer's Block:

Copy Something. Yep, that's what I said. Find some passages that you like to read, and sit down and start typing them out on your screen or writing them on a piece of paper. Do you notice anything? Did you think the author could have structured that sentence more clearly? Could they have used another word to describe what the character was doing? Now, write it as if you were the author. Let your imagination go and change whatever you want.  Maybe you'll read along as you write and say, "Hey, the author had a great idea here, putting these thoughts into words." Maybe you'll learn something you didn't know and it'll spark something in your writing.

Write in a Journal. Put all the bits of dialogue, prose, narrative, and whatnot in your journal. Jot down conversations you overhear. Great pieces of inspiration that come to you in the middle of the night. Use your journal to take notes on a new activity or task you're learning. You never know when a character might need to know how to do something similar. Then, when you ever come to a point where you experience some kind of writer's block, you have a mine of ideas to forage through. I know, I ended that sentence with a preposition. So sue me. But, read this closely: Every idea you write down is going to spark another idea and then another. Develop that idea. Play with it. Work with it. That's how you get back to writing.

Talk About What You're Writing. Tell everyone you know you're writing a story. Tell people the subject and theme. People will want to talk to you about your story or something similar they read or heard about when they were listening to the radio or watching television. A quote or even a lead is something to go with and get back to writing.

Exercise Your Body and Your Brain. Your brain needs oxygen. Give it some. Get that body moving. If you're sitting in your desk chair, get up, do some toe touches or go for walk. Get that cardio up. Now it's time to work that brain. Do some writing exercises. Google "writing exercises" and I'm sure you'll be inundated with pages. If you're still droopy and tired, maybe you need a nap?

Organize or Re-organize Your Research Material. If you're desk looks anything like mine, you'll thank me for this tip. Some writers can be a little "too" organized, and how do you ever find anything anyway? But, that's another story. Let's do a bit or re-organization so we can actually find what we're looking for or start organizing so we can find things a little faster. Organize is whatever logical way seems right to you. Only you need to know your system, right?

Make Lists. Oh, wow. You thought you were done with lists, right? Not. Some writers are pantsers and some are outliners. (Pantsers are those writers who don't use an outline, they just start writing. The story is all in their head.) But, I digress just a bit. Think about what you want to include in your story. Use key words and write down - in list format - all the elements you want to cover in your story. Maybe you have some questions. Add them to the list.

Picture Your Reader. Do you even know who your reader is? What they like to read, and why? If you don't have a reader for your story, who is going to want to read your story? So, figure out whom you are trying to reach. Describe your reader. Imagine your reader is in your office. Ask your reader questions. What do they do for fun? for work? What would make this story important to him/her? What is your reader's education background? Are you using words too big for them to understand or too small and your reader feels as if you are talking down to him/her?

Ask Yourself One Question. Why are you writing? Do you have goals? What emotion are you trying to get out of your reader? Do you have a purpose for your story? If so, what is it?

Here it is, my last quote to inspire you:

"I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her."
 -- Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Now, get writing. If you have other tips for breaking through writer's block, please add them to the comments below. I'd love to know what you do to get back to writing.









References:
The Writer's Block by Jason Rekulak
The Writer's Little Helper by James V. Smith, Jr.
100 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Gary Provost


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