Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Spiritual Discovery

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about Spiritual Discovery. Write about that moment the lights came on. Do you think life can be more or less of a struggle once you discover your true spirit? Do you believe you have to fight to maintain your new sense of awareness? Why or why not?

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Were you able to find and write about that moment you became self aware of your true spirit? Did you have to fight to maintain this new awareness? Did life become more of a struggle?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Writing Tips - Common Plot Problems & Cures

Diagnosing plot issues in your manuscript can be daunting. What are the problems? Where to find them? How to fix them? All valid questions. Enter the book, Plot & Structure - Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish by James Scott Bell.

According to Scott, "The Truth is that craft can be taught and that you, with diligence and practice and patience, can improve your writing."

Scott gives six suggestions for becoming your own plotting coach:

1. Get Motivated.
2. Try Stuff.
3. Stay Loose.
4. "First get it write, then get it right."
5. Set a Quota.
6. Don't Give Up.

So, delving into Scott's book, we discover a chapter on Common Plot Problems and Cures. What a great break!

PLOT PROBLEM: Scenes Fall Flat

CURE: Make sure your scenes have tension. Tension can be from action or you can use inner tension by having the characters worried. Always have an undercurrent of tension in every scene. Even the calm ones. Something should always be about to happen.

PLOT PROBLEM: Mishandling Flashbacks

CURE: Is a flashback scene absolutely necessary? Always ask yourself that question. "A flashback is almost always used to explain why a character acts a certain way in the story present."says Scott. If you can use tidbits of that information and drop them in the present scene, it's always much better. Never use flashback scenes as information dumps. Make sure they work as a scene.

You can use flashback scene alternatives such as black flashes, as Scott calls them. He goes on to say, "These are short bursts in which you drop information about the past within a present moment scene. The two primary methods are dialogue and thoughts."


A tangent is getting sidetracked from your original plot with an idea or scene that comes to mind. What do you do with these extra scenes?

CURE: You can follow them to see where they lead. Let them flow naturally from your mind to your fingertips as you record. You might end up with a new plot twist for your novel. However, if after finishing the new scene, you don't see if fitting in your plot, keep it. You might be able to use it later or as fodder for another novel.

PLOT PROBLEM: Resisting the Character for the Sake of the Plot
Have you ever heard a writer say, "my characters took over the story"? It happens.

CURE: Do a thorough character background check on your characters. Know their likes, dislikes, dreams and what drives them to do what they do. Know how they'll react depending on a situation. Let your character tell you their story. Keep thorough notes on each character's story. Use them in your writing. You'll have deeper understanding of your character and your reader will really get to know how and why your character acts they way they do.

As you write your novel, have you ever gotten to the point where the words won't come? You feel like your story is dull? You don't know what to write next? It happens. But there's a cure for that.

CURE: Go back into your story. Look for any place that might seem dull or doesn't get to the point. Keep going back until you find that point in your story where you felt good about writing it. Then, look at all the other material and see if you can rewrite it. Maybe change a character's motivation. Change the scene. Strengthen the dialogue. Scott also suggests doing a "180". It's possible your plot needs to go in the opposite direction. Try it, it might work.

What happens if you can't find anymore words to write? Your imagination has shut down. It happens to a lot of writers. Here's what Scott suggests to do:

CURE: Recharge your battery. Take a day off. Come back refreshed and full of exciting new ideas. Or you can relive your scenes. Try to imagine yourself as your characters. Live their life. Check out your scene endings. Do they make the reader want to read on? Scott suggests the following places to stop a scene:
1. At the moment a major decision is to be made.
2. Just as a terrible thing happens.
3. With a portent of something bad about to happen.
4. With a strong display of emotion.
5. Raising a question that has not immediate answer.

Lastly, Scott suggests recapturing your vision. What does it mean to you to be a writer? What are you writing for? Turn your words into a mission statement that you can read from time to time. Inspire yourself. As Scott says, "If you stay true to your own awe, your books cannot help being charged with meaning. That's not just a great way to write. It's a great way to live."

Was this information helpful for you as a writer? Did you learn something new to help kickstart your plot?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Accountability

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about Accountability. Do you hold yourself accountable as a writer? Is ignoring an injustice equal to encouraging the behavior or event? Today, hold yourself accountable as a writer and speak out against something that has been ignored for minutes or even decades.

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Were you able to find and write about being accountable? Were you able to find a topic to write about that had been ignored? Did you find some injustice to write about?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Writing Tips - Finding the Time & Commitment to Write

 Ideas flow like water. Some of us catch them with a cup, others with a sieve.

Hey I like that. I'll have to write that one down.

Anyway, back to discussing finding time to write and sticking to it.

A writer friend I know said that we all have a story inside of us. Those of us who are writers find a way to bring that story out. Many brand new writers fight against all kinds of obstacles (i.e., responsibilities.) Job. Home. Children. Life. Our inner critic. We can't avoid them. Not many of us are fortunate enough to be independently wealthy and can devote our entire time to writing. 

Our inner critic takes on all kinds of roles. It's that voice in our head that says the laundry needs to be folded before you write. It insists you dust the knick-knacks in the living room before you write. It whispers in your ear that your favorite tv show is on and you can't miss it. It also nags you about your writing dreams and cajoles you into thinking you'll never make it.

Fight that inner critic, but don't gag its voice for good. You'll need it when it starts whispering to you in the middle of the night about a plot twist. You'll want to hear it tell you about the weak character build up in chapter three.

Learn to choose what you want to listen to and then you'll find time to write and a desire to stay with your ideas.

Before you know it you'll have your first draft done and you'll enjoy a satisfaction like no other. You wrote a novel. You started it, stuck with it, and finished it.

Every writer needs time to find a routine that works for her. For some they wake early and put in a thousand words before work. Others stay up late and work into the early hours. I know writers who take a notebook or laptop to work and add to their manuscript during breaks and on their lunch time.

No one writer has the perfect recipe for success that fits every writers' needs. However, we all have one major desire in common -- the desire to write.

Here are some suggestions to help you catch those ideas rather than letting them flow away.

1. Keep a notebook beside your bed so you can jot down ideas as they come to you in the middle of the night.

2. Make it a habit to carry a small notebook and pen with you or your personal data assistant or handheld computer at all times.

3. Start a writing routine. Start small at first. For the first week try and find ten minutes every day to write. The next week add five more minutes, the next week add five more. Keep going until you settle into a routine that works best for you.

4. Join a writing group either online or in your city for support. There's nothing like getting encouragement from another writer. Writers are born cheerleaders. They'll help you figure out ways to stifle that inner critic when necessary.

5. Don't give up and keep writing. If you feel yourself losing steam, find creative ways to recharge yourself. Sometimes, it helps to read other authors. Seeing how they’ve crafted a story stimulates you to write again.

If you falter, start again. It may take years to complete your first novel. That's okay. Anyone who says writing a novel is a piece of cake, they're lying. I've heard writers liken writing a novel to giving birth. I'm not sure if it's literally that painful, but it comes darn close!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Nobility

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about Nobility. Write about the noble traits that are so often ignored with roles. Do the terms dignified, distinguished, virtuous, majestic, aristocratic, honest, illustrious, and so on - make you think of a man or woman - or both? How often do you use certain words to describe the character of men and women? When you write, try to describe a glorious woman. Can you use words such as distinguished and dignified to describe a noble woman appropriately?

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Were you able to find and write about a noble woman using words like distinguished and dignified? Did you challenge your beliefs about what words describe male and female characters? Did you discover noble traits often ignored?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Writing Tips - The First Five Pages

Every writer should own a copy of literary agent, Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages. If you've ever been rejected for any type of writing project, this book is for you.

As the subtitle states, it's a "Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile."

I've read this book. It is small but filled with so much information about how to make your manuscript the best it can be. Lukeman gives examples and writing exercises to help you learn. He knows what he's talking about. As a literary agent he sees messed-up manuscripts every day. He knows what it takes to make a manuscript acceptable.

If I were you, I'd follow his advice.

I couldn't possibly cover every single item from his book in this post, but I can give you an overview and pick out one or two points that will show you how to improve your manuscript.

From Noah Lukeman's Introduction: "There are no rules to assure great writing, but there are ways to avoid bad writing. This, simply, is the focus of this book: to learn how to identify and avoid bad writing. We all fall prey to it, to different degrees, even the greatest writers, even in the midst of their greatest works. by scrutinizing the following examples of what not to do, you will learn to spot those ailments in your own writing; by working with the solutions and exercises, you may, over time, bridge the gap and come to the realization of what to do. There is no guarantee that you will come to this realization, but if you do, at least it will be your own. Because ultimately, the only person who can teach you about writing is yourself."

Most importantly, you need to get your manuscript noticed. It's probably been sitting on an agent's desk for months waiting for some intern or editorial assistant to read it. The agent won't even see it unless your manuscript makes it past the intern. Like it or not, the intern will be reading your manuscript with an eye to find fault so he can get through it as quickly as possible and move on to the next one.

Here are a few things you can do to help better position your manuscript on the agent's desk:

1. Devote extensive time to research. The number one reason the aspiring writer gets rejected is because he has approached an agent or editor inappropriate for his work.

2. Let an agent or editor know why you're contacting him specifically. Use your advance research and be specific. A better way of catching an agent's eye is to tell him off the bat that you noticed he agented a specific title and that your manuscript is similar.

3. Approach agents and editors with care. Know their requirements for submission. If you are submitting to an editor that only takes agented submissions, be aware and submit to an agent first. The best submission is a one-page query letter with a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE). Agents and editors are more likely to open smaller envelopes than larger ones because they know the larger ones contain manuscripts that require time to read. Time they don't have.

According to Lukeman, "...the quickest and easiest way to reject a manuscript is to look for the overuse, or misuse, of adjectives and adverbs."

Lukeman gives us six reasons why manuscripts stuffed with adjectives and adverbs won't work:

1. More is less. When a string of adjectives or adverbs is used, they detract from each other.

2. It can be demeaning to the reader when the writer fills in every last detail for him. It assumes he has no imagination of his own.

3. It is often preferable to leave things blank and force the reader to use his imagination - that way he makes the text his own, becomes more fully engaged in the manuscript. He won't set it down if it's his.

4. Writers who overuse adjectives and adverbs tend to use common ones -- usually ones they've heard used in the same context before -- and the hackneyed result is immediately apparent.

5. Adjectives and adverbs often, ironically,'weaken their subjects.

6. Finally, the overall effect of a text encumbered with adjectives, adverbs and the inevitable commas in between makes for very slow, awkward reading.

Noah Lukeman continually stresses the craft of writing, because ultimately it comes down to this one question. Ask yourself if you knew you'd never be published would you still write? If the answer is "yes", then you are truly writing for the art of it.

If you want to be a writer. Be a writer. Don't let anything get in your way.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Self-Ownership

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about Self-Ownership. How does owning yourself affect your writing? Does the ability to examine and take ownership of your actions and thoughts make you a better person? A better writer? As you write, forget about the need for external validation from the world and own your beliefs.

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Were you able to find and write about your own ability to forget about the need for external validation from the world and own your beliefs?  Did you figure out if taking responsibility for your actions and thoughts made you a better writer?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Writing Tips - Fortune Cookie Writing Wisdom

I opened a fortune cookie recently and it was truly meant to be. The message was for writers.

It read "Four basic premises of writing: clarity, brevity, simplicity, and humanity." 

How much more succinct can you get than that?

Let's take this little lesson and expand it a bit, okay?

Author after author has spouted something similar to this quote at one time or another.

Why don't we break the quote down and find our pearls of wisdom about writing.

George Orwell said, "Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an every day English equivalent."

Annie Proulx said, "Rewrite and edit until you achieve the most felicitous phrase/sentence/paragraph/page/story/chapter."

Anton Chekhov said, "Don't tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass."

Ina Yalof said, "Be sure to use a reasonable balance of dialogue and narrative."

Strunk & White in their 11 Composition Principles state, "Omit needless words."

George Orwell said, "Never use a long word where a short one will do."

Elmore Leonard said, "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."

Stephen King said, "Description begins in the writer's imagination , but should finish in the reader's."

Elmore Leonard said, "Avoid detailed descriptions of characters."

Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd said, "Use words wantonly and you disappear before your own eyes. Use them well and you create yourself."

C.S. Lewis said, "Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very,' otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite."

Stephen King said, "I think locale and texture are much more important to the reader's sense of actually being in the story than any physical description of the players. Nor do I think that physical description should be a shortcut to character. So, spare me, if you please, the hero's sharply intelligent blue eyes and outthrust determined chin; likewise the heroine's arrogant cheekbones. This sort of thing is bad technique and lazy writing, the equivalent of all those tiresome adverbs."

P.D. James said, "Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other people. Nothing that happens to a writer -- however happy, however tragic -- is ever wasted."

Neil Gaiman said, ""The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best as you can."

Anne Sullivan Macy said, "Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose ... not the one you began with perhaps, but one you'll be glad to remember."

Desiderious Erasmus said, "The desire to write grows with writing."

William Sansom said, "A writer lives, at best, in a state of astonishment. Beneath any feeling he has of the good or the evil of the world lies a deeper one of wonder at it all. To transmit that feeling, he writes."

There you have it. Fortune Cookie Writing Wisdom. Do you know of any quotes or have one of your own that would belong here?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Stress

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about Stress. Write about all the persons, things, and events that put pressure on you. Create a written plan to help you deal with the struggles that may impede your creativity. Be strong and relax at that same time -- let others know of your priority with writing. Work through some of the self-inflicted trains you have in your life that are related to guilt.

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Were you able to find and write about your own ability to deal with stresses in your life that impede your creativity?  

Why or Why Not?