Tag Archives: Creative Writing

Tempt Failure

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If you want to succeed, tempt failure. It sounds like an oxymoron, but it isn’t. What it really means is that chucking it all, and trying something different may end up being your key ingredient to success.

How to Tempt Failure

Tempt failure by doing what you are terrified of doing. Take a risk. It may not pay off … but it just might.

It reminds me so much of all the people who stay in safe jobs, and absolutely hate what they do. I started my adult life as a secretary – not because that’s what I wanted to do. I actually wanted to go to University, but since there wasn’t enough money for that, my parents signed me up for secretarial school. I loved the people – I hated the job. But when we immigrated to Canada it got me a job that helped pay the bills. During those office years, I met so many people who complained endlessly about how they hated their jobs, but never took any steps to do something about it.

I did. I chucked it all up one day thanks to a very good school friend of mine who made me cry. She told me  – “what are you doing in such a dead-end job? You had so much potential. Go and find yourself.” When I got back home to Montreal, I marched in to my boss’ office and quit. I said I was going back to school to get a degree in journalism. The problem was I hadn’t actually applied! Thank god, I got in!

Years later, I decided to start my new life as a creative writing coach. I was terrified. What would happen if no one signed up? I’m in my fourth year now, and I can truthfully say I have a great gang of writers, and love what I do.

Tempt failure? You betcha.

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Point of View

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The correct point of view (pov) can make or break your novel. The reader wants to be drawn in and feel like they’re part of the story, and this happens through point of view.

New writers often believe that the omniscient point of view is the one they should write in. That way, the reader can know everything that is happening in the story. Makes sense, doesn’t it? At first glance, it does. Omniscient point of view does have its place, and works very well for certain types of story, but it takes a seasoned writer to do a masterful job of this pov.

Party Stories

When you’re at a party, or meeting a friend, and you tell a story – think about what you do and say. Chances are you’re going to be using first person (I) and, if you’re like me, gesturing a lot and getting extremely animated. Using first person, allows you to bring in this personal aspect into the storytelling. It does force you to tell the story only from that person’s viewpoint, but there are ways around that too.

Chances also are that the person who’s telling the story is also the most important person in the story – otherwise, why is he telling the story? He’s the only one who knows the story intimately and that’s the beauty of this pov – that intimacy will shine through. We are in that person’s world, feeling what he feels, doing what he does, and being crushed when he is. It’s probably the easiest pov to write as well, since we can immerse ourselves into the character’s emotions and thoughts.

Third person point of view works too. Although it does not have the immediacy of first person, it is the pov that works for most novels. It also allows you to use other characters’ voices in the story. Definitely not as limiting as first person, but it’s a good idea to limit your pov’s to two or three people or you’ll end up getting as confused as your reader will be.

What pov do you like to write in?

You might also like these posts from Writer’s Digest:

Breaking Down a Scene

Your story is made up of multiple scenes. It’s what moves your plot along and takes your character to his/her goal.

Every scene can be broken down into five parts:

1) Point of View Character

If you are writing from a first-person POV – then you have no problem figuring out who your POV character for the scene is. If not, think of which person has the most at stake, emotionally – and bingo, that’s the person whose POV you should write the scene in.

2) Goal

What is the goal that the POV character is pursuing in this scene? It can’t be something vague like ‘oh, he’s going to rescue the girl’. He needs to be more concrete like ‘he’s going to choke her whereabouts out of the villain, after which he will pound them to a pulp’, then go rescue the damsel in distress.

Your goal must be clear, possible and important to the character

3) Conflict

Every scene must have conflict. That doesn’t mean there has to be a fight between characters. All it means is that the other person must have specific goals as well, and they should be at odds with the pov character. We don’t need to know what the other person’s goals are at that time. They just need to be pursuing another agenda.

One of the characters in the scene will achieve his/her objective or goal, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the protagonist’s.

4) Setback/Disaster

As I said above, one of the conflict characters will achieve their goal (hopefully not the protoganist because then your story is limited). The protagonist can have some questions answered, some small goal achieved, but always foiled in some way until the end.

5) Scene End

End your scene on a bit of a cliff hanger. Hopefully, not only has your heroine not achieved her goal, but has made her life worse – and your story more interesting.

You might also like this post from Writer’s Digest:

Scene Sequels

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Scene sequels are what happens after a particular scene ends.  If you’ve done your scene right and ended on a cliff-hanger, then you need sort of take a breather and forge some kind of emotional connection. In other words, make your reader care about what’s happening to your character right after you leave him hanging on the ledge.

A scene sequel does three things:

1) Gives your POV character a chance to react emotionally to whatever has happened

2) Gives him/her the opportunity to figure out how to proceed as he/she is (if you’ve done your scene correctly) in a bit of a bind – which is good. It makes your reader worry whether he/she will make the right choice

3) Sets up the next scene by making a decision one way or another

In order to write a scene sequel correctly, you have to also make sure it unfolds in the right order, because that’s the way a normal person reacts. We think emotionally, then stop to reason, consider all our options, and then carry out whatever we decide. Your character is human too (well, if he’s not, then you may be able to change this sequence of events).

1) Your character must react emotionally i.e. cry, beat his breast, chop someone’s head off!

2) Stop and review the facts – this doesn’t mean logically like Spock. It just means he tries to figure out what’s going on

3) Figure out different scenarios as in – ‘what if I did this’ or ‘what if I did that’

4) Make a decision

Think about your character discussing some terrible ordeal she’s just been through with a best friend, or perhaps praying out loud in church – going through the steps of what happened, and then coming to some kind of decision as to how to proceed. That, my friend, is a scene sequel.

Each of these steps don’t need to have the same weight each time. Maybe some times, the character is heavy on emotion, other times it’s trying to anticipate what sort of action she has to take. The only thing to remember is that these steps need to be covered.

Story Craft

Is there such a thing as story craft? You betcha. Doctors learn to diagnose and treat patients, lawyers master the rules of law, plumbers plumb and scientists tap the secrets of the universe. So why is it so difficult for aspiring writers to believe they should learn how to craft a story?

Writing is Writing is Writing

No, it’s not. There are many different kinds of writing forms, and just because you can write an essay or a technical document does not mean you know how to craft a story. When I was a reporter/journalist/freelance writer, my world revolved around making sure I had the facts down correctly. One of the first things we learned was the upside down pyramid where you cram in all the most interesting information about the subject you are reporting on. That’s because chances are the reader may never get beyond the headline and the first paragraph.

While you do use a similar technique in crafting a story, you only give away enough to hook the reader and reel them in.

Crafting a story means exposing yourself by allowing your imagination to run free. And that can cause embarrassment, humiliation, and open yourself up to ridicule. But it can also allow you to create an incredible world with characters that are so interesting, they fly off the page and become real. As Jim Butcher of The Dresden Files says “Writing is the original virtual reality.”

The Novelist’s Toolbox for Story Craft

1. It all begins with a workable idea. Ideas are cheap, and are everywhere. But your idea is just an extremely flimsy skeleton. The hard work is figuring out whether you have enough meat in that idea to cover those bones.

2. Structure and technique are necessary constructs that a novel must possess in order for the reader to not be confused about what’s happening. This includes choosing a point of view and deciding where to begin your novel. In media res which means ‘in the middle of action’ is the best way to begin. Capture and hook your reader.

3. Creating a plot (and sub-plots) that is cohesive, exciting and full of conflict for the protagonist. Throwing in a few red herrings helps, if you can carry it off. But most importantly, learning how to manipulate your reader’s emotions so he/she cares about the protagonist is one of the tenets of story craft. If you can get the reader to care, he/she will have no choice but to continue reading

4. Learn how to write engaging dialogue that furthers the plot, and has a specific purpose. Story dialogue, as I’m sure we all know by now, is not conversation. It should sound like a well-honed conversation, but devoid of all the ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and inane bits that conversation usually is jammed with. Dialogue is always there for a reason. Read it out loud so that you can ensure that it sounds realistic.

5. Think about a baseball player. They make it seem so easy to catch a flyball, or wham a home run. But that comes after hours upon hours of practice. Write, write and re-write until your story reads like it was so easy to write.

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Writing out of Sequence

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Does it matter if you are writing out of sequence? Not starting your novel at the beginning, progressing through the middle and finally to the conclusion? Do you jump around and write the scenes that excite and titillate you, make you feel alive and then try and rope the scenes together to make sense?

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not necessarily a good thing.

Advantages to Writing out of Sequence

Crafting those crucial scene allows you to capture your characters’ thoughts and emotions and allows your own thoughts and emotions to flow. When they do -hey, there’s no better time to hit those keys.

Allows you to stay energized and get the best parts of your story down. Why wait, when you can write? Go for it. It can help your story take shape, and/or set it on a path you didn’t think of before.

Skipping ahead allows you to fight writer’s block. Perhaps one character’s needs and actions are clearer than another’s.

Disadvantages to Writing out of Sequence

It makes it difficult to know where to slot your already-written scene in. The scene stands out like a giant thumb, and can drive you crazy trying to figure out how and where to stuff it into your novel.

If you have written all the juicy scenes, it can sap the strength out of your writing. Leaving only transitional scenes to write can be boring, and taxing.

It can be risky. You might not know what to do with the scene once it’s written – it may not fit into your overall plot.

If you are a pantser, this might hinder you since you don’t necessarily know where your plot is heading to.

How do you write – in sequence, or out of?

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you from Writer’s Digest:

Instinctive Writing

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Instinctive writing is like breathing. You do it naturally. If you pretend you are Robertson Davies (who I loathe) and try to write in his literary style (I call it dull and boring) you will fail. Similarly, if you mimic the high fantasy style of Georges R. R. Martin, you are dooming yourself to failure. That’s because you are not using your instinctual way of writing.

Talk to Your Readers

When I started this latest novel, I wanted to write high fantasy. It’s not an instinctive way of writing for me. And what I found was, while the nub of the story was exactly what I wanted – the style sucked … big time. I was copying someone else’s style, and of course, it didn”t work. Only when I used my instinctive style (which is more conversational, and in the contemporary/urban genre) did my story start to pop, and work.

Can Instinctive Writing be Taught?

Yes, I think so. If a writer is struggling and his/her prose sounds stilted – STOP writing immediately. Get a recorder, or your phone and tape what you want to say. Better still, tape yourself telling someone else your story. Chances are the words will flow because you’re allowing your instinctual self to take over. Not thinking about words, and phrases, and sentences – just the story. You can fix the flow later. What you want is the raw emotion and power that flows out of you.

I’ve said this so often I’m sick of hearing it from myself – but, GO WITH YOUR GUT. If you feel a character must say or do something even though it’s not in your plot outline – go with it.

Write the Clichés

Sounds like crazy advice, but this is your first draft and if the cliches allow you to show what your character feels or does – go with it. You can fix up the clichés later.

Stop Line Editing

You can do this later. Instinctive Writing means go with the flow. No over-analyzing and over-thinking. Let your gut take over.

 

 

Cliches and How to Ditch Them

Cliches creep into your writing without you noticing them. I just started the first draft of a new novel, and discovered that not only was the working title a cliche – the entire piece I’d written was full of them. I counted perhaps four in the first chapter alone. Shocking, but it’s a first draft so who cares? The purpose of a first draft is to get your story down. Finessing comes later.

Once I noticed the amount of cliches, I started to look for them in my student’s work and discovered something noteworthy. You can often ditch cliches and your sentence not only works fine, it sounds better and the meaning comes through even stronger.

You can find any amount of cliche examples if you troll the internet, but here I’ve chosen some examples from work I’ve edited and critiqued. Once these writers realized their attraction to cliches, they ditched them and came up with novel ways of re-arranging their sentences and pumping up the originality

Examples of cliches (with apologies to my students)

He sucked in his breath
Blood rushed to his face
With a deep breath
Chalking it up
Caught in the crosshairs
Blood pounding in her head
Whipped around the corner
Stifling a cry
Heart jumped in her throat
Time stood still
Sweat rolled down my neck
Chin trembled
Breath bursting from puffed cheeks
Chill ran down her spine
The hair on her arm stood up

The problem with cliches is not that the words used are inappropriate – sometimes they can be just the wording you need. The problem is they have become trite through over-use, and it gives the impression that the writer is lazy and un-original.

Once you clue in to your cliched writing, you will discover that it’s quite easy to come up with new ways to say the same thing. Don’t believe me? Try it, and find out.

Aspiring Author Advice from Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher is author of one of my favorite fantasy series: The Dresden Files. He’s also pretty inspiring when he rants. Aspiring authors – read on for great advice I pinched off his Live Journal blog.

The Most Important Thing an Aspiring Author Needs to Know

I’ve been giving a lot of advice on technique in this journal, an introduction to the craft and science aspects of writing a solid story. Now I’m going to briefly venture off into new territory. I thought I’d start by telling you the most important thing you need to know if you want to be a professional author: TANFL.

There Ain’t No Free Lunch.

Nothing worth doing is easy. Nothing worth having comes free. That’s as true in life as it is in your prospective writing career, but I think it’s important enough that it needs to be said.

Writing is a LOT of work. Breaking into the industry is a torment worthy of the fifth or sixth circle of Hell. Face that. Expect it. Deal with it. It’s going to be difficult.

It’s difficult from the get go: you’ve got to work your tail off and give yourself carpal tunnel just to make it to the front of the rope-line outside Club Author. There’s no guarantee that you’ll ever get in. There probably aren’t going to be very many people who are actively supporting your efforts. You’ll probably have more than one person say or do something that crushes your heart like an empty Coke can. You’ll probably, at some point, want to quit rather than keep facing that uncertainty

In fact, the vast majority of aspiring authors (somewhere over 99 percent) self-terminate their dream. They quit. Think about this for a minute, because it’s important:

THEY KILL THEIR OWN DREAM.

And a lot of you who read this are going to do it too. Doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It’s just human nature. It takes a lot of motivation to make yourself keep going when it feels like no one wants to read your stuff, no one will ever want to read your stuff, and you’ve wasted your time creating all this stuff. That feeling of hopelessness is part of the process. Practically everyone gets it at one time or another. Most can’t handle it.

But here’s the secret:

YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE IN THE WORLD WHO CAN KILL YOUR DREAM. *NO ONE* can make you quit. *NO ONE* can take your dream away.

No one but you.

If you want it, you have to get it. You. An author can’t help you. An editor can’t help you. An agent can’t help you. If you want to climb that hill, the only way to do it is to make yourself do it, one foot in front of another, one word after another. It will probably be the greatest challenge most of you have ever faced.

And here’s the kicker: THAT IS A VERY GOOD THING.

If you stay the course and break in, you are going to acquire a ton of absolutely necessary skills. You have to learn to motivate yourself to write even when you don’t feel like it: Discipline. You’re going to have to learn the ropes of the business, and how to work with an editor: Professionalism. You’re going to face what might be years of adversity, facing a monumentally difficult task and you’re going to overcome it: Confidence. You’re going to do it with very little active support, and when you look back at this time in the future, you’re going to know that it was something YOU did all by yourself: Strength.

TANFL, guys.

Breaking into the business is a daunting challenge. But you aren’t going to BEAT that challenge. You’re going to transcend it. The very nature of the adversity is going to give you the strength and skill you need to overcome and succeed.

You want in? Here’s what you do:

1) Make up your mind that you are going to protect your own dream. If you’ve got its back, your dream is invincible.

2) Cultivate patience. Prepare for the long haul. Building your skills to a professional level can take years. So can building your professional character.

3) Put your Butt In the Chair and start writing. Period. No excuses. There is no substitute for BIC time. It’s part of the price you pay.

4) When you get done with a word, write another word.

5) Repeat steps 4 and 5 until your dream comes true.

Secret number 2– THE PAIN IS WORTH IT. If it had taken me TWENTY years instead of nine, IT STILL WOULD BE WORTH IT.

Cause here’s what you get: ding.

When it’s all done and you’re holding your first novel in your hand, you’re going to look back at your breaking-in period and wonder what all the drama was about. All the things that wrenched you inside out during the torment will suddenly seem small and unimportant. Know why? Because much like Scott Pilgrim, you have leveled up. Ding.

You’re going to look back at that time with pride, having overcome seemingly impossible odds against succeeding. You’re going to look at upcoming challenges as if they were a bottle of champagne to be savored and then gleefully smashed.

The true reward of breaking into the industry against all the odds isn’t money. It isn’t fame. It it isn’t respect.

It’s you.

It’s confidence. It’s satisfaction. It’s well-deserved pride. Suddenly, the other challenges in your life are going to dwindle as well, because you know you’ll be able to handle them.

TANFL.

Ding, baby. Ding.

Go write.

 

Plotters and Pantsers

Credit: Ann Again

Plotters and pantsers is a literary phrase often used by writers.

I confess I’m a pantser. I’ve tried hard to plot. In fact, right now I’m in the midst of an excellent book on writing called The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. And everything he says makes absolute sense … except for the fact that I find it overwhelming. He’s fantastic; he gives you examples for everything he talks about … but nevertheless, if I was to follow everything he mentions I would go raving mad and totally incapable of writing a single word.

Jim Butcher, author of The Dresden Files (which I love – please God, let him finish the damn books) has a whole series of articles on writing a novel. He breaks down the craft into more manageable nuggets which I will paraphrase and share in forthcoming posts – sometimes teaching someone else something helps to drill it into your own brain. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.

The final person who I’ve looked to for help is Chuck Wendig whose maniacal posts are not just a hoot to read; they actually do help you to understand some of the ways you can improve your writing skills.

But the bottom line is when you are writing your first draft, it’s just too difficult to think of breaking everything down and plotting your story with a mind to symbolism, theme, moral argument, beliefs and values, desire, drive … yikes! I’m already getting a headache.

I think that all comes after you’ve got the essentials of your story down. I start with an idea, and that idea changes many times before I’ve got it down pat. Once the characters have some kind of personality, I let them do the talking, and let them suck me into their world and tell me what they’re doing and what the plot is; what they have to overcome and how they plan to do it. That, to me, is what pantsers do (so called because they fly by the seat of their pants).

Plotters of course plot everything out before they write – and that’s a good thing if it works for you.

Plotters or pantsers – let me know what you are.