Sunday, August 31, 2008

And the Beat Goes On....Writing With Rhythm

Well, now that school (and work) have started, I can see that posting will probably be cut down to once a week! Oh, those lazy days of I miss you :( Okay, now that my little bit of whining is over, I will go on to the intended subject of this post: writing with beats (and no, this isn't music class) Beats are the bits of action you want to break up your dialog with to vary the pace of your writing. Think of it like driving a car. There are times you may travel at a faster speed, such as on the expressway, but then you slow down or stop at the intersections, when traffic is heavy, etc. If you have a fast action scene in your story where the tension is elevated, you don't want to break it up or slow it down with a lot of beats. However, when the pace slows down or needs to take a breath so to speak, or to just vary the pace, you want to insert a beat or two. Take a look at any page of dialog in a story. For example, if it goes on with "he said", "she said", line after line with no breaks to describe action for a whole page or more, it will become too mechanical and boring. Consider this:

"I hope you'll find the time to come to the party," she said.
"I might, if it's not too late," he said.
"I just know it's going to be boring if you don't. Did you invite Ted?" she asked.
"I thought you wouldn't want him to come," he said.
"Of course he can come. I want to know your friends better."

Now just imagine this going on for a whole page or two. Then see how it changes by inserting just a couple beats of action:

"I hope you'll find the time to come to the party," she said.
"I might, if it's not too late," Sean answered.
"I just know it's going to be boring if you don't." Kristin stacked the napkins next to the plates, before asking, "Did you invite Ted?"
Sean stared out the window for a second or two. "I thought you wouldn't want him to come."
"Of course he can come. I want to know your friends better."

Minor changes such as adding beats can create a better rhythm in your dialog, give balance and reality to the scene. And one final tip - read your dialog aloud, maybe have another person to read one character's lines and you the other's. This will help you find out how well placed your beats are and any changes you may need to make.

Now, why don't you try it? Take a half a dozen lines or so of dialog from a story you've written and insert a couple beats. Or maybe you already have a sample of dialog with beats added that you would like to share? Post them here so we can see your creativity! Or leave a comment about using beats. What do you think?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Another Day, Another Post, Another Prompt

The past few days have gone by in a blur. Getting ready for the new school year and editing my current manuscript for a fifth and final time has kept me too busy. So, when I noticed that I hadn't posted since last Wednesday, well, it took me by surprise. Time not only flies when you are having fun, it obviously does that when you're really, really busy, too! Okay, now that I am done making excuses, let's get down to serious business....writing.

Today I thought I'd write about use of verb tense and POV. What works best and in what situation? In my opinion -- and it's often been stated -- that if you use the first person POV and the present tense, the reader has a more intimate connection with what the narrator is feeling, experiencing. Compare for yourself:

I enter the room and see the crowd. I want to run away, the nervousness I feel overwhelms me. I notice him standing apart from the others. He smiles at me; I blush, but manage a quiet response.
"Hello," I say, and then in sudden panic turn to find the nearest door.

Or, how about...

I entered the room and saw the crowd. I wanted to run away, the nervousness I felt overwhelmed me. I noticed him standing apart from the others. He smiled at me; I blushed, but managed a quiet response.
"Hello," I said, and then in sudden panic turned to find the nearest door.

Granted, it is a slight difference, maybe not noticeable to some. I feel the present tense gives the reader the sense of living that character's experience, right at that moment, rather like virtual reality.

Or we can play with this and change it to the third person POV and past tense.

She entered the room and saw the crowd. She wanted to run away, the nervousness she felt overwhelmed her. She noticed him standing apart from the others. He smiled at her; she blushed but managed a quiet response.
"Hello," she said, and then in sudden panic turned to find the nearest door.

So, what do you think? Do you notice or feel any difference? Which do you like better? When you write, which POV and verb tense do you prefer or find easiest to write in? Give me your opinion.

And now I'd like to experiment around a bit with the next writing prompt. I will write it in the first person POV, present tense, but when you write your story, you can decide which POV and tense to use. And if several respond, it should be interesting to see the results!

Okay, here goes....

I walk into the darkened room, my heart pounding. The fear overcomes me; I think I am drowning. Reluctant to move, my steps are cautious. I want this to be over, to find what I came for and go home....

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

In Your Opinion

I read an article online today concerning corporal punishment in the public school system. The statistics give pause to seriously think about the disparity throughout the U.S. For instance, did you know that 29 of our states have banned this type of punishment in public schools? Read for yourself and then give me your opinion. Should we allow it at all? Does it work? What about in your area's schools?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dialog Tips & the Prompt for the Day

Dialog is a very effective way to bring life to a story; it helps you show what goes on rather than telling about it. Of course, it can go the other way if written poorly! So, what does make it work? First of all, you, the writer need to avoid those things called speaker attributions. They tend to distract from what the characters are trying to say. For example, "I told you I don't want to go!" she shouted. The word shouted... is it really necessary when you already see the exclamation point? "I told you I don't want to go!" she said. Here the focus is on the quote. And it works. If you don't believe me, check out those novels you have sitting on your bookshelves. I bet you don't see too many attributions other than -- he said, she said, or maybe he asked, etc. Another tip that goes hand in hand with speaker attributions deals with those dreadful "-ly" words. For example, "Susan asked quietly" "John spoke loudly". Avoid them, too. If you write your dialog effectively, you won't need fancy attributions. And if your dialog seems to be missing something without them, then rework your dialog. Bottom line? Dialog should "speak" for itself. (Okay, I know, I know, I shouldn't have... but it is funny. Corny, but funny.)

Now, enough of this instruction stuff. Let's have some fun. I think we should try another story. Let's add some interesting dialog. So, here goes....

"I'll tell you what you can do with it," she snapped....

Monday, August 18, 2008

Prescription for Writing: One-a-Day Prompts

Last week, I mentioned the idea of writing prompts. Like exercising your body to keep in shape, using writing prompts -- a 5 to 10 minute exercise done each day -- keeps your writing in shape. We all know how difficult it is -- not to mention the excuses we find -- to write on a regular basis. Work schedules, family, writer's block, that closet you keep promising to clean ... the list goes on. So, this is what you are going to do. You are going to come up with, say, 20 to 30 writing prompts (you will see my example below), put them in an envelope and, along with a writing pad, keep them in a place you go to in the morning ... your desk, a nightstand, whatever works. Each morning (okay, I'm trying to be optimistic here!) take a prompt from the envelope and grab your pen and paper. Write for at least 5 minutes. Don't stop to think, pause to contemplate, scratch out or erase to change and edit. The idea is almost aerobic; you keep writing impromptu. No exceptions. That is your warm-up for the day, because now you're supposed to continue with your serious writing projects. Right? Well, at least tackle the prompt, please. You will thank me for it later. Promise.

So, let's try one together. What I am hoping will result is a potpourri of responses, i.e. some pretty damn good creative writing. You be the author and create what comes next. Who know's? Maybe one of you will finish it into a story, sell it to a major magazine, or even a best-selling novel, and become famous! Hey, I told you I'm an optimist. Okay, now for the prompt:

He pointed a gun at me with a warning to stay quiet. I wasn't about to argue....

You take it from there, people. And have fun!

Monday, August 11, 2008

To Write or Not to Write

"To write or not to write"... Are you kidding? If someone told me not to write, it would be like asking me to cut off an arm. I couldn't do it. Oh, sure, writing can be like a painful tooth extraction. (come to think of it, all dental work is painful) However, that wouldn't, couldn't stop me from taking pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, voice to recorder. Whatever the mode of communication is, writing is essential in my world.

Now, how much? Well, I guess that depends on individual choice, which can be dictated by available time and energy. A very well-known author and someone who has put his advice on writing into a book on ... well, you guessed it ... on writing says that ten pages a day, everyday including weekends and holidays, is a reasonable and fair goal. I say that if you write twenty pages one day, and then none the next because your daughter needed to be rushed to the hospital for stitches after cartwheeling into a tiffany hanging lamp, gashing her toe while breaking several panels in said lamp (and yes, it happened...why would I make something like that up?), then your fingers aren't going to fall off and your creative brain to freeze if you skip that day and then write the next. As the saying goes, life happens and the poop that goes along with it. The important thing is to just keep writing. Sure, if you can manage a regular schedule of writing, do it. But keep it up. NO QUITTERS! If it's what you enjoy, as I do, then you can't quit.

My question is ... what is your writing habit? And do you write continually on one project? (Writing comes in all forms ... for instance, pick a writing prompt with a different topic each day, something that only needs 5 minutes of your time, and it will help get the creative juices flowing -- but I will save this topic for another blog post...) Please, share your thoughts.

Back to the 3 r' we go again!

Less than 5 weeks...4 weeks... now, make that 12 days and counting. The think mode has to change, reset the alarm clock, write your lesson plans, buy your materials...ready, set, go! And you are off to another great year. You hope. Great expectations and enthusiasm are abundant, and probably will last...oh, let's say....umm....maybe for the first month, maybe even until the winter holidays, or at least until that first unmanageable student, that first hard-to-please parent, or... what gets to you the most? What is your biggest challenge? And let's address the flipside... what do you look forward to the most? What helps you get through and really make it a great year? Afterall, it's been said often enough, you get what you expect. So, after looking at the problems we have--and we should recognize those--we should find ways to correct them, or at least make them better. ( I refer to all the unmanageables, the hard-to-please ones, etc. They aren't going away!) So, what do you think? All suggestions on the table.