Saturday, February 28, 2009

Firsts and Lasts...How to Use Your Words Effectively

In writing we all learn that you want to grab your reader's attention right away, use that effective hook (excuse the pun) to lure them in. But what about all the writing in between? What about the chapters, the individual paragraphs and sentences? Afterall, you want to keep the reader's attention throughout the story. So, look for those places where you can make your writing more effective, those power positions. Elizabeth Lyon in her book, Manuscript Makeover, lists those positions of "firsts and lasts": 1) first and last words; 2) first and last sentences; 3) first and last paragraphs in sections and chapters; 4) first and last pages in chapters, short stories, and novels; and 5) first and last chapters in novels.

Here's an example of how the choice of words can make a difference:

"I awoke this morning still feeling miserable about the news. Lack of quality sleep left me edgy and irrated. How I would get through the day, dealing with dozens of screaming five-year-olds... well, I wanted to crawl back under the covers. That was my answer. Death of a loved-one didn't really leave me with much. I felt in one word, deflated, like someone stabbed me with so many holes."

Now, add an impacting first sentence: "Aunt Fran was dead. I awoke this morning still feeling miserable about the news....." and so on.

It grabs the reader's attention, urging one to read on. Firsts and lasts may be more for the revision stage. Go back and see where you might need some of those effective power words. Engage your readers throughout the story as well as hooking them in the beginning.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tip for the Day... Revising & Fuzzy Details

Okay, so you are revising your work, and you come to some "fuzzy" parts that leave you clueless. Now, what do you do to fix it? If that part seems inadequate, like it's missing something, maybe leaving you confused, you can use a form of free-writing where you may expand on that point in your story. You might be including more detail about the character's inner thought. Or possibly your free-writing may give more descriptive images to a scene. In any case, the idea is to launch into a free-write, inserting it at that fuzzy point. Keep it loose, uninhibited, don't stop to think about it, criticize it, just keep writing until you run out of steam! Once you've done this, you should leave it alone for a time, a few days or so. Then, come back to it to assess what you have. Revise and or cut any details that may seem overdone or out of place. More than likely you'll end up with a better product, which your readers will appreciate. Of course, you will want to read it aloud again, seeing if that satisfies. If not, keep on polishing and revising until it's smooth and shiny!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tip for the Day... The Power of Negative Thinking

Some days I am sure you just want to give up. Right? The task of writing and you as a writer somehow manages to feel attacked by those negative thoughts. What do you do at times like these? You look for words of wisdom, some advice that will cure your insecurities and make you that great author you've always aspired to be. You look in many places... including where you are right now! I'm telling you to stop it. You won't find the magical cure there or here. Not for this. Not to convince you that you can write. You need to stop looking everywhere else and get back inside your head. Yep. It's all there, right inside of you. Inside your mind. Your inner thoughts. It's all a mindset, whether you write or not. As Henry Ford said, "If a man thinks he can or cannot perform a task, he's right." So, before you pick up that pen or put fingers to keyboard, conjure up that positive mental image: you are a writer, you are a great writer, and if you can become a better writer you will do it. Okay, now I'm done preaching. What are your thoughts? Is your confidence up to par? Do you feel invaded by negative thoughts? What do you do that helps? Share your thoughts and suggestions.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Writing Tip of the Day...Pace Yourself

Thanks to a previous comment from Vanessa, I decided to post on this topic: Pacing your writing tasks. As if you all didn't know this. After all, it's common sense. But I need to remind myself on occasion, those times when I get so frustrated -- set small goals. Say, one page? Or one hour? Just a small task of writing. Then, the job doesn't seem so daunting or ominous. And if you write more than that much...even better! Dating your work -- a bench marker, if you will -- after each writing period might help you feel that sense of accomplishment, not to mention showing you your pattern of writing. I've tried this for two reasons. That sense of accomplishment for one, and also to prove that even though my lazy side is trying so hard to convince me that, for example, I just wrote a page or two a couple of days ago, it's actually been two weeks! How the mind uses devious ways... right?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Tip for the Day: Reading Aloud

This will be short. And it may be the start of something I do everyday. Do you read aloud what you write? You should. Often times when it's read aloud, the errors or awkward wording come popping out at you. In any case, take the time after a writing session to read your work aloud. It may surprise you! And one more thing... if, when you read, you come to "bumps in the road", i.e. the flow of what you read slows or stops, you might want to change the wording. That is, if it is due to awkward or confusing structure.

Part II

Well, part II of "Betrayal in an Envelope" was posted earlier this week. For those of you who would like or care to take a look: I stated in a previous post that I would reveal the first draft ending to the story and explain (or try to) why I changed it. In my first effort Anne goes back to the store to talk with her friend, Stephanie, about the tragic news she had just learned about Wesley and about her husband. However, when I reworked the story and added in more detail about each character, Anne transformed into not only a grieving friend and wife, but also a vengeful woman who needed to right a wrong. How she does so even surprised me. And the fact that Stephanie is not who she appears to be added to the transformation. Of course, the final act by Anne, though shocking, just seemed a natural turn and conclusion to the plot. In any case, that is what I did with it.

And this to Brainsnorts: You had me utterly focused on the use of character names within the dialogue! I'm hoping it helped make Greta Allstein sound like the obnoxious, condescending person I intended her to be! But it was a good piece of advice. Thank you.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Back to Business

Okay, now it's time to get back to those ideas that help make us better writers... I recently talked our principal into letting me launch a writers' club at our high school. Why we never had one to begin with puzzles me. I thought one of those energetic members of the language arts staff would have put that on the agenda, but no. I began to think back on my high school experience and how much fun our writers' club had been. So, I thought, we have a school newspaper, but why not expand that to include a club where besides news articles, fiction stories, poetry, any type of creative product can be shared and showcased? In any case, we began a couple of weeks ago. A decent turnout, a combination of poetry writers and short story writers, various genres, a wonderful mix of talent. I am inspired by the enthusiasm and dedication of those so young. And I am hoping when they look back on high school, they will think fondly about their writers' club experience.

How about you? Do you or did you belong to a writers' club in high school? Do or did you benefit? Highlights? Please share your thoughts. And if you have any suggestions, suggest away!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Over the Dry Spell and Writing the Short Story

Excuse me while I am compelled to "toot my horn" and announce that the writing/publishing dry spell is now officially over. Part I of my mystery short, "Betrayal in an Envelope" made its debut today in the ezine, Piker Press. I must say that I felt nervous submitting it. Being the verbose writer that I am, I don't have much luck with short story writing. I mean, how to tell the story, say what needs to be said, and say it well in a few pages is a nail-biting undertaking for me. However, once submitted, I had a refreshing experience with a wonderful editor -- Sand Pilarski. She gave me constructive feedback to show me where I could improve those "fuzzy" moments and details of my story. In fact, everything she questioned was a "Wow! She's right." kind of moment. So, thank you, Sand Pilarski.

Pleasant surprises popped up as I reworked the story. I found new layers to the characters and a better understanding of how they should act and react. But the best surprise was the ending. I changed the main character's reaction to the events and, well, you will just have to read it! After the final segment, I will post again and explain the original ending, how it didn't work as well, and then see what you think. Until then..... check out part one: