4 Easy Steps to Short Story Writing

The Inside Scoop

by Deborah Owen

Every short story has one climactic conflict. This is where you are going to start your story. You might be saying, huh? What about the setting and theme? What about the plot and resolution? All in good time.

Think of action scenes. Action is what makes a story. Without it, you don’t have one. Think of Stephen King’s stories. Someone has a knife and gains entrance through a window. A woman is in the shower, and his intent is not only to murder her, but to slaughter her in the goriest way possible. He sneaks through each room making little noises here and there. He stops. Does she hear him approaching? The whole scene is prolonged, drawing out the suspense as long as possible until he actually does the slaying.

The entire story leads up to that point, and then fades back to let the reader catch his or her breath. Soon, it builds again to a resolution with fever pitch excitement, and finishes with the climax.

Writers have a hard time working up to a climax when they’ve no idea what it is going to be, so you are going to determine that right now. Examples are things like train wrecks, a parent being murdered, a bomb in a school, someone inheriting ten million dollars, etc. Think of six good or bad action scenes before you read on. The more action, the more drama, the better.

Let’s say you think of a man who just inherited a large amount of money. The conflict could be receiving the money, how he spent all of it foolishly, and went back into credit card debt.

Or think of a boy who was brought to the United States for an education by a charity group. The group houses and feeds him throughout his formative years. Graduation day comes. He’s on his way to the ceremony when his car stalls on a train track and he is killed.

Now it’s your turn.

1. Think of an eye-popping conflict, or a gut-wrenching scene. How would it change a character’s life? This scene can be up to 700 words.

After you have written the conflict scene, you will automatically know how many characters are going to be in the story. You should have no more than three main characters, (preferably two), and three secondary characters. Not all of these characters have to be involved in the conflict scene you are writing, but you will know they are coming at some point.

2. Next, it’s time to write the ending scene. How do you want to resolve your conflict? (At this point, these two scenes will not be connected. Keep in mind that you are writing rough drafts – the bare skeleton.)

3. Thirdly, write the beginning of your story to introduce your characters and set the scene.

4. Last, connect the scenes, and edit your story. Yes, it’s really that easy!

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15 Quick Editing Steps to Rewriting Success

The Editing Commandments

by Deborah Owen

Editing can get pretty confusing. What should stay and what should go? Let this article be your guide.

Editing is another name for rewriting, and rewriting can only come once you’ve finished writing; therefore, your first step should be to complete your first draft. Once you’ve finished, instead of trying to edit all of the story or article at once, make each edit accomplish a specific purpose.

Follow these 15 quick editing steps to find out how.

1. Do some warm-up writing for ten minutes before you begin editing. During this time, write about something that makes you mad… perhaps an old flame, something an old boyfriend or girlfriend did, a spanking you unjustly received—anything that will stir your emotions and creativity. When your creative juices are flowing, you can critique you own work better.

2. Keep your eye on the goal. Refer back to the rough outline you used as the basis for your first draft. (What? You didn’t use an outline? No wonder you’re reading this article.) Be sure you’ve included all the initial points you wanted to make.

3. Check for linear flow (order of events). Don’t try flashbacks unless you know what you’re doing.

4. Don’t tell what your character is thinking. SHOW it with action, demonstration, or dialogue. Keep in mind that showing always takes three to five times more words than telling. That’s okay, as long as it’s meaty.

Example of Telling: “I’m so nervous,” Jennifer thought as she saw the doctor approach.
(boo… hiss… bad writing)

Showing:  Jennifer picked on her thumb nail as the doctor approached with furrowed brow. Noises in the room amplified. Did his strides grow longer? Slower? Was everyone looking at her? Tick. Tick. She could hear the seconds clicking on the clock overhead. A tiny drop of blood appeared as she pulled the nail into the quick, but the drop of bright blood and stabbing pain were welcome. They were the only signs of reality.

5. Edit for excessive wordiness, also known as verbiage. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines verbiage as “profusion of words, usually of little or obscure content.” In other words, excess words say nothing. Cut your sentences until they bleed. Use only one adjective at a time. Chop your descriptions down to that which relates directly to the scene and leave only the most necessary. When you delete a favorite phrase, copy it and save it in a file for another day.

6. Delete all adverbs ending in -ly, such as sadly, hatefully, etc. The use of adverbs is a sure indicator that you aren’t engaging the technique called Show, Don’t Tell.  (See #4)

7. Sentence tags: Don’t use “said she” or “said he.” Turn those words around to read “he said” and “she said.” Delete most tag endings, such as “she said with a snicker.” If you have sufficiently built your characters and the scene, the reader will know the attitudes on display.

8. Check the verbs and replace them with jazzier ones. Examples:

•          He choked until he couldn’t breathe – He hawked until he couldn’t breathe.
•          The little girl ran down the sidewalk – The little girl skipped down the sidewalk.
•          The boy hit the ball out of the park – The boy whanged the ball out of the park.

Jazzing your verbs (choosing more active verbs) will make your work glow!

9. Douse as many forms of the verb “to be” as possible. That includes is, am, are, was, were, be, being and been. These are dead verbs that say nothing. According to Wikipedia, allowed forms are: become, has, have, had (use sparingly), I’ve, you’ve, do, does, doing, did, can, could, will, would, shall, should, ought, may, might and must. The fact that they are allowed, however, does not make them desirable. Get rid of as many as possible because they weaken sentence structure. Likewise, using “could” and “would” will drop you into a trap that you’ll find hard to escape.

10. Watch for tense changes. If you begin in past tense, the entire story must be written in past tense, with two exceptions – one of which you should never use.

  • The first exception is dialogue, and that’s because people speak in mixed tenses – present, past, and future.
  • The second exception is internal dialogue (thoughts). That throws it into the omniscient voice and editors consider it a lazy writer’s way of telling what they should be showing. Don’t use it.

11. Follow the rules for prepositional phrases – no more than three to a sentence, and avoid using more than two in consecutive order. Prepositions are easy to identify. Some of the most common are: in, on, at, to, for, under, before, but there are hundreds. Find a partial list of them here: http://www.englishclub.com/grammar/prepositions-list.htm. Pick out the ones you use most and avoid them like the plague. Prepositional phrases usually tell when or where, such as: “I will meet you IN the afterlife,” or “He told his daughter to go INTO the house.” Consecutive prepositional phrases make weak sentence construction. Note: If you begin a sentence with a prepositional phrase, place a comma at the end of it (just as I did in this sentence.)

12. Punctuation:

  • Space ONCE after a period.
  • For writing in the USA, most punctuation (except the colon) lies within the quote marks. Check to see that all of your quotes are closed.
  • Don’t use a semi-colon unless it is before the words “however” or “therefore,” (in which case, use a comma immediately after those words).
  • Don’t use colons except to list things: recipes, items of clothing, kinds of perfume, etc.
  • Use commas to separate two clauses into a compound sentence. Also use commas between city and state and to offset introductory prepositional phrases.
  • Don’t use more than one exclamation mark per every 2,000 words!!!
  • Learn to use the ellipsis (three dots) properly. Remember, the ellipsis represents a pause or interruption in the sentence. It’s easy to overuse these little devils. If you find yourself falling into that trap, use a dash instead and insert a space on each side of it.

Rules for using the ellipsis:
a. When used at the beginning of a sentence: “(space)…And that’s all he said.”
b. In the middle of a sentence: “I hated to tell you that…(space)I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
c. At the end of a sentence: “I didn’t want to tell you….(space)”
(Did you notice that the last example ended with four dots? That’s because the last dot acts as a period to end the sentence.)

13. Use the spellchecker, but don’t totally rely on it. If you use homophones such as “right” when you meant to say “write,” or “blew” instead of “blue,” it won’t catch the error. To be safe, scan for mistakes after you use the spellchecker.

14. Check your formatting. Double-space the body and indent the first line of every paragraph. Every new line of dialogue should begin on a new line; however, if guidelines state otherwise, follow the guidelines.

15. Last of all, ask a friend to read your article aloud while you take notes on places you want to change. This is the best way to get clear perspective on what you’ve written. If you don’t have someone who can read it aloud, YOU read it aloud—but be careful to read exactly what’s written and not what your mind wants to insert. Hint: Stumbling over a sentence is usually indicative of awkward wording. Rewrite it.

Follow these 15 steps and the end result will be crisp, easy-to-understand writing that is stuffed with meat. What reader can resist that?

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A Writer’s Pop Quiz – See How Well You Can Do

Do You Have What it Takes?

by Deborah Owen

Creative writing is whatever you want it to be. It can be a poem that expresses emotions,  a novel with scenes that replay over and over in your head, or a journal that helps you deal with everyday life. While there is an abundance of freedom in creative writing, there are some terms you should know in order to describe your writing and help improve it. The sentences below describe these terms, except some of the words are missing. How much do you know? Test yourself and see the answers below.

  1.  The turning point in a plot is called the ________.
  2.  The main idea of the entire story is called the ________.
  3.  How you phrase your thoughts is called your writing _______.
  4.  The four kinds of conflict are _________.
  5.  Name the four points of view.
  6.  Name the two kinds of voice.
  7.  Another word for people “speaking” is _______.
  8.  The first paragraph should set the ________.
  9.  Developing a character is called _________.
  10.  Making the readers see the setting in their minds is ________.
  11.  Use _______, don’t tell.
  12.  When you have finished writing, the next step is  _______.
  13. The end of the story is called the __________.
  14. Fantasy, horror, and romance are three different ____________.
  15. Don’t split an ___________.
  16. Wordiness is called _________.
  17. A person who writes an article for someone else and receives no byline is called a _______   _______.
  18. A writer’s pseudonym is his/her _________ name.
  19. A writer sends a ________ letter to see if the editor wants to buy his work.
  20. When a writer submits the same story to more than one place at the same time, it is called a _________  _________.

Answers:

1.  The turning point in a plot is called the the climax.

2.  The main idea of the entire story is called the theme.

3.   How you phrase your thoughts is called your writing style.

4.  The four kinds of conflict are man against man, man against nature, man against self, man against society.

5.  Name the four points of view – first person, third person, third person limited, third person omniscient.

6.   Name the two kinds of voice – active and passive.

7.   Another word for people “speaking” is dialogue.

8.   The first paragraph should set the hook.

9.   Developing a character is called characterization.

10. Making the readers see the setting in their minds is imagery.

11. Use show, don’t tell.

12. When you have finished writing, the next step is editing.

13. The end of the story is called the resolution.

14. Fantasy, horror, and romance are three different genres.

15. Don’t split an infinitive.

16. Wordiness is called verbiage.

17. A person who writes an article for someone else and receives no byline is called a ghostwriter.

18. A writer’s pseudonym is his pen name.

19. A writer sends a query letter to see if the editor wants to buy his work.

20. When a writer submits the same story to more than one place at the same time, it is called a multiple submission.

If you got all 20 questions right, pin a rose on you!

If you got 18-19 questions correct, you get a rose, but you have to pin it on yourself.

If your score was 15-17, you get a kiss from yer mum.

If you got 13-14 correct, you don’t get tucked in tonight.

If you got less than 12 right, hmm… now that you know the answers, you better take the test again.

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Why Write?

For the Love of Writing
by Deborah Owen

The world is full of literature. Everywhere we look we see novels, magazines, anthologies, genealogies, journals, newspapers, advertising – the list is endless.

Adding to the heap of existing literature can seem pointless, but don’t surrender to frustration or discouragement. What’s inside you is unique. It is exhilarating. There are no two people in the world with the same fingerprints, and no two people who have the same effect on others.

What do you spend your time thinking about? More than likely someone else is writing about it, but isn’t presenting it with the same angle you would. It is this angle that makes what you have to say important. But that is only one of the reasons why you should write.

Some people keep a journal, log, or diary, and many have joined the new age of blogging. Did you ever wonder why so many people read blogs? It’s because they are nosey, and want to know what is going on in someone else’s life. They want the dirt on them. That same curiosity will also bring them to your articles and/or short stories.

Many write as a hobby to put their thoughts in order and express them publicly. Some have no interest in presenting their work for publication, while others write only for that purpose. No matter what kind of writing you like, you will find it fulfilling.

You may want to take a writing class to sharpen your talents and learn how to phrase your thoughts more effectively. It is this skill of stringing words together in the right order that will take your writing to the next level.

Too many writers let their busy lives pull them away from the thing that will satisfy them the most. Don’t let this happen to you. Almost anyone can afford a nominally priced writing course.

The best type to choose is the one with a mentor. Teachers will tell you what is right and wrong, but mentors are available all week long to help you improve your writing style.

If you think you have no talent for writing, but would like to give it a try, please do. You’ll be glad you did. The fact you have a desire to write says you probably have latent talents waiting to be developed. Most people who want to write can write.

Taking classes is an excellent way to crank yourself into first gear and start a long journey. You’ve heard of “use it or lose it”. That’s true of almost anything. If you smother the desire to write, it may never resurface. You will never know what you could have done, what mile markers you could have left behind, what influence you might have had, and what enjoyment has passed you by.

Move into action and find what suits you best – one-day workshops are for beginners and will cover the highlights. Three-day workshops (for beginners and brush-ups) are more intensive with two lessons that cover basic rules for the subject chosen. Two-week courses are very intensive and require a lot of time (for intermediates.) Eight-week courses are for age 14 and up. These classes will help you produce a story or article for publication.

Plunge in for a cool, refreshing dip, and give yourself the opportunity to find a new, exciting door to a more bountiful life.

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8 Editing Steps to Perfection

Mastering Editing

by Deborah Owen

Creative writers – don’t wait to edit your work until you know every word by heart – learn to edit the easy way. Do you know what to look for in editing? Have you wondered what should stay and what should go? By the time you read this article, you will know the answers to these questions.

  • One of the first things to look for is prepositional phrases. You can identify       prepositions easily. The most common ones are: in, on, at, to, for, under, before.  Prepositional phrases usually tell when or where, such as: “I will meet you in the after life,” or “He told his daughter to go into the house.” You should never have more than three prepositional phrases to a sentence, and preferably only two.
  •  Watch for wordiness, also known as verbiage. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines verbiage as “profusion of words, usually of little or obscure content.” In other words, excess words that say nothing. Cut your sentences until they bleed. Chop your descriptions down to that which relates directly to the scene, and leave nothing but the most necessary meat.
  • It should be unnecessary to mention using the spellchecker, but you would be surprised how many writers fail to use this most valuable tool. However, don’t totally rely on it. If you use the word “right” instead of “write”, or “blew” instead of “blue”, it will not catch the error. To be safe, scan for errors after you use the spellchecker.
  • Look for inappropriate punctuation. Be sure your quotations are closed. Use hyphens and colons properly. Don’t use a semi-colon when a comma will do. Be sure to use commas properly, i.e., to separate two clauses in a compound sentence, between city and state, etc.
  • Check that your order of events is stated properly. Unless you are doing a flashback, you will only confuse the reader if you switch back and forth within a given time frame.
  • Watch for tense changes. If you begin in the past tense, the entire story must be written in the past tense, with one possible exception. The only time you can properly change tenses is in dialogue, and that is because people normally speak in present, past and future tenses.
  • One of the most important parts of editing is dousing all forms of the verb “to be”: is, am, are, was, were, be, being and been. These are “dead” verbs that say nothing. According to Wikipedia, allowed forms are: become, has, have, had, I’ve, you’ve, do, does, doing, did, can, could, will, would, shall, should, ought, may, might and must. The fact that they are allowed, however, does not make them desirable. Get rid of as many of these as possible. They weaken your work.
  • Check every verb in every sentence and see if you can replace it with a jazzy verb. This is the finishing touch that will make your work glow.

So when you edit, watch for these eight things. The end result will be crisp, easy-to-understand writing that is stuffed with meat. What reader can resist that?

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Travel Writing Tips and Tricks

Travelling with a Pen in Hand

By Deborah Owen

Travel writing pays well and is a perfect way to pick up extra income, but most creative writers don’t take advantage of this. Why?

  • It takes extra time
  • If you haven’t done travel writing, it can be intimidating
  • Laziness

Travel writing is available to everyone – even those who don’t travel. The trick is to look at commonplace locations as though you are seeing them for the first time.

Where to Begin

Start reading travel magazines and pay close attention to how the articles are written. Magazines use various styles of writing. Choose the one that uses articles similar to your writing style. Analyze the articles. Do they use a lot of interviews? Pictures? Quotes? Statistics? What style do they like? What angle? There are no new subjects so the angle is everything.

Travel magazines like articles on little “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants that no one knows about. Tell your audience how you found it, what they serve, how it tasted, prices, atmosphere, and background information such as who owns it and when it was founded. Review some of the clientele.

Always be armed with a camera, a notepad, pen and a tape recorder. Get in touch with the owner or manager and take a few pictures. Magazines pay extra for pictures and they add a lot of human interest.

The field of traveling is wide open. You can write an article on a park, a museum, gas station, antique shop, taxidermy studio, an old-fashioned drugstore, a lake – almost anything can become a travel story.

Tell how long it took to travel to that destination. What unusual things did you see there? What do other tourists think of the place? What other places can you compare it to? You can write virtually dozens of articles on one trip.

Target the Right Market

Most writers don’t get their articles published because they don’t do the proper market research and don’t know how to choose their market. ALWAYS check the publisher’s guidelines.

Search the Writers Market on the Internet and get their online edition, which is approximately $40, but competition is likely to be heavy. The online edition is updated every month, whereas the book is updated yearly. Look for the markets that suit your material best. You will also be able to file your prospects in folders and keep track of your submissions on that site.

Note: Keep good records. Know when you submitted your document, where you sent it, the name of the editor, and when their guidelines say they will respond. If you haven’t heard from them a week past their estimated time of response, send an inquiry.

If you’re a new writer, search this free database for less competition: WorldwideFreelance. You need not query the market. Just send your article with a cover letter and self-addressed, stamped envelope. And remember, success lies in persistence, so submit a new article every week.

Finally… if you sell an article from a vacation trip, you can write part of your expenses off on your taxes. Ask your accountant about this.

So why not try travel writing this year? Be thorough in your research, take good pictures, perfect your work, match it to the right market and, above all, enjoy it… travel writing is fun!

How to Overcome Writer’s Block

Some Helpful Tips

by Deborah Owen

More often than not, writer’s block is caused by not writing regularly.

Most people are overcome and overwhelmed when writer’s block strikes, and rightly so. A writer who can’t write is much like a pianist who can’t play. Worse yet, writer’s block will carry over into other areas of your life. Don’t let depression and discouragement get you down. It’s vital to stay positive in order to get back in control.

Organization is the key to breaking writer’s block. Start by organizing your life in little ways, by setting short-term goals. Reasonable goals. For example, brush your teeth at the same time every day, or sweep one room at the same time every day. Try to eat at the same time. Get up the first time the alarm clock goes off, and go to bed at the same time every night. The idea is to gain control and meet your goals. When you can live a somewhat regulated life for a week or two, it’s time to work on your writer’s block in a more direct way.

Sit down to write for at least 15 minutes a day, every day. Inasmuch as possible, do it at the same time. What you write isn’t important. Write what you’re thinking about, or write a biography. Write about your parents or a childhood sweetheart that jilted you. Write about something that makes you mad or your problems in life. Anything emotional. If you can’t even write about that, write about the inability to write. Just write! Before two weeks are out, you will rediscover the muse (inward creative stirring) and you’ll be on your way again.

To prevent losing the muse, continue writing at the same time every day, and when you’re ready to take a writing course, remember Creative Writing Institute, where every student receives a personal tutor.

Don’t be satisfied with less than the best. Check it out today.

If you liked this article, be sure to follow our blog here on WordPress! You can also find links for our Facebook and Twitter pages at our website: www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.

How to Overcome Writer’s Block

Some Helpful Tips

by Deborah Owen

More often than not, writer’s block is caused by not writing regularly.

Most people are overcome and overwhelmed when writer’s block strikes, and rightly so. A writer who can’t write is much like a pianist who can’t play. Worse yet, writer’s block will carry over into other areas of your life. Don’t let depression and discouragement get you down. It’s vital to stay positive in order to get back in control.

Organization is the key to breaking writer’s block. Start by organizing your life in little ways, by setting short-term goals. Reasonable goals. For example, brush your teeth at the same time every day, or sweep one room at the same time every day. Try to eat at the same time. Get up the first time the alarm clock goes off, and go to bed at the same time every night. The idea is to gain control and meet your goals. When you can live a somewhat regulated life for a week or two, it’s time to work on your writer’s block in a more direct way.

Sit down to write for at least 15 minutes a day, every day. Inasmuch as possible, do it at the same time. What you write isn’t important. Write what you’re thinking about, or write a biography. Write about your parents or a childhood sweetheart that jilted you. Write about something that makes you mad or your problems in life. Anything emotional. If you can’t even write about that, write about the inability to write. Just write! Before two weeks are out, you will rediscover the muse (inward creative stirring) and you’ll be on your way again.

To prevent losing the muse, continue writing at the same time every day, and when you’re ready to take a writing course, remember Creative Writing Institute, where every student receives a personal tutor.

Don’t be satisfied with less than the best. Check it out today.

If you liked this article, be sure to follow our blog here on WordPress! You can also find links for our Facebook and Twitter pages at our website: www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.