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Writing Duo – Father and Son

by Karen Johnson-Waugh

Father’s Day is a good time to reflect on the life of C.S. Lewis, one of the greatest writers in the past 50 years. More than two decades after his death, his writing continues to inspire millions with science fiction, allegorical children’s books, and philosophical books about the Christian faith.

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Ireland in 1898 to parents Albert J. Lewis and Florence “Flora” Augusta. When C.S. was four years old, his dog, Jackie, died in an accident. From that day forth, little C.S. demanded to be called Jack.

Lewis knew Latin and Greek by the age of ten. When his father wrote poems and read them to his sons, “Jack’s” hazel eyes lit up. The family moved to the outskirts of Belfast in 1905 and he was fascinated with the town. He and his brother David created a fantasy world they named Boxen. Fictional animals ruled their land, which helped them cope with their mother’s death in 1908.

C.S. attended boarding schools and colleges, studied mythology, and became a professor at Oxford University from 1925-1954 where he became lifelong friends with a fellow professor, the famous J.R.R. Tolkien.

In 1949, the New York Times published an article by Chad Walsh called C.S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics. Mr. Walsh encouraged his poet friend, Helen Gresham, to become better acquainted with Lewis. They wrote to one another until Helen eventually divorced her husband, took her two sons to England, and married C. S. in 1956. Four years later, she died of cancer.

Lewis’ work was rejected over 800 times before he sold more than 100 million copies of The Screwtape Letters (1942), The Chronicles of Narnia (1956), and The Space Trilogy (1938-1945). Lewis died of a heart attack a week before his 66th birthday on November 23, 1963.

His stepson, Douglas Gresham, wrote an autobiography entitled Lenten Lands. Douglas and his wife, Merri, adopted five Korean children. They live in Ireland where Douglas handles the C.S. Lewis literacy estate. His brother, David, lives in India with his son.

Do you want to pass writing skills down to your heirs? Today is the day to begin. Believe in yourself. Invest in yourself. Take a writing course at Creative Writing Institute. Sign up today and start tonight with your own personal tutor.

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For Better or For Worse: The Long-Haul Love of Writing

by David Ebenbach, teacher at Georgetown University

Writing has been a constant love in my life. What has changed over the years is the way I’ve loved writing.

When I was a kid, we had an old manual typewriter. When I banged away on that typewriter, I was pretending to be a grown-up. As I sat happily clacking my way into scripts and stories and even a novel (eight pages long), writing became something like the idea of a girlfriend. Kids my age talked about girlfriends and boyfriends, and supposedly some of them even had girlfriends and boyfriends, but of course nobody really knew what they were talking about or was really serious about it. Writing was like that for me; I loved it, but it was mostly a game of pretend.

By the time I hit adolescence, my love of writing had become similarly adolescent. I had very romantic ideas about being a passionate, misunderstood writer, and filled my journal with manic bursts of poetry and self-examination. Story ideas ran wild through me the way infatuations did.

This wildness remained into college and a few years beyond, but, as I gained experience and wisdom, I saw hints of the possibility of constancy, of calm. I began to love writing in a more committed way, finding myself increasingly willing to stay with a piece, to revise it, and see it through.

The real turning point was my decision to enroll in Vermont College’s MFA program. It would be a major investment of time and resources, and would take me down a different path from the one I’d been traveling (pursuing a degree in Psychology). Given the enormity of the move, I made the decision soberly, but also with much joy, as though entering a marriage. It was not impetuous, but rather driven by a powerful, abiding love. I had spent years in the relationship, and I knew how I felt.

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The Highs and Lows of Spring

by Helen Tucker

Despite the cold, spring has arrived with a vengeance. Birds are rushing around gathering twigs for their nests and new shoots appear on the trees and hedgerows daily. There is a feverishness about this time of year and almost an expectation that everybody should be happy. However, not everyone looks forward to or is able to enjoy this time of year.

Do you dread the spring knowing how low and anxious you are going to feel? Is your sleep pattern disturbed? Are you tearful for no reason? Do you feel excessively tired even after a quiet day? Are you struggling to see beyond the next few days and weeks?

Thousands of people struggle at this time of year and many don’t seek help. If you find yourself struggling year after year it may be a good idea to speak to your family doctor to find out what is causing your symptoms.

During this difficult period:

  • Be kind to yourself.
  • If you feel particularly bad in the mornings and a little better as the day wears on, then try to rearrange your day to fit in with this pattern.
  • Keep a daily diary of your thoughts and feelings. Writing them down can be cathartic.
  • If you are able,  write down one positive thing about your day. This could be something as small as noticing a new flower in the garden or a smile you received from a stranger.
  • Try to make contact with at least one person each day. People often feel very alone when their mood is low and the company of another person can be uplifting.

Remember, you are not alone. With the right help, you will be able to cope during this difficult time.

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Stop Laboring and Start Having Fun

by Dr. Helen Tucker

The word “labor” conjures up an image of work that demands great effort. Do you feel that your writing has begun to feel like this and that your muse has deserted you?  If so, then perhaps the following suggestions will help:

* Instead of sitting at your desk waiting for the words to magically appear, spend a whole day doing something completely different. It is easy to get into a rut and sometimes a change in routine is all that is needed.

* Forbid yourself to write for a few days. See a friend, do some strenuous exercise or just relax and spoil yourself.

* Wander through your favorite town and make a note of interesting people you meet, old inscriptions you read, and funny situations you encounter.

* Go for a walk and listen to the birds. Try to imagine what they are saying and build a story in your mind.

* Have coffee somewhere new and build stories about the people around you.

* Lie down on the grass, watch the clouds go by and let your mind wander.

* Rewrite the ending to your favorite book.

* Wherever you go, take a pen and paper and write down funny/interesting quotations you see. Try to include them in a poem or short story when you are stuck for ideas.

* Join a writer’s group.

The list could go on forever. Make a list of five things that would inspire you the next time you find yourself laboring over your writing and don’t forget that a regular change of routine or scenery may be all that you need to inspire you.

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How Writing Can Improve Your Well-being

by Melissa Hathaway

“Round and round he walked, and so learned a very valuable thing: that no emotion is the final one.”

Jeanette Winterson

For almost 20 years Dr James W Pennebaker has been extolling the virtues of creative writing as a route to healing. A professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin, Pennebaker has written several books on the subject, and encourages everyone to use creative writing to improve both their physical and mental health. His research has shown that ‘short-term focused writing’ can have profoundly beneficial effects on anyone suffering from episodes as simple as a house move, to those facing cancer, divorce, or financial problems. Here’s what Dr Pennebaker’s research can teach us.

Powerful Secrets

Keeping secrets may tend to cause physical health problems. Dr. Pennebaker conducted an experiment to see if writing them out would help. The results were astounding. Patients who wrote their secrets down felt better, even if the secrets were never read and destroyed immediately. The patients’ immune systems improved and they visited the doctor less often.

Organizing Our Thoughts

Pennebaker’s theory is that any kind of upheaval makes minds work overtime, trying to organize and process what is happening. Pennebaker explains, “When we translate an experience into language we essentially make the experience graspable. Individuals may see improvements in what is called “working memory,” essentially our ability to think about more than one thing at a time. They may also find they’re better able to sleep. Their social connections may improve, partly because they have a greater ability to focus on someone besides themselves.” So does this mean that as well as our creative writing, we should be keeping a daily diary of events? No, Pennebaker suggests that we should use the opportunity to stand back and evaluate our life’s course rather than document every day events. Rather, he asks patients to write for 20 minutes over four days about an emotionally troubling event in their lives, really exploring their issues and how they can be tied to past events in childhood, for example. He urges them to write for no one except themselves, in a quiet space, not worrying about punctuation or style.

Making A Narrative

Through linguistic analysis Pennebaker’s studies have shown that those people who are able to construct a narrative whilst writing about difficult topics seem to have the best outcomes. If they begin with an unstructured account of events initially, but manage to organize their ideas into a coherent narrative after a few days, they seem to benefit the most. Approaching analysis linguistically is a very powerful tool for researchers. They look for words that signify complex emotional processing, and for the increasing occurrence of such words as writing exercises progress. They observed that words such as the prepositional ‘except’, ‘exclude’ and ‘without’ increase in frequency, along with causal words such as  ‘rationale’ and ‘effect’. Pennebaker believes that these word frequency increases demonstrate that the traumatic events being written about are becoming more manageable for the patient to process.

Changing Viewpoints

Just as we find it useful to change the viewpoint in a piece of creative writing by changing the narrator, so changing the perspective in a piece of healing writing can change the writer’s feelings about an issue. Pennebaker analyzed shifts in pronoun use and found a correlation between this and improved outcomes. He explains, “…one day they may be talking about how they feel and how they see it, but the next day they may talk about what’s going on with others, whether it’s their family or a perpetrator or someone else. Being able to switch back and forth is a very powerful indicator of how they progress.” As creative writers, we know only too well the power of changing perspectives when exploring a storyline or demonstrating how others perceive a character. It is fascinating to hear that the same techniques can be used in therapeutic writing.

Looking Ahead

For some year, art therapy has been a central plank of the therapeutic tool kit. ‘Journaling’ is the new buzzword at present, pioneered by Elizabeth Warson, professor at George Washington University’s art therapy program. Many younger patients enjoy this form of therapy and have benefited from the meld of written and artistic self-expression. Those who are attending residential therapy to recover from substance addiction in Washington State have been particularly encouraged to use this technique, and results have been impressive. But perhaps it is time that focused writing came more to the fore as a therapeutic tool. Writers such as Sylvia Plath and Jeanette Winterson have used the ‘confessional’ style to create beautiful works, perhaps understanding instinctively the power of this technique to heal themselves. Winterson is emphatic in stating that her Whitbread prize-winning first book, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit was a ‘fictionalized’ account of her extraordinary early childhood. In her recently published Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, a parallel non-fictional account of the same period, she discusses this first important work, explicitly stating that fictionalizing her life in Oranges was the only way she managed to survive psychologically.

Pennebaker’s research over a number of years certainly shows the transformative power of writing, and not just for patients. Perhaps we can all make use of his exercises in our everyday life. As the description of Winterson’s book elegantly expresses, it shows “…how fiction and poetry can form a string of guiding lights, a life-raft which supports us when we are sinking.”

Leonid Pasternak writing

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Sylvia Plath

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‘Journaling’ (Tumblr) unattributed

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Pen and script

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Why Be Happy…

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Motifs vs. Symbols. What are they and how do you use them?

by Denise A. Coleman

By the time you finish reading this article, motifs and symbols will be new tools in your toolbox.

The purpose of motifs. A motif can appear as an object, word, or sound. Repeat it in various ways to build on an underlying image. The key to a motif is that it reappears throughout the piece and strengthens the story line or theme.

Example #1: Let’s use the word “broken” as a motif in the story of a broken love affair. As Brad meets with Heather to break off their relationship, motifs could impose the image of broken things in the reader’s mind, thus fortifying the underlying theme. For example, as Brad avoids a broken step, maybe a child throws a ball through the neighbor’s window. A little later, Heather breaks a fingernail or Brad breaks a shoelace. Practice will help you learn how to weave motifs seamlessly.

Or, you could symbolize the break-up this way: “When Brad said, ‘I don’t love you any more,’ Heather dropped the tray of fine crystal.” Do you see the difference in these two examples? Motifs are repetitive, whereas a symbol might occur once with great emphasis.

Example #2: You could write a story about USA’s Independence Day repeating the words “American flag” as a motif and make that the underlying theme, or you could use a climactic scene where a wounded soldier crawls through mortar fire and plants the American Flag as he draws his last breath.

While the difference between motifs and symbolism may seem minor, understanding them and using them properly is of the utmost importance. Choose your device at the onset of your story and maintain it throughout.

Archetype motifs. There is another kind of motif called archetype. Archetype motifs have appeared in literature that dates back centuries. Archetype motifs can represent heroes, villains, and sidekicks, to name a few. For instance, the Lone Ranger’s mask does more than hide his identity. It strengthens the theme that goodness does not look for recognition. Notice how subtle that archetype motif is.

There are four definitive differences between motifs and symbolism:

1. A motif supports or develops a theme while a symbol represents something.

2. Motifs are repeated continually while symbols are mentioned once or twice.

3. Motifs help define an underlying theme while symbols identify an idea.

4. Motifs depend on usage within the story while symbols rely on history and purpose.

Now you understand motifs and symbols. Practice these two techniques to perfect them.

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Top Tips for Positive Thinking in 2014

by Dr Helen Tucker

Do those New Year’s resolutions feel like a thing of the past? Or have you stuck to your list but don’t feel like you’re making progress? Don’t be disheartened. Let this list revitalize your motivation.

  • When you wake up each morning, tell yourself it’s going to be a wonderful day.
  • One thing we have control over is our thoughts, so think positively and seek the company of positive people.
  • Spend an extra five minutes each morning preparing physically and mentally for the day ahead.
  • Set at least one daily goal, no matter how small. The key to long-term success is daily improvements.
  • Keep a journal. Your life is worth recording and you can learn from your achievements and mistakes.
  • Ignore distractions, focus, and meet your daily goal.
  • Tackle the tasks that frighten you the most first. Not facing a fear causes limitations in life.
  • Be there for someone else each day. Make yourself smile.
  • When you’re doing well, be proud and reward yourself; then think of one small thing you could improve on.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.”

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Preying on Your Emotions

The Word is the True Sword!

by Brent Middleton

DOZENS BRUTALLY SLAUGHTERED IN FAILED TRAIN HEIST!

Did that catch your attention and pique your interest? That, my friend, is the power of emotive language. Emotive writing elicits an emotional response. It’s used everywhere, from newspapers to magazines to journals to novels. Advertisements’ main purpose is to excite emotion from their readers, viewers or listeners, and thus pull them in more.

In the example above, the headline could have simply read, “Dozens killed in failed train robbery!” With the inclusion of the word “brutally” and changing “killed” to “slaughtered,” however, the headline instantly emotes a more brutal, tragic feeling.

Newspapers are notorious for using this kind of language to “enhance” stories and attract more readers. In an attempt to catch more viewers and sway opinions, TV news networks have also caught backlash from using emotive language, as opposed to straightforward informative statements. Advertisements use similar methods to entice consumers to buy their products, wielding powerful statements like “Fights plaque buildup,” “Keeps tough grease under control,” and “Relieves back pain.”

Rhetorical language, on the other hand, is language or wording that conveys a certain meaning. Think of rhetorical language like emotive language, but slightly less “underhanded.” Rhetoric is traditionally used to persuade another, regardless of adherence to the truth. Authors and speakers often use rhetoric to persuade readers/listeners to look at a topic from a different point of view.

Some examples of rhetorical devices are:

  • Simile: My car drives as smooth as butter.
  • Metaphor: Daemon is such a parasite.
  • Alliteration: My poor hapless, heaving heart.
  • Assonance: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
  • Onomatopoeia: Thwap! Kaboom!

Rhetorical language is much more widely accepted in all mediums than emotive language, but there’s a time and a place for both. Which one do you use the most? Why? Please share your thoughts below!

Dancing With Words

The Word Waltz

by Linda Cook

Do your words dance? Do they have musicality, form, and structure? Do they connect emotionally with the reader? Do your characters glide across the page and through your story? Or do they flounder, trip, and stumble?

Have you ever watched the TV program called Dancing with the Stars? It’s a dance competition where professional dancers pair up with celebrity contestants. The stars can be anyone… football player, soap star, singer, politician, gymnast, comedian, or an astronaut.

Each week, the pros inspire, instruct and train the stars so they can successfully compete against other pro and celebrity couples. Judges and viewers score the dancers. The remaining pair wins the coveted Mirror Ball Trophy.

The celebrities begin with high hopes, excitement and enthusiasm, but few have a clue what is expected or involved. They don’t know a Jive from a Foxtrot or a Cha-Cha from the Mambo. Dance terms like extension, lifts, frame, form, or footwork are as alien as Mars and Jupiter. Stars are unprepared for the discipline and dedication, tears and frustration, pain and physical stamina needed … much less harsh critiques by the judges. To top it off, their reactions and emotions are on display for the entire world to see.

As a new writer, you are much like the stars. You’re thrilled with the prospect of writing. You love words, their lyrical quality, imagery, and the sensations they evoke. So, you begin, ready to conquer the writing world. It’s not long until reality sets in. Writing terms like character development, conflict resolution, plot formation, voice, effective dialogue, tense confusion, editing, revisions, and show – don’t tell bombard you. You stomp, yank at your hair, rant and rave at your ineptness.

It’s clear that you’re in over your head, and yet, you can’t stop scribbling. You know you want to succeed, but need help to get there. This is when you need a professional tutor to guide you and move your writing forward.

How to Help Yourself: subscribe to writing magazines, newsletters, read “how to” books, enroll in writing courses, join a writer’s group, attend a conference. Listen to advice. Absorb information. Be brave enough to send your words out for others to read. Don’t be angry or defensive when you receive rejections or responses you don’t agree with. Embrace constructive feedback as well as praise.

Take a lesson from the celebrities on Dancing with the Stars and learn your craft. Revise, rewrite, and practice again until your words flow smoothly. Growing writers who have desire, discipline, and determination will achieve their writing goals. They are the ones who will bring the prize home. You can be one of them!

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What is “Voice” and How Do You Use it?

Finding Your Voice

by Deborah Owen

What do writers mean by “voice”? The voice, or point of view (POV), is the angle from which a story is viewed; every story and article has one. There are three types of POV and, while some are more preferable, no particular one is right or wrong.

First person POV pronouns are: I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, and ours. New authors usually write in first person because they feel focused and closer to the story. First person draws the reader in, but it’s a limiting POV and is not the editor’s favorite.

There are two problems with first person POV. First, the constant use of “I” becomes trite. Second, the story’s character only knows what the writer knows, and cannot see from a different POV.

For example, if John says, “Susan is going to meet me at seven o’clock,” and in the meantime, Susan falls, breaks a leg, and lies helplessly on the floor, John will not know what happened to her until someone tells him. First person POV is better reserved for memoirs, journal entries, and specific stories.

Second person POV pronouns are: you, (singular), you (plural), your, and yours. Example: “You must come with me to the Christmas play. You and I will have popcorn and lots of fun. Did you know your hat is on backwards?” As you can see, this point of view is even more limiting and seldom, if ever, used.

Third person POV pronouns are: he, his, she, hers, it, its, they, their, and theirs. There are two kinds of third person writing, omniscient, and limited. In third person omniscient, the readers are like flies on the wall and they can see into characters’ minds. This POV limits the suspense since the reader is left with few unanswered questions – but it’s easy to write because authors don’t have to work at “showing” the scene.

*  Third person limited doesn’t show internal dialogue (thoughts) so the characters can’t foreknow anything. Like first person, the readers can see through the character’s eyes, but unlike first person, they can also see through the eyes of others.

In third person limited, the suspense builds as the writer shows the scene instead of telling it. The reader lives the story as the character lives it. Here is an example from Deborah Owen’s The Perfect Crime:

“Harrison slumped against the car, collapsed on the ground, and rolled in agony as he clutched his chest. Vision blurred. Eyes rolled back. The wide, empty stare relaxed as the death angel gathered his spirit.”

Editors buy more third person limited than first person; however, this technique is harder to master because it depends on showing, not telling. Let your readers feel your characters instead of seeing them. Play with the various points of view until you’re comfortable writing all of them.

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Punctuation Study

Understanding Punctuation

by Deborah Owen

Creative writers rarely study punctuation, but almost everyone needs a brush-up now and then. See if you know all of these variations.

Imperative and declarative sentences

Both imperative and declarative sentences require a normal period.

Imperative commands: Give me a hug. Tell me goodbye when you leave.

Declarative sentences state a fact, such as: She gave him a hug. She told her mother goodbye when she left.

But some declarative sentences contain a question. If the sentence as a whole states the question as a fact, it should end with a period. (Confusing, isn’t it?)

As a question:  Would you like to go to a party?

As a statement: I wonder if you would like to go to the party.

The latter sentence states that I am wondering if you would like to go to the party; therefore, it is not asking a direct question.

Abbreviated words ending in a period

Mr., Dr., Rev., etc., i.e., and Mrs. are examples of abbreviated words that have periods. If your declarative or imperative sentence have an abbreviated word at the end, don’t add an additional period.

(Correct) The movie starts at 8 p.m. (Incorrect) The movie starts at 8 p.m..

Question marks

A question mark is used at the end of a normal question, but it is also used to express doubt or the unknown. When the question mark is used on a gravestone, it is usually placed in parentheses, like this: (1960–?) In such a case, the engraver doesn’t know when the person died.

In the following sentence, the writer is not sure whether the pet mentioned is a cat or some other animal.

In her will, the eccentric woman left her pet cat (?) the entire estate.

(Writer’s hint: If you don’t know what kind of animal the pet is, just say “pet.”)

If there is a series of incomplete questions, place a question mark at the end of each question, as in:

Can you believe the man survived the gunshot? And the fall from the six-story building? And hitting the flagpole? (Neither can I.)

Exclamation marks

Sometimes called an exclamation point, this handy little punctuation is used to indicate surprise or a strong emotion or feeling, as in: Get out of my room!

To make that a much milder statement (command), I could have said, Get out of my room. (Notice that it ended with a period.) When a statement uses an exclamation point, it relates a sense of urgency or possible anger. Note how the exclamation mark changes the related emotion.

Get out. I said, get out. I said, get out!

Exclamation marks are rarely used in formal writing except in quotes or the citing of a title. You may also see them in article “teasers.” In informal writing, you should use an exclamation point at the end of a strong sentence or after relating particularly exciting information.

If the exclamation mark is used to punctuate exciting information within a sentence, it is placed in parentheses, as in: Mike won first place (!) in the spelling bee.

And last but certainly not least, don’t use the exclamation mark more than an average of once per page. You should be showing emotions by painting scenes with imagery, not telling the emotions with punctuation.

Fortunately, you can be somewhat creative in using punctuation! For more great writing tips, go to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and sign up for our newsletter!

Twist that Ending and Twist it Again

The Art to Twisting an Ending

by Deborah Owen

We all know a surprise ending when we see one, but how do you write it? Read on to find out.

Wikipedia defines a twisted ending as an unexpected conclusion or climax to a work of fiction, which may contain a surprising irony, or cause the audience to review the story from a different perspective by revealing new information about the characters or plot.

In other words, a twisted ending is the conclusive form of plot twists. This literary device is also referred to as a surprise ending.

Alfred Hitchcock was the first master of twisted endings in film. In only 30 minutes, he could develop a plot and mislead the viewer. His technique was something akin to the game of “Clue,” allowing the viewers to draw their own faulty conclusions. This type of twisted ending is called a “red herring.”

In the movie Moby Dick, Captain Ahab spends his life searching for the white whale that bit his leg off. The twist comes when Ahab becomes ensnared in ropes attached to the great white and the whale drags him to his drowning death.

Examples: Let’s suppose a man has murdered a woman and her husband is out to catch the killer. Just as hubby catches the murderer, the police arrive and take the man into custody. How can you twist that ending? There are many ways and none are right or wrong. You have literary license to do as you please, but do follow one rule: satisfy your reader. Here are a few ideas:

1. The husband’s vendetta is to see the killer die, but when the murderer goes to trial, he begs for the death penalty. Now the husband wants him to live a miserable life in prison.

2. Suppose the killer became a Christian and begged the husband to forgive him? Think how that would change the parameters of this case.

3. Suppose the murderer was sentenced to life without parole? The husband of the dead woman is delighted with the verdict, but an inmate kills the murderer on the first day in prison. Oops.

4. Or… the killer could escape from the courtroom, dash into the street and be hit by a semi.

5. The judge sentences the man to death. The dead woman’s husband is happy, but his grief drives him to his knees and he becomes a Christian. He changes his mind about wanting the killer to die and instead, leads a campaign for a stay of execution.

The best ending is when you twist the ending, and then twist it again. For example, let’s make this murderer a really evil man. In prison, he killed two people but wasn’t caught in the act. Eventually, he gets paroled and is promptly hit by a car. The reader thinks justice has been served… but the man doesn’t die. He’s paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life.

The secret to twisting an ending is finding the point where you can veer off to an alternative resolution. Exactly what you do with it from that point is up to you.

Your turn. Think of a scene and how you can twist the ending and share it with us.

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Basic Story Structure

Story Structure 101

by Deborah Owen

All creative writers are bound to an invisible law of journalism. From the beginning of time, the same structure has been used. All of the great writers use it. But after this lesson, you will see that story structure is far more than the initial breakdown:

  • Exposition – the beginning, what the story is about
  • Conflict –  man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, man vs. internal conflict
  • Climax – releases the main plot
  • Resolution – resolve all situations

If you google “story structure,” you will find many variations. You might find plot, conflict, conclusion – or theme, climax, and conclusion. No matter how you word it, the basic answer is the same. Without any one of these elements, the story will flounder.

But you must expound on the following things, no matter what kind of story you are writing:

  • Point of View (POV)
  • Plot
  • Theme
  • Setting
  • Characterization
  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Writing style
  • Genre

If you want to transfer your reader from their sofa or chair to the scene in your mind, you must use settings. This can be anything from an open window with a curtain blowing in the breeze to a murder scene in progress. The best idea is to open midway through an action scene. This will grab your audience quicker and keep them longer, as they read to find the outcome.

There is a difference between plot and theme. Plot is the event (or series of events) that occurs in the story. Plot is the central heart of what the story is about. Theme, on the other hand, is the underlying motivation that drives the story.

The open window with the curtains blowing in the breeze is part of a setting, which in turn is part of the larger picture, the plot. Every time there is an event in the story, you must ask yourself these questions: “Why is the window open? How did the window get opened? Obviously, someone opened it. But why?” These questions move you into the theme of the story. Always ask yourself, who, what, when, where, why and how. The answer to these questions is the theme that drives the story, the underlying motivation of the story – if you will, the reason why the story is there.

Point of view is how the reader sees the story. If you tell it in first person point of view (I went to the store…), the reader will see the story through your eyes. If you tell it in third person point of view, (he went to the store…), the reader will see the story through the character’s eyes. New writers usually like to write in first person, but the majority of editors are now mostly buying third person. This new trend makes a huge difference in choosing your POV.

A few brief words on some of the above: Characterization – make your characters real to the reader by concentrating on descriptions, attitudes, failures, and quirks. Dialogue – it’s okay to use accents, but preferably not on the main character. And for settings – use anything that describes where a person is, or will be in conjunction to plot or theme.

What problems do you have in story structure? Let us know in the comments below! For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice newsletter at www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com!

What is Speculative Fiction?

An Awesome New Look at Traditional Fiction

by Victoria Pakizer

Speculative fiction contains every awesome genre of entertainment available. It is fantasy, horror, science fiction, different realities, alternative history, superhero fiction, utopias (a wonderful society), dystopias (a terrible society), steampunk (updates of Victorian era), cuberpunk (where virtual reality and true reality are difficult to separate), magical realism, fairy tales, etc. or a mixture of any of the above. The easiest way to summarize speculative fiction is: any story that takes place in a reality that is different from our own.

These movies, shows, and books are examples of speculative fiction: The Matrix, Dawn of the Dead, Dollhouse, Clockwork Angel, Smallville, The Sixth Sense, Brave New World, Shiver, and The Lord of the Rings.

One major component of speculative fiction is science fiction. If you read a story about aliens, alternative universes, advanced technologies, futuristic settings, time travel, or something similar, you’re reading a science fiction novel. Science fiction deals with the more plausible side of make-believe. As the saying goes, science fiction may not be fiction forever. Examples of this are Star Trek, Back to the Future, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Firefly.

Another genre included in speculative fiction is paranormal/horror. This genre is stuffed with creatures you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, such as ghosts, vampires, serial killers, demons, and zombies. When people think of horror, they usually think about a group of teenagers with an IQ below 30 getting lost in the woods, chased by a cannibalistic family, and death scenes that involve blood, guts, and gore. While that certainly counts as horror/paranormal, so do stories that involve werewolves, such as Teen Wolf, or ghosts like Hamlet. Other examples of horror/supernatural are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dracula, and Silent Hill.

Speculative fiction also includes fantasy. Some elements of fantasy are dragons, wizards, elves, King Arthur, and Zeus. Fantasy usually has a “medieval” feel to it and may envelop myths and legends, but “urban fantasy” can take place in a realistic setting like New York City. A Song of Fire and Ice, Merlin, and Enchanted are all examples of fantasy.

So, if we have science fiction, horror, and fantasy as separate genres, why do we need speculative fiction? We need it for TV shows like Supernatural, a story about two brothers who hunt monsters. We assume the show is mostly horror/paranormal, but it features demons who create alternative dimensions, angels who travel through time, and ghosts who cause fairy tales to come to life.

Supernatural has horror creatures comprising both science fiction and fantasy elements, and that’s where speculative fiction enters. Whenever a work involves more than one genre, you can call it speculative fiction.

There’s an unspoken rule in creative writing that states don’t mix genres. For example, if you’re writing a science fiction novel, it’s best to stay away from fantasy elements. It could be jarring if, in the middle of Star Wars, Lancelot showed up riding a dragon to save the day, but we’re finding more and more authors who are smudging the dividing line between genres.

The TV show Angel features a vampire who travels to alternative dimensions on occasion. Thor is a stereotypical superhero movie that relies heavily on Norse mythology. Mixing genres can result in magic.

Authors who don’t understand speculative fiction may find themselves stuck in a box, afraid to let Athena fight zombies, but speculative fiction says – why not?

If you’re a good enough writer, you can write about aliens meeting King Arthur. Writers are trained not to break the rules, but with the genre of speculative fiction, feel free to do so. This genre opens countless creative options! Good luck and have fun breaking the rules.

Have any crazy ideas for Speculative Fiction? Let us know in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to go to the www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com to find out more about our creative writing courses!

Did You Break Your New Year’s Resolutions?

Getting Inspired Again

by Deborah Owen

How to Get your Motivation Back

Have you already broken your New Year’s Resolution to write more? Did you want to take a writing class this year? Write more often? Finish that story? Try poetry? Breaking resolutions is only natural, but you mustn’t allow this to leave you feeling discouraged, demoralized and demotivated.

Life is busy, and it waits for no one. Don’t be cross with yourself for “failing”. No one really fails. They are just procrastinating; always thinking tomorrow will be different. It happens with diets. It happens with smoking. It happens with writing too. The main thing is to pick yourself up now and start over again. And should you fail in this effort as well, begin again another day. As long as you have new days, you have the opportunity to succeed.

Refocusing on your Writing

Daily resolutions are the only kind of resolutions that really accomplish anything, so now is the time to make your daily resolve. Here are a few ideas to help you refocus:

  • Break your writing time into small chunks that you can work into every day. Fifteen minutes is a good start. That gives you five minutes to clear your mind and ten minutes to get into the groove. You’d be surprised what you can write in fifteen minutes. True story: An unpublished woman wrote and finished a book by writing fifteen minutes a day on her lunch hour. She sent it to an editor. He bought it, and she got it published. Writers, you make your own limitations, and you make your own chances in life. Get going!

Did you break your New Year’s resolutions?

  • If you don’t find inspiration when you sit down to write, don’t worry! You can write about your work, your boss, a rude clerk in the store, a nice person you met, your mate, how you want to remodel the house, or about your dreams. What matters is that you string your words together in proper English, demonstrating proper punctuation, and good thought patterns. Remember: everything you write has meaning. It shows your attitude, your interest, your opinion, your intentions, your psychological status, and it develops your writing talents.
  • Write at the same time every day, if at all possible. That is the key to wanting to write. If you write at the same time every day for a week, you’ll begin to feel the “muse” – the urge to write. When you resist that urge because you choose to do something else, the muse will be diminished the next day. Put writing at the top of your priorities.

If you haven’t met the muse, you’ll know it when it hits you. It will be hard to type as fast as your mind can deliver the content. You won’t want to stop. You won’t want to be disturbed. You won’t want to do anything but write… that is the muse. Cherish it. Love it. Obey it when it calls. The muse is to a writer what a car is to a driver. It’s your vehicle to transport you from this world into the one you create.

So, what were your writing-related New Years resolutions? Share them with us in the comments below! And after that, be sure to check out www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and sign up for an affordable 8-week writing course!

How to Write Dialogue Tags

Advice for Setting Up Meaningful Story Dialogue

by Deborah Owen

Dialogue tags are the short insertions that identify the speakers in a written conversation. Without them, the reader would be lost.

Dialogue tags are quick signposts that keep the reader on the right path. When you change paths to another speaker, it is not always necessary to place a tag. Sometimes you can use characters’ speech patterns and the natural flow of conversation to identify a change in speakers.

Modern style dictates that all dialogue tags identify the speaker first, and then the action. In other words you should write, “Jason said” rather than “said Jason”. If you are selling your work, little things like this show you are up on the latest writing trends.

Don’t use tags such as, “Jack said mysteriously,” or “Crystal said wryly.” Avoid the use of adverbs that end in –ly. Stick to the same ole, same ole, mundane, “Jack said.” The reader’s subconscious mind will pass over this without realizing they have read it.

Readers expect to see tags. They flow with the story and don’t distract from the action.

When you introduce conversations into your stories, narration and exposition will become dialogue. And with that change will come an exchange of emotion, pace, conflict, and the actions of the characters as they progress through the theme.

Challenge yourself to give life and energy to speech. If you want to know what natural dialogue sounds like, quit talking and listen. Eavesdropping will become your best friend. Eavesdrop everywhere you go. Restaurant talk is fabulous. That is conversation at its best!

Can you hear what your character would say in your mind? If you can’t, you don’t know them well enough. Make a list of 50 things about your character, and you will know him/her inside out. When you can hear them speaking in your mind and can view them as real people, it will be easier to hear their normal conversation.

Always address the following questions:

  • Does the dialogue reflect the speech of real people?
  • Does it bring the reader into the emotion of the scene?
  • Does it flow naturally?

The most common failing of authors is to write meaningless, or too much dialogue. The reader’s mind requires frequent rests to absorb the action and for that reason, you need to break the dialogue into groups and sprinkle short scenes of settings throughout. You can do this with just about anything.

Avoid conversations that are one or two-liners, like this:

“How are you?” Jane asked.

“I’m doing good,” Jack said.

“So, what’s new?”

“Not much.”

This kind of conversation is boring and has no purpose. Dialogue should provide backstory, add to the character, reveal a clue, further the plot, or introduce new material. If your dialogue is there just to make conversation, edit it into something useful.

What is your favorite way to use dialogue? Let us know in the comments below!

Stop in for a visit at www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and find even more writing tips in our newsletter, The Writer’s Choice.

Tips and Tricks to Writing Emotions

Are Emotions Absent in your Scenes? If they aren’t, don’t look now, but you just lost your readers.

by Deborah Owen

There are tips and tricks to writing emotions. As a creative writer, you must feel the mood you’re writing. This is imperative if you want to reach your audience. How can you do that? By experiencing the mood.

Let’s suppose you want to write a scene that displays anger. Maybe the story is about abuse, a mom and dad arguing, or sibling rivalry. Maybe it’s about a girl breaking up with her boyfriend because he was cheating on her. If the scene is intense, you have to get into the mood. I mean red, piping hot angry.

Remember the guy or gal that dumped you 30 years ago? Remember the time you had a bad dream about your pal and you wouldn’t speak to him/her all day? How about when you got steamed at the boss, or got into a heated argument over politics, world affairs, abortion, women’s rights, etc.? As a writer, you must recapture those emotions and write them into your scenes. It should be so real that you attend anger management classes to get over it.

Do you need to be happy? Then think of some happy occasions. Sing a crazy song as loud as you can. Laugh like an idiot! When you begin laughing at yourself, it’s time to write that joy into your scene.

Another way to develop absent emotions is to imagine yourself as the character and write entries in a diary from his/her point of view. Live the make-believe life. Do whatever it takes to crawl into your character’s skin. You can’t write effectively what you don’t know or aren’t in the mood for. (You can, however, write a draft for the scene and come back to build it in a more realistic way later.)

Remember that your protagonist (main character, hero) and antagonist (villain) must be three-dimensional characters. They must have a past and a future; they must have problems in their lives and they must work through those issues like real, live people. Your characters should be real enough to walk off the page and sit next to the reader. If your reader can’t identify with the characters, he or she will probably not continue reading.

When my daughter was 16 years old, it was not uncommon for her to sit cross-legged on the floor and bawl her eyes out over a dramatic TV show. One night I winked at my husband and said, “That actress is playing her part really well, isn’t she?” He picked up on it and we talked back and forth about the actress’ career and wondered out loud what movie she would be in next – although she just died in that scene.

Our daughter turned around, tears dripping off her cheeks, and said, “Quit it, you guys. You’re ruining the show!” But what she really meant was, “I’m into the character. I feel what she is feeling. Don’t move me out of the scene.”

If your characters aren’t three-dimensional, (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) you’ll lose your readers. Put yourself into the mood and into the groove. Live what you write.

How do you best write emotions? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to head over to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com to find out about our creative writing courses!

You can find me online at http://www.deborahowen.wordpress or deborahowen on Twitter. Don’t forget to “like” us before you leave! Click on the title to leave a comment. Thank you!