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

Using Voice Effectively
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 preferred, 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 never 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, and rolled in agony as he clutched his chest. Vision blurred, and then his eyes rolled back until they relaxed in a wide, empty stare.”

The sample doesn’t say the man had a heart attack and died, but you know it, don’t you? As you can see, even showing may have a little ‘telling’ in it.

Editors buy more third person limited than first person. 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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Use Inference to Say More by Saying Less

Do you know how to use inference?

by Deborah Owen

All creative writers use inference, whether by choice or by accident. So, you may be thinking, “If I can use it by accident, why should I study it?” You should study it because you can use the technique more effectively if you understand all the ramifications involved.

This is inference: Mary went into labor. She had a monkey. These are the types of headlines you see in the Enquirer and other such magazines. On the surface, one might assume the following:

  1. A woman had mated with a monkey and she got pregnant.
  2. The lady went to the hospital to give birth.
  3. Her baby wasn’t a child, it was a monkey.
  4. It was a historical event.
  5. This event would open new doors to the medical and scientific community.
  6. The news media would hound the monkey child throughout its life.
  7. Documentaries would undoubtedly be created.
  8. A movie would be in the making.

Thoughts would flood the reader’s mind. Was the woman on a safari? Did an ape molest her? Where were the other members of the safari? Was the woman married? How would her family accept the monkey baby? Would the monkey baby have human characteristics?

Or, you could read it the way I was thinking when I wrote it: Mary was in labor, and she owned a monkey. Do you see what inference can do?

Mystery writers often mislead their readers by dropping clues that can be interpreted in more than one way. Inference can also be used in riddles, jokes, and games.

Inference creates a mental puzzle for the reader to solve. The reader’s mind will always jump past the immediate and form its own conclusions based on the information it has been fed. If the writer so desires, he can change the mental image in the next sentence.

Another example:

The bride collapsed in tears and could not be consoled.

You might think:

  1. The groom didn’t show up for the wedding.
  2. Someone dropped the wedding cake.
  3. The organist or preacher could not be present.
  4. She stained or ripped her wedding gown.

We could imagine all sorts of things, but what I’m actually thinking is that her father died of a heart attack during the wedding. From what I said, however, it is unlikely that anyone would grasp that meaning. Readers will infer their own meaning from the given evidence and render their own conclusions. In other words, they will replace the lack of information with their own definition of what would cause a bride to collapse in tears.

Inference is a great tool. You can infer that a man is in love with his best friend’s wife without ever saying it. You can further infer that they are having a love affair and the husband knows nothing about it. If you introduce a gun into the equation, you can infer someone is going to die. Try your hand at inference. It’s fun.

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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, or man vs. internal conflict
  • Climax
  • Resolution

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.

Have anything you need a little more clarification on? Don’t be shy–let us know in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to stop by www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and sign up for some of outr awesome creative writing courses!

Novel Writing Isn’t for Beginners

Some Novel Advice

by Deborah Owen

There’s no use in attacking me. I already have 100 beginners beating on my door. By the time you arrive, there’ll be nothing left but a greasy smear and a bloody pair of shoes – but you could extend your sympathies to my husband.

Like most writers, I thought I could write a book without taking so much as one writing class. It took ten years, but I did it. When I had finished it occurred to me that I had no idea how to market it –- and what were those things called query letters and cover letters? Where did they fit into the picture? Thus, I began to see my ignorance.

I shared this story with a 15-year-old who responded, “Just because you couldn’t make it, doesn’t mean I can’t.” That little gal has a lot to learn, and like me, she’ll learn it the hard way.

If you can be the first person to successfully write and sell a novel without learning a thing about writing, please let me know. I’ll buy a copy and send you a medal.

Does a kindergartner toddle down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance and start high school that fall? Would you hire a mechanic who has never worked on a car? Would you go to a doctor who has never attended medical school? Would you hire a plumber to fix your sink if he didn’t know one size wrench from the other?

Thank goodness there are some areas of life that don’t require profound expertise. Writing a novel just isn’t one of them. Most writers break into the field by writing articles and move up to short story writing. Later, they may try novel writing, but one thing is sure, the odds of writing and selling a book without previous training are almost nil.

Why People Write a Book

Most authors write a book because they have a story to tell, knowledge to impart, or they want to help others, but the brutal, searing fact of life is this: total strangers don’t care about you or your life unless it can be of practical value to them.

But let’s suppose that you’re still not convinced and are determined to write that book without committing yourself to a writing education.

See How You Fare on This Quiz

  • What is a hook and how do you make it? (Hint: we aren’t talking about fly-fishing.)
  • How do you build a 3D character?
  • What are 2D characters?
  • How many words are in the average line? Average paragraph?
  • What is a theme and how do you demonstrate it?
  • What is a plot and how do you structure it?
  • What is the acceptable percentage of passive sentences?
  • What is the difference between active and passive voice?
  • What are warts?
  • What are red herrings?
  • What is verbiage?
  • What are polysyndeton, asyndeton, onomatopoeia, epistrophe, and anaphora?
  • What are parallel sentences?
  • What is an arc and where should it fall?
  • What are resolutions?
  • Name three methods of discovery.
  • When should you not send a query letter?
  • What is the difference between a query letter and a cover letter?
  • How do you analyze a magazine?
  • How many chapters does a publishing company usually request?
  • Can you properly craft and sell a 2,000-word short story?

If you don’t know all of this and a whole lot more, you’re wasting your time writing a book, unless you do so for genealogy purposes or as a hobby.

Maybe you’re wondering where to learn these things and how long it will take. Start with the three basic writing courses in this order: Dynamic Nonfiction (whether you like to write it or not), Creative Writing 101 (or Mechanics of Grammar), and Short Story Safari. Each course will take about eight weeks. Although it takes years to become a seasoned writer, you can be selling nonfiction within two months. It’s a beginning.

Some folks might also need a Punctuation Review course, but punctuation is covered in all classes to some degree, so you might not need it. But if for some reason you can’t take these courses, read every article you can find on writing and take notes! Subscribe to The Writer Magazine, which (in my opinion) is the best writing magazine on the market. Find experienced writers and ask questions.

Join writing groups. I like Writing.com. They have a five-star rating system where you can rate each other’s work. Before you join any writing group, determine that you will accept 95% of the suggestions you receive, and won’t wear your feelings on your sleeve.

This is good, sensible advice and it will save you years of needless labor, but make no doubt about it, learning to write is very much like learning to play the piano. It takes years to become a professional. Why not start today?

If you’ve attempted to write a novel, what are some of the challenges that you’ve faced? Let us know in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to swing by  www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and look into our creative writing courses!

How to Jump Start Story Ideas

Getting Inspired

by Deborah Owen

Ideas are all around you. A car is broken down. A murderer could pick up the stranded passenger and kidnap, rape or kill her. Two girls are ice-skating. One girl drowns and her ghost returns to visit the surviving girl. Readers love the macabre.

Look at an animal, a truck, or an object and think: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Example – you see a snake statue. Why is it there? Who owned it? What is the significance?

  • Look at pictures and let your imagination run wild.
  • Look at a house and imagine what goes on inside.
  • Sit in a restaurant and eavesdrop. Imagine the rest.
  • Think of a dramatic scene and embellish it.
  • Walk around in a crowd and find a strange face that fills you with emotion. Look within. Make yourself and your experiences into a character.
  • Take known problems from several people’s lives and piece it together for a story.

Stories are everywhere. At the end of this article, you’ll find an address where you can search old newspapers. Read the stories of yesteryear, change the facts, rename the characters, and turn it into your own story.

Don’t forget to stop by www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com to discover more writing tips and learn about our awesome creative writing courses!

Here’s the link I mentioned earlier: http://www.xooxleanswers.com/free-newspaper-archives/

How to Develop a Story

A Step-by-Step Rundown 

by Deborah Owen

There are many ways to form a story in your mind, but I have developed a unique approach that almost writes the story for you. Keeping in mind that every story must have plot, conflict, and resolution (not necessarily in that order) – I build the conflict first, then the resolution, and then the lead in. Notice I didn’t say the “plot”. The plot will develop by itself with this method.

Step 1

I’ll make up a story right now, as I type, to show you the process. I’m starting in the middle of my story because I’ll get into the action quicker, I’ll be able to identify most of the characters quickly, and the plot will develop more easily. FIRST, I’ll begin with the action scene that comes in the middle. I have no idea what it will be. I’ll think about high drama and tension and start there. (90 seconds of thinking.)

I will make this story about two abused children, a sister about aged 9 and her brother, aged 5. My mind begins with the action scene where an enraged stepfather chases them through a forest. They are hiding in a tiny washout in a bank that is covered by tree roots. They found it when the little boy sat down, leaned against the roots and fell into it.

The stepfather races through the forest, loudly calling their names. Gasping for air, he sits down and leans against the same tree, not three feet from where they are hiding. The children hold their breath in fear, lest he should fall into the hole and discover them.

Step 2

Okay. The anti-climax is done and my mind is thoroughly into the story. Next, I’ll create the ending. (Pause – thinking.) The children will come across a village they didn’t know existed. The people who live there dress in strange clothes, like a throwback in time.  They see a man who is a shoe cobbler, and a woman wearing wooden shoes that clack their way down the street.

The children run to the shoe cobbler and pant out their story to him. The cobbler alerts the townspeople that a huge, fierce man is coming and that he intends to harm the children. The townspeople hold a hurried meeting and decide to lay a trap to snare him.

The man walks into the trap, is caught, and put on trial. The people are merciless. In their eyes, there is no greater crime than abusing children. In such cases, they feel that ridding the earth of such a vile person is commendable – and they are commendable people. They hang him. The children live with the shoe cobbler and his wife, and they spend the rest of their natural lives with the townspeople.

Developing the lead will be easy now. What I want you to see is that jumping into a tragic scene mentally will naturally lead you to the number of characters you must have and who they are.

Step 3

Next, I have to answer some questions for the reader, such as, where is the mother all this time? My easy answer is that she’s dead. I can either state that or show it. Next, I have to tell my reader what happened to the natural father, and how the stepfather came into the picture. Or – I have a new idea. Maybe the real father is chasing them, but not to harm them. He’s trying to rescue them and their mother (who is no longer dead). Let’s suppose the mother married the stepfather because her first husband was supposedly killed in war, but now he’s back, trying to rescue her.

That puts the story into a happier mode, and it makes for a better plot. I’ll go with that. So the father is chasing them all this time, but the children think it is the stepfather, so they’re hiding in their little hole and waiting until he leaves. (Note the irony of having the father so near the children, and neither knows the other is there), and then they run to the village. The village people ensnare their father, thinking he is the stepfather who is trying to harm the children, but just before the hanging, the children see it is their father and he takes them home to their mother and they live happily ever after. Now I have to figure out what happened to the stepfather.

This is a very good way to build a story. I call it the DeBowen Story technique. Start writing in the middle of the climax scene, complete the story, and go back to write the introduction. Answer the questions of who, where, why, what, and how, and join it all together. It’s that simple.

The second ending I thought of at the last minute is better than the first because it has a twist, and because it has irony. Both of these are good writing tools.

There is something noteworthy here, and that is, you must always let the reader feel satisfied at the end of the story. That’s why you see very few stories with a sad ending. If you don’t satisfy your reader, they won’t want to read anything else you write.

This kind of story will run about 2,000 words. It will require two main characters (the real father and the oldest child). It will need at least three minor characters (the mother, little boy, and shoe cobbler). That’s an awful lot to cram into 2,000 words, but it can be done.

This DeBowen writing method will work for you every time. Try it. Let me know if you like the approach. And don’t forget to head over to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com to find out about our creative writing courses! Don’t forget to “like” and rate us before you go, and thanks for stopping by! Deb

Getting Started in Writing

Writing… Is it Right for You?

The Beginning of a Life-long Journey

By Deborah Owen

What would you give to be a good writer? Would you be willing to study hard, to start at the bottom, to invest in yourself? That’s what learning the writing trade is all about, and you can learn it in two years or less.

Writing will fulfill you.
Writing will be worth the sacrifice.
Writing will make you more than you are.

Perhaps the following syllabi from Creative Writing Institute will help you judge your present level of writing.

Punctuation Review: Learn basic comma rules, dependent and independent clauses, the use of semicolons, parentheses, dashes, apostrophes, hyphens, question marks, exclamation marks, quotation marks, and slashes. This is an awesome brush-up course for those who are weak in this area.

Mechanics of Writing is another brush-up course that deals with dialogue, comma splices, subject and verb agreement, coordinated vs. subordinated conjunction, double negatives, disruptive and misplaced modifiers, unclear antecedents, overuse of prepositions, fragmented and run-on sentences, prepositional phrases, query letters, and how to coordinate ideas. This is the course where most students should begin because it lays a great foundation.

Short Story Safari is an intermediate course that covers themes, choosing points of view, and targeting the audience. Students will learn to build and properly cast characters, create good dialogue, use word imagery, build conflict, cut verbiage in long sentences like this, and perhaps most importantly, the art of Show, Don’t Tell. Students will complete the course with a finished story.

Some people think it’s easier to write for children than to write for adults. Wrong. The Writing for Children course presents outlining, fleshing out characters, studying market techniques, building points of view, good dialogue, and Show, Don’t Tell. In addition, you will learn how to edit drafts, polish your final draft, and create fantastic queries and cover letters. Students will complete the course with a finished story.

Those who take the Fantasy Writing Class will study the difference between fantasy, horror, and sci-fi writing. The course also covers the history of fantasy writing, finding inspiration, creating fantasy characters, worlds, and battles. Additionally, students will study outlining, creating spells, mixing magic potions, and the necessary elements to transport your readers into a believable atmosphere. Students will complete the course with a finished story.

In Dynamic Nonfiction writers will find ideas for articles, contact editors for guidelines, do research, learn to notate properly, and learn critical thinking vs. argumentation. They will study topics and sub-topics, titles, description, cause and effect, and analogy. They will prepare a query letter and complete the course with a finished article.

Building Blocks of Poetry teaches students about perfect rhyme, near rhyme, lines and stanzas, repetition, consonance, assonance, rhythm, meter, and alliteration. They will also learn enjambment, caesura, scansion, imagery, metaphor, pathos, personification, and other techniques.

There are many more classes, but these represent some of the more popular ones. Two poetry courses are also available, teaching meter, rhyme, free verse, and various types of poetry.

Students who begin above their level are apt to become overwhelmed, discouraged, and disenchanted with learning. If you aren’t sure where you would fit into the learning scale, write to deborahowen@cwinst.com for information on how you can receive a free writing evaluation without obligation.

NOTE: Other schools may have identical class names but might teach different subjects within their courses. Always read the syllabus, and don’t forget to visit www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com for all your writing needs. Take a course and get your own personal tutor. On sale now!