Secret Writing Techniques #3 Polysyndeton

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Last week we talked about asyndeton – a method of listing items without using a conjunction for the purpose of showing more by saying less – and the week before was onomotoepia.

Today we will study polysyndeton, which is diametrically opposed to asyndeton. Polysyndeton is the repeated use of conjunctions for the purpose of intensifying the scene, building the excitement and indicating (like asyndeton) an endless and innumerable list.

Our thanks to Word Magic for Writers by Cindy Rogers for this example. This quote comes from Charlotte’s Web where a rat is telling Wilbur the pig, in no uncertain terms, what he expects.

“Struggle if you must,” said Templeton, “but kindly remember that I’m hiding down here in this crate and I don’t want to be stepped on, or kicked in the face, or pummeled, or crushed in any way, or squashed, or buffeted about, or bruised, or lacerated or scarred, or biffed.”

Do you think Templeton made himself clear? And how did he do that? He drove the point home by using the repetitious ‘or.’ You will find a lot of this in children’s books. If you will listen to children talk, they use a lot of polysndeton when they talk:

“Mommy, I want ice cream, and chocolate, and nuts, and whipped cream.”

Do you see how these examples build the scene by intensifying repetition? This is a simple technique, but don’t discount its importance.

P.S. Did you notice this example uses antiquated language? Writing styles are always morphing and wise is the writer who morphs with them. Today’s writer would have written “Templeton said” instead of “said Templeton.”

Assignment:

Write three sentences using ASYNDETON and three more sentences using POLYSYNDETON. Send them to DeborahOwen@CWinst.com. Memorize these words and know what they mean.

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Finding Your Child Voice

by Diane Robinson

When writing children literature, finding your own child voice is the only way to create realistic characters, believable dialogue, and succinct narrative that will grab your reader’s attention and keep them involved in your story.

Students often ask, “How do writers find their child voice?”

My answer is, before you can find your child voice, you must think like a child. To think like a child, you must play like a child, even if it is only in your mind.

Seems like a relatively simple thing to do, right?  But as adults, we often let go of (or lose completely) our childlike attitudes and behaviors or tuck them away in a memory box.

So, open the box. Remember. Put on a costume and dance around the room, go to a park and cruise down the slide, visit a classroom, read children’s literature, or hang out with some kids and just observe. Soon enough, your own childhood memories will come flooding back about what it was like to be that age, what was important, what wasn’t important, how you acted and how you talked, what the world sounded like, felt like, and tasted like. 

Once your own inner child is awakened, you will be able to immerse yourself into your character’s head with more freedom, with more pizzazz.

Another good exercise to get into child-mode thinking is to look at things, people, situations and emotions and write various approaches to express them with originality. Then, break the sentences down again and again until the emotions and situations are expressed simply, with the innocence of a child’s heart.

 Here are some examples of my child voice that I’ve used in my own stories:

Excited:  He felt as if a herd of jumping bugs were doing cartwheels in his stomach.

Sad: My heart fell sideways and stayed lying down all day.

Descriptive dialogue: “I know grandma can fly. She has that flabby, flapping skin under her arms that turns into her after-dark wings.”

Descriptive narrative: The wind pricked him, jabbed at him, finally becoming so mean with all its yelling and howling that he decided the wind just wasn’t worth playing with any longer.

So if you find yourself dancing and twirling around the kitchen, doing cartwheels across the yard, or finger painting like a four-year-old and somebody says you’re acting immature, take it as a compliment and start writing.

*Diane Robinson is an award-winning children’s chapter book author and a writing tutor at Creative Writing Institute

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Not Child’s Play

by Farheen Gani

“Maybe I write for kids because I’m just a kid at heart.” says Pam Zollman when questioned about her love for writing children’s books. She wrote her first poem at the age of seven, but this award-winning author has travelled a long way. From reporting for a daily, to being a technical editor, she has dabbled in many forms of writing. It was only after the birth of her sons did she discover her true love and, around 40 books later, she is raring to go.

Make no mistake though, she warns. Children’s writing isn’t as easy. “If children don’t understand what you’re talking about, they will put your book down. Adults are more willing to give a writer a chance,” she explains.

In this interview, she shares many insights such as this and more …

  1. Which do you think is more difficult to write: a picture book, early reader, or chapter book?

I think that each type of book has its own inherent set of problems. But, probably the picture book is the hardest to write. So many people read one, see how “simple” it is, and decide that they can do it, too. In today’s market, editors are asking for picture books to be 500 words or less…and tell a whole story! Tough to do, but obviously not impossible. Early readers are also hard to write because you need to write them with a limited vocabulary and word count and still tell a story that will keep the young reader interested. 

  1. How do you select the age group you are writing for?

I have found that I write naturally at a 3rd grade reading level and my inner child is about 10 or 11, sometimes 12, so I love writing for that age group. Sometimes I decide ahead of time that I want to write a picture book or a middle-grade novel. Sometimes it isn’t until after I’m deep into the story that I realize that I need to rethink how I’m presenting the story and that I need to make it younger or older. 

  1. Are there any themes/ issues close to your heart?

I tend to write what I call “school stories.” These are small stories about kids dealing with problems at home and at school. Many of these have relationship issues at the heart of the story. The hurting child is always close to my heart – but that’s what we’re supposed to do to our characters. Make them loveable and then hurt them so that the reader cares what happens to them. 

  1. Do you try to incorporate a message in each of your books?

If I wrote a good story, then the message/lesson is already there, coming naturally from the character and conflicts he or she has to overcome to achieve his/her goal or solve the problem. No one likes to be lectured. If you want to learn something specifically, then you turn to nonfiction. 

Don’t misunderstand. While I think fiction is written for its escape elements and pure, simple enjoyment, I also know that kids are learning things from my stories. It might be how to cope with a bully or it might be different types of insects or dealing with younger brothers.

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Five Ways to Succeed as a Middle Grade Writer

by Angela Gunn

More of a market than a genre, Middle Grade (MG) readers love a great book. As they struggle to figure out their place in the world, this age group (8–12) wants stories they can identify with, which also explain and open up a whole new way of seeing the world. If you want to write meaningful stories for voracious readers, here are five ways to succeed as an MG writer:

1. Read Middle Grade books

Familiarize yourself with published and successful MG books to help you figure out what is age appropriate for this market. A solid understanding of your intended reader is the key to your succesThey might be kids, but they aren’t stupid

2. While Middle Graders are not yet young adults, they’re no longer little children either. Forget writing in a complicated style. Keep your readers interested with age appropriate sentence structure and a smattering of new vocabulary to keep them learning.

3. No romance, sex or swear words.

Don’t forget that MG books tend to be purchased by parents, schools and libraries. This is not the ideal audience for your latest romantic novel. The same applies for stories with sex, swear words, graphic violence or hopeless endings.

4. Write for Middle Grade boys

While no editor will turn down a brilliant story for MG girls, there is currently a gap to fill with stories for MG boys. If you’ve got one, get writing!

5. Don’t rely on fads or gimmicks to sell your books

If you want to write the kind of MG book that adults still tell their friends about, stories that focus on universal truths will fare better over the years than books based on current fads or gimmicks. Do your homework well and you can find success with the Middle Grade market, and in the process, you might even find an audience that will never forget the day they picked up your book. Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (free) at http://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

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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Journalism Changes

by Josephine Kihiu

Journalism is a practice dating back hundreds of years. Frankly, it stems from humans needing to be know-it-alls. When reading became a luxury no longer reserved for the rich, disseminating news to a broad public proved profitable and generally beneficial. You’ve all heard the horror stories of late: journalism, especially in the print media subset, is a dying industry, clinging hopelessly to its marginal profits. Sure, the industry saw some major cuts recently. However, the reality is this – journalism is not dying. It’s just changing.

People are embracing a digital lifestyle, and so is the media. Journalists still roam unexplored niches and probe prominent minds for columns to sell, but those columns may end up online or in the journalist’s personal blog, as well as in print.

Digital journalism is an immediate response to the ever-increasing presence of the Internet via smart devices. Want a run-down of the State of the Union’s main points? Need to check your movie listings? Want to know the weather? Answer all questions using the omnipotent Internet.

Cognizant of the new shift in how the modern person acquires information, journalistic publications respond by posting pieces online. They also create apps allowing those with smart phones to roam their websites more conveniently.

Online journalism also serves expansion of journalistic expression. Unlike Harry Potter, your newspaper probably doesn’t support moving pictures on the cover, but journalists who embrace the digital shift can post videos, tweet, and blog about their findings in addition to the traditional static article. This increases potential audiences and diversifies the demographic reach (more college students pick up their iPhones than a newspaper).

But fear not, traditional readers. If you’re anything like me, you enjoy flipping broad pages and the feel of paper in your fingers. It’s familiar, like catching up with an old friend by letter or receiving news from a loved one by snail mail. Large newspapers still understand the importance of retaining the traditional, usually older, market, so don’t panic. News giants such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, remain consistent sources of accurate, interesting news, faithfully delivering to your door as a reminder that all things change… yet stay the same.

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Writing Rules

by Terri Forehand

Creative writing rules govern story writing. The message, content, characters, and storyline can differ,  but some key elements must be present in every story.

Theme

Trust writing rules to link every story properly into a common idea. You can weave a moral or underlying lesson into the mix, but the theme can be as simple as boy meets girl. Many times, there may be both a theme and an underlying moral or lesson. Gone with the Wind is an example of a complex theme with a moral thread woven throughout the story. On the surface, the theme is war and romance, but the underlying lesson theme illustrates control, manipulation, and the weak characteristics of humans.

Plot

Every good story maintains an interesting plot throughout. The plot must fit the characters, just as the character’s actions must fit the plot. The plot encompasses the beginning and middle with a series of events that leads the climax to a satisfying ending. Plotlines must be concrete and believable. They must move the story forward and keep the reader interested in development. It behooves the creative writer to learn the craft of weaving meat into the story and delete every word that doesn’t directly pertain.

Hook

Construct a hook that grabs the reader and keeps him/her turning the pages. The hook may be a sentence, a few sentences, or even a page. In a technical world where people want instant gratification, they won’t stay engaged if the words don’t grab them at the onset.

Dialogue

Dialogue is another essential skill in creative writing. It must be natural and match the characters in the story, which can sometimes be tricky. Become a good eavesdropper and you’ll learn to write excellent dialogue. Mimic conversations you overhear. Notice how people finish one another’s sentences or and cut one another off mid-stream. Concentrate on contractions, sentence fragments, poor English, and bad sentence structure. All of it plays into reality.

To Conclude:

Practice the writing rules regarding plot, developing a proper hook, and creating dialogue that matches the speaker. Don’t just read other writers. Study them. Find the theme and plot of every story. Notice how characters and dialogue build the climax. Writing rules define the heart of every successful writer. Yes, you can break the rules, but not until you understand the structure that they give.

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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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‘Must Have’ Tools for Every Writer

by Lily E. Wong

Every writer needs tools. These include pen, paper, a computer and, surprise – books. Reading is as essential as writing. Being well read will help you to write well.

For writers certain books catapult our work into the forefront. The following five books will help hone your craft. How can anyone claim to be a writer if his/her work is not easy to understand? The goal is for all writers to own, read and refer to these books multiple times throughout their career.

1. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White

First published in 1979, this book covers use of the English language. There are many books on grammar but few have stood the test of time. In essence, the book is a great example of good writing. Clear and concise, it’s a quick reference on grammar.

2. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

The subtitle of this book is “The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction.” The book, divided into four parts, covers principles, methods, forms, and attitudes. Each section contains chapters that will enhance any writing. Zinsser provides examples from authors to teach and remind writers to keep their readers in mind.

3. On Writing by Stephen King

King calls it, “A Memoir of the Craft,” and delivers that and more. He tells a great story of a writer’s life, with himself as the focal point. Creativity and inspiration is his message.

4. A dictionary and thesaurus combination

This is invaluable to everyone because we all read and write. A dictionary enhances our vocabulary when we come across an unfamiliar word. On the other hand, a word repeatedly used can numb the reader. This is where the thesaurus comes in handy. The combination of both a dictionary and thesaurus is the ultimate necessity in a writer’s arsenal.

5. Your favorite book

This can be any book, fiction or nonfiction. Choose an anthology, a novel or any piece of literature. If you enjoyed reading this book, the writer did his job. Let this book be your inspiration, the goal you want to achieve.

As a writer, you want to do your best. You have talent but get some tools. Tools are a means to bring this talent forth for all to enjoy.

If these books aren’t yet in your library, borrow them, try them, buy them. But like all professional craftsmen, make sure any tool is worth its weight in gold before adding it to your collection.

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Using the Spellchecker

by Karen Johnson-Waugh

Microsoft Word has accumulated thirty years of features to assist us in writing. One beneficial feature to the writer is spell check. It will highlight the error and open a dropdown menu. The best word option on the list will be highlighted. This is an indispensable tool.

It also checks spelling and homonyms with new dictionaries. It will correct grammar errors, too, but it won’t enhance the readability of your style.

The spellchecker also runs a quick diagnostic feature known as the “Flesh-Kincaid Reading Ease.” The test will grade your article and score it. Reading ease should be around 55. The grade level can be as low as seven.

The spellchecker will tell you if your article is too wordy or hard to understand. It will also indicate the amount of passive sentences. Passive voice is most effective in a scientific paper or instruction manual, but in stories, it diverts the attention away from the speaker and highlights the facts. Active voice is the key to prize writing. Keep your writing relative and tight and aim for less than 3% passive voice.

Spell check doesn’t always recognize the meaning of words. It isn’t a proofreader. Try reading your article backwards to catch errors. Another trick is to change the font size to shift paragraphs around on the page and gain a new perspective.

Spell check won’t write your story, but it will give you a lot of help.

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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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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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Creative Writers Guilty of Murdering Babies

Rhetorical Homicide 

by Deborah Owen

When creative writers think of parenting, they normally think of someone biologically bearing a child, but there is more than one kind of parent. There is the unmarried parent, the divorced parent, the parent-to-be, the adoptive parent, to name a few. And then, there’s parenting the created word. Although it may not conjure up the same status as that of physical parenting, the labor is just as real.

Every writer knows their words are their babies, and heaven help the critic who says we should edit even more. Not only is it unforgivable, it cuts to the core of our being. This is one area where writers’ groups provide an invaluable service. There’s no better place to grow a thick skin than in a writer’s group. After all, would you rather hear stinging criticism from another newbie, or from an editor who runs over you with cleat shoes?

Be Your Own Toughest Critic

There is a simple trick to avoid this kind of literary suffering, and that is to murder your own babies. You will recognize the right babies to murder when the critic part of you cries out, “That doesn’t really fit,” and the author section cries out, “but I like it!” You know in your heart it’s time to pull out your scalpel and begin cutting. Although the wound will bleed, you will know you are maturing as a writer.

But far better than discarding the phrase altogether, copy, and drop it into a special file. One of these days, you will find the perfect place for that phrase.

The best time to murder your babies is when you edit for verbiage (wordiness). Learn to say the same thing in fewer words. Trim away the fat and leave only the lean. That means edit scenes, edit dialogue, and edit the plot in general. Brevity is the key ingredient that must stay. Say it with less. Say it better. Jazz your verbs.

Especially look for prepositional phrases. Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you should never have more than three prepositional phrases to a sentence and not more than two in consecutive order.

Let’s be honest – all writers use padding. It is a little-thought-of procedure whereby we writers drag out a scene or dialogue – usually because we can’t find the right words or we’re having a bad time writing.

Have you ever seen a comedian who has his pulse on the audience and then makes the mistake of dragging a joke on… and on… and on… like a plane that can’t find a landing field? That’s a sure sign of someone enjoying their 15 minutes of fame and not wanting it to end. It’s the same thing with us writers. We have the audience in the palms of our hands and we hate to let them go. But let them go we must, because the readers need time to rest their minds so they can better absorb the chunks of meat they have yet to digest.

So the next time you’re editing, get the scalpel and bandages out. Prepare to dissect and dismember your baby. Although you may barely survive, your baby will be the better for it.

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Are Creative Writing Classes Right for Me?

A Free Writing Evaluation Can Answer that Question

by Deborah Owen

Are creative writing classes for everyone? No, perhaps not… but the fact that you’re reading this article indicates the answer may be yes for you. Ye olde subconscious doth not lie.

What Will You Learn in a Writing Class?

Even if you have good sentence structure, a good background in English, and are talented beyond your wildest dreams, you still need the inside dope on how to sell what you write. Writing classes will not only teach you the latest writing requirements, but you will also learn how to target a market, research it, write for that particular market, establish a rapport with editors, write a cover letter and develop the self-confidence to present yourself properly.

Writing shortcuts are only for geniuses or those who have connections in the publishing world. If you fall short of being a genius and you have no publishing connections, roll up your shirtsleeves and get ready to sweat with the rest of us. Anything worth having is worth making a sacrifice for.

What Will a Writing Analysis Do For You?

Do you need a punctuation review course? A brush-up course on creative writing mechanics? Do you need to learn “Show, Don’t Tell”? A writing analysis will provide an unbiased view of your skills and offer a suggested beginning point.

Almost anyone can become a writer if they really want to. Creative writing is a learned occupation, just like anything else. If you have average punctuation skills and you can craft a decent letter, the chances are good that you can become a full or part-time writer.

How to Get Started

Most people can begin selling articles to newspapers in their first writing year. Even if your goal is in the fiction realm, this is the place to start. Local newspapers pay about $15 per article (+ $5 for each picture used). Although the proceeds are low, this is a great way to fund your writing courses, collect press clippings and establish a résumé.

Creative writing seems almost romantic to some people, but it is no such thing. It can be downright frustrating and it’s very hard work. Writing classes are exciting, but they can also be difficult. The dropout rate is over 50%. To keep yourself out of the dropout bracket, develop the right mental attitude before you begin.

Creative Writing Classes – What Will be Expected of You?

You’ll need to set aside 60-90 minutes a week for homework. More is better. Some options for working that amount of time into an already pressed schedule are: rise 15 minutes earlier, stay up 15 minutes later, or use 15 minutes of your lunchtime for studying/writing. If all else fails and you can’t keep up with the workload, extensions are usually available at no additional fee.

You must have one thing in order to succeed – creative writing must be a priority in your life. Isn’t it worth the investment to become more than you are now? Isn’t it worth the investment to find out if writing is for you? Life is short. Why not take the leap?

Next Steps

For a free and honest evaluation of your writing skills, send a G-rated 1,000-word story or article to Creative Writing Institute’s CEO, Deborah Owen: deborahowen@cwinst.com. Please see http://www.creativewritinginstitute.com for writers’ guidelines (rules) to receive the best results. Your 20-point analysis will cover such things as imagery, characterization, dialogue, structure, plot, strong and weak points, “Show, Don’t Tell”, style, verb action, wordiness, passive voice, and presentation, among other things.

So go ahead. See what your potential is. You might be surprised.

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.

Show, Don’t Tell Will Sell Your Stories

The First Commandment of Writing

by Deborah Owen

Show, Don’t Tell is not only the writer’s first commandment, it is the one broken the most. This strange phrase, Show, Don’t Tell, means we must learn to paint pictures of emotions instead of telling them outright; however, some things must be told. Examples of works that tell are:

  • Newspaper articles: The robber was last seen heading south on Main Street.
    • Most magazine articles: Joseph Hanson resigned his position with the GOP on March 26.   
  • Advertisements: When you have a stain, Shout it out!
  • Journals: I had a lousy day today.

You’ll notice one common denominator in the statements above. Every statement is flat and descriptive. That’s what telling is. It’s very shallow writing. Cut and dried. Matter of fact. Dull and boring. A listed description is always telling.

Don’t say, ‟Roberta was jealous,” or “She had coal black hair, dark brown eyes, long lashes, and the cutest rosebud lips you ever saw.” Instead, release descriptions a little at a time, in one or more scenes. For example:

Lisa sighed and pushed her coal black hair out of her eyes.

My boyfriend virtually drowns in her chocolaty eyes. I’ll bet she wears false eyelashes,Roberta said. 

Nah. They’re hers, alright. I have brown eyes. That’s no biggie, but I’d give my arm to have rosebud lips like hers,” Eleanor replied.

The first thing you’ll notice is that telling the facts took only 15 words, but showing them took 52. You may notice that we have two writing laws in conflict. The first says to show all emotions, but the second says to cut down on words. The more important of these two laws is showing, which always takes three to four times more words than telling. Don’t worry about the added verbiage.

Let’s look at more examples:

Instead of writing this flat statement, “He works out at the gym and has a great physique,” we could show his muscular form with dialogue. A girl could see him and text her friend, saying, “Wayne just came out of the gym wearing one of those tight muscle shirts. Wow! What a hunk!”

Another way to show is by using internal dialogue ([thoughts] – although editors don’t like internal dialogue these days). Let’s say you have a scene in the kitchen where a woman is angry. She could throw pots and pans to express her temperament, or she could think, I could literally place my hands around her skinny little neck and slowly squeeze the life out of her. Notice that some types of showing still have a little telling in them. (By the way, internal dialogue is always expressed in italics.)

Or we could view the woman through another character’s eyes, like this:

She stood stock still, right hand on her hip, and one foot patting the floor. Blood engorged the vessels in her neck and temples as a crimson flush crawled from her collar upward. We knew it was time to get out of Dodge.

More ways to learn showing:

  • Read stories printed within the last five years and pick out showing sentences.
  • Review your own work and look for telling sentences.
    • Observe people and make a telling statement about them, then change it to showing.

Learning to show emotions and attitudes is an advanced technique that takes months to learn. Be patient. It will come in time.

For more helpful insights, go to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and learn more about our fantastic 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!

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.

And don’t forget to head over to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and check out our privately tutored writing courses. Sign up for monthly writing tips at http://www.cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.