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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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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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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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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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!

Redundant Writing

The Same Ol’ Thing

by Ariel Pakizer, Creative Writing Institute Volunteer

Writing is tricky, but one rule is clear…readers, editors, and publishers like clean writing that is free of redundancies. No one likes to plod through oceans of verbiage. Redundancies slow the narrative and clutter the plotline. Remove them and make your work shine.

Replace, “He looked down at his shoes,” with “He looked at his shoes” or “He looked down.” Unless you‘re writing about aliens that wear shoes on their hands, readers will understand the character must look down to see footwear. Respect your reader’s intelligence.

Every word should hold a purpose, reveal new information, and/or push the narrative forward. Redundancies such as “whole earth” or “entire world” are unnecessary since “world” summarizes everything on earth. Other examples of lame writing are:

  • closed fist
  • future plans
  • brief summary
  • final outcome
  • armed gunman
  • advance warning
  • end result
  • exact same

Look for redundancies in your phrases, too.

  • She is the girl who lives on my street is loaded with verbiage. “She lives on my

street,” says the same thing without clutter.

  • “Each” and “every” are both fine words, but use one or the other.
  • Instead of saying “in spite of the fact,” use “although.”

Don’t worry about redundancies in a first draft. Slice and dice them on your last edit. Test your skills on this 82-word paragraph. How many words can you save?

She looked up at the stars, and wondered if all the others were watching them as she did. The stars would be falling soon, and every living person would be cast into never ending darkness. It didn’t matter what people did now, the end result would be one and the same. Past history had tried to warn them in advance, urging people to make future plans to stop this horrible event. No one cared to listen, and now it couldn’t be stopped.

Every word is precious when you have to stay within a word count. Read this clean copy:

She wondered if others were watching the stars, too. Soon, they would fall and cast life into darkness. What happened now didn’t matter. History’s warnings were ignored and the future forgotten. It was too late.

Only 35 words, yet it reads easier and doesn’t change the meaning. Delete and rewrite entire paragraphs for practice. Remember, less is more, and conciseness is king.

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How to Control Your Reader’s Mind

The Three Magical Methods

by Deborah Owen

Have you felt your heart pound with fear during horror movies? Have you throbbed with passion during a love scene? Were you nervous when the slasher was about to knife a woman in the shower? That’s because the writer of the book or movie was controlling you. You can control your readers like that, too. You can control their heartbeat, and even the speed at which they read.

You may ask why you would want to control their reading speed. The answer is that fast scenes pull the reader into the action, but unending fast scenes exhilarate the reader’s emotions and tire them. The reader has a need for slow scenes to rest them mentally and emotionally. During the slow scenes they will reassess the anxiety of the previous scene and reflect back on the theme.

Let’s look at some samples of how you can control the reader’s speed:

“We bounced up the stairs two at a time, slipped into my room unnoticed, and closed the door without making a sound.”

  • That sentence is fast because it has alliteration. (Alliteration is the succeeding sound of the same letter, or sounds that appear to be the same letter.)  Note the words “bounced”, “stairs”, “slipped”, “unnoticed”, “closed” and “sound”. All have the S sound. Also notice the T alliteration in “stairs”, “two”, “at”, “time”, “into”, and “unnoticed”. (Note: The words “bounced” and “slipped” have a T sound in the -ed, but no T is there.) This is double alliteration, and it increases the speed even more.
  • Another way to speed up a scene is with action verbs, such as: “The roller coaster zipped and whirled at lightening speed,” or “The skater swished by in a rush.”
  • One way to slow a scene is by using words with Ws and Ls, like this:

“Katy wrinkled her nose and rolled over on her pillow.”

Here’s another slow one:

“A little lady watched from the crowd, and glanced momentarily at her watch.”

Note the four Ls in the last sentence and the three Ws. That’s double alliteration, so it should make the sentence flow fast, right? Not in this case. The lulling sounds of the Ws and Ls overpower the alliteration to make it a slow sentence.

Let’s look at this sentence again, and apply what we know at this point:

“The roller coaster zipped and whirled at lightening speed.”

This sentence has one W and four Ls, but it’s a fast sentence in spite of that. Why? Just as the Ws and Ls can overpower alliteration, soothing words with Ws and Ls must submit to high action words. When you write your own blogs, articles or stories, these are the skills you must learn.

Review:

  • Alliteration speeds up a sentence.
  • Normally, the use of Ws and Ls will slow down the reading of a sentence, especially when the two letters are used together
  • The slowing technique of Ws and Ls will override the speed of alliteration and will slow the sentence if the two techniques are used together
  • When action words are present in a sentence using Ws and Ls, the action words will prevail and will speed up the reading

Pick up a book and analyze some sentences for structure and speed. Write a 500-word story and practice using sentences that will speed readers up and slow them down.

What tips and tricks do you use in your writing? Share them with us. (And don’t forget to “like” our page, please.)

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