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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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Struggles of New Writers

by Dr. Helen Tucker, CWI Counselor

I remember those early days as a new writer; desperate to express all those thoughts and feelings on paper but terrified that no one would want to hear what I had to say. There was also the fear of not knowing where to begin, not being creative enough, and the huge fear of failure.

I decided to take a writing course as a confidence booster. We covered a section on basic grammar and punctuation. The most useful learning point was to write something every day no matter what. I began to carry a notebook and pen. When travelling on public transport, I wrote snippets of conversation I overheard and observed people as unobtrusively as possible. Based on what I saw, I made up stories and before long; I had written a short book.

The next big step was submitting. The thought of it made my blood run cold. It took me days to send it and all I could think about afterwards was all the mistakes I had made. I was thrilled when I received a complimentary letter from the editor telling me my article would be published but even now, the waiting and wondering is stressful.

Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? It stands for National Novel Writing Month and takes place every November. Those who want to write a book are challenged to write 50,000 words during November, which is an average of 1,666 words a day. Perhaps you would like to participate next November. It’s something exciting to look forward to every year, and a great way to help you write daily.

Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (for free) at http://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

*Feel free to write to Dr. Helen at dr.helen@cwinst.com.

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6 Ways to Make Money by Writing

by Deborah Owen

When there are so many creative writers out there, why is it that so few are published? Could it be that they don’t have the self-confidence to move forward to publication? More likely than not, they don’t know the secrets of how to get published.

Every creative writer’s heart soars when they see their first byline. Everyone should have that experience. Seeing your work in print is something that will never grow old. Call it a pride thing. Call it an ego trip. Call it self-centered. Call it what you want. Published writers call it slavery, reward, zest and zeal, salary and bonus.

So how do you get your work published? It really isn’t that hard. The difficult part is getting the self-discipline to follow through. Try these things:

  1. Go to your local newspaper and ask for a reporting job. Local papers usually have an opening for a reporter that will cover such things as Chamber of Commerce events, School Board reports, and sports functions. However, it makes little difference whether or not you get that job. There are other ways to wiggle your way into a newspaper…
  2. Look for accidents to report. While you wait for the mess to be cleared away, interview people who saw the accident and take pictures. (The paper will give you $5 extra for each picture they use.) Ask one of the policemen which officer is in charge. Go up to that officer with all the brass in your bones and tell him you are a stringer for [name of local paper]. (Anyone can be a stringer.) Ask if you can see him after the accident is cleared away. At that time, he will give you the names, ages, and perhaps addresses of those involved in the accident. This is time sensitive reporting, so get it to the newspaper quick.
  3. Look for people who have unusual hobbies and interview them. Hand the interview into your local newspaper, and don’t forget the pictures.
  4. Look for people doing weird things – like skiing down a dry street in the spring. That really happened. That was a news story waiting to be written!
  5. Keep the money rolling in by resubmitting the same stories to small newspapers all over the United States. The library will supply you with an extensive list of thousands of newspapers. One article regularly resubmitted can net you hundreds of dollars!
  6. When you have shown your local newspaper editor that you can get the job done, and done well, go back and ask for that reporting job over and over. Fill out an application. One of these days a spot will open up and guess who he will think of first? You.

The great thing about submitting news articles is that it doesn’t take much talent; beginners have a good shot at being published, and it’s a great way to get your first published clippings. Newspapers pay on acceptance too, so it’s quick money. Start reporting today!

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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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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!

Science Says Writing Improves Health

It’s a Fact!

by Carol Celeste

Improving health by writing sounds too easy, doesn’t it? The physical act may seem simple, but the mental part can be hard, especially if you practice expressive writing, also called therapeutic or reflective writing. While all writing expresses something, “expressive writing” describes the difficult events of your life.

Improving your health by honestly writing about feelings may pose a challenge if you’d rather not face them. If that describes you, you might want to reconsider because hundreds of clinical trials attest to the healing power of expressive writing.

Scientists say the mental exercise of writing contributes to physical well-being as well as emotional venting. Dr. James Pennebaker, who pioneered expressive writing research, along with other researchers who followed his model, found that emotions, the immune system, and endocrine activity are connected.

During the writing process, brain wave patterns and skin conductivity levels change. After writing, blood pressure and cortisol measurements lower and immune system function improves. Those signs indicate that exploring the depths of mind and emotions reduces stress. Writers also tend to view events with logic and reach solutions that elude them when emotions rule. After an expressive writing session, writers may feel bad for a while, but when those feelings subside, the benefits kick in.

Most writing studies are based on writing for periods of 15 to 20 minutes for four consecutive days. Health continues to show improvement from four to six months after the writing episode when monitoring stopped.

Numerous clinical trials report reduced symptoms for people battling HIV/Aids, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, smoking cessation, asthma, cancer, drug dependency, hypertension, depression, physical pain, grief, and many more conditions. Cancer seems to be the most studied disease and many cancer clinics use expressive writing to improve health.

Some studies show that the control groups, those who wrote about mundane topics, also showed health benefits. There seems to be something about the act of writing that calms nerves and boosts immune system function. So, whether you tackle those misery-making events in your life, or relive a fun time, expressive writing offers a low-cost way to improve and maintain health.

You may think it sounds too good to be true. While expressive writing practice may not cure disease, it has resulted in reduced symptoms for many people who write honestly about their feelings. No one else will see what you write unless you want to share. Try writing to improve your health and see for yourself.

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© 2013 Carol Celeste

www.writingtoheal.com

www.facebook.com/writingforwellness

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.)

Visit http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com for more great writing tips.

How to Use Passive Voice Effectively

Writing Passively 

by Laura Redden Erturk

Have you heard you should avoid passive voice in creative writing? Passive voice creates a weak sentence structure, but it can serve a purpose in different genres. Instead of showing you how to change passive voice to active, it might be more helpful to demonstrate how to use it effectively.  

For example, passive voice is useful when writing a laboratory report, as in The agent was mixed with the solvent, causing the test tube to explode. On the other hand, you could word it like this: I mixed the agent with the solvent, which caused an explosion of acid, gas, and glass. This sounds more interesting, but both ways are acceptable in a lab report. 

Passive voice can also come in handy when writing a newspaper article, especially when reporting on military action or highly politicized events. Passive voice, euphemism (substituting an agreeable expression for an offensive one), and nominalization (converting parts of speech into a noun) are tools that are particularly important when politics are involved.

Passive voice is useful in saving face and assuming power. For example: The President has been impeached. Here is an example from the UN Action to counter terrorism: All too often we are reminded that terrorism continues to inflict pain and suffering on people’s lives all over the world.” In the latter example, terrorism is the nominalization of the violent action to kill or slaughter innocent people. It is not terrorism that inflicts pain and suffering, but rather the terrorists themselves. The passive voice “we are reminded,” does not say what or who is reminding us of this fact. 

As you can see, passive voice can be used to deny agency or evade the truth. It is a tool for sounding more objective in some nonfiction discourses, but it takes a great deal of clarity out of your writing. When hearing a story, we want to know the truth, even if it is hard to swallow. The terrorists killed 20 children in the orphanage works much better than terrorism has resulted in 20 casualties. You decide how blunt you want to be, but in fiction, use passive voice sparingly.

Tell the reader what happened, and use the most effective voice in the right context.  Strong characters deserve strong verbs and direct speech in active voice to show agency and volition. Overusing passive voice disempowers your narrative.

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Dancing With Words

The Word Waltz

by Linda Cook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Learning the Basics of Dialogue

000000Engaging in Dialogue

by Miss Katz

Writing believable dialogue can make or break a story. By the time you finish reading this article, you will understand good dialogue rules… and when you can break them.

Dialogue is an essential part of every story. Properly written, it will move the story forward, bring characters to life, reveal their quirks, and engage your readers.

The Encarta World English Dictionary defines dialogue as “the words spoken by characters in a book, a film, or a play, or a section of a work that contains spoken words.”

Dialogue has several functions:

♥          To express through conversations what the reader must know so they can understand the character’s actions, motivations and thoughts.

♥          To convey character which shows the reader what kind of people make up the story.

♥          To give the reader a sense of time and place through speech patterns, dialect, vocabulary and rhythms of certain kinds of people.

♥          And finally to develop conflict.

Effective dialogue is all about the natural flow of conversation. Sticking to the rules of grammar will make your character’s speech stilted and dry. Dialogue should flow as easy as conversation between two old housewives gossiping over a fence. Here are some simple guidelines.

♥          People speak in partial sentences and phrases.

♥          They don’t always speak with proper grammar.

♥          Use words and word patterns that reveal your character’s age, gender, region, ethnicity and/or historical time period.

♥          Give your characters individuality and personality through their spoken words.

♥          Write dialogue as you hear conversations in real life. Too much description can be very distracting. To avoid this over zealousness, keep it simple.

Let’s look at the scene between Mammy and Miss Scarlett in chapter five of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

“Now, Miss Scarlett, you be good an’ come eat jes’a lil.  Miss Carreen an’ Miss Suellen done eat all dey’n.”

When you watch this kind of scene in a movie, it is good acting, but when a reader has to wade through pages of it, it’s plain murder. Try reading “Brer Rabbit” some time!

Far and few between are times when an experienced author should write this type of language. Irish brogue, for example, is a monster to read. Stay in the well-defined terms of simple dialogue and your readers will thank you.

While it is true that people talk for hours on end without stopping to admire scenery, it doesn’t work that way in writing stories. As a general rule of thumb, you should insert a break that describes scenery, setting, or builds a character every three or four paragraphs of dialogue.

Use good taste in your dialogue. Long scenes of children arguing won’t keep your reader interested, although children do argue in real life.

To write believable dialogue, sit in train stations, buses, or a restaurant and listen to people talk. Take notes when you can (keeping in mind that you’ll stay healthier, longer, if they don’t see you doing it).

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

Do You Have What it Takes?

by Deborah Owen

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

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

Answers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.   The first paragraph should set the hook.

9.   Developing a character is called characterization.

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

11. Use show, don’t tell.

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

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

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

15. Don’t split an infinitive.

16. Wordiness is called verbiage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Write?

For the Love of Writing
by Deborah Owen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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8 Editing Steps to Perfection

Mastering Editing

by Deborah Owen

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

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

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

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How to Overcome Writer’s Block

Some Helpful Tips

by Deborah Owen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Your Voice

by Deborah Owen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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