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.

Writing Tips

Author Unknown

1. If you don’t take your writing time seriously, don’t expect anyone else to.
2. Analyze other writings and learn to endorse them into your own style. Reading is an absolute must if you want your writing to grow.
3. Professional writers have the skin of a rhinoceros. There is no place for thin-skinned and timorous writers. Accept all constructive feedback and don’t it personally. Treat all critiques like gold. Put a big note near your computer – CRITICISM = OPPORTUNITY.
4. Educate yourself with writing courses, seminars, writer’s workshops, networking, and conferences. The actual writing is only a small part of the big picture.
5. Know today’s market, timing and submissions – that’s what it’s all about.
6. Submit something every week. When one item reaps a rejection slip, have the next market all picked out and submit it again the very next day. Remember one thing – persistence, persistence, persistence.

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Microsoft Word Tips

By Brent Middleton

Microsoft Word is massive. These are some of the lesser-known Word functions. Since computers vary to a large degree, these instructions are basic.

Page Breaks

Microsoft Word automatically inserts a page break at the end of the page, but you can also insert manual page breaks. A page break is the point in the document where the text goes onto the next page. To insert a break manually, click where you want the page to be broken, then go to the Insert tab (at the top), and look under Pages. There you’ll see the Page Break button. If you’d prefer a shortcut to perform a hard page break (one that immediately starts the next page of the document), it’s CTRL+ENTER.

Section Breaks

You can configure automatic page breaks where you want. To do this, highlight the paragraph(s) that you want to work with. Go to the Page Layout tab, click the little icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the Paragraph subcategory, and a dialogue box should pop up. Click on the Line and Page Breaks tab, and from there you can manage your automatic page break settings.

For more in-depth instructions on page breaks, check out the official Microsoft site: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word-help/insert-a-page-break-HA010368779.aspx

There are other kinds of breaks, too, such as Next Page, Continuous, Even Page, and Odd Page. If you want to learn more about them, there’s a handy description of each right next to each one in Word.

The Ruler

One of the most underutilized features of Word is undoubtedly the ruler. Word includes both horizontal and vertical rulers, and they can be useful for aligning different elements of your document, such as text, tables, graphics, etc.

To view both rulers, click the little button in the top right-hand corner above the “move-the-page-up” arrow. If for some reason your vertical ruler doesn’t appear (in which case it’s turned off), you can turn it back on by going to File, then Options, which is just before Exit. Once in the Options menu, click Advanced, and then scroll down to the Display section. There you’ll find a series of check boxes, and one will say “Show vertical ruler in Print Layout view.” Select that one and you’re good to go.

Were these Microsoft Word tips helpful? Please let us know and feel free to suggest other topics that you might want us to cover.

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Rules for Creative Writers

by Terri Forehand

The rules for creative writing can be overwhelming. From grammar, formatting rules, and creating characters, plotting, and following guidelines a beginning writer can give up before a creative story every makes publication. Don’t give up. Here are some basic yet simple rules to include when writing from your heart and putting words on the page.

Characterization

Creative writers have many characters swirling around in their brains at any given time. To make those characters realistic and bring them alive on the page, the creative writer must identify those characteristics for the reader in words, actions, descriptions or dialog. To know the characters well enough to do this, the creative writer should make a character list for each of the characters in the story. Every character must bear their own baggage; have their own physical identities including hair color, freckles, and warts. Each character has personal emotional hoopla and psychological concoctions that make them unique to the story and to the plot.

Creative writers know the birthdates of each of their characters, what they wear, how they talk, who they like and who they don’t, and what they eat. They know their family history, any abuse they have suffered, their sexual preferences, their hopes and their dreams. All of what the writer knows about each character does not show up on the page. However, a character can not come alive on the page until the author has a full scope of understanding about each character they place in a story.

Pacing

Creative writers must learn the skill of pacing their stories. The action must be spread out over the beginning and middle to come to a satisfying end to the conflict within the story at the end. The ending for the most part is a very few pages. Learning the skill of pacing helps you to build tension in your story as it goes along to that final few pages at the end.

Arcing

Along with understanding pacing of a story, the creative writer will learn about arcing. Arcing is the gradual increase in momentum of your plot. The actions of your characters, the conflict in the story, and the pacing will follow an arc that builds interest in your story from the beginning. The middle reaches a fever pitch and then declines into the resolutions of the story conflicts for the main characters. The ending must them be constructed cleverly to satisfy the reader and tie all the loose ends of the plot into a believable resolution. The reader doesn’t have to like what happens, the main character may die, go to jail, etc. But the ending must be believable and the natural consequence of the actions of the character throughout the story.

Timeline

Creative writers must develop a timeline for the scenes in the story. Are the scenes in order? Does your flashback convey the reader back and forth in a way that is understandable and not frustrating for the reader? While some authors may dwell on the same scene for a whole chapter, others will skip years in a single sentence. Make timelines clear to your reader and to do that, they must be clear to you before you write.

This is a simple explanation for some of the basic rules for writing the creative story. Practice by taking notes on your story, building character descriptions, and trying different story arcs for the story you want to tell. Balancing your story arc with your timeline will make your story flow and keep your reader engaged.

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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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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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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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