Resolutions for the New Year

Re-ignite your writing passion

by Fahreen Gani

New Year means resolutions for most of us. Finishing a novel might be yours, but how many will achieve that goal? Take this survey to find out.

Do you leave stories unfinished?

Does every story have to be perfect before you submit it?

Do you shred your work (and confidence) every time you edit?

Do you fail to write two or more days per week?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are suffering from Bad Writer’s Habits Syndrome (BWHS). Studies show it can develop into a serious case of writer’s block, which  if left untreated, can culminate in psychological writer’s death, evidenced by lack of ideas.

If that triggered a little panic, great. It means the writer within is still alive and your story can be salvaged.

To see how advanced your BWHS is, you need to do a passion scan. Ask yourself this: has your passion for writing cooled due to frustration, rejections, and plot paralysis? After assessing the why and what is causing the lack of excitement, take a deep breath. Here’s how you can reignite your passion.

Delve into your mind, heart and soul. Ask yourself why you want to be a writer. Focus on those answers to stir your passion.

To keep your Bad Writer’s Habits Syndrome in check, take the following steps when necessary.

Keep a bottle of ideas handy. Although they are everywhere, keep your notes updated.

  1. Don’t wait too long to use them and don’t churn them out too quickly. Be patient,      and allow them to take on a life and grow.
  1. Do regular writing checkups. Do you use repetitive words? Do your grammar skills need work? Find your weaknesses and strengthen them.
  1.  Borrow a cup of encouragement from a friend.
  1. Supplement with doses of Self-Motivation.
  1. Take a shot of Constructive Criticism from a peer.
  1. For a speedy recovery and booster, take a writing course.
  1. Participate in a contest.
  1. Research your setting.
  1. Conduct interviews with your characters.
  1. Figure out what’s wrong with an old story.
  1. Use active voice instead of passive.
  1. Do writing exercises. Flex those writing muscles every day.
  1. Working on novels and stories gets exhausting. Take frequent breaks to preserve your sanity and keep your piece fresh.
  1. Distractions can be injurious. Avoid them. When the perfect word eludes you, don’t give in. Highlight the area and go back to it later.
  1. Read! It produces antibodies (new ideas) to fight writer’s block.
  1. Discipline will bring success. Enjoy your writing.

Make these your new year’s resolutions. Flaunt your writing masterpieces. Enter contests this year and we will applaud you for overcoming bad habits.

Go to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com to find out about our creative writing courses

How to Target a Market

by Ariel Pakizer

Pick your audience before you start writing.   or even plan, an article. Waving in western culture is a friendly gesture, but an open palm is the equivalent to “flipping the bird” in some Hispanic cultures. Writing without knowing your market is like waving in Spain, you’re saying hello, they’re seeing a curse word, and everyone is confused.

Selecting a market is tricky. “High Fantasy fans” is too large, but “twenty-year-old white men” is too small, so target a market in between the two. Choose an age range and a topic. Focusing on one interest is wise, since art students and sports scholarships typically aren’t interested in same type of article.

You have the idea, now where does it fit best? Decide what focus (if it’s a story, or angle if it’s an article) your piece should take and target your particular market from there. If you don’t know what your audience wants, you need to do more than targeting a market.

If you’re a thirty-year-old woman targeting men going through a midlife crisis, you’ve got some research to do. If you’re willing to plan, research, and edit your article, you can spare a few hours for researching your market.

Once you understand your market, tailor your story to it. Write what your chosen audience wants to read. Every market has a tone and length they enjoy, so try keeping your article to the appropriate word count. If you’re writing a short story, write the characters with strengths they’ll admire and not quirks they will find annoying.

Writing for an audience isn’t easy and only practice will make you better. Learn to blend your writing with what others want to read. Write a few pieces for a specific audience, and then try selling them.

You can aim for a local magazine, newspaper, or reach out to an online journal. Why not find an internet magazine, learn about its target audience, and write a short story specifically for it?

Work on a piece for a few weeks, but set a deadline. It will turn a project into a goal, and the finished work into an accomplishment. So, go for it, write and sell a piece to a target audience by March 31st. Don’t sit and think, “I couldn’t do that!” because you can’t know that’s true until you try.

Sponsored by http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com, YOUR place to find writing fulfillment with a private tutor. No need to wait. Sign up today and start tonight!

Halloween Writing

by Angela Butler

Halloween writing is perfect when ghosts, goblins and witches abound. What an opportunity to soak in all the sensations of the season and create a haunting story. As you engage in festive activities with family and loved ones, take a few minutes to jot down what you see, hear, smell, and feel.

And, of course, Halloween writing must include the foods of the holiday! What candy do you snitch from your children’s trick or treat bags? How many times do their tummies cramp from too many caramel covered apples and chocolate chip cookies?

When you visit a pumpkin patch, be mindful of everything around you. Feel the autumn chill in the air as the sun goes down and remember how cozy it feels to wear long pants and a fleece jacket. Notice the aroma of fresh cut hay bales and corn stalks as you wind your way through a corn maze. As you stumble through the pumpkin patch, listen to the crackling of brittle vines, fallen leaves, or the yell of “help” when your little one needs help to carry the biggest pumpkin he’s ever seen. Which one has he picked? Is it bumpy, smooth, deformed, perfect, robust or lanky?

When you take the pumpkins home, carve them, and set them out, what feelings emanate? Do you remember how your mom posed you with your pumpkin on Halloween night? Can you still hear her voice insisting that you smile behind the leopard mask? And you said, “I am smiling.”

How does it feel to watch your children go through the same paces? Reflect on your past as you help with costume changes. Of course, you’ll be tired and the kids won’t want their dinner, but remember your giddiness at their age?

As you peek through the camera lens, the ghost of Halloween past may visit again. Mother saved your leopard suit for your children, and now the oldest is wearing it. “Smile,” you say to the masked face, and a muffled voice replies, “I am smiling.”

Taking good notes on Halloween’s aromas, pumpkin selection, trick or treating, tummy aches, costumes, and seasonal traditions will capture the detailed essence needed for Halloween writing.  Use it to write either fiction or nonfiction. Submit your entry to small online markets five to six months in advance and relive the experiences again when you see your byline in print. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

*Angela Butler is a volunteer staff member. You can visit her blog at www.angela-wholehearted.blogspot.com. Get more great writing tips at http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.

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The Power of “3”

by Pam Zollman

When you write a short story or picture book, think in terms of “3.”  This makes planning and writing your story so much easier. Your story will be divided into three parts: beginning, middle and end. Your hero will need three obstacles to overcome. Your story will be approximately three pages long double-spaced, which equals about 750 words, just right for most children’s magazines and picture books.

Page one is the beginning. This is where you introduce the main character, set the scene, state the goal, and set up the conflict.

Page two (or more, depending on story length) is the middle. Your main character is presented with three obstacles he must overcome to reach his goal.

Page three (or so depending on story length) is the end. The climax of the story makes the hero choose a resolution, which may be hard and self-sacrificing, but will ultimately be the best one. The hero reaches his goal and all loose ends are tied up.

Be creative with how your character solves his problem. Make it something that will cause the reader to think, something that the reader might be able to apply to his own life. No obvious morals or lessons are allowed. Fiction is read for pleasure; all lessons should be implied. The reader can figure it out. The happy ending can also be implied, that if things stay on course all will work out okay.

This is a very simplified way of writing a fiction story for a magazine. Use it as a guide, a suggestion only, not as a rule. It’s not the only way to write a story, but it’s one that has worked for me.

Pam Zollman has published over 40 books for children, as well as numerous magazine stories. She has also been an editor and contest judge for Highlights for Children magazine.

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Defining the Young Adult Genre

by Victoria Pakizer

Young adult literature is named after its target audience: young adults. These stories have an adolescent protagonist, written with young adults as the primary audience. They focus on tangible story elements like character, plot, and setting rather than theme and style. Plots explore problems that adolescents face, such as young love gone wrong. These issues are never devalued and always treated seriously.

This genre is usually found outside the children and middle grade section and never included in them. Separating the genres places a barrier between them, stating that these are not books written for children, but for adults.

One reason for the separation is controversial content. Many young adult books contain swearing, drugs, sex, and violence. Some argue the content is inappropriate for books targeted at younger audiences, while others say young adult literature should explore such topics because it’s what adolescents struggle with.

Another controversy surrounding the genre is defining it. Some people claim it’s not a real category, but a marketing tool. Part of this stems from the wide variety offered. Current bestsellers include The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, a book about two cancer patients falling in love, and Divergent by Veronica Roth, a series about a dystopian universe. Some people argue that Rick Riordan’s bestselling series, Percy Jackson, is young adult, but others say it’s middle grade. People argue that classics like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye count as young adult literature.

Despite all the controversy, young adult is a thriving genre. Currently, five of ten bestsellers on Amazon.com are young adult literature. This year alone, adaptations of young adult books, such as The Maze Runner, The Book Thief, The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, and Mockingjay: Part 1 among others, are all coming to theatres near you. The genre is here to stay.

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Journalism Changes

by Josephine Kihiu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Creative Writers and New Year’s Resolutions

by Deborah Owen

Creative writers, have you already broken your new year’s resolution? Did you want to take a writing class this year? Did you intend to write more often? Finish that story? Try poetry? Whatever your resolution, breaking it is only natural.

Life is busy, and it waits for no one. Don’t be cross with yourself for “failing.” No one really fails. They just procrastinate, always thinking tomorrow will be different. It happens with diets. It happens with smoking. It happens with writing, too. The main thing is to pick yourself up now and start over again. And should you fail this effort, too, renew your vows over and over again. As long as you have new days, you have an opportunity for new beginnings.

Daily resolutions are the only kind that really accomplish anything, so now is the time to make them.  Here are a few ideas to help you refocus.

  • Break your writing time into small chunks that you can work into any day. Fifteen minutes is a good choice. That gives you five minutes to clear your mind and ten minutes to get into the groove. You’d be surprised what you can write in fifteen minutes. True story: An unpublished woman wrote and finished a book by writing fifteen minutes a day on her lunch hour. She sent it to an editor. He bought it, and she got it published. Writers, you make your own chances in life. Get going!
  • When you sit down to write, if you don’t find inspiration, don’t let that concern you. You can write about your work, your boss, a rude clerk in the store, a nice person you met, your mate, how you want to remodel the house, or about your dreams. What matters is that you string your words together in proper English, proper punctuation, and good thought patterns. Everything you write has meaning. It shows your attitude, your interest, your opinion, your intentions, your psychological status, and it develops your writing talents.
  • Write at the same time every day, if possible. That is the key to wanting to write. If you write at the same time every day for a week, you will begin to feel the “muse” – the urge to write. When you resist that urge because you choose to do something else, the muse will be less the next day. Place writing at the top of your priorities.

If you haven’t met the muse, you’ll know it when it hits. Inspiration will strike and you won’t be able to type as fast as your mind can think. You won’t want to stop. You won’t want to be disturbed. You won’t want to do anything but write. Love the muse. Cherish it. Obey it. Don’t interrupt it. The muse is to a writer what a car is to a driver. It is the vehicle that transports you from one place to another.

Don’t talk. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t stop to eat. Cancel restroom breaks. Cater to the muse. Writing at the same time every day will encourage it to come in a timely manner.

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WINNING WAYS

by Hugh Wilson

If you want to win a writing contest, the first thing you must do is study the rules. Many entries are disqualified because the story has not met every requirement, e.g. if the rules state a maximum of 1000 words, a 1200-word story, however brilliant, will go straight on the NO pile.

Assuming you’ve done that bit right, the judges will be looking at four elements:

• Originality

• Creativity

• Style

• Technique

Don’t let those official sounding words put you off. They are only words. Let’s look at each and see what they mean to us as writers.

Originality.

Think again. Winning stories come from second, third, tenth thoughts. Some contests give you a theme – “Wedding Day” for instance. What’s the first thought that comes to mind?

Forget it. You can bet your last dollar that everyone else will have thought it, too. A large percentage of submitted stories will be so similar that the judges will be tearing their hair out.

Make yours different, and they will love you.

Creativity

Don’t “wrack your brains” to get ideas. Relax, get your conscious, critical mind out of the way, and allow ideas to bubble up from your subconscious. In other words, daydream.

Ask yourself who, what, where, when, how, and “what if?” Let the trains of thought go where they will. Before long, you’ll have an idea for a story that is different.

What if that shy looking woman with people entering a church, where a wedding is about to take place, sits in the empty seats at the back?

At the reception, she avoids conversations, eats and drinks, then leaves.

Back in her lonely, one room apartment she scans the Forthcoming Marriages column in the local paper, to see where her next free food and wine is coming from.

Style

You won’t go far wrong if you remember three little words:

Keep it simple.

Don’t try to impress the judges with long, obscure words and “writerly” language. Like any other readers, they want a story that is easy to read.

Don’t stop to admire the view. Every sentence must move the story forward. The reader doesn’t want flowery descriptions of a rose garden in the moonlight. She wants to know what the girl is doing there at two in the morning, and what happens next.

Technique

A story has three distinct parts to think about: beginning, middle and end.

The beginning introduces the main character and what the story is about, so that the reader wants to know what happens.

The middle develops the theme, keeping the reader hooked.

The ending must be believable and leave the reader satisfied. Too many otherwise good contest entries simply stop when they reach the maximum word count, with no conclusion.

And finally…

Always write your story specifically for that contest. Don’t be tempted to re-cycle an old story in the hope it just might fit the contest’s requirements. It won’t.

Above all, enjoy writing it, and the chances are your readers will enjoy reading it.

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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

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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.)

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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Denotation, Connotations, and Emotive Responses

What They are and How to Use Them

by Melissa Hathaway

A dictionary is an important resource for writers but it takes more than a definition to understand a word. This study is called semiotics. Semiotics suggests definitions have become associated with the word because of cultural and personal experience.

The terms denotation and connotation separate the accepted definition from other meanings. Denoted meanings can change over time, or vary between cultures. Understanding how different definitions interact to affect the reader enables writers to choose words more effectively.

Denotation

The denoted meaning is a literal definition, but you might think of it as an image associated with the word. The word “house”, for example, might make you think of a child’s drawing, or it could denote something different, depending on whether you live on a farm, in a Manhattan apartment, or in a ger on the Mongolian plain.

Connotation

The connoted meanings of words are additional meanings that we associate with them. Some connotations arise from shared cultural experience and can become widespread, while others are a result of personal experience. Synonymous words can vary dramatically. For instance, the word “house” is relatively neutral, but close synonyms such as home, mansion, and shack can produce strong connotations. The word mansion might arouse feelings of luxury or envy while shack might produce disgust or pity. You have power over your reader’s mind.

Choosing the Right Word

A combination of denotation and connotation can present new meaning. Sometimes, the reason for choosing one word over another will be a slight difference in the denoted meaning, but in other cases, you may want to elicit a particular response from the reader. Don’t try to use unusual synonyms. It’s more effective to use a word with connotative power instead of one that sounds impressive.

Creative Use of Connotations

The importance of connotation is apparent from the difficulty of creating a computer program that can recognize good writing. A computer that could understand the rules of grammar and spelling would not be able to recognize effective writing, even if it were capable of understanding each word’s denoted meaning. Descriptions depend on the response that occurs in the reader’s mind. If you want to explore the connotations associated with a particular word, type it into a search engine and read the associations the word might trigger in a reader. Copywriters use this knowledge to create effective web pages and write adverts that will emotionally impact their target audience. Listen to ads to determine manipulative keywords that hold connotative value. If you want to sell the house you were imagining earlier, describe it as a mansion instead of a shack, and that leads us to emotive language.

Emotive Language

Emotive language produces an emotional response, and often depends on connotations that imply a positive or negative judgment. For example, words that are associated with happiness or virtue produce a different emotional response than those associated with distress or evil.

Even the simplest phrases can convey emotional content when used in the right context. For example, Hemingway’s six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

In conclusion: the dictionary can tell you exactly what a word denotes, but it cannot tell you what feelings and associations the word might invoke when you use it. Learn to produce strong emotional responses and you will become an effective writer.

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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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Foreshadowing Techniques and Examples

How to Foreshadow

by Deborah Owen

What is foreshadowing? You read it in every story and see it in every movie, but what is it? With new understanding, you can spot it and learn how to use it effectively in your own work.

Foreshadowing is the art of layering clues to build tension. For example, if a story has a prowler on the loose and there is a scene with an open window in an otherwise locked house, that is foreshadowing.

You can introduce foreshadowing with fortunetellers, séances, and Ouija Boards, or use them in opening lines, settings, dialogue, imagery, poetry, articles, stories, or even advertisements.

You’ve seen stories where a man is about to stab a woman in the shower. The act of a hand holding a knife and reaching for the shower curtain is foreshadowing. Or how about the drum beating, heart throbbing fin of Jaws? The horror genre has built morbidity on this technique big time, and it would seem thousands of followers love to nibble their nails into the quick.

In my story, There’s the Someone I Will Kill, a teenage girl suffers a breakup with her boyfriend. Home alone, she takes Mom’s Valium, drinks Dad’s Vodka, and then finds her father’s gun. The scene is set for something crazy.

First she plans to kill her boyfriend, but decides to win him back; however, the murderess rage won’t stop until she sets out to kill… someone. Drunk and doped, she carries the gun in her pocket and walks the aisles of a local store, looking for an old, sick, or handicapped person who would surely rather die than live in their present condition.

As she scans one candidate after another, my readers won’t raid their refrigerator until that scene has finished.

Now, let’s look at the foreshadowing in these scenes:

  • The breakup (scene charged with emotion)
  • Drunkenness (psychological changes)
  • Complicated by Valium (loss of conscience)
  • Weapon (opportunity)
  • Decides she will win boyfriend back (twisted reasoning)
  • Devilish mood (hate and anger, about to be acted out)
  • Store scene (high tension)
  • Selection of victim

All of these breadcrumbs escort my reader to a surprising ending.

It has been said that the first part of the story should be foreshadowed, and the last part, foreshadowing acted out. Writing is all about techniques and formulas, and foreshadowing, done well, is a sure formula for success.

Your Assignment: recognize ten foreshadowing plots in a story or on TV this week. Don’t forget to like us before you leave the page! Find more great tips in The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at http://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

Scam Contests

Be Aware

By Karen Johnson Waugh

Beware of scam writing contests. Fraudulent contests have a modus Operandi. There are resourceful ways to judge their legitimacy.

Familiarize yourself with the hosting website. Scammers often claim to come from big companies. Beware if your win notice arrives from a free account like Hotmail or Gmail.

Scammers operate quickly. The “Dear Sir” generic salutations have been sent to thousands of others. Note that scammers outside the United States often make glaring errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation in the bogus winning notifications.

Never pay a fee to receive a prize. Use good sense. A legitimate contest will not have handling fees.

Prizes valued over $600.00 do require affidavits. Con artists lure the unsuspecting to use services like Western Union. Transfers are handled like cash. The scammers receive illicit funds and any money you sent cannot be retrieved. And… don’t be fooled by a phony check. You will get stuck paying fines and your bank account may be closed.

Legitimate fees: writing contests may have an entry fee or a reading fee. This provides the funds to supply prizes. The higher the entry fee, the better your chances are since there will be less entries, but competition will be higher. Some contests offer feedback on your entry for a small fee, usually not exceeding $15. If you’re a serious writer, it may be a worthwhile investment to have a judge share inside information.

You are a winner already by knowing the contests that are safe to enter! Creative Writing Institute invites you to enter our contests at www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.