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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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

© 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.

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

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.