Join the NaNoWriMo Train – It Isn’t too Late!

Breaking Free to Write by Deborah Owen

I’ve been wanting to join NaNo for years but never had the time, so why did I wait for the hardest year of all to do it? Which of the reasons listed below is the answer? Guess.

  1. Not too smart
  2. In a weak moment, I decided to give it a try.
  3. I had no idea what I was getting into.
  4. No coffee to awaken my brain on the day of that dreaded decision.
  5. I wanted to help encourage others through Creative Writing Institute next year.

Which one did you guess? Actually, all of these reasons led me into National Novel Writing Month. In a way, I severely underestimated the daily challenge, but in another sense of the word, writing 1666 words a day doesn’t take all that long. You aren’t supposed to edit as you go – which I always do – so not doing that makes the writing fast.

When I first started writing (back when dinosaurs were first laying their eggs), I determined that I would not start a second story until I finished the first and ditto with novels. It took me ten years to write my first novel and I can’t go against my own rules, so I decided to use NaNo to REwrite the novel.

NaNo doesn’t care what you do as long as you write. You can write 50,000 words in a series of short stories, write a novel, or just make a feeble, puny attempt. They only ask that you WRITE.

I am as guilty as the next writer in putting the muse off until it doesn’t come courting any more. Think of your dating days. What did you do to prepare for courting? You got your act together! You put your life in order and you laid time aside to go courting and be courted. Do that again. Court the muse.

I don’t have a clue about the NaNo site and all the things they offer, but I’m making an effort and enjoying it in spite of myself. If you haven’t started with NaNo this year, it isn’t too late. You have until the last day of November to sign up at http://www.http://nanowrimo.org. It doesn’t matter if you don’t meet your goal, but it DOES matter if you don’t even try.

Let’s make a deal. Try it for one week. Will you at least do that much? I have nothing whatever to gain by your joining NaNo. I’m just trying to help you get the same new vision that I have. It’s exciting! (Did I really say that? Um… I believe I did. I think I’m actually starting to enjoy this. Yeah!!!) Join me!

Huh? You insist on paying me back for this great favor? Okay. Drop in for a ten-second peek at http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and we’ll call it even. Happy NaNoWriMo!

4 Easy Steps to Short Story Writing

The Inside Scoop

by Deborah Owen

Every short story has one climactic conflict. This is where you are going to start your story. You might be saying, huh? What about the setting and theme? What about the plot and resolution? All in good time.

Think of action scenes. Action is what makes a story. Without it, you don’t have one. Think of Stephen King’s stories. Someone has a knife and gains entrance through a window. A woman is in the shower, and his intent is not only to murder her, but to slaughter her in the goriest way possible. He sneaks through each room making little noises here and there. He stops. Does she hear him approaching? The whole scene is prolonged, drawing out the suspense as long as possible until he actually does the slaying.

The entire story leads up to that point, and then fades back to let the reader catch his or her breath. Soon, it builds again to a resolution with fever pitch excitement, and finishes with the climax.

Writers have a hard time working up to a climax when they’ve no idea what it is going to be, so you are going to determine that right now. Examples are things like train wrecks, a parent being murdered, a bomb in a school, someone inheriting ten million dollars, etc. Think of six good or bad action scenes before you read on. The more action, the more drama, the better.

Let’s say you think of a man who just inherited a large amount of money. The conflict could be receiving the money, how he spent all of it foolishly, and went back into credit card debt.

Or think of a boy who was brought to the United States for an education by a charity group. The group houses and feeds him throughout his formative years. Graduation day comes. He’s on his way to the ceremony when his car stalls on a train track and he is killed.

Now it’s your turn.

1. Think of an eye-popping conflict, or a gut-wrenching scene. How would it change a character’s life? This scene can be up to 700 words.

After you have written the conflict scene, you will automatically know how many characters are going to be in the story. You should have no more than three main characters, (preferably two), and three secondary characters. Not all of these characters have to be involved in the conflict scene you are writing, but you will know they are coming at some point.

2. Next, it’s time to write the ending scene. How do you want to resolve your conflict? (At this point, these two scenes will not be connected. Keep in mind that you are writing rough drafts – the bare skeleton.)

3. Thirdly, write the beginning of your story to introduce your characters and set the scene.

4. Last, connect the scenes, and edit your story. Yes, it’s really that easy!

If you liked this article, be sure to follow our blog here on WordPress! You can also find links for our Facebook and Twitter pages at our website:www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.

How to Build 2D and 3D Characters

When do you need 2D characters? How do you develop 3D characters?

by Deborah Owen

Every main character must be three-dimensional, and every supporting character should be two-dimensional, but what exactly does that mean? It means your 3D characters should be like real people with nuances, nervous gestures, attitudes, good and bad habits, a past history, future dreams, and unpredictability, just like a real person.

Supporting characters (2D) don’t need to show in-depth characteristics. The reader doesn’t need to know what makes a 2D character tick – but you should know – just in case you dip your pen a little deep in the inkwell some story-writing night and you need extra detail.

If you will do the following characterization exercise just twice, you will never have to do it again. It will come automatically from then on. Every story will have a protagonist (white hat guy) and an antagonist (villain). For these two characters, create a long and detailed background of 50 questions that will describe what the character is like. For example:

  1. What are their attitudes?
  2. How do they talk?
  3. What flaws do they have?
  4. What emotional problems do they have?
  5. Where are they from?
  6. What was their childhood like?
  7. What is their occupation?
  8. What are their actions like?
  9. Do they walk fast or slow?
  10. What is their mood, most of the time? Somber? Dramatic? Joking? Angry?
  11. How do they get along with their family?
  12. Describe their past life.
  13. What is their Holiday season like?

What type of “warts” do your characters have? (Warts are bits of information that distinguish one character from another.) For example, a wart can be a limp, a bald head, heavy make-up, strange clothing, a nervous tic, pimples, stuttering, or anything else you choose.

For instance, your story features a woman whose son is getting married. She goes to the store and deliberately orders her dress for the wedding two sizes too small. What does that tell you about her? Answer: a lot!

  1. She’s determined to lose weight before the wedding.
  2. She’s proud.
  3. She’s stubborn.
  4. She’s the kind of person who sets goals and reaches them.
  5. She will fit into that dress by the time the wedding rolls around.

We learned all of that by a tiny wart. Let’s try another. A woman is insanely stressed over varicose veins in her legs, yet she eventually changes to wearing shorts and bathing suits in public. Why? We could make lots of guesses at this one. Maybe she had the varicose veins removed. Maybe she just learned to accept her plight in life and not let it hold her back.

This could turn into a classic demonstration of a character change, based on the man vs. man conflict (which can mean child vs. child, woman vs. woman, etc.) This can be one of the strongest conflicts, but it’s also the most difficult to write. This technique showcases a person’s inner battle and their ultimate change.

To finish your characterization study, search a catalog or the Internet until you find a picture that reminds you of your two leading characters, and then tape those pictures where you’ll see them first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

You won’t use all of the information you create, but you’ll know your character inside out and building a 3D character will be easy.

If you liked this article, be sure to follow our blog here on WordPress! You can also find links for our Facebook and Twitter pages at our website: www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.

Learning How to Deal with Rejection

You’re Not Alone

by Deborah Owen

Creative writers have a hard time dealing with criticism – constructive or otherwise. After all, our written words are our babies, and how dare anyone criticize or edit them! Right? Wrong. That is a beginner’s belief (and, of course, you may be a beginner). When you can ask for, receive, and apply constructive feedback, you have made the first huge leap to successful writing.

One of the best ways to do this is to join a writing club. There are dozens of them, but two of the best are writing.com (larger) and mywritersgroup.com (smaller). You can publish your stories on the site and let other writers read and rate them. Then it’s your turn to visit their port, read, and rate their articles.

Will anyone hurt your feelings? Probably. But what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. And if anyone gets downright nasty with you, report him or her to the site’s headmaster. Rude critiques are never welcome on either of these sites, but once in a while it happens.

For example, many years ago I had one story that consistently drew a five star rating, but one day a woman rated it one star and wrote this message: “If you really want to be a good writer, you need to read good authors so you’ll know what good writing is. I rated your story one star only because I couldn’t rate it one-half star, but I admit I only read the first paragraph.”

I felt like a wooly worm, squished by a dump truck full of manure. I didn’t know I should have turned her in, so I licked my wounds and stayed quiet, but a supervisor happened by my site and saw the message. She told the headmaster, who wrote to the woman and banned her from ever reviewing anyone again. As for me, the damage was done. I didn’t accept another critique for a year, but I learned two things.

1 – Pay no attention to rude people with swollen heads.

2 – Write snappy first paragraphs!

A year later I received another critique which read, “I hope you’ll receive this critique in the spirit in which it is given as I only want to help you.” My defenses dropped like a rock. The point is – criticism can seriously wound a new writer – and genuine help can heal a wounded writer. To this day, I accept 95% of all critiques. At first I did it as an experiment, but when my ratings soared, I did it because I knew I was learning.

Dealing with rejection is a part of every writer’s life. Learn who to share your work with. Don’t let family members or friends (who are not published writers) read your work. They don’t know what they’re talking about and they’ll run over you rough shod. It’s much easier to learn from strangers.

When you try to sell your work, you’ll receive rejection slips. Keep them. I know one woman who made a collage out of hers and saved the middle space on her wall for her first acceptance slip.

Rejection is a continual learning process. Ultimately, you will either grow a thick hide or get out of the writing business.

If you liked this article, be sure to follow our blog here on WordPress! You can also find links for our Facebook and Twitter pages at our website: www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.

16 Golden Rules of Creative Story Writing

Storytelling at its Finest

by Deborah Owen

Stories will differ in message, content, and characters, but each one must have more than theme, plot, and dialogue to be complete. Check your stories to ensure they contain the following 16 elements:

  • Theme – This is the thread that runs seamlessly from beginning to end telling the underlying morals of the story. For instance, Gone With the Wind is not about romance and war. It is about control, manipulation, and weak character.
  • Plot – Usually encased in the central climax scene, or possibly in a series of events.
  • Arcing – The gradual increase of momentum and interest that builds at the beginning, reaches a fever pitch in the middle, and declines into the resolutions of story conflicts at the end. Does your arc come too soon? Too late?
  • Pacing – Some stories move fast and some slow, but all of them move at some rate of speed. Use pacing to make them a combination of fast and slow according to the scenes. High climax scenes move fast.
  • Outline – Whether you do it mentally or by proper analysis, most writers will profit by some form of outlining. Knowing where your story is going will save on rewrites and editing.
  • Resolution – Have you ever watched a TV show and watched the story end, only to say, “But what happened to… ?” Be sure to tie up every loose end.
  • Hook – If you don’t have a hook in the first or second paragraph, you won’t have a reader to worry about entertaining!
  • Point of View – Which will you use? Right now, stories written in third person limited are the best sellers.
  • Story Essence – Every story has characters, theme, plot, and resolution. What makes your story different? Answer: The details.
  • Dialogue – The trick is to make it sound natural. Use contractions, poor English, and half sentences. Become a good eavesdropper and you’ll learn to write excellent dialogue.
  • Characterization – Every character must bear their own bag and baggage of physical descriptions, emotional hoopla, and psychological concoctions. This is what makes a character 3D. Make a list of the 50 characteristics of your two main characters.
  • Research – Absolutely essential! Sometimes it may only define how insane a person can be, how irresponsible parents are, or how careless children can become – but it’s still research.
  • Timeline – Are your scenes out of order? Does your flashback convey the reader back and forth in the proper way? While some authors may dwell on the same scene for a whole chapter, others will skip years in a single sentence. Make your timeline clear.
  • Setting – Your reader is landing in a new story. Let him know where he is. Hint: All stories use settings, but elite writers use imagery – settings that are mixed with one of the five senses. For example: The smell of salt in the air.
  • Verbiage – Believe it or not, you can delete 300-500 words out of every 2,500. Fall out of love with your work. Delete favorite phrases. Slash words that end in ­–ly. What remains will be solid meat.
  • Show, Don’t Tell – Every story must use some “telling,” but hold the narration down and show the scenes instead of telling them. One good way to do this is with dialogue. Here is an example that displays the difference between showing and telling.

Telling: “Mrs. Adams walked into the classroom with bloodshot eyes, visibly upset.”

Showing: “Mrs. Adams stormed into the classroom and slammed her books on the desk. Without looking at the class, she picked up the chalk and began writing on the blackboard. Her shoulders started to shake and she let out a sob.”

See the difference? In the first, you’re thinking for the reader. In the second one, you’re painting a picture and allowing the reader to think for him/herself. That’s the difference between showing and telling. General rule of thumb: never narrate emotions; always show them.

If you include all of these things in your story and it still doesn’t sell, either you need more help in some of these areas, or your sentence structure isn’t up to par. Best of luck!

And as always, be sure to check out www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and look into one of our fantastic creative writing courses!