Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

How YOU can Write a Short Short Story

February 17, 2014

Benjamin Franklin says it all: “I have already made this paper too long, for which I must crave pardon, not having now time to make it shorter.” Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”

The most common question which pops up in various contests I’ve judged, is: “My story is longer than the guideline’s length. May I submit it all?”

No! Writing short requires a much-needed skill. Revise so your story is written succinctly.

Below is advice on writing a short story of 100 words. It can be applied to all stories.

My favorite tidbit is this: “Think of the story in terms of a question and answer.”

Your answer will become the plot of your story. But brainstorm lots of options! If it’s too easy, your option may be too convenient.

http://www.rdasia.com/how-to-write-story-100-words

Writing Prompt:
1. Take a story you’ve written and tighten it. Can you cut out 100 words? More? Once you challenge yourself, the process can be fun and addicting!
2. Read your story aloud. Where have you “told” information? Can you show it with an action verb instead?
3. Choose a poem you’ve created and do the process of #1 and #2. Is the end result more vivid?

Cutting out vague words sharpens your writing and respects the reader to make conclusions. Use this new technique with all of your writing!

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Deepen Your Writing with Symbols

February 11, 2014

I turned the page of my book, soaking in the story, silence, and reveling in peaceful solitude. Not total solitude, since my Yorkie, Zoie’s rhythmic breathing relaxed me as she slept in my lap.

MOO!

Straightening up with a jerk, I woke my deaf dog.

What was a mooing cow doing INSIDE this room?

Could it have been from an electronic device? Perhaps my husband neglected to take his phone with him. I smiled at the irony of this sound in my suburban California home. Maybe Dad was saying hello from the other side? He spent the first half of his life farming with dairy cows in southeastern Wisconsin, and as a baby and toddler I lived on that family farm, too. Hi Dad, I thought, glad he’d retained his sense of humor.

As I settled back into my story, Zoie, reassured by my calm demeanor, snoozed again.

MOO!

The realistic animal sound came from our family room cupboard. I got up to investigate. Nothing in the stacks of paper, pens, and recipes gave a hint to the mystery. Old video tapes didn’t look as though they’d moo, either. But when I reached Zoie’s dog toys, I knew the puzzle’s answer. A black and white fabric ball must contain the noisemaker. Although it hadn’t worked in years, and I didn’t know it had held a noise device when I threw it in the washing machine, that process could have reactivated it.

Or.

Dad greeted me.

I prefer this answer.

Whenever we try to make this ball produce sound effects, nothing happens. But on its own . . .

MOO!

Writing Prompts:

1. What signs or symbols can you discover within the book you’re reading? Through their repetition, what is its underlying meaning?
2. What sign or symbol can you develop within the project you’re writing? Through carefully placed repetition, your motif may strengthen your theme, characters, and/or plot.
3. Create an artistic representation of your symbol. How does it relate to you? Perhaps this may become another layer of its meaning.

10 Tips for Winning Writing Contests, Scoring an A, or Attracting an Agent/Editor

January 27, 2014

1. Hook your readers with a vivid scene right away. How? Read on.

2. Specific senses will get your reader to experience your story.

Example: Gary D. Schmidt’s Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy begins like this: Turner Buckminster had lived in Phippsburg, Maine, for fifteen minutes shy of six hours. He had dipped his hand in its waves and licked the salt from his fingers. He had smelled the sharp resin of the pines. He had heard the low rhythm of the bells on the buoys that balanced on the ridges of the sea. He had seen the fine clapboard parsonage beside the church where he was to live, and the small house set a ways beyond it that puzzled him some. Turner Buckminster had lived in Phippsburg, Maine, for almost six whole hours. He didn’t know how much longer he could stand it.

3. Show the protagonist’s problem right away. Turner’s is shown in his feelings shown in the last sentence.

4. Character dialogue must move the story forward. If it’s just talking back and forth to talk, remove it.

5. Use adverbs sparingly. Change them to verbs.
Example: He said loudly. Change to: He shouted.

6. Create suspense with tension. Author Steve Mooser employs the element of time. He says, “If the bad guys are due into town at sunset, if Friday is the day of the school play – that’s the easiest way to build tension.” In Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, the hourglass shows how much time Dorothy has to live.

David Almond created atmosphere with action verbs and specific images in Heaven Eyes:
Mud. Black, sticky, oily, stinking mud. It was January who dared to lean out of his raft first. He dipped his hand into what should have been water. He touched mud, black mud. It oozed and dribbled from his fingers. The raft settled, and mud slithered across its surface, onto our clothes. It seeped through to our skin. It seeped through the tiny gaps between the doors. I took my flashlight out, switched it on, saw the doors disappearing as they sank . . . saw that we were being slowly sucked down into the sodden earth . . . Our feet, our hells, our knees were caught in mud . . . I grunted, whimpered, groaned. I slithered forward. . . My head filled with the mist and darkness.

7. Everyone loves humor. The unexpected is funny. Two unlike characters or objects placed together can be funny.

8. Read your piece out loud. Is it balanced? Not big chunks of description or pages of pure dialogue, but evenly paced?

9. Eliminate vague words: Possibly, many, pretty, terrible . . .

10. What has the protagonist learned or how has your character changed in some small way?

After several drafts, put away your manuscript for a while. When you return, read it aloud with fresh eyes. Are you having fun? If not, rework the story until it’s just right. You’ll feel that tingle of excitement when it works!

Revision Techniques for Students!

December 23, 2013

Winter Wordplay: Revision Results
4:30-6:00 p.m. at The Storyteller Bookstore, Lafayette, CA
Ages 9-up

Submit up to a 10- page story (double-spaced, 12 pt. font) or stand-alone chapter by January 11.

Students will receive a portfolio with copies of each of the stories to discuss and edit. We will focus on various elements of the revision process and work toward sculpting a story into a final draft.

$30/each class or $75/series

January 18: Shaping Characters

February 1: Developing Themes

February 8: Refining Language

Questions and help with registration: wordplayworkshop@hotmail.com

What secret elements make a quest/adventure book great?

November 25, 2013

If you’d like to read a great new middle grade, choose Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early, a quest adventure story about a boy dealing with his mother’s death after WWII. Sent to a Maine boarding school, protagonist, Jack, is unhappy and feeling friendless until he’s intrigued with Early Arden, a unique character with a fascination about pi, who leads him through Appalachia.

Vanderpool’s poetic style lures the reader forward. Here is a scene where they fish with Gunnar, a minor character they meet on their journey. Gunnar carries an emotional, heart-wrenching past.

“You have a fine cast,” called Gunnar.

“I know. My brother taught me before he went to the war.” Early swished his line back and forth. The motion seemed to take him away somewhere.

Gunnar’s expression registered what he knew, what we all knew, of the fate of so many of those brothers who went to war. He looked at me, asking the question he didn’t want to say out loud. Did Early’s brother make it back?

I shook my head in answer. No, Fisher was dead.

Gunnar allowed the quiet to take over as Early moved farther out into the water and into his own thoughts.

Finally, Gunnar spoke, his voice so fluid and moving, it could have come from the river itself. “I once hear a poem about angling. It say when you send out your line, it is like you cast out your troubles to let the current carry them away. I keep casting.”

I liked the sound of that. The river pressed and nudged, each of us responding to it in different ways, allowing it to move us apart and into our own place within it.

Notice the unique dialogue of Gunnar, creating a fully formed person in just a few lines and a second layer of meaning within the words, so you’re not just reading a scene about fishing.

Another aspect which is fascinating about this book is how this Newbery Medal-winning author broke the rules. (In order to break the rules, you must first establish that you know them.) Although in writing adult novels (and nearly always in the movies), authors (and screenwriters) are allowed to fictionalize history for the sake of character and plot. In children’s books, this has been a distinct no-no. Why? We don’t want to confuse nonfiction facts with untruths for kids. But at the end of this book, Vanderpool has a page: PI: FACT OR FICTION? Here she lists the truths about this captivating number, since she has bent the truth within her story.

Writing Prompts:

1. Write a quest/adventure short story with the above elements in mind. Before you begin, think and wonder about your story, developing the plot and characters within you. Daydream, jot notes, and free write about the back story of each character first.

2. Can you write a quest poem? Any style you choose!

3. Create a piece of art with a quest/adventure theme.

4. As you begin reading a book, use post-it notes to mark the scenes that are evocative. Why do they work so well?

Grab a book, any book. Open, read, and write!

September 21, 2013

It’s International Book Week. The rules: Grab the closest book to you, turn to page 52. What is the 5th sentence?

“That was the one sure truth.”

Writing Prompts:

1. Allow this sentence you discovered as the first sentence in your scene, story, poem, or essay you write today. Care to share in the comment section?

2. Use this sentence as the last sentence in your scene, story, poem, or essay you write.

3. Let this sentence become inspiration for any piece of art work.

4. Play a game with a group of friends. Use your sentence to tell the first sentence of a story. Turn to the next person who begins the next sentence with the first letter of your last word. (If you use mine as an example, the person would begin with a word starting with “t.”) Go around the group until you reach a satisfying conclusion. Each person tells the story one sentence at a time.

The title of the book I reached for without looking? Carson McCuller’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

This writing idea I took from Facebook, although it wasn’t a writing idea on this site. . . just a fun game to play!

Losing Your Way in Your Novel

August 26, 2013

Question: I’m in the middle of writing my novel. Help! I’m stuck. I know what is going to happen later, but I’m not sure how to get there. I’ve lost track of some of my story. What do I do?

Writing a novel with characters and their various problems without a plan is like driving with a flashlight in the fog. It’s exactly how I write. It’s one process. But even if you don’t plot every moment in advance – – and many authors don’t, there are techniques that help us.

After you’ve written scenes or chapters, create a diagram or at least various pages of your threads and subplots. Where do you character’s lives intertwine? How will your symbols re-enter the story?

Mystery author Camille Minichino uses colored markers to help her stay organized. Anne Lammott wrote about stringing a clothesline across her office and clipping important novel notes there. One friend of mine use color-coded cards: one for characters, another for symbols, and a third for subplots. What is my device? I have lists around my office that only make sense to me.

Next, the stuck problem. Once you’ve got a list of characters and their conflicts, you’ll want to increase suspense as much as you can. Prove your main character’s life is filled with emotion and difficulties. Which characters and problems can you throw at your protagonist to reveal depth of your main character with relevance to your plot?

To keep from writing stock characters and bland stories, you won’t create these lists before you write but after your quirky characters have sprung from your creativity.

Writing Prompts:

1. Check your scenes. Do you have a small moment that is memorable? Important truths are found here. Don’t tell them. Show them through the sensory details and the character’s thoughts and actions.

2. Change a scene you already have written into poetry. Use as few words as possible. Next, put it back into prose. How many words do you REALLY need in this scene?

3. Write a chapter where your protagonist has a small epiphany. What has she learned through something she has experienced in the scene?

Summer Vacation Vs. Back to Writing: 10 Tips to Unblock Your Plot

August 13, 2013
Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

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I’ve returned from a lovely vacation in Utah, where family members met and hiked in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. There is one slight problem with vacations, however. They end! When writers return to work, many of us occasionally have difficulties with getting back into the creative flow. The past few days I’ve done laundry, walked the dog, and even – – don’t faint – – IRONED – – in order to avoid my office.

But writers must write. How do you get back to your fiction?

Writing Prompts for Me and You:

1. Write about ANYTHING. Just get your pen moving, or type words on the computer screen.

2. Write an imaginary account of what happened on a summer vacation with the photos above. Make it as outlandish as you can.

3. So you want to get back to your novel? First, read what you have already written. Revise to make it better. Stuck on what happens next? Remember, everything goes back to your characters.

4. Write a journal entry in your main character’s point of view about what’s happening in your story. How does she/he feel about everyone else? What actions does she wish she could take? What does she want more than anything else in the world? What stops her from getting it?

5. What is the main character’s relationship with every other character in the story? What are each characters’ epiphanies? How do they get them?

6. If you are stuck on #5, write more back story for your characters, or have them interact in current scenes that may or may not appear in your book. Just get them together and see what happens.

7. Read another author’s good writing. Good reading inspires good writing.

8. Wonder about your characters. Wonder about them as you walk, wash dishes, or gaze into space. Wondering is often the most important step in writing.

9. How can you make the scene you are writing more difficult for your protagonist? More emotional or suspenseful? Push your writing to the limit. Have you used all of your senses? Enough specific details?

10. Ask your subconscious for help before you go to sleep. Don’t worry about your book. Just wonder what will happen next. Keep paper next to your bed. As you wake up, the answer may be part of your dream or a clear word or image.

Confrontation

June 4, 2013

Confrontation – – a semiannual publication for fiction, nonfiction and poetry.  Although it has begun careers of Nobel and Pultizer Prize-winning authors, it also features work from college students and teenagers.

Confrontation is open to submissions from any writer.

How to send your work:

U.S.-based writers: Along with your manuscript of previously unpublished work, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) with standard letter-rate 1st-class postage so that we can reply to your submission. If you want us to return your manuscript along with our reply, be sure to include enough postage on your SASE to allow us to do so. If your work is a simultaneous submission, please let us know in your cover letter.

International writers: E-mail submissions (confrontationmag@gmail.com) are accepted only from writers living outside the U.S. Please include your postal mailing address with your submission.

If your work under simultaneous submission is accepted elsewhere, please inform us as soon as possible: confrontationmag@gmail.com.

We usually respond to submissions within three to four months; we are quite a small staff, so we appreciate in advance your patience if we stray beyond this window. Reading period for all submissions: August 16 – May 15. Unless specifically commissioned or solicited, all manuscripts received during the non-reading period will be returned unread.

For all submissions, please be sure not to put two spaces between sentences.

Mail your submissions to:

Confrontation Magazine
English Department
LIU Post

Brookville, NY 11548

Stories

We judge on quality of writing and thought or imagination, so we will accept genre fiction. However, it must have literary merit or it must transcend or challenge genre.

Send complete manuscript.

Length: Up to 7,200 words

Payment: $50-$125; more for commissioned work.

Poetry

Length of a poem should be kept to two pages.

Send up to six poems per submission.

Payment: $25-$75; more for commissioned work.

Nonfiction

We publish personal as well as cultural, political and other kinds of essays, and (self-contained) sections of memoirs.

Send complete manuscript.

Length: 1,500-5,000 words.

Payment: $50-$125; more for commissioned work.

For more information, visit confrontation.org

On Writing Crappy and Writing Great (or at Least Better)

May 24, 2013

I guess reporters don’t know which column will be published when, or else the California Writers Club Young Writers Contest article and photo just didn’t make it into my edition of the Contra Costa Times on May 23.  Next time I’ll only post it here when I see it in the paper myself. 

***

As I’ve been working on a project, I’ve found myself being concerned with the marketing aspect and how the publicist would  react to the story.  After the day’s work, I closed my computer and purposely didn’t re-read my words. 

The next morning, I printed out my chapter and took a clipboard to revise and work on another scene.  Reading what I had written, my jaw dropped.  Who was this stilted writer who had composed these awkward sentences?  Do I know this person?  Where did she come from? If she was in my writing class, I’d take her aside and tell her to forget the final phases of book production, and free herself by going back to the basics.  Think about character!  Relax.  Wonder about the story, don’t let the final outcome block the writing process.

I set aside my previous day’s disaster, and started over.  This time, I let my mind wander over my characters and their world.  “No worries,”  I told myself.  “Have fun with these people.  Get to know them.  You don’t have to write the very next chapter.  Just write a scene where they talk to each other. What’s the worst problem they can get into together?  What will they do?”

Writing Prompts:

1.  What is a dramatic or interesting conflict you can have your character get into?  Can it somehow be based on her greatest fear?

2.  What emotion does your scene evoke?  What do you want your reader to feel?

3.  What is the motivation for why the characters in your scene act the way they do?

4.  Write about your characters BEFORE this scene.  What is their back story?

5.  Within your writing, can you locate where you are showing and where you are telling?  Highlight the telling.  If you have too much highlighting, where can you show in a scene rather than tell?  Or where can you cut out the telling all together?  If it doesn’t move your story forward, cut it out.