Archive for the ‘Revision’ 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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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

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.

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. 

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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.

November 23, 2012

A week ago, my husband and I took a couple of days and drove to Santa Cruz, one of our favorite towns to wander about communing with sea lions and pelicans, eating clam chowder at Stagnaro Brothers, and people-watching throughout this wonderful community. The locals here were able to support their fabulous independent bookstore, Bookshop Santa Cruz and close the large chain one who moved in to close them.  Hurrah Santa Cruz! 

We stayed in a motel we often visited when our son was young, but we hadn’t been there in years.  Away from the bustling crowds at the beach, the motel is quiet, not outrageously expensive or especially classy, but it suits our needs just fine. 

Settling into the room, I began unpacking, but paused as I heard my husband chuckling. 

“Liz, take a look at this,” he said, gesturing to our surroundings. 

The left side of the room had been painted maroon with blood-red flowers stenciled along the top near the ceiling.  A print hung near the desk with matching colors; the bedding corresponded too.  But the sliding glass door’s curtain shouted bold green, along with its wall.  I swear I heard loud screeching in my ears just  like I did whenever I walked by a middle school band room during a practice session. 

“So the question is, did they forget or run out of money?”  I asked as we laughed at the look the decorator achieved. 

When you think you are finished with your writing, it might only be half done. Set it aside for a while.  Your eyes have grown accustomed to seeing it and you might miss those big, bold errors that are glaring to everyone else.  Later, read it aloud to yourself.  Print out the pages for revision.  A paper copy is tangible and real.   After that make your computer corrections. 

Do you have too much narration?  This technique works best for your less dramatic scenes.  When it’s emotionally important, slow-down-the-moment with your senses with action, reaction, thoughts and dialogue. 

Highlight your favorite parts of your manuscript.   Why are they your favorites? 

Analyze the rest of your piece to discover how you can make this writing as resonant as your best, favorite parts. 

Don’t over-use tags.  If it is clear who is talking, you may not need to say “he said,”“she said.”

Do you have “pet” words?  If certain words come up over and over again, get rid of them!

If you were reading this in published book or magazine, what questions would you have?  Critique it as a reader, not as you, the author.  This is where the “giving it time” will help you.  If you’re still too close to it and can’t revise, call in a trusted colleague or pay for a professional editor to help you.

And finally this from George V. Higgins from On Writing:  “Reading your work aloud, even silently, is the most astonishingly easy and reliable method that there is for achieving economy in prose, efficiency of description, and narrative effect as well.  Rely upon it; if you can read it aloud to yourself without wincing, you have probably gotten it right.”

Writing Prompts:

  1. Revise one of your older manuscripts you THOUGHT was already perfect.  How can you make it better?
  2. Meet with another writer and revise the other person’s manuscript.  Share some of your favorite revision tips.
  3. Write something new inspired by this time of year.  Look around you for ideas.  The first object you see outside – – the first word or photo in the newspaper – – the first page in a book you open that is near you can be a prompt for a story.  Write as many drafts as you need on your computer and then print it out.  Revise with a pencil and then go back to the computer for another draft.  Did printing it out help you find more ways to improve your writing?

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For those of you children’s book lovers, here is a great link for you:

The Kirkus List of Best 100 Books for Children of This Year

 https://www.kirkusreviews.com/issue/2012-best-of/section/children/=