Archive for the ‘Revision Techniques in Writing’ Category

Mt. Diablo Writers Club Three-Dimensional Characters Workshop

February 16, 2014

Marilyn Atlas will present a workshop on “Creating Three-Dimensional, Non-Stereotypical Characters” at the next luncheon meeting of the Mt. Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club (CWC) on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.

Ms. Atlas will discuss how to create three-dimensional characters, using examples from film and television. Among other techniques, she will use Myers Briggs and astrology as inspirations.

She is a talent/literary manager, who has worked for major publishers, and has projects in development for both movies and theater.

Check-in is from 8:30 to 9:00 am. Full breakfast will be served from 9:00 to 9:30 am. The general meeting is at 9:30 am, followed by the workshop from 9:45am to 12:45pm. The cost is $45 for CWC members, $55 for guests.

Reservations are required, and must be received no later than noon on Wednesday, March 5th. Contact Robin Gigoux at ragig@aol.com, or phone 925-933-9670. Expect confirmation only if you e-mail your reservation.

The California Writers Club Mt. Diablo Branch web address is: http://cwcmtdiablowriters.wordpress.com/

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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!

How’s Your Sniffer?

October 17, 2013

Everyone I know has their nose in their peanut butter jar. A recent study has shown people who have Alzheimer’s or later develop the disease couldn’t smell peanut butter while plugging their right nostril and sniffing with their left. (There are exceptions: if you have nose polyps, Parkinson’s Disease, or have had head trauma you won’t be able to smell the peanut butter either.)

I knew Parkinson’s would be an exception. When I was a child, my father never could smell anything. Bad milk in the frig? Dad would start pouring and Mom would grab the glass before he brought it to his mouth.

Scared skunk in the back yard? Mom ran to close the windows as Dad unknowingly opened them. I wonder now – – was this an early sign that in Dad’s later life he’d suffer from Parkinson’s? Did Michael J. Fox have a poor sniffer when he was young, too?

I inherited my mom’s sniffer, occasionally to unfortunate consequences. As a person who suffers from migraines which can be set off by scented chemicals, the overpowering smells of perfume, hairspray and cologne and have been known to make me change seats in church, movie theaters and actually leave places if the mixing of aromas are too strong. When Dad moved out to California after my mother passed away, it was the last of his Old Spice days for the poor man.

Supposedly, we choose our mate on the basis of scent. Diane Ackerman, in Natural History of the Senses, says, “Each person has an odor as distinctive as a finger print.” And: “We smell always and with every breath.”

In our writing, the sense of smell is easy to overlook. Although we may not naturally include this sensory image within our first draft, we need to remember to include moments of them within our rewrites.

Here’s an example of using the sense of smell to bring a setting alive. This paragraph is from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

“The barn was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell–as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world. It smelled of grain and of harness dressing and of axle grease and of rubber boots and of new rope. And whenever the cat was given a fish-head to eat, the barn would smell of fish. But mostly it smelled of hay, for there was always hay in the great loft up overhead. And there was always hay being pitched down to the cows and the horses and the sheep.”

Writing Prompts:

1. Look through a writing project of yours. Is there a natural place one or more scents could be woven within the manuscript?

2. Go back to your past. It could be a long-ago classroom, childhood room, or a favorite place. Meditate so that YOU ARE THERE. Include as many specific scents as you can.

3. Create a poem based on the scents of a setting of your choice.

4. Go ahead. You know you want to do it. Go smell that peanut butter with your left nostril. But don’t get freaked out if you can’t smell it. You may have a cold, allergies or some other issue at work. If you can smell it, eat some and then use all of your senses to describe the experience.

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?

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.

Workshop on Writing the Novel in Contra Costa County

April 8, 2013

WORKSHOP & BUFFET LUNCHEON

Architecture of Long Works in Fiction and Nonfiction

Saturday, April 13, 2013

9am to 1:30pm

Jane Vandenburgh is the author of two novels, the award-winning Failure to Zigzag and The Physics of Sunset. Her nonfiction includes the memoir A Pocket History of Sex in the 20th Century and The Wrong Dog Dream: A True Romance, a memoir recently published by Counterpoint Press.

Based on many years of teaching writing, Jane wrote Architecture of the Novel on the craft of structuring the longer narrative.

From it she will share such tips as:

*The elemental nature of narrative: a story consists of its events, told in scenes

*Placing scenes along the natural arc of the story in an order that provides suspense and mystery

*Drawing characters toward the inevitability of their destinies

*The maps and mechanics of any long work

Sign-in is 9 – 9:30 am, workshop 9:30 – 12:15, and luncheon from 12:30 to 1:30 pm Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill, CA. Registration is $35, or $40 for non-CWC members; contact Jean Georgakopoulos at jeaniegpops@comcast.net, or phone 925-934-5677 for reservations.

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/=