April 16, 2018
Many writers focus on character or plot, and they should. They should also consider giving their readers a real sense of place the characters occupy and the plot evolves. One only has to think about the house in Psycho to realize how powerful place can be in a story.
Here are some ideas to help you capture place in your writing.
- Observe buildings, landscapes, entertainment venues, etc. Take pictures, note your first impressions/feelings about the place, consider why the place was constructed as it was, think about why it is the way it is currently.
- Research places you’ve heard of but not yet visited. Books (don’t overlook the bibliographies in those books), brochures (see what the marketing people thought would entice visitors), people (memoirs reveal things not found anywhere else), and, of course, the Internet are all good research options. Look for floor plans, what was going on in the community/society when the place was built or designed, what changes were made over time.
- Spend some time in the place. Go there and look for things that are original to the place, things that may have been updated/upgraded, and what was once there but is now gone.
- Tap into your creativity and imagine who enjoyed the place, what they did there, when they were there, where they came from (and where they went), why they chose to be there, and how that place impacted their lives.
- Allow yourself to notice the little things that can make a big difference. Is the landscape neglected or kept with obvious pride? Are the windows in the building clean? Open? Closed? Broken? What sounds do you hear? Children laughing? Music? Birds? Barking dogs? Creaking floors? How do you describe furnishings–plush and homey or smooth and institutional? Well, you get the idea.
Place can be a very important part of your story. Give your reader the opportunity to be there with you. Let your reader see and feel what you do. Happy writing!
April 4, 2018
Creative people rely on finding inspiration to help them expand their creativity. Creative people also run the risk of being too hard on themselves if they don’t find inspiration when they’re looking for it. And that’s the lesson--stop looking for inspiration and start allowing it to show itself to you. Here are some ideas to help you.
- Be open to the various gifts of inspiration that surround you every day. Some of them reside within you. Some of them appear unexpectedly around you. For example, a song may trigger a memory of someone you hadn’t thought of in years and that memory may expand beyond the person into something you did with that person, a gift you gave or received from that person, or even a secret you shared with that person.
- Give yourself permission to join bits and pieces from things that inspire you. For example, you may start with the personality of one friend and combine it with the appearance of another to create a totally new character. Add the career of a third person and your character becomes even more inspired.
- Take a memory and write it out in detail. Include descriptions, facts, assumptions, all you can remember about the people involved, location, weather, feelings, fears, joys, etc. Then sort through what you wrote and use what works in your story. Save what doesn’t work in that particular story for use in another.
- Appreciate the people and places you’ve previously ignored or discounted. Maybe those people are not as dull as you originally thought. Maybe something exciting happened in that old post office building a hundred years ago. Most people and places can offer something inspiring if you dig a little deeper and give them a chance. Maybe you’re the one with something to offer that few people know about that you can use in your writing.
- Be honest about what you’re writing. Not every book deserves to be written, or at least shouldn’t be written by you. I’m a teacher. Corporations hired me to teach needle arts to their employees after hours. School districts hired me to teach needle arts in adult education programs. I learned that I enjoyed teaching and my students seemed to enjoy learning. I expanded into teaching writing, speaking, communication, business, and management at colleges (graduate and undergraduate courses at both private and public universities). I even wrote and reviewed college textbooks. But as much as I love teaching, I didn’t love writing textbooks. How about you? What book should you be writing and what book should you stay away from?
I hope these ideas help you recognize inspiration when it comes to you. There is not another person in this world who sees things exactly as you do and only you can write what you write. I hope you enjoy the journey. Happy writing!
March 27, 2018
Almost everyone has heard of one stereotype or another–some relate to blondes, others relate to old men, others relate to rich kids, etc. A stereotype is nothing more than a widely recognized description of a section of humanity. Most readers don’t appreciate the triteness of character stereotypes. Here are some tips on how you can avoid making them.
- Enhance common stereotypes by avoid predictability. If your character is poor and ignored by society, start with that. Then can change reader expectations of what your character does by adding characteristics not normally associated with the stereotype.
- Allow your character to make decisions and take actions not normally associated with that character’s stereotype. One caution, however, is to make sure your character doesn’t get too far from his/her origins or your reader will feel duped.
- Consider which stereotype your reader might assign to your character, then develop other sides to that character that your reader wouldn’t necessarily expect. Add details throughout your story to make your character stand out away from the initial stereotypical impression.
- Show a totally opposite side of your character. If your character is a self-giving individual, have him or her do something that’s totally self-serving and unexpected. Be sure you provide the reader with the motivation for this opposite side, however, or your reader won’t accept it as believable. You can do this with emotions, flashbacks, scenes showing a part of your character that’s known only to that character, for example.
- Offer a life-changing event in your character’s life that makes your character step away from the stereotypical actions/reactions. It could be the loss of a loved one, loss of a dream, birth of a child, or any other life-altering event, but it has to be huge and have a major impact on your character.
- Allow your reader a glimpse into the depths of your character that shows your character always possessed what it takes to become the non-stereotypical character he/she’s become. Again, you can weave this through your story with memories, emotions, etc.
- Use other characters to show the non-stereotypical traits of your character. Other characters can witness actions, discuss concerns, offer insights, etc. Allow other characters to help answer questions your reader may have about what makes your protagonist or antagonist who they are.
The old quote that writers are observers of life fits here. Observing people to help you avoid making character stereotypes might be one of the most fun things you get to do as a writer. Observe, note initial impressions, then ponder what could really be behind what you see. Your characters (and readers) will appreciate it. Happy writing!
March 21, 2018
Yesterday was the first day of spring. Consider using spring as a springboard for giving yourself permission to write, especially if spring is a time that takes you away from writing in favor of other ways to spend your time.
Here are some miscellaneous ideas to get you going.
- Consider writing simultaneous projects. Writing a variety offers you opportunity to work on whichever project speaks to you on a specific day. Getting stuck on one article or one character or one story rather than moving on to another that beckons you creates writers block. Once you give yourself permission to temporarily step away from one project toward another, you’ll find your writing flow begins anew.
- Ignore the nag on your shoulder that plants seeds that people won’t like your story or article or whatever. Of course some people won’t like what you write. Some people don’t like fish. Some people don’t like romance novels. Some people don’t like football. And some people won’t like your book. But others will love it. That’s just the way life is.
- Avoid putting things in your book that don’t belong there. Instead, save those great ideas, descriptions, relationships, etc. for another project. In other words, don’t force something into your story simply because you like it or someone suggests it. If it belongs in the story, it will fit let you know. Indulge me as I tell the story of the dog we rescued four years ago. We got a telephone call from a woman we met at a restaurant a few days earlier. During dinner we talked about animals and mentioned we hadn’t had a dog is 30 years because I didn’t want to hurt over losing an animal again. She remembered us, called, and asked if we’d meet the dog her neighbor intended to have put down because the daughter wouldn’t take care of it. The dog was five and still didn’t have a name. The restaurant woman said, “Don’t worry, he’ll tell you his name.” So we met the dog. He answered to nothing. Then, a name popped into my head, I said it, and he perked up and looked at me. That’s been his name ever since and he answers to it always. My point? If something is supposed to be in your story, you will know.
- Remember to not tell the same story twice. I read a lot of book series and am amazed at how well the best sellers tell a new story in each book. If you’re writing a series, consider keeping a chart for each book. For example, if writing a mystery series, track the story set up, details on the killer and the victim, the crime motive, how the crime was committed, and the climax of the story. You can change character interests, change settings, change vocations, all sorts of things. Just don’t tell the same story twice.
- Do your research. Read everything because ideas are everywhere. If writing nonfiction, make a detailed outline of chapters and subheads within the chapters. Once you’ve done that, your research will help you fill in the details. You may want to consider that for fiction as well–outline what happens, when characters meet, how they meet, etc. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you need to do a lot of research because your reader will know if you didn’t.
Writing isn’t a destination. It’s a life-long journey. Give yourself permission to enjoy it. Happy writing!
February 27, 2018
I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries and thrillers lately and am amazed at how much the authors have to know about what their characters do for work, what their characters do for hobbies, and how creative their characters are in solving problems, sustaining relationships, and bringing the book to a satisfying close. Why is so much required of today’s fiction writer? Readers are more sophisticated than ever.
I realize that today you enjoy a plethora of tools not easily accessed in previous decades, but it can still be a bit overwhelming to research and write your book, so I created these tips to help you.
- Allow yourself time to research and write. You might have to schedule the time. You might have to temporarily give up something to create the time. If you set aside 30 minutes every day, at the end of a week you’ve written for 3.5 hours, and at the end of a month (well, four weeks), you’ve spent 14 hours on your book.
- Understand the genre and reader you’re writing for. For example, mystery readers and romance readers read with very different expectations. Your job is to offer the reader a good read.
- Talk to experts. Fiction contains truth about jobs, about technology, about hobbies, about relationships, etc., so when you feel you need more information in a specific area in your book, talk to experts who can help you with what you need.
- Hold yourself accountable for originality. Yes, you do your research, but then you’re responsible for writing your own ideas and experiences triggered by your research.
- Organize your content in a way that makes the story flow. Consider organizing chronologically, by alternating character viewpoints or scenes, or by some other way. You might try sketching your book outline by chapter, and, if you do, give yourself permission to move things around so the story makes sense as it flows.
- Read today’s news and anything else that will help you understand your characters, their motivations, their jobs and hobbies, the world they live in, and their relationships better.
The acronym AUTHOR should help you remember these tips. Writing isn’t easy, but it can be rewarding. Happy writing!
February 9, 2018
Most of the time we’re drawn to a book or an article by the title. But it’s not always easy to come up with a title that catches a reader’s eye. Here are some tips to help you. By the way, I took my examples from the 2017 and 2018 best-seller lists on Barnes and Noble and Amazon websites.
- Use numbers: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
- Use a possessive: The Handmaid’s Tale.
- Use one word: Grant.
- Use an adjective: Lilac Girls.
- Use an article with your adjective: An American Marriage.
- Use two nouns: Milk and Honey.
- Use a prepositional phrase: Before We Were Yours.
- Use a verb: Live Fearless.
- Use an entire sentence: One of Us Is Lying.
Look at the titles in your own library. Unless you bought the book simply because you love the author, chances are the title caught your eye. It might be fun to see how many titles you own fit the tips above. Happy writing!
January 29, 2018
Essay? Really? You may think the college professor in me caused me to write this, but that’s not the case. I just want you to consider a new perspective about writing and a good place to start is with a topic you know better than anyone else–you!
Here are some ideas to get you thinking (and writing).
- Consider you’re not writing an essay, which is typically thought of as a theme. Instead, give yourself permission to write your story.
- Start with “I” because you’ve got something worthwhile to say.
- Show how the past significantly impacts the now (and future) by digging deeper within yourself than you have before.
- Enjoy being yourself. Sure, lots of writers quote famous people, but this is your personal essay, and you’ve got plenty of your own wisdom/experience to share.
- Write what you want. When you get assignments in class to write essays or themes or study papers, you also get restrictions. But this is your personal essay to encourage you to get in touch with you, so write what you want.
- Observe life. One idea is universal–writers are observers of life. Thus, get out and observe by going for a walk, watching people, seeing and hearing what’s going on around you (both large and small activities).
- Save notes and things that speak to you so you can journal, create idea boxes to collect your thoughts, then chunk your ideas together for future writing. You never know when the smallest detail can serve as the exact thing you need to make your next story better.
- Remember to use active verbs when writing about your experiences.
- Allow the muse to work with you. Writing about yourself and finding ways to connect the past with the anticipated future isn’t easy, so embrace all the help the muse offers.
The most obvious tip is to write. If you continue writing, chances are your writing won’t get worse, only better. Since only you know you so well, embrace writing the personal essay and see where it takes you and your other writing. Happy writing!