My husband thinks that good poems must
have clever rhymes, and yet they just
sometimes sound a little forced
and the deeper meaning then is lorst.
Like when I ponder a terrible quandary,
and the only word that fits is laundry.
Or when I write of sweet sunsets orange
which has no rhyme, except for door-hinge.
What’s even worse is the color purple,
because no nice images come from “burp-hill.”
For other words, it’s, too, a stretch,
like ditch with kitsch or fetch with letch.
So here’s the problem as I see it:
Sometimes rhymes still sound like she-it.
So, diddle, fiddle, faddle, fart —
Rhyming words don’t make it art.
Five weeks ago, Death swept past and changed my world. My mother-in-law passed away. My husband become motherless, my children lost a grandma, and I lost a dear friend. We knew it was coming, but she was still quite young — only 67 — and although her suffering ended, it still seemed that she had been robbed of the experiences and joys that one earns with growing older, and of the grace that many envision at the end of their own, hopefully long, life.
Death had visited near me before, but I’m blessed to still have both my parents. Death makes one think about life, and one’s own mortality. Then on Monday of this week, a friend on the other side of the world wrote a poignant post about her father waking in the dark, confused about both where he was and the time of day. With tender words and careful thought, she assured him she loved him and that he would soon have breakfast with his friends. That it was safe to return to bed for a few more hours, and that all would be well.
Later that day, this poem demanded to be written. It is called Autumn Soul, and it’s about us all. Click here to read: Autumn Soul
1. She strongly encourages writers to develop their own editing system to revise as they go, and she shared what works for her:
• Read aloud what you wrote the day before. For her this is typically 1-5 pages.
• This allows you to hear your words more realistically.
• Revise right then.
• Count hours over pages, because it better reflects the amount of work done
• Nobody should read the first draft
2. Look at the architecture of how your story is built. This helps with plot points. She uses Post-It notes so that she can move them around and shift her structure. She suggested matching your overall story structure and time to your plots and story line. “Wrap your arms around your story.” Carefully think about the time that your story takes, and when it happens.
3. Make sure you’re starting your story in the right place: on the day something happened. She used Humpty Dumpty for an analogy, noting that Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall a long time before the story started, but that it wasn’t interesting until he fell off. As many others before her have cautioned, NEVER start with weather or waking up. Or driving a car. These starts are far too ruminative, and/or tend to cover unnecessary back story.
4. The idea that got you writing is your trigger. Be sure you’re writing your story not just your trigger. She mentioned Richard Hugo’s book, The Triggering Town, and said, “Read it.”
5. Nuts and bolts are important: Grammar and punctuation.
• She mentioned that Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway covers the basics. Although the new editions have newer stories and examples, used copies are quite affordable.
• Avoid passive voice and forms of “to be” (e.g., is, was, were) because they’re boring
• Avoid using small meaningless action in dialogue because it typically means you’re not developing your characters to their full potential. Watch out for these words: looking, smiling, nodding, frowning, and turning, in all their various forms. They can end up seeming superficial . The sentence, “No one ever fell in love in this room,” speaks volumes more than a detailed physical description of walls, etc. Ask yourself if you need any action at all. How can you SHOW what needs to be revealed.
• She quoted someone who once said that MAXIMUM sentence length is 17 words and the shortest is one. The point being to vary it.
• Punctuation: Beware overuse of ellipsis (…), bold, semicolon, exclamation point, ALL CAPS, or any type of font change for emphasis. “It means the words aren’t doing their job.” She quoted E.B. White, who once said, “The only good thing about a semicolon is that it shows you went to college.”
• One good noun is worth 3 adjectives.
• Avoid vernacular unless appropriate in dialogue.
6. No story is one story. There’s one on the surface and one bubbling beneath: the climax is when the two meet. (She credited that to another writer, but I can’t remember who.) External conflict is plot. Internal conflict is the story beneath. Another writer described the two as Floaty and Groundy, saying that there should be floaty/groundy balance on every page.
• Show don’t tell. Run a “find” for all forms of the word “FEEL” in your manuscript.
• Make sure you know who your protagonist is. Make it clear what he or she wants and what’s at stake. Reader needs to care.
• The 3 R’s of writing: React, Reply, Reflect. Each time there is a scene or chapter ending, or giving of information to the protagonist then you need one of the 3 Rs. This leave the story in the protagonist’s hands, and pushes the story more.
8. Look at your dialogue.
• You cannot and should not write all your dialogue the way people really talk – you can only suggest it, or you will drive your readers crazy.
• Try to avoid dialect; instead, use syntax. Sprinkle it in.
• Don’t use dialogue to fill in what characters already know.
• Dialogue can help 1)explain 2) describe setting 3) add character, 4) reveal internal conflict, 5) add tension, 6) move plot forward, 7) foreshadow, or 8) give backstory, but must do at least 2 of these at once. (Ideally 3 or 4 at a time)
9. Setting. Every scene needs setting. Time, place, conditions: setting should mirror internal conflict. Example: half broken house for a half broken life
10. Finish…revise… put it away!
• When you think you’re done, wait then print… then take it on a date.
• Bring a sword not a pen, and read/write/review/revise as if for a student (2nd draft)
• Then type in all the changes (3rd draft, because you’ll fiddle with it more).
• Repeat. Then do it again. Example…32 dates. Plus 3 revisions. When the corrections are just cosmetic, you’re ready for someone else to read it. She mentioned how LONG it can take to make something SHORT.
Fabulous two hours, thanks to speaker Ann Hood and host, Field’s End of Bainbridge Island. Please take a look at Ann’s Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Ann-Hood/e/B000AP92UY/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1413762661&sr=8-2-ent
This session was taught by Bill Johnson, author of plays and books, including A Story is a Promise and The Spirit of Storytelling. The main gem that I took from his session was that sometimes authors work through their own issues by writing too much of themselves into a character or story. When that happens, the story runs the risk of taking the author on a personal journey while it leaves its intended audience behind.
Johnson strongly cautioned against writing main characters that are “too stuck” or “too emotionally numb” because the “good stuff” sometimes doesn’t start until the character gets “unstuck” or start to feel—guess where?—yes, on the last page, last paragraph of the book.
Johnson did a great job of taking characters from popular culture and applying his basic character conflict analysis to them: Dorothy wants to get home, but barriers are in her way. Harry wants to belong, but he lives with the Dursely’s, who will never accept him. He urges writers to find their character’s “dramatic truth” to write a powerful story. Without narrative tension, the novel is just an “accounting” of events. There needs to be forward momentum to keep a story moving, and that is done through well crafted plot points.
Plot point 1 = The point of no return for the main character. They’re IN this. They’re COMMITTED.
Plot point 2 = Where it looks like all is lost.
The story moves through the promise to the reader by working toward resolution of the conflicts.
Johnson offered his website as a place to delve deeper into this topic: http://www.storyispromise.com, where he reviews popular books, films, and plays to explore the principles of storytelling. His newest book is available for 2.99 on Kindle: A Story is a Promise and The Spirit of Storytelling.
The following short bio from: http://www.writeonthesound.com/conference/presenters
BILL JOHNSON is author of A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, a writing workbook, and web master of http://www.storyispromise.com, a web site that explores principles of storytelling through reviews of popular stories. He’s a produced playwright, optioned screenwriter, and has read manuscript submissions for literary agents.
A good book review from Raven Crime Reads
The dead talk. To the right listener, they tell us all about themselves: where they came from, how they lived, how they died – and who killed them. Forensic scientists can unlock the mysteries of the past and help justice to be done using the messages left by a corpse, a crime scene or the faintest of human traces.Forensics uncovers the secrets of forensic medicine, drawing on interviews with top-level professionals, ground-breaking research and Val McDermid’s own experience to lay bare the secrets of this fascinating science. And, along the way, she wonders at how maggots collected from a corpse can help determine time of death, how a DNA trace a millionth the size of a grain of salt can be used to convict a killer and how a team of young Argentine scientists led by a maverick American anthropologist uncovered the victims of a genocide…
I confess to not…
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Dan Hurley, a writing instructor at Edmonds Community College, presented a workshop last Friday at the Write on the Sound 2014 conference. From the several pre-conference choices, I opted for his critique and workshop. There were six participants with interests ranging from children’s chapter books to urban fantasy. Each of us turned in up to ten pages of manuscript before the conference, and those were sent to all the participants for review and written feedback.
When we all arrived for the workshop, we introduced ourselves and discovered that our backgrounds were easily as diverse as our writing, and it was fun to match the author names to the manuscript pieces we had read. The process from there was fantastic.
1. Dan chose the order in which we would present the works. He asked the author to read a passage so that we could each get a feel for the tone.
2. Next – and here is the brilliant part: the author had to be silent and “invisible.” No participating at all during the next two phases.
3. After the short passage, Dan read a short synopsis of the work, and the go-rounds began.
4. We took turns around the table, sharing positive aspects of what we had read: what worked, what we liked, the pace, the structure, wording, and so forth. When we were done, Dan added his positive comments.
5. After the positive comments, we moved in to weaknesses, what did not work, parts that were awkward, excessive, not enough detail—the gamut, again ending with Dan’s feedback.
6. Then the author could “undisappear” and participate, answer questions, ask questions.
7. Dan then lead us through open discussions about the manuscripts.
Many of us had never participated in a formal peer critique session with strangers. Many of us bonded over the discussions, exchanged contact information, and sat together in other classes over the weekend.
So—scary or not—this pushed me beyond my previous comfort level and legitimized my position as an author who has a fresh idea in mind, and lots of words to string together in ways that have never been done before.
About the presenter (from http://www.writeonthesound.com/conference/pre-conference-workshops)
Dan Hurley is an enthusiastic advocate of the workshop format, Dan Hurley aims to create an environment that is engaging and challenging for all fiction writers. Hurley has taught fiction writing and composition at EdCC since 1996–and has taught this WOTS fiction workshop for the past six years. He earned an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University, where he also taught fiction. A recipient of the Goodman Short Story Award and a BU teaching fellowship, he is currently working on a collection of short stories.
This past weekend I attended the WOTS conference in Edmonds, Washington, for the second time. Next year will be its 30th year! Both the pre-conference and the conference sessions themselves were fantastic, so I’ve decided to share some of the “gems” that I picked up.
I’m heading to shoulder surgery tomorrow, so it might be a few days before my first gem is posted, but please check back. I would use exclamation marks to show my excitement, but one of the presenters (University of Washington’s James Thayer) taught me that exclamation marks can make a manuscript look like a teenage girl’s diary. He said that if you find that you MUST use exclamation marks, then you should limit yourself to two — in your entire career.
So, since I used one in the first paragraph, I’m saving my second one for another time.
Have a great night — take care