April Articles and May Events

I’ve collected enough articles that it’s time to share a few more, beginning with one that’s a little metaphysical in tone. The 5 Tips To Find Your Authentic Writing Voice start out sounding a bit vague and theoretical but end on a concrete note. They’re worth your time to read—especially, in my opinion, #4.

Next we have a brief, practical bit of advice that the folks at Camp NaNoWriMo put together when asked, “How can you be sure that your plot is actually compelling, and not just a pile of stuff that happens?”

That’s followed by one that’s more of a list than an article. Here are 25 Brain Lubricants For Generating Ideas. Two near the middle stuck out to me.

  • Get Fearless:  What if you could do, say or write anything? It’s just an exercise, so fear not. Step outside of your comfort zone. I think this is excellent advice. Sometimes I have an idea, but then I don’t run with it because I think other people will think it’s silly. I need to remind myself more often that it’s okay to write something that I don’t want to share with anyone else. Confidential writing isn’t limited to the arenas of diaries and classified military files; sometimes it’s okay to do creative writing for your eyes alone. And sometimes a creatively crazy idea becomes just the inspiration you need to get out of a rut. The major twist in the novel I’m writing was born out of an April Fool’s joke, of all things.
  • Get Unsatisfied: Look at a satisfactory solution all over again and challenge it. Dismiss it. Find another path that make take you even further. The good is the enemy of the best, right? If we think that we have found a good way to write a scene (or a character’s motivation, or a setting description, or…), we may never discover the best way to write it.

The fourth item is from Writers Write. They’re based in South Africa, and I always find it inspiring to think that writers half way around the world are using many of the same techniques we are here; good writing has very universally-applicable principles. This article teaches you how to Keep Calm and Kill Clichés. There’s not a whole lot to it, but I still recommend reading it because it comes to a strong conclusion: When we use jargon or clichés, we create fuzziness around the image or emotion we’re trying to get across. Be as specific as you can be and authentic as you can be. Every word must have your blood in it – anger, irony, admiration, etc. Don’t make it look like everyone else’s. I usually try to avoid clichés because I think they’re annoying and make writing sound amateur, but I hadn’t ever thought about that deeper reason to avoid them. As a bonus, here’s a link to a site where you can build your own keep calm and…whatever poster.

Another blogger at Writers Write shares What Watching Disney and Pixar Teaches About Writing Suspense. What single component do 10 of the most well-known Disney/Pixar movies have in common? You’ll have to read the article to find out! And read the article you should, because it’s something you clearly can apply to your writing too, if only you have it in mind.

That pretty much does it for April’s articles, but I promised info on May’s events as well. First, we have the GLVWG monthly Writers Cafe coming up next Thursday, the 8th. It’s at 7pm at the Palmer branch of the Easton library, and Nicole is organizing dinner beforehand at Wegmans (just down the road on 248) at 5:30 – thank you, Nicole! And later in the month, I’ll be hosting the next Writers’ Salon on Thursday the 29th. This time we’ll be focusing on setting (and anything else you’d like to discuss).

Lastly, for a bit of humor, check out this game that explains How to be a writer.


Moravian’s Writer’s Conference

Iʼm writing to make you aware of a new writersʼ conference, to be held June 6-8, 2014 in Bethlehem, PA: the Moravian Writersʼ Conference.

This will be a weekend filled with workshops, craft talks, panel discussions, readings, and more, all led by accomplished writers from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley and beyond. At the center of the weekendʼs events will be readings by, and interviews with, the conferenceʼs two keynote speakers, Laurie Halse Anderson and Ursula Hegi.

You can learn more at http://home.moravian.edu/public/writersconference/.

March Articles

Here are a few articles I came across in March.

In keeping with our recent character theme, let’s start out with some thoughts on The Six Defining Characteristics of Strong Female Protagonists. I was hesitant about this one at first. Like Joss Whedon*, I think the term “strong female character” has gotten a little out of hand. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find the author of this article say, “I believe there is a tendency to confuse strength with acting like a man. I don’t want to read about women who act like men, or men who act like women. I think a character’s strength can be measured by his or her ability to get my attention, make me empathise with, and care for, that character, and then to drive the story to its conclusion.”

The six characteristics outlined in the article can apply to strong characters of either gender. (I almost said “any” gender, but unless you’re writing some really fantastical sci-fi, “either” should pretty much cover all bases.) I think my favorite characteristic is the first one mentioned: “She has a story goal that defines the narrative arc. She has to get possession of something, or relief from something. There have to be important consequences if she does not achieve her story goal.”

I am decent at writing characters with goals, but this idea that there are important consequences if the goal is not achieved is one that I find very enlightening. I recently re-read a portion of the Getting Into Character book (Another shameless plug! What can I say? It’s my favorite book on writing technique.) that was talking about Action Objectives and the 4 D’s (Desire, Distancing, Denial, Devastation). In it, the author uses the example of The Pearl by John Steinbeck, and how the protagonist, Kino, has a very specific desire for a very specific goal.

Kino doesn’t simply want to sell the pearl he has found. He wants to sell it for a good price and pay for his son’s medical treatment and a better life for his family. I think that is part of what makes the story so effective. The tragic ending is tragic not because he abandons selling the pearl but because his goal of healing his son has such an opposite outcome. Read the story if you want to find out just how tragically it all turns out…

On a much lighter note, here’s a list of 22 Apps and Tools Every Writer Should Know About. That may be an exaggeration, but some of them, particularly the prompt generators, look pretty useful. I own and regularly use Scrivener and feel it’s worth every penny. If anyone has used Evernote, please let me know; I’m interested in trying it.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this fun answer to the question Should You Write About What You Know? This comes from a blog for beginning writers, full of Writing Tips and other encouragement for those who may be young or just starting out writing.

*(Whedon, known for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Toy Story, The Avengers, and other film and television work, is famous for answering the question, “So, why do you write these strong female characters?” with the answer, “Because you’re still asking me that question.” Watch or read if you’d like to know more about that speech.)

Happy Writing! And Happy Spring!

Writer’s Salon #2 Recap

On Thursday we had our 2nd Writer’s Salon. In attendance were a mix of new and familiar faces: Jon, Bethany, Jennifer, Nicole, Kim, Mike, and Susannah.

We started with the following warm up: Write directions to your house from the nearest highway exit, without using street names or house numbers. It was fun to see how we all used a variety of landmarks, distances, cardinal directions, and elapsed times to explain how to get around the Lehigh Valley. The main purpose, however, was just to get our writing brains turned on and our wrists limbered up. In fact, we even had a brief side bar about fountain pens. If you haven’t tried writing with one, you really owe it to yourself (and to your writing) to try one out. Personally I have a Lamy safari, which can be found on Amazon for $20+, but Jon and Bethany bought some locally—I believe at Michael’s.

Sam had sent a link to a very inspirational comic featuring a quote by Ira Glass, so I shared that with the group. He stressed that the opening sentence should read “WHAT nobody tells people who are beginners…” so keep that in mind when you look at it.

We spent the majority of our writing time on what I’m calling the “Choose Your Own Adventure Character Exercise” because I wanted to focus on characters this time around. Along those lines, I made another shameless plug for one of my favorite books on writing, Getting Into Character. If anyone else has books to recommend, please let me know. I’d be happy to give you a log in for the blog so you can post something like Nicole did last month.

We wrapped up by deciding that we’d next like to meet in May. I’ll send out a follow-up email. Nicole has also offered to organize dinner out before one of the upcoming GLVWG Writers Cafe nights. Stay tuned for more details on that.