Monthly Archives: November 2017

How to “Tell” When You Can’t “Show”

The standard rule is this: “show, don’t tell.” Instead of telling your reader that Jane is “sad,” show the reader by describing Jane’s demeanor, her tears, etc. You’re supposed to allow the reader to experience Jane’s sadness with her.

How to tell

But in a 80,000 word manuscript, chances are you’ll do at least some telling. The temptation to “tell” usually arises when you need to share background information, summarize events, or provide context for what’s happening.

4 Ways to Tell, Not Show

I think there’s a way to break the “show, don’t tell” rule (occasionally!) without taking away from the reader experience. Here are four techniques you can try:

1. Do it in the third person

Originally my manuscript alternated between the points of view of two characters, each speaking in the first person. As a result, my characters would sometimes randomly start explaining the history of a place or providing the context for a decision he or she made.

My editor labeled these sections as “too expositiony” and said that real people don’t talk that way. Knowing that it was important to me to include the information, she suggested writing a few chapters in the third person.

It worked! In addition to enabling me to provide important context and background to the reader, the occasional third-person chapters provided a welcome change of pace. I enjoyed writing them, and I enjoy keeping the reader on his or her toes.

2. Or, do it in the character’s voice

If you’re sticking to a first-person point of view, and are dying to “tell” something, at least do it in your character’s voice/from your character’s perspective.

For example, one character may describe a town with nostalgia, focusing on smells or specific places that trigger childhood memories. Meanwhile, another character, who is more of an outsider, may describe the same town by telling the reader what he’s “heard” about the place or focus more on what she’s seeing right in front of her.

Just make sure to do it in a way that is authentic to the character.

3. Keep it brief

Set the scene in a paragraph. Provide background in a sentence, or even a clause. Or, if you plan to dedicate a chapter to “telling,” keep that chapter to a page or two.

Remember, “telling” should be the exception, not the rule.

4. Have fun with it!

Just because you’re explaining something to the reader doesn’t mean you have to be boring. Hint at a mystery. Share something with the reader the characters don’t know. Tell a story.

Show, Don’t Tell . . . But Sometimes, Tell

You’ll find that a lot of writing “rules” are more like helpful guidelines. Don’t be afraid to play around with them and discover what works for your story. When will you choose to tell rather than show?

Do you always adhere to “show, don’t tell,” or are you ever tempted to “tell” instead of “show”? Let us know in the comments.

By Monica M. Clark

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3 Essential Questions for Every Author

3 Essential Questions for Every Author

How many times have you spoken with authors and asked them about their book … and they go on and on, not really connecting with you or your question? How many times have you met a new author and asked them about their book marketing and receive a blah response? How many times have you asked an author who they are writing for and your sense is that they don’t know?

There are plenty of components that go into a successful book; a successful roll out; and certainly, success as an author.

My three essential questions to authors and writers are:

  1. Who are you writing or did you write your book for? (the target reader)
  2. Where do they hang out on the internet and in person? (book marketing focus)
  3. Can you summarize your book in less than 30 seconds? (your pitch to lure and hook the listener/buyer)

For me, not a day goes by that I don’t get the “deer in the highlight” response. Stumbling with words and descriptions; not being able to respond with clarity, or quickly.

Who are your writing for?

Oh, they loved the idea and the art of writing. But, really, “You want me to tell you who is supposed to be reading, buying my book? Me?”

Why yes, that’s exactly what was being asked … and expected to be answered with a quick and clear response.

Yet so many fail.

Do you know, really know:

  • Who you are writing your book for?
  • What their needs are?
  • What their pain is?

Can you state them and follow up with a line or two that offers “relief” to it?

And if you have book in hand, write your book for? (the target reader)

The very first step toward author success is to be clear and succinct about who, and what, your reading audience is. The kiss of book death is the response: everybody. It is not everybody.

For example:
Are you writing about women? For women? It’s a basic category, but it is not just all women (or men or children, etc.)—that’s a huge ding. It may be for women … but which women?

  • Young women?
  • Women over 50?
  • Women who have the child-bearing clock ticking?
  • Divorced women?
  • Working women?
  • Women who homeschool their children?
  • Women who work at nickel and dime jobs?
  • Women who have had cancer?
  • Women who have had a specific type of cancer?
  • Women who are single and loving it?
  • Women who are single and hating it?
  • Women who are serial lovers?
  • Women who have affairs (or want to)?
  • Women who work in health care?
  • Women who were wild in college?
  • Women who were abused?
  • Women who have deep secrets?
  • Women who are getting married?
  • Women who want to get married?
  • Women who don’t want to marry?
  • Women who want to be kept?
  • Women who are addicted … and to what?
  • Women who were raised in cults?
  • Women who just want to have fun?
  • Women who are hoarders?
  • Women who hate cooking?
  • Women who credit card binge?
  • Women who love animals?
  • Women who run?
  • Women who …

You get the picture. Dive down. Drill deeply. Know who you are writing for to the core of his, her, their fiber. What nuances; what hiccups; what the beliefs are.

Imagine spending time with them. Being at a restaurant and ordering your favorite beverage. Selecting a new movie to watch together. Who are they; what are they; what are they hopes, dreams, fears; what is their background; what brings them to your topic; what will your book do for them?

Where does your reader and book buyer hang out?

  • What is his or her social media platform of choice?
  • What about groups that membership might be a part of as a career necessity or social preference?
  • What blogs would they be following that you should also be following and making comments on so you become visible?
  • How about your book competitors and bestselling authors in your genre—who are they and what social media platforms are they using?

Don’t be a bore … Pitch fast with the right lure to hook

In March, I shared a column on pitching to the media. It’s no different in pitching to a potential reader or book buyer. Keep it short … don’t go on and on. Remember the scene in E.T. where Reese’s candies were dribble in a trail leading the kids to him? Your pitch needs the right mix and timing of dribble to lure in your reader and book buyer.

I’m not a reader of horror, but I am a huge fan of Stephen King. His book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, is one that I routinely recommend to all of my clients. Some of my favorite words that’s I’ve saved over the years that he wrote:

”If a book is not alive in the writer’s mind, it is as dead as year-old horse-shit.”

Here’s my take:

“If the reader for the book is not alive in the author’s mind, it’s yesterday’s poop.”

Know exactly who you are writing for; where they hang out so you can deliver focused marketing; and be able to say what your book is about in a succinct way within 30 seconds.

With clarity, your writing, and your marketing, is so much easier. And that’s a very good thing.

By Judith Briles

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NaNoWriMo: The endurance test that may lead to a bestseller


November is National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, when Great American Novelists scramble to write 50,000-word manuscripts in 30 days. What began as a 21-person contest in 1999 is now led by an Executive Director (Grant Faulkner, no relation to William) and has become a literary success, with nearly half a million people daring to take the plunge in 2015.

Since there are so many applicants, NaNoWriMo has strict rules:

  • Writing starts at 12:00: a.m. on November 1 and ends 11:59:59 p.m. on November 30, local time.
  • No one is allowed to start early and finish 30 days from that start point.
  • Novels must reach a minimum of 50,000 words before the end of November. These words can either be a complete novel of 50,000 words or the first 50,000 words of a novel to be completed later.
  • Planning and extensive notes are permitted, but no material written before the November 1 start date can go into the body of the novel.
  • Participants’ novels can be on any fiction genre of fiction, including fan fiction and metafiction.

The goal is not to become the next Faulkner but, like Rocky, just to go the distance. If you make it to 50,000 words by 11:59:59 p.m on November 30th, you’ve won. It’s that easy. Or not—the organizers say that participants must write at least 1,667 words every day to reach the finish line. That can be daunting if you miss a day … or two … and then find yourself, like in high school, scrambling to write page after page at the last minute.

That’s not to say all the effort isn’t worth it. Laura Apperson, an editor at St. Martin’s Press, told Publishers Weekly, “It’s been wonderful for the publishing industry.” Three St. Martin’s novels: Lydia Netzer’s “Shine Shine Shine,” Rainbow Rowell’s “Fangirl,” and Nora Zelevansky’s “Semi-Charmed Life,” were all published by St. Martin’s, but began as NaNoWriMo projects. “If you have a community, you’re a lot more motivated to write; you’re a lot more motivated to start shopping your book around.” And, like a Spin Cycle trainer, NaNoWriMo keeps its authors constantly moving with pep talks, in-person events, and online communities, where people cheer each other on while taking their 10th coffee break of the day.

So now that you’ve done reading this article, why not try your hand at writing a novel? You only need to write 5,001 words by the end of today to catch up. May those with the most endurance win. (Oh wait, they will!)

By Heather Quinlan

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MIT researchers trained AI to write horror stories based on 140,000 Reddit posts


Sometimes the scariest place to be is your own mind. Or Reddit at night.

Shelley is an AI program that generates the beginnings of horror stories, and it’s trained by original horror fiction posted to Reddit. Designed by researchers from MIT Media Lab, Shelley launched on Twitter on Oct. 21.

The team behind Shelley is hoping to learn more about how machines can evoke emotional responses in humans. “The rapid progress in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has people worried about everything from mass unemployment to the annihilation of the human race at the hand of evil robots,” writes researcher Iyad Rahwan by email. “We know that AI terrifies us in the abstract sense. But can AI scare us in the immediate, visceral sense?”

Shelley, named after Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, is interactive. After the program tweets a few opening lines, it asks people on Twitter to continue the story, and if the story is popular, it responds to those responses.

Using information from 140,000 stories from Reddit’s r/nosleep, Shelley produces story beginnings that range in creepiness, and in quality. There’s some classic “scary stuff,” like a narrator who thinks she’s alone and then sees eyes in the dark, but also premises one can only imagine are Reddit-user-inspired, like family porn.

t 1

Others are silly:

t 2

There are some unimaginative ones:

I was standing right across the street, when a ghost stood behind me. I was so scared I couldn’t move. I couldn’t move. I wasn’t able to move my eyes, I was screaming. I was so scared.


She fell to the floor from her cries and muttered a soft ‘Come to meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee’.

And some of Shelley’s stories contain dread of a more existential sort:

I started breathing heavily, and waited for whatever it was to happen. I never saw it, because it drove me insane, I couldn’t move. All I could do was stand there, wide eyed, and stared at the wall, screaming at the top of my lungs, but the words were loud and I couldn’t take it anymore.


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Writing Prompt: Take Your Character Shopping

character shopping

I stood in a long line last week while a single checker bumbled through multiple orders, finally requiring a manager to come take over. I’m a notorious snoop (I mean, people-researcher), so I began furtively sizing up the purchases of those around me while I waited. And what I found was a fantastic writing prompt.

One woman had at least a hundred dollars in makeup and a paring knife. Another woman had a huge bag of cat food, a tower of canned beans, and a head of lettuce. Two people in the line were placing bets on how long the line would take.

Stories seemed to be writing themselves right in front of me.

Writing Prompt: The Shopping Trip

How can you use a store as a backdrop for a new short story or a chapter in your work in progress?

As I’ve prepped writing prompts for my writers this week, I realized that what we buy reveals quite a bit about who we are. Plus, any kind of store provides potential for conflict, since people from all walks of life collide with different expectations for their shopping experiences.

John Updike published a story called “A&P” in 1961 about a young grocery clerk named Sammy whose day and life is interrupted by three girls in bathing suits who come in to buy a jar of herring snacks. Their nonconformity disrupts the sleepy grocery store and its patrons, and Sammy imagines their life in his mind, while the manager chides them for being inappropriately dressed. At the end, Sammy makes a bold decision, but the girls don’t see it or appreciate it.

Updike used a commonplace setting to put characters in trouble on several levels. You can use your shopping experiences to build fiction too.

3 Ways to Use a Shopping Trip for Writing Prompt Inspiration

Wondering how to leverage a shopping trip in your stories? Try these three strategies:

1. Use the store as a setting.

Look around the next time you shop. A gas station convenience store provides a much different set of props than a upscale department store. Where are the potential sources of conflict?

Is there only one lemon left in the produce section? Are the aisles overcrowded with cases of water bottles down the middle? Could the overstuffed racks of clothes be easily tipped over?

Any of these details could trigger a story.

2. Use the expectations of shopping as a conflict.

A store provides great material for fiction because everyone who goes to a store wants something. As Kurt Vonnegut famously said,

What is your character after? A discreet murder weapon? The perfect dress? A ham for the annual family reunion that has suddenly disappeared from the meat counter?

Whatever your character wants at the store, keep it out of reach due to availability, another customer, or some other obstacle.

3. Use a character’s purchases as an inciting incident.

Shopping requires decisions, another key for great fiction. What items are on your character’s shopping list? Bananas or apples? Bug poison or cleaning fluid? Shovel or ax? Paper or plastic?

Use these goals to kick off the inciting incident of the story. When a character begins making choices, watch out!

Your Shopping Is Research

Shopping lends itself to story ideas, so the next time you are out, take a minute to soak in the atmosphere, the shoppers, and the potential for conflict. Keep an eye out for your next story!

What did you see on your last shopping trip that would be great in fiction? Share in the comments.

By Sue Weems
Source: thewritepractice

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How to Be More Creative in Your Writing


Here’s an age-old question: is creative writing an art or a craft?

Artistically minded writers will say that writing is most definitely an art while those who who think more analytically will claim writing is a skill, a trade, and a business.

My answer is that writing can be either an art or a craft, and usually it’s both. You can approach writing armed with learned skills and an ability to string words together in a sensible manner, or you can approach writing as a purely creative endeavor and call it your art or your passion.

Both approaches work, and either one can lead to good, strong writing. However, the best writing is a hybrid. It’s both an art and a craft, a marriage between skill and creativity in writing.

Creativity in Writing

You read almost every day. Words appear on your computer screen, your television, on roadside signs, and product packaging. They’re everywhere, and they all make sense.

But every once in a while, you come across writing that simply dazzles you. Have you ever responded emotionally to the way a writer uses language? Have you ever put down a novel and remarked at how impressed you were with the author’s ability to create realistic characters or a riveting plot? Have you ever read a poem and felt transported to another time or place?

That’s the magic of creativity in writing. It captivates the imagination. It’s transcendent.

How to Be More Creative: Tips and Resources for Writers

There’s an old, outdated belief that creativity is talent; it’s inherent. Some of us are born right-brained (creative) and others left-brained (mechanical, analytical). That’s only partially true. Writing can be learned as a skill, but so can creativity. Sure, some people have a more natural inclination toward creative thinking. But anyone can foster and nurture creativity.

So, how do you foster creativity in writing? Below are some tips and resources to get you started. Whether you’re creative by nature and want to enhance your creativity or think you lack creative skills and want to build on them so you can produce better writing, these resources will point you in the right direction.

  1. Marelisa Fabrega’s How to Be More Creative — A Handbook for Alchemists is packed with tools for fostering creative and innovative thinking. It’s one of my favorite creativity resources!
  2. Don’t want to spring for the e-book? You will after you peruse the idea-packed creativity section on Marelisa’s blog.
  3. Find out how asking questions and encouraging curiosity can lead to creative writing ideas.
  4. Head over to the Creativity Portal, where you’ll find tons (and by tons, I mean TONS) of creativity articles, resources, and project ideas.
  5. Nothing gets a writer’s creativity flowing like poetry. If you think poetry is relegated to tweens, academics, and literary elites, think again. Poetry can be raw and brazen, and it will open your mind to new creative insight and strengthen your language skills. Read it, watch it, listen to it, and then try some poetry writing exercises.

Where do you go to turn up the volume on creativity in your writing? Do you have a favorite book or website, a quiet place in the woods or a quaint coffee shop in the city that you like to visit? Do you have any favorite creativity resources? Share your tips and ideas for how to be more creative by leaving a comment.

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward

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The Semifinals Have Begun! Vote in Round Two of the Goodreads Choice Awards

Vote now in the Semifinal Round! »

It’s time for round two!

We’ve tallied more than 1.2 million of your votes from the Opening Round of the Goodreads Choice Awards and sifted through more than 19,000 write-in nominations. Now, your top five write-in candidates in each of the 20 award categories are represented in this Semifinal Round.

Who garnered enough write-in votes to make it into the competition? In the Horror category, it’s a King family affair as Joe Hill’s Strange Weather joins his father and brother’s co-written book Sleeping Beauties. Meanwhile, in Romance, author Penny Reid has two different series now represented in the category.

This is no small matter! Your write-ins represent some serious competition. For example, 2015’s Fiction winner, Go Set a Watchman, was a write-in nominee. And last year, actress Anna Kendrick‘s Scrappy Little Nobody placed second in the Humor category.

This Semifinal Round lasts until Sunday, November 12; your votes now determine the finalists. Share your picks on social media with the hashtag #GoodreadsChoice to help your books break through to the next round!

Semifinal Round (November 7 until November 12)
In this round, choose a book from 20 nominees in each category. These books are the 15 nominees from the Opening Round plus the top five write-ins.

Final Round (November 14 until November 27)
It’s the final countdown! After the Semifinal Round has whittled down the competition, you’ll vote for one of the 10 top nominees in each category.

The winners are announced on December 5

So, to recap, get to voting!
By Hayley

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3 Wacky Writing Prompts to Spark Your Silly Stories

When your alarm went off today did you hit the snooze button? Did you wake up wishing, “I hope The Write Practice has some silly writing prompts today”? Have you been dreading getting out of bed because you didn’t have a fun writing prompt?

3 wacky

Now you can get out of bed and look forward to today! Run to your writing chair and write for fifteen minutes with these silly writing prompts.

4 Silly Steps to Create Your Wacky Writing Prompt

Follow the steps below to write your unusual story:

Step one

Choose one of the three silly writing prompts listed below.

  1. Drop a raw egg on the floor.
  2. Put your cat in a full bathtub and give it a bath.
  3. The lid flies off of the ketchup as you shake it.
  4. Use all three.

Step two

Add one of these animals to your story.

  1. A bird.
  2. A dog.
  3. A mouse.
  4. Use all three animals.

Step three

Find the first sentence of your story.

The first sentence of your story will be taken from the third book from the left on your bookcase, or from the third book on your Kindle.

Step four

Please add one of these items to your story.

  1. An empty coffee mug.
  2. A hairbrush.
  3. A pot of burnt peas.
  4. Use all three.

Step five

This step is the easiest, and maybe also the hardest.


Tips to Remember as You Write

Your story will have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Somebody wants something, and your story will help them get it.

Why did the egg fall? Do they have any more eggs? What will happen to the cat getting a bath? Will the cat escape? Who is shaking the ketchup bottle? Were they alone when they were eating?

The world is full of stories. A writing prompt is like a salad bar. If two people go through the salad bar, their salads will never look the same. We all have the same ingredients to use, but we are different people, with different histories and experiences.

What will you write about today? Where will these writing prompts take you? Show me your salad. Write your story. Have fun.

By Pamela Hodges

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The last Yiddish bookstore in New York City


With so many Jewish-Americans living in New York City, and with Yiddish being a language that’s still very much alive, one would think there would be at least a few Yiddish bookstores dotting the metropolitan area. But there’s only one—CYCO (pronounced “SEE-koh”) Publishing House, located in Long Island City, Queens, an area that, while not necessarily part of a Jewish neighborhood, is pretty close to one (Williamsburg, Brooklyn).

Big Apple real estate being what it is today means it’s nearly impossible for independent book stores (or even a Barnes & Noble) to survive. Add to that equation an even narrower focus—a Yiddish bookstore—and its solitary existence begins to make more sense. Though it’s no less dispiriting.

CYCO is the publishing arm of the Central Yiddish Cultural Organization, a group created in 1937 as a forum for Yiddish writers to meet and share their work. This work was largely ignored by most publishing houses, so CYCO members did what writers in the same boat do today—they self-published, and in 1948 opened the first CYCO bookstore in 1948 on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It would eventually move to several locations over the years before settling in its current Queens home.

The bookstore is now on the seventh floor of a loft building by the Queens Midtown Tunnel; the address is 51-02 21st Street in Long Island City. It’s managed by Hy Wolfe, a native Yiddish speaker from Brownsville, Brooklyn.

According to an article in The New York Times:
“The store has laughably few sales. It is open by appointment only and those hours vary considerably. In one recent year it had 50 sales appointments and took in $11,220, which barely covered Mr. Wolfe’s annual salary.


The shoppers include Yiddish students, Russian immigrants, collectors and Hasidim. They can find books not only by Yiddish writers but also classics like Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” in Yiddish (“Der Alter un Der Yam“).”

CYCO’s website has information on how you can help keep its doors open (even if the doors are only open by appointment); an online list of Yiddish books and CDs (you don’t have to live in New York to buy a Yiddish book); a history of Yiddish; and links on everything from Yiddish periodicals to Jewish genealogy.

By Heather Quinlan

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