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Assessing Yourself as a Writer: Does Your Writing Make the Grade?

By Joyce Sweeney

Part of The Writer’s Life Series

JH: It’s not always clear to know what to focus on to improve our writing, but Joyce Sweeney has a formula to help writers grade their stories. Please give her a warm welcome.

Joyce Sweeney is the author of fourteen novels for young adults and two chapbooks of poetry. Her books have won many awards and honors. Joyce has recently switched to writing adult fiction and is represented by Nicole Resciniti of the Seymour agency.

Joyce has also been a writing teacher and coach for 25 years and offers online classes. In 2019, she, Jamie Morris and Tia Levings released Plotting Your Novel with The Plot Clock (Giantess Press). At this writing, 62 of Joyce’s students have successfully obtained traditional publishing contracts.

Joyce lives in Coral Springs with her husband, Jay and caffeine-addicted cat, Nitro.

Take it away Joyce…

Joyce Sweeney

Back when I was studying poetry, I discovered a formula for poetry assessment that caught my imagination. I may have it wrong now, but the idea was that you should assess a poem on four things: idea, music, story and structure. As a fiction teacher, my brain immediately went into overdrive wondering how this might translate and I came up with my similar list: concept, voice, plot and structure.

Then, of course, I asked myself how I measured up in these categories and I discovered something magical. I knew I was born with an A in structure and I knew I had a D in plotting. That discovery alone was gold to me on a personal level and it led to an intensive attempt to ‘raise my grade’ in plotting. Moreover, I knew that my concepts were 50-50 (as were my book sales from project to project) and that my voice was pretty bad on the first draft, but I could always polish it to a good level. In other words, my report card as a fiction writer was: Structure A, Voice B, Concept C, Plot D. And I knew just where and how to do my homework from that day forward.

Since I never have a problem with seeing one case as a scientific study, I decided maybe we were ALL like that. Born with one ‘free ticket’ and one ‘horror category’ with the other grades falling in between. I started assessing the manuscripts I edited on this basis and I realized it’s true. Which means identifying where we fall in these categories and working to ‘bring up our low grades’ was very possibly the Key to Everything in being ‘ready’ for publication. I continued to develop this idea into a workshop and also one of my online classes which is actually Lesson One in the upcoming Fiction Writing Essentials. I think it’s kind of a life-changing thing. So here it is in a very abbreviated version.

Let’s start with voice.

For a definition, voice is the whole way a writer uses language. So let’s say that’s the gift you are born with. In fact, I think a lot of people who choose writing have a fabulous voice and that is the easiest thing for teachers and friends to notice. I’ve discovered that people who have a real way with language, that is to say a beautiful voice, can become very frustrated, because they get standing ovations in their critique groups, they dazzle the crowd, and everyone tells them “you’re there!” when maybe they have not mastered the other elements listed above.

To my horror, I find these are people who might give up too soon. They feel, “I can’t make my writing any better so if it’s not good enough, I’ll quit.” They don’t realize they are polishing the wrong thing. Oddly, people who struggle with voice often succeed, even though they get the most picked on in critique group. Fixing voice is a slow process and these people often feel ‘behind’ the others. But they also stick around a long time, determined to crack the code, and if they are strong in plot and structure, they make it to an editor who will help them out.

Some of my voice tips are: use a narrative voice that works with your natural voice. A lot of MG writers have a YA voice and vice versa. Read poetry. It gives you voice by osmosis. And of course, study the elements of voice.

Plot.

That’s my D. I used to write poems and short stories. You don’t need a lot of plot for that. When I started writing novels, I felt if a character had some kind of epiphany near the end of the book, my work was done. Amazingly enough, I was strong enough in other ways to get published, but my sales were very up and down till I mastered plotting. I studied it so much, I’m now known more for plot writing and plot teaching then anything else.

If you’re weak in plot, you often make it beyond the pitch to a request. They may read beginning pages and keep requesting, because your voice is good. But when they get to the end of the manuscript it’s a no-sale. Plotting is easy to learn and easy to teach. Of all these skills, it’s the most mathematical and logical, so once you get the hang of it (unlike concept!) you’re in business. If you’re strong in plot, you may find that your agent, your editor and some critics are still finding flaws in your books, but they always tell you you gave them a darn good ride. That’s what a plot is. A darn good ride. Studying movies and plays is one great way to work on your plot grade.

So, if plot is the ride, structure is the type of vehicle that takes the ride.

It’s the hardest of these concepts to explain, but concretely, it plays out in things like point of view, length of scenes, story beats and swings. It’s an inner knowing of what the reader wants and needs at every turn of the story and delivering it. It’s often learned more by experience or trial and error and especially from feedback by others, so deliberate study doesn’t always work. If you read to a critique group and they say they didn’t understand something, the event went by too fast. If they’re bored, you went too slow.

Working with structure is like tasting and adjusting a recipe. Often writers who study their craft diligently find structure to be the last battle, the thing they work with agents on in R&R’s. Structure is vital because it delivers the emotion of the story. Like those lucky voice people, I was good at structure so even my first novel, which is VERY flawed, was emotionally powerful and that got me published, possibly too soon. If you’re poor in the category of structure, you hear ‘show don’t tell’ a lot and you very likely have more distant points of view than you should. You are a person who can actually benefit from taking colored markers to a powerful novel to see what the author did and when.

Then there’s concept.

Concept means your story has a clear hook, people can easily grasp ‘what it’s about’, and there’s almost always a visceral reaction when you pitch. People hear your concept and immediately want to read, or feel like that’s the story they’ve been waiting for. Your concept has interesting elements or a great twist on something classic. If you’re great at concept you usually have more ideas than time to write them, you excel at pitching but then find yourself frustrated because after you submit, you get rejected. It just means something else in your execution needs work, but the industry is driven by concept, so if you work hard, you will probably do well.

Now I really want to reach those of you who struggle with concept. Because I think this can really sideline you. Some people work on the same book for years, decades even, improving every element of that same book, but not realizing they are pouring energy into something that will never work. I find this heartbreaking. I know, often your first idea is so close to your heart (and maybe your life story or the story of someone you deeply love) but it just may not be the very best idea for launching into a competitive market.

Since I work with writers over the course of many years, I can tell you, the most successful are always starting a new book. Think about it. When you’re published, you’ll have to do that almost every year. And if you write many books, you eventually learn a lot about what makes a good concept. You refine and adjust so that the things that resonate with your heart also resonate with the collective heart. And then you can sell.

Problems with concept can be, it’s been done too many times before and you haven’t innovated enough, not enough drama or excitement, it’s so close to you, you can’t work with it (like a book that’s a tribute to someone you love). I am here to tell you. I won’t give numbers, but I’ve had some really great sales on some books and some really, well disappointing sales on others. The quality of my writing didn’t vary that much. I just sometimes picked concepts that didn’t excite readers. And this is another area where I’ve really tried to learn. I don’t want to waste all that work and energy anymore. If I shoot an arrow, I want to know there’s a target for it. If you have issues with concept, you may have heard the same criticism about your story many times but you keep saying, oh, that’s them. Or you get those rejections that praise you but say ultimately, they just can’t sell that. Do yourself a tremendous favor and move on.

So right now, just for fun, jot down your own scorecard.

I firmly believe that most writers start out with a clear A, B, C and D. And hopefully as they study craft, some of these grades start to rise. I also believe if you can get to an A in all four you can sell a book. Period. So it’s really worthwhile to look at this honestly, and if you find a category that is holding you back…well now you know just which courses to take and which books to read. Finding these categories and working with them honestly made a huge difference to me as a writer, as an editor and as a teacher. I hope they’ll be just as beneficial to you too!

Source: blog.janicehardy.com

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The #1 Rule on How to Write Viral Content for Your Blog or Website

One of the things that surprised me the most when I started Positive Writer was that a lot of my content was going viral. I didn’t expect that to happen and, if I am being honest, I didn’t start writing articles with going-viral in mind. I created my blog to share my thoughts about writing and since I felt what I wanted to express wasn’t really being talked about at the time, I might as well give it a shot and see if anyone cared. They did, and how!

At first, when my posts started taking off, I thought it was just luck. And, to a degree it was, but after a while, I noticed a trend. I had stumbled on to one of the most important aspects of being a writer online – at least, a writer who writes stuff that gets not only noticed but also passionately shared.

Before we get into what the secret is and how you can do it too, let me tell you another little truth, you’re probably a much better writer than I was when I started out, and if we’re really being open and sincere about what it takes to get your work noticed, shared and, well, going viral, it has very little to do with being a “great writer.” If you don’t consider your writing skills to be as good as you want them to be, welcome to the club.

With that said, being a great writer doesn’t hurt, but it’s not the key to success online. Writers with something to say will always get noticed more than great writers just writing for the sake of writing.

The #1 rule to creating content online that goes viral is:

Write What People May Be Thinking But Aren’t Saying

You’ve heard the saying that “The first draft of anything is shit.” Right? Well, my first article on Positive Writer was an argument against this declaration. It was titled “The First Draft is Not Crap!” It was short and, what I considered, a simple post.

“The First Draft is Not Crap!” went on to become my first viral phenomenon. I’m still a bit stunned at how well received the post was and the life it took on for itself. I’d love to tell you, I knew it! But that was hardly the case.

Hemingway allegedly said the famous quote, “The first draft of anything is shit.” as claimed in a postmortem book, “With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba.”

Thousands, if not millions, of authors and aspiring authors (especially the aspiring ones), have repeated the quote with conviction, even going so far as to post it on vision boards and bathroom mirrors. However, I imagined many actually disagreed with it or felt it went too far. In fact, psychologically it IS a self-defeating statement, which has led more people to let-downs than to publishing contracts.

I’m not going to go into the debate about the quote itself in this article. I’ve already done that. We’re going to talk about how a topic, especially something people may be thinking about, but aren’t really talking about, can get people to react in some way, positive, or negative, in agreement or disagreement, thus sharing your articles.

The result to share and discuss the content is there because it’s different, it’s taboo, and at the same time, it’s meaningful and important.

How dare you contradict the great one! Hemingway was a master.

Or:

It’s about time someone said it! No one can prove Hemingway ever uttered those words.

And it’s not always so cut and dry, some may agree to a point, but not entirely, which opens up more debate, discussions, and ultimately, sharing of your content!

Now here’s the thing, I wasn’t merely trying to stir up the bees. Quite the contrary, I set out to help fellow writers with positive and motivational content. Part of that was to get writers to think more positively about their initial work and give it the credit it deserves. Calling your work crap isn’t exactly all that motivational. And, reverse psychology doesn’t usually work the way a lot of people think it does.

Studies have shown direct requests and suggestions work better than reverse suggestions, in fact, reverse suggestions often work as direct suggestions. So, if you’re one of those who is wired for direct and not “reverse psychology,” then guess what calling your work worthless means. Exactly, your efforts and your work are very likely F**k’d. If that’s you, now you know why you’re always stuck and borderline depressed. Stop that!

Since I hadn’t found any blogs out there expressing things the way I thought about them, I only had an inclination more people thought the way I did. It was a big risk and I figured there would be some push back because, frankly, a lot of the most common and repeated writing advice out there is capital BULLSHIT. I wanted to talk about that and provide other ways of thinking about said bull advice.

To create viral content you have to be willing to discuss topics your readers might not agree with and at the same time do your best to help them see your point of view.

To create viral content you have to be willing to discuss topics your readers might not agree with and at the same time do your best to help them see your point of view.

It’s not enough just to write about that which should not be said, there also has to be a point to it – or rather, a point you’re trying to make. If you’re successful at making your point, whether your readers agree or disagree, they will share your content, and if you’re lucky, it will go viral.

I noticed many new writers and bloggers like to rewrite old advice and popular content. Sure, they give a little of their own twist in the rewriting of it, but really, it’s the same we’ve all already read before. Great for a moment, but ultimately forgettable. Don’t be forgettable. I made that mistake with the first few blogs I started. I hadn’t found my own voice yet, or really, I wasn’t brave enough to let it sing freely. With that said…

Pro-tip: Don’t write content with the sole purpose of pissing people off. Because, rest assured, if you try that you WILL succeed and it won’t be pretty. If you’ve got a point to make – be sure it’s something you believe in and you feel needs to be said.

Your content needs to be valuable. Make your words make a difference. Because they can.

If you leave this article having gained something that will help you in some way, then I feel I have succeeded. I don’t need you to agree with me or disagree with me – I just want to get you thinking, considering, and coming up with your own solutions with what may be a new or fresh perspective. To me that is valuable. To me, that is a win.

You’ve got something you want to say. I know you do. It might not be mainstream, it might be a little edgy, and I am quite sure, whatever it is, it’s pretty damn scary. That’s the type of stuff people care about. Viral content goes viral because people care about it. You would never share anything you don’t care about.

Writing articles to give your opinion is the primary reason to create a blog so that you can share those opinions with the world. However, – this is going to hurt – your opinion doesn’t count for much. And frankly, neither does mine.

It’s the thoughts, the discussions, and the sharing of views that we generate which matters the most. If I could get one person to rethink the draft she’s about to throw in the trash because she thought it was “shit.” Then I’ve done my job. And if that draft becomes a second draft, then a third draft, and eventually turns into a published book – oh my!

And THAT is why I wrote the article without ever considering it would eventually be viewed and read over 2 million times, or that thousands of people around the world would share it with each other.

I’ve written many other articles which have had a similar effect, some have been shared far more, and some much-much less, and some have caused even greater ripples in the blogosphere. But get this, you’re a better writer than you realize and you have things to say you know are important too, so what are you waiting for?

Say what others are thinking, but aren’t saying. The scarier this idea is to you, the more likely you’re on to something.

Go create some ripples. I dare you.

By Bryan Hutchinson

Source: positivewriter.com

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Genre in Writing

This post from December 2016, has been re-edited and re-published in April, 2019.

Broad and Narrow Genres

Since the proliferation of Creative Writing courses in universities in the Anglo world, much has been written and said about “genre” in writing.

Creative Writing contrasts with Nonfiction Writing in the broader sense. The former is the sort of writing that novelists, short story writers and poets employ. Nonfiction includes traditional biographical works, academic texts, journalism, and books on a diverse range of subjects, such as food (recipes), self-help and memoir.

Within fiction, there is a breakdown into specific genres: science fiction, romance, historical fiction, mystery, horror, detective stories, action, fantasy and adventure.

Literary Fiction and Commercial Fiction

Literary fiction can be distinguished from commercial fiction, the latter referring to popular “genre” writing that publishers hope to sell to a wide readership. Literary fiction is best defined by contrast with commercial fiction. In the book trade, it is seen as having greater literary merit, focusing on depth of character and a concern with style.

Many writers today are writing for commercial reasons, to be published or self-published in books, eBooks, or online, as quickly as possible. Literary fiction attracts writers who are experimenting with form and interested in lyrical expression and often dark and emotive themes.

The term “creative writing” is more appropriate as an umbrella term for writing that employs fictional devices. This distinguishes it from academic writing, which endeavours to present factual or argumentative texts in an objective framework.  Journalistic writing, too, is based on the principal goal of providing factual information to the public, although there will be some overlap with fiction in its use of devices, such as dialogue and narration.

Creative Nonfiction

Non-Fiction includes traditional biographical works, academic texts, journalism, and books on a diverse range of subjects, such as food (recipes), self help and memoir.

Truman Capote’s nonfiction work In Cold Blood (1966 ) is looked on as the forerunner of this genre in modern times. It is also the ultimate true crime novel. Based on painstaking research and interviews, Capote used the story of the cold-blooded killing of a family in rural Kansas, and his investigation of the crime, as the plot for his novel. It is written brilliantly, employing all the techniques of the best fictional writing: strong characterisation, realistic sounding dialogue, vivid imagery, and narrative suspense, without wavering from the facts. Apart, perhaps from the ending, where he improvises a little; endings are often difficult for this type of factually based writing.

One of the first attempts at a creative nonfiction novel in Australia was Poppy by Drusilla Modjeska (Penguin 1990), in which the author recounts her mother’s life. It is well told but lacks the dramatic, page-turning aspect of plot-driven fiction. A past master at this subjective type of writing is Helen Garner, whose The First Stone is now a classic, as well as a cause of ongoing controversy for student discussion in Creative Writing Courses in Australian universities.

Memoir

Modern Memoir has taken on a slightly different aspect within this recent context. It refers to first person narration that focuses on a particular aspect or period of a person’s life.  Memoir “sticks to the facts” but employs creative devices, such as narrative drive, strong characterisation, vivid dialogue, and dramatised events.

The best memoirs focus on a universal issue or concern that the author illustrates via personal experience.

It differs from fiction, wherein connections are concealed behind invented characters, settings and names. Many writers are wary of “treading on the toes” of living relatives and friends when they recount true events. It is easier and less constricting to create, rather than to recount the facts.

Lee Gutkind, an American author, is looked on as the Godfather of Creative Nonfiction today. He is the editor of a Creative Non-fiction journal and the author of Keep It Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction.

Specific Genres

Of course, with fiction, there is a breakdown of genres within the broad genre: science fiction, romance, historical fiction, mystery, horror, detective stories, action, fantasy and adventure.

Here is a more exhaustive list of possible genres from Cathy Yardley’s blog: Rock Your Writing.

Action/Adventure — stories including epic journeys, lots of conflict, high stakes, some violence.
Erotica — stories of sexual exploration.
Fantasy — stories usually involving magic, other worlds, mythological/mystical figures.
Horror — stories that invoke fear.
Literary Fiction — stories with a focus on the quality of the prose over the narrative arc.
Mystery — stories that involve solving a crime, usually a murder.
Thriller/Suspense — stories of high tension that can involve either action or mystery.
Romance — stories about love/intimacy.
Sci-fi — stories usually involving technology, aliens, science-related alternative worlds.
Westerns — stories taking place in America’s “Old West,” often with focus on justice.
Women’s fiction — stories about women experiencing emotional growth.  Primary emotion:  hope.

By Anne Skyvington

Source: anneskyvington.com.au

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The Myth of the Natural Writer

There’s a legendary joke about the writing life, often attributed to Margaret Atwood. It goes like this:

A brain surgeon and a writer meet at a party. The brain surgeon says to the writer, “How interesting, I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and in fact, when I retire, I’m going to be a writer.”

The writer replies, “Well, isn’t that a coincidence. When I retire, I’m going to be a brain surgeon.”

Countless young people want to pursue writing while still in school, but ultimately choose more stable careers (whether brain surgery or accounting or lawyering). Some think they’ll have time to write on the side, but it rarely turns out that way. So, as they near retirement—or when they have all the money or stability they need—then they write their first book. Often, it is unpublishable by traditional standards. Why? Not because they’re bad writers, but they’re emerging writers, despite their age and experience. For most of us, it takes more than instinct or desire to produce a skillful story.

In this month’s Glimmer Train bulletin, Erika Krouse discusses the myth of the natural writer—or the realization that few people (including herself) will be inspired, as if by magic, to produce a story that effortlessly works. She says:

I continued to write the same-but-different novel for seven more years, in seven completely different directions, with seven different middles-to-endings, all ludicrous. It felt like I was shooting one very slow bullet a year, hoping that if I closed my eyes and aimed at random, I’d hit the distant target I had only vaguely envisioned. How was I going to complete this idiot book?

Read her full essay: Plot Structure and the Myth of the Natural Writer (Also, Ducks)

By

Source: janefriedman.com

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Choosing Just the Right Words — Guest: Kathy Steinemann

While I’m recovering from my latest surgery this week, I’m grateful for another guest blog today. Kathy Steinemann is here to talk about word choice, but not in the way we usually think of the issue.

We often talk about word choice in reference to our voice, but choosing the right word can be complex. We need to consider our characters’ voices, which can conflict with our voice, and sometimes we might want to break grammar rules for the sake of voice. In other words, knowing how to apply “the rules” with voice and word choice can require a tricky balance.

The problem increases if we unintentionally choose the wrong word from our brain, whether due to a lack of knowledge or just simple typos. (And typos can get the best of us no matter our knowledge level, so we can’t give ourselves a pass on the issue Kathy discusses in this post.)

Readers won’t trust that we’re breaking grammar rules on purpose if our whole story is riddled with errors. To make a statement with purposeful errors—such as for the sake of a character’s voice—readers have to recognize that we don’t make those mistakes accidentally.

Choosing just the right words requires us to know English usage and grammar rules, consider author and character voice, avoid typos, and of course, possess a large vocabulary so we can pick the best word from our brain. Kathy’s fun post today challenges us to find all the wrong words in an excerpt and then points out why we might choose them anyway.

Please welcome Kathy Steinemann! *smile*

*****

Reader Gripe:
Can You Guess What It Is?

By Kathy Steinemann

~~~~~

W A R N I N G

The following article contains explicit errors.

Reader discretion is advised.

If you continue past this point, your eyes might recover with rest, application of cold compresses, and avoidance of repeat exposure.

Proceed at your own risk.

~~~~~

You’ll see an excerpt below, an excerpt that would frustrate readers. In fact, they might abandon a book containing similar narrative, and never purchase anything else written by an author who is guilty of this no-no.

Introduction to Excerpt:

The following paragraphs are based on sentences and phrases I’ve bookmarked in various novels over the years. Can you find all the errors?

After reading, consider the following questions:

  • What is the problem?
  • How many occurrences are there?
  • How would you correct the mistakes?

Excerpt:

(Edited to Preserve Anonymity of Writers)

Pauline stared at the note, curiosity peaked. She opened it and read the message: “Just one weak. Remember the place? I’ll meat you their. Don’t forget the money. I may seam nice, but just because I haven’t killed anyone yet doesn’t mean you won’t be the first.”

Her stomach serged. Bile rows into her throat. The next thing she new, she was doubled over the toilet and wretching up her breakfast.

After several minutes, she stood and liened against the wall. She was still realing and could feel the vanes in her neck throbbing in thyme with her pulse. The sealing seamed like it was pressing on her head.

Ugh. Her breath wreaked, and all the vomiting had aggravated her rye neck. She needed her left shoulder as she looked into the mirror. Her reflection looked pail—to pail. How am I going to get threw this?

Did You Find All the Incorrect Homophones?

Homophone: a type of homonym; words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings.

Go back and count them.

You should have found twenty-two. If you didn’t, read it again.

Still stymied?

Read this edited version (mistakes underlined).

Pauline stared at the note, curiosity peaked. She opened it and read the message: “Just one weak. Remember the place? I’ll meat you their. Don’t forget the money. I may seam nice, but just because I haven’t killed anyone yet doesn’t mean you won’t be the first.”

Her stomach serged. Bile rows into her throat. The next thing she new, she was doubled over the toilet and wretching up her breakfast.

After several minutes, she stood and liened against the wall. She was still realing and could feel the vanes in her neck throbbing in thyme with her pulse. The sealing seamed like it was pressing on her head.

Ugh. Her breath wreaked, and all the vomiting had aggravated her rye neck. She needed her left shoulder as she looked into the mirror. Her reflection looked pailto pail. How am I going to get threw this?

Here’s One Solution

Pauline stared at the note, curiosity piqued. She opened it and read the message: “Just one week. Remember the place? I’ll meet you there. Don’t forget the money. I may seem nice, but just because I haven’t killed anyone yet doesn’t mean you won’t be the first.”

Her stomach surged. Bile rose into her throat. The next thing she knew, she was doubled over the toilet and retching up her breakfast.

After several minutes, she stood and leaned against the wall. She was still reeling and could feel the veins in her neck throbbing in time with her pulse. The ceiling seemed like it was pressing on her head.

Ugh. Her breath reeked, and all the vomiting had aggravated her wry neck. She kneaded her left shoulder as she looked into the mirror. Her reflection looked paletoo pale. How am I going to get through this?

But Wait; There’s More!

Dialogue, written notes, texts, and emails should emulate the way real people speak and write. The blackmailer might be uneducated—or an educated person trying to seem uneducated. In either case, the note would contain errors.

In fact, it would likely contain more errors than those in the original excerpt.

Another Rendition of the Note:

“Just one weak, remember the place? I’ll meat you their, don’t forget the money. I may seam nice but just because I ain’t killed no one yet don’t mean you wouldn’t be the first.”

It’s time for detective work.

The blackmailer, although clever enough to:

  • mix up homophones,
  • include a couple of comma splices, and
  • drop in a double negative

couldn’t resist proper usage of apostrophes. A detective might consider this a clue that the writer is well-versed in spelling and grammar.

Takeaway:

Research every word you’re unsure of. Readers and editors will lose patience if they have to repeatedly stop and reread sentences.

P.S.

Here are the contextual definitions of the incorrect homophones and their replacements.

  • Peaked [adj.]: pointed, having a peak
  • Piqued [adj.]: aroused, stimulated [And spell it right: piqued, not picqued, which is obsolete.]
  • Weak [adj.]: frail, feeble
  • Week [noun]: seven days
  • Meat [noun]: the flesh of an animal used as food
  • Meet [verb]: to encounter, make contact with
  • Their [pron.]: possessive case of they
  • There [adv.]: in or at that place
  • Seam (1) [noun]: the stitched area that joins two pieces of fabric or other material
  • Seam (2) [verb]: to join with a seam
  • Seem [verb]: to give the impression of
  • Serge [noun]: a type of fabric
  • Surge [verb]: to move suddenly and forcefully upward or forward
  • Rows [noun]: plural form of row: a line of people or things
  • Rose [verb]: past tense of rise: to come or go up
  • New [adj.]: discovered or created recently or for the first time
  • Knew [verb]: past tense of know: to realize, comprehend
  • Wretch [noun]: a person who is unfortunate, despicable, or unhappy
  • Retch [verb]: to vomit, gag, puke
  • Liened [verb]: past tense of lien: to make a claim against property (until a debt or loan is repaid)
  • Leaned [verb]: past tense of lean: to move into a sloping position
  • Real [adj.]: actual, authentic, genuine
  • Reel [verb]: to lurch, stagger, sway
  • Vanes [noun, plural]: short for weathervanes
  • Veins [noun, plural]: the conduits that transport blood in one’s body
  • Thyme [noun]: an aromatic herb used for seasoning
  • Time [noun]: tempo
  • Sealing [verb]: present continuous tense of seal: to fasten, secure, shut
  • Ceiling [noun]: the top interior surface of a room, compartment, cell, etc.
  • Wreak [verb]: to inflict great harm or damage
  • Reek [verb]: to stink
  • Rye [noun]: a grain used for cereal, flour, or some types of whiskey
  • Wry [adj.]: twisted or distorted
  • Need [verb]: to require something essential or important
  • Knead [verb]: to massage or squeeze with the hands
  • Pail [noun]: bucket
  • Pale [adj.]: lacking color, ashen
  • To [prep.]: toward
  • Too [adv.]: excessively, very
  • Threw [verb]: past tense of throw: to toss, pitch, heave
  • Through [adv.]: from first to last or beginning to end

 

By Kathy Steinemann

Source: jamigold.com

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Fixing Split Ends: How to End a Story Perfectly

Some writers know what their ending will be right from the start. Others discover it in the course of writing the story, because even if you have an outline, things change. You get a better idea, or a character becomes more interesting than you expected. But not knowing how to end a story in a way that satisfies you (or an editor) is why many people abandon stories. What keeps going wrong?

Even well-known writers abandon stories sometimes—the feel for the story disappears, or something else seems more urgent.

Some stories are more like exercises—and don’t aim to be polished, finished works.

But if you have stories that you feel are interesting and well-executed (up until the end) and this keeps happening, let’s look at a few things you can do to break that no-ending barrier.

Identify the Problem, Then Troubleshoot:


You got through all the things you wanted to do in the story or novel, and now there’s nothing left to say.

A fairly common problem in writing stories is that the conflict isn’t visible enough. In fact, sometimes it’s hard to identify a conflict, because the focus has been on character.

Suggestions:

  • Look at what your character had to face in the course of the story and ask why and how and what changed because of it.
  • Heighten the difficulties and their implications.

You got to the big climactic scene and you haven’t a clue what to do now. What should happen?

Sometimes you can’t figure out what to do because nothing was really in jeopardy. You’ve given the main character a problem, and you’ve got to the point where the problem drives the action, but what you don’t have is how this matters to the character.

Suggestion:

  • Stop worrying about action and imagine the emotional components that brought your protagonist here. What does this conflict do to your character’s way of life?

The ending is in line with the conflict, it all makes sense, but it doesn’t have a punch.

You’ve avoided doing anything risky or unpredictable, so it’s no surprise that the ending is soft. I’m afraid you’ve got to shake things up completely in order to make this come alive—and the first thing to do is to… change the main character. You might have been coasting here because you haven’t forced yourself to actually imagine someone with different needs from your own.

Suggestions:

  • Imagine someone totally unlike you, who wouldn’t make the same choices you would make.
  • In the first big branch of the story, force your character to choose a dramatically different path from the one you gave him or her. Surprise yourself by figuring out why someone would do that different thing.

Everyone says: very nicely written, nice story; sorry but we’ll pass.

This is similar to the above, only this time the story is good but forgettable—when they put it down they really don’t have anything to hold on to.

Suggestions:

  • Shake up your story.
  • For example, about one-third of the way in, have a catastrophe happen—it can be personal or atmospheric, small or large, but what it does is create a background problem that your foreground problem has to play itself against. This automatically ramps up your story, and it forces you to reconcile both large and small issues at the end.

No one believes the ending. Which is weird, because it actually happened.

Never think that what actually happened makes for a convincing story. You’ve trapped yourself here by falling prey to determinism. The story doesn’t work because there was no free will.

Suggestions:

  • Go back one or two decisions in the plot, and change it. Whatever actually happened before you get to the end, change it.
  • Make yourself think about what’s going on and why; then write what that character would cause or do.
  • Another way to handle this is to switch the characters—have “what actually happened” happen to someone who wasn’t there. That should force you to rethink the narrative arc.

You can’t get a good last line.

What was your story’s opening line? Go back and look at it for a while. Where does that first line suggest the story is going?

Suggestions:

  • In some cases, the first line or paragraph contains the idea for the last line. (This is especially true for short stories.)
  • In other cases, you should pick up on a metaphor or image that mattered to your protagonist in the course of the book.

How to End a Story: More Tips and Tricks

Most of the time, you’ll figure out how to end a story. But what if you have a solid story but no good ideas on how to wrap it up? Nothing works in your head or on paper; you’re stymied. Are there any tricks that can help?

Return to a Backup Point

If you just can’t get it to work, go back a few paragraphs or even a page, throw that out, and start again.

Try not to re-read the part you’re about to abandon. You may have written yourself into a corner. (This can also work if you’ve stopped in the middle of a story, rather than the end.)

It can help to start in the middle of a paragraph, or in the middle of a piece of dialogue—someplace where you can pick up on the action or dialogue. Then see where it goes. You may find that the new version takes you in a slightly different direction.

Write past the End

If you know what you want to do, but somehow it just doesn’t feel like an ending (too abrupt, too inconclusive, etc.), then just assume that really isn’t the ending.

Keep going. See where it really stops. You can try different directions: what happened next, how a character viewed what happened next; what unexpected consequences resulted, etc. Picture characters or setting a week later, a year later, a decade later—does that suggest anything?

Work on Your Closing Line

If you’re stuck trying to get that last paragraph or that last, brilliant line, maybe you can pick up on a symbol or image you’ve used in the story. It can be a tree, a place, a song, a sound—something you may have used without thinking about it too much.

Or it’s something you can go back and develop (and you may find that it adds resonance, too, to the story you’ve already written). Use a recurring image to develop the character’s epiphany or the resolution of the story.

Create Closure

You can also use circularity to bring your story neatly to a close. If you opened with a character driving, for instance, to his/her plot device, you can close with a car scene and some enlightenment that goes with it.

In Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, both the first dramatic scene and the closing scene of the novel involve children flying kites: different children under vastly different circumstances.

Add an Aftermath

You can conclude with general consequences after the conflict is over—the world is better; the world is worse.

You can even demonstrate how easily the world got past the private tragedy in a story. In Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” after the grueling experience of Gregor Samsa’s transformation resulted in his death, the family is rejuvenated. The ending contrasts the new sense of life they now have, outside the constricted apartment where Gregor lived his insect life. They begin to see their futures again, symbolized by the health and vitality of their daughter (her actions are in contrast with their son’s rigid insect body): “And it was like a confirmation of their new dreams and excellent intentions that at the end of their journey their daughter sprang to her feet first and stretched her young body.”

Change Some Choices

Finally, be aware that stories that refuse to end properly may reflect a problem earlier in the story. Perhaps you went in the wrong direction and now the concept is falling apart. Perhaps your character needs to do something different, or the big conflict is the wrong conflict. You may have chosen the wrong point of view, the wrong voice, the wrong central character. What can you change about the story itself that would make you interested in it? What annoys you about the story? Remove it.

Don’t Know How to End Your Story? Keep Thinking!

Maybe you won’t always know your ending right from the start, but if you approach it thoughtfully, you’ll find it.

By Karen Heuler

Source: refiction.com

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ME, as I work on my middle grade novel.

OHI0017-WRI-4StagesWriting-v7-Handwritten-flat-600

No guarantee that my middle grade novel will ever be published; that’s out of my control.

I’m trying to focus on what I can control:

(1) Writing the best book I possibly can, and

(2) FINISHING the book.

Source: inkygirl.com

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Good Grammar 101: The Essential Guide

Good Grammar might seem old fashioned in a day and age when LOL shows up in newspapers, when best-selling authors regularly splice their commas, and where your Facebook wall is filled with seventy-two misused ellipses.

However, agents and editors still care about grammar, and they will reject you if you show you don’t understand grammar rules.

With this Grammar Guide, you will have the chance to use The Write Practice’s model of deliberate practice to improve your grammar skills in less time.

10 Steps to Keep Your Editor From Killing You

Good grammar is like good hygiene.

Often, the last person to know why people are complaining about the dead dog in the room is the person who stinks.

Fortunately, we’ve created this course of ten lessons to help you impress your readers and editors with how good you smell… oops, I mean spell.

To show you how much we care, we’re throwing in a bonus lesson, The Case Against Twilight (or why Stephenie Meyer needs to hire a copy editor).

Grammar Rules

In this tutorial, we will go over some of the most important (and most often neglected) grammar rules in a way that’s both fun and practical. Remember: good grammar is hot!

Grammar Exercises

In every lesson, you will be challenged with grammar exercises to help you cement what you’ve just learned into your daily practice.

Source: thewritepractice.com

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The Truth About Believing in Yourself

Finding authentic faith in artistic expression

I remember my first “vision board.”

I spent all day feverishly cutting out photos of old bungalow-style houses with porch swings, beach vacations and strong, fit, successful women. I printed out my bank statement and added a few zeros to the balance. I typed and printed the words, “New York Times Best Selling Author, Ivy Shelden” and plastered it among the other photos and clippings.

Here we go, I thought. Now I’m ready to start believing in myself.

I stared at the board until my eyes crossed. Next to the vision board, I’d printed a list of “affirmations” to say aloud each day, until I believed them. They included statements like:

I am worthy of, and open to abundance.

I am thankful for my new job. (I didn’t have one yet)

Every morning I stood in front of that laundry room door — staring, reciting.

Strangely, nothing in my life changed. I remained terrified to sit at my computer and express myself through writing — let alone share my work with anyone.

I felt even more empty, staring into the faces of women who weren’t me, and houses I didn’t own. Uttering words I didn’t believe.

I felt defective for not having stronger faith.

I tried praying and meditating. I read every self-help book in my local library, followed every life coach’s blog. Still, no change.

I thought, Why do I still doubt my potential when I try so hard not to?

As I hovered a trembling finger over the download button to another audio book, I paused. Instead, I tossed my phone to the side and sat quietly, eyes closed.

Although my body was still, I could feel my mind screaming for more action. We need to do something it pleaded, everything we want is slipping through our fingers!

I recognized that voice in my head: Fear.

Fear of missing out.

Fear of not fulfilling my true purpose.

Fear of my talent withering on the vine.

Fear was driving my self-help obsession — my reading and podcast addictions. It pervaded the photos on my vision board — dripped from my affirmations.

My vision board felt like a highlight reel for everything I was lacking — it created distance between myself and my true desires.

There they are, and here I am. Separate. I must wish myself up to their level.

And you know what I wasn’t doing while I was creating that vision board?

Writing.

Go figure that one. I realized that my self-help gimmicks were also a convenient excuse to avoid what scares me most: engaging my gifts, and making myself vulnerable to criticism and failure.

I thought I needed to be in the right frame of mind (i.e. believing wholly in my abilities) to even start working.

No blogger or self-help book can teach you to believe in yourself. You have to pop those earbuds out, drag yourself up off the couch, and work. Day after day, no matter how messy or imperfect the result.

You must see yourself persist through fear and uncertainty, time and time again, to develop self-trust.

You don’t need a list of affirmations. You only need to believe it’s possible to make a difference in the world with your art.

You don’t have to be perfect or know everything, you just have to begin. And keep going.

Do this, and you’ll accomplish far beyond anything you could ever paste on a vision board.

By Bryan Hutchinson

Source: positivewriter.com

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The Bi-Cultural Writer

I’ve spent my life living between India and the U.S.A. One blog post can’t begin to describe the challenges, privileges, lows, and highs of it all. I can, however, talk about being a bi-cultural writer and writing in various global dialects through one language. I am a weird kind of third-culture kid. I was born in the U.S and finished elementary school there. Then I did middle and high school in India and returned to the U.S for another 8 years where I finished college and my Master’s degree. I’ve since been back to Bangalore, India since 2011.

First, let me tell you about my accent. I code shift – my accent and cultural references can change according to country, and who I’m talking with. I still get teased about it.

Because of my experience, I see English as two very different kinds of languages: Indian English and American English. On the macro level you might think it’s just the accent that’s different, but there are more nuanced differences that are a result of specific cultural backgrounds and responses to very different realities and environments. I admit, it’s easier for me to write for a specific cultural audience. That’s why I’ve been involved with the way I think about writing for a global audience. How do I hold a place in a specific narrative and allow for people from all kinds of backgrounds to find a point of similarity to their own reality?  Over the years, I’ve done a lot of relearning and decolonizing. Here are 3 important things I have learnt as a bicultural writer.

Letting Go Of Italicizing Culturally Specific Words

Growing up, I’d read Indian authors italicize or explain very Indian terms in strange ways. I acknowledge that for many non-Indian readers, if I made one reference too many to terms or concepts uniquely Indian, I would risk losing them, and worse, boring them. That said, using western-centric explanations and using italics takes away from the authenticity of the environment. I’d read ‘samosa’ with descriptions like seasoned potato filled pastry, and I’d chuckle. This is not because the description is inaccurate; in fact, it is probably the best way to explain what it is in English to a western audience, but it’s not how people raised in India would think of it.

I found authors who were owning their language with the English they spoke, offering more of a realistic picture of life in such a setting. Many Indians grew up reading British and American books with descriptions of food items we had never tasted in the 80s and 90s, and we had to make do with the names and imagine what they were. In fact, my father had grown up reading Archie Comics in India and assumed pizza to be a sweet dish. When he came to America in the late 70s he was shocked that pizza was savory! We never got explanations and we’re probably all the richer for it. While the world is a lot more globalized now and many readers are more exposed to cross-cultural habits and foods, there are still things that will be very specific to a culture and environment. It’s also the age of the internet where terms and cultural usage are just a Google search away. As long as you are being sensitive to your readers there is no reason to exoticize the culture you are writing from with explanations and italics. This however, is a strong stance to take and I know there are people who disagree, it’s just my evolving opinion of the matter.

Knowing When to Use Culture-specific Idioms and Expressions

 Some idioms and expressions in English have become universal, especially classic ones like ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’ or ‘cool’. That said, your character, their environment, and socio-economic background determines a lot of how they process the world around them. It’s good to get some culturally specific expressions in your narrative as long as you are being true to your character map. Sometimes I slip and write a dialogue that would seem more authentic to someone living in the U.S rather than India. For example ‘nah, I am good’ in response to being asked if a character wants a snack would be more authentic to the U.S rather than India. There are exceptions for everything of course, but it’s always good to check your character’s language in context to their lived experience.

Checking Social Privilege

This one can get me very disoriented at times. When I am in the U.S, a lot of people put me in the bracket of POC woman writer and therefore a marginalized voice in the U.S. All things considered, this is accurate and true. However, I don’t at all speak for all Indians, no one can. There are far too many stories, realities, and social cues at play to represent one country. In India, I am very privileged, by class as an example of visible privilege, but also by invisible ones like caste, these elements give me more access and network to the world. This means I’ll have several blind spots to many marginalized communities that live in India. I must acknowledge the responsibility I have to keep educating myself on how my privileges play a role in a grossly unfair world. I have to find a balance between creating, and using my imagination while still not attempting to be the ‘voice’ or ‘savior’ for people that don’t need me to represent them. When you have social privilege, you want to be able to do the best you can with your writing career and remember to make space for others.

How do you look at bicultural realities? Being bicultural is definitely not limited to just living between countries, many experience different forms of culture living in the same country or even city/town. How do you negotiate your curiosity and experience of our world in your writing?

By

Source: writerunboxed.com

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