Tag Archives: The Writer Practice

The Two Scenes in Your Novel That Will Need the Most Rewriting

Novels are tricky. There’s so much to juggle that no-one gets it quite right the first time round … and most authors end up doing wholesale rewrites, rather than just making a few editorial tweaks.

I’ve come to accept that rewriting is just part of the process of creating a novel. Each time I start work on a new book, I want to be a more efficient writer – and while I have found some things easier, I still end up doing a lot of rewriting and reworking.

Maybe it’s the same way for you.

Whether you’re working on your first draft of your first novel, or you’ve completed a bunch of novels already, there are two scenes that you’re likely to spend a lot of time rewriting:

  • The opening of your novel
  • The climax of your novel

However hard you worked in the first draft, and however much you planned, these are just really difficult scenes to pull off well.

But the good news is – even if your first draft doesn’t quite hang together in these key areas, rewrites can fix anything!

Why Your Opening Scene (Probably) Needs Rewriting

The first scene of your novel needs to do a lot of heavy lifting. It has to get the story going – no mean feat! – and it has to establish your main character(s). At the same time, it needs to set the tone for what’s to come and it has to “hook” your reader.

Plus, unless you draft your book patchwork-quilt style, working on scenes here and there and stitching them all together at the end, the opening scene is probably the very first thing you wrote when you began your first draft. Chances are, your ideas have shifted a bit (or a lot!) since then.

The first scene of my novel Lycopolis went through about a dozen rewrites. I had several completely different versions of that scene – in the very first draft, for instance, I went with an omniscient perspective dipping in and out of all my different characters’ viewpoints. It soon became clear that this wasn’t going to mesh well with the limited close third-person perspective I ended up using for the rest of the novel!

If the current draft of your opening scene isn’t quite working, you might want to ask yourself:

  • Have I started this novel at the right moment? Would it be better to skip the preamble and jump straight into the action? (Or, conversely, do you need to backtrack and start a little earlier?)
  • Does this scene introduce my main character(s)? If not, is there a good reason – or would it be better to start with them?
  • Is there a “hook” in this scene … something that would capture readers’ interest and keep them turning the pages? (It doesn’t need to be something huge and dramatic, unless your genre requires that!)
  • Does this scene fit well with the rest of my novel? You could write a brilliant first three pages for a competition or an agent … but if they seem to belong to a different book altogether, they’re not going to get you far!

Why the Climax of Your Novel (Probably) Needs Rewriting

The climax of the novel is the high point of tension/action where everything comes together. Your protagonist, after the greatest trial yet, finally wins what they were after all along. (Or, in a less happier novel, your protagonist finally fails irrevocably.)

The climax, like the opening, needs to do a huge amount of work. It has to pull together lots of different threads from your novel, and potentially quite a few different characters. In many novels, your hero has to face what seem like insurmountable odds … and s/he needs to triumph regardless. But that triumph must be earned, and convincing.

Invariably, I find that the first time I draft this scene in my novels, it falls a little flat. The action isn’t dramatic enough. The very real possibility of danger isn’t potent enough. The characters don’t struggle enough. With each rewrite, the climax involves more tension, danger and drama.

Occasionally, after the first draft, I find I’ve changed my mind about how it should all end. This happened with my second novel, Oblivion, which took a long time (my kids were both born along the way!) and where I realised that I wanted the novel to end quite differently from how I’d originally planned.

If the climax of your novel isn’t quite coming together, you might want to ask yourself:

  • Is my protagonist struggling (and even suffering) as much as they should here? How could I make this harder for them?
  • What price does my protagonist pay for success? If they haven’t already sacrificed something to get to this point, maybe that should happen during the climax.
  • Have I tied up various loose ends from the novel? (It might well be fine to address some of these after the climax, in the final pages of the novel – but be careful it doesn’t end up dragging on too long.)
  • Does the victory come because of the protagonist’s actions? Be careful if not: if someone else steps in to save the day, or if the protagonist wins through a stroke of luck or an act of God, the climax might feel unsatisfying to you readers.

If you find yourself rewriting your opening scene and the climax of your novel multiple times, don’t be surprised or dismayed – it’s perfectly normal to end up reworking these a lot. Other scenes in your novel might need much less attention, because they’re neither so complex nor so crucial.

With my own novels, I’ve definitely had times when I felt like I would never get these scenes finished to my satisfaction. Eventually I did! If you’re at that stage right now, hang on in there – take a break or get someone else’s input if you can, and then get back to the rewrites. Good luck!

By Ali
Source: aliventures.com

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6 Tricks to Help You Finish Your Work in Progress (WIP)

We all want to finish the books or short stories we start, but sometimes we struggle. We could spend months or even years working on the same project and feel as though we aren’t making any headway. I did a poll once in the Goodreads book club I run for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, and “I won’t ever finish WIP” tied for third place as the biggest insecurity our members had.

Note: This is a guest post by Chrys Fey, she is the author of Write with Fey: 10 Sparks to Guide You from Idea to Publication and an editor for Dancing Lemur Press. Visit her blog, Write with Fey, for more tips and connect with her on Twitter. Enter her Rafflecopter giveaway by July 6th for the chance to win a writer’s notebook, coffee mug, and tote bag.

Many writers share this fear. It’s normal until it becomes a serious fear and doubt weighs you down.

Don’t let doubt extinguish your sparks!

If this sounds like you, here are five tips to help you finish your WIP.

1) Set a daily and weekly writing goals.

With a manageable weekly goal, you’ll be able to strive toward a specific page/word count by the end of that week. The key, though, is to set a realistic goal. I see many writers beat themselves up for not meeting a goal that was rather grand and out of their scope to begin with. This isn’t healthy.

Set a goal you know you can meet. Then tack on an additional 10% to that page/word count to give yourself a little bit of a challenge, which is always good practice. I can usually write 1,000 – 2, 000 words in a single day. For a week, that could be 7,000 – 14,000 words. Incredible, right? And that’s not even tacking on the extra 10% to give myself a push.

In the beginning, it will be difficult to write each day and meet your goal, but as long as you stick to it and DON’T GIVE UP, it’ll become easier. And, believe it or not, your daily/weekly writing goals will suddenly seem too easy. Yes, really.

If something crops up that makes it impossible for you to write one day, that is okay. I’ll say it again…THAT IS OKAY! Don’t punish yourself for not writing because of other responsibilities. And some days, you may only be able to write a few hundred words. If that happens, pat yourself on the back, because although your day was crazy or you were mentally exhausted, you still WROTE.

2) Schedule Writing Time

I know you’ve heard this tip before, but it’s an important one.

Whatever your writing goals are, schedule writing time to get some work done. Do you have a lunch break? Pack your lunch and bring a notebook to work so you can write. Can you write after dinner? Or while yours kids are doing their homework or after you tuck them into bed? What about early in the morning? Find the perfect time for you and stick to it. All you need is a good thirty minutes here and there throughout your day.

However, you don’t need to write EVERY day. I know people suggest that and I often say it, but some writers only have the weekends. Great! Follow these tips so you can make the most out of your weekends. If you can slot out time every day, give yourself a day or two to relax and rejuvenate. This is important. You don’t want to burn yourself out.

Maybe you are a full-time writer and have long chunks in the day that you can dedicate to writing, like I do. Something that a full-time writer can struggle with is getting started. Those long stretches of time when you “should” be writing can be daunting. Start by sitting down telling yourself you only need to commit to thirty minutes of writing. That’s it. And who knows? You could end up writing long past that.

But what if you draw a mental blank, you ask?

Let’s see tip #2.

3) Be a plotter.

Pantsing, sorry to say, can slow your progress if you don’t know what to write next. Try plotting out your book. Or be a pantser who plots. At the end of every writing session, plan out what you need to write next. This will help you to get back into your story faster and provides you clear map of where you need to go.

4) Limit how much you edit as you go.

So, you have your word count goals, you schedule writing time, and you plot out what you need to write next, but you still write too slow. Let me ask you one thing…do you edit as you go?

Editing as you write can hinder your progress, and this is coming from someone who does edit as she writes. Restrict how often you do this. Don’t read back through a paragraph you just wrote. Instead, wait until you complete a whole page, and then don’t read the entire thing but rather the last few sentences you added. By doing this, you’re not slowing your progress. And reading over the last few sentences you did can help you to figure out what to write next.

5) Dedicate a month to finish your WIP.

You can join NaNo, National Write a Novel Month in November, or pick another month that is more convenient, and challenge yourself to write anywhere from 20,000 words (which is about 100 pages) to 50,000 words (which is a good-sized novel). Or if you have a certain number of chapters left, aim to complete them by the end of the month. Whatever you need to write to finish your WIP, that’s your goal. Before you begin, create detailed chapter outlines, write don’t edit, and schedule time each day to pound away at your keyboard.

If a month is too much, dedicate a week to writing. This was what I did at first when I had to get back into writing after a heavy doubt of depression. I focused on writing every day for one week. That single week turned to two weeks. And in those two weeks, I wrote over 20,000 words!

It is possible, which leads me to…

6) Believe you will.

Mind over matter, right? If you believe you’ll do something and do whatever you can, you will achieve it. So many of us doubt ourselves. No wonder we struggle to write or meet a goal when we’re always knocking ourselves down, saying we write too slow, we’ll never finish, our writing is awful, and worse. Work on developing the right attitude. Repeat mantras daily to motivate yourself and especially when negative thoughts creep in. A simple mantra like “I will finish my book” can boost your confidence. Eventually, when it’s meant to be done, you will finish your book. Believe it!

Sometimes, the reason we struggle to write is completely out of our control, such as a health issue or depression. Last year, my depression went to an all-new level, impacting my health and my creativity. I couldn’t write and didn’t write for 7 months. That is a long time for a writer to not do what brings her life and joy. First, I had to get back to a positive state of mind and wrestle my way out of depression. I did this by reading a lot of non-fiction books, feeding my mind, and seeking new faith. When I finally felt like myself again, I still struggle to get words down.

So, what did I do to finally write? Well, I started with tip #1. Then I worked my way down the list until I was incorporating all of these tips.

With these tricks under your belt, you’ll surely be able to finish your WIP.

By Bryan Hutchinson
Source: positivewriter.com

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5 Things a Writer Needs to Know About a Character with a Mental Illness

To make a character real, they need to mirror the reality that we experience. This is a challenge, because the world each person lives in is highly individual and deeply diverse. As a psychologist, working with people affected by mental health diagnoses is what makes my job so challenging and yet so rewarding. As a reader and an editor, I love to read characters living with these backgrounds. I love it because I learn something new every time. But when it isn’t captured authentically, if the character is the stereotypical depressed mother who can’t get out of bed, or maybe even absent, then I wish they knew the following:

  1. It’s Everywhere

About 1 in 5 adults will experience a mental illness at some stage of their lives. Mental health issues can affect anyone, irrespective of gender, race, culture or socioeconomic background. If you haven’t experienced mental health challenges yourself, then someone you know and love has.

As a writer, this means it wouldn’t be uncommon to find a character dealing with something similar in your book. It can be your protagonist dealing with anxiety, your villain having a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, or your hero’s mother suffering from Munchausen’s by Proxy. In fact, because of its prevalence, the inclusion of some sort of mental health challenges for a character in your book will lend your story authenticity.

  1. Stigma is Alive and Well

We’ve all read the articles or seen the Facebook clips, heck, I personally advocate the message that mental illness are legitimate as a physical illness; they can be chronic, debilitating, and treatable.

But the reality is that gender equality, acceptance of diverse sexual orientations, and equal opportunity for those living with disabilities has been something people have been fighting for a long time, and we’re not quite there yet. Mental health stigma is a very real experience for many sufferers of mental illness, but what amplifies these adverse effects is the internalising of mental health stigma.

The belief that there is something fundamentally flawed with you because you aren’t able to ‘snap out’ of it tends to be incorporated into a person’s self-concept. It can be a barrier to help-seeking and treatment and can undermine your self-esteem. If you have a character with a mental health diagnosis, then be cognizant that it’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re fighting a pain no one can see.

  1. Each diagnosis is a snowflake

The diversity within any single mental health condition is significant, and every writer needs to be cognisant of this. A label such as obsessive compulsive disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is going to give you a broad understanding of what you’re going to see in your character. But what that looks like for your particular person on the page is going to be a nuanced product of their history, biology, and social context.

It’s considering each of these variables; the interaction of their psychology with the environment that has moulded them (and will continue to do so), is how you’ll move away from stereotypes and two-dimensional characters.

  1. Mental Health is a Roller-Coaster

If you have a character living with a mental health condition, then the usual ups and downs that life likes to pitch at you are going to be amplified. Your key refusing to slot into the keyhole of your front door can feel like the last, fragile straw that breaks you; whilst a smile from a stranger can be enough to bolster your plummeting self-esteem.

Mental health conditions take what our brain does in its everyday life (feel worried about something that could happen, feel sad at the prospect of tomorrow, believe that our workmate doesn’t like us) and dials it up. The emotions are stronger, the thoughts are more powerful, and the urges they provoke are harder to resist. This can vary from the desire to eat an entire New York Cheesecake to desperately needing to control your world to plotting a way to end the prime-minister’s new immigration policy.

Incorporating these challenges authentically can be tricky as some of the choices these characters make can be difficult to understand. Understanding the emotional and cognitive foundation of your character’s mental illness is essential.

  1. Great Characters do Great Things

For all their challenges, mental health diagnoses are a painful opportunity to discover some amazing things about ourselves. The darkness they bring only makes the light brighter. People that live with mental illness need to learn to be flexible, self-aware and resilient, and if that doesn’t capture a character arc, I don’t know what does. If you drag a character into some deep wells of sadness, fear, or disillusionment, then you’ve just created a moving contrast for the heights that humanity can reach for. What’s more, these challenges (like any) are a wonderful way to explore the power of connection. There are supports out there. There are people passionate about helping. So remember, capturing the hardships of mental illness is only the half the picture. It’s the stories of human triumph over adversity that is the other side of the mental health label.

What’s your thoughts? Do you have a character with a mental illness? How did you make sure they were authentic and realistic?

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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36 Tips for Writing Just About Anything

There’s a lot more to writing than typing words.

Writing well takes years of study, practice, and experience. It requires diligence, attention to detail, and dedication to the craft. Each project has a unique set of requirements and different types of writing have different rules.

For example, when we’re writing fiction, we have one set of concerns (character, plot, and setting, to name a few), and when we’re writing poetry, we have en entirely different set of issues to deal with.

Writing becomes natural with practice, but there are countless elements to deal with in any given project.

Tips for Writing

Here are thirty-six tips for writing just about anything. You can use this as a checklist when you start a new writing project and refer back to it whenever you get stuck. However, keep in mind that these tips don’t address the specifics of fiction, poetry, or nonfiction; they’re general tips for writing anything rather than specific tips for form and genre.

  1. Start with a plan. To reach a destination, you must know where you’re going. We can freewrite in our journals and jot down ideas on scraps of paper, but bigger projects will go more smoothly if there’s a plan in place.
  2. Be prepared. What do you need in order to complete this project? Set up a space and schedule time to work on the project. Gather any supplies, materials, and resources you’ll need.
  3. Eliminate distractions. It’s impossible to write if you’re interrupted or distracted every few minutes. Turn off your phone, close your browser, and let others know you’re working.
  4. Know your audience. This is one of the most common tips for writing, and while it’s not mandatory, it means less revising once you’ve completed your first draft. Are you turning in this piece to an instructor? Submitting it to a magazine? Self-publishing? Who will read it?
  5. Be familiar with your genre. Sci-fi fans don’t want to read a book written by someone who’s never read any sci-fi books. If you don’t know your genre, you can’t possibly know your audience. Besides, if you don’t read a particular genre, why would you want to write it?
  6. Choose a style guide. There’s one style guide for journalism, one for medical writing, and another for everything else. If you’re submitting this project to a target publication or an agent (or if you’re self-publishing it), make sure you know which style guide you should follow.
  7. Brainstorm and outline. Nothing ruins a good writing session like realizing you have no idea what you’re trying to accomplish. Take a few minutes to jot down all ideas related to the project, and then spend some time drawing up an outline. You don’t have to follow it to the letter, but it will come in handy as a kind of road map.
  8. Conduct credible research. Most writing projects require some research. Whether you need the population of a city or the distance to another planet, check your facts and make sure your logic lines up. Also, make sure your sources are credible.
  9. Take breaks and stay healthy. If you’re writing for long periods, take a ten-minute break every hour. If you’re working on a long-term project, make sure you stay healthy by eating nutritious foods and getting plenty of exercise. It might take time away from your writing, but it will also make your writing better.
  10. Don’t procrastinate, and reward yourself when you reach goals. Writing requires a tremendous amount of discipline. It’s easy to procrastinate if there isn’t a boss hovering over your shoulder and pointing at the clock. Establish milestones for your project and reward yourself whenever you reach one.
  11. Stay inspired. Passion ebbs and flows, and so do ideas. But you can keep yourself motivated by figuring out what inspires you and regularly imbibing in it. Maybe books on the craft of writing keep you excited about your project. Reading or watching movies in your genre might help you stay motivated and inspired.
  12. Think about voice. In writing, voice is the tone of a piece — the author’s unique style. A children’s book shouldn’t sound like it was written by a college professor, and an academic essay shouldn’t sound like it was written by a child. Is your narrative dry, witty, humorous, self-depreciating, or cocky?
  13. Complete a rough draft. While you’re drafting, turn off your inner editor and don’t scrutinize every word or sentence. Let the ideas flow and let the scenes and ideas move forward. You can fix it up later.
  14. Keep it simple: Use clear, concise writing. For some audiences, you might ignore this rule, but keep in mind that the simpler and more accessible your writing is, the more people it will be able to reach.
  15. Use the active voice. Passive voice sounds old-fashioned and outdated. Apply the subject + verb + object construction to your sentences so they are clear and direct.
  16. Use vivid language. Avoid boring, meaningless words (like nice and very) and opt instead for words with pizazz. For example, don’t write very good. Write excellent.
  17. Know when to show and when to tell. The most important parts of a story should be shown. Don’t tell the reader the character was tired if her exhaustion is critical to the plot; show her yawning.
  18. Choose the best possible words. Vivid language helps readers visualize the narrative. You should also choose the most precise, accurate words possible. Don’t say dark red if you mean burgandy.
  19. Let it sit. Once you complete a draft (and after every revision), let your project sit for a while. Short pieces can sit for a few hours. Longer pieces (like a book) may need to sit for a few weeks. Then you can revise with fresh eyes.
  20. Read what you’ve written. Before you revise, save a copy of your original draft and read through the whole thing once. If it’s a book-length manuscript, take notes about major changes that you need to make.
  21. Chop it up. You may need to move large portions of text around. The opening scene might work better at the end. Your thesis statement could be misplaced somewhere in the middle of your paper. Use cut-and-paste with total abandon. Tip: open TextEdit or NotePad in the background and use it to store large chunks of text that you need to move around.
  22. Delete the excess. You may need to delete entire scenes if they are not relevant to the plot. In fact, you may need to delete some of your favorite sentences and paragraphs. Get rid of anything that isn’t essential to the project’s thesis, objective, or plot.
  23. Insert. You may find gaping holes in your draft. Be prepared to add new sentences, paragraphs, even entire chapters.
  24. Rewrite. Depending on how messy your first draft is, you may need to do multiple rewrites. A lot of writers get worn out by this process, but remember — your writing improves with each revision. So dig in and keep rewriting until it feels right.
  25. Edit. Once you have the main structure and concept down, you can edit for detail. This is where you make your sentences clear and concise. Look for grammatical errors, awkward wording, and vague phrasing.
  26. Eliminate unnecessary words. If you can delete a word without affecting the meaning of a sentence, then delete it. Often, articles (a, an, the) can be deleted as can pronouns.
  27. Get rid of the clichés. Better yet, don’t use them in the first place. However, when you’re editing, do your best to weed them out.
  28. Look it up! If you’re not sure about a word’s meaning or spelling, look it up. If you’re not sure whether you’ve structured a sentence correctly or used proper punctuation, look it up. Do not rewrite to get around the rules. Just learn them.
  29. Review the transitions. Each paragraph focuses on a different idea, but each paragraph should also flow naturally from the paragraph that precedes it.
  30. Check for repetition. There’s good repetition and bad repetition. Using the same word or phrase over and over, unnecessarily, is bad. Repeating themes, symbols, and images can be powerful.
  31. Make sure the sentence structures are varied. Sentences should vary in length and structure. Don’t start every sentence with “I” (a common mistake that young and new writers make). Follow long sentences with shorter ones.
  32. Read for flow. After editing, read it again. Does everything make sense? Does the entire thing flow naturally and smoothly? If not, go back and edit some more.
  33. Format your document. Formatting can be done at the beginning or toward the end. I usually format at the beginning, except when writing a long project, like a book, in which case, I wait till the end. Tip: don’t just learn how to format documents; instead, become a master of formatting. For example, if you use Word, learn how to use the Styles feature. You should know how to set spacing, indentations, font face and size, how to align text, and apply bold and italics.
  34. Proofread. No matter how strong your writing skills are, typos will slip past you. When you proofread, you’re looking for basic mistakes and typographical errors. Recommendation: proofread each piece until you can’t find any typos at all.
  35. Get a second opinion. Even though you proofread until you couldn’t find any typos, there are probably a few lingering around. There’s a scientific reason for this, but it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you get someone else to check your work. If necessary, hire a professional.
  36. Final polish. Ideally, you’ll read through it one last time (after letting it sit again) and you’ll find it squeaky clean. This means it’s done and ready to be served.

And that’s not all…

This list might seem overwhelming, but it covers only the basics. If you’re writing fiction, there is a whole other set of things you need to do. If you’re writing for business or academia, there are additional rules to follow. Remember, there are many considerations for each form and style of writing. That’s why knowing your form and genre is so important.

But these tips for writing are a good start. Not only will they help you write, they’ll help you write well.

Do you have any tips for writing to add to this list? Share any tips that writers can use by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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Do You Need a Creative Writing Degree to Succeed as a Writer?

Young and new writers often ask whether they need a creative writing degree in order to become an author or professional writer.

I’ve seen skilled and talented writers turn down opportunities or refuse to pursue their dreams because they feel their lack of a creative writing degree means they don’t have the credibility necessary to a career in writing.

Meanwhile, plenty of writers with no education, minimal writing skills, and scant experience in reading and writing are self-publishing, freelance writing, and offering copywriting services.

It’s an oft-asked question: Do you need a creative writing degree to succeed as a writer? Is it okay to write and publish a book if you don’t have a degree or if your degree is in something other than English or the language arts?

Before I go further, I should reveal that although I did earn a degree in creative writing, I don’t think a degree is necessary. But there is a caveat to my position on this issue: While I don’t think a degree is necessary, I certainly think it’s helpful. I also think that some writers will have a hard time succeeding without structured study and formal training whereas others are self-disciplined and motivated enough to educate themselves to the extent necessary to establish a successful writing career.

Do You Need a Creative Writing Degree?

First of all, a degree is not necessary to success in many fields, including writing. There are plenty of examples of individuals who became wildly successful and made meaningful contributions without any college degree whatsoever: Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, and Walt Disney, to name a few.

In the world of writing, the list of successful authors who did not obtain a degree (let alone a creative writing degree) is vast. Here is a small sampling: Louisa May Alcott, Maya Angelou, Jane Austen, William Blake, Ray Bradbury, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Edgar Allen Poe, Beatrix Potter, and JD Salinger.

So you obviously do not need a creative writing degree. After all, some of the greatest writers in history didn’t have a degree. Why should you?

A Creative Writing Degree is Not a Bad Idea

On the other hand, the degree definitely won’t hurt your chances. In fact, it will improve your chances. And if you struggle with writing or self-discipline, then the process of earning a degree will be of great benefit to you.

A college education might indeed be necessary for a particular career, such as a career in law or medicine. In fields of study where a degree is not a requirement, it often prepares you for the work ahead by teaching you specific skills and techniques and by forcing you to become knowledgeable about your field.

However, there is an even greater value in the the process of earning a degree. You become knowledgeable and educated. You learn how to learn, how to work without close supervision, and you are exposed to the wisdom of your instructors as well as the enthusiasm and support of your peers. College is a great environment for development at any age or in any field.

Earning a degree is also a testament to your drive and ability to complete a goal without any kind of immediate reward or gratification. College is not easy. It’s far easier to get a full-time job and buy lots of cool stuff. It’s more fun to spend your nights and weekends hanging out with your friends than staying in and studying. A college degree is, in many ways, a symbol representing your capacity to set out and accomplish a long-term goal.

Know Yourself

If you possess strong writing skills and are somewhat of an autodidact (a person who is self-taught), then you may not need a degree in creative writing. For some such people, a degree is completely unnecessary. On the other hand, if your writing is weak or if you need guidance and would appreciate the help of instructors and peers, maybe you do need a creative writing degree.

If you’re planning on going to college simply because you want to earn a degree and you hope to be a writer someday, you might as well get your degree in creative writing since that’s what you’re passionate about. On the other hand, if you hope to write biographies of famous actors and directors and you already write well, you might be better off studying film (and possibly minoring in creative writing).

You may be the kind of person who needs the validation of a degree. Maybe you’re an excellent writer but you’d feel better putting your work out there if you could back it up (even in your own mind) with that piece of paper that says you have some expertise in this area. Or you might be the kind of person who is confident enough to plunge into the career of a writer without any such validation.

You might find that time and money are barriers to earning a degree. If you have responsibilities that require you to work full time and if you’re raising a family, obtaining a degree might not be in the cards, either in terms of time or money. You might be better off focusing what little free time you have on reading and writing. But there are other options if you’ve got your heart set on a creative writing degree: look for accredited online colleges, find schools that offer night and weekend classes, and open yourself to the idea that you can take ten years rather than four years to complete your higher education.

Finally, some people have a desire to get a degree but they feel they’re too old. I personally think that’s a bunch of hogwash. You’re never too old to learn or obtain any kind of education. When I was just out of high school, I attended a college with many students who were middle-aged and older. I had tremendous respect for them and they brought a lot of wisdom to our classes, which balanced out the youthful inexperience of my other, much younger classmates. I don’t care if you’re eighteen, forty-two, or seventy, if you have a hankering to do something, go do it!

Making Tough Decisions

Ultimately, the decision rests with each of us. Do you need a creative writing degree? Only you can answer that question.

If you’re still not sure, then check with a local school (a community college is a good place to start) and make an appointment with an adviser in the English Department. If you’re in high school, get in touch with your school’s career counselor. Sometimes, these professionals can help you evaluate your own needs to determine which is the best course of action for you. But in the end, make sure whatever decision you make about your education is one that you’ve carefully weighed and are comfortable with.

And whether you earn a degree in creative writing or not, keep writing!

By Melissa Donovan

Sources:

Most Successful People Who Never Went to College
Famous Autodidacts
 

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The Satisfaction of Excellence: The Growth Mindset for Writers

If someone had asked me in my early days as a book coach what quality was most critical to a writer’s success, I would have said perseverance. It was the thing that most obviously separated the writers who made it from those who didn’t. After all, in order to succeed, you have to finish, and in order to finish, you have to stick with it, day after day, month after month, year after year, whether the writing is going well or not. Perseverance trumps procrastination and doubt – the two things that tend to derail a great many writers.

While I still consider perseverance to be paramount, another quality has risen to the top of my list of qualities critical to a writer’s success: the ability to receive feedback.

In my early interactions with a potential client, I can tell what their general stance is on feedback. They fall somewhere on the spectrum from closed and defensive on the one side and open and willing to learn on the other.

CLOSED/DEFENSIVE OPEN/WILLING TO LEARN

Someone who is closed and defensive thinks they already know it all. They are hyper protective of their idea and their vision and if they seek help at all, it is under the guise of wanting confirmation that what they have written is already great. They don’t really want feedback; they want a quick “win.”

But winning is not a place you arrive; it’s a way you behave. And the most successful writers behave with a growth mindset.

That’s the term coined years ago by Dr. Carol Dweck, a Stanford professor of psychology and author of the book, Mindset. A growth mindset is the opposite from a fixed mindset. It means you are flexible and open, always willing to learn:

“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

Here’s what a growth mindset tends to look like in writers:

  • The writer is open to improving. They are not afraid to look at their skills and to assess them. They acknowledge the areas where they could be better. They welcome honest feedback.
  • The writer is willing to learn. They read in their genre to see how writers they admire approach a character or a scene or a structural element. They read books and blogs about writing to learn from wise teachers. They go to lectures, partner with other ambitious writers, seek out a coach to help them get strong.
  • The writer wants to know how their work impacts their readers. They want the outcome to be effective and make an impact. They consider the end-goal of the work, not just how it makes them feel as they write.
  • The writer works hard to bring their vision to life, focusing on the work and not on external measures of success. One of my clients recently finished a draft of a novel; it is her second, and her first did not sell. She was starting to feel closed and fearful about the new book, until she recognized that feeling, and made a switch. She began to focus on what she calls “the satisfaction of excellence.” The satisfaction of excellence has nothing to do with landing an agent, getting a big book deal, or making a lot of money. It has to do with mastering the craft.
  • They are grateful for the chance to write, the time to write, the space to write. They are grateful for the people who support them and for their readers, no matter how small or large the number.

Good writing takes a very long time to develop – 10,000 hours spent trying to spin a tale or an argument, trying to find your voice. Having a growth mindset means that you don’t just sit alone during those 10,000 hours, banging away and ignoring the rest of the world. You seek to get better every time you write. You seek the satisfaction of excellence.

By Writing Coach
Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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The Joys of Writing Tragedy

Tragedy is one of the oldest and most fundamental forms of story-telling. It’s a mode that focuses on suffering, that connects its central character to the wider world, and that is deliberately designed to make audiences consider the fragility of their own lives. It can be a powerful tool for writers in any genre.

In this article, we’ll be looking at what tragedy is, what defines its protagonist, and how to make use of it in your writing.

Defining Tragedy

Tragedy as we now know it emerged from Greek plays around 2500 years ago. It reached its classical golden age in 5th century Athens, but our understanding of its form is most shaped by a book from a century later. In his Poetics, the philosopher Aristotle explained the origins of the form, as he understood it, and its defining features. The points he singled out shaped tragedy from then on, as it was kept alive by the Romans, revived in the Renaissance, and used and adapted by authors, poets, and playwrights ever since.

Tragedy is built around a downward arc. The protagonist experiences an unhappy transformation, ending in death or at the very least disaster. This is how many people identify a tragedy.

But there’s more to a traditional tragedy than this.

For the reader, a tragedy should be an unsettling experience. The story highlights the uncertainties of the world by showing that even the most powerful can fall due to events outside their control. In classical theatre, those events were usually driven by supernatural forces. In modern writing, they are more likely to be about the structures and injustices built into our society.

At its best, tragedy draws a mixture of emotions from the reader. There’s pity for the character experiencing the downfall, but there’s also fear. This fear is partly for the protagonist, but it’s often also fear of them. The rage of Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge creates a mixture of emotions, as the audience is torn between empathising with the character and worrying for the people they harm. It’s a deliberately unsettling experience.

The arc of the story should also evoke mixed emotions. It should feel both unavoidable and unacceptable. This undermines the audience’s sense of the world as a just place.

The character’s fall connects in with a wider sense of destruction. Hamlet’s tragedy is also that of the Kingdom of Denmark, as the royal house and by extension the nation goes into decline.

The face of tragedy has changed in recent centuries. Some of the features that Aristotle considered essential are no longer evoked, and the focus has moved away from supernatural interventions in human lives. But the core of tragedy remains the same – evoking emotions through injustice and the suffering of a central character.

The Tragic Character

If you want to write a tragedy then, as with so much of fiction, you need to start with the central character.

The tragic protagonist is normally a noble figure, one who clearly has good intentions, at least at the start. Walter White from Breaking Bad is a great modern example. He just wants to look after his family and his own medical bills. It’s the path he follows to do this that leads to somewhere far less virtuous.

Even if they aren’t noble, the central character needs to be sympathetic. For the tragedy to work, the audience has to care about your character and want them to avoid their approaching doom. They have to keep caring about them, on some level keep liking them, even as they do terrible things. If we didn’t like Hamlet, then we would stop caring for him as he kills Polonius and drives Ophelia mad.

This draws attention to another important feature of a tragic character – the fatal flaw.

All characters should have some flaws and failings to make them relatable. But for the protagonist of a tragedy, a powerful, fundamental flaw is vital. This is the characteristic that motivates much of their actions and that eventually leads them to disaster.

For Shakespeare’s Macbeth, this flaw is unchecked ambition. He is willing to do anything to achieve power. This leads him to destroy his support base by betraying those closest to him, to offend people more powerful than himself, and to behave so badly that he loses all hope of redemption. The fatal flaw drives his downfall.

It’s the fatal flaw that binds together character and plot in a tragedy, preventing the story from being something that just happens to the character.

The character arc that emerges from a fatal flaw can’t just be that the character ends up dying. In the right circumstances, a character’s death can be noble and heroic, which would rob a tragedy of its unsettling negative emotions. Most tragic characters die, but this isn’t the sum total of their downfall.

In a tragic arc, the character suffers, both physically and emotionally, through the course of their downfall. They lose the things that are important to them, most critically their sense of identity. Hamlet loses his mind, his family, even his reputation. Macbeth descends from national hero to hounded villain. Michael Henchard loses his hard-won position as mayor of Casterbridge and the respect of family and friends. Only when you’ve robbed the tragic protagonist of everything that made them who they were, when you’ve flattened all their achievements and left them in despair, does the time come to kill them off.

To give your character’s arc real tragedy, it should feel inevitable. The way that their fatal flaw interacts with the world means that they cannot avoid disaster. Hamlet’s inaction prevents him from fixing the problems at court but won’t let him step away. Henchard’s pride drives him to success but also to disaster, as he cannot compromise to the needs of others in his life.

But while the character’s downfall should feel inevitable, it should also feel unacceptable. However much we might hate Macbeth, we have followed him for so long, come to feel his fears so much, that we still feel a pang of remorse at his death. When Hamlet falls, we aren’t left feeling that justice is served, but that a greater injustice has been done.

Writing Tragedy

When preparing to write a tragedy, much of your attention should be on the tragic protagonist. But what else can you do to evoke the tropes and tone of tragedy?

Strange as it might sound in a story where defeat is inevitable, uncertainty should also be a feature. Tragedy whips the rug out from under the feet of both the protagonist and the reader. If the world worked the way the protagonist believed then they would be able to thrive despite their tragic flaw. If it was as just and reasonable as readers expect, then tragedy would not unfold.

Uncertainty can also be achieved through varying the outcome of individual situations. Small, unexpected successes create hope rather than a slow grind towards disaster. They help to keep the outcome uncertain, and so increase the impact as disaster looms. A character’s occasional wins make their losses more distressing by contrast.

It’s in the tension between uncertainty and inevitability that tragedies achieve their unsettling effect.

Try to tie the character’s downfall into a broader sense of destruction and despair. If your setting is the modern world, you might set their story against a backdrop of inequality or government failings. In an epic fantasy, it might be the collapse of an empire.

It’s vital to engage readers’ emotions. They need to feel the loss and despair of the character on their way down, as well as the sense of injustice overwhelming them. Think about how you can show this through he protagonist’s actions, through the view from inside their head, and through the way you describe the world around them. At the start, you need to engage the audience’s sympathy. After that, it’s their sense of despair.

This can lead to some unfortunate clichés and toxic tropes. It’s particularly important to avoid falling into these traps. Killing of the female love interest of a male protagonist can increase the sense of disaster around him, but it also perpetuates a world view in which women are robbed of agency and our stories are all about men. Could you find a way to ruin that relationship that is still heart breaking but shows the woman making her own choices? Can you make the people around the protagonist more than just props in his disaster? Showing their lives, feelings, and decisions will make it all he more tragic when the world falls down for them as well.

Tragedy is one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s arsenal. It can be used in any genre or setting. Its structures help you to create a compelling character and a story that will hit readers hard. If you can start from a fatally flawed character, build a wider disaster around them, and avoid tired old clichés, then it can be your path to something compelling.

Just ask Aristotle.

By Andrew Knighton
Source: refiction.com

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Direct and Indirect Quotations

When you’re reporting exactly what somebody said—a direct quotation—you put the word or words in quotation marks

Let’s figure out when you need to put single words such as “yes” and “no” in quotation marks.

It all boils down to whether you’re dealing with a direct quotation or an indirect quotation.

Direct Quotations

A direct quotation is when you’re directly quoting what someone said—word-for-word, not paraphrasing. You put direct quotations in quotation marks.

So if you were hanging out with Squiggly in Ghirardelli Square, and you asked him if he wanted some chocolate covered cashews, and he looked at you with big eyes and simply said, “Yes!” you could later report to Aardvark that Squiggly said, “Yes,” and you’d put that in quotation marks since that’s exactly what he said.

Indirect Quotations

An indirect quotation is when you’re reporting what someone said, but not exactly. You’re paraphrasing, and you don’t need to put indirect quotations in quotation marks.

Let’s imagine again that you were hanging out with Squiggly in Ghirardelli Square, but this time when you asked him if he wanted some chocolate covered cashews, he said, “Oh my gosh, you can’t imagine how much I want chocolate covered cashews. I was just looking at them and drooling. Thank you!”

You might report again to Aardvark that you offered Squiggly chocolate covered cashews and he said yes, but this time you wouldn’t put “yes” in quotation marks because Squiggly didn’t actually say the word “yes.” You’re just paraphrasing his dramatically positive response.

Sometimes it can be a little confusing to decide whether to use quotation marks, but remember that the trick is to figure out whether the person literally said the words “yes” or “no,” in which case you need quotation marks, or if you are just conveying the general sense of a positive or negative response, and in that case, you don’t need quotation marks.

More Examples

If you are directly quoting someone, put the word in quotation marks:

  • Sarah smiled and said, “Yes.”
  • I looked up from my desk and said, “No, you can’t have a cookie.”

If you are indirectly quoting someone, don’t put the word in quotation marks:

  • He wondered whether Sarah would say yes.
  • I looked up from my desk and told him no, he couldn’t have a cookie.

By Mignon Fogarty
Source: quickanddirtytips.com

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How Do I Create Believable Characters?

Creating complex, ​well-rounded characters requires time thinking about how your characters look, where they’re from, and what motivates them, among many other things. A good way to help bring your characters to life and to establish a back story for them is to develop answers to a set of questions about them.

While much of the information you develop for your characters during the process will never be shared directly with readers, it will help you to understand the character better and more realistically portray how they will react to situations and other characters in your story. The more you know about your characters, the more realistic your story will be.

 

  • 01
         Where Does Your Character Live?

 

  • Novelist and writing professor Michael Adams (“Anniversaries in the Blood”) has said he believes the setting is the most important element of any story. It’s definitely true that character, if not story, in many ways grows out of a sense of place. What country does your character live in? What region? Does he live alone or with a family? In a trailer park or an estate? How did he end up living there? How does he feel about it?

    Knowing where your character lives can help you to understand how he might respond to certain people or situations.

 

 

  • 02
           Where Is Your Character From?

     

    In a similar vein, where did your character’s life begin? Did she grow up running around the woods in a small southern town, or did she learn to conjugate Latin verbs in a London boarding school? Obviously, this influences things like the kinds of people your character knows, the words she uses to communicate, and the way she feels about a host of things in her external world.

 

 

  • 03

    How Old Is Your Character?

    Though this might seem like an obvious question, it’s important to make a clear decision about this before you begin writing. Otherwise, it’s impossible to get the details right. For instance, would your character have a cell phone, a ​landline, or both? Does your character drink martinis or cheap beer? Does he still get money from his parents, or worry about what will happen to his parents as they get old?

 

 

  • 04

    What Is Your Character Called?

    Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? According to novelist Elinor Lipman, absolutely not: “Names have subtext and identity. If your main characters are Kaplans, you’ve got yourself a Jewish novel, and if your hero is Smedley Winthrop III, you’ve given him a trust fund. Nomenclature done right contributes to characterization.” Your character’s name provides a lot of information about ethnicity, age, background, and social class.

     

  • 05

    What Does Your Character Look Like?

    Is your character tall enough to see over the heads of a crowd at a bar or to notice the dust on the top of a refrigerator? Does she deal with weight issues and avoid looking at herself in the mirror? Though you need not have a crystal clear picture of your character in mind, physical details help you imagine how your character moves through the world, and this, in turn, helps your readers believe in the character.​

     

  • 06

    What Kind of Childhood Did Your Character Have?

    As with real people, many things about your character’s personality will be determined by his background. Did his parents have a good marriage? Was he raised by a single mom? How your character interacts with other people—whether he’s defensive or confident, stable or rootless—may be influenced by his past.

     

  • 07

    What Does Your Character Do for a Living?

    As with all of these questions, how much information you need depends in some part on the plot, but you’ll need some idea of how your character makes money. A dancer will look at the world very differently from an accountant, for instance, and a construction worker will use very different language from either one. How they feel about a host of issues, from money to family, will be in some part dependent on their career choices.

     

  • 08

    How Does Your Character Deal with Conflict and Change?

    Fiction involves some element of conflict and change. They’re part of what makes a story a story. Is your character passive or active? If someone confronts her, does she change the subject, head for the minibar, stalk off, or do a deep-breathing exercise? When someone insults her, is she more likely to take it, come up with a retort, or excuse herself to find someone else to talk to?

     

  • 09

    Who Else Is in Your Character’s Life?

    Relationships and how people interact with others reveals character. They’re also excuses for dialogue, which break up exposition, offering another way of providing necessary information. Think about who will best help you convey this information and what kinds of people would realistically be in your character’s world in the first place.

  • 10

    What Is Your Character’s Goal or Motivation in This Story or Scene?

    In longer stories or novels, you will have to ask this question repeatedly. Many of your character’s actions will result from the intersection of what he’s trying to achieve and his personality, which is composed of everything you’ve invented in answering questions about him. When in doubt about how your character should behave, ask yourself what your character wants from the situation and think about the answers you’ve given to all of the questions.

    By
    Source:thebalancecareers.com

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Capturing an Unhappy Relationship: A Writer’s Roadmap

Relationships are a complicated beast, and if you write romance like me, then you’re wed (pun intended) to the HEA (happily ever after) ending. But the reality is, we have a divorce rate of around 1in 2 marriages; so as much as it’s fun to delve into the romanticised ideal of soulmates wandering hand-in-hand into the sunset, the challenges of relationships can just as equally lead to hearts broken and relationships fractured.

Which is what this week’s article’s about.

Capturing the unwinding of threads of a relationship is complex. Just like the real world, our characters have a history of weaving those threads together in little steps and big steps, usually with the intent that their fabric will be as tight as Egyptian cotton. But people evolve, circumstances change, and sometimes a relationship isn’t strong enough. Usually these ruptures don’t happen quickly; they involve little tears and big tears over days, months and sometimes years.

If you’re looking to capture this heart-breaking (or cathartic) process in your story, either with your main characters or with those memorable secondary characters (your MC’s parents, best-friends or children), then consider these four predictors of relationship breakdown (they are a wonderful way to capture ‘show, don’t tell’ and to create some interesting moments into your story):

  1. Contempt

Far more toxic than frustration, contempt is a virulent mix of anger and disgust which involves seeing your partner as beneath you. Apart from its direct consequences of either belittling or angering a partner, contempt involves one character closing themselves off to their partner’s needs and emotions. If you constantly feel smarter than, better than, or more sensitive than your significant other, you’re not only less likely see his or her opinions as valid, but, more importantly, you’re far less willing to try to put yourself in their shoes to try to see a situation from their perspective.

If one or both of your characters are contemptuous of the other as they interact, you’ve just captured one of the cornerstones of an unhappy relationship. Consider these examples:

  • Jane sends Jo a list of groceries for tonight’s dinner. When Jo gets home, Jane realises that Jo picked up self-raising flour instead of plain flour. Jane becomes frustrated, asking Jo what sort of idiot doesn’t know the difference between the two. She even posts it on Facebook so her sisters can see what she has to live with.
  • Barry is organising his next fishing weekend with his two sons. Daria laughs as they are packing their tackle boxes, pointing out to their sons that she caught the biggest fish last time she went out in their godforsaken tin-can-of-a-boat.
  1. Criticism

Like contempt, criticism involves turning a behaviour (something your partner did) into a statement about his or her personal character (the type of person he or she is). As many of us have experienced or observed, fault-finding and belittling behaviour adds up. Over time, darker feelings of resentment and contempt are likely to brew.

  • Alex has a habit of leaving her cereal bowl—soggy, uneaten weeties and all—on the coffee table every morning. Sam makes sure she makes note of it each day as she collects them, pointing out what a lazy and inconsiderate partner Alex is.
  • After a sleepless night, Jake overheats baby Bobby’s mashed pumpkin. When Bobby spits it out and starts screaming, Sally scoops him up, shouting over the top that when it comes to parenting Jake couldn’t raise a sweat let alone a child.
  1. Defensiveness

Defensiveness involves a sense of protectiveness and guardedness about our thoughts and feelings. A character who is being defensive will often play the victim in tough situations with their partner; at times that may be justified, others not so much.

  • A couple are late to a cousin’s wedding. Ashleigh is the first to say, “It wasn’t my fault!” as they slip into a back pew.
  • Jane is online to her best friend, typing furiously that she never got a chance to tell her husband about the dint in the car door because all he does is watch YouTube. If he gets upset about it, he can’t say she didn’t try to tell him.
  1. Stonewalling

If your character can sense an argument brewing, they feel the tension tightening between their shoulders, notice their voice amping up a few decibels, and their response is to shutdown or walk away, you’ve got a stonewaller. Stonewalling can be just as toxic for a relationship as criticism or contempt because it keeps your characters from addressing their underlying issues. When perspectives don’t get a chance to be explored, then frustration is likely to morph into resentment.

  • Ian and Sarah are arguing about their credit card debt. When Ian asks Sarah exactly how much those shoes cost, she turns and walks away. Picking up her phone, she retreats to the bedroom.
  • During a parent teacher interview, Jacqui suggests that maybe their son isn’t succeeding in math because of the children he’s sitting next to. Her husband, Jed, rolls his eyes at the teacher, shifts his seat forward, and tells the teacher that their son just needs more challenging work as he’s obviously bored. Jed starts enquiring about extension work.

John Gottman, the guru of relationship therapy and founder of the Gottman Institute, has said that these four factors are tell-tale signs that all is not well with a married couple. In fact, when the frequency of these four behaviours are measured within the span of a 15-minute conversation, Gottman and his fellow psychologists can predict which marriages will end in divorce with striking precision.

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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