Tag Archives: Uplifting writing

How to Show and not Tell Intelligence

Although the concept of intelligence and what exactly it means for a person to be intelligent are the subject of considerable controversy and debate, it’s widely accepted that intelligence is valued in our society. In fact, if you’re a sapiosexual, you find intelligence as the most sexually attractive feature in a prospective partner. I’m not going into the evolutionary theories for this (including that intelligent men have a higher sperm count and women intuitively understand this and so are drawn to them), so you’ll have to take my word for it. Intelligence is attractive, and a trait we see in many a hero (and villain in fact). In the landscape of writing, this is a trait you can harness to add layers to your character.

Although every psychologist who has endeavoured to define intelligence has come up with their own definition, intelligence is broadly understood as the ability to perceive or infer information, and to retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviours within an environment. The key as a writer is to create a character who presents as intelligent in a plausible manner. Sure, you can slip in their above average IQ scores as they munch over breakfast, or point out they have seven PhD’s, but what if your character is an adolescent? Or what if they live on the planet X where IQ tests aren’t used because the sentient species have acknowledged the limitations of cognitive testing?

What if you want to show, not tell?

Well, you’ve come to the right blog post. I undertook some research, and along with my professional understanding of intelligence (IQ testing is a regular part of my practice in schools), I considered it in terms of character development. If you’re looking to craft an intelligent character, then check out the following traits (quick caveat: they don’t all have to be present for a person to be considered intelligent, but each of these traits are understood as strong indicators of above-average cognitive capacity):

High Verbal Functioning

People with a high IQ have strongly developed verbal skills. Your character is likely to be able to verbalise meaningful concepts and express themselves articulately and maybe even eloquently. This means dialogue, internal and external, is going to be important in representing an intelligent character.

Strong Reasoning Capacity

A person with high intelligence is able to detect underlying concepts and relationships, and use reasoning to identify and apply rules. Abstract thinking is a strength, as is attentiveness to detail. Many detectives in crime novels demonstrate strong reasoning capacity, and every time they solve the murder by linking the dots that seem to live in different postcodes we’re wowed by their intellect.

Good Memory

Intelligent people not only notice this nuanced information in life, but they also maintain this information in conscious awareness. This process, which requires attention and concentration, allows them to manipulate and play with said information in their mind. I’d rather not recollect the amount of times I’ve looked like I’ve lost valuable IQ points because I can’t remember the of age of my firstborn child!

Fast thinking

Smart people are fast thinkers. They can do all of the above, and they do it quickly. They are able to scan information accurately, make decisions, and implement those decision rapidly. These characters will drop one-liners in the blink of an eye, or be the first to recognise that the name of their victim isn’t on the list of missing people following the earthquake that levelled New York.

 

But it’s important to note that high intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean your character is any of the following;

Emotionally Intelligent

Emotional intelligence; the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically, is quite different to cognitive intelligence. Whilst people who do well on standardized tests of intelligence tend to be more successful in the classroom and the workplace, emotional intelligence is correlated with better social relations, better family and intimate relationships, and better psychosocial wellbeing.

Think of Sheldon in Big Bang Theory—with his borderline autistic tendencies, he’s an accomplished physicist, but he’s socially inept and emotionally naïve, which has been mined over 11 series of hilarious interactions. It’s worthwhile to consider whether your character has both of these qualities.

Wise

You’ve probably heard the saying there’s knowing that a tomato is a fruit…and understanding a tomato doesn’t belong in a fruit salad. In the same way, intelligence (knowledge of information and using it adaptively) isn’t necessarily wisdom (the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, and insight). Your character may have acquired the knowledge (impressively and quickly), but wisdom is the proper use of that knowledge. Whilst trawling the internet I found this little nugget: Intelligence is knowing that Frankenstein was the doctor. Wisdom is knowing that Frankenstein was the monster.

Nice

Just because your character is smart, it doesn’t mean they’ll be nice. In fact, intelligent people can be less trusting and less compliant with rules (think of Tony Stark in Ironman; he’s brilliant, but socially irreverent to the point of egocentrism). Intelligence can give rise to suspicion (and if were to extrapolate that, to conspiracy theories), selfishness (you just need to read Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene to know selfishness is smart), and subversiveness (which could be a good thing in your story, but also may make them unlikeable).

Emotionally Stable

Intelligence doesn’t equate with emotional stability, in fact, it’s possible that higher IQ is linked with higher incidents of some mental health diagnoses (including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia). Although the link isn’t clearly understood, it’s probably not important to our story building motivations. What is important, though, is to understand that your character may be in the top two percent of the IQ bell curve, but their physiology and environment (e.g. a traumatic childhood) will also play a factor in their emotional life.

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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7 Ways to Encourage Young Writers

I wrote my very first novel on the rainbow-colored pages of a Hello Kitty notebook. I was eight. It definitely read like an eight-year-old’s first novel, but it also was over 80 pages of a story with characters, a plot, and dialogue. I had a lot of maturing and growing to do, but even then I knew I was a WRITER. My parents encouraged this every step of the way and their support fostered creativity and faith in myself as a writer. Because of this new age of digital media, we have many more opportunities than ever before. This can be a great thing, but it also has some pitfalls. Here are 7 ways to encourage young writers.

A Note to Parents: These suggestions may not be suitable for young writers of all ages, especially the ones related to the internet. I would recommend you continue to use the common sense and boundaries that you already have in place with regards to these!

A Note to Young Writers: If you are reading, I’m so glad you are here! Please contact me if you have questions or need more resources. I would love to help you on your writing journey.

7 Ways to Encourage Young Writers

1. Buy a domain.

Do this right now. Immediately. Domains are a commodity and it would be great for you to own your child’s name.com right now. It costs less than $10 to buy and keep one as a placeholder, even if you don’t want a website yet. (More thoughts on owning your own name.) Do make the domain private (a paid service) so your family address, email, and other information cannot be accessed. If you DO choose to actually make a site, this will represent your young writer, so do be professional. Consider gifting this as a graduation present, as I have known some parents to do.

2. Get a Twitter handle.

Many social media platforms come and go. Twitter is, I think, in it for the long haul. Facebook also might be, but with it’s ever-changing algorithms for pages, I would recommend Twitter. I have also found that Twitter is a great place to make connections with other writers and reveals less than a Facebook profile. (Some tips for using Twitter!) Encourage your child to use it as a WRITER, not simply as interaction with friends. (If your child uses Twitter with friends, perhaps set up a separate Author Twitter handle.) Read these tips on how to use Twitter as an author.

3. Find community through Wattpad.

Wattpad is a place where writers can register, post their work, and read the work of others. Many people use it to reveal their work chapter by chapter, receiving comments and shares from other Wattpad users. Writers can be inspired by other writers, connect with new readers, and be part of a community. *A word of caution to parents: Not ALL writing on Wattpad is appropriate for all ages. Check it out with and for your child and make appropriate boundaries.

4. Set up good work habits & goals. 

Writing should stay fun. But young writers can also learn about writing as a craft. Whether that is taking classes, attending a conference (like the Teen Book Con here in Houston), or simply setting up a time to write each day, young writers can learn good habits now that will help in the long run. Encourage your child to both foster creativity and also discipline.

5. Consider self-publishing on Amazon.

Every year in elementary school, I entered the Young Authors competition (and even won a few years). It was my favorite time of year because I got to write a book, then bind it together and hold it in my hands. There is something magical about holding your own book in your hands!! My nephew just published his first book on Amazon & Create Space and I couldn’t be prouder! But I use the word “consider” seriously. The only flip side to self-publishing is that the internet has a long shelf-life. Perhaps later on, your child might be embarrassed for that work to represent him or her. That work will carry his or her name (which could be a privacy concern) and will represent him or her. If you do decided to make the book available to the public, take it seriously. Hire an editor to make the work polished. Make sure the book formats correctly and also has a slick cover!

My nephew with his self-published book, flanked by proud grandparents!

6. Start an email list. 

This may sound like a strange one, but if your young writer does want to become a serious published author one day, starting an email list would be an asset. For now, it could be dormant like a website. Maybe it would be friends and family to start with, but your young writer could collect emails and add them to the list along the way. If he or she does publish on Amazon or Wattpad or has any fun writerly news, this email list could be the place to share it. No one EVER regrets starting an email list too early. (Read how to start an email list.) An email list is a valuable digital commodity and would be a huge resource to start early.

7. Encourage reading. 

I don’t know any writers who were not also voracious readers as children. Read with your child and to your child. Take your young writer to author readings and to the library. Budget for books. Spend time in book stores. Allow for extra time at night for reading before bed. Mix up the kinds of books for your child—maybe encourage him or her to read one classic for every two or three modern or YA books. Readers don’t always write. But writers always READ.

 

How were you encouraged by your parents as a writer? Or how have you fostered creativity and writing habits in your child? 

Source: createifwriting.com

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10 Success Tips from Stephen King

Last month, I shared J.K. Rowlings top tips on writing and success, and it was a tough choice between her and Stephen King. Those two write such wonderful books because they understand love and fear. Have you read Stephen King’s On Writing? Seen The Shawshank Redemption (my favorite movie ever)  or The Green Mile? King is a writer who sees the visceral underbelly of courage and the tenacity of the human spirit.

Here is his “Top Ten” list for writers:

1. Love what you do.

Really, y’all. Why would you do this writing thing if you didn’t love it? Most people don’t line up for the chance to rip their hearts out and show it to friends and strangers. But we do. We not only rip our hearts onto the page, we fight to make that painful process sound like something others may actually want to read. Why would any sane person do this kind of work unless they loved it?

King’s take: “For me, not working is the real work. When I’m writing, it’s all the playground…”

2. Be yourself.

Many years ago I heard literary agent, Natasha Kern, speak about writing. She said, “Every time you put words on the page, you are shouting out, ‘this is who I am.’” Terrifying thought, isn’t it? It’s enough to put you off writing if you let it.

Be who you are and write your truth and your voice will come through. Jill Marie Landis described “voice” to me like this: “Imagine you are sitting in a coffee shop, telling your best pal a story. Your story, your hand gestures, your expressions – they all have rhythms that are uniquely you. That’s voice.” Your voice will permeate everything you write.

3. Explore new ideas.

Don’t worry that it’s all be done before. Your story hasn’t been done before because only YOU can tell it. It’s that voice thing again. The imaginative one-of-a-kind lens you see the world through filters your words into your own one-of-a-kind story. Even if you’re exploring what King calls “the three stories shared by all horror writers,” your take on it will be different from anyone else’s.

4. The good idea stays with you.

Are you one of those writers who always wants to chase the shiny new idea “before it flies away?” One of the most amazing things about creativity is that the stories you are meant to write stick around. They kick at your brain and your heart until you let them out into the world.

This is why we are writers…we’re the designated vaults that hold the stories. We are the ones who care enough to put those stories into words for others.

Note: I’m not talking about those times when you are wading through the pit of despair in your current WIP, wondering when you will get back to “the good stuff.” Everyone goes through that phase, when the shiny new idea seems like a cup of cool water in the middle of a sweltering desert.

5. Love the process.

This bit of advice cracks me up. I don’t know any writers who love the whole process. Maybe they love the beginning and end, but they detest the middle. Maybe they love to plot, but hate to finish. Or they love to write but would rather go to the dentist than revise.

Whether or not I “love the process” pretty much depends on which day you ask me about it. But I always love the words. I always love the process of finding the best words, of teasing out the theme to a story and discovering what I really want to say.

It’s okay if you don’t love the entire process, as long as you love some piece of it so much that it becomes the carrot that draws you through the crappy parts. If you can’t find that carrot for yourself, talk to a writing friend and have them help you find it. It’s there, I promise you.

6. Learn from rejections.

Rejection is something all writers must deal with. Our own Laura Drake went through 417 rejections before she sold. Four. Hundred. Seventeen. That takes stamina and some pretty thick skin. I love her post, Don’t Give Away Your Power, where she discusses how to manage rejection.

7. Look for ideas you enjoy.

King says he never wrote a book where he wanted to say goodbye to the characters. You will be spending quite a bit of time with these people and if you aren’t having a ball, it’s unlikely the reader will either. Your goal is to create worlds and characters that nobody wants to leave, including you.

8. Find your creative process.

The biggest step, at least for me, is putting the booty into the writing chair. Not the social media/blogging/day job chair, the story chair. Stephen King likens the first ten minutes of writing time to “smelling a dead fish or walking through a monkey house.” If you stick with it, he insists that “something will click and lead to something else that sucks you down into the story.”

So, my take on his advice: Butt in the story chair. Stick with it for at least 15 minutes.

A bit of advice from Laura Drake: She has a saying: Nobody gets it all. Stop being greedy, thinking you need that elusive more to be a writer. You were given everything you need to tell your stories. Dig deep and find a process that helps you get the story out.

9. Pass something on.

Frankly, this is the essence of WITS to all of us here behind the scenes. We pass on knowledge because we think it’s important. Whether it’s knowledge, time, or simply a post, it’s important to share your abundance with others. Teach a class. Volunteer. Sponsor NaNoWriMo. Or, like Harley Christensen and Elizabeth Craig, curate knowledge for other writers and share the best damn tweets in the Twitterverse.

King makes an excellent point: it’s not like you can take it with you when you go.

10. Tell great stories.

Read a lot, write a lot and learn. Those are the activities you must engage in if you want to tell great stories. Stephen King writes to entertain himself, but he also never forgets the reader. His take on opening lines: “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”

Sources:

Stephen King struggled with depression, poverty, addiction and self-doubt, but he kept writing. What is your biggest challenge when it comes to getting words on the page? Which of these ten bits of wisdom do you struggle with the most?

By Jenny Hansen
Source: writersinthestormblog.com

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CHARACTER MOTIVATION THESAURUS

A compelling goal is one of the cornerstones of strong fiction, but conveying why the character is driven to achieve it is what draws readers in and makes them care. Explore all angles of character arc by digging deep into what is motivating your protagonist, the obstacles that could stand in their way, and how sacrifices may play a role if the character is to succeed.

ACHIEVING SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTENMENT

AVOIDING CERTAIN DEATH

AVOIDING FINANCIAL RUIN

BEATING A DIAGNOSIS OR CONDITION

BECOMING A LEADER OF OTHERS

BEING ACKNOWLEDGED OR APPRECIATED BY FAMILY

BEING THE BEST AT SOMETHING

CARING FOR AN AGING PARENT

CARRYING ON A LEGACY

CATCHING THE BAD GUY OR GIRL

COMING TO GRIPS WITH A MENTAL DISORDER

COPING WITH A LEARNING DISABILITY OR ILLNESS (KIDLIT)

DEALING WITH BULLIES (KIDLIT)

DISCOVERING ONE’S TRUE SELF

DOING THE RIGHT THING (KIDLIT)

EMBRACING A PERSONAL IDENTITY (KIDLIT)

ESCAPING A DANGEROUS LIFE ONE NO LONGER WANTS TO LIVE

ESCAPING A KILLER

ESCAPING CONFINEMENT

ESCAPING DANGER (KIDLIT)

ESCAPING HOMELESSNESS

ESCAPING INVADERS

ESCAPING WIDESPREAD DISASTER

EXPLORING ONE’S BIOLOGICAL ROOTS

FINDING A LIFELONG PARTNER

FINDING FRIENDSHIP OR COMPANIONSHIP

FITTING IN (KIDLIT)

GIVING A CHILD UP

HAVING A CHILD

HELPING A LOVED ONE RECOGNIZE THEY ARE HURTING THEMSELVES AND OTHERS

NAVIGATING A CHANGING FAMILY SITUATION (KIDLIT)

OBTAINING SHELTER FROM THE ELEMENTS

OVERCOMING ABUSE AND LEARNING TO TRUST

OVERCOMING ADDICTION

OVERCOMING A FEAR (KIDLIT)

PROTECTING ONE’S HOME OR PROPERTY

PURSUING JUSTICE FOR ONESELF OR OTHERS

PURSUING MASTERY OF A SKILL OR TALENT

REALIZING A DREAM

RECONCILING WITH AN ESTRANGED FAMILY MEMBER

RESCUING A LOVED ONE FROM A CAPTOR

RESISTING PEER PRESSURE (KIDLIT)

RESTORING ONE’S NAME OR REPUTATION

RIGHTING A DEEP WRONG

STOPPING AN EVENT FROM HAPPENING

SURVIVING THE DEATH OF A LOVED ONE

TRYING SOMETHING NEW (KIDLIT)

TRYING TO SUCCEED WHERE ONE HAS PREVIOUSLY FAILED

WINNING A COMPETITION

Source: onestopforwriters.com

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Finding Writing Inspiration In The Present And The Past

“Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.”
~Ray Bradbury, Writers Digest~

When Anne Frank said “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn”, she perfectly summed up why countless individuals turn to writing both as a career choice and a hobby. The USA, in particular, is a writer’s hotspot with more than 44, 000 authors and writers reportedly working in the United States in 2016 according to the United States Department of Labor.

If you are a writer, whether a blogger, freelancer or seasoned novelist, you will know how important finding the right inspiration is. It is easy to write when you are inspired, making the task at hand so enjoyable that you may even find yourself forgetting to eat or sleep. On the other hand, when you are lacking inspiration, you can become so discouraged and disheartened that you can’t write at all.

If you are a writer, whether a blogger, freelancer or seasoned novelist, you will know how important finding the right inspiration is

Take a trip down memory lane

There are numerous ways through which you can find inspiration by exploring the past with reading being just one of them. It is perfectly acceptable for a writer to draw inspiration from reading the works of others.  One activity that can prove to be particularly beneficial is the reading of old books and newspapers. Spending a couple of hours reading through the classic literature of authors such as Mark Twain, Jane Austen, George Orwell and J.R.R Tolkien can you inspire you to greatness, and even if it doesn’t it will end up giving your vocabulary a boost. Visiting your local library to view old newspaper archives is a good way to jog your memory and get your creative juices flowing, especially if you are looking to base your written piece around real-life events.

Looking through old photographs or listening to people telling tales of bygone times are other superb ways of finding inspiration by examining the past. Be sure to harness the emotions evoked by these trips down memory lane as they can turn out to trigger some of your best ideas when it comes to writing a possible award-winning piece.

Looking through old photographs or listening to people telling tales of bygone times are other superb ways of finding inspiration by examining the past.

Embrace the present

As much as we can be inspired by the past, the present can offer its own share of inspiration, often courtesy of modern-day technology such as movies & television, music, and the internet. Many conventional writers think of movies and television as a curse to the creative spirit when in fact they could both spark some pretty good ideas in an artistic mind. Browsing the internet can open up a whole new world of inspiration. There are countless of resources available to aspiring writers on the internet ranging from virtual scrapbooks such as Pinterest to motivational blogs, vlogs and writing communities on various social media platforms and independent sites. Taking the time to read interesting articles and explore new web pages can help you add a fresh perspective to your written work. Whatever research you need to conduct is just a couple of click away thanks to the internet.

Regardless of how much you love writing there will be days that you need added inspiration.  While the above guidelines can help you enter an inspired state every writer has to find his own unique source of inspiration. Don’t feel disheartened if you don’t draw inspiration from any of the suggestions mentioned as true motivation often stems from the most unlikely of sources.

By Jane Sandwood

Source: twodropsofink.com

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Poetry Prompts for Paying Tribute

Writers have been expressing their feelings through poetry for centuries. Rant poems release anger, melancholy poems reveal sorrow, and love poems declare affection. Some poems are meant to make readers laugh. Other poems make people think.

Tribute poems (or odes) express praise for the poem’s subject. Odes can be written to honor people, animals, objects, and abstract concepts. You can just as easily write an ode to your grandmother as you could write an ode to your imagination.

Today’s poetry prompts ask you to identify something or someone worth celebrating and then write a tributary poem honoring the subject you’ve chosen.

Poetry Prompts

Each of the poetry prompts below asks you to choose a different kind of subject. The prompts are designed to get you thinking about what matters to you and why and then inspire you to express your feelings through poetry.

  1. Someone you love: The most traditional odes are written to extol the virtues of a loved one. Whom do you love? Tell them why with a poem.
  2. Someone you admire: You don’t have to know or love someone to pay tribute to them. Write a poem honoring one of your heroes, someone who has, from a distance, made a difference in your life.
  3. An inanimate object: You can write a silly poem about how much you admire your toaster, or you can write a serious piece declaring the magnificence of an inanimate object with more meaning (something like a book, perhaps?).
  4. An abstract concept: Can you pay tribute to love itself? Write a poem honoring something that can’t be seen or touched: honor, passion, curiosity, or loyalty. Or music.
  5. Someone you despise or view as a villain: What happens when you look at your enemy and search for their merits? Can you see the good in someone you see as bad?
  6. A total stranger: Has a total stranger ever helped you? Have you ever thought about all the people in this world you’ve never met but who affect your life?
  7. A place: The beach, the mountains, the vast sea, and deep space are all great places for tributary poems. Write about the city you love, the town you call home, or your favorite vacation destination.
  8. Fandom: Write a poem to your favorite book, movie, song, or TV show.
  9. Satire: Turn your tribute on its head and write a tongue-in-cheek piece. Tell bad drivers, rude customers, and evil dictators how grateful you are for what they’ve done. Do it with a wink and a smile.

Do you ever use poetry prompts for ideas and inspiration? Did any of these prompts result in a poem? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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Sneak Peek at Story Drills: Character Arcs

Today’s post offers a sneak peek at my forthcoming book, Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises for Building Storytelling Skills. This exercise examines character arcs. Enjoy!

Character Arcs

In storytelling, an arc is a path of transformation. A character arc is the journey that a character experiences throughout the course of a story, which leads to a significant change.

Changes can occur internally or externally. Characters can acquire or lose knowledge, skills, or emotional strength—or they can gain or lose relationships, material possessions, or status. Some of the best character arcs are a combination of both internal and external transformations.

A character’s arc can be positive or negative. Most heroes emerge from a story wiser, stronger, or better off in some significant way. However, some characters experience a downward spiral—they are on top of the world when we meet them, and then we watch them fall. A character’s arc can also wind through the story’s events—up and down—only to lead back to where they were at the beginning.

An arc is common—some say essential—for a protagonist, but any character in a story can experience an arc. In Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, the protagonist, Luke Skywalker, undergoes significant growth, but supporting character Han Solo also gets a meaningful arc that is critical to the story.

At its core, an arc signifies change and gives the events of the story deeper meaning—after all, stories are about conflict, and what good is conflict if it doesn’t produce meaningful change in our lives?

These changes range from deeply significant to superficial. Some characters will start out as store clerks and end up as store managers. Others will save the world.

Character arcs don’t appear in all stories. Stories with minor or nonexistent character arcs are usually plot driven. For example, police procedural series tend to focus more on showing the detective solving crimes in each installment without undergoing much meaningful personal transformation.

There are some common milestones that characters experience throughout an arc, especially the protagonist. These include establishing goals or realizing that they want or need something; facing conflicts and challenges; making difficult decisions; and experiencing the consequences of their decisions (good and bad). As a result of these experiences, the characters are transformed by the end of the story.

Study:

Choose a character from a story you know well and plot the character’s arc, noting the gains, losses, and transformations that the character experiences as the story progresses. Make sure you note the corresponding story event with the change that it effects in the character.

Practice:

Start with the following premise: A child’s mother dies while the father is overseas on a top-secret mission. The child is put in foster care for almost a year until the father returns. Make a list of five plot points and how each of these events changes the protagonist. Then write a short paragraph describing the protagonist’s arc over the course of the story. Feel free to come up with your own story premise for this exercise.

Questions:

Can you think of any protagonists that don’t change over the course of a story? Can you think of some supporting characters who experienced significant arcs? How does a character arc enrich the reader’s experience?

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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Stumped for Story Ideas? Try This One Tip

In a recent episode of Jane the Virgin, the main character, Jane, is stumped for story ideas. She already published one book, but that was inspired by her dramatic telenovela-like life. She’s convinced that she has no other story to tell.

one tip 2

When she shares her dilemma with her fellow writing-class students, they assure her that what she described is not a problem at all. She doesn’t need new story ideas. Why?

Because she can retell the same story.

Follow the Heat

Cheryl Strayed calls this “following the heat.” Her most famous book is Wild, a memoir about the hike that help her deal with her mother’s death.

But she wrote about that period of her life and the loss of her mother repeatedly. She wrote personal essays about it and fiction inspired by it. She told and retold her story as many times and as many ways as she could.

That’s following the heat.

There are so many examples of authors rehashing the same story ideas and telling stories about the same thing over and over again. Philip Roth is one of the most prolific American writers ever—somehow Newark, NJ manages to find its way into most, if not all, of his books. In the show, Jane’s fellow classmates astutely point to Jamaica Kincaid and John Updike and their tendency to return to the same themes or characters.

Tell and Retell

So, do you feel like you’ve already told your one great story?

No problem. Tell it again.

Tell it from a different perspective (e.g, a side character). Zoom in on a specific moment or zoom out to show how it fits into something bigger. Try telling your great story in a different format: perhaps a personal essay instead of a novel, or vice versa.

It’s OK to take the same story ideas and tell your story again and again and again.

Can you think of other writers who have told and retold the same story? Let us know in the comments.

By Monica M. Clark
Source: thewritepractice.com

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The Surprising Truth About Split Infinitives

Here’s a secret: I’ve never been explicitly taught not to split infinitives (or to not split infinitives?). Surprise!

If that statement’s a shocking pronouncement, or if it makes no sense at all, never fear. Let’s take a step back and look at the long, illustrious history of split infinitives.

What is an infinitive?

First off: what’s an infinitive?

When you use a verb in a sentence, you conjugate it—that is, you change its form to match the subject and the tense. The infinitive, though, is the original form of the verb, before it’s changed to fit into a sentence.

Here’s an example:

Infinitive: to snuggle
Conjugated: I snuggle, you snuggle, he snuggles, she snuggles, we snuggle, they snuggle

The funny thing about the English language is that the full infinitive of a verb is always two words: it always includes the word “to.” Without the “to,” it’s called the bare infinitive.

And that’s where all this trouble starts . . .

What is a split infinitive?

It’s exactly what it sounds like:

Want some examples? Try these:

I want to really understand what you’re saying.

She got a new alarm clock because she’s trying to not oversleep every morning.

Or this famous example:

To boldly go where no man has gone before. —Star Trek

Why shouldn’t you split infinitives?

There’s a long-standing, often-repeated rule in English that thou shalt not split infinitives. It’s generally taught in schools and many grammar nazis uphold it with unswerving fervor.

It’s a pretty archaic rule. Most scholars trace it back to the early 19th century, when modern English grammar was still being invented. Some guy named Henry Alford (who wrote the book The King’s English) decided that since you can’t split infinitives in Latin, you shouldn’t be splitting infinitives in English.

Here’s the thing: infinitives in Latin are just one word. It’s impossible to split a Latin infinitive because there’s nothing to split.

It may be an old, oft-cited rule—but it’s also pretty baseless.

When should you obey the rule?

Before we abandon the rule completely, let’s talk about the times when it’s helpful. There’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Take a look at this example:

He’s going to nicely, sweetly, and unexpectedly ask her to the prom.

That’s four words between “to” and “ask.” By the time you get to “ask,” you’ve almost lost track of the sentence completely. Let’s move some words around:

He’s going to ask her to the prom nicely, sweetly, and unexpectedly.

Beware of cramming too many words into your infinitives. That can get clunky, messy, and confusing fast.

On the other hand, let’s take another look at our original examples. If we were to rephrase them, we’d lose some meaning:

I really want to understand what you’re saying.

Sure, you might really want to understand, but that’s different from really understanding. One means to have a true desire to understand; the other is to want a deep, thorough understanding.

She got a new alarm clock because she’s trying not to oversleep every morning.

“To not oversleep” puts firm emphasis on her action, which we lose with this arrangement. She’s trying to NOT OVERSLEEP, okay?! Stop giving her a hard time about her mornings!

To go boldly where no man has gone before.

This loses the elegant ring of “to boldly go.” Would “to go boldly” ever have become such a famous phrase? We’ll never know.

To split or to not split? Don’t worry

Splitting infinitives doesn’t generally hinder comprehension unless you’re trying to cram fifteen words in (don’t do that!). So split away!

Enjoy being able to slowly chew your dinner! Take time to really think of your fabulous story ideas! Make it your mission to boldly go where no man (or woman!) has gone before.

And if grammar nazis or English teachers give you trouble, feel free to confidently whip out your knowledge of the history of the English language and defend your split infinitives.

Do you feel passionately about split (or not-split) infinitives? Let us know in the comments.

By Alice Sudlow and Liz Bureman
Source: thewritepractice.com

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Dilemma: 4 Powerful Steps to Make Your Characters Choose

The Spring Writing Contest is coming soon!

If you haven’t heard of them, the Write Practice’s seasonal writing contests are a great opportunity to get published and possibly win fame and (a small) fortune.

Perhaps you’ve entered before, but haven’t found the winner’s circle. Rejection is a familiar badge of honor amongst seasoned writers, but for many of us it can be tiring, and even tempt us to stop entering contests or submitting to publications.

But what if there was one thing you could change about your writing that could almost instantly make it better?

There is! There is a storytelling element that I’ve seen as an entrant and judge of multiple fiction contests that makes stories work and win, standing out above the rest.

And that single, difference-making element is a Powerful Choice.

When We Forget “Choice”

Unfortunately, this element isn’t as simple as it sounds. Characters yelling and screaming and fighting and kissing doesn’t necessarily count as a powerful choice. Sometimes it’s just noise, not a dilemma.

Other times writers fill their 1,500-word submission with lyrical prose and vivid imagery, but nothing happens. There are no dilemmas to be found. And though it always saddens me to do, as a judge I had to move on from such pieces.

Stories contains many elements that may be fun to write or read. But a story cannot possibly work without a powerful choice. It is central to any successful narrative.

In the same way, a house may be more valuable if it comes with marble countertops or vaulted ceilings. But without a solid foundation, the house is worthless, regardless of how aesthetically pleasing it may be.

In Aristotle’s Poetics, he defines dramatic tragedy as “the imitation of an action.” And while the stories you write are not all tragic, they are dramatic, in that they seek to create an impression of life.

In other words, they imitate life.

And when we imitate life, we are imitating the most basic act of life: a choice, or an action.

A story without a choice may be beautiful for its language or description. It may be memorable for any number of reasons.

But it won’t be remembered as a contest winner, because it will fail to do the most important storytelling job: To imitate the action of choice.

How to Imitate an Action

Imitating an action may seem like a simple chore. After all, “action” is a lot of fun to write, isn’t it?

But genuine choices aren’t just about the action or motion that takes place. Often most of the energy is potential — it’s in the build-up to the action.

And that is where you need to focus your storytelling energy, at least at first. Then, once your character has made his or her choice, you need to spend time on the fallout from this choice. Consequences are massively important to a well-told story, and your reader will want to know how a character’s choices play out.

So let’s look at the four steps to a powerful choice that will make your story a winner!

1. Desire & Goal

Before any choice is made, the protagonist must have a Desire.

Without desire, a choice doesn’t have any meaning. It is simply an item on a grocery list. And story desires can never be so trite and hope to win over a reader.

Then, the desire must be formed into a Goal, a stated or thought objective in the protagonist’s mind. If it isn’t clear to the protagonist — and therefore the reader — that this goal is the “Why?” behind everything he/she is doing in the story, then the story will be confusing and the reader will struggle to follow it, even if it makes sense to you.

So despite how “deep” we want our stories to be, two things must be abundantly clear: What the protagonist wants (Desire) and how he/she plans to get it (Goal).

2. Resistance & Conflict

The next step in a powerful choice is Resistance and Conflict, two forces that will make your protagonist’s goal interesting and worth reading about.

After all, if the object of desire (money, a lover, a new job, getting home, etc) is easily attainable, then it will fail to produce a story that your reader simply can’t put down.

So there must be a reason, or reasons, why the protagonist cannot achieve the goal and get what he/she wants right now. And those reasons must seem insurmountable.

The resistance and conflict can come from diverse places, too. The setting can push back. Family and society can dissuade and even forbid the protagonist from advancing. And a villainous antagonist (and his/her minions or servants) can make life hell for our hero along the way.

Without brutal resistance and difficult conflict, the protagonist cannot be faced with a tough dilemma and driven to the point of making a powerful choice. Devoid of this pushback, the choice would be easy, predictable, and obvious. That’s the last thing you want!

So make sure that the resistance and conflict push your protagonist as far as he/she can go without completely breaking.

3. Risky Choice

Finally, the moment must come when the protagonist imitates the greatest action in all of humanity: the Choice with unimaginable consequences!

But it requires lots of set-up. It can’t be done without a relatable and clear Desire/Goal, or a highly antagonistic pairing of Resistance/Conflict.

To make the choice work, the hero can’t simply choose between an obvious “Yes” and equally apparent “No.” Choosing to kill the bad guy versus choosing to run away like a wimp isn’t really a dilemma.

No, choosing to kill the bad guy who is the hero’s brother or not kill the bad guy who will probably retaliate anyway is a high-risk choice. It’s powerful because of the implications.

And it will have your reader turning pages like lightning!

Shawne Coyne’s The Story Grid teaches about two types of crises that produce amazing moments of choice: The Best Bad Crisis, and the Irreconcilable Goods Crisis. The “bad guy is your brother” anecdote is an example of the “Best Bad Choice.”

Risky choices are just that because there’s almost always something to lose. There are few moments in life when everything turns out okay, and there are no negative consequences.

Which is why the fourth and final step is so important.

4. Consequences

Readers want to know “What happens after …” your protagonist’s risky choice. And if they don’t get a satisfactory answer, they’ll leave your story feeling cheated and bitter.

This doesn’t mean you have to give them an ending that rivals Return of the King, but you need to make it clear exactly what the Consequences of the risky choice were.

  • What did he/she gain? At what cost?
  • Did he/she commit any sins or grievous offenses in pursuit of his/her goal? How were these paid for, if at all?
  • And what did he/she gain, and how is it affecting life now, after the story journey?

You don’t have to tie up every single loose end the story may have — especially if you intend to pen a sequel! In fact, leaving one plot strand dangling while all the others are snugly knotted can be a great way to keep readers around, ready for your next release.

Make sure you thoroughly address how the action ends up, though. Because this, too, is a part of the imitation of an action. Every action has a reaction, and readers know it. They’ll be expecting it your story, too.

Time for Action!

Whether you’re planning to enter the Spring Writing Contest or not (though you really should!), I hope that the value of a well-written action will be central to your stories.

Not only is it solid storytelling, but it’s exactly what readers want. And the best part is that this isn’t genre-specific. This is precisely the kind of journey that readers crave, whether they’ve picked up your Cowboy Romance novel or your Sci-Fi Horror short story collection.

So plan your next story with these four steps in mind. It’s time for action!

What’s the toughest choice you’ve ever made your characters make? Let us know in the comments.

By David Safford
Source: thewritepractice.com

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