What steps do you take to master the creative writing process?
What steps do you take to get a creative writing project completed? Is your method sheer madness?
One day, many years ago, I was working in an office. The executives were having a meeting to discuss new procedures. It was a hot day and the conference room was small and crowded, so the door was open. As I passed by on my way to the filing room, I overheard my boss saying, “Melissa can handle that. She’s very methodical.”
Methodical. I tried it on and decided yes, it fit. “I am methodical,” I declared, and went about my business.
And it was true, too. I was organized to a fault, always looking for systems and processes that would streamline the workflow and make business more efficient and therefore more effective. The clothes in my closet were organized by season, length, and color. I didn’t have to flip through my hangers to find an article of clothing. Everything was neatly filed in its place.
Selling the Method
Writing gurus and mentors often want us to believe that there is only one true writing process. It usually goes something like this:
- Outline and research
- Rough draft
- Revise (repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat)
- Edit, proof, and polish
This is a good system–it absolutely works. But does it work for everyone?
Assessing the Creative Writing Process
I’ve been thinking a lot about the creative writing process. Lately, I’ve found myself working on all types of projects–web pages, blog posts, a science fiction trilogy, and a children’s chapter book.
How do I tackle all these different projects without some kind of plan or system?
I’ve thought about the steps I take with my own writing and realized that the writing process I use varies from project to project and depends on the level of difficulty, the length and scope of the project, and even my state of mind. If I’m feeling super creative, a blog post or an article will come flying out of my head. If I’m tired, hungry, or unmotivated, or if the project is complicated, then it’s a struggle and I have to work a little harder. Brainstorming and outlining can help. A lot.
It occurred to me that I don’t have one creative writing process. I have several. And I always use the one that’s best suited for a particular project.
March to the Beat
One of my favorite sayings has to do with marching to the beat of your own drum. I like that saying because that’s how I walk–to my own rhythm. If I didn’t, then I probably never would have started my own business or believed that I could make it as a writer. In fact, I probably wouldn’t be a writer at all.
Some writers can sit down and pound out an article, a short story, or even a novel without ever planning or outlining. Others have to follow a strict writing process or they get lost and confused, tangled up in their own words.
For example, when I am involved in a copywriting or nonfiction project, I find that brainstorming and outlining are essential. I need to organize my thoughts and make sure I cover the subject matter thoroughly. But with creative writing projects, such as fiction and poetry (and even the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo back in 2008), I just start typing and let the ideas flow. Conversely, the NaNoWriMo project I did this year had a full, detailed outline.
Listen to Your Own Rhythm
We all start with interesting creative writing ideas and hope to finish with a completely riveting piece of writing.
That day I overheard my boss saying that I was methodical was a long time ago. Since then, I’ve loosened up my methods. Oh, I can still whip up a streamlined procedure and implement it. I have to do that for my own business all the time, whether it involves maintaining my client contact list or managing my quotes and invoices–using a system for that stuff is extremely helpful.
But my closet no longer looks like it’s maintained by Martha Stewart. It’s still pretty organized, but not by color and season. It helps to know when a system works and when it’s all hype. The first few times I tried to write a novel, I did so using the exact same writing process that I used for writing essays in college, and it simply did not work. It wasn’t until I totally changed the process that I was able to succeed and complete that massive creative writing project.
Writing processes are good. The reason our predecessors developed these processes and shared them, along with a host of other writing tips, was to help us be more productive and produce better writing. Techniques and strategies can be helpful, but it’s our responsibility to know what works for us as individuals and as creative writers and to know what will cause us to infinitely spin our wheels.
I Showed You Mine
…now you show me yours.
What’s your creative writing process? Do you have one? Do you ever get stuck in the writing process? How do you get unstuck?
10 Core Practices for Better Writing on SALE.
From now through Friday, 12/6/13, 10 Core Practices for Better Writing is on sale.
Kindle: Get the Kindle edition for just 99¢ through Amazon.
Paperback: The paperback edition is available at 10% off through CreateSpace with the discount code 3G6Y3FFX.
This will be the last time this book goes on sale for the foreseeable future, so be sure to pick up your copy now.
Look for the next title in the Adventures in Writing series in January, 2014.
About 10 Core Practices for Better Writing
10 Core Practices for Better Writing is for writers who want to strengthen their writing skills. You’ll learn beneficial practices that promote excellence in writing, discover tools and techniques to improve your writing, and develop professional-caliber writing habits.
By applying the concepts in this book, you will master the craft of writing.
Each of the 10 practices presented in this book advance your writing over the long term. It’s packed with inspirational quotes, questions for thought and discussion, and activities that encourage you to practice and perfect your writing.
What are you waiting for? Pick up 10 Core Practices for Better Writing now!
Have You Read It?
Have you already read 10 Core Practices for Better Writing? Did you enjoy it? If so, I’d really appreciate a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or any other online bookseller’s website. Positive reviews are immensely helpful for authors, and they help other readers (in this case, writers) find interesting and useful books.
Get your copy today:
Remember, the sale ends on Friday, 12/6.
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Tips and reasons to practice writing every day.
Please welcome Sylvia Nankivell with a guest post on writing every day.
As writers we often wait for that flash of inspiration before we grab a pen and wrestle with the paper in a flurry of blood, sweat and tears. This flash can come at any time: when waiting for a bus, while drinking your morning coffee, or quite possibly not at all.
All of the master authors of the 20th century tell us that if you want to be a great writer, then you have to learn to write every day. Hemingway would rise after breakfast and sit at his office desk from 9 until 5. He treated it exactly like a day job and of course the results were astounding. I’m not saying you have to don a suit, carry a briefcase and chain yourself to the desk until five o’clock, but a little taste of Hemingway’s method can help.
The bottom line is simple; to be a great writer you have to write, and this means practicing writing every day.
Why Practice Writing Every Day?
Writers are the artisans of the written word; they are painters with language and they are storytellers. To be the best at your job you have to hone your craft and this means practicing.
You wouldn’t expect a ballet dancer to perform Swan Lake without a rehearsal; you wouldn’t expect a baker to make a cake without the proper ingredients; and you couldn’t invite an electrician into your home to fix your wiring if he or she had no experience. The same goes for writing.
You will never get better at writing if you don’t practice; this means that at the end of your daily writing session you might have five pages of junk and one paragraph that means something, yet it doesn’t matter—if the art of practice delivers one sentence, then it has been worthwhile.
How to Find the Time
If you want to write, you will make time for it. I have heard of mothers waking up at five a.m. to write for two hours before their children stir. I have heard of bankers catching an hour on their lunch break to scribble in the park. If you are a writer, you will steal minutes from your day to polish your craft and commit words to paper. However, it must be done every day, even if it’s one word, one line, or one paragraph at a time—the art of writing must be practiced.
Keeping the Juices Flowing
Finding fresh inspiration is never easy, but there are ways you can jump-start your imagination to keep the juices flowing:
- Start by keeping a dream diary and writing in it as soon as you wake up. Before you grab a cup of coffee or let your dog out, take a few minutes to scribble down what you remember from your dreams. You will be amazed at the wealth of imagery trapped within dreams and it may also allow you a deeper look at your innermost thoughts.
- Go to art galleries. When I am running dry on inspiration I simply pack my pen and paper and visit the art gallery. Walk around with your notebook in hand and write about the paintings. You can create whole stories or poems from a splash of color.
- If you are stuck within the home and fighting to find a subject to write about, try freewriting. This is an exercise where you commit the pen to paper for at least ten minutes. All you do is write and never pause. Just keep going and don’t stop. If you find yourself coming loose and panicking then you can simply write I remember over and over, and take it from there. Keep coming back to I remember when you get stuck. This is a great exercise for ploughing through the mines of your memory and practicing your craft every day.
Make your notebook your treasure chest and use it to practice writing every day. A notebook is a writer’s best friend and you should always carry it with you. Use it for mindless scribbling, doodling, collecting things you find in the street and sticking in photographs you cut out of magazines. The notebook will come to reflect your inspiration and can be a spider’s web for collecting fragments of your imagination.
About the Author: Sylvia Nankivell is the owner of usedbooksearch.net, a free used and rare book price comparison search.
Stimulate your creativity with these fiction writing exercises.
Do you ever feel like the story you’re writing is bland? Like it needs to be spiced up? Or maybe you want to write a story but you’re fresh out of ideas. Perhaps you need to practice storytelling?
Fiction writing exercises are perfect for toning your storytelling muscles. They can also provide you with a wealth of ideas for writing projects.
Today’s fiction writing exercises are designed to stimulate creativity and get you thinking about story from fresh angles.
Stimulate Your Creativity with These Fiction Writing Exercises
Below, you’ll find a list of simple scenarios. Each one could form the basis for a story. Your job is to come up with three story premises for each scenario. Be creative and try to avoid the most obvious premises.
Let’s use the following scenario as an example:
While hiking alone in the woods, a character comes face to face with a bear.
The obvious premise might show the hiker getting attacked by the bear or dropping and rolling to avoid getting attacked by the bear, but how could you put an unexpected twist on this scenario? Maybe the bear and the hiker strike up a conversation (fantasy or children’s literature). Maybe the bear is sick and weak, so the hiker decides to nurse it back to health. Maybe the bear isn’t a bear at all. Could it be someone in a bear suit?
For each scenario below, come up with three different premises that could be used to build a story. Try to stretch your story premises across a range of genres, including literary fiction, mystery, thriller, suspense, science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, horror, romance, historical, humor, satire, children’s, and young adult.
- A cruise ship gets caught in a storm, veers off course, and then sinks far from the mainland, but many of the passengers survive and make it to a deserted island.
- A man and a woman are sitting across from each other at a small table in a dimly lit restaurant.
- A family watches as their cat gives birth to a litter of nine kittens.
- Moments after arriving home from a long and difficult day at work, a character is shocked when the police show up with an arrest warrant.
- In a mid-sized town, somebody is dressing in disguise and fighting crime–a real-life superhero or a masked vigilante?
Feel free to change these scenarios or mix them up. Maybe instead of a cat having kittens, the family’s dog is having puppies. Maybe the character who is served with an arrest warrant is either the man or woman who was dining in the dimly lit restaurant.
If you try any of these fiction writing exercises, come back and tell us how they worked for you.
What’s the difference between bad and good writing?
How important is it for a writer to be able to discern the difference between good writing and bad writing?
Pretty important, if you ask me.
I know some writers aren’t concerned with quality. In today’s do-it-yourself and get-it-done-fast world, quality plays second fiddle to quantity. Who cares if your books are full of typos, bad grammar, and poor logic as long as you have published lots and made a bunch of money?
Readers care. Agents, publishers, and reviewers also care. And while you can still make a million with a bunch of badly written books and a stellar marketing scheme, your work won’t be taken seriously. Also (and this is critical), while it’s possible to make it big by writing badly, it’s not likely. It happens, but it doesn’t happen often. The better your writing, the better your chances for securing a readership and building a career.
The Characteristics of Good Writing
So, what constitutes good writing? Opinions on the matter vary widely. There will be different traits that make good fiction versus good poetry or good nonfiction. However, we can cull together a general list of the characteristics of good writing (in no particular order):
- Clarity and focus: in good writing, everything makes sense and readers don’t get lost or have to reread passages to figure out what’s going on. Focused writing sticks with the plot or core idea without running off on too many tangents.
- Organization: a well organized piece of writing is not only clear, it’s presented in a way that is logical and aesthetically pleasing. You can tell non-linear stories or place your thesis at the end of an essay and get away with it as long as your scenes or ideas are well ordered.
- Ideas and themes: is the topic of your paper relevant? Does your story come complete with themes? Can the reader visualize your poem? For a piece of writing to be considered well crafted, it has to contain clearly identifiable ideas and themes.
- Voice: this is what sets you apart from all other writers. It’s your unique way of stringing words together, formulating ideas, and relating scenes or images to the reader. In any piece of writing, the voice should be consistent and identifiable.
- Language (word choice): we writers can never underestimate or fail to appreciate our most valuable tools: words. Good writing includes smart and appropriate word choices and well crafted sentences.
- Grammar and style: many writers would wish this one away, but for a piece of writing to be considered good (let alone great), it has to follow the rules of grammar (and break those rules only when there’s a good reason). Style is also important in ensuring that a piece of writing is clear and consistent. Make sure you keep a grammar book and style guide handy.
- Credibility or believability: nothing says bad writing like getting the facts wrong or misrepresenting oneself. In fiction, the story must be believable (even if it’s impossible), and in nonfiction, accurate research can make or break a writer.
- Thought-provoking or emotionally inspiring: perhaps the most important quality of good writing is how the reader responds to it. Does she come away with a fresh perspective and new ideas? Does he close the cover with tears in his eyes or a sense of victory? How readers react to your work will fully determine your success as a writer.
I want to add an honorable mention for originality. Everything has been done before, so originality is somewhat arbitrary. However, putting old ideas together in new ways and creating remixes of the best that literature has to offer is a skill worth developing.
Why You Need to Know the Difference Between Good and Bad Writing
To write well, a writer must be able to recognize quality in a piece of writing. How can you assess or improve your own work if you can’t tell the difference between mediocre and better writing?
Writing is also an art form and therefore subject to personal taste. Can you read a book and dislike it but acknowledge that the writing was good? Have you ever read a book and loved the story but felt that the writing was weak?
A writer should be able to articulate why a piece of writing succeeds or fails, and a writer should also be able to recognize the qualities in a piece of writing even when it doesn’t appeal to personal taste. These skills are especially necessary when writers are reviewing or critiquing other writers’ work and when revising, editing, and proofreading their own work.
Where do you stand? Do you rate other people’s writing? Do you worry about whether your own writing is any good? Would you add or remove any characteristics of good writing from this list? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.
Write the best first chapter possible.
Please welcome guest author Ellen Brock with a post on writing a captivating first chapter for your novel.
First chapters are important. Really important. If you’re submitting to agents and editors, your first chapter is not only their first impression of your work, but it’s often their only impression.
This is a lot of pressure. If you’re like most writers, this pressure makes you anxious, causing you to second guess yourself, your story, and your ability to write.
Suddenly you’re wondering if you could sneak a sword fight onto the second page or if just one tiny info dump would help explain why your character likes cherries more than apples. But hold your horses.
Though most writers worry and fret and edit and re-edit, novel openings really aren’t that hard to write. If you follow these guidelines, you’ll nail your first chapter every time:
Conflict is Required
Most writers think of the first chapter as nothing more than a set-up. This makes writers go crazy trying to make backstory interesting and introspection exciting. This is a recipe for disaster.
While it’s true that first chapters are a part of the set-up, they also must have substance. This means that they must have a conflict. Period. No exceptions.
If you play your cards right, the conflict in the first chapter can perform double duty, offering both a conflict that sucks the reader into the story and insight into your character’s personality and motivations.
For example, if your protagonist is Suzy, who throughout the novel comes to terms with her father’s alcoholism, the conflict in the first chapter could center around Suzy trying to hide her father’s drinking from her fiancé.
Immediately, the reader is drawn in with a conflict (will Suzy succeed in hiding her father’s drinking?) while simultaneously learning about the protagonist (Suzy is ashamed of her father). Literary double duty.
The Protagonist Should be Proactive
Readers love characters they can root for, but it’s pretty hard to root for a character who isn’t doing anything. Opening with your protagonist gazing out a window or reflecting on the state of their life is a fatal flaw.
Your protagonist needs to be proactive from the very first chapter. This doesn’t mean you need to drop your character into a physical altercation or force them to leap off tall buildings. Remember that being proactive is not synonymous with action.
Being proactive simply means choosing to act in a situation that doesn’t require action, such as stopping a bully rather than walking on the other side of the street.
Don’t Bait and Switch
The bait-and-switch is when a writer promises one thing but delivers another. The most classic and cliché example is when a writer crafts an interesting and exciting opening scene, only to reveal that it was all a dream.
But the bait-and-switch isn’t limited to dreams. In fact, it isn’t even limited to exciting openings. Any time a writer creates a first chapter that doesn’t reflect the genre and tone of the rest of the novel, they’re guilty of a bait-and-switch.
Imagine if the conflict I described above, with Suzy and her father, was the opening chapter to a high fantasy novel. Suddenly that opening goes from intriguing to misleading.
Your first chapter is a promise of what’s to come. A bait-and-switch attracts the wrong readers and repels the right ones. It’s vital that what you promise is what you deliver.
Hold Off on Backstory
Have you ever had a friend tell you all about the problems of someone you don’t know? You probably got antsy, bored, maybe even agitated. After all, why would you care about some stranger’s problems?
As the writer, you probably love your characters, but the reader isn’t there yet.
Just like with real-life relationships, readers’ relationships with your characters must move through stages: strangers, acquaintances, friends, and then intimacy. The further along this relationship path you go before revealing backstory, the more the reader will care.
Writing about your character’s childhood in the first chapter is a bit like telling your deepest, darkest secrets on a first date. You’ve got a whole relationship to get to that. Right now, you’re just trying to get to a second date.
Raise a Question
Have you ever noticed how TV shows sometimes ask trivia questions before the commercial breaks? This is because people need answers, so much so that they’ll stick through a boring commercial break to get them.
As a novelist, questions raised in the first chapter get people to buy the book, ask for a partial, or turn to chapter two.
The question raised doesn’t have to be a huge one; it just needs to be intriguing. Why is the protagonist homeless? Why is he afraid to go home? Who is that guy stalking him in the streets? What is that woman trying to warn him about?
Without a question that begs to be answered, readers have no incentive to keep reading, but an intriguing question in the first chapter almost guarantees that readers will stick around for the answer.
First chapters are tough. They can reduce writers to mushy balls of frustration and stress, but stay calm. Take a breath. If you follow these guidelines, you’ll nail your novel’s first chapter every time.
About the Author: Ellen Brock is a freelance novel editor who works with self-publishing and traditionally-publishing authors as well as small presses. For more writing advice, including first-page critiques every Friday, check out her blog The Writeditor.
“You can always edit a bad page.
You can’t edit a blank page.”
- Jodi Picoult
They say it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. We can say the same thing about writing: It’s better to write badly than to write nothing at all.
Jodi Picoult’s quote summarizes this idea in a clear, concise manner. Writing is a craft, not a science. There will be days when everything you write ends up in the recycle bin. There will be days when you have to rewrite every single word. And on rare days, every word you type will be golden.
The good news is that the more you write, the better your writing will become. You know what they say about practice, right?
I have written hundreds of thousands of words–probably millions of words–that had to be thrown away. And I’ve written millions more that I’ve had to edit and rewrite. Every word, even the throwaways and especially the edits–is worth it.
How much time do you spend on editing? Do you force yourself to write through the bad days? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
Image: Media Wiki
Using foreign language words in writing.
Please welcome author Carmen Amato with a guest post on using foreign-language words.
“The chief virtue that language can have is clearness, and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar words.” – Hippocrates
If your book is set in a non-English speaking location or your characters do not speak English, how are your readers convinced that they are striding through France or Italy? How can readers “hear” the character speak French or Italian? After all, you are writing in English, not in a foreign language.
Don’t let Hippocrates scare you away from using unfamiliar words to create an authentic tone and emphasize a culture or personality. By adding a few words or phrases in a foreign language you can transport your readers wherever you want them to go.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Use mostly foreign-language common nouns and put them in italics. For example:
“He’s a pendejo who makes me nuts,” she said.
2. Don’t italicize forms of address.
Wrong: Monsieur Bonaparte was very short.
Right: Madame Bonaparte was tall.
3. Foreign place locations are not italicized, unless you are using a foreign word as a descriptive term.
Wrong: The city of Valencia in Spain has great museums.
Right: La playa stretched out for miles of white sand.
4. Either provide the definition or add context so that the reader gets a notion of the meaning. For example:
Luz worked as a muchacha planta—a live-in housemaid—in the Vega household.
As a muchacha planta, Luz worked 12 hours a day scrubbing the Vega house.
5. Make sure you know the actual foreign-language word and don’t attempt a phonetic interpretation on your own. Take the time to research if you don’t know the language well.
Wrong: Senior Vega smoked cigars and Luz hated the smell.
Right: Señor Vega smoked cigars.
6. When you want to incorporate a language that does not use a Roman alphabet, such as Chinese, Russian, or Greek, use the established transliteration. This means someone has already mapped the sound of the original language to the alphabet of another language. Use of a transliterated word will give the reader some notion of how it sounds. The exception to this would be if you retain the original alphabet in order to give the reader a visual cue. In such a case the foreign words in their original alphabet would not be italicized. For example:
“Kalimera,” the Greek man said, and Anna knew it was a greeting.
The sign read σας ευχαριστώ and Anna didn’t have a clue.
7. Don’t forget the accent marks of the original foreign-language spelling, such as ñ, é, ö, etc. Add accent marks in Microsoft Word with the Insert Symbol function. Omitting an accent can change the entire meaning of a word in that language. For example:
In Spanish, año means year but ano means a certain part of your, ahem, bottom.
8. Each time you insert a foreign-language word or phrase the reader’s eye hesitates. They have to spend an extra second processing the new terminology. Think of the foreign language as salt and only season lightly.
9. Know how to pronounce the words you use. You don’t want to get caught at a press event or reading and stumble over a word your audience expects you to know.
10. Add the words and their meanings to your book’s description on Amazon using Shelfari’s Book Extras feature. You don’t have to provide a dictionary description, just a simple and quick explanation for your readers. For example:
Pendejo: a jerk
With these tips you can make those unfamiliar words seem downright familiar! But if you’re still not sure how foreign language words can spice up your writing, check out some good examples. Try Anything Considered by Peter Mayle (French) and The Hidden Light of Mexico City by Carmen Amato (Spanish).
Do you have any tips for including foreign-language words in English-language writing? Let us know in the comments!
About the Author: In addition to The Hidden Light of Mexico City, Carmen Amato is the author of the Emilia Cruz mystery novels set in Acapulco, including Cliff Diver, Hat Dance and the short-story collection Made in Acapulco. Her books draw on her experiences living in Mexico and Central America. A cultural observer and occasional nomad, she currently divides her time between the United States and Central America. Visit her website at carmenamato.net and follow her on Twitter @CarmenConnects.
Writing Resources: Grammar Girl.
As a writer, it’s only natural that I pay attention to the mechanics of my craft, which is why I’m always on the lookout for new and useful writing resources.
Back in 2007, when I discovered the Grammar Girl podcast, my interest in grammar piqued, and I started writing more consciously than ever before. Sure, I still break the rules of grammar now and then. That’s what creative writing is all about, right?
But if you don’t know the rules, then you shouldn’t break them — otherwise your writing will come off as amateurish. Good news: Grammar Girl has a few resources that will fine tune your grammar skills quickly and easily while rounding out your own collection of writing resources.
Grammar Girl provides short, useful tips on grammar that are easy to remember and easy to put into practice. Her tips are available in audio format as a podcast, in text format on her blog, and as a full-length, comprehensive book that is informative and fun to read.
Her podcast has received much critical acclaim. In fact, Grammar Girl has had appearances and mentions on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The New York Times, and USA Today, to name a few. In fact, Grammar Girl is highly credited with sparking a fresh interest in grammar throughout our culture.
Listen and Learn
Each episode of Grammar Girl is available in both audio and text format. You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes (launch iTunes and search for “Grammar Girl”) or you can access the audio and text versions through her RSS feed. New installments are produced each week and each one lasts about five minutes or less. You’ll gain a wealth of information in that small amount of time. No matter how acute your grammar skills are, they’ll become even sharper! Visit Grammar Girl’s website for more details.
Buy the Book
Grammar Girl’s expertise is also available in a full-length book, which is available in paperback and for the Kindle. Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing impressed me because it’s a resource book that you can read. A lot of grammar and style guides are designed to be reference books. You crack them open when you need to look up something specific. Grammar Girl’s book reads comfortably from cover to cover. She has a casual and friendly voice and the book is packed with fun tips and mnemonic devices to help you remember the rules.
Another thing I love about the book is that it’s for general usage. Grammar Girl lets you know when something is a rule and when it’s a style issue. She also provides her own style preferences and supports them with logical reasons. I found her positions on style agreeable and well explained.
The book appears to be, at least in part, a composite of her podcasts and blog posts. As much as I’ve loved her podcast and blog for the past few years, it sure is nice having it all in one convenient package. I especially love the Kindle format because it’s searchable. There is also an extensive index, so you can get quick answers to your most pressing grammar questions.
Best of all, Grammar Girl is perfect for creative writers because she’s not a grammar snob. She keeps it casual and lets you know when you should stick to the traditional rules in formal situations and when you can relax and go with common usage.
Tour the Book
The book starts out with a bunch of short and fast tips. You could easily read through a few pages a day and learn several new grammar rules per session. Then, when you’re warmed up, the book delves into deeper and more complex issues before shifting into proofreading tips and advice for coming up with writing ideas.
Here are some highlights from the book:
- It includes a discussion on whether to use they, one, or he or she as the singular pronoun for unknown entities. (Example: A writer should always carry their/his/one’s/his or her book.)
- There is an entire section devoted to Internet- and tech-speak.
- It includes a list suggestions for additional grammar, style, and other writing resources.
- Grammar Girl offers practical solutions for common problems and scenarios that writers face every day.
- The book includes information about every aspect of grammar from homophones and punctuation marks to dangling prepositions (it’s okay to dangle!) and split infinitives (it’s also okay to boldly go somewhere!).
I actually think this is a book everyone should own but especially writers. If you’re a new or beginning writer, it will give you a solid foundation in the rules of grammar and sentence structure. If you’re an experienced writer who knows the rules (or most of them), the book works as an awesome refresher course. Plus, it encourages you to think more clearly and carefully about how you construct your writing.
Meet Grammar Girl
Mignon Fogarty is the creator and voice behind Grammar Girl. She is also the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Mignon has written for magazines, worked as a technical writer, and is an entrepreneur. Much of her writing experience is in the fields of health and science. She holds a BA in English from the University of Washington and an MS in biology from Stanford.
Get Grammar Girl’s Writing Resources
Since discovering Grammar Girl, I’ve acquired plenty of fresh knowledge about grammar, some of which I’ve shared here in the Writing Forward grammar posts. Whenever I listen to her podcast, scan her blog, or read her book, I always pick up new insight into grammar and writing. I can’t recommend Grammar Girl enough. Creative writers definitely need to add this one to their libraries and writing resources!
Do you already listen to Grammar Girl or do you have any other writerly podcasts or writing resources that you enjoy? Leave a comment and let us know!
If you haven’t picked up a copy of 10 Core Practices for Better Writing yet, here’s your chance to get one for free.
From today through Thursday, November 8, I’m hosting a free giveaway on Goodreads for the paperback edition of 10 Core Practices for Better Writing.
Goodreads is a social media network for people who love to read. It’s a great way to share and discover books. You can create a list of books you want to read and rate and review books you’ve already read. Plus, there are plenty of special features for authors.
Click here to learn more about 10 Core Practices for Better Writing
All you need to enter is a (free) Goodreads account. Once you’ve logged in, click “Enter to Win” below for your chance to win a copy of 10 Core Practices for Better Writing.
The contest is open to residents of the United States and Canada.
Good luck, and keep writing!
Developing characters in fiction writing.
Please welcome guest author Joshua Danton Boyd with a post on character development in fiction writing.
For writers, characters can be very personal creations. Despite being taken from the ether, we can become attached to them, especially if we’ve been working on their story for years. With all the time and effort put into crafting their fictional lives, it’s understandable that we become overly sympathetic to them. We practically treat them like children. This, unfortunately, can be a one-way road to bland and uninteresting character development and plot lines. Just because you’re happy with your precious hero doesn’t mean your readers will be.
We want to read about characters going on journeys, be they physical or mental. This means there needs to be change in some way or another. We want to see characters that end up different from how they started. This is why the famous trope of the reluctant hero is so popular. Take Han Solo in Star Wars for example. He starts out as a man only interested in money and his own safety and then ends up risking his life for the Rebellion.
These kinds of transformations are pleasing–even the ones where a character goes the other way and becomes evil. The point is that things can’t just stay the same, and one of the best plot devices for moving a character forward and making them interesting is to treat them badly. Put them through hell.
We shouldn’t give our heroes unfair advantages so that any problems they come up against are easily overcome. Even superheroes have their supervillains to ensure they are properly challenged. Imagine how terrible Superman comics would be if his adversaries were regular humans mugging old ladies.
Make things difficult for your characters. If you don’t, your readers already know how it’ll end. The stronger you make your character, the stronger you should make their enemies. This stresses your characters, which enables readers to get a fuller understanding of their mindsets. Stress, and how someone responds to it, tells us a lot of about people. It’s when we lose our cool that we are at our most honest.
Avoid making characters that are perfect, as though they could do no wrong in the world. This is generally boring. We do not want to read about people like that because we have no way to relate to them. All of us have one flaw or another and so should your characters. Make them selfish or ignorant or weak or arrogant or whatever. There’s no depth in characters that have nothing wrong with them. Flaws also give you scope for character development.
It’s important to remember that our characters do not belong to us. Once the story is out there, they belong to your readers. They’re the ones who will become truly attached to your characters, and for that to happen characters need to resonate with readers. Few people have a perfect life, so when things get tough, they want someone they can relate to. Make it the characters in your book. Even in books set in fantastical fictional universes, characters must be realistic. Put that realism into your heroes.
About the Author: Joshua Danton Boyd is a writer based in Brighton. He currently works full time as a copywriter and on the side is putting together a music and science site called The Scientist Conductor.
Fiction writing exercises for crafting strong prose.
When we writers discuss fiction, we usually focus on plot, setting, dialogue, and especially characters. These, of course, are the essential elements of decent storytelling. But what we often forget to address is the prose.
The words we choose to depict action, express characters’ thoughts, and render their dialogue is another important, albeit often overlooked, element of writing–and that’s true of any form of writing, including storytelling.
Language can raise a story to new heights or it can make a story sink. If readers are struggling to understand words and phrases or if they’re constantly distracted by unnecessary words and repetition, the story will take a backseat to the poorly constructed prose, and you’ll risk losing the readers.
No matter how compelling your story is, if you can’t convey it through well crafted prose, it will get lost in the slush pile and end up in the discount bin. Today’s fiction writing exercises encourage you to set story aside and focus instead on the language, which is at the very heart of the craft of writing.
Fiction Writing Exercises: Practice in Prose
These fiction writing exercises encourage you to dig into the marrow of your writing–the language. You’ll need a few pieces of your own writing; they can be drafts or polished pieces. Choose one exercise below or tackle all of them.
Exercise One: Modifier Madness
Start with a short story or a scene you’ve completed. Use about five pages of narrative. Go through the piece and highlight all adjectives and adverbs. Now read it back without those modifiers. Did it lose meaning? Did some sentences gain strength because they weren’t weighed down with unnecessary detail? Look for adjective-noun and adverb-verb combinations that you can replace with more vivid nouns and verbs. For example, running quickly becomes sprinting. If you’re struggling to replace words that aren’t working, use the thesaurus.
Exercise Two: Dialogue Diversions
Find a dialogue scene in a story you’ve written. Make a copy of the scene and strip away the action and description, leaving only the dialogue. Use a different color of highlighting for each character’s dialogue so you can easily distinguish them from each other (for example, yellow for character A, green for character B, etc.).
- Read one character’s dialogue aloud, skipping the other characters’ lines. Is the character’s manner of speech consistent? Does the character use any dialect or catch phrases that make his or her speech patterns distinguishable? Is the dialogue peppered with filler words like um and well? Does it sound like natural speech? Does it reflect the character’s background, education, and social status?
- Read all of the characters’ dialogue aloud (better yet, get a friend to help so each of you can read different characters’ lines). Is each character’s dialogue distinct from the other characters? Does the conversation flow? Does it stay on topic or go off on tangents? Do the characters refer to each by name too often (people don’t usually refer to each other by name in real life)?
Exercise Three: Rhythm and Pacing
Pull one to three pages of narrative from a story that’s in progress or completed. Make a copy of it and format it with double line spacing so you have plenty of room to work between the lines. Print it out. Now go through and count the words in each sentence and make a note of the word count at the beginning of each sentence. Then go through and count the syllables in each sentence and make a note of the syllable count at the end of each sentence. Use different color pens for word count and syllable count or use highlighters so you can easily tell the difference.
Do you tend to write short or long sentences? Do your sentences vary in length or does the rhythm drone in a repetitive manner? Could you link two short sentences together to make a single, longer sentence? Can you break up any long sentences into two or more shorter sentences?
Did these fiction writing exercises help you view your prose in a new light? Which exercise did you tackle? Do you have any tips for crafting compelling prose? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.