Writing How-To

Articles on writing tips & tricks

Blake Snyder Save the Cat! Story Plot Development Storyboards

Blake Snyder's Cat series makes it easy to visualize your plot

Blake Snyder’s Cat series makes it easy to visualize your plot

A friend of mine who writes urban fantasy novels turned me on to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!®  The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need and his technique of developing story plots. I was skeptical at first since I’d gone through a screenwriting phase a few years back and thought I’d pretty much read and discovered everything there was to developing plot as if writing a screenplay, but I picked up some new techniques and ideas from Mr. Snyder. I’ve added a quick summary worksheet below that you can download to get a feel for the technique.

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Recommended Reading on Writing a Better Story and Character

The Atlantic Monthly has a terrific article about what makes a good story and characterization. It’s a piece by author Tim O’Brien explaining how each time he sits in a writer’s workshop and manuscript critique the comments usually focus on verisimilitude when the real problem is a failure of imagination. O’Brien uses some excellent fiction writing examples and I highly recommend it to every writer, fiction and non-fiction.

Navigating the Changing Book Industry — what writers should know to sell their book

woman-w-face-n-hands-1000Doris Booth, founder and agent with the Authorlink Literary Group and Authorlink.com, presented a workshop at the DFW Writers Conference, May 2, 2009 entitled:

Navigating the Changing Book Industry

— an insider’s view of what writers should know

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Notes from the DFW Writers Conference Agents' Panel, May 2009

On May 2, 2009, the DFW Writers Conference (sponsored by the DFW Writers’ Workshop) hosted a Question and Answer Session with a panel of literary agents. Agents  on the panel were Doris Booth, Sally Harding, Al Longden and Dr. Uwe Stender. The following are highlights from my notes during the session. It is by no means a complete transcription of the session but there were a number of interesting points brought up that indicated some of the focus of subsequent workshops. I’ve added a few of my own personal comments and observations.

Harding: YA (Young Adult) is over bought. She’s looking for classic epic fantasy with a fresh take for the U.S. and U.K. markets.

Stender: Selling non-fiction today requires “a big platform.” He went on to explain an author needs to be a celebrity, preferrably with his or her own show; a popular blogger; or have a degree from a major university to get his interest in a non-fiction manuscript.

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Nature Writing: the value of journaling for writers

Use specific sense-based words & avoid abstract words like "beautiful" in your descriptions

Use specific sense-based words & avoid abstract words like “beautiful” in your descriptions

Now this is irony (unlike the song “Ironic” by Morissette)! My first post-lunch (a vast hoard of potluck foods and beverages from the Richard Hugo House volunteers and Costco) workshop was canceled, however, the workshop I wanted to attend at the start of the day replaced it. It’s enough to make me believe in being medieval (see the earlier post about Medieval in P.A.).

The Nature Writing workshop was presented by Susan Zwinger, a second generation naturalist, nature writer and avid nature journalist. Her journals are works of art by themselves with not only her lovely handwriting, but sketches, paintings and collage.

She emphasized that nature journals are useful to all types of writers, fiction and non-fiction. The point of a nature journal is a) learning to see deeply, with all the senses and b) collecting observations and details about our natural world that can add texture to our writing.

Here are some of Susan Swinger’s tips for keeping a nature journal:

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Ordinary People: a writing exercise to capture characterization

Try writing Flash Fiction vignettes from different viewpoints and moments in the character's life

Try writing Flash Fiction vignettes from different viewpoints and moments in the character’s life

Writer and teach Margot Case offered a brilliant workshop at he Richard Hugo House Write-O-Rama workshop entitled Ordinary People. We read excerpts from “Robert Kennedy Saved from Drowning” by Donald Bartheleme, Sixty Stories.

I’d tried The Dead Father by Bartheleme, but found it at the wrong time and had never tried Donald Bartheleme again. What a mistake! I’m hot footing it to the book store to find more of his short stories.

Essentially, “Robert Kennedy Saved from Drowning” is written as a series of vignettes supposedly from Robert Kennedy’s life by various people’s viewpoints. It’s similar to a collection of Flash Fiction.

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Memory Babe: a writing exercise inspired by Jack Kerouac

Try finding the Resonant Detail in your descriptions by using evocative sense memories.

Try finding the Resonant Detail in your descriptions by using evocative sense memories.

Wow! The beat goes on! Molten meltdown of mental memes send me searching shelves for slender volumes.

I’ve tried reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac three times in my life. I forced myself to finish it last time. But apparently I was reading the wrong Kerouac or the wrong format.

My 1st choice for second period of the Richard Hugo House Write-O-Rama was overflowing. So continuing the medieval mind theme for the day (still taking things a signs and portents), I’m at the Jack Kerouac class — Memory Babe with Deborah Woodard as our instructor.

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Pare It Down: a workshop on strong writing

Try using single syllable words to focus your writing. It can make it stronger and more dynamic.

Try using single syllable words to focus your writing. It can make it stronger and more dynamic.

My first Write-O-Rama workshop was “Pare It Down” with Anne Leigh Parrish. A workshop to get us to write simply and therefore strongly. Think Hemingway. Not one of my favorites. Not as pathetically macho as Mailer, but too focused so-called “masculine” values for me.

The idea was to choose strong words;  words of one syllable. If we couldn’t write with monosyllables, we were to go back and edit replacing polysyllabic words with monosyllabic ones.

Exercise: Pretend to write a letter using words of only one syllable.

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Tips on Writing the First Chapter and Beyond

These are some more tips from romantic travel writer Janice MacDonald’s on First Chapters.

  • Don’t sweat it initially, it will change.
  • When you’re ready to return to it, consider the following:
    • start as close to the end without leaving out important information
    • open with action
    • quickly establish: who, what, where, when and why

These are some additional tips on writing first — and the rest of the chapters, Janice MacDonald received from one of her editors: Continue reading

Key Elements For Writing Marketable Fiction

The essential elements of a marketable novel author Janice MacDonald teaches in her writing course are:

  • Hook
  • Sense of place
  • Interesting characters
  • Compelling dialogue (she’s English)
  • Strong storyline (one with a logical pattern)
  • Appropriate pacing
  • Distinctive voice
  • Particular point of view
  • Slowly revealed secret or answer (the presentation of information)

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