Archive for November, 2011

Writing Prompts

I used to love writing prompts.  I didn’t always do a great job with them, but they almost always got me thinking—usually about how I could mess with the word or image given to make the story mine.

I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing using prompts.  My old writing group disbanded a while ago, and I miss it, and haven’t been able to find another.  I’ve been reading writing prompts at The Writer magazine for a while, but none of them have really done it for me.

I don’t want a group of words to choose from or a situation already set up for me  to incorporate in a story; I want ONE word or ONE picture.  I don’t want to be led; I want something that will evoke a feeling in me, that will let my mind wander and make a story.

So I’m trying to figure out what I should do—should I form a new writing group?  And if so, should I do it here on my blog, or should I form a group on Facebook?  If so, how should it be run?

Anyone interested, or any ideas?  Please let me know!

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Dialogue

I’ve been reading a lot lately—both published stories and unpublished ones.  I have come to the conclusion that besides careless grammatical mistakes, nothing bothers me more than clunky dialogue.

Need some tips of improving your dialogue?  A couple of thoughts…

  • PLEASE, for the love of God, read your dialogue out loud!  I can always tell when writers haven’t done this—it’s painfully obvious.  Reading aloud will help you pick up on repeated words that your eyes might skip because you’ve been reading and rereading your draft.  It will also help you hear what sounds wooden or unnatural.  When you’re in the middle of a conversation, do you use your friend’s name?  Do you say, “I was thinking about moving to Maui and working as a tattoo artist, Kim”?  Or do you skip her name, knowing that she’s already listening to you?
  • Don’t use dialogue simply for exposition.  This one pains me greatly.  “Say, when was the last time I saw you?  Oh, yeah—it must’ve been at my father’s funeral a couple of months ago, when my brother showed up drunk and wrecked the whole thing.  I haven’t talked to him since then.  Anyway, how are you?”  Unless you’re going to use that reminiscence as a springboard to another part of your story, skip this step.  However, that brings me to…
  • Use your dialogue for more than one purpose.  Besides revealing something about the person speaking and to whom they’re speaking, use your dialogue to move your story forward, whether through revealing or developing something about your character, or creating tension between two characters, which can help your story evolve.
  • Remember that what your characters say is a way of revealing who they are.  Use this to your advantage!  If she’s a twenty-something college dropout who has never finished what she’s begun, she could continue with what she’d begun above: “Hey, I was thinking about moving to Maui and working as a tattoo artist.  Or maybe I’ll just hang out here and keep working at the coffee shop.  You know, it’s so hard to pick up and move and to find an apprenticeship, and the tips I’m making are OK.”
  • There’s a great debate about using tags—“she said” or some version of that.  Many writers want to keep  tags to those two words.  No “she pronounced,” no “she explained,” no “she proclaimed.”  I agree with this one in most cases.  “Said” is unobtrusive.  You won’t pull your readers out of the story by using something fancy or contrived.
  • Please don’t use adverbs along with your tags.  “She whispered quietly” is one I’ve seen a lot.  Um, duh!  If she’s whispering, your readers will expect that she’s not doing it loudly.
  • Use description along with your dialogue.  Make your character move about so your readers can see your setting, or so they can learn something more about her—the way she twirls her hair when she’s nervous, or how she ignores the stack of dishes next to the sink.
  • Cut out dialogue that merely moves the story along without doing anything else.  “You were saying…?” is one example.  Make sure every word counts.

False starts = new stuff?

I’ve been going through a lot of reorganizing in my life lately.  You might not know it, because it seems as though I’m plugging along as usual…working away, trying to keep up with the kids and my husband, feeling guilty about how messy my apartment is, and maybe doing some writing here and there.

I’d love to begin this paragraph with a big BUT…and follow up with something amazing!  All of a sudden, I’m the queen of organization and my kids’ lives run seamlessly alongside my working hours, and I’ve made some amazing dinner every night of the week, and I’m writing so much that I can barely hold the words back.

In real life, though, I’ve been barely able to hold everything together—the jobs I’ve been juggling, Kade’s middle school search, regular kid nightly homework, throwing something together for dinner.  This is probably not news to those who know me best.

The other night, though, instead of feeling paralyzed by how behind I am on everything, I decided to go through the stories I already have sitting around.  I looked through pieces that are maybe finished and the scraps of stories I’ve written.  The best part? Seeing how much I’ve written through the years—I have almost 50 stories—and also that I liked almost everything I’d written.

Even the embarrassing stuff!  I liked seeing how my stories have grown, how I could trace what I’d tried to do, how I might be able to fit some of these pieces into the big story I’m working on now.  I’ve now divided my stack by narrator, and I’m looking forward to reading what everyone has to say to me, and going from there.

It seems so simple now, and I keep wondering why I didn’t even think to do this before.  Why was I so determined to keep going forward without looking back?  There’s a history lesson in there somewhere…