Tag Archives: Writers’ Group

How Does Your Writers Group Work?

7 Aug

Right before I left for vacation, my writers’ group met. To get my mind off how stressed I was about the trip, my husband insisted that I go. Normally, a member of the group volunteers to run the session and talk about an aspect of writing that they know about or have researched. This time, no one had volunteered.

This group used to have a library staff member assigned to it who would think of the topic. Since she left the library, we’ve taken turns running it. It’s become a bit tiresome with only a few members coming frequently and talking about topics they feel knowledgeable about. We’ve had to repeat topics and many people have dropped off because of the repetition.

This meeting, we talked more openly about how we come up with ideas for writing and how we structure our writing. It was a good discussion, but a lot more free-form than we’re used to. We tried to decide if we thought this was a good thing or not and decided that different isn’t bad and that we would try a different format for our next meeting.

Next month, every person is supposed to come with 5-10 minutes of material to talk about. It can be something you know or something you’ve just looked up but this should take pressure off of the people who are always presenting and get more people invested in running the group. We’ll see how it goes. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet, but it will be a nice change.

Does anyone else belong to a writers’ group that’s not a critique group? This is the first group I’ve been a part of that didn’t focus on what was already written. We’ve done some short critiques in the past but it’s never been a focus. I’m curious if there are any other groups who work like us.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Advertisements

Writers’ Group: Culture

23 Apr

Somehow I convinced my writers’ group to let me lead them this month. I didn’t drug them, I swear!

I had a flashback to my semester of sociology in college and remembered the seven elements of culture. Well, I couldn’t find a list of seven and my Google searching gave me ten. When you’re writing a historical setting or a fictional setting, it can be really helpful to think more about the background of your setting in terms of these elements. There’s a lot more to creating a world, race, or religion than you’d think!

  1. Economic System– We’ll start with the boring ones. Well, probably the borning ones. If you’re writing about a currency revolution, this might be really exciting. Normally, this is more of a background element to a culture. It sets up how goods and services are exchanged. Currency and bartering would be most common.
    • Example: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter uses galleons, sickles, and knuts. Not our filthy Muggle money.
  2. A Form of Government– Again, this could be exciting or boring depending on your story. The government in A Song of Ice and Fire is central to the plot while The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t mention who’s president. If you’re writing about royalty or politics, this is a big one to think about. Otherwise, it’s likely a background element that you should give a few second’s thought to.
    • Understanding the legal system and how corrupt it was in the 1920s is helping me with my novel set in that time period.
  3. Symbols– Now we’re getting to it. A symbol is a visual that stands for something. It should evoke a reaction from the members. It’s a form of nonverbal communication or a material object. The meaning one group attaches to the symbol may be different from another group which makes a symbol unique to each culture.
    • US President Richard Nixon made a hand symbol while visiting Brazil that means ‘OK’ here but meant something very rude to Brazilians!
  4. Language– This one may seem obvious. For people to share a culture, they need to share a language to communicate. However, language can also divide cultures. Think of different regions of a country. How I speak in Michigan is going to be different from someone in Texas. Meanings of words vary by country (chips) and region (Coke).
    • My first conversation after landing in London was with the woman at the coffee counter. She asked me if it was “For here or take away?” I stared at her for twenty seconds before responding, “To go.” My jet lag brain didn’t process what had happened until the next day.
  5. Rituals– These often mark a transition in life and many are religiously based. In the US, the Super Sweet Sixteen is a non-religious ritual. Rituals often have established procedures or ceremonies, like a wedding or funeral.
    • Again to Harry Potter, having the trace lifted is a ritual that signifies someone has grown up.
  6. Artifacts– An artifact is an element of material culture that holds meaning for that culture. In modern times, our artifacts change quickly because of technology. My simple Nokia phone from middle school seems like an ancient artifact next to my iPhone 7. These can include the household tools and clothes of a people and are very important to visualizing and describing the setting.
    • A book set in ancient Rome wouldn’t have watches but the togas and shoes the people wear are going to be essential in setting the scene.
  7. Social Organization– This mainly covers family patterns and social classes. Does my imagined race of blue centaurs live in herds or do they hunt alone? Would the poor and the rich be able to eat at the same restaurant? How people interact and who they interact with defines the social organization.
    • In The Space Between Us, Serabai lives with her mother in law because of the traditional family patterns in Mumbai.
  8. Customs and Traditions– This is a big one. I’ll break it into two major groups, values and norms. Values are judgments of good and bad that a society has. They define something as desirable or undesirable and shape the way people act. Norms are these ways of acting. They are accepted standards and expectations for behavior. They can be formal norms which are strictly adhered to and called mores. The most important norms are made into laws and enforced with a punishment for breaking them. Informal norms are called folkways or customs and do not carry a strong stigma if they are violated.
    • Because American culture values individual achievement, it’s a norm that we don’t use all of our vacation days (unfortunately).
  9. Religion– While not every person practices a religion, most societies (especially in past times) have one. Before modern science, people answered the questions of the universe with a supreme being, be it God, Zeus, or Krishna. While a culture might not have a god, chances are they do.
    • Many wars are fought over religion. There are too many A Song of Ice and Fire examples to count.
  10. Art and Literature– The best for last! Art and literature might be a subcategory of artifacts, but they’re not always material. Stories can be passed on orally and many times these stories reinforce customs and traditions. They’re also an example of entertainment in the culture.
    • The Tale of the Three Brothers in Harry Potter warns young witches and wizards about the dangers of power and living in the past. And it tells the origin story of the Deathly Hallows

I hope I haven’t bored you too much! My group assured me this was helpful but they’re too nice. Until next time, write on!

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Library Writers’ Group: Rules for Writing

26 Mar

Our writers’ group has seen a lot of people come and go in the time we’ve been together. Because of that, we revisited an old topic in our last meeting that I won’t re-blog about. However, we have a new idea.

Our group is a bit different from others I’ve been a part of in that we do not do critiques. Well, we do, some, but it’s nowhere near the focus of the group. Each month, a different member will present on some topic related to writing. I’ve talked about blogging in the past as well as lit mag publication. Next month, I’ll be talking about cultures in writing. One member had the idea to start a list of ‘rules’ we discover as we go through our material that will help those who are new or miss our meetings.

Here are the first four rules we came up with.

  1. Never use a phrase or clause when a single word will suffice.
  2. Be concise all the time, be precise when necessary.
  3. “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” -Stephen King
  4. Beware of colloquialisms and when used, try to contain them to dialogue.

What do you think of these rules? The third is a quote, but I think it serves well as a rule as well. We’ll end up sorting our list by category, but here’s where we start. What else should we consider adding?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Writers’ Group: Engaging First Chapters

6 Mar

One of our members mentioned an article she’d read at our January meeting that we decided to focus on at the February meeting. The article came from Anne R. Allen’s blog (link here) and it focused on the LOOK INSIDE preview section of an Amazon eBook but we expanded the discussion a bit to talk about writing in general.

The second of Allen’s suggestions is immediate conflict. We talked about using the conflict as a hook to get the reader to read more. The conflict should leave something unresolved in the first chapter so that the reader will want to move forward. Even if this isn’t the main conflict of the book, it will keep the pacing moving forward. I mentioned an old mantra I’ve heard of “Conflict on every page” and one of our members didn’t like that. We talked about how conflict doesn’t have to always be high intensity but that there has to be something unresolved so that the characters are working toward something. If there’s nothing unresolved, then the story should be over. It can be interpersonal conflict, personal conflict, environmental conflict, etc., as long as something is being worked toward or worked on.

When an author starts writing, they’re often inventing characters in their head. While this process is exciting, it’s important to keep the number of characters introduced in the first few pages to about 5. This doesn’t have to be five named characters. It could include the garbage man a boy watches out his window. More characters than that can be confusing and end up being a turn-off for readers who think Billy is watching George empty the trash when George is Billy’s uncle who’s waiting for the trash truck to move so his girlfriend Anna and he can pull into his sister’s Felicia’s driveway. See?

Allen talks about ‘unburrying’ dialogue and helping it stand out on a page. Even simpler than that, it’s good to break paragraphs up even without dialogue. Long paragraphs give people flashbacks to textbooks and you don’t want your fiction associated with assigned academic reading, do you? A page should look a bit un-uniform. Paragraph length should vary somewhat and be more irregular when there is dialogue.

Another suggestion from Allen is breaking the story into short chapters with hooky endings. One caution we brought up was switching POV too often in schort chapters. This can be a real problem if there are multiple POVs. You run the risk of switching away from a character that a reader likes best and if you don’t get back to him or her soon, the reader might lose interest.

The final piece of advice from Allen is sketch in details instead of painting a detailed image. We felt that an exception to this would be SciFi, fantasy, or horror when the details describe something the reader isn’t familiar with or when the details are the essence of what is scary (the focus). Some things in fantasy and SciFi are fun to imagine, but completely new ideas probably need a bit more flushing out.

I had to run out before we decided what to discuss next month. I guess I’ll be surprised.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Writers’ Group: Genre

23 Jan

My writers’ group met last week and talked about genre. As a writer, you can write in whatever genre you want but you need to know what that genre is so you can market your book to readers and agents who like that genre.

We started with the California Department of Education list of literary genres. Fiction seemed to be a catch-all category which included romance and suspense. With those categories selling so well on their own, we felt that though they might not merit their own listing by CDE, they would for sure want to be listed separately when querying or marking a book.

We gained a bit more insight on romance from the Romance Writers of America website. There, they define a romance story as having the central story being a love story and that there is an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. This got us thinking. Would a story that focused on a love-driven plot but did not end well be a romance? Take the movie Titanic for example (a favorite of mine). Spoiler alert, but Jack dies. Does that mean this isn’t a romance? We decided that it’s not a romance, we would probably classify it as a drama.

We took a look at subgenres as well. As a writer of historical fiction, I was a little taken aback to see a definition of contemporary as anything set in the 1950s or later. That seems too far back to me. So much of our culture has changed since the 1950s including family life and never forgetting technology. I think a book set in the 1950s, 1960s, or even the 1970s would feel a bit historic to someone of my (Milennial) generation. I would personally place this cut off at the 1980s when women were empowered and technology started to take off. I think those two things can make a novel feel dated.

It was a great discussion we had. Next month we’re going to talk about things to avoid in book previews. It should be a good one.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Writers Group: The Hook

25 Sep

My fellow group of writers met last week for our monthly meeting. I was so glad to go because I’ve been forced to miss meetings for one reason or another the past two months and I’m glad we are back at it! Our topic this month was the hook, the first sentence (or paragraph) of the story that draws the reader into the book.

We looked at two writing coaches and their advice on the hook. K.M Weiland suggests that there are five elements.

  1. It asks an inherent question. This may be explicit or, more likely, implicit. It should make the writer wonder. The reader should be left wondering ‘Why?’
  2. Introduce a character. One is ideal, but sometimes more. Sometimes a name is given, other times it’s more general.
  3. Provide a sense of setting. This helps place the story in the reader’s mind and makes the first scene more interesting.
  4. Establish a voice. This may take more than one sentence to develop, but it can be done in a single sentence. This is more important in first person narration but is necessary for other POVs as well.
  5. Make a sweeping declaration. Some will say never to do this, but if done well, it can be great.

Some say you need to pack this into one sentence, others that you have a paragraph or page or chapter to do it. It depends on your audience and genre as well.

The other coach we looked to for advice was Suzannah Windsor Freeman. There were a few ‘don’ts’ she provided.

  • No dialogue. The reader doesn’t know who’s talking or what is being talked about.
  • Avoid excessive description.
  • Avoid irrelevant information.
  • Don’t introduce too many characters. Each one will not be memorable.

Freeman has six ways to hook a reader and some of them are similar to Weiland’s.

  1. Make the reader wonder.
  2. Begin at a pivotal moment.
  3. Create an interesting picture.
  4. Introduce and intriguing character.
  5. Start in an unusual situation.
  6. Begin with a compelling narrative voice.

Some other advice included asking questions as the story goes along, but not answering all questions before asking more. This builds tension and plot. All questions should be answered by the end of the story.

We spent the remainder of our time looking at famous first lines and seeing how they covered these elements. We also looked at the books we were currently reading to see if they fit the mold. I really liked this exercise and it has me feeling good about my opening line.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Library Writers Group

4 Jul

The amazing Maria led our writers’ group this past month and concentrated on Tense and Point of View in writing. Let’s start with POV.

There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to certain POVs. In some cases, the genre dictates what is normally used. I write YA and I know first person is most common and I know that my 3rd person book might have to be completely rewritten at some point (I hope it never comes to that) because it’s YA. We talked about times books are written in two points of view and how that works. Sometimes, the writer will combine first and third person POV. Some chapters are written in first from a certain character’s perspective and others from 3rd, following one or more characters. Most commonly, this is done with two 3rd person POVs.

There are some major disadvantages of 1st person. You are limited to what the character sees so you can’t write about anything outside his or her vision. This can result in a lot of ‘telling’ and not enough ‘showing’ which makes a book drag.

Second person is not as common. Maria found an example in How the Mistakes Were Made. The character Laura is represented in sections of the book written in 2nd person but this isn’t the whole book. Second person creates some distance from the reader so a whole book in this format might be tedious. I’m always reminded of the Choose Your Own Adventure series that I read in elementary school. Those were so fun.

Third person unlimited can head-jump too much if the writer isn’t careful. This can be confusing to follow. The suggestion is that you write like the piece is a play. Too many soliloquies can be annoying! This style is common in romantic intimate scenes. It can be tricky because it can confuse who knows what information and what each character can act on.

Third person limited is more common. It can feel distant and narrative distance from the action becomes possible. To limit this, a writer can use words that match a character’s personality. Maybe a character scowls but he thinks it’s just a frown. Maybe someone with anxiety is panicking not fidgeting. The tone of the writing can match the character as well to limit narrative distance.

There are four people involved in any third person narration: The protagonist, the viewpoint character (if different), the narrator, and the author. Think of The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is the protagonist, Nick is the main character, there is a narrator, and Fitzgerald is the author. How the narrator describes something and how Fitzgerald might describe it could be different from how the narrator describes it, thus creating the different people.

The most important thing to do is stick with the POV you’ve chosen. Even if it’s an unreliable narrator, the key is to be consistent. Maria recommended the website http://www.novel-writing-help.com for more information on POV.

The second part of our discussion was tense. Past and present tense can give writing a very different feel. Present tense can be restrictive. It’s good for action books and jokes but it can be hard to reflect on past events leading to the present action. Switching from past to present tense is more than changing ‘was’ to ‘is’ and so forth. There’s adding more thoughts and description that’s being noticed at the moment.

We did an exercise where we chose a piece of our writing (or a sample from the book) and changed the POV and tense. It’s fun to try if you want!

We’ll be meeting again next month. Until then, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Library Writers Group: The Power of Words

25 May

It’s always good to meet with my library writers group! Our member Gary presented this month on the power of words. We went through different ways to use words, how to avoid the bad ones and how to use the good ones more effectively. I hope this makes more sense as I get into it.

Language can be concise, precise, or both. The sentence, “Jane said with fear in her voice” could be more concise as “Jane said” and more precise as “Jane squeaked out while trembling in fear.” The perfect compromise is when these two are combined so our writing is both precise and concise. “Jane said, trembling in fear.” You can be more precise by replacing adjectives with strong ones. Purple vs. lilac, hungry vs. ravenous, short vs. petite. There are hundreds of examples.

Idioms are phrases where the literal meaning of the phrase makes no sense or is in no way related to the meaning of the phrase. Doing something “at the drop of hat” or saying someone is “barking up the wrong tree” make no sense if taken literally. While listing these, we wondered if there were any ‘new’ idioms. I could find a few: drop the mic and crash (fall asleep).

As writers, we want to avoid purple prose, which is prose so flowery and over the top that it draws attention to itself. I’d never heard this before, but smaller uses of purple prose are called purple patches. This makes me think of wildflowers, but it’s really not that pretty.

We talked for a while about similes and metaphors. One of my favorite exercises was a list of similes we were provided with a key word missing. We were asked to fill in the blank with the ‘right’ word and then make up our own! Here’s the list if you want to try. I’ve replaced the missing word with an X. The ‘correct’ answers and my answers are below.

1.       You were as brave as a X

2.       The fought like X and X.

3.       This house is as clean as a X.

4.       He is as strong as a(n) X.

5.       Your explanation is as clear as X.

6.       Well, that went over like a X.

7.       They are as different as X and X.

8.       As cold as X.

9.       As innocent as X.

10.   As white as X.

11.   As sweet as X.

12.   As sure as X and X.

13.   As black as X.

Answers: 1) lion/Marvel action hero 2)cats and dogs / Hatfields and McCoys 3)whistle/a if you had a Rumba 4)ox/Norse god 5) crystal/a lake on a calm day 6) lead balloon/bad movie sequel 7) night and day/Harry and Voldemort 8) ice/[I couldn’t think of anything witty] 9) a lamb/Baby Groot 10)snow OR a ghost/[I got nothing] 11)sugar/McDonalds Sweet Tea 12)death and taxes/[nothing] 13)night/a Sith Lord

Mine might take a while to catch on. I was feeling the nerdiness when I was doing this, but it was a lot of fun! Let me know if you come up with any good ones.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Library Writers Group: Scrivner and Software

25 Apr

After missing my writing group last month, I was glad to jump back in and meet the group. We had a few new members this month so there was only one other writer I knew well. Because of the new audience, we went over writing software again, particularly Scrivner. I apologize for any reader here who might already know some of this from a past post.

There are some features of Scrivner that I didn’t know about (I don’t have Scrivner so take this with a grain of salt). I did know about the corkboard feature which seems to be a favorite of the users. With each chapter/scene on a notecard, you can move them around the corkboard and rearrange your story to see if there’s a better order. There are templates that Scrivner provides for character sketches and setting descriptions. You can change the templates to fit what you need and you can also create other templates, whatever will help you write better. You can drag and drop sections between files of Scrivner. If you have character sketches done and you want to start the sequel, just drag and drop to the next story. You can take a snapshot, which is a freeze of the story at a given moment. Then, if you change something and if you don’t like it, you can go back to the snapshot and try again.

There’s an option for inline annotations, comments that won’t show up in the final version. This is good for noting something you may have to revisit later or comments from a Beta reader. There’s a word frequency tool which will show words you use far too often. I’m an ‘Awesome’ person myself and I bet the tool would show that! If you have a file in Word that you want to put into Scrivner, there’s a ‘split’ option which can be used to split a long file into scenes or chapters as needed.

In addition to Scrivner, there are several free softwares that writers can use, though they don’t have the number of features Scrivner does. yWriter is one.

Sorry that this isn’t too new for those who have been here a while. For those who haven’t read this before, Scrivner is a wonderful tool and those who use it seem to love it. I have no desire and I’m fine with Word. 🙂 To each his own.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Library Writers Group: Writing Concisely

24 Jan

My writers’ group (four strong at the moment!) met last week and one of our members discussed writing concisely. At first, I was wondering where she would go with this topic but we talked about wanting to write concisely to get to our points faster and be as succinct as possible while still being comprehensive. With these ideas below, I took a piece at 500 words and cut down another 80!

The first is to obviously try to cut words. There are many lists available of words different writers recommend cutting. These can include look, feel, so, just, even, really, finally, only, and many others. Words like see, feel, think, and know usually can’t be cut themselves, but are an indication that there’s a way to cut words around these words. There are phrases known as redundant pairs that can always be cut such as sit down (sit) and stood up (stood).

Rephrasing is another way to cut words. Passive voice is usually wordier than its active alternative. Phrases can be shortened altogether, taking ‘the chair with brown legs’ to ‘the brown legged chair’ (5->4). Clauses starting with that, who, and which, can be turned to phrases. ‘My teacher, who I respect very much, likes hiking’ becomes ‘my well-respected teacher likes hiking’ (9->7). Sentences that start with There/It are/is can usually be shortened as well. ‘There are three bookshelves in my living room’ becomes ‘I have three bookshelves in my living room’ (8->7). The final thing we covered was a new term for all of us. Nominalization refers to turning a verb into a noun and makes sentences a lot longer. ‘The reconciling of monthly statements is Mary’s job’ becomes ‘Mary’s job is to reconcile monthly statements’ (8->7).

Many times, sentences become redundant. We were given the example ‘Some ideas can be incorporated into another sentence. This will make the writing simpler.’ I got this 14-word idea into 5: Combining ideas makes writing simpler. Combining can be done at both a sentence and paragraph level. I find myself repeating things within a paragraph from time to time.

There’s more cutting to be done. Taking out weak words and adding strong ones can make something shorter by avoiding repetitive description, adjectives, or adverbs. Prepositional phrases can often be cut. We read an article that recommended outlining after finishing the first draft. It can show pacing to show the author where to cut and any subplots that weren’t finished and can be taken out. Another suggestion was to look at each scene and break down the elements of a scene within it. This can also show pacing and show which elements might be over-done and could use some cutting.

We covered some ways to practice concise writing. My favorite is tweeting. When you’re limited to 140 characters, you have to make each one count. A fun exercise we did was taking the first part of a Wikipedia article and cutting the word count in half. This was really fun to do and I highly recommend it.

We’ll be back next month with more. I’m excited I won’t have to miss this group while my class is in session. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!