Tag Archives: Writers’ Group

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!

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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!

Library Writers Group: Software Overview

24 May

I know my writers’ group has gone over writing software before, but I can’t remember if it made it to the blog yet. Regardless, we went over it again so I’ll write another quick synopsis here. Enjoy!

We focused on three major types of writing software; outlining, basic writing software, and commercial software. For outlining, we took a look at The Guide, an open-source software. Similar packages include Keepnote, Treepad, and Cherry Tree. The software exists with simple parent-child relationships composed of different ‘pages.’ You can reorder them fairly easily and the data saves and backs up with minimal issues. There is no spellcheck and formatting is a bit limited. You can, however, changes icons in the outline to notes things completed, in process, etc.

Plume Creator is an example of a basic novel-writing software package. Another would be Rough Draft. With Plume Creator, another open-sourced software, you have all of the features of The Guide except the icon changes. In addition, you can add notes and synopses. You can compile selected parts of the data and  backup is still very simple. There is a spell-checking option with Plume Creator and it’s undergoing a lot of changes at the moment to make it more like Scrivner (see below). You also have the option to format your writing in a manuscript format when you’re ready for that step.

Scrivener is probably the best-known writing software. It’s only $40 and if you win NaNoWriMo, you can buy it for 50% off. yWriter is a free version of Scrivener though I can’t speak to its features. Scrivener has the same features as Plume Creator with a more extensive export options list and brings back the ability to change icons to mark scenes as you see fit. I know many people who have used this to some success and the major complaint I’ve hears is that if you want to get the .txt file for one scene, it’s hard to find because the scenes names you use do not translate to the base documents. That’s a pretty minor complaint, though!

Personally, I use Word. I find it’s enough for me and I have a better idea of seeing how far into the story each plot point happens by looking at the right-hand scroll bar. It works for me, but some people swear by these other softwares. It’s all personal preference.

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 Retreat: Prompts prompts prompts prompts prompts!

14 Mar

Hello and happy Monday! Last weekend, my book club met to give a warm send-off to one of our long-time members who is moving to New York with his wife later this month. We’ll miss him tons and it seemed fitting to give him a send-off in the form of a writing weekend.

This was a very prompt-heavy session for us. I brought a copy of the lit mag that published me to give my friend Marybeth and she had the idea of using first lines from the stories in there to start our stories. It was fun for me because I’d already read the stories and I remembered some of them. I liked seeing where the original author took the story and how that differed from what my friends did. We did this twice and the second time, my first line was an option, but no one chose it. Darn!

The second set of prompts we did in teams of 2-3. Everyone would have four categories and in our teams, we’d come up with objects for those categories that had to make it into our story (unless you’re me and completely forget about this). The first one we did was a time period (1920-1935), object of importance (bike), a name (Dory) and a color (red). I really liked the story I started for this one and it would be great to continue it some day when I have the time. The second time we did an age (70s), social trend or political view (skinny jeans), a genre (thriller), and a quirk (dressing out of character). That one was hard for me and I don’t like my story much. It’s more of a cozy mystery than anything else, a genre I’ve never tried before. The last one was food (banana cream pie), weather (tornado warning), a topic of conversation (ailing relatives), and a murder weapon (crossbow). I liked this story a bit better, but with the time we had, I didn’t have time to get far enough into it for anyone there to know what was going on. I had someone say, “I’m intrigued but what the heck are they doing?” I guess I need to learn to type even faster. Prompts like this are a good practice for NaNo!

We’re going to focus our next meeting on author platforms. Do any of my Readers have any suggestions around this? I use my blog to talk about my writing some, but without anything published yet, I don’t have too much here. I like to talk about when I am writing or my writing community but that’s about it. What’s the best piece of writer advice you can give me?

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: Blog Writing

28 Jan

My library’s writers group has taken a change in direction. With our lead librarian finding a full-time job at another library (yay Amy!), we’ve turned to a member-run group. I volunteered to run the first meeting and I felt it was appropriate to talk about something I know well; blogging! Here’s a short summary of what I talked about. This is all personal advice so if you’ve heard something else or disagree, please share your thoughts in the comments for others to explore.

I think it’s important to pick a topic for your blog and stick to it. If your blog is about traveling, you shouldn’t have recipes that you didn’t pick up while traveling or review books that aren’t about traveling. If you’re writing about music, your blog isn’t a good place for a religious discussion. Stick with one post. Those that follow you share the interest your blog covers and they could be dissuaded by your other interests.

Don’t worry too much about your layout unless you’re a pro. On mobile devices and blog rolls, the layout doesn’t matter as much anyway. Most blogs go to a single format. WordPress and (I’m told) Blogger offer templates. These are safe and you can stick with one and not sweat it.

Posting on a regular schedule is a great way to stay consistent. I post Monday through Thursday and I’ve done this for almost a year now. I write my posts over a week ahead of time (except WWW Wednesday) and hold myself accountable to the schedule. It also allows my followers to know when new content will be posted. I try to keep the posts I put up to a few types: book reviews, book club reflections, book/movie reviews, writing group summaries, statuses on my writing journey, WWW Wednesday, and challenge updates. You won’t find too may posts on this site outside of these categories.

Memes, awards, and challenges are a great way to start your blogging platform and to continue growing it. Jumping into an already established meme gives you a way to join an established community and hopefully meet like-minded bloggers who share your passions. Your participation in these will likely change over time as you begin to post more original content and you might find yourself hosting some of these.

when are you reading 2016 finalOriginal images are a great way to brand your blog. Make sure they have no content that someone else could claim such as a picture of a celebrity or a book cover. An original image is completely owned by you, either created or photographed. I’ve put my 2016 When Are You Reading image here as an example.

I believe very strongly in comment management. If you take the time to read my post and write a comment, you deserve a response or acknowledgment of your comment. I try to respond to all comments within twelve hours. If  you don’t care what others have to say about what you post, why do you have a blog? Write in a journal if you don’t want to share it.

There is such as thing as ‘shameful self-promotion.’ Posting your links in unrelated posts is spam, don’t do it! Promote yourself in an organic way. If you wrote a similar post to the one you read, leave a comment and a link. You can leave a comment with no link and it’s likely others will explore your site. Promote yourself by being active in the community and interacting with other bloggers.

Social media can be very powerful. At the end of every post, I give you six ways to contact me: Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. Most of these accounts I use personally and for my blog; Facebook is the exception. Know that there will be bloggers who want to follow you in these mediums and decide which ones you’re comfortable sharing and which you want to keep private. Continue interactions on these other platforms when you can. Connect with other bloggers on them. If you don’t want to, leave your email and nothing else. Again, it’s all about connecting.

So there’s my blogging advice. Not a lot of it is about writing, but it will set you up for a good way to start a blog which is all writing. If you disagree with me or have something to add, please leave a comment so others can hear your advice. I’d love to learn even more.

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!

A Mini Writers Retreat: Sharing

24 Dec

My writers group met for the last time this year for a nice little get-together. It was a smaller crowd than we’re used to, but that worked out in our favor this time.

We practiced reading our pieces aloud. It’s surprisingly terrifying to share what you’ve written, though, fortunately, this group stresses sharing what you have no matter what you think of it. When I first joined, it made me nervous to share a prompt response I’d just written. What if it was terrible? I figured out pretty quickly that everyone hated what they wrote (or at least 90% of people) but they didn’t care, they shared it anyway. Part of writing is sharing what you’ve written. Books are published for public consumption, not for the author’s own pleasure. If it’s hard to share something you wrote in five minutes that has low expectations, it will be a lot harder to share something you worked on for years.

For this meeting, we shared stories we’d already written, our latest work in progress. We went around the table and each shared our first sentence, critiquing as we went. Then we shared the first paragraph and then the first section (about three pages or so) with a critique after each one. I found it helpful to read the beginning of my latest draft out loud. I know it’s improved since the previous draft, but there were still a lot of places that it needs some help. There were things I didn’t realize needed help that the other members were able to point out which helped, too.

I’m a big fan of critique. I’ve had five friends and my husband read my 1920s novel and each reader finds something I can improve upon. Of course, it’s terrifying to share my work with others, but it becomes less terrifying each time. Now, it’s not as painful and I’m not constantly stressing about how far the person is or what they’re thinking. Sharing my work has made me ready for backlash and bad reviews I might receive in the future. It also helped me prepare for rejection letters from lit mags. It’s been an overall positive experience.

So share your words, Reader! They could always be improved, but there could be someone who likes them, too.

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: Research

3 Nov

We had yet another lovely meeting of my local library’s writers group. I do enjoy getting together with this group. Our leader is stepping down because she’s gotten a job at another library recently so the format of this group might change soon but for now, we’re continuing on talk about different aspects of writing at each meeting. This time, we talked about research.

As a historical fiction writer, I tend to think of research as taking on the image of pouring over texts and looking up pictures of vintage clothes, but that’s not always the case. Creative non-fiction and memoir also require research, but a different type. Our moderator directed us to a few resources for this

But, as I’m a fiction writer, I wanted to focus this post more on the research needed to write fiction. But we’re all types so I hope someone can find the above links useful!

As much as we’re told to ‘write what we know,’ we don’t always do it. Not everything I write is set in suburban Detroit and not all of us involves a young married couple. When it comes to setting, there is a lot of research you need to do in order to set a novel in a place you might have never visited (or at lease in a time you’ve never visited). We were given a great article by Tricia Goyer about how to place your story in a setting. You do have to research the place and looking at maps and photos is a great start. I’ve had to do this for both of my full manuscripts and it can sometimes help me add new elements to my plot. It helps to meet and interview people who have lived or visited the place you’re talking about. (This can, granted, be hard for historical settings depending on how far back you’re going.)

This article by Kim van Alkemade gave some great tips about researching for historical fiction. My favorites include ‘Study old pictures’ (I started my 1920s board on Pinterest) and ‘Read old books.’ I hadn’t thought about reading books from the 20s, but it would give me a good idea of voice in that time.

This Writers Digest article talks more about research in general. There is great advice on how to find experts in an area you are trying to research.

Another quote we talked about (from an article I’m unable to locate) talked about the nature of research. When I’ve researched, I’ve found myself digging into historical files and then connected articles and then a book that’s slightly related etc. This is when research can become a dangerous time suck. It’s important to ‘go deep but stay narrow.’ We need to go deep into certain topics that are most applicable to our story, but it’s important to choose carefully the topics that will involve the deep knowledge. Choose them carefully and don’t stray too far away.

I hope this has been helpful for my fellow writers. I thought this was a great topic for our group to do and I hope we can touch on it again in the future with more insight.

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!