Tag Archives: Writing

Writers’ Group: Short Stories and Metaphors

25 Feb

I almost skipped my writers’ group meeting, I’ll be honest. I wasn’t feeling great, I worked late, and I thought I needed a break. But I picked myself up and went and I’m so glad I did. And yes, having something to write about here was a part of my motivation. Blogging to stay honest with my writing goals. I counted this meeting as my hour of writing for the week, too. Double dipping?

We first talked about the differences between short stories and novels. Short stories are sometimes seen as a warm-up for a novel when they’re very different writing formats and success in one may not mean success in the other. Novels have a lot more room to explore a character or story. A novel is not a collection of short stories and a good short story should not read like part of a novel. Novels utilize the familiar three-act structure while a short story only has room for the third act. In a novel, the subplots often make the book enjoyable and added exciting depth. In a short story, they muddy the message so it’s recommended you have one or none. While a short story may not have the real estate to be deep, that doesn’t mean it lacks meaning. A short story can be very impactful and have a lot of meaning though it is often more implied than a novel on a similar topic may leave it. A short story is usually confined to one location while the majority of novels utilize many settings to tell their story.

The second focus was on metaphors. Metaphors are a great way to emphasize an important concept or object. While often done, not all metaphors are well done and writing a good one can be a big challenge. There are two parts to a metaphor, the tenor and the vehicle. To give an example, in Shakespeare’s famous metaphor “All the world’s a stage,” the tenor is world, the subject of the metaphor, and stage is the vehicle, the comparison. Metaphors are most impactful when they are simple, thematic, original, relevant, and important. Putting the focus on an important concept is, again, key. However, metaphors are most impactful when used sparingly. Consider if it’s a good time to add a metaphor each time and realize that the answer may sometimes be ‘no.’

We had some open discussion after these two topics. One of the items that stuck with me was when talking about introducing characters. It’s important to give a snapshot of the character when they’re introduced. It helps readers visualize your character, see them in the movie playing in their head. If you fail to give a brief snapshot of them, you may be fighting an image in their heads when you add more detail later. This struck a chord with me because I’m revising the beginning of my novel now and I can think of a few characters who aren’t described well in their opening scene.

That’s all for this month. I’m really glad to have learned so much from my fellow writers! 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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Writers Group: Symbolism, Copyrights, and Research

28 Jan

My lovely writers’ group met again a few weeks ago. We had a number of new faces and I hope they were intrigued by our unusual format. We all prepare 5-10 minutes of material to share with the group over an aspect of writing that we are interested in or are working through at the moment. This month, we were able to go through three different topics in our time.

First, Rachel talked about symbolism. A symbol represents something other than what it is. Symbols are usually universal or can carry meaning for a smaller group. They are a concise way to communicate an idea. She gave the example of a national flag and all that the symbols on a flag represent about people and what they find important. There are two types of symbolism, figurative and literal. Literal symbolism isn’t exactly symbolism as I’ve described it. It’s something that only has one other meaning. For example, if I type the word ‘tree,’ those characters are symbols that represent a wooden plant with leaves. Writers more often focus on figurative symbolism, where one thing represents the idea of something else. Good symbolism is usually less obvious and takes a deeper read to find it. It avoids clichés and obvious symbols (a rose for love). Instead, it has a lighter touch and can be open to interpretation. A figurative symbol usually takes some building so that it’s clear to readers that there is symbolism. It must be repeated, given a position of importance, and emphasized so that the reader can gather that the symbol has a meaning different from itself.

Another writer, Jason, is pursuing self-publication and shared with us what he’d learned about copyrights while trying to get ready to publish. Copyright attaches the author’s name to the work in the public record. This allows you to defend your created work should someone try to lay claim to it later. This can be done via a form online with a small fee. Some writers warned against copyrighting your work if you plan to pursue traditional publication as many will not accept work that has been copyrighted. For self-publication, it’s a good move. We cautioned that posting writing on a blog can count as ‘published’ for some literary magazines and publishers, so to be careful what you share of your work. Jason shared a sample permission form that he’d used to try to obtain some permissions for statistics in his book. You can avoid using permission forms if you use work that is fair use or public domain, such as government publications.

Finally, Gary shared some of his research on research. Doing research on a topic or setting adds accuracy and credibility to a writer’s work. Doing research from books or articles that were published through a university of college press usually means that an academic wrote the work and is likely an expert in his or her field (not always true, though!). Doing research is harder the farther back in time a person reaches. Visiting the location where something happens can be very helpful as many times atmosphere is hard to gather through reading alone. Research should include the genre you are writing in which will help with publication ultimately. Also, consider the perspective of the character and if it could be different from your own, research differing opinions or views on that topic.

We’ll be back at it again next month! I’m glad I don’t have a conflicting class anymore. 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: Chapters and Editing

28 Aug

We tried a new format in my writing group and I have to say, it went really well! Instead of a single person talking on a topic of their choice for an hour, we had a few people talk about a topic they wanted for about ten minutes. With the discussion that came after, three people filled up our hour! I’m going split this up over two posts because I have so much to say about each one.

First, Rachel talked about chapters. A chapter is a narrative unit of a larger story. It helps to facilitate the transitions in the story. Historically, chapters divided up non-fiction works so they could be referenced for particular subjects without having to read the whole book. Later, they were used to show a change in time or place.

Now, chapters move stories along in many ways. They help with pacing, point of view changes, time jumps, location changes, dividing events, and moving to different storylines. Chapters are only one way of dividing a story. Writers can also use volumes, parts, and sections.

Rachel presented some tips about chapters as well. Some that stood out to me were:

  • Chapters don’t have the be the same length
  • Ending chapters with cliffhangers keeps a reader’s attention but don’t do it too often.
  • Numbering chapters is not mandatory

Our next mini topic was editing types. There are three major types: developmental (also called structural), copy, and proof. Developmental focuses on the story arc and contents and should be pursued before the other two. Copy edit deals more with accuracy and readability of the material, also looking for consistency of things such as tense and characters. Finally, a proof edit is a grammatical read-through to make small changes for linguistic accuracy.

Clearly, doing a proof edit before a developmental edit isn’t going to help anyone. Doing edits in this order is important or else you’ve erased the impact of earlier edits which will have to be repeated. There are several places online one can find editors such as Fiverr and Upwork. Be sure you understand fees and the type of edit you’re going to get from a freelance editor before working with them.

We had one more topic to discuss but I’ll save it for next week to keep this post a reasonable length. Besides, I’ve got something special saved for Thursday!

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!

Impact

23 Aug

I had a really cool moment over the weekend that I felt needed to be shared with my readers.

Many times, I feel like I’m writing into a void. Some of my posts get a lot of traction and generate conversations but there are some (fewer than there were) where I get no reaction and no response. It can be a struggle sometimes to keep writing and think that there is a reason I’m doing this, a reason I sit at my computer every weekend and plan out the week.

This weekend I went to a family birthday party. Due to late-in-life births and large differences in age, my dad’s cousin’s husband (my cousin-once-removed-in-law) turned 90 and we celebrated by gathering at a local restaurant. My husband and I arrived late due to another commitment but excited to see the birthday boy, who we haven’t seen in almost five years.

I know that’s how long it’s been because the last time I visited Tom I wrote about it. Tom published his memoir a number of years ago and is working on a second one. He is Armenian and repatriated to Armenia to help with nation building only to be trapped behind the Iron Curtain. I wrote a post about visiting him at his home in Northern Michigan and talking with him about his career. Again, it felt like writing into a void, even more so then than now with my blog has gained some traction.

At the party, Tom took me aside. He said that he’d been contacted by someone who read my blog post. This woman was Turkish and wanted to apologize to him, an Armenian, for what her countrymen had done to the Armenians as part of the Armenian Genocide. Tom was very moved and reassured this woman that she did not owe him an apology for something her grandparents’ generation had done. He wanted to let me know that my post had given this woman a way of contacting him and expressing such profound sorrow.

I’ve been reflecting on this interaction for a few days now. I feel so touched that someone was able to find Tom through my blog. It’s good to know that what I do on this site can impact people and can have a meaning in the physical world. Even if it feels like I’m writing into a void, it’s one that can mean something as profound as an apology.

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!

Book Sense: Smell and Taste

30 Nov

Welcome to the last installment of the Book Sense series. We’ve already covered touch and sound and today I’ll cover the last two, smell and taste.

Here are the four I want to focus on today:

  • Unpleasant smells
  • Smells that invoke memory
  • Taste of something unknown
  • Tastes that invoke a sudden emotion

Yet again, please add more in the comments as you see fit.

 

Unpleasant smells: We tend to notice smells that are extremely pleasant or extremely unpleasant. I think the unpleasant ones are more striking and tell more about a story. The smell of decay can depict death. Fires have a distinct smell. There are a lot of negative smells that can help set a scene without having to describe it. The smell of a sweaty sock is bad but what about a neglected patient in a mental institution?

Smells that invoke memory: There are smells that will always remind me of things in my past. The laundry detergent my host mom used in Mexico is one I still remember eleven years later. Lilac will always make me think of my parents’ house and the old lilac tree in the yard. I think these memories can be very powerful and if used sparingly (maybe once or twice per story), can be very effective.

Taste of something unknown: I remember my first time trying Vegemite and (apologies to any Australian readers) how salty it was! I think descriptions of a new taste can help frame a character’s reaction. I think this is especially important in fantasy if an invented substance is being tasted. What does Mars vodka taste like if they don’t have potatoes?

Tastes that invoke a sudden emotion: Tasting bile in your mouth is a sign of great discomfort or dread. A mouth watering is a sign of hunger. A dry mouth can be fear. There are a lot of ‘tastes’ in our mouths that can show how a character is feeling without having to state it outright. And it’s always better to ‘show’ instead of ‘tell.’

There we are! Are there any other smell or taste sensations you think are important (or overused) in writing? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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!

Book Sense: Touch

28 Nov

Welcome to part two of the Book Sense series. Yesterday I talked about sound, today I want to talk about touch.

Here are the four I want to focus on today:

  • Character-to-character connection
  • Feel of an unknown item
  • Touch-induced emotions
  • Temperature sensations

Yet again, please add more in the comments as you see fit.

Character-to-character connection: This is probably the most important use of this sense I can think of. The feel of a friend’s hand on your shoulder, a creepy stranger’s bump against your hip, or a lover’s caress of the hair are all very important ways of experiencing touch in writing. It drives relationships and, thus, plot.

Feel of an unknown item: I have fantasy writing in mind when I think of this. I know what a wool blanket feels like. I don’t know what a blanket feels like when it’s made from the hair of a fictional llama-bird. When something is not commonly known, a description of it is very helpful to build a fictional world and physical touch description should be a part of that.

Touch-induced emotions: I talked about sounds that evoke memories yesterday and this falls into the same category. I also think a touch can induce an emotion. Personally, slipping into a pool to swim laps is one of the most calming things I can imagine. Once I’m underwater, I’m instantly at peace. I think slipping into bed can have the same effect. These shouldn’t be very common but they can be used well.

Temperature sensations: Changes in temperature are very noticeable so characters should experience them as well. Walking in on a winter day has an instant warming effect. Being outside after a run can start to feel cold in November (personal experience). Change in seasons or time of day can be marked with temperature instead of overt statements and I believe this is one that can be used frequently and still be effective.

There we are! Are there any other touch sensations you think are important (or overused) in writing? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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!

Book Sense: Sound

27 Nov

With a lack of topics and a need to write the posts for this week well ahead of time, I’m embarking on a series for this week that will focus on the sounds books can (and should) include. I’m going to skip sight because so much of a book is describing a picture (and because of my number of posts per week). Today, I’m going to start with sound!

I’ll pick four to start with.

  • Sound of a speaker’s voice
  • Background sounds for a setting
  • Sudden or startling sounds
  • Sounds that provoke a reaction or trigger a memory

If you have more, please add them in a comment.

The sound of a speaker’s voice: Now, this can be great if a character is going to have a unique way of speaking such as an accent or vocal tick. I really like it when used sparingly. For example, I could tell you my husband’s voice raises when he’s about to make a bad pun and then if I ever talked about his voice starting to rise, you could imply he’s about to make a bad pun. (Note: you could guess this every five minutes and be correct.) I think this can be used well to show the age of a character, too. High voices for a child or cracking voices for an elderly person. However, if used for every character or too many in a single scene, it can get old fast. Sparingly, it’s a great tool.

Background sounds for a setting: This is on my mind now because I have the Rumba running and clothes in the dryer. So before you picture me sitting alone in a quiet apartment, realize that the Rumba got stuck in my bathroom and the dryer buzzer is about to go off so I’ll be stepping away to unload the clothes. Little touches like this can make a scene. I’m writing this, but I’m busy! Maybe there’s a peaceful background noise if I’m writing out on the porch with the wind chimes blowing or I’m hiding from my husband’s friends if I can hear a football game. I like these touches when they add to the mood. If they don’t, they’re distracting and unnecessary.

Sudden or startling sounds: When a sudden action happens, I find a sound is usually attached. A gun going off, a door slamming shut, a car crashing, a glass shattering. These all have very jarring sounds associated with them. If I’m napping and my husband comes home, the door jerks open and I wake up. (Note: The dryer buzzer just went off. Timing.). Because a lot of fiction focuses on an inciting incident, I think the sound of that incident can be a great way to punctuate the action.

Sounds that provoke a reaction or trigger a memory: This is another one I’m going to say is best used sparingly. If there’s a memory that a character needs to share, sense memory is a great way to bring it forward. A sound like a baby crying or a balloon popping can trigger an emotional time for a character. When this memory moves the plot forward, I think it’s a good technique. If it’s building a character arc, I think it could be OK. If it’s filling paper, it’s a waste.

What are other times you like sound description in a book or story? Leave a comment and let me know!

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!

Why I’m Not Doing NaNo And How I Feel About It

24 Oct

For the first time in four years, I’ve decided not to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNo) at all. I had a traditional ‘win’ in 2014 and in 2015 and 2016, I started participating after my school semester ended in the middle of the month and I did a time-based editing commitment. It was a bit more like camp NaNo but it still allowed me to participate and enjoy write-ins.

This semester, my class doesn’t end until early December and I’ve decided not to commit myself to any participation at all. It’s hard to step away for a year and I’m really going to miss the way NaNo makes me so excited about writing and the friends its introduced me to. I usually have the energy to write from NaNo that extends until February. But this year, I won’t.

This comes at a hard time for me because I’ve stopped feeling like a writer. I write this blog, but I’m not working on my short stories and I haven’t touched my novel in a few months. I’ve had a few acquaintances ask me lately how my novel is going and my answer is ‘school.’ I feel like I’m not a writer now, I’m a student. I don’t feel like I have time to be both.

With a graduate date of December 2018, I’ll have at least another year of feeling this way. I made a running analogy about this for my husband that I feel works well. Writing this blog is like training for a 5K. It’s short, small runs, that keep me in shape and keep me feeling good. Working on my novel is like training for a marathon. It’s completely different and a lot more commitment. Running 5Ks puts you in a good position to start training for a marathon, but it’s not in the same league. This blog keeps my muscles loose, but they’re not ready to jump into a novel.

I hope none of you are having writer doubts like I am. It makes me all sad and mopy. I’m really hoping that when I’m no longer a student, I can reach some other goals I have for myself. One is to finish a half Ironman triathlon. The other is to finish my book and start querying it. I’ll start January 2019 but that seems a long way off.

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: Revising

27 Feb

I’ve told you all before how amazing my friend Kristine Kruppa is, right? She led our writers’ group this month and talked about the revision process, using a lot of her experiences from revising her novel and giving me some good insight on the revisions she just gave me for my manuscript. I’m excited to share with you some things we learned.

First, revising and editing are different in a very notable way. Editing implies line editing, looking at structure and grammar and improving it. Revising comes earlier in the process and is on a story-level. You have to revise before editing or else your edits might get revised away. After finishing the first draft, leave the story for about a week or so to get some distance from it. Then do a read-through and start the revision process.

The first thing to look for is characters. Could any be cut from the plot if they don’t contribute to the action? Maybe combining two characters into one makes more sense to reduce the number of characters. The motivation behind each character must be believable and drive their actions. As many characters as possible should have an arc and develop through the book.

The setting is sometimes easier in contemporary novels that it will be for science fiction, speculative fiction, or fantasy. Many times, an outsider will show up in a created world to help build it. While this is the easiest way to do it, others can build one from scratched. Our group touched on transitioning between settings. It’s not always necessary to have the character driving from home to work, but you need to know as the writer how that happened.

The plot is the biggest area to look at. Is your plot predictable? CHANGE THAT! You want to keep the reader guessing until the end. Look for plot holes. Does anything happen for a reason that doesn’t make sense? Does anything contradict? Also look at the flow of the book. Pacing is hard to fix but try to use subplots to keep the book moving. A really key part to pace is the climax. We all said we’d read books where the climax happened too fast. After the whole rising action, it’s okay to linger on the climax a bit so the reader feels satisfied with the resolution. One member suggested exploring third level emotions. (More at this link, scroll down until you see the questions in bold.) This technique is pulling out the less obvious emotions a character has at a key moment and expanding on that feeling. Make sure that this climax and resolution happen for every character arc and subplot, not just the main one.

Read the manuscript through at least once more, making sure you caught everything. One suggestion Kristine had was doing a draft map. For this, she writes down the POV character, characters involved, purpose, and a synopsis of each scene. Any that don’t add to a plot or subplot can be scratched and it helps with pacing for main and subplots.

Next, make the changes!

After you’ve revised, it’s time to turn to Beta readers. Kristine suggests 2-5 who read the genre of your book. It might be great to hear what your mom says, but if she reads high fantasy like mine does, her feedback on my 1920s YA book might not be as helpful. One exception to this is if you’ve written something you don’t know well and what someone to check it for you. I’ve written a book about a woman during her pregnancy. I need to have someone who’s had a child read that one, even if they don’t read women’s fiction. My YA book has a male protagonist; I’ve asked several male friends who were at one time 17-year-old boys to read it for that reason. If your book has occupational details, try getting someone in that field to read it. Ask the Beta reader questions that help drive at the points brought up earlier.

Kristine is one of my beta readers and has given me some amazing advice. If you haven’t read her book yet, please go take a look!

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!