Writer’s Toolbox

June 14, 2009 at 11:08 pm | Posted in Tool Box | Leave a comment
Tags: , , ,

toolbox

Writers rely on the tools of their trade, just as an electrician or plumber will rely on theirs.  A writer’s tool box contains imagination, language and style, each applied at various times. 

Writers hone their tools through experience.  You can’t learn to write simply by reading how to articles, rather you must apply the techniques to your writing. 

Imagination

Every muscle can be built and strengthened through repetition application.  You can build your imagination by exploring various genres and mediums and practicing creative writing exercises.

Freewriting is the practice of writing without censure.  Silence your inner critic and allow the words to flow.  If you don’t know where to begin write nonsense. The objective isn’t to write usable material, but rather to discover your voice and to unleash your imagination. 

Clustering is a creative writing activity that generates ideas, images and feelings around a stimulus word. Write a word or phrase, such as “elephant,” the brainstorm all words related to elephant, such as “gray” and “memory,” then work outwards from “memory” to “brain” to “surgery,” and so on.   

Language

Great writers make writing seem effortless. Don’t be fooled by appearances: great writing requires a thorough knowledge of vocabulary, punctuation and grammar.   The rules of language can be learned.  However, within the rules a writer can arrange words in many ways:

The loose sentence begins with the main point (an independent clause), followed by one or more subordinate clauses.
The periodic sentence places the main point in the middle or at the end of the sentence.
The balanced sentence is characterized by parallel structure: two or more parts of the sentence have the same form, emphasizing similarities or differences. (1)

Style

The application of language requires artistic finesse.  Choose a paragraph from something you consider well written and emulate the writing style in your own story. Writing style reveals the writer’s personality and is the result of the choices made in structures, diction, and expression.   

Style is subjective, though some styles are more readily accepted than others.  Passive voice or active voice; wordy or simplistic; formal or casual; these are all decisions a writer makes and no choice is right or wrong. 

Once you recognize the choices you make, you will have more control in your writing. 

When you hide the actor by putting it somewhere after the action (not in the usual subject part of the sentence) and add a “to be” verb, you are using passive voice. If you typically write in a passive voice, change to an active voice and judge the results. Locate passive voice by circling every “to be” verb (am, is, are, was, were, be, been, being). If the “to be” verb is sitting next to another verb, especially one that ends in “ed,” (“was lost”, “was wrecked”) then you may be using passive voice. (2)

If your writing tends to be wordy, with filler words and phrases that delay delivery of your message, scale back for lean writing

Wordy constructions such as cliches, qualifiers, and redundant pairs are easy to fix once you recognize your tendency to use them. (2) 

Clichés stand in for more precise descriptions of something. Slow down and write exactly, precisely what you mean. If you get stuck, ask yourself “why? or “how?”

Some qualifiers are necessary, but you should use them carefully and thoughtfully.  Eliminate most of the qualifiers (very, often, hopefully, practically, basically, really, mostly) and you will have a stronger, more direct point.

Overuse of prepositional phrases (prepositions are little words such as in, over, of, for, at, etc.) Locate this problem by circling all of the prepositional phrases in your paper. A few are okay, but several in a sentence obscure your point.  (2)

Like other fine craftsmen, you must strive to improve constantly:  everything you’ve written or will write, could be better.  You must learn to write it better.     

1. Writing Style: Wikipedia, June 14, 2009

2. Style: University of North Carolina, June 14, 2009

Advertisements

How to Write a Detective Story

August 17, 2008 at 4:58 am | Posted in Writers Write | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

If you want to write a detective story, you’ll have to begin with a little investigation of your own. There are several different sub genres in this category of mysteries; from hard boiled detectives to amateur sleuths.   Your detective could be anyone, a little old lady, a cynical ex marine, a teen girl with a knack for mischief, a chef, even a couple of cats.

The first detectives of popular fiction were amateurs who solved murders like a parlor game outwitting the incompetent police.  Dashiell Hammett, a former Pinkerton detective, took a more realistic approach to crime solving, with classic detective novels like “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Thin Man.”  Raymond Chandler once said “He (Hammett) put these people down on paper as they were, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”

Chandler’s Philip Marlowe epitomizes the hard boiled private investigator, a incorruptible, hard drinking, tough guy.  Chandler created a feeling of believability with his characters and stories.

Amateur sleuths are usually not held to the same standards. It can be tricky justifying the presence of your  protagonist especially if you intend to serialize the character.  Remember the Angela Lansbury character from Murder She Wrote?  Every where she went a murder was committed.  I would seriousily reconsider a friendship with this type of sleuth.  Your detective has to have a legitimate reason to be involved and something personal at stake.  They may have been accused of a crime or the victim of a crime, they may be protecting someone else or they may have a professional interest in the truth, such as: journalists, lawyers or writers.

Once you’ve decided the type of detective story you wish to write, focus on the crime and facts of the case.   More than any other type of story, I believe the detective story will benefit from a detailed outline before you start writing.  There are certain rules you must follow to meet your readers’ expectations

1.  Introduce the crime early on, preferably within the first three chapters. It is the crime and subsequent clues that hook your reader.  The crime should be significant enough that your reader feels invested in the outcome.  Most detective stories involve a murder or kidnapping.

2. Introduce the detective and culprit early on.  You’re not playing fair if you don’t include the antagonist in the line up of suspects.

3.  Provide clues along the way so it is possible, though highly unlikely, that your reader could solve the case themselves.

4.  Don’t provide enough clues along the way so your reader solves the case before your detective.  A detective story is a race between your protagonist and your reader.  If the reader wins, the victory will be bitter sweet.  Your readers want to be challenged, but in the end, they want to be outsmarted.

5.  Wrap up all the loose ends.  Readers will remember every red herring you threw in their direction.  If a clue wasn’t relevant, make sure you provide a reason why it was included.    Each plot point must be plausible, and  the action even paced, without getting bogged down in back stories or subplots.

6.  Your detective must solve the case using logic or scientific means.  CK Chesterton wrote the following oath for all writers of detective stories: “Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow on them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?”

Of course, the best way to learn how to write a detective story is to read detective stories.  Pay attention to how clues are revealed, when key characters are introduced and when revelations are made.  Detective stories are fun to read and fun to write, but if you don’t play by the rules, you won’t stay in the game.

How to Write Articles

July 25, 2008 at 7:17 pm | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,

 

If you want to earn money online, you’ll need to generate traffic to your site.  It’s just that simple.  How do you generate traffic?  Well, that’s where it gets a little more complicated.  When a customer is searching for a specific item, they’ll type in certain key words or a phrase to find that item.  Search engines such as: Yahoo, MSN and Google, use complex algorithms to rank pages according to their relevance.

 

The key to being relevant is to research various terms and then write content targeting these terms.

 

Begin with an article on your site and use the key word or phrase in your title.  You will then build links pointing back to that article from other sites. You build links with supplemental articles and link with the key word or phrase.

 

For example, don’t include a link that says yoursite.com.  Instead, link to your site from the key words, ie: How to Write. 

 

Publish these articles at sites like Peoplefuel, Expurt or WordPress. All of these sites will host your articles or blog for free.  Peoplefuel and Expurt also offer revenue sharing.

 

Here are a few tips on how to write articles

 

1. The more articles you write the better.  Keep them brief and to the point.  You want to provide good information but there’s no need to cause eye strain.  500-600 word count is ideal. 

 

2. Each article should contain relevant, original content.  It is a bit of challenge to write 3 or 4 articles on the same topic and maintain originality but it’s absolutely necessary. Google filters out duplicate content from their search results so it’s a waste of energy to post it.  This is another reason to keep your posts brief – to have something left to say.

 

3. Lists work well.  People who like to get to the bottom line quickly know exactly where to go when they see a numbered list.  The internet is crammed full of information and most of it isn’t worth reading, which is why people skim content. If they can’t find value at a glance, they’ll move on with little time wasted. 

 

4.  Write to your mother.   Keep your language simple and conversational.  You don’t need to be perfectly polished  to post.  Only my 8th grade English teacher cares about perfect punctuation and dangling participles.   Keep your content rated G to PG when you’re writing articles to market your site.  There are obvious exceptions, but for most business ventures slang or foul language just seems unprofessional.

 

5. Always leave them wanting more.  I will follow my own advice and keep this post brief.  Sure, I can think of more tips, but I have 3 or 4 more articles to write on the same subject.  If you want to learn more on how to write articles you’ll have to follow me down the rabbit hole.

How to Write a Story

May 13, 2008 at 4:31 am | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I think all writers should look to their favorite authors for guidance.  If you’re wondering how to write a story, study the work of writers you enjoy reading. How do they convey mood, describe a setting or build characters?  I’ve read authors who describe a character’s wardrobe, down to the color of socks. Stephen King paints an extravagant landscape with his words; describing an eerie labyrinth or deserted towns.  He sculpts characters through their past experiences and preferences. Once you’ve identified the techniques in use,  practice applying them in your own work. 

 

Write short stories or flash fiction to explore different styles, perspectives or genres. The elements of plot, setting and character development still apply but you must be more disciplined in the execution.  Every word counts, so plan ahead with a plot outline.

 

Beginning – Start with action, a change in the status quo and a character in turmoil.  You need to grab your reader immediately.

 

Introduce Conflict – This is the question to be answered or problem to be solved. Without conflict there is no point in telling a story.  You need to challenge your character so they are transformed by the end of the story.

 

Obstacles – Your protagonist takes action to resolve his or her conflict, but it shouldn’t be too easy. Be sure to throw a few obstacles in his way to build the tension and urgency.

 

Confrontation – Occurs when your character meets his nemesis, the conflict head on.  

 

Resolution – This is when you reveal the result of the conflict. Did the character succeed or fail? 

 

End – Take your time to develop a solid ending. Don’t rush to close the story or leave loose ends.  If you plan ahead you’ll know exactly where you’re going and what to do when you get there.

 

Individual style, pace and voice set writers apart and imitation, while the greatest form of compliment, is a hallow substitute.   The most important tip for how to write a story is to be willing to be yourself.   There are only a few stories and millions of aspiring writers, the best way to distinguish yourself is by honoring your unique perspective of the world. This is all we writers offer.  

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.