Tag Archives: writing tips

Writing Tips, Tools, and Tidbits!: CAPITAL versus CAPITOL

Writers Unite!’s mission is to offer a haven for writers to share their work and hone their craft. As the writing process is our focus, author, and WU! admin, Lynn Miclea has created a series of “tips, tools, and tidbits” about writing for our members or anyone interested in writing to help improve their writing. Check the menu bar for any tips you may have missed or click on this link.

Writing Tips, Tools, and Tidbits!

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image from Pixabay.

CAPITAL versus CAPITOL

People often mix up the words capital and capitol. They may sound the same, but these words have different meanings and uses.

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Capital has various meanings and can be different parts of speech. As a noun, it can mean the city that is the seat of government in a state or country, uppercase letters, money, or accumulated wealth. As an adjective, it can mean important, excellent, most serious, punishable by death, the death penalty, or relating to the seat of government. If you mean any definition other than the actual physical building of government, use capital.

Examples:

  • The capital of New York is Albany.
  • They invaded the nation’s capital with deadly force.
  • That is a capital idea.
  • He had enough capital to invest in the business.
  • What he did is a capital offense.
  • The names of countries should always start with a capital letter.
  • On her vacation, she visited the capital of Arizona.
  • She had mixed feelings about capital punishment.
  • He showed an increase in capital gains in his new business.
  • Staying safe was his capital concern.

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Capitol refers to the physical building where the U.S. Congress or a legislative body meets. If you want to say the actual physical building where Congress meets, use capitol.

Examples:

  • She went to the capitol to meet with the U.S. Congress.
  • Laws are discussed and passed in the capitol.
  • He went to a meeting on the second floor of the capitol.
  • The gardeners worked hard maintaining the lawn around the capitol.
  • The senator lives on Capitol Hill.
  • The legislature meets in the state’s capitol building.
  • The capitol building is impressive.
  • He dressed up to visit the capitol building.

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Basically, if you are referring to the actual building, use capitol.

For all other meanings, use capital.

Hint: Capitol has an “O” which indicates only one meaning, and the building has a round dome.

Capital has an “A” which indicates all other meanings.

Note: When referring to a specific capitol building, according to AP style, capitol is capitalized (he visited the Capitol), but according to Chicago Manual style, it is not capitalized (he visited the capitol).

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Please look at the chart for an easy summary and helpful reminder.

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I hope you find this helpful. These tips and more grammar tips and tools are also on my website and blog, and also in my Grammar Tips book. Thank you!

Website – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/
Blog – https://lynnpuff.wordpress.com/
Grammar Tips Book – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09N2BQMCG/

Writing Tips, Tools, and Tidbits: ASSENT versus ASCENT

Writers Unite!’s mission is to offer a haven for writers to share their work and hone their craft. As the writing process is our focus, author, and WU! admin, Lynn Miclea has created a series of “tips, tools, and tidbits” about writing for our members or anyone interested in writing to help improve their writing. Check the menu bar for any tips you may have missed or click on this link.

Writing Tips, Tools, and Tidbits!

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image from Pixabay.

By Lynn Miclea

ASSENT versus ASCENT

People often mix up the words assent and ascent. Although these words sound the same and there is only one letter different, they have different meanings and uses. This should help to use them properly.

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Assent is a verb meaning to agree to or to approve of something, and a noun meaning approval. If you mean to agree to or approve of something, use assent.

Examples:

  • He gave his assent to the boss and then started the work.
  • She assented to all the terms and conditions.
  • He smiled and nodded in assent.
  • She would not assent to the extra work and told him no.
  • He wanted to assent to it but changed his mind and turned it down.
  • At first she said no, but then she finally gave her assent.
  • The doctor asked for the patient’s assent before scheduling surgery.
  • When asked, he murmured his assent.
  • He wanted her assent, but he had to ask again before getting it.
  • She signed the paper, giving her assent.

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Ascent is a noun meaning a rise or climb upward, and it can also mean an upward slope. The verb would be to ascend. If you mean a climb upward, use ascent.

Examples:

  • He began the ascent up the rocky mountain.
  • She thought twice about making such a steep ascent.
  • He loved climbing and found the ascent invigorating.
  • She worried that the ascent was too steep.
  • The elevator began its ascent to the tenth floor.
  • The ascent up the mountain took longer than expected.
  • His quick ascent up the corporate ladder raised some questions.
  • He was surprised by his quick ascent to stardom.
  • She found the ascent up the mountain quite dangerous.
  • The ascent of the mountain took five hours.

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Hint: Ascent has a C in it for climb.

If you mean to agree to or approve, use assent.

If you mean to climb or move upward, use ascent.

He assented to make the steep ascent up the mountain.

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Please look at the chart for an easy summary and helpful reminder.

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I hope you find this helpful. These tips and more grammar tips and tools are also on my website and blog, and also in my Grammar Tips book. Thank you!
Lynn

Website – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/
Blog – https://lynnpuff.wordpress.com/
Grammar Tips Book – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09N2BQMCG/

WRITING TIPS, TOOLS, AND TIDBITS!: BARE versus BEAR

Writers Unite!’s mission is to offer a haven for writers to share their work and hone their craft. As the writing process is our focus, author, and WU! admin, Lynn Miclea has created a series of “tips, tools, and tidbits” about writing for our members or anyone interested in writing to help improve their writing. Check the menu bar for any tips you may have missed or click on this link.

Writing Tips, Tools, and Tidbits!

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image from Pixabay.

BARE versus BEAR

People often mix up the words bare and bear. Although these words sound the same, they have different meanings and uses. This should help to use them properly.

Bare can be an adjective, meaning naked, nude, uncovered, or minimal. It can also be a verb meaning to expose or reveal something. If you mean to be naked or expose something, use bare.

Examples:

  • She was uncomfortable showing bare skin, even in front of the doctor.
  • He opened the closet and found it completely empty and bare.
  • It was too cold to go out with bare feet, so she put on shoes.
  • The cupboard was bare in the new house.
  • She felt comfortable enough to bare her soul to him.
  • He hated the job and did the bare minimum.
  • She wanted to get down to the bare bones.
  • He bared his chest to show off his muscles.
  • Her clothes revealed a bare midriff.
  • He stepped back when the dog bared its teeth.

Bear can be a noun, meaning a large, furry animal. It can also be a verb, meaning to tolerate or endure something. If you mean an animal or to tolerate or endure something, use bear.

Examples:

  • She was excited to see a bear on her trip to Yellowstone.
  • He could not bear the thought of not seeing her again.
  • The suitcase weighed too much for her to bear.
  • Please bear with me while I get ready.
  • He knew he’d have to bear the cost for the trip.
  • She couldn’t bear the pain any longer.
  • He could not bear to watch her suffer.
  • The teacher asked the class to bear with her as she set up the slides.
  • That beam can easily bear the weight of the second floor.
  • She felt like she had to bear the brunt of what happened.

Basically, if you mean to be naked or reveal something, use bare. For everything else, use bear.

If you want an adjective meaning nude, empty, or minimal, or a verb meaning to uncover or reveal something, use bare.

If you want a verb meaning carrying, supporting, or enduring, use bear.

She couldn’t bear to bare her soul.

Please look at the chart for an easy summary and helpful reminder.

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I hope you find this helpful. These tips and more grammar tips and tools are also on my website and blog, and also in my Grammar Tips book. Thank you!
Website – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/
Blog – https://lynnpuff.wordpress.com/
Grammar Tips Book – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09N2BQMCG/

WRITING TIPS, TOOLS, AND TIDBITS!: LOSE versus LOOSE

Writers Unite!’s mission is to offer a haven for writers to share their work and hone their craft. As the writing process is our focus, author, and WU! admin, Lynn Miclea has created a series of “tips, tools, and tidbits” about writing for our members or anyone interested in writing to help improve their writing. Check the menu bar for any tips you may have missed or click on this link.

Writing Tips, Tools, and Tidbits!

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image from Pixabay.

LOSE versus LOOSE

People often mix up the words lose and loose. Although they may look similar, they are completely different words and also different parts of speech. Lose is a verb that means to misplace, to not win, or to not hold onto something. Loose is an adjective that means not tight. The information shown here should help people use the words properly.

Lose rhymes with snooze and is a verb that means to misplace, to not win, to suffer a loss, or to part with something. If you are using a verb, use lose.

Examples:

  • She did not want to lose the game.
  • He realized he had nothing left to lose.
  • She knew she needed to lose weight.
  • He looked everywhere — he couldn’t bear to lose that.
  • She told her sister to never lose faith.
  • He told her to keep it safe and never lose it.
  • She did not want to lose sight of the goal.
  • She knew she was about to lose her temper.
  • He was careful not to lose his money.
  • She hated when she would lose a sock in the laundry.
  • He did not want to lose the key again.

Loose rhymes with moose and is an adjective that means not tight. If you are using an adjective, use loose.

Examples:

  • Her clothes were too big and loose on her.
  • She gave a somewhat loose definition of the word.
  • He always carried loose change in his pocket.
  • She wanted to wear something that was loose and comfortable.
  • He sometimes played fast and loose with the rules.
  • Her hair hung loose down her back.
  • He knew he had to fix the loose doorknob.
  • He lets his dog run loose in the back yard.
  • He used a screwdriver to tighten the loose screw.
  • She smiled and showed off her loose tooth.
  • He was worried that the tire would come loose and fall off.

Basically, if you want a verb that means something is misplaced or you didn’t win, use lose.

If you want an adjective that means relaxed or not tight, use loose.

If your ring is too loose, you could lose it.

Please look at the chart for an easy summary and helpful reminder.

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I hope you find this helpful. These tips and more grammar tips and tools are also on my website and blog, and also in my Grammar Tips book. Thank you!
Website – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/
Blog – https://lynnpuff.wordpress.com/
Grammar Tips Book – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09N2BQMCG/

WRITING TIPS, TOOLS, AND TIDBITS!: WAVE versus WAIVE

Writers Unite!’s mission is to offer a haven for writers to share their work and hone their craft. As the writing process is our focus, author, and WU! admin, Lynn Miclea has created a series of “tips, tools, and tidbits” about writing for our members or anyone interested in writing to help improve their writing. Check the menu bar for any tips you may have missed or click on this link.

Writing Tips, Tools, and Tidbits!

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image from Pixabay.

WAVE versus WAIVE

People often mix up the words wave and waive. Although they sound the same, these words have different meanings and are used differently. This should help to use them correctly.

Wave is usually a verb that means to move back and forth, such as waving your hands or waving a flag, or to dismiss something. It can also be a noun meaning a small ridge of moving water, a pattern of sound or light, or a slight curl in the hair. For the most part, if you mean to move something back and forth, use wave

Examples:

  • She lifted her hand and waved hello.
  • He didn’t hear her, but he saw her wave her hand.
  • The flag waved in the breeze.
  • She waved to him from across the room.
  • He waved aside the question and continued speaking.
  • She stood outside and waved at the cars that passed.
  • He waved his hat in the air in celebration.
  • She waved a handkerchief above her head to ask for help.
  • He loved to surf and looked for a good wave to use.
  • Her hair hung to her shoulders in soft waves.

Waive is a verb that means to let go of something, relinquish, forfeit, or give up a right to something, or to not enforce something. It is a transitive verb and always takes an object — you waive something. If you mean to relinquish or let go of something, use waive.

Examples:

  • He agreed to waive his rights to have an attorney present.
  • She felt sorry for him and waived the entrance fee so he could get in.
  • He waived his right to sue when he signed the form.
  • She was relieved when they waived the penalty fee.
  • They refused to waive the entrance fee and I had to pay.
  • He signed the agreement and waived his right for an appeal.
  • She waived her rights to inherit the house and stepped aside.
  • The doctor waived his fee and treated the patient.
  • He was glad they waived the late fee on his bill.
  • She was advised not to waive her rights, but she signed anyway.

Hint: Waive has an “I” in it, as in I waive my rights.

Basically, wave has multiple meanings such as to move back and forth, while waive has only one meaning.

If you mean to give up a right or not enforce a rule, use waive. For all other meanings, use wave.

Please look at the chart for an easy summary and helpful reminder.

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I hope you find this helpful. These tips and more grammar tips and tools are also on my website and blog, and also in my Grammar Tips book.

Thank you!

Website – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/
Blog – https://lynnpuff.wordpress.com/
Grammar Tips Book – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09N2BQMCG/

Ray Taylor: How to Write a Drabble 

Image are free use and do not require attribution. Image by www_slon_pics from Pixabay 

How to Write a Drabble 

Ray Taylor 

Urban myth has it that Ernest Hemmingway wrote a complete story in six words for a bet: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” Maybe he did, maybe not, but certainly, those six words tell a powerful and tragic story, albeit with no structure.

Drabbles allow you, not just six words, but a full 100 words to write a powerful and captivating start, an engaging middle, and a big pay-off at the end. Writing a drabble is a great way to hone your skills as an author. It helps you to choose words that convey meaning with economy, accuracy, and authenticity. It also helps practice the art of creating a story, characters, dialogue, and dramatic action out of nothing. Not least, it helps you with that all-important, uncompromising, ruthless edit. 

If you need any help getting started, here are some suggestions. 

We all find it hard, sometimes, to come up with a story idea. So why not start with some research? A quick Google search will bring up alternative definitions of the word and other references can produce great story ideas. Another source of ideas for me is music. For the prompt word “storm” I thought of a line from a Leonard Cohen song that talks about a woman’s hair on Cohen’s pillow-like “a sleepy golden storm.” 

For the drabble “Coffee” I wanted to write about Arab merchants. I spent a few minutes looking at Google and Wikipedia for more detail about the historical origins of coffee drinking, which also helped me choose names. One of them, Sheikh Omar, had been exiled from Mocha and lived in a cave for a while, which led me to the location and dramatic encounter of the story. 

Having thought up some ideas for your drabble, how to start? Try writing a brief story just as it comes to mind without worrying about the word count. You might end up with 200 or 400 words, but don’t worry. The job of cutting it down to 100 is easier than you might think.

If you are having trouble getting started, I would suggest forgetting the narrative for a minute and think about what you want to say. To me, a drabble is all about the punchline. Why not try writing the end first and see what you come up with? 

I wanted my “Coffee” drabble to end with the guest spitting out the hot drink he’d been given to try, because I can’t imagine anyone enjoying their first taste of coffee. That was the whole point of the story, but it had to be written in a way that had impact. I chose a closing scene in which the MC “sniffed the strange, dark liquid…” which he then “spat into the fire, which hissed in protest.”

When I wrote “Coffee” I was intending to make the ending a surprise, but my preferred ending is the unexpected twist, which is where the ending is the opposite of what the story leads you to expect. Other types of ending are: the happy ending, sad, ironic, funny ending, or whatever you like. So long as it has impact, which usually means the reader doesn’t guess the ending. There has to be an element of mystery. It can also help with impact if you tie the ending closely to the beginning, with a set-up and pay off. 

Beginning: “David loved ribbons…” Ending: “Today, he wrapped a blue and gold satin ribbon around his and his bride’s wrist, as he said ‘I do.’” 

The opening three words begs questions like: what did David love about ribbons? When I was a boy, interest from a boy in colored ribbons could lead to him being bullied. Was he? How did he respond? These questions create hooks for the reader. Your narrative will reel them in. Your ending will be their reward.

The process of joining the beginning to the end is, of course, to write the middle. You may find the job of keeping the middle brief and to the point is much easier if you already have the boundaries created by the start and the finish. All you need to do then, is take two or three steps from one to the other. Those steps must reveal stages in the story and develop the dramatic action. Tell your story with dialogue if you can. Stories are so much more engaging when told by their characters. Don’t worry about the word count too much at this stage. Cutting the story back to 100 words is surely half the fun.

Start your edit by cutting out anything that does not add to the story. Rewrite some of the lengthy descriptions and dialogue into shorter, sharper prose. Most descriptions will have more impact if you select fewer, choicer words to convey meaning. Try substituting different words and see which ones work the best. If you can’t think of great substitutes, go to any dictionary or thesaurus, online or in print. 

For instance, you might have written the following scene for my story “Coffee” like this: “Just then, a man called Sheikh Omar appeared from the cave he had been hiding in since he was exiled from his home-town of Mocha. Omar was a bit of a shady character.” From this, cut the reference to Mocha, as it adds nothing to the story. “The outcast Skeikh Omar,” tells you his name and suggests the questionable reputation in just four words. “Concealed in a cave,” tells you where he was and what he was doing. Your scene “the outcast Sheikh Omar, concealed in a cave,” has been trimmed down from 34 words to just eight. 

That’s really all there is to it. Writing a drabble is a great way to have fun and practice tools and techniques for writing anything from a short story, or flash fiction, to a full-length novel. 

Why not check out this week’s prompt word and give it a go?

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Ray Taylor LL.M. is an author and part-time UK government security policy official. Please visit Ray on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Raymond.G.Taylor.author

Writing Tips, Tools, and Tidbits: Lie versus Lay

Writers Unite!’s mission is to offer a haven for writers to share their work and hone their craft. As the writing process is our focus, author, and WU! admin, Lynn Miclea has created a series of “tips, tools, and tidbits” about writing for our members or anyone interested in writing to help improve their writing. Check the menu bar for any tips you may have missed.

Lie versus Lay

Many people often mix up these words, and it is helpful to learn to use them correctly. Lie and lay are not interchangeable — they have different meanings and should be used properly.

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LIE means to rest or recline. It is intransitive, which means it does not take an object.

Examples:
I need to lie down.
I will lie on the couch.
He lies on the floor.
She wants to lie down and take a nap.
Let the dog lie where he is.

Present tense: lie, lies. He lies down.
Past tense: lay. Yesterday, he lay down.
Present participle: lying. He is lying down.
Past participle: lain. I have lain in bed too long.

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LAY means to put or set an object down. It is transitive, which means it takes an object — you lay something down.

Examples:
I lay the book down.
She lays her pencil on the table.
He wants to lay down the law.
They can lay the tile in the bathroom.
Please lay the papers on the counter.

Present tense: lay, lays. She lays the book down.
Past tense: laid. He laid the packages on the table.
Present participle: laying. She is laying the pen down.
Past participle: laid. I have laid the books on the counter.

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Please view the two charts that help explain it further.


 

Stephen Oliver: Becoming a Writer

Becoming a Writer

Stephen Oliver

Some time ago, I received an email connected with a post I made on the TUT Writer’s Group on Facebook. The writer asked me about how to become a writer. I wrote them the following reply.

When it comes to writing, I would like to know where your writer’s block lies so that I can give you more targeted advice. However, I can give you the following points, to begin with.

What sort of writing do you want to do?

Do you intend to write fiction or non-fiction? I do both, and each needs its way of looking at things.

Fiction

If you want to write fiction, do you know what sort of story you want to write? Is it romance, general fiction, speculative fiction (for instance, science fiction, fantasy, dark fantasy or horror, sword and sorcery, urban fantasy, to name but a few). Or even erotica? Is it a novel or a short story? Whatever type you want to write, you need to do some reading in that genre to get a feel for what is acceptable to the reading public. I, for instance, have read all of the speculative fiction genres mentioned above for years. You don’t want to copy them, of course, but you need to know the kind of stories available.

Sometimes, a story you read will trigger an idea of your own. You might like the story and want to know what happened next. Why don’t you write about that? If the story took place years ago, why not rewrite it into modern times? West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet set in 20th century New York, for instance. The Lion King is a modern take on Macbeth. One of the short stories I’m about to publish is my take on Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. And so on.

At other times, you might think to yourself, “I don’t like the way that story turned out.” So why not write your version, giving it the ending you would have liked? Or you read a story and imagine something completely different that’s still somehow connected with the original, like my story about a modern Frankenstein.

Television and movies are other good sources of ideas. Just as I mentioned above, they can trigger thoughts and ideas that lead to a story. I’ve also had ideas that have come from dreams and daydreams. You have to be open to your thoughts. There are stories that I have started writing with nothing more than a single phrase or concept.

To throw a couple of ideas out to you:

  • What would it feel like to be immortal? You know that everyone you love will one day be gone, while you have to carry on without them forevermore. How will you live? What will you do? Is there a problem with boredom because you’ve done it all before?
  • How about someone whose job is to protect a city, like a superhero, except he can’t remember who he is until the city is about to be destroyed? How does he react until he realises that he’s the one to save the day? How do the inhabitants treat him because he’s always so late coming to the rescue?
  • Or how about a woman who can’t find her car keys until she remembers that she never learned to drive? Why does she think that she has keys for a car she doesn’t own? Is she suffering from amnesia? Does she have a split personality? Is she channelling someone from a parallel world? Or is a ghost trying to contact her? The possibilities are endless.
  • What is the exact meaning of a company name, like Blue Dog? Does someone have an unusual name? Why do they have it?

These are a few ideas that just popped into my head while I was writing this. Be prepared to think strange things and follow them up. (BTW, I have since written a story about an immortal, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t).

If you decide to write, I suggest you keep some sort of notebook to jot your ideas down. I use a program called Evernote, which you can get for free. It runs on the PC, Mac, iPhone and iPad, any Android device, etc. What you do is download it on any device you use and then set up an account with them or Dropbox or iCloud, or some other cloud service. Once all devices and their versions of Evernote are synchronised to the same account, if you write something down on one of them, it will be available on all of them within seconds. You need never lose an idea again except in the shower. I still have no idea how I can do it there.

If electronic devices are not your thing, and I know people who still prefer old-fashioned methods, buy yourself a small reporter’s notebook with an attached pen or pencil. Keep it with you at all times and jot down any ideas you get. Every so often, say once a week, write them up in a bigger notebook or schoolbook. Give it a title like “My Great Ideas Book.” Cherish the ideas as they come, accept them as gifts from whoever or whatever you think of as a higher power, and they will keep coming. They will increase, and you will soon wonder why you thought that you never had any ideas.

Non-Fiction

Although all that I’ve written about above is true for non-fiction as it is for fiction, non-fiction has a few extra points you need to keep in mind.

First of all, how much do you know about the subject? If it’s something you work with every day, and you know all about it, then you’re set. You need to work out how to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

If you only know a bit or even nothing at all, then you are going to have to research. There are books available on just about every subject under the sun, many of them cheap or even free if you know where to look. Try Amazon’s free books, for example, or check out Project Gutenberg for books that are out of copyright. Google the subject and follow any leads you find. Just be aware that there is a lot of useless or even false information out there

90% of everything is crud.
Theodore Sturgeon, science fiction writer

As you’re doing your research, keep making notes of ideas and concepts that you want to include in your book. As I noted earlier, a notebook, or some electronic aid such as Evernote, is an excellent way of having everything together. It doesn’t matter whether everything is neat and tidy or just a bunch of scribbles and phrases, as long as they make sense to you when you come back to them later.

Once you start writing, you will have to find your personal style. When I’m working on a non-fiction book, I always write as if I’m actually talking to the person. If I’m teaching someone how to use a computer program (and I have written user manuals), it’s as if we’re sitting down together in front of the machine, and I’m telling them what to type and where to click. This is my style, and I know that there are people who prefer other styles, such as an impersonal teacher dishing out commands.

No matter what you found during your research, don’t write it exactly as you noted it down in the first place because you may find that you are plagiarising someone else’s words. Instead, write it down in your own words, as if you are trying to explain to someone else what it is that you’ve read. Don’t worry if you think you have nothing new to say. It may be that someone else needs to hear it put the way that you can uniquely do. Say it your own way, and it will be new to someone.

Don’t talk yourself out of an idea just because it’s been done before. Put your own spin on it. Bring in your own personal experiences. You will have your own stories to tell, which will make it unique.
Dr Joe Vitale

Now, let’s look at one or two problems more carefully.

Ideas are blocked

If you think that your problem lies with writer’s block, try this little trick. If you prefer to work by hand, get a blank piece of paper and a pen or pencil, and write the subject you want to write about at the top of the page. Underline it or draw a box around it, whatever makes you feel that it’s important.

Now, let’s establish a couple of simple rules. First of all, when you start writing, don’t stop! Secondly, you are only allowed to write from left to right and top to bottom. You can’t go back and correct something at the moment; that comes later.

Now, just keep writing whatever goes through your head on the subject. If you find that nothing relevant to the subject comes out, just write whatever you are thinking about, even if it’s about the problem you’re having writing anything down. The idea is to disconnect your creative process from the critical process of editing. Once you’ve been writing for five or ten minutes, or whatever feels comfortable, take a break or stop completely.

Now is the time to go back and look at what you’ve written. Don’t change anything yet. Just read it from beginning to end to see what exactly you have created. If you find something you would like to alter or even delete, make a mental note to come back to it later. Make a mark or underline if it will help you find your place again.

Once you’ve reread it, you can go back and make the changes you thought about earlier. When you’ve finished, use that as a basis for your writing. You can repeat this as many times as you like until you’re satisfied.

If you’re a computer user and can type fast enough, create a new blank document and start with that. I’ve even used dictation software to get ideas down as quickly as possible. I use Dragon for Mac, which is flexible and can be trained to understand your style of writing.

This is a combination of two different methods that I personally use. The first is Free Writing, where you just allow words to come out of you without censoring them in any way. The second method includes the first as its first stage. The method is called the Disney Method and is named after Walt Disney. It’s the way that he and his team of creators brainstormed new ideas for films and features.

If you want to find out more about this and other methods of achieving your goals, I suggest you look at my book Unleash Your Dreams: Going Beyond Goal Setting. You can find it on Amazon as both a Kindle ebook and paperback, as well as on iBooks and at Smashwords.

Another suggestion I can make is to have multiple projects going on at the same time. For instance, right now, I am doing the final cleanup on my collection of short stories. I’m working on a second collection of stories on the same theme, I have a fantasy novel I’m working on, and I’m also working on a follow-up book to the one that I just mentioned. If I run out of ideas or find myself blocked on one of these projects, I simply switch to another one and continue working there. I do this because I’ve come to realise that it’s not really a block, as such. It means that what I’m working on now isn’t quite ready to be written down yet.

No ideas at all

You said that you have no idea where to start? Is this because you have no ideas? Or is it because you have no idea what tools to use?

If the first one is your problem, please look earlier in this email, where I’ve given you a few pointers on how to start. If the second one is where you’re stuck, any word processor, such as Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages, will do perfectly well. I wrote my first book using Word, and it did the job fairly well.

These days, I use a product called Scrivener, which is specially designed with the writer in mind, allowing you to structure your work any way you like, moving stuff around if it makes more sense that way. You can download a free trial at http://www.literatureandlatte.com, which will run for 30 days of use; if you use it only once a week, it will work for months. If you decide you like it, it only costs about $45 to buy the full licence. There are versions for the PC, Mac, and iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.

Other problems

If your problems lie more in the realm of the actual publication of your writing, we can talk about this on another occasion.

I hope this helps you in your quest to become a writer.

I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to put this up as a next blog post because I think other people might profit from it.

I wish you lots of luck in the future and look forward to hearing from you soon and reading your writing.

Please visit Stephen’s website for more great articles: http://stephenoliver-author.com/

About Stephen Oliver

I’m a ‘Pantser’ (aka ‘Discovery Writer’), meaning that I write ‘by the seat of my pants’.

In other words, I have no idea what I’m writing until I’ve written it. Give me a picture or a writing prompt (a sentence, a phrase… heck, even a word will do) and let me loose. I can come up with something in twenty minutes, 400-500 words to create a new story. I don’t stop there, of course. Those few words can turn into four or five thousand, or more. The next day or week, the Muse will strike again, and I’ll finish it off, creating something weird, wonderful or just plain odd.

Once I’m done, then comes the hard part: turning it into something good. I’ve had to learn that what I wrote initially is only the beginning. Read, revise, edit, wash, rinse, repeat. And repeat. And repeat… There are some stories I’ve gone over dozens of times, and I’ll still find something to improve, on occasion.

So it is that I’ve self-published a self-help book, written dozens of short stories, completed a novel, and am still working on two more. My genres cover science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, humour (very dark), noir, detective fiction, fairytales and fairy stories. Often more than one in a single tale… Oh, and there’s a second self-help book in the works, too.

I came to writing fairly late in life, but that ain’t going to stop me now. As Harlan Ellison once said, “A writer is some poor schmuck who can’t help putting words on paper.” That’s me, because I’ve already written over a million words since I began. I’ll be done when they peel my cold, dead fingers off my keyboard.

Mind you, given the kinds of stories I write, that will probably be because one of the monsters I created finally finished me off…!

Michele Sayre: MY TOP-TEN BITS OF WRITING ADVICE

I still see lists of writing advice and the ensuing arguments over it. So I want to put in my two-cents worth here with mine:

1) Writing advice is not the law of the land. Someone can yell at you for breaking said writing advice but they can’t throw you in jail for it.

2) Writing advice is just what has worked for someone and is shared in the hope that it will help others. This is why I do it. If it’s done for an ego-stroke, be sure to wash your hands after reading it.

3) Basic rules of spelling, punctuation, and grammar are not bad. They are fluid and change over time. Don’t be afraid to change and if someone doesn’t like that, just walk away from them.

4) Don’t try to write like anyone else. Find your own your voice and write in your own way. The best writers are the ones with the most unique voices.

5) Criticism can be a valuable tool, but only if it’s not an axe that’s being ground on your back.  

6) You don’t have to write every single day. There will be days where life gets in the way, or you just can’t get any words out. Remember, there’s always tomorrow.

7) Don’t be afraid to scrap something and start over. Nothing ever comes out perfect and sometimes it’s best to start over on a blank page.

8) Being a writer doesn’t give you the right to be a jerk about it. The world doesn’t owe you a damn thing, especially writing time or anything writing-related.

9) Writing is a ton of editing most of the time. Complain about it if you will, but don’t stop until you get it right.

10) Writing can be taught, but only if you’re willing to learn and do the work on your own.

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Please visit Michele on her blog! https://michelesayre.com/

Writers Unite! Workshop: The Western (Part Two)

Writers Unite! Workshop

The Western

Part Two

The western genre is unique. The popularity of the western novel spawned many television shows and movies watched by legions of fans around the globe. That familiarity created a quandary for writers. With a set period, just after the civil war to the early 1900s, locations, transportation, and the people that populated the west are well-known to the reader and the viewers. Unlike a science fiction story, where you can create any world you like, you can’t recreate the old west.

The Western Character

The Good

Westerns can appear two-dimensional as the concept of good vs. evil is a popular central theme. The protagonist is often a loner, a knight-errant if you will. A wanderer, perhaps a gunslinger who reluctantly stays to help the townsfolk or the sheriff or the widowed rancher face the bad guys. The good guy could be the sheriff facing a threat from a gang or an evil cattle baron. A strong moral center is a common characteristic of the western hero, and a sense of right and wrong prevails over the reluctance to enter the fight.

The fallacy of the western is that, as stated above, they often appear two-dimensional. If you write your characters that way, reduce them to good or evil, your story will be flat. As with all characters, western-genre characters should be multi-dimensional.

  • Make your protagonist human. Give the hero a personality, a sense of humor, a fear of heights, a love of poker. Maybe they drink too much, are scarred emotionally or physically by past trauma. Give your reader a reason to become attached to them and cheer for them to prevail.
  • Create a backstory that makes their actions plausible. Bring that detail out as the story unfolds to add credibility to your hero’s behavior.
  • Give them a quest. Stories need conflict, and your hero needs a goal, a quest—set the stakes high. They and the reader need a goal to attain.
  • Give them supportive surrounding characters, even if they don’t want help. A writer should never think that only the protagonist or antagonist is worthy of development. The supporting characters need development as well.
  • Make that quest difficult. Give them setbacks along the way, obstacles to overcome to reach that final goal.
  • Allow them to fail and gain the resolve to push harder to attain their goal.

Whether you are writing a western or fantasy or any other genre, create a character that your reader will identify with and want to see win.

The Bad

The evil rancher preying on the widow’s land, the ruthless killer, the bank robber—all wonderfully delicious bad guys. Always give your hero a worthy opponent, even a stronger one, with more resources or power. Making your hero struggle is the role the antagonist takes, so let it happen. The more ruthless the antagonist is, the more your hero suffers. Here as well, you should make your villain human, a one-dimensional villain does not enhance your story.

For a strong antagonist:

  • Give your antagonist unpleasant goals.
  • Remember, your antagonist believes their goals are righteous. Give them the conviction of their beliefs.
  • Provide a credible backstory providing reasons for the evildoing.
  • Make your antagonist strong, seemingly invincible, throwing obstacles in the protagonist’s way.

The Rest

Unique supporting characters flavor the western. A secondary character serves as a sidekick, a mentor, a friend. Additional characters can be associates of the protagonist who join in the quest, or integral players appearing in a single scene that moves the plot forward.

The main secondary character can be a friend, lover, partner, or mentor, and plays a pivotal role in displaying the protagonist as human. This character serves to reveal the main character’s heroic attributes, kindness, compassion, humor, and flaws.

In any story, additional characters that come in contact with the protagonist should move the plot forward or demonstrate other facets of the main character. For example, the protagonist and sidekick enter a saloon. Barmaid approaches and says to the protagonist, “Hey, handsome, you’re the best-looking stranger that’s come in here in a long time.’ That statement replaces the need to describe the character in the narrative as handsome. The barmaid did that for you.

While the story and quest revolve around the protagonist, the action toward resolution of the quest moves forward through the supporting characters. One of the best examples of an ensemble cast in a western is the TV program “High Chaparral.” From the main character and his family to the hired hands, the cast exemplifies how the characters interact to create the story.

The Western World

Every writer does worldbuilding. Whether you are setting a modern-day story in a real location or a created location, you build a world. It is essential to create a setting that frames your story correctly. On his writing blog, terribleminds.com, Chuck Wendig offers this definition: “[worldbuilding] covers everything and anything inside that world.”

In contemporary settings, creating a world is not as difficult. We have a frame of reference in everyday items such as currency, transportation, shopping, housing, and all the other facets of our lives. We do have national and cultural differences to take into consideration, but if you set a story in a small town or a city, creating or referencing that world is not difficult.

Historical settings require more attention and research. Period pieces set in varied centuries or during wars need thorough and meticulous research. The western genre spans the period from after the American Civil War to the 1930s and is unique. Due to the popularity of western television shows and movies and the western novel, the public is quite familiar with the period. You may not have read a Zane Grey book, but you have likely seen “Gunsmoke” or “Bonanza.”

For the overall location, watching old movies or TV shows portray a somewhat accurate image of a western town or ranch. However, when writing, the nuances of the western world are imperative, and for avid readers of westerns, they will know if a single detail is wrong. Here are some critical areas to address when writing a western set in the Old West of the late 19th century:

  • Composition of the town. Most small western towns have a dry goods/general store, a smithy/stable, a jail, and a saloon (some with rooms to rent), and perhaps a post office or telegraph. Larger communities may have a train station, a stagecoach station, a hotel, a doctor, and a claims office.
  • Transportation. The horse is the primary mode of transportation. You should learn about horse sizes, how much can they carry, what breeds of horses are common, and the tack they use. They used several types of wagons to transport supplies and people as well as stagecoaches and trains.
  • Native Americans. If you include Native American characters, be aware of the tribes in the location of your story and their culture. Tribal cultures differ, and it is respectful to be accurate.*
  • Language. Research common language and slang for the era but be aware of slang words or words that do not fit the times. A reliable source for determining the first use of a word is the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
  • Food. If you are going to feed cowhands or eat in a hotel dining room in Virginia City, know what foods were common then.
  • Need a doctor? Modern medicine, as we know it, was just coming into being during this time. Look for how the doctors of the day treated gunshot wounds or fever, among other maladies.

The more accuracy you bring to your stories, the more credible your storytelling, and you will do justice to the Western.

There is one path a writer can take to vary the setting, and that is the neo-western subgenre, where the story is set in the contemporary west but maintains the characteristics of the old-west stories. A look at modern western towns, cities, and ranches will provide the accuracy needed.

And…don’t forget the cowboy hat!

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Resources:

Western World Building:

National Cowboy Museum

Legendary Towns of the Old West Then and Now

Hoofs-Wheels-Transportation West

Horse Tack

Western Wear

History of the Cowboy Hat

Medicine in the Wild West

Food Timeline 19th Century Foods

Merriam-Webster

Article:

25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding

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*Note: 

Accuracy is essential and telling the story from the viewpoint as it occurred is vital. While we have modern sensibilities when it comes to the treatment of Native Americans and other ethnic groups, historical accuracy is critical. When writing about events and how they occurred in the late 1800s, be truthful but respectful. Always avoid stereotyping, as it is never accurate.

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.

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Announcing Writers Unite!’s sixth anthology volume.  We invite all writers of westerns or any writers interested in the western genre to submit a story to our Dimensions of The Wild West anthology.

If you are interested in submission, you must be a member of Writers Unite! on Facebook.  https://www.facebook.com/groups/145324212487752/
If you have questions, please email writersunite16@gmail.com

Link to Guidelines for the Dimensions of the Wild Westhttps://bit.ly/3fh7zgr