Tag Archives: writing workshop

Guest Blog: Write What You Know — David Reiss

Once upon a time–when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I was still in high school–I had a wonderful English teacher who treated his students as peers and insisted that we all call him by his first name; his enthusiasm for literature and drama was outright contagious. He convinced me to read outside my preferred genres, and he pushed me to write, write and write some more. A tremendously harsh critic, he somehow managed to be supportive even while delivering the most ruthless dissections of my prose. I was a bitter and catastrophically depressed teenager who approached each school day with apprehensive dread, but for his classes, I held a genuine anticipation.

Until one lecture when he insisted that creating compelling fiction required that we ‘write what we know,’ and all my enthusiasm burned away into ash.

At the time, I thought that he meant that our prose should be limited to our experiences and our areas of expertise. I couldn’t imagine any subject less interesting or worthy of consideration. How could the experiences of a morose, sheltered and awkward kid be relevant to the life of an inhuman denizen of a fantasy dungeon? I wanted to write about dragons and laser pistols, camaraderie and adventure!

I occasionally wish for a time machine so that I could leap across the years and smack my younger self on the back of the head. Because the truth is every experience is something you can learn from. I may not have ever soared above a battlefield then folded my wings to drop into combat like the gryphon protagonist from one of my short stories…but I knew the feel of wind against my face and could add that sensation to describe my gryphon’s flight. I knew what it looked like when a hawk stooped towards its prey. I knew what anger felt like, and fear, and hope, and sadness.

To ‘write what you know’ doesn’t mean to write about yourself. It means to use your personal experiences to lend the power of authenticity to your prose.

There is a secondary meaning as well, and it is one that I try to take to heart more as an adult author: Research, knowledge and the acquisition of new sensory memories can make your writing more compelling. It’s tempting to feel content that having swung a baseball bat is sufficient experience to write a scene in which an armored knight wields a mace, and it is true that being able to evoke the memory of how your grip strained or how your shoulder shook at the moment of impact is important. But spending time researching how maces were used historically can help create a more powerful scene. Look up how much real maces weighed. Research the kinds of wounds that a mace caused. If you can, make a mace and create new sensory memories by beating up an old tire. Interview experts and NEVER rely on anything you saw in a Hollywood blockbuster movie because Hollywood is a lying liar who lies.

Try new things! Get your hands dirty in the garden, take a lesson in welding, bungee jump, hang-glide. Eat exotic foods and learn to mix cocktails. Live.

So, my advice to an aspiring author is this: Write what you know because you know much more than you think. And never, ever stop learning because who knows what you’re going to want to write about tomorrow?

About the Author:

While growing up, David Reiss was that weird kid with his nose in a book and his head in the clouds. He was the table-top role-playing game geek, the comic-book nerd, the story-teller, and dreamer.
Fortunately, he hasn’t changed much.

David is a software engineer by trade and a long-time sci-fi and fantasy devotee by passion, and he lives in Silicon Valley with his partner of twenty-six years. Until recently, he also shared his life with a disturbingly spoiled cat named Freya.

(Farewell, little huntress. You were loved. You are missed.)

David’s first book, Fid’s Crusade, has just recently been published; this was his first novel-length project, but it certainly won’t be his last—he’s having far too much fun!

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Mr. Price’s Dinner Table – Deborah Ratliff

 

Location, location, location.

How many time have you heard that a business’s location is essential to its success? It is. The same is true for the site of your story. Choosing a small town, an urban environment, or an alien world instantly sets the mood, the culture, and the anticipation for your story. Choose wisely, and the location becomes another character in your writing, adding depth and complexity to your plot.

Why we choose a location varies from our own experiences to the genres that we write.  I set my stories in the world that I know best, the Southern United States and often in New Orleans. To explain how I decide, I need to take you on a journey to my childhood.

I am a Southerner and quite proud of my roots. Growing up in South Carolina I was fortunate to have parents who saw no color differences in their fellow man. People from all walks of life and cultures visited our home.

Memories of my childhood remain clear today. The mimosa tree that I played under in our yard. Houses where all doorways, windows, and chimneys were trimmed in blue to ward off evil spirits. The dime bags of boiled peanuts sold on the street. The ‘air-conditioned tree’ at the Herlong Orchard peach stand where the temperature was twenty degrees cooler in the shade and the water stored in a metal canteen was ice cold. While there was a horrible undercurrent of division and anger in this place I love so much, there was also a goodness of soul. Family, friends, food, and good times existed as well.

My father worked at the Savannah River Plant in Aiken, South Carolina where at the time hydrogen bombs were being made. With workers from all over the world employed there, as a child I met a variety of people. One of my father’s best friends was a bear of a man, a Navaho by the name of Jess Brown. His wife Athea, a small, plump woman who might have been a better cook than my grandmothers, was like an aunt to me. I am about one-sixteenth Cherokee and Jess, and Athea gave me a sense of what being Native American meant. Proud, hard-working, gentle people.

Another friend of my parents impacted my life more than I realized. Mr. Price. Honestly, I am not sure what his first name was, my parents never called him anything but Mr. Price. He was older, a slight man, regal in bearing, with snow-white hair and a thick Southern accent that held a lilt of his mother’s heritage. She was a Cajun from southwest Louisiana, and it was his reminisces about his mother’s upbringing that fueled my love of the Cajun culture.

Mr. Price was called a ‘bachelor.’ In the South in those days, an unmarried man of means, a patron of the arts was referred to in that manner. Anyone who has read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt will recognize who Mr. Price was. Polite society did not mention the word homosexual as that wouldn’t be gracious and respectful.

We often had Sunday dinner at Mr. Price’s home, a large two-story house near downtown Aiken. I remember the opulent crimson flocked wallpaper in the parlor, the glittering crystal chandelier in the dining room, and fresh flowers everywhere. While I loved to have dinner in the dining room,  if the weather cooperated, we would often eat on the back terrace surrounded by a formal garden.

Dinner? Not what you might expect for a South Carolina gentleman. While on occasion we might have shrimp and grits or barbecued chicken, we often feasted on shrimp etouffee or jambalaya, dishes Mr. Price’s mother made when he was small. At age ten, I had my first taste of that Cajun chicory coffee at his dinner table.

I was mesmerized as he would tell us of his parent’s home in Lake Charles, and his grandparents’ house in the country nearby. He would spin tales of fun in the bayou, and I was hooked for life. While I loved South Carolina, my heart drifted toward Cajun Louisiana. His memories stirred emotions in me that I have kept to this day.

When I began to write fiction again a few years ago, I knew I would set my stories in the South. While I have never sugar-coated the problems the area has, which are no different from any other part of the United States, there is an ambiance and tone about the South, the southern coast especially, that is alluring. When I began to write it was Louisiana that I set my first novel in, New Orleans specifically.

Having visited New Orleans a few times as an adult, I discovered that my writing muse was a resident of the French Quarter. New Orleans, the bayou, the jazz, the beignets, the sultry weather, all characters in themselves and ones I find creeping into my writing.

On a recent Sunday, I watched one of Anthony Bourdain’s final “Parts Unknown” episodes. We lost a unique individual with Bourdain’s death. A talented essayist on life and culture and how food is intrinsic to our existence, not only for sustenance but for our soula. This show centered on Cajun Mardi Gras as celebrated in Southwest Louisiana.

We know of Mardi Gras as a glitzy party of drunken revelry, resplendent with cheap shiny beads, gaudy costumes, and over the top parades, as well as – well – fun. Bourdain showed us a Mardi Gras few outsiders know,  celebrated away from the French Quarter. Equally as gaudy and drunken but steeped in tradition and meaning.

Despite the commercial decadence of the more popular party in the French Quarter or the more traditional decadence of Cajun Mardi Gras, the spirit of the Cajun people, their passion for life, food, and even voodoo fuel my imagination and my soul.

I realized how ingrained the Cajun world was to my writing when I recently started writing a short story for a romance anthology. I struggled with setting and story until my muse left the jazz bar in the Quarter and reminded me, I was a mystery writer. I knew where I belonged. My story is now a romance between a TV reporter and a detective brought together over a dead body.  The location you ask? The French Quarter.

There is something about the tenor and vibe New Orleans that touches me.  A city steeped in tradition and like Anthony Bourdain, unique.

After writing my first novel, Crescent City Lies, a mystery set in New Orleans, I realize that the Cajun culture remains embedded within me, sparked so many years ago at Mr. Price’s dinner table.

Location, location, location.

(photo from https://www.visitaikensc.com/groups)

Guest Blog: The 9 Perils of Writerhood – Rosanna Bates

The 9 Perils of Writerhood

By Rosanna Bates

Thinking about taking up writing? As a hobby, or maybe a career? Well, be warned. You are about to pursue a perilous occupation. A vortex of chaos, creativity and solitude that will suck you into its inescapable depths. Writing is not for the faint-hearted.

On your journey you will encounter submission guidelines, internet trolls and *gasp* reading fees. If you are lucky enough to get away from them unscathed, you are still destined to fall victim to the countless dangers of writing. Although for the sake of time-saving let’s say there are nine.

 

The Curse of the Grammar Nazi

With proficiency in the written word comes an impulse to correct people’s grammar and spelling—a practice that is universally frowned upon. In no small part because it’s a little bit condescending even if it does clear up some outrageous uses of the English language.

As the rest of the world demands you keep your mouth shut, you will be forced to stew in your exasperation for eternity. Although, where the internet’s prying eyes cannot see, you will be safe to unleash your new curse. The household shopping lists will be impeccable, one way or another.

 

Demonic Possession

Short of floating out of bed and babbling in tongues, you wouldn’t believe you were being possessed at all. That’s what the Demons want you to think.

We believe the characters we create and grow to love are under our control. But they get under our skin, into our heads, and control our thoughts. Whilst innocently daydreaming some dialogue for your new imaginary friends, their words will come tumbling out of your mouth quite without your permission. At dinner, on the tube, at the library, in the middle of an important interview. At every conceivable inconvenient movement. So don’t be surprised if you come home to an intervention one day with a demonologist and a priest siting in.

 

Imagination Fatigue

The adrenaline rush of an idea grabbing you and running away is like nothing else. Your wedding day or that big promotion all pale in comparison to this thrill. Spending several hours on a whirlwind adventure in your own brain and putting it to paper is an excitement that has lured many a writer into its eternal clutches. However, after any epic high, there is an inevitable crash. When you’re finished with that flash of productivity, your brain will feel like an exploded water balloon. You’ll be lucky if you can think up what to have for dinner.

 

Legal Trouble

Writers research everything. How else are you supposed to craft realistic crime dramas and historical romances? Nobody’s that confident in their estimations of an autopsy to start writing about it without looking it up in a search engine first. Those Google searches are not for the squeamish.

As a result of your curiosity, your internet histories become weird and wonderful collections of web pages you’ve clicked on in the pursuit of piecing your work together realistically. They also become article one in your murder trials if your enemies are vengeful enough.

Whilst at the time your search on the world’s deadliest poisons was perfectly innocent, it may not look that way when there’s a dead body in your living room with all the signs of cyanide poisoning. Moral of the story, don’t be a writer. If you really must be a writer, then be sure to make no enemies who might be motivated enough to frame you for murder. As our next point explains, that may not be a problem anyway.

 

Dying a Social Death

Writing isn’t merely a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. It gets into every nook and cranny of your life, including the social sector. Coffees with friends make way for editor’s deadlines. Brainstorming sessions instead of hosting the parents. Losing your mind perfecting a scene instead of sleeping.

Your friends and family begin to question whether you ever existed or if you were just a figment of their imaginations. Until one day you finally show up to a birthday party and dole out a few heart attacks.

 

Keyboard Burn

When inspiration hits, you won’t be able to get the words down fast enough. So beware when speed typing, for your fingertips may burn on the red-hot keys. That best-seller in the making will gather dust at the back of your hard-drive whilst you enjoy the delight that is hospital food.

 

Irritable Scowl Syndrome

Writing takes peace and quiet. But the quietest times are the best until someone bursts into your study exclaiming that they need their dry cleaning done, there are no jam tarts left, or the house is on fire. Sigh.

Be warned, the first interruption will not be the last because when it’s OK to barge in once, it’s always OK. Such is the logic of serial interrupters. You will begin to develop a fearsome scowl upon hearing the words “Just before you sit down…” or “Are you busy?” that will send any enquirers scurrying in the other direction.

As these interruptions happen more and more (and rest assured, they will) this scowl will become your default expression for anything you even remotely disapprove of. Your reputation will be forever tainted and you will be remembered as a terrifying individual. Or perhaps that’s what you were aiming for.

 

Repetitive Name Injury

There’s names you like, and names you don’t. The names you give your characters you often love. That’s why it’s difficult to give these beloved names to only one character. Where does the injury come in? When you’re bashing your head against the wall trying to think of new ones that sound just as good.

 

Addiction

Drugs are bad, kids, and writing is one of the hardest highs out there. It starts out innocent, just a short story or two in the privacy of your home, but it doesn’t take long for this to escalate. You’ll start holing yourself up in your study penning novels and sketching settings. Soon enough, you’ll be writing on the train to work, and in the car waiting for your kids to get out of school. Write long enough and no rehab on Earth can help you return to the way things used to be.

 

 

About the Author

Rosanna Bates was born in Worcester, England at the height of baggy jeans and boy band popularity. Her childhood was spent reading and writing stories she was too embarrassed to show anyone. To date, she has had short stories and flash fiction published by The Fiction Pool, Ariel Chart, Anti-Heroin Chic, the Manawaker Studios podcast and Otter Libris. While she prepares her debut novel for publication, she also manages a book blog The Secret Library and regularly contributes to the online millennial lifestyle magazine, Unwritten.

 

Guest Blog: Dusty Grein – Why A Bad Review Can Be A Blessing

They All Love Me!

When I first published my book, The Sleeping Giant, I anticipated the glowing reviews that I was sure would happen. After all, I loved my story, how could anyone not feel the same?

Ah, the naiveté of the beginning novelist.

The Reality

Let me preface this by saying that in all fairness, my book has been very well received. It has been purchased and/or read by thousands of customers, and most of them have been extremely satisfied with the story, the characters and the style with which I wrote it. After more than forty reviews, it has a solid and respectable 4.4 star average, and over two thirds have been of the five star variety.

Those aren’t the ones I want to talk about here though. I learned far more about myself, and my writing, from the bad reviews, and I’d like to express my gratitude for the negative ones — even the lone 1-star thrashing of my endeavor.

When I got my first 3-star review, I felt like I had actually made it.

I had arrived!

The reviewer said “This is a good read, However the focus of the story, a soon to erupt volcano, ends up with only a few pages at the end. Needs a part 2.” It made me smile – my first critical review was that I needed to write another book!

My next 3-star said simply “needed more character development,” and was countered soon after by a pair of 5-stars that said “It’s interesting, the characters are well created” and “The characters were developed and the plot moved at a rapid pace.”

Different strokes and all that. The truth is you just can’t please everyone, so you have to just grin and shake your head.

Then it happened.

The Bad News

Someone gave me a 1-star BAD review! They not only gave it a single star, but in the review subject line, they said “SAVE YOUR MONEY…PASS ON THIS BOOK!” I was shocked!

I felt like I had been sucker-punched and immediately became defensive. I had to walk away from the computer. It hurt that someone felt compelled to not only attack my little story, but to tell others not to bother reading it! After I calmed down, I sat down and read the review in earnest – and I’m glad I did. Here is what this reviewer wrote:

“Poorly written attempt at a first novel. First couple of chapters are an absolute non-stop info dump, which totally stalls the story. The author hasn’t yet learned how to work this info into the story in a way that it doesn’t bring everything to an absolute standstill. It turned me off as a reader. Author started his novel too far before from the beginning of the actual action and takes way too long to get there to hold the reader’s interest when encountering the huge info dump they must stumble through. Author hasn’t yet learned how to eliminate the words “that” and “just” from his writer’s vocabulary, as they should be. A non-educated casual reader might read over the many occurrences of those two empty words—which add nothing to the meaning of the sentences—without noticing them, but they pulled me back to reality every time I encountered them and made the book unreadable for me. My guess is this book has never seen a paid professional edit, as it would have caught all these errors before publication and probably made the story much more readable.”

Wow. The first thing I noticed was that I had obviously made this reader feel something–and feel it strongly enough to write a very lengthy and scathing review. Then I started working on figuring out why it had happened, by removing the opinions and just dealing with the substantive issues. In doing so, I made a few discoveries.

Lessons 

I found that part of this was just about my writing style. The infamous “info-dump” accusation was to be expected. In truth, I had written this book quickly, and I did spend a bit too much time in chapter one, setting the stage for my characters. The fact that the story started “too far before from the beginning of the actual action and takes way too long to get there” was one that I had expected to find from some people. I wrote a story that was mainly about the people, not just about the actions they went through.

I also discovered that I DID have a tendency to overuse the words THAT and JUST. I used this insight to go back into my manuscript, and I did a complete revision, removing over forty instances of these “filler” words. I then released edition 2.0, and in my opinion the story is better for the rewrite.

Finally, I learned a very valuable lesson about the editing process.  See, I am a professional editor, and have edited the works of well over 200 authors, including everything from flash-fiction and poetry to short stories and full novels; in my professional capacity, I have never received a critical evaluation of my editorial talents – but I learned you should NEVER edit your own work, no matter how skilled you may be at polishing the work of others. Being able to edit someone else’s work, is not the same as being able to edit your own.

My book is now at edition 4.0 (this last edition change was made necessary due to a print size change) and thanks in large part to its single one-star review, it is a much finer book than it was when I first released it.

The reviews continue to be good – and bad.

Since that bad review I have received many more four and five star reviews, and a lone two star panning. This bad review stated “virtually the entire work is character development.”

In this case, I gladly accept and endorse the statement. Even in my blurb, I invite folks to accompany my characters during the week leading up to the eruption. Based on the ratio of wonderful reviews to bad ones, this approach is one which thousands of my readers have enjoyed.

Keep This In Mind

In the end, no matter how popular you are with your readers, there will be those who dislike your story, your characters, or the way you write; you can’t let these obstacles stand in your way.

Instead, learn what you can from them, and then move on, and become better at this crazy craft.

My one hope, is that if you have read a book that you enjoyed, be sure to leave a review for the author. If it has issues, you shouldn’t hesitate to let them know it as well — although you don’t have to scream for others not to waste their money, just tell them what you didn’t enjoy. Maybe your opinion will help them become better writers as well.

 

— Dusty Grein

 

About the author:

An author, graphics designer and full-time grandpa, Dusty is originally from Federal Way, Washington. He currently resides in Oregon, where his youngest daughter Jazzmyn Grein (an author in her own right) and a white bulldog-mix named Naked, keep him busy.

His first novel, THE SLEEPING GIANT, hit #1 on the free lists during a recent giveaway promotion. It is a thrilling story of love, fear and survival centered around the impending eruption of Mount Rainier in Washington state.

Dusty is also a publisher with RhetAskew Publishing, a new and fast-growing traditional publishing company with a unique way of looking at publishing.

RhetAskew Publishing: https://rhetoricaskew.wordpress.com/

Dusty Grein’s Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/Dusty-Grein/e/B00W36LH6U

Dr. Paul’s Family Talk: Interview with Deborah Ratliff… “We Are Writers. Are We Professional?”

This past week I appeared on Dr. Paul’s Family Talk, Impact Radio USA to discuss the article, “We Are Writers. Are We Professional?

Professionalism is a mindset and the attributes associated with professional careers should be applied to all of our endeavors, personal or professional.

Listen as host Paul Reeves and I discuss how writers should behave when appearing interviewing on radio, television, podcasts, in print, and online.

Click here for the interview

Click here for the article, “We Are Writers. Are We Professional?”

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Go With the Flow. How to Keep Your Reader Interested.

 

My job as an author is to tell the story in the best way possible, to make it flow seamlessly and get the reader to keep turning the page. — Patrick Carman
Let’s face it. We write for many reasons, among them because we want someone to read our words, to listen to our story. The last thing we want is for them to throw the book down after the first chapter and walk away muttering they will never buy that author’s book again.

How do we keep them from being disappointed? We write a story so good that they cannot put the book down. Creating that story is not difficult if you pay attention to story structure components as you write.

When structuring a story, character development is imperative. You must create a main character that the reader identifies with and cheers for as the story unfolds. Reveal their goal early and make it your reader’s goal as well. Building your world, whether it is a planet in a far-off galaxy, a fantasy kingdom, or a small town in the Midwest is also a very important component. You need to provide your reader with an environment that catches their imagination and makes them feel present in your world as they read.

Your story needs to be coherent and plausible regardless of genre. You can be as imaginative as you want, but even in the fantasy and science-fiction genres, your magic and technology must be conceivable.

Grammar and sentence structure should be correct. You can take liberties with dialogue but not with narrative. The narrative should be without grammatical errors which cause the reader to break their immersion in the story.

It is flow, created by how you assemble these skills, which takes your story from ordinary to one your reader cannot put down.

 

Flow

The concept of flow in a novel has an elusive definition. It borders on the adage that you will know it when you ‘read’ it. Flow is a combination of several factors that create a cohesive story. The question is how to achieve flow. There are a few critical things that you should do.

 

The Hook:

You must connect with your reader. If you do not, they will never become engaged in your story. First, your opening sentence/paragraph, known as a hook, should set the mood and grab the reader’s attention. The following paragraphs, few pages, or even the first chapter can set the tone and interest of your novel.

There are a few do’s to creating a hook:

  • Place your character in a unique situation.
  • Create an interesting image, often of the locale your story is set in.
  • Start at a crucial point in your story.
  • Create mystery, allow your reader to wonder the why or where or what of your story.
  • Highlight an unusual character.

 

Do not do these things:

  • Be overly descriptive.
  • Start with useless information.
  • Start with dialogue. No one knows anything about your character yet.
  • Include a lot of characters in your opening.

 

The last “don’t” is quite telling. We discussed earlier that your reader must develop a relationship with your main character. They need to identify, sympathize or empathize, and root for the main character to achieve their goal. The opening of your story is where you create that bond. If you attempt to introduce too many characters too soon, your reader may bond with someone you will not be focusing on. The connection between the main character and the reader must be strong.

 

Make It Clear:

All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary—it’s just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences. ~Somerset Maugham

Coherency is required. Well-crafted sentences and paragraphs and carefully chosen words present a clear message and allow comprehension. If your reader does not understand the story, they will not continue to read. Think of it as if you were giving someone directions. You should not say, “Go two miles and turn left,” nor should you describe all the businesses, houses, and landmarks on the way. The former is too little information, the latter too much. Choose the precise words to convey meaning. Extraneous words lead to confusion.

There must also be continuity. If you state your character is a redhead and four chapters later declare her a brunette, your reader will notice, and the flow will be broken. Maintain the information you present about your characters, locale, notable events, and the timeline. They must remain consistent. If they do not, someone who has become engrossed in the story will disconnect at the mistake.

 

Transition:

Sentence to sentence, or chapter to chapter, how you connect your thoughts affects the flow of your story. A transition can be carried out in many ways: a single word, a phrase, or a paragraph, bridging one thought to another, including emotion, time, location, or characters. A ‘cliffhanger’ at the end of a chapter is an excellent transition and follows the intent of the transitional paragraph to propel your reader forward and connect two segments of your story.

Choose your words carefully as you write the transitional sequence. Don’t embellish, but instead, provide concise meaning so that your reader reacts the way you intend.

 

Sentence Structure:

Think of a beautiful piece of music and how it varies in tempo and volume. Slow or soft to create a relaxed or somber mood; fast, building to a crescendo, to denote excitement, action, or power. The structure of a novel mimics the patterns we recognize in music. Notes or words matter and how the reader or listener responds reveals how successful we are in conveying our intended meaning.

How to accomplish flow with sentence structure:

  • Vary sentence type. Mix simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences
  • Be cognizant of word order. Do not start several sentences with the same subject. Mix up nouns, gerunds, prepositions, or clauses. A lack of variety can be both distracting and irritating to the reader.
  • Incorporate sentences of varying lengths. Sentences that are too long will often bore a reader, and a bored reader will quickly lose interest. Sentences that are too short will quicken the pace of the story and leave your reader breathless.

 

 Pacing the Action

 Pacing is not the sort of thing you can plan out beforehand, but you’re always aware of it as you write because you need to make constant decisions. — Jean Hanff Korelitz

 

Without a doubt, following these suggestions will improve the flow. The pacing of your story, how quickly it unfolds, also helps with story structure.

With the skills discussed so far, you can achieve the action needed to move your story along and the quiet times to give your readers a rest from the action. These periods should alternate while propelling your reader to continue reading.

In your first chapter, you have ‘hooked’ your reader with an opening that intrigues them. You should also introduce them to the main characters, as well as the plot and your main character’s goal.

Throughout your story, you will provide plot points to move the action forward. By recognizing how to place your minor and major action, you can maintain a smooth flow. Think of it as waxing and waning as the story builds to the final climax.

When writing a novel-length story, writers, at times, find themselves with issues when writing the middle, referred to as the ‘saggy’ middle. It is easy to lose your way to the ending unless, even if you write with an outline, you have a mid-action sequence in mind to keep the reader involved.

Many writers start a project with the beginning and ending in mind. Add what you want to happen in the middle of that formula. You will find that the story will move forward with ease using the tools suggested and pace the action to keep a smooth flow.

 

Keeping the Flow

Writing, despite misconceptions by some, is not an easy task. To create a story that a reader enjoys from the opening words until the closing sentence requires hard work and concentration. There are no shortcuts. A writer must consider each word as important or not, use correct grammar and structure, and ponder every action and every repose before declaring a story finished.

As stated, flow is an elusive task but one that must be conquered so the reader can simply go with the flow.

by D. A. Ratliff

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Resources:

https://writeitsideways.com/6-ways-to-hook-your-readers-from-the-very-first-line/

https://literarydevices.net/transition/

http://www.be-a-better-writer.com/transitional-words.html

https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/pacing

https://owlcation.com/humanities/Why-do-Writers-Write-Quotes-from-Famous-Writers-on-Writing

Fantasy Genre: The Spectrum of Magic

The Fantasy Genre

Fantasy magic

The Spectrum of Magic

 Many things separate the fantasy genre from other genres, the variety of characters – dragons, fairies, elves, dwarves, etc. – talking trees, or mystical locations, but none are as important as the magical system that you use.

As you create a magical system, there are acceptable patterns that you may follow. Remember to create a system unique to your story and always consistent.  Adam Johnson writes about magical systems and how to create them.

 

Hard magic, Soft magic, and the Middleground.

 

Soft Magic:

Soft magic is an underlying force that isn’t quite explained. An Example is The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien never really explains the way his magic works so, we are left with a sense of wonderment and feeling like there is powerful energy at work in the background. He executes this well because he doesn’t use magic to solve the character’s problems. He doesn’t just have Gandolf teleport Frodo to Mount Doom because that wouldn’t make any sense to the reader and would subsequently make the magic and by extension, the whole story, seem weaker.

Soft magic can be a great tool for creating a sense of wonderment in your world. However, you must be careful in how you use it. When creating a soft magic system, you should do it in a way that just supports the characters and the feel of the story. You should not use magic to solve problems in a soft magic system. If you do, it will feel like you’re creating new rules for each situation to give your character a way out. That gets old really fast. Often, in soft magic, Spells won’t turn out the way the character intended them to. If something completely unexpected happens, that the character didn’t see coming, that’s ok because the reader didn’t see it coming either. So, in Soft magic, the Magic system should be there to support the ambiance of the story, not advance the plot. Unless the magic causes problems for the character, then, it’s perfect for the plot.

 

Hard Magic:

Hard magic is where the author lays out the rules and applications for the reader. This is done so the reader can have fun and feel like a part of the magic. It also allows the author to come up with all kinds of tricks and twists within their magic system. These are my favorite types of systems to write. They allow me to have fun creating the system. As a reader, I love understanding the inner-workings of a magic system and seeing what the author comes up with and if it seems comprehensive to the rules set forth.

If you think of it in superhero terms, You are introduced to your hero then you are introduced to their powers. Once you know what their powers are, you already have a great idea of what they can do and what their limits are. From there the author can use those abilities to come up with a whole host of abilities that remain within that power set. Each new ability that makes sense will excite the reader and give them a greater sense of realism.

 

The Middle Ground:

The Middle ground is creating a balance between those two ends of the spectrum. It means giving your reader a good idea of what to expect while still maintaining a sense of wonder within the world. The Harry Potter series is a perfect example of a great middle ground magic system. Ms. Rowling gives us some general guidelines to how her magic works. We know that they need a wand and that they need to know the correct incantations. Those rules stay pretty consistent throughout the series but, She also adds new rules and new applications of magic in each book. This allows her to retain a great sense of wonderment over all. So, each individual book stays very consistent with the rules that have been introduced in that book. This means that her whole series was somewhat soft magic but, each individual book was hard magic. This created a wonderful balance that is a blast to read and easy to get lost in.

 

 Traditional Forms of Magic

  • Abjuration: The power to protect/heal.

The school of Abjuration is focused on defensive and healing powers. The can create physical and magical barriers such as walls and force fields. The create glyphs and wards to protect an area or person. Glyphs and wards have an incredible range of effects and intensities. They are activated by an enemy crossing into it or passing through it. Once activated, a ward will release the effect that has been stored in it. It can be anything from trapping the enemy to transporting them to another dimension, even instant death.

Abjurers also have potent healing magic. This can range from healing minor cuts to restoring entire limbs. Depending on your magic system, Abjurers can even bring the dead back to life.

Feats include:

  • Defense Powers
  • Force-Field Generation
  • Healing

 

  • Conjuration: The power to transport living and non-living things.

Conjuration is a craft that requires a great deal of Studying and research. There are several applications of this magic but, The primary way it’s used is for summoning. Summoning is The act of pulling a Creature/Demon or Entity from their realm or their home and transporting them right in front of the mage. Summoning can work a few different ways as well. The creature summoned can be under complete control of the mage, The creature could just attack whatever he sees, and the mage has no control. The Summoner must draw pentacles on the ground. One for themselves and one to contain the creature. From there, the summoner will employ tactics to either strike a deal with the creature or torture them until they agree to help.

Regardless of the tactic, the summoner must always be wary. The creature summoned is not happy to be pulled away from home and usually, want to kill the summoner. So great lengths are taken to ensure the casters safety and the creatures cooperation.

Summoners can also use their power to open portals to different destinations.

Feats Include:

  • Creation
  • Summoning
  • Teleportation

 

  • Divination: The power to gain information.

Divination is the school of magic that focuses on gathering information, viewing, and probability. A mage that uses Divination is often called a Diviner. Let’s say you encounter a new situation or machine. You have to experience the situation to figure out what will work and what won’t. After you learn how it works, you’ll start to learn why it works as well. A Diviner can skip those steps by looking at a situation and automatically seeing all the various outcomes for the situation.Divination can also be used to make predictions.

With the Aid of a crystal or a scrying glass, a Diviner can Watch things happen in real time as if he were there. powerful practitioners of the craft can even read thoughts from Far away.

  • Extrasensory Perception
  • Magic Sensing

 

  • Enchantment: The power to influence the minds/emotions.

Note:  This is the magical application of enchantment on another living being. Enchantment of objects follows a different set of rules and can have limitless outcomes.

Enchantment is the ability to control someone’s mind or their emotions. Enchantments can come in many forms but, it is important to note that it does not include possession of a host’s body. The Enchanter can only control the mind and the body, not enter it. Enchanters use this power to make people perform tasks or to tip the odds of a situation in their favor. It is sort of like hypnosis in a sense. In Star Wars, Jedi’s use a form of Enchantment that they call “The Jedi mind trick.” It is a strong power of suggestion that essentially brainwashes the subject. This can also be used for interrogation and the extraction of information.

Feats include:

  • Invocation
  • Mental Manipulation
  • Emotional Manipulation

 

  • Evocation: The power to control the forces of Nature for a variety of effects.

Evocation is the practice of Calling forth energies to work for you. It can be summoning fireballs or affecting the energies in your own environment to achieve things like telekinesis. In the hands of an experienced wizard, the school of Evocation can be used to cause tremendous damage. Users of Evocation can call forth lightning and projectiles of concentrated magic energy.

  • Animate/Reanimation
  • Elemental Manipulation
  • Energy Manipulation
  • Telekinesis

 

  • Illusion: The power to create illusions.

Illusionists are often overlooked and thought of as being weak. This is not the case at all. Being able to trick the mind is an incredibly powerful tool. Creating illusions is pretty self-explanatory. The caster creates a vision of something that’s not really there. Seems simple right? The Illusionist, however, can be incredibly deceptive and has the ability to get themselves in and out of virtually any situation. The only downside for them is that their illusions must be real enough to fool even the most perceptive of people. If someone is very sharp mentally, they can see through the illusion for what it really is.

Some feats include:

  • Disappearing
  • Illusive Appearance
  • Psychosomatic Illusion
  • Subjective Reality: create illusions that become partially real.

 

Necromancy: The power to manipulate the forces of Death.

Necromancy is often regarded as the darkest of dark arts. Many of the spells and rituals require some or all of someone’s life force. So, you either have to drain them or kill them to gain the catalyst you need for power. Necromancers are obsessed with power and will stop at nothing to become more powerful. The ultimate goal of any necromancer is to become immortal. Necromancers can raise the dead from their graves and control legions of them depending on their strength and ability. They can speak with the dead and gain control over the undead, i.e., a powerful necromancer could control a vampire, but an extremely powerful vampire isn’t likely able to be controlled. If a necromancer becomes extremely powerful in his lifetime, he has a chance to come back to life as a lich after he dies.

Some Feats include:

  • Immortality
  • Undead Manipulation
  • Skin/bone grafting

 

  • Transmutation: The power to transform living or non-living

Transmutation is the ability to transform one thing into another whether the subject is living or not. Granted, as with anything else, there are varying degrees of difficulty. It’s one thing to turn a cup into a pencil but, quite another to turn a person into a plate.This can be used a wide variety of ways.

Some feats include:

  • Elemental Transmutation
  • Shapeshifting

 

Contemporary Magic

  • Blood Magic

 

The mage uses his own blood as a source of power. Blood mages can achieve incredible feats and perform incredible acts of power, all of which are considerably gruesome. The blood mage typically performs a ritual or speaks an incantation to build up the magical energy then, they cut themselves to release the magic along with their blood. So, essentially they pay for magic with their blood or their life force.

Blood Mages can also Twist and bend the blood of another to cause excruciating pain or to control them like puppets on a string. This type of magic is typically considered evil or taboo even in the most diverse of fantasy worlds.

As you create your magic system, remember that the desired goal is for your reader to suspend reality and engage in your world. Provide them with a structure that makes your magic plausible, and they will want to inhabit your world.

 

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Resources:

Article was written by Adam Johnson for Writer Unite! Workshop

 

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Author:

Adam Johnson

Since Adam Johnson was a child, he had an insatiable craving for a great story. Whether movies, comic books, TV, he was hooked on the story. An invitation to play Dungeons and Dragons led Adam to write a backstory of one of the characters, and the desire to write fantasy was born. When not writing high fantasy, Adam is restaurant management and a tattoo artist. He also serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.

WU! Workshop: Fantasy Genre

Fantasy genre 1

 

The Fantasy Genre

 

According to “Cliffnotes,” Fantasy fiction is a genre of writing in which the plot could not happen in real life (as we know it, at least).

As “Cliffnotes” is wont to do, a very succinct description. Factual but an injustice to this wonderous genre. The very word conjures up mysterious adventures, characters, creatures and most of all magic. Fantasy is a tale about the impossible.

The fantasy genre is part of speculative fiction which includes science fiction, superhero fiction, and horror/paranormal fiction. These speculative subsets differ from fantasy in one major component, plausibility. The characteristics of these genres need to reflect a familiar world. We measure the concept of space travel against our knowledge of physics. To have a superhero character, people of “normal” abilities must exist. Fantasy does not need that restriction. Trees can talk. Horses can fly. And magic exists.

Neil Gaiman in Stories: All New Tails writes, “I love the word ‘fantasy’… but I love it for the almost infinite room it gives an author to play: an infinite playroom, of a sort, in which the only boundaries are those of the imagination.” 

Fantasy need not be realistic. However, there are common characteristics that must be present.

Characteristics of the Fantasy Genre 

  • Magic: Fantasy must include a system of magic and that system have established rules that are followed. This element of the story alone separates fantasy from other genres. Creating a unique magical system is one way to set a story apart from others. Remember, magic is a character in your story, create a memorable one.
  • Characters: The development of characters, while very important in all genres, is paramount in fantasy. The scope of a fantasy story lends itself to larger than life characters and to quite a few of them. While you will always have your hero and evil villain, you may have many main characters and strong secondary characters to drive the story.
  • The Challenge: The core of your story is the challenge facing your characters. Conflicts that both drive them toward and keeps them from their goals create tension and interest in your reader. With an extensive cast of characters, conflict can be internal, between friends or between enemies. To create a cohesive story, there should be one arcing storyline which includes all your characters striving for the same goal.
  • Environment: Where does your story exist? When you create your imaginary world consider its terrain, flora and fauna, its social structure, educational systems, entertainment, military, and how it is governed. The more intricate you construct your world, the more drawn your reader will be to it.

In addition to these basic characteristics, fantasy also has many sub-genres, each of which brings unique characteristics of their own. Marcy Kennedy compiled a list of the most popular fantasy subgenres on her webpage, www.marcykennedy.com.

Fantasy Sub-genres:

Historical Fantasy – Historical fantasy takes place in a recognizable historical time period and in a real-world location. This sub-genre encompasses things like the King Arthur legends and Robin Hood. It’s more about how the author plays with history, myth, and legend than it is about magic.

Epic Fantasy – Epic fantasies are what most people think of when they hear “fantasy.” They’re defined by a large cast of characters, multiple POVs, and complex plots. They’re set in a fictional world, and the plot often revolves around the rise and fall of kingdoms. The ultimate epic fantasies are George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Urban Fantasy – First of all, urban fantasy is set in a primarily, well, urban/city setting. You can’t set your fantasy in a medieval-esque pastoral setting and call it “urban fantasy.” It’s darker, grittier than most other fantasy, and you’ll usually find it populated with demons, vampires, werewolves, witches (not the Harry Potter kind), or zombies. Kelly Gay’s The Better Part of Darkness is an urban fantasy example. Urban fantasy is often confused with paranormal romance. While they can and do often have blurry lines, the best way to tell them apart is to ask if the core conflict is about two people falling in love. If the main focus of the story is on the relationship, then it’s a paranormal romance. If the main focus of the story is somewhere else, on some other conflict, even if it has a romantic subplot, it’s still an urban fantasy.

Superhero Fantasy – Secret identities, superhuman powers, and villains who are more than a little unhinged are part of what makes superhero fantasy so much fun. Superhero movies like X-Men, Spiderman, The Green Lantern, and Captain America are all great examples of this genre.

Traditional Fantasy – Traditional fantasy is basically a teeny, tiny epic fantasy. It’s set in a secondary world (i.e., not our world) like epic fantasy, but it has a smaller cast of characters, fewer POV characters, and a plot that focuses more on a single character (or small group) and their unique struggle than on the creation or destruction of worlds/kingdoms. Magic in some form is usually a key element of traditional fantasy. A classic traditional fantasy is The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.

The fraternal twin sister of traditional fantasy is sword and sorcery, where the plot focuses more on the swashbuckling adventures and daring doos of the main character than on the magical elements. In other respects, they’re the same. Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora is an iconic sword and sorcery fantasy.

Contemporary Fantasy – This sub-genre of fantasy sets the story in our modern-day world (as opposed to historical fantasy) and, although they can have dark elements to them, they also aim to give their reader a sense of joy and wonder. Contemporary fantasies often involve a “world within a world.” If you’ve read any of the Harry Potter books, you’ve read contemporary fantasy. (Urban fantasy is actually a sub-genre of this sub-genre, but it’s easier to consider it as its own sub-genre. Confused yet?)

Alternate History – Don’t let its name fool you. Alternate history plots actually usually fall into the fantasy genre rather than the historical fiction genre because at some point in time the history of the story world diverged from the history of our world. What if the Nazis won World War II? That became the inspiration for The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick. Depending on the focus of alternate history plots, they can also be categorized as science fiction.

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Regardless of the type of fantasy that you choose to write, remember the world you are entering is full of magic, wonder, and the impossible. It is your job to take your reader there with you.

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Resources:

https://www.cliffsnotes.com/cliffsnotes/subjects/literature/what-is-fantasy-fiction

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/745687-i-love-the-word-fantasy-but-i-love-it-for

http://marcykennedy.com/2014/04/crash-course-fantasy-sub-genres/

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Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A lifelong mystery fan, her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published soon and a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. She has also written numerous articles on writing. Deborah serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/D-A-Ratliff-594776510682937/notifications/

Blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/

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WRITING YOUR FIRST NOVEL PART Eight: Grammar

 

 “People who cannot distinguish between good and bad language, or who regard the distinction as unimportant, are unlikely to think carefully about anything else.” 


― B.R. Myers

 

When I was in elementary school, I cheated. I cheated when I was forced to participate in spelling bees. A pastime it seemed my teachers thought was the most fun a student could have. I didn’t. And no, I did not write words on my palms or sneak a peek at the teacher’s word list. I purposely misspelled words that I knew how to spell so I could stop playing.

Spelling was never fun. Science was fun. Spelling was tedious, science was exciting. The quicker we got through the English lesson, the quicker I could do a science experiment.

I managed to get by with my little scheme for a while but never try to outwit a teacher, it rarely works. She caught on, and I had to play without missing words she knew I could spell.

The truth is I did well in English and literature, but my focus was elsewhere, my loves in school were science and chorus. Consequently, my knowledge and skills in grammar arrived by rote, not by interest. I should have been wiser.

Grammar is the foundation of communication. Without proper grammar, our thoughts cannot be expressed except as incoherent ramblings or incorrect meaning. I learned the hard way that grammar mattered in all aspects of life.

As a college freshman majoring in a science discipline, I took my first exam in Microbiology 101, my major. I was certain I had done well, plus there were ten bonus points. When I arrived at the class lab the day following the test, the lab instructor informed me that my professor wanted to see me.

Entering Dr. Weaver’s cramped, dark office crowded with antique scientific equipment, I was petrified. Maybe I hadn’t done as well as I thought. He motioned for me to sit and then handed me my exam. I had gotten a score of 103. Relief washed over me, then concern. What had I gotten incorrect? I knew the material.

Dr. Weaver noticed my confusion and smiled, a rare thing for him to do. He told me that I had done very well, but he wanted to discuss what I had not done well. Spelling. He had circled a few scientific words but told me he did not count off for spelling those words during the first semester, everyone misspelled names of bacteria. I misspelled seven common words, and he took a point off for each one.

He explained that while I had an excellent grasp of the subject matter, I needed to understand that how I presented my thoughts would influence how people perceived my credibility. Words matter, and the grammar used to structure those words matter too.

Let’s look at one of the classic examples of how grammar affects the meaning of sentences.

“Let’s eat grandpa” vs. “Let’s eat, grandpa.”

I doubt anyone doesn’t see the issues with the lack of a comma in the first sentence. The reasons for proper grammar are obvious.

 

General Reasons to Practice Good Grammar

In general, proper grammar is essential to communication, which, as stated earlier, is vital to all facets of life. The above example concerning grandpa shows how we emphasize ideas conveys meaning. For our thoughts to be understood, they must be conveyed with clarity and precision.

In business or social situations, first impressions are important. We are often warned ‘not to judge a book by its cover,’ an idiom that cautions us not to judge people by their appearance when first meeting them. First impressions no matter how hard we strive to be unbiased do matter. Whether the first time someone meets you is in person or via the written word, how you communicate with them is a sign of your intellect and education.

Proper communication also provides credibility, crucial as you build a career or a personal relationship.

 

Grammar for the Writer

Ask writers for their pet peeves about grammar and the list is endless. Confused words, dangling participles, incorrect verb tenses, their vs. they’re vs. there are among the errors cited. Yet, ask these same writers if grammar is important when writing and the results can be confusing. The answer is often no.

One of the components of writing is referred to as the writer’s voice. According to the website Pub(lishing) Crawl, “The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of idiotypical usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). Voice can be thought of in terms of the uniqueness of a vocal voice machine.”

This definition is why there are conflicts over how writers perceive grammar. We develop a unique manner of presenting our work. The voice we present to the world is ours and ours alone and at times, to impart our personalities we may break the rules. We may write a sentence of a single word or offer a fragment of a sentence for emphasis. Poetic license allows us to depart from convention.

A bit of liberty in writing complete sentences for emphasis is one thing, but we have discussed that grammar increases clarity of meaning and raises our credibility. These two concepts, one writing correctly and the other taking poetic license, seem diametrically opposed yet remain an issue of contention among writers.

My opinion is that dialogue can be written as people talk, in slang, in sentence fragments, keeping grammar deviations to a minimum. The narrative of a story, however, should follow proper grammar.

As important as these general reasons for using good grammar are there are specific reasons for writers to understand the value of communication.

  • The ‘experts’ who offer writing advice suggest that we write our first draft without concern about grammar or sentence structure. We should write to get the story out. Errors can be corrected on subsequent edits. I disagree. I think we should make a habit of using correct grammar from the beginning. The editing process is difficult enough without adding to issues that can be dealt with as you write.
  • You will be offering your manuscript for review by beta readers, editors, agents, and publishers. The novice writer with little experience needs to establish credibility. Sending a manuscript for evaluation with punctuation and spelling errors and poorly constructed sentences will not instill the confidence necessary to be taken seriously. That is not to say that any writer, regardless of experience, should submit a badly written manuscript at any time. They should not.
  • Many of us write simply for the pleasure of writing. The art of weaving words into a story brings a great deal of satisfaction. I suspect, however, that we also write for the pleasure of others. If we want our readers to become engrossed in our stories, root for our heroes, then give them a well-written book. If it isn’t well-written, it will be left unread.
  • The last reason to practice good grammar, respect for yourself. Writing a novel is not an easy task, but if you make an effort to create a well-written and well-crafted novel the results will be worth the time.

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” 

― Dorothy Parker

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Resources:

http://ask.dailygrammar.com/Why-is-grammar-important.html

www.publishingcrawl.com/2013/06/24/literary-voice-developing-it-and-defining-it/

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/grammar

 

Deborah Ratliff: The Art and Craft of Writing

While reading a book review by Parul Sehgal on the book Draft # 4, On the Process of Writing by John McPhee in the New York Times, I came across a line that gave me pause.

“…perhaps writers wax about craft because it’s the easiest part of writing to talk about. It’s much harder to account for the flashes of inspiration, the slant of seeing, the appetite for the world — to know it down to its core…”

As a member of an admin team for one of the largest writing groups on Facebook, we strive to provide our nearly forty-thousand members with pertinent information on the writing process. We conduct workshops on genre, grammar, character development, point of view, and other skills with the intent of offering our members a foundation to build their stories upon.

There are a plethora of workshops, seminars, web pages, articles, and books dedicated to the craft of writing all designed to make us better writers. These are all mechanical tools. We worry about whether the verb tense agrees, have we used certain words too often, did we slip into the wrong point of view? Necessary concerns for the process of writing for we must know how to construct a novel.

Yet, the technical aspects are not enough. There is one very important component to writing, and without it, the words are meaningless. I was in a writing group once with a woman who fancied herself quite the writer. Reading her work, it was flawless, the perfect sentence structure, not a comma out of place, the proper rise and fall of action, the perfectly written novel. Only one problem, it was emotionless. Flawless technically but emotionally void. It lacked passion and passion comes from inspiration. Inspiration is the art of writing.

Merriam-Webster defines inspiration as “a: divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation, b: the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions; c: the act of influencing or suggesting opinions.”

Often inspiration manifests itself in the word muse. In ancient Greece, the nine Muses were the providers of inspiration for creativity among artists and philosophers of the times. Over the centuries, the word muse has become a symbol of inspiration.

The muse of today can take many forms. Surveying a group of writers from all levels of ability uncovered a variety of sources the writers turned to for ideas. Many writers spoke of music, an image, a broken toy, a wooden box having inspired them. One describes the sights, sounds and smells from a brightly lit carnival framed against a dark sky, all sparking a thought leading to a story idea. A teacher stated that introducing his students to the literary masters inspired him to write.

Inspiration is a process of immersing yourself in your surroundings and opening your mind to new ideas. Simple enough it would appear, yet there are hundreds of tips on how to increase creativity available on the Internet. Everything we can touch, smell, or see can be the inspiration needed to spur our writing.

The fact is these are only stimuli to prompt an idea. I believe there is a deeper concept at work when discussing creativity in writing.

If we return to the quote that inspired this article. Sehgal’s book review of McPhee’s Draft # 4 mentioned the the flashes of inspiration, the slant of seeing, the appetite for the world.”  It is the world we paint with words, the impact that we leave with our readers, in addition to the inspiration we gather along the way.

Edgar Allen Poe wrote an essay in 1850 called, The Philosophy of Composition, in which he discusses how good writers write well. He writes,

“There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis — or one is suggested by an incident of the day — or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative — designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.”

Poe is making the same argument that Elif Batuman made in “The Possessed,” her study of Russian literature regarding the notion that writers focus more on the craft than the art of writing.

“All it had were its negative dictates: ‘Show, don’t tell’; ‘Murder your darlings’; ‘Omit needless words.’ As if writing were a matter of overcoming bad habits — of omitting needless words.”

Poe argues that to be great, literary works should be short in length (thus his penchant for poetry and short story). The writing must be well-crafted as there is no argument that the craft of writing must be precise and correct. However, his third element, a “Unity of effect,” represents the creative spirit of the work and comes before all other components.

In his essay, Poe states an author must know the ending of the story and the emotional impact he or she wishes to convey before beginning to write. Only then can the writer properly decide the “tone, theme, setting, characters, conflict, and plot.” It is this effect that impacts the reader and allows them to feel the emotion the author intended. It is the power of the words to convey a broader meaning.

Writing is more complicated than it initially appears to not only readers but those who choose to write. As Poe stated, most authors would “positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes… at the fully matured fancies discarded in despair… at the cautious selections and rejections.”

To write, we must be open to the inspiration around us, take our cues from whatever source available. We must also know the craft, the show vs. tell, the proper grammar, the art of foreshadowing, all the mechanical parts that create a story.

However, Poe’s “Unity of effect” provides the most valuable component. It is the ability to create a mood, to make a reader laugh, or cry, or flinch in terror. It is the ability to paint the image in a reader’s mind with words as if painting on canvas for the eye to see. It is the lingering thoughts, joys, doubts left when someone reads the last sentence. It is the intangible quality of the author’s intentions and how each reader perceives intent that divides a forgettable story from an unforgettable one.

When you begin the process of writing, and your muse has spoken, and a story idea is swirling in your head, do not forget to consider first what you want your reader to take away from your writing. It will make your story greater.

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Please listen to my two-part interview about this article with host Paul Reeves on Dr. Paul’s Family Talk, now on Impact Radio USA.

Part 1: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/pwr/episodes/2017-09-29T04_22_59-07_00

Part 2: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/pwr/episodes/2017-09-30T05_01_27-07_00

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Resources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/13/books/review-draft-no-4-john-mcphee.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FWriting%20and%20Writers&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=9&pgtype=collection&_r=0

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inspiration

https://www.eapoe.org/works/essays/philcmpb.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Philosophy_of_Composition