Linda S. Gunther, Author

WRITE - BYTES

Visit us each Friday for the next installment in the Write-Byte series

When we use the language ‘point of view’ in daily life it usually denotes someone’s opinion on something. In writing, the definition for the term ‘point of view,’ commonly referred to as POV, is this:

The ‘eye’ or narrative voice through which a story is told.

When you write, you decide WHO is telling the story. The writer makes the conscious choice on whether the story will be told by a character who is involved in the story or from a perspective that sees and knows ALL of the characters but is not one of them.

Basically, there are three primary types of Point of View (POV):

  • FIRST PERSON POV. One of the characters narrates the story. Generally revealed by the ‘I’ sentence construction and relies on first person pronouns. (Example: “I arrived at the restaurant.”) The reader gathers that this character is closely related to the story’s action which could be either the main character (protagonist) or someone close to him/her.

The benefit: provides intimacy and a deep look into a character’s mind

The constraint: limited by the perceptive abilities of that character.

  • SECOND PERSON POV. Structured around the ‘you’ pronoun. Less common in a novel or short fiction story. (Example: “You knew you could make it happen.”)

The benefit: enables the writer to draw in the reader, make them feel that they are part of the action because the narrator speaks directly to the reader

The constraint: doesn’t usually serve the writer of fiction but may be useful in a self-help nonfiction book or essay.

  •  THIRD PERSON POV. The writer narrates a story about the characters. The characters are referred to in third person pronouns: ‘he/she.’
    (Example: “She didn’t want to see him again.”) In third person, the writer can use third person ‘omniscient’ or third person ‘limited/close.’

The benefit: omniscient narrator knows everything about the story and all the characters, and in fact may know more than the characters with a God’s-eye-view. (Example: “She had already caught the virus, but she didn’t yet know it.”) Third person ‘close’ is mostly focused on the main character protagonist but is still omniscient, BUT just limited.

The constraint: could appear too removed from characters.

Needless to say, POV is a complicated topic, and it’s no easy feat to make a firm decision on POV ‘up front’ before putting words on the page or after at least writing a first chapter or two. For example, Ernest Hemingway was a writer who used a direct style of third person narration. No frills. Simply told.

When I crafted my first novel, TEN STEPS FROM THE HOTEL INGLATERRA, I automatically chose the first person POV.  The story was centered on a woman who experienced a romantic adventure while on a solo trip to Havana, Cuba. Not only did I use the first person construction but I also wrote the story in present tense. WHY? Because my gut told me to write it like that! The story flowed right out of my heart and soul. As a novice author, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I wasn’t fully aware of all of the possibilities. BUT I think the choice I did make worked fairly well. The book actually reached ‘best seller’ status on Amazon.  

With any of the three POV choices described above, the writer also has the choice to write in present or past tense. Present tense may be more unusual in fiction. The novels I wrote following my first novel were all written in ‘past tense’ and using the third person omniscient POV.  

Writing coaches may encourage writers to TRY OUT DIFFERENT POVs. I agree!

You can write a chapter in first person and then write the same chapter in third person. Read them both out loud and maybe get feedback from a few writing colleagues. Then, decide which POV might be more enticing to readers and will serve to plant the reader immediately into the scene and the overall story?

My only caution is to not ignore your gut!

Highlights in Bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will be titled IN WRITING, COME TO YOUR SENSES

Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst is known as the founder of analytical psychology. He is often referred to as the father of psychotherapy.

With a strong grad school foundation in counseling psychology and a career in Human Resources, I was certified and then instructed Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) workshops in the U.S. and in several other countries around the world. The MBTI instrument is based on what Carl Jung identified as psychological archetypes. This involves taking a self-questionnaire centered on personality preferences. Participants have an opportunity to assess their own personal style. The result of the MBTI questionnaire are four letters indicating ‘personality type.’ For example, I am an ENTP (Extrovert, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceptive) type.

Some years after I started teaching the MBTI workshop, I took a screenwriting course at UCLA. One of the speakers was a filmmaker and ex-psychiatrist. He encouraged us as writers to use Carl Jung’s psychological archetypes in developing vivid characters for screenplays, novels or short stories. I had never thought of this before although I was quite familiar with the archetype framework.

 Of course we don’t want to create cliché characters. But as writers, we can use psychological archetypes to design our character’s drives, traits, desires, yearnings, and behaviors. Every protagonist and secondary character needs depth of character (layers). As human beings we all have a combination of things driving what we say and what we do (and the two may not always align). Our traits may be conflicting.

 Listed below are Carl Jung’s 12 identified psychological archetypes matched to a respective human desire (drive):

Explorer (freedom)

Outlaw (liberation)

Magician (power)

Hero (mastery)

Lover (intimacy)

Jester (enjoyment)

Everyman (belonging)

Caregiver (service)

Ruler (control)

Creator (innovation)

Innocent (safety)

Sage (understanding)

Of course, there’s a ton more detail around each of the archetypes listed above which you can easily research on the internet. There are several books written about archetypes including one by Carl Jung, himself.

I believe it’s worth thinking about how you might combine 2-3 archetypes to mold the personality of your lead and secondary characters; and then consider which specific archetype is the #1 driver for a particular character.

Applying the archetype framework is especially useful when developing your villain. For example, in my novel, LOST IN THE WAKE, Nadia Zelnikov (a Russian) is my villainess. Like all humans, she has layers in her personality. Per the archetype model, Nadia is an ‘outlaw’ and a ‘ruler’, but she also has elements of an ‘innocent.’ She is a criminal with a desire for absolute control. BUT there is another layer to her, a more hidden dimension. She also seeks safety and is continuously running away from her childhood where she had to contend with a sexually abusive father. In other words, as an adult, Nadia uses her needs for power and control to achieve a distorted kind of safetyIt’s her way of dealing with life!

To get into the ‘swing’ of thinking about archetypes, you might think about the protagonist in your favorite novel or movie. Review the list of 12 archetypes above and pick out the 2 or 3 that apply to that character, and maybe which is the strongest driver. More fun is to have a discussion with a fellow writer where you dissect your main character (maybe a character you are about to craft and shape). Identify what combo of archetype descriptors apply to that characterWithout any doubt, you will have a lively and fruitful discussion.

I am indeed fascinated by Carl Jung’s psychological archetypes and consider this framework to be a valuable resource for writers of any genre.

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will be titled POINT OF VIEW (POV): THE WRITER’S CHOICE

Backstory and Flashback and when to use either as a literary device is a complex topic. Before digging into the pros and cons, let’s look at the definitions of these two terms.

Definition of backstory (Merriam-Webster): a story that tells what led up to the main story or plot (film or novel)

 Definition of flashback (Merriam-Webster): interruption of chronological sequence (as in film or literary work) by interjection of events of earlier occurrence… a past incident recurring vividly in the mind.

Backstory can be told in the body of the story through narrative exposition (a character or narrator describing what happened in the past) or backstory can be shared with the reader through an actual scene from the past (known as a flashback) which surfaces in the character’s mind perhaps in a dream, or while the character gazes out at the ocean or in an emotionally disturbing or physically threatening situation.

As a writer, when crafting a suspense novel or memoir, I gravitate to using the flashback device and craft an actual scene from the main character’s childhood or from sometime in his/her early life. For example, in my first novel, TEN STEPS FROM THE HOTEL INGLATERRA, the protagonist, Charlotte Sweeney, daydreams about her sister Priscilla’s funeral service, how she placed a rose on Priscilla’s coffin and glanced over at her sister’s husband whom she felt enabled vulnerable Priscilla to take her own life. This flashback appears in Chapter 2 of my novel. For me, it felt natural to insert the lucid flashback ‘in a scene’ to specifically show the source of Charlotte’s intense grief and buried anger, and which also had a great impact on her decisions years later about relationships and love.

Flashbacks can add suspense and provide details that are difficult to just tell the reader in narrative and may be awkward to include in the dialogue between characters. To have full impact, plugging in the actual scene from the past may be the writer’s best choice.

 

Writing coaches often warn writers to be cautious about using flashback because it interrupts the forward moving action of the story. A coach may recommend to simply tell the story in a linear fashion first. Then if needed to zero in on the main character’s motives, consider inserting a flashback where it makes sense. For me, when I’m drawn to using flashback, I write that scene. Then, I carefully review it, read it aloud and trim out the unnecessary and maybe distracting details. I ask myself these questions: Does this flashback make my character more believable, more understandable, and come alive for the reader? Does the flashback scene actually link to the context of my overall story? So, I use flashback sparingly, maybe 2-3 times in the entire manuscript of a novel. As for backstory, I insert snippets along the way in the narrative or through dialogue, but am careful so it doesn’t come across as an info-dump about a place, character, or relationship.

 

Overuse of backstory and flashback can drag down the writing and create a distraction from what’s happening in real-time. Whenever the writer goes back in time, it’s possible to lose the reader.

 

J.K. Rowling, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Stephen King, Charles Dickens and Joseph Conrad are all masters of backstory and flashback.

 Some nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up related to the use of Backstory and Flashback include:

  1. Build a timeline of your character’s life events which can help you decide where and when to use either backstory or flashback.
  2. Make sure backstory details and flashback scenes are relevant to the forward-moving story, connected to the character’s current choices and actions.
  3. Don’t overload your first chapter with backstory or flashback. Jump right into your story.
  4. Strip excess backstory in your edit process.
  5. Use backstory or flashback to reveal what drives your lead character(s).
  6. Avoid bland info-dumping. You don’t want the story to read like a history book.
  7. Consider whether some details from the past can be revealed gradually (in tidbits) through dialogue as it becomes relevant.

 

I’d also like to mention something about the structure of going from the present day in the story back to the past (flashback), and then back to the present again. This can be tricky and confusing for the reader.

 

So, here is a guideline:

 

Write a sentence or two of transition back to the scene in the past. Then write the actual flashback scene. Keep it concise but vivid. And then write another transition (with a sentence or two) taking the reader back to the present day.

 

Just as a reminder, I’m not an expert but I am an experienced author. So I’ve learned some of this the hard way, but the learning stuck and now I’ve become more skilled in this arena.

 

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

 

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will be titled USING PSYCHOLOGICAL ARCHETYPES IN CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

I recently finished reading a novel by the brilliant author, Jodi Picoult, titled WISH YOU WERE HERE. At the end, I read the author’s Acknowledgements.  I’m an outright book vandal and make notes in margins, underline stunning phrases, use asterisks to highlight intriguing character traits and tag elements of style I’d love to think about in my own writing.  I turn corners on pages that I want to go back to later and re-read. And so, this one was marked up big time!

In Picoult’s Acknowledgements section, she writes:

“Creating a book takes a long time. It’s not just the writing, it’s the editing and copy editing and design and marketing and placement and all the other things that have to happen so you can read it.” 

She goes on to list the members of her team, each one with a role in bringing her book to fruition. Wow, what a team she had!

But like me, many of you reading this blog will likely self-publish or maybe engage a hybrid publisher where you share the tasks that need to get done. Keep in mind that you, the author, will be required to do much of this work.

When I write a novel, I try to take one day at a time. I first craft somewhat of an outline using index cards for each chapter which I can shuffle around. I also create character cards, one for each lead and secondary character. Of course, this phase is quite important and may take a while. And then I write a draft of my opening chapter! Get into it!

My key point here is to avoid becoming distracted with too many future tasks. Keep your focus on the WRITING. Yes, maintain a strong connection with other writers and writing associations but realize that you can’t attend every webinar or event, and still get your writing accomplished!

Get involved in a weekly feedback group but don’t bite off more than you can chew which can take you away from your goals. Believe me, there are so many temptations. Of course, reading other writers is important, as you’re writing. Just remember that you can easily get sidetracked.

Bite-size pieces of learning and education are great! Maybe one or two-hour workshop on a craft topic that will help you with your current project. An article or blog you can tap into regularly is helpful and inspiring as you write!

That said, it is wise to think ahead on a few things. Perhaps link with a potential editor (copy and/or developmental). Let friends, family and potential readers know what’s coming down the pipe from you. But don’t stress about ALL the tasks to come! Let your body and your mind sink into your writing. 

Getting that first draft completed is your primary task at hand.

Writing a book can take a year or a few years and for some writers it may take more than ten years. I personally use the 12 to 18-month rule of thumb to have my manuscript ready to go to my editor. I’m a completer, not at super mach speed but at a fairly good clip and with a ton of research behind the tale I’m crafting.

There are a couple of other actions I recommend you take before you’ve completed your entire manuscript.

The first is your author website. While writing my debut novel a woman’s adventure in Havana, Cuba titled Ten Steps From The Hotel Inglaterra, I simultaneously worked on my website. It takes time to do this and I think it’s smart not to rush this process, especially directly following the publication and release of your precious novel. For me, the author website was the foundation platform for me as a budding author.

When developing a website, you can either design it yourself (if you have those skills) or hire a reasonably priced professional, which is what I did. I recommend starting low key in terms of website content, maybe with your bio, info on how you got involved in writing, your key learnings as a growing writer. Later, you can add content about each of your books, links to published stories and articles, photos from book signing events, and more. Then, when you publish your book, you’ll put all the details up on your website, send people the direct link to check it out or even purchase the book via a link to Amazon. I am so thrilled with Cowander, my brilliant web designer. She and my dear friend Julie, my book cover artist, encouraged me to introduce this WRITE-BYTES blog. And I’m glad I did!

A note on the book cover. I usually start thinking about my cover design after I’ve written the first five or six chapters of my manuscript. I’d have a concept in my head, what the cover might look like (even a preferred color scheme) and then I shared that idea with my artist. She took my concept a step further every time. While I continued writing, whenever I glanced at that draft cover design, I got more and more excited about my book. That’s the power of the book cover!

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will be titled BACK STORY: The Writer’s Dilemma

My best laid plans go up in smoke when I go on vacation. Whether I’m sitting on a cruise ship for multiple days at sea or staying in a remote mountain cabin or at a beach resort in Maui I just can’t seem to focus on my current writing project.

Just before I travel, I set up my laptop so I can easily bring up my manuscript ready to continue writing whether it’s a new novel in progress or a short story. I can’t wait to get to my relaxing vacation destination so I can write, write, write. Maybe I can even use the airplane time to write before I even get to my destination.

But it never fails. Writer’s block hits me between the eyes the minute I step out my front door, and it’s absolutely frustrating!

So, here’s what I’ve learned to do when on vacation. Let my mind wander. Forget about my current project. Play, explore and relax! Be 100% present in the moment.  And now on every single vacation I produce what I’ve termed as an “in-between” project. A new short story or personal essay or free verse poem idea sprouts from out of the blue.

About a year ago I was on a plane headed to Maui, a surprise long weekend trip from my husband. Halfway to Paradise at 34,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean an engine went out and we had to turn back to California after close to 3 hours in the air. Turbulence, noise, nervous flight attendants, landing gear down all the way back. It was frightening, a genuine scary fiasco and rich with dialogue between my husband, me, the pilot, flight attendants, back in the California airport. Wow! A gold mine of action and dialogue. Bam!  I put it all down on the page and mostly while it was happening. And most rewarding was that this personal story was actually published in a well-known literary journal a month later.

Recently, my husband and I took a cruise vacation to Alaska. My in-process project is a collection of my Bronx childhood memoir stories titled, A BRONX GIRL. I’ve been steadily working on this book for several months. But once we boarded our cruise ship in Vancouver headed to Alaska, I consciously left that project behind in California and once again let my mind wander freely, looking forward to where my curious writer’s mind would go.

Twenty-four hours later I was in the fitness center on the ship and had just finished an hour of elliptical cardio. Flat on my back on a yoga mat I started on my usual daily 100 crunches. Yes, I’m a maniac about my tummy crunches.  And just as I started to lift my head from the mat the idea hit me for a free verse poem which I later titled EXISTENTIAL CRUNCHES. Okay, who knows if I’ll get this poem published but it’s happened before. And then another free verse poem idea came to me on the ship while I sat in the glass domed Conservatory on a rainy day looking out to rolling waves and gray clouds. An idea for another piece came to me which I instantly titled THE UNEXPECTED. I took out my iPhone from my backpack and captured the words and ideas swirling in my head. Nothing to do with my big writing project. That would wait until I got home! I was over the moon with having conceived two new smaller project drafts.

For you, as a writer, going on vacation may be a very different experience than what I’ve described here. You might be quite capable of staying focused on your current writing project. But if not, try letting your mind drift. Leave your current in-process manuscript in your living room, and instead while on vacation, experiment! Come up with an “in-between” piece of writing.  It may turn out to be your best!

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will be focused on WHAT IT’S LIKE TO WRITE A BOOK.

‘Revision’ can sometimes feel like an ominous word. Maybe it reminds us of when we were in school and a teacher requested that we revise a composition or essay, and then re-submit. Ouch! More work.

In contrast, for me NOW, the word ‘edit’ no longer carries a negative connotation. I actually think of ‘editing’ as fun. Why? Because when I go back in and re-read a chapter or a short story I’ve drafted, with the intent to edit, I find teensy words or phrases that don’t work. And I find that even one tiny change can exponentially improve the whole paragraph. Writing coaches have trained me to look for repetitious words in my edit work, words which give little in terms of a deeper feeling, description, sound or texture to the piece.

I also edit for structure, basically examine how my paragraphs are sequenced. Often, the first paragraph I draft for a chapter can be taken out completely because it’s the second paragraph in my writing that starts the action in the story and places the reader right into the scene. I’ve often noticed this same phenomenon with writing colleagues when they read their work out loud in writers’ group.  Their second paragraph often seems to work better as an opener than their first paragraph. Eliminating that first paragraph is one option or perhaps sprinkling its content (which may be important and interesting) in other places in the story.

Another area for attention when editing is to check the ‘voice’ of your narrator. If your protagonist is the narrator, you can look for words or descriptions that don’t quite synch up with how the s/he would think, act or speak. Again, small changes in vocabulary can lift up the believability of the writing.

And of course, there’s also an opportunity to edit dialogue, crisp up the words and sentences coming from your characters. Consider how people speak in real-life. But also keep in mind that written dialogue may be more readable if it’s done shorter than real-life ‘speak’ to get to the point. Dialogue is meant to move the story forward, not to fill the page or repeat what’s already been described. Re-reading and editing dialogue may alert you to go back and take out some of the narrative exposition that might be better transmitted through dialogue, ‘in a scene.

During your edit process, you may notice that you have too much dialogue (too many words) and not enough gesture around the dialogue. People are visual. Communication happens with words and even more with body movements; an eye twitch, a hand to the temple, a stretch of the arms, the turn of the head to glance at someone or something. Dialogue without gesture can feel hollow. The reader can’t picture the scene.

So much can be cleaned up in your edit process. And of course, it’s not just one round that’s needed. Tuck your writing away and take it out in a couple of days to re-read with fresh eyes and rested mind; a valuable approach to the second phase of edit work.

As Stephen King says:

“To write is human, to edit is divine.”

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will be titled: ON VACATION, I NEVER WORK ON MY BIG WRITING PROJECT.

You’ve probably heard this quote many times: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve told them.” In fact, I understand that Aristotle may have been the first to make this point popular.

As a training and development professional, I have also employed this principle which basically proposes that generally humans need to hear something multiple times to internalize it, especially when it’s important information or a core concept.

When I’m crafting a novel or short story or even a memoir piece, I don’t care too much how many times I’m repeating a word or a fact or a detail, not on my very first draft. BUT in my edit process I DAMN WELL CARE!

For me, my tendency is to often use words like: “out,” “down,” “up,” “gazed,” “appeared.” Yes, I confess that I’m obsessed with using those words. This was pointed out to me by a writing coach who used a yellow highlighter to tag my problematic “word” repetition offenses. Ouch!

To be honest, I hadn’t checked for repetition when I started writing stories. I didn’t even notice this tendency. But once I was enlightened, my first round of edit became my good friend. I focused on catching those repetitious little suckers. There’s usually an alternative, either by eliminating the repeated word altogether or finding maybe a better, more descriptive word or phrase! And it’s fun to mine a trusted thesaurus for options. I’ll admit, sometimes it’s hard to find a good enough replacement word that offers the feeling I’ve intended. If that’s the case, I will mindfully repeat the word maybe even a second time in the same paragraph. BUT the key is that I’ve thought about it, made a conscious decision to re-use the word. 

Yes,  writers sometimes purposely use repetition.  For example, in poetry, repeating a word may give the writing a kind of rhythm, a desired musicality, or create a certain mood. In novel or memoir writing, repetition can also be used to emphasize or highlight something important. The repetitious word (object or concept) might be a clue in a murder mystery or perhaps something the narrator repeats in her head throughout the novel. She just can’t help it because that word or phrase is always on her mind. It’s a memory she can’t get rid of, a “bloody white glove” she saw on the staircase when she was eight years old.  Repetition can be used as an effective literary device. The words “bloody white glove” are significant enough as a theme in the story to be repeated.

There’s actually a technical term for repetition in poetry for this. It’s called anaphora.  

Definition for anaphora:

“Repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses or sentences.”

I am not an expert in poetry by any means. So, I cannot pontificate on this term. I mainly write romantic suspense novels, memoir pieces focused on my childhood in the Bronx and quirky fictional short stories. And in each of those genres I occasionally take the opportunity to leverage repetition or catch and eliminate it. It depends.

Additionally, when repeating a fact or detail, it’s important to take good care so that the reader is not left feeling “stupid,” in other words feeling like the author doesn’t have confidence that the reader can remember that detail two paragraphs after it was first stated. Poorly used repetition can actually insult the reader.  Yet, sometimes as a writer I want to purposely remind the reader in chapter 4 about something that I mentioned lightly in chapter 2, maybe “the birthplace of the lead character’s mother” or “the last words my sister said to me before she died.” Again, a particular detail may be central to my story and therefore repetition makes sense.

What can we do as writers to avoid distracting and undesirable repetition in our work? As my French teacher in high school would say: “Faites attention!” PAY ATTENTION. Then, make a choice to use it or lose it.

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will focus on EDITING: A FRONTIER OF OPPORTUNITY. Yes

Here’s a clear definition on ‘free write’ that I think captures the essence of the term.

Freewriting is the practice of writing without a prescribed structure, which means no outlines, cards, notes, or editorial oversight. In freewriting, the writer follows the impulses of their own mind, allowing thoughts and inspiration to appear without premeditation.

I especially want to call out the most important words in this definitionthat the writer follows the impulses of their own mind and without premeditation. 

Another definition of free write, this one is from Peter Elbow who I believe may have actually coined the term and then formalized this writing strategy in 1973.

He said: “Free write is similar to brainstorming but is written in sentence and paragraph form without stopping. Thus, it increases the flow of ideas and reduces the chance that you’ll accidentally censor a good idea…” 

One rule Peter Elbow refers to is to write down every idea you can think of about that topic, no matter how crazy. You can judge it later! 

Free write is a useful tool especially when I’m in the middle of a sizable writing project like writing a novel, memoir, or essay.  And I can free write either by making up a fictional story using that prompt or reflecting on my own real-life past experience related to the prompt.

In a nutshell, free write is valuable for me because the process serves to untangle my mindI can get stuck in my writing, go down a single narrow track, positioned too close to my work and then the words that spill out of my head onto the page feel constrained, stale, or maybe too repetitive. I need a catalyst to stimulate my creative side; shake it up. FRESHEN myself! And that’s why free write became my hero.

Here’s how the process works. Immediately after seeing or hearing the prompt there would be 5-7 minutes (could be up to 10 minutes) to just write about the topic! Keep in mind (once again) that what I free write can be either real-life or fiction but something I craft “on the spot.” I get to choose what road to take.

Below are three sample ‘writing prompts’ from WordPress’ 365 Days of Writing Prompts (You can find it on-line.)

  1. Write about something you know you should do but you just don’t do it!
  2. Think about the last time you broke a rule or a law (a big one, not just ripping the tags off your pillow). Were you burned or did things turn out for the best?
  3. When you were 16, what did you think your life would look like? Does it look like that? Is that a good thing?

Many of the writing prompt sessions where I’ve been a participant, either facilitated by a coach or writing teacher, have focused on even more fictionally focused prompts, again, where we write for 5-7 minutes on one topic, then read aloud (if desired) and receive a bit of feedback. Below are a few of these sample topics:

  • An animal in the wild in contact with a person lost in the woods
  • Stuck in an awkward situation with a close relative
  • An accidental reunion between high school sweethearts 
  • Two people in an airport who yearn for different things and meet for the first time

In fact, free write stimulated by a ‘writing prompt’ has actually led me to draft some intriguing short stories and personal essays, several which have been submitted and published in notable literary journals. Of course, I only submit a story after editing and fine-tuning and perhaps writing more than I did in the free write session.

Forming a small group of writers who regularly meet (maybe once or twice a month) to free write and share is such a great way to open up the writer’s mind and maybe get rid of writer’s block. Believe me, the benefits will spill over to any bigger project you may be shaping or possibly even become a project on its own.

So, how can you incorporate time to free write into your writing routine? I recommend that you look for an opportunity whether it’s led by a professional writing coach or it’s an informal peer writers’ get-together. What could be more energizing for us as artists?

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES blog post will focus on WRITING AND REPETITION

I think about the fabric of my story. What does it feel like in terms of texture? How does it sound when I read it aloud? I know that what makes a story sing, whether memoir or fiction is buried in the details. When I was new at developing a storyline, often a writing coach would say “Write down all the details. I mean, all the details about the setting, the room, the table, the kitchen, the colors, the feel of the table cloth. 

Thank goodness for writing coaches. I’ve learned to use the five senses – smell, sight, taste, touch, sound! Get the details down on the page.” What I’ve also learned over time is to ZOOM IN at the right moment and to ZOOM OUT at a right moment. As writer, I want to see the big picture as well as the micro picture, in the eyes of the character or narrator, but not include details at every moment in my story. Sometimes too much detail can BOG DOWN THE STORY. 

Thinking of a scene I’m writing as if I’m directing a movie is an effective method for me. It’s the actor in me helping me write well. That means focusing on what the character sees, touches, hears, smells when they approach the restaurant, when they walk through the front entrance, when they sit down at the table, when they taste their appetizer, when they sip the wine, when they hear their lover break up with them over dessert. Of course, the details in the scene can add to the tension. But how much detail and description should I include in that part of my story, that scene in the restaurant?

Here’s a quote from author and playwright Henry Miller that I think links to this topic.

“The moment one gives attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

For me, Miller is emphasizing the opportunity for a writer to zoom in on an object, a thing, because it opens the reader to that close up and personal experience. But I also get the gist from Miller that it’s important for a writer to CONSCIOUSLY CHOOSE when to zoom in, and it’s not going to be all the time. I wish Henry Miller was still alive and I could get on a Zoom call (sorry for the pun) and ask him questions about his quote.

I’ve learned to WEAVE IN the details vs. giving it all as a “dump” at the beginning of a scene. For example, when I walk into a room, I don’t notice every single detail in that room all at once, in the first minute, or even in the first few minutes. No, I experience it one piece at a time, first seeing the big picture, the tableau and then noticing the smaller, more subtle details.

Also, I’m aware that when I’m scared or when a moment in my life is very intense, that’s when I zero in on the tiny little things like a crack in the sidewalk, a chip on the kitchen sink, a train of ants feasting on some ice cream dropped on the pavement, those seemingly extraneous details. And the same goes for my characters. They will notice teensy details when the tension in their life is increased, sometimes at a weird moment in time.

I may opt to draft my scene with every detail possible about the things and the people, and then when I go through my edit phase, I can shave it, eliminate the unnecessary details or think about how I can sprinkle in the details vs. clumping them into two or three cumbersome sentences. As I’ve further developed my writing skills, I think I am now much more careful to include the details when they serve to heighten the scene but not go OVERBOARD.  
So, when you re-read the scene you’ve drafted and review the array of details you’ve included, also notice HOW you unfolded those details. I think it pays to ask yourself whether you might need MORE or LESS detail to have the reader feel like they are actually sitting right there with the character experiencing that precise moment in time. Bravo Henry Miller for pointing this out!

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES blog post will focus on FREE WRITE and WRITING PROMPTS.

Most of my career success wasn’t because of my creative writing skills. Wait! I take that back.

I earned my living as a Human Resources professional for many years starting as an Employee Relations Rep because of my graduate work in counseling psych. In that first HR job, I didn’t really know what I was doing but I learned quickly and prospered. AND I LIKED IT! I worked my way up the ladder and across various HR functions including Training and Development, general HR Management and Employee Communications which means I created numerous leadership and management workshops, wrote articles for employee newsletters, interviewed employees across the globe, put together employee handbooks and counseled employees and managers.

Thinking back, my success was actually partially due to my strength in writing. I was able to progress to HR Director, onto Vice President and now continue to teach HR Excellence and Business Communications at university level.

In many of my courses (both corporate and educational), I crafted an array of management case studies, embedding them into my classes. People liked them and they served to create lively discussion and reinforce key learning points. I created characters who had tough dilemmas and were faced with having to solve complex problems.

So, as you can see, I seized the opportunity to include a fair degree of creative writing in my full time HR work.

Why give all this career background in a blog describing the writer’s path? Because, no matter what you do to make a living maybe there’s a way to grow and leverage your writing skills in that job. In other words, you can prepare yourself for writing that novel, that collection of short stories, that memoir or maybe that self-help book you have dancing around in your head.

I’ll share another anecdote with you. During my spare time, as I grew in my HR career, in the late 90’s, I took a screen writing class in the evening through University of California which required me to write a full-length screenplay in six weeks, and then be assessed by professional film makers. I did that evening course while working as HR Director just after I returned from a solo photographic adventure to Havana, Cuba. The screenplay I wrote was titled TEN STEPS FROM THE HOTEL INGLATERRA, a way for me to leverage my unique travel experience and combine it with my zesty imagination. I also went down to UCLA  and did a comprehensive week-long workshop focused on writing multi-dimensional and memorable characters for film.

One last anecdote to share here. I was also a part-time actor in local theater, performing in dozens of productions where I was fortunate to play diverse roles in both comedy and drama (simultaneous to my HR job). That theater experience enabled me to think like my characters as I craft them in my stories, as I shape their desires, fears, quirky obsessions, doubts. What would my characters say? How would they behave? What would they do when things get tough? That background as an actor also helped me write realistic dialogue between my characters.

Let’s face it, for many years, I was actually on the writer’s path; at first unconsciously, then semiconsciously and then fully conscious about it. I waited for the right moment when I could afford to break away from full-time HR work and write my first novel, which by the way was based on my screenplay about Havana, Cuba.

My summary here is to acknowledge that each writer has a unique path to writing as a career. I shared my roundabout path with you! 

Whatever you do for a living to make the necessary bucks to survive and thrive, think about how you can use writing in your current job so you further grow your writing skills. Proactively seek out opportunities. Talk to your boss about it, brainstorm together on how you might use your interest in writing on a special project or team initiative. Additionally, there might be a way to learn from others in your organization. Maybe you can even form a lunchtime interest group.

I think a long-term plan of action can be a motivating and valuable approach for developing authors.

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will focus on ZOOM IN (WEAVING IN THE DETAILS).

 

Like icebergs, 90% of what we really think and feel lingers inside us, some of it deep down inside. Occasionally we might expose 10% to others, maybe 20% or even push to 30%. This depends on a lot of factors which may include stress, trust, love, fear, sorrow and other elements of our human condition in a given window of time.

As impactful writers we want to gradually peel those layers on our lead and secondary characters. We take care not to expose the WHOLE ONION of a character at the start of the story. We intentionally peel that onion one layer at a time. Because then, we will DRAW IN the reader, give them time to breathe, time to digest each morsel.

In real life, when we meet someone for the first time and they spill their guts, tell us their entire life story with an ocean of details, we may feel somewhat wary or mistrustful. They’ve said too much in a few minutes and that can turn us off, make our head spin.  Same thing for readers. Give readers small chunks at a time. Allow them space to get to know the protagonist or narrator (in a memoir).

In a short story, yes, of course, you’ll peel those layers more quickly because you only have 1,500 – 5,000 words to tell the whole tale. In a novel or memoir, the word count will likely end up around 70,000 – 100,000 words. Personally, I like the 70,000 – 80,000 range. And with a novella, it will be even shorter.

Think about this: how did the character acquire his/her unique quirks and personality traits? They likely emanated from their experiences as a child, as a teenager, or as a young adult.

That leads us to the subject of backstory. Where, and when do we effectively use backstory? I’ve had writing coaches say BE CAREFUL on BACKSTORY. Don’t stay in backstory for too long. Keep your story focused on the forward-moving scene. I generally agree but NOT ALWAYS. It depends.

If I’m going to write backstory like I did in my suspense novel, DREAM BEACH, I only include the memory of a past experience that serves my overall plot. I might get INTO AN ACTUAL SCENE vs just telling the backstory. Hence, I write an actual FLASHBACK.  

For example, my protagonist in DREAM BEACH, Peyton McClintock, feels the way she does about her husband and her recent career decision partially because of a traumatic childhood experience she had growing up in Scotland. That pivotal event happened when she was 5 years old. Her mother disappeared suddenly one night and ran off with their small town’s professional photographer never to return home again. Needless to say, it was a significant emotional event for Peyton! And, worth the backstory (in my novel) as it solidly links to how Peyton deals with recent adult life dilemmas including a failing marriage and a business career, she’s never quite embraced.

I think as writer it helps to ask yourself: at what moment in time would my character reflect about something that happened in the past? It probably wouldn’t be in the middle of an intense action scene because that backstory will probably take the reader OUT OF THE ACTION in the forward-moving scene. You don’t want to lose the momentum you so craftily built.

Perhaps backstory is best used when a tough dilemma (trouble) has just been revealed for the protagonist but there are some moments of “calm” to come where the character might think back, dream, reflect or daydream about that life-changing event from way back.

In your edit process you will re-read the backstory you drafted and then you can decide if you need it at all or maybe opt to trim it.

There are great writers, popular writers who leverage backstory, and weave it in at just the right time. Writing this down helped me personally so I’m hoping it was useful to you as developing writers.

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will focus on THE WRITER’S PATH.

We all have a voice. Without any doubt, when we converse with others, even strangers, we have a voice whether we are aware of it or not. And it’s not just our vocal cords making sounds. It’s our tone, our approach, our sense of humor or lack of it, our straightforward manner or the roundabout way we get to the point. Each of us has a “unique” way we come across. Nobody is exactly like another. Our “voice” comes out to the receiver not only in what we say and how we say it but also in our body language which as researchers say is between 70-80% of how we communicate.

In writing, we can’t rely on visual communications, only on what we get on the page.

When writing fiction, it may be easier to develop the “voice” of the protagonist or any other character in the invented story. We think of his/her character traits, personality, idiosyncrasies. Is she sarcastic? Is he flamboyant? Is she bold? Is he a trickster? Secretive? Open? And if we are an omniscient narrator in a work of fiction telling the story in third person, then we can get inside the head of every character and create a unique “voice” for the narrator as well.

If we write a memoir, that unique “voice” may be more difficult to find.  We don’t necessarily think about our own personal character traits. When we start, we may be too focused on just telling the story about what happened to us way back when.

How can you as a writer find your unique “voice” when writing your own memoir? Again, YOU ARE THE MAIN CHARACTER IN YOUR MEMOIR. Readers want to get inside your head, understand how you INDIVIDUALLY see the worldYour memoir is all about YOU and how you react to the events and experiences.

Here’s another list of questions to consider before writing a memoir. As narrator, how do I uniquely think about life? What’s my philosophy? What do I find amusing? What scares me? What makes me tick? What triggers my emotions (makes me sad, happy, disgusted)? What do I find exciting, silly, creepy? What vocabulary words do I like to use in conversation?  How do I see the day-to-day world they are in? What thoughts are inside my head when I wake up, go to work, get in bed?

If you do some of this work ahead and write out a list of these traits, then when you start crafting your memoir, that “voice” will have more of a chance of coming out in your words. What I believe works well is having some kind of list (as described in the questions above) BEFORE putting pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard! And as you write, your unique “voice” will undoubtedly become more defined and evolve!

One last thing, as I usually recommend in this blog, once you draft a chapter, read it aloud. See if you hear your unique “voice” shining throughAdd words that might sharpen it! Edit out phrases or words that seem to not fit with that “voice.” YOUR VOICE IS THE SOUL OF YOUR WRITING!

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m. 

Next week’s blog topic will focus on HOW and WHEN to USE BACKSTORY.

Readers crave characters that they enjoy being with through the best of times and the worst of times. What draws in the reader is when there’s big trouble for the protagonist in fiction or for the narrator in a memoir, and maybe as a bonus there’s maybe a twist or turn in the plot. The obstacles and challenges the main character faces may be caused by either a physical threat or related to an emotional letdown or personal dilemma. One approach for the writer is to open a chapter or even start a memoir with a dramatic scene, a CONFLICT. Grab the reader!

If writing in third person (as narrator of the story), the writer can move around from character to character to show diverse points of view (thoughts and feelings of each character). The caution here is not to have too many characters for the reader to track in the story! Alternatively, if writing in first person, the writer can show emotional tension but it will be only from the narrator’s personal point of view (how he/she sees it) which may possibly limit the writer. This is something important to think about when choosing point of view.

So what emotions are available to feature in the characters we develop? Some possibilities include: grief, happiness, jealousy, pleasure, impatience, playfulness, passion, possessiveness, shame, secretiveness, shock, anger, fear, shyness, suspicion, triumph, smugness, annoyance, dominance, love or pride. Of course there are many more choices than listed here. Emotions experienced by the protagonist or by any other character in the story are most usually connected to one’s personal reaction to other people in the story (mother, father, brother, sister, stranger, doctor, husband, wife, etc.). What are they feeling? What do they say? What inner thoughts do they have? How do they move?

In the memoir I’m currently writing titled A BRONX GIRL which is set in the Bronx during my childhood in the 1960’s, I show a lot of resentment and anger in my interactions with my mother. But my reflective narrator (the adult version of me) can see how one-sided I was as a young girl when it came to experiencing my mother. As writer, the more I show specifically how and why I was so resistant and judgmental towards my mother, the more I can hopefully bring readers into each scene and into the overall story. Of course, the other characters in my memoir (my brother, sister, Nana, estranged father and my mother) each have their individual emotional reactions to me and to each other; and I need to show these. DIALOGUE and PHYSICAL BEHAVIOR as well as my INTERNAL THOUGHTS as narrator can all serve to demonstrate the various positive and negative emotional connections between characters.

An emotional reaction can be seen even in a small gesture. That reaction doesn’t necessarily have to be shown through dialogue. It is even possible that the character having the reaction may not even be aware of it. But the reader knows because the writer has described what’s happening in detail! An example might be the protagonist pulling repeatedly on his ear lobe when he feels stressed or the young girl biting on her nails so much that her fingers bleed every time her mother screams at her.

Keep in mind that as you write your story, new emotions between your characters may surface. For example, your protagonist may love her husband very much but when she finds out he just received a big work promotion when they were both expecting her to be the one announcing her own job promotion, she might actually feel jealous of her husband. Her jealousy may be fleeting, last only a few minutes but on the other hand her jealousy may simmer, cause her to act out in other ways on a longer-term basis. The emotional reaction to her husband’s sudden career success can drive her behavior and what decisions she makes from that point forward.

As writers, our target is to develop an engaging story line but without plenty of emotional reaction between characters it will be a challenge to create a compelling, “turn the page” read.

Stay tuned for next week. Look for the WRITE-BYTES BLOG on this website every FRIDAY posted at 9 a.m.

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will focus on FINDING YOUR VOICE AS A WRITER.

When writing fiction you conceive a plot, usually one you made up, or maybe related to something you read about that intrigues you so much that you decide to write a short story or novel based on that specific string of events or period in time.

Keep in mind that your imagination as a writer is not meant only for fiction. When developing a memoir your intention is to reflect your real life, maybe a specific segment of time in your late twenties when you lived in New York City.

If writing memoir is your target project you may think you don’t need to tap your imagination. But of course you do! You’re not going to remember every detail or slice of dialogue from your past. You’ll have to imagine what that conversation was like when you had it!  And to make your memoir interesting as well as move your true story forward you’ll need to make it concise, flow smoothly and embellish the events with color like you would if you were an artist creating a painting. That’s why we often refer to memoir pieces as CREATIVE NONFICTION! You basically combine as many inches of real life as you can recall with your brilliant IMAGINATION!

For example, you may blend two of your first cousins into one character. WHY would you do that? So that you don’t have an overload of characters in your true story which can be a problem for readers to track. This will also give you an opportunity to synthesize the variety of personality traits and quirks into one fascinating character.

I started my third suspense novel (Finding Sandy Stonemeyer) with an actual dream I had one night. I awoke from the dream and immediately wrote it down. I tried to include as many details as I could possibly recall, get it all on the page because I knew that that vivid dream could be a riveting opening scene.

For me, I get lightning flashes at the most unlikely times: on the grocery line, in the reception area at the dentist’s office, and especially while driving. I pull over, take out my iPhone and tap in my idea because again I know that if I don’t follow through fast and capture it, then those thoughts will be gone like the wind.

Another example: I might be in a restaurant and overhear a couple’s conversation and it’s the perfect dialogue for a chapter I’m about to begin crafting. I grab a napkin or cell phone and scribble down the highlights, the words used in their conversation, how the characters danced through their dialogue. Yes, I’m an eavesdropper.

Writing a short story, novel or memoir can plunge me into the state of temporary insanity. I just can’t stop thinking about my characters or my plot. I become obsessed.

Sorry, but as a writer you have to live with that downside. It’s the nature of the beast. But then you also realize that it’s because you are so passionate about your craft. A good thing!

So, how do you stimulate your imagination when you feel that your mind is empty of creative thoughts? One way is to go to a writing webinar where the facilitator offers you what are called ‘writing prompts.’ It may be an obscure prompt like: Write about something that scared you but then you found out later that the situation was harmless and you weren’t ever really in danger. Likely your facilitator will give you ten minutes or so to write. WOW!  You’ll be surprised at what pours out of you, and it will probably come from your imagination. I guarantee this kind of exercise will prove helpful and stimulating. And that stirring of your creative juices will spill over into your current writing project. And keep in mind that hanging out with other writers and tossing around plot ideas, themes, dilemmas, etc. can also be inspirational and serve to ignite your creativity.

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will focus on EMOTIONAL REACTION AND CONNECTION BETWEEN YOUR CHARACTERS.

I’ve had coaches say, don’t stop to edit. Get out that first draft because you can tweak it later or re-write it but GET IT OUT on the page. In concept, I agree. You can’t edit something that’s not already written in some shape or form.

HOWEVER, for me, after I’ve written a few healthy chapters of a story I cannot help myself. I need to re-read it and do some editing. Grammar edits are easy, and you can ask an expert to do these later! But some degree of editing for crisp, clear, realistic dialogue between my characters just makes me feel better. At least I’ve accomplished some small improvements in my writing. Adding details that I don’t want to lose from my mind might be my focus. And if I don’t go back and include them now, I will lose them. So instead of making a bunch of scribbled notes to myself on changes I want to make, I JUST DO THE CHANGES. Also, when I do a quick round of editing, it sparks other ideas inside my head on how to move forward with my story and my characters.

If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve likely heard these two terms used to describe writers: PLOTTER and PANTSER. A plotter is someone who plots out their story before writing it. Maybe they do a comprehensive outline of beginning, middle and end. They have a structure from the beginning. A pantser is someone who writes “by the seat of his/her pants” and shapes the plot and characters as they go along. I am a hybrid of these two opposites, and I believe that many writers are like me. Yes, we have a very sketchy outline. I use index cards to write out a few sentences about the first several scenes and maybe a few cards about each character I have in mind. And yes, even a few cards about the ending chapters, but not usually. This is all I need to get started on a novel.

And if I’m writing a short story or a short memoir piece, I likely take ONE INDEX CARD and jot down some ideas, a sketch. BUT THEN I JUST GO FOR IT. The pantser in me takes over.

Truth be told, sometimes I walk along the beach path with my iPhone in hand and in the notes section, I write an entire first draft of a short story or a chapter. That’s me! Walking stimulates my brain, my imagination! More about imagination in a future post! When I get home, I cut and paste and email to my computer, and then at least I have a first light draft in a word doc. Oh, and I always give it a working title. Often, I keep that title but sometimes I change it later. Some writers don’t title any piece until it’s done. That’s not me. I need an identifier that inspires me. I’ve productized the piece in my head. It becomes concrete and tangible for me. A defined TASK and GOAL! I used to teach Project Management, so this is how I work without becoming overly structured.

I believe that the key for writers is not to ruminate so much on what you’ve written that it STOPS you from moving forward with your manuscript. OTHERWISE, you’re entering THE DANGER ZONE. Constant editing and re-write can become a bad habit! And may lead to you taking years to write a story which some writers don’t mind. BUT I am a completer. I don’t like to have an unfinished product hanging around on my computer. And I must admit that I’ve also grown to LOVE EDITING, as long as it’s quick and in spurts. Because every single time I go back and do maybe twenty minutes of editing on a chapter, I improve the hell out of what I’ve written. NO EXAGGERATION here!

And if someone gives you feedback on a couple of little words you’ve written or how you opened a particular sentence, then WOW – be honored! Teensy changes in your manuscript can make a HUGE difference in tone, mood, meaning. This is why a regularly scheduled critique group (once a week) is like gold to a writer.

If you haven’t joined a critique group, think about it. And one that’s led by a writing coach is even more helpful.

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will focus on THE WRITER’S IMAGINATION (Fiction and Nonfiction).

In a previous BLOG post, I discussed CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, the importance of layering the main and key secondary characters with the good, the bad and the ugly. Because no one is pure! Now, I’d like to say a bit more about COMPLEXITY in your characters. That desirable element comes about and is apparent to the reader when the character struggles, has a personal conflict ‘on fire’ inside of them, one that is difficult to resolve. What I call A BIG FAT DILEMMA!

Today I watched a film on Netflix titled PERSUASION, based on the classic Jane Austen novel. Anne Elliott is the twenty-seven-year-old protagonist in this engaging story. The more she desires Captain Frederick Wentworth, the further she pushes him away. She broke up with him seven years ago when he was a penniless Navy sailor, persuaded by her mentor, Lady Russell to let him go. He ventured away to sea for several years making his mark as an honorable and successful Navy Captain. But Frederick is all Anne’s thought about for those long years apart, without ever contacting him. Now he’s back on shore. Instead of confessing her love, Anne keeps him at arms-length as a friend not a romantic liaison. She even pushes him into the arms of her cousin. WHY does she do this? Because the author has artfully created a COMPLEX character. Anne is torn inside. She’s confused. She feels guilty for many reasons. WE, AS READERS, STAND BESIDE HER and LIVE HER STRUGGLE. We watch her be uncomfortable, stumble and fall and pick herself up.

I have a fair amount of stage acting background and have performed in a variety of theater productions including some film work over the years, even studied Dramatic Arts at Oxford University (British American Drama Academy program through Yale Drama School) with premiere English actors like Brian Cox, Jeremy Irons and Vanessa Redgrave. That background helped me slide into writing stories and novels. I THINK LIKE A FILM MAKER. So, when I write, I roll the scene in my head as if I’m watching a film. It helps me create a piece where there is human struggle and complexity in my characters.

As a writer, how do you measure up when you design your character, even when it’s yourself as narrator of your memoir? What is the internal chatter going on inside the character’s head? And, when you manage to effectively describe those complex thoughts and feelings, are you “showing” them in actions of that character vs. too much telling?

Read that chapter you just wrote. READ IT ALOUD! Get out of your chair, print the pages and walk around the room reading it. Ask yourself the three questions stated above. Tweak your writing accordingly without ruminating so much that you don’t move forward with your manuscript. More about that DANGER ZONE in the next blog post.

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will focus on THE DANGER ZONE IN WRITING: ‘EDIT’RUMINATION.

We all know what a “cliffhanger” is in television, in film and on the page of a good book. It’s something that takes the reader or viewer to the edge of the cliff but doesn’t take the plunge YET.

When we’re reading something that engages us, we hang on for dear life, wondering, speculating what is coming on the next page. It’s thrilling, an exciting ride and guess what, it doesn’t have to be related to a murder or something horrific in the crosshairs. It could merely be the character waiting for an important call where she finds out if she’s pregnant, or the character getting out of an elevator to ring a doorbell that might expose a cheating fiancée, his arms wrapped around another woman or that he’s alone and watching TV. The reader is there in the scene standing in the same space as the character. We, as readers are holding our breath. We understand what the character is feeling, how she/he is fearful, hopeful, maybe afraid. We are rooting for good things, but WE KNOW THAT AROUND THE NEXT CORNER, ON THE VERY NEXT PAGE, IT MAY TURN OUT BADLY for that character, the one we care about in the story.

HOW the HELL do you achieve that in your writing? Again, it’s the small details, the physicality of the character, the way she/he moves their body at that moment, the internal thoughts that run through the character’s mind when approaching the impending threat.

So, write your chapter and then read it back aloud. Ask yourself if you’ve created the tension you intended in that scene? If not, HOW can you create tension in the scene, even if it’s a mundane situation. HINT: It’s important to reveal the STAKES. In other words, what does the character have to lose if the next page doesn’t go well for him/her?

I don’t want to beat you over the head with this aspect BUT please take the opportunity in your writing to use this tool called “TENSION” when you can! Oh, and by the way, CONFLICT is also a high impact tool for capturing the hearts of readers. Conflict adds to the tension!

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will focus on BOOSTING COMPLEXITY IN YOUR CHARACTERS.

When we read a book we love, when we’re hooked and can’t put it down, there’s a reason. Often the secret sauce the writer has plucked out of the air is indeed the depth of the character. I already mentioned in a previous blog that as a writer you want to not only feature the strengths or assets of the narrator/protagonist, BUT also their quirks, their downside, their weaknesses. AND additionally, I think you want to go deeper into what makes that individual tick.

There’s a process I’ve used in the corporate business world that can apply here. It’s called the ISHIKAWA (fishbone) diagram. It’s a methodology where you keep asking yourself WHY something continues to be a problem? If we extrapolate this problem-solving thinking to your craft as a writer, here’s what may be of value. ASK YOURSELF: Why is the main character in my story upset? Down deep, what is happening? Not only the surface or presenting issue, but what values, principles, beliefs are driving this character? And will that be discovered by the reader? In subtle ways, without knocking the reader over the head. Or in big ways, with a significant emotional event in the story.

AGAIN, how as the writer can you SHOW the underlying belief system of your character without just spelling it out in exposition? Is it something the character or narrator will do in the scene or chapter where the reader will be surprised and also understand what’s motivating the character at the deepest, most visceral level?

Okay, that’s a lot to digest and maybe I’m not doing a great job as a coach of describing this. So, here goes.

Writing Example:

She looked into the mirror and for the first time saw her mother looking back at her. Her fears of becoming just like her mother, a complaining shrew without a hint of sympathy for her own child, hit Tara like a “bullet” train. She had morphed into her mother, and it terrified her.

The passage above is not from an actual novel of my own, nor is it from any other author’s work I’ve read. BUT I think this baseline example shows what a few lines of writing can expose in terms of what lies beneath the character’s everyday surface reactions and thoughts. What’s written here cuts to the greatest fear, the albatross this character has been carrying around for years.

So, go deeper as a writer to expose those traumas, those things that frighten your protagonist or you as the narrator of your memoir. And do the same where it makes sense with one or two of your secondary characters.

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will focus on DEVELOPING TENSION AND CONFLICT.

You’ve heard of show and tell and we’ve all enjoyed that process when we were kids. Bring something to class, hold it up for all to see and then “tell” them about it.

When you’re writing a story, whether it’s memoir or fiction, the best counsel I can give you is to SHOW vs tell. For you as the writer, this means that your goal is to share/divulge what’s happening through dialogue and action. If it’s a fast-moving action scene, then shorter sentences are recommended. If it’s a tragic scene, full of tension, write it cold vs hot. “Just state the facts ma’am,” and let the imagination do the rest. Believe it or not, the scene will be more powerful. If it’s a low-key scene, fairly mundane, then try writing it hotter, using a lot of descriptors to evoke the emotion the protagonist or narrator is feeling.

Most of all, have the dialogue between characters do the work in terms of what’s going on. When you simply tell the reader what’s happening, it is called narrative exposition. And sometimes it is indeed needed to set the stage for the reader, provide important information, go over history. But when you merely tell what’s happening instead of show what’s happening, the writing can fall flat, feel dull, get long, meandering and take the reader out of the scene; something you don’t want to do as a writer.

So, think about how you can SHOW more than tell. Write the scene first draft, then read it aloud to yourself. Maybe record it.  Re-write or edit the scene injecting more of the SHOW methodology. Force yourself to show what is unfolding through dialogue and action. See which version of what you’ve written you like better.

Ask yourself these questions: Is the scene drawing in the reader? Is the scene helping the reader connect to the feelings of the characters? Is the reader likely feeling the character’s yearning and desires? Does the reader comprehend the “stakes” for the character? MY MONEY IS ON THE “SHOW” vs the “TELL” version. Re-read a novel or memoir that you love by a writer you greatly admire. Notice how the author “shows” vs “tells.”

Highlights in bold italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will focus on GOING DEEPER/ASKING “WHY” AS A WRITER.

If you’re planning to write a memoir, then your main character is YOU, and that means you are the narrator of the story. If you’re writing a suspense novel or any type of fiction, your main character is the protagonist. You can still write the story in first person if you so choose but you may also decide to write the story in third person. Whatever you decide, it’s a good idea to be clear on who is the protagonist or narrator. Believe me, readers can get confused. In other words, which character’s point of view are you featuring? That all being said, you could choose a style where each chapter is from a different character’s point of view (POV). But to be honest, most of the time I find that confusing or disruptive BUT not always!

So, now you’ve decided the above (at least for the first draft of your story), and you’re thinking about how to describe, define and color the character. Let’s think about physical description, quirks and here’s the most important aspect: LAYERS! Have you ever made a list of the pluses and minuses of a situation or dilemma? I believe that the same method applies to developing the main character and secondary characters in my story. Yes, I want to know what they look like BUT I also want them to be like real people. In other words, have good, bad and ugly sides to them. Remember most of us are different under stress. And NOBODY is perfect as the saying goes and that double-downs for creating believable characters. And, if you are writing a memoir, then I also recommend that you as narrator have FLAWS! Why not? The most perfect man or woman you’ve ever dated or married has FLAWS just like the rest of the world’s inhabitants! Don’t miss out on this point because it will give your character(s) DEPTH and LIFE. Yes, stay consistent with how that character thinks throughout BUT also remember that the point of your story is to show TRANSFORMATION. The character should change by the end of the story, somehow, some way!

MORE ABOUT THAT IN A FUTURE WRITE-BYTES POST!

PS: Be careful not to have TOO MANY CHARACTERS in your story. You don’t have to name everybody in your book, especially if that person appears once and not ever again. You can refer to them as the woman in red, or the ruddy-faced boy standing at the end of the line. UNLESS they are crucial to the TRANSFORMATION of the main or key secondary character.

Highlights in bold and italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will focus on SHOW VS TELL.

Every story begins with a scene. Whether you’re writing a memoir or novel, or even a short story, as a writer your goal is to focus on intentionally setting the scene.

There’s a lot to establish in terms of the setting in a scene, especially in the opening scene of the story. Details matter. What the character or narrator sees and feels need to be highlighted, especially those things that will come around again and have significance, a broader meaning. Smells, textures, observations, what’s happening in the character’s body, their desires, their yearnings all add depth to a scene. Date, time of day, location, season of year, colors, sounds, all of these elements can be described. And let me say again: those teensy details, weird things that the character or narrator notices, quirky things, minor things can serve to capture the intentional desired mood and tone of the scene.

Think of your writing as a cinematic work of art, one that you are crafting as if you are standing behind the camera and shooting the scene as a filmmaker. Or maybe imagine yourself as a fly on the wall watching from the ceiling of the room, noting every element, even the way the shadow falls on the pale blue wall opposite the king-sized bed, how the sun creeps in on a late afternoon through the slats of the dusty window blinds and throws diagonal strips of light on the antique oak armoire. These details will peak the reader’s interest and even capture their heart. Keep in mind that you can always cut out excess details when you edit. But first, get it all down. Go with the flow. Walk the room and read what you’ve written as if it is really happening in that spot.

Highlights in bold and italics above capture the core of this blog post!

Stay tuned for next week. Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m.

Next week’s WRITE-BYTES Blog post will focus on DEVELOPING YOUR CHARACTERS.

I’ve been writing since I was a little girl but only in the last ten years was I serious about making it the primary focus in my work. I spent 25 years as a Human Resources leader and joyfully held positions in stellar high-tech companies in Silicon Valley. I was so wrapped up in my professional life, exhausted from the daily meetings and conference calls with Europe, Asia and across the east coast. Exciting? Yes. But that life left little time for any type of creative writing. AND THAT WAS SOMETHING I YEARNED TO DO.

The good news is that over the years as I grew in my career, I built a palette of transferable skills that link to the craft of creative writing. Designing and facilitating leadership and professional development workshops was my forte as well as my role as editor in chief of several global employee newsletters. I had an amazing professional career and even today I still consult with corporations and non-profits, and teach HR Excellence at a university here in Northern California.

So, I backed off from the rat race in Silicon Valley and over the past eight years, I’ve authored six suspense novels and three children’s books (published and available on Amazon and at other notable retailers).

Over the last year or so during the pandemic crisis, I explored a new path. I’m writing short pieces and to date have had over thirty stories, poems and memoir vignettes published in a variety of notable literary journals. Currently, I am writing a series of memoir stories about growing up in the BRONX during the 1960’s, the collection likely to be titled THE BRONX GIRL.

It took blood, sweat and some tears to develop as a creative writer. I knew that learning from others is the way to go! So, I participated in dozens of writing workshops with the experts, joined a few writer associations and engage in a weekly critique group with other writers. Having a writing coach and a steady cadre of colleagues to inspire me and provide me feedback is KEY to improving and honing writing skills!

I WANT TO SHARE WHAT I’VE LEARNED ABOUT WRITING!

So, get ready!

THIS BLOG will be dedicated to those out there who are INTERESTED in writing as a craft. Whether it’s fiction, poetry, nonfiction or memoir you are planning to write or you are in the midst of shaping a writing project, I am here to offer you my valuable WRITE-BYTES! Stay tuned!

Look for this BLOG every FRIDAY which will be posted at 9 a.m. on the spot.

My first WRITE-BYTES BLOG POST will focus specifically on SETTING THE SCENE in your story.

Stay tuned for next week!

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