Category Archives: new writers

my friend’s blog post: “one reason not to publish a memoir”

My friend Laura McHale Holland has written a thought-provoking post as a guest blogger on Kathy Pooler’s site. Anyone writing–or interested in writing–memoir can benefit by reading her post.

Here’s the link, and her picture is below: http://wp.me/p1vAO5-3kn

laura-mchale-holland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy!
Skye

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Filed under memoir, new writers, writing, writing process

believable prose

In addition to hooking our readers in the first couple of paragraphs, our writing needs to have verisimilitude—whether we’re writing memoir or fiction, it needs to be believable, smooth, and carry the reader into the dream of our story. Paying attention to these six points can help this happen:

  • Correct use of words—nothing will throw the reader out of the story faster than incorrect word usage. Know the difference between effect and affect. Capital and capitol. Site and cite. Complement and compliment. Lie and lay. Just because journalists and politicians make these mistakes doesn’t mean it is all right for serious writers. On the Internet you can look up lists of often confused and misused words. By using words correctly, you build the reader’s trust.
  • Sentence formation—vary sentence length, making sure sentences are constructed properly, without dangling modifiers, or incorrect referents. A scene with high tension might have shorter sentences, and even some fragments. A sequel that describes place might have lush, longer sentences. Notice the rhythm your sentences have, and vary it. We writers need to become aware of our tendencies, and work to overcome them.
  • Economical writing—our prose is dragged down by extra words: two (or three, or four) adjectives where one would do; extra attributions—he said, she said—where the meaning is clear without them; wandering, or circling descriptions, or weak verbs where a powerful one could eliminate unnecessary adverbs.
    Hint: I participate in a weekly critique group. Each week, we bring up to ten pages. For the six nights prior to that group, I review the section—honing, searching for strong verbs, deleting extra words. Every night I find ways to strengthen the writing. As I near the evening of the critique group, I read my selection out loud. It is amazing what I catch by listening to the words rather than reading them.
  • Avoid cliches—cliches are the easy, fall-back way that people describe a situation: “time will tell,” “old as the hills,” “scared out of my wits,” “fall head over heels.” Writers need to do better! Cliches are a sign of writerly laziness. It’s fine to use one as a placeholder in a first draft, but by the second draft, come up with an original phrase.
  • Retain standard punctuation—avoid multiple exclamation points !!!, or the useful ?!. They do not have a place in serious writing. Instead, use words to create that feeling.
  • Strong verbs—using strong verbs reduces the need for adverbs and adjectives, and lessens our reliance on the verb “to be.” Search your work for “was” and “were.” You may be stunned by how many instances you find.

Remember, most suggested rules have been broken in ways that succeed. But don’t count on it!

© Skye Blaine,  2016

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Filed under beginning writers, new writers, writing, writing craft

adding detail with the senses

Simply put, sense impressions describe a person, place, or thing. They can also clarify a psychological or physical state. They may make use of metaphor or simile.

We tend to write about the senses we cannot help but use, if our eyes and ears are intact: sight and sound. But taste, texture, and smell are just as important to include. Because I notice this common weakness in my writing, I don’t focus on including them in the first draft, but in succeeding drafts, I work to layer in taste, texture, and smell—although not necessarily all at the same time.

Including the senses adds verisimilitude to our work—they take our reader right there. Every person will interpret the words on the page differently, and that’s fine—readers are building their own fictional impressions and world based on the words we craft.

“He did not answer, of course, because he was dead, was now fine, silvery dust in the dark bronze urn I had chosen, nestled between piles of books and old Silas’s basket, which was lined with the rotting old sweater Silas guarded fiercely. It smelled of salt and pine and wood smoke and now, of course Silas.” [her cat]

This paragraph is from the prologue of Anne Rivers Siddons novel, Off Season. She is one of my favorite contemporary authors because her writing uses place as a character, word painting with the senses to carry us right there. This is the first taste of her Maine that we get, offered in the smells: “salt and pine and work smoke.” And we are introduced to her dead husband, Cam, “now fine, silvery dust in the dark bronze urn I had chosen.” (Smells and textures)

And later, in the same prologue: “…and look down from the top of the piled-stone seawall and watch the bay playing about the rocks, creaming and swelling and falling, glittering far to the west where the afternoon sun was lowering. I would smell the clean, fishy, kelpy sun-on-dried-rocks smell, and I would hear the sea breathe.” Siddons has me. I’m fully captured in her fictional world. (Sights and smells and sounds—and I can taste that fishy smell, too.)

Give the most sensory attention to the important characters and places—it helps guide the reader in understanding what’s important.

One can be lush and still spare. Allow the reader spaces to create for themselves within your work—don’t do it all for them. They will appreciate this.

© Skye Blaine, 2016

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Filed under craft, fiction, new writers, writing

the value of critique groups, take two

When beginning writers ask me what’s most important, I direct them to find or to start a critique group. There are a few important ground rules:

  • The discussion remains on the writing itself—NOT on the writer, or the story they’ve chosen to tell, but on strengthening the words on the page.
  • No blaming or mean comments! I call this flaming. I would leave a group immediately if that kind of behavior took place. And not return.
  • Start by commenting on the writing strengths you’ve noted. Occasionally in new writers, strengths are hard to find. But you can. Look for them.
  • Then move into areas where the work can be improved. Be KIND. You are speaking to yourself here.
  • Meet weekly as possible. I think five is a good maximum number of people, particularly if everyone is bringing writing each week.
  • In the three critique groups I’ve been in (one for five years, one for twelve, then I moved to another state and I’ve been in this one for three years), we bring up to ten pages of double-spaced, Times New Roman 12 point print outs, with one inch margins, for everyone, including a copy for ourselves. The double spacing allows room for comments, and my favorite, + signs for language I love. The font, font size, and margins keep everyone writing to about the same length.
  • Each person reads their work out loud, and the others make written comments as they read. After the reading, each member offers verbal comments as well. These are best received in silence. No arguing! It’s only one person’s opinion.
    Judgment has no place here: (such as “this is wrong”) Discernment is valuable: (This paragraph conveyed more anger than I think you intended.)
  • No disclaimers or apologies about your writing! Be brave. Allow it to stand on its own.

As soon as I get home, I sit down and consider their feedback while it is fresh. For example, occasionally every critiquer commented on the same few sentences, but their opinions were directly opposite. Then I know that area needs assessment, and it’s up to me to weigh their feedback and find my own way through. Sometimes those sentences are removed, or completely reframed. Very occasionally, I leave them as they are. In the end, it’s up to the writer.

© Skye Blaine, 2015

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Filed under critique groups, new writers, writing