Tag Archives: beginning writers

Reading and five minute video

Hot Summer Nights 7-2016

August 26th, I took part in “Hot Summer Nights”–Tuesdays in July when four members of Redwood Writers, the largest branch of the California Writers Club, read from recently their published books at Copperfield’s Book Store in Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa, CA. This is the fourth year Copperfield’s has partnered with us on this event.

Here’s a five minute clip my friend Beth filmed: https://youtu.be/auw1c9uoiJY




Filed under business of writing, e-books, publishing, writing process

can we trust memory?

Memory is, by its very nature, flawed. Our brains take snapshots of events, and encode, along with the picture, smells, sounds, textures, and sometimes dialogue. But the whole scene is not captured; only the parts that impacted us. Memory is piecemeal.

Nonetheless, when we undertake writing a memoir—a chunk of our history—we are stuck with memory as our main source material, and if we’re lucky, journals we might have kept. It is my belief that if we have worked hard not to judge others, and to honestly assess the role we played in those events, we can use those memories to help reconstruct the story.

A big section of my memoir took place over thirty years ago. When faced with writing dialogue, I relied on my feeling sense of the encounters. Occasionally I remembered actual sentences people said, because they struck me so strongly. But most the time, I recreated it. Many people who are in the memoir have now read my account. No one, including the doctors who played a powerful role in our lives, has complained about the conversations I reconstructed in the memoir.

Of course, I also did research, and talked to people who were in my life back then. They were less helpful than I expected. These were not vivid memories that they had stored, because the situation hadn’t impacted them the way it had me.

So as long as you are not out to blame anyone, including yourself, and have developed an honest curiosity—even in situations where you felt victimized—I suggest trusting yourself, and writing what you recall on the page.

© Skye Blaine, 2016

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Filed under memoir, 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