Dramaquill's All Things Writing

February 26, 2013

Composing is writing too

I have been feeling uptight about not working on my second suspense novel lately. We all go through those phases where our projects get shelved due to other things taking up our time.

Recently I even had to skip my turn at subbing to my critique group (and I hate missing my turn).

Today, as I sat at my keyboard working on lyrics to the final original song for my murder/mystery, I realized that I was still writing. I was just writing words to a song instead of words in a chapter. Creating is creating – writing is writing

What are you writing today?

January 21, 2013

Genre Writing Blogs – Suspense

It’s great to share what others have to say and I’d like to do just that.

Here’s my call out to all those bloggers who write suspense/mystery/thriller novels, plays and/or short stories.

I’d love to feature a different blog each week with a short Q & A with the blogger.

Anyone interested?

Comment on this post, send me your blog url and let’s see what great information we can share with our followers and with each other.

September 18, 2012

Teaching Drama inspired me to get back to writing

As the owner of a performing arts studio, my schedule becomes almost overwhelming from late August through mid September.  It’s both exhilarating and exhausting.

I’ve now entered the phase where all of my classes have begun and I’m re-connecting with former students as well as meeting new ones.  It’s an exciting time at my studio.

Saturday was the first day of classes and as it happens, all of our drama programs are on Saturday.

First up was the 6-10 year old group.  As we all played a fun drama game to learn each other’s names, I saw snippets of creativity begin to emerge.  Even the shy children were eager to say and do something that would make everyone remember them.  The collective energy in the drama room produced an encouraging atmosphere where the students felt themselves trying things outside of their comfort zones and enjoying it.

The second group consisted of the 11-17 year old crowd.  This diverse group ranged from kids with plenty of creative experience to others with absolutely none.  Interestingly enough, as we worked on a variety of group and individual activities, this group definitely had a noticeable split between the “up for anything” creative types and the “shy and guarded” individuals, however, by the end of the class, the split had weakened considerably.

Finally, the last class, a large group of students ages 9-18 entered the studio.  Many of these kids have taken programs with us before, however there was also a handful of newcomers.  One might think that such a mix of ages would result in chaos, but the opposite took place.  Different levels of creativity took shape as we integrated ages and abilities, familiar and unfamiliar.  The creative energy became infectious during the ninety minute session.

You’re probably all wondering what any of this has to do with writing.

Writing alone is great when your creativity flows and the words just spew out of you and on to the page.  But as we all know, there are also times when the complete opposite happens.

Creativity grows when surrounded by creativity.

Join a writing group.

Talk to other writers.

Talk to potential readers.

Read books that aren’t in your comfort zone and see how you feel when you’re done.

Participate in a critique group.

I always feel more inspired and creative after I’ve done any one of these things.  It just took me a day of teaching drama to remember how great it is to interact.

August 19, 2012

It’s all part of the creative process

This summer has been strange to say the least.  Warm sunny days where the sun’s up around six a.m. and doesn’t go to bed until after 10:00 p.m. makes for the perfect writing environment for me.  I can grab my iPad or a notebook and head to one of the nearby parks or lakes, sit sipping a mochaccino on an outdoor coffee shop patio or hunker down under a shade tree in my backyard.

At least that’s the way my writing life has gone until this summer.

I can’t say that it hasn’t been bugging me that I can’t seem to find my stride with my current WIP, my second adult suspense novel.  I’ve started re-reading the 31 chapters I’d previously written, hoping to find myself jumping back into the rhythm of it all.  But that just hasn’t been the case.

Am I worried that I’ll never finish my second book?

No, not at all.  But I sure don’t like waiting for this dry spell to end.

Oddly enough, my creativity did get a jump start in another area of writing.  Next week, my studio is offering a drama camp for kids 8-14 years old.  I started flipping through all our scripts and through my computer files and suddenly camp up with an idea – a campy spy play.  I got to work.

My fingers flew over the keys as the ideas formed.  It’s a quirky, silly, fast-paced romp through a day in the life of a secret agency of spies, made up of a bunch of ordinary kids.  Only thing is, nobody is allowed to know who anybody else is so they all wear white masks and go by a number rather than their name.

It felt good to exercise my creative chops again, even if it wasn’t on my WIP.

Maybe a week of creativity with this drama camp will be just what my muse needs to make an appearance.  Let’s hope so.

Don’t get discouraged when the words don’t come.  It’s all part of the creative process.

March 27, 2012

Every Writer Should Have a Web Presence

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It’s common knowledge that in this high tech computer age, every writer should have a web presence. 

Don’t know how?

There are some very easy (and free) ways to get page online:

1.      Start a writing blog  (I recommend WordPress) 

2.      Make a separate Facebook Page as your “writing” page or even a separate page for each of”
          your books if you have published books to your credit

3.      Get a twitter account.  Follow other writers and publishers.  Tweet regularly to develop a
          following.

4.      Have an actual writer’s page under your name.  (I am lucky enough to own a business that
          has a website so I just created a page titled JACQUELINE MCMAHON and have my writing
          credits etc. online there.  My business already pays for the site hosting so there’s no
          additional cost to me)
          http://www.slightlyoffbroadway.com/jacquelinemcmahon.htm

5.      Join other sites for writers like: 
          She writes  (www.shewrites.com)
          Jacketflap  (www.jacketflap.com)
          Redroom    (www.redroom.com)

6.      Buy your domain name and pay to have the site hosted.  (Check out this site of reviews
         before choosing a web host:  http://www.webhostingreviews.com/)

7.      Actively comment in writers’ chat rooms, on writers’ blogs and through social media.

8.      Add any book urls to the signature line in ALL emails that you send.

These are some of the more popular ways any writer can develop a web presence.  Now, what are you waiting for?  Get out there and get online.

January 30, 2012

Visiting the classroom as a Guest Author

I was invited to speak to two classes of children (included 4th, 5th and 6th grade students) for literacy week.  The principal invited local published authors to speak to the kids about what it’s like to be a writer.

I’ve never enjoyed giving a speech.  The thought of being up there alone, and as myself, doesn’t paint a very interesting picture in my mind.  Let me recite a monologue as a fabulous literary character from a great work of fiction, and that excites me.

So how was I going to interest these young minds in two areas that many admitted they didn’t really enjoy doing:  reading and writing.

Instead of giving a speech and trying to figure out how to make them listen to me ramble on about my thoughts on being a writer, I turned the tables to them and started my presentation by asking them some questions:

1.    What makes a book interesting enough for you to want to read it?

2.    What types of characters do you enjoy?

3.    What kinds of stories interest you?

4.    What turns you off in a book?

The enthusiastic hand waving instantly got us talking.  Even those kids who said they really didn’t like to read much had comments on what types of stories they would prefer if they did have to read a book.

Next, I presented them with this question:

Have you ever read a story and wished you could have changed it?

This engaged even more enthusiasm as student after student offered their imaginative ways to improve upon stories they’d read.  They got excited when I told them that being a writer meant that they could make the story be whatever they wanted.  The characters would be designed by their imaginations.  Eager hands raised and creative ideas flowed as students, guest writer and teacher all engaged in the excitement of the writing process.

Finally, I offered a way to prompt them on starting a story.  I asked them all to close their eyes and ask themselves this question…What if? 

What if when I went to sleep tonight…
What if my lunch box was filled with…
What if the teacher could…
What if the stairs at school turned into jello…
What if I could draw something and it would come to life and…

Now the students were really excited and wanted to write their own *what if* story.

I also showed them some of the magazines, anthologies and market books I’ve had work published in and talked to them a little about what it takes to write an entire book and the process required to get it published.  They seemed most impressed with the fact that something that they could create could actually earn them some money as a career someday.

I hope that my visit helped convince many of them to enter the writing contest being held in our city next month.  I do know that I definitely helped them get a jump-start on tapping into their own creative ideas.

But the best part of the visit was watching them get excited about reading and writing. 

As a writer, what do you do to inspire those around you?

Free Ezines for Writers

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One of the things I most enjoy about checking my email every day is finding a copy of one of the many *free* ezines that I subscribe to in my inbox.  It’s amazing how much free info. is there for the taking, offered up by some of today’s most respected individuals in the business. 

I’d like to share some of my favorites with my readers.  Most simply require a sign-up with your email address and that’s it.  No spamming…just access to great information.  Enjoy!  

http://www.fundsforwriters.com/FFWnewsletters.htm

http://www.writersweekly.com

http://www.writersdigest.com/subscribe/free-weekly-newsletter

http://www.writersmarket.com   (fill in sign-up box for FREE newsletter)

http://www.write4kids.com   (ezine link at very bottom of webpage)

http://www.writing-world.com/newsletter/index.shtml

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/freebiesforwriters/

I would have to say that the first four links are my all-time favorites, but any of the above ezines can provide excellent insight into this biz we call writing.

January 10, 2012

Sometimes you need to Step Away to Recharge

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December can be a tricky month for anyone who celebrates the holidays.  There are gifts to buy, baking to do, cleaning for company and extra social events to attend.  When’s a writer supposed to find time to write?

I’ve been beating myself up about not getting any writing done since Nano ended on November 30th.  But as it turns out, it really wasn’t a bad thing after all.  I only wish I hadn’t allowed myself to stress out about it so much!

Now that the Christmas tree and decorations are all back in storage in the basement and the last remnants of holiday treats have been eaten, I find myself experiencing a new-found energy and creativity.  I’m reading writing blogs, ezines and books.  I’m plotting and planning.  But most of all – I’m writing again.

As it turns out, sometimes you need to step away to Recharge.

How did you fare as a writer celebrating the holidays?  Did you stay on track, or let things fall a bit by the wayside like I did?

January 10, 2012 – recharged and ready for writing!

September 20, 2011

You’ve written a play…now what?

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I love my job!  One of my responsibilities is to provide my studio’s drama department with original play scripts for each class. 

For some folks that sounds like a daunting task but I love it!

This semester I’m working on a circus mini musical for the 6-9 yr. olds, a modern day Ms. Scrooge play for the 10-16 yr. olds and a full-length pirate musical, complete with songs and choreography for the 9-18 yr. old class.

I’m lucky!  I know exactly what’s going to happen once I finish my plays.

Each class will begin to work on becoming their characters, blocking and physical movement, memorizing lines, learning songs and choreography and working together on the project. 

I said I was lucky.  Why?  Because I get to be there to watch it all unfold.  I can see how things work that I’ve written and tweak anything that doesn’t seem to be working. 

My writing will come to life right before my very eyes.

Now I realize that I’m very lucky to have access to these groups of kids and teens who are more than willing to act out whatever scripts I bring to class.

Many (or maybe even most) playwrights don’t have instant access to a production like I do, but there are ways to get productions of your scripts.

* Contact local amateur theatre groups/troupes and ask if they are willing to read your script

* Enter contests where the prize is a staged reading or a production (beware: some contests  
   have entry fees.  You have to decide if the fee is worth it for the potential prize)

* Find a local writing group and/or make other connections that may lead to a production

* Contact schools, drama clubs or other groups that may entertain the idea of putting on a
   show

* Organize your own production (more on that later).

For me, getting my plays published means I can reach a wider audience and perhaps won’t have to do ALL of the marketing myself to get my plays out there..but…productions, whether amateur or professional are what it’s all about in the end.

“The Play’s the Thing” 
       Shakespeare

September 14, 2011

Download-file.net SCAM SITE update

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Just an update to my previous post on this site that appears to be illegally offering content for free download.

Several writers have gone to the site and found that their books were indeed posted without their permission.  Many contacted their publishers and also contacted the site.

Some members of my critique group and also some from my publisher decided to search everything from big name authors to complete jibberish and guess what?  Yep – everything and anything searched came back with results.

So fear not, fellow writers.  Although the site makes it appear that your books have been stolen, it’s unlikely that the site has any legitimate content whatsoever.

But here’s the real warning…

In order to download content, one must join the site and pay the introductory trial fee of $4.99.  That means divulging credit card info. 

DON’T DO IT!

I contacted Angela Hoy of writersweekly.com earlier this week and her thoughts were that perhaps the download links are viruses.  So, if you pay to join the trial membership and then click on one of the downloads to see if it’s really your book, you could end up inviting a virus into your computer.

The beauty of the internet is that we are all connected and getting information out is relatively easy and extremely quick.

As far as download-file.net is concerned…DANGER WIL ROBINSON!

September 9, 2011

Writers Beware: Someone may be stealing your book right now!

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I’ve made it a habit to google myself and my book title monthly.  Usually I’m pleasantly surprised at the new sites that have picked up my book and offered it for sale in their online stores or new reviews from new readers. 

That wasn’t the case this month.

In fact, I found illegal copies of my book in numerous digital formats all offered for download at the following site:

http://download-file.net

They DO NOT have permission to offer my book for download, free or otherwise.

They DID NOT contact my publisher or myself.

They ARE STEALING from me and from my publisher.

My editor contacted them and so did I.  I got back a bogus link to click that apparently was the tracking page to this incident.  It was given a fancy incident number and everything.  But the page doesn’t exist.

I found someone else who’s had the same problem.  They also have tried numerous ways to contact the site owners but never get any response.

Isn’t it difficult enough for new writers to make it in this biz without the unscrupulous thieves who choose to steal from someone else in order to make money.

How do they make money?

If you want to download anything from their site, you pay $4.99 for a one month trial membership.  Otherwise, if you’re a non-paid member, you can’t download anything.

Writers Beward:  Download-file.net may be stealing a copy of your book right now!

August 14, 2011

What comes first – the plot or the characters?

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I wonder if most people’s first reaction when reading the title of this post was, “Duh, the plot of course!”  And hey, maybe they’re right.  But for me, I seem to have much greater success developing new projects if I have a set of characters in mind first.

When writing plays for Slightly off Broadway’s drama department, just knowing whether the actors will be playing hillbillies or wizards sparks all sort of creative flow.  I can’t imagine trying to come up with the story first when the list of possible characters is somewhat endless. 

My inspiration for writing my first suspense novel was actually loosely based on something I had witnessed in the life of someone I knew.  My villain took on the characteristics of a handful of individuals I’d seen in action in disfunctional relationships throughout the years, be it my own or those of my friends and/or family.  My heroine became the culmination of three strong women, all of whom faced horrible circumstances and found a way to survive.  I think the hero is actually someone I wish existed.  I can’t imagine figuring out the plot of my story if I didn’t first get to know these characters.

Currently, I’m working on another suspense novel, and again, the characters prompted me to not only develop the plot but also helped me with the location.  The story morphed relatively easily out of just a few details about the lives of each of the characters.

Now it might sound like I’m saying that it isn’t the plot, but in fact it’s the characters that come first.  In my case, that does seem to be true – at least so far.  But I think this question, much like the “what came first – the chicken or the egg” question has lots of room for debate.

I’d love to have other writers weigh in on their experiences in regard to plot and characters.  Feel free to post to get the discussion going.

June 14, 2011

Inspiration can come from anywhere

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My mind is always going at warp speed.  I can be working on one project and suddenly, bam, another idea pops into my head.  I’ve never been one of those writers who struggle to come up with the next idea.

I’m lucky – and I’m probably in the minority.  But, it got me to thinking one day.  Why is it so easy for some writers to become inspired with a new project and so difficult for others?

I don’t know about other writers but I think, for me, it’s being aware of the details of my surroundings.  I’ll give you some examples…

I have pets – dogs.  I’ve used their antics to craft children’s poetry, stories and plays. 

I own a performing arts studio where I’m surrounded by students from age 3 to senior citizens. Working with such a diverse group of individuals really gives me insight into what interests and entertains the different age groups as well as great fodder for traits for my characters.

I live in a city of approximately 110,000.  There are so many wonderful places to just go and people watch.  My handy notebooks are filled with physical descriptions, mannerisms, and expressions.  It’s also very picturesque in my corner of the world and on the advice of a mentor, I decided to set my suspense novels in different locations near where I live.

Do you have kids?  Watch what makes them laugh…cry…angry.  What keeps them interested? 

Many writers get inspiration from the daily news headlines.  Current issues can provide inspiration for articles and different slants on hot topics.  Crime stories can jump start a mystery or thriller.

We all have a myriad of people pass through our lives on a regular basis.  They all have a lot to offer us if we take the time to look for something about them, or in their lives, that can jumpstart an idea.

Many writers enjoy online ezines, blogs and newsletters.  Often, ezines and newsletters will send a writing prompt.  Try freewriting the next time you read one and see where it takes you.

An online friend of mine exhibited a really unique way of showing inspiration can come from anywhere.  Recently, her neighborhood was hit with a tornado.  She not only used her experiences, and the experiences of those around her, as great material for her blog, but also to inspire her creative writing.  Now that’s someone definitely making lemonade, or in this case inspiration, out of a terrible situation.

Look around! 

Observe!

Record!

Inspiration truly can come from anywhere, anytime and from anyone.  Be open to inspiration.

April 29, 2011

Your play: published or produced?

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As the resident playwright for Slightly off Broadway triple threat studio, I create 6-8 new scripts every school year.  There was a time when I believed that I really hadn’t done justice to my plays unless I managed to get them published or in an anthology collection.

As the years went by, I realized that the greatest pleasure I get from writing my plays and musicals is watching them unfold during the rehearsal process and then seeing the final product up on the stage during the performances.  After all, plays are meant to be seen and heard, not just read.  This is what makes plays different from all other forms of fiction writing.

I know several playwrights who have developed their own publishing companies solely for the purpose of self-publishing their plays.  That way, they don’t have to share royalties when they sell copies to schools and drama clubs. 

Over the years I’ve ordered sample copies of plays from several different publishers.  Some produce a fine product but many others create an amateur looking cardstock cover folded over and stapled to the printed sheets.  I can make copies that look better by doing it myself.  Also, if I have them published with someone else, then I have to share revenue on each sale.  So I understand why so many playwrights choose to create their own company and their own product.

But for me, publication isn’t the forerunner for my plays.  It’s the productions that I crave.  Besides the Slightly off Broadway performances, I have sold copies of my plays to school drama clubs and organizers of summer drama camps.  Knowing that something I have created can be shared with performers and audiences all over the globe is far more satisfying to me than having my play listed in a catalogue.  That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to be listed with the likes of someone like Samuel French – who wouldn’t? 

So how do I get the word out that I have plays available?

I advertise on the Slightly off Broadway website.  I read ezines and forums that pertain to playwriting.  I talk to teachers who are looking for new material.  I do my own networking.

Am I getting rich selling copies of my plays for productions?

Nope.

Am I satisfied knowing that every single one I have written to date has had at least one production?

Absolutely.

Publication or Production…you decide.

http://www.slightlyoffbroadway.com

http://www.samuelfrench.com

http://www.stageplays.com

April 18, 2011

How writing plays helps me write better dialogue

 
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I’ve been writing plays for kids and teens to perform for about fifteen years now.  Usually, in a typical school year, I write between six and eight new one act playscripts. 

The most enjoyable aspect of being a playwright for a drama department is that not only do I get to write plays and then within a couple of months, see them come to life on the stage, but I also get to work with a wide variety of individuals between the ages of four and eighteen.

Being around such a diverse age group offers up a variety of personalities and also allows me to observe children at so many different stages of development.  Watching the children use their imaginations to create the many types of characters found within my plays inspires me to continue to find new ways to allow them to develop and grow their own creativity.

If one considers that plays are basically made up of dialogue coupled with physical actions performed by different characters, it’s no wonder I can hear the voices of my novel characters speaking as if they were indeed real people.  I attribute this ability to write dialogue that sounds like real people to my playwriting.  Without characters delivering believable dialogue, a play is doomed.  But that goes without saying for novels and short stories, too.

How do I approach writing dialogue?

I also listen to real individuals and try to find something unique about the way they speak.  I’m sure you have friends and colleagues that are known for certain expressions or ways of saying something that immediately differentiates them from others that you know.

I try to hear my characters speaking as real people when I’m writing their dialogue.  What is that particular character’s distinct way of speaking?

Some of the things I’ve found are:

  • expressions/slang
  • sentence length
  • level of intelligence and word usage
  • speed of delivery
  • body language/animated movements
  • an accent
  • specific words that they use frequently
  • vocal tone

Sometimes, I even start developing a new character by writing a sort of monologue first, in that character’s voice.  For example, when I created my villain in my first suspense novel, I wrote an opening speech (BTW, this was an exercise only and never actually made it into the book) letting him vent about his situation.  Just listening to him in my head helped me see a physical being whose details only began to take shape after I’d written this monologue in his voice.

Do you have to write plays to write good dialogue?

NO – of course not!

But it my case, it certainly helped me become a more observant listener and it definitely strengthened my ability to write dialogue.

If you don’t have access to a lot of different people, go and sit in a coffee shop with a newspaper and just listen to the conversations of the people around you or head to the mall’s food court to have a listen. 

Remember – real people rarely worry about speaking in gramatically correct sentences.

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