Dramaquill's All Things Writing

November 8, 2013

Show, Don’t Tell: It’s a matter of sense

Having just attended the Humber College writing intensive last weekend, I’m still energized after having spent two full days talking nothing but writing.

One of the great struggles many writers face is using too much telling in their writing. “Show, don’t tell,” is a criticism many writers receive but some find difficult to correct.

Joe Kertes, the Dean of Humber’s School of Creative and Performing Arts, facilitated the workshop and offered us some great insights into the craft of writing, including what I found to be a very helpful and easy way to think about *show – don’t tell*.

Instead of telling your readers what’s happening, use the characters’ senses. What do they see? Smell? Taste? Hear? Is there something to touch and what does it feel like?

Instead of saying “John stepped outside and it was very cold” (which is very telling), let the reader experience the cold the same way John would. Perhaps your sentence would read something like this: “John stepped outside and immediately felt the icy stab of wind on his bare skin. He pulled the zipper of his jacket up all the way, tucking his neck inside like a turtle, taking refuge in his shell. He hadn’t thought to wear gloves so he shoved his hands deep into his jacket pockets, bracing himself against another gust of arctic air as he made his way to the subway station.”

Now you can really feel how cold it is outside and so will your readers when you use the senses as a way to show, rather than tell.

Here’s a sentence for you to try. Feel free to post your *show* versions in the comments section of this post.

Stacey was afraid of the dark.

I can’t wait to read your *show* versions of this sentence.

For more information about Humber College’s creative writing programs, check out their website:  http://www.humber.ca/scapa/programs/school-writers

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July 26, 2013

Writing Advice: What Do You Want To Know?

Over the years I’ve blogged on a wide variety of writing topics from playwriting to suspense novels, marketing, book reviewing, contests and more.

After going through my archives, I thought I might turn my blog over to my readers for the month of August by answering your writing related questions.

Please fill out the form below. I’ll post answers (and links, if appropriate) to my favourite questions every Tuesday in August.

April 22, 2012

Don’t be a Loner: My cure for Writer’s Block

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There have been times when I’ve been working on one of my manuscripts and I just can’t seem to produce ten coherent words.  Yep – that dreaded writer’s block!

Writer’s block used to panic me.  What if I never get any more ideas?  What if my writing ability has dried up?  I’m sure you’ve all been there at some time or other.

For the most part, writing is a solitary activity, unless you happen to be collaborating with another writer on a project.  But let’s face it, most of a writer’s working time is spent alone.

All that alone time is great when your creative juices are flowing but it can become pretty debilitating when the words stop coming.  Yes, you can get up and move around.  You can check your email, make a snack, phone a friend or do a million other things to get you back on track.  None of these have ever worked for me.  All it does it take me further away from figuring out how to get back to writing.

But, if I talk to another writer, whether in an email from my online critique group, or in person with another local writer, it doesn’t take long before I’m excited to get back to one of my projects. 

Just the other day, I opened up the file for my second suspense novel and realized that I’ve hit a brick wall.  I haven’t been able to spend as much time working on it these past few months and the entire story has just stalled.  I really need to finish it and submit it to my publisher by summer. 

Then, yesterday, I had a great conversation with an author I know who is on her fifth revision of her first novel.  A ten minute conversation and I could hardly wait to get home and get writing.  Just ten minutes and my writer’s battery recharged.

This isn’t the first time that connecting with another writer has inspired me.  I cherish my online critique group.  Every time I feel sidetracked or wonder if I’ll ever write another intelligent word, I just need to interact with these writers for a bit and wham – writer’s block gone!

And it usually isn’t a conversation about me, my writing or even writer’s block that gets me going again.  It could be an email that one of the group just got picked up by an agent.  Perhaps it’s a fabulous chapter, written by someone in the group, that I have to critique.  It could even be the mention of a new contest or opportunity that might be of interest to someone in the group.

All I know is that the quickest way for me to get out of my own writer’s block is to connect with another writer.

How do you handle your periods of writer’s block?

August 13, 2010

How to Write that excellent first chapter for your Novel

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Nothing is more important than the opening chapter of any novel.  As a writer, you have to hook your potential reader, often within the first couple of paragraphs.  If you do not have a strong opening and an enticing first chapter, chances are you won’t even get your book in print, let alone sell any copies.

 So how do you make your writing stand out from its competition?

 There are several scenarios to entice a potential reader:

 ¨      Conflict:   Have two people engaged in a heated argument

¨      Excitement:  Use a situation, like a first-time experience or arriving at an interesting destination or holding a winning lottery ticket

¨      Suspense:  Someone is being watched or followed

¨      Attraction:  Your main character has just entered a room and immediately feels an undeniable attraction to someone else

¨      Character:  Introduce us to someone unlike anyone we’ve ever met before.  Create strong characters with three-dimensional personalities so that we’ll care what happens to them

¨      Pace:  Keep the writing moving – don’t weigh it down with too much description

¨      Excellent Writing:  Strong prose/vivid language/active not passive/engaging

¨      New Ideas:  Don’t be cliché.  Make sure you’re writing something new, not just another version of what’s already been overdone.

Never settle for your first draft.  Writing is a craft that must be honed and tweaked until you create your very best.  You can achieve this in a number of ways:

 ¨      Read first chapters of published books in your genre and analyze what makes you want to keep reading

¨      Join a critique group (either online or in person) and get feedback

¨      Pay a professional to critique your work

¨      Put your chapter away for a few days and re-read it with fresh eyes, noting where you can make it stronger

¨      Revise…revise…revise until your writing sparkles

¨      Aim for your absolute best – don’t settle for anything less

¨      Watch out for careless errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar

¨      Read books on writing to hone your craft

¨      write…write…write – practice makes perfect after all

¨      Take courses online, by correspondence or at accredited institutions

 Ask yourself what makes you pick up a book and read it through to the end?  Start there.  If you write something you know you’d want to read, chances are others will want to read it too.

 From all that I’ve read from editors, publishers and agents, many writers submit work that just isn’t their best effort.  Don’t let that be you!

April 7, 2010

Revising…rewriting…rethinking

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, my first adult suspense novel has been picked up by a publisher.  Exciting news to say the least.

It took about a month to get back my content edits after I submitted my polished, formatted final draft of the book.

I was happy to see that the line by line edits were far and few between.  Most of them involved changing a few words to a single word (tightening the prose) or clarifying a detail for consistency throughout the manuscript.  Revising these areas was neither time consuming or challenging.

I’m now working on the content edits, of which there are basically three:

1.      Heroine needs to take action much sooner in the manuscript.

2.     Hero (her husband) needs to be less passive throughout.

3.     The publisher recommends a different ending to tie everything together.

I completely agree that my heroine takes a long time to address the emergence of a past secret and have found a way to introduce this information in an earlier chapter.  By doing this, I can also find ways for her husband to become more actively involved in the plot, thus solving two content issues in one.  Rewriting these passages hasn’t proven to be too difficult a task and I’m excited at how much stronger they are making the overall manuscript.

Now we come to the issue of the ending.  Although I can see the book with the content editor’s suggested ending, I still feel very strongly about keeping my original ending.  And it’s this one aspect of revising that has me rethinking my entire manuscript.

With the deadline to have revisions completed fast approaching, I struggle to make my decision about the end.  But thanks to my critique group, some writing friends, and a pro/con list that I’m compiling for each ending, I am confident that I will reach a decision in the next couple of days.

Getting published is hard work.  No matter how polished and perfect you make your manuscript, the publisher has suggestions and recommendations that they feel will make your book sell more copies and it takes a lot of work to revise, rewrite and rethink your manuscript to meet with their approval.

But when you hold that first copy of your book in your hands, or see it lining the shelves of bookshelves and online bookstores, you’ll be glad you did your revising…rewriting…rethinking.

January 6, 2009

FINAL REVISIONS – When is enough, enough?

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I submitted my final chapters of my adult suspense novel to my online critique group on Monday and am now waiting for the critiques to come in.  I’m excited about the entire process because it pushes me one step closer to my finished, polished, manuscript.

What I submitted to them was my fifth revision.  I truly believe that my manuscript has grown and my writer’s voice has become stronger with each re-write.  I’ve especially noticed a difference in my characters, implementing “showing” instead of “telling” and in my ability to write POV.

We’ve all read comments from agents and editors regarding bad writing.  If we truly want a shot at getting our book published, we know that we have to submit our very best work. 

But at some point, the time must come when we set down our critical eye and stop revising and re-writing and start querying.  I believe I’m now at that point.

I do believe that some amateur writers  sub out manuscripts that are not ready.  I can’t say enough how important it is to get feedback from others (and this doesn’t mean your friends and your family).  Join a critique group!

But I also know that it would be quite easy to continue to revise, re-write and tweak this manuscript forever and never consider it finished.

As writers, what we sub out should always be our best work.  But when is enough, enough?

When you’re positive this is your best work.  You’ve checked and double checked for typos, grammar, puctuation and proper formatting.  You’ve read and re-read the submission guidelines for your target agents and/or publishers.  You feel pumped about sending out this project that has consumed you for so long.

So I’m going out today to stock up on ink for my printer and packages of paper.  I will print out this final draft and begin the task of reading it backwards, to find any mistakes I may have missed.  I will give it to my critique partner for one last look.  I will begin drafting my query letter, which I will also sub to my critique group.

And finally, I will search through the agents and publishers I’ve been collecting throughout this entire project and begin with my first round of queries.

How are you doing with your revisions?  Do you know when enough is enough?

May 20, 2008

Waiting…waiting…waiting…

Why do you write?

I write because I have to.  I can’t stop the ideas from creeping into my mind and begging to be released onto paper. 

I write because I enjoy watching the effect my writing has on every reader.

I write because it’s part of my job – my favorite part!  (I write original playscripts for our drama department)

I write because, like most writers, I do want to be published. (Currently finishing my final revision on my adult suspense novel and working on a YA novel)

And luckily, I have had some success in the publishing world.  One of my essays was featured in a book published by Penguin Putnam called “Dear Mom:  I’ve always wanted You to Know
http://www.lettersfromtheheart.com/store.htm

I’ve had some articles published online:
http://www.musicalmakers.org/mmanswers.html
http://www.absolutewrite.com/screenwriting/business_of_playwriting.htm
and in the ezine for Filbert Publishing.

Several of my children’s poems have appeared in both Online magazines as well as national children’s magazines:
http://www.weeonesmag.com/  (Sept. 2004 issue emag)
http://www.writing-world.com/foster/foster04.shtml  (April 2006 issue of Dragonfly Spirit emag)
http://www.myfriendmagazine.com/  (May 2005 magazine)
and two upcoming acceptances for 2009 in Hopscotch for Girls magazine (What’s a Marsupial? and The Language of Tap)
http://www.funforkidzmagazines.com/frameset2.html?target=hs

Subbing out your work, waiting for a rejection or acceptance, and waiting for the final product to hit the shelves can span from several weeks to several years.  I sometimes feel like being a writer is like being in the longest line at some government office – the line that seems to never move as the clock ticks away the moments of your life.

But there are things I can do while I play this neverending waiting game:

1.     Let go of whatever I’ve subbed out and get busy on the next project.
2.     Keep the file of rejections that proves I’m a working writer.
3.     Keep a two-year calendar and highlight all the dates of my acceptances so I
        can look forward to those days.
4.     Keep reading works in your chosen genres.
5.     Stay on top of new trends in the publishing world.
6.     Blog about how annoying wa

And hey, get up from the computer once in a while and remember that even though you’re working hard at being a writer, there’s still a whole wonderful world out there to enjoy.

 So – what are you waiting for?

October 1, 2007

My first Suspense/Thriller Novel

Novel revision #5

    
I’ve been working on an adult thriller novel now for about 2 years. First came the idea and the main character, who literally demanded that I tell her story. Next came the first draft and as a naive newbie to the genre of novel writing, I actually thought it was pretty good.  That draft made the rounds through a couple of friends and soon I had an abundance of material to start my first revision. 

Revisions #2 and #3 came close together as I tweaked and changed and re-arranged a plethora of ideas until I was certain I had a wonderfully revised manuscript.  But was it ready to send out there to agents and publishers? 

Just in case I really wan’t able to see my novel for what it was, I decided to hire a professional author who also does in-depth critiques of manuscripts.  I selected Marilyn Henderson, an American author of numerous books in my field – the suspense thriller.  Her feedback came quickly and although upon first read I felt discouraged, after sifting through the 12 pages of commentary from her, I realized that she knew the business and although she had good things to say about my book, it lacked saleability.

So then came revision #4.  It took a while to cut unnecessary characters, scenes and even full chapters and then re-invent parts of other chapters to keep the book flowing.  So now you’d think I would just send out the manuscript and wait for all the requests for the entire manuscript.  Nope! 

I have one more revision in the works and yes, this is the final one.  I’m sending it through my online critique group to tweak anything that jumps out at them.  Most of the chapters have rec’d rave reviews but minute details have popped up and been caught thanks to this group of writers.

Revision #5 will be the one that goes out there into the world.  I’ve also been researching agents and publishers so that I send to the most appropriate markets.

Wish me luck.

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