Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Co-Author the Story with your Reader

Australian novelist Morris West, who during his lifetime sold 60 million books in 27 languages, once said: "[The writer] has to be the kind of [wo]man who turns the world upside down and says, 'Look, it looks different, doesn't it?'"

For me, there's something that separates an author from the pack, and that thing is the author's instinctive ability to ignore obvious descriptions. Instead of relying on the character's eyes, facial expressions or other characterizations to describe emotion, a truly gifted and conscientious writer finds ways to turn descriptions on their heads, so that the reader has a fresh vantage point from which to experience the emotion. These authors use things to convey emotion in ways that dynamically and emotionally enmesh them with the narration.

Done right, the readers are driven to create the story in their minds as they read. As readers' imaginations spark and emotions blaze, they are, in effect, co-authoring the unfolding story. 

For example, a writer could have her character complain this way: Esther rolled her eyes, pouting as she spoke. "I was sick to death of being constantly bombarded with sensational stories in New York City newspapers."

Esther's characterizations show us her feelings, and 'bombarded' is certainly a strong, high impact verb that carries a lot of emotional bang for its buck. But now consider how Sylvia Plath handled the described sentiment in the opening paragraph of "The Bell Jar":

"...and that's all there was to read about in the papers -- goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway."

Plath turned the character's complaint on its side by describing the headlines and the places where the papers were sold. The modifiers she chose painted for the reader the emotional portrait of the Esther's feelings. Plath's descriptions allow us see and smell what Esther saw and smelled, and that makes us feel what Esther felt. Her descriptions invite readers to participate in the scene.

I love this quote by humor columnist Patrick F. McManus: "Write out of the reader's imagination as well as your own. Supply the significant details and let the reader's imagination do the rest. Make the reader a co-author of the story."

Question For Next TimeDo you think about your readers as co-authors of your story? Does doing so inspire you?

[Note: I wrote this article for publication in the June 12, 2013 Drama Newsletter on
Photo Source.]

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hook 'Em Good

Writing is my oxygen, and I don't hold my breath on any given day. Lately though, life has forced my focus away from fiction, as my job in Public Relations involves writing in various nonfiction categories. It's required a complete rerouting of my creative circuitry, as you can imagine. There is one element that remains essential across all fiction and nonfiction genres: the all-important Hook. 

Whether your audience is middle grade boys or 18-45 year-olds into speculative fiction, or it's niche magazine readers in a small Georgian city or Internet surfers happening upon your blog, you need a dramatic hook to grab readers' attention and lead them into your writing. 

In fiction the hook typically appears on the first page, and it often works most effectively in the opening paragraph. In nonfiction, where you place the hook is as important as the hook itself. Here are some nonfiction genres and the most effective placement of their hooks:

Magazine Article -- The opening of a magazine article is the lead, the hook that propels the reader into the piece. It can be an interesting or shocking question or quote, an anecdote, or a short description of the subject or scene. The most important part of the lead is the first sentence, which will be most dramatic when it's short and punchy and pertains to the main focus of the article. 

Press Release -- In a press release, the headline must hook a journalist or reporter. Headlines should be enticing, contain 120 characters or less, use the present tense and active voice, and exclude articles such as "a" and "the." The writer should pull the most important keywords from the press release to form a logical and attention-getting statement. And using those keywords in the headline will ensure better visibility in search engines result lists.

Blog Post -- Bloggers know the vast number of sites readers have to choose from on the Internet every day. It's vital to draw traffic to their blogs, and bloggers hook potential readers with catchy, dynamic blog titles. Blog titles should contain less than 70 characters, as this is the limit Google displays in search results.

Cover Letter -- A cover letter is essentially a form letter. The hook is not in the first paragraph, where the applicant should simply introduce him or herself and state the position for which he or she is applying. It is the second paragraph which is the most important, the place where the candidate spins a clever web of qualifications and personality that will land him or her an interview.

Query Letter -- Unlike a cover letter, a query letter needs to hook the literary agent or editor in the first paragraph, even in the first sentence, if possible. The query letter hook is often baited with the unique voice of the book's main character.

Website -- Search Engine Optimization or SEO consultants work hard to drive increased traffic to their client websites. According to SEO specialists, the first 140 characters of text on any website page are critical. How do they hook readers? They are the first words that appear underneath the website keywords in a search engine result list. 

For example, if you do a Google search with these keywords: online writer's community, you will find in the results. Underneath the website title link (The Online Community for Writer's -  ), you will find these two lines:

Writing.Com is the online community for writers of all interests. Established in 2000, our community breeds WritingWriters and Poetry through Creative Writing ...

And yes, you guessed it, there are (just under) 140 characters.

Regardless of the genre, writers must know their targeted audience and know how to hook them. And when it comes to nonfiction, knowing where to place the hook will give you an important edge over your competition in grabbing readers and drawing them into your written work.

What's the last piece of nonfiction you wrote?


Wednesday, November 28, 2012


December is Na-Now What?-Mo

National Novel Writing Month is nearly over. For marathon writers everywhere, the end of November cues a collective sigh of satisfied relief. The rigid, daily ritual of vomiting out 1660-word bucket-fulls of raw, creative genius will slacken, and like coming off any intense schedule, participants will often be left physically exhausted and emotionally drained. It's natural to need a break from writing after such a strenuous stretch. But beware: that little break can easily turn into weeks of full blown writer's neglect, especially around the holidays when seasonal demands take priority over creative pursuits. Don't let a film of dust form on your keyboard! Here are five ideas for warding off the pitfalls of writer's burnout and maintaining a sane dosage of NaNoWriMo momentum:

1. Resist the urge to jump right into NaNo novel revisions. It's too soon, and your burnout will likely intensify. Put the manuscript away; close the file, tuck it neatly into its folder tree, and leave it there. Stephen King says in his book "On Writing," that he puts a new manuscript in his desk drawer for at least three weeks. That way, when he does read it, his 'fresh eyes' easily detect plot holes and character development issues needing attention during revisions. Sage words from a true master of the craft.

2. Write a new story. It doesn't have to be a new novel; in fact, I suggest tackling short or micro fiction. It'll be good to finish a project, bolstering confidence to then go on and finish the NaNo novel. The idea now is to shift gears, head down a new path and see how the perspective changes. Entering a contest is a great way to prompt you while presenting a deadline to keep you creatively on track. Good ones that run every day or month at are "Daily Flash Fiction Challenge and "Twisted Tales Contest. ( membership is FREE.)

3. Try your hand at one of those God-awful end-of-the-year letters people like to send at Christmas time. (Okay, I admit it, I write one every year. Don't judge me! *Laugh*) Instead of recapping all the wonderful accomplishments you and your family members have achieved, which tends to bore even the most loving of readers, try approaching it as an exercise in creative nonfiction, where you share a special memory or an insight gleaned in 2012. Even if you don't end up slipping a copy into every holiday card you send, you may uncover something about yourself you wouldn't have known had you not articulated it in this way.

4. Find yourself too burnt out of creative energy to write? Practice your revision and editing skills by pulling out an old story from your portfolio and revamping it. Not only will this train you for the revision phase of your NaNo novel, but you may uncover that elusive twist of magic that takes the story to the next level.

5. And if you really can't get that NaNo manuscript out of your mind, don't fight it. Try writing short stories or scenes starring your novel's characters. Explore them from outside the timeline of your book. Tell about an incident from their childhoods, or describe their first kiss. You never know what you might learn about them that may come in handy during revisions!

The intensity of writing 50,000 words in a month is exhilarating but exhausting. In the weeks following NaNoWriMo, beat writer's burn-out by writing a little every day. Look for new projects that kindle the fires of creativity. Before you know it, the time will be right to re-read your NaNo manuscript and start revisions. And when that time comes, you'll be ready! 

Question For Next Time: How do you decompress after the intensity of NaNoWriMo? 

[Published by me today in's Drama Newsletter.]


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Show & Tell in a Nutshell

Click to add me to Goodreads!
Have you been told there's a little too much telling in your novel? Want to remedy it? Then this is the book for you!

In Show & Tell in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Transitions from Telling to Showing you will find sixteen real scenes depicting a variety of situations, emotions, and characteristics which clearly demonstrate how to turn telling into showing. Dispersed throughout, and at the back of the book, are blank pages to take notes as you read. A few short writing prompts are also provided.

Not only is this pocket guide an excellent learning tool for aspiring writers, but it is a light, convenient, and easy solution to honing your craft no matter how broad your writing experience. Keep it in the side pocket of your school bag, throw it in your purse, or even carry it around in the pocket of your jeans or jacket. Enhance your skills, keep notes, and jot down story ideas anywhere, anytime.

If you purchase the e-book, you will be armed with the convenient hyper-linked Contents Page, where you can toggle backward and forward from different scenes with ease. Use your e-reader's highlighting and note-taking tools to keep notes.

The author, Jessica Bell, also welcomes questions via email concerning the content of this book, or about showing vs. telling in general, at

“Jessica Bell addresses one of the most common yet elusive pieces of writing advice—show, don't tell—in a uniquely user-friendly and effective way: by example. By studying the sixteen scenes she converts from “telling” into “showing,” not only will you clearly understand the difference; you will be inspired by her vivid imagery and dialogue to pour through your drafts and do the same.” ~Jenny Baranick, College English Teacher, Author of Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares
“A practical, no-nonsense resource that will help new and experienced writers alike deal with that dreaded piece of advice: show, don’t tell. I wish Bell’s book had been around when I started writing!” ~Talli Roland, bestselling author

Purchase the paperback:
$4.40 on Amazon US
£3.99 on Amazon UK

Purchase the e-book:
$1.99 on Amazon US
£1.99 on Amazon UK
$1.99 on Kobo

About the Author:
The Australian-native contemporary fiction author and poet, Jessica Bell, also makes a living as an editor and writer for global ELT publishers (English Language Teaching), such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

She is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and co-hosts the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek Isle of Ithaca, with Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest.

For more information about Jessica Bell, please visit: 


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mary Sue, I Can't Stand You!

Artwork by ~Neeja at
"Mary Sue" (or her male counterpart, "Marty Stu" or "Gary Stu") is a character who is perfect in nearly every measurable way. She is drop-dead gorgeous, amazingly intelligent, and highly skilled in whatever urgent task needs performing. Her biggest flaws are trivial, like being younger than every other character, or having a short-temper, or possessing powers so strong that she has trouble harnessing them. These flaws never stop her from saving the day or being admired by everyone who encounters her. Everyone, unfortunately, except the reader.

"In 1973, Paula Smith first coined the term Mary Sue by writing a piece in 'A Trekkie's Tale' in Menagerie #2. The piece was satirical in nature, lampooning the original Star Trek female characters who became love interests for the central characters in the story."(Source ) Since then, fanfiction as a genre has grown in popularity, and with the rise of the Internet, Mary Sue characters today are more prevalent, and more reviled by fans and critics, than ever before. This may be because the fanfiction genre attracts some authors who are first and foremost fans of book or television series, and not necessarily experienced writers. They may not understand the importance of crafting multidimensional characters who must overcome inner struggles in order to face the ultimate challenges they'll encounter in the story's climactic scenes. Fanfic authors who fall into this category are simply enamored by the original, canon characters, and they enjoy weaving their own tales where those beloved characters go on new adventures with a character(s) born from the fanfic author's imagination.

When the fanfiction author creates a one-dimensional character which is based on the ideal version of him or herself, a representation of the person the writer would most like to be, and puts this flawless character at the center of their universe so they may right all the wrongs in the world, they bring to life a Mary Sue. "Basically, (Mary Sue is) a character representing the author of the story, an avatar, the writer's projection into an interesting world full of interesting people whom she watches weekly and thinks about daily. Sometimes the projections get processed into interesting characters, themselves. Usually, though, they don't." (Source

But inexperienced fanfiction authors are not the only writers who are capable of producing a Mary Sue character. In fact, many contemporary authors have crafted Mary Sues in their original works. Two of the most widely recognized canon Mary Sues are Bella Swan from Twilight and Wesley Crusher from Star Trek, The Next Generation.

Bella Swan is everybody's darling, a straight-A student who is beautiful but clumsy and stubborn, and the only person on the planet with private mind powers. Though she does nothing more than show up, she is immediately popular in her new school, particularly with the male characters, two of whom fall desperately in love with her and battle for her affections. Bella's physical descriptions ("...very fair-skinned, with long, straight, dark brown hair and chocolate brown eyes. Her face is heart-shaped—a wide forehead with a widow's peak, large, wide-spaced eyes, prominent cheekbones, and then a thin nose and a narrow jaw with a pointed chin. Her lips are a little out of proportion, a bit too full for her jaw line..." Source) match Twilight author Stephanie Meyer's exactly, right down to her heart-shaped face and prominent widow's peak. (Check out the photo of Meyers below. ) 

Star Trek fans will remember young Wesley Crusher, son of Beverly Crusher. He is handsome and his intelligence is off the charts. Despite being brilliant and considered a child prodigy, he is unable to pass the Starfleet Academy entrance exams. Despite this "flaw," he saves the Enterprise-D on seven separate occasions, each time coming up with disaster-thwarting solutions that none of Starfleet's best and brightest crew members could figure out.

Overwhelming criticism of the Bella Swan and Wesley Crusher characters exemplifies the biggest problem with Mary Sue characters: Fans can't stand these too-good-to-be-true creatures of perfection. 

People don't want to read about perfect characters. We can't identify with their unrealistic abilities and freedom from challenging flaws. So what if a character has waist-length silver hair naturally streaked with purple, and gold-flecked, emerald eyes? Who cares is she's tall and willowy, with delicate hands and whimsical habits? We don't buy it, that her inability to remember to close the refrigerator door despite being telepathic, constitutes a character flaw.

Characters that readers want to embrace are three-dimensional. They have capabilities we admire and defects we can relate to. It is through the characters' struggles that we identify with something to root for, something of ourselves.

If you're unsure your original character is not a Mary Sue, there are several "Mary Sue Litmus Tests" available online to help you decide. I recommend this one: The Original Mary Sue Litmus Test. After all, a Mary Sue can be an annoying distraction from an author's heartfelt attempt to entertain his or her reading audience. With a few inner challenges though, woven into the fabric of the character that provoke angst and cause the character to battle with herself, Mary Sue will be forced down a path of personal growth, one that will draw cheering fans to her sidelines.

What examples of Mary Sue or Gary Stu characters spring to mind from books you've read, television series you've enjoyed, or movies you've seen? 

Thanks for reading!

[I originally published this article in the July Newsletter at]


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Life's a Beach

It'd been five years since we'd vacationed on Cape San Blas, a narrow peninsula that points its finger away from the Florida panhandle and out into the Gulf of Mexico. Coming back to one of our favorite beaches was exciting, but for me, it held a special significance. The fall following our return from the Cape in 2007, I discovered And the first fictional story I posted there that was written for an audience, (unlike all the journal-format scribblings I'd done up to that point), was inspired by my real-life events that took place on Cape San Blas.

Last week while I walked on the beach, I thought a lot about that story and reflected on my writing journey from 2007 until now. My mind wanders when I beach comb; it is one of my favorite activities, a peaceful time when I marvel at the beauty of the sea and all the treasures she holds. The sound of the surf, the salty smell of the sea air, and the sun's heat intoxicate and inspire the writer in me.

The first day of every vacation we spend at Cape San Blas, I decide on a certain and specific item I hope to find while combing the beach. One year, it was a whole, intact sand dollar. Another year, I searched for a perfect, unbroken spiral seashell. Walking the beach becomes a sort of Where's Waldo scavenger hunt, with a prize hidden out in plain sight.

This year, I decided to find a shark's tooth on the beach.

As my eyes drifted up and down the wet, hard-packed sand at the sea's edge, I thought about how similar my beach combing quests were to the way I approach story writing. Ever since that first story back in 2007, I've started each new piece of fiction with a specific challenge in mind for myself. I try something new, something I've never attempted before. I wrote my first story in third-person, which is the natural, organic comfort zone for my muse. So in subsequent stories, I've tried first person, second person, and omniscient narrations. I throw myself into new genres, experiment with unreliable narrators. Once in a while, I write with pen and paper instead of typing on a computer. The idea isn't to rigorously challenge myself, so much as to give fresh focus to each new project, to heighten each experience and invite the unexpected into the mix.

In past years, I've successfully found the beach object of my desire. And next to pristine sand dollars and perfectly curvaceous spirals, I have bowls of broken shells, each beautiful for a special, one-of-a-kind reason, collected along the way. This year, I didn't find a shark's tooth. But that's okay; some challenges push you further, make you wait while you work harder for your results. This happens in my writing, too. Some stories fall short and don't capture the magic I intend, the first time around. Sometimes, I have to carry that focus into the next project until I master that which I grasped, maybe held for brief moments, but let slip away by the end.

One thing's for sure, while I hunted for that elusive shark's tooth, the balmy breeze and sugary sands of Cape San Blas inspired the writer in me, just as it did five years ago.

What new writing technique have you challenged yourself with lately? How'd the story turn out?

[Written for and published today, 6/12/2012, in's Drama Newsletter]


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reminder for the Gentle Soul

Pillow Cover by textile artist Chloe Owens

Your work needs to be independent of others' work.

You must not compare yourself to others.
No one can help you. You have to help yourself.
Criticism leads to misunderstandings and defeatism.
Work from necessity and your compulsion to do it.
Work on what you know and what you are sure you love.
Don't observe yourself too closely, just let it happen.
Don't let yourself be controlled by too much irony.
Live in and love the activity of your work.
Be free of thoughts of sin, guilt and misgiving.
Be touched by the beautiful anxiety of life.
Be patient with the unresolve in your heart.
Try to be in love with the questions themselves.
Love your solitude and try to sing with its pain.
Be gentle to all of those who stay behind.
Your inner self is worth your entire concentration.
Allow your art to make extraordinary demands on you.
Bear your sadness with greater trust than your joy.
Do not persecute yourself with how things are going.
It's good to be solitary, because solitude is difficult.
It's good to love, because love is difficult.
You are not a prisoner of anything or anyone.

                                                        "Letters to a Young Poet", Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Don't Mess With Me

Living in the eye of the storm this week. I'm doing it all: nursing sick kids and husband while doing my best to stay healthy, supporting a sister who's facing troubling challenges in her life, holding down the household, and writing a series of articles on voice and tone in literature -- all while gearing up for Sunday's half-marathon race. My diet should be better...and I should be stretching and meditating more...but life is a juggling act that shifts along with my changing energy levels.

One way I'm going to recharge my batteries is by taking time off today to spend with Summer Frey. We're doing a little coffee shop writing, a little mall shopping, and eating a little lunch. Can't wait! She's the sweetest thing on earth and my only writer friend outside cyber-land.

Speaking of the series of articles I'm writing, I'd like to pose an opinion question to you:

When you hear the term "Voice in Literature," do you think it refers to the author's voice or to the voice of the main character? Is one more important than the other? Any random thoughts on voice?

Your input is greatly appreciated! Have a wonderful day :))


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Spark it up!

Yesterday, I sat in front of the dreaded blank screen. There's a scene I want to write. I have the scene mapped out on paper. I know its goals, its tone. But I can't "see" it yet. So, every sentence I typed, I backspaced over. (Shush! I know I shouldn't rewrite/delete/go back. First drafts should be forward, forward, forward motion. Duh.) And yet, I did it. Over. And over. And over...

I'd check Facebook and Twitter and my other cyberspaces of choice, then go back to the WiP. When I was tired of the blank screen, roughly every seven or eight minutes, the urge to check in again hit me. (Hey, someone may have posted an hilarious photo or thought-provoking link in the past five minutes.) Rinse and repeat. That was my Monday.

Today will be different.

I've packed my bags. Once I hit the publish button here, I'm off to the gym for some cross training. I'll change out of my damp clothes afterwards and into a pair of yoga pants and hoodie. Then I'm driving to an undisclosed location with no WiFi access, that resembles the setting of the scene I want to write. I'll record sounds, smells, feelings I get from the space. I'll take photographs. And, I'll write. I may not write the actual scene, unless that's the direction my inspiration takes me. 

At any rate, the screen will not be blank today.  

What are your writing plans? Doing anything proactive to spark new inspirations?


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rhythm Method

What makes a story dramatic? Obvious answers come to mind, such as suspenseful plot lines, colorful but conflicted characters, and overwhelming obstacles those characters must overcome by the story's end. But many writers skillfully craft each of those elements and still, they have only so-so manuscripts on their hands. Something's missing

The key to dramatic writing is Rhythm.

 Rhythm is an elusive literary element, as hard to teach as it is to learn. Simply put, weak or poor rhythm jeopardizes the emotional impact of the story. It dampens the drama.

 Areas you can concentrate on to create rhythm in your writing are Sentence Lengths, Variations in Sentence Structures, and the use of Cappers.

Sentence Lengths - Decipher a long sentence and you'll find it contains several modifying phrases and/or clauses, strung together with commas (or semi-colons). Sometimes a lengthy sentence is necessary. But it's important to realize that as readers move through all those modifiers, farther and farther away from the sentence's subject and predicate, they may forget the original point of the sentence by the time they reach the period. A story with too many long sentences will shift readers into glazed-eye gear. Monotony leads to boredom.

 Those multiple commas also affect the rhythm of a long sentence. Think about it. Punctuation marks are the story's breath that guides the emotional impact of a passage. Periods are hard stops that demand emphasis, where commas pause, like a sigh. An em-dash holds its breath. Ellipses are airy, uncertain. Unfinished thoughts that drift away... For rhythm to be dynamic, it requires a variety of punctuation to stir the emotional cauldron. So a long sentence with, say, four commas? Well, that's a lot of sighing.

Variations in Sentence Structures - You create rhythm in a paragraph by varying the lengths and structures of the sentences it comprises. And nothing stifles rhythm like stringing several sentences together in exactly the same way.

 Example: After spotting Dan across the room, Emma approached him with a smile. Before he could speak, she raised her hand for silence. Although he'd been upset, he grinned when she leaned in and kissed his cheek.


 In this silly example, each of the three sentences begins with an introductory phrase set apart from the main clause by a comma, and ends with a modifying prepositional or adverbial phrase. The problem with using several identical sentence structures in a row is that the reader will likely slip into a sing-song internal voice, diminishing the moment's dramatic essence into something that sounds like a nursery rhyme.

Rhythm in writing also depends on variety in sentence lengths to establish musicality, or a pleasing "sound" to the mind's ear. Mix it up. A long sentence, followed by a medium length sentence, and then a short sentence before another long sentence will lend a more melodic sound than the constant drone of same-length sentences. Also, the short sentences will carry more emphasis, stand out with greater emotional impact next to their longer counterparts.

Cappers - A short sentence that comes after several longer ones and serves to "cap off" the preceding information with a burst of dramatic flair is called a Capper. A capper is a literary gimmick, and if you overuse them in a story you risk desensitizing your readers. However, used sparingly, these little sentences carry a powerful dramatic punch.

Example: My lungs felt collapsed; I couldn't draw in enough air. I pleaded, "Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod," over and over under my breath as thoughts collided in my brain. I realized I'd never been in danger before this moment in my life. I was at the mercy of these excited, armed men. Whatever they said I had to do, I would have no choice but to obey. And that terrified me.

"And that terrified me" caps off the five sentences that come before it, wrapping up the sentiments of the passage, before the story moves on.

The above excerpt is from one of my own stories, but here's another (better) example. It's by James Alan Gardner from his 2001 article A Seminar on Writing Prose: Rhythm . It illustrates the capper perfectly:

I was just about to lock in the auto-pilot when the navigation screen flashed every color in the rainbow for three and a half seconds, turned fuzzy gray for a second after that, then went completely blank. Naturally, I hit the DIAGNOSTICS button. Nothing happened-for all I knew, the diagnostic suite might be happily running through the nav system circuits, but the screen didn't show me a thing. I spun my chair to face the command console, but its screen had gone blank too. So had the screens for the engines, communications, and life support. I stared stupidly at all those empty screens until it dawned on me that things had gone awfully quiet behind my back: the usual noise of machinery, air ventilators, and cooling fans had fallen silent. 

Then the lights went out. Shit. 

Rhythm is the heartbeat of life. Picture a room full of people dancing. They're twisting and twirling to the same song, but your eyes will go right to that man or woman whose organic movement and natural beat melds in perfect synchronization with the music. Create that rhythmic vibe in your writing, and you will captivate your reading audience with drama in every sentence.

Can you judge the rhythm of your own work, or do you look to reviewers and critique partners to evaluate the fluency of your writing? And, do you think you can Thanks for reading!

[I wrote this article originally to appeared in the January 25, 2012 Drama Newsletter at]


Monday, January 16, 2012

Scrivener ~ Perfect For Me

After the horror subsided of realizing I'd lost 75% of my current WiP, I faced the daunting task of trudging back to point zero and starting over. Since the work I lost was first draft drivel, I felt optimistic that this disaster would work in my favor. I'd write a better draft the second time around. I also decided it was time to try Scrivener, the writer's software about which I'd heard a lot of buzz.
Scrivener is a complete writer's studio for your computer. It's described on the company's website this way: "Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft."  I love Scrivener because it caters to my personal writing habits and offers solutions to process pitfalls I've stumbled over in the past.
As I'm sketching characters and imagining the main plot line of a new story, I think in terms of scenes. I like to have a loose outline of the major introductory scenes, the inciting incident, transitory scenes, and the climactic scene(s). As a scene idea comes to me, I scribble a few sentences on an index card. The cards go in sequential order, but I can rearrange them as new ideas come to me and the story's structure evolves. As I write my draft, I take the next card off the stack (or one from the middle, should I work out of order one day). Based on the notes on the card I know, going into the writing session, what my goals are for that scene. 

Luckily, after my WiP was lost, I still had all my scene cards. Scrivener has a Cork Board feature which I absolutely love. Here's how it works.

Every document you open in Scrivener is a page in a virtual binder. You imagine that each document also has an index card attached to it. The document is where you write the scene, chapter, dialog, significant moment, (or however you choose to construct your draft). The index card is where you write a short synopsis of the document's contents. This allows you to view the entire manuscript in synopsis form, via the Cork Board.

You can rearrange the scenes/chapters from the Cork Board, which will move them in the main binder at the same time. You can navigate through the manuscript from here, or view the Cork Board instead as a traditional outline. Your choice!

No more dropping the stack of index cards on the floor. And, you can add keywords to each card which allows you to search the growing manuscript for whatever you need: flashback scenes, scenes with a specific POV, scenes that take place in a certain year or setting, etc., etc. My favorite Cork Board feature though is the ability to add notes to each card. As I'm writing, an idea will come to me about a previous scene or a character trait I need to weave in at an earlier point in time. Scrivener allows you to move to the Cork Board and add notes to other cards with the click of one button. So much better for me than scribbled sticky notes cluttering up the edge of my computer screen, or comments to myself in random margins of a notebook I'll later have to furiously leaf through.

A few of the other wonderful features include:

Collections are arbitrary lists you create to pull sections of your manuscript together for viewing. For instance, you could create a collection of your main character's scenes. The collection will put only those scenes together, one after the other, allowing you to evaluate the strength of that character's arc, without altering their placements within the original manuscript.

Scrivener has a section in the "binder" for your research. You can import media files of all types, link web pages, and build your research files all in one, easily accessible place. You can split the screen and have research documents open side-by-side with the scene as you type, eliminating the need to bounce back and forth to reference dates, images, maps, sound bites, etc.

And perhaps most significant for me, Scrivener allows you to export your work in seconds as any file type you choose: .doc, .docx, .rtf, .xhtml, etc. There is also an auto-backup feature, and options to backup your work in multiple formats, as often as you like.

Some people may look at Scrivener and decide at first glance that it's too technical, too complicated to use. It isn't! If you can figure out Word, navigate through the toolbar tabs, and use many of those features, you can figure out Scrivener. Plus, there are useful video tutorials available for free.

Scrivener only costs $40 (for Microsoft users). In my view, that's money well spent! And there's a free 30-day trial.

If you're on the fence about trying Scrivener or you have questions, feel free to ask away. I'm no expert, but I've been using the software for several weeks and would be happy to share more of what I've learned about it!


Friday, August 12, 2011

Departure From Myself (+ PHOTOS!!)

Taken from our cliff side table at lunch, Ravello, Italy (Amalfi Coast)
The beauty of vacation lies in its pure departure from routine, everyday life. It's a reversal in quotidian tides; dessert before dinner. Heck, it's dessert instead of dinner. At least, that's how I'd describe my recent vacation to Italy and Malta. And though it was no surprise that I adjusted with yogic flexibility to the welcomed disruption in my personal life, I didn't anticipate how vacation would affect my writing life.

The Axioma, our home for two weeks.

With regard to my personal life, I am firmly rooted in America's middle class. So to sail the Mediterranean Sea by private yacht from Naples was a two-week out-of-body experience. We visited Capri and Italy's Amalfi Coast. We enjoyed the Eolian Islands before cruising between Calabria and Sicily through the strait of Messina and on to Malta.

The boat's crew of twelve outnumbered us. They were gracious and enthusiastic, and when they'd satisfied any needs we had, they catered to whims we hadn't yet thought of. With no household chores to perform or meals to prepare, I was free to bask in the sun and swim in the sea. To play with the kids and dance with my husband. To sip champagne with my sister, giggle like children, and whisper our secrets. We snorkeled, jet skied, kayaked, water skied and wake boarded. We went sightseeing and even climbed to a volcano's crater. And I wrote.

The kids knew where to find me each morning, on the top
deck, writing in my journal.
Just as my regular-life duties dissolved during vacation, so did my normal writing style. I am by nature a tightly wound writing instrument. Though my creativity flows freely, my process is laboriously obsessive. As images translate to words, their essence is usually sucked, sentence by sentence, back up off the paper to be kneaded and massaged in my mind, until some semblance of "first draft perfection" is regurgitated before I can go on to the next line. (I'm working on changing my habits, though it may require a few more vacations.)

In Italy, I wrote every day in my journal. The first entry was penned on the plane as we took off from Atlanta. Per usual, my handwriting was neat. I wrote in complete sentences and searched for creative modifiers to enhance my thoughts. Very quickly though, my style began to mutate. Within days, I'd deserted all my rules. I wrote with abandon, filling page after page with writing that looks and sounds nothing like my usual work.

My penmanship was loopy and messy. I wrote sentence fragments of misspelled words, sometimes in straight lines, but more often in clumps or sideways, following along the binding or page edges. I doodled. I expressed myself from the soul.

It was as exhilarating as flying full-throttle on a jet ski across the turquoise surface of the Mediterranean.

I'd forgotten how wonderful it is to keep a journal, and I intend to continue now that I've returned to regular life. Journaling frees your mind, helps you remember events, and connects you to your emotions. The absence of rules awakens your creativity and allows you to explore nonlinear thought patterns and expressions. Stories whisper from every page.

Every time I open my journal will be a little creative vacation from reality.


Who wouldn't be inspired to write in this location? (Capri, Italy)

My sister Natalie and I, after climbing 2000 steps from sea level to the top of the cliffs near Positano.  We actually swam back to the boat, anchored 900 ft offshore, after walking back down!

From the left, Sidney on the back of Christian's jet ski, and Cody and I in kayaks.

Me, Natalie and Christian during our 2000 step climb, enjoying the view from the cliffs.

(Remember the photo at the top of this post?) Sweet Sidney and I, taken during lunch.

Christian and I outside a spa on the island of Ischia, right after his deep-tissue massage and my hour-and-a-half long Chocolate Massage.  Yes, I was THAT spoiled on this trip!

Christian and I, climbing Vico Volcano. It's most recent eruption was 100 years ago...and we climbed right up to the crater.  Breathtaking!

Me, rocking the wake board!

Shot of Vico Volcano, taken from the deck of our boat.  (Sorry for the out-of-orderness of these photos, btw.  I got tired of battling Blogger.)

Me and my kids, ashore for dinner in Siracusa, Sicily.

From left, daughter Sidney, nephew Luchino, sister Natalie, me, and son Cody. When we snorkled at dive sites in open sea, we wore bright shirts so the crew could keep a regular "head count" from the tender.

I have so many photos of our time in Italy and Malta.  I'll definitely share more, soon!

Thanks for visiting today!!

[Text from this post was originally written for and published in the August 10, 2011 Drama Newsletter at  I am the original author :)) ]