I coach novice writers, offer services in story editing (content – not proofreading). And though folks like these posts just fine, I could use more clients.  Here’s what I teach new writers in my 1-on-1 coaching, and what I  offer as editing suggestions in my manuscript editing.

Anyone can write first drafts:

Jeri sat at the bar’s table, and picked up the drink. She paused for a second. The smell was awful. But she drank it down, hating the taste.
Laughing was heard behind her, as she sat with eyes closed. Opening them, she gave a look at her companion who was chortling to himself.

Tom teased her about the drink. And it made her defensive.
“It is…offensive,” Jeri  the android replied. Since she’d been discharged and graduated from the Group home, she found still she had trouble eating and drinking.

This is a writer telling the reader things. It’s a great start because the writer got some words down on the page. But it’s only story facts being told to the reader, so far. Very little is shown; we see almost nothing physical, visual, visceral. We can’t see much of what this bar, android, or her friend looks like or feels ‘in-scene’. We can’t hear the sounds in this bar. She must feel how her body is reacting to that drink, she must feel something about being laughed at, and a reaction might be in order because of that laughter.

You write well when you look at the first draft and then try showing a reader that stuff by making edits. And the best edits use senses to show more.

Take a look at the First round edits in the paragraph below. Again, like with most writing advice— This topic is aimed at Showing and not Telling: Telling is saying your character is in a seedy bar, having a drink she doesn’t want. And further, that she is not used to solid foods or drink for that matter. Everything in these paragraphs tells right now, and with the five senses they can show us instead.
IF you show it with senses then the extra words can be removed, which leads to a faster, tighter read: right now, these words tell but they are not visual words that show.

First round edits. Trying to show more:

Jeri sat down at a table in the dim bar, picked up the drink before her and took a deep breath. She paused for a second once it reached her lips, already able to smell it. Gathering herself she tipped it down her throat, baulking at the taste.
The sound of laughter filtered through to her as she realized she had scrunched her eyes shut in disgust. Opening them she shot a withering look at her companion who stood chortling to himself.
“That is their mildest drink, and still you can’t hack it,” noted Tom with a shake of the head.
“It is…offensive,” Jeri replied, looking at her glass. It was nearly a year since she’d been discharged and graduated to human interactions from the Android Group home and still she had trouble with simple things like eating and drinking.

Can this be made even more visual, physical and visceral? Here is a sample list of the senses.

Visual – What does this place we are in look like? Colors, textures, shadows, light. Mix it into the narrative – be sparse in this but show it to us in small ways and do that right up front, don’t keep us waiting. Use the senses to show the reader dimness, or silence, or the feel of residue of old, past spilled drinks on the table or the glasses. The time of day.

Smells – the same as above, is someone taking a drink? Don’t tell us that, “Jeri took a drink.”— have the character smell that drink: not in words like acrid, show us the reaction of acrid. Also, smell that ‘seedy bar’. The sweat of the unwashed patrons – machine oil and welding fumes. The amber lights, that conceal in their shadows – what?

Touch – Is a fan blowing? The air still? Is the glass in her hand cool? The bar none to clean? The bar or table where they sit – is it still damp from a rag carelessly swiped before she sat down?

Tastes – not in words “The drink tasted awful.”— in motion — Show us the reaction of the word acrid. Mime to yourself drinking and hating it. Pushing that swallow down. Then write that for us. What did your body do as it mimed? Put this in new ways. Not the tried and true [acrid stench] but in your words for a mouthful of something you’d rather spit out. Write that feeling. Show us. (Remember your verb exercises.)

Sounds – Did ice tinkle when her friend laughed? Did she slam her drink down in disgust? Did her strength of her grip make the glass squeak as she shuddered from the taste? Did she stifle a noise? Is there music playing, have they heard that song before? Is the music from this galaxy or from back home? Have they heard this song 50 times before, this month alone? Make this place come alive. Then do this for every instance when we are now in a new location of your story. Show it to us.
Second round edits. Writing for senses:

Jeri sat down at a table in the dim bar, her shoulder blades meeting tightly as she hunched, she picked up the unwanted drink before her and took a deep breath. She paused for a second once it reached her lips, already able to smell its inevitable stench, like some caustic chemical stored in drums in the mechanic’s bay. Gathering herself she tipped it down her throat, her shuddering intake of breath bringing its fumes into her sinuses, so that the torture lingered.
The sound of laughter filtered through to her as the noises in the bar bounced and magnified, mingling with the jukebox tunes; the rough scuffing of stools and the angry click of pool cues on ivory. She realized she had scrunched her eyes shut in disgust. Opening them she shot a withering look at her companion who chortled to himself.
“That is their mildest drink, and still you can’t hack it,” noted Tom with a shake of the head, his eyes on his own sweaty drink.
The burning sensation had reached an area just behind her sternum. “It is…offensive,” Jeri replied, looking disdainfully down at her glass, her elbows tight at her sides. It was nearly a year since she’d been discharged and graduated to human interactions from
the Android Group home and still she had trouble with simple things like eating and drinking.

 

What can you do with your own paragraphs? Give it a try, rewrite it using senses and showing verbs. Do it quickly and with the best word choices you can. Don’t be heavy handed with it. If you come up with five ideas for each sense, select the best of the 25 ideas and add those to your first round edit.

Worried that you need a second opinion for your work? Contact me. My rates are low.

We added maybe 80 words or so to our example, but in the final expansion, we also showed much more of this world via senses in the writing that weren’t there in the first draft.

Take any one of your own paragraphs and try this exercise. Make additions that will show us what you see when you visualize your story in your head. The goal is never just MORE WORDS.

If you think coaching will help, I can walk you though these steps in real time.

AS I INTRODUCED last week, I read an online story by my guest, Samuel Snoek-Brown recently.  And it touched me so much, I re-blogged it on my site here.

Here’s a link to it: Lightning My Pilot.   I really thought so highly of it that, as a ramp up to National Novel Writing Month,  I’ve invited the author to engage in a three-part talk about the how’s and why’s that went into creating this small gem. Here’s the second blog, the next one will show up in the 28th of October.

Read the rest of this entry »

I read an online story by my guest, Samuel Snoek-Brown recently.  And it touched me so much, I re-blogged it on my site here.

Here’s a link to it: Lightning My Pilot.   I really thought so highly of it that, as a ramp up to National Novel Writing Month,  I’ve invited the author to engage in a three-part talk about the how’s and why’s that went into creating this small gem. Here’s the first blog, the next ones will show up in the 21th & 28th of October.

So first, take a look at his short story.Then see our talk here, I really didn’t expect us to have that much to discuss, but you know writers… especially deadly serious ones. Here we go.

Blog one of three

EJR:  I think there’s something cool in looking at what the first thing your characters say on the page. Either because you planned on writing it, or during the edits, you came back and added it.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Yeah, that’s totally right — I wasn’t thinking about dialogue at first! But you’re totally right about that.

EJR: I love the line the mother says first in the story

“Oh Honey…”

It really shows so much in the simple two opener words. They’re so­– motherly.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: So, yeah– I used “Oh honey” as a kind of affectionate aside.  I wanted her first spoken words to be both casual and distracted (the “oh”) but also casually loving (the “honey”).

EJR: It’s so important to not say too much in the narration, but instead show the same thing, in a subtle way via dialogue or smaller actions. It works so much better, no? What advice would you give novices for getting to that point where doing that comes easier?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: I suppose it would depend on how they wrote the character of the mother. I feel like this woman lives in my head, as a kind of “ideal mother” figure — especially since she’s alone, without the boy’s father.

EJR: So it comes from tapping into what’s remembered or created in your head, those sense memories, rather than trying to be writer-ish on the page?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Yeah, someone else’s “ideal mother” might come out differently. So I think, whatever that novice writer needed to convey character, I’d be looking for something like that. Maybe not “oh honey,” but whatever THEIR ides of what mothers would have said.

EJR: I love your title. How did it come about? Did you work hard at coming up with it?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Oh, I hate titles! Laughs. I suck at them.

EJR: Laughs, So this was a great title caused by blood and tears? What’s your secret here?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Lately, I’ve been turning to other sources that might somehow resonate with my work. Kind of the way Hemingway would turn to the bible, or Faulkner would turn to classical literature.

EJR: Smart.  I bet a lot of novices never think along those lines when they start out. How one bit of art can feed your own.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: So I did some looking — I knew I wanted to go with poetry, something poetic — and I remembered Shelley. I couldn’t remember the poem in particular, but I remembered he’d done something with clouds, so I looked him up.

EJR: Research – a writer’s god. Plus, you expose yourself to so much more you might not have thought to read in the searching.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Sure enough, that poem is “The Cloud.” So the title is from a line in that Shelley poem.

EJR: Next question, 1,829 words.  Did you write big and cut down, or make an effort to write short and small?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Okay, let me look at it for a moment…. Humm. Tough one.

EJR: Let’s move to the tone you opened with, and how it evolved through the story. It began with a Creative Non-Fiction tone, Sounding a bit reflective and memoir in tone. But slipped into the story telling tone at the line

“Mom,” he said. “Why are the god-ships fighting?”

Talk to us about that process.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Tone. Hummm. Okay, here’s the part where I sound like a jerk.

EJR: Don’t be so sure.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: I wrote this story, almost the whole of it, in my head while soaking in the tub nursing a terrible headache. When I got out of the tub, I pounded out a draft still wearing my towel, and then I went to bed.

EJR: So you did write small to bigger. I have to say, I felt like I was hearing the tale, and no longer reading the reminiscences.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: I work it over a few times the next day, but beginning to end, I wrote it in under 24 hours.

EJR: That’s a rarity, but when it comes you are so lucky to grab it.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: If anything, it got a, maybe, hundred words longer.

EJR: You slip in the back-story in small increments throughout the piece. Nothing is the overt narrator’s voice talking right to the reader, Like with the simple line:

It’s what he’d said when his father deployed.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: In the first draft, I didn’t have a father figure at all. So that whole missing father/war background came in the second day.

EJR: I can see that info, but it’s given to us as a reaction to what her some has said to her. A lot of novices would not realize the action of characters revealing bits of back story can be so swift, and yet so telling of a great deal. Did you work on salting these back-story moments into the story after the fact? Or were they written as you went along?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Yes. But, that’s just a few dozen words.

EJR: Oh yeah, it’s very subtle. Which is what I like so much about the way you wrote this.

Let’s give you a break, and next time we’ll move into discussing Scene.

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Great. Until Next week.

Room with writing chair

A Space to Write

Aside from this very important link: Claiming One, a Collection of Short Storieshttps://ejrunyon.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/heres-to-telling-tales/

here, below, is a list of my blog post links that, I hope, any new writer can use to think a bit harder, or write a bit cleaner when looking at their own work. I’m all about novices and sharing the craft of finding ways to write expressive, well-built, literary stories.

Currently I have blog stats that have tracked visits from 39 41 various countries around the globe.  In addition, I thank you, my newest readers from Hungary, Switzerland, Albania, Turkey, Greece, Spain, United Arab Emirates, Mexico, and Indonesia, Denmark and Singapore too! If you haven’t been there yet, try my Bridge To Story website: 52 free lessons.  Check it out and spread the word.

For the fiction reader, rather than novice writer, I’m at Amazon: UK, US, AU, CA, Italy, DE, FR, India, B&N, and other places too. And I’d appreciate any reviews you’d like to post.

In the meantime here’s a handful of links to some of my past blog posts that might be just the writing advice you’re looking for:

I Dreamt of Someone I Once Loved, February 1, 2012 https://ejrunyon.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/i-dreamt-of-someone-i-once-loved/

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Storytelling At Its Best, May 17, 2012

https://ejrunyon.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/storytelling-at-its-best/

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The Post-CampNano Word Diet, June 8, 2012

https://ejrunyon.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/the-post-campnano-word-diet/

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Getting Physical with Action Scenes, June 10, 2012

https://ejrunyon.wordpress.com/2012/06/10/getting-physical-with-action-scenes/

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Motivation over Movements, July 21, 2012

https://ejrunyon.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/motivation-over-movements/

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The Visceral, Physical and Visual, July 23, 2012

https://ejrunyon.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/the-visceral-physical-and-visual/

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Waiting for Writing, plus a Challenge, July 27, 2012

https://ejrunyon.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/waiting-for-writing-plus-a-challenge/

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Better Than What I Write Now, July 31, 2012

https://ejrunyon.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/better-than-what-i-write-now/

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Writing What You Know vs. Using What You Know in Your Writing, September 2, 2012

https://ejrunyon.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/writing-what-you-know-vs-using-what-you-know-in-your-writing/

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Here’s to being deadly serious in our writing.

Please, comment on any of these topics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sense Memories and Your Writing

August's Winner's Badge

August’s Winner’s Badge

I finished my Camp NaNoWrMo August event with 55,400+ words written. It was a blast. And I think I took my writing to a few new places I hadn’t tried for before.

It was a great time, even though it happened alongside a summer Teaching Practicum and the delivering of my newest Manuscript to my Publisher, Inspired Quill.

Life is what happens while we’re busy making plans.  I won’t have changes a minute of the summer. it was full of creativity and  risks I’m so glad to have try.

One thing I found was this new way for attacking my writing: Deconstruction as a way in to you own work.

It really turned this August writing effort into something  unexpected. That new method for me, coupled with the normal way I work brought up some much deeper and I think, more profound writing.work

My normal method of writing works something like this:

  • I think about stuff for a while… then,
  • I begin to remember things: incidents, voices, images, opportunities (taken & lost)
  • I start taking notes
  • I ask a lot of ‘What if?’ questions
  • I twist things beyond recognition
  • I plan what I’ll write
  • I start writing
  • I stray way afar from my original plans
  • I stick to and enhance some of my original plans
  • I think about upcoming edits I’ll be doing once my first draft is done
  • I manage to finish a full first draft.
  • I think about stuff for a while…

Today, we’ll just review that second item, Remembering Things.  For me it works like this:

I cast my mind back and remember:

a time I was at a mini-writer’s conference (an informal, 3-day weekend kind of get together), and after some ribbing from a fellow writer, bantering that got a bit too close to the bone in its teasing tone, I pointed a finger, leaned into the table we sat around, and heard myself saying, low: Just because I’m smitten with you doesn’t mean I won’t kick your ass.’

 That is a sense memory.

There are two things I might do with this memory in my fiction writing.

I could take the ‘Writing What You Know’ road, and excavate this life-moment. Creating a thinly disguised scene that takes nearly all of its content from the actual event in my life.

There’s nothing wrong with writing like this. But frankly, I really don’t think my life experiences are al that riveting. For me, when it comes to writing, sticking too closely to reality is a bore.

So I tend to take the other path: The ‘Using What You Know in Your Writing’ road.

I spend some time thinking a bit on that line:  ‘Just because I’m smitten with you doesn’t mean I won’t kick your ass.’

Then, I start taking notes. They are usually ‘What if?’ types of notes.

What if this was said one gay guy to another?

What if these two guys were 18 or 19 at the most?

What if one of the guys was the big brother of a Main Character?

What if she overheard this line, and it drove her to some type of action?

What if she had a younger brother too, who was getting into drugs?

What if these three kids were alone for some reason one summer?

What if the Mom in this piece was sharp-tongued and a bit flawed?

What if the middle sister in this story hated that she was the same way?

What if ….?

For me, this list of writing possibilities will beat, hands down, any real-based story I can cull from my actual life.

True, I’m not a gay guy. I’m no longer 18. I was never a middle sister, between two brothers. There were seven siblings in my family, not three. Etc. etc.

But that butt kicking phrase is very real. I can use it, in my writing, because I know it.

Deciding to take this path, rather than the one that recounts a 3-day weekend with fellow writers, is a choice I’ve made.

Anchoring a story upon a single remembered phrase is another.

Twisting the origin and use of the line is another choice.

NOT  using the line for the Main Character is something you may not have thought to do, so that’s another choice it’s possible to make, if you choose this method.

Using your sense memories in this not-literally manner, the possibilities in your writing are as endless as you allow them to be.

What do you do with your sense memories?

Post a comment and let’s get a discussion going. I’d love to hear from some writers on this.