Bringing Characters to Life!

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I’ve recently led seminars at a number of writing conferences and writing classes including: “Get Published Now!” at Coronado, CA, Adult Education Class; the San Diego State University Writer’s Conference and the Coronado Writer’s Workshop. At those events, “best practices” was a constant theme and Silas House was an author mentioned frequently as one all of us want to emulate.

Most everyone at least considers writing at some point in their lives. For those of us not as gifted as the Hemingway’s, Fitzgerald’s and Faulkner’s of this world, sometimes some writing techniques can come in handy. Here is a suggestion from Silas House, author of five novels as well as plays and works of nonfiction:

To Kill a Mockingbird would certainly have had little effect without the presence of memorable folks like Scout, Jem, Dill, Atticus and Calpurnia. The Outsiders wouldn’t have meant much to me without Ponyboy, Johnny, Cherry Valance and all the others. The Color Purple only took up housekeeping in my heart because of characters like Celie, Shug and Sofia.

Characters are what make us love fiction, what make the stories stick with us and speak to us. Yes, plot and sense of place and action and the language are hugely important. But a novel would be a boring affair indeed without those who populate it.

The point is that I didn’t come to care about Scout or Ponyboy or Celie because of how they looked. I cared about them because I knew what was going on in their minds and hearts. Readers are better informed if we give them what is in a character’s brain, not what is on her body.

Read more about writing techniques in Silas House’s article in the New York Times, here:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/13/tell-their-secrets/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=1

Dean Koontz on Writing

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By any measure, Dean Koontz is one of the most successful American authors of our generation. His novels are broadly described as suspense thrillers, but also frequently incorporate elements of horror, fantasy, science fiction, and mystery. He has had many of his books reach the number one position on the New York Times Bestseller List. He has sold over 450 million copies of his books.

Dean Koontz doesn’t often offer writing advice to the rest of us…but occasionally he does. This advice – what he reads and why and what books he commends to presidents and to the rest of us is worth taking a look at.

More here from Dean Koontz:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/books/review/dean-koontz-by-the-book.html

A Creative Niche

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Being “creative” is often thought of only in terms of being artistic, and something reserved for only the gifted few who take up the “arts” as an avocation. I like a more expansive definition, like this on suggested by Pamela Druckerman:

I’ve always liked this idea that, somewhere in the world, there’s a gap shaped just like you. Once you find it, you’ll slide right in. That still left a critical question: How do you find this place? This is especially relevant for creative types, who often won’t have a clear career sequence to follow. They’re not trying to become vice president of something. They’re the something. They’ll probably spend lots of time alone in rooms, struggling to make things.

As someone who’s spent years in such rooms, I offered this advice. It applies to many nonartistic jobs, too. I’ve also forgiven myself for being an obsessive. The comedian Louis C.K. said, “Anything you do should be better than anything you did before.” Your bosses and clients will always expect you to deliver good work. You’re the only one who will care enough to make it great work.

Be creative. Do great work – whatever it is. More here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/31/opinion/sunday/how-to-find-your-place-in-the-world-after-graduation.html

Waiting for the Muse

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One challenge many writers face is this: Do I wait for the “muse” or just plunge ahead. Sadly, many go to their grave still waiting for the muse. But that said, it is useful to think about how and where you find inspiration.

I vote for not waiting. As Tom Clancy famously said about the craft of writing: “I tell them you learn to write the same way you learn to play golf. You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired — it’s hard work.”

In his controversial Rede lecture at Cambridge University in 1959, the English novelist and scientist C. P. Snow addressed the widening chasm between the two dominant strains in our culture. There were the humanists on one side. On the other were the scientists and applied scientists, the agents of technological change. And “a gulf of mutual incomprehension” separated them. Though Snow endeavored to appear evenhanded, it seemed evident that he favored the sciences. The scientists “have the future in their bones” — a future that will nourish the hungry, clothe the masses, reduce the risk of infant mortality, cure ailments and prolong life. And “the traditional culture responds by wishing the future did not exist.”

In the antagonism between science and the humanities, it may now be said that C. P. Snow’s “The Two Cultures” was certainly right in one particular: Technology has routed the humanities. Everyone wants the latest app, the best device, the slickest new gadget. Put on the defensive, advocates for the humanities have failed to make an effective case for their fields. There have been efforts to promote the digital humanities, it being understood that the adjective “digital” is what rescues “humanities” in the phrase. Has the faculty thrown in the towel too soon? Have literature departments and libraries welcomed the end of the book with unseemly haste? Have the conservators of culture embraced the acceleration of change that may endanger the study of the literary humanities as if — like the clock face, cursive script and the rotary phone — it, too, can be effectively consigned to the ash heap of the analog era?

I vote for writing. The activity of writing them redeems itself even if it is only a gesture toward what we continue to need from literature and the humanities: an experience of mind — mediated by memorable speech — that feeds and sustains the imagination and helps us make sense of our lives. More here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/20/books/review/sing-to-me-o-muse-but-keep-it-brief.html

Political Fiction?

Writing Techniques

Some suggest fiction can sway politics. Others think not. Two well-known writers slug it out over this question in the New York Times “Bookends.”

The line between fiction and nonfiction is more blurry than many people like to admit. Sometimes, political writing that claims to be nonfiction is actually fiction. The political power of such fiction-as-nonfiction is undeniable: “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” stoked the fires of European anti-Semitism in the decades before the Holocaust; American news coverage of the Gulf of Tonkin incident facilitated the escalation of American military involvement in Vietnam; supposedly true accounts about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction contributed to the disastrous invasion of that country 12 years ago.

For Mohsin Hamid, its: Fiction can say publicly what might otherwise appear unsayable. Conversely, for Francine Prose, its: Perhaps the clearest case of literature effecting political change is Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” So who is right? What do you believe vis-à-vis fiction’s impact on politics?

Read more here

The “Job” of Writing

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Is writing a job – or a calling? For those of you who write, it is a question most of you ask yourselves – often quite frequently. And to help inform your internal dialogue, it’s often good to hear from the pros. In a recent “Bookends” piece in the New York Times, Benjamin Moser and Dana Stevens slug it out.

Benjamin Moser’s opening gambit is: Even the best writing won’t have the immediate, measurable impact of a doctor’s work, or a plumber’s. Dana Stevens takes the opposite tact: Of course a writer is going to lean toward saying writing is a calling — that’s our job. So where is the truth?

For me, writing is nearer to Stevens’ end of the spectrum. It’s a passion and somehow I can’t imagine getting inspiration to take any writing to the next level if I looked at it merely as a way to pay the rent.

But you’ll have to decide for yourself and as a start, you might check out what Benjamin Moser and Dana Stevens have to say in their “Bookends” piece. I’d welcome your thoughts as to where you wind up!

Read more about both sides of this argument here

 

Nora Roberts!

Writing Techniques

Nora Roberts is one of America’s most well-known bestselling authors. She has written more  than 209 romance novels. She writes as J. D. Robb for the In Death series, and has also written under the pseudonyms Jill March and for publications in the U.K. as Sarah Hardesty.

Nora Roberts was the first author to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame.  Her novels had spent a combined 861 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, including 176 weeks in the number-one spot.

Read more about Nora Robert’s writing journey here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/books/review/nora-roberts-by-the-book.html

Ann Tyler’s Writing Words of Wisdom

Writing Techniques

Ann Tyler is one of today’s most frequently read and endearing writers. Her followers are legion. She shares her writing secrets as well as what she reads and especially what happens when she reads her own books in a recent piece in the New York Times. Among her words of wisdom:

Who I am today is all because of a picture book that was given me on my fourth birthday: Virginia Lee Burton’s “The Little House.” I remember the first time my mother read it to me — how its message about the irreversible passage of time instantly hit home. From then on, I seem to have had a constant awareness of the fact that nothing lasts forever, and that someday I would miss what I was now taking for granted. That’s a valuable insight to go through life with.

Read more about Ann Tyler’s secrets here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/books/review/anne-tyler-by-the-book.html?_r=0

Fiction Turmoil

Writing Techniques

It is an understatement to say the publishing world has been in turmoil for the last decade – and especially for the last five years. Publishers have merged, entire book chains have folded, e-books are surging in popularity and “self-publishing,” once second-tier at best is now a legitimate route to success.

But the churn should make all writers extremely wary, even when they grab the supposed gold ring of signing with an established publisher. Atticus Lish is the poster child for this.

Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life got the kind of reception that first-time novelists only dream about. The gritty debut novel, set in the violent, dangerous margins of New York City, was one of 2014’s genuine literary sensations, earning ecstatic reviews and landing on many top-10 lists. One critic called the novel, “a tour de force of urban naturalism” and “a love story that’s as bold and urgent as any you’ll read this year.” But in a stark illustration that fiction writing often doesn’t pay, Mr. Lish has so far made only $2,000 for his novel, which took five years to write.
Read more here

Happy Writing

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We all want to be happy. And most of us work at it in many ways. But have you tried writing? It just may be the most beneficial thing you can do.

The scientific research on the benefits of so-called expressive writing is surprisingly vast. Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve our disposition help reduce symptoms among cancer and other patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits, and even boost memory.

Want to try it? There are some fabulous “tactics, techniques and procedures” that will help you get started on the journey. Read more here