Writing Tip #11 – Reading Is Not A Passive Sport

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only one minute long. Click here.

When I was at pursuing my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I had to read a lot. And I had to think critically about the books I was reading. Over the course of two years, I wrote ten critical essays and one critical thesis. I was a little intimidated but my friend and colleague Varian Johnson said, “Pick one aspect of craft that you want to think about more deeply and pick a book that love and examine it.” My first essay was about Omniscient Point of View in Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath. I had a blast. The point is: You must read. You must read books in your genre. And you must read critically. What’s working on the page? How is the writer successfully (or not) telling this story? If you can, keep a journal. For writers, reading is not a passive sport. But it is very very enjoyable way to keep your muscles in shape.

Thinking Out Loud – The Heroine

Writers write heroines and heroes. Those characters  drive our stories’ narratives. They bring heart and soul to our pages. Readers cheer for them. And weep for them, if the story turns in another direction. But here’s the thing, when we write these heroic characters, we equip them with heart and belief and desire, and then we set them off on a treacherous landscape, which tests those beliefs and desires and deepen their conviction to go forward. That is my job, and I love it.

How do I write those characters? Partly, I dream them. Partly, I am informed by heroines in the world around me. This weekend, I was inspired by a real world heroine.

Paxton Smith.

Her valedictorian speech addressed the ‘fetal heartbeat’ bill just passed by the Texas Legislature because it threatened her rights as a woman. Writers write to these moments. We create dystopian worlds where governments take away personal freedoms like whether a girl wants to become a mother or not. We put adversaries in their path who can bring criminal charges against them for those choices. We put guns without permits in the hands of people who could kill them. We create landscapes where the personal choices of citizens are cast aside and motherhood becomes a law, not a very personal decision. (Hello, Margaret Atwood. Hello, Handmaid’s Tale)

Yes, that dystopian landscape is the real terrain upon which Paxton Smith stands. She had another speech about media prepared. It had been okayed by the school administration. Then, at the last minute, she chose to stand tall and deliver a different message. It was brave and, for me, inspiring.

May we all write strong heroes and heroines in these dystopian times.

 

Writing Tip #10 – Widening the Lens of the Story

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only one minute long. Click here.

 

Okay this tip is a weird one because it is totally counterintuitive. Sometimes when your lens is too tight on one character or one perspective, it can be distancing for the reader because they can’t see and feel the rest of the world. You have inadvertently limited the reader’s immersion and involvement in the world because it is limited by one character’s perspective. Sometimes widening the lens pulls the reader in closer.

Thinking Out Loud – The Moment Before; The Moment After

One of my very favorite quotes from A.A. Milne is “There was a moment right before Pooh began to eat the honey which was better than when he was, but he didn’t know quite what to call it.”

I love that moment. Anticipation. Expectation. Adult words in a little kid’s heart.

But there is another kind of moment before…

When the radiologist says, “We need to look at something a little more closely. Could you come in for a sonogram?” Oooph. Then the moment before becomes a dreaded thing. You don’t know what they are going to find. You don’t know if you want to know. But you have to go, right? You have to find out what might be lurking inside your body. You have to live through the long moments before the radiologist says, “It looks normal. We’ll see you next year.”

Then you get the moment after.

There was a moment right after Lindsey found out she didn’t have a malignant growth inside her, which was sweeter than apple pie or honeysuckle-scented air or sunlight on the ocean, but she didn’t know what to call it.

I love that moment. Relief. Ease. Lightness in an adult person’s heart.

Writing Tip #9 – Show AND Tell

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only one minute long. Click here.

A lot of writing teachers say: Show don’t tell. Meaning that you need to reveal your character’s nature through action rather than telling the reader. I get it. And often beginning writers need to spend more time writing scenes and developing that story telling muscle. But really. Every novel is a combination of both showing and telling. It’s important to show characters in scenes going after what they want, struggling, interacting because readers love to be a fly on the wall observing humanity. But readers also love it when they are taken into a character’s inner narration. They love being told the deeper story. You have to do both as writer. Show AND tell.