How do you make your writing come alive in the minds of your readers? Here, in a four-minute TED-Ed talk, Nalo Hopkinson shares her thoughts:
How do you make your writing come alive in the minds of your readers? Here, in a four-minute TED-Ed talk, Nalo Hopkinson shares her thoughts:
The study is published in the British Journal of Psychology under the sexy title, "Effects of Disfluency in Writing."
The study's authors suggest that slowing done your writing makes it less likely that you'll go with the first word that occurs to you. Instead, you have time to consider alternatives and use the best one.
Some writers have found the same effect when they do their first draft in handwriting. I've found it to be true when I've used long airplane trips for writing something by hand.
Especially if you find it difficult to reconsider your word choice when doing a second draft, slowing down when you write the first one could be useful.
In any event, it's a useful reminder that faster is not always better.
If you write children's books or are looking for a good book for a child (maybe early Christmas shopping?), here are the ones a panel of authors judging children's fiction for The Guardian (UK) selected as the best. Even if you're writing for adults, it could be useful to check these out to see how authors are getting the attention of younger readers.
"David Almond has won the Guardian children’s fiction prize with a retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice set in the north east of England, A Song for Ella Grey.
Told in lyrical, dream-like prose, Almond revisits a story that he said “has pestered me ever since I began to write” - the legend of music-maker Orpheus descending to the underworld to bring his love back to life. Set in contemporary Tyneside, Almond’s version features inseparable best friends and sixth-formers Claire and Ella. Through Claire’s narration we learn how Orpheus entrances Ella and the terrible tragedy that unfolds as a result.
The book beat novels by Kate Saunders, Frances Hardinge and Sally Nicholls to win the only children’s book award judged by authors - find out more about the brilliant books on the shortlist and the longlist!
Back to A Song for Ella Grey, and you don’t need to just take the judges’ word for it - here’s what three of our award-winning Young Critics think:
Almond’s writing really is something to envy. It is truly magical; his descriptions alone transport you from your warm room to the blustery beaches of the North. The words seem to leap off the page and spark to life within you. As I read, I got so completely absorbed in the writing that I forgot where I was and what I was doing. I only thought of the story and what was going to happen.
The beautiful poetic language in this book is unmistakably written by David Almond. The power in the short, often repeated sentences sends a chill down your spine and wakens your imagination so that you are drawn in by every convincing word.
I think that this book is not just a “book”, but a literary masterpiece.
the four shortlisted authors in the Guardian children’s fiction prize for 2015:
Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders (Faber)
E Nesbitt’s classic Five Children and It gains an outstanding sequel, with the ingenious conceit of transposing the cosy Victorian setting for the eve of the First World War, yielding devastating results. Enthralling, witty and often unbearably moving, an elegy to not only a lost generation but the first golden age of children’s literature.
A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond (Hodder)
An intense, windswept re-working of Orpheus and Eurydice that reverberates with intensity and passion, as beautifully presented as it is written. The transformative potential of art and the imagination radiates from every page of this book, which is as short, intense and all consuming as the love story it describes.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan)
A compelling fantasy spun from one mesmerising idea: what if telling lies gave you the power to discover other people’s secrets? This gothic yarn of Victorian fossil hunters gone bad features an unforgettable young heroine, who fearlessly takes on monsters of the present and the past to build herself a better life.
An Island of our Own by Sally Nicholls (Scholastic)
This is a joyful Treasure Island-style mystery for the Instagram generation. A loveable young pair don’t face pirates as they seek their late auntie’s buried hoard, but more contemporary devices - from crowdsourcing clues to metal detectors - winningly deployed in this funny and tender exploration of what makes a family."
I got an email the other day from an aspiring screenwriter who had an idea for an unusual structure for her screenplay. She asked whether I thought it would be safer to stick to the traditional three-act structure and "maybe just drop in a few more unusual elements."
Of course it's hard to give advice on a specific project when you don't know the story or the details of the alternative structure, but in general I agree with this advice from painter Courtney Jordan about mixed media artwork:
"Mixed media artists can't be faint of heart. You have to be brave to try mixed media techniques that you've never tried before, but I've discovered that you won't get anywhere--and you kind of feel let down--if you don't push it enough to show you are actually mixing media."
I think the same is true for screenwriters and novelists. If you have an unconventional way to tell your story--and you're using it because it's the best way, not just to be different for the sake of it--go for it.
Trying to stick to the rules and be just a little unconventional probably will make your novel or script just as muddy and unconvincing as a mixed media artwork by an artist who lacked the confidence to go all the way.
In the world of screenwriting, scripts that stand out often are not the first ones to be bought, but they capture the attention of those who read them. Those readers know they're dealing with a writer who has the courage to venture out of the safe territory. Ironically, they may then hire you to write something more conventional, but at least you'll have your foot in the door.
(For tips on writing, from inspiration through to publication, get a copy of my book, Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)
August 12, 2015 in Feed Your Head, Getting Ideas to Flow, Marketing Your Book or Other Writing, Pitching, Screenwriting, Self-publishing, Writing a Novel, writing a play, Writing for Children, Writing for Young Adults (YA), Writing methods, Writing Motivation, writing non-fiction, Writing your autobiography | Permalink | Comments (0)
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If you want to write a children's book you may want to know how much description of the illustrations you should include.
In an interview with the author Tara Lazar, illustrator Troy Cummings talks about how he went about illustrating her delightful children's book, Little Red Gliding Hood (Little Red is on skates). This is what he said about the nature of the collaboration between a children's author and his or her illustrator:
For instance, here’s a line Tara Lazar (you!) had written for LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD:
She swizzled down the river and saw a flurry of friends gathering beneath a banner.
This is all the copy needs to say—the author hasn’t spelled out exactly who has gathered beneath the banner. I get to do that! Then it’s fun to try to come up with something neat/funny that supports the text, but also has little surprises if you spend some time on it. (Who’s hanging out under the banner? Maybe Miss Muffet, bored [setting us up for the spider on page x/] Or Humpty Dumpty, walking with confidence (or nervously holding the handrail?)… Or bo-peep, distracted by something while her sheep are eyeing the exit. (etc., etc.)
Then it’s fun to try to come up with something neat/funny that supports the text, but also has little surprises if you spend some time on it. (Who’s hanging out under the banner? Maybe Miss Muffet, bored [setting us up for the spider on page x/] Or Humpty Dumpty, walking with confidence (or nervously holding the handrail?)… Or bo-peep, distracted by something while her sheep are eyeing the exit. (etc., etc.)
I get to play around in this world the author has created, and maybe set up a few characters/events that will pay off later in the story, and (ideally) throw in little details to surprise the reader on subsequent readings.
I also think there’s this really cool thing that happens when an author and illustrator work together:
As he says, many newer writers try to spell out everything to be illustrated, which is counter-productive.
Some also assume they have to provide the illustrations themselves and get a talented nephew or friend to do drawings to submit along with the manuscript. Unfortunately, the quality of these illustrations seldom is up professional standards.
Publishers like to choose the illustrator themselves, so you don't need to include suggestions for that with your proposal or manuscript.
*illustration copyright Troy Cummings, from Little Red Gliding Hood by Tara Lazar.
Below is a link to a short video in which children's picture book writer Pat Zietlow-Miller talks about how she came to realize her writing dream.
She was 39 when she started going for it seriously, and she had 126 rejections. What's more, even though she's now had several books published, she still gets rejections.
The secret of her persistence: she loved writing so much that she'd do it whether or not it ever got published.
(If you want to write, find tips and support in my book, Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from your favorite bookseller.)
We all know how it goes: resolutions are made on January 1st and generally they’re forgotten by February 1st. If we don’t take action, we’ll end 2015 making exactly the same resolutions again. That doesn’t mean you’re lazy or lack ambition, it means you’re human and nobody’s helped you do it right.
HERE’S WHAT NOT TO DO
Do not just try to do the same thing, only this time on February 1st! It didn’t work in January, it’s not going to work in February or March or April. There’s a better way.
FOUR SIMPLE STEPS? REALLY?
How come books on achieving your goals make it so complicated? Well, you wouldn’t pay for a book as short as this email, would you? People have to pad it out and give it some kind of fancy name so that you’ll hand over some money. I make my money doing other stuff, so I can be concise. I’m not selling anything. Weird, huh?
Imagine it’s New Year’s Eve, 2015. What’s the ONE THING you want to have be different? What do you want to feel proud that you did? For instance:
* you got your weight and fitness levels where you want them
* you started your own business
* you wrote that book you’ve been thinking about
* you improved your relationship with your kids
* you learned a new language
* you got your finances in order
STEP ONE. Complete this sentence, in writing:
“By the end of this year, the one thing I definitely want to achieve is________________________.”
That doesn’t mean you can’t achieve other things as well, but this is going to be your highest priority, so pick something you’d really be proud to have done. If you achieve it in less than a year, great! You can move on to your next goal.
You’ve heard the saying, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Well, it continues with a single step, too. Lots of single steps.
One of the main reasons people fail to achieve their resolutions is they don’t chunk down their goal into small enough bits. They start out big--maybe taking an hour a day to exercise, for instance...but then life takes over. The stuff you used to do in the time you’re now spending on exercising still needs to be done, so you fall behind. And before you know it, it’s too hard to keep up the new effort and you stop.
STEP TWO. Fill in these two sentences once a week, in writing:
This week, here’s what I’m going to do to move toward my goal during just one session of 15 minutes a day:________________________________________. To make this possible here’s what i’m going to do 15 minutes a day less: __________________________________.
First, what can you achieve in only 15 minutes? If you’re learning a language, you can learn a new word or two. If you want to write a book, you can jot down notes about the plot, the characters, the theme. If you want to improve your relationship with somebody, you can spend 15 minutes a day listening--not talking or judging or giving advice, just listening--to them. If you want to get your finances in order, you can set up a filing system and use it on all the receipts and other documents that are in a big jumble at the moment.
The reason you fill in these sentences once a week is that what you will be doing will change as you make progress. Once you’ve spent a few weeks jotting down general ideas about your book, you may decide to spend that 15 minutesa day working on the main plot points. Once you’ve learned a bunch of new words in another language you may decide to spend 15 minutes a day listening to audio lessons on how to form simple sentences, Most of the time you’ll find it easy to figure out the next logical thing to do.
Second, what can you do less of? If you’re getting more than 7 or 8 hours a night of sleep, you can sleep 15 minutes less. Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier, or go to bed 15 minutes later. Or you may choose to eliminate 15 minutes a day of TV, Facebook or Twitter time, or something else. There isn’t anybody who can’t find a spare fifteen minutes a day.
You may think there’s no danger that you’ll forget to do your 15 minutes a day, but there is. Trust me, I’ve done it myself.
We need to remind ourselves to do it. One way is to link it to something we do already--something we like or need to do, so we never forget to do it. For instance, you might decide:
* I will not have breakfast until I’ve done the 15 minutes. Put a note on your box of cereal or on your fridge to remind you.
* I will not watch any TV until I’ve done the 15 minutes. Put the note on your remote control.
* I will not look at Facebook/ Twitter/ Pinterest / Whatever until I’ve done the 15 minutes Put the note on your computer screen or your tablet or phone.
* I will not put on my shoes until I’ve done the 15 minutes. Put the note on your shoes.
You can also set an alarm, or authorize somebody in your household to remind you every day, or make a pact with a buddy to phone or email each other every day, or email yourself at the end of every day. It’s a good idea to use two or three methods at first, to make sure that you’re remembering to do the fifteen minutes. Eventually it will become a habit, but that may take six weeks or more.
Also set up a way to remind yourself to review your progress once a week and set out the plan for the next week. Put it into your calendar, add an alarm to that day, schedule a call with a buddy so you can compare progress and support each other in setting up the following week, or whatever works best for you. It may take a few tries until you find the method that works every time.
STEP THREE. Fill in the following:
To remind myself to do this every day, I will: _________________________________. If that doesn’t work, I will:________________________________________. To remind myself to review the week and set out the plan for the next week, I will:___________________________________________.
If you ever lapse, take that as a signal to try something else, not to give up doing the 15 minutes!
STEP FOUR. Do it now.
I lied. There are really only three steps, but I’m making the fourth one do it today. Ideally, NOW. Skip reading the rest of your emails for the next fifteen minutes. If you haven’t filled in the sentences above, that can be your fifteen minute task for the day. That, plus setting up whatever kind of reminders you’re going to use. If you’d like to have a goals buddy, forward this email to them and invite them to join you.
Did you notice that I asked you to fill in the sentences “in writing”? You need to write or print out those completed sentences and keep them where you can see them every day. That’s an important part of the method, please don’t skip it.
By putting in lots of daily short sessions, you will gain momentum. You will see your goal starting to become real. You will feel proud of yourself. You will have greater motivation to keep going.
You may reach a point where 15 minutes a day isn’t the ideal way to spend time on your project. That’s fine, then you can get creative about how to find bigger chunks of time. Maybe you will decide to spend 30 minutes every other day. Or maybe you will be excited enough by your progress to give up an hour a night of TV in favor of working on your project. Or maybe your project now seems more desirable than however you used to spend your Saturdays, and you give it a full day every week.
The process will be basically the same, though. For every new chunk of time, you decide on something to give up, you work out each week what you’re going to do, you set up reminders for yourself, and you keep going. The closer you get to your goal, the more exciting and easier this gets.
If you have any questions about how you can apply this to your own situation, feel free to email me:firstname.lastname@example.org. If I can help, I will.
I'm working on a new online course, Profit from Your Creativity, and one section is about mindset.
One myth I'm writing about is that somehow people who publish your book or give your paintings space in their gallery are doing you a favor. Let's go to the supermarket to see if this is true...
At the supermarket you are confronted by an entire aisle of cereals. There are more cereals competing for your attention than can ever win it. It's a buyer's market.
If you choose the shredded wheat, are you doing it a favor? No, you're choosing it because you think it will taste good and/or be good for you.
It's a win for the shredded wheat and for you.
DON'T MAKE THE CORN FLAKES CRY!
Should the corn flakes take your rejection personally? Does it mean they should slink back to the Kellog's factory, knowing that nobody else will ever buy them?
Silly, right? Yet that's the attitude a lot of writers and artists have when their work is rejected.
All it means is that the person who rejected your work doesn't get it. It's their opinion that your work can't make any money for them. They may be right. If they are not excited about your work they wouldn't be any good at selling it to a publisher (if the rejector is an agent, for instance). By rejecting you, they are disqualifying themselves. They have shown they were not the business partner you were looking for.
If they do accept your work, they are doing it because they think they can profit from it. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, but it underlines the fact that it's a transaction from which both parties can profit. It's a relationship of equals.
WHAT KIND OF GIRL SCOUT ARE YOU?
You may think that your attitude is not that important--it's the work that will determine whether or not it is accepted. However, the way you present it, for instance in a query letter or pitch, can have a major influence as well. Certainly it can influence whether or not the other person ever reads or looks at what you are offering. Three girl scouts will show you how that works.
At some point or another you've probably been approached by Girl Scouts selling cookies. Imagine three Girl Scouts with three different opening lines and think about how you'd respond:
Girl Scout A: "Hi, we're selling cookies. You don't want to buy any, do you?"
Girl Scout B: "Hi, we're selling cookies. Do you want to buy some?"
Girl Scout C: "Hi, we're selling cookies. Which do you like better, chocolate chip or brownies?"
It's really easy to agree with Girl Scout A: "No, I don't, thank you."
Girl Scout B's approach is better, but it still makes it very easy to say no.
Girl Scout C doesn't give me the chance to answer no right away. Instead, she prompts me to think about cookies. Which do I like better? If I like brownies, her question probably makes me think about (and maybe visualise) eating a brownie. Yes, please!
Unfortunately, a lot of writers are like Girl Scout A. Their query letters include negatives, like "My work hasn't been published yet, but...." Or in a pitch they say something like, "I haven't worked out all the details yet, but..." If you do that, nobody is going to buy your cookies.
THESE COOKIES WILL [not really] CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
I'm not suggesting that you go to the other extreme: "This book will outsell Harry Potter because it's the most exciting blah blah blah!" That's a turn-off too. It smacks of delusion or desperation, neither of which looks good on a writer or artist.
Instead, you want to use a form of presentation that reflects your enthusiasm for your project...and a potential win-win for equals.
(Would you like more useful information about writing, all the way from the idea through to publication? You'll find lots of useful help in my book, Your Writing Coach. It's published by Nicholas Brealey and available from your favorite bookseller.)
January 26, 2015 in Getting an agent, Marketing Your Book or Other Writing, Pitching, Pitching your work, Screenwriting, The Writer's Life, Writing a Novel, writing a play, Writing for Children, Writing for Young Adults (YA), Writing Motivation, Your Author Platform | Permalink | Comments (1)
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Director Michael Haneke is interviewed in the current issue of Paris Review. This is what he said when asked whether drawing on your own experience and background is good or necessary:
"I’ve never seen good results from people trying to speak about things they don’t know firsthand. They will talk about Afghanistan, about children in Africa, but in the end they only know what they’ve seen on TV or read in the newspaper. And yet they pretend—even to themselves—that they know what they’re saying. But that’s bullshit. I’m quite convinced that I don’t know anything except for what is going on around me, what I can see and perceive every day, and what I have experienced in my life so far. These are the only things I can rely on. Anything else is merely the pretense of knowledge with no depth. Of course, I don’t just write about things precisely as they have happened to me—some have and some haven’t. But at least I try to invent stories with which I can personally identify.
My students, meanwhile, pitch only the gravest of topics. For them it’s always got to be the Holocaust. I usually tell them, Back off. You have no idea what you’re talking about. You can only reproduce what you read or heard elsewhere. Others who actually lived through it have said it much better than you ever could. Try to create something that springs organically from your own experience. For only then does it stand the slightest chance of being genuinely interesting."
Of course (in my opinion) that doesn't mean you can't wrap your own experience in a genre story. The YA novel I've been working on is called Reptile Nation and in it a segment of the population turns into reptile people. I must admit not only have I never been a Reptile Person, I haven't even met any. However, the book really is about the friendship between the two main characters, and that's a theme I (and everybody else) can relate to.
"When his apprentice wants to know which route he should choose, the Yaqui brujo answers, "Any path is only a path...All paths are the same: they all lead nowhere. The only important question you must ask is: 'Does this path have heart?'
If a path has heart for you, then dare to follow it. It is important to give up on irrelevant questioning, to take care not to waste yourself."
--Sheldon Kopp in "If You Meet the Buddha On the Road, Kill Him!"
Does what you are writing have heart for you? Then dare to follow it. It may or may not lead you to publication; for sure it will lead you to yourself.
December 07, 2014 in Feed Your Head, Getting Ideas to Flow, Screenwriting, Self-publishing, Time to Write, Writer's block, Writers to Admire, Writing a Novel, writing a play, Writing for Children, Writing for children, Writing for Young Adults (YA), Writing Motivation | Permalink | Comments (0)
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The Fall 1975 issue of Paris Review featured an interview with novelist John Steinbeck. He won the Pulitzer Prize and was a Nobel laureate, and The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are still required reading in many English and literature classes. I'm sharing six tips from that interview (culled by the excellent Brain Pickings blog), with a few additional comments by me. This is number five of six:
"Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found out that it is out of drawing."
I'm not familiar with the phrase 'out of drawing,' but I know what he means. This is the same advice as "murder your darlings." A scene that stands out may be wonderful in itself but by standing out it detracts from the rest. This was also mentioned in the tips by Kurt Vonnegut that preceded these posts. It hurts to do this, but do it we must.
(There's more advice on writing, from Jane Austen through to Martin Amis, in Your Creative Writing Masterclass, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from your favorite bookseller. It makes a great present, too.)
The Fall 1975 issue of Paris Review featured an interview with novelist John Steinbeck. He won the Pulitzer Prize and was a Nobel laureate, and The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are still required reading in many English and literature classes. I'm sharing six tips from that interview (culled by the excellent Brain Pickings blog), with a few additional comments by me. This is number four of six:
"If a scene or section gets the better of you and you still think you want it--bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find the reason it gave trouble is because it didn't belong there."
If you still want the scene but are still unsure of how to write it, asking the following questions can be useful:
* What does each character in this scene want?
* In this scene, what is each character afraid of?
* What's the difference between what the character says or does and what he or she would like to do or say?
* What is each character's emotional state at the start of this scene?
* What's different at the end of this scene?
The Fall 1975 issue of Paris Review featured an interview with novelist John Steinbeck. He won the Pulitzer Prize and was a Nobel laureate, and The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are still required reading in many English and literature classes. I'm sharing six tips from that interview (culled by the excellent Brain Pickings blog), with a few additional comments by me. This is number three of six:
"Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn't exist. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person--a real person you know, or an imagined person, and write to that one."
It's important NOT to think of specific persons, too, sometimes. Some authors think "My mother's going to read this!" and it creates a block. When the time comes, you can tell your mother not to read it. Anyway, she's probably read Fifty Shades of Grey, so just get on with it!
(Great advice from great writers, along with tips on how to apply it to your own writing is what you get in my book, Your Creative Writing Masterclass, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from your favorite bookseller.)
Years ago, Kurt Vonnegut wrote an article sponsored by the International Paper Company, on how to write with style. He intended it mainly for writers of non-fiction, but the tips apply equally to novelists or short story writers. I'm featuring one per day; this is number seven of eight.
Pity the readers
They have to identify thousands of little marks on paper, and make sense of them immediately. They have to read, an art so difficult that most people don't really master it after having studied it all through grade school and high school--twelve long years.
So this discussion must finally acknowledge that our stylistic options as writers are neither numerous nor glamorous, since our readers are bound to be such imperfect artists. Our audience requires us to be sympathetic and patient teachers, ever willing to simplify and clarify--whereas we would rather soar high above the crowd, singing like nightingales.
That is the bad news. The good news is that we Americans are governed under a unique Consitution, which allows us to write whatever we please without fear of punishment. So the most meaningful aspect of our styles, which is what we choose to write about, is utterly unlimited.
Years ago, Kurt Vonnegut wrote an article sponsored by the International Paper Company, on how to write with style. He intended it mainly for writers of non-fiction, but the tips apply equally to novelists or short story writers. I'm featuring one per day; this is number five.
The writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child. English was the novelist Joseph Conrad's third language, and much that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin and employs a vocabulary as ornamental as a monkey wrench.
In some of the more remote hollows of Appalachia, children still grow up hearing songs and locutions of Elizabethan times. Yes, and many Americans grow up hearing a language other than English, or an English dialect a majority of Americans cannot understand.
All these varieties of speech are beautiful, just as the varieties of butterflies are beautiful. No matter what your first language, you should treasure it all your life. If it happens not to be standard English, and if it shows itself when you write standard English, the result is usually delightful, like a very pretty girl with one eye that is green and one that is blue.
I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have? The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago.