Saturday, December 30, 2006

Creative Writing Resource for Science Fiction & Fantasy

I don't usually use this blog to recommend books, but I just finished Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy. If you haven't read it, it's well worth the time.

Card deals with the specifics of writing speculative fiction, giving down-to-earth instruction and guidelines that will be helpful for the novice or seasoned writer. If you're like me, and have an interest in SF&F but have never written any, this book will open several worlds of possibility to you.

Even if you don't want to write speculative fiction, it may be worth the read to broaden your horizons and gain a few tips that will help you in other genres. You may find the brief section on the life and business of writing particularly helpful if you're a new writer. Regardless, it's an informative and entertaining read. Card is one of the stars of modern Sci-Fi writing, and when you read this book, you can see why.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"I Never Said That" -- Writing Famous Quotes Accurately

Bill Moore may go a little over the top in this article, but his main point--accuracy in research and quotes--is important. This article is also a fun and informative read.

Words Used Well - No. 4: I Never Said That

by: Bill Moore

Writers like to quote the classics and the famous. Often, though, through misinformation or poor research, they end up misquoting—and sometimes misinforming. In some cases, they attribute a statement to someone who never made it. Because they’ve heard the quotation misquoted so often, they don’t bother checking the authenticity. Everyone pretty much knows by now that Marie Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake,” even though she gets the blame. And Sherlock Holmes, in the books, never said, “Elementary, my dear Watson.” (But, then, he never smoked a calabash pipe, either.) Beatrice Hall, who wrote a biography of Voltaire admitted that he never said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” He did say, “Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too,” but that doesn’t imply anything to die for.

In other instances, a common way to misquote is to attribute a statement to the author when it was something said by a character in a play, poem, or book. Famously, Shakespeare didn’t say, “First, let’s kill all the lawyers.” It was Dick the Butcher’s line in Henry VI, Part 2. Greta Garbo’s character in Grand Hotel said, “I want to be alone,” but Garbo never did. There are sources that quote her as saying, “I want to be left alone,” but there’s a world of difference. “Anyone who hates dogs and little children can’t be all bad,” wasn’t said by W.C. Fields. It was said about him by Leo Rosten. [For other good examples, Google Words Used Right – No. 5: An Accurate Quote Can Be a Misquote.]

Probably the most frequent way to misquote is to change the wording slightly as in Winston Churchill’s “We have nothing to give but blood, sweat, and tears.” [The line: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.] or Alfred Hitchcock’s “Actors are cattle.” [The line: Sometimes, actors need to be treated like cattle.] Lines from movies are notoriously misquoted. Many of the misquotes have become part of the culture. Bogart’s “Play it again, Sam.” [The line: You played it for her. You can play it for me. If she can stand it, I can. Play it! Play it, Sam.], Cagney’s "You dirty rat, you." [The line: Mmm, that dirty, double-crossin' rat.], Weissmuller’s “Me Tarzan. You Jane.” [The line: Jane. Tarzan. Jane. Tarzan.], and Dumbrille’s "We have ways of making you talk." [The line: We have ways of making men talk.] get cited all the time, but they’re close to the actual lines and don’t change the intent of what was being said.

When the original intent is changed along with the words, it becomes a question of intellectual honesty. This is often what happens when writers quote the Bible without actually having read it. Money is not the root of all evil. [1 Tim. 6:10 “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”] And pride doesn’t go before a fall. [Prov. 16: 18-19 “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”]. Sparing the rod has nothing to do with spoiling the child. [Prov. 13:24 “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”]

This kind of misquoting also happens often when historic sources or persons are used to shore up an argument. Does power corrupt as Lord Acton is quoted as saying? Not quite. [The line: Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.] Marx wasn’t really comparing religion to drugs, so he didn’t call it the opiate of the masses. [The line: Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.] This statement is a bit more subtle than the misquote and not as damning.

The Bard certainly gets his share of being misquoted. Juliet never asked about Romeo’s location. [The line: Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?] In this usage, ”wherefore” means “why,” and putting a comma before the last Romeo totally messes with what Shakespeare meant. All Hamlet said was that he was acquainted with Yorick but not how well. [The line: Alas poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.] And Macbeth didn’t need a guide, so he didn’t say, “Lead on, Macduff.” He wanted the fight to start [The line: Lay on, Macduff, and damned be he who first cries, Hold! Enough!]. Sometimes, the misquote seems a bit silly. Shakespeare never mentioned gilding a lily. [The line: To gild refined gold, to paint the lily.] What’s really accomplished by dropping the middle four words? In the same vein, there’s Falstaff’s actual line, “The better part of valour is discretion,” not “Discretion is the better part of valour,” and Gertrude’s real words, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” being rendered, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.” Why bother to rewrite Shakespeare if you’re going to say the same thing?

So, why do writers do it? For political correctness as when Congreve’s “Music has charms to soothe savage breast” gets “cleaned up” to “soothe the savage beast?” Or could it simply be ignorance and indifference? I don’t know, and I don’t care. I do know, though, that if you want to be taken seriously as a writer, you need to check your sources and not rely on hearsay—no matter how many times you hear someone say it. Who knows, we may discover some day that Nathan Hale’s last words were actually, “I was misquoted.”

About The Author

Bill Moore is the author of Write Rite Right. This compendium of homophones, homonyms, and frequently misapplied words is a necessary resource for anyone who writes for others to read. (Available on,, and

Bill is a freelance writer, researcher, instructional designer, trainer, and editor with over 30 years professional experience. For writing services, contact him at

Visit his Website, for more information on words and writing.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Creative Dialogue --- with Disclaimers

I'm including this article by Steve Manning because I found much of his advice to be excellent. However, there are a couple of things with which I don't agree.

First, keeping dialogue to a minimum. This, as with many writing techniques, depends on the scene and the characters. For instance, if one of your characters is an archaeologist and one is not, it would be natural for the archaeologist to verbally describe the intricacies of an ancient ruin or artifact. The non-archaeologist may not grasp what the other person is saying, but that could become part of the story. Think Samantha Carter's constant astrophysics expanations to Jack O'Neal in Stargate SG-1. Yes, I know that's a TV show, but it holds true in print, as well. It's up to you how you handle it. The fact remains, though, that minimizing dialogue should not be a hard and fast rule regardless of situation.

Second, while he's correct that people usually don't think in complete phrases, I think they sometimes do. I can also tell you from experience that people do talk to themselves out loud. (I can't tell you how many strange looks I've received at the grocery store because I'm verbally debating with myself over which kind of squash to buy. Maybe it comes from spending too much time alone, writing.) So, while Manning's section on thoughts in dialogue is helpful, I don't believe it's entirely accurate. Take your character's personality and background into consideration when deciding how to deal with those internal dialogues.

However, while those particulars should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, the rest, as I said, is very good. I hope you get as much out of it as I did.

How to Write Great Dialogue in Your Book

by Steve Manning

Dialogue isn’t so much read as it is heard by the reader. The eyes see the words on the page, the brain processes the thought, but then that little voice we all have in the back of our head becomes the character and actually says the words.

We immediately hear those words and decide whether the dialogue is legitimate. We decide whether the character, as we know him or her so far, would actually talk that way. If we don’t know the character at all, we use a very broad baseline and decide whether we’d accept a stranger on the street talking that way.

So to develop a winning technique for writing dialogue, you’ve got to listen to the way people speak. Family members, relatives, strangers, people on the telephone. What do they sound like?

You’ll notice that they almost all speak in short sentences. Two, perhaps three sentences at the most before they expect someone else to chime in.

Their paragraphs really do focus on just one thought or idea.

Our society abhors a vacuum, so a pause happens between speakers, not in the middle of one-person’s thought. That’s also why a pause can be one of the most powerful dialogue tools when it’s used in a play. The audience wants someone to say something, anything, to relieve the level of anticipation.

When people speak, they use simple language. Yes, I’ve know a few people who can speak wonderfully with an extensive vocabulary and make it sound totally natural. But that’s the exception. Make your dialogue very simplistic.

If you actually transcribed what people say as they talk, and then read it a few days later, you’d really have a tough time understanding what they were saying. The ums, the ahs, the tics, the embarrassed laughter, the stops and starts. They’d actually read like idiots.

But when we listen to those people, we filter out all that verbal debris. So when you write dialogue, don’t include it. You become the debris filter. Your dialogue doesn’t become more realistic simply because the character reads like an imbecile… unless you want your character to actually come across that way.

Unless you’re writing a play, keep dialogue to an absolute minimum. Don’t tell, show. Don’t have a character explain a situation if describing the scene that does the same thing.

Also, people don’t talk to themselves out loud, and their inner thoughts rarely take the form of dialogue. You’ll have to come up with a solution to that one for your story. An excellent example of this is the movie Castaway, with Tom Hanks.

It isn’t until we need some explanation that Wilson, a companion volleyball, makes an appearance.

Accents are fun, and Mark Twain received high praise as a writer who finally wrote the way people spoke.

But if you have a lot of dialogue, a heavy southern accent can become tiresome on the printed page. Tell the reader the character speaks with a southern accent and let them mentally fill in the drawl.

Finally, keep the “he saids,” and “she saids” to a minimum. At any point in great dialogue the reader should know who’s talking without much assistance from the author.

About The Author
Steve Manning is a master writer showing thousands of people how they can write their book faster than they ever thought possible. Here's your free Special Report,

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More on Modeling to Learn Creative Writing Styles

Another view on modeling, by expert Angela Booth.

Freelance Writing For Absolute Beginners, Part Two-Modeling To Write
By Angela Booth

If you're a writer, and even if you've yet to sell a word, you know you're a writer. Many writers know who they are from a young age, as soon as they realize that someone writes the stories they love to read. With other writers, the love of writing, and the knowledge that they're a writer, sneaks up on them.

So here you are, a newly minted freelance writer, and of course you write, but now you want to sell your writing. As we discussed in Part One of the this article, the fundamental of freelance writing is that people make money from your words. For those people to make money from your words, the words you hope to sell must be in a certain form - a novel, a screenplay, a white paper, a Yellow Pages advertisement, a Web site - your buyers buy a bunch of words in some form or other.

The Key To Form: Audience And Response

The key to any form, is AUDIENCE and RESPONSE. As with most of the fundamentals of freelance writing, most writers write for years without becoming aware of this bedrock requirement. I managed to write successfully for at least a decade without having a clue about what I was doing. Had I learned audience/ response earlier, I'm sure I would have had an easier time of both writing and selling my writing.

Always keep audience/ response in the back of your mind. It applies to everything you write, and ensuring that your writing is laser-targeted to audience/ response ensures that any piece of writing sells.

When a piece of writing isn't working, the clue is often in audience/ response. For example, let's say you've written a mystery novel. You try to sell it, but it's rejected. You remember audience/ response. OK, the audience is people who love mysteries - they love working out puzzles. The response required is for them to read to the end of the novel by continually finding clues and solutions. Understanding this, you revise your novel. You discover how to create characters with secrets and a great mystery puzzle by modeling six mystery novels, then you create another outline for your own. When you've finished, each character in the novel has a secret for the reader to discover, and a greatly enhanced primary puzzle. Your novel sells.

Tip: Write It Down - Who's The Audience? What's The Required Response?

Don't try to keep audience/response in your head. It doesn't work. Write it down. Stick audience/ response on your computer monitor where you can see it.

You can write in any form by modeling examples of the form. You model by: collecting examples, outlining those examples, and writing practice outlines of those models.

Modeling A Form: Collect Examples, Outline Them, And Create Practice Outlines

A "model" is defined as a "system or thing, used as an example to follow or imitate".

Modeling a form works for everything you want to write. It works for novels, articles, advertisements, nonfiction books: whatever the form, find examples, and outline them. Then create your own practice outlines for your current project in that particular form.

Yes, this is a lot of work. However, it's work that you must do. Nowadays, editors don't edit - they don't have time. They expect that your article or book will be pretty much in its final form. If you're writing copy, it's also vital that you model what works (copywriters keep "swipe" files of models so they can copy forms), because your clients are counting on you.

Modeling isn't copying, per se. You're not copying words. You're copying form, structure, and voice.

I know many writers who baulk at this kind of analysis. If this is you, you can shorten the process. For example, let's say you want to write an article for a magazine. Collect six issues of the magazine. Read all the articles. Then find six example articles of the kind of article you want to write. Read those examples several times each, with close attention. Make some notes for yourself, thinking about why certain headlines were used (write this down - writing something down fixes it in your mind). Count the number of words in each article. Count the anecdotes, and count the number of people quoted. Now write your own article.

Modeling successful examples is the KEY to writing anything that you want to write. I wish you much success with modeling. I've used modeling to write many projects, from advertisements to books. You can too.

Angela Booth is a veteran freelance writer and copywriter. She also teaches writing. Visit her blogs - Angela Booth's Writing Blog at and Fab Freelance Writing at for daily writing inspiration and motivation. Subscribe to the Fab Freelance Writing Ezine at to receive "Write And Sell Your Writing: The Power-Write Report" free. It's 21 pages packed with information to help you to develop a six-figure writing career.

Article Source:

Friday, December 08, 2006

Fundamentals of Freelance Writing

More freelance writing advice from Angela Booth.

Freelance Writing For Absolute Beginners - How To Get Started As A Freelancer; Part One
By Angela Booth

You're an aspiring writer. You have some writing skill and talent, and want to develop a writing career. Congratulations! I've been writing for money since the 1970s, and 2006 is a wonderful year to be a writer. You've truly got unlimited options and ways to make money writing.

In Part One of this article, I'll cover the fundamentals of freelance writing. Few writers give these fundamentals much consideration, and that leads to unnecessary hiccups in their writing career. Other writers breeze along quite happily, then suddenly smash up against one of the fundamentals, and because they're blissfully unaware, they proceed to destroy their career.

If you understand the fundamentals, these fundamentals form a basis for creativity, money, and confidence, because you will KNOW how freelance writing works, and you will understand how and why you get paid, and how to set your rates.

Next week, I'll cover "modelling" which is an easy way write as a freelancer. When you learn how to model, you'll be able to write anything, for anybody.

When You Write For Money, People Make Money From Your Words

Freelance writing is writing for money. And, when you write for money, your buyer makes money from your words. A book publisher publishes your book, and makes money from the book's sales. A magazine editor buys an article, and makes money from the advertising in the magazine. A creative director at an advertising agency hires you to write the copy for a brochure, and gets paid by the client, who uses the brochure to make sales and build his business.

The More Money Other People Make, The More You Make

The second fundamental is "the more other people make from your words, the more you make". (You'll need to negotiate for the higher pay, however.)

As a freelancer, you will soon learn that some markets are not markets for you, because they can't afford to pay you. You won't get upset that some magazines don't pay except in copies, and some business owners expect writers to write for $5 an article. You will understand that these people are not making a lot of money, so they can't afford you. This is not a problem, because there's no point in putting lipstick on a pig. You need to go where the money is, not where it isn't.

Money-Potential Check - Do It First

Therefore, before you consider writing for a venue, check to see where THEIR funding is coming from, because if they're not making money, neither will you. If you don't know, ask on a writer's forum. When you're writing for a magazine, for example, check the circulation, and the advertisers in the magazine. If it's a national magazine with a large circulation (over a million copies) and international companies advertise in the magazine, they should pay well.

If you're writing for your local newspaper, check the circulation figures, and the number and size of advertisements. Find out how much the newspaper charges for a half-page display ad. If the newspaper is making money from advertising, they can afford to pay you.

As a quick rule of thumb: if there are advertisements, the publisher can afford to pay writers. This applies to print media, and online - any Web site with advertising can and should pay their writers.

Follow The Money - Consider The Money FIRST

If you remember that "writing for money equals other people making money from your words", this will guide you in choosing markets to write for. For the first few years of my freelance career (admittedly this was the 1980s, long before the Web existed), I didn't make this connection. This meant that I signed contracts that weren't in my best interest.

If you remember this simple point, it puts you in a strong position. You can now assess markets so you know whether a publication is worth spending time on, and you can also negotiate from a strong position. For example, if a publication offers you a $50 all-rights deal, and you see advertisements from airlines and high-end clothing companies in the magazine, you can feel quite secure asking for $500 for First North American Serial Rights (FNSR) only. You may not get it, but you WILL get four and five times the original offer.

Negotiate: Get Assertive

Your ability to negotiate is a vital freelancing skill. If you're shy about negotiating, don't be. Editors expect you to haggle. The first offer you get is only a first offer. "Standard pay rate" is so much nonsense - I'll repeat what I just said, you're EXPECTED to haggle. Professional writers negotiate; new writers slave for low pay until they have a light-bulb moment, and then they negotiate.

So haggle. Always. Essentially haggling is just asking for more. When you start haggling with editors, you may feel like Oliver Twist, with a begging bowl and a "please, Sir", attitude. However, the more you do it, the more fun it will be. After a few years, you'll enjoy haggling.

So there you have it - the absolute fundamentals of freelance writing. You now know how to get started - how to find markets which will PAY you, and that you must NEGOTIATE a higher rate to get paid well. You can now write and sell with confidence.

Angela Booth is a veteran freelance writer and copywriter. She also teaches writing. Visit her blogs - Angela Booth's Writing Blog at and Fab Freelance Writing at for daily writing inspiration and motivation. Subscribe to the Fab Freelance Writing Ezine at to receive "Write And Sell Your Writing: The Power-Write Report" free. It's 21 pages packed with information to help you to develop a six-figure writing career.

Article Source:

Creative Images Using Creative Words -- Hyberboles, Similes, Metaphors and Personification

Thanksgiving threw a wrench in my writing routine, but I recently ran across this little gem by Pamela Beers. Hope you like it as much as I did.

Creating An Image With Words: What Would We Do Without Grammar!
By Pamela Beers

No one is crazy about grammar, except me. It's a good thing because I teach grammar. It is the basis for all good writing. So between writing and teaching, I've learned to love those pesky words called hyperboles, similes, metaphors, and personification. Oh no, not those things again! Yes, those things again. They are the work horses of figurative speech.

That's just great, but what is figurative speech? Figurative speech is what makes our speaking and writing colorful. It creates clear and vivid images for the reader and the listener.

You will often hear me say, after a day riding horses, "I could eat the backside of an elephant!" Since there are no elephants in the meat department at our local grocery store, and an elephant's backside is quite large, you have to realize that I am exaggerating to make a point of how hungry I am. This is called a hyperbole. If I just said, "I'm hungry", you'd be bored out of your gourd. Stating the exaggerated version lets you know just how hungry I really am. It also creates a bit of humor in an otherwise humdrum sentence. As a matter of fact, hyperboles are often used in humor to exaggerate a point.

Riding horses this time of year makes my hands cold as ice. If my hands were really as cold as ice, the medical examiner would be zipping me up in a body bag. Using the words like or as makes the statement a simile, comparing the temperature of my hands to ice.

Metaphors are used comparatively, as well as similes, except that metaphors do not use the words like or as in a sentence. When I rode my horses outside last week, we rode on the wings of the wind. In other words we were going pretty fast. "Wings of the wind" is much more poetic and creates a lovelier image than the words, "going pretty fast". You can change this metaphor into a simile by saying, "we rode like the wind". Using the word like makes the sentence a simile.

While going pretty fast we decided to jump some timbers. When we got back to the barn my horse turned around and looked up at me in the saddle as if to say, "Wouldn't it have easier to walk around the timbers?" This is called personification; when we give something, such as an animal, human characteristics. I always give my horses human characteristics. I need to get real. What my horse was really looking for was a treat!

Keep your prose colorful by interspersing hyperboles, similes, metaphors, and personification into your writing. It makes your prose much more colorful to your readers, allowing them to hear the real you, as you create visual images with words.

Copyright © 2006 by Pamela Beers. All rights reserved.

Pamela Beers is a freelance writer and educator. She has many helpful writing and marketing tips and can help create a professional image for you personally and for your business. Visit her website at

Article Source:

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Procrastination vs. the Creative Writer: Dealing with Distractions

The Writing Life: Tips for Dealing with Procrastination
By JJ Murphy

I know something's up when I'd rather do laundry than write.

Another more subtle sign of procrastination is when I conduct endless research, but never write a rough draft. I'm in trouble when I'm hunting in the refrigerator after every sentence.

But what can I do about it? Here are a few ideas that have helped me negotiate this rough terrain in my writing life:

1. Define your most productive times. I write best first thing in the morning. Nothing has happened to distract me from my thoughts. This is the best time for me to free write, review materials I wrote several days ago, or proofread. Another good time for me is when I'm hiking or when I take a break after a 45 minute hike to a pleasant sit spot.

2. Assess your writing environment. I write best when there is natural light. At night I need correctly placed light. Shadows or glare are distracting obstacles that contribute to procrastination.

3. Remove distractions. I have a place where I can sit and write regardless of the weather. I like being outside better, but when I need research and support materials, my library and the Internet are important. If music is playing, it has to be something that is not intrusive. TV or videos are deadly. Turn off the TV - even the Weather Channel. The difference is amazing. If you do not have a room, office or a space all your own, dedicate a corner of a room or a quiet place in the library where you do nothing but write.

4. Write everything down. Freewriting, brainstorming, lists, outlines, organic notes (those diagrams with spokes) - whatever floats into your head - write it down. Worry about organizing later. The idea is to fill up the page with words. If you have to start with "I hate this, it's dumb, I can't think of where to begin..." - do that. The more words that turn up on the page, the greater the chance that some of them get to the heart of what you want to say. If your hand cramps, talk into your voicemail or consider purchasing voice recognition software.

5. Take baby steps. I recently set a goal to publish a writing-related article once a week. That would be scary, but I have broken the task down into baby steps. I established a list of topics that I can add to whenever I think of something. If an idea grabs me, then I'll write down what I'm feeling, thinking, learning or any other comment. I may have written about this topic before. Eventually I will have enough notes to begin a freewrite, which often turns into a rough draft. That is often enough to keep my momentum going through the rest of the writing process.

6. Write the easiest parts first. If I am stuck for a beginning, I write a middle. If I have a conclusion or strong opinion, I write that first. Sometimes a little push is enough to set the process back in motion.

7. Reward your small victories. If I have been writing for 15 minutes to an hour, I take a well-deserved break. It soothes my eyes to shift from staring at a screen or notebook to looking out at the horizon. I may just stretch or get a cup of tea or I may use that time to break for a hike or some other treat. Taking breaks helps avoid burn-out, which kills productivity.

8. Be prepared for setbacks. Even with the support provided by these guidelines, setbacks happen. If I focus on being stuck, I stay stuck. Instead I look for ways to move on. I might write about the topic from an opposing point of view, I might write a dialogue between me and the procrastination monster, or I might switch from writing nonfiction to fiction. The important thing is not to substitute washing the kitchen floor for writing.

9. Have a plan. When caught in the grip of procrastination, recognize the symptoms and make a commitment to change the pattern. For me, procrastination typically sets in when my hiking is curtailed by a stretch of bad weather. Walking or any kind of rhythmic movement is part of what I need to do to write. In my part of the world bad weather is a fact of life. I will get stuck indoors. At that point, I have my tips list, an idea file, magnetic poetry and a whole range of ways to get words on a page. I don't need a final product. I just need to get my hands or my voice moving.

10. Accountability. Whether you write or not is entirely in your power. I cannot blame the weather, a sprained finger or anything else for my decision to write or not to write. If I want to provide my clients with work on or before a deadline, I have to write. If I want meaningful content for my readers, I have to write. I enjoy writing, but if it ever becomes a chore or a daily burden, I'll look for something else to do.

JJ Murphy is a freelance writer who helps a variety of companies, small businesses and individuals to express their awareness and dedication to developing sustainable technology and to preserve our natural resources. She provides articles for natural magazines, hiking publications, simple living publications in print and online. She also writes curricula to help public schools home schooling groups, private schools, wilderness camps, adult learning groups, continuing education programs and others stretch and expand their students’ knowledge.

She holds a Master of Arts degree from the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas and a B.A. degree in English and Anthropology from the University of Connecticut. Her client list includes writers, business consultants, motivational speakers, psychologists, financial planners, educators, and politicians.

Visit her website

Article Source:

Monday, November 13, 2006

Creative, Living Characters for Your Fiction

How To Create Characters Who Leap Off The Page
by Maxine Thompson

Show me your friends, and I'll tell you who you are, a special co-worker once told me. First, let me explain what special means. In Ebonics, we'll say, ''She's a special case.'' Or if someone is not dealing with a full deck, but yet are loveable, we'll say, ''She's special.'' So as you see, this was a ''gem'' spoken out of a ''special'' person's mouth.

Although, at the time, I didn't quite understand what she meant, I now know what she was talking about is called ''character.'' In life, this could be a bad thing, but in fiction this is a good thing. Nothing works better for memorable fiction than strong characters with flaws. To get to the point, how does one create memorable characters? Sol Stein, in his book, Stein On Writing, points out that eccentricity is at the heart of all strong characterizations. In short, the most effective characters in fiction are to some degree bizarre.

Character is an essential part of the best fiction. Think of all the memorable characters in fiction. When you think of the books whose characters resound in your head, you don't think about, well this happened and that happened, (plot), you generally think of who the protagonist was. Words such as ''Scrooge,'' ''Pollyanna,'' and even ''Uncle Tom'' developed in our culture to express a personality, an outlook, a character trait. And in spite of my dislike for the Antebellum South, from my first reading at fifteen, Scarlettt O'Hara and Rhett Butler stenciled a place in my memory as colorful characters. (Who can ever forget Rhett Butler's last sardonic words, ''My dear, I don't give a d--?.''

As an African American, I grew up during the 50's with no role models in my fiction. No archetypes that had any relevancy to my life. But now, I--and readers from all races-- are blessed with a list of memorable Afrocentric characters. Janie ( who left 3 husbands), creator, Zora Neale Hurston. Sula, Milkman. Pilate. Sethe (who cut her baby's throat rather than see her back in slavery). Creator, Toni Morrison. Nana Pouissant (who built bottle trees to protect her family), creator, Julie Dash/ Daughters of the Dust. Likewise, I'm hoping that my fictional characters--Jewel, Big Mama Lily, Nefertiti, Solly, Pharaoh and Reverend--will one day also become household names in the literary corridors of my reader's mind.

Eccentricity has frequently been at the heart of strong characterization for good reason. Ordinariness is what readers have enough of in life. The most effective characters have profound roots in human behavior. Their richest feelings may be similar to those held by many others. However, as characters their eccentricities dominate the readers first view of them. The first time I encountered this is through the character of Pilate, from Song of Solomon. She has no navel, yet has the ability to communicate with her dead father. I am still haunted by her dying

Another reason character is so important in plotting your fiction is that people are different. The same tragic event can happen to two people and have different effects. One person can lose his job and never bounce back, and another will be galvanized by the same event. These are the types of points of departure you can examine in fiction through your characters.

These are the three major techniques I think will make the difference in creating memorable characters who leap off the page.

1) Point of view. Even if the character is eccentric, you should make the reader understand his world view.
2) Specificity in Details. Develop your character's quirks, habits, motivations, and hobbies.
3) Challenges. Fiction that takes risks and challenges our smug assumptions about life.

Don't just write about normal situations. Examine the human hearts and the depths of what people will go when faced with moral dilemmas. What will a mother do when she is broke and hungry and has children to feed?

To distinguish between plot-driven fiction and character-driven fiction is the same distinction you find between popular movies and serious movies. The former categories often satisfies you, but, like Chinese food, can leave you ravenous after a few hours. Character-driven fiction/movies will stick to your ribs like ''soul food.'' It will make you examine the human heart and condition. Most of all, it often disturbs you like the book and movie, Beloved, yet you will find yourself driven to read these same books over and over.

About the Author
Maxine Thompson, Inglewood, CA USA
More Details about here. Dr. Maxine E. Thompson is the owner of Black Butterfly Press, Maxine Thompson’s Literary Services, Thompson Literary Agency and She is the author of eight titles, The Ebony Tree, No Pockets in a Shroud, A Place Called Home, The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sells, How to Publish, Market and Promote your Book Via Ebook Publishing, The Hush Hush Secrets of How To Create a Life You Love, Anthology, SECRET LOVERS, (with novella, Second Chances,) and Summer of Salvation. SECRET LOVERS made the Black Expression's Book Club Bestselling list on 7-8-06 (after a 6-6-06 release date.) Since 3/05/02, she has hosted an on-line radio show on called "On The Same Page". The show is aired live on Tuesdays at 6:00 a.m. Pacific Time, 6:00 p.m. Pacific Time, and Saturday 1:00 p.m. She is also a host on Monday at 6:00 p.m. PST. On March 1, 2005 she launched her own radio show at You can sign up for her free newsletter at

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Writing for Your Reader

Never forget that writing is communication. Though Dave Davis' article below is about sales writing, the main point is important for every writer. Whether you're selling a product or selling a plot...focus on your reader.

Write For You - A Reader Focused Writing Primer
by: Dave Davis

You want to write better, more engaging articles and content right? You want to get your message across and you want your call to action….actioned right? I am no writing expert, but I can tell you one thing, the secret to writing better starts with one tiny word….. YOU!

Your readers (And maybe your potential clients/customers) read what you have written for a reason. They read because they want to gain something from it. THEY want to gain something. They are not interested in how YOU are this, that and the other. They want to find out how what you are writing can benefit THEM. People are greedy. Even when they are not trying to be. They are greedy at a subconscious “Brain Sponge” level.

How many times have you read an article or blog and stopped reading half way through? How many times have you thought “God…this person likes to talk about himself”? And don’t you just hate conversation when someone else always talks about themselves? READ ON!


When you are writing, and especially when you are writing to sell something, focus on your reader. They (Usually) don’t care about how great your product is, they only care about how great it will be to them. Use the Words “You” and “Your”. Make your reader feel how much it is going to benefit THEM.

A great testimonial to this fact is a test I ran on a single eBook I used to sell. It was a single page website that sold an eBook on setting up a website. I played around with the copy a lot and the product was great, but it was not selling. I invested in a split testing software and created two different versions of the sales page. One was the normal sales copy and the other was the sales copy focusing on the user. So rather than “With our eBook” I had “With your eBook” etc. The results were surprising. By minimizing the use of “I” “We” and “Our” and increased the use of “You” and “Your”, the sales of the book increased by 60%. That’s a lot!


Asking your readers questions is also a great way to engage them. Make them think. Make them ask the questions YOU WANT THEM TO ASK! Questions that YOU have an answer for. Have a specific call to action and lead them down the path.

I have used this technique on many sites in my network from the beginning and have seen great results. I am sure you will too.

***It should be worth noting that I (tried) to keep you engaged in this article by using the word you/your 30 times (Including this sentence) and asked 5 questions. Seems like a lot now but it worked, didn’t it?

About The Author

David Davis, is the lead developer and project manager of RedflyStudios LTD. Web Development Ireland. For more information visit

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

How NOT to Sell Your Writing

No matter your level of experience, selling your writing can be the most difficult part of being a writer. That's especially true if you're a novice in the freelance marketplace. Louise Dop has some good insights on how NOT to sell your writing. (Hint: Reverse this advice, and you can actually sell your writing...)

How Not To Sell Your Writing - Common Mistakes For Freelance Writers
By Louise Dop

It doesn’t matter how brilliant your writing is, you won’t sell it if you don’t act in a professional and businesslike manner. If you are a freelance writer trying to get your work placed in a magazine or e-zine, the editor holds the key to your success. Bombarded with queries and manuscripts, they are likely to put your work straight in the bin if you don’t stick to their strict code of conduct. If you want to see all that hard work rejected, try some of the following:

Don’t bother to find out the name of the contact who reads submissions. Just address it to ‘the editor’ and hope for the best.

A glance at the publication in question or a quick call to their office should give you the information you need to address your query correctly.

Submit your work on scruffy, crumpled paper, folded many times and stapled together.

While it’s not necessary to spend a fortune on best quality writing paper, it should at least look fresh and well presented. Use the biggest envelope possible to minimize folding and never use staples – editors hate them! If you have a large number of pages, fasten them with a paper clip or put them in a plastic folder before placing into the envelope.

Use brightly colored stationery covered in cute pictures or witty comments. For good measure, enclose free gifts and stickers.

Anything other than business stationery will mark you out as an amateur and guarantee that you won’t be taken seriously. Having said that, as long as the envelope is the right size, clearly addressed and has been stamped with sufficient postage, it is acceptable to reuse old envelopes. Chances are, the editor won’t actually get to see them as they are often opened by a junior member of staff.

Send off your completed manuscript without bothering to read the submission guidelines.

Most editors have very strict guidelines for submissions. If they include the words ‘no unsolicited mss’, do not send your completed manuscript or it will go straight in the trash can - unread. Send a query letter instead. If the publication does accept full manuscripts or if the editor asks to see yours, it should be typed using double-spacing. If email submissions are accepted, you don’t need to worry about double–spacing.

Ring or write to the editor after a few days to see if they like your work.

The speed with which your query is answered can vary but it is perfectly normal to wait weeks or even months for a reply. If you haven’t heard anything after about 3 months it is acceptable to make a polite enquiry about your submission.

Argue or complain if your work is rejected.

If you are rude to an editor they will never consider your work again. Accept the rejection graciously and try to learn from the experience. If you are asked to modify the piece in some way, do it if you want to get published.

Submit your work late.

If you have been lucky enough to land a commission, make sure you keep to the deadline set by your editor. Discuss this at the beginning of the project so that a realistic timescale can be agreed. If you suspect that you are going to have difficulty completing on time, let the editor know straight away.

Sell the same piece of work to lots of different places at once.

Nothing will make an editor more furious than paying for a piece of writing only to read it in a competing publication a few days later. Some magazines and websites are prepared to buy reprints but you must be honest and present them as such. Editors will usually want to know where and when the piece first appeared.

Louise Dop is a successful freelance writer and technical author. Her ebook, The Writer's Secret Weapon, brings together a collection of the best free online resources for writers and gives an insight into the writing life. With over 50 direct links to resources, this straightforward guide will show you the real-life tips and tricks that – armed with an Internet connection and basic computer literacy – you can try for yourself right away.

Article Source:

Monday, November 06, 2006

Developing Creative Characters

Creative Fiction Writing Workshop: Character Development
by: Kat Jaske

Would you recognize your characters if you ran into them on the street?

Answering a resounding “yes” to this question indicates you have been able to develop solid, plausible characters in your fiction stories.

Make your characters come alive, whether in good or bad ways. Let them talk. This means using dialogue. However, you need to also provide vivid descriptions of the characters’ mannerisms or facial expressions or body expressions. Your readers must be able to create a visual picture of your characters, as well as hear what they are saying.

Pay particular attention to how your characters interact with other people in the story. How they behave toward others reveals much about their character. Are they kind? Abrupt? Intelligent? Funny? Weird? Concerned? Evil? Strong? Controlling? You need to convey these traits to a reader in a way that will inspire your reader to love, hate, admire, or feel SOMETHING about the people you have created.


“And she hates you.”
“With a passion and what a passion.”
“And what have you done to earn such ire from such a young woman?” Tonie seemed mildly amused by the man.

“I tried to force her to marry me. I shot one of her oldest and dearest friends down in cold blood and killed him.” He didn’t even pause for breath as he listed his catalog of worthy accomplishments. “I betrayed my own brother. And I shot her lover in front of her eyes. A pity Frederick William wouldn’t give up on the man or he would have died. As it was it took him months to recover. I guess you could say the woman has a personal vendetta against me. Will there be anything else, madame?” he concluded with a practiced politeness.

“Not at the moment.” Tonie left the room, Konrad on her heels. She stopped long enough to pull Greg aside and give him instructions in regard to the pursuit of one Laurel d’Anlass. “Ever try betraying me, and I’ll kill the woman myself, Konrad.”

“I would expect nothing less. But, my lady Tonie, I highly recommend you do not seek to threaten me.”

“Take it as a threat if you will, Konrad. But you have shown your weakness, my dear.” Tonie’s barbed words struck with more force than even she realized. “In that warped heart of yours you love Laurel and could never kill her without dying yourself. So don’t push me unless you want me to take all control out of your hands and make you lose any possibility of ever possessing that beautiful, young woman.”

In the above scene from the coming book, Righting Time by Kat Jaske, even though you have not read the book, you can discern much about the characters. Note that Konrad is speaking rapidly and doesn’t even pause for breath as he rattles off his list of worthy accomplishments. He is polite, but it is not real. He has a “practiced” politeness. These behaviors help the reader to instinctively dislike the man. Readers quickly realize that Tonie is a killer since she is amused by evil deeds and so easily states she will kill Laurel herself.

Who is in control here? Tonie or Konrad? Near the end you see that Tonie controls this scene, but Konrad pushes back when she threatens him. These two people are fighting to establish who is really in control.

Note also the double use of the word “passion.” Although one would not normally use the same word twice so close in the same sentence, this is much more powerful and descriptive than saying, “With a great passion.” Kat Jaske

About The Author

Kat Jaske is an English and French teacher and fiction author in Las Vegas, where her high school selected For Honor as the featured book for the 2006 Reading Incentive Program in the school. See samples of her great writing and all her articles at ©2006 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Looking for Creative Writing Success? Show Up!

Freelance Writing Success By Showing Up
By Angela Booth

Woody Allen summarizes the best-ever advice for writing, and for living, with his famous quote: "Eighty percent of success is showing up." In your freelance writing career, you show up by writing every day, as well as by contacting writing markets and by offering your work for sale.

If you've been procrastinating about writing, or are avoiding marketing your work, try my two-pronged "show up" technique, and you will be amazed at the results. I teach this technique to my writing students. It works. Students who are unpublished, brand-new writers have often sold their first piece of writing within a couple of weeks once they start showing up.

Show up by writing, every day

Showing up by writing is vital for any freelance writer. If you're a novelist, you'll need to write 100,000 words for an average novel, so 500 words a day of writing which is in its final form is the bare minimum you need to write each day. If you're writing nonfiction articles, 500 words a day is also the minimum - you can't build a profitable career on fewer words.

If you're a new writer, you'll need to build your writing muscles before you can write a couple of thousand words a day. What's vital is that you write every day, to build those writing muscles.

Some writers find it restrictive to focus on daily word counts, and if this is you, opt for an hour of writing each day instead. This doesn't have to be a block of a single hour. You can write for 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes at lunch time, and 20 minutes in the evening, as long as you show up by writing every day.

Show up in the writing marketplace

Freelance writers sell their words, so this means that your words need to be out in the marketplace. Your primary "showing up" tools in the writing marketplace are your portfolio, and your bio.

Your portfolio contains examples of your work. If you're a new writer, you won't have any examples of work you've sold. There's an easy way around this: craft some writing samples of the kinds of writing that you want to sell - magazine articles, advertising, several chapters of a book, or a Web site.

Your bio is also a vital sales tool. It introduces you to people who can buy your work. Many new writers, and also some experienced ones, have a lot of trouble with crafting a bio. Here's an easy way to write your first bio: think: Who, What, How, When, Where and Why. When you use the "5Ws + an H" system, it gives you a handle on the process.

Let's see how this works in practice when you're writing a bio. "Who: Linda H. Writer; What: writes fiction and nonfiction; How: full-time writer; When: for five years; Where: business and technology magazines; Why: marketing degree, enjoys writing, developed full-time career."

Using this bare-bones outline, you can quickly write bios of various lengths: 25 words, 50 words, 100 words, and 250 words. Your 50-word bio is the one that you'll use most often. You'll send it out with every query that you write. Use the 25-word version as your email signature file.

Once your portfolio and bio are ready, you can show up for markets in minutes, as soon as you spot a possible new market for your work.

For example, you might be browsing the Web, when you spot a new magazine that's debuting in a few months. Just shoot off a quick note to the editor introducing yourself with your bio with a link to your online portfolio, and ask what opportunities there are for freelancers with the magazine. Or, you may be sitting in the dentist's waiting room, and you spot a new magazine. Shoot off an email enquiry to the editor as soon as you get home, even before the Novocain wears off.

So there you have it: how to show up for your freelance writing career. Try it. Just show up: you'll succeed when you do.

Angela Booth is a veteran freelance writer and copywriter. She also teaches writing. Visit her blogs - Angela Booth's Writing Blog at and Fab Freelance Writing at for daily writing inspiration and motivation. Subscribe to the Fab Freelance Writing Ezine at to receive "Write And Sell Your Writing: The Power-Write Report" free. It's 21 pages packed with information to help you to develop a six-figure writing career.

Article Source:

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Strong Nouns and Verbs Are the Friends of Creative Writing

I wrote a post on this topic a few months ago, but some things are worth repeating...and, in this case, Lisa Silverman does it well.

Writing Tip: Why Nouns and Verbs Are Your Friends
by: Lisa Silverman

"The wearily handsome, nervous, stubble-chinned man slowly and carefully got out of bed when he heard the soft, mysterious sound of footsteps in his apartment."


"The ex-con bolted up, rubbed his eyes and then the stubble on his chin, and crept out of bed. Those footsteps didn’t belong in his apartment."

Look at the above sentences, and see if you can figure out why the second example is better written than the first. If you still don’t know, look above that. At the risk of stating the obvious: nouns and verbs are the backbone of any sentence, and thus of all writing. I could have made my title really long and added “. . . and Adjectives and Adverbs Are Your Enemies,” but I like to keep it short.

It’s not only about eliminating adjectives and adverbs so that your writing contains few words that aren’t nouns and verbs. After all, if we did that to the first example, we’d be left with:

"The man got out of bed when he heard the sound of footsteps in his apartment."

Not very exciting, is it? That’s why it’s important to focus your writing not only on nouns and verbs, but on interesting nouns and verbs. I began my second example with “The ex-con,” but of course, I’m inventing a sentence that has no manuscript surrounding it--no context. If we’ve already met the character, use his name or a more descriptive noun such as mine. If you’re introducing a new character, use the best noun possible. “The businessman” would evoke a completely different image in your readers’ minds, and it would be a stronger image than “The blond, well-groomed, middle-aged man.”

Why is one noun stronger than three adjectives (and one verb stronger than three adverbs)? Sure, we can picture a guy who’s blond, well-groomed, and middle-aged, and we might guess from that description that he’s a businessman. We can picture a “wearily handsome, nervous, stubble-chinned man” and perhaps guess that he’s an ex-con. But using the noun rather than a string of adjectives accomplishes two important things: First, it adds action to the character’s description. “Ex-con” not only calls forth a set of physical attributes, but also, by definition, tells you something about the guy’s life outside of this moment: he’s trying to recover from his time in the slammer and go straight. A “businessman” probably looks a certain way, and presumably spends his days doing business.

Then again, maybe the guy isn’t trying to go straight. Maybe he wants to return to a life of crime. Which brings me to the second advantage: involving the reader’s mind in the storytelling. If you string together a list of adjectives, you’re feeding a character to your readers without allowing them to draw their own pictures. Part of the fun--and the fascination--of fiction is the fact that everyone who turns the final page of a book has read a different one. And the more you allow people to be cocreators of your characters, your settings, etc., the more enveloped in your novel’s fictional world they will become.

Or in your nonfiction book’s world--nonfiction writers must leave less to the reader’s imagination, but editing using this principle will make nonfiction stronger as well. As with any other tips, customize it to your writing. It’s also, as I mentioned, about brevity. I don’t need to explain why “crept out of bed” beats “slowly and carefully got out of bed.”

Of course, adjectives and adverbs have their places. Otherwise languages wouldn’t contain so many. You might even find a few in this article (only a few). Again, customize this editing technique to your writing. Read a few pages and see if you find yourself using dull nouns such as “man” or “thing” a lot--chances are they’re surrounded by adjectives. If not, the potential book sitting in front of you may be dull indeed. Don’t go crazy with your thesaurus looking for obscure nouns to replace “man,” but do use this technique as a way to vary word choice. And, if you don’t have a thesaurus, for god’s sake, get one. The thesaurus in Microsoft Word, or anywhere online, won’t hold a candle to the old-fashioned bound kind.

Replace adjectives with more interesting, descriptive nouns, and watch your writing become streamlined, subtly evocative, laced with intrigue, varied in word choice… Oops, those are all adjective phrases. Just think of this noun: “bestseller.”

About The Author

Lisa Silverman is a freelance book editor and works in the copyediting department at one of New York's most prestigious literary publishing houses. She has also worked as a ghostwriter and a literary agent representing both book authors and screenwriters. She founded in order to provide writers with free advice on both writing and the publishing business.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Copying Creative Styles

In my last post, I published Scott Lindsay’s article on emulation for learning writing styles. However, I later realized I’d used a very similar technique when studying direct response marketing. Rather, I was forced to use it.

The technique? Simple. Copy passages of the writing style you wish to learn, not thought for thought as in emulations, but word for word.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not talking about plagiarism. You’ll never publish or in any way use the actual passages you copy. The idea is to get the language so ingrained into your mind that the style comes naturally.

For example, take that direct response marketing course I mentioned above. To teach the direct response style of writing, instructors gave students copies of well-performing sales letters. Our task was to read through each one, out loud if possible, ten times or so. Once that was done, we were to copy each letter, word for word, at least five times. If you’ve ever seen a direct response marketing letter, you know how long they are. The first read through was fine. Everything after that felt like cruel and unusual punishment. Talk about boring! In fact, I got so bored, I never finished the course. What, I thought, is the point of copying these letters time after time?

It wasn’t until later that I realized the method I hated so much had actually worked. After copying only a few of those letters, the style and language had so embedded themselves in my psyche, it became natural for me to enter “direct response” mode when the occasion called for it.

If you’re trying to learn a writing style, whether fiction, nonfiction or poetry, try this simple copying technique. Most likely, every single moment will be painful (sorry, I have to be honest). However, if you’re serious about branching out and challenging yourself, this method provides great benefits that will last years into the future.

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Creative Way to Learn Creative Styles

The Exercise Of Emulation
by: Scott Lindsay

A writing exercise that is helpful in learning a very specific style of writing is called Emulation. This is done to match the style of a specific author.

In essence, you create an entirely new passage using an existing passage as your guide.

For example if you wanted to try to write in the same manner as the Psalmist you might copy a passage of Scripture…

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

This would be an emulation example…

Lift your voice to the Lord, everyone. Sing to the Lord with triumph; come to His throne with humility. There is none like our God. It is He who sustains us, and He knows us; we follow Him as the least in His Kingdom. Gratitude arrives before us as we proclaim His greatness; show honor by singing praise because the Lord is awesome and His love does not diminish, He will be faithful to your grandchildren’s grandchildren. (Modeled after the Psalmist in Psalm 100).

While this may not be a perfect example, the idea remains intact; stay as close to the form and function of the passage you are emulating as possible so anyone familiar with the work will quickly recognize the similarities.

This is an exercise that is easy in concept, but somewhat difficult in execution. In a perfect emulation you would replace every word with another word. In a perfect emulation a noun is replaced with a noun and an adjective with an adjective and so on.

Emulation teaches you to creatively rewrite and reexamine the mechanics of what was written. In my emulation sample, I used a thought for thought emulation style, not word for word. Emulation doesn’t need to be about the same topic either; it simply needs to match up with the literary style of the original author.

If you are a looking for a writing exercise that is a challenge and remains a great learning tool, consider the use of emulation as a means of discovering more about the structure the author used and, secondarily, how you respond to that structure today.

About The Author

Scott Lindsay is a web developer and entrepreneur. He is the founder of FaithWriters ( and many other web projects. FaithWriters has grown to become one of the largest online destinations for Christian writers. Please visit the website at:

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Active vs. Passive Voice in Creative Writing

Couldn't have put it better myself!

Writing Tip: Active vs. Passive Verbs
by: Lisa Silverman

"Jenny was being served her apple martini by the bartender just as the front window was shattered by a speeding Humvee, and Jenny was thrown from her stool."


"The bartender was serving Jenny her apple martini just as a speeding Humvee shattered the front window and threw Jenny from her stool."

Which sentence jumps off the page? Notice that I didn’t alter a single word, aside from changing each verb from passive to active voice.

If you haven’t heard those terms before, here’s a simple definition: Passive voice makes the subject into the (passive) object of the verb. Active voice means the subject is the (active) person or thing performing the action of the verb. In the second clause, the window isn’t doing the shattering--the Humvee is. The window is the object of the shattering. So shouldn’t the Humvee be the subject? Ancient grammar swamis say yes.

But, you say, the sentences don’t seem that different to me. Wrong. Try this: count the words. Okay, fine, I’ll do it for you. The first example contains 28 words, the second 23. Multiply that difference (five, math whiz) by the number of sentences in a manuscript. My example was extreme, so let’s be conservative and say you save one word every fifth sentence by going through your manuscript and changing as many verbs as you can from passive to active.

Take a manuscript of 300 pages, with an average of 300 words per page, and sentences of about 10 words… that’s 9,000 sentences. Damn. No wonder finishing a manuscript is hard. Result: you’ve just cut 1,800 words, or six pages, from your manuscript.

Why would you want to cut six pages from your magnum opus? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you want to fill those six pages--or twelve, if you’re one of those ambitious people who writes 600-page manuscripts--with useful information about plot, character, or theme, instead of useless words such as was, were, by, and that annoying suffix "-ing." But it’s okay to simply cut. Honest. Quality is more important than quantity.

Even if you don’t see the difference in my one example, use active verbs consistently and your writing will pop as it never did before. The reason is self-explanatory: it’s more active, and useless words aren’t bogging it down. Repeat after me: useless words are bad words.

The Exception That Proves the Rule:

F. Scott Fitzgerald used the passive voice. I’m sure of it. But when he did, I’ll bet he had a good reason. My example might be taken from a novel in which Jenny is the protagonist. Her true love, perhaps, is driving the Humvee. (The Humvee is not “being driven by” her true love.) So Jenny, not the bartender, should be the focus of the sentence. With this rule, as with all others that are meant to be (occasionally) broken, always be aware of why you’re breaking it.

You’ve got to know the rules before you can know how to break them. And no one knows all the rules. Not even me.

About The Author

Lisa Silverman is a freelance book editor and works in the copyediting department at one of New York's most prestigious literary publishing houses. She has also worked as a ghostwriter and a literary agent representing both book authors and screenwriters. She founded in order to provide writers with free advice on both writing and the publishing business.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Inspiring Your Writing Inspiration

The Cure for TMS - 3 Tips to Get Your Muse Back
By Dawn Arkin

You say you have TMS - Tired Muse Syndrome? Well, cheer up, because help is one the way. You, yes, YOU can free your muse in easy, fun steps in the privacy of your own home.

Sometimes your muse just needs a mini vacation, a break from all that work. Other times, she just needs a little bit of creative prodding. Even inspiration needs the occasional push in the right direction.

But how do you inspire your inspiration? What can you do to get the creative juices flowing again? Here are some suggestions for waking up your muse and your writing.

1. What’s the strangest thing you ever did? Ever wanted to do? Well, wild child, do it. Make yourself a character in a sketch and take your heroine or hero along for the ride. Write the most fantastical, unusual thing you can think of. Don't forget to write about what happens after it's over.

2. Imagine you’re at bar during a happy hour. A man joins you and asks your name. What’s your response? Do you give him your real name, or do you make one up? Now, put your main character in the same situation. Have a man try to pick her up. What does she tell him? How does the man react? How does your heroine react? How about whoever overhears you?

3. The "cute meet" used to be all the rage in romance novels. What’s a funny or embarrassing way you could meet someone? Breaking into his car? Toilet papering his house? How about a suspenseful way? Chase down a man’s car to tell him there’s a leg sticking out of his trunk? Write about her deciding to go ahead with her plans, how she gathers what she needs, and what happens afterwards.

Odd as these ideas may sound, they can sure cure a case of TMS. And, while nothing you come up with may be of use in your work in process, you might generate secondary characters, outtakes, subplots. Heck, you might come up with a whole new premise from the exercise. If nothing else, you’ll probably laugh, and laughter is the best medicine for TMS. Beats crying any day!

Remember, if something in your writing sounds wrong, it might your internal editor talking. However, if it feels wrong, listen to your instincts and look for what feels off -- pacing, plot, logic, characters, etc. Chances are high you’ll find it, fix it, and be writing like the wind again in no time.

Dawn Arkin is an author on http://www.Writing.Com/
which is a site for Poetry. Her portfolio can be found at http://www.Writing.Com/authors/darkin so stop by and read for a while.

Article Source:

Friday, October 20, 2006

Another Point of View on Writer's Block

Writer's Block? Brainstorm Yourself!
By Elaine Berry

Have you ever been on a “Training Day”?

When I used to work for a local government department, we often used to get sent on Training Days.

They weren’t quite the same as “courses”. The idea was usually for management to get staff discussing their proposed policies (yawn…). Almost invariably, they consisted of an introductory session, followed by everyone being split up into groups, each with an assigned topic for discussion.

The group sat round an easel with a flip-chart attached to it. An eager leader stood by the easel with a marker, waiting for contributions.


Everone was paralysed. Most people’s minds went a complete blank. Even if people did have an idea, they were afraid to express it, for fear it would sound silly.

But just now and again, instead of just standing there, the group leader would say, “Now we are going to brainstorm.”

In a brainstorming session, everyone said THE FIRST THING THAT CAME INTO THEIR HEAD. Everything went on the flip-chart whatever it was. Never mind if it sounded silly, or obvious, or naïve, or ridiculous. It all went down.

What a difference! Instead of a stony silence, everyone was loosened up, and their mental juices started flowing. And the remarkable thing was, that amidst all the debris of useless ideas, more and more nuggets of excellence started appearing. Most of these ideas would never have emerged by the normal method.

You’re a copywriter – or you want to be. If you tell me that you have never sat in front of a blank sheet of paper, or a blank computer screen, and felt completely paralysed, I won’t believe you. It happens to everyone.

It happens because you are scared that what you write down will be silly or that it won’t be appropriate or good enough. You are waiting for inspiration, for the great idea, which you will then express in perfect well-honed prose. Well, in most cases you will wait for ever.

When this happens to me, I find one solution works every time. I brainstorm MYSELF!

Don’t sit and chew your pen. JUST START WRITING.

If it seems silly, or obvious, or a load of cliches, NEVER MIND. Just write and keep on writing. Think of the topic you are supposed to be writing about and write whatever comes into your head, whether it seems immediately relevant or not. Believe me, you will soon find ideas start to flow.
And it doesn’t have to be in perfect sentences. The sentences can come afterwards. Note form will do for now. You will soon find the ideas are coming so fast that you have to scribble to get them down.

Of course, you will end up with a lot of rubbish or even gibberish. But in the midst of it there will be good stuff – I promise you! Naturally you will have to rewrite, but now you actually HAVE something to rewrite, instead of a blank sheet of paper. And you will find rewriting itself brings up even more ideas!

It’s called “brainstorming” because the ideas are there, all the time, in your brain! You just need to loosen up to get them out.

Get into the brainstorming habit and just see how your productivity rockets!

Elaine Berry is the owner of Bizwrite, the only one-stop-shop for writing services. Bizwrite provides copywriting, ghostwriting, article writing and proofreading services, and also provides help and tuition in all aspects of writing. Visit for a FREE e-course on copywriting.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

More on Clichés

When to Weed out Clichés

Don’t think that you now have to go and write a flawless first draft of your next piece, completely clear of clichés. If you try that, you’ll probably never get that first draft written. My advice, and the technique I use, is to write your first draft with whatever words come to mind, cliché or not. If possible, let the manuscript sit a while before going back to it. Then, with a fresh mindset, you can go through and weed out all the undesirables, taking the time to find descriptions that really say what you want them to say.

Clichés in Dialogue

Some might disagree with me on this, but I believe it’s all right to use clichés in dialogue. Make that limited clichés in dialogue. Why? Because people use clichés when they speak! Most people are lazy when they speak; very few ordinary people take the time to develop new and interesting descriptions during the course of a conversation.

You could make clichés a character trait for one of your characters, by having them speak almost exclusively in clichés. (Careful, though; that could get old quickly!) On the flip side, if you have a character who is exceptionally bright (or exceptionally full of himself), you probably want to avoid clichés and make that the character who does come up with original sayings.

How you use clichés in dialogue is up to you. The lesson to take away here, though, is, as in all things, moderation.

Now, knock ‘em out, tiger!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Clichés: Creative Writing Killers

Few things kill your writing more quickly than overuse of clichés. Don’t know what I mean? Try this:

The woman’s hair was black as midnight. Her face was smooth as silk, but her fear had turned her white as a sheet, making her ruby-red lips stand out in stark contrast. Her eyes were as blue as a summer’s sky, and they pleaded with him not to dash her hopes. She’d tried to play it dumb, but now he could tell she was smart as a whip.

See how many clichés I used there? It was overdone, of course, but it gives you an idea of how dull clichés can make your writing.

How to Identify a Cliché

Chances are, if you’ve heard or seen the phrase before, it’s a cliché. If you’re not sure, though, you can go to a website like and type in a keyword (you may need to try more than one).

Since I have a cat, I typed in the word “cat” as a keyword. Here are just a few of the clichés that came up:

Raining cats and dogs
There’s more than one way to skin a cat
Let the cat out of the bag
Fat cat
Cat’s meow
Cat’s pajamas
Cat got your tongue?
Busy as a cat on a hot tin roof
All cats are grey in the dark
Nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs
Curiosity killed the cat
Look what the cat dragged in
The cat who swallowed the canary
Not enough room to swing a cat
When the cat's away, the mice will play

How to Rid Yourself of Clichés

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get rid of clichés. The reason they are clichés to begin with is that they describe things so darn well! The only antidotes to clichés are thoughtfulness and originality—neither one easy to develop if it doesn’t come naturally. The only way to develop those traits is to practice. Look at things from all angles. Use all your senses. Look at the world around you for new comparisons. For a start, you might try reading through a thesaurus to synonyms of some of the words in the cliché. It won’t be easy, but it will become easier as you practice—and your writing will show the results of your hard work.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Top Five Secrets to Freelance Writing

This article by Angela Booth has some excellent advice concerning launching a freelance writing career. If you're considering going freelance, check it out.

Freelance Writing: Five Top Secret Tips to Ensure Your Success
By Angela Booth

At least once a month I get what I call a "freelance, but..." query. The complete query (500 words boiled down to 25) is: "I'd love to develop my freelance writing career but I'm scared that I don't have the talent, and/ or that I won't find enough work."

Here are five top secret tips which will ensure your freelance writing success:

1. Write

This is the biggie. If you're a freelance writer, your job is WRITING. This means that you need to turn out the words. I keep a mental word count, because I've learned to do that over the years - 1500 to 2000 words a day for me is a good day. A thousand words or under means that I'm in the danger zone - I need to up the word count, and swiftly.

Every pro writer I know keeps a mental word count. However, when you're starting out, you need to keep strict logs of how much you're writing. Keep a word count log for at least six months. After that, you'll know when you're slacking.

If I can feel that my word count is drifting, I start to keep a log.


2. Send out Your Work

Send out your writing to the people who can buy it. Be cold-blooded and mechanical about this. Just send it out. Once you get feedback, you can work to improve your success rate, but unless you send out your work, you're not a freelance writer, you're a hobbyist.

If you're completely new to freelancing, by "send out your work" I mean send queries and proposals, AND write a blog/ Web site so that you get known.

3. Research Markets

Enough said. You need to know who's buying and selling. I recommend Writer's Market. However, DO NOT rely on those listings. Get the magazines, read them, send them similar work to what they're publishing.

4. Target a Market a Month

Pick a market. Target it by sending out queries and proposals to that market - say one a week for a month. Let a month or two go by before you target that particular market again if they haven't nibbled the bait you've tossed out.

If you're copywriting, target a particular Web site, or a group of sites.

5. Aim for Ten Percent

Become Mr or Ms Ten Percent. This means, that you need to assume that you will SELL ten percent of what you write.

As you can see, we've come full circle, from WRITE to TEN PERCENT. Now you can see why you need to write a lot.

Ten percent is about average. For example, if you're writing a novel, you'll write a lot of words, and by the time the novel is published, ten percent of what you wrote ends up on the printed page.

If you're writing a Web site, the same applies -- ten percent. By the time you've done drafts, headlines, outlines, etc -- ten percent makes it online.

I love "ten percent". It's relaxing. You can't obsess over particular words, you just have to keep writing enough. That's not to say that you don't aim to beat Ten Percent. You do, and you can and you will beat it. However, the "beating it" depends on timing and luck, and you can't control that. You can only control what you do, so do it.

There you have it. If you follow these five tips, you can forget about worrying about talent and who will/ won't buy your work, because these tips ensure your success.

Angela Booth is a veteran freelance writer and copywriter. She also teaches writing. Visit her blogs - Angela Booth's Writing Blog at and Fab Freelance Writing at for daily writing inspiration and motivation. Subscribe to the Fab Freelance Writing Ezine at to receive "Write And Sell Your Writing: The Power-Write Report" free. It's 21 pages packed with information to help you to develop a six-figure writing career.

Article Source:

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Creative Writing: Finding the Poetic in Your Prose--Part 2

Yesterday I talked about using poetry to enhance your prose. Here’s another example, on a darker note—Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Sonnet V”:

If I should learn, in some quite casual way,
That you were gone, not to return again—
Read from the back-page of a paper, say,
Held by a neighbor in a subway train,
How at the corner of this avenue
And such a street (so are the papers filled)
A hurrying man—who happened to be you—
At noon to-day had happened to be killed,
I should not cry aloud—I could not cry
Aloud, or wring my hands in such a place—
I should but watch the station lights rush by
With a more careful interest on my face,
Or raise my eyes and read with greater care
Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.

Her use of the everyday as a setting for the tragic news highlights the grief—backlights it, so to speak. More than that, she seems to effortlessly portray a grief too sacred to be shared with strangers on a subway…a grief so profound it has to be held in for a more private moment. Above all, she does it using only 118 words, and in a way more compelling than if she’d used the hackneyed cliché, “A grief too deep for words.”

From these two examples alone, you can see how the poetic perspective applies not only to poetry, but also to compelling prose. Imagine paragraphs or scenes written with the same mind-set, the same attention to every word, the same sensory-based emotion. Better yet, try it out! Take one of these poems, or another you like, and write a piece of prose—fact or fiction—using the skills of the poet. It may take some practice. Done correctly, though, it will lift your prose to a whole new altitude.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Creative Writing: Finding the Poetic in Your Prose

Most prose writers are not great poets, and most poets are not great prose writers. Oh, there are exceptions, like Shakespeare, but they’re usually the literary exceptions that prove the rule. However, that doesn’t mean there should be no crossover between the styles. If you’re a prose writer, the fact that your poetry will never equal Keats shouldn’t keep you from trying!

The most basic reason for a prose writer to pursue poetry—both reading and writing—is because it is enjoyable. However, there’s more to it than that. Poetry also offers a different view of the world, a certain slant of sunlight and shadow that only poetry can provide. When you look through the eyes of a poet, you see things differently. When you apply that special vision to your prose, you get spectacular results.

To be clear, I’m not referring to what some call “poetic rambling”—just the opposite. I’m talking about the poet’s ability to seize an emotion, event, or image and narrow it to only a few words…or cast it in moonlight instead of sunlight…or squeeze it into iambic pentameter without making it seem squeezed. It’s that kind of ability that can benefit your prose.

For instance, let’s consider how modern poet Lorraine R. Sautner approaches the “boring” profession of accounting in this excerpt from her poem, “The Alchemist.”

If accountancy were a dark art,
he’d be a High Priest,
cloaked in deductible
interest income, conjuring
diabolical formulas of amortization,
and whispering incantations
in praise of the unholy
power of compound

…In a state of near exhaustion
and with trembling digits, he
raises to the heavens
his financial masterpiece,
lit from within by a supernatural
actuarial luminescence.
And in a final gesture of renunciation,
gently surrenders it to his Outbox.

…the expense reports are now complete.

While it’s true you would never write prose exactly like that, think how much stronger your descriptive writing would be if you used that kind of imagery in everything you wrote (well, maybe not in an expense report, but you get the idea!).

Creative Writing: Words to Write By

I apologize for my long absence. I caught a cold that's kept me preoccupied and away from my blog. Though I haven't had time to write anything original, I did find this helpful and humorous article by Sally Bacchetta. I thought it was well worth reading, and hope you will, too.

Powerful One-Liners To Keep Your Writing Strong
By Sally Bacchetta

Rudyard Kipling said, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Nothing changes people like words, written well. Here are five powerful one-liners to inspire you and keep your writing strong.

You don't have to get it right the first time. Barbara Sher

In fact, it’s better if you don’t. OK, OK, I don’t really know if it’s better; I just like the way that sounds, so I wrote it to get myself started. It’s one of the techniques I use to break free from writer’s paralysis.

If you can’t seem to get started, just write something. Anything. Do you like the word butterscotch? Write butterscotch. Then write it again. And again. Butterscotch. Butterscotch. Butterscotch. Somewhere between the third and the 33rd time you write butterscotch you realize that the word is just a row of characters, just an assembly of lines and spaces. It’s you who brings meaning to the word.

Your writing makes butterscotch an ice cream flavor, a silk blouse or a 2-year old golden retriever. More importantly, it's your re-writing that makes the ice cream creamier, the silk blouse silkier and the golden retriever a bounding scalawag.

The expectation that writing can be right the first time scares even experienced writers away from their words. Don't worry about getting it just right. Just write. Because a blank page is like a cavity - if you ignore it, it gets bigger and more painful.

Writing is an intimate transaction between two people, conducted on paper, and it will go well to the extent that it retains its humanity. William Zinsser

I feel sorry for people whose writing is sterile and lifeless, because I imagine that they’re sterile and lifeless as well. Maybe not. Maybe they radiate vitality for miles in every direction except the reader’s, but I doubt it. More than anything else, writing reveals the writer's relationship with the world. I once worked for someone who wrote motivational memos like “This division and all sub-units will endeavor to facilitate intra-system support initiatives”. That was a fun job.

Whether you're writing promotional copy, sales training material, web site content or an article for publication, you're writing to someone. Someone human. Touch them with your warmth, your sense of humor, and your humanity. Be yourself.

Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end. William Strunk, Jr.

Here Strunk illustrates the power of word placement. He finishes his sentence with “the end” in order to impress that phrase on our attention. If he had written, “Place the emphatic words at the end of a sentence”, we would naturally emphasize “sentence” rather than “the end”.

In my April 2006 Onwords™ column I wrote, “Your writing will be most effective if you select words that express your ideas exactly”, ending my sentence with “exactly” because I wanted to stress the importance of being exact. If I had written, “Your writing will be most effective if you select words that exactly express your ideas”, the emphasis would have fallen on the word “ideas”.

How can you put this one-liner to work for you? Read your writing aloud and listen for the natural emphasis. (It may be only a whisper, so listen closely.)

I'm confident that with the power of Strunk you can improve your writing.

I'm confident that you can improve your writing with the power of Strunk.

You can improve your writing with the power of Strunk; I'm confident. There it is.

Never use a long word where a short one will do. George Orwell

I sometimes wonder if other writers get paid by the letter. Long words don't make your writing intellectual or professional, and they certainly don't make it appealing or accessible to your readers. Precision does. Your writing will be powerful if you choose words for their meaning, not their length.

Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time...The wait is simply too long. Leonard Bernstein

Whether you live to write or write to live, at some point you face the challenge of writing without inspiration. Here are some strategies to keep you moving forward:

Write first thing in the morning. Keep a notebook next to your bed and jot down one idea or a few bullet points before your feet hit the floor. Sales training workshop will motivate... discover… closing skills… explore... new levels…that’s all. The point is to get something on paper that you can work with later.

Catch up on email. It limbers your mind and fingers and removes the temptation to distract yourself with email later.

Commit yourself to someone else. While you’re sending email, send one to your boss, your editor, your mother, even your priest. Announce your deadline and invite them to ask to see your finished work on that date. Make sure you send a blind copy unless you want your mother talking to your boss, your editor and your priest.

Write in five or ten-minute intervals. The only rule here is that you must spend the entire time writing – no staring blankly at the computer screen or the page. When time is up, put it away. Repeat this every hour and by the end of the day you'll have at least a couple of pages of crummy, fragmented writing. Sift through the rubble and pull out the cohesive passages and phrases you find intact. Re-read them the next day. If you still think they're cohesive and intact, use them as the framework for the rest of your writing.

Hold your lunch hostage. Decide what writing you must finish before lunch, and don’t eat until you’ve done it. If you're bothered by flies buzzing on the uneaten meals piling up around you, this probably isn’t the best strategy for you.

Stop writing in mid-sentence. This will provoke one of three responses. Either you will start strong the next time by completing the sentence, you will feel compelled to finish the whole piece rather than leave a sentence undone, or you will carefully arrange on your desk a small round stone, a marshmallow and...

Sally Bacchetta - Freelance Writer/Sales Trainer

Sally Bacchetta is an award-winning sales trainer and freelance writer. She has published articles on a variety of topics, including selling skills, motivation, pharmaceutical sales, parenting and RFID.

You can contact her at and read her latest Onwords column on her website.

Article Source:

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Grammar & Creative Writing? Use the Elements of Style

I own this book myself, and highly recommend it. Since Bob Lory went to the trouble to write this article, though, I'll let him tell you about it.

The "Elements" Of Good Writing 
by: Bob Lory

If you want to write "good," you're supposed to know certain rules of grammar-where to place commas, the agreement of nouns and verbs, the proper cases of pronouns. This is the "gut" stuff of English Composition 101 that, if you do enough of it wrong, labels you as illiterate.

Check out the writing section of any good new or used book store, and you'll see guides ranging from 300 pages upward that promise to make you a master technician of everything from the parenthesis to the gerund. All you have to do is memorize these 300-plus pages.

Which of course you won't. You won't even read most of them. Fortunately, if you've made it this far in life without having someone drag you to such a tome, you most likely don't need it. But there is one guide I strongly suggest you read, and the edition I'm looking at right now is only 85 pages.

That's The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. If you don't own a copy, get your hands on one within the next seven days and focus your mind for your first reading.

Whoa...did I just say "first?"

Digression time:

Strunk was White's English professor at Cornell University. The year was 1919 and part of the material Strunk's students had to master was the contents of what was known as his "little book," as he called it. White, who more than forty years later, was asked to update the original (he also added a chapter), recalls that in his classroom Strunk--

omitted so many needless words...that he often seemed in the position of having shortchanged himself--a man left with nothing more to say yet with time to fill, a radio prophet who had outdistanced the clock. Will Strunk got out of this predicament by a simple trick: he uttered every sentence three times. When he delivered his oration on brevity to the class, he leaned forward over his desk, grasped his coat lapels in his hand and, in a husky, conspiratorial voice, said, "Rule Seventeen: Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!"

If three times was good enough for Professor Strunk, it's good enough for us. My recommendation: Read the entire book as soon as you can (that's this week, remember?). Do your second read after three or four weeks elapse. Save the third for a year from now. You'll probably never have to consult it again.

The best edition is the third, first published in 1979 but still widely available.

About The Author
Copyright 2006 by Bob Lory. Bob Lory has more than 30 years of global PR, employee communication and ad writing experience and training professionals in these fields. His blog-- the stuff that works.

Articlse Source: