In case you haven't noticed. I'm kind of dreadful at keeping up with blog writing. I've never been a journaler or had a diary. I live through my characters - who lately it turns out, have zero in the way of plot armour at the rate they're being killed off in this first draft! Sorry to anyone overly sensitive about character deaths. It's space. Space is harsh. Anyway! Back to the topic at hand. One of the reasons I've been so dreadful about checking in and uploading handy writing tips and less handy writing thoughts is that I managed to not only get a promotion to the Youth Program Director of the Alexandra Writers' Centre Society this year and went and expanded all the programs, but I also volunteer a ton with other youth writing groups. Which puts me in a bit of a time crunch situation. So much so my writing almost completely fell off the map and I was warn so thin I thought my health was going to give out. So I'm taking a step back from some of my commitments and cheering from the sidelines instead. I'm letting other people who are young but ready take over things and mentoring others to take my place. I'm getting back to writing and HOPEFULLY this blog. No promises. I'll do my best. Stay tuned and see how it goes. Of course you can always poke me and give me a topic to write on. I love to talk writing, so if there's something you want to know how to do, be sure to let me know. I'll do my best to tell you how I do it and we can go from there.
Bam! There's a woman standing in the rain, mud all around her ankles, and she's wearing a wedding dress.
The reader is left asking - what the heck happened?
Stupid. Maybe I am stupid. Stupid for doing this.
The opening to my book, Stupid. It is meant to make the reader wonder what the speaker is about to do.
Hooks, they make the reader - in a very short amount of time - wonder, what is happening or want to know more. They grab attention and hook the reader in, just like a shiny spinner on a fishing line.
Readers are curious. Backstory isn't going to cut it. Action, intrigue, mystery, and the unexpected will get them from the words Chapter One all the way to the end of that same chapter, and on to chapter two.
Surprise your reader, make them question, make them wonder with the first few lines of your work, be it short story, novel, play, or what not.
But hooks aren't just for openings. Hooks are for EVERYWHERE!
Okay, maybe not everywhere but use them to keep the story moving forward. If you can add a hook at the end of a scene, or in a transition, or at the beginning of the next scene, go for it. Hooks are like conveyor belts for the reader, keeping them rolling from one scene to the next.
But one of the most important places to use hooks is at the end of chapters. Readers tend to put down books at the end of chapters and go and live their lives. Sometimes they don't pick those books up again. Writers don't want this. So by putting a hook at the beginning and end of ever chapter, writers keep the reader up all night long.
One of the best criticism I ever got was from a parent who was upset I had kept her daughter up until two in the morning because she wouldn't put Boiled Cat down. Another kid also hid that same book under his desk during school. I love this kind of feedback. It means my hooks were effective. Hooks bring the reader into your story, hold them there, keep them turning pages, and make them finish.
Keep back story sparse (0nly sprinkled as needed) in the first few chapters, and don't get deep into it until at least chapters three to five, lest you lose your momentum, slow the pacing, and ruin your hooks.
Be creative with your hooks and don't use the same one over and over again. I remember one story where they kept talking about the main characters mother. It made me want to know the first time they used it. I still wanted to know the second time. By the fourth time it was a running gag between me and my friend who was reading the same book. "But what about Zane's mother?" We would call out. And when they finally revealed the truth, it wasn't anything spectacular or earth shattering.
So be creative, but make sure, like anything, your hook either pushes the plot forward or develops the character in a new, unique, and important way.
Hooks - they are an amazing tool for writers, so make sure you use them.
One other thing I see a bunch when working with young or newish writers is issues with dialogue punctuation and formatting - so I thought I would give a quick overview of the how to's of dialogue.
"He stole my hat," Laura said.
Notice how the period turns into a comma.
Question marks and exclamation marks
"He stole my hat?" Laura asked.
"He stole my hat!" Laura shrieked.
Notice how the question mark and the exclamation mark remain in the sentence and do not turn into commas.
Moving stuff around
Laura said, "He stole my hat."
Notice the double capitol - both at the beginning of the sentence and at the beginning of the spoken dialogue.
Action after period
"He stole my hat." Laura wiped a tear from her eye.
"He stole my hat." Laura smiled.
"He stole my hat." Laura raised an eyebrow.
Because all these things are actions, they are not a way of speaking and become their own sentences, which means you must end the dialogue sentence with a period, a question mark, or an exclamation mark.
Action stays with the speaker who does the action
"He stole my hat." Laura smiled and pressed her lips to the mirror she held in her hand.
"Oh my!" Jacqueline exclaimed. "Sassy!"
Laura spun, grinning, arms extended, mirror flashing gaslight.
"What is your next move?" Jacqueline asked.
Laura let out a trilling giggle. "Oh, he's going to get it. You'll see."
That's about it. Pretty simple but often messed up. Good luck to all you writers. Keep up the good fight and have fun out there!
Hi writing fans!
I've been reading a lot of student written stuff lately as well as comics (I'm so addicted to comics it's getting expensive) and I've been thinking a lot about dialogue tags. You know the part where you write She said. John screamed. Mary huffed like a kettle about to shriek.
They can get pretty out of hand with all the metaphor and similes that sometimes the tags can take away from the writing. But I get it. Writing He said over and over again gets boring. She asked and She yelled, aren't much variation either.
A lot of teachers tell their students to only use the tags Said, Asked, and Yelled. They do this to keep the bad metaphors away from their student's writing. But the kids want their characters to express themselves and those three options are very limiting. So instead of making arbitrary rules that even the pros don't follow, how about we learn how to use tags effectively?
First off - the really horrible line, "Get away from me," Mary huffed like a kettle about to shriek - doesn't tell us much about Mary. In my mind I'm picturing a kettle, which isn't really what the line is about. So instead of making this super creative, but not too effective tag about a kettle, let's focus on Mary. What does Mary look like while she's saying this? What is her facial position, head tilt, and body language? Is she stiff with fists clenched at her side or is she leaned back, relaxed, with eyes darting down to the person she's speaking to's crotch?
Out of the three dialogues (which all say the same thing), only the second two actually give us something the reader's brain can work with - stage directions. Stage directions show what the character is saying outside of their words. It gives us the unspoken dialogue that a witty metaphor or simile may not.
In comics the stage directions are shown through images, the dialogue is in bubbles, and there isn't any tags. Think of your writing in this context. Use your tags to form images, to show the reader the unspoken dialogue, the attitude of the character, and to move the plot forward.
Help the reader see your characters and not a kettle. Thanks for reading!
NEXT TIME: How to punctuate dialogue.
Dialogue is something I've always been told is my strength. I think that's because I started my writing life with scripts. My first big success was having my play produced when I was seventeen - so I've been focused on moving plot forward using dialogue for quite a while.
The thing that new writers often don't understand about dialogue is that it's not really how people talk. It's how we would like them to talk (especially in those romantic or heartfelt scenes). Real life dialogue is full of umms, and ahhhs. It's full of repetition and shorthand. Much of it doesn't even stay on track. The conversation meanders through many half conversations. People get interrupted and never return to the topic.
Fiction dialogue, be it in plays, movies, or prose, needs to do what all writing needs to do - push the plot forward or show us a new aspect of character. It has to be directed by the speaking character's goal and motive. Why is the character saying this? What do they expect to get out of this conversation? How is what the other character or characters saying impacting what is said? And even more importantly, what is being left unsaid?
Dialogue in fiction is duel - even if the two parties are friendly. Each person wants to achieve something and that want will create the conflict you need in your scene to push the plot forward. Real life conversations are only sometimes a duel. A good deal of the time neither party really wants anything other than to have a conversation. At most they might want to look good. The really juicy conversations are the ones that end with a phone call to someone else to vent about how the person you were just talking always seems to want something.Every dialogue scene in fiction should be that kind of conversation.
Dialogue without purpose slows pacing to and dilutes the plot. So write tight and make every word in dialogue count. Make every word a highly calculated jab, dodge, or weave and you will have dialogue that your readers will praise for being so "real".
Next time - Dialogue tags.
So I was listening to an interview with a, now dead, Brazilian writer, who is a big deal in the Magical Realism genre. I would tell you his name, but I'm bad with names and have forgotten it. Sorry. Anyway, he was describing his mother and the trials she went through by saying she was a "strong woman" and it struck me that when men are described as strong, this refers to their physical strength, but when women are described as strong, it describes their spirit. It's interesting, how spiritual strength is attributed to women. Like they are able to carry the unseen load of the other world while men carry the visible load of the present world. Just an observation.
I'm finally taking some downtime to edit some work of a budding new author and write something of my own. I'm thinking of how to write theme music into my work on the page. I don't know if this is possible, but, you get no where without trying and I don't believe anything is impossible.
Of course last month was hugely inspiring as I worked with two sets of kids at WordsWorth Creative Youth Residency - teaching my Word Magic course. It was great! Those kids always challenge me to think in new and different ways about my writing and writing in general. I even got to edit a commercial and put together a short movie called Rejected Jam Sessions. My last camp of the summer (last week), ACS DramAntics, was all about the stage as twelve kids and I wrote a play about space pirates, spies, and evil therapy WITH rap battles! It went on stage a the Calgary Fringe Festival. Super fun! Now I have a month to recoup and get ready for Beakerhead, RIO, and writing two novels in a year. No problem at all.
I've been seeing a lot of these "Write for our Website" things this week. When I check them out there is no mention anywhere on their site about what - or if - they pay. I am very leery when anyone looking for writers isn't upfront about payment. Writers need to get paid. Exposure isn't enough. The latest one is an online magazine called Butch Please. It has this statement hidden in the Support Butch section, "At present, our writers are volunteering their time and talent for free." but don't mention that fact in the Write For Us section. Not nice guys. State everything up front.
A couple of months ago the youth writing and creative program I direct (and founded with my daughter), Reality Is Optional, teamed up with the creative team at Rocket House to write a story celebrating the 30th anniversary of Calgary's International Children's Festival. It was to be tweeted out one line at a time over the course of six weeks. Eight kids from the club gathered their creative forces and worked together to write the story in just under three hours. Through their words they got people excited about the festival and let them know about all the shows they could go to. The kids did an amazing job!
Thank you Rocket House for letting us be part of the grand experiment!
Hello loyal fans! I have not fallen off the Earth. Admittedly, it's been a while since I've posted anything here, but there's been some really great reasons for that. One of them is that I've been rebuilding the Reality Is Optional Creative Kids' Website (RIO). We now have art galleries. It takes a really long time to upload as much art as the kids produce. However, it's totally worth it. Check out what is up so far (www.realityisoptional.com). More is coming - so keep heading back.
Another thing I was working on was a fabulous play with some fabulous kids. Our 10th DramAntics Youth Theatre play called, D&D Cubed. I think it was our best script yet. I'm going to put our rough script though an edit or two and have that up on this website (under fun) as a free script for youth groups or schools to use soon. That's what I do with all our scripts. Recently our script, Chocolate Solves Everything, was picked up by a UK school. It's so nice to be able to share theatre with kids from so far away.
I'm still working on novel writing too - though that's kind of taking a back seat to helping my RIO kids with their Poetry Slam group (we're off to the finals next month), running the RIO library pods, doing interviews about RIOites up for Youth of Distinction awards and interviews on RIO and Writing (I'll let you know when that goes up), and assisting the RIO Novel Writing club head towards their second draft. That one had me reading and critiquing three novels written by these talented kids - and adults tell me they can't finish novels. Huh. Well a twelve year old can do it - so what's your excuse? We're hoping to self publish these beauties in October.
So yeah - this blog suffered a bit under the RIO onslaught. However, all is not lost. If you, my loyal fans, missed me and want to see me in person you can take my latest adult class (also open to older teens) - Creative Writing Level 1.
Here's the blurb:
Have you always wanted to write but just weren't sure where or how to get started? Well this is for you! Starting April 26, I will be teaching creative writing level one. Pack that writer's kit with all the tools of the trade like Character creation, World building, Story structure, and more. Write like a pro in just eight fun, hands on, entertaining sessions. No experience needed. Now is the time to stop watching from the sidelines and step into your story. Register now:
And if you don't see me there, you can see me at the Calgary Young Writer's Conference (RIO is the Lunchtime entertainment), WordsWorth week one and two, or DramAntics Summer Camp. I'll also be hanging around the Can You Hear Me Now poetry slam finals. So, yeah, I'm around to visit with, drop in at, and have a beverage near. Feel free to let me know how things are with you and your writing/reading. I love a good story.
Writer, Teacher, Mutant. What more could you want?