Friday, September 3, 2021

Writing Spaces: Getting Back to Basics

 

In my blog post, Connections Deja Vu!, I highlighted several online classes, webinars and websites that I’ve enjoyed as a means of staying connected through the long months of the pandemics, exploring various elements of the craft and business of writing.

As you may remember, I teach for the MFA Program at SNHU, working primarily with students who are finishing their creative thesis projects. Over the years, I have gathered quite a collection of articles and handouts that target some basic writing concepts that are often overlooked in workshops. This past year, I’ve enjoyed getting back to  these basics, finetuning my “writing space.”

You might be interested in a few of these handouts I've used in my classes:

Narrative Structure

Backstory and Exposition: 4 Key Tactics. Susan DeFreitas, contributing writer at Jane Friedman’s blog, explores effective strategies in inserting backstory into your narrative, explaining, “Landing your novel opening can be tricky. On the one hand, you need to get the reader sucked into the present moment of the story as it’s unfolding; on the other hand, there’s a lot you need to explain about the past, which is precisely the sort of thing that puts readers to sleep…This info is generally known as backstory (essential information about the characters’ past) and exposition (essential information about the context of the story). Getting it right is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face with your novel.”

Narrate vs. Dramatize. Alex Donne’s excellent video explains the difference between narrating and dramatizing (show vs. tell), and how you can fix these issues during the revision. Revision is when the magic happens!

Filter Words and Phrases to Avoid in Writing Fiction. Anne R. Allen created an excellent handout that  provides a list of writing filters, with practical examples of how to replace them. As she states,  “All words exist for a reason. Use them wisely to create engaging narrative.”

Purple Prose and the Word Surgeon’s Scalpel. Tom Bentley at Writer UnBoxed elaborates on how these filter words rob your narrative of its vigor. Bentley offers excellent examples and explanations, reminding writers to “Keep in mind that when you clean up your writing, you’re not scrubbing it of the voice that makes it distinct and delightful. You’re clearing your throat so that voice sings out strong and true.”

(Related to Narrative Structure) Dialogue

How to Format Dialogue Dax MacGregor offers nice illustrations on how to format dialogue, stating “Whether you are writing a short story, full novel or anything in between, the way you format dialogue is the same.”

The MasterClass in How to Format Dialogue in Your Short Story and Novel. The MasterClass staff put together this excellent handout, stating, “Whether you’re working on a novel or short story, writing dialogue can be a challenge. If you’re concerned about how to punctuate dialogue or how to format your quotation marks, fear not; the rules of dialogue in fiction and nonfiction can be mastered by following a few simple rules.

Active vs Passive Characters

How Can We Make Our Characters More Proactive?  Jami Gold’s excellent handout details how a character needs agency in their story, stating “In other words, passive and reactive characters—those without agency—go with the flow, make no decisions, and don’t affect the story because they’re always one step behind. In contrast, proactive/active characters make the story what it is.”

On Passive Characters. Mary Cole of Good Story Company explains, “It's hard for readers to engage with a passive character, especially in the protagonist role.”

Five Ways to Tell If You Have A Passive Protagonist (And If You Do, How To Fix Them). Jimena I. Novaro’s excellent discussion offers a study into passive characters, comparing two beloved novels to illustrate her points, stating “ To illustrate these five places where you can identify a passive protagonist, I’m going to use two books that I love. They’re both good books, but one has the unfortunate flaw of having a passive protagonist, while the other has an awesome, active protagonist. The examples for a passive protagonist are from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling; the examples for an active protagonist are from Sabriel by Garth Nix.”

Finding the Emotional Core.Related to creating active characters is taking advantage of a character’s emotional core. Jo Eberhardt on Writer UnBoxed explores strategies on how to create authentic characters that readers care about, stating, “Create a character who feels deep emotions, and invite the reader to join them on their journey. It creates a bond that can never be broken between your character and your reader — one that will still exist decades into the future.”

Mentor Texts

In which I look at Doctor Who to study how to create complex characters, using backstory to reveal the emotive arc. Adventures in Time and Space and Writing.  As I explained, “ {T}here is much to learn from the Doctor about writing the epic adventure. As the Doctor tells his companion, and in so doing reminding everyone, through those Tardis doors, stepping into story,  “… we might see anything. We could find new worlds, terrifying monsters, impossible things. And if you come with me... nothing will ever be the same again!

The Do’s and Don’ts of Storytelling According to Marvel.  K.M. Weiland offers this fascinating exploration into Marvel Movies as mentor texts, in which she “gleaned all kinds of interesting writing insights—which I highlight, movie by movie, in this series of blog posts.”

Plot Structures

On Pacing: Faster than the Speed of Thought. Donald Maass at Writers UnBoxed explains, “Plot pace is generally what people mean.  Keep things moving.  Get to the next event.  Don’t meander around, cut to the chase.  Get to the meat and quickly move on.  It’s as if story is a double-speed march, or ought to be…As we know, however, story is not always about moving events along rapidly.” 

Good Transitions: A Guide to Cementing Stories Together.  Amanda Mascarelle illustrates the process of creating strong transitions that move the story forward, stating, “Most writers learned in elementary school that a good story requires a compelling beginning, middle, and end. But how does one make the pieces fit neatly together? From my tattered memory of grade school, my teachers skipped that part. Or maybe I was home with the chicken pox the day we learned about transitions—the words and phrases, often subtly deployed, that give stories shape and tug readers from idea to idea.”

Mastering Scene Transitions. Beth Hill of The Editor’s Blog discusses how to create effective scene transitions, explaining, “A scene transition takes characters and readers to a new location, a new time, or a new point of view. Transitions can also be used to show a character’s change in heart or frame of mind.”

(Related to Plot) Causal Chains

Why Your Story Needs a Causal Chain. Matthew Retino at The Writing Cooperative demonstrates how – and why – causal chains support the plot, stating, “…chains are fundamental to most forms of fiction…This is especially true if your story has a tragic structure. The sense of inevitability, of one event leading inexorably to another, increases the sense of drama and impending doom.”

What a Coincidence: 7 Clever Strategies for Harnessing Coincidences in Fiction. Steven James at Writers Digest University, offers advice on causality, offering strategies to avoid the dreaded coincidence, stating, “Well-timed coincidences can catapult a story forward, but a poorly planned one can bring your readers to a dead stop. Use these 7 strategies to harness the power of this storytelling tool while steering clear of common missteps.”

(Related to Plot) Chapter Building

How To Organize A Chapter. Nathan Bransford explores strategies to create chapters that move the plot forward, explaining “Too many writers treat their chapters like tanks of gas. They take off without really knowing where they’re going, drive around aimlessly until they run out of fuel, sputter to a stop, and then they start the next chapter after someone takes pity on them and tows them somewhere new.” Of particular interest, he offers a very nice discussion on creating cliffhangers that engage readers, stating , “The key to crafting a great cliffhanger is to construct the climax of a chapter so that its resolution opens up even bigger questions. Think about the fate of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter novels, Han Solo being frozen in carbonite in Star Wars, or “Who shot J.R.” on Dallas.”

How to Structure Chapters of Your Novel: 8 Tips for Writing Chapters. In this very interesting discussion, MasterClass explains eight strategies that help writers create reader-friendly chapters, explaining,   “Chapters are the vessels of story structure, organizing the  plot points of the larger work and allowing the reader to take a break and absorb what they’ve learned. A short story can be read in one sitting, but a novel is usually broken up into accessible parts, forming a book that can be easily revisited whenever the moment arises. Structuring chapters in a way that keeps readers immersed in the story is essential to novel-writing.”

And finally, congratulations to Merysa R for winning our giveaway!

-- Bobbi Miller


4 comments:

Yvonne Ventresca said...

Bookmarking this post! Thanks so much, Bobbi.

Carmela Martino said...

Wow! These are terrific resources, Bobbi. Thanks so much for sharing!

Lois said...

This is an awesome post! Thanks a bunch for sharing all of this. It's like a mini-class! Just right for where I am with my manuscript.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thank you, thank you, Bobbi, for this rich, rich post filled with nuggets I'm sharing with MY students!
You did a Mitzvah!
Esther