The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #8–Talk To Me Goose…or Dialogue

All right, listen. Top Gun did not have the best dialogue. At all. Like…not even remotely. BUT… I liked the headline so deal with it.

Today in the blog we’re talking about…well, your characters talk. Affectionally known as Dialogue. Writing dialogue like any aspect of your novel is an art, and one that will allow you to not only reveal character traits and all of those ‘shown’ details, it will also drive your plot. If you’re good at it, it will help your reader to know your character better and *gasp* if you have a flair for it, will provide extra entertainment. I’m a HUGE fan of witty banter when it’s appropriate. I’m a HUGE fan of letting dialogue tell the reader how two characters feel about each other.

Take this little gem from “Finding Destiny”: Hank and Daniel are two of my favorite characters to create a scene with. They’re brothers and love each other deeply. But they’re brothers, so that love is shown in obnoxious teasing. Take a gander–

“Everything OK?” Hank asked after an uncomfortable amount of silence.

“Yeah, I just… I just have this gala thing to go to for the university in a couple of days and, I… I’m supposed to bring someone.” Daniel paused and looked at Hank.

Hank took a moment to swallow. Then he batted his eyelashes and waved his hand in front of his face.

“Oh! I’m just so thrilled you’d ask!” he shrieked in a falsetto voice. “Oh! You’re so dreamy!”

Daniel threw a piece of bacon at him and laughed. “Not you, jackass.”

“What about Maggie?”

Daniel shook his head.  “Maggie and I don’t really—”

“Do anything that requires clothes and public places?” Hank raised his eyebrow.

“We sort of haven’t seen each other since the once…” Daniel’s voice trailed off. He still didn’t feel exactly right about what had happened between him and Maggie, or how Destiny had witnessed the start of their one-night stand.

“No wonder she’s been shooting nasty glances at me the last few weeks,” Hank chuckled into his coffee.

Daniel sighed in exasperation. “I was going to ask you…if you’d mind…if I took Destiny.”

Hank inhaled his biscuit and started coughing. His face turned red and his eyes welled up. He looked sideways at his brother as he pounded his chest with his fist.

“Destiny?” Hank wheezed.

“Yeah.”

“Destiny Harrison?”

“Yes,” Daniel said, annoyed.

“Red hair, tall, drawly, hates-your-guts Destiny Harrison?” Hank took a drink of coffee to clear his throat.

“Yes, Henry! That Destiny.”

Hank held up his hand.

“First of all, there’s no need to call me Henry. Second, I thought you hated her, too. But mostly, why in the hell do you think I’d mind? She and I aren’t…like that.”

“Well, I didn’t know! You spend a lot of time with her. And I don’t exactly hate her. I just—” Daniel sat forward in his frustration and loss for words and looked out the window.

“Well, we only spend so much time together because neither one of us has a life outside of the shop.” Hank stopped with his coffee halfway to his mouth. “How embarrassing is it that I just admitted that?”

“It was pretty pathetic.”

“Yeah.”

“So?  Do you think she’ll go with me?”

Hank shook his head in bewilderment. “I don’t know, Danny. What about that ‘hating you’ part?”

Daniel remained silent and watched out the window. What about that?  He thought of her warm body pressed to his in the fervent moment of thanks. He thought of her shapely breasts beneath the nightgown, and the smell of her. The shyness of her kiss. The way she had gotten snippy when Maggie had stayed over. Hank paused at the unusual look of self-doubt on his big brother’s face.

“I think if you could get her in a dress, she’d do all right. Assuming she did say yes,” Hank said.

“Yeah,” Daniel said, displaced.

“Maybe if you ask her nicely…you know, not like you?” Hank said.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Well, you know…come down off of your high horse. Just a bit. And stop being such a surly son-of-a-bitch!”

“You sound like her now.”

“I’m just saying that a little honest humility and admiration goes a long way.”

Daniel stayed quiet. Humility wasn’t really his thing. He wasn’t very good at admiration, either.

Hank continued. “And if she says no, I can rock a strapless like you would not believe, girlfriend.” Hank snapped in the air and winked.

Daniel threw his biscuit at his brother with a laugh. “Shut up.”

So, we get to see some deeper dimension here, with Daniel’s secret insecurities, his blossoming interest in Destiny as well as Hank’s affection for them both. We set up for a minor climax (asking Destiny on the date) as well as establish the risk involved. All while doing it with a sense of humor.

The import aspects to remember in writing dialogue are below (been a while since I bullet listed for you)

  1. Dialogue needs to be real. By that I mean if it is forced (for the purpose of info-dumping), contrived (how convenient to drop that info into conversation even though they had no other reason to talk…), or sounds like an outside narrator suddenly taking over your character’s body (Hey! Where did their drawl and/or British accent go?) your reader is gonna know. So make it a conversation.
  2. As mentioned above, keep your character’s in their character. If they don’t normally say much, save the monologuing for others or some big reveal moment. Many a time I’ve had to edit a dialogue because I saw too much of me in there. Tricky me, trying to steal the conversation. This comes with knowing your character and what they would or would not say.
  3. If the dialogue doesn’t do any of the magical things listed, (furthering plot, character development, information snacks etc) and its just in there to fill space or act as a buffer don’t be afraid to cut it.
  4. Read your dialogues out loud! It’s the only way you’ll know for sure that they sound real and authentic to your characters and to the story. This is also a great way to catch mistakes and to ensure dialect and vernaculars are in place.
  5. Don’t be afraid to use abbreviations and slang if it’s true to how your character talks. Destiny Harrison said “ain’t” a lot. Spell check hates “ain’t”. Doesn’t matter what the spell checker wanted, she ain’t changing for it.
  6. I could give you a spiel here about dialogue tags (ie ‘he said’, ‘she yelled’) after your character’s speak. I’ve heard both sides. In my kids’ writing classes they are encouraged to use something other than ‘said’ to liven the action, express the tone, etc. In my adult-y writing classes, I’ve been told to cut the flowery bullshit and stick with ‘said’. The idea being that if your writing is good enough, the tone and character already established, the reader will read the dialogue in the feeling intended. My advice? I don’t like either of these approaches. Sometimes a simple ‘he said’ works, sometimes, I get bored as shit with that and when my characters talk in my head, they rarely just ‘say’ stuff. I may err more on the side of the flowery therefore, but I don’t do it so much that very ‘please pass the butter’ moment is fraught with tension.

Okay. That’s it for dialogue today.

I think…(she said with a gasp), that might even be the end of our writing series on the Novel! (she yelled?) I’ll check in on that and get back to you next week. Until then, go over your dialogues, check their authenticity and tone. How can you make them better? More real human-like? Read them aloud, don’t ALWAYS listen to your spell checker. Write. Write Write. Good luck out there. See you soon.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop Novelty #6: “The Kid’s Got Style”

Good evening, my little writing gnomes. This evening I’m writing from the NCW’s writing fall writing retreat in Estes Park, Colorado. Firstly, if you’ve never taken a weekend, or a few days, to do nothing but devote time to your craft, I highly recommend you give it a try. When you aren’t weighed down by laundry, school emails, or cat’s randomly vomiting out food that they didn’t apparently feel like chewing, you can actually get a lot of things done.

We’ll talk more about that in a later blog. Today…it’s all about STYLE.

Style isn’t regaled to only novel writing. Every author has a voice. This is not the Point of View, as we discussed last week. A voice is an author’s particular way of writing. If you want to look at the extremes, you could compare the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald to those of Ernest Hemingway. Contemporaries and acquaintances (it’s argued if they were actually friends) they shared a propensity for two things, drinking and good writing. Beyond that, they had incredibly different voices. Hemingway was a man’s man, bull-fighting, womanizer. Fitzgerald was more introspective, a romantic, one might say. And their voices showed it and affected readers differently.

This quote hangs above my desk:

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”

― Francis Scott Fitzgerald

Before you move on…read that again. Can’t you feel him speaking to you? Can’t you feel a hand on your shoulder or even a hand on your back (as one of my favorite inspirational women says: https://www.christinedercole.com/s/) encouraging you to take action, to not be dissuaded?

In contrast:

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”

― Ernest Hemingway

First–did anyone else notice what POV he just used? Come on…it was only a week ago. The dreaded 2nd and he, as always, did an amazing job. Listen, in my humble opinion, Hemingway was kind of a giant misogynistic ass, but he could write a fine damn sentence, and his work cut through your skin like wind on a cold February day. But notice the colder, darker tone. The harshness.

The difference between those two is not in their brilliance. It’s in the feeling they evoke, and to me, that’s what your voice is. A writer cannot help but leave a trace of themself on the page. It’s probably why my heroines curse, or why setting to me feels like it always needs a bit of poetry–utilizing the senses to accentuate.

I’m a bit more Fitzgerald than I am Hemingway…But I’m all Sarah. And you are all you.

STYLE is what makes your story, even if it fits a trope or a formula, unique. Because no one is you. No one has your experiences, your vernacular (why you might say wa-r-sh instead of wash, or creek instead of cr-ic-k), your vocabulary, your turn of phrase, your tone.

I’ve tried to read ‘popular’ authors that I just couldn’t stand because they made a point to turn every sentence into a dictionary-induced game of look-up-the-word or strayed too far from the point. I’ve read simple shorts that didn’t use a word over 15 letters long that left me with chills and turning the page hungrily.

It’s not in the size, its in your style (remember I said that fellas).

So… I don’t have much to elaborate on here. I can’t train you to write in your own voice. You just have to write and see what comes of it. Are you poetic? Are you straightforward? Are you humorous? Do you tend to sink into the gray dark, or do you lift up towards the light? When you write are you telling the story to an audience, or to a friend? Every day may be different for each of us, but in total, your ‘voice’, your STYLE, is the way you tell a story.

So, look over your work in progress, short stories or poems you’ve written, and try to feel out what your voice sounds like. It’s hard to do this, so feel free to enlist the help of outsiders (friends, family, book groups, critique groups).

You will know your voice when you hear it.

Stay true to it, because if you ever try to write in someone else’s, your story–your work, will suffer.

We can’t all be Hemingway. Please, God…don’t let us all be Hemingway. We need Plaths and Fitzgeralds. We need Rowlings and Brookses. We need it all. The whole spectrum of style.

So get out there and write true to yours.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #5: Point of View

Thank you to the beautiful people at Grammarly for this awesome little image of Point of View.

Whilst (I love using that word) typing up the title today I realized, that all of these blogs on novel writing can also be used in other aspects of your writing. Short stories, flash fiction, non fiction, and even poetry all contain aspects of plot, character, and point of view. In a novel, however, consistency of your point of view is crucial for keeping your reader snuggly in your world. Shifts in POV can cause confusion or jar them out of the story.

So today, we’re going to briefly discuss the typical types of POV as well as which ones are most effective to use.

For the budding writer, I’ll lay down some foundation.

Point of View is basically who is telling the story.

In First-Person POV, then the action is happening to the person telling the story (the narrator is the main character). Here, a writer uses “I/We” mostly while only using “he/she/they” as outward observations. They can tell you what they see, feel, hear, know, etc, but they can’t tell you what anyone else sees, feels, hears, or knows. The best way to show those things are through action and dialogue AND by having faith in the reader to understand by your clues the general idea.

Second-Person is the red-headed step child of writing POV. I’m sorry. I said it. Second person uses “you” and “your” and they narrator speaks directly to the reader. “You were amazed. You’d never seen a chicken with five legs.” They make you part of the story. I suppose some of my blogs have been in 2nd person, non-fiction informative may utilize this POV. I’ve never used this in a short story or my fiction but occasionally it creeps into my poetry. In fiction, it’s very difficult to do well. (“Bright Lights, Big City” by Jay McInerey, “The Sweetheart” by Angelina Mirabella, “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern)

Third-person is an outside narrator telling the story from a distance (she/he/they). When it gets closer in (think into the characters’ heads) it’s called third-person omniscient. Third-person is popular with light fiction, serial romance, cozies, beach reads, sci-fi, fantasy etc. The tricky part of this POV is being able to stay focused on one character at a time. If the story dictates it (two or three main characters) I will switch POV in Third by chapter, possibly by section, but never by paragraph or within the same scene.

We discussed each typical type, but how do you know which one is best for you? Well, part of this comes down to your writing style. When you write, are you the character? Are you in their mind, in the arena, in the pilot’s seat? Or are you observing them, building the world around them and telling them what you see from above? Are you walking them through the story, a sort-of inward conscience to their journey? Which genre is your story? What’s the purpose of the story?

All of these factors can make writing in the right POV harrier than my old math teacher at the swimming pool (Hey! Take the sweater off before you get in–oh…wait…sorry!) Some genres are more lenient as to how much you can change or shift the point of view. Some genres really do best when one specific POV is used.

Take memoir for example. This type of storytelling should be first person, past-tense. Period. That’s your story, it happened to you. You are telling it.

Now, romance novels can dance on the edge of third-person, third-person omniscient, or first-person.

Most contemporary fiction these days is first-person (think Hunger Games) or if you’re feeling fancy, 2-person, first-person (look at Gone Girl–a book told in first by two different main characters–very clever)

I am wont to say that sci-fi and fantasy tend to be third person, due to the world building that has to occur. But it can be done marvelously in first as well (check out “The Martian” which tickles both first and third).

The important part about POV (especially when working with third) is that you stick to a strong, non-passive-voiced point of view that stays in its lane.

Check this out:

“You’re such a selfish prick!” Jill yelled and slammed her fist into the table upsetting the spoons. She’d had enough of his late nights at the track and the dwindling bank account.

Bob jumped back at the sound. His heart fell to his gut and he felt like crying. He couldn’t believe he’d lost their honeymoon money. He was only trying to double up on the winnings so they could have a bigger trip.

Jill paced the room in a fury. How could he? After she had been saving for months and months so they could go away…

Yowza. For one–this is a lot of information dumping out on your reader. You can’t describe your main character’s (Jill) thoughts and feelings about Bob and then in the next paragraph have Bob spring into an inner dialogue on his thoughts and feelings about her. It’s called head hopping and it confuses the readers. Only a few really talented authors can make this happen and not lose the reader (I’m looking at you Nora Roberts).

Don’t cause a ruckus. If the character you are writing for (be it third or first) isn’t a goddamn mind reader then don’t describe things they wouldn’t know.

If you want the reader to have the information, you show through body language and dialogue.

“You’re such a selfish prick!” Jill yelled. “I can’t believe you blew our savings at the tables!” She slammed her fist into the table and knocked over the cup of spoons.

Bob hung his head and swallowed. His voice trembled. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? Sorry doesn’t even begin–“
“I was only trying to–” Bob started.

“It doesn’t matter!” she yelled. “You don’t get another chance to make this better!”

Here, the reader has enough information to gather how Bob feels without dropping us into his head.

Ok. Whew! Speaking of info dumps, huh? Take a minute to absorb all of that. Think about your story, what you’re trying to do, who you’re trying to follow, and how you want to bring the reader along. If you’re writing short stories, experiment with all the types of POV. I’ve only written a few things in first and its very powerful, but for some reason, it’s very hard for me. My comfort is in Third-Omniscient, but as in all things in life, we have to push our comfort zones to be better. So…push your zones, get uncomfortable.

Pick a POV per project and stick with it.

Until next week. Happy writing!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #29: The Short Story

Hello! Welcome back to The Beautiful Stuff and todays’ introduction to the well-known and prolific format we all suffered through in high school English.

Ladies and Gents: The Short Story

Don’t get me wrong, I say ‘suffered’ now because everything when you’re a teenager that entails any sort of responsibility not of your choosing is, to some degree, “suffering”. I mean, I could write for hours, holed up in my room, gladly passing the day. But ask me to read a short tome by O. Henry and I’d give you an eye roll and heavy sigh that would have rivaled the most put-upon martyr. Looking back, I actually really liked those stories. I remember dissecting them, studying the elements, and learning what made them so powerful.

Thank you, Joyce for “The Most Dangerous Game” and mining deep into the dark hearts of men. Hats off to the master of short story, E.A. Poe and his “Tell-Tale Heart” among at least a dozen others that gave me a healthy love of the spine-shiver. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” was my first taste of apocalyptic fiction. I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences and I urge you to go back over those old favorites and see what you notice at a different age/stage of life.

The Short Story is actually lumped in with Flash Fiction and Micro fiction and is defined by a word count of 5,000 to 10,000. Some even dip down to the 1,000 range, occasionally they’ll touch 15,000. But in general, anything above that (30,000-60,000) is considered a novella. I’m giving it its own blog because the short story is a beautiful place to start if you are just beginning your path in writing. It’s not overwhelming but it will allow you to practice a lot of the bigger elements of story-telling. It requires a certain amount of frugality with words and demands a tight story arc which are good practices to hone before embarking on a novel-length piece.

What’s the difference from flash fiction? Well, in flash fiction you are looking at a snap shot of a moment; a defining moment, a quirky flash in the pan. In a short story you have more wiggle room for character development and the ability to tell a complete story.

Why’s that important you ask? Wow, you always come up with so many good questions!

Character development is important in short stories, because often it is the character that drives these stories. That doesn’t mean you get to expunge for 3,000 words on the finer details of Joe Doe’s eleventh grade algebra class. It means you have the opportunity to create a connection to the reader by showing who Joe is using his reactions to the situations presented.

How do you do this most effectively?

Photo by moein moradi on Pexels.com

Well, as in novels, you have to know your character. I once wrote a short story about a woman who’s husband left her on her 50th birthday for a younger woman. I got to know Jane Pearce so well, that I often think there’s a little bit of herself still residing in me. The part that snaps out of her doting-housewife haze and burns the mother-fu$^ing house to the ground, collects the insurance money, and retires to Italy under a new name. The point is, if you don’t know what drives your character then you risk wasting time and words on a vignette that should be tight.

What else do we need to know?

Death follows a Terrier on a Mission.
Photo by Matthias Zomer on Pexels.com

Well, you need an extraordinary event. A divorce out of the blue. A airship landing in the parking lot of the 7-11. A dog running down the street with a human leg in its mouth. A car crash, a panic attack, an island event where humans are hunted, a lottery to see who’ll be stoned to death. A body buried beneath the floorboards…something. Something that forces our beloved (or be-hated? is that a word? why isn’t it?) character into some tough decisions that make them CHANGE AND GROW. Yes. This can be done in the short span of 7,000 words.

You may, if you’re so plottingly inclined (in my head that sounded very judgmental, I apologize to all of my plotters out there), outline your short story to arrange it with the proper story beats, valleys and arcs necessary. Or, if you’re a slob like me, you can just start with the event and your character and see what madness ensues. Just be conscious this is a finite clip, not the 6-hour extended director’s cut.

I could, literally, go on for thousands of more words about the art of the short story, but I know you have some kitten videos to watch and probably a pants-less Zoom call to get on, so… I’m going to end this first blog (there will be others) with a good starting point for my beautiful writers out there.

The hardest part of the short story, for myself and other writer’s I’ve talked to, is finding a smashing good idea to write about. For this week, I’d like you to try one or both of these exercises and come up with, at minimum, 10 potential short story ideas. If you have the time, pick one or two and try your hand at a short story.

For the first exercise, I would like you to pick up a copy of your local newspaper (or scroll through it online) and seek out interesting or strange headlines that deserve a bigger story. The body pulled out of the river with no fingers. The discovery of pesticide residue in kindergarten playgrounds. Whatever catches your eye. Find a notebook, write down one or two lines on each and keep going. Don’t stop to write the story just yet. Let your beautiful brain simmer.

Secondly, I would like you to take a prolific historical/fictional or not character and ask “what if”. What if Henry Melville had been a modern day fisherman. What if Lizzy Borden had been a nursing home attendant? What if Buddy Holly had survived the plane crash? What if Donald Trump was really an alien? (ok, that one’s not so far of a reach)

Get freaky with it, twist history a little and see what interesting plot ensues. Thanks for playing today. Share your results and ideas, if you like and we’ll be back next week with more on the Short Story!

Happy Writing.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #26: Flashing for Fun and Profit

Yep. I said that. But in my defense…I don’t have a defense. I’m childish and immature. Please don’t go around “flashing people”. It’s not fun for anyone involved and you don’t make a good profit (unless you’re possessed of certain physical attributes—and even then, nothing in life is guaranteed.)

*for the record…that’s the first time I’ve spelled ‘guaranteed’ correctly on the first try. I just needed  to let every one know, so you’ll understand the kind of writer I am.*

When I say “Flashing” I’m talking about our next topic of discussion which is, of course, Flash Fiction.

If you like the brevity of poetry and quick, hard words that nail emotion to the theoretical wall with brute force, you’ll probably enjoy practicing flash fiction.

Let’s get started with a little introduction.

Ahem, Flash Fiction, these are my beautiful writers *gestures wildly out into the far reaches of the internet* They’re kind, amazing, and talented.

Writers this is Flash Fiction.

Flash fiction sprung up in the 1990s and has become a formidable form of storytelling that appeals to newer generations with ever-shortening attention spans and busy lives. Flash Fiction condenses a tapestry of story into a few short sentences/words/paragraphs. It also serves as a method to condense big ideas into concise writing, especially in terms of reporting (flash non-fiction?) and conveying information.

Ugh, that was dry. Talk about an awkward introduction.

Here are the basics. Flash Fiction is a form of short story that relies on brevity. Specifically, a word count between 1 and 300. If you’re wondering how you can tell a story in under 300 words, or even in under ten, allow me to give you one of the most famous examples:

“For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”

This very simple sentence/story has two commas, one period and a myriad of images that can affect the reader.

Flash Fiction is further divided into micro-fiction, sudden fiction (Wham! Suddenly there was Fiction! Out of nowhere and sudden!), postcard fiction, short story, and the short short story. Believe it or not, there are even sub-categories called drabble which refers to stories that come in at 100 words and dribble that come in at 50 words.

Why Flash Fiction, Sarah?

Well, I’m glad you asked. And…if you didn’t know, that’s what the S in S.E. stands for. The E stands for Enigmatic. Or maybe Exciting. Earnest. Edward. Eggo-(not to be confused with Ego). Who knows? Only my mom and she’d never tell because she’s as loyal as the day is long.

Back on point:

The advantages of Flash Fiction are as follows:

Several websites, literary journals, anthology collections, and magazines are interested in these bite sizes of life.

They are relatively quick to write from an artist’s perspective, which makes them more versatile and easier to explore different genres with.

I personally find flash fiction refreshing to write. For one, when you’re embroiled in a 120,000-word novel, bogged down in outlines and character sheets, plagued with plot holes and flat characters, it feels pretty damn good to step out with a 250-word taster of a completely unrelated character’s flash-in-the-pan dilemma.

Don’t misread. Flash Fiction may have fewer words, but it doesn’t mean that it’s ‘easy’. (She’s fast but she ain’t cheap). Writing more with less is difficult, especially if you’re accustomed to novel length work.

So, to start this little experiment, I’m going to make your first time (or maybe I’m not your first…it’s completely okay, I’m not judging what relationships you had before me) nice and gentle.

Take a current work in progress, a novel you’ve published, a poem you’ve written, and write a flash piece based on the characters or subject in a strange and new situation. Or, maybe six months after the novel ended. Or six months before. Show them in the parking lot with a new baby, or thrown into jail at sixteen, or sunk unexpectedly into a worldwide pandemic (too soon?)

Then…and this is the trick; don’t go on and on.

Think snap shot, not photo album.

One picture will tell us a lot about a person, without needing to see the whole photo album. (have you ever had to sit through someone else’s photo album? No, Sarah, because we’re not three-hundred years old, we have Instagram like normal people…what century are you from?)

Flash fiction is a novel if a novel were poetry. Condensed, potent, memorable.

For sale, baby shoes, never used.

Here’s a little flash piece (a drabble to boot) I submitted that won honorable mention, if you’re looking for an example.

She hadn’t meant to set it on fire, exactly. But now that the heat burgeoned from its windows, charring the leather seats and crackling up through the retrofitted steering wheel, she was glad for the warmth.

It was a shame he’d never get to see the way the flames jumped and swayed in the clear night turning cloudy. It was a shame he’d left it unlocked, parked outside the strip club. A shame he’d said he was at a meeting. What. A. Beautiful. Shame.

She pirouetted against the star-filled sky, and danced along the edges of erupting metal and smoke.

Try it out, have fun, and let me know how it goes. Share or don’t. If you do share and you’d like it featured just make sure you follow my rules against excessive violence/hate speech/rampant eroticism (a little is awesome—too much is…too much) before submitting. I look forward to hearing how it goes!

Happy Writing!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #24: The Basics of Poetry

Hello writers,

First, apologies for missing last week. I started my Thursday morning at 2 am, driving to the trailhead of my first 14er. It was a beautiful cool day up on the mountain and I was pretty tired upon returning home.

In addition to that, and on the same day, we welcomed a new family member into our home.

So I’ve literally been climbing mountains and raising babies for the last few days and am now safely locked in my office for an hour of dedicated writing time.

Without wasting any time, let’s get into the basics of poetry.

Some of us are born with the inclination towards alliteration, symbolism, personification and all the intrinsic elements of powerful poetry. For the rest of us, becoming a better poet (progress not perfection) can be accomplished by learning the dynamics of poetry form and function.

Now, I’ve heard a lot of degrading comments on poetry that rhymes. First of all, Poetry is Poetry. It doesn’t have to fit into some MFA or Beatnik/Hipster trend to be worthwhile.

Witness:

“She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies,

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

Thus mellowed to that tender light

Which heavy to gaudy day denies”

Lord Byron

Or one of my other favorites:

“When I am dead, my dearest,

Sing no sad songs for me;

Plant thou no roses at my head,

Nor shady cypress-tree;

Be the green grass above me

With showers and dewdrops wet;

And if thou wilt, remember

And if thou wilt, forget.”

Christina G. Rossetti

Or Even:

“There’s too many kids in this tub

There’s too many bodies to scrub

I scrubbed a behind

And it sure wasn’t mine.

There’s too many kids in this tub.”

Shel Silverstein

Many a talented writer use rhyming and alliteration to build a beautiful rhythm that lends well to spoken recitation, which is one the most important foundation of Poetry. We’ll get into that a little later.

Do you need to rhyme your lines for it to be “poetic” or presentable? Of course not, as I mentioned last week, Poetry’s main function is to tell a story in the thickest, boiled down way. I do think it’s important to play with the concept of rhyming poetry, even if it’s only as a practice. It will not only help you to build your vocabulary, but it teaches you the essential dynamics of beat, and syllabic flow.

When considering how to help other writer’s have a good starting point for their experimentation into poetry I thought of the things that have helped me to grow and thrive in my poetry.

And I even put it into a bullet list because…bitches love bulleted lists.

  • Read a lot of poetry : The same as in any writing, if you want to know what works, read a variety of poetry. From the classics to the more modern and experimental forms. You can subscribe to the Poetry Foundations daily poem ( poem a day ) or, invest in some independent poetry journals and magazines (http://32poems.com/ is great and there are many others). Support local poets and writers by buying anthologies (ahem: https://www.amazon.com/Small-Things-Beautiful-Anthology-2019-2020/dp/1692331558)
  • Attend Poetry Readings (as social distancing permits–you can find online forum as well): The beauty of poetry, as I mentioned above, the ability for it to translate into the spoken art. Performance poetry will move you in ways that simply reading it cannot. By listening to poets read their poetry, you can catch a lot about word use, syllabic stress, alliteration, rhythm, tempo, and personification. Plus, the emotion of poetry is so much more present when someone is telling it to you.
  • Start Small: You don’t have to write The Iliad. Start with a haiku (5-7-5) or even put a 25 word limit on your poem.
  • There is Poetry in Every Thing: You can write a poem about a ball of yarn, a flower, the death of a loved one. Every object, feeling, action, or person can be inspiration. I once wrote a poem about a katydid I found being eaten by a wasp. I’ve written a poem about tripping. There is a poem in every thing. Find it.
  • Don’t Obsess Over First Lines or Titles: Just like pausing to edit your novel or story can interrupt the flow of creativity, worrying about creating the ‘perfect’ first line will staunch the ideas. Just start from somewhere. Like any writing, poems will undergo different rounds of changes and editing. Sometimes I don’t have a title until the final edit. Sometimes I don’t ever have a title. Don’t let that stop you from trying.
  • Tell a Story/ Express Big Ideas: One of my favorite things about poetry is that in a single stanza we can learn a world. Poets that are magnificent at this are: Maya Angelou, E.E. Cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sylvia Plath, Chuck Bukowski, Pablo Neruda, and Mary Oliver.
  • Use Tools: It probably sounds silly to remember your thesaurus but when we are working with an economy of words the difference between the right word and the almost right word is, as Twain said, the difference between lightening and a lightening bug. My favorite function in Word might be the “synonym” checker. Just make sure that it still conveys the flavor and tone you are aiming for.
  • Connect With Other Poets: Your local writing groups or if you follow social media, will have groups that can help you learn more, have safe places to share, and provide opportunities to submit.

Well, that was a lot of information. On Thursday I will be featuring some poems that came in last week (one from my absolute favorite fellow Wyomingites, sid sibo, is among them) There’s still plenty of time to contribute so send your experiments my way.

Until then, good luck. Delve into reading some new poetry and exploring your own abilities in the field.

Happy writing!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #21: The Keeper Shelf

Happy Thursday, writers! Today we’re jumping right into the craft of writing and, more to the point, how the books we read influence and inspire us. Many of us know that to be a better* writer, we must spend a lot of time reading good books.

 *I’ve heard it said many times that if you want to write well, you must devote an equal if not greater time reading, especially within your genre. I have mixed feelings on this. Yes, reading good work in your genre can be important to how you formulate story, find inspiration, and learn. But if you are doing it solely from the perspective as a writer, it can also cause you to lose a bit of that magic we call your ‘voice’. And, don’t misunderstand, I LOVE TO READ. But I will often lose myself in a good book (Thanks a bunch Chuck Wendig, you beautiful beast of a writer) to the extent that I use up most of my ‘free time’ and close the cover in a self-made brain fog, where in I can’t find my laptop let alone write something coherent. So I guess what I’m saying is: Balance.

Today, I want to talk about what you read and in particular your “Keeper Shelf”.

Ladies and Gentleman Hectic Eclectic (Part 1)

All of us have a “Keeper Shelf”, I’m sure of it. These are the books and stories that we love so much we can’t bear to part with them. They have somehow touched us, shaped us, hit that chord deep inside that makes us want to read them over and over again. This shelf is unique for each person and what’s lovely about your Keeper Shelf is that you’ve chosen these books because something about them worked so intrinsically well that you keep coming back, even when you know how it ends. These are the best ‘how to’ manuals we have as writers.

Hectic Eclectic (Part Deux). Ballerinas next to Deadpool (thanks April Kramer), a dash of Xian Terra cotta warrior and an empty bottle of what my father said was part of his worst college experience. Oh…and some of my all time favorite books. High brow.

This week, I want you to take an introspective look at an area you are struggling with in your own novel/work. For some of us, that might be dialogue. It might be story arc, it might be how best to show (not tell) emotion, character quirks, climax, scene setting, you name it. At least one of those authors on your keeper shelf has nailed a concept that you are struggling with. Once you identify what you’re trying to accomplish with a story, scene, or character, I would love you to take another look at one of your ‘faves’ that did it right.

Read, re-read, dissect it, pull it apart and diagram it on post-it notes…

“Ah, she doesn’t say Mel is sad…she makes the sky cloud over—even the setting turns dark—and  Mel misses breakfast for the third time because she can’t pull herself out of bed, and her eyes hurt, and her mom won’t stop asking her if she’s all right.”

“Ah—I can see these characters care about each other because they can pick on tender parts in their banter and only love each other more for it.”

“She leaves every chapter with a tiny cliffhanger…that’s why I can’t put it down.”

“He’s made Nessie so human and imperfect, by all the things she does despite of her internal dialogue, he makes her a hero that feels personal.”

You get the idea. It is the sincerest form of flattery and honor to use someone’s work to make yours better. Obviously, I’m not advocating for plagiarism; you will and should write your own story, but if another author’s work helps you see the difference between what works and what doesn’t, then utilize their book as a tool to get you there.

You have shelve(s) of Master’s Classes right in your own home so go through some of your old favorites and pull out the things those writers are doing to connect with you as a reader so you can do the same with your own readers.

Constant and continual improvement in our writing craft is essential to success. Because someday, we all hope that a reader gets to the last page of our book, closes the cover, puts it up on that top shelf in their library, and says, “That’s a keeper.”

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #20: Finding Romance in a Time of Disconnect

The world is a tense place right now and I know I’m not the only one who’s been suffering with a busy and worried mind. These days, these times, these overcrowded houses, and insecurities about the future don’t make for good bedfellows and it’s not just artists who are suffering.

A recent study revealed that fewer people are having sex. Especially in the younger age groups. A combination of the world’s current crises, economic disparity, job loss, women’s fears of sexual violence, and a general unease about the current “hook up” culture have left a great many of us feeling as though sex just isn’t worth all the hullabaloo. (Clear sign that people aren’t getting enough play time between the sheets is the uptake in old-timey language like “hullabaloo”, “horse feathers”, “fiddle faddle”, wisenheimer”, “canoodling” and “shenanigans”)

So, what better time for yours truly to have signed up for an online Romance Writers Conference this weekend, brought to us by the lovely folks at The Wordsmith Institute. Despite feeling a little ‘meh’ about love in general, my hope is that it will ignite some latent ideas that will help me finish the two or three novels that have just been sitting like cold leftovers in my fridge.

 (I should eat that before it goes bad, but I’m just not feeling like all that fiddle-faddle. I’ll make a quesadilla.)

I’m not sure how many of my writing clan out there dabbles in romance or what your current feelings are on the matter, but I think that when we are faced with a world in such serious and important chaos, the idea of a little escapism should not be dismissed too lightly. Passion comes in many forms, and when we stoke the fires of one form, we help to ignite the others. A passionate life is not just in the pursuit of justice, it is in the pursuit of love and happiness as well. And a good romance novel will follow this pursuit.

So, for today’s exercise, whether or not you write romance, I would like you to try your hand at a touch of eroticism (there’s a double meaning in there). I’m not suggesting you sit down and write your tawdriest letter to Penthouse. I don’t want to know about girth or the overused metaphors of trembling phalluses or ‘moist’ orifices. (Yuck, I think I just grossed myself out).

I want you to find the eroticism in the small details, objects, places, memories. Eroticism is more than just what you think of when you see an eggplant emoji.

Awe, they’re canoodling! (Photo by Dainis Graveris on Pexels.com)

Take your time, focus on the minute details of moments. The way a finger plucks a grape from the vine, or how a callus feels against the small of your back. Focus on the path of a rain droplet down a leaf, the low blood-warming rumble of thunder, the smell of skin warmed by sunshine. The juice of a mango running down your wrist.

Write about those moments and observations, as if it were the world teasing you.

What makes them sensual? What makes your breath quicken?

If you need more direct inspiration, here are some great suggestions from Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”:

  1. What makes you hot?
  2. Name all the sexual fruits you know? What makes them so?
  3. What do you crave when you are in love?
  4. What is the most erotic part of your body? (and please, be creative, we all know the obvious ones—reach for something more interesting—well, not literally…or yes literally–what do I care what you do in the privacy of your own home? I support however you process).
  5. Write the body as a landscape.
  6. What do you connect with? (physicality, music, touch, words: think of this similarly as how you learn. Visually, orally, auditory, by doing, by reading?)
  7. Do you remember the very first time you felt desire? When was the first time you felt erotic?

Okay! There you go, something fun to get out of the world for a minute. I hope it helps to boost your writing if not your mood. Maybe your cohabiter will even benefit from these shenanigans. As Monty Python so eloquently said: “wink, wink, nudge, nudge”.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #8: I Made You a Mixed Tape

Hello beautiful writers, how are we wordsmithing this week? (heck yes wordsmithing is a verb). Were you able to come up with some inspiration from the well of words that is Merriam-Webster?

On this installment of the workshop we’re going to shift our focus from the power of words to the power of music and what it means for our creativity.

Now, I think I’ve written on this topic before so I may be borrowing from some past inspiration, but I think it bears repeating that music has a very influential role on all of us as humans and how we make neurological connections in the process of creativity.

As a writer, I’ve met the broad spectrum of those who couldn’t possibly have the distraction of sound and voice beside them while composing their stories to those who couldn’t bear to have the room silent. You know your own style and needs best and you aren’t required to practice any of these methods I give you, but I encourage you to try a few things to see if it affects your ability to create.

If you write to music, what do you prefer? 

In my experience, it depends greatly on what I’m writing. Sometimes I chose the music based on the scene I’m trying to create, or the mood that I want to convey. Sometimes the music is based solely on the character whose perspective I’m writing from, and what I think the soundtrack of their life looks like.

(ahem, in case you weren’t aware: we all have a soundtrack of our life, it’s what plays in our heads as the day progresses and during those times of elation or sadness…don’t believe me? Sit still with your thoughts for a couple of hours and see what little dittys pop up.)

When I write poetry I listen to something more instrumental and flowing, because the words in my head can’t be confused with any other words outside of it, When I write essays for my classes, classical music is fine but I have to stay away from rock because it breaks my focus and makes me randomly use my highlighter for a mic while I stand on my desk and belt out “My Sharona”. I once spent a few months embroiled in the genre of country, waist deep in Kenny Chesney and George Strait tracks, writing a romance novel about a country star trying to start his life over. This certainly helped: Tip of my tongue

Remember, singers and songwriters are creatives, people who understand emotion and the depth of lyrical effect. They are poets and expansive to our own work.

So this week’s assignment is to explore music as a way to get in touch with the mood of your scenes, the background and feelings of your characters, and inspire you to create more flowing and free works of art. I’ve listed a few of my favorite albums, artists and songs to write by lately, and remember I’m a romance novelist so…these aren’t going to be everyone’s jam.

The Pride and Prejudice Soundtrack: Pride and Prejudice

Brandi Carlile’s Bear Creek Album

Hozier (anything by that beautiful Irish, nature-jesus is golden by me)

The Head and the Heart “Down in the Valley” and “Rivers and Roads”

A Fine Frenzy

Ray LaMontagne

Jason Isbell (former front singer of The Drive By Truckers)

The Civil Wars

First Aid Kit

Kina Grannis’ cover of “Iris” Iris

Ruston Kelly

Anderson East

This one from Ashley Monroe is a favorite ‘mood’ song: Hands on You

Ruth B.

Wow, I could go on all day, but I DO have other things to get to. I hope you have a musically inspired day.

Good luck out there, and let me know what you prefer to write to. Even if it’s silence.

 

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Week #6 Character Development

 

Good Morning! Quick announcement for those of you following such things. The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology of 2019-2020, “No Small Things” will be released this coming Monday the 17th of February! Appropriately just past Valentine’s Day. That means you can buy it for a belated gift, because everyone knows the actual day is just a commercial driven, chocolate and sex-fest. (if it were just a chocolate and sex-fest, without the commercialism, I’d be totally for it.)

But a stunning book of poetry is the gift that keeps on giving.

Stay tuned for pictures, samples, and book giveaways happening this month and thru March. Also, be on the lookout for a book signing to happen this Spring in Fort Collins. I will let you know the date and place as it solidifies.

AND NOW THIS:

First off, where in the hell are your haiku’s?

None? Psh…cowards.

Okay, here’s a few from some brave souls out there.

Miss. Elliana Byrne from Boulder, Colorado sent me this lovely and thought worthy collaboration of five.

He said, I can’t help

With all your mental raving

You’ll have to sort it

 

He said, I was sweet

A juicy peach to bite, hard

But I talk too much

 

He said, breathe deeply

When I’m not so insecure,

He might give a fuck.

 

He said, I wouldn’t

Not with you, and your baggage

Stacked higher than sin.

 

They all want to taste

But none want to swallow me.

Jagged edge sweetness

 

 

Here are a few of my own in “honor” of the upcoming holiday.

 

1.

Silence stole my heart

You are gone, and I am lost

You were my constant.

 

2.

February lies

In drifts of heart-shaped candy

All love is false hope.

 

3.

Mechanical heart

Pumping without feeling love

Empty valves digress.

 

4.

She carried it well

Cancer of melancholy

consumed heart tissue.

 

There’s no time limit on these exercises and no order so if you want to send me anything from The Beautiful Writer Workshop, feel free.

 

NOW, ON TO THIS WEEK’S BEAUTIFUL STUFF:

This week’s exercise is short and sweet (not 17 syllables short, you’ll need some time on this one.)

Take ten to thirty minutes (together or in pieces) and pick either one of your favorite characters from a work in progress OR a favorite character from an already published book.

Write their backstory.

Where were they born? What was the name of the hospital? What time of day was it? What were they like in kindergarten? Did they run track or dole out drugs in high school? What’s their most defining internal characteristic? What strange thing do they do when they think they’re alone? What’s the worst thing about them, external or internal? What’s the best?

If you’ve already done this, then kudos to you. The writer that knows their character will have a much easier time telling their story. If you haven’t done it, get on it!

If you don’t have a character of your own, pick one of your favorite characters from literature (or dime-store novels, it doesn’t matter) and rewrite them as the anti-hero/opposite and be sure to have the backstory of why they turned out that way.

What defining moment in their life changed it all?

Okay. Go. You don’t have to send anything in on this one, but keep in it your file for your WIP. If you like it and find it helpful, do a similar exercise with the other characters in your book/novel/short story. Even the “sidekicks”. Everybody’s got a story.

Until next week, Happy Writing.