About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Vonnegut on Writing Great Short Stories

“Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style. I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.”

“As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. ‘To be or not to be?’ asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story ‘Eveline’ is this one: ‘She was tired.’ At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do.”

“English was Conrad’s third language, and much that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench. [ … ] No matter what your first language, you should treasure it all your life. If it happens to not be standard English, and if it shows itself when your write standard English, the result is usually delightful, like a very pretty girl with one eye that is green and one that is blue. I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have?”

“My teachers wished me to write accurately, always selecting the most effective words, and relating the words to one another unambiguously, rigidly, like parts of a machine. They hoped that I would become understandable — and therefore understood. And there went my dream of doing with words what Pablo Picasso did with paint or what any number of jazz idols did with music. If I broke all the rules of punctuation, had words mean whatever I wanted them to mean, and strung them together higgledy-piggledy, I would simply not be understood. Readers want our pages to look very much like pages they have seen before. Why? This is because they themselves have a tough job to do, and they need all the help they can get from us.”

Source: Kurt Vonnegut Explains “How to Write With Style”
http://www.openculture.com/2014/11/kurt-vonnegut-explains-how-to-write-with-style.html

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Inspiration’s Elbow

Inspiration is the gentle pressure that sends writers into a fictional world of interesting people and situations. These nudges are as varied as creativity can make them. We know it can be anything, come from anywhere or nowhere. It’s unpredictable. Some writers might get a good idea if they were busy falling down an elevator shaft.

J.R.R. TOLKIEN was grading college exam papers, and midway through the stack he came across a gloriously blank sheet. Tolkien wrote down the first thing that randomly popped into his mind: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” He had no idea what a hobbit was or why it lived underground, and so he set out to solve the mystery.*

As he lay on a sofa after dinner, LEO TOLSTOY had a vision of an elbow. The image expanded into a melancholy woman in a ball gown. The mysterious lady haunted Tolstoy and he eventually decided to write her story, Anna Karenina.*

(*See more examples by Celia Johnson https://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/the-ideas-that-inspired-the-hobbit-animal-farm-8-other-famous-books)

What has nudged your creativity? Where have some of your own ideas come from? Tell us in the comments?

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Welcome, Writers Co-op

Why Write?

Why do you write? Or, edit or publish? I’ve never met any who say, “Oh, it’s a job. Just trying to make a buck.” Thanks to self-publishing, the traditional gatekeepers are gone and more people are making money in the writing business now than ever before. Anyone who wants to be a writer, editor or publisher already has the qualification to do so: Want.

Do it. If you are good and lucky, you will succeed. Never before has so much opportunity been right in front of so many. The gates are open. If you’re a writer, act like one. Toss your book into Amazon’s hopper of eleventy-million other books. Editor or publisher? There’s room for more. Stop acting like you just showed up to the ball to see someone else wearing your dress.

So, why do you write? I like to write because I get better at it.  it is about self defining. My writing has been a journey of self-discovery.

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About Writers, Literary critique, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

World’s Best Critique Group: A Case Study

– by Christy Moceri

In 2015, I joined a writer’s group that changed my life. We call ourselves the International Writers Syndicate, because one of our members is Canadian and ‘Syndicate’ sounds sinister and mysterious. After four years of steady improvement and one year of co-leadership, this is what I’ve learned.

We Are Intentional
We created our group to become better writers. This may sound obvious, but many writing groups form around a shared interest rather than a shared purpose. In other groups I’ve sampled, motives for participation range from, “I need something to keep me occupied on Tuesday nights,” to “I love hearing what a great writer I am. Please tell me more.”

Once you decide the purpose of your group, and commit to that purpose, decision-making about how to spend that time – and who to spend it with — becomes a lot clearer.

We Are Crafty
In keeping with our goal for continued improvement, we are heavily focused on craft. Lately a number of us have been doing a deep-dive into global structure. The more we study craft together, the more we develop a shared language for communicating about each other’s work. Our explicit, written objective in the critique process is not to impose our personal preferences onto someone else’s work, but rather to help each member clarify the story they are trying to tell and provide tools and techniques that will help them tell that story more effectively. Though we write everything from YA to erotic thriller, we believe that the principles of good storytelling are universal. We honor those principles at every meeting.

We Are Ruthless
Here’s the truth about writer’s groups that nobody wants to hear: The desire to be nice will ride roughshod over your most deeply cherished vision for a group of committed, like-minded writers. Nice will invite anyone through the door, roll out the welcome mat, and allow them to suck your time, energy and resources regardless of their skill, commitment, or cultural fit. Nice will encourage whispered, covert conversations and erode group cohesion. Don’t believe for a second you’re sparing anyone’s feelings by not being direct with them. In the long run, they will only be hurt more.

After a number of frustrating experiences with open membership, we became a closed group, by invitation only. We evaluate for skill level, capacity for improvement, demonstrated ability to give and receive a critique, and tolerance for dirty jokes. Does it suck to tell an otherwise lovely person that they aren’t a good fit for your group? Sure does. You know what sucks more? Devoting precious time and energy to someone who doesn’t share or even comprehend your vision.

We don’t just guard membership with ruthless fervor, we’re also ruthless in the critique process itself. We tell each other what we really think, sometimes loudly. Honesty is our commitment to one another, no matter how much it hurts, because not improving as writers is the worst possible outcome.  We consider this thing sacred, and we’re going to protect it with everything we have.

We Love Each Other
If you care passionately about improving your writing, you will suffer. You will face writing tasks that seem impossible, spend months parched of inspiration, writhe with insecurity, and probably hear feedback that makes you want to pitch your manuscript in the trash and go do something fun. When you are trapped in the gaping maw of the worst this lifestyle has to offer, nothing matters more than having someone to ride out that suffering with you. They will listen to your paranoid 3am text rants and read your five versions of your third act because you will do the same for them. When they are full of fear and trembling, you will tell them they are brave and destined for greatness, dress them for battle, and push them out into the world. Your bond becomes their armor. And you will never feel more powerful.

Visit Christy on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100028306160378

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About Writers, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Overheard

Facebook Writers Cafe, Mainstreet Earth:

Lydia Caatt: Whatever it’s is you are describing look up a similar description or something. I look up photos online and decipher how I’d describe it to a blind man.

Ernest Van Horn: Write in such a way that you feel that you’re in the skin of the character. You are not “angry”, your heart is pounding, face is burning, and thoughts are fast but focused on who wronged you.

Watson Davis: Put yourself in your POV character’s head and then write what they experience, what they see, what they smell, what they hear, what they feel inside and outside. Stay in their head as they move through their world. Don’t write “I began to feel the wind against my skin”, don’t write “I felt the wind against my skin”, instead write “The wind brushed against my skin.”

Christy Moceri: Everyone, no matter how well they write, has moments of doubt. It’s not a reflection of your skill or potential, it’s a reflection of the fact that you’re an artist. I’ve learned to think of my opinion of my own work as just background noise.

Niki Bond: Make sure you’re in-tune with the characters’ emotions.

Ian Bristow: There is a limit with setting descriptions though, IMO. I think those should be reserved for the more long term settings, as I personally don’t like to be reading and get a detailed description of something I will only see the once. It is not only misleading about how important that setting will be, but descriptions are not generally story movers, so I’d rather engage in conversation or get the thoughts of the MC as they move through that setting.

Edward Buatois: Just always remember, ALL writing is about emotion. In action, your character(s) want something. They worry that they won’t get it or will be injured or killed or will be left in a worse position than before or if they fail something terrible will happen. Salt your action scenes with that and they will never be boring.

JM Chandler: Take my voice out of it.
Tap into the emotion of the scene/character. Kurt Vonnegut was genius at this.
Lazy writing will tell you what the emotion is. Insightful writing will describe it.

Lance Cargopants: Realize your reader is intelligent and picks up clues. And what would be an unmistakable clue to you? Example: Like that scene in Sum Of All Fears, where the president does this humorous speech before the press corp, and a phone goes off. Then another. Then all of them

& finally, Hunting Down the Pleonasm
Take a look. 🙂 You will not regret knowing this.
https://www.adventurebooksofseattle.com/Hunting%20Down%20the%20Pleonasm2.pdf

Photo: Left Bank Writers Retreat in Paris. Hemingway, memorialized with a plaque at the bar, once lived just down the block and made the cafe his unofficial office, writing in a red leather booth and drinking with fellow writers F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ford Madox Ford. In Hemingway’s day, cafes were the social hub for the Left Bank Writers – providing an inspirational mix of food and wine, companionship and all-day office space.

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About Writers, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, Writers Co-op Anthology

Featured Author, Paul Stansbury

NOTE: Paul Stansbury’s story,  The Scroll and the Silver Kazoo,
appears in the Writers Co-op anthology, The Rabbit Hole, Vol 1.
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I have been writing for some years because it provides me a creative outlet. I write about anything that strikes my fancy, though I tend to favor speculative fiction and the occasional humorous piece. People who read my work have learned to expect almost anything. The only caveat I have is any member of my family should be comfortable reading something I have written.

I admit I am a Twilight Zone child. I mean the original series – those grainy, black and white television shows where, after an introductory scene, the camera would pan to Rod Serling for his set up for a short stint “in the twilight zone.” I was just 10 years old when the first episodes aired in 1960. After I saw them, I was forever hooked.

From my viewpoint, speculative fiction places us in a world where the Laws, those regularly occurring or apparently inevitable phenomenon that govern what happens to us, operate differently than what we would expect. In this world, the rules as we know them do not always apply. Or could it be the rules as we thought we knew them?

Speculative fiction aims to explore our world as it would be altered by posing the question: What if? While surfing the net, I recently saw a brief video about a well known landmark. I asked myself: What if? That resulted in a flash fiction story. If you want to read it, send me an email request: paulsstansbury@gmail.com.

The most appealing and freeing aspect of speculative fiction is that, like the worlds it creates, it is not bound by the traditional genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. In fact, it is not bound by any genre. It is free to adventure anywhere it likes as long as anywhere is a creation of imagination and speculation.

My process for writing is simple. Start writing, keep writing. When I experience the doldrums in the middle of a project, I keep writing. I don’t fret if it’s not the best work, that can always be fixed with the delete button. I always seem to get back on track. If I can’t think of a subject or theme to inspire a story, I just surf the net asking: What if?

I also seek feedback every chance I get. I am a member of a great writers group. Writing takes practice. I am still honing my skills. I take on only manageable projects. I encounter more than a few would be authors who want to write the next great novel, but can’t get started because they are overwhelmed or they are worried about finding a publisher before the first paragraph is written.

I prefer to write short stories and flash fiction. I have never had the desire to write anything longer than a novelette.  My stories are plot driven. I let my characters grow and evolve to meet the plot’s needs. I am not suggesting that is the right or only way, only that it is my way.

I do self publish collections of my stories through my own Sheppard Press. My first book, Down By the Creek – Ripples and Reflections, is a collection of fictional stories and poems influenced by my experiences growing up along Fern Creek in Kentucky. My second, Inversion – Not Your Ordinary Stories is a collection of my speculative fiction stories, some of which have appeared in print and some which are original.

I also try my hand at being editor. I put together a collection of my Grandfather’s stories, letters and other writings entitled By George – A Collection Of Childhood Experiences and Anecdotes, published through Sheppard Press in June, 2017. Did all the work myself: editing, research, annotation, formatting, and artwork. I will say, I gained a new and increased respect for editors as a result of this process. I did find it a rewarding, albeit exhausting experience. Most recently, I finished a similar project for a good friend to publish his book, Migrant Times and Other Musings, which was published in October, 2018.

Right now, I am working on the final draft of Inversion II – Creatures, Fairies, and Haints, Oh My! I hope to publish it in November, 2018.

Paul Stansbury

www.paulstansbury.com

http://www.facebook.com/paulstansbury

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

If It Helps a Writer to Focus, It’s a Muse!

I bought a watch. It’s an automatic watch, the kind with no electronics. It’s all wheels, springs, levers, gears, screws, jewels, a dial and three hands working together in a case with a bezel, crown, crystal, two lugs and a wristband. The sum-total-effect of hundreds of parts is to cause the hands to advance 86,400 seconds a day.
That’s a lot for a little machine, isn’t it?

The purely mechanical nature of the watch calms me because it is predictable. Move along, my watch tells time, there is nothing new to be seen here. The watch is from the old world of Isaac Newton – everything is put together by hand. It grounds me for world-building.

When I have an idea for a story, I have to build the world in which it occurs. The idea has a life of its own, but I have to create the background for it. A good background is one that seems natural, meaning, what is not described can be assumed by the reader. The watch itself reminds me of a time before Clerk Maxwell inspired Einstein’s special theory of relativity. The world was logical, not quantum. Just like the intricate mechanical train of the watch’s parts, everything in Newton’s world connected. And this, really, remains the world we actually live in today. Readers are comfortable with logical plots. So, I build a world out of natural assumptions people assume to be true, and I introduce the story idea in a train of connected plot bits.

I call the watch a muse because it reminds me that for a story to work, the plot has to be put together by hand, adjusted to fit perfectly and made to work with everything else in the story-world.
It’s a great muse.

P.S. This thoughtful blog was inspired by my Lady who asked,
“You bought what!?”

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