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An Invitation to Blog

The Writers Co-op is looking for a few good bloggers. Anyone in the writing life is welcome to submit a blog. If you have something to say about writing, editing, publishing, marketing or just want to share news of your latest effort, we’re interested. Submit a new blog, or, a link to your current blog page.

Members should post their blog in the draft section. Others should submit their their blog or link to GD <at> Deckard <dot> com. Blogs are posted every Monday or Thursday morning on a first-come basis.

Remember that readers are likely to be people in the writing life interested in learning from one another. Sharing our successes, failures, insights, knowledge and humor is a big part of the life we lead.

I look forward to hearing from you.

– GD Deckard, Founding Member

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

Playing the Field with Syd

Sydney Alvin Field (1935-2013), acclaimed as “the guru of all screenwriters,” was a leading American screenwriter and author who wrote several influential books on screenwriting.

by Linda Myro Judd

Have you ever been the recipient of helpful comments and critiques that come dribbling in one at a time? And do you have a muse who lives with you? I have to admit that I sometimes write things backwards, chronologically, and sometimes inside out. I’ve become better over the years at catching these pieces of writing before they get too far out of hand. But when I’m all excited about what I’m writing these habits creep in. My writing partner, who still wants to be careful of my toes during these exciting times, will dribble his edits to me. We’ve edited each other’s writing over three anthologies. His writing is powerful and less wordy than mine. He doesn’t like to beat around the bush. But I have a knack for tackling word flow. I love the pattern and rhythm of words. So we’ve learned from each other.

 Lately, I’ve been using writing contests as a source for writing deadlines. Since I work best under deadline, I figured that if I could actually finish my short story before a deadline arrived then I would submit my work. With that personal stipulation in mind, I sailed past three deadlines before I got to the one that brought my work up to speed.

During the past year, I wanted editorial feedback to coalesce and so I asked several more writing friends to help. And I still got a little here and a little there. It was time for some professional help.

Over the past couple of years I’d been reading Syd Field’s book, Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting, for my bed time reading when I could read for an hour. If I’m too tired when I start to read, I’ll fall asleep too fast and don’t remember what I’ve read. So I played the field with Syd, I loved his writing style, and friendly banter. He conveyed his experience and wisdom in a folksy, yet concise way.

Even though Syd focused his book on the screenplay, his ideas are great for book writers too. I’m a short story writer, so I was curious if he could help me. Short stories are an American invention, a slice of time, usually one scene, with few characters and mostly about one incident, one plot point. So I read Syd’s book with this filter in mind.

Chapter 5, Story and Character, helped me the most with my short story. “There are really only two ways to approach writing a screenplay. One is to get an idea, then create your characters to fit that idea. Another way to approach a screenplay is by creating a character, then letting a need, an action, and, ultimately, a story emerge out of that character.”

In this chapter, Syd walked through how he and his students created a character and then proceeded to create a story based on that character. This was one of his favorite classes to teach. Can you imagine the energy created by having such participation in class? This second approach appealed to me, where character development dovetailed into story development.

 As I read more of Screenplay, I found it didn’t matter what I was writing. Syd’s style of imparting his experience is so inclusive, and entertaining, about storytelling that any writer can use his wisdom. He gives examples left and right. He emphasized knowing the ending of your story before you start writing. He talked about Chinatown, and the three screenplay rewrites that took place. Each had a different ending that affected the start of the film.

I finally read enough to know that I needed to be specific about what I wanted for feedback from my live-in muse. I also had a pending deadline, only two weeks left! So I got on his case for dribbling his feedback and that I wanted it all at once. He warned me that I wouldn’t like it. But I said go for it. Well he was right. I frowned, but I pulled up my big girl panties, and got to work. I had a lot to do.

Over the last six months I had expanded my original short story. The new stuff had my famous out of order writing handicap. With Syd’s help, I looked at how to formulate the order of the action. I moved major pieces around, and found that little blips were cleaned up from the reordering. My knack of sentence flow expanded to a bigger scale. I was excited.

I’ll keep reading Screenplay for more insights. Syd’s a good teacher. Everyone who offered feedback helped me see the pieces of my story that needed help. Syd gave me the grand picture of how to rewrite my story.

My hope to write a book has been rekindled. I see a glimmer of rewriting a couple of my longer stories into novels. It’s just a matter of time to gain speed on story development. My muse doesn’t like to read about writing, doing is his style. I tend to eat up books on writing, but I’ve been choosy about who I’ll use as a reference. There is one other writer who has great tools for digging out important events for writing memoirs. Keep doing research and putting pen to paper, or, fingers to keyboard!

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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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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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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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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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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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