Do. You. Sometimes. Break. The. Rules? Avoid delicious adjectives. Use fragments. But sparingly. Double space, include two-inch margins, include name in top right (or was it left?) corner. Number your pages. Send file in PDF or DOC or else. Comedies must have happy endings. Triple check your facts. Do not include voice over in a script. Show, do not tell.
Ensure your writing champions all others in brilliance and brevity, at least as far as this writer is concerned, it is important to connect to your effervescent, colourful, delightful, and intriguing audience using as many tricks as you know how to guarantee that your reader will not be able to take a breath, pause, or reconsider starting your work and leave the page before you have shared all that you need to share. Vary your sentence length. Run-on sentences are not permitted.
Is it possible to write freely? Can I write in a boat floating on a moat, eating oats, wearing haute, and dancing with a goat? Can I tell stories right to left, down to up, out to in? Can I shoot my plot into the air like fireworks at the fair, see where the events dare to land?
She: How did this begin?
He: Poetics. Aristotle.
She: I blame Strunk.
He: White too.
She: And Shakespeare.
He: Muggles! Continue reading
Once upon a time there was a writer. Every day she preached to her characters. She told them to reach their full potential. She reminded them failure is not an option. She challenged them to find their passion.
It’s a dog eat dog world, she said. Follow the yellow brick road and keep your head above water. Life is a highway. Drive it. Seize the day. You’re worth it. The future is in your hands. I am your number one fan.
And if along the way you step on someone’s toes, remember there’s always tomorrow. Give a warm welcome to choice. Choose the path of least resistance. Take a leap of faith and get it together.
As you step into this story, dear character, know that the journey has just begun. Embark on the journey. Keep your chin up. Today is the greatest day ever!
Please keep in mind, the future is not all fun and games. In a wink, you can wake up realizing you have burned the candle at both ends. What goes around comes around. Take care of yourself. Offer your two cents as you fly the coop. It’s as easy as pie.
Know the ropes. Know the score. Hold your horses. Life is a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.
And when you are feeling down in the dumps or you are scared stiff, please know that you’ll pay through the nose if you don’t pull it together. Let your light shine. Love your neighbour. The truth is out there. You might find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is a dream come true.
And once in a blue moon go out on a limb. Take risks. Soar to new heights. Be the next American Idol.
Writers know to avoid cliches, tired phrases. One of my writing teachers said that cliches are death to your writing. Dialogue can be cliche and predictable. Characters say the things we expect them to say. Good writing introduces the details we do not expect. You want your writing “to make it new.” Continue reading
Which stories do you most like to read? Why? What are you drawn to as a reader? How do the stories we watch and read and hear relate to our work as writers? How do you create a compelling story? Stories are metaphors for life. Not life itself, but like life. Storytelling is the most natural form of human communication.
To write a compelling story you need an active protagonist, strong antagonist, clear and focused conflict, high stakes, and an over-arching dramatic question. The function of story structure is to progressively build pressures, gradually revealing the characters’ personalities. There are four elements of structure: controlling idea, inciting incident, clear and focused conflict, and an over-arching dramatic question.
This morning I woke up in the middle of a sneeze. Once I recovered from the shock I tried to go back to sleep. Within thirty seconds I was sitting up in bed, iPad in hand, editing a piece of writing I had started the night before. My eyes struggled to adjust. I had not taken the time to even turn on a light.
For the last couple weeks I have slept poorly. I dreamed of mishaps, accidents, travelling, and writing. Some days I awake to find paragraphs composed and ready to meet the page. Last week I woke up in the middle of the night to use the washroom. As I slowly walked half asleep down the darkened hallway an idea for a play nearly made me trip with surprise and crash into the wall. The story, characters, setting, and the finished production exploded in my mind like fireworks.
As I shoveled snow on the weekend I wrote poetry in my mind, moving the words around like magnets with the rhythm of the shovel. When I made a cup of tea five potential collage themes flushed me as the steam warmed my face. Creativity begets creativity. Once we open ourselves to listening to our creative spirits possibilities arrive at an unpredictable rate.
For five months I have listened to audio books during my thirty minute drive to and from work. Since starting The Creative Mind I have had to drive in silence. I look out at the rolling hills of Northumberland and somehow arrive on time and without harm. My mind wanders from planning my day to starting the next blog post to contemplating the way the sunlight reflects on the snow.
The dust seems thicker on my television. The laundry sits neglected in the washer and dryer, on the floor in my bedroom. The mail rests unopened on my front hall table. The piles of books appear in new places, on the kitchen table, on the bathroom shelf, on the floor by my desk, on one side of the couch.
The idea to begin The Creative Mind Online Workshop for Writers appeared fully formed like a Greek god one Saturday afternoon. Within hours of a flash of insight as to how the project could unfold I had begun mapping out the course. However, I do not believe the idea came out of nowhere.
For years I have dreamed of opening a creative writing school. For years I have taught creative writing to high school students and I have facilitated writing workshops for adult learners. For years I have thought about the phrase “sunshine in a jar” and how it relates to this site, to my work, to how I would like to contribute to my art and communities. For months leading up to the flash of insight that led me to start The Creative Mind, I reflected on my next steps. I rested between projects. I prayed for direction. I whispered gentle requests to the universe to provide me with the right idea at the right time. When the idea arrived I gave myself permission to run with it. Continue reading
Last month I joined a local poetry group. Sitting in a lounge with brightly painted walls and an eclectic collection of antiques, I sipped chai tea with milk. Outside snow fell. Over the next two hours poets stepped to the microphone to share their work, reading slowly, allowing each word to linger barely a moment before letting the next word into the air.
I remembered poetry readings at Trent University in the early 1990s. We called ourselves “Down with Melrose.” Every Monday night while Melrose Place was on we met in the residence common room to recite our poems. We snubbed our noses at our dorm-mates who clamored for the best seat in the television room. (FYI: I secretly taped Melrose Place to watch after our reading.) Our evenings always delivered. It seemed magical to listen in a dimly lit room as friends read from their secret journals or chapbooks or high school anthologies. This was my first community of writers.
It had been a long time since I had attended an entire poetry reading. A month ago I remembered how much I love poetry. As each word rolled into the next I felt connected to every writer I had ever known. I have learned over the years that writers are kindred spirits. Creativity spun through the room from the poetry’s momentum pausing at the furniture and the people and the words like a hummingbird, leaving a trail of gold. Continue reading
Imagine you are at a dinner party. Someone approaches you and says, “Emma tells me you are writer. What do you write? Have I read your work?”
How do you respond?
“Yes. I’m a novelist.” –or a poet or an author or a playwright or a journalist or a screenwriter or a columnist or a blogger or…
Each response is equally valid. From poetry to personal essay to news story, writers experiment with and utilize various forms. Some writers list poet, playwright, author, and freelance writer in their bios. Each label brings along with it different ideas about the writer and his/her work. A poet will have a great idea for a play and begin the work of learning the form of playwriting. A journalist will awake from a dream with the plot structure of a novel and learn how to write fiction.
Within each form there are sub-forms and genres. Writing a chick-lit novel has different rules than writing a romance novel. Writing a sonnet requires a different understanding of poetic devices than writing a ballad. Writers are sometimes overwhelmed by choice.
This lesson looks at the relationships among the novel, play, screenplay, including adaptations. Some stories work well in all three forms. “The Wizard of Oz”is a popular book, movie, and musical. Have you ever shared an idea for a book with a friend and they responded with “that would make an awesome movie?” Do you ever find it difficult to decide which form to choose for your work? Continue reading
Here is today’s audio introduction:
Stories are about people. Characters create plot. Aristotle suggested that story is most important, characters are second. In the 20th Century the widespread belief of writers was that character was everything. Today, in the 21st Century, we understand that character and plot are both story. One cannot be more important than the other.
True character can only be revealed through choice under pressure. The structure (plot) should provide pressure to reveal the character. As writers we must understand the gap between what a character thinks will happen and that which really happens—this is where story is created. When the gap opens we feel empathy for the character. If you listen to your characters they will tell you what their deepest desires are, and you will understand what they are trying to get in the story and what is standing in their way. (My guess is that this section of notes is from Robert McKee. I have attended numerous workshops and read many books over the last decade and this post is a culmination of my notes. I apologize for not keeping better track of my sources.)
I like characters who bare their souls, who exhibit self-awareness. I like it when a writer positions a character in close relationships, when the stakes are high, when a character is forced to act because their family and friends matter. Writers reveal character through description, actions by the character, what the character says, what others say about the character, and/or what the author speaking as a storyteller or observer presents about the character.
The protagonist is the engine of the story. S/he needs to want or need something. The protagonist may be sympathetic but it is more important that s/he is empathetic. Readers often connect to the protagonist through a sense of shared humanity.
Round characters undergo change. Round characters are full, life-like, memorable, dynamic. Round characters recognize, change, and adjust to circumstances. This can be shown through action, the realization of a new strength and therefore the affirmation of previous decisions, the acceptance of a new condition and the need for making changes, and/or the discovery of unrecognized truths. Round characters are often the hero or heroine, the protagonist, the antagonist.
Flat characters stay the same. Flat characters do not grow. They are static. Flat characters remain the same throughout the story. They are often stock characters, stereotypes.
To connect to readers characters should show verisimilitude, probability, and plausibility. A character’s state of being should be probable or likely for the world you are creating. Readers should agree that the action of a character is possible for that character. The challenge for the writer is showing a sense of possibility without ruining a sense of surprise. The reader needs to believe the character to be true. The writer needs to use realism even in fictional worlds. For example, in the movie “Avatar” viewers knew the Avatars were fictional but within the world of the movie viewers were able to suspend their disbelief and catch glimmers of humanity in non-human characters. Continue reading
A writer-friend of mine once posted on her Facebook status that she had to read the whole Internet before she started writing. I know my friend used hyperbole to explain her procrastination ritual that day, but let’s just look at Wikipedia. It has more than 8 billion words in 19 million articles in approximately 270 languages.
The Internet plays the part of writer’s hero and writer’s super villain. Social media, blogging, online news, and general searches provide writers with many possibilities. Even as I write this post my fingers find their way to a search engine. Magically, lists of links appear:
- Top 10 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block
- Writer’s Block Magazine
- Symptoms and Cures for Writer’s Block
Then there are songs, movies, books, blogs, sites, articles, images. There are 19,100,000 results in Google in a search for “writer’s block.” Clearly, heaps of writers are afflicted by “the block.” Can we not find better ways to spend our time than reading (or writing) about this pesky demon?
Curious to learn more about what Google knows about our world today I tried a few other keyword searches:
- Bankruptcy: 142 million results
- Love: over 8 billion results
- Creativity: 206 million results
- Fun: over 3 billion results
- Justin Bieber: 556 million results
- World Peace: over 18 million results
- Writing: over 1 million results
There are 18 million more results for “writer’s block” than for “writing”? More results for a phrase about not writing than getting the writing done. It is fair to claim that writing about writer’s block is a tired cliche. And yet here we are. We can be sure of three things in life: death, taxes, and writer’s block. (This is my attempt at hyperbole).
Writer’s block is an excuse. It does not exist. It is not real. Looking at the body of work produced by writers and artists in the past shows that Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Dickens, and Whitman would not have had time for writer’s block.
When asked about writer’s block, J.K. Rowling said in a BBC interview: “No! I just produced a quarter of a million words. It’s quite hard to do with writer’s block.”
Just as athletes learn how to work through or around muscle cramps, writers must learn how to respond when they think they are blocked. Continue reading
How do you differentiate imagination from creativity? Ken Robinson reminded me that imagination takes place in the mind. We can spend hours imagining a place that only has the colour green or imagining ourselves flying by the tiny flickers of our body hairs or imagining the perspective of a hot pink post-it-note pad. We can imagine and imagine and imagine. In the end we will have nothing to show for it.
Creativity involves a product. We create a story, a painting, a song, a delicious meal. We can imagine a double hot fudge brownie with a hint of cinnamon for days and it will not produce the brownie. Likewise, we can imagine a story for years and it will not produce our novel. The brownie and the novel will appear when we create them.
Creativity is about bringing something into being. To be creative is to do something. To create is to make something. To increase the creative energy in your life you need “to do” and “to make.” At its core creativity is about action. Continue reading
It is the late 1970s. I am a toddler. I stand in my playpen holding the rail with both hands. Using my head as a guide I allow my whole upper body to move up and down with the beat. I am watching my favourite show: Hee Haw.
It is 1980. I stand in the downstairs hallway with a pink blanket tied around my neck. I hold a microphone. I belt out “Hey daddy there’s a dragon in the driveway” with Anne Murray as her record spins on my Fisher Price player.
It is 1982. I act out every song from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album–for Michael. His poster hangs on my closet door. Every night I take it down, stowing it safely in the closet, just in case he decides to become a werewolf while I am sleeping.
It is 1984. Santa gives me a red Sony walkman and a Kool and the Gang cassette. “Emergency, emergency. Emergency, urgent!” I sing as I slide across the floor.
It is 1985. I lie on my bed, on my back, holding the jacket for Corey Hart’s “Boy in the Box” album up over my head, singing along and thinking dreamy thoughts. I still prefer records.
It is 1986. We are at the arena. My brother is at hockey practice. My red Sony walkman is clipped to my hip. I perform full dance routines in the downstairs changeroom area hallway. My moves are as large as my voice is loud. Madonna and I sing, “True blue, baby, I love you!” Continue reading