Writing Non-Fiction…HOW?

[found on niemanstoryboard.org]


    • Every story has its surface-level meaning. Let’s say the surface story for “Titanic” is that a huge ocean liner goes down. But what is the theme of the movie? What is the real meaning of the story? Theme, at least in my view, is the underlying meaning of the story.
    • Stories can have several thematic strings, and especially powerful ones are layered in that way. As a writer, I think you want to figure out what is the most important one, the one that you want to spend the most time on.
    • When doing narrative, you have to sharpen your focus and figure out what your story is really about. Think about one set piece, performance, play or wedding – something that takes place within a set amount of time. There are also natural journeys like a road trip, or internal journeys, like addiction or abuse.
    • If you’re the narrator, we need to see you and to understand who you are.
    • When you’re trying to get readers to care, to get readers in on that, they have to see some of what you have seen. Try to figure out what it is that the reader really needs to know.
    • If you decide to write about deeply personal things, you have to go all the way. If there’s painful stuff you’re holding back, it won’t work. If you’re not ready to go there, that’s fine; maybe let the story sit for a while.


    • You want to engage the reader immediately – start in the middle of things.
    • As you add to the number of characters in your story, the more complicated it becomes, because the reader has to keep track of more people.
    • Once your language is powerful, your next step is to take it and pare it down, read it aloud and see when the sentences go on. When you find that, you either break up the sentence or get rid of adjectives and adverbs.
    • Be simple and clear; don’t let the beauty take over – which is not to say you shouldn’t have any beautiful writing. You want some beautiful sentences, but you don’t want to overdo it.
    • The more you focus your narrative on scenes, the stronger your narrative will become.
    • Really good narrative writers talk about limiting the number of flashbacks. Tom French diagrams flashbacks with loops and tries not to have more than one or two.
    • Metaphors are really hard to carry out. My advice would be to use them very sparingly. You can use so many layers of metaphors that you get confused. A story can be compelling without any overt metaphors.
    • One really useful thing to do after you write your first draft is to see what happens after you remove the first paragraph or two. Often times it’s the second paragraph that’s the real beginning.
    • Watch out for trying to explain too much.
    • You don’t have to put a bow at the end or always have a totally clean resolution. Is there a way for you to evoke an idea without necessarily saying it or explaining it? Is there an image or scene that can convey a feeling or idea to close the piece?”
[found on http://www.niemanstoryboard.org/2010/07/28/tom-huang-narrative-tips-from-mayborn-conference]

Hero Character? Or Hapless Victim?

[found on 5writers5novels5months.com]

“Why Do We Torture Our Heroes?

There are three big problems with a hapless victim as protagonist.

Problem #1: Repetitive Agonizing
Over-tortured, victimized characters tend to express their constant frustration. After all, the author has to give these poor sods something to say, and when a character with a life-threatening disease, whose true love recently dumped him just after his dog was run over by a car, falls off a cliff and into a gigantic waterfall after being chased by evil aliens … well, let’s just assume the first words out of his mouth after he hits the water will not be, “Wow! What a beautiful waterfall.” How many readers want to spend a whole book with a constantly anguished or angry protagonist? We all want someone to root for, not just feel sorry for.

Problem #2: Boredom
Being in a pickle is not inherently exciting. Giving a protagonist a ton of problems to worry about and suffer from does not automatically create conflict and tension. A guy sitting in solitary confinement in a prison cell has big trouble, but watching him pace the floor and mark the days off on the wall is not interesting. Or even tense (for the reader, at least). Why? He can’t solve his problem. All he can do is be miserable. And misery without conflict, action or interaction is kinda boring. (In case Papillon comes to mind as an exception, that was Henri Charriere’s memoir and, arguably, the exciting parts were the escapes, not the scenes where he spit out his rotting teeth in a filthy cell.)

Problem #3: Miraculous Victory
“The Perils of Pauline” told classic damsel-in-distress stories. Sending in some outside force to rescue the protagonist is one way to get him, or her, down from the tree. But if you’re not (intentionally) writing melodrama, you have to figure out a way to have your hero find his own way down from the tree. If you’ve beset your protagonist with continuously mounting (and unsolved) troubles through the whole book – your character is going to have to morph from hapless victim to unstoppable Superman in the last act to get out of the mess by himself. (Okay, Papillon is certainly a breathtaking example of this … but if it hadn’t been an autobiography, who would have believed it?)

So, what does the “up a tree” dictum really tell us to do? This is something we discussed at length in Whistler, and my own personal epiphany was about the purpose of giving your protagonist troubles. It’s not to make him a miserable, complaining victim. It’s to give him something heroic to do. To put him in action. Only by the protagonist’s reaction to his troubles can we get to know what he’s made of.

Ding … the lightbulb went on for me. Give your hero problems he actually can do something about. Then let him show his stuff. Do we really care about a hero who sits up in that tree kvetching and waiting for miracle? No, we want him to be visibly overcoming his fear of heights, planning his escape, throwing apples at the baying dogs below, weaving a rope out of twigs or something … anything! The tougher the problem, the bigger the hero. But if the protagonist is not well matched with the problems to be solved, the writer may have to cheat and resort to miracles or magic, and that could actually diminish the hero.”

[found on http://5writers5novels5months.com/2013/07/01/why-do-we-torture-our-heroes]

Query Query Quite Contrary…

[found on queryshark.blogspot.com]
Query Shark: “How To Write Query Letters … or, really, how to revise query letters so they actually work…” A site that works for YOU. Query questions? Read on…

Example of this tool:

“Dear Query Shark,
Winston Smith has been a foolish man, and on Christmas Day of 2012, it’s going to cost him his life.
This is a great opening line. Do I want to find out what happened? You bet.
On top of a faltering marriage – and there’s been no sex for eight months – not only has he neglected to tell wife, Julia, their heavily indebted dairy farm is up for an income tax audit, but he’s corresponded with the auditor that “the thought of having to hand over my life in letters and source documents for examination by you, a total stranger, on pain of punishment, makes me physically ill,” and he will not be cooperating with the Inland Revenue Department.
And then you take veer so completely off the path of taut, lean prose that it’s almost like you’ve morphed into Prolix Man.
For starters, don’t quote the novel in the query. Also, we don’t need to know why the marriage is faltering, just that it is. And the only thing we really need to know is the audit is going to be a big surprise to Julia.
Tom Parsons life previously could have been summed up in a word: inertia. Married to mousy Sally, the one girl he dated at high school, their marriage has become routine since the birth of their son, Syme.
What? Wait. Who? What happened to Winston and Julia?  This abrupt segue is confusing. Remember, I’m not sitting on my sofa with a cup of tea, savoring your query. I’m not reading this like I read a novel. I’m sitting at my desk, I’ve got ten minutes before a scheduled phone call and I’m trying to find the queries that entice me to read on. In other words, I’m reading fast and mostly skimming. Whether you think this is a good idea, or fair is immaterial. It’s reality and  a smart query writer will write to his/her audience.
What that means: You make sure I know who a new character is by telling me “Inland Revenue agent Tom Parsons”
And you don’t have FIVE NAMED CHARACTERS in the first two paragraphs. At the most you have two….

[found on http://queryshark.blogspot.com]

Hear MY WRITING roar!!!!

[found on us4.campaign-archive1.com; by Rachelle Gardner]

“Those Annoying Exclamation Points!!!

By Rachelle Gardner on Jul 01, 2013 09:34 pm

Exclamation point

Over many years of editing books, it seems I have become a heartless eliminator of exclamation points!!! Seriously, I developed a hatred for them! People tend to WAY overuse them! Not to mention italics and bold, and that oh-so-effective use of ALL CAPS!!!!!!!

Here’s a hint to avoid coming across as amateur: Use the above devices sparingly in any writing intended for publication. (I’m being specific here, because in blog writing and emails, you’re free to go crazy. I do.)

If you tend to use a plethora of exclamation points, do a search-and-replace in your manuscript and put a period in place of every single one of them. Yep, every one. Then you can go back and add an exclamation point here and there if you really must. But I’m not kidding: VERY . . . SPARINGLY.

Same with other means of artificial emphasis: italics and ALL CAPS. Your writing should be so effective by itself that the emphasis isn’t necessary.

As for bold, don’t ever use it in running text! (It’s OKAY for headers!)

Isn’t THIS irritating??!!”

[found on http://us4.campaign-archive1.com/?u=cde4992358f2badd71896ea0b&id=016b5771a7&e=325ff0e8d3]

I’m a poet, but I don’t know it.

[found on writingforward.com]

“36 Poetry Writing Tips

    1. Read lots of poetry. In fact, read a lot of anything if you want to produce better writing.
    2. Write poetry as often as you can.
    3. Designate a special notebook (or space in your notebook) for poetry writing.
    4. Try writing in form (sonnets, haiku, etc.).
    5. Use imagery.
    6. Embrace metaphors but stay away from clichés.
    7. Sign up for a poetry writing workshop.
    8. Expand your vocabulary.
    9. Read poems over and over (and aloud). Consider them, analyze them.
    10. Join a poetry forum or poetry writing group online.
    11. Study musicality in writing (rhythm and meter).
    12. Use poetry prompts when you’re stuck.
    13. Be funny. Make a funny poem.
    14. Notice what makes others’ poetry memorable. Capture it, mix it up, and make it your own.
    15. Try poetry writing exercises when you’ve got writer’s block.
    16. Study biographies of famous (or not-so-famous) poets.
    17. Memorize a poem (or two, or three, or more).
    18. Revise and rewrite your poems to make them stronger and more compelling.
    19. Have fun with puns.
    20. Don’t be afraid to write a bad poem. You can write a better one later.
    21. Find unusual subject matter — a teapot, a shelf, a wall.
    22. Use language that people can understand.
    23. Meditate or listen to inspirational music before writing poetry to clear your mind and gain focus.
    24. Keep a notebook with you at all times so you can write whenever (and wherever) inspiration strikes.
    25. Submit your poetry to literary magazines and journals.
    26. When you submit work, accept rejection and try again and again. You can do it and you will.
    27. Get a website or blog and publish your own poetry.
    28. Connect with other poets to share and discuss the craft that is poetry writing.
    29. Attend a poetry reading or slam poetry event.
    30. Subscribe to a poetry podcast and listen to poetry.
    31. Support poets and poetry by buying books and magazines that feature poetry.
    32. Write with honesty. Don’t back away from your thoughts or feelings. Express them!
    33. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Mix art and music with your poetry. Perform it and publish it.
    34. Eliminate all unnecessary words, phrases, and lines. Make every word count.
    35. Write a poem every single day.
    36. Read a poem every single day.”
[found on http://www.writingforward.com/writing-tips/poetry-writing-tips]

What’s that word?

Dictionaries—every writer needs them! This is the absolute best resource that Editing Addict has found on the dictionary front:


This dictionary allows you to type in ONE place, and yet see EVERY dictionary’s varied results.
Writing a book that takes place in Britain? Better find out if their definition of words are the same as yours!
This tool helps you to do that.
Perfection. Enjoy. Write!

Name that Character!

[found on thescriptlab.com]

“There are a plethora of movie character names that become everlasting brands in American culture: Rocky, Yoda, Forrest Gump, and Shrek to name a few. And when it comes to naming characters, you want to choose wisely, which is no easy task.

Literature: Lennie Small: the mentally disabled but physically strong protagonist in John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella Of Mice and Men.

Drama: Willy Loman: the elderly salesman lost in false hopes and illusions in Arthur Miller’s 1949 play Death of a Salesman.

Film: “The Dude”: the unemployed L.A. slacker and avid bowler in Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1998 film The Big Lebowski.

Steinbeck’s Lennie is a gentle giant who is “Small” of mind, with a simple dream of tending rabbits. Miller’s “Loman” sounds no different than “Low man”, which is exactly what Willy is – “a dime a dozen” and “not a leader of men”. And the Coen Brothers’ “The Dude” is, as The Stranger explains, “The man for his time and place.”

Choosing the right name for a character is key. It should be unique and memorable to the story, yet not trying too hard to stand out. Each character name you choose should also reveal something about that character: who he is, where she come from, when he was born, how she was affected, why he likes or dislikes it.

There’s a lot in a name, and the perfect name can make a world of difference, so here are some helpful tips – the Top Ten Dos and Don’ts – in naming characters.


Tip 1: That Reflect Personality

Choose names that help to illustrate a character’s personality.  Is your character a hero, and if so, what kind: The Professional (Han Solo – Star Wars), The Warrior (Blade – Blade), or The Fool (Captain Jack Sparrow –Pirates of the Caribbean)? And if she’s your villain, what role does she play: The Seducer (Laure Ash – Femme Fatale), The Destroyer (Maleficent – Sleeping Beauty), or The Psychopath (Jigsaw – Sawseries)? Work hard to find a name that reflects the disposition or temperament of the character.

Tip 2: Choose a Name by Meaning

Selecting a name that reflects or symbolizes a character’s role in the story can add subtext to the character. For example, if a character in your action-adventure screenplay is a wise man, mentor, or guide to your protagonist, you might want to consider naming her Sage. And to add even more meaning to the character, you might consider making her a botanist – sagebrush of course being an aromatic plant used as a culinary herb or burned as an incense. Even if you decide not to name a character by meaning, it is wise to look up the literal meaning of all the names of your characters. Knowledge is power, and you never know when a new nugget of information may inspire you.

Tip 3: Make the Name Age-Appropriate

Many writers make the mistake of choosing a name they like because it’s popular now, but the name would have rarely been used at or around the time of the character’s birth. You might love the more contemporary girl names such as Madison, Chloe, or Riley, but if your character is an 80-year-old socialite who grew up among the plantations of the South during the Great Depression, you must choose a name that would have been common during the time of her birth: Virginia, Dolores, or Evelyn, for example. If your character was born in the U.S., browse the Social Security Name Popularity List for that year. And be smart to take into account the character’s cultural and ethnic background as well.

Tip 4: That Combine Common & Unusual

Creating unique and interesting names is one thing, but trying too hard to be memorable or exotic is usually a mistake -unless you’re writing a romance novel (Trent Jasper), soap opera (Logan Hawk), or porno (Seymore Butts). Names like these sound silly, out of place, or just plain forced. A good trick that helps to create a nice balance is to combine common first names with unusual last names (Edward Scissorhands) or unusual first names with common last names (Indiana Jones).

Tip 5: That Fit the World/Period

If you’re writing a historical period piece that takes place during The Spanish Inquisition of 1478, let research be your guide. Investigate the era to find out what names were common during the time, and if your characters have a specific ethnic background, it’s your duty to find out authentic names from that ethnic group. If, however, your story takes place in a fantasy world or somewhere in the future, you still must create names that are believable for the world of the story. If the world is separate from Earth, avoid names that are too closely associated with Earth. If your story is dominated by war, the names you create should reflect images of “strength”, “survival”, and the “warrior” mentality. On the flip side, however, if your characters live in peace and tranquility, their names should be reflective of their environment.


Tip 6: That Are Too Long

So you’re writing a new sci-fi/fantasy feature, and you’ve decided on what you think is an absolutely amazing name for your main protagonist: Archimedes. Considering your hero is a mathematician in this futuristic world, you have applied Tip #2 appropriately. Archimedes was a Greek mathematician c. 287-212 BC. However, when you start writing, not only does it become labor intensive to type the ten-letter name so many times, but it also takes up valuable white space. Solution: use short character names. But this doesn’t mean you have to lose the Archimedes name. Maybe his friends call him “Archie” or even better “A”. There is a reason that Indiana Jones is referred to as Indie throughout Lawrence Kasdan’s script. Short and simple.

Tip 7: That Sound the Same

Have you ever come across that family in which every child’s name starts with the same letter: Jacob, John, Jackie, Jessica, Jeff, Jennifer, and so on. If it’s annoying in real life, imagine the frustration your reader will have when the same naming strategy is applied to a script. It’s distracting and confusing, no matter how distinctly different the character personalities, actions, and reactions are. Another similar pitfall is to use character names that – even if starting with different letters – still sound very much alike, such as Greg and Craig.

Tip 8: That Are Too Weird

Many writers are so focused on giving a character an unusual or memorable name that the end product becomes something more distracting than complimentary to the character or the world of the story. When a character’s name is too weird, it tends to jolt the reader and pull him or her out of the story. The only exception is in sci-fi/fantasy, in which names like Deckard (Blade Runner), Korben (The Fifth Element), and Riddick (Pitch Black) work flawlessly. But can you imagine Riddick throwing a fastball to Deckard, who throws out Korben trying to steal second?

Tip 9: That Use Cute Spellings

There are few things more annoying to a reader than cute little “creative” spellings of a common, ordinary name. Trust me, readers do not find it cute to struggle through the traditional spelling of Chris as Khryss or Dewayne as Dee-Way-N. Just write CHRIS and DEWAYNE, and be done with it.

Tip 10: That End with the Letter S

This may sound like a trivial tip, but sometimes the most banal advice is the most valuable. As the writer, part of your job is to make it as easy on the reader as possible, and if you have character names ending in the letter S, you (as well as your reader) will have a difficult time with the possessive form of that name. Make it simple. No name ending in S = possessive ‘s every time.”

[found on http://thescriptlab.com/screenwriting/character/creating-characters/684-name-that-character-top-ten-tips]

Blogging Legalities for Writers

[found on weblogs.about.com]
“Regardless of the type of blog you write or the size of your blog audience, there are legal issues all bloggers need to understand and follow. These legal issues are in addition to the blogging rules that bloggers should follow if they want to be accepted into the blogging community and have a chance for their blogs to grow.
If your blog is public and you don’t want to get into legal trouble, then you need to keep reading and learn about the legal issues for bloggers listed below. Ignorance isn’t a viable defense in a court of law. The onus is on the blogger to learn and follow laws related to online publishing. Therefore, follow the suggestions listed below, and always check with an attorney if you’re not sure if it’s legal to publish specific content or not. When in doubt, don’t publish it.”  
For more information on the legalities of blogging, see the link below.
 [found on http://weblogs.about.com/od/bloggingethics/tp/Legal-Issues-Bloggers-Must-Understand.htm]

Punctuation Hilarity

[found on dailywritingtips.com]

“I’ve finally got round to reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.

Here’s a book that is not only useful and fun to read, its phenomenal popularity carries a moral for every writer:

Don’t worry about following the market. Don’t try to produce another DaVinci Code or Harry Potter. Write what you’re enthusiastic about and kindred spirits will find your book.

Who could have guessed that a book about punctuation would hit the top of the charts?

First published in April of 2004, Eats, Shoots and Leaves spent 25 weeks on the NY Times bestseller list and by October of that year had gone back to press 22 times to bring the total of copies in print to a million. I can’t guess how many copies are out there by now.

At a bit more than 200 pages including the bibliography, this little book describes the rules that govern the use of:

    • apostrophe
    • comma
    • colon
    • semi-colon
    • dash
    • hyphen
    • period

Plenty of other writing guides exist that describe the use of punctuation symbols, but the Truss book livens the discussion by throwing in history, examples of offensive punctuation, and the cheeky attitude that any English speaker smart enough to achieve an elementary school education ought to be smart enough to use apostrophes correctly.”

[found on http://www.dailywritingtips.com/review-of-eats-shoots-and-leaves]