Category Archives: How to

Are you prolific as Stephen King?

I know that many of you aren’t screenwriters, but here is an interesting take on being a prolific writer. The title of the article is ‘The Key Ingredient to Screenwriter Success.’ The website belongs to Marvin Acuna, a producer who offers help on screenwriting. Whether you agree or not, it is something to consider.

http://www.thebusinessofshowinstitute.com/newsletter-11-19-10.html#11-19-10-01

Everyone dreads writing a query letter

Here is a nice article on how to write one. Nathan Bransford is an author and former agent.
http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2008/03/query-letter-mad-lib.html

We all hate rejections

Here is a good article from Writers Digest about why you may be getting rejections. So before you open a vein, read on…

 

http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/2010/09/27/BackToBasicsWhyAmIGettingRejected.aspx

How to tackle the writing of subtext

How do you write words that say one thing, but are really saying something else?

This is an excellent article on that subject.

http://www.screenwritingu.com/screenwriting-articles/36-general-articles/64-the-mystery-of-subtext

QUESTION OF THE MONTH – WHAT MAKES A GOOD STORY?

I am often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”  My answer is simple. “Everywhere.” Let me explain. Story ideas can come from a number of places such as newspaper and magazine articles, movies, plays, paintings, conversations, and landscapes to name only a few.

Take for instance the trip Pat and I took to Stricker Ranch that I wrote about in an earlier post. On one hand this outing was simply a review of local history. On the other hand, it provided a wealth of information we hope to turn into interesting stories. Why is a ghost hovering at the top of the stairs? How many ghosts haunt the dry cellar?

I read once that by the time a person reaches age 30, he/she has enough life experiences to have something to write about for a lifetime. The trick is to know how to turn those life experiences into good stories.

So the question then, is, what makes an idea a good story?

1) The idea must be interesting.

What if Shakespeare really was a woman?

2) The idea should appeal to a large number of people.

Shakespeare is a well-known playwright. Everyone has been subjected to him at least once before finishing high school.

3) The idea is specific.

Who really was this mysterious man? Did one person really write all of those brilliant plays?

A lot of people would like to know more about the person who wrote so many entertaining plays and sonnets. Virginia Woolf, in fact, speculates on that very thing in A Room of One’s Own. Thus, a story exploring Shakespeare’s gender is an idea that has universal appeal. It would make a good story.

Conversely, let’s say I want to write a story about my dog. I love my dog. My dog is cute. But she isn’t extraordinary. She can’t speak English. She can’t even sit up and beg for food without falling over. A story about my dog would be zzzzzzzzzzboring. It wouldn’t appeal to a large number of people, and there is nothing specific that sets my dog apart from any other dog, except, of course, that she belongs to me.

That’s a simplistic example, but you get my point. As a writer, everyday I am surrounded by possible story ideas. Some of them are interesting. Some of them are not.  My job as a writer is to find a way to turn those ideas into great stories that have universal appeal.

What if I told you my dog could catch mice with a butterfly net? Then you might be interested in reading about my dog. Most likely not, but you get the picture.

The best stories come from taking an ordinary situation/idea and applying the “What if” factor. What if Shakespeare really was a woman? What if my dog could catch mice with a butterfly net?

Using the “what if” factor, look around you, and at the things that have happened to you, your life experiences. Then give the ordinary idea a little twist, and you’ll be on your way to writing some great stories.

-Bonnie Dodge

Grabbing story ideas at Stricker Ranch

As a writer, I look for story ideas everywhere I go. Recently, Patricia Santos Marcantonio and I took in Fright Nights in Old Towne Twin as a way to increase our cache of stories. For two hours we heard about the history of Twin Falls County and some of the colorful people who lived there. Not only did we come away with a better understanding of the area, we also came home with several new story ideas.

What if a ghost really haunts the public library?
What if Lyda Trueblood isn’t really buried in the Twin Falls Cemetery?
What if Stricker Ranch really is haunted?

As The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz declared, “I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I doooo.”, I do believe there are good story ideas all around us. All you have to do is reach out and grab one.
-Bonnie Dodge

Question of the Month

The phrase “show me don’t tell me” has confounded beginning writers for years. What does it mean?

Remember in English Composition 101 the professor admonished the class to avoid loaded words at all costs. Then in Creative Writing 101 the instruction was “show don’t tell”.
I think it is impossible to do both so I ignore those warnings. Avoiding loaded words is a good idea when writing “how to” instructions but otherwise the writer needs to be aware of and use loaded words to his/her advantage. As you recall loaded words like “mother” and “love” carry emotional connotations.

When writing fiction, poetry or creative non fiction, emotionally loaded words are desired, even necessary. As an author you need to be free to pick among the variations and nuances of meaning that words carry.

Imagine — you are writing a story. The main character is alone in the house when the doorbell rings. You need to get her to the door. If you say Mary went to the door it gets her there. However, if Mary stormed to the door, we understand more. If Mary wandered aimlessly to the door, we understand something else. And if Mary strutted to the door it presents another vision of Mary. We don’t have to tell the reader that Mary is mad, preoccupied, stoned or proud — we show it.

I always keep my thesaurus close by when I write so I can sort through the infinite variation of connotations and nuances of meaning of words that basically do the same thing in widely different manners.

Dixie Thomas Reale

Question of the Month: Handling Rejection

Question: How many rejection slips should I receive before I decide to give up on my article or story?

Answer: There are many reasons stories and articles are rejected. Some of the reasons have to do with weak manuscripts. Others reflect the market and the editor. Marion Zimmer Bradley, in her article, “Why Did My Story Get Rejected?” claims the main reason stories are rejected are because “editors feel that the particular story will not give their readers the kind of specific reading experience they want or expect . . .” Even if you are a great writer, if the story isn’t right for the market, it will be rejected. So, instead of looking at rejection slips as signs of failure, look at rejection slips as tips for improving and revising your work. Rejection, if used properly, can make your work better.

Common reasons manuscripts are rejected:

Theme was weak, morbid, or depressing
Weak plot
A similar story has already been published
Insincere story, writer lacks knowledge of human nature
No suspense
Lack of motive
Unfit, unsuitable, or untimely
Not in harmony with editorial policy
Too long, too short
Editor does not like it
Weak or slow pace
The story was not complete or had a weak ending
The characters were cardboard with no imagination
Nothing much happened in the story. It was boring

If you want to be a writer, you must develop a thick skin. A dozen publishers and sixteen agents rejected John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, before it was accepted for print. Frank Herbert’s, Dune was rejected twenty times before successfully reaching print. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind was rejected thirty-eight times before finally finding a publisher. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by a dozen publishers before a small London company published it.

Rejection slips sting. The best thing to do with them is use them to improve your manuscripts. Do your homework. Know who is publishing the kinds of stories you want to write. Write the best story you can write, then send it out again and again and again until you find that editor who loves your story as much as you do, and is willing to take it to market.

-Bonnie Dodge

Question of the Month

How can I overcome writer’s block?
When I stare at my computer screen and no thoughts come to mind I look for excuses to do other things. The refrigerator needs cleaning, the rugs need vacuuming, the tarnished silver suddenly needs polishing even though I do not plan to use it anytime soon. These excuses work for awhile but basically I hate housework and feel guilty when my computer is idle.
Yet the committee that lives in my brain picks apart every thought that crosses my mind as stupid, ridiculous, trite or “It’s been done before.” My wastebasket overflows with discarded false starts and no new stories or essays present themselves. I have a big dose of writer’s block but what should I do?
It happens to every writer at one time or another, and each deals with the dry spell differently. Sometimes I succumb and stare off into space for long stretches of time. Other times I force myself to write through the block and type whatever comes to mind no matter how disjointed, ridiculous or fragmentary it may seem. I might explore the voices of the committee — play word games with their objections, or name their personalities. If I take their criticism to the extreme the objections will eventually have no more emotional punch.
My old standby — a CD of classical music — preferably Mozart, a fire in the fire place, and Emily Dickinson usually puts me into a reverie where images float through my mind and coalesce into usable ideas before very long. If that doesn’t work a leisurely walk in the snow, rain, sunshine or breezy afternoon could jog my creative juices. It might take a change of scenery — a visit to some awe inspiring place: the overlook at the Perrine Bridge, the viewing area beside the Bruneau Canyon, Shoshone Falls, or the Stanley Basin. A drive in the country, mountains, a visit to a ghost town. Where is your favorite gazing spot? Your favorite exploring place? Your favorite get-away?
There are many books available with writing prompts or sparks — exercises guaranteed to budge even the most stubborn case of writers block into action. One of my favorites is THE VIRGINIA WOOLF WRITER’S WORKSHOP.
Another trick I often use when I get stuck is to take a short piece by one of the old masters and write a story doing exactly what he/she did only set in my own town, current day and use my own characters. Usually before I am finished with the first page I have shed the writing blues and am off on another venture. Try it. It is amazing how well that trick works.

Dixie Thomas Reale

New Year’s writing resolutions

OK, so we’ve all made the usual New Year’s resolutions about dieting, exercising more, and all that. But as a writer, we should make a whole other list of resolutions to keep in the New Year.

  • Write five times a week — This is a hard one and so easy to break, but so important to work at. What we really are doing is setting goals for ourselves. Even if you just write a sentence or two, you’ll feel good. (Notice I didn’t say the weekend, because those are my times to relax. As I’ve written ad nauseam, if you don’t live life, what have you got to write about?)
  • Write expanded life sketches for the characters in your books and stories. I find that when I don’t do the most comprehensive job of character sketches, their motivations become a bit hazy. That is not to say they won’t change as you go, but a good character sketch will help you create a living, breathing person.
  • Don’t beat yourself up so much. We know that we are our worst enemies when it comes to self-doubt about our writing. Don’t do it. There is enough negativity in the writing world, what with rejections and the state of publishing. Instead, say to yourself, “I love my job as a writer. I’m doing the best that I can and will write more to hone my craft.”
  • Take a writing class or attend a writing seminar. Spend the time and money to learn and it will re-energize you, I promise.
  • Network, network. Writers need to get out there and find out what is happening in the writing world. If you live in a tiny tiny town, join national writing groups.
  • Join a critique group. It may take a bit to find the right people, but they will help you immensely.

Those are a few resolutions to start. E-mail the Other Bunch if you have more to share and we can post them.
And don’t forget to diet and exercise more.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio