Two Tips for Writers

Muse at 11, Writing

First, the general tip: If your next scene isn’t starting off right, it might mean your last scene isn’t finished yet. Take the scene a little further: it might launch you right into your next scene.

Second: When you’re trying to find out different members of royalty are addressed, you’ll have better look looking up “royal stylings” or “royal styles” than “royal forms of address.” Took me months to discover this! It also helps if there’s a monarch alive with the title you’re writing for (in my case, I had to go to Denmark.)

A Toolbox for Prosesmiths and Poets alike!

Muse at 11, Writing

While trolling through the library, I stumbled upon a book which bears the world’s wittiest cover:

The Poetry Home Repair Manual, by Ted Kooser
It was a fantastic find that I want to share with you all.

I dabble in poetry, but have never really sat down and made a serious study of it. Mr. Kooser does a fantastic job of describing how poems are different than prose and what makes some poems stronger than others. He uses tons of readable examples, stays conversational throughout, and the chapters are really short.

Even if you poetry’s not your thing, it’s still worth a read. The chapters “Working with Details” and “Fine-Tuning Metaphors and Similes” opened my eyes to the mechanics that go into setting a scene’s atmosphere. I’ve already seen a difference in how I approach scenery and emotional details, and I think it’s making my work stronger.

Reading this book is like chatting with your kindly grandpa if your kindly grandpa was also the Poet Laureate of the United States. Grab it!

“[T]he word sentimentality, so difficult to define, is the death ray in the literary critic’s arsenal of weapons. Once a critic deploys it, entire books of poetry can be summarily vaporized.”

–Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual

Thoughtful Links for Writers and Artists

Muse at 11

I’ve been accumulating some nice artsy links, so I thought I’d share them with ya.

First, a nice lady at Pixar posted some story “rules” that will get you thinkin’! (I really don’t like to think of proffered writing advice as RULES…because every piece requires something different, but that’s what the post’s titled.)

Second, if you’re not reading FILM CRIT HULK, you probably should be! He not only offers some practical writing tips, but also analyses of various movies and such that are all focused around “Does the narrative work?” (Note: some cursing at times.)

Third: ever have those days where your work is just NOT GOOD ENOUGH? There’s an encouraging post for that! (This is one I’ll have to re-read myself from time to time.)

And finally, just for fun…PROMETHEUS in 15 Minutes. Wonderful send-up, you needn’t’ve even seen the film before (I hadn’t!).

Do you have any helpful artsy links you’ve run into recently? Post ’em below!

Why You Need A Writing Buddy

Muse at 11, Writing

You don’t need a writing group. (That is my personal opinion and I will explain myself later.)

But you do need an awesome writing buddy so that, when you realize your novel (which you originally thought would be this pleasant 200-page YA book) has hit 501 pages and shows no sign of stopping, you can have amazing chat conversations like the following:

Only Two Kinds of Beginnings

Muse at 11, Writing

I read a long time ago that there are only two kinds of beginnings:

A stranger comes to town.


Someone takes a journey.

Funny enough, seems like every story-beginning I’ve seen can be boiled down to either of these phrases (or sometimes both!).

I can’t say as I’ve ever used this factoid to start a story, but I think it’s useful to know.

A few observation and much reasoning lead to error; many observations and a little reasoning to truth.
Alexis Carrel

Consider a Rival

Muse at 11, Writing

I think it’s very easy to get into binary mode when you’re thinking about stories (or writing them). You know–Luke is good, Vader is bad. Protagonist-antagonist, that’s how it usually goes, right?

But I think there’s something to be said for tossing a rival in the hero’s way, in addition to the main baddie. You kind of get it with Rowling’s Potter vs Malfoy rivalry (though I don’t think it’s pushed to the extent that it could be). Malfoy’s not the Big Bad (that’s Voldy’s job) but he serves to hamper Potter on a day-to-day basis. Or to use another example, Indiana Jones kept bumping up against his rival Belloq, even though the main baddies were (of course) Nazis.

In your story, maybe that’s just what your hero needs. Someone to compete against, someone to make life difficult, maybe even someone to hate–but most importantly– someone he also has to live with.

Humble protagonist killing off powerful evil antagonist is the stuff epics are made of. But living alongside that one annoying dude day after day? That’s something we can all relate to.

I embrace my rival, but only to strangle him.
Jean Racine

Come Late, Leave Early — the Margaret Mitchell way

Muse at 11, Writing

Recently I finished reading the most engrossing doorstop you’ll ever pick up: Gone with the Wind. I was on a Civil War kick and felt obliged to read it, but despite my misgivings, I found it riveting. (Grab it from your local library and dive in–you won’t be sorry!)

While I was enjoying the chronicles of Scarlett O’Hara, I also noticed that Mitchell was doing something with the “Come Late, Leave Early” technique that I’d never seen done before.

Come Late, Leave Early, just means start a scene when it is interesting (because oftentimes leadup can be reduced to just a lot of quacking), and end at an interesting point (because sometimes drama fizzles if you keep going on and on after the point…)

Mitchell actually did scenes where a conflict about a scene would be discussed (like, say, whether or not a funeral would happen), and then the actual followup scene (the funeral) would be left off. I thought it would be jarring, but it actually made the story flow beautifully. At no point did I ever think to myself, “Is this scene over? I really want to know what’s going on with so-and-so!”

In short–read Gone with the Wind and see how writing is REALLY done.

I try to leave out the parts that people skip. — Elmore Leonard

Peaks and Valleys

Muse at 11, Writing

This week I watched the creepy and fantastic Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (which is a German version of Dracula). The first 5 minutes of the film got me to thinking about how contrast works in art.

This version of Nosferatu opens with long, lingering shots on desiccated corpses. After some minutes, my stomach started to churn. Just when I couldn’t take it anymore, the scene switched: first to surreal video of a bat in flight, then to Mrs. Harker waking up from a bad dream…then to a pair of kittens playing together!

The kittens were a great relief–but also emphasized the lifeless, dead, and creepy aspect of the opening shots. (Another blogger has noted the contrast and posted an illustrative photo!)

Another movie that’s excellent at displaying scene contrast is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It’s constantly juxtaposing scenes with different emotional polarities.

For example, the rousing song Gaston is set in the warm tavern packed with characters. But by the time the song ends, the camera is outside of the tavern, pulling away as we watch Belle’s father Maurice thrown out in the cold winter storm.

Here’s another example of contrast from Beauty and the Beast. Contrast the soaring music with the abrupt horse scream (and just after this clip, a smash cut to the dark castle of the Beast).

Putting happy next to sad intensifies both emotions for the audience; having a space devoid of movement in your painting will heighten movement seen in different areas. Notice what’s going on overall in your structure–and when you see opportunities to contrast, bring them out!

As a means of contrast with the sublime, the grotesque is, in our view, the richest source that nature can offer. — Victor Hugo

By the way…

Muse at 11, Writing

If you get something out of my little articles, great! If you don’t, don’t worry about it. My way won’t be 100% your way.

There’s no right/wrong way to do this. (“This” being art or writing or whatever creative gig you’re playin’ with.)

“My advice is worth exactly what you pay for it.” — Robert Marshall

PS –Today is the birthdate of one of my lead characters. It gives me a good excuse to stop and think about where this character’s been, where she’s going, and how much fun I have writing her.