Some fantastic writing prompts…
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Each episode of this competitive, humor-centric reading series features a thrilling mix of four famous and emerging authors who perform their most electric writing in seven minutes or less before a lively audience and a panel of three all-star judges. After each pair of readings, the judges take turns spouting hilarious, off-the-wall commentary about each story, then select their favorite to advance to the finals.
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After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.
Describing Characters Through ‘Showing’
Describing characters can be a little bit of a ‘telling’ minefield. While you are almost certainly going to end up with some ‘told’ description of a character, try to keep it to a minimum, ‘showing’ things about their appearance through action and dialogue instead.
Instead of ‘She was short’, use ‘She clambered onto the chair, her legs dangling several inches above the floor’
Instead of ‘He was tall’, use ‘He ducked under the doorway’
Instead of ‘He was a smoker’, use ‘He shook my hand, his yellowed fingers leaving the scent of cigarettes on mine’
Instead of ‘She had bad teeth’, use ‘She laughed, instinctively covering her open mouth with her hand’
So you see how a lot of information can be shown to your readers rather than simply told to them.
And remember that your readers have imaginations, imaginations that they enjoy using. Let them fill in the gaps - don’t give them a detailed head to toe description laying out mole and strand of hair.
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Writer Interview: Brian D Meeks
Brian D. Meeks is a writer from Martelle, Iowa. He is the author of Henry Wood Detective Agency (Book 1 in a series of 5), Henry Wood: Time and Again (Book 2 in the series), and the non-fiction book Two Decades and Counting: The Streak, The Wins, The Hawkeyes Thru The Eyes of Roy Marble. Find out more at extremelyaverage.com
How do you approach a new writing project?
Most of my books I begin by getting a thread of an idea in my head. Just a little spark that makes me want to write the first chapter. Then I write it. I’m not one of those people who outlines, creates all the characters, plans out the plot before I start. I rarely know where the story is going and don’t worry much about what will happen in a couple of scenes.
Writing, I’ve read, uses the same part of the brain as math. I have a degree in Economics, play chess, and was a data analyst for many years. I like working out things in my head. So, when I’m in a project I pour over all the details that have already happened and ask “What’s next?”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Learn the correct use of the comma! I’m still working on that pesky bit of punctuation. There has been improvement over the last year, but I still have a ways to go.
What advice have you made a point of ignoring?
Nothing gets me more riled up than when I hear people say that one must do multiple rewrites, because first drafts always suck. That is something that was likely put out by a college professor who wasn’t a good writer but was insecure.
Why would anyone write something in their story that needed to be removed later? The point is, rewrite if you want to, but I’d rather carefully consider what I’m adding to my story and then write it.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
The most important writing lesson I picked up from reading an Elmore Leonard novel. He is one of the finest writers of dialogue in the last hundred years. I was reading along and noticed that just because a character asks a question, it doesn’t mean the other person will answer it, or even stay on topic.
One thing I think I’ve improved on over the last half million words or so, is getting out of the way of the characters. I try not to include a lot of description. I write Sally said, “…” and then Ralph smiled and with a nod asked, “…” and from there on I just go back and forth between them without the Sally said or Ralph said. I’m very aware of the pacing and flow of dialogue, again, mostly because of Elmore Leonard.
There was something appealing in thinking of a character with a secret life that her author knew nothing about. Slipping off while the author’s back was turned, to find love in her own way. Showing up just in time to deliver the next bit of dialogue with an innocent face.
Character Points to Consider When Writing Dialogue
Following on from my post yesterday about naturalistic dialogue, I wanted to talk a little more in depth about it.
Remember that naturalistic speech for one character is very different to naturalistic speech for another character. Everyone has their own way of speaking, their individual quirks and nuances.
There are many things about your character which will affect the way in which they speak, and the words they use:
- Who they are talking to. Someone older or younger than them. Someone of higher or lower status. Someone they know well or a stranger.
- Their age
- Their level of education (whether through an establishment, home-schooled, or self-taught)
- Their accent, or blend of different accents
- Any speech impediment, social or mental disorder, facial injuries or disfigurement, or recovery from illness eg a stroke
- If they wear false teeth
- Their hearing ability
- Their general upbringing
- Their level of self-confidence
- The person they view themselves as
- The person they want people to think they are
- Whether or not they are speaking in their first language
- Morality and beliefs