Writing Lessons: Introduction


There are a thousand blogs on the internet about writing. What makes this one different?            I’m a teacher, award-winning novelist, screenwriter, developmental editor, blogger, and have my MFA in Creative Writing. I teach, I write, I edit. I wanted a repeatable system that ensured dynamic character development, powerful 3-act plots, quality writing and dramatic impact. And, I wanted to be able to do it again and again. (My first novel, historical, took years to write, and the second, using my system, was written in 8-weeks--first draft). Can I teach? Yes, and by nuts and bolts, not page after page. Most people (like me) want good information, and they want it fast. Move step-by-step or jump to a topic.If you’re new to writing and just “have an idea,” I encourage that you move step-by-step. Can I write? My senior honors thesis at UCI won the award for “the most outstanding” (big deal—that means I can research and write analytically). My debut novel won … [Read more...]

Writing Lessons: Table of Contents

Step 1: Create Dynamic Characters Step 2: Create Key Plot Points Using the 3-act Structure Step 3: Decide Point-of-View and Perspective Step 4: Learn Basic Writing Techniques (and Novice Mistakes)           1)  24 Sentence Patterns Used by Pros           2)  Active vs. Passive Verbs           3)  Action vs. Dialogue Tags           4)  Worst Words—Omit Them!           5)  Show, Don’t Tell           6)  Specific Details & Research           7)  Sensory Details           8)  Flashbacks vs. Info Dumps           9)  Characterization: Direct vs. Indirect         10)  Story Structure Styles         11)  Dialogue vs. Narrative Passages         12)  Invoking Emotional Responses         13)  Avoid Adverbs         14)  Figurative Language         15)  Poetic Techniques for Fiction Writers Step 5: Craft Riveting Dialogue and Scenes Step 6: Write Your Novel, Story or Screenplay Step 7: Revise and Edit Step 8: Traditional vs. … [Read more...]

Step 1: Create Dynamic Characters

Indiana Jones JPEG

Dynamic Characters: Gender, Age, History and Character Traits Why start with character? 1. Dynamic—means takes decisive action, think dynamite. Characters should challenge one another—explode. Mistake number one—creating inconsistent, flat characters who are “too nice” to one another. From day one, create oppositional characters who will challenge and perhaps change one another. 2. “Character Driven Fiction” means just what it says—the characters (and their character traits) drive the action of the plot. If you start by creating dynamic characters who take dynamic action, you will end up with “Character Driven Plots.” The opposite is “Situational Plots,” which means that the author has devised “things that will happen to a character.” The character becomes a puppet and the author, the puppeteer who makes the flat character dance. The puppeteer says, “I’ll make this happen to my character” and then that will happen. Let the characters act, speak and drive. 3. If you think of … [Read more...]

Step 2: Key Plot Points Using the 3-act Structure

Plots Blockbuster Pure and Simple

Why do I need to follow a structure? I write “organically” as it comes to me. Ever since Aristotle defined the six elements that make a drama great in Poetics, every dramatist since then has copied the format. Shakespeare used it, and every screenwriter since still uses it. Why? Because it works! Time after time after time. A structure ensures that you hit major turning points when you should. The reader expects them, and if you decide to “do it your way” you risk losing readers. A structure ensures that your process is repeatable. Therefore, you ensure quality from book to book or project to project. Some erroneously think that creating a plot (I never use the word outline, which falls short for many reasons) “restricts the imagination.” Wrong! The creative process is the brainstorming involved in creating character and plot. (A friend of mine writes “organically” as she moves along, but then she hits a wall, throws out entire chapters of writing, and sometimes even sets the … [Read more...]

Step 3: Decide Point-of-View and Perspective

Points of View

Why decide POV and perspective now? I’ve had many writer friends and editing clients decide, after the novel is finished, to change POV. Again—time waster. This means an author does not understand POV or did not consider it as a vital decision to make prior to getting in the car and driving to the end of the road. Now, he or she must go back to the starting line and drive the course again—only to find, at some point, it doesn’t work. Why not? Because it changes the entire story, as explained in the next point. Imagine you’re at a bereavement reception. A little girl, sick for a long time, has died. The others present include a successful father, doting mother, shy sister and friends, including a little boy and a psychologist who is helping him. If you recognize the plot, it’s The Sixth Sense. Depending on the POV, you have an entirely different story: Mother’s POV (horror story): She acts like the perfect mother. She dotes on her children, even as she poisons them. Once her … [Read more...]

Step 4: Introduction to Basic Writing Techniques

Before you start writing. There are basic techniques and skills that are all vital—they are the building blocks of good writing. Avoid massive re-writes by learning them now. Then go back to them as you write, as you edit and when you need help. There are 15 techniques, interactively linked. When you're done with one, click the link at the bottom of the page to go to the next. You can always return to the interactive Table of Contents to pick up where you left off. These are all a part of Step 4, hence, they are numbered Skill 4.1, Skill 4.2, etch. Enjoy! Skill 4.1: 24 Sentence Patterns Used by Pros is still under construction--here is the link to Skill 4.2: Active vs. Passive Verbs Go to Skill 4.2:  Active vs Passive Verbs   … [Read more...]

Skill 4.2: Active vs Passive Verbs

Banish Boring Words

The verb is the powerhouse of every sentence. If the verbs are dynamic, so is the writing. If the verbs are dull, so is the writing. It’s that simple. I once edited a manuscript where the author claimed to know all about active versus passive verbs, but here are the verbs in his first few sentences: pushed, looked, saw, put, pointed, ran (looked and saw are also markers of a novice—explained later). These are active verbs but boring, overused ones. Your verbs will either sizzle or sag. Where do you find amazing verbs—ones that sizzle? Start with the wonderful book below—I have several copies in my classroom and one on my writing desk at all times. Pages 8-13 provide lists of active verbs. Yes, 6 pages of them! Here is a small sample: praised, rooted, cheered, slapped, scaled, smacked, crushed, bombarded, infiltrated, sniveled, wailed, schlepped, and guzzled. The verbs are categorized by action. For example, under “drank” you’ll find the following: chugged, consumed, downed, gargled, … [Read more...]

Skill 4.3: Action vs Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags include said, remarked, stated, etc. They are fine if not overdone. Most readers skim right over them. Do not feel the need to use other verbs if “said” works best. There are times, however, to use others: shouted, rebuffed, whispered, rasped, answered, etc. You can reduce the number of dialogue tags by using action tags. Example: Henry swung Camille around the dance floor. “One, two, cha, cha, cha.” (No “he said” is needed. Henry took action—I know he is the one speaking Camille dug her high heel into Henry’s foot. “Forgive me. I’m a klutz.” Avoid “over-gesticulations.” Novice writers sometimes use gesticulations, thinking they are using good action tags. No. It sounds silly. Example of bad writing: The song softened to an close, and the band took a break. Camille cocked her head. “Oh, Henry, you’re a dear.” Henry scratched his head. “Quite right.” Camille touched Henry’s arm. “I take it back.” Henry put his hands on his hips. “Never!” If you … [Read more...]

Skill 4.4: Worst Words Ever–Omit Them!

Signs of a Novice (looked, saw, got, had, was, and numbers) These are a few overused verbs. They mark you as an inexperienced writer. Here’s why you don’t need them. Example: Jimmy looked at the post-party park and saw popped balloons, squashed paper cups, empty chip bags and dropped hot dogs. If I’m in Jimmy’s POV—I know he’s the one describing what he sees. Don’t tell me what someone “saw”—show, don’t tell. Same for looked. Example: Trash covered the park in a circular area. The epicenter of the explosion fanned out, equidistantly, from the gazebo, draped with broken streamers of yellow and blue. Jimmy ripped a garbage bag from the roll and reached for the first bit of post-party trash. He moved from popped balloons to squashed paper cups to empty chip bags to grass-covered hot dogs. Words to avoid: Avoid “looked” and “saw”—there are times you need it. Alice peered into the rabbit hole. But do not say someone “looked” at this and “saw” that. Just state what is … [Read more...]

Skill 4.5: Skill Don’t Tell

Telling: This is simply explaining what someone does, rather than placing the reader “in the moment,” and letting the reader experience it first-hand. Showing: Putting the reader “in the moment” in a scene and allowing the reader to experience this unique moment first-hand. Example of Telling (bad): John walked into the store, grabbed a carton of milk, paid in cash and left, heading to the park to drown his sorrows over his break up with Christine. (Notice the active verbs—even these cannot fix the problem of “telling” your reader what is happening) Example of Showing (good): John kept his eyes on the cold gray sidewalk and stepped on every crack. He swung open the glass door of the 7-Eleven. A bell rang, alerting the clerk to his presence. The attendant offered a cheery “Good evening, Sir,” in an Indian accent, which John promptly ignored as he dragged his feet past the candy and chips to get to the drink case. It had to be after midnight, but he wasn’t exactly sure, since … [Read more...]