Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Writing Prompt - Dialogue

Some of you have asked for a writing prompt for our next Circle read-around on Dec. 11.  So here's an idea.

Craft a story consisting mainly of dialogue. For example: A conversation between your mother and father or between yourself and a sister or brother. Or make up a situation. They could be lovers or strangers meeting by happenstance on vacation or a friend moaning over the break-up with a sweetheart.

Give the scene momentum by asking yourself: What am I trying to convey? What is the significance behind this conversation? Why should the reader care about these people? 

Realistic dialogue is a powerful tool in making a story come alive.  For example, irony or sarcasm are ways to convey a character's personality. Punctuate the scene with description. Did your mother speak in a raspy, breathless whisper?  Most of all, find a subject you care about.  This will shine through your writing and make for a compelling style.

As always, if you prefer to bring something else to the Circle, please do that.

Also, I will be bringing copies of Again in a Heartbeat to our read-around.  I hope you will consider buying a copy for a friend or family member as a Christmas or holiday gift.  I will sign the book.  It sells for $10.  Thanks so much.

See you at 9 a.m. Dec. 11 at Wellington Square Bookshop.

All the best,

Susan

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thoughts on Writing While Traveling

Hello,

I am back from Australia and New Zealand.  Did I write on this trip?  No.  But I was thinking about writing the entire time.
What can I say?  Sometimes, it is good to step back, take time for reflection and think about where you are going from here. Thus, the reason (excuse) for not journaling. I did finish reading James Hollis' book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up.  For those who can handle Jungian psychology, it is definitely worth a read.  Perhaps, the most striking aspect of this book is that we can never escape our childhood . . . now it becomes  - how do we deal with it and move on? 

As for Down Under, it is an exotic land and one that has a rather checkered history, having its roots in the British penal colony system, as does New Zealand.  We pay thousands of dollars to tour countries that the British once viewed as fitting places to dump its criminals, many of whom were young children guilty of no more than stealing a hairbrush.  They were sent to Sydney after a six-month ocean crossing and subjected to harsh and unsanitary conditions in a place known as the Rocks, which these pictures depict.  I have also posted pictures of the South Pacific in New Zealand.




Back to writing.  The Women's Circle meets at 9 a.m. on Saturday Dec. 11 at Wellington Square Bookshop in Exton.  I am also pleased to announce that I am starting a read-around for men and women at Wolfgang Books, 237 Bridge Street, Phoenixville. Our first read-around at Wolfgang is 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 22 (Please note the change; originally I had Jan. 29.  I want to meet here on the fourth Saturday of every month).  More to come on that later.  Our read-arounds will also continue the second Saturday of the month at Wellington Square Bookshop. 

All the best,
Susan


 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Writing About Family


At yesterday's Circle much of the reading centered around descriptions and memory of family.  For the writer, family serves as models for characters, whether we are writing fiction or memoir.

That said, the emotional and the healing aspects of storytelling come through reflection - not only about ourselves - but of key people in our lives.  The people are grist for our "mill" . . . our touchstone to making meaning and turning cardboard, one-dimensional characters into real people, while at the same time discovering our own humanity.

How do we remember or "see" them and how "true" is this?  And how do we find that "truth" of our parents, our spouses, our children, as it relates to us - and, hopefully, to the reader?  These are questions every writer faces when crafting his or her story.

While many are interested in just getting the recollections of a mother or father down on paper and seeing where that leads -  others are hoping to find the seminal moment  - the compelling reason why they are writing in the first place - and how to tackle that and make sense of what it all means.  Discovering that "moment" is when writing transforms into alchemy. 

As was noted in yesterday's Circle, I use a lot of dialogue to bring a scene alive having spent years as a reporter and being attuned to what people say.  Although actions speak louder than words, I do believe that dialogue is as key as showing movements or describing physical attributes.  What is at the heart of the dialogue/conversation and how it renders the scene emotionally compelling remain fodder for another day.

Once again I would encourage all of us to keep writing . . . keep writing . . . keep writing. Whether our family members/characters come to us in our dreams or through the written word, one thing is certain.  They continue to live with us.  Now it is up to us to see where that - and they - lead us.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Short Chapters and a Fast Read

It's hard to believe that today is November 1.  I have been at this task of author marketing for three months and almost two seasons.  As a first-time author what have I learned from my readers?  So much.

Probably the most interesting and valuable lesson, though, centers around a comment I consistently hear.  Again in a Heartbeat, my readers say, is a "fast read." While the book is only 168 pages, the psychological aspect of short chapters cannot be underestimated. 

I remember hearing Dan Brown talk about his preference for short chapters. Brown felt that if a chapter ended on a note of interest or intrigue, it kept readers turning the page. But the point was to keep it short.

When I started the final draft of my book, I  kept chapters under five pages. I felt this kept the story moving. Reader feedback has confirmed what I sensed.  The "fast read" comment has been the highest compliment. They started my book AND finished it.

Points to consider:
  • Books with short chapters are ideal for reading in short breaks.
  • Short, punchy chapters keep readers turning the page.
  • Short chapters help the writer set up stories within the larger narrative.
  • Chapters longer than 5 pages can leave the reader wading through a sea of text.
  • Short chapters help the writer develop a unique style.

In this world of 24/7 news cycles, many people are also gravitating toward shorter books.  As one of my readers told me, "I have a mound of books this high that I want to read but haven't gotten to."  And - yet - she read my memoir.  Maybe it was the smaller book that drew her attention.  I can get through this, she thought.

This is not to put down longer books.  One of my favorites is Gone With the Wind.  Of course, I read that when I was 13 years old, in the days before computers and cable television's 800 channels. Now I am hesitant to pick up a big book. There is so much I want to read . . . only so many hours to commit to one story.   Only so much time.