Chrysalis: Emerging Women Writers

April 23, 2009

Finding Your Creep Factor

Filed under: Motivations,Technique,Writing — Barb @ 9:05 pm
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In my writing notebook, I keep  pages on things that comfort and things that make me shiver.

I try to write phrases. For instance: “spiders on the neck” evokes more yeowww-

Grow on You by lucy and bart

"Grow on You" by lucy and bart

factor than “spiders on the wall.”

“Golden Lighting on fat pillows” gives me more “aaaaahhhh”, than “fat pillows on shag carpet.”

So…for our writing exercise today, look at the two pictures below.

Which picture creeps you out more?   And why?

exploded view by lucy and bart

"exploded view" by lucy and bart

Dig deep. Find your feelings.

Express Yourself.


April 8, 2009

Writing That Jumps off the Page

Of course, we’ve all heard “Show don’t tell” so many times our eyes have begun to goggle. So we use “devices.”

Anagram Bookshop in Prague, by Kaspen.

Anagram Bookshop in Prague, by Kaspen.I wish I could tell you that I've use all these devices with ultimate skill, Which of the following devices do you love to use in your writing to keep your reader riveted?

I’ve probably messed up every one of these techniques at some point in a manuscript. When I’ve overdone the mood,   some honest person in the critique group will write a note in the margin: This seems a bit melodramatic.

They write: Needs more punch”, when I’ve  marginalized the device. Thank heavens for good critique groups. Hopefully, you can learn something from my mistakes.

Thrusters.  I believe that most readers try to figure out what’s going to happen before it happens.  These tiny bits of the puzzle lure them to the next page to collect more information. JK Rowling’s books are riddled with them:

“Harry looked up and saw his own shock reflected in Ron’s and Hermione’s faces. The scars on the back of his right hand seemed to be tingling again.”

Perfect. We need to keep reading to discover the evil that’s making Harry’s hand give an alarm. But I tend to tell the reader a bit too much–just to make myself clear, you know? Often, if I go to the end of one of my chapters and lop off a couple of paragraphs, I’ll find I have a great thruster.

And then there are  Cliffhangers. This device makes me crazy. The last time I used it, I had a guy running across a field naked in sub-zero weather. I went to another scene…and another…and another. The next time the readers saw the naked guy, he was clothed, sitting in a bar, having a beer. I assumed that the reader would intuit that the guy didn’t freeze his begonias off since he was now languishing in a bar.  Oh, they figured it out all right, and they were irritated that I didn’t show them. NOPE. I learned that if you start something that causes tension, you better finish it in front of the reader.

I’ve laid Traps and botched them because everyone knew. I’ve learned it works so much better if the reader knows about a possible trip-up, but the protagonist is about to blindly stumble into it. I wanted to show how cleaver my hero was at avoiding traps; but I got double bang for my words by showing how the protagonist was clever at getting OUT of traps (Think about it. If James Bond never fell for any tricks, he’d just be drinking martinis and using corny lines on women.)

I love the Ticking Clock technique. (Never mind that I once wrote a scene where the hero had to battle a group of savages before he could save a boy hanging from a cliff. I got so carried away with the fight scene that no one believed the kid could have held on that long. ) (P.S. It was a good fight scene…okay….it was too long). I think of it as the Jack Bauer Syndrome: Jack saves the entire world every hour…it seems impossible.

Perhaps you’re a fan of Imagery to make your writing leap off the page. I went through several stages in learning this technique.

  • Color: She sipped green tea from a pink china cup while curled up on blue fluffy comforter. (Thank goodness that phase didn’t last past the first edit.)
  • Metaphors or similes: Done well, these are artforms. Done poorly, they make the reader cringe. “It rained hard, like BBs dropping from the sky.  (GAAK…take cover from the BBs and the poor comparison.)

That’s the great thing about critique groups. We don’t have to make every mistake. We can learn from others, and hopefully save ourselves some edits. I’ve learned other things, but…now it’s your turn.

What’s your favorite technique to make words jump off the page?

April 1, 2009

Writing: It’s All About ME. ME. ME.

Thanks to I Haz A Cheeseburger

Thanks to I Haz A Cheeseburger

If You’re Not Writing, Why Do you Come to Chrysalis?

  • “Because I’m thinking about writing.”
  • “I enjoy the creative company of writers.”
  • “My parole officer says it would be good for me.” Okay maybe this one isn’t true (but it I’d like to read this memoir, wouldn’t you?)

Truth is…

there are more reasons to attend a great critique group, than simply getting input about your writing. Educational articles are emphatic in  underlining that the real benefit of attending a critique group is the learning/sharing process.

From poets, to essayest, to autobiographies to fiction, each writer carries a different voice, style and perspective.

True. True.

But let me tell you a little secret that I’ve discovered while doing some personal mining during this Lenten Season.  I’ve discovered that the thing that lights my fire  is: opportunities for ME! ME! ME!!

Each person exposes me to different research. Cultures. Lifestyles. The latest slang.

I’m learning something every second I’m sitting with all of you.

And here’s another confession. While you’re reading your piece, I’m over there, snagging your great lines, making notes about how you painted a character so I like them at their very first appearance. I’m studying you’re dialogue and wondering if I can work in “tags” like you do.

I’m borrowing your ideas so I can dissect them and stitch them back together like a Coraline doll. Do I feel guilty about that? NOPE!

I listened to an in-depth interview between John Mellencamp and Terry Gross last night on FRESH AIR (NPR).  He laughed at a question about the encyclopedia of songs he’d written. “I only have 4 songs,” he said. “I just write ’em different ways.”

And that’s why I come to Chrysalis. So you can teach me a new song.

Nancilee said it best in one of her comments about receiving/giving critiques.

“I firmly believe that in the end the words are mine, they may be influenced by your comments, but ultimately they were birthed by the author’s experience.

“So, now that I am stronger in who I am and what I want my words to express, I say, critique to the best of your experience. And I will write to the best of my “imagination and feeling.”

The hope is together we have co-created something moving, tender and alive with the humor,joy, sorrow and grief that life throws our way day in and day out.”

Yeah…that’s what I’m talkin’ about.

Why Do You Come To Chrysalis???

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