Tag Archives: writing

Challenge – Inspired by Dorothy Parker

As I mentioned in a recent post, Dorothy Parker has a number of pieces which I call “monologue stories”.  These tend to be just the inner thoughts of the MC or the MC’s one-side of a conversation.  I’ve always enjoyed reading these as they allow the reader to become fully immersed in the personality of the MC.  You are literally experiencing the events of the story through the MC.  

I have written one of these styled stories before, but it wasn’t that great.  However, I am challenging myself, and anyone else who is interested, to give it a try.  Can you tell an entire story through only the thoughts of your MC?  It’s a lot more challenging than it sounds.  If you need inspiration, you can turn to Parker – Lady With a Lamp, or her more humorous examples, The Waltz or A Telephone Call.  I will see if I can keep mine down to flash fiction length (a constant challenge for me), and post a final here when I’m done.

Happy writing!

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Space Controversy

I read an article today about double-spacing behind a period and, I have to say, I didn’t know how prevalent the new rule had become. As I considered the reason for it – stemming from the change in technology from the monospaced characters of typewriters to the proportional spacing of computers – I realize it makes complete sense. The vast fonts and styles of the computer age lessens the need for hard and fast rules for affecting readability. I read newspaper articles and word processor submissions and see how unnecessary a second space is. Sure, I’ll give you that.

But change is hard! I, myself, have never been especially good at it, and certainly not when the change involves something that I’ve only ever learned one way of doing.

Usually, I’m resistant to change. For instance, while I am happy to read the occasional article online, I am in no hurry to give up printed newspapers, books, and magazines in favor of a handheld device for all my reading. I also will not bow down to popular word usage and grammar exceptions simply because enough people use their first language incorrectly. (It doesn’t matter how many dictionaries include it, “irregardless” is almost always noted as “nonstandard” or “incorrect” usage. It’s definition tells you it’s wrong. Stop it!)

But in the case of the double-space (hee hee, rhyming is fun), I claim the old but true adage, “Old habits die hard”. Even now, as I type, I am making a very conscious effort tot only tap the SPACEBAR once. And it feels wrong.

After typing for so many years, and increasing my QWERTY speed such that I don’t even recognize what keys I’m hitting, I struggle to stop long enough to actually realize that, not only did I just tap the SPACEBAR twice in quick succession, but I also used TAB to indent this paragraph, which is also unnecessary. This changing of the times, while understandable, is going to require a lot of BACKSPACE.

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Short Fiction: A Weekly Dedication – Week 1

I read this article that said reading short stories is an excellent way for a writer to get examples of narrative structure in quick succession.  As we all know reading is extremely important for writers to hone their craft, but as many of us tend to delve into novel writing, we also tend to read more novels for inspiration and example.  Per the advice in this article and for the reasons given, I decided to start reading short fiction on a (somewhat) daily basis.  Lucky me, I discovered that I was unknowingly surrounded by it!  Here is what I read and gained from my first week:

I began with O. Henry’s “The Plutonian Fire”, which was somewhat of a treatise on the nature of writing – the lengths we writers must go to and the deceptions we sometimes must act for the better of our craft.

I read another O. Henry after that –  “The Princess and the Puma”; the “Princess” in this case being the daughter of a wealthy landowner in Middle America.  This story – being very similar in theme to the Poe I read today, “Spectacles” – demonstrated the folly of the vanity and pride of men. In the case of the O. Henry story, pride of masculine vs feminine roles, and in the case of the Poe pure vanity of appearance.  The end result in both cases is likely to elicit an “Oh-you-silly-man”-style giggle.

Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” – an excellent example of the feminist themes for which this author is so celebrated – is heartbreaking.  And it is an interesting contrast to Dorothy Parker’s piece, “Mr. Durant” which shames the title character indirectly for his callousness.

Finally, H.P. Lovecraft, who I have wanted to read for sometime, and for which I have my cousin and her clever idea for wedding favor to thank.  “The Beast in the Cave” was a great example of the thriller/horror genre that Lovecraft is touted for.  However, I learned a very important lesson about reading short fiction. You see, I have for years, got into the habit of flipping ahead to see how much further I have to go before the end of a chapter of\r at least a natural stopping point.  Now, this is fine when reading a novel (save for the danger of seeing a statement so enticing that you won’t put the book down anyway).  However, this is very dangerous when done with short fiction.  In order to not ruin your own reading, I will use an example to illustrate this danger.  I happen to look at the last line, which for all of it’s twisty surprise-iness is this story’s equivalent to, “He’s Keyser Soze.”

Moral:  Don’t read ahead in short fiction!!

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Everybody Has A Story

Recently, I’ve read several articles about personal essay writing.  They’ve ranged from writing tips to how to get your personal essay published.  Now I don’t know if any of my readers are this way, but when I repeatedly run into the same theme across several different mediums over at least a few days I will usually succumb to the inspiration.  In this case, I did, and I am inviting you to share in the inspiration with me.

My theory is that a personal essay is the best practice you can do as a writer.  While it is important to exercise your imagination by coming up with new stories, that creative measure can be distracting.  If your intent is to practice your wordsmithing, what better place to begin than in your memory.  We know our own stories, certainly better than someone else’s and even better than those we could make up since we haven’t actually made them up yet. It seems to me an ideal way to play with narrative – description, dialog, and character – since you know the whole story so intimately.

So, I challenge you to pick an event – big or small – from your life and write it.  The only recommendation I would put forth is to make sure the event you choose is one that was transforming in some way.  Like any good story, your main character should be dynamic, and, in this case, that main character is you.  Feel free to come back and share your experience in the comments.  Let us know if you seek publication!

Enjoy!

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Reading Helps Us Empathize

As writers, we must also be avid readers.  (What a shame, eh?) Yes, we use the excuse of improving our writing to explain the constant burying of our heads in books, but according to studies from 2012 and 2013 it seems reading improves us more than we may think.  It turns out that reading doesn’t just inform us on specific subjects or improve vocabulary and grammar.  It also makes us more emotionally intelligent; specifically empathetic.

Now, if there is anyone reading this wondering how reading can improve the sense of empathy, consider some of you favorite novels.  When I reflect on mine, I realize that The Little Prince has caused me to be more attune to taking notice of the smallest pleasures – a child’s laugh, the breeze brushing through my hair, that first sip of clean cool water when you feel a deep thirst.  I think of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – how easily I recognized the story as an allusion to substance abuse and addiction and felt the chronic strain on both the addict and his loved ones.  I think of how easy it was for me to relate to Steve Martin’s Shopgirl but just as easy to see the perspective of her companion.

One of the studies conducted by David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Costano explored further finding evidence distinguishing the “empathetic benefits” of literary fiction vs. “pop” fiction.  Due to the “complexity in stories and their characters”, literary fiction appears to be the clear winner here.  When I reflect on my reading of The Life of Pi, I can most certainly agree.  Not only the beautiful story of the loss at sea, which makes up the bulk of the story, but the final explanation of “what really happened” gave me such a rush of emotion and understanding of what the mind can do to compensate a horrible trauma.
But how does this inform our own writing.  Well, just as our personal experience of places and events serve to help us better describe a variety of settings and experiences, empathizing with well-written characters can only serve as a means of experience.  Perhaps there are many events, tragedies, and celebrations we will never experience, but when we read to exercise our empathetic muscles, we become better able to imagine ourselves in the minds and skins of our characters as we put them in these circumstances.

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Practice, Practice, Practice

“Write Write more. Write even more than that. Write when you don’t want to. Write when you do. Write when you have something to say. Write when you don’t. Write every day. Keep writing.” -Brian Clark, playwright

In the case of any activity – be it playing an instrument to performing surgery – practice makes perfect. We, as writers, know that writing is no different. Many of you may have a schedule or goal – a number of words per day, pages per week, or simply sitting down to write every day for a certain amount of time. You may choose to spend that time working on your novel, your dissertation, or journaling, but once you’ve finished one project, and you’re searching for your next one, it can be easy to let the daily habit slide. But why do you have to have a specific project? There are so many reasons to write and so many different types of writing, it should be easy to find a good practice format that can also be productive for building your skills.

Description – write an email or letter to a friend or relative describing in detail an interesting event that happened recently. Focus on using imagery to create a clear picture for someone who has never been in that setting or seen the people involved. Help your reader experience the event as you did.

Research – Write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper or magazine. Reading is another important part of being a good writer, and reading about the news of the day helps inform you as a good citizen. So why not take citizenship and writing to their next step. Say something about an article you read. Whether you find a mistake or want to expand, or point out another way of looking at the issue being discussed, newspapers are more likely to publish well researched letters to the editor as opposed to purely opinion pieces with no evidence to back claims.

Persuasion – How do you feel about the abortion debate? healthcare? defense spending? campaign finance? or any number of other hot button political issues? What do you know about your local and federal representatives? If you’d like to see changes in local, state, or federal government you have to let the policymakers know it. Letters to your representatives are a great way to tell them what you think. Your position is to convince them that you have a stake in the issue, know something of what you say, and would like to see the vote or policy development that you are arguing or proposing.

There are any number of other ways to practice writing in various styles and formats.  How do you step outside your usual writing box?

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A Writer’s Journey: Submissions – Part 3

A lack of work, and the daunting task of forcing yourself to write new pieces, or to edit old pieces, for submission can be a terrible deterrent to even trying.  In truth, it has been the main thing that has stopped me from trying to submit over the past couple of years, and even the last few months.  But there are several ways to combat this.

1. Write everyday!  No matter what you’re writing, even if it’s just complaining about not having anything to say, spend three pages (or 750 words or so) bitching about it.  Whatever is going on in your head, your life, at work, around the country, around the world; spend a few minutes putting it down on paper.  If you make this effort everyday, you will be shocked what can eventually come out.  Whether it’s a humorous memory of something that happened in your childhood, or a poignant observation relating to your industry or current events, something is bound to pop out.  Perhaps you will notice a trend in what you’re writing and realize you have a series of little essays that could turn into something.  That’s how I got started with this blog.  So make the effort to sit, and let it all out – dump the contents of your brain for 20 to 30 minutes, and see what happens.

2. Go back to old work with fresh eyes, no matter how old it is!  That poem you wrote in college for the creative writing class you took as a fun but throw-away elective might turn out to have some weight to it, especially after so many years.  Now you are older, wiser, more experienced, improved as a writer, and distanced from the critical young adult that wrote that piece.  You don’t have to worry about how bad the kid that wrote it thought it was.  You, as his/her adult counterpart, may see something that s/he didn’t know was there.  A few small changes, and that poem could turn into something worthy of publication, if it isn’t already.

3. Look for prompts, and read, read, read!  Read the newspaper, visit the library, pick up trade magazines that are meaningful to you, go to book clubs, book fairs, author events, movies, concerts, anything!  There are so many topics out there to write about, and so many publications and websites devoted to each one. We tend not to think of our everyday experiences as something that warrants documentation, but you never know what might come of arguing with the campaign ad for your district’s incumbent representative, or experimenting with a new recipe or workout.  Writing prompts are everywhere. They can be found at your child’s PTA meeting, the jazz club you were dragged to on Friday night, or the display of NY Times best sellers at your local bookstore.  If something riles you, write it down.  Don’t ignore it!

 

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