Techniques for Masterful Writing

Jane Eyre

 A Summary of K.M. Weiland’s  “Write Like a Master”

By Karen DeMers Dowdall

My summary of K.M. Weiland’s excellent article presented in Writer’s Digest, Work Book: Exercises and Tips for Honing Specific Aspects of Your Writing presents the key points of her exceptional article. It is especially for writers penning their first novel, but also for seasoned writers to again remember a classic, Jane Eyre, a novel that was ahead of its time, by Charlotte Brontë.  Often, reading classics, as most of us do, gives us fresh insight to dramatic storytelling par excellence, and can improve our own writing skills. K.M. Weiland gives us 10 distinct techniques for dramatic masterful writing.

  1. Hook: Start in the middle of some type of interaction within environment, statement, or internal angst to provoke reader curiosity.
  1. Characteristic Moment: Reveal/show a personality trait of the Protagonist.
  1. Setting Description of Scene: Start broadly, and then zoom in.
  1. Symbolism: Small details set story’s tone and foreshadows its course.
  1. The World Protagonist Inhabits: demonstrate character’s interior and exterior world.
  1. Back Story: Intersperse with dialogue, don’t dump back story in long paragraphs in chapter 1.
  1. The Premise of Story: Present the Dramatic Question early on, involving the moral foundation, the impetus that drives the story forward.
  1. Physical Actions: The physical movements of characters interspersed throughout dialogue increases depth of character traits.
  1. Protagonist’s Belief: Once Dramatic Question is identified, writer presents obstacles for protagonist until she/he can relinquish belief/misconception and meet deepest needs.

10.Extraordinary Factor: What makes the Protagonist important? How at odds is protagonist in his/her world with others that creates friction, tension, and thus the central conflict of story premise.

***see Writer’s Digest, October 2014 edition, for full article.

A Review of Delphi Altair, Strange Beginnings, Second Edition

 

 

Delphi Altair Second Edition for Kindle

Delphi Altair, Strange Beginnings, Second Edition

5.0 out of 5 stars  A beautifully-written and epic novel August 7, 2014

By Kirstin Lenane

Simply put: this young adult novel is beautifully done and should be picked up by any fan of epic fantasy stories. I am very impressed by Dowdall’s ability to weave together so many characters and story-lines into a cohesive whole (it reminded me of the way Dickens and Tolkien are so deftly able to do this). The story takes place mostly in three settings: in a briny, seaside town sometime in the past, in a beautifully evocative land called Janji, and then in a familiar-seeming town sometime in the present day (where McDonald’s and Diet coke and movies exist). Whether Dowdall is evoking an other-worldly one (filled with magical creatures, such as Snagettes and Tittlecrests) or an earthly one (with clam chowder boiling on the stove and nasty schoolteachers pounding paddles on their desks), her scenes are drawn with such detail that they will pull you in, time and time again.  I really can’t recommend this book enough. Try it! You’ll be hooked and waiting for the next one.

 

 

Book Review of The Starling

The Starling

Description:

The Starling Trilogy chronicles the struggles of a teenage girl who, by a twist of fate, is transported through time to earth’s dystopian future where humans are dominated by a malevolent AI and Humanoids. Used as bait to draw out free humans, Jamie risks her life to warn them even as she finds herself falling for her handsome guardian, Quinn. The problem is he’s not exactly human.

Review:

The Starling novel is a fantastically exciting foray into a world that may exist in the near future. The writer combines great characters in a futuristic adventure with intrigue, danger, romance that is so realistic you begin to believe this will be our future. It is exceptional because the writer uses real scientific possibilities that are actually on the drawing board of technological advances. I look forward to the 2nd book in The Starling Trilogy with anticipation. I highly recommend this terrific novel.

The Unimaginable

 

Unimaginable

 

From the author of One Pink Line, Dina Silver, comes a story about letting go of the past and finding bravery in the depths of fear. Set on the sun-soaked beaches of Thailand and the rough waters of the Indian Ocean, The Unimaginable paints a vivid portrait of a young woman on a journey to find herself—and her harrowing fight for survival. Not yet released but will be available in the near future. Commentary: I found this to-be-published novel on Goodreads and I look forward to it being released on Amazon. This book is very relevant today due to the constant threat of bandits, pirates, and terrorists who haunt the coasts of many countries, waiting for the opportunity to attack and board tourist vessels to harm the innocence people on board and commander the vessels.  Even on American coasts, especially Florida and California, privately owned small yachts are under attach as well by criminals.  When I lived in Florida on the east coast, it was common, although apparently not news worthy, to report the number of small vessels boarded and lives put at risk.  Fortunately, Cruise Ships are too big thus far to be easily commandered.  They are however, sitting ducks and I foresee that they may be the next on the hang plank for hijacketing.

ATTACKING SOCCER!

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The World Cup of Soccer is going on now and how appropriate to review a brand new Soccer book that I think is the best ever.  Jay Miller, Editor of “Attacking Soccer”, has compiled a unique look at Soccer that is much more than “skills and drills for a high-scoring offense”.  It is the personal insights of some of the most influential professional coaches and players ever gathered together to create, not only the cerebral aspect of the game of Soccer, but the creativity, beauty, artistry, and philosophy. Further, the modernization of Soccer, as presented in Jay Miller’s just published book on Amazon, reveals a side of Soccer hither to rarely discussed and presented to the general public.  The multi-cultural aspects, work ethic, style, and new trends evolving in Soccer all add to the excitement this book has created.   I find this exciting book will illuminate the game of Soccer in ways never before perceived for aficionados and novices alike.

 

 

 

Three Secrets to Great Storytelling!

Whispering

 

3 SECRETS TO GREAT STORYTELLING as presented on Writer’s Digest. I found this article by Steven James helpful in forming the structure of scenes. 

As a novelist and writing instructor, I’ve noticed that three of the most vital aspects of story craft are left out of many writing books and workshops. Even bestselling novelists stumble over them – Steven James

But they’re not difficult to grasp. In fact, they’re easy.

And if you master these simple principles for shaping great stories, your writing will be transformed forever. Honest. Here’s how to write a story.

Secret #1: 
CAUSE AND EFFECT ARE KING.

Everything in a story must be caused by the action or event that precedes it.

Now, this sounds like an almost embarrassingly obvious observation, and when I mention it in my writing seminars I don’t often see people furiously taking notes, muttering, “Man, are you getting this stuff? This is amazing!” But humor me for a few minutes. Because you might be surprised by how more careful attention to causation will improve your writing.

As a fiction writer, you want your reader to always be emotionally present in the story. But when readers are forced to guess why something happened (or didn’t happen), even for just a split second, it causes them to intellectually disengage and distances them from the story. Rather than remaining present alongside the characters, they’ll begin to analyze or question the progression of the plot. And you definitely don’t want that.

When a reader tells you that he couldn’t put a book down, often it’s because everything in the story followed logically. Stories that move forward naturally, cause to effect, keep the reader engrossed and flipping pages. If you fail to do this, it can confuse readers, kill the pace and telegraph your weaknesses as a writer.

Let’s say you’re writing a thriller and the protagonist is at home alone. You might write:

With trembling fingers she locked the door. She knew the killer was on the other side.

But, no. You wouldn’t write it like that.

Because if you did, you would fracture, just for a moment, the reader’s emotional engagement with the story as he wonders, Why did she reach out and lock the door? Then he reads on. Oh, I get it, the killer is on the other side.

If you find that one sentence is serving to explain what happened in the sentence that preceded it, you can usually improve the writing by reversing the order so that you render rather than explain the action.

It’s stronger to write the scene like this:

The killer was on the other side of the door. She reached out with a trembling hand to lock it.

Cause: The killer is on the other side of the door.
Effect: She locks it.

Think about it this way: If you’ve written a scene in which you could theoretically connect the events with the word “because,” then you can typically improve the scene by structuring it so that you could instead connect the events with the word “so.”

Take the example about the woman being chased by the killer:

She locked the door because she knew the killer was on the other side.

If written in this order, the sentence moves from effect to cause. However:

She knew the killer was on the other side of the door, so she locked it.

Here, the stimulus leads naturally to her response.

Of course, most of the time we leave out the words because and so, and these are very simplified examples—but you get the idea.

Remember in rendering more complex scenes that realizations and discoveries happen after actions, not before them. Rather than telling us what a character realizes and then telling us why she realizes it—as in, “She finally understood who the killer was when she read the letter”—write it this way: “When she read the letter, she finally understood who the killer was.” Always build on what has been said or done, rather than laying the foundation after the idea is built. Continually move the story forward, rather than forcing yourself to flip backward to give the reason something occurred.

One last example:

Greg sat bored in the writer’s workshop. He began to doodle. He’d heard all this stuff before. Suddenly he gulped and stared around the room, embarrassed, when the teacher called on him to explain cause and effect structure.

This paragraph is a mess. As it stands, at least seven events occur, and none are in their logical order. Here is the order in which they actually happened:

1.    Greg sits in the workshop.
2.    He realizes he’s heard all this before.
3.    Boredom ensues.
4.    Doodling ensues.
5.    Greg gets called on.
6.    Embarrassment ensues.
7.    He gulps and stares around the room

Each event causes the one that follows it.

Your writing will be more effective if you show us what’s happening as it happens rather than explain to us what just happened.

With all of that said, there are three exceptions, three times when you can move from effect to cause without shattering the spell of your story.

First, in chapter or section breaks. For example, you might begin a section by writing:

“How could you do this to me?” she screamed.

Immediately, the reader will be curious who is screaming, at whom she is screaming, and why. This would make a good hook, so it’s fine (good, even!) to start that way. If this same sentence appeared in the middle of a scene in progress, though, it would be wiser to move from cause to effect:

He told her he was in love with another woman.
“How could you do this to me?” she screamed.

The second exception is when one action causes two or more simultaneous reactions. In the paragraph about Greg, he gulps and looks around the room. Because his embarrassment causes him to respond by both gulping and looking around, the order in which you tell the reader he did them could go either way.

And the final exception is when you write a scene in which your character shows his prowess by deducing something the reader hasn’t yet concluded. Think of Sherlock Holmes staring at the back of an envelope, cleaning out the drainpipe and then brushing off a nearby stick of wood and announcing that he’s solved the case. The reader is saying, “Huh? How did he do that?” Our curiosity is sparked, and later when he explains his deductive process, we see that everything followed logically from the preceding events.

Secret #2: 
IF IT’S NOT BELIEVABLE, IT DOESN’T BELONG.

The narrative world is also shattered when an action, even if it’s impossible, becomes unbelievable.

In writing circles it’s common to speak about the suspension of disbelief, but that phrase bothers me because it seems to imply that the reader approaches the story wanting to disbelieve and that she needs to somehow set that attitude aside in order to engage with the story. But precisely the opposite is true. Readers approach stories wanting to believe them. Readers have both the intention and desire to enter a story in which everything that happens, within the narrative world that governs that story, is believable. As writers, then, our goal isn’t to convince the reader to suspend her disbelief, but rather to give her what she wants by continually sustaining her belief in the story.

The distinction isn’t just a matter of semantics; it’s a matter of understanding the mindset and expectations of your readers. Readers want to immerse themselves in deep belief. We need to respect them enough to keep that belief alive throughout the story.

Let’s say you create a world in which gravity doesn’t exist. OK, if you bring the world to life on the page and through your characters, the reader will accept that—but now she’ll want you to be consistent. As soon as someone’s hair doesn’t float above or around her head, or someone is able to drink a cup of coffee without the liquid floating away, the consistency of that world is shattered. The reader will begin to either lose interest and eventually stop reading, or will disengage from the story and begin to look for more inconsistencies—neither of which you want her to do.

All else being equal, as soon as readers stop believing your story, they’ll stop caring about your story. And readers stop believing stories when characters act inexplicably.

When I’m shaping a story, I continually ask myself, “What would this character naturally do in this situation?”

And then I let him do it.

Why?

Because the reader, whether he’s conscious of it or not, is asking the same question: “What would this character naturally do?”

As soon as characters act in ways that aren’t believable, either in reference to their characterizations or to the story’s progression, the reader loses faith in the writer’s ability to tell that story.

In a scene in my first novel, The Pawn, my protagonist is interviewing the governor of North Carolina, and the governor is responding oddly. Now, if my hero, who’s supposed to be one of the best investigators in the world, doesn’t notice and respond to the governor’s inexplicable behavior, the reader will be thinking, What’s wrong with this Bowers guy? There’s obviously something strange going on here. Why doesn’t he notice? He’s a moron.

So, I had Bowers think, Something wasn’t clicking. Something wasn’t right.

Then the reader will agree, Ah, good! I thought so. OK, now let’s find out what’s going on here. Rather than drive the reader away from identifying with the protagonist, this was a way of drawing the reader deeper into the story.

So when something that’s unbelievable or odd happens, don’t be afraid to let your character notice and respond: “I never expected her to say that,” “What? That just doesn’t make sense,” or, “Obviously there’s more going on here than I thought when I first found the necklace.”

If a character acts in an unbelievable way, you’ll need to give the reader a reason why—and it’d better be a good one. Remember: Always give the reader what he wants, or something better. If you don’t give the reader what he wants (believability), you must satisfy him with a twist or a moment of story escalation that satisfies him more than he ever expected.

Secret #3: 
IT’S ALL ABOUT ESCALATION.

At the heart of story is tension, and at the heart of tension is unmet desire. At its core, a story is about a character who wants something but cannot get it. As soon as he gets it, the story is over. So, when you resolve a problem, it must always be within the context of an even greater plot escalation.

As part of the novel-writing intensives that I teach, I review and critique participants’ manuscripts. Often I find that aspiring authors have listened to the advice of so many writing books and included an engaging “hook” at the beginning of their story. This is usually a good idea; however, all too often the writer is then forced to spend the following pages dumping in background to explain the context of the hook.

Not a good idea.

Because you’ve killed escalation.

This is also why dream sequences typically don’t work—the protagonist thinks she’s in a terrible mess, then wakes up and realizes none of it was real.

So, things weren’t really that bad after all.

That’s the opposite of escalation—and the death of the forward movement of the story.

Tension drives a story forward. When tension is resolved, the momentum of the story is lost. I’ve heard writing instructors differentiate between “character-driven” and “plot-driven” stories, but the truth is that neither character nor plot really drives a story forward—only unmet desire does.

You might include page after page of interesting information about your character, but that won’t move the story along; it’ll cause it to stall out. Until we know what the character wants, we don’t know what the story is about, and we won’t be able to worry or care about whether or not the character’s desires are eventually met.

Somewhat similarly, plot is simply the casually related series of events that the character experiences as he moves through a crisis or calling into a changed or transformed life. So you might include chase scene after chase scene, but eventually the reader couldn’t care less that one car is following another down the street. Until we know what the stakes are, we don’t care. A story isn’t driven forward by events happening, but by tension escalating.

All stories are “tension-driven” stories.

Now, to create depth in your characters, typically you’ll have two struggles that play off each other to deepen the tension of the story. The character’s external struggle is a problem that needs to be solved; her internal struggle is a question that needs to be answered. The interplay of these two struggles is complementary until, at the climax, the resolution of one gives the protagonist the skills, insights or wherewithal to resolve the other.

To some extent the genre in which you write will have expectations and conventions that’ll dictate the precedence of the internal or external struggle in your story. However, readers today are very astute and narratively aware. If you intend to write commercially marketable fiction, you’ll need to include both an internal struggle that helps us empathize with the protagonist, and an external struggle that helps drive the movement of the story toward its exciting climax.

So, as you shape your novel, ask yourself, “How can I make things worse?” Always look for ways to drive the protagonist deeper and deeper into an impossible situation (emotionally, physically or relationally) that you then eventually resolve in a way that is both surprising and satisfying to the reader.

The story needs to progress toward more and more conflict, with more intimate struggles and deeper tension.

The plot must always thicken; it must never thin. Because of that, repetition is the enemy of escalation. Every murder you include decreases the impact that each subsequent murder will have on the reader. Every explosion, prayer, conversion, sex scene means less and less to the reader, simply because repetition, by its very nature, serves to work against that escalation your story so desperately needs.

Strive, instead, to continually make things worse for the protagonist. In doing so, you’ll make them better and better for the reader.

All three of these storytelling secrets are interwoven. When every event is naturally caused by the one that precedes it, the story makes sense. As characters act in ways that are credible and convincing in the quest for their goals, the story remains believable, and the deepening tension and struggles keep the reader caring about what’s happening as well as interested in what’s going to happen next.

By consistently driving your story forward through action that follows naturally, characters who act believably, and tension that mounts exponentially, you’ll keep readers flipping pages and panting for more of your work.

 

Before You Begin Your Masterpiece!

pen_paper

 

4 Common Grammar Rules You Think You Know!

Grammatically Correct, 2nd Edition by Anne Stilman

THE ADVERB-ADJECTIVE DISTINCTION

Much could be written on adverbs, but the most needful point to make about them is simply. USE THE DARN THINGS WHEN THEY’RE CALLED FOR!   (Primers on e-mail etiquette advise that all-caps text can be interpreted as shouting. Yes, this text is shouting). Far too many people use an adjective when an adverb is the correct choice.

What is wrong with the following sentences?

I was shaking so bad I could hardly make out what the letter said.

I can’t walk as quick as you—please slow down.

It was real nice of you to come.

The roads are slippery, so do drive careful.

The kids are being awful quiet—should we check on them?

Adverbs are not a difficult concept, you may think but like adjectives, they are modifiers, but while adjectives modify nouns, adverbs modify verbs and adjectives. Most (though not all) adverbs are formed by adding “ly” to an adjective.  Answers: In the sentences above, shakingwalk, and drive are verbs. Nice and quiet are adjectives. Accordingly, their modifiers are NOT the adjectives bad, quickrealcareful, and awful, but the adverbs badlyquicklyreallycarefully, and awfully.

 

 

New Release on Kindle

Delphi Altair Second Edition for KindleSecond Edition now on Kindle

Thirteen year old Megan Donnelly, distraught over the loss of her mother and bitterly angry with her father, wants to run away from home. But on the day of her mother’s funeral Megan receives a mysterious package. Inside the package, Megan finds an old leather-bound journal with a lock, and a silver key. As Megan begins to read the journal she discovers the story is about an orphan girl, Delphi Altair, whose parents were kidnapped by evil beings from another dimension. As the story unfolds, Delphi finds herself being attacked by the evil creatures who took her parents. Donovan, a school friend offers to help Delphi. Nikkos, a Watcher from the planet Janji has been guarding Delphi secretly. Nikkos fears that the evil beings are trying to capture Delphi too. Nikkos transports Delphi and Donovan to the planet Janji where they will learn to become Warriors. Once they arrive on Janji they find they have been recruited to help save the earth from destruction by the evil creatures who want to steal the Golden Spiral, but they must return to earth before the waxing of the crescent moons of Janji or all is lost.

Megan, spellbound by the mysterious journal, comes to realize Delphi’s story is terrifyingly real and Megan is somehow involved in it. Megan’s life is about to change in ways she could never have imagined.

 

Words Your Editors Will Delete!

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Words your editor will delete from your writing as posted on the Writer’s Circle.com

“And then the meeting was suddenly interrupted by a very loud noise that startled the board members.” If the previous sentence isn’t a train wreck to you, it’s perhaps time to analyze your own writing. The sentence should hopefully drive in this useful point: the best writing out there isn’t determined by what happens, but rather by word choice. Nothing takes readers out of the moment like one poorly worded sentence. To help your writing, we compiled a brief list of words to avoid along with our reasons and a few suggestions to help you get around some messy phrasing. Oh, and if you were wondering, a decent way to rephrase the starting sentence would be “A deafening noise crashed through the otherwise quiet meeting, agitating the typically lethargic board members.”

1. “Very” or “Really”

Mark Twain said it best: “Substitute ‘damn every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be’. The words “very” or “really” (or truthfully any intensifier) are just another way of increasing the value of a word without adding anything descriptive. You’re also using two words when one would suffice, and unless you’re getting paid by the word, it’s best to avoid. Instead of saying “very loud” like in the first sentence of this article, use “deafening,” “thunderous,” or “piercing.” Not only do they roughly mean the same as “very loud” but they are much more descriptive. Here’s a great, if brief, list of words you can use in replace of “very”.

2. Suddenly

“Sudden” or “Suddenly” is another practically useless word. Anton Chekhov once said “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” The word “suddenly” tells the reader the moon is shining. It’s telling the reader what to feel instead of forcing them to feel it. Let the sentence or the action itself jar the reader into feeling the suddenness of the action. “Suddenly” ironically slows down the action and delays the actual suddenness of the sentence. There’s no actual replacement for the word, either. Just don’t use it. Let the silence speak for itself to convey your message.

3. “Amazing” or “Awesome”

Both of these words are meant to convey very specific feelings. “Amazing” means “causing great wonder or surprise” while “awesome” means “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.” There are two great reasons to not use these words. First, it falls into “telling and not showing,” that is: telling the reader how they should feel or how the character feels instead of actually describing it in a way in order to convey that emotion.

The second reason to avoid these words is simple: they are over used. Everything, these days, is either awesome or amazing. Seriously, ask yourself the last time you’ve used either of those words to describe something innocuous like a hamburger or a delightful chocolate dessert. To quote Louis CK, “As humans, we waste the [expletive] out of our words. It’s sad. We use words like ‘awesome’ and ‘wonderful’ like they’re candy. It was awesome? Really? It inspired you to awe? It was wonderful? Are you serious? It was full of word. You use the word ‘amazing’ to describe a [expletive] sandwich at Wendy’s. What’s going to happen on your wedding day, or when your first child is born? How will you describe it? You already wasted ‘amazing’ on a [expletive] sandwich.”

If you intend to use these words, it’s worth asking if what you’re describing really is ‘amazing’ or ‘awesome’ in its true sense. If it is, find a way of letting the audience feel that. If you aren’t using the true sense of the words, there are alternatives like “neat,” “delicious,” “outstanding,” or <insert other words that will fit better without entering into the realm of cliche hyperbole>.

4. That

“That” is a handy word and isn’t always useless, however it’s also commonly a crutch without a purpose. Whenever you’re about to use the word, ask yourself if there is a better way to avoid it. Consider this sentence: “I saw the grail that shined brightly.” The sentence is weak, right? Change the sentence entirely by avoiding the pitfall of the word “that” by rewriting it to “I saw the brightly shining grail.” The sentence sounds much cleaner now, right? Also consider “I think that all puppies are adorable.” Just remove the word from the sentence to make it cleaner once more: “I think all puppies are adorable.” Any time you’re about to use the word, ask yourself it there’s a cleaner way of phrasing your sentence, or if the sentence makes sense without it. If it does, just ditch the word entirely.

 

5. Started

“He started running.” “She started dancing.” “The dog started jumping.” All of these sentences are passive and slow. “Started” serves to slow down the sentence and little more. Instead, remove the word from your vocabulary. “He ran.” “She danced.” “The dog jumped.” Any action performed is one started. If you want to signal that the action is a continuing one, add descriptors after. “He ran tirelessly past the starting line.” “She danced all night long.” “The dog jumped repeatedly.” Each sentence provides a better scope of time than using the word “started”.

Started isn’t a word to avoid without exception, however, but it’s pretty close. The car didn’t “start”, it “roared to life,” for example. One time you can use the word “start”, though, is when there’s something that has a definite starting time. “I started writing in the 8th grade.” These opportunities occur rarely, and it’s much better to try to avoid the word as best you can. There are much stronger ways to communicate your point.