If I wanted to just relax on my vacation, I would look for a house with a circle door to rent in the Shire. I would talke long walks, mix with the local hobbits, sample the regional cuisine, and do research on the area.
But if I was looking for adventure, I would book passage to London 1895 and join Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and solve a mystery.
How to Write Anything: a Complete Guide by Laura Brown is not really about how to accomplish every kind of writing there is. It’s a guide to what I call technical writing. Ms. Brown covers personal writing, like holiday newsletters, wedding announcements, and complaints, school writing which includes everything from note-taking to lab reports and essays, and business writing. She also discusses writing online.
What does this great book have to do with creative writing? Ms. Brown states in her introduction that all this technical writing can be accomplished by dividing the process into six parts: purpose, reader, brainstorm, organize, draft, and revise. I think those six sections work for creative writing, too.
Purpose — Why are you writing a particular piece? Is it to entertain yourself? Share a message with others?
Reader — What reader is your writing aimed at? Yourself? Friends? If you want to be published, you must know the audience you are writing for. Publishers expect you to know that information and tailor your work to your readers.
Brainstorm — Everybody knows what this means. I will add I sometimes think of great ideas and then believe I will remember them. When it comes time to write them down, I forget what they were. So write down your brainstorming ideas.
Organize — This may take many forms when you are writing creatively. Some people work best with a detailed outline and others may need to jot down just the significant plot points and write to connect those dots.
Draft — Pull your brainstorming and organization together in a first draft.
Revise — Always review and rewrite. Even if it’s just a cute poem for a friend to celebrate her birthday, review and rewrite. Very, very few writers, and I’m definitely not one of them, write something great the first time.
This process will serve any writer well for any kind of writing. If you need examples of technical writing, check out How to Write Anything. I found much of the advice about writing online especially helpful.
Ms. Brown writes in Chapter 2 that a person doesn’t have to use the process in the order listed above but should consider all the parts sometime during writing, if he has the time. I think creative writers should always consider all six parts for every piece of writing.
Does this process sound like it would work for you? Maybe you already have a productive writing process. Let me know what it is. I am always ready to learn!
I think this is great advice if you are brainstorming for some kind of story, or if you are stalled in a scene of a larger work.
This is espeically helpful to me because I am a character-driven writer. I develop characters first, get to know them inside and out, and then try to concoct a plot for them. When I really know my characters — and some I have known longer than my husband — scenes sometimes just write themselves.
One Sunday I sat down to write fiction just for the fun of it and used characters from my novel. I had had a scene in mind for a long time. Like many of my scenes, I knew how I wanted it to start and how it should end, but the journey between those points was completely unknown. That’s when the fun began.
The scene consisted of only three characters in a conversation. Once I began writing, my regular characters took over. I found myself writing dialogue that surprised me and yet I was thinking, “Yes, that’s exactly what Mike would say.” It felt like, as Mr. McManus writes, I was “eavesdropping on my own characters.”
If you like creating characters and writing dialogue, get your characters yakking. You could find a new approach to your writing. Or just a lot of fun.
My favorite was hunting for seashells at Shackleford Banks, North Carolina. My family took a ferry to a barrier island whose only inhabitants are wild horses. Shackleford Banks is nine miles of beach and scrub and one building containing a restroom.
We crossed the the island from where the ferry dropped us off to the side that faces the ocean. During low tide, we wore masks and, holding hands, floated on the sea looking for shells. When we spotted a good candidate, we reached for it.
The thrill of discovering a complete shell, six-inches longer or longer, never grew old. The vacation combined several things I love — the sea, treasure hunts, and family. That day was pure joy.
If you are prompted to write something, please share it. Keep your writing fun and friendly. If you have written a long piece, just submit the first hundred words. Hope to hear from you!
“Why do you give your characters and places such odd names?”
Mr. McManus explains that naming his characters Retch or Rancid or the Troll immediately tells the reader something about those characters. He adds, “Because of the brevity required for short humor, one must continually look for way to save words. Comically descriptive names for characters and places are one of mine.”
Descriptive nicknames can work in longer fiction, too. In the mystery A Fool and His Monet by Sandra Orchard, FBI agent Serena Jones catches two men peddling stolen art. Since she doesn’t know their names, she calls them “Baldy” and “Sidekick”. The main character in Marissa Shrock’s The First Principle, a dystopian Christian fiction YA novel, overhears a conversation between two women who are strangers to her. Based on their appearances, she calls them “Puffy” and “Pudgy”.
In both examples, the main characters nickname minor ones because they don’t know their names. The nicknames tell readers something about those minor characters and it’s more concise for the author to write “Baldy” rather than “the bald man” or Puffy rather than “the woman with the puffy face.”
I have a special affection for nicknames because I use them for family members. In my novel, I have character who nicknames almost everyone. He calls his nephew who is a drummer “Sticks” and another nephew who wears a cowboy hat “Cowboy”.
Nicknames not only tell you something about the character with the name, but also about the person who invented it. If a teen calls his math teacher “the Fuhrer”, that reveals qualities about the teacher and the teen.
I think having a character hand out nicknames and giving them to major characters make all your characters seem more real. Many of us have nicknames, sometimes tied to our family relationships, hobbies, jobs, or physical characteristics, and those nicknames highlight different aspects of our life. They can do the same for your characters.
Keep nicknames in mind for humor, brevity, description, or character development.
As I’ve written here before, I am a huge fan of Patrick F. McManus. His stories, first published in Field & Stream and Outdoor Life, are some of the funniest I’ve ever read. He also wrote a mystery series featuring Sheriff Bo Tully and a book about writing humorous stories, The Deer on a Bicycle.
Mr. McManus’s day job was teaching writing at Eastern Washington University, so not only could he write, he could teach it, too. Even if you don’t write humor, this book is packed with great advice.
I like the framework for the first half of the book. Mr. McManus has an imaginary character named Newton ask questions about writing, such as “Pat, what do you mean by ‘indirection’ in a story?”, “What do you believe is the ultimate in prose style, Pat?’, and “Short humor, Pat, What is it and who cares?”
In the second half of the book, the author selects twelve of his short stories and provides commentary about each one, focusing on structure or characters or some other writing techniques. I find this the most helpful section of the book.
At the very end is a list of humorists Mr. McManus likes. Most of them are classic writers of American humor like Mark Twain and Erma Bomback. Several of them I haven’t read and I am looking forward to sampling their works.
Next time, I’ll write about what I’ve learned from reading The Deer on a Bicycle.
I found this picture on Pixabay, and it intrigued me. Why is a giant tortoise roaming in the fog? Why are kids roaming in the fog? Are the children in danger? Is the tortoise? The picture sparked so many questions.
I might start a story like this:
“The coming of the fog brought fear. All the grown-ups said Something was in the fog, Something too horrible to name. It kept everyone inside, barricaded.
But I had see the Something one dark afternoon, out of my locked window. Huge it was, moving slowly, bending down, then straightening up. It didn’t act like a Something on the hunt for people
I talked it over with my twin brother and we agreed: the next fog, we would go out to find It.”
I discovered this book when I was working as a children’s librarian in a public library many years ago. If you are looking for inspiration, especially for a work of speculative fiction, look no further than The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
In the introduction, the author uses a very intriguing gimmick to explain the source of the book. Thirty years before the book’s publication, Harris Burdick walked into the office of editor Peter Wenders.
“Mr. Burdick explained that he had written fourteen stories and had drawn many pictures for each one. He’d brought with him just one drawing from each story, to see if Wenders liked his work.
“Peter Wenders was fascinated by the drawings. He told Burdick he would like to read the stories that went with them as soon as possible. The artist agreed to bring the stories the next morning. He left fourteen drawings with Wenders. But he did not return the next today. Or the day after that. Harris Burdick was never heard from again.”
The title of the story and one line accompanies each picture. The fourteen illustrations should kindle the imagination of any writer, even one like me who has no talent for speculative fiction. My favorite pictures are “Under the Rug”, “A Strange Day in July”, “Another Place, Another Time”, “Captain Tory”, and “The House on Maple Street”.
I introduced the book to the tweens in a writing workshop I am leading at a library. The pictures immediately grabbed their attention, and I challenged them to write a story based on one of them
If you try to order it from Amazon, don’t be put off by the product details that state it’s a picture book. It is, but one for writers of any age. The Chronicles of Harris Burdick is a collection of short stories by fourteen different writers based on the pictures. If you want to get inspired, don’t read Chronicles. It will limit your imagination.
If you get the book and get inspired, let me know.
Last time, I wrote about a bad habit I had when it came to my characters: TMD — Too Much Description. Another bad habit that walks hand-in-hand with the first is DD — Dumping Descriptions. Not only did I over-describe my characters, but I would put all of it in the same place.
Because I wrote in first-person, I thought I was being realistic when my main charater Junior would describe another character all at once as that person came into his sight. But such lengthy descriptions ground the action to a halt.
Then I thought over how I see people in real life. When I first meet someone, I don’t notice every tiny detail. I get a general impression: height, weight, hair color and style, eyes light or dark. While interacting with this person, I get more details, specific eye color, shape of features of the face, and clues to her personality.
That’s how I should write. Now when Junior introduces another characters, even if it’s a relative, I describe the most important features first, then drop in relevant details as they story progresses.
For example, one of my major characters is Mike Lody, Junior’s uncle. The characteristics I think are important are he is only five years younger than Junior, he has a burly, powerful build, he’s half a foot shorter that Junior, he always wears a black hat with a low crown, his eyes are small and brown, his jaw is very square, and his hair is reddish brown.
When Mike first appears he burst through a door. I mention he’s “built like a bear”. When he sees the sheriff who is interrogating Junior, Mike grins “like a grizzly that has just spotted supper” because he doesn’t like cops. The grizzly comment also links to Mike’s build. In the next chapter, the sheriff asks for Mike’s ID and that reveals his age. Through the rest of the chapter as the sheriff confronts Junior and Mike, I drop in descriptions, one at a time, like the hat, which Mike adjusts depending on his mood.
Many writers recommend a character chart to keep descriptions straight. I should probably do that. I can describe each character in minute details and get that out of my system, and then compare descriptions to make sure I don’t have too many characters with similar appearances. I can also tease out what is critical for the reader to know about each character. This chart on author Jill Williamson’s site is very detailed. Use it as a template to build a chart that fits your need.