Writing Tips from Poet Lori Z. Scott

Always happy to introduce you to an author new to JPC Allen Writes. I met author and poet Lori Z. Scott on Instagram and have enjoyed her poetry so much that I asked her to guest blog for National Poetry Month. Welcome, Lori!

People write poetry for many reasons. To express pain, sorrow, or joy. To entertain, convict, or explore. To say hello, goodbye, or I love you. It’s often a go-to media because poetry is a flexible art form, with many different forms a writer can explore to craft a good poem. Popular ones include acrostic, haiku, limerick, concrete, tanka, ode, and rhyming verse. 

Poetry can also be a rigid and complex art form. Rules that govern poetry range from the strict guidelines of a sonnet to free verse, which follows no rules at all. In addition to that, poems employ a number of literary devices, including alliteration, assonance, internal or end rhyme, repetition, symbolism, meter, and more.

Still, anyone can write poetry. I succeeded mostly using two methods. The first is easy. The second will require some work. 

The easy tip: read a lot of poetry—out loud

I thrived on the simple but profound rhymes of Shel Silverstein, the silliness of Jack Prelutsky, the intricate and witty storytelling of Robert Service, the craziness of Lewis Carroll, and the down-to-earth sing-song messages of Edgar Guest. While I typically trip over my words in my regular speech, these gems roll off my tongue in a pleasing way. I believe the recitation of poems helped develop and hone my ear for poetry. Truth be told, I memorized a lot of them, and that influenced the creation of my own. Which is, coincidentally, one of the best ways to learn.

Some work required tip: brainstorming (a method developed by Alex Osborn.) 

The idea behind brainstorming is to generate a lot of ideas. The more you compile, the better chance you have of hitting gold. To brainstorm, first consider the topic you want to write about. Usually this is a single word or a theme. Then list as many spontaneous ideas as possible related to it. Then categorize the words. Group together words that rhyme, words with alliteration or assonance, and so on. If new ideas occur, add those to the list. Then build the poem. Once written, check each line for the syllable count (unless it’s free verse) and then read it out loud to hear where the accents, or beats, fall. If they don’t work, you will stumble over them. If they do, they’ll roll in a fluid manner. 

(A while back, I wrote an article for Story Embers about developing creativity through brainstorming. You can visit for more details. https://storyembers.org/5-classroom-techniques-writers-can-adopt-to-improve-creativity/

I used this method to write the poem WINTER. Notice how the rhymes, word choice, and use of alliteration work together to create the feeling of a pleasant winter day instead of a bitterly cold one.

Winter

Soft is the blanket of snow on the ground.

Gentle the breeze in the air.

Tender branches all bundled in ice.

Covered with comforting care.

Simple the silence embracing the Earth.

Restful the rise of the hill.

Beauty the sun as it kisses the sky

Tasting its peppermint chill.

Sometimes I write poetry with strict rules because my brain enjoys the challenge. Recently, I tried a Shakespearean sonnet, which often have a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG—three quatrains (four lines grouped together) and a couplet (2 rhyming lines). Poets must write one iamb (one unstressed syllable and one stressed syllable) in each segment until there are 10 syllables in iambic pentameter.

I soon learned this was no easy task… so I had fun with it, writing a sonnet about the fact that I couldn’t write a sonnet.

I think I have but fourteen lines to write.

And yet I find it difficult to do.

A sonnet has restricting rules that bite.

And trip the one who pens without a clue.

Alas, I fear the structure of this form.

Will push my puny brain to exercise

More thinking than I care to be the norm

And serve as one more step to my demise.

Iambic beat cannot be broken or bent.

I wish, dear friend, that fact was not so true.

So, though I voice my simple discontent,

I cannot find the words to see it through.

Dear Sonnet, I must put my pen away.

My ode to you cannot be done today.

I know exactly what you mean. I thought I was decent at short form poetry until I tried limericks. For more about how limericks defeated me, click here.

Thank you so much for sharing your tips, Lori. Now I know how you craft such fun poems!

*****

Elementary school teacher Lori Z. Scott usually writes fiction because, like an atom, she makes up everything. Her down time is filled with two quirky habits: chronic doodling and inventing lames jokes. Neither one impresses her principal (or friends/parents/casual strangers), but they do help inspire her writing. Somehow, her odd musings led her to accidentally write the 10-book bestselling Meghan Rose chapter book series and on purpose write over 150 short stories, articles, essays, poems, and devotions. Follow her on Instagram @Lori Z. Scott and read more of her great poems #lorizscottpoems.

How to Add Humor to Any Story

No matter what genre, if a few characters in a story display a sense of humor, that hooks me as readily as quirky characters or an intriguing plot. Click here for a previous post on the importance of humor.

Inserting humor into a story, especially one with a serious premise, can be difficult. I’ve discovered how to add humor to any story by knowing my characters extremely well and allowing their natures to dictate their sense of humor.

Assigning the Correct Sense of Humor

In my YA mystery A Shadow on the Snow, my main character Rae is quiet, shy person. Most of her funny remarks are in her thoughts. Her uncle Hank is the family joker. He likes to tease relatives to show his affection, especially Rae’s father, his brother-in-law. This kind of humor seems appropriate for a laid-back, extroverted character. Rae’s father, on the other hand, uses sarcastic humor. That fits with his being a cop of fifteen years experience.

Rae jams in a band with two guys. Houston is from Texas. His sense of humor is exaggeration. When Rae asks him how he came to work in Ohio, he answers, “Like any good Texan, I was undone by a woman.” The other guy Chris is very reserve, and Rae finds it difficult to read his facial or body language. He has a very dry sense of humor that Rae only figures out when she sees an ornery glint in his eyes.

As I’m writing a scene, and a joke or humorous observation comes to me, I have to make sure I assign it to the appropriate character. Sometimes, I’ve had to discard something I think is funny because no character in the scene would make that kind of joke or comment. Writers don’t want to break the illusion of reality they create around their fiction. Jamming a joke in the mouth of a character just because I think it’s hilarious will shatter that illusion quicker than just about any other mistake.

My joker, Uncle Hank, can’t suddenly turn sarcastic because I want to dazzle readers with my wit. Or Rae’s father can’t tell a thigh-slapping joke when up until this point in the story he’s only used sarcasm. Readers won’t buy it, or even worse, feel cheated that a character has suddenly swerved from the personality they’ve come to understand.

For more on writing humor and comedy and what’s the difference, check out this very helpful article on “Almost an Author”.

What stories or shows do you think demonstrate how to add humor naturally?

“The Crime Wave at Blandings” by P.G. Wodehouse

April is both National Humor Month and National Poetry Month. I’ll be honoring both with prompts, tips, and guest bloggers. For my favorite story of the month, I’m featuring one of the funniest short stories I’ve ever read, “The Crime Wave at Blandings” by P.G. Wodehouse.

I wrote about P.G. Wodehouse a few years ago and featured his hysterical autobiography Over Seventy. A British writer, P.G Wodehouse created a unique comic world. He takes the British upper class of about one hundred years ago and gives it a madcap twist, along the lines of a screwball comedy or a Marx brothers’ movie.

“Crime Wave” is one of Mr. Wodehouse’s best and is often included in anthologies of his works. The opening gives you a flavor of his one-of-a-kind style”

“The day on which Lawlessness reared its ugly head at Blandings Castle was one of singular beauty. The sun shone down from a sky of cornflower blue, and what one would really like would be to describe in leisurely detail the ancient battlements, the smooth green lawns, the rolling parkland, the majestic trees, the well-bred bees, and the gentlemanly birds on which it shone.

But those who read thrillers are an impatient race. They chafe at scenic rhapsodies and want to get on with the rough stuff. When, they ask, did the dirty work start? Who were mixed up in it? Was there blood, and, if so, how much?”

This story is part of the Blandings saga, which concerns Clarence, Earl of Emsworth and owner of Blandings Castle. Not the brightest man, he longs to be left alone to putter about the ancestral estate, enjoying his roses and overseeing the care of the enormous sow he enters in the county fair. His sister, Lady Constance, constantly bullies him into acting more like a respectable member of the aristocracy.

In “Crime Wave”, Lady Constance has hired Rupert Baxter to tutor Clarence’s grandson George while the boy spends his summer vacation at the castle. Clarence loathes Baxter because Lady Constance forced him on her brother before as a private secretary with the job of making the earl act like an earl. George doesn’t like the look of Baxter, saying he “looks like a bit of a blister”. Clarence completely agrees with his grandson.

George has a BB gun and shoots Baxter to demonstrate his opinion of him. Lady Constance orders the butler Beach to take the gun away from him. During the afternoon, the gun passes through the hands of various members of the family as well as the butter, resulting in considerable confusion over who shot whom, although Baxter is usually the target.

P.G. Wodehouse stories are my literary equivalent of comfort food. In the past month, I was feeling so stressed-out. One way I handled it was to settle down at night with stories about whacky earls, wily butlers, dominating aunts, and all sorts of other nut jobs, all tied together in hilarious stories with more twists than a back country road.

What books or stories do you turn to for comfort?

When Writers Make Elements Work Double Duty

In a short story, it’s critical for every element to pull its weight. Every character, setting, and plot point must be employed for maximum effect. There’s no room for imprecise descriptions or dialogue that rambles. But even better is when writers make elements work double duty. If you are skilled enough to make them put in triple or quadruple duty, go for it.

What Is Double Duty?

I learned this concept from the excellent book by Ron Rozelle, Setting and Description. Double duty is when an element does more that it’s obvious assignment. When the main character describes a scene, the point of his description is to give cues for readers to imagine. But I can also convey something about the main character in the way he or she describes it.

For example, the main character is describing the arrival of students at a school in the morning.

The bell rang, and the buses flung open their doors. Kids poured out, laughing, chatting, hurrying for the glass doors to the middle school. The rising pink sun caught angles of the glass, making them sparkle, and threw brilliant shafts across the dusty red bricks. I shouldered my backpack and rushed ahead.

I haven’t said anything about the character describing this scene, but the description helps readers form an image of the person doing the describing. Here’s another way to look at this scene.

The bell screamed, and the buses vomited students. Kids talked frantically, like they had to get all their words about before the glass doors of the middle school locked them in. The rising red sun speared blinding light through the glass, highlighting every crack in the tired bricks. Bending under the weight of my backpack, I trudged at the end of the line.

Other Ways to Work in Double Duty

Dialogue reveals character. The way a character talks can reveal as much as what he says. For example, a characters that starts most sentences with “I” shows something about his personality.

Character reveals plot. A plot point can move the story forward as well as show something about a character’s personality. If the town gossip gets killed because she spread a story that was detrimental to the murderer, then that flaw in her character aids the plot.

Names reveal character. If your main character nicknames people, those nicknames shows something about both the receiver and the giver of them.

If you’ve written a short story, what tips can you offer? Or what are some of your favorite short stories?

How to Write a Ten Thousand-Word Short Story in Two Weeks and Not Lose Your Mind

The best advice I can give you for writing a short story is summed up in this article I wrote for a few guest blogs when my YA mystery released in 2019. I’ve never published it on my site before, so I hope it offers you some help on how to write a ten thousand-word short story in two weeks and not lose your mind.

In December 2018, I was faced with creating a short story that actually made sense in two weeks. While I got ready for Christmas, taught Sunday School, and prepared for a visit from my in-laws. And I don’t write fast. It took me years to get my YA crime novel in shape.

But I decided to go for it. I met the deadline, wrote a 10,000 word short story, got accepted, and my YA mystery, “A Rose from the Ashes”, was published in Christmas Fiction Off the Beaten Path. Along the way, I learned some very important lessons about writing under pressure.

Know your theme and ending before you start.

I wasted one whole day because I wasn’t sure what the theme and ending of my story was. I wrote fourteen pages that were pretty much worthless. Once I knew the theme and how it would end, I directed all my efforts to reaching that conclusion. If my writing seemed to veer off course, knowing where I needed to end up got me back on track.

Write a synopsis.

“A Rose from the Ashes” is about nineteen-year-old Rae Riley investigating who tried to kill her pregnant mother twenty years before and if the attacker is the father she’s never met. Because my mystery hinges on a twenty-year-old cold case, I wrote out exactly what happened, like book report. Then I could keep straight what Rae knew and what she had to discover.

Tell your story to someone.

After I’d wasted a day, I sat down with my husband and told him my story. I am blessed to be married to an engineer. He looks at my plots logically, which is so important when writing a mystery. He was able to tell me what made sense and what I needed to work on.

Write the basic story.

My first draft was getting down on paper the bare bones of the story. If inspiration hit for a description, I threw that in, but the point wasn’t to write well. I just wanted to write the story from beginning to end and see how it hung together.

Rewrite with description

After I got down the basic story with the basic plot, I rewrote it with the idea of adding descriptions, both for characters and settings. I did this several times because each time I read through the story, I saw places that needed fleshing out.

Ask readers, not writers, to read your story

Writers read a story differently than non-writers. Writers usually read with their professional hats on, diving into all the technicalities of the writing craft. While I needed to put my story under that kind of scrutiny later, what I needed first was how my story appealed to regular readers, who read simply for enjoyment. I have a good friend and several relatives who love mysteries. I asked them to read my story for things that didn’t make sense or made them pause. Two of my sisters read a description they took for an insult. That wasn’t my intent at all and completely changed the nature of a character. So I changed the description.

Get a handle on your main character.

This should probably be #4, but I didn’t get around to it until late in the process. I wrote the story in first person. My mind was so deeply rooted into my main character that I didn’t realize I wasn’t putting all those thoughts and feelings on the page. After several drafts, I realized Rae was the sketchiest of all the major characters. I needed to get a handle on her, a way to sum her up. I enjoy photography and thought amateur photographer was a good way to describe Rae. It covered how she responded to settings and saw the people around her.

Have you faced a tight writing deadline? What lessons did you learn?

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