Category Archives: Writing

“Yes, and…”

It’s a game.

Actors who study improvisation are taught that no matter what happens in a scene, just go with it. Example:

Person 1: “Look, there’s a purple elephant!”
Person 2: “Yes, and a little old lady is riding him.”
Person 1: “Yes, and they are headed for that ice cream stand.”

And on it goes. If someone says no:

Person 1: “Look, there’s a purple elephant!”
Person 2: “No, there’s not.”

The game is over.

This teaches actors how to accept, how to trust, how to keep the game going. You can easily adapt this to your writing.

“Are you going to finish a chapter this week?”
“Yes, and I will be starting the next one.”

“Are you going to submit your short story for publication?”
“Yes, and I will have a list of places to send it if it is rejected.”

Nervous? Afraid? Do it anyway. Don’t say no. Don’t end the game.

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Back to School Shopping

100 - school-supplies

I’ve always considered September to be my New Years. The summer has ended, theatre season has started, and it’s time to go back to school. And with the spirit of my Who Lives Here article, I’ve put together a list of “Back to School” (or “Back to Writing”) items.

Bear in mind you don’t need anything of these things, but there is something about starting the new year with a fresh notebook that’s very energizing. There’s also no need to break the bank either, as many of these items can be purchased at the dollarstore.

Paper

Notebooks – Do you like ones with fancy covers? Leather bound? Bright colours? Pick one you love, but be sure it’s small enough to carry around. You never know when inspiration will strike!

Sticky notes – I’m not a fan myself but a lot of other writers are!

Yellow legal pad – I used one during my very first writing group when I was 19. I still have the notes.

Sketch book – Sometimes lines are limiting. A large blank sheet of paper may help you to break out!

Craft paper (or flip chart paper) – Go big or go home! Sketch on it, write, use colours!

Writing Utensils

Pens – I’m a Bick girl myself

Pencils – Be sure to get a good eraser. (Why do the ones on the ends of pencils never work?)

Markers – FOR CRAFT PAPER!

Books

What book have you been eyeing but haven’t bought. Go out and get it! Fiction, non-fiction, it doesn’t matter.

Others

Calendar – Do you need deadlines to write? Have a writing calendar to remind you. You can also mark down dates of readings and literary festivals you would like to attend.

Wipe board – Now you see it, now you don’t!

File box – For those people who clip articles and write on scrap paper

Photo box – For those people who clip articles and write on scrap paper but don’t want to be alphabetical about it

Laptop – Is it time for some new hardware?

Lastly, do you remember receiving a syllabus on the first day of each of your high school and university classes? Write one for the year. What do you want to learn? Whose books are you going to read? What are your goals? Refer to it when you’re feeling overwhelmed or lost. At the end of the year you can look back and see all that you’ve accomplished. It’s a great feeling.

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Constructive Criticism – Part IV: How to Give

Someone has asked you to read their piece. Could be a friend, a family member, could be someone online. How do you give advice that’s helpful, objective, and respectful?

FIRST: Ask what kind of feedback they are looking for
Maybe they just need a little encouragement to keep going. Pick three things that really work in the story and tell them why. Maybe they want a proof reader to catch typos and would prefer if you didn’t comment. Have the writer confirm that yes, they are looking for constructive criticism before you start reading.

SECOND: Ask how far along they are
Are they working with a concept? Have they finished a first draft? Is this their final draft? Knowing where they are in their process will help you comment accordingly.

THIRD: Know what to look for
o How have they described their settings and characters? Too much detail? Not enough? Have they used interesting metaphors? Can you see where they are and who they are?
o Are the characters rich? Believable? Do they jump off the page?
o Is the dialogue interesting? Realistic?
o Look at the plot. Are the stakes high enough for the characters? Does the plot make sense given the world and
the people in it?

FOURTH: Ask, don’t tell
Asking questions is a great way to give feedback. Asking how a scene helps to move the plot forward is far more helpful (and respectful) than saying a scene bored you. If you really feel something doesn’t work and you can’t form it into a question, explain why. Give an example.

FIFTH: Remember, objective not subjective
Each reader brings not only their personal preferences, but also their baggage to everything they read. If your partner has just broken up with you, you’re not going to want to read a romance. Put aside personal feelings and look at the work objectively. Is it a good story?

Happy critiquing.

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Constructive Criticism – Part III: What to do next

You’ve figured out who to ask and what to ask. Now you’ve received your feedback. Do not read it. I repeat… DO NOT READ IT! Let it sit for a day, two days, maybe a week. The longer you let everything sit, the more objective you’ll be when you read it.

When you finally do read it, there will be three types of comments
1) Great advice that you can’t wait to follow
2) Great advice that makes you a bit defensive
3) Advice you know you can’t use

1 is easy. With respects to 2, ask yourself why you feel defensive. Did your reader suggest you cut your favourite part? Would the story be better off? With 2 comments you can let the work sit for longer or save another copy of your work to test out the changes. You can always go back to the original if you feel it’s not working.

With 3 remember, not everyone excels in separating the subjective from the objective. Saying a section is boring because there isn’t any fighting is different than saying it was boring because there was nothing to help or hinder your main character.

After you have made edits to your piece you can either give it back to the person who made the comments or give it to someone new (or both) Just be sure and thank your readers even if the only comments they give you are 3s. They still took the time to read and comment on your work.

Next article – How to give feedback to others

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Constructive Criticism – Part II: Questions to ask your reader

You’ve selected the lucky person (or persons) to give you feedback on your work. Excellent! While you could give them your piece and just ask for an overall review, it would be best if you came up with some questions to help guide your reader.

 Was the setting clear and vibrant? Was there too little or too much description?
 Do the characters feel like real people?
 Does the protagonist have a clear goal? Are the stakes high enough?
 Were you interested in the character’s journey? Did you care if they reached their goals?
 Was the protagonist’s motivation clear?
 Did the protagonist experience growth by the end of the story?
 Were you bored at any point? Which part? Why?
 Were you confused at all? Did you have a hard time following your plot?
 How did you feel when you finished the story?

Remember – It is also perfectly acceptable for you to say that you just need encouragement. That you just want to hear one thing they liked so you will have the courage to go on.

You’re the writer. Ask for what you need.

Upcoming Post – Constructive Criticism Part III: What to do next

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Constructive Criticism – Part I: Who to Choose

You’ve got a solid draft and now it’s time for some feedback. But who to ask?

There are advantages and disadvantages to each group. You’ll have to decide which one (or combination of) is best for you.

Family / Friends
First ask yourself if they are readers. Ask yourself if they are willing to tell you the truth or if they’re afraid of hurting your feelings. Would your feelings be hurt if they didn’t love it?

A good way to determine if a family member or friend is a good person to ask, is to think about the last time you asked for advice. Was it helpful? Did they understand what you needed?

Teacher
Many writers use teaching as a way to supplement their income, but not all writers make good teachers. If you are taking a writing class be sure to listen to what your teacher says about the works of others as well as your own. Do you agree with their assessment? Remember – you want someone who will be objective, who wants what’s best for the work. If you liked the teacher don’t forget to keep that contact once the class is over. They may not have the time to read an entire piece if you are no longer their student, but they might agree to analyzing the first page.

Writing Group
This one can be tricky if you have different personalities in your group. Just because you don’t like a writer personally, does not mean you should discount their suggestions. Pretend someone else gave you that same advice. Would you take it?

Online
Some writers believe they will receive more “honest answers” from strangers than they will from someone they know. Perhaps. But be warned, those who give opinions via the internet are less likely to be tactful since they will never have to face you in person. Try looking for blogs or websites that give feedback on a regular basis. Although I have not submitted to her yet, I enjoy reading Janice Hardy’s Real Life Diagnosis. Writers can submit a page which she will then post and critique. You can also ask other writers to comment on your work in exchange for looking over some of their pages.

Next week – Constructive Criticism Part II: Questions to ask your reader

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Proofing

You’re done! The story you have been working on for months has been double spaced and printed, your characters have succeeded or failed in achieving their goals, all plot holes have been filled, you’re good to go! Now… time to proof.

Let it sit
Reading the same lines over and over makes you oblivious to errors. Put the story in a drawer for a while. Come back to it with fresh eyes.

Print it out
You’ll be surprise how many mistakes you catch on paper that you missed on the screen.

Use large font
Maybe not for your novel, but the font size for your short stories can be increased to help enlarge your errors.

Read your work backwards

This will force you to look at each word individually.

Read it out loud
This is really helpful in terms of rhythm. Does your story have a variety of sentence lengths?

For other proofing tips, visit Daily Writing Tips and Writing Forward

Good luck!

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