Writing Tip: Skip The First Word That Comes To Mind

When you are trying to get something on the page, moving quickly and just getting it done is the way to go. But know that isn’t the finished product. Go over your draft and mark commonplace words–particularly forms of the to-be verbs and vague adjectives. Consider at least three alternatives–and consider the value of the least expected.

Story Starter: Playing With Frogs

Your character has a small, pre-formed pond in the back yard. The pond is home to three goldfish and half a dozen frogs. Then there are a dozen frogs. The frog populations grows, till your character counts 27. A week later, there are fewer than 20, and a week after that, there are only 15 frogs, and a wet spot on the stones by the side of the pond.

Write a story accounting for the frog population. Nothing predictable. Stretch. Get into magical realism, sci fi, fantasy, even fairy tale or fable.

Writing Exercise: Gathering the Pieces

Just for the fun of it: open a dictionary and choose a word at random. Do this three or more times. Then write a paragraph–or scene–using all of the words. This is a great way to trigger juxtapositions that would not otherwise come to mind, and may start a story in an unexpected direction.

Writing Tip: Showing & Telling

“Show, don’t tell,” is writing advice freely given and often repeated. The basic premise is that writing, “. . .and so Suzanne went to bed happy,” is–generally–weaker writing than showing us a scene in which Suzanne is talking or doing things that allow the reader to conclude that she is happy.

As with all rules and guidelines, consider your goal. In general, I suggest showing important actions or events in dialogue and/or behavior. For less important but necessary bits, use exposition to summarize things no one would really like to read. The process of getting there is a prime target. If your character needs to get from Richmond to Denver, put her in a car/train/plane or whatever in Richmond and get her out in Denver. Unless something important to the plot or character development happens en route, leave it at that. Skip the security check-in, over-proced airport food, fellow-passengers’ annoying cell phone conversations, etc.If something important does happen en route, show that as a scene and skip all the boring, predictable details of the before and after.

Writing Exercise: Alternative Responses

First make a list of  emotions people feel intensely–e.g., anger, shyness, boredom.

Now consider Shelly, a woman who lives under a perpetual black cloud. She was in an automobile accident, not her fault, which required two back surgeries. Her father was diagnosed with cancer, told he had six months to live, and died in two weeks. Her boss decided to move to another state. Her vision blurred, and she learned she has a benign but inoperable brain tumor, which required a shunt to drain the fluid build-up that was causing the blurred vision.The shunt broke–twice. She went to the ER for heart issues and learned she has an over-active thyroid. The chest X-ray revealed a mass in her thoracic cavity, but her doctors feel they cannot operate until the thyroid problem is under control, lest she die while under anesthesia. An MRI two weeks later shows that the mass is bigger.

Write a sketch of Shelly–her personality, behavior, beliefs–that would result in feeling the various emotions in your list. Some will be no-brainers, but try to do this for the least likely emotions as well.