Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Magic of a Story

More Methods to Overcome Writer's Block

In my last post, I gave you several prompts and lines of dialogue to jump-start the creative process and help you get back to writing. Occasionally, a line or two of dialogue is simply not enough. When you find yourself facing writer's block again, give these techniques a try to get your work moving again:

  • Read a book
  • Clean your house
  • Watch television
  • Go for a walk
  • Turn on some music and dance
  • Cook or bake something
  • Call a friend or loved one
  • Go for a drive
  • Go shopping
  • Play with your pet
  • Take a long bath or shower
  • Work in the garden
  • Have a cup of tea or coffee
  • Write in your journal
  • Take a nap
  • Play a board or video game
  • Vacuum
  • Clean the toilet
  • Do the dishes
  • Go to the park
  • Plan a vacation
  • Light a candle
  • Do the laundry
  • Go out and take some pictures
  • Watch a movie
  • Listen to an audiobook or a podcast
  • Have a glass of wine
  • Cry
  • Sing like no one can hear you
  • Go shopping
  • Go shopping online
  • Go for a swim
  • Get some sunshine
  • Have a snack
  • Go to the zoo
  • Visit an aquarium
  • Go to a museum
  • Visit an art gallery
  • Go to a concert
  • Play in the rain

Here are a few suggestions to help you get unstuck whenever you're feeling creatively blocked. The key for getting past writer's block is distracting yourself from your work long enough to let your mind wander.

What do you think of these tips? How do you overcome writer's block?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Squelch Writer's Block with These Opening Lines

“I do not hate you.”
“Hit me again.”
“I need another.”
“Stay on this train until the end of the line.”
“This is all I have.”
She stared at him, saying nothing.

He knows it’s wrong, but he can’t help himself.

“What if he says no?”
“You really got ripped off.”
“What kind of woman does something like that?”
I told her I couldn’t.”
“I never said a word.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
She couldn’t talk to him anymore.
“Turn the music up, please.”
I’ve never been in love before.
“He’s just a friend.”
“Of course it’s stupid.”
“Do you think we should do it?”

All they needed was each other.

“Why do you ask?”
I had never imagined the end of the world.
“Get out of my house.”
“Do you ever get lonely?”
“I don’t need your help.”
She squints in the bright light pouring in through the windows.
“You never listen to me.”
“There’s a time and a place.”
“You promised me.”
“I’m so, so sorry.”
“Your hair smells like strawberries.”
“I don’t like the snow.”
“Funny weather, isn’t it?”
“Excuse me.”
“What do you think?”
“We’re out of milk.”
“What time is it?”
“You’re stupid.”

She was not a beautiful woman.

“How are you, really?”
“Do you find me attractive?”
“Are you married?”
“I’m a moron.”
“How could I have avoided it?”
“No, I’m not sorry.”

He thought he was better off without her.

“Forget I said anything.”
She had grown to love the sound of rain.

The Index Card Method

A little while ago, I introduced you to the Signpost Outline Method for plotting stories. This technique worked for me for a little while, but I’ve never been a fan of outlines. They can feel too rigid sometimes; too strict; too limiting, if you will. While using the Signpost method, you might also find yourself feeling trapped. You might be looking for another, less confining method, and if that’s the case, then I have a potential solution. This next method is something that I discovered around the same time as the Signpost method, but I personally feel that it is much more helpful.

First of all, get a stack of index cards. It doesn’t matter how many – just make sure you have enough to realistically plan a whole novel or short story. If you’d like a number count, I tend to shoot for twenty to twenty-five cards for a novel and four to five cards for a short story. Each index card will represent a scene in your work. On each index card, write a single action. By the time you’re finished, you should have a string of plotted actions that look something like this:

Atalanta leaves Anderson for Julian.
Atalanta stays the week with Julian.
Julian tells Atalanta that he yearns for control and power.
Julian refers Alaric to Atalanta.
Alaric meets with Atalanta for a consultation.

Alternately, you could put the actions down on paper. However, I prefer index cards because a) they’re informal, b) they’re portable, and c) you can move them around to change the sequence of events. Once I have all of my actions written down, I like to spread the cards out on the floor and rearrange them several times until I find the ideal sequence. Sometimes, when you do this, you’ll find arrangements that surprised you – sequences of events you hadn’t thought about before. This method also helps you get past writer’s block by reimagining the story arc.

The Index Card Method might now work for everyone, but I wanted to suggest it in case you were looking to try something new. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this technique! Have you used the Index Card Method before? Which method of outlining do you prefer? Leave your comments below, and I’d be happy to respond to them!

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Importance of Reading in the Life of a Writer


The following content is taken from an article I wrote for Every College Girl called “How To… Find More Time to Read.” Reading is vital to the budding writer because it improves his or her vocabulary, teaches flow, and illustrates what does and does not work in the way of structure. Thus, it is absolutely essential you commit yourself to reading. If you’re looking to improve your writing, you must get in the habit of reading. I cannot stress this point enough. Here is the article:

As a self-professed bibliophile, there is nothing I love more than reading. I read whenever I can wherever I can, and I read almost everything that I can get my hands on. Believe it or not, you have more time to read than you think you do. Here are a few tips for finding more time to start that new series you’ve been dying to read.

Make a book your companion
First of all, get used to reading in small sips as well as big swallows. This means always having a book with you because the opportunity to read could come at any time, and you don’t want to be caught unawares. Read in lines, before a movie starts, in the bathroom, between classes, and before bed. Read whenever you have a few free minutes, not only when you can devote hours at a time to the book.

Expand your reading horizons
Also, read in the car. Now, I don’t mean that you should prop your novel against the steering wheel and have at it on the interstate. Today, thank God, we have audiobooks. You can download an audiobook to listen to while cleaning, doing laundry, or walking to class–not just while driving somewhere. Audibooks make it possible to multi-task, and what woman doesn’t want that?

Know yourself
My third and most important point is this: Read what you want to, and put the book down if you aren’t enjoying it. Just because millions of people before you have liked War and Peace doesn’t mean you should feel guilty if it’s not your cup of tea. Life’s too short to read boring books. Find something that piques your interest. If you don’t like something, move on. That’s all there is to it.

What do you think?
Do you love to read, too? What advice do you have to get the most out of your reading sessions?

How often do you read? I'd love to hear your input!

The Signpost Outline Method

Photo by JMC Photos on Flickr Photo by JMC Photos on Flickr
Recently, I’ve been researching different outline methods in an effort to find one that works for me. I don’t use outlines as a general rule, but there seems to be a lot of merit to them for everyone else I’ve talked to. Thanks to Writer’s Digest, I’ve discovered the signpost outline. It’s structured, but it allows for a high degree of flexibility. It looks a little something like this:
Scene 1: Action Scene
SETTING: The park, late afternoon
CHARACTERS: Shelly, a stalker
PLOT: Shelly sits on a park bench reading the paper. She feels like someone is watching her, but when she looks around, she can’t see anyone.
Scene 2: Interior/Contemplative Scene
SETTING: Shelly’s house, midnight
CHARACTERS: Shelly, an intruder
PLOT: Shelly wakes to a sound in the middle of the night, but she thinks she must be paranoid. She thinks about the effect that her impending divorce has had on her life as she goes back to sleep. Unbeknownst to her, she has a nighttime visitor.
Scene 3: Dialogue Scene
SETTING: Shelly’s house, an hour later
CHARACTERS: Shelly, the police
PLOT: The next morning, Shelly wakes up to find all of her underwear is missing. She calls the police, and they begin an investigation into the mysterious panty-snatcher.
I’m sure there are some flaws to this method, but it’s working fine for me so far. I don't prefer to outline, but if you do, this is a great strategy. If you’re averse to outlining, you might want to give this style a shot.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How to Write Realistic Dialogue

Bad dialogue is hard on the eyes and even harder on the ears. It’s as painful to read as it would be spoken aloud, and it doesn’t make anyone happy. There are so many problems with bad dialogue—it can be stilted, stuffy, formal, verbose, jarring, and even offensive. If you want to keep your characters from sounding fake, consider these tips.

  1. Read a lot. To write good dialogue, you need to read good dialogue. The most memorable characters are memorable in part because they’re so realistic. Good dialogue helps flesh out otherwise boring or one-dimensional characters, so chances are, the more you read books with interesting characters, the better your own dialogue skills will become.

  2. Eavesdrop. Go out in public. Sit on a park bench or in a coffee shop and listen to the conversations all around you. And really listen to people when they talk to you, instead of only hearing them speaking. If you want to take it a step further, record the conversations with a tape recorder or a notebook. That way, you can play it back or read it later when you’re looking for inspiration.

  3. Read dialogue aloud. More often than not, most dialogue issues can be discovered just through speaking aloud what you’ve put down on the page. If you feel strange reading your own work, try typing the words into a text-to-speech generator, or convince your friends to join you. Make it a game by assigning parts as though you’re rehearsing a play.

As you can see, writing good dialogue boils down to listening to the way that people actually sound when they talk to each other. Once you’ve got the gist of everyday speech, then the rest should be a piece of cake.

What do you think? What problems do you experience with dialogue?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Beat Writer's Block by Casting Your Story

Whenever I come up with story ideas, I usually have a mental image of the story’s characters as well. For example, my characters are usually famous people. In the novel I’m working on now, my protagonist would be played by Mila Kunis, and my antagonist would be Johnny Depp.

  Atalanta l Mila Kunis   Alaric Silver l Johnny Depp

Why bother casting a novel if it hasn’t been made into a movie yet? Because visualizing your characters as they would actually appear in reality is fantastic.

Take a minute to calm your mind. Breathe in and out. Focus.

Now, I want you to imagine the world of your novel. Unravel the setting, the landscape, and the time frame. See the buildings, trees, and streets in your mind’s eye. Next, move on to your characters. Imagine them going about their everyday lives. Who do they look like? Pretened you’re watching a movie adaptation. Which actors come automatically to mind?

Once you’ve come up with some famous names, do a Google image search to find some photos of them. You can save them to your computer for reference if you want. Now, whenever you get stuck on a difficult scene, imagine the actor in your character’s predicament. Picture him or her in as much detail as you can. What does he or she do in that same situation? What does he or she look like? What does he or she say?

This exercise has proven useful to me, but it might not work for everyone. It’s been my experience that visual learners and writers with a more visual sort of memory have a better time with this technique, but feel free to give it a shot, no matter what your style.

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