Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Show AND Tell #1

April 27th, 2011 | Articles | 8 Comments

“Show, don’t tell” is probably the most well-worn saw in teaching creative writing, supposedly originating with Aristophanes.  It’s not bad advice, of course.  The ability to dramatize action, characterization and relationships in scenes is essential to most engaging story telling.  Mastery of the well-crafted scene in which the reader is able both to experience the situation at hand, and also interpret it – “read” it for meaning and understand its implications and reverberations in the story as a whole --  is necessary if one is to ever be a successful writer.  So why is it then, that I have come to want to kick something (or someone) whenever I hear that particular phrase trotted out?


What Exactly Is a Literary Memoir

January 5th, 2011 | Articles | 8 Comments

First let’s define a few terms:

Journal – just that.  A collection of dated entries that gather force by accretion of experience, always chronological. Many people, myself included, keep private journals for their own amazement and amusement. Some journals, however, are meant from the start as public works (Sue Hubble’s A Country Year, Rick Bass’ Oil Notes, May Sarton’s At Seventy).  The preface of  Reeve Lindbergh’s No More Words, about her experience seeing her mother succumb to Alzheimer’s, reads thus: “These pages represent a kind of journal, with chapters taken from my own diary entries, written off and on between May 1999, the time my mother came to live with us in Vermont, and February 7, 2001, when she died.  I first began to keep a record of this period for myself alone, hoping to make some sense of my turbulent thoughts, feelings, and moods surrounding my mother’s presence and care…This is not, however, an exact reproduction of my diary…I found myself expanding upon the original entries as I typed them into the computer, adding a new thought here or an old memory there, as these thoughts and memories came to me.”  Journal material often finds its way into memoirs.



What is Voice in Creative Writing?

November 4th, 2010 | Articles | 3 Comments

Voice Lessons

“Voice” is a term that gets bandied about in the writing world a lot, as in “He hasn’t found his voice,” or in reviews, such as: “She has created a unique, lovely and deceptively unsophisticated voice for her narrator.”  Sometimes readers will exclaim to a writer, “I love your voice!” or an editor will reject a piece because “the voice isn’t fresh or original enough.”  Voice seems to be a crucial yet elusive aspect of writing.  Is it simply personality in writing?  Like personality or style, don’t you either have it or not? Can it be developed, or learned?  What is it, really?


Writing a Book-length Memoir

October 25th, 2010 | Articles | 5 Comments

For starters, you’re going to be overwhelmed. We might as well get that up front. Writing--or trying to write a book-length anything--is overwhelming. I know, because I’ve written several, and it was hell. And I’ve worked with a lot of other people who have written books, and I’ve never heard a one of them say, “Hey, that was easy.” Or if I did, I fled the other way. I did hear a few of them say it was good work, and certainly many of them said it was entirely worthwhile, possibly life-saving, and deeply satisfying. In other words, worth it. But still overwhelming, especially in the beginning (also in the middle, not to mention the end…). So, okay. Now you know. You’re going to be overwhelmed. Other people have been overwhelmed and lived to tell about it.


How to Read Short Stories as a Writer

October 24th, 2010 | Articles | 1 Comment

How to Read Short Stories as a Writer

Perhaps the best and maybe only advice one can give someone trying to learn to write short stories is to read a lot of them. Eventually, if you read enough of them, you begin to get the picture. You begin to get a felt-sense for what a short story is like, what the form can do, what other people are accomplishing. But getting beyond admiration or intimidation, to see why and how good stories work, and even better, to learn from them, is not something most people have a lot of instruction in. They read as consumers, not as writers. But reading as a writer is a different deal. It’s the kind of analytical reading that can move one along in terms of developing one’s own skills and talent. I’m not talking academic reading here. You don’t need to write a term paper. But as a writer, it does help to know what to look for in stories, to see how certain common denominators are handled. Then hopefully you absorb those elements to the point where you don’t have to think about them (at least not until revision time). They’re available to you, integrated into the self out of which you write. But first you have to be aware of them.


3rd Person Narration

October 23rd, 2010 | Articles | 1 Comment

It’s quite possible, and common, to tell a story in third person with almost no narration.  The “camera” is simply centered in the head of the third person main character, and we experience the story as if we “are” that person, experientially.

“The girl Ryan Callaway was following turned off the Boulevard St. Michel, where Ryan knew every shop and office, and onto a side street that he hadn’t been on before, even though he had been wandering the city streets for weeks.  She walked past a papeterie and an abandoned shoe store and an art gallery selling glossy prints of American movie posters and then led the way into a dimly lit office that once might have been used by an insurance salesman.  To Ryan the room smelled like his parents’ basement back in the states, a wet and musty resting place for the broken appliances and old clothes the family couldn’t bring themselves to part with...”

                        Opening from “Numerology” by Christian Michener

Here about the only concession to a narrator is to call Ryan by his first and last name, which he would not do himself, internally.  Otherwise, we experience everything as Ryan does, in a scene.  The only information we are provided is through his senses.  We are thoroughly limited to his head.  Later in the story, there is some background information provided, but it is done as “daydreaming” on Ryan’s part or sort of memory on Ryan’s part -- events he has lived through, such as news of his parents’ separation.  Many stories are told this way.  They have the advantage of putting you right in the character, “suspending your disbelief,” and making you experience right along with the character.  On the downside, they limit you as the writer to a plot-driven, scene by scene story.  You are limited in terms of getting through a lot of background information quickly, or having some angle on the character that he or she might not have on him or herself.  There’s no real narrative “voice” to this story.  We are not being told a story, we’re being shown one.


“Not Nice” in Writing

October 20th, 2010 | Articles | 0 Comments

"Not Nice"

What do I mean by “not nice” in terms of writing? Certainly it’s a value of mine to be “nice,” in person and in writing; I want people to like me, to like my writing. And certainly I don’t have as a value “not nice” for its own sake. But I do find that I’m very interested in exploring with you the notion captured in the phrase “not nice.” It seems to me an important concept to consider. I’m sometimes aware, when I read student or client writing, of a feeling I have that the writer isn’t going far enough, or has more to express -- more feelings and emotions -- than are getting on the page. I feel a sense of constriction, constraint, convention perhaps. Other times I don’t think along these lines, because the notion of “not nice” doesn’t apply. It’s not an issue in whatever is being written. But I’m interested in our looking at subjects or places in our own writing where some internal censor pops up -- either consciously or unconsciously -- and shouts “don’t go there -- not nice!” and the writing suffers for it.


Humor in Writing

October 19th, 2010 | Articles | 0 Comments

Humor in Writing

Just as humor is a saving grace in life itself, so can it be in writing. Granted, life is serious, writing is serious, WE are serious, but we can also be funny sometimes, if we let ourselves. There are definitely plenty of things that just are not funny and it would be insane to try to make them so. But what I’m interested in is expanding or stretching the range of your voice so that when the time is right, when something has some comic, ironic, absurd or just “light” possibilities, you’ll be ready. Also, just inviting you to practice hitting this note, so to speak, might open up some writing possibilities for you you’re overlooking. You might actually find a voice or tone you can use by consciously trying on something you don’t normally do. Opening up this aspect of your personality more in writing might allow you to write things you wouldn’t otherwise write. And that would be good.


How to Critique Creative Writing

October 18th, 2010 | Articles | 6 Comments

A Few Thoughts on Critiquing or One Size Doesn’t Fit All

One of the difficulties in trying to establish some guidelines for critiquing manuscripts in a creative writing class or feedback group is the vast array of differences we see from piece to piece.  One piece may be whole and nearly perfect as it is presented to us (whether from a lot of revision or because it sprang fully formed the first time) whereas another may be just struggling into existence, a virtual embryo compared to the full term birth above. Obviously we cannot approach these two manuscripts in the … Read More


Capturing Childhood/Engaging the Adult Reader

October 18th, 2010 | Articles | 1 Comment

Capturing Childhood/Engaging the Adult Reader

The world of childhood is terrific material for writers, both memoirists and fiction writers and everyone in-between.  We all went through childhood, after all, so we can relate, and we know childhood to be intense, sensual, weighty.  Does anyone buy the myth of a happy childhood anymore?  Well, certainly some childhoods are happier than others, but regardless of how lucky we were in this regard, we usually can identify with children’s pain.  We “get” as adults how much things can hurt, how innocent or unprotected by our adult coping skills children can be.  We also … Read More