Writing Exercise: Lessons From the Past

This week I’m sharing the writing exercise I am currently engaged in, and finding it very fun and helpful…though word of warning: self-discipline is involved or you’ll end up simply reading a lot of good stories.

A particular interest of mine is the American homefront during World War II, which among other things, coincided with the end of the golden age of magazine fiction, a time when virtually every magazine had at least one story in it. Also, many women’s magazines and general interest magazines had five or six, often with a complete short novel included.  (Those were the days!)

Over the years, I’ve collect many magazines from the late ’30’s and ’40’s, and while I’ve read them with pleasure, I’d never really looked critically at the fiction they contain. So, as I’ve been reading these seventy year old stories and taking them apart, what am I learning?

First, that many of the stories revolve around one single moment in time and are relatively plotless; for example, the breaking off of an engagement and the reactions of the three characters involved.

Second, most of the stories’ characters are expertly drawn with a few simple details.  I’ve been amazed at the authors’ ability to create someone we all know while avoiding a stereotyped character.  Whether it’s the man or woman who stands in the corner during parties, or the man who always has an answer (that everyone knows may or may not be correct, including himself) or the woman whose reaction to anything is always perfect–not sincere or genuine, but perfect. These authors know how to create a character quickly and simply.

Third, most of these stories offer knowledge about something as well as a story.  A wonderful story dealt with a traveling bee wrangler, a young man who traveled around the country with a hundred bee hives following the flowers. The author not only uses the symbolic opportunities the bees provide, she also educates her readers on how the bees are handled and moved from place to place.  (Who knew bees don’t like the smell of leather?)

These stories are not written by people whose names you would recognize. These are not the folks whose work has been collected on library bookshelves.  But these writers know how to write and reach the reader immediately, and they are well worth studying.  If you don’t share my interest and happen to have seventy year old magazines lying around, back bound issues are often available through public library inter-library loan systems or online.  These literary craftsmen and women are skilled, fun to read, and capable of teaching us quite a lot about the craft of writing. Enjoy!

Photo of the Week: It’s in the Details

Copyright © 2012 by Brittiany A. Koren

When describing main characters, remember to include little quirks that make them stand apart from other characters in the story. This is important because it will help your readers “see” these characters, and therefore relate to them on a deeper level.

If you look closely you’ll see, for instance, the girl in this picture has a scar in her eyebrow. Her eyes are bright green and her hair almost white blonde while the hair in her eyebrow is darker.

These questions leap to mind. How did she get the scar? Does she color her hair, or is it natural?

And then from there, the story begins to develop. What is she looking at so intently? How old is she? What is it about this girl that makes her special?

Have fun with it, but don’t get too carried away. These little details, if not added in your first draft of the story, should be layered in during the second or third draft phase before the story is sent to an editor for review.

Good luck! 🙂

Reader Review: The 29 Most Common Writing Mistakes And How To Avoid Them by Judy Delton

Title: The 29 Most Common Writing Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

Author: Judy Delton

Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books

Format: Hard cover

Pages: 73 Pages

Reviewer: Brittiany

This is a thin, easy reference book to help writers. Like the title stipulates, this work explains twenty-nine different mistakes writers may make with the craft or their writing career. It also explains ways to elude these mistakes. Although this book was published in 1985, most of the tips can still be applied today. Some of the tips are related to: procrastination, punctuation, generalizations, wanting everyone to read your story, research, not giving up on the craft, and so much more!

WD’s E. Tip: It’s important to stay informed of the craft/industry. When taking a break from writing or revising your work, use resource books like this one to better understand your craft, especially if a critique partner or editor isn’t readily available. 🙂

Reader Review: Eric by Terry Pratchett

Title: Eric

Author: Terry Pratchett

Format: Paperback

Page Count: 197 pages

Publisher: HarperCollins

Reviewer: Susan

Terry Pratchett’s Eric is part of the Discworld series, which mixes sorcerers, demons, DEATH (that’s how the character—DEATH, complete with his hood and scythe–appears in the book), magic and a whole bunch of philosophical humor into a sharp, witty storyline I can’t get enough of.

Adolescent Eric, while trying to summon a demon, instead summons not so skilled/lucky/ambitious sorcerer Rincewind.  Rincewind is no demon, but Eric is not to be easily satisfied.  Rincewind “grants” him three wishes, and Eric chooses to live forever, be master of the universe, and have one of the wild women of history as a girlfriend. Rincewind tries, but everything doesn’t go smoothly.  First worshipped as gods, Eric and Rincewind find some people think the gods have a LOT to answer for…and they will be providing the answers…or the (human) sacrifices, hence DEATH’s hanging around.  Did I mention there’s a Wizard University with a librarian who is (now) happily an orangutan and ferocious Luggage with hundreds of legs that eats whatever is inconvenient or disliked in its path?

WD’s E. Tip: Pratchett’s writing is ironic and very, very funny.  If you enjoy British humor, this book, and this series, is for you! It’s a great way to learn how to write humor.

E. Tip of the Week: Take Advantage

Take advantage of another writer’s experience to help you grow as the writer you want to be.

One of my favorite books to read for writers is Spider, Spin Me A Web by Lawrence Block. Books like this are great tools for writers to use when they’re looking for inspiration, or how to use a new tool from their writing toolbox.

Early in the book Block talks about reading, and how important it is to read a lot when you’re a writer. You learn by reading other writer’s works. And you learn when you sit down at your desk and write every day.

To see a full list of our suggested reading materials for writers, visit our page here: https://7b5.22f.godaddywp.com/Coaching.html