writing tips

Do You Ever Revisit Old Writing?

The other day I read an older piece of writing I had written a few years back.

Usually my response in these situations is to laugh and see how much I’ve improved since then. But I read it and felt somewhat satisfied with my writing. Continue reading “Do You Ever Revisit Old Writing?”

writing tips

5 Ingredients for a Compelling Main Character

What makes a great and memorable character? Is it their actions, their bravery or their background stories?

I believe it’s a combination of many elements that all come together like a mosaic to form a colorful character that comes to life off the page.

Photo Credit: BEP on Pixabay, Public Domain Image
Photo Credit: BEP on Pixabay, Public Domain Image

Continue reading “5 Ingredients for a Compelling Main Character”

Fiction/Non-fiction

Writing Prompts: Christmas

First winter here in your arms

Flames rising as we fall like stars

Making angels in the snow

Warm fuzzy, frozen toes

Is this a dream?

-Kelly Clarkson, “Winter Dreams”

Does Christmas or another holiday you celebrate in the winter inspire your writing? I absolutely love Christmas: the dreamy music, bright twinkling lights, the smell of pine, the sweet taste of shortbread cookies…

Recently I’ve discovered the wonderful help of writing prompts, and how they prompt you rather than just inspire you to write. After reading through blogs such as Pomalia and Morrighan’s Muse, I’ve learned that writing prompts can come in the form of lyrics, artwork and simple writing exercises like haikus.

And the holidays might be a good time to write with all of its Christmas-themed novels, music, and films.

Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped in Red has been playing in the background lately as I write. I think just the mood of the album is a writing prompt for me. Its playful, fun and sweet.

writing tips

Reeling in your readers

My internship involves a lot of professional writing and it struck me a few days ago that a hook is very important.

It is the start. The beginning point of your story. It’s the first thing your readers see. If you don’t use an interesting hook your writing will fall flat.

First of all what is it?

Hook: “something that catches your attention or serves as an enticement”, according to Dictionary.com.

Next, how do you make it compelling?

There are a number of options you can use:

  • A Question: Ask a thought-provoking or controversial question that gets your audience riled or gets them thinking. This is especially good for an essay or an article.
  • A Quote: Use a humorous, meaningful or inspiring quote, depending on your medium. Don’t forget to credit the person too!
  • An Anecdote: Tell a detailed or colourful story to set the tone, mood and scene. I find these are useful in first-person accounts or opinion pieces.
  • A Metaphor or Simile: Compare and contrast two elements to create a feeling or compelling image. These are great for creative pieces like stories or poems.
  • A Definition: Define what a word, idea or concept means. Focus on that word.

Just remember it should be interesting, engaging and clear. That way you can catch your readers and reel them in!

What is your favourite type of hook to use?

writing tips

The Power of Music and How It Can Help You Write

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.
– Victor Hugo

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about music and how it affects my writing. I’m a huge music lover so you’ll often find me writing with headphones in, music going. But what place does music have in writing?

This is what I hope to explore. I’ve often thought that music was a great source of inspiration for writing. Music evokes strong emotions and takes you far away. It helps that most music has a narrative structure; when you think about it  music is another way of telling a story. It can push you and motivate you as you write. I often listen to music to keep me writing. Music sets a mood, setting and feeling.

I’ve been finding myself listening to a lot of Marina and the Diamonds, Emeli Sande and Feist. Marina’s voice is haunting and her lyrics often portray the dark side of people, Emeli’s music is inspirational and uplifting, and Feist’s music often reveals a quiet, pensive look on life and its outcomes. You can see how all of these artists’ music has a certain theme and feel. If I want to maintain a certain mood while writing I’ll put on the appropriate music. When I’m feeling a bit darker and moodier, I’ll put on Marina. When I’m feeling chill and relaxed, some Feist. And when I want to feel encouraged, Emeli.

Even writing about music can get your creative juices flowing. I always like to read the summaries of albums on iTunes because the people who wrote those clearly put a lot of thought and effort into explaining the feel and style of those artists and their music. And the description those writers use can get you thinking about your stories, poems, lyrics or whatever other creative project you’ve got going. You can apply the music to your character, to the setting or to your own story (whether it be personal or fictional).

You might want to consider incorporating music into your writing process to assist you when you’re brainstorming or stuck in a rut. It doesn’t work for everyone but it might work for you.

Do you use music as a source of inspiration? If so, what kind of music do you listen to?

writing tips

Rules of Grammar

I know what you’re thinking: ugh, grammar. But grammar is actually very important, even in creative writing. If you want your writing to succeed in any area you must know and apply the rules of proper grammar. This will make your writing clear and professional. Below are key areas of grammar I’d like to cover:

1. Punctuation:

This is probably a common area of confusion and frustration for most people. Where do you put commas? When do you use a dash or semicolon? Here are some general rules to apply:

Colon: Use a colon if you want to explain something further or  introduce a quotation.  You can use colons in place of ‘for example.’ Here are some sentences that illustrate these points:

  • The chest was filled with treasure: gold, rubies and diamonds.
  • Mahatma Gandhi said: An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

Comma: Put commas between words in a series but not before the last and, or or nor except when it prevents confusion. Use a comma for emphasis but use it sparingly like other punctuation marks. For instance:

  • The box was filled with colourful crayons like blue, green and red.
  • There are different ice cream flavours like strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, and cookies and cream.
  • “I don’t really know, I never do.” (Emphasis)

Semicolon: Use a semicolon to separate sentences that are too closely linked to be separated. It’s also important to use a semicolon when phrases contain commas.  A good example of phrases that contain commas are geographical locations; you probably want to use semicolons to avoid confusion between them.

  • I thought the rain was nice; it was pretty soothing actually(See how the two phrases are so closely related and cannot really stand alone?)
  • I went to New York City, New York; Toronto, Ontario; and London, England.

Dash: I think the dash can be a little ambiguous–  you don’t really know when to use it.  See what I did there? 😀 Use a dash to signal a sharp break in a word or sentence, to reference a quotation or to divide elements into a list.  Below are examples of the dash:

  • “What do you mean–gone?” (The dash is good in writing for dramatic effect)
  • All that is gold does not glitter. Not all those that wander are lost. –J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Make sure to pack:
    -Socks
    -Pyjamas
    -T-shirts

Brackets: Use brackets to enclose extra or additional information, to show fuller identification in proper names and direct quotations, and use brackets in numbering or lettering a series within a sentence. Also use brackets for equivalents and translations.  For instance:

  • The winter storm was awful (there was ice and white-outs) and we had to stay inside.
  • Winnipeg (Man.)
  • Three things are required to succeed: 1) hard work, 2) dedication and 3) self-belief. (Brackets can help organize information)
  • You can say “salut” (informal hello in French).

2. The Passive Voice:

Teachers may tell you that the passive voice is bad, especially English teachers. The passive voice can stifle writing and give it a sort of sluggish feel. But the passive voice can have an effect in certain circumstances. For example, if you work in the scientific field or legal field, the passive voice is acceptable.  However, if you are writing an English paper it’s probably best to use the active voice, depending on the subject matter. The active voice often gives writing more impact and gives the agent (what Kolln and Funk call “the doer” of the verbal action) more importance in the sentence.

For example, study these two sentences and figure out what’s different about them:

The girl took the book. (Active)

The book was taken by the girl. (Passive)

See how the agent (the girl) is active in the  first sentence?  But in the passive form the book is the one “acted upon” by the girl.

3.Personal Pronouns

For a quick review, personal pronouns are nouns like: I, you, he, she, they, we, it. Although we use these everyday some confusion can arise when the pronoun doesn’t agree with its antecedent.

This is called the pronoun-antecedent agreement.  An antecedent is the noun that the pronoun stands for in a sentence.

For instance, study this sentence:

Maria met Suzanne at the mall and while she was there, she bought a new pair of jeans.

Who exactly does “she” refer to? We can assume that “she” refers to Maria but we aren’t completely sure. Does it refer to Maria or to Suzanne?

A correct form of the sentence would look like this:

Maria met Suzanne at the mall and while she was there, Maria bought a new pair of jeans. 

In this case, Maria is the antecedent of “she” in the sentence. Now that the pronoun matches its antecedent, the meaning of the sentence is more clear.

Hopefully some of these tips have been helpful. It’s always good to consult a guide to help you with grammatical rules. You don’t have to remember them all but it’s good to put them into practice. Try some writing exercises to improve your grammar: that way you can break the sentence down and spot any errors. Another recommendation of mine is to buy a grammar guide-book, one complete with exercises.

Are there any other areas of grammar I should cover? Do you have any grammar tips of your own?

Sources:

Kolln, Martha, and Robert Funk. “Understanding English Grammar.” Pearson, 2009.

The Canadian Press. “The Canadian Press Stylebook: A Guide for Writers and Editors.” The Canadian Press, 2010.

Book Reviews

Bookshelf Read: The Hobbit

One of my all-time favourite books is The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. This book is a perfect blend of creative writing and great imagination. I love that the language was straight-forward and simple so the book could easily be read by younger kids as well. All in all, it’s a book that any age group can enjoy and  it’s a fairly quick read, which helps in our fast-paced society. But most of all I think that The Hobbit will amaze you, inspire you, make you laugh and make you sit on the edge of your seat. Continue reading “Bookshelf Read: The Hobbit”

writing tips

The Naming Ceremony

For some writers, naming characters is crucial. Of course all characters need a name, but it has to be the perfect name for your character. The one that rings just right; that really gets across the spirit and personality of your character.

The name that you choose for your character is going to affect how your readers perceive them. They might find the name unusual, cool or even typical and plain. Sometimes when you’re skimming over possible character names, you come across ones that remind you of someone you don’t like. Sometimes you really like the name but it doesn’t suit your character. Other times you don’t even know where to start.

Here are some strategies for finding awesome character names.  Continue reading “The Naming Ceremony”

writing tips

Vanquishing the Villain: Writer’s Block

Conquering Writer’s Block

It hits all writers. You’re in the middle of writing a gripping story and the flow of ideas just seems to stop. It seems you can’t come up with anything fascinating or interesting enough. But don’t despair. There are ways to fight writer’s block. Most of it is all in your head. It’s only a matter of changing your attitude towards this pesky villain. Continue reading “Vanquishing the Villain: Writer’s Block”