writing tips

Monday Minute: How Do You Create Realistic Dialogue?

Dialogue is important in a story. It can reveal a character’s personality, provide critical information to the reader and evoke an emotional response. But how do you make it believable and interesting to the reader? Continue reading “Monday Minute: How Do You Create Realistic Dialogue?”

writing tips

Writing Lessons from Stephen King

I just finished Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and really enjoyed it.

It’s a practical, no-nonsense reflection on the writing process. Stephen King offers solid advice on how to shape yourself as a writer: from cultivating regular habits of reading and writing to exposing yourself to different styles of writing. Continue reading “Writing Lessons from Stephen King”

writing tips

The Magic is in the Details

“The sky was as blue and delicate as a porcelain teacup, and the hills rolled gently in all directions, intersected occasionally with the silver ribbon of a river.” -Alyxandra Harvey, Haunting Violet

Descriptive detail in stories is an important but tricky element of writing.

How do you know if you’re using too much? Or too little?

Mosaic

I believe knowing when and how to use the right amount of description is an intuitive skill that’s learned over time and is mostly based on personal preference. Establishing the perfect balance between description and action in a story is like trying to achieve the perfect balance between dressing acceptably but still maintaining individuality. Continue reading “The Magic is in the Details”

writing tips

Weird But Useful Writing Prompt: Paint Swatches

This may seem really unusual but whenever my family and I look at paint colours in a hardware store, I always take a paint swatch or two with me.

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Vibrant pinks
I’ve gotten into the habit of collecting them (sometimes for possible new paint colours for my room) but mostly because of the creative names associated with them, like Blue Midnight or Summer Rain (I’m totally making these up). Whenever I read the names, a certain image or feeling pops into my head and I think later on that I might be able to use it for inspiration. One of the colour swatches even reminded me to get back to my high adventure story about pirates.

When I explain this to my family, they’re really surprised that I use these swatches as writing prompts or that I collect them.

Writing Prompts
The paint swatches that inspired the writing prompts below.

 

It makes me wonder: Am I the only one who experiences this?

Perhaps it’s the combination of visual inspiration and the written word that gets you writing. This is the case with paint swatch booklets that feature artfully-decorated and beautifully-painted rooms as examples. I know some people who search up images as a form of a prompt, using that picture to tell a story or to brainstorm.

While looking at some paint swatches the other day, I discovered something really fun. The format of the paint swatches was fairly uniform: there would be three colours, of varying shades, each with a unique but related name. Sometimes it would be various lilacs or roses, other times it would be similar concepts like “ghost ship” and “evening eclipse.” These two could easily be paired together and prompt one idea to the next, creating a snowball effect.

I ended up finding some more paint swatches, stored away in a box while cleaning. I decided that instead of hiding them away I had to place them somewhere else as visual reminders instead of just letting them sit in a dust-covered shoebox. I finally added them to my writing notebook, leaving them there as visual prompts in case I ever needed them.

I’ll share my most recent writing prompts, based on the paint swatch names:

September fog, frappé, carriage house 

Ghost ship, shark loop, evening eclipse 

 I put these writing prompts to the test and found they really stretched my creative muscles, challenging me to successfully work them into existing stories or connect all three together cohesively into a new story.

Do you have any quirky techniques you use for writing prompts?

Do these work as writing prompts for you? Let me know in the comment section below 🙂

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”

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

5 Ways to Become a Better Writer

  1. Read. By reading other people’s work you expose yourself to different styles and ways of writing. You also learn what works and what doesn’t work for you as an audience member. I always ask myself a few questions when reading other people’s work: What techniques grab my attention? How does the author describe a scene?
  2. Write. The second step to becoming a better writer is to write more. The more you write, the more you hone your craft. I feel that when I write more, I start to get a feel for what sounds right on the page and what I can improve on.
  3. Ask for constructive criticism. Ask someone you trust to read your work and offer you constructive criticism, not destructive criticism. If you can get a second opinion, it will help you see your strengths and weaknesses in writing.
  4. Daydream. Allow yourself to daydream and just think things over. You could think about anything, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you’re opening yourself up to new ideas and revelations.
  5. Carry a notebook and pen with you. I find carrying a notebook and pen convenient, especially if I’m on a train or bus ride. If I have any sudden inspiration I jot notes down. Also, if I have to organize my thoughts I just write them down, which helps me get a clearer picture of my story and how it is progressing.

I also recommend checking out the book How to Write by Richard Rhodes. I think it offers some great advice on writing and how to get started.