Friday Favourites

Follow Friday: Perspectives On The Writing Process

Follow Friday is a weekly series, inspired by the Twitter trend #Follow Friday. Each Friday, I suggest blogs that I follow to my readers.  For this week’s “Follow Friday”, the theme is perspectives on the writing process. Continue reading “Follow Friday: Perspectives On The Writing Process”

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.

IMG_1117[1]
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”

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo: 30 Days and Nights of Literary Madness

It’s now day three of NaNoWriMo, and I’m a lot farther than I thought I’d be.

What is NanoWriMo, you ask?

NanoWriMo is a literary competition (against yourself) where you attempt to write 50, 000 words in the course of a month. It sounds crazy already, doesn’t it?

It began in 1999 with only 21 participants to over 200, 000 people signed up in 2010. From November 1-30, participants choose a genre, theme and language, and then write their stories. As they write, they input the number of words they have into their NaNoWriMo word count. The word tracker helps participants get an idea of their progress and how far they have to go.

What’s even crazier is the fact that I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo while in a post-graduate college program last year. I didn’t manage to reach my goal (but I’m okay with that).

NaNoWriMo is a great metaphor for the writing process. It’s exciting, challenging and sometimes frustrating. There are times when you run out of steam and lose inspiration, but that’s all part of the journey. You have to vanquish some monsters along the way, don’t you?

NaNoWriMo gives you permission to make mistakes and suck at writing. I like to think of it as a very long free-write, where you silence your “inner editor” as the organizers call it. During and after the competition you get awesome emails full of advice from authors, who encourage you along the way.

It really is a good process when you think about it. I mean, how many people actually set aside enough time to write down their awesome ideas and finish a book? NaNoWriMo gets you writing your first draft- it’s the first step in a literary journey.

If you’re new to NaNoWriMo or just looking for some general advice, here are five tips:

    • Set aside a scheduled time for writing (if possible): When I wrote last year, I would often write at night when I had free time from school or sometimes on the weekends (I think). It would usually happen at night though, being a night owl.
    • Focus on milestones, not failures: If you reach, say 10, 000 words by two weeks, celebrate! It takes a lot of dedication, concentration and work to write that much. Don’t focus on how far you have to go or how many words you’re missing because in the end, the word count won’t really matter.
    • Join forums with like-minded individuals: Join the forums for advice, writing buddies and resources. Also check out local meetings and write-ins in your area (and always be safe when meeting new people).
    • Check out @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter: This is NaNoWriMo’s twitter account for word sprints. These happen all the time (even late at night!), so you’re never short of inspiration or writing prompts. I find these very inspirational and encouraging.
    • Know what you’re going to write about: Whether you have an idea brewing in your head, a story plan all typed out or just like to fly by the seat of your pants it’s good to have at least a general idea of what you’re going to be writing about. Personally, I have to have a bit of a storyline written out or else I’ll sit there in November thinking up scenarios, characters and other things.  If you need some ideas on planning a story, I’ve written an older blog post here.

I hope these tips help and if you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year I hope you enjoy it.

And most importantly- don’t worry if you don’t like your first draft. It is a first draft after all.

Do you have any tips for NaNoWriMo or really good advice you’ve come across?

I encourage you to check out TR August’s post called And So It Begins. Very light-hearted and fun take on all the reasons to do NaNoWriMo.

writing tips

Spelling and word usage: Here’s the buzz on how to fix it

Ever found yourself struggling over which word to use: affect and effect, or accept and except? Or have you just been plain confused about how to spell a word?

It’s understandable why it happens to us, especially today with our constant text messaging, red underlined AutoCorrect, and our pervasive use of English slang. Proper spelling and word usage are not things drilled into our minds (unless you were an English or Writing major like I was).

There’s a way to fix this though! I often find that if I’m confused about which word to use I would look at the context of the sentence and the meaning of the word itself. For example, if I were trying to fill in the blank in the sentence below, I would understand the sentence itself and then consult a dictionary.

The           of the laboratory experiment were startling. 

In this case, effects would the be the correct word because effect is the consequence of an action, according to the Oxford Canadian Dictionary of Current English. I also like to think of effects as what happens after; the outcomes and affects as an action word, which it is. Affect is acting on something, influencing it.

On the other hand, if you’re having difficulty remembering how to spell that pesky word, check out the back of some writing handbooks or school agendas. They tend to have a list of commonly misspelled words. Another good reference to check out is The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling (I find it a life-saver) or your country’s equivalent guidebook as it tells you which words to capitalize and how to spell certain words. It’s even trickier if a word contains a hyphen, but Canadian Caps and Spelling or another guidebook usually helps.

Finally, as embarrassing as it may seem, sometimes it’s helpful to ask a friend or co-worker how to spell a word. We all forget sometimes and I’ve even found that words look strange to me at times on a screen when spelled right. It can be a matter of over-thinking spelling and word meaning.

Hope these tips have helped! If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment. Happy writing!

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

Tips To Help You Navigate Through The World of Fanfiction

I ship these two!

Fanfiction is a creative and enjoyable past-time. Although fanfiction writers use existing worlds, stories and characters, fan fiction has a merit of its own. Fanfiction stories often expand on creators’ stories. Fanfic writers present more situations, character relationships and endings that the creator could ever imagine. This is why I really love fanfiction.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to fan fiction possibilities but there are a few things to keep in mind when writing. These are words of wisdom I have picked up along the way when reading about fanfiction and writing fanfiction:

    • Avoid Mary-Sues or Gary Stus: Create compelling and interesting characters if you’re creating original characters. Readers will appreciate a well-rounded and unique original character. Keep characters in-character if you’re using existing characters. Make them behave in ways readers would expect, based on the fandom. Some people like to use out-of-character characters and usually warn people ahead of time. But it’s more impressive when you can make characters believable.
    •  Check your spelling and grammar: Sometimes it’s wise to search for a beta-reader that will help you with your stories. Making sure you have impeccable grammar and spelling will show that you’re a careful and professional writer. We all make mistakes from time to time but if your story has lots of errors it doesn’t look good.
    • Use white space: White space is any space on a screen or piece of paper that is free of writing or markings. This space is important because it makes reading easier for people. Ensure that you leave enough space between paragraphs and bits of dialogue: don’t make them too long or short, and use some kind of marker when there’s a scene change. For example, when you upload a document and edit it on fanfiction.net there is a horizontal line you can insert onto the page. I often use this to break up my story when I’m introducing a new setting or new characters. Asterisks work well too.
    • Focus on quality, not quantity: It’s better to focus on the quality of your work rather than the quantity of reviews. Many fanfiction writers obsess over how they can gain more attention from reviewers. But it’s more important to make sure your story has an interesting plot, well-rounded characters and engaging dialogue. All these things will go a long way in gaining the respect of your readers rather than their attention.
    • Recognize copyright laws: I’ve been told fanfiction falls in a grey area because you aren’t profiting off copyrighted works but you are using copyrighted ideas for your own enjoyment and personal use. To be on the safe side and show respect toward creators, I usually add a disclaimer in each chapter, which affirms that I don’t own the copyrighted material. I also explain why I’m using the copyrighted material: for personal use. There’s some material that you can’t use in stories at all. For example, fanfiction.net provides a list of authors who don’t want their work copied in fanfiction stories. Check out fanfiction.net’s rules and guidelines tab under ‘Publish’ for more info.
    • Interact with readers and writers: When you respond to reviews it shows your readers you care and it creates a dialogue rather than a one-way exchange. Be honest but kind in your reviews: it’s more helpful to constructively critique someone’s work than constantly praise it. A compliment is nice and you should use it in a critique but ignoring spelling, grammar, inconsistency and weak spots in a story doesn’t make someone a better writer. Being kind and honest also applies when you respond to reviews; if someone takes the time to constructively critique your story try not to become upset or defensive. Becoming defensive will show that you aren’t open to advice or improvement. This defensiveness can carry over into your responses and turn people off. Remember, most people will not mean to offend you but help you.

Fanfiction can help improve your writing, build your confidence and inspire you. The community is great as well; there are many forums, groups and discussions you can join. Most users are very respectful and encouraging: this is a rarity among online communities and is part of what makes it so enjoyable. So remember to have fun and write for the love of writing; this will always make it meaningful for you as a writer.

Any thoughts or tips on fanfiction writing?

The article “What Can Trade Publishers Learn From Fanfiction” is particularly interesting. I recommend reading it.

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.