10 Instructional Writing Quotes

10 Instructional Writing Quotes

Inspirational quotes are great for lifting the mood or motivating us to get back into our writing. But today, we give you 10 quotes from creative people that resonate for the craft of writing.

  • Details, details

Good writing is remembering the detail most people want to forget. Don’t forget things that were painful or embarrassing or silly. Turn them into a story that tells the truth.―Paula Danziger

  • Dimensional Characters
Image by HartmutStein

Dimension means contradiction: either within deep character (guilt-ridden ambition) or between characterization and deep character (a charming thief). These contradictions must be consistent. It doesn’t add dimension to portray a guy as nice throughout a film, then in one scene have him kick a cat.—Robert McKee

  • Theme vs. Message

Theme is also not the same as message. A message, by my definition, is a political statement. It is a principle that concerns people in a particular situation and is not universally applicable to any member of the audience.—Michael Hauge

  • Get out of your own way

It took time to learn that the hard thing about writing is to let the story write itself, while one sits at the typewriter and does as little thinking as possible. It happened over and over again, and the beginner learned—when you start puzzling over an idea, and slowing down on the keys, the writing gets worse and worse.—Richard Bach

  • Foreshadowing
Image by Logga Wiggler

When you insert a hint of what’s to come, look at it critically and decide whether it’s something the reader will glide right by but remember later with an Aha! That’s foreshadowing. If instead the reader groans and guesses what’s coming, you’ve telegraphed.—Hallie Ephron

  • Get right in there

…if you’re intruding too much on a character or the voice of a character, [or] if you find that you’re stepping back from that character and that situation and you’re commenting on it–you’re not doing your job. You need to be as true and as empathic to that moment as possible. You can’t be at a remove.—David Margulies

  • Realism vs. Verisimilitude

Is realism what people read novels for? No. A novel must have verisimilitude, that is, the appearance of reality, within the context of the world created by the book. —William Bernhardt

Image by prettysleepy1
  • Adverbs

The road to hell is paved with adverbs.—Stephen King

  • Strong Ending

Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.—Kurt Vonnegut

  • Writing Like No One is Looking

…write without looking over [your] shoulder. Write it as if no one is going to read it. That’s what frees you. If you can stop thinking about critics, and your editor, and whether your book’s going to make it into the Times, and how long it is going to be on the list, I mean, that can totally free you up.—Terry McMillan

10 Questions for Great Character Arcs

10 Questions for Great Character Arcs

July 10, 2019

Every successful story involves either a change in character or a reason why they haven’t changed. It’s the difference between cardboard and real life.

The arc of a character involves their internal growth, on such qualities as morals or values, emotional strength and conflicting beliefs. A character’s growing awareness of themselves is more powerful if it involves a struggle, such as situations that test your character on all levels.

So, it is important to establish who your character is on an emotional and moral basis at the beginning of the story. This creates a benchmark and their arc can progress from there.

Here are ten questions writer can ask themselves to check on the arc of a character throughout their story:

1. At the beginning of the story, what are your character’s flaws (lack of confidence, arrogance, ignorance, etc.)

2. What is your character’s emotional wound (abandonment, witness to trauma, least favourite child, etc.)

3. What is her world view and what does it prevent her from doing?

4. How will your character’s knowledge of himself change throughout the story? In increments with each struggle? All at once in a defining moment when he loses everything?

5. How often are your character’s flaws tested or challenged? To increase tension, remember to escalate her challenges. Make them active scenes, not simply internal struggles.

6. In what ways will the character resist change? Remember to vary the intensity and circumstance.

7. How does the character’s world view change? Allow your reader to see this change in action. Does she receive information? Does he observe something with fresh eyes?

8. At what point does your character gain some insight into his own personality or makeup? (usually occurs just after the mid-point.)

9. At what point does your character act on that insight? (should be close to the climax or be part of what leads to that climax)

10. How is the change demonstrated in the story? Or, if there is no change in your character, is there a clear decision not to change?

These are great questions for all writers and can be applied to both main and secondary characters. Use the questions at the early stages of plotting your novel or thinking about your story. After your first draft, review again and look for places where you can make scenes more active or increase your character’s internal struggle as needed.

Just like you, the people in your story must experience growth on a variety of levels. And as a writer, it’s your job to create characters who live and breathe for your readers.

10 Sites for Writers

10 Sites for Writers

Websites for writers can be a treasure trove of inspiration and resources. For June’s 10 on the 10th, we’ve compiled, in no particular order, a list of ten helpful places for you to visit. These are websites that, as writers, we’ve found useful and upon occasion fun. Happy surfing!

#1 Writers’ Digest has been around for decades, first as a magazine and now also hosting a massive site that’s loaded with articles on just about any topic a writer might want to explore. Sign up for their newsletter — it’s full of advice and ideas. https://www.writersdigest.com/

#2 Literistic. Imagine receiving a monthly list of contests and magazines with upcoming deadlines for submissions. Literistic caters to people who write poetry, fiction and nonfiction in Canada, the United States and Britain. There’s a free shortlist or you can choose the $8.50/month list that is curated with only the markets and topics that you select. https://www.literistic.com/

#3 One Stop for Writers is a great site with a range of tools for writers. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (co-authors of six best-selling resource books including The Emotion Thesaurus) joined forces with Lee Powell (creator of Scrivener) to build what they term a “library” for writers. You can register for free and if you like what you see, sign up for a monthly paid subscription. https://onestopforwriters.com

#4 49th Shelf is a website focusing on the books of Canadian writers (but a great discovery for writers outside our borders). Why are we featuring a website about books? Let us quote an American writer here: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” from Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers. Yup. We agree. https://49thshelf.com/

#5  Word A Day. Five days a week, 52 weeks of the year, receive the gift of a daily word. Not only do you get a word, you get its pronunciation, meaning(s), and the history of that word. Each week is thematic. Last week’s theme: weird plurals. Who knew more than one charisma are charismata? Or on the theme of words that don’t mean what you think they do, bloodnoun — it has nothing to do with the stuff in your veins; instead, it’s another word for bullfrog. Words, words, words! https://wordsmith.org

#6  GrammarlyThe more you write (and read) the stronger your own store of grammar and spelling know-how should develop. However. There are times when having a quick resource to check for clear writing and correct grammar is appreciated. Like 3 a.m. when the deadline is looming and you need to feel confident. You’re welcome. https://www.grammarly.com/

#7  WorldCat Need an out-of-print book? Researching for a historical novel? Get connected to world-wide library catalogue system. A 3-minute YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vos5ivBeZ5c  gives you a walk-through on how to use WorldCat. Search by subject, title or author. Create your own lists of resources and add or delete items as it suits you. Locate books in a multitude of languages. Read and/or post reviews. A gigantic library at your fingertips. Meow!  https://www.worldcat.org/

#8  Poets & Writers Like Writers’ Digest, this is a wide-ranging website for writers, but it’s a non-profit organization. And we like seeing “Poets” listed first and foremost. Yes, there’s lots here of a general note for writers but P&W gives attention to those of us who work with fewer words on the page. The Bard would approve.  https://www.pw.org/

#9  The Writers’ Union of Canada  This website offers writers some free resources, such as lists of Canadian writing-related associations, literary agents in Canada, award programs for self-published authors,  and many more links. In addition, the union’s resource books for writers are low-cost and high-value: for example, negotiating your own contract, or estate and legacy planning for writers.  https://www.writersunion.ca

#10  Freerice This fun online word game is perfect for writers who want to challenge their brain while helping out a good cause, The Word Food Programme of the United Nations. The ad-supported site generates words with multiple possible meanings. You contribute 10 grains of rice for every correct answer. Increase your speed to raise the stakes and shift out of your comfort zone. Playtime for writers in English, French, Spanish, Italian or Korean! http://freerice.com/#/english-vocabulary/6116

By no means is this a complete list of useful or interesting writerly websites.

What sites have you discovered that other writers will find helpful? Suggest them in the comments section.

10 Peeks into a Writers’ Retreat

10 Peeks into a Writers’ Retreat

We are here at Spring Thaw, on the shores of Rice Lake at this year’s annual writers’ retreat. The sun is shining, the coffee is hot and everyone is tucked away in cottages, writing. And we don’t worry when they might need some inspiration, because we always plan our program to meet the diverse needs of our participants. From those just starting out to seasoned and published authors, writers at our retreats know two things:

1. Gwynn and Ruth are always available for support. And 2. They have their themed retreat handbook full of tips, prompts and resources.

Here are 10 snippets from 10 of our past retreat handbooks:

#1  From Up Close and Personal:

Write like a movie camera.

Start close up, focused on one detail, then draw back and reveal the larger scene. Don’t make it all description. Bring it alive with action, reaction and dialogue—and don’t forget about evoking emotion.

#2 From Myths & the Stories We Tell

Being Vulnerable

In life, if you want to become closer with someone it’s necessary to be open and vulnerable. The same can be said of the relationship with the reader.

Revisit an emotional scene you have written and find ways to be more open, honest, vulnerable. Write as if it will never be read. You don’t have to use the scene you write, but practice writing what you REALLY feel and want to say rather than what you think you SHOULD say.

Switch it up: Write a dream or daydream where a character experiences the situation they have long hoped for.

#3 From Q is for

To craft your one-sentence pitch, try one of these two methods:

Best-selling authors share their one-sentence pitches, 25 words or less, using the What If or So What method.

The elements of the “What if . . . So What?” pitch include:

  • the major conflict (plotline) of the story.
  • the protagonist.
  • the answer to the question, “So What?”

Kathleen Antrim’s one-sentence “what if” pitch for her novel Capital Offense

What if the first lady (PROTAGONIST) is plotting (CONFLICT) to overthrow the president? (SO WHAT) 

#4 From Bridging Your Words

Links to 6 Continents & 6 Lit Journals accepting international submissions

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Africa—South Africa: New Contrast
Asia—China: Cha
Australasia—New Zealand: Takahē
Europe—Spain:  The Barcelona Review
North America—Canada: The Malahat Review
South America—Argentina: The Buenos Aires Review

#5 From Secrets:

A whisper of words.

Secrets can be big or small, important or silly, even funny. Some have grave consequences if divulged. Others are just an embarrassment. Some secrets hurt, some protect, some exclude, some are a lie. Hmmm……

In your story: What is the secret? Who is keeping the secret and from whom?Who are the people involved? Why does it need to be kept? What will happen if it is uncovered? Is someone digging to figure it out? Why? How are they involved? What are the risks and rewards of discovering the secret?

#6 From Linking Ideas and Inspiration

Tap into your creativity and make connections in surprising ways.

Work as fast as you can to escape your internal editor. Without thinking or stopping, make a vertical list of  whatever word is suggested to you from the one above. Try for at least 25 words.

Use your own word or add to this list if you like…

join
club
weapon

Use the last word to spark a new piece. Or write something that uses these words in the order in which they appear, beginning with the first one you added.

Use several words in one sentence or only one every other sentence. Whatever works for you.

#7 From Voice:

Wise words

“A voice cannot carry the tongue and the lips that gave it wings. Alone must it seek the ether.  And alone and without his nest shall the eagle fly across the sun.”           ― Kahlil Gibran

“Words are the voice of the heart.”   ― Confucius

Let your muse go where it wants to…No holding back… just write…For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. ― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

#8 From Shadow and Light:

#9 From Both Sides Now:


“Every family has a story that it tells itself, that it passes on to the children and grandchildren. The story grows over the years, mutates, some parts are sharpened, others dropped, and there is often debate about what really happened. But even with these different sides of the same story, there is still agreement that this is the family story. And in the absence of other narratives, it becomes the flagpole that the family hangs its identity from.” (A.M. Homes)

A.M. Homes

# 10 From Then and Now:

When is Lying in Memoir Acceptable? 3 Key Issues

An abridged version of a post by Tracy Seeley, author of My Ruby Slippers. tracyseeley.com

Last Word:

So there you have it. If you would like to join us on our next annual Spring Thaw Retreat in 2020, mark your calendars for April 17, 2020. Come for 3 or 5 days as we’ve offered before, or try the new option: 7 days!—whatever fits your needs, your budget and your time. Registration opens on June 1, 2019.

10 Ways To Take Care of Business

10 Ways To Take Care of Business


Look for Writescape’s 10 on the 10th for writing tips, advice and inspiration on the 10th of every month. Think of it as Gwynn and Ruth sitting on your shoulder and nudging you along.

Being skillful as a writer is more than having your work published. It’s also linked to the business side of writing, how you conduct yourself, and how others perceive you. Creativity and professionalism are two sides of any successful writer. In fact, the more professionally you function, the more your muse will drop by to inspire you.

1. Track your submissions. Keeps you focused and prevents you from losing track of where that suite of poems actually got sent. You can follow up intelligently. It also keeps you professional in your head space. And come tax season, you have a record of your writing work. Use a simple table with headings (i.e., title of work / date sent/ where / response / payment) or set up a formal spreadsheet.

2. Keep a calendar. You can go wild and colour-code: conferences & workshops; critique group meetings; time spent researching; coffee with a colleague writer to talk about WIP, projects, etc.; time spent pitching articles; time spent editing. It’s all about a visual reminder of how hard you’ve been working at your craft. More than one calendar? Synch them. And it’s good business to have a paper copy as backup (but note #4 & #5.)

3. Have a logical folder system.   For both your computer and email, set up a system that works like your mind does. Being consistent helps you to file things quickly and, more importantly, to retrieve them. Same goes for naming conventions for the document files themselves. If you like to use dates, great. If alphabetical is your thing, go for it. Just be consistent. Group together files that make sense with subfolders: Writing: Poetry. Non-fic. Stories. Novels. Plays. Readings: Open Mics; Libraries; Book Stores…

4. Keep all expense receipts for sorting later. Better to keep them and throw them out when you have had a chance to decide if they are useful than to wish you had kept them. The tax department disallows any expense you can’t prove you paid for. For more on taxes see Deducting Convention Expenses.

5. Purge the paper as much as you can. Digitize what you think you might need and park it in the cloud. Look, we understand. Writers and paper just seems a perfect match. But with so much available online or able to download, why not just keep active the papers you need only as you need them? And when you’re done, scan what you must and pitch the rest.

6. Defrag. First focus on the computer to rearrange your files so that they are easier to find and things work faster for you. Kind of like tidying the linen closet. Then defrag yourself (see Writers Guide to Self Care & Your Anytime Writing Retreat) because you need to be in a good space for it all to achieve creative harmony.

7. Schedule professional development. A focus on your craft is more than creating elegant prose or memorable metaphors. It also involves taking in new ideas and perspectives. From intensive master classes to an afternoon speaker at the library, it’s all grist for the mill.

8. Subscribe to publishing and other professional magazines. Quill & Quire, Publishers Weekly, Writer’s Digest, etc., will help you learn about trends, agents, markets and tidbits that can add up to your own savvy marketing plan. Paperless option: Subscribe to the online version. Budget option: Ask your local library if they can add a subscription to their magazines (if they do, remember to say thank you.)

9. Participate in social media. Choose at least one platform and then do it well — remember that calendar (#2)? Schedule social media time in it for at least 30 minutes once a week to post or tweet or comment. Keep it as simple as you like. There’s networking to be had on social media, markets to discover and learning to be absorbed. (Tip: social media can become an enticing sinkhole of limitless depth, so set a timer to climb back out if you need it.)

10. Constantly update your writing profile. Call it your full bio, literary CV (curriculum vitae), writing credits, or whatever you like. Just know that over time, it’s easy to forget the odd poem published, open mic you read at, or the workshop you attended or presented. And like a work resume, when you need it you usually need it fast.

10 Places to Find Characters

10 Places to Find Characters

Look for Writescape’s 10 on the 10th for writing tips, advice and inspiration on the 10th of every month. Think of it as Gwynn and Ruth sitting on your shoulder and nudging you along.

Where does a writer come up with ideas for a new character? Do you always find characters the same way? Maybe it’s time to explore new ways to find the people who populate your writing.  

1. Everyday people:

Spend time in any public place and someone is bound to catch your attention because of what they are saying or wearing or the way they are acting. Play the “Who are they?” game. Name them. Give them an occupation, a family (or not), and a problem. Watch, listen, take notes, and then let your imagination take over.  Read literary voyeur Julie Wilson’s Seen Reading, a collection of micro fiction inspired by people on Toronto transit.

2. Historical people:

People throughout history have done amazing, stupid, brave, cowardly, horrific, heart-warming things. Digging into the past can uncover all kinds of people, both those who are documented, and those that were —or might have been—in their lives. Check out museums, plaques, archives, diaries, statues. If you don’t want to write about a famous person, think about siblings, spouses or colleagues and imagine their lives. Think of Susanna Moodie Roughing it in the Bush, or Philippa Gregory’s book The Other Boleyn Girl.

3. Historical events:

Pompeii excavation

Whether you are a fan of Tudor times, fascinated by the destruction of Pompeii, read avidly about the great wars or have your interest piqued by the voyage of the KonTiki, historical events are filled with possibility for creating characters. Anthony Doerr creates a blind French girl and a young German radio operator for his WWII novel All the Light We Cannot See.  In his book Pompeii, Robert Harris creates four characters – a young engineer, an adolescent girl, a corrupt millionaire and an elderly scientist – in a luxurious world on the brink of destruction.

4. Art forms:

Flip through a magazine or visit an art gallery. Visual art and photography can always inspire. Degas’s art inspired Cathy Buchanan to write The Painted Girls; Vermeer’s art inspired The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.  The same goes for books, plays, movies, dance, comedy, music and oral storytelling. Think of Annie Proulx’s Accordian Crimes, a novel that follows the lives of characters who successively own a green accordion.

5. Travel:

Travelling always offers fresh perspectives on everything from the scenery to the way things are done, the foods people eat or their attitudes to life. You can set the story in the foreign place, like Frances Mayes did in Under a Tuscan Sun. Or write about the effects of travelling like Vicki Pinkerton’s Reflections on the Road. Or tell a home-grown tale with characters influenced by other cultures like Wayson Choy’s Jade Peony.

6. Media:

News text, TV and social media are a goldmine for finding unique characters. If you read a headline and it gets you asking questions, (Why would anyone do that? How did they survive? Why didn’t anyone help? How did they get away with that?) then you likely have the makings of a story and a character. Ask lots more questions, flesh them out and go your own way. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie was published two years after the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s son. Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites was inspired by Agnes Magnúsdóttir who was convicted of killing her employer. Of course, the personal ads are always a fun place to start. Julia Wertz wrote the graphic anthology, I Saw You, based on real-life missed connection ads posted on Craigslist and in local papers.

7. Death:

While thinking about death might not be everyone’s cup of tea, gravestones, cemeteries, obits, and death masks offer great opportunities for creating characters. In Edinburgh, Greyfriars’s Kirkyard, just steps from The Elephant House where J.K Rowling penned the first Harry Potter book, you will find five gravestones she used to inspire characters in her books: Potter; McGonagall; Moodie; Scrimgeour and Tom Riddle.

8. Names:

And while on the subject of names, remember that many of them reflect ethnic and cultural connections, have religious or folklore connotations and can suggest era too.  Want an Irish character? Try Googling “Irish Names”. You’ll find lists for boys and for girls; meanings and popularity by year. Or page through phone directories and baby-name books. Notice street sign names and names on buildings. Want to write about rape or feminist themes, using the mythical name of Philomel (who was raped, and voiceless, but was transformed into a singing nightingale) adds a layer. Check out Margaret Atwood’s use of that connotation in her novella Nightingale published in The Tent (2006),

9. Opposites & reimaginings:

The despised Wicked Witch of the West in the movie The Wizard of Oz becomes a much more sympathetic character when we see things from her point of view in Gregory McGuire’s book (and later musical)Wicked.  If you read Jane Eyre and can’t stop thinking about the secret madwoman in the attic, then read Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea  which follows a young Antoinette Cosway who is sold into marriage to Mr. Rochester and slowly descends into madness.

10. Traits:

Start with a character trait and create a situation where someone with that trait finds themselves facing it/using it/fighting it.  Then ask questions. Why are they in this situation? Who is the other person in the scenario? What happens next?

A woman who reads body language well:
Maddie knew Ashton was lying. His eyes looked down to the left, and shuffled his feet.

A hero who is uncomfortable around weeping women:
Tentatively taking Auria’s elbow, Gaston said, “Don’t weep. It does not become you.”

A womanizer:
As Alysha seated Tyron between his new love and his ex at dinner, he loosened his tie and looked for an escape route.

So many ways to discover characters, and this list is by no means exhaustive. So stash a notebook in your backpack, put on your hiking boots, and get out there to see who you can find.

10 Ways To Write About Love & Sex

10 Ways To Write About Love & Sex

Look for Writescape’s 10 on the 10th for writing tips, advice and inspiration on the 10th of every month. Think of it as Gwynn and Ruth sitting on your shoulder and nudging you along.

Love is powerful and can enrich your characters and add tension to your plot. There’s all kinds of love but this month’s 10 on the 10th, we’re linking it to sex and the many ways you can add it to your story. From sweet to spicy, here are 10 things to consider when you write about love and sex.

1 Think Imagery: Candlelight. Moonlight. Satin. Silk. Moss. Strumming guitar. Sweet violins. Warm ocean breezes. Fur collars. Strawberries. Oil. Remember that the five senses are your best friends in creating emotional connection for your reader: touch, taste, smell, hear & see.

2 Think Relationship: An overworked approach is to pit adversaries against one another who, amazingly, fall in love. Why not reverse it? Take a loving couple and sever their relationship — go big with an unforgivable action or make it a last straw moment. Will they find a path back to each other? Or is someone else waiting in the wings?

love has no logic

3 Think Counterintuitive: Love has no logic and is based on multiple factors that draw two souls together. Or maybe three souls? Ménages a tois exist for a reason. Beyond sex, relationships of any kind are sustained through mutual or sometimes tacit (don’t ask/don’t tell) agreements.

Is it sense or sensibility?

4 Think Sexy: It’s anticipation that works in romance. Humans love to imagine the love-making long before it happens. So give us a flash of ankle, a flush of cheeks or fingertips touching lips in the early stages of the story.

Mae West

5 Think Words: Words are all part of foreplay. Over dinner or in bed or anywhere in between. Sweet nothings. Hot saucy comments. Think Mae West. “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me. I’ll tell your fortune.” Ah, innuendo…especially innuendo.

6 Think Clothing: Modesty in Victorian times meant the legs of furniture should be covered–oh my, your piano’s legs are showing! Thank goodness we got over that idea. For some, naked is best, but for many, degrees of covering lead to imagining, anticipation and surprise. And don’t forget dressing up and cosplay.

7 Think whole body: Every part of the body can be sexy. Lips, breasts and the usuals all work, but don’t forget feet and fingers, ears and shoulders, backs and throats. The body is always “in play” when it’s love, including the insides. Tingling tummies, salivary glands on overdrive and temperatures rising.

8 Think Location: The forbidden element heightens excitement, so sex in public places, hidden away or new places makes for a different dynamic. In safe, well-known environments, something else needs to create the spark.

Speed things up…or sloooooow it right down?

9 Think time: Is this a quickie, or long and languid? Making a day of repeated fun or trying to fit it in before someone or something interrupts? For that matter, what about interrupted sex? What if one partner wants to linger and the other wants things over as soon as possible?

10 Think age and experience: First love or a long-term couple looking to spice things up? Simple sex or toys? From innocent kiss to full-on S&M, there is so much to choose from. Switch it up depending on age, experience, circumstance, motive and genre.

10 Movies to Inspire Writers

10 Movies to Inspire Writers

Launched in 2018 as a year-long celebration of our 10th anniversary, this monthly post proved so popular that we’re keeping it going. Look for Writescape’s 10 on the 10th for writing tips, advice and inspiration on the 10th of every month. Think of it as Gwynn and Ruth sitting on your shoulder and nudging you along. Share with your writing colleagues and encourage them to sign up for more.

Movies. Film. The cinema. The flickers…or flicks as they became known. Since 1895, the art of filmmaking has left a legacy of profound movie moments. For nearly 125 years, audiences have lost themselves in the stories unfolding on theatre screens. While the way we watch movies has changed — reclining and wired-for-motion seats in state-of-the-art theatres to surround sound in homes with 75″ television screens and Netflix at the ready. What hasn’t changed is the importance of a compellling story to create excellence in film.

Yes. Of course. Some “blockbuster” films are more about sound and fury than a believeable plot and characters. At a recent screening of “Aquaman,” Writescape’s Ruth Walker almost always knew the next plot twist or line of dialogue before it was voiced. “It was a fun movie with great visual effects,” she said. “But so predictable.”

Nonetheless, in our first 10 on the 10th for 2019, we’ve come up with an admittedly arbitrary list of movies that are useful to explore and perhaps will help you find some inspiration to be completely unpredictable.

 

#1  I Remember Mama— a 1948 movie about a young aspiring writer who discovers her “ordinary childhood” as a Norwegian immigrant in 1900 San Francisco is actual gold for her stories. Memoirists, be inspired because despite a dose of sentimentality, there is also a frankness in this movie that surprises. All memoir is strongest when it tells the truth. The movie is based on the stories of Kathryn Forbes which she based on her own Norwegian-born grandmother’s life in early twentieth century San Francisco. Real life is the well of inspiration for writers everywhere.

 

 

#2  Adaptation written by Charlie Kaufman who is also, coincidentally, the lead character played by Nicolas Cage  — a funny and unsettling 2002 film about a screenwriter failing at adapting a novel for film and his overshadowing, successful twin. Twists. Identity crises. Writerly angst. More twists. Confusion. Mayhem. In fact, many writers will recognize this as just another day in the life. Is this Kaufman’s memoir? Sort of. For the screenwriters among you, here’s a link to the screenplay on Stephen Follows’ website.

 

 

# 3 Sense and Sensibility 1995 Ang Lee version for a film adaptation of a timeless plot. All of Jane Austen’s books make for terrific film and television series but this is an excellent example of subplot doing brilliant service to the main plot. Austen wisely set the subplot with the main character’s sister and made these sisters different in almost every regard. The simple main plot of girl falls for unattainable boy needs the heightened tension of girl’s sister falls for falsely attainable boy while one true love watches in agony from the sidelines. The standard romance plot in Austen’s hands becomes a look at social status and, in particular, women’s power (or lack thereof) in the early nineteenth century England. A deceptively simple plot with a potent punch.

 

#4  Pan’s Labyrinth — this visually stunning and mood-rich 2006 film set in 1944 Fascist Spain was written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Part fairy tale and part historical film, this Spanish-language movie blends reality and fantasy so well that belief in the mythical creatures is as strong as in the heroic characters. Why should you see it? Del Toro worked from his 20-year journal notes of ideas and concepts to carve out a screenplay that feels like an ancient parable told long ago. He had the whole screenplay in his head before he wrote a single word of it. And bonus trivia for all writers: he wrote the English subtitles because he was disappointed with the subtitle work on his earlier movies. Clearly, a writer who is dedicated to his craft, and who cares about his audience and conveying his story to them.

 

#5  Dinner at Eight — a clever, star-studded 1933 comedy/drama. The whole complex plot revolves around a high-society dinner party organized by a wife to help her husband’s business dealings and all the problems in the hours before: Suicides, business failures, affairs, sneaky backroom deals and lack of a single man to balance the table setting. Nonetheless, Mrs. Jordan’s dinner gets served precisely at eight. The “over-acting” of the age is a fabulous metaphor for when stereotypical characters can be successful because they carry a message: pretense vs reality. No one is who they pretend to be. The writing is darn good as well, adapted from a Broadway play.

 

 

#6  Julie and Julia – 2009 “blogger” story based on the real-life Julie who has a blog in which she will make a Julia Child recipe every day and blog about it. We get Julia Child’s history as well, as Julie’s life takes twists and turns she didn’t expect. Julia refused to acknowledge the Julie blog which adds another rich layer to the background of the story. A useful examination of writing two POV characters and ways to create thematic connections between two separate stories. In real life: Julie and Julia never met and they don’t in this movie, either. Yet we suspect they could have been friends.

 

 

 

#7  Run Lola Run — a 1997 German thriller written and directed by Tom Tykwer. It’s a simple plot: Red-head Lola has 20 minutes to get 100,000 Deutsche Marks to her boyfriend Manni or he’ll rob a store to get the money to pay back the mob. Much of the movie is about Lola running. And running. And, yes, running. But it is a clever tale, told with three different endings. Every action and interaction Lola has the first time she tries to save Manni shows up in the next two endings. Like the butterfly effect, a simple pause not taken or decision delayed has consquences. And through each iteration, there are important constants that anchor the themes of free will and fate. Take note of the “blind woman” character and her pivotal role: is this fate for Lola or is she being given the chance to, at last, get it right?

 

 

#8 The Princess Bride — This 1987 classic film’s screenplay was adapted by the novel’s writer, William Goldman. Directed by Rob Reiner, the movie preserves many of the elements that make the novel a delight to read. Ironic. Self-aware. Fantastical. Romantic. Adventurous. And rich in life lessons, including: There is such a thing as Mostly Dead. Revenge can’t give us back what we’ve lost.  And inconceivable is a word that can be overused and, occasionally, misused. The Princess Bride is a story of True Love, framed by a grandfather reading the book to his ill grandson. It honours the gift of imagination and delights in playing with the tropes of fairy tale and fable, just as the novel continues to do for readers since its 1973 publication date.

 

 

#9  Misery – a 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s best-selling 1987 novel, the movie was directed by Rob Reiner. And the screenplay adaptation was written by William Goldman. Despite that successful pairing for The Princess Bride, there is little humour in this movie but plenty of irony. And really, it’s about a best-selling novelist, so already it has a hook for any writer. The movie is true to the novel with few exceptions. Given that many of Stephen King’s novels and novellas have been made into movies, it’s interesting to note that this is the only one to have garnered an Academy Award. Actor Kathy Bates embodies the obsessed fan Annie Wilkes and deserved that award. King structures well-paced plots and develops engaging characters that translate well onto the screen. However, this is a psychological horror film so it’s not for everyone. But with a novelist as our protagonist and a crazed reader as our antagonist, it comes close to the writerly bone. Perhaps having a Number One Fan is not always something to strive for.

 

#10 Moonlight — a 2016 coming-of-age film, written and directed by Barry Jenkins. Just like Del Toro, this movie’s writer and director lovingly crafts an evocation of time and place that is both highly specific and broadly universal. As writers, we strive to create characters and storylines that resonate with readers. Moonlight manages that because it is unflinching in giving us flawed characters with rich layers of humanity. At its heart, the storyline explores the outsider’s journey: a quest to discover who he is and embody that person. It takes the standard 3-act structure to heart: each act, or chapter of the film, is a slice in the life of a boy who becomes a teen and eventually, in the third act, an adult. There’s a lot of learn even from the film techniques of Jenkins, for example, changing the colour tone and palette of each act to echo the time in which it occurs and the emotional energy of our lead character.

As writers, we need to be aware of tone and palette choices in our stories. As we gain ability of that technique, it will transfer into emotional resonance every time we want it to occur in our writing.

More on that subject another time.

This list of movies for writers is by no means exhaustive. What movies do you think writers should put on their “must watch” list?

10 meaningful writers’ gifts

10 meaningful writers’ gifts

Launched in 2018 as a year-long celebration of our 10th anniversary, this monthly post has proved so popular that we’re keeping it going into 2019. Look for Writescape’s 10 on the 10th writing tips, advice and inspiration throughout the year. Think of it as Gwynn and Ruth sitting on your shoulder and nudging you along. Share with your writing colleagues and encourage them to sign up for more.

‘Tis the season and a time to think about gifts for writing friends. If you’re anything like us, your list of writing friends and colleagues is wonderfully long. Or perhaps you’re not a writer but have one in your life and you want to give that writer a meaningful present at this time of year. We’ve come up with 10 gift ideas, and most of them cost you little more than time and a willingness to help. And bonus–many of them are environment-friendly.

  1. Time to write. With all of life’s commitments, a gift of time can be priceless. Perhaps offer to babysit, to do the grocery shopping, take kids to hockey practice or cook up a few meals for the freezer — any task that will free up time to write.
  2. Used books. Over the years, writer friends and I have had pot luck get togethers during the holiday season. Each person brings a much-loved gently used wrapped book and then we have a draw to chose a package to take home. Not only do you get a new book to read, but the discussion this activity generates is loads of fun.
  3. Help to face fears. Submitting and rejection is one of my fears. One of the best gifts I received was a commitment from a writer friend to help me to submit my work. I picked out three pieces, then she helped me decide on markets, craft the cover letters and actually send the submissions off.
  4. Space to write. I’m lucky enough to live in a picturesque retreat property. I often offer up my home to writer friends who need to get away. I either write with them, or give them their space, whichever they want or need. If you are away at work during the day, is there a writer who would appreciate a quiet space to themselves? Hey, they could even let your dog out for you.
  5. Help to remove a block. One of my writing friends is a bit of a clutter-bug. She was feeling creatively blocked but overwhelmed at the thought of sorting through the clutter. I offered a weekend and my organizing skills to open things up a little for her so she could get creative again.
  6. Promote on social media. Write a review. Subscribe to or comment on a writer’s blog. Like a writer’s Facebook page. Interact on Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest. Repost, repin or share. Circulate blog URLs. Interview a writer on your own blog. Swap links. Encourage others to do the same. The more often the better. Perhaps schedule an hour a month to act to help promote 8 writers. By this time next year, you will have taken 100 promotion actions.
  7. Share a skill. If you are an editor, gift an editing session. If you are a whiz with Scrivener, offer a coaching session. A dedicated brainstorming session for plot building. Share your skills and you share your gifts.
  8. Organize an “inspiration day.” Pack a picnic lunch. Schedule to coincide with a free day at the local art gallery, music in the park or outdoor theatre. Map the trip to visit gravesites, outdoor sculptures, historical sites. Be the chauffeur and tour guide but remember to build in time for note-taking, observations and serendipity explorations that pop up along the way.
  9. Buy their books. Seems obvious, but we tend to think of gift giving as just that. We need to give to the writer. But as a writer, I would happily forego “getting” and know that my book has been bought and is being read. I’d even be happy to sign it. Them. A whole pile of them.
  10. Ruth reads from “Living Underground”

    Attend a launch or reading. I have attended readings where the readers and their immediate families are the only ones in the audience. Commit this year to attending a number of author events, and take at least one friend with you. And buy the book! You usually get a good price at events, and a signed copy.

 

There are other low-cost but appreciated gifts to consider for a writer: a journal (not the fancy expensive kind, just a dollar store purchase that a writer won’t feel too intimidated to “muddy” the pages); an easy-grip pen and/or mechanical pencil; a package of paper for printing.

Many gift ideas could be packaged as “coupons”:

  • Good for one editing session in March or April for up to 10 manuscript pages.
  • Redeem for one afternoon of market research to develop submission strategy. Goal: 3 submissions to either agents or publications or contests.
  • Congratulations! The bearer of this certificate will receive a day of inspiration during summer 2019. Be whisked off to places and spaces that will tickle your muse and inspire some great writing. Provide gift giver with possible free dates to find a mutually suitable time.

So there you have it.  Be creative and surprise another writer with a gift on this list this holiday season. Or give the list to friends and family so they can give one to you.

Finally, if you have a big-ticket item on your own wish list–a new laptop, a writing retreat, a professional edit–ask family and friends to contribute to your Writing Dream Fund. Many hands can make dreams a reality.

10 Tips for Writing Dialogue

10 Tips for Writing Dialogue

It’s Writescape’s 10th anniversary and we have lots of excitement planned for writers in 2018. This installment of 10 on the 10th is the latest in the series of monthly writing tips, advice and inspiration. Think of it as Gwynn and Ruth sitting on your shoulder and nudging you along. Share with your writing colleagues and encourage them to sign up for more.

As an editor and writing coach, I’m always surprised by some of the dialogue mistakes some fiction writers make. This list should help eliminate those punctuation and style errors and keep your manuscript in the “clean” status editors and publishers value.

1. Quotation marks cradle the words spoken out loud by a character. They don’t go around any narrative that isn’t spoken out loud, like the attributive (dialogue tag) Manuela advised in the example below:

“Think of quotation marks like a blanket, containing a character’s words,” Manuela advised.

2. Punctuation that belongs to the words spoken out loud are also contained inside quotation marks, and not tacked onto the attributive or dialogue tag in the examples below:

“That’s incredible advice!” Jerry replied.

“Why are you surprised?” she asked.

3. Attributives or dialogue tags help readers know who’s speaking. But once those speakers are established, there’s little value in constantly using them. In fact, they can get in the way of the conversation and bore the reader, so drop them whenever you can.

“I guess I’m always surprised by how much I still have to learn.”

“All of us writers are always learning, Jerry. It’s part of developing our skills.”

4. Adverbs in dialogue tags are rarely needed.

“Skill development? It’s why I’m here. Make way for Super Skill Development Man,” Jerry shouted excitedly.

5. Beats or business placed before dialogue can set up the tone of the spoken words.

Manuela took a deep breath before answering. “While I appreciate your enthusiasm, Jerry, please take your seat and get ready for today’s class.”

6. Beats or business placed after dialogue can set up the next speaker’s tone.

Manuela took a deep breath before answering. “While I appreciate your enthusiasm, Jerry, please take your seat and get ready for today’s class.” She took a step back just as Jerry punched the wall, his knuckles now scraped and bleeding.

“I hate myself. I’ll never be a writer.”

7. Start a new paragraph with each different speaker. This clues in the reader to switch characters, like watching a tennis match.

“Don’t be so dramatic.”

“Can’t help it. I never wanted anything so bad.”

“Even so, you need to learn to channel that passion onto the page. Here’s a couple of bandages. Head to the washroom and clean that up. Then, if you’re serious about writing, come back, take your seat and get ready to write.”

8. Let your reader know when someone else joins the conversation.

A quiet voice from the back of the room piped up. “I guess he used to take drama, so he’s using Method Acting to develop his characters.”

Manuela searched the room for the speaker and found Angelique’s grinning face next to the back door. “Thanks for your input but next time keep it to yourself.”

9. Interior thoughts are not dialogue, not spoken aloud, so they are not placed inside quotation marks.

A quiet voice from the back of the room piped up. “I guess he used to take drama, so he’s using Method Acting to develop his characters.”

Manuela searched the room for the speaker and found Angelique’s grinning face next to the back door. “Thanks for your input but next time keep it to yourself.” Oh great. Class clown in the making.

10a. Some writers use single quotes for interior thoughts but they shouldn’t. Single quotes are only used for dialogue that is quoted inside spoken words.

Manuela faced the rest of the class. “The next one who offers up a comment like ‘I guess he used to take drama’ is going to find themselves out of my Writers Craft class. Understand?” Now that, she thought, should shut down the nonsense.

10b.Some writers use italics for interior thoughts but italics makes words and phrases stand out, like attention-seeking banners. Hi there. I’m an interior thought. It’s also more difficult to read and downright deadly when you write whole paragraphs of interior thought. Consider creating interior thoughts without any italics. Think about ways for you to craft thoughts in a way that doesn’t need to draw attention to itself.

And that, we think, is a valuable skill for all writers.