More Creative Tips For Creating A Dynamic Opening to a Story

One of the greatest challenges for any writer when it comes to writing a story (besides coming up with the initial story idea) is to decide what is the best way to begin the story. The opening paragraph is the most important part of a story as it acts as the pivotal gateway through which your reader must enter your storyworld. The first few sentences the reader encounters can make or break their ongoing relationship with your story. So how do you create a dynamic opening for your story that will capture your reader’s imagination?

There are three writing techniques that I find really helpful when I am deciding how to start a story.

1. Write a list of different types of paragraph openings

Every writer will have different approaches to writing, but one of the first things that I like to do before I start to write the first few sentences of a story is to write a list of the different types of paragraph openings. This is not to say that I do not use the impromptu creative writing approach, where I just starting typing at random and see where the story goes. I am a big believer in having a story plan to keep me organised.

Of course, the way you begin your story will also depend on the genre of your story. If you are writing a fantasy story, you could start with a setting like a dark Dystopian world or a magical castle. If you are writing in the speculative fiction genre, you could start with a character portrait like a vampire rising from his coffin. If you are writing a crime story, you could start with a narrator who has just observed a murder, or you could have your main character/the murderer discuss their criminal plans in the form of a short monologue.

2. Create a Dynamic Image

The best type of opening paragraph is one that creates a dynamic image. Once you have written your opening paragraph, ask yourself this question: Will my opening scene create a dynamic image in the mind of the reader? One way to know if it is dynamic or not is to try visualising it in your mind, and see it playing out like an opening scene in a film.

A strong image is always memorable.

As well as catching the reader’s attention, a strong and powerful image also sets up the overall genre or style of your story. Think about the last film you went to see or one of your favourites. What did the opening scene contain? Maybe the first image was a spaceship drifting through space, maybe it was a character speaking an iconic one-liner, like the opening line that was spoken by Henry Hill in the gangster film Goodfellas, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

The opening scene might be ambiguous, an intriguing image like the pile of black hats in The Prestige. The possibilities are endless for your story, but whether you choose a fantasy world, a haunted house, or you introduce your hero via a character description, it must create a dynamic image in the mind of your reader.
Just like there are some great ways to start a story, they are some things to avoid.

3. Avoid starting your story with dialogue

Firstly, the way you start a story can depend on whether you are writing a short story or a novel. Starting any type of story with a question or a one-liner is a great way to draw the reader in, but starting a story with dialogue may not be the best option. There are two problems that can occur when you start a story with dialogue:

It can create literary confusion as the reader will not know anything about the characters, so they may feel a little lost.
If you are writing a short story you need to be economical with words as short stories have a strict word count. If you want to use dialogue, it needs to be used sparingly in the opening paragraph, or leave it until later in the story.

Practice makes perfect, and once you have experimented with different ways of writing your opening paragraph, you will start to get a feel for what works and what does not work.

Another good tip to help you become more proficient at beginning a story is to read. Reading books and learning from those writers who have been writing for years, will help you to become a better writer. Stephen King, the Master of Horror gives us great storytelling advice:

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

William Faulkner also says:

“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

Now that you have learned some tips, here are three creative writing tasks to get those story-telling neurons firing.

1. Choose three types of paragraph openings: Character Description, Setting, and Action. Write up to 100 words for each paragraph, then develop your story from there.

2. Choose three films. Watch the first 5 to 10 minutes of the film. How does the film start? What kind of image is presented? How does it make you feel? Is it a strong, powerful image?

3. Choose a book from your bookshelf or from your local library (fiction is best). How does the writer start their opening paragraph, do they start with the description of a setting or a character description? Do you think it is a dynamic opening paragraph? Why or why not?

Jot down the answers to these questions. You could try re-writing the author’s opening paragraph. Of course, this is just for creative learning purposes. No plagiarism!

I hope these creative tips on how to write a dynamic opening for a story helps you on your storytelling journey.

Happy Writing!

 

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Buckled Book

thommas68
Pixabay.com

 

How To Organise Your Creative Writing Schedule

Finding time to write is a big challenge for a lot of writers. It seems that we never have enough time in the day, what with work, school, and family activities that make necessary demands on our time. We may have little, precious time left to dedicate to our creative writing. But we all have 24 hours in the day, no more and no less. So to find time for our creative writing, we need to take charge of our time and make it work for us and not against us.

Time management is a term that is used a lot in the corporate work environment, but we can also use some of its strategies for our creative endeavours. Time management teaches us how to take conscious control over our activities so that we can effectively manage our tasks within the time we have at our disposal.

You may be feeling “time poor”, but you can become “time rich” by putting some of the time management techniques into practice. Here are three time management techniques that have been adapted to suit creative writing and will help you to organise your writing schedule.

1. Understand your daily routine

The great writer Ernest Hemingway once said that writing in the morning worked best for him. So what is your daily routine? Are you a morning person, an early riser in the glimmering hours of dawn? Maybe you could utilise this time to do some writing before you go to work, start studying or get the kids off to school. Remember the wisdom that Dear Duchess shared in this month’s Letters to the Editor, just 10 or 20 minutes a day can work wonders.

Maybe you work best late at night. Once all the dishes have been done, the kids are in bed, and hubby is ensconced in front of the TV, you can take some time to create some story magic. If you are a single person, why not sacrifice some of your TV time and dedicate it to writing. You can always record your favourite show and watch it later. By understanding your daily routine, and your energy levels, you can establishing a writing routine that is perfect for you.

2. Prepare a creative work environment

When I first started studying online, I had a study corner in my bedroom, but my little workspace ended up competing with my chill-out time and interfered with my sleeping patterns. As I have a TV in my room, it too became a major source of distraction at times. So I cleaned up our spare room and made it into my own creative work environment. It helped me to be more creative, and of course, more focussed in my university work.

Even though you may not have a spare room, a favourite chair in a quiet place may work well for you, or a quiet corner of the garden or patio. Another good tip for preparing a creative environment is to avoid having emails popping up in the background, which can happen if you work on a computer or iPad. It might be a challenge, but choose to put your social media devices on silent. The social media world can make a lot of demands on our time, but your creative space should be a little haven away from any distractions.

Also, if you are going to use your creative space on the weekend, and you have a family or share a house or flat with friends, why not let them know that you will be spending some precious time in your creative hot spot. If you cannot find anywhere at home to create, you could always try the library. It is a quiet place, free of most distractions, except books of course. Having a creative environment will allow you to dream, create, and complete your literary masterpiece.

3. Make use of digital and software tools

Sometimes inspiration can strike us when we are out and about. We may not be able to access pen and paper or our trusty computer, so if you have a smartphone or tablet, consider it as your creative buddy. You can take notes on your phone, or if you have a recording facility, you can record your ideas and write them down later. Yes, those digital devices can make demands on our time, but make them work for you.

If you are struggling to organise your story ideas, there are a lot of writing software programs that can help you. If you want to convert your story into a screenplay, Final Draft has script formats that are ready for you to use, and storyboarding faculties, and a host of other helpful features. Final Draft is not free, but it is well worth the investment if you want to pursue a creative writing career.

XMind is a great resource that can help you brainstorm ideas and map out your entire story. You can download some applications for free, but if you want to access advanced features there are different pricing packages. Storybook is another free writing software resource that helps authors to organise characters, plot, and different scenarios into a novel. With all this technological wizardry at your fingertips, taking control of your time is easy.

Now that I have given you some creative time management tips, here is a writing exercise to get those storytelling neurons firing.

Create an organizational chart from Monday to Friday. Write down a list of creative elements to work on as follows:

Monday. Choose a story setting, and then write 50-100 words that describe the setting. If you can write more – Great!

Tuesday. Create up to 3 characters. Note down their description, basic background, goals, strengths, and weaknesses.

Wednesday. Create a plot for your chosen setting, and integrate one of your characters. Use the Narrative Arc Plotting Device that was featured in the Monthly Writing Exercise in the January issue of Unearthed, and integrate the Exposition into your story setting.

Thursday. Integrate the other characters and start work on your story’s Rising Action and Climax.

Friday. Work on your Falling Action and Resolution.

If you are unable to complete this task, you can shift some of them to the weekend. Of course, this creative exercise is a just a tool to help you get started on your creative journey. But if you stick to this micro-writing routine, you will find time to write amidst your hectic schedule, and you will discover that you have the first draft of a short story and an introduction to a novel.

Happy writing!

 

Creative Time Management originally appeared in The Australia Times Unearthed Fiction February/Perception Magazine.

 

Image

Hourglass.

Stevepb

Pixabay.com

Lost the Plot? Take Control of Your Story

Writing a short story can be like a journey into unfamiliar terrain. Just like a holiday in a new city or a hike into the wilderness, we can get lost if we do not have a plan or a map that can show us the way. When we start to write, we may begin merrily, the ideas flow along nicely, the setting is established and the characters come to life. But then we suddenly run out of inspiration, the story seems sluggish, and we may find that we have lost the plot – literally! So if this is you, it is time to take back control of your story.

Story versus Plot

Besides the all-important elements of storytelling – theme setting and story characters – the plot is a very important tool that provides the story with its basic framework on which to build your story-world and the overall narrative structure.

Just like any trade, there are specific techniques or rules, so to speak, that are needed to perform the job well. Writing is no different and there are some narrative building blocks or techniques that will help you to write a better story. You may or may not be familiar with these basic building blocks of narrative, but here is a refresher of their definitions.

Story is the logical and chronological sequence of events in a narrative. Story should not be confused with narrative discourse, which is the telling or presenting of a story from the story’s narrator. Traditionally, a story unfolds in a linear fashion, with a clearly defined, beginning, middle and end (three-act-structure). Once you have become familiar with this traditional storytelling format, you can break the rules. You can start at the end of the narrative or in the middle of the action.

Plot is the order or sequence in which the story events are arranged in the narrative. It gives a story that much-needed symmetry, movement, and flow. Once you decide on the events that make up the plot of the story, your narrative structure will be revealed.

Now that we have the two basic elements of storytelling sorted, it is time to work on developing the plot of your story. Although the Greek philosopher Aristotle set down the basics for story development, that all stories have a beginning, middle, and end, it is not sufficient to write a compelling story. In order to build upon the three-act structure, the most common plotting device is the narrative arc.

The Narrative Arc Plotting Device

The narrative arc plotting device is a very handy plotting tool that can help you to plan and execute each stage or section of your story. It can be used for a short story and especially for writing novels. Here are the five stages of the narrative arc.

1. Exposition

The exposition is the opening statement or situation that is presented to the reader at the beginning of the story. This is where you introduce your theme, setting and the characters. If you want to use this tool for writing a novel, the main characters are usually presented in this section and other minor characters can be added later.

2. Rising Action

The rising action is the development of conflict or complications in a literary work. This is where you place your first event or series of events. This section is especially important for creating drama, suspense or intrigue for the rest of the narrative.

The rising action is the development of conflict or complications in a literary work. This is where you place your first event or series of events. This section is especially important for creating drama, suspense or intrigue for the rest of the narrative.

The rising action is the development of conflict or complications in a literary work. This is where you place your first event or series of events. This section is especially important for creating drama, suspense or intrigue for the rest of the narrative.

3. Climax

Climax is the turning point of a story. This section involves a series of heightened complications arising from a major event: an act of violence, relationship angst, etc. This part of the story is where it gets really exciting, the characters clash, emotions are at breaking point. Remember: conflict is necessary for creating great drama.

A. Conflict

Conflict is the struggle between two opposing forces like person versus person, and can also include God/fate, society, nature. The conflict is part of the rising action and increases until the climax of the narrative. The stronger the conflict the more dynamic your story will be.

4. Falling action

The falling action is the result or effects of conflict in a story, or for a longer narrative, the series of events that unfold after the climax. The hero has faced and vanquished his nemesis, he has learned a valuable lesson, or he or she has won their heart’s desire.

5. Resolution

The resolution is the end of the story and is sometimes called the denouement. This is where the character’s problems are resolved to some degree. You may choose to finish with a happy ending or leave some questions unanswered.

Creative Exercises

 

Exercise 1

Take one of your existing stories, or if you have never written a story, have a look for a short story collection from the library. Or if you are feeling especially adventurous, choose a novel.

Analyse the story and see how it fits into the narrative arc pattern.

Write down the key elements in the narrative arc: exposition, rising action, etc.

Ask questions like:

Have you or the author introduced the theme clearly?

Where in the story are the characters introduced?

Where does the rising action start?

Who or what provides the conflict or action?

What is the climax of the story?

What is the falling action?

What kind of resolution has been used – neat and tidy or partly resolved?

 

Exercise 2

Write a story using the narrative arc plotting device.

Write down each of the sections from the narrative arc plotting device: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

Under each heading write down some notes on how you will begin your story.

Start by asking some questions.

What is my opening statement or situation?

What kind of action will I use and who will provide the action?

Where will I place the climax?

How will I resolve the narrative?

Once you have written notes on each of these sections, you can start to bring them all together into a whole narrative.

Once you have put the narrative arc plotting device into practice, you may find that it will become an indispensable strategic plan that will help you when you get lost in the narrative maze.

Happy Writing

Lost the Plot? Take Control of Your Story first appeared in the January issue of Unearthed Fiction.

 

How to Write a Book Proposal for a Publisher

So you have finished your book? That’s great! Your literary baby has been carefully crafted and completed.  All that perspiration and imagination has finally paid off.  It was well worth it all, wasn’t it? Even though you had many sleepless nights and you had to cancel so many social engagements. But now that your work is all done and dusted, you would like to share it with the world, right? Absolutely! I hear you say.  Aside from writing a book, whether it be a collection of short stories, a non-fiction travel guide, or a fantasy novel, writing a book proposal is the next big challenge to be faced in your creative writing journey. So how do you write a winning book proposal?

Before I get into the specifics of writing a book proposal, there are a few things you need to know about the publishing industry. I am talking about the traditional publishing market, not the self-publishing DIY option.

The publishing industry is one of the biggest mass media juggernauts in the world, and traditional publishers have very specific guidelines for book submissions. Publishers can afford to be choosy as there are so many authors around the globe who are writing novels and vying for the public’s reading attention.

As well as being a commercial enterprise that looks out for the next best seller that will generate high revenue, traditional publishers are also culturally minded and have the book-reading public’s interest to consider.

The humble book is still regarded as the perfect vehicle for the transmission of complex ideas, information and characters, so publishers are always looking for a book that is well-written, engaging and even ground-breaking. But the challenge is to get your book in front of the publisher’s commissioning editor.

Preparing a Book Proposal: Author Checklist

A book proposal is a formal way of introducing your book to a potential publisher. It includes details like the title of the book, tagline, synopsis, marketability, etc.

  •  Research the publisher

Before you start writing your proposal, research the many different publishers from small independent publishers to large multinational houses. Look at their existing book titles. What kind of readers do they target? Penguin Random House has an extensive list of genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, health, and fitness. They cater for an extensive readership: Children and Teens, Young Adults, and General Readership.

  • Read the publisher’s manuscript submission guidelines

Publishers have very strict guidelines on manuscript submissions. Some publishers accept submissions on particular days, like ‘Manuscript Monday’ or during the first week of every month. They may require you to submit your manuscript as a hardcopy or as a digital copy. They may only be accepting particular genres. Whatever you do, do not just send the manuscript and hope they will read it. Start your publishing relationship the right way, which is the publisher’s way.

Two very important things to remember when submitting your manuscript

 1. Never send your first draft

This probably seems obvious, but I have heard a few stories about dodgy narratives being submitted. No pun intended. Write a few drafts of your manuscript, check your writing for spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes. Have someone else have a look at the manuscript. It is so easy to miss glitches in your own work, which may put your manuscript in the publisher’s shredder – a bit harsh I know.  But this point needs to be emphasised: you want to leave a good impression with your potential publisher. If they read your manuscript, they want to see that you take your craft seriously and you are dedicated to good writing.

Have a look at your plot, characters, etc. Are your characters compelling?  Is your plot fully fleshed out? Even though your book does not have to absolutely perfect, as the publisher will probably make some editing suggestions, it is still important that your story looks polished.

2. Never send the entire manuscript unless the publisher is asking for the entire manuscript

Publishers have a lot of manuscripts to read, so they may only require a sample of your work, and then if they think it has promise, they will ask to see the entire manuscript.  Once again, check their website to see what their requirements are.

Now that you have done your research and read the manuscript guidelines, it is time to start writing a book proposal. Here are some things to include.

1. Title of your Book

The title of your book is one of the most important aspects of your book. A good title can make or break a book. Choose a title that will catch the publisher/reader’s attention and imagination. Something short and catchy that sums up the theme of your book.

2. Tagline or Log Line 

A tagline is a one-line description that sums up the content of your book. It should mention the main character,  the character’s action or the main plot. The key to writing a good tagline is specific word choice and strong verbs and images that catch the reader’s interest.

3. Story Synopsis

The story synopsis is a concise description of the book that should be up to 300 words. The synopsis should include an overview of the main topic/themes/subjects, main characters, and narrative scope.

A good tip is to include the conclusion of the book as well so that the publisher can see the overall continuity of the plot, and that the book is actually finished.

You might find that some publishers may accept a book if it is not fully completed, but they will still need to see that you have written a substantial amount of the narrative. But it is very rare for a publisher to accept a book that has not been completed.

4. Length and Format of the Book

What is the word count of your book?  Novels usually contain 70,000 words.

Children’s Picture Books or Graphic Novels

If your manuscript is a picture book for children or a graphic novel, you can include the details of the illustrations or images that you want to include in the narrative. Some publishers ask for the images to be included as an attachment, or if they want hard copies, they will ask for a DVD. Are the illustrations or images your own work or do they belong to someone else like a paid illustrator? Be aware that some publisher’s like to use their own illustrators.

5. Author Details

Include your title: the name that you want to appear on the cover of the book. Also, provide a short biographical note (up to 50 words) that includes your occupation, special interests, any university degrees or achievements, writing awards, and social media platforms that you are actively involved with. Even though the publisher will promote your work, you are now an authorpreneur and you should also be dedicated to promoting your own work. If there are any other contributors/co-writers or illustrators, include their details as well. If you have sent your manuscript to other publishing houses, you should include those details too.

6. Manuscript Marketability

This section is very important as it shows the publisher that you are interested in them as a high ranking socio-cultural entity in the marketplace, not just because you want to them to publish your book and give you a substantial advance.  Here are some details that you can include.

A. Book Comparison.

Once you have chosen your publisher, have a look on their website. Find two titles that are similar to your book. Include the title of the book, the author and the book’s theme, and how these two books compare to your book.

A book is a marketable product just like a box of corn flakes. And just like any business, the publishing industry looks for a book’s marketability. There may be certain genres that are ‘trending’ at the moment like historical romance, crime thrillers, or speculative fiction. So have a think about what age demographic would be a good target for your book. Would it appeal to young adult readers of fantasy or paranormal fiction? If so, why would it appeal to this particular age group, which is usually from 15 up to 25? Does it include supernatural themes, dark fantasy settings and characters like vampires, etc?

B. Book Competitiveness

How will your book compete with other titles, what advantages or features does it have over existing titles? What is unique about your book, what is its strengths? What can your book bring to the global reading table that readers have not read before?

Maybe your book is a crime thriller and the plot centres on a brilliant, yet socially awkward female detective who hunts serial killers, but hides her own shady past. Maybe you use genre fusion, and combine horror with romance, or maybe your book is a modern fairy tale.

7. Domestic or International Marketability

As you consider the global marketability for your book, ask yourself these three questions.

1. Does your book have the potential to attract a global market with a wide readership?

2. Is your narrative set in a particular country, or does it focus on a particular people group like indigenous people?

3. Will it appeal to some niche groups like university/intellectual readers or for those readers who are interested in social justice issues?

Even though the overall marketability of your book will be determined by the publisher, your own research shows that you have done your homework and that you are passionate about your craft and your book.

8. Contact Details

Include your contact details: email address, telephone number, and your postal address (for formal correspondence).

9. Manuscript

Some publishers will ask for the entire manuscript, while others may ask you to send in a certain amount of pages.

Finally, although there is no secret formula for getting a publisher to accept and publish your book, learning the tricks of the publishing trade, and writing a book proposal that adheres to a publisher’s guidelines, will give you a better chance at having your book shared with the world.

I hope you have found these tips on how to write a book proposal for a publisher helpful, and I wish you all the best for your writing career.

Happy Writing.

 

Image

Steel Lock/magazines

Agnail. Pixabay.com

 

 

How to Write a Dynamic Book Review

 

As of 2015, Book Scan’s total print book sales recorded in at a whopping total of 653 million units. While ‘traditional print books increased almost 3%, and e-books’ share of the total market slipped from 27% in 2014 to 24% last year’, these statistics are still a sure-fire indicator of the public’s ongoing passion for reading books.

With so many readers on the hunt for the latest and greatest ‘good read’ in the literary melting pot, writing a dynamic book review that will grab the attention of a potential reader can make all the difference to a book’s success.

Writing the book review

First things first, you will have had to read the book. Secondly, once you have finished the book, you need to consider what to include in your review? Whether you are reviewing a book or a film, the structure or elements of a review remain the same.  Some book reviews include general information like who wrote the book?, what was the story about?, what is the theme?, and other highlights of the book, character, plot, etc.  But I have chosen to talk about writing a critical book review. 

There are five sections to a critical book review.

1, Identification of the work that is under review

2. Context of the work under review

3. Description of the work under review

4. Assessment of the reviewer

5. Identification of the reviewer

So let us go through each of these sections one by one.

1. Identification of the work under review

The first important thing is that the reader knows the identification details of the book that you are critiquing or reviewing.

When you begin to identify the work, include these details.

  • Who wrote it?
  • What is the title of the book?
  • Who else was involved, co-writers, illustrators?
  • When was it written/published?
  • Where was it published?

The identification panel or publication details are placed before the actual review, like this:

Author
Title of the work
Publisher
ISBN Number
Price
Number of pages
Format of the book (paper-back Pb or hardback Hb)

If the book is to be rated on the internet, like on the Amazon website, you will notice that there are a set of four or five stars that will be included, so that you can click on them to give the book a rating.

2. Context of the work under review

Once you have identified the work that is under review, you can start writing the review. In this part of your review you will place the book into a wider context, so that you are establishing a background and framework for the book. You can use a social-cultural or historical context or a literary context.

Here is a list of contexts that you can use in your review:

Author’s books. Has the author written other books? You need to have read or have a good knowledge of other books by the author.

Genre. Include some brief details about the history of the genre, past and present works in the same genre. Again, you will need to be familiar with genre classification, and other authors who write in the same genre.

Current issues, debates or news. This is the part of the review that will require some research to make sure that the issues or debates/subjects or themes that you will use in your review is relevant and up to date.

Personal reading experience. This part of the context requires you to draw upon your own reading experience or tastes, but remember that the book review is not about what you like or dislike. Keep the reader in mind, your focus should be on the book and its author, and why the reader should (or should not) read the book.

Also, when readers read reviews, they will also be critical of the reviewer as well as the ideas that you are using in the review.

3. Description of the work under review

The third element of the review is the section where you need to describe the book. You will have read the book and be familiar with it. The reader has not read the book and they want to have a good idea of it before they decide to purchase it. So when you start to describe the book, here are some ideas to include.

Overall Description

Describe the genre of the book. Is it a historical romance or a crime thriller?

Theme or topic of the book. Is it a battle for a fantasy world or a hunt for a serial killer?

Writing style of the author. Does the writer use a first person or third person narration? Is is written in a diary style?

Issues that are explored in the book. Does the book cover issues that relate specifically to women, or are there issues that relate to animal rights or ecological concerns?

Literary techniques.  What kind of techniques does the author uses to create the story-world. Does the author use streams of consciousness, flashbacks, etc.

Setting of the book. Is it a beach setting or a futuristic world?

Plot strategies. Does the author start at the end of the story and develop the plot from there? Are there plot twists? Is there a continuous smooth flowing plot or are there multiple plot lines?

Characters. Who is the hero? What is their conscious need or goal? Is their desire for freedom, protection of loved ones, pursuit of a love interest. Who is the villain? How do they provide the conflict in the book?

Specific Description

You can provide quotes or illustrative images from the book, or use a direct quote from the author about the book.

4. Assessment of the reviewer

The assessment of the reviewer is the most important part of the review. You have provided the foundation of the review by building your case for the book with the context and description (the greater social and literary context, genre style, writing style of the author, plot strategies, character profile, and personal reading experiences).

All of these details establish you as a reliable critic who can now make their final judgment, and give the book either a one star or a five star rating.

5. Identification of the reviewer

In this final section of the book review, and also an important one, is where you identify yourself as the critic or reviewer. The identification of the reviewer provides your status as a reviewer and contributes to your credibility as a reliable literary voice, which will also boost the authenticity of the review.

Your identification should be a short bio that is located at the end of the review. Some relevant details to include can be as follows:

  • Professional experience.
  • Reading experience or any books that you have may have written
  • Experience as a critic (if any)
  • Life experience ( university degrees, etc)

A check list for writing the book review.

Before you begin to write your book review, consider this questions:

Who is the readership for the book? You need to consider your readership. Is the review to be shown in a literary magazine, a university journal, or a general women’s magazine. Every publication or website has its own demographic, and an audience with a particular level of expertise and reading experience.

What is the publication’s particular style? Depending on where you will be publishing the review: in a magazine, a newspaper, or on your own website, each medium will have its own style, and require a particular tone or type of ‘voice’ from its writers.

What are the current issues in the world? It is always a good idea to be well read or be media savvy, so that you can use that knowledge to provide a well grounded socio-cultural background for the review.

What is your particular aim, or what kind or angle are you going to take in writing the review? You need to be aware of your intentions or what you want to achieve with this review? Consider these four questions:

1. Do you want to be objective or subjective?
2. Are you representing a particular audience?
3. Are you a fan of the author or book?
4. Do you see the book as a ‘must read’ (is it covering a controversial topic or a social justice issue like human trafficking?)

Finally, if you are going to write a negative review, you need to think about it very carefully. You will need to justify your views by establishing the reasons ‘why’ you are providing a negative review. If you are going to give your opinion, it has to be more than just “I hated the work”; your review has to be presented with a good balance of objective and subjective voice.

Writing a book review is a combination of being well read, being aware of what is going on in the greater world, keeping up with cultural, literary and genre trends, and to be aware of the needs and interests of readers.

Happy writing!

 

Image:

books

PublicDomainPictures

Pixabay.com

 

 

An Exegesis for Second Chance: A Short Story with a Social Conscience

 

One of my short stories ‘Second Chance’, which is featured in the short story collection: Tales for the Sisterhood, is about a young girl who is struggling to cope with the devastating effects of bullying.

My prime motivation behind this story is firstly the subject of bullying, which is a serious social-cultural community issue.

Bullying has been placed centrestage under the media spotlight, and anti-bullying programs and initiatives have been introduced into schools in an effort to try to stop this destructive behaviour, which is endured by children and adolescents, and also in the workplace.

TV shows such as A Current Affair and 60 Minutes have shown that bullying has become more insidious due to social media usage by young people, through platforms like Facebook and Twitter. This online form of bullying is more invasive and it is difficult for young people to switch off from its effects.

Days have gone by where bullying was confined to the school-yard, its presence can now invade into personal living spaces.

My second motivation for this story came from my own experiences with bullying at primary and high school, during which time I was also struggling to cope with a family unit breakdown. Due to my love of painting and writing, I found it therapeutic to express my thoughts and feelings in this creative way.

During my university journey, I conducted research into bullying and different forms of therapy, while creating Second Chance. Organisations like the Sydney Centre for Creative Change hold workshops and courses for youth workers, and offer creative therapy for young people who are dealing with trauma. These classes not only aim to build an artistic skill base, but to empower students to solve problems creatively.

Creative therapy provides a positive course of action that can be taken by the sufferer, giving them back some control.

A lot of my own teenage angst was responsible for creating the character Kara, minus her physical responses to bullying. Like Kara, my favourite subject was Art, and besides English, these subjects were the only ones I succeeded in. As this short story is aimed towards the Young Adult market, in particular, high school students, I wanted the narrative to be primarily from Kara’s perspective on her world, and I hoped to capture the pain of her struggles in such a short word count.

My own reading of young adult novels like John Marsden’s Winter and Amanda Hocking’s Switched, also inspired me to present Kara as the conflicted and misunderstood heroine, who begins her journey towards a psychological transformation, through a Creative Therapy Class.

My other literary challenge was how to begin the narrative. I wanted to highlight Kara’s home life as well as her school-related abuse and then briefly show the beginnings of her personal victory. I decided to include the ‘cutting’ that she considers earlier in the narrative. I have heard that young people can sometimes make the heartbreaking decision to resort to self-mutilation to try to control their emotional pain.

Kara’s choice to use the ‘fight not flight’ response is due to her repressed frustration; not that this is an excuse or an acceptable response to bullying. A young person should stand up to victimisation, but they should not have to do this ‘standing up’ on their own. A strong support system of friends, family members or counselors should stand with them.

The use of creative therapy is not a solution to bullying or other stressful events that can occur in childhood or adolescents, but it is one conduit through which young people can channel their thoughts and feelings, within a safe environment.

My hope is that the short story ‘Second Chance’ may inspire young people to share their stories and not stay silent about bullying. Help and support is available.

 

Here is a excerpt from Second Chance. 

 

The computer screen flickered, which meant that another post was being entered onto my Facebook feed. I turned toward the computer and stared at the words.
“Yur such an ugly useless fat bitch. It wuld b beta if U were ded!!!”

Even though they were just words on a screen, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Although I went to a small country school, I was not immune to the normal school-yard bullying, but now that it had
begun to invade my private and personal space, it seemed that there was nowhere to hide. In the past, I had tried to stand up for myself in an effort to stop the bullying, but it usually escalated into an ugly fight, and I
had been expelled more than once.

The only part of school that I did like was art class, especially when we would use watercolours. My teacher, Mrs Anders, had taught us to use a hair dryer to make the water mix with the paint. I found it fascinating to watch the colours swirl into a multitude of patterns like a kaleidoscope. She would always praise me for my work. “You have such a talent, Kara. Your work is so vibrant.” I would never reply, but in my heart I felt something stir.

 

The full story and other short stories in the Sisterhood Collection are available through Amazon or the Book Depository.

 

Anti-bullying campaigns and related websites. 

ChooseREAL Campaign

Make Bullying History Foundation

 

 

References.

Chloe’s Law, 60 Minutes 2013, television programme, Channel Nine, Sydney, 10 November. YouTube.

Hocking, Amanda 2012, Switched, St Martin’s Press, New York.

I would get death threats”: A Current Affair 2011, television programme, Channel Nine, Sydney, 21 September.

Marsden, John 2000, Winter, Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited.

Sydney Centre for Creative Change

Understanding Teen Cutting and Self-Injury Boystown.org.

Seven Creative Ideas For Writing a Poem

Writing a poem, like a short story, can sometimes be a challenge. We can sit at the computer or with a blank sheet of paper in front of us and feel that we are fresh out of ideas. But never underestimate the creative mind. Just when you feel that you have drained the creative pool dry, an unusual idea can pop into our consciousness, and then we are off and running with an intriguing story or an inspiring poem. But if you feel that your creative muse has left the building and ideas have been a little stale lately, here are another seven creative ideas for writing a poem that will help you on your poetry journey.

One.
Begin a poem with a serious predicament. It could involve people, animals, the law, or a combination of things. Try to resolve the situation in no more than 10 lines.

Two.
Write a poem of rage or protest. It could be based on how you really feel about something or someone, or it could be complete fiction. Let your emotions flow through the poem.

Three.
Make a list of four or five everyday objects. It could be a shell you have found on a beach, a feather, an iPhone. Give each of these objects emotional qualities. Describe them as if they were alive, and had feelings.

Four
Write a poem in the form of a letter. It can be rhymed or in free verse. It can be to someone you know, or a stranger. Or write a letter to yourself.

Five.
Write a poem about an experience from the past that includes the following:
person, animal, location, object. Allow each of these to inform the poem in ways that are both physical and emotional.

Six.
Poems are like lyrical accidents just waiting to happen. You could be at home listening to music, watching television, out shopping or walking in the park. A poem can be inspired by almost anything. Start with whatever comes to mind, and develop the poem from that spontaneous place.

Seven.
Write a poem in the voice of another – like a monologue.

There are no hard and fast rules about writing poetry, but sometimes trying something a little bit different like these seven creative writing ideas for writing a poem can help you to push past any blockages to your creativity. 

Happy Writing!

 

Image:

Poetry. Oldiefan.

Pixabay.com

Seven Tips to Boost Your Creative Writing

 

Whether you are an emerging writer or a seasoned professional, seeking that next big creative idea can be like a knight embarking on an uncertain quest for adventure. The brave knight receives his commission to embark on a quest, either to save a princess in distress, save his kingdom from destruction, or just for the sake of the romantic idea of a quest. Our quest for creativity is not fraught with untold dangers along the way like the knight’s quest, but it is still a journey that can fill us with anxiety and make us doubt our abilities as a writer. But do not despair – here are seven tips to boost your creative writing.

1. MICRO FICTION

With groundbreaking digital technologies, software and new media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, the art of storytelling is rapidly evolving, therefore allowing writers to explore new ways of telling a story. Some examples of electronic literature are Hypertext Fiction, Interactive fiction, and Micro Fiction.

Micro Fiction, Flash or Nano fiction offers a tantalising challenge to writers to restrict their storytelling to a particular word count, anything below 300/400 words. Writing micro fiction not only allows a writer to practise brevity but a micro story can develop into a longer narrative.

Why not try these two writing challenges.

1. Linkedin recently issued a writing challenge to Write a Scary Story in Five Words.
2. Write a Story in 100 Words (on any topic).

2: BRAINSTORM DIFFERENT WAYS OF BEGINNING A STORY

A story’s opening paragraph should be designed to capture a reader’s imagination. It acts as a pivotal gateway through which your reader must enter so that they can journey successfully through your story. You can start to build your micro world in a number of ways:

A dramatic setting like a dark Dystopian city or a windswept beach.
Strong action like a battle or a pursuit through a haunted forest.
An intriguing idea.
A question.
Remember: “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.” Beatrix Potter.

3: MIXING GENRES.

Sometimes we writers tend to play it safe and stick to a familiar genre, but why not try mixing genres? Be brave and experiment. Mixing genres is a great way to revitalise your writing.

What’s your favourite genre – horror, science fiction, romance, speculative fiction, comedy?

Boost your creativity by following these steps:

A. Choose two of your favourite genres and create an intriguing generic mix. For example: write a story that mixes romance and speculative fiction, or horror and comedy.

B. Read an article or a book about the rules or conventions of each genre.

C. Try mixing the genres together.

D. Evaluate your story. Has this brainstorming tip helped to revitalise your writing?

4. RE-WRITE A FABLE OR FAIRY TALE. Storytelling has been the prime conduit for human communication for thousands of years and basic archetypal narrative structures like folk and fairy tales remain an integral part of contemporary popular culture. So why not try re-writing a fable or a fairy tale – or base your story on an archetypal plot.

Here are seven basic plot ideas:

Quest
Rags to Riches
Tragedy
Voyage and Return
Comedy
Rebirth or Metamorphosis
Overcoming the monster.

5. JOIN A WRITERS’ GROUP.

Although writing is predominately a solo vocation, writers can sometimes struggle and flounder when they live in a creative void. Even famous writers need someone to bounce their creative ideas off. Most novels have an attribution to someone, or sometimes, many people who have helped the author along their storytelling journey.

So why not join a writer’s group either at your local community centre, or online. In the midst of like-minded people, you can share ideas and maybe even find a suitable mentor.  There are many writers’ groups on Linkedin like The Writers’ Network,  and I have listed some under the Resources tab. 

6. The ICWE. The ICWE is an ‘innovative creative writing exercise’ that is designed to help you brainstorm new story ideas. This is how it works:

Step. 1. Write at least five short paragraphs, up to 100 words each, on one sheet of paper. Your paragraph can be a description of a setting, a character description, or you can use dialogue.

Step 2. Print out the sheet.

Step 3. Cut up each individual paragraph into strips.

Step 4. Mix them up, then lay each strip on a table, one after each other, and see what you’ve come up with. You may be pleasantly surprised at the new narrative you’ve created.

Also, each paragraph can be developed into a separate story.

7. COMPLETE YOUR CREATIVE QUEST.

The best advice for any writer whilst on their creative quest is to persevere. Once you embark on your creative quest, you must stay on track until your quest is completed.

Remember:

Keep your goal in mind as you go.

Avoid any distractions that may deter you from fulfilling your quest.

If you experience challenges from the creative writer’s nemesis, ‘writer’s block’, or it feels like your creative muse has abandoned you, take a break and then continue on your quest.

The creative mind works best when it’s relaxed. So walk away from the notepad or computer and refresh those creative neurons. Then you can return to your storytelling journey and successfully complete your creative quest. Even the bravest of knights have had to take a break from rescuing the princess or fighting the dragon. I hope these seven tips for boosting your creative writing will help you in your storytelling journey. 

Happy writing!

 

Image:

De Kalatravo. Calatravo – Medieval Knight. 

wikimedia commons. wikimedia.org

How to Create Dynamic Secondary Story Characters: The Donor, the Dispatcher and the Helper

Over the last few weeks we have been learning about how to create dynamic story characters through brief character profiles. We started with the main characters – the Hero and the Villain and then moved onto the first of our secondary characters – the Princess

This week we will exploring the possibilities for the last of our archetypal characters as originally proposed by the Russian folklorist, Vladimir Propp – the Donor, the Dispatcher, and the Helper.

Although the Hero, the Villain and the Princess provide the main action in a story, the Donor, the Dispatcher and the Helper are indispensable elements in a narrative.  These story characters are especially important for our Hero. The Hero would not be able to embark upon his quest or successfully achieve his goal without these characters.

In a future blog, I will be exploring the role of characters even more in ‘How to create four dimensional characters’. As you can probably tell creating characters is one of my favourite aspects of storytelling. Whether we are reading a book or watching a film or a television show – great storytelling depends on dynamic characters.

So let us get back to creating a character profile/s for the Donor, Dispatcher and Helper.

Once more I am going to use a literature/filmic reference – The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) to explore these three character types.  LOTR is a good narrative to use for story character profiling as it provides us with a perfect example of how one character can play dual roles.  See Propp’s archetypal character list.

The Donor

The Donor is responsible for providing a magical agent to the hero before he embarks upon his quest.

The Donor in LOTR is the wizard – Gandalf the grey.  After finally succeeding in getting Bilbo to leave his “precious” ring behind before he leaves the Shire to journey to Rivendell, Gandalf gives this ring, which is the magical agent, to Frodo. But this magical agent harbors deadly magic – it originally belonged to the story’s villain – the dark lord, Sauron.   So we can see from this narrative that archetypal elements can take on variations.  LOTR also features more than one magical agent.  There are the elvish gifts that are given to Frodo: the sword that glows blue when Orcs are present, the silver ethereal vest, and The Light of Eärendil that is bestowed by Galadriel.

The Dispatcher

Gandalf also performs the role of the main Dispatcher as he sends Frodo on his mission. We could also include Strider/Aragorn, Elrond and Galadriel as dispatchers.

The Dispatcher has two functions.  He alerts the potential Hero to a grave misfortune or some sort of lack in their mutual world. The Dispatcher’s second function is to send the Hero on a mission or quest in order to resolve the original misfortune or lack.  Ultimately, the desire is to restore equilibrium to a world that is seriously out of balance or on the brink of destruction.

The Helper

The Helper’s job description is to inspire or motivate the Hero, provide rescue, help with or solve difficult tasks, and to transform the hero. Out of all these three characters, the Helper is the one character who is usually consistent throughout the narrative up until the conclusion of the story. And there can be multiple Helpers in a narrative.

In the LOTR films there are many Helpers.  Besides Boromir, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimili, and Arwen, there are also Frodo’s friends – the mischievous Merry and Pippin, and of course, the self sacrificing and loyal, Sam. With Merry and Pippin, we can see that sometimes the helpers can cause more trouble for the Hero than provide any actual help. But towards the end of the film franchise we see that Merry and Pippin redeem themselves and prove that they are indispensable to the story and more importantly to Frodo himself.

Here I have provided three brief character profiles for the Donor, the Dispatcher and the Helper.  For a more extensive outline of these archetypal characters and their broader narrative groups and place within a narrative, see John Fiske, 2010, Television culture.

 

Creative exercise

This week I have a creative exercise for you.

Watch ‘The Opera’ Season 4 episode from the Seinfeld series (you should be able to find it on YouTube). Or you can use any narrative that you familiar with. Analyze each of the characters. What are their functions within the narrative (hero, villain, princess etc.)?  Do they perform one or more function? Which is your favorite character and why?

 

References:

Fiske John 2010, Television culture, 2nd edition, Routledge, New York, London.

 

IMAGE:

Steve Czajka

Flickr.com

Write a Dynamic Opening for a Story

 

When it comes to writing a short story there are two important structural guidelines to remember: the ‘beginning and ending‘.  Although there are other guidelines, the ‘beginning and ending’ of a short story are considered to be among the most important.  These guidelines apply to novels as well, but for a short story, there is a limited word count in which to offer an intriguing storyworld.  So let us get started in exploring how to write a dynamic opening for a story.

A story’s opening paragraph should be designed to capture a reader’s imagination and inspire them to read more.  The opening paragraph acts as a pivotal gateway through which your reader must enter so that they can journey successfully through your story.  There are many ways of beginning a story: setting, character description, action, a statement, an idea, or posing a question.

1. SETTING

Your setting could be a location: a windswept beach, a dark Dystopian city, a magical underwater world, or a simple hobbit’s hole as described by J. R. R. Tolkien on the opening page of The Hobbit – “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or eat: It was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

2. CHARACTER DESCRIPTION

The opening lines can introduce your main protagonist, for example –“Ella leaned back against the cold damp stone wall. Her porcelain skin was pale and drawn, with deep lines etched around her eyes and mouth, and her once glorious golden hair hung in matted tendrils around her face.”

3. ACTION

Starting your story with strong action is a great choice as it thrusts the reader into the thick of the story.  “The baying of the hunting dogs drew closer as he dashed through the thickly wooded forest.  Like a mad man, he fought his way through the close-knit trees, until he was suddenly redeemed by a burst of bright sunlight as he stumbled out of the forest into a small clearing.”

4. A STATEMENT

The iconic opening statement in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is dramatic, poetic and memorable, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of our despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . .”

5. AN IDEA

How about Jane Austen’s opening line in the classic novel, Pride and Prejudice – “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  Starting your story with an idea can really get your reader thinking.  Although they may not agree with your idea, they can be compelled to read on to see where this idea will take them.

6. A QUESTION

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.” Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White.  Beginning your story with a question sets up intrigue in the reader’s mind.  You have provided them with a question that needs to be answered and they must commit to the whole story to discover the answer.

I have provided just a few tips on how to write a dynamic opening for a story in a way that will capture your reader’s imagination.

 

Next week: We will explore the creative possibilities for your story’s ending.

 

Image.

Books

Pixabay.com.