What is GOOD Description? Part 1

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Did you ever pick up a book, begin reading, and soon find the words on the page disappear because you are “seeing” the story unfold in your mind’s eye? Description helps the reader to create a mind movie from the words you write.

Description should ADD to a story. Yes, the pace is slower than an action segment, but description shouldn’t stop the reader.

Pick what you describe and when you use description. (And how much!) Instead of telling what a person is wearing, try to describe the way the clothes fit the person and says something about the character. For example: the tennis shoes were double tied, the jeans dragged the gravel in the driveway, the t-shirt rose up, exposing a pierced bellybutton.

I’m going to cover some of the ways you can improve your use of description. For Part 1, I’m going to talk about the use of adjectives and adverbs.

REFRESHER!

Adverbs are words which modify or describe verbs.

Examples:

She plays hard. (NOTE: The word “hard” is also an adjective.)

He runs quickly

She shopped yesterday.

He is always (frequently) busy.

She is very busy.

She went shopping, then she saw a movie.

Adjectives are words which gives more information about a noun.

Examples:

She drove a fast car.

His bike is blue.

Her parents attended the school conference.

The exhausted child twisted her ankle.

Football is an exciting sport.

The trick is to use as few adverbs and adjectives as possible in your writing. Why? The simple answer is: If you have to use another word to strengthen the original word, you are probably not using the strongest word that you can.

For example:

He runs quickly. (The word “quickly” is added to aid the verb “runs.” Remove the word “quickly.” Look at the verb choice. Is it strong enough? If not, find a stronger verb. For example you might replace runs with: races, scampers, rushes, sprints, etc.

Another example:

She drove a fast car. (The word “fast” is added to aid the noun “car.” Remove the word “fast.” Look at the noun choice. What specific make/model of car comes to mind to make the reader THINK “fast?” Maybe: Shelby Mustang, Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc. (You can also add a specific model for the make of car, such as Porsche 911.)

Saying “She drove a fast car” TELLS the reader information. What we need to do is have the reader experience the story. This can be done by allowing the reader to FEEL an experience. Many think of sports cars as being FAST, so if the writer uses “Ferrari” instead of “fast car” he or she allows the reader the impression of speed, rather than telling them.

When the reader experiences the story along with the characters, he or she becomes a more active participant in the process of storytelling.

Use specific nouns and powerful verbs!

Question for today: Look at some of your recent writing. What might you do to make better use of description? When you read a book or story, do you find that you skip over passages of description? Why? Or why not?

Best Wishes,

June

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May the Power Be With You

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Writers are not immune to giving away their inner power. Maybe we do this in different ways than the general population, but the end result is the same: we diminish ourselves and our writing.

NOTE: I’m not talking about “power over” but the power that each of us has within ourselves. Good stuff!

Here are some ways that might help you become aware of your own personal power as it relates to your writing journey.

Believe in yourself. If you’re feeling down about a critique or rejection letter – turn it around: What can you find in this experience to be grateful about? (This will help kill self-doubting quickly.) The best gift you can give yourself is to believe in YOU. You ARE a writer. Follow your inner voice, your intuition, or whatever you want to call it, because as you learn to trust this part of yourself, you build belief in who and what you are.

You know what you are doing. You’ve studied, you’ve taken classes and worked with writing critique groups, you’ve done your research. No matter what others might say, you know your goals and where you want to go (and why). You are the creator of your own journey. Follow your inner voice when you get advice and feedback from others. You will KNOW what feels right and what doesn’t. Feedback is a gift to you from others, so acknowledge it as such, even when, at times, you know it doesn’t work for your story.

 Keep with your boundaries. While good advice for our entire life, it also applies to our writing. Follow your inner voice, your intuition, when you work with other writers (and people in general). You know what’s best for yourself within the feedback and advice that you receive with others when you listen with an open mind.

The only people you need to “make happy” is YOU. It’s a good thing to be nice and polite, but not at your own expense. Happiness is an internal “force” not something you can give to someone else.

Approval and validation should come from within. While it’s great to hear nice things about your writing, this is not something that you NEED to validate you as a writer. If you believe in yourself, and do the other things on this list, this is something that is internal rather than external. You ARE a writer and what you write is of value. On the flip side, you should not feel the need to validate other writers. Yes, say good things about their writing as appropriate (your gift to them), but they are responsible for their own validation.

Stay in your creative flow. You are the only one who defines what this is and how your own writing process works. Yes, you can try other things and explore other methods of doing something, but YOU know what works best for you. Learn to recognize what this feels like and encourage this flow to develop so that you can tap into it at will.

You are the master/mistress of your fate. You are in charge of your writing life, not anyone else. You make your goals, decision, and determine the path you wish to follow. This also has another side – others have their own paths to explore – respect this.

Learn to say “no” when it’s appropriate. With the numerous parts of our lives – the day job, family, friends, keeping up with our writing, exercising, it’s okay to say “no” to others so that we keep our lives in balance. Maybe you don’t have the time or energy to take on another critique group or to work with another writer at this time.

Looking back over this list (by no means complete!) it seems a good one for writing critique groups. Life (including our writing life) is all about what’s inside you.

May the power be with you!

Question for today: How do you use your inner power to help you in your writing journey? Is there an area where you give your power away? How might you turn this around?

Best Wishes,

June

Paradigm Shift Your Writing

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A paradigm shift is a change from one way of thinking to a different way. It’s a transformation. This is not something that “just happens.” A paradigm shift is driven by some active agent.

I can imagine you asking, what does this have to do with writing? Let me first give an example of a paradigm shift and afterward, I’ll get back to you and writing.

The printing press. Yes, the invention of the printing press and what happened because of this was a rather large paradigm shift, not only in terms of access to information, thoughts, beliefs, etc., but to language, peoples, cultures, spanning the entire world. Some say that this invention led to the scientific revolution, and thus, to the world in which we now find ourselves.

With the invention of movable type in the 1440s by Gutenberg, books became available, smaller, and cheaper to buy. Attitudes changed through time as more and more people had access to books. In this paradigm shift, the active agent of change was the printing press.

So what’s the active agent of change in writing? The answer is simple: YOU!

In creating a new world each time you begin a story, developing new characters, inventing plots, motivations, and conflicts, you have the opportunity to step outside of your world view of life to create something unique. Your story world and characters don’t have to be a reflection of your own way of thinking or believing. They could be, but that’s only a starting point. If all your characters were a reflection of you, you are limiting yourself (and your cast of characters).

Allow yourself to step outside of that with which you are comfortable. Step into your new world and experience it as your protagonist, as your antagonist. What are their beliefs? Their experiences? Their motivations?

Once you are able to do this, to make the paradigm shift from yourself to the universe outside of yourself, to feel, taste, hear, see this new world through new eyes, you will indeed create a world, characters, and story that others will WANT to read.

Writing through the eyes of your hero or heroine, keep in mind his or her motivations. When you write through the heart of your antagonist or villain, listen to her or his voice, to the past that brought this character to the present.

When I’m writing about an angry teenager, I feel things way beyond my own quiet experience as a teen. When I write of an elderly, terminally ill man, who welcomes death, I give up my middle age wanting to live life the fullest as I look toward many years to come. When I am a woman giving birth to her first child, I must go beyond my experience of having no children.

When you shift from yourself to the life, heart, and soul of your character, you can write his or her story. That world will come alive, for you and for your readers. Writing is an exercise in transformation, and you, the writer, are the agent of change in the paradigm shift of writing.

Question for today: What are your experience(s) in getting into the head, heart, and soul (spirit) of your characters? Your story world?

Best Wishes,

June

Beyond Goal Writing – The Last Step

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The last step in achieving your goals is not something you DO, but a way of being: ATTITUDE!

The DOING part is the first four steps. This last step—the BEING part—is what will keep you moving forward, what will keep you on track. This is not a physical step, but a SHIFT in your thinking. Some might need to shift more than others. To achieve anything in your life you must BELIEVE in yourself.

One way to help achieve this state of positive attitude and belief is to realize when you are not thinking positive about yourself, stop, and reverse that thought into something positive.

FOR EXAMPLE:

You’re working on a project, feeling frustrated at your progress, and the following thought seeps into your mind:

I can’t do this. I might as well give up.

As soon as you realize any negative thought, say out loud: “STOP!” Back up and rephrase to a positive statement.

I’m being challenged. I’ll take a break, come back, and work on this with a fresh viewpoint! I CAN make my daily goal of <fill in the blank>.

Did you notice something here? A few words can defeat us. Keep your brain and heart wrapped around positive thoughts! You’ll be surprised how far that will take you.

After you commit to the first four steps and working on those, step five is what will push you over the hill on the path you’re traveling. It’s much easier to accomplish what we want when we feel good about ourselves: IT’S ALL IN THE ATTITUDE!

REMEMBER: Words give us personal power and control. It’s the way to happiness and joy and achievement.

Question for today: I want to SEE and FEEL your attitude! Leave a comment that shows me your POSITIVE ATTITUDE!

Best Wishes,

June

Beyond Goal Writing—Next Steps

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January is behind us and we’re moving deeper into 2010. You’ve written your goals and looking forward to a new year of joy, prosperity, and being productive in exciting new ways.

But wait! How do you stay on track? What might you do so when approaching midnight on December 31, looking back over 2010, you’re where you want to be? Did you achieve your goals?

What you do now – THIS DAY – will determine what you find at the end of the year.

Having goals is not enough. Writing them down is a step forward. But what to do now?

How often do you review your goals? This is not only a reminder of where you’re headed, but it keeps you on track, keeps you focused on moving forward.

What are you doing (the small steps) to achieve your goals? How often will you appraise your progress? Don’t have a goal to cover this? It’s never too late to write new ones!

Another part of the appraisal process is to find ways to increase your focus on goals. If you’re slightly off track, adjust! What are your day-to-day actions that support your goals? Make a list of what you do daily. Check off which ones uplift your goals. Hmmmm. Are there things on the list that serve no purpose or not important in terms of your goals? (AND do REMEMBER that you need down time – time to relax, time for yourself. You should schedule this each day.)

What I’m talking about is spending the time you have in a way that benefits the meeting of your goals.

After you’ve appraised your process, remember to reward yourself for your progress. What will you do to celebrate your successes? Be creative, include others as part of your celebration, do something fun, something unique, and whatever you decide to do to celebrate, remember that YOU’RE A WINNER!

RECAP:

Step 1 – Have a written record of your goals

Step 2 – Regularly review your goals

Step 3 – Appraise your progress

Step 4 – Celebrate successes

And there’s one final thing that makes all this come to life. Stay tune next time to discover what the last, and maybe most important, step is on the way to achieving your goals in 2010 and for years to come. (Check back February 9th!)

Questions for today: After writing your LIST of daily activities, what might you do differently each day to help in the achievement of your goals? How will you celebrate your successes?

Best Wishes,

June

Dreaming of a…

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Dreams are answers to questions we haven’t yet figured out how to ask.

~X-Files

Dreams have long fascinated us. We do research to understand how they come about and what they mean. Dreams have inspired scientist, artist, inventors and philosophers since the beginning of time.

Dreams inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s masterpieces Kubla Khan and The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.

Many of Robert Louis Stevenson’s best stories came from dreams. As did many of the stories and poems of Edgar Allen Poe.

Do you remember your dreams? Are you in touch with this extraordinary resource? If you don’t remember them, there are plenty of books and websites to give you advice about how you go about remembering your dreams. Also check out a technique called lucid dreaming if you’re not familiar with this practice.

Dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you.

~Marsha Norman

Dreams are a great resource on multiple levels. Dreams can bring us self discovery, ways to work out issues, create new characters, play out scenes or develop plots, build settings, explore moods, and anything else you can dream on.

Bottom line: pay attention to your dreams. They are your creative efforts at their finest.

Dreaming is an act of pure imagination, attesting in all men a creative power,

which if it were available in waking,

would make every man a Dante or Shakespeare.

~H.F. Hedge

Question for today: How do you use your dreams in your writing life? (And if you don’t – how might you begin doing this?)

Best Wishes,

June