Category Archives: Writing Skills

Character Descriptions

By Terry C. Misfeldt

How you craft descriptions of your characters is an important element in gaining and maintaining reader interest in your story. Character descriptions vary from quick sketches to detailed revelations that can include emotional states.

An example of a quick sketch would be describing a female character wearing a sleeveless top with colorful tattoo sleeves from shoulder to wrist on both arms. Main character? Perhaps, but more appropriate for a passing stranger in some scene.

The more detailed character description might be something like this: “The plump four-year-old towhead with sparkling blue eyes and out-turned feet plodded barefoot through the mud with his tossled hair clinging to the back of his sweaty neck. His bleeding hand was wrapped in his blood-soaked t-shirt that he held tight to his chest with his belly hanging over the waistband of his too-tight shorts.”

The point of the examples is writers need to create believable characters with precise descriptions. The scene in the second example is used more to describe what might be going on in the towhead’s brief existence, but you learn he is blond with blue eyes and is overweight for a 4-year-old.

Beware: You can divulge too much information about a character in a single description or scenario. This may force you to repeat traits or descriptions at other points in your story that could potentially conflict with your original picture of them.

Suggestion: Identify your characters and write character descriptions on each of them before you dig too deeply into writing the story. This enables you to sprinkle some of their traits throughout the story at appropriate times rather than all at once.

Observe people who may model the type of character you want to create. Take notes about how they move, what they wear, and, of course, what they look like. Writers call it research.

Inspiration

By Rhonda Strehlow

Inspiration

Someone once asked me where I get ideas for my books. Some have been in my head for years. Take the premise for my first book, Second Act. All 70,000 plus words are based on a sixty-minute encounter that took place more than twenty years ago.

It started like this: my sisters and I took a long weekend break in Chicago. We had just seen a play and had an hour or so before we were expected at a nice restaurant. The evening was gorgeous. We talked and laughed as we wandered down the street. I was carrying a tiny evening bag. Feeling free and silly, I was swinging the purse in circles when a blond gentleman grabbed my arm.

This is downtown Chicago. We’re from a town with a population of 499 in northern Wisconsin. My sisters and I freeze.

He says, “It’s not safe to swing your purse in this city.”

En masse my sisters and I back away from him and his large bald friend we hadn’t noticed earlier.

He smiles and starts telling us about Chicago, its history, and famous residents. Within minutes we were captivated by his insights and barely noticed when we reached the restaurant.  We invited them to join us. They pointed to their shorts and sandals and declined.

“Thank you…” I hesitated. “We don’t know your names.”

The blond man smiled enigmatically, hugged me, and walked away.

I gave the bald man a quizzical look.

He leaned in and whispered, “If I told you his name, you would recognize it.”

In minutes they disappeared into the crowd.

If you want to know what could have been the rest of the story, you’ll have to read the book.

Writing Challenge

By Terry C. Misfeldt

One week into July 2020 I decided to challenge myself on writing. I believed I could write 1,000 words a day, so I established that as my realistic goal. My rationale was two-fold:

1) If I wrote 1,000 words a day I could craft a 90,000 word novel within 90 days; and,

2) I could hold myself accountable by documenting how many words I wrote in my daily journal. I did not intend to count the journal words in the daily total.

Through the first 18 days of my challenge I have written 22,336 words for an average of 1,241. There was only one day when I did not write anything, and some days when I fell short of the 1,000 word goal. The most words in a day were 2,995. The key, in my estimation, has been accountability.

There have been days when I was motivated to sit down at the keyboard early and crank on the sequel to my novel, Shevivor. And there was at least one day where I did not want to go to bed without sitting down and cranking out something.

How did I determine what to write?

If I was working on the sequel, I went to bed thinking about the next few paragraphs and where I wanted to take the story. If I hit a snag or blockage, I worked on a chapter of my memoirs and found it easy to craft 1,000 words about one of my life’s experiences. In other words, I always had something to write about. And there were days when I wrote in two different stints when I was motivated to write.

Enough about me.

Challenging yourself to write involves setting a goal. It is less important to establish how much you want to write as it is to maintain a regimen that keeps you focused. If you can accomplish writing 500 words a day, make that your objective. If you find it difficult to commit to a daily schedule and believe you can write 2,000 words a week, that should be your goal.

You must set your own standard because, ultimately, you must hold yourself accountable.

Keep track of your achievements. It is how you measure progress.

A lesson learned long ago is that goals must be written, or they are never attained. They must also be realistic, so even if it is 100 words a day and that can be achieved, you can accomplish it.

Goals need to be timely as well. I have been focused on mine for 18 days out of at least 90 planned, so I need to infuse persistence into my regimen to complete what I have in mind.

You can do it, too!

Writing this piece alone generated 461 words toward today’s goal.

Help! I’ve Become a Fribbler!

By Gail Blohowiak

(fribble, fribbler, fribbling,etc are real words)

I have learned to fribble. I’m a very good fribbler.  Fribbling and writing are not compatible.  

My pandemic life is full of useful and useless items.  I try to focus on useful and productive items.  

 It seems that some weeks Zoom has taken up my life.  I Zoom with my two writers’ groups, my two book clubs, and two friends’ groups., and a critique group.  I Zoom a lot.  I even Zoom Happy Hour with a group of friends.  

Other times, I fribble.  I fribble a lot lately too.  

Fribble is those times when I go to do something productive and end up doing something unproductive.  

I make it to my office and open my document files with all the good intentions of doing edits. My motivation is lax and soon I check emails and FaceBook posts. I know I should silence my phone and iPad, but I don’t.  I attend each zing or new notification!  It might be a video of my youngest grand doing something cute!  I can’t miss this!  

 I get distracted by listening to the news on the radio of on the T.V. playing in the background.  I get distracted by the need for coffee, water, or a potty break.  

My intentions are exemplary!  However, I quickly descend into fribbling away another good hour or two until a Zoom meeting begins, until it is lunchtime until someone distracts me with a lawnmower, trimmer, or garbage collection.   

The mail is another distraction – I can now identify the exact time the mail carrier arrives at our mailbox and I can identify the hour the Fed Ex, or Amazon drivers drive our cul de sac.  I am vigilant with these tasks.  But, when it comes to editing or writing, I fribble! 

I never used to be a fribbler!  I was always focused on the job at hand.   I spent my time engaged in productive endeavors.  

Now, on the way to the kitchen for a refresh of coffee, I watch the birds at our feeder, or I count the seeds on the ground and wait for the squirrel or chipmunk to come around for cleanup duties.  This isn’t a true fribble. I now call this ‘being in the moment’.  It’s not.  It’s fribbling! 

If any of you reading this has suggestions or a foolproof cure for fribbling, please contact me via an email, text message, FB post, or Zoom Room.  I still have my notifications on.  I have not gone silent.  I will not add this to my lists of fribbling activities.  I will count it as an intervention to put me back on track to writing and editing.  Please Help! 

Copyright 2020. Gail Blohowiak. (920) 360-6235. gailblohowiak@gmail.com

Competitive Writing

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Writers of every genre should consider competing for recognition by entering contests. Competitive writing stretches a writer’s composition skills and earns them credibility when they win. Of course, not every entry is a winner but it is worth trying.

The first step is awareness. There are many sites online promoting various writing contests. Your job is to find one that falls within your bailiwick and gives you a chance to win, place, or show to use a gambling term.

Second, learn the nuances. Who are the judges and do they review every entry, or is there a screener who eliminates some of the entries to make the judging less taxing on the final judge? How many words (please stay within the guidelines)? What is the deadline? What format must your entry be in? Is there an entry fee?

Third, if you can, review previous winning entries. There is no guarantee that writing something similar will increase your odds because the judges are likely different, but it gives you a sense of what wins.

Fourth, choose if you want to participate and start writing. You want enough time to finish your piece and edit it before submitting. You might also want to research the judge to know what he or she has written. That gives you an idea of what might appeal to them.

Last, finish your piece and submit it. Make sure you follow all the rules and guidelines, then wait to find out if you came out on top. And do not worry. If you win, great! If you don’t, consider it a learning experience and try again.

Writers Are Readers

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Writers have a tendency to also be avid readers. Yes, folks, writers are readers!

We read to explore new worlds without leaving the comfort of our favorite chair. We can cross the plains of America in a covered wagon with a cup of coffee and a doughnut in our hands. We can be enthralled in a steamy romance while lying on a beach blanket.

Why do we read? We get ideas for writing from reading what others have written. We can study character development. We can create exotic worlds from seeing how other authors develop their fantasy planets. We consider sentence length, grammar, punctuation, and style from the words in those published works.

Sure, we read for entertainment or knowledge and sometimes just for something to do. We find authors we love and crave their next book. For me those are writers like Kevin J. Anderson, Brian Herbert, James Lee Burke, and Jeff Shaara…each of whom writes for a different audience. Their work can be inspiring, and writers need to be inspired!

As writers, we also read to learn how other writers grab your attention and keep it as they develop a plot through various crises to a climax. Part of why we read involves a never-ending search for new authors whose work we will either love or despise. Those we dislike usually have but a chapter or two before they lose us.

And no writer wants to lose their readers…for whatever reason! So we read.

The Marketing Side

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Professionals in the publishing business advise writers that the easy part of getting your story into print is the writing of it. The marketing side is the other half and should be considered the most important…unless you do not care how many books you sell and are only interested in holding that precious chunk of paper in your hands.

Trust me: The feeling of having a book in your hands with your name on the cover is an enviable feeling. It is symbolic of hours and maybe (in my case) even years of work to write, edit, re-write, edit, and think about what you have entered into a document in the hope they will be someone interested in reading what you have written.

That is where the marketing side rears its head. Go back to the simple process of thinking about who you have written your book for: Who is your audience? If you had a test reader from that target group evaluate your story and they were impressed, you know there is a good chance your book has a feasible chance of selling to that audience. Call it market research.

Now, how do you reach that group of potential readers to let them know it is available for purchase? Can you get in front of them through social media? It is a low cost approach to marketing if you can approach it wisely and avoid alienation.

For broader markets, consider media releases to home town newspapers, college alumni associations, fraternities or sororities, organizations where you are a member, family and friends. One-to-one E-mails can be effective in creating awareness. You must plug your book mercilessly and not be afraid to ask for a purchase. If you are hesitant to do this, think about a lawyer who hangs a shingle outside her office and wonders why no one is interested in hiring her.

The first principle of marketing is to make people aware of your work. If they are at all interested, they will check you out. Do you have a website where they can order your book? If they like what they discover (cover art, cover copy, blurbs, etc.) they will buy.

Blog about it. Tag everything you do with links to your selling page. Print up business cards with the cover on the back. This is the marketing side, and here’s an example: I recently published my first novel, Shevivor, which has an excellent cover designed by Angela Collier and is now available through Amazon and my website, https://www.terrycmisfeldt.com/shevivor. It is set-up for Pay Pal purchases.

Thanks!

How to Write Good Dialogue

By Rebecca Laurent

Writing good dialogue is no small task. I don’t imagine that there is any complete checklist that writers can follow that will allow us to craft perfect dialogue every time. There are, however, a few helpful rules of thumb that can help elevate flat dialogue and keep scenes from boring our readers.

Avoid using dialogue tags other than “said”

Trying to spice up writing using tags such as “she cajoled” or “she jerked out” is an easy mistake to make. Though, consider the reader’s experience. These kinds of tags can become very distracting from the actual conversations we’re trying to pull them into. Some might argue that these sorts of tags provide necessary information about a character’s disposition. Still, if those tags are truly bearing all the weight of such a large job, probably some critical content is missing from a character’s description and the wording of their lines.

Actually, use as few dialogue tags as possible.

Don’t get me wrong. Streams of naked dialogue are doom to any story, but that doesn’t mean every line should have a tag attached to it. Mix it up. Instead of “she said,” include a bit of physical description or body language which tells us more about a character’s mood. Such lines can let us know who is speaking just as clearly.

Edit out any conversations where your characters are telling each other about things they both already know.

Theater scrips have made this kind of banal conversation infamous, coining it as maid and butler dialogue. This is when one character says something like, “As you know, the master is out today.” If they already know it, why are they telling them? To readers, such overt attempts to cram in information come across as disingenuous and tend to pull them out of a story. Instead, ensure that your characters all have an appropriate level of motivation for whatever lines you give them.

Subtext!

So much of what makes fantastic dialogue fantastic is often not everything that the characters have said. Rather, it is what they have not said. Just like in real life, people in our stories can be passive-aggressive or say something which contrasts with what they’re thinking. Consider all the delicious possibilities which come with including a point-of-view (POV) character’s thoughts as they decide what to hold back from their conversation partner.

A Blank Canvas

By Ruth Wellens

It’s nearly spring so I was beginning to clean out the corner of my basement that has accumulated the mess of year’s past. My son is going to graduate from college this May but left behind numerous notebooks from his elementary and high school years. Somehow between us, we have gone through the notebooks and ripped out the instructive pages, but I just have a difficult time putting perfectly good notebook paper into the garbage which ends up in landfills. So – I end up with a lot of half-filled notebooks with crazy adolescent writing on the covers. 

Good news: I also ended up with ideas yet to be realized. Procuring all of the notebooks and paper together, I suddenly became inspired to write! Sure, as writers we have ideas rambling around our brains all the time, but this paper was tangible. Each piece meant my ideas could turn into reality with strokes from a pen.  Sure, I use my computer most of the time, but there is a visceral pleasure in putting pen to paper when writing.  Even if it is an outline or bullet points for your writing, it is visual proof of that idea when put on paper.

My broken down half notebooks are now stacked in my make-shift office, ready and waiting to turn into a story board, a story, a novel, an editorial, or maybe just random thoughts to be expounded on another day. The excitement is there. It feels like New Year’s Eve rife with resolutions! The first day of spring with all the promise of colorful flowers, warm sun and brilliant hues of green. The potential adventure of travelling to a new place! All of the paper ready and willing to serve my ideas.

I have heard some writers carry paper with them at all times in case an idea comes to them. With the advent of cell phones, some writers use the verbal choice of talking into them to retain their ideas until they can sit and think about them more. Yes, some of us get our best ideas in the shower, which, unfortunately, is not paper’s best friend. As for me, I have my half notebooks with lots and lots of blank pages to write on!  

Bogged Down by Minutiae

By Rhonda Strehlow

Writers have a love/hate relationship with word count. Am I writing a novel? Short story? Flash fiction?

What’s my genre? Mystery. Romance. Action. Suspense. Poetry. Memoir.

Where do I fit?

We get stymied by unimportant details.

More important than word count or genre is making your words count. Lately useless words have been irritating me. Some. Almost. About. Filler words. Check them out when you read your next book. Notice that they don’t add anything to the story. They are a distraction. Eliminate them from your writing. Or, at least use them purposefully.

Write like we’re in this together.

Use words that evoke strong emotions. Cringed with fear. Bubbled with excitement. Cried until he collapsed.

Use imaginative action words. Walked is boring. Raced. Stumbled. Hobbled. Skipped. Danced. All better words.

Some of your words should stretch the comfort zone of your readers.  One reader told me she had to look up two words in one of my books. I challenged her to use them the next time we met.

Make your descriptions memorable. Not, “She picked a flower.” Instead, “She reached for the most stunning hydrangea on the bush of a hundred beautiful flowers.”

End each chapter with images so powerful the reader stops to process what he’s just read.

Challenge your readers. If readers don’t come away even a bit changed, a little more educated, after reading our books, have we done our jobs?

I’m disappointed when I read a book and think, that was a nice book. And, then promptly forget it. (I’m old. I don’t have time for nice.)  I’d rather my reaction be, ‘Tell me there’s a sequel!’