Writing Images and Emotions

A few weeks ago my brother-in-law committed suicide. During the days since his death as I struggle to control my anguish and comfort my family, I find myself remembering images. My grief pulls pictures into my mind like a slide-show— my mother-in-law, her face crumpled as she cries, my great-niece peeking around the corner, searching for her Papa, the young neighbor boy at the funeral trying to keep his composure, holding back tears. Grief hits me like a driving rain each time I think about it, one breath away from sobbing. While others think in terms of capturing a memory with a photograph, I remember moments in words. My mind replays events, and then the work begins as I describe those images, grasping the emotion forever.  Joan Didion once said, “I write...

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Ellipsis! … Do you really need it?

Using an ellipsis can be tricky.  I’m not a fan of any type of punctuation that is used too much (think semi-colon or colon) but the ellipsis seems to be something I often must edit from a manuscript. The most common way authors use an ellipsis is to indicate that the speaker has paused or is searching for his thoughts. This works, but I often find that writers use the same thing over and over on the page until I think that if I see one more ellipsis…I just might throw the manuscript to the floor. I would recommend that you save your ellipses for important moments. Times when you really need or want to slow the dialogue down. I’d like to mention one more thing…. If your ellipsis ends your sentence, you need three dots and a period for a total of four dots. If...

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Do You Make This Writing Mistake?

Memoir writers need tension in their stories. Our true character is revealed under pressure. Think back to the emotional moments in your life.  What did you learn about yourself? How did you react to the stress? High emotions such as fear, grief, jealousy, or anger  are the perfect moments to write about. Show the stress. Show your reaction. By doing this, you’ll reveal yourself. A perfect recipe for a great memoir story. P.S. If you live near the Brainerd area, please stop by the Q Gallery at the Franklin Art Center between 1 – 3 p.m., on Saturday, January 26, 2013.  River Place Press will be introducing Farm Girls, a collection of stories and poetry I have co-written with my sister Candace Simar.  The Crossing Arts Alliance will serve snacks and...

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The #1 Way to Build Tension & Writing Boot Camp Link

What’s the #1 way to build tension in a scene? Writers often move too quickly. Build tension in your written scene by slowing down the action. Let the scene unfold moment by moment.  In real time the scene may have happened quickly–perhaps in seconds. But in a written scene, we need to linger on the details. Give some hint as to what the character is thinking as it happens. Put everything into slow motion and describe the sun glinting off the water. The grit of sand on skin. Whatever the details of your story may be, let them unfold slowly. Allow your reader to feel the importance of the moment. P.S. As promised, here is the link to the Creative Writing Boot Camp in Brainerd, MN, on January 12, 2013. My sister Candace Simar and I will co-teach this...

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The Biggest Mistake Writers Make in Openings

What’s the biggest mistake I find writers make in their opening paragraphs? They begin in the wrong place. Too long of an on-ramp. Throat clearing. There are lots of names for it, but it all boils down to this—find an interesting sentence to begin your work! Draw the reader in immediately. Don’t bore them before they get started. I’m not saying you don’t have to write that long on-ramp, I’m just saying it doesn’t have a place in your edited work. Read the story aloud and zero in on where it gets interesting. That’s your beginning. I have lots of other tips on how to write an effective beginning. I’ll be talking about this subject at the Pine City Public Library on Saturday, November 3rd from 10 a.m. – 1...

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The Most Important Book on a Writer’s Shelf

The most tattered and worn reference book on my shelf is The Synonym Finder, by J. I. Rodale. It claims to be the largest, most comprehensive thesaurus in print. I don’t know about that, but I do know that this book is my most helpful writing tool. When I’ve used the same word twice in a paragraph and I need to find a new way to say the same thing, I go to The Synonym Finder. The word dagger, for instance, has almost 30 alternatives. Looking for a title? The Synonym Finder can help you find one. Just look up a frequently used word in your text and see if there might be a clever alternative. Can’t think of how to spell a word? Not sure what a word means? Want a more active verb to describe your character’s actions? I use this book for...

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