A dramatic work has only one central character. There may be secondary characters of equal importance to the overall narrative, but in the vast majority of literary accomplishments from Dracula to Candide, Tootsie to RichardIII,Madame Bovary to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, there is only one central character. This character’s motive—what he/she wants in terms of a goal or objective–drives the story. This is the engine, the seminal force of the action. Action is the operant word in story, fluid and unrelenting, not to be confused with activity, which is often casual and directionless. The central character’s determination to follow what is often an obsessive course propels the action. This energy connects us to the central character. This dominant skein in a story commands our attention.
This imperative may also be subtle. Take Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet;
Part of my life between the sheets, of paper, is writing novels.
Since I don’t have a MFA in Creative Writing, I often seek out free or low cost classes for improving my writing skill.
Some of the best and inexpensive classes can be found through writers associations like Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), your city or county writer’s association, or local colleges.
This past weekend I spent a Saturday afternoon in a class, offered by SCBWI, titled
Poetic License: Poetry secrets that will make your prose prance, taught by Sonya Sones.
Author of several award winning Children’s and Young Adult books, Ms. Sones, shared her knowledge and secrets to make ‘prose prance.’
This is just a small taste of what Ms. Sones taught. I encourage you to go to her website and take a look around. She has some interesting information for her readers.
For this post, I’ll share some of the information and discuss two of her four secrets to poetic prose. On Friday, I’ll write about the others.
First, Ms. Sones asked us:
What tools would be in a poets tool kit?
We came up with 16 tools but I’ll list 10 for the sake of space:
Rhyme: internal and internal
After talking about each one of these tools, Ms. Sones began with her ‘secrets’.
All of the tools for poets are also valuable for a writer. This helps the author to show not tell.
Think about it. Who wants to read the same word repeatedly or see a word but not feel the word?
Grab a thesaurus, use interesting words. Use a metaphor, or a simile (comparing two things, using ‘like’ or ‘as’). Paint a picture of the feeling with images.
An example: happy
Not: “I feel happy”-
Yes: “ I feel all lit up like a jar filled with fireflies.”
Just typing that last sentence made me smile and think of a large mason jar glowing in the night under a backyard tent.
Next, Ms. Sones gave us a prompt. She set an Oreo cookie on our table and gave us three minutes to write a description using simile.
I have to tell you that Oreo’s are my least favorite cookie and the one I had was not perfect, like the one above. My Oreo had white spillage over its bottom cookie. Very sloppy.
When our time was up, Ms. Sones asked us to read our example of use of simile-then we could eat our cookie. I wrote honestly about the Oreo, not knowing that we’d have to read our sentence aloud,
“My Oreo, chocolatey goodness, ruined by an icky, sticky glob of glue like seagull poop ruining a sculpture.”
That ruined the enjoyment of those who were now biting into their cookie.
Personification in a narrative can give the reader an image and feeling. For example, “the wind whistled through its teeth.”
TC Boyle: “…the tie threatened to throttle him.”
Can you picture these two examples? So much better than saying, “It was windy,” or “He wore a tight tie.”
For this section we had to find something in the room and write about it for three minutes using personification.
I found my item at my own table:
The teabag, drained of its energy, slouched in a dark pool of tears. It knew its destiny, and the trashcan, was near.
People felt sorry for my teabag. I hesitated tossing it into the trashcan after class.
On Friday, I’ll return with more from Sonya Sones and her other secrets to make your prose prance.
Several times I’ve heard the advice about attending writing conferences. I’d love to attend several in a year, but most people can only afford one every twelve months.
This morning I’m on my way to LAX, with my writing sisters, to Seattle. The four of us will attend the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference this week. AWP, with membership, had a good price and there’s a lot of bang for the buck.
I’m thrilled to have a chance to hear Annie Proulx (Shipping News, Brokeback Mountain), Sherman Alexie (War Dances, Smoke Signals), Amy Tan, and Benjamin Alire Saenz among other authors.
A writers conference is an investment, so I plan to:
Meet new people, compare notes
Choose useful workshops
Curate content by posting, journaling so I have a record to go back to
Share the info with you on my Google+ site
During the day I’ll attend workshops, mainly on YA topics, and post some highlights on my Google+ profile. I’m a volunteer at the ginormous Book Fair, helping at the AROHO (A Room of Her Own) table.
In the evening there are many happy hours to attend and I’m hitting at least these: AROHO, Arte Publico, and poetry readings.
If I can remember to multi-task, I’ll send out some tweets (#AWP 14), just for fun. My twitter feed and handle are on this blog.
See you here next week and I do hope you visit me on Google+ for workshop highlights and insights.
I do hope I remembered my umbrella and phone charger.
Rejection letters can knock you on your butt. And that’s okay, it happens, stuff hurts, rejection sucks. But you can’t stay on the floor, rubbing your a**.
1. Get your butt off the floor and go do something nice for yourself. Take a walk, draw, watch a comedy, play with your kids or pet. This includes eating or drinking-5 minute limit. Put on the timer.
After 30+ ‘thank you, but no thank you’ emails on one manuscript and going on 20 for another, I’ve numbed out when I begin reading text that begins with “Dear Author.” (As I type, I swear another ‘Dear Author’ email blurb popped up on my screen).
2. Don’t stuff your feelings. I usually say, “Ah, crap,” or “Pftttt.” Sometimes I whine, “I’m never going to get published….” You can ‘wau-wau’ ‘boo-boo,’ but only for five minutes-again, put on the timer.
3. Think of the ‘no thank you,’ like James Lee Burke (his novels have been made into films):
“Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.”
—James Lee Burke
I’ve also had many more emails that begin with my actual name and say some nice things before the ‘NO’ comes. The agent tries to soften the blow. Bless his/her little heart.
4. With each rejection, I file the email in my little folder and then I either re-read the MS, or ask my writing sisters for more critique. Keep trying.
Twice, out of 50+ times, I’ve had what felt like B-12 shots to the heart.
“I’d love to read more, please send the entire manuscript…”
Six weeks later I get another type of shot, one in the butt.
“After careful consideration….Uh, no.” Well that’s not entirely true. One rejection felt like that while the other was thoughtful.
5. If someone gives you specific criticism, regard it as a gift. Let them know you appreciate their comments.
This agent took the time to explain why she didn’t accept the MS. She supplied some examples, some suggestions, all in a couple of paragraphs. I felt respected, overjoyed, and then grateful.
I shared the agents comments with my writing sisters. They were happy for me. Why? Because I know, we know, that I am much farther along the road to getting an acceptance than I once thought. I’m going to work on those weak areas for the next month or until I get it right.
“An absolutely necessary part of a writer’s equipment, almost as necessary as talent, is the ability to stand up under punishment, both the punishment the world hands out and the punishment he inflicts upon himself.”
Rejection letters are part of the process of writing. That’s just the way it is, for writers, for everybody. It takes a strong woman/man, a bien chingona to keep writing pass the hill of rejection letters.
6. Turn your rejection around and see what you can gain. Go get the timer again. Shut off your computer. Now, write out your feelings, huff and puff, or boo-hoo on paper. Rip it to shreds if you want. Slam dunk it into the wastebasket. Or put it away for when you need that kind of emotion in one of your stories or poems.
7. Keep growing. Attend a critique group. Enroll in online or offline classes. Keep reading. Attend at least one conference a year. Spend more time on your writing work than on social media. (You can devote more time to that area after you’re published).