Authors, Inspiration, Shelly Lowenkopf, storytelling, Toni Lopopolo, Writing, Writing classes, writing tips

Some Things You Should Know about Story (Six, to Be Precise)

The Storyteller-Michael Shaheen, Flickr
The Storyteller-Michael Shaheen, Flickr


Writers want to write the best possible stories they can. Often, like me, writers have the best of intentions but fall short on delivery.

There is an art to storytelling, in the written form, and we writers flock to find out just what makes up this art.

One of the best teachers I’ve come across is Shelly Lowenkopf, a USC professor, who has a Lifetime Achievement Award, and is a consultant and author.

I’d like to share a recent post he wrote on his agent’s blog

Toni Lopopolo Literary Management

By Shelly Lowenkopf

(1) Whose story is it?

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;

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Books, France,, Renni Brown, self editing, Shelly Lowenkopf, Toni Lopopolo, writer routines, Writing, Writing Resources, writing tips

Tips for an Incredible Writing Weekend

It is the evening of my departure for my month long adventure to France. Some anticipatory butterflies are fluttering through my stomach. 

My bags and travel apps are packed. (And yes, I do need to recharge the battery). 

The kids have heard the Riot Act in a couple of different versions. Everything seems like a go, but I’m sure once I’m on the airplane I’ll remember one or two things that are sitting on my dresser at home and not in my suitcase. 

I know I’ll miss my family, my boyfriend, my dog Chip, (but not KiKi the cat- the feeling is mutual). What I didn’t expect was something that crossed my mind a few minutes ago. 

I’m really going to miss my writing ritual. 

The one where I roll out of bed, stretch, push the power button on my laptop,before I go into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee and return to my swivel chair with a big mug of steaming coffee, a dash of half and half, and my peanut butter toast. For two hours, sometimes more, I type, refill the coffee cup, and blow crumbs off my desk.

When my friend Amada and I arrive in Upper Normandy on the 1st of September we will have to  establish new writing routines. Luckily both of us are early morning writers and both of us like quiet. 

During this Labor Day weekend, I’m sure you will want to squeeze in some time to put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. With that thought I’d like to share some tips for your writing weekend. 

1-These 10 gems for first time novelists to think about are from former St. Martin’s Press editor Toni Lopopolo, Agent in her “Bare Knuckle Writing Workshops.” One of the most important tip is: 

Mistake # 9: Poor Self Editing Skills: FTNs haven’t learned to self edit by editing other writers’ fiction, or by reading the recommended books

Sure, you can pay for a professional edit (anywhere from $4 a page to a flat rate of $ 2000) or you can learn how to self edit, make your story stronger, and save the $$$ for a trip abroad or a new roof.

2-A terrific book, Self Editing for Fiction Writers (How to Edit Yourself into Print) by Renni Browne and Dave King (Editors at William Morrow and Writer’s Digest) is a must for a writer. I belong to a writing group, a writing club, and recently the Goodreads pick for our online writer’s group, Wordsmith Studio. This book has been a must read for all three groups. 

The topics which first time novelists find hard to grasp and usually lack in their stories are:

  •  three dimensional characters, 
  • maintaining point of view, 
  • interior monologue, and 
  • voice

This handy reference book delves into subjects such as showing and telling in a way as to engage the readers’ emotionsEach of the 12 Chapters has a checklist so that you can apply the concepts to your work. 

If you’re not at the self editing stage yet, here are some amazing questions and tips about story, from an instructor I’ve had the privilege to meet. 

3-Shelley Lowenkopf is an editor, writer, and Professor Emeritus at USC. In his Seven Things You Write A Story to Discover you are asked to consider the who, what, where, why and more of story. The question, “Why should we care?” is most important.

We tend to care about stories dramatizing experiences that squeeze characters in ways similar to the squeezes and pressures we have experienced.  We care if someone we identify with is vulnerable.” 

 If the reader doesn’t care, they will stop reading. End of story. 

4-For those of you who are in the throes of revision here’s a handy guide that explains editing marks-you know those scribbles all over your work in progress or manuscript.  

Author’s Success Platform

I’m going to skip tip # 5 for another day, another post, because this one is longer than I anticipated. IF you have a 5th tip let us know in the comment section. We really want to know.

Now, I must get back to the suitcase on the floor and cast out some unlucky clothes. 

And remember, before you start your Writer’s Weekend please:

 Au Revoir Mon Ami’s.

Elmore Leonard, purple prose, Revision, slow passages, Stephen King, Toni Lopopolo, Writing

Want to Write Better? Kill Your Darlings

The first time I heard the saying “Kill your darlings,” was when writing boot camp instructor, Toni Lopopolo, held up an 8×12 poster with a big slash over the words. The words originally came from Sir Arthur Quiller Couch:

‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’

William Faulkner paraphrased the quote to:

                                                       “In writing, you must kill your darlings.”

Stephen King, yes that SK, reiterated this advice in his book “On Writing.” The use of KYD is one of the first things he recommends after a first draft. To get to a second draft  he suggests cutting the first one by 10%. You can easily start with KYD.

And last but not least, Elmore Leonard’s take on this:

         ” …kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” 

Darlings are those beautiful bits of prose, a character, or setting that you just love. It can be a wonderful turn of a phrase, an insightful nugget of wisdom, a character, unique adjectives or adverbs. Sounds so precious, right? In and of themselves they sure do, but alas, they don’t fit in the story. They’re filler words, setting, dialogue, or characters. 

                            The words aren’t there to fulfill word counts- every word must count.

It’s important not to get so attached to these scenes or dialogue that you can’t bring yourself to cut them for the sake of the overall story. Another piece of advice that Stephen King and many other authors give: put your first draft away for 4 to 6 weeks then look at it with fresh eyes and mind. After some distance you may recognize the KYD’s that snuck into your draft. 

The KYD’s to look for are: 

  • Ineffective Dialogue: it rambles, is dull, makes small talk, or enters the rabbit hole
  • Telling: there is so much narrative there are blocks of black-show don’t tell
  • Purple Prose: flowery, fifty dollar words when simple, straightforward is enough
  • Slow passages: another ramble and the reader yawns or skips-slows pace
  • Characters: who don’t further the plot or is unimportant to story
  • Verb/Adverb combo: too many results in weakened writing-go for the strong verb
When you find these intruders….Kill ’em. 
If you want to show some mercy, then cut and paste them onto a document you title “Sneaky B’s,” or other such reminder. You may want that evicted character you worked on for months to go in another story. That beautiful or dark setting may work somewhere else. 

I know this is a difficult thing to do. If you can’t bear to KYD’s, have someone you trust read and wield the red pen. It’s only red ink, not blood, you can take it. 

How do you KYD’s? I’m interested to know since I have two MS’s in revision and I’m giving myself a deadline.