Family, Latino culture, Writing, Writing classes, writing tips

How to Time Travel via #Writing Prompt

Federal housing projects, low income
Ramona Housing Projects, Boyle Heights, LA. Closest I could find to La Colonia housing projects in 1960’s-Photo by Tedder/Wikipedia CC lic.

Summer had its high points, one of them the opportunity to attend writing workshops. One seminar stood out for its time travel back to childhood: “Excavating the Home.”

The 10 minute writing prompt: Think about a childhood home and map it from the front door to the back, from the cellar to the attic, wandering in each room: 

The first place to come to mind was the housing projects in La Colonia, Oxnard where I lived until I was sixteen years old. La Colonia means “the neighborhood.” The words come from the Spanish land grant given in the 1800’s to seven Santa Barbara Presido soldiers. Lots of history in those projects.

The square concrete porch sits in front of a cream colored door. A tiny peephole, too high for a nine-year-old to peer out, is in the center. When you open the door too wide it hits the wood staircase, always polished and slippery. My sister fell down those stairs more times than I could count. 

An alcove fit underneath the stairs, the perfect altar for the Virgin of Guadalupe. She stood two feet high in her sky blue robe atop a crocheted white doily, surrounded by smoky votives. A yellow towel neatly folded on the floor under the altar for Mom to kneel on when she prayed. A plaster St. Jude, in a deep green robe, stood next to the towel. 

To the left of the staircase was our living room. Our Zenith TV, a huge hulk of a thing, lorded over the room in front of our avocado couches covered in plastic. A sleek black ceramic panther with emerald eyes stalked invisible prey on our coffee table.

Similar to our TV. Image www.curtis-mathes.com
Similar to our TV. Image http://www.curtis-mathes.com

An oblong table, five chairs, and crocheted runner sat behind the couches, next to it the rectangular kitchen, with painted cabinets.

There was a white radio, with a gold-toned dial, on the kitchen counter next to a back door with a key chain latch, long enough for a junkie’s arm to reach through and snatch mom’s prized Green Stamps bought treasure in mid-song.

Funny how I remember the big Zenith TV. Mom said it had blonde wood, very proud when she uttered “blonde.” She made years of payment on it and we weren’t to touch it except to change the channel. A bright white round doily sat on top, like the head covering mom wore to mass.

One or the four of us kids watched television from seven to ten p.m while Mom sat in a hard student desk at night school. We sat on a rug in front of the Zenith, not on the plastic covered couches.

Sitting on those sofas were not only uncomfortable, squeaking sounds beneath your legs, but they left a tell tale butt print of depressed plastic.

Our favorite shows came on between eight and ten p.m. The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Mission Impossible, and reruns of the Twilight Zone.

We heated up floury tortillas, slathered in butter, and enjoyed the shows.

We felt grown up watching TV shows that began at 8:00 p.m. because that was our bedtime. At five minutes to ten we shouted for the show to hurry up and finish, lest we be caught by Mom who felt up the back of the TV set when she got home at 10:10 p.m.

If the back of the set was warm she knew we hadn’t been in bed at 8:00 p.m.

One night she returned early, at 9:45 p..m. We heard the car door close, lifting our heads to the sound like startled deer. I punched in the knob, cutting off the most exciting part of the Mission Impossible while the four of us scrambled off the floor, grabbing pillows and racing up the stairs, tripping on each other.

We jumped into bed, listened for the click of her shoes across the linoleum floor to the kitchen but instead we heard nothing. We waited, under the bedcovers, because we knew she was feeling up Blondie.

“The Zenith is hot. Who had the set on, who was watching TV?” she yelled upstairs from the stair landing. We burrowed into our beds, silent, pretending to sleep as her heels clicked on the staircase, closer and closer.

My ten minutes were up before I completed the exercise, but I did have fond memories of our downstairs living space and a tiny slice of my life.

You can find hundreds of writing and poetry prompts at Poets & Writers. The Writer Magazine has 90 writing exercises to stoke your imagination. An interesting site is Random First Line Generator. I had fun with that one.

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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Encouragement, Inspiration, poetry, query letters, Writers, Writing, Writing classes, writing conferences, Writing groups, writing tips

Four Secrets to Poetic Prose-Part 2

Secrets-gettyimages.com
Secrets-gettyimages.com

 

I have to tell you, I want to be a better writer.

I have stories to tell the world, and I’m tired of  my seven member critique group being the only ones to read them.

They may be tired of them too.

For almost six years, I’ve been writing stories which became an Adult Contemporary and two YA manuscripts.

I’ve spent the last year sending out queries, synopsis’, revising, and doing it all again. Still, no agent.

If you’re a writer, you might have a similar scenario to tell.

Until that ‘golden’ e-mail or phone call, I need to keep writing and improve what I’ve written.

I will not quit and neither should you.

 

That’s why I look for low cost classes. So many of us can’t afford to get an MFA or attend $400-$600 conferences.

But don’t let high prices stop you from improving your writing.

 

A few days ago, I posted the first two secrets to poetic prose, as described by author and poet, Sonya Sones.

Poetic prose refers to a narrative with some of the technical or literary qualities of poetry such as rhythm, patterned structure, or emotional heightening.

Let’s continue with the last two secrets:

 

3. The Rhythm of Three:

All sound breaks down into some sort of pattern of sounds. The syllables are either unstressed or stressed, pronounced more strongly, which gives us a beat and type of melody. 

In the children’s book, Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Berger, the entire book is almost all written with a rhythm of three (there are ‘non-three’ lines between the rhythm of three):

When the day is done, he closes his book, combs his beard and puts on his jacket.

He lifts the strand, takes one pearl from it, and closes the chest again. 

Can you hear the rhythm?

 

4. The Use of Trochiac:

Low vowel sounds evoke sadness. Use the ooh, o, um, and ah sounds.

Tell me not in mournful numbers  

Words such as  lost, roam, lunatics, olive, watching, rocking are examples of a trochee.

Lost Dog-gettyimages.com
Lost Dog-gettyimages.com

Ms. Sones gave us a prompt: “My dog is gone,” and gave us five minutes to write a few lines using trochee:

My dog is gone, lost, not loaned,
did he roam, lose his way home?
Does he groan somewhere, all alone?
A romp in the grass, and now he’s gone
Is he far from home?
No nuzzles, no cuddles, no paw raised high
Does he wait, watch for me, all alone?

 

It’s not the best 5 minute poem, but it does sound sad.  Using low vowel sounds is a useful and fairly easy way to express a  mournful or sad scene.

So there it is, four ways to enrich your writing.

Keep looking for courses you can afford, keep reading and happy writing.

 

 

 

Authors, Creative Writing, Creativity, poetry, Writing, Writing classes

Four Secrets to Poetic Prose-Part 1

 

Poetic License-alvaradofrazier.com
Poetic License-alvaradofrazier.com

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 LicensePoetry 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:

  1. Rhyming dictionary
  2. Thesaurus
  3. Metaphors
  4. Verbs 
  5. Rhyme: internal and internal
  6. Rhythm (meter)
  7. Alliteration 
  8. Similes
  9. Personification
  10. Repetition

After talking about each one of these tools, Ms. Sones began with her ‘secrets’.

Secret One:

  • 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.

oreo 1

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.

Secret Two:

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.

Used teabag-gettyimages
Used teabag-gettyimages

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.