|I have a small, trusted circle of critique partners. I know I’m lucky, they’re hard to come by. I met two at Writers’ Studio at UCLA, a couple of years ago, and I count them dear friends. Two others, I met when I began volunteering for Field’s End, a non-profit literary event group. In all cases, I found my partners by magic, or universal synchronicity, or dumb luck–I really don’t what alchemy transforms strangers to trusted allies. All I can I say is it is extremely difficult to both find and BE a good critique partner. That’s why I’m sharing ideas from author and HGTV-writer Cara Lopez Lee’s excellent post, Feedback with Compassionate Detachment.
Here are excerpts:
“I’ve discovered that providing feedback with the goal of serving both writer and story can be fast and easy, if you know how…
Creative writing is always deeply personal, fiction or non, and I’ve learned that’s why it’s important for feedback to be both compassionate and detached.
I’ve since developed a reputation among coaching clients, writing colleagues, and students for giving feedback that encourages and motivates. Here are a few tips that have helped me:
1. Take responsibility for your opinion by emphasizing “I” statements over “you” statements.
2. Address what you observe in the writing rather than your opinion of the writer.
3. Spend less time making suggestions than asking questions.
4. Clarify that your intention is to serve the story, not to prove you’re right. Try phrases like, “As a reader…” or “From an audience’s perspective…”
5. Instead of pointing out what’s missing, ask for more information.
6. Offer no more than three challenges the author faces to take the writing to the next level. It can be difficult to remember more, and the writer may shut down.
7. Try to spend as much time on strengths as challenges. It’s important for writers to recognize what’s working, so they can lean into that. What’s more, writers who regularly receive feedback want to know whether their changes are effective.
“By giving feedback with compassionate detachment, I’ve discovered something unexpected,” says Lee. “When I emphasize what’s working and simply ask questions about the rest, my students improve faster.”
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Successful short fiction makes a big impact in as few words as possible. Every choice you make as an author needs to be deliberate, every character needs to act with purpose, and every word must pack a punch. When less is definitely more, focusing on certain details can help imbue your short story with color, meaning, and subtext—without superfluous words. Please enjoy this Guest Post from Writer’s Relief!
Four Small Ways To Pack Big Meaning Into Short Stories
1. Character Gestures – When you’re writing with a word count restriction, you want to show your characters’ personalities without using too much dialogue. One way to do this is through physical gestures. For example, a surgeon just exiting the operating room could hang his head as he approaches the patient’s loved ones. This simple gesture will speak volumes about how the surgery went, without you writing a single extra word.
2. Clothing Choices – What your character is wearing can provide insights into his or her personality, and even help explain the setting or propel the plot. If your protagonist is wearing a stethoscope, a name tag, and a doctor’s coat covered in blood, your reader will know that your character is a doctor who has just dealt with a major trauma.
3. Setting As A Character – In most great fiction, the setting is just as important as the plot and characters. The best settings will move the story forward. Take our hospital example, for instance. Rain splattering against the window in a patient’s recovery room not only adds description to the setting, but also conveys the mood of the scene to the reader. Without even seeing your character or hearing her doctors give bad news, your reader will already sense that the outcome is not going to be positive.
4. Precise Dialogue – One of the most important ways to make a big impact in a short story is to write crisp, concise dialogue. Dialogue helps drive the plot and reveal information about the characters. So the more succinct your dialogue, the more opportunities you’ll have to reveal much while actually saying less. For instance, you can have your doctor use twenty words to give a colleague an update. Or, you can take those twenty words and split them between the two characters to quickly give more depth to the conversation—and your story.
How Can You Implement These Techniques In Your Writing?
To understand how well these techniques work, read some short fiction! Read flash fiction to see how authors tell complex, intriguing stories with a limited amount of words. See how many techniques you can recognize, then apply what you’ve learned to your own writing.
As an exercise, give yourself a short word limit and try to tell your story. As you edit, reduce the word count further until you can deliver your short story in as few words as possible.
This article has been reprinted with the permission of Writer’s Relief, an author’s submission service that has been helping creative writers make submissions since 1994. Their work is highly recommended in the writing community, and there are TONS of freebies, publishing leads, and writers resources on their website. Check it out!
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If you’re a writer, chances are you spend hours crouched before your computer’s screen. It’s a potentially sedentary lifestyle, writing, but there are simple steps we writers can take to boost our health, creativity and sense of well-being. If we want to continue writing well into our golden years, these Easy Changes Can Vastly Improve Health, Happiness and Well-Being.
Dr. Frank King describes three that will have you feeling better quickly.
• Drink half your body weight in ounces of spring or well water every day. If you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 75 ounces of water (about 9 cups).
“Many of us walk around dehydrated without realizing it and that can have a significant effect on our health and how we feel,” Dr. King says. Dehydrated bodies trap toxins and encourage water retention – a natural defense against the chronic “drought.”
A simple test for dehydration: Pinch the skin on the back of your hand and hold for three seconds. When you release, if the ridge from the pinch remains for more than a second, you’re probably dehydrated. (I found a great article on hydration and creativity from Psychology Today, Why Your Brain Needs Water. -RL)
• Take a few minutes every day to connect with nature. Nature brings perpetual revitalization and ongoing renewal, especially when experienced through multiple senses: the smell of freshly turned earth or evergreens in the woods; the touch of cool stream water on your face or feet; the sight of birds on the wing and budding blooms. (And can offer ideas for your manuscript! -RL)
“These are not just pleasant little gifts to experience – we need them for restoration, renewal, revival and rehabilitation,” Dr. King says. “The more disconnected we become from the Earth, the more we inhibit our body’s natural ability to heal.”
• Take a brisk, 10- to 20-minute walk every day. Walking is the simplest, most natural form of exercise. You might walk a nature trail, walk to the store instead of driving or take your pet for a stroll.
“Three brisk 10-minute walks a day are as effective at lowering blood pressure as one 30-minute walk,” Dr. King says, citing an Arizona State University study.
“Outdoor walking is preferable to walking on a treadmill or other machine, since the uneven surfaces and changing directions of natural walking will engage more muscles and tendons.”
Swing each arm in synchronization with the opposite foot to strengthen your cross-crawl functionality and mind-body balance. (Julia Cameron has written at length about the benefits of walking for writers. It is on walks we get our story breakthroughs. -RL)
Dr. Frank King is a chiropractor, doctor of naturopathy, and founder and president of King Bio, an FDA-registered pharmaceutical company. Dr. King is also the author of, The Healing Revolution: Eight Essentials to Awaken Abundant Life Naturally!
What are your ideas for staying refreshed over long writing sessions? Comment below!
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Every time Dan Brown publishes a book, it quickly becomes the best-selling book of the year. In fact, Brown’s 2013 release of Inferno earned sales toppling both J.K. Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling, and Veronica Roth’s enormously popular Divergent.
On his entertaining blog, Ellis Shuman Writes, indy author Shuman recently asked the question: what is so thrilling about Dan Brown’s thrillers? “There must be some formula, some hidden code that enables writers to write a thriller like Dan Brown,” he surmises. “Many have tried, and most attempts have fallen far short of the original.”
Here are 13 applicable observations Ellis Shuman has made, his deduction of the formula required to create a Dan Brown-like thriller that will captivate readers:
1) An opening that immediately propels you into the action with no time to catch your breath.
2) Ordinary, likeable characters thrown into very unordinary events, with faults and phobias rather than any superhero abilities. It helps when readers recognize Harvard University professor of religious iconology and symbology Robert Langdon and picture the character as looking like Tom Hanks.
3) Short cliffhanger chapters that keep you reading late into the night.
4) An intense sense of the setting with more details than you will ever get from a guidebook or a tour guide.
5) Overwhelming information about every painting, sculpture, building, poem, musical composition, and book sighted or mentioned for even a split second in the narrative.
6) A male-female team that matches intellectual wits with no need to retire to a bedroom for meaningless diversions.
7) Friends who turn out to be enemies and enemies who turn out to be friends. First impressions may be misleading and dangerous, so it’s best not to trust anyone.
8) Ruthless, cunning villains who belong to sinister organizations. Sometimes these villains are never even named.
9) A deadly conspiracy or threat that may actually be real. (After all, the author did his research so you can trust him, right?)
10) Fast paced action, with the main characters being cornered nearly every step of the way.
11) The knowledge that something bad is going to happen, and it’s going to happen very soon.
12) The use of words that most readers will not understand. The book is so exciting that there is no time to run for a dictionary. The word of choice in Inferno is chthonic (silent ch), meaning ‘of the underworld’.
13) An unexpected and hopefully satisfying conclusion. Knowing that Robert Langdon has survived makes us rest assured that another book in the series is soon to follow.
Are you a Dan Brown fan? What advice can you add to this list? Post your comments below!
To learn more about Ellis Shuman, visit his blog, Ellis Shuman Writes, follow him on Twitter at @ellisshuman or check out one of his most popular blog posts: How I Sold 910 Copies of My Book in One Week.
Find me on Twitter at @TheRJLacko.