Want to be a Better Writer? Take An Acting Class

Star Wars Improvisational Street Theatre II

Star Wars Improvisational Street Theatre II (Photo credit: Thirteenth Nile)

I’ve shared posts that I get via Twitter from Jon Winokur before, but this is one author interview that caught my eye because of his advice to others: “Take an Improv acting class.” New author Tim Federle offers up acting classes as a way to learn to go with the flow and bash that inner-editor screaming at you on every paragraph.

I admit that I have taken an intro acting class — and it was a blast!

In college, since I was studying to be an English/Communications teacher, it was required that I take a beginning acting course. Since at some wealthy schools, English teachers would also be expected to teach drama and the like, I didn’t whine about it too much. (Definitely not as much as I did about my B- in a gym class, but that’s another story)

Anyway, this class turned out to be one of my favorite classes of all time. There were 18 students (an absurdly small number for a school like Penn State, where you could be in a class of hundreds). Our instructor, who was a grad student studying acting himself, was fantastic and encouraging and determined to break every single one of us out of our often thick shells.

We learned about all types of acting, including a lot of improv (short for improvisation, for those who don’t know) because he enjoyed doing it and acting with us too (he’s actually semi-famous now – he graduated and does shows all over the country). The idea is that you have to go with whatever the person you’re playing off of does – in other words, the only thing you cannot do is say “No.”

It really was a fabulous experience and I would love to continue to be a part of improv acting. I was a terrible actress (way too shy and reserved) but the idea of letting a story play out is so valuable to writing, that even observing others in the class would be helpful.

Anyway, the point of this post is that if you have the chance, DEFINITELY TAKE AN ACTING CLASS! It’s fun, and it’ll help your writing, as Mr. Federle points out!

The rest of the interview with author Tim Federle (whose first book was just released on February 5th!) is here: http://www.advicetowriters.com/interviews/2013/2/12/tim-federle.html. Turns out he’s really into theater himself, hence the advice!

 

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Great Tips for Dialogue From Meg Waite Clayton

My latest endeavor in the publishing industry has been to follow all the big publishers, agents, writers, etc., on Twitter. I absolutely love their tweets, and I wish I had done this so much sooner. I highly recommend it. Side note: I also love TweetDeck for following certain publishing-related hashtags, but I’ll probably post more about that later on.

Anyway, it was via @RandomHouse that I discovered this gem of advice for writing dialogue, as compiled by Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters, among other titles. She’s got a great blog full of great advice, not just on dialogue, so those of you working on your own stuff should definitely check her out!

Meg’s Blog: http://megwaiteclayton.com/1stbooks/

My Twitter List of Significant Writing/Publishing Entities: https://twitter.com/kmwehr/writing-publishing (in case you’re interested in doing the same!)

Giving Backstory WITHOUT Info Dumping?

This is the current challenge I’m facing with my WIP. I need to explain some backstory, as my protagonist’s character flaw stems from a death in her family that happened way in the past.

I know the first question I should be asking myself is “Is it really necessary information?” It is — without including it, my readers and critiquers are kind of like, “Meh, she’s just dramatic and sad.”

It’s actually a lot harder than I originally thought. I want to show and not tell, but it’s hard to “show” history. Just about every writer will tell you, “NEVER INFO DUMP. EVER!” (Imagine someone saying that you to in the same manner the Mythbusters always give their “never try this at home… EVER!” warning… hehe.)

But in my research, I’m finding that some writers say info dumping might be the only tool in certain situations. And if that’s the case, you’ve got to work to try to make this information matter to the reader now.

Some suggestions I’ve collected from various writer’s blogs on how to accomplish this include:

“The more your information dumps relate directly to a story element currently at play in your narrative, the easier it is to hold an audience’s attention.” – From Lit Reactor

“Add Tension:  Make the info dump something that causes problems for the characters.” – From Jami Gold’s Blog

“I think the key to making information entertaining is to entwine it with drama — and that means ensuring that the characters’ happiness is tied to it too.” – Ruv Draba, a moderator at Scribophile

Would anyone else care to offer their opinions, advice, or techniques for getting essential backstory to the reader without the dreaded info dump?

 

Separating author from story

One of my goals for this year is to finish my work-in-progress by the end of the summer. By finish, I mean publication ready, whether that means marketing to agents or self publishing it.

Exciting, I know!

However, I am finding it difficult to tell my story in a way that will be appealing to all readers, and I think it’s because it’s such a personal story. I don’t want to give away too many details just yet, but the plotline involves my main character overcoming grief and demons regarding her grandmother’s passing which resurface with the failing health of her grandfather. She thought she’d dealt with all her problems and overcome her emotions, but now she realizes that all she did was shut them out. Cue philosophical, life-changing emotional growth!

That’s only one story arc of two or three that I’m currently playing with, but the story is so personal to me that I am getting in my own way of telling it. I plan to make this an homage to my grandparents who have passed, and as a result I have given my MC’s grandparents many of their qualities and sometimes deviate into unnecessary vignettes, etc. that don’t contribute to my plot or move my story ahead. BUT THEY’RE IMPORTANT TO ME! Just not the reader! 🙂 (Side note: See my “Words to Write By” in the upper right — I picked that quote because I feel it’s very fitting to my issue right now!)

So my challenge is finding a way to stay true to what I’ve set out to do in a way that I can live with and still tell a compelling story.

Anyone experienced this or have tips for getting over it? They’d be much appreciated!

Great editing, supportive community at Scribophile

The reason for my latest absence from this blog (aside from a huge pickup in freelance work) is that I’ve joined Scribophile. I love it. And you should join if you’re an aspiring writer.

There are two versions, a free and a premium subscription. Due to my lack of funds, I have the free version, but it’s still a great resource for having my work edited and having people who are well-read provide constructive feedback. In fact, I’ve been inspired to take one of my short stories and try to expand it into a full length novel (which isn’t going very well so far, but I digress).

So far, I’ve posted two chapters for critique. The way the site works is that posted work enters a “spotlight” for others to critique for full “karma points.” As more works are critiqued, they leave the spotlight and others enter in.

So what’s the reward for critiquing? Karma points, which users need in order to post their own work. So, the more works you critique, the more karma you earn, and the more of your writing you can post to the site. Plus, critiquing more posted works gets them out of the spotlight faster so that your own stuff can get there.

Overall, it’s a system that works fairly well. Of course, I have a work waiting for the spotlight for over two weeks now, but that’s just because there are TONS of great writers using the website. Many of the users have been published, and it’s a great community with a lot of advice to share among authors.

Groups, forums, and contests are also available for users to interact with each other outside of critiques and exchange information. The site also has an area to announce publications and promote work, too.

Overall, my experience this far has been wonderful. I highly encourage joining!

Again, that’s Scribophile.com

Don’t Struggle to Finish!

I found this great post in the “Questions and Quandaries” section of the Writer’s Digest website. It’s about finding that time to actually finish a writing project, be it a novel or a short story.

The author makes three sound suggestions for making visible progress in your writing. Here’s the questions that prompted such excellent, clean advice from the people over at WD:

“Q: I am a working mom and frustrated writer. I have been writing a story for several months, but now find myself stuck. I know what the story is about, I have a very detailed and a clear mental image of the characters in my head. I am currently in the process of fleshing out the story, but what next? I don’t know anything about getting into this field, and outside of college, have never written such a long and involved story. What advice and directions can you suggest to a writing virgin? —Val M”

And here’s the link to the entire post: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/questions-and-quandaries/writing-advice/how-to-finish-that-novel

I think #1 is absolutely KEY. If you can’t take at least 15 measly minutes out of your entire day to find time to write something, how can you call yourself a writer? Even dedicating a small amount of time to a writing project will guarantee progress.

PS: For those still interested, here’s another article (also from Writer’s Digest) about the debate on short story and novel lengths! It has some helpful tips on how to make your manuscript more marketable, too!

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/questions-and-quandaries/marketing/novel-and-short-story-word-counts

How Long Can A Short Story Be?

My 9th grade honors English literature teacher told us during the first week of our unit on short stories that “a short story is short enough that it can be read in one sitting.”

That’s all fine and dandy, of course, except for one thing: I read the sixth Harry Potter novel in one “sitting” (I stayed up all night to finish it). I only paused for dinner, and there have definitely been times where I read short stories for school and paused to eat dinner. So the next logical question would be, “How long is one sitting?” And of course, there’s no real definite answer to that!

So how long can a short story really be? I’m currently refining a short story I wrote for publication in my college’s literary magazine, but it seems like every time I revise, the piece gets longer! I decided to turn to Google to see what the Internet’s consensus was on the appropriate or average length of a short story.

As you might have predicted, there doesn’t really appear to be a consensus. On one website, http://fiction-writing.yoexpert.com, there was a handy little chart that classified projects based on the number of words, as seen here:

While it might not be possible to capture all of the numerous subgenres of narrative fiction that have been imagined, here is a brief list of the more common types of stories, organized by length from shortest to longest:

•     Under 1000:     Flash fiction, or “short short” stories
•     1,000-7,500:     Short story
•     7,500-20,000:     Novelette
•     20,000-50,000:     Novella
•     Over 50,000:     Novel

But on the short story Wikipedia page, the length of a short story is placed at anywhere between 1,000 and 9,000 words, and uses Edgar Allen Poe’s The Philosophy of Composition as “the” measure for a short story at about 4,500 words. A third source over at http://talktoyouniverse.blogspot.com/ draws the line at 7,500-12,000 words. This author also mentions having a “natural length” where a writer feels comfortable with his/her short story, which is something to consider. Maybe I’m just naturally long-winded, and therefore have a longer “natural length” for my short stories!

Clearly, there isn’t a correct or universally accepted length for a short story. My current project is bordering on 7 double-spaced pages, so I’d estimate it at anywhere between 4,000-7,000 words. Guess I’ll find out when I try to submit it whether or not that’s too long.

Feel free to chime in on your own natural length or what you believe is too long for a short story!