Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’

Elements All Fiction Needs

May 10, 2018

Beginning writers often believe they need a clever plot, but Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer contends that a good writer is actually little more than a good storyteller.

Mark Twain, who considered himself a storyteller, went so far as to say, “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I wholeheartedly agree (well, maybe not with the shot part).

Ray Bradbury, one of my all-time favorite authors, agrees, too. He once said, “Plot is nothing but footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to somewhere else …”

Need I say more?

So, What Makes a Good Story?
Writing fiction is a process that usually happens in a specific, often prescribed context. While it can feel like an isolated, individual act, it’s really a very social performance … a way in which we, as authors, respond to the audience around us.

And, like it or not, authors are always writing to an audience.

My wise old grandfather wasn’t an author, but he knew how to make even his simplest stories memorable. They were all full of his hard-earned wisdom, if one only bothered to listen. I still remember the day he told me a fisherman doesn’t save his bait until he sees a fish. He attracts them with it.

“He baits the hook before he drops a line in the water.”

The twinkle in his eye told me it was a comment about much more than fishing. That pearl of wisdom has stayed with me all my life.

Writing good fiction should be like that.

Why People Read
People read fiction for the experience. The details you put on each page are the spices that make your words palatable, but to be certain of capturing the reader’s attention you need to include something interesting, right at the start.

Re-read L. Frank Baum’s classic story, Wizard of Oz. You’ll quickly discover what I’m talking about. Dorothy’s house in Kansas is spinning aloft by page three. Likewise, in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, the character Gregor Samsa wakens on page one to find he is a giant insect. Talk about loading your story in a catapult and hitting the launch button!

That, of course, is just the beginning.

Look again at the illustration at the start of this article. The young storyteller obviously has his audience’s attention, but he’s busy becoming the character he’s introduced by adding visual detail to keep them interested.

Try to remember that once a reader is interested, you need to embellish and develop the story. You do this by rich detail … detail that engages all the senses. A good story, while it helps illuminate each character, will also reveal something about basic human needs.

Another good way to develop rich details is to build a strong sense of place. As Stephen King said: “Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.”

Dialogue is also important to this sense of place … something I’ve alluded to often.

Consider this quotation from Elmore Leonard: “… if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”

The Secret to a Great Story
So, the secret to a great story seems to be create complex characters, quickly develop interesting challenges for them, provide sensory details, and deliver a satisfying surprise at the end.

Although I missed the Rochester Writers’ Spring Conference, this was the theme of at least one of the presentations.

This isn’t to say you don’t need a functional plot. However, as C.S. Lewis said, “…the series of events we call the plot is only the net to catch the theme.”

In the end, your story should speak to something important to your characters and your readers … and to you.

Focus your writing on story, not on plot, and it will always be your strongest writing.

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Gentle Readers, my own books have garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

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You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

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On March 1, 2018, Rochester Media started publishing my articles about writing. The column will update twice a month. Come on over, take a look, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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On Tuesday, May 15, 2018 I will join other local area writers at the Freelance Marketplace Writers’ Group meeting at Barnes & Noble in Rochester Hills.

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Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

Getting & Staying Creative

April 23, 2018


Atlanta Symphony guest conductor Donald Runnicles (Photo by Jeff Roffman)

You may find it hard to believe, but I’ve discovered the best remedy for overcoming those moments of author terror known as writer’s block. It’s called working on multiple projects at once, and it works.

It keeps my creative juices flowing.

If you’ve tried it but, like a lot pf people, struggle with simultaneous creative efforts, here are some keys that could help:

Get the right tools
I use specific programs when I write, but what they are is irrelevant. Instead of listing things you may not like, here’s my challenge to you – if you want to be a professional, act like one.

Start by investing in yourself. Don’t let another day go by without getting your hands on whatever tools help you focus on ideas … and stop struggling just to capture them.

Find natural places to pause
At any given moment I’m working on fiction books, blog posts, and how-to articles for my online column. But I’ve discovered I often need a bit of closure on one before I can switch gears.

That’s why I complete a rough draft of this blog or one of my column articles, or get to the end of a chapter with my fiction, before I stop one project for another. Finding that natural stopping place really makes a difference when I pick it up later.

Know what time of day you’re at your creative peak
When you understand how your own internal clock works, you can better prioritize your projects. For instance, fiction books and long blog posts are the most challenging for me, so I work on them in the morning when I’m at my creative best.

I find short, factual articles for my online column are a bit easier, so I can do them in the afternoon or evenings.

From time to time, I’ll have an unexpected creative burst that changes some of that timeline, but I never forget real creativity isn’t about inspiration, it’s about routine.

Create a “parking lot” for your ideas
Managing multiple projects isn’t as difficult as you think. In fact, it could be one of your greatest techniques. I find managing multiple creative projects often means that, as I work on one, ideas for another will suddenly pop into my head.

That alone scares some creatives and causes them to feel they have to stick to a single project, so they don’t lose those ideas.

But the solution is simple – I create an “idea file” where wild, out of context, or momentarily unworkable ideas can be recorded, so they’ll be handy to work with later.

Never forget that ideas are the most fragile things in the world. Sadly, I can speak from experience. If you don’t write them down, you’ll likely lose them forever.

Keep the momentum going
Multiple projects can help keep your momentum going. Cross-pollination can often add depth and new insight to your projects, and help you avoid the feeling you’re never going to finish. Daily momentum is easier to maintain than sporadic progress.

Most people tend to be overly optimistic about what they’ll actually get done in a day. They assume more time will equal more progress. In truth, you’ll still have the same peak creative hours regardless of how much time you’ve allocated.

Many long-term projects need as much downtime for reflection as they do time spent in active development. That’s because our minds have a way of working out one problem subconsciously while we’re working on another project.

So, go ahead and tackle those multiple ideas. Just remember to be as creative with your time as you strive to be with your words.

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Gentle Readers, my own books have garnered some terrific reviews. In fact, my novel REICHOLD STREET just received another award.

You can see all my books by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow some of my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

On March 1, 2018, Rochester Media started publishing my articles about writing. The column will update twice a month. Come on over, take a look, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

**********

On Sunday, April 29, 2018, from 11:00am to 5:00pm, I will be with a host of other local area writers at the Books & Authors book-signing event at the eclectic Leon & Lulu store on Fourteen Mile Road in Clawson, Michigan. Drop in and buy a book…there will be lots to choose from.

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Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

Author Interview

April 1, 2018

Michigan Author, Ryan Ennis

Today I’m not posting about my own books or the ins-and-outs of indie publishing. At the recommendation of a friend, I’m interviewing another Michigan author, Ryan Ennis.

Welcome to “Painting With Light,” Ryan.
Thank you. Glad to be here!

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a teacher, librarian, and writer who lives in Livonia, Michigan. I grew up in Canton Township. After graduating from Eastern Michigan, I went on to get two master’s degrees from Wayne State in Detroit.

My first two books were actually children’s book—THE THURSDAY SURPRISE and THE SEPTEMBER SURPRISE. Both are stories about kids and autism.

What led you to write children’s books about autism?
I’m a special education teacher who works with kids with autism. The idea for my first book came from the children. As a progressive educator, I saw the benefits of typical kids having interactions with the kids enrolled in the special education classrooms.

I’m impressed…but I understand it’s not all you like to write.
Besides writing children’s books, I love to write short stories. I’m the author of a recent short story collection called THE UNEXPECTED.

What would you like to tell us about your new book?
THE UNEXPECTED is a collection of nineteen tales with themes that have preoccupied me since I began writing stories in my teens: the nature of love; the consequences of acting on impulses; and the need or longing inside of us to be fulfilled.

Perhaps of interest to metro Detroit readers are the local suburban settings featured in my stories: Ferndale, Livonia, Royal Oak, Garden City, Hazel Park, etc. To appeal to a wide audience the collection strives for a balance with male and female main characters in overlapping settings and plots.

I enjoy exploring the psychology of my characters. Consequently, I spend time (in the form of detailed prose) getting into my characters’ heads, providing clear motivations for their actions, so that they are relatable and empathetic.

Yet, I also like to reserve a certain amount of mystery about them, so the final part of their tales brings about a denouement or resolution the reader never expected. Writing stories that leave a reader with a last impression has always been my goal.

That’s a wide range of subjects. It makes me wonder…what were you like at school?
Depending on the subject, I could be two different people. In certain math and science classes (neither of them my forte), I was the quiet one sitting off to the side or in the back.

But I was quite the opposite in English, foreign language, and social studies. In those classes, I’d sit front-and-center, always prepared with homework, and frequently volunteered to answer questions. I enjoyed having good relationships with my instructors.

I still have the awards I received from my ninth-grade English and German teachers in a file box. I also have a professor’s note, written on the back of an essay, encouraging me to apply for the Honor’s Program and become her research assistant.

Every so often, I’ll pull out old notes and messages and reread them. I’m sentimental that way. Thanks to Facebook, e-mails, and blogs, I’ve been able to stay in touch with some of my wonderful instructors from back in the day.

Readers often ask…where do your ideas come from?
My fiction comes mainly from two places: my heart and my eyes. When I say my heart, I mean my emotions and personal experiences that I feel need to be conveyed to the world with a voice other than my own—through my fictional characters.

As a writer, I’m also a keen observer of people—society. By analyzing and writing about the challenges and problems I see others facing, I find I’m a deeper thinker, a more compassionate and caring person, and hope my work inspires my readers to become the same.

What’s the hardest thing for you about writing?
The time factor is a major issue. When you’re a home and dog owner, teacher, and have a part-time job on the side, it can be difficult to find writing opportunities.

OK – so what’s the easiest thing?
I’ve always had a vivid imagination. When I walk my dog at night, I reflect a great deal on situations in my own life or in others, and envision a story unfolding from them. If only I had a transcriber who could read my thoughts and turn them into polished sentences and paragraphs…then the writing part would be a breeze.

Who (or what) inspires your writing?
Since all good stories must have conflicts, my writing stems from either personal challenges or the challenges of others I read about or experience in everyday life.

I also enjoy looking at portraits or scenes in a painting and creating a story about the people depicted in them, based on what I observe in their facial expressions. In my opinion, there’s nothing more exciting than dwelling in a world inspired by great art!

Do you work to an outline or prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
As a writer of mostly shorter works, I don’t find it necessary to write from an outline. Before I begin typing my story, I’ve already spent a considerable amount of time pondering how it all will play out.

When do you do most of your writing?
With my busy schedule, I try to set aside time in the evenings and on weekends to write, even if it means just enough to write a few paragraphs before bed. I try to keep myself in what I call “writing shape”—able to write productively.

Do you have any funny or peculiar writing habits?
I once read that Jackie Collins carried a notebook around with her everywhere and would write whenever she had moments free, even if it meant when she was stopped in her car waiting for the traffic light to change. I never attempted that one.

In my early twenties, I read several Victorian novels whose author introductions described how they would take their desks out onto their lawns in the summer, and produce flowery prose from sun-up until sundown. I tried it a few times, but I couldn’t concentrate outdoors—not sure why.

Oddly, I do my best writing sitting on my sofa with my laptop resting on a small stand in front of me. I usually have the TV or my stereo turned on low, though I don’t pay much attention to either. It seems I need some soft noise in the background to help me concentrate.

How have you evolved creatively since you started writing?
Over the years, my writing has naturally gotten better, the plot lines and character development of my stories more engaging. I enjoy getting into the mindset of my characters, the narrative of my stories driven by their thoughts, providing motivation for their actions.

I’ve never cared for stories in which the characters seemed vague or underdeveloped. I want my readers to be engrossed in the actions and the thoughts of my characters. I still have the first short story I ever wrote. I keep it around as a reminder of the importance of determination. My writing skills have come a long way since then.

For your own reading, do you prefer eBooks or traditional printed books?
I generally prefer reading printed books. Holding a book in my hand and turning the pages are experiences I still treasure. When it comes to newspaper and magazine articles, I’d rather read those online.

Who are your favorite authors?
My all-time favorite is Joyce Carol Oates. Her short stories are masterpieces. Even when one is only a few pages long, I feel as though I’ve inhabited a vast landscape after reading it. She manages to engage readers with her descriptions and her character’s emotional states. I also enjoy short stories by Truman Capote and Raymond Carver. Like them, I try to compose works that delve into the psychology of my characters.

Most writers I’ve met have a favorite quote. What’s yours?
My quote speaks to connection between reading and writing: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ― Stephen King (editor’s note: Good choice!)

Reading everyday has so many benefits—improving your memory, increasing your vocabulary, and relieving stress. It can even help you to become a better writer. Most writers started out as voracious readers. I can say that my appetite for stories and books is what made me want to be a writer.

If there was something you could change about yourself, what would it be?
Watching how environmental problems have impacted our world, especially how they’ve destroyed crucial habitat for animals, I would like to get more involved in active conservation efforts. Endangered species are disappearing from our world at an alarming rate and may be gone completely in the not-too-distant future.

I would like to do something to stop that. After I retire from teaching, being an animal conservationist might be my next chapter—along with writing about this new adventure.

Reviews for “The Unexpected” have been very positive. How do you think you’d react to a negative review?
Always seeking to improve, I welcome constructive feedback.

What are your plans for future projects?
I’m currently in the initial phase of drafting a novel set in the ’80s. There’s many things about the ’80s—the music, the TV shows, the presence of bookstores everywhere—that I love.

Fascinating. Good luck with your writing, Ryan, and thank you for your time.

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You can find out more about Ryan at these links:

Twitter
Goodreads
LinkedIn
Pinterest

RYAN’S BOOK LINKS:
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble
Smashwords

**********

Gentle Readers, my own books have garnered some terrific reviews, and you can see them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow some of my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

On March 1, 2018, Rochester Media started publishing my articles about writing. The column will update twice a month. Come on over, take a look, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

**********

On Sunday, April 29, 2018, from 11:00am to 5:00pm, I will participate with a host of other local area writers in the Books & Authors book-signing event at the eclectic Leon & Lulu store on Fourteen Mile Road in Clawson, Michigan. Drop in and buy a book…there will be lots to choose from.

**********

Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.


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