Tag Archives: writing tips

Stronger Narrative Structure, 3 Ways

art by Mel Anastasiou, narrative structureOn a panel at this year’s  Creative Ink Festival, three of us talk about planning processes for strong narrative structure.

The first describes himself as a “pantser”.  He writes what comes next, and doesn’t worry about outlines. He thinks hard about his story and its turnings; he doesn’t write it all down.

The second is a “move sections around” writer, who, like Truman Capote, believes in the scissors over the pen.  She writes great scenes, trusting her inner writer that they’ll fit into the plot and move it forward.  Her inner writer doesn’t let her down.

I’m the third writer on the panel. I’ve tried pantsing and moving scenes around. These approaches brought me no success, because I needed to strengthen my understanding of storytelling.  I read, digested, applied and analyzed everything available on narrative structure.  Now, I outline everything.  Story, scenes, character arcs for everybody.  I do this partly because I want to go to my drafting desk ready to write, partly because I love outlining like the first Greeks loved Prometheus’s gift of fire, but mostly because the criticism that I used to get from editors was, I can’t tell what this story is about.

As I gaze at the two gifted writers beside me I reflect that each of our approaches to story planning involves a confident understanding of narrative structure, and careful use of available writing and planning time.  What a pleasure to know that some aspects of writing come naturally to each of us, and that the rest may be learned.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career.

Cheers, Mel

From Pulp Literature Press:

If you’re a fan of Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, you may enjoy her pocket-sized writing guide The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

From Pulp Literature Press

 

Creating and Sustaining Suspense and Tension, Part 2

If we create suspense and sustain tension during the plotting and drafting stages, then we save truckloads of time on revisions.

Try one or more of these to sustain tensionWriting tips from Pulp Literature
  • Keep the story goal and central conflict front and centre, with a hint at the start of each scene, so readers remember what matters most deeply to our point of view character.
  • Within the parameters of genre, establish that anything can happen.  If the author has something unthinkable happen at the start, within the genre’s context, that raises the tension.  Readers never feel a hopeful young squire is safe just because he’s young and hopeful.  See the first scene of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones.
  • Remove tension killers.  Capote said, “I believe more in the scissors than in the pen.” Check ends of scenes and chapters, make sure there’s no sentence that seems to finish things off.

More on tension and suspense next post.  In the meantime, I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel.
The Writer's Boon Companion, Thirty Days Towards and Extraordinary Volume

If you enjoy Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, you might try her pocket-sized writing guide The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

From Pulp Literature Press

Creating Suspense and Sustaining Tension, Part 1

At the wonderful Creative Ink writing festival I sat on panels on creating tension and suspense.  I have been thinking ever since about ways to accomplish these.  And, from the point of view of time management for writers, if we can create suspense and sustain tension as we plot and draft, then we save a crazy amount of hours on revisions.

First, it’s worth taking the time to develop a protagonist the reader will care deeply about. We’ve heard of the Monkeysphere — the theory that humans can only keep a certain number of people close to their hearts.  Along with family members and friends, we appear to have  room for fictional characters as well. Right, Netflix?

To develop engaging characters, it’s worth taking the time to list flaws and balancing strengths.  I see so many flawed protagonists in our subs box, but few of them achieve the balance that helps the reader take them to their hearts. Balance involves developing

  • inner and outer longings.
  • kindnesses and sacrifices.
  • falls and redemptions.

Look at the extraordinarily flawed and engaging Lisbeth Salander, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  She’s not all flaws; in fact, her ferocious loyalty, physical strength, and world-beating intellect balance all the imperfections that make us love her.  Looking at my submissions inbox, it seems that there’s a lot of great work on developing flaws in characters, but not much attention to the strengths, as if somehow strengths were old-fashioned.

Once we create that engaging character, half our work in sustaining tension is done for us as the readers bring their own anxiety for the protagonist to the page.  The stakes, depending on our genre, may be survival, love and belonging, power, or freedom. These same stakes resonate with us all, through a character readers can believe in and take for our own.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week.  Cheers, Mel.

Read more about Creative Ink

Four Quick Fixes for Chapter Starts and Finishes

galaxiesmallMost writing exercises are useful in some way or other, but some take us so swiftly and directly towards our goals, that they’re worth identifying and emphasizing. For example, taking a close look at the beginnings and endings of chapters.

  1. When changing POV character, it would seem a no-brainer that you want to get the new character up and identified as soon as possible. However, setting the reader directly into the character’s skin is more important still, while they’re learning whose skin they’re now wearing. The reader is naturally reluctant to leave the previous POV, and to name the new one too soon may cause the reader to set the book down rather than read on. To settle, see the next point.
  2. At the start of every chapter, and arguably every scene, we want to cover time, place, setting, tone, promise of genre, and a hint at the central conflict.
  3. At the end of every chapter, it’s worth making sure that it doesn’t actually “finish.” A great sentence that feels like an ending to the conflict may cause the reader to close the book. Sometimes the sentence must be removed; sometimes it works to move it to the next chapter.
  4. Watching out for rhythms in positive and negative starts and stops is a subtle way to establish storytelling authority. As author Beverly Boissery once put it to me, chapters that always begin positively and end negatively, read flop flop flop. If a chapter ends negatively, consider beginning the new chapter negatively as well, and end it positively, with a hint at future conflict.

Chapter starts and endings set us up to keep reading, keep invested in the characters, and love the book. Whether drafting or revising, these are fairly easy fixes to create even greater narratives.

I hope you’ll have another great week in your writing career. Cheers, Mel


If you enjoy Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, you might try her pocket-sized writing guide The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

From Pulp Literature Press

Writing Toolboxes

Internet sites talk about writerstechneforfun’ tool
kits as if they were purchaseable equipment, but in truth our toolboxes are entirely inside our minds.  We work in notebooks and on computers, but if we had neither, we could still tell stories to listeners gathered around a campfire.  Writing is making something out of nothing but spirit and brainpower.

“It’s brain,” I said; “pure brain!  What do you do to get like that, Jeeves?  I believe you must eat a lot of fish, or something.  Do you eat a lot of fish, Jeeves?”PG Wodehouse, My Man Jeeves.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Your use of the senses in your writing is brilliant– puts the reader into your point-of-view character’s skin. Your Writing Muse

Anticipation and Time Management for Writers

Loving the work saves writers time. Actively looking forward to writing is a powerful practice for those of us working to create a writing career within a full-time life. When we love an activity, we prepare for it.

I love my drafting time like I love skiing, and If I know I’m going to be skiing on a weekend, I’ll think about it through the week, with pleasant anticipation. I’ll be ready. I’m not about to waste my skiing hours looking for my boots, or my drafting hours writing with reluctance, or without direction.

Time to do what we truly love is not time we’re likely to approach with worry or distress.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel.

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Your intense focus as you outline & draft, serves your writing career well. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

Walking, Sleeping, and Writing Better

“I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” Historian G. M. Trevelyan

walkerbanner1We’re built to walk, and our bodies benefit.   Brains too, being part of the body (as I’m always forgetting as I hunch over and straighten up at my keyboard).

Walking helps gut health, as well, and I’m thrilled and baffled to learn that our guts are full of neurons.

Taking a tip from the Italians, who perambulate of a balmy evening, I’ve begun walking in the cold rain after supper, and by heaven, I sleep better.  There’s little better brain magic than sleep.

I’m up to 3 walks a day, at about 13,000 steps average, because, authors, I’m beginning to think that, like actors, swordfighters, and other athletes, we have a duty to our calling and our career to take our exercise, not just more seriously, but as a professional imperative.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYou work hard to give your best to the world of readers. We are most grateful. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

For more on walking, see my page Walking to Write, with 100 days of writing and other rewards for integrating an hour a day’s walking into a writing life.

Creating a Writing Career: Think Big

Some say we write for an audience of one.  Granted that our great work is writing the words that reader loves to read, we may also ask ourselves big-picture questions, like

  • What talks would I love to give?
  • How best may I receive, track, and deal with an increasing income?
  • How might I answer classic interview questions? 

Success expert Jim Rohn famously said, “Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.” That’s thinking big, for even the best keep getting better.  Let me rephrase. Especially the best, get better.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week.  Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYou arrange matters to get a great sleep most nights, ready for the writing ahead. Fab. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

Mel will be dispensing more of her encouraging words of wisdom at the Creative Ink Festival in Burnaby from March 31st – April 2nd.  She’s not here in town often, so be sure not to miss her!

The Pop-Up Writing Space

We most likely have, each of us, a dedicated writing office space of one kind or another. Here, seated or standing at our own desk, we often feel primed to begin. It’s almost like having a head start on the work. I hear some of us saying, as I have from time to time, I can only write when I’m alone in my office.

Still, charm of setting and pursuing a noble goal are not enough for storytelling, nor are they always enough for the writers who devise them. Just as the stories we’re writing demand transformation to hold a reader’s attention, our writers’ minds desire change to keep sharp.

Libraries.  Coffee shops.  Different areas in our homes.  If we consider devising pop-up writing spaces, should silence be a prerequisite?  Those of us who admire Jane Austen’s work know we’d be missing much had she required quiet.

A pop-up office won’t be as fab as our own perfectly — or madly — arranged private offices.  Especially office spaces we love with all our hearts.  But, even pleasures may fail to please when we settle into a favourite rut.  Our brains are our most important writing tools, and they thrive on change as much as comfort.

 I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse:

You keep the goals for your writing career in plain view. A perfect guide for your continued success. Your Writing Muse

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Using the Lag to Become Superb

beatlebootsstampA brilliant and successful writer once told me, “All writers secretly wish they were musicians or baseball players.”

I don’t know whether that’s as true as it sounds, but watching professionals having fun in their profession never fails to thrill me.

Ron Howard’s documentary Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years, provides a view of The Beatles at the top of their field, taking the music (but not themselves or each other) seriously.  I love the way they josh, endure, satirize, remain true to their promises, adapt, compromise (the time they give to live performances,) and refuse to compromise (the recording sessions.)

And, they use the lag when things are slow to become superb.

The number of hours to excellence bandied about the Internet is 10,000, (and then on to another 10,000, I’ll bet) and those guys spent a chunk of theirs in Hamburg, playing eight hours a day, attempting to draw in passersby to a seedy club on a seedier strip.  I love to see the footage of the Fab Four making the most of their time on stage, the girls, the joking, and repeatedly creating the wild discipline required to play on through day and night.  Watching endurance, exuberance and excellence combined, I remind myself to smile while I write.  I’m kind of relieved that I’m spending my 10,000 in Vancouver and the UK, driven by nothing but deadline, with holly berries and sweet-singing blackbirds outside my office window.  I’m only kind of relievedthough.  Who doesn’t want to play music?  Or, baseball?  Who?

“I saw that Meryl Streep said ‘I just want to do my job well’.  And really, that’s all I’m ever trying to do.” -Paul McCartney

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYou face your work with the happy, bold mindset that brings continuous growth and sure success.   Your Writing Muse @pulpliterature

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