Shelley Widhalm

Fiction Writing Tips (that make writing fun)

In Outlining a Novel, Writing Goals, Writing Processes on April 23, 2017 at 11:00 am

ZoeyLollipop

Outlining a novel can be as fun as a dog with a lollipop by taking the right approach.

There are two ways to write fiction: write and see what happens, or do an outline and plan what you write.

The planning involves coming up with a plot outline, character identities and the backstory, or what occurred before the story begins. In the very least, writers need a premise, the basic concept of what the story is about, or what the characters undergo as a result of what happens in the story. It’s the underlying idea or the foundation that supports the entire plot.

8-Point Narrative Arc

To do that planning, I like using Nigel Watt’s 8-point narrative arc, as explained in his book, “Writing a Novel.”

The 8 points are Stasis-Trigger-The Quest-Surprise-Critical Choice-Climax-Reversal-Resolution. The main characters experience something that upset the status quo, sending them on a search to return to normal, but they encounter obstacles along the way. They have to make a critical choice that leads to the story’s climax and eventually their return to a fresh stasis.

In three plot points, it’s the inciting incident, rising arc and falling action.

Outlining a Novel

To outline, here are a few things to think about:

  • First, think about what your basic premise or idea is for the story. What will be your hook? How will you introduce your main character or characters? What will be the inciting incident?
  • Identify a few of the big plot moments and what character actions or settings could complicate them. What does the character want and what plot complications stand in her way from getting that one thing?
  • Think through characters and plotlines to see if you can sustain both to the end of the story.
  • Consider the point of view, and think about the character’s back story.
  • Find a setting that cannot be separated from the plot and eliminate any extraneous settings.

Just a Suggestion

Finally, think of the outline as a suggestion that can be changed as you figure out what your story actually is about. Writing is a process and not a final product until the story is written and edited. Even with that outline, there’s that element of seeing what happens until you get to the story you love and want to share.

Comparing Blogging with Poetry Readings

In Blogging, National Poetry Month, Poetry Readings, Writing, Writing Poetry on April 16, 2017 at 11:00 am

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I am reading some of my poems during a previous poetry reading at the Loveland Museum/Gallery.

Listening to and writing poetry doesn’t seem to fit into the fast-paced business world of SEO, key words and tracking analytics.

A poem has rhythm, pacing and structure, while blogs and business writing aim for a certain voice, objective and spin, all to capture attention. A poem exists on the page, the lines and spacing giving it shape, while blogs use optimized headlines, bullet points and short written content to provide the structure.

Another way to put it is a poem is quiet, existing in a book or chapbook or even on a piece of paper. A blog is loud and out there trying to get clicks.

Capturing the Audience

Both capture audiences, but in different ways.

A poem wants readers and to give expression to the internal, to memory and to observation.

A blog wants followers and to increase numbers to build toward marketing a business or attracting advertising to further promote the blog.

Like blogs, poems can become loud when they are given physical voice, such as in a poetry reading or poetry slam.

I’ll be reading two of my poems this week in two separate readings, both a part of National Poetry Month in April. National Poetry Month is an annual celebration of poetry started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 as a literary celebration of poetry and its place in society.

Two Poetry Readings

The first reading is “For Spacious Skies, celebrating early American poetry,” on Thursday, April 20, at the Loveland Museum/Gallery. I will read a poem in the style of Edward Taylor, colonial America’s foremost poet and a minister and physician. I wrote two poems after studying Taylor’s biography, a few of his poems and his approach to writing, including his tone, voice and word usage.

I’m trying to decide which of the two poems to pick for the invited poetry reading, where local poets selected an American colonist and wrote a response, such as in the same style or using similar subjects. One of my poems is more fun in tone and takes place in the kitchen, while the other is serious and reflective.

The second reading I plan to attend is Poudre River Public Library District’s Fifth Annual Battle of the Bards on Friday, April 21. The 10 finalists of the poetry contest will be reading their poems at the Harmony Library, and the first- to third-place winners will be announced. My poem that was selected, “Flower Centers,” compares various emotional states to different types of flowers.

A Final Thought

To further compare poems with blogs, I wanted to add a couple of notes:

Poems have titles on top (sometimes) and lines of text that aren’t necessarily aligned with the right margin.

Blogs have headlines scattered throughout and lots of the previously mentioned bullet points.

I’ve yet to see a poem with a bullet point:

Roses are red

  • Violets are blue.
  • Sugar is sweet …

I hope to see you at the readings.

Flash Fiction and Speed Dating

In Flash Fiction, Writing, Writing Processes on April 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

Shell+ZoeyFlash fiction is like speed dating—it’s storytelling that is quick and to the point.

Speed writing is short and descriptive, while being deceptively complex in its tightness.

It’s a micro or mini version of a short story, though the length varies depending on the publication. It can be anywhere from 100 to 1,000 words or even 1,500 words, while short stories are defined as 1,000 to 10,000 words.

An ultra short story, flash fiction is a style of fiction of extreme brevity with a definable plot pared down to the core of the story. It’s called micro-fiction, micro-story, skinny fiction, fast fiction, furious fiction, postcard fiction, short short, short short story and sudden fiction. It’s part poetry and part narrative.

To successfully write flash fiction, avoid fragmented storytelling. Tell a complete story with the traditional format of beginning, middle and end, making every word essential, without the extras. Retain the elements of storytelling, because otherwise it will become a snippet of a moment of a larger story or an episode without a theme or story.

I find that it’s best to write flash fiction in one sitting with one idea for a character or plot and work from there. Ask if there’s a point to the story, but don’t get too focused on theme. And write when you are in your own emotional moment, getting words out without worrying about word count.

Begin at the moment of conflict when most of the action is nearly complete, avoiding any kind of introduction or back story. Make sure every conversation, action and gesture is important to the telling of the story. Focus on powerful images. And end with an emotional impact.

Once the piece is finished, here are some tricks to tighten and polish the work:

  • Get rid of adjectives and adverbs.
  • Get rid of unnecessary sentences and descriptions.
  • Make sure every conversation, action and gesture is important to the story.

And remember, what’s left out is just as important. Be concise. Keep the essential details. Cut the rest.

(Note: My flash fiction piece, “Points for Senior Citizens,” has been accepted for publication in the forthcoming FLASH!, the second anthology in a series of collections of 100 short-short stories. The anthology is a Kickstarter project at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1727584460/flash-fiction-anthology?ref=user_menu)