Shelley Widhalm

Archive for November, 2012|Monthly archive page

Transitioning to Transitions 101

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 25, 2012 at 11:00 am

Transitions are the go-between, the white space surrounding dingbats and a way to get from here to there.

I realized in my quest to write about 52 writing topics in 52 weeks, I forgot about this writer’s tool.

There’s a reason for that – transitions are one of my least favorite things in my toolbox, though they are a necessity.

Readers notice the lack of transitions and quickly become annoyed if the story’s direction is unclear. The writing skips awkwardly along from one time or place to another, confusing readers as they try to figure out where exactly they are in the story.

They might think they and the point-of-view character are in a coffee shop and suddenly they are in some memory about traveling to another country.

Transitions serve as a bridge that signals a shift in the story, such as a change in time, place, mood, tone or point of view.

They mark a scene break, or a change in scene, which can be indicated with dingbats, asterisks or extra space. The break in scene ideally cuts at the moment of heightened suspense, causing the reader to want to know what happens next.

The point-of-view character’s physical environment, or what’s happening around her, can transition into her internal thoughts, memories or reflections. She may see a type of flower or a ceramic vase that triggers recollections of some event from her past.

The recalling of past events in the present through flashback interrupts the flow of narrative.

Changing the tense – such as present to past or past to past perfect – is a way to enter and exit out of the flashback.

Using sensory impressions is another way to invoke a memory, such as Proust’s tea, or to return the character to the present moment, such as the howl of a coffee grinder.

Or dialogue can cause the character to come back to the scene at hand, though she might ask, “What? What are you talking about?”


DIY Writing Retreats

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 18, 2012 at 11:00 am

In the home improvement realm, being a do-it-yourselfer is par the course.

Writers can do the same, but they won’t need to shop at home improvement stores, buy how-to books or draft complicated plans.

All they need is a little bit of time and a simple plan.

Writers wanting to participate in a writing retreat – the ultimate, prestigious way to get some writing done – can blueprint the cheaper home version.

They don’t need mountain cabins, peaceful lakes or fancy hotels.

For a mini-retreat, all writers need is a quiet place where their work will not be interrupted.

Ideally, set aside a full day or a weekend for this retreat.

Pick a spot to write, free of distractions and the normal routines, such as a coffee shop, mall, library, community part, hotel lobby or bookstore.

Commit a certain amount of time to writing, such as three hours, but allow for 10-minute breaks every hour, or whatever meets your needs. Take a lunch break and return for another writing session.

Set a goal for what you want to achieve by the end of the retreat, such as writing a certain number of chapters in your novel, writing a couple of short stories or working on some other writing project.

Take a portable writing kit, so you have your tools on hand, such as a dictionary and thesaurus, books on the craft, notebooks, journals, pens and music.

And remember to clock in how many hours of work you accomplished, your word count and any other measures of achievement. Compare what you achieved with your regular writing session.

This self-assessment will determine if your DIY retreat (except the cost of coffee or lunch) was productive.

Writing Group Rules

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing group on November 11, 2012 at 11:00 am

Joining a writing group is like frosting.

A chocolate cake is just fine plain. Add rainbow confetti topping with the multicolored chocolate chips for that flavorful burst of zing.

That’s what writing groups do for your writing – give it the zing that takes your skills and abilities to the next level.

I joined the Weekly Writers’ Workshop meets Under the Cuckoo Clock more than two years ago. The group of a half-dozen writers meets weekly to do a writing prompt and critique each other’s work.

Through the feedback I’ve received, I better understand how to successfully (or not so successfully) employ the elements of writing, like plot, character, dialogue and setting. I have a visible example of what works and doesn’t work, both at the sentence level and at the level of the overall story structure.

The essential idea of a writing group is to give the writers in the group feedback on their work.

To be most effective, the members should point out both what they like and where the work could be improved with suggestions for revision. The members should keep a balance between positive and negative comments, so that the criticism is constructive.

Writers groups also help to:

  • Point out where the pacing is too slow or too rushed.
  • Indicate areas that need to be cut, expanded or further developed. Is there anything that is glossed over or lacks focus?
  • Give line edits of grammatical errors, awkward phrasings or anything that seems confusing or does not make sense.
  • See the  overall story picture, including the development of character, the weaving of plot threads, the description of setting and the implementation of the other writing elements. Does the plot have tension? Is the dialogue interesting, or is it flat, making you want to skip the quote marks? Do the characters speak in the same voice, or is there variety?
  • Mark the places that seem boring or exciting, as well as any expressions that stand out or seem bothersome.
  • Identify anything missing in the telling of the overall story.

The members can only respond to what’s on the page and should ignore their own reading preferences. They should remember that a writers group is a give-and-take relationship. They should be kind and encouraging and keep all discussion within the meeting room.

Writing Prompt Tricks

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 4, 2012 at 11:00 am

Writing prompts are a dime a dozen.

I find them in writer’s magazines, books on writing and books of quotations, plus the dictionary, thesaurus and any book that doesn’t already tell a story, such as books on gardening, beading and art collections.

Here are a few prompts that I’ve borrowed and reworded, plus some of my own.

Use these prompts as a starting point and write based on the image, idea or thought that first comes to your mind.

  • Randomly read a line from a book or look up a word in dictionary.
  • Turn on the radio and use the first complete sentence you hear.
  • Describe what’s around you, using all of your senses, those of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell.
  • Pretend you’re a waitress and use the order pad to write a different type of story. Or try using the form of a grocery list.
  • Think about your favorite hobby and why you got interested in this and what this particular hobby says about you.
  • Recall a childhood place and describe it.
  • Grab a snippet of conversation and use it to start a dialogue between characters.
  • Read a poem and use the mood it creates to start writing.
  • Write  about an old object. What does it make you think about and what emotions does it evoke?
  • Walk down the aisles of a toy store and see what happens.
  • Write about something you lost and want back, and then imagine what you would do if you had it back.
  • Write about your secret wish (mine is to be a full-time novelist married to the hottest man on the planet).
  • Read a couple of horoscopes and the weather report together.
  • Write about a bad gift you gave or received.
  • Read a billboard and start writing based on the corny or cute saying.
  • Write about a new pair of shoes. (I had to include shoes, of course!)

Feel inspired, yet? If not, see what Zoey the Cute Dachshund has to say about writing prompts.