Shelley Widhalm

Archive for October, 2014|Monthly archive page

Writing poetry (tips and advice)

In Poetry, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on October 26, 2014 at 11:00 am

Unlike writing novels, writing poetry is a little freer in structure, especially if it’s outside of form.

A novel requires a beginning, middle and end, tension and conflict, a climax and the structural elements of setting, plot and characters.

Poetry is about feeling, emotion, stories and moments. The shape poems take range from free verse to a fixed form, such as a sonnet, sestina, villanelle or haiku, with a specific meter, rhyming scheme and syllable count. Poems also can bridge poetry and prose by taking the shape of a prose poem that is poetic, while looking like prose as a block of text filling part of a page.

Free verse poetry is the most open form of poetic writing that doesn’t use a specific meter or syllable count or employ a consistent rhythm and sound. The form is open while engaging any of a variety of poetic devices to add musicality to the words.

These devices can include alliteration, or the repetition of initial consonant sounds; consonance, the repetition of internal consonant sounds; assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds; and rhyme and slant rhyme, rhyming between two words that are identical or nearly identical.

The musicality can come from the tempo of the words, or the feel they create as they are spoken or read, as well as how they are put side by side and down the page.

Poems can tell a story and have a plot with the novel’s beginning, middle and end but in a smaller space. Or they can capture a single moment, image, thought or emotion. They communicate through sounds, which appeal to feeling the same way music does as the words become the music.

Writing poetry is an individual art, but to prompt the process, there are several ways to enter a poetic state of mind. Try to:

• Use the senses – those of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting – when making observations.
• Play around with words and descriptions, or simply put words on the page and rearrange them.
• Avoid using clichés, especially about well-loved topics, like love.
• Choose a title for your poem, then write from that point. Or choose a topic, an experience or a feeling you want to write about and compare it with something concrete like a pigeon on a window ledge to express risk-taking.

Lastly, think about the intent of the poem and the feelings to be expressed and say it in a fresh way. Trust your subconscious, which makes connections your conscious mind might not readily make. And surrender to your writing.

See how Zoey the Cute Dachshund writes canine poetry at her blog at


Short story challenge

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on October 19, 2014 at 11:00 am

I find writing short stories more challenging than going for the long haul of writing a novel.

A short story requires you to get in, get out and do it in a way that brings in all of the story elements—plot, character, setting and dialog—without boring the reader. With a novel, you can take your time—but not too much—setting up the igniting spark, storyline, theme, character identities and other story elements.

The length of a short story varies from 1,000-5,000 words or anything or up to 10,000 words, depending on the publication or publishing house doing the defining. Generally, anything less than 1,000 words is considered flash fiction.

Novels are 50,000 words or more, or average 75,000 to 90,000 words.

Because of their length, novels need to sustain readers’ interest over several reading sessions, while a short story can be consumed in one sitting in a few minutes or a couple of hours.

Because of limited space, a short story focuses on a specific time, place, event and interaction. The timeframe typically covers days or weeks, and the setting cannot be in too many places.

Short stories typically begin with a crisis or conflict, getting to the point right away, lacking the time or space for long setups. They have one or a few characters and present a snapshot into the lives of those characters, avoiding long character histories and descriptions.

Also when writing short stories, consider the following:

• Show, don’t tell with the action.
• Use first or third-person, or two characters shifting point of view.
• Express a single theme, or message to get across to the readers.

Essentially, think of a short story as a scene or two that tells an entire story in a quick-to- consume fashion.

See how Zoey the Cute Dachshund approaches short story writing at her blog,

Tips for writing memoir

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on October 12, 2014 at 11:00 am

Writing a memoir that reads like fiction is tricky.

This requires taking real life experiences and fitting them into the story arc of beginning, middle and end when life typically is episodic without story structure. There, however, may be episodes of life that work within the arc when you, the main or point-of-view character, face an obstacle and overcome it through your internal strength and motivation with some lesson learned toward the end of the process.

Writing a memoir requires you to make yourself into a character with physical, spiritual and emotional descriptions. You have to face yourself and think about what matters to you, what affects you, what hurts and helps you and why you are who you are.

You look back on your past self/selves and, through the process, come to a different understanding of why you did what you did or what you were thinking at the time.

The self reflection, description and analysis may break you as you put yourself into words and see what you were avoiding when you were just living and trying to deal with whatever life put in your path.

As you take yourself apart to find the words and then the story, try to remember the emotions, events, contents and the feel of scenes from your life. Think about what people weren’t saying. What does their non-spoken dialog, such as body language, gestures and facial expressions, say? What do your non-spoken parts want to tell, not just others but yourself?

Beside the emotional affect that writing about the self may have on you, also consider the reader.

• Leave out things that interfere with the flow of the story, because readers want a story with thematic cohesiveness, not a diary or journal with too much incidence and detail. Don’t assemble a scattered collection of scenes and vignettes that don’t create a cohesive and complete story.
• Try writing memories into scene form and if you end up with a lot telling, go back and rewrite the scene with more action and detail. Trust your memory to recount the gist and emotional truth of your experience to write the scene and see if there are any recurring images, phrases, themes or metaphors. Use these to dig deeper.
• Track the action that drives your story and ask what the story is that you’re trying to tell. Begin as close to the climax as possible to find the driving narrative that moves the arc.

Thinking of the reader is the last part of writing about the self, because it starts within as a seed that grows outward. Once you find that external place where the words go, then you can bring in others who are outside to give them a glimpse of your inside.

The ins and outs of writing young adult fiction

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Young Adult Fiction on October 5, 2014 at 11:00 am

With the entrée into vampires, zombies and all things apocalyptic, young adult writing has become a trendy—and stable—source of storytelling.

I never thought I would write anything other than adult fiction and maybe a children’s picture book, but I got the idea for my young adult novel, “The Money Finder,” prior to NaNoWriMo 2013. I wrote the 70,000-word manuscript in six weeks, or during November, plus the first two weeks of December.

My inspiration came from finding $60 at a bar that I returned to the bouncer, because it was near his greeting stand, but regretted it when he acted surprised. It wasn’t the bar’s money after all and, I figured, went into his pocket.

But what I got out of finding and returning the money is the idea for a novel about a 15-year-old who uses her money finding abilities to try to solve her family crisis. She keeps finding money in odd places, which she stashes away to pay off bills to prevent her family from going into homelessness. The problem is that money isn’t her answer.

Writing the young adult novel involves writing about new, odd and exciting things, because the teenage years present the first time for many life experiences.

These experiences can include falling in love and undergoing a huge, strong emotion, making choices good and bad, deciding who to hang out with and befriend, and figuring out how to treat others and how to allow yourself to be treated, despite what your parents and upbringing teach you.

The teenager is leaving behind childhood but isn’t yet an adult as she begins to take on adult responsibilities. My character, Grace Elliott, takes on too many adult responsibilities, such as paying bills, taking care of her younger sister, Star, and watching out for an alcoholic mother, something that could but doesn’t break her because she has Star.

In a young adult novel, there are multiple approaches to those first experiences, including letting your point-of-view character:

• Solve her own problems, instead of relying on the adults around her.
• Grow and learn from her mistakes, even those involving drugs, alcohol and sex.
• Take on some adult responsibilities but not too many that she gets overwhelmed and has a breakdown.
• Process her life emotionally and physically, so that she comes to an understanding of how the world works.

In young adult fiction, the story is absolutely important. Teens want edgy and controversial topics, such as self-injury, depression, sexuality, grief and anything traumatic. They want the focus on emotion and the emotional rollercoaster teens go through, and they want to be fully immersed in the story, as if they were living it, too.