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Writers’ group looks at Writer’s Block

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?

– Kurt Vonnegut

You might not want to be arrested and charged by police but there are many options if you have a dose of writer’s block. Last evening, in a round circle discussion, members of my East End Writers’ Group came up with some novel ideas for well writer’s block when writing a novel – or writing anything.

Here are our words of wisdom, in no particular order:

Take a writing course, especially one taught by Brian Henry – you will get inspired and Brian gets you to actually write in his workshops, even during lunch.

Put the blocked novel, short story aside and write something different. Maybe your brain is bored with the same old story and needs something new, at least temporarily. But do come back to the original.

Have a roster of several writing projects on the go – to some extent; don’t over tax yourself – so you can move from one to the other when stuck.

Start reading. You would be surprised how reading another novel, short story, newspaper article written by someone else can inspire you to write. Don’t analyze the story’s style, just go with the flow of writing and let your subconscious absorb the writer’s style. You don’t want to copy it, but it will jar your inner creativity.

Freefall write – write anything that comes to mind and keep writing for at least 20 minutes. You can also use a word, a sentence from a book, a sound, something visual to get you going. Or if you are angry, worried, or fearful about something, write about that. Go where the fear takes you.

Do something completely different – preferably something physical – walk the dog or just go for a walk on your own, do some gardening (season permitting). Getting your body moving can help wake up your brain – often with a possible solution to your block.

One group member writes in different languages, so when blocked he switched languages. He also juggles several writing projects at a time.

And don’t forget to join a writing critique group. Even if you don’t always bring something to read for feedback, just listening to someone read their writing excerpt and listening to and taking part in the discussion, can be inspiring.

Let’s banish writer’s block where it belongs – buried in the snow.

Here are a couple of books to help you do just that with writer’s block.

The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron

Unlock Writer’s Block – Paul Lima

Cheers.

Sharon

If you click on the book at the top, it will take you to my books,bio, etc on my publisher’s page. To check out the East End Writers’ Group go here.

 

 

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Making your fiction funny

Click on the book cover to go to amazon.com

Sharon A. Crawford’s book. Click on the cover to go to amazon.com

The funniest things are the forbidden … The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it.

— Mark Twain


I use humour in many of the short stories in my mystery collection Beyond the Tripping Point. My goal is not necessarily to be funny but the characters and their situations need humour, often the black comedy type. My characters are a little off from normal and get themselves in spots where they well, go beyond the tripping point in life and then have to sort it all out. Throw in crime and some of these characters need to go on the light side of life.

One of these stories “The Body in the Trunk” focuses on two close friends, Kelsie and Sally. Kelsie wants to dump her cheating husband but the normal divorce route doesn’t sit well on her shoulders. As she tells Sally,

“Divorce?” cried Kelsie when I’d said as much. “I’d have to split the house, the cottage, the golf set, the home entertainment centre, the BMW and,” she glared at me, “the dog. How do you split a dog? If Harry gets prison for life, he gets nothing and I get everything. And I really want that BMW.” (Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, 2012).

\So Kelsie drags Sally into her plan so that Harry will… You didn’t really think I was going to tell you the story, did you? You’ll have to get the book.

Basically I created an original situation which is humorous and had my characters act in offbeat ways that are funny. For example, in a few scenes in the story Kelsie wears a clothespin on her nose. But it ties in with the plot and Kelsie’s character.

So, if you want to create humour in your fiction, your characters must be funny in character. None of this having a character tell jokes unless the character is a stand-up comedian. Otherwise it is forced humour and will fall flat on your reader’s eyes and mind.

Your whole plot can be something offbeat and lend itself to humour (as does “The Body in the Trunk”). And you don’t necessarily want all characters to be funny. Kelsie is, but she is balanced by Sally who while thrust into the ridiculous situation, is not a funny person. The formula for humorous skits applies here – the funny person needs a straight (and I’m not referring to sexual orientation here) person to play against. Of course, there are some humorous skits where both characters are funny. Some of you may remember the skits on the old Carol Burnette TV show. Of course Carol Burnette just has to appear on stage and she gets laughs, but until your characters get well-known in the reading world, it is better to play the funny one against a straight character. The Janet Evanovich series featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is a good example. Stephanie is always getting herself into situations and the humour bounces off the pages.

Which bring me to Point of View – tell the story from the funny character’s POV or another character’s? That depends on who the funny character is – a main character or minor character, protagonist or antagonist, or in the case of mystery-crime stories – one of the suspects. With novels you can have multiple points of view (one POV per scene), so there is some choice. You can get into the funny person’s head and/or the straight person’s head   – with the latter you can get their take on the humorous character. If it is short story you are writing, you need to tell the story from one point of view but either the funny person’s or the straight person’s could work. Unsure which? Try writing your story twice – once from each character’s POV. Then read each out loud and see what seems to work best.

Whatever way you use humour in your novel or short story, make sure it isn’t forced. Readers will pick up on it.

One good thing with humour in book fiction – print, e-book or audio book – readers don’t have to suffer from that awful canned laughter on TV sit-coms…not yet anyway.

And I’m going to relent a little; you can hear me read the beginning of “The Body in the Trunk” from my reading on Liquid Lunch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgOKYgBfAwY&feature=youtu.be

For Sharon A. Crawford’s upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point, go to the Beyond the Tripping Point page– http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html I continually update it.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Book Review of Unblock Writer’s Block by Paul Lima

Cover of Paul Lima's Unblock Writer's Block

Click on Cover of Paul Lima’s Unblock Writer’s Block for Paul’s blog and sale places

The desire to write grows with writing.

–          Desiderius Erasmus

In Unblock Writer’s Block: How to face it, deal with it and overcome it, Paul Lima not only debunks some writer’s block myths, but provides some creative exercises to get writers writing. He compares his former writer’s block to “walker’s block,” i.e., not exercising, his situation until his wife got a dog. He started walking daily and the story ideas began arriving – a good thing for a freelancer with 35 plus years of experience writing newspaper articles, corporate, and fiction, who  is the author of 12 books, including the best selling How to Write a Non-fiction book in 60 Days. Lima also writes prolifically and quickly to deadline.

If you are doing other things to avoid writing, Lima says you are procrastinating, not suffering from writer’s block and you need the equivalent of a dog – writing exercises – to get you going on the write track. Lima emphasizes when you write the draft, ditch the editor in your head and just write. He also gives the option of “cherry-picking” exercises to get the most die-hard blocked writer going – a good idea because of the large and varied selection. When reading Unblock Writer’s Block, I kept flipping files to create story ideas. Lima recommends starting with  how you are feeling because you have to have emotion in your writing to connect to your reader. He has exercises for unlocking emotions focusing on the individual and his past, followed by three chapters with activities on freefall writing, directed free-fall writing and clustering – the three parts Lima advises readers do.

Ensuing exercises deal with the actual craft of writing such as plot, characters and point of view in fiction. My favourite exercise is one that could help POV problems. Lima suggests readers write a letter of apology to someone wronged and then switch POV to the other person and have him or her write back and perhaps letters back and forth will follow.

Although Lima uses examples from other authors such as novelists Margaret Atwood and Alistair McLeod (the latter’s cheese story is funny), I would have liked to have seen more Paul Lima stories, although the one where Paul apologized to a telephone pole when he bumped into it (Note: apologizing for everything is a Canadian trait) is priceless. The other bits of humour interspersed add spark to the writing wisdom presented.

Unblock Writer’s Block fulfills Paul Lima’s intentions, i.e.

“Our goal throughout this book is simply to do some writing—to see that we have the ability to write over, around and through whatever may be blocking us. You may not have produced anything you want to continue writing about. You may not have written how you want to write. But that’s not the point. The point is to write no matter what, and to be open to where your work may (or may not) lead you.”

Unblock Writer’s Block is available in paperback and e-copy. To find out where and more about Paul Lima and his books, go to  http://www.paullima.com/books/wb.html.

For Sharon A. Crawford’s upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point, go to her Beyond the Tripping Point page– http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html I continually update it.

Today (Thursday, March 28), from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. I talk about where my characters come from and read from Beyond the Tripping Point at the Leaside Branch of the Toronto Public Library. (See the above BTTP link for more details.)

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Keeping track of everything in your story

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

If you start to revise before you’ve reached the end, you’re likely to begin dawdling with the revisions and putting off the difficult task of writing.

–          Pearl S. Buck

Currently I’m rewriting the prequel novel to four linked short stories in Beyond the Tripping Point. I’m expanding and complicating the plot and telling the story from four points of view. The original novel had only one POV – the first person singular – Dana. Yes it is the fraternal twins again and my own head has been going back and forth from the points of view of Dana, her twin Bast, her son David, and a suspect who isn’t named. I am following the rules of one character’s POV per scene or chapter.

However, all this to-ing and fro-ing makes it more difficult to keep track of timelines, who is doing what and the biggie – consistency in story line, in character’s actions, etc. To lower the muddle factor, I started a new file called “Follow-up List.” Every time something occurs that requires checking/changing for consistency, timeline – even research, it goes on the list. Right now timeline, consistency and keeping all the police constables sorted out are the big factors.

Why am I doing this? Besides the obvious, if you constantly stop writing to do research or sort out characters and timeline, you lose your creative flow. Mind you, I am going back for a few things if they are interfering with moving the plot along from where I am working. But the research can wait – some of it is just re-checking facts I’m not sure I got right. Or some detail such as a name change, can be fixed by using the Find and Replace Word features – preferably at the end of your writing session.

Another action I take (and I’ve mentioned it in an earlier post) is refusing to stall over a word that doesn’t seem quite right or is repetitious. Stopping to look it up in the Thesaurus, even if online, also breaks the creative flow. For example, as I wrote this blog post, I spelled Thesaurus incorrectly but did not correct it immediately. Here Word underlined it in red so I could go back and change it. For repetitious words or words not quite right, you just need to put (word) or (repetition) in brackets after the offending word and return to it later in your rewrite or in my case, another rewrite to fine-tune the rewrite I’m doing now. One final suggestion – format your manuscript before you start writing. Or if your situation is similar to mine – a rewrite of a novel originally written 10 or 11 years ago, where the formatting was different, you can leave it until you are finished. Stopping to fix paragraph formatting stops the creative flow.

And how is my massive rewrite going? Nearly finished the first big rewrite. If all goes well I’m hoping to have it done by the end of the day tomorrow. Afterwards, I want to let it sit for a few days and then go through my follow-up list and well, follow it.

Meantime, I’m doing plenty of PR for my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point. Tonight I’m doing a sort of performance reading of a short story excerpt as part of the Periodical Writers Association of Canada’s Talent Night. Sometime between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. I’ll be onstage at the Free Times Cafe in downtown Toronto. If you are in the Toronto area perhaps you can drop in. Check out http://www.freetimescafe.com/ for more information, including location, or go to my website http://www.samcraw.com under Beyond the Tripping Point where I’m posting upcoming readings, etc. as I get them. All my links are either on this book page or at the top of my website home page you will find the usual social media icons.

And if you click on the book icon at the top of this post, when you get to amazon.com, please read my bio and click on the Like Icon. Thanks.

Keep the creative flow going.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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What comes first? Character or Plot?

When your short story or novel idea first comes to light in your mind, what started it? A character? Plot? Or a combination of the two? Or something else?

I’ve had all four occur. The origin of my four linked stories in Beyond the Tripping Point – “Gone Missing,” “Saving Grace,” “Digging Up the Dirt” and “Road Raging” was definitely the female private investigator Dana Bowman. Her initial name was “Sheila” but I soon changed that because it was close to my first name, “Sharon.” Dana popped into my head before all these short stories, for a novel (now in a rewrite; it’s a prequel to these short stories). When that happens you have to find your plot. I like to take something that is going on in the world and use that as part of the plot. These stories occur in 1999 (the novel is set in 1998) so it has to be something pertinent to then. For example, there were no Blackberrys, iPhones, or Facebook, but there was the Internet (albeit mostly dial-up) and cell phones. The idea is to connect the “world situation” to the character and develop your plot. And bring in more characters.

If the plot idea occurs first, like it did in my story “No Breaks,” you need to develop the right characters to work your plot. The situation here is what would happen if you are driving along the highway and your brakes fail? And no “breaks” in the title isn’t a misnomer – it has to do with the main character I developed.

As you can see, plot and character are closely connected – the character and his or her traits drive the plot, but the plot also drives the character. What if the character and plot surface at the same time? Then you are truly blessed. However, if you are busy doing something else then, make sure you write the idea down (pen and paper, iPad, etc.) so the plot and character don’t disappear into the nether areas of your mind.

The “something else” is an extension of plot and character coming at you simultaneously. The difference here is you are actually sitting down to write – on paper or at your computer. It is called freefall writing where you start with a word, a phrase, a sentence, a vision, an emotion, a situation (or the start of one) and just sit and write whatever flows from your brain to your hands. You do not stop writing to make changes. This always happens to me when I attend a Brian Henry writing workshop (see http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.ca/). Brian gives us a few words, a situation, and gets us writing – then and in our lunch hour. In the afternoon we critique each other’s work. From there we take our story home, finish writing it and revise it. Some of my stories in Beyond the Tripping Point – “For the Love of Wills,” “The Body in the Trunk,” and “Missing in Action” started this way, although I suspect something to do with each was hidden in my brain somewhere. Try it; you might be surprised at the results.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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