Tag Archives: writing tips

My Problem (and a few tips)

By Ava Mylne

I have this problem.
I’ve written four full-length novels,
and written to the miserable middles of four more,
but I have yet to submit anything—seriously–for publication.
My problem?
Even after twenty years of practice, nothing
is ever good enough if it came out of my head.
I’m still learning, you see. I still don’t know everything.
No matter how well written something looks to me now,
I’m going to see it in another year and cringe at how flawed it is.
I don’t want to see my own literary flaws
immortalized on some bookstore shelf–
If I ever get that lucky.
I have a lot of very encouraging friends who tell me,
“Just keep trying,” and I do.
My back-brain tells me, “Just keep writing,”
and I will.
Someday I’ll be able to read my own writing
and judge accurately what needs to stay and what needs to go,
but for now, I rely on a dear friend:
Other people’s ideas.

So now, without further ado, I give you: Lauren’s List of Words to Eliminate! (Is this plagiarism? Now excuse me while I go do some editing.)

That
of
ing
ly
just
then
finally
like
as
sound of
made of
so, finally, of course
precisely, slowly, quickly, quietly, softly
all forms of to be
could, should, may, would, can linked to a verb
have, has, had, will, shall, might, must
The word “breathed”—or “hissed” or “growled’ or any other animal sound– used as a tag
amusement vs interest
stare or staring
names of animals–appropriate?
Names used where they should not be (mainly in conversation)


Tips from Pixar

By Jocelyn Nash Carlion

I’ve always admired the Pixar movie studio – not just for the brilliant animation, but for their wonderful storytelling. Pixar films consistently win more critical praise and more awards than any other animation studio not just because of their technical expertise but because of their focus on telling a good story, and telling it well. In my opinion they not only tell better stories than most family films, but better than most Hollywood films, period.

So, even thought it’s about a year and a half old, I was delighted to find this list of storytelling tips from senior story artists at Pixar, as compiled and tweeted by former Pixar story artist Emma Coats.

Here’s the complete list:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Not all the tips will apply to you and your writing at this exact moment, but there are enough gems of wisdom on this list that something on it will probably resonate with you. Numbers 8 and 17 really speak to me right now. Which tips speak to you?


Writing Snippets Episode One: Writer New Year’s Resolutions

Welcome to Writing Snippets!
Join your hosts Alice, Ava, Jocelyn, Lauren, Lilly, and Nichole in our first podcast as we discuss our Writing New Year’s Resolutions. We will explore why resolutions haven’t worked in the past, and tips on how we can succeed. Write your own resolutions in the comments below and add them to ours. We will track them throughout the year as we go on the 2011 journey together. And as always, no words were harmed in the making of this podcast.
Writer New Year’s Resolutions

 

****Leave a comment about your New Years Writing Resolutions to be entered in the drawing to win a Writer’s Digest Writing Planner. The winner will be announced on Monday, Jan. 31st.