Category Archives: Characterization

Do You Have a Six Word Story?

One of Ernest Hemingway’s best known stories isn’t a novel.  It’s these six words:                  “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Isn’t that heartbreaking? In those six words, you have emotion, character and even plot, if you read between the lines. I don’t remember what we were talking about in one of my spring classes, but someone referenced this, I quoted it, and our instructor delayed his planned writing activity and said “Let’s do it!” We blanched.  He gave us ten minutes.  So, being dutiful students (and willing to try most any writing exercise), we bent heads and put pen to paper.  Here are a few of the resulting stories: Mine:  “Blizzard.  Heat, electricity vanish.  Autumn baby.” Cassandra Leonard:  “I ate.  I swam.  I barfed.” Kyle Keller:  “After prom, cab fare for one.” Prof. Keith Leonard (no relation to Cassandra):  “He fell.  I took a picture.” Note … Continue reading

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Turn a Childhood Memory into Fiction

Many of us started out writing stories based on childhood happenings:  being picked on by a bully, feeling left out, falling off a rope swing, getting a pony, getting bucked off a pony.  (Hey, there’s got to be someone else out there that got bucked off a bazillion times, too.) The problem comes when the story gets stuck in our past and doesn’t gain a life of its own. The process tends to work something like this: Think of a fun or traumatic incident. Write it in story form. Fictionalize it by changing names, places, how many siblings, etc. Try to make the opening more exciting. Realize it’s lacking something. Try to add conflict.  Maybe even add a friend or sibling who wasn’t actually there. Take a bigger chance and change the dialogue or action to what you wish you said or did, instead of what actually happened. Give it … Continue reading

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Begin at the Beginning – a Plotter Tries Being a Pantser

Which came first – the chicken or the egg? The beginning or the end?  When you write a story, do you start by knowing the characters and the opening, and then write to see where it takes you? (Option 1, writing by the seat of your pants, or Pantser)  Or do you start with the characters, the situation and the ending, and write to get there? (Option 2, plotting the story in varying degrees, or Plotter)  For the first time, I’m experimenting with Option 1, being a Pantser. Well, not exactly the first time. My mind usually percolates a situation, character and end, and I build the plot and the character together until they work.  What-ifs can show up – I definitely don’t outline everything – but I’m still writing to meet the ending I’ve envisioned.  It just works best for me. For NaNoWriMo one year, I did try writing … Continue reading

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Weekend Writing Prompts – Young Writers

The writing prompts here are geared to some of my younger blog readers, but can be used by anyone – just adapt to something that relates to you and your experience, which is the role of a story starter anyway. And if you’d like to share a bit of what you write, post it in the comments – we’d love to read it! • Write about telling a secret to someone you trust. What happens when that person tells someone else? • Write about coming home and having someone say, “I have bad news.” What’s the bad news, and what happens then? • Describe the scariest place you can imagine. What is in the corners? Is there light? What other creatures are there. What sounds are there? What does the air feel like? What does it smell like? Now write about how it feels to be locked in there, why … Continue reading

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Just What Is Literary Fiction?

What’s the definition of literary fiction?  What’s the difference between literary and commercial fiction?  Is one better than the other?  Enquiring minds want to know! One writing instructor I had defined literary fiction as anything in the fiction part of the bookstore that wasn’t in genre categories.  Another basically agreed, calling literary fiction “mainstream” and anything else “genre.”  As in, literary is good, genre is bad.  Hmm… First, there’s a problem with calling anything “mainstream.”  Literary folk often call their writing mainstream and lump everything else into genre.  Other writers consider literary a genre of itself, and anything that doesn’t fit in a category is mainstream.  So we’ll say “commercial” and “literary” and leave “mainstream” out of it completely. Second, the either/or definition doesn’t work for me.  I have books I love that don’t fall in a genre category, but I don’t consider them literary fiction, either.  Rosamund Pilcher’s books … Continue reading

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