Posts Tagged ‘writing’

“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.”

― Lorraine Hansberry

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“What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications.”

― Nora Ephron

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Today, some useful writing advice from award-winning writer Nalo Hopkinson.

The point of fiction is to cast a spell, a momentary illusion that you are living in the world of the story. Fiction engages the senses, helps us create vivid mental simulacra of the experiences the characters are having.

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“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

― Stephen King

That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

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“A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic.” 

― Carl Sagan

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I am a re-reader. Sometimes I pick up a book that I’ve already read in order to study some aspect of craft, like a fight scene or character introduction, but my primary motivation is usually entertainment.

I love knowing that the piece I’m reading has a great story, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion. Often, that last element is where things fall apart. Over the holidays three books in a row ended with a whimper, and left Reader Me at loose ends, feeling out of sorts and disappointed. Writer Me was not impressed.

Good openings pull readers deeper into the story. 

The first scene can be anything—a funny incident that introduces one of your protagonists, or perhaps an argument that leaves your reader shocked. Maybe you’ll write a scene that will leave your reader admiring your protagonist and cheering for her, or perhaps you’ll introduce your tale with a gruesome murder that will leave the reader horrified but burning with intrigue. Whatever you do in your opening, a great opening scene will almost always find some way to arouse a powerful emotional response in the reader—and the impact of that scene will convince the reader to delve further into the tale, hoping for more.

David Farland’s Writing Tips – Be Excited

All excellent advice. But a good opening isn’t enough. It’s a promise. Endings should deliver on that original promise by giving the reader a satisfying emotional conclusion. If a story opens with a question the ending must close with the answer. Not any answer. Not a conclusion (dramatic or otherwise) that has no relationship to the questions posed at the outset. And not, for the love of all that’s holy, a cliffhanger.

This is why so many books fail, in my experience. Open with a lost dog, close with a found dog. Open with a murder mystery, close with the murderer being brought to justice. 

What if The Return of the King had ended as the One Ring went into the lava? That’s it, right? Game over, no reason to continue. Not quite, and the fact that the story didn’t stop there is one reason I went back to The Lord of the Rings every year for decades. Our emotions are tied to characters, and in this case to one group in particular. Start with hobbits all nice and cozy, end with slightly battered but stronger, more capable, still cozy hobbits tucked up nice and safe at home.

There’s also a reason I have several reliable series on call at all times. I don’t do well with literary disappointment. That’s also the reason I return to some shorts over and over again.

I’ve mentioned this story before and may well again. Do I like young adult stories? Frequently not.* Do I like horror or monsters? Not usually. But everything about this story works for me, and it’s about time to read it again:

Holly Black’s Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (the Successful Kind) is everything I love about a story: it’s funny, poignant, trying and triumphant. And fun.

I hope you enjoy it. I know I will.

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* There are exceptions. This story is one, and there are others like The Scholomance and Rory Thorne books.

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You never know whose life you’re going to touch. I trace a line between my own love of reading and writing to a relatively obscure (at the time) fantasy series read to us by my father, back to his department secretary, and eventually to Oxford professor and World War One veteran JRR Tolkien, born 130 years ago today. 

Tolkien Birthday Toast: raise a glass to the Professor in honour of his 130th birthday

If book sales, movie earnings, popular culture and Peter Jackson’s knighthood are any indication, millions of other people also have a similar connection to an academic whose books were once dismissed as simple tales for children.

They were wrong about that.

Hobbits and hippies: Tolkien and the counterculture – BBC Culture

I’m taking this as a reminder to do my best. As a children’s author, chef, engineer, teacher or whatever else you may be, you never know what impact you may have.

For myself, I hope that impact stirs even a little of the positive impact Middle-Earth had for me.

The Professor!

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Thanks for Sharing

I began this year with the target of writing every day. It was a biggish goal for me, as 2020 put paid to a lot of plans and it had been a long time since I’d written as much as I’d hoped.

For maximum accountability, I decided to use the blog. There’s no cheating if your posts are out there for the whole world to see. It also forces me to have a beginning, middle and end to whatever it is I’m writing. More or less.

The goal was to use the daily post as both goad and guide. Write daily, yes, but about what? The resulting essays range the gamut from magic to writing to science, food, inspiration and more.

Here they all are, a map of both internal and external worlds: #365Ways | J.R. Johnson

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It’s the last day of the year and that brings me to a question: Now that I’ve established this daily habit, what next? Keep the streak going, shift to other forms of writing, all of the above?

Does the time and attention needed to write a daily post serve as a motivator, a distraction, or fuel for other writing? That’s to be determined but I won’t lie, crossing each day off the calendar is satisfying. 

Almost there!

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We all have an outer face that we show the world, but the other day someone told me I resembled my blog, which is just about the nicest thing they could have said.

I’m not always positive, productive, happy or sweet, but I do try, and that’s what I’ve tried to share with you.

As we all know, it’s been a long, strange pandemic. While I haven’t learned another language, perfected my tango or taken up blacksmithing, I have managed to make progress on some fronts. More importantly, I’ve tried to find ways to help you look on the bright side of what has been an often dark time. 

Three hundred and sixty-five ways, in fact.

Thanks for sharing the year with me. May our next one be bright.

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I went to bed thinking of New Year possibilities, and woke this morning with a quote stuck in my mind. I may not have the wording quite right and don’t remember the source, but the idea has been following me all day. 

“Dare anything. That is the road.”

Guess I’d better listen:)

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I just read half a dozen short stories looking for a piece to share with you today. All were excellent. All were depressing as hell.

This is story number seven.

GO. NOW. FIX. by Timons Esaias

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