Writing tips — much like inspiration — can be found almost anywhere. Every writer has thoughts on their craft and most are happy to share these. The late Elmore Leonard — author of numerous bestsellers, such as Glitz, Get Shorty, Maximum Bob, and Rum Punch — limited himself to ten. He wrote the following list to explain his writing and help others looking to improve their own work.
10 tricks for good writing:
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10 — If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
October’s meeting of the SWG will be based around writing tips. Members are asked to bring tips they’ve found helpful and share them with the group. (No limit on subject — structure, ideas, even scheduling/organizational tips are welcome — but please bring between two and five total. Thanks.)
Last year I participated in the Playwrights’ Junction workshop offered by the Sudbury Theatre Centre and led by playwright-in-residence Matthew Heiti and it was one of the best learning of experiences of my writing career yet. They’re currently taking applications for the 4th season of the workshop (Deadline is September 15th) and I want to tell you why you should consider applying.
“But I’m not a playwright and have no intention of writing for the stage.”
When I applied last year I had no illusion that I was a playwright, but I didn’t let that stop me. Writing for the stage is a unique experience, but there is a whole lot of overlap between writing prose for novels as there is in writing for theatre. I went in with an open mind. One of the things about being a “new” writer is that we are often trying to find our voice. Part of that journey can be experimenting in different genres and different mediums.
Here’s just a few of the things I appreciated about the workshop and that helped me grow as a writer.
I can’t say enough about Matthew Heiti as the instructor. Matthew is knowledgeable beyond his years when it comes to writing both prose and for the stage. He treated us fledgling playwrights as peers and gave us this once in a lifetime look behind the scenes of what goes into developing work for the stage.
I am forever grateful for the experience of being a part of the Playwright Junction and I hope you’ll take the opportunity to apply.
I’ll be in the audience cheering you on if you do apply.
Saturday, August 2nd was a big day — the official launch for Creepy Capreol: Chilling Tales From a Railroad Town.
Young Street was hopping all day, with hundreds of people gathered for Capreol Days. Vendors of all sorts were parked between King and Front — selling everything from food to jewellery. Things were just getting started when I arrived downtown at 9:30. I had a prime spot in front of Lynn’s Place and, with a few quiet spells, was kept busy throughout the day. In fact I sold an amazing 73 copies of Creepy Capreol! Of the original 120 I’m now down to 9 (I sold some before the launch and gave a few away). So it’s time to order more.
Capreol Days proved a big day for MadCap Publishing (my fledgling publishing company) in other ways too. CC sold extremely well, but even my older titles moved. Plus we received a full page spread in Saturday’s issue of the Sudbury Star — on Page 1 … of the Leisure Section. Bob Michelutti’s illustration looked great — I might cut it out and frame it!
Better still three of Creepy Capreol’s contributors made it out — Sudbury Writers’ Guild members Betty Guenette (with husband + dogs) and Lisa Coleman-Brown (and husband), plus former Capreol resident Jason Shayer (with his wife and kids). All three have now received their free contributor’s copy, and two got the original artwork for their story.
Fellow SWG member Renny Degrott-MacKinnon joined me to sell her book Family Business. She had a good day as well, selling nine copies and earning herself some fan mail.
Up next … Valley East Days in early September (Renny will be joining me there too) and the Terror Train/Fright Night events come late September through October. And maybe, maybe, a signing at Chapters and/or the City of Sudbury’s main library. Fingers crossed!
by Renny deGroot
Left-Right-Left! Maybe it’s because, decades after leaving the military, those words and the accompanying thump of boot heels hitting the parade square in precision, can still make my heart beat faster. Maybe it’s because both my parents had also been in the military and organized our family with crisp routines. Whatever the reason, discipline comes naturally to me which is a good thing because that’s what it took for me to get all the way through the drafting, writing, re-writing and editing process of successfully producing the 240,000 word novel Family Business. Discipline and having a compass.
Early on in the process I decided that I would work on the book three days a week. It was a realistic target given my other commitments. I also had a goal for each session – usually a page count and I stuck with it until I got there. I had a separate writing space in the house where I would go which immediately got me into the right ‘head space’ for writing. In the summer months I treated myself. I set up my computer outside in my screened in deck with the sound of the waterfall in the background, but it was still a mental ‘going to work’ kind of experience. So – applying myself in a disciplined approach was one element to successfully getting the novel done.
“Where’s the story?!” was a favourite cry by my first creative writing instructor, James Purdie. It was a bit like when one of my English Lit professors used to tell us to apply the ‘So what?’ rule to everything we wrote. Every sentence, every word needed to have a point. Purdie used an example that still stays with me twenty-five years later: “The King died, and then the Queen died” (not a story) “of a broken heart.” (A story!).
What I took from this was that the theme, in my case, the concept of freedom both at a macro level and at an individual level, needs to be clear and everything must be grounded around the theme. I wrote an outline to have the main milestones and timeline determined, but after that I trustedto my theme to continue to move me forward. Whether it was about the oppressive mother attempting to control her sons, or the occupying forces restricting the Dutch population, the theme of freedom was my compass that kept me moving forward. I have heard of people who prefer to have only the vaguest notion of what they will write about when they begin and that may work for them. I tried that as well once and I never got further than ten pages of aimless clutter. For me, having a framework of main milestones and a thematic compass, worked well. It still left me plenty of scope for creative discovery. How wonderful it was to realize that Tiineke was such a strong young woman and well able to deal with her mother-in-law. The characters seemed to reveal themselves as I wrote, without conscious effort on my part.
In mid May, as we honoured our Canadian military effort in Afghanistan, I reflected on my ten years with the Canadian Forces. Honing my discipline, teaching me to keep commitments, learning to set a course and stay with it – all of these skills have helped me to become a writer.
Although, to tell the truth, using an actual compass was right up there with using a slide rule; I never did quite perfect it.
Tracy Pepper grew up in Hanmer. In 1985 she was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer and was not supposed to survive. Last year she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for ovarian cancer.
Here’s a link explaining her story: http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/assignments/share-your-news-and-views/10231872/Cancer-survivors-drive-to-help-others
That accomplishment got her invited to contribute to a book project called Dreamers & Doers – inspirational stories of women who have climbed Kilimanjaro (see attached posters). Tracy loved the project because it supports another charity, every book sold buys a textbook for a child in Tanzania. They believe every child has the right to an education.
Tracy is now working with a charity in Tanzania and will be driving across Canada this summer collecting unwanted winter clothing for the porters of Kilimanjaro and school supplies for the Kilimanjaro Orphanage. She is also promoting this book and looking for businesses and book stores who would be interested in supporting this mission. Every book sold supports a charity that buys a textbook for a child in Tanzania.
Here’s a link to the video that explains the project.
Tracy will be at the Fromagerie on Elgin on Saturday, August 9 at 3:00pm to tell her story, sell some books, and collect donations.
Sudbury’s new Poet Laureate Tom Leduc is hoping to make a mark on the city. His initiative, Moving with Poetry (see attached poster), will put two unlikely things together: poetry and public transportation.
Soon the city’s commuters could be reading your creations. Those chosen for the project will see their writings posted on transit buses.
So, if you are a poet — or just love words — grab a pen and start composing. The topic is Sudbury. Submit an Ode to Ramsay Lake or an Elegy to the Fallen Water Tower. Write of your love for the black rock, sweet blueberries, or the bear that goes through your trash. Just capture a piece of the city — it’s feel, history, or people. It doesn’t even have to be poetry … short stories are accepted too (remember space is limited so keep them short!).
Link to poster for moving with poetry
Enjoy Jazz on Saturday night (July 26) and join us for Special Guest Poets the next day.
Sudbury Poet Laureates past and present will read from their works at the Gore Bay Harbour Centre on Sunday, July 27, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Hear Roger Nash (past President of the League of Canadian Poets & Inaugural Sudbury Laureate), Tom Leduc (current Poet Laureate of Sudbury & Sudbury Writers’ Guild member)
Plus Manitoulin poets:
Ron Berti (De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Storytellers), Fay Becks (Manitoulin Writers’ Circle), and Margo Little (Sudbury Writers’ Guild & Manitoulin Writers’ Circle).
Book Sale & Signing
More info 705-282-1714 or 705-282-2040.
Special Thanks to Ontario Heritage
What motivates us to write about ourselves? Perhaps it is a desire to tell our personal stories for therapeutic reasons or to find a way to heal ourselves. Maybe it is to share our experiences and educate others on the lessons we have learned, or to hold others accountable for their role in our misfortunes or trauma. Possibly it is to leave behind our stories for future generations. Whatever the reason, the memoir is a powerful way of coping with the past, making sense of the present and creating connections with the future.
Over the past two years, I have been researching, interviewing and writing a story more personal than I could ever have imagined, a tale in which I am deeply immersed, and one that is a powerful part of my personal history. In many ways, I feel like I am writing a memoir. But the stories are not mine. They belong to my father.
For many months I interviewed my father, sitting in the worn blue armchair in my parents’ 1950s brick bungalow, my fingers tapping on my laptop keyboard as I frantically tried to keep up with his narration about his experiences as a concentration camp prisoner in Poland during World War II. I became absorbed in the time period, his life as a young boy in Oulu, Finland, the bombings of his hometown by the Russians during the Winter War, his exploits as a merchant marine sailor at the tender age of fourteen. His storytelling led me from his ship in the port of Danzig to the cattle car that transported the crew to KL Stutthof. His voice brought me to the Death Gate, where I waited alongside the Finnish sailors with fear and anxiety. Before long, I felt as though I became part of his experiences, first empathizing with the prisoners who endured forced labour, malnourishment and beatings, then envisioning the Death March, the naval evacuation and the traumatic day of his liberation.
While memoir relies on the first person narrator, the family memoir is usually written in third person, details a particular time in a family member’s life, uses supplemental research and relies on the literary techniques usually found in novels. After careful study of the time period, specific dates and events to ensure I was as accurate as possible, I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with a retelling that read like a history text. Instead, I wanted his memories to come alive for the reader. For that reason, among other literary techniques, I incorporated dialogue and details about setting to recreate scenes, relying on my imagination to describe what it might have been like for him. These literary techniques, so often used in family memoirs, allowed me to write about the events in a more vivid manner. Fortunately, I also have my father as a first reader to confirm all of the details.
In the end, the family memoir is the perfect vehicle for telling my father’s story. More importantly, I hope that by recounting the events he has been able to heal some of the deep wounds he has carried with him for the past seventy years. His story teaches invaluable lessons about hope and resiliency and bears witness to the crimes committed on millions of victims. As a writer, I am able to share my father’s story with my children and my children’s children, thereby creating an indelible connection to his past, our present and their future.
On April 12th Renny DeGroot held a launch party for her novel Family Business at Fromagerie Elgin in Sudbury, Ontario.
Description from Renny’s website:
Set in the Netherlands against the backdrop of the Great Depression and through World War II, Family Business follows the story of Agatha Meijer and her sons, André and Johan, as they build their textile business, a business Agatha is determined her sons will carry on, regardless of their own desires.
Family tension comes to a head when the boys each take a stand, sending all their lives spinning in directions none of them would have ever anticipated, and making each of them question the true meaning of loyalty, love, and freedom.
The event was well attended and Renny was on hand to read from her novel and sign copies. Below are a few pictures from the event. If you want more information about the book or to order one, please visit Renny’s web site here
Book Launch Photos: Lisa Coleman-Brown
Eight local artists will be celebrated at the inaugural Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts this Thursday May 1st 2014 at 5:30 p.m. at the Laurentian School of Architecture.
Poet Daniel Aubin, playwright Mathew Heiti, musician Alexandra Lee and choreographer/dancer Lauren Pero have been shortlisted for the Sudbury Arts Council Award for Outstanding Emerging Artist.
The CN Award for Exceptional Achievement in the Arts will be presented at the event as well. Shortlisted for this aware are musician/producer Dan Bédard, composer Robert Lemay, musician/actor/broadcaster Stef Paquette and visual artist Heather Topp.
Tickets for the event are $50 and are available at Artists on Elgin or through Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario by visiting their website at www.letno.ca/billetterie or calling 705-525-5606, ext. 4 or, or through any of the Creative Consortium organizations.