Month: September 2014
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.
- DIALOGUE – In writing prose for novels, you can spend pages setting scenes, describing character’s motivations, moods and backstory. In theatre a lot of what gets conveyed to the audience is done through dialogue between characters (or in some cases monologues). The workshop definitely helped me see dialogue in an entirely new light.
- MOTIVATION – If you’re like me it’s easier to say “I will get around to finishing that scene tomorrow, after I’ve binge watched this latest season on Netflix.” than it is to get motivated to spend time writing something that isn’t flowing. The writing assignments we had in the workshop helped motivate me into writing to a deadline. It was surprising how easy it was to get the muse to cooperate when there was a looming deadline to turn in an assignment.
- FOCUS – Writing for the stage has unique constraints that might seem limiting by some, but can actually be freeing as it forces you to focus your writing. Your writing becomes sharper when you have to do more with less.
- FEEDBACK – As scary as it sounds to some people, getting feedback on your work is an essential part to improving your craft. Having people critique your work in the workshop helped me to learn what was working and what wasn’t in my writing. Almost more important was what I learned by critiquing other people’s work. I could see my own strengths and weaknesses as a writer reflected back at me in their own work.
- SHARING – Writing can be a very solitary and lonely experience. We often toil at our drafts for weeks, months, years on end before they see the light of day. The writing workshop allowed me share my work with my fellow playwrights and the instructor. As part of our “graduation” we had one of our pieces read aloud by professional actors in front of a live audience. Getting a laugh for a line you wrote can be just the carrot you need to keep writing.
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.