Jul 042012

“Writing for the Ear”

There’s a big difference between writing for the eye and writing for the ear.

In school, our teachers rewarded long, complex sentences with multiple commas and parenthetical clauses that showed we have mastered the basic rules of grammar, spelling and syntax while exhibiting critical thought, nuanced arguments and SAT-level vocabulary. Great writing, we have been taught, is meant to be read – silently.

The problem is, when audiences are listening to material, they don’t have the luxury of scanning back up the page if they get lost.  Add to that, our writing needs to become far more conversational and less formal when written for the ear, and you have a real challenge!

Guidelines for writing for the ear:

  • Opt for short, punchy sentences with simple structure – listeners cant scan back up the page if they get lost and rarely will they hit “rewind”.  Remember that the reader needs to breathe and smaller sentences will help them greatly!
  • Use the active voice when writing as it is far more engaging to the listener.
  • Always try to paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind.
  • Use an informal, conversational, style with contractions and informal wording – don’t use a $10 word when a nickel will do.
  • Always have a clear structure – beginning, middle and end – and a “hook” that grabs their attention in the beginning section.  Aim to hook the reader in the first 200 words.
  • Make names and places distinct – avoid using names that sound similar – also be clear which characters are involved in a given section of prose.
  • Every word is precious – generally account for reading at a pace of 100 words a minute (that’s only 50 words every 30 seconds).  You don’t have much to work with so be succinct, remove unnecessary details and stay on plot.  Be sure to “hook” the reader in the first 2 minutes, that is, the first 200 words.
  • If you must use facts, figures and quotations, summarize and simplify.  Its far better to say “around 11 million” than “eleven million, three hundred and eighteen thousand, four hundred and thirty one.”
  • When in doubt, simply try reading the piece out loud yourself, the rough spots ought to become clear!

The mission this month is to write for the ear – either take something you already have and adapt it, or write something new.  Pieces will be read aloud next time we meet!

 Posted by at 8:28 pm
Jun 052012

“Chain Reaction”

No, not that awful movie starring Keanu Reeves!

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Some really enjoyable books and movies give you a glimpse of the hero in their ordinary world as things start.  With the toppling of an initial “domino” they are propelled (sometimes against their will) off on their quest with plot domino after plot domino falling in a chain reaction of events.

This month let’s explore these chain reactions – place your character in their ordinary world, bring in a second character and topple the first domino and explore the chain reaction that follows.

 Posted by at 8:08 pm
May 052012

“4 sides to every story”

Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s movie “Rashomon” tells the same story from four different viewpoints.  All are vividly different, allowing the film to explore issues of unreliable narrators, posts-of-view and even questioning “what is truth?”

The writing exercise this month is to create your own scene, around a single incident, and explore the same ideas – multiple viewpoints and narrators, why might those narrators be motivated to be reliable or unreliable in their context- and especially explore the idea of an ambiguous angle on “the truth.”

 Posted by at 8:00 pm
Apr 152012

We’re switching to the THIRD Saturday in May for this one, so you have an extra week for your story.

See you at the Crooked Tree, 10am.

 Posted by at 8:03 am
Apr 052012

Simple writing prompt this month:

Your character (male, or female) is drinking alone in a bar one night when a stranger walks in, sits down next to them and begins to confess the truth…

 Posted by at 7:54 pm
Mar 112012

In keeping with the way we seem to be using the site, I’ve changed things around a bit and spruced-up the look of it all.  User accounts are currently closed, but will return in a little while, bringing with them the ability to post to the blog itself and make comments on existing posts.

(Edit, March 12th)

All the user accounts have been moved across from the old forum to this blog. Same username/password applies. That means you ought to be able to log in and comment / discuss any given post and make blog posts of your own.

 Posted by at 9:14 pm
Mar 052012

According to the Florida Department of Corrections more than one hundred people have registered on a waiting list to watch an execution.

Personally I cant get my head around this, and that’s what makes it such a great issue to use to explore character motivation in our writing!  Your mission this month is to write about one of those one hundred people.

 Posted by at 7:45 pm
Feb 052012

Clearly, when you approached your writing exercise in January, there were goals you wanted to accomplish with the writing.  Perhaps you wanted Jane to come across in a way the reader might empathize with, or you had the goal of writing something that would appear scary even under the cold clear light of day.

The exercise for this month is to pick another group member and explain what you were going for with the other piece.  Once they understand, they’ll edit your writing and give hints for improvement.  Then, your goal is to re-write with their suggestions in mind.  Be prepared for beloved sections to end up on the (proverbial) chopping block, grammar and spelling up for grabs, but at the end of the day, notice how the pain of editing improves the written piece?

 Posted by at 7:23 pm