Friday, February 5, 2016

Story as Tapestry: Of Plot and Subplots

Most stories have the potential for more than one storyline or plot, and that can produce a rich tapestry as long as the threads are chosen well and woven properly.

A basic definition of plot is what happens in a story, or, more precisely, the main events. The bigger events, whose impact is usually on the main characters, form the main plot. The lesser events, whose impact is more on secondary characters, form the subplot, of which there may be more than one. When revising your story, one question to consider is: Does the subplot overshadow the plot?

If this is the case, the reason may lie in the strength, or lack thereof, of the main characters. If so, consider how to strengthen the main characters. If they’re right for the story as-is, look closer at the secondary characters. They may be more integral to the overall work than first appeared. If so, consider changing the balance of characters and storylines. Selecting new narrative threads can create an entirely new design.

Share your writing journey and queries on plot and subplot with Word for Words. Happy writing!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Writer's Voice of Experience

Stevenson Dam, CT
One key quality the agents and editors at last fall’s Ridgefield Writers Conference said they still thrill to find in a writer is voice. Voice can be defined in more than one way, but one description is how the writing sounds. It’s not just what the writer says but how she says it.

One factor that shapes a writer’s voice is her experience, not just those that are formative, but the ones that are transformative. This doesn’t necessarily mean the writer keeps rewriting her own story in different forms, although that’s sometimes true. It means that writers usually write best with their experience, thought not from it. But can voice be cultivated, or is it a gift?

Voice isn’t something that’s created so much as revealed, and nothing reveals it better than when the writer writes what she’s passionate about. Sometimes it takes a few paragraphs, pages, chapters or even an entire novel to unearth this discovery, but when you get there, you'll know it. The moment may come at a turning point in the story, through a simple setting description or even in a seemingly insignificant scene, but when you find your voice you’ll suddenly feel the story and characters come alive.

Share your queries on voice and your writing journey at Word for Words.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Great Resources for Writers

Boston at night
Here are some new resources and old favorites that have stood the test of time.

Atomic Reach: Based in Toronto, Atomic Reach for bloggers uses its specially designed technology to change how people tell stories. AtomicWriter adapts feedback based on the bloggers’ audience to help them craft great blog posts.

AWP Writer to Writer Mentorship Program: AWP's Writer to Writer matches emerging writers with published authors for three months. Writer to Writer is free for mentees. Mentors volunteer their time and get a free one-year membership. The program is for all AWP members, especially underrepresented writers who don’t have an MFA.

Connecticut Public Television (CPTV): Around for more than 50 years, CPTV offers opportunities for writers to publicize their work and propose programming. This is especially true of its respected and award-winning educational programming for audiences in Connecticut and beyond.

Catapult: This innovative publishing venture geared toward emerging writers includes print and e-book publishing, classes, online writing and a platform for writers to share work and better their craft. Catapult also supports established writers by sharing revenue from classes they teach and paying to publish their work online.

Vox First Person: Vox is a general interest news site that devotes a section of its site to personal narratives on key topics. If you have a great story on an important issue, you can pitch it to Vox First Person, which seeks stories from writers of every age, gender, race and political view. They even work with new writers who have an important story but need help turning it into a piece.

WordTango: WordTango is an online community by and for writers that provides a community of classes, events and online networking to share tips, stories and contacts. Happy writing!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Apex and Nadir: The Peak and Valley of Story and Character

Each story and character has a highest and lowest point, and it can be useful for the writer and writing student to assess these points to determine whether there is sufficient differentiation between them.
Photo: Adele Annesi, Boston Harbor

Writers should plan the plot points of a story, or at least trace them after the story is written, to assess the story’s pacing (the speed at which it moves forward) and progression (the degree to which the plot unfolds along the way). However, it’s also important to compare the story’s apex and nadir. Apex, in this context, can be its climax; more likely, it is the story’s most complex and interesting point. Conversely, the nadir is the point at which all seems or is lost.

Here are points to consider when assessing whether there is enough differentiation between and development of these two points.

For the apex, describe what is happening in the story at its most complex and interesting point. List the major theme and subtheme present at this moment. Briefly outline how the reader might expect the story to unfold afterward. Also briefly outline how the story does unfold.

For the nadir, describe what is happening at the story’s darkest moment. Consider whether the main theme is adequately addressed. Briefly outline how the reader might expect the story to unfold afterward. Also briefly outline how the story does unfold.

Compare the apex and nadir to see whether there is sufficient differentiation between the two points. There should be enough of a distance between them for the story to be a real journey, not a plot that makes the reader feel he or she is running in place.

Also consider whether there are other possible outcomes at one point and/or the other. Include the setting in your consideration.

Since this approach also works for characters, the writer can follow the same approach for the primary and key secondary roles to see whether there has been enough character development.

Writing students can use this approach for literary analysis and criticism to understand how writers bring stories and characters from the start of a work to its completion.

If you have questions on the apex and nadir stories and characters or other writing queries, email Word for Words.

Happy writing and happy New Year!

Adele Annesi is a writer, editor and teacher whose writing appears in Banking the Bacon: Essays on the Success of Women and in Now What? The Creative Writer's Guide to Success After the MFA. For one of the country’s most instructive one-day writers conferences, visit Ridgefield Writers Conference.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Poet Sally Nacker on Inspiration and Healing

Sally Nacker, poet
Sally Nacker is a colleague from the Fairfield University MFA program, and I had the honor of being in workshop with her, with Lary Bloom at the helm (the keynote speaker of the Ridgefield Writers Conference). Whether you’re a poet or a prose writer, you’ll find Sally’s thoughtful insights on the writing journey, including on writing as a way of healing, a reflection of a poet with a sensitive and caring spirit and much to share.

Sally received her MFA in creative writing (poetry) from Fairfield University, and her poetry collection, Vireo (Kelsay Books 2015), has been a finalist, a semifinalist and an honorable mention in three poetry book prize contests. She is a frequent visitor to the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst.

AA: What was the inspiration for Vireo?
SN: Poems throughout my collection, Vireo, have been largely inspired by nature. That is the foundation for most of the work. Interwoven throughout my observations of nature are elements of joy, loss, love and grief. The collection also includes poems I composed on paintings to which I have felt drawn. In the end, the death of my mother was my ultimate inspiration.

AA: What primary obstacle did you encounter in completing Vireo, and how did you overcome it?
SN: A huge obstacle occurred when I became aware that I had accidentally described the red-eyed vireo's nesting and feeding habits inaccurately in two major poems. This sudden realization happened a few months after my mother died. I was in my last semester of graduate school, completing my thesis. I felt my collection (thesis) finished and was searching for its title. I began reading Audubon's notes on the red-eyed vireo in detail for ideas and then realized my mistake: In two major poems, I had the red-eyed vireo nesting in a birdhouse and feeding at a feeder. The red-eyed vireo, in fact, builds its cupped hanging nest onto the forks of branches, and eats fruit and insects.

Vireo, by Sally Nacker
Book jacket by Kathleen D. Michaud
I panicked! I emailed my mentor, Suzanne Matson, and my best friend and friend of the work, Leslie Schultz: “What am I going to do?" They were extremely compassionate but didn't really know what I could do. Perhaps, they suggested, I could adjust the poems a little. Out of sheer inspiration, I began writing the title poem, "Vireo." The poem began as a letter to my mother, a reaching out to her to say that the birds we watched together one spring perhaps were not vireos. Then, as I continued to write and rewrite, the poem spoke to me: It doesn't matter that the birds were not vireos, only that my mother and I thought they were, and that we derived such joy together by watching our vireos. I emailed my mentor and said the only title for this collection is Vireo. She replied: "Look no further."

AA: What primary lesson did you learn during this project?
SN: I learned what I had always felt: Art is organic, and within art accidents can be gifts. I could not have come up with the poem "Vireo" without the experience I just talked about. If it had been an idea before I wrote the poem, a manipulation of sorts, the self-discovery would not have taken place, and neither "Vireo," the poem, nor Vireo, the collection, would exist.

AA: Is there anything you'd like to add?
SN: I received my MFA in January 2013. Vireo was accepted for publication in October 2014 and published in February 2015. During the two years between graduating and publishing, Vireo was a finalist, a semifinalist and an honorable mention in three book prize contests. Along the way, I added new poems I had written that deepened the collection, and changed the ordering of the poems. My mother's death sent me into a profound grief that was released the moment I received word of Vireo's acceptance for publication. The book needed to be released in order for me to heal.

Vireo can be purchased on Amazon, at Barrett Bookstore in Darien, CT, and Books on the Common in Ridgefield, CT.

Sally Nacker will be at Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference in Madison, CT, on Tues., May 26, at 4:30 p.m. Or visit her at Sally Nacker.

Friday, May 1, 2015

2015 Ridgefield Writers Conference Offers New Workshops and Resources

Now in its third year, the Ridgefield Writers Conference will offer new workshops, resources and guidance for writers, starting Friday evening, September 25, and running through Saturday, September 26, at the Ridgefield Library, with keynote speaker Lary Bloom.
Based on the workshop model of the MFA in creative writing, the Ridgefield Writers Conference offers practical instruction in the craft and art of writing, with new workshops and resources, panels on publishing and the writing life, agent queries, readings, and wine and cheese networking receptions with and for attendees and guests. This year’s faculty includes Michael White and Chris Belden for long and short fiction; Sonya Huber and James Chesbro for memoir, nonfiction and creative nonfiction; and Karen Osborn and Adele Annesi for storytelling and cultural narrative.
The keynote speaker for the 2015 conference is author, columnist, teacher and playwright Lary Bloom, author of The Writer Within. Described by Wally Lamb as a writer with “a sharp eye and a warm heart,” Bloom also authored the Connecticut Notebook and co-authored The Test of Our Times. His columns have appeared in Connecticut Magazine the Hartford Courant and The New York Times. Bloom has also taught at Fairfield and Wesleyan universities and Trinity College.
As with last year’s event, the Friday evening readings with Shamus Award-winning author Peter Spiegelman and author Sonya Huber are free and open to the public, including a wine and cheese networking reception hosted by co-sponsor, the Ridgefield Library. Also free and open to the public are the Saturday afternoon readings by attendees and guests, and a wine and cheese networking reception. Book and resource tables and book signings are available throughout the conference.
The Ridgefield Writers Conference runs from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, September 25, and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, September 26. For registration and full information, visit Ridgefield Writers Conference, contact Adele Annesi or call 203.894.1908.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Remembering Your First Love: The Amateur Writer

When writers fall out of love with the habit of writing, it may be because we've forgotten our first love.

Whether or not a writer is published, or has been published recently, there’s a sense in which all writers should retain an amateur standing. The word amateur can mean anything from one who has a taste for something to a lover of something. It can also mean a dabbler, as opposed to a professional. Regardless of a writer’s status, all writers are, in this sense, continual amateurs, because we’re always learning from other writers and ourselves.

While there are almost as many reasons as there are writers to stop loving the craft and art of writing, one way to squeeze the love out of the relationship is to let it become more about obligation than discovery and joy. We start focusing on what we have to do or should do, and all by deadlines, often self-imposed, that often get pushed further and further into the future the harder we try to meet them.

Regardless why the love has been lost, one way to rekindle it is to take the pressure off. Open a page and write. Even if the process begins largely with lament, at least the words are there. Reawakening the real pleasure of writing often comes afterward, from tinkering with the words and discovering new methods of expression, even in a grousing journal entry well-written.

What’s keeping you from your love of writing?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Writing Well in 2015 - Take a Tip From a Memoirist

One of the best pieces of advice an editor can give a writer is to write; an even better recommendation is to write slowly, consciously, reflectively. That's how memoirists write, and one way fiction writers can bring a deeply reflective quality to their
work is to evaluate every word for precision, context, clarity and revelation. Here are some examples:
Clarity helps both writer and reader
  • Precision: Rather than use common nouns or noun phrases, consider more specific choices. For example, if you're referring to the area just above the upper lip, use dent, divot, groove or philtrum.
  • Context: Even original descriptions can be generic. To avoid this, consider using descriptive words or phrases that suit the context. For instance, if you're writing about a seamstress, choose words and phrases to describe the setting that relate to the art and craft of sewing.
  • Clarity: Sometimes, what's clear to the writer isn't clear to the reader. For example, how a character responds to a life-changing event hinges on who the character really is, and how mature he is at that point in the story. Make sure your character's response to an event is consistent with who he is and who he is becoming.
  • Revelation: Each word choice should reveal something to the reader about the story, plot, characters and setting.
To make the best use of the slow-writing technique, start small, with a sentence or paragraph; then move to a scene or chapter. To check for overwriting, wait a couple of days; then reread the section. You may find some cumbersome language, but you may also find that you're revealing more to yourself and your readers as you write. Generally, it's easier to trim writing than expand it. This is especially true when there's enough substance to trim.

What project are you working on now that could use a bit more precision?