By Adele Annesi

Word for Words is by author Adele Annesi. For Adele's website, visit Adele Annesi.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Write to Remember, Discover and Learn

Sometimes we write to remember. Sometimes as we write and remember, we discover. 

A writer often intuits when a character in a novel isn't fully realized. And since characters are like actors in that there are no small characters, only insufficient depictions, it’s important to make sure all characters, especially main characters, are their fullest selves. With a little imagination and strategizing, writers can glimpse more of who characters are and render them more fully.

One way to flesh out a scantily drawn character is to put the person in two scenes back to back, the first facing a tough situation alone, then next with others who know the circumstances.

How the character acts and reacts, what they think and feel, in both settings reveals them. You don’t have to retain this order in the final version of the story; it’s more of an exercise to open the character to the writer and, ultimately, to the reader.

This approach also helps the writer determine which aspects and how much of the character to show through what happens internally and how much is better shown through how they act outwardly.

Striking a balance between internality and externality is important. Showing what’s happening to a person on the inside gives the reader insight into the character, sometimes even before the character reaches the same awareness.

When writers face the unknown in developing a story or someone in that story, they can think back to when they were in a similar situation and ask themselves these questions:

  • How did they react?
  • What did they reveal about themselves when alone?
  • What did they reveal when faced with the reality that someone else knew?

Answering these more personal questions gives the writer a place to begin. From there, they can ask themselves how the character is similar and how the person is different.

If the writer decides to incorporate these personal experiences into their fiction, they may find the task difficult. One way to accomplish this is to write quickly through the memories and moments.

In situations like these, writers are free to break the rules, for example, in these ways.

  • Tell the story instead of showing it, and use awkward sentence structures.
  • If you’re writing in first person and feel too close to the story, try writing what the character is thinking and feeling in third person.
  • If you feel too far removed from the character or are writing in third person, try first person.
  • To more fully realize scenes, add stage directions. You can remove the scaffolding later.

Once you’ve gone through these steps, put the work aside for a few days. Then, go back and chip away the plaster and dismantle the framework.

You’ll usually find clearer characters, scenes and even settings. And if the story has some basis in fact that is hard to write about, time and distance will help.

Realize, too, that there really is no such thing as going back to the past, even one’s own. It’s never the same river twice. Your story is going someplace new, with new people.

Remember also that the same principals apply in stories as in life. New relationships, especially deep ones, are hard to form. And they take work. And time. And, oftentimes, they're awkward.

Lessons like these harken to William Zinsser's Writing to Learn. In this classic, Zinsser addresses how writing helps people learn difficult subjects. The more clearly a writer can speak to a topic or depict a person or story the more clearly the writer reveals these elements to herself and her readers.

We writers often know when a character isn't fully realized and sometimes tell ourselves they’re only a small character who’s not en scene very often. But these are missed opportunities to enable characters to be their fullest selves.

We owe readers our best. We owe it to ourselves as writers, too.

Happy writing!

Adele Annesi’s new novel is What She Takes Away (Bordighera Press, May 2023).

Monday, April 10, 2023

The Subtle Persuasion of Poetry in Prose

“I'm a failed poet,” wrote twentieth-century novelist and short-story writer William Faulkner, author of Light in August and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. Faulkner also said it might be true that all novelists start out wanting to write poetry and when they find they can't, they try the short story. Then failing that, they finally try writing novels. Regardless of a writer’s interest or genre, there’s much to learn from the precision, imagery and persuasiveness of poetry.

Like most people, writers don't have a lot of spare time, and when they do, they may not naturally gravitate toward poetry because they have other projects that take precedence. And for the writer immersed in prose, a poem can feel too much like an alien landscape, an inaccessible world. Yet, poems often have an elemental, Edenic quality that invites readers in and bids them stay a while.

On particularly harried days, writers can find the clean, spare language of poetry to be a balm. Yet, poems can also provide lessons and examples. For instance, one evocative noun can replace a string of adjectives and create a clear picture that opens the door of story for readers. A writer who makes deliberate word choices says, in essence, "I want you to know what this is about, who the people in this story are."

This isn't the same as giving away the entire premise or plot upfront. Instead, it creates an atmosphere of trust that engages readers and encourages them to read on.

Poets often say that poetry is all about imagery. At first blush, may sound like poets craft their pieces only for the senses, not for substance. But when an image accurately conveys what the poet intended, substance is implied.

The corollary for the writer is a well-grounded scene that reveals character and advances plot, preferably both at once. Even misleading scenes, when done intentionally and well, have their place. Where would mysteries and thrillers and thrillers be without them?

One surprising aspect of poetry that's just as useful to prose writers is the artful ability to persuade. Small, subtle words like "so" and "for" and "since", unobtrusive in their commonality, are woven into a poem’s fabric to draw the reader to the poet's perspective. From there, the message conveyed through language is conjured by words that rise gently from the page to form a picture in the reader's mind.

And for poets and prose writers alike, if there is no image, there is no scene, and if there is no scene there is no story.

Often accused of being inaccessible, poetry isn't always understandable. Neither are people, or life. Yet, even when understanding doesn't arise, images still appear, with the intentionality of the chosen words giving those images substance.

Whether we read or write poems, prose or both, less is often more, and in such simplicity one often finds rest. 

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
"Auguries of Innocence," William Blake

Happy writing! Adele Annesi is an award-winning author, editor and teacher. For questions on writing, email Adele Annesi. Adele’s new novel is What She Takes Away (Bordighera Press)

Monday, March 13, 2023

The Use of Braided Narrative in Novel-Writing and Memoir

Whether you write fiction or memoir, you’ll eventually need more than one person to help tell your story. Here are considerations for using a braided narrative approach to create a point-counterpoint storyline that’s informed by and greater than the sum of its parts.

A braided narrative is when more than one primary person is involved in telling a story. As with the concept of a braid, the number of people telling the tale usually is limited to two or three. This approach differs from the use of multiple perspectives in these ways:

  • Each person’s contribution to the story is roughly the same length as the others’.
  • Each person’s role in telling the story is generally equal in importance to the others’.
  • There is a clear alternating pattern in who’s telling the story. For example, Person A may present the first three sections, Person B the second three, and Person C the third three. Then the pattern repeats.
  • Although the perspective in memoir won’t change from first person, the story can still be structured based on who else besides the writer figures prominently in the work.

To use braided narrative effectively, consider these steps:

  • List the individuals who will figure most prominently in the story.
  • Next to each, note which part of the story the person will tell, for example, backstory, current events or future outcome, or a combination thereof.
  • Also next to each, note how the person will relate to, compare with and contrast to the other individuals.
  • For fiction, decide the perspective of each character—first, second or third person.
  • For both fiction and memoir, decide whether each person is reliable.
  • As a note, even in memoir, people may have a strong perspective but still be undependable in what they think, feel, say and do.

As you develop your story, consider how the overall function of your braided narrative:

  • Will some parts of the narrative slow the story (pacing) to give the reader time to get to know the people in the story (progression)?
  • If so, how and where will these points occur?
  • How will gender figure into telling the story?
  • For example, how will one person’s perspective and personality illuminate the others’ perspectives and personalities?
  • How will the narrative braids draw the reader in and offer a more complex and satisfying reading experience?

Last, consider how and where in the story the narrators’ lives will intersect:

  • At what points in the story will their lives traverse?
  • What forms will these interactions take, for example, chance meetings, arranged unions or reunions, indirect connections?
  • How will these interactions inform the story and reveal the other people in it?
  • How will the narrators’ thoughts, recollections, emotions and plans effect each other?
  • Where will they diverge, and what will the divergences look like?
  • What will each person learn that wouldn’t have been possible to know without the others?
  • How and where in the story will these revelations occur, and what will their outcome be?
  • What surprises will there be, especially at the end of the story, that wouldn’t have come about without the narrators’ involvement?

For both fiction and memoir, the use of a braided narrative can heighten the contrast between one person’s perspective and another’s, especially when dealing with pivotal life events. A braided narrative can also add diversity in setting, theme, ethnicity, culture, social mores and identity to yield a story rich in nuance, texture and depth, and, most especially, a story that is memorable for the right reasons.

More on Adele’s new novel is What She Takes Away (Bordighera Press), on the warp and weft of family and inspiration:

The weaver's shuttle turns when fabric designer Gia Falcini receives a gift from her estranged father in Italy that sparks a journey to Milan, her father’s hillside village and new stepfamily, and a local fabric mill that could shred Gia's aspirations or offer a legacy worth taking away.

For Adele’s new novel on Amazon, click on What She Takes Away (Bordighera Press).

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The Art of Seeing

A chill winter morning brings a dusting of snow like ashes, a blush across the clouds, a roseate tinge to the bare branches of the maples, as if the world has come into being for the first time, in a long time.

These days are often lived in a fog of activity, a blur. Yet, the writer, as continually aspiring artist, is called not only to look but to see. What is the difference, and why does it make a difference?

Looking is the beginning of seeing, but only the beginning, the precursor, the prelude, as if looking were more concerned with the pragmatic than the soul, the heart.

Seeing takes in — the sting of winter, the dusting of snow on cartops and rooftops, the glow of sunrise — and transforms it into experience. This taking in enables the writer to experience. And experience, when inspired, can become aesthetic, can become art. Without experience, there is insufficient influence on the depths of the creative being.

During a recent meeting with a colleague on the privileges and perils of writing and publication, it quickly became clear we agreed. We don’t sell our wares. We offer our art to the world, however large or small, as a child offers a drawing that can speak more than words of the realities of life.

At the close of the meeting, my colleague and I agreed that despite the woes of bringing a book into today’s world, we will still do readings, seek reviews, attend festivals, speak at gatherings. But we will do these things not in the consumptive manner of today but with the mind and heart of the continual apprentice of the artists’ guilds that produced the master crafters and masterworks still esteemed after the passing of time.

In Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing, author and teacher Roger Rosenblatt noted, “For your writing to be great…it must be useful to the world. And for that to happen you must form an opinion of the world. And for that to happen you need to observe the world, closely and steadily, with a mind open to change. And for that to happen you have to live in the world, and not pretend that it is someone else’s world you are writing about.”

Rosenblatt’s challenge to the writer, the artist, is to not only love and care for the world, broken as it is, but to love the world because the world is worth loving. And for this to happen the writer must not only look but see, not only see but experience, even if experience brings pain, for, “Nothing you write will mater unless it moves the human heart…” [Rosenblatt, att. A.D. Hope]


  • Go to a place that enables you to see — a window, park bench, lakeside log, backyard.
  • Stop. Look. Wait.
  • Stopping means taking time.
  • Looking means opening the eyes and the heart.
  • Waiting means allowing what is taken in to become experience.

Adele Annesi is an award-winning author, editor and teacher. For questions on writing, email Adele Annesi. Adele’s new novel is What She Takes Away (Bordighera Press, 2023).

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Use Techniques from Film to Enhance Your Fiction

If you watch movies on venues like Amazon Prime, you’ve probably seen the X-Ray feature that includes information alongside the film to help viewers understand the story and how the film was made. Paying attention to filmmakers’ techniques also can invigorate your stories, characters and scenes. Knowing a few basic film concepts will further enhance your viewing experience and your ability to use these same concepts in your writing.

A cutaway is a shot that steps away from the main action of the moment. The aim is to create suspense, add information and/or pose a question. To implement this technique in your work, ask yourself:

  • At what point in a scene or the overall story can I organically use this technique to enhance the overall work and the reader’s experience?
  • Did I remember to return to that moment at the right place later in the story to complete the scene and/or answer the question?

Double Reveal
A reveal is an insight, a revelation or new information that impacts the characters and the direction of the story. A double reveal propels plot and reveals characters the way a solid rocket booster thrusts a spacecraft from initial launch through ascent into orbit by allowing the protagonist(s) and the opposing character(s) to gain crucial insights into themselves and each other through direct conflict. To implement this technique, ask yourself:

  • What kind of conflict do the characters in this scene need to spark a major revelation?
  • What will they learn from this that they can’t learn any other way?
  • How will these new insights change each person’s life and the overall story?

Arc Dramatic arc is the shape, path and direction of the story’s action and conflict. The aim here is to create a framework for the development of the story and the characters. To implement this technique:

  • Chart the action of your story, and ask yourself what shape you see, for example, a bell curve or a sharp initial rise in action then a long, steady decline. Where is there a lag?
  • Also ask yourself how the dramatic arc complements and/or contrasts with the character arc(s).

Jump Cut
A jump cut is a scene cut in two, with a section removed, that enables the story to move forward faster and/or smoother than if all the information were supplied. To implement this technique, ask yourself:

  • Does the scene or section still feel complete, with all the essential elements?
  • Is there still sufficient clarity to avoid confusing the reader?

A montage is an editing technique that orders a series of images to condense space, time and information to enhance drama. Types of montages:

  • Metric montages sequence images to the beat of music, for example, to increase suspense.
  • Rhythmic montages cut the images based on musical pacing.
  • Tonal montages cut the images based on their emotional tone and the emotional tone of the overall scene to create a mood and/or spark emotions from the audience.
  • Intellectual montages place different images together to prompt viewers to infer meaning from what they see and to respond emotionally.
  • Overtonal montages combine all of the above to evoke emotions from the audience and compel deep thinking. 

Suspense creates sense of excitement, fear or uncertainty about the events or characters in the story in a way that enhances viewer interest and sets up what comes next. To implement this technique, ask yourself:

  • Where in the story can I organically enhance an existing scene by setting it up for one outcome and providing another?
  • Where in the story or a scene can I create a concern or question in the reader’s mind and withhold the outcome or answer to the question?

If you enjoy films, you can enjoy them more and make better use of your viewing experience by learning how the film was made. Learning more about the craft and art of moviemaking can also give you new direction as a writer and breathe new life into your stories, characters and scenes.

To learn more about how film techniques enhance fiction, check out:
Cinematic Story & Character Techniques for Fiction and Memoir - Online and In-Person
With acclaimed director Joanne Hudson, founder of the Ridgefield Independent Film Festival, and award-winning writer and novelist Adele Annesi.

Cinematic Story & Character Techniques for Fiction and Memoir
Date: Saturday, February 11
Time: 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Venue: Hybrid in-person (at Westport Writers’ Workshop) and online (via Zoom)
Price: $80.00

For questions, email Adele Annesi. Adele’s new novel is What She Takes Away (Bordighera Press, 2023).

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Seven Keys to Writing Memorable Genre Fiction

Seven key elements of writing genre fiction are character, conflict, dialogue, plot, setting, theme and world building. Here are points to ponder from sections of and contributing writers to Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, plus exercises, for speculative fiction and all genre work.

Credibility, by Vincent M. Wales
“One of the most important aspects of a story (and of an author) is credibility. This is an important trait that’s not hard to gain, but easy to lose. And few things can ruin credibility like factual inaccuracy.”

Exercise: Select a favorite novel or short story that includes facts about the story world. Note how these facts impact the story world and help create it.

Creativity on Demand, by Steven Barnes
“The key to brainstorming is that you must give yourself specific permission to come up with absurd answers. Otherwise you will think only in a direct, linear path, and miss the chance of a high-level breakthrough.” 

Exercise: Ask yourself which aspects of your story you’re grappling to present because they seem to fantastical to include. Then consider which characters the story elements impact and how. Begin weaving the realities into a plot list to concretize new directions for your story.

Beginnings and Endings
Begin at the End, by Michael Dillon Scott
“… in my experience, even those [writers] who do not plan their stories have an ending mind and will work toward that particular conclusion … All writing is a journey toward a destination, that final page in the story. Like any journey, it makes perfect sense to begin with a destination in mind. The entire story becomes a lot easier if the ending is written.”

Exercise: Your story may already have a beginning and an end. If so, ask yourself how the two inform each other. Then consider ways to deepen both. If you’re stuck for a beginning, ending or both, consider starting the story in the middle of a scene. To create the scene, sit for a moment, eyes closed, and allow yourself to imagine the scene, no matter how strange it may seem. Let it play out a bit before taking notes.

World Building
Humming the Sets: World Building That Supports the Story, by Melissa Scott
“There’s an old joke about musical theater that seems perennially relevant to discussions on world building … no matter how good a designer you are, no one leaves the show humming the sets … This is part of persuading readers to suspend their disbelief: the buildup of solid, consistent details that seem to follow logically from the choices you’ve made; and to make it work, you have to know your imaginary world inside and out. The other reason for knowing your world in detail is that it helps you learn about your characters … The more you know about the world, the more fine detail you can add to your picture, the better you understand how to shape your characters’ lives and choices.”

Exercise: Ask yourself which aspects of your story or characters is least clear. Then consider why this is and what might be missing that would fill in and clarify the picture.

Leaping into Landscape, by Wendy Mewes
“Take forest, with a dual personality fruitful for fantasy … Shelter also becomes concealment, and the forest’s semi-magical powers of transformation and regeneration challenge our very sense of self. Hidden from the sun, we literally lose direction and the balance of life suddenly shifts. [However] Forest is never destination, but a step on the path, a setting for adventure and challenge.”

Exercise: List the various aspects of your story’s setting. Next to each item note its metaphoric values. Keep the list handy as you revise your work.

Writing Is Seeing, by John Shirley
“Verisimilitude, believability—that’s a key to persuading a reader that what you’re describing is real. Where do you get it? From observation—from observing yourself, people around you, the world around you … Being ‘in the moment’ helps you see things as they are—and it may bring you insight into the human condition … A good writer can find the human dilemma, the human condition, in any situation, because it’s always there, if you’re really looking closely.”

Exercise: List the main character(s) in your story. Next to each list the dilemmas the person faces. Next to each dilemma note the possible outcomes that could result. Consider these realities as you revise your work.

Adele Annesi is an award-winning author, editor and teacher. For questions on writing, email Adele Annesi. Adele’s new novel is What She Takes Away (Bordighera Press, 2023).

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Can You See Me Now: Effective Description in Long-Form Fiction

Throughout the historical fiction novel workshop I’ve been teaching at Westport Writers’ Workshop we’ve been focusing on the seven elements that appear in all fiction but are hallmarks of historical fiction: character, conflict, dialogue, plot, setting, theme and world building.

About halfway through our fall workshop series, one of our writers realized that after weeks of reading her colleagues’ submissions she didn’t know what the characters in the various stories looked like. Nor was she sure that she had rendered her own main character thoroughly enough throughout the story so that her colleagues knew what her main character looked like. We knew what the character was feeling and thinking, but as to physical characteristics—oh, my!

The more we considered the notion of how to depict a character’s physical description, the more we realized how hard it can be to get a sense of how our characters look, not just at the start of the story when we may still be working those details out but also in the key moments of their lives and over the passing of time. So, character descriptions, what to do?

First, to be fair, it has been a busy season for all our novelists, with some lack of continuity in workshop participation and submissions. This isn’t unusual with busy writers who have, well, lives. But one very real downside to lack of continuity is that we sometimes forget how our colleagues’ characters look. Since readers rarely read a novel in one sitting, this is a problem for them, too.

Second, if you’re working in long-form fiction — novel, novella, novelette — at some point you’re in the process of generating pages. This usually means placing a priority on moving the story forward. While this makes sense, one causality of word count and trying to get the plot down is description. Scant descriptions are a reality not only for characters but settings, too.

One way to address description is to consider in the context of two craft elements: characterization and setting. Both of these — who people are (and how they look) and what the story world is (and how it looks) — need to be established from the start of the story. It’s also important to describe characters and settings as they evolve over the course of a story in general and how they appear in key moments in particular. This will draw readers further and further into the story as it unfolds, a key point of reader engagement.

Ongoing description also enables writers to better understand and depict their characters, settings and stories. So, what if we find ourselves with scant descriptions? If we’re working on a first or an early draft of a novel, we can keep in mind that detailed descriptions are often more easily developed in second and subsequent drafts. By then, we’ve made progress in page and word count, and we know the story, setting and people better.

Given the realities of life and rather than break momentum, it’s sometimes best to make notes to ourselves about the importance of characterization and setting as we’re writing. We can do this right in the text as we’re writing or keep a separate list. Then as we revise our work, we can find those places where we need to amplify descriptions of people and places, as appropriate for that point in the story.

Last, we can recall what Janet Burroway said in Writing Fiction: Details are the lifeblood of fiction. To use this craft element well, we must remember two things. Details must be concrete, and they must be germane to what the story is about, its theme. This is why details are often easier to fill in after the first draft.

When it comes to developing our description skills, we can thank our colleagues for their attention to detail and their powers of observation. We can also thank them for not ignoring what may seem obvious but often gets back-burnered for the sake of expediency. This may be the right thing for a first or an early draft. But physical descriptions, especially throughout a longer work of fiction, are critical because they show the passage of time and its effects and the effects of events of the story as well. This will keep readers — and writers – engaged and learning the whole way through.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

New Blog Focus: The Way Art Works — For Writers

For the past fourteen years, Word for Words blog has focused almost exclusively on writing from an editor’s perspective. The focus is now shifting from an editor’s perspective on writing to a writer’s perspective on writing. Here’s why.

First, you’ll notice that the title of the blog looks a bit different. It’s still called Word for Words, but the tag line is a quote from music critic, manager and record producer Jon Landau on the subject of imperfection and art. Here’s the full quote:

“Sometimes the things that are wrong with something are the same things that make that thing great. That’s the way it is in life, and that’s the way art works.”

The quote first appeared on Word for Words in the post “Second Thoughts and the Way Art Works” on March 4, 2018.

But the blog’s focus isn’t shifting to writers’ second thoughts about their work (though the concept will likely appear in a future post). Instead, the focus will be on the artistic side of writing, what that means and how we go from writing project to work of art. We’ll still cover craft. We have to, because “Craft enables art,” as noted by speculative fiction pioneer Ursula K. Le Guin in Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story.

But when we cover craft, it won’t be primarily from an editor’s perspective, since editors often focus on “fixing”. Instead, we’ll consider how a writer sees (or perhaps should see) writing and its varied components, especially those awkward moments and places in our work: as both art and opportunity for exploration and discovery.

The change of focus reflects a change in my own focus, from editing and teaching to writing. I still edit and teach, but with the debut novel What She Takes Away slated for publication by Bordighera Press in June/July 2023 and other novels in the works, I find that my focus is changing, too, because it has to. Here’s an example of an observation on the craft and art of writing.

Recently, a writing student was lamenting the fact that some days their novel-in-progress read like Proust and some days it read like poo. Who hasn’t felt that way? But rather than shut the conversation down with an offhand comment like that, I thought about what the writer said and why most, if not all, writers feel this way at times. (It’s the “why” questions that, difficult though they often are, usually yield the most fruit.)

One reason for the emotional swings we writers go through is that what many of us are actually aiming for is artistry, and we spend a lot of time, energy and budget on that goal. Whether we always articulate it or not, most of us want more than words on a page and a story—we want our words and stories to be memorable, and for the right reasons.

Apart from the fact that artistry comes at a price, not the least of which is the cost of all the opportunities we give up in order to put ourselves out there, some days we don’t recognize that the things that are “wrong” with our work are the things that can make that work great.

Take, for example, live performance. Live performance of any type isn’t perfect, despite our best efforts. But impromptu moments are precisely what make a live experience memorable, moments where an actor ad libs or a musician doesn’t stick to the sheet. It’s these moments, and what they’re made of, that we’ll explore here, including from the perspective of artists in fields besides writing. Because the more I see of other fields like music, the more I’m learning about the craft and art of writing, and other areas of the arts as well.

For the full interview with Bruce Springsteen on The New Yorker Radio Hour, click on Bruce Springsteen Talks with David Remnick.