Free WRITING For Free

WinR profile picJackie Houchin is a Christian writer, book reviewer, and retired photojournalist. She writes articles and reviews on a variety of topics, and occasionally edits manuscripts. She also dabbles in short fiction. “I’m a wife (52 years in Feb/2016), a mom, and a grandma (of adults, sigh!). I enjoy creating Bible craft projects for kids; growing fruits, flowers, and veggies; and traveling to other countries. I also adore cats and kittens and mysteries.”    Follow Jackie on Morning Meditations and Here’s How it Happened

What comes to your mind when you think of free writing?

Do you think of finding a word, idea, scene or photo, and putting your pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and… writing whatever comes to mind? (I did that once about salt from a photo of a vintage restaurant saltshaker, giving the condiment a personality. It turned out pretty cool, I thought!)

Or does free writing mean penning something “on spec” which is a fancy way of saying that no money is involved. Or, if you are a newbie writer, maybe you volunteer your services for articles, blog posts, interviews, fillers, etc., for experience and to accumulate “clips.”

Freeing Willie

“Free Writing” – that mind-over-matter, staring-into-space writing that begins with a prompt – is often used by writers and novelists who experience writer’s block, as a way to prime the pump. However it happens, once you get your creative juices or muses moving, your other WIP seems to suddenly take on new life. (And no, my muse’s name is not Willie!)

FREE writing3This kind of free writing invigorates your thought process, sparks ideas that catch fire and burn down forests of paper!! (Sorry, I got a little carried away.)

You don’t have to be “stuck” to make use of free writing. Some writers write from a prompt daily in a journal designated for that purpose. Not only does it kick start their writing, but they archive a huge number of ideas in the process to use later. (See a list of websites at the end that feature prompts for writers.)

Don’t write right

Another method of free writing (I love this one and have recommended it often, but no one ever tries it… or at least has told me they’ve tried it) is to use a left/right brain strategy.  (You have to use a pen or pencil for this one.)

Choose a photo, or even an advertisement from a magazine with at least two people in it, and some background. With your dominant hand, write a brief account of what is happening in the scene (other than the obvious ad line). Include background, clothes, colors, expressions, relationship possibilities, etc.

NEXT, switch hands and write about the same scene with your non-dominant hand.  I was told that your brain will notice different details and story possibilities from the “other” hand’s POV. I didn’t believe it, but I tried it. I was amazed! I did it again using a painting of a village scene this time and the same thing happened!

Try it.  Do.  Then email me (or comment below) the results.

Money Ain’t Everything

FREE writing5The other type of free writing that most wordsmiths don’t like to consider, is writing FOR FREE; not charging a fee, gratis, a lot of work for no pay. Some do it for the experience and to get a name and byline which they can later barter. They think of it as a rite of passage, paying their dues, a necessary evil. (Hey, I love clichés.)

But I bet you’ve done free writing and didn’t even realize it. How about that guest blog? (Okay, you pumped your book.) What about being so wowed by a book you just read, you ran to Amazon or Goodreads and posted a glorious review?

Unless your own blog has a commercial aspect, every post there is virtually free.

FREE editing1How about volunteering to critique or edit a friend’s manuscript? (I edit papers by seminary students in Africa and it is very gratifying.) Or mentoring a newbie writer? (I’m doing that for a friend who’s attempting her first memoir.) How about writing a note of encouragement to an author who’s just lost her editor or publisher, or gotten a stinky review?

These kind of projects are definitely in the “feel good” category but they are still writing. They are lucrative in a non-monetary way, and sometimes the payoff is astounding.

The Bottom Line

Writers write… however and whenever, for whomever, and for whatever pay. They write. WE write.

So WRITE FREE and see what happens.

 

Websites with writing prompts: scene setups, situations, words, and photos:

http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts – scenes

http://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/ – brief suggestions

https://dailypost.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/365-days-of-writing-prompts-1387477491.pdf – each day

http://www.writingforward.com/writing-prompts/creative-writing-prompts/25-creative-writing-prompts –  brief ideas

http://writeshop.com/creative-writing-photo-prompts-imagination/  – photos

http://writingexercises.co.uk/random-image-generator.php – very cool! a new photo prompt with each click of your mouse.

 

How to Write a Killer Opening

 

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A former private detective and reporter for a small weekly newspaper, G.B.Pool writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” “How To Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line.” For more information about Gayle and her books, visit her website.

 

 

Whether you are writing a novel, short story, or screenplay, you want to open your story with a BANG!

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 The Most Important Lesson:

If you want to give yourself a better chance to have your short story, novel or screenplay picked up by an agent, a publisher, or a producer, you have to get their attention FAST. If you are lucky, an agent/publisher will read your first chapter. Usually they will just read the first few pages or maybe only the first paragraph. This holds true for a short story that you might submit to a contest. Agents get 50 manuscripts a day and they are looking for any excuse to toss your work into the round file. You want to make your opening a GRABBER.

Make sure the opening scene has some relevance to the rest of the story, whether it actually figures into the plot or echoes the theme. Opening in a beautiful flower garden better reveal a dead body in the posies. Or hearing about a long ago train wreck better foretell another “train wreck.”

What exactly does an Opening Line/Paragraph/Scene in a Short Story, Novel or Screenplay do?

  1. Sets the TONE of the story
  2. Establishes the GENRE
  3. States the PROBLEM
  4. It might hint at the SOLUTION
  5. Gets you into the action FAST

The Opening should do 2, 3 or all of these things.

 When the OPENING Sets the Tone (funny/mysterious/adventure/children’s lit/chick lit/geezer lit). Don’t start out funny and turn it into a slasher film.

EXAMPLE: I couldn’t believe they found Brad’s body. I thought I buried him deeper.                  “A Role to Die For” by G.B.Pool

             This opening has dark humor; absolutely no remorse (Tone); it’s probably a mystery (Genre); it starts right in the middle of the beginning (Fast); and the reader will want to know if the killer gets caught (Problem).

 

EXAMPLE: When TONE is established by VOICE

Archie Wright’s the name. Dishing dirt’s the game. My sandbox: Hollywood. The most glamorous and glitzy, vicious, and venomous playground in the world. If you come for a visit, bring your sunscreen and your shark repellent. If you come to stay, let me warn you, Tinsel Town eats up and spits out a hundred just like you every day. Sometimes it isn’t pretty, but it’s my job to chronicle the ebb and flow of the hopeful, the helpless, and the hapless. My best stories come from the dark side of Glitzville.   “Glitzville” by G.B. Pool

      This opening is written in first person which is very one-on-one (Tone); the glib Hollywood-eze sets the Genre; there is a little dark humor, too. (Tone).

  

  1. When the OPENING Establishes the Genre – Mystery, Romance, Children’s Lit, Chic Lit, Geezer Lit, Women’s Fiction, Adventure.

EXAMPLE:

East Berlin – 24 December 1964 – 4:00 p.m.

Why does it always rain when I’m in Berlin? Ralph Barton thought, feeling the oppressive dampness close in around him.            The Odd Man by G.B. Pool

       This opening classifies itself as historical, Cold War story (Genre); the very nature makes it a taught, spy drama (Tone).

 

EXAMPLE:

Frank Madison rode the Monorail to work.

The used Cadillac Eldorado he bought six years earlier came with a stack of options, most of which didn’t work. The gas tank was currently empty, and so was his wallet, so the mint green boat sat at the curb near his place and he took public transportation.

The Santa Claus Singer” by G.B. Pool

But in this example, the opening doesn’t set the genre. It does set the TONE. We have a down-on-his-luck guy riding the Monorail (Mono means: one/lonely). It does state a PROBLEM: the guy doesn’t have much money.

Here is another way to set the Genre for this story: Write a GRABBER book blurb

 

EXAMPLE:

An out-of-work lounge singer ends up playing Santa Claus at the mall and makes a very sick young girl a promise that could cost him everything, but sometimes the best gift you can give is yourself.

The BLURB classifies this as a holiday story (Genre); How is this guy gonna overcome his situation? (Problem).

      Another way to set the Genre so the reading public knows what type of book you have written: Have the book’s COVER fit the story you are telling.

      If you have a publisher who wants to design the cover without your help, write a killer book blurb to capture the essence of your story and/or make sure your OPENING reflects the type of book you are writing. These might be the only times you have input.

      You can always submit a few cover ideas yourself. Just make sure you know what your story is about.

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 The Opening can State the Problem.

  1. When the blurb tells us it’s a mystery… (Genre)

            EXAMPLE: When a body turns up at a local dam, P.I. Gin Caulfield has to get to the bottom of it, but the bottom can be very deep.

 

  1. The Opening gets us into the story Fast/Sets up Problem:

EXAMPLE:

“How long has he been in the water?” I asked, knowing by the bloated, blue body it was too long. What was left of the corpse’s clothes had shredded, exposing large masses of distended flesh.

“More than a week,” said the sheriff’s deputy. “It got itself tangled in the bramble caught against the rocks down there. If you hadn’t noticed it bobbing up, it could have been there a lot longer. Good call, lady.”

I turned away.

            No, my friend, it was a lousy call. I hate finding dead bodies. No matter what they show on TV, private detectives don’t like corpses. We like the hunt… the chase… the capture. If everybody is still breathing at the end, great. If somebody’s dead, we hope it’s the other guy… or gal. I have seen my share of bad women. We’re not all Betty Crocker.                        Damning Evidence by G.B. Pool

In this opening we have a female detective (Genre); she’s probably been around the block a few times (Tone); she has a conscience and a cynical sense of humor. (Tone); the dead body (is the Problem).

 

  1. The Opening alludes to the Ending or the Solution/Payoff, so you come full circle when you get to the end.

 

EXAMPLE of an OPENING: “I already told you. I met the guy in a bar. We got to talking. Somehow he knew I’d been in trouble with the law before.”

****

EXAMPLE of the ENDING: “Perhaps you would like to speak to a lawyer now, Mr. Harrison?” said the cop.                                                 “The Big Payoff” by G.B. Pool

 

The OPENING shows a guy used to being in trouble. The ENDING sees that he has been talking to a cop about a crime all along, though I never mentioned the other guy was a cop until the last word in the story.

HINT: HOOK the READER with a compelling reason to continue reading; have an “out-of-whack” event; something that changes the protagonist’s world view profoundly and the reader just has to know what happens next.

Example:

John Smith didn’t know he was an amnesiac. He discovered that and the fact he was married to two women when one of them turned up dead.

  1. The opening gives us 4 things that change John’s world-view: he’s an amnesiac, he was married, to two women, one is dead.
  2. the dead wife drops this into the mystery Genre and sets up the Problem.

 

     The best way to make sure you are opening your story with a BANG is to go over the 5 Elements to any story – Plot, Character, Dialogue, Setting, and the Point of the Story – The Point is the most important. No Point – Why write it?

     The POINT should be reflected in your OPENING!

     Are you writing about Man against Man, Man against Nature, Man against Himself. Good vs. Evil?

  1. Use that OUTLINE that lists all the major plot points & characters.
  2. Ask yourself: Am I covering all the bases?
  3. Reread the story and ask yourself: Does this make sense?
  4. Does the Opening grab the reader and make him want to read more?
  5. Does the Ending fit the Opening?
  6. Does the Title fit the major theme of the story?
  7. Does the Cover fit the story?

 

Take another look at your story and see if these questions have been answered. If it does, you will have a Killer Opening to your story.

 The AAnatomy  Book Covernatomy of a Short Story Workbook will be out this summer on Amazon. It’s a great way to analyze your story whether it’s a novel, screenplay or short story. It will help with your Opening and your Ending and everything in between.

 

CANNIBALIZING YOUR LIFE

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Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

CANNIBALIZING YOUR LIFE

One of my favorite quotes, attributed variously to writers Philip Roth and W. Somerset Maugham, is this: “Nothing bad can ever happen to a writer. It’s all material.”

I take comfort in that reminder when bad things happen in my life; at least I might someday squeeze a story out of the experience. I might think, “So this is what it’s like to be stuck in a hospital ER.” Or “So this is what it feels like to watch someone you love get sick and die.”

Do you ever find yourself taking notes, mental or otherwise, during some traumatic event?

Not to be morbid, but those moments of sheer pain or grief or terror, if captured when they’re fresh, can add depth and authenticity to your writing.

Many years ago, my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Inoperable. She was in her 70’s and knew she didn’t want chemotherapy, so she entered a hospice program. As I watched her fade away, sometimes in terrible pain, sometimes in a morphine fog, I didn’t jot notes in my journal as I sat by her bed. But when the dreadful process was over and she’d been laid to rest, I did journal the experience. The entries weren’t poetic or well thought out, but my raw emotions seeped onto the page so that years later I could pull out my journal and refresh my memory—from a safer distance.

I fictionalized my mother’s dying in my novel Mending Dreams—not to capitalize on her suffering but to try and redeem it, to acknowledge her courage. Many people who read the book have told me, “I could tell you’d been there. I have, too.” I like to think they derived some comfort from knowing they weren’t alone, from understanding “It’s not just me. Other people have felt this, too.”

Writing about life’s darkest moments gives me a slight sense of control and helps me get a handle on my pain or grief or anger or fear. And using personal experience, even if I disguise it, adds a layer of credibility to my writing.

Knowing I might eventually write about a painful incident, I try to be more observant. If I’m going to go through this experience, at least I can record it, do it justice, and convert it to something useful after my emotions have cooled.

I’m not the only writer to do this. Here’s another quote, from the late Nora Ephron, a writer I truly admire: “Everything is copy.”

She should know—she turned the failure of her marriage to Carl Bernstein into a very witty memoir, Heartburn, which went on to become a hit movie. And she was able to give her ex a little payback for the infidelity that wrecked their marriage.

So what about the flip side? Does this mean that nothing truly good can happen to a writer? I don’t think so. I journal many peak experiences too, and try to capture the good feelings before they dissipate. Those entries come a little easier.

Heck, you know life’s going to throw us some curves. We might as well use them to make ourselves stronger writers.

 

 

 

A Literary Journey in England by Rosemary Lord

06694-rosemaryatburbanklibraryjpgRosemary wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House!

She has been writing ever since.

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now,  English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.

A Literary Journey

I didn’t intend it this way. It just happened. I was visiting my family in England on what, I reflected later, turned into a very literary journey. ……

Firstly, as I travelled the tube (subway), trains and buses, I was surprised to see so many passengers reading. Actual books. Hard backs and paperbacks – and some kindles. Ian McEwan, John Grisham, John Le Carre,  Lee Childs, Linda Green were some authors I noticed. On a lighter side were Santa Montefiore, JoJo Moyes, Dawn French and Fiona Gibson. An interesting, different selection from what we see in L.A.

A stop British Library on Euston Road, where purses or bags go in a locker. No pens/pencils allowed either – in case you have an urge to doodle on the Gutenberg Bible.

Catching up with my friend Marie Rowe, we wandered around Seven Dials, near Covent Garden. Agatha Christie wrote, The Mystery of Seven Dials. Then to Foyle’s Bookshop, famous for Literary Luncheons. Moved down the road from its’ 100 year old,  rickety, wood-lined shop, it now gleams white and chrome and boasts 4 miles of book shelves. Across the road is the site of Marks and Co, the antiquarian bookshop star of the movie 84 Charing Cross Road. It closed in 1970 and is now a MacDonald’s.

limehouse
A Limehouse victim?

My brother Ted and I took the Docklands Light Railway to Limehouse in London’s East End. The setting for many historic mysteries, Limehouse – on the northern banks of the Thames – is the former site of China Town and opium dens. Remember the jazzy Limehouse Blues? Thomas Burke wrote Limehouse Nights, Dickens set books here and Peter Ackroyd  wrote Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem.

The Docklands were reclaimed and developed in the 1980 s  with smart high-rises and apartments. Vintage narrow-boats moor next to fancy yachts.

Walking back along the Thames, the river bank is littered with flotsam and jetsam – where many literary bodies are washed up. The Prospect of Whitby in Wapping was a  smugglers’ haunt. Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens imbibed here. On the sands behind, the gibbet where pirates were hung, remains. Further along, at London Bridge, are Nancy’s Steps, where Dickens had Bill Sykes chase poor Nancy in Oliver Twist.

Another day took us to Oxford, setting for Colin Dexter’s novels about Inspector Morse – and the historic Bodleian Library.

Next, a family outing to Rudyard Kipling’s House, Batemans, in Sussex. He was 36 and world-famous when he found this 33 acre estate. Now a National Trust property, we saw the room where he wrote the Just So Stories, Kim, Puck of Pook’s Hill and more. His large writing table overlooks a serene garden. His Nobel Prize on the mantle-shelf, the faded sofa is where Kipling lay in writing mode. Inspired, he would jump up and hand-write pages. His secretary would later type out his words on the small portable typewriter that sits on a side desk.

He wrote The Jungle Book when he lived in Virginia with his American-born wife, Caroline. Kipling was born in India, his great inspiration.

England was freezing, so my siblings and I flew to sunnier climes in the Peloponnese, Greece. Perfect, sunny weather. We visited the village where Nicolas Katzenzakis wrote the book based on local character, Zorba, who found celluloid fame with an iconic dance on the beach.

We visited the house of the late English writer and war hero, Patrick Leigh Furmor. ‘Paddy’ wrote successful books about The Mani, this area of southern Greece. The film Ill Met By Moonlight, starring Dirk Bogard, was about his wartime heroics.  His overgrown, red-tiled villa on a pebbly beach off the beaten track, is presently being prepared to open as a museum.

I could go on. It was a wonderful trip and over too soon. But I returned to Hollywood with a case full of books and a replenished Kindle. Travel is supposed to broaden the mind. For me, it feeds my soul.

 

DIVERSITY MATTERS

by Bonnie Schroeder
 
Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.
 
The recent uproar over the lack of non-white nominees for the Academy Awards got me thinking, because I seldom explicitly depict people of color in my books and stories. I don’t think I’m a racist, so why is that?
First off, although I have many friends who are Black, Asian and Latino, I don’t think of them by that label. I think of them as my friend who was with me during a traumatic purge at our former employer, or my gal pal who shares my love of classical music. And so on.
Therefore, I don’t often assign a racial label to the characters I write about. Many of my characters could be black or green or blue or purple, but it’s not relevant so I don’t go into it.
Should I?
The reason I ask is that our books and stories are often source material for films and television programs, so in a sense, diversity starts with the writers. But is it myjob to impose diversity? I’m not sure.
When I was working in the business world, I certainly enjoyed a diverse assortment of co-workers, many of whom became close friends. Then I retired and spent more and more time in my home community, which has a predominantly White population. I didn’t notice the change at first, preoccupied as I was with making the transition from worker bee to independent writer.

Then I joined a Tai Chi class at the local Y, and the first people to welcome me were an Asian couple. The teacher was Black. A graceful Filipina taught me some of the moves. Suddenly, my world grew more colorful again—no pun intended there, or maybe it is. And I realized how I’d missed hanging out with people who didn’t look or talk like me. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.

We need variety and color in our lives; it enriches us and makes the world more interesting. The universe offers a panorama of colors, shapes, sizes, sounds, tastes and smells to experience.
But back to my question: should I be more explicit in my character descriptions to make it clear that the protagonist or her friend or her boss is a particular race or color? Is there a way to denote ethnicity—to make my writing more polychromatic—without being obvious or patronizing?
After all, despite the self-important proclamations of certain performers, Hollywood would be nothing without the written word. So to circle back to my original premise, your book or my short story might be the starting point.
Sometimes the story or the situation demands a character be a certain race, but often he or she could be any race, at least in my stories. Then the reader can decide for himself or herself if the character is Black or Asian (or Martian.)

 

Weigh in with youropinion on this admittedly tricky subject. Do you consciously include a variety of ethnicities in your writing? Do you think it’s a good thing to do? Or is it better to let the reader fill in the blanks and imagine a character in any color they want?

The Value of Critique Groups

THE VALUE OF CRITIQUE GROUPS 
by Miko Johnston
Did you know that Writers in Residence began as a critique group? Gayle, Bonnie, Rosemary, the Jackies and I met monthly to discuss one member’s set of pages. Although we all benefited from the peer review, we grew to enjoy each other’s company and finally accepted that work interfered too much with play. From then on we became a social group, meeting monthly for lunch and conversation. We relegate critiquing to a by request as needed basis (to which we always say yes).
As much as I enjoy getting together with my WinR friends, which now includes Kate and Madeline, I must credit their critiques for my success as a published author. Aside from their helpful comments to me, evaluating their work sharpened my ability to judge my own. Critique groups have been invaluable in my personal life as well. Last year I moved from California to Washington, where I knew no one. After spending over a week alone in my house, I researched local writing groups and found one in my new hometown. The members welcomed me and since then we’ve become good friends.  I also belong to two other groups dedicated to critique – one strictly online, one in-person.
Membership in a writers group can provide support, encouragement and networking opportunities for the independent writer. You’re probably aware of the national organizations that champion a popular genre like romance or mystery. However, if you want to join a critique group, here are some things to consider:
There are two basic types – public and private. Public groups tend to be large organizations like the Ventura County Writers Club, Whidbey Island Writers Association, and the recently defunct Alameda Writers Group.  They hold monthly general meetings featuring a guest speaker and offer various special interest groups – SIGs – geared to a specific genre of writing. You pay an annual membership fee, which entitles you to participate in their SIGs. The group I found in Washington, Just Write, is a unique public group anyone can attend. We gather once a week at a coffeehouse with our notepads or computers and just write for two hours. Afterward, we head to a nearby pub to socialize.
Members of public groups who want more autonomy or have different aspirations often form private groups like WinR. Membership is by invitation only and usually requires a probation period, where the newbie participates in a set number of critiquing sessions before presenting his or her own work.  Some private groups meet in person, where members read their work aloud. Others exchange pages online and email their comments to the author.
Which type of group is better? That depends on what you need. I always recommend public groups for beginners – if you’re interested in writing but haven’t done much, if you’re unsure of what genre suits you, if you’re unsure if you truly want to write. Public group SIGs host a variety of skill levels. You can experiment with different genres to find one you like. You’ll learn a lot very quickly, for you’ll get to read some awful stuff. Since membership tends to fluctuate you’ll interact with many more writers and get a broad diversity of opinions in these groups. Best of all, if you find other members with whom you’re simpatico, you can start your own group.
If you’re well on your way to publishing or have published already, then consider a private group. Working with people you know builds trust and you minimize overexposure of your pre-published manuscripts. There is some debate as to whether it’s better to limit a group to a specific genre. I think that makes sense if you’re working outside mainstream fiction, particularly controversial or quirky sub-genres that traditionalists might not ‘get’. Otherwise seek or form a mixed genre group comprised of writers with a comparable skill level.
Writing is such a solitary endeavor we often get lost in our own head. It helps to connect with like-minded people who can spot the glitches in our work that we sense but can’t quite see.  So does sharing a common goal, whether it’s completing that first novel or getting it published.
Do you, or did you ever, belong to a writers critique group? Share your experiences with us.