Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's Often What You Don't Say That Counts--A Weekly Writing Exercise about Negative Space

Painters know the concept of “negative space.” I learned it in art school. Negative space is everything that is not the main object in a still life or portrait.
(If you can't imagine this, picture a painter getting ready to capture three yellow apples on a fuscia plate, with blue cloth as background. To the painter, the apples are the main objects. Plate and blue cloth are negative space.)

Negative space is kind of like what's not said in your book.  Sometimes this speaks louder than your words.  The silences, the spaces between things.  The hum of what's unspoken brings more tension.  Especially true for memoir and fiction. 
You have to have the main object and the negative space in constant conversation in a painting; although some experimental artists disagree, I’ve found one doesn’t work as well without the other. The apples in my painting above, without plate or cloth on the table, float in space, unanchored and possibly unbelievable. And without the plate's intense background, the apples' luminous golden color would not be as sharply defined and contrasted. Negative space serves to define and illuminate the main focus.

So it is in book writing.

Consider a chapter of your book-in-progress this week.  List everything that's not being said.  Is it creating absences of tension or omission? 

Then ask yourself about the negative space in your life:  How does your book writing co-exist within your life? Is there a conversation going on?  What kind?  One of harmony and back and forth acceptance?  Or one of conflict, avoidance, irritation?

Spend 10 minutes writing about negative space, both in your book and in the relationship between your life and your writing.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Brainstorm Your Way to a Book! Simple List-Making Technique Works for Fiction or Nonfiction

A book could be just a list away.  This week's exercise encourages you to start a simple list in your writing notebook:  possible topics you could write about. 

Ask yourself, What could become a scene or section or small moment in my book?

Your challenge:  add three items to your list each day this week.  Watch your book build.

Go wild:  Allow yourself to include things that don’t seem to fit, like a color, image, snapshot memory, dream, desire, smell, favorite meal. Use your own special shorthand and descriptors to jot these ideas down. Choose image-rich words, if you can, so your imagination will be triggered when you read them. The most successful brainstorming lists immediately put the writer into a scene full of senses.

Examples from my current novel's list:

red stain in the carpet
nighttime trees in the orchard behind Molly's (main character's) house
Molly saying no to Lisa--finally

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Do Book Writers Need the Right Brain More Than Other Writers?

How do you use your right brain as a book writer?  The right brain brings a writer ideas for theme, emotion, and deeper levels of meaning in a book. The challenge is to activate it.

This week's writing exercise:  Take five minutes to watch this amazing video.  Let your right brain follow the shapes and movement, then write for 10 minutes.  Do new levels emerge?  Does your writing change (and your blood pressure lower)? Click here to try this exercise.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Writing Exercise of the Week--Ethan Canin's Storyboarding

A blog reader from Minnesota sent in this great link to an interview with author Ethan Canin (America, America)--where he talks about his writing process. He storyboards (one of the main techniques I teach in my writing classes). She writes, "He uses color-coded index cards on a big piece of foam core. Neat!"

Click here to view and listen.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Weekly Writing Exercise--Your Minimum Daily Requirements for Getting Your Book Written!

It's back-to-school time. I can smell those sharpened pencils. Are you set up for getting back to your book?

This week, think about what you would need to have in place, in your life, to get your book started, to keep going, to finish it. Be very specific.

Examples from writers in my book-writing weekly classes:

privacy (where my daughter can't use my computer)
dedicated time to write each week/each day
kind and helpful feedback (not from my mother or spouse!)
supplies--pens that work, legal pads, computer paper
resources for research and inspiration
a laptop that works
writing schedule I can live with
respect from my family--permission to be alone
better goals

Pick one area you could improve on this week. What's one small step you could take? Even a small movement forward helps free us up on this amazing book-writing journey.

Share other mimimum requirements you've discovered.