Friday, March 25, 2016

"Never Give Up!"--The Inspiring Story of Elizabeth Di Grazia's New Memoir

Elizabeth came to my classes a few years ago with her memoir-in-progress.  She was obviously a talented writer, but what struck me even more was her determination to tell this story, and tell it as well as she could.

At my July week-long retreat on Madeline Island, I watched her dismantle her book as she knew it--much writing already completed, but the structure not yet working--and we talked a lot about her options with timelines, backstory and present story, the threading of her life now and her childhood.  She came up with a unique and workable structure during that week and continued building her book through classes and mentorships. 

Not long ago, I got the announcement that her memoir was being published.  House of Fire has just been released by North Star Press. 

I interviewed Elizabeth for the blog this week.

Friday, March 18, 2016

How to Avoid Middle Slumps--Maintaining Tension in Your Story

Tonight I'm chatting with one of my online classes.  Our topic is slumped middles--not in our bodies, but our books.  Many books slide down the tension scale in the middle, as the initial action subsides and the finish line is still far in the distance.

Keeping the middle active and interesting is not easy.  On our chat, we're talking about a few proven techniques for brightening up the middle of your story.

Becky, who reads this blog, sent a great question about slumped middles.  She called this the part where "your character rallies and makes some kind of decision after hitting a low point, and things get a little better."  Yes, that's true, I told her.  The character (or narrator in memoir) will usually fall for a while after the story starts.  Things often get worse.  The character hits a low point and there's a kind of leveling out.  Some writers call this the "first turning point" of the story. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Balancing the Three Key Elements of Story

I was talking with a songwriter friend this weekend about how his songs are put together.  An idea usually comes--about a person, a place he visited, or an experience he had.  He then begins to brainstorm ideas for the lyrics (some songwriters start with melody, but he goes forward from the lyrics).  They start telling a story, using his initial idea. 

If he begins with a person--say, he's writing a love song or a song about heartbreak--he knows eventually he'll also bring in details about where and when, as well as what happened. 

He says that there's a cool alchemy that happens when all three of these elements are in place.  They create synergy with each other.

If he leaves one out, the song just doesn't feel complete. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Essential Tools for the Writer’s Toolbox

This week's post is reprinted from Writer's Block, an online newsletter from the Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis.

As a beginning writer, I pumped friends who were published, trying to find the secrets to writing well. There were plenty, and there were none--depending who you talk to. Some writers say writing can’t be taught, only caught. If you have talent to catch well, you become a good writer.
Talent is a big help. But I’ve coached many writers who were amazingly talented yet never finished their books, stories, or poems; who never believed in their talent enough to send writing into the world. Those who did had more than talent. They had collected a toolbox of craft skills, tangible and intangible. The more complete the toolbox, the more successful the writer.

Intangible skills include stamina, persistence, an ability to release what you know to learn the next skill, and believing in yourself. Intangible skills are gathered through experience, risk, and good mentoring. The longer you write, the more of these you have.