Friday, August 28, 2020

Using the Storyboard for Short Pieces as Well as Long

Lila came to my remote "learn to storyboard your book" class to work on her novel. Recently, she emailed me, wondering if storyboards also were useful when planning shorter pieces, such as short stories or essays. "I often know how I want to start and end a short story," she wrote me, "but the part in the middle gets a little foggy. I like the idea of using a W structure but I also don't have much time to have 3 turning points. So maybe it's just a V?"
In my short stories, I also (usually) know where I want to begin and end. And Lila's right, that there's a lot less time to develop a full storyboard. But if I look carefully at my most successful short stories and essays, I can see at least the five main points of the storyboard in action.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Dealing with the Emotions of Writing Tough Memories

Several clients have emailed me lately, asking how to deal with the flood of emotions that comes with writing memoir.
"Memories bring back the feelings, especially traumatic ones, and I get stalled out with my writing," said one client recently. "Do you have any tips for handling these overwhelming emotions so I can keep writing?"

I'm very familiar with that internal flood. When I was writing How to Master Change in Your Life, a spirituality/self-help hybrid, I remember working on a chapter about business failure and bankruptcy. Reliving that terrible time was so difficult, I actually had to run to the bathroom and throw up. Other times I'd get so stuck, I couldn't write one word.

Two things were happening: I was processing what I hadn't finished. And, at the same time, I was trying to get enough of a perspective to tell the story for others.

This double duty affected me on so many levels, I sought help. Talking about the events with others, especially a therapist, helped the processing part. I moved through shame and sadness, anger and fear, to gradual acceptance.

I also got great help from resources like The Tapping Solution, my daily spiritual practice, and chanting. These helped dispel some of the intensity and lift me above the constant mental chewing over what had happened (here's a short video on a chant that helped me the most--and I still use every day, especially now).

Friday, August 14, 2020

Distant Dialogue: Pros and Cons of Including Emails, Letters, Social Media Posts, Texts, Phone Calls, and Journal Excerpts in a Book

Voices are only a small part of human communication. We read emotions via gestures, eye movement, and facial expressions, as well. In books, you can add setting to the mix--whatever the character notices in her environment emphasizes the emotion she's feeling. It's a rich mix.

I often hear from students who want to include letters, diary entries, texts, or social media posts in their stories. Can you do this, they ask, without losing the reader? And how much is too much?

Friday, August 7, 2020

Honing Your Dialogue-Writing Skills--And Learning When Not to Use It

I love writing dialogue. I've taken classes on how to craft it, where to put it to break up and add rhythm to a scene. I see dialogue-writing skills needed across the board now, not just in fiction but also memoir and nonfiction.

Dialogue isn't easy to write well. Last week I talked about it being one of the red flags that editors use to spot an amateur writer. Maybe it's because beginning writers use dialogue more as a vehicle to deliver information. They don't understand its primary purpose: to increase tension and emotion in a scene.

I learned dialogue-writing many years ago, via a two-step method that serves me well today.

Step 1: Learn to listen to how human beings talk--and how they don't listen to each other.

Step 2: Learn to pare down the real-life dialogue into dialogue that works on the page.