What is True? What is Creative?


A writer honors the creative nonfiction contract by not presenting anything as fact that he or she doesn’t know to be fact. To comply with the contract, and earn readers’ trust, the writer signals when a bit of info is, in fact, not factual. 

As you read “Good Things” identify the words and phrases I used to signal what I was imagining and interpreting as opposed to what information is factual.

Good Things

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“Mrs. Clair K. Decker.”

“Mrs. Clair K. Decker.”

Grandma had fountain-penned her new name in graceful letters on the canvas covers of a recipe booklet. The cover shows a nifty illustration of a youthful woman and tendrils of art nouveau steam wafting out of bowls.

Every four years or so, I pull “Good Things to Eat and How to Prepare Them” off my cupboard shelf and contemplate selling it. Or even donating it. Copyrighted in 1906, the 80-page collection of “more than 250 choice recipes” had cost 15 cents in the early 1900s.

Enjoying the feel of the soft, yellowed pages, I learn that “whether dinner is served at noon or at night it is the hearty meal of the day,” and try to imagine Grandma – whom I was told married Clair when she was 12 – preparing Stuffed Potatoes and Banana Salad.

My imagination fails. Those weren’t dished up at her extra-long oak dining table. Pancakes, I remember, and turkey with bread stuffing. But they’re not in this slim volume.

I leaf though the booklet again, this time with a purpose. I’m looking for the most splattered pages as a clue to what recipes she might have favored as a new housewife.

Desserts. Brown stains freckle the dessert pages. The chapter subtitle is, “ ‘Pretty Little Tiny Kickshaws.’ Shakespeare.” Kickshaws? Might Strawberry Sago be a kickshaw? Or Orange Pudding? Custard Pie?

Custard Pie! I do remember that kickshaw.

I also remember that Grandma hunted deer and went trout fishing with Grandpap. Together they raised potatoes, gladioli and three children.

One page in “Good Things to Eat” depicts the components of an eight-piece place setting arranged just so. The accompanying instructions are stiff with exacting adverbs: carefully, perfectly, squarely.

For the good of the marriage, Katie Kendall must have learned to compromise early on. You only had to notice Clair’s Camels, stinking cigarette lighter and rattlesnake tail buttons on the kitchen windowsill to know that. And what grandchild could forget that gawd-awful sound of his phlegm projectiles?

Once, when she didn’t know I was within earshot, Grandma described someone as being “full of piss and vinegar!” in a voice that sounded, to my young ears, admiring, envious perhaps. I’d hoped I would become a grownup full of those key ingredients.

I tucked the booklet back onto the shelf.

Did I comply with the creative nonfiction contract?

By Beth Fowler, author of “Ken’s War.” Visit https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.

 

“It’s Good” Isn’t Good Enough

Good critiques help writers improve

Good critiques help writers improve

Have you ever written something that you worked on for a while, then asked for feedback? And the reader said, “It’s good.” Period. That feedback, while pleasant, isn’t especially helpful to a writer who is hungry to make his or her writing shine.

Here is a Critique Form that will help generate useful critiques that lead to better writing.

Writers’ Critique Sheet

You don’t have to comment on every item, however the more feedback you provide, the more valuable your critique will be to your fellow writer and the more you’ll learn about good writing.

Be respectful. Be specific. Be helpful.

Author’s name: _______________________ Title of work: __________________

  • What (if anything) “hooked” you at the beginning?

 

  • How long did it take for you to figure out the setting?

 

  • Is progress/movement/change conveyed? Progress might have been a person literally moving from point A to B or an emotional shift or a new insight.

 

  • How smoothly are transitions between paragraphs handled?

 

  • Which senses does the piece stimulate? (sight, sound, smell, tactile, taste)

 

  • How is the pacing? Slow, varied, fast.

 

  • Were strong verbs used instead of weak verbs? (i.e. strutted, sidled, eased, tiptoed versus walked.)

 

  • How is the balance between showing and telling? (Showing: “Jay slammed his fist into the wall.” Telling: Jay was angry.)

 

  • Do facts and data support and elucidate or bog the piece down?

 

  • How satisfying is the end?

 

  • How does the piece make you feel?

 

  • What did you learn?

 

  • Where does it leave you wanting more? What are you curious about that is unexplained?

 

  • In hindsight, is the title appropriate?

 

  • Other comments:

 

Article by Beth Fowler, author of the beloved coming-of-age novel “Ken’s War.”

Visit https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQjZBjqFNzs&feature=youtu.be

 ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.

 

Beth Fowler headshot

 

 

Housebreaking Pet Words

Every writer has pet words. Tabitha King’s pets in The Trap are hooked and hauled, as in “She hooked off her socks,” and “He hauled his boots on.” Strong verbs used in unconventional waysare refreshing until they’re overworked and become annoying to readers.

Pronouns, one breed of pets, are especially vague. “I hate and mistrust pronouns, every one of them as slippery as a fly-by-night personal-injury lawyer,” writes Stephen King in ­On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. And in The Book Alan Watts refers to the pronoun it is a spook, as in “It’s raining outside.” What exactly is it?

King, Watts and other successful authors use it when it’s unavoidable or natural sounding. Character dialogue, for example, sounds natural with a sprinkling of the neuter, singular pronoun.

Read the rest of this blog Housebreak Pet Words

http://www.dgdriver.com/write-and-rewrite

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ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.

 

 

 

Stop Barking! Tone and Facial Expressions by Mysti Parker

81Po2epTiXL._SL1500_By guest blogger & author Mysti Parker

Of the many things I learned from Deb Dixon’s “Goal, Motivation, Conflict” Workshop workshop, this quote stuck with me the most:

“You can do anything in writing, as long as you do it well.”

I struggle with describing how characters sound and their facial expressions. If I had a nickel for every time one of my critique partners said, “But how does (s)he sound when they say this?” and “What does his/her face look like right now?” I’d have enough money to buy a year’s supply of chocolate. But how often DO we need to describe facial expressions and tone of voice?

My conclusion: Not as much as you think.

As a critiquer, I notice wording and flow in a piece of writing more so than plots and character arcs and all that. More often than not, I see writers overusing things, whether it’s adverbs, passive voice, repetitive words, and yes, tone of voice and facial expressions.

Let’s see if I can show you what I mean with part of an impromptu flash fiction piece I wrote for Rebecca Postupak’s “Flash Friday”, not that this is a literary masterpiece in any shape or form, but here’s what I might do if I was TOO mindful of tone and expression:

Lana slid the crisp paper across the patio table. “Sign these,” she barked. “Why?” Joe whispered. His lips pursed as he stared down at the obnoxious logo: Burger, Smythe, and Villay, attorneys-at-law.

Her eyes became narrow slits and her voice sounded like two pots banging together. “All you want is your garden and your bush mistress.”

This is a snippet of dialogue, and I don’t know about you, but all those descriptions slow the pace for me. This couple is on the verge of divorce. The tension should move this along at a snappier pace. Take a look at how I really wrote it:

Lana slid the crisp paper across the patio table. “Just sign them.”

“You don’t want this.” Joe stared down at the obnoxious logo: Burger, Smythe, and Villay, attorneys-at-law.

“Why not? You left me a long time ago. All you want is that garden of yours and that silly bush of a mistress.”

Here we see no tone of voice and no facial expressions. What we do see is a different choice of wording to make the dialogue itself show us what these two might sound and look like as this little exchange is happening. In hindsight I think I could have also used stronger verbs to narrate their actions as well. Instead of “slid”, Lana might have “shoved” the papers toward him. Joe might have “glared” down at the logo and perhaps crumpled one side of the documents in his fist.

Readers will notice ANYTHING we use too often, so do your best to show what the characters look like and sound like by using strong, appropriate dialogue and action that fits the tone of the scene. Describe the tone of voice and facial expressions in moderation and also if they are important to what’s happening. For instance, if a character is lying, the tone of voice and facial expression could be tells that give them away.

Remember, the reason we read books as opposed to watching movies is so our imagination can join in and form the story in our own minds. If we feed the reader every single minute detail about how WE see the scene, their imaginations just sit there in the dugout and never get a chance to play.

Sitting_in_Dugout (1)For learning how to write tone of voice and facial expressions in fresh and new ways, I highly recommend Margie Lawson’s workshop or lecture notes on Writing Body Language & Dialogue Cues. She refers to some really good examples and includes some unique exercises to keep your descriptions from being blah and cliche.

Now go forth and write! ~Mysti Parker

31036_455754357815212_1296404459_nMysti Parker (pseudonym) is a full time wife, mother of three, and a writer. Her standalone Tallenmere fantasy romance series has been likened to Terry Goodkind’s ‘Sword of Truth’ series, but is probably closer to a spicy cross between Tolkien and Mercedes Lackey. Mysti’s other writings have appeared in the anthologies Hearts of Tomorrow, Christmas Lites, and Christmas Lites II. Her flash fiction has appeared on the online magazine EveryDayFiction. She serves as a class mentor in Writers Village University’s seven week online course, F2K. Currently, she’s working on her first historical romance and has two children’s books in the hands of a hard-working agent. When she’s not writing, Mysti reviews books for SQ Magazine, an online specfic publication, and is the proud owner of Unwritten, a blog voted #3 for eCollegeFinder’s Top Writing Blogs award. She resides in Buckner, KY with her husband and three children.

 

Links:

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LIKE my fan page on Facebook!

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