Unique Third Person POV Activity

Guesstimate: How much cash do you think you’re carrying? $______

Empty your pocketbook, tote bag, wallet.

man-with-big-bagFrom the third person point of view (he/she, his/her) write assumptions a stranger might make about the person who carries the items in that pocketbook, tote bag, wallet. For example, what would someone assume about the person’s:

  • Free time
  • Hobbies
  • Habits
  • Work
  • Family
  • Fears
  • Health
  • Values/morals
  • Worldview
  • Health
  • Spirituality
  • Idiosyncrasies

How much cash are you REALLY carrying? How close was your guess – within $5, $10…?

Now that you’ve considered the contents:

  1. What Bible verse, adage, popular title or idiom best describes your findings?
  2. What can you throw away right now?
  3. What surprised you?
  4. What do you want to stop carrying around?
  5. What do you want to start carrying with you?
  6. What do you hope to carry with you always?

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

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Author Interview: From Chicken Scratch to Published Book

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Turn Life into Income with Creative Nonfiction: Part 2

Beth Fowler headshotPublishers of memoirs, autobiographies, personal essays, travelogues and themed anthologies buy creative nonfiction. So do newspaper and magazine editors. Browse bookstores, including quirky independent stores and university bookstores, to find markets that publish creative nonfiction.

Periodical editors suggest (plead) with authors to “be familiar with our publication before submitting your work.” One creative nonfiction author subscribes to a different literary magazine each year to get a feel for what magazines publish. The flavor of stories in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series is different from stories in “Rosebud.”

Editors who consider creative nonfiction manuscripts want a strong theme or narrative that serves as a unifying thread through the story. Writers must be disciplined and ruthlessly trim passages that don’t support the theme.

If you think you have a memoir in you, read others’. Larry Brown’s On Fire, J.R. Moehringer’s Tender Bar, and Louis Erdrich’s The Blue Jay’s Dance are examples of the genre.

Carol Crawford, coordinator for the Blue Mountain (North Carolina) Writers’ Conference says, “Write small.” Narrow down the focus of the story to draw readers in. The biggest mistake most beginning nonfiction writers make is giving too much information. To help writers zero in on a theme, Crawford asks writers to sum up their stories in six words.

Crawford offers more advice for creative nonfiction writers. “Journal for catharsis. Craft for story.” Write naked with your back to the world. Forget about readers and editors and publishers on your first draft. Let ‘er rip. Open the gates of emotions. Stick your feet into the sneakers you wore as an 11-year old and let that character’s voice guide your pencil.

Use prompts to get you going. You’ll be amazed at where your creative mind will run once you unleash it. Here are prompts we used in a Creative Nonfiction workshop at John C. Campbell Folk School. (www.folkschool.org) “If only someone had told me about…,” and “Write about being nice to someone you detest,” and “Write about the time the ___________ caught on fire.”

After writing hot and heavy, go back and make design decisions. Erdrich’s design decision in The Blue Jay’s Dance was combining three babies into one character. She states this up front in a contract, so to speak, with the reader.

Creative nonfiction reveals the author and another person or other people clearly, as well as establishing a time and place readers can visualize. Most publishers don’t want lyrical description for the sake of lyrical description. Nor do they want pieces that are emotion only. Something’s gotta happen. Someone’s gotta change. Creative nonfiction, like other well-crafted manuscripts, has a beginning, middle and end. In Your Life as Story, Tristine Rainer suggests writing about a problem, your struggle to resolve it, and the resultant transformation or realization. The main character’s change can be inner as well as outer.

In Cold Blood first appeared in “The New Yorker” in four parts. Papers sold out. Then the nonfiction novel became one of the most talked about books of its time. Dubbed an instant classic, In Cold Blood earned its author millions of dollars and celebrity status.

“Sometimes when I think how good my book can be,” Capote said, “I can hardly breathe.”

Breathe. Write. Edit. Shape your experiences into salable manuscripts.

***

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

 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.

 

 

 

Turn Life into Income with Creative Nonfiction: Part 1

Beth Fowler headshotBy Beth Fowler, who recently won an award for a creative nonfiction story.

 

In 1959,  Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, two ex-convicts on parole from the Kansas State Penitentiary, robbed and murdered Herb Clutter, Herb’s wife and their two children in their home, in cold blood.

Think of how straightforward and uncreative the Clutter’s newspaper obituary was compared to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Capote said, “I wanted to produce a journalistic novel, something on a large scale that would have the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose, and the precision of poetry.” He wanted to produce creative nonfiction.

Capote compiled thousands of pages of researched notes upon which his groundbreaking nonfiction novel was based. He interviewed the murderers. Even so, some of the psychological dynamics between the ex-cons, for example, would have been supposed on Capote’s part.

Creative nonfiction writers use techniques associated with fiction. They shape events into stories. Characters, scenes, dialogue, suspense and plot help transform a person’s experience into one with universal appeal that touches readers. One small event for a person: One great read for people…that’s creative nonfiction.

Most of us won’t be writing about massacres, so what can we write about? Take the advice Capote gave another writer: “You have to be willing to use everything. Everything that’s interesting.”

Creative nonfiction strikes a universal chord. Any aspect of the human experience can be the focus of creative nonfiction. Unforgettable encounters, life’s milestones, disasters, work relationships, marriage, homelessness, substance abuse, parental abandonment …

For insights on molding your experience into a salable work, dig into Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, Nancy Davidoff’s Writing from Personal Experience: How to Turn Your Life into Salable Prose Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True, Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story and Bill Roorbach’s Writing Life Stories.

“Creative Nonfiction Journal” offers online classes. The web site says, “Writers at every level can use guidance when it comes to shaping and refining their work. The Creative Nonfiction Mentoring Program pairs you with one of our seasoned, professional editors and writers who will design a program around your writing needs.” Visit Gotham Writers Workshop at www.write.org and Writers on the Net at www.writers.com to find writing classes. The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a non-credit online Creative Nonfiction class. Also, visit http://writing.shawguides.com where you’ll find The Guide to Writers Conferences & Workshops, a free, online directory of programs worldwide.

Publications that print creative nonfiction include:

Granta (www.granta.com)

Grain (www.grainmagazine.ca)

New Letters Magazine (www.newletters.org)

Memoir (and) (www.memoirjournal.net)

Glimmer Train (www.glimmertrain.com)

Rosebud (www.rsbd.net)

The Sun (www.thesunmagazine.org)

Creative Nonfiction Journal (www.creativenonfiction.org)

Christian Science Monitor (www.csmonitor.com),

Orion (www.orionmagazine.org)

Chicken Soup for the Soul (www.chickensoup.com)

Five Points (www.fivepoints.gsu.edu)

The Pinch (www.thepinchjournal.com).

Stay tuned for Turn Life into Income with Creative Nonfiction: Part 2

***

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

 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.

 

 

 

“Walking the Trail” by Jerry Ellis: Long Trail-Short Book

Beth Fowler headshot by Beth Fowler

 

 

 

When I bought “Walking the Trail” by Jerry Ellis, I crossed my fingers and hoped it would be the kind of travel memoir I would savor while reading and cherish when finished.

My hope was met.

The dreadful history of the Cherokee Trail of Tears is skillfully interwoven in “Walking the Trail.” And we learn a little about Ellis’ family back home, too.

During his walk he, of course, meets people, all of whom are broken to some degree or other, yet they remain kind and philosophical in their approaches to Ellis and life, respectively. He seems to bond with them on a soul level, even though the meetings are brief, a pattern that was cast when he was a boy. He tells us about the time this pattern was created in a passage describing a dove that would come to him when Ellis whistled. I think every human being has had a dove in his or her life, and then learned that doves aren’t forever. The passage is as pure and true as anything you could wish to read.

Readers are rewarded with gems of observation, self-revelation, lust, loss, peace, one-of-a-kind Americans and forward momentum. I was confused only twice by the absence of quotations around dialog.

Ellis wrote about his 900-mile walk in a voice that is both masculine and vulnerable. Now that I’ve finished the 256-page book, I wish the book was longer.

Walking the Trail

Visit Ellis on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/#!/NATIVEDEFENDER

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Fantasy Well-Crafted for Middle-Grade Readers

Co-authors Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks launch into “Things Are Not What They Seem” without wasting time on background and descriptive junk readers of any age group dislike.The authors masterfully set the fantasy in present-day New York City, featuring regular, relatable kids.

 

This middle-grade fantasy adventure starts with, “When the pigeon first spoke to Jennifer that morning in the playground, she responded by pretending to examine something absolutely fascinating at the top of a nearby tree.” The pigeon speaks in precise British English, which adds humor to the situation, at least for my inner tween who found something grin-worthy on nearly every page.

 

Jennifer, who’s almost 13, is smart but not smart-alecky. She has a sense of humor, but never makes others the butt of her wit. She can be sarcastic, yet possesses a strong sense of right and wrong, compassion and a well-developed altruism. Like girls her age, she’s concerned about her appearance and what peers think of her. Being trustworthy is important to the tween. She’s a likeable and engaging protagonist. Her brother, James, provides some of the comic relief, often while bantering with the pigeon. Then there’s Sleepy, the sidekick with allergies. And of course, there are bad guys.

 

(Sometimes young characters use phrases – “come down on them like a ton of bricks,” – that I have trouble picturing anyone other than adults saying.) Chapter ends are written with page-turning finesse. The story keeps adults in their place, that is, the kids shine in the limelight. They face challenges, push the plot arc to the climax and back down to the satisfying and appropriate end.

 

Jennifer learns that the pigeon is actually a man named Arthur Whitehair, a 19th-century Englishman who’d been turned into a pigeon that will live forever by misreading an ancient spell meant to give him eternal life as a human. Likewise, an devious colleague of his, Malman, had been turned into a hawk by Whitehair’s mis-incantation. Jennifer, et al search for the manuscript of the spell so they can reverse it, turning Whitehair the pigeon back into a man.

 

Without becoming pedantic, the authors weave in Shakespearean quotes and Latin phrases, and there’s a nod to the Harry Potter stories, too. One senses a depth of history and tradition, without the burden of boredom.

 

Some scenes are reminiscent of classic Disney antics. Others remind us that the stakes are high. What young fantasy reader doesn’t love sentences like this one spoken by the aptly named Malman? “Mind me! I’ll rip out your throats and peck the eyeballs from your heads—dainty morsels that they are. Even your mothers won’t recognize you.”

 

With more than 63,000 words, “Things Are Not What They Seem” is longer than typical middle-grade books. Even though every scene has its purpose, I wonder if some could have been written more economically.

 

Things Are Not What They Seem unobtrusively incorporates important values, while never losing sight of the plot and always maintaining readers’ trust and interest. It’s a well-crafted fantasy for younger readers and their adult cohort.

Review by the author of Ken’s War.

 

 

 

 

How to Create Dynamic Fictional Characters (Part 2)

This character is looking for a writer . . .
This character is looking for a writer . . .

The purpose of describing events in a novel is to show how your characters behave in normal situations. Without this, readers cannot interpret characters’ behavior in stressful situations.  Round characters at some point of the plot trajectory act out of character, surprising readers in a convincing way.

Think of people you know fairly well. Has their behavior ever surprised you? It surprised me when my super-introverted husband attended his 30th high school reunion. When my friend’s honor roll daughter sprayed graffiti in the middle school gym. When the middle-aged, mousey woman next door set out on a transcontinental motorcycle trip. Real people can inspire you as you create fictional people.

Placing characters in situations provoking them to act out of character is “showing, not telling.” Readers deduce from a character’s atypical reactions that she is experiencing strong, conflicting emotions – strong enough to pull her from her personality’s magnetic north.

Once you know how your main characters habitually interact with the world around them, you’re ready to answer two vital questions:

1. What situation does the character typically avoid?

2. What outcome does the character desperately want (or want to prevent) that compels him to purposely step into that situation?

The answers to those two questions can drive your storyline and give you a climax to work toward.

Round characters possess emotional complexity. The sentence “Jasmine felt betrayed and yet oddly justified,” is informative. There is nothing wrong with that sentence. The sentence discloses Jasmine’s emotional state.

How can the author reveal more of Jasmine’s emotional weather pattern? How can the author dig deeper into the main character’s psyche without resorting to writing a string of dull, declarative sentences? The job at hand is to communicate the character’s inner self as well as the outer, public self.

The job of creating round characters is made easier with a set of tools. The tools or devices authors use to express a character’s memories and desires are the same tools flesh and blood humans use.

Here are a few tools that can help transform a flat character into a deeper, rounder one:

  • Snippets of an image or sensation from a night-time dream compared to the character’s current mindset or emotion.
  • A letter the character writes in high passion and then tears up. Or not.
  • Ticket stub, report card, photo, sketch, certificate of achievement, eulogy or other ephemera the character finds accidentally or unearths on purpose, and reacts to.
  • An email, text message, twitter or blog the character obsessively re-reads.
  • Memories that float up that echo the character’s current predicament.
  • A fantasy the main character harbors.
  • Misinformation the character refuses to revise or correct. (“She didn’t bother telling the man she was Mrs. Nevin, not Miss Nevin.)
  • Spoken words that contradict the character’s feelings. (“No, really. Everything’s fine.”)
  • Weaknesses or flaws. Readers are more likely to empathize with a protagonist who has flaws like the rest of us

Give your character physical tags that indicate what’s occurring within the character. Remember Clement C. Moore’s Santa Claus who “Lay his finger aside his nose . . .”? That tag signaled that Santa would be whooshing up the chimney.

One of my characters rubs her stiff neck when she tells white lies. As her lies grow, her pain in the neck worsens. Another character tugs his earlobe when he feels emotionally cornered.

Including metaphors from nature can uncover a character’s struggles. A story about a farm girl wrestling with her conscience includes an unobtrusive, revealing clue with “. . . two sparrows tussled in the dust.” That image is more evocative than flatly stating that the girl was in conflict with herself.

Creating round characters with discernable traits and habits who then undergo believable change as a result of conflict requires planning and inventing. Round characters which are more dynamic, complex and unpredictable than stereotypical, flat ones are more interesting to read about. And to create.

If you “follow” you’ll receive more helpful articles written for writers who like getting published. To meet characters a reviewer described as “so real you can actually sense their presence,” get the eco-thriller The Universal Solvent at Amazon.com or at www.xlibris.com.

It’s too soon to say much, but next year you’ll have a chance to get your hands on a good novel and donate to a worthy cause at the same time.