Tag Archives: writetip

Join Wordsmith’s Live Writing Sprints on Twitter: #wssprint

cElissaField What we love about writing: constantly changing corner office view.

cElissaField What we love about writing: constantly changing corner office view.

Do you use word counts, hourly goals or other motivators to reach your writing goals? April is a great month for joining in any of a variety of writing challenges. Wordsmith Studio brings them all together with weekly writing sprints, every Friday in April.

*    *     *     *     *

Join Hourly Writing Sprints Every Friday in April

Along with a fabulous group of writers, Elissa Field is a Founding Member at Wordsmith StudioYou may know I am a founding member of Wordsmith Studio, an awesome group of writers and artists who share craft resources and support each other throughout the year. We celebrate each other’s writing, keep each other going, and laugh a lot. This month, we are celebrating our 4th anniversary.

My part of our month-long celebration has been planning and serving as a moderator for all day writing sprints, live on Twitter every Friday in April. Look for camaraderie, motivation and some seriously smoking keyboards with hourly writing sprints, each Friday from 11am-11pm EST.

How #wssprint Works

The live sprints take place on Twitter. Follow #wssprint , or find via @WordsmithStudio  or @elissafield. (If you’re a Wordsmith member, we repeat some tweets in Facebook, as well.)

Beginning at 11 am EST, sprints start with a kick-off tweet on the hour. Write or edit for 45 minutes, then share your success — word count, page count, plotting solution, a favorite line, whatever — using #wssprint at :45. We take a break for 15 minutes (time to chat, share, ask questions, invite a friend, cheer each other on), then start again at :00, up until 11 pm EST.

Optional Prompts

Every hour, there is an optional writing prompt.

The prompts are great — more than 13 a day. I am a huge fan of novel prompts shared by Donald Maass in 21st Century Fiction (highly recommended for building depth, power and tension, when building or revising a novel), so we share some from him. Here is a favorite – you can see why I think he’s awesome.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Sarah Turnbull (@thesaturnbull) and I wrote the prompts that aren’t credited to Maass, based on writing advice that has impacted our work. There are also photo prompts and ones coordinated with challenges our members are working on (see below).

But there are no rules. No prompts required. Lots of our writers are editing, rather than writing. Use the time however gets you going. Most say it’s just nice to feel like someone else is writing or editing with you.

Do take time to say hello, while you’re there.

What Goals Are Writers Working On?

Some of our participants are using the sprints for organized writing challenges, such as Camp NaNoWriMo, Poem a Day Challenge, A to Z Blog Challenge, or the monthly 500-word-a-day challenge (#AprWritingChallenge this month).

But most — including our Wordsmith Studio Goals Group or visitors from Writer Unboxed and Binder subgroups — are using sprints to keep going with existing goals.

I am using sprints to keep moving from draft 9 to draft 10 of my novel, Never Said. The first week, I finished transcribing handwritten scenes, incorporating new work and changes into the draft. Some writing sprints are chance to anchor scenes with more developed setting, now that I’ve fully developed character and plot. Sometimes I’m working on nonfiction, writing for education or editing for clients.

We’re all jumping in to inspire each other.

Oh, No. I Missed It!

Not all of our participants write along with us “live” — jump in to use the sprints whenever it works for you. You can scan #wssprint to find the prompts and share your success any time. Or, visit previous #wssprint days via Storify. And, considering the success this month and when we ran Fridays Are for (Spooky) Writing last October, be sure to follow @WordsmithStudio for sprints we run in the future.

*     *     *      *     *

How About You?

What challenges are you working on in your writing this week, or what strategies help you reach your goals? We’d love to hear from you — share your thoughts or links in the comments.

*    *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or follow via email or Bloglovin options in the sidebar. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook.

Thinking of HimMore on this site:

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Motivation to Write, Novel Writing, Writers on Twitter, Writing Life, Writing Process & Routine, Writing Prompt

Friday Links for Writers: 07.03.15

“Thinking of Him” & its neighbor, by Roy Lichtenstein, photographed with students at the Yale Art Museum by Elissa Field 2015 (copyright, repro w written permission).

I am posting this on a raucously beautiful day in Fairfield, Connecticut, where I am rushing to finish morning writing in time to go gather a picnic dinner to walk down to the beach for tonight’s fireworks. That’s right, fellow patriots, the 4th of July weekend kicks off today.

And with this Friday off, you have little excuse not to be writing.

My morning was a hectic finish to a busy writing week: research for the intro to an academic paper, paperwork for a great new freelance client, wrestling with recording a screencast for a digital portfolio… I love the diversity of the writing I’ve been doing the past month — some great content and PR writing projects, and a great new educational client.

But draft 8 of the novel is also going like gangbusters, spread in ungainly documents all through my computer.

How on earth does one steal time to get that novel done? Rally your online communities! The folks at Friday Night Writes gave me excuse to pause for #writeclub word sprints throughout the day. And the fabulous and generous young adult author, Gae Polisner, lent motivation to take time out to find an excerpt to share as she kicks off Friday Feedback today, as the start of Teachers Write. Any excuse is a good excuse to take a break from other work to get this novel reassembled.

(Still pondering the relevance of Lichtenstein’s “Thinking of Him”? It’s from a trip I took as a volunteer with 5th graders who’d used fine art all year to extend understanding of how visual texts construct meaning, same as literature. I love how the diversity of my work takes me everywhere!)

Every busy writing week is also filled with great reading and resources, which brings us to another edition of FridayLinks for Writers — some of my favorite recent reading online. As always, let me know in the comments what was particularly helpful, what you’d like to read more of, or share your own favorite links.

Have a great writing week, all!

*     *     *     *     *

Checklist: Is Your Novel Ready to Query?

In response to a writer wondering if it is okay to withdraw a query, the inimitable literary agent (and Query Shark) Janet Reid answers the question, but then also offers a 5 question checklist to know if a novel is actually ready to query. Also available on the page are several other useful query resources, such as a link to her query checklist and query letter diagnostics. If you are in the market to query, her site is a good place to start for tips.

 Writing Idol: Not for the Thin-Skinned

Speaking of testing queries, Melissa Cronin shares about the experience of participating in Writing Idol in this guest post on Brevity from last fall. With the intensity of American Idol tryouts, writers sit by as their story is read aloud to see at what point a panel of agents or editors would stop reading. This kind of event has popped up at a few conference venues.

Dear Writers: None of Us Know What the F We’re Doing

Forgive the expletives in this one, but Chuck Wendig usually makes them worthwhile. This piece on his blog is one of my favorites — an acknowledgement that we all have ideas about what works or what to avoid in writing, we know certain protocols about submitting… but, in the end, writing is not defined by rules or guarantees. A non-advice piece that has you wondering if there really are ice weasels, and also inspired to get to work without waiting for clearer instructions.

Writing Basics: The Act One Problem

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that screenwriting, plotting and structure have been a source of intrigue for me in novel revision, and this piece by Janice Hardy on her Fiction University website clarifies the concept of the problem that carries plot from inciting incident to door one. Understanding plot concepts is a good way to test for weaknesses in a story.

10 Resources for Writers and Bloggers

Nina Badzin shares a great list of resources, and on each of those links you’ll find multiple options for new publication routes, writing groups and more. It’s been a frequently shared resource among writers and bloggers.

Colin Barrett Talks About His Approach to the Short Story

I’m really intrigued by Colin Barrett, an Irish writer whose story collection, Young Skins, won last year’s Frank O’Connor International Award and the Guardian First Book Award. A silky paperback copy of the collection just arrived into my reading pile, having had to order it since it was not readily available in the U.S., and this interview shares some interesting insights.

*     *     *      *     *

How About You?

What challenges are you working on in your writing this week, or what resources have helped you find clarity toward your goals? We’d love to hear from you — share your thoughts or links in the comments.

*    *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or follow via email or Bloglovin options in the sidebar if you don’t have a WordPress account. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook.

For more Friday Links for Writers:retyping the draft - scriv3

More on this site:

Leave a comment

Filed under Friday Links

Friday Links for Writers: 05.01.15

 

c Elissa Field

c Elissa Field

I am writing this while looking out the window at nodding daffodils after a week spent appreciating the season of spring blooms, driving through 10 east coast states. Apple blossoms, weeping cherries, dogwoods, azaleas, forsythia, Bradford pears, redbud, wild wisteria, and the last bedraggled heads of tulips.

10634351_10100112304388454_1141723537_nNo small deal to me, as this was my first spring back in the northeast after years in South Florida’s tropics.

It’s also been a great week for writing. Two new business writing clients. Writing academic curriculum. Analyzing the structure of recent breakout novels. Celebrating the creativity of my clients and my writing community (including Wordsmith Studio’s continuing anniversary celebrations). And — no offense to all of that, but — most overjoyed by work on my novel. Revision to this story is like discovering hidden doors. This story — the one coming vivid, the writing on a roll, where it dragged when I knew the story was not yet ready — is the one I knew was there all along, so I couldn’t be happier.

My current challenge... or threat.

My current challenge… or threat.

That said, this post marks a return of Friday Links for Writers, which was on hiatus during my winter masters work. This week shares some of my favorite recent reads on process, form, inspiration and publication. As always, let me know in the comments what resounds with you, or what you are currently trying to learn more about. Feel free to share your own links. Have a great writing week!

*     *     *     *     *

Tips for Non-converging Parallel Plot Lines

In a recent workshop, when trying to simplify my narrative to a logline to practice pitching with workshop peers, I realized that one of the complications I was working on is that my novel unfolds in nonlinear, parallel, converging plot lines. While conventional advice tends to steer toward linear lines, there are several different forms for parallel plot lines, in linear and nonlinear forms. This piece takes on one of the more interesting: non-converging (two stories that don’t cross). I share it as much for that discussion as the additional links on other structures.

 496 Words on Writing Flash Prose

Some of my writing friends are kings and queens of writing flash prose, and I can’t help envy them. Envy the crossing of all those finish lines, all those publications come to light. It’s therefore no surprise that I loved this short piece by Rebecca Meacham on Ploughshares’ blog about how she yields flash prose from her novel scraps.

The One Word You Should Probably Add to Twitter Searches

This was one of my favorite pieces on research this week, as Daniel Victor shares some common sense but not obvious advice for honing in on first person sources. The trick isn’t just the word to include, but the simple logic behind it. This was frequently shared by my journo friends.

Done is Better than Perfect

I am sure I’m not alone in appreciating this piece, in which Nanea Hoffman confesses how a need for perfection in her writing has held her back. It’s a great tonic if you need permission to let go and just get something submitted.

Matthew Weiner’s Reassuring Life Advice for Struggling Artists

Close on the heels of that theme, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner reassures emerging artists by pulling back the veil that implies real genius is effortless. The Fast Company essay suggests all masterpieces involved false starts, deletions and revision, saying that “hiding brushstrokes” does a disservice to emerging artists.

Her Stinging Critiques Propel Young Adult Best Sellers

To be on the receiving end of an editorial letter from Julie Strauss-Gabel may sting, but I can’t help think how empowering it would be to work with an editor with such vision. You might know her as the Dutton editor for John Green, whose experiences working with her are shared. In retracing the arc of her career, this is also a fascinating glimpse into the growth of young adult fiction.

This Week in Fiction: Colm Tóibín

I usually try to end with the perspective of one writer. Here, it’s interesting to read Colm Toibin’s observations and creative process as he discusses writing his story, “Sleep” with Deborah Treisman, in the New Yorker.

*     *     *     *     *

How About You?

I love this sign from Atlantic Center for the Arts, which comes on the heels of a sign asking the public not to venture beyond a point where the center is reserved for artists. c Elissa Field

I love this sign from Atlantic Center for the Arts, which comes on the heels of a sign asking the public not to venture beyond a point where the center is reserved for artists. c Elissa Field

What challenges are you working on in your writing this week, or what resources have helped you find clarity toward your goals? We’d love to hear from you — share your thoughts or links in the comments.

Better yet… Have you read my posts for Wordsmith Studio’s 3rd Anniversary Blog Hops? Whether you are a member of the group or not: share your current writing process by responding to interview questions in this week’s blog hop post. Here are links:

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

If you like the idea of more blog hops, let me know, as I may host them in the future on this site.

 *    *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or follow via email or Bloglovin options in the sidebar if you don’t have a WordPress account. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook.

For more Friday Links for Writers:

More on this site:

3 Comments

Filed under Friday Links

Writers’ Homecoming: Participating in Wordsmith Studio’s 3rd Anniversary Blog Hop

Persistence. Stole some writing time in an empty science lab while at a school today. With a limping keyboard no less. What is community? The coffee brought to me by a neighbor.

Persistence. Stole some writing time in an empty science lab while at a school today. With a limping keyboard no less. What is community? The coffee brought to me by a neighbor.

If you’re a regular reader here, you may know how much I value my writing community. I am way overdue sharing some of the great interactions I’ve had with new writing friends at writers’ conferences and workshops over the winter, but today is all about jumping in to participate in a Writers’ Homecoming Blog Hop to celebrate the 3 year anniversary of my fabulous group of writing friends, Wordsmith Studio.

What is Wordsmith Studio?

10634351_10100112304388454_1141723537_nWordsmith Studio came together 3 years ago on the heels of one of the best challenges I’ve ever seen online: poet Robert Lee Brewer’s April Platform Building Challenge. Every day for 30 days, each of us learned about how to make the most out of a different social media tool in building platform (that is, readership and genuine connection). We learned not just how to blog, but how to create authentic interaction with readers and other writers. How to participate in comments on others’ posts and encourage comments on your own, to create authentic dialogue. Likewise, how to understand the formats of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and more to, again, create authentic connection through each of those venues.

Since then, the group has created a formal affiliation. We have a website with weekly posts and member bios. We have a Facebook page with numerous smaller offshoots (there’s an events page for this month’s anniversary activities, and subgroups — my favorite is the Goals group, where we trade our monthly goals and cheerlead each other through successes and pitfalls). Wordsmith Studio is on Twitter, hosting 2 weekly chat sessions (#wschat), as well as other periodic activities, like wordsprints or live events. These are where I participate most, but we have members who are more active in other venues, like Google+ or Pinterest.

The group is formal enough to have a process for joining, and is administered by a 6-member Advisory Group (I am one of the 6 members; we each serve for 2 years).

We have been glad to add in new members over the years, whose writing interests have broadened us well beyond our initial platform building challenge. Our group has seen several book releases, through traditional and self-publishing routes. Our writers share expertise on drafting, revision, conferences, querying, signing contracts, readings, publication, promotion… and blogging, photography, graphic arts, crafts, fine arts, music and much more.

That said, we are above all supportive of each other. We have diehard founding members who have been active the whole 3 years, and many more who we have seen come and go as other life’s priorities take them away and bring them back to us again. Someone is always apologizing for having been absent, but we’re just glad to see them again and to catch up on what they’ve been working on.

Which is what our “homecoming” theme is about, this month.

What is Homecoming? And What is the Blog Hop?

We celebrate each anniversary with events that help us rekindle any skills we want to work on and renew any connections that have drifted apart over the past year. We get to know each other’s work and current goals again… And we get to know new members, who may wonder how to get involved (it’s easy — just jump in).

As part of our Homecoming events, I agreed to lead the kickoff of our group’s first official blog hop. To participate, read the instructions here at the Wordsmith Studio site.  Or use the Linky Tool at the bottom of the post.

Worry you missed it? The Homecoming Blog Hop takes place every Wednesday this month. Look for a kickoff post each Wednesday, then you can participate anytime through that Sunday.

My Homecoming Interview

Running manHere are my answers to this week’s optional interview questions:

1) Are you a WSSer (a member of Wordsmith)? I already answered this one above: yes, I’m a founding member of Wordsmith Studio. I really value some great friends I’ve made through the group… and really miss a few members who are no longer active!

2) What medium/genre do you work in? I make a living writing nonfiction (freelance writer/editor, and a teacher), but my focus is fiction. I occasionally write short stories (have a had a few published, a couple awards — small fry), but spend most of my time on novels. I work toward literary fiction, and am also inspired by the intensity of young adult and the intrigue of mysteries, and that kind of energy seeps into my work.

3) What’s the name of your current project (ok multitaskers, give us your main one)?  I am working on a novel called Never Said (it was nicknamed Wake elsewhere on the blog). It trines between the U.S., Ireland and the Middle East, with one couple’s love affair unraveling a tension of what it is to live “without war” in an era when war touches everything.

4) What is your favorite detail, sentence or other bit you’ve written lately? My main character was grabbed from behind as she dashed away down a street in a scene I wrote this week. At the time, her mind was unraveling, it was late at night, and the street was full of carousers, so you assume she’s being attacked. There is this awesome, immediate tension when she realizes it is actually the taciturn, armed man protecting her lover, who she does not realize followed her out into the night. I didn’t mean to write it that way, but the physicality of the scene managed to increase suspense and bridge an emotional storyline. All this year, writing has been like that. If you’ve read any of my prior posts on revising this novel, you know that there have been at least 2 drafts where I thought I was almost done… but each time, I am so grateful that I pushed myself further, knowing I did not yet fully understand the story. I feel the texture and layers in scenes now, in ways I did not in those earlier drafts. One of the biggest a-ha moments that steered me in the right direction was when I started to distance myself from the main character and let her get down and gritty, as I wrote about in Writing Character: Say the Things We Never Say.

My current challenge... or threat.

My current challenge… or threat.

5) Any obstacles or I-hate-this-chapter moments? I would roar like a T-rex to say this adequately: I hate that I work so slowly. I met with Ben Percy in January at Blue Flower Arts Conference and finally spilled out my frustration: I’ve had a novel almost done before, with agents who had asked to read a full… and never made it that last 10% to cross the finish line. His advice was to just set a 30 day deadline, break it into words/day and threaten that I’d have to eat a dirty sock if I don’t make it. I have legit excuses (just finished 3 classes for my masters, plus client work & am a single parent), but that’s not it. I write 10-40 hrs a week, even with that workload. And I write fast. So I don’t know if I am too much of a perfectionist, or just slow in fitting the whole thing together, but I am routinely irritable about wanting it done, now.

6) What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned lately from your writing?  Interestingly, as a ‘literary’ reader and writer, the biggest things I’ve learned lately have to do with plot structure, screenplays and suspense.

7) In what ways do you hope to grow in the next 6 months/year?  I’m moving on to stages of how to market. I’ve been drafting queries and gotten feedback from an agent. I want to have a full draft done soon, and then on to beta readers or I may find a private coach or mentor to work one-on-one. Then time to query.

8) In what ways do writing friends and communities help you do that? I am as much of an introvert as any writer, but I have learned more and grown more by interacting with other writers than I would have alone. It can be lonely work, so it’s powerful to be able to shout out, “I hit my word count goal for the day,” and have someone cheer you on. Time is always limited, but it’s worth stoking those friendships and building these communities, because you can’t wait for the day you wish you had a writing group or friend to share work with — it takes time to find people and build connections. While I talk about Wordsmith here, some of the writers in my network are people I first met in Poets & Writers’ Speakeasy forum 10 or more years ago. It’s worth the time it takes.

How About You?

Please do click through to the Wordsmith Studio 3rd Anniversary Homecoming Blog Hop. Jump in and connect — write your own answers to the questions above or otherwise let us know what you are working on. You do not have to be a Wordsmith member to participate. Here are some options:

  • From 4/8-4/12, you can join this week’s Blog Hop using the linky tool.
  • If you are reading this later, just share the link to your post in the comments beneath the kickoff post.
  • There will be new blog hops each Wednesday this month. Follow Wordsmith Studio or me to see links when those posts go live.
  • To find out about more Wordsmith Studio activities, follow the group website, Twitter or Facebook using any of the links above (you can ask to join the group via the Facebook site – mention you heard about it here).

Linky Tool for the Blog Hop


*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or subscribe via email or Bloglovin options in the sidebar if you don’t have a WordPress account. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook. I love to connect with readers and writers.

More on this site:

9 Comments

Filed under My Work in Progress, Relentless Wake, Social Media, Writing Life, Writing Process & Routine, Writing Prompt

Friday Links for Writers 09.25.14

Ah, the dreaded "blah" in the margin. c. Elissa Field

Ah, the dreaded “blah” in the margin. c. Elissa Field

It’s been a busy week for reading and writing — from a Hedgebrook application to receiving acceptance to a Masters program, to finishing one client project and starting a pro bono project… In the meantime, I’ve been shifting gears to take a season off from teaching which has meant taking on new writing and editing clients once again. Networking with fellow writers has been a great (and fun and inspiring) resource and I’m getting ready to head into New York for a kickstarter conference of women writers, the BinderCon (Binder Women Writers Symposium) the weekend after next.

With all the business in play at the moment, it’s not surprising that this week’s Friday Links for Writers includes some great writing resources I’ve stumbled across for working writers: two on freelance writing or editing, one on Twitter pitch wars and another on the kinds of topics to write about when building platform. Work on the novel continues to be the heart of my work, so the last two links are for fiction writers: on critique partners and endings.

As always, let me know what resounds with you, what you wish you could find more information about, or share your own links in the comments. Have a great writing week!

*     *      *      *     *

From Full Time to Freelance: How to Make the Leap

This feature by Laura Lin via Forbes is a great cross-section of concrete advice for anyone contemplating jumping from traditional employment to freelancing — and serves equally well as a diagnostic for any freelancer, with ways to make sure your business is on track for success. Related articles are available in the footlinks.

Negotiating: Theory and Practice

While on the topic of freelancing, the Editorial Freelancers Association is a great resource for writers and editors. As part of a weekly #EFAchat, the association shared this article with tips for negotiating rates and scope for client projects. Other resources on the site include contracts and job listings.

 The Ultimate Guide to Twitter Pitch Contests

As a guest blogger on the site Writers in the Storm, literary agent Carly Watters shares some great advice for anyone throwing their novel into the fray in any of the half dozen or so pitch wars that take place on Twitter. First off: pitch war? These are scheduled days for writers to tweet the pitch for their novel — that’s right: your beloved masterpiece in less than 140 characters — using an established hashtag for the event (for example, #pitmad). As with all query tips, Carly’s advice boils down to, “You only have one chance to impress an agent.” She gives concrete tips for writing your pitch. Overall, she say, ” My big advice is that if your book isn’t done, don’t jump in. There are many Twitter Pitch Contests every year so don’t feel like you have to be involved in every one. Wait until your book is ready.”

34 Blog Topics Just for Writers

This post by Frances Caballo at Social Media Just for Writers is a great resource for writers wondering what topics are best to share about on a blog, to give a sense of their work and direction as a writer. The post includes topics for nonfiction, fiction and poetry writers.

Cheerleaders vs. Critique Partners

This piece by Heather Jackson at WriteOnSisters.com does a great job of establishing the difference a cheerleaders of our writing, who constantly eggs us on with praise, and an effective critique partner, who pushes us to craft our best work. Complete with a tool to assess which category your writing partner tends toward, the post also helps one appreciate the value in having both cheerleaders and critique partners in your corner.

An Anatomy of Endings

“Endings haunt us because they are mortality formalized,” concludes staff writer Adam Gopnik in this great piece on types of endings in the New Yorker. “Endings are what life cheats us of. As long as a sense of the ending hovers, the story goes on.” I love the philosophy of this line — but any writer working on the structure of their novel or story’s ending will appreciate the concrete type of endings his article identifies. (Karen Joy Fowler mentioned this article during a workshop at Brisbane Writers Festival.)

Want more?

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

Check out yesterday’s Writing Prompt: Develop Setting – Inspired by Colson Whitehead on New York City.

Or, for great reading recommendations, check out tomorrow’s My Fall Reading List 2014 (link will go live Saturday).

If you’re curious what I’ve been working on, here are two recent posts sharing work or inspiration: Press Freedom for Journalists Covering Conflict: Free Austin Tice and Today’s Work: Sharing a Scene from Never Said.

*     *      *      *      *

What About You?

What writing goals are you working on this week — or what great reads did you stumble across? Feel free to share links (including to your own posts) in the comments.

Do you ever blog about the books you read or post your Must Reads list? Let me know in the comments or by using the contact sheet on the home page if you would be interested in participating in a reading blog hop.

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option or via email, or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

More on this site:word hoard post

Leave a comment

Filed under Friday Links

Writing Prompt: Develop Setting – Inspired by Colson Whitehead on New York City

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

I am a very visual person — I think in pictures — so writing setting is perhaps the last aspect of storytelling that I worry about. In writing a story set in India, details crept into every line without me thinking about them. I knew the exact color of shadows, the moment a bird would flush out of dry brush. A lot of writers can relate to this, especially if their drive to tell a story is inspired by place.

But that’s not always the case. In Friday Links for Writers: 3.21.14 , I quoted Anne Enright from a bit of advice where she said, “description is hard.”

Describing setting can be a powerful way to engage readers, conjure up surprising sensory details, reveal character, add resonance to a scene, develop internal and external conflicts… but it has do so in a way that moves the story, and that fits the voice and character(s)’ point of view.

Continuing the series on Novel Revision, today’s post shares a prompt for developing an important setting in your story, making it work to build character, motion and greater resonance. While many details may have come about in a first draft, midlevel revision is a great time to revise for ideas that were not yet clear in your first vision.

*     *     *     *     *

Find a Place to Stand

Anne Enright’s advice was: “Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.”

This is a great starting point for thinking about setting: begin by knowing your character(s)’ point of view and seeing your setting from where the character stands.

Colson Whitehead on New York

Some of you may know I am working from my family’s house outside New York City at the moment, and felt the impact of this year’s anniversary of 9.11.01 in that context. On the anniversary, Jodi Kantor shared on Twitter a link to Colson Whitehead’s beautiful article from the New York Times that ran November 11, 2001.

As a New Yorker living in the city as it recovered, Colson wrote not directly about the event, but about what defines one’s connection to and identification as being from the city.

Read it because it’s beautiful — and because we’ll use it as our prompt. (Read it now, or in the prompt below: The Way We Live Now: 11.01.01)

The First Brick in Your City

Colson says, “You start building your private New York the first time you lay eyes on it.” Anyone who’s spent time in New York knows what he means by “private New York,” as everyone comes to define their own sense of the city — a city so large that any of us sees it only in pieces.

But isn’t that true of each character’s response to setting?

In the paragraph that follows, Colson lists a handful of ways a person might have experienced their first moment in the city.

Freeze it there,” he says; “that instant is the first brick in your city.”

There is so much about writing setting that can be taken from his words. The point of details in your novel is not to inform a reader of what to see and do when visiting the place; you are not a glorified camera taking a picture for the reader. What matters about the places in your story are the ways your character(s) perceive and respond to them.

In Colson’s essay, each example of a newbie arriving in New York City presents a character you can view clearly in your mind, despite being limited to the details of a single sentence. They are details of setting, but they clearly define the interaction of people within that setting. The details involve objects, structures, qualities and even the kinds of actions and thoughts a character has within that setting. A detail could be as mundane as holding a piece of paper or a communication between friends, but the detail is not left vague. “The phone rang,” could happen in any city, but Colson made the same detail of a phone call place-defining, as: “there was some mix-up in the plans.”

Prompt for Developing Details of Setting

So let’s turn his essay into a prompt for your own writing today.

Interpret this for whatever you are working on: a novel, a short story, a poem, a detail in your memoir, a detail in an essay, details fleshed out for a travel piece, or start something new.  You won’t be recreating Colson’s format; you’ll just use the prompt for generating details in whatever scene you imagine.

  1. Read Colson Whitehead’s The Way We Live Now: 11.01.01
  2. Have in mind the place you will write about, thinking of it first as it is in the story’s present. Tip: Have in mind a specific place. For existing work, this will be an important location in your piece. For new work, be sure to have a single place in mind before writing. While Colson writes about a city, yours could be any kind of a place, real or imagined.
  3. What is the “first brick” in your character’s experience of this setting? Be vivid. Be true. Likely part of your backstory, what first memory comes to mind as the moment he/she began to define their own private version of their place? Freeze there. Think, then write where it feels revealing.
    • What emotion attaches to that first brick? Awe? Horror, pain, fear, injury…? Joy, excitement, beauty, anticipation, faith…?
    • What details attach to that first brick? Think of the stub of paper with a new address in the hand of the New Yorker arriving at their first address, or the limited view of a toddler in a carriage.
    • What actions or motion are involved? Are there details of arrival, communication, cross signals, movement? Are there broad sights or limited senses?
    • What does your character want (or think they want) in that first moment? This may be very different — distorted, more basic, more naïve — than later in the story.
  4. Moving through your story, how does your character continue to build their definition of the setting?
    • How does that first brick define the setting for your character?  Does it leave a ghost of emotion through later events? Does it start memory on solid or unstable footing? Do regrets haunt, long after, no matter how much success follows? Do later moments never live up to the first glow? Is there a sweetness the character carries from that first memory that lends forgiveness or blind faith in later experience? or..?
    • Does your character (or do you) come to measure later scenes against that first experience, or is it nearly forgotten as others take priority?
  5. Options for how this might create tensions, conflict development or structure in your story – where you might take it next:
    • What other “bricks” of memory, detail or experience define the setting for your character? Does this possibly suggest a structure for story events?
    • In what ways do these details define your character’s “own private” setting? Is your reader aware of a contrast between that private vision vs. other perspectives?
    • Do different characters perceive contrasting “private” versions of the setting? Does this lend structure, tension or just details to scenes? Would these different perspective ever cause missed understanding in dialogue between characters?
  6. Going beyond a single scene, how could you use this different private viewpoint to add details of how characters dress, what they carry, how they speak or what they do?

*     *     *     *     *

What About You?

Are you working on setting this week? Did you use this prompt or what other inspiration helps you envision your setting clearly? Several of my friends work in photography or other media — how do you reflect on setting in your work?

Let us know how your work is going in the comments. Feel free to share a link to your own post, if you want to share an excerpt or other writing.

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option or via email, or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield.  I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

More on this site:word hoard post

7 Comments

Filed under Novel Writing, Revision, Writing Process & Routine, Writing Prompt

Today’s Work: Sharing a Scene from Never Said

Running man

Some of you may know that I participate in a variety of writers’ groups online, which has been fabulous company and motivation as I pound through novel revisions this summer.

Novel Revision Process

I haven’t been posting about my writing process as often as I did last year, but regular readers may know that part of my obstacle is that I’ve taken on a daunting but very thorough revision process: rather than just continue tweaking draft 4-5, which I’d worked on through the winter, I am fully retyping the current draft. It has been an extremely effective process… but s-l-o-w, in the sense that it’s August 1 and I only have 24, 700 words in (last winter’s ms was 176,000).

What has been particularly exciting about the process is it has benefitted from the concentrated power of scenes written later in my understanding of the story, and I’ve been really excited, in particular, about the layer of meaning that have come about from expanding viewpoints.

I have been sharing about this regularly on Twitter (#SumNovRev), within Facebook groups and during daily writing activities at TeachersWrite! but have posted little about it here.

Sharing an Excerpt of the Work in Process

Teachers Write 2013 ButtonThat said, today I am sharing an extended scene from the last third of my novel in progress, Never Said. (I shared a short excerpt from this as part of Gae Polisner’s Friday Feedback; revision to this scene was prompted by character description activity on Kate Messner’s blog for TeachersWrite.)

About the Excerpt

Michael Roonan is an elusive main character as the novel takes place at a point in his life when he appears resigned to his own death despite the community around him absolving him from blame. He goes along with his best friend’s insistence that he go on the run, but there’s the unspoken undercurrent that he doesn’t disagree with the man who is after him (Sean).  This excerpt is from Sean’s POV, but really is lead up to the reveal of secrets Roonan has been keeping all along.

I’ve written before about how I like to play around with POV, writing from several different viewpoints as I discover a story. This antagonist, Sean, was a fun surprise, as he had insights I hadn’t thought of.  (Writing in Process: Using Alternative Voice to Understand Internal Conflict).

 

*     *     *     *     *

Excerpt from Never Said

(The following is an excerpt from an unpublished novel. Do no copy or use without express written permission from Elissa Field.)

Sean saw the back of Michael Roonan’s head from a distance, across the thin stream that split the village center.  Mick turned toward the marketplace on the other side of the stone bridge. Wind lifted his hair and Sean saw his face in full profile. Definitely him. His hair was heavy, coarse with the filth of a man on the run. It calmed his anger to know Mick ran, no matter what he’d said. His hair grown out like the mane of a horse, so unlike himself.

Unrecognizable from the man he’d last met on the jetty south of Wicklow, when he’d watched Mick dive off the stern of a trawler, knowing he was avoiding the Garda whose lights flickered fierce off the roofs of their cars, parked in jackknifed formation at the entrance to the docks. Sean had grinned at him, unseen: They’re not for you, Mick. It’s a body washed up against the headwall. Coppers wandered bored as farm dogs, no hints yet if it were a murder or just a ferry jumper or a man washed overboard. So tedious, waiting on coroners.

He followed the intermittent bob of Mick’s head beyond the concrete breakers, carried far south by the inlet currents. He might have drowned, another body to be fished out, but sputtered out of the surf along the strand amid coarse grasses and weekend strollers. Sean watched him collapse. Waited. Mick pulled himself to sit facing out to sea as if what chased him was yet panting in the frothing waves. Not behind him in the car park, where Sean  leaned back for a smoke. A think.

Shells or stones – he couldn’t see from this distance – rattled in the waves with a sound like dried bones. Mick’s hair was buzzed military-short, then. More stark than months Sean had seen him reported, imprisoned in isolation for all the players who wanted him dead.

This little man. Hunched along the shore line, thin thread of light blazing brilliant beneath the oyster shell gradations of the sky.

Water and sand fell from his shirt when he stood. He brushed kelp from his shoulder. Otter of a survivor. One summer in Ridell, there’d been one of the younger brothers – he was sure it was Mick –pulled in an undertow jumping off the tower at Blackrock. The black shadow of his head, like the back of a turtle or a skate, pulling deeper and sideways along the Irish Sea bottom that would be exposed, smelly with the decay of exposed mussels and whelks at low tide. Sean was the one to dive for him, a bolt through the current, wrenching him to the surface. Clear vomit of seawater sprayed over his forearm as he held the boy’s chin in the crook of his elbow, rolling onto his back, the boy buoyed on his chest as he waited out the current to let them go. The little brother’s head gagged and sputtered and cried, gasping for air. Struggled to get free, to swim, not knowing all you could do is relent and float until the current gave you up. “Easy,” he’d told the top of the boy’s head, fixing his face to the sky. “Look, there. See the gulls? How many is that?”

He was sure it was Mick. The Roonan son who covered his ears at the high engine whine of his father passing in a race, even as others took pictures or shook their fists to cheer.

There was no rush. Wait him out.

Mick’s head was down when Sean came upon him, nearly dried, on a bench along the roadside not quite into the adjoining village. Mick said, without looking up, without surprise, “How is it going for you, Sean? I’d heard you were out.” It was barely discernible: the faint shift of posture to check peripheral vision, clear enough one wolf to another, to be certain Sean was alone.

“You killed Stephen.”

There was a long silence. Cars passed, their headlights bilious green in the odd fog come in from the sea. That color got to him, always – color of the dead boy in the canal – and he wanted to shake Mick, to shake the whole world, the way Man and Ulster vibrated in the high-revved videos of Gerry Roonan at 200 miles per hour. How did Mick take this for granted? How did he not know how lucky he was, for what he had? Him and Stevie: they’d be famous racers, just like their da. What hate makes you blow that all apart? For what? Not even a cause.

Mick turned fully to him, no avoidance in his eyes. “I killed Stephen.”

“What the fuck, Mick. Can’t you even deny it to me?.. Why? Why would you do that to your own brother?”

Roonan didn’t answer that. Not yet. “How did you know?”

“I watched you. I saw you do it, you stupid fuck. Watched… I saw him…”

Both were in it, then. Graphic memory. Two men, brothers to Stephen in different ways, watching from opposite sides as the universe sucked inward on Stephen then exploded infinitely outward. The only two to have seen it plainly, true. Night stills for them as it does in sacred moments, letting damnation seep in.

“Why the fuck did you do it?”

A man climbs fully inside his eyes when come upon his truths. Sean knew as he stared into Mick’s face waiting for an answer: it was there. Mick was walking around inside it as if visiting an old room, testing what was remembered, what was broken, what was new. He wanted to punch him, deflate silence by crushing his head like a collapsed football. Fury at such deliberation, such unhurried reflection. Michael was a big man now: past twenty-two Sean guessed, strong from pulling nets on the trawler, taller than Stevie would have been. He’d heard stories of Roonan crushing an undercover cop’s head against a rock to stop the man from beating an informant. He’d heard rumors of his calm shadow in a doorway being enough to scare off provo gunners.

“You need to run, Mick.”

The man’s eyes rose to his face, but he was not there. Somewhere else, some other time, and a chill went through Sean. Remembering the boy in the hedgerow, when Rodgers hit the tree. Sean and Stevie and Mick were the first to the body, the racer’s attached hand still opening and closing in a fist, as his severed arm was further down across the road. The man’s eyes met their three faces through his visor, pleading for help. Mick would have been just eight when he heard that first gasping groan of a body giving up life, and his father’s road racer had passed them just after, front wheel lifting in the air at the surprise of finding Rodgers’ spent machine broken apart across the road, then whining away up Perry’s Hill.

He did not give away the gun tucked into his waistband. Did not acknowledge he could pick up a rock or that broken sign post just feet away and bash his skull. Could have done it then, that evening, as the high pressure sodium lighting came on over their heads, lighting them in a glow as if good friends reminiscing before walking home from the pub. He said as if he had yet to make a plan, so Mick had the benefit of a warning: “You need to run, because I’ll have you dead for it.”

Mick had stood. His feet were bare, having kicked off his white rubber fishermen’s boots when they filled like anchors with the sea. He looked up and down the street like an animal dropped from a car, dazed and recalibrating for home. He took a step toward the street to read a sign, he looked back to the car park where he calculated Sean’s car was parked. “I know you will,” he said to Sean. “But I won’t run. Not when you come.” Mick met the man’s eyes, held them to be certain Sean understood, and he’d walked off slowly in the direction of the main road.

If you want to share your feedback in the comments: 

If anything resounds with you, do click “like” or leave me a comment to let me know what you liked — it’s hard and lonely work, so I will love you forever for any encouragement. Seriously. Of course, the impact may be lost a little,  since this piece is from 2/3 through the book, and some details may reference earlier chapters (for ex: “hedgerow” is a frequent reference to where the boys stood when watching Roonan’s father race motorcycles) — but still, find kind words to let me know if any of the scene didn’t work for you and why.

*     *     *     *     *

What About You?

What are you working on this week? Are their aspects of your writing process or writing community that help you get it finished?

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option or via email, or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

More on this site:

No so much a selfie as sign of how bad the glare on the laptop screen can be. c Elissa Field

 

4 Comments

Filed under My Work in Progress, Novel Writing, Relentless Wake, Writing Process & Routine