Tag Archives: fiction

An excerpt from Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published

by Windy Lynn Harris (guest blogger)

 

Writing short stories and personal essays is a marketable skill in publishing. These types of short pieces are submitted and accepted every week. And the great news about this kind of writing: Writers don’t need a literary agent to participate in the process. We can independently market our prose and land bylines that make us proud. It just takes sending our work to the right editor, at the right time, and in the right way.

In 2009, I founded the Market Coaching for Creative Writers program to help writers get their short stories and personal essays published in magazines. In that program, I teach writers how to create targeted cover letters, professionally format their manuscripts, and find hundreds of perfect markets to match their voice. They study magazine guidelines and submission etiquette, learn the difference between copyright and the rights available to sell, and set up a system for keeping their submissions organized. By the end of a Market Coaching session, writers are not only able to submit their work to viable magazine editors with confidence; they’re able to repeat the process for every piece of short writing they produce in the future.

Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays is going to teach you all of those things, too and more. This book is a complete conversation on the topic of publishing short works.

 

THE SHORT STORY

A short story is a short work of fiction. Many of the same craft techniques used to write novels are used to write short stories, but the short story stands apart as a separate form of prose—one delivered with concise language. The use of compression and microscopic storytelling makes short stories unique. A short story isn’t a chapter from a book but a complete experience delivered in a small package.

Besides length, short stories are unique because the action usually revolves around a single dramatic event. It is a glimpse of a character’s life—perhaps one year or even one hour. Every moment in the story is a dance between action and reaction that is related to a single dramatic event. These stories begin as close to the main conflict as possible, giving an unmistakable immediacy to the prose.

Short stories can be enjoyed in one sitting, but that time frame varies from story to story. Short stories can be as simple as six words or run eighty pages long. Most short stories published today fall somewhere between one-thousand and seven-thousand words, but longer stories and shorter stories can still find homes. There is no hard rule to follow with word count.

The terms “flash fiction” and “microfiction” refer to the very shortest of stories. Microfiction is a story that tops out at one hundred words. Flash fiction is anything between one-hundred to one-thousand words. Anything above one-thousand words (and up to twenty-thousand words) is simply called a short story.

Well-written short stories are highly desirable pieces of prose. There are plenty of markets to place this type of work. You’ll find short stories in literary magazines (The Literary Review, Black Warrior Review, Passages North, etc.), genre magazines (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Lightspeed, etc.) children’s magazines (Cricket, Highlights, Ladybug, etc.), and commercial magazines (The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, etc.). Some are even sold as digital shorts on Amazon or other digital retailers.

I mention the caveat “well-written short stories” because even though there are many outlets for short stories, the competition to earn a space on the pages of a journal is quite stiff. For any writing project, you must create, revise, and polish your work until it meets the standards of the market to which you’re submitting, and in the world of short stories, that standard is skyscraper tall. Short stories are some of the most clever, experimental, urgent, and fresh prose being written today.

Part of the reason is the long-respected history of great storytellers and their iconic short stories, such as Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” Ernest Hemingway’s “The Killers,” Flannery O’Connor’s “Greenleaf,” and William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” I could go on for quite some time before running out of names, but the point I’m making is that short-story writers still aspire to equal the masters. This category’s authors and publishers will always hear the echo of notable writers in the distance. So today, editors search for contemporary yet barrel-aged stories that have been given enough careful crafting to mellow into greatness.

PERSONAL ESSAYS

Personal essays are appealing first-person stories often found in magazines and newspapers. They’re true stories told by people willing to share their intimate thoughts and feelings about life. They are incredibly popular to read, with plenty of submission opportunities for writers.

These stories are nonfiction, but they stand apart from other nonfiction pieces because of their purposeful use of storytelling. We’re not talking about self-help, how-to, or informational articles, which all require the writer to slip into an invisible narrator’s voice. Essays bloom well beyond that informational tone. Well-written essays harness cadence, individuality, a narrative arc, and creativity.

Studying the craft of writing is essential to creating publishable personal essays. Writing the truth is important, but great storytelling holds equal weight. Personal essays have rising tension, compelling characters, and mini-plotlines that push the reader toward a conclusion or a realization. A personal essay isn’t simply an anecdote but an in-depth exploration of a subject.

Essay categories include travel, parenting, grief, humor, satire, nostalgia, divorce, friendship, personal growth, and much more. Essays can cover a trip with your mother-in-law to Las Vegas or a midlife moment in the mirror. They can explore the injustice of racism or the beautiful healing nature of butterflies. They can be filled with hope, anger, or angst. Essays have that delicious inclusion factor that grabs readers by the heart and makes them feel something.

Personal essays whose style  strongly emphasizes literary elements (symbolism, setting, style, tone, theme, characterization, etc.) find homes in literary magazines like Tin House, The Sun, The Paris Review, etc. Reported essays—an essay that contains a personal narrative with some degree of reporting and statistical analysis—are found in news sources and lifestyle magazines like The Washington Post, Aeon, The Guardian, etc. All other essays, including well-written prose with any degree of literary emphasis, are found in nearly every other print and online publication.

Many places that publish personal essays will state clearly that they are looking for creative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction is an industry term that includes literary essays along with other creative nonfiction, including travel essays, parenting essays, and pieces of inspired reportage, among other things. Outlets looking to acquire creative nonfiction are advertising, essentially, that they publish personal essays on a variety of topics that contain a large amount of scene development.

The key to well-written creative nonfiction is in the use of scenes to convey the story. Creative nonfiction essays use less narrative and more scene-by-scene storytelling—a technique that pushes the sensory experience for readers. When readers feel the action of an essay, they can make inferences, judgments, and emotional connections. They can experience the events with personal investment. Readers can then examine their own experiences in comparison.

Creative nonfiction is the fastest-growing area of nonfiction, with opportunities for writers in magazines and newspapers across the country. The genre allows for experimentation in a way that appeals to readers of fiction and nonfiction alike. Not every magazine is looking specifically for creative nonfiction, but if that’s the direction your work takes you, know that you will have many opportunities for publication.

Author Susan Pohlman has written creative-nonfiction essays for a variety of print and online outlets. She likens these essays to fiction, in terms of technique: “Creative nonfiction is an umbrella term. It is an easily accessible genre encompassing a multitude of forms such as the personal essay, the profile essay, participatory journalism, memoir, features, travel essays, biography, and inspired reportage on almost any subject. In short, creative nonfiction is the art of applying storytelling techniques to nonfiction prose. They are true stories that read like fiction.”

That’s right—they read like fiction. Don’t let that confuse you. They feel like fiction because they employ such a big dose of scene development, but creative-nonfiction essays are all accurate depictions of people’s lives. They are true stories crafted to elicit an emotional response.

Want to learn more? Grab a copy of Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays, available in bookstores everywhere.

My bio: Windy Lynn Harris is the author of Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published (from Writer’s Digest Books) and the founder of Market Coaching for Creative Writers, a mentoring program that teaches writers how to get their short work published in magazines. She’s a prolific writer, a trusted mentor, and a frequent speaker at literary events. Her long list of short stories and personal essays have been published in literary, trade, and women’s magazines across the U.S. and Canada in places like The Literary Review, The Sunlight Press, and Literary Mama, among many other journals. She is also a developmental editor-for-hire, specializing in short stories and personal essays. She teaches the craft of writing in person and online. More about Windy at her website: www.windylynnharris.com.

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Note from Luanne: I posted a review of Windy’s book here: Write Short First. Please direct your comments to Windy as I am entertaining Mom this week!

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Filed under Book promotion, Books, Essay, Fiction, Flash Nonfiction, Literary Journals, Nonfiction, Novel, Reading, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing Talk, Writing Tips and Habits

Guest Blogger: Anneli Purchase and Her Latest Book “Marlie”

My name is Marlie Mitchell. That’s me on the cover of Anneli’s book.


Anneli’s friend Jan Brown painted my portrait. She made my hair a bit wilder than it really is, but I do have trouble keeping it tamed. Jan certainly got my eyes right. One shows the hurt I’ve felt, and the other shows my determination to pick myself up and be strong.

You see, I had great plans to teach young children and build a happy life with a husband and maybe a couple of kids of my own. Hah! That dream went down the toilet almost before I got started. Everything in my life seemed to go wrong.

I was the perfect candidate for an escape to a remote teaching post in the Queen Charlotte Islands, now called Haida Gwaii, off the coast of northern British Columbia.

Many of my students lived in poor homes in Haida village, but the children became very dear to me.

I hadn’t expected the islands to be so beautiful. Neither had I expected the lifestyle to be quite so different. In real life, it wasn’t all as romantic or perfect as I’d hoped.

People on the islands help each other even if they don’t know who you are. Unfortunately, I found out that some will just as readily hurt an unsuspecting person. In my first months on the islands, I ran into both kinds. One unfortunate bad choice I made would hang over me for months, and leave me struggling.

But I had the friendship of Skylar, who taught the grade four class next to me. She took me to the beach one day. We had an amazing time, until we came back to her van. We had a frightening experience then that left our legs shaking.


Canada geese spend a lot of time on the islands. I was lucky enough to see some beautiful flocks.

I got to know the islands better when I met a commercial fisherman. He had a love of hunting that I couldn’t immediately share. Maybe he was just a bit too real for me. He was most annoying. And yet … he showed me some scenic parts of the island. He nearly got us killed, but I suppose that’s all part of island life, and I’m still here to tell about it.
He fishes some beautiful places, like near where this sailboat is anchored, but he said it can also get really rough.

Sometimes he couldn’t even see out the windshield for the rain and spray off the water. I’m not sure I’d want to be out there in bad weather. I soon found out what kind of screaming wild winds would visit the islands in the coming winter.

Juggling my problems and feelings about people I met on the islands, I began to wonder if my fresh start was going to work out for me. I had two choices: quit my job and go back to the mess my life used to be, or sort out the new mess I had gotten myself into and figure out a way to survive up here in this beautiful, godforsaken place.

Why don’t you come spend some time with me in Anneli’s book? I could use a good friend right about now. You might even meet some people you’ve met in Anneli’s other books. Remember Jim, Andrea, and Foissy? You would have met them in “The Wind Weeps” and in “Reckoning Tide.”

Come see me inside the covers of “Marlie.”

Here’s where you can find me.

Links:

For Kindle and paperback:

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.ca

For e-books other than Kindle :

Smashwords.com

Blog: https://wordsfromanneli.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/anneli33


About Anneli Purchase

Anneli loves to write and to do copy-editing for other writers. She spent six years living in the Queen Charlotte Islands. She loves nature, gardening, and photography. Animals, especially birds, are a special interest, and although they are never the main focus, they always find their way into her books in some small way. Anneli lives on Vancouver Island with her husband and two spaniels.

Marlie is her fifth novel.

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John Howell’s My GRL and Other Stuff

I read John Howell’s adventure novel My GRL a month and a half ago, but was so busy with promo stuff for Kin Types that I didn’t get a chance to do much besides jot down some thoughts about the book. I’m taking a break now to write my review because his book deserves to be read!

Howell created a page-turning thriller. In the midst of the suspense, the most charming aspect of the story is that the protagonist John J. Cannon is an anti-hero. He’s a lawyer who has taken time off to move to a coastal Texas town and, although he knows very little about boating, buys himself a pretty good sized vessel he names My GRL. John is not necessarily the sharpest, most experienced, or courageous hero. But he’s likeable, the sort of guy you’d like to visit on his boat with a six-pack in your hand—if only it were a safe place.

But from the getgo, John and his boat are involved in a dangerous situation with some very shady characters.  It’s great fun to follow along for the ride. John gets himself into one hot spot after another, but eventually he’s gotten himself in so deep it doesn’t seem possible that he can escape. Has John become canny enough to vanquish such a mighty opponent? Once I hit the last third of the book, where suspense leads to fast-paced action, I couldn’t put it down.

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Reminder: writers not only love reviews, but need them to sell their books. Thank you so very very very much if you left one or more for Kin Types! If you read and enjoyed Kin Types and have not done so, please (Ima begging) swing over to Amazon and leave a review. (and/or Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, and Finishing Line Press).

Verse Daily published one of my Kin Types poems a week ago. I was thrilled, to say the least. They publish one contemporary poem a day. Check them out and be sure to follow them on Twitter!

Perry is still living in his bedroom, but every day he spends several hours in the house with the rest of the cats. I am going very slowly because he loves his room and his privacy, but more importantly for two other reasons. One is that my other cats are old, and he’s very curious and wants to play (or in the case of Felix, to play fight with him), and they can’t handle more than four hours at this point. The biggest reason, though, is that Perry breathes SO heavily when he’s out with the cats. It’s kind of scary. I took him to the vet and had him checked out, paying them buckets of money. She had no answers except that his heart might be slightly enlarged and the next step COULD be an echocardiogram (more buckets). But we don’t have to rush into that at all. However, to be on the safe side, I don’t want him breathing like that all day long . . . .

That’s how Perry treats Felix. He treats the female cats much nicer. When they give him warning growls, he listens.

#amwriting: I’ve written two poems, peeps! Yay me!

Have a happy and productive week!

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Books, Cats and Other Animals, Fiction, Kin Types, Poetry Collection, Writing

Little Shoes

The other day the gardener and I were in California, on a solidly packed freeway, and a truck that pulled ahead of us on the right drew my attention. Hanging out of the back, one on each side, were two bundles of children’s shoes. They were strung together by a rope or perhaps laces, and they looked a bit like little herb pots hanging on the wall.

What I thought: they are shoes without the children.

These were not shoes being transported somewhere, but rather a decoration to the truck itself. The trailer portion of the truck was smallish, but not too small, and without windows.

Maybe somebody would look at those shoes and think how cool it was that a dad was hauling mementos of his children around. I, on the other hand, immediately thought of serial killers and their trophies.

I shouldn’t let my mind loose sometimes, especially since I prefer the lighter side of life.

At home, I dug out my own kids’ outgrown shoes for a little throw-back mama time:

Did they not have the sweetest little shoes? The print canvas shoes my son loved to show off, and the red Chinese shoes he wore with a white turtleneck and black velveteen pants with suspenders to his legal adoption (a few hours after he fell off the bed and cracked his head between his eyes ugh). My daughter’s little “running shoes” with pink interiors, and the white Mary Janes she wore to her special naming ceremony. The rubber Korean shoes sent with my children when they arrived from Korea. Lots of memories there.

Then I took a look at somebody else’s memories. My mother-in-law’s collection of the gardener’s out-grown shoes.

Because I wasn’t around when he wore these shoes, they hold no memories for me. Because they hold no memories I am free to create stories in my head. Kinda like I did when I saw the shoes hanging off the back of the truck.

Writing question: do you think it’s easier to write fiction if you have information but not specific memories? Or do memories feed your fiction?

Blogging question: when you’re writing non-fiction do you ever have leaps of imagination that try to send you into fiction? Like embellishment or even creating fictional stories for your blog?

I am going to close comments for this post, but I hope these questions give you something to think about for today!

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The poetry reading went well. It was a very small crowd because it’s summer in Phoenix (imagine that!), and many were gone or found it too hot. But I had a lot of fun, met some new people, and what a sweet little art gallery with coffee bar.

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Filed under Blogging, California, Family history, History, Inspiration, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing, Writing Talk

Fresh Air for Cats and Writers

Did you watch that Bowl game yesterday? I sure did. The important one–the Kitten Bowl. (Yes, I saw the other crazy game, too!)

After I bought a cat stroller last summer (see here) it was too hot (for them) for walks or just to get some air, then it was too rainy and cool (for me). This weekend it was just right.

Because I don’t have a catio (a screened-in porch for cats) I don’t like to frustrate the cats that would take most quickly to outdoor life. We are a strictly indoor cat household–for the safety of our cats, the safety of the neighborhood birds, and for my mental health. So I don’t want anybody to get any big ideas.

But Tiger has a very constricted life. She finds Kana and Sloopy Anne very annoying. They like to chase her, and Tiger likes to flee. So she needs little events that make her feel special. Therefore, she was the one who was chosen to go out in the stroller in this beautiful weather.  I put down a wee-wee pad (Chux underpad), just in case she got too excited. But she didn’t have an accident. She felt the breeze on her face and smelled the odors on that breeze. She watched for tiny movements I couldn’t even see. And she listened for her dad’s voice since he was close by.

When she came back in the house, she was thorough about checking out the stroller for the smells it brought back into the house. And she stood her ground afterward, giving Sloopy Anne a nice long smirk.

A writer friend asked me what writing project I’m working on now. I had to admit I feel a little at odds. I have a draft of my memoir completed, but am doing some thinking about it. I have a publisher interested in my poetry/prose chapbook that is based on the lives of women in my family history. I’m not jumping back into poetry or into creative nonfiction right now. Partly, I would like to focus on wrapping up these two projects. But maybe it’s also that I feel a little singed by these genres.  I’ve been working in them for a long time, and they take a lot of emotional strength.

My friend asked me if I was going to work on fiction now. It was her idea, not mine. She might do it herself. I think it’s an idea well worth thinkin’ on pondering. Maybe I could use some “fresh air.”

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Fiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing

Finding a New Cozy Series

The gardener and I visited our local used bookstore and loaded up a box. I know, I know. I’ve said I have a shelf and a half of unread books. I have a lot of want-to-read books on my Goodreads list. I’ve promised people their books will be read in the next phase. But the gardener was out of his books to read. He reads hardcover-only historical fiction, preferably in Asian settings.  Nothing too specific hahaha. I didn’t happen to have any of those on my shelf, so off we went.

Can you imagine me waiting around in a bookstore with discounted and sale prices and twiddling my thumbs?

All of this is to say It’s Not My Fault.

I thought I’d check out mysteries and poetry. I don’t even bother to look for memoirs because our store rarely has any in stock. Maybe people don’t give up their memoir copies as quickly?

In the somewhat lame poetry section, I found a Billy Collins book, so I grabbed that. But most of the rest were obviously cast-off textbooks/the classics–and I already have those.

In mysteries I had better luck. I prefer cozies. And of cozies I most prefer theatre (those are hard to find) and cats (those are easy to find) and retail shops (antique, book, etc.). What I never thought I’d find would be dolls!

And here they were: 4 wonderful mysteries of the Dolls To Die For series by Deb Baker. The entire short series right in front of me. And guess where they take place? Phoenix! (aka home)

So I brought them home where they are right at home.

When I lined them up with the doll buggy, I was reminded of a poem in Doll God. “Vintage Doll Buggy” was originally published in The Antigonish Review, a Canadian literary journal. I wrote this poem about war and innocence, focusing on a green doll buggy I’d seen in an antique store. But I happen to have two versions of that buggy–one pink and blue; the other red and white. In the poem you will see why I used the green buggy instead of mine.

 

Vintage Doll Buggy

 

 

“Every Boy Wants a Pop Gun”

— the company’s slogan. And

not just guns, but air rifles,

clicker pistols, caps.

They specialized in the arms

industry for boys in striped Ts.

 

How this paean to fertility

flowered in that factory, it’s hard

to figure.  Pre-war, maybe 1930s.

Pressed from Ford plant

scrap metal, like the guns.

 

The inside cups like a clam shell.

Like an embrace.  A sheath.

With a satin pillow, it’s a rolling

coffin, a time capsule.

 

When the fighting began,

the government banned metal

for toys.  The war effort claimed

even the green paint.  At the factory

they pressed en bloc clips

for the M1 Garand rifle.

 

Now its wheels bow out,

the green paint

chipped and dulled.

The yellow canopy still reverses.

A calm lingers inside as when

one fingers past a peony’s petals.

 

castle promotional cover

Click through to Amazon

Nancy Ann Storybook doll with pre-war doll buggy

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Filed under Arizona, Books, Doll God, Dolls, Fiction, Literary Journals, poems about dolls, Poetry, Poetry Collection, Writing

Where to Find a Parking Lot Superhero

Just realized that my flash fiction piece “Parking Lot Superhero” was published by Story Shack two weeks ago! Yikes, how did I lose track of time? Speaking of time, the magazine gives an estimate of five minutes to read it ;).

PARKING LOT SUPERHERO

The story was illustrated by artist Hannah Nolan.

Thanks so much to the editor Martin Hooijmans and to Hannah.

This is my first attempt at flash fiction.  I like how fiction gives me more freedom with structure than nonfiction does, and the flash length is fun to work with. It’s challenging to be concise but also rewarding to complete a story that is this short.

Do you read and/or write flash fiction that isn’t serialized? Where the whole story has to be read in five minutes? Do you prefer flash fiction or the traditional short story length and why?

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Pic of a vintage police car found just outside the Grand Canyon. With a character like Jack (in my story), the protagonist and her friend didn’t need the police.

 

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Filed under Fiction, Flash Fiction, Literary Journals, Publishing, Reading, Writing

Need Some Writing Constraints?

Are you at a loss on choosing your next writing topic? Try this software program (for free)!

The Story Shack Writing Prompt Generator

Pretty darn cool.

P.S. If you’re like me, writing constraints make it easier to write. When you feel like EVERYTHING is fair game, the mind goes blank.

 

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Fiction, Literary Journals, Writing, Writing prompt, Writing Tips and Habits

Don’t Always Believe What You Read Online

When I started writing creative nonfiction/memoir, the issue of dialogue tags rose its nasty little head early on. I’d never given them much thought in fiction writing, and they don’t exist in poetry. For some reason, nonfiction made me think and rethink what works best. Maybe it’s that more expressive word choices conveyed more information than plain old “said,” but in nonfiction it seemed like overkill to write “stammered” or “giggled” about oneself.

These “more expressive” tags look something like this:

Eventually I took courses online and learned that all the creative and imaginative tags I’d debated were worthless. I think these teachers were right, so I’m sharing what I learned from them.

The idea is to stay as far from “tagging” as possible.

That means that if you can write dialogue where it’s clear who is speaking each line, you don’t need any tags at all. Sometimes you can start a conversation out by identifying the first speaker and then drop tags after that point. Here is a passage from Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty:

We stopped at the airport gift shop and I bought a scarf in a red tartan with the money I had left. “Write to me all the time,” she said as we walked to the gate, her head back on my shoulder.

“I always do.”

“Write to me more often now. I’m going to miss you more.”

The book is about the friendship of Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy (Autobiography of a Face). Lucy is leaving and wants Ann to write to her. In this passage, we know it’s Lucy who begins because she is the only other person in the scene and because with her head on Ann’s shoulder, she’s exhibiting her characteristic neediness. In the next line by Ann and the response from Lucy their personalities shine through. The only tag in this whole passage is “she said,” used once.

So why did Patchett use “said” and not a tag with more emotion or more information?

Because said is an invisible word. It’s so common that it exists just under the surface, much like articles (the, a, an) do. It doesn’t intrude on the scene. Instead the dialogue itself is allowed to pop with just a little help from scene setters: “as we walked to the gate, her head back on my shoulder.”

Another way you can avoid a tag is to pair the line of dialogue with an action that advances the plot. Here is a passage from Bernard Cooper’s The Bill from My Father:

“By the time they come, I’ll have proof.”

“So what? What if I was seeing a man?”

My father turned. His hands were shaking. “It’s too soon.”

In this case, the father’s hands shaking pair with his words and create more emotion than if Cooper had written, “It’s too soon,” he said with a shaky voice. What is more important is that by avoiding a tag, the action and the words are not watered down by unnecessary words that attract attention.

Different versions of this “Said is Dead” chart are being shared all over the internet, along with other questionable writing advice. Rather than listening to these sources, pick up a good writing book and follow the advice in there.  Two good ones for nonfiction are Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away and Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller & Suzanna Paola.

Have you seen advice online that you know to be wrong?

 

 

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing Talk, Writing Tips and Habits

Another Book Inhabited by Dolls

 

Marie of 1WriteWay introduced me to the writer of another book with the word DOLL in the title.

Dolls Behaving Badly

When I started reading Cinthia Ritchie’s novel Dolls Behaving Badly I immediately thought, “Oh, my son’s fiancée will love this book.” Then I thought, “Mom will want to read this book.”

 

It starts off like fun chick lit. A single mom of a genius 8-year-old son needs to figure out how to pay her bills on her waitress salary and find love and happiness from a trailer in Alaska.

 

Luckily for me, before I sent a link to them, the dolls entered the book. Just in time, I stayed my hand (I know the phrase doesn’t belong outside the Bible or historical romances, but this is where it gets a little “Biblical”).  The protagonist, Carla Richards, is not just a server, but also an artist, and retired Barbie and Ken dolls serve her art. She hacks and appends to them, all for a very “upscale” erotic website.

 

Although I didn’t send out the link, I kept reading because the last thing this book is is porn. It’s a well-crafted story of how Carla and the “family” she builds around her grow and change with dignity.

 

Ritchie know how to tell a story that is both accessible and thought-provoking.  Sometimes the book stuns me with a lyrical phrase or brilliant notion.  She uses some contemporary stylistic experiments quite well. For instance, Carla is writing her diary in tandem with reading the philosophies of an inspirational speaker known as The Oprah Giant. She’s haunted by the ghost of her dead Polish grandmother and is still friends with her ex, a chef. The recipes of both these characters are translated by Carla and the recipes supplied for the reader.

 

If it were a movie, the book would be called a comedy, maybe even a romantic comedy, but as written word it is much more than that. The book probes and examines our hopes and fears without letting us know that’s what it’s doing. Dolls Behaving Badly is not lightweight or superficial. It accesses the hidden areas of the mind and of the heart.

 

I still think my mother and future daughter-in-law would love this book, but I can hear the comments (“My mom gave you a book with WHAT kind of dolls?”). Maybe I could send it to them anonymously?

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