Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Storytelling vs Writing a Story

Okay, I was in the middle of writing this workshop when we lost Internet last night. Here it is, updated and finished!

I had a student recently discover his inner writer. He's never done particularly well in English class and took Creative Writing only because he needed another English credit for graduation.

But then something clicked inside him when he started to write his character story (you can do the activity here). He got really into it and, on the day it was due, he came to me with a sheepish grin on his face and nothing in his hands. "I don't have it finished," he told me.

When I asked why not, he replied, "Well, you know how you said it had to be a thousand words? I'm at 1500 and I just finished the first chapter."

"Wow!" I told him, knowing that was short for a chapter, but actually thrilled that he was writing so much. "Turn in the chapter and I'll understand it's just a small piece of a much larger story."

He did, then went back to his netbook and continued writing (he's currently up to Chapter 3 and not done yet). I took his pages to my desk and found exactly what I expected: story telling instead of story showing.

In other words: a synopsis, not a written story.

What's the difference?

A synopsis tells the story quickly and without detail. It's often written in present tense and simply outlines the characters and action. For example:

Jerry and Lynn meet at the library when Jerry drops a stack of books on Lynn's toes. It's love at first sight and Lynn suggests Jerry can take her out for ice cream to make up for his klutziness. They have a good time and they end up back at Jerry's place for some hot sex.

See? Short, to-the-point, a simple telling of what happened.

As opposed to:

Jerry hefted the stack of books to be re-shelved  grumbling about the heavy work and little pay. 'Probably should've done this in two trips,' he thought to himself as the stack, the top book balanced against his nose, wobbled in his arms. But then, that would be double the work.

He took the corner too quickly and the pile started to teeter. Moving faster to counteract, he didn't notice the pretty girl sitting on the floor between the shelves until his foot connected with hers. The books toppled like a cascade of water, the pages fluttering like waterdrops around and on top of the head of the cute library patron.

And that only sets up the first sentence of the story telling version!

You see what I mean, then, about story telling versus story showing? When you write, give detail. Give dialogue and include metaphors and similes and all sorts of cool figurative language (which I'll deal with in a later workshop). Expand!

And what's cool about all this? Every one of you can take the three-sentence synopsis and write a different story from it.

I'm not kidding! My two-paragraph story-start is only one way Jerry could drop the stack of books on her toes...or head...or any part of her. There are lots of ways that could happen--and you're going to write your own version in this week's activity below.

Oh, and no, I didn't tell the kid his story was a storytelling rather than a full story. He's having too much fun discovering his new-found ability. The finessing can come later, when he's ready. Right now we're celebrating his inner-writer. :)


Using the synopsis above, write your own start to this story. Deal with just the first sentence (if the story clicks, feel free to continue into a full-length story. I claim no ownership over the idea!).

Feel free to post your starts in the comments section. Would be fun to see the differences. Just how many ways can we come up with for Jerry to drop those books?

As always, if you find these workshops helpful, please drop a coin in the box to the right or push the button below to make a donation.

edited to add: apparently the Donate button hasn't been working for a while. It is now! :)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hip and a hurry

Am posting this quickly just to say there may or may not be a workshop posted tomorrow. As many of you know, I live in the Finger Lakes area of New York State and while I'm safe from the storm surges, we are experiencing very high winds and are expecting power outages. We've already lost Internet connection three  four times in the last half hour.

So rest assured we are fine here, but power may be an issue for a few days. Don't panic. The workshops will resume when the power does! :)

In the meantime, play safe!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Character "answers"

Congratulations! You just created a character.

I'm not kidding. Those of you familiar with role-playing games (D&D anyone?) know what it means to "roll a character"...well, that's what you just did.

Below you'll find the "answers" to the letters you chose. On your paper, next to the letter you chose for each number, write down the characteristic your person has. Ready?

1. Gender
A. Male
B. Female

2. Skin color
A. Dark
B. Tan
C. Pale
D. Albino

3. Hair color
A. White
B. Brown
C. Black
D. Red-head

4. Hair Length
A. Waist-length
B. Crew cut
C. Shoulder length
D. Mid-back
E. Bald

5. Eye color
A. Brown
B. Blue
C. Green
D. Hazel
E. Black
F. Violet

6. Build
A. muscular
B. skinny
C. athletic
D. plump
E. pear-shaped

7. Personality
A. outgoing
B. aggressive
C. obnoxious
D. pleasant
E. shy

8. Height
A. below 4'
B. between 4'1" - 4'6"
C. between 4'7" - 5'
D. between 5'1" - 5'5"
E. between 5'6"-5'10"
F. between 5'11" - 6'
G. between 6'1 - 6'3"
H. between 6'4" - 6'6"
I. over 6'7"

9. Age
A. 13 years old
B. 18 years old
C. 35 years old
D. 45 years old
E. 55 years old
F. 65 years old
G. 25 years old
H. 30 years old
I. 40 years old
J. 50 years old
K. 60 years old
L. 70 years old
M. 80 years old
N. 90 years old
O. 100 years old

10. Dexterity
A. graceful
B. klutzy
C. can't walk and chew bubble gum at the same time
D. average

11. Health
A. alive
B. dead

I'm betting you've created something strange and unique! LOL This is one of my favorite activities to do with a group of writers who are stuck in a rut or who just need a reminder that writing is meant to be fun. And you know what's coming next, don't you?

You got it! Put this character in a situation. Give him/her a problem. Where is he/she? Is she alone? If with others...who? What is he/she doing?

Go for it! Write a scene using this character as your protagonist and remember...have fun!

Characterization Playtime

Today's activity actually takes up two blog posts. Do the test below first, then go to the next post to get your "answers."

No, I'm not going to tell you what you're doing yet. Just grab a piece of paper and something to write with. Then number your paper from 1 to 11 (no, you don't need to skip lines!).

For each of the numbers below, choose one of the letters that is listed after it and record your choice on your paper.

1. A or B

2. A or B or C or D

3. A or B or C or D

4. A or B or C or D or E

5. A or B or C or D or E or F

6. A or B or C or D or E

7. A or B or C or D or E

8. A or B or C or D or E or F or G or H or I

9. A or B or C or D or E or F or G or H or I or J or K or L or M or N or O

10. A or B or C or D

11. A or B

Got it? You picked one letter for each number? Great! Go on to the next blog post!

Diana (who's grinning and having a lot of fun on this side of the computer!)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Point of view, in general

NOTE: This is a larger issue/technique than one post. Look for more on point of view in the weeks to come :)
The Problem:
The first story I wrote, when I started writing seriously, was told primarily from the point of view of the young protagonist in third person limited. As he found things out, we found things out. Simple, straightforward storytelling, right?

Not so much.

One of the hardest tasks of a writer is staying in one person's head. Only one person's. The characters we meet/create often have so much to say, so many comments to make on the action, they all want their chance at the microphone.

Yet, if you give each of them equal time, the story becomes muddied. Just whose story is this, anyway? Who am I supposed to care about more? Why him/her and not this other guy?

When you try to tell too many points of view, a phenomenon known as "head-hopping" occurs. This is where you bounce the reader's focus back and forth between two (or more!) characters without regard as to what's really important.

Take that first, and so far, unpublished, novel I wrote. The story's going along for nearly forty pages in the protagonist's point of view when, bam! There's a paragraph where you hear the inside thoughts and feelings of the person he's talking to and then, bam! Back to the protagonist's point of view for another three pages before, bam!

Classic early writer inabilility to turn to a character and say, "Stop it. Not your turn. Don't care what you think right now. Stop thinking so loudly."

Some solutions:
There are ways to give that other character the stage for a bit, but having them interrupt the main storyteller doesn't work.

Making a point of view shift at the chapter break is best. Consider alternating from one person to another as the story progresses. Romance novels do this all the time where you have two protagonists  one male, one female, and you need to hear from both sides in order for the reader to care about both of them. (edited to add: Didn't mean to be so stereotypical. That's what I get for writing early in the morning before my morning cup of hot cocoa! Of course the protagonists in a romance don't have to be one of each gender!)

Double spaces in the middle of a chapter also work to separate points of view, but be careful here. You can't double-space, write a paragraph from the other person's viewpoint and then double-space and bounce back. That's just head-hopping with spaces.

If you truly need to switch within a chapter, make the break clear and stick with it for a while. The stories I enjoy most are those who give equal pages to the separate points of view. Or close to equal. The hero has X number of pages, the villain has the same number of pages so we know him (or her!) just as well.


1. Go through your manuscript and look for the head-hopping. Create a secondary file for anyone other than your main storyteller and dump all those thoughts there. You might be surprised to discover you have a companion story developing.

(Anne McCaffery did that with her Pern series. The first three Dragonrider books are told from the point of view of the riders. The next three books, the Harper Hall of Pern books, retell many of the same events at the start, but from the harpers' points of view.)

Soon, writing this blog and telling stories will be my only job in life (yay!). Please consider donating if you find these workshops useful!



Saturday, October 13, 2012


I thank everyone for your patience. It's been a trying week. My father was diagnosed years ago with Crohn's Disease. Last Friday he had a flare-up that required surgery to fix. After three days in Intensive Care, he's now in a regular room but still very weak and in a lot of pain.

It's hard to have to be the grown up for your parents.

Last Sunday I blogged over at the Scribes about keeping the home fires burning while Lynn, Ruby, Tara and Cait are representing us at Romanticon, except I haven't done a very good job of it. Still, I know they're having fun...I'm pretty sure I saw Ruby as a hot pink penguin? :)

Give your loved ones a hug and kiss tonight and tell them you love them. It's not always easy to say the words, but they're always appreciated.

Play safe,

Tuesday, October 09, 2012


There is no workshop this week for regulars of the Writing Workshop series. My dad has been taken ill and is in the hospital and I'm afraid this blog has not even been in the top fifty things I have had to take care of.

The workshops will resume next week.

Thanks. In the meanwhile,

Play safe!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

How many words?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch got me thinking about approaches to writing. Again. In her most recent post, she stated, almost as a throw-away, that she wrote a million words last year. A million. Words. In a year.

Which, of course, begs the question: How many did I write?

Compared to a professional writer (one who solely makes her living at the writing craft), how do I (one who has a day job that pays the bills and a writing career that, until I read that post, I classified as mid-list. Compared to her and Joe Konrath, however? I’m not even on the same roster) stack up?

I started tallying. For the sake of a full twelve months, I started with September 28, 2011 and counted this blog post (written on September 29, 2012) as my year. I included published stories, unpublished files that go with those stories (the “extra” scenes I cut out as well as my character descriptions), and blog posts, both here and at the Scribes’. I did NOT include anything that I wrote for my day job. The numbers that follow center only on my writing career.

Published stories                                 141,420
Un-pubbed “extras”                                2,459
Stories started but not yet finished         18, 362
Blog posts (here)                                   52,685
Blog posts (Scribes)                                3,655
                                                           218,581 words in a year’s time


That number is SO much bigger than I expected. I knew I wasn’t near a million, but to discover I’m only a bit shy of a quarter of a million words?


You know I’m a data junkie, yet this was one stat I never thought of keeping, so I don’t know how this past year lines up against previous ones. I suppose I could go figure it out, but the numbers would be approximate since I often start stories and then set them aside for months (sometimes years!) at a time. Besides which, it would take time away from writing, which is, after all, what I really should be doing.

I suspect there are others out there, part-time writers, who write even more words in a year’s time than me. I take my hat off to them. I’m not a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of gal and if I could accomplish this in a year, imagine what you could do if you really tried!


You guessed it! Go back and total up everything you’ve written since September 1, 2011. These workshops began that month, so anything you’ve written for them counts.

Published or not, you ARE a writer, and that’s worth celebrating. Post your totals in the comments. Come on, show me up!