March 20, 2010

Quiz: Do You Know These Authors?

Give yourself 2 points for each author that you can identify from the pictures below.

Need help? Look at the clues following the set of pictures. Give yourself 1 point for each author you can identify using a clue.


A. Best known for a 14-book series that inspired a classic film.

B. His most famous works were set at sea. He wrote what is often referred to as "The Great American Novel."

C. Today her work is studied in literature classes, but she died in poverty, relatively unknown. Toni Morrison called her "one of the greatest writers of our time."

D. Hester Prynne was the infamous main character in this author's most widely published novel.

E. Award-winning American author who spent much of her life in China.

F. His most famous fantasy novel found a resurge in popularity due to a recent film.

G. He is a distant relative of the writer of The Star-Spangled Banner

H. Well known for her beautifully illustrated children's books.

I. Best known for her famous novel set in 1860s New England.

J. Known for his dark stories, he is considered the inventor of the detective-fiction genre.

BONUS POINTS: All but two of these authors were born in America. Which two were not? Give yourself 5 points for answering correctly.


March 15, 2010

Revising: Show Don’t Tell . . . But Not Always.

Show Don’t Tell. It’s the Genesis of the writing process, the tenet learned in grade school. Immerse your readers in a stew of their senses: see, hear, feel, taste, smell and touch. Amen. But not so fast. It’s like that verse in Ecclesiastes 3 says: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Show don’t tell is no exception.

You can think of writing like applying makeup. Putting on just enough enhances one’s appearance, but too much can make you look like a waxy mold of a stringy, over-cooked ham. (See what I mean?) Good writers know that a manuscript isn’t finished until there is just the right balance of show and tell. But how do you decide?

When revising your work, first read each paragraph and look for telling places where:

  • You explain how a character feels,
  • You use an abstract description,
  • You tell about a conversation.

Then decide if these narrative passages need to be spiced up with some showing:

  • Is your character’s feeling a strong one? If so, then describe it by showing how the character looks and acts.
  • Is an abstract description enough? If not, then add some juicy images and raw details.
  • Is it sufficient to tell about a conversation? If a conversation is important, add dialogue to further develop your characters and move the story along.

Next, put your revising gear in reverse and check each paragraph for showing places. Look for the Extreme 3Ds:

  • Excessive drama. Remember the makeup analogy? Use just enough drama to enhance. Too much will pull readers away from the story.
  • Excessive dialogue. When characters talk, their conversations should be realistic. Too much dialogue can mean that characters are telling too much of the story.
  • Excessive description. Have you showed more than you have to? Sometimes, writers use too many words to describe. Look for wordy descriptions, and replace them with fewer and well-chosen words.

Writing is an art form. Clich├ęs like show don’t tell have their place, but they don’t command the writing and revising process. Great writers know when dramatization is needed and in what measure. Do you?

March 6, 2010

A Five-Week Mini-Course: The Forms of Writing

One of the best ways to polish your writing skills is to practice different forms of writing. Use your journal to complete this five-week mini-course. If you tackle it seriously, the result will be writing samples worthy of a place in your portfolio. Remember: What you write each week doesn’t have to be long, but it should be your best writing.

Weekly Assignments:

Week 1 – Narrative Writing
Choose one:
  • Personal narrative: Write a true story about your own life.
  • Fictional narrative: Write a fictional story.
  • Biographical narrative: Write a true story about someone else’s life.

Week 2 – Expository Writing
Choose one:
  • Compare-contrast essay: Write a short essay to show the similarities and differences between two subjects.
  • How-to-essay: Write an essay that explains how to do something.
  • Informative essay: Write an essay to inform or educate readers on a specific topic.

Week 3: Persuasive Writing
Choose one:
  • Opinion essay: Choose a controversial topic; then persuade readers to agree with your point of view by supporting it with strong reasons and examples.
  • Problem-solution essay: Present a problem and your solution; write to persuade readers that your solution will work.
  • Pro-con essay: Persuade readers to agree with your opinion by presenting the pros and cons of a controversial issue.

Week 4: Letter Writing
Choose one:
  • Write a query letter to an editor or agent; sell your idea.
  • Write a cover letter for a freelance writing opportunity that you found online.
  • Craft a polite, concise application letter stating why you and your project are the ideal recipients for a writer’s grant.

Week 5: Creative Writing
Choose one:
  • Write a short play.
  • Write a poem. This link will provide you with a list of different forms of poetry. Choose one form for this week’s assignment.

Daily Tasks:

Day 1: Prewrite.
Before you begin to write, gather information about your topic. If you are unfamiliar with the writing form, do some digging online. is a good place to start.

Days 2 and 3: Write.
Don’t worry about writing right, just write! Get your ideas down on paper.

Day 4: Revise your content.
Read what you’ve written and tighten up the content. Don’t worry yet about structural or mechanical problems.

Day 5: Edit for accuracy.
Clean and polish! Fix any grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence errors.

Ask yourself this question: How can I use this form of writing in my career as a professional writer?

(Fiction writers, think about how Expository and Persuasive forms can help you with structuring a plot. Non-Fiction writers, think about how forms of Fiction writing can aid your writing style.)

Congratulations! You’ve created a polished writing sample for your portfolio.

March 1, 2010

Blogs . . . Blogs . . . and 10 More Blogs for Writers

I love it when readers suggest blogs I should visit. Here are ten little gems that my writer friends have suggested. Enjoy checking them out, and then don’t forget to comment with your own recommendations.

1. Martha Barnette’s . . . Orts
Martha is one of the co-hosts of NPR’s “A Way With Words.” If you’ve listened to this weekly show, you already know that it presents lively and interesting discussions about slang, grammar, old sayings, word origins, regional dialects, family expressions, and speaking and writing well. On her blog, Martha posts “orts” about language. (She defines “ort” as "a fragment of food left over from a meal . . . figuratively, a fragment, esp. of wisdom, wit, knowledge.")

2. Six Sentences
Polish your flash fiction skills on this creative site for writers. What can you say in six sentences? Have fun reading the entries.

3. Questions and Quandaries
Brian A. Klems answers writers’ questions on this blog from Writer’s Digest. Also, check out these other Writer’s Digest blogs: “There Are No Rules,” by Jane Friedman and Alice Pope’s CWIM Blog. (Children's Writers and Illustrators Market)

4. The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar
If you think this is going to be a stuffy, academic blog, think again. The grammar mistakes featured here are sure to make you laugh while improving your spelling, grammar and punctuation skills.

5. Writer Beware
Every writer should be aware of this blog by Victoria Strauss. It reports some of the scams, schemes and pitfalls of publishing. Another similar site is Preditors and Editors. Add these to your must follow list.

6. The Artist’s Way
This isn’t a blog in the true sense; it is the official web page of Julia Cameron. She posts monthly inspirational comments here. If you haven’t read Julia’s book, The Artist’s Way, please put it on your reading list. It’s a great tool to spur your creativity.

7. Cec Murphey’s Writer to Writer
Christian author Cecil Murphy offers words of wisdom learned from his career as a writer. Don’t miss this week’s post on avoiding the passive voice.

8. Michael Hyatt’s Blog
This is one of my favorites. Michael Hyatt is the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. His posts are always interesting and informative, and he writes often about blogging, social media, leadership and books.

9. Fiction Matters
This blog for fiction writers includes writing tips, industry news, suggestions for useful writers’ tools and more. This week, they’re wrapping up a series on “pantsing.”

10. Fuel Your Writing
A blog chock full of tips, news, articles, inspiration, and tools for every genre of writing; also named one of the top ten blogs for writers 2009-10. Click here to see the other nine winners.

Are you interested in blogging statistics for 2009? Click here to read the 2009 State of the Blogosphere.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”