Category Archives: Guest Post

Encouraging Children to Write (Guest Post)

Today’s guest post is a timely post for the school holidays. If you’re looking for a way to encourage your children to get into writing or you are looking for an activity for them to do while you write, Melissa Khalinsky (a fellow 12×12 participant) has some great advice.

Encouraging Children to Write

I have been a writer almost as long as I’ve been a reader, at least, it feels that way. Recently I discovered some stories I wrote when I was in primary school, and my love of writing has never left me.

Now I am the mother of two boys, both of whom are avid readers, however, writing is another thing altogether. Neither of them have been bitten by the writing bug, at least not yet. I’ve tried to get them interested in writing stories and diaries and anything else I can think of, but it just hasn’t happened, until recently.

Last year, I read a book of letters and it raised the question about whether or not modern kids would write letters and, if they wrote them, if people would reply, and started writing a fictional story. I couldn’t come up with an answer to whether or not people would reply, so the fictional story stalled.

My 8 year old, Mr Z is left handed and struggles with handwriting, and finds those handwriting books boring, writing letter after letter. So, at the start of this year, I set my children a challenge – to write a letter to someone every week during term time.

The challenge has been hit and miss, however, it has got my boys interested in writing. It’s got their creative juices flowing. While they are having fun writing letters, they haven’t quite got to stories…. yet!

Things I’ve learned about getting children interested in writing:

  • Make it fun – writing shouldn’t be a chore
  • Turn it in to a competition – my children are incredibly competitive, especially with each other, so having a challenge to achieve is helping keep them interested
  • Make it regular – my children are now writing every week as their challenge is to write weekly. This means they practice regularly and I can already see an improvement in their writing, even after such a short time
  • Reward them for efforts – rewards can be saying “well done” or a gift of some sort. After every few letters written, my boys get a small reward, such as stickers
  • Keep copies – quite apart from the fact that it’s fun to look back on the work that I did as a child, I’m enjoying reading back the first letters the boys have written, and am looking forward to comparing them at the end of the year
  • Have fun – I can’t say this enough. Writing is fun, so find a way to make writing fun for your children. For us, it’s writing letters, your kids may enjoy writing reviews or stories about their soft toys, or keeping a diary

Writing isn’t just about writing stories, it’s much more than that. With children, find something they are interested in writing, something that inspires them. Currently, letters are what are inspiring my children to write. What inspires your children?

Melissa Khalinsky is a pre-published author and the mother of two boys, aged 8 and 10. She challenged the boys to write a letter a week during term time – you can read all about the challenge at www.letterwritingchallenge.com.au

A note from Jo:

Don’t forget April is Aussie Author Month. Australian author John Marsden’s book Letters from the Inside is a great read and may just inspire you to try a letter writing challenge for yourself or your teenager. If you’re looking for a holiday read for a younger child, try Greetings from Sandy Beach by Australian Children’s author Bob Graham.

How to Find Inspiration for Personal Writing (Guest Post)

I’m excited to be returning to my blog after a month hiatus. (For those wondering: baby is doing well, though we had a bit of a scare when she went into hospital with an infection a couple of weeks ago.) While I continue my ‘maternity leave’, I will be hosting a series of guest posts over the next two months. Today’s guest post comes from freelance writer Amanda Tradwick. She looks at how to find inspiration for personal writing when you work as a professional writer, but her advice can equally apply to those of us who work in any industry–it’s all about being able to switch from business mode to creative mode.

How to Find Inspiration for Personal Writing When You Work as a Professional Writer

Many aspiring writers find work as professional writers for another content area. For example, maybe you want to write romantic fiction, but you work as a newspaper reporter. Or maybe you want to write dystopian fantasy stories, but you work as a professional blogger. When you spend the majority of your day writing in a professional capacity, it can be difficult to then come home and spend the time and energy writing your own stories. You have been staring at a computer screen all day stringing together words in a purely functional capacity — how do you then switch modes to rediscover your love of joining words for the magic of creating a new world? Here are a few ways that you can stay inspired and keep working on your personal writing, even when you’ve had a full day of writing for pay:

Create a Separate Space

Much of the writing process is intuitive, based on our thoughts and our emotions. Often, we just need to change the way we think or feel to help us get in the mood to write. Creating a separate writing space for your personal projects can help you do this. If you do your professional work in a home office, go to another room to do your personal work. Create a special place to do your personal writing, setting it up with all the things that you like and that you put you into the frame of mind for doing your personal work. Outfit it with your favorite pens, a comfortable chair, pictures of your favorite authors, books that inspire you, or other special objects like pictures or sentimental items that inspire you to write.

Take a Break

Another way to help you create some mental distance between your professional and your personal work is to take a break between these sessions and do something enjoyable. Clear your mind by doing something that is not related to work or to writing. Watch a movie. Spend time with friends or family. Go for a walk. Any activity that does not require you to use a considerable amount of mental effort can help you to feel more refreshed and ready to work when you sit down to do your personal writing.

Set a Schedule

When you get into the groove of writing, it can become easy to lose track of time and to spend hours upon hours working on a project. If you let this happen with your professional writing, it can easily lead to burn out. Don’t allow yourself to spend an excessive amount of time on your “work” writing. Set a schedule for yourself that gives you an appropriate amount of time each day to complete work tasks, to take a short break, and then to work on personal writing. Your personal writing time can be as little as a half an hour or an hour. By scheduling in this time, you ensure that you don’t allow yourself to devote all your time to work and that you have the time for personal projects. Scheduling in personal writing time also ensures that you will spend time working on it, rather than pushing it off in favor of other projects.

Take Small Steps

Starting a project can be overwhelming. There is so much to sort out: character, plot, outline, and more. Instead of allowing yourself to procrastinate because you’re overwhelmed, give yourself permission to take small steps toward your goal. Start by just writing a sentence — good or bad. Or you can just write down a few notes about character, even just a character name. The next day, write another sentence or short note about story or character. Over time, you can begin to add more sentences or more time spent on the project.

Review Your Goals

Why do you want to be a writer? Why do you want to write novels, or children’s books, or other works of fiction? Asking yourself these questions from time to time and reflecting on the answers will help you remember why you are doing what you’re doing, and it will help you find your inspiration. Remember what made you want to start writing  in the first place and reconnect with that feeling.

Writing everyday for pay can lead to burn out and make you feel uninspired to do any other writing at the end of the day. Finding ways to stay inspired is important to your progress as a writer. Setting a schedule, reviewing your goals, and creating a separate space in which to do your writing can help. What other ways have you found to stay inspired to write, even when you spend your days writing for others? Tell us about them in the comments!

About the author:

Amanda Tradwick is a grant researcher and writer for CollegeGrants.org. She has a Bachelor’s degrees from the University of Delaware, and has recently finished research on scholarships and grants for college students and colorado scholarships and grants.

10 Tips for Writing Dialogue (Guest Post)

As some of you may have heard through Twitter or Facebook, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl over a week ago. Needless to say it has been a busy and exhausting time and my blog has been rather quiet. I had a post planned just after Valentine’s Day, but didn’t quite get to finish writing it before going into labour, so it has been put on hold for now. In the meantime, I was lucky enough to have freelance blogger and writer Heather Smith offer to write a guest post for me. Here are her top 10 tips for writing dialogue.

10 Tips for Writing Dialogue

1. Start – Getting underway is the toughest part. You have to compose dialogue over and over again to get good at it. You have to practice. The more you write, the better it gets.

2. Eavesdrop – Listen to actual people talking. They don’t use proper grammar. They don’t speak in full sentences. Sometimes they chat over each other. Write dialogue like it actually sounds. Dialogue is rich in its own way- the silences, the crosstalk, the things omitted are just as vital as what’s actually said. 

3. Speak it – Read what you wrote audibly. You’ll hear where it sounds stale or stilted. You’ll hear where it doesn’t flow and where it does flow. If you read quickly enough, your brain will unavoidably correct what you’ve done wrong, so listen to your words as you read aloud. You’ll acquire a lot from this simple exercise. 

4. Chill out– Don’t stress about making your dialogue flawless. Let your characters speak. They may say things that you never imagined. If you know your characters inside and out, let them express themselves through you. You’ll wind up with a much more realistic story. 

5. Wander – Feel free to ramble on. People infrequently get right to the point in a discussion. Unless your character is a police officer or doctor giving a report, don’t presume that they’ll give just the facts. People go off-topic; it’s a part of life. Let your character ramble and they’ll end up much profounder and genuine. 

6. Keep it unpretentious – Don’t make your characters say everything they know. No one does that. Reduce your dialogue to the bare bones. A ‘yep’ or ‘nope’ can speak volumes about a character. They don’t always have to reply to others, and they don’t constantly have to finish a thought. Let your readers fill in some gaps. Letting the readers fill in the blanks adds strata to your story that even you, the writer, might have otherwise overlooked. 

7. Slang – What we speak is a living language. It changes. Let your characters’ verbiage show who they are and where they come from. If they want to say ain’t, then let them. It’s not your job to be the grammar police for your characters.  People speak badly. They dangle participles, they use fragments, and they curse. Remember that it’s not you that’s talking- it is your character. They have their own personalities, so let them be who they are.

8. Less is More– Don’t go too far with accents. Tell the reader what pronunciation a character has and then give clues in the dialogue. No one wants to read a page of apostrophes and deliberately misspelled words. A ya’ll or a gotta once in a while will prompt readers of who’s talking, without the annoyance factor.

9. Intelligibility – Make sure your readers can follow who is talking. A he said, she said will do wonders for a dialogue-heavy piece. If you have more than four quotes without stating who is talking, you might want to toss that in. It doesn’t have to be difficult. ‘He yelled’ works just as well as ‘he shrieked, crying to the skies as his thundering call resonated off the walls’. 

10. Exhibit it– Remember that people are reading your dialogue, not speaking it (unless you’re a screenwriter). If you want a character to pause, take a breath, or even stutter, you’ll have to write it down. Breaking up a quote is a simple way to visuallydisplay a pause. ‘It’s like this,’ he said, ‘I’m leaving.’ Because of that disruption, the reader sees the pause without being told it’s there. Unless you have a character doing something unique with the time between words, make it visual but not explicit. 

Heather Smith is an ex-nanny. Passionate about thought leadership and writing, Heather regularly contributes to various career, social media, public relations, branding, and parenting blogs/websites. She also provides value to nanny service by giving advice on site design as well as the features and functionality to provide more and more value to nannies and families across the U.S. and Canada. She can be available at H.smith7295 [at] gmail.com.

13 Helpful Tips for Revising Your NaNoWriMo Novel (Guest Post)

Hopefully you’ve been letting your novel sit since you finished it to give you some distance from it before you start revising. When the time does come to start your revisions my guest poster today, Brittany Lyons, has some great tips to keep in mind to ensure your novel becomes perfectly polished.

13 Helpful Tips for Revising Your NaNoWriMo Novel

You’ve taken the National Novel Writing Month challenge and after a month of writing feverishly, you now are left with something less than perfect. Yet although you want to get your novel into shape, the task may be so daunting it seems like you are completing one of the world’s toughest PhD programs instead. Don’t despair. Here are some simple, self-editing tips that can help you polish your piece.

1) Make sure your book opens with a sentence or paragraph that grabs the reader’s attention and keeps them reading the next sentence, and the next, and the next.

2) By the end of chapter one, there are a few things that should be revealed to the reader:

  • The genre and time-period in which the story is taking place.
  • The main character, or at least one of them.
  • The main conflict(s) the character(s) are facing, or a foreshadowing of what they are going to face or what is keeping them from attaining their primary goal in life.
  • The setting – the reader must have a sense of where the characters are at all times. Descriptions of rooms and awareness of space and flow are important. Drop these images in naturally so readers understand the “blueprints” to buildings.

3) Make sure you haven’t created perfect characters. Real people are riddled with faults, so a character who has nothing wrong with them in any way is not believable. Without credible characters, your story won’t be interesting. Likewise, avoid describing the character in a paragraph or two. Instead, drop in tidbits about them organically throughout the story.

4) Examine whether your dialogue advances the story – are beats and tag lines relevant to the scene? It’s best to not overuse these, and make everything count.

5) Look for overused, unnecessary, and pet words and phrases. These are the biggest offenders:

  • “That,” “however,” “because,” “of course” and “after all.”
  • While it is okay to use conjunctions like “but,” “and,” “for”, “then,” and “well” to start sentences, don’t begin too many of them that way.
  • “Just” and “very”.
  • Avoid using “begin” and “start.” The moment someone begins or starts to do something, they are actually doing it. These are empty words.
  • Repeating adjectives won’t make something more intense. Watch out for describing something with “very, very” and similar repetitions.
  • Worn out clichés and trite phrases.
  • Don’t begin consecutive sentences with the same word or phrase, unless for effect or to heighten intensity of a scene.

6) Beware of over-explanations that insult the reader. Assume that most of your readers will be able to figure things out for themselves. Example: “I don’t understand why you said that to me,” Margie said, confused. The dialogue already shows Margie’s confusion, so there is no need for further explanation.

7) The most popular point of view (POV) today is third person past tense. When using this tense, write each scene from only one character’s POV. That means you can only describe the scene from what that particular character can see, feel, hear, taste and know.

8 ) Check your work for “information dumps.” It is common for authors to want to explain technical or historical information to the reader. Don’t dump it all in one spot, but rather drizzle it into the story in smaller tidbits so you don’t overwhelm the reader.

9) End each chapter with either a cliffhanger or in the middle of an unresolved scene. The idea is to entice readers to keep reading because they can’t put the book down.

10) Beware of state-of-being verbs that render your sentences passive. If you can rewrite a sentence to get rid of “was” and other forms of “to be,” your work will be more active and interesting.

11) Eliminate adverbs ending in “ly” whenever possible. They are considered “telling.” It is more desirable to “show” the scene. Instead of writing that a character said something excitedly, rewrite it to show us what “excited” looks like for that character.

12) Make sure that when you write “the end,” the story has a satisfying ending. Conclusion to your novel doesn’t have to be happily-ever-after, but all major conflicts must have been resolved, and the reader needs to feel content when they close the book.

13) Lastly, do a final run-through to check for punctuation, usage and grammar errors.

Editing can be a lot of work, but implementing these tips will tighten your writing and give it focus, taking it from blah to ah! The more polished your manuscript, the better chance it has of catching an agent’s or editor’s eye.

Brittany Lyons aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog.

Take a break from novel writing and venture into short fiction (Guest Post)

After spending November writing a novel (or at least 50,000 words of a novel) you may be feeling it’s time to have a bit of a break, I know that’s how I’m feeling. I’ve set my novel aside until January. But maybe you are still feeling the itch to write, you’re just looking for something not quite as huge as a novel. As you can tell by the anthologies in my side bar, I like to do short story writing. Short stories are a great way to get down those plot bunnies running rampant in your head that you know will never be developed into longer novel length stories (or maybe they will–my NaNo story this year started as a short story idea).

Today I have a very timely guest post from Nadia Jones on the benefits of short story writing.

Take a break from novel writing and venture into short fiction

After a few weeks and a few thousand words, you’re starting a new chapter for your novel. The blank page of the word document and the menacing blink of the cursor taunt you, daring you to succumb to writer’s block. Suddenly the prospect of writing a 50,000+ word novel looms above you like some insurmountable peak you’ve convinced yourself to climb. You are, in short, overwhelmed.

I have a suggestion for those weighed down by the anxieties of tackling a novel: try your hand at short fiction.

This isn’t meant to be a cautionary tale against writing a novel—far from it. But I think writers can learn invaluable skills in short fiction that transfer beautifully to writing a novel. And short fiction could work marvels on an overworked mind by offering the writer an opportunity to briefly tell another story. Think of short stories as a calculated respite from writing a novel, a chance to engage nagging thoughts and ideas that exist outside the narrative of your ongoing novel.

Develop a pithier writing style

Writers who strive to construct a taut and well-paced short story will find that the task improves their overall writing ability. If you take a look at short stories from well respected authors of the craft—Carver, Cheever, O’Conner, Hemingway, etc.—you’ll notice that their beauty comes from the depth of meaning and nuanced development that occurs over a few pages. Some of the greatest short stories have more to say than entire book series; they’re able to capture snapshots of huge emotions and themes, offering the reader a brief glimpse into another world.

Any writer could benefit from the discipline and condensed writing habits demanded by short fiction. Short stories teach a writer to spare everything but the essentials, to strip away padded paragraphs and wordy dialog that distracts from the central message of your story. In other words, writing and understanding the art of the short story makes you a better writer.

Flesh out ideas independent of your novel

Just because you’re writing a novel, it doesn’t mean that you stop thinking about other stories and characters. In fact, some writers will tell you that it’s quite difficult to resist writing every new idea or character into their novel. If you’re constantly indulging in these new ideas with your novel, you risk turning the work into a bloated and convoluted work.   Short stories provide a constructive outlet for these new ideas that pop into your head; you can flesh them out over the course of a few pages and determine if they’re worth pursuing in long form.

If you write out a setting or a character in short story format and find that there’s much more to them than you initially thought, you might have the makings of another novel on your hands. In fact, many well-received novels began as short stories whose characters kept the authors engaged page after page. Some authors cite short stories as an incubator for good ideas: they’ll write out a scene or two with a new character to see how they develop. If the story works, the author might transform it into a longer narrative.

Short stories as instant gratification

One of the most frustrating aspects of writing a novel is the seemingly endless process. Novelists will write for months and months without any sense of finality or closure to the ongoing narrative in their work. Completing a few short stories might grant novelists the sense of closure that they so want in their larger works. While a novel can takes months or years to complete, a particularly nimble writer could dash off a short story in a matter of hours. In this way short stories can offer a quick release to writers who feel like they can never complete a project. Completing a few well-constructed short stories might just be the validating experience that could impel a writer to continue that novel.

This is a guest post by Nadia Jones who blogs at online college about education, college, student, teacher, money saving, movie related topics. You can reach her at nadia.jones5 @ gmail.com.

10 Ways to Get Inspired: How to Start Writing Now (Guest Post)

I’d like to welcome freelance writer and blogger Alexis Bonari to my blog today. Alexis will be guest blogging on the topic of getting inspired to write.

10 Ways to Get Inspired: How to Start Writing Now

As a writer, I’ve often run into the problem of being mentally prepared to write and then discovering that the muse has skipped town. It’s a form of writer’s block, but it’s more frustrating because the conditions seem right when the ideas just aren’t there. It can be difficult to get into a “writing mood” – and once you’re there, you want to write, so finding fast inspiration is important if you’re going to take advantage of your most productive time. Here are ten of my favorite ways to get inspired when I’m ready to write.

1. Describe an Emotion in Fine Detail

The next time you feel a strong emotion, take a few minutes to write down a detailed description of it. This is a great reference when you’re feeling uninspired.

2. Use Visual Stimulation

Many writers are visually stimulated, so try looking at art, reading a magazine that’s full of images, or watching a short film. You might be inspired to develop and write about a visual idea.

3. Analyze Compared Writing Styles

Read two different pieces of writing, such as a news article and a poem, and think about the similarities and differences between them. This can inspire you to create your own combinations of style characteristics, or you might just decide that you feel like writing your own poem.

4. Relocate

Get out of the office and find inspiration in a different location. Writing in the park or art museum always helps me find a few good ideas to develop.

5. Shift Your Perspective

Try to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Pretend you’re a character from one of your favorite pieces of literature, or make up your own – then write about the differences in the way you think. It’s a great way to develop characters and take notice of what makes a personality unique.

6. Describe an Object in Fine Detail

Choose something that’s important to you and describe it in full detail. For example, I wear my great-grandmother’s watch every day because family and heirlooms are important to me. Describing it in detail helped me to appreciate it and to dig deeper into its personal value, which inspired me to develop those ideas in writing.

7. Give a Play-by-Play Description of a Favorite Activity

Describe the action of riding a bicycle, playing an instrument, or “throwing” pottery. If you have a hobby, it’s easy to be inspired by describing the precise movements you make when you do it. This connects you to the activity and helps you to appreciate its role in your life.

8. Take a Bath in Sound Waves

Get out of your comfort zone and listen to a type of music that you’ve avoided in the past. In my case, that’s country music because I simply don’t enjoy it, but I’ve found that it’s full of evocative ideas that I can use in my writing. You might even find a favorite new artist in an unexpected genre.

9. Watch & Learn from Interesting People

Find a comfortable park bench or camp out on the beach, then simply watch the people passing by and come up with some ideas about who they might be, where they’ve come from, and what their futures might hold. This is also a good character development exercise, so write down the ideas that seem to have the most potential.

10. Continue an Overheard Conversation

I’m not encouraging you to eavesdrop, but we’ve all overheard conversations by virtue of being in public. Sometimes, words catch your ear and you recognize a great idea for a piece of writing – and that’s okay. It’s also inspiring to hear a few sentences, then extend the dialogue backwards or forwards to create context and lend more substance to your ideas.

Alexis Bonari is currently a resident blogger at College Scholarships, where recently she’s been researching Pell grants as well as student loans with poor credit. Whenever this WAHM gets some free time she enjoys doing yoga, cooking with the freshest organic in-season fare, and practicing the art of coupon clipping.

When to Murder or Marry Your Darlings – Guest Post

Today I’d like to welcome freelance writer and blogger Maria Rainier to my blog.

When to Murder or Marry Your Darlings

You’ll find no relationship advice here. You might, however, find hope.

Most writers are not only familiar with William Faulkner’s blood-curdling wisdom, “Kill your darlings,” they’re haunted by it to the point that they take a carving knife to their laptops in the editing stages of a manuscript.  Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch beat Faulkner to the punch, however, and is the lesser-known genetic father of the original quote:

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscripts to the press.  Murder your darlings.”

When Your Darlings are Dull

So, that lyrical paragraph that flows like winter-fresh water down spring-green hills, admittedly ad nauseum?  Cut it.  The sentence that, while choppy, is so delightfully tongue-in-cheek you could choke?  Give it up.  And that character who’s so saccharine and giggly that you feel really bad about sending her to the chopping block?  Well, that’s not exactly what Quiller-Couch or Faulkner meant, but go ahead and bring the axe down on that one, too.  Less is more, after all.

That’s the theory, anyway.

When Your Darlings are Darling

We can’t all of us be Charles Dickenses or Tolkiens and write entire pages of descriptions without anything happening and without losing readers.  Had Quiller-Couch met with either of these beloved authors, those bits would probably have been cut.  Can you imagine, though, a 500-page Lord of the Rings novel?

Sometimes, your darlings are there because you love them for reasons no one else will and you’re blinded by your own affection to know better.  Other times, you love your darlings because they’re delicious.  Murdering them would be a disservice to your audience.  By the time you’re done carving up your edited manuscript, it looks like Mr. Skellington who’s probably still hanging around in your old high school biology classroom.

If you can’t tell already, I love words.  Asking me to murder my darlings is like telling me to shave my head.  Sometimes, it’s refreshing and I can hide away the loose tendrils in a folder somewhere in My Documents.  Other times, I notice that after my darlings are gone the manuscript seems to make less sense.  It looks barren and cold, and whatever words I add in to patch up the disjointed parts comes in unevenly and looks, well, fuzzy.

Whenever this seems to be the case, do what everyone else has told you to do: sleep on it.  Wake up, shower, take the dog to the dog park, and then return to your laptop with a cup of tea and examine the massacre.  Feel free to make the mistake of asking your significant other what he or she thinks.  (“Yeah, that looks fine.  Was there anything else you wanted, honey?”)

Other times, however, you can tell Quiller-Couch and Faulkner to mind their own business.

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, where she’s been performing a bit of research into the gender wage gap problem. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Go Where It’s Scary — Into the Abyss (Guest Post by SP Sipal)

Before I introduce my guest poster I want to apologise for my lack of posts this month. For anyone who follows me on Twitter you will know I had some bad news early this month and I’ve been having a hard time dealing with it. I was feeling guilty about my lack of posts, so the lovely Susan Sipal of Harry Potter for Writers kindly offered to do a guest post for me.

Today Susan will be writing on the topic ‘Go Where It’s Scary — Into the Abyss’. Welcome Susan.

Years ago, whenever I was creatively procrastinating upon a tough job at work, or doing my best to avoid a task that involved conflict, a guy in my office would give me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten in life: Go where it’s scary.

The only way to work through the problem, to get to the other side, is to face it head-on. Whimping out and avoiding it, as I liked to do, truly didn’t do me any good. It just prolonged the pain.

I’ve always remembered my colleague’s advice, and that phrase, “Go where it’s scary,” comes to mind whenever I find myself dragging toward something I dread but know that I must do. This is especially true with my writing. Being the polite Southern girl that I am, I often hesitate to inflict conflict upon my characters, or even worse, have them confront and deal with their innermost pains and fears.

As in life, confronting and travelling through our fears is an essential part of being human, it’s even more so with our characters, our heroes. And no part of story construction addresses “go where it’s scary” more directly than the approach to the innermost cave of the Hero’s Journey.

The Hero’s Journey and its Abyss, or Inmost Cave, is a concept described within Joseph Campbell’s groundbreaking The Hero With a Thousand Faces. A comparative mythologist, Campbell studied myths separated by continents, centuries, and cultures and discovered that most shared a basic framework, the hero’s quest, which he broke down into 17 steps. Christopher Vogler, a scriptwriter and film producer, simplified Campbell’s work into 12 steps in The Writer’s Journey, making it more accessible to writers and the film industry. Campbell’s and Vogler’s Journey have been used in storytelling in everything from Star Wars to About a Boy to Harry Potter to insertyourowntitlehere.

At the heart of the Hero’s Journey is the sending forth of the hero from his home clan and his victory over their adversaries, which culminates in his triumphant return with a reward that enriches the clan as a whole. You can see why this basic story structure would have primordial appeal to the human psyche — it is how any human unit, whether that unit be a clan, a family, or a nation — has survived and prospered throughout millennia.

The Abyss is the point in this journey where the heroine approaches her most intense conflict, her Ordeal. It is in the innermost cave that she must face and conquer both her outward foe and her own personal demons. Cave analogy harkens back to our days when the darkest places we had to fear held deadly creatures that often lurked deep in the places we called our homes. The abyss, or underworld, was the place of loss, where all bodies must eventually travel…that final, unknowable journey.

Whether in the underground, snake-filled “Well of Souls” where Indiana Jones recovers the ark but loses it to the Nazis, or the lonely, cave-like home of Will Freeman in About a Boy where Will must confront the emptiness of his life, to the underground chamber beneath Hogwarts where Harry confronts Voldemort and the loss of his parents in Sorcerer’s Stone/Philosopher’s Stone — modern storytellers are still using underground/cave imagery to set their Ordeal.

In the abyss, the hero meets death and triumph over his deepest fears, which symbolizes his death to his old life and resurrection to the new. Victory is won — whether that triumph is achieved through vanquishing the antagonist or through atonement with his Shadow. Or, as Joseph Campbell said, “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”

And if our hero can do it in a story, then we can do it in real life. We live vicariously through our hero’s success. If done well, when the book is closed or the movie concluded, we then feel equipped to go back into our life and confront our own demons and monsters. This is the heart of catharsis, and this is why the bestselling books and best remembered movies are those where the hero triumphs over a tremendous obstacle with deep, personal ramifications. It does not matter whether those obstacles are pitched on the intensely personal level or the high-stakes world-wide scale.

As writers, we must remember to send our heroine into the heart of fear. She must go where it’s scariest for her to venture, face those fears head-on, triumph and be forever changed. Only in this way can she return to her world to enrich her clan…and our reader.

Susan Sipal is a writer and mother from the United States. She is also a Harry Potter analyst and speaker. She writes the blog Harry Potter for Writers.

Picture credits: National Geographic, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces and Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Guest Post – Writing Dialogue

Today I’d like to welcome Catherine Johnson to my blog. Catherine is a writer whom I met through Write on Con a few months ago and we have since formed a picture book critique group together (along with some other writers we met through Write on Con). Catherine is currently beta reading my MG fantasy and giving me some great feedback.

Knowing I’m in the middle of pounding out 50000 words in a month for NaNoWriMo, Catherine kindly offered to do a guest post for my blog. So without further ado, here is Catherine with her post on writing dialogue.

Thank you to Jo for letting me guest post today. I chose to talk about dialogue and share some tips and trips. It’s something I am very interested in doing better and listening and reading good dialogue can only serve to help the cause. At the bottom of this post I have listed some of my favourite quotes from movies I watch with my kids all the time. I’m sure there are many more, if I had all day 🙂 There are 8 great tips on dialogue here: http://bit.ly/UZraC They are very specific and useful to try yourself.  Everyone likes to think their character’s say things that are true to life. Have a look at the tips on this site and check the against your writing:  http://bit.ly/9Q6DxY All those of us with young children are lucky that the first few tips are already taken care of. I like the last one, I might try that with my main characters. Another useful post on the subject is here:  http://bit.ly/a7hQMH discussing expository dialogue, a common pitfall of writing dialogue.
Absorb all the dialogue you hear around (without being too nosy! coughs) especially from tv shows and films. Reading is also an obvious example. Have you ever read a picture book, for example, and only concentrated on the dialogue? Are there books in the library that seem to have more dialogue than others? Analyse it and see if it appears natural and see how it fits in with all those tips and tricks above. And now I’ll leave you with some of my favourite lines from movies I watch way too much!

The Bee Movie
Vanessa Bloom “It’s very hard to concentrate with that panicky tone in your voice.”
Bee Vincent “It’s not a tone. I’m PANICKING!”

Space Chimps
HAM “When are you going to stop worrying about me dad? Space is in my veins.”
Dad “And between your ears.”
—————
“Chimp up cannonball. You’re not in the circus anymore.”
————–
HAM “You’re not going to do that the whole trip are you?”
Friend “What?”
HAM “Use Chimps to replace real phrases.”
————-
HAM “I do this every day of the week (sky dive) except Monday. That’s my me day.” (I particularly like this one!)
“…this rug isn’t going to cut itself.”

G-Force
“Hey I’m nine inches tall,I only see the up-side.”

Catherine

Thank-you so much, Catherine, for your post. You’ve provided some great links. If anyone would like to check out Catherine’s blog, you can find it here: Kangaroobee’s Blog

P.S. A little update on my NaNoWriMo progress: I started out with a slow week, I was finding it hard to get motivated for the story I planned, even though I knew what I wanted to write. Yesterday I decided to throw that story in and started something completely new. I wrote more yesterday on the new story than I had all week on the first one. I’m feeling a great deal more motivation now.