Maureen pic from booksigningAs writers who work at our craft every day, we meet the blank page squarely with the intent of filling it. What will we write about? How will we describe our characters? Which facts will we use to flesh out our story and, if writing an opinion piece, our arguments?

But there is another element to writing that is often more potent than what we say on a page. That is, what we don't say. Indeed, the use of not using certain words, descriptions, or dialogue is a potent part of the writer's craft, strong and bold when used well, but disruptive and weak when used poorly.

Of course, omission in writing can get in the way of good reporting and storytelling. If you find yourself asking, "What, then?" or "Huh?" while reading, chances are you have omitted something important from your piece. For example:

"There were three people in the room she wanted to avoid: Jeremy and Phil…"

Who was the third? Or:

"Stubbing a toe is not a leading cause of death in women…"

Okay, then what is?

But omission can fill in the blanks without contributing to the "dreaded" word count limitations, too. An example of well-placed omission might be:

"You sound angry."

"I'm not angry."

"I rest my case."

In this example, you don't need the description, "she said, snapping" or any other descriptor to understand that the line "I'm not angry" was said in, well, anger.

Here's another:

He rose from the chair. "I can see this conversation isn't going anywhere. Let me know when you've thought things over more."

His words still rang in her ears as she watched him get into his car in the street below.

In the above example, you don't need to describe his going to the door, closing it, and walking downstairs and out of the building. Her point of view implies all of that without needing to say it.

Some descriptors can be substituted for verbs:

"He was at least six inches taller than Barbara" can become "He towered over Barbara."

And a character's POV can be pared, too, while still remaining strong:

"She saw tables, chairs, carpets, lamps, china, books, and sundry unidentifiable objects in the antique shop, and then saw him" can strengthen with: "She spied his mop of dark hair peeking through the piles of clutter in the antique shop."

Setimes, we focus on all the things we are going to write onto our blank pages. But, sometimes, too, strategically leaving things out can actually make our writing even more full!

Blessings for the day!

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

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Maureen pic from booksigningI’m a hang-gliding fashion model who moonlights as a rodeo rookie whose brood of 10 adopted children are perfect angels…

Not!

But in my dreams…

Maureen Pratt, here, with my CAN blog for July. And, in keeping with themes of summer fun and expanding our horizons, I thought I’d pen a few ideas about how to use our alter egos in crafting more active, compelling characters.

We authors hear much about “writing what you know,” and “putting ourselves” into our books, stories, and non-fiction work. There is great truth about doing this – we can strike very real chords of character, place, and time when we incorporate our selves and our contexts in our work.

But if what we write is all about us, well, we’re putting up significant boundaries around what our stories could be capable of. Moreover, we run the risk of writing the same book over and over.

We need not go far afield to find ways to take down the boundaries of “just us” and create different perspectives, characters, and situations to inhabit our books. We have only to go to our “other” selves – our alter egos.

What is it that you do not do, but would love to do if you had the courage/resources/pluck/imagination to do? Who would you like to become?

Have you ever wished you’d been born in a different place or time? Is there a historical event that you wish you had taken part in, witnessed, or even changed?

Perhaps there’s something you’d like to try to do, but are afraid to even begin. There’s conflict for you – and possibilities for character exploration, fun, and perhaps growth.

Reality and ringing true are critical to work that can resonate with our readers. So, too, is an imagination that is not afraid to dare and craft something fresh and full. Explore your alter ego, and see how far you can go when you discover elements of you that can come alive in your next book.

Blessings for the day!

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

 

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Maureen Pratt Author PicHello!  Maureen Pratt here with another blog post about the writing art and craft. This time, some thoughts about the English language and how we might mix it up a little to yield fresh "color," insight, and depth to our work.

Two real life events have inspired me to blog about this. One was a conversation I overheard in the post office. It went like this:

Postal Clerk (handing Customer a pane of stamps): Here you go.

Customer: Where? Here I go where?

Postal Clerk: Your stamps, sir. Here you go.

Customer: Where do I go?

Postal Clerk (pointing at pane of stamps): I don't know, sir, but here are your stamps.

Customer: Oh. Thank you.

 

The other event was a conversation I had with an employee at my local grocery store. It went like this:

Employee: Did you find everything you wanted, ma'am?

Me: Yes, except you didn't have blueberries.

Employee: If you're really craving blueberries, we have frozen.

Me: I know, but they don't go well on cereal.

Employee: Got it. How about strawberries?

Me: I like them, but not on cereal.

Employee: Too bad. Because the strawberries are really transcendent today.

If you smiled at both of these illustrations, I'm right there with you. The first exchange involved someone whose native language was not English and who clearly had trouble with the idiom, "here you go." The second one invovled someone whose native language was English, but who clearly went beyond the norm in word association. (What would it have been like, I wonder, if I had purchased and eaten those "transcendent" strawberries?!)

Although different in context and character, both of these are examples of how creative we can get with English, depending not just on who is speaking, but to whom one is speaking. I don't have to go into a detailed description, for example, to convey the quirky character of someone who would describe strawberries as "transcendent." I also don't have to go into much detail at all to demonstrate how the English language, particularly slang and idioms, can be confusing for the non-native speaker – all it takes is those few lines of dialogue.

When I interview people for my non-fiction work, I keep my ears tuned to those sometimes-subtle, but always telling turns of phrase that can give away someone's background, expertise, or spiritual context. Often, my intervewees are unaware of how they sound, how they put words together, and what phrases they use. But if I can pick up on these, my work can be much tighter and telling than any labored description I might come up with.

In fiction, I use much the same technique. A character who is an engineer, for example, might describe something completely differently from someone who is a musician. The engineer might be more apt to talk in terms of form, fit, and building blocks, whereas the musician might use his or her sense of rhythm, tone, and feeling. The engineer might be a very linear communicator (A + B = C), whereas someone who is more artistically inclined might be non-linear (A + (A-B) – E = ?)

Simple words can be powerful descriptors. For example, growing up in Illinois, I always called the strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk the "boulevard." In Ohio, it was the "treelawn." In Boston, a drinking fountain was a "bubbler."  Add to these little differences the challenge of regional pronunciations, and it's no wonder that many find English to be an extremely difficult language to master!

As children, we read of pink elephants, flying monkeys, talking bears, and mad hatters. As adults, and as writers, we can call upon that play on reality and language to craft English work that has creative depth and, dare I say it, transcendent description – even when writing of the most mundane of subjects.

Blessings of joy and peace,

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

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Maureen Pratt Author PicHello and a very happy springtime to you! Maureen Pratt here with my monthly CAN blog on the Writing Craft. This time, I thought I'd go "behind the scenes" and offer some tips on conducting interviews when either you or your subject (or both) don't have oodles of time to sit and gab.

Although this might seem like a narrowly focused topic, it's not. On more than one occasion, I've had to interview subjects of articles, books, or blogs and been very, very pressed for time.

How do you get everything you need out of an interview that's short and, perhaps, conducted in a difficult environment (say, a crowded hallway or a parking lot)?  Here are some tips:

o    Prepare very well beforehand. Sometimes, the shorter the interview, the longer the preparation. If you are interviewing a person about him- or herself, find out all you can about his or her background prior to the interview. For technical subjects, don't just brush up on the area, bore down deeply so that your subject doesn't have to explain basics to get to the heart of the matter.

o  Be well-equipped. Make sure that you have a pen with ink (I kid you not), appropriate and adequate paper, a hand-held microphone that you know how to use and that has fresh batteries. Turn off your cell phone and put it away during the interview.

o Know exactly how much time you will have. Wear a watch. Respect the time (often, subjects will give more time than originally allotted, especially if they appreciate the way in which you conduct the interview, but don't count on it).

o  Know exactly what you want to ask. Phrase the questions so that they can lead to more than monosyllabic answers - but always keep in mind the time-frame in which you are working.

o Keep small talk, greetings, and other social conversation very short. Be polite, but not effusive. Get right to the interview.

o  If your subject has only a few minutes, refocus your questions to cover narrower ground and ask if you can followup when he or she has more time.

o  Leave the interview with a way to follow up with either the person you interviewed or his or her representative. Although the interview may be short, this may not negate the need for getting more information or answers in order to do a thorough job in the piece you will write.

I've had very profound interviews that have lasted only five or ten minutes. I hope that these tips will help you when you are time-constrained, but curious, too!

Blessings of joy and peace,

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

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Hello! Maureen Pratt here for my monthly CAN blog contribution. I’ve just returned from the dentist, so am even-more-than-usually delighted to be here (she writes, grinning with those newly repaired pearly whites)!

To be completely honest, although not exactly fun, my unexpected detour to drill-land has inspired my topic this month: Drastic measures for drastic situations. That is, what do you do when every trick, technique, and type font has been exhausted and you’re still not happy with what you see pouring forth on the page? Do you abandon the project (not easy, if you’re on contract and deadline)? Do you put the project aside and work on something else, praying that the subconscious will percolate behind the scenes? Or, do you do something else?

How does this relate to a trip to the dentist? Well, today, I went in to see what could be done about small chips in my front teeth, the result of years of major medications to treat all of my many chronic illnesses, as well as Sjogren’s Syndrome, which causes extreme dry mouth, among other things. Instead of getting right to work, my wonderful dentist enumerated the possible fixes. One was benign (“let it be”), one was a moderate repair that could last for quite awhile. The third option was the most extreme.

“It’s really very extreme,” she said. “And I don’t think this situation is that extreme.”

Praise God! And, bring on option # 2!

As she worked away on my tooth, I began to work away on my (this) blog. I’ve written before about things that might be helpful when characters run amok. But this time, I thought about the times when I’ve seemingly “hit the wall” on my work-in-progress. Setting, characters, underlying tone – sometimes these have gone awry to the point where the road ahead seems blocked with a huge “do not pass” sign. (Not to be confused with ‘writer’s block,’ this is a time when words are pouring forth, but just not for the same story as the one you’re supposed to be writing.)

At such times, I’ve turned to prayer, specific prayer for the specific writing situation: “Lord, is this project right for me, at least for now?” or “Lord, please show me the way, or at least please update my GPS!”

Next, I’ve gone back to my original premise, characters, outline, or inspiration and held these up to where I am with the project. It can be painstaking, but very useful to force yourself to look at everything you’ve written from those early kernels through the prism of the start. Is everything tying back to the beginning? If not, what needs to change, go, or remain?

Another thing to do is exercise. No, not writing exercises. I mean walking, running, playing tennis, golfing, aerobics – something physical that forces the brain to use different “muscles.” Instead of hand on keyboard or pen, put hand on basketball, or, if you’re not athletically inclined, vacuum cleaner or mixing bowl, which can be athletic endeavors, too. Exercise always helps clear my head, give me a fresh outlook and my subconscious time to regroup.

Talk to people you’ve already interviewed (if this is a non-fiction work) or to people who know nothing about your subject. Try to explain what you’re trying to do. See what questions they have and gauge what you have or have not put into your work thus far (this is always helpful). If you’re writing fiction, talk to your characters. Okay, this is a tick farther up on the drastic scale, but I actually find it very illuminating. Take your characters to the store, to a historic site, or just sit at your kitchen table and chat. Don’t mind if others look at you and shake their heads; it is a blessing and an honor to be gifted with storytelling, and sometimes the creative process just seems odd to others, but not to us!

The most drastic thing that I have done, only reserved for absolutely drastic situations, is to completely and utterly erase everything I’ve already written. Yup, the proverbial “computer crash.” I discovered this tool when my computer really did crash once years ago. Could not find the backup, let alone past versions of my work-in-progress, which was, at the time, under contract. After my initial shock, I had no alternative but to rewrite everything. It was a drastic situation, alright, and a drastic measure to have to rewrite the piece. But it actually turned out much better than it had been going along initially. And so, on those rare occasions when I need to do something drastic with my current writing project, I recall and sometimes employ this “measure of last resort,” as hard as it is to press delete and empty the recycle bin!

“Back in the day,” trips to the dentist were much more onerous than they are now (usually). Today’s visit turned out to be minor on the scale of discomfort, and all’s well, thanks to dentistry’s new tools of the trade. “Back in the day” of typewriters or writing longhand, it wasn’t possible to “lose it all,” unless you had a voracious dog or dared take your pages through the shredder (but even then, it probably wasn’t a cross-cut, and you could tape it all back together). Today, however, sometimes the dreaded “crash” is actually a blessing in disguise – a way to start completely afresh while retaining what’s most important from the good work you’ve done already.

Blessings for the day!

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

 

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