The Power of the Pen

 

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Jenny raised her head when I entered the room. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. “I didn’t know I was such a bad mother until I started reading this book,” she sobbed.

Even if what you write is considered “fiction,” words on paper can change the thinking, the hopes and dreams of your readers.

That pen in your hand, that keyboard your fingers rest on this very moment, are instruments that can be used to build up or tear down.

Your stories can bring laughter, they can encourage, and they can spark someone’s creativity.

Conversely, words can destroy, tear down, belittle, and instill fear.

We have an awesome responsibility when we write. We need to keep a fresh vision of our readers in front of us.

So, lately, instead of just continuing my story where I left of the day before, I’ve been conscious to say, “Reader, this one’s for you. Today, I am going to build you up. I am going to speak to your heart through my words.”

Just as an actor faces his audience when on stage, taking a moment before writing to acknowledge those who will read our words can give us an added measure of purpose, keep our writing more focused and serve to remind us just how important—just how very powerful—our words can be.

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Inspirational Words With a Twist

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Watch your thoughts,

for they become Words.

Watch your words,

for they become actions.

The are the beginning lines of a well-known inspirational poem.

However, as I look at them, I see a hidden message for us writers.

When I first began writing, I had to break myself of the habit of telling.

I remember having so many critiques returned to me with the following in the comment section:

“Give more thoughts…show more action.”

How?

Word choice.

In a lesson for my young students, I now give an example of how choosing the correct words can make a huge difference in the meaning that is portrayed:

Max walked down the street.

Max ran down the street.

Max skipped down the street.

Max hobbled down the street.

Max fled down the street.

And on and on…

Each new verb changes the picture for our minds’ eye.

And that picture, changes the mood…the intent…the meaning.

A dictionary, a thesaurus.

These are a writer’s best friends—especially the thesaurus.

They make our work more accurate

more vivid

more exciting.

They change telling stories into “word movies” and ho-hum books into sheer excitement for the reader.

What I Learned Today

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A couple of days ago, we had new countertops installed in our kitchen. As I stood there afterward, admiring them, I said something to the installer about my having heard that Windex is a good cleaner.

“Oh, no!” he said. “Please never put Windex on your granite.”

“Oops,” I answered. “I learn something new every day.”

And I do.

I either learn through the circumstances of my day—just as from the installer—or by purposefully seeking the answer to a question I’ve had.

One of my friends is writing a Novella. I asked her exactly what that was (I was already considering writing one myself the instant that she said the name. So beautiful it sounded to my ear: No-vel-la.)

She said it was a short novel.

Ok. I knew there had to be more to it than that., but I was too embarrassed to tell her I didn’t know.

So, I went to the computer with my question. Here is what I found:

A novella is a work of fiction. It can be thought of as a short novel or a long short story.

Whereas a novel has over 50,000 words, a novella has an average of 30,000 words.

A writer may plan to write a novella ahead of time, as my friend has. It’s alright if the novella ends up to be longer (then you’ve written a novel) or shorter (then it qualifies as a short story).

Novellas are not the most popular or best-selling format. You may not find a publisher that will readily accept a novella, but it may be perfect for someone self-publishing.

So, there you go. Perhaps we’ve all learned something new, today.

Whatever you decide to write—a short story, novella, novel, or magazine article—writing is a most-rewarding form of self-expression.

So, don’t miss the opportunity to try your hand at writing.

Why not start small?

Perhaps a novella…

Lights! Camera! Action!

One of the first rules of writing, is to begin your story, chapter, or scene by dropping your reader into the midst of the ACTION.

You ask, “But, what about the backstory?”

Well, you tell me. Which is more exciting? The beginning of Story A or Story B?

A)  Claudette, a forty year old nurse, was born in Kansas City, met and married Charlie right out of high school. Together they had three children, a cat, and a dog. Her husband died last year, her parents the year before that.

B)  Claudette crept from behind a cluster of large oak barrels on the deserted wharf. It would soon be dark. If she was going to attempt an escape, she would have to do it soon. With the gag still in place, she couldn’t scream for help. Her wrists were raw where she  strained against the ropes binding them. Surely those hoodlums had mistaken her for someone else—someone rich and famous. Charlie would never be able to pay such a high ransom. He didn’t do well in stressful situations, anyway. No, if she was going to get out of this alive, she’d have to do it herself.

My point is, that once you drop your reading audience in the midst of the story with your character, you’ll have plenty of time to feed them the backstory, a little at a time, in the form of ACTION.

I find it easiest to accomplish this kind of writing by VISUALIZING my characters DOING: talking, moving, reacting. It’s a book, but the characters still have to be SEEN in the readers’ internal eyes.

In a movie, actors SHOW us what they are doing. However, in a book, it is the author’s WORDS that help readers SEE what is going on. If they are just sitting there on a sofa, it is likely the book will soon be tossed aside. (Would you want to watch a movie where the character didn’t say anything, talk to anyone, express any thoughts??)

I have made myself lists of verbs, adjectives, exciting phrases, facial expressions, and so on. These are displayed on huge poster boards hanging inside my office closet.

I refer to the board, often. If I use a word or phrase from my list, I put a mark beside it. I strive not to use it again in the exact same way in that particular book. I mean, do you want to read “huge crocodile tears ran down her cheeks” every time Mary cries? It takes some creativity, but it IS possible to say the same thing in a variety of ways.

So, there you have it. A book is really a movie, in a different format. If you are a screenwriter, you can count on actors and actresses—even animation—to make your story come alive. But, a writer?  Well, you must rely on your words—actions verbs, colorful adjectives, emotionally laden. You’re a “one-man-show.

When you write this way, not only is the book a more exciting read, the entire writing process becomes more exciting for you, as well. There are actually times I feel my heartbeat and breathing accelerate along with my character’s. My mouth goes dry when his does. My hands really and truly shake on the keyboard.

Now, that’s action!

And this is “a wrap!”

When I Forget the Words

Have you seen instances on television of celebrities, football players, and even olympians who don’t know the correct words to the Star Spangled Banner? Or, perhaps witnessed an interview of a person who got tongue-tied, searching frantically for just that right word?

As writers, we have it a little easier than that. Using our computers, we can write and rewrite until we get the words to flow “just right”. We can use a thesaurus and a dictionary to help us choose words and check on meanings.

I recently bought a book called The Describer’s Dictionary by David Grambs. I must confess I have just begun to use it, but to give you an example of how it works, say you want to describe the color black. The book gives these words: ebony, ebon, sable, jet, onyx, ink black, coal black, anthracite.  The book is divided into words for various Shapes, Patterns and Edges, Surfaces and Textures, Light and Colors, etc.

A book I’ve used a LOT, is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I truly believe no fiction writer should be without this book. It includes all emotions in an easy-to-use alphabetical format that is further broken down into Physical Signals, Internal Sensations, Mental Responses, Cues of Acute or Long Term experiences of an emotion, emotions that specific examples May Escalate To, and Cues of Suppressed emotions. I especially like the Writer’s Tip which is provided at the bottom of each listed emotion.

So, there are resources out there. I am slowly finding them. If you know of any others that writers might find useful, please let me know. One I’d find extremely useful would be substitutions for adverbs. If there isn’t one out there, already, maybe this would be a project you’d be interested in taking on!

Brenda