Tag Archives: Storytelling

6 Great Essays on Craft: Talking Plot, Sex Scenes, & More

1. Claire Rudy Foster’s “Considering the Sex Lives of Your Characters” for The Review Review

Allowing sex to take its proper place in a story adds the third dimension, a dimension of flesh, and sets the reader’s animal self twitching. Even the deliberate omission of sex begs the question: where did it go? Who are these comic characters, gleefully reassuring one another of their button-eyed innocence? It is possible to leave sexuality as an implicit force in the text, but suppressing it entirely does a disservice to both the reader and the story.  …

2. Emily Barton’s “Literary or Genre, It’s the Plot That Counts” for Literary Hub

We writers like to talk about elements of craft. Character, theme, setting, voice, point of view, language. But I seldom hear fellow writers talking about plot. When I first taught a seminar on non-traditional plot construction at NYU’s Graduate Writing Program, some students signed up because they hadn’t previously given the topic any thought. …

3. Alison Mattison’s “How to Write Coincidence the Right Way” for Literary Hub

One way to use coincidence and make it work is to have nothing turn on it. Coincidences feel illegitimate when they solve problems. If the story doesn’t benefit from the coincidence, it’s simply pretty and suggestive. Another way to make a coincidence work is to begin a story with it. Make it the reason there’s a story to tell in the first place. …

4. Bartleby Snopes’s Dialogue Writing Tips

One tendency people have when writing dialogue is to try to write everything exactly how it “sounds.” This often results in dialogue that sounds too slangy or forced. While you may know someone who says “like” after every other word or drops twelve “f-bombs” per sentence, this doesn’t translate well on the page. …

5. Linnie Greene’s In the Mines: A Craft Essay on Creative Nonfiction for Cleaver Magazine

In her MFA vs. NYC essay “The Invisible Vocation,” Elif Batuman argues that the classic maxims “Write what you know” and “find your voice” are sometimes damning, convincing writers that if they don’t know some sort of spectacular, novelistic trauma or oppression, their stories aren’t worth telling. …

6. Steve Almond’s “How to Write a Sex Scene: The 12-Step Program” for Utne

Nipples are tricky. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and shades. They do not, as a rule, look like much of anything, aside from nipples. So resist making dumbshit comparisons. …

Happy Writing!

Writing Groups

First, the good news: My short story “Girls with Blood in Their Veins” has just been accepted for publication with Bartleby Snopes. Look for it this July!

Second: I’m staying up all night tonight for an early Memorial Day flight to Whidbey Island where my beloved writing group, The Roving Writers, will be waiting for me! Here’s hoping that the acceptance letter is a good omen for the journey.

Now, onward to the meat and potatoes of this post: Because I know a lot of writers out there are hungry for groups, connection, and colleagues, I thought I’d take a moment to share some details about The Roving Writers and what works for us.

The Roving Writers is a small collection of writers scattered all across The United States, and though we meet monthly via phone, about twice a year we manage to get together in-person and there’s just no beating the greatness of that. We first met rather serendipitously at a Master Class event at Hedgebrook, and from there we quickly realized that we would be together for many years to come.

What Works for Us:

  • The first keynote we’ve discovered to a strong working relationship is one that may seem obvious but that is notoriously difficult to achieve: Trust. –Trust requires honesty, openness, confidence, and humility. It requires constant work and an ability to clearly communicate one’s thoughts and feelings to others. Without trust, how could we share our work with one another?–work that is often intensely intimate and deeply connected to our innermost beliefs and desires? Without trust, how could we ever give sincere, useful feedback on each other’s work? Without trust, how could we ever have faith in the comments and critiques we receive from each other?
  • The next major component to a successful writing group is a set of Shared Goals. This doesn’t mean that everyone in the group needs to be working on a novel. This doesn’t even necessarily mean that everyone in the group needs to have the shared goal of eventually being published (though this kind of professional synchronicity can be very useful***). What this really means is that everyone in the group should A) want to become a stronger writer and B) want to receive and provide effective, meaningful feedback on their writing. Sometimes it helps if everyone is also similar in other respects as well (i.e. working in the same genre, working toward a particular publishing goal, etc.). Of course, not all writing groups are going to share the goal of critique/feedback since many writing groups have other purposes all together, such as simply gathering together to write in a shared space. –This latter kind of writing group is especially useful, I’ve found, for those writers looking to meet other artists in their area.
  • And tip number three: Managing Group Size & Meeting Regularity. It is absolutely essential to the health of writing groups that you have a manageably small group (I wouldn’t recommend having more than six or seven people to a group max) that meets at least once a month. Many groups meet weekly, but once a month should probably be the bare minimum. –Without these elements, the group can lack intimacy and the tight bonds necessary to breed trust and understanding. Moreover, having a regular meeting time is vital so that group members can plan their daily writing schedules accordingly.

 

Have any tips from your writing group? All advice is welcome and appreciated!

Happy Writing!

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Stories, Spirits, & Talismans

As some of you may know, I’ve recently finished writing (and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting) my debut novel, The Fire Eaters, and I am now onto the next novel project with Caldera (another feminist, near-future scifi).

I didn’t realize it until just the other day in working on Caldera, however, that a trend running through both novels—as well as a number of my short stories—is the presence of different talisman animals. The Fire Eaters, for example, is threaded with tons of references to and ghosts of monstrous javelinas.

The forest at night was a thing to be wary of, a thing best not to get distracted in. Packed full of snakes, skinny-jawed coyotes, and trees that twisted up like arms from a grave, the forest was not known for its hospitality. It even had its own special brand of particularly large, particularly nasty javelinas—teeth like knives and snouts big as Marine boot heels.

The Fire Eaters, Prologue, excerpted in Used Gravitrons

javelina
The Fire Eaters is a place notorious for its wilds, ghosts, and sharp-toothed javelinas.

Caldera, likewise, is haunted. While a variety of animals make cameo appearances here—being set in Yellowstone Park, it’d be hard to avoid them even if I wanted to—it’s the spider that stands out as the talisman for this novel. Makes sense, I suppose, what with my protagonist being an entomologist.

Having these animals threaded throughout my stories might’ve been unconsciously done, but, I’ve come to find, is also essential to the development of the stories’ worlds and characters both. And just as the javelinas in The Fire Eaters embody the wilder and more magical elements of the novel’s protagonist and setting, so the spiders speak to the deadly, the beautiful, and the otherworldly in Caldera.

stairway spider
“A noiseless patient spider…” —Walt Whitman

Do you find that the same goes for your own writing? Are there creatures, spirits, or talismans that haunt your works and lend them power? Are there any animals in particular that you find inspiring, even if they don’t always end up featuring in your work?

Art and photography by K.C. Mead-Brewer

On the Art of Adaptation, Part I

For a good while now, I’ve worked with Bancroft Press, a Baltimore indie publisher, to adapt some of their titles into screen, stage, and teleplays. This isn’t a line of work I ever imagined I’d end up in. Adaptation? But I’m an editor! I’m a writer of original fiction! —Of course, I now know just what a boon this kind of work can be to editors and writers, the kinds of skills and instincts it can help you develop, as well as the respect it can instill in you for other artists and art forms.

What’s most fascinating about novel-to-screenplay adaptation, at least to my mind, is that you get to take something special, a work of art that someone spent months or even years creating, and begin to entirely re-imagine it. This doesn’t mean rip it to pieces and tear out its heart till the only thing left of the original story is the title—this means reconsidering the execution of the story, not the story itself. This means realizing that every story—no matter how it’s told—has some unchanging, constant core.

As an editor and author, I’ve always believed that Execution is King. Everyone can have great or weird or even transcendent ideas, but the drive and ability to translate those ideas into art is where the actual art comes into play. For this reason, I always try to remain mindful during my adaptation process that the author chose the written word as the most perfect medium for their story. This means that, by its very nature, any non-written version of a novel or short story will mean creating a new story in some respect. (Hence why, I think, screenwriters still get to put their names on adaptations with just a Based On for the original author—it’s not just about the hours and hours put into the 110 page screenplay; it’s about acknowledging that this is a new version of an older tale.)

It’s always dangerous to pick favorites, but in what is perhaps my favorite book, Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ Women Who Run With the Wolves, she discusses just this phenomenon within the context of folklore, myths, and fairy tales—how “classic” stories become “classics” by being passed down from storyteller to storyteller, their delicate surface-level clay altered each time by new fingerprints and palms, yet their hard inner-layers remaining unchanged and constant. And it’s this sort of reverence for the author’s original vision that I attempt to carry with me into each and every adapted screenplay, teleplay, and stage play that I write. These aren’t just contracts with a publisher; these are pieces of something LARGE, something that I’m now lucky enough to get to be a part of.

This may sound like a lot of romanticization, and perhaps it is. I’m not saying, after all, that I’ve loved (or even liked) every book I’ve ever adapted. But when I stop to really meditate on what it is I’m doing—which I try to remind myself to do as often as I can—I’m always struck by the deep power that lies in storytelling and in the work of passing stories along from one set of hands to another, as if the story itself is searching out its Ideal Reader (thank you for that term, Mr. Stephen King; I love it and think about it all the time), its Ideal Listener, the person it was always meant to be told to.

But apart from the romance of being involved in passing along a story from one hand to the next, like a baton in some endless, thrilling race, I love how the work of adaptation has and continues to help me become a better editor and writer of original fiction. There’s nothing like breaking a story down to its component parts, playing with its blood and guts and love and pain, to really remind yourself of just how exactly it is that a good story works, how its parts all then fit back together, how its blood flows and what kinds of things its guts can and can’t chew up on their own.

The art of adaptation then, at least as I understand it today, might be boiled down to a few simple points: respect the author, respect the work, respect your own work, and always, always be open to what each new story has to teach you.

Diversity in Writing, Diversity in Reading

“Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story”

I’m not normally much of a TED Talk person, but I can’t say enough good things about this one. If you watch/read the news, write, read, share stories, make assumptions, have ever been surprised by someone or never been surprised by anyone, then this is a video you ought to check out. The way we share, interpret, and use stories in our daily lives can have a massive impact on how we understand and interact with the world–sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. If you’re a reader (and/or writer), then this talk on the nature of stories and storytelling is definitely worth a listen.