Writing Can Be Taught

Today, I have been reading “Plot and Structure” by J.S.Bell again. In introduction, the author says that he had wasted decades of his time not writing because since childhood he had been told that to be a writer one must be born with it (the gift of writing). He had also been told that writing couldn’t be taught. J.S.Bell writes,”I started to believe it. I figured I didn’t have it and never would. So I did other stuff. Like go to law school. Like join a law firm. Like give up my dream. But the itch to write would not go away. At age thirty-four, I read an interview with a lawyer who’d had a novel published. And what he said hit me in my lengthy briefs. He said he’d had an accident and was almost killed. In the hospital, given a second chance at life, he decided the one thing he wanted was to be a writer. And he would write and write, even if he never got published because that was what he wanted. Well, I wanted it, too.”

Al this sounds sadly familiar to me, and I am sure there are thousands of other people around the world facing the same fact: they never tried writing because they did not believe in themselves, and because everybody around kept convincing them that writing is a wrong way to choose. As well as music, and arts, and any other “impractical” occupations, by the way.

Still, those who are strong enough to overcome their shyness and finally do start writing, as well as those who are quite experienced – all need to learn. My strong belief is that one CAN learn how to write, moreover, it is as complicated as every other intellectual occupation, so it MUST be learned. It is never late to learn and there is never enough of learning. To me, a picture like the one below, is not an evidence of a writer’s failure. It is the evidence of a learning process, which is awesome.

learning_writer

Choosing a Title For Your Book

A few thoughts on choosing a title for your book

As a debut fiction writer, who has spent decades teaching science methodology and writing solely in the genre of science, I have been following writers’ discussions about creative writing lately with unspoiled curiosity of a child. There are dozens of topics in the world of fiction writing which deserve most careful attention, and one of the first among them is giving your book the right name. I find it as important as having a photogenic face for a photo model. The title is the face of your book, it can either help you attract potential readers or scare them away and make them run, mumbling under their nose, “if this is the cover, I’d better not look inside!”

BookTitle

No matter what genre your book belongs to, there are a few universal things which every author should keep in mind (and here the logic of a researcher speaks loudly in me): the title is an inseparable part of the book, which means it must

1) grow out of it (be consistent with it, if you like);

2) reflect the author’s principal message; and

3) identify the genre of the book.

Within a genre, there may be other rules and commonly accepted traditions, but the three above items are the identifying, basic principles for all books. If you call a romance novel “A Midnight Death In A Tunnel”, or call a detective story “My Sweet Emma”, your readers (not to mention the book store assistants and librarians) will be misled.

The title is supposed to set a tone for your book and create a certain expectation in the reader’s mind. A strong title is the book opener, which should entice the reader to look inside.

What is the trick of selecting the right name for the book then? I believe, every writer can help himself with the task by doing the following things.

First, you need to identify the genre of your book, because depending on it, you can set the right tone, or impression, or expectation. It is always a good exercise to put it down and take a good look at it. As an example, look a this: a romance novel “Rick, Deer Hunter” Does it look right to you? To me, it doen not. If my book’s message is to offer people more love and tenderness, I would rather leave this name to writers of adventure books.

To get the taste of commonly used names for your genre, look up a dozen of popular books in the same genre as yours. You’ll need to develop a feel for the most typical names in your genre. As soon as you do this, good names will start popping up in your mind right away.

Another good exercise to do is to write a list of keywords which characterize your book. They may be nouns, verbs or agjectives; they may be short phrases. They should not be the most comonly used words or names. The main quality of a keyword is to characterize your principal idea, the mission of your book, the reason why you spent months of your life writing it.

You may also make up lists of words which describe your main characters, or an important location, or a sensation caused by a scene. Take visual words or words that bring up emotions. You may find a single word whish would perfectly fit as a title, or select a phrase (preferably easy to pronounce and remember); after surveying your lists thoroughly, pick out the words which seem to fit your content the best. Compare your resulting list of titles to those of the popular books in your genre. I hope these exercises will help you select a good name for your book.

There are a few more things which I understood about book titles both, as a reader and as an author. First of all, I realized that a good fiction title always has a touch of emotional tension in it. Compare, for example, these titles:

Bill Murray’s Life (quite neurtal and plain: everyone’s got a life), and

Bill Murray’s Return (provides expectation of an unusual story), and

Bill Murray’s Rise and Fall (gives expectation of a fundemental life story, probably with a sad end), and

Bill Murray’s Revenge (creates expectation of an emotional story with elements of detective).

Comparing book titles is a very good exercise, because it reveals for you how powerful the name of a book may be.

At the same time, the title should be short, simple to pronounce and easy to remember. It can contain a one-word description of a story in action, like- The Intervention, A Breakthrough, or Reunion. It may contain a key word and one more descriptive word (name) to clarify the general mood of the book: My Passionate Diaries, or Darkness At Noon, or The Age Of Innocence. The title may also contain a geographical name, but then, for sure, it should create an image (or a sensation) in a reader’s mind, like these names: The Maltese Falcon, Appointment in Samarra, An American Tragedy. Well, of course, there is an endless variety of names to choose, which only makes the choice more difficult. Still, every writer should keep in mind a few basic things

Whenever I need to give a name to a work of writing, I prepare a little checklist of questiond for myself, no matter wht genre my work belongs to. Here is the list:

– Is the title consistent with the contents of my work (or at least with a part of it)?

– Does the title create an expectation of a particular genre in which the work is written?

– Does the title sound (look) clear and simple, is it easy to remember?

– Can this title entice a reader to open the book?

– Is there at least one special word in my title that can attract my particular readers’ audience?

If I answer all five questions right away and am satisfied, this means I have selected a good title.

Writing In the First Person

Share love. Educate. Inspire.

I just read a nice article by Mia Botha The Pros and Cons of Writing in First Person at Writers Write. Mia feels there is no right or wrong in this question, but there are pros and cons, which depend on the writer.

I agree: full responsibility for deciding how to write the book lies on the writer.

Ernst_writing

On the one hand, it gives you as an author unlimited access to the character’s thoughts and feelings, but it also limits you in describing thoughts and feelings of other characters. Writing in the first person sets out the main character, opposes him/her to everyone else. It is up to the author to decide whether to allow this to happen or not.

In her article Mia notes, and this is a great observation, that writing in first person gives the author a deeper insight into the main characters’ thinking process, but at the same time, it limits the…

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Writing In the First Person

I just read a nice article by Mia Botha The Pros and Cons of Writing in First Person at Writers Write. Mia feels there is no right or wrong in this question, but there are pros and cons, which depend on the writer.

I agree: full responsibility for deciding how to write the book lies on the writer.

Ernst_writing

On the one hand, it gives you as an author unlimited access to the character’s thoughts and feelings, but it also limits you in describing thoughts and feelings of other characters. Writing in the first person sets out the main character, opposes him/her to everyone else. It is up to the author to decide whether to allow this to happen or not.

In her article Mia notes, and this is a great observation, that writing in first person gives the author a deeper insight into the main characters’ thinking process, but at the same time, it limits the writer in a few other things: “your character can’t be everywhere and he can’t hear everything” and “your character shouldn’t be alone for too long,” and also it is necessary to “be careful of starting every sentence with I.”

I agree with every word of the article, I just want to add a few more. It must be the scientist inside me that is making me write this now, but- well, here is what I think.

As every other element of fiction writing, the choice of the story’s narrator must be reasoned. The one who tells the story shows the reader his/her world in a unique, individual way.

When an author finds a bright individual who can see the world in a very attractive (unusual) manner, plus if there is an event which causes a change in this person’s life, then it makes perfect sense to tell the story in the first person (remember Holden Caulfield from The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger?). in such case, the whole book aims to show development of one personality; all the world around this person exists to make these changes possible. Every scene takes place in this person’s mind, and the author must see with this character’s eyes as if they were his own. This is a very hard task, unless the author is telling a story from his own life.

If a story has many solutions and it looks like it makes full sense to show how different people (creatures) see the same chain of events, then the author sets a different goal: to show the world in its development, where people are just observers of its dynamics. Their visions are different, their lives move on, but the world remains unchanged. In such stories, the protagonist is still in focus of attention; his vision seems the most important, but the author would rather write in third person, because other characters’ opinions matter, too. The protagonist cannot be opposed to them, because he is on their side, he is one of them, and all of them are struggling against the antagonist’s power (take Neil Gaiman’s The American Gods, for example).

Well, this is the way I see it. The point is, there must be a reason for everything. Once you have decided to write in the first of in the third person, this is dictated by the core idea of your book, by the book’s mission.

A comment on commenting

Just read Amanda Patterson’s tips about commenting on Writers Write. Her list is simple and clear:

  1. Be kind. Be polite.
  2. Leave it alone if you don’t like it.
  3. Don’t preach. 
  4. Leave religion and politics out of it.
  5. Think before you ask.
  6. If you like it, say it.

I agree with them completely. I tought that in fact, most of us never take commenting seriously. I mean, we quickly look through an article, grasp the general idea and move on. Excuse me for this ugly comparison, but it is identical to dogs marking territory. We have no time to think over what we just read because there are so many other articles out there, so we leave a couple of words here and there and never care to slow down.

mark_your_territory

Whenever we write anything, we should keep in mind that our mind droppings may not look nice for everyone. Opinions – especially strong ones – are for personal blogs, while commenting is just like wagging your tail, meaning to say, “Well done, thank you, keep on writing!”

Happy Cartoon Dog Wagging Tail

 

What Women Want

I thought it might be interesting to create a collection of famous quotes about women, so I am going to publish little notes and quotes about women now and then here. This is a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, which I have always found very witty:

A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water

This is so true. Sometimes we, women, don’t know how strong we are until life tests us really hard. When life is smooth, a woman does not have to show her power; she is fine with the reputation of being a weaker one. Moreover, some wise women enjoy displaying their weakness.

The gift of real gracefullness is not given to us by nature; it is developed with time, it should be acquired like education. Real grace is a result of a long self-study, and like every other gift, it makes an individual unique. The women who understand the power of being weak are always smart and strong. I would not dare to test such a woman: she may be as strong as any man, and even stronger.

rob-herreran - a woman

Romantic Russian Phrase Book finally on sale

Many relationship psychologists are familiar with the term RW/AM relationships. The RW/AM means Russian woman & American man. Yep, however funny this may sound, the differences between the two cultures are immense, yet still immense is their attraction to each other. The boosting development of RW/AM dating industry (and it IS a multimillion insudtry today) made experts give the problem a serious study. Thousands of couples are known to fail in setting up understanding at a very young stage of relationships because they simply don’t understand the motives of each other’s behavior.

So many times in the practice as a relationship counselor I heard from men: “I don’t understand why she is so reserved-” or from women: “I would like him to be more consistent-” These seemingly little misunderstandings are really dangerous, though: they signal about threatening overal misinterpretations of each other. Quite often, I knew simple ways to fix the problem in the very beginning, but this was possible only when both parties were open to learning more about each

other’s cultures.romantic-couple

The Romantic Rusian Phrase Book was written back then, in 2008, but it waited for its time in my table for years. Now, when it is availavle on amazon.com with a look inside option, I finally got the feeling that finally got what it had deserved long before. It is not only about the language, it is rather not about the language. I tried to show the phrase book users how they can use very little knowledge of common things about each other to develop a solid basis for mutual understanding. I guess this must be similar to living hand in hand with Spanish speakers: when you are familiar with their culture, and when you know a few words to demonstrate this to them, they become more open, they welcome you into communication.

This is even more so with Russians. They melt with pleasure when they hear that a foreigner can say a few words in Russian. I saw this hundreds of times during my practice as a relationship counselor for RW/AM couples. Now, I am glad that the phrase book is finally out in book stores and can serve to hundreds of couples in their romantic Russian adventures.

Here is a link for those who would like to sheck it up or review: http://www.amazon.com/Romantic-Russian-Phrase-Book-Love-ebook/dp/B017T0MXTY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1447428647&sr=8-1&keywords=romantic+russian+phrase+book

Being a general in the army of letters

Here is a little note from grammarly.com. There is nothing special in these tips, of course, but still- it drives my attention to my little faithful soldiers – commas, full stops. semicolons, articles. I look down at them like a general looks at his army from the top of a hill. I talk to my “soldiers” while I work, I give them orders: “Stay here!” or “What are you doing here? Move to the end of the sentence!” This is my way of surviving through the boredom of proofreading. What is yours?
Five Mistakes To Avoid in Your NaNoWriMo Novel Infographic

Tug of a new novel

Does it only happen to me or is it a common thing? I have not finished polishing my previous novel yet, but that hum of a new plot is already sitting deep in my head and disturbing me like hell! If I don’t start writing in the nearest time, I am going to blow up. On such days, my mind is a moving kaleidoscope, and I am inside it, small and vulnerable, crawling between my own ideas, risking to be smashed, but unable to run away. Scary? Yeah, a bit. The only way out of that kaleidoscope leads me to my table- sugesting to sit down and trust it all to paper.

At this “kaleidoscope” stage I may write numerous sketches: unconnected brain droppings, images, short scenes, fantasies- with all the disturbance it gains me, I love this stage, because it is very similar to dreaming. At times, it captures me so much that I cannot differentiate between dreaming and reality without making a special effort. Human mind is a mysterious thing, indeed.

A new novel is testing my patience these days. I don’t know how much I can hold it before I run to my table and start writing. Maybe till tonight-

with the eye of an artist

Good writing formula

Litcritics love talking about the role a writer / poet may have in a reader’s life. Talking about it has become a banality, but we’ve got to admit: the role IS big. A good book picked up in the right time can make a teenager quit smoking (unlike parents who always turn up in the wrong time), or provoke a woman to take a new look at her life (and probably run to a hairdresser), or push a shy guy to change his attitude to that bossy boss, or even help an old man stop feeling lonely (really hard task to do).

In this connection, I’ve been thinking about a good writer’s role in a life of another writer. To me, the role is massive, not because we are also readers, as many critics say. No, I dare to argue that.

As soon as you start writing, you never read books with the eyes of a reader anymore. Other writers’ writing bangs into your face every couple of minutes, yelling “This is the way you should have described that storm (that room / that person – whatever)!” Then, as a rule, you grow upset (which is good, because it means you are finally assessing yourself objectively), but you still go on reading and occasionally (only occasionally) you say to yourself, “Well, my scene was not that bad, either-” and then the next stage comes: imitation. Every author goes through this stage. Inevitably. You proceed with your own writing, but the hum from that beautiful book is still very fresh in your mind, and you catch yourself on writing “a bit like that talented guy” It pleases you (because you think you can do it) and irritates you (because it is not totally your writing)- and here the most important moment comes: you either quit writing that stupid story or make a committment to yourself to finish it anyway.

There is just one positive moment in all this process: whether you want this or not, your mind is learning. Yes, this is the nature of the learning process: we analyze what has been done before us and then we go on from there. I daresay, immitation is good. It is just a necessary step towards developing your own writing style. And then, if you are talented, plus inspired, plus patient, plus devilishly hard working (only the four items together, this is a formula!) can bring you to the right result: your own good writing. So, to me a formula of good writing looks like this:

Good Writing = Talent + Inspiration + Hard Work +Patience

Yes, It is as simple as Einstein’s theories. Come on, dear Colleagues, stop reading this stuff! Get back to your work. It is waiting.

bored of writing

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