Writing Tips

Tips for organizing research materials

Tips for Organizing Research Material for a Nonfiction Writing Project
Nonfiction projects, whether it’s a memoir, an essay about a natural disaster, or a community history, are backed by research. For memoir there are clippings, journals and contemporary accounts. The essay involves interviews; as does the history, along with archival records. And each of those research forays adds to a growing stack of digital and paper documents.
Techniques for Creating Order Out of Chaos

For many writers this log jam of details becomes a troublesome impasse. Here’s some techniques for organizing that paper stack, based upon my current history project. Twin Islands, […]

When is a draft manuscript ready for review?

When is a draft manuscript ready for feedback?
Writers ache to share their literary darlings with others, but therein lurks danger. To the writer, those first few chapters—or even a first full draft—are loaded with the sparkle of a rough-cut gem. But that’s not how an unskilled test reader will perceive it. Much of its strengths still remain in the writer’s imagination, in what Ann Lamott calls The Shitty First Draft, in her witty essay of that title. What will stand out like inflamed scars to a spouse or friend are grammar issues, a bumpy story flow, and characters lacking […]

Publishing a memoir may require buy-in from others

Is Consent Needed from Others for Personal Writing ?
Many personal writing projects get shelved at the concept stage because of fears about how others portrayed might respond. What’s lost is not just a writer’s search for personal meaning, but insights for others too—in that premature decision. Premature, says writing instructor Annette Yourk, because the time to consider others is years down the road, after a second, or even a third, draft is complete. Lots of things will change in the process. You’ll cut some stories (and some people) during redrafting, and one of your subjects may no longer be […]

The opening of both fiction and nonfiction requires skillful crafting.

The Complex Craft of the Opening Paragraph in Fiction & Nonfiction 
The first paragraph of a piece of writing must be impeccably crafted. And that’s just the start of what’s required to draw readers in. A structure and purpose should be evident, promising revelations ahead. Period and place is established to ground readers in the situation. Tension, which may be as simple as an underlying narrator’s need to know why, simmers just below the surface—and there are hints of more ahead.

And that’s not all. Whether readers know it or not, they seek connection with a central character from the outset, […]

Choose Words that Breath Life Into Writing

Specific Details Fully Engage Readers’ Minds
Deliver need-to-know background details at a rapid clip, but for transformative drama slow the pace and inject life with the sparkle of sensory and specific details. This is the passage readers will remember years later because it lit up the frontal cortex of their brains, where experiences are processed.

Show (rather than simply tell) fiction and nonfiction readers what a character experienced as he paddled up a river.  Be specific. It wasn’t just any river. It was the Courtenay River on the BC coast in the fall of 1862, when the water was alive with the […]

Nonfiction Writers Must Delve Deep Into Their Characters’ Lives

Writing about People in Nonfiction
Intriguing people are at the heart of most stories and you need to know them intimately, whether you’re writing a community history, a travel piece, a memoir or a biography.

Hemingway advised writers to compile comprehensive information about their lead character’s personality and life. Only the tip of an iceberg of details will show in the final piece, he advised, but all of it informs your storytelling.

Compile Everything Known into a Chronological List

There are multiple benefits to such a list. It underscores gaps where more research is needed; and periods of intense accomplishments or duress (great story dynamics!) It may point to anomalies in this […]

Write clear, bold sentences in an ‘active voice’

Write Straight to the Point
The passive voice—with its side stepping, roundabout phrasing—lacks clarity, punch and immediacy. Many of us speak in this suggesting-things way, but when it slips into our writing it both deadens the impact and requires more words.

I know this, but in a bid to strike a conversational tone, a passive style sometimes slips into my writing and hides there, true to its obsequious nature, through multiple edits.

Like many Canadians, my initial attempts at an active writerly voice seemed brash, brazen and downright rude. But it’s not. It’s the basis of clear, forthright and succinct communication.
Examples of Passive and Active […]

Bring a flat character to life through a writing exercise

Get to Know Your Story Characters
Whether it’s a real person you’re writing about, or a fictional one, you need to know everything about her. The good and the bad qualities, the quirks and charms. Only the tip of the iceberg of information you gather will ever surface—to borrow Hemingway’s analogy—but it all comes to bear in the reactions and choices of a fully rounded person.
Pose Questions
If one of your characters seems flat, push for depth by answering these questions:

• How does she look and act (clothes, facial expressions, height, gestures, verbal ticks, habits, conversation)?

• What’s her social standing, class, education? […]

Family Story as Bestseller

Two Great Reads That Draw on Family Stories
Does your family’s history have the drama needed for a wide readership?

The answer lies not in content but in your ability to find its story threads, the glowing strands that have relevance and insights for others. That’s a tall order—often requiring multiple rewrites to get distance and objectivity, overcome familial objections, and to filter genealogical minutia. But there are a growing number of writers who are doing just that to gain an international following.

Here’s two widely different examples: the novel Postmark Bayou Chene by Gwen Roland, and The Juggler’s Children, creative nonfiction by Carolyn Abraham.
Postmark Bayou Chene
This is […]

Lifelike writing to engage readers’ minds

Showing Versus Telling in Your Writing
There are two different narrative modes: the breezy, dash through background information or set up, in which the narrator tells us what’s happening—and sometimes even what to think. The advantage here is the ability to move fast through subject matter and time.

But to engage a reader’s full attention specifics are needed, complete with sensory details and dialogue or, in nonfiction, quotes. Writers offer snippets of showing within the general narrative flow or fully unleash its dramatic effect within scenes. That’s showing, and for those new to creative writing—as opposed to correspondence or term papers—this form must be mastered. The goal […]