Writing Tips

Photographs Can Provide Details for Writers

Photographs as a Research Source for Historical Writing
Photographs can be an inspiration can be rich with details, but we tend to pass them over as a superficial source that give no more than a vague sense of a time or place. Take a closer look. Photographs can be loaded with emotion, information, sensory and concrete details—all the good things you want for writing that resonates with life.
What Are the Circumstances of This Family?

In one of our writing classes Annette and I invited students to speculate about the details of a Victorian family, based on this portrait. The results were […]

Where to Start a Fiction or Nonfiction Narrative

What to Include in the Opening Scene of your Memoir, Family History, Biography or Fiction
This is a continuation of several posts on this subject. 

Somewhere in the first page or two you’ll want to include a scene. This is where the reader gets dropped into the action to experience this story with you. Dialogue is a vital element of scenes, in fiction and memoir, but if you open directly with one it’s best to keep the dialogue to a minimum. The reader needs to get to know your characters before she can follow their conversations.

You should introduce your main character(s) […]

The Opening Chapter of a Family History, Biography or Memoir

What to Include in the Start of a Narrative
Here are some random thoughts about what to consider when getting set to write the opening chapter of your nonfiction narrative. For some tips on the pre-writing stage, leading up to writing that all-important opener, see our previous blog post:  http://thescribes.ca/the-first-steps-to-writing-nonfiction/

Give your readers some context, so they understand what’s about to happen – but not too much!

Writing instructor Alice LaPlante (The Making of a Story) suggests you write the first chapter and then tear up the first three pages—and start from that point. This forces you to drop the reader into […]

The First Steps to Writing Nonfiction

The First Steps to Writing Nonfiction
There’s a lot riding on the first chapter of your nonfiction narrative. You want it to snap with energy, life and intrigue and you want to hook readers right from the start. To do that you need to know your story and characters very well. And it helps to know how the piece will end.
A Delayed Start Has Advantages
There’s a lot to be said for NOT starting at the beginning. Jump in at whatever point you’re most familiar with because you can back up later to write the beginning. There are lots of advantages […]

Do You Want Feedback on your Writing? Get it From a Writer!

Peer Review and Feedback – What’s it all about?
Writing powerful well-crafted stories is a life’s work. Like any demanding job with high standards, sometimes we need some help from the side. Guided peer review can provide that helping hand. However, trepidation around receiving perceived criticism can prevent writers from participating in peer review.

Some students cannot let go of their original words. Others never feel ready:
“One more rewrite of chapter three…” “The ending still needs work…”
Writer trepidation is sometimes rooted in a past critique experience that was painful, embarrassing and damaging to the writer’s confidence. When peer review and feedback […]

Tips for Nonfiction Writers on Self Editing

More on Self-Editing
No matter your level of experience, the first draft of a writing project, whether it’s a blog post or a book length manuscript, will need revisions—if not a major overhaul. This is an expansion of ideas presented in an earlier post: http://thescribes.ca/feedback-on-your-family-history-or-memoir-draft-is-helpful/

Here’s a typical self-editing process:

• Set the manuscript aside for a few weeks to clear your mind and gain objectivity.

• Reread it on screen and make adjustments as you go. If you get stuck or stalled, highlight that trouble spot and move on. Maybe there’s a piece that needs more research? Highlight that too and continue.

• With […]

Feedback on Your Family History or Memoir Draft is Helpful

Peer Writing Critiques
Part I: The Process of Self Editing
There’s a point where you become blind to the rough spots in your writing. Even the passages of brilliant phrasing are lost on you. It’s time for feedback. And the best kind to get is from a fellow writer, who knows the craft and how to give a thoughtful response that appraises the words, not the writer. Resist the temptation to call for this help too soon. Your work must go through many revisions before it’s ready for another’s eyes.

Here’s the process most writers—no matter how experienced—will have followed before calling […]

Writing a biography based upon slim evidence

Book Review:  The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin
Do we fully appreciate our freedom to choose—and to change—our marital status? I suspect not. Claire Tomalin’s biography of Nelly Ternan, a mid-Victorian actress who had a love affair with Charles Dickens, illustrates the life altering impact of inflexible social conventions on a not-so-distant past generation.

Claire Tomalin normally tackles literary greats but her subject here is a little-known woman who lived for over a decade within the shadows of Dickens’s life. Like Dickens, Ternan’s childhood was rooted within the hard scrabble of the working class. She and her extended family were actors, […]

Some organizing structures to help you get started as a writer

Getting Set to Write is Like Packing for a Trip
Outlining Methods – Part II
Here’s some ideas for writers who prefer to use basic structures for organizing their research and ideas as they get set to write a family history, biography or memoir. This offers a light approach to the process described in last week’s blog about more complex forms of outlining: http://thescribes.ca/how-to-get-organized-to-write-part-i/

Some might describe what’s offered here as “organic” outlining methods (see the Writer’s Digest article Go Organic http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/6-secrets-of-writing-a-novel-without-an-outline). I use what I call a “chronological list” to wrestle my research material into a cohesive summary, and a “subject […]

How To Get Organized to Write – Part I

Create a Plan to Guide Your Writing: Part I
Did you see Jocelyn Reekie’s posting (http://thescribes.ca/write-your-book-now-skip-the-outline/) about writing without an outline? Jocelyn is a confirmed “pantster” (working by the seat of her pants). I’m not a full on “plotter,” but I like to work with a bit of structure. Here’s the first of several short posts with thoughts about various ways to approach the planning phase. 

The pros and cons of outlining are hotly debated, especially among fiction writers, some of whom take weeks—or months—to prepare complex outlines. Nonfiction writers seem to hover on the margins of this controversy. Our genre can […]