Saturday, December 29, 2007

Pocket Muse

pocket_muse.jpgMonica Wood, author of Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspirations for Writing and Pocket Muse: Endless Inspiration, both of which are full of ideas and pictures to inspire, has been gathering writing tips since 2000 at her website.

Here's a sampling to get you inspired to click the link :-)
  • For the "cruelest month," [April] write about an act of cruelty that yields the opposite of the intended outcome.

  • If you're feeling anything like me today, the words are coming very hard. Try a word-association game with yourself to get the creative flow back. Start with an ordinary word: "tree." Then start associating like crazy until you come up with something that interests you. Tree, bird, sky, plane, hijacking. Try it again, with "road." Road, asphalt, steam, engine, battery, assault. I've just talked myself back into writing.

  • Think of two objects that are seemingly unconnected -- a house for sale and a model plane; a storm drain and an office window; a mantel clock and a yellow slicker -- and make a connection. Any connection at all, no matter how vague, will get something going.

  • A good scene--in fiction or nonfiction--contains layers. In other words, more than one thing is going on, no matter how straightforward the scene might appear. To find those layers, keep asking yourself, "What else?" For example, you might think the scene you're writing is about a man discovering his wife's affair. He's furious that she's been unfaithful. What else? He's a bit smug that his suspicion turned out to be right. What else? He's disappointed that his wife didn't choose a more attractive, interesting lover. What else? He's insulted that his wife didn't choose a more attractive, interesting lover! What else? He wonders, maybe a little, whether he himself might be unattractive and uninteresting, exactly the sort of man to whom his wife seems to be attracted. What else?

  • Why not take advantage of having been forced to listen to forty thousand versions of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" last month? Write something that exploits one of the twelve lines. Begin a scene with nine ladies dancing, or write about somebody who is missing five gold rings. A partridge in a pear tree might be a bit much, but you could make a little hay with twelve guys on drums.

  • CRAFT: Some writers have a terrible time with titles, so here's an extremely subjective primer on choosing titles.

    The best titles, in my view, contain a noun--not an abstract noun like gratitude or restitution, but a muscular, concrete noun like lawn mower or blanket or streetwalker. Often, the noun has a modifier: "The 500-pound Lawn Mower"; "The Last Green Blanket"; "A Streetwalker's Bible." In short, pick something that puts a picture in the reader's head, along with a mystery. Think The Virgin Suicides. Think The Bluest Eye. Think The Sweet Hereafter.

    Verb forms make for uninteresting titles, I think, especially gerunds. "Disappearing" is my worst title ever, to an early short story. Gerunds strike me as too thematic, too calculated to announce the story's intentions. Titles like "Telling Lies," "Leaving Home," "Knowing the Score" (not actual titles, to my knowledge) don't draw me in. There is no picture to hang onto. Waiting for Godot is terrible, if I may be so bold; The Bald Soprano is great. Verbs can work well, though, if used as an imperative--for example, Come To Me by Amy Bloom; Read This and Tell Me What It Says by Manette Ansay.

    I also love possessives in titles: My first published story was called "Alison's Hair," and I still like this awkward, young story, partly for sentimental reasons, but mostly because the title still pleases me. One more thing about titles--often they will come late in the writing process, as a sign that you finally "get" what the story's about. What a feeling!
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