HOW TO WRITE A SCENE

Rules, rules, rules. For writers, there are so many rules to follow and break.

Never use very.
Never open a novel with a dream.
Get rid of prologues and epilogues.
Remember the rule of three.
Avoid clichés.
Use active, not passive words.
Eliminate ly words.
Include all the five senses.
Get rid of exclamation marks.
Avoid long sentences.
Prepare an outline first.
Let your characters lead the story.

Today, while searching the internet for a way to take the pain out of revisions and outlining, I stumbled across a new set of rules on how to write scenes. I actually like this set, because, as I work through my revisions, I’m tempted to keep the old dead worthless crappy scenes. They’re already written. I’ve spent tons of time crafting them. And I’m lazy. But, if I follow these “rules”, I know my scenes will be more unified, vibrant, and interesting.

So, as I tackle revisions and a new outline for an outdated book, I’m taping this list to my desk to follow. Maybe this list can help you, too.

And, yes, I’ll probably be repeating the process at least two hundred times before I get it right.

-Bonnie Dodge

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Write something beautiful

When exercising in the morning, I watch TV because it makes exercise tolerable.

This morning, “The Hours” was on. The movie is based on the magnificent and Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Michael Cunningham. The movie is also wonderful with Nicole Kidman in her Oscar winning role as Virginia Woolf, and a cast of fantastic actors, from magical Meryl Streep to Julianne Moore to Ed Harris.

Needless to say, I stopped exercising and watched because it is such a damn good movie with screenwriter David Hare adapting Cunningham’s novel.

The language in the novel and the film is beautiful, poignant, and heartbreaking. But it is also hopeful and complete with truth. I cried at the end of the film because of that hope, truth and the beauty of what I had seen and heard. The message about what makes our lives rich and worth living. Even though we experience with loss and pain, it makes us what we are.

As a writer the film inspired me want to write something as beautiful. Granted, I may never be a Michael Cunningham or Virginia Woolf, but I can be me and write my own message of hope. My own beauty. It may be a long journey, a journey of a lifetime. But that is what makes life worth living doesn’t it?

For all those other writers out there, may you find your own version of beauty, truth and hope.

—Patricia Santos Marcantonio

 

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SELF-SABOTAGE, MY WORD FOR 2017

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Words of encouragement are flooding social media this month. Words like hope, peace, love, respect, patience, and even no. As a writer, I’d like to offer another. Self-sabotage. That thing many writers do to avoid moving forward.

I’m not the queen of sabotage, but I know how to procrastinate. Take this book I’ve been working on for almost twenty years. Ten years ago I shopped this book around thinking it was finished. But clearly it wasn’t or I’d be collecting royalties instead of avoiding revisions.

Why isn’t it finished? It isn’t because I don’t know how to write or deliver a product. It isn’t that I don’t love the idea of this book, I do. The only reason I can offer is that I’ve gotten in the habit of avoiding this project. Every time I set out to finish this book something gets in the way. Here are some of the ways I’ve sabotaged the completion of this book.

1) I can’t work on this book until I finish xxx. Insert clean the house, take the dogs for a walk, or do the laundry.

Life is messy and has a way of getting in the way of writing. There will always be something else that needs attention. Pretending I can’t write until the dishwasher is loaded only prolongs the project. Instead of waiting until everything is done, I need to make working on this project a priority. First thing in the morning I need to sit down and revise a chapter. Before anything else. Waiting until I have a big chunk of time to work isn’t the answer and is just a lazy excuse.

2) I need to do more research.

After twenty years I should have more than enough information to finish this book. And if I don’t I can make it up. After all, it’s fiction, not non-fiction.

3) I don’t have the skills to write this story.

Recently I listened to Alice Hoffman discuss writing. She said a writer needs to write every day. Only by writing every day do you become a better writer. So stop waiting until you have the skill level you seek. Start writing and it will come.

4) It’s not perfect, so why bother.

Good writing is revisions, lots of them. Anne Lamott says write a messy first draft. Get the story down and then do the work of revisions. That’s where skill and magic happen, in the honing of words.

5) I need feedback on this chapter before I continue.

Maybe, but probably not. Even if you are lucky enough to have friends and family who offer to read your work and comment, this can be a big way to sabotage your writing. Reading is subjective and you will get good comments and bad comments. The time for constructive feedback is after the book is done. When you know the ending of your story, you’re better equipped to identify weak plot points and motivation. Too much advice while you’re being creative and writing can stop your story dead. Rely on your gut and trust the process.

6) I’m not smart enough to write this story.

If that is true, than put it away and work on something else. Just because you don’t feel adequate to complete this story doesn’t mean you can’t produce a sexier, better story. Learn to let go. Not everything you write is golden.

7) I need to turn off the internal editor.

Often the fear of failing, or even the fear of succeeding, can prevent me from finishing a project. Yes, criticism is scary. But it’s part of the process. Don’t let fear prevent you from achieving your goal. Writing can be scary, learn to work through the fear.

8) I can’t write until I get in the mood.

The longer you work as a writer the more it becomes a job and there are days you won’t want to go to work. Waiting for the mood to strike could mean days without writing, a sure way to shoot yourself in the foot. Many times I sit down to write, in a bad mood because I don’t want to write that day, and like magic my muse shows up and I produce some pretty amazing stuff. If you want to be a good writer, write even when you don’t want to. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

9) Illness gets in the way.

My goal for 2017 is to finish this book. I had a good start, with four chapters revised before I ended up in the hospital with a nasty gallbladder. See, I told my son, this book doesn’t want to be finished. And, yes, sometimes I feel like that. But the book isn’t the writer, I am the writer, and no one else is going to finish this book but me.

Self-sabotage diminishes passion and energy. It’s just an excuse to keep you from moving forward. If you’re in the habit of self-sabotaging yourself, try to identify why. Then work toward reaching your goal. You’re in control. Only you can do it.

-Bonnie Dodge

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Knowing what to accept and reject

 

I usually advise  new writers to grow a thick skin. We’re talking rhino skin. We’re talking skin thick as the Earth’s crust. That’s because editors and people in critique groups  will make dents in that skin when editing your writing.

We need to be a good listener and hear their suggestions. They may have a point about problems in your story. That’s because they are reading it as readers. It is painfully true we can sometimes get too close to our work to see beyond our keyboards.

It is an editor’s job to make your writing better and people in critique groups only want to help (good people that is.) Be open minded about work. I remember a woman asked me to read and comment on one of her stories. It was good but I had some suggestions to improve it. She got so mad she never talked to me again. Her writing skin turned out to be thin as rice paper.

That said, we must also learn when to reject, politely, criticism with which you totally disagree. You know your writing best and if there is something you believe is necessary to the piece, then stick with it and be prepared to defend it to editors or critiquers. You might have to compromise but usually they will understand and let it stand.

Be willing to listen to advice on how your writing can be improved. Don’t get insulted. Don’t get mad. Be professional.

Realize that not every word we write is gold, but those words might polished into shining brightly nevertheless.

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I’m Not Retired, My Husband is, HELP!

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Last month Patricia talked about the “r” word and how frustrating it can be when others who know you work from home think you are retired. This month I’d like to take that one step further and talk about how frustrating it can be to work from home when your husband retires. I speak from experience.

I left a good job to pursue a career in writing. For years I worked from home while my husband hopped into his truck and drove to his place of employment. For years the hours between 8 and 5 were mine and I could arrange them any way I wanted to to meet deadlines, conduct interviews, and write. But that changed when my husband retired. The days suddenly became “ours” and I had to learn to adjust to having someone else in the house.

Instead of soft music in the background to inspire my writing, I had the TV blaring non-stop with all the bells and whistles of game shows and the banter of Judge Judy. While trying to concentrate, I’d get a blow-by-blow description of the Ellen DeGeneres show until in frustration I’d turn off the computer. I’d wait until my husband went to bed before I tried to do any serious writing. Or, I’d write in the mornings before he woke up. I tried to adjust my schedule to his, which was, of course, no schedule at all.

At first it was pretty bumpy. Excited about new freedom and opportunities, my husband woke up chattering. “What are we going to do today? Want to run over to …. and look at ….?”

I always wanted to say, “Um, no, I’m supposed to be writing.” But truth was, I wanted to go, too.

I found myself frustrated and wishing he’d go back to work. I didn’t suffer from “retired husband syndrome” but there were days I wanted to shoot him. I even considered an office away from home and often went to the library just to write.

After years of having the house to myself, I had to do some serious thinking. Did I want to retire too? Did I want to sit in the house alone while he was off playing? No, I wanted someone to share life’s journeys, not sit in the corner and watch while I worked. I had to realize that he wasn’t the problem, I was.

So I readjusted my thinking. I would scale back my working hours. I would spend more time with my husband, and be glad that he still wanted my company.

Now, a year after his retirement, we’ve settled into an agreeable arrangement. Monday and Tuesday he volunteers for local businesses. Wednesday he golfs. That leaves me three days to get my work done. Then I can play, too.

Writers can become obsessed about their writing routines. But life is about more than how many books you can write or how many stories you can tell. Life includes lunches with your spouse, walks on beaches, and new adventures, all of which make your writing better if you relax and let it. Juggling writing with a newly retired spouse can be tricky. But it can work if you remember that this is a big change for them, too. Learn to compromise and set play dates. Be flexible and stop taking yourself so seriously. Learn to let go and enjoy the journey.

-Bonnie Dodge

 

 

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I’m not retired, darn it. I’m writing

A few years ago, I quit my day job to focus on writing. It has been a productive period resulting in a new book and near completion on two more. But when people hear I no longer have the proverbial day job, they ask me how I like being retired.
Maybe I’m sensitive but it makes me crazy.
No, I am not retired. In fact, I am working harder than I ever did at my day job on novels and screenplays. Of course, I am enjoying it more, but I am working.
My writing friend and I were talking about how non-writers don’t necessarily believe that we writers can be toiling away at a computer telling stories. Some people probably believe that if we aren’t receiving a regular paycheck or filling out a time card, that we must be just playing around.They don’t understand the sacrifices, frustration and how much labor it takes to come up with stories, the right sentences and descriptions. How much pounding our hands and fingers take to get it all right.
Yes, I love it. And I will keep at it until I do decide enough is enough and I have told all the stories I want to tell. Until, then I am working, darn it.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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Should You Co-Author a Book?

A few weeks ago I received a call from a fellow writer. Knowing I’d co-authored Billy Neville Takes a Leap with Patricia Santos Marcantonio, the writer wanted to know how hard it was to co-author a book. She had been asked to help write a sci-fi story and she wasn’t sure if she should do it.

Co-authoring can be tricky. There are pros and cons and a constant shuffle for balance. If it’s something you’re considering here’s some tips to help you decide.

1) Pick someone whose writing you know and like.

Pat and I have been a writing team for almost twenty years. We met in a college creative writing class, formed a critique group, and have been working together ever since. We know each other’s weaknesses and strengths, and we’ve learned how to agree to disagree when we have to.

2) Set your ego aside and let the story take you on a journey.

As a co-author, your partner will love some of your sentences and hate many of your ideas. Like that old saying ‘kill your darlings’, this is the time to check your ego at the door. The story is more important that your brilliant words. Once you set your ego aside, you’ll be surprised how the characters unfold. Once we discovered the essence of Billie, she took over, and all we had to do was sit back and take dictation. We alternated writing the chapters and there were times when we couldn’t tell who wrote what. That was when we knew the process was working and that Billie had come to life.

3) Be flexible and willing to compromise.

It’s good to establish a schedule and try to stick to it, but life often gets in the way. There’s no reason to be rigid and insist that you keep to schedule if your co-author is ill or expecting out-of-town company. Also, be flexible when it comes to disagreements. As you write the story, be open to suggestions and willing to listen to your co-author’s ideas. Be willing to win some, lose some, and don’t take it personally. This is a product, not your first-born.

4) Have a long-term plan, and if necessary, put it in writing.

Who is responsible for writing each chapter? Who is responsible for research? How will you market the book? Who pays for what? How will you split royalties? Who owns the copyright? All of these business questions should be addressed before you begin writing. When we started River St. Press we learned how to maneuver through all the business questions before we ever thought about writing a book together. With all the technical stuff out of the way, the writing part was easy.

Writing Billie Neville Takes a Leap was a rewarding experience. Together we developed a character with spunk. Marketing is a pleasure instead of a chore because we don’t have to do it alone.

There are lots of ways to write a book. If co-authoring is something you’re considering, don’t be afraid to take a leap. You just might surprise yourself and have fun along the way.

-Bonnie Dodge

Ten-year-old Billie Neville wants to be a daredevil, just like her hero Evel Knievel. She also wants a best friend. Riding “the best bike in the whole world” Billie’s desperate to enter a bike jumping contest with three boys named The Meanies and show them her cool bike skills. When Evel comes to town to jump the Snake River Canyon, Billie learns she has to be a friend to make friends and that not all heroes have to soar over canyons.

 

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Find out more here: Billy Neville Takes a Leap

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In time for second canyon jump, check out YA novel about the famous Knievel stunt

In 1974, daredevil Evel Knievel failed to cross the Snake River Canyon in his Skycycle near Twin Falls, Idaho.

Forty two years later, stuntman Eddie Braun will attempt the canyon jump in September. His rocket bike, called the Evel Spirit, has been constructed by Scott Truax, the son of rocket engineer Bob Truax who built Knievel’s rocket .

Billie Neville is a young girl who wanted to be a daredevil like Evel Knievel when he came to Twin Falls. Check out a free preview of the award-winning YA novel BILLIE NEVILLE TAKES A LEAP by Bonnie Dodge and Patricia Santos Marcantonio.

Billie Neville Takes a Leap

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Be thankful for privilege of writing

I had a recent book signing at Barnes & Noble and got there a little early to buy a book for my sister’s birthday. Walking around and checking out all the books, it was overwhelming. The number of books, the number of writers. All stories to tell, some good, others not.

I remembered that as a fledging writer without a published book, the book store gave me hope that I too would have my book on the shelves someday. When my first book was published, I was so excited to have finally made my goal. My book was there.

As I wandered around the book store, which I love to do, I began to feel so privileged that I was doing what I loved to do, and that is, write and to tell stories. I have been honored that traditional publishers have wanted my books and that I earn royalties from their sale.

Along with a writing friend, I have also self-published several books that have not only paid for themselves, but made us a little money.

Not many people love what they do. Even if you hold a day job and write at night, which I did for years, you are still privileged to have found your passion.

Enjoy it and be thankful.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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How to Write When You Lack Inspiration

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You’re half way through your novel and suddenly you don’t want to work on it anymore.

You’re past deadline and your editor wants to know where your manuscript is.

The thought of writing gives you a headache and sends you to bed.

We’ve all been there, the writer who doesn’t want to write. We’re tired, we’re bored. We’d like to take a break and do something else more exciting, even if it’s scrub the toilet or feed the pigs. Ernest Hemingway said it so well. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

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I believe writing is a gift. Others look at writing as a job. Either way, we all come to the page the same, inspired or not to get words on paper.

How we do that, though, is another story. Some writers designate a specific time, say, every day 8 a.m. to noon, as their writing time. During those hours they write, whether they feel like it or not. Others write in big chunks of time when they feel inspired. They let artistic inspiration take over and write until they are empty. Then they wait for the well to fill and repeat the process. Productivity is as varied as there are writers, and we each handle writing-time differently.

I don’t write everyday. Many days I lack inspiration. But I do do something writing-related everyday. This is my job and fans are waiting for the next story. I can’t let lack of inspiration keep me from doing the work. If I did, nothing would ever get done.

So here’s what I do when I don’t feel like writing.
I work on something writing related, like marketing.
I research for the next story.
I edit.
I do something writing related and record it on a calendar I keep on my desk. Too many blank days in my calendar means I’m lazy and unfocused and I need to get busy.

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If you’re feeling uninspired, here are some tips that may help.

1) Show up.

If it’s a workday, work. Record your progress on your calendar and then go play. At the end of the day you may not have written five pages, but you will have done something to move forward and the day won’t have been wasted.

2) Reward yourself with Internet and email after writing. You’d be surprised what a motivator that is.

3) Set a timer and start writing.

Turn off your internal editor and just start writing. Anything. Even if you write ‘this is crap’ for ten minutes. Free writing stimulates the brain and before you know it you’ll be in the zone. You can’t edit a blank page, so get to work.

4) Change your location.

Sometimes a change in location can be just the boost you need. Go outside and write in the sun. Go sit by a stream. Even a coffee shop or library can inspire you to be productive.

5) Work on something new, or collaborate with another writer.

Often we get tired of working on the same thing everyday. It’s boring and unchallenging. Work on something else. Have more than one story in the basket at a time. When you tire of one you can still be productive. Just be sure to complete those stories and not use this as an excuse to procrastinate.

6) Have a writing buddy.

Having someone who understands the writing process is invaluable. Whine to your writing buddy when you don’t want to write. Finding out that they are having a good productive day will tweak the competitor in you and send you to your desk. Before you know it the words will flow again.

7) Get up and move.

Take a walk. Take a coffee break. Physical exercise often stimulates the muse.

8) Listen to music and set the mood.

I have a meditation CD I play when I lack inspiration. Sometimes I also light a candle. These stimuli tell my brain it’s time to work and add pleasure to what can some days be daunting.

9) Read a good book. Read a bad book.

Either one will get you thinking. Why did he/she use that word? Why does this work so well? This is a piece of shit. I can do better.

10) Allow yourself to make mistakes.

The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be written.

Not every writer approaches the blank page the same. Some writers work best at night. Some in the morning. Some during the day when kids are in school. Some only when the muse strikes hot. How you approach the blank page is up to you. The trick is to be consistent, to keep writing even on days when you’d rather mow the lawn.

-Bonnie Dodge

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