Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I am Spider-Man (at least for a little while)

If you've ever cried or felt your heart pound while reading a book or watching a movie, then you've experienced what I call "reality blocking"--the process of becoming so engrossed in a story that you ignore your own feelings and adopt those of a fictional character. In the real world, nothing has happened, but your brain processes the information you see or read as if it were real, which, in turn, causes your body to react as if it were true. You "become" the character and see the world through his or her eyes.

Good writing focuses on shared emotions. Regardless of whether you write fiction or nonfiction, tapping into the emotions that make us human can improve your writing. Readers will root for the boy to get the girl of his dreams because we have all loved someone, and readers will empathize with the athlete who loses the race because we have all worked hard for something important, and suffered defeat. We feel the character's pain or joy.

So when I follow a fictional mother down a long, dark hallway toward her children's bedroom because she heard an unearthly noise, my fear increases with every step. She begins to sweat, and I begin to sweat. I relate because I worry that something bad might happen to someone I love. Because I care, I want to know what happens, and will continue to turn pages or sit through a movie that scares me. 

This also explains why I care about alien invasion, Spidey Senses, or a wizard who casts away evil. None of these things will ever affect me (probably), so why am I not content to sit at home and pet my cat and work on a craft project? Instead, I willingly spend my time and money sitting in a dark theater, or curled up in a comfortable arm chair to experience a world that looks nothing like mine. 

Through empathy, I can put myself in Spider-Man's shoes (does he wear shoes?) and think about what I would do in his situation. Would I feel guilty for Uncle Ben's death? Probably. I can relate to that emotion because I have experienced my own guilt and sorrow. 

Audiences will care when they know why the main character cares. If there is no emotion behind the action, then we are just watching a guy in a spider suit. Although I will never spin a web from my wrist, I connect to his emotions and put myself in the center of the action, which makes me believe that I am Spider-Man (at least for a little while). 

Here's a link for more information:

Mary Horner is a freelance writer, editor, and author of "Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing." She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Cue the Romance!

How do you write the "falling in love" scene? For tips, follow the link to my Women on Writing blog post!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The devil is in the details!

Read about the mistakes I've made regarding using too many details!

Friday, December 16, 2016

WOW The Muffin

I am now blogging for The Muffin!

My friends at Women On Writing, a great website resource for any writer, invited me to be a regular contributor last month. I am so pleased to be part of a wonderful group of writers, and you can find my thoughts on writing twice a month. Here's a link to my second post!

Write soon,


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Macaroni and cheese

The act of crafting a great beginning sends many writers to Google, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon Prime and/or the bottle for answers, or a way to procrastinate. Personally, I Googled how to begin a novel so I could begin this blog post about how to begin writing.

The answer? There is no perfect way to begin. There are many ways to craft a beginning, and each rule or strategy has its merits, but every writer has to find his or her own way depending on the piece. However, I did learn that writing a great beginning can be difficult, intimidating and frustrating. 

Regardless of whether we follow the rules or break them, the way a writer begins a book, article or a blogpost gives the readers a path in to the world he or she created. In the speech class I teach, it's called an attention-getter; and in journalism, the lead (or lede) or hook. Regardless, each is a strategy designed as a preview of what's to come. Each word, line and paragraph work together to encourage the reader to continue. A great beginning creates desire. A great beginning creates the need to find out what happens, or explore the "what if?" A great beginning is essential.

That's a lot of pressure.

While watching a cooking show, I started to think about how the chef began the process. There were lots of utensils, equipment and ingredients scattered about. But if you go back before the the process began, the ingredients and equipment were scattered about a store, and before that, possibly scattered around the world. And before that, maybe the chef was a kid who grew tired of plain old macaroni and cheese and wanted to switch it up. So how do all these factors come together? With time, patience and desire to create something wonderful.

Every chef knows that his or her mac and cheese is not like anyone else's, and that's what makes the world an interesting place. And the recipe has probably changed from the first effort, and maybe quite a few times. What's right for one chef may not be right for another.

So when readers enter a world that may be self-contained, or spread out like the ingredients in a great dish, the writer has to find the right way in. He or she needs to guide us through the one door that will take us right to the heart of the story, and make it clear and interesting while asking questions and presenting options. The effort to begin the story effectively may be long and difficult, or maybe not. Maybe the simple blue box of macaroni and cheese is the secret comfort food your favorite chef craves, and that's OK.

Here's how authors began a few of my favorite books:

"Four hours out from Los Angeles I drove into nothingness."

            Jory Sherman, from The Ballad of Pinewood Lake

 "This is a story about a man named Eddie and it begins at the end, with Eddie dying in the sun."

            Mitch Albom, from The Five People You Meet in Heaven

"Begin here. It was raining." 

            May Sarton, from Journal of a Solitude

"Jack is the church I have joined, but he is a church without ceremony."

            Martha Bergland, from A Farm Under a Lake

So I've learned that it doesn't matter how we find our way in, but that we are more likely to find the way that speaks to us. And the rules are followed, and they aren't, and sometimes the method that should work doesn't, and what shouldn't work does. Why? Because writing, like life, is complex and difficult and we all have a unique perspective, just like a favorite macaroni and cheese recipe.

Write soon,

Friday, October 7, 2016

The director's cut

Are you like me and love to explore the writing process? I must confess that a large part of my home library consists of how-to writing books. To me, finding great tips and techniques from other writers regarding how to tell a story feels like finding hidden treasure. 

Some of these gems of insight, though, come from other sources. I want to share one of my favorite tips from my friend and fellow writing-group member Candace Carrabus Rice, author of “On The Buckle,” and “The Roar of Smoke.” She suggested writers watch the director’s cut of a movie to get commentary and a unique look at the creative process. 

“It will help you get insight into plot to learn how the director sees the story,” she said, “and how he or she made it work. It’s like looking at an x-ray to see what’s going on behind the scenes.” 

And the good news is that you can watch movies and call it “research!” 

What’s your secret source of writing tips? 

Write soon,


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Two examples of an author's bio

Here are two examples of an author's bio from books I found in my house:

First, the bio from one of my favorite novels, The Ballad of Pinewood Lake, by Jory Sherman.

Jory Sherman is a widely published author and poet whose works have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies. He is the author of many novels, several of which have won major literary awards, including the Western Writer's of America's Spur Award for The Medicine Horn. He has been inducted into the Writers Hall of Fame.

After Sherman's bio, I would flip through some pages and pick a random spot to begin reading, knowing that this is a book worth examining more closely due to the fact that there are some big-time credentials. Ideally, I would find a beautiful passage and then want to read everything he wrote!

Second, the bio from my favorite nonfiction book, Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, by Mary Horner (I had an "in" with the selection committee!). Because my book is about writing, I went heavy on the credentials regarding writing and education. I wanted to let readers know I was a credible source.

Mary Horner is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in more than two dozen publications. She currently teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges. She earned a master's degree in communications from Lindenwood University, and a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where she also earned the Writing Certificate. She completed the Core Curriculum program in medical communications with special emphasis in editing/writing from the American Medical Writers Association. In 2005, she received The Best Mom award (from her kids).

If I were rewriting this, I would move the second sentence to the end, so instead of moving from past to present tense, and then to past tense again, I would move from past to present tense only once, and would probably add a future project. The future project would give readers something to look for later, or let readers in the future look for other books I've written. Finally, when this book came out I didn't have a blog. I do now, and would provide a URL, and let readers know I'm on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

At the end I added a little humor. What information do you include in your bio?

Write (a bio) soon,