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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Mini-Exercise: Create Your Own Metaphor

What is a metaphor? We have all used them at some point in our life, whether we knew it or not. Simply put, a metaphor is a comparison of two things without using the words like or as. Some popular metaphors include raining cats and dogs, all the world's a stage, you are my sunshine, and she's the apple of my eye. Now it's your turn. Get those wheels turning inside your mind and come up with your own metaphors. Let's see what you got.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Critiquing Tips

You spend a long time writing and crafting and your story, wrestling with it night and day, pouring your heart into it, until at last, you're finished. With nail-biting anxiety, you decide to take the next step – letting someone else read it and give their impressions on it. Will they like it, or will they think the writing is just plain awful?

If we want to be great storytellers, this is something all serious writers should put their writing through. The best way to get your story masterfully crafted is to endure a professional critique – a detailed, rip it up and tear it apart review, where the critiquer hits the story from all angles, exposing every possible weakness, leaving your tale dripping raw and bloody.

If you have never given a critique before or have never had one done for your writing, then here are some tips on how to critique or what to expect from a critique.

  • If this is not your favorite type of writing, let the author know right away.
  • Don't read other critiques yet. It might bias your review.
  • Write down your first impressions as a reader. Was the story captivating? Did you enjoy it? Do you think the story has sales potential?
  • Try to give feedback on what could be changed. Identify the weaknesses. Offer constructive advice that might lead to improvement in the story.
  • Give examples of improvements, wherever necessary.
  • Praise where praise is due. Always try to add some positive comments into your critique. Let the author know where the strengths in the story lie.
  • Never criticize the author personally. Focus your attention on the story itself.
  • Critique as you would want to be critiqued.
  • Be honest, but kind. Do not leave something out due to fear of hurting the author's feelings, but do try to give constructive criticism.
  • Try to word your comments diplomatically. "Comma's were misused throughout the story" is much better than saying, "The author does not know how to use comma's."

A good critique is done well that the author feels as if he or she has received some excellent helpful advice. A critiquer's job is not to be harsh and cruel or to give the author a thick skin. It is not to crush the fragile ego of a budding writer or to lord it over a writer in some form of power struggle. It is to help the writer improve his or her story.

Some phrases to consider when critiquing include, "In my opinion", "I'm not sure but", "Have you considered", "You might think about", "possibly", "another idea might be", "maybe". These are the hallmarks of a tactful, softer phrasing.

If the manuscript is horribly mutilated, beyond recognition, and you just would like to grab the author by the throat and strangle him for even submitting it for your critique, then the best advice would be to not read the manuscript. Pick another one to critique. If there aren't any more, then give the author a nice excuse on why you had to pass. However, if you feel that you must critique the story, offer up some suggestions, not demands. Who knows the author's circumstances? Perhaps the author is a twelve-year-old with a fanciful imagination who just hasn't grasped the English language yet.

So remember, a critique is not just what you say, it's about how you say it too. Be tactful and honest and you will help other writers improve on their writing.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What is Horror?

I love horror, but when I tell people I write horror, I can see the wheels turning in their minds. The first thing they see is blood and gore and they think I'm some sort of psycho. It's easy to understand their thoughts, though, as today's modern movies incorporate a lot of unnecessary evils. However, to those of us who live in the horror genre, we know differently. Horror is not about how much blood you can shed. It's about real people eliciting a real emotion from the reader.

When I pick up a horror book, I like to be scared. I like to sit on the edge of my seat, wondering what is going to happen next. Will the monster triumph? Will the main character be able to get out of a sticky situation before they become the next victim? Will I be afraid to go to sleep at night, thinking that something evil might claw its way out from under my bed and take me to a place I'd rather not go?

That is the true face of horror. If I can walk away from a book feeling nervous, scared, or afraid to turn out the lights, then the author has done its job.

I'm a big fan of the less is more concept. The less blood shown spurting from the victim's head as the demon crushes them, the better. Early horror classics never had much blood and gore thrown in. They left that up to the imagination, which is sometimes a lot worse than being shown.

To me, the best horror elements are a sense of evil/dread and evoking fear. Some people can write what they classify as horror by using hospital scenes and people dying. While that may be horror in real life, it doesn't appeal to me. I like to distance myself from real life situations by throwing real life characters into supernatural settings. But remember, the reader must always find a way to get involved with the character or the story will fall flat. If the reader doesn't care about the characters, he/she won't care about the story being told either.

So, how do you define horror?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Exercise: Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?

Okay, this is the start of my monthly exercises. With Thanksgiving arriving next week, I thought I would cater to the holiday. Stretch your creative muscles and give this little exercise a try. Feel free to send it to me or post it in a comment here (if it's short enough).

------- Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? --------

Thanksgiving Day is finally here. All your guests have arrived. Your turkey is in the oven. Drinks and stories are circulating. This day couldn't be more perfect, or so you thought. Just minutes before you are ready to put the dinner on the table, the doorbell rings. Without thinking, you answer it and immediately regret it. Your ex (spouse, boy/girl friend, friend, etc.) is standing there and he/she is stone drunk. They stumble past you, into the living room, speaking in a loud voice, telling everyone what a horrible person you are. You rush into the room, trying to corral the poor soul away from your guests. You usher him/her into the bathroom, where they collapse into a heap. You close the door, leaving your ex alone, to return to your guests. Things settle back down and you temporarily forget the intrusion. Dinner is served. You have a wonderful meal. After dinner, one of your guests disappears. A scream is heard, coming from the bathroom. You rush in to find that your ex is lying in a pool of blood, apparently the victim of a murder. Who would have done this? You reach for the phone, but find no dial tone. As you turn to go find your cell phone, the lights go out, throwing the place into complete darkness...


Okay, now your turn. Take this story and run with it. Who murdered your ex? What happened to the phone and now the power? Will one of your guests be next, or is the killer amongst you? Have fun!