Category Archives: Technique

Your Protagonist Is The Alpha

In literature, when writing your protagonist make sure that they are “active.”

What do I mean by active? I mean that your protagonist, whatever situations s/he may be facing, must take action to attempt to solve them. Your main character cannot be a passive onlooker. Be they of heroic, antiheroic, or villainous qualities, the character who is the primary focus of your book needs to move things forward through aggressive actions.

I want to get into a bit of an aside…in April 2013, I quit my job as an educator at Monroe College. I loved working at Monroe. I had a great rapport with students and colleagues alike. The administration was quite high on me, wanting to promote me. I enjoyed the culture of the institution. However, I was determined to make it as a writer and when the initial catalyst arrived—my first publication in a literary journal—I set out on a new path, taking action to get my writing published and delving into the worlds of acting, filmmaking, and entrepreneurship. I have faced many challenges along the way, but regardless, I continue to push forward on my path until I have achieved everything I set out to do.

Now if someone someday might view me as an inspiration for the lead character in their book, I can work as a protagonist because I always have a bias towards action in my own life, working to move things forward through all obstacles. Your protagonist needs to do the same.

Of course, there are exceptions. You can choose to write a book about a character paralyzed by inaction; however, most writers write active protagonists and should remember to make sure that their lead character is always pushing the plot forward through their actions.

The takeaway: Make sure that your protagonist is a doer. S/he is not someone merely acted on by others. S/he is the one leading through their actions.

Six Different Ways To Write Your Conclusion

The beginning of your novel is easy. The ideas flow out and you’re writing at least 3,000 words a day.

The middle of your novel starts to become arduous, but you still know where you’re going with your story. Maybe you’re down to about 1,000 words a day.

Now you’re at the finish line and it has become a nightmare because you have no idea how to artfully end your book. Sound like a situation you’ve faced before? If so, read on for a few different ways to conclude your novel or short story.

  1. Open-Ended – In this approach, readers determine what happened because the writer intentionally leaves the ending open to interpretation.
  2. Traditional – A clear-cut ending with no ambiguity. Readers know exactly what happened and why.
  3. Back To The Beginning – The writer revisits the same/similar image or situation as at the beginning of the story.
  4. Thoughts – A character, usually the protagonist, sinks into reflection.
  5. Dialogue – Characters have a conversation.
  6. Symbolism – Details that allude to something important are presented.

Which approach have you used in your novel/s or short stories? Why did you choose that approach? 

 

Should A Writer Use Writing Prompts?

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There are many creative writing courses, instructive books on creative writing, and influential bloggers who are adamant about the benefits of using creative writing prompts.

I am not one of them.

At both Beloit College’s Bachelor’s program in creative writing, and also at the Gotham Writer’s Workshop, I had a difficult time with the restrictions imposed by some instructors in asking me to write based on a prompt. I personally do not believe that writing prompts should be used by writers, except for when they are suffering through writer’s block.

Creative writers delve into their head to produce their stories. To write based on a prompt, in my experience, does not produce good writing. Rather, the writing that usually results from these prompts tends to be stale.

The primary reasons that I am generally against writers using creative writing prompts are:

  1. It produces a laziness in your creative imagination.  A dependency on creative writing prompts often leads to a lack of ideas brought forth from a writer’s own mind. As a vivid imagination is key to the world building inherent in fiction writing, this obviously has negative consequences.
  2. The topics are usually too general. The best authors have always written fiction that either deviates from the everyday experience, or if drawn from the ordinary, inverts it or provides a special insight into it that is often missed in the hectic nature of most people’s daily lives. Writing prompts, on the other hand, are often meant to have wide applicability. For new writers, this can easily lead to general writing that does not challenge the author to provide their best fiction.

The only times that I would recommend a writer use creative writing prompts are:

  1. For the first month or two of your writing career. Creative writing, like any other skill, needs to be developed. At first, many new writers may have a difficult time even bringing forth ideas, or understanding the parameters of fiction. In this case, using writing prompts to focus your writing can be more helpful than throwing yourself directly into the fire and likely becoming frustrated with the whole notion of creative writing.
  2. When you have a bad case of writer’s block. I believe that writer’s block rarely affects writers who make a consistent practice of creative writing. The literary imagination is like a muscle, and it does atrophy when you do not exercise it. However, every writer will probably have to deal with writer’s block at some point in their life. During these periods, utilizing writing prompts may be a method to consider to get your creative juices going once again.

Do you use writing prompts? How do you feel that they have helped or hindered your creative writing? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments. 

-Alfonso Colasuonno graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Beloit College. He is a published author of fiction and poetry.

 

A Simple Trick to Improve Your Prose

I’ve been honored to have had my short fiction published in some truly impressive magazines. That said, I can guarantee that if I didn’t do one simple trick to improve my prose, I would not have been published in any of the literary journals that featured my short stories.

What is that trick? Analyze how your favorite authors construct sentences.

When I delve into my personal story on The Literary Game, I never sugarcoat any of my failings. The reason I believe in such complete transparency is because I know, given my experience, that anyone can pull themselves up and become a superb writer. I certainly wasn’t always a writer with a real shot at publishing my work anywhere that was an appropriate fit; I started quite a bit more humbly than that.

I didn’t start writing until I was 20, when I decided, on a whim, to become a creative writing major while enrolled at Beloit College in Wisconsin. I felt outmatched during my time there, lost motivation to try, and my work was truly poor in quality. When I graduated, I moved back to New York City, landed a job as a teacher, and tried to forget all about the failed experiment that was my attempt to do creative writing.

My friend Russell Jaffe, a quite talented poet, moved to New York about 18 months after I graduated. We got back in touch through Facebook, and he mentioned that he was setting up a poetry reading in Williamsburg, a local arty neighborhood. Russell asked if I had written anything recently. I told him that I had not. He mentioned that he liked my stuff from Beloit, and told me if I wrote some poems, he’d put me on the show. I gained a lot of confidence from Russell’s belief in my writing’s potential and the successful show, so I started writing poetry. I amassed a huge collection of poems over four years, and then decided to do something with them, beginning to publish many in my collection and new ones as well.

As I started amassing many publishing credits for my poetry, a spontaneous rush of ideas for short fiction came into my head. Circumstances had aligned so that my friend Rairigh was able to give me a free room in rural Pennsylvania, and I had a bit of a savings from my job in academia. I quit my position and set out to be not only a poet, but also a fiction writer.

During my first few days in Clarion, Pennsylvania, I had a firm intent to write fiction, but didn’t know where to start. My sentences seemed clunky. I have always been a voracious reader, but for me, unlike many other English majors, I always saw great books as pleasure, not as something to firmly dissect and get into intellectual debates over. That being so, I rarely paid much conscious attention to the way writers constructed their sentences.

The brilliant idea that changed everything for me as a fiction writer came to me after a few frustrating days of trying, and failing, to write. I decided to head to the Clarion Public Library and study some of my favorite authors. I pulled from the shelves works by Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, Cormac McCarthy, Kent Haruf, William Faulkner, and a few other authors whose work I admire. I studied exactly how they constructed sentences, how they did dialogue, how they transitioned between paragraphs, how they integrated description, how they paced their works, and every other feature that these impressive authors did regarding their prose.

When I came back to my apartment, I started writing my first short story and it was EASY. I didn’t steal the style from any of these authors, but I had learned exactly how good writers write and adapted that to my own vision.  My summer in Clarion and fall in the nearby town of DuBois led to an impressive assortment of short fiction and my first few publications as a fiction writer.

So, in short, if you want to improve your writing, study how your favorite writers construct their prose. It will definitely help you write better.

-Alfonso

Six Ways to Write Creatively

If you’re an aspiring writer, you may find yourself drawn to one specific type of creative writing. This post intends to be a quick guide to different types of writing. Feel free to play around and see what may happen if you try a different direction.

Poetry

If you have a background as a musician, write lyrics, or rap, you may want to try poetry. Contrary to what you may have heard, it doesn’t have to rhyme. In fact, rhyming poetry is pretty much passé. If you can make your writing have a musicality to it, give poetry a try!

Short Fiction

Have you tried to write a novel and got stuck somewhere along the line? Are you a part of the ADHD generation? Try short fiction! Just keep in mind that short fiction requires a different approach from a novel. In short fiction, you aren’t telling a whole narrative, but merely presenting a snapshot. If brevity is a strong point, give short fiction a try!

Novels

Do you have patience? If your answer isn’t an unequivocal yes, beware of the novel. The novel is often seen as the only “real” type of writing by many aspiring writers, but that’s simply not true; all creative writing has merit. While practically all writers love reading novels, please note that this is an ambitious goal. If you have the patience, desire, and organizational skills to tackle a novel, then go for it!

Creative Nonfiction

Is your life so interesting that you don’t need to even make things up? Why not try writing creative nonfiction? In creative nonfiction, you take the same approach as you would to a novel or short fiction, but the difference is you draw from your own real experiences. Remember this though, just because it happened doesn’t mean it’s interesting. Make sure to write in the same way you would approaching something fictional!

Screenplays

Be honest, do you prefer watching a good movie to reading a good book? If so, you might want to try writing a screenplay. Remember that writing a screenplay is different from a novel or short fiction, as you are writing with a focus on the visuals. If you’re less a “pure” writer and more of an all-around creative, you may want to give writing a screenplay a try!

Plays

Do you have a flare for the dramatic? Are you an actor? Do you find writing dialogue to be remarkably easy, but description and introspection to be harder to execute? Try writing a play! Just remember to keep focused on the fact that this will take place on a stage and write accordingly.

5 Suggestions When Collaborating With Another Writer

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We all know that writing can be a pretty solitary act, but sometimes it’s fun to switch things up a bit and write in collaboration. Seriously, it can be fun; and it worked for Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.

I tried writing collaboratively only once before, with an ex-girlfriend who is a formidable writer in her own regard (click here to see a sample of her work). It didn’t work out so well. We were working on a piece of alternative literature, with her writing from the female perspective and me writing from the male perspective. It fizzled out after a mere two chapters each.

If you want to collaborate with another writer, here are five suggestions to make the process go smoothly:

1. Plan an outline. Make sure that you and your writing partner both know where the story is going.

2. Be professional. Whether the person you’re writing with is a spouse, lover, or best friend, as far as your work together goes, make sure that you both hold yourselves to a professional standard.

3. Personal chemistry. If you don’t like a fellow writer (and writers hate being around other writers as a general rule) don’t work with them.

4. Literary chemistry. If you write like Kerouac and your partner writes like Woolf, make sure that you two can come to an interesting juxtaposition or don’t start at all.

5. Don’t be too critical. It takes time to turn first drafts into quality writing. Don’t be too critical of your partner. Don’t bite their head off if they miss a deadline. People produce their best work when they don’t get the whip cracked on them.

I hope these suggestions prove to be helpful to you in your writing career!

You’d Better Be BOLD

Hey friends. It’s been a while…

This message is a simple one, but one that cannot be ignored: Your writing must be bold.

It’s common for aspiring writers to fall into one of these two traps:

1. Their ideas are radically intriguing, but they have no understanding of the structure of writing (which you need to know, even if you want to break it).

2. Their work is technically sound, but boring and/or extremely derivative.

This is not an either/or dichotomy. You need to know how to write well. All the stuff you can learn from this blog, or from a creative writing workshop, or a famous author’s guide, or from a BA or MFA program in Creative Writing is essential, but it’s not enough to establish yourself as a writer. That’s like thinking that because you bought a paintbrush you’re suddenly in the same league as Picasso.

Publishers are starving for original material. If you throw the same old recycled literary tropes their way, you’re not likely to get your work noticed. It doesn’t matter how much mastery you demonstrate over language and structure, if your writing is boring and derivative, you’re wasting your time.

Break new ground. Experiment. Yes, it can go horribly wrong, but writing is art, and like any other form of art it’s always evolving. If you don’t evolve, if you don’t challenge yourself, no one will take your writing seriously.

On that note, I’m privileged to have my poem “Big Boys” in Jeremiah Walton’s literary zine Fuck Art, Let’s Dance. Jeremiah is one of the most talented young poets I’ve come across, and even better than that is this man has a truly revolutionary spirit. Watch out for him. If you don’t know his name yet, you’ll know it soon enough.

Check it out by clicking here.

A Critical Mistake to Avoid When Writing Short Fiction

Don’t treat short fiction as a novel.

Whatever you do—DON’T treat short fiction as a novel.

What I mean is this: when you are writing short fiction, it takes a different approach than if you’re working on a novel. The key is brevity. You have to say just as much as you would in a novel, but you have to do so succinctly.

A good rule of thumb when writing any piece of short fiction: stick to as brief a period of time as possible. The story can take place in fifteen minutes in one location. It doesn’t have to be wildly ambitious.

Of course, rules are meant to be broken…once you’ve achieved mastery. There are short fiction writers like Isaac Bashevis Singer whose short stories read like mini-novels in the depth and complexity of their plot. In my opinion, Singer was one of the best short fiction writers. He could get away with flouting that rule; once you grow as a writer, by putting in much time and effort, you can too.

However, for now, as an aspiring writer, I suggest adhering to the following acronym:

Keep

It

Simple

Stupid

And I guarantee that your short fiction will be a lot easier to write and have a much greater chance of getting published by a literary magazine.

Do you have any other tips for short fiction writers? Feel free to leave a comment!

Four Reasons Why You Should Consider Writing With a Friend

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My first time writing with a friend wasn’t very auspicious. It didn’t ruin our friendship, and what was completed of the story was pretty interesting; the only issue was the simple matter of completing our chapters, which sort of fell by the wayside. The end result was a project that ended before it had even really started.

Which brings us to the present—I’m now partnering on a screenplay with a new friend that I made, a very talented writer/actor/filmmaker named Zubair Simonson. I met Zubair as I was walking down Lexington Avenue in New York City. My briefcase, filled with admittedly gaudy advertising for this project written in Wite-Out, was slung over my shoulder. I noticed a man looking at me with a quizzical expression. This being New York City, I kept walking. One block later, Zubair inquired about the blog and the rest is history.

I’m a slow writer; Zubair is not. I have connections to the film industry; Zubair does not. We’ve formed a perfect partnership. I’ve seen screenwriting partnerships work already. My cousin Andrew Friedman and his screenwriting partner Stephen Dackson have one of their scripts in pre-production. Teamwork can make big things happen.

So, why should you consider writing with a friend? Here are a few reasons:

1. It’s a lot more fun than writing alone.

2. Bouncing ideas around to someone else helps deliver a sharper story.

3. Your partner can complement your weaknesses.

4. It can speed up the time it would take to complete a story. 

If you think this applies only to screenwriting, you’re wrong. Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs worked in collaboration to produce And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. Why can’t you collaborate on a novel, or a short story, or a poem, with a friend?

Have you ever tried to write collaboratively before? What was your experience like?

The Subtext in Dialogue

“‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings” – Led Zeppelin, Stairway to Heaven

What we say isn’t always what we actually mean. The implications of our words often have a deeper value beyond the surface. The societal conventions which most people (and many characters in your fiction) follow dictate certain codes of behavior and speech. Just as in real life, your characters’ words may have a double meaning, and many times may even be contradictory to the literal understanding. This is subtext.

Imagine a scenario of a married couple on the outs, yet attempting to maintain a facade regarding the strength of their marriage. It’s clear to see how the husband’s “Yes, dear” to his wife’s request isn’t really a “Yes, dear.” Likewise, the wife’s “I love you” wouldn’t actually mean that she loves her husband if the story shows their marriage falling apart.

Understanding subtext is one thing, but how can you translate that awareness to the page? I believe that the best way to show subtext is by amplifying your description of the character’s behaviors while they speak. If a character says “Yes, dear” through clenched teeth, your readers will have a much easier time picking up on it. Of course, sometimes you want to be quite a bit more subtle in your description. No reader likes to be beaten over the head with what can be inferred.

Without mastery of subtext, your dialogue will read as flat and unrealistic. Start giving more thought to your dialogue. Don’t just consider the right words—always consider your character’s true motivations and feelings.