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Publishing of Book:The Art and Craft of Creative Writing

Art-and-Craft-of-Creative-Writing_cover Thanks for visiting my blog for  the past four years. During that time, I’ve read and learned about the writing life, poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction. I have read many books, learned a great deal, and written a couple hundred craft essays. In January of this year, I decided to write a book based on what I have learned. And so from April until a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a how-to creative writing eBook. It is called “The Art and Craft of Creative Writing.” It is based on what I have learned. To purchase the book, visit http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00F4VOYRK

The book is more than 400 pages long and includes the following chapters chapters:

 Table of Content

  • About the Author 3
  • Introduction. 4
  • THE WRITING LIFE. 7
  • The Art and Craft of Writing. 8
  • The Writing Life: Journal Writing. 16
  • The Writing Life: Reading Like a Writer 19
  • The Writing Life: Learning to Write Creatively. 24
  • The Writing Life: Finding Inspiration to Write. 29
  • Ten Myths about Writing. 33
  • Writer’s Block. 36
  • The Writing Life: Developing Your Writing Voice. 39
  • Blogging as a Form of Creative Writing. 44
  • The Writing Process. 49
  • Writing the Opening. 54
  • Writing the Ending. 57
  • Revising Your Work. 60
  • WRITING FREE VERSE POETRY.. 65
  • Poetry: An Overview.. 66
  • Free Verse Poetry: An Overview.. 74
  • The Title of a Poem.. 80
  • Finding Inspiration and a Subject for Your Poem.. 83
  • Writing Free Verse: Stanza, Line, Syntax. 87
  • Writing Free Verse: Word Choice. 93
  • Writing Free Verse: Adding Sensory Details. 96
  • Writing Free Verse: Using Figurative Language. 100
  • Writing Free Verse: Adding Sound Effects. 104
  • Writing Free Verse: Meter and Rhythm.. 108
  • Writing the Prose Poem.. 113
  • Learning to Write Free Verse Poetry. 116
  • WRITING SHORT FICTION.. 123
  • Writing Short Fiction: An Overview.. 124
  • Writing Short Fiction: Creating the Setting. 130
  • Writing Short Fiction: The Plot 134
  • Writing Short Fiction: Character and Characterization. 139
  • Writing Short Fiction: Dialogue. 144
  • Writing Short Fiction: Point of View.. 148
  • Writing Short Fiction: The Theme. 152
  • Writing Short Fiction: Literary Techniques and Poetic Devices. 155
  • Writing Short Fiction: Voice and Writing Style. 161
  • Writing Short Fiction: Beginning and Ending. 166
  • How to Write a Short Story. 170
  • WRITING CREATIVE NONFICTION.. 176
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: An Overview.. 177
  • The Ethics of Creative Nonfiction. 184
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: Using Humour in Your Writing. 189
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Personal Narrative Essay. 194
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Opinion Essay. 202
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Meditative Essay. 209
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Lyrical Essay. 215
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Segmented Essay. 219
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Literary Journalism Essay. 224
  • The Literary Journalism Essay: On Popular Culture. 229
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: Narrative History. 237
  • The Literary Journalism Essay: The Global Village. 243
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Profile/Biography Sketch. 248

For anyone who desires to embrace the writing life, write free verse poetry, write short fiction, write creative nonfiction, such as the personal essays, and more, this book is for you. It is filled with advice, tips, suggestions, how-to explanations, and more. You can buy it at Amazon for $7.00. To purchase the book, visit:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00F4VOYRK I will not be making any more posts to this blog. It is time for another project. Good luck in your writing endeavors. Dave Hood,B.A.

Writing Short Fiction: Voice and Writing Style

July 31 2013

Dave Hood

The writer’s voice is everything the writer brings to the experience of writing short fiction, including education, socialization, values, beliefs, religion, opinions, and life experiences. The writer’s writing style is part of voice. This writing style is what makes a writer authentic, original, different from other writers. It is what readers hear when they read the short story. The writer’s voice is their “public persona,” which is revealed on the page. The most important features of writing style are word choice or diction, sentence patterns, literary techniques, and tone.

One of the popular writing styles of fiction is the minimalist style. It was a style popularized by Ernest Hemingway, and also endorsed by Raymond Carver. This style focuses on the belief that “less is more.” Writers use short paragraphs, short sentences, write with the active voice, and use action verbs and concrete verbs. The writer omits or deletes every detail that is not essential to the writing. Subtext plays a strong role in this style of fiction.

You can develop your fiction writing style by reading and analyzing short fiction, and then incorporating the techniques of other writers into your own fiction.

(Note: You will also use these same guidelines and techniques to write poetry, personal essays, and other types of creative nonfiction.)

In this article, I’ll discuss writing style as it applies to fiction writing.  The following will be covered:

  • How to identify the author’s writing style.
  • Define Hemingway’s minimalist style.
  • Suggest a writing style to use for writing fiction.
  • Learning to write lyrical prose.
  • Developing your own writing style.

Analyzing Short Fiction

The writer’s style of writing is expressed through word choice or diction, tone of the writing, the use of imaginative language, such as simile, metaphor, imagery, the types of sentences or syntax , as well as the choice of fictional techniques.

The best short fiction writers use everyday language in a fresh and original way.  They also avoid using avoid clichés and jargon. Often they share an interesting word that we’ve never heard—a word that has powerful meaning.

The best short fiction writers use a variety of sentence patterns, such as the use of loose and periodic sentences, sentence fragments, simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentence.

The best short fiction writers use a variety of literary techniques, such as flashback, suspense, dialogue, showing and telling, and interior monologue.

The best short fiction writers also use the poetic devices of poetry, including simile, metaphor, personification, imagery, alliteration, and allusion. Some writers use similes and metaphors infrequently, such as Carver and Hemingway. Other writers use them a great deal.

The best short fiction writers use a tone that is conversational and respectful. Tone refers to the writer’s attitude to his/her subject and view of the audience. Never use a condescending tone. Learn to write fiction by reading short stories as a writer. Analyze how the writer used the elements of fiction, literary techniques, and poetic devices to constructed the short story. As you read, answer these questions:

  1. How does the writer begin the short story? With conflict? With setting description? With dialogue? With action? With a memorable event?
  2. How does the writer develop the setting? What is the time and place of the story? Is it real or fantasy? Does the setting create a mood? Is the setting the antagonist? Does the setting provide a backdrop for the story?
  3. A short story must include conflict, turning point, and resolution. Identify the conflict, turning point, and resolution of the story.
  4. Which point of view does the writer use?
  5. What is the theme? How does the writer reveal theme to the reader?
  6. Where does the writer use scene and summary? What are the features of each scene?
  7. where is there dialogue in the story?  How does the writer use dialogue? What conventions are used?
  8. What fictional techniques does the writer use? What poetic devices does the writer use?
  9. What is the writing style of the writer? Does the writer use simple or fancy words? Does the writer use simple sentences , compound sentences, or fragments?
  10. How does the writer end the story? Does it include an epiphany? Lesson learned? Is the ending open, closed, or a summary?

One of the popular writing styles of short fiction is minimalism, popularized by Ernest Hemingway. He wrote minimalist short fiction. Years later, short story writer Raymond Carver also embraced this style of storytelling. Minimalist short fiction has these attributes:

  • Concrete nouns and action verbs
  • Few adverbs and adjectives
  • Short sentences
  • Short paragraphs
  • Short words and everyday language, as well as familiar instead of fancy words.
  • Minimal character and setting description
  • Minimal background details
  • Very little use of figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, personification
  • Insufficient resolution or ending to the story

Popular Fiction Writing Style

To write short fiction, develop a writing style that includes:

  • Concrete nouns
  • Action verbs
  • Active voice
  • Sentence variety
  • Figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, symbolism, personification, allusion
  • Lyrical prose, using alliteration, assonance, repetition, parallel structure

Develop a writing style that is friendly and conversational. Learn to show and tell readers. Use sensory detail, language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. As well, read and master the advice in Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.”

Learning to Writer Lyrical Prose

Author Constance Hale, in “Sin and Syntax,” explains how you can learn to write literary prose. There are found components: voice, lyricism, melody, and rhythm.

Voice

The writer must consider the literary meaning and implied meaning of words, as well as avoid using clichés and jargon. The writer should also use a variety of sentence patterns, such as a fragment, simple, and compound sentences.

Lyricism

The writer can create prose that sound musical by using the following:

  • Imagery-Use of sensory details.
  • Metaphor-Making a comparison between unlike things, without using “like” or “as.”
  • Simile-Making a comparison between unlike things, using “like” or “as.”
  • Personification. Describing things and objects and ideas by using human attributes. Example: The bible preaches its wisdom to anyone who takes the time.
  • Description. Using concrete, significant, and particular description. Example: He pressed the shutter on his black Nikon, full-frame camera, using a wide-angle lens, capturing a fleeting moment in time, a man being shot by police, for all the world to see.
  • Repetition. Repeating words and phrases in a sentence or sentences that are close to each other.

Example:

Streets and highway filled with an avalanche of snow. The plows bulldoze it away. Icicles hang from the eaves like a work of installation art. Cars stuck, spinning their wheels. The Maple leaf, stands, watches, as the neighborhood shovels. Kids frolic, build snow forts, toboggan down hills of snow in the park behind the school. The storm has interrupted daily routines and rituals.

Melody

The writer can create prose that have a melody by using the poetic devices of:

  • Assonance-Positioning two or more words with the same vowel sounds close together in a sentence.
  • Alliteration- Positing two or more words with the same initial consonant sounds in a sentence.
  • Internal rhyme Selecting words that rhyme and using them in the middle of a sentence.
  • Onomatopoeia -Using words that sound what they describe. Example: The fire crackled.

Rhythm

The writer should strive to create sentences that have rhythm. It refers to pattern, pace, repetition, and parallel structure of a sentence. A simple way to create rhythm is to count the stressed syllables in a sentence. The writer can slow down the pace with long sentences, and speed up the pace with short sentence. Create rhythm in your prose by developing sentences with a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. Learn to use repetition and parallel structure. Example: He smoked, drank, womanized, and died one day, lounging on the beach in the sunshine with a smile. ( Slow pace)

Developing Your Writing Style

Part of learning to write is developing your own writing voice. How do you do this? There are several ways. The most important advice I have read was written by Elizabeth Berg, the author of “Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True.” She suggests that you can develop your writing voice by putting down on to paper the words you are hearing in your mind. In other words, be yourself as you write. Use your own words, and don’t imagine you are someone else as you write. Write honestly—share your thoughts, feelings, opinions, impressions, stories that are important to you. And share them by using your own language–how you speak. She also suggests that you should not write about what you know but that you should write about what you love, what you are passionate about.

Next, you should write often and regularly. Start by keeping a journal. Write everyday in this journal, recording observations, interesting quotations, memorable lyrics, overheard conversation, lines of poetry. Write poetry, anecdotes, short, short essays. Try using the technique of stream of consciousness. Write by freewriting. Record “small, fleeting moments.”Ask a question to yourself, and then write an answer. Include interesting photograph, news stories, advice columns. Write about your emotional truth—how you felt about something. In your journal, you can write about anything. Journal writing helps you develop the habit of writing and your writing skills. It can also be a place where you record “possible ideas” for a poem, short story, and personal essay.

Also, learn all about writing style. The best and easiest book to read is “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. It provides the rules and guidelines of a good writing style. If you intend to write essays or other creative nonfiction, you should also read “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. Both of these books are classics, are used in university and college writing courses, and are recommended by most writers. Every writer should have copies of these inexpensive paperbacks on their bookshelf for reference. As well, read Constance Hale’s “Sin and Syntax.”

Next, read short stories to learn how the writer constructed the story. If you are not sure, read “How to Read Like a Writer” by Francine Prose.

Fourthly, make sure you understand the rules and guidelines of grammar, such as for use of verbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, and more. If you don’t know these rules or guidelines, pick up a copy of “Woe Is I:The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English” by Patricia T. O’Connor. Another great book that presents grammar in with a humorous tone is “The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. I also recommend “The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magical and Mystery of Practical English” by Roy Peter Clark.

Learn the rules of punctuation. How to use the comma, exclamation mark, question mark, quotation marks, semi colon, colon. Essentially, you must memorize the rules. To learn the rules of punctuation, I suggest you read “The Glamour of Grammar” by Roy Peter Clark.

Learn to the major types of sentence patterns and then to write poetry, short fiction, and personal essays. The syntax of a sentence is an important feature of the writer’s voice. To develop your own voice, learn to write simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentences. Learn when to use a sentence fragment and how to write using parallel construction. Learn how to use items in a series. Learn how to write both periodic or cumulative sentences. Where can you go for advice?

Language choices contribute to writer style. Therefore, you should own a dictionary and thesaurus. Use them for enjoyment and to improve your language skills. Develop your language skills by looking up the meaning of words you don’t understand in a dictionary. Find the precise word by checking your thesaurus, which includes synonyms. To expand your vocabulary, begin learning a word a day. Use the words you learn in your writing. Don’t write to impress. Instead, use language to express yourself, to communicate meaning, to entertain, to share important ideas, knowledge, and wisdom with your audience.

If you aspire to become a creative writer, learn how to write imaginatively. Imaginative writing involves learning how to show and tell the reader, writing vivid descriptions of sensory imagery–language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. It involves using literary devices of simile, metaphor, personification, symbolism, and other devices that you find in fiction and poetry and creative nonfiction. There are countless books on the market that you can purchase. For a good overview on how to write creatively and imaginatively, I suggest you purchase “Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft” by writer/instructor Janet Burroway. It’s a superb text that will help you.

Another way to develop your voice is to share emotional truth in your writing. It means telling others how you feel. For instance, if you lost your job–tell your readers how it felt. If you were diagnosed with a serious disease, share your thoughts and feelings with your readers. If you split up with a girlfriend or marital partner, tell the audience how you felt by expressing the emotional truth. Keep in mind that two people can have different emotional views on a situation. And so , there is no right or wrong “emotional truth.” Emotional truth has to do with how you felt about a person, about an experience , about an event.

It takes time to develop your writing voice, providing you write on a regular basis. Many writing instructors suggest you keep a journal and experiment in it. In part, developing your voice is an unconscious effort–you learn by reading and writing, without making a conscious effort. In part, you can make a conscious decision to develop your voice. For instance, you can learn to read like a writer. You can learn grammar, spelling, punctuation. You can experiment with language and sentence variety. You can make a conscious choice about what sort of tone to use. The easiest way to develop your voice is to “put down on paper” what is on your mind.

Your writing voice is what a reader hears when they read your words. Your writing voice is your “public persona,” which is expressed in your writing. It is revealed in the language that you use, the types of sentences that you use, and your tone–your attitude toward the reader and the topic or idea you are writing about.

Additional Reading

To learn more about how to develop your developing and polishing your writer’s voice, read the following superb books:

  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
  • The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English by Roy Peter Clark
  • The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon
  • Woe is I: the Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Connor
  • Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway

Writing Free Verse Poetry: Poetic Devices of Comparison

Dave Hood

Poets use various poetic devices or figures of speech to make comparisons. These figures of speech are intended to enhance understanding, to entertain, to add deeper meaning, and to enrich the quality of a poem. These figures of speech are also used by writers in other forms of creative writing, such as short fiction, novel writing, personal essay, and memoir writing.

In this post, I’ll explain how to use the poetic devices of comparison. The following will be covered:

  • Simile
  • Metaphor
  • Symbol
  • Synecdoche
  • Metonymy
  • Personification
  • Allusion

Simile

It is a poetic device or figure of speech in which the poet uses “like” or “as” to compare one thing to  some other thing. The things compared must be unlike each other. The purpose of a simile is to add meaning and understanding. A good simile also makes a poem pleasurable to read. It can turn a dull poem into something memorable. For instance, Robert Frost wrote” the attic wasps went missing by like bullets.” Here are a few other examples:

  • The neighborhood is like a ghost town.
  • The sick man looks like a corpse.
  • You are free as a gold-fish in an aquarium.
  • He writes as if possessed by a demon.
  • She strolls down the beach like a model on a runway in a fashion show.
  • The truck is rusty as a wreck in the scrap yard.

Metaphor

It is a poetic device or figure of speech in which the poet suggests the one thing is another. The poet does not use “like” or “as” to make the comparison between two different things. Often the word “is” or “of” is used to make the comparison.

A poet can create an explicit metaphor by directly suggesting that one thing is another. Example: He is a shark. She is a black widow spider. (A is B) Or the poet can make an implied metaphor by comparing one thing to another using the attributes of the object, such as adjectives or verbs associated with it. Example: He sailed down the highway in his new corvette. (Comparison to a sailboat) She cut him with her claws. (comparison to an animal)

The purpose of a an explicit or implied metaphor is to entertain the reader, to help the reader understand, to add deeper meaning to a poem.

Examples:

  • The running back is a tank.
  • The old man is a walking corpse
  • The house is a mausoleum.
  • Place of grief
  • Sea of death
  • Dinner of gratitude
  • Gift of pleasure
  • Lust is a drug
  • Teeth of the wind
  • Mouth of a river

Poets must avoid using dead metaphors. These are metaphors that have been used so often that they’ve lost their originality and effectiveness. The comparison has taken on a new meaning of expression —and is often viewed as a cliché. Examples of dead metaphors include:

  • Seeds of doubt
  • Fishing for compliments
  • Grasp the idea

Poets must also avoid creating mixed metaphors. A poet creates a mixed metaphor when one thing is compared to two different things in the same metaphor. A few ludicrous examples include:

  • I can see the light at the end of the rainbow.
  • I make my goal to shake every hand that walks in the door.
  • I am bone empty.

Symbol

It is a poetic device in which the poet an image to represent something other than its literal meaning or dictionary meaning. A symbol is usually a physical object used to represent some abstract idea. For instance, a  rose can be a symbol of beauty. A dove can be a symbol of peace. The cross can be a symbol of Christianity, faith, Jesus. The lion is a symbol of courage. The gun is a symbol of violence.

Poets use well-established symbols in their poetry, such as darkness for ignorance or light for knowledge.  Many poets also create their own symbols and then use them in a poem.

Not all images are intended to be symbolic. Sometimes a gun is just a gun, or a clock is just a clock.  It is up to the reader to analyze and then identify the symbol in the poem. For instance, a poet might make reference to a ticking clock in his poem. The purpose of the clock might be to symbolize the passage of time.

Synecdoche

It is a poetic device or figure of speech in which the poet makes reference to the “part of something” instead of its whole, and this part is used to represent the whole.

Examples:

  • Skates sail up the ice. (Instead of writing “The hockey player sails up the ice.”)
  • The teenager purchased a “set of wheels.” (Instead of writing “The teenager purchased a car.”
  • All hands on deck (Instead of writing “All sailors on deck.”)

Metonymy

It is a poetic device or figure of speech in which one thing closely associated with another thing is used as a substitution. Frances Mayes, author of The Discovery of Poetry, states that a metonymy is ” an identifying emblem” substituted for the whole name. In other words, an associated quality or name or emblem,  which is not part of the whole, is substituted.

Examples:

  • Crown instead of monarchy
  • White House instead of President and Staff
  • Habs instead of Montreal Canadians
  • Leafs instead of Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Broncos instead of Denver Broncos

Personification

It is a poetic device or figure of speech in which the poet assigns human characteristics or human attributes to nonhuman things, such as ideas, concepts, places, objects, animals. The purpose of personification is to add deeper meaning, to entertain, to describe.

Examples:

  • Death comes knocking
  • Love arrives unexpectedly
  • Old Man Winter
  • Lady Luck
  • Jack Frost
  • April turns on the shower
  • The maple trees stood in silence
  • The walls stare back and talk nonsense
  • The wind whispers through a crack

Allusion

It is a poetic device or figure of speech  in which the poet makes reference to another person, event, art, history, religion, literature, mythology, or some aspect of popular culture. An allusion can also be a statement or quotation made by a famous or public person. An allusion can also be a line from a poem. Popular types of allusions  in poetry are biblical allusions, literary allusions, and mythical allusions. The purpose of allusion is to provide additional meaning. For the allusion to be effective, the reader must have knowledge of what the poet is alluding to. Example: The painting reminds/ of Picasso’s Cubism..f

T.S. Eliot often used allusion in many of his poems. For instance, in The Wasteland, he includes “I remember/those are the pearls that were his eyes…,” a reference to Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

To master the art and craft of  writing poetry,  you must learn the poetic devices of comparison, such as simile, metaphor, and symbol. Once you`ve learned these poetic devices, you can use them to write powerful, entertaining, memorable poems.

Resources

For more information on simile, metaphor, symbol, synecdoche, metonymy, personification, allusion, read the following:

  • Good Poems for Hard Times by Garrison Keillor
  • The Poets Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
  • The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes
  • Western Wind by David Mason and John Frederick Nims
  • Creating Poetry by John Drury

The Writer’s Craft: How to Write an Ending

November 26, 2012

by Dave Hood

How do you end a poem, short story, novel, personal essay—or any other type of creative writing? Writing a good ending is as important as writing a compelling opening…You should give as much thought to your ending as your opening.” This is the advice William Zinsser shares in “On Writing Well.

There are many ways to end a piece of creative writing, such as with a relevant quotation, with a recommendation, with a call to action, by referring back to the beginning. Often the genre you are writing and the idea you are writing about will dictate how to end.

The ending should provide a sense of closure to your writing. To write an ending, you should know when to end and how to end a piece of writing. Different genres, such as a short story, personal essay, or poetry,  have different suggestions for writing an ending.

In this article, I’ll explain what an ending must accomplish and provide some general suggestions on how to end a narrative or poem.

What Must Your Ending Accomplish

In the “Handbook of Magazine Article Writing,” it is suggested that the ending of an article should do one of the following:

  • Leave  readers with the idea that they have learned something.
  • Leave readers with the idea that they have gained some insight.
  • Show  reader how the information in the article impacts or relates to their lives
  • Encourage readers to conduct research or additional investigation.

In “On Writing Well,” William Zinsser makes a few suggestions about ending a piece of creative nonfiction:

  • “When you are ready to stop, stop. In other words, don’t write too much.”
  • “The positive reason for ending well is that a good last sentence–or last paragraph, is a joy in itself. It gives the reader a lift, and it lingers when the article is over.”
  •  “What usually works best is a quotation.”

Zinsser also tells readers not to end by summarizing. For instance: “In summary…or “To conclude…”

Why? A summary is repeating yourself by compressing details that were already shared with the reader. Instead, you ought to make one final point that resonates in the mind of the reader.

When you end, you must have answered all questions posed in the story or article or personal essay. Otherwise, the reader is left wondering, and feels your writing is incomplete. As well, the essay or narrative should be brought to a close. In other words, the reader knows that the narrative is complete. For instance, if you are writing about a journey, the end might be when the character reaches his/her destination. If you are writing a meditative essay, you might leave the reader with some final point to ponder. If you are writing an opinion essay, you might end with a final point. Writer Elizabeth Anderson, in her essay “IF God is Dead, Is Everything Permitted?” (The Portable Atheist, selected and introduced by the late Christopher Hitchens), ends her essay with the following judgement: “The moralist argument, far from threatening atheism, is a critical wedge that should open morally sensitive theists to the evidence against the existence of God.”

A great ending, in my view, leaves the reader with something to ponder or meditate about after he puts down the piece of writing. Sometimes the writer shares an epiphany or a lesson learned or words of wisdom.

There are no rules on how to end a piece of creative writing, only suggestions. It is up to the writer to decide how to begin and how best to end a piece of writing. Your end should make some important final point. A good final point is like a knockout punch.

How to Write An Ending

There are several ways to end. It all depends on the genre.  A personal-narrative essay usually ends when the story ends, often with some epiphany. In a poem, the last line often makes some emphatic final point, some idea the writer can take away and ponder. In a short story or novel, the ending can be closed or open. In a closed ending, the story ends, and nothing else happens. In an open ending, the reader is left to imagine what might happen in the future. Trilogies end with an open ending. A popular technique for ending a story is to use a “cliff hanger.” Sometimes the writer ends a short story or novel ends with dialogue from the protagonist. Some writer’s end articles or personal essays or meditative essays by referring back to the beginning.  Other writers begin with a question, explore the question, then you can end with one final answer.  Many writer’s end with a final quotation.

Check out most literary journalism essays in the New Yorker, and you’ll discover that most writers end their writing with a final quotation from someone they’ve interviewed. In the essay, “Slackers” (July 30th, 2012),  writer, Malcolm Gladwell, ends with the following quote: “None of the doctors who treated me, and none of the experts I’ve consulted since the day I collapsed, have ever heard of anybody being gone for than long and coming back to full health,” he writes.” He was back on the track nine days later.” Clearly, there are many methods you can use to end a piece of creative writing. The decision is yours to make. It is a creative choice of the writer.

David Remnick, author of “We Are Alive”, ends with the following quote: Springsteen glanced at the step and stepped into the spotlight. “Hola, Barcelona!” he cried out to a sea of forty-five thousand people. “Hola, Catalunya!”

 You often read true and fictional stories about a calamity or disaster. The writer opens the story by describing a setting of normalcy. And then, the bomb is dropped, or the hurricane destroys the quiet life of the living, or the earthquake obliterates a town. The writer describes the cause and effects, and the struggles to survive and cleanup. In this sort of narrative, writers often end by “returning to the state of normalcy.”

 Some writers end with a telling anecdote, or by pointing to what will happen next in the story, or tell readers where to find additional information. Other writers end with an epilogue, which tells what happens to the characters later and how their stories continue.

Other ways to end a piece of creative writing include:

  • With a judgement
  • With recommendation
  • With a prediction
  • With an insight
  • With a hope or wish

There are no rules for ending a piece of writing, only suggestions. And every form of writing–whether a personal essay, poem, short story, article—has its own suggestions for ending. The final decision about how to end a piece of writing is the writer’s. It is one of the creative decisions of writing. Often the writer relies on a “gut feeling” or “intuition” or “sixth sense.” The worst thing a writer can do is overwrite or write a double ending. The best way to end is to leave your reader satisfied while giving the reader a sense of closure. William Zinsser writes, “The perfect ending should take your readers slightly by surprise and seem exactly right.”

Resources

  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • The Story Within: New Insights and Inspirations for Writers by Laura Oliver
  • The Elements of Story: Field Notes on Nonfiction by Francis Flaherty
  • Handbook of Magazine Article Writing, edited by Michelle Ruberg and Ben Yagoda
  • The New Yorker, “Slackers: Alberto Salazar and the Art of Exhaustion” by Malcolm Gladwell (July 30, 2012)

The Writer’s Life: Writing a Beginning or Lead

By Dave Hood

The beginning of a poem, short story, personal essay, article must arouse readers curiosity and inspire them to read your work. Otherwise, readers will quickly become bored and stop reading.

In the splendid book “On Writing Well,” a text on how to write creative nonfiction, William Zinsser, suggests that when writing creative nonfiction “the most important sentence is the first one. According to  Zinsser, a good lead or beginning does the following: It grabs the reader’s attention and inspires the reader to read further. This is called a hook. And it tells the reader what the writing is about. It also tells the reader why the piece is important to read.

In this article, I’ll  explain what a beginning must accomplish and how to write it. This will apply to poetry, short stories, personal essays, and articles. Keep  in mind that for each genre, there are countless ways to begin. And so, I will identify some, but not all, of the most common techniques.

What Must the Beginning Accomplish

Many writers get stuck when they begin writing. Essentially, they don’t know how to write a good opening. I often find it the most difficult part of writing. Frequently, I am unsure about the method to use. Should I begin with a question? Fascinating fact? In the middle of the action? Usually, the type of writing determines how to begin. For instance, to write a meditative essay, I usually begin with a question, and then answer this question in the body of the essay or article.

If you desire to find a way to write an opening, following these suggestions: First,  it must introduce the topic you are writing about, whether a poem, short story, personal essay, article. In other words, it must tell the reader what you are writing about–life, death, winter, summer, a person, place, thing, event, experience. Secondly, the beginning must tell the reader why the topic is important. (This does not apply to poetry.) Otherwise, the read might believe that the story or article or essay is not worth reading—It won’t satisfy their informational needs. Thirdly, you must capture the reader’s attention–inspire them to read your piece  of writing.

There are many ways to begin a poem, short story, personal essay, and article. Each of these genres has its own methods.  For instance, a narrative poem might begin at the beginning of the story, a short story might begin in the middle of the action, a meditative essay might begin with a question.

Sol Stein who wrote the splendid book, “Stein On writing,”  suggests that the first sentence and paragraph must do the following:

  • Excite the reader’s curiosity
  • Introduce the setting
  • Lend resonance to the story

To achieve these purposes, a short story or novel must often begin by shocking, such as someone getting murdered;  surprising, such a character doing something strange or bizarre;  or sharing something unusual, such as the character making an odd comment. The writer can also share surprise, something unusual, something shocking by beginning the story in the middle of the action, with a scene, with dialogue, and much more.

Here`s how fiction writer, Ray Bradbury,  begins his short story, The Veldt:

“George, I wish you`d look at the nursery.”

“What`s wrong with it.”

” I don`t know.”

Here`s how, fiction writer,  Raymond Carver begins Cathedral: This  blind man, an old friend of my wife, he was on his way to spend the night.

Here`s how writer Adriana Barton begins the article, “The Habits of Resilient People,” in the November 19th  edition of the Toronto Globe and mail: Among the thousands of people whose houses were destroyed, some are already bouncing back.

In each of these examples, the writer arouses the curiosity of the reader.

There are no rules about what type of beginning to use. Nor are there any rules how long the beginning should be. Some beginnings are short, only a few sentences. Other beginnings are only a sentence in length. Still, others are longer, taking several paragraphs. The length of your beginning and the method you use to begin will depend on whether you are writing a poem, short story, novel, personal essay, or article.

How to Write the Beginning

In journalism, many writers use the inverted pyramid. In the opening, they write the lead, followed by important points, and then less important points. The lead includes the conclusion and omits background information and context. This is often confusing for readers.

In creative writing, you don’t use the inverted pyramid to begin a poem, short story,  personal essay, and so on. Instead you can use other methods or techniques.

A beginning should tell the reader what the piece of writing is about, why your piece of writing is important to the reader, and inspire the reader to continue reading. Essential, a beginning introduces your writing and gives it focus.

How to Write  an Opening for Creative Nonfiction: There are many ways to begin writing a meditative essay, personal essay, or opinion essay. William Zinsser, in “On Writing Well,” identifies a few of them:

  • Ask an intriguing question. Begin with a question that answers `What is the article about. `Example: How can the federal government reduce unemployment? Basically, you are asking a rhetorical question–because you already know the answers.
  • Make a thought-provoking statement. Example: The owners have locked the players out because of “greed.”
  • State a compelling or fascinating Fact. This type of beginning shares a provocative fact or figure. Example: The unemployment rate is 10%, the highest since the Great Depression.
  • Write an anecdote. Write a vignette or story that is related to your topic in the first paragraph. In the second, tie the story or vignette to your topic.
  • Use a provocative quotation. Write an interesting quotation from an interview or one that you discovered when you conducted research. Where to find a quotation? The Internet is one place. I like to use “The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.”
  • Write a summary lead. It compresses the article or essay into a few sentences. Tell the reader what your article is about, summarizing the main points.
  • Use a combination lead. This method requires you to use a couple of methods. For instance, you might begin with a question, and then add a quotation from a well-known person.

There are other ways write an opening for a piece of creative nonfiction, such as an essay. Often a personal-narrative essay, for instance, begins with an angle, or controlling idea that tells the writer how to focus and tells the reader what the personal essay is about. This angle is an approach  or perspective. It is a way for the writer to approach the subject, to find a path in. There are many types of angles, such as a contrast of points of view, an unlikely comparison, a dream versus reality,  contrast of people or categories.

How to Begin Writing an Opening for a Fictional or True Story: Writer/Instructor Laura Oliver, in her splendid book, “The Story Within,”  provides several other suggestions to begin a fictional or true story. Here is what she suggests. You can begin:

  •  With a list. Example: Here are the reasons why President Obama won the election.
  • With a personal reflection. Example: As I recall….
  • With a reminiscence. Example: I have fond memories of my childhood.
  • With something you didn’t know. Example: Prior to reading the article, I didn’t know how use the comma. This learning experience taught me…………
  • With a portrait in words. Example: When I image dad, I see a man who is smiling and laughing…
  • With an assertion. Example: I don’t believe that God exists.
  • With a mystery. Example: I don’t know how I crashed the car…

Asking Journalistic Questions: You can also begin by asking journalistic questions. You can also use these questions to explore an idea or topic, and to organize your work. Before I write a beginning for a piece of writing, I like to pose and answer these journalistic questions:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where
  • Why?
  • How?

Answering these questions often provides me with the answer for how to begin. These answers also tell me how to organize and explore what I will be writing about.

How to Write an Opening for a Poem: There are many ways to begin a free-verse poem. It all depends on the language of poetry you intend to use. If, for instance, you are writing a blank verse poem, your first sentence would require iambic pentameter–five feet of unstressed/stressed units. If you are writing a meditative poem, you might begin with a scene. If you are writing a narrative poem, you might begin with an observation, event, image. Or a provocative comment by the speaker. Here`s how poet, Charles Bukowski begins `The Way it Is Not as follows: “I tell you, I`ve lived with some gorgeous women..” There are countless ways to begin a poem, such as a description of a setting, person, event.

The Epigram: Many writers begin by an epigram. It is a statement or  brief saying in prose or poetry, in which there is an apparent contradiction. It might be a very short, satirical,  witty poem. It can also be a compelling, provocative, short quotation by some famous person. Example: “What is an epigram? A dwarfish whole, its body brevity, and wit its soul.”(Samuel Coleridge) I have read where writers have used the epigram as an opening for poetry, fiction, personal essay, and articles. The epigram gives a piece of writing some context and helps to introduce the topic.

Final Words: I’ve learned that there are many ways to begin a poem, short story, personal essay, or article. Most often, the genre you are writing and the nature of the piece of writing determines how to begin. Whether you write poetry, short stories, personal essays, or articles, the beginning must grab the reader`s attention and introduce the idea you are writing about. It should also tell the reader why your piece of writing is important to read. The first sentence and first paragraph must surprise, show, or arouse curiosity in the reader, or you risk having have your piece tossed away like an old newspaper.

For more information on how to write a beginning, read the following:

  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • The Story Within by Laura Oliver
  • Writing Your Way: Creating A Writing Process that Works for You by Don Fry

The Writer’s Life: Finding Inspiration to Write About

Perhaps, you’ve purchased a writing journal and some pens, and have decided to embrace the art and craft of creative writing. Or, you’ve decided to write a poem, short story, personal essay, but you don’t know what to write about. Perhaps, you want to write your life story, but don’t know what to write. There are countless ideas that you can dig up, dust off, and write about. You just have to know where to search.

And once you have an idea to write about, you require a few techniques on how to explore and expand the idea into a poem, short story, personal essay.

You’ll also require a few essential creative-writing techniques to transform the idea into a piece of imaginative or creative writing, something original and authentic,  that others will be motivated to read and praise you for. If you are fortunate, you might even be able to publish your work.

In this article, I’ll explain how to find inspiring ideas to write about and how to write about them. The following will be covered:

  • Techniques for finding inspiration
  • Asking journalistic questions
  • Using creative-thinking techniques
  • Writing imaginatively or creatively

How to Dig Up Ideas to Write About

As a creative writing, there are countless ideas you can write about. No idea or topic is off limits. You can transform any idea into a poem, short story, personal essay, literary journalistic essay. However,  before you can write the draft, you must first find some worthy idea that inspires you to write about. Here are 12 ways to find ideas to write about:

Dreams. A dream can be a source of inspiration. You must be able to recall the content of the dream. So, keep a notebook on your beside table. If you wake up, remembering a dream, write down as much as you recall. I have never written about a dream.

Memories.  Many writers write about their memories of abuse, childhood, adversity, and so forth. In “Tell It Slant,” Brenda Miller write about the five senses of memory. What are the memories associated with sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing.  When you recall a memory, ask yourself: Why do I remember it? What is the significance? Another way to look at memory is to ask yourself: What are my saddest and happiest childhood memories? There are many ways to explore memory. I have often written about memories of my childhood, illness, unemployment, people that have crossed my path, and more.

Imagination. Imaginative writing involves inventing a poem, short story, novel by using the imagination to invent.  An easy way to invent is to ask the question,” What if?”  What if you were robbed walking home? What if you were diagnosed with a serious disease? What if your son or daughter died?

Observations. Observing the world around you is an is a useful way to write about setting, people, places, objects, things. Make note of significant details, telling details. Make not of what you see, hear, feel. Make not of the sensory images—sights, sounds, taste, smell, touch, hearing. Afterwards, write about your observations.

Overheard Conversations, Snippets of dialogue, Inspiring quotations From Famous People. Some instructors suggest you can write about an overheard conversation. I guess this is possible. I have never used it as inspiration for writing. I prefer to use dialogue in relation to its context. For instance, I`ll write about what I heard at the bar, or in the mall, or at the funeral. The dialogue will only be important  because of where I heard it. Another important aspect of dialogue is who said it. Was it someone unknown or someone famous or in the public eye? Often inspirational quotes by philosophers, writers, musicians, political leaders can be a great source of inspiration.

Reading.  We write for pleasure, to be transported to another place, to escape the banality of daily life. As well, a writer reads to learn the art and craft of writing. You can find inspiration by reading  published creative writing  by recognized journalists,  poets, fiction writers, essayists. By reading, you learn what others have written about and are writing about.  This knowledge can provide you with your own ideas to write about. Read stories in newspapers, magazines, journals, periodicals, and then make note of any interesting ideas, concepts, inventions, stories you uncover.

Your dark side. Each of us has a hidden self and public persona. Some call it your shadow or “dark side.”  The shadow remains asleep until we are stressed, or wronged, or humiliated, or embarrassed, or dishonoured,  or face a life and death situation, or are threatened by an event or another person. The shadow is often something we don’t like about ourselves. Perhaps we get angry, or procrastinate, or abuse alcohol, or are racist, or prejudice, or intolerant, or like kinky sex. Perhaps we have cheated on a loving partner, or broken the law, or done something that is taboo. How do you write about these topics? You ignore the “inner voice” that tells you not to write about the topic, and then you write the words that you hear in your mind. You must give yourself permission to write about anything.

First experiences.  Write about your first job, first kiss, first sex, first love, first car, first home, first experience with death or grief, and so forth.  Write about anything that is a first.

Celebrations. Write about holidays, vacations, milestones, birthdays, anniversaries, happy occasions, anything that makes you happy.

Adversity. Write about setbacks, obstacles, challenges, such as illness, disease, obesity, handicap, unemployment, discrimination, abuse, failure. Write about any hurdle or obstacle you have faced and had to overcome.

Artist’s Date. Julia Cameron, in” The Artist’s Way,” suggests that you should schedule some artistic or creative date with yourself once or twice a month. Perhaps, you’ll visit the bookstore, see a movie, attend poetry reading, visit the art gallery, take a trip to see a theatre production. The purpose of the “artist’s date” is to refill your mind with inspiration to write about.

Ideas from your personal journal. Keep a personal journal.  Include stories from newspapers, interesting quotations, inspiring lyrics, poetry, photos. Write in it each day. Write about what you’ve read, heard, observed. Write about fleeting moments that were important. Write about events, experiences, people that have passed through your life, touching you in some way. Write about small moments. We you require an idea, turn to your writing journal.

There are many other techniques you can use to write about, such as death, grief, anxiety, depression, addiction, mental illness. Writer Lois Daniel, the author of “How to Write Your own Life Story,” has written a book of ideas on how to write your life story.  She explains how to write about inventions, courtship, turning points, animals, family traditions, achievements, accomplishments, and more.

Asking the Right Questions

After you have an idea to write about, you can explore the idea by asking questions. Journalists often ask these questions. These are:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where ?
  • Why?
  • How?

The question “who?” refers to the person or group of people who  the story is about. The question “what?” refers to what happened. The question how refers to “how it happened?” The question “when” refers to when it happened. And the question “why?” refers to why it happened.

You can use these journalistic questions to explore an idea or topic. Furthermore, by answering these questions, you can grow the seed of idea into something larger, like a story about the maple tree.  You can also use these questions to organize your work. For instance, you could write a beginning, then have one section for each of who, what, when, where, why, how, and then an ending. Often by answering these questions, you have sufficient material to write a story

Using Creative Thinking Techniques

Once you have an idea to write about, you can explore the idea by using creative thinking techniques. There are many. I’ll identify some of the popular techniques. Most people use brainstorming–but not enough. Often when there’s a setback or problem or obstacle, many people react with emotion–without personal reflection, without first brainstorming ways to react or respond.  How do you brainstorm? Simply by making a list of all possibilities. For instance, suppose you wanted to change jobs, but need to write a new resume. You desire to identify all of your skills. You’d brainstorm by creating a list of all of your skills, both minor and major skills you have. Then you’d select the ones that are most advantageous or beneficial. Once you have a few ideas, write about them.

Another technique is to ask why? Then why not? This is a good way to develop answers to a question or problem. It  can be used to develop both positive and negative answers to an outcome. For instance, why did your marriage end? Why did you not graduate from university? Why did you graduate?  Why did you criticize your friend? Why did you not criticize your friend? Once you have ideas, write about them.

You can change your perspective. See the experience, or event, or person from another point of view. Most of the time, we see the world from our own eyes. For instance, we walk down the street, pass a panhandler who asks for money.  We think “He is lazy.” And so, we refuse to provide charity. What if this man was homeless and hungry and down on his luck? To feel some compassion, we’d have to see the world from his point of view. How? You’d have to walk in the shoes of the homeless guy, by imaging you were homeless, without food, and out of work. What is it like to be a beggar on the street? What is it like to be homeless? What is it like to be poverty stricken, to go hungry? Write from a different perspective.

Or, you can challenge assumptions. For instance, most people believe in God. What if God is just an illusion, a human construct?  Write about your assumptions–and alternative possibilities.

Some writers begin freewriting. Start by posing  a question to yourself, and then answering it. Write down whatever pops into your mind. Afterwards, read what you wrote. Did you find anything interesting? Inspirational? And idea to expand into a poem, essay, some project to accomplish.

Do some mind-mapping or clustering. It is like brainstorming but more controlled. It is a good way to explore possibilities or generate ideas.  How to cluster? Begin with a white piece of paper and coloured pens or pencils. In the center of the paper, draw a circle. Inside the circle, write a word or phrase that represents the idea your desire to explore. For instance, suppose you wanted to take photographs, but didn’t know what to capture. You could use the word “photograph.” Then, think of those possibilities or things associated with the idea.

When you something comes to mind, draw a line from the circle, then create another smaller circle, and jot down the idea. If you had a new idea, you’d create another line and circle from the main idea. For instance, you could have lines and circles for travel, sports, landscape, fashion, close-up, portrait. If you had a related idea to your first answer, you draw a line from the second circle, and write down another idea. For instance, suppose you wanted to capture still life, you could write a line and circle for each of beer and glass, journal, books, food to the circle with “close-ups.”

An easy way to think creatively is to ask “what if.” It is a great technique for fueling the imagination. For instance, what if a meteor crashed into the earth? What if you died? What if you won the lottery? What if you were fired from your job? What if you become rich and famous?

Another way to be more creative is to look for ambiguity in the world. Yet, most people don’t like ambiguous situations.  They cause communication problems and are confusing. And so, most people have learned to “avoid ambiguity.” However, there are times when ambiguity can light the flame of imagination. Next time, you are immersed in a confusing situation, instead of just reacting, ask yourself: What is going on here? What else could this mean? How else can this be interpreted? For instance, suppose your friend splits up with her husband–and you’d don’t know why.  You’re immediate reaction might be to blame the husband who always flirts. This is when you could ask “What else is going on here?” Perhaps the wife has found a new lover.  Perhaps she believes that she can meet someone who is more interesting or romantic. When you discover something ambiguous, explore it and write about it.

We are socialized to think in terms of “right” and “wrong” answers.  This can limit possibilities or options. Clearly, there are times when right and wrong answers are your only option, such as following the speed limit or answering a multiple-choice exam. However, during the creative process, “to error is not wrong.” Instead, if you make a mistake or error, use it as a stepping stone to another idea you might not have discovered. For instance, suppose you take a photograph, and the light turns out to be incorrect, you could shift the angle of light, or add additional lights, or take the photograph in a different place. What’s the point here?

The mistake or error is an opportunity for you to  attempt something else, to think of something else. Another approach to errors or mistakes: Suppose you want to do something new. First, you consider all the positive outcomes, the rewards, the benefits. But this is limiting. You should also consider how you’d respond if something bad happened, if a setback occurred, if there was some obstacle. By thinking in this way–you expand the ideas, the possibilities, the solutions. Write about the outcome of an err or mistake, and the alternative path or journey you took.

Writing Imaginatively or Creatively

What does it involve? You will use the techniques of creative writing to write a poem, personal essay, short story. You might also use them in other types of writing, such as journal writing, letter writing, commentaries, emails.

The purpose of writing creatively is to create word pictures in the mind of the reader–by showing the reader a person, place, event, experience.

Once you have selected an idea, you should use the essential techniques of creative writing to craft your piece of writing. You can use these techniques to write in your journal, a poem, a short story, a novel, a personal essay—or any other writing.

Here are a few important techniques of creative writing that you can use for any writing:

Show your reader the person, the event, the experience, the place, the thing. You can show you reader with vivid descriptions, with concrete and significant details, and with imagery–language that evokes the senses.

Scenes and Summary. When you use a scene, “you are showing the reader what happened. Write in scenes for all important events. A scene include setting details, action (something happens), dialogue (conversation between characters in the story),  imagery, concrete and significant details.

When you write in summary, you are telling the reader what happened. Use summary to write about unimportant events or  to compress time.

Use concrete, particular, and significant details.  Whether you write prose or poetry, you must add meaningful details. Otherwise, your writing will be ordinary, non-descriptive.  Concrete details are not abstract. They refer to specific things. Particular details refer to some attribute or attributes of the thing.  Significant  details means that you want to share only those “important details,” the details which enable the reader to imagine what you are seeing and describing.  Writing concrete and significant details allows you to evoke emotion, stir the spirit, touch the soul of the reader. When you add detail, you are showing the reader what happened, what the person looks like,  what you are seeing, feeling, tasting, and so forth. When you recall a memory or observe  an object, person, place or thing, you don’t need to share all details with the reader, only those that enable the reader to visualize the person, thing, place, you are writing about.

Imagery. This is about writing in words that invoke the sense in the reader. You can write about what you see, hear, smell, taste, touch. Example: Coming to the ledge, I could see an old pair of shoes.  I knocked on the door, faded from neglect. An old woman, with disheveled, grey hair and no teeth, opened it. When she talked, I could smell the stench of decaying teeth.

Figurative language. These include personification, symbolism, allusion, and so forth. Two of the most important are simile and metaphor.  A simile compares one thing to another by using “like” or “as.” Example: Her home is like a garbage dump.  A metaphor  suggests that one thing is another. Example: Her home is a garbage dump.

Personal Reflection or Self-Reflection

It involves the discovery of self and acquiring self-knowledge. You find out how you felt about something. What do you value. What is important in your life? What is the meaning? What is the purpose? What makes you happy? Why is the memory important to you? Why do you want to write about it? How does something feel to you? How did you reacted? With fear? Anger? Did you like it? Why? Did you dislike it? Why?

Personal reflection involves self-discovery, self-knowledge, and then sharing your thoughts, feelings, opinions, views, perspective. You can ponder an idea, event, experience, topic, issue, and then write about it. What does it mean to you?

Personal reflection is about exploring the emotional truth. In other words, how does it feel to you.

For more information on finding ideas to write about and how to write about them from a creative writing perspective, read the following:

  • Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway
  • You Can’t Make this Stuff Up: The Complete Guide To Writing Creative Nonfiction from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything In Between by Lee Gutkind
  • How to Write Your Own Life Story by Louis Daniel
  • Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction  by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola.

The Writer’s Life: Developing Your Writing Voice

By Dave Hood

Your “writer’s voice” is about writing style. It is what makes you authentic, original, different from other writers.  It is the voice you use to write a poem, personal essay, short story or novel.  It is what readers hears when they read your words.

Read a poem by Charles Simic, Mary Oliver, Robert Frost, or any other memorable poet, you’ll quickly discover their compelling and authentic voice. Read the short stories of  Poe, Atwood, Munro, and you will hear different voices expresses as you read. Read an personal essay by E.B. White or Joan Didion–you’ll discover other voices.

A writer’s voice is their “public persona, which is revealed on the page when you read. Reading enable you to hear the writer speak.  The writer speaks by writing down words on a page.

You can express your voice on the page in many ways. In my opinion, the most important  components of a writer’s voice are word choice/diction, sentence variety, and the writer’s tone.

In this article, I’ll  explain how a writer’s voice is revealed, suggest the type of  voice to use, and explain how to develop your “writer’s voice.”

How is a Writer’s Voice Revealed to the Reader?

The writer’s voice is expressed on the page by word choice or diction, tone of the writing, the use of imaginative language, such as simile, metaphor, and imagery, and the types of sentences or syntax the writer chooses to craft a piece of writing.

Word choice has to do with the type of language the writer uses, such as simple, everyday words or grandiloquent words.  Memorable writers avoid clichés. Instead they use language in a fresh and original way. Often they share an interesting word that we’ve never heard—a meaningful word that has power, that is accurate, that is precise. For instance: This morning, I met a curmudgeon at the supermarket. Instead of writing: “This morning, I met an old man…”

Tone refers to the writer’s attitude toward his readers and subject. A writer can have many types of tone.  It often depends on the genre and type of writing. Tone is a big part of a writer’s voice. Tone refers to your attitude to the reader and about what you are writing about. For example, when you read the essays of  David Sedaris, you hear a humorous tone. When you read the poetry of Charles Simic, you often hear a “whimsical” tone.

Two popular types of tones are humorous and serious.  A person writing an essay about “death” will often use a serious, respectful tone. A humorist might write with an ironic or witty tone. Writers should strive to use a conversational tone. You write as though you are having a conversation with a friend. You must never write as though you are preaching or acting as though you are superior to the reader, unless you want the reader to toss your work in the garbage.

Writing style refers to syntax or sentence variety, such as the use of loose and periodic sentences and sentence fragments, simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentence. Use of the active voice or passive voice. Use of powerful verbs. Writing with nouns and verbs–or verbose writing.

A writer’s voice, especially in creative writing, is expressed  by the writer’s ability to write imaginatively. Memorable poets, short story writers, novelists, essayists are able to use literary devices skillfully. Imaginative language has to do with the tools of creative writing–using simile, metaphor, personification, imagery, alliteration, and more. Some writers use few similes and metaphors–others them a great deal. Great writers make every word count–serve some purpose.

What Type of Voice to Use

We like particular poems, have favorite short stories, read essays, and experience delight by reading other works of certain writers for many reasons. One of the reasons has to do with “the writer’s voice.” How the voice sounds as we read the words on the page. How the ideas are presented to the reader on the page. The actual content of the work, and so forth.

In the splendid book about writing by Constance Hale called “Sin and Syntax: How to Craft a Wickedly Effective Prose,” she writes: “A strong voice is conversational. The writer leaves us with a sense  that we are listening to a skilled raconteur rather than passing our eyes over  ink on paper. This involves more than just write the way you talk.”

The writer must pay attention to the sound of words, the rhythm of sentences, the word choice and its connotation, sentence variety. Most importantly, the writer must revise his work, perhaps many times, before the writing is complete. The first draft is never the final draft, unless you are not a passionate writer.

The voice of  a writer is determined by many things, including life experience, education, beliefs, values, interests, and passions—everything the writer brings to the experience of writing.

The best voice to use is conversational, informal, friendly–as though you are having conversation with a friend over coffee.

How Can You Develop Your Own Writing Voice?

Part of learning to write is developing your  own writing voice. How do you do this? There are several paths.  The most important advice I have read was written by Elizabeth Berg, the author of  “Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True.” She suggests that you can develop your writing voice by “putting down on to paper the words you are hearing in your head.” In other words, be yourself  as you write. Use your own words, and don’t imagine you are someone else as you write. Write honestly—share your thoughts, feelings, opinions, impressions, stories that are important to you. And share them by using your own language–how you speak. She also suggests that you should not write about what you know but that you should write about what you love, what you are passionate about.

Next, you should write often and regularly. Start by keeping a journal.  Write everyday in this journal, recording observations, interesting quotations, memorable lyrics, overheard conversation, lines of poetry. Write poetry, anecdotes, short, short essays. Write using stream of consciousness. Write by freewriting. Record “small, fleeting moments.”Ask a question to yourself, and then write an answer. Include interesting photograph, news stories, advice columns. Write about your emotional truth—how you felt about something. In your journal, you can write about anything. Journal writing helps you develop the habit of writing and your writing skills. It can also be a place where you record “possible ideas” for a poem, short story, and personal essay.

Also, learn all about writing style. The best and easiest book to read is “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. It provides the rules and guidelines of a good writing style. If you intend to write essays or other creative nonfiction, you should also read “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser.  Both of these books are classics, are used in university and college writing courses, and are recommended by most writers. Every writer should have copies of these inexpensive paperbacks on their bookshelf for reference.

Next, read poetry, short stories, and essays of writer’s you admire. Analyze how they have written their work. If you are not sure, read “How to Read Like a Writer” by Francine Prose.

Fourthly, make sure you understand the rules and guidelines of grammar, such as  for use of verbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, and more. If you don’t know these rules or guidelines, pick up a copy of “Woe Is I:The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English” by Patricia T. O’Connor. Another great book that presents grammar in with a humorous tone is “The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. I also recommend “The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magical and Mystery of Practical English” by Roy Peter Clark.

Learn the rules of punctuation. How to use the comma, exclamation mark, question mark, quotation marks, semi colon, colon. Essentially, you must memorize the rules. To learn the rules of punctuation, I suggest you read “The Glamour of Grammar” by Roy Peter Clark.

Learn to the major types of sentence styles and then use sentence variety in your work. The syntax of a sentence is an important feature of the writer’s voice. To develop your own voice, learn to write simple, compound, complex, compound-complex sentences. Learn when to use a sentence fragment and how to write using parallel construction. Learn how to use items in a series.  Learn how to write both periodic or cumulative sentences. Where can you go for advice? Pick up a copy of Sin And Syntax by Constance Hale or The Glamour of Grammar by Roy Peter Clark.

The language choices a writer makes important ingredient of the writer’s voice. Therefore, you should own a dictionary and thesaurus. Use them for enjoyment and to improve your language skills. Develop your language skills by looking up the meaning of words you don’t understand in a dictionary.  Find the precise word by checking your thesaurus, which includes synonyms.  To  expand your vocabulary, begin learning a word a day. Use the words you learn in your writing. Don’t write to impress. Instead, use language to express yourself, to communicate meaning, to entertain,  to share important ideas or knowledge or wisdom.

If you aspire to become a creative writer, you should also learn how to write imaginatively. Imaginative writing involves learning how to show and tell the reader, writing vivid descriptions of sensory imagery–language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. It involves using literary devices of simile, metaphor, personification, symbolism, and other devices that you find in fiction and poetry and creative nonfiction. There are countless books on the market that you can purchase. For a good overview on how to write creatively and imaginatively, I suggest you purchase “Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft” by writer/instructor Janet Burroway. It’s a superb text that will help you.

Another way to develop your voice is to share emotional truth in your writing. It means telling others how you feel. For instance, if you lost your job–tell your readers how it felt. If you were diagnosed with a serious disease, share your thoughts and feelings with your readers. If you split up with a girlfriend or marital partner, tell the audience how you felt by expressing the emotional truth. Keep in mind that two people can have different emotional views on a situation. And so , there is no right or wrong “emotional truth.” Emotional truth has to do with how you felt about a person, about an experience , about an event.

A few final points: It takes time to develop your writing voice, providing you write on a regular basis. Many writing instructors suggest you keep a journal and experiment in it. In part, developing  your voice is an unconscious effort–you learn by reading and writing, without making a conscious effort. In part, you can make a conscious decision to develop your voice. For instance, you can learn to read like a writer. You can learn grammar, spelling, punctuation. You can experiment with language and sentence variety. You can make a conscious choice about what sort of tone to use. The easiest way to develop your voice is to “put down on paper” what is on your mind or in your head, using your own words.

Your writing voice is what a reader hears when they read your words. Your writing voice is your “public persona,” which is expressed in your writing. It is revealed in the language that you use, the types of sentences that you use, and your tone–your attitude toward the reader and the topic or idea you are writing about.

To learn more about how to develop your developing and polishing your writer’s voice, read the following superb books:

  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
  • The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English by Roy Peter Clark
  • The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon
  • Woe is I: the Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Connor
  • Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway