For You: Emily Speaks

At one point in the manuscript, Emily was going to become a newspaper reporter! Here’s a little of that chapter.

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The morning found me seated before a rather alarming desk. The surface was stacked with paper from every conceivable source: newsprint, cheap rag and fine linen, even the odd bound book balanced amid the flimsy towers. Editor Rollin Murray, the gentleman behind the desk, spoke in a decidedly Irish voice, though he lacked the traditional red hair and florid complexion. He was not much taller than Chance, and I could barely see the top of his head over the papers.

The man peered at me from between his towers, a bemused expression on his craggy face. He had already asked if I were certain I was in the right place, and if I were certain that I wished to write for his newspaper. I made up my mind that I would try his rival unless he were able to wrap his own mind around the idea of a female reporter.

“Mr. Murray, I cannot imagine that it is quite so shocking as all that,” I said with a sniff that would have done Barbara proud. “After all, women do write for newspapers, although it is not entirely commonplace as yet.”

His face crinkled into the sort of smile one might visualize for a leprechaun. “Sure, and that’s not what’s got me befuddled, Miss.” He leaned forward, nearly dislodging one of the paper mounds. I eyed the quivering stack with some trepidation, but it must have been better balanced than it appeared, for it did not topple into either my lap or that of the editor.

“What’s bemused me so,” the man continued, “is how the dev– er, I mean to say, how did you know I was after enlarging the social pages? I only made the decision yesterday.” What I could see of his face behind the papers showed suspicion. “And I know you weren’t in that pub listening to Mr. Bentley and myself discuss the matter, Miss.”

“Really, Mr. Murray, there is hardly any mystery in that. It is obvious that the social pages now lack a certain …” I cleared my throat. “That is, I have often wished for more than just the usual tales of who has attended which affair and who is wedding whom.”

“I can see that a meek and retiring disposition is not one of the qualities that you have to offer this establishment.” Mr. Murray waved away my admittedly token protest. “A good reporter speaks his – or her, in this case – mind, Miss. I should have sent you on your way without thought if you had seemed one of those retiring souls who are merely seeking some occupation for their afternoons.”

felt my cheeks redden. “I must confess that my afternoons have seemed dull of late. However, I believe that my desire to write is more than a passing fancy. I have been told that I possess something of a wit, and wit is what the social pages chiefly seem to lack.”

He stroked his stubbled chin and stared at me pensively for a few moments, during which time I wondered if I had perhaps spoken too much of my mind. I opened my mouth, but he waved away my placating remarks.

“I propose a trial period,” he said. “To see if we will … suit one another. Temperamentally, that is.”

My face grew even more heated. “I shall be glad of the opportunity. I will do my best to see that our temperaments do not clash.”

“Stuff and nonsense, Miss. If you’re going to work for me, you’re going to have to learn to put up with my own temperament. And I can assure you that I’m not an easy man to work for. Best you’re able to stand up to me when you need to. Now, what are you planning to offer me for the next issue?”

I must confess that I could only stare at the man like a frog goggling on a lily pad. I had been so concerned about actually getting the job that I had neglected to select a suitable topic for a newspaper article. Mr. Murray laughed at my discomfiture.

“Not entirely certain I’d agree to your suggestion, right? Well, a good editor nearly always has a list of assignments for his reporters.”

“I was thinking that I might provide some sort of humorous depiction of some of the social events,” I ventured. “And perhaps some more in-depth stories about my peers.”

He held up a finger, and I ceased musing aloud. “I’m more in the mood for a good people-watching tale myself. Why don’t you just wander about this week and write me an article about what you see. Then we’ll decide if your writing suits my purposes. I hope it does, Miss.”

As I made my way back to the carriage, I found myself hoping the same.

I set out the very next day, my notebook and pencil in hand, to seek out adventures worthy of a newspaper article.

Writing Basics: The Main Idea

Theme is a big problem for a lot of writers. Many of them even say their stories don’t have a theme at all.

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Theme is the main idea of your story, the overall basic message that you want your readers to come away with. Every story has a theme, even if you don’t consciously set out to write one.

Sometimes it helps to find the theme in your work. Especially if you’re having trouble with the story, try coming up with your own theme. Or, as Robert McKee (the creative writing instructor) puts it, your controlling idea

  • A controlling idea must be boiled down to the fewest possible words — it can’t be longer than a one-sentence statement.
  • A controlling idea must describe the climactic value charge* of the entire story, either positively or negatively.
  • A controlling idea must be as specific as possible about the cause of the change in value charge.

*Value charge is how McKee describes the emotional content of a scene or story. What value is at stake in your character’s life in that scene, or in the whole story? How is that value charged at the climax? This can be either positive or negative, based on the character’s viewpoint.

So basically, you just ask yourself:  If I had to boil down all of the events in my story to one sentence what would that sentence be? That’s your theme.

5 Tips for the Holiday Writer

It’s the holiday season already. We’re all rushing around, trying to find the perfect gifts, cooking the best meals and going to party after party.

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For those of us who are writers, the holidays can be quite stressful. You feel obligated to attend those parties and shop for those gifts and cook those meals. But where’s the time to write? Especially if you have a day job, like I do, it’s difficult to get anything done on your manuscript.

Here are some tips for the writer over the holidays:

  • Stay focused. Remember that the holiday season is actually a fairly short one, and that you’ll be back to your normal writing schedule soon. Focus on what’s most important, and get back to the rest when you can.
  • Carve out moments of time. Write, but don’t plan on meeting your regular word count goal. Jot down a few thoughts while the turkey is baking, or sit down at the computer for a few minutes before leaving for that party.
  • De-stress. Take a little time to breathe. Meditate or practice yoga. Take a warm bubble bath. Get a massage. Even going for a short walk around the block can help you de-stress.
  • Stay healthy. Sure, it’s a temptation to throw healthy eating and drinking to the wind and over-indulge at those parties. You’ll feel better if you limit your drinking and add some healthy choices to the party snacks. Have a healthy salad before the party, so you won’t be so hungry. Fill up on (flavored) carbonated water instead of alcohol. And, of course, don’t drive if you’ve been drinking!
  • Keep that notebook handy. Even if you’re not writing as much as usual, have your notebook ready for those ideas that will pop up at odd times over the holidays. Come January, you’ll be ready to jump right back in and flesh those out into scenes or stories.

Stay Active

No, I don’t mean exercise – though that’s always helpful to get your brain focused and increase your creativity! I’m talking about active writing.

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Active writing starts with voice. Passive voice can kill your story. An example of a passive sentence is “The news was reported by Ted Jones.” See how boring that is? It’s removed from the action and emotionless. The active form, “Ted Jones reported the news” is a more interesting sentence that moves the plot along better.

Another way to keep your writing active is to choose the right details. Avoid cliches and over-generalizations and try to find the perfect description for each scene. Try sprinkling the action with little, vivid descriptions.

Keep the readers within the action. Don’t distance them by avoiding emotional scenes or by trying to impress them with your brilliant writing. Either of those choices will pull the reader out of the story instead of letting them experience the action.

You also need to use strong verbs – kill the adverbs! A strong verb is one that shows the action instead of telling it. “Sarah walked angrily down the stairs” is an example of a  weak verb. A stronger verb would be “Sarah stomped down the stairs” or “Sarah thudded down the stairs.”

Active writing means a better story all around.