Archive for the ‘Emotion’ Category

Workshop on Writing Emotion

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

Author, teacher, and stage director Amanda McTigue will conduct a workshop on “Writing Emotion to Move Your Readers” at the next meeting of the Mt. Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club (CWC) on Saturday, October 10, 2015 at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.

Ms. McTigue will offer insights and guidance in a hands-on workshop, with exercises to guide participants in how to write authentic emotional content across all genres.

Her debut novel, Going to Solace, set in Appalachia, examines race relations from a fresh perspective. She is currently working on a collection of short stories, This is Not Water, and a second novel, Monkey Bottom. She is a Yale grad who has written for Disney Entertainment, and Paramount Entertainment. Her works for the stage have been produced at Carnegie Hall and the Minnesota Opera, among others.

Sign-in at 8:30 am, Breakfast from 9 to 9:30 am. Workshop from 9:30-12:30. The cost is $40 for CWC members, $50 for guests.

Reservations are required, and must be received no later than noon on Wednesday, October 7, 2015. Contact Robin Gigoux at ragig@aol.com, or phone 925-933-9670. To sign up via PayPal, click “Buy now” on the Mt. Diablo branch website, http://cwcmtdiablowriters.wordpress.com/next-program/. Add $2 transaction fee.

 

Why YOU should write your story!

Monday, August 31st, 2015

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My mother and a few siblings overcoming their past.

Family stories are important in sharing bonds with each other and imparting family history. But for children, appreciating family stories actually increases their self-esteem. Since kids learn from our stories, it’s important to write them down while we can.  And as truthfully as we can.

From small details to larger stories, my mother’s sister revised history.

“Mother and Father?” muttered my mom after my aunt shared a story about their parents.  “They were Ma and Pa in our family.”

Suddenly, gone were the lean years.  My grandfather never drank.  All was rosy in their past lives.

Why do families change their stories?

“It sounds better,” said my mom, of her sister’s tales.  “But it’s not true.”

“Mom,” I assured her.  “It wasn’t your fault you were poor and your pa was an alcoholic.”

Understanding why people act the way they do gives more layers of meanings to family stories. But for families sharing a legacy, the Pollyanna picture rather than grim reality is easier for them to face and they won’t have to fear possible judgement.

Actually sharing the less-than-picture-perfect tales are vital for family members.  We learn from longings, wishes, and regrets.  Cautionary tales show how to learn and move beyond mistakes, sorrows, and tragedies.  People grow from these experiences and strengthen bonds perhaps more than through the happy, contented moments in our lives.

“There’s nothing to writing,” said author Red Smith.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Writing Prompts:

  1.  Write about your life from the moment of your first memories.   Use photos to jog your memory.
  2. What was going on in the world during the time?  Your community?  Neighborhood? You may begin your stories chronologically, but you don’t have to stick to this format.   What moments in your life were emotional for you?  Why?  Your favorite moments, scary times, funny anecdotes, and tragedies all should be explored.
  3. Interview others in your life as you grew up.  What is their take on the experiences you shared together?
  4. Listen to music of the time.  Remember the foods you ate.  Senses help us to recall our thoughts and actions.

 

Why Celebrity Books Are Actually Important & Why YOU Should Write a Memoir

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

 

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Candace Bergen.  Mariel Hemingway.  Jon Cryer.  And now Barbra Streisand has a new publishing deal for her life story.  So many celebrities have penned their autobiographies and memoirs it’s amazing when someone famous DOESN’T write one.  Many mid-list “real” writers grumble about million dollar advances and attention on big names who probably haven’t written their books. Of course at the end of the day, editors will highlight celebrity books because they sell well.

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Well, writers, I beg you to think of this situation in a new way.  Famous people’s books earn the most money for the publishers, financing them to purchase books from the rest of us.

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So what’s the difference between an autobiography and a memoir?  In an autobiography, the writer shares her entire life story.  A memoir focuses on one specific event or theme in the author’s life.  Memoirs can be written by ordinary people, who have a message they’ve gained from their experience.

Writing Prompts:

1.  Even if you don’t intend to write an autobiography or a memoir, you may discover much about your life, how to capture the deeper truths, and find themes and metaphors in your writing.  In addition, either or both of these books may be treasured to your family for historical, cultural, and personal reasons.  The people closest to you may say, “I never knew this happened to you!”  Sharing specific emotional anecdotes can help others realize they aren’t alone.

So write your autobiography.  Begin with incidents that stand out in your mind.  What was your earliest memory? Why do you think it is engraved in your mind?  Write the stories that require you to dig into your feelings.  Write the stories that made you laugh.

2.  Inspire your memories by looking at old photos.  Write about each one.  Answer journalistic type questions of where you were, why you were there, what you were doing who was with you . . . The simple idea of examining the other people in the photo should bring back images and ideas about them.  By using a photo as a jumping off point, you might discover lots of material to mine.  Those new essays can inspire even more memories.

3.  Play music from the time period of your youth.  Read books that occur during the time.  How did current events affect you?  Movies, music, and foods?  Immerse yourself in your childhood culture.

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Meet Zeus!

Friday, May 1st, 2015

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Meet Zeus.   He’s about 7 months old, according to a local German Shepard Rescue group.  My neighbor, Hilde, is fostering him.  Last week she discovered a hard lump near his shoulder.  On Tuesday, Zeus had surgery where the vet found yet another tumor behind the first one.  We talked to the doctor when we came to pick up Zeus.

“I removed the tumors, but it doesn’t look good,” the vet said.

“What’s the percentage chance that it’s cancer?” Hilde asked.

“Five percent that it isn’t,” he replied.

Tears filled her eyes.

“We don’t know for sure,” I said.  “Let’s wait to see what the biopsy says.”

A loopy but still loving Zeus met us and we guided him into the van.  Back in Hilde’s driveway, she and my husband, Bob carried him into the house.

The next morning, still on painkillers, Zeus greeted me with romps and kisses.

“Wow, he’s amazing,” I told Hilde.

“It’s hard to realize he’s sick,” she said.

Today I answered the phone in my office.

“Liz,” said Hilde.  “He doesn’t have cancer.”

“He doesn’t?!”

“He doesn’t,” she said.  “All that worry for nothing.”

We were silent, each thinking about the doctor’s sobering –and incorrect—prediction.

“How could he have said that to me?” she said.

“I know.  Remember Bob’s doctor?” I reminded her.

Years ago, my husband’s constant coughing sent him to his physician who administered an x-ray.  It showed a huge growth in his right lung.  “Cancer,” the doctor said.

We saw an oncologist, who seconded the bad news, pointing out the ugliness on the films.  It seemed to take over Bob’s right lung, as it seemed to take over our lives.

The doctor called a few days before Christmas.  He said we’d have to wait until January to see a lung specialist who would perform an MRI.  Surgery and chemo was sure to follow.

“What if it’s something contagious?” I asked Bob’s doctor.  Maybe it’s TB or an infection?  If he’s contagious, maybe we should cancel our Christmas party?”

The doctor sighed.   “He’s not contagious.  Live your life.  Enjoy your holidays.”

Enjoy?

A few weeks later, the lung doctor questioned us thoroughly.  “I think you have an infection,” he said to Bob.  “Let’s try antibiotics first.”

You can guess what happened.  The drugs cleared up the “tumor.”  Bob’s coughing stopped.

Now when I begin to worry about something out of my control, I try and pre-empt myself.  Do I know beyond a doubt it’s true?

Writing Prompts:

  1. How do your characters face conflicts and tragedy in their lives?  Do they roll easily with life’s ups and downs?  Deny them?  Face them with humor, emotional resiliency, or abject horror?  Write a few scenes with scenarios that could happen to your protagonist.
  2. Write the outcomes of these scenes.  Try different resolutions.  Which one feels right?
  3. Choose a scenario to read to your writing group.  Make sure you ask the write questions as to how to improve your scenes.
  4. Don’t worry.  Over time, your writing does improve!    20150421_164719
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How can YOU write comedy?

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

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“Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.”  Peter Ustinov

Who doesn’t love humor?  Readers, editors, and audience members yearn for it.  How would we get through the serious business of everyday life without it?  Bennett Cerf once said, “If writers want the sure road to success, for heaven’s sake, write something that will make people laugh.”

How can you make sure it’s actually funny?

According to Norman Lear in his memoir, Even This I Get to Experience, he says, “Laughter lacks depth if it isn’t involved with other emotions.  An audience is entertained when it’s involved to the point of laughter or tears—ideally both.”

Have you ever set out to write a humor scene and gone blank?  No one said comedy is easy.  A Shakespearean actor, on his deathbed said, “Dying is easy.  Comedy is hard.”

Amy Poehler from, Yes, Please, suggests, “Get out of your head.”

John Cleese discovered in So, Anyway, “an important creative principle: the more anxious you feel, the less creative you are.  Your mind ceases to play and be expansive.  Fear causes your thinking to contract, to play safe, and this forces you into stereotypical thinking. “

So exactly how do you write humor naturally?  Find your zone of creativity.  Relax.   Knowing your character, the setting and the situation will help you develop comedy intrinsically.  Ask yourself what’s weird about your topic.  Scary?  Hard?  Stupid?  Brainstorm.

Humor works when there is a setup and a payoff.  It’s what we expect to happen and what really happens.   Techniques include exaggeration, understatement, word play, satire, and parody.

Finally, remember to read what you write out loud.  Humor is all about beats and rhythm.  You should feel your comedy.   Timing is everything.

Writing Prompts:

1.  Where is humor in your life?  Everyone has funny anecdote in their lives.  Write a scene with one of your experiences.

2.  Keep a humor journal.  See something funny on the street?  Your favorite funny line in a movie or book?  What makes it funny?  Funny characters around you?  Funny things YOU do?

3.  Having a tough day?  Pretend you’re Dave Barry.  How would he turn this into a funny essay?  Write it.

4.  Use humor in your artistic projects.  Especially in the serious ones.

5.  Read humor to write humor.  And most of all, have fun!

Aussie Makes Me Cry: Saying Goodbye & Writing with Heart

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Sad Aussie

Today we visited our local animal shelter to donate clean rugs and towels.   My husband and I could feel the sadness as we walked inside.  People held or stood near their beloved dogs.  All were cloaked in an aura of grief.

What were their stories?  The dogs weren’t puppies.  These owners weren’t dropping off a holiday pup just because they didn’t want to go through the bother of house training.  As we walked passed the cages, dogs made eye contact with me, their tails wagging, as if crying out, “Hey, look at me! See how cute I am! Take me home!”

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered.  “We can’t.”  Zoie, our nearly eighteen-year-old Yorkie, wouldn’t put up with it.  And we’re having our hands full giving her what she needs as she copes with her dementia, loss of hearing, sight, and other health issues. We must wait.

These dogs can’t.

On the way out of the yips, barks, and crying, I see an Australian shepherd sitting next to two men.   I knew the answer to my question before I asked it.  “Are you adopting?”

They shook their heads no.  I bent down and scratched the dog, who repaid me with kisses.

“My sister is on dialysis, and can no longer keep him.  There’s been a lot of sobbing and goodbyes.  It’s breaking our hearts,” said the man holding the leash, slumped toward the dog.  His anguish spilled out.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

Before I could say another word, an official came over.  “It’s time.”  He grabbed the leash, and the shepherd knew.  He pulled back, alarmed with fear.

With tears in my eyes, I beat a hasty retreat.

Writing Prompts

  1. Saying goodbye to animals, people and even places may be emotional and heartbreaking.  Do any of the characters in your writing say goodbye?  In your own life?  Write a story with a character or yourself in this situation.
  2. I know it won’t be long now before I must say goodbye to Zoie.  Although I’m trying to brace myself, I know I’ll be bereft when it happens.  I’ve lost friends, relatives, and my parents. Each experience filled me with grief, but later, with time, became moments of memories.  Write a scene showing those moments of joy and memories.
  3. How does the loss affect you today?  Create a poem, song, story, or another genre of art which expresses you.
  4. Living through tough times may be helped by keeping a journal.  Write about what you and your loved ones are going through helps you survive, appreciate the special moments of joy, and be creative.

 

EARTHQUAKE!

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

At 3:20 this morning, my husband, Bob and I awoke as our bed rocked; mirrored closet doors shook with a rumble.  Living with earthquakes, we rate them mentally.  To me this one felt like a 6, but who knows where it was centered?   If it was far away, it could have been larger.

A few hours later we learned the truth.  Centered in American Canyon, not far from Napa, California, there have been ninety injuries, with three people in critical condition.  As we pray for the victims and their families, and express thankfulness it wasn’t worse, we in earthquake country receive flashbacks.

In the Northridge Quake  of ’94, we were asleep in a Southern California hotel room.  Nearly thrown from our bed, we checked on our son who slept in the adjoining living area.  Although we were all fine,  our friends, Denise and Mike had  damages.  Their Yorkie, Molly, usually slept at the foot of their bed but Molly bolted out her doggie door. She escaped just before their  television landed where she would have been.  Dresser drawers shot across the room. Their fish tank crashed to the floor, leaving their fish as casualties. $20,000 worth of damage.

Northridge Quake freeway
 

 

Twenty-five years ago, the Loma Prieta struck here in Northern California when the San Andreas Fault erupted.  Centered in the Santa Cruz Mountains, with a magnitude of 6.9, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and Oakland experienced the most destruction.

Again, we were most fortunate, my husband just having driven off the Bay Bridge before a section of it broke.  Our son, aged four, played a computer game and stood in front of my file cabinets.  As the ceiling lights swayed, Tofer said, “What’s happening?”

“Earthquake!  RUN!”  I shouted.

He ran up the stairs, with me in pursuit.  Upon reaching the family room, I grabbed my Yorkie and out we zoomed.  silence greeted us.  Even the birds stopped chirping.   Once back inside, one of my file cabinets had toppled over – - right where Tofer had stood.  I tried to upright the heavy drawers, but nothing budged.

Both Molly and Tofer were saved by their actions.  But . . . could they have been helped by unseen guidance?  Then and now, there are many grateful people.   And many who live with tragedy or trauma.  Our prayers go out to them.

Writing Prompts:

1.  Have you ever lived through a traumatic event or natural disaster?  Write this as an essay, poem, or short story.

2.  Experienced a close call?  Narrow miss of death or calamity?  Use this to inspire your creativity.

3.  Write about  one of these themes:  thankfulness, serendipity, spirituality.

What impresses readers? Analyze your Squirrel!

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Hawk Vs. SquirrelConflict in nature, as shown by this hawk and squirrel behind our house, keeps life dangerous, emotionally driven and exciting. The squirrel hid inside his hole, but used the element of surprise to his advantage.

The hawk waited . . . . waited . . . and . . .

Pop!

The squirrel’s head burst out of his hole!  The hawk jumped backwards.

Yes, if we had captured a video of this, people would laugh.

Isn’t this what we desire of a good book? Capture readers emotionally, add an element of danger and surprise to create an exciting and humorous story.

 Writing Prompts:

  1. Where in your current writing project or art can you add the element of surprise for humor or shock value . . . or both? Remember, it’s all in the timing. Wait, wait, and boom!
  2. How can you engage your readers emotionally? Build your character’s needs and desires so they are real. Empathy for your squirrel increases the impact.
  3. Develop your antagonist so we see more than a cardboard evil character. What are her needs and desires? Why does this character act the way she does? Add this depth for a well-rounded story.

 

Enhance Your Writing with Humor: Dogs and Cats, Oh My!

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXAy_QU5WE8 

According to the Humane Society of the United States, pet ownership has grown dramatically since the 1970s.  Three times as many homes have pets today than forty years ago.  With the proliferation of pets in our lives, owners spend big bucks taking care of them.  Americans spent more than $50 billion on them in 2012, claim the American Pet Products Association. 

Which is why books, stories and articles about dogs and cats sell well. 

Author Bennett Cerf once said, “If writers want the sure road to success, for heaven’s sake, write something that will make people laugh.”

Combine sought-after humor with pets  and imagine the popularity! Humor’s basic premisses are contrast and surprise.  Placing two unlike things together create a funny juxtaposition. Employing the idea of opposites — two unlike characters interacting, laughs abound. 

Writing Prompts:

1.  Watch the video and let it inspire you to write about these animals together.  Write a scene from the dog’s point of view and then the cat’s.  Next, get into the owner’s head.   

2.  Write an announcer’s narration for this video.

3.  Choose another method of creativity to communicate the result of your #1 writing prompt. 

4.  If you’re a pet owner, pick up your camera and discover humorous moments with your animals.  Allow them to excite  you to for creating other works of art.

Make a Scene with Jordan Rosenfeld

Monday, April 14th, 2014

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How can you write a scene with emotional impact, reader involvement, and suspense? 

Author Jordan Rosenfeld spoke to the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch and shared valuable tips for writers of all genres.  

 With every scene you create, ask yourself, what is the point of the scene?  Does it move your story forward, or is it just a block of setting description?  In showing setting, make your character interact with her surroundings

Great advice!  I critiqued manuscripts at one conference where a writer created a lovely Victorian Christmas which dominated the first chapter.  I suggested she weave in the setting elements as the character acted and reacted, foreshadowing the mystery ahead. 

She said, “Great idea!  But this house doesn’t play a role in the rest of my story at all.”  So why include it?  Once she began writing with her plot and character in mind, her character acted, reacted, and experienced the setting through sensory images.  It wasn’t overblown this time, and she created a reason for her scene to be there: she introduced characters and hinted at the mystery coming.

Rosenfeld advised writers create tension through emotional complexity.  Characters can experience more than one feeling at a time.  The uncertainty can be showed through their thoughts and dialogue, the writer’s word choice, how a word sounds, and imagery

For more information, read her book, Make Scenes, published through Writer’s Digest, and visit her website:  www.jordanrosenfeld.net  

Writing Prompts:

  1. It’s your turn!  Create a scene by involving your character in the setting shown through the elements above.  Make sure your scene moves the story’s plot forward.  Ask yourself:  Why must it be here?
  2. Tony Serra, attorney for Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Cow, at a federal court appearance said, “Law enforcement is supposed to investigate crime and criminal activity.  In this case, they created crime and criminal activity.”  (Source:  Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle.)  Use this quote to create a scene employing Rosenfeld’s advice. 
  3. Write an article, nonfiction piece, or essay with a scene focusing on the tips above.