Tag Archives: craft

Pixar’s Story Tips

This dog

Dogpatch white dog

was wandering around through someone else’s blog this morning, Circles Under Streetlightsand discovered a fab reblog of Pixar’s story writing tips from the Indie Writers Guide.

Check out both sites for additional great info. 

Hope your Thursday writing selves are getting things done!

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Waiting for Robin Hood

While I ponder the nature of time, taking the time to find the right word, create the right sentence, and place those right sentences in order until I have a piece that “works”—I am filled with a sense of dread as challenges to write 12 books in 12 months or to write a novel in a month pop up online like prairie dogs. Now I’m not slamming those particular endeavors, no siree. Anyone who can put out that many words deserves respect for their hard work.

And yes, it does light the fire of urgency under writers who are sitting on their thumbs. It gets their hands out from under their butt cheeks and on the keyboard or wrapped around a pen, putting words on the page. But let’s now talk about a little thing like QUALITY. Continue reading


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Composting 101

Symptoms Problem Solutions
Story has unpleasant odor. Not enough air due to overwrought word choice or compaction.

If there is an odor of ammonia, too much pure crap is standing in the way of the real story.

Strip the pile of its dense, soggy materials and replace with crisp, crackling prose to soak up excess bulls#!t.

Turn the pile, add fresh material, and move narrative elements around to aerate.

Cover pile (put in drawer to rest) until inclement weather subsides.

Story is rich and warm only in the center. Failure to build heat/tension. Pile is too small. Narrative elements are missing.

Insufficient conflict.

Not enough air. See first symptom.

Lack of nitrogen. Rich material is superficial. Go deeper.

Make pile bigger. Identify missing narrative elements.

Add water by sticking a garden hose into the center in several locations.

Turn the pile to aerate narrative elements.

Mix in nitrogen, otherwise known as conflict.

Add or remove backstory.

Toss and start over!!!!

Story temperature exceeds 160°F. Not enough air, lack of carbon, prose is turning purple. Turn the pile to aerate.

Mix in 2 parts Hemingway for every one part bad Faulkner.

Large, undecomposed items remain in the story even after considerable time has passed. Ya got some clunkers there. Read to friends and remove sections that make them grimace.

Shred clunkers before adding new material.

In the middle of the night, rodents, coyotes, and raccoons lurk in the shadows near the story, waiting for a chance to raid the juicy bits. Your prose is attracting aggressive nocturnal elements. This is usually a sign that the writing is going well. Animal-proof your work area only if this bothers you.



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Reading to Write

Where have you been all my life? I don’t know how I missed you as I was wandering my way through my MFA. I don’t know why no one talked about you, not a teacher, a fellow student, or my next door neighbor. I once was lost, was blind, but now I’m found. Hallelujah! Continue reading

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Maker Faire Revelation

Now, you wouldn’t think that attending a Maker Faire presentation on the world’s longest paper airplane flight would have anything to do with writing. But, surprisingly, it does. Continue reading

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I’m re-posting an article from today’s NYT. It’s always nice to get a little verb refresher lest we get sloppy or lazy in our delivery.

Make-or-Break Verbs by Constance Hale

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Noir Characterization

Although David Brooks is targeting his advice to young do-gooders in his column linked below, he does an excellent job of analyzing “noir literature heroes”  in the second half. Definitely worth a read.

Sam Spade at Starbucks

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Sentence Alert!

I love it when a sentence takes you down unexpected paths past unexpected places:

“…I let myself sink into poverty, in a manner that was deliberate, rigorous and not altogether devoid of elegance.” from Monsieur Pain by Roberto Bolano, translated by Chris Andrews

Why is this sentence effective? When I think of characters falling into poverty, it usually isn’t self-inflicted (at least not with purposeful intent), and it usually isn’t done with rigor or elegance. There’s so much here that’s out of the norm, it makes the character intensely interesting. I want to know more.

Very effective. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program…



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Writing as Calculus by Jilanne Hoffmann

Here’s a wonderful post, actually a follow-up post to Jill’s trials with her son and his school writing assignment.

Jilanne Hoffmann

Thinking about writing—and my son. In a recent parent-teacher conference, one of his teachers suggested that my son is a perfectionist, and that’s why he’s so reticent to put words on the page. She told me how she sat down with him one day to brainstorm ideas. As they came up with idea after idea, she would occasionally say, “That’s a really good idea. Why don’t you write a story about that?” Each time, my son would say, “No, I don’t want to…” And his voice with trail off and fall into a sort of despondent monotone. It was like no idea was worthy enough, not inspiring enough for him to go through the effort of thinking about the words he would need to write his story.

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Why study craft?

1) Madison Smartt Bell states in his book about structure, Narrative Design, that craft guides the unconscious “into harness,” similar to the way musicians study scales or sculptors study anatomy. Once craft becomes reflexive, the unconscious accesses this knowledge automatically, leaving the mind free to play, to create, to make the magic happen. Continue reading

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