“How is topic different from theme?” This very question bubbled up while I was working on my previous Theme: A Story’s Soul post. So I figured, “Why not explore it further?” Many writers mistakenly use the terms “topic” and “theme” interchangeably, and this would be the perfect opportunity to explain how they’re different – and how topic is actually a vehicle for illustrating theme.
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In my latest Theme: A Story’s Soul post at DIY MFA, I dive into a literary theme that’s difficult for writers to explore and painful for characters (and people in real life) to experience. Isolation isn’t the same as sequestering yourself during an illness or retreating somewhere to meditate. Rather, it’s a state of aloneness in which, because of your location or emotional state, you feel cut off from others. And when a story effectively illustrates isolation as a literary theme despite its challenges, it can offer intriguing insights about setting, relationships, and the human spirit.
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Today I’m over at Writers Helping Writers to share a recent writing-related experiment: I created a map for an important location in my manuscript’s setting. It turned out to be a fun exercise that exercised a different part of my creativity – and best of all, it was immensely useful for the story I’m working on. So what are some the benefits of mapping your story’s setting? How do you go about creating your own setting map? Find out at the link below. Plus, there might be a photo of the map I drew. 😮 Continue reading →
During a recent lunch-break walk at my day job, I almost stepped on a bird feather. It might not sound so extraordinary. After all, birds are part of the everyday outdoors. But unlike fallen leaves, clods of dirt, or patches of grass, it’s not every day that your foot comes in contact with a stray feather. So I stopped and picked it up.
Two thoughts crossed my mind then. First, the feather itself. Gosh, was it gorgeous. It was slender, slightly curved, and mostly brown with white horizontal bars that became indistinct closer to the tip. And at over 1 foot long from shaft to tip, it was also HUGE. I still haven’t identified what species it belongs to. (Someone suggested the wild turkey, and it seems to be the closest match.) But as I twirled the feather between my fingers, what bird once wore it didn’t matter. What did matter was how I felt at that moment: as if I’d found a piece of treasure.
Second, as I returned the feather to the ground, I thought about writing. For me, nature and writing have been deeply connected for a long time. In fact, they might be more so now than ever before. Continue reading →
Setting in stories isn’t discussed as frequently as plot and characters. Yet it’s just as important, using location, time period, and other elements to play a pivotal role, from establishing the protagonist’s “normal world” to creating natural or societal obstacles that the characters will face. But did you know that, in some cases, a story’s setting can also be the garden from which some of its themes can grow? The idea intrigued me enough that I devoted my latest Theme: A Story’s Soul article at DIY MFA to it. Continue reading →
Oh, am I EXCITED about my new Writers Helping Writers post. 😀
This week, as part of the site’s Resident Writing Coach Program, I share some insights about using real-world locations in our stories, either faithfully for historical or contemporary genres or as inspiration for fictional worlds. And since one of the reasons why I attended the Iceland Writers Retreat was to do hands-on research for my story’s setting, guess which country I used as an example? 😉 Continue reading →
Do you listen to music while you write? Has a specific song or music artist ever influenced one of your stories, poems, etc.? This has happened with a number of my published poems. Thus, Poetry & Song is a limited-run series where I share one of my published poems and the song that “helped me write” it. I also offer insights into why I chose that particular piece of music, as well as any other inspirations for the poem.
Some of you might know that I’m a published poet, with several poems accepted for print and online publication between 2012 and 2014. While I’m focusing on novels now, from time to time I’ve entertained ideas about how to discuss poetry (either my own or the poets I admire) here at the blog. Then, during last month’s Iceland Writers Retreat, I took Nadifa Mohamed’s “Music and Literature” workshop, which explored how the music we listen to can influence our writing. It turned out to be my favorite workshop of the event – and it also sparked the idea for this series.
Today I’d like to kick off the Poetry & Song series with “Elegy,” which was published in Soul-Lit’s Summer 2013 issue. And had it not been for a certain piano ballad by one of the most incredibly voices and songwriters in current pop music, I’m not sure “Elegy” would be what it is today. That’s why it’s impossible to talk about the poem without the song, or how that poem changed my feelings toward the song forever.
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I’m in the middle of finishing new articles for DIY MFA and Writers Helping Writers. So I thought I’d do an “easy” post this week, and one I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Your feedback has been so helpful in the past with website changes, blogoversary celebrations, and excerpts on my YA fantasy novel The Keeper’s Curse. I’d like to ask for it again today, on a component of the novel-writing process that’s more important than we might think: the blurb.
Wondering what a blurb is? Or why it’s important for writers to start working on one before their novel is published? I’ll answer those questions briefly, then give you a chance to offer feedback on the latest blurb for TKC.
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Today I’m thrilled to have one of my DIY MFA colleagues here for a guest post! Leanne Sowul is a historical fiction writer, music teacher, and the insightful mind behind DIY MFA’s “Be Well, Write Well,” which offers tips and wisdom for writers on maintaining a healthy well-being. She’s also an advocate for cultivating creativity in our lives and recently launched her new project, The Creativity Perspective, to explore this further. I invited Leanne to write about the importance of creativity in writing, and this is what she had to say.
When I first decided to write a novel, I wasn’t sure what genre I wanted to specialize in. I read widely, so I had interest in writing many different things, but I was intimidated by working in the sci-fi, fantasy, or mystery genres because I thought they required a higher level of creativity. Building a world from scratch, or crafting a suspenseful crime, felt beyond me. I wanted to choose a genre that had some rules I could follow; a creativity “support,” if you will.
I have a longtime love for history, so I decided to write historical fiction. I figured I could use historical facts to hang my story on, and felt comforted by the element of nonfiction in my fiction to keep me on track with my story. I thought it was the perfect solution. Oh, how little I knew back then! I didn’t understand I was making the enormous decision of my novel’s genre based partly on fear and partly on an incorrect assumption.
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Oh, am I excited for our latest guest! Angela Ackerman is one half of the duo at Writers Helping Writers (her co-blogger is the equally awesome Becca Puglisi). And not only do they run one of my favorite websites dedicated to the craft of writing, but they’re also the authors of the best-selling Thesaurus collection – all of which have become instrumental parts of my writing process. Today, these ladies are releasing two new additions to their collection, and I couldn’t be happier to have Angela tell you more about them. Read on!
As we storytellers sit before the keyboard to craft our magic, we’re usually laser-focused on the two titans of fiction: plot and character. Yet, there’s a third element that impacts almost every aspect of the tale, one we really need to home in on as well: the setting.
The setting is so much more than a painted backdrop, more than a stage for our characters to tromp across during the scene. Used to its full advantage, the setting can characterize the story’s cast, supply mood, steer the plot, provide challenges and conflict, trigger emotions, help us deliver those necessary snippets of backstory… and that’s just scratching the surface. So the question is this: how do we unleash the full power of the setting within our stories? Continue reading →