Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Learning to Write, Featured Writing Instruction Resource, and a Lesson

(Today we're delighted to share a guest post from Post Falls, ID, writer Jessie Gunderson, cross-posted with permission from her fun and informative blog, Blog Schmog. Jessie writes mainly inspirational fiction and poetry. She's currently hard at work at two important creative projects: (1) a political suspense novel, and (2) her fifth child, due in February!)

Learning the craft of fiction is sometimes a tricky and expensive business. But we are on a single income budget with a whole passel of kids to boot, so "expensive" and "my own ambitions" (no matter how noble) don't go together.

That's why Amazon, the library, and author/agent blogs where the craft of writing is taught and discussed are places I like to frequent.

Although, the howling toddler flopping at my feet as I attempt to type this quick post is making me reconsider other options: check into a loony bin, fly to the moon . . . .

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman is a hand-me-down book from an author friend of mine. But don't let my worn copy deceive you. It is well-loved! This is a great instructional resource to keep and refer back to.

Each chapter addresses a topic aimed at "staying out of the rejection pile" with examples of errors, ways to fix trouble spots, and then ends with a lesson to apply to your own work in progress. From presentation to dialogue, and on to more advanced techniques like pacing, this is an invaluable resource. It also happens to be concise, and chapters move along quickly so you can learn a lot in a short amount of time, especially if you apply the end-of-chapter lessons.

Your Mission #1: Here is a lesson from my reading that I enjoyed. Join me if you like by leaving your "homework" in the comments below or on a blog post and linking back.

Lesson from the chapter on setting:

Lukeman challenges writers to train themselves to be attentive to their surroundings, and by learning to better observe, infuse richer settings in their writing. Find ten unusual details in the room you are in and write them down. It doesn't matter how small. Then see if you can convey a feeling or leave an intentional impression about the setting using these details.

Here's mine:

1. Dust clung to the blades of the fan.
2. A candle tipped out of rank on a wall sconce of otherwise tidy crimson candles.
3. Laundry spilled out of the hamper, slumped like an old man, weary and tired.
4. Neatly stacked books occupied every flat surface, holding up random wads of this and that.
5. A well-loved quilt was spread over the stilted log bed.
6. Pages from Parents Magazine littered the floor.
7. A white scratch marred the wall painted with midnight forest green.
8. Grandmother's old rugs made a cozy place for feet to land on the hardwood floor.
9. The faint smell of heated rice and lavender filled the small space.
10. A lone wooden block lay abandoned in the corner.

Your Mission #2: What can you gather from my surroundings?


Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

I'll play! You're a busy mom (laundry, Parents magazine, wooden block), you like cozy surroundings (candle in a wall sconce, quilt, forest green walls, rugs, lavender), you're sentimental (rugs were Grandmother's, quilt is well-loved), and you're a reader (lots of books, combined with minor untidiness--dusty fan, crooked candle, mounting laundry, small scratch on the wall--says you'd rather be reading. Hail, kindred spirit! :-)

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

Here's mine:

1. Surface of white desk visible here and there between piles of books and paper.
2. Framed vintage ad for a Corona typewriter.
3. Bulletin board with push-pins shaped like old typewriter keys.
4. Pinned to the board: a Scripture verse, a shopping list, and a dentist-appointment reminder card
5. A kitchen timer
6. A bottle of fish oil capsules
7. A cup containing cold coffee
8. An 1925 book with photos of movie stars of the era, titled "Stars of the Photoplay."
9. A pretty lidded box containing office supplies
10. Copies of Webster's dictionary, Roget's thesaurus, and the Chicago Manual of Style.

Jennifer Rova said...

Fun exercise!
Jessie: (1) comfortable home, (2) woman who treasures things for their heritage, (3) descriptive writer, (4) nurturing person, (5) priorities in order
Jenny: (1) organization is important, (2) sentimental, (3)
conscience of her health, (4) religious, (5) careful of how she uses her time.

Nancy Owens Barnes said...

Here's my list. Thanks for the fun idea.

1. A photo of horses crossing a shallow river, their heads down, cautious, determined.

2. A tall wooden box my son made for me, a heart cut in one side, allowing the candle inside to glow into the room.

3. Four artificial sunflowers, leaning and staggered like drunks, grow from a pale yellow bucket on a shelf.

4. My grandmother's persian rug, partialy frayed edges, tassles nearly worn off, too many memories to discard.

5. Family faces in wall photos: a wedding, a trip to the zoo, a toddler hiding beneath a laundry basket.

6. A fresh diet soda still hisses on the table beside me.

7. A track of lights, one out, cold.

8. A planter's peanut can, empty of peanuts, full of sunflower seed shells.

9. A venetian blind not quite level, partially open, a crimped slat.

10. My chairside companion cat is missing, the warm spot now cool.

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

I agree, Jennifer, this is fun! Nancy: You like animals, nuts, and Coke (leading one to ask, do you adhere to the reportedly Southern practice of putting peanuts in Coca-Cola?). You like pretty things around you, but you don't get stressed out over a little disorder. Above all you treasure memories of happy family times.

Nancy Owens Barnes said...

Yuk, no. No peanuts in my soda. Actually, the peanuts and sunflower seed shells are a sure-fire sign my husband has been around. However, if it would help my writing...I'm certainly open to change.

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

Speaking of Southerners and peanuts, a Floridian friend of mine was trying to explain a treat called "boiled peanuts." It took me the longest time to understand that he wasn't saying "bald peanuts." I would love to work that into a story somehow.

Jessie at Blog Schmog said...

We are a bunch of kindred spirits for sure.

I have to say the "minor untidiness" is a thorn in my side, hence it is noticed by me over and over. If it didn't grate I'd probably have forgotten. :)

I love reading all the sentemental touches in your surroundings. Yes I like old junk.

And sunflowers and Coke are a couple of my favorites too! Your posts made me smile today. What fun, lets schedule another "lesson" soon.

Has anyone read Lukeman's book? Since I've finished it I'd be willing to loan it out for a spell.