Archives: February 2013

The ‘Silent Observation’ Method

by Addie Boswell
Published on: February 24, 2013
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1-looking-at-art-salvator-barkiWhen I teach my students to look at art, we start with the silent observation tool. It goes like this:

1) Observe the piece for at least one minute, and preferably two, in complete silence. Try to get your eyes to all parts of the canvas.

2) Describe what you see using art terms like line, shape, color. Use the phrases “I notice…” and “I see…”

3) Wonder about the meaning or intention of the artwork, using the phrase “I wonder…”

Besides the obvious benefit of getting kids to look deeper at art, this method also serves to withhold judgement. Imagine a similar scenario when you hold up a picture and say, “What do you think?” Likely comments will be “I like it” or “It’s weird.” And an opinion, once stated, is rigidly adhered to, or so the research goes.

Our job in critique is similar: to truly see a story and respond to it as openly as possible (regardless if we ‘like’ it or see a market for it). There is a form of critique that is similar to Silent Observation, and most writers I know try to follow it. I’ll call the writer’s version “the 2 Reads.”

1) Read the manuscript in silence. No line editing or blanket judgement. You are looking for the feel of the piece, for major threads and plots, and for the things that emotionally grab you.

2) Describe what you’ve read by jotting down notes on major issues like plot, character, pacing, and voice. Try those great words “I notice…” and “I see…”

3) For the second read, get down to the business of line edits or more detailed edits based on the themes you’ve noticed. When making suggestions, the phrase “I wonder…” is nice to use, as opposed to “I think you should …”

I sometimes skip the 2 Reads when I’m pressed for time, but I always feel a little guilty; reading only to critique is doing a disservice to the writing. Silent observation reminds me to truly look and to truly see, so that the story might be fully heard.



Some Literary, Bawdy Fun

by Guest Posts
Published on: February 20, 2013
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When a member of my critique group announced she was getting married recently, we threw her a bachelorette party. But not just any bachelorette party, a literary/bawdy bachelorette party. If you find yourself somewhere with your critique buddies and paper and pens, and you’re looking for some laughs, try these games:

Two Lies and a Truth: Easy for creative types who love to make things up. Each person makes up two lies and remembers something unbelievable that really happened. Everyone tells their three stories and people try to guess which one is true.  (Can be as clean or naughty as you want.) You could also do this for your characters…but just don’t forget which stories are the made-up truths and which are the made-up lies.

Poetry Prompts: On 20-30 small note cards write a romantic word on each (like roses, fire, smooch). On another 20-30 cards write funny domestic words (like nose-hair, laundry, compost). Everyone takes a card from each pile and must compose a poem with the two words.

Dirty Balderdash/Dictionary: This requires a bit of prep. Someone must do some internet research to find some naughty terms or slang phrases that they think no one would know. Write each with its definition on a note card or slip of paper. To play, someone picks one out of a bag and reads just the word out loud. Everyone writes the word down and makes up a definition. The one who knows the correct definition collects the definitions and reads them all aloud with the real definition mixed in. Vote on which is the real definition (if you can stop laughing long enough!)

Dirty Pictionary: Great for author-illustrators. Someone writes a bunch of sexy words on small notecards or pieces of paper. Break into teams of two or more people. The “artist” picks a card, reads the word silently and tries to draw it while the other teammates guess out loud. Teams can race to successfully draw the same word or you can set up a timer and teams get points if they guess in the allotted time.

Dirty Scrabble: My guess is that you can figure out how this should be played.

Have fun!




On Writing– by Abraham Lincoln

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: February 18, 2013
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In honor of President’s Day, here is a quote from President Abraham Lincoln himself on his thoughts about writing.  Enjoy.


“Writing, the art of communicating thoughts to the mind through the eye, is the great invention of the world…enabling us to converse with the dead, the absent, and the unborn, at all distances of time and space.”

― Abraham LincolnSpeeches And Letters Of Abraham Lincoln, 1832-1865


-Nicole Marie Schreiber


Sentence Morphing–Revision Times Four

by Amber Keyser
Published on: February 12, 2013
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I thought it might be useful or interesting to see what revision looks like for me on the micro-level.  I might enter a chapter revision with one main idea that needs to be incorporated, but I usually end up messing with individual sentences.  In the example below, I needed to redo the motivation for my character Jacey, who is trying to grieve the death of her baby brother.

Original sentence:

“Why didn’t she have a guardian angel?” asked Jacey

New motivation eliminates magical thinking (like that he is now her guardian angel) completely:

“Wouldn’t you rather have a sister?” Jacey asked and turned the page in the scrapbook.

That morphed immediately into:

“I’d rather have a sister,” Jacey said and turned the page in the scrapbook.

And finally into:

“I’d rather have a sister,” Jacey said and resumed turning pages in the scrapbook.

I hope this makes sense without the rest of the scene for context.  Maybe it doesn’t seem like it matters much, but within the scene, I know the final sentence is much more effective. You’ll note that this is why revising takes me so much longer than drafting.

Just in case you thought it was easy…

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: February 8, 2013
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…This video reminds us that it’s not. Jerry Seinfeld discusses how it’s taken him several years to write a single joke about pop-tarts. Fascinating!

Watch it here.

Happy Friday!

Edit Brilliantly!

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: February 4, 2013
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Cherryh orbit

Would you like an asteroid named after you? The science fiction/fantasy writer, Carolyn Janice Cherry, aka C. J. Cherryh, has one. Fans credit her with this quote:

It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.

There are days when I do write way less than my best. Honestly, it feels good to give myself permission to produce writing that’s sloppy, or so-so, or simply stinks. An empty page is more daunting to me than a page filled with dreck.

Of course, the value of a good critique group is that collectively it has the potential to edit my work brilliantly. I rely on Viva Scriva to give me good editing guidance. But let’s face it: it’s my job to do the first go-round of edits, brilliant or otherwise.


Carolyn Janice Cherry

Cherryh offers shortcuts to stronger writing [(c) 1995 by C.J. Cherryh] on her website. Here are a few to get you started.

Writerisms: overused and misused language. In more direct words: find ’em, root ’em out, and look at your prose without the underbrush. You may be surprised by how much better it looks.

1) am, is, are, was, were, being, be, been….combined with ‘by’ or with an actor implied but not stated…. Such structures are passives. In general, limit passive verb use to one or two per book.

2) am, is, are, was, were, being, be, been….combined with an adjective. ‘He was sad as he walked about the apartment.’> ‘He moped about the apartment.’ A single colorful verb is stronger than any was + adjective; but don’t slide to the polar opposite and overuse colorful verbs. There are writers that vastly overuse the ‘be’ verb; if you are one, fix it. If you aren’t one—don’t, because *over*fixing it will commit the next error.

3) florid verbs. ‘The car grumbled its way to the curb’ is on the verge of being so colorful it’s distracting. {Florid fr. Lat. floreo, to flower.}

If a manuscript looks as if it’s sprouted leaves and branches, if every verb is ‘unusual’, if the vocabulary is more interesting than the story…fix it by going to more ordinary verbs…. This is prose, not epic verse.

This statement also goes for unusual descriptions and odd adjectives, nouns, and adverbs.” The sun bloomed on the verge of the planetary surface’ is pretty awful: ‘dawned’ gets the job done.

4) odd connectives. Some writers overuse ‘as’ and ‘then’ in an attempt to avoid ‘and’ or ‘but’, which themselves can become a tic. But ‘as’ is only for truly simultaneous action. The common deck of conjunctions available is:

when (temporal)
if (conditional)
since (ambiguous between temporal and causal)
although (concessive)
because (causal)
and (connective)
but (contrasting)
as (contemporaneous action *or* sub for ‘because’) while (roughly equal to ‘as’)

5) Descriptive writerisms. Things that have become ‘conventions of prose’ that personally stop me cold in text.

‘framed by’ followed by hair, tresses, curls, or most anything cute.
‘swelling bosom’
‘heart-shaped face’
‘set off by’: see ‘framed by’
‘revealed’ or ‘revealed by’: see ‘framed by’. Too precious for words when followed by a fashion statement.

[A]void mirrors. If you haven’t read enough unpublished fiction to have met the infamous mirror scenes in which Our Hero admires his steely blue eyes and manly chin, you can scarcely imagine how bad they can get.

As a general rule…your viewpoint characters should have less, rather than more, description than anyone else: a reader of different skin or hair color ought to be able to sink into this persona without being continually jolted by contrary information.

Stick to what your observer can observe. One’s own blushes can be felt, but not seen, unless one is facing….a mirror. See above.

‘Again’ or worse ‘once again.’ Established writers don’t tend to overuse this one: it seems like a neo fault, possibly a mental writerly stammer—lacking a next thing to do, our hero does it ‘again’ or ‘once again’ or ‘even yet.’ Toss ‘still’ and ‘yet’ onto the pile and use them sparingly.

6) Dead verbs. Colorless verbs.

run, ran
go, went, gone
leave, left
have, had
get, got

… A verb you’ve had to modify (change) with an adverb is likely inadequate to the job you assigned it to do.

There is a lot more advice on Cherryh’s site. I’ll leave you with my favorite:


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