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Posts Tagged ‘constraints’

Absence here, presence there

I took an unannounced and approximately three-week break from this blog to focus on a few issues, projects, and priorities but I’m back and excited for a few entries coming up this month to wrap up the year. The following are in the pipe:

  • Wrapping up last month’s NaNoWriMo.
  • Wrapping up my first semester teaching at NCC.
  • A link to my latest short film (now in the editing stage).
  • My top ten favorite blog posts of the year.
  • Finally, my long-promised recommendation of Five Books for Boys.
  • Thoughts on Oprah’s Book Club.
  • Pros and cons of books as gifts.
  • A Writer’s New Year’s Resolutions.
  • New writing prompts and recommendations.
  • A new Scrawlers contest!
  • And, depending on how often I find myself with internet access, some daily blogging about a mission trip I’m co-leading down to Beaumont, Texas over the last week of the year.

While I took a break from blogging at The Scrawl, I have been quite active on our sister site, Scrawlers. I’ve posted a few new stories over the last few days and it felt good to write something new. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve written at my own website, which is pretty ridiculous, but something struck me in the last ten days or so that panned out to six new stories (and hopefully a few more to follow). That, I think, is a cool side effect of Scrawlers. How it can appeal to the writer who is daunted by writing a longer piece of prose or has only a finite time to scrawl something down or who is frustrated by having a lot of open projects but nothing concretely finished. 100 words? Short, brief, finished. Problem solved for that writer. There are those on the opposite end of the spectrum who are turned off or perhaps frightened at having only 100 words to complete an idea. To those folks I say embrace constraints as a challenge, not a limitation. Pretty sure I’ve talked about that here before.

Thanks for your patience during my absence and I’ll write to you soon, dear reader.

-nm

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"You words are dead to me," I [something besides ‘said’].

I apparently don’t agree with the North Carolina school systems.

Deciding to give stumbleupon a try, I searched for “writing” and found a link to the Iredell-Stateseville school system website’s list of other words for “said.” The list includes words like “acknowledged,” “lectured,” “reassured,” “emphasized,” and “grinned.” Grinned? “Grinned” isn’t a synonym for “said,” it’s a synonym for “smiled.” How does the act of grinning describe how someone speaks? Iredell-Statesville (go, you Staties!) presents a long, clunky list of long, clunky words. I’m a proponent of “said,” and I’m not alone: Stephen King loves it (Eric Bakovic quoted a bit on “said” from King’s On Writing at the Language Log), Neil Gaiman is a fan of “said,” Elmore Leonard uses it exclusively (it’s his fourth of Ten Rules for Writing).

A few clicks on the Iredell-Statesville (go, you Irdies!) website brought me to the concept of “dead words” – words that are too common and have plenty of synonyms which, apparently, are better than those peasant-like commoner words. It suggests not using “awesome” or “cool,” but trying “fine,” “wonderful,” and “marvelous.” You know, as in “Man, Jimmy, that double ollie kickflip you popped on your board was wonderful! That move was so sick, uh, I mean, indisposed!” I’ve never heard of “dead words” so I Googled it and found another North Carolina education website called LearnNC with K-12 instructor resources that actually encourages instructors to make art-project tombstones for “dead words.” Those other words flying out of the tombstone must be the root word’s ghost children.

The merit behind eliminating dead words is well-intended, but I disagree with this methodology. If an instructor wants their students to improve their vocabulary, have them read more, both in and out of class. Then talk about the reading; make them participate in the discussion. Talk about the words; find out what stood out to them and why. Have them underline words they don’t know and actually look them up on their own. Now, this is the part when people talk about how hard it is to get students to read. They don’t want to read? They don’t want to do the work? They don’t want to do what school is supposed to have them do? Too bad. Do you honestly think they’ll want to gluestick and glitterglue some construction paper with the word “innumerable” on it, instead?

-nm

Flash fiction

04.05.2007 1 comment

For those out there struggling with taking the time to sit down and write a Scrawl, this story was written in 5-10 minutes. One of the most convenient techniques for Scrawling is to use the form called flash fiction. Just jot something down. Don’t worry about all the details, structure, or even the storyline. Just jot something.

In the future, when revisions are offered at Scrawlers, you could actually post that story right off. For now, and in the future if you prefer, it would probably be good to go through an editing process on your own. As you learn how to self edit, you can catch grammar and structural errrors as well as story-telling problems. One great helper in this process is reading the story out load.

Flash fiction is an excellent way to hone your writing skills. It’s an excellent way to generate ideas. It should also help you relate brevity to speed. Even when you have to write something more substantial, this excercise will help you to internalize the attributes that make for great writing.

(Note: I realize I’m not being completely true to the definition of flash fiction. But this is how I’ve learned to use the concept.)

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Constraints-based writing

02.16.2007 1 comment

One of the questions we’re asked most frequently is: “Why 100 words?” It’s a fair question; one we’ve thought about considerably over the past months.

We believe in the power of action. With some activities, just doing it is enough to just keep doing it. Writing particularly falls into this category. Whether one has an ultimate goal of writing a novel or an essay, it always seems like that next section, chapter, or paragraph is a little bit too big to dive into right now.

There is power in attacking a format that even a life-long procrastinator could not justify calling long form. In many ways, the 100-word story is a “just do it” technique. Anyone, and I mean anyone, should be able to write a flash fiction story in the 100-word format.

Really, just do it.

-nm

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