Writer’s Log: 2163 Workshop slides

Writers Unite!

Or, at least agree that we are never done perfecting our craft.

Here’s the PowerPoint that I’ll be using as fodder for my assault against my Writer’s Workshop class: GDoc Slides I’ll continue to tweak it in the coming two weeks, but if you read it and want to add or correct something, feel free.

Here’s the text from the slides

Writer’s Workshop
Fiction Mechanics

• Writing is a skill
• • It can be learned.
• Your own author’s voice will come
• • Copy first, then strike out and stand your ground (ignore the critics).
• Thick skin
• • False praise vs scathing critique.
• Writing ruined reading
• • Analytical reading, “editor’s hat” will haunt your reading forever.
• Rules and how to apply them
• • Muscle memory, focus on a few at a time.

• First Person
• – “I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy.”
• The Hunger Games
• The Handmaid’s Tale
• – Everywhere I go I end up in places like this. They cramp my style, or so Mickey tells me. But with my budget… Woodja look a that. Gottdamn smudged mirrors, filthy carpets, water stains on the ceiling like Matisse stood on a chair and slapped it with a coffee mop. Sometimes, not often, I find blood.

• Second Person
• – “You put the lime in the coconut, you mix it all up.”
• Few novels are written this way, but it’s good for recipes.
• – You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.
• -— Bright Lights, Big City
• Third Person
• – “He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year, coming home to a place he’d never been before.”
• Singular • Limited • Omniscient
• – Johnny keys the lock and throws the plastic diamond on the scared dresser. “Everywhere I go, I end up staying in joints like this.” He checks out the filthy mirror and the ceiling, stains like a map of the world. In the bathroom he scans the floor. “I ain’t used to it. But nowadays I don’t freak out—blood in the sink, in the tub, everywhere.”
• Present or Past
• Present
• – If the wind blows any harder, I’m going to have to find better shelter. A stick flies by like an arrow as I run to the overpass.
• Past
• – The wind blew harder than I could stand. I ran to the overpass and tucked up tight into the corner. There I crouched as the tornado plowed through the town.

• The Protagonist. Who is your story about?
• • Know them intimately. What do they want vs what do they need? What drives them? What secrets do they hold? Who or what is holding them back?
• The Antagonist. Who or what is your main character fighting against?
• Think “Hero’s Journey”. What is the end-game?
• Who else is part of the story?
• • They each need their own motivation, their sub-plots.

• What are dialog tags?
• • Reduce tags – use only said, told and asked (past tense), say, tell, ask (present tense).
• Use action in place of tags
• • People act while speaking.
• Internal dialog format
• • Internal dialog, quoted, italicized or plain.
• Who’s speaking?
• • Keeping track of who said what?
• Use dialog to set the pace, instill tension vs calm
• • Rhythm, cadence, natural, varied.
Dialog example – fix this
Johnny walked through the door of Mickey’s pawnshop. “How’s biz, Mick?” he asked.
“You know how business is,” Mickey sneered.
Johnny thought, what’s up with him today? “I got them containers you asked for. Where do you want ’em?”
Mickey replied gruffly, “Just leave them under the card table in the back.”
Johnny walked into the back, placed the box of snap-lid containers under the table and returned carrying a ukulele. “I used to play one of these, back in the day,” he said brightly.
Mickey didn’t care what Johnny had done ‘back in the day.’ “Put that back,” he griped. “Can’t you see that it’s signed by Ben Harami?”
“Ben Harami?” Johnny wondered.
Mickey scoffed. “Harami and his Harem? How old are you anyway?”
“Why you always down on me, anyway?”
“Where were you last night?” Mickey drilled. “I had a thick envelope right here. This morning, I can’t find it.”

Dialog tags – do not use them
accused burst out corrected gloated maintained put in seethed teased bleated retaliated started acknowledged cackled coughed greeted marveled puzzled shot tempted blurted retorted stated added called countered grimaced mentioned quavered shouted tested boasted revealed stormed addressed cautioned cried groaned mimicked queried shrieked testified boomed roared stressed admitted challenged croaked growled moaned questioned shrilled thanked bragged sang stuttered advised chatted crowed grunted mocked quietly sighed theorized brayed sassed suggested affirmed chattered cursed grumbled motioned quipped simpered threatened breathed screamed surmised agreed cheered dared guessed mumbled quizzed slurred told broke in scoffed swear announced chided decided gulped murmured quoted smiled trilled bubbled scolded taunted
answered chimed in declared gurgled mused raged smirked urged bugged tauntingly lisped apologized chirped demanded gushed muttered ranted snapped uttered concurred exploded purred approved chittered demurred hinted nagged reasoned snarled volunteered confessed exulted argued choked denied hissed nodded reassured sneered vowed confided finished asked chortled described hollered noted recalled sneezed wailed confirmed fretted asserted chorused disagreed howled notified reckoned snickered warned congratulated gasped assured chuckled disclosed huffed objected recounted sniffed went on continued gawked avowed claimed divulged hummed observed reiterated sniffled wept contributed gently babbled clarified doubted hypothesized offered related snorted wheezed convinced gibed badgered clucked drawled imitated opined remarked spat spun whimpered cooed giggled barked coached dribbled implied ordered remembered speculated whined jeered pondered bawled coaxed echoed informed panted reminded spluttered whispered jested praised beamed commanded effused inquired perplexed repeated spoke wondered jibed prayed began commented encouraged insisted pestered replied sobbed worried joked proclaimed
begged complained ended interjected piped reported spluttered yawned lamented promised bellowed complimented exasperated interrupted pleaded requested squeaked yakked laughed proposed bet conceded exclaimed intoned pled resounded squealed yelled lectured protested bickered concluded explained instructed pointed out responded stammered yelped lied provoked

Active vs Passive
• Is, Was, and Were
• Passive
• – The ship was tossed about like a toy in a washtub.
• Active
• – The sea tossed the ship about like a toy in a washtub.
• Declarative (quasi-passive)
• – Jenny was counting the fence posts when a deer leapt over the wire and slammed into their car.
• – (better) As Jenny counted the fence posts, a deer leapt over the wire and slammed into their car.
• – It was a dark and stormy night. The trees were every color of the autumnal rainbow.

Showing vs Telling
• Explaining vs describing, and then there’s info dumps
• Telling
• – Ben stood high above everyone’s head. He wore a too-small brown jacket whose crawled halfway up his forearms. When he walked he dragged the toes of his shoes like to leave furrows in the carpet. His favorite drink was a tequila sunrise but, mixed up to look like the sun through forest-fire smoke.
• Showing
• – “There’s a lot of dust on top of your fridge,” Ben said. “Let me clean it for ya.” He stretched but his jacket bound his arms. He shrugged it off and wiped the top clean.
• – “Is that why you’re shoes are all skuffed on the front?” Sherrie said, watching him shuffle across the floor.
• – “I guess,” Ben replied, swirling his drink until the grenadine and OJ mixed to a pleasing mango color.
Showing vs Telling
• Adverbs, use sparingly
• – The porcupine walked slowly across the road.
• – Charles breathed heavily after his run up the staircase.
• – “I’ll never get a date by tomorrow night,” Mary said sadly.
• Theater of the Mind
• Don’t spoon feed your readers
• – The box, five feet by five, stenciled letters all around the outside and brown with splinters showing where the stevedores had banged it into the sides of the container, dripped a suspicious liquid from one corner.
• Invite the imagination
• – The damaged box, big enough to hold a dozen children, leaked a vile liquid.

• Internal
• Angst within a character
• Character vs character
• Character vs environment
• Expand the tension, never let up
• Allusions to a dark past and premonitions of what’s to come.
• Wants vs Needs:
• What the protagonist wants is often antithesis to what he truly needs.
• – Harry Potter wants to destroy Voldemort. What he needs is friendship.
• – Luke Skywalker wants to be a pilot. What he needs is purpose and a family.
• In medias res.
• Nested story,
• • chapter,
• • • scene,
• • • • paragraph,
• • • • • sentence
• Hooks, hangers, foreshadowing, leave a reader with a sense of ennui, apprehension, unease. Never “wrap things up.”

Story Time
• Sequential or Episodic
• Flashbacks to introduce backstory.
• Time accounting. Keep track! Nothing is more jarring that scenes and references out of place.
• Prologue & Epilogue

Your Writing Process
• Outline (planner)
• Wing-it (pantser)
• Session word counts
• Schedule
• Why novelists write fast, edit slow.

Story Essential
• If narrative does not:
• • move the story forward,
• • contribute to the plot or the character’s development,
• • enhance the setting, the sense of where
• • or ratchet up the tension…

Writer’s Wrules
• Every time you write a “was” think: how else could I say this?
• For every quote, ask yourself: How did they say it? What was their attitude, stance, facial expression, position, activity?
• For every dialog there are emotions: Who is happy, sad, angry, despondent?
• For every passage there is a setting. What does it smell like? What does it sound like? What is the weather, the climate? What time is it? What season is it? What room or terrain are they in?
• Don’t tell or report. Show the reader what’s happening.
• Create strong, dynamic characters that will thrive in my topic.
• In what location and era will I set my characters in order to best unravel my story?
• Should my story mean something? Should it push for sociological, political, familial, ideological change? Should your story try to make a difference, have influence, change things for the better, somehow, through narrative?
• Eliminate your use of flag words: very, quite, always, suddenly, quickly, and all the tiny obvious verbs (get, got, do, did, put, walked, went, gone, run, ran, see, saw, crossed, turned).
• Consider deleting words like knew/realized/saw/heard which don’t add much to our prose. “She knew Springtime meant starvation along the river…”
More Writer’s Wrules
• Grammar & spelling must be exact.
• Active vs passive, active every time.
• Controlled use of dialog tags, use only said, told, asked.
• Describe don’t explain (or show, don’t tell, for most). Adverbs tend to tell, that’s why they’re frowned upon.
• Maintain proper POV, avoid head-hopping.
• Consistency of voice, both of the story and the characters.
• Story mechanics: time accounting, flashbacks, dreams, travel, world building consistency.
• Cycles of conflict, action, resolution, reflection…
• Character arc: hidden angst, emotion, motive, doubt, conflict, result.
• Plot design and tuning: allusion, foreshadowing, subplots, intra-themes.
• If you’re writing narrative, setting, backstory, or context, can the characters take on that job instead of the author?
• Make your characters work for a living because that’s who the readers want to hear from, not you.
• The author is done when the plot and structure is complete; it’s the characters who are now delivering the story.
• Get out of the way of the story. As much as possible, let the people talk, move, behave.
• Emotion drives the characters who drive the story. Feel these emotions, try not to control them or constrain them, let them come out in the characters’ words and behavior.
Writerly Topics
• Strategic:
Narrative type (novel, novella, short story, flashfiction), Genre, Theme, Story, Plot & sub plots, Characters & supporting characters, Setting, Structure/Scenes, POV, Tense, Device – suspension of disbelief, Style, Pace, Tone, Climax, Conclusion, Denouement
• Tactical:
Active vs Passive, Dialogue, Rhythm, Mood, Description (threes), Show vs tell
• Both:
Voice, Diction (colloquialisms), Hooks, Conflict, Foreshadowing, Red Herrings, MacGuffins

About Anonymole

15 responses to “Writer’s Log: 2163 Workshop slides

  • Phil Huston

    Ahhh, the fleshed-out ten or elements of fiction, missing a couple. Was the dresser really scared? Watch your is/were verbs before you stand up in front of people. Somewhere in here the elements of fiction should be established and addressed as such. A discussion of the canons of rhetoric
    The best thing in here, which should be the kernel driving it?

    • Don’t spoon-feed your readers (I added the hyphen for you).

    Joan used her mother’s from-scratch recipe for jalapeno cornbread. Bob watched, amused, while she worked up beads of perspiration cranking a wooden spoon around the old Corningware bowl clenched in the crook of her arm. He reached out with his little finger, lifted the renegade strands of hair stuck to her cheek.
    “Don’t,” she growled.
    “Don’t what?”
    “Don’t laugh, ’cause you’re about to and don’t ask me what’s in it.”
    “Okay. Sweat much more you’ll wish you’d backed off on whatever salt she thought was enough. Unless she figured on the –” The batter covered wooden spoon flew up, stopped a quarter inch from his nose.
    We don’t need momma’s recipe, or to stand by Joan while she does all the kitchen chemistry set bullshit. Joan made her momma’s cornbread. Make it real, next.

    You know tags are ok on occasion. If you’re lazy or can’t find your emotion thesaurus or don’t want to write totally like a director all the time or don’t want the word count required when one will do the job. Adverbs, though. Don’t go there. I don’t care if Faulkner did win the Nobel prize.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anonymole

      This is ground level writer’s advice. I believe that “fiction”‘s purpose, or even the writer’s purpose is one or two levels up from here. I’m going for raw mechanics, stuff I got wrong out of the gate.

      “is/were” – do tell.

      These are talking points. Not tenets. Dialog tags, yeah, once in a while is fine. Don’t rely on them (as I did when starting – ergo my list).

      The bottom list of Writer’s WRules #2 is all your advice — things Duke picked upon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Phil Huston

        Ground level writer’s advice is working the exercises in “The Lie That Tells A Truth”. I apply that as everything from a young quarterback’s eye thorugh an rebellious fuck y’all plastic motherfuckers acid casualty’s avant garde arteest to a top level music industry clinician’s expectations. See it, learn to apply what will make it work for you as second nature. Noah had some help with that ark, he didn’t just pull it out of his ass. Which is why I rely heavily on the cosmic radio and editing tomes. The day you quit “writing” you become a better writer. “I don’t need dancers who want to dance. I need dancers who have to dance.”

        Liked by 1 person

        • Anonymole

          “I need dancers who have to dance.”
          No one wants to watch a parariplegic flop around on the dance floor.


        • Anonymole

          I don’t have a copy of that “The Lie That Tells A Truth”, but from I can tell it all seems level 3 and 4 stuff, the nuanced levels. The expert levels. Maybe there are exercises in there that address the true plebeian skills I’m seeking to share, but they’re not evident from the previews I’ve seen.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Phil Huston

            His how to set a scene stuff is superb. Even for a novice. Because he takes an additive approach to the elements that breathe life into a scene. Even plebian writers should write to a prompt, even of their own choosing and use the same set of additive enhancer because it teaches you to see a scene. Skills in evidence from Saint King to the nuanced writers. Something even PD James discusses in the difference between a full blown (overly described) novel to knowing how to shorten that to what is necessary. McDonald, Leonard, and all the writers that writers claim as influences know when to hit it and when to stretch it based on what the scene needs to convey. If you don’t know what play to call you’ll never get where you want to go, and that is ground zero mechanics. Learn to write well in chunks, motifs if you will, THEN assemble them with an eye for how your arc, regardless of genre, will expand. If you can;t get two unhappy people out of the kitchen of a mobile home without showing us who they are, what they’re after the rest is of little consequence. Write 750 to 1500 words that fucking work, that say what you want said. Like a bellows on a fire. I swear to God it’s not about ranking skill levels and rules, it’s about understanding what you see in a “scene” and getting it out of your head. Stand in the middle of it, look around at what your characters see, who they are, what’s in the sink and out the window that tells the rest of us what the hell is going on. BAM words. Grimy. Spotless. A lace curtained doll house with a black matte Harley in the middle of the living room dripping oil into a foil roasting pan. Learn to do THAT. After that the rest is cake.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Phil Huston

            The real answer to what you said is – Well why the fuck not? Because maybe it’s over yours or someone else’s head? All this air about being better and you don’t have a shelf full of good how-to reference material? And you’re going to teach? Holy fuckballs.

            Liked by 1 person

  • Duke Miller


    Liked by 1 person

  • Duke Miller

    Hi A.Mole,

    My head is scattered right now. I feel like eating crab cakes. Anyway, thanks for reminding me of these things. I think most writers settle on a certain set of guidelines that make emotional sense to them and then they use those guardrails for a while and maybe change somewhere down the road or not. It depends. As I read this post, I was reminded of many great writers who finally ran out of gas. They still were capable writers, but whatever possessed them earlier was gone. What possessed them? I think you should add that to this list. What the hell possess us? It is something real, no doubt, but is different for each person. I’m talking about something deep inside, something personal, maybe horrible. Maybe an addiction, or a death or three, a lover, a loss, an unrequited lust of who you think you really are …the need to stop hiding. Two points really got my attention, the story should have meaning and the writer’s emotions should flow through the characters. The first point I am unsure about, if you mean a general meaning, universal, easily absorbed, then you leave me feeling sad, because sometimes I just can’t write that way. I know my words are indecipherable, but I can do nothing else. Fuck. About emotions, I’d expand that point and move it to the very beginning of this list. In my opinion, what makes good or great writing is the emotion a writer brings to the words. Emotions are tricky. They can be sticky and sweet or unusual, unexpected, they can twist and turn to some sort of terrible or happy ending. Emotions are the glue of the words. I think they should always be apparent, except in connecting text that is meant only to move the story, but in all the other places they are the signs that tell who the writer is. I think we have discussed RMRilke before and he is sometimes hard to read and generally he is brilliant, limping from one idea to the next, tapping into his emotions. I think once I sent you a cutting read by DHopper. Remember? Here are three of his short paragraphs that forever cemented his place in the written world.

    The Panther

    His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
    has grown so weary that it cannot hold
    anything else. It seems to him there are
    a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

    As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
    the movement of his powerful soft strides
    is like a ritual dance around a center
    in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

    Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
    lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
    rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
    plunges into the heart and is gone.

    The Panther is a reason to write. There is something inside of you trying to get out, but look at all those fucking bars. Can you convey the world as it really is? Can you be free to write the way you feel? Are your emotions independent gods of nature that create images, words, stories? Motherfucker.

    Anyway, I’d like to send you something else. I’m feeling that way right now. Have you seen “Youth”. It also gets at these ideas. Good luck with your writing. I need to write something. Something. Fuck. Thanks. Duke

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anonymole

      Duke, thanks for you input, always appreciated and instructional (to me).

      Writer’s WRules are more akin to guidelines, aspects of writing that, if one picks a few, uses them like exercise drills, then hopefully they stick and become part of your writer’s persona.

      1) The story should have meaning.
      Theme, story intent, social commentary — such things are nice to haves. And I don’t think I can write without them.
      2) Tell the story through character’s voices.
      A number of those topics you found come from Phil Huston. He’s provided insightful advice for a few years now. He’s stingingly acerbic, but there’s always a kernel of insight in his lashings.


  • George F.

    Cut, pasted and saved in my Anony file for permanent reference.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Audrey Driscoll

    Wow — this is an entire writing course (or at least a nicely fleshed out plan for one), all in one blog post. The list of not-to-be-used dialogue tags is a resource in itself.

    Liked by 1 person

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